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I’m the youngest of five children. If you’re wondering if I was babied, the answer is heck yes. After all, I had up to six grown people looking after or at me at any given time.
Everyone knows the youngest child is indulged, pampered, and spoiled in ways that others are not. I once read that by experiencing so much attention from others, youngest children usually grow up expecting good things from life and therefore tend to be optimists rather than negative-thinking people. That is so me!
That’s how I turned out, at least. The world wasn’t any kinder to me as a kid than it is to anyone. I had some tough early years, and I wasn’t much of an optimist in my youth.
Confession time. This may gross you out, but it’s part of my story, so I need to share it. As a child I had a condition called enuresis. I was a bed-wetter. Actually I was a pants, shorts, bed, sleeping bag, whatever wetter. And I didn’t think it was a coincidence that enuresis was pronounced a lot like you’re-a-sissy, because that’s what I felt like. It was horrible. I could be anywhere at any time and all of the sudden realize that whatever I was wearing just turned into a swimsuit.
Those were shameful, embarrassing years. I kept to myself and stayed very quiet in school classrooms to avoid any attention for fear my classmates would notice. Some kids really were cruel.
Lucky for me, I had a best friend. Someone I could trust. Someone who knew the real person inside me. Her name was Darlene, but I just called her Mom. She was my angel on earth—the one who always loved me no matter how often my accidents would happen. Just being around her, I became special.
She did with me what she did with all the other kids. She developed and perfected three lines of code that, although not scientifically proven, I know for a fact were keys to helping me through some very difficult times. They probably even healed me. It’s pretty complicated, so you might want to write them down. Here they are:
Bless your heart.
I love you.
Oh, my mom might have seemed like your average 70s polyester-pants-wearing mother, but I think she secretly has a Ph.D in parenting.
Mom would take me into her arms and say, “I’m sorry.” This was always her first reaction when any of her kids felt sad. The word sorry comes from sore, meaning to suffer. I knew she could literally feel my pain.
Then she followed it up with, “Bless your heart.” A heart, the very organ that sustains life, the spot where we feel our emotions, really does need to be blessed when wounded or broken.
Finally, after I had been heard and healed, I was reassured that I was loved. She would look me in the eyes and tell me.
They say it’s impossible to be a perfect mother, but there’s a million ways to be a good one. To mine, I wish a blessed heart for all the good she continues to do. I wish her love from me. And I’m sorry about all the extra laundry.
And to all moms, I hope you know that your own unique code language is noticed. All those reassurances you give so automatically really do replace heartache with belonging. You are creating confidence.
Bless all your hearts.
Recently I was in line at the airport waiting to go through security when two gentlemen stepped out of line behind me and moved over into the express lane. The guy in front of me turned his head and said, “Hey, where are they going?” I said, “They must be in first class on their flight so they get the shorter line.” He then turned back around and said, “Well, I don’t need a line to define me.”
I smiled and didn’t say anything. But for the rest of that flight I kept asking myself, What defines me? I thought about what someone could discover about me if they were to find my wallet. Would its contents provide enough evidence to define who I am?
My wallet contains my driver’s license, some pictures, my brief goal list, various credit and membership cards, some cash, and a few business cards. Hmm. OK, what if you got a hold of my iPhone? Would that do it?
On my phone, you would see lots more pictures even a few videos, my journal notes, various apps that interest me, books I’m reading, and some recent texts and e-mail conversations. Would that be enough to define me? Probably more than my beat-up brown wallet.
How do you define a person? If we’re not careful, we could fall into the trap of thinking monetary accomplishment defines who we are. We tend to focus on the clothes we wear, the car we drive, or the home we live in. Is that all there is to it?
What about our past? A lot of people would think we are the sum total of all our experiences. Does our past really define us? Should it?
I remember hearing someone once say, “All that I am is everything I’m going after.” I love that answer. To me, that means the past does not equal the future. We’re never stuck. This very moment is full of wonderful opportunities to become whatever we want to be.
What are you going after? Think about what really, really, deep-down matters to you. Go after that. Let that define you.
I once heard someone teach, “the moment you start giving excuses, is the moment you turn over your power and ability to actually turn things around in your life.” Here’s a wonderful story that teaches this important life lesson.
Two cousins grew up together in a small village in Southeast Asia. Both boys were the same age and came from similar backgrounds. But as they matured, small differences in their attitude toward work became more and more evident. One cousin eventually became an advisor to the king, while the other found employment as an oarsman for the royal canoe service. One evening, as the king and his court were making their annual tour of the kingdom, the canoe was landed for the night and the oarsmen were gathered around their cooking fire. Tired, sore, and sunburned, the oarsmen grumbled as oarsmen sometimes do, with the one cousin doing most of the talking.
“What an easy life those advisors have,” complained the cousin. “We strain our bare backs in the hot sun all day long, while they sit under the canopy and talk. We can talk as easily as they! Do not we have intelligence, and wisdom and experience? We would make fine advisors to the king! And yet it is we that toil to the point of exhaustion, and they who relax in the shade!”
The cousin went on like this for several minutes, not knowing that the king, who had paused during his walk in the trees, and could hear everything the oarsman was saying. Later that night, when the whole camp was asleep, the king awakened the oarsman.
“A mysterious sound interrupted my sleep,” said the king. “Go up the hill and find out what is was.”
The oarsman obediently set off up the hill, then came back a few minutes later to report. “It is nothing of concern,” he said, “just a mother cat who gave birth to a litter of kittens.”
