Lists Help You Mind Your Mind

I am increasingly convinced I am losing my mind.

While one may mistakenly interpret the previous conclusion, the hard facts are no longer debatable. The noises residing inside my head are taking over. And my only defense seems to be the noble act of making lists.

Yes, lists. Picture independent entries hand-written on a scrap piece of paper. Literally, an analog solution resurrected in a digital world.

Entries are brief, and to the point, ominously beckoning to cross them out, putting them out of their misery. No entry wants to be left behind.

The noises in my head are not imagined. Research in 2011 said our brains consume 5 times the information consumed per day than in 1996. Since then I’ve added social media to my life, my cell phone is rarely beyond reach, and there is a crazy device in the house answering my questions. No wonder my brain acts like a bag of microwave popcorn at the one-minute mark – indiscriminately shooting kernels in all directions.

Today I am armed and doing battle against the machine of distraction with a lead pencil and piece of paper. While not glamorous, the old-school solution is changing my life for the better. And the result is I am happier between the ears.

Getting started is easy – find a piece of paper and a writing instrument of choice. I prefer a pencil for the visceral feel of lead on paper. Paper, too, is a personal choice. At home, I am keen to the 3 x 5 lined cards sold in those cellophane packages. Lines make me happy.

The first step is to begin. Put your tools in an open area where you can get to them before a thought is flushed from your brain by an oncoming train of thought. Running is an acceptable tactic when necessary – don’t count on your mind to remember later. Again, this is a battle you must win.

Secondly, reward yourself by crossing out your accomplishment. After stroking through the letters, step back and let the moment wash over you. You’ve earned your victory – and freed up brain space.

Third, come to terms with your new friend. Commit to the long-term with your new friend, understanding your shared dependency will make you a happier person. The simple acceptance and practice will dramatically reduce the number of haunting moments – the ones where you get home from the grocery store and realize you forgot the item you initially set off to get.

I love my lists. I now manage my work life with a small journal, keep my weekend list on 3 x 5 cards. And I only write in pencil. And nothing feels better than looking at a long list with dark graphite scratched horizontally across each entry.

My brain might be getting taxed. I may be reaching the limits of ability to effectively process massive amounts of sensory input. But so long as I have a pencil and paper, I’ll be able to hold onto my mind.

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Sunshine Wears A Size Eleven Shoe

Recently I saw a friend in line at a local grocery store. Good guy. I said hello and asked what he was up to lately.

“On my way back from the hospital,” he says. “The found another tumor in my head.”

His finger points to an area near his forehead. This will be third cancer trying to lay claim to his cranium. Subtle marks near his face hint at earlier surgeries.

He tells me the doctors will try something new. Poking a small electrified rod into the new tumor, doctors hope to burn and neutralize the growth. He is excited to try something new.

He smiles, his trademark grim brightly filling the space between us.

“Like I need another hole in the head.”

In life, you can complain about the hand you’ve been dealt or play your hand to the best of your ability. My friend has always been the later. If sunshine would walk, he would be its mascot and wearing a size eleven shoe.

Truth is he has always been this way. Before cancer decided uninvitedly set up residence in his brain, you would’ve sworn each morning his wife would wind up a giant spring located somewhere inside of him. Watching him throughout the day – his warmly interacting with both friends and strangers – inspired others to follow his lead.

And now, in a street battle for his life with an enemy that does not play fair, he continues as if the invasive parasite were simply a small inconvenience, something passing.

But more importantly, he is more likely to ask you are doing or how is your family? His heart has always been bigger than his head.

Unchanged is his sincere interest in others and their well-being When speaking with him, people would swear he makes them feel like the most important person on the planet. And to my friend, that is true. Like a solar panel gaining energy from the sky above, he seems to draw an energy from making others feel welcome and their time value.

A couple weeks ago my friend invited friends and strangers to stop a restaurant and visit. This was not about him but rather his effort to help others feel more comfortable talking about cancer. Knowing my friend, I know his smile filled the room and his only goal was to help others.

Society likes to eagerly attach glamorous descriptors to people to the point of unintentionally devaluing them from overuse. Hero, champion, courageous. But to me, the highest compliment is to proudly refer to someone as a friend. Doing so demonstrates your admiration and support for them. I am proud of my friend as he’s taught me and others how to face down challenges that would melt most of us like a candle sitting on a Texas windowsill in July.

My friend may not know it but he is giving strength and confidence to others. And for that, I am proud to call him my friend.

