Refusing To Leave A Friend Behind

Refusing To Leave A Friend Behind

My first recall of such a thing was likely from watching stories about war. Combat was a popular TV show when I was a kid. It was a show about World War II and aired from 1962 to 1967.

Men would be injured in combat and their buddies would tell them, “Don’t worry. We’re not leaving you behind.” The U.S. Marines have been known for never leaving anybody behind, even fallen comrades. Vic Morrow, as the sergeant in Combat! was awesome as Sergeant Chip Saunders. In 1982 Morrow and two children were tragically and gruesomely killed when a helicopter crashed on top of them during the filming of The Twilight Zone. They were on the ground acting out an escape from Viet Nam. When I heard the news I remembered all the times I was glued to the TV watching Combat!

In 1966 I was nine. I bought my first record – at least the first one I can remember. It was by a Green Beret sergeant, Barry Sadler.

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Known for never leaving a man behind, I was fascinated with the Green Berets, likely because the news of Viet Nam was always talking about them. They were among the first Americans engaged in that “conflict.” When you’re a kid and your country is embroiled in a war it’s bound to have an impact. I wasn’t attracted to the guns, the violence, the injuries, or the death. I was attracted to guys working together, heroism, and having such a single-minded focus. The camaraderie fascinated me because as a little kid, I’d never experienced that. Yet. I was in 5th grade when I played on my first sports team, tackle football.

I had never been in a spot where I had to leave a friend behind. On the playground, I didn’t leave a friend behind if I got selected to form one of the teams. That’s as close as I’d ever come to having to decide if I’d leave a friend behind.

When I read this little story – I think I first saw it on some pet website about dogs because I’m on the board of the Westie Foundation of America…and I love dogs.

A man and his dog were walking along a road.
The man was enjoying the scenery when it suddenly occurred to him that he was dead.

He remembered dying, and that the dog walking beside him had been dead for years.
He wondered where the road was leading them.

After a while, they came to a high, white stone wall along one side of the road.

It looked like fine marble…

At the top of a long hill, it was broken by a tall arch that glowed in the sunlight.

When he was standing before it, he saw a magnificent gate in the arch that looked
like mother-of-pearl, and the street that led to the gate looked like pure gold.

He and the dog walked toward the gate, and as he got closer, he saw a man at a desk to one side.

When he was close enough, he called out, ‘Excuse me, where are we?’

‘This is Heaven, sir,’ the man answered.

‘Wow! Would you happen to have some water?’ the man asked.

‘Of course, sir. Come right in, and I’ll have some ice water brought right up.’

The man gestured, and the gate began to open. ‘Can my friend,’ gesturing toward his
dog, ‘come in, too?’ the traveler asked.

‘I’m sorry, sir, but we don’t accept pets.’

The man thought a moment and then turned back toward the road and continued the way he had been going with his dog.

After another long walk, and at the top of another long hill, he came to a dirt road leading through a farm gate that looked as if it had never been closed.

There was no fence.

As he approached the gate, he saw a man inside, leaning against a tree and reading a book….

‘Excuse me!’ he called to the man. ‘Do you have any water?’

‘Yeah, sure, there’s a pump over there, come on in.’

‘How about my friend here?’ the traveler gestured to the dog.

‘There should be a bowl by the pump,’ said the man.

They went through the gate, and sure enough, there was an old-fashioned hand pump with a bowl beside it.

The traveler filled the water bowl and took a long drink himself, then he gave some to the dog.

When they were full, he and the dog walked back toward the man who was standing by the tree.

‘What do you call this place?’ the traveler asked.

‘This is Heaven,’ he answered.

‘Well, that’s confusing,’ the traveler said.

‘The man down the road said that was Heaven, too.’

‘Oh, you mean the place with the gold street and pearly gates? Nope, that’s hell.’

‘Doesn’t it make you mad for them to use your name like that?’

‘No, we’re just happy that they screen out the folks who would leave their best friends behind.’

Never mind the theological problems of dogs going to heaven or being fooled not knowing where real hell and heaven are. The emphasis of the story wasn’t lost on me – do I want to take my best friends to heaven with me? Better yet, who would dare leave their best friends behind as they journey toward heaven?

I remember seeing a story about a picture entitled, The First Day of Heaven. It was an image that made me stop and think of what that first day might actually be like. Too bad it turned out to be a painting that was taken from a photograph of a women’s rugby team celebration. It’s a shame an image with that title was stolen. 😉

The First Day of Heaven is a stolen image

Today is Thanksgiving here in America, November 24, 2022. 

It seems fitting to consider our responsibility to others. All those years perched in front of a black and white TV watching the characters on Combat! grow closer together. Mission after mission Doc, Little John, Caje, Kirby, and the others. They were like a family, always looking out for one another. Over time I’d learn firsthand the power of a group coming together as a team. Supporting and protecting each other.

I wish it had been different growing up. Oh, I was happy to watch this phenomenon on TV. Or to read about it in books. But I didn’t see it firsthand really until I started coaching hockey.

Professionally, I spent years working to bring people together. Forging a purpose worth straining for, I had attempted all my adult life to get people to pull together. Mostly, I had succeeded, but not 100%. My ideal outcome was always to get everybody on board – to leave nobody behind. But there were always a few who just wouldn’t cooperate. Contrarians who would buck anything I attempted to do because they didn’t want to improve or grow. They just wanted to show up to work day after day and do as little as possible. But they almost always wound up doing more than that – sabotaging the effort and I spent a lot of time negating their efforts until I could get rid of them. It’s hard work – the work of leaving nobody behind.

Since it’s Thanksgiving Today let’s start with that – gratitude – because it’s the antidote for selfishness. It’s the remedy for so much more, too.

Refusing to leave a friend behind speaks to our selfishness. More specifically, it speaks to our ability to manage it.

Do you work at managing your self-centeredness? 

How?

For me, it begins with self-awareness. I’m extraordinarily tough on myself. That doesn’t mean I always see things accurately. Nor does it mean I’m always mindful of others. But I do feel fairly capable of catching myself whenever I tend to misbehave. Constantly looking in the mirror when you’re looking for flaws shows increasingly more flaws. 😉

Our strengths become our weaknesses. I’ve never found an exception. I know it’s true in my own life.

