• Character,  Two Steps Ahead Podcast

    Are You Living in the Past, Present, or Future?

    The sun always shines. Sometimes the clouds cover it, but it is always there revealing things we would rather leave in the dark. What do we do with a day whose sun rises to reveal one doozey of a storm? A sun that rises on the evil along with the good? The criminals as well as the law followers? The hate-pushing extremists as well as the Democrats and Republicans? “Them” as well as me? What the light reveals can make the best of us want to go back to bed and wait until this mess is over. The phrases we tossed around pre-COVID—follow your dreams, live each day to the fullest—seem trite, or tone-deaf, or not applicable in the middle of a social hurricane. The opposite is true, though, if we want to harness the wind beating our umbrella.

    When we wake up each morning not knowing what calamity the storm clouds have brought, we must have a different perspective of storm mode. It’s not just “baton down the hatches” or wait in the bunker until it passes. It’s piloting the Storm Tracker and flying into the eye to see what we can learn about our fears, our values, and our purpose. We need to verify the durability of our character in the gale-force winds.

    What does it look like to live each day to the fullest, with everything we have, no matter the social climate? How does it take into account the past and the future?

    In one instance it can question the arrival of tomorrow; either tomorrow isn’t coming, or it won’t be a very good one, so live today as if it’s your last. Dance, laugh, go to the beach, live it up, spend the money. You can’t take it with you. The past is the past, it can’t be changed, so just ignore it and move on. Survive the day. Hang on for the ride. Some people are dealt a better hand than others, so you be you and do what you gotta do.

    Fact is, we cannot change the past. It’s done. But we can choose to view it as a treasure trove of fascinating lessons. We can learn from it. We can grow from it. We can understand how it shaped our current beliefs and behaviors and we can measure our progress from it. We can redeem it. The past is full of riches. Woe is the one who buries the gems of the past.

    In another instance, we are fairly certain there will be a tomorrow. In fact, we’re so sure of it that we relish the thought of the many tomorrows to come with future dreams, future plans, future accomplishments. We take care of the responsibilities in front of us, but we endlessly build for all the future tomorrows of health and wealth. Tomorrow is always in our back pocket, it’s the perpetual assurance that another day is available full of time for that “thing” we are working for. And while we focus our intentions on how great tomorrow will be, we worry about the legacy we will leave behind. Will it have been good enough? Tomorrow is the drug of intention that clouds the view right in front of us.

    We cannot predict our future as accurately as we’d like. We can plan for certain “what ifs” or “want tos” but when it gets right down to it, there is no guarantee our efforts will pay off. A year that started off with a strong economy and low unemployment is now in solid reverse in the midst of a global pandemic, civil unrest, economic downturn, and an impending presidential election. The future will happen, but to our anxiety we cannot fully control or predict it.

    In a third instance, today is tucked neatly in balance between yesterday and tomorrow. The cliché’ “today is the tomorrow you were planning for yesterday,” is cutesy but appropriate.

    Instead of waiting for the perfect tomorrow to live our best life, we can live today with the fullest of integrity, right here, right now, regardless what’s happening around us. We can be honest about the why’s of our decisions. We can be forthright with information. We can treat people with decency. We can be sincere about listening and understanding. We can stop waiting and procrastinating. We can be consistent with our words and actions in all situations, not just in those that suit us.

    Today’s proper place between yesterday and tomorrow is the view from here. Here is where we can look back to see the steps of success and heartache travelled thus far. We can honor the past with braver decisions and wiser choices. Here is where we can look forward to see in the horizon the vast possibilities available to us. We can honor the future with those same brave decisions and wise choices, knowing the steps we take today will point us in a healthy direction. 

    But most importantly, the view from here is the intersection between what we’ve learned and what we will learn, between who we’ve become and who we will choose to become. Today is the when decisions we make are of tantamount importance. Today is when love is most effective. The homeless man is thirsty today. The single mom can’t pay her bills today. The neighbor is sick today. The refugee is in a cage today. What will we decide?

    The sun always shines. Sometimes the clouds cover it, but it is always there revealing things I would rather leave in the dark. It reveals the hate in my heart, the apathy, the indifference, the depression, the selfishness, the procrastination, the fear, the anger.

