Focus on things you can change – the power of Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
                  Serenity Prayer – Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)

I think often of Niebuhr’s advice. It gives me solace and helps me order my thoughts and actions. It instructs me on when I can take initiative and be aggressive and when I must be calm, even passive. He connects three nouns with three verbs: serenity to accept, courage to change, and wisdom to know.

Most issues in life fall into one of two categories: things that I cannot change and things I can. Consider the following issues. Which ones can you control?

        • Your height
        • Your weight
        • Your parents
        • Your friends
        • The weather
        • Where you live
        • How much money you save
        • The past
        • Your attitude
        • How others treat you
        • How you respond to how people treat you

What category would you place virtues in? (A virtue is a behavior showing high moral standards.) Do you have control over whether or not you are honest, friendly, patient, teachable, or punctual? Or are these somehow genetically determined such that you may be exempt from accountability?

For instance, I once had a direct report who was often tardy. When I confronted him he replied, “Yeah, my grandfather was always late, my father was too, I guess I just inherited it.” I told him that he was wrong. There was no such thing as a “ tardy gene”; it was an aspect of life he had control over. I shared how, as a young adult, I, too, was often late to appointments and disrespectful of schedules but that through discipline and conscientious work, I had changed. Now I am fastidious about being punctual. As an employee, he would need to improve in that area.

There’s just no good excuse for being deficient in any of the virtues.

Living the virtues

Here’s an abridged list of 28 virtues. On a scale from 1 to 10 [1 being “I’m not very good at this”; 10 being “I excel at this.”], rate yourself in each area. Then take responsibility to ratchet up your score in each area. It will be a lifelong pursuit.

If you’re raising children, these virtues create a good curriculum to work on. Before a child leaves home, aspire that he or she understands each area and is striving to excel.


Courteous,  Humble, Generous, Loyal, Respectful, Devoted, Unselfish, Disciplined, Responsible, Honest, Patient, Teachable, Faithful, Decisive, Attentive, Optimistic, Friendly, Fair, Discreet, Takes initiative, Cooperative, Courageous, Resourceful, Punctual, Consistent, Flexible, Deliberate, Careful ____

Don’t be too discouraged by the low points in life or too emboldened by the high points

Information meeting for the 2024 Travel with Friends trip

An Eastern monarch asked his wise men to invent a phrase that would apply to all times and in all situations. After careful deliberation, they offered this statement: “And this too shall pass away.”

When Abraham Lincoln heard the story, he mused: “How much it expresses. How chastening in the hour of pride; how consoling in the depths of affliction.”

Yes, life is a series of ups and downs, but the severe peaks and valleys seldom last. Don’t be too discouraged by the low points in life or too emboldened by the high points in life. Remind yourself and others of the transitory nature of life. Try to maintain a balanced perspective.

In my early forties I had several career leaps that catapulted me up near the top of my profession. The rails were greased and the momentum strong. But the high times were soon tempered by the challenges of life. Good times don’t last forever.

In my late forties I became clinically depressed. I thought my life as I knew it was coming to an end. If you’ve never been depressed, it’s hard to understand the feelings of hopelessness and confusion that torment the mind. I told my wife that we needed to liquidate our assets and go live with her mother out in the country. But that season of my life passed. With the help of medications, I climbed out of the dark abyss and resumed normal life. Difficult times don’t last forever.

When you’re going through tough times, don’t be overly discouraged because “this too shall pass away.” And when you’re going through times of prosperity, don’t be smug and proud because “this too shall pass away.” Events are seldom as catastrophic or fortunate as we think. This truth, if embraced, will give us ballast and stabilize us emotionally.

Winston Churchill touched on this thought when he said, “Success is not final…failure is not fatal…it’s the courage to continue that counts.”

Information meeting for the 2024 Travel with Friends trip

On Wednesday, December 6 at 6:00p.m. I’m hosting a 45-minute information meeting on the 2024 trip. We’ll meet in the choir rehearsal room at Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, TX. For those who don’t live in the DFW Metroplex, I’ll host a virtual meeting in January. Here’s a brochure about the trip.


