At the end of July, I signed up for Ellory Wells’ 31 Day Writing Challenge with the intent of writing a new blog post every day during the month of August. I started on the right foot with several new blog posts. Then the wheels fell off my ride of best intentions during the second week of August, and I’ve struggled to regain momentum since then. When it comes to the Writing Challenge, I am a failure.
Now, I could give you ten or twenty excuses as to why I failed. Do those excuses really matter? The facts are I did not even come close to writing every day in August. As I look back on August and on my weak efforts during the challenge, I’ve learned a lot.
Here is what I’ve learned as a result of my failure.
When our kids were little, they were terrified of dogs. I remember visiting my parents in Dallas, TX one time, and my parents’ golden mix, Amber, had to be quarantined to her crate most of the time we were there, because our daughter, Hannah, was absolutely sure Amber was going to bite her head off. Amber might give her a good lick, but she wouldn’t hurt a fly.
Whenever we visited someone who had a dog, our kids would crawl up our legs into our protective arms to make sure they were safe from the crazy four-legged creatures who were wagging their tails at them.
My wife and I were determined to do something about this phobia. After all, our kids couldn’t live in our protective arms forever. They were growing quickly, and my arms wouldn’t hold them forever. Also, dogs can smell fear. Many times a dog will go after people who are afraid of them. Our kids had to learn how to stand up to the furry four-legged beasts that would cross their paths in the future.
So my wife and I signed up to foster a Seeing Eye puppy. A few weeks after signing up, we received a phone call indicating there was a 8 week old black Labrador puppy waiting just for us. We said yes, and we soon opened our home and our hearts to a square-headed black fur-ball named Iso.
When Iso joined our family, it didn’t take long for our kids to get over their fear of dogs. Soon they were playing with Iso and commanding him not to chew on the furniture, the walls, and their toys.
Iso grew and grew, and our hearts grew fond of the dog despite his early destructive forces. He chewed the paint right off our metal hot water baseboard radiators. He chewed a hole or two in our kitchen cabinets. And he kept us up many nights unhappy that he was chained to our bed. (Seeing Eye puppies are taught to stay close to their “person” at all times, and the training begins with the puppy raisers.)
Iso went with us everywhere. He visited the mall with us. He went camping, and he even went fishing. Actually, we caught him once. This was a terrifying experience for all of us. Somehow his tongue collided with a fishing hook. The squeal he let out was unforgettable. Thankfully, a real fisherman came along with his fishing tools, and we were able to pull the hook out of his tongue.
My wife and I often questioned whether or not he would make it as a Seeing Eye guide dog.
When he was a year and a half, we received a call from the Seeing Eye (in Morristown, NJ). They were ready for Iso, and they were confident that Iso was ready for his official training to become a guide dog. With many tears, we released Iso back to the Seeing Eye where he was matched with a trainer who worked with him for 9 months to prepare his for his purpose – to guide a blind person.
Our family visited the Seeing Eye for Iso’s Town Walk – his final exam. His performance was amazing as he guided his blindfolded trainer through the streets of Morristown. We were sure we would receive word that Iso was matched with a blind person. We waited, and we waited.
While we waited, we moved into a brand new house. Gone were the chew marks that reminded us of our puppy friend.
Shortly after our move, we received a phone call from the Seeing Eye. Due to a large crop of puppies, the Seeing Eye was being more selective, and Iso was being dropped out of the program due to his extreme friendliness. As a puppy raiser, we had the first opportunity to take him back to become our Forever Friend.
I was not so sure this was a good idea. After all, we had just moved into a brand new house, and I was not thrilled about the possibility of having him back in the house where I was sure he would cause havoc. I was not the only one in the family, and I was outvoted three to one.
I made the journey up to Morristown to pick him up. On the way home, we established some ground rules.
When I walked him through the door at our new house, he was quickly embraced and welcomed back into the family.
And honestly despite my initial apprehension, I soon let him into my heart as well.
Iso quickly adjusted to his new digs.
He chased the neighbors cat up a tree one time. I remember chuckling inside as we leaned a ladder up against the tree to rescue the cat. “This dog is crazy!”
