Month: October 2014

Smoke or Substance?

When I was in the Army, we learned the use of smoke grenades. The thick cloud of smoke covered our movements in a tactical situation so the enemy couldn’t see what we were doing. We had to move quickly while the smoke existed, because it would vanish soon and we could be exposed.

In our culture, we often see smoke (and mirrors) used in business, government, churches, and other entities. I have known a few master “smoke-blowers” over the years. They were excellent at making it appear that much was being done, even with elaborate and impressive plans on paper for training, expansion, and programs. They seemed to be brilliant and often were successful in convincing some they were. Yet, when the smoke cleared, only the paper and plans were left. Little or nothing of substance remained, but concrete disappointment and even anger.

We have all known that employee who spent more time trying to get promoted than actually doing the job they were hired to do. They accomplish little for the organization, and are often remembered for taking up space and others doing their work. It’s important to make plans, but it’s even more important to see the plans through to substance. Remember, smoke always clears and all will be exposed.


Going Fast or Far

There is an ancient saying that goes something like this: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” I used it at my daughter’s wedding, and have mentioned it in a few other contexts since. I truly believe in the wisdom it conveys.

Too many times we try to go far, alone. It’s not long before we run out of our own physical, emotional, and spiritual horsepower, and have to stop or crash. Going solo is great when we reap all the benefits ourselves without having to share. Yet, if we are unable to continue alone, there are no benefits even for us. When we learn to trust and depend on others as well, more people share the benefits, but it’s also possible to do more over a longer period of time.

In marriage, in business, in life we need some company. Some need more than others, but we all need some. I suggest you find those whom you can trust, and see how far you can go.


How does a person of trust get others to do what he/she thinks they should? Obviously, context matters. In an emergency or with lives at stake it’s not possible to go about convincing others to take action. Then, there must be clear authority and responsibility and things must get done. Aside from that, however, how does one accomplish what one must when it takes the help of others?

A leader will not transfer the pressure he or she feels to those who work with them, regardless of the intensity. Barking at co-workers does not accomplish much. Yet, what does? Respect! Surprisingly for some, the idea of respect and explanation goes a long way toward gaining support of those around you. You might be surprised that they may share the sense of urgency when the situation is explained and laid out for them to digest. Then, the energy and expertise you need could very well be at your disposal.

If you have always done it by barking, and have wondered why there is always growling in the background, then try it this way next time. You might be pleasantly surprised.


When I grew up we had many gravel roads and wooden bridges. I saw many times the rivers rise during rainy seasons to the bottom of the wooden beams, and saw driftwood pile up to put immense pressure on the bridges. At times, school bus drivers even unloaded their buses, had the children walk across the bridge, then drove an empty bus across, just to make it as safe as possible. For years I dreamed of the water being at the bottom of the bridge, and being afraid it would give way as I crossed.

Though I never saw any of those bridges washed away, there were times when they needed major work to continue doing their valuable job. Bridges are essential not only to cross water, or canyons. In a symbolic way, there are many other “bridges” that connect people and ideas.

An ancient story (some will recognize the source) is told about a midnight visitor in a culture that called for the host to set a table of refreshments even for an unannounced guest. Hospitality being primary, the host had nothing, and went to a neighbor for help to provide something for the visitor. As the story is told, the neighbor initially resisted with excuses, but eventually relented and provided, due to the persistence of the embarrassed host. The point of the story is that many of us follow a much more generous provider than we find in the story. Being the bridge between the need and the provider is an important role.

Have you in any sense been a bridge for someone lately? It could be in many ways, even if just helping to communicate a need to a resource. We don’t have to look far to find a need that could be met, if the right bridge were available.


It happens in families, neighborhoods, and nations. My closest experience has been in families. When observing families, particularly families under pressure, I search for the glue that holds it together. What would be the glue? Often, it is an individual. That one person who seems to keep track of everyone, check on everyone, and for whom everyone gathers. We often don’t realize it until that person is gone, and the void leaves confusion. Then we realize there is no glue, and the family unit begins to scatter into isolated smaller units that don’t communicate or get together anymore. When I first observed this, I could only think of the word “chaos” to describe the family I observed. They were lost, confused, angry, and bewildered all at the same time.

What is the glue that holds our culture together? It’s not individuals, for individuals come and go by generation. If not a person, it then becomes a set of values, or standards by which the larger entity lives and communicates. The historical trend has been observed many times that once that standard dissolves, the nation or culture also dissolves. It has happened time and time again.

My focus is not on the culture as a whole, because that’s too big for me to handle. What I can do is focus on my household, my immediate neighborhood, and my work environment and be sure I am influenced by a standard of behavior that’s not only good for me, but for all around. Not that I try to dictate to others, but to act toward them in a way that gives them a sense of continuity and trust in how I will treat them. So, this is our part. If enough of us do that, the culture cannot help but benefit.

Alert, But Not Afraid

What’s the use in living in fear? Some people do, and most of what they fear never happens anyway. So, they waste the joy of the present because it is overwhelmed with fear of the future.

Take the newest fear in our country, that dread disease coming out of West Africa. One thing I know about people in healthcare from being with them all the time: they understand that taking care of people carries a certain amount of risk. They know there is a balance between being careless, and overly cautious to the point of not caring for those who need it.

I fully expect that eventually I will go into a room to see if an ebola patient needs my services. It will be up to them or their family if they do (since I don’t carry an agenda into any room). I will take the necessary precautions, but unless prevented from entering, I will enter, and do what I can to calm their fears, comfort their anxiety, or simply listen to their story. If I am too afraid to go into that room, then I should find a safe, non-threatening line of work, and do nothing worth doing. So, I think I’ll just check on the next person, and see what I find. How about you?

Fear of Honesty

I have seen it many times in family situations. One member does not want to tell the truth to the other in order to “protect” him or her. In many of those, the exact same thing was being said by the other person about the first one. So, they are “protecting” each other. A little more communication could go a long way in these cases.

In nearly every context, truth is better than anything else that could be reported. When assumptions are made that an individual or group of people cannot handle the truth, the outcome is almost never good. This doesn’t mean I am advocating for telling everything every time, but when in doubt, I would err on the side of being truthful. I have never understood the fear of being honest I see in many areas of our life and culture.

The truth is, we are all going to die, unless God intervenes before that. The truth is, we will encounter hardship, sickness, and pain in our lives at one time or another. The truth is, we will survive all of them unless we choose not to. It is much better to deal with the consequences of truth than to worry or wonder when it will come out, and it will always come out eventually. Would I rather be remembered for being the one who told the truth or for being one who knew, but did not disclose it? I will take the former anytime.

Routine or Not?

Everyone’s day has its own sights and sounds. Your house and family have unique noises and visions that seem routine, until something happens to make them special. Just recently, it occurred to me how some of the routine things are not routine at all, at least not to the people involved.

I pass a room in the hallway, and hear the unique heart sound coming from an echocardiogram being done. A glance in the infusion room revealed a patient dosing off while receiving chemotherapy treatment. We talked about several patients being discharged home on hospice service. These are not routine to those involved, and they cannot be routine to me.

One of the effects of certain types of work is that one realizes nothing can be taken for granted. Things change in a moment, what seems like “the twinkling of an eye”. These things may have been building or growing for years, but just haven’t revealed themselves yet. When they do, they are sometimes much bigger than we ever imagined, and we must now adjust to a new reality.

In order to be trusted, we must be flexible, and learn to adjust to all the new realities around us. Using our experience, training, faith, and everything else at our disposal, we simply keep moving and keep showing up where help is needed.

Fixing Everything

We all know at least one person (perhaps several) who seem to know how everything can be fixed. Not just mechanical things, but things mental, spiritual, and emotional as well. They know what everyone should do, and they don’t understand why everyone doesn’t follow their advice.

That kind of approach to the world is why so many social experiments go awry, and why some won’t learn from the failure of those experiments. They simply do not work. Yet, just one more try, one small change in the way we do it, one new thing will solve all the problems we have.

I am not advocating giving up trying to solve problems, cure diseases, or make something better. I have spent my life attempting to improve whatever I could; yet I have also had to recognize that there were a lot of things I could not. Humans are prone to mistakes and evil, even while we are capable of good things and kindness as well. Technology makes for faster and more easily retrievable information, but it alone does not improve anything of a deeper nature. It cannot overcome human free will. Have you ever had spell-check “correct” your spelling to a completely different word than you intended? Then you see my point. Don’t let the “fixers” make things worse.

How Not to Increase Followers

I’m regularly sent notices from various social media sources about how to increase my followers, number of views, or whatever else they believe I should be getting. I ignore 99 % of them. (I admit a couple of things have caught my eye.) For the most part, I don’t care. I’m not selling anything.

That’s rare these days, because it seems nearly everyone is, selling something, that is. Even if you are offered something free, it leads to something you pay for if you follow it just one more step. The question is, why don’t I want more followers? Oh, I wouldn’t mind, but I’m not pursuing them. I don’t need them. If what you see or hear is worthwhile, I’m glad. Otherwise, the last thing I want to do is put pressure on you to do something for me. If you do something, do it for you or your neighbor.

You may be the only person who sees this post after I post it. If so, you have done something no one else has done. What I take pride in is the fact that at least you haven’t spent very much of your life if it was a waste. That’s my goal. You see, my two-cents is truly worth only that.