Happy Father’s Day To Me

042This is one of those days when the person in the chair doesn’t really know what to do with themselves.  Being a dad isn’t about getting pats on the back and high-fives for a job well done.

In fact, Father’s Day smacks against what it really means to be a father.

Men take hills and conquer armies, they don’t sit back a soak up the sun in the quiet of their back yards.

We keep our heads down and power on rather than look for congratulations and “job well done”.

There isn’t time for a day to honor.  There are yards to be mowed, trim to be painted, bushes to trim.

We can’t wait for breakfast to be made at 9:30 when we are use to being up at the crack of dawn.  We’re hungry at 6:45 and ready to get out the door before the traffic gets heavy.

On the other hand…It is awful nice to hear what a great dad you are.  And the little ankle biters did buy me an awfully nice grill. And I have been wanting to try roasting a chicken on that grill.  And it is suppose to be a beautiful day.  And I do have live Reds baseball streaming on my phone.  And it wouldn’t hurt me to take a day and rest.

By golly, I’m doing it!  I’m taking full advantage of this Hallmark-driven holiday.  I’m cooking my chicken and listening to my game and I deserve it.  I’m getting hugs from my kids and soaking up the glory because I’m a Father…and I deserve it.

But for my own piece of mind, hide the mower.

Old Man

0008_In%20FocusIt was nothing more than an attempt at Intaglio printing; my first print from 1982.

It doesn’t have a name and there is only one copy remaining in my portfolio.  And yet, it is one of my favorite prints.  There isn’t anything about it that will win awards.  It doesn’t excel in composition, line quality or style.  It doesn’t tell a story.  It is doubtful that it will ever hang on a gallery wall.  But I like it.

It represents a time when I was trying to learn a craft.  It reflects a moment when I was willing to take a chance.  It reveals a period of my life when I stretched my comfort zone and explore new media, new ideas and new goals.  It tells the tale of a desire to be different; to be better.

When is the last time you took a chance?  When is the last time you stepped out into the unknown?  Was it 1984?  Have decades rolled past without a challenge?  Have you stayed in your comfort zone so long that the idea of peaking over the fences into greener pastures is terrifying?

Since 1982, I’ve changed jobs (pastor, deli manager, warehouse worker, ICU clerk, law firm lackey, research coordinator) and each new position brought new challenges.  I’ve become a writer (blogging since 2004, 3rd place winner of Writer’s Digest Short Story Competition) and some of my stuff is really good and others stink.  I completed my Fine Arts degree.  I completed my Master of Divinity degree.  I’m starting on my Bachelors of Science in Communication degree.  I’m learning Spanish.

Perhaps more important than any of these, I’ve learned how to cook the perfect roasted chicken and a yummy Beef Bourguignon that would make Julia Child very proud.

But the point is I’m still that guy who drew this face back in 1982.  I’m willing to try it.

New job?  Sure.  Different food?  Of course!  A revolutionary idea?  Why not?

What will you do today to stretch your comfort zone?  What will you try that is new and different?  How will you grow beyond the self-imposed boundaries that you’ve created over the years?

I suggest you try drawing an old man, rather than becoming one.

 

Life Lesson #32 – Use the Baguette

IMG_4154[1]Whenever making a chicken sandwich, it is best to roast your own chicken and then slice it into nice, thick pieces.  Refrigerate the remaining chicken for later use.  Gather an onion and some fresh lettuce and a perfectly ripe tomato from your garden.  Slice them into thick pieces.  Whip up a little mayonnaise using fresh egg yolks from your barn-yard chickens and a little light olive oil and freshly squeezed lemon juice with a pinch of salt and a dash of pepper.  Gingerly slice some 3-year-old Gouda and prepare to toast the meat and cheese to a bubbly perfection.  Combine all the ingredients and enjoy.

Please understand, all of this is negotiable.  The sandwich is good with these ingredients but the truth of the matter is that the meal will live and die based on the bread you use.    It is possible to buy sliced chicken, lettuce and onion.  You can skip the tomato and use Miracle Whip if you want.  Throw on a slice of processed American cheese if that is all you have.  But you must never, and I mean NEVER use anything but a whole wheat baguette for this sandwich.

