Service With A Smile

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Ken earned five dollars for impressing us with his singing and his service!

Occasionally, you stumble upon someone who has that certain sparkle, that extra flash, the “it” factor.

Ken is one of those people.

You might miss the special quality if you concern yourself with the freshness of the post-wedding salad, the seasoning of the chicken, the snap of the green beans.  Talking with other invited guests at the table, you might not look up from the dinner to catch the enthusiastic grin and skip in your server’s step.  But, if you watch him work the table, if you follow him around the room as he serves the meal and clears the dishes, you will be impressed; you will be amazed.

It was my delight to take a moment to talk with Ken and discover that his is more than a talented waiter.

Many young people serve food because it is nothing more than a starting point in a life of greater, more meaningful employment.  But not Ken.  He doesn’t do this job out of necessity.  He serves at banquets, celebrations and social events because he loves people.  He gets jazzed by the work.  He lights up when he serves.  He enthusiastically ensures that the guests are well cared for.

I suspect that Ken won’t work for this catering company for very long.  My guess is that in a very short time he will OWN this company.  His work ethic, charming personality and firm handshake guarantee that he will use is degree to quickly rise to a place of leadership.  He will blaze a path to the top and in the process, he will make many, many people very happy.

Shades of Gray

2013.09.18 - CopyAnswers to hard questions are seldom black or white.  Even when we think we have the obvious solution to a difficult problem, it is doubtful that we’ve exhausted all the possibilities.  If we look hard enough, we discover other viewpoints that provide valid routes to the a successful and final destination.

This is as true in relationships, business, school work, sports or any other area of life.  Creative thinking and honest dialogue almost always reveal new options; some times as obvious as the proverbial “Nose on our Face”.

Take for instance the government shut down.  The issue isn’t really black or white (or Republican or Democratic, if you will).  But no solution is evident because our governing officials aren’t looking for any shades of gray.  They only see the black and white.  And until someone shuts their mouths and opens their eyes and minds, everyone loses.

It’s been said, “No man is so blind as those who choose not to see.”  It’s time to look at new options.  It’s time to consider a different shade.

A Thank You, Overdue

25135902168Of the many days in this country’s history that are important and should always be remembered (July 4, 1776, December 7, 1941, September 11, 2001, and many, many more) the Invasion of Normandy must be listed as one of this nation’s greatest military achievement.  Because of the daring and cunning of the political and military leadership, and the courage and tenacity of the men on the ground, the D-Day invasion stopped Hitler and Nazi Germany and all its evils.  This one battle changed the course of the war.

But to achieve this end, many lives were sacrificed, many men gave their all.

There are battles that were bloodier in the Civil War.  There were fire-fights that were more terrifying in Korea or Vietnam.  But this offensive changed the course of history in a way few others ever will.

To those men who stormed the shores of Normandy, whether still living or long gone, we say “Thank You.”  May your valor never be forgotten.

A Big Night for Ben

I’m so very proud of my son.

This was a great way to end his high school band career.  He was given the opportunity to spend time along side amazing and talented teachers and I am so thankful all those who made it possible.  It will be an experience that he will never forget.

Can We Talk?

198709092168Did you hear?  Just between the two of us…  You won’t believe what I just heard…

These and many like them are phrases that kill:  They kill relationships.  They kill trust.  They kill integrity.  If you’ve said one of these before, or you’ve heard them coming from someone else, you know what I mean.

These words come from big mouths that have no filters.  They come from hearts that have no conscience.  They come from minds that have no intelligence.

These words are always about others and hardly ever about something good.  They burrow into the soul.  They leave a dark mark.  They have a foul odor.

These words represent gossip in its worst form.  They may be true or they may not.  They represent nothing more than slander.  They whisper shame.  They detail destruction.

These words are evil.  They come from bad intent.  They destroy careers.  They devastate families.

A person who begins a conversation with these words has a small mind and a cold heart.

The next time you hear those words, take action.

Did you hear?  – No, and I don’t want to.

Just between the two of us… – Just keep it to yourself.

You won’t believe what I just heard… – You are right.  I won’t so don’t even tell me.

 

 

 

 

Our Nation’s Capital

Steve, Kevin and Scott await the festivities on the National Mall, October 1997.

I’ve been to Washington a total of four times in my life:  Once for the “Stand In the Gap” event on October 4, 1997 and three other times for business.  With each visit, I am amazed by the grandeur of the place, the scale of the Capital and the beauty of the art and monuments.

