Do Your Job!

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Whatever opportunity comes up, go for it and give it your all.  You may never have another chance. (Ecclesiastes 9:10).”

I have been a New England Patriots fan since they became a team in 1960.  Those were years of relative obscurity as the last franchise admitted into the old American Football League struggled to find success.  They eventually began to achieve a limited amount of success.  Then along came Robert Kraft, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.  The rest, as they say, is history.  I’ve always been a big fan of the concepts of  “Do your job” and “Next man up”).  Whatever you may think about this owner, coach, quarterback, or team, you have to admit that their success in the modern era is unprecedented.  And they have maintained this success in spite of free agency, salary caps and the normal year to year injuries.  And the team mantra has been for everyone, “Do your job!”  And if someone goes down (or has to serve an inexplicable 4-game suspension), it’s up the next man to take up the slack and keep things moving forward.  But these are professionals who get paid (quite handsomely) to “do their job.”  What about those who don’t get paid the big bucks?

I became a UConn Women’s Basketball fan back in the early ’90’s when I was looking for a college team to use as an example to the players on the teams I was coaching at the time.  Under Coach Geno Auriemma, UConn went from a 12-15 record in 1985-1986 to having 31 consecutive winning seasons since.  They’ve won 11 of the past 22 national championships-including the past 4 in a row.  They have 4 out of the top 5 women’s all-time winning streaks with 47, 70, 90 and the current one of 105 and counting–with the last 2 bettering UCLA’s men’s streak of 88.  Coming into this year’s season, UConn had lost its top 3 players from last year’s team.  Those players went 1,2,3, in the WNBA draft.  Time for “next man up.”  Three “role players” from last year’s bench suddenly stepped up and, along with the two remaining veterans from last year’s team have turned the team into another UConn powerhouse.  Good teams try to never look ahead to more than the next game in order to maintain their focus on the game at hand.  UConn takes it a step further by trying to maintain focus on each play of every game.  That’s why, in games past, you’ve been able to see a 3-time All-American diving for a loose ball in the third quarter of a game in which UConn had a 40+ point lead.  Play at 100% on each and every play.  A detail-oriented perfectionist, Auriemma has told his players and everyone that will listen, that there is no magic to being successful.  You simply never slack off.  When you “strive for perfection, you achieve excellence.”

That’s a lesson these young women will carry with them for the rest of their lives–in their education, in their families, in their relationships, and in their chosen professions.  The same rules apply to us no matter what our circumstances, our families, our health, our age or our finances.  Strive for perfection in all things and you will achieve excellence.  Don’t get discouraged and take a play off.  But as for you, be strong and don’t give up, for your work will be rewarded. (II Chronicles 15:7)

What Part of Meow Don’t You Understand?

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Another reader in the family.

The godly care for their animal.  (Proverbs 12:10)

Yesterday, our next-door neighbor stopped by our vacation rental just as we were getting ready to leave for our day’s activities.  He and his wife are the caretakers of the property since the owners live in London.  As we opened the door, his cat, a beautiful caramel-colored animal, invited itself in and checked out the first floor and each of us.  Not typical behavior for a cat, but one I’ve seen before with our own cat.  Like most cats, our cat, Snicker, was very independent, so we apparently lived in Snicker’s house for almost 20 years.  All kidding aside, Snicker was a loving and lovable cat until she died at nearly 20 years old.  And there were definitely tears shed when she was gone.

There was a story in “The Word for the You Today” that told of a man who wanted to a certain hotel for a vacation.  He asked them, “Could I bring my dog?  He’s very well-behaved.”  The hotel owner replied, “I’ve been operating this hotel for 30 years and in all that time I’ve never had a dog steal towels, bedclothes, silverware, or pictures off the wall.  I’ve never had to evict a dog in the middle of the night for being drunk and disorderly, and I’ve never had one run out without paying the bill.  Your dog is welcome.  And furthermore, if your dog will vouch for you, you’re welcome, too.”

Animals help raise the spirits of the sick and disabled.  They act as service animals for the blind and others who need it.  And many of them simply become an important part of our families.  And yet, many of them are mistreated, abandoned, and even trained to be killers.  It’s a sad commentary on our times.  Sometimes, it’s simply a lack of understanding and continuing what has gone on before.  Recently, the Wringling Brothers/Barnum and Bailey Circus  announced its last tour, in part because of animal rights activists worried about the treatment of the circus animals.  To be fair, Ringling has set up a foundation to study the African elephant and the optimal conditions that they need.  But we can also make a difference by caring for the animals in our lives and supporting those organizations that strive to find homes for, and make life better for all of them.  It’s hard to be kind and loving to our fellow-man if we can’t find love and kindness for the defenseless animals that we share the planet with.  God put us all here for a purpose.  And it wasn’t to be cruel and unfeeling to the animals.  Remember, they were here first.

Come apart or come apart.

