Monday, February 10, 2014

She loves you (yeah, yeah, yeah!)


50 years ago last night, the Beatles debuted on the Ed Sullivan Show and 73 million people tuned in to hear the Fab Four sing their sensational music that had exploded onto the American music scene. I was 8 years old and glued to our black and white Philco television set, mesmerized by this new sound and look.

Last night, several of my friends on Facebook were commenting on the Grammys' 50th Anniversary Tribute to the Beatles that was televised on CBS. I was torn between watching Olympic figure skating or watching some of today's most talented musicians pay tribute to Paul and Ringo, the surviving members of The Beatles, as well as paying tribute and acknowledging the incredible contributions of John and George. It was a great night to reminisce. But not everyone that grew up during that time were Beatles' fans. Some preferred other bands or musicians of that day while others may not have been really into music much during that time in their lives. Fan or not, I am sure that the contribution that The Beatles made to modern pop music is acknowledged nonetheless.

I wrote a blog a couple of years ago soon after Don Cornelius of "Soul Train" fame had, sadly, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. I wrote then:

Music is an incredibly powerful thing. Every culture has music traditions and, just in my lifetime, I have witnessed the way that music can influence the world around us.

The segregated American society that made up a large part of the 20th century is an historical fact, painful though it is to be reminded of. But there has been one thing that seems to have transcended the racial divide that existed and, in some ways, still exists today...and that is music. From the white, Celtic-influenced Appalachian music that birthed bluegrass, rockabilly, and country music....to the gospel music sung in rural churches, to the black, rhythm and blues music from the Delta, Memphis, St. Louis, Chicago and Detroit...the combination of all which birthed what we call Rock and Roll music. The soul music sound of African-American Detroit artists, on Barry Gordy's Motown Records kept the dance halls rocking and swaying to some incredible music and vocal harmonies.

The older, white generation didn't embrace much of this music...sometimes because it was just so different from the music they enjoyed but also because of racial prejudice. Sadly, many included the "N-word" in describing this new music. But for the younger Baby Boomer generation, I believe the blending of these musical genres and the appreciation for and enjoyment of these new musical sounds went a long way in bridging the racial divide.

As a white kid that loved the likes of Elvis, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, and the Everly Brothers; I also loved the sounds of the Coasters, the Drifters, Sam and Dave, Ray Charles, James Brown, The Four Tops, The Temptations, The Supremes, Wilson Pickett, and Marvin Gaye. And just when rock and roll seemed to be losing its way, along came the mid-60's British invasion of the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Dave Clark Five, The Animals, The Kinks and dozens of others that had listened to all that America had blended together musically, and reintroduced it to us.


Whether or not The Beatles were your favorite band in the 60's matters not. Like other forms of art and food and fragrance, we all have our personal preferences. Thank goodness we have so much to choose from. I enjoyed last night because it brought back a flood of great memories. Thank you John, Paul, George and Ringo. 

Oh, and my favorite Beatles song? That's a very tough one. There are too many to list but two songs have likely had more plays on my iPod than the others- "No reply" and "I don't want to spoil the party" (and they are both from the Beatles- For Sale album.) What is your favorite?

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Amazing Grace


Sin. You realize that this word really has only one definition, right? I mean, we can use it in our day-to-day conversation in ways that somehow muddy up its meaning. “Did you eat any of that chocolate dessert? It’s absolutely sinful!” [Cake isn't sinful.] “It’s just a sin that everyone wasn't able to get into that concert…it was that good!” [Inability to get into a concert isn't a sin.]

Here’s the thing about sin. None of us avoid it. All of us commit it. But here’s another thing… we seem to be more concerned [maybe even obsessed] with the sin of others than our own. [Jesus used the illustration of the speck in someone else’s eye versus the log in your own.] Do I have a log in my eye? Of course I do. But I like it better if I can rationalize that the speck is in my eye and the log is in yours.

Hey, Westboro Baptist Church- do you want to demonstrate in front of a place where sinners are? Then why aren't you carrying signs out in front of my house? I mean, there are only three of us here right now but... my house is occupied 100% by sinners.

By the way, have you seen the “Official Sin Grading Scale” that ranks sins from top to bottom…from least to first? I bet it’s an even better read than Letterman’s Top 10 List. I’m kidding…there really isn't an official sin grading scale. But there IS an unofficial list. We all have made one. The thing is…my most common sins are (fortunately) not in the top 10 on my list (I’m glad I’m using my grading scale otherwise….geesh I’d feel pretty filthy and unworthy.)

The trouble is that Sin # 8,341,890 on my list had the same effect on my relationship with God as Sin #1. It means that I am 100% disobedient. I know, I know…this doesn't quite seem fair...to us. Sin #1 is far more detestable (to me) than Sin #8,341,890. But I’m not the One that has been offended. I don’t get to set the standard. The One who created me does. Tell one lie and I am a liar. Lust one time and I am an adulterer (that’s right…adulterer.) Think one immoral thought and I’m a deviant. Withhold one thing from someone in need and I am a thief. And murderer? By Jesus’ standard, I am that too.

The good news? The REALLY, REALLY good news? God does not condemn me for my sins. Why? Because of the saving work of Jesus on the cross and my acceptance of His gift of grace, my sins yesterday, my sins today, and my sins tomorrow are forgiven. I have been pardoned. You might not forgive me for my sins and I certainly can understand that. I too struggle with the sin I see all around me. I want people to stop sinning. I especially want myself to stop sinning. I can definitely relate to Paul who wrote in his letter to the church at Rome: "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do. But what I hate, I do." (Romans 7:15 NIV) But, I come back to this point…why am I so concerned with the sin around me and seemingly less concerned about the sin within my own heart? Maybe it makes me feel better about myself. Thankfully, God hasn't deputized me to be His law enforcer. If He did, my first action would have to be locking myself in jail... marking a swift end to my career in law enforcement.

58 years ago, when I was born unexpectedly early in a little town hospital in Maine weighing only 3 pounds; for some reason, God saved me from most certain death. The priest had been summoned to baptize and pray some last rites over me. But I was spared. 29 long years later I asked Jesus to take my life and He saved me all over again...but this time for eternity. And since then, sin separates me from Him no more.

Nobody ever wrote a song titled "Amazing Law."

It’s called Grace. Amazing Grace.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

So, how do I join?

There are many living choices available to us as Americans. We have city dwellers and we have people that live in rural communities. Some, trying to split the difference, have moved out to the suburbs...close to the city but farther out in the country. We have people that live in gated communities that allow entry only with membership or a temporary pass. Some folks own their homes, or townhouses while other rent houses or apartments. Communities like Celebration, Florida are effectively self contained towns complete with schools, churches, shops, parks and recreation amenities all the while nestled away from others that are not a part of that community.

There are even people that prefer a more nomadic existence. More and more people have become full time RV'ers (recreational vehicles owners.) Many of these have sold houses and possessions and scaled down into living spaces on wheels packed into less than 400 square feet. Moving around the country, they drop anchor wherever they please, stay as long as they please and then...shove off to another camping site.

