The best intentions

Christmas charity gift bag with contents shown

I was riding my bike home. I passed a bus stop and circled back.

A red cloth bag with a yellow ribbon drawstring was on the ground next to the bus stop. A bunch of stuff was scattered around the nearby bench.

I thought, “There’s a story there!”

And there was.

From the photo, you can tell that a church or charity group made Christmas gift bags for lower-income people. Among the stuff on the ground were three sheets of paper with hand-written notes.

The bus stop is a three-minute walk from a Social Security office. Apparently, the person writing the notes lives in nearby Englewood. I discovered that from their name and address on the back of one of the pieces of paper – a bank statement!

For your benefit, here’s an excerpt:

I’m A Disabled Senior. Your Driver WAs Very Rude. I will PersUE This Until I’m Spocken To By A Supervisor. Your Drivers Apparently Are Not PAid Enough …

But back to my point.

Whoever took the time and spent the money to put together that gift bag did not hit the mark with this person. The recipient took a few things from the gift bag and discarded the rest.

I propose that the giver’s time would be better spent getting to know someone who has similar challenges to the unnamed bus passenger. Then they could see what the person’s real needs are. (Apparently, a Belgian milk chocolate-covered pretzel with holiday sprinkles was not on the passenger’s Christmas list for Santa. Two were unopened on the ground.)


How can I help?

finger with a bandaid strip

I was dropping off some packages for FedEx to deliver.

Kayla, the lady that helped me, noticed that my finger was bleeding… “Can I get you a bandaid?”

That was certainly above and beyond the call of normal duties… she had to go to a far corner of the store to find a first aid kit that had a bandaid.

Her smile and positive attitude conveyed her heartfelt willingness to be helpful.

And she made my day.

How can you make a positive difference in the life of someone today?


When change happens too fast

dead leaves on a tree in autumn

Autumn hit Denver this year faster than ever. The temperature dropped 70 degrees in 12 hours. As a result, most leaves never had a chance to turn their usual bright colors. They went from green to brown and are falling swiftly to the ground.

Business often forces growth in the same way. If the acceleration of growth happens at the speed of a Ferrari, what could go wrong?

A lot.

When quantity increases too fast, quality drops.

The end user’s needs often get lost in the push to get the product out the door.

So instead, slow down and experience the joys of life – both personally and in your business.

Caveat… businesses should be able to adapt to change quickly. An example is the music industry and its slow adjustment to the changes streaming brought to the marketplace.



crashing on the street

A few weeks ago, I took a tumble off my bike. The road repair crews had put caution tape between the cones along one of the roads on my way to work – that wasn’t there the week before. I didn’t see the tape until I was too close. I slammed my brakes and went head-over-heels.

A guardian angel lady saw me tumble and quickly pulled over. She crammed my bicycle into the back seat and took me home, in spite of how I was such a bloody mess.

Through a miracle, I was able to get my teeth fixed that morning at a nearby dentist. Through another miracle, my dental insurance covered the vast majority of this unplanned expense.

Good as new!

Not quite. My face was a melange of scars for the next week. The aches and pains still live on – for a little while, at least.

That incident reminded me that nearly anything can happen to us. And that we’re fragile.

People all around us are injured. We may not see their scars. But we should treat them with love and care, just like that guardian angel lady treated me.

We never know if someone in our daily lives is about to break. The stress of life might be more than they can handle.

A little love and care can go a long way toward their healing. And we’ll feel better for having made a difference in their life.


You are making a bigger difference than you think

I often feel powerless. Life throws situations at me that are bigger than I can handle.

I believe in the power of God to answer prayer. I also understand that he answers not always in the ways that I like nor within my timetable.

But that’s not the point of this post.

I want to encourage you to keep doing good things and to not give up.

During my bike ride to work, I cycle on this sidewalk. The sprinkler system puts a fine mist on the sidewalk (as well as on its intended target – the nearby grass). Notice that a very thin stripe of spray paint stopped the flow of water. Somehow, the sun warmed up the painted stripe and prevented water from crossing over.