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Come away…and rest a while. (Mark 6:31)

My wife, Betty, and I are in the middle of the longest vacation of our married lives.  And we are enjoying every minute of it immensely while getting away and getting some much-needed rest.  I always thought that when I reached the age of retirement, life would slow down, become more relaxed and, in general, become the most peaceful part of my life.

Was I ever wrong!   Family relationships have become more complicated and time-consuming.  Health issues have come up that require treatment and life-style changes.  Household tasks that I put off for the past 20 years now need doing.  It’s true….retirement isn’t for sissies.  While I may have thought that retirement would free me from work and the pressures of my earlier life, one thing has remained the same.  I still need to take time off to recharge my batteries.  A change of scenery, a break from my everyday routine, and a temporary escape from the business of life can change my whole outlook and perspective.  We all need a break.  A MarketWatch survey in 2015 noted that 55% of American workers no longer take their paid vacations.  The Boston Globe followed that with a survey that showed that of those that took their vacations, 61% still continued to work.  I can’t even imagine the kind of unrelenting pressure to succeed that must create.

As I get older, it becomes harder for me to accomplish what I used to be able to do.  That can be very frustrating.  I’m no longer as quick physically or mentally (though some of you may feel that this is not necessarily a recent development) as I once was.  That’s even more frustrating.  Success now has a different definition and timeframe.  While a time of rest and separation may not cure me of getting old, it does help me to continue facing life with renewed energy and anticipation.

So, like the busy executive, the emergency room doctor, the mother of five, or the soldier serving overseas, we all need to come apart from our normal routines and pressures of life in order to keep from coming apart at the seams.  So rest and rejuvenate yourselves to be ready to face the coming days.  Happy vacation!

Gotcha!

 

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Be sure your sin will find you out. (Numbers (22:23)

Did you ever notice that when you’ve done something wrong, foolish or embarrassing, you rarely get away with it?  Somehow, somebody always seems to find out.  And when they do, there are consequences.  They may confront you, which can be difficult–both for you and the person confronting you.  They may “share” it with someone else with the alleged reason to find some way to “help” you overcome your failing.  Or they may keep it to themselves, either hoping that the problem will go away on its own, that they can hold it over you to be used at later time or to make them feel better about themselves because they aren’t guilty of the same thing.  And sometimes, it’s a combination of all these possibilities.

I remember a couple of amusing incidents from my coaching days.  At the time, I was coaching both spring track and cross-country.  One bright and wintry Saturday, I took my runners on a 9 1/2 mile run in the snow and ice.  About a third of the way into the run, we went by a frozen pond.  Wouldn’t you know it, one of my runners (who was absent from practice) was on that pond fishing.  What were the chances that we would stumble upon him skipping practice?  I bet he thought it never would happen.  None of us stopped and we let him sweat it out until we returned to practice the following Monday.  Then his teammates and I enjoyed” his extra workout for skipping the previous one.

Early one spring, one of my runners asked to be excused from a Saturday workout for his grandmother’s funeral.  The next week, he asked to be excused for his grandmother’s funeral.  Two weeks later, he again asked to be excused for his grandmother’s funeral.  Needless to say, he didn’t have three grandmothers.  Once again, we all enjoyed his extra workouts.

 We’ve all done things that we’ve regretted.  And when we’re found out, we usually suffer some immediate consequence–if only to feel guilty.  Even if no one else knows, you do.  And that knowledge will always be a part of you until you make it right, fix it, then let it go.  You may think you think you’ve gotten lucky and that no one else will ever know.  And that you think there will be no consequences.  Well, maybe not in this life, but what about the one to come?

Surround Sound

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“Concentrate on these things” (Philippians 4:8)

My wife and I have always had an abiding love for music.  So, many years ago, we stretched our limited budget enough to buy a Bose sound system complete with “surround sound.”  Much like today’s movie theaters, there are speakers in various places that allow us to feel like we’re right in the middle of the action.  It’s great for TV, movies, and, of course, music.

In this past holiday season, we often found the “reason for the season” being buried by the surrounding flood of advertising, cranky shoppers, winter weather, seasonal decorating, lack of parking, and sadness over the recent loss of family members.

We sang “Joy to the World” in church to celebrate the birth of Jesus.  But I wonder how many people actually felt joy during this blessed season.  Or did the hustle and bustle of the holiday surround us and bury the joy we should be filled with.  If we allow the potential  negatives that this time (or any other time) can cause, we will never be filled with the joy that God intended for us.  Instead we willed be filled with irritation, frustration and sadness.

But, if we surround ourselves with positive things, we will begin to feel that joy.  Joy in the act of giving to others. Joy of celebrating with family and friends.  Joy in encouraging those who need it.  So concentrate on these things:  that which is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.  Then you can have the joy of actually celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ (Philippians (4:8)

In All Things…

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“In everything give thanks…(I Thessalonians 5:18)

Thanksgiving has come and gone with its three “F’s”–family, food, and football.  Well, maybe not football.  We’re thankful for our family and friends.  We’re thankful for having enough food and a roof over our heads.  We’re thankful for our health and our jobs.

