Reliving Christmas

Reliving Christmas

 Ever wish time could slow down, especially during the Holidays? Doesn’t seem like it always rushes by too quickly for you to be able to absorb all the goodness Christmas brings? Not to mention all the goodies. Every year as Halloween rolls around I brace myself for the time-warp accelerator that revs up in November and December. No matter how hard I try to slow things down and enjoy Thanksgiving and Christmas, it comes and goes faster each year. And each year I find myself wishing I could go back and relive at least a few of those days.

I love it when our family is together. We don’t have to do anything special. It’s just fun having my kids home, hearing them laugh and joke around with each other, reliving childhood memories, and filling the house with music and happy noises. That’s the stuff I want to relive. Living close to grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins is an added bonus. When the whole extended family gets together, things are even livelier. More laughter, more stories, and, inevitably, more food.

This year, like so many other years, friends and neighbors dropped off treats. That’s when I’m really glad my college-aged boys are home. I reach my calorie limit pretty easily without the extra chocolate and cookies and cakes, so I’m glad they’re willing to pitch in and handle some of the consumption load so my wife and I don’t have to do it all. My metabolism is not what it used to be and I end up wearing those goodies like sandbags under my shirt.

In the past, I’ve felt a lot of stress around the Holidays. Shopping is not one of my favorite activities. Crowded malls with their crowded parking lots, long lines, and spending a lot of money? No thanks. In the past, I worried a lot about the whole year-end thing at work. I had to reach my goals and hit my numbers. The pressure was enormous, but I also realized that much of it was self-inflicted. I also realized that the joy of hitting the numbers was short-lived and seemed to benefit the higher-ups in the company a whole lot more than they benefitted me. So now, I do the best I can to reach those kinds of goals before Thanksgiving so that I can concentrate on giving thanks. If I don’t hit my sales goals, I shrug it off and tell myself I’ll do better next year. In the end, my real goals, I have realized, are all about my family and raising them right. That has made all the difference in the world to my well-being and attitude during what should be the happiest time of the year.

Now that the New Year has come and gone and we are motoring into another season, I like to relive Christmas in my mind at least once a day. No, not the opening of presents, per se, but the other stuff – the simple things like the smiles on my children’s faces, seeing my wife in her element wrapping presents and getting excited about giving them, and the music and the feelings it stirs inside. I felt this year, perhaps more than I have for many years, a closeness to the real meaning of Christmas and I liked it. I felt the sweet stirrings of peace as I reflected on that first Christmas over two millennia ago. In my heart, feelings of appreciation and love were close to the surface as I focused on the gift God gave us all when He sent His son to earth to save us. More than ever, my eyes saw my neighbors, my customers, and even strangers as brothers and sisters in a great big family.

Those are the moments I most want to relive. That’s what Christmas should be all about and those are the moments I’m trying to keep in the forefront of my mind as I move into 2017. I hope that my efforts to stay calm and love more will pay off in the form of more forgiveness for those who wrong me and more understanding for those who don’t understand me. In other words, I hope to follow God’s example and be willing to give of myself to make the world a better place. I can give others the same break I want them to give me. I can lend an ear to those who need to vent. I can give a smile. I can give up a few seconds on the road to allow a car into the lane in front of me. I can give the frustrated stranger, customer, or friend a kind word. For those who think differently than I do or who don’t agree with me, I can give the benefit of the doubt and extend a hand of friendship despite our differences. I might even be able to learn something new from them and at least understand another perspective.

If I can do this continually and consistently, I think 2017 will be a happier year for me.

I hope it will be for you, as well.

 Maybe leaving the lights up on the house all year would serve as a reminder of this bright idea. (This is not my house, by the way. I’m not that ambitious a decorator!)

A New Year

A New Year
A fresh calendar hangs on the wall over my desk, a beautiful mountain-scape taunting me to come out and play. But, I have work to do. The mountains will have to wait. Make no mistake, part of my New Year’s resolutions include spending time in the outdoors, as usual. I have a goal to hike the entire PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) in sections and I am behind schedule. Last season, I was only able to complete two sections for a total of 185 miles. I need to average about 250 miles a year now in order to finish the entire trail by time I’m 60.
The topic at hand today, since it is a new year, is goals. More specifically, how to set goals that will help you succeed and why that’s important.


