Friday, October 31, 2014

Why Empathy And Not Answers Will Improve Your Relationships

We’ve all had those moments. Someone comes up to you with all sorts of pain or confusion in their life and they want to tell you their story. On our best days, we listen attentively, make good eye contact, and stay connected as they talk. After listening, we weigh in. We might share our experiences or a bit of the pain we are carrying around ourselves. Sometimes, this is just what the doctor ordered. Someone needs direction, we give it, and life works well. We feel good about the good we have done, and we go on about out day. The only problem is that the person who has just shared their heart may not feel as good about the exchange. Here is one relational tip that will save you tons of frustration in the weeks to come:

Don’t give anyone direction or advice unless they specifically ask for it.

Most people come to us seeking empathy not answers. They want to believe that someone cares, or they just may need a safe place to process their thoughts. Giving direction and advice when it isn’t asked for ends up badly for everyone. Relationship runs on connection, not correction. There are times for clear answers and direction, but clarify that before you unload. If you can follow this one piece of advice, your relationships will become must healthier over time, and much more enjoyable as well!

Photo Courtesy of Death To The Stock Photo

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Change Isn't Easy But It Doesn't Have To Be Impossible: 3 Ways To Make The Changes You Want To Make

All of us have things in our life that we wish we could change. Many of us have tried to implement changes: I want to eat less, I want to exercise more, I want to spend more time with the family , etc… Anyone who has tried to grow by changing a habit in their life or to begin a new one knows how hard it can be. How many New Year’s resolutions have you broken? Yeah, me too.  Personal change can be difficult, but it doesn’t have to be impossible, here are three things to remember if you are trying to make a positive change in your life:

Start Small

If you aren’t a runner but want to be, committing to running 5 miles every day this week is a brutal goal. It’s not fair to you, and it will never happen. What’s worse is that when you don’t achieve your goal, you will likely get discouraged and stop trying to run altogether. The key to forming a new habit is to start small. Remember, small wins lead to big wins. Accomplishing small goals encourages us and brings us closer step by step to our bigger goals. I know you want to accomplish great things, but those things start with small steps.

Details Matter

It’s so easy when we set out to achieve a lofty goal to get lost in the big picture. Many people are committing themselves to a healthier lifestyle, which is admirable. Lots of people start with trying to get more and better rest. But getting better sleep isn’t a good goal. It’s not clear, and it’s hard to tell what to do or how to measure improvements. Start out by focusing on the small details of your goal. 
          I want to be in bed with the lights out at 10PM. 
          I want to stop drinking caffeinated drinks at 6PM. 
          I want to be in my room reading a book with all of the noise off at 9:30PM.

 Find a routine and stick with it. Being mindful of the details makes our goals fall into place.

Have A Selective Memory

We all remember our mistakes. We tend to bring them up in our mind over and over, which often leads to lessened motivation over time. Make a point to note and remember your successes. They are there, you just don’t tend to notice them as much. Keep a journal if you need to. Once a day go back and review the things you got right. Leave your mistakes in the past and feed the good memories. Your motivation will increase, and as a great side effect, you will find yourself being more merciful and kind to others as a result.

Change isn’t easy, but it’s important. Find your next step, and begin your journey of change. Don’t get discouraged along the way, if it were easy it probably wouldn’t be worth doing!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Your Limitations Are Tearing You Down But They Don't Have To!

There is something that each of us possesses that drives us crazy. It creates anxiety or it can leave us feeling defeated. It leads us to over-work at times, and to be apathetic at others. We do what we can to forget this truth about ourselves, but it continues to show up day after day after day. What is this troubling truth?

We have limitations.

We are imperfect.

We are incomplete.

No matter how much effort we put into our parenting, we say things that should have remain unsaid. We miss opportunities that we should have acted upon.

No matter how hard we work at our job, there are things left undone at the end of the day, projects that could have benefited from extra time. There are endless promotions to pursue that would challenge us more and compensate us better.

Even if we do our best and attain near perfection, there is always more to be done, more great things to be seen, more people to meet, more challenges to conquer.

