The Three Boxes

August 31, 2010 Leave a comment

Several years ago, Jerry Park (my boss at the time), lead me and my fellow sales VP’s through a thought process exercise that I call The Three Boxes. It was designed to help us to 1)focus our energy on the most worthwhile endeavors, 2)eliminate frivolous and unhelpful complaining, and 3)keep our teams working hard on the right things.

It’s simple. Most everything thing in life can be sorted into three boxes. Think of them as columns if it helps.

Box #1 is for everything that we do not control. These aren’t worth complaining about or expending energy in attempts to change them. Nothing we do will affect any change or direction in what we put into this category. This box is for:
• the weather
• my favorite NFL team’s won/loss record
• stock market direction
• the actions of North Korea and Iran and anyone we don’t know
• my wife’s favorite color
• fashions and styles

Box #2 is for things we influence. We can’t dictate exactly how or what these things do. We can do nothing about their existence, but we can influence or shape how they behave, act, hurt, or help. Box #2 is for:
• people’s perceptions of us
• the actions of those we know well
• what colors look best on us
• preferences and likes of people we live with
• risks we are exposed to

Box #3 is for things we control. We absolutely dictate the contents of this box. They are the results of our choices, reactions, and goals we set; and also what we tolerate in ourselves. It can be argued that this box is the most important of the three, if only for the pain or rewards we experience relevant to what we find here:
• our actions and choices
• our attitudes
• expressing love for others
• our preparation for difficult times
• time we invest or waste

So how does this apply to you? Are you struggling overall because you’re just working too hard and getting nowhere? Are you frustrated with others? Do you feel heavy about your job and life overall?
I find that I have to go through this process more often these days.

Categories: Uncategorized

Holding On. Letting Go

June 25, 2010 2 comments

We changed homes five years ago. We outgrew what we were in, and were able to get a larger home in a beautiful, mature neighborhood. Tall trees, fresh air, and a river for peace and quiet. And regular visitations from possums and raccoons for annoyance and aggravation.  We love our home, but five years had gone by and we had not yet cleared out the many boxes and tubs that contained:

1. bits and pieces that accumulate with having children
2. supplies that accompany hobbies that are no longer enjoyed
3. family artifacts that ruin with age and wear
4. valuables that have no use
5. useful things that should be used by someone else
6. trash disguised as something else.

What’s worse is that all this was stored in our bonus room. We had even acquired storage and shelving units to hold all this. Like many bonus rooms, ours is a large room over the garage that we had originally envisioned as being the room we would gather as a family for fun and games; popcorn and movies, parties for kids and adults, watching major sporting events, and doing crafts and homework. But after five years, the room had not come close to performing this purpose. It was the place people went to veg and fuss over the TV remote. It was becoming hard to keep clean and tidy. We were almost oblivious to the steady decline in its appearance and usefulness. Until…

1. I realized that my oldest child was about to begin her last year in high school and we were running short of time for all five of us to create memories of being together during this family phase.
2. My youngest was passing from juvenile to adolescent and would no longer want to play with things that come with a jillion pieces, and no place to have friends over.
3. I realized that so much more was possible.

But it would require cleaning, donating, painting, and the steadfast efforts by all the home’s inhabitants. And that’s exactly what happened! After a couple of meetings about what was needed and how it could happen, everyone pitched in and made it happen. Meaningful items were saved or stored in creative ways. The kids were out of town with grandparents when Rebecca and I finally finished things up. So they came home to a pristine room and a few surprises. The smiles were priceless. Teenagers are so hard to impress you know. But they were!
There are some theological and spiritual lessons that can be drawn from this. But I’m not going there right now. Let’s just keep it temporal; but important, nonetheless. As a cultural we’re coaxed to acquire and possess. And did we ever. We felt we needed to keep anything and everything that had been handed down or gifted to us, even if it just stayed in a box. Little things piled up. Little forays into “straightening” and “cleaning” weren’t addressing the problem.
We had lost sight of what was most important…time and experiences together. Things had gotten in the way. Thoughts and feelings about things were in the way. Some might describe this blog post as self-indulgent. But I’m telling you, that experiences and memories with your family far surpass holding on to past memories, trophies, diplomas, etc. Looking forward, pressing on, and casting off the dead weight is what we all must do to maximize our lives and relationships. After going through the all purging, purposing, and enjoying, I’m finding that many people actually long to do precisely what we did. Only to struggle to take the first step. But after witnessing our transformation , they’ve been encouraged. And I offer that encouragement to you. Let go of the clutter (and anything) that is blocking and depriving you of enjoying your lives to the fullest.