“What kind of cat?” asked the king. The oarsman hadn’t taken notice, so he went back up the hill, and returned a short time later.
“Siamese,” he reported.
“How many kittens?” asked the king. Once again, the cousin trekked up the hill, for he hadn’t bothered to note the size of the litter. Soon he came back to the king.
“Six,” he replied.
“How many male, and how many female?” was the king’s next question.
Another hike up the hill, and the obedient oarsman returned with the answer: “Three male, three female.”
“Very good,” said the king. “Now come with me.” The oarsman followed the king over to the sleeping advisors, where the other cousin was shaken awake. “A mysterious sound interrupted my sleep,” said the king for the second time that night. “Go up the hill and find out what it was.”
Quickly the advisor went up the hill to investigate. After several minutes, he returned and addressed the king. “It is of no concern,” he began. “There is an overturned barrel at the top of the hill. Inside a Siamese cat has given birth to a litter of six kittens: three male and three female. The cat belongs to the mayor of the local village, who apologizes for the interruption of your sleep. He would be honored if you took the pick of the litter as a royal pet.”
Based on human nature, it probably took several of these incidents before the oarsman got the picture. But did you get it? The attitude you take toward any venture directly affects your approach to it. How you approach any endeavor greatly determines your likelihood of success. And your success – or lack of it- has an equally direct effect on your attitude. It’s all tied together, and it can be a spiral staircase up, or a spiral funnel down.
Years ago on a Saturday morning I was sitting in front of the television, working my remote control while my six-year-old son was in the kitchen working on his oatmeal (which he called “eatmeal”). After a couple of minutes I caught him out of the corner of my eye hopping down from his seat and headed over to some cars on the floor.
Based on my years of experience as a parent, I knew he couldn’t have finished his breakfast that fast, even if he had used one of our big spoons.
“Hey, buddy,” I said, “make sure you eat all your oatmeal.”
There was no response. He just kept on with his two-handed, two-car drag race.
I took a moment to decide on a channel, then spoke again with clearer direction: “Make sure you eat all your oatmeal before you play with those cars, buddy.”
Still nothing from him but revving engine sounds.
Well, that was it. I had asked two times, and he was clearly ignoring me. Time to demand some respect. From my cockpit seat, remote in hand like a king’s staff, I hollered, “Did you hear what I said, son? Finish your oatmeal!”
He looked up at me as if he had never heard a single word and replied, “I don’t want any more eatmeal. Did you hear what I said?”
Are you serious? I thought. Did I just? You little. Did I just hear what I thought I heard?
I stood up and pointed to the stairs and said, “Head up to your room right now, son!”
He looked up at me, stood up, put his head down and went upstairs without another word. As he got close to the top step I added, “I want you to think about what you just said.” He turned the corner and vanished down the hallway.
What the heck just happened? I swore I’d taught him better than that.
I sat on my throne for a few more minutes, stewing over how kids these days watch too much TV, learning sarcasm and lack of respect for their parents. Eventually the thought of him being up there alone, wondering where he and I stood, got to me. I love him. He was only a little boy. I still had plenty of time to reprogram what some Disney show might have taught him.
I headed up the stairs. Slowly, I opened his door and found him sitting on the edge of his bed. I walked in and sat next him. His cheeks were still wet. He was staring down at his little hands.
My heart ached. I wanted to do this the right way, from ground zero. So I started with a simple question.
“Son, who taught you to talk like that to me?” Without hesitation he looked up at me and said with a soft voice, “You, Dad.”
My mind raced, searching for clues. Suddenly my own words echoed back at me: “Did you hear what I said?”
He was right. He was simply being a mirror of me.
I got down on my knees and hugged him while I tried to release the awful pain in my gut. I asked for his forgiveness and promised I would try to speak more kindly to him in the future. I also apologized for unfairly sending him to his room.
More than a decade has since gone by, but I’ve thought about that lesson more than a hundred times. I wish I could say I’ve been a perfect father ever since. I haven’t. Not even close. But since then I have stopped myself many times and asked, “Do you hear what you’re about to say?”
It’s a clue, a gift really, from a little boy sitting on the edge of his bed. I hope somehow, someday it comes in handy for you.
The other night I went to Walgreens to get a pedometer. And some dental floss. Taking care of me. As I was checking out, the kind, woman behind the counter asked me two questions. She first asked if I would like to donate to our local children’s hospital. I said, “Sure,” thinking, What’s a dollar for a good cause?
She then tilted her head, smiled, and asked the second question. “Five dollars all right?”
Wow. Hadn’t thought of it being five dollars. That was five times what I was expecting! Enough for a foot-long sandwich from Subway. Five iTunes songs. Five large McDonalds Diet Cokes (my wife loves those). An express carwash. Fifty miles on the freeway.
I looked directly into her eyes, and without any hesitation I said, “That would be great.”
Why was that my response? Because she simply asked.
If you don’t ask for what you want, you will get it pretty close to zero percent of the time. But when you say what you’re after, and when you are consistent in your efforts to achieve it, you can get what you want far more often than not.
This cashier had a clear purpose. She knew what she wanted. She knew it was for a good cause. And she asked.
Solid purpose gives you the fuel and the courage to ask the right questions. When you have a reason, you will ask.
I have no doubt that right now you have plans in your life that you’re putting into place. There are things you’re seeing a big picture on and that you’re excited to see come to fruition.
Just like me in Walgreens, the world and all the people in it are on a course. They’re after what they want and they may have no idea what you want. But when you speak up, you can change the course of things.
Have a clear picture of what you want, and ask for it.
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