I’m a guy who tends to take the blame for things. It’s easy. A default behavior.

Something happens and my immediate thought is, “What did I do to contribute to this?” And I don’t mean when things go well. I mean when they don’t.

Simultaneously I never think of being victimized. It never crosses my mind that I’m a victim of anything other than my own idiocy or foolishness. That’s a good thing. A strength. But it creates one of my many weaknesses to be hard on myself.

My own personal answer was to craft what I dubbed my business philosophy – which is really more of a life philosophy.

Always

For me, it’s about reading situations and people. It’s a heightened sense of noticing that just happens. And that noticing drives my actions unless I’m too in my head and myself that I grow complacent. That’s when my thankfulness wanes and I lean too far into my circumstances.

It’s been said that it’s hard to be great without being grateful. I choose to believe that’s true even though I’m sure there are exceptions. Some great athletes, for example, have proven to be miserable human beings. But for mere mortals like us, folks who don’t have some exceptional athletic prowess – well, speaking only for myself, I lack exceptional prowess in anything so gratitude should be way easier for me, huh? 😉

The list of things for which I’m thankful is long. Exhaustingly long. Spectacularly long.

Back on the last day of August, I posted this inside our private Facebook group.

Be more grateful

It was first shared on social media back in February 2019. It had a viral moment. At the time I shared it here inside our little group because it just seemed so perfect.

All the kids touched me, but that kid in the back in a lime green shirt really got me the day I first saw it. His smirk so reminded me of grandson number 3 – and my son, number 3’s dad.

When the photo first appeared I immediately went looking for some evidence to prove it wasn’t contrived or photoshopped. How sad is it that I’m THAT cynical and skeptical these
Nobody ever stepped forward claiming credit for having taken the picture. Bollywood actor Boman Irani shared the picture on his Instagram handle saying, ‘You’re only as happy as you choose to be. A saying that holds true for one and all!! And I’m sure this selfie deserves more likes than most.

I love everything about it. The little girl holding hands with the little boy in the orange tank top. The shoe seems to belong to the little boy in the striped shirt, providing the prop – the make-believe smartphone. The Mickey Mouse lime green shirt, representing “the happiest place on earth,” Disneyworld. The dirt on their clothes. The impoverished surroundings. Their glowing faces, embracing happy imaginations only children can enjoy. Kids, who at least at this moment, are able to smile no matter what. The kid taking the imaginary selfie performing the feat with such confidence and prowess as though he’s done it a thousand times before.

It crushes me every time I see it. Today, it popped up in my memories, forcing me to my knees to pray for these and all little children who grow up walking barefooted on dirt floors while I lament the problems I endure in my grand life. And I feel deeply ashamed.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. I hope all is well, and if it isn’t, I hope you’re able to overcome or endure whatever challenges you face today. I’m thankful for you giving me your time and attention. I’m thankful some of you make Leaning Toward Wisdom part of your life.

Randy Cantrell

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Stories We Tell Ourselves

Stories We Tell Ourselves

Romans 12:2 “And be not fashioned according to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”

Mind transformation isn’t just a religious thing, it’s a human thing because God created us in His image.

Genesis 1:27 “And God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”

The fascinating thing about this is not that we’re god-like because we’re not. But we are. We’re created in the image of God and I don’t fully understand everything that means, but I can grasp major chunks of what it means. For starters, the entire Creation event shows us the power of God to think in advance. To first see it in our mind. God created the Universe and the Earth by thinking it into existence. We don’t have God’s power so we’re unable to do that physically, but because we’re in His image we can pre-think something before it becomes reality.

In January 2017 The New Yorker published a story entitled, “The Voices In Our Head: Why do people talk to themselves and when does it become a problem?”

The author of the piece mentions literally talking to ourselves. Something some of us do. Others don’t. And neither one makes us any saner than the rest. It’s an interesting article even if it is a bit off-track from how we’re going to discuss the inner voices that each of us do encounter every day.

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John Sebastian wrote a song back in 1974, Stories We Could Tell. The opening lines include:

Talkin’ to myself again
and wondrin’ if this travelling is good
Is there somethin’ else a-doin’
We’d be doin’ if we could

Whether your talk to yourself verbally – out loud – or whether you’re talking to yourself silently in your own head…you ARE talking to yourself. Some of us are more verbose in our talking to ourselves than others. Just like we are out loud maybe. 😉

So the issue isn’t whether or not we’re talking to ourselves…but rather the question is, “What are we saying?” And why?

By introducing mind transformation hopefully, you’ll consider – if you’re not already convinced – that barring some challenge (mental illness, PTSD, or some other issue that requires professional assistance) you’re in control of yourself, and equally important, your thoughts belong to you. That means mind transformation is possible. But what is it?

Simply put, it means you can control what you think about. You can control how you think about something. You can control what you focus on and what you ignore. You’re responsible for your own life, first by being responsible for your own thoughts.

Rhonda and I are in the car talking about the choices people make – the foolish choices. Somebody’s infidelity in their marriage was the prompting topic. We discussed how such poor choices happen. I remarked, “They (the unfaithful spouse) think about it, decide they want it, and then act on it. I guess, to them, at least in the moment, it seems like a good idea. Kinda like a person who steals or robs finds themself needing money and immediately they start thinking of who or how they rob somebody. Most of us don’t immediately go to those thoughts. Instead, we likely think of what we might be able to sell, or how we might be able to find a job – or a better paying job.”

“If it is to be, it’s up to me.”

I’ve heard that phrase as long as I can remember. It’s intended, in part, to be empowering. To help encourage us to be proactive. But more deeply it signifies that we have the ability and opportunity to pre-think our lives. We can see our future before it happens. Mentally, we can make it whatever we want. That doesn’t mean it will happen as we think. It doesn’t mean we can think it into existence. Only God can do that, but we are able – as creatures in His image – able to think ahead of time and behave with intentions based on how we’re thinking.

Animals behave with instincts. They act and react based on those instincts. To eat. To rest. To reproduce.

Humans have a capacity to insert ourselves – mentally – into situations we’ve never before encountered. We can run scenarios in our heads and think about possible outcomes. We can THINK. And our thinking determines our actions and behavior.

People love to quote the first part of Proverbs 23:7 “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he:” – but the verse goes on to say “Eat and drink, saith he to thee; but his heart is not with thee.”

