Monday, August 25, 2014

Take Back Your Time & Slow Down Your Life

Pause.  Wait.  Be silent.  Hold it…, hold it…, wait….  Wait a little more.  Don’t move.  Don’t talk.  But don’t hold your breath.  Go ahead and breathe—in and out, slowly, slowly.  Relax.  Stop!  You’re moving.  Don’t move.  Just BE.

Don’t have time to stop.  You can’t relax.  You can’t slow down for nothing, no one, no how.  Too much to do, falling behind are ye?

What’s your pace of life like?  Are you in control of your time or does time control you?

Is there a secret to managing one’s time?

Time is rhythmic.  It runs in cycles.  Notice the clock’s hands.  They go round and round, cyclically.  Notice the seasons of the year, same thing—round and round: Summer is winding down, fall is just around the corner; yet, we have no doubt that summer will come around once again.

Catch your own rhythm.  Do things in small rhythmic ways—daily, weekly, monthly, seasonally.  Learn to cycle your must-do activities within the larger rhythm of nature’s recurring time piece.  Learn from nature’s own life-cycles.

But, time is also linear.  We are born and we grow, from childhood to adulthood.  We grow old.  Then we die.  There is a beginning and there is an ending to life, our particular life.  And there is no returning.  This is the linear aspect of time.  Time has a trajectory.

Thus, time is both cyclical and linear.  The cyclical aspect of time allows us to pace ourselves, to catch a rhythm, to hold off from doing everything at once, to wait in order to return to, and then continue where we’ve left off.  The linear aspect of life requires us to set goals, establish deadlines, to measure progress and mark our advancement, to avoid going round and round in circles accomplishing very little.

We are finite creatures.  When we move from space to space, we must expend time to do so.  When we stay put and spend our time in one place, doing one thing, we lose the experience of being elsewhere, doing other things.  A simple truth: we cannot be in two places at one time.  We are limited by our bodies in space and time.

Thus, one who controls his/her time is one who learns to work within one’s space/time limitations.  When he/she says “yes” to one thing, it means an automatic “no” to another.  I choose to be here and not there, at this time.  I choose to do this and not that with the time I have.  I accept the fact that I cannot do both.

Advertisers would have us believe that we can have it all and do it all.  We can’t.  That’s Reality.  We must make choices and accept our limitations.  It’s simply a matter of being aware, being in touch, being mindful of Reality, and then being responsible, accepting the responsibility of having to make tough choices, having to prioritize, and having to plan accordingly.

First and foremost, pace yourself.  How?  Whether you’re estimating commuting time or the time it’ll take to complete a task, avoid underestimating the time you think you’ll need.   Stop getting yourself all worked-up in a tizzy because you’ve “suddenly” run out of time by learning to be consistently realistic about actual time parameters and begin to pace yourself accordingly.  Always overestimate, never underestimate the time you think it will take… to go somewhere, to do a job, to complete a task, etc. 

Secondly, stop making empty promises respecting time commitments.  Quit right now.  Reality check: You know very well whether you really can “get there” on time, or finish a job within a requested time period, or complete a task according to the allotted minutes given for it (which you yourself most likely set).  Take the stress off yourself (and others) by being straightforward about unrealistic time expectations.  It is easier on your nerves, on your working relationship with others, and on your own sense of integrity and self-esteem, to say, up front, what the actual realistic time expectation will be, than to constantly be apologizing and trying to save-face with lame excuses as to why you failed to meet the supposedly agreed upon time expectations—yet again.

Thirdly, protect your significant special times (with family, spouse, kids, hobby, self, or whatever) with a simple but straightforward “no” to those who would encroach upon those precious times.  You need not explain or defend or justify your “no” with little more than a simple, “Sorry, I can’t join you then, because I have another commitment at that time—a commitment I cannot break.”  Note: If you do break it, know that it is because you yourself willingly chose (and therefore wanted) to do so.

