Surfacing

Just over five months ago, I fought to open my eyes and focus on the face of a young woman who was doing her best to explain what my immediate plans were for the afternoon.

Over the course of the next hour, I slowly came to the realization that I had been in an automobile accident. I say “realization” rather than “recollection” because, to this day, I have no memory of the collision. During that first hour of consciousness I had a number of thoughts.

I wonder . . . where the accident happened . . . where my car is . . . if anyone else had been hurt . . . whether or not I should cancel my 4 p.m. appointment . . . whether I am seriously injured.

During the second hour, I began to take inventory. At some point, that nice nurse had slipped my driver’s license and a little brochure from the police department in my left hand. My wallet was in my back pocket. I had all of my keys, except for the one to my car. My cell phone was on my belt and still working. And it was about that time that it occurred to me that I was alone – I was surrounded by strangers.

When I look back on that moment now, it seems pretty odd that I didn’t think to reach for my phone and call my wife. The phone worked, after all, and I knew her number. But making the call never made it to my list of options. Eventually, the nurse, in response to my anxiety, made the call.

People in conflict have moments like that, too. The immediate circumstances close in on them along with the distractions and worries that accompany disputes. And, even though they have the skills and the ability to handle conflict appropriately, they don’t.

Frustratingly, that’s true for me as well. It is difficult for me to properly deal with conflict in my own life. And that’s a little embarrassing to admit since I make my living helping others work through their conflicts. Yet, it doesn’t matter who you are, when the conflict is personal, surfacing to a place where you can respond appropriately is hard to do.

As you walk through each day and are confronted with challenges, remember to pause and allow yourself to surface. In almost every instance, the skills and opportunities for solutions and reconciliation are at your fingertips. And, if you still can’t quite reach them, don’t be afraid to ask someone else for help.

Value in Faith, Part 2

I’ve been accused of not listening. Actually, I’ve been convicted of the charge.

And my “not listening” is not confined to what the weatherman just said about the forecast or the announcement blared out over the plane intercom. Nor is it limited to those vital moments in a television show or football game when I really need (in theory) not to be disturbed with outside information. No, it’s been pointed out to me that my most grievous period of inattention comes in the midst of those times when I appear to be willingly engaged in conversation.

I, for one, find it ironic that this is a problem for me. After all, I teach people how to have difficult conversations. And, on most occasions, I am very successful in listening to others and conveying my interest in what they have to say.

After further thought, it dawned on me that I am most guilty of this behavior in my “everyday” conversations. I’m not arrogant about it nor selective. No, I see these times of exchange as a necessary moment to dispense MY information.

An additional irony emerges as I consider that my inattention transmits my disregard for the other even though these “everyday” people are family and friends who I dearly love.

This is a problem, I thought. And being a problem-solver by nature, I came to the notion that I should list my special “everyday” people and give my best effort to listening to every word they say. I was about 5 people down on the list, when I recognized that I “talk” to God everyday. And thus, my second clarifying statement on faith emerged:

To realize the value I place on faith, I will spend more time in prayer in order to listen to God.

More time praying with the intended result of hearing more from Him.

For a doer and a talker, this is a big step for me. Yet, I tried it just this morning. Sat down. Pulled my chair close. Breathed deeply. And heard God.

No booming voice came out of a thundercloud. No stone tablets were pushed across the table. No . . . only silence and calm. And thoughts and ideas that seem clear now — and some that will become clear some day. My God whispers. He has nothing to prove.

And when I can stop and listen for that whisper, I come to know Him. My faith can’t help but grow.

[This is one in a number of notes about my personal journey to identify and enhance my values. It’s personal. It may not address where you are and may not align with your value system. You may not agree with me at all. That’s all right. If I’m missing something or you’ve got some thoughts that would be helpful, please do. Thanks for reading.]

Escaping Orbit

As I gaze out the window of my oft-times harried life, it seems to me that I often see the same landscapes.  Over and over again.  And planted in those larger scenes are the faces I’ve seen before with voices echoing the same messages I’ve heard before.

