My plan was to write the final installment on my series of things you learned in grade school and need to be doing today. But I can’t. See I’m from a little town in East Texas called Nederland. It’s situated between the cities of Beaumont and Port Arthur, about 90 miles east of Houston. Growing up we would have one field trip a year to Houston, normally to visit the space center or perhaps the zoo. My family went to Astroworld during the summers and occasionally to the galleria at Christmas time to see all the beautiful holiday displays. I obtained my undergraduate degree in Beaumont and met my wife there. We were married in Houston near where her parents lived at the time. Beaumont and Houston have a special place in my heart. It’s home to me.
My wife and I took our granddaughters camping this weekend with a group from church. It was the perfect Colorado weekend to do it. Sunny skies, temps in the mid 80’s and those gorgeous sunsets with a cool evening to follow. And there we were glued to our phones as Harvey seemingly came from nowhere and grew into this monster. The in- laws along with most of Chandell’s family now live in Corpus Christi. They had the foresight to leave prior to land fall and were spared damage to their homes. Then the storm began a painfully slow meander up the coast in Texas. Familiar landmarks flooded filled my Facebook feed. Friends gave updates on their and their parent’s homes. Homes I used to play at, ate at, spent the night at.
In the midst of all the updates has been the constant request for prayer. Let me ask that you all stop right now and pray for all those along the Texas and Louisiana coast. Don’t just do a quick “help them Lord” and go about your business. PRAY!! It’s not the least you can do, it’s all that we can do. The Salvation Army is collecting funds, and please donate toward their efforts which will be needed in the coming days. But right now what those folks need is constant prayer. God promised King Solomon in II Chronicles 7:14 that “if my people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray….” Don’t get me wrong the National Guard, Salvation Army, Cajun Navy and the like are helping but we as God’s children need to quit believing that “we got this” and humble ourselves to the point of asking for Divine assistance. And then we need to pray. Maybe like never before. Pray without ceasing for those who are affected.
If my life has taught me anything, it has been that God can work ALL things out for our good, if I place my trust in Him. I had royally screwed up my life; but once I turned to Him, He made everything not just good but exceedingly abundantly good!
May this time of prayer be only the beginning; for there is much healing needed in our land. May God use this time of distress to shake His church onto their knees. May He show us that we need to remain humble; seeking Him all the time. May God begin the healing of our land with my prayers tonight for all my friends whose world has been turned upside down. I am lifting you up and am encouraging everyone who reads this to do the same. May this moment of tragedy become the start of a powerful revival and may it sweep our nation. Let’s come together at the Throne of the Most High God, only He has the power to heal.
Advancements, Milestones and Graduations – Celebrating Your Achievements
As I would start school each year, I always had the same thoughts running through my mind. “This is harder than last year! Why can’t I just be done already! And May seems forever away!” And yet the days turned into weeks, which led to months until finally we were at the last week of May. The last day of school always began with an assembly and each class would take turns standing while the others clapped as their advancement to the next grade was made official. As soon as the assembly was finished, it was celebration time. The PTA mothers fed us and we participated in a number of games until the school bell rang one last time and we were on vacation. Those of us who had maintained A’s and B’s all year got an extra special treat at the soda shop in town!
My fifth grade year started and drew to a close the same as the others. Only this time after the assembly, my class boarded buses to the middle school. As soon as we got off, the ninth graders got on and departed for the high school. I’m not sure who looked more frightened. We went on a tour of our new school and then sat through another assembly where we were welcomed and the Principal spoke about this milestone we had reached. We were on to bigger challenges and closer now to our ultimate goal. All too soon (it seems now) I was boarding the bus that had just brought over the new middle schoolers and toured the high school. Again the Principal spoke about this milestone I had just accomplished and what lay ahead as an official high schooler. The years there flew by as well and all of the sudden me and my best friends were planning our graduation party. And folks that party was 4,380 days in the making.