One time, I woke up early one morning to find that he had eaten the braided rug that welcomed guests into our front door. This was not a happy moment. It took a few days, but Iso eventually passed the carpet. It’s a little gross but the carpet came out his rear just the same way it went into his mouth. Like I said before, “This dog is crazy!”
We liked having Iso around the house. He always provided the initial rinse of our dishes while I was putting them in the dishwasher. He greeted us with his tail wagging whenever we returned home after trip to church, the grocery store, work, or anywhere else. He was always glad to see us. And he was especially always happy when it was time to eat. One cup of food in the morning, and one cup of food at dinner time. We really didn’t have to have a clock. Iso knew when it was time to eat.
When he was 9 years old, I thought we were going to lose him. I came home from work one night to find out that he had eaten one of my dress shirts I wore to the office. What in the world would make a dress shirt appetizing? I’ll never know. We waited a few days to see if he would pass it, but we soon discovered that Iso was not feeling well. In fact, he seemed to be quite ill. When Leanne took him to the vet, the vet quickly ran an X-ray and discovered a football-sized lump of fabric and other material lodged in his stomach. The vet explained that she had to perform emergency surgery before Iso died. We weren’t given the option of putting him to sleep, and before we knew it, Iso was wearing the cone of shame and our bank account was $3,000 smaller.
Labs are crazy dogs, but they are also loyal and true. Iso loved to be with us when we were home – especially when we were eating popcorn. He hovered around us to make sure we threw several pieces of popcorn his way.
He had a few visits to the vet for various intestinal issues. With a few pills, a bland diet, and some time, he always seemed to bounce back.
The last few years, he became more sedentary. He slept way more than he was awake. He also seemed to be growing some cysts and fatty non-cancerous growths and tumors. The vet didn’t seem to worried about these. As the days and years went on, he slowed down even more. He took his time getting up and lying down. And his hearing seemed to diminish too. But Iso always responded to the word “Treat”. He loved his Milkbones.
Friday afternoon while I was out in the garden and in the shed, Iso seemed to have some type of seizure or stroke, and he couldn’t move or stand without assistance. Our family had some big decisions to make, and the main decision seemed obvious. It wasn’t fair to let Iso suffer any more. He couldn’t stand. He wasn’t interested in eating. His head even moved to his right as he tried to find his equilibrium.
After much thought and discussion, we decided it was Iso’s time. Isaac retreated to his room to let out his emotions. Hannah seemed to be rather understanding and non-emotional about this situation. And Leanne and I struggled to say our goodbyes.
I loaded Iso in the family car, and we journeyed to the 24-hour animal hospital (HOPE) in Malvern, PA. We knew what we had to do, but we know it was going to be hard. The people at HOPE were amazing. They gave us time to be with Iso, and they explained what would happen when they injected him with the chemicals that would end his life.
Iso wouldn’t let the doctor get to his arm where the catheter had been placed, so I had to hold his head while the vet injected the potions. Tears rolled down my face. Leanne and even Hannah were crying, too. (Isaac stayed at home to avoid the trauma of the whole situation.) Iso peacefully left us. After a few minutes with him, we left the hospital in silence.
It’s so hard to say goodbye to those who attach themselves to your heart.
That was Friday.
Today is Tuesday.
We miss Iso. We miss him when we arrive at home to a quiet house. We miss him when we wake up in the morning. And we miss him when we put the dirty dishes in the dishwasher.
Our pets become part of our lives. They can provide some incredible challenges, and they can provide amazing companionship.
Someone on Sunday commented that Iso would be in doggy heaven. I don’t really know if that’s true or not. What I know is that our lives were greatly impacted by the black Labrador who invaded our house over 13 years ago. We will remember him with a smile and perhaps some more tears. We are thankful for the opportunity to have had this furry friend in our family.
And if you are wondering, our kids aren’t afraid of dogs anymore.
My typical weekend writing was interrupted by a variety of circumstances.
First, our house is for sale, and we had a showing at our house on Sunday night after church. We had two piles of mulch and garden soil on the driveway that needed to be moved to our flower beds and garden. Plus, we had to make our final trips around the house making sure everything was clean before we left for church. I missed my normal Sunday morning writing time to move mulch and dirt and to clean up the house.
