Thursday, December 31, 2009

Failed I's II

For many reasons we tend to rely on ourselves. If you take a tour of the bookstore you will see hundreds of "self-help" books lining the shelves. Reliance on our own efforts to improve and empower our minds can be quite admirable to be sure. However, I have found that reliance on self in many situations can lead to exhaustion. We toil and struggle and devote great amounts of time and energy and money, only to find ourselves even worse off than when we started. This leads to frustration and, ultimately, to surrender. I have lived this type of life for a long time. However, Jesus made it clear that we are not to live life isolated and alone. He spent his public life surrounded by his trusted twelve disciples. He sent his disciples out into the world two by two to spread the gospel. Traveling through life with others, relying on others, can lead to a strengthening of spirit that is impossible through reliance on self alone.

I have just finished reading Samson and the Pirate Monks by Nate Larkin and it was one of my favorite books of 2009. It is a story of life lived in failure and surrender alone to be rewritten in victory by walking in brotherhood. It is a story filled with honesty and openness and brokenness and failure. A story then rewritten by connecting with others, that leads to renewal, growth, and victory. Those who have read other books on Christian brotherhood, whose message quickly desolved into the aether after the cover was closed, should appreciate this story of sinner saints and the impact they can have on us castaways and hermits.

(Part 2 of 2)

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Failed I's I

I have been struggling with some addictive behaviors for a whole now and it seems that, most of the time, they get the better of me. They win. I lose. My pattern of action follows an all too predictable cyclic behavior. I fight and struggle. I give into the addiction. I feel like garbage afterwards. My self-esteem takes a big hit. I resolve to try again. It feels a bit too much like the plot from the movie Groundhog Day. I keep living the same pattern over and over again. I feel trapped in a confining box. It seems like no matter how hard I try to escape, I am fated to lose.

I have always felt that I could conquer almost any problem in my life that was under my "control". I figured that once I recognized what was going on, I could easily deduce the negative effects it was having in my life, and then devise an effective strategy to drive it away. For example, last year after a particularly dark season in my life I realized that I was becoming an alcoholic. It didn't take me long to understand the issues and the consequences of this behavior, and then to work to slay this dragon. I simply used my intellect to gain control of my behavior and my attitude. Very simple, very easy. Ready to move on to the next battle.

However, my recent addictions have proven a much more formidable foe. I easily recognized the problem and the potential consequences. I devised what I thought was a plan of attack that would bring this area of my life under my control. However, I failed miserably. In fact, I fail nearly every day in this regard. I need a different approach. In my life, the I's most certainly don't have it.

(Part 1 of 2)

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

T.V. 1966

I was reading on that the lady who played Wilbur's wife (Connie Hines) on Mr. Ed died. (For you young punks out there, Mr. Ed was a talking horse.) I remember at one point in my life, I went through a Mr. Ed phase, where I watched afternoon reruns for a while. That led me to ask what shows were most popular on T.V. the year that I was born (1966, oh, and if your counting, that makes me only 29). Now, with the Al-Gore-invented high-speed superhighway, the answer to my question was only a few key strokes away! Nee-ha, now on with the list:
  1. Bonanza - Channel surfed over this one, but have never seen a full episode of it.
  2. The Red Skelton Show - I have never seen this show but have heard of it.
  3. The Andy Griffith Show - Certainly have seen most episodes on afternoon reruns and Nick at Nite.
  4. The Lucy Show - Saw many episodes on late night T.V..
  5. The Jackie Gleason Show - Have only seen clips of this show on late night infomercials.
  6. Green Acres - Pretty sure I have seen all of these episodes. This was an after school regular when I was in high school.
  7. Daktari - I have never even heard of this one.
  8. Bewitched - I know this one up and down, from one Darren to the other. I think that I used to have a crush on Elizabeth Montgomery.
  9. The Beverly Hillbillies - Like Green Acres, an after school regular. I have seen them all, black and white and in-color.
  10. Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C. - This guy was the Urkel of his day. I have seen a number of episodes due to T.V. addiction, but can't stand this awkward character or the actor who portrayed him.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Hail Athlete!

Here's a headline that gave me a good guffaw, perhaps you read this too, and it also caused you to raise an eyebrow. Jimmie Johnson was just named the Associated Press male athlete of the year for 2009. Really? ... Really? For those of you who might not recognize the name, Jimmie drives the #48 Lowe's-Chicken Hut-Cow Flop-STP Chevrolet stock car in the NASCAR driving circuit. My friends, as I see things, sitting in a car driving in circles for several hours qualifies nobody, and I mean nobody, as an athlete. Now I can hear the full force outcry of the NASCAR redneck army out there, screaming in unison: "It takes a lot of stamina and training and skill to drive for 500 miles and go nowhere." I do not dispute that for a moment.

