“Forge deep connections. Maintain eye contact and listen carefully to people.” That’s the matchstick suggestion for this week. It’s a good one. Do you ever feel almost invisible when you’re talking with a group of people, or sometimes even when you’re communicating one on one with a person? Good listeners are a rarity. I’ve been to workshops on how to be a good listener. Actually, I’ve given workshops on the subject! I’m not much of a talker unless I feel comfortable with the person I’m talking to. Small talk is difficult for me so I tend to listen more than talk in most situations. It’s just goes along with being an introvert. But I need the advice too. I may be listening, but am I really hearing what they are trying to communicate? And, those articulate ones who I admire so much for their fluent ability with words, they may have an even harder time listening. But, for both introverts and extroverts, concentrating on what the other person is saying, really caring about what they have to say, is more than being polite. It’s an act of love.
I’ve mentioned that I volunteer at a Home Hospice Office. Last week I was asked to update my personal files. Those files include a conflict of interest policy with disclosure statements and confidentiality agreements. They have documents on sexual abuse, a criminal history background check and media publicity release. Copies of my driver’s license and auto insurance are in there as well. I know these documents are necessary today, but it’s sad that it takes all that official paperwork to be able to help other people and not worry about being sued. It reminds me that we live in a totally different world from our parents and grandparents. People didn’t use to be so concerned about checking on those stopped alongside the road or worried about rushing in to help someone who had fallen or fainted or been otherwise disabled. But all that bureaucracy shouldn’t discourage us from helping: fill out the paperwork, take the CPR training and remember we have cell phones that can get a professional out in a hurry.
I have to admit it’s true. As this week’s matchstick suggestion says: “Exercise—it’s a proven mood lifter.” I can’t say I’m in the best of moods when I think about exercising. I’m not a jock. I don’t like it, but I exercise regularly, and afterward I feel energized and happy. The endorphins kick right in. You’ve heard the sayings, “Use it or lose it.” “No pain, no gain.” I agree with the first, not so sure about the second. Pain happens for a reason. It’s like an alarm, designed to warn us of danger to our bodies. Even the experts agree, if a certain exercise is causing excessive pain to one of our joints, we should probably not be doing that exercise. Exercise is like most things, good in moderation, not so good in excess. So why do I do what I don’t like? Because I like even less what a lack of exercise can cause, everything from heart problems to early dementia. Exercise is the best medicine I can take and it doesn’t cost me a thing.
Have you ever gotten a letter from Marquis Who’s Who? It’s an organization that will put your name and education and achievements in a book, and then offer you the overpriced book. I’ve just tossed them before, but I decided to look at this one because I noticed it included a biographical form with information on me that doesn’t even appear on the internet. What’s with that? It even had my mother’s maiden name, which I sometimes use as part of my identity. Is there no privacy anymore? I think we can all answer that—no! But it made me think. Are those degrees and those career achievements really who I am? Does my education and my work define me? It’s easy enough to think so, but they actually don’t. If education and work is all who we are, that’s all gone when we die. As Christians our identity is in Christ. We have died and been resurrected in him to a new life. The only book we should be happy our names are in is the Book of Life!
This week’s matchstick suggestion is fun: “Whistle, sing, or dance while doing household chores.” Whistle is out for me. I can call a dog, but otherwise I’m not so great, so I’ll probably sing or dance or both. My daughters and I love to dance; wherever dancing is happening, we’re on the floor. I enjoy a weekly line dancing class too. Dancing is great exercise and good for the coordination. Dancing, along with singing, can be an act of worship as well. I’ve seen some beautifully choreographed worship dances in churches and conferences I’ve visited. And, of course, we remember reading about King David dancing before the Ark of the Covenant when it was brought to Jerusalem. Worship comes in many forms, certainly in study, prayer and meditation, but also in service to others. I believe we would be surprised if we knew what all God considers worship.
My flower beds have been soaked by the heavy rains we’ve had in north Texas and some of the mulch has washed out. So when the Home Depot guy showed me some cypress blend mulch that supposedly stays put, I bought a bunch of bags. I’ve not remulched (if that’s a word) before, but I thought how hard can it be. I got out early today, enjoying the morning coolness and the scent of honeysuckle from a large patch in bloom in my backyard. The bags were heavy so I put several at a time in my golf cart and drove them around to the flower beds. I figured about a dozen bags or so would be enough. No, not enough to fill even one flower bed. But I’ve got more flower beds and the shrubs and other plants around the house need mulch too. OK, so I’m a novice at mulching, but I’m learning fast. I have a big yard, and after two hours of wrestling 40-pound bags of mulch, what I’ve learned already is I’m going to hire someone to finish the job!
Hmm, OK, “Write a note for yourself full of good advice for the future.” That’s the matchbox suggestion for last week. Yep, I missed last week because I was out of town for a daughter’s graduation. A weekend before I was at my nephew’s swearing-in ceremony as a brand new attorney. So I’ve heard a lot of good advice over the last couple of weeks. One speaker counseled the young attorneys to first, don’t lie, always tell the truth—to clients, to judges, to other attorneys. Second, he said you will make mistakes. Confess your mistakes, try to fix them if you can and then go on with your life. Don’t dwell on mistakes; learn from them. Third, have a mentor. Don’t try to figure everything out on your own. Work with someone with more experience who can help you avoid the pitfalls ahead. At the university graduation the main speaker emphasized going “all in” on whatever you choose to do in life. Don’t hold back. Don’t be mediocre. Give it your all. I realize these speeches were designed to motivate people starting out in their careers, but this sound advice could be applied to any of our lives.