Regarding the most important things in life

Building Blocks, Ongofu - Mormon blog

Once upon a time there was a child whose father gave him a set of blocks and told him to build something – anything, but he had to use all the blocks.

Some of the blocks were large and sturdy, creating a natural foundation for his work.  Some fit easily, while others were oddly shaped, and seemed to not want to fit anywhere.  They felt off-balance, and were pushed aside.  But as the creation took shape, these unused blocks began to trouble the child.

Knowing they must be used, but at a loss for how to use them, he sought his father’s help.  His father, wanting to see his child succeed, offered some suggestions.  After more work, lots of trial and error, he toiled over these blocks, carefully following his father’s suggestions.  At length, the child was able to complete the task.

Owing to the difficulty of the project, he was very pleased with his creation.  Interestingly, he was most pleased with the placement of the odd-shaped blocks because they had required so much attention, and hurried to show his father his work.  As you can expect, the father was overjoyed at the beautifully unique work his child had created.

One of the greatest gifts we’ve been given in life is the ability to create.

Each of us has been given our own set of blocks.  Some are welcome, solid, and foundational.  Others are far more difficult, if not unwanted.  But we cannot discard of the blocks we’ve been given.  They’re ours.  They’re part of who we are, and if we seek our Father’s help, they too can become key elements to our master creation – our life.

Some are given more, others are given less.  But it doesn’t matter if you build a mansion, or a sandcastle – but rather that you’ve found a place for each block in your own distinct set.

We each have a loving Father that we can turn to for suggestions.  As we struggle with some of our most difficult blocks, He is there to guide us.  He won’t do it for us, but he can show us how to do it.

In life, we progress “line upon line, precept upon precept”.  We learn that before we can be trusted with more, we must prove ourselves with what we have.  We must be profitable stewards of the gifts that we’ve been given.  And if we are, we will receive all the Father hath, and will have the opportunity to create much, much more.

The following are a couple inspirational poems that shed greater light on the subject with beautiful Prose.

From The Builders, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow comes the stanza

Build today, then strong and sure
with a firm and ample base,
and ascending, and secure
shall tomorrow find its place.

See also Life Sculptor, by George Washington Doanne, and A Psalm of Life, also by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Rusty
[digg=http://digg.com/health/It_is_what_you_make_of_it]

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I have this funny memory of when I was 10 years old.  I lived (at that time) in Marion Montana with my mom and second step-dad.  We had this aluminum wood shed out back, just between the house and the forest.

I spent a lot of time here, chopping firewood to keep the house warm.  One day I was outside and for some reason (I’m sure it wasn’t malicious), I stuck the ax into shed.  Just swung it over my head and “whump”, it sunk into the metal and left this huge hole. 

In awe over how cool that felt, I tried it again.  And again.  And again. 

Bored now, I stepped farther back, and tried now to throw the ax and make it stick.  Several times I succeeded, but I left some mark with each try.  Soon I was ducking and weaving like an Indian between trees, finding an opening, and swoosh… my ax would fly through the air and find the shed.  Yeah, okay, I was an idiot, and I must have looked ridiculous.

It sure was fun while it lasted.  But then it wasn’t so fun. 

Sometimes we do things that cause damage.  Sometimes it’s to ourselves, and sometimes it’s to others.  What matters most, is that you correct your course early and often, and rely on the Mercy of the Lord for the rest.

There’s a poem I’ve always loved that addresses it nicely:

Fools Prayer
Edward R. Sill

The royal feast was done; the King
Sought some new sport to banish care,
And to his jester cried: 
“Sir Fool,Kneel now, and make for us a prayer!”

The jester doffed his cap and bells,
And stood the mocking court before;
They could not see the bitter smile
Behind the painted grin he wore.

 He bowed his head, and bent his knee
Upon the monarch’s silken stool;
His pleading voice arose:  “O Lord,
Be merciful to me, a fool!

“No pity, Lord, could change the heart
From red with wrong to white as wool;
The rod must heal the sin: 
but, Lord,Be merciful to me, a fool!