Let's take this a step further. I have even heard of folks who partake in those ridiculous and gluttonous and wasteful eating competitions refer to themselves as athletes. Just because you can choke down 20 frankfurters in 68 seconds before you begin projectile barfing, means only that you are an idiot. How far will people take things? Under these liberal applications of the notion of "athlete", we should just throw this term at the pasty white geeks who play their video game systems for hours on end without stopping even to pee, or at folks who sit at their desks all day in a boring job without falling asleep (that too takes training), or at the poor saps who sit in their living rooms actually watching those NASCAR events or food eating contents (that too takes a heck of a lot of effort).

So, let me make this perfectly clear (I'm now channeling Richard Milhous Nixon), unless you are involved in a recognized sport (baseball, football, track and field, basketball, and I'm even willing to include competitive badminton), you are not an athlete. If your recreation time involved exclusively making left-hand turns in a car, or sitting above a hole in a frozen pond drinking beer, or belching the alphabet with your buddies, whether or not there are people paying to see your efforts, you do not fit into any sensible definition of a jock.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Best Books of 2009

Another year has come to a close, and with it, I have read another slew of books. By my count, it seems that the definition of a slew for 2009 is 23. This does not count books that I have read as part of my work or the dozens of books that I have read with my daughter. A good fraction of the books that I read were based on recommendations from my friends. To be sure, none of you has let me down (yet). So, without further ado, here is my top ten list of books for 2009 in no particular order.
  • Samson and the Pirate Monks, Nate Larkin (recommended by Bill Sprouse).
  • The Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafon (a gift from Elke Aschenauer).
  • Under the Overpass, Michael Yankowski (recommended by Brian Miller).
  • Perelandra, C.S. Lewis (recommended by Robby Turner).
  • That Hideous Strength, C.S. Lewis (recommended by Robby Turner).
  • Devotional Classics, Richard Foster & James Smith (recommended by Bill Sprouse).
  • A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis.
  • Piercing the Darkness, Frank Peretti (recommended by Robby Turner).
  • Prophet, Frank Peretti (recommended by Robby Turner).
  • The Principle of the Path, Andy Stanley.
I am already starting to plan out my reading list for the first part of 2010. So, if you have any suggestions, pass them along. I keep my list of reads up to date on my Shelfari page. I would also give a shout out to a series of books called The 39 Clues that I have been reading with my daughter. We both have enjoyed them immensely.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas 2009

Merry Christmas to all. Hope you have a blessed year ahead. Peace, love, and joy.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Rap '09

When I was a kid, my own world was the only one that really mattered to me. When it came to Christmas, it was all about me and what presents I would get. I was basically kidnapped and forced, entirely against my will, to spend my hard earned money on my two brothers. Of course, I hated that part of deal. But, after a careful and well-thought out cost-benefit analysis, I figured that my net take was pretty decent. Not bad for an average kid dealing with a fat old man in a sooty red suit.

As I got older and started to come into who I was, the Christmas season meant less and less to me. I remember loving being on campus at college during the holiday break as the place was basically deserted and I felt a certain peace. Again my motives were entirely selfish. I could finally catch up on some work that I wanted to do, I would have the computer systems all to myself, I would not have to deal with anyone.

Today, I find myself in a different place entirely. I get very few gifts any more, and it really doesn't bother me. Not one bit. This Christmas time of year never really was about me. My focus at this time of year is to celebrate the birth of Christ and to recognize what he endured for me.

This season of the year is also time to celebrate being with my most wonderful daughter. In her I find love and acceptance, in her I see my real reason for being here on this Earth, in her I can celebrate life.

As I was wrapping my daughter's Christmas presents the other day, I was given pause to stand back from the neatly wrapped boxes and fancy bows. I envisioned her reactions to each new goody that she would unwrap. I could hear her laughter and see her smiles. I could feel her hugs and gratefulness. This is all that really matters. You see, Christmas was never really about me.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Lip Service

Having knowledge of what you need to do or what you should do is a very distant cry from actually stepping out and stepping up to contribute. "Oh, that's very important to me." Words that ring hollow based on your actions. If it is so danged important to you, why do you never lend a hand? Why do you only take and never give? Sure, if you don't contribute, the work will still get done. But that is completely beside the point. Your only contribution seems to be providing lip service.

This week my church, Waters Edge Church, is in the final preparations for its annual Christmas Eve services. The number of folks attending will be in the neighborhood of about 4000. Obvious this is a big deal that requires many volunteers to pull off seamlessly. Development of the service and the music and the stage design are big elements to be sure, but there is so much more that most will never see. There are major tasks in setting everything up, preparing the auditorium, laying out the child care areas, cleaning up, preparing the programs, training the volunteers, developing the parking layouts, staffing the parking lots, reception area, auditorium, and child care rooms, and resetting the facilities between each of the 3 services. Finally, after all of the festivities and pageantry are over, there are scores of folks needed to tear down, clean up, and put everything back to how it was before our groups arrived.

