Friday, December 31, 2010

Mindset 10

In the Mindset series I reminisce about some of my favorite memories of my daughter's life when she was younger. I hope that the task of writing these entries will serve me well, and I hope too that you will enjoy going on this trip with me.

Today's journey takes us to visit the brief time interval between when my daughter was only able to walk to when she was finally ready to run. I am not speaking literally here, but figuratively. More specifically I am reflecting on the two-year period where I used to drive my daughter to school. We would arrive a few minutes early and park out front so that we had a clear view of the main doors. We would then talk and play games. Sometimes we would fill out Mad Libs or read a few chapters from our latest story book or I would quiz her one last time before a test or we would play games like 20 questions. It didn't matter. These times were just the two of us. I liked to think that we were wringing out the sweet juice of the fruit of our last few minutes of time together. However, I know that she just preferred to cling tightly to me for as long as she could before those school doors opened and she would have to go off alone. But oh what a way to start my day. That was the good stuff! I always drove off waving and blowing kisses, with tears in my eyes and a smile in my heart. Today I drop my daughter off at her grandparent's house in the morning so that she can catch the school bus. She prefers this now so that she can be with her friends. I understand. I remind her from time to time that I am still happy to drive her to school. Yeah, I know the answer to that offer even before I ask.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Best Books of 2010

As 2010 comes to a close, I have been looking back on my accomplishments for the year. In this vein I consider the number of books that I have read as an accomplishment. O.K., so it's not like I climbed a tall mountain or won some championship trophy, but nonetheless, I count it as something noteworthy. Also, I think that reading books is a good way to keep the mind limber and fresh, and to learn something about yourself or the world. This year I read 40 books, 10 of which were in the fiction category. I thought that I would share my top ten list of books for 2010 below (a list that actually contains 14 books) in no particular order.
  • He Still Moves Stones, Max Lucado (a gift from my mom)
  • In the Eye of the Storm, Max Lucado (a gift from my mom)
  • He Chose the Nails, Max Lucado
  • The Hunger Games Trilogy, Suzanne Collins (3 books) (recommended by Melissa Wade)
  • The Oath, Frank Peretti (recommended by Brian Miller)
  • The Visitation, Frank Peretti
  • The Millenium Trilogy, Stieg Larsson (3 books)
  • Primal, Mark Batterson (a gift from Rob Shepherd)
  • Going All the Way, Craig Groeschel (recommended by Rob Shepherd)
  • Monster, Frank Peretti
I am already starting to plan out my reading list for the first part of 2011. So, if you have any suggestions, pass them along. I keep my list of reads up to date on my Shelfari page.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

To the Moon ... (and Back)

The book Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney kind of resonated with me when I first read it. It is the story of two forest critters, big nutbrown hare and little nutbrown hare, who are wrapping up their day and getting ready for bed. The daddy and his youngling are talking about the strength of their love for each other. Little nutbrown hare says she loves her daddy this much and spreads her arms out as wide as possible. Big nutbrown hare then replies, but I love you this much and spreads out his much bigger arms as wide as possible. The little one says that she loves her daddy as high as she can hop. The daddy playfully replies that he loves her as high as he can hop, which is high indeed. Finally as little nutbrown hare is drifting off to sleep, she says that she loves her daddy to the moon. He then places a gentle kiss on her forehead as she begins to dream and says that he loves her to the moon and back.

It was only after I became a parent that I truly understood how deep and how wide love can be. This simple expression captures my feelings for my daughter.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Mr. Fixit

Here's a scene that plays out regularly in my life as a homeowner. I sit down to stroke a mortgage check that has far too many numbers to the left of the decimal place, when some vital piece of equipment in the house abruptly quits working. Usually it makes an uneasy gurgling noise, and then dies in a spectacular and fiery display. It could be the water heater, the furnace, the A/C unit, various household appliances, you name it. Actually, the problems that crop up do not just limit themselves to things that require electricity. For example, peeling wallpaper, trim work, rain gutters, outdoor lighting, overgrown hedges, yard care, creaking floorboards, caulking and grouting, chimney dampers, gas lines, carpets, roof shingles, ceiling leaks, unexplained odors, frightening noises, hobos. I could go on and on listing items that came up just today, but the point is that lots of things spring up out of nowhere with no warning.

For the most part, when anything breaks down or spontaneously bursts into flame, I have several options to choose from:
  1. Ignore the problem and hope it goes away.
  2. Pay someone to come in and fix the problem.
  3. Play Mr. Fixit and try to fix the problem myself.
Usually, choice #1 is my preferred avenue. If that is absolutely not an option, choice #3 is then the default (as my last name is not Rockefeller or Gates). Now like most red-blooded, manly-type men, I have seen my share of home-improvement shows. Somehow watching these programs has instilled in me the sense that I should be able to tackle minor home improvements on my own. Yet seemingly when I try to fix something, no matter how minor, I always make things much worse, and hence much more expensive for myself when I am forced to fall back to choice #2.

I can't tell you how much it frustrates me when I fail at a task that I think I should be able to complete with ease, and then find myself either lying in the emergency room with tubes coming out of every opening in my body or talking with the local fire department officers as we stand around the smoldering remains of my home. The frequency of such scenes playing out in my life is becoming almost comical. When will I admit that I am not Mr. Fixit?

Monday, December 27, 2010

Rejoice in the Trash

Some folks feel a distinct sense of sadness after the big build-up that is Christmas morning. After months of planning and preparation, the presents have all been opened in what seems like an instant. What was once laid out in such beautifully colored wrapping paper, festooned with sparkling bows and ribbons, is now a pile of rubble. There can be a distinct let down after the fevered cloud has dissipated. Truth be told, I tend to feel that sense of melancholy, even when my little one is bouncing around the house filled with joy and satisfaction.

This year I made the conscious choice to rejoice in the trash. To count it as a blessing that I love my child enough to prepare all of this for her. I did it all not because I had to, but because it gives me joy and fulfillment to show my love for her in this way. That pile of hastily discarded gift wrap, the beautiful bows and ribbons that have been ripped and torn from their boxes and packages and strewn about the room, there is my victory. So, rejoice in the trash.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas 2010

Peace, love, joy, laughter, and contentment to all of my online friends. Merry Christmas to you and yours.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Eve

Why do we make such a big to-do over eves? It seems to me that Christmas eve and New Year's eve sometimes get as much attention and generate as much excitement as the days that follow them. You know, the ones that are actually circled in red on our calendars. Why such a stir? Why all the commotion and hype? Well, I think it has a lot to do with the potential and the promise of the days themselves more so than what we actually do on these days. Of course the expectations of what that potential actually amounts to is quite different between the young and the old.