This year, my vineyard was decimated by Downy Mildew – lessons learned

I have a small vineyard on Cedar Creek Lake, an hour south of Dallas. I do all the work myself. It’s fun, good exercise, and at times, cathartic.

Unlike other agricultural crops, with grapevines you only get one chance every year to harvest fruit. If something goes wrong, it’s 12 months before you can try again. A lot of things can go wrong: an early or late frost, hailstorm, severe freeze or drought, insects, birds, and other animals. But the greatest vulnerabilities are diseases: bacteria, fungi, or viruses. 

One month before this year’s harvest, Downy Mildew crept into the vineyard (it only takes one microscopic spore) and ravaged the grapes, I lost the entire harvest.

To prevent the three major vineyard nemesis (Downy Mildew, Powdery Mildew, and Black Rot), beginning at bud-break, I spray the vines with Mancozeb every two weeks. But the fungicide can’t be used within one month of harvest because it will taint the grapes. This year, the vines were infected during those final four weeks.

I didn’t know, but there’s another product that can be used prior to harvest. Though not as effective as Mancozeb, it adequately protects the vines in those final weeks.

I lost one harvest – no wine bottles labeled 2023 – but I get another chance next year. 

The main take-away is that I must learn from my mistake, and not just in the area of viticulture. What lessons can I learn that will apply to all areas of my life?

Here are two life-lessons that I’ve learned from the ruined harvest.

    • Some events are more critical than others and demand extra thought and caution. If I plan a date night for Mary and me and the dinner is mediocre and the movie boring, it’s just a disappointing evening. No great loss. But if I’m planning an international trip for 50 friends and make a mistake booking the international flights, the result could be catastrophic. So the greater the consequences of an event or decision, the more careful and obsessive I must be in making sure all goes well. It’s also wise to solicit multiple people’s opinions and critique of the plans and progress; the more “eyes” you have on a project, the better. On a scale from 1-10, 1 being “not significant” and 10 being “extremely significant”, rate every project/event in your life and concentrate more on the higher valued ones.  
    • The closer I get to a high-value event, the more focused and mindful I should become. I must not get distracted. I must not assume anything. I should check, double-check, and triple-check all details.

I’m currently winterizing my vineyard. Next year will be my best harvest.

Announcement – 2024 Travel with Friends trip


I love to travel.

I became addicted to travel early in life. Before I graduated from high school I had traveled to 12 countries in Europe and Asia with my church youth choir. Those were transformative experiences.

Twenty years ago, Mary and I set a goal of visiting 60 countries before we die. Next April we’ll visit #’s 58, 59, & 60 (Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay).

Why do I enjoy travel so much?

    • An ancient proverb says, “Better to see something once than read about it a thousand times.” You can read about Rome’s Colosseum, Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia, the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome (picture above), or Machu Picchu in Peru; but until you experience these places using all five senses, you really don’t understand them-they’re not part of your personal story.
    • Mark Twain once remarked: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.” International travel develops a healthy,  broad, and more accurate view of the world. Just like a fish doesn’t know it’s in water, we don’t understand our own culture until we’re exposed to other cultures.
    • Life is short and the world is huge. I want to “live until I die” because someday I will. Travel now. Investment in travel is an investment in yourself.

I love to travel with friends.

Twelve years ago I started hosting an annual international trip for friends. I truly wanted to use my travel-knowledge to help others experience the wonders of travel. If you’ve not traveled much, it can be intimidating, mysterious, and confusing. My trips make travel accessible, safe, reasonable, and fun.

It’s also beneficial to travel with others-as opposed to traveling solo-because experiences are magnified when we have them with others. When you have an “ah-ha” moment–like seeing the beaches of Normandy– have it with others and it will be more deeply etched into your mind. Also, deep friendships are formed when you’re traveling with a group. Some of the best friends I have are people that I have traveled with often.

Here’s a brochure about the 2024 Travel with Friends trip. I hope you’ll join Mary and me for a life-enhancing 17-days. Please write or call me if you have questions.