Friday, August 26, 2011

Kindergarten Time Management

Remember that book by Robert Fulghum that was such a best-seller in the 1990s? All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.  Like most people, I never sat down to read the whole book but I have read numerous excerpts from it.  One thing I don't recall seeing on the short list: time management.  But maybe the concept is summed up in this passage:
Think what a better world it would be if all - the whole world - had cookies and milk about three o'clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankies for a nap. 
Time Management was a hot topic in the 1990s and has become an industry in the two decades that have followed.  My guess is that our interest in Time Management came about as a reaction to the frenzied activity of the 1980s . . . you know, the decade when the idealistic dropouts of the 1960s suddenly realized there was profit to be made from hard, materialistic labor.  Or maybe the workaholism of the 1980s had something to do with the breaking of the disco fever.  (For anyone who cares, the term "workaholic" was coined in 1968 but didn't really catch on until the 1990s.)

Regardless.  I lived (and worked) through the 1980s, and have tried (and failed) to manage my time in the 1990s and the 2000s and now the 2010s.  Time Management hasn't gotten any easier over the years.  This is odd, because the older I get, the less time I have. You would think having LESS time would make it easier to manage (just as it is easier to manage less hair or fewer kids) but that is misunderstanding the basic problem: there may be less time, but it is moving faster.  Einstein was right: TIME IS RELATIVE.  The older one gets, the faster time moves . . . and no one would argue with the fact that, while it is easier to herd ten sheep than a hundred, it is easier to herd a hundred sheep than ten jackrabbits.

Take a phone list as one simple example.  When I was a kid, I had a handful of friends and all of their numbers fit into my brain.  Then I got older, acquired acquaintances, bought a pocket address book, and wrote down their numbers.  I moved, lost the book, and had to start rebuilding the data base.  My friends moved, and their numbers became obsolete, were crossed out and inked over until the book was useless.  I bought a new book and spent HOURS recopying the information, but the same thing kept happening again and again.  Technology came to the rescue in the form of an electronic, hand-held address book, but it only exacerbated the problem. Before I could use the gizmo, I had to find the time to sit down and program all of my information into it.  Then the batteries needed changing . . . and I didn't have it with me when I needed it . . . and I lost it (did I mention that I frequently lose things?) . . . and by the time I found it again, it was obsolete anyway.  I got a cell phone, programed all the numbers into it, and lost it (actually it was stolen, but the result was the same).  I got a computer, programed all the numbers into it, and then the computer became obsolete so I got a new one and had to reprogram all the numbers into it.  Actually, the sad truth is, it took TOO MUCH TIME and wasn't worth the effort, so I abandoned the reprograming less than halfway through and resorted to Plan B.

Plan B looks like this: two dozen sticky notes and pieces of scrap paper stuck to the refrigerator.

Oddly enough, this works for me better than all the day planners and palm pilots and cell phones and iPads in the world.  It is HARD to lose a refrigerator.  (It is also hard to carry one around with you, I will concede that.)

But back to TIME management.

I have a form of ADD known as OOSOOM.  Out of sight, out of mind.  I function well as long as I can see everything I need to remember.  As soon as I put something away, it is lost forever.  (Okay, "forever" is a bit of an exaggeration.  But it is lost for MONTHS or possibly YEARS, depending on how often I move.)  Email is the best way to reach me because I keep it on my computer desktop.  My land-line telephone answering system flashes a red light at me whenever a call is waiting.  Cell phone?  You must be kidding.  Until they begin surgically implanting the things, they are just too easy to lose. (Did I mention that I tend to lose things?)  I don't carry a cell phone, iPod, iPad, or anything else that will fit into a purse.  For that matter, I don't carry a purse.

