Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Endings and Beginnings

The author of the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes makes the observation that "There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens." He then lists examples of how there is a time for something and then a time for its opposite. For example, there's a time to be born and a time to die; a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to keep silent and a time to speak; and so forth.

There seems to be a time for everything.

Today I'd like to contemplate a time to end and a time to begin.

On June 30 I will end my career with Lutheran Hour Ministries and the Mens' NetWork.

This ending is a bittersweet time for me, as I will certainly miss writing these weekly messages. For your feedback has indicated that sometimes, in some small ways, these messages have been informative and inspirational. I am humbled to hear that from you.

However, with each ending there is a new beginning, and I look forward to launching into a new phase in my life. I anticipate the opportunities God has in store for me in my new role. I am excited and a little apprehensive about the future, but I am ready.

That is the nature of endings and beginnings, isn't it? We often look backward with a twinge of sadness and look forward with excitement and a little anxiety.

Of course, many of us face these times of transition at different moments in our lives.

To paraphrase the biblical writer, there is a time to end and a time to begin the many things we do under the sun. There is

a time to end walking and a time to begin driving as a licensed driver;
a time to end being single and a time to begin life as a husband;
a time to end being childless and a time to begin being a father;
a time to end one job and a time to begin another;
a time to end living in an apartment and a time to buy a house;
a time to end employment and a time to retire.

Then again, not all endings are anticipated. There may come a time when you end being married and begin life as a widower or a divorced man.

There may come a time when your employment ends with the words, "You're fired," and you begin the long process of finding work again.

There may come a time to end being a homeowner as the bank forecloses your note and you start life as a homeless person, doing the best you can to find shelter for you and your family.

I have learned one thing over the years that has helped me face endings that were hard to understand and difficult to endure. Whether it was losing a wife, a job, or a house, God has always been there with me.

As I look back over my life, I see how God has provided for me no matter what the circumstances.

Men, if I can leave you with one thing it is this: God loves you.

May your journey be blessed and full of wonderful beginnings and endings.


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Hardest Job

For most of us the hardest job we ever had to do was something unpleasant, usually during our teen years, as we entered the work place. For some of us this was cleaning the grease pit at a convenience store "kitchen," specializing in chicken wings, low-grade burgers, and French fries. For others it might have been clearing tables at a busy restaurant. Maybe it was working in the blinding heat of summer, carrying stacks of roofing shingles up a ladder to a carpenter. Or it might have been enduring the exhausting monotony of assembly line work, trying to keep up with the flow of experienced workers, before you lost your mind.

For me one of the hardest jobs I ever had involved scraping and shoveling asbestos insulation from ovens used to cure sewer pipe. That was a very long summer.

Each of us keeps a memory tucked into some corner of our mind of the hardest jobs we ever had to do. It's good to pull that memory out once in awhile, so we can put our current job in perspective.

For example, a veteran sitting all day long in an air-conditioned office, attending boring meetings can seem a grind at the time, but it's absolutely delightful next to being yelled at by drill sergeants and endless hours of PT.

When it comes down to it, hard jobs aren't always defined by soaring temperatures, blitzed muscles, or intolerable bosses; they can also be measured by the amount of stress produced, anxiety raised, or nightmares encountered.

I can do great doing most anything physical or mental, but the hardest job for me involves relationships.

One of the hardest jobs I've ever volunteered for is being a husband. I struggle daily to define my role and responsibilities in this endeavor.

The transition from husband to father creates numerous opportunities for other hard jobs to surface: changing diapers, giving baths, helping with homework, encouraging broken hearts, and teaching one to drive.

In retrospect, my job as husband and father may be one of the most difficult in terms of stress and anxiety, but it's one I would not trade for all the air-conditioned corner offices and six-figure salaries in the world.

That being said, there are fringe benefits too. Like right now, as I get to watch my son pitch his first game.

Those hours we spent playing catch in the backyard are paying off.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Kindness - Live Long and Prosper

I was filling up my gas tank recently when a college student approached me and asked if I had any cash. I immediately reached into my pockets and discovered that I really didn't have any cash. He then thanked me for looking and proceeded to the next person pumping gas.

