Some Thoughts On Las Vegas

My words will never adequately express the horror of the shootings in Las Vegas.

https://salemnet.vo.llnwd.net/media/cms/RT/43629-las-vegas-shooting-getty-3-facebook.800w.tn.jpgNews stories report body count and hospitalizations in an attempt to convey the incomprehensible magnitude of the violence.

The number of the dead and wounded could describe a pitched battle in Afghanistan or, long ago, as I remember as a child the reports from Vietnam.

Nearly sixty dead. Over five hundred in need of medical treatment.

But of course, this wasn’t a battle fought on foreign soil.

This was a country music concert.

On American soil.

And the attacker was an unremarkable American citizen who possessed a personal arsenal of automatic weapons. As he so dreadfully demonstrated, weapons designed to kill human beings in large numbers very efficiently.

We don’https://i2.wp.com/www.billboard.com/files/styles/480x270/public/media/las-vegas-shooting-mandalay-bay-hotel-oct-2-2017-ap-billboard-1548.jpgt yet know why the killer opened fire from his 32nd floor hotel room. But we are reeling from the savagery of his actions and the random senselessness of the deaths. He indiscriminately maimed and murdered scores of complete strangers who were out on the town for nothing more than a good time.

While we cannot today find a final answer to the great puzzle of our national addiction to violence, perhaps we can nonetheless finally admit the addiction.

As frightful as the Las Vegas killings are, they join a long list of mass shootings.

Such violence is all too frequent.

The murders last Sunday stand out only because of the numbers.

And because it was captured on video.

However, these same numbers some times take place in Chicago on any given weekend and no one even bats an eye.  It is not noticed because it usually is a one-on-one event. One person killed events in an abhorrent number of weekend murders… in a “gun-free zone.” 

Let’s be honest. Gun Free Zones don’t work.

But we have to do something.

As a nation we have been at war since 2001. Since I was born, the years of national conflict nearly outnumber the years of peace. And I’m not including the Cold War, covert actions, and episodic military interventions. So many young adults do not remember or  have experienced an America at peace.

There is no question that the type and number of weapons hoarded by the Las Vegas shooter made him exponentially more lethal. We can and should arrive at reasonable political measures that address an individual’s capacity to wreak such unspeakable havoc.

I not talking about taking guns away from anyone. I want a society that is able to have the freedom to have a gun to protect themselves or to use for appropriate hunting.  I do not believe we need to pry the guns from the hands of Americans.

However, what I am saying is that we can do something moving forward.  We need to keep these type of guns off and out of the free-market.  We can stop people from buying a gun that can shoot 70 – 90 rounds in 10 seconds.  Is there http://www.trbimg.com/img-575ef1a2/turbine/la-1465840206-snap-photoreally a purpose for a gun like this? I think not.

In truth, we will never be able to clear our society of these type weapons already purchased.  They are embedded and unfortunately will be a part of a society that will need to deal with the outcomes of such weaponry. 

I am not naive, I know that someone will continue to make these type of weapons, no matter if we ban them from being sold. If a person wants to have a gun to use for evil, no matter what type of weapon they want… it will be available somewhere. Regardless what we do politically.

But we have to  do something.  We need to limit their numbers of availability. Doing nothing just deepens our accountability for these type of events from occurring.

And yet, even if and when we achieve a political solution, our spiritual challenge remains.

As a believer, I can no longer turn my eyes away from these type of events and simply say I will pray for the victims.  While it is a good place to start there is more that we can do. To be followers of Jesus, requires reflection, repentance, and transformation.

As long as violence in any form is our only customary means for maintaining our security, our status, and our stuff, we will ALL remain… mortally wounded spiritually.

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Choosing Sides

Are you old enough you remember the days of “choosing sides?”  

Two captains would be chosen and they would take turns picking their teams from all those gathered to play.

It was a terrible experience… especially if you were last to be chosen.  

That meant you were the least wanted of all those gathered to play.  What a humiliating experience!  (I say that because I was often the last to be chosen.)  

If you, as captain, were lucky enough to get the right picks then victory was almost certain for your team.  

Choosing sides filled the air with anticipation and whispers of “choose me”, “choose me…”  None of uhttps://i2.wp.com/www.civilwarstlouis.com/image5/titles/Choosing%20title.jpgs wanted to be humiliated by last place but we all wanted to play on a winning team.  

The whole experience was one of emotional scars for life, but if you got the right team, what fun that was!  

You were sure to win and usually did.

If only Billy was your pitcher then you had it made.  If you could get Sam for a batter then the game was yours. Getting the right players made a win almost guaranteed.

As I read a passage in Psalms this morning I thought back to those days.  It made me wince and smile all at the same time.