The real meaning of the verse is that the way the man thinks is really who he is. He says, “Come on eat and drink” but he really doesn’t want you to. He’s a hypocrite.

So it’s absolutely true that if we want to be better humans then we must have better thoughts. Life is largely an exercise of our minds. The stories we tell ourselves are very important. They include the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. And the stories we tell ourselves about others.

Others

I’m going to start with others because through the years of reading and studying human behavior I’ve come to understand that what we tell ourselves does have an external component. Namely, we largely learn how to tell ourselves our own story. And part of that learning comes from others and the things that happen to us. External stuff.

I was in 5th grade. I was also a good student, which meant I made good grades. 😉

He was in my class, but he was constantly in trouble. A class clown who worked overly hard to be funny. Sometimes he succeeded. Many times, he did not.

I can’t be sure, but I think I overheard two teachers talking about how he had been a bad student since the second grade. I remember wondering if he was really a bad student – based on the results he clearly was – or if he was just meeting the expectations they had for him. They had him pegged as one thing and it seemed almost too obvious to me that he was writing the story they had helped craft about him. But what did I know? I was only 11.

Some years later I’d read stories about this very thing though. Particularly in education. A kid doesn’t do very well in a class or during one year of school…and from that point forward, she struggles to escape the gravitational pull of her reputation among faculty. I’d watch and listen to the interactions between teachers and these kids and I’d cringe, thinking how I’d just want to climb under a rock if I was the aim of the teacher’s anger or frustration. Don’t get me wrong. I knew these kids were disruptive and often rebellious. Some were troublemakers extraordinaire. Others were just cleverly mischievous. I never got in trouble in class. Getting in trouble wouldn’t have crossed my mind.

It may have been my first sober thoughts about the stories others tell about us and how we’re able to do the same. We think things about people. Maybe, like my classmates, they’re based on poor behavior. Maybe they’re not based on much of anything. Maybe they’re based on the past, not the present. I’ve lived long enough to know how sometimes I can get it wrong. Things aren’t always what they seem. And people aren’t always what we think.

The 2-way street is in full effect. The stories we tell ourselves about others. The stories we know others are telling themselves about us.

“Don’t listen to what others say. Forget what other people think.”

We all do. To what degree is largely individual. I chuckle at the person who constantly declares how they don’t care what anybody thinks or says. Translation: I’m completely obsessed and fixated on what everybody is saying about me! 😀

I’ve already shown you that I do care what others think because I wanted to please teachers. I don’t want to create enemies. Not intentionally anyway. And I don’t want anybody to think ill of me. Influence and impact are always at the forefront of my mind. I care about the stories people tell themselves – and others – about me.

To the point that I’m paralyzed to do anything? No.

The point that it determines what I’m going to do…or what I’m going to feel or think? No. Never.

But to the point where I consider it…absolutely. Which means I think about it. Sometimes a lot. Other times, not much at all. It depends.

I’m extraordinarily self-reflective. One of my many curses is that I own it, even when it’s not mine to own. It’s the proverbial empathy meter that I’d peg if such a meter existed. Putting myself in the other person’s shoes is easy and natural. I don’t work at it. It just happens. So rather than feeling victimized if somebody treats me poorly, I’m too busy trying to figure out what’s going on with them to cause it. Playing the part of a victim just has never entered my mind as a choice I should consider. Instead, I internalize and can sometimes consume myself with negativity trying to accept responsibility for everything. Sometimes it morphs into blaming myself, too.

I bring that up not to overly share, but to wonder out loud about people who choose to think others are victimizing them. I choose to think of how others can help me correct some misconceptions. How I can engage in questions of somebody and discover more accurately what’s going on with them – rather than just assuming I know. Curiosity has always been my friend.

For the past 6 years or so I’ve worked more diligently at surrounding myself with people who can help me. It’s always been my habit, but I’ve tried to become more intentional about it whereas in the past I was pretty much fully intuitive about it. People make a big difference for us, but the biggest positive differences are made by only the safest, best people for us.

Habitual behavior is repeated. Ditto for our thinking. This is why we have to harness greater control over how we think about others and how we allow the way others think about us to impact us. If those folks who hate us can impact us, then it stands to reason if we surround ourselves with more people who believe in us…we can be positively impacted.

So where are you going to spend your time?

Fretting about the folks who don’t like you? Maybe even hate you?

Or being more purposeful in engaging with the people who encourage you and help you?

We need to pick one and let the other one go because we learn from each other. We tend to reflect one another, too – so we should consider that when we form our circle of friends. 1 Corinthians 15:33 “Be not deceived: Evil companionships corrupt good morals.” We’re deceived when we think others won’t influence us or impact us. “They won’t rub off on me,” are the famous last words of many foolish people.

The stories others may create and tell about us aren’t rumors, gossip, or bad-mouthing that frequent many conversations. It’s how others view us, what story they’re telling themselves about who we are, or who they think we are.

These stories are both important and meaningless. Important because we care about our influence – so we want to have a positive impact as much as possible. If you want to have influence you can’t just live for yourself declaring that you don’t care what anybody thinks. Meaningless in the sense that we can’t let others dictate our story because we’re each our own head writer. That’s not to say nobody else is involved because I’ve got a co-author named Rhonda. But she’s not the head writer of my story, I am. Besides, she’s busy being the head writer of her own story, while I’m co-authoring that story. We care about each other, but not enough to acquiesce our lives to each other – because it’s not even possible. We’re responsible for our own lives and we bear responsibility for how we influence each other, too!

Ourselves

The stories we tell ourselves about ourselves create the story we write – the story the rest of the world sees. Self-talk. Head trash. There are plenty of phrases we use that illustrate how powerful we know the words in our heads are because they provide us with belief.

Robert Duvall plays Hub in the movie Second Hand Lions. It’s the story of 14-year-old Walter, who is sent to spend the summer with his great uncles, a couple of old bachelors – Garth (played by Michael Cane) and Hub (played by Robert Duvall). There’s a poignant line by Hub.

Sometimes the things that may or may not be true are the things a man needs to believe in the most. That people are basically good; that honor, courage, and virtue mean everything; that power and money, money and power mean nothing; that good always triumphs over evil; and I want you to remember this, that love… true love never dies. You remember that, boy. You remember that. Doesn’t matter if it’s true or not. You see, a man should believe in those things, because those are the things worth believing in.

