Category: forgiveness

A Reminder For Myself

Image result for A Reminder to Myself

I need to remind myself that…

Sometimes people come into your life and you know right away that they were meant to be there, to serve some sort of purpose, teach you a lesson, or to help you figure out who you are or who you want to become.

You never know who these people may be (possibly your roommate, neighbor, coworker, longlost friend, or even a complete stranger) but when you lock eyes with them, you know at that very moment that they will affect your life in some profound way.

And sometimes things happen to you that may seem horrible, painful, and unfair at first, Image result for Everything Happens for a reasonbut in reflection you find that without overcoming those obstacles you would have never realized your potential, strength, willpower, or heart.

Everything happens for a reason.

Nothing happens by chance or by means of luck. Illness, injury, love, lost moments of true greatness, and sheer stupidity all occur to test the limits of your soul.

Without these small tests, whatever they may be, life would be like a smoothly paved, straight, flat road to nowhere. It would be safe and comfortable, but dull and utterly pointless.

The people you meet who affect your life, and the success and downfalls you experience help to create who you become.

Even the bad experiences can be learned from.

In fact, they are probably the most poignant and important ones.

If someone hurts you, betrays you, or breaks your heart, forgive them, for they have helped you learn about trust and the importance of being cautious when you open your heart. If someone loves you, love them back unconditionally, not only because they love you, but Related imagebecause in a way, they are teaching you to love and how to open your heart and eyes to things.

Make every day count!!!

Appreciate every moment and take from those moments everything that you possibly can for you may never be able to experience it again. Talk to people that you have never talked to before, and actually listen. Let yourself fall in love, break free, and set your sights high. Hold your head up because you have every right to.

You can make of your life anything you wish.

Create your own life then go out and live it with no regrets.

Advertisements

God

Image result for god

In everyday conversation, people say “God” a lot.

A few say, “Oh my God,” “Thank God” and “Praise God.”

Some say, “For God’s sake” and “Good God.”

Many people use it in vain.

People use the term to direct God to damn someone or something to hell. As if they could direct God to do their dirty work for them.

I am not perfect by any means, I’ve used all of these terms. Probably more than I would like to admit, even to myself. As I have grown older, I try to avoid using the name “God” in any form in my daily conversations.

Most times, I can only whisper “Oh, God” in grief, regret or horror.

I could only softly whisper “Oh, God” when I watched the horror of something that I see on TV or hear about. Among many other examples, I whispered it when I witnessed 9/11. The same when I heard of the shootings at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the Vegas concert massacre and the Living Tree Synagogue reached me.  I softly whispered them again, when former students of mine died so young to addiction, or when I lost close friends to cancer.  I said it when one of my closest friends died by their own hand.

“Oh, God.”

I’ve whispered these words far too many times in my life.

Lately, I’ve been wondering what people mean when they say, “God.”

Actually, I’ve been increasingly concerned about who people think God is. 

The source of my concern is not the growing religious pluralism of America. Neither do I spend time worrying about how to think about God in order to get into heaven or to stay out of hell. 

Instead, I’m convinced that what we will make of our lives together on this planet will be guided by our idea of God. Not all ideas about god are a good reflection of what or who God really is.

If you can do whatever you want and live any life that you choose then I am not sure that you have a good idea of who God really is.

Scripture’s long and winding testimony makes it clear that we humans can make a wreck of things when we harbor a distorted and even toxic idea of God.

All of us have inherited a fractured world. We face broken hearts and disease, poverty and racism, hunger and greed, vicious governments and deadly addictions, garden variety personal sins and genocidal violence.

This is the world you and I inhabit.

What we are going to do about it will depend on our idea of God.

For some people “God” is a supernatural being. For others a higher power. It could be money, power, fame, or their substance of choice.

History and the daily news are littered with individuals and tribes of people and nations coping with the world’s chaos by finding somebody to blame. A scapegoat to vote off the island, to lock up, to lock out, to crucify.

Whether these people believe in a supernatural being or not, they’re adopting strategies remarkably similar to those who seek to enlist or at least to appease an angry, blaming, punishing god. Their “god” is wrathful, and they need to do whatever it takes to stay on its right side, including throwing somebody else under the bus.

I’ve witnessed people defending the actions of our political leaders all in the name of their chosen god. I’ve also witnessed people attack these same political leaders with the same god in tow… blaming all that is wrong in this world on them in the name of their god.

Jesus came to show us that God isn’t like this.

Jesus came to change our mind about God, not to change God’s mind about us.

When we follow Jesus’s example, we are leaning into our true selves as the image of God. Jesus put it this way: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)

Jesus healed the sick, ate with outcasts, and fed the hungry. He taught us to forgive, to give the shirt off our back, to love even our enemies. This is the image of God on planet Earth. And that image comes especially clear in the cross. There we see simultaneously God’s relentless love and the cost of that love. God suffers with the world to heal the world.

Jesus died on the cross. He was a threat. A threat to the Roman Empire’s view of God.

The Romans executed him. Jesus knew it was coming.

That’s what Empires do. They eliminate threats. 

And nothing could be more threatening to a militaristic, status-craving, power-driven, possession-obsessed Empire than someone who says that God blesses the poor and the meek. The weak and humble. Jesus resisted the might of Empire with the compassionate reign of God. 

Yes, the Romans killed him for it. But they couldn’t really take life away from him. He had already been giving his life away. 

He had been giving his life away for the sake of the world from the moment of his birth. His life was the perfect embodiment of healing love. The perfect image of God. Even and especially in his dying, Jesus showed us who God is. Who we most truly are. That’s what the Bible means when it says that God created us in God’s image.