The Psalmist wrote,  “In my distress I prayed to the Lord, and the Lord answered me and set me free. The Lord is on my side, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me? Yes, the Lord is for me; he will help me. I will look in triumph at those who hate me.  It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in people.”

The text rehttps://img1.etsystatic.com/138/0/12865351/il_340x270.1081307595_dokf.jpgads, “the Lord is on my side.”

As I read those words my mind flashed back to the days of choosing sides and I imagined being picked to be on God’s team, to be on His side and He being on mine.  

The Lord is for me, He’s on my side!  

 

Finding Forgiveness

“I need to forgive.” 

This simple sentence haunted me for years.

I was reminded of this last night as I attended a Casting Chttps://fscog.files.wordpress.com/2011/08/finding-forgiveness.jpg?w=281&h=211rowns concert.  I love their music.  It just cuts right to my heart.  Over the years, it has had a profound affect on me.  Their music has encouraged and challenged me to deal with things I was ignoring in my life.

I struggled with forgiveness for many years.

In my mind, I knew that I needed to but I just could bring myself to forgive those that I felt betrayed me… my heart needed more time to respond.  I learned the hard way that the heart takes more time to heal.

You may not be able to relate exactly to my story, but chances are by the time you’re reading this article, you know what it feels like to be lied to, betrayed, forgotten, rejected or in some other way wounded by someone you loved and trusted.

I have yet to meet a person who has made it through this life without facing one or more of these wounds. And because we understand what it feels like to be injured in this way, we also know how truly challenging it can be to offer forgiveness.

For years I thought I understood what it meant to forgive.

https://marriagemissions.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/08/Time-to-Forgive-AdobeStock_59582002-copy.jpgThen just about the time I thought I had a grasp on the whole process of understanding forgiveness, something would come straight out of nowhere and remind me that I had a long way to go.

The hurt and resentment we sought to leave behind would resurface from time to time. Maybe it was triggered by someone’s offhand remark or by an old song from back in the day.

That is how it would happen to me.  I would be driving back home from work, listening to songs as they randomly came up.

Then that song comes on… the one that took me back to another place and time.

Suddenly I am filled with all the anger, hurt, frustration and resentment that I feel towards people who betrayed or hurt me over the years of my life. 

It would be clearly evident that I still struggled with forgiveness.

On the outside, I would hide it, twist it and lie about it if I needed to, but I wasn’t going to forgive. On the inside I didn’t want anything to do with forgiveness.

I thought I would grow into it over time, I assumed, this burden and I would grow strong enough to carry it. 

As the years went by, I tried to forget. It worked, for the most part. When you carry a grudge long enough, it didn’t feel like a grudge anymore. It just felt like life. https://i.pinimg.com/736x/16/da/d6/16dad6f443ecaae385abba9b17912111--let-god-let-it-go.jpg

Like putting on clothes each morning, I would just get up every morning and strap on my bag full of anger, hurt, shame, bitterness, frustration and the lack of any desire to forgive those that you had an issue with.

As matter of fact, I thought about it rarely. When I did think about it, I prayed it would evaporate into thin air, and that maybe I would evaporate with it.

In some ways, it did evaporate. In many ways I did forget.

After all these years, I still have a lot to learn about the process of forgiving someone.

But I have learned this…

We forgive in response to wounds and betrayals. A part of ourselves is broken. A relationship has crumbled. The potential life we imagined for ourselves lies in ruins. I am learning that I am still broken.

Forgiveness is that healing that mends the broken part of us.

Mending takes time.

Forgiveness cannot take place without honesty, boundaries, space, distance and time.

Forgiveness is a process. I am learning that we forgive one day at a time.

It rarely comes as a single, discrete decision. We talk about forgiveness like it’s a single, one-time event, and in my experience, it’s just not.

Forgiveness isn’t an event any more than brushing your teeth is an event.  It is something you must do over and over and over again.

I am not sure it gets easier with time.

In fact, one of the few things that has helped me heal from my past is to stop saying, “I forgive you” and start saying, “I’m forgiving you.”

Jesus talked at length about forgiveness. Once, Peter asked him, “So, look, how often do I have to forgive? Seven times? Will that about cut it?” Imagine the look on Peter’s face when Jesus said, “Make that seventy-times seven.”

https://blogs.psychcentral.com/anger/files/2015/06/blame-e1433261975140.jpgStrictly speaking, Jesus wasn’t just telling Peter how many times he had to forgive a repeat offender. He was also telling him—telling us—how forgiveness works.

I need to get up each morning and instead of strapping on that backpack of hurt, I need to wake up with the intent of forgiving.

Many days it’s the same person I forgave yesterday.