Holding on to what is valuable and meaningful could be costing you what is priceless.

Categories: Uncategorized

“You have it heard it said…but I say to you…” Jesus

March 13, 2010 Leave a comment

“You have it heard it said…but I say to you…”   Jesus

I enjoy watching those HGTV and DIY shows.  Coming from a family of carpenters and builders, it’s my video comfort food.  It’s always emphasized that correct measurements, proper materials, and attention to detail are important to small jobs and big homes alike.

Lives are projects.  The Bible refers to God as a potter and we as clay.  Jesus uses the illustration of a builder not finishing a house and leaving it as an embarrassment and a monument to their miscalculations and failures.  He also references farming, homemaking, and investing to illustrate that lives should be built and governed by adhering to powerful and universal truths.

Four times in Matthew 5, Jesus says (paraphrased) “you have heard it said.”  And each time he adds a clarifying, amplifying, or countering statement…”but I say to you.”  For centuries prior, religious leaders were basing their teachings on godly principles, rather that teaching actual principles to the nation.  The result was a religious hierarchy that subjugated the masses, created privilege for themselves, and would even seek death for those that threatening their system’s existence.

Yes.  Things went that far askew.  A little off-measure in the beginning; catastropic failure down the road.

And so it is with us.  We start with truth and principles.  Then we make allowances and exceptions to fit our desires.  We justify our desires by convincing ourselves and others that it serves a godly purpose.  Then we create “divine” institutions and systems to undergird the purposes.   Then to protect the systems, institutions, organizations, etc.; responsible persons very often resort to “half-truths” (lies), secrecy, lawsuits, threats, denials, “forgetting,” and on and on.  Among these is the trump card of “God has lead me…”…”told me”…”showed me”…   And failure, error, tragedy, hurt, and damage grows closer by the day.

At the beginning, Adam and Eve fell into a sinful state mostly from application of “truth with additives.”   And still we slip up by embracing basic truth, and then dropping in additives.  Some additives help us apply truth.  Some help us understand truth.  But other additives go to serve selfish purposes, or purposes with no connection to anything good and holy.

I’m not making a blanket condemnation here, but listen closely when you hear someone in leadership or position say…

“If you really love God, you will…”

“If you really love your family, you will…”

“If you really believe the Bible, you will…”

“If you love the church, you will…”

You can complete these sentences in any number of ways.  But people are lead astray when others tell them OR they tell themselves something that just isn’t quite right our of selfish desire or to promote their agenda.  Sooner or later, they are off the Foundation and disappointed or angry with God for the “result” of their lives.  Getting back to square, plumb, and straight is a difficult exercise and only comes after a lot of damage has occurred.

If you are in a position of influence or authority over others, take great care of what you say and how you counsel others.  Listen to yourself.  Do you say these things?  What are you really telling people?  What are you really trying to accomplish?  What do you really want from people?  What do you really want for people?

Paul praised the Berean believers because they searched the Scriptures to test what they were being told.  Simply put, they knew and understood the authentic truths and principles of God’s Word, so that they would not fall victim to purely human or unholy agendas and persons.  They actively tested the words and teachings they were hearing.  It’s important we do the same so our lives are foundationally solid, and a monument to the redemptive power of Christ in our lives.  Not just an outcropping of toxic religion, well-intentioned leadership, and well-oiled pleas for commitments.

Well, it was just a thought.

Categories: Uncategorized

iPad – Not Just Another Gadget

January 27, 2010 Leave a comment

Apple has finally made the announcement.  The iPad has come.  But what does it mean.  The iPad is a large version of the iPhone and I LOVE my iPhone.   To understand the impact of the iPad, you need to begin with understanding the iPhone, the iPod, and iTunes.

The iPhone scores at least a B+ in every category that any smartphone can be judged upon:

