A Very Good Year

2015.07.12 446Let’s be honest, life is a mystery.

There isn’t a rhyme or reason for why any good or bad might happen to a person. Each day brings a new set of challenges and there are never any easy answers. Sometimes you make the right choice and take the win. Other times you find that the dealer has the advantage and even with your best intentions, the house takes the pot. More often than not, I’m just happy to come out even.

In my 18,900+ days on this planet, I’ve had some tough times and I’ve had some great successes. This past year goes down in the history books as one of those winners: My health is good. My kids are strong. My marriage is blessed. My house is still standing.

In reviewing the year, I can honestly say that I saw some amazing sites; like the Grand Canyon, foggy rain on the Smokey Mountains, a crystal clear Arizona sunset, waves on the Pacific Ocean, and my first ever California Condor! I also did some great things, like riding a mule through Mt. Zion National Park and hiked The Narrows.

But I haven’t just played hard. I’ve also worked hard. I took classes at IU East. I started a new blog or two and began work on my first book.  In the spring I put down 17-yards of mulch in my yard. In the summer I worked on landscaping projects around the house. In the autumn, I created a dining oasis in the back corner of my property. I moved positions at work and am now taking the lead on several important projects which offers new and exciting challenges.

Perhaps best of all, time with family has been a true gift. I love having adult children…and better yet, I love our adult children. Our kids are witty, loving, and gentle. They enjoy one another and any time with them is a gift. Best of all, my wife and I are loving the empty nest phase of life. Without worrying about a sitter, we can pick up and go to a movie, for a walk, out to eat, or on a drive whenever we want…no questions asked.

In short, 2015 was a very good year. It wasn’t perfect; no year is. Yet, there isn’t much about these past 365 days that I would trade. I am grateful for so many things. My life, my family, and my health are just a few of those wonderful things.

#ayearofgratitude

 

A Giant Peach

2015.12.17 Giant FruitI have no idea why it was there…but there it was.  As if anyone ever  needed a giant peach in their yard, someone had determined that setting this humongous fruit alongside the road was a good idea.

Jonathan and I were on our road trip to visit three Indiana colleges in as many days.  We drove to Terre Haute, Bloomington, and Evansville.  We took highways, byways, and back roads.  We saw a lot of cows, corn, beans, tractors, barns, and trees (southern Indiana is very rural).

We also saw this peach, a 30-foot-tall Santa Claus, a personal roller coaster called The Blue Flash, and a over-sized Elephant next to a gargantuan martini.  I didn’t realize that southern Indiana had so much to offer!

These kitschy oddities were quite a gift on this university tour.  The campus visits left us yawning.  But the giant fruit?  It left us laughing.  Anyone can go to college.  Anyone can pursue a degree.  And most people do.  The mass of 18-year-old’s and their doting parents was mind-boggling, and in some instances, nauseating.  But somewhere out there was a unique individual or two who dedicated their time to forming a massive peach, or a back-yard roller coaster, or a 500-gallon alcoholic beverage, and putting it in their front yard!

I’m grateful for the fantastic fruit we saw on this road trip.  It restored my faith in humanity.  So often we live like sheep.  The Peach, however?  It revealed that there are still people in this world who take a different path and pursue their passion.

I want to be more like them.  I want to pursue a dream.  I want to make a statement.  I want to craft a legacy…sans the 15-foot fruit, coasters, or drunken elephants.

#ayearofgratitude

Blue Planet Christmas

20151221_162541One of my favorite ornaments on our tree is one we bought for our friend, Sung Ho – An M&M Elvis.  He was an IU student and a friend of our oldest son.  When he was unable to return to Korea for the Christmas Break, he spent a few days with us.  It was meaningful for our family and we are richer for it; however traumatic it might have been for him!

Each year, as we decorate our tree, this ornament reminds me of those days spent with that young man and his gentle spirit and kind heart.  He has a family of his own now and is making his way in the world and I couldn’t be happier for him.

I am grateful for Sung Ho and the many others who’ve entered our lives for a season…and will engage us in the years to come.  They help enlarge our perspective of the world and make it possible for us to engage the global community.  They teach us about life beyond our four walls and help us understand that our way is not the only way.  People like Sung Ho, Ayumi, Chijioke, Zhang, and many more have enlightened us, loved us, and guided us into a better understanding of our interconnected life on this tiny planet.

#ayearofgratitude

Quiet, Hidden Places

2015.12.15 Hidden PlacesEarlier this year we had the opportunity to visit Galena, IL and a fantastic Inn at Irish Hollow.  The property is dotted with quiet, hidden places all tied together by well-maintained paths.  I’ve been to very few places as beautiful as this property.  There are few oases as special as these hidden alcoves.

One especially wonderful location is a rusty bridge abandoned to traffic years ago.  In place of tractors and pickup trucks, the bridge now supports a wonderful  20-foot wood plank table, benches, chairs, cabinets, a wood stove.  Oil lamps glow atop the rustic furniture.  Christmas lights hang lazily through the overhanging tree branches and add a elegance and charm.  A muddy brook babbles softly under the trestle and cows chew on their cud, silently watching the festivities occurring overhead.