My time in DC is always short so I’ve never been in a museum or gone on a tour.  I’ve never entered a building other than to buy a coffee and use the restroom.

The Capital DomeMy business trips take me to Bethesda but each year I make sure I jump on the Metro and travel to the Mall.  I see the sights, take some pictures, and marvel once again at our Nation’s Capital and the beauty of this city.

The Lincoln MemorialBut this past week, as I walked the length of the Mall, something new struck me:  Many places around the world construct obelisks and statues to honor their great leaders; those who rose to fame and power and shaped the world with their words and actions, both good and bad.  And we have our fair share of those great granite tributes. But we also have something more.

Korean War Veterans MemorialIn Washington, DC, flanking the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial are two fantastic structures that honor men and women, named and yet to be named, who came from little towns and villages across this country to give their lives to protect the freedom we so enjoy.  These beautiful memorials tell a story of a country who is led by great men and who is made by every man.

Vietnam War Veterans Memorial WallThe Vietnam War Veterans Memorial and the Korean War Veterans Memorial both stand as tributes to the brave men and women who honored their country by serving, fighting and dying.  Some volunteered.  Many were drafted.  But all should be honored.  All should be thanked.

Three young men stop to allow pictures in front of the Lincoln Memorial, December 23, 2013.
Three young men stop to allow pictures in front of the Lincoln Memorial, January  23, 2013.

At the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, several service men were hiking the mall, 60-pound packs loaded on their backs.  Their boots pounded out a rhythm on the marble steps, all the way to the top of the monument.  As they stood, hunched over, catching their breath, many people looked at them in wonder.  I approached them and spoke to them a bit about where they were from, their training and those loaded packs.  I asked for a picture and they were happy to oblige.  As we parted, I shook their hands and thanked them for their service and asked God to bless them in their duties.

I am thankful for young men and women who volunteer, knowing that they are likely to face battle.  I am grateful that they are willing to serve, knowing the risks.  But I pray that they will never need a monument of their own.

My President, My Friend

Here I am in 2008, stumping with the President to be.
Here I am in 2008, stumping with the President-to-be.

When then-candidate-Obama asked me to lend my name to his campaign in 2008, I was a little nervous but also very honored.  I stood on stage beside the likes of Oprah and George Clooney.  George and I became pretty close after a couple late nights in the bar.  At one point he pretended to be me and I pretended to be him.  It was uncanny how much we looked alike.

Anyway, back to my story…

Soon the nerves were calmed as I made speech after speech, extolling the great attributes of this great land and encouraging the masses to vote for Change, reach for Hope.  I traveled across the highways and byways of this country we love.  There were long hours, sure.  There were greasy meals served at greasy diners.  There were pot-luck dinners and home-made pies.  There were babies to kiss and hands to shake at every little hamlet and village from north to south, and east to west.

It was hard work.  But it was worth it.  Together, Barack and I won the hearts and minds of the people of America and on election night, we hugged one another and…this is funny really, he pointed to me and exclaimed, “YOUR THE MAN!”  I pointed back at him and yelled over the crowd’s cheers, “I KNOW IT!”

Unfortunately, my busy writing schedule and the importance of my Chicken Cooking Experiment made it impossible for me to travel with my friend this past year.  Oh, I threw a few dollars his way and made a couple of calls but he’s surrounded himself with a new, fresh group of supporters including George Takei and Will Smith.  Of course, Clooney is still a “hanger-on” and someday we hope he steps out of our shadows makes something of himself.

But today, four years later, THIS day is about the President.  It isn’t about the man, Barack Obama.  This day is about the Presidency.  This day is about the democratic process and the knowledge that our privilege to vote, our ability to make our voices heard, our right to make our mark and choose our elected officials, is still alive and well in this great Nation.

You may have voted for the other guy.  And that’s okay.  If he were standing there with his hand on the Bible, we would all stop and say a prayer for wisdom and success as he led our nation.  And that’s what I ask of you today.  As this President takes office, say a prayer that he might have wisdom.  Say a prayer that he will have success.

I know on that cold hour in our Nation’s Capital, I will lift both a prayer and a cold one to my President, my friend.  May God give him strength to lead, wisdom to make right choices, and a heart for the people of this land.  AMEN.

Just A Little Off The Top

This year we raised a bunch of money for charity.  As part of my role in the experience, I agreed to allow Mike, the director of the HSR&D to shave my head if we met our goal.  Well, we surpassed the goal by nearly $4,000!

This is the second year in a row that we’ve blown past our original fund-raising goal.  Last year, one lucky winner was able to throw a pie in the director’s face…but they needed a little help from me to make it a really big splash.  This year, Mike gets his revenge!

