Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Wednesday Wisdom - Trees and Hurricanes


"I'm planting a tree to teach me to gather strength from my deepest roots." Andrea Koehle Jones

The Orlando area suffered serious damage in Hurricane Irma, but was largely spared the total devastation of South Florida and the terrible flooding of North Florida. Most of our losses in Central Florida were caused by falling trees. For example, a client couple in southeast Orlando lost their home when a large tree in their yard collapsed during the storm and smashed through their roof, as shown in this picture from a special Orlando Sentinel supplemental section.


But the losses of trees in the area were spotty. We didn't lose whole forests in the storm; only an occasional tree here and there. So why did some trees fall while others stood tall?  

To the casual observer, it would seem almost arbitrary which trees held up and which trees were toppled over by the hurricane. But it was not random at all. A closer investigation would show that some trees had shallow roots, or rotten trunks, or asymmetrical, unbalanced limb patterns, or were in poor soil. There was in nearly every case some deeper underlying trait that made certain trees susceptible to the pressures of the storm.
In a similar way, I have observed that certain individuals stand strong and resilient when buffeted by the inevitable headwinds of life. They emerge from these storms tempered and strengthened by adversity. By contrast, another group of people who face similar challenges are unable to withstand the difficulties they encounter, and eventually they buckle under the weight.  

A closer examination revealed that the decisive difference between these two groups was their willingness in their younger years to confront adversity. The first group took on the problems and obstacles that came their way, whereas the second sought to avoid or sidestep difficulties. By fighting through their challenges, the first group gained competence and confidence in facing the hardships of life, while the second group, seeking to merely slide by, missed those growth opportunities.  

The first group learned they can do hard things, which is perhaps one of the most valuable lessons in life.

This quality of character - the capacity to face trouble head-on - changes everything about the person and the trajectory of their life.   It assures that when the winds blow and the tempests rage, they will still be standing. This idea is aptly described in one of my all-time favorite poems, Good Timber, by Douglas Malloch:

The tree that never had to fight
For sun and sky and air and light,
But stood out in the open plain
And always got its share of rain,
Never became a forest king
But lived and died a scrubby thing.

The man who never had to toil
To gain and farm his patch of soil,
Who never had to win his share
Of sun and sky and light and air,
Never became a manly man
But lived and died as he began.

Good timber does not grow with ease:
The stronger wind, the stronger trees;
The further sky, the greater length;
The more the storm, the more the strength.
By sun and cold, by rain and snow,
In trees and men good timbers grow.

Where thickest lies the forest growth,
We find the patriarchs of both.
And they hold counsel with the stars
Whose broken branches show the scars
Of many winds and much of strife.
This is the common law of life.

As parents and grandparents, our natural tendency is to shelter our teenagers and young adults from the hard times that come their way. A Native American saying warns us against giving in to this impulse: "What you protect, you make weak."

It's a lesson that's hard to learn and even harder to apply, especially when it relates to those we love. But if we don't do so, they unfortunately may never grow up, or may grow up crippled and unable to cope with life and its challenges.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Wednesday Wisdom - Hurricane Irma: I Hate the Wait


"The waiting is the hardest part
Every day you see one more card
You take it on faith, you take it to the heart
The waiting is the hardest part."
Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers

[Note: Hurricanes are deadly serious, and the destruction they cause is painfully real. We've been in a tense and stressful situation here in Florida because of Hurricane Irma. One way to diffuse tension and stress is through humor. Here's a tongue-in-cheek critique of some of our Floridian hurricane preparation patterns, with the hope that this might lighten the mood for those who've been under the gun lately.]

I am in awe of the amazing weather and satellite technology that predicts days and weeks in advance where a tropical storm like Hurricane Irma may be headed. That early warning system is a good thing. It can reduce the damage from a bad storm. However, believe it or not, it is possible to have TOO MUCH TIME TO PREPARE.  

In the case of Irma, the news media started projecting a full 10 days before her arrival that "the biggest hurricane on record" was going to smash the entire state of Florida to smithereens. "We don't know exactly where it's headed but if you're in Florida, it's coming after you, so you better start getting ready NOW!"  

At that moment, coming on the heels of Hurricane Harvey and Houston, a large chunk of the populace panicked. The race for hurricane supplies was on! Whole grocery stores were swept clean in a matter of hours, even though the storm was still on the other side of the British Virgin Islands. It wasn't just the nervous newbies. Even experienced hurricane veterans, who should have known better, got sucked into the melee. The whole scene was so unseemly.

So, what's wrong with having too much time to prepare? Here's what:

1.  With too much time to prepare, real life shuts down way too soon.

A full week before the first rain cloud was on the horizon, you stop focusing on work, cancel all your meetings and appointments, and become fixated on the hurricane. Normal life screeches to a halt. Seven days! Come on, folks, other than fighting two or three hours for bottled water at Wal-Mart or standing in line half a day trying to get the last few sheets of plywood at Home Depot, how could you possibly take more than a day to get ready?