    When the sun rises to reveal one doozey of a storm, I can don the raingear to stand in this intersection of today. I can remember the God who chose me to be his. I can recall the countless times he has been faithful and kept his promises. I can choose to ask for peace and grace and forgiveness and healing. I can look for ways to help others. I can cling to the hope, rooted in trust, that this season, this world, isn’t the whole story. There’s more to come that will be bigger and better than my imagination can invent. I can choose to get to the basics of life in the middle of the storm. I can remember who I’m anchored to, remember whose holding me.

    To watch the correlating podcast on this topic, go to the “Podcast Video Library” tab on my website to see the YouTube version of Episode 37, “Are You Living In the Past, Present, or Future,” by @TwoStepsAheadPodcast  Highlighting the stuff we’ve stepped in so you don’t have to! Listen on all major podcast platforms (Spotify, iTunes, Pandora, iHeart, Stitcher) and watch weekly on public access TV in Santa Clarita, CA, Long Beach, CA and Pasadena, CA.

    Tara Hoke Schiro is a Los Angeles based author, podcaster, blogger, and designer for Wear Your Character. All can be found at www.TaraSchiro.com

  • Character

    The Golden Rule: Helpful, Hurtful, or Impossible to Implement?

    Two separate discussions took place in my circle this week about the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Or, treat others the way you want to be treated. Both conversations had the same end goal; if we as individuals would just employ this simple yet difficult principle, then our society in general would be a better place to live. The mess of politics, systemic racism, riots, and mask-wearing fights wouldn’t be happening. But there was also a snag. In both discussions, the definition of “the way I would want to be treated” came into question. Everyone has a different moral standard for the way they want to be treated, or the way they want to treat people.

    The first example given was by the friend of a woman whose wedding necessitated postponement for a year due to COVID19. This friend felt bad for the bride and in an attempt to make her feel better, the friend hosted a Zoom bridal shower complete with gifts. The bride was devastated and angry. She did not want a Zoom bridal shower. An argument ensued. The friend explained that if the roles were reversed and she was the bride, she would want all the fuss of a shower on Zoom. In other words, the friend treated the bride exactly as the friend would want to be treated and it backfired. The Golden Rule made the bride angry instead of happy. What went wrong?

    The second example given was from a woman whose older child did not appreciate her “wisdom.” She frequently stepped in and intervened before the son had a chance to make his own decision, thus saving him time from costly mistakes and unnecessary rabbit trails. There’s more to that particular story, but, in a nutshell, she did this because that is “the way I would want to be treated. I would want to be kept from making the wrong decisions.” Again, the Golden Rule backfired.

    The third example, was from a man who opened the door for a woman and she retorted with a negative comment about being able to open the door herself. The man thought he was being polite. The woman thought his action was rude. And again, the Golden Rule backfired.

    Or, so it seems.

    The Golden Rule in the bible is found at the end of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7:12. The Message Version puts it this way: “Here is a simple, rule-of-thumb guide for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them. Add up God’s Law and Prophets and this is what you get.” Without going into a full-blown dissertation, let me point out a few things. The Sermon on the Mount, delivered by Jesus, and found in chapters 5-7 in the book of Matthew, is a teaching on moral standards in personal character and relationship. How to be a humble, upright servant, in relationship with ourselves, each other, and with God. If the Golden Rule is found within this sermon, within the teachings of Jesus, within the gospels, and within the bible, then we must surmise it has something to do with our character and the way that we love others rather than performing a specific task for someone. To put it another way, it’s more about a way of being than a way of doing.

    Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church has said a hundred times if he’s said it once, “God is more interested in your character than he is your comfort.” The bible is full of lessons on character from beginning to end. A scribe asked Jesus, “Of all the commandments in the bible [at that time, only the old testament was in print], which one is the most important? Jesus answered him, ‘The first is to love the Lord God with all your passion, prayer and intelligence and energy. And here is the second: Love others as well as you love yourself. There is no other commandment that ranks with these’”(Mark 12:28-31 MSG). Jesus is saying that our time on earth is about growing our character, about being in relationship with God and others.