Certainly children have expectations of a windfall coming their way on Christmas morning. They are the center of attention for a few hours and they get what amounts to a pirate's galleon-load of booty just for being them. Adults get a chance to remember back with fondness on Christmases of years gone by and they are given an opportunity to spend some time with their family. I think the time set aside for reflection is quite valuable as we get older. For Christians, of course, Christmas is an important season to strengthen their faith and celebrate the birth of their savior.

For kids, New Year's eve is just a day off from school and a chance to stay up late. Both of these reasons are cause enough for excitement all by themselves. For adults, the big bubbling of anticipation on New Year's eve I think is more than just a day off from their dog-eat-dog existence slaving for a paycheck toiling in the salt mines. It is more than staying out at some overpriced, overcrowded gathering, pouring down far too much alcohol. I think it has more to do with the promise of a fresh start. The slate of everything negative and dark and overburdened and overbearing is somehow wiped clean and they can start again with fresh, clean linens on their beds so to speak.

Eves are just an occasion to be connected to the promise of a better day tomorrow. Let's try to celebrate that promise with an open mind and an open heart.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Mindset 9

In the Mindset series I reminisce about some of my favorite memories of my daughter's life when she was younger. I hope that the task of writing these entries will serve me well, and I hope too that you will enjoy going on this trip with me.

Today's journey takes us to visit those classic comfort songs that our children love for us to sing to them. Sometimes they are part of a bedtime ritual. Sometimes they help to provide comfort. Sometimes they ask us to sing them just because they love the song. For my daughter, from the time that she was about two until she was about nine, there were two regulars in my arsenal that were requested daily. One was "When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again" and the other was a song we called "Moo Cow". The first of these is a classic song that my daughter first heard on a children's song compilation tape. I could tell from her reaction that she loved the music and the lyrics. When she asked me to sing this to her, I made a quick visit to the internet to learn the lyrics. The second song I made up but its original history is now lost to me. I simply repeated the words "moo cow" over and over to the Jeopardy theme song. Even now if I close my eyes and sing these songs, I can picture holding my little toddler in my arms or laying next to her bed singing her off to sleep. I even remember a thunderstorm or two that was survived by rocking her back and forth while singing these favorite lullabies to her. I still have the paper that I hastily scrawled those Johnny lyrics on more than 10 years ago tucked away in my dresser. I have always had a passion for singing, and I count it a privilege that I was able share this love with my daughter.

(Shown in the picture below is my daughter's toddler bed that I sat next to all those nights in song.)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Non-Essential Personnel

The other day we had a winter snowstorm in the area where I live. The local channels inserted a news-crawl across the bottom of the T.V. screen that provided an up-to-date listing of all schools and businesses that had announced a closing or delay for the next day. I noticed that many businesses had included a statement that the information was for "non-essential" personnel only. In that moment two thoughts ran across my mind. First I am quite sure that many folks that read about their workplace being closed or delayed responded with exhuberant shouts and fist pumps. However, I also thought about how many folks are perfectly content and satisfied to be listed in the category of non-essential personnel. Non-essential, to me, seems to equate to not important or not mission critical. Perhaps it could be expressed as easily replaced if necessary or not missed when not around. Is there anything good associated with someone wearing this label around their neck?

I don't know about you, but where I work, I push myself as hard as I can to get r' done. I try to be reliable, consistent, hard working. I want to be known as having a can-do attitude. I want folks to consider me as essential and relevant and important. I want to be part of the fabric that makes my work place hum along and be successful. It seems to me that if more folks had this attitude about their jobs, then maybe nobody would be labeled as non-essential or worse yet, made to feel as if there were non-essential.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Light Magic

My usual state of mind when she is not with me is to leave the lights on the tree unplugged. Just let it stay cold and lifeless. I think I do this to ensure I make myself as miserable as possible. For some sick reason I want to heap on more and more stuff that adds to my already overwhelming knowledge that I am alone. Somehow leaving the lights on the tree unplugged serves this dark desire in me. Yeah, I know, it doesn't make sense.

With that being said, I also think that there is another reason why I don't push that plug into the outlet and let the colorful lights paint the inside of my house with their wonderful palette of reds and greens and blues and yellows. I think that I want to save whatever magic they have left all for her. It seems to me like a finite resource, precious and dear. Yeah, I know, it doesn't make sense.

Last night I was wrapping her gifts. I searched my heart and thought about the smiles and laughter and fun that these packages will bring to both of us. For her in the expectation and the receiving. For me in the giving. In that moment my past didn't matter and the reasons for my present didn't either. It was then that I was certain that those lights had enough magic for me too, so I reached over and plugged them in. Yeah, I know, it doesn't make sense. But it doesn't have to.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Junkyard Dog

I sit there silently, yet my thoughts are a clamor in my head. They are as pleasant and welcome to me as the ear-splitting feedback from a microphone or the whine of a dentist's drill. Like a rebellious teenager or a seasoned junkie, I just can't seem to control them. I sometimes feel like there is a war raging in my mind between the subconscious and the conscious.

On one hand there is my subconscious self. It is the part of my thought pattern that can emerge as I sit and watch people go by. Wow, that one is fat. That one needs a lesson on how to apply makeup. That one walks like a circus freak. These thoughts just come out of me. I feel like the junkyard dog. A nasty, snarling, foaming-at-the-mouth mongrel. Never has anything useful or pleasant to say. It doesn't matter who comes by, it instantly attempts to rip them to shreds. Foul-mouthed, obscene, bitter, angry. Spewing venom and hatred. But for what purpose? Is it some insidious attempt to try to make me feel better? Well, I can assure you that it is not working. It is sickening. It is tiresome. It is not who I want to be.

On the other hand there is my conscious self. When I sense the presence of that junkyard dog I try to audibly recite a simple but powerful piece of scripture that says "to take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5). The important corollary to keep at hand comes from James 3:8 and says "no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil full of poison." This verse tells me that the mongrel will always get the better of me if I try to overcome his presence on my own. The apostle Paul's statement in 2 Corinthians tells me that my subconscious gives rise to thought patterns that are of this world. I need to tear down that way of thinking and let my mind be renewed by the truth of God's Word so that I will behave in a different way. A way that frees my mind from the beast that dwells within.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Mindset 8

In the Mindset series I reminisce about some of my favorite memories of my daughter's life when she was younger. I hope that the task of writing these entries will serve me well, and I hope too that you will enjoy going on this trip with me.