Ancient Israelite king, Solomon, put it like this:
                “…the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing”
                                                                (Ecclesiastes 1:8)

One of my favorite artists of all time is Johannes Vermeer. As closely as we can tell there are 35 paintings done by Vermeer still in existence today. Two of those are, for a limited time, in a new exhibit at the NC Museum of Art. It’s an excellent opportunity to see something rare and beautiful, but my enjoyment of those paintings is clouded with something else. In the midst of enjoying the paintings in front of me, there's a little voice in my mind that says, “I really wish I could see some of his other works…”

The gift I have in front of me is never enough. There is more to see, and more to do. If we are not careful, we can allow our limitations to depress us or drive us into chaotic overdrive, neither of which are very enjoyable. Perhaps the most important thing to know about our limitations is:

It’s All Part of The Plan

You were never created to be able to do it all. We are hardwired to need other people and to need God. In other words, relationship flows out of our limitations. Your limitations are on purpose, and are there with your best interest in mind. Accomplishment is meaningless without relationship. To do our best at what's in front of us, and to enjoy, embrace, and lean on other people is the key to a wonderful life. When we surrender our need to get it all done, see it all, experience it all, or do it all perfectly we can slow down and fully embrace the moments that are right in front of us. Our minds won’t shoot of into thoughts of what we haven’t seen or haven’t done, and we can enjoy the beauty that we are blessed with right now.

So, be grateful for all you can’t do. It’s the secret to enjoying what you are fortunate enough to be able to do!

Photo courtesy of Mindi Holt

Friday, October 17, 2014

Tony here:

Halloween Movies

It’s that time of year again. Time to get your wits scared out of you by some fright filled film. Five years ago, Michael and I began our annual October Horror Movie Festival. We would find 2 or 3 relatively obscure horror movies and watch them. The results have been somewhat mixed but overall pretty positive. So, if you are looking for something to watch to get into the Halloween spirit. Here are our suggestions:

The Best (in no particular order)

The Devil’s Backbone (Spanish w/ English sub-titles)

A terrific ghost story set in an orphanage during the Spanish Civil War seen through the eyes of a little boy.

The Orphanage (Spanish w/ English sub-titles)

Another great ghost story set in an orphanage (what is it about orphanages?)  The kid with the bag on his head is about the creepiest thing you will ever see.

Let the Right One In (Swedish w/ English sub-titles) Maybe the best vampire movie I have ever seen. The scene in the swimming pool still haunts me 5 years later. It also has children as main characters. Is there a theme developing here? There is a shot-for-shot English language remake titled "Let Me In" for those who may not want to tolerate the sub-titles.


A great take on the haunted house genre.  Two time lines, the present and 11 years ago, intersect and overlap as a brother and sister (the fantastic Karen Gillan) battle a possessed antique mirror. Very clever.

The Pact

Another clever haunted house movie.  A hidden room holds the secrets to a horrible past and the answers to the disappearance of two young women.

Honorable Mention:

The Cabin in the Woods

Josh Whedon’s very neat, subversive take on the whole “cabin in the woods” slasher movie cliche. Too satirical to be a true horror movie for my taste.  But very enjoyable nonetheless.

The Middle


Maybe more sci-fi than horror and definitely more mainstream than most of the movies on the list. Gene splicing goes awry and there is a scene between scientist Adrien Brody and the “creature” that is, well, just disturbing.


Two young girls are raised for years in a “cabin in the woods” by a mysterious figure. Some very creepy and memorable scenes.


A couple honeymoon in a …wait for it… “cabin in the woods” where unusual things begin to happen at night.

A Tale of Two Sisters (Korean w/ English sub-titles)

A psychological horror film about two sisters and their disturbing relationship with their step-mother.  The 2009 film, "The Uninvited" is an English language remake .

The Bottom

The Innkeepers 
Standard haunted house fare. Fairly forgettable.

Session 9

Another forgettable psychological horror movie.  You can see what the “surprise “ ending  will be half way through the film.

Attack the Block

I wanted to like this movie better than I did. A British horror/comedy  about an inner city gang battling alien monsters should be pretty good… right? It has a 90% positive on Rotten Tomatoes and apparently has achieved “cult” status. However, for a horror/comedy, I didn’t find it very funny or scary.

