God and the Salt

By Mark Schellhase (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Mark Schellhase (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0


I had an unusual dream prior to waking up this morning and want to record it here before the entire dream fades from my memory. I am making no claims about the substance of this dream.

As my dream began, for reasons unknown to me, I found myself alongside God—or rather, I should say I discovered God beside me. Don’t ask me how I knew who it was. In dreams sometimes certain things are simply understood to be so. I was not in a particular place. In fact, to the best of my recollection, there were no surroundings at all, other than some sort of heavy white woven fabric laid out before me that seemed to flow from Him. We were side-by-side, as opposed to facing each other. Although I never looked directly at his face or saw his body, in this dream God seemed like a man, albeit a very large one who positively dwarfed me, like a grown man beside a young child.

And that’s exactly how I felt, like a small child. For the duration of this dream, I never said a word. Now that’s very unusual for me. Whether in a dream or awake, silence is not among my strong suits.  From my left side, God spoke to me in a soft, deep voice. There was no echo, no Cecil B. DeMille special effects. Here is how it went.

“People wonder why I don’t do more to help them.” He placed several large crystals on the cloth in front of me, although I never saw his hand.

“This is salt. Go ahead, pick one up.” I picked up a white crystal the size of a Brazil nut. “Look at it. Feel it. Hold it in your hand.” I did as I was told.

“Put it in your other hand.” I moved the crystal from my right hand to my left. “Now put it behind you and switch it back.” I obeyed, not really understanding the point of this exercise. It was sort of like playing Simon Says with the Almighty. He told me what to do and I did it. If only real life worked like this.

“See? It’s real. I put that there. The problem is, people don’t use what I give them” That’s when I understood. I turned to my left, grabbing fistfuls of the heavy woven fabric, and began to cry.

He said one last thing to me, with emphasis. “Pick up the salt.”

Then I woke up, wondering what I may have been ignoring or underutilizing and what salt had to do with it. I’m not often able to remember my dreams, so I guess the way this one stuck in my mind bothered me a little. I’m also not one for quoting Bible verses, but let me leave you with this one that popped into my head. As I said when I started, I make no claims.

“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trodden under foot by men.”  (Matthew 5:13)

As always, thanks for hanging with me.

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Ups and Downs – Part 2 of 3

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Continued from Ups and Downs – Part 1 of 3

The day after I returned from having the time of my life at the Midwest Motorcycle Rally, I was back at work, bright and early on a Monday morning. One day later, I and all of my colleagues received word that my employer of the past eight years was on the verge of permanently closing its doors. At the end of the week, that’s pretty much what happened. I will not pretend that we hadn’t seen it coming for the past five months or so, but neither will I speculate on how or why my “other family” met its demise—because speculation is all it would be and besides, I don’t enjoy conducting post mortem exercises. What I will do is share some of my own introspective thoughts on the matter, to give you a glimpse of what’s been going on between my own ears lately. Could be fun.

But yes, as I write this for you, I am now in transition. Between opportunities. Looking for my next big thing. Those are all clever euphemisms for being unemployed. How’s that for a down. And unlike getting fired, I can feel no bitterness toward any of my former coworkers or even the owners of the company because they are all in the same boat, unemployed. Oh, it sucks, believe me.

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But what’s done is done. I can’t even give you a hyperlink to the company’s website because it has been taken down. Back in 2013, I oversaw the total redevelopment of that website and had written a fair amount of content for its pages over the years. I also developed and delivered educational presentations on my company’s behalf at two national conferences of the Professional Retail Store Maintenance Association (PRSM). I helped bring a proprietary operating software system into being and wrote user documentation and training content for many of its components. My teams and I accomplished some tremendous things together over the years and I remain grateful for having been a part of that. What awesome opportunities I enjoyed during my tenure there! See? Ups and downs. Some of the ups were pretty awesome.

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I have only dealt with the Illinois Department of Employment Security (aka unemployment benefits and services) once before. That was in 2006 and things have changed a great deal since then. For one thing, most activity related to unemployment claims have been moved online. In theory, this makes everything run smoother and faster, unless your last name has an apostrophe in it and various government agencies have dealt with it in different ways. This confuses the online system, causing it to throw one red security flag after another. I tried to “find my way in” online, but that only convinced the system that I did not belong there. The system locked me out and provided a toll-free number to call for assistance, if you’ll pardon the exaggeration. After spending at least 45 minutes on the phone, including hold time, the frustrated gentleman on the other end of the line also became convinced that I was not going to get into their online system—this despite that I had been there without issue in 2006. I am only too grateful that a SWAT team didn’t descend upon my home to confiscate my offensive apostrophe. In the end, I went down to the IDES office in Joliet and got it taken care of. Sure, it took a little time and effort. In all candor, the folks at the office spent more time trying to figure out their own software system than resolving my issue, which they really did in short order. Sometimes human beings are superior to machines, especially when it comes to dealing with the dreaded apostrophe.

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I’m okay. In many ways, I’m stronger and better than I’ve ever been. Before we move on to Part Three of my Ups and Downs saga, let me share a bit of philosophy that a pretty cool Catholic priest once passed along to me: “When bad things happen, you can laugh or you can cry.” The implication of those words is that neither response is going to change what happened. What changes, fundamentally, is your response to what happened. This in turn shapes your perspective and your attitude.

Me, I prefer to laugh. Most if not all of my friends seem to appreciate that about me. I still fumble sometimes, but then I get back up, laugh about it, and move on.

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
― Viktor E. Frankl

Thanks for hanging with me. As I indicated in Part One, there is more to this story, so please stick around.

