Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Helen Keller

When she was only nineteen months old, Helen Keller was struck with a fever that left her deaf and blind. Despite the enormity of her hardship, she graduated cum laude from Radcliffe College, wrote several books, and worked tirelessly for peace and human rights.

How did she overcome her disabilities and achieve such incredible things? Two forces converged to make it possible. One was the intervention of her teacher, Anne Sullivan. The other factor was the iron will of Helen Keller herself.

You too can overcome any obstacle in life if you have this powerful one-two combination: having a friend who truly believes in you and having dogged determination with the refusal to quit.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


Most therapists agree that our self-image is initially formed by the response of others. It is as though parents and other authority figures are holding up a mirror to us. If we see affirmation in their faces, we are likely to think highly of ourselves.

If their facial expressions are unfavorable, we begin to think negatively about ourselves. It's probably a little more complicated than that, but this is part of how our self-image was initially shaped.

Well, we are also image-makers in the lives of others. When the impressionable people around us see our face, what do they learn about themselves? Do they read a favorable or unfavorable impression of themselves on the mirror of our face? Are we giving them a positive or a negative image of themselves?

Watch your face. It is a mirror.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Party Phone Lines

When I was a boy, everyone I knew was on a "party" phone line. There were six families on our phone line. If the phone rang twice, that meant it was for us.

 The favorite indoor sport of all youngsters was to listen in on other people's telephone conversations. I cannot tell you how many times I have had a neighbor shout at me, "Get off the phone! This is a private conversation!"

All sorts of myths developed around having heard parts of telephone conversations. We were convinced that a girl in our neighborhood washed her hair with "Tide" detergent, because she had wild hair and we heard her mention the "Tide" soap powder in a phone message.

Beware of rumors that circulate about people. Be skeptical of them. And refuse to spread them.

Scuba Diving

Some day I'd like to go scuba diving. The people I know who practice the sport say it is wonderful.

 Scuba diving is safe - provided you don't try to dive too deep or stay down too long. You don't want to run out of oxygen. And when you surface, you've got to do so slowly, making periodic decompression stops at various levels. The longer you stay down, the slower you have to surface. This gives your body time to acclimate to the change in pressure.

Life is a lot like scuba diving. We need to learn to pace ourselves lest we run out of gas. The harder we work, the more important it is to chill out - to decompress from the stresses we have been under.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Two Questions

Two of the questions I often ask when people come to see me are, "What do you think you ought to do?" and "So, what are you going to do?"

The first question assumes people really know the right thing to do. Most of the time, I think they do.

The second question confronts folks with their responsibility to live by the highest and best they know.

 Sometime we know the right thing to do. We just don't want to do it. We want to go home, eat a half-gallon of ice cream or drink a bottle of wine, and feel sorry for ourselves. But that doesn't work, does it? The only thing that works is doing what we need to do instead of what we want to do.

 The two questions are: "What do you think you ought to do?" and "What are you going to do?"

Friday, August 26, 2011

See The Blueprint in Your Mind

Recently, social scientists made an amazing discovery. The mind cannot tell the difference between mental imaging and actual physical practice. If you visualize in your mind's eye that you are doing a thing, the mind cannot distinguish it from you actually doing what you visualize.

Athletes have learned this. If you see yourself hitting the ball, it helps you hit the ball. I am not saying that batting practice doesn't help. It does. But part of success in sports is between your ears, and this part can be accomplished as well by visualization as it can by practice.

Each of us needs to learn to visualize what we want. See the blueprint in your mind. See yourself completing the task. See it as already accomplished.

Jesus said, "As you believe, so shall it be done unto you."

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Painful Experiences

One of the great secrets of life is to schedule your pain.
People who end up with big problems are the folks who do pain-avoidance. They put off unpleasant things like exercising, going to the dentist, having an annual physical exam, having their will drawn, doing their taxes, visiting a therapist.

It's better to schedule painful experiences. Put them on your calendar. Spread them out so they do not all come at one time. And then do them, whether you feel like doing them or not. It is better to suffer a small amount every now and then than to have greater pain, plus the agony of regret, later.

Trust me, it pays to schedule your pain. And don't forget to follow each painful experience with a scheduled pleasurable experience.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

"Sports Illustrated"

Have you ever worked hard, hoping someone would notice your achievements, but no one did?

I have a friend who is a high school football coach. One morning, as he was dressing to go to school, the phone rang. His wife said it was "Sports Illustrated." He was thrilled. He had just finished his third consecutive successful season and finally his efforts had come to the notice of that herald of truth, "Sports Illustrated." He gathered his thoughts and went to the phone. The person on the other end asked him to confirm his name and then said, " You can renew your subscription today for a special deal of only $29.95."