My mom used to say, "If your head weren't attached, you'd lose it." My mom was absolutely right.  Fortunately, my head IS attached, which just goes to show you how smart God is, so THAT is where I have kept my daily and weekly schedules for the last forty years.  Until recently, storing events and appointments in my brain has always worked fine for me because I have a fairly spacious brain.  (Please resist the temptation to comment on my choice of words here, those of you who know me best.)  Unfortunately, as my brain has gotten older, it has developed a few cracks, and every once in a while something falls into a crack and gets lost.  Or maybe it is just that the sheep have been replaced by jackrabbits.  Sheep are too big to slip into cracks, but jackrabbits are wascally. (Just ask Elmer.)

My best friend carries a day planner.  She writes EVERYTHING into it.  It goes EVERYWHERE with her.  It works for her.  After forgetting two or three important meetings, I tried her system.  (Do I have to tell you the result, or did you already get the picture from my phone list fiasco?)

I believe that time is one of the things God invented and created just for us.  It is a gift.  Like all of God's gifts, it is meant to be used for his glory and to further his kingdom.  But, mismanaged, time doesn't feel like a gift so much as a curse.  Responsible stewardship of time keeps evading me, and I find that terribly frustrating.  I tried taking some Time Management seminars, but these classes usually make me want to scream.  The teachers always have a cut-and-dried, tried-and-true, it-worked-for-me-and-will-work-for-you system to sell.  Folks, I know you mean well, but one size does NOT fit all.  Especially if the client suffers from ADDOOSOOM.  

This past week, the theme of Time Management as Good Stewardship kept cropping up and smacking me in the figurative face, so I asked God to help me.  Actually, I asked him to clean my bedroom and do my laundry for me, but I think he decided to pass on that one.  Instead, he sent me to the Dollar Tree.

Yes, the Dollar Tree.

Free advertisement: as most schoolteachers know, the Dollar Tree is the most wonderful place on earth. Everything in the store is a dollar.  Some things are fabulous bargains: newborn onesies for $1. Tshirts for $1 (okay, in size 5x, but still...).  Brand new hardcover books for $1.  Best of all, teacher supplies . . . bulletin board displays, stickers, charts . . .


My bedroom door . . . a new kind of feng shui.
Yes, I did it.  I bought one of those kindergarten "helper" charts, the kind where the teacher lists who is going to be line leader and who is going to lead the Pledge and who is going to feed the hamster.  This one had blank spaces for the tasks, though, so I wrote in things like "clean bathroom" and "schoolwork" and "take trash to curb."  I also wrote in how long I plan to spend on each task, and assigned each task to a specific day of the week.

I know this was from God, because there was only room on the chart for six days' worth of work.

The Job Chart is now pinned to my bedroom door, where I can't help but see it.  (And it's hard to lose a door.)  AND IT IS WORKING.  I accomplished more in three hours this morning that I had in the whole week that preceded it.  As for those appointments that slip through the cracks, right above the Job Chart I have a dry-erase calendar for the month.  It takes me about five minutes each month to set it up and then, as appointments arise, I write them in.  Portable?  No.  But REALLY important things get written on the back of my hand before I leave the house.  (It's hard to lose the back of your hand.)

I doubt I'll ever be able to market my system to the general public, but it works for way God designed me to function.  And isn't that really the key to any success in life?  We talk about Time Management as though time were something manageable, but it isn't.  Time marches on at the rate of one second per second, one hour per hour, one day per day . . .  We don't need to manage TIME; we need to manage OURSELVES.  According to psychologists, most of who you are was firmly formed by the time you entered kindergarten.  So I'll agree with Robert Fulghum on this one and go with a system that worked for me way back before my life got filled with things that blink and beep and get misplaced.