Contemplating the Passage of Time

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I’m sitting in my home office (read: an old desk in my basement), tracking the progress of my son’s flight back to Oregon via flightaware.com as I write this. He is 23 years old and in the process of finishing off his final year at the Portland Actors Conservatory. He was home for the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, which have now passed. Today is also my daughter’s 25th birthday. I have no idea how I could possibly have two kids in their twenties when I am still just a kid myself. Alright, that’s a bald-faced lie… sort of. It’s true that on the outside, I am older, baggier, surely no longer young enough to be called middle-aged. But on the inside, my twenties weren’t all that long ago and I’ve still got this young, foolish streak that rises to the surface more often than I would care to admit. In many ways, I never grew up. And it’s unlikely that I will do so anytime soon because I’m having too damned much fun.

I hope that my daughter enjoyed her somewhat laid back birthday and I pray that my son lands safely in Portland, nearly three hours later than my intended bedtime. I look at their lives the way I look at this new year that has just gotten underway. Imagine the possibilities! My kids may be feeling the pressures of adulthood—and I know from experience, the pressure can be very real—but they still have so many possibilities ahead of them. Indeed I can still see many possibilities for myself. It’s true, I am a lot further along in life than are my two kids, but I assure you I am far from ready for the grave just yet. I have many roads left to travel, many stories left to write, and a great deal of love and laughter left to share.

So here’s to 2017! May we all realize at least some of those great possibilities we’ve imagined, and may we each find ourselves at least a little bit closer to whatever it is we are seeking in life. Thanks for hanging with me.

Tell Me About It: A Path to Deeper Understanding

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I must admit I feel a little silly talking about this learning and development trick that I discovered in high school, yet I feel compelled to share this with you because I just put it to good use again yesterday, while at my corporate workplace—and I’m in my fifties now. This is one of those things that’s so simple, it should be obvious. And it is… after you’ve experienced the effect firsthand. Are you curious?

I promise you, I couldn’t make this complicated if I tried: If you want to test, or perhaps enhance, your own understanding of a given thing, try explaining it to somebody else. Not to yourself, not in your head, but out loud. Explain it to another human being, to that person’s satisfaction. Conversely, if you want to help a family member, friend, or associate work through the same process, encourage them to explain it to you. You might be pleasantly surprised by the outcome.

26840099163_20e3b24667_oLet me tell you how it worked in high school. I had this chemistry class scheduled immediately after my lunch period. It so happens that a buddy of mine had the same class and the same lunch period as me. Every time we had a chemistry quiz or test scheduled, I would walk into the cafeteria and find this poor guy sitting with his nose buried in his chemistry textbook, sweating bullets. He would sit there, turning the same pages over and over and looking as if he were about to go before a firing squad. I could get acid indigestion just watching him. So I woul reach out.

“What’s wrong, Louie?”27447604615_96b24d9fe4_o

“This chemistry shit, I just don’t get it.”

“What part don’t you understand?”

“Well, how about this…”

I assure you I wasn’t baiting my friend, but he always took that question as a challenge to show me the hard parts of any given chapter of that chemistry book. Louie would ask me about various theories, rules, and equations. I didn’t always know the answer, either, but I would look at what he was pointing at in the book, give the matter a little thought, think about how to explain it in terms I knew Louie would understand, and then explain it to him, exactly that way.

Louie would smile and nod. Then he’d turn the page and shoot back, “But what about this?” I would repeat the same process, over and again, until Louie was satisfied or until the bell rang, signaling everyone to get moving again.

Dubuque16That’s how I learned chemistry. I spent my entire lunch period explaining the most difficult parts of every chapter to my friend—without missing a bite, I might add—and then proceeded to ace every chemistry quiz and test that followed.

Did Louie benefit from our sessions? I hope so, but he would likely have been better off had he been the one doing all that talking.

Me? I thought I was just good at chemistry. Now I know better. Oh, had I known then what I know now! Right?

15310647_10210755513104843_1588930595_nYesterday I had finished developing a proposal for a potential new customer and while everything looked fine to me, I know that at times I can be my own worst proofreader. So I asked an associate to review my work. But rather than just email the documents and hope for the best, I opened them on a large display and asked my colleague to let me walk him through my steps.

In this particular case, the same process, more or less, yielded a different benefit. Neither of us was learning new concepts, yet by explaining the details of my work aloud to someone not directly involved, I was able to perceive my own work with the added dimension of unfamiliar eyes. And in the process, I saw things that I would not otherwise have seen.

“And this is where we define the duration of services. but I think there may be a better way to sync this up with Exhibit A…”

Synergy! Would my associates have seen that opportunity on their own? No more likely than I would have been, had I reviewed my own work in silence.

boy-and-girl-behind-boy-and-girl_1849861231_o I can recall times long ago, when my own kids would be struggling with a subject in school. Sometimes it would help to let them talk in detail about the subject or the issue. They are adults now, as am I, and there are times when each of us may still benefit from the same approach.

This may be a rather wild analogy, but I was once told that in the Catholic rite of exorcism, a point is reached at which the exorcism may not proceed until the demon’s name is known. Then again, if you have ever been faced with the task of correcting an error hidden deep within a string of algebraic equations, or of finding that subtle flaw within many pages of a service agreement, perhaps the analogy isn’t so far-fetched after all.

Whether teaching ones self a new concept, perfecting ones approach to a potential new customer, or overcoming a stumbling block to better understanding, sometimes the key is to talk it out. Or to put his in ancient terms, if you can name it, you can conquer it.