Second, our weekend was altered by the tragic news that a young teenage girl from our church group had taken her life.
This news has brought about a lot of questions, pondering, and conversation. It also brought sadness.
There are many details surrounding her suicide, and I’m grappling with what I need to know as an adult volunteer in our youth program and as a parent of fellow students and what I simply don’t need to know about the situation.
Last night during our normal youth group programming, we had over 300 students (my estimation) pour into our auditorium to be together, to grieve, and to celebrate the life of their friend and classmate. The time together was a mix of sadness and amazing beauty.
There was singing, stories, and plenty of tears.
My heart aches for the young students who are faced with the loss of a peer and the struggle to sort out their own thoughts and feelings.
I’m reminded of the importance of listening to those in pain. I’m reminded of how essential it is to be a presence in the lives of others. And I’m reminded to be aware of the silent cries of those who simply don’t know how to process the struggles of life.
The weekend also served as a reminder of the amazing volunteers in our youth program. Many of the volunteers took off from work on Friday to be with students on Friday when the news spread of her passing. Don’t underestimate the value of your role in the lives of those who are younger than you.
The weekend also reminded me that there are times when we won’t fully understand parts of this life we find ourselves in on this side of heaven. Sometimes life simply doesn’t make sense.
Finally, the weekend reminded me that beauty can rise from the ashes that follows such tragedy. Relationships can be repaired. People can take steps toward reconciliation. And ultimately, people can find God when events like this happen.
Pray for the family and friends of this young woman.
Be on the look out for those who are hurting around you.
If you are desperate, hurting, and lonely, find someone to lean on.
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39
Being busy has become a status symbol in our culture. If you’re not busy, you’re not accomplishing anything. That’s what society is telling us.
I want to work on my book. I want to schedule several blog posts and emails to the people on my email list. I would like to talk to my daughter (who is away at college) on Facetime. I’d like to take at least 10,000 steps.
I want to write and give my next Toastmasters speech. I want to schedule an appointment with my tax accountant. I would like to clean up the house to make sure we are ready for any showings that might happen this week. I’d like to meet one-on-one with my team members.
I want to publish my next book (Rooftop Reflections). I plan to go to Guatemala and build more houses. I’d like to complete my Advanced Communicator Silver and my Advanced Leader Silver for Toastmasters. I would like to move up at my company. I plan to complete Dynamic Marriage Facilitator Training with my wife. I hope to sell my house and downsize.
It’s not a bad idea to have plans for our days weeks, months, and years. After all, “if we fail to plan, we should plan to fail.” But what if our short-term goals and accomplishments don’t match up with our long-term objectives?
I think these are two very important questions to ponder. And we need to have the answers to these questions in mind as we plan out our short-term goals and our plans for the next days, weeks, and months.
You will not succeed in meeting your long-term (life-time) goals by accident. You must be intentional. You must begin with the end in mind.
Here are a few of my long-term goals:
These are just some of my goals. Knowing these, I’m in a much better position to answer the initial questions asked at the beginning of this post.
Over the next few days, I’ll be sending out additional information to those on my email list about living intentionally today. If you want to get these emails, make sure you are on the list. Sign up below!
Is it just me, or does life seem to be a blur for you at times?
Life goes by so quickly. And technology isn’t helping things. Within a fraction of a second, I can be virtually anywhere via the internet. News spreads quickly across the screens of our cell phones, tablets, laptops, and televisions. Within seconds of a major world catastrophe, terrorist event, or celebrity death, the whole world knows about it.
And people expect instant replies to their emails, text messages, and social media attempts to reach out.
We are growing up in a world where people are developing additions to their cell phones. They can’t go more than a few minutes or even a few seconds without looking at their “smart” phones.
As a parent, it seems like life has passed me by in the matter of a few moments. Yesterday, my daughter was born, and today she’s a freshman in college. My son was born yesterday, and now he is driving his own car.
And the day before yesterday, I married the woman of my dreams, and now we’ve been married for over twenty years. (She looks the same, but I’m sure I’ve added some gray hairs, some wrinkles, and some pounds around my waistline.
