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The Next Right Step

October 2016
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quotefancy-4337-3840x2160Sitting on the fence is never a good thing to do as, for one thing, it lacks courage. That is not to say that it is always easy to make a decision. In the absence of knowing what one should do, sitting on the fence tends to ease the strain of making a decision in favor of not making any decision . . . which, in and of itself, is a decision. And most likely never a good one, either.

And we’ve all been there . . . .

I haven’t been one to sit on a fence for long throughout my life; however, at the moment I’m trying to decide what direction to take, and sometimes decisions don’t depend on just us. However, there needs to be movement in the right direction. No fence sitting allowed. So, I think I’ll have a salad instead of fries today, as that is a step in the right direction while I’m deciding on the other step I need to take. Any forward movement, no matter how small, is a good thing–like smiling instead of frowning. And I tend to smile a lot.

Yesterday while I was roaming around the bargain books area at Barnes and Noble, I picked up another book by Regina Brett, newspaper columnist, popular speaker, Pulitzer Prize finalist who hosts a radio show, and a New York Times best-selling author, and I couldn’t put it down. I wrote a blog post recently (click here for post) on the first book of hers that I found titled, Be the Miracle: 50 Lessons for Making the Impossible Possible (2012), which is actually her second book. The book I found yesterday is her first book, and it is titled, God Never Blinks: 50 Lessons for Life’s Little Detours (2010).

Life’s little detours . . . . Most of us who have been alive long enough have experiences one or more of life’s little detours. I experienced more than just a “little” detour seven and a half years ago when I lost my job in Houston. For the regular readers of my blog, you know the story, and it is still ongoing.

However, back to Regina Brett’s book, God Never Blinks.” You can read the titles of all 50 lessons in this book at this link. Lesson 2 titled, “When In Doubt, Just Take the Next Step,” immediately caught my eye since I have found myself somewhat “stuck on hold” for the past few weeks. In Lesson 2, Brett opens and closes that lesson with the following statements:

[Opening] My life used to be like that game of freeze tag we played as kids. Once tagged, you had to freeze in the position you were in. Whenever something happened, I’d freeze like a statue, too afraid of moving the wrong way, too afraid of making the wrong decision. The problem is, if you stand still too long, that’s your decision.

There’s a moment in the special “A Charlie Brown Christmas” where Charlie Brown stops to see Lucy, the five-cent psychiatrist. Lucy does her best to diagnosis him.

If he’s afraid of responsibility, he must have hypengyophobia. Charlie Brown isn’t sure if that’s exactly what he fears the most.

Lucy tries hard to put her finger on it. If he’s afraid of staircases, he could be climacophobia. If he’s afraid of the ocean, he had thalassophobia. Maybe it’s gephyrophobia, the fear of crossing bridges.

Finally, Lucy hits on just the right diagnosis: panophobia.

When she asks Charlie Brown if that’s what he has, he asks her what it is. The answer both shocks and comforts him.

What is panophobia? The fear of everything.

Bingo! That’s what Charlie Brown has.

Me, too. (pp. 10-11)

[At this point the author describes her growing up and adult years and how she settled on writing as her passion.]

[Ending] So I took one writing class, than another. Then another.

When in doubt, do the next right thing. It’s usually something quite small. As E.L. Doctorow said, writing a book is like driving a car at night. “You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

The philosophy applies to life, too. The headlights on my car shine 350 feet, but even with that much light, I can travel all the way to California. I need to see only enough light to get moving.

I graduated with a journalism degree from Kent State when I turned 30. Ten years later, I got my master’s degree in religious studies from John Carroll University. I never set out to get a master’s degree. If I had counted the years (five), the cost (thousands), and the time in the classroom, doing homework, doing research (late evenings, lunch hours, weekends), I never would have mailed that first tuition check.

I just took one class, then another and another, and one day I was done.

It was like that raising my daughter. I never dreamed I’d be a single parent for all 18 years of her childhood. My daughter finished high school the same month I got my master’s degree. I’m glad I didn’t know when I gave birth to her at 21 what it would cost in terms of time, money, and sacrifice to bring her to that graduation day. It would have terrified me.