Hey, it's almost time for that cookie and nap!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

I Know One When I See One

Task: turn THIS into a 12x20 shed.
The team jumped out of the rental car, eager to begin serving, but a little nervous at the same time.  Was this the right address?  Where was the shed we were going to help build?  Most importantly, where was the skilled carpenter we were supposed to be assisting?  As the five of us stood in the driveway waiting for our leader to arrive, we were all thinking the same thing: Day One of our mission trip to rebuild Alabama homes destroyed by the April tornadoes was off to a slow start.  A communications mixup had resulted in five enthusiastic but unskilled Asbury students being sent to a construction site with no tools, no blueprints, no building materials, and — hard as it was to fathom — no carpenter.  For an hour we labored heroically, moving things here and there, pounding rusty nails out of splintered boards, and making suggestions to one another, but the truth was hard to ignore: we were in ‘way over our heads and we needed a leader who knew what he or she was doing.

Salvation arrived in the form of Randy, who apologized for the confusion, loaded us into the car, and led us to another job site.  Within minutes of our arrival, we knew exactly what to do.  Randy had sized us up and given us a task perfectly suited to our limited skill set.  Each of us knew his or her designated role, and we completed our assignment quickly and efficiently even though Randy had to leave to attend to other duties.  The rest of our week went smoothly, and we left Alabama feeling that we had accomplished our mission.  What made the difference?  We had been served by a leader.

Leadership can be hard to define, but it is easily recognized.  I know a leader when I see one.  Leaders are the people who know what to do in a given situation, and are able to communicate that vision in such a way that others can, and will, follow their instructions.  Leaders inspire trust.  Leaders take the time to get to know their team well enough to help each person on the team achieve success.  Leaders serve.

Randy was our leader for only a short time, but in that time he was able to transform our group from five aimless, confused individuals into one focused, confident team.  Randy was the man with the plan, and he shared that plan with us in a way that made it ours.  Although he left us the freedom to work out the details on our own, he didn’t abandon us.  Randy checked in periodically to see if we needed anything and he made sure those needs were provided for.  Everyone smiled whenever Randy pulled up to the job site.

There are other “Randys” in my life, people who inspire my trust because they know where they’re going and how to get there, people who motivate me and energize me and make me want to go with them.  Leaders.  There are also Drivers, people who come up behind me when I’m working and try to push me in another direction.  Usually all they do is knock me off balance and irritate me; certainly they don’t make me more effective or successful.  They are the tornadoes in my life: demanding, capricious, intrusive, and destructive.  If they have a plan, I can’t see it.  When the Drivers pull up, I don’t smile; I grit my teeth.

I think Drivers are Leaders out of their element.  Leaders can’t really lead if they don’t know where they’re going; all they can do is pretend to lead, and that turns them into Drivers.  Jesus summed it up in two words: “Blind Pharisee!” (Matthew 23:26)  If I am going to be an effective leader, I need to have a destination clearly in mind.

Am I a leader?

My mother will tell you that I was born a leader.  Indisputably, I was a bossy toddler.  I was a pushy preschooler.  I was an extremely unpopular kid, and I suspect it had something to do with my Driver personality.  I don’t want to be a Driver, and I’ve worked hard to grow out of those habits, but maturity is a slow process at best.  

Lately I’ve noticed that people are following me, usually when I least expect it.  Perhaps that is the key to effective leadership: just go where God leads, and don’t worry about trying to drag others along. If they come on their own, that’s not because I am a great leader, but because Jesus is.  My task at that point is simply to do what Randy did: look behind me periodically and offer assistance where it’s obviously needed.  If people start smiling, I’ll know I’m on the right track.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Was Methuselah a Wash-out?

The Geezer
When I was a kid, the saying "old as Methuselah" was commonplace.  Even people who never went to church or read their Bibles knew that Methuselah holds the record for the longest tenure on planet earth: 969 years, to be precise (see Genesis 5:27).  I used Methuselah as a joke in one of my novels (Brothers) and have been surprised at the number of people who don't get it because they've never heard of him.

The Bible doesn't really have much to say about the man, except that he lived 969 years and that he was the father of Lamech.  The rest of his story has to be deciphered by mathematicians.