All of these different living choices have advantages and disadvantages...some cost significantly more than others with differing levels of comfort and privacy. As I get closer to retirement age, these living choices become more interesting to ponder.

Did you know that there is an alternative living arrangement that may be superior to all the others when it comes to affordable living? What would you think about a community that:

  • Provides free housing albeit with smaller than normal living space
  • Meals are provided at no cost. Your only costs are for extra items like snacks, candy, etc.
  • Free television. My cable bill runs about $150 per month. How would you like free TV?
  • Free phone service although cellular coverage is nearly non-existent
  • Clothing is provided
  • Utilities are no extra charge.
  • Recreation and exercise spaces are available to all community members
  • Free health care including dental
  • No lawncare required
  • Free transportation outside of the community but who would ever leave?
  • Educational opportunities are provided at no cost. This includes technical training.
  • On site library
  • On site rehab where applicable
  • Some parts of the community provide complete solitude
  • Gated community
  • Security is provided at no charge and no one has ever broken into one of these communities.
  • Community is completely desegregated. People of all races and socioeconomic backgrounds are included.
  • Religious services and religion specific studies are available
  • Intramural sports exist at most of the communities.
  • There are communities available all across the United States so you may not even have to leave the state where you currently reside
  • You pay no rent, no taxes, no dues, no utilities, no maintenance fees, nor homeowners dues
  • Some members of the community are allowed to stay their entire lifetime, others are required to leave after a specific number of years. Turnover is necessary in order to accommodate new members.
OK!! By now I'm sure you are on the edge of your seat to know how to enjoy all of the benefits of this alternative living arrangement. So I guess now we get to hear the sales pitch. What is the name of this community?










 



Federal prison.

SeaTac Federal Detention Center- Seattle, WA
There are any number of ways that you can arrange to get yourself eligible to be a part of this community. I'll let you figure that part out.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

A King With Worms

I don't see any worms?
I know this is a strange blog title and you may be wondering if I am merely using it metaphorically. Nope. This is about a king... and worms.

You know... these days there aren't nearly as many kings lording over countries as there were back in the olden days. And, even in those countries that still have kings and queens, most times the country is actually run by a parliament, prime minister or other political apparatus.

England in the late 1400's was ruled by a king. King Richard III was the monarch of the British Empire for all of 2 years. He died in battle in 1485, seven years before Christopher Columbus sailed to the West Indies and founded the Sandals Resorts in the Caribbean.

A year ago, King Richard's remains were discovered... underneath the Grey Friars Church parking lot in Leicester, England. I know it's not really funny but...I keep thinking about that song that says "they paved Paradise...put up a parking lot."

Seems in 1935, they believed that they had discovered Richard when a leaden coffin and skeletal remains were discovered at the ruins of the Church of St. Mary in Leicester. Turns out...it wasn't Richard III....or any Richard for that matter.

The under-the-parking-lot remains found last year have been scientifically shown to be the real deal. The DNA from the remains match samples from modern day descendants and the skeleton shows signs of scoliosis (twisted spine) as well as eight battle wounds to the head...all consistent with what is known about him. But it seems old Richard had something else going on before he died.

He had worms.

Now, if your stomach didn't just now turn a bit...well, I'm not sure what to think.

The evidence from the remains most likely shows that Richard suffered from roundworms (roundworm eggs are quite hardy and resist decomposition and erosion.) Chances are the good king ingested roundworm eggs from food that was contaminated with...well.....poo. Roundworms (Ascaris lumbricoides) can live in the gut and its eggs follow your southbound highway back out to the light of day. Unfortunately, the light of day is where food is grown and handled and where most of our poor sanitary habits take place.

In 2013, we don't think of human beings as having these nasty, parasitic creatures living inside of us. We don't see them but we can certainly see the evidence of their existence. And then we can spread it around for others to possibly get. In fact, while roundworm is very uncommon in humans in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 1.2 billion people worldwide suffer from roundworm. Yes, billion with a "b." The World Health Organization claims that roundworm claims 60,000 lives each year. Tragically, most are children.

In the 1400's, it didn't matter if you were a mere serf toiling in the fields, a prisoner chained to a wall in some prison, a wealthy landowner and noble...or even a king. You were not immune to the possibility of something inside of you that could kill you and that you could share with those around you because of your own and their poor habits. Richard's physical death was not caused by this thing inside of him which was eating him away. No, he was fortunate to die in battle. His predecessor, King Richard I may have had the heart of a Lion...but King Richard III had the gut of a hound.

Most likely, you and I don't have roundworm. But, as humans, we were born carrying around something more insidious inside of us that doesn't discriminate between young or old, rich or poor, man or woman. Even if we had not been born with it, we would have, because of our nature, freely ingested it at some point. And, because we have it, it affects the people around us. And, left untreated, it brings death.

Romans 3:23 says "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God"
Romans 6:23 says "for the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord"

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Do you believe the words you sing?

In that dynamic and exciting world of church hymnals, there is a controversy that has been growing over the last few months. The Presbyterian Church (USA) has dropped a familiar and widely loved hymn- "In Christ Alone"- from their new hymnal. This hymn, unlike many that fill the pages of the book in the pew rack in front of you, is only about ten years old... a mere infant in hymn-dom.

This body of the Presbyterian church (not to be confused with the more conservative but smaller body known as the Presbyterian Church in America) wanted to publish the song in their new hymnal but wanted to make a modification to the lyrics. Ultimately, the hymn authors, Stuart Townend and Keith Getty, did not approve the request to change the lyrics. To be fair, the change had already been published in a different hymnal and so, PC(USA) thought that the other hymnal publisher had previously gotten permission (which they had not.) As the authors and holders of the copyright, Townend and Getty own the song and own the rights to how it can or can't be modified. If I paint my house blue and you don't like it and come over and paint it green...you can't do that...it's not YOUR house, it's mine. You can't, without permission, change the words to a copyrighted song. PC(USA) decided their only option was to leave the song out of their hymnal.

The problem came down to a part of the song that says: "...on the cross as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied." The Presbyterian Church (USA) does not agree with the theology of that particular line. They wanted to publish their hymnal with these revised words: "...on the cross as Jesus died, the love of God was magnified." Musically, I think it is a pretty good revision. The number of syllables remains unchanged, the word "magnified" and "satisfied" both rhyme beautifully with the last word ("died") in the previous line just like good songs should. You would never really notice any difference singing the original words or the new words. It's not like they were wanting you to sing "Amazing Grace" to the tune of "House of the Rising Sun," or "Peaceful, Easy Feeling," or the theme song from Gilligan's Island. It's just a couple of simple words!

What's the big deal? Good songwriters generally choose their lyrics carefully. I doubt that Townend and Getty disagree that God's love was, in fact, magnified on the cross. It's not what the Presbyterians wanted to add to the song that was the problem...I think it's what they wanted to remove. Theologically, some have a problem with the idea that God's wrath was "satisfied" by Jesus' death on the cross. Debate exists over what Jesus' death on the cross meant. Presbyterians disagree. I'm a Baptist. I'm sure fellow Baptists disagree on this theological point. I won't try to explain the many points of disagreement because that would take up more space than a blog allows.

