Lessons From a One Handed Piano Player

Have you ever needed help, but didn’t know it?

I had a close call recently that taught me a few lessons I hope may be of help to you next time you wonder about God’s interest and activity in your life.

The Thursday evening before Memorial Day, I was slicing an avocado.  After several unsuccessful tries of removing the stubborn pit, I unwisely (but with great enthusiasm!) stabbed the pit with a steak knife while holding the avocado half in my left hand.  (Did I mention I’m a pianist who happens to be left handed?) The pit split and the knife went into my hand at the base of my ring finger.  Please, no judgement. Believe me, I know better than anyone else how foolish my actions were!

Off John and I went to the emergency room.  Some 17 stitches later, we were done.

I have colorful pics, but will spare you the details.  Instead, here is this cool avocado slicer I received as a consolation prize.

I limped through the Sunday music at the keyboard and on Monday was playing a Memorial Day concert.  I mentioned to my friend that my finger was numb and that I wondered how long it would be before the feeling came back.

What happened next was nothing but divine intervention.

He said, “You need to see a hand surgeon.  My son works for a hand surgeon and he will call you within the hour.”

A hand surgeon?  I just needed a few stitches, I thought.  Besides, the ER didn’t mention any need for follow up.

After talking with me, his son said he thought I may have severed the nerve.  He got an appointment for me and by Wednesday, the surgeon confirmed it and I underwent surgery the same day to have it sewn back together.  Who knew that was even possible?

I learned there is a window of time before the nerve begins to retract, making the surgery more complicated, involving nerve grafts from the back of the leg or even from a cadaver, if necessary.

Why am I telling you this story?  Because there are times in our lives that God takes over for us when we don’t even know to ask Him.  Maybe you need to know that today.

Three things I want to share with you:

  1. God is going to get you where you need to be.  I needed surgery quickly and didn’t know it.  Maybe you’re in the throws of a big decision, trying to make the right choice, maybe a little concerned about missing God’s will.  The saying is wise: “Do your best and forget the rest.”  He will find you.  Even in your seemingly wrong choices, He will intervene and cause you to be where you need to be, put you in the right place at the right time.
  2. Your set backs are for His set upsHe will cause your pain, your disappointments  to be used for your good and His glory.  How?  I don’t know.  But we have wonderful examples of those who had terrible setbacks and God used that very thing to work for great outcomes.  Joseph would never have become second to Pharaoh and saved his family and people without first being betrayed by his brothers.
  3. Let his working in your life refresh you with gratitude.  Sometimes almost losing something (or losing something for a while and then getting it back) is like a gigantic reset button.                                                                                            After surgery, I wore a cast from the tip of my fingers to my elbow.  Then I graduated to a smaller cast for another couple of weeks.                                             When I got out of the cast, I could hardly move my left hand due to atrophy and swelling.         A few weeks and several therapy sessions later, I was playing the piano for an event.  I began to play the song “Give Thanks” and suddenly the song I’d played a million times was fresh with new meaning.  I was overwhelmed with gratitude for the opportunity to praise God through making music.  The result of my avocado debacle has been a fresh infusion of joy over the miracle of surgery and the body’s ability to heal, the beauty of music and the privilege of making it.  What close call have you had when you didn’t even know to ask God for help?  Ask Him to show you his involvement and activity in your life…and let it fill you with gratitude.

By the way, National Avocado Day was yesterday!

To celebrate,  I think I’ll go slice up a juicy one…

carefully…

and with my new childproof safety avocado slicer.

 

 

The Incredible Freedom of Saying Yes to Less

To me, life is one big cafeteria line.  And it all looks good! When presented with requests for my time, I often hear myself responding, “Yes, I’d be delighted to do that!”  But just as we can get to the end of the line with too much on our plates, I have sometimes found myself loaded down with more responsibilities than I could handle well.  And it was my own fault.

Have you been there?  If so, you know the feeling. You say “Yes” to something without fully  thinking it through.  It takes more time and energy than you anticipated. You end up feeling frustrated, secretly resentful, and too zapped for the things that really are important to you. And when it’s all over, you regret your choice.

I keep this magnet on my fridge as a reminder.

You’ve lost time you can’t get back! Time you could’ve spent on higher priorities like your personal goals, building your business and especially spending time with your family.

I’ve been saying “Yes” to Less lately.  And the result is greater freedom, joy and room to focus on the things I actually feel called to do.

So if you’re truly ready to stop living in a constant state of overwhelm, do this:

  1.  Give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all.  Realize that everything you say “Yes” to means you’re saying “No” to something else…something that might be higher on your priority list.
  2.  Let “No” be your first response… until you’ve had time to consider the cost.  Rarely say “Yes” on the spot, unless you are double-dog sure it’s something to which you want to commit.  Instead say, “Thank you for thinking of me.  I’ll think it over and get back with you by Monday.”
  3. Say “No”, not just to others, but also to yourself. In other words, say “No” to hours of TV or social media or other non-profitable drains on your time.