This week I will contribute a few hours of my time for set up and tear down. I want to provide more than lip service in honoring my Lord and bringing him to the folks in my community. It's the least I can do for what he endured for me 2000 years ago. Will you do your share too?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Why am I afraid of the dark? Like most, I guess primarily it results from a fear of the unknown. What is out there? What sort of monster might I encounter that would eat me alive? I once read a book about a young boy's fear of the creatures that entered into his room after the shadows of night had taken over. After he turned on his bedside lamp, he saw that his worries were baseless. Each shape that his mind had put into flesh, had a much less threatening explanation when exposed to the light. His jacket draped over the bed post. His model kite hanging from the ceiling. His fishing pole and tackle kit leaning out of his closet.

Mind you, my issue is not with nyctophobia. My fear is the dark that clouds my vision into the future, into what lies ahead. I am panicked by not knowing when or where I will emerge given my current location and the sign posts that I can see. What really knocks the wind out of me is that I don't feel I am where I am supposed to be. My current life is not what I had imagined ten years ago. People and relationships and things that I had built my life's foundation upon are gone. I find myself in a place that I do not recognize and do not like. I have no idea if I will be able to find my way to what I am after with the time that I have left.

The people that are closest to me see that I have a good job and a wonderful and loving daughter. All the makings of the good life. However, I have lost my smile and see more darkness and shadows than light. For several years I feel like I have been treading water, marking time. Meanwhile, tempus fugit. Lines appear and grow deeper, white tinges replace brown, reality replaces fantasy and hope. I am afraid of the chimera that lies out there in my darkness.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Give and Receive

From time to time, a simple act can fill me with warmth and an inkling into how relationships are supposed to be. I recognize that having friends to do life with indeed makes the whole experience so much more enjoyable and painless and fulfilling. However, I have never really had that many friends in my life. Furthermore, I have always found it difficult to make new friends. It takes so much strength for me to reach out and open up, strength that far too often fails me or escapes me. The past several years have been particularly jarring emotionally due to some circumstances in my life, and it hasn't helped that I have lost the people in my life that meant the most to me. Moving away, new jobs, life changes. It felt like I had invested all of my money in a company that suddenly went bankrupt. Sometimes this makes me feel like I don't want to try investing my "money" again. I pull away and give less and rely more on self.

Recently I posted a blog about a book I had just finished reading. My friend Rob posted a comment that he had planned to read this book as well. My first thought was to contact him to let him know that he could borrow my copy. I thought for a moment and my mind started to race with thoughts of "I'm not comfortable contacting him.", "I would make him uncomfortable with such an offer.", "All of this would just take too much effort.". I walked away from my computer anxious and frustrated. I sat still for a while and collected myself. I focussed on the notion that one must give to receive. I then sent Rob an email with the offer.

Just a bit later, Rob replied enthusiastically. He then offered to give me a book that he had an extra copy of. It just so happened that the book that he offered to me was one that I was just about to go and purchase for myself. This was all so simple and beautiful that I felt like a fool. Why do I make things so hard for myself? Thanks Rob for teaching me a lesson that I need to live.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Grind My Gears 11

The great greek philosopher Rattocles once mused "Round and round, what comes around goes around, I'll tell you why ...". He never got around to finishing his ideation, probably because at that very moment he unintentionally consumed a hemlock burrito meant for another. However, I can state with assurance that what Rattocles was about to say was that whoever invented the traffic circle should be made to eat undercooked chicken. These "quaint" constructs still pop up from time to time in new construction and I can tell you it really grinds my gears. First off, nobody knows the rules of entering and exiting into these ridiculous mazes. Couple this with the selfish, me-first attitudes of most drivers, and chaos is assured. I read recently of a timid old lady driver who got trapped inside a traffic circle for 11 straight days before she could escape. She survived on an oatmeal frappe and the graham cracker crumbs that had gotten caught in the folds of her garish muumuu. Unmistakeably a tragic and cautionary tale, and you can bet it was due to some insipid civil engineer who has a sick fascination with the notion of a Möbius strip.

In a closely related bit of civil engineering madness are the bush and shrubbery plantings at the corners of intersections. You would have a clearer vision of oncoming traffic if you simply closed your eyes, belted out an old Manilow tune, and depressed the accelerator with giddy glee. But this bit of floral insanity is to be belched upon another day. Another day.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Forgotten God

I read Francis Chan's first book Crazy Love just over a year ago. I posted a couple of blogs about my journey through this work (Crazy Love Question, Lukewarm Me). If you have not read this book, I do recommend it for folks at any point in their Christian walk. When Francis Chan's new book, Forgotten God, was published, I was quick to pick it up and dive in.