 ‘Tis not by guilt the onward sweep
Of truth and right, O Lord, we stay;
‘Tis by our follies that so long
We hold the earth from heaven away.

 “These clumsy feet, still in the mire,
Go crushing blossoms without end;
These hard, well-meaning hands we thrust
Among the heart-strings of a friend. 

“the ill-timed truth we might have kept-
Who knows how sharp it pierced and stung?
The word we had not sense to say-
Who knows how grandly it had rung? 

“Our faults no tenderness should ask,
the chastening stripes must cleanse them all;
But for our blunder-oh, in shame
Before the eyes of heaven we fall. 

“Earth bears no balsam for mistakes;
Men crown the knave, and scourge the tool
That did his will; but Thou, O Lord,
Be merciful to me, a fool!” 

The room was hushed; in silence rose
The King, and sought his gardens cool,
And walked apart, and murmured low,
“Be merciful to me, a fool!”

All day today I’ve been wallowing in spreadsheets, crunching numbers, and measuring progress.

The process of measurement is an incredibly powerful principle.   If you try to run a business (or a product, or a department, or a team, or a family, or a class, or a relationship, or even your personal salvation), without measuring progress, you end up spending a lot of time going nowhere.

You’re completely unaware, oblivious to gains or losses, and therefore incapable of responding when things start to slip.

Think back about that last New Year’s Resolution you set?  Did you accomplish it?  Now let me ask this – did you measure it?  Most likely, the answer to the second question will be the same as your answer to the first.

In a business, if you want to be profitable, you’ve got to measure your profitability.  Only then do you know when you need to cut spending, or when it’s time for another ad, or when you can afford to ramp up your resources.

Businesses spend a LOT of time, and energy, and money measuring, because they understand that the process of measurement is critical to success.

But in our own personal lives, how much to we measure ourselves?  How regularly have you measured the quality of your relationship with your spouse, or your children, or your parents, or your Heavenly Father?  How often do you measure your overall spiritual well-being?

If you suddenly find yourself surprised at the situation your in, chances are, you weren’t measuring it in the first place.

Rusty

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One critical element of military logistics is the notion of supply lines.  Simply put, supply lines are the means whereby food, weapons, ammunition, information, and reinforcements (all those elements necessary to maintain health and readiness) are provided to a force.

Any military unit must have well established and well protected supply lines in order to wage any kind of sustained battle.

But the notion of a supply line is not unique to the military.  Every day, each of us wages our own personal battles.  Battles against depression, health, fatigue, or adversity, we battle for many things.  Some battle for balance, while others battle for direction.  Some battle for attention, while others battle for anonymity. 

But whatever battles we may fight, they all tax us emotionally.  Over time, these battles wear us down and diminish our emotional reserves.  As such, in order to successfully wage any sustained battle, we too must be sure we have well established emotional supply lines.

Sometimes these are places we go regularly for spiritual refreshment, like spending time in nature, in church, in the temple, or in other holy (or personally significant) places.  Some might have family a network of friends who encourage and support you.  Some find that a few personal moments for quiet reflection during the day are sufficient to invigorate them for the battles they face.

The point is to make sure you have those supply lines, and that you protect them.

Perhaps more importantly, you should ask yourself “who’s emotional supply line am I?”

The adversary, in his cunning, attempts to cut off our emotional supply lines, leaving us in despair, feeling alone and isolated where we’re our most vulnerable

As a parent, a spouse, a teacher, a son/daughter, a friend, a neighbor, a coworker, an associate, or sometimes even just a bystander, we all are equipped with the ability to supply emotional nourishment and support to those around us.

After all, you never know when you just may be someone’s last remaining emotional supply line.  You never know when your words or actions might just be the tipping point for someone’s day – for better or worse.  You never know if the role you have in someone’s life (however seemingly insignificant it may SEEM to you), just might be pivotal to them.

Let us all be just a little more sensitive, a little more aware, a little more alert, and a little more sympathetic to the unknown battles fought by those around us.