I hope that my life, when it is over, in its best moments at least, says that God is love and points them to Jesus Christ.

Image result for god

What You Leave Behind

As I write this, 691,197 different people have visited my blog since I published my first article over 10 years ago.

In additioImage result for What You Leave Behindn, my articles have been read well over a million times.

I am amazed by that… and I am humbled.

I had no idea that it would go that way.  I was only looking for a way to express my thoughts and feelings.

I have had many years where writing came so easy, but I also have had those times where I struggled to write. Over those years, I always had the motivation to write. Sometimes I would wake up in the middle of the night and just get up and make my way to my keyboard and get the thoughts that were in my head out. Words would  just flow out of my fingers and I found a deep satisfaction in the process and the release of my thoughts.

In those times when I struggled to put my thoughts down, it wasn’t because of a lack of desire to write. Over those brief seasons of “writer’s block” my desire was there… I just couldn’t find a way to get the words out.  I would start to think it was time to shut down my website and find something else to fill the void. As a matter of fact, I did just that a few times. I even posted that I was done writing and would have weeks of silence and then out of the blue the words would be there and once again it was easy to write.

Publication2I even woke up one day and had the crazy notion to write a book. I did just that. On April 12, 2018, My book “Footprints in a Small Town” was published.  I honestly believed that between a few close friends and family, I would sell about 10 copies (5 copies which would have been purchased by my mother). I was wrong about that. It has sold far beyond any dream I may have had for it. One year later, while sales have tapered off, it continues to sell and I am still amazed at the response. Thank you to all who have played along and read my book. I am forever grateful.

Again, I am amazed by that… and I am humbled.

However, for the past 4 – 6 months, I have been going thorough a time where I am struggling with finding the words to write.  As I have said, I have gone through seasons like this before. 

This time it is different.

For the first time in over 10 years, I have lost the drive and desire to write.

I am not saying I will never write again. I will probably post something next week.  

Simply put… I have grown in good ways and God has helped me change my perspective on a few things that I would not have learned if I had not been writing.

Hopefully, the footprints that I  continue to leave will point others in the right direction and towards Jesus Christ.

Please do not interpret this change as anything other than what it is.  It has been a wonderful, amazing time in my life and I have no bitterness, nor regret of anything I have done with my writings.

I will continue on my journey and my hope and prayer is that one day I will be free to share more of my stories and be able to regain the desire to write once again.

As I have said from the very start of this blog… 

  • Thank you to all who have commented on my posts… 95% of your comments never got posted (sorry about that… I think).
  • Thank you to those that played along and allowed me to pick up some of the broken pieces of my life and share a portion of my story with you. 

Always remember that your footprints leave a legacy for the world to see… may God be honored by what you leave behind.

Related image

Life is a Growth Process

Jesus talked a lot about forgiveness.

No wonder.

Forgiveness is essential to being a whole person and can be remarkably difficult to do. 

Most people who try to follow the teachings of Jesus have gotten the message that God is forgiving just because God is, well, God.

God forgives us before we can even begin to feel remorse.

God won’t withhold forgiveness, even in response to our uneven records of forgiving others.

It’s very hard to forgive someone who has injured us deeply. But even for those who have made forgiving a habitual practice, there often remains one-act of forgiveness that continues to elude them. They cannot forgive themselves.

In other words, somewhere deep within a voice is muttering that they do not measure up. And they don’t know how to silence that voice.

I get that. I’ve been there. 

I’ve struggled with shame. And while I have worked on, anImage result for Shamed am still working on, forgiving myself for specific things done and left undone in my past, I have needed a different strategy to silence the shame-voice within me.

Deep within, this voice of shame continued to mutter about my flaws and inadequacies for many years.

For a long time, I tried to ignore it.  

I was consumed with shame for a divorce that happened over 25 years ago.

I lost my ministry and I placed myself on the sideline.

While I know and accept forgiveness, I still sit on that sideline, while I see others who have been able to move on from their divorce and get involved in ministry.

But make no mistake, I am grateful for the life I have lived.

From the perspective of dealing with shame, life is a growth process. God continues to reveal things that I have buried deep in the recesses of my heart. He reveals these things so that I can deal with them properly and in the context of His forgiveness.

It has only been the last few years that I have been able to take communion.

I am growing, even after all these years.

Again… lifImage result for Life is a growth Processe is a growth process.

A messy and imperfect, frequently beautiful, sometimes terrible growth process. And, crucially, we are not alone in the growing. God is in it with us, not sitting back and waiting for us to hammer ourselves into an acceptable shape.

Jesus put it this way:

A man noticed that one of his fig trees wasn’t bearing fruit. He wanted to chop it down, but his gardener talked him out of it. “Look,” says the gardener, “let’s work with the tree and give it some time. Believe it or not, this tree will grow right through all the manure that gets heaped on it.” 

Notice that the gardener does whatever it takes to promote the fig tree’s growth and fruitfulness.

In other words, God is up to the divine elbows making something for us from life’s manure… the very stuff of new life.

That includes a life… including my life… worth living, even if it, in the back of my mind has been covered in the manure of shame.

That’s what God has done in my life, specifically in the case of my divorce. I am not grateful for the shame. But I am grateful for my life—with my admittedly on-again, off-again participation— that God has made of it.

For the past few months, I’ve been experiencing gratitude in a way that’s new for me. It’s changing me. I’m grateful to be alive. I’m grateful for this life.

When we accept ourselves as imperfect, we open ourselves to the love and the life that will help us grow.

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?

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.