My Coworkers, My Friends

Even though I’ve been gone for four years, the law firm invited me back to enjoy their annual Holiday lunch.  I keep tabs with the attorneys and staff but it was so wonderful to see everyone again and catch up on the activities of our lives.

As we enjoyed our lunch, we took the opportunity to reminisce, tell stories and laugh together.  The food was fantastic but the conversation was so much better.

At one point, Kelly asked me why I was smiling so much. I don’t think I expressed myself very well when I replied.  But I’ve thought about it and am able to articulate my feelings better now.  All those who folks in that room were an important part of my life’s journey.  I’ve known them all for eleven wonderful years.  I realized that these folks, these talented men and women, these hard-working, dedicated people, this loving family of former co-workers were a special gift back when I started and even to this day.  I am so thankful for them.  There are not very many places we work where the people and the job can be so enjoyable and so meaningful.

There was never a doubt that it was time for me to go from that place four years ago, but I am thankful that I am still a part of this office family.  They are a blessing to me, even after all these years.

God bless you, every one.

Voting is NOT a Right

We wait in line to vote with our wonderful neighbors, Chris and Jen.

We often forget that one of the privileges we enjoy by living in the “Land of the Free” and the “Home of the Brave” is the ability to choose those who represent us.  We have the freedom to step behind a curtain and make a mark that indicates who will live in the West Wing, who will fill that seat in Congress or the Senate.  By casting our ballot, we have the ability to determine who is on our school boards and who will be our next governor.

One would think that the incessant television, print and radio advertising would jog our memory but for some reason, when it comes time to vote, many – if not most – of Americans don’t take the time to step into the booth.

But this act of voting is a gift that many people around the world will never receive.  This is an act of Democracy that so many others will never enjoy.  And we flaunt it like a rich kid who is bored with his presents because he has so many.

Yes, the vote might be between the lesser of two evils but that is our fault for not demanding better.  Yes, it is hard to know what the candidates truly stand for but that is our job to research and dig to know the truth based on their histories, not their promises.

Yes, it requires standing in line, a photo ID, and determining your proper poling station.

But a person who fails to vote has thrown away one of the most important gifts that Democracy has to offer:  The Voice of the People.

Under Construction

Ben, Elliott, Javi and Mia: A few of my favorite people.

Last September we took a walk to the intersection of Hazeldell and 38.  At the time, it was still closed to through traffic and needed more work to make it the beautiful road that it is today.  Safety barrels were in place, large equipment was in use and piles of dirt dotted the landscape, ready to be moved to new locations and away from the work-site.

On this journey of adventure were four young people who are important to me:  Ben, my son, Elliott, Javier and Mia.

At the time, it was the walk to the intersection was just about throwing rocks into the creek and seeing the progress on the road.  But with each little adventure we’ve had since, I realize that the time we spend is so much more than a short walk to a construction zone.

Each moment I spend with these precious young people is a opportunity to help them grow, to strengthen their spirits, build their character.  Every time I hug them close, it is a reminder to them that they are loved.  Every dinner we share is an opportunity to listen to their stories, understand their passions and love their hearts.

Do you have someone in your life that is still under construction and could use some attention?  Perhaps they need no-more than a short walk.  Or perhaps today is the day to really get in there and dig deep.  Either way, it’s time to invest in the project and in the process, change a life.

Happy 4th of July

So many brave men and women gave their lives to make us free.

While this day has become an opportunity to exhibit our American pride and patriotism, eat some grilled food and (on most wet years) watch some fireworks, the root of this grand celebration is found in the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.  The Declaration is the prime document that establishes our liberty from King George and colonization mind-set of the British Empire.  In fact, this day is really our country’s birthday.  On July 4, 1776, our nation was born.  In the midst of a bloody, bitter war with England, we stood on our own two feet and declared our freedom and our liberty.

Perhaps one of the most famous sentences in history is found in the opening paragraph of our founding document:  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

And so, on this day, take time to honor the truth that ALL are created equal.  It doesn’t matter your color or your station.  Each one is equal in the eyes of God and this nation.

Honor the truth that ALL have the right to live a life without restriction.

Honor the self-evident reality that ALL should seek Happiness by pursuing the well-being of one another.  (As the cleric and philosopher Richard Cumberland wrote, seeking the well-being of our fellow humans is essential to the “pursuit of our own happiness.”)