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Tea Bag Tastes Of Journey

Each morning a small white tag dangles from a cotton string leading back to the tea bag gently dancing in my mug. And written on each tag comes a phrase from which to launch my day. Wisdom, inspiration, and soul-stirring caffeine in one tidy package.

Today’s message resurrected painful memories of someone I don’t care for – a person I left behind years ago. Specifically, an earlier version of me.

“Love is to live for somebody, love is not to live with somebody.”

The tea bag’s words kept dragging me back to a time for which I am ashamed but accepting of a journey that needed to happen.

I’ll admit I was a bit of a mess coming into adulthood. A recipe laced with selfishness, materialism, and overly judgmental was a bad road for me that those around me. Maturity, by practice, is learning to leave your adolescent tendencies behind and embrace the values of serving others. And nowhere is that formula more important than with love.

IMG_2042Imagine a traditional shooter’s target with a bulls-eye in the center. As an adolescent, we identify ourselves as the bulls-eye with the world circling around. Things we say, do, and think are crafted to serve the needs of the center – or in this case, us.

One day, if we are lucky, we realize it is lonely in the center.

I may not be alone in having to grow through this stunted stage, but in life, you must hold tightly your failures as you do your successes. From your failures, you learn humility and a greater appreciation for the world around you. Inside are lessons you will never learn anywhere but on the playing field of life.

For whatever stage I am at now, I can promise you I did not start out here. Ask my wife. And God as my witness, she deserves the nod for reshaping this mess of malformed clay into something worth her keeping around.

Love is a painful journey. And to travel the road successfully requires two people to facing each other, not standing side by side. Only by looking into the eyes of the other will your hearts ever meld together. This is where you cross over from living for someone verses living with someone. Marriage is a man-made business agreement in one sense; love is a human bond, full of powerful mystery and emotion. If you are lucky in life, you find yourself blessed with both.

I read once if you are happy in your relationship you carry a haunting feeling as if not enough time remains. Conversely, if you are unhappy or unconnected, time hangs like a heavy blanket of daily dread.

Recognizing the bulls-eye is where everyone else should reside is life changing. The moment you see your earlier mistakes and commit to change, you effectively must start your life over one day at a time, relearning what is important, retraining your instincts.

The road is hard, bumpy, and bone-jarring but I highly recommend the journey.

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Holidays Offer Reason To Believe

I believe.

Every year around this time we run across reminders to ‘believe’. But in each instance, the message is incomplete – never really telling us what to ‘believe’. Here, over the course of 500 words, I hope to share a few personal suggestions.

First of all, I still believe in God – regardless of how cool or uncool, this might seem. The reality is He is there and if you don’t believe me, I’d invite you for a test drive without Him. Traveling without this copilot can be unnerving. Over my lifetime I’ve done it both ways. Having Him along for the ride has made mine a difference of night and day.

Secondly, I still believe in the spirit of Santa Claus. How can you not believe in the power of thinking of others and giving the gift of time, love, or small expressions of your gratitude to those we hold most dear? Also, Santa is one sharp dresser.

Next, I’d have to say I still hold great faith in my fellow mankind. At times most of us will find ourselves questioning what the future holds. But if we’re honest, we’ve got a pretty good track record of doing the right thing when it comes down to it. I’ve seen this too many times to deny that most people are, by default, good and decent. And I intend to continue to invest my energy and strength in supporting them.

The American Dream, bashed, battered, and run over in the public court of opinion, is still the best thing going on the planet Earth. If you’ve ever really traveled outside these borders and touched, tasted, and experienced the other side, you know what a blessing it is to live in this country. Doubt it? Ask around. I’ve spent more than my fair share with people who want nothing more than to call America their home for the simple reason of having an opportunity to break free of the shackles of economic, political or religious restraint.

I also still believe in America. Remember, this is the country that put a man on the moon, invented instant coffee, and where individuals contribute to charity more per capita as a measure of gross domestic product than any other nation on the planet. Not only are we a resourceful and innovative nation, but we’re also generous to others via’ giving beyond anything the world has ever seen. I don’t know about you but I don’t mind being associated with smart, generous people.

And finally, I believe in you. Granted, many of us have never met, but odds are we’ve more in common than separates us. If I’ve learned anything in my continuing accumulation of years it is most of us value our families, friends, and neighbors. We even value strangers we’ve never met before – lending a hand or other resources to help someone in need. Aside from needless divisiveness, we are all pretty much alike.

So next time you see a sign encouraging you to believe look inside of yourself for the answer.

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