So, who are these picky people that scrutinize the words of songs that closely? My gosh, it's a great song, with a great tune and I hear it played frequently on my local Christian radio station so...it must be a good one. Personally, I have no problem with the original lyrics and believe I understand what Townend and Getty were saying in the song... including the line in question.

As a worship leader, I get requests sometimes daily about a song that someone believes would be a great new song to include in our Sunday morning repertoire. The song may have a great driving beat that will generate lots of energy into the service..or it may have a really great "hook" in the song which is always a powerful attraction. Or it might be a song that was sung at a recent conference or is popular at other churches in town. It may have a really sweet piano part throughout or a really cool guitar ride after the chorus. It might be a real toe tapper or hand clapper or even one that may move you to tears.

I do wonder sometimes, though, if folks read or pay attention to the words in the song they request or suggest. I sometimes want to ask, "can you tell me a little about what the song says?" Should it be important to think about what is actually being said to or about God in that song? Now, I understand many songs, especially those in modern, contemporary music, are just good, fun songs not meant to convey any deep theological message. But do you even agree with the words you want to sing? Look, I'm not a music snob that turns his nose up at certain songs or certain styles or genres. I have heard Christian hip hop songs that have lyrics that are more true and relevant than songs that have been in the Baptist Hymnal for the last 60 years.

I think the words we sing in worship matter just as much as the words we pray and the words that the pastor preaches. I know it is difficult some Sunday mornings to sing songs that do not convey where you are at that moment. I know it can be very hard to sing a song of joy if, at that moment in your life, you are feeling as low as you can be. On the other hand, I believe that by singing words that are beautiful and true, it can lift us up closer to God as we sing to glorify and praise Him.

Like the title of my blog says...this is... one man's opinion. Thoughts?

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A Life Well Lived

I am hesitant to write a blog about a good friend that passed away yesterday. My hesitancy is out of concern that I will do an injustice by not having the right words or that I will somehow dishonor his memory because of my lack of skill in articulating what is on my heart.

I consider myself incredibly blessed to have known Jake Malone and to call him my friend. My friendship with Jake began when Carol and I joined First Baptist Church of Augusta, Georgia way back in the early 1980's. Jake was one of the ministers on staff then and continued to be until early this year when he was diagnosed with cancer and his health no longer allowed him to work. He served First Baptist for 33 years in many ministry areas...youth, recreation, senior adults and church administration. But Jake's influence on First Baptist (and folks all over the community and world for that matter) went far beyond his ministry titles or specific job duties in those roles. With the support (and I'm sure gentle prodding now and then) of his loving ministry partner Delores, his wife of 44 years, Jake showed us what loving Jesus and serving Jesus looks like.

Jake was a lover of people because I think he took very seriously Jesus' command to us to love others. But I don't think Jake loved out of a sense of obligation. He just had that kind of heart. Jake demonstrated that love sometimes with bear hugs (and that is the only appropriate description for a hug from Jake Malone,) big smiles, a listening ear, a prayer with you, gentle advice, firm guidance, great encouragement and a genuineness that few people possess.

Not sure how people felt about Jake Malone? If you have a Facebook account, log in and look up his Facebook page (I apologize if you can't access it.) Read the comments. Read the testimonies from people from all over the world that were touched by this wonderful man. I will never forget the countless times Jake spoke words to me, often with tears in his eyes, that were intended to lift me up, to encourage me, to make me feel like I was special. But I also think that Jake was simply speaking the words that he thought Jesus would speak to me if He were sitting in front of me.

Jake was by no means a perfect man. He would be the first one to admit that. But he had a perfect Savior and Jake tried to live a life that was in accordance with how he thought God wanted him to live.

That's a life well lived.

Matthew 22:36-40

New International Version (NIV)
36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”


Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

New


Most words in the dictionary will have two, maybe three definitions. The word "new" has upwards of seven or more. We hear this word used in so many contexts. New car (with the new car smell.) New baby. New person. New boyfriend. New moon. New job. New strain of virus. New friend. New house. Turning over a new leaf.

Reading these various uses of the word, we can see the subtle and also considerably different meanings. When you say that you bought a new car, we could assume that you are the first retail buyer ever of the car. If the car is a 2012 model, you might feel compelled to clarify (so as not to mislead) ..."sure, it is last year's model...but... it is still new." If I said that I was moving into a new house or new apartment would you automatically assume that I was the first person to ever occupy the house or apartment? Probably not. New house can mean...different than the last one I occupied. If you were told that a couple had a new baby you wouldn't think it a strange term because you've never heard of "used" babies. New can mean recent as in new friend or new job. Nobody, of course knows the difference between a full moon and a new moon except those geeky people that have "ologist" in their job or hobby title. I'd love a new truck but... a new strain of virus?...uh, not so much.

Had I been contemplating such things at 6:00 am this morning, I would have recognized that today was (and is) a new day. [Warning- going on short tangent here] Why isn't new day one word? We have TOday, YESTERday, SOMEday, FRIday (thank goodness), but we don't have ANYday, NEWday (at least not if being grammatically correct.) Then, to make it even more confusing, we have everyday and every day which have totally different meanings...[END of tangent...sorry]

Back to the new day. The reality is that every day is a "new" day. It's never been seen before (the movie Groundhog Day notwithstanding.) When the day ends at midnight, that day will forever be gone. People my age often speak about the "old days" sometimes preceded by the modifier "good." Not sure exactly the specifics of when those "good old days" were but, they usually are referring to a time in the past when things were perceived as being "better." Some want to hold on to the old days...I understand that sentiment but, I am much more excited about the new days because how can you live in the past? And why would you want to?

The pastor of my church has challenged the congregation to embrace the idea of "A New Day." This Sunday, we will embark on a new Sunday worship schedule that is, in part, intended to allow for better use of our gifts of music, preaching, hospitality and worship. But the newness of that day goes far beyond a schedule change.

When our pastor, Greg speaks of a "new day" one would naturally think about which definition of "new" should apply. Certainly Sunday will be a new day in that it has never occurred before. Saturday will, at that point, be history. Sunday will be new. What is expected to be new about it?

Sometimes we are asked to look and see with new eyes. We are often challenged to embrace and demonstrate a new attitude. Occasionally we hear someone declare that they have turned over a new leaf...become a new person. We know that in each of these things, what we are really talking about is a change of heart. Not to mean that the old heart is not rightly focused...but maybe not the heart that God wants from each of us. My heart is not always in accord with God...in fact, it is frequently a heart focused more on me than Him. Maybe what Greg is talking about is that I need to see with new eyes, hear with new ears, worship with new priority and passion, love others with new vigor, change with new courage, forgive with new compassion...be church with a new heartbeat.

"So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see everything has been made new! 2 Corinthians 5:17 NRSV

I wrote a song several years ago. The chorus goes like this: "I want to know the way to... live a life that's brand new... to embrace the One who loves me as I am. I don't want to stay in the place I am today. Lord show me the way...from wilderness to You."

