Think About Living!

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Life sure seems upside down lately. This dang corona-virus  has complicated everyone’s life.  I’ve been sheltering at home for one week … I miss my part-time job at our local Community College. Now the government has asked us to shelter in place for the next 30 days.  It’s hard to stay focused on living every day to its fullest.  But we can … if we focus on the “right stuff.”

Several years ago I attended church with my son Paul, who lives in Wilmington.  At the service, an  eighty-nine-year -old lady briefly spoke and shared with us her story about her recent hip replacement. The surgery went well but after she went home she experienced some life-threatening complications and ended up having an additional emergency surgery. She said she realized it was serious when they took her to surgery at 4:00 in the morning. She was doing wonderful at the time I heard her speak and looked amazing for her age! She related how a few days after the surgery she was in a lot of pain and quite sick in the middle of one night and all she could think about was that she might be dying. Then as clear as a bell in her quiet room she heard the words in her mind … “Think about living!”   From that night on she says that she thinks about living. She made me laugh when telling of the nurses coming into her room to take her for a walk … which she did not want to do and only wanted to yell “NO” … but the words came again … “Think about living!” So with their help, she got out of the bed and walked the hospital halls. When they would return to her room they would ask “Do you want to sit in your chair for a while?” She related she just wanted to get back into bed, but the words came again …“Think about living!” So into the chair she sat!   I thought … WOW! If this eighty-nine year old woman can still focus on living, then surely we all can!

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Everyone knows that I love using metaphors! Forrest Gump told us that “Life is like a box of chocolates!”   I like to think of “Life as a Puzzle.” My life so far has been one of those tricky 1,000 piece puzzles. When I began my puzzle, I came up with a plan on how to put it together and then started on my journey. I began thinking about living. The pieces were all very small and looked alike. So at first, I found myself trying to force certain pieces into the wrong position or place. Even though they appeared as if they should fit, they just weren’t meant for that space. It would be so easy to just pick up a pair of scissors and snip – snip – snip in order to make it fit. Yes, it would be easy that way to solve my puzzle, however then my finished puzzle would definitely not look anything like it is supposed to. It certainly wouldn’t be the beautiful picture it should be.

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Like a puzzle, life can sometimes seem like a big mess .. I know everyone agrees since we are all trying to deal with this national crisis. But when it’s finally put together (or the crisis is over), it looks awesome! Just because it becomes a bit hard or difficult to solve at times, we can’t just stop and throw it all away. In order to see the complete picture, we need to stick to it until the puzzle is completely finished! In other words, we can’t stop living because we don’t like pieces of our life that we can’t immediately figure out where they’re supposed to fit into out life’s picture. We need to simply keep an eye on the big picture and continue searching for where each puzzle piece fits. We need to keep going, to keep living, and trust that in the end it will all come together perfectly. We must “think about living!” We must continue to put the pieces together until we see the bigger picture appear before our eyes, until it becomes our life’s masterpiece.

Eleanor Roosevelt said it best “The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.”

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Back in the 1930’s there was a young man from a very poor village in Ethiopia. He didn’t have much in life except for his God-given ability to run long distances. He could run and run and never seemed to get tired. He didn’t even have shoes to run in, but that didn’t stop him. He ran everywhere all the time. One day someone encouraged him to try out for the Olympics. His family and the people in his village believed in him, so they sold anything they could spare to raise money,  including goats and chickens. With that money, he trained, tried out, and made it to the 1936 Olympics in Germany.

There he was at the race, ready for the gun to go off. After running for miles and miles on dusty roads with no shoes, a well laid out track with top-of-the-line running shoes would be no problem. Then, “Pow!”, the race was off. One by one, runners started to fall behind him, and he found himself at the front of the pack. But less than 1/4 the way in, his new shoes proved too much to get used to and he twisted his ankle and fell. Striking his knee on the pavement, he opened up a pretty good gash. But he got back up and kept running. The pain grew, and the blood flowed. His paced slowed until one by one the runners he had passed started to pass him. He ran slower and slower until he couldn’t even see the runners ahead of him anymore.  When the crowd thought all the runners had finished, the stadium cleared quickly. One lone reporter who was left behind to pack up his equipment was startled to see this young man hobble into the arena. He watched him with his blood-soaked shoe round the track, and painfully limp across the finish line. Consumed by curiosity, the reported rushed over to the young runner to find out what happened. After hearing his story, he asked him why in the world he didn’t just stop running. He almost chastised him about the permanent damage likely caused to his leg because he wouldn’t stop. The young Ethiopian with his face smeared with sweat and pain looked the reporter in the eyes and said “Sir, my family and my village did not sacrifice so much for me that I might only start this race. They did it so I could finish the race. And that is why I could not stop.”