Resolutions That Don’t Bring Results
Every year, we make a big deal of our resolutions, which is just a fancy way of saying that we plan to accomplish something. Oftentimes, people set outrageous goals that they are neither ready to tackle nor firmly convinced are necessary. Take for example the most common resolution made, which is also the resolution most quickly abandoned: Losing weight.
So many resolution-intenders clog the gym this time of year that it has become a running joke that the first two weeks of January are as crowded as the mall the week before Christmas. By February, the crowds have thinned (meaning the number of people in the gym, not their waistlines, per se) and those who are firm in their resolve to become or maintain a healthy level of fitness through working out are freer to use the equipment.
The next January these same people beat themselves up for not reaching a goal that they were never serious about in the first place. It becomes a burden to set resolutions because we have to face ourselves and our failures at the end of the year. Many have stopped the practice of resolution making, which I think is a crying shame. We shouldn’t abandon the practice of self-evaluation just because we’ve come up short repeatedly.

Goals concept on blackboard

Fix the Pattern
The better way of making resolutions, ones that you might actually keep, is to set up incremental goals, goals that will help you improve step-by-step rather than in one humongous leap. A friend of mine shared with me his major goal for the year which, incidentally, had to do with weight loss. Actually, it’s a much larger goal to be in better overall health. His goal is broken down into monthly goals. He wants to weigh a certain amount at the end of each month. To do this, he knows he has to eat better and exercise more. He doesn’t like going to the gym much, so he decided to walk a certain number of miles per week, do a certain number of push-ups per day, as well as other routines aimed at reducing his waistline. (Notice I didn’t share the numbers with you? That’s on purpose. We should each figure out our own numbers and not compare ourselves to others.)
If we can check off a goal each day or each week, we will feel our progress regularly. As we make progress, we feel an increase in momentum. That momentum builds over time. As they say, “success breeds success,” so we want to put ourselves in a situation where we give ourselves the opportunity to succeed and the ability to check something off our list sooner rather than later. Try it. It works.
So, my goals for the year are ones that I can break down into attainable chunks on a daily or weekly basis. I have already failed at some of my daily goals, but as I get back on track, those few failures are drown out by the growing number of successes. For example, I want to publish three more novels this year. To do that, I need to consistently write about a thousand words a day. Some days it comes easily and I find that I’ve overshot my goal by 25-50%. Other days it’s a struggle to get a hundred words on the screen. So far, I have four days where I’ve reach the goal and three days where I haven’t. All in all, there are four chapters of a new book written that weren’t there before. That’s exciting to me. It shows progress. Sure, the goal of three novels in a year is daunting when I’ve only been able to do one per year for the past two years, but a thousand words a day, consistently, seems a lot easier to me than staring at roughly a thousand pages that need some text on them that tell cohesive and compelling stories.


My New Year’s Wish for You
My wish for you is that you set yourselves some attainable goals that have sub-goals and that allow you to measure your progress regularly and see and feel yourself moving forward, reaching and climbing and improving. Start now, no matter what day the calendar says it is. Today is a great day to take a step forward.
As they say, starting is half the battle. Just get started and chalk up your first win right away. Let the momentum of that success propel you to take the next step. Be prepared to celebrate along the way and congratulate yourself when you hit milestones.
So, instead of just wishing you a happy and prosperous New Year, I want to wish you the will to make it a happy year by achieving something meaningful to you and reflecting on it daily or weekly and not just at the end of the year. Life is what you make it, so make it good every day in 2017.

Breathe, America

Take a Deep Breath America

Relieve the Stress

dude-breathing-at-beach

Recently, I attended a conference aimed at improving your overall well-being. One of the sessions dealt with managing stress more effectively. The first thing the speaker, a psychologist specializing in suicide prevention and adolescent issues, taught us was the importance of breathing deeply when you feel stress or anxiety. The science behind it is that you feed your brain cells oxygen, which helps them function more efficiently. It also inhibits the production of cortisol, the stress hormone. It moves your body out of the knee-jerk reaction mode of fight or flight and into the calmer, more balanced state of mind. It’s simple to do and amazing in its results.

So, with all the stress about the election, please, my fellow Americans, take a few deep breaths. Hold each breath for three seconds, then release it slowly. Do this three times. You’ll feel better. I know I do when I get those negative feelings welling up inside.

Wait, you’re still you

Now that you’re all calmer, take a minute to assess what has really changed in your life. I would imagine that unless you were a candidate who didn’t win (or who did) or employed by one, or volunteering for one, your life looks vastly similar to what it did the night before the election. Am I right?

Like I posted to an upset friend of mine recently on Facebook, good things will happen in your life because of you, not because of the President.

Continue reading “Breathe, America”

Where is Captain Moroni When You Need Him?

Where’s Captain Moroni When You Need Him?

Why ask?

This election cycle has brought out the worst in Americans. We all feel we have become more hateful, bitter, depressed, obnoxious, and even rude. Well, maybe not all, but a disproportionate number of us. Our society is fracturing. People don’t know what to believe nor who to follow. Our news media doesn’t report the all the facts, it seems; only the ones that sell. Or, when they do, those facts are twisted and bent and skewed to whichever ideology they’ve pledged themselves to. Many feel abandoned by the elected officials who will say anything to get elected, then summarily dismiss the will of the people post-election.

We, the electorate, are worn out. In this, the information age, we are inundated with facts. That tidal wave of data has only increased thanks to social media and the 24/7 news cycle. Our brains are full of words and videos and speeches, all of which present paradoxes and conflicts. Every blogger, every pundit, every “expert” has an opinion and is out to convince you it’s the only right one. No wonder we’re so weary.

When this is all over, we’ll return to our regular lives while our elected officials scheme and plot and plan, knowingly or not, the destruction of our republic. They’re ineptitude, deviousness, and/or demagoguery will ultimately result in loss of freedom, prosperity, and/or esteem for our great nation.

The Answer

moroni_standard-of-liberty

Once upon a time here in America, a prosperous society was threatened with a very similar problem. Their system of self-government by a panel of appointed judges was threatened by a group who desired to have a king and noblemen rule over the people. That group wanted to overthrow the laws that had been established by the voice of the constituents.

That civilization was saved when a young general hoisted what he called “The Title of Liberty.” It was an anthem, an urgent call to action, that stirred the people who may have been more or less aware of the dangers their society faced. This man, Captain Moroni, ripped his cloak and scrawled these words on it: “In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children.” With those words flying on a flag that he carried from town to town, Moroni inspired men to follow him and fight for the freedom of their land. He wanted to maintain the rights that the people had to vote, to worship, to bear arms to defend themselves and their families, and to maintain the sacred trust we owe to our loved ones.

This story is found in “The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ,” in the sub-book of Alma. To me, the point of this episode in ancient American history is to teach us that when the government begins to ignore the will of the people it governs, it’s time for the people to remind the government of its rightful place, which is to uphold the laws of the land, and protect the family, freedom, and religion. Not to replace or detract from, but to uphold. For a democratic society to thrive and prosper, its citizens must have the ability to choose their own path, as long as that path does not cause injury or loss to someone else or reduce another’s rights.

Why We Need a Moroni Now

photo_capt-moroni

Moroni was known as a man of integrity, who sought not for power, but to maintain the freedom of his people. He was a man of courage and action who inspired others to follow him in proclaiming and reclaiming their God-given rights to self-govern, worship, and live in peace and prosperity. His actions and leadership saved his country from being overrun by its enemies. He protected his people from the harmful effects of laziness, cowardice, and, ultimately, servitude. Moroni was convinced, and rightfully so, that if the people who wanted to replace the democratically elected government with a king and nobles succeeded in their quest, the whole nation would eventually be enslaved. Their loss of rights would lead to their being conquered by their enemies. Their enemies, as was common in ancient times, would turn the conquered people into their slaves, forcing them into a life of submission and misery.

In my humble estimation, the idea of having a Captain Moroni today is to have someone with the reputation as an upright and honest leader who wants only what is best for his fellow countrymen. Someone who has the moral fortitude to remind us as a nation of what’s at stake. That person would stand for the Judeo-Christian ideals upon which our country was founded. He or she would pledge him-or-herself to upholding our Constitution and rule of law. That person would seek to replace corrupt leaders with true leaders whose heart-felt aim is to guarantee the opportunities of freedom and prosperity are preserved for generations to come, not the sort of corrupted, greedy, and power-hungry political vermin who infest Washington, D.C., these days.

The idea of a modern-day Moroni is appealing to me because without a lightning-rod type leader like him to unite us, our country stands in jeopardy of falling apart as a nation divided. The partisan squabbling that passes these days as “doing the work of the people” is a pathetic silhouette of what our Founding Fathers had in mind. A large number of our current public officials do not represent a government that is “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” A twenty-first century Moroni would rejuvenate and refresh our outlook on government by holding those elected officials to a higher standard of conduct, much like the ancient Moroni did when he said, “ye ought to have stirred yourselves more diligently for the welfare and freedom of this people” and “I fear exceedingly that the judgements of God will come upon this people because of their exceeding slothfulness, yea, even the slothfulness of our government, and their exceeding great neglect toward their brethren” (Alma 60: 10 and 14).