What would happen if, just for today, you thought about the person who has hurt you most and said to yourself:

“I am forgiving you. By that I mean, I’m not going to blame you or hold you responsible for my life or my future any longer. The power to shape what is coming is mine now. I take it back for myself. I reclaim my power. And that grudge I’ve been carrying, well, it’s hurting me more than it’s hurting you, so for that reason, I’m going to set it down, move on and forgive you.”

Those of us that struggle with forgiveness, we don’t have to make any promises about the future. Except that if we have to, we may need to forgive again tomorrow.

Ultimately… it is how we find the way to forgive.

Sometimes the heart needs more time to accept what the mind already knows.

My Own Worst Enemy

I have an enemy that I deal with daily.

I face it constantly.

The battle with my worst enemy will continue till the day I die.

My enemy is not the Democrats, nor is it the Republicans.

It’s not the President.

It’s not Clinton, Obama or Bernie Sanders.

My own worst enemy has nothing to do with politics.

It’s not the Russians.

It’s not North Korea.

It’s not Iran, Iraq or Afghanistan.

My enemy is not an Atheist. 

It isn’t the Muslims or Islam.

My enemy isn’t ISIS, Nazis, anarchists.

It’s not the liberals or conservatives.

My own worst enemy is not CNN, MSNBC or Fox News.

It’s not FACEBOOK or Twitter.

My enemy isn’t homosexuals, transgenders or bisexuals.

It’s not Black Lives Matter or the Trumpsters.

My enemy is much more insidious than any of these. 

Much more deadly and dangerous.

For you see…

My own worst enemy is…  ME.

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(Paul speaks very clearly in Galatians 5 about our battle against the enemy within…ourselves.  All too often we look to others, or things, to be the source, the cause (and usually the blame) for our sins and our problems.  Although sometimes there can be external forces, ultimately all responsibility lies at our doorstep.  Our greatest battle is truly against our own flesh, the sin nature that resides in each of us.  So, in fact, our worst enemy is ourselves.)

 

 

Piece By Piece

This month we are celebrating. 

We are celebrating the declaration that my sister-in-law is now cancer free.

I am still trying to wrap my head around it.

“Cancer Free.”

Image may contain: outdoorI am filled with joy over this news and I know it is only by the hand of God that we are able to say those two words.

I am thrilled that God’s healing grace has fallen on Lynn and she gets to plan for her future.  I am excited because we get to be part of that plan.   

But it also has caused me to pause. 

It has caused me to stop and consider those that haven’t been able to use those words and those who never had the chance to use them.  

It’s not my place to question God on why some get another chance and some do not.  God is in control and I am called to trust Him, regardless of the circumstances. His ways are greater than mine. 

I am just so grateful for His healing and His plan for Lynn. 

However, one of life’s universal and unavoidable experiences is to lose someone we love.

All who have lived and loved will lose cherished family and friends to death.

Whether early or late, suddenly or gradually, dramatically or peacefully, death comes for everyone. And when it comes for a loved one, our whole world can change in an instant, and we may wonder how we can ever go on.

I have lost more than my fair share, way too early.  A brother, when I was ten years old.  Bryan Blakely, my best friend from my childhood. Steve Schueren and Bob Emrich from my young adult years.  All taken from this life way too soon.

Death can be so difficult to cope with and so difficult to understand. Moving forward can seem almost impossible at first.

But the only way to avoid such heartbreak would be to remove from life all loving relationships… we know that isn’t reality.

We all need loving and caring relationships in our life.

We need them so we can move forward in life.

https://i1.wp.com/www.bang2write.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/piece-by-piece.jpg

So we do our best to do just that… move forward.

Little by little.

Piece by piece.

We attend to life’s daily demands.

We eat, work and sleep again.

We begin to gain some understanding, even peace.

We begin to gain strength.

And yet we never quite get back to normal.

Things won’t ever be just as they were — nor should they be.

Nothing can make up for the absence of someone we love. It would be wrong to try to find a substitute.

There will always be a gap… a hole… a place that feels empty.

We must hold out and see it through.

That sounds hard at first, but at the same time it is a great relief, for that gap, as it remains unfilled, preserves the bond between us and our lost loved one.

It helps us to keep alive our relationship with each other, even at the cost of pain.

It’s this delicate balance between holding on and letting go that gives life some of its bitter sweetness. 

Because wehttps://i2.wp.com/assets.coolhunting.com/coolhunting/mt_asset_cache/culture/assets/images/piecebypiece.jpg know heartache and pain, we also know love and joy.

And it just so happens that often the more our hearts are broken with pain, the more open they tend to be, and thus more able to receive and give love. 

Such love never dies.

Little by little… piece by piece… life goes on.

Play the Ball Where the Monkey Drops It

I recently was told a story about when the British colonised India. They were in Calcutta and some of the English people were trying to establish a Golf Course.

However, there was a problem – Monkey’s surrounded the Golf Course – and Image result for tee shotwhatever it was about the game of golf, these monkeys really enjoyed both watching and taking part in the Game of Golf. So when one of the Golfers took a swing and knocked the ball into the Fairway, these Monkeys would run along, grab the Ball, and start throwing it around.

Obviously, the Golfers didn’t like this, so they tried doing a few different things to solve the problem.

The first thing that they did to try to control this situation was to build high fences around the Golf Course – not such a great idea considering it’s was Monkeys that they were trying to keep out! Not surprisingly – the Monkeys just climbed the fences and carried https://i2.wp.com/www.golfvacationinsider.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/costa-rica-monkeys.jpgon with their game.

The next thing they tried to do was to lure the monkeys away from the Golf Course. I don’t know what they did – maybe they shook bananas at the monkeys – but when they were shaking the bananas at some of the Monkey’s, some of the Monkeys went after the bananas  and the rest ignored them.

The third thing attempted was to capture the Monkeys, but for every one that they captured, there was another Monkey or two, left.

They couldn’t solve the problem and decided that they had to bring about an innovation – and the innovation was a ground rule that said – ‘from now on we play the ball wherever the Monkey drops it.

As you can imagine, playing this way could be rather frustrating. For example, the ball is driven well down the fairway close to the hole – only to have a monkey run off with it and drop it somewhere far from the hole. On the other hand, the opposite sometimes happened. A terrible shot might be picked up and delivered close to the cup. It didn’t take long before golfers realized that golf on that particular course was quite similar to our experience of life – there are good breaks and there are bad breaks and we cannot entirely control the outcome of the game called life.

Like it or not, life is all about playing the ball where the monkey drops it. 

That means that many times in life you will have to play the ball from the rough.

Life has a way of messing with our game plan. We tee life up just the way we like it and make a good swing for success, and then things change; sickness, opposition, Image result for Golf balls in the roughfinancial hardship, relational breakdown, betrayal, divorce or our own poor choices, and we find ourselves with a bad lie playing out of the rough.

In moments like that we must master the skill of playing the ball where life drops it! It has been well said that life is 10% what we make of it but 90% is how we respond to adversity.

We cannot control what happens around us, but we can control what happens within us in response to what happens around us.

In life, sometimes you will have to just play the ball where the Monkey drops it.

 

 

You Have No Idea

If you’ve read this blog for a while, you know that I love sharing stories.  I have never been able to write stories of someone else so I usually write about myself. That isn’t as self-serving as that may come across. It is just that I share my thoughts and things that I know about.  I know about failure and I know about success. I have experienced both on extreme levels. So, this week is no different, I want to share another small piece of my own story.

As I write this, today is my anniversary. Exactly 9 years ago today, I sat down to my https://thelegacybuilder.files.wordpress.com/2017/09/1c09e-post2bwriting.jpg?w=1108computer to write my very first blog post.

Now, I realize I didn’t just say I performed my first brain surgery, or I decided to run for President. But for me, it was a pivotal day – one that I think will shape the rest of my life.

While I have always loved to write, I never let anyone know that aspect about me. But blogging? That was something different.  This was where people would be able to see what you wrote. I’d never blogged before. I really did not know what a “blog” really was. I had no following to speak of. I had no way to know if people would find this website, or if they’d even read it. I even wondered if I’d run out of things to say.

What I did know is that there was a stirring inside of me, something telling me that tomorrow wasn’t supposed to look like yesterday. I’d ignored it for years, pushing it aside to keep the pain and darkness that had overcome my life for the previous 15 years or so.

Something told me if I didn’t move right then, another wasted day would become another wasted month – and another wasted year of my life.

Facing that empty screen, I have to admit, I was scared. I was doubtful.

But I wrote anyway. 

And I wrote again the next day.

And the next. And the next.

Over the course of this blog’s life, there haven’t been many days where I did not write something.  Some of those stories and posts have made their way onto this blog site. However, many articles and stories will forever remain drafts, never to be published. Not because they are not good stories, but rather because I am not at peace about revealing them for people to read. I am sure that on some levels, they contain my “best” writing.  I have yet to fully understand why I choose to post some of the articles and some will be deleted when they close down this website after a long period of no activity or I pass away.

So I published and posted articles and stories, while I always say that, “I love to write, but I am not a writer.” I never say I am a good writer.  Some of my posts are not bad and a few of them I would have to admit are pretty good. Many of them are just “ok” and a portion of them are horrible.  I am always amazed that 9 years later, my articles have been read over 525,000 thousand times.

Blogging is not for the faint of heart.  Writing one is hard. Most blogs fail after just a few posts because it does take an emotional toll on your heart.  You pour yourself into it and sometimes people are not so kind while they stomp on your heart or your perspective.

I have had some great supporters of my writings and I have had some detractors. I https://i1.wp.com/omofastaction.africancampaigns.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/ink-stains.pnghave been called names and I have had my writings called, “A stain on the white shirt of society.”  I have come so close to quitting a number of times over the years but I still cannot walk away from it.

I’ve met some amazing people I’d never have had reason or opportunity to know otherwise. Many of them have grown to be genuine friends – some of them an ocean away. Some readers even credit my posts with giving them the nudge they needed to launch out into their own deeper waters, which is the highest compliment to me.

But most of all – best of all – writing this blog had allowed me to feel more like “me” than I had in years.

I was going through a really dark period of my spiritual life when I started this blog. I was truly far, far away from God compared to where I had been most of my life.  I was trying to find my way back and I just could not find a way to do that. I am sure that many of you know what I mean. You’ve felt it too. There’s a deep longing in each of us to discover our elusive “purpose” and to sit in the center of our life knowing that you are  at peace in your relationship with the Lord. Little else feels as good as when you’re actually doing what you know you should be doing.

Writing has allowed me to find my way “home” spiritually.  I made a choice that day when I started writing and filling that blank screen.  I chose faith over fear. I chose action over apathy. I chose to fill the page, to write the first story. And you know what? Each time I write, I gain a little more peace than the day before.

Yes, I know, there are countless blogs growing faster and are much better than mine. I encounter better and more successful “real” writers on a daily basis. And when I compare myself to my colleagues and friends, I’m keenly aware that there’s a lot of road up ahead of me.

https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0254/9599/t/2/assets/logo.png?11343127326311193056But today, when I compare myself to that guy facing that empty computer screen 9 years ago, it’s worth pausing and reflecting on how far he’s come. It’s something to celebrate. I wish I could reach back in time and whisper in his ear, “Go ahead. Do it boldly! You have no idea what a difference this will make in your life!!”.

Do you feel a stirring inside you – to become more, or simply different than you are? Have you ever thought about writing?

If you’ve tried to bury the feeling, but it only grows stronger. If you’re afraid of failing. If you think the sacrifice would be too great.  If it seems unattainable, unreachable, ‘ungettable’…at least for you.  If you wonder if it’s all just wishful thinking, like overgrown hope. And if it would be smarter to settle for what you already have.

Ask yourself this simple question. What if you’re wrong about writing your story?

Go ahead. Do it boldly.

My writings will never be read by millions.  I will probably never publish a book.

But I’ve still got a story to tell.

I’ll write mine… you write yours, because you have no idea what a difference it will make in your life.

Step Outside of the Boat

I’ve been thinking a lot about when Peter, James, John, and the rest of the Twelve disciples accepted Jesus’ invitation to follow Him, they committed and dedicated themselves to patterning their lives on His. 

Me? I get out of bed and I meander to church for the 11:30 service on a Sunday morning and I somehow I want to get credit for my effort.   Getting to service a somehow I have caught myself wanting to get a medal for my “commitment” and “dedication”.

Is this what it really means to follow Christ?

As I write this, I am ashImage result for Boat floating in the wateramed of ever wanting “credit” for in my walk with Christ.

I have always been amazed that these men gave up everything in this life to follow Him.  I cannot imagine that type of commitment to follow Christ.

In particular, I been drawn to the story of Peter walking on the water. Or more specifically his failure to walk on water.

Each disciple would struggle to follow Christ.

But struggling to follow Jesus’ example doesn’t make them failures. On the contrary, their mistakes and missteps show us an important dimension of what it means to follow Jesus.

And I think that may be why Matthew tells the story of Peter’s attempt to walk on water.

Like Mark, Matthew shares the story of Jesus walking on water. In both Gospels, the disciples have gone ahead of Jesus in a boat. The weather gets rough. In the predawn hours the disciples spot Jesus strolling across the lakImage result for Jesus Walking on Watere.

If we stick with Mark and stop with that, the passage tells us only that Jesus is divine. That’s an important message, and Matthew conveys it as well. But then Matthew adds the bit about Peter getting out of the boat. And it’s important to ask why he included it.

Scholars have concluded that he had a source that Mark lacked. But that still doesn’t explain why Matthew decided to include the episode in the larger story he was telling. My guess is that he wanted to show us what discipleship meant in light of what we had just learned about Jesus’ identity.

Following an incarnate God means that we would be set an impossible example to most ordinary people.  Jesus is urging us to walk on water. And He knows what that will mean for us. Let’s look more closely at the passage.

Peter says to Jesus, “If that’s you, tell me to come out there with you.” Peter climbs Image result for Peter sinkingover the side of the boat, takes a few steps, and then he sinks. Jesus grabs him up and hauls him into the boat. He says, “Oh you of little faith. Why did you doubt?”

We have all heard lots of sermons about Peter’s faith deficit. We’ve been told that if he had only had enough faith, he would never have sunk. Frequently we’re harangued about our own puny faith and told to buck up.

Well, I don’t buy that.

For starters, remember that Peter was a disciple. He took the risk of imitating Jesus doing something impossible. It’s what he had signed up for. Besides, Peter had already come to expect Jesus to do and say unthinkable things, for example…

Turn the other cheek. Don’t imagine that violence will solve anything.

Forgive the unrepentant. Repeatedly. How you feel about it isn’t the point.

Love your enemy. Even the dangerous one who hates your guts.

Give your stuff away because someone else needs it. Don’t even ask about who deserves it.

See everybody—simply everybody—as infinitely valuable in themselves. Nobody is here to serve your agenda, gratify your desires, or live up to your expectations.

Eat with sinners. Befriend outcasts. Get over yourself.https://i2.wp.com/www.catholicsistas.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/get-over-yourself-300x138.jpg

For Jesus, this is what it means to live. This is eternal life. This is love that resembles God.

And, yes, at first it will be like walking on water. Impossible! You will sink. And that is where the growth begins. Once you’ve been brought back to the safety of the boat, will you step back out on the waves again?

When Jesus welcomed Peter out on the waves, He probably knew that Peter would sink. Who wouldn’t!

Jesus wasn’t setting a test for Peter, waiting to see if his faith measured up. At Peter’s own request, Jesus encouraged his insanely risky behavior.

When Jesus talks about Peter’s little faith, he’s not sayingImage result for step outside the boat “deficient faith.” Sure, Peter’s faith isn’t where it will eventually be. But neither is he utterly faithless. His faith has room to grow. Just like ours.

Faith does not grow by spiritual strain. It grows when we stretch ourselves to attempt to step out of the boat and attempt walk on water again and again.

To do those things that Jesus teaches us to do when everybody around tells us we’re naive or just plain crazy.

As it turns out, learning how to live comes down to learning how to love.

In truth, we grow in faith, when we get over ourselves and love our neighbor as if our own life depended on it.

So, step outside the boat… sure you’re going to get wet, but it is in that commitment, dedication and desire to become like Christ that makes all the difference in the world.

I believe our life depends on it. 

When You’re Fifteen, It’s a Long Way to Cleveland

Everyone needs a place to go to be a kid.  For my buddies and me, that place was ten minutes from home if you walked it.  It was a world all its own. All the kids from that sleepy little Ohio town would gather there. It is where we grew up.  

Together.

That summer, the place to be was Teagarden’s Pool in Oak Harbor, Ohio.

So many things happened there… so many memories.

But of course, none of it was permanent.  Unless you count the flashes of images and thoughts of a time not cluttered with the responsibilities of adulthood.

Each day was filled with the shrieks of laughter and catcalls, as me and all my friends would swim on endless summer days.

Sure, they called it Teagarden’s Pool, but we knew better.   That pool… belonged to us.

On one beautiful day in June, I was at the pool to take a Junior Lifesaving course.   I had known how to swim since I was five.   I had worked my way through the Tadpole, Guppy, Dolphin and Shark divisions.   Now I was on my way to becoming a “lifeguard”.  

Looking back on it now, I probably took all of those classes because of the fact that they were taught by girls, not just any girls… but older girls… girls in bikinis.

And on this particular day, this pretty girl was there to take the class.    Now I knew all the girls in my age group from our little town of Oak Harbor, Ohio.   But this girl wasn’t a girl that I knew… she was “new”.    A rare find in our little town.

I tried not to look like I was staring.  I quickly looked away if I saw the slightest twitch that she may look in my direction.   I sat there trying to look like I was paying attention to our “instructor-in-the-bikini”, but I couldn’t stop looking at the beautiful stranger that was dropped from heaven.   Who was this new girl?   Where was she from?   Where was she living and more importantly was she staying?

Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who eyes were fixated on the new visitor.   I looked around the class and every hometown girl who was taking the class was staring as well.  The evaluation was in full motion.   As my eyes and all of the others boys were looking in approval, the other girls there were judgmental and critical of new-found competition.

As fate would have it, when it was time to break up into groups for our first activity of the class, I was placed in the same group with her.   I couldn’t believe it, what luck!

She was walking my way and my mind was racing a million miles per hour.    I was going to be the first to talk to her.   I was desperately trying to think of something witty to say, something profound. Something to break the ice… something to let her see I was a “cool” guy.

