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Mar 23, 2012

The Unexpected Blessing

Be careful of your thoughts, for your thoughts become your words.
Be careful of your words, for your words become your actions.
Be careful of your actions, for your actions become your habits.
Be careful of your habits, for your habits become your character.
Be careful of your character, for your character becomes your destiny.

It’s been a few weeks since my last post and so much has happened. To catch up the casual reader on what’s been going on in my life – I’ve gotten married; my new daughter had a major surgical procedure and is still recovering; my wife has shifted her work environment to aid in this healing process; the movers have brought a truck-load of new items to be arranged in our house; and everyone (inside and outside of the household) is trying to get accustomed to these new life adjustments.
Hopefully that explains my lack of posting. Trust me; it is not for a lack of things happening.
In addition to the list above, the normal wear and tear of being continues, and life in general (which rarely runs at a slow pace) brings with it all the normal stresses of career, budget and societal rubs. To quote a good friend, all these routine difficulties are “the price of admission for life,” and I have received no reduction in fee in lieu of my recent life events.
But one of the amazing things about stressors and life-challenges is how one perceives them. In fact, our view may be one of the few things we have absolute control over. In my many adventures lately, I have had the opportunity to realize nearly all circumstances have both “good” and “bad” in them, and how I feel about the event is strongly shaped by which parts I dwell upon.
Let me give an example from my elopement – from which there were numerous “movie-moment” incidents (and I plan to write more about these soon). This particular event occurred as my bride-to-be and I had just arrived at Mount Rainier, where we were to be wed. The photographers suggested we have a post-ceremony photo shoot in the National Park, just a mile from our stay. We decided to check out the scenery the day before to get a sense of what photo-ops there would be.
Keep in mind, this is early March…in the state of Washington…on a mountain...while it’s snowing. Further, I planned poorly, thinking we might tour some vineyards in Canada, and had rented a Mustang…not the vehicle one should choose to drive up an icy mountain at the 49th parallel. Needless to say, once we crossed the snowline, we had trouble, and a low-speed frictionless slide nearly sent us over the edge of a cliff. (This happened two more times the next day as well, but that’s another story).
I don’t believe the 60-foot drop through thick trees to the lower rocky outcropping would have actually killed us, but had we not gotten stuck in a low snow embankment just at the edge – well, it wouldn’t have been the type of excitement most hope for on their honeymoon. Of course, when the Forest Rangers showed up and lost control of their van, which nearly knocked us off the rest of the way, the fear and panic was not quelled.
Long story short – we survived, uninjured and with zero-damage to the car, which I’m still not quite sure how all of those resulting conditions happened, but they did. In the aftermath, once our pulses returned to normal, my betrothed and I began to discuss the “unexpected blessing.” Little did I know, this would soon become a coined phrase for the trip, not to mention the “blessing” kept taking on new meaning with each new crazy occurrence throughout our vacation.
In response to our near-death experience, we could have easily become angry and blamed one another for a plethora of unrelated points like who chose the car, who decided to drive at that moment, why we didn’t turn around at a different spot, etc. But we did something amazing and chose not to focus on the “bad” parts of what happened. Clearly we didn’t ignore those parts; after all, the “bad” parts were the story.
Instead, we focused on the appreciation of what didn’t happen, our fortunate luck and how precious life really is. As a result, we received the “unexpected blessing” that the air smelled a little sweeter, our food tasted a little better, our sense of being alive was never more keen and everything around us was just beautiful.
This was a momentous change in my outlook on life and has truly altered how I view and approach things. In all fairness, it required this lesson a few more times over to fully impact me to the degree it now has. And as I said before, the “unexpected blessing” took on many more incarnations and insights.
The point is how we choose to look at our circumstances truly changes how we feel and remember them. If we focus only on the “bad” parts and ignore the “good” then we make ourselves miserable. However, seeing the blessing even in when most others would only see scorn actually makes us feel empowered and gives us an inexplicable joy. I have come to discover that Zig Ziglar was right about the power of positive thinking.
Because of this (and the rest of my untold story), I realize I must approach every situation with the opportunity to choose how to view it. My choice will determine my attitude. And as I put this into practice to routinely see the good, I will be training my spirit in a habit of happiness, something set by decision rather than circumstance.
As I have told this account previously to close friends and family, I often think of the Native American fable of the two wolf spirits that live inside all of us, continuously fighting for control to influence our thoughts. One spirit is negative full of anger, spite and selfishness. The other spirit is benevolent, generous and loving. In the tale, the grandfather explains to a young brave the natures of these wolf spirits. When the boy asks the elder which of the two spirits will win the battle of control, his grandfather simply answers, “The one you feed.”

Mar 8, 2012

Your Local Nigerian Scam

Ok, well - it's actually Uganda, not Nigeria, but one of the latest viral "truth" campaigns may eventually gain the same level of infamy as those Nigeria Bank Inheritance Scams.

Let me back up, earlier tonight my daughter asked me if I knew anything about Joseph Kony. I thought for a moment, trying to place which one of her Jr High classmates he was.  She continued with her explanation that several people at school had been talking about this murderous cult leader.

The name sounded familiar but wasn't really ringing a bell. So, to Google I went. I quickly realized this was the name of the "Lord's Resistance Army" (LRA) leader. Then many of the stories of the atrocities in Central Africa flooded back in my mind. The church I attend has several missions in Africa, specifically Uganda - so these horrors had been conveyed to me in the past.

As I explained what I knew, she told me about the StopKony campaign. While I listened and tried to recall my memory of the African events, something stirred, knowing something was amiss - but I couldn't quite figure out what.

Well, today I did a little digging - and now I know what bugged me during our conversation. Kony's reign of terror has already been stopped. Let me repeat that: KONY IS NO LONGER A THREAT!

What makes it worse is akin to the backlash of making Hitler Time Magazine's Person of the Century - it's a painful memory that many would like to forget. Many people in Uganda would like to move on and forget the horrors and feel this latest viral campaign brings notoriety and improper attention to an evil better off forgotten. Dr Beatrice Mpora, director of Kairos, a community health organization in Gulu, explained it this way, "What that video says is totally wrong, and it can cause us more problems than help us." - according to an article in the UK Telegraph.

Now, the exact fate of Kony gets a little fuzzy, depending on what source you believe. Of course, I personally think he should be captured and justice should be sought, but I also realize there is a difference between idealistic theory and pragmatic reality. Even if Kony were never captured, the fact his reign of terror has ended is the more important fact.

All of this has left many, myself included, wondering why the sudden push to capture Kony - or more importantly produce and promote a video to solve a problem that no longer exists. Although the LRA's demise is more recent than the Nazis, but imagine the absurdity of promoting the idea to stop Hitler. There is little difference, other than most of us are ignorant (and potentially able to be manipulated thereby) of Kony's acts of terror and genocide.

Perhaps the sadder part of the story is so many of us are unaware of the horrible things that happened in Uganda. Or perhaps it is someone might be taking advantage of that ignorance for profit. There are several groups now calling for an investigation into the Invisible Children charity, which may or may not have been started for the right reason.

I can't know for sure, as I have not had the time to investigate, but please allow me to remind everyone to due the proper diligence before donating or getting behind any charitable, humanitarian or political cause. Don't get caught up, being duped and looking foolish. I hope this debacle doesn't mar the image of Rihanna (and others) for supporting this bogus campaign. This, of course, is why I often question the legitimacy of many celebrities' real beliefs versus their own PR team's image that they care...but that's a different topic.

Anyway, I thought I'd share my findings and remind everyone: Believe nothing you hear and only half of what you read.