It’s Time to Pray

winborg-captain-moroni-and-the-title-of-liberty

To me and other like-minded Christians, the ills that have befallen our great nation have come as a result of forgetting God. Remember “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all”? Despite those who revile against God and prayer and call for the separation of church and state, we need God in our lives, as individuals and as a nation. Our leaders need Him, too. As we have moved away from Him, our troubles have multiplied.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand the need to separate church and state. The goal there is not to eliminate God from the equation, it’s to avoid forcing a certain set of religious beliefs on the people. A church-run state didn’t work very well during the Dark Ages, remember? The first settlers in America (including the native Americans – see the Introduction to “The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ”) came to this continent in pursuit of the freedom to worship God the way they chose, not the way the Church of England dictated.

One of the tenants of my faith is: “We claim the right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may” (Article of Faith 11; The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints). That seems as straight forward to me as you can get. I want to worship freely and will gladly allow you the same right, whether you choose to worship or not.

My point, again, is that people thrive when they are made free. We need a leader who will keep our freedoms alive and keep our hopes and faith in those freedoms bright and true. That deeply principled, altruistic leader has been absent this election cycle. Hopefully, he or she will arise and lead forth sometime before the next one. We need a Moroni-esque standard-bearer to shake things up and get us back to basics. Those basics would include a refocusing on our families, serving each other in our communities, watching out for those in need, and returning to honesty, respect, and fair play.

Idealistic, I know. But that’s what I want – a peaceful, prosperous America where all can find the fulfillment from a life of responsible freedom and enjoy the fruits of his/her labors. Am I asking for too much?

Tell me what you think. What do you want in a leader? What are your hopes and dreams for America?

 

Links:

1.      For beautiful American Artwork and photography:  http://www.winborg.com/

2.      Artist renderings of Captain Moroni: http://www.bookofmormonbattles.com/Characters/MoroniCaptainBio.html

3.      More about the story of Moroni: https://www.lds.org/scriptures/gs/moroni-captain?lang=eng

4. Interesting movie trailer about Moroni: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1JVeg6OfL3s

 

American Greatness

A Few Thoughts on Greatness in America

 

Don’t worry, this is neither a political endorsement nor political satire, but . . .

We have an election coming up. And not just any election, but perhaps the most cantankerous, divisive, and ugly presidential election in our lifetimes (thus far). People are divided in their opinions, as happens every time we’re asked to vote for candidates and issues that affect us as a nation and as individuals. Some of those opinions differ about what makes America great, whether we’re really all that great, or whether we should even aspire to greatness. It’s whacky, I know.

But, I’m hoping to start a discussion, and hopefully provoke some thought and reflection, on what American greatness means, how we earned the reputation, and how we can keep/recover it.  

My thought is that America’s greatness is not dependent upon, nor derived from, the person in the Oval Office. While I believe that person matters and that person’s thoughts, vision for the country, leadership style, core beliefs, and character are all important, that person has limited ability to change our nation’s greatness because the President doesn’t control it. Can’t, really. The President can, however, reflect it, encourage it, and project it in all he/she says and does. And that can affect our individual attitudes.

So, that’s where I want to start, with us as individuals.  

What is it?

evolution-american-flag-pepperdineI believe America’s greatness stems from our basic belief that everyone has value. All humans have rights and inalienable freedoms. Wasn’t that the justification our forefathers gave for striking out on our own as a nation? Granted, there have been problems along the way, some of them major.  But, for the most part, we’re working them out. Sure, there instances of unfair treatment, bigotry, discrimination, and other forms of ugliness. I’m not trying to sweep the slavery period under the rug. We’re not perfect as a nation, but don’t let the popular, headline-grabbing narrative from the news tell you that our nation isn’t great just because we have imperfections and don’t always live up to our ideals.

Our country’s greatness is in its people. The majority of our citizens want to make things better. They are really good people who care about others and care about this country. They try to do the right things. This goodness in the people translates into the greatness of our country.

Back to my point, our nation is great because we believe in ideals and are striving to reach those ideals. That’s why so much cool stuff is invented here. That’s why so many people flock to this country every year. That’s why so many of our soldiers have bled and died on foreign soil. That’s why we get worked up over elections. And that’s why we are called “the greatness nation in history.”

Part of being great is taking inventory occasionally and assessing the path ahead to make sure that you can maintain the best parts of your identity while trying to fix the less desirable parts. This is our current dilemma.  

Where’d America’s Greatness Come From?        

 american-flag-shape-of-usAmerica’s greatness did not originate in, and does not necessarily emanate from, the White House. No, it is born in the American home and is carried in the American heart. It comes from good people everywhere, from all walks of life, national origin, race, color, creed, ethnicity, and social demographic who have bought into the dream that they can rise above tyranny, despotism, poverty, persecution, and oppression if given the chance. America gives people that chance. It gave it to our ancestors. Many of them risked everything and many others gave everything to keep that dream alive for the millions of others who came after them.