Finally, positively remember that you are finite.  Never will you have the time to do everything you’ve always wanted to do.  An immature person, a child, may think so.  A mature person knows better.  Therefore, pick and choose accordingly.  You cannot do everything, but you can and will choose to do certain things.  You cannot go everywhere, but you can and will choose to be somewhere.  That is, become conscious about your use of time.  You are a finite person living within the constraints of this space/time continuum on earth.  Take note and intentionally live and plan your life and time accordingly.

One more thing: don’t forget to prepare for Eternity (see Hebrews 9:27-28 and John 17:3).

Monday, August 18, 2014

Why Pray?

I suppose there are several reasons we could give as to why we need not pray.  For one, we could assume that God already knows what’s best, and therefore requires no human urging to encourage Him to do what He should already be-about-doing to save humanity and the world from its ills.

Another reason that can be given as to why we need not pray is that we humans tend to be frivolous and selfish in our prayers, praying for things of which God has little concern.  If I am a quarterback for my high school football team, is God really concerned about my plea to win the game—even if I say it is for His honor?  By the same token, will God answer a young woman’s plea for clear skies and no rain on a particular Saturday in June, so that her outdoor wedding plans can go off without a hitch?

Is prayer then useless and empty, all in vain?

There is the argument that prayer is communion with God.  It is not about the asking for and the getting of—it is about relating to and connecting with.  And that is a good start in understanding what prayer is.  But, does that mean that the ideal prayer never asks God for a thing—unless of course it has to do with one’s relationship with God, “O God, I pray to have more love for you”?  That is, is it a waste of time to pray that one gets the job that one has just interviewed for and so desperately needs and wants, or is that going too far with God in the exercise of our prayerful communal relationship with Him?

We work.  We organize, plan, and do—to make things happen.  For example, we want shelter so we build.  We want clothing so we weave.  We want food so we plant crops.  Simple truth: We do not, and we cannot afford to just sit-around waiting for things to fall into our laps without applying ourselves to the matter, to meet a need.

But neither can we do these things without the help and participation of others, requesting and inviting their help and participation—be it the help of friends, family, or neighbors and beyond.  That is, it takes a cooperative family, tribe, village, and society to make things work in the world—everything from the production of food, water, and shelter, to the development of the arts and sciences.

Thus, think of prayer as a form of work, an extension of what we do to get things done.  And, think of God as a key player/participant/helper in aiding us to accomplish the work we are doing to obtain the goal(s) that we’re aiming for.  Furthermore, let us assume that we are in fact lining up our goals and desires with God’s higher will and purposes.  Prayer now becomes a dynamic interplay between humans and their Creator, wherein God and humans are engaged in creative accomplishment—the doing, the making, the meeting of needs and wants and dreams and desires, here on earth and beyond.

So, why pray?

We pray to relate, to connect and to commune with God.  It is an act of spiritual intimacy, an expression of devotion and love for and from God.

We pray in order to become co-creators with God.  We, the human race, participate in the writing of our story by writing-in whole paragraphs, as it were, within the chapters of God’s book of life on earth, as it unfolds in this world.  That is, prayer is an act of engagement with God in causality.  In an act of causality, we pray, “O Lord, give us our daily bread,” then we plow the ground as co-creators with God, to put food on the table.

We humans change or modify nature all the time.  Why should it be so strange to think that God could or would do the same, only at a higher level?  Still, it goes without saying that God must use His discretionary power in response to our prayers.  As it is, God has given us extraordinary power over nature, in our capacity to work, which has had both very good and very bad results.  We have learned how to harness nuclear power, for example, for both good and ill.  So, imagine the sad state we’d be in if God literally “granted” every request we’ve ever prayed for.  Let us pray, but let us also be wise and mindful of what we’re really asking of God when we do pray.

(Note: I am indebted to C. S. Lewis’s thoughts for the core idea of the efficacy of prayer here: See God in the Dock, the chapter called “Work and Prayer”.)

Monday, August 11, 2014

Businesses Want Return Customers? Just be Nice!