I didn't think much more of the incident until I went to put the hose back into the pump and heard someone say, "Mom, I did ask the people here. No one has any money for me."

I looked around the pump and saw the college student who had asked me for cash; he was leaning on his car trunk talking on the phone to his mom. I waited until he hung up and approached.

"I was wondering what's up"

"My mother called and said she needed me to come home, but I don't have enough gas to get home. I don't have any money. I called her and she said I should ask the people here if they could give me enough gas money to get home, but no one can help."

I told him to put the hose in his tank. I then swiped my credit card at the pump and told him to put in what he needed.

His eyes got big and he asked, "You're sure?"

"Stop when you think you have enough," I replied.

He stopped the pump after one gallon, but I was feeling generous. I told him to go ahead and fill it up; it took 14.

Every time I remember that day I feel good.

That is what acts of kindness do for us. They give us a helper's high. It's a rush of euphoria, which is followed by a longer period of calm, after performing a kind act. This high comes from the physical sensations and the release of the body's natural painkillers, the endorphins. This initial rush then produces a longer-lasting period of improved, emotional well-being.

Research also found that acts of kindness reduce stress, give us a sense of joy, and deaden pain.

Kindness is also contagious. Someone seeing you do an act of kindness prompts them to do one, which prompts another person, etc.

I have also been on the receiving end of acts of kindness as when a Good Samaritan shoveled the snow from my walk and driveway. That was very much appreciated.

Kindness can lead to social connections too. If you do a favor for your neighbor, he just might want to do one for you, and pretty soon you are sharing stories, grilling recipes, and making new friends.

Doing good deeds makes us feel good.

I wonder why we I don't do them more often.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Take Time to Laugh Each Day

There it was, on the Internet, in black and white, highly pixilated print, so I knew it just had to be true: "The Health Benefits of Laughter." The article went on to explain, "Laughter is a key component of a happy life, and it has powerful physical and mental benefits. No matter what you're facing, you can learn to laugh and benefit from its healing ways."

Now I enjoy a good belly laugh just as much as the next guy. I like The Big Bang Theory, and The Crazy Ones, and I've busted out laughing more than once watching them. I've been known to enjoy Billy Crystal and Chris Rock, along with Jimmy Kimmel too.

Why? I love to laugh.

Now I read that laughter is a health benefit. How great is that? I haven't heard such good news since I was told a glass of wine a day is good for your health.

So what are the benefits of laughter? Well, let's see.

Laughter reduces depression. Research shows people who use humor to fight stress also feel less lonely and more positive about themselves. One study found humor therapy was as effective as widely used antipsychotic drugs -- minus the side effects -- in managing agitation in patients with dementia. I like the sound of that.

Laughter is also a common therapy among cancer patients; they find laughing improves the quality of their lives. Makes sense to me.

Laughter is heart healthy. Some research shows that when you laugh, there is an increase in oxygen-rich blood flow in your body. This is due possibly to the release of endorphins, which create a chemical rush that counters negative feelings and stress. Two activities that increase endorphin release are a good workout and listening to music you love. Laughter too deserves its place on the list with these other stress busters. (The next time the doctor says you need to work out, turn up the jams and have a good laugh: mission accomplished!)

One thing the study didn't mention is that laughter is contagious. A giggling baby in church starts the congregation laughing, or at least smiling. A surprise snort from a person in a crowd can be the spark that ignites a full-scale laugh bomb. A laughing boss bodes no harm. For best results, laugh with him.

We may not all be stand-up comics, but that doesn't mean we can't laugh out loud and often. I like to laugh at the silly things I do or say. That takes the sting out of being foolish. I like puns. I like jokes. I like to laugh with my family. I like to find the humor in a situation rather than search for the alternative.

For example, my wife looked at me while I was driving the other day and with those big baby blues, she said, "You're lost, aren't you?"

I responded, "No, we're on an adventure."

The next day she bought me a GPS. Now I have two women telling me where to go.

Annie Fellows Johnston (1863-1931) was an American author of children's fiction who wrote, "Remember, men need laughter sometimes more than food."

Now that makes me laugh.