Today's journey takes us to visit a backpack full of friends, a bouncy ball, and lots of energetic fun. For several years one of our favorite weekend adventures was to pack up a subset of my daughter's favorite stuffed animal friends and her favorite blue rubber ball and head off to the lab where I work. In the lobby of my office building is a large bright atrium that includes a wide upper balcony overlooking a large open space below. One of us was positioned on the balcony and one of us was on the ground. We would toss the animals up and down or we would toss them down and judge their landings. When we got tired we would play with the ball, tossing it back and forth, trying to outsmart each other with our throws. When we were out of breath and needed to relax, we would each get a soda from the vending machines and a bag of chips. While we caught our breath, we would sit on the sofa located up on the balcony and I would read from our latest book. Although we have not taken her animal buddies to the lab and played like this in several years, I can still hear her squeals of delight echoing off the walls whenever I pass through this area. This fills me with warmth and fondness for those afternoons at my office. Just me and her, her and me ... oh ... and a backpack of friends and a bouncy ball.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Potpourri

The stank has now permeated every nook and cranny of my hallway at work. As I sit here typing, my eyes are watering from the scent of pure evil. What I know at this point is that it must be rooted out and eliminated. I just can't believe that we have gotten to this point. Who would bring such an unholy odor into our midsts? I know one thing, it should not be too difficult to find out.

It all started earlier this week when I, certainly minding my own business, not looking for any trouble, caught the slightest hint of the smell of potpourri. I did not think too much of it at the time. As my mind was full of other thoughts, I threw up just a little in my mouth, but went back to work. If I had known then what would become of this beast, I would have set my hallway ablaze. I have learned from past experience that this is the only way to rid an area of that kind of darkness.

If I ask you what comes to mind when I toss out the word potpourri, what would you say?
  • Whoever invented that accursed, foul olfactory attack should be burned at the stake. Speaking of that, I like mine slathered in a delicious butter sauce.
  • Huh, what's this poot-porry?
  • Boil that dust speck.
  • Hey dude, that's the smell of death, ... oh ... and grandma.
  • That stuff's great for snackin' right out of the box!
  • I love it! So organic and natural and pretty.
Of this small set of responses, five are from guys and one is from a woman. Do you care to guess which one? Given that in my line of work there are 128.2 males for every 0.03 females, now you understand why I don't think it should be too hard to localize the source of the that hideous, wretched, noxious effluvium.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Miss Haversham

Do you know Miss Haversham? I'm afraid I know her all too well. You might say that we are woefully kindred spirits. For you see, I know what happened to her that set her the way she was. Her life and demise are indeed a tragedy. In Charles Dickens' novel Great Expectations, we meet a decrepit, crusty old woman, with an ice-cold, steely heart. She was not always that way, in fact, quite the contrary. We learn that she was jilted by her fiancé just prior to their society wedding. When she received the news, she cloistered herself up in her big old house; closed the blinds; stopped the clocks. She left the wedding regalia all set up and remained in her wedding dress. Her life stopped at that moment in time. Her broken heart consumed her. She never recovered. She wasted away and died alone and bitter and filled with regret and what-could-have-beens.

Several years ago, I was living my dream. This dream was not based on the some over-the-top ideals of a sappy Disney movie, cloyed with princes and princesses, bunnies and rainbows. No, not at all. My dream was a life that included a beautiful wife and lovely daughter who made me feel valued and alive, and a career that I had toiled endlessly for years to prepare for. I was surrounded by exactly what I wanted and what I needed. However, in a flash, it was over. A dream that crumbled into dust before my eyes.

In that instant I closed up inside. My heart shattered. I became like Miss Haversham. Since that point I have poured years of my life down the drain because I just did not have the strength or desire to go on. I felt betrayed, lost, alone, and uncertain. I felt unloved and unlovable. Worthless trash of value to nobody. The windows in my once lovely house remained shuttered. Precious little seems to have changed. Too many echos of moments planned but never lived bounce off these walls. Yet I cling tightly to a wisp that drifts faintly across my mind, a whisper that reminds me of what I am still capable of, and that keeps me alive.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Classic Movies

Some movies are often referred to as classics. However, I'm not sure who is authorized to make this decision. Is the term little more than a marketing tool by the folks in the business, or is there something more? After stumbling around the web for a little while, I came across a definition that I found to capture most of my thoughts. A classic movie is one that dazzles viewers, influences other movie makers and story writers, wins prestigious awards, makes a lot of money at the box office, and stands the test of time and repeated viewing.

Now, if we step back from this definition and give it a good going over, you might notice that it just doesn't seem complete. What about the notion that the movie actually has something positive to say or to teach us? Let's consider two children's movies that are considered as classics, Mary Poppins and Dumbo.

Mary Poppins: A british family with a distant and disconnected dad seeks a nanny for their two wayward children. Nanny after nanny has been driven away by their mischief. Enter Mary Poppins, who takes control of the children and leads them on magical, song-filled adventures with Bert the chimney sweep. We find that the children have been misbehaving only to get their father's attention and love. Mary Poppins brings them all together. The movie was released in 1964 and mixes live action with animation. It was nominated for 13 Oscars and won 6. Its label as a classic is well deserved.

Dumbo: The mother animals in the circus await the stork's delivery of their newborns. Mrs. Jumbo the elephant is graced with a baby with big, floppy ears. Every animal in the circus derides the new arrival and tries their best to humiliate him. They despise him and label him as "Dumbo". Only when they see how the popularity of their circus booms because of Dumbo's ability to fly, do they embrace him. The movie was released in 1941, and pushed the envelope in the area of animation techniques, but I find its message deeply flawed. It was nominated for 2 Oscars and won 1.

Perhaps the notion of a classic is in the eye of the beholder.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Visitation

Welcome to Antioch, Washington. A small, sleepy, farming community a few square miles in size. In this town folks all know one another and everything marches along in its usual slow, humdrum pace. It's funny that in such a small community, there are so many religious factions. Pentecostals, Catholics, Methodists, Episcopalians, Baptists, Lutherans, Presbyterians. You wouldn't think a town this small could support so many groups. Well, it seems that everyone is looking and searching for connection with their God and their Christ. Then without warning, over the course of a few weeks, folks in Antioch start noticing what appear to be divine signs. A weeping crucifix. Messages in the clouds. Angelic visitors that warn of a coming prophet. All of this captures the town's attention and serves to unify all of the disparate groups.