2. With too much time to prepare, you end up spending a fortune at the grocery store.  

First, you buy up stacks of staples like bread and tuna fish and other storm-proof stuff you'll never eat. And of course, hurricane snacks. You tell yourself you must keep up your family's morale during the storm. Then the next day, you go back because you "forgot a few things." You buy all the things on your list, plus - of course - more hurricane snacks, because "this looks like it's going to be a bad one."  

You tell yourself this is your last grocery run, but then the next day you find yourself back at the store again. And the next day after that. Finally, mercifully, Publix locks their doors so their employees can get ready for the storm, and you are forced to stop worrying about how to pick up "just one more thing." Unless the local 7-11 or Wa-Wa is still open . . . .

3.  With too much time to prepare, you blow your emergency meal plan completely out of the water.

Once you've cancelled all your meetings and your house is bolted in place for THE BIG ONE, there's nothing else to do but hunker down behind all that plywood and start binge-watching the Weather Channel and Channel 9's Senior Meteorologist Tom Terry. You can't afford to miss a single twist or turn of the approaching hurricane. The stress of watching the constantly-shifting spaghetti lines of possible tracks causes you to start raiding your cache of hurricane snacks early. Not good! You gain 10 pounds in the three days before the storm.
Then when Irma finally does arrive, you discover your stash of snacks is all but gone and all the stores are closed. You have nothing left to snack on except months-old Saltine crackers and raisins. You bought $300 worth of junk food and it's all gone before Irma even gets here? How is that even possible? You're forced to try to stomach that canned tuna fish.

4. With too much time to prepare, a two-day event takes a whole week out of your life.

And that's all before the first outer rain bands even approach your fair city. The waiting and worrying can seem far worse than the storm itself. Heaven help you if you have storm damage and are forced to deal with clean-up and reconstruction. There goes another week or two or three.

So next time, all you brave folks at the Weather Channel who get paid to stand out in 100 mile-per-hour winds to show us how bad the storm is, please wait to sound the alarm until the hurricane is somewhere off the coast of Cuba. We'll still be ready in plenty of time. We just won't have to suffer the agony of waiting. Because, to quote fellow Floridian Tom Petty, the waiting is the hardest part. 

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Wednesday Wisdom - Celebrating Hard Work, Part 2


"If you really desire greatness, you should make up your mind to be a hard worker."
Sunday Adelaja

Who says life doesn't have a sense of humor? Right in the middle of my trying to write two articles about the virtue of hard work, I've been forced to do absolutely nothing for a week. Here's what happened:

Ten days ago, I ruptured some blood vessels in my left eye while lifting and spreading bags of Black Cow in my backyard garden. That required retinal surgery to repair the damage. After that, a week of forced rest.

A colleague suggested my injured eye would be a great excuse for taking it easy for several months. I told him that would be pure torture for me. I'm not built to lie around and do nothing. I see work as a blessing, not a curse. Work opens doors and creates breaks many people never notice. "The reason a lot of people do not recognize opportunity is because it usually goes around wearing overalls looking like hard work." Thomas A. Edison

There are two sides of successful work: working harder and working smarter. If you were to ask, "which is more important, to work harder or to work smarter?" I would say the correct answer is "Yes."

No, I'm not being cute. Hard work and smart work go together, hand in glove, for increased productivity. One without the other is like trying to wash one hand by itself, or like hopping around on one leg instead of running on two.  

You can work as hard as an ox, but if you're not smart about it, all your work may be wasted effort. Harder but not smarter is like butting your head against a wall or pounding sand - lots of exertion but no results. Harder but not smarter may just send you off in the wrong direction - lots of movement but no progress.

The inverse can be just as bad. Being smart about your work but not putting in the time and effort to push it forward is self-deceptive silliness-it's not very smart after all and it ultimately gets you nowhere. Working smarter but not harder projects an attitude of smugness and entitlement, and will put off others who might be inclined to join with you.  

So I'm happy to report my eye is recuperating nicely and I'm back in the saddle, trying to work both harder and smarter. I like to go to work every morning, and I love how I feel at night after working hard all day. I agree with George Bernard Shaw when he said: "I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live."

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Wednesday Wisdom - Celebrating Hard Work, Part 1


"I am a great believer in luck. The harder I work, the more of it I seem to have."
Source unknown, but attributed to Thomas Jefferson and to Coleman Cox
If you follow foreign soccer, you know that two of the greatest soccer players of all time currently play in Spain, competing face to face in one of the fiercest club rivalries anywhere. Lionel Messi from Argentina suits up in the "blaugrana" of FC Barcelona, while Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo wears the royal whites of arch-rival Real Madrid. When these two superstars and their respective teams go head to head in "El Clásico," it's a clash of titans, an event the whole world stops to watch.  