A man should believe those things because those are the things worth believing in.

There’s the rub, figuring out the things worth believing in – because that will determine our story.

That explains why I try to lean into optimism. It’s a choice. Some part of it is my default, natural wiring. I think things will be better. I instinctively try to figure out how to help make things better.

Maybe with every force or inclination, there’s a counterforce or inclination because I also naturally tend to think of all the things that can go wrong. Trapped between these two pulls – optimism and hope versus “well, this won’t work at all.” It gives me a choice. You’ve got your own choices. We all do.

Life is about choices.

Our choices determine our destiny – our story. Specifically, the choices we make in what to believe because our beliefs drive our behavior. What we think matters.

When Walter first arrives at the grand uncle’s rundown farm in Texas he asks if he can go inside the house to watch TV. “Ain’t got no TV,” they tell him. Turns out they ain’t got much that would interest a teenage boy. Hub tells Walter, “If you need somethin’, you’d best find it yourself, or even better, learn to do without.” 😉 We’re busy trying to find it, but Leaning Toward Wisdom is a collective effort toward individual outcomes. Your life, your choices, your story. My life, my choices, my story.

I learned I should believe in optimism when it dawned on me that my time spent thinking belonged to me. Whenever those “what could go wrong” thoughts rose to the forefront of my mind, it felt awful. Depressing. Sometimes in my life, it would drive my feelings of despair. Finally, I realized if I chose different thoughts – thoughts of optimism, it was much better no matter how things turned out.

Like you, I learned about self-fulfilling prophecies in college. It seemed to me that what I was thinking couldn’t possibly determine the outcome of everything – maybe it couldn’t determine the outcome of anything beyond my control – but it could most certainly determine my choices, decisions,  and behavior. And those most certainly would contribute to my outcome. Leaning toward wisdom compelled me to choose what I thought and opt for thinking of the ideal outcome, not the worst!

I’m hardly proficient at the art of optimism, but I’m practicing. After all this time, you’d think I’d have it down by now, but it shows you how hard it is to control our thoughts. Especially when it’s much easier to think or assume the worst. Convincing ourselves of how things might go south is way easier than convincing ourselves how things might work out perfectly just the way we want. In our minds, pessimism seems more likely. Did you ever ask yourself why? Why does failure seem more likely?

Because we can easily remember our failures. They scare us. Mar us. Even small ones.

And we can easily forget our successes. Especially all the small ones. We’re forgetful. Neglectful of the gratitude we should have for the successes. We ought to examine our definition of success, too. Rather than some grand plan coming to fruition, it can be as simple as being able to breathe. Another day of life. More chances to figure things out and get better. More opportunities to be a good influence on others. Enough food to eat. Enough water to drink. Enough clothing to wear. Enough shelter to protect ourselves from the weather. Simple things. Staples of life. All the things we take for granted while we languish over something that seems to matter more, but doesn’t.

Another choice. To be thankful and express our gratitude. Or to focus on our lack, our want, and lament that life isn’t what we hoped. We can choose what we’ll believe. And what we’ll believe in. It determines the story we’ll write.

Things aren’t cut and dried. Rarely are things so binary as to be one thing. We can’t merely think our way toward improvement. Besides, sometimes taking action changes our thoughts and beliefs, not the other way around.

During my years of leading retail companies, superior customer service was the priority. Folks who answered the phones were coached to smile before answering the phones. Callers couldn’t see them, but you can hear a smile in somebody’s voice. It was a fundamental principle of acting the way you want to be so you can become that way. By smiling, people behaved more friendly on the phone. They were more pleasant. It was a simple action we could easily coach and one they could easily practice.

We could have told them to change how they think about customers. Don’t think of them as intrusions, think of them as opportunities. That was certainly preached, but it was just one component of the strategy to deliver excellent customer service. Smiling was a simple behavior people could choose to do before answering the phones.

Weight loss is a multi-billion dollar business. Millions struggle with it. It’s difficult. Desirable but difficult.

Changing beliefs and thinking may not be the path forward to everybody. Some people might benefit from diving headlong into changing their behavior. What if I’m 50 pounds overweight and I don’t fret too much about my thinking or belief? What if I just start behaving the way thinner, more fit people behave? What if I start eating better and exercising more? Over time, my beliefs and thinking are likely to change if I continue the change in my behavior.

So while we’re focused today on the story we tell ourselves, part of that story is how we behave. We’ll be judged on what we do! By God. By others. So what we do matters!

It may be that there are changes in your behavior as simple as smiling that may positively influence your thoughts and beliefs.

Some may think it’s a sappy story, but I loved the movie, Secondhand Lions.

I’d been working on today’s show for weeks when I thought about Hub’s line in the movie. I searched for it on a streaming service and watched it again. It came out in 2003 and I couldn’t remember when I had last seen it, but as I watched it again it reinforced the things I’d been crafting to create this episode. Walter, the little boy, was taught by his two old granduncles what to believe and what to believe in. Even at 14, he had the power to choose for himself. So he did. He took actions that were congruent with those beliefs. We all do.

For Walter, it changed everything. Just as it had for his uncles, Hub and Garth. It changed who he was. It changed how he lived.

It changed the story he wrote.

Watching and listening to old men helped.

Randy Cantrell

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"It's not a crime to lose all your money. It's just stupid."

“It’s not a crime to lose all your money. It’s just stupid.”

Ebb Dawson - Green Acres
Ebb Dawson

Ebb Dawson, that deep-thinking philosopher character on the old TV series, Green Acres, is the person who uttered today’s profound title.

I’ve loved that line since I first heard it. I have no idea how long ago that was. I was a kid who watched The Andy Griffith Show, Green Acres, F Troop, I Dream of Jeannie, Bewitched, and McHale’s Navy.

An online article entitled – 6 Signs You Can’t Afford Your Lifestyle – prompted me to think about what Ebb said. Let’s see if we agree with the list of signs you can’t afford your lifestyle…because you’re losing (blowing) all your money.Randy Cantrell

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How Do You Value Books?

How Do You Value Books?