Face pressed against the window pane of my existence, I marvel, perhaps even delight, in seeing the replay of my most frustrating moments.  I see the anger and injustice that I perceive grows from others.  And I, almost unknowingly, reach over to hit the rewind button.  I feel justified in my own anger and malice toward those who do things to complicate my life.

I now realize that when I act this way, I have chosen to orbit the challenges and problems.  For whatever reason, I have chosen to keep them close.  I have chosen my misery.

“Chosen” is a convicting word.  Some who are in a similar circumstance may wince a bit at its use.  Why, we all ask, would we choose to do what is painful?

I believe we choose to act this way because, deep down, we think we have the power to make a difference . . . to bring about change.  Actually, we do have some capacity for that.  Yet, when we target change to happen in others, we lock into a circular path that leads nowhere.  In doing so, we orbit.  We spin around.  We turn the problems over and over again in our hands like some sort of a puzzle.  While in the force of that recurring nightmare and our attempts to stabilize everything about us, we rarely find the key to unlock the puzzle’s secret.

The problem with orbiting is that over time our energy begins to wane and we begin a spiral down into the problem itself.  We want to own the situation and manipulate it.  Without fail, that sort of fixation allows gravity to pull us into the central mass of negativity and pain.

I’m discovering (but have not mastered) the concept of letting go.  By releasing those things I truly have no control over, I am freed to go on with my life without the constant reruns of my bitterness, helplessness, and hopelessness.  Indeed, I am freed to navigate to where I need to be and want to be — almost at will.  Or, if I’m not totally successful in releasing, I gain the blessing of a wider orbit, one that includes greater experiences and relationships.

The key is in deciding what I am truly responsible for and what is outside my realm.  I am responsible for me.  I am responsible for how I interact with others.  I am responsible for my relationship with One who is greater than me.  And while that is a tremendous set of responsibilities, it’s a burden that each one of us is totally capable of bearing.

Let go.  Share heavy things with others.  Escape your orbit around the negative things that can capture your heart, mind, and soul.

If the shoe fits . . .

Last night, a new acquaintance began telling me about his recent experience buying sandles. He walked into a store last week, found a pair that he liked, and then asked the clerk to bring

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him a size 10-and-a-half and a size 11. He explained that his shoe size was 11 but that his experience with sandles was that they are often a little bigger than the size professes.

The clerk returned with two pair — sizes 10 and 11. “We don’t have half-sizes,” he reported. My new friend tried on the 10 “just because it was there” and was amazed when it fit perfectly. Curious, when the clerk left to ring up his purchase, he grabbed the contraption that gauges feet and found, indeed, his foot measured a size 10.

“I have a closet full of size 11 shoes,” he told me, “and now I’ve discovered that I’ve been buying the wrong size — most of my life!”

While I found the story interesting, I didn’t have a clue of his rationale for telling it. Until he added, “I’ve learned a lot through this experience. It seems that I’m quite capable of limping through life with the assistance of things that don’t really work. Now, I’m on the lookout for things that fit me and giving things a chance that I’ve refused to even consider. The future seems much brighter now.”

Openness to doing things differently — thinking, talking, listening — does tend to brighten up the future. Try on a different size shoe today. Particularly if its well-worn by someone else. You might discover some new possibilities.

Sometimes You Just Know Better

As I pressed “End Call” on my iPhone I just couldn’t hold back any longer.

And so, I laughed. Loud and hard and long. And as I thought about what others would think about my mirth in a time like this, I laughed even louder and harder and, yes, longer.

Soaked to the skin and standing ankle-deep in water, my only function — other than laughing — was to try to divert as much of the stream of water bursting through the hole above the bathtub down and into the tub where it could drain away safely. I was having some success, although I could tell by the way the water level was rising outside the tub that the cascade was finding another path.