So begins the story of The Visitation by Frank Peretti. After the signs have gotten everyone's attention, a prophet named Brandon Nichols appears. In fact, he seems like more than a prophet. Could he be Christ himself? It certainly appears so. He speaks to people about their most personal conflicts. He heals. He teaches and brings the diverse townspeople together under one church umbrella. The start of a true Christian revival is afoot.

However, as Brandon Nichols builds up his ministry and works to consolidate his power, we start to get a sense that he might not be who he claims to be. The hero of the story is a burned-out and frustrated ex-preacher named Travis Jordan. The more Travis and his group find out about Brandon, the more this prophet is revealed as a megalomanical sadist. As Brandon's power and popularity start to slip away, the more desperate he becomes to preserve it.

This story was very well told and well paced. Peretti has crafted an intricate plot with a well-developed protagonist in Travis Jordan and antagonist in Brandon Nichols. I love how he brought us through the past of these characters to allow us to understand how they came to be who they are today. A great read.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Mindset 7

In the Mindset series I reminisce about some of my favorite memories of my daughter's life when she was younger. I hope that the task of writing these entries will serve me well, and I hope too that you will enjoy going on this trip with me.

Today's journey takes us to visit our favorite pond. For several years my daughter and I used to make regular journeys to the campus of the university where I worked. Near my office was a beautiful little pond with built-in water fountains and large flagstones that criss-crossed several man-made rivulets that fed into the pond. Around the periphery of the pond was a nice brick walking path with sturdy hardwood benches conveniently positioned here and there. This area was frequented by a few mating pairs of ducks, a handful of very shy frogs, and a myriad of small fish. We visited this pond dozens and dozens of times and always found something to fascinate us and wrap up our attention. Sometimes we walked around the pond holding hands and enjoying the scenery, sometimes we just sat on the benches and talked, and sometimes we splashed and played at the edge of the water with sticks and reeds and stalks of grass. Perhaps our favorite activity was follow the leader, where she would plot a course around the pond and I would have to walk where she walked and step on what she stepped on. I love looking at the few photos that I have of her at that pond. A special and cherished time in my heart.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Not Into It (Yet)

There's a line at the start of the song Hot for Teacher by Van Halen (from their album 1984) where Dave Lee Roth says "I don't feel tardy." Well, I'm channeling him today when I say "I don't feel the Christmas spirit." With only a few weeks until this very special time of the year, it just feels like any other Saturday in winter. My holiday spirit meter is sitting at zero.

Sometimes the jump start that I need to get into the swing of things is provided by the usual slate of animated specials on T.V., sometimes it's the decorations in the stores, and sometimes it's the pretty decorative lights on the houses in my neighborhood. Oh, and sure, there have been plenty of years where the palpable excitement emanating from my little one is enough to defrost any frozen, Scrooge-encrusted attitude. Yet, somehow, this year I just don't sense the spirit of the season.

So, what is the cure? What can be done? My guess is the best tonic will be putting up the Christmas tree this weekend with my daughter. This seems like a great first step. One of the things I love about decorating our tree is that each of the ornaments that we have has a story behind it. Just looking at them can sure take me back and get me all misty-eyed. Yet those tears in the corners of my eyes never stay long when my little one is bouncing around and singing and filling the whole house with her excitement. It really is contagious. Yeah, that seems like a good first step.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Christmas Cactus

Back when I was in middle school, we did a little in-school project where each student broke off a single segment from a large Christmas cactus and planted it in a styrofoam cup filled with sand. Over the years my little plant grew and grew. It moved from one pot to another slightly bigger pot. My cactus survived through adolescence, through high school, through college, through graduate school, and through marriage. Wherever I called home, you could be sure my cactus was there. It was, in some strange way, a part of me. Maybe this was because it was with me through so many different and varied stages of my life. When my life fell apart a few years ago, somehow my cactus decided to mirror my attitude to stop living, to give up. What was once both healthy and vibrant, turned limp and lifeless. The loss of my faithful plant five years ago was just another in a string of losses at that time. All that remained was the empty pot, collecting dust in my garage. Given the association with the death of this plant, I never for a moment entertained the thought of replacing it.

For my most recent birthday, my daughter bought me a gift card. When she gave me the card, she said that she wanted me to replace my cactus. She knew it was important to me. I was impressed that she even remembered my attachment to it. It was a wonderful idea on her part and I felt deeply loved and honored by her. She knew it would help to lift my spirits.

When we went to the store to purchase the cactus, we looked around the garden section, up and down the aisles multiple times. We could not find a single specimen anywhere. Just when we were about to give up, we stopped to rest. That's when my daughter espied a single cactus plant nestled back on a shelf, hidden from view. We knew we had fulfilled our quest. As we walked up to checkout at the far end of the store, we came upon a whole cart of the same plant. My daughter asked if I wanted to look for a better one or one with different color flowers. We looked at each other and knew that the one that she found, the one that she was carrying in her arms, was the only one for us.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Traveling Light

In Traveling Light, author Max Lucado asks how do we expect God to use us when we are so exhausted all the time from lugging around life's heavy baggage. Baggage in the form of guilt, anxiety, regret, disappointment, loneliness, anger, and insecurities. In this book we are asked to consider traveling with less of a load across our shoulders. However, we need to realize that ultimately we can only travel light if we trust God with the burdens that he never intended for us to bear.

Lucado approaches this book one piece of baggage at a time. The outline for this book is based on Psalm 23. A Bible passage that many folks at least have a passing familiarity with:

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul; ...


Although I have just provided a small snippet of this Psalm, Lucado breaks this entire passage down line by line, word by word to make it digestible for our sensitive palettes. You will see that there is a lot of depth and meaning in these words, and you can only hope to begin taking ownership of them by the time that you have finished reading this book.

Having now read more than a half dozen books by Lucado, this piece was certainly among the best. He approach was clear, his style crisp and consistent, his theme important, and his theology sound. In short, this was just a wonderful book that will stir your mind and touch your heart.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Cynic Paradise

According to the dictionary, a cynic is defined as a person who believes that only selfishness motivates human actions and who disbelieves in or minimizes selfless acts. I would say that this captures the essence of it pretty well. Usually a cynic is painted in a wholly negative light. But with their frame of mind as a nabob of negativism, I would say perhaps that their image is justified.