Rusty

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I just read another inspiring story over on CNN (you can find the full story here).   But here’s a summary…Ann Mahulm, who lives in Philadelphia and is a veteran marathon runner, got tired of running by all the homeless people and decided to do something about it.  “Why am I running past these guys?  I’m moving my life forward every day – and these guys are standing in the same spot”.

So rather than just pretending she didn’t care, she got with the shelter, went after donations for running gear, and created the “Back On My Feet” running club.  It now has 54 homeless members involved, over 250 volunteers, and has logged over 5,000 miles.

What’s more, for those in the shelter to join, they have to be clean and sober for 30 days, and receive new running clothes and build associations, friendships, lose weight, stop smoking, and improve many aspects of their life.  They also can receive job training.  All in all, it’s become a catalyst for change, all because one person decided to do something.

Again, the whole story is here (and even has videos of Ann and some of her students), but it begs the question – what could WE do if we decided to get more involved? 

Rusty

P.S.  If you haven’t read the first “make a difference story”, you can find it here.  And thank you CNN for continuing to post inspiring stories.  ;-)

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 windshield.jpg

Have you ever tried driving in a rainstorm without your windshield wipers?  I don’t recommend it, but the other day the windshield wipers went out on my car (not surprisingly), and I got to try it out.

But you experience the same thing to some degree in those moments right after the rain starts to fall and right before you turn your wipers on (or if your wipers are on, but going too slowly). 

As rain droplets steadily accumulate on the windshield, it becomes harder and harder to see where you’re going, and pretty soon you’re inches away from the windshield, peering through an increasingly distorted view of the road ahead, and your life is on the line.

Afterward I reflected on how similar that experience is to life.

Life has a tendency of befuddling our vision, much like driving without windshield wipers.  Its part of the natural process of living I guess.  Every day our minds become unavoidably bogged down in the minutia of daily life.  The multitude of small, simple things that constantly demand our attention, the larger decisions we face day in and day out, all conspire to blind our vision. 

In an environment of nonstop “rain”, we can easily lose focus on those things that truly matter most.  As time passes we’re left peering through an increasingly distorted view of the road before us and if we’re not careful, we’ll take a wrong turn somewhere, or worse.

There must be opposition in all things.  Its part of that spiritual entropy I talk about all the time, and it’s vital that we stay in tune, but how?  Well, I talk a lot about that here, but above all, we should consider temple attendance as a vital step to keeping your vision clear.

The temple has a way of lifting you out of the world, raising your vision, resetting your perspective, and clearing your mind.  It’s like that first swipe of the wiper across your windshield – suddenly you can see again.  It’s refreshing and enlightening.

Regular and recurring trips to the temple can therefore serve to keep our perspective clear, give us sustained hope in troubled times and has a tempering effect to life’s most troubling trials.

Rusty

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In software development, there’s a term called “cycle time”, or the amount of time between one event and the next.  Releasing features regularly, with short times in between, gives your customers a sense of momentum, a sense that you’re moving, and keeps them engaged.  When cycle time gets too long, you risk customer stagnation; they get disaffected, and lose interest.In marketing, cycle time is about how long your customers go before hearing from you again.  Often called “touch points”, you want to “touch” your customers, in some way, very frequently.  That’s how you build brand recognition, through frequent reinforcement of the same message.

The principle applies all across life, with whatever kinds of customers you may have.

If you’re a parent, it could be said that your customers are your kids.  What’s the cycle time of your “touch points” with them?  How long do they go between instances of poignant interaction?  Are your “teaching moments” few and far between, or do they happen on regular (and short) intervals?

If you’re a spouse, what kind of cycle time do you have with your significant other?  How long has it been since you went on a date?  Had a discussion?  Shared something close to you? Apologized?  Gave her flowers?  Left her a note?  Let them sleep in?   You get the idea.  The same applies if you’re a son, a daughter, a brother, or a sister.  Cycle times are vital aspects of building healthy relationships.

If you’re a teacher your customers are your students.  Teachers often appreciate the importance of repetition in learning and character building.

Cycle time also plays an important role in building your own success (or failure).  Shad Helmstetter, in his book “What to say when you talk to yourself” explains that we naturally tend to move towards your most dominant thought pattern.  Those messages we most frequently reinforce to ourselves tend to come true. 