Slice the crispy, crunchy, wonderful bread along the body of the loaf.  Use six inches for a nice sized sandwich.  Put on the meat and cheese and place it in a toaster oven.  When done, bring it out and finish with the remaining toppings.

Enjoy with a nice white or red wine.  It will change your life.  I promise and you’re welcome.

Rebecca’s Party

We love our friends, the Mullens Family.  We’ve stood beside one another for many, many years.  It was such a joy to celebrate with Rebecca and her family in recognition of her graduation from high school.  It doesn’t seem possible that 18 years have gone by so fast!

A Little Change

IMG_4070I walked to the counter and ordered a large diet Coke.  In Indiana, after tax, the cost is $1.09.  I handed the 17-something cashier a ten-dollar-bill.  She punched some buttons on her screen and it told her that I should receive $8.91 in cash back from my payment.

This stymied her.  She thumbed through the drawer and picked up some coins.  She put back the coins and tried again.  She thought about it a minute and then pulled out a five dollar bill and three ones.  So far, so good.

And then she dropped the coins into my outstretched hand and said, “Thank you.  Please come again.”  When I looked at the change in my hand, I realized that she’d miscounted.  Instead of $8.91, I just received back $9.06.  It was like getting six ounces of diet Coke for free.

I turned to bring this to her attention but before I could say anything, one customer had already ordered a baffling amount of food and another was standing in line with an open sandwich and a frustrated look on her face.  I decided that this wasn’t the right time to quibble over 15 cents.

But then, I asked myself if there is EVER a good time to quibble over 15 cents?  If she shorted me the 15 pennies, would I really care?  If every place I went, people gave me 15 pennies, would I eventually just give in and pocket the cash?

The point is that every day we get over-paid and short-changed.  We get a little more than we deserve and give a little bit less than we want.  In the end, I think it pretty much balances out.  Unless, of course, we spend most of our time and energy feeling bamboozled, stiffed and hustled.

Little things happen in our lives each and every day that can drive us to distraction if we let them:  People pull into the 2-second gap we’ve created for safe driving, forcing us to back up even further.  Tellers scan the peanut butter twice by mistake.  Trash is tossed into my yard by a passing driver.  We step into the check out lane that is ALWAYS the slowest.  Our neighbor blows his grass clippings on the sidewalk.  Life stinks.

Sure, we can carp about the crime.  We can cavil concerning the calamity.  We fuss over the favoritism, protest the partiality, object the outrage, and take exception to the trespass.  We spend so much time and energy on the 15-cent transgression that we lose site of the bigger picture and the blessings that are going on all around us.

Because, at the same time these infractions are occurring, there are so many good things happening in our lives: A manager opens a new checkout lane and calls you over to run your purchases.  You see the neighbor who walks her dog every single day with scooper and bag in hand.  Friends offer to come help work in your home because they know the burden you  have in completing a kitchen remodel.  You get an unexpected check in the mail.  A flower blooms.  A baby laughs.  A cat curls up in your lap.  A cup of coffee is brewed.  The sun peaks through the clouds.

Instead of focusing on the loss of 15-cents, we could celebrate a little charity.  We might bless the boon.  We should glorify the gift, praise the positive, or even extoll the excellent.

We are fickle creatures.  Fifteen cents to the good, we easily forget.  Fifteen cents to the negative and we’re all over that.

Perhaps it’s time for a new perspective.  Perhaps it’s time for a little change.

My Neighbor’s Yard

A view of my neighbor's yard.
A view of my neighbor’s yard.

From my back porch, I can see a mess.  The yard is overgrown and unsightly.  It hasn’t been mowed in two weeks.  The grass is at least a foot tall.

One corner of the yard (the area closest to us) is growing a strange, thin grass because the barking, crazy dog keeps trampling this section as he tries to kill us.

The table and patio is littered with broken toys and cans of cigarette butts.  A roll of wire fencing and PVC pipe is tossed on the deck to add a nice touch.  Thankfully, a trampoline was added last year to give the place a touch of class.

And here is the thing; People in this neighborhood turn one another in for yards like this.  They demand that the visible mess be cleaned up so that everyone feels better about the neighborhood.