We’re like that stripe on the sidewalk. We often feel that we have very little impact on everyday situations and the people who are part of our lives.

But you never know. You may be affecting the flow of water in their lives – not preventing it – but rather making it flow to better places.

So keep on doing good things.


I need to change

I need to change my attitudes.

It’s really easy for me to think my way is the best.

Heather and I recently bought a used car to make our lives less complicated. We carefully chose the model that had the very best balance of fun and fuel savings. And we love it.

I also have taken a lot of satisfaction in the thought that this is a car that few people choose. It’s fun to be off the beaten path.

But I tend to look at other cars and attack their lack of practicality or wasteful use of fuel. And then I judge their owners for their shiny, new vehicle-of-choice that does not fit my narrow set of parameters.

So I’m working on changing my attitudes.

“Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves” (from here).


airbnb plus hotels mashup

the indside of a fancy hotel room

You heard it hear first – my startup idea.

Business people who travel a lot often sleep in a large hotel room with two beds – and one is always empty.

What if they used a service like airbnb to get a roommate for their two-or-three night stays?

Potential problems and solutions:

  • You could get someone annoying. Solution: the app would allow you to cancel and pick a different room.
  • You’re an introvert and require your space after a draining day of conference activity. Solution: the app allows you to select a roommate who also values quiet and personal space.
  • Privacy. Solution: the app allows you to pick people of the gender you’re most comfortable with.
  • Getting the word out that this app exists could be a problem if hotel companies use all their negative marketing tricks to make the app look bad. Solution: have airbnb buy the app idea and handle the marketing. (Airbnb – are you listening? I’m open for offers.)
  • “I’d never use an app like that.” Solution: don’t.

Variety and uniformity

a collection of vinyl records at a thrift shop - copyright 2016 by paul merrill

We love variety. We love uniformity. This contrast in our wants and needs is intriguing.

The familiar can be comforting – knowing that something will always be there. And yet, we love change. Few people would choose to have the same meal three times a day. We love listening to different tunes. A change in seasons is often welcome.

And yet everyone has different needs for variety and uniformity. Some people are content with no change, ever. On the other side, our ADD culture pushes us toward constant stimulation, which requires never-ending change. I’m probably closer to the wanting-variety end of that spectrum.

My need for constancy is reflected by the fact that I’ve been married 26 years. Yet there is endless variety in my wife. (Women are so different than men that I will never figure her out!)

Finally, variety is a luxury. In America today, we have far greater choice than kings and queens did 400 years ago. We can get fresh fruit 365 days a year. When I lived in Africa, my friends in rural areas did not have that luxury. If mangoes weren’t ready to pick, you didn’t eat mangoes. If they were ripe, you ate a lot, for several weeks straight.


Where to give this Christmas

homeless signHomelessness is sometimes a result of mental illness. Often that is combined with substance abuse.

My friend and I encountered another friend we hadn’t seen in a year. Our not-seen friend is now homeless. No substance abuse is involved, but there are definitely some other powerful issues at play.

I’ll be talking with two friends who are experts at my church to find out some ways to help him. It’s complicated.

So this Christmastime, I think it’s a great idea to give to an organization in your area that helps the homeless. You’ll be assisting those who have reached bottom and maybe providing hope for the future.



drip coffee filterFilters help us relate to other people. When we see someone with their hair messed up (and not on purpose), do we tell them about their problem or keep it to ourselves? Do we share our political views without considering the majority perspective of those in the room? When we see something wrong, do we speak up and fight for what we feel is right?

Everyone falls somewhere on the scale of having a weak filter (readily saying what’s on our minds) to having a powerful filter (rarely saying anything). And it’s good that both types exist. If confronting people didn’t exist, nothing would ever get done. (And there would be a lot of mismatched outfits). If sensitive types didn’t exist, there would be a lot more wars.

I am glad for the diversity of creation.

Special thanks to my brother Bill. Our brief discussion of filters during his recent visit spurred this post.