When disappointment happens to us, we need to do what my friend did. He laughed, got dressed, and went to work.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Finding Out What Your Core Beliefs Are

Would you like to discover what your core beliefs are? I’m not talking about what you ought to believe, but what you actually do believe. Your core - what's really important to you -what you'd be willing to die for.

Here's how to sort it out. Take a sheet of paper and write down "I believe ___________" twenty five times. Leave space to fill in the blanks later. Then set aside an hour to fill in the blanks. Don't worry about in what order you list them. This is just a free association list of core beliefs.

Then go back and order the list from 1 to 25 according to how important each is to you. At the end of the process, you'll have your core beliefs.

Go back and repeat the process every year to see how you have changed.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Some Hard Questions

Some people never live their life. Sadly, they live someone else's life. They live the life someone programmed them to live. I know people who hate what they do, but they cannot change. Why, you ask? Because someone else owns their life.

Are you living the life you have imagined or are you living the life someone imagined for you? Just who programmed you to do what you are doing? Is it you or someone else - your parents, your spouse, your peers, authority figures?

Ask yourself some hard questions: Who owns my life? Who or what controls my decisions? Am I living the life I imagined or someone else imagined for me?

And do I have the courage to choose the life I have imagined?

Sunday, August 21, 2011


There is a Greek myth about a sculptor named Pygmalion. He chiseled a statue of a perfect lady and then fell in love with it. The goddess of love was so impressed with the sculptor's love for the statue that she brought it to life. And they lived happily ever after.

George Bernard Shaw was so impressed with the myth that he wrote a play about a contemporary version of it called "Pygmalion." It was turned into a musical entitled "My Fair Lady." More recently, it was revised and updated again into a movie called "Pretty Woman."

The point of each of these - the myth, the play, and the movies - is that people can change. And the most transforming force in the world is love.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Internally or Externally Focused

Behavior scientists say that each of us is either internally or externally focused. If you are internally focused, it means your behavior is governed by what is happening inside you. If you are externally focused, it means your behavior is determined by what is happening around you.

It is obvious that externally focused people are not as happy as internally focused folk. They are perpetually reacting to events going on around them. Consequently they feel out of control.

Behavioral scientists say that most of us are 70% one-way and 30% the other. Either the external or the internal dominates in our life. They also say we can choose to shift the locus of control in our lives. Each of us would do well to be less externally focused and more internally focused.

Friday, August 19, 2011


Sometimes people ask me, "How can I forgive people who have hurt me?"

Here's a practical suggestion that might help. Make a list of the persons who have hurt you. Then divide t hem into two separate groups - assassins and idiots. Assassins are the people who purposely wanted to hurt you. They were malicious, cruel and intentional. They wanted to inflict pain on you. Idiots, on the other hand, did not intend you harm. They are just insensitive, bumbling fools.

Go ahead and forgive the idiots. After all, they are idiots.

Steer clear of the assassins. You still have not forgiven the assassins, but at least you have narrowed the list.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Welcome to The Club

I met a man the other day who claimed his problems were the result of being from a dysfunctional family. He blamed all his personal problems on his parents.

I want to let you in on a secret: there are no dysfunctional families. I've been a pastor for many years; I've counseled thousands of folks, and I've never seen a fully functional family. All families are dysfunctional! Welcome to the club.

Happiness is not something you inherit from a functional family. It is how you choose to pick up the broken pieces of your past and make something out of them. Quit blaming your parents. Accept responsibility for your life and choose to make something out of it.

Here is the good news: childhood trauma does not have to doom you to a life of misery.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Consistency and Patience

Sometimes people change as a result of some dramatic, life-altering crisis or trauma. But most of the time real, permanent change takes place slowly, incrementally.

Weight loss, for example. Experts say the only healthy way to lose weight and keep it off is to do it gradually. One pound per week seems to be the mutually agreed target. Sure, there are crash diets that will produce quick results. But soon the weight is back on. The reason why the slow, steady approach works better is that it gives you time to see yourself differently. And our bodies always end up looking like the way we view ourselves. So, one pound a week is about all we can handle. It usually took us years to put on the weight, and it will take time to shed it.

If you've got a habit that you need to break, the key is consistency and patience.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

"Hurry Sickness."

Many of us have what I call "hurry sickness."

When we are driving and moving toward a red light, we mentally calculate the number of cars in each lane and move toward the lane that we project will move the fastest. If we guess wrong, it makes us angry.

 When we are in the grocery store, we evaluate the lines before we get in one. As the checker processes the groceries in front of us, we calculate where we would be now if we had gotten in another line. Or if we are in one of those "15 items or under" lines, we count the items in the baskets of the people in front of us.

I call it "hurry sickness." We need to relax, breathe deeply and enjoy the trip. It doesn't matter who finishes first. Your great need is not to be faster but to live your life better.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Brand Consciousness

When children are small, they are immune to brand consciousness. They are more focused on substance than style. For little girls, it is a blue shirt. For boys, it's just a shirt. But neither of them cares what the label in the shirt says.