    Some final juxtapositions. In the new testament, in a letter written by Paul to the Galatians, Paul gave them a list of character traits as a rubric to determine who were the real followers of Jesus and who were the false teachers: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such there is no law”(Galatians 5:22-23 NKJV). Jesus said in Matthew 7:20, “Therefore, by their fruits you will know them.” In John 15:7-8, Jesus said, “If you abide in me and I abide in you, you will ask what you desire and it shall be done for you [a topic for another blog post]. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit [i.e. love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control] (emphasis mine).” If these character traits mark a “Christian” as the real-deal, in conjunction with the rest of the character traits that Jesus possessed and taught—forgiveness, gratitude, humility, grace, mercy, justice, truth, obedience, trust, servitude, empathy, compassion—then we can conclude that the Golden Rule is about giving others what we have received from the Spirit of God.

    The biblical definition of “love others as well as yourself” is about the above two lists of character traits, not my personal preferences or comforts. I am forgiven; therefore, I forgive the person who hurt me. I am showered in grace to complete tasks that seem to me to be out of my league; therefore, I give grace to others who are learning. Love is the choice to protect others when it is not convenient for me or if I’m inclined to be stubborn. Kindness is the opposite of making excuses when I disagree. Empathy chooses to put myself in the other person’s shoes to see the world from their vantage point. Gentleness allows a person to grow and make mistakes without my judgment or shame. Peace (peacemaker) brings people together, shows people how to cooperate, rather than defending my personal point to prove that I’m right. Justice stands up for what IS right, not just what is right for me.

    This is how I want to be treated. Not focusing on tasks that ultimately, I want people to perform for me, or to appreciate what I did for them, but in giving people their dignity, in serving one another, in listening to understand, in giving grace, in working as a peacemaker. And, yes, I suspect that if we all lived by this moral standard and we decided to be responsible to each other with these character traits, that our society would, indeed, be a better place to live.

    If you go to the “Podcast Video Library” tab on my website, you can watch the YouTube version of Episode 31, “Treating Others How We Want To Be Treated,” by @TwoStepsAheadPodcast  Highlighting the stuff we’ve stepped in so you don’t have to. Listen on all major podcast platforms and watch on TV in Long Beach and Pasadena, California.

    Tara Hoke Schiro is a Los Angeles based author, podcaster, blogger, and designer for Wear Your Character. All can be found at www.TaraSchiro.com

  • Character,  Write Your Life With Grace

    Breathe Different

    I find it ironic that a mug sits on my desk touting the word “breathe.” I purchased it last fall at a conference under the same name. Breathe; a three-day respite from the daily struggles of mental illness. Three days to exhale the years of holding my breath. Three days to breathe IN the Spirit, the life-giving love of Jesus to strengthen me for the days to come. This mug, a perpetual reminder for me to take a deep breath in the face of adversity as the headlines scream of George Floyd, the latest African-American in a long 400-year line begging to keep the final breath in his lungs as it is forced out in brutal terms, is reminding me on this day to take a different kind of breath. The kind that isn’t so self-focused or isolated.

     It seems a no-brainer to say that all human beings are equal. The Bible is clear on this. But we call God’s diverse creation into question when study after study on inequality proves that the system is biased, fearful, and prejudiced towards minorities in everything from neighborhoods, to jobs, to services, to the judicial system. We use words to say, “that isn’t right,” while our behavior passively accepts the injustice. If we allow this to continue, and don’t begin to integrate our actions with our words to stand up against prejudice, then we are perpetuating inequality. Myself included, because I’ve never looked at racism as my problem. “It’s sad what ‘they’ have to deal with but that is not my reality so I can move on and not worry about it.” Wrong. Allowing our fellow citizens to behave immorally against fellow citizens without question makes us caretakers of the system. Passively watching from the sidelines is, in effect, allowing the breath to be taken from people who we silently deem unworthy of equality.