I could preach a sermon on that illustration alone … But instead I’ll just say this: Pain is temporary, but quitting lasts forever. Please remember that!  Finishing takes faith, and God is with you until the end. Read: 2 Timothy 4:7-8 :  “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.”  Remember the words of Jim Valvano that I stated a few weeks ago … “Never Give Up!”

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I will end with my go-to words from Jeffrey R. Holland.  I listen to this man’s video on never give up at least every other week.  These words give me hope for a better tomorrow when all seems lost.  It turns my thinking around to more hope and faith.

“Don’t give up. Don’t you quit. You keep walking. You keep trying. There is help and happiness ahead . You keep your chin up. It will be all right in the end. Trust God and believe in good things to come.”

Yep … Life is a puzzle and you really do have the very last piece in your possession! Let’s “Think about Living!” …  even though we are all quarantined at home for the next 30 days … let’s find joy in the moment  And let’s enjoy our life and time together!

Just saying …

Barefoot and Unprepared

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These past few weeks has been a bit interesting … this coronavirus is scary.  Everyone is asking “Are you prepared?”

To start off I’m going to tell you one of my sister Cathy’s favorite story.  She was a lover of sports.  She would not be happy today with all the canceled sporting events  … especially the basketball tournaments.  When she heard this story given by Howard W. Hunter at a conference … she fell in love with it and told it often.  The story tells of a quarterback on the football team of a small, rural high school. This young man managed to make the team, but it was clear that he was not going to be all-state or all-American. In fact, he was the fourth of four quarterbacks.  By the last game of the season, he had never been called into a game, and he had given up all hope of playing. During the final game of the year he decided to relax and enjoy himself, so he pulled off his shoes, wrapped himself in a blanket, and settled down on the bench to watch his buddies play.

Midway through the game he heard the coach shout his name. He was startled and wondered if he had been mistaken. Then the coach called again, “Hey, you! Get in there and move the ball!”  What should he do? He wanted to say, “Wait, coach, while I put on my shoes.” But instead, he made straight for the huddle, his stocking feet conspicuous to the players, the spectators, and the coach.

Being called into the game made him very nervous and he was confused as he called his first play, and by the time he took the snap from center, he had forgotten which play he had called. While his teammates moved to the right, he went left, where he was swallowed up in the snarl of onrushing linemen.  No one expected him to make a touchdown. Even running the wrong way was understandable. But there was no excuse for a quarterback without shoes. No excuse for a quarterback not ready to help his team to success!

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Are you prepared?  Are you prepared to help yourself? But the bigger question is:  Are you prepared to help others?  Are you ready to pass the ball of life and make a difference?  Recently I have been thinking about my life and the things I have done, things I have not done, things I’m prepared for and the things I am not prepared for.  Am I prepared?  I have decided that when I finally depart from this life and I arrive at the pearly gates that  I don’t want to drive up to the pearly gates in a shiny sports car, wearing beautiful tailored clothes with my hair expertly set and with long perfectly manicured fingernails. That is definitely NOT me!  I want to pedal up to the pearly gates on a beat up three-wheel old bicycle (not sure I can balance myself on two wheels anymore), with a basket of things to share with others.  I want to be wearing a pair of grass stained worn-out shoes from playing with my great-grand kids on their swing set.  I want there to be a smudge of peanut butter on my shirt from making sandwiches for a sick neighbors children.  I want there to be a little dirt under my fingernails from helping my family plant a garden.  I want there to be children’s sticky kisses on my cheeks and the tears of family and friends on my shoulders.  I want my Heavenly Father to know that I was really here and that I really lived. I want to be wearing my life’s shoes! Each one of us has to realize that if we are going to really be here and make a different in this world and really live, it is absolute essential that we do not lose hope and we look to our Heavenly Father for support, guidance and love.  That means … Not losing hope…. Not getting discouraged…. Not giving up!  Keeping our shoes on so we are prepared! And … Serving others!

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This is one of my favorite paintings. The artist is James Christensen who titled this painting “Hold to the Rod.”  The man in this painting is trying to hold onto so many worldly possessions that he cannot let go and grab hold of the rod for fear of losing something. The rod represents divine guidance. He is looking at the rod, but doesn’t have the belief and faith to let go of those material things and be guided to the more important things.

I have found that while riding on the bike that we call life, we tend to collect things that make us feel safer and better about ourselves … comfortable enough that we walk around barefooted.  Even though these things are mere material possessions, they tend to give us a superficial sense of security.  It is only by holding fast to our own beliefs that we can navigate our life with confidence and be prepared for whatever is placed before us.