Don't we all really yearn to be "new?" I know I do.

Sunday at First Baptist Augusta

New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

© 2009 Toomey Music. All rights reserved

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Naked. And. Afraid.

Maybe you have watched the new survival themed television show, "Naked and Afraid." It is not dissimilar to some of the other survivor type reality shows. Well, it is different in one regard. The man and woman (strangers) are dropped into some survival setting with nearly nothing...each one gets to choose only one item. Oh, and get this...they are buck naked. Fortunately, the network blurs out the exposed parts that your Momma (and the network censors) always said you should keep covered up. Rear camera angles...not so much blurred. Some of the folks are married (although not to each other.) Both folks have an above average level of survival skill experience. They have to survive for 21 days on some remote island, jungle, desert...whatever...relying on their individual survival skills and each other. The first episode I watched (honestly I couldn't make it through the whole episode) was on immediately following the broadcast of Nick Wallenda walking across the Grand Canyon. So...my cable box was already tuned to that station.

By the end of the 21 days (not all have made it to the end) both of the survivors look quite different from when they began. They usually have lost significant weight and look quite disheveled to say the least. It's almost like they have been in a battle. Naked. And. Afraid.

In the 3rd Chapter of Genesis, we read the story of Adam and Eve's disobedience of God's command not to eat of the tree in the middle of the garden...the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

"Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God from among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man, "Where are you?" He answered, "I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid." Gen 3:8-10 NIV

Prior to this, it seems that neither the man nor the woman ever thought twice about the fact they were without garments or coverings. Of course, the "nakedness" of our first parents really had very little to do with a lack of clothing. Their disobedience had been uncovered and they were now fully exposed. And they were afraid. They even tried to cover themselves (their sin) with garments of their own making. We see very early in Scripture that man and woman are unable to cover their sin by their own efforts. God steps in and covers their nakedness with garments of His making...the skins of animals. This required the shedding of blood as the animals were sacrificed in order to provide the covering.

A lot has happened in the world of garments since that time. We are quite proud of our coverings. We spend a lot of money for our coverings. Surely, our clothing provides protection from the elements but, our clothing is still primarily to cover up our nakedness.

Do you ever feel naked...and afraid? Do you ever feel like you have been stripped down and left with nothing? Maybe your life feels a bit like it is falling apart. You feel like you are so exposed. You feel vulnerable, uncertain, unprotected...and maybe all alone. And it feels like everyone's piercing eyes are trained on you with looks of judgement or pity or scorn. You feel naked...and afraid.

We all struggle. Life comes at us sometimes like the soothing warmth of a morning sunrise. Ah, those days are so good. And we rejoice. Other times it comes at us like a raging hailstorm, pelting us with stones of pain or failure or regret. Some days life is just so hard. Life can strip us of all the things in which we find comfort and peace and contentment. Sometimes we find ourselves naked. And that can be scary.

I'm no bible statistician but, I'm pretty sure one of the most repeated messages from God is something like this: Fear Not...Do NOT Be Afraid. God sees you. God knows your circumstance. And like the emergency responder who has plucked you from the icy waters, armed with a warm blanket wrapping it tightly around you with caring, strong hands...God wraps his mighty arms around you with His blanket of lovingkindness.

Sometimes, I'm like Adam wanting to hide from my Heavenly Father. I feel naked and I am afraid. But just like when God asked Adam, "Where are you?" ...He knows exactly where I am. And he knows exactly what I need.

I need Him.



Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Don't judge a book by its cover

What's inside?
Who is not familiar with this admonition? Not to insult your intelligence; but, I do want to dissect this phrase just a bit. The phrase says that we shouldn't prejudge based solely on what the outward appearance may suggest. Is the phrase always applicable? Is there ever a time when a book should be judged by its cover?

Stereotyping exists. So does prejudice and discrimination. Is stereotyping always inaccurate? Is it a pejorative term? Does stereotyping typically lead to prejudice and discrimination? The subject of stereotyping is very complex and has been studied from many different psychological perspectives. I don't propose to be an expert on the topic. I just know it exists. The reasons why are as varied as the stereotypes themselves. Let's look at a few statements that could be considered stereotyping.

Women are bad drivers.
Jews are greedy.
Hispanics are lazy.
Hispanics are very hard workers.
Asian students are more intelligent than their non-Asian counterparts.
Blacks are poor swimmers.
Germans make good engineers.
People from the American South are "rednecks."
People from California are liberal.
Yankees are rude.
All my ex's live in Texas (Sorry, I just needed to lighten the mood)

We have all heard these statements. In fact, there are bad drivers that are female... you could find a Jewish person that is greedy... there are lazy as well as extremely hard working Hispanics... you could find an Asian student that is at the top of her school class.... I am sure there are some blacks that cannot swim... Germany does have some very talented engineers...rednecks do exist in the South... a liberal may not be hard to find in California...and yes...all Yankees are rude (OK, I'm kidding, I'm kidding.) Oh, and I have no ex's in Texas.

To say that women are bad drivers suggests that ALL or, at least the majority of women are poor drivers. Wrong, all-inclusive suggestions apply to the other statements as well. We know that these statements, made in a general sense, are false.

These are commonly heard stereotypes but I wouldn't ever try to defend any of these statements because I do not agree with them. Unfortunately these are not the most offensive stereotypical beliefs that are out there. There are certainly worse ones.

The original topic was judging a book by its cover. Does our outward appearance send some type of message to those that see us? How do you react or what would you assume if you saw:

  • A young man with spiked hair dyed red, arms and neck covered in tattoos, multiple piercings, and grungy, black clothing, with the name/graphic of a violent/fantasy video game on his shirt?
  • A woman in a very tight, very short skirt, 7 inch heels, very low cut top showing lots of cleavage?
  • A woman in a business suit carrying a briefcase and a Venti size Starbucks coffee cup?
  • A burly, tattooed man with long beard, do-rag, no shirt, leather vest with various patches/logos/slogan on back, black leather boots, wallet with long chain attached to belt loop of his jeans on a very loud Harley Davidson motorcycle?
  • A young man wearing boxer shorts with pants below his buttocks, white tank top T-shirt, gold teeth, NY Yankees hat turned to the side on his head, talking in street language, smoking a Blunt cigar, making what appears to be gang symbols?
  • A man in a lifted pickup truck with gun rack and Confederate flag, NASCAR and Browning rifle decals, wearing camo, mullet hairstyle?
  • A obese woman in overly tight sweatpants, bedroom slippers, a stained tank top that doesn't cover her mid-riff accompanied by several children and shopping in Dollar General?
  • A teenage boy carrying a bookbag, wearing khakis, loafers, button-down oxford shirt with a tie and blue blazer?
  • An underweight, teenage girl with very pale skin, black lipstick, all black clothing, long black hair with a stud in her nose and tongue?