I talk with so many who feel their dreams are unattainable simply because of the time commitment. It’s like we forgot that it took us 12 years just to graduate from high school! Sure, most of the dreams they share are multiyear endeavors. But we’ve already proved that we can do that. We simply need to plan out our journey toward that goal with an eye toward setting aside time to celebrate our advancements toward it, the milestones as we reach them, and the final graduation party. Here are a couple of examples from my own life.
I’ve written before about my addictions. Shortly after I became sober, I decided to reward myself with a steak dinner for staying sober the entire week. I still continue this today. I watch for them to go on sale and cook it myself each week. The only thing that has changed is that now my daughter and granddaughters come over when they have a chance and eat with us. And she doesn’t know that the biggest reward is spending time with them (which would not have been possible had I continued) while we enjoy my advancement treat. When I hit five years, I bought myself a nice truck. My wife didn’t completely understand why I “needed” one but I knew that I had to celebrate the milestone. My wife and I are coming up on 30 years of marriage next year. It’s a big milestone! And we have always celebrated our decade anniversaries big! But that doesn’t mean that we wait 10 years to celebrate. No we mark each November that passes as anther advancement toward our next milestone. Now my examples don’t have a graduation point, maybe like yours (i.e. be a better spouse, parent), which is all the more reason to celebrate advancements and milestones along the way. We need not wait until we fully realize a goal to celebrate, make it part of the journey.
Have a dream but feel overwhelmed? Try this and see if it doesn’t help:
Every six weeks when I was growing up I would leave school with my report card in hand. Sometimes I would run the whole way home to show Mom and Dad. The Pharmacist in town had a soda shop in the store and any student could come by for a free treat if they had all A’s and B’s. Other times I slowly walked dreading the conversation that would take place that evening. Think you have outgrown the need to check your progress now? Think again, this is a vital skill we need now more than ever.
Actually the report card was just part of an ongoing feedback loop between the teacher and their students/parents. That feedback was necessary to ensure that you stayed on the path that would take you on to the next grade. Bomb a test and there was a note from the teacher to you. Bomb two or more and your parents needed to sign the test. Every three weeks progress reports came out that showed where you were cumulatively in regards to assignments, tests, and homework. As the semester ended your report cards to date were averaged to show progress for the year. There was no way that a student could approach that glorious day in May without knowing already whether they were being advanced or held back. And yet as adults we just go through life with few defined goals and those we do have, we never check our progress on. We must schedule regular checkups to make sure we are drawing closer to those goals and not further away.
I said above that sometimes life got the better of me and my grades were less than the threshold for a double scoop dipped cone. Same thing happens today. All too often the daily fires get in the way of completing actions toward my long term goals. Your goals will never materialize if you don’t have a regularly scheduled checkup. If left unchecked, your goals will in fact revert back to being day dream fodder. Here are a couple of tips to help you make this a part of your life today:
The necessity of recess.
I never really thought about this until I was well out of grade school. Every day we would get a PE period AND a recess, one in the morning and the other each afternoon like clockwork. What took me years to discover was that there was a science to these rest breaks. They always occurred in between those core subjects. Concentrate on math then take a 25 minute break. Another hour of science; take a lunch. Social studies and then recess time. Finish up with English and you’re headed for the bus. Those rest periods gave you the ability to relax, have fun and cleanse your mind for the next subject. I’m telling you it is brilliant and it should be part of your daily routine today.See if this typical day sounds familiar. You arrive at work having already had a full morning just getting there. You immediately launch into your day quickly and seemingly effortlessly grinding out the work that lies before you. Lunch time comes and you decide to be “smart” and eat while continuing to work. Before you know it your shift is done and you head home, taking some small project with you. As you pull up the drive you notice the flower beds need attention as does the lawn and that section of gutter along the side looks bad. All projects for the weekend you hope to get in around the kids sporting events. You’re through with dinner before you realize you didn’t listen to any of the talk during it. You were focused solely on the project you brought home for the evening. The kids play, the TV blares and you are oblivious to it all until the familiar voice of the nightly news anchor breaks through. You save your work and begin getting ready for bed. You’ll repeat this five times and then comes the weekend which is packed with projects, chores, events and church. All of the sudden it’s Sunday evening and you realize that in 12 hours you are about to repeat the above yet again. And I ask you where the recess was?