Most people, when asked to name someone they view as a cynic, can immediately call to mind one or two examples from their lives. If you simply view the expressions on their faces and their associated body language as they mention these names, you can already guess what they think of these folks. In fact, the seed for this post was planted after a casual conversation with a friend of mine that took place just the other day. As our conversation wrapped up, I thought it appropriate that his picture should be included in the dictionary beside the definition for cynic. He would be the person I would name if asked.

My friend is in his mid-40s, and was born and raised in Russia. Although he has lived and worked in the U.S. for nearly 15 years, he still regularly travels back to his home country. Often when we strike up a conversation, the topic of comparison between the U.S. and Russia will come up. I suspect that his exposure to a communist upbringing, coupled with the new post-U.S.S.R. "democracy", have drastically and irrevocably shaped his world view. In his home country, behind every seemingly good deed is a payoff or a bribe. Everyone is corrupt and looking to make a buck by any means. Things that seem pure and innocent are only fronts for kickbacks, duplicity, and self-serving profit. Given the regular stories of corruption and crime in the local and national news here, he assumes that things are just as bad here in the U.S.. From politicians, to bankers, to landlords, to county officials, to the operator of the local supermarket, everyone is dirty. The only reason that some people don't get any breaks is because they don't have enough money to grease the necessary palms or aren't good looking enough to seduce the right folks.

You know, I count it a blessing that I see the world and the people around me in a more positive light. It seems to me like deep cynicism is a real joy stealer and is a portal from light into inescapable darkness. I'm glad that I don't live in the world that my friend sees through his eyes.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Mindset 6

In the Mindset series I reminisce about some of my favorite memories of my daughter's life when she was younger. I hope that the task of writing these entries will serve me well, and I hope too that you will enjoy going on this trip with me.

Today's journey takes us to visit our old routine of going out together for Saturday breakfast. Our routine each Saturday morning for several years was to head out early to our local McDonalds. We got the same thing each and every week. Two orders of hotcakes, four mini-tubs of syrup, four containers of butter, and two small OJs. We then took our order over to my office building on the University campus and set out our breakfast feast in the conference room across from my office. I then prepared our plates and we dug in. We survived weeks where they forgot the syrup and/or the butter, where they did not put utensils in the bag, and one week where they gave us one order of hotcakes and the other was mistakenly scrambled eggs. After breakfast we would then spent a few hours drawing on the white boards in the conference room. Usually we would each take a turn drawing some object in the room and the other would try to guess what the object was. We always found a way to make our outing a fun adventure. Today our weekend breakfast adventure has changed in some ways. For example, we no longer get up early and head out for breakfast. Somewhere along the way, my little one decided that she would rather sleep in on her weekends and watch T.V. with breakfast while relaxing in her PJs. Hey, I can't blame her. Instead of hotcakes from McDonalds, I make them myself. Even though we don't venture out of the house, we both still look forward to our weekend breakfast together. We still make it an adventure.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Catch Phrase

They say that imitation is the ultimate form of flattery. However, what does it mean when someone takes your "material" and claims it as their own? Well I would say that would make them a low-down, yellow-bellied, sidewinder in my book. ... Huh? I'm rambling again? O.K., let me take a step back and fill you in on the relevant details. O.K.?

From time to time, when the inspiration moves me, I make up expressions or "catch phrases" for my own personal use. In fact, when I was a graduate student many years ago, I entered into an especially fertile period in my life for this sort of genesis. A fellow student who worked with me used to occasionally make "use" of my catch phrases. With my lawyer standing nearby, I reluctantly told this fellow student that he could use my catch phrases provided he properly cited my work. After he signed the paperwork in three places and initialed in four, the formal agreement was in place.

This fellow student surprisingly received his degree and moved out into the real world. In time I did as well, but we did not have all that much contact for two or three years. However, somehow during this period away from my watchful gaze, something insidious happened in his mind. He took ownership of my catch phrases. He used them at will without acknowledging my creation. Now, nearly 15 years since we were students together, we are once again working in and around each other. Whenever he uses one of my old expressions, which he does regularly, I remind him that I was the phrase's creator. He then proceeds to tell me that I am crazy. He will swear up and down that he made the expression up. What nerve!

Below I share a few examples of my catch phraseology. My suspicion is that you will find these so useful that you will want to sprinkle them liberally into your conversations with family members, co-workers, vigilantes, and hobos. You have my permission to use them, provided you use proper citation. Please see my laywer.
  • Bed-wetter - a wussy; a spineless, ineffective person. Sometimes known to wear a lavender jump suit.
  • Geeb - a personality-less blob of a person.
  • Mew-mew-mew - The tiny high-pitched whining sound a kitten makes. Said to someone whining and crying about something.
  • Cuffin'-the-carrot - Used to describe somebody making lots of noise but getting nothing done. Think of the "actions" of a lonely teenage boy.
  • Butt-muncher - A boss who rides you hard and is always chewing you out for not getting things completed fast enough. Also known as a B.M., which is fitting because this is standard medical terminology for a bowel movement.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Cold Heart


"If your heart is cold, my fire cannot warm it."

Friday, December 3, 2010

Come Thirsty

Come Thirsty by Max Lucado is a book whose message is built around a short passage of scripture based on what Jesus said to the crowds assembled in the temple:

If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Rivers of living water will brim and spill out of the depths of anyone who believes in me this way. (John 7:37,38)

These words are not about physical thirst, but about the deep spiritual thirst in our souls. Just as our bodies quickly wither and die away without water, lots of it in daily doses, so too our souls will quickly wither and die away without regular, and purposeful doses of relationship with Jesus. As water hydrates our bodies, likewise our seeking out Jesus and following him can nourish and revitalize our parched souls.

The Bible makes it clear that Jesus will not force us to drink his life-giving waters. There will be no pressure, no compulsion, no threats. He has made his free offer of salvation and unending grace to everyone. Yet it is up to each of us individually to step to the fountain and drink. There is a wonderful picture of this that emerges in Revelation 3:20:

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

Religion and church-going alone will not quench your thirst. Neither will honest living or volunteering your time. A relationship with the most high God and his son Jesus is the only path. He is knocking. Open the door to your heart and soul. Let him in. Drink.

In this work Come Thirsty, you will likely not be deeply challenged or pushed. There is nothing new or earth-shattering here. This book is a good example of simple, humble spiritual comfort food for the soul. This book, while not as carefully crafted or as editorially crisp as other books that I have read by Lucado, still represents a read that has something to teach you and will remind you of the open invitation and promise of grace made by Jesus Christ.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Mindset 5

In the Mindset series I reminisce about some of my favorite memories of my daughter's life when she was younger. I hope that the task of writing these entries will serve me well, and I hope too that you will enjoy going on this trip with me.