I ran across an older online article entitled, “The value of owning more books than you can read.” Well, that grabbed my attention. So I clicked and began reading, realizing I’d heard some of these ideas before in The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

Having just rid myself of over 1,500 books, it’s a worthwhile conversation I think – to consider if we value books and how. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Randy Cantrell

Let’s Just Worry About What’s In Front Of Us

Let’s Just Worry About What’s In Front Of Us

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My beloved OU Sooner football team has experienced a season of challenge that we hope morphs into major growth and improvement. Coach Brent Venables is such a terrific personality and he seems like a good human. He’s a man who has experienced serious adversity from his childhood through his adult years. We can focus on a multi-million dollar college football coach, but he’s not defined by his income any more than I am. He’s worth the money as a football coach at a major university. As a man, how he lives determines his value and worth. Same for us.

Yesterday, I saw this article about the team entitled, With destiny out of Oklahoma’s control, winning the next game is all that matters.

I guarantee Brent Venables isn’t telling his players, “ok guys, we just need to win two more games to make it to a bowl game.” He’s not saying that. He’s not wired that way. He wants to win football games, and there are five more to go.

In the words of the late Al Davis, “Just win, baby.” That’s all the Sooners can do. Win some football games and let the chips fall where they may.

All this is the result of 3 disappointing losses, particularly the blowout 49-0 loss against rival Texas. Those failures took away the Sooners’ opportunity to control their own destiny toward a major bowl or playoff run. But it didn’t rob the Sooners of controlling their own destiny from here on out.

Our challenges are sometimes major impasses. They knock us down and drag us out. Sometimes they knock us out. The Sooners coach isn’t a man willing to lay down and whimper. He’s not done that in his personal tragedies and he’s not about to do it now as a first-time head coach. He’s got decades of experience, knows what he’s doing and knows he has to prepare his team to push through this adversity so they can grow. Those willing will benefit. Those unwilling will be gone. Either by their own choice, or his.

This isn’t really about college football or OU. It’s not really about a football coach. It’s about us. You and me.

It’s about our life and our challenges. It’s about how we’re going to stand up against our opponents and impasses. How will we respond? Will we wither? Will we increase our resolve to fight? What will we do when trouble comes?

I’ve talked candidly – and I’ll talk even more candidly today – about being in this 4-year struggle. It’s been such a long, arduous fight I’ve reached a point where all I know to do is what the OU Sooners football team must do…

Worry about what’s in front of me!

The easiest way to organize your stuff is to get rid of most of it.

“Travel and tell no one, live a true love story and tell no one, live happily and tell no one, people ruin beautiful things.”

 

I shared these graphics on social media yesterday. Both of them spoke to me, more so now than maybe at any other time in my life.

Let’s take them in reverse order.

“Travel and tell no one, live a true love story and tell no one, live happily and tell no one, people ruin beautiful things.”
– Kahlil Gibran

Gibran is best known as the author of The Prophet, which was first published in the United States in 1923. He was a Lebanese poet, writer, and philosopher who died in 1931. I don’t profess to know much about him, but my recollection was that in the 1970s there were college students who discovered him. I’m supposing some college philosophy professors helped expose students to his work. But no matter, the man did write some quotable lines including that one I made into a social media graphic.

I love quite a lot of things about it.

Keeping quiet – which is going to sound very weird given that I’m a podcaster who hits RECORD maybe more frequently than I should – is VERY appealing. The longer I live the more I understand how intrusive many people are anxious to be in our lives. Not because of us. We’d like to think we’re special like that, but it’s got nothing to do with us. It’s got everything to do with them and what they most want. That doesn’t mean they’re heartless and uncaring. It just means their priority is usually self-focused. And it’s understandable because we’re ALL experiencing life through our own eyes. We’re in our own heads. Our life matters more than anybody else’s, not because we necessarily think we’re better (but we may), but because it’s OUR life and uniquely our responsibility. Plus, we mostly care about the outcomes of our life and that’s how it should be.

There is something a tad more sinister going on though. All of us are subjected to practicing it.

prurient curiosity

Not in the sexual sense, but in the immoderate and indecent sense. The desire to know because we want our curiosity satisfied, or we want to know something others may not yet know…or some other selfish reason having nothing to do with serving or helping the other person. For some, life is largely a game of “I know something you don’t.” That’s what I mean.

That’s why I love quietness in the sense of not sharing too many details about life. In spite of the documenting that happens here at LTW, and elsewhere in my podcasting life, there’s much that isn’t revealed. It’s private. Personal. Sometimes confidential. And quite often it involves others besides me. Besides, sometimes, most times – I just don’t feel like sharing details of what’s going on with me. I’m much more comfortable asking about others, but I try to be careful with that hoping I read the moment correctly. Do they want to share? Are they craving somebody who is truly interested? Mostly, I lean into conversations about their life because they start it. As they open up I embrace it and keep it going for as long as they’d like. It’s not that I’m unwilling to reciprocate by sharing details of my life, but it pretty much takes care of itself when the conversation continues about their life. I will – 100% of the time – subtility (if possible) shift the conversation on them and their life. It feels better for both of us. Almost always!

So when I mention quietness I’m talking about two distinctly different kinds of communication. Quietness is a form of communication just like pausing in a podcast is form of it, too (something I’ve long been known for).

There’s the quietness that serves us. There’s the quietness that serves others. Sometimes they’re parallel and sometimes they’re not. Care to guess which one gets the priority? Of course, the version of quietness that serves us!

The Yellow Studio 2.0 Has To End So 3.0 Can Begin

In 2015 I did a virtual tour of The Yellow Studio version 1.0. For more than 15 years, this was how I operated The Yellow Studio. Then, thanks to Rode we shook things up by replacing the original rack of hardware with a single device, the Rodecaster Pro. That ushered in The Yellow Studio 2.0. For the past few years, the workflow inside The Yellow Studio has been greatly enhanced with the Rodecaster Pro. Thanks to you guys!

The Yellow Studio 1.0 The Yellow Studio 1.0 - take one

The Yellow Studio 2.0The Yellow Studio version 2.0

The end of The Yellow Studio 2.0 began a few months ago when I began to declutter and purge. I won’t bore you with yet another rendition of that effort, but it was invigorating.