If you were nodding as you read the above consider this. I’m working toward a goal right now that my reward for achieving it is a new motorcycle. I know the make and model I want, even have three different colors picked out. Now it won’t be a brand new one because brand new Indian motorcycles are expensive! In looking around I’ve found several that fit my desires to a tee. One in particular is 10 years old and has less than 5,000 miles. Think about that for a second. The owner paid a hefty price for the bike and has ridden it less than 500 miles a year. They bought it and didn’t take a regularly scheduled recess.
Folks there is a hefty price to be paid for not taking a recess. Your stress level will only continue to rise until you take recess seriously. Your work-life balance will be forever out of whack until you make this change. Try the following for a week and if it doesn’t lower stress and bring balance then you’ve lost one of the 3,744 weeks you have on average to use on this earth.
Part 1: The therapeutic value of a big chief tablet and a number 2 pencil.
Our daughter is fond of saying, “adulting is hard”. I believe most of us would agree. It seems like school simply did not prepare us for life as an adult. Or did it; and we simply are neglecting to put those life skills imparted to us to good use today. I know when I walked across that graduation stage so many years ago I thought I would have little to no use for the knowledge I had just gained. To a large part that’s true. I love playing along when I catch a rerun of “Are you smarter than a fifth grader”. I’m sure I knew the answer to each question once upon a time, just don’t need it today. But what about the life skills those long ago subjects helped instill in us? Those I believe we desperately need today as we navigate the world of adulthood. Let these next few blog posts remind you of them and if you will bring them back I can promise you will lower your stress, better manage your anxiety and lighten your life.
Now I realize that I’m dating myself bringing up the big chief tablet. But it was the essential tool in my grade school classrooms. Everybody (in my day) had one along with the ever reliable number 2 pencil. You won’t find the tablets anymore so I’m guessing at some point we determined that they were politically insensitive. Yet my Granddaughters had as a requirement a bound notebook as part of their school supplies this year. So simply bring this forward to whatever you had that contained bound, blank, lined paper in it. Just seeing the image above was enough to transport me decades into the past. To Mrs. McElroy’s third grade homeroom class and the dreaded book report. As the date drew near to turn in said report, my mind was probably full of math problems, history lessons, etc. An amazing thing would happen though as I took out my tablet and sharpened my pencil, my mind began to clear. Those math problems, history lessons and the like were tabled for a later time. The big chief was open and my thoughts began to coalesce into the outline of the paper I wanted to present. Fast forward 40 something years and the same thing happens every time I take out a notepad and pen. My brain wants to not waste the paper or ink. Just the act of taking my notepad and pen in hand causes my brain to focus in on what is most important. I do this with clients all the time during a brainstorming session. Their thoughts may be all over the board but as soon as I take out a notepad and pen, the magic happens. Suddenly they are more focused on the task at hand. (I believe we were all scolded at one point about wasting paper!) Just having them see those two everyday items is enough to cause their brain to focus so as not to waste them.
Try this out for yourself the next time you are having trouble focusing. Stop trying to mentally untangle the issue and instead take out a notepad and pen/pencil. I promise you it will work. Your mind will sort through everything with less effort on your part in order to allow you to write down the truly important things. I’m a huge fan of to do lists. Again the act of having to take out paper and pen makes me focus on what is it I really have to get done today. Now I know I will hear from someone about how their phone can voice record their notes and allow them to type out lists or thoughts. IT’S NOT THE SAME!! I too have those apps on my phone and use them from time to time when note taking is simply not possible. The therapy is not in the note itself as it is the sight, smell and feel of a notepad and pen. Sometimes you just got to rock it old school! Try this out for yourself. I’m telling you it was an invaluable tool imparted to us long ago that will ease your world today.