  • CallingA.  Depends on your level of ATT service.  Mine is great.  Others complain about theirs.  Whatever.  Very high voice quality, and phone numbers appearing in text messages and emails can be selected and dialed with one click.  Love it!  Also, the quality of my Skype calls are superb.
  • VoicemailA.  You can see who left you a message before listening to anything.   And listen to messages in any order you want.
  • TextingA.  You can see past messages, and follow the current conversation without trouble.
  • EmailingA. You can see attachment’s filenames, and scroll through large numbers of emails without clicking, clicking, and more clicking.  You can delete email notifications quickly and easily.  Interfaces with MS Outlook better than my old Windows Mobile Device.
  • Web AccessB+.  Smartphones aren’t ideal for this, but you can enlarge the screen easily and read most websites without a lot of drama.  Keeps multiple pages open.
  • CalendarA.  Easy to set precise time slots and move appointments to different dates.
  • ApplicationsA++.  Apple makes thousands of applications (apps) available to iPhone users.  Apps are programs that are specially made for the iPhone format and its capabilities.  No other smartphone comes close in this area.  Some applications cost money.  A whopping 99 cents for some and rarely does it go higher than $4.99.  BUT the most popular apps are FREE.  Yes, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, USA Today, The Weather Channel, Skype, Google Earth,  ESPN, Fandango, Pandora (internet radio), Wikipedia, WordPress (Blogging), the London Underground, and tons of cool stuff; are all FREE.  My last trip out of town was without my laptop.  Yes!!
  • Connection A.  The iPhone can connect to the Internet by Wifi, the 3G network, or conventional phone signal (zzzzzz).  You can also sync with your PC and your work there will move over according to the criteria you’ve selected.
  • Other A. You can maintain photo albums with Facebook or with iPhone’s photo album.  I’m never without family photos to show off.  It comes equipped with Google, Google Maps, YouTube, and everything you need to sync with Outlook.

iPod – A+.   The iPhone is an iPod, too.  Pretty nice value for the money you spend on equipment.  There isn’t anything better for listening to music, podcasts, audio books, or watching TV and movies.  And since the iPhone can connect to the Internet, you can buy videos and songs or get new podcasts (without the aid of your PC or Mac) anywhere you get a signal and begin listening or watching immediately.

iTunesA+.   This is Apple’s “store” and it’s the #1 place to buy music.  Here’s where you buy everything for listening and watching.  But that’s not all!  You have bestseller charts, new releases, personal lists, celebrity playlists, suggested songs based on past purchases, ringtones,  and more.  You can access it best from your PC or Mac, but also directly from your iPhone.   Your favorite songs from any decade, movie soundtracks, comedy routines, Christmas tunes, you name it; are here waiting for you.  Burning CD’s is a very simple process from iTunes.


So now the iPad.  What does it mean?  What does it bring us?  A much larger screen.   The whole thing is about the height and width of a large novel without the weight and thickness.   With all the attributes I’ve mentioned above, you can now read your daily newspapers, magazines, journals, and books; all on its large touchscreen, and in full color.  Amazon’s Kindle is black and white, and feels cheap like the Commodore Vic 20.  Though it is a great tool for books and Amazon is out in front in this area.  Both the Kindle and iPad will hold many book titles, ready at moments notice for the business traveler or vacationer.

Apple has also announced iBooks in order to promote audio books as well as “printed” books.  They intend to be a major supplier of print media, and like Amazon, provide the hardware.

With the larger screen comes serious gaming, live television, high definition video, and more opportunities for applications that will probably blow our mind…for FREE or 99 cents.  With internet connection, you can video conference with someone anywhere in the world…for FREE.

With the additional power and memory of the iPad, there is certainly going to be some serious business applications developed for this.  While it may not seem suitable for serious spreadsheet work, it can be useful for most tasks if it were pressed into action.

Will I go out and buy one.  Oh yeah!  But not right away.  $500 isn’t tossed around like it used to be.  But it’s on the list whenever it can be justified.

The iPad means more connectivity for more people.  It brings us more of what we already can’t get enough of, and whenever it suits us.  And I’m sure there are surprises in store.  It also means Apple is continuing to fill in the blanks of the market with the best consumer-oriented products in the industry.  It means Amazon will not be having all the fun.  Now we’ll see what the market says.

Haiti, God, and Me

January 16, 2010 1 comment

Most people have now heard of the remarks of a television personality attributing the earthquake in Haiti (and Haiti’s other tribulations) to an apparent decision made by the Haitian people generations ago, to follow Satan in order to gain their independence from a Napoleon-ruled France.

I’m not sure what to say to such things.  But I’m willing to give it a shot.

Did God cause this to happen?  Or was Satan allowed to bring it about?   I don’t know.  I can’t say that anyone knows.  Almost 30 people in my county (Sumner County, TN) have died in tornadoes the past 4 years.  I’m quite certain we haven’t collectively sold our souls to the devil.  And I’m certain that natural disasters happen here and there.  In fact, North America (“God shed His grace on thee”) is home to virtually every possibility of a natural disaster – earthquake, hurricane, tornado, fires, droughts, heat,  blizzards, volcanic eruption, tsunamis, etc.  It’s an impressive list.  And they all happen!