But no one mentions the invisible mess.  No one wants to address the broken lives and crying wives that live in the neighborhood.  No one places a call concerning the wrecked homes, the isolated families, the hurting children, the failing marriages.  Keep your outside cleaned up and your messy lives to yourselves.  Just keep the doors shut and the windows closed and we’ll all be happier.

It’s easier to send a letter about overgrown grass than engage the dysfunction that leads to a life of chaos.  It’s cleaner to call the homeowner’s association instead of knocking on the door and entering into conversation.

Yes, I know that you can’t fix crazy and sometimes getting involved is messy.  Sometimes it just doesn’t work out.  It isn’t always a storybook ending.  But it is time to engage the broken hearts or ignore the messy yards.  It’s time to be neighbors rather than strangers.  When is the last time you went calling?  When is the last time you spoke over the fence?

Now, if you will excuse me, I have some cookies to bake and a neighbor to visit.

My Morning on the Patio

IMG_4016I’m sitting here on my patio, listening to the trickle of water from my fountain and feeling the cool morning breeze on my face.  This is where I want to be.  There’s nothing else I want to do.  I want to stay here all day.  I want to pretend that I have no responsibilities at all.

But that just isn’t how I function.  Instead, I’ve already made a to-do list of at least nine different actions that must take place today to prepare me for the rest of the week.  I’ve mentally shifted from restful Sunday morning to task-oriented Monday-through-Friday.  I have to make calls.  I have to prep equipment.  I must clean parts of the house.  I should wash clothes and clean my garage.

There is so much to do, so many tasks, so few hours in a day to get it all done…

But then, it will never all get done.  Will it?  Isn’t there ALWAYS something else on the list of Life’s To-Do’s?  Sure, I’ll do some things to make my next week a little easier.  But I don’t have to do it all in one day.  And after reviewing the list, I see that half of the items can be done another day.  One third of the remaining list will take little or no effort.

And in their place I scratch a new list:  Go to church, read a book, walk with my wife, play chess with my son, and meditate 15 minutes.  If I accomplish these items, I will have really done something great.  In fact, I would argue that this is a much better list and one I can easily live with on a beautiful Sunday morning.

The Bone

IMG_3997[1]My dog has a nervous habit.  Actually, if you’ve met Sid, you know that she has many nervous habits but today we’re only talking about one.

When Sidney is stressed, she picks up a bone and carries it around for a little while, pacing the room in circles until she finally settles on a spot, plops down, and starts gnawing on the bone.  She holds it is place with one of her paws and then chews, scrapes and crunches without mercy and without a break.

I learned very quickly that the raw-hide chews were a waste of money.  She devours them in seconds.  Tennis balls get shredded.  Fluffy toys are pulverized.  But the thick shank bone is perfect; it can survive months of nervous chewing.

I am constantly amazed at her tenacity.  Whatever is in that bone must be good.  But I can’t imagine what it must be.  I’ve evaluated this chew toy and there is no meat on the bone.  There is no morrow in the middle.  It’s an empty shell.

And yet, she crunches.  She cracks.  She shaves.  She nibbles.  Not once does she stop to stretch out her the muscles of her jaw or check for possible tooth damage.  She is so singularly focused that we can actually get up and leave the room without her noticing.  I can’t imagine going after something so worthless with such a vengeance.

Then I think of my friend who has a drinking problem.  He sips.  He drinks.  He gulps.  He starts quiet and ends loud.  He doesn’t stop to assess the damage.  He just keeps slugging back the drinks; first the beer and then the harder stuff.  His face gets flushed.  His eyes get red.  He just doesn’t stop until he’s either driven home by an embarrassed friend or the police are called.

There’s the woman in our church who spends every waking minute thinking about her children.  How are they dressed?  What activities are best for their future careers?  Why didn’t they make the basketball team?  Is that coach stupid?  Don’t hang out with that kid.  His grades aren’t very good.  Stand up straight.  Get into the best college, drive the nicest car, date a better girl.  She’s created two neurotic kids and one who is the most rebellious young woman I’ve ever met.  This mother is working hard to destroy a fourth child even as I write this.