I absolutely love living in Colorado. I love the marked change of each season, the weather, and the people here. But, recently we have been in a rather strange weather pattern for summer. Cool temps and gloomy skies have replaced our normal sundrenched, warm (but not too hot) days and cool, pleasant evenings. It’s not that I am opposed to rain or the occasional cloudy day, just don’t like too many days in a row. I find it hard to motivate myself to get going on gloomy days. I know the seasons will soon change and there are many chores to get done now in order to be ready to celebrate fall. I also know all too well that waiting to the last minute won’t bring the success that I want to enjoy come fall. Couple this with my observations of late regarding that period of recovery right around the 30 day mark and you get this. Recovery in the beginning often takes on the look and feel of a new relationship. Everything is new and it’s exciting to explore all the possibilities this new relationship holds. Each moment is treasured while family and friends encourage the new relationship. In recovery circles this time is referred to as the “pink cloud”. Everything is starting to turn around; sobriety seems almost effortless just like those first few weeks of a relationship. But unfortunately, it can’t last. As much as we want the newness to stay, it must give way to gray, gloomy times. Yet through those times the relationship strengthens and grows far deeper than if it had been allowed to remain in the shallow honeymoon phase. I thank God every day that He brought me and my wife together and has held us together through 28 years of bright sunny and dark, gloomy days.
The pink cloud becomes gloomy and just as those new relationships can’t remain in the honeymoon phase forever; the real work to maintain recovery begins. Addicts are often overwhelmed by the realization that our lives were far more damaged than we had (during our use) estimated that it was. Expectations of a quick, effortless recovery lie shattered on the floor. What will you do? Will you run back to an old familiar (although thoroughly toxic) relationship? It sure seems easier than forging ahead in building a new one. Too many cut at that 30-day mark. Forsaking their new relationship with sobriety for their substance. Most think to themselves “I won’t get in too deep this time” which never happens.
There are many of us who weathered that time. Who felt the need to cut and run and yet stayed true. Who desired the ultimate benefits of sobriety above the temporary relief the substance brought. After trying numerous times, I began my last attempt knowing that day 30 was coming. What was I going to do to get beyond those gloomy days? I began by planning with an eye to weathering those days because I knew the sun would eventually return. If you have struggled getting beyond the 30-day mark, then try these two profoundly simple tweaks to your next recovery:
Recently, I found myself in court with a client. As we walked in, those words were written on the wall behind the judge. His case was one of many that were to be decided today so I had the opportunity to reflect on those words as we waited.To show up implies that I am completely there (mind, soul and body). We occasionally take our granddaughters to a nearby park. I’m always disappointed with parents who are there physically but glued to their phones while their kids are running and playing and developing right before their downcast eyes. Those in the courtroom that day were completely present during their case. I’m sure the fact that some might not be leaving played a large part in their complete attention. As we waited, I thought about all the times I had been physically present but mentally far away. Why should it take a looming jail sentence to force us to be completely there wherever we find ourselves? I came away with a renewed commitment that I will be completely present at all times. No more checking out and being ok with simply blessing those in my life with merely my presence.
As the cases proceeded, I saw the wisdom in the second part of the statement. Others were there for similar crimes. They and their lawyers spoke eloquently about how they were truly repentant for their crime and that they were changed. The prosecutors would then present facts that showed that their words were not true. That their conduct from arrest till today was not in keeping with someone who had changed their behavior. The judge would hand down her decision. Sometimes leaning toward the harsher end of the scale based on the apparent disconnect between the words and actions. I thought about how many times are my words and actions not in alignment with each other. I left that courthouse that afternoon with a renewed commitment to change both until they complimented each other.
Eventually our case came up. The lawyer spoke, my client spoke and I got a chance to speak on his behalf as well. The change in his behavior over the last few months was apparent. His words and actions had finally met up. He spoke convincingly about this change and asked for the opportunity to continue to prove to the court this change. The judge thought and then rendered her decision. Unlike others, she leaned this time toward the minimum. My client’s family thanked both the lawyer and I profusely. Both of us pointed to the client as it was his efforts that made the outcome possible. He chose to embody Show Up; Be Honest and it worked out. I left the court that day with my renewed commitments and the assurance that if I put them into practice, everything will work out.
Thom Straley - Thom is a certified life coach specializing in addiction recovery and small business growth as Aim Point Coaching. To learn more about Aim Point Coaching, visit Thom's website by clicking the link above!