Every so often some expert calculates how much it costs to raise a child. It’s in the six-figure range. The money doesn’t scare would-be parents away, but if someone calculated all the time and energy it took to raise a child, the human race would become extinct.

The secret to success, to parenting, to life is to not count up the cost. Don’t focus on all the steps it will take. Don’t stare into the abyss at the giant leap it will take. That view will keep you from taking the next small step.

If you want to lose 40 pounds, you order salad instead of fries. If you want to be a better friend, you take the phone call instead of screening it. If you want to write a novel, you sit down and write a single paragraph.

It’s scary to make major changes, but we usually have enough courage to take the next right step. One small step and then another. That’s what it takes to raise a child, to get a degree, to write a book, to do whatever it is your heart desires.

What’s your next right step? Whatever it is, take it. (Source, “God Never Blinks,” pp. 10-11, 13-14.)

get-off-the-fenceWhile I never had a daughter (or any children), I was 30 when I finished my bachelor’s degree, and later when I went back and earned a master’s degree (I started off in journalism and switch to higher education administration), I was 39 when I received it. And my passion is writing, too. And it took losing my job in Houston seven and a half years ago and being left unemployed all this time to find my true passion.

From my own experience during these past seven and a half years, I truly believe the our detours are actually divine appointments, leading us in ways we would not have chosen for ourselves, yet opening up a whole new world that we would have completely missed otherwise. My world has changed exponentially from what I have learned during this very extended time of unemployment, when my energies could focus on other areas that I wasn’t aware of when I was working. Of course, I did undertake a massive employment search for several years that went nowhere fast or slow, but what I have learned during this time is invaluable.

However, lately I’ve been feeling like I’ve been straddling a fence (and I’m not very good at it, either). I left one city and state in late July to take a break from the very long and dismal housing search on my low Social Security income that had produce zilch after two years. And I’ve now been in the second city and state for three months (I came not intending to stay but to take a break), and I don’t want to return to the same dismal situation I left in July. Hotels are less expensive here, too (a major plus on a tight budget).

As Brett stated in her last sentence in Lesson 2, “What’s your next right step? Whatever it is, take it.” I only wish I knew what my next step should be. At the moment, I don’t know.

Blessings often come disguise in the hard things that happen to us. We may not see the blessing at first, but a whole new world can open up when something comes along that drastically changes the world we’ve been living in. I worked all my life until seven and a half years ago, and I’d still be working now if I hadn’t lost that job in Houston, but God had other plans.

However, I don’t want to get off of the topic which is getting off that fence! Perhaps your “fence” issue involves a relationship. In Never Go Back: 10 Things You’ll Never Do,” (2014) by Dr. Henry Cloud, he offers some great advice throughout the book regarding moving forward in our lives (see blog post titled, We All Do It,” for specifics on his book). Each of the ten chapters in Part 1 of the book covers a principle (the ten principles are listed at this link). At the beginning of each chapter he opens with a verse and a principle. Chapter 1 is titled, “Never Again . . . Return to What Hasn’t Worked,” and the verse quoted is from Psalm 119:71, It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.” The principle under the verse is: “Never go back to what hasn’t worked.” The following is taken from Chapter 1:

Life is meant to be forward moving, not backward. Make sure that if you “go back,” you’re not going back to the same thing.

In business, we often see this when someone ends a relationship with a boss, a company, an employee, a strategy, a partnership, or even an industry. They move on for a while, only to go back and do it all over again. They rehire the person or go back to work for the same boss or company that they left for good reason or some other redo. For some reason, they think it will be different this time. Yet they find themselves back where they were to start with.

Remember: There is a reason it did not work. If you are going back, make very, very sure that reason is no longer there. You need to see more than just a “sorry” or a commitment to make it work “this time.” You need to see a real, verifiable change. People do change, and people do learn. Situations change; dynamics that were once present and making something not work can be different now. People build skills, learn new things, develop new capacities, etc. That is what life is about, and all of our lives hopefully are in a direction of getting better, not worse. Just make sure that is the case before you “go back” to anything.