It was time for my semi-annual doctor’s check-up and the accompanying annual blood tests that goes with it.  However, my doctor’s office switched to a different lab for doing the tests.  I had to go online, find its location in my area, call to see if an appointment was necessary (thank goodness not so) and make my way to the lab for the routine blood test.  New lab, new office-location, and a new set of office people (receptionists, file clerks, lab-technicians, etc.) to deal with; I was nervous…, why?

Every business office has its routine expectations and demands for receiving new clients—especially medical offices—sign-in sheets, first time entry forms required by the receptionist, including membership card id’s, and so-on and so-forth.  The particular details of an office’s expectations as to steps and procedures can sometimes be a bit staggering if not befuddling to new clients.

Thus, how one is received by the office-people makes a huge difference to a client.  Their attitude, posture, manner of greeting, and welcoming spirit (or lack thereof) will say a lot about the business.

I have often gone into medical offices (to continue picking on this particular business genre) where the reception is cool or indifferent if not down-right rude.  Everything from being ignored for minutes on-end, from when you first walk in the door, to short, curt, and impatient answers to your questions, by an irritated receptionist who seems annoyed by the fact that you even have a question to ask.

Thus, I was greatly and pleasantly surprised when, upon entering this new blood-testing lab, I was not only greeted with a pleasant and positive spirit, I was immediately asked if this was my first visit, and upon clarifying that it was, I was promptly told what I needed to do with kind, polite, and gentle clarity.  But here’s the clincher: as it turned out, my doctor’s office failed to provide me with the appropriate paper-work, the lab-test order, describing what kind of testing was required.  I half expected the receptionist to say, “Sorry, you don’t have the appropriate forms.  We can’t help you.  Go back to your doctor’s office and get the necessary paper-work.  We will help you then…, NEXT!”

That’s not what happened.  I politely asked, “Can you call the doctor’s office and get what you need.”  The receptionist said, “Sure I can.”  She called.  She was put on hold.  After a few minutes, she told me, “Mr. Meneses, I called your doctor’s office.  They’ve put me on hold, I’m still waiting.”  She said this to reassure me that she was indeed following up on getting the necessary paper-work that I needed to get my lab test done—a reassurance I greatly welcomed as I was actually sitting in the waiting room wondering, “Will she call, will she get through, am I wasting my time waiting here?”  I relaxed and was grateful for her reassurance.  She did get through and they did provide her with the necessary paper-work, via fax.

Only a few short minutes later, the same receptionist called me, “Mr. Meneses, you’re next.  Please follow me, please step through here and wait in this room, the lab technician will be with you shortly.”  It turned out to be an overall pleasant experience—notwithstanding the needle piercing my arm to fill three tubes with my blood.

Pleasantness, being welcoming and polite and courteous, and especially being willing to assist, to fix a problem, to make it all work out in the end, that is what makes all the world of a difference.  Businesses, if you want happy customers who will return again and again, train your employees to be pleasant, courteous, considerate, and helpful—no matter what the disposition of your clients may be.  If you do, I have no doubt that your business, of whatever type, will shine and will thrive.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Central American Kids Emigrating to the U. S. w/out their Parents—an Insider’s Perspective

Barbara Rowe is a Missionary in El Salvador.  Below is a letter (dated July 28, 2014) that she has written to her supporting churches and her fellow Christian Brothers and Sisters here in the U. S., giving us an “insider’s” perspective as to why many children and teens are leaving their families and homeland and escaping to north America, without their parents, only to become despised and unwanted “illegal aliens” here in the U. S.

The content describes an actual account as it has played out in El Salvador.  This true story is the kind of truth and reality-check that we need to keep in mind as we debate and determine how we Americans ought to respond.  (Note: Barbara Rowe has given me permission to publish this letter.  However, before my publishing of her letter in this blog, Barb Rowe did remove some “identifying details” changing some names in order to ensure the safety and protection of individuals mentioned in the letter.)

