Life by Default

I came across a study recently, conducted by Cornerstone OnDemand (a software company that sells recruitment and training packages) that discovered a direct correlation between employees who stayed with a company longer and which web browser they used to apply for the job.

The research also proved beyond a doubt that employees who applied for the job using Firefox or Chrome browser excelled in numerous other areas–such as creativity, initiative, and meeting sales targets–above those who used Internet Explorer (the browser that comes preinstalled on all Windows computers) or Safari (the browser that comes on all Mac computers).

Why?

Chief Analytics Officer, Michael Housman explains:

“I think that the fact that you took the time to install Firefox on your computer shows us something about you. It shows that you’re someone who is an informed consumer. . . . You’ve made an active choice to do something that wasn’t default.” (quoted here)

‘Default’ is easy. It doesn’t take any initiative. It doesn’t demand furthering your knowledge or improving your skillset. Those who opt for the ‘default’ option tend to be more likely to settle for whatever life throws at them rather than stepping out and making the decision to take ‘the road less travelled.’

How many times are we tempted to settle for the default option in our lives?

It’s easier, to be sure.

But how much of lasting value has ever been accomplished by those who navigate their lives by choosing only what’s easy?Icecream

It’s kind of like choosing Vanilla ice cream at Baskin-Robbins. Yes, it’s available. But seriously? Give me a classic Peanut Butter & Chocolate, Pistachio Almond or, better still, how about that intriguingly-named Love Potion #31?

Vanilla is not an option. At least not for me, when I’m at Baskin-Robbins.

So what about life? Am I settling for the ‘default’ or am I saying, “I can do things differently”? Am I rationalising the status quo, or am I asking how I can make a difference? Do I mindlessly cooperate with whatever is offered me or do I dare to question what is often sold as ‘part of the package’?

If you haven’t caught on yet, this post isn’t about web browsers. It’s about living. And life’s too short–and too previous–to placidly accept whatever comes your way.

In the words of Robert Frost:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Now who’s up for some ice cream?

This is Making Me Stronger

IMG_4426.JPGI enjoy a good massage. Not the light, fairy-fingers muscle teasers, but the heavy-handed, elbow-in-the-small-of-your-back Chinese massage. The harder the better. And chuck in some of that back-scorching mentholated oil for good measure.

When I first started going to visit a Chinese massage therapist, I felt nothing but pain. He said the pain would go away the more my muscles because accustomed to being manipulated.

And so, from then on, every time I would lie down on he massage table, I would remind myself: ‘This is making me stronger.’

He was right. It wasn’t that I developed a superpower that didn’t feel pain, but a strong sense grew in me—an awareness, if you will—that this was good for me, that this was building strength, resilience, courage.

I think of this as I sit at my desk, drowning in reports, deadlines, and everyday issues of a job dominated by IT and all the troubles dealing with It and people-who-use-IT-but-can’t all day. My neck muscles tense as I stare for hours at the screen. Back muscles burn from repeated turns to one side of my desk to retrieve the next job sheet, invoice, or roster.
‘This is making me stronger.’

A few years ago I would never have believed you if you told me I would be doing what I do today, ever day. The sheer volume of work and the details involved would have blown my mind. I would have foreseen my imminent committal to a mental institution, or at the least some sort of prescription drug dependency.

But, like a good massage therapist, those muscles I needed to do my work became stronger with us. My neurons started firing in different ways that led my brain to adjust to the growing pressure and multiplicity of tasks.

Life has a way of throwing difficulties our way constantly. As an older—and wiser—man once god me, ‘It doesn’t get any easier.’ (That same wise man told me that the sausage on pizza was cat intestines. It goes to show how wise someone may be one day and totally incredulous the next.)

In spite of this, I believe we get better at handling the stuff life throws at us. Problems that are solved, troubles that are navigated, adrenaline-inducing risks that are embraced all build into us some sort of immunity that makes the next obstacle seem a little less daunting and the next mountain a little smaller than we once would have imagined.

‘This is making me stronger.’

Bring it on!