The goal of this book is to educate us about the Holy Spirit and his role in our lives. The question that forms that central theme of this book goes along the following direction, "Could it be that we've forgotten the One who distinguishes Christianity from every other religion and cult in the world?". Chan describes the misperceptions regarding the Holy Spirit (the breath of God) and what our lives could be like if we worked to strengthen our relationship with him. As I read about Chan's central tenet that the Holy Spirit is the most forgotten and/or misunderstood part of the Godhead, I thought of the old Seinfeld bit about the Three Tenors. Let's see, there is Pavaratti, Domingo, and that other guy. Such is Chan's point that our roll call of the Holy Trinity is God, Jesus, and that other thing.

The Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit was part of all things, from the very beginning to the very end. The Holy Spirit was provided to us as an absolutely crucial aspect of our journey through life. Jesus said:

But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor (Holy Spirit) will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. - John 16:7

We are told that: The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. - Galatians 5:22

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Hold on Loosely

I have a young daughter whose journey toward becoming a full-fledged teenager has nearly reached its conclusion. However, while she still has just over one year remaining on her trek, I can already feel the tremors, ever so subtle, of her growth. There is an undeniable metamorphosis away from being a young child, with all of their innocence and parental dependence. Slowly, subtly, unmistakably, she is becoming a young woman. She is growing in independence and developing more and more of her and less and less of us. This is, of course, wholly natural and inevitable. My control of her life must wane as she takes her steps away. As she once needed to be held and carried, and then took those first tentative steps off on her own, now I must let her continue to step out from under my wing more and more.

I hear those old 38 Special lyrics rolling around in my mind:

Hold on loosely, but don't let go
If you cling to tightly
You're gonna lose control

There is a selfish part of me that doesn't want to let go. I don't want to lose being such an important part of my daughter's life and growth and existence. She is not only my daughter, but my best little buddy. But regardless of what I want, the truth is, this relationship will change with time one way or another. One way will lead to a much more painful separation between us, with her not fully learning the lessons and skills necessary for living her own life. The other way will lead to a separation that will strengthen and deepen our relationship, and give her the best possible foundation for success. I must somehow come to understand that my role is to give her room to grow, to learn, to make mistakes, and to develop self-reliance and independence. This is the natural and healthy way of things. Learning to love and let go will define my true legacy as my daughter's father. So, hold on loosely.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Preach to the Preacher

There is one potentially valid criticism that some folks might have with my blog ramblings. From time to time, I might get a bit preachy. My response is ... well ... it's my blog. But, believe it or not, the truth of the matter is that as a Christian I sometimes struggle to live out my faith. I tend to stifle God's light within me. Really, when I seem to be a bit preachy, the fact is, that I am trying to teach myself a lesson. In other words, I need to be preached to. It turns out, however, that I am a rather poor student and need to remind myself of what I should already know and how I should behave.

Let me quote from Matthew Chapter 7 verses 1 to 3:

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?

These verses floated into my mind the other day. I was sitting in the auditorium at work during a presentation. It was a fairly important talk to which the 80 or so folks in attendance were paying careful attention. During the middle of the talk, a cell phone went off. The ring tone was not subtle. It was not gentle. It was playing some loud and fanciful ditty. The poor chap to whom the phone belonged, rummaged through his bag pawing at anything and everything he could find to silence the beast, drawing much more attention to himself than he was comfortable with. Red-faced, he quickly removed himself from the room to deal with whoever it was that called him.

Myself and a number of others were left muttering about how inconsiderate this person was. In the next instant, a number of these same folks, myself included, then reached for their own cell phones to be sure that they were muted.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

World's Greatest Dad?

My young daughter would still label me as the world's greatest dad. She has her ways of telling me and showing me. She elevates me to that pedestal with every spontaneous hug and with the giggles that we share. However, I fully realize that I am totally undeserving of the award, that ultimate honor. In my mind and in my heart, I am not sure that I will ever get it right, or even good enough.

I am a very deeply flawed person, but I am constantly trying to work on myself, to buttress the sagging, damaged walls. However, I am a hapless juggler with far too many balls in the air. I frequently tend to mishandle them, and one by one they fall to the floor. Such are the many times that I have dropped moments with my daughter.

What about the many times that I have snapped at her when I am frustrated or anxious or worried? The occasions where I have pushed to get her into bed early because I am too tired to deal with her? The countless times that I have sacrificed our far too limited time together to watching hour after hour of television because I can't think of anything to do or anywhere to go? Too often I do not make life into the special adventure it could be. Each time I give in to laziness or confusion or frustration, more balls seem to drop. It's terrifying to me because the course of our relational journey together becomes hardened. Set in stone. More and more difficult to adjust and to set right.