The Letter:

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

I realize that the situation of teen immigration from Central America has been much in the public eye there in the U.S.  The issues are complex, highly politicized and there are no easy answers.  I have written this letter to share from a different perspective.  In my view, these teens are very similar to war refugees, only the war is not between nations but rather between highly organized gang organizations.

As a missionary, I attend a local church, and am on their pastoral team.  We now find ourselves in a somewhat precarious position and are in need of your prayers.  Let me explain.  The church operates a school that provides a Christian education to children from kindergarten through high school.  On July 9, one of the 9th grade students, named Jose, disappeared on his way home from school and is now presumed dead.  We have been able to determine that Jose’s brother is in one of the gangs, and Jose himself was beginning to get involved.  They live in one gang’s territory, and our school is located in the territory of the opposing gang.  It is a commonly known fact that any teen boy caught in the opposing gang’s territory is a target and may be murdered.

Jose’s family, in their pain and sorrow, have falsely accused one of our very active church youth group members, Julio, of being responsible simply because he was the last one to see Jose.  Ironically, Julio had befriended this student because of his own faith commitment and a desire to share God’s love. Though the accusation is completely unfounded, we know that the rule of the gangs is vengeance.  In the gang culture, “someone will have to pay,” and they do not necessarily care if that someone is innocent.  They came to the church looking for him, and accused Pastor Miguel of protecting him.  They also posted men outside the school, waiting for Julio to return to classes.  Knowing that he was in danger, Julio hid until a safe plan could [be] made for him to leave the neighborhood, and the country.

I spent some time with him before he fled the country, praying with him and assuring him that God is our protector and provider.  I read Psalm 27 to him, and encouraged him to read it over and over.   Julio was scared, and in a state of shock over these events.  Overnight his whole life had changed.  He could not go to the youth center to say goodbye to his friends.  He has had to leave behind his studies and hopes for a professional career, as future studies may not be possible.  He was not able to attend the church he loves so much, to say goodbye to his beloved church family.  Most of all, he wept at having to leave his mother and brothers, from whom he has never been separated.  Fleeing from danger, into danger, the best we could do is to assure him that we would be praying for him, and that God will be protecting him as he seeks refuge elsewhere.

Julio is just one of the kids that has had to flee for their lives this past year.  Five Christian kids participating in another youth center left the country late last year under similar conditions.  That neighborhood is known to be one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the San Salvador metropolitan area.  Recently a teen was killed there because he fell asleep on the bus and got off past his normal bus stop in opposing gang territory.

Your prayers are much needed at this time, not just for the safety of the youth and those of us who are working with them, but for the continued courage and faithfulness of the church and missionaries amidst the pressure cooker of this situation.

As I mentioned before, the issue is complex, involving not only recent events but the history of the Salvadoran civil war and U.S. involvement in the war.  The Salvadoran gang phenomenon itself is considered to have originated in Los Angeles, and exported to El Salvador in the 1990’s, when the United States government began mass deportation of undocumented immigrants, including teens who were members of gangs.  More recently, these gangs have become linked to the Mexican drug cartels, making them even more powerful and violent.

In closing, I want to emphasize that amid all of the media banter about what to do, we need to remember that first and foremost we are Citizens of God’s Kingdom.  We need to consider what Christ would have us do in this complicated situation rather than blindly falling in line with one or another political camp. Would He ask us to turn these children away to face a dangerous and uncertain journey back home?  In the Old Testament, the Jews were instructed to accept and take in foreigners in their land (Deuteronomy 10:19), and in the Gospel of Matthew Jesus says that "whatever you do for the least of these, you do it for me" (Matthew 25:40). 

Finding the right Christian response is not easy.  This is where we can seek the counsel of the Holy Spirit to determine what we should do to live out our Christian values.  Maybe it would be good for churches to visit these children and youth where they are being detained, as a way to get to know them and share God's love with them.  It's a start, anyway.

Love in Christ,

Barbara Rowe