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


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


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.