My son, Jeremy, was on his way to assist as a result of my phone call. He arrived minutes later. Before he could ask me the natural questions that arise at times like this, I was already into the story.

It seems that the bath faucet handle had been broken in the guest bathroom. Since we had gone through this with a handle in the back bedroom shower, I had already decided that no plumber would be called on this day. Too expensive. I sauntered off to a nationwide home improvement center, confronted a plumbing “expert” with my problem and the broken pieces, and was pointed to the small package of parts that I would need.

My last question to this person wearing an apron or a vest or something that just shouldn’t be worn unless cooking was, “Now, I need to turn the water off to the house before I replace this, right?”

“No, no,” he said. “You’re just replacing an extension stem. Just pull the old one out and slip this one in. You’ll be all set.”

“You’re sure?” I queried. “I would think that you would turn off the water anytime you’re working on a faucet.”

“Positive. Just call me if you have a question.”

Armed with his name and the store’s number, I headed home. I had taken off work for the day to carve away at a rather large to-do list. Since this small repair wasn’t even on the list, my plan was to handle it early and quickly and then move on.

Standing in the bathtub in question, I pulled the trim off the faucet and attempted to pull the stem off in the easy manner described by the expert. No luck. It was easy to see that the stem was housed in a chrome socket that needed to be unscrewed. Memories of Three Stooges’ movies filled my brain. Immediately, I pulled out my phone and called my expert.

A couple of minutes later, assured by him that we weren’t “going deep enough” to worry about turning off the water, I was slowly turning the socket with my channel-lock pliers. I remember thinking, “This just doesn’t seem right.” About that moment, the chrome socket, the broken stem, and some other important plumbing pieces shot past by my head at a speed just slightly shy of the speed of light. That parade of parts was followed quickly by a surge of water not seen in our part of dry, West Texas since the Columbus Day Flood of the early ’80s.

My immediate response was . . . “Wow!” Then . . . “Oh, no!” Then a dash to the front yard to turn off the water. Then . . . “Oh, no! I didn’t bring a wrench to turn off the water!” Then quick ingress to the house toward the garage to get a wrench. In midpath, I noticed that water was going everywhere. That’s when I decided to try to divert the water while I called for help.

And so, I stood and laughed as water exited the wall at high velocity and I realized that my attempt at diversion was, at best, only a slight distraction for the water. And I laughed harder. There was nothing else to do for the moment.

You know the feeling though, don’t you? You find yourself in the middle of a growing debacle — one that could have been easily prevented. And you knew better than to do what you did. But some well-meaning person (or perhaps criminally deranged or negligent person, as in my case) gives you different advice. Advice that just doesn’t sound right, doesn’t fit. And now it becomes apparent that it doesn’t work.

Laughter is rarely the response we have in those circumstances. Saying “I knew better” over and over again doesn’t make things feel any better. And then, there’s the aftermath of clean-up and assessing the damage caused because we knew better but didn’t honor the feeling.

I accomplished nothing on my to-do list this day. Instead, I soaked up water and learned the finer eccentricities of my wet-dry vacuum which, until this afternoon, had known only dry work. I also received a lesson in faucets from the plumber who came a few hours later. Seems I would have done fine — if only I’d turned the water off.

The biggest problem, of course, wasn’t the water. It was the pressure of the water — there was just a lot of it in a short amount of time.

Often times, when we deal with others we don’t agree with, it’s not the disagreement that holds the greatest potential for damage. The emotion and the pressure are the dangerous elements — not the substance of the conversation.

Just as I learned in my plumbing lesson, sometimes it is better to create a little space and relieve the pressure. It doesn’t guarantee that the problem will be fixed. But it certainly allows for a more relaxed discussion.

In those difficult moments, honor your feelings and do the right thing. Take time to honor the relationship and relieve the emotional pressure. Despite the advice of talk show hosts and politicians, it’s more important to do the right thing than it is to be right. After all, you know better.

Photo Credit: Bernd in Japan (Creative Commons"