So here is the post-mortem (pun intended), if the movie has a cabin in the woods or an orphanage, and it has siblings in danger from a malevolent presence, well, then give it a shot

Thursday, October 16, 2014

How To Turn Your Fear of Change Into Something Amazing

Few things scare us more than change. New expectations with my job at the office, a new teacher at school, new diseases springing up close to home, all of these things cause us stress. Our normal reaction to the fear we experience in the face of change is to try to stop the change. Our hope is that if we can control the changes around us, we will feel more at ease. This usually costs us a great deal of energy and stress, and ultimately doesn’t work. The reason it doesn’t work is that change is constant. No matter what we do, we are changing and the world is changing around us. If you are counting on halting change to stop your fear, then your fear will never go away.

We have two options when it comes to dealing with change:

Passively Endure It

Passively enduring change means that we feel that we are a prisoner to change. We wait for things to happen and then do our best to react. People who simply attempt to endure change often feel overwhelmed and can become very aggravated. When we try to deal with the changes around us as they come, we inevitably end up looking at change as an enemy to be battled against.

Deliberately Embrace It

The other option is to make our peace with the fact that life is constantly changing and to embrace it. When we choose to embrace the changes around us, we no longer see change as an enemy, but as an opportunity. Change is my chance to grow. Change offers me the ability to see life and myself in new ways.

A Final Word About Change

Mercifully there is one port in the storm of our constantly changing world. The authors of the Bible described God as the one thing in the universe that is unchanging. His love for you doesn’t waver. His thoughts of you won't ever change, and He will never leave you alone to face all of the difficult things that life can throw at you. 

Photo courtesy of Makena Madden

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Praying With Flannery

Prayer is less a skill and more of an art. You don’t learn to pray by reading a manual on prayer any more than you learn to ride a bike by reading an instruction manual that might have come with it when you purchased it. We learn to pray by being around those who pray. We hear their words and feel their emotion. When we are very young or new to the faith we often parrot the words of other prayers until we can find words of our own. That’s why I was so excited when I stumbled across a recently released prayer journal kept by Flannery O’Connor. Journals like this one allow us to pray alongside people that were seeking God before many of us were even born. I have decided to document my journey through this process in case you also want to pray with Flannery.

                Please help me to get down under things and find where You are.

This short phrase from the opening entry we have in O’Connor’s journal is beautiful and a good reminder that God is all around us in the people and the things He has created. Sometimes our hectic pace of life hides beauty from our eyes. Behind each person, regardless of their behavior, is a glimpse of the God who created them. Each gust of wind, drop of rain, and lazy cloud are ours to enjoy. I pray with Flannery that I will indeed be able to get down under things and find where God is today.

Excerpt from A Prayer Journal by Flannery O'Connor

Monday, October 13, 2014

3 Ways To Stop Being Offended And Start Making A Difference!

The cardinal virtue that a person can attain in 2014 is “being offended”. A quick glance at any social media site will reveal floods of “offended” posts.  
                “I can’t believe that we have soldiers in Iraq!”
                “How dare we refuse to send more soldiers to Iraq!”
                “Join me in boycotting this restaurant that serves….”
                “Read this to see what that candidate thinks about you and your grandmother!”

It doesn’t seem to matter what the issue is that offends you, just so long as you are offended. We lie in wait like crocodiles watching for a celebrity to get a D.U.I., say something stupid, or hit their spouse and then we attack! Never mind that the very real issues of alcohol abuse, personal responsibility, and spousal abuse have been significant and serious issues for many, many years, we are outraged now! We want people to pay! We will never get over this, well until someone else does something wrong…

There’s nothing wrong with having strong opinions about what you feel may be right or wrong.  It’s just that venting moral outrage over social media or in our cubicles at work has only short-term if any impact at all. There are serious issues out there in the world that need to be addressed. Verbal attacks do little to address them, and often times simply allow us to avoid taking action in a meaningful way. If you are tired of being offended and ready to make a difference, here are some things to think about:

Start Being Specific

There are thousands of worthy issues to be addressed, and you can’t address them all. You can probably hate them all on Facebook through pithy put-downs and determined diatribes, but that doesn’t solve anything. Find an issue that touches your heart and research that issue. These questions may help: Who is being hurt? What attempts are being made to help them? What will happen if this issue isn’t addressed?

