Gamblers

Edge of a Cliff

(Fumes, Form and Fashion, Part 4)

Phillip and Amanda are an item. Second marriage for him, first for her. Two kids together. Christians.  Raising the family. Paying the bills. Doing life.

And they’re both exhausted.  It’s more a case of life doing them.

Phillip, as mentioned here, is nearing 40 and finds himself yearning for a return to more structure and discipline that kept him in shape, both spiritually and physically.

Amanda, as mentioned here finds herself choking emotionally and desperate for some sort of life-energizing change.

They each have a sincere faith in God and are committed to each other.  They each are mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausted.

They need to hear the voice of God in a fresh way.

They both, but especially Phillip, need to go back to the basics.

They both, but especially Amanda, need a change in scenery, starting with that internal scenery we call vision.

And they both are on the cusp of something new and exciting.

And unbearably stupid. [click to continue…]

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Shut-Down“Today I spent Christmas completely alone…”
(from my journal, December 25, 1995)

Quick quiz: What do Bluebell Ice Cream, Tylenol, Rolaids, SMU Football, and ancient Judah (Israel) all have in common?

Answer: They all experienced a drastic, though temporary shutdown.

Shutdown. The word was hardly used prior to 1950. Now it’s a common part of our lexicon. It’s typically used of the government when Congress can’t seem to get together on a budget or debt ceiling limit (which in government terms is about the same as “budget”). A government shutdown, of course, is commonly believed to be a horrible thing.

Other than that, you often hear the term used to describe some sort of drastic action taken by a company. The whole state of Texas declared a state of emergency on April 4 when Blue Bell started closing its creameries – all of them – because of an incident of listeria contamination.

(If you aren’t from Texas or have never observed that state’s love affair with Blue Bell, picture shutting down football in Tuscaloosa, guns in Wyoming, or lobster rolls in Maine.)

I’ve been thinking about shutdowns lately for a couple of reasons, not the least of which was the heartburn I felt last night and the Rolaids I was gratefully chewing on (sorry Tums, you’ll have to go back to being Plan B). I have also been remembering a personal shutdown period I went through myself exactly 20 years ago. I don’t talk about it much anymore, but it still shapes a large part of who I am today. [click to continue…]

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Daily News Headline

Back in the late sixties and early 70s we gathered around our TV sets with the three available channels on Monday nights for Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-in on NBC.

One of the repeated gags on the lightning-fast show was the old joke from the diner, “Waiter, there’s a fly in my soup.” I remember in one episode, the waiter is behind the counter and seven or eight people sitting at the bar say, one right after another, “Waiter, there’s a fly in my soup.” Whoever was playing the waiter went down the counter, spewing out one punch line after another. Sorry, can’t find the YouTube clip for that, but it went something like this:

There’s a fly in your soup? Keep it down sir, or they’ll all be wanting one.

There’s a fly in your soup? Sorry sir, guess I forgot it when I removed the other three.

There’s a fly in your soup? Then we’ve served you too much soup, the fly should be wading.

There’s a fly in your soup? Couldn’t be, sir. The cook used them all in the raisin bread.

There’s a fly in your soup? It’s OK, Sir, there’s no extra charge!

There’s a fly in your soup? No sir, that’s a cockroach, the fly is on your steak.

There’s a fly in your soup? What do you expect? It’s fly soup.

Call me weird, but that’s one of the first things I thought of when I read the headline of the New York Daily News in the immediate wake of the devastating shootings in San Bernadino – yet another American city whose name has become synonymous with mass murder.

GOD ISN’T FIXING THIS, the headline blasted, riffing on and ripping the condolence statements of Republican presidential candidates. [click to continue…]

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Carrying Weight 2

Chances are, you have no idea.

A couple of weeks ago we were packing for a week at Disney.

No, professional movers or U-Haul were not involved.

Anyway, when Robin got everything loaded into three suitcases that a near-grown human could fit into, she asked me to weigh the luggage to make sure she had thought of everything.

Um, I mean, to make sure it fit within airline regulations.

We have this handy little scale that picks up the suitcase by the handle and lets you know what you’re asking those baggage handlers to tote ‘n’ hurl. I picked up the first.

“Forty pounds,” says I.

“See what that feels like?” says my ever-wise wife. “That’s what you’re no longer carrying around.”

I should point out here that in the last five months I’ve lost about that much weight. And that little luggage exercise was enlightening.

I picked it up again, holding the scale and entire weight of the suitcase in one hand. That was what I had been carrying around, day-in, day-out, but had now shed. Needless to say, it made an impression.

I was impressed how ordinary and normal my extra “baggage” was. How easy it was to justify myself, despite the fact that 20 years ago I weighed about 60 pounds less. And how much I was presuming upon my created-by-God body to do in overtime.

I just didn’t realize how much weight I was carrying. [click to continue…]

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Quicksand

Ever have a conversation like this?

Whatever happened to ________? I really thought he was going places.

Not sure.  Ever since [insert a distracting or demoralizing event] he never was quite the same.

I’ve witnessed countless scenarios like that one. I even lived out a few of them.

The idea of leadership is that you’re influencing people, formally or informally, to move together toward a certain goal.  If it were easy, anybody could do it.  But because you’re dealing with people, and because leadership often involves matters of the heart, it’s easy to find yourself sucked into leadership quicksand.

At best, it’s a distraction and you lose focus.

At worst, it can paralyze and ultimately destroy your influence.