To go looking for the punishing hand God at a time like this seems superstitous to me.  Its borne from what I think is a fallacious notion of God how works today.  Should we fear what God can do?  Yes.  But when we jump to the conclusion that our actions auto-result in a natural disaster, you can follow that logic to throwing virgins (or rather the “bad girls and boys”) into the volcanoes so the rest of us are safe.

Disasters, tragedies, human loss of any kind, should cause us to respond both as individuals and as a Christian community.  Earthquake-stricken Haiti, tsunami-beaten Indonesia, terrorist-hit New York City, war-torn Bosnia, etc.; shine as opportunities for us to act out of pure compassion for people.  No conditions, no litmus tests, no reservations.   All to the glory of God, and as a reflection of His love for all people (even the ones whose souls are in that great pawn shop down below).

Acting out of love, (even our imperfect, flawed, limited-capacity love) gives us great license to do great works.  Someone might question the motives of a few, but who can question the motives of hundreds of millions of mobilized Christians coming to the aid of others without regard to their religion or national faults?

Onward Christian Soldiers might give way to:

Onward Christian Doctors and Nurses

Onward Christian Builders

Onward Christian Firemen

Onward Christian Businessmen

Onward Christian Influential People

Onward Christian Praying People

Onward Everyday Normal & Unusual Christian People

Onward Liberal and Conservative Christian People

Lift High the Cross of Jesus—ready to swing a hammer, feed a baby, embrace a mourner, clean a toilet.

Can I say…I’m proud to be an American.  We’re often clumsy with power, ego-centric, and oblivious to the greater world.  But moved with compassion; we’re a formidable force that feeds, cares, and protects people in distress.  I love that a nuclear powered aircraft carrier sits off the coast of Haiti, to airlift supplies and condense fresh drinking water.  And that a massive hospital ship will be there in about a week to treat as many as 40,000 people.  That our military airlift capacity is being put to use landing food, water, medical supplies, and security forces.  I’m encouraged to see other powerful nations (France, Brazil, and others) working alongside each other and us, to save lives.

Christian organizations and churches will increasingly weigh in when the doors open wider for them.  I for one, am feeling the call to contribute personally.  Perhaps a trip with my church.  Or something else.

Rather than debate and discuss why Haitians or anyone might deserve this.  Rather than search for the “reasons”, let’s just acknowledge that God has blessed us with another opportunity to shine the love of God at a dark time.  And in so doing, point people to the cross where Perfect Love was shown.

Life Has Bumps

December 8, 2009 7 comments

Last week my wife, Rebecca, began exhibiting signs of a stroke.  I didn’t suspect it at the time.  I simply attributed it to a pinched nerve and we began our days, by her substitute teaching and me going to a meeting on the other side of town.  Later that day, symptoms grew worse.  After seeing her doctor, he advised that she go to the emergency room at a major hospital in Nashville.

A CT scan of her brain was negative for bleeding or a tumor.  Early the next morning, an MRI confirmed that she had suffered a small stroke.  Other tests were negative for excessive plaque in her arteries and heart, or defects in her heart that might cause clots to form.  Nothing turned up.  Rebecca has no family history for strokes, and she isn’t taking any medication or anything else that puts her at risk.  A very extensive blood test was sent off and the results aren’t back yet.  Perhaps it will indicate something.  But outside of that, we are left wondering what happened, and are taking precautions to prevent a future stroke from occuring.

So one day things are fine.  The next, my wife inexplicably has a major health event, though she is too young and too healthy for that to happen.  It happens. My brother’s wife had a heart attack last year in her early 40’s.  But even with that we’re among the first of our friends to experience this.

Many things went through my mind.  Was my wife in looming, immediate danger?  How could I go on without her?  What would be the impact on each of my children?  Would she be permanently impaired?  All I could do was pray, be observant, try to think of everything, and confirm that she was in the process of being cared for in a big hospital.

Besides Rebecca’s welfare, I also had to see to the needs of our children.  Our kids are 17, 14, and 10.  I made the decision to tell my 17 year old everything that was happening and its gravity.  She may be called upon for something extraordinary and I didn’t want her blindsided.  She’s very responsible and responds well under pressure.  She didn’t disappoint.  I put the emotional and security needs of my other two children first.  They were told everything the day after, once I was able to speak from facts about Rebecca’s condition and treatments.  I also spent the two nights at home and rather than the hospital.  This was to give everyone, even Rebecca, a sense of security in regard to our children and hopefully spare them anxiety about their mother.  In hindsight, it was the right thing to do.