The only downside was the 7.5 hour drive to find this place of wonder.

However, we are truly blessed when we can find a special place a little closer to home.  For some, it might be that special chair in the quiet corner of the den.  For others, a quiet evening in the back yard, listening to crickets and song-birds as the sun sets.

I’m so grateful for those special places in my life – those quiet, wonderful places:  My own back yard, the sandy beach of Lake Webster at Epworth Forest, a majestic woods in Randolph County, and even that chair next to the fireplace.

I’m thankful for those places and many, many more.

#ayearofgratitude

The Season of Advent

2015.12.14 AdventThere is something about this holiday season that really touches my heart and soul.  The lights, the sounds, the smells combine to rekindle my fondest memories.  They activate warm feelings and take me on a wonderful sentimental journey.

I am most grateful for this time of year.  There is only one thing that would make it better and that would be a few inches of snow on the ground…but not too many people would agree with me on this point.

Today, I am grateful for the season of Advent.  It is a time of preparation.  It is a time of joy, peace, hope, and love.  It truly is the most wonderful time of the year.

#ayearofgratitude

The Dents of Life

2015.12.13 DentsWe’ve started painting the dining room.  Paint is a wonderful thing.  In a matter of hours one can change the appearance of a room, update a space, and create a clean look.

However, no paint job is complete unless you repair the dents and dings in the wall.  Spackle, putty, and sanding are just a few of the things you have to do in order to prepare the walls.  Unfortunately, this work does more than update the look, it covers history.

For instance, on this north wall of the dining room, there several holes in the upper section.  Here we’ve had pictures of family and friends.  On the lower section there is a scrape where one of the kids’ chairs fell back during a particularly raucous game of Risk.  Another ding was a result of a candlestick which fell during a holiday party in the winter of 1994.

The dents are reminders of family history.  The blemishes are markers of our life together.  They paint a picture.  They tell a story.

I am grateful for the dents.  I am filled with appreciation for the marred walls.

I will miss them.

#ayearofgrattitude

Robert Downey, Jr.

2015.12.12 Robert Downy Jr.Okay.  I’ll say it.  I like Robert Downey, Jr.

It’s not a man-crush thing.  It’s just that I respect this guy.

Years ago he was having a hard time.  Years ago he made a few mistakes.  Years ago he lost his way.

Some might have given up.  Some might have stopped all-together.  But those bumps in the road didn’t stop him.  Instead, he got help.  He turned it around.  He moved forward with both his life and his career.

I am grateful for my friend, Bobby (as I like to call him when we’re alone).  He is a reminder that even in those times of life when I’m down and out, there is grace and hope.  Even when I’ve made poor decisions, when I’ve acted carelessly, when I’ve struggled, I am not necessarily at the end of my rope.

#ayearofgratitude

Beasts of Burden

2015.12.08 Beasts of BurdenDuring our recent trip to Utah, my wife and I rode horses and mules around Mt. Zion National Park.  It made it possible for us to see the beautiful mountains from an entirely different perspective.

My ride was a mule named Peekaboo.  In the words of our guide, she was “a Cowboy’s Cadillac”.  The ride was easy, allowing us to climb hill and valley without a care.  The view was grand, taking us to locations we wouldn’t otherwise traverse so easily.  The beast of burden was gentle and strong, carrying me without a care or hesitation.

The mule was not the only beast of burden on that trip.  A shuttle bus carried us from one part of the park to another.  A plane transported us 3,400 miles from Indy to Phoenix and back in a matter of hours.  A rental car moved us across the desert landscape without a care.  Our own car waited for us in the parking lot after our plane landed and it returned us to home and hearth.

Every day we use beasts of burden, either animal or mechanical, without a second thought.

As I think about the 45 minute drive to work, I have to stop and give thanks that I have the luxury of a modest vehicle to help make that trip in a matter of minutes, rather than days.  I am grateful for my car and my ability to travel with ease.

#ayearofgratitude

Warm Days, Warm Heart

Anita and Milo

There are beautiful summer days when the sun shines bright but never hot.  There are wonderful mid-year days when the warm breezes blow in a sweet fragrance of blooming flowers and freshly mown grass.  There are perfect evenings where cricket’s song is punctuated by the dancing flash of lightning bugs’ glow.

For the summer days that have gone before and those that are yet to come, I give thanks.  They keep my heart warm during the cold winter months.

Groceries Close to Home

2015.12.06_Groceries Close to HomeI drove from my home a short distance of 4.8 miles.  It took me less than 10-minutes.  In the time it took to listen to Winter Wonderland and Frosty the Snowman, I’d parked my car and was pushing a cart in the produce section.

I found a box of fire-logs and a whole chicken.  I added bananas and a box of cereal to the cart.  Within a few short minutes and after walking down a few short aisles, I had everything I needed…and probably a lot more.

I so very grateful for grocery stores.  And I often take this convenience for granted.

I realize there are people around this small planet who do not have this luxury.  They walk miles for fresh water.  If they’re lucky, they eat rice and beans for every meal of every day.