My mistakes and approach has led our relationship to be much shallower than it should be. Too often we fall into patterns of communication that gloss over or omit wide swathes of our lives. "How was school today?" ... "Fine", "Did you have a good time at your friend's house?" ... "Yes", "What did you do this weekend?" ... "Nothing much", "Things didn't work out like you hoped. You want to talk about it?" ... "I'm alright". How can you learn to talk about the important things in life when you can't talk about the everyday things? How can you handle the big when you are not equipped for the small?

World's greatest dad? Not yet, I am quite sure of that. What I am sure of is that I have a full measure of capacity. I still have time to learn to be a better juggler.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Toys in the Attic

In looking to buy a house earlier this year, I toured a small handful of properties. It's funny how you immediately can get a sense of a place after spending just a moment in the front entranceway. However, while it may just be a house to us, it really represents someone's home. They have memories associated with their lives and their families in every nook and corner. Every mark on the wall and stain on the floor has a potential story behind it. Some folks have told me that they can still hear the echos of laughter of their loved ones ringing through the hallways of their homes long after their children have grown up and moved on. Yeah ... but what about the screams?

My realtor, my daughter, and I met at a house that I had asked him to show me. We were told that the house would be vacant for our tour and that we should feel free to look around wherever we wanted. At the front door, our agent used his realtor powers to extract a key from a magic box and open the front door. We walked in and he called out to be sure that we were not intruding. Hello? HELLO? ... No answer. We proceeded in to commence our look around. As we walked down the front hallway and entered into the first room, we recognized it as a sort of home office. Suddenly an old man walks out from behind an open cabinet door. His sudden and unexpected appearance kind of startled us, and we all jumped backwards. The man greeted us warmly and told us to feel free to explore. We continued on our journey, but we now felt a bit unnerved. We knew we were not alone!

After a quick tour of the house, we found a set of stairs leading upstairs to a "bonus" room located above the garage, so we went up to check it out. In the corner was a nice Japanese painted screen. Oh how charming. We walked closer to get a look. As we turned toward the back side of the screen, we came face to face with an old woman knitting in a rocking chair. Her sudden and unexpected appearance caused everyone in our group to audibly gasp and yelp. We were so freaked out by Grandma Itt that we ran as fast as our legs could carry us out to our car and got the heck out of there. The tour was over. Who knew how many other old people they had tucked away in that place. Good thing we didn't check the attic. I didn't bring a change of underbritches with me!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Be Like Mike

The gaul. The audacity. I can't be hearing this correctly! This must be the delusional prattle of a madman. In my mind, there can be no other possible explanation. But, for now, I will hold my tongue and simply paint a picture. After my artistry has come to conclusion, I will let you be the judge and hand down whatever sentence you find fit. But I must warn you, this job is not for faint of spirit. This is a job for manly men, even though women are fully allowed to participate in donning the fluffy white wig. Let me proceed.

Consider a large-ish white man, not large in the sense of being gifted with vertical extent, but more so in the area of girth. So that I don't mistakenly reveal Doug's true identity, let me refer to him as Mr. Puddin' Belly (or P'B for short). Doug, ... err ..., P'B, for all external appearances, looked like the only time that he got exercise was when he had to chase after the ice cream truck that roamed his neighborhood. Even then, his extensive conditioning only allowed him to make it to the end of his driveway, and this is only if he had a gale force wind against his back. I remember that every time I saw P'B, he was gnawing on the leg of some deceased animal. He always seemed to have various cuts of animal meat stowed away in his desk.

Anyway, P'B was a nice enough guy. He had a wife and the standard issue 2.5 kids at home. I remember a conversation with him regarding the basketball player Michael Jordan. This was back during MJ's prime, when he was king of the sporting world. He had the ability to impose his will on even the best athletes, making them wet themselves in terror and flee. P'B told me with a straight face that he believed he could play a close game of 1 on 1 with MJ. P'B had all the grace of a headless, drunk, featherless turkey. He was what is referred to in basketball circles as a chucker. There was no more a trace of an athlete in this man as there is political savvy in Sarah Palin (oooh, a pointy political barb!). Be like Mike, hah! But what made this even more absurd, was that nothing I said, and I mean absolutely nothing, swayed this man one iota away from his beliefs.