The Yellow Studio is a home office and podcast studio all in one. It has been the place where I’ve produced 99% of every podcast episode over the past 20-plus years. The only exceptions are the episodes I’ve recorded in the field. Thousands and thousands of hours of shows have been recorded right from this spot inside this yellow room. Most of the shows were recorded into a Heil PR40 mic. When the Rodecaster Pro entered the picture I sold both PR40s opting for some different sounds. I broke the cardinal rule of podcasting and went from a dynamic mic to a condenser mic. My workflow improved.

Bittersweet is how we tend to describe wanting something while also partially dreading it. I’ve had months to think about The Yellow Studio 2.0 coming to an end. I may have had a moment or two where “bittersweet” applied, but mostly it was all sweet all the time. I was longing for a change. Looking forward to closing a chapter.

I talk a lot about chapters of our life – these moments in time when it can be easy for us (and others) to define us. This chapter of our life has endured for about 23 years. Rhonda and I were ready to close this chapter of our life. It’s important when ending something – the desired ending – that we’re anticipating starting something new. Many people are busy running from something, but that’s empty unless we can find something we want to run toward. Closing this chapter is mostly an exercise in saying goodbye to one chapter so we can say hello to a new one! It’s time to get busy writing a chapter we’ve not yet written.

The past months have provided lots of learning coupled with considerable angst. 😉 And it ain’t over yet.

Eternity Changes Everything

Okay, I had already learned this. I’ve been learning it all my life thanks to Christian parents. But recent months reinforced this truth.

Big life decisions are hard, but they’re made somewhat easier when you’re able to see what matters most. For example, Rhonda and I were engaged in a conversation about one specific decision confronting us. When we crunched the numbers the decision boiled down to risking a few hundred dollars or risking $26K. That’s not a hard decision because the difference is so enormous and apparent. So it goes when we can clearly compare our earthly life with eternity.

We tend to think of it as living and dying, but the reality, based on what the Bible teaches, is different. We live here, in human bodies, while we’re living this earthly chapter. When we die our soul or spirit is separated from this earthly body and we live on entering the eternal realm. We end one chapter and begin another one, our final one, which happens to be a chapter without an ending because it’s eternal.

The more we study this and think about it the more clear it becomes that we should give it more weight than what happens here on earth. It’s part math and all God. The math is straightforward. My dad is 99. And healthy. He’s living a long, long life, but it’s still nothing compared to forever! Would he – or any of us – be wise to devote ourselves to something here, for a brief time (even 99 years) if it would cost us a high price FOREVER? It’d be foolish, but we could. Many of us – most of us – do just that. We devote ourselves to whatever suits us without any thought of the Scripture, God, or Jesus Christ. We play the short game oblivious of the longer, eternal game.

Sometimes You Can’t End A Chapter On A High Note, But You Need To End It Anyway (the sooner the better)

Ideally, we end on a high note. Presentations, speeches, stories, and most anything else you can name, including podcasts. But it’s not always possible so you do the best you can with what you’ve got. We’re all living our lives in real time. The challenge is doing our best to get it right in real time. Sometimes we do. Sometimes we don’t.

My ideal outcome for ending this chapter of my life may not necessarily be written the way it’s played out. But in spite of the fact that Rhonda and I are writing this chapter of our life together, there are some circumstances and events beyond our control. So, we’ve huddled over the past four years or so and done our best to respond the best way we know how. History will judge how well we did. With a limited perspective, we’re both feeling pretty good about our effort so far.

You hear people talk about big-time professional athletes who play great under pressure.

The moment is never too big for them.

I wish there were no moments that were too big for me, but I’ve had quite a few moments that proved too much for my talent, ability, skill or resolve. So what do you do if you mess up? Well, you don’t keep on messing up. And you don’t linger in self-pity. You have to just respond as well as you can, pick yourself up, and get on with doing your best. None of us want these bad moments to define us, but it happens because redemption can be difficult.

At 4:47 pm Central on Sunday, October 23, 2022, I’m sitting here inside The Yellow Studio watching game 5 of the NLCS. Ironically, Bryce Harper hammered a 2-run home run in the top of the 8th inning giving the Phillies a one-run lead over San Diego. Talk about a moment not being too big!

We all want to be that guy. Sometimes it works out. It’s glorious when it happens. It’s gut-wrenching when it doesn’t. Bryce Harper doesn’t want the chapter to end without a World Series ring, something he’s never achieved. In fact, until this season he hadn’t even had post-season success. The man is writing a new chapter playing for the Phillies who are now, thanks to his homerun, headed to the World Series.

When we make a mess of things – or when things aren’t going as we planned or hoped – we just want to end the chapter. Quickly, if we can. But writing our lives takes time. And so it is with bringing an end to The Yellow Studio 2.0. I’ve thought about it. Dreamed about ut. Planned it. And some days it feels like it might never happen. I’ve had days where I felt like television weatherman Phil Connors in the movie Groundhog Day. The days just blended into each other, with many of them feeling identical to the prior day.

Eventually, the calendar will change. I just don’t know when.

Daily we put in the work. Daily we fall to our knees praying for wisdom…and for an outcome we desired. All the while, prepared to accept what results happened to come. When you don’t know how things will turn out (which is much of the time), you can at least determine how you’ll respond when they don’t. I leaned more heavily into optimism than I ever have before. It’s difficult to avoid thinking the worst because life has largely felt like a 4-year knife fight. After such a long time it’s been exhausting making it harder to think our ideal outcome would happen. We need to keep faith in ourselves, in our plan, in our priorities, and in God’s answer to helping us achieve whatever would be best for us eternally. Maybe what we’re pursuing isn’t going to be ideal for us. We lack Divine knowledge, but we feel we’re aiming in the right direction, and for the right reasons.

I made up my mind that I was going to write the ending the way I wanted…at least in my mind. I’ve thought about it. I’ve dwelt on it. I’ve leaned so hard into the optimism I refuse to let myself entertain doubt for more than seconds at a time. I choose to believe we can create a great ending to an otherwise less-than-stellar chapter. We just want it to end. Please. Today. Or sooner. 😉

When You’re In A Hole Do You Stop Digging?

Depends on what hole you’re digging and whether or not you want or need the hole. 😉

“When you’re in a hole, stop digging.”