So, on this day, this Independence Day, celebrate the 236th birthday of this amazing country and unalienable Rights:  this country’s founding principles of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

How to Sell A Car Without Really Trying

Goldie came into our lives in 2005.  Only five years old at the time, she had over 100,000 miles on her and a few rough spots around the edges but she served us well for the past six years.  In that time she took us from Canada and Georgia and many spots in between. That old van made more than one trip to upper New York!

She wasn’t perfect…In fact, there were more than a few times when we wished for working air conditioning and a tow was the only way we could get her to the mechanic for repairs.  Neighbors only complained a few times about the rumbling muffler and squeaking belt.

But there came a day when our own mechanic suggested another repair would just prolong the inevitable.  And so, like a horse with a broken leg, it was time to put her down.

After ten minutes time, a Craig’s List post went live at 4:54 pm, pronouncing our intent to part with our friend.  By 10:00 a.m. the next morning we watched her being loaded onto the flat-bed and driven away.

Certainly I’ll miss her but now I have a few hundred dollars in my pocket and a smile on my face.  Goodbye, Goldie.  Goodbye!

THE CHANGE CHALLENGE: A Bag of Groceries

When my wife and I first married we were very poor.  We were both students, working part-time jobs, eating lots of noodles, beans and catchup. We were so poor that there were more than a few times when we had to choose between a box of cereal and a roll of toilet paper while doing our grocery shopping.

Our friends knew our financial situation and every so often, we would open our apartment door to find a bag of groceries.  No name.  No idea who dropped it off or who to thank.  There were more than a few times that we sorted the bagged items on the kitchen table with tears of gratitude rolling down our cheeks.

We’re doing better now.  But in today’s economy, many have been forced into that same situation.  You might know one of those people.  You might BE one of those people.

But if you have a job and you have pantry shelves lined with food, you know that you have the means to give to someone else.  Whether you donate a single can or an entire bag of food to another who is struggling, it costs you only a few dollars.  And that gift can make a life-changing difference in a man, a woman, a family, who is wondering how long their meager supply will last.

Being Nice, another step along the Change Challenge, requires looking beyond our front door into the eyes, hearts and lives of others; and responding in simple ways that will change their lives, and ours.

My wife and I will never forget the anxiety that comes with wondering what tomorrow might bring.  We will also never forget the kindness of unnamed strangers who fed our stomachs and our hearts.

THE CHANGE CHALLENGE: Raking Flash Mob

Autumnal changes bring a brilliant display of reds, greens, and orange into the trees.  The cold night air has forces the trees to drop their leaves by the thousands, covering once-green grass with a fall festival of color.

It also makes for a lot of work for home owners because of the endless raking, bagging and clean up that comes along with the beauty.

Flash mobs are all the rage.  What if you organized a leaf-raking Flash Mob?  There has to be SOMEONE in your neighborhood who has limited mobility, limited resources and a mountain of leaves that need attention.  Don’t stand idly by.  Take action!

Take another step along the Change Challenge and grab your rake and a few of your friends.  Pick a yard, any yard, and go to work.  Within a few short hours, it will spotless.  Bags of leaves will line the curb and you can walk away, head held high.  You made a difference in their life, and yours.

And Now, The News (As Seen on Facebook)

I’m done.  I’m over it.  Local news is neither local or news.

I see it in the morning when I’m preparing for work.  The reporter is standing in a bustling news room and turns to a huge flat-screen TV.  The camera zooms in as the reporter reads excerpts from a web page.

I COULD DO THAT!

I see it in the web new sites.  An article proclaiming to offer information gives us a paragraph of information, followed by 6 paragraphs of comments posted to the station’s Facebook page!

I COULD DO THAT!

Seriously, how hard is it to write something that is news-worthy?  How hard is it to call the team office and ask for a comment concerning an injury?  How hard is it to visit the crash scene after a fatal accident and view the intersection, write about speed limits, observe speeding cars running the stop?

Instead, they re-post opinion and blather.

Paul writes on my Facebook, “That’s right.”

Mary commented, “I agree with Paul.”

Joe noted, “You are both wrong and I feel strongly about this.”

Silvia pointed out, “This type of news reporting wouldn’t have happened if he would have had a job.  I blame the government.”

Joe noted again, “He has a job.  He writes a blog and does research at the University.”

Silvia responded, “Oh…that’s right.  I blame his mother.”

Get my point?  I COULD DO THAT!  I just wish they didn’t.

THE CHANGE CHALLENGE: Be Nice.