Is your most frequent message to yourself “I can do it”?  Or is it “it’s too hard”.   Do you tell yourself “I love who I am”, or do you most commonly dwell on your weaknesses?  Either way, it’s the message you tell yourself most frequently that is most likely to come true.

In your own spiritual growth, what is your cycle time?  How often do you… feel the spirit?  Read the scriptures? Have a meaningful prayer?  Go to the Temple?  Pay your tithing?  (insert myriad other religious measurements here depending on your faith)?

The point is, it pays to focus on frequency.

Rusty

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I discovered the following YouTube video today – a triumphant story of a man who went blind, but never gave up.  Such, again, is the power within us to overcome all odds, and achieve phenomenal greatness.  Another testament of not letting ourselves be restricted by our past, which I talk about here (The danger of reflection), here (Self imposed limitations), and here (Deciding to make a difference).

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8P84bfFpVWE&hl=en]

Rusty

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Today I read an inspiring article on CNN about Scott Silverman.  About twenty three years ago Scott was on the verge of stepping out of an open window on the 44th floor.  His life was a shambles.  He was depressed and despair had taken hold of him.  Fortunately, a coworker stepped in and he didn’t go through with it. Today, that same Scott Silverman runs a program called “Second Chance” in San Diego California.  Second Chance gives people just that – another shot at life.  From people fresh out of Rehab to people fresh out of prison, it teaches them basics like how to write a resume, how to conduct a strong interview, gives them a place to live (which also gives an address so they can get a job), and what’s more, places them in an environment of positive change.

Second Chance has helped more than 24,000 individuals, partnering with local companies who make repeat hires because they’ve had such a good experience.

Remember, this is the same Scott we talked about before.  A man who turned his life around so successfully, and who has made such a positive impact in the lives of so many others that last month, San Diego declared one day as “Scott Silverman Day”.

Anthony Panarella, an ex-convict who graduated from the program said “Little kids have Superman or Spiderman.  I have Scott Silverman”.

Remember, no matter where your life is right now, the most powerful things before you are not obstacles, nor the events of your past, but the undeniable opportunity to change your future

Thanks Scott for being such a fine, living example of this, and thank you CNN for choosing to report so well on such an important and valuable story.

(Note:  The entire CNN story can be found here http://www.cnn.com/2008/LIVING/03/19/heroes.silverman/index.html?eref=rss_topstories).

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present2.jpg

There’s an old saying “form follows function”, and I disagree with it.  Basically it’s saying that the value of any given thing is predominantly placed in the function of that item, not in how it’s presented.

And while I’m not an absolutist, and can concede that there are times when functionality prevails, I’m also one that sees the distinct power in presentation and packaging.

Whole industries (as well as segments of industries) are based off putting form before function.  Look at any luxury item, the whole luxury industry derives the bulk of its revenues from form, presentation, packaging, and style – not superior function.  Is a Jaguar really that much more functional than a Honda?  Are there $80,000 worth of functional benefits you’ll find in one and not the other?  Not likely.  But people pay for form.  They also pay for branding, which I’ll talk about later (in terms of the spiritual lessons we learn from branding).

Companies pay substantial amounts of money for marketing experts to come in and build packaging and presentation.  It’s been proven countless times that any item will gain magnitudes greater acceptance when it’s packaged and presented powerfully.

So the question is, how much effort do YOU invest in packaging what you offer? 

This isn’t just a business principle, but has personal and religious application as well.  When you sit down to talk to your kids about something important, have you thought about how you’re going to package this discussion for greatest acceptance? 

When you prepare to teach a Sunday school lesson, or a primary lesson, have you considered the tremendous impact your presentation will have on how well your material will be accepted and applied?

If you’re going to discuss something with your spouse, are you continually conscious of your presentation?

Any conversation you engage in, and most activities you engage in as well, contain some form of packaging and presentation, and the better you’re able to master your packaging and presentation skills, the more influential (and persuasive) you’ll become, and the more you’ll begin to stand out from the crowd and meet your maximum potential.

Rusty

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