Have you ever seen people whose appearance was similar to what I have described? Would you likely have some internal or emotional response if you saw the people as I have described? Would you make assumptions based on these appearances alone? Do you believe your assumptions would be relatively accurate? Some of these appearances are intentionally meant by the person to identify oneself with a particular group. Some are driven by pop culture. Some of these appearances are circumstantial. Some aspects of these looks serve a utilitarian purpose (i.e. briefcases hold papers, pens, folders...leather boots protect bikers' feet and ankles... some students are required to wear uniforms...hunters put rifles in gun racks.)

Sometimes we make judgments when we see people that do not look like or dress like or act like us. Some of these appearances impress us, some titillate us, some evoke pity, some frustrate us, while some intimidate or frighten us. Just like we cannot make assumptions about even the people around us that we resemble or associate with the most, we should not make assumptions about the people we do not have much association with that do not look like or dress like or speak like or act like we do.

So how do we overcome these stereotypes? First, refuse to embrace them yourself. Acknowledge that it is wrong and inaccurate to judge or stereotype groups of people of the same religion, race, gender, socioeconomic status, political party affiliation, sexual orientation, regional citizenship or outward appearance based on the behavior or ideas or appearance of individuals of the same identification.

I have known people that fit reasonably close some of these descriptions above and it was consistent with the stereotype that is commonly associated with people that look that way. But I have also known people that had some of those same appearances that were nothing at all like what the stereotypes would suggest.

So...let's try hard not to judge a book by its cover. I will promise to try as well.

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Parkway

Cruella (Deville) and I on The Parkway
Have you ever been drawn to a place? Is there a place to where you almost seem called to be? For many, it is an ocean side or lake side, or river side location that is special to you. For others it might be a mountain top or maybe a meadow or a canyon. Still others may yearn for wind in their sail as they skip over a calm sea. There is so much beauty around us that it is no surprise that we find ourselves drawn to certain special places. For me...one of those special places is a road. It's not just any road...it is is a stretch of pavement that ribbons 469 miles over the ridges of the Appalachian Mountains from Virginia to North Carolina. It is the Blue Ridge Parkway. With its back to Shenandoah National Park, the parkway begins at Rockfish Gap near Waynesville, VA and it reaches its end at the Oconaluftee River at the entrance of Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Cherokee, NC. What is in between those two points is a road rich in history, culture, scenery, foliage and fauna.

Kancamagus Hwy- Rte 112 in New Hampshire
I have been traveling (camping/ hiking/ lazing) on and around the parkway since the mid 1970's, not long after moving from New Hampshire to Georgia. My wife and kids likely cannot remember a time when they weren't riding on the parkway with Dad (Oh gee Dad, look, there is another mountain or ...tree or...my gosh are we ever going to get off this parkway?) I was skeptical, upon my first visit, that this road would be at all comparable to the great highways like those that that snake through the White Mountains of New Hampshire and Green Moutains of Vermont. In particular, I was certain that this Blue Ridge Parkway was no match for the Kancamagus Highway that cuts 34.5 miles through White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire. But I was wrong. The Blue Ridge Parkway's beauty owes no apology to any other of our country's magnificent motorways.

Cabin at Humpback Rocks, VA
One of the things that makes this parkway unique is that it stretches across the backbone and valleys of the southern Appalachians and cuts through the mountain culture of the German and Scotch-Irish people that populated this area from the early days of our country's history. Unlike what happened when the Skyline Drive was built through Shenandoah National Park, this time the Department of the Interior was intentional in not evacuating the people and razing their cabins after purchasing their land. They were determined to maintain as many of the physical structures as possible that depicted the early 20th century mountain culture. In most ways, this isolated culture more resembled life from the preceding century. The depression era road building project began in 1935 utilizing the many unemployed of Virginia and North Carolina through the recently created Civilian Conservation Corp and was a project on the grandest scale. The final section around Grandfather's Mountain, NC, which included the building of the Linn Cove Viaduct, was completed in 1987.
Linn Cove Viaduct

Over the last week, I spent some time traveling along the parkway... once again being reminded of the beauty that is this region. While dodging deer, turkey, rabbits, squirrels and spandex clothed cyclists on my 45 mph journey, my senses were in overdrive as I was in awe once again to behold the majesty of God's creation. We always associate God's proximity to us as being....up. I think the mountains give us a sense of being closer to the One that created them...and us. I'll be back.

John Brown's a-Hanging on a Sour Apple Tree

Friday, June 28, 2013

Change- Part 3


This is the last part of my blog series on change. In Part 1 and Part 2 I introduced a couple of thoughts on the subject. I obviously cannot adequately cover the entire subject since the subject of change is so far reaching. So, I started with two assertions:
  • If you are not going in the right direction, you need to change
  • Not all change moves you in the right direction
Not all change moves you in the right direction. Duh, you may say. While my statement may sound like it is so obvious, we frequently make decisions that suggest that we do not understand this. I would submit that all of us are uncomfortable, at some level, with change. But there are some that seem to thrive on a steady stream of change. Some folks are restless. They can't seem to stay on a steady course whether it is their educational efforts (changing college major 3, 4, 5 times?) their career (5 jobs in the last 3 years) their relationship (who is he dating this week and wasn't he engaged to the last gal he was with) or (this is her 3rd husband.) I don't really attribute this to someone that is such a dedicated embracer of change but rather someone that can't commit, can't decide or has some other issues going on.

I am an advocate for embracing change. But it needs to be change that improves, change that advances a cause or a process, change that makes a positive difference. We love change that improves convenience and change that makes us happier and change that makes us more comfortable. But not all change feels good. And, worse still, not all changes move us in the right direction.

It would be easy to interject political issues into the discussion here but I am hesitant to use that for this blog. Examples would be current debates about immigration reform, definition of marriage, and tax reform, all of which would represent significant change. But, I will leave those subjects for a later time.

Have you ever made a change and realized later that your change was a bad one? Have you ever switched jobs, ended a relationship, relocated, switched churches, stopped a routine, or let an employee go and discovered later that you had made a mistake? Many changes we make in the course of our lives are relatively innocuous and, even if we make a mistake, the consequences are miniscule. But there are other changes that can have a major impact on our life or the lives of others. It can have a major impact on our organization, our business, our community, our church. And the impact may not be positive. People walk away from relationships or enter into wrong ones. People make rash decisions and quit their jobs. Folks get frustrated and leave churches that have been family to them for years. Others change operational processes in businesses only to realize that it not only didn't improve the business, but damaged customer and/or employee relationship, wasted money, hurt morale and caused good workers to leave. People that claim to be change agents but lack the skills needed to understand how change should be identified and implemented can do great harm. Still others that beat the drum of change but have no real stake in the outcome can make a mess.

Another aspect of change is the law of unintended consequences. Again, political decisions or law changes are ripe fruit for picking here. When businesses decide to change pricing, change marketing strategies, or product offerings they have to know that those changes will likely result in their competition responding with changes of their own. Before making the change a business should ask, "if we change this, what do we expect our competitors will do?" This is sometimes referred to as game theory. Changes we make will often result in others making changes in response. And we may not like the result.