Although this story is some 20 years old, it has stayed with me. Of course it is good for a chuckle whenever it bubbles up to the surface of my consciousness, but there is something more valuable here. It is the conviction that we have in our beliefs. We should all be like P'B in our heart when it comes to what we truly hold dear to us and how tightly we clutch it against us, regardless of the strength of the assaults from the outside world.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Rescue Mission III

We drove downtown and found a place to park. As we walked up to the old building, we stepped up into the dimly lit alcove that was the front entrance. We told the man behind the thick plexiglas barrier that we were signed up to help tonight. After a brief pause, he buzzed us into the back room. The walls were covered with inexpensive wood paneling, but the 7 or 8 tables were laid out in the small space with enough room to move around comfortably. Each table had a small array of the usual condiments. We walked into the kitchen and found a man busy with preparations for that evening's meal that would be served in about 30 minutes. He welcomed the company and the spirit that we brought, but he was more than prepared to handle the work load all by himself, and quite ably. I would suspect that, at least most of the time, he only sees a face once. I have the feeling that this is the kind of place where folks come, make an appearance, feel good about themselves and go back to their own territories, their own lives. Rescue Mission.

As the time for the meal arrives, we busy ourselves with putting out the cups with ice, bringing out the pitchers of tea, and preparing. We are told that when the group of about 35 folks enter, they will be seated, and we will then bring them out their plates of food. At the appointed time, we begin to prepare the plates. One hot dog, one hamburger, some french fries, and a serving of cole sole. Not a bad meal, but this meal is not about the appearance, not about the fancy surroundings, and not even about the taste. This is a rescue mission.

Before the group starts to eat, someone says a blessing for the meal and we all hang low in the kitchen. After they finish, each one of them brings their disposable plates and cutlery to the trash cans and leans into the kitchen and says thank you. They appreciate our efforts and our time. They then go back to their rooms for a time while we tidy the place, wiping tables and chairs, doing the dishes, and putting some of the kitchen equipment away. These men are required to stay at the rescue mission under close supervision. They are trying to reset their lives. To gain back their self-esteem and self-worth. To push out the drug addictions and to gain control of their minds. Each has their own demons to battle. Each has to come to grips with where they are and where they hope to go. Tonight was not about us. We were there to serve. It was a rescue mission.

(Part 3 of 3)

Thanks to David, Angela, Lana, Aimee, Kevin, and Carmen for reaching out and reaching up, but never looking down.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Rescue Mission II

My friend Brian is an avid reader and recommended to me a book called Under the Overpass - A Journey of Faith on the Streets of America by Mike Yankoski. This book is the true story of two Christians who gave up their normal existence to live as street people. For five months and six cities, they learned about the people who live out there. The book challenges the reader to learn about true faith and to identify with the unique people who struggle to live with a spectrum of issues that have brought them to the street. They find "more forgotten, ruined, beautiful people than they ever imagined existed, and more reason to hope in their redemption."

It took me just a few days to finish this book, but not because it was light-weight fare. It was often very convicting and thought provoking and clarifying and deep. It was just a read that I did not want to put down. One of the most disturbing elements of their journey was how many churches treated the homeless like flotsam. The mindsets of so many were to pretend these people did not exist, or to call the authorites to come and pick up the trash if they appeared. It also made clear how many folks were volunteering to help out the poor only to feel better about themselves.

However, the most inspiring aspects of the book were those stories about folks who truly appreciated the street people and acted as their humble servants, treating them with dignity, respect, and brotherhood. Whether they gave gifts of food, of money, of time, of smiles, of words, or embrace, they reached out and gave of themselves. They lived out their faith and understood:

Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me., Matthew 25:40.

(Part 2 of 3)

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Rescue Mission I

As the two business travelers passed by the slimy, disgusting, reeking mass before them raising out his change can, one of them barked out, "Get a job you bum!". The other didn't say anything as he was too uncomfortable to utter a sound, but in his mind, he had the same sentiments, perhaps worse. He thought that the street people that he had encountered in his travels, from Washington D.C., to Rio De Janeiro, to Chicago, to his own hometown, were just lazy bums who found it easier to beg for handouts than to commit to a job and actually earn a living. These "people" weren't human, they were more like, like diseased animals, like litter that needed to be disposed of.

I know all too well the thoughts and feelings of that second, non-verbal traveller, as you see, I am him. Perhaps, better stated, I was him a very long time ago. In that long ago time, I knew nothing about mental illness. Nothing about drug or alcohol or gambling addictions. I knew nothing about true despair. And now, several decades past that encounter, I can only say that I have only had the faintest taste of any of these. By the grace of God, my cup of plenty and provision overflows. However, I have gone through a kind of rigorous sensitivity training that only making our way through life can provide. Hurts and personal demons and struggles can serve to indicate what links all of us together in the human condition.

Today, while I still harbor some degree of hurtful and negative attitudes toward street people, I understand so much more than I ever have. I pray for those I see, I wonder about where they will sleep and how they will find food to survive. I worry how they can start to get their lives back together. Of course, thinking is easy. It is detached and I don't have to look anyone in the eyes or face any real pain. As a first step, I have given to the local food pantry on several occasions. Still, I can avoid any hard work and stay clean and emotionally and physically clear. Perhaps one day, soon, my faith and my convictions will move me from the training grounds to the real world. It is time that I stand up and serve. I need to do this, not for myself and my further education, but because it is the right thing to do.