I don't know why, but I always assumed that Methuselah was a good man.  Maybe I made that assumption because of his age.  Surely in that many years, the geezer managed to acquire more than the usual amount of wisdom, right?  (I apologize to anyone who is offended by my use of the term "geezer." I have great respect for geezers, so much that I will even refer you to their official web page:  At his age, Methuselah should be referred to as The Geezer; if anyone ever earned the right, he did!)  Or perhaps I figured that his longevity  was a reward for a life well-lived and pleasing to God.  Maybe his God-fearing father (Enoch) had a positive influence on him.  Or maybe he learned a lot about God by listening to Great-great-great-great-great-grandpa Adam, who was only 627 when little Methy was born. (Adam lived to be 930, so the two of them had 303 years to get to know one another.)

Today, however, I am forced to question some of those assumptions.  You see, I've done the math.

According to the fifth chapter of Genesis, Methuselah was the father of Lamech, who was the father of Noah.  Lamech was born when Methuselah was 187.  According to Genesis, Methuselah lived 782 years after Lamech was born (Genesis 5:26), and Lamech lived 777 years (Genesis 5:31).  Doing the math, that means that Methuselah lived five years longer than his son.

Noah was born when Lamech was 182, which would make Grandpa Methuselah 369 at the time (Genesis 5:28-29).  In case you were curious, Noah never knew Great-(times-seven)-grandpa Adam.  His was the first generation to be born after Adam's death. 

Noah's Ark
Maybe a lot of people have forgotten Methuselah, but everyone has heard of Noah.  He was the Flood guy, the one who built the cute little ark that gets painted on nursery walls.  (This is a real strange choice for decor, in my opinion, since we are surrounding our babies with pictures of a catastrophic event that wiped out 99.999999% of earth's population, but that's not really the point of this blog.) (And actually, the ark was neither little nor cute.  Check out for a much more realistic picture of Noah's Ark.)

Anyway, back to Methuselah.  Can you guess how old he was when the Flood struck?  Do the math: Noah was 600 at the time (Genesis 7:11) and we've already established that Methuselah was 369 when Noah was born, so 369 + 600 = 969. 

Which raises the question: Exactly when and how did Methuselah die?  He was 969, we know that much.  Did he die earlier that year, and THEN God sent the Flood?  Or was The Geezer swept away like everyone else? 

Jewish tradition holds to the former explanation, citing the Book of Enoch and the Book of Jashar as evidence that Methuselah was a righteous man and so God delayed the Flood until after Methuselah had died a natural death.  Neither of these books, however, were (or are) considered part of the Tanakh (the Hebrew bible) and so they do not have the authority accorded to the rest of Scripture, which is totally silent as to the precise manner of Methuselah's demise. 

So what?  Does it really matter?

I think it does.  Genesis 6 makes it clear that the earth of Noah's day was filled with evil people.  The exact language used is, "The LORD saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time" (Genesis 6:5) and also, "God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways" (Genesis 6:12).  But it also adds, "But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD" (Genesis 6:8).

I confess, my knowledge of Hebrew is limited.  However, studying this passage I find the words "all," "only," and "every" used by the translators to describe the prevalence of evil in the pre-Flood culture.  The Hebrew words used for these concepts were "kol" ( כל ) and "raq" ( רק ).  "Kol" means all, the whole, the totality, everything.  "Raq" is an adjective of limitation or restriction, meaning (in this context) that their thoughts were limited or restricted to evil thoughts -- no other thoughts were possible for them. 

I would suggest that "all" in this case means "all" and that "all" includes old Methuselah.  I don't buy into the Jewish tradition that he was given special, preferential treatment just because he had known Adam.  I think The Geezer was just as bad as everyone else.  And THAT matters.