If you are considering going back to anything that did not work or that you had a good reason for leaving, look at three categories of possible change, asking these questions:

  1. Am I different in some way that would make this work?
  2. Is the other person or persons different in some way that would make this work?
  3. Is the situation fundamentally different in some way that would make this work?

Sometimes going back can work when expectations have changed or matured and the wish for something different has been given up. I see that sometimes in marriages that are put back together and reconciled. But if the relationship is going to work, something must be different in the expectations of the one who left and is coming back. If you’re the one who left and now want to return, look at yourself to see if you have truly changed or are simply coming back because you’re lonely or sad. There must be something different in you if you want to make something work that didn’t work before. Likewise, if you are the one who stayed, before taking back the one who left, ask yourself, What is different? In me or the other person?” . . . .

If we left something because another person’s behavior or character was unacceptable–not our own expectations or reactions–how is that person different now and in what tangible way is that fruit being lived out? . . . .

Just because someone is sorry does not mean they have changed. It may mean they want to be different, but you must be able to see tangible fruit to know the change is real. Forgive people freely for the past; but in order to trust them for the future, you need to see tangible change. . . .

In the third instance (e.g., “Is the situation different?), there must be some real change in the situation that would make it work. The company has new ownership, the market is different, the leadership has changed, or different people are involved in the situation. Look for tangible evidence of change for the better so that you will be going forward and not backward. (Source, “Never Go Back,” pp. 17-21).

In a section of that same chapter (Chapter 1) titled “Tomorrow, Not Today,” Dr Cloud writes:

When considering going back, think of it this way: next year is next year, not last year. Tomorrow is tomorrow, not yesterday. God has designed life in a way that is forward moving. As time moves forward we grow, develop, and transform into newer more complete and mature lives. Unless . . . we are stuck. And there is no better way to remain stuck than to repeat what has already been. The last thing you want to do is relive the past all over again. Tomorrow should be new and improved–always!

When a person comes to this realization, it’s usually because he has made the same mistake twice or more. He has gone back to some situation or person that he had left behind, thinking and hoping it would be different “this time.” But he found, instead, that the old situation simply repeated itself. At some point in the journey, he realizes, “I was here before and I left. Why did I come back to do it again? How is it that I find myself here again?

That realization, if listened to, can become a great teacher. It is the wake-up call that says, “You knew this was what it was like. Yet you came back. You should have known better than to think it would be different this time.” That understanding becomes a prediction when the person finds himself considering a repeat. His memory reminds him: “Remember when you went back before? Where did it get you? It got you right back to what you had left and for good reason. No need to repeat it.”

And when it becomes a real awakening, that memory is not just about a specific situation. It becomes a memory that can apply to all situations: “If you left for a reason, you left for a reason. And if that reason is not gone, then you will be right back there again. Don’t go backwards.” This new understanding becomes a structure inside our wisdom brain that puts up the caution light and says, “This will not end well.” Go for tomorrow, not yesterday. Unless, of course, yesterday was great and you truly want to do it again. Nothing wrong with that at all–if it truly was great . . . .

If you are planning to go back and yet nothing has changed, make sure you know you are going back to what was and still is, not what you wish would be. If it truly is different, fine. But if not, do not make it different in your head.

If a nine-year-old can tell you that you should not go back, then the decision is not rocket science. It is a matter of being in touch with reality, looking it squarely in the face. You know what was, so if you do not want what you left, make sure you are going back to something different . . . either in you, the other person or people, or the situation. Otherwise, you are doing the same thing expecting different results. And that is a pattern from which we truly want to repent. We should never go back to the same thing expecting different results. (Source, “Never Go Back,” pp. 22-25).

Sometimes, like right now, it’s just hard to know what to do. In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), Jesus said:

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 7:7-12).

My motto during these past seven and a half years has been “Take one day at a time and see what unfolds.” It has served me well. For the past week while I’ve been trying to decide what to do, one verse has stood out during this time. I’ll end this blog post with it (Psalm 46:10):

Be still, and know that I am God . . .

I will be exalted among the nations . . .

I will be exalted in the earth . . . .

YouTube Video: “Moving Foward” by Hezekiah Walker and LFC:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

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