Get Involved

Once you’ve researched the issue you care about, get involved. Take action and make a difference. Spend your minutes and money making someone’s life better. There may be organizations that are already established to help with the issue at hand. If so, find a way to join up and help. It may be that a smaller scale intervention would be best. Battling cancer by donating to cancer research is great, but so is visiting your neighbor who is having chemo and in need of company.

Stop Judging

Please talk to people about the issue that you are passionate about, but don’t get upset if they are not as passionate as you are. It doesn’t mean that they are a bad person or that they don’t care. There are so many issues that need attention, so it' s probably best that we all have difference passions. Leave other people alone, and focus on the difference that you can make!

Our world needs you and the difference you can make. I hope that you find an issue that care about, and that your effort changes the world for someone in need!

Photo Courtesy of Death To Stock Photo

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Films That You Absolutely Can Not Miss!!!! (The Best Year Ever Edition)

1939 was the greatest year in the history of film. Period. 

No other year has produced as many high quality films. AFI’s Top 100 Movies of the Last 100 Years included 5 movies from 1939 in it’s top 100 list that was tabulated in 1997: Gone With The Wind (#6), The Wizard of Oz (#10), Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (#26), Stagecoach (#63), and Wuthering Heights (#73).  AMC has a similar list of movies which included all of the previous five and added Ninotchka, a charming movie starring Greta Garbo, to their list.

A few things to consider about film in 1939:

-Victor Fleming directed two of the top 10 movies of all time, Gone With The Wind and The Wizard of Oz, and did it in the same year.

-Thomas Mitchell who took home the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, performed in three of the movies that were nominated for Best Film: Gone With The Wind, Stagecoach, and Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.

-Hattie McDaniel won Best Supporting Actress for her unforgettable role in Gone With The Wind, making her the first African-American nominee and winner of an Academy Award. Due to the racial prejudice that existed at the time, she had to sit in the back during the ceremony, away from her co-stars.

Each of the movies listed above should be on your Watch Now list if you haven’t seen them, but if I could recommend one other movie to watch from 1939 that is often overlooked it would be the French film, The Rules of the Game.  It opened to harsh criticism in 1939 and the original negative was destroyed during WWII. Director Jean Renoir was able to restore the film later, and in many circles it is considered one of the top 10 films of all time. It's a story about love, duty, and social class, and is well worth your time. 

Happy Viewing!!!!!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Why Can't I Get This Right?!: How To Break Free From Your Past

I think I have found the least likely verse in the entire Bible to be put on a t-shirt:

                “Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly.”
                                                -Proverbs 26:11

Go ahead and cross-stitch that on a pillow for the living room. I guarantee it will be a conversation starter!

It’s true though isn’t it? It’s so easy to repeat the unhealthy things we do and it always leads to the same predictable disappointment. We’ve all had those moments when we stop and realize that we are struggling with the same bad decisions, addictions, or fears that we were struggling with 10 years ago, and the thought makes us shudder. So how do we break the cycle and escape the bad decisions that are impacting our lives each day? Here’s a few things to consider:

Be Honest With Yourself

It’s much easier to keep life on cruise control and keep motoring along, than it is to stop and have an honest look at ourselves. Your ability to be honest with yourself hinges on your ability to trust that God’s love for you is bigger than your bad decisions. God doesn’t stop loving you when you sin. God hates the sin that is wrecking your life, but He loves you completely and unconditionally.

Be Honest With Someone Else

Getting your struggle out in the open is a big step on the path to dealing with it. It’s easy to ignore our mess when life gets better or busy, especially if no one knows about it but us. Admitting my struggles to someone else helps me see how real they are.  Don’t tell just anyone! Choose someone who loves you and who won’t judge you. Share what you are wrestling with, but don’t make excuses or explain it away. Be honest and be clear and if possible, ask for help.

Form a New Habit

Old habits don’t just go away. If a new habit isn’t formed in it’s place, old habits are nearly impossible to escape. As you think and talk through what you are struggling with, examine when it happens the most, and what triggers may bring it to the surface.  Choose a routine, activity, or thought process that you can engage in when those moments hit. Be patient, it takes 63 days for a habit to be deeply entrenched. You won’t be perfect, but you must be relentless. It will be worth all of the work!