Disembarking

IMG_4401The last rays of a tired sun reflected
on the mirror-like, just-out-of-the-factory 737
disgorging it’s passengers
through a miles-too-long aerobridge

Two businessmen with over-sized briefcases
who planned ahead to avoid the anxiety of
a shoulder-to-shoulder, four-deep baggage claim

A mother with a crying 3-year old
whose tears ran out long before the discomfort

Three surfer dudes returning from distant waves,
congratulating a fourth who (apparently)
scored the number of one of the stewardesses

My heart seemed like it was beating out of my chest—
Oh! the relief of arriving
and the joy, the joy of reuniting

A family—mum, dad, three children wearing Mickey ears—
showing the relaxed look of having holidayed,
but now-glum faces at its necessary end

An elderly man whose face lights up like Christmas
at the sound of a screeching duet of “Grandpa, grandpa!”
from youngsters (impatiently) waiting
in the the cordoned-off area

Where was she?

Why did she always wait
for everyone else to leave the plane?

My restless mind scans the passengers
making their way along the aerobridge,
most into the welcoming embrace of family
or meeting smiling friends

Is that her?

Craning my neck I see a grey-laced-with-pastel-blue head
on a increasingly-hunched-but-still-stately frame,
Rose Pink the chosen colour for today’s adventure
(Once she dressed in Sunday-best for traveling;
now it’s all about comfort)
Yes! My heart was beating out of my chest—
two years is a very long time.

Scanning the crowd,
her gaze meets with my growing-misty eyes.
Pushing through the meeters and greeters
I find myself in a strong, Chanel-scented hug
(lingering—will she ever let go?)
“Oh mum! It’s so good to see you again.”

Are We There Yet?

roadWhen I was 6, my parents, my sister and I boarded what seemed at the time to be an awesomely amazing Pan Am 747 and returned to the U.S.A. for around 18 months. In our blue Chrysler station wagon (with homemade desks in the back end for doing our school work) we traversed the country, staying in the homes of family and friends or in our Shasta trailer (translation: Australian ‘caravan’).

Those of you who have travelled with young children will know exactly how this went.

Driving through high mountain passes, in between majestic snow-capped mountain peaks, whose sides were splattered with aspen trees decked out in the brightest autumn colours . . .

“Are we there yet?”

Crossing a mountain stream whose babbling waters cascaded through the valley like a string of diamonds in the autumn sunlight . . .

“Are we there yet?”

Winding our way through a canyon with sheer, red cliffs rising on both sides, the clear blue sky creating a picture worthy of the world’s highest-esteemed gallery . . .

“Are we there yet?”

As a few elk meandered across a snowy meadow in the moonlight . . .

“Are we there yet?

As yachts moved gracefully through the dancing waves of Lake Michigan . . .

“Are we there yet?”

In the stillness of a forest, with the verdant greenery encapsulating our car in the dappled, dewy morning light . . .

“Are we there yet?”

I was destination-driven. I had a single-track focus. Riding in the back of our family car was an inconvenience that I had to endure on the way to the ultimate goal: grandma’s house, Disneyland, camping with my aunts and uncles, or wherever the journey ended.

But what if . . .? What if I noticed the patterns of sunlight through the trees? What if I actually enjoyed watching the glorious mountain scenery as drove all too swiftly through it? What if I stopped to feel the fresh breeze as it bounced off the blue water? What if the journey was the goal, not the destination?

There are so many clichéd lines written about ‘journey.’ This metaphor has become somewhat part of an Oprahfied motivational vocabulary that we pass back and forth on Facebook in an attempt to appear to our friends to be wiser and deeper than we actually are.

“Sooner or later we must realize there is no station, no one place to arrive at once and for all. The true joy of life is the trip.” — Robert J. Hastings

“Life is a journey that have a lot different paths, but any path you choose use it as your destiny.” ― Ryan Leonard

“It is better to travel well than to arrive.” — Arthur C. Custance

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” ― Henry Miller

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” ― Lao Tse

“Not all those who wander are lost.”  ― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

“The greatest thing in this world is not so much where we stand as in what direction we are moving.” ― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

“To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive, and the true success is to labour.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

“Every day you may make progress. Every step may be fruitful. Yet there will stretch out before you an ever-lengthening, ever-ascending, ever-improving path. You know you will never get to the end of the journey. But this, so far from discouraging, only adds to the joy and glory of the climb.”— Sir Winston Churchill

“I took the road less travelled by, and that has made all the difference.”— Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken

The reality is that we are all travelling. We all have our own version of the travel journal.