It all can become depressing is we let these thoughts consume us.
For that reason, we must fight against the blur.
Are you going to let life be a blur? Or are you going to do something about it?
Make the most of every opportunity.
Let your words be seasoned with salt.
Embrace the ups, the downs, and the in-betweens of life.
In fact, suck the very marrow out of life with each breath you breathe, each step you take, and each move you make.
The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. Isaiah 40:8 ESV
Are you content with mediocre? Or do you want to live a life that matters?
I chose the second option.
Living a life that matters requires intentional striving for excellence.
Yesterday, we talked about the nine things holding you back from excellence. Today, let’s look at the keys to making excellence a reality in our lives.
If you want to live a life of excellence, it’s time to get going – NOW!
Friday afternoon at the end of my workday, I received a phone call from my Grandpa. Grandpa Miller lives in Minneapolis, MN, and I live outside of Philadelphia, PA which means we don’t see each other very often. And I’m embarrassed to admit we don’t talk nearly as often as we should. I think we both share the guilt for our infrequent conversations.
One of the things that keeps us connected is my blog. Every time I publish a new blog post, Grandpa gets an email from me. He keeps tabs on me in part by reading my blog posts.
I don’t know if you noticed or not, but I didn’t publish a single blog post last week. One person did notice – Grandpa. His phone call on Friday afternoon was a call of concern for me. Was a sick? Was I busy? Was I okay? Grandpa called to check-up on me.
Grandpa’s phone call reminded me of several important things.
Thank you, Grandpa, for calling! It meant the world to me to hear your voice and to know you care. I love you!
When I was in first grade, my parents took me to the eye doctor where the optometrist determined I needed to wear corrective lenses (the fancy name for glasses) to correct a problem with my eyes.
For four or five years, I wore brown, plastic-framed glasses. I looked like Ralphie from A Christmas Story (if you need an image).
Like Ralphie, I often broke my glasses horsing around with my friends. The eye doctor was used to fixing my glasses on a monthly basis.
Eventually, the glasses did their job, and I was able to stop wearing them. In fact, my vision was better than 20/20 for the longest time.
I stopped visiting the eye doctor for several years, because my vision was excellent.
Then I turned 40.
A long overdue visit to the eye doctor indicated my need for reading glasses.
I picked up my first pair of reading glasses, and I’ve been able to get a new pair each year as my reading vision has changed slightly along the way. I use the new pair as my primary reading glasses, and I use the older pairs as backup glasses. I have two pairs on my nightstand, and I put one pair in the car. It’s nice to have the coverage in case I need to read something with small print.
This brings me to my story – my parable.
According to Wikipedia,
A parable is a succinct, didactic story, in prose or verse, which illustrates one or more instructive lessons or principles. It differs from a fable in that fables employ animals, plants, inanimate objects, or forces of nature as characters, whereas parables have human characters. A parable is a type of analogy.
This week, events transpired in my life that caused me to take pause. I broke one of my pairs of backup glasses.
Tuesday night, I was responsible for facilitating a Toastmasters Table Topics and Humorous Speech Contest for my Area. I arrived early at the location of the contest, so I could set up and greet contestants and attendees. As I was getting out of my car, I grabbed my spare set of glasses, and I must have put them on the roof of my car as I was getting other contest material out of my car. Once I was in the contest location, I forgot about the glasses.
The contest went well. The speakers did a fantastic job presenting to the contest audience. The judging team selected winners wisely. And the audience enjoyed the experience (from what I could tell). After the contest, I cleaned up the room and packed up my contest materials. I said goodbye to the last few lingering attendees, and I climbed in my car to begin the journey home.
100 yards after pulling out of the parking lot, I heard a loud thumping noise on the roof of my car, and I immediately realized the source of the sound. My glasses had flown off the top of my car. It was dark, but I decided to make several passes on the busy road to see if I might find my glasses. Disappointingly, I could find the glasses, so I drove home with the thought of trying to find them in the morning on my way to work.
The next morning, I made a few more passes in the busy morning traffic, but I could see the glasses from my car. Bummer!