Or perhaps it is the man I know who works 80 hours a week to prove his value, increase his stock in the company, and make a name for himself in the business community.  He wakes before the rest of his family and is out the door before his kids are on the bus.  He arrives home late because there is always one more call to make, one more meeting to attend, or one more fire to put out.  Sure, he attends his kid’s soccer matches but stands off to the side, his cell phone to his ear, talking animatedly about the next big thing.  The work is always there and never ends.  He has yet to consider where he will be in 20-years when his kids are gone and his relationship with his wife is non-existent.

But these people are not alone.  It doesn’t take much to realize that most of us have a bone.  Many of us chew nervously on one thing or the other.  It might be children, or drink, or work.  Or it might be image, exercise or gossip.  It could be travel, success, the cars we drive, the homes we live in, the boats we polish in the warm summer sun.  There’s no end to what we hold in our teeth when we lose focus on what matters most.

But let me ask you a question:  Don’t your jaws get tired?  Isn’t there a point when you just want to release the bone?  Aren’t you afraid that some day you’ll look up and you will realize that the bone you’ve been chewing has no flavor at all and you’ve missed out on what really matters?

So, for today, drop the bone.  Hold the hand of a friend.  Sit in the shade and drink a tall glass of tea.  Listen to your children laugh.  Read a novel.  Write a poem.  Call your mother.  Turn up the radio and sing along at the top of your voice.

Put down the bone and go for a stroll in your neighborhood…not a power walk, just a stroll.  Find peace in your day.  Discover the calm that comes from releasing the neurosis, putting down the preoccupation and relaxing for one day.

You’ll be glad you did.

Running Late

Sunday Morning LatenessOur family isn’t always late to church…just MOSTLY late to church.

But we aren’t the only ones.  This past week, I found my parking spot at 11:02 and started walking toward the massive building.  There were still cars pulling into the parking lot and I was surrounded by nearly 100 other people who were also in the process of locking their cars, gathering their coffee mugs and making the trek to the sanctuary.

Once inside and seated by my family, we sang some songs and said a prayer or two and watched a video.  I looked over to the main door and another two-dozen people were waiting to enter the auditorium.  I looked at my watch at it was twenty minutes after the hour.

The casual “strolling in” just shocks me.  There are very few events where this is the norm.

People don’t come late to the movies.  They are there early, get their popcorn and soda and enjoy the previews.

People rarely come late to weddings or funerals.

They don’t stroll in for job interviews or court dates.

They show up for dinner dates, concerts, football games and TV shows.  These things matter and they are there on time.  But amazingly, for a few folks, missing a third of the service doesn’t seem to bother them.

The thing that stood out more than the tardiness is the sheer number of people who are late each week.  Some churches would be thrilled to have as many people in there pews as are late each week to my church.

In my early life, I served a little country church that had 16 people show up on a good Sunday.  We wouldn’t have known what to do with 100 people if they’d walked in the door, early or late!

The church we attend today is a monster.  Multiple-thousands of people fill the seats each week.  Multiple services, in multiple locations provide a variety of attendance options over the weekend.  Thousands of kids attend the children’s programs.  Up to 100 people might be involved planning and performing a single weekend service.  So a few stragglers may not seem to be too out of range when you consider the percent of total attenders who are in place ready to participate from week to week.

And some day, if all things go well, we’ll be on time, too.

 

 

My Yard, My Sanctuary

2013.05.12 Back YardFor the past few years, we’ve worked extra hard making our yard a place of refuge after a long day.  I honestly believe the hard work is starting to pay off.  It is a huge space that takes more than three hours to mow and results in a four-mile hike when the entire thing is done right, but the amazing results are worth every step.

Our back yard has become our refuge.  It is a place where we unwind on warm spring days, cool summer evenings and blissful fall nights.  When snow falls heavy, the boughs of the pines bend under the weight and birds gather at the feeders placed around its edges.

Our time in the yard isn’t simply a back-porch affair.  We don’t simply sit on the patio and enjoy a quiet dinner together at the table, listening to the gentle fountain trickle melodically.  We might choose to sit around the fire pit in the north-western corner, allowing the glow of the slowly burning embers to take us back to a more primitive time.  Some times we gather at the park bench near the pines and enjoy the view of the garden and our fresh produce, growing in the warm summer sun, a glass of wine in hand.

