Habits – #2

HABIT #2: DON’T KEEP OPPORTUNITIES WAITING

The opportunity of a lifetime must be seized within the lifetime of the opportunity

The time to act on anything is not a moment sooner or later than you are able to.  You have no guarantee that an open door will remain open, no assurances that your power to act in a circumstance will not expire.

An opportunity presents itself as a gift, designed for us to be used by us to make our lives better.  But gifts are ours to keep for as long as we want them.  An opportunity is not a gift.  It is a provision, and a perishable one at that.

Like a fortuitous wind on the seas, we find it courting our sails, offering us a lift here or a push there.  What we do not hear in the wind—and what we will never hear—is a pledge to remain.  “Use me now!” she urgently whispers instead, “Tomorrow is not mine to give you.”

Opportunities only appear when we are ready to receive them, when our hearts and minds are open to seeing, and our circumstances have made room.  They’re never early or tardy.

They are, however, jealous.  If you keep them waiting, or allow fear to distract you from them, they will move on.

What if I… by Michelle Jones

I’m at the beginning of a journey I have begun many times.  I can’t see the end from here.  This is always the scariest part for me…day one, step one, moment one of anything I really want to finish.

The “what ifs” are already crowding my head.  What if I fail (again)?  What if it’s harder than I thought it would be? What if I don’t have the character to tell the truth when I slip or compromise?  What if I run out of run before I run out of race?

I know in my knower that all of this is panic and foolishness, but I still have to get it out and look at the mess as it is.  Courage comes with clarity, and clarity comes when I tame all the lying monkeys swinging between my thoughts and the truth.

Turns out the “what ifs”—despite their persistence and intensity— are not my problem.  They’re not hiding the truth from me.  Rather, they expose my duplicity because they have all been true at one time or another.  I have failed, fallen short, and been weak of character more times than I want to think about.  It’s not only possible, but likely that I will be again.

If I’m honest, I don’t like “what ifs” because they won’t provide me with the one thing my fearful self desires most—a good enough excuse for opting out.  Think about it.  Giving up because of what might happen is like losing an argument with someone you’ve never met. Do I really want to go out like that?

Dwelling on what might happen is a distraction.  We can justify it by claiming we’re wise for considering possible costs before moving forward.  Not so.  Costs are fixed and certain.  They are “what is” not “what ifs.”  Knowing the cost of something helps you move forward.  Wondering “what if” just holds you back.

The best use of your mind in the moments before you begin the journey toward a big or important goal is to ask yourself if it is something you would do if you knew you would not fail at it.  If there were two lists to be read aloud at your funeral—one of things you attempted to do, and one of things you would not attempt—which list would you want it on?

I suspect you already have what it takes to make a first step, don’t you?  I know I do, or I wouldn’t be entertaining worry at all.  What stops most of us is not lack, but slack.  All we really need to finish most things is to begin them, each day.

Day one, step one, moment one…

Here I go.  I hope I have company.

Too Much of a Good Thing by Michelle Jones

Some years ago I was flipping through channels and saw a news segment about a sheep who had become famous in New Zealand.  She had been given the name Shrek.  What a Disney ogre has to do with sheep is anyone’s guess, but the story got my attention…

Too much of a good thing?

…and then it changed my life.

Shrek was known throughout the sheepherding community.  She was a runaway who had been hiding up in the mountains for six years, and managed to elude recapture several times before the shepherds finally gave up and stopped responding to “Shrek sightings.”

One day a shepherd got a call from a woman who was hiking up in the mountains.  She said she was standing right in front of Shrek and that they could come up and get her.  The shepherd told the woman, who obviously lived under a rock, that she was not the first person who had gotten that close to the animal.  He assured her that by the time they took a man away from his work, gassed up the Jeep, and drove the hour or so up into the hills, Shrek would be long gone, no doubt laughing (if sheep laugh) at the latest mister who missed her.

“You won’t be disappointed,” said the woman.  “Shrek won’t run.  She can’t run.”

The woman took a picture with her phone and sent it down.  Shrek was carrying so much wool on her body that running had become at best an impossible dream.

A little-known fact about our wooly friends:  Sheep born and raised in the mountains never find themselves with too much wool.  They only grow what they need to survive.  Domestic sheep, particularly sheep that belong to a shepherd, are a very different story.  Domestic sheep get sheered, which causes their wool to grow wild and out of control.  Regularly relieving them of it, while good for business, is also necessary for their health and survival.

So after six years away from the clippers, it’s no surprise that Shrek was a bit heavy in the hooves.  The shepherds came up and got her.  The video showed her trying to take a step back when they approached, but she moved like a 300 lb man 1 six-pack, 2 pizzas and 3 quarters into a one-sided football game.  You ever ask that guy to take out the trash?  A head turn, a shift, a grunt, and he gives up.