(Part 1 of 3)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Such Things

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things., Philipians 4:8.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Literary Devices

Hyperbole : Sometimes I feel like the lowest of the low but then I encounter an uplifting smile.

Simile : My heart can seem like a drop of blood hanging in the sky without acceptance and understanding.

Metaphor : At times I feel as a solitary dove among crows and then someone makes time for me.

Personification : When I act against who I know I should be my soul goes hungry.

Onomatopoeia : In my agony, my gasps are as a gurgling rattle until I understand that it is not always about me.

Oxymoron : Simmering below the surface I sense the presence of a cold fire needing release to truly burn.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Short Circuit

I have never understood relationships, not really. It seems to me that a man and a wife can exchange some of the most wound-inflicting words possible between them. Love, caring, tenderness, listening. Where did they go? Why did they go? These skills and tendencies were once right there - obvious to the outside world and obvious to the inside world. The other day I overheard half a telephone conversation between a man and his wife. It was the morning of the big nor'easter that swept through our area. After several hours at work, and with conditions continuing to get more and more perilous outside, this man grew palpably worried about his wife who had decided that morning to drive to an event some 60 or 70 miles away. He was muttering to himself and his words were bourne out of concern and love. Oh why didn't I just tell her to stay home. She shouldn't have gone. This is just too risky.

As his emotions reached a crescendo, he finally got through to his wife on his cell phone. What he was saying to those of us in earshot of his desperate call was "thank goodness you are safe". What he actually said in words was more like "why did you decide to make this drive today of all days?". The next thing I heard was "Hello? Hello? Honey, are you there?". He assumed that his call had been cut off because of the raging storm. He called his wife back and got through. I then heard "What? You hung up on me?". She never heard his concern or sensed his love. She took what he was saying as an attack on her sensibilities. A nagging insinuation. Speaking different languages. She hung up on him.

Him: Comment je vous aime.
Her: Wie können sie das sagen?

Please, remember to listen and remember to be mindful with your words. Seek out and express love in a manner that leaves no room for misinterpretation. A wise investment that you will never regret.

Friday, December 4, 2009

World View II

How does the world see you? Does your own self-portrait match with the defining reality given by the consensus opinion of those in your life? Can distortions in our own images ever be clearly understood? Is there a hope that our own personal issues can be appreciated to the point that we can do something about them? We all seem to have a view of ourselves that does not necessarily match the reality witnessed or experienced by other people. How can our own positive internal portrait differ so markedly from the negative one that hangs in the public museum?

The answer to this might be that it is a self-protection or survival mechanism. It takes a great amount of strength to make it through a typical day in our lives. The burden only becomes greater if we see ourselves as undesireable or worthless or annoying. So, if the prognosis really is that we have some significant personal work to do, how can we finally hear what the issues are? Can this information come to us in a non-hurtful manner, that can cut through the years of insulation and defensive barriers that we have erected? What may be especially difficult is if our personality type or psychology is such that we can be offending a great many and we might not even have the tools to recognize it.

The problem comes about when people are hurt or annoyed or put off by our behavior, they typically do not approach us with caring or good intentions. They recoil back with venom and anger and hurt and vengeance. It's hard for such salvos, whether or not they are positioned accurately, to hit their intended mark. From time to time, I have had people tell me that I did not handle a particular situation well, that I was rude or unkind. Feedback from limited moments like this can be processed, accepted or dismissed, and appreciated. But this kind of information is not necessarily a deep-seated, defining personality flaw. ... You are cruel. ... You are heartless. ... You are unloving. ... You are a jerk. ... Now these are characterizations that our natural defense mechanisms are programmed to ward off.

In my experience, direct and relevant feedback of the sort that matters, that results in self-awareness, will not come from complete strangers. I also feel strongly that it will not come from our family, and, in particular, from our spouses. They are just too close. It will most likely come from those who serve as our mentors. What makes their advice different qualitatively from our spouses is that their feedback is sought after, as opposed to unsolicited feedback that spouses would provide. This type of assessment is all too often taken as criticism or nagging or manipulation. However, of course, the mentor has to be able to communicate the critical issues in the appropriate manner. Words and mannerisms and attitudes and expressions must all be carefully checked and measured. There will most likely have to be repeated attempts at getting through. There will most certainly have to be follow-up discussions and feedback. Hopefully folks have a mentor who is up to the task and whose efforts can lead to improvement and progress.

Can you look in the mirror and see the true, undistorted reflection? What are you going to do to improve what you see?