At lunch time, I decided to make one last effort to find the glasses thinking they may have landed in the longer grass along the road. I parked my car in a parking lot, and walked down the side of the road looking back and forth as I went. Just when I was about to give up and head back to my car, I caught a glimpse of a familiar sight – the inside cover of my glasses case. Half of it was laying on the side of the road blending into the grey of the road surface. I walked a few more feet and found the other half of the case. But where were my glasses?
As I began the journey back to my parked car, I found my glasses on the side of the road! My excitement was soon replaced by sadness as I quickly discovered the lenses were missing, and the frames were smashed to smithereens. It looked like my glasses took a ride in my garbage disposal.
I picked up the pieces and headed back to my car. (A blog post was surely on the way.)
I’ve had a lot of thoughts since the incident with my glasses.
First, I’m a little frustrated with my carelessness. I wish I had gone back out to my car when I realized I needed them for the contest.
Second, I’m a little disappointed in my opulence. Where I serve in Guatemala, glasses like these are a treasured possession for those with failing eyes. I could have brought the glasses with me on a trip to Guatemala to give to someone who really needs them. Instead, I decided to have backups for my backups. I want to be a good steward of my resources, and this means saving and spending appropriately. And it means giving appropriately too. I don’t want to be a hoarder of the resources God gives me. I want to use the resources God gives me to help others and to honor Him.
My broken glasses remind me to hang on tightly to the things that matter, and they remind me to let go of the things that would be better served in the hands of others.
I don’t want to get to the end of my life with gas left in my tank. I also don’t want to make it to the end of my life with the feeling that I wasted my life.
I want my life to matter. I want to make a difference. And I want to give my all to my purposes and passions.
With this in mind, I am developing an exit strategy for life. My goal isn’t to exit this world early. Instead, I want to have lived my life to the fullest when I do exit this world.
When I received my copy of Ellory Wells‘ new book, Exit Strategy, I was excited to see how it related to my own thoughts on exit strategy. I was intrigued by the sub-title, “The Exact Tactics to Transition from Where You Have to Be to Where You Want to Be.”
In Exit Strategy, Ellory tells his story of leaving corporate America and starting up his own business. As I read his story, I got the clear picture that Ellory (like me) wants to do something amazing with his life, and he’s not content to simply exist. I liked this part of the book!
Exit Strategy then maps out process for launching your own business – for doing your own thing. Ellory provides a step-by-step process for starting a business in today’s web-driven world. This isn’t just theory. Ellory’s instructions are based on his own experience and on the experience of his clients.
I know the instructions work, because I have been following much of this material over the past year as I have been working with Ellory with some of my own pursuits.
If you are thinking about stretching into a new business pursuit, I’d recommend you pick up a copy of Exit Strategy. Then I’d recommend you send Ellory an email (his email is in the book). I know he’d love to help you!
Whether you are thinking about starting a new business or not, I’d challenge you to think about your own exit strategy.
My post today initially started as an explanation for a recent reduction in my weekly blog posts, and it turned into an all-out focus on handling the stress we face in life. I’m not going to change the initial part of the post as I think it helps provide a window into the stress I’ve been experiencing recently. I don’t know what stress you are dealing with lately, but I’m hoping today’s post will help you as you face life’s challenges.
What is on your goal list?
Are you giving attention to the goals you really want to accomplish?
You may have noticed a recent drop off in the number of posts I am releasing each week. There’s a reason (actually, there are a few reasons):
Life is about choices.
If you are a “Go Getter” like me, you have to come to terms with this fact: You can’t do everything.
Sometimes you have to let go of the good, so you can focus on the great. And sometimes you have to sacrifice some of the things on your personal agenda, so you can focus on the things that come your way in the course of life.
As I’ve faced some of the recent challenges (and “distractions”), I’ve dealt with some anxiety, some sleepless nights, and some emotion. To put it simply, I’ve experienced stress. Stress is a normal part of life in today’s world. Unfortunately, many of us don’t know handle ourselves when the stress levels climb. As I work through my the stress in my life, I’ve developed a list to help me deal with the stress. I’m hoping this will help you when you deal with stress.
I feel better already.
How about you?
If you are looking for additional help in handling stress, I think the 7 Week Stretch Challenge could help. Sign up below: