Making My Way Through the Cracks

I have few natural talents, but producing anxiety is right up there.

Especially lately.

It doesn’t take much to get the hamster wheel spinning – a medical test, surprises, meeting a new group of people, changes at work.  Just about anything can get the ball rolling. But having had this affliction all my life, I’ve gotten (if not good) at least better about relieving the rat-a-tat-tat of my anxious heart.

Normally writing has been my “go to” but for a while now I just haven’t been able to write.

Writing to me is like having a dog that likes to run away when you open the door. He waits for you to open the door when you come home, and he makes a beeline for it.  He pushes past you and off he goes. You are forced to chase that mangy, good-for-nothing old mutt.

He teases you by allowing you to get close, but just as you are near enough to get a leash around his neck, he takes off once again. Finally, you give up and just go home. You swear that you are done with the smelly mongrel and you lock him out.  At the time of his choosing, he will scratch at the door, whimper and bark for you to let him in. You give in and open the door and there he sits with his tail wagging and a look of love and admiration that you immediately realize that you can’t stay mad at him. Suddenly you are “best friends” again and you don’t know what you would ever do without him.Related image

Usually, that is what writing is to me.

Well… that “dog” is still running away from me and I have gone home and closed the door. I haven’t heard any whimpers or barks at the door for some time now and I am starting to sense that someone has let him in their home and he’s never coming back. I guess I’ll wait for him like I always have. Hopefully, someday my desire and my ability to write again will come scratching at my door.

So… I have had to search for other things to occcupy my thoughts and my time.

Listening to music has also failed to bring it back this time.

When writing failed me in the past and I would go through bouts of writer’s block, music always did the trick. However, I am not experiencing writer’s block. I am dealing with a lack of desire to write. With writer’s block, I couldn’t find the words but I always had the desire to write.

I have lost both the words and the desire to write.

Where-there-is-a-will-there-is-a-wayI was writing a second book. It was a follow-up to “Footprints in a Small Town” which was published in April 2018.  Actually that book is still selling and doing well. I am amazed by that.

I tentively called the new book, “Where There Is” and it was to be released in 2019. That has been put on the shelf until I can figure this out. Most of it is written but I can’t find the words to finish it and I surely have no desire to endure the editing process.

One thing that has helped me is silence.

At this point of my life, nothing puts me in a better state of mind than being in the quiet.

I turn off the TV and sit in my office in the silence. Sometimes in my car I’ll turn off the radImage result for mauve-colored winter sun setio. I’ll shut out the noise. Immediately I become more present. I notice things that I normally wouldn’t see. I see how the clouds look like snow is coming. I notice mauve-colored winter light shining through the bare trees. There’s something peaceful in silence and many times I discover it is where I find God.

One truth that I am learning and trying to apply to my life is that life is full of resistance.  There are obstacles and barriers all trying to keep you away from reaching your dreams and goals.

My advice is this: “Be like water.”

Well, that’s actually not my advice.  The source for this comes from an interview with martial arts star Bruce Lee.

Here’s a portion of the quote from that interview:

“Be like water making its way through cracks.”

No matter where you go or what you want to do, you’ll face obstacles.  That’s a Image result for be like wateruniversal truth about life.  The trick to doing more in life is to not stop just because you come headfirst into a barrier – the trick is to find a crack in those barriers so you can get around them.

Water is formless.  It’s so shapeless that it can fit into the tiniest cracks.  When you reach your barriers, you must find that crack, no matter how small it is, and squeeze your way through it.

Seize opportunities that come your way, no matter how small they seem to be.  Sometimes all you need is the tiniest crack to reach your full potential.

Rid yourself of useless thinking – negative thoughts, unnecessary worrying and doubt.  These thoughts are rigid and will only weigh you down.

Open your mind to all possibilities and options.  Water is shapeless and will flow in any direction it’s given.  A shapeless mind thinks in open possibilities, not rigid impossibilities.

This will help you think clearly.  It will help clear your head in order to make better decisions.  You will flow naturally to the direction you want your life to go.

With shapelessness comes power.

I find this fascinating because it works in most areImage result for water in the cracksas of life.  Learn what’s useful, leave out the rest.  Don’t waste your time and energy on things that won’t help you achieve your goals.

Now I believe and I have experienced that new life emerges from the broken, cracked places of this life.

I am facing some new cracks in 2019.

A few I clearly see… some I don’t.

I need to remember to be shapeless like water.

Be formless, not rigid.

To find my way through the cracks.

As Bruce Lee would say, “Be water my friend.”

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Silence Speaks When Words Can’t

It’s been over two years and I still have so much that I have wanted to speak out about.  So much “stuff” I wanted to vent over.  As hard as it might seem for some of you that know me… I didn’t say or write a word.   I said nothing at all. I stopped commenting, I stopped trying to get other people to stop causing division among my friends and family.   

I’m a little sorry about that.  I’m a little not.  Silence Speaks

Silence speaks when words can’t.

I am at a place where my usual fly-off-at-the-mouth (or fingertip) doesn’t seem so hard to control anymore.

I am so happy that I have not posted on Facebook my feelings about politics and the current condition of our nation or my feelings about the team up north. I am much better prepared to ease the thoughts that go through my mind.  I realize that my words are just that… my words.  I needed to take the time off.  I am no longer “triggered” to spew my opinion at every post I disagree with.

I needed to be silent about those issues… I needed to push the keyboard away when I was tempted to comment.

However, I am still discontented, wearied by a heaviness in my soul. I am done with the noise, the squabbling, the violence, the hate.

I look back to a time when social media was a place of pleasantries, pictures of our children and grandchildren, posts of sharing music we love, or the recipe to make a loaf of freshly baked bread.

There is no value to social media anymore. No one is changed by the things we post.

That doesn’t stop people from posting things just to stir the pot. 

I have read where people say they are trying to inspire thought. HImage result for social media sucksowever, when it comes to social media you are just reaching friends that either already know and agree with you or you are a post away from losing that friend because they disagree with you.

What I have discovered is that social media is used like weapons of mass destruction. It doesn’t matter who or how many are affected by the carnage of the hate… the only thing that matters is their opinion and their ability to say it.

In the meantime, family members are caught in the crossfire.  I know that members of my own family have “blocked me”, “unfollowed” or “unfriended” me on social media.

Is it worth it?

I am keenly aware that by writing this post, I am adding to the noise. I see the irony… writing about the evils of social media by posting on social media.

Where and when might I draw a line in the dirt, claiming my side of thinking? I’m wondering if there is any worth in drawing that line at all?

Image result for opinion over politicsRecently, a local FACEBOOK group that focused on news about my hometown was overtaken by a few people who posted multiple times a day political memes and articles.  Pro-Trump, Anti-Trump… attacks on the Repubicans and attacks on the Democrats. It was all there.

What followed was hate speech towards each other.  People I had known my whole life started spewing hate towards other friends, it quickly got really out of control. Everyone was posting and no one was listening. I am sure that friendships were damaged… some to the point of no return.

All of these people posting things to a group of 6,000 members as if their opinion would change the direction of the nation. The only affect it had was ruining lifelong friendships, causing family members to not talk and in-fighting in our small-town.

It hurts me to think that people are so “triggered” that their opinion is more important than family and friends.

When the line is drawn, we stand toe to toe, speak our thoughts, never thinking to listen. In truth, should we not be listening before we utter a word? Before we draw that proverbial, decisive, divisive line?

When I turn to the wisdom in the book of Proverbs, much is said about the tongue.

There is more hope for the fool than for someone who speaks without thinking. Proverbs 29:29

The tongue can bring death or life; those who love to talk will reap  the consequences. Proverbs 18:21

Gentle words are a tree of life; a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit. Proverbs 15:4

This past week, spirits were crushed, lives diminished, freedoms obliterated. Why? I believe in the heat of anger, in the heat of being right, in the heat of the-only-sin-that-we-never-forgive-in-each-other-is-a-difference-in-opinion-quote-1drawing lines in the dirt, not one person thought to listen before they spoke or posted their hate-filled speech.

My experience tells me that most people who call for tolerance are the least tolerant people I know.

Friendships lost… family in-fighting. For what? Your opinion? What makes me wrong and you right? Is it worth it?

As in the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson… “The only sin that we never forgive in each other is a difference of opinion.”

I have a friend on FACEBOOK that is a pastor. No one locally mind you, just someone who used to live in my hometown. He posts daily about his disdain and hate for Trump. Always stirrring the pot. For what? To cause division of the people of from my hometown? Doesn’t he see that the influence does not change a thing in the big picture but causes so much destruction in the little. For me… the little (in this example) is more important than the big picture.

I do not want to give anyone the impression that I am against free-speech. We all have the same rights to say what what we feel.  And yes, you have the right to express your opinion. However, is it worth it when it will cost you friendshps and possibly family members?

Words can speak life and words can speak death. Before we choose to speak, andImage result for just because you can doesn't mean you should jump into the fray of divisiveness, wouldn’t we all be better off if we listened before we speak? Or at least realize the consequences before we speak?

Because you can doesn’t mean you should.

Because you feel 10-foot tall and bullet proof behind a keyboard, just remember the consequences of it  when you post it.

If we are standing on the side of Christ, our words should be life-giving.  If we are standing on the side of Christ, we speak truth with love. Sometimes that means we speak more truth and love by our actions and not mere words. At the end of the day, I want to be standing on the side of Christ.

Silence speaks louder than words. Listening speaks louder than words.

 

 

 

 

A Valentine Story

I always thought I would marry a girl from Oak Harbor.

It was something I always accepted. I never thought it would work out any other way. I never really looked elsewhere. I always assumed that I would find her, and we would marry and leave Oak Harbor for a while, but we would come back home to raise our kids. Our children would walk the same halls as we did in R.C. Waters Elementary School, they would play on the same little league teams and ultimately, they would be nurtured in the same environment as we were.

That wouldn’t happen because that plan would change on an April day in 1976. TheImage result for heart girl of my dreams would cross my path and from the moment I first laid eyes on her, I knew I had found my heart’s desire. It took me a while to convince her to have the same interest in me, but I wore her down until she went out with me. I guess I am lucky that my “persistence” didn’t get me served with a restraining order. She has been my wife for many years and I am still a very lucky man.

But it didn’t start out that way. My interest in girls started early and as the story goes, more than once, my mom had to retrieve me and my tricycle from a girl’s house a block away. I don’t remember doing this, but apparently, I would escape as often as I could.

One of the things that characterized and shaped my budding social life in the days of elementary school was the concept of “liking” a girl. It was a topic of great interest to me and it always took up more of my attention than it ever should have. Notice that I say it took up more of my time, but I do not say anything about it taking up any time for the girls I was interested in. That’s because most of the girls had no idea that I “liked’ them. Many times, I was too shy or too scared to say Image result for going steadyanything to them. It would cause my stuttering to go out of control and my words would be a jumbled mess as they spilled from my mouth. So, I just never said a word.

However, each school year would start the same way. Within the first few days of school starting, the conversations at recess or in the lunch line, revolved around “who liked who” and who was “going steady” with whom. I always found the term, “going steady” a funny expression when it came to the pursuit of a relationship between two kids. They don’t use the term “going steady” anymore. What exactly did it mean? Considering the filter of the 1960s, it meant that you “liked” someone and were “exclusive” in who you liked. There was not, in fact, anything at all proprietary in who you liked. It required no acknowledgment or even the knowledge of the person being liked, and any number of boys would like the same girl without antagonism. Most boys did like the same girl. It only became serious when you would cross the line and “go steady” for a few weeks.

While I had several “going steady” relationships throughout my elementary years, I have had two… yes, I said “two” relationships where the term “going steady” applied but I never had any direct verbal conversation between me and the other girl. Communication between the two of us took place only on handwritten notes. At no time during our torrid two-week relationship did we ever speak to each other. Maybe we would smile at each other and maybe you would get real bold a give her a head nod and have brief eye contact for a moment in time. The only physical contact between a couple was made during recess playing “tag.” You could always tell the couples by who they chased during recess. It was innocent and harmless, but back in those days it seemed important and we took it seriously.Image result for love note folded

The notes of communication passed through the hands of trustworthy friends that would not embarrass you. The note would pass through no less than two boys and three girls as it made its way to the girl I was going “steady” with. The same path of communication would be directed back to me. Handwritten notes, folded in various ways, that would make even the professional origamist (a person who performs origami) proud. The more intricate the folds of the note indicated the level of “like” someone had for you. The tell-tale indicator of problems on the horizon was paying attention to the folds of the note that was passed on to you. A simple bi-fold note was a sure sign of a “Dear John” letter. I must admit that I received more than my fair share of bi-fold notes. I would be heartbroken for a few days and then my attention would drift to someone else and I would “like” them for a while. I was always waiting for the opportunity to find out from the rumor mill at recess or the lunch line if there was any interest from the other girl to “go steady.”

Usually, there wasn’t any interest.

I had mentioned earlier that many of the boys could “like” the same girl and there was never any doubt about which girl was the central figure of my elementary years. It was “Church Street.”  Now, before I confuse you with the name Church Church Street signStreet, let me clarify that I call her that name because I have no intention of ever saying her real name so that I don’t embarrass her after all these years. It is just a term I use to reference her existence and I will never confirm that she ever lived on “Church Street.” She has lived all her adult years without the knowledge or the reality of having me “like” her, she surely doesn’t need the humiliation of me giving her name out and writing about it all these years later.

In my elementary years, the girl who drew the most attention was Church Street. It seemed obvious that she was oblivious to all the boys who liked her. However, it seemed to me that there was one boy that every now and then, would draw her attention. He was one of the few people who I must admit to having envied in my life. I always kept the secret from everyone, even friends, of the name of the one I really liked. I suppose I did that from not wanting to be a person entertaining false hopes, and the uncertainty as to what might be required of me should Church Street like me back. I don’t know what I would have done had she showed any interest in me. I don’t believe I would have been completely comfortable being around her. She was more mature and self-assured than I was at the time. I never made public my interest, I secretly joined most of the other boys in asserting the wishful title of “liking” Church Street.

The question of what “liking” a girl meant to me is not an easy one to answer now. I can’t remember ever having a strong crush on Church Street. I would experience “crushes” in my life and that isn’t what I felt towards her. I just really thought she was sharp and that she set the bar of what I “liked” in a girl. She was always nice to everyone and she always seemed so sure of herself and everyone wanted to be like her. At that time, I viewed her as the standard of what I wanted in a girlfriend. That standard would remain in place until I met Pam, who would one day become my wife. My wife would re-set the bar and she maintains that ideal to this very day. However, back then I was just trying to figure this whole boy-girl thing out. I knew boys liked girls and vice versa and that there was some silliness involved in the pairings, and that eventually one day, they would kiss and of course get married.

That was probably the depth of what I thought about “liking” a girl. I knew that my friends and I were fascinated by girls but none of us had any clue as to why. All of Image result for Stingray bike 1970this is worth more contemplation, but there was a prestige that went with being liked by the prettier, higher status girls. And at the top of that list was Church Street.

Church Street lived in a house that I would find an excuse to ride my bike by every now and then. I would peddle my bike by just to see if she was there. If she was out on her porch, I would ride by and never give any indication that I even saw her. I would never dare to stop and talk to her. I would ride the loop and head back home to excitedly tell Bryan or one of my other friends that I saw her out on her porch. Mind you, she never acknowledged me or said anything to me as I would pass by her house, but for a few years, it was something that would make a dull day exciting.

During the summer, she spent time at Teagarden’s pool and that was one of the reasons I made a point to go there every chance I could. Even if I didn’t want to swim, I would go just because there was the probability that she might be there.

I must finally admit that I also called her constantly on the phone. Note: I did not say I talked to her on the phone. I’m merely pointing out the fact that I called her.

One school year, as Valentine’s Day approached, I was already dreading the day when Valentine cards would be distributed in class. My mom had already bought the kind that were full of silly puns like: “You’re swell” or “I like Bee-ing Your Image result for old valentine card you're swellFriend” with a bee pictured on the card. All of them wishing the other person a Happy Valentine’s Day. Usually, the cards were so generic that you could give them to any boy or girl without much thought. But there was never enough of them to cover the whole class, so I would sit at the kitchen table trying to select the right card for each classmate. You put them in piles. One pile for the boys in the class, another for the girls. However, trying to pick out the card to give to the girl you secretly “liked” was like trying to figure out the equation of nuclear fusion. You wanted to find the perfect card, not too forward but something that left no doubt of your interest.

That year, I was convinced that I only had cards for the girls. I struggled to find cards to give to the boys and it was even harder to find appropriate cards for the girls. I did not want to send the wrong message to a girl. It’s my duty to say that a big part of my reluctance to giving such cards was my dread of the ridicule and teasing I might receive from having given cards to girls that might read into the note on the card. Anyway, there was that fear of ridicule which went beyond the already strong desire not to be the odd boy with a stuttering problem. I dreaded hearing that one boy, who would love to embarrass me, say to the class “Hey look! David gave a card with ‘I like you’ on it to _____!” My solution was to only give cards out to the boys. Safe, generic and no fear of ridicule cards. My mother, on the other hand, made sure that I made one out to every class member.

So, there I sat at the kitchen table, filtering each card and trying to come up with a viable solution to my fears. My mom had somehow arrived at the notion that I should give every girl in the class (not to hurt any of their feelings for having been left out, always one of her prime concerns) a Valentine card. I don’t know how my mother could have been so out of touch with the reality of elementary grade school life as to think that was something for a boy to do. The charm of the idea was so great for her that she would not yield to my objections, and I had to accept this unfortunate whim of hers.

The fateful day of our class Valentine party arrived. Full of dread, I dutifully took Image result for Home made valentine boxmy cards to school and inserted them into the slots of our homemade Valentine boxes. The absurd thing about this Valentine card episode is that, despite my struggle against having to give cards to the girls, I had begun to hope that it might turn out to be a blessing in disguise regarding Church Street. Here was the opportunity, though one I would never have chosen, to let her subtlety know my interest in her. Certainly, her card was chosen carefully. It was the one I had truly taken care of, while striving to make it special. Surely hers was the one for which the words in some sense spoke the truth. I had no doubt that the card was beautiful. How could she not be struck by that beauty?

What a thrill it would be if she looked over at me and smiled with pleasure after admiring my card! I could picture her complimenting me on it as she thanked me for having given it to her. Perhaps my card would so impress her that its message would be met with favor. Perhaps she would even start to “like” me. What a boost it would be to my status in the class when her new fondness for me became known!

I watched intently as she went through the pile of Valentine cards on her desk, casually examining each one. Anxiety, anticipation, and hope mounted in me as she came to mine—and instantly she set it aside! She discarded my card with scarcely a glance! It was hand-picked just for her and she treated it as unworthy of a second’s contemplation. It just was a trivial message from an insignificant boy.

Now to be fair… she never stopped and read one card more than the other. They were all met with the same reaction. It was just that card was mine and I had so much hope that she would acknowledge it with a smile or a head nod.

I don’t know whether she had been aware that I was watching. There was no look my way. I’m sure she never gave it a second thought or had any idea of the feeling of rejection her indifference had caused. But to me, it was a rejection, and nothing is worse for a man’s ego than being rejected by a woman, even when the “man” and “woman” in question are only eleven-years-old.

Nothing had really changed, no one was any wiser to the event, except for the split second it took to dash my unwarranted hopes. The acid of disappointment became so concentrated that it etched the memory deep in my mind. The memory of Church Street’s indifference to my carefully chosen card and its hidden message of “like” is still there, lurking in the back confines of my mind, only to return every Valentine’s Day.

As I grew older, she and I would indeed talk. I am sure she knew of my interest and “liking” her but we never brought the subject up. We would talk when we would walk home from school and sometimes on the phone. I stopped making the “no talk” phone calls and if she had any clue it was me who was making those calls, she never indicated that she knew.

Now… I would like to point out that Church Street and I did “go out” one time. My Image result for poseidon adventurefamily took her and me to the movies. “The Poseidon Adventure” was playing at the theatre in Port Clinton and I asked if she wanted to go and she did. Nothing like a disaster movie of a ship capsizing with mass casualties to set the mood for a successful romantic date.

In the coming years, Church Street and I would drift in different directions and eventually we stopped talking.  I would find “love” the moment I laid eyes on the girl who would one-day become my wife.

I have no idea where Church Street is today, but I am grateful for these memories that are strong enough to place me back in my elementary years.

But this truth remains… I will never confirm, nor deny that she was my first kiss.

A gentleman never tells.

How John Lennon Saved Christmas for Me

OK… alright… I know Christmas is over. It was almost three weeks ago.

I have taken a break from writing during the holidays. I have been trying to finish my second book and have it published in the spring of 2019, but I have run into a bad case of writer’s block. I am struggling with motivation. That isn’t uncommon, I experienced it last year.

So why am I still writing about Christmas?

While I struggle to finish my book, I just have not been able to shake the thoughts and feelings that have overtaken me. Anyone who knows me is aware that I am not a huge fan of Christmas.

Well… let me clarify.

I love Christmas. I love the reason we celebrate it. I loathe the decorations and I am (much to my wife’s and sister-in-law’s disdain) not a fan of Christmas music or movies.  The music is too much and too overwhelming. At least for me.

Just about the time my Scrooge started kicking in and my to-list was growing, I desperately tried to hide my scrooge face from my wife. (which I am never successful at doing). Trees, wreaths, lights, decorations, stockings, holly, cookies, gifts. I needed to get into the spirit.

Then I turned on the radio and this happened… christmas

“And so, this is Christmas…”

John Lennon’s unmistakable voice came on. I listened, feeling the annual stirring. It occurred to me I’ve heard “Happy Christmas (War is Over)” every December since I was 11.

It took me back to the Christmas, my family celebrated in our Walnut Street home in Oak Harbor, Ohio. We had a tiny decorated tree with strings of lights and tinsel.

“And so, this is Christmas…”

Years later, I heard that song played the night John Lennon was assassinated. I was out of high school and was lost in a world that had moved on without me. I was working at HJ Heinz and all of my friends had left for college. I had no plan, no dream, no clue where I was headed, and I definitely had no idea where I would end up. I sat in the dark in my room and listened to this song, among others that John Lennon had made and cried until I had no more tears.

“And so, this is Christmas…”

Then a few years after that I would listen to this song as I drove back from Michigan, with my son peacefully sleeping in his car seat. I was driving home to my grandfather’s funeral. He died on Christmas Eve and I wasn’t there. That was over 30 years ago… and I am still bitter about it.

“And so, this is Christmas…”

Memories of two little boys dancing around, waiting for Santa. They woke me at 5:45 a.m., breathless with excitement, jumping on my bed.

“And so, this is Christmas…”

Years later… opening presents with our blended family of my two boys and the two girls that are as much a part of me as my son’s. My wife made sure Christmas was extra special for our family.

“And so, this is Christmas…”

More years pass and now it is just my wife and me on Christmas morning. Instead of waking at 5:45 a.m., we sleep in. Those little boys are now men. The girls are now married and are making Christmas memories with their husband’s. Two grandsons’ now wake their parents with dreams of presents dancing in their heads.

“And so, this is Christmas…”

2018… Christmas is still Christmas, but I have a son that hasn’t talked to his father in almost three years. I reach out to silence.  

 “And what have you done…”

This is the second lyric to the song… Lennon seems to be asking what we did with these 365 days. Did we try to help? Did we do our best? Did we learn? Did we grow? I hope I encouraged and loved and was there. I hoped I gave a smile and kind words when needed. I hope I was a good husband, a good grandfather, a good son, a good brother, and friend. More importantly, was I a good servant to my savior Jesus Christ?

Still, so many do much more. I see nurses and teachers who dedicate their lives to others. I have family and friends who spend their time helping the needy, children, and those who are sick. They inspire me to do better.

 “Another year over…”

I am not who I was a few years ago. I have changed. Regret is hard.

And yet good things happened. My sister-in-law beat Ovarian Cancer. She remains cancer free. The year started in doubt about that and we are grateful that she has been given a gift from God. My son found the woman he will marry in 2019. My wife still takes good care of me. She took a chance on re-inventing herself at her job and she has excelled. She still teaches (34 years now) and I love her more than life itself. My grandsons bring me more joy than I could ever imagine. I published my first book… and I reluctantly will now say I am a writer.  The sun still shines. And I still love my morning cup of coffee. Life goes on.

“A new one just begun…”

I pray we turn a corner, although it’s hard to be hopeful. The country is divided. Another mass killing takes place and my stomach drops. My generation didn’t grow up like this nor did my parents’. My heart goes out to young people who must navigate this world.

And yet, judging by my children and their friends I know they’ll be okay. This group is brave, strong, and resilient. They’ll not only make it through but will someday make a difference.

2019 will bring change to me. Uncertain things at my place of employment and new opportunities. Maybe the path to reconciliation with my son will become clearer… whatever the year brings… I am grateful, and I am ready for what God has in store for me and my wife.

“And so Merry Christmas and Happy New Year…”

Politicians / People work to anger us, focusing on differences, giving reasons to hate and fear each other. Regardless of your position… everyone is guilty.

 “Let’s hope it’s a good one… without any fear”

John Lennon died 38 years ago. I wondered how would the globe spin without him? Who would lead the cause for peace and non-violence? It seemed impossible he was gone. Yet the years sped by and here we are.

I still miss him.

I did not agree with everything that John Lennon did or say, but I can’t help wondering… what would Lennon say about the world today?

“War is over. If you want it…”

The song ends. And I feel right again.

Whatever petty Yuletide problems I have… don’t matter.

Now I know… John Lennon didn’t save Christmas for me.

Jesus Christ is the reason we celebrate Christmas.  However, this song by John Lennon has grounded me. It reminds me this holiday is more than tinsel and evergreens. Christmas is about time passing. It’s about life and love and family. Christmas is about finding joy where you can. Christmas is about hope.

Thank you, John Lennon.  

You did it.

You saved Christmas (wink) for me once again.

 

Resolutions NEVER Work

It is that time of year again when we all say to ourselves, this year I’m going to… days later we even forget that we told ourselves that.

Just a reminder to those of you that made this resolution last year, you only have five days to read the entire Bible, or lose those pesky 50 lbs. Good luck with that.

Image result for resolutions never workIt seems to happen year after year. We set a resolution and then we just say oh it’s too hard. Oh, I completely forgot, or I just did not have the ambition to do it.

There has to be an easier way to stay on track, right? Well, I think I may have found it. I have been doing this for the past 3 years and so far, really every single goal I made I have achieved. I won’t get into the fine details of what my goals were. I’m really not here to talk about me…ok that would be a lie.

But let’s just imagine for a minute if you really could get the goals you made to yourself done. Where would that put you in the game of life? What would be the number one goal you want to achieve this year.

Most people fail at resolutions it is a proven fact. Why do we fail? The number one reason we fail is that we set too high of a goal. One that cannot be reached without some sort of divine intervention and when that divine intervention does not come, we give up quicker than you can say “RESOLUTION.”

Don’t waste your time with resolutions this year.

They NEVER work.

 I have found success in focusing on something far better: resolve

Image result for resolveWhile the words are similar, the difference is that a resolution is something you make; resolve is something you have. Call it semantics, but I think the distinction is important.

This year, a lot of people will make resolutions and then immediately break them. Why? Because they’re not really resolving to do anything different. They’re just wishing.

Here’s the bottom line:

Without a stronger resolve, you have no hope of accomplishing your resolutions.

In other words, you need to commit. You need to choose into an intentional process that will make you better. Not a set of audacious goals you’ll never meet.

Goal-setting, while admirable, is essentially pointless. Goals, in and of themselves, aren’t sustainable. They tell you where you want to go, not how you’re going to get there.

What you need are new habits, a new way of living that will bring different results.

It’s time to commit to being the type of person you’ve always dreamed of being. And that begins with creating new disciplines. Here are three important one’s worth mastering, if you want to be better this year (at writing, making art, or anything else):

  1. Set aside a time to practice. Be it early morning, during lunch, or late at night, it’s important to have a special time to spend with your craft. Although I at first hated it, I’ve now grown quite fond of my 5:00 am writing times. There’s something peaceful about the solitude of working while the rest of the world is asleep.
  2. Show up. When I say I’m going to write, I often procrastinate and run out of time. I give excuses and justifications and end up creating nothing. I hate this. So, I have refused to allow myself an “out” any longer. I must write every day, no matter what, even if for only 15 minutes. The crazy thing is this is where some of my best work comes from — concentrated blocks of forced productivity.
  3. Give yourself grace. This goes hand-in-hand with the last one. A natural byproduct of discipline is dread. When you start showing up to do the work, you may grow fearful of the desk. I know I have struggled with this, feeling like my work in never good enough. In times like these, remember to have fun. Remind yourself why you go through the painful parts because there is joy waiting for you at the finish line.

Sure, there are other strategies for setting and achieving your goals this year, but those three are enough to get you started.

Most days, if you can remember to set aside time to practice, to actually show up and do the work, and to give yourself grace when you fall short, you are going to be just fine.

What about you? What habits are you trying to work on this new year?

A Light in the Midst of the Darkness

When my kids were little, I remember a few times that we would pile into the car after supper and ride around looking at Christmas lights. We would choose streets that were lined with glittering homes and with yards dotted by Image result for christmas Lightsbeautiful lights and illuminated snowmen.

Awe-inspired gasps, thrilled giggles, and shouts of “Look! Look!” tumbled out of the back seat as we rolled along. Light piercing the night cast a spell on all of us back then. Honestly, it does the same to me still.

My post-sunset drives are now mostly solo.

On these shortest of days, I am usually traveling home from the office. The neighborhoods through which I pass are frequently not those we would have chosen those many years ago for Christmas-light viewing.

On a recent night, I drove home a different way than usual.

No Christmas lights. No signs of the season.

Image result for dark street at nightHouse after house retreated from my sight into the gloom.

It was depressing.

And then, ahead to my left, green and red flickered in the corner of my eye. I slowed to see a strand of lights rimming the frame of the single window and another strand around the door of the houses to my left.

Those few lights cast a new spell. A light in the darkness.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

(John 1:5)

God joins us even in the midst of the gloom.

The gloom of poverty, of racism. The gloom of loneliness or grief. The gloom of family dysfunction or addiction.

The light shines. God is there. God is with us.

And the gloom cannot overcome it.

To be light in the darkest gloom, refusing to be extinguished.

God sent Jesus into this world. And the address that God chose for Jesus’s birthRelated image turned out not to be a nice room at the local Inn. Instead, Mary gave birth to her baby boy in a dark, unlit shed whose address was so obscure and gloomy that there was no place else to go.

In Jesus, we see that God comes to dwell in the midst of gloom.

Not merely to provide the comfort of a little light to those who happen to believe.

But to be the light that once and for all dispels the gloom—in all its forms—that too often hangs over the world.

To follow Jesus is to be an inextinguishable light in the gloomy places of the world.

Not just on Christmas.

But every day of the year.

 

Mistakes and Grace

There was once upon a long time ago, I thought of myself as being artistic.

I had recently won a first-place ribbon at the Ottawa County Fair for my age group in “Pencil Drawing”.  I had never won first place in anything in my life and in aImage result for first place ribbon short time, I was convinced that this was my “talent” and I would make a career out being an artist.

I remember clearly rushing home from our local five-n-dime store with a sketch artists notebook. It was a notebook with blank pages, no lines just an empty page waiting to be filled with my drawings. I was sure that this was the first of many notebooks that I would have in my collection that would show I was a talented artist.

I still have that notebook.

It is filled with two whole pages of my doodles and drawings.

That’s right… two whole pages.

You see… it did not take long for me to see that what I had drawn in art class at school was just a fluke and I really had no talent at drawing at all. What is more important, I really had no desire to become an “artist.” Truth be told, I was 12 and I still had not given up on my real dream of becoming a professional baseball player.

That doesn’t mean that I did not learn a lesson or two from my short-lived career as a budding artist.

Related imageI learned this all-important lesson… at the very moment you touch a pencil to paper, you’re committed. You’ve made a mark that you cannot completely erase. The line may disappear, but the paper is smudged, it isn’t perfect anymore. I cannot tell you how many crumpled-up false starts sat next to my desk.

I simply stopped drawing and left that to people who were talented. 

When I reached high school, I started to take art class again.  Not because of my talent, but because of the cute girls that were in the class.

Linda Cherry was my art teacher. I learned a lot from her.  She taught in such a way to teach me much more than art. She used illustrations that have stuck with me my whole life.

At the beginning of the year she handed out another artist sketchbook and we were required to draw a picture to turn in at the end of each week. As you can assume, my book of hand-drawn pictures was horrific. Mrs. Cherry was always encouraging. She always gave constructive critiques and one day after she handed back my dreadful pencil drawing, she wrote this note in the corner of my paper…

“Learn to incorporate your mistakes into the picture as you’re drawing it. Arriving at a completed image is not about erasing your mistakes. It’s about continuing to draw in such a way that you make something meaningful from those mistakes.”

At the time, I did not pay attention to the real wisdom that is found in such a statement.

Only years later, as I would stumble across this old sketch notebook and read some of Mrs. Cherry’s comments did such a profound statement hit me like a ton of bricks.

God does not toss us out like all those pieces of paper I threw out when I made a mistake in my drawings. God sees the mistake. He sees the imperfection. If I allow Him to do so, He works with and incorporates those imperfections to paint a beautiful picture in my life.   

Image result for mistakes and graceWhen we cooperate with grace, living resembles the process of drawing. The beauty, goodness, wholeness, and even holiness of our lives incorporate and even emerge from the mistakes we have made and even the disfiguring marks left on our lives by the mistakes that others have made.

Jesus came to show us who God really is.

Jesus did not come to make sinners pay and to hand out gold stars to the world’s spiritual superstars. Jesus came to mend a shattered world. He came to offer forgiveness and salvation.

Each day we are drafting our messy life. We’ve made mistakes. We’ve inherited or suffered from the mistakes of others. And as it turns out, the picture we are drawing is more than a self-portrait and God joins us in the midst of this grand drawing project.

In Jesus, we see that God does not toss our mistakes into a cosmic waste bin.

Instead, God says, “Let’s see what we can make of this together. I think it can be something beautiful.”

That’s what grace looks like.

Emphasizing Life

Draw the blinds, open the windows, and let the sun in, my friends—it’s time to talk about it.

What is this “it”?

Life.

I want to emphasize life. However… in order to properly emphasize life we have to talk about issues we usually avoid at all costs.

Like Death.

For all ages—young, old, and everyone in between.

Death is the one reality we all share.

To everything… there is a beginning and an end.

I wrote an article a few weeks ago about dealing with the changing of the seasons in our life. Things are changing… and changing quickly. The subject was spurred in me because I was in Virginia to visit my 87-year-old mom in the hospital. She is home now, on the road to recovery and planning to live for a long time.

That is how it should be. We should all embrace life and enjoy it. 

It is a gift from God and it is precious.

It is a lesson I am learning.  There was a time (not too long ago) when I had my foot planted on the gas pedal to the floorboard and burying the needle of my life speedometer in a race to my demise.  I simply didn’t take care of myself.

I now have pumped the brakes and slowed down in the race to end my life. To date, I have lost 125 lbs. (more to lose for sure) and started to make real change in my life. I see things in a clearer way than I did.

However, sometimes it is hard to slow down the results of living your life without the slightest concern for your health. Not to mention, when you slow down and spend time in reflection you see errors and mistakes you made in the things you said or did to your family and friends.

Losing 125 lbs. is so much easier than trying to fix the stupid you were at times.  

So why am I talking about life and death? Well… one reason is that I need to heed to this advice. I have found that I have failed in treating my eventual death with any real concern.

I need to apply these truths.

More importantly, discussing death is actually more about emphasizing life.Image result for Life

I want to emphasize life.

I am learning that how we choose to live our life in the later seasons of our living years will tell us how to live and die without regret.

And, for the record, I’m not talking about death because I long for it or because I believe that others to need to quickly do something about it. 

I am at the age that I believe I have more days in the rearview mirror than we I on the road ahead. And to be clear—we’re all going to die, right?  We can agree on that.

If there’s any doubt, let me be the bearer of bad news:

55 million people alive right now will be dead within 12 months. That breaks down to 151,600 people dying each day, 6,316 people each hour, 105 each minute, and 2 people each second.

Think about that for a minute. (in which time 120 more people will have died).

AnImage result for Life is a vapord I don’t intend to be so carefree with such a heavy subject. There is mind-boggling loss and grieving going on in the world. I know people are suffering and living with deep pain, trying to figure out how to survive and go on—alone and wounded. Personally, it’s incomprehensible to imagine. Like most people, I don’t want to go there, and not so much for me and my death, as much as it is for those in my life.

However, that story of loss and resilience is a story we’ll save for another day. Today, we will look at death from what we can only hope is at arm’s length—even if that arm’s length is an illusion. And we won’t pretend to embrace death with bear hugs and high-fives. Instead, I want to approach death with a wisdom that knows what we’re really embracing is impermanence, change, and an acceptance of who we are beneath our flesh and bones.

 Step 1: Get your affairs in order.

As long as we’re agreed that we’re all going to die, it makes sense to get ready for it, euphemistically known in the circles as “getting your affairs in order.” One thing I am not talking about is going through your “stuff” and designating it to a child or grandchild. I say live and own your “stuff” until you don’t.  Somber tone aside, the language works. We are getting our affairs in order. We’ve been doing it since we Image result for Get your affairs in orderwere old enough to walk. Why stop now?

Getting your affairs in order involves taking all kinds of positive steps, including creating a living will, declaring power of attorney, planning for the end of life medical care, perhaps donating your organs. It also means digital planning—what happens to your electronic bills, your Facebook page, your entire digital footprint? The world you leave online is real. You’ll also want to decide on the disposition of your body, the type of funeral you want, the song you want to be played at your funeral. Dealing with these smaller tasks is not only practical, but it’s also a gift for those you leave behind.  Most importantly, it means you have to start thinking about death, talking about it, and engaging in tough conversations. Once you make your arrangements, store them safely and then get back to living.

Step 2: Quit trying to fool yourself.  You know who you are.

Sure, you could get hit by an ice cream truck and have yourself a Spielberg-worthy near-death experience—complete with bright white lights and Elvis waiting for you Image result for Elvis in heavenat the end of a long tunnel. Perhaps all the mysteries of the universe will be revealed to you before you have to come back to your body and a home filled with dirty dishes. OR, there is an alternative—you could close your eyes and seek the same awareness through allowing God to really get ahold of you.  

Having a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ is not only about creating more mindfulness and peace in your life; it’s about finding deeper connections with yourself. Embracing death begins by discovering for ourselves that we are not our eyes, hair color, sex, career choice, bank account, or family. We are “something else.” And finding this “something else” unmasks death as the illusion it is.

Step 3: Simplify your life and make room for what matters.

 A “less is more” mentality is the perfect way to embrace death and the “can’t take it with you” transitory nature of life. Simplifying is a clearing out that allows more into our lives (something we should have been doing our whole lives). We are not emptying the contents of our lives, we are filling it with only that which matters. Simplifying is our opportunity to not only “get our affairs in order,” but reset and refocus—to shift priorities that allow us to live a more intentional life.

Step 4: Say what needs to be said.

Share feelings. Show gratitude. Mend fences. Resolve conflicts. Tell people how you feel. Again, these lessons are valuable at any age. Hopefully, you were an early adopter. But, it’s never too late to learn from those who have inched close to death (on whatever side of the deathbed). Their message is always the same—life is too Image result for Say what you need to sayshort to hold on, hold back, and not give it all we have. And, of course, we all know it’s true. But, how often do we do anything about it? It’s up to each of us to transform what can easily sound like a bumper sticker into a bold way of living. It takes choice. And action.

What are you holding in your pocket right now that you need to share? It may be exactly what someone needs to hear. Be vulnerable and share it.

Step 5: Talk news, weather, and sports…and a little death.

We need to talk about death more. I know it’s not something you want to bring up at a party, or in the cafeteria, or the elevator at work. There is no natural segue. “Floor 11 please…and while you’re at it, cremation or burial?” Life doesn’t work this way. For the most part, we keep our thoughts about death to ourselves, not even sharing with family or close friends. And this is true, especially as we get older and recognize that, in chronological time, we are on the back nine of life. At this point, we all have a choice. We can stay in chronological time, and keep watching the hourglass, feeling the hourglass, dreading the hourglass, OR we can unearth the wisdom that has come with that hourglass and use it to look at life that lives beyond chronological time. Of course, to do this, one must go deeper and start looking for the profound.

 And it is only in the profound where we will find meaning. And it is only in meaning where we will find solace—not an escape from heartache or sorrow (that comes with the birth certificate)—but the solace to find meaning in death. And life.

While none of this will keep tears from falling when death touches close, maybe if we’re lucky, it will help dry them a little quicker, or at the very least, warm them with the glow that comes from knowing we are part of a universe that is more expansive and loving than we could have ever imagined.

Recalculating

For many years I fought the idea of using GPS because I already had a GPS.

Her name was Pam. She is my wife.

“Turn left in 500 ft – Stay on this road for three miles – Stop, the mall is on your right! – We’re here!”

Pam has a knack of knowing exactly where the nearest mall is and where all the “good” restrooms are for a 200-mile radius of wherever we are. I think of it as a Image result for recalculating“sixth sense” if you will.  She is always right and she didn’t need batteries.

Now the truth is, if I ever need to find a destination that wasn’t an outlet mall or a T.J. Maxx, I have had to become dependent on the voice of a strange woman. She has my destination locked in her memory and shows me the perfect way to get there.

My GPS.

Like Pam, she’s always right. Unlike Pam, she never asks me what I am thinking or insists on stopping at every outlet mall we pass.

But occasionally I deliberately, or by accident, make a wrong turn. 

What happens next is amazing!

My GPS gently tells meImage result for recalculating how to get back on track. With no hint of anger or disappointment, I hear a single word, “recalculating.” Then she comes up with a whole new perfect plan for me.

A new beginning from my current position. How cool is that! The destination remains the same… the journey getting there has been adjusted taking into account my diversion.

I have a lot to learn from this woman. 

A lesson that can make 2019 a productive and happy new year.

Here is the strategy to help lead you to a happy and successful new year.

Anticipate the need to recalculate!

The path to success, in business, marriage, friendship or faith is NEVER, you heard it right, NEVER, without misguided or intentional detours.

Like rockets fired at some distant target, we begin making errors shortly after liftoff.

Every rocket fired into space goes astray, every single one. Back at the command center, the missiles “GPS” is constantly recalculating and sending new commands, “correct one degree to the left.” Soon the rocket is back on course….. but not for Image result for rocketlong. What looks like a flawless shot to the moon is actually a million little recalculations made along the way. The ability to recalculate gets the rocket to where it is going. The same ability will get you where you want to go and where you are supposed to go.

We are extremely reluctant to accept “recalculating” as a pattern of success. We want to believe the journey will be seamless and without error. But it is those who accept failure as a reality, those who eagerly seek to learn from mistakes, those who are anxious to recalculate and get back on course, those are the people who reach the pinnacles of success.

  • It took Thomas Edison thousands of failures and approximately 10,000 experiments to invent the electric light bulb. He knew how to recalculate.
  • Robert Fulton, the inventor of the steam engine, failed so publicly that his creation was dubbed Fulton’s Folly.  But he knew how to recalculate!
  • Abraham Lincoln was defeated in several elections before he was elected as president of the United States. He didn’t give up! He recalculated, made adjustments, and changed the face of history.

Even God recalculates for us. It’s called GRACE! God’s Provision for our stupidity!

So if God does it, why shouldn’t we? When we make a wrong turn in life God doesn’t ban us from making the journey. He just whispers, “recalculating” and redirects us, from where we find ourselves at the moment, to a NEW and PERFECT path to the right destination.

Where are you right now? Where do you want to be?  Recalculate!!!

You can get there from exactly where you are!!!

The Changing Seasons of Life

The last few weeks of my life have been a time of reflection. I spent a week down in Virginia to visit my mother who had some health issues and ended up in the hospital. When you consider that she is 87 years old this should not have been a shock to me. Throw in the aspect that my dad is closing in on 90, there is a reasonImage(1) for our family to not be used to dealing with the fact that we are entering the season where health, life, and death are daily concerns. 

For the most part, my parents have been relatively healthy. For the past 20 years, they have been living with my sister Linda and my brother-in-law Albert. Linda has been the principal caregiver for them during this time. I can never repay my sister for the commitment she has made to our parents. There is no doubt that Linda has lived close to the fire and probably has been forced to recognize the signs of this “season” much sooner than I have had to.

There is a difference between recognizing the signs and accepting them as a reality in our lives. It is clear I am not ready on any level with accepting that I am forced to deal with this looming “season” in my life. I can only truly speak for myself… I have been living in denial.

The reality is that my parents are still here. For that I am grateful. It is a gift that God has given my brother and sister. I want them to live for as long as possible.

Image-1For me, having my parents still here is the reason that has kept me from acknowledging that I am getting older. This “season” isn’t just about my parents entering the last chapters of their life, but rather the recognizing that we as their children are getting old ourselves.    

Life is changing.

Life is rushing by… we are checking off days like they are insignificant and of no value. One more day towards the weekend. One more day closer to vacation or retirement. Then suddenly you find yourself sitting next to your mother and you find yourself thinking that when you leave in a few days to get back to the “rushing” this could be the last time you have a conversation with the woman who gave you life.

Life doesn’t seem fair when you are forced to deal with such things.

As I pulled out of the parking lot of the hospital to start to drive a long 10-hour trip back to the “rushing,” it gave me time to reflect. I drove for the first five hours or so with the radio off.

I drove in silence.

Silence… shutting out the noise of life.

Here’s a quick fact for you: more than 30 million people in the United States are exposed to harmful sound levels on a regular basis. This doesn’t just lead to hearing loss, but sleep disorders, high blood pressure, and anxiety. Too much noise is not good for our health. But, even worse, it’s not good for our peace of mind.

Unfortunately, silence isn’t always golden. It can be torture, or at the very least, uncomfortable, and it forces to think about things that you have been avoiding.

Silence forces us to stop working, stop doing and, above all, stop and face ourselves in the mirror. I don’t know about you but spending time with myself is no picnic. That’s why TV was invented.

But, as difficult as it may be, silence is also the space where you find peace and stillness, and if you get good at it, wisdom. The answers to all our questions are there in the silence. And not just big and bold, “why am I here?” questions, but everyday stuff, like “what am I ignoring? Putting too much attention on? Attracting into my life?” questions.

Not to mention the dreaded questions of sojourning life during and after this “season.”

Nothing is too big or small for silence to answer.

Related imageThere’s no way we can spin certain things that happen as we get older. Feet that never stop hurting. Real sleep is a rare commodity. Bad hearing. Oddly flowing urine (too much information? Sorry, not sorry). Hair growing in odd places… especially ear hair. Embarrassing pauses in speech. It’s downright inconvenient. And, of course, there’s nothing funny about losing a parent or a spouse. Nothing funny about having you or a family member face a life-threatening illness. The fact is, we could fill volumes on all the challenging ways we get older or all the things we can no longer do.

Life is rushing by.

But, I’m looking to do something different.

I’m looking to lighten up my life, in spite of my circumstances, however overwhelming they may be. I want that for my brother and sister too. In realty, I want this for anyone who may be reading this. We all can begin by injecting a new brand of optimism into our blood.

I want to live life in this season of life.

This will not be in denial. Or avoidance. Living life in this season isn’t about putting on rose-colored glasses, holding hands and wishing on a rainbow that our skin would suddenly tighten up and not sag so much.

We can sing Kumbaya all we want and we’re still going to end up one day with our kids asking for our license because we are not safe to drive anymore, regardless of Image result for keysour self-conceived confidence in our driving ability.

It’s not if, it’s when.

And let me be the first to break the news: somewhere out there in the middle of space, probably a thousand light-years away, asteroids are ricocheting off of stars at 17,000 miles per hour. And, should one of these make an untimely left turn at just the right spot, there is a centillion-to-one chance that it could end up crashing on your front porch. It’s unlikely that any amount of positive thinking will change that.  But, don’t worry. I’m betting the asteroid will miss us. We should still take care of ourselves health wise and plan for the long haul.

The fact is, living life in these changing seasons, isn’t about changing the world or redirecting the planets so they align with our personal wishes.

And living life in these changing seasons is also not about pretending to feel good when you don’t, or saying you’re happy when you’re obviously miserable. Living in this season means that we don’t bury our head in the sand and pretends that life is a stroll down Main Street at Disneyland.

It’s not.

Living life in these changing seasons is about being vulnerable enough to acknowledge that life sometimes hurts. And our job is not to ignore the suffering, but to transcend it.

Related image

Living life in this season is about focusing on what we have, not what we lack, and seeing what is, instead of what is not. It is a cultivation of gratitude that allows us to appreciate whatever falls on our plate.

Even if that means dealing with the mortality of your parents.

And when it really, really, really comes down to it… living life in this season is about living as if everything in our world is here to point us toward some deep secret that will change our world.

It’s about living as if every moment and experience has something to teach us, empower us, and free us. Even—and especially—the hard parts of life.

We can still face our challenges head on, and always knowing that when we say we need to live in this season, what we really mean is that we need to bring light and meaning to things that were once dark and meaningless.

And, that my friends, will be the secret sauce to a life well lived in the changing seasons of life.

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