I was sure I did not want to say something like…”Hi, my name is David.   What’s yours?  Where are you from?   How old are you?   Why are you here?   Did you move here?   Why are you taking this class? “

No… I did not want to say these things… but I did.

As a matter of fact, I said it without taking a breath and yes, I said this whole statement in less than 1.2 seconds.  

A world record I’m sure.

She was just staring at me.   The look on her face was evident that she thought she just  met Oak Harbor’s village idiot.

Her jaw dropped and I could see that she was trying not to laugh at the jumbled mess that just came out of my mouth.   She was trying to respond, but could not for fear that she would make fun of the village idiot.   So she spoke in precise, deliberate and painfully slow words.   She spoke loud.   You know, like when you talk to someone who is deaf or from a foreign country.    Like somehow if she talked louder, I would be able to understand what she was saying.   “MY NAME IS KAREN!!” she slowly exclaimed.

It was evident that I lost any chance of convincing her that I was a normal “cool” guy.   So I relaxed.   I interrupted her and told her that I wasn’t deaf and I was at least smart enough to follow what she was saying.   I tried to be coy and told her I might not understand everything she said but I would at least try.   She told me she was 15 and was from Cleveland.   She was camping at a local campground for few weeks with her grandparents.    She was bored at the campground so they let her take this class.

I was so glad that she didn’t catch me staring at her.  I mean, I already made an absolute fool out of myself; I did not want her to think I was a pervert as well.

Maybe she was just a kind-hearted soul that took pity on village idiots or she indeed liked being with me, because for the next two weeks we were inseparable.    I would wake each morning and hurry down to the pool at 8:00 AM and sure enough there she would be waiting there for me.  

After class we would stay at the pool until it closed that night.    We would swim and talk for hours.    We never left the pool.   Karen told me about everything in her life.    She told me about her school, her friends and her family.   She never had or wanted a boyfriend.    She told me how her father died when she was two and her mom had recently remarried a man she did not like.   He made her feel uncomfortable.   Always making comments and touching her in ways that made her feel uneasy.   That was really why she was in Oak Harbor in the first place. She was trying to get away from some things she did not want to deal with.

We talked and talked. I didn’t mind.   She told me things that she said she never told anyone else.   I guess in some way, I made her feel comfortable. Maybe she knew that she could say exactly what was on her mind and not feel judged because of it.  She was sharing her memories, feelings and her dreams as she spoke them to me.

At times, she would just stop talking and get real quiet. She wanted me to just to talk to her about my life.   We would talk about my brother’s death and life in a small town.   We talked about religion and what we believed.   We shared our love for music and what we wanted to do for the rest of our lives.    It was special because we could talk, knowing that we could say anything and we would not be judged like we would have been had we been talking to our friends that we grew up with.  

And we both knew… it wouldn’t last forever.

Soon that inevitable time came upon us and neither one of us wanted to admit was taking place.   She had two more days before she was going to go back home.   It was Friday and she would have to leave Sunday morning.   As the pool closed that warm summer Friday night, Image result for girl looking at the sunsetwe stayed a little longer talking at the gate before her grandparents picked her up.   She looked nervous and I asked her what was wrong.   She just looked at me and stared.    With the sun setting in the distance and the color of her blue eyes reflecting off the last remaining rays of light, she looked up and kissed me.

No… it wasn’t my first kiss.  Maybe it was her first kiss, I don’t know.    But I do know that this was different.   This was not about a boy and a girl.    For in fact, in the two weeks we spent together we had not as much as held hands.   This was about friendship and the special time we spent together.

Karen placed a letter in my hand and asked me to promise not to open it until I got home that night. We had one more day together and we made plans to meet the next day at the pool, like always.

And in an instant she was gone.

I took my time walking home that summer night. I wanted to remember and etch it in my memory.

I read her letter.  She wrote of our first meeting at the pool.   She told me that she thought it was cute how I kept staring at her that first day and how I tried to look away when she looked over at me.   She had caught me staring!!  I thought I had hidden it.   She talked about the pool and all of our talks we had.   She told me she would miss me.  She told me goodbye.   Her grandparents were leaving early on Saturday morning, not Sunday. She wouldn’t be coming back to the pool.

I knew at that moment, that life was not fair.   In the haste of the last night together, I never got her address.   It was hopeless. When you’re fifteen, Cleveland is so far away. 

It might as well have been on the other side of the world.

I’d never felt like that before in my entire life.   The next day I ran down to the pool in the fleeting hope that she would be there.   Maybe there was a chance she would stop by before she left for home.   She wouldn’t come to the pool that day.  

Our time together that summer was over.