Over the years, I have discovered that people aren’t very nice.  Even “church people” can be bitter, acrid and biting.  Actually, church people can be the most bitter, acrid and biting.  In fact, some of the meanest people I know are church people.

Why is that?  Why are they so critical of anyone who isn’t like themselves?

A few years ago I spoke to 300 kids at Sr. High Camp.  During a mid-week program I showed a slide show with images that flashed on the screen with the song, “Breathe Deep” by the Lost Dogs playing along.  Here are the lyrics:

Politicians, morticians, Philistines, homophobes
Skinheads, Dead heads, tax evaders, street kids
Alcoholics, workaholics, wise guys, dim wits
Blue collars, white collars, war mongers, peace nicks

Breathe deep
Breathe deep the Breath of God
Breathe deep
Breathe deep the Breath of God

Suicidals, rock idols, shut-ins, drop outs
Friendless, homeless, penniless and depressed
Presidents, residents, foreigners and aliens
Dissidents, feminists, xenophobes and chauvinists

Breathe deep
Breathe deep the Breath of God
Breathe deep
Breathe deep the Breath of God

Evolutionists, creationists, perverts, slum lords
Dead-beats, athletes, Protestants and Catholics
Housewives, neophytes, pro-choice, pro-life
Misogynists, monogamists, philanthropists, blacks and whites

Breathe deep
Breathe deep the Breath of God
Breathe deep
Breathe deep the Breath of God

Police, obese, lawyers, and government
Sex offenders, tax collectors, war vets, rejects
Atheists, Scientists, racists, sadists
Photographers, biographers, artists, pornographers

Breathe deep
Breathe deep the Breath of God
Breathe deep
Breathe deep the Breath of God

Gays and lesbians, demagogues and thespians
The disabled, preachers, doctors and teachers
Meat eaters, wife beaters, judges and juries
Long hair, no hair, everybody everywhere!

Breathe deep
Breathe deep the Breath of God
Breathe deep
Breathe deep the Breath of God

At the end of the program there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.  Why?  Because everyone could relate to one or more of the people listed in this song and God’s grace, the Breath of God, was for any and all.  No matter what we’d thought.  No matter what we’d said.  No matter what we’d done.

So, I’ll ask my original question a different way:  If the church people are those who have experienced this Grace, why are they so critical of those who haven’t?

The Change Challenge: The Power of Silence

When was the last time you sat in silence?

I don’t mean that you locked yourself into a closet and wore ear-plugs to block out any noice.

I mean, when was the last time you kept your mouth shut?  When was the last time you sat without saying a word and just listening?

Try it some time.  Sit in a corner of your yard and listen to your family laugh in the house through open windows.  Listen to the birds in the trees.  Listen to the neighbors talk in their front yards.  Hear the breeze blow through the leaves as they rustle in the branches above your head.

For a real challenge, sit with your hands folded in your lap during the weekly team meeting at work without giving your opinion or input.  Listen to the blow-hard spout on with his opinion.  Watch the office flirt trying to climb the corporate ladder.  Hear the tremble in your bosses voice.  Try it.  It is quite a challenge and quite a joy.

With each passing minute, you will discover a whole new world.  People’s motives become clear.  Relationships come into focus.  Power struggles become evident.

If you are successful, you will feel your heart pounding in your chest and the tension draining away.  You will discover a quiet place and in the process you will experience a peace you’ve never known before.

And, oddly enough, without saying a word, you will find more power than you’ve ever known.

A Sad Goodbye

It is our practice to visit the Noblesville Farmers’ Market on any given Saturday morning, pick up some much needed items from Kroger and finish our weekly list with a stop at Marin Jay’s Butcher Shop.

Marty Jay’s is where we bought our burger, chicken, brats and chops.  This was the store that would still cut the fat from any slice of meat.  They hand-made the brats and hand-cut each steak.  And they would do it with a smile.

We never left the business without spending at least $40 but it was worth every penny.  Once home, we would fire up the grill and cook all our meat over one big fire.  For the rest of the week we would eat like kings. I gained 20 pounds because of Marty and his fantastic cuts of meat. 

Unfortunately, we discovered that Marty J’s closed its doors this week.  We pulled up to the entrance and found a “For Sale” sign in the window.  I knew for a long time that he was trying everything to keep his business up and running.  Marty wasn’t shy when it came to revealing his business woes. 

Looking back, I have to wonder if I’d been willing to spend $45 a week, would the shop still be open today?  Even worse, I’m not not sure where I will buy my beef, poultry and pork.  There isn’t any better in the entire county.

Thanks, Marty.  You will be missed.