One of the things that stops us from saying “No” is not knowing how to say it, especially to friends we love.  And by the way, I’m not talking about saying “No” in a mean way (after all, it’s a compliment to be asked to do something!), but saying “No” strategically, deliberately and with kindness.  Here is a simple formula for saying “No” with grace and elegance.

“Thanks so much for thinking of me.  I’m going to say ‘No’, but please know how honored I am to be asked. “

Another option:

“That sounds like a wonderful project, but I am going to pass.  Thank you so much for thinking of me.  I wish you the best with your project!”

Now, what often happens next is something like this:

“Oh, but you’d be PERFECT for this position/job, etc.! The nominating committee was talking and everyone agreed, we just don’t think we can do it without you!”

My friend, do not cave.  Do not say how stressed you are, or how your husband doesn’t want you to take more on right now, or how on second thought maybe you could fit it in your schedule.  Just say this:

“I’d rather not, but thank you so much for thinking of me.”

Why is this so important?

Because saying “Yes” to too much leaves us exhausted, resentful and overwhelmed.  And besides the fact that it’s no fun to feel that way, you can’t do your best work or make your highest contribution to the things to which you are truly called.

But when you say “Yes” to Less, you get more time, margin, freedom, creativity and energy to devote to the things you love.

I believe in honoring commitments.  But moving forward, let me ask you:  what pending invitation do you need to decline?  Leave a comment…I’d really like to know.  And if you have a friend or loved one who is feeling tired and overwhelmed with too much on her plate, please pass this along.  I wish you freedom, joy and energy as you tackle the things you value most!

 

How to Rock Your Day: 3 Reasons Why Your Attitude Matters

At a local lunch place in my town, there’s this bus boy.  His job?  To clean tables after customers leave, making the table ready for the next customer.

But each time I’m there, I watch with fascination the effect he has on others as he takes bussing tables to a WHOLE NEW LEVEL.  This restaurant is the kind where you tell them your name, they announce when your order’s ready and you pick it up at the counter. You take your cup to the drink station and get your drink, napkins, straws, etc.  It’s a self-serve kind of place.

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But if Carlos Slaughter is on duty, that’s not what happens.

Instead, he greets you with a dazzling smile, remembers your name from last time and declares, “Have a seat!  I’ll bring your lunch out!”  Quickly, cheerfully and with a bit of flair, he brings lunch to the table.  “Here you go, Mrs. Connie.  Got enough to drink?  Need some salt or pepper? Alright, you ladies enjoy.” The other customers’ faces light up as he does the same for them.

You would think he was the owner and master chef of an expensive 5 star restaurant!  But  he’s just the busboy.

Just the busboy?  More like a shining ambassador for his place of employment.

Every time I see him, I’m reminded:

It’s not just about WHAT you do, it’s about HOW you do it.

Here are 3 reasons why your attitude matters.

  1.  Your attitude is contagious.  The energy you bring to your meeting, your classroom or home spreads to others and they are affected by it.  I’m told we have “mirror neurons” in our brains that make our emotions catchable.  So take responsibility for the energy and mood you’re spreading to others.
  2. This moment makes your future moments. How you do what you do impacts how people respond to you and very often, the results you get.  I give The Busboy a better tip than many other servers and I suspect other customers do, too.  The way this young man treats others and the excellent way he does his job is sure to open doors for him in the future.  Decide that you will WOW other people with your genuine caring and attention to detail, and watch to see whether you get a different response than usual.
  3. You can make a difference in this world no matter what you do for a living. Busboys are not known for making millions.  Working in the service industry (I’ve been there) can be frustrating.  Customers are in a hurry, in a bad mood, don’t expect to see you again, etc.  It can be tempting to tell yourself, “If I had a really important job, my attitude would be better.” But whatever your job is, don’t miss this truth: YOU IMPACT OTHERS.  Yes, YOU! I can’t begin to tell you the positive impact this young man has on me and every other customer.  He literally makes my day.  He makes my friends and me want to eat there.  He’s the best advertisement this restaurant could have.  Let’s learn from him!  Start infusing everything you do with love and enthusiasm, realizing that you can impact others for good, no matter what you do for a living.

As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. so eloquently put it:

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (credit: biography.com)

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (credit: biography.com)

If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, sweep streets like Beethoven composed music…Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry.  Sweep streets so well that all the host of heaven and earth will have to pause and say: “Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well.”

You can hear that speech here.

Think with me here.  What’s an example of HOW someone did something that wowed you?

And what area might shift in your life if you focused on HOW you do something?

Leave a comment because I’d really love to know.  And if you have a friend or co-worker who’s caught in a negative loop and could use a little encouragement, share this with them.

Remember, It’s not just about WHAT you do.  It’s about HOW you do it!

Thanks for reading!

