A few things I’ve learned over the years

‘If I tell you what I need …’

I spent one summer in northern New Jersey during my college years, when my parents lived there. I volunteered for a week at a summer camp for disabled people, taking care of a man in his 50s with cerebral palsy. I brushed his teeth and shaved him, cut his food into bite-size pieces and helped him get around in his wheelchair. I don’t remember his name.

http://christian-overcomers.com/

During our first evening together, we had a get-to-know-you chat. “If I don’t tell you what I need you to do, my needs won’t be met,” he told me in his slurred speech. “If I tell you what I need and you don’t do it, my needs won’t be met.

“But if I tell you what I need and you do what I say, we’ll get along just fine.”

I’ve never forgotten that. We had a wonderful week together.

(Little did I realize that 35 years later, I’d be getting paid to do very similar things. That advice still applies.)

The right type

typewriter

In 11th grade I took a typing class. I was the second-fastest typist in the class, and the fastest guy. A few years ago I applied for a job that required a typing test. I reached 63 words per minute.

I’ll never be a stenographer, but that skill has served me well over the years.

First love

In fifth grade, I had a friend named Jeff. I don’t remember the context, but one day he blurted out, “I love all people.”

Light bulbs popped inside my heart. He was on to something.

It didn’t work out

One job I had lasted eight weeks, with a business-to-business marketing firm. Early on I was assigned a project for our biggest client. I wanted to know how the client planned to use the piece I would design; I figured I could do a better job with the project if I understood its purpose.

conference-room

My boss called me into the conference room and told me never to ask that question again. What the client did with the piece is none of our business. Since we billed by the hour, if the client wanted us to revise it later, use it as is or throw it away, we would bill accordingly, and that’s all that mattered.

I was done. Two weeks into the job, my creative spirit was crushed. I lasted six more weeks on insignificant projects, then was let go.

A year or two later the company, more than 30 years old, folded.

I did not celebrate when the company closed. Good people lost jobs, people I still occasionally keep in contact with. We all moved on.

That job wasn’t the right fit for me. It happens. Not their fault, not my fault. I learned some things about myself there.

Finding loyalty and affection

Growing up, we had a dog. In married life, we’ve had cats. We have two now, a brother and sister.

Cats on blue chair

Butterscotch and Punkin greet me when I wake up in the morning, and when I come home from work. They like attention. They like being petted, and Butterscotch rolls onto his back and likes me to scratch his belly, like a dog would.

Dogs and cats are loyal, affectionate and loving. Their love is simple and uncomplicated, unlike human love – in every way. Perhaps that’s why so many of us enjoy pets. They don’t judge. They respond to affection with affection (most of the time). If only we humans did that …

Quiet times

Silence is a gift.

My first car after college had only an AM radio that died when the car was less than two years old, and I never got it fixed. I kept that car 18 years, which means I drove in silence for more than 16 years. My prayer life was never better.

Also, my whole adult life I set the alarm early and have been the first one up. I value that “quiet time” before the routine and non-routine of life begins. I focus on what’s most important and start the day with a calm spirit, which (most of the time) I carry until my head hits the pillow at night. This helps me get through the ups and downs that life throws my way. (Including but not limited to crazy drivers.)

The dollar isn’t almighty

paid in full

Living debt-free also is a gift, one we can give ourselves.

We paid off our mortgage early when our sons were middle school-age, so throughout their high school and college years we lived debt free. We still do. The peace of mind that comes with that is priceless.

We’ve always lived within our means and pay off our credit card every month.

Before our boys were born, we both had good-paying full-time jobs. We could have taken trips to Hawaii every year and bought fancy cars and houses, but we chose not to pursue that lifestyle. We chose the “family life” instead and never looked back. To this day we have no regrets about that.

Good call

I worked in a call center for 2.5 years. (I wasn’t one of those pesky telemarketers; I received calls from customers and answered their questions. Or, I offered a survey to customers after they bought a certain brand of car.)

call center

After working as a professional journalist for more than 25 years, a call center may seem like a big letdown, and financially it was. But because we lived within our means (see the previous entry), we could afford this.