But it doesn't take us long to teach them brand consciousness. Pretty soon the label is more important than the shirt. In fact, in your person OK-ness, acceptability is dependent upon the label in your shirt.

Soon brand consciousness spreads out to affect everything in our lives - the car you drive, the neighborhood you live in, the school you go to. You are in or not in, cool or not cool, based upon these significant, economically driven criteria.

Let me say this clearly: Don't poison your soul with brand conscious thinking.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

"The Gospel of Wealth."

In 1889, Andrew Carnegie, then the wealthiest person in the world, wrote an essay called "The Gospel of Wealth." In the paper, he laid out the core principles by which he lived.

Carnegie said he believed the wealthy were only temporary custodians of their bounty and they had a moral obligation to use their wealth to accomplish some common good. Mr. Carnegie said wealthy people should set an example of modesty, shunning ostentatious lifestyles and displays of extravagance.

Furthermore, Andrew Carnegie said the person who dies rich, dies disgraced - that people should give away their wealth while they are still living.

I grew up going to a library Mr. Carnegie's money built. His wealth built thousands of libraries all over America. Before he died, the Scottish immigrant had given away 95% of his wealth and blessed millions of people like me.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Be Careful How You Talk to Your Loved Ones

A State Patrolman pulled a car over for speeding. The Officer said to the male driver, "Sir, you were doing 70 mph."

"I couldn't have been," responded the driver. I had my cruise control set on 55." "That's not true, honey," said his wife."You were driving 70 mph."

The Patrolman continued: "And I noticed as I walked up that you were putting on your seatbelt. I'll have to charge you for that, too."

"It can't be so," answered the driver. "I always put it on first when I get into the car." "You forgot this time, honey," his wife retorted.

By this time the driver was upset. "Will you please shut up?" he shouted at his wife. The Patrolman looked at the wife and asked, "Does your husband always talk to you like this?" "No," said the wife. "Only when he's drunk."

The moral is: be careful how you talk to your loved ones!

Friday, August 12, 2011

A Different Kind of Praying

I once participated in a prayer group with a fellow who cussed when he prayed. My friend had not been a believer for long and he had a lifelong habit of cussing. By the time I knew him, he had cleaned up most of his really bad words. He no longer talked about people's mother or intimate sex acts in his slang, but most of the four letter words were still there. And when his prayers would get into high gear and Spirit started flowing, out would flow those four letter words.

It used me make me laugh. To be honest about it, I don't think the Creator was embarrassed at all. According to the Good Book, the Holy One sees our hearts. My friend's tongue may not have been pure, but his heart was.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A Disturbing Report

According to a recently published report, people continue to believe initially published reports, even after retractions have been printed and the reports have proven the report was false. Researchers say our minds construct models of the truth and after facts are in our brains for a while they harden like cement. So that when they find out the original information they received was incorrect, their minds cannot receive it. The misinformation has become so integral to our thinking that to receive it would leave our worldview in shambles. In other words, we believe things that fit our view of the truth even if we know they are wrong.

I don't know about you, but that report disturbs me.

Friends, make a commitment that you will always search for and embrace the truth. And that when you discover it, you will hold to it without fear, even if it requires you to re-think what you have believed in the past.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Three Priorities

For a number of years, I attended the officer meetings of a large, public bank holding company every week. The reason I went was to hear the weekly presentations of a man named Jim Blanchard. Jim is the most effective leader I have ever known and during those years he became my mentor.

Over and over in dozens of different ways, I heard him say to the officers that their three priorities should be: your spiritual values, your family, and your job - in that order. He said, "If you get these three priorities out of line, sooner or later you will have so many personal problems that you will be of no use to us at work."

I've lived long enough to see that my friend was right. Our priorities should be our spiritual values, our family, and then our vocation.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Honesty and Humility

When my oldest son was a freshman in college, we bought him a ticket to come home from North Carolina for Thanksgiving. On Tuesday night we waited at the airport for him to arrive. No Jimmy. We called his dorm room and he answered the phone.

He naively thought that he had an airplane ticket that could fly anytime he wanted to. He had not noticed that his ticket had a date, an hour, and a destination.
I said, "Go out to the airport tomorrow. Explain to the people at the airlines that you are an ignorant, naïve freshman in college. Beg them to help you. Who knows, someone might feel sorry for you."

He flew in the next day. Most of the time nothing works better than honesty and humility.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Brave New World

When I was in college, we had to read Aldous Huxley's book, Brave New World. It was a prophetic vision of future utopia published in 1932. Huxley described the world that would be - the world we live in. He foresaw a world where we would face an internal threat rather than an external one. It would be a world that would be dominated by technology, which would be used to enhance our comfort, convenience and amusement. It would be a world where books were in abundance but fewer people would read. It would be a world dominated by the desire for freedom and yet one in which there would be greater enslavement and addiction. The world would simplify ethics and only two principles would matter: Kindness and tolerance. Truth would be sacrificed.