How to Become a Super Ager

I read a fascinating article recently from the New York Times that discusses how some people over 65 experience the usual forgetfulness of old age, yet others somehow manage to remain sharp.  My mom, who will be 89 this month, assures us she is falling apart.  “Getting old is not for sissies!”, she reminds me.  Not gonna lie.  She has limitations.  She is diabetic, doesn’t drive after dark.  Yet, for her 82nd birthday, then again for her 87th, she climbed a mountain.  She plays bridge a few times a week, plays the piano (beautifully), drives (in the daytime), texts like a teenager and downloads games with her I-phone, is active on Facebook, lives in her own home and has a sense of humor to make you laugh so hard your sides hurt.  She’s a Superager.

Top of the Mountain

“Superagers” (a term coined by the neurologist Marsel Mesulam) are those whose memory and attention isn’t merely above average for their age, but is actually on par with healthy, active 25 year-olds.  For those of you who have a penchant for scientific details, I suggest you read the article, but if you’re like me and love a good bottom line, here it is: How do you become a superager?  Research shows: work hard at something.  The article says many labs have observed that the critical brain regions increase in activity when people perform difficult tasks, whether the effort is physical or mental.  So you can keep this part of the brain working well through vigorous exercise and mental effort.

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Here’s the interesting part, however. When you increase the activity in this important part of the brain, you feel worse, not better, in the moment.  Think about the last time you wrestled with a mental problem or pushed yourself physically.  This is a great life lesson:  Hard work makes you feel bad in the moment.  It’s afterward that you feel good, whether emotionally or physically.  Many a morning I have groaned as I laced up my tennis shoes for a walk or workout. Yet, NEVER, and I mean NEVER have I regretted the time spent working out!  Perhaps you’ve felt the same way, too.  Whether it was digging in with a mentally challenging problem or something physically challenging, it feels so good when you are done.

I love what the Marine Corps says: “Pain is weakness leaving the body.”

Superagers are like Marines:  They push past the temporary unpleasantness of intense effort.  Studies suggest that the result is a more youthful brain that helps maintain a sharper memory and a greater ability to pay attention.

A fact: brain tissue gets thinner from disuse. The old saying is true:  If you don’t use it, you lose it.

We all love to be happy.  But sometimes, the greater happiness comes, not from indulging in inactivity, but in pushing through the hard thing and enjoying the benefits afterward.

This year, challenge yourself mentally.  Learn a musical instrument.  Learn something new on the computer.  Try a new sport or hobby.  Work your brain.  You’ll be glad you did!

What I Caught From the Parking Garage Lady

The Parking Garage Lady was contagious yesterday.  And I caught it.  Let me explain.

Typical scenario: you go through the toll booth or exit the parking garage.  You hand him the ticket. He stamps it.

“Four dollars.”

You hand him a five.

He slaps a one into your hand and pushes the button. Gate lifts. You’re gone. End of story.

But that’s not what happened to me yesterday morning.

With our window rolled down, ready to get our ticket, my husband and I heard her before we got to her cheery, joy-dispensing booth. “You have a wonderful Thursday!” she said to the person in the car ahead of us.

“How are y’all this morning?”, she asked…as if she really wanted to know.  Still a little sleepy and nursing my coffee,  I leaned to the left from the passenger seat.  I wanted to see this happy lady.  With a warm smile she commented, “Nippy this morning! But I bet it’ll warm up by noon time! Isn’t this a gorgeous time of year?”

“Uh, yeah!” was our brilliant response.

We parked and made our way to the building. As we walked past her booth, our eyes met. She smiled and waved.  Maybe it was just the coffee kicking in, but I felt a bit more bounce in my step.  I smiled and waved back.

IMG_0163Entering the building, I pondered that this woman has transformed a job some might call mundane into a personal  mission to brighten the day of each person who crosses her path.  She may look like an ordinary parking garage lady, but don’t be fooled by her disguise.  She’s actually a superhero, nixing negativity with each parking ticket she stamps!

Not only did she brighten my day and everyone else fortunate enough to park in the Washington St. Garage, but she also made it contagious.

John had business in the courthouse.  A security guard instructed us to place jackets, purse, etc. on the conveyor belt.  I waited for the go ahead to pass through the detector.  Person after person walked through without a word or glance to the guard.  Infected by my happy parking garage lady, I ventured a word of encouragement.  “Thanks for keeping us safe.”  The guard was caught off-guard.  “Thank you, Ma’am.” He smiled and actually stood slightly taller.

As I stepped onto the elevator, a woman stared straight ahead, expressionless.  As we ascended, I broke the silence. “I love your boots.”  Her face came to life.  “I got ’em on sale!”  “Well then all the better!” I replied. We laughed.

The doors opened.  “Have a great day!” she called after me.

Yes, I know. These conversations aren’t world-changers. But they are short, painless affirmations of the people we bump into all day long. What if we “infect” the people we encounter and they in turn, “infect” the people they encounter?

As you go through your ordinary day today, whether at home or work, remember your extraordinary opportunity to infuse a little joy into someone’s life.  Who knows what kind of happy epidemic you and I can start?