With people living longer, the size of our extended family has become larger and larger.  Medical advances have helped to prevent and treat injuries and illnesses that might have been fatal in years past.  And our ability to travel long distances has given us greater opportunities to gather together.  With social media, the number of our “friends” has increased daily.

Most of us have more than enough food and our homes are often far more than we actually need.  When we consider the  multitude of people around the world (and even  in our own country), that don’t have enough to eat or a place to live, we should be extremely thankful.  Maybe even enough to try to help others who are less blessed.  We may complain about what our jobs pay, but there are people who would love to have even one of our day’s pay–and then would make it last for a whole year.  They don’t have motorized transportation, multiple changes of clothing or grocery stores, health care, or even much education.  So, yes, we do have much to be thankful for.

I look back over my life and realize how much I have to be thankful for.  My parents have both passed away, but I’m able to remember them by the life they lived and the way they passed that example down to  me.  I don’t have a huge number of friends, but the ones I have, I trust.  They have made my life better for having know them.

My wife and I were never blessed with children, but were given a life-time of working with children, teens, and young adults.  And, at last count, we had well over 100 nieces/nephews, grand-nieces/grand-nephews, and great grand-nieces/great grand nephews.  Along with my wife as my partner, that’s a lot to be thankful for.

I taught and coached for 40 year–both jobs that I loved.  How many people can say that?  It was a job that allowed me to provide for my family then and still helps to provide for it now that I have retired.  If not for health issues, I would probably still be doing both.

My health hasn’t always been as good as I hoped it would be.  Three heart attacks, diabetes, sleep apnea, arthritis, and a “predisposition” for epilepsy are not what I had planned for in my “golden years.  But, while any one of these could be deadly or debilitating, I’m still here living my life to the fullest side by side with my wife.  And then there are the medical devices have helped to keep me going strong.  Reading glasses, hearing aids, and artificial knee, and a machine that keeps me breathing at night. If you think this is complaining, think again.  Despite these things, (or maybe because of them), I am still able to live my life with little to no restrictions.  Not a lot of people my age are that fortunate.

So as Thanksgiving day has passed, remember to be thankful for all things.  They make you who you are and are what you pass on to others.

 

Back in the Saddle

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Do not “give up” or “lose heart” (Luke 18:1)

I ran just 2 marathons during my running career.  My fastest was 3 hours and 18 minutes-not very fast, but fast enough to beat over 400 other runners.  The key was to never give or lose heart.  There were days when I simply did not want to run–either from fatigue or injury or just plain laziness.  But instead, I never gave up and accomplished something I never thought I could.  This was a choice I made for something I wanted to do.

I’ve found over the years, however, that I’ve been challenged by a number of difficult circumstances that I never asked for or wanted to experience.  I’m sure each of you have had similar experiences.  When hit by these difficult times, I have found myself becoming “gun-shy” about picking myself up to get by them.

First, understand that I am not by nature not very gregarious.  I am an introvert.  I like my friends singly and in groups, but I have no compulsive need to have others around me all the time.  In fact, give me a good book, some art supplies or some music and I can vanish from everyone else’s life for hours.  Unfortunately, this does not help when I’m struggling with something.

There have been a few times in my life when a situation has knocked me flat.  Some were of my own making.  Others were brought on by others.  Still others just happened.  I didn’t ask to have a heart attack; it just happened.  I didn’t ask to have a negative reaction to a medication; it just happened.  You just have to “suck it up” and deal with it.  The ones of my own making can be humbling, embarrassing  and sometimes hurtful to others.  For these I’ve had to apologize and make things right.  When humbled or embarrassed,  I’ve simply had to get over myself.  The world doesn’t revolve around me and my feelings.

The tough ones, though, have been those problems caused by others–the ones that change how you feel about yourself, change the direction of your life and then continue to re-insert themselves into your life when you’re least prepared to deal with them.  Fortunately, these kind of problems don’t come around too often.  I was once accused of something I never did.  Though everyone who knew me knew the accusation was false, the accusation remained.  And, with people being people, this accusation was kept alive by others for years and years.  Their belief was “where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”  And over the years, they created a lot of “smoke.”  This wasn’t a case of just dealing with something or simply getting over myself.  Thankfully, I came to realize that there is absolutely nothing that I could to do to eliminate the accusation or the accuser.  And my negative feelings about them never hurt them.  They only hurt me.  So the only thing I could do to save myself a lot of lasting pain was to forgive them and move on-hard though that was.

This was one of those times where it was good to ignore my introversion and have others around me.  Their prayers and encouragement were what kept me going.  It took years, but life became good again.