Change can be a very good thing. Even if you are moving in the wrong direction, not all change moves you in the right direction or even a better direction though. For this reason, changes, especially those that are important, should be done with appropriate forethought. Change stemming from frustration, anger, pettiness, immaturity,  ego, laziness, or greed can turn out badly. Well thought out change can make significant improvements in lives, health, relationships, groups and organizations.

Do you need to make some changes?

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Change- Part 2


In my last blog, I started a conversation about change. I said that change can be controversial, difficult and fraught with mistakes. But, I also said that change was sometimes critically necessary or, at least, sometimes beneficial. It is also true that change is inevitable. No matter what, change is going to occur...

I made two assertions in Part 1.
  • If you are not going in the right direction, you need to change.
  • Not all change moves you in the right direction
Have you ever thought about the direction you are going? I'm not really talking about the compass heading you are following, although that can be important at times. While I could also ask this question of families, communities, organizations, businesses, and churches... for now, let's keep this specific to you. Where are you going?

When I ask this question, you might focus on one of a few possible areas of consideration. Your first focus might have to do with a relationship or relationships. Another consideration, depending on your age, might have to do with your educational efforts. Still others will first think about their job, career path or even a current retirement path. You might immediately begin to contemplate your spiritual journey if you personally believe that you are on one. It is likely though that you would think of one of these areas first if I asked you "where are you going?"

All of us are moving down a path with some type of goal, outcome or destination in mind. I would challenge anyone that suggests otherwise. Even a person that is determined to remain rudderless or just wants to "go with the flow" is still headed in a direction. Deciding to have no goals is a goal.

Since I can't address in this blog all of the considerations I mentioned, I'll focus on one area this time and touch on others in subsequent blogs.

All of us are in relationship with somebody. It could include a spouse, parent, child, other family member, platonic friend or romantic friend...very few people are walking this earth in total isolation so, fill in the blank if none of these I mention apply. Because virtually all of us are in relationship with many, many people, let's focus on the most significant human relationship you have right now and let me ask some questions about "direction" so we can eventually get back to the subject of change. [If the other participant in your most significant human relationship falls only under the category of boss, co worker or parole officer, contact me directly...we need to talk]

1. Is this relationship a healthy one? (If you answer NO, you can immediately skip down to the section on change)
2. In just a few words, what do you hope to achieve through this relationship? (If you answer "simply endure," please skip down to the section on change!)
3. Do you think the other person has similar hopes for the relationship?

Relationships are complex because we are complex beings with needs, desires, wounds and some degree of selfishness, pride, fear, and insecurity in addition to lots of other baggage we bring to the relationship. A willingness to change in order to maintain and improve relationships is vitally important. As years go by all of us experience things in our lives that can influence our relationships. The continuing and often differing maturation process we each go through may cause relationships to become more challenging. Married couples are continuously needing to make changes as they travel down the path together. Some changes are minor in nature but, if not made, can result in problems that become major.

If the most significant human relationship you have is an unhealthy one...you certainly need a change. That doesn't mean the relationship has to end but, whatever is causing that relationship to be unhealthy needs to be addressed. Hoping that things will get better without some change taking place is not a good plan. Sometimes the change needed may primarily have to do with the attitude and actions of the other person. That can be difficult if the other person is unwilling to change. In some cases, you are the primary reason that the relationship is unhealthy. Talk about it with the other person. Ask each other, "where is this relationship headed?"Seek the advice and counsel of a trustworthy, qualified third party if need be. In some cases, the relationship may need to end.

I think we mistakenly believe that certain close relationships do not require or it is not reasonable to discuss the "direction" of the relationship. For example, let's consider the relationship of an adult child with a parent. To a certain extent, the relationship is mutually obligatory. There is a certain bond that exists between parent and child, no matter the age. But it is also true that those bonds can be damaged or broken which means, somewhere along the way, that relationship went off course. Change needed to occur. It could have been that a change in behavior, a change in attitude or both were required to keep the relationship moving in the right direction. Because the dynamic of the parent child relationship needs to change over time, some of the problem in those relationships is the unwillingness to recognize that the dynamic must change. Parents unwilling to relinquish the role of guardian and disciplinarian at the appropriate time may find adult children who want nothing to do with them later in life. As a Dad, I had to recognize when the relationship with my children needed to change which involved me (and they) having a different role.

What if you were to ask your 10 year old child what he or she wanted out of the relationship with you. Might you be surprised at the answer? Of course, you might assume the answer would be to provide for them or to support them in their various interests. Maybe you would be surprised if the answer was to spend more time together. Or maybe for you to help them understand the things in life that they are unsure about. Maybe the answer would be for you to tell (and show) him or her that he or she is loved unconditionally. Would their answer possibly require a change on your part? How would you have known without asking? And maybe the answer would be different if you asked 3 years later. Maybe more change needed then?

As we travel down the road of life, we have to adapt and change. The road conditions change, the traffic gets busier, the speed limits change, the car breaks down, you need to fill up your tank, you spot a wreck up ahead, the sun goes down....we think nothing of all the changes we make in the course of driving on a trip. But we sometimes believe that in the most complex areas of our lives we can continue thinking and doing the way we have always done without ever considering the need for change. That just makes no sense.

Part 3- Not all change moves you in the right direction. Stay tuned.



Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Change- Part 1



No, I'm not referring to the coins rattling around in your pocket. I'm talking about the other word.

There are dozens and dozens of quotes and phrases about change. Tony Robbins said: "By changing nothing, nothing changes." Andre Gide tells us: "Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore." Karen Lamb's quote is: "A year from now you will wish you had started today." Winston Churchill said: "To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often." "If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading" said Lao Tzu. Heraclitus said: "There is nothing permanent...except change." Woodrow Wilson told us: "If you want to make enemies, try to change something."

I can keep this up all day.

There are also cautions about change... have you ever heard it said "don't make changes just for change sake" (or something to that effect?) Billy Joel sang "Don't go changing to try and please me...you never let me down before..."

Change is controversial. Change is difficult. Change can be fraught with mistakes. When frustrated and faced with inaction some have the attitude "let's do SOMETHING, even if it's wrong!!" That doesn't sound too wise. But change can be critically necessary or, at a minimum, beneficial. Many Christians embrace the quote by Reinhold Niebuhr that says "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to accept the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." Good words.

So let's talk about change. Here are a couple of perspectives for this go round.