America’s greatness started as a seed of hope. From the arrival of the first settlers to those who fought in the Revolutionary War to the Founding Fathers to patriots of every generation, that hope has grown into a mighty tree that extends beyond our own borders. That hope has spread. And it beckons. It excites. It invites other nations to follow suit. The world as a whole is a better place because of the ideals America stands for and has championed for generations.

America’s greatness is born of the hope that life can be better when people are free to make choices for themselves. It’s tIt’s the hope the comes from the idea that there should be opportunities for everyone. That the only limits should be the size of one’s dreams and the degree of their dedication to those making those dreams come true. Of course, one must obey the laws and abide by a code of ethics, if you want to call those limiters. What makes America great is the hope that working hard and doing the right thing will pay off for us and generations that follow. That’s what brought our immigrant ancestors here from every corner of the globe. That’s what spurs each of us to keep trying despite hardships and difficulties.

Hope and freedom are the cornerstones of America’s greatness. What are we doing today to keep hope alive and to secure freedom for the generations that will follow?

Half empty or half full?

 flag-on-beachWhich are you? Are you of the opinion that America’s best days are behind her or ahead of her? Has all goodness been lost because those vying for power have systematically tried to divide us along various lines, whether social, economic, educational, ethnic, religious, political – you name the source, they have tried and will continue to try to divide us. Do you succumb to the notion that America has turned into a playground where only the rich and powerful can play? Or, do you believe that we, the people, can band together with our votes and our voices and make a difference?

Personally, I believe that the things we have in common are far greater than the things that divide us. If we can shake off the influence of the popular media and the haters and focus on the positives, we can rebuild strength and resolve. We can stand united in hope, freedom, and respect.

Another notion we must shun is that the privileged few don’t have to follow the same rules as the rest of us. I firmly believe that no one should be above the law. There shouldn’t be a different set of rules based on income or status. We should never hear “too big to fail” or “necessary public bail out.” We also should never hear about mega mergers that systematically reduce competition and fair play. I also believe that in a truly free market, consumers who have correct knowledge have the power to change what they don’t like by spending their dollars wisely. Of course, our system isn’t quite operating like it should. We don’t have all the facts because they remain hidden in shadows and behind closed doors. Far too many conglomerations have created near-monopolistic power. But that’s a wholly separate discussion.

For today, the focus is on the fact that we are what makes America great: we, the people of the United States.

Our first step should always be to work on ourselves and make sure we are doing our best to uphold the ideals of our “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Next, we should teach our children to hold true to the principles that made America great. Beyond that, we should share with our friends and our neighbors and inspire them to get educated and stay in the know about current events that are unfolding. We should be active and encourage all those around us to engage in the discussion and hold the powerful accountable. That may mean writing more letters to our elected representatives. That may be alerting the local news to things we see that don’t look right and have them investigate. They love a good story and controversy sells.

My message today? Don’t worry if your candidate doesn’t win. Yes, there may be changes and repercussions you don’t like, but remember we can change him or her, too, in four years.

Meanwhile, look around you. Look at the many really good people doing really good things and take heart. Our people are what make us great and they will keep making us great despite what happens on Election Day.

Keep the faith in America’s greatness past, present, and future and do all you can to uphold it, promote it, and perpetuate it. Be kind, respectful, and understanding of others. Try to make a positive difference in your sphere of influence. Be great yourself by being unselfish, hard-working, responsible, caring, optimistic, respectful, and full of hope.

(No references this time as these are just my own thoughts coming out).

Your thoughts? Please leave a comment below.

 

 

A Few Thoughts on Corruption

A Few Thoughts on Corruption

Like a Plague Spreading

 plague-of-corruption

We live in a time where things that were once considered “good” are called “evil” and where things that were once called “evil” are considered “good.” People’s views on things such as morality, decency, and civility have changed and I, for one, think it’s a shame. What’s right and what’s wrong is not as clear in the minds of our leaders or our citizens as it once was or as it should be.

Perhaps these thoughts are top-of-mind because of the ugliness of the 2016 Presidential election cycle we are in the midst of here in the United States. In any case, I am worried about the future of our country because of the tolerance for, and even acceptance and dismissal of, corruption that has and is taking place in our society. I’m not going to get into the particulars here. We’ve all got our own opinions about who is corrupt and how corrupt they might be and what it means. I’m not trying to start an argument or incite a riot. And I don’t want to get into a political scrape here. Continue reading “A Few Thoughts on Corruption”