Today's journey takes us to visit the wonderful imagination of a child as expressed through sidewalk chalk. A bucket filled with wonderful reds, blues, oranges, pinks, greens, and purples. Nice thick cylinders to fit comfortably in little hands. Stand back and take in the outpouring of fantasy, reality, and expressions of love and hope as seen through their minds. In my old house, the sliding glass doors opened onto a large elevated concrete-surfaced deck. Many afternoons I would come home to a vast new gallery showcasing her creativity. Sometimes she would lay out complex mazes and roadways for us to walk around. Sometimes she would create a wonderful garden teeming with plants and creatures that nature could only look upon with envy. Oh how she loved to show me each and every aspect of her day's work. When the rains eventually came to wipe her slate clean, she only saw it as an opportunity to have space to create anew. One of my favorite chalk works of my daughter was made just before we moved out of that house. I knew that I had to take a photograph to make it last. I share that personal treasure below will all of you.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Parrot

A man can utter the most eloquent or pointed words, but if there is no soul behind them, they are essentially worthless. Smooth and slick, resonant yet empty. If you speak but not from your heart, if you repeat the party line but have not taken ownership of your tongue, then those words are hollow and transparent. I love yous to a stranger. Perhaps you are nothing more than a parrot. Sometimes though, you like to try your daddy's shoes on for the fun of it, to see how they feel or what you might aspire to one day. But at some point, if those shoes don't fit, then everyone will bear witness as you often stumble and fall. Choose your words carefully and voice only what you claim as your own truth ...

It's amazing how many random phrases from pop culture are floating around in my brain. Hardly a day goes by where I am not dropping a line from Seinfeld, Monty Python, Family Guy, or South Park. It has gotten to the point that often after I say something witty (or that I perceive as witty - betrayed by a silly grin on my face) that my daughter will ask me where it came from. If I tell her that I made it up, she stares back at me in disbelief. When I then assure her that I do have some original thoughts of my own, she shakes her head knowingly. She has a parrot for a daddy.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Colors

I was captured by your reds, your oranges, your yellows. Selfishly I wanted to reach out and touch them, to drink them in, to claim them, to capture some of your glory for myself. Festooned in your festive seasonal cloak, you always brighten me, always cause me to take a second look. Your majesty, your beauty, your richness. All I have to do is open my eyes. Sometimes when I am turned inward, I can be so focussed on my own darkness, that I miss your light. Sometimes when I forget to realize how much I like to look at you, and how much your presence awakens me, the harsh winds come and blow you away before I know.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Label Me

"I've seen the way you talk to everyone. You don't remember anybody's name and you don't even look anyone in the eye. You really think you're better than everyone else."

The above words were never spoken aloud to me. However, I have a strong suspicion that more than a few people have walked away from talking to me with these thoughts in their head. I have been labeled an elitist. Folks think that because I have a wall of diplomas and degrees that I feel that I am more important than they are, that I look down my nose at them and feel that they are beneath me. Patrician vs. plebian. The old caste system in effect. While I walk the golden path, you belong back in the gutter that you crawled out of.

If you knew me and had the slightest inkling of the psychological issues that I deal with, if you could have just a taste of my past, you would not be so quick to judge me, to shun me, to label me. I have difficulty with normal social relations. I struggle and battle just trying to survive and interact in and around others. I used to think I was just really shy, but I know differently know. I wear enough labels of my own without adding yours to my list.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Stranger Than Fiction


It has been a while since I came across a song that grabbed my attention, pulled me in, and inspired me to listen to it again and again. From the 1992 album Here Comes Trouble by the band Bad Company is the song Stranger Than Fiction.

Could never be what they want him to be, he's stranger than fiction
And he's got no past, he's a mystery, but he's got ambition
And there's always been a mountain to climb, and this one's just higher
But he shows no fear, it's just a matter of time
You know, he's always been a fighter, yeah
There's no need to ask him why, yeah, you can see it in his eyes
Yeah, he's shooting for the sky, yeah

Chorus:
If we're right, no one shall fight it, no
That good boy won't be slain, oh no
And the young will fight all the powers above
Till the world knows his name, till they know his name
No one knows what he's feeling inside, he's burning with passion
There's only one way out, he's gotta get that right
He wants to go straight to the action, yeah
Sometimes it seems so long, yeah, but his passion is so strong
And something makes him carry on, oh yeah

Chorus
He'll do what he has to do, to be part of the game
Yeah, he knows what he'll have to go through, till the world knows his name

(solo)
Yeah, there's no need to ask him why, you can see it in his eyes
Yeah, he's shooting for the sky, yeah
Chorus repeats 2x...

Friday, November 26, 2010

Mindset 4

In the Mindset series I reminisce about some of my favorite memories of my daughter's life when she was younger. I hope that the task of writing these entries will serve me well, and I hope too that you will enjoy going on this trip with me.

Today's journey takes us to visit the fine art of bubble blowing. I don't know what it is about bubbles, but I have never come across a kid who did not absolutely love them. The accompanying photo shows all of the associated equipment that any self-respecting bubble blower simply must have. One of the games that my daughter and I used to play was that she would load up a bubble wand and fill the sky with her glorious bubbles. My job would then be to run around like a rabid, caffeinated squirrel, and pop all of the bubbles before they popped on their own or flew away.

With the premium bubble mixtures available today, you can blow some amazingly gigantic bubbles. It kept us occupied for hours on end blowing bubbles and watching them float, and undulate, and work their magic on our imaginations.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

Here's hoping that your Thanksgiving day is the Norman Rockwell-iest ever. Peace and blessings to all of my online friends. May you find what you are searching for and realize it when you find it.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Paul

The sixth book in Charles Swindoll's Great Lives series is entitled Paul, A Man of Grit and Grace. Paul was an apostle of Jesus who was responsible for spreading the new religion of Christianity during the first century A.D. across much of Greece, Asia Minor, and Rome. He was also believed to be responsible for writing thirteen books of the New Testament in the Bible. From what is written in the Bible, it is clear that Paul was a dynamo for Christ. He gave everything he had for years on end, letting nothing stop him or discourage him or weigh him down, to fulfill the mission that Christ personally gave to him. He was the main player in the early church to carry out the Great Commission.