I am reminded of a speech that I heard presented by Dieter F. Uchtdorf. He began the speech recounting an experience he once had moving a grand piano from one room to another.  He related how a group of men were trying to move a grand piano from a church chapel to an adjoining cultural hall for a musical event. None were professional movers and the task of getting that very heavy piano through the chapel and into the cultural hall seemed nearly impossible. Everybody knew that this task required not only physical strength but also careful coordination. Each man had his own idea of how the piano should be move, but not one could keep the piano balanced correctly. They re-positioned the men several times by strength, height, and age — but nothing worked.  As they stood around the piano, uncertain of what to do next, one of the men spoke up. He said, “Stand close together and lift where you stand.” Together they lifted that piano and moved it successfully. The dictionary defines the word “lift” as “to raise to a higher position or level.”

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At the present, we live in a world full of scary things.  I’m terrified about getting this coronavirus … I am definitely a prime candidate to die from this virus.  I keep asking myself if I have prepared enough.  Thankfully I belong to a church that has all ways taught its members to be prepared.  Yes … I have plenty of “toilet paper”, meds and food! I even have a supply of hospital masks left over from chemo.   In Dexter (my Tahoe) I have my 72 hour backpack that has 50 items to help in any type of emergency.  I use items from it all the time to help myself or others. Need a band-aid … I got it!  Need a rope … I got it!  Need a flashlight … I got it!  Need a hatchet … yep … got that too!  There was this Pilot Club member from the western part of the state who also had a 72 hour pack in her car.  We used to sit with each other and try to out-do each other with new items.  I learned a lot from her … a real survivalist.

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I love this photo … even very strong sturdy trees help each other!  So let me ask:  Are you prepared to help yourself and to help others.  Can you lift yourself and then lift others.  Life is what we make of it and it sure is better with “lifters” around to pitch in and help!  Lifters with shoes on … ready to help our team of family and friends.  I challenge you to take the “7 Minutes to Lift 7 People up This Week” challenge.  You may have to let go of some of those things holding you back … but it will bless you and give you so much happiness this week.  Each day this week, reach out to someone you know who needs a little lift to win this game of life … family, friends, co-workers, peers.  Make the commitment with me to make a difference in someone else’s life and then watch what happens in your own life.  You and whomever you reach out to will feel much better and be lifted up!

Remember “be prepared, keep those shoes on” so you will be ready to “lift where you stand!”

Just saying ….

Choices Matter

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“The decisions we make, individually and personally, become the fabric of our lives. That fabric will be beautiful or ugly according to the threads of which it is woven.”  ~Gordon B. Hinckley

 

There is a true story about a man named Joseph Henry.  I read it once, can’t remember where, but jotted notes down in my journal to use later.  It’s a rather strange story about his childhood.  His grandmother paid a cobbler to make him a pair of shoes.  The cobbler measured his feet and told Joseph that he could choose between two styles:  a rounded toe or a square toe.  Little Joseph could not decide which one he liked better.  It seemed to be such a huge decision to him because they would be his only pair of shoes for a long time.  The cobbler allowed him to take a couple of days to make up his mind.  Day after day, Joseph went into the shop … sometimes three or four time a day!  Each time he looked over the cobbler’s shoes and tried to decide.  He continued to procrastinate.  He wanted to make up his mind, but he just couldn’t decide.  Finally, one day he went into the shop and the cobbler handed him a parcel wrapped in brown paper.  His new shoes!  He raced home.  He tore off the wrapping and found a beautiful pair of leather shoes … one with a rounded toe and the other with a square tow!

We are all made up from the choices we make!  Joseph Henry learned a difficult lesson about decisions:  If we don’t make them ourselves, others will make them for us.  A wise man named Quentin Cook said that “many choices are not inherently evil, but if they absorb all of our time and keep us from the best choices, then they become insidious.”  Either of Joseph Henry’s choices would not have been wrong … but the fact that he couldn’t make up his mind and letting someone else decide was wrong.  The choices you make and the decisions you make have a long lasting impact on your life. They make you special and different from others, they make a distinction between you and everyone else. 

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Here’s another short story on choosing whether to decide or give up.  Its a kid’s fable and I’m not sure where it came from, but I love the moral of the story. One hot day, a thirsty crow flew all over the fields looking for water. For a long time, he could not find any. He began feeling very weak, and almost lost all hope. Suddenly, he saw a water jug sitting below the tree. He flew straight down to see if there was any water inside. Yes, he could see some water inside the jug! The crow tried to push his head into the jug. Sadly, he found that the neck of the jug was too narrow. Then he tried to push the jug over to tilt for the water to flow out, but the jug was too heavy. The crow thought hard for a while. Then, looking around it, he saw some pebbles. Suddenly he had a good idea. He started picking up the pebbles one by one, dropping each one into the jug. As more and more pebbles filled the jug, the water level kept rising. Soon it was high enough for the crow to drink. His plan had worked because he did not give up!