1. If you are not going in the right direction, you need to change. This, of course, seems obvious. But how do we know we are going in the wrong direction? It can be easy to lose our way and many things can cause that. We also can resist change for a number of reasons...complacency, fear, stubbornness, and immaturity are a few reasons that come to mind. I'm sure you can think of others. During my relatively brief time last century as a student at the University of Georgia and, prior to, during and following that time as a die-hard Georgia football fan, I made the Augusta to Athens, Georgia drive more times than I can count. I could almost drive it in my sleep (and I'm sure over the years for some very brief moments, I probably did.) But as the years went by and after giving up my season tickets, my drives to Athens became less frequent. With the birth of our children, years even went by without me making that drive. A few years later we found ourselves with tickets to a game and made the trek again. As you drive through the intersection on the outskirts of Washington, Georgia the road used to fork...stay straight and you continue on the road that heads to Athens...veer right and you head in the direction of Elberton. Somewhere along the way, the Georgia Department of Transportation did some highway improvement work in and around Washington, Georgia. As we proceeded away from Washington and while chatting away (this is what is referred to as distracted driving) I kept going straight like I always did. After a few miles however, I realized that the road no longer was looking familiar (remember, this was not my first drive to Athens.) No one else in the car was really paying attention either. I continued a bit farther hoping to see some familiar house or bridge or something that would help confirm or deny my concern (this was before smartphones and GPS devices.) Finally, tossing my man card out the window, I told my wife and other couple in the car, "I don't think we are on the right road." "Really? You sure? How do you know? Why do you think that?" they chimed in. My male friend in the car finally watched the scenery go by for a little while and said, "you are right...you are definitely going the wrong way." So, I turned around and headed back towards Washington where I eventually came upon the turn-off that clearly was marked showing the direction towards Athens. I was simply not paying attention and missed the new intersection. I think there are several lessons to be learned from that experience.
  • I need to acknowledge that sometimes in life, the road gets moved
  • The way I have always gone or done things may no longer be appropriate or right
  • I need to pay attention to the road upon which I travel and keep looking for what I know are the trustworthy signs and landmarks
  • I need to ask people in my life that care about me to also pay attention to my direction and let me know if they believe that I am drifting or have gotten off track.
  • When I am going the wrong way, continuing to move in that direction, hoping it might still work out, is foolishness
However...

2. Not all change moves you in the right direction. There is a story/ joke about a couple of hunters who trek out through the woods to hunt deer. They had walked an hour or so going deeper and deeper into the terrain that they believed would allow for a deer sighting. Sure enough, coming up to a small clearing, a large buck with an impressive rack was spotted and the hunter that had earlier won the coin toss aimed and fired. His aim was true and the large animal went down. The hunters were ecstatic that they had bagged a prize buck. Picking up the deer by the hind legs they proceeded to drag their quarry back to where they had parked the truck. The problem was that, due to the size and spread of this buck's rack, it was acting almost like a drag anchor catching on small trees and even digging into the ground as they dragged the animal. It was obvious that they needed to change the way they were pulling the deer. Finally one of them said "what if we go around to the other side, pick up the deer by the antlers and start dragging him that way?" Seemed like a perfect change in strategy so they did just that. After about 30 minutes of pulling, the hunter with the great idea boasted "this sure is an easier way of moving this deer!" His hunting buddy, realizing however that their change in strategy was flawed, answered, "yeah, but we are getting farther away from the truck." Not all change moves you in the right direction. Sometimes making a change just so things will be easier or more convenient will result in making things worse. It might feel good for a while but it will eventually become obvious that it wasn't a good move. Change, especially dramatic changes, should be well thought out. Organizational changes can be very hard. Changing the way a business operates can disrupt an entire business culture. Relationship changes can be brutally difficult with lifelong consequences. Churches that go through significant changes can be accused of a trampling on long practiced traditions or strongly held beliefs

So how do we embrace these two points? Stay tuned for Part II where I'll talk more about change. In the meantime...your comments are appreciated.

"When you come to a fork in the road, take it" -- Yogi Berra

(Just threw that in because I love Yogi Berra quotes)

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

V-A-C-A-TION


Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend....vacation season in the United States. For school-age children, teachers and other school employees, summer marks a generic time of "vacation" since the obligation to be at school during the week is suspended for a couple of months. Is merely being out from school or off work really vacation? If you take a "vacation" week off from work to paint your house, is that really vacation? I don't think so. So, let's agree that, for discussion purposes, being out of school or being off from work does not in and of itself constitute vacation. I think to truly be a vacation you must leave home and go somewhere...even if it is just to go to Grandma's house.

Here's my take on vacation.

You need to go somewhere other than where you normally come home to eat and sleep. Distance does not matter nor must you be gone for a particular number of days. Just go somewhere. Growing up, I don't remember that we took a lot of vacations during the year but, we always had at least one vacation that was memorable.

Camping was my family's vacation of choice (probably because we were not at all wealthy.) In fact, I was born 10 weeks prematurely on a camping trip...fortunately there was a hospital nearby. Camping fulfilled a couple of my personal criteria of what you should strive to accomplish on a vacation. See what you think:





1. Go see something. If you are an American, you are blessed to live in one of the most beautiful places on earth. Sightseeing is a very popular vacation activity. As the song says- "from the mountains, to the prairies, to the oceans white with foam" ...yes! God Bless America. There is so much to see. Both natural and man-made wonders. From the Grand Canyon to the Golden Gate Bridge. From the Outer Banks to Hoover Dam. From the Great Lakes to the Empire State Building. From glaciers to historic buildings. Mountains, lakes, oceans, forests, seashores, gardens. Photographs of the Grand Canyon are impressive...hiking into the canyon and watching a sunset at the rim is breathtaking. Go see this beauty that is all around us.










2. Go learn something. When we homeschooled our kids, our curriculum only covered 170 of the required 180 days. We used field trips to complete the other 10 days. What that meant was a Toomey family vacation would include at least a day or two of each vacation week that were designated as "learning days." A trip to Williamsburg, Virginia was not just a casual sightseeing tour. We wanted to learn about our country's history. And the kids were required to write a paper on a related topic. A trip to Stone Mountain, Georgia was an opportunity to learn about geology...or sculpture (sculpture on a large scale!) A trip to Cherokee, North Carolina was a chance to learn the history and culture of these native Americans. Vacations are a wonderful opportunity to learn about something or to learn how to do something. Every vacation does not have to be an educational experience but why not use our vacation time not only to relax, but, to broaden our minds?



3. Go do something. This is where vacation truly becomes an action verb. Go fishing, hunting, snorkeling, roller-coaster riding, hiking, zip-lining, swimming, cruising, skiing, horseback riding, water sliding, bike riding, golfing, climbing, tubing, eating/tasting, racing, kayaking, skating, and on and on and on. (Some, usually those of the female persuasion, would argue that "shopping" should be included in this list of the "ing's" of vacation...I would not agree but I may be outnumbered.)


You could even go somewhere and serve others. Rebuild a house, plant a garden, dig a well, teach a child to read, share your faith. Help victims of a tornado, hurricane, flood, poverty. (Might be the best vacation you'll ever have.)

4. Go be with people you love. Getting away as a family and/or going to be with family has value that is hard to quantify.  Getting away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life to spend time with family and close friends is, as the MasterCard commercial used to say...Priceless. As a kid, we would often spend most of the summer at my grandmother's house. Since we were a military family who moved a lot, her house always felt like home. That time I was privileged and blessed to be loved on and to learn from my sweet grandmother was like gold to me. One of the favorite things about being on vacation with my kids was just being together. My family will tell you that when we go on vacation together, I morph into some strange, goofy person that seems to perpetually have this weird expression on his face. When Jessica was a little girl she picked up on this and once described it as "Daddy's got on his vacation teeth." Well, that stuck. I still put on my vacation teeth when I get to be with my family on vacation.