While this background history is interesting, there is much more to the story of how Paul came to be Paul. To appreciate this man and what drove him to complete his mission, we need to understand that for the first half of his life he was a member of the powerful Jewish council known as the Pharisees. It is believed that with Paul's scholastic aptitude, connections, and pedigree, he was on course to become the chief priest of the Jews in Jerusalem. In his position with the Pharisees, his mission was to rid the land of the stain that was Christianity. This new movement of followers of Jesus, was seen as nothing other than heresy. It had to be removed from the land by any means necessary. When harassment and intimidation did not bring about the desired results, the Pharisees resorted to murder, all in the name of God. Paul was one of the leaders charged with rooting out the Christian menace.

However, God had a different plan for Paul. He was to be used mightily as an apostle of Christ. He was to be a major force in the early church. During Paul's dramatic conversion, Jesus made it abundantly clear to Paul that his sinful ways were to stop and what he was to do in his name. What many may not appreciate in this story is that Paul was not yet prepared to carry out his charge. He needed to come to truly know Christ and what God's grace was all about. For nearly 10 years after his conversion, Paul lived in obscurity. No preaching, no teaching, no mission. He needed to be transformed from a man unto himself into a man who served God. Yet it was not wasted time. God was molding this man and building him up for the mission ahead. But when he was finally ready to carry out his mission, he gave everything he had for the last 20 years of his life, until he was beheaded in Rome around A.D. 67. Now on to the next volume in this series, Job, A Man of Heroic Endurance.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Judgement

Every now and then, when I am under great pressure or stress, I careen wildly off course and cannot seem to control myself. In these moments I throw harsh words at people like hand grenades, dripping with ignorance and venom. I wound others with my anger and frustration and helplessness. What I say and how I behave are completely against the truths that I know and claim. That person is not me. It almost seems that under certain conditions, the filters and controls that normally process my words and regulate the thoughts between my brain and my mouth are bypassed. I have come to understand over the years that I'm not the only one who has these episodes. In fact, my guess is that we all do to varying degrees.

If you have ever been around someone when they are spewing hate and anger and negativity, when they are raging out of control, or throwing an adult temper tantrum, it is so easy to judge them harshly. Words like racist, sexist, savage, and animal can be thrown back at them with such ease. Sometimes those labels can stick with a person for a very long period of time.

A wise friend of mine told me to guard my thoughts when witnessing such meltdowns in folks. He said that none of us should be fully judged by our worst moments. Sometimes when we reach our boiling point, we can easily act in ways completely uncharacteristic of who we are and say things that are against our true values. In a sense, during these brief periods, we are not ourselves. It reminds me of seeing a child throwing a fit. This can happen because they are not properly equipped to express themselves. I think that same type of wild behavior can be manifested in adults when they are faced with such high levels of stress that they do not have the tools to cope properly with the situation. Be mindful that just as you don't want others to judge you or label you by your worst moments, this is just as true of others.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Mars - Venus

I've just completed reading Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus by John Gray. This is a relationship book based on trite one-dimensional male/female gender profile descriptions. It seeks to help us relate to the opposite sex more successfully by teaching us that they are a wholly alien species. Our ways are not their ways and their ways are not our ways. Curiously, in this age of political correctness that refuses to let shadows sleep even in the dead of night, this book has been termed a "classic" by many due to its commercial success. As it was recommended by a friend whose judgement I trust, I took the time to read it, even though I am not in a relationship.

Let me embark by saying that there is a sliver of useful information wound through this book, but it is quite a chore to pull it out. This book was so repetitive in stating and restating its few points, that I groused aloud at several points. Apparently, according to the vast research of Mr. "Dr." Gray (who is not really a Dr. and was a long-time member of the cult lead by Maharishi Mahest Yogi), women are incessant needy whiners, whose illogical ramblings and hormonal exuberance can be appeased only by their mates nodding and saying "hmmm" or "that is interesting" at regular intervals during their diatribes. On the other hand, men are solitary prehistoric, genetically de-evolved semi-humans, who scratch and grunt and only come out of their man caves for ego stroking and sex. Ouch, my words are quite harsh. However, it might be that some of my negative feelings toward the subject matter arose because of my past relational failures and the fact that I did see a reflection of my life from time to time in the pages of this book that stirred up some negativity within me.

Actually, even though the book seems to be packed with an over-the-top amount of saccharinity and dialog that no two humans would ever utter regarding their feelings, regardless of whether or not they were playing a role in a soap opera, Gray's central tenet rings true. Men and women typically communicate differently and that needs to be appreciated for a relationship to survive and thrive.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Mindset 3

In the Mindset series I reminisce about some of my favorite memories of my daughter's life when she was younger. I hope that the task of writing these entries will serve me well, and I hope too that you will enjoy going on this trip with me.

Today's journey takes us to visit normal games that people play, only they have been mutated and modified and altered to reflect the personalities involved. More to the point, kids are famous for entertaining themselves for hours with the games that they make up. Some of these games develop a set of rules that seem to change from moment to moment, depending on whether the child is winning or losing. I can almost hear the parents out there giving a knowing chuckle. One of our regular games for a few years was almost recognizable as poker. For chips we used a set of acorn tops that we had collected on our walking adventures. Our deck of cards featured the cast of the Scooby Doo gang. Fred, Daphne, Velma, Shaggy, and Scooby Doo. My daughter had a number a specific, non-negotiable additions to the usual rules of poker. First, she always got to keep the "special" acorn that had the spiky top. Second, she got to keep the four queens that featured Daphne, her favorite of the gang. She used these queens like a card shark keeps aces up his sleeve, yet she kept her Daphne cards out in plain sight and had no qualms about using them as she saw fit.

Now, if you are out there saying "What's the point then?", then you probably don't have children. The whole point is to spend time with your little 'uns. Playing games like this is a time for laughter and silliness and togetherness. The sparks of the game naturally give rise to the fires of deeper conversation and deeper connection. Many a rainy day we would lay on the living room floor and play our version of poker for hours at a time. Good thing we weren't playing for money, cause those Daphne cards would have cleaned me out!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Hero

I used to be your biggest hero.
Your knight in shining armor.
Always there when you needed me most.
Swinging in on a vine.
Running through the burning building.
Strong and confident.
Unafraid and sure.