High School Graduation.

“Are we there yet?”

Meeting our one true Love.

“Are we there yet?”

Marriage.

“Are we there yet?”

Birth of our first child.

“Are we there yet?”

Finally getting that promotion at work.

“Are we there yet?”

Buying our first home.

“Are we there yet?”

Taking our child to school for the first day.

“Are we there yet?”

Landing that new job and moving house.

“Are we there yet?”

Taking that first big overseas holiday.

“Are we there yet?”

And so it goes, day after day, year after year.

I know. I’ve been there. I’ve done that. “Just one more mountain.” “It’s just beyond the next bend.”

What if we find that we have been ‘there’ all along, and that what we have experienced is of far greater importance than the point where our travels end.

What if our biggest challenge for the part of our journey called ‘today’ is to be fully present, to explore, appreciate, and enjoy what we encounter instead of being the one in the back seat who, every five minutes, pipes up with the refrain, “Are we there yet?”

We may just stumble across–

the beautiful,

the glorious,

the majestic,

the refreshing,

the abundant,

the breathtaking

and far, far more than we ever dared to expect.

We may just find that, “The journey is the reward.”

A Good Memory, Part 2

“Lest we forget.”

These words will be echoed across RSL halls, war memorials and Community gatherings today, April 25th. This is Anzac Day, the day when Australians remember those who gave their lives in service to our country during all the wars of past generations, but especially World War I.

anzacYes, we could look back at the insanity of war, the bad judgement on the part of politicians who send young men to die on the battlefield, and the many, many mistakes that have been made that resulted in tragedy upon tragedy, loss after loss. We could look at the permanent scarring of the soldiers, the refugees created when their homes are obliterated, the PTSD and other mental health issues arising amongst the witnesses of such horror and the unacceptable numbers of men and women who have, upon returning from the battlefield, suicide.

War is never good. War is not a necessary fact of global life and there are ways of avoiding this monstrous, nation-numbing experience that so many have endured.

This is one of the reasons we have memorials erected in nearly every city and town across the nation to these brave men and women. As we visit these sacred spaces this week, witness with others in Dawn Services, ceremonies and marches, may we look at the moving stories of mateship, courage, and sacrifice, and dedicate our lives to building a better future with these lessons in mind.

May we use our collective memory for its intended purpose and, never forgetting the realities of war,  work towards a future of peace, hope and forgiveness.

A Good Memory

I remember.

Not everything. I’m not that good at faces and names. I’m also not as good at rote memory–memorizing lists, passages, or poems–as I once was.

But I remember well places, scenes, roads, words, sensations, textures, experiences, tastes.

I remember far too much.

Eating ice cream at midnight when I was 2. Riding piggyback on my dad’s bike to Kindergarten in Legaspi City when I was 4. Mum making sauerkraut in a bucket in her office. The mango tree behind our house blowing over in the storm and the taste of unripe mangoes with a sprinkle of salt. The words of Filipino Sunday School songs. Getting my arm stuck in the washing machine wringer. Wading and swimming in flood waters in Lupagon. Playing with Gardiner Improsso on the IGBI basketball court. Visiting the Andersons in Tagbalaran. The look on the man’s face that I mistook for my Uncle at the airport in 1972. Where I was when my sister told me Mr Wright died (I had only met him once but he took our family to Disneyland.) The smell of the musty basement at my uncle’s church in Madison, Wisconsin. My first breath of Australian air after stepping off the plane in Sydney. How sausage rolls and strawberry milk really didn’t mix well in Grade 4.

1971-05-01 Burning the Clubouse

When we left the Philippines in 1971, our parents allowed us to have a bonfire with our old ‘clubhouse. I’m third from the left.