I have big dreams for the yard.  Many of my hopes and visions may never be realized.  I see a utility shed in one corner with a greenhouse attached.  I envision paths winding through dense growth, bird baths, beautiful flowers, islands of color and texture.  I hope for a space that is perfect for nature and people.

But for now, I’m happy with our sanctuary and the joy it brings all year long.  It is my place of peace.  It is the temple in which I find renewal and calm.  In many respects, it is my church.  There are no crosses or stained glass windows, instead we have crisscrossing branches of the willow and the dappled light dancing on the green grass through young maple leaves.  There are no pipe organs or majestic choirs.  Instead, we enjoy the tinkle and gongs of wind-chimes blown to and fro and a chorus of robins, chickadee and cardinals singing their hymns of praise from tall perches throughout the yard.

This is my church.  I would love it if you could come visit some time.  I think you would enjoy it as much as we do.

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.

Location, Location, Location

IMG_3959
The Dogwood is now one of the most beautiful ornamental trees in our yard each spring.

Several years ago I purchased a Dogwood tree for my wife’s Mother’s Day present.  She was thrilled as it is one of her favorites.  We planted the little sprout in the front corner of our yard, hoping that one day it would be the show piece of our yard.

Despite following the instructions for planting and care, the little tree failed to grow.  It never looked like it was going to die but after its second year without flowers and any sign of growth, I went to our local garden center.

I explained the situation and the wise gardener behind the counter asked one, simple question.

“Is it planted on the south-east corner of your house in full sun?” he asked with a slight squint of his eyes.

Now, I’m a pretty smart guy but I had to stop and think of where the sun set and the direction I drove to work before I could answer his question.  When I confirmed that this, in fact, was the location of the tree, he answered with confidence.

“They hate to be exposed.  They like to be tucked back in the protection of your house or other trees.  You need to move it to the north-east corner of your lot.”

And so I took his advice and moved the little shrub, hoping that I didn’t wait too long.  I tucked it back behind the house, near our pine tree.  It now lives in

And here is the thing:  The very next year we saw flowers for the first time.  The year after that, we had new growth sprouting from its branches.  Each year brought more exciting changes to the little tree.  This year is it’s best ever.  The limbs are filled with full, bright flowers.  There are many new shoots poking out in all directions just waiting for the day that leaves will provide a fantastic canopy of shade.

As I took in the amazing blooms yesterday, I realized that we are a lot like this old Dogwood.  Some of us thrive when we are in the spot light.  There are those of us who prefer to stand out, bold and loud.  But there are some of us who do best when we can be out of the public view, most beautiful when we are left to our own devices.  Growing best when we are tucked into a safe place, rarely noticed until we are in full bloom.

What location do you prefer?  Where should you be planted?  Where do you produce your most beautiful flowers?

From Roses to Revelation

IMG_3912
My wife’s newest addition to her flower bed.

While shopping at Lowe’s this past week, I found the most beautiful rose bush.  I instantly new where it would go in my yard.  I wasn’t the only one who thought the flowers were pretty.

Or so I thought…Because, on my way to my car, another do-it-yourselfer stopped me in the parking lot and gushed over my newest purchase.  She asked how much it cost and where it was located in the store.  She commented on the perfect flowers and the dazzling whiteness of the petals.  She loved this flower…Or so I thought.

After loading my purchases and putting my cart away, I turned to walk back to my car and the same woman came walking toward me, a book in her hand.

“Sir?” she approached quickly and with purpose, holding out the book for me to see.

“I keep a copy of this book in my car and wondered if you might like a copy?”

I took one look at the thin booklet and it’s title printed in bold letters across the front, “REVELATION”.  She held it out to me as if it were a precious gift.  And in that moment, I realized that the conversation about the flower had nothing to do with the flower.  I felt manipulated and used.

“No thank you.” I said and without another word, I turned to my car.

Without even looking her direction, I started my car, backed out of my spot and drove away.

I’m sure she didn’t think anything of it.  I know that people like her and millions others are used to having the door slammed in their collective faces.  And yet, they keep at it.

But here is the thing:  She took what I thought was an authentic moment of connection over something as wonderful as a white rose and turned it into a cheap method of proselytizing.  She was more concerned about getting her foot into my emotional door than the actual beauty of the moment and the flower.  But now, I truly believe she  commented on the rose for no other reason than to pitch her belief system.  And to be honest, if this is how it has to be done, this isn’t any belief that I want to be a part of.