And so as I placed my various items on the conveyor belt today, I said a prayer of thanks but this wonder is available.

For grocery stores close to my home and for food in abundance, I am grateful.

#ayearofgratitude

 

Blue Skies and White Clouds

2015.12.05_Blue Skies and White CloudsThe day started foggy, frozen crystals of frost clinging to every limb and branch.  But by mid-day the sun was blazing and the sky shone blue and delicate white clouds passed over.

How often do we get days like this in December?  In Indiana?  The answer?  Very rarely.

And so, today I’m grateful for the blue in the sky.  I’m thankful for the white of the clouds.  I appreciate the summer-like day in the waning month of the year.  It was a wonderful gift I received graciously.

#ayearofgratitude

A Bad Hair Day

2015.12.04_Bad Hair DaysLet’s be honest.  We’ve all had a bad hair day.  At least one.  You wake up and you find that every strand of hair has a mind of it’s own.  Your cowlicks have cowlicks.  Your golden locks have decided to become dreadlocks.

Despite the frustration of furtive follicles, I’m honestly thankful for the occasional bad hair days.  These days remind me that, despite my best attempts to look “together”, I’m not always in control of my life.

When I get cocky and proud of all my accomplishments and successes, the bad hair day reminds me that I am not the master of my fate.  I am not the captain of my ship.  I am not the leader of my locks.

I am always grateful when my hair has a mind of its own.  It humbles me…and that’s always a good thing.

#ayearofgratitude

Dressing Right

wedding dress
Looking sharp at my brother’s wedding, circa June 1986.

Once in a while you get to dress up a bit.  You pay the bucks and rent the tux.  You comb your hair and pin on the boutonniere.

You polish your shoes, bush your teeth, and buff your nails.

You find your best gal who makes you look better than you really do.

Arm in arm you prepare to step out and make the most of the day.

Blue Jeans and T-Shirts are alright most days.  But every once in a while you need to get dressed up a bit.

And for that, I am very thankful.

#ayearofgratitude

 

A Boy With Attitude

2015.12.02_BenjaminThis is Ben.  He’s my son.  And I couldn’t be happier about that.

He’s a deep thinker who likes to play with sticks.

He’s a caring man who will do anything for others.

He has a style all his own.

He loves music and electronics.

He has great hair.

I can’t imagine our lives without this blessed person in them.

For my son Ben, I am so very grateful.

#ayearofgratitude

Sleeping Dogs

2015.12.01 Sleeping DogsWe’ve had Sidney for six years now and if you’ve been following this blog, you know that Sidney has issues.  But with age, comes maturity…and a changing sleeping pattern.  She’s not an old dog but she’s starting to nap like one.  And for this, I am extremely thankful.

Plus, I enjoy watching her sleep.  Somewhere in her resting brain she is actively chasing a ball, hunting for rabbit, or treeing a squirrel.  Her legs twitch nervously and every so often she lets out a breathy yelp through her soft muzzle.  And always she awakes looking at the world as if trying to decide if it was reality or dream.

I love that dog.  I truly love it when she sleeps.

#ayearofgratitude

A House, A Home

2015.11.30_WarmFires on Cold Days
Our living room: Warm and inviting.

I cannot fully express the gratitude I have for our home.  It isn’t huge.  It isn’t fancy.  It isn’t luxurious.  But it is warm and inviting and filled with memories of laughter, love, and life.

In this home we’ve broken bread with dear friends, we consoled loved ones in times of grief, we’ve celebrated milestones, and we’ve prayed for peace. In this home, we’ve learned to become a family.  I can’t imagine what our lives would be like today if we hadn’t found this run-down place more than 15-years ago.

#ayearofgratitude

Glory and Grandeur

2015.11.29_Creations Grandure
The Valley of Mount Zion National Park, October 2015.

Today, I am thankful for the beauty of the earth.  Whether it is overlooking the jaw-dropping Grand Canyon, the sunset in my own back yard, or the delicate peddles of rouge Dandelion, Creation announces it’s beauty…if only we stop to admire it.

#ayearofgratitude

 

A Year of Gratitude

“Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.”
― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

I often find that my heart is hard and my responses are harsh.

I frequently experience moments of selfishness.

If you are like me (and I pray you are better than this), you know that we are less than grateful.  We are selfish and rarely satisfied.  Despite jobs that pay the bills and provide high levels of entertainment, a home that keeps us warm and dry, food in excess, and rich and full lives, we often yearn for more.  In the process, we fail to recognize the abundance of blessing in our lives.  We overlook the gifts for which we should be grateful.  We bypass the simple things that can warm our hearts if we allow them.2015.11.28_Morning Coffee

If simple little Piglet can understand the importance of gratitude, how is it that we, educated, sophisticated and well-heeled, can ignore this basic truth of life?   How hard would it be to stop and give thanks for those little things that mean so much to us?

For instance, today I am especially grateful for the first cup of coffee in the morning.  This dark liquid warms my heart and satisfies my soul.  With the first sip, I pause, and remember I am grateful.  May my very small heart hold a large amount of Gratitude.