Messi and Ronaldo have towered over Spanish and European soccer for an entire decade. Each year since 2008, one of these two men has won the most coveted individual prize in soccer, FIFA's Ballon d'Or award for the best soccer player on the planet. The other man was the runner-up during that stretch in every year but one. Their two-man domination has been overwhelming.

But this article is about Labor Day, not soccer. I'm using the examples of Messi and Ronaldo to highlight a character trait they have in common: a completely uncommon work ethic, a "world-class" work ethic. No one works harder, trains harder, practices harder and longer, than these two. Both have an amazing amount of natural talent that by itself would have made them exceptional athletes. But what has taken them to the very pinnacle of their profession is sheer determination and hard work. Both are well known for their intensity in training and conditioning, and their obsession for game preparation. In their own words:

"Talent without working hard is nothing." Cristiano Ronaldo

"You have to fight to reach your dream. You have to sacrifice and work hard for it." Lionel Messi

* * * * *

In a few days we celebrate Labor Day. I find it ironic that this holiday seems nowadays to honor non-work rather than work. It seems to be all about barbecues and picnics and not much else. There's not even a whiff of patriotism or honoring fallen heroes, as with our other summer holidays. No, this day is all about doing nothing.

Hard work used to be as American as apple pie, but things seem to be changing. The lack of a serious work ethic among so many in our country does not bode well for the future. When work is seen as punishment rather than opportunity, or as something only for suckers or losers, our culture and economy teeter on the brink of stagnation.  

Years ago, Pope John Paul II warned of societal forces that "stimulate the natural inclination to avoid hard work by promising the immediate satisfaction of every desire." This attitude of dishonoring hard work may be the logical by-product of today's fame-driven American culture, where "Everyone wants to be famous, but nobody wants to do the work." (Kevin Hart).  

Successful people - as opposed to famous people - have a different mindset about hard work. They relish it and see it as the way to reach their goals and achieve success. As Lou Holtz said, "Winners embrace hard work. They love the discipline of it, the trade-off they're making to win. Losers, on the other hand, see it as punishment. And that's the difference."

Messi and Ronaldo are the best in the world because of a combination of natural talent and relentless, back-breaking work. But you don't have to be a superstar athlete or a superstar anything to pay the price and earn the rewards of hard work. As Gordon B. Hinckley noted, "The major work of the world is not done by geniuses. It is done by ordinary people who have learned to work in an extraordinary manner. Because without hard work, nothing grows but weeds." Hard work by ordinary people is the key to individual success and American greatness.

That's what we should be celebrating this Labor Day.

Next week's Wednesday Wisdom:

Celebrating Hard Work, Part 2 -Which is more important, to work harder or to work smarter?

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Wednesday WIsdom - Climb Every Mountain


"Climb every mountain
Ford every stream
Follow every rainbow
'Til you find your dream."  
 Rodgers & Hammerstein

Marcie and I and some good friends recently enjoyed a delightful evening at the Winter Park Playhouse attending a musical revue of the outstanding playlist of Rogers & Hammerstein. One of their biggest hits and one of my favorites, from The Sound of Music, is "Climb Every Mountain." The majestic music and the powerful message of that song are so inspiring!
The image of resolutely climbing a mountain in search of one's dream is a metaphor nearly everyone can relate to. It captures the whole idea of thinking big; setting our sights high; persevering through a long and arduous climb; and finally reaching the summit and achieving our goal. We can picture ourselves, like Sir Edmund Hilary, standing on top of the world.
But if so many can relate to the metaphor, why do so few people actually climb their mountain and achieve their dream? And how can we make sure we're a successful climber and not merely an also-ran? Here are three excellent pieces of advice on the subject.
Thomas A. Edison: Many don't make the climb because they don't have a clear and significant goal in the first place. Thomas A. Edison pointed out a truth that should be self-evident: "You cannot realize your dreams unless you have one to begin with."
There's a big difference between a wish or a hope, and a dream that is real, concrete, and well-defined. I've heard it said that "If wishes were fishes, we'd all have a fry." Are we planning for real success or just wishin' and hopin'?
Nora Roberts: Getting started is sometimes the hardest part of the climb. Nora Roberts' three simple rules for life are good advice when one contemplates tackling a major mountain climb:
  1. If you don't go after what you want, you'll never have it.
  2. If you don't ask, the answer will always be no.
  3. If you don't step forward, you will always be in the same place.
With all our getting, we need to get going. Sure, planning and preparing are important to our ultimate success, but too many spend all their time "fixin' to" and never get around to the actual "doing." At some point we've got to strap on our hiking boots and start climbing.
Thomas S. Monson:  Once we're on the upward trail, how do we maintain a positive attitude over the long haul? One key is to take a break now and then to celebrate our progress. Thomas S. Monson counsels: "Rather than continually dwelling on all that still needs to be done, pause occasionally and reflect on all that you do and have done."
Nearly every worthy goal is a marathon, not a sprint. Achieving it requires extended exertion. Looking down shows us how far we've come. Looking back helps us picture what it will be like to reach the top. Checking our progress gives reassurance and encouragement for the remainder of the climb.