We live in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. But we can make a decision to place our priority on timeless values like truth, sacrifice and integrity.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

All We Have To Do Is To Be Honest

I have a friend who grew up on a small farm in South Georgia. It was his boyhood responsibility to shell corn and feed the ducks every day. One day, for no apparent reason, he started throwing ears of corn at the ducks. One of the ears of corn hit a duckling in the ear and killed it. Terrified, he buried the little creature behind the barn and pretended nothing had happened.

That evening, he excused himself from supper and went to bed early. His mother asked him, "What's wrong, son?" He broke and started to weep, confessing, "I killed one of the ducks." His mother said, "I saw what happened today. I've been waiting for you to tell me, son. Don't you know that I love you more than 10,000 ducks? I forgive you. Thanks for being honest."

The One who made us, loves us and is eager to forgive us. All we have to do is to be honest.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Animals Within Us

Carl Sandburg has a poem in which he talks about the zoo of animals that were within him. I can identify with this poem. There is a horde of wild animals within me as well.
There is a hippopotamus within me that wants to wallow around in laziness.
There is a lion inside me that roars and is dangerous.
There is a snake in me that is subtle and deceptive.
But the key line of Sandburg's poem is the one that says, "But I am the keeper of the zoo." In other words, I am the one responsible for keeping all these destructive potentials within me in check. I have been given the power of choice and my decisions determine my destiny.
The object of life is not to decide whom to pin the blame on but to take what life deals to us and to accept responsibility for our own future.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Co-Dependent Behavior

A long time ago, a friend said something to me that was very profound. He said, "Jim, I give you my word that for as long as I live I'll be there for you. Regardless of what you need, no matter how small or large, I will do it. There are only two qualifications: It has got to be something I can do, and it has got to be good for you for me to do it." Do you know something? If someone is your friend or loved one, you can say that to them. But don't forget the two provisos. There are some things people need that we cannot do. We do not have the personal resources. And sometimes we are able to do things that would not be good for them for us to do. It is a wrong thing to practice co-dependent behavior.

Thursday, August 4, 2011


Most of the time our dreams are what I call "soul leaks." They say something about our fears and anxieties.
But occasionally our dreams are spiritual messages that come from outside us.

The other night, I wrestled with the memory of something I did wrong a long time ago. I didn't sleep well. My dreams disturbed me. One time I even got up in an attempt to wash it out. But when I went back to bed, it stayed with me.

I finally got up and waited until a decent hour to call the person I had offended years ago. I apologized and asked for forgiveness. They gave it.

The rest of the day I felt great. My dreams had become the means by which the Holy One had helped me to clean up my life.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

"Stinkin' Thinking"

When you have a problem with alcohol or drugs, your thinking is impaired. You make stupid choices. They call it "stinkin' thinking" in AA.

I do not say that as a criticism. I say it because it's the truth. I know - I'm an alcoholic. I don't drink any more but I still go to the meetings.

There is a saying in Alcoholics Anonymous that if you are still using and you think something is a good idea, you probably ought to do the opposite.

If you are still drinking or drugging, I've got some advice for you: Be very careful about the decisions you make. You could be digging the ditch deeper and making your bed harder. The best advice I could give you would be to find a chapter of AA or NA and pick up a "desire chip."

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The "100 to 1" Principle

Are you familiar with the "100 to 1" principle? I'll bet you are. Here is how it works: If 100 people tell you that you are wonderful, and one person tells you that you're a jerk, you give weight not to the 100 but to the one critic. I'll bet a lot of you have fallen prey to the "100 to 1" principle.

Then it gets worse. We collect the criticisms of these "ones" in our hearts. We look for evidence that our accusers are right. We add our own negative self-talk to the pile. It becomes a self-mutilation.

Why can't we take seriously the words of the 100 persons who give us positive affirmations? When people give you a compliment, don't throw it off. Receive it any say "thank you." And cut out the negative self-talk.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Boy Scout Camp

When my oldest son was twelve years old, he went to Boy Scout camp. It was his first camping experience and it lasted a week.

The fathers were invited to come out on Wednesday night, to eat supper and to spend a few minutes with our sons. When I arrived, my son met me with sobs, begging me to take him home. At the end of the night, he walked me to the car, tugging on me all the way. It was unbelievably hard to drive off and leave him there.
I worried about him for the rest of the week. I saw him in my mind's eye, sobbing day and night. But when I picked him up on Saturday morning, he was all smiles. He introduced me to his new friends, and there was no mention of Wednesday night.

And the truth is: you are going to live through your crises, too.