Well, that sounds good and all. Wise even. But it’s not easy when you feel like a mole whose sole purpose is to dig. 😉

It’s also not easy when you don’t want to stop digging because you’re mostly driven to go as far underground as possible. That’s how my life has been for the last 4 years. There’s been enough time I don’t mind sharing with you a little bit — which happens to be a whole lot more than I’ve shared with you before. I won’t go into all the details, but I’ll tell you that my grown daughter, after 15 years of marriage and being a mother to two boys…left the reservation. She left God, her husband, and her sons.

It’s a long, arduous story, but I love my son-in-law very much. Technically, he’s my ex-son-in-law, but he knows he’s never going to be an ex to me and Rhonda. Thankfully he’s got full custody of the grandsons who are 15 and 13 now. Given her evil, profane behavior she lost her parental rights so the boys are protected from her. So is their dad (protected from her). Along with their dad, they’re the 3 amigos and we’re close to them.

Prescribed opioid meds, colossal selfishness, profane rebellion against God – they’re all in play, and more. Our lives – all of our lives – cratered about four years ago so we’ve been digging ever since. But everybody is safe, devoted to God, and doing well. Everybody except her of course.

I’ve been digging in, not out. It wasn’t my intention – well, okay, maybe it was. It just happened and I leaned into it. Maybe more than I should have because mostly, I was stunned that the little girl who grew up in our home – a self-confident young lady filled with Faith, conviction, and a strong sense of conscience would embrace the darkest side of herself and surrender to sin. But she did. And even a faithful husband, or parents, are powerless to make decisions for others. When foolishness is the choice, it’s a painful choice to watch and we had to watch it for too long, but no more. Some months ago I created this and posted it on my social media channels.

Ruin your life if you want. Lean into the evil and selfishness. Just don't get angry when I refuse to watch.

I had posted and written a considerable amount about this girl who captured my heart about 40 years ago. We were close. Connected. Sharing faith and much more. Until she chose to stop and lean fully into self-centeredness. The stubborn demeanor that had served her in living for God and goodness backfired, manifesting as profane rebellion. A wickedness none of us had ever seen.

We have no contact or relationship anymore. It’s over and I’m not going to participate or watch.

I dug in to learn all I could about opioids’ impact on mental health. I dug in to hide, too.

The learning was good. The hiding was, too (for a while). It is still to some degree.

From old people to teens I found out that prescribed Fentanyl and other opioids seem to impact people exactly the same. An old woman. A teenage boy. And everybody in between. They all behave the same. “They’re like a rebellious out-of-control teenager,” was a phrase I heard constantly. I contacted substance abuse clinics, physicians, psychologists, and therapists who specialized in such things. I was a sponge for the first two years or more. I was looking for answers but wound up with more questions.

I endured the harsh judgment of others who felt her sins were my sins. I endured the puzzled viewpoints of why I was behaving differently…”Why is he so withdrawn?” I endured – and still do – the resolve of people who only think of themselves and not what may be best for me. People who feel they have to be the ideal human for every person in every situation. News flash! If you’re the right person for me, you already know it. If you don’t know it, then you’re not one of them. 😀 #TRUTH

So there it is, our 4-year knife fight that I suppose will continue as long as we’re alive.

I’ve continued to remark to some that I’m just looking for a rock to crawl under. It’s the most accurate depiction of how I feel. I still mostly feel that way. I’m not the same man I once was. But today, I’m better and I’m determined to get – grow – better more and more. That doesn’t mean going back, but it means going forward. Let’s worry on what’s in front of us.

Dig in or dig out, that was then and today remains the challenge. Some things, like investigating opioids and mental health issues, are very much worth digging into. Digging out of a funk was harder. Mostly because the funk is tough to define. If the funk is self-pity it’s more easily identified, but that isn’t what I was ever feeling. And it wasn’t guilt, even though my self-righteous critics wanted to put her sin on me. Upon news of her decision, told to us by her husband, Rhonda looked at me and said, “We did our job.” She meant we had trained her to love God, and Jesus, and be a Christian. She had violated all of it – things she had embraced most of her life, including her adult life. She had betrayed her husband, and her sons because she had betrayed God.

The funk was hard to describe except in telling people what I most wanted to do – climb under a rock.

Part of it was driven by my introversion, something others who aren’t bent this way can’t seem to figure out. “Snap out of it,” isn’t sound advice. “I want you to be like you were before,” isn’t either. When such things happen to us we’re changed. Maybe forever. And it could be that our latter end is better if we can find ways to grow through that pain and suffering. I was determined to grow and improve. I just had no idea how long it might take. The impatience of others continues to drive me nuts. (And I’m talking about people who know firsthand what’s going on)

The ending of this chapter is about selling a house that has been our home for over 23 years. A place where I once remarked to Rhonda, “You can just bury me in the backyard.” It’s been home. Big trees. Nice big yard. A lovely established mature neighborhood on a tree-lined street. But four years ago it all changed. Now we’re marching forward toward concluding this chapter because we’re desperate to write a new one. A better one. I’m confident we’ll be able to do that because our minds (me and Rhonda) are made up.

A Mind Made Up

 

Time To Move, Time To Get Going

YouTube player

 

Tom Petty’s Wildflowers album is a classic. So much so, after his death, it was re-released with tracks that didn’t make the final cut. The record is filled with many great songs. “Time To Move On,” is among them. Take a minute or three and click the play button on that YouTube video above. Enjoy it. I do. Every single time.

Tom was enduring some challenges when he wrote and recorded Wildflowers. I don’t know what he was precisely feeling or thinking, but tragedy, challenges, and obstacles are common to all of us. I’m not a rock star and never have been so I can’t possibly relate to whatever Tom endured in that role. I’ve never lost a house to fire or experienced divorce, but Tom did. No matter, like Tom, we’ve all had tough times. Times from which we wanted to move on.

I can’t fully express how ready we are to move on. Figuratively, emotionally, physically, and in just about every other way you might name.

“What lies ahead I have no way of knowing” isn’t a line that resonates with us so much though because we’re carefully planning every decision. Does that mean things will work out as we plan? Maybe not. In that regard, we don’t have any way of knowing because these things aren’t guaranteed. We can only guarantee our effort, but we’re optimistic! Very much so.

Our moving on is positive. Helpful. It’s our ideal outcome.