Here are 10 sloughs to avoid (or get out of today) to allow your leadership to see another day: [click to continue…]

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Marbles

It’s one of the most haunting verses in the Bible.  Sad, because it actually happened.  Haunting, because it could also happen to you and me.

The verse:

Then all the disciples forsook him and fled (Matthew 26:56).

What’s interesting is that a few verses earlier, they all had chimed in with their spokesman, Peter:

“Even if I must die with you, I will never deny you” (Matthew 26:35).

Wow. I think that may still be a record turnaround.  So what went wrong?  Are there any lessons to be learned? Any warnings to be heeded for our moments of testing?  I think so.  Put in proverbial terms,

Pride goes before destruction; a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18).

And on any given day, for any reason, you and I are just as capable of setting ourselves up for a blowout as Peter and the gang were.

Looking back on Peter’s attitudes and expressions, it’s easy to do a post-mortem on his ego trip.  To be fair, it isn’t quite as easy when we’re the ones doing the strutting.  See if you can related to any of these symptoms: [click to continue…]

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Wreck

This is about the time I tried to climb a tree.

In a car.

I did not succeed.

I walked away (literally).  Neither the car nor the tree were very appreciative.

Fayette, Alabama, early 90s. I was minding my own business when…

What?

Oh.  OK. Starting over…

Fayette, Alabama, early 90s.  I wasn’t paying attention.

(How was that?)

I was making the little run from my house to the office – something I did every day at least twice a day.  In between one neighborhood and another was a stretch of about half a mile that was sort of woodsy and country.

And there was this little ditch.

I’d never noticed it before.  But you can be sure I never ignored it again after this day.  The ditch was just wide enough for my right tires to slip right in.  And slip they did.

What I’m describing to you happened at about 30 miles per hour in a matter of seconds.  The car slipped off the road and the wheels slipped into a ditch as if I were in an oversized slot car game.

I should probably point out here that while my car, like most cars, had two foot pedals, I always figured the big one was mostly for decoration.  So like most oops-the-road situations, I didn’t hit the brakes – I just tried to wheel my way back out of the ditch.

That wasn’t happening.

What was happening was the sudden appearance of this massive oak tree. Y’all, it just jumped out of nowhere.  It saw me coming and the acorns went to work. Next thing I knew the ditch forced me to introduce myself to the tree.  I swear I had nothing to do with it.

That what I explained to the insurance company anyway.  They sorta looked at me like I left my brain back at the oak tree.

Anyway, rewinding… still moving along about 25 mph, I kept trying to wheel my way out of my slot-shaped ditch.  The thought didn’t occur to me – not once – to hit the brakes.  So yes, I wound up ramming my car into the tree and actually fender-climbing it a bit.

Nothing hurt but my pride.  Well, and the car, which I never drove again.                                            

This real-life experience has become a metaphor for me for what can often happen in life.  I’ve seen it happen to people’s careers.  Their influence.  Their personal lives at whatever level. Their relationships.  Somewhere, somehow, without wanting to, they hit the ditch.  And they’re stuck, and powerless, and a bit wrecked or hurt, and they’re halfway up a tree and without help, they ain’t going nowhere.

Yes, I’ve seen it happen to me.

Nobody sets out to wreck their lives or loves by hitting the ditch.  But in a state of mass humanization, it can happen – easily – to the best of us.  With a bit of a rewind and post-car-mortem, maybe there are a few things we can learn about that experience. [click to continue…]

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Leadership TestIn his profile of University of Alabama quarterback A. J. McCarron, John Wertheim describes a scene that took place when the record-setting quarterback first arrived and joined the team as an 18-year-old freshman.

At his first intrasquad scrimmage McCarron was grouped with walk-ons, facing the defensive starters.  He was sacked early and often, and wasn’t happy about it. He didn’t even remove his cleats before marching into Coach Nick Saban’s office afterward.

“I need to talk to you,” he snapped.

“O.K.,” said Saban.

“You want me to show you what I can do, how I can play? Well, I can’t do s— when you put me with walk-ons who can’t even block. I don’t understand why you don’t put me with the [starters].”

“Why? Because today we were testing your leadership,” Saban said, barely looking up. “And you failed. Miserably.”

Life is filled with little tests (and big ones), and they aren’t always what they seem. Tests of faith. Tests of skill or knowledge. Tests of character.  Tests of performance. And yes, tests of leadership.

Most of these tests reveal themselves in the rearview mirror, not in the windshield. It’s only after the fact that we can truly see them for what they are.  What we can do, however, is use hindsight to identify when others faced tests of leadership and learn from their successes or “miserable failures.”  Here are five ways to recognize when your leadership was being tested: [click to continue…]

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Flying Paper Airplane

Anytime something feels amazing, or meets a deep desire, it’s only natural to crave more.

It changes your state a little.

It alters your mood.

In short, you’re intoxicated by it.

And “it” can be anything… [click to continue…]

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Ship TurningQuick question:  If you’re going 30 miles per hour and wanted to make a 180-degree turn, how fast could you do it and how much ground would you lose heading the other way?

Quick answer: It all depends on the vehicle.

And that matters more than you may realize.

If you’re on a motorcycle doing 30, a good rider can execute a 180 pretty quickly and only lose a few feet before he darts back in the opposite direction.

On the other hand, if you’re at the con of an aircraft carrier traveling 30 knots per hour, it would take about 72 seconds. And in the process, you’ve lost about half a nautical mile.

Changing direction takes time.  And momentum isn’t always on your side. And because of that your resolve will be tested.

Changing Direction Takes Time

I’ve never seen a hummingbird or bumblebee make a U-turn.  [click to continue…]

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