(Part 2 of 2)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

World View I

How does the world see you? Does your own self-portrait match the defining reality given by the consensus opinion of those in your life? Can distortions in our own images ever be clearly understood? Is there a hope that our own personal issues can be appreciated to the point that we can do something about them?

We all seem to have a view of ourselves that in some respects does not match the reality witnessed or experienced by other people. Some folks are far too harsh on judging and labeling who they are. Loser, idiot, worthless, ugly, unloved and unlovable. Others give themselves much higher scores. Winner, genius, valuable, beautiful, loved and lovable.

Have you ever happened upon a gossip session with others talking about you in clipped and hushed tones, and secretly listened in? Did their opinions match up with your own? Do you think that they painted an accurate picture of who you are? When I was a University professor, I was required to have the students fill out evaluations at the end of each course. It seemed that no matter how hard I tried to reach each and every student, that there were always a handful of them who viewed me as a demanding, unfeeling, soulless ogre and bore. Is this how I should view myself given a small number of responses? Probably not. But what if we took a personal evaluation and the overwhelming response painted us as someone that significantly conflicted with our own internal picture?

There are some people in this world who can receive 99 votes of praise out of a hundred people. However, they dwell on the single aspersion. I am one such person. That single strike against me causes my pillar of self-worth to stain and crumble. It does not even matter if the criticism is valid or just. This symptomology is consistent with a manic depressive condition. However, this is not the point of my thoughts in this entry. What I am more concerned with is the notion of what actually should define us. How can we have one image of ourselves when everyone else that comes into contact with us comes away with a different opinion? If everyone thinks we are a jerk, then I would say that we have some real issues to deal with, regardless of what we think about ourselves. I would say that the converse is also true. If everyone thinks we are something very special, then we must have some particular value regardless of what we perceive. However, I am more concerned with the former condition. How can a positive internal portrait differ so markedly from the negative one that hangs in the public museum?

(Part 1 of 2)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Hare Brained

The fireplace is cold and dry,
the wind whistles through the trees on this cold winter's night.
As you tell me we've shared our last
there's just one thing that I have to ask ...

These lyrics from the band Emery (that I had never heard of until Google brought them to me) tell me that they truly understand what is at stake. They have brought us to the precipice, with just one thing to ask. But, in truth, I am not quite sure what they want to ask. I can only assume it is to implore you to look out your window into the night sky and search your hearts for love. The last hare has now fallen away and only a scant few have noticed and sent me their high cash value items (I also accept check and MasterCad, ..., err, ... MasterCard). I hope you can live with yourselves through this upcoming holiday season.

In closing this 12-part hare ball, I leave you with the following hackneyed hare pieces, which I believe is just punishment.

Q: What are four hundred rabbits hopping backwards?
A: A receding hare line.

Q: What did the rabbit say to the carrot?
A: Its been nice gnawing you.

Q: The more he takes away the bigger it becomes. What is it?
A: A rabbit hole.

Q: How is a rabbit like a Q-tip?
A: They both have cotton tails.

Q: What is the difference between a crazy rabbit and a counterfeit cent?
A: One is a mad bunny and the other is bad money.

Q: What would you call a rabbit who is mad at the sun?
A: A hot cross bunny.

Q: What would you get if you crossed a rabbit with a bumblebee?
A: A honey bunny.

Q: How is a rabbit like a cornstalk?
A: They both have big ears.

Q: Why is a leaky faucet like a cowardly bunny?
A: Because it runs.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

End of the Road II

A part of my job is to destroy people's life-long dreams, to break hearts. The question of how to approach such a serious, but necessary task, is a difficult one for those in my field. I can certainly tell you that this is not a task that we enjoy or relish or from which we receive one iota of pleasure. However, at some point it is essential that this task be carried out, and carried out with compassion and brutal honesty.

If they have not seen this coming, they are either naive or have completely fooled themselves. The fact that they have not been able to critically examine their own work or to realistically compare themselves to their peers is a signal. Time to go. Uncerimoniously dumped, discarded, and the path cannot be changed. In truth, the die was cast many years ago. Perhaps they had advisors who were not honest with them and who should have given them proper advice years ago. Perhaps for a time their work ethic and energy were enough to overcome lack of talent or deep thinking. But now, everyone knows but them and the end of the road has been reached. It is time to have that painful, but necessary talk.

To be sure these moments are difficult. Working with people, you get to know them and their stories. But the time for realistic thinking is now at hand. For some, the conversation is kind of a relief, and can lead to a kind of awakening where they can finally admit and grasp the truth. For others, the moment leads to recoil. A release of anger and harsh words. Like a wounded beast they fight back. Still others try to hold on a bit longer before they lose their grip and slip away. We must realize that we are not doing anyone a favor when we give them false hope about their chances for success. Here is the end of the road, it is time to go.

(Part 2 of 2)