Going has a direction, forward. Progress. Growth. Improvement.

Let’s worry about what’s in front of us.

We’ve been planning all this for more than 2 years, but at our age, there were some milestones we wanted to hit first. As soon as we began to hit those we went into action. Then we had to be patient, which is extremely hard. We answered our impatience with prayer…LOTS of intense prayers. Funny how that works. Facing the unknown often provokes an increased intensity in prayer because God knows when we don’t. I also decided to choose optimism (and gratitude) more than ever. Daily I’d wake up intently focused on telling myself that each day would be a good day (and asking God to help me make it so). Praying that every day might inch us closer to our goal. Some days there’s an imperceptible inch. On other days it’s utterly invisible and we have no idea if we’re making progress or not. But we’re keeping the faith, confident things will work out favorably. All the while we do our best to maintain the priority of putting God first, prepared to accept whatever He might provide providentially. We just know we have to do our work and do our best to reach our goals.

Sometimes there’s a moment of progress. Sometimes there are many smaller, less perceptible moments of progress. Sometimes there are small or big defeats, too.

We’re always gonna keep praying and hoping.

Rocky, Rosie, Hockey Teams, & Gospel Preachers

Through the years dogs have inhabited our lives and hearts. We began this chapter we’re now ending with a dog I registered as Bernard P. Fife. Yes, we called him Barney. He was a Bichon. A rather stubborn critter, but I loved him when he wasn’t infuriating me. I wept when we had to say goodbye due to an illness that was making his life miserable. He’s buried in the backyard.

Some time passed, as it must when you’re grieving, and we drove down to The Woodlands, just north of Houston, where Rocky and Rosie entered our lives. Brother and sister, they were a pair of Westies (White West Highland Terriers) and we were immediately in love. Never before had we parented two dogs at the same time, but experts in the breeds who become our friends continued to admonish us, “Get two.” We followed their advice and it was the best pet decision we ever made.

No two animals impacted my life as much, and I’ve had dogs in my life from the beginning, but these two were very special. I loved them more than I ever thought I could love an animal. They were our constant companions, determined to be right under our feet as much as possible. Two completely different personalities, but one gaping hole was left in my heart when we lost them. First Rocky, who had become ill, then Rosie, who would follow about a year later.

The house felt so empty. For almost 16 years or more these two creatures had been more of a focal point than perhaps we ever realized. That’s a chapter that ended in the fall of 2016 when we lost Rosie, but this place was the only home they ever knew! The squirrels, birds, and lizards were the only ones happy to see them go.

Hockey players and one particular hockey team have spent time around here. Just about every hockey team I ever coached has spent time here. And in the pool. Hockey has been a considerable part of our lives since our son began to play back in early junior high. This now father of 3 still plays whenever he can, but mostly he’s busy coaching his sons in baseball, which was always his first love – until he found hockey!

Lots of cookouts, sleepovers, pizza parties, and the like once took place here. We’ve not had one for the better part of 15-plus years, but I can still hear the laughter and see the ping-pong brackets my son created (ever the competitor). Those college guys are all grown up now. Mostly married and mostly with kids of their own. Time flies, but thankfully memories linger.

Gospel preachers have spent many nights under this roof, the blessing of a floor plan with two master bedrooms – one near the kitchen, which proved invaluable to traveling preachers. For a few, it was home away from home. Sometimes with mere hours’ notice, a guest would pull into the drive to spend an evening before journeying on to the next stop.

Rocky and Rosie always loved it when preachers could visit because it meant new hands to pet them and give them treats. They had their favorites too – based mostly on how accommodating the preacher was toward them. One preacher named Ronny was their absolute favorite. Likely because he was one of my favorites and spent more time here than any. Ronny passed away years after Rosie. Upon news of her death, he told me, “It’s not gonna be the same around there anymore.” He was right. It never was the same after that. And it’s never been the same since his last visit either.

It never will be the same, but that’s okay because we experienced it once. In fact, we experienced it many times. As much as I want to repeat life’s greatest moments I know that it’s impossible in reality, but it’s instantly possible if I just remember. Some days it’s hard to remember because I forget. Moments I didn’t think I’d ever forget. But I do. Some memories come more easily. I’m trying to lean into all the best ones because it helps diminish the worst ones. And we’ve all got plenty of those, but the end of this chapter isn’t about them. It’s only about what a great chapter this has been, but the next one will be even better! Lord willing.

I Need To Weep

“When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”
― Kahlil Gibran

Some folks don’t understand it, but I need to weep. For years I’ve happily admitted that I cry daily. I can’t remember – ever – a day where I didn’t. Nor can I remember a day when I didn’t laugh out loud. It’s not some planned, scheduled activity. It just happens. It’s how my life operates. It’s never contrived or shallow. It’s pure emotion that pours out and may last seconds or minutes. I admit that sometimes I embrace it, while at other times I try to hasten its conclusion. Embracing it is easier.

I think of what I’ve lost and I weep. But the fact that I once held it in such regard means it’s now a loss. Gibran got it right I think. I’m weeping for that which was once my delight.

I’ve set a new weeping record during the past 4 years or so. It’s been a time period during which I’ve experienced my deepest losses. The defeats have been crushing, but survivable. I’m still here. Standing. Sometimes barely, but mostly upright except when I’m on my knees. Being on my knees has felt better, but eventually, we have to stand up and do the work.

Where & When Does It End?

It’s like that quote from some unknown source that I love…

I may quit, but not today!

In that press conference, I’ve embedded at the top of this page – Brent Venables’ OU football head coach – somewhere near the 40-minute mark talks about how success demands we run into “the hard.” It’s that whole be a buffalo admonition I’ve given before. Around the 43-minute mark of his press conference coach Venables talks about pushing forward toward what’s in front of his team. We’ve all got our dragons to slay, mostly the dragon that is us.

I don’t know the outcome of my current adversity. I don’t know if or when it’ll cease. I just know that today I have work to do. And if like my favorite college football team, I do the work as well as I can, with the effort it deserves, then I can trust the results will follow.

Mostly, I know that if I’m going to worry…it’s best to worry about what’s in front of us, not what’s behind us. Time to move on. Time to get going. Time to lean hard into the work that wisdom demands. I know that’s my very best option.

Randy Cantrell

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