Today though, I am just another person.
The years have brought me down to size.
No more larger than life.
No more the safe secure blanket to wrap up in.
Weak and undermined.
Scared and hesitant.
The hero is gone but I am still here.
Now you see the real me.
Still here when you need me the most.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

New Group

Back in August I wrote a post entitled Flavio Gustaffo about my experience hosting a church small group in my humble abode. Although I tried to couch my fears regarding this experience in humor, it was a pretty big deal for me. As I look back, I am pleased with the fact that I volunteered and pleased with my attitude and spirit in taking on that assignment. I worked hard at something that wasn't natural for me. That group came to an end in October and before I knew it, I was signed up to meet with another entirely new group. Yikes, here we go again ...

Those of you who are regular visitors to this website, have probably realized that I am not very good at meeting people and hanging out in social situations. It is my kryptonite. This type of experience can cause me to run whimpering into the street with my tail tucked between my legs and tears streaming down my face. Not a pretty sight. Yet even knowing how I am around groups of people, especially groups of people that I have never met before, I signed up to join another group. Yikes, here we go again ...

So far, things have been about as I had imagined. I have survived the first couple of meetings like a scared child on their first rollercoaster ride. Eyes closed, gripping the bar so tightly that fingers go numb, screaming on the inside in utter terror. Why do I put myself through this experience if I make it out to be so dreadful? Well, for one thing, it is biblical. Structured relationships that involve meeting regularly with other Christians are an important part of growth and development on our journey. Also I know most kids who survive that first rollercoaster ride, immediately want to go right back on it.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Bunny Huggers

When I was a young boy, I received a BB gun for a present. Oh how I loved setting up soda cans for target practice on the low stone wall in my backyard, and then taking aim and shooting them off one by one. There was something energizing about the shrill metallic sound that rang out when my BB made contact with the cans. One day, when I was alone in the backyard improving my markmanship, a robin landed in the grass nearby. For some reason, I thought it would be fun to take a shot at it. I fired the gun, the robin took two hops forward and then fell over dead. Now I know a lot of boys would have beamed with pride at their accomplishment. They would have felt that they had earned some badge of honor. Yet, my actions sickened me. I felt so horrible. I never used my gun again after that.

Over the years, I have read many articles and heard many stories about fathers who teach their sons to hunt. It is something of a rite of manhood when they come of age. That first kill, whether it is a duck, a rabbit, or a deer, is something to be celebrated. Hunters claim they hunt for the satisfaction of outwitting the animals on their own turf. Yet, I find it morbid when I see photographs of hunters grinning ear to ear as they pose with some dead creature, that only moments earlier, was part of nature. It brings back those horrible feelings that I had when I killed that small bird in my backyard. I have even heard the argument that all humans have a predatory urge, and that hunting is a way to positively channel it so that they don't instead turn abusive or kill other humans. If that doesn't seem like caveman, backwoods logic, I don't know what is.

Ted Nugent has a defiant quote for all "bunny huggers", "you can't grill it until you kill it." Of course he is right, but it is one thing to kill an animal humanely and respectfully and honorably in order to provide food. It is another thing to kill for "sport". This killing of animals for the thrill or the fun of it, just doesn't sit right with me. My attitude was strengthened the other day when I saw a bumper sticker on a truck that read "If it flies, it dies." I have seen outdoors programs on T.V. where the hunter beams over his kill, declaring how beautiful and magnificent his prize is. In my mind, beauty and magnificence are not words for the dead, but for the living.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Mindset 2

In the Mindset series I reminisce about some of my favorite memories of my daughter's life when she was younger. I hope that the task of writing these entries will serve me well, and I hope too that you will enjoy going on this trip with me.

Today's journey takes us to visit Winnie the Pooh and his friends Tigger, Rabbit, Piglet, and Eeyore in the Hundred Acre Wood. In talking to other dads that I know, they tend to endure or to suffer silently when watching movies with their children. Clearly not their cup of tea. However, I have always watched movies with my daughter because I get as much enjoyment out of them as she does. For several years she was very keen on Winnie the Pooh. I have always loved these characters and have found their antics consistently marked by charm, innocence, integrity, humor, and heart-warming emotion.

We have a set of four very well worn VHS cassette tapes that we watched nearly every weekend together for several years. It really was a special together time for us. When VHS gave way to the DVD, each new title that came out was met with quite some fanfare. We would share what we called "movie nights" (a tradition that has survived to this day). Of course, as new movies came to the theater, you could expect us there on opening weekend. The Tigger Movie in 2000, Piglet's Big Movie in 2003, and the last movie that came out in 2005 was called The Heffalump Movie. I had the distinct feeling as we went to see that last film, that the Pooh wave had already crested. Yet we still went to see it anyway. I knew that the level of excitement and anticipation was not as high as for the earlier movies. With this, I relished in the adventures of my cartoon friends, knowing that our time together was running out and good-byes were at hand. Well, I now hope that good-byes were a bit premature. I hope to get to visit with my old friends again in a few more years when I am a grandfather.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Lessons Learned

I don't know about you, but when I bang myself with a hammer, the pain and bruising in my fingers makes a long-lasting impression in my mind. So, when I swing a hammer, I make darned certain that my hands are clear. Some lessons are learned very quickly indeed. However, on the other hand, some lessons, that may have even more lasting consequences than a few bruised fingers, never seem to be absorbed, or at least, take a very long time to be fully learned. As I was thinking about this post, two specific examples turned over and over in my mind.

1). A huge amount of my life's work as a scientist, representing past projects, current analyses, and future planning is contained on several computers. Over the years, I have had more than a few of my computers unexpectedly crash and burn to their untimely death. This has cost me some significant losses, along with my fair share of anxiety and anguish. Yet today I do not regularly make back-up copies of my most important files, even when I understand first hand what is at stake. I have been struck by that hammer several times, yet I still leave my fingers directly in the danger zone.

2). Several days a week I am responsible for picking up my daughter from school. A few years ago, I fell into the habit of trying to stay at work until the last possible second, and then heading out to pick her up. One day there was a traffic problem and I arrived at her school about 10 minutes late. When I finally reached my daughter, I could see that she had been crying. I saw worry and fear all over her face. Ever since I was struck with that hammer, I have been sure to arrive at our meeting place about 15 minutes early. That hammer will never strike my fingers again.

Why is it that some lessons are easy to absorb and others are so hard? Do our minds perform some complex cost-benefit analysis where it weighs the possible outcomes and risks associated with our actions and behaviors? Maybe. But this sounds like it is giving me too much credit. I suspect that the lessons most easily learned are the ones that are most personal, that bruise not just our fingers, but our hearts.