That was 40 years ago.   Even today, I think about a friendship that lasted for two weeks that I have carried with me for all these years.    I wonder what ever happened to her.  I wonder what would she be doing now and if some of her dreams came true.  I wonder if she still thinks about a skinny kid from Oak Harbor, Ohio.

I like to think so.

I kept that letter she wrote me in an old shoe box.   Over the years, I took it out every now and then, unfolded the tattered, yellowed pages and I was immediately taken back to another place and time.   Suddenly for a few moments, I was fifteen again and life wasn’t filled with the responsibilities I have today.

I have no idea where that letter is today.  It was probably thrown out with the trash when I wasn’t paying attention to what was in that old shoe box.

But I still have the memory.

Memory has a way of holding onto the things you love, the things you are and the things you never want to lose.

Cause when you’re fifteen, it’s a long way to Cleveland.

Daydream Believer

The music of The Monkees has been my friend for over fifty years.

As a six-year-old kid infatuated with these fun-loving characters on my TV screen; I know how much The Monkees have always meant to me. Whatever man I am, whatever person I try to be, watching The Monkees, and listening tImage result for The MOnkeeso The Monkees, was an essential part of growing up.

In fact, unashamedly I admit, while it would be cooler to say it was The Beatles or some other classic act, The Monkees were the first “album” I ever bought. 

I’m a believer.

Doesn’t it feel good to say that?

Doesn’t it feel good to acknowledge that giddy feeling of joy that wells up within you when you hear a terrific, transcendent pop song on the radio?

How many times did I sing along with, “Daydream Believer”?

I couldn’t even begin to guess. 

Isn’t it great to let the music fill you with that grand, unspoken sensation of freedom, to turn the volume up as loud as you can, and just sing along, even if you don’t really know all the words?

Your troubles don’t vanish; your cares won’t slip away; woImage result for The MOnkeesrk still has to be done, your heart still requires mending, and your body and soul still shudder from the unnamed ache that never quite surrenders its grip. But for approximately two minutes and fifty-nine seconds, you are able to disappear from what’s wrong in the world.

What a gift that Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones, Peter Tork, and Michael Nesmith were to my childhood.

Vivid memories as a child still remain. I was five years old when The Monkees debuted on the charts and TV screens in 1966, with a # 1 hit single called “Last Train To Clarksville” and a vibrant weekly show.

I didn’t know they weren’t cool. Because, obviously, they were cool: they were like a magic, irresistible combination of Batman and The Beatles—and really, in the ’60s, what could be cooler than that?

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame wasn’t created to validate the tastes of clueless five-year-old kids from Oak Harbor, Ohio.

That’s fair.

The Hall of Fame is a celebration of rock ‘n’ roll music, an embrace of its history and the people who made it happen. It’s a tribute to the power of that music, to rock’s ability to express and embody rebellion, to break down barriers, to inspire, https://i1.wp.com/andrew-wittman.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Daydream-believer.jpgto transcend, to elevate, to unite. It’s about more than catchy pop songs, more than a manufactured image, more than photogenic faces on the cover of a teen magazine. It means something. It matters.

But you wanna know something? It turns out The Monkees somehow did all of that. The Monkees rebelled. The Monkees broke down barriers. The Monkees inspired, transcended, elevated, united. The Monkees meant something. The Monkees mattered.

The Monkees were also influential. More than any other act—even more than The Beatles—The Monkees brought the burgeoning ’60s counter-culture into everyday American living rooms, via their weekly TV showcase. They had long hair. They brandished peace symbols.

The Monkees’ popularity is indisputable fact: # 1 singles, # 1 albums, the best-selling musical act of 1967, believe it or not, outselling The Beatles and The Rolling Stones combined. Don’t believe?  Look it up.

I’m a believer.

This shouldn’t be true—this was supposed to be soundtrack music for a TV sitcom, for God’s sake—but the evidence is there, and it’s been there from the start.

The evidence will make a believer out of you, too.

The Monkees’ recordings have remained radio staples for five decades and show no sign of ever fading away. Reruns of the TV series have continually renewed the group’s fan base, as new generations of fans have discovered the enduring appeal of four guys walking down the street, getting the funniest looks from everyone they meet.

But popularity alone does not make an act worthy of induction into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; there are dozens and dozens of mega-selling pop entities that will never be considered Hall of Fame material, and rightly so.

But I’m a believer.

Belief sustains us, even when everyone says we’re wrong. Music comforts us, when much of life may seems uncertain and perilous. Love, hope, and friendship encourage us, when our senses and surroundings insist there’s little of substance left to grasp and hold fast. We are encouraged by our friends, our hope, our love, our music; we are encouraged by our belief.

Micky. Davy. Peter. Michael.

Weren’t they good?  They made me happy.

I’m a believer, even if it is in Daydreams.