By having a clear vision of success; stepping out and moving forward; and reminding ourselves how far we've already come, stride by stride we can climb our mountain and find our dream. Good advice for mountain climbing; good advice for life.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Wednesday Wisdom - Yes, You Fill the World with Love


"The happiness of our spouse is more important than our own pleasure."
Neil L. Anderson 


Forty-two years ago today, I was three days away from the most monumental and joyful step of my life - my eternal marriage to Marcie. Ours was a whirlwind courtship, but because of our separate life-changing experiences as missionaries in Brazil and Chile, we understood what we were getting into and were prepared to commit everything to each other, forever.
I knew I was marrying way over my head, but I didn't fully appreciate then just how far out of my league I was. I was aware of her kindness, her concern for the happiness of others, and her depth of character and conviction. I was not aware, however, of how driven she was to live her life in harmony with Petula Clark's lyrics from one of her favorite movies, "Goodbye, Mister Chips."
In the morning of my life I shall look to the sunrise
At the moment of my life when the world is new
And the blessing I shall ask is that God will grant me:
To be brave and strong and true
And to fill the world with love my whole life through.

And to fill the world with love
And to fill the world with love
And to full the world with love
My whole life through.

Over the years, we built our lives together and made room in our little nest for six darling, beautiful, and talented children. She was such a patient, thoughtful, and devoted mother. Her love for me, for them, and for the rest of the world continued to grow.


Her example influenced me to share her quest to be brave and strong and true, and to fill the world with love our whole lives through. Over time, I learned to sing and apply in my life the second verse of her theme song:

In the noontime of my life I shall look to the sunshine
At a moment of my life when the sky is blue
And the blessing I shall ask will remain unchanging:
To be brave and strong and true
And to fill the world with love my whole life through.

And to fill the world with love
And to fill the world with love
And to full the world with love
My whole life through.

Now, 42 years into this wonderful adventure, our nest is empty, our hair is gray, and our pace is a little slower. I push her wheelchair whenever we go out, and she in turn still gently pushes me and inspires me to become the person described in her song.

In the evening of my life I shall look to the sunset
At the moment of my life when the night is due.
And the question I shall ask only God can answer:
Was I brave and strong and true?
Did I fill the world with love my whole life through?

Did I fill the world with love?
Did I fill the world with love?
Did I fill the world with love
My whole life through?


She still strives to bring that song to life. She still asks herself in the sunset of our lives how God will answer the question. I, however, have no doubt what He will say about her. Of all the lives that have been touched by her kindness, affection, and compassion, none has been more blessed than mine.

Yes, my dearest, you are brave and strong and true, and always have been. And yes, dear Marcie, you have filled the world with love your whole life through. I'm so glad you've made me a central part of your wonderful, loving world. Happy Anniversary, Marcie.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Wednesday Wisdom - Sturdy Walls and Solid Friends


""We'll be friends forever, won't we, Pooh?" asked Piglet.
"Even longer," Pooh answered."
A. A. Milne, Winnie The Pooh   


A well-built home requires only a minimum amount of maintenance. Our home in Harmony is officially 10 years old this month. I inspected the exterior this weekend in preparation for hurricane season. All I found were a few hair-line cracks in the stucco, which I easily fixed with a little caulk and paint.

A quality friendship requires only a minimum amount of maintenance. Clay, my college roommate, and I became fast friends 44 years ago this month. I called him this weekend just to say hello and catch up on the news. Even though we don't see each other very often because we live 2,346 miles apart, after 15 seconds it was as if we had been together only the day before.

As sturdy as they are, stucco walls shouldn't be taken for granted. A little attention from time to time will keep those hair-line cracks from getting bigger and will keep the rain at bay.

The same is true for certain relationships. A "just-to-chat" phone call every now and then will assure that the friendship stays solid. A strong friendship doesn't need daily conversation or being together. As long as the relationship lives in the heart, true friends never part.

I believe friendships are lasting, and the same sociality that we enjoy here will be enjoyed in the hereafter. Quality friends are a treasure beyond measure. Sharing life with them is a source of great joy to me. Love is eternal.

I hope all of you have a friend in your life like Clay. He fully meets Shakespeare's definition: "A friend is one that knows you as you are, understands where you have been, accepts what you have become, and still, gently allows you to grow." Thanks, Clay, for 44 wonderful years of brick-wall-strong friendship.