It matters because it means that age alone is NOT sufficient to make a person wise . . . that hanging around spiritual people is NOT enough to make a person spiritual.  Methuselah, for all his longevity, didn't make the cut.  He was a wash-out . . . literally.  The author of Genesis doesn't mention Methuselah's righteousness, doesn't mention God's special favor toward him, doesn't mention Methuselah being taken by God before the Flood, and it is only logical to assume that these things aren't mentioned because they weren't true.  One could argue that the Bible also doesn't mention Methuselah's death in the Flood, but neither does it mention the names of the other people who died; it simply says every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out, except Noah and those who were with him on the ark (Genesis 7:23). 

Methuselah's demise is a warning to me as I grow older.  I don't expect to live to 969 . . . I don't expect to live to 96, for that matter . . . but I have passed the half-century mark and am in danger of succumbing to the temptation to rest on my laurels.  Nor am I the only one.  In his book In the Name of Jesus, Henri Nouwen reflects on this same issue, asking the question, "Did becoming older bring me closer to Jesus?"  His answer is a sobering one:
As I entered into my fifties . . . after twenty-five years of priesthood, I found myself praying poorly, living somewhat isolated from other people, and very much preoccupied with burning issues. Everyone was saying that I was doing really well, but something inside was telling me that my success was putting my own soul in danger.
Noah found favor in God's sight, and so God warned him of the coming Flood and told him how to build the ark.  Noah believed God and took action, and so God called him "righteous" (Genesis 7:1).  This, by the way, is the same spiritual principle at work throughout the Bible, Old Testament and New: God doesn't call the righteous, but the UNrighteous.  It is when we heed His call and believe Him that He declares us to be righteous (Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:3, 10:4-10; Galatians 3:6; James 2:23).

Jesus warned that there is a future judgment coming upon the earth "as it was in the days of Noah" (Matthew 24:37-39) and that we need to be ready for it.  Don't be a wash-out . . . don't make the same mistake Methuselah made and assume that you are safe because you've been around for a while and know the right people.  While the sentimental side of me likes the story in the Book of Jashar that shows Noah and Methuselah working side by side to warn their neighbors of the coming disaster, the scholar in me shakes her head and reminds me that Methuselah probably watched Noah building that boat for 100 years and scoffed along with the rest of them until it was too late for the old geezer to get on board.

One final thought: "Geezer" was once spelled "guiser" and meant someone who wore a disguise, someone who went about in the guise of someone or something he was not.  You can't fool God by wearing a mask.  Not even The Geezer could do that.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Pinky and the Wolf

Long long ago, in a neighborhood far far away (New Jersey) . . .

I had a pet hamster.

My hamster, whom I will call "Pinky" (name changed to preserve his anonymity), lived in a habitrail. He liked to climb up into the "petting box" and scratch at the lid until I would open the box and take him out to play with him. I was always happy to do this, because Pinky was a teddy-bear hamster with long, fluffy fur, and he didn't bite.

I also had a pet dog, an Alaskan Malamute named "Lobo" because he looked just like a timber wolf. Lobo was a thief. It wasn't my fault - my boyfriend's mother used to give the dog a cookie to get him to drop whatever he'd stolen, so he quickly learned that the best way to get a cookie was to steal something. Lobo would snatch things off the counters and tables, shake them a few times to announce that he had them, and then run around the house with them in his mouth, chewing and growling until he got his cookie. (Since I refused to give in to his terrorist tactics, Lobo seldom returned my possessions in one piece.) Lobo was quick. Not only would he snatch things from tables, but sometimes he'd even grab them right out of a person's hand if he thought he could get away with it.

One day I was sitting at the dining room table working on a project, and Pinky was crawling around in his habitrail, which I'd set on the table beside me. After a while, Pinky climbed the tube up to the petting box, looked over at me, and then began to scratch at the lid. I set down my project and reached over to open the box, and then I noticed something. Sitting just a few feet away was Lobo, ears perked. He licked his lips in anticipation and thumped his tail against the floor twice, tensing his leg muscles as he prepared to pounce.