At the first moment, I wanted as many people praying as possible.  My iPhone was repeatedly recharged.  The word went out via email, text, and Facebook.  And that started the ball rolling.  Family, friends, and business relationships all responded with prayer, calls, wall posts, texts, etc.  In turn their churches responded, their friend lists responded.  In the time it took to eat breakfast, an army was in action.  Thank you all! Everyday friends were friends indeed.  They visited Rebecca in the hospital, and provided dinner back home for the rest of us.  They were angels without disguise.

People’s reaction to the news was univerally the same…”I can’t believe it!”  After assimiliating the news, people usually put themselves in her shoes, taking stock of their age, and imagining the impact on their family if something like this were to happen to them.  My family was naturally taken back by the prospect of what might have happened.  Some of her family seemed shaken.  Medical histories involving stroke that were routinely answered with “No” – are now “Yes.”

Things have settled down.  Rebecca has basically fully recovered and feeling well. Follow up visits with doctors are coming up.  Our family looks normal externally, but the stress has taken its toll.   At least for Rebecca and me, our thoughts aren’t anything like normal.  We’ve been sobered by how much falls on our shoulders as parents and spouses.  We have a lot to live for; each other, our children, the Kingdom, and we each have a desire to experience as much of this life as possible.

What have I learned, what has stuck in my mind, and what would I do differently?

  • Speak up with questions and personal information for medical professionals.
  • Think about other people than yourself.  Her family (who all live far off) deserved to know what was happening and I tried to be ready to supply information and answer their questions.
  • At times, I spend too much time thinking and not enough time looking after Rebecca’s needs.
  • Early on, I’m glad I was sensitive to our children’s feelings and needs.
  • Be grateful to the professionals charge with your loved one’s care.  They’re only human.
  • Prayer is powerful.  God moves mountains.  Prayer moves God.
  • We are in God’s hand continually.  Each day is a gift from Him.  We should live it without reserve, guilt, or believing that we have ultimate control of anything past what we speak and do.
  • Values.   People are worth more than things, and time more than money.
  • If friends are a measure of anything, it is what you have given to others.
  • Rebecca is an amazing person.  Her life has meant more to others at the atomic level, than mine ever will.
Categories: family, Relationships

Stop. Look. Listen.

November 18, 2009 Leave a comment

Good advice for people crossing streets. After years of traveling to countries that practice left-side driving and getting around busy streets and sidewalks in large cities; I’ve learned that it’s a good idea to stop, look in every direction, and listen for large buses. We’re taught these things as kids and teach them to our own to keep them safe.
But the general application of this rule to other real life situations can also save us; from hurting others, embarrassing ourselves, and curbing our positive influence. Pretty good motivation for most people I know.
The Stop part of this three part strategy is vital. Before we can practice looking and listening, first we have to stop. Stop talking. Stop thinking about what you are going to say next. Stop judging something or someone before you know enough of the story. Stop comparing people to others.
Virtually every kind thing you can say about a person, can be attributed to that person’s ability to withhold a hasty comment, rash action, or quick judgment. Frankly, this is a hard thing for me to do. I like to settle things quickly and move on. Many times I wrongly anticipate what someone is about to say. I should really just STOP, close my mouth (LOOK), and listen to what I’m being told. It’s best for me, polite to others, and my relationships with others will improve.
Not long ago, someone I know backed into another car. They thought they had “looked,” but if they had, they would have “seen” the other car…right? Looking, in this case, means noticing surroundings and situations. It forms the context for everything you hear and see. Today, it’s not unusual to see someone in Tennesse wearing a warm sweat shirt. It was chilly and foggy this morning and people like to feel cozy and snug. But in the context of a hot August day, this same person would stand out. You would notice them almost without thinking.
Some people observe others with the goal of being critical or to make comparisons only favorable to them. But noticing others is a healthy exercise when it’s done with the right purpose. Noticing people’s happiness (or lack of), hurts (or blessings), and achievements (or failings) enables us to see things or people in their correct context. Caring enough to see others’ situation and environment helps you see things more clearly and in perspective as you listen.
There’s no other way to connect to people than to listen to them. Ask questions, absolutely, but in order to know more. Share from your heart, yes. But it’s necessary to listen. It makes people feel valued and appreciated. Listening requires stopping and noticing.
I want to do better in this area. Really I have to become better to be who I want to become.