Our lives are busy. It is easy to drift away from each other and just get bone tired. I cherish vacation time. I have known people that bragged that they never use their employer provided/paid vacation time. They would proudly boast " I get 3 weeks of vacation each year but I never use it." That's nothing to brag about. I think it is downright dumb.

Summer is here. Go take some vacation time.

What's the best vacation you've ever had?

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Dumb car ride games

1955 Buick Special- built like a tank
As long as I can remember, one of my fondest memories was taking trips in the family car. The first car I remember us having was a 1955 Buick Special. This mammoth hunk of Detroit steel was built like an Abrams tank. Not exactly the best handling behemoth on the road but, good grief, did it have room inside! Back in the days of no seat belts and "three on the tree" manual transmission shifters, I would lay across the rear seat deck (under the rear window) as we rumbled down the road. If the brakes were ever slammed on, I would fly forward and crash into the rear of the front seats. Ah, the good ol' days.

To this day, I still love driving places on day trips, long weekends or even week long driving vacations. I love to stop at the trashiest tourist attractions and eat at places that Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives hasn't even found yet. A few years ago, Michael and I made an I-40 road trip from Augusta to Asheville, NC, to Knoxville, TN to Nashville and ended up in Memphis. Why? Our goal was to eat as many meals of barbecue ribs as we could, see Graceland, Sun Records Studio and hang out on Beale Street. Carol still thinks we are both nuts.

How cold is it?
After I had my own family, car trips or vacations would typically generate some interesting games or contests. Contests like...who can guess what the lowest outside temperature will be (according to the car's outside temp gauge) by the time we get to our hotel in the mountains? What time do you guess we will cross the river back into Georgia? (I always won this one...I had control over the speed of the car...) Only years later after acquiring some basic mathematical acumen of their own did the kids figure out how I could guess so accurately. (For the mathematically challenged...a car traveling 60 miles per hour will go a mile each minute...if the mile marker I just passed said we were 29 miles from the border...voila! it's gonna take 29 minutes. Of course I could also slow down or speed up as necessary in order to make the time I chose hit exactly when we crossed into the next state.) The kids thought Dad had some mysterious power.

One of the most interesting hour long games was: If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life and you were assured that it would be nutritionally adequate for good health, what would it be? The food could be prepared multiple ways but it had to basically be just one food item (condiments, simple additives are allowed.) First, I got screamed at that my question was ridiculous because no one could survive on just one food for the rest of their life. So I had to explain again the hypothetical caveat that whatever food you chose in my make believe scenario would be completely nourishing. Then I get a million clarifying questions asked. You would think I was asking them to jump off a bridge. Finally grasping the concept, they begin to give answers.

 I'm pretty sure Carol's answer was rice since Reese's Peanut Butter Cups were disallowed for being a candy not a food. Rice was a pretty good answer though...steamed rice, fried rice, rice pilaf...lot's of ways to enjoy rice and lots of different kinds of rice...Carol takes an early lead in the contest. I think Michael's answer was some type of meat...chicken or steak maybe...can't remember exactly. I was proud of my carnivorous son for giving a manly answer though. Jessica cheated and said something like salad. Buzzer goes off...no--- salad is not a single food ...do you mean lettuce? Then 15 minutes of arguing before Jessica picks another food item...I think it was a fruit. She kept thinking she needed to choose something healthy since it was the only thing she could eat for the rest of her life. Tiring of my silly game, I just let her stick with her fruit choice. Being a good ol' Irish boy, my pick was...potatoes. Boiled potatoes, mashed potatoes, crinkle french fries, scalloped potatoes, potatoes au gratin, hash browns, baked potato, potato chips, potato sticks, home fries, potato pancakes, waffle fries, curly fries, tater tots... I went on and on with my assortment of potato dishes.
The incredibly versatile potato

Then the the car just went quiet. They knew that Dad had won again. Then they all verbally attacked me for playing such a stupid game. Sore losers.

Fun times in the car with the family...having a blast playing silly games and actually...talking to each other (with a little shouting added in.) Turn off the radio, take out the earbuds, put down the book or computer and have a good old family competition. Dumb car games.

So, if you could only eat one food item for the rest of your life (and that food item would be nutritionally perfect for you) what would it be?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Her name is Carol

30 years. Three decades. 10,958 days. No matter, how you calculate it...it's  a long time. On February 9th, I will have been married for 30 years.

The first time I met Carol, a mutual friend introduced us...we gave each other the once over, smiled...said hi and we both went about our way not even thinking twice about the other. The second time we met... probably a year later...well, that is a different story. Within a month of that second encounter I was pretty sure this was the woman that I wanted to marry. I was in LOVE. 5 months later, we were, in fact, married.

For those of you who know my wife, when you read this, I expect that you will be nodding in agreement.

Carol is the kindest person I know. She cares deeply about others. She talks to anybody...she talks to everybody. It doesn't matter to her if you are the president of the bank or the lady that cleaned our hotel room...she will strike up a conversation with you and genuinely be interested in what you have to say. She is polite, respectful and is never trying to draw any attention to herself. She always wants to help without looking for anything in return. She loves her family. She is a great friend. She is a hard worker. She loves to laugh.

I can't speak for Jessica or Michael....our kids (now adults.) But, I think she was and is one of the best Moms a child could have. To this day, when one of our kids comes home, their later departure is still accompanied by a very prolonged hug and... she cries. She loves our kids (and son-in-law) furiously. And she loves our kid's friends. The walls of our home are covered in photographs, taken over the years that includes pictures of our kid's friends from church, school and college. In Carol's mind she adopted all of them into our family. She has made the houses we've lived in a home...a refuge...a place that smells like a Yankee Candle store, feels as comfortable as your favorite blue jeans, and is as welcoming as you could imagine.

But you see, 30 years ago, I didn't know all these things. What I saw was a hot little brunette that seemed to like me, laughed at my stupid jokes (still does), and was so easy to talk to. Our first phone conversation wherein I asked her out for our first date lasted about 2 hours (not because I was slow to ask..I got the "will you go out with me?" question handled in the first 3 minutes.)

Our 30 year marriage has certainly had its ups and downs. There were some periods where I'm sure she wondered if this marriage would make it...wondered if she could stand to stay married to me. I have not always been the easiest person to be married to. But she has hung in there with me and I still wonder how a guy like me could have ever gotten a gal like her.

Oh...one more thing. I see Jesus in Carol. I am married to a Godly woman...a woman who has a strong faith...a woman who prays...and prays. A woman who spends a lot of time in God's Word. A woman after God's heart. When we spoke our vows in her parent's living room on a Wednesday night in front of her former youth pastor and a handful of family and friends, she made a promise to me. But she also made a promise to God. And she has kept that promise for the last 30 years. I don't expect that to change over the next 30.

Her name is Carol and I fell in love with her 30 plus years ago, love her to this day and will love her as long as I have breath. Happy Anniversary sweetie.