We all fail, but failure doesn’t have to define us. As you work on your new habits, talk to God often. You are not in this alone, and He isn’t waiting for you to get your life straight to have a relationship with you. He wants the relationship He has with you to be what gives you strength as you grow.  

Photo Courtesy of Death To The Stock Photo

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Beginnings: 1930-1938 (Tony's Addendum)

As usual Michael is spot on with his movie selections. However, I think in this case he made one significant omission. No list of essential movies of the 30's is complete without the incomparable "The Thin Man" (1934). The movie stars William Powell and Myrna Loy as charming and witty husband and wife sleuths. How many TV shows have been built on this concept (Hart to Hart, Moonlighting, Castle?) The movie was so popular it spawned 4 sequels.

The other omissions are not as grievous, but more personal for me.  No listing of 30's movies is complete without mentioning the advent of the Universal Studios horror films. Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein (my personal favorite), Dracula, The Mummy and The Invisible Man all debuted in this decade. They set a standard for horror movies that still resonates today. When I was a kid, no all night Halloween movie marathon was complete without a few of these classics included.

One added note, I see that Michael stopped his list before 1939, which is arguably the greatest year for film ever. He could make an entire list of "essentials" from 1939 alone. I will be anxiously waiting to see what he chooses.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Films That You Absolutely Can Not Miss (The Beginnings: 1930-1938)

The 1930’s were the most explosive decade in the history of film. The popularity of movies blossomed as the first “talkies” hit the screen. I refer to this decade as “The Beginning” for lots of reasons, the most important of which is that this decade boasted the beginning of almost every movie genre alive today. Most of the movies you see today play off of a rubric that was set in the 1930’s. If you haven’t settled into a comfy chair with some of these movies, you have been missing out, not just because of their importance in the overall story of film, but because so many of them are incredibly enjoyable! This list does not include 1939, the reasons for which will become clear in upcoming posts.

A few of the remarkable things that film gave us in the 1930’s:

---Katherine Hepburn starred in her first movie, A Bill of Divorcement (1932)

---The Three Stooges, Shirley Temple, Donald Duck, and the great John Wayne all starred in their first  major film

---Spencer Tracy won back to back Best Actor Academy Awards for his roles in Captains Courageous (1938) and Boys Town  (1939). It would be over 50 years until that feat was repeated by Tom Hanks. (Tracy is one of the greatest actors ever to have lived, and is almost universally underappreciated)

So, without further hesitation, here’s some movies that you absolutely must see:


Little Caesar (1931) – The Beginning of Gangster Movies
 Starring James Cagney in a role that would make his career, Little Caesar is the grandfather of all gangster movies. The Godfather and Goodfellas have this movie to thank for their existence.

King Kong (1933) – The Beginning of Monster Movies
You’re welcome Godzilla, and all other special-effect monster movies need to tip their hat to this groundbreaker in the genre. There were monster movies before King Kong, but none rivaled the big fella.  Ranked #41 on AFI’s Top 100 Movies of the Last 100 Years

It Happened One Night  (1934) - The Beginning of Romantic Comedies
Every zany romantic comedy has it’s roots in this 1934 classic. Claudette Colbert is brilliant, and Clark Gable (who I’ve never been a huge fan of), plays off of her beautifully. They are funny, clever, noble, and romantic. Everything you hope to find in a romantic comedy. Ranked #46 on AFI’s Top 100 Movies of the Last 100 Years.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) - The Beginning of Animated Features
This first full-length feature animated film started it all. Without Snow White there would be no Elsa, Simba, or Gru. Walt Disney changed the world of film, and it all started with a down on her luck teen and 7 vertically challenged miners. Ranked #34 of AFI's Top 100 Movies of the Last 100 Years.

Swing Time (1936) – The Archetype of Dance Movies

If you don’t think you enjoy dancing in movies, I dare you to watch Swing Time. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers are perfect as dancing partners and romantic counterparts. Every dance movie made since has tried to capture the magic of Fred and Ginger and with the exception of Singin’ In The Rain, no one has done it. Ranked #90 in AFI’s Top 100 Movies of the Last 100 Years.

If you have some free time this weekend, grab some popcorn, a comfy chair and settle in with one of these classics, and as always feedback is welcome. Let me know if you feel that I left out a must-see movie from this time period!