I remember thinking Shrek looked kind of arrogant with all that wool on her, like she knew she had something people wanted—perhaps even needed—but she had the power to withhold it.

What’s your wool?  What, among your many talents and abilities, is the most obvious and useful to those around you?  Are you holding it hostage?

I’m a writer.  That’s my wool.  For years I kept it close, only pouring into my journals or waxing poetic onstage.  Aside from that, I was stingy because I had been hurt in the past, taken advantage of by people who didn’t care for me past what I could write for them.

I cultivated my other gifts, speaking, teaching, creating, shepherding leaders and others and offered them up instead.  I resented it when people introduced me as “Michelle the writer.”  I was more than that.  When I saw Shrek though, something clicked.

For years I had been saying, “Leave my wool to me!  Look at my leather, my milk, and my meat!  Use my intestines for sausage casings!  There’s so much more to me than my wool!”  How ridiculous is that?  You can’t even see the rest of a sheep until you get past its wool.

I have piles of things I have written that no one has ever seen.  Shouldn’t someone see them?  If I write my books, perhaps I’ll get to speak or teach about what I have written.  If I get my stories out, maybe I’ll make room for more.  If I continue blogging, I might inspire someone I’ve never met, tough people in cities I’ll never visit.  (ooh, elastic!)

If I write…

We’ve all been cheated or taken advantage of.  We have all been misused and abused for our gifts.  If our gift is worth anything—and all gifts are—there will be times when we are lonely because we will offer ourselves to others and they will cling only to what they need and leave the rest.

The way to most of what you have to offer the world goes through your most obvious gift or talent.  That is what will create space for you among people and in places off limits to others.  To be sure, there are poachers and thieves ready to take what they did not earn, and some of what you have will get away from you through painful lessons.  Still, what you have is not your own.  It was put in you to be given through you.  Give it freely and there will always be more of it.

Shrek was carrying 62 lbs. of merino wool on her back, enough for 20 men’s suits.  She was sheered and the money generated from the event was given to a local charity.

What are you carrying around that people need?  What are you holding onto that defines you in the eyes of others and gives you relevance in your community?  What space are you refusing to fill?

Do you have too much of a good thing?

Showing Up by Michelle Jones

The sky was nothing nice the morning I flew back to Atlanta from Detroit.  It was cold and the grass was frosty.  They were expecting icy rain in the Motor City, and I was so glad I wouldn’t be there to see it.

My friend Monique’s father had passed away.  He had not been present in her life for most of her life, but she walked with him in his last days battling lung cancer.  Amazing! Grace like that comes straight from God. She made all the arrangements, calling aunts, uncles, and cousins she barely knew to tell them that their relative—in truth, a man she barely knew—had died.

The funeral was in Detroit, so I showed up—not for the service, for Monique.

When you think about it, “relative” is a pretty relative term.  “Family” isn’t always connected biologically, and many of us live, eat, and sleep with relative strangers.  What really makes us belong to one another?  How do onlookers know that you and me have a “we” between us?

The answer is simple, if not always easy to execute.  Whenever they can, family shows up.

In those few days with Monique, I was struck by the value of the GIFT OF PRESENCE.  We all have it, but I suspect it is one of the most under-used of our store of offerings.  We don’t know how much it means to others that we are in touching range, holding range, that our voices are carried on warm breath and not over wireless networks or through satellites.  There is a lot to be said for tight hugs, firm shoulders, and hands that wipe away falling tears.

Monique couldn’t be more my sister if we had entered this world through the same womb.  I prayed for her, talked to her, and counseled her, but nothing mattered more to her than my getting on a plane so I could be with her.  I was so grateful to be able to put a reassuring hand on her during the service, drive her around to run last minute errands to Kinko’s, or to have a place for her to retreat to when things got a little overwhelming.  We shared my bible and watched TV.  We ate too much, and playfully argued about who lost the spare room key (she did, of course).  We tried to see who could imitate Popeye’s laugh the best (I did, of course). We wept over the frailty of people, and the awesomeness of God.  We ate, shared, laughed, and cried TOGETHER.

Too quickly it was over.  We hugged and went to our separate airlines for our separate trips home, she to Los Angeles and me to Atlanta, carrying within us the gifts we received from one another.  I’m not always good at showing up, but being with Monique reminded me that it is the ultimate act of Love.

Love comes to see about you.  Love shows up as open arms when he sees you coming, without needing to know why you’re there.  Love shows up as ears listening for what you mean, not just what you say even if you say nothing.  Love is a card, a call, or some cash when it needs to be, but Love becomes flesh whenever the opportunity presents itself.

We are most alive when we are present, not just accounted for. Where did you last show up?

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