As I drove home, and nearly every day since, I thought about that interaction.  I’ve studied the scene over and over in my mind.  I’ve re-played her statements.  I’ve analyzed my response.  And then I had to ask myself a very hard question:  Do I do the same thing to people I meet?

After all, I’m an outgoing guy.  I laugh in the lunch line with total strangers.  I’ve become friendly with sanitation workers and lunch ladies that I see on a daily basis.  I talk easily with co-workers and patients.  But why?  Do I have a hidden agenda?  Do I, at some deeper level, do this little social dance as a means to get my foot in the door?

Please understand, I NEVER talk religion.  It’s just not my thing.  But is there another reason I engage others?  Is there a hidden agenda?  Will I want something in return some day?

How about you?  Do you talk to people so you get to know them or so they can know more about your beliefs, your thoughts, your agenda, your TV shows, your kids, your aches, your pains?  Have you ever had a conversation with someone without saying something like, “I know what you mean!  Something like that happened to me just the other day!  Let me tell you about it.”

What if we just listened to people?  What if we complimented someone without expecting something in return?  What if we had and entire conversation with someone and never once thought about our response, only their words and their true meaning?

That would be a breath of fresh air, wouldn’t it?

She Likes Out, She Likes In

Knocking At The DoorIf you have followed Austin’s Acre for very long, you know my affection for my Yellow Lab, Sidney.  She burst into our lives in August 2009 and we’ve never been the same since.

Among her many interesting quirks, and she has many, Sidney has decided that she really likes to go outside.  She will pace, circle, whine and stretch until someone allows her to escape the confines of our spacious home.

However, once outside, she might get a drink of water or tinkle in the grass…Or she might not.  Either way, she is quickly back to the patio door watching for any and all movement inside.  At this point in the game, she had decided that she really likes to come inside.  She will pace, circle, whine and stretch until someone lets her escape from the expanse of our back yard.

Within 20-30 minutes, this cycle repeats itself.  The dog cannot make up her mind.  Inside?  Outside?  Inside?  Outside? There are so many wonderful things that a dog would love just outside the door but all her important people are still inside!  The decision is too difficult.  Her little dog brain is in constant conflict so with her big dog heart.  She lives a life of distraction, unable to decide where she wants to be and what she wants to do.

It’s pathetic, really.  But, in truth, it is not too dissimilar from our own journeys through life.

We want the next great gadget but we also want serenity and peace.

We want the bigger, better house but we also want to rest on weekends.

We want the fatter paycheck but we also want to work less and relax more.

Are we in or are we out?  Do we want the adventure or do we want the comfort?

Perhaps today we can try to escape this neurotic pattern.  Perhaps today we can enjoy life where we live.  Make the most of the quiet without seeking the noise.  Take advantage of the day, the hour, the minute by doing nothing.

Listen to the birds and feel the sunshine on your face.

Put a great piece of music on the stereo and let it move your soul.

Turn off the TV and play cards with your family and friends.

Turn on the radio and listen to the baseball game the old fashioned way.

Enjoy a long walk and never once look at your watch.

Be present.  Live life without distraction.  Enjoy your location, wherever it might be.

Think Positive Thoughts

Another beautiful sunset in my back yard offered an evening of peaceful reflection.
Another beautiful sunset last night offered an evening of peaceful reflection.

I tried my first “Mindful Meditation” today.  I liked it.  I liked it a lot!  The gentle voice, the quiet moments, the guided imagery were all a good start to my day.

I always believed meditation to be similar to the scene in “What About Bob” when he is walking down the street, trying to reassure himself that all the world’s chaos and dirt won’t affect him.  Over and over he repeats the phrase, “I feel good.  I feel great.  I feel wonderful.  I feel good. I feel great. I feel wonderful.”  His tension rises, despite the self-talk.  Rather than convincing himself of his own  security, the phrase reveals his true anxiety and high level of insecurity.

To my surprise, today’s meditation was nothing like the movie.  It was less about me and the process of easing my tensions and anxiety, and more about others and their well-being.  I was guided to think about someone for whom I have warm, tender and compassionate feelings.  Immediately, my wife’s smiling face appeared in my mind’s eye.  The guided meditation led me to repeat four phrases to my loved one throughout the fifteen minute session:

1. May you feel safe.

2. May you feel happy.

3. May you feel healthy.

4. May you live in ease.

While the meditation asked me to extend these feelings to the other, “like a golden ribbon unfurling”, I really saw it more as a prayer, lifted to heaven for my wife, and then to my friend Dave, and finally to all those I know and love.

I thought this was wonderful.  After all, isn’t it our greatest desire that those in our lives might feel safe…and more importantly, BE safe?  Don’t we desire that they will feel and be happy?  Don’t we hope that each and every one will both feel and be healthy?  Of course we do.

But I kept landing on that last phrase.  May my wife live in ease.  I’m sure this doesn’t mean a life of wealth surrounded by footmen and maids.  It has nothing to do with power or possession.  It has everything to do with living with a heart filled with peace; each day a burden-free step along the journey of life.

And when my time was over, I really did hope these things for my loved ones.  I really did wish that each person would find safety, happiness, health and ease during their days.  I prayed that their hearts would be light, their souls free of care, their minds clear and filled with purpose.

At the end of the fifteen minutes, I opened my eyes and determined that, as much as it is in my power, I would continue to make these desires come true in their lives.

And oddly enough, when it was over, I did feel good. I did feel great.  In fact, I felt wonderful.

Up Close and Personal

Museums, aquariums, and arboretums allow us the wonderful opportunity to get closer to things we usually view from a distance.  But we enjoy the experience only if we will open our eyes to what surrounds us.

Rare BirdWhen you pay attention to the detail, you see things differently.  Typically, we view a sky full of black dots and see nothing more than a few black birds flying high overhead.  But when one lands next to you, perches on the branch close to your bench, you are suddenly face-to-face with one, lone bird and it changes your perspective for ever.  Bird SongIf you look closely, you will witness the gloss and shine of individual feathers.  When you lean closer, you make eye contact.  The eyes watch you warily.  The head cocks, the beak opens and a song erupts, bright and loud.  You are privileged to hear the amazing sound of of an individual song, sung at a pitch and volume that awakens the soul and enlivens the heart.

Yellow TangWhen you are intentional in your viewing, you no longer see a pond as just another body of water.  Instead, it is teaming with life that longs to be examined.  If you pay attention, you see new colors and fantastic brilliance.  You witness life interacting with life.  clown fishYou celebrate the vibrancy of the patterns and the magical movement that is as fluid as the medium containing this fantastic show.

I so enjoy the close-up view.  The experience is a gentle reminder of the need to take this same approach with the people in our lives.  We would benefit from looking at our brothers and sisters in the same way we examine a magpie or a clown fish.  Those co-workers who share our 40-hour work week rarely receive a closer look.  We’re continent to see them from the 10,000 foot level, keeping their unique lives as distant from our own as possible.

102_3782We rarely listen to the songs they sing, view the colors of their lives that make them unique, or understand the stories that make them one-of-a-kind.

It’s an unfortunate reality of our life together.  There are so many wonders in this world and some of them, our neighbors, our coworkers and friends, are closer than we can imagine.  We would see them all in a whole new way…if only we would open our eyes.

Never Enough Space Food

Hundreds of space ice cream packets line the shelves of Space Center, Houston.
Hundreds of space ice cream packets line the shelves of Space Center, Houston.

As a young boy, I had a strong desire to be an astronaut.  There were two very important parts of the space program that had an impact on my desire:  Tang and Space Ice Cream.

A visit to Space Center, Houston didn’t do anything to reduce that desire.

Standing in the gift shop, looking at cheesy t-shirts and coffee mugs, I came upon my muse and stood there, mouth agape.  Row upon row of space ice cream stood there, taunting me; calling me to don a space helmet and do the moon walk.

I have a good life.  My dog loves me.  My family understands me.  My job is challenging.  My coworkers are entertaining.  But, as I stood there, gazing at the sweets, I realized I would give it all up for the opportunity to drink the orangery, sugary Tang and eat that powdery, sugary ice cream and bounce along the lunar surface.  And in that moment, I determined that I would look for the nearest astronaut recruiting station.  There HAD to be one in this fun-house/museum.

But before I walked out of the gift shop, I realized I could just buy a pouch of the astronomic confection.

It’s that level of critical thinking of which NASA would have benefited.  Thankfully for my dog and family, $6 kept me on the ground for now.

The Detail of the Brush

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf you’ve ever visited a large, well-funded art gallery, you’ve had the opportunity to view amazing works from some of the most historic artists.  If you are like me, you  stand back a few feet and gaze at the masterpiece, taking in the colors, shapes and movement.  But yesterday was different for me.  While viewing great works at Houston Museum of Fine Art, I tried something different.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFirst, I stood back to get a sense of the artwork and its subject matter and scope.  I took in the range of hues, the story and composition.

Then I stepped closer to the canvas in an effort to examine the different sections, the variety of styles and perform a detailed analysis of the work.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFinally, I moved in even closer (so close that the museum attendants asked me to step back).  I poured over each stroke within an inch square, looking at the brush stroke directions, the weight of the artist’s hand, the width of the brush and the amazing variety of color and the layers that made this painting possible.

And I did that for painting after painting.  I wanted to see the paintings from the artists’ point of view.  I wanted to be in direct contact with the medium.

At the end of my journey through the expansive exhibit halls, I truly felt that I was in touch with the artist, the canvas, the purpose of the paint.  And when I was done, I fully believed I understood the art and the artist in a way I’ve never understood before.

About Writing

0001. Stats
A snapshot of our blog traffic over the course of the past 19 months.

It might surprise you to find that I’ve been writing a blog for more than nine years. But I’ve only owned my WordPress blog, austinsacre.net since September 2011.  In September of 2011, I made a decision:  I was going to write every day, hone my craft and develop my skill.  Over the course of the past year and a half, I’ve turned what was once an occasional hobby into a daily practice.  And it’s beginning to pay off!

In less than two years, my web site has received more than 17,000 views.  As you can see from the picture above, this past December was the highlight of my on-line career with nearly 3,000 views in one month’s time! This includes views of my stories, videos and pictures.

Austin’s Acre also boasts 95 follower who receive an email when a new post appears and that number is growing with every passing day!

Amazingly, these numbers don’t even reflect the visitors who come to the other blogs and pages that I write: Study Along With Me, Prayers of a Fool, Austin’s Acre Page Turners, and My Journey to 50 Blog.  Between these five blogs and my contract work, I spend a large portion of my time crafting words and posting blogs.

The most exciting part of this writing journey is the news I received this February.  Last October, I submitted an edited version of a previous Austin’s Acre story, Homecoming to WritersDigest.com’s 13th Annual Short, Short Story Competition.  With more than 7,000 submissions to the competition, my story earned a Third-Place award!  Along with a modest cash prize, the honor comes with publication of the story in the WritersDigest winner’s book this summer and my name and story title published on-line.

There is no doubt that I’m putting in the time and if Gladwell is right and 10,000 hours is the demarcation line for reaching expert status, I still have another few years of word-crafting to reach that point in my writing career…And I’m okay with that!

The Start of Something Good

Houston Sunrise 2013.03.31Every so often you need a break.

This week will be one of those breaks as my son and his best friend and I travel to Houston, Texas for six days of fun.

We’ll see the Space Center (Thanks Katie).  We’ll experience the Aquarium.  We’ll be terrified by the traffic and thankful for green grass and flowers already blooming in March.

Most of all, my son and his friend will be thankful for their time with on-line friends seen face-to-face for the first time.  That’s really the reason we are here in the deep south.

My joy is found in getting to spend time with two great young men for six warm, sunny days.

We all need a break from time to time.  But the break doesn’t always require travel to distant places.  In fact, there are times when the break can be as simple as finding a respite during the hectic day, discovering a quiet evening during our busy week, experiencing time with dear friends that renews and rejuvenates our souls, rekindles our spirits, refreshes our souls.

What will you do this week to enjoy a break?  Will you attend a yoga class?  Will you enjoy a cup of tea in a quiet corner of your house?  Will you go for a short walk away from your desk?  Pet a dog?  Listen to a child laugh?  Marvel at a sunrise or sunset?

What will you do for a break?