    As followers of Jesus, we cannot claim to love God but not his people. We cannot say God is good and select certain people groups to treat as less-than at the same time. Christians are charged to love everyone, right down to their neighbors and their enemies. We have all been raised and trained in the system. We grew up with ugly thinking. Systemic racism is so entrenched in the fabric of our being, it is so normal, that we don’t recognize (or we choose to ignore) the red flags when they are raised until a man is heinously and purposely suffocated right before our eyes in the middle of the street. What an absolute tragedy that we as a society have created and perpetuated such hateful behavior for centuries, and all the while claiming to be a Christian nation.

    The mug on my desk, reminding me to breathe differently, calls into question my beliefs, biases, judgments, and behaviors. How am I contributing to racism in my daily life? In my texts, emails, verbal conversations, and social media? What is my contribution to the problem? What do I need to change?

  • Character,  Write Your Life With Grace

    How To Love The Unlovable

    This bench has me asking if I’m gonna sit down and stew or keep walking down the path towards real love. When I look at this picture, I have a longing for people to “do the right things” so “I” can attain serenity by sitting down and relaxing. So we can all be at peace. But of course, that is codependent. And it makes me angry that other people can act like crazy makers and I have to be the one to adjust, to be the bigger person, to display strong character, to love what is unlovable. Ah. The arrogance in my heart when I forget that others must adjust to me, be the bigger person, display strong character, and choose to love what is unlovable in me. Yes, love happens in both directions when I put away my pointing finger; when I realize that my personal serenity isn’t dependent on the actions of others. It’s dependent on my choice of beliefs, thoughts, decisions, and reactions. I don’t want that to be true, that my joy is up to me. I just want people to stop it. I don’t want to have to be the one to pick up the weight. I want “them” to do the work. Bitterness and gratitude cannot coexist. Love and disdain are opposites. And the only time love and gratitude have value is when it feels like “it’s not the time for that. It doesn’t apply right now.” My friends, now is the ONLY time it applies. Now is the absolute perfect time to remember that if we are going to let go of ourselves and love the unlovable, we have to remember the we are the unlovable one in someone else’s eyes. And maybe in our own. 

  • Character,  Write Your Life With Grace

    Patience is Active Waiting

    I’ve been struggling with impatience. Not with delayed gratification, but with active waiting, as in, waiting for other people to change and getting irritated that it’s taking too long (not good!). Patience isn’t passive. There are things to do while I wait. Count to ten. Learn Spanish. Pay attention to their needs. Develop empathy for their fear. Patience is love for others.

    Self-reflection reminds me:

    1) I can’t give (emotionally) what I don’t have (emotionally). If I haven’t received, or cannot accept, love, empathy, forgiveness, I cannot offer them to others.

    2) I can’t change people. Waiting for them to change so I can feel peaceful is foolish. And codependent. I must be the one to change. The more I resent having to do the work to change the relationship, the more closed off and bitter I become.

    3) Humble myself. To develop the character of patience, I must move towards the uncomfortable with an attitude that it’s not about me being right, it’s not about me being validated, it’s not about me being in charge.

    4) Acceptance for others’ humanity allows them to relax their behavior; it removes their need to deny, blame, project, or attack. Relating to them as equals, not as one up or one down from me, allows them to be on their own journey without judgement or shame or impatience from me.

    5) Setting personal emotional boundaries to keep the good in and the bad out is KEY.

    6) I don’t have to conjure up patience. God gives me that tool. I get to choose to become a master at using it.

  • Character,  Write Your Life With Grace

    Gratitude is a Choice

    So much to be grateful for! I’m grateful there is a break in the rain and the sun is shining. I’m grateful that we get a chance to slow down a bit. I’m grateful that we as a society have a chance to push the reset button on some of the ugly ways we behave and do business. I’m grateful that we get to reflect on our personal core values, what really drives our decisions and behavior. I’m grateful that in stressful situations there is a side of me that is activated, a side I only see in high pressure places, and I get the opportunity to work on the areas of me that are not so great. I’m grateful for technology so we can be separately together. Character only has value in an opposite situation. Without a stress point, or a weight to pick up, there is no need for strength. In fear there is faith. In hate there is love. In tragedy there is joy. And in the dark there is the Son. I’m grateful we get to choose our character. What are you grateful for today?