I met people there I never otherwise would have met, some who I still keep in contact with today. I learned skills I otherwise would not have learned. Because I was one of the oldest workers there, I was a de-facto leader, so I had to set a good work-ethic example. Which was not hard for me to do.

No job is beneath me. I’m grateful for every experience I’ve had.

And yet … retirement is around the corner. I think I’ll be ready.

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Taking time for the little things in life

I sat in silence in my living room, a cup of coffee in my hand and a cat on my lap, a typical morning. Pitch black outside; no lights on from the apartments across the street. I’m up early. No cars passing by yet. It’s Sunday.

A little movement. A tiny spider crawling on the window.

Should I smush it?

Not yet, no. How often do we impulsively ruin a moment? Silence. No Internet, no television, no music. Just the humming of the refrigerator. Remember that sound?

If I jumped up to kill the spider, the cat would leave and not come back. She’s warm on my lap, dozing. She doesn’t see the spider.

It crawls off the window, over the frame, onto the wall. Its shadow from the table lamp exaggerates its size. I lose the spider behind a chair near the wall. A minute later, it turns around and crawls on the wall under the window.

Just a little spider. It’s not hurting anything.

Eventually, it returns to the window. Does it want to get outside? It’s cold out there. It snowed a couple of days ago. The snow has since melted, but it’s still chilly. Too cold for a spider, I imagine.

What does the spider see in the blackness outside? Or is it focused only in the here and now, only on the window and the warmth inside where it crawls?

I nurse the cup of coffee and watch the spider for close to half an hour, the cat cozy on my bathrobe. The spider doesn’t go far. Just around the window.

Eventually, the cat leaves my lap. I find a tissue and smush the spider. I knew from the outset that the spider would not face a happy ending.

Why rush the scene, though?

Silence.

I start every morning this way, seven days a week. A cat in my lap, a cup of coffee in one hand, a Bible in the other.

I see stories every so often that say the busier we are, the more quiet time we need to get through it. Many of us live at a breakneck pace, and feel like we are wasting our time if every moment is not planned out, if we aren’t doing something every minute.

A long-ago illness has proved a lifelong blessing for me in this regard. When I was 20, I got pneumonia. I lost 15 pounds in 10 days because even the sight of food made me nauseous. (I don’t recommend that as a diet plan, by the way.)

As a result, I get tired easily. Still do. I cannot work 12-hour days, go out in the evening, get four hours of sleep and repeat. Just can’t do that. I’ll get sick. Don’t have that stamina.

When God ordered us to take a Sabbath, He wasn’t kidding. A day of rest recharges us. All of us need down time, whether we’re susceptible to pneumonia or not.

Perhaps I need more down time than you do, but I’ll bet you’d benefit from a little chill time as well.

Spend some time with God. He likes that. You will too.

If more of us did that, I’ll bet fewer of us would run red lights and cut others off in traffic in a big hurry to get who knows where. Perhaps we’d actually show up to church on time. Perhaps we’d be friendlier to everyone – everyone – at work. Even that one person who’s hard to get along with.

We might smile more. We might not need so much coffee (or something stronger) to get us through the day.

Sunrises are beautiful. So are sunsets. When’s the last time you saw one or the other, and stopped to admire it – without taking a picture to post on Facebook? Can you admire beauty just for what it is?

Spiders are good to have around. They capture insects in their webs, often flies and other creatures we’d rather not have in or around our house. Why are we so quick to kill them?

I looked up “spiders” on Wikipedia, which I almost never quote in this blog. The very first line is this: Spiders (order Araneae) are air-breathing arthropods that have eight legs and chelicerae with fangs that inject venom.

Even Wikipedia hates spiders. Fangs and venom? When you see an eensy weensy spider crawling across your living room window, do you see fangs and venom? Do spiders attack you? Kill you? Make you sick, even?

We do so much more damage to them than they do to us.

Spiders don’t make a sound. If you don’t see it, you won’t know it’s there, unless it has spun a web to catch those annoying buzzing insects flying around your house. What has a spider ever done to you?

Silence.

I shared a few moments this morning with a spider, in addition to my cat. Two living things.

I did kill the spider, because that’s what humans do. We don’t like creepy crawly things taking over our abodes. But for a few minutes, we shared space.

And it was good.