If we think and work hard enough, we can find solutions to any situation or problem that we might be facing. The crow didn’t give up on his problem and neither should we.  He pondered it and came up with a plan, and then carried that plan out. Your life is a series of choices you have made so far. You will live with those choices for the rest of your life — and believe me when I say this, the rest of your life can be a pretty long period. Whether you feel it immediately or not, your life is being shaped by the choices you are making right now … today and tomorrow. We can’t undo the past, but we can always learn from it. Our choices are the building blocks of our lives and despite all the mistakes we make, a new day brings with itself new opportunities and a whole new world of choices. 

We all have goals and dreams. I probably have way too many!  We all want something we don’t currently have. If we want to achieve our goals, we need to grab our lives by the horns and make the tough decisions to get what we want. These decisions and choices will allow us to achieve our goals.

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Next time you have to make a decision … no matter how big or small it is, make a choice. Let me shout that again … MAKE A CHOICE! Choose the option that puts you one step closer to achieving your dreams and the future you want to build. Quoting Stephen Covey from his book “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”:  “We are the creative force of our life, and through our own decisions rather than our conditions, if we carefully learn to do certain things, we can accomplish those goals.”

I have had to make some really big decisions in my own lifetime.  I am sorry to say that many of my choices were not too smart.  I am happy to say that when I used the right powers for help in my decisions,  I always made the right choice.  Study … prayer … then decide.  My hubby Ken used to tell me that in making important choices and decisions to use that method.  To study it out, to pray about your decision and then decide to do it.  He would say that if the decision was right I would know it in my heart … I would feel peace.  If I kept doubting my decision, then I would know that I had made the wrong decision and to back up and start again.  This has always worked for me.  I always followed his three steps and if my heart kept debating, then I began my decision making again. This important lesson and wisdom sure kept me from making some really stupid choices and bad decisions!

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For instances, some of my decisions were: Getting married and having children … That was an easy one.  Working mom or stay at home mom … a harder choice because of finances but staying home was the right decision.  Moving Ken’s business from downtown to our backyard building … also a tough decision knowing clients would be coming to our home … but a right financial decision to move to our own building.  Going to work after Ken passed away … Opps, the kids made that decision for me and made me go to work.  Actually it was the best decision for my health and emotional well being.  Thanks kids.  My decision between being treated for cancer in Tarboro or Duke Cancer Center … I chose Duke because of the aggressive cancer type I had and their world class doctors.  Proof of the right decision … I defied the odds and am still here going on 8 years after diagnosis.  These are some of the choices I have had to made.  I’m not going to list all the wrong decisions because I don’t want you to laugh at all my dumb choices.  I do want you to see that by making your own choices you can effect your life for the good.  You just need to figure out what’s best and then do it.  Isn’t that what Nike says … Just Do It! … great advice.

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I love this quote by Thomas S. Monson:  “It has been said by one, years ago, that history turns on small hinges, and so do people’s lives.  Our lives will depend upon the decisions which we make – for decisions determine our destiny.”  WOW … yes our choices do determine our destiny … strong thoughts!

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Now for one of my favorite stories. Its Aesop Fable, “The Man, the Boy, and the Donkey.” A father and were to journey to the city marketplace and sell a donkey for winter provisions. As they started to town, the father rode the donkey. In the first village, the villagers said, “What an inconsiderate man, riding the donkey and making his son walk!” So the father got off the donkey and let his son ride.  In the next town, the people whispered, “What an inconsiderate boy, riding the donkey and making his father walk!”

In frustration, the father climbed on the donkey; and father and son rode the donkey, only to have the people in the next town declare, “How inconsiderate of the man and the boy to overload their beast of burden and treat him in such an inhumane manner!” In compliance with the dissident voices and mocking fingers, the father and son both got off the donkey to relieve the animal’s burden, only to have the next group of onlookers say, “Can you imagine a man and a boy being so stupid as to not even use their beast of burden for what it was created!”

Then, in anger and total desperation, having tried to please all those who offered advice, the father and son both rode the donkey until it collapsed. The donkey had to be carried to the marketplace and could not be sold. The people in the marketplace scoffed, “Who wants a worthless donkey that can’t even walk into the city!”

The father and son had failed in their goal of selling the donkey and had no money to buy the winter provisions they needed in order to survive.  Think about it for a moment … how much different the outcome would have been if the father and son had had a plan to follow and then made to choice to follow that plan.  The choice would have been so easy.

At times, making the right choices can be simple. At other times, it is truly a big struggle. But through it all, you can find comfort in knowing that you can summon support and comfort from a loving Heavenly Father to help you in making your decisions. He is intimately concerned with your welfare, and He seeks to give you blessings overflowing with guidance to make the right choices.

Just do it!  Just saying …