 

It might not seem so bad, but that’s only a small fraction of my mind’s inner workings. I also remember almost every unkind word I said, every failure, wrong decision, mistake. The lie I told in 1985. The rules I broke in 1986. The car accident of 1987. The wrong song I sang in church in 1996. The embarrassing joke of 1998. The brain snap of 1999. . . Many times my excellent memory feels like a curse.

It condemns me.

It beats me up. It makes me feel inadequate, foolish and, like Cher, wishing I could turn back time.

But I can’t wind the clock back. I can’t take back those hurtful words, unwrite that nasty letter, or undo that wrong move.

People are kind. They forget—or at least they don’t mention it again. I doubt there would be a handful of folks who would immediately call to mind that failed speech I gave, or that embarrassing joke I told.

People also give me advice on how to deal with my memory problems: “It is what it is.” “Accept it and move on.” “We all make mistakes.” “You wouldn’t be where you are today if you didn’t make the mistakes you made.”

While all these are true, it does nothing to mitigate the feelings of regret, remorse, or sadness over the past.

I find it easy to forgive others. I find it incredibly hard to forgive myself.

Memory is like that.

I recall the words of a song from First Call (Yes, I am a CCM tragic straight outa the 80s!) called God is Greater. Not a hugely memorable song and, despite my outstanding knack of remembering useless stuff, I can’t remember anything except this one line: “And even if your heart condemns you, God is greater . . . than your heart.”

God, the Divine Presence, the ever-loving, always forgiving, Eternal One is greater than anything that might condemn me.

I’m not discounting the reality of the regret I feel when I remember the bad things I have done or the pain I have caused the people that I have trodden on. That is still with me every day and, quite frankly, sucks. Big time.

What I hold on to is that no matter what my perception is, or has been, the reality of God’s love overpowers all.

Sure, I messed up and, if memory serves me correctly, still do.

But my life lies open before me and I can’t let those moments pass in vain. There are lessons I have learned and I need to move forward knowing that every mistake is redeemable, every wrong path can lead to healing, and every trespass is forgiven. Love wins, always.

 

Reblog: Resurrection Happens

enlight2Easter is a very conflicted occasion.

  • Pagan festivals and church processions.
  • Eggs and crosses.
  • Bunnies and burials.
  • Lilies and grave clothes.
  • Chocolate and empty tombs.

Then there is the question of reality–did Jesus really rise from the dead? Is there evidence beyond the Bible for this supernatural event? Is Scriptural evidence sufficient?

Regardless of our responses to these questions, there is a broader question that we ought to be asking: Is thee a wider truth that we can draw from the Easter story that speaks to us on a more universal, meaningful level?

Listen to the words of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus: “We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.”

It doesn’t take that much imagination to put ourselves into the story of these disciples. “We had hoped. Our dreams were in him. Our future was in his hands. Now he’s gone.”

Are you feeling hopeless today? Do you feel that you cannot go on? Is the burden you carry great, and the pain too intense? Is the healing just not happening, the sorrow too much for you?

Here is the truth of Easter: God is in the resurrection business.

The very first words of Scripture speak of God making new life out of chaos. The creation poem tells us that God spoke there was light. The waters separated (the ancients believed above the sky was a water-dome called in Genesis ‘the firmament’). The dry land appeared. Fish and animals, human beings, plants and trees all came into being out of the chaos of ‘the deep.’

Some of the last words in Scripture state in simple words God’s grand plan: “Behold I make all things new.” From the chaos this world has become, resurrection will happen and new life–a renewed creation–will spring forth.

Whether or not we believe in a literal resurrection should not prevent us from drawing deeper meaning from this widely-accepted Christian narrative.

Resurrection–new life–is happening around us every day. It’s never too late to begin again. God is even now, in all-embracing love and grace, making all things new.

And this can be true for you too.

There is hope. The power of Christ’s resurrection is at work. The Spirit of God is moving amongst your chaos, speaking light into darkness, strength into weakness and new life into hopelessness.

Resurrection happens!

And resurrection can happen for you.