It’s Spring Again

20140423_182444-PANOLet’s be honest:  It was a really long winter.

Record-breaking snowfall.  Teeth-chatterinly cold.  An unending deep-freeze.  A ever-lasting blast of ice.

It was beginning to feel as if the season of would never end.  Even as the spring daffodils poked their delicate flowers out of the ground and the tulips began to bud, another dose of snow hit Central Indiana with one-last attempt to make its presence known.

Yet, spring eventually poked through: The trees push out new leaves.  The grass turns brilliant green and thick.  The birds collect nesting materials and proclaim the arrival of warmth from high atop spruce perches.  It is glorious.

It is finally spring.  The long winter is over.  We should celebrate.

Changing The Way You See It

“Mercy triumphs over judgement.”  James 2:13b

First, read this four-word nugget of wisdom again.

Now, think about the last time you were judgmental.  Perhaps it was in the line at the grocery store when you questioned the items of the person in front of you.  Maybe it was at your last family gathering when a sibling started talking about their financial struggles, again.  Or, on the other extreme, when a coworker blathers on about their new car, boat, TV, or their latest trip to some exotic location.  Or it might be every morning on the highway as that car cuts you off and speeds away.  We often begin and end our days with judgement.

We are very good at judging others.  We should be; we practice it enough.  But what does that get  us?  I would suggest it gets us nothing more than a jaded perspective and a hardened heart.

Now think of the last time you showed mercy.  It’s not as easy to come up with examples, is it?  Let me help:  It could be the time you listened to your coworker, spoke gently to your children, forgave your brother, encouraged your sister or bought lunch for a stranger.

Mercy triumphs over judgement.  It could if we practiced it more often.  I should if we allowed it to be a driving force to our actions.  It will when we stop thinking of our selves and really pay attention to those around us.

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!

Turning…Older

Close the box is a dice game in which you must roll the perfect combination to "close" all the numbers on your side.
Close the Box is a dice game in which you must roll the perfect combination to “close” all the numbers on your side.  It hardly ever happens.

I’m starting to come to a realization about life:  It’s one big Crap Shoot.

I don’t mean this in a negative way.  I mean that, in truth, life is nothing more than a roll of the dice.  You can be happy and healthy one minute and in the toss of the cubes, your life changes dramatically.  You can be working hard, paying your bills, involved in your community and then you get fired, laid off, injured, or sick.

You can plant seeds in the garden and the odds are that something will grow, but it isn’t a 100% guarantee.

You can teach your children to be responsible but their actions, ultimately are their own and you have no control.

You can keep your yard perfectly groomed but it doesn’t prevent the city from digging a ditch through your fescue.

Life is a Crap Shoot.  You roll the dice every morning that you wake up.  The outcome is out of your hands…But how you respond to the fall of the dice is another story entirely!

Four years ago, after standing in the sandwich line for 20 minutes, I blew up at the woman behind the counter when she informed me that they don’t sell half wrap sandwiches.  I ranted and raved.  I stormed away.  I made a scene.  In short, I was an ass.  Don’t ask why.  I have no idea why I acted that way.  I can venture a guess:  Stress, Frustration, Fatigue.  Any number of reasons come to mind:  Stupidity, Immaturity, Evil.

In what was the least important part of my day, I threw a temper tantrum.  I pouted like a four-year-old because they only sold WHOLE wraps and not HALF wraps.  The dice fell wrong.  Big deal.  But I reacted in a manner that was beyond inappropriate.  I hate to think how I would have acted if it had been something important!

But here’s the rub.  I knew I was wrong.  I knew that my actions were out of line.  And so the next day, I stood in line for another 20 minutes.  Not to order a sandwich, whole or otherwise, but to apologize.  It was an awkward moment for me but there was no way I would ever be able to face that woman, and all my co-workers, if I didn’t take responsibility for my actions and my reactions.

And here’s the best part of the story.  To this day, Caroline (the sandwich maker) and I greet one another with a smile and a hug whenever we see one another.  She calls me Darlin’ and Hon.  I just call her Caroline.  But occasionally will break out into my own version of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” from across the lunch room.  We talk about her vacations and she asks about my day.  I am interested in her sore back and her love of NASCAR and she is happy to see me when I enter her line.  The other day I wandered through the cafeteria just to wish her a happy weekend.

My initial reaction on the horrible day four years ago?  Ridiculous.

My second-thought reaction four years ago and every day since?  Redemptive.

The dice are going to fall.  Someday, it’s going to be something that matters and the roll will not favor you.  A bad diagnosis, a pink slip, a burst water pipe, hurtful revelations, whispered secrets.  How you react is much more important that the final count on the dice.

Perhaps I’ve learned that much in 49 years.  Perhaps.

Words and Their Source

Calm MorningThree people expressed their view of my project. They all shared a similar view but their varied approach and the responses they received were much different.

One person is nothing more than an bitter irritant to nearly everyone she meets.  Her words were like rough sandpaper being used to remove a boil on the back of my neck:  They were painful, too rough, too close and definitely the wrong tool for the job.  They caused me to withdrawal violently to avoid more pain.

One person is a lost, lonely and sad fool who covers the pain with laughter that is too loud and too often.  His words are sarcastic and biting.  His snide comments were like my neighbor’s dog barking at the fence:  Teeth flash but are harmless as long as I never try to get close to the unpredictable animal.

One person is quiet and often speaks wisdom beyond her years.  Her words were carefully chosen and represented many  hours of thought.  Like a surgeon’s blade, they cut right to the heart of the issue, making plain the action that must be taken without excess damage.  She did not attack the person, but the problem.

Three voices.  One similar opinion.  Three means of expression.

How do you speak?  What response to you produce?

Which Switch Is Which?

Right is Light.
Right is Light.

We’ve lived in this house for more than a dozen years.  But I still forget which switch turns on the light over the sink and which switch turns on the garbage disposal.

My brain has committed to memory the purpose of the three switches in our bathroom, the two in the hall, the two in the stairwell and the two in the garage. But for some unknown reason, I turn on the disposal when I want the light more often than not.

Perhaps I’m too busy to care.  Perhaps, deep down, I like the rush I get when that terrifying grinding noise roars out of the sink each time I flip the wrong switch in the darkness of the kitchen.

It isn’t a big deal, really.  I am just curious.  How many more years will I need to live in this house before I start getting the right knob for the right job?

But I also have to wonder how many other parts of my life are a guessing game, when they should be a simple decision.  How many other times have I made the wrong choice, over and over again, when all I had to do was make the right choice and commit it to memory.  A simple idea, really.

After all, just writing this post has helped me to remember that the switch on the right turns on the light.  Why can’t I do the same thing when it comes to the way I treat people, or save my money or deciding what food to put my mouth?  Perhaps I just need a snappy phrase for each situation and all those hard choices will be easier…

The Switch on the Right, Turns on the Light.”  Illumination is achieved.

It’s nice to be important but it is more important to be nice.”  Friends are made.

A penny saved is a penny earned.”  The bank account grows.

You are what you eat.”  Health is restored.

But life is about more than catchphrases and soundbites.  Life is harder than flipping a switch to make everything better…Or is it?  Sure, emotions, memories, and long-formed habits get in the way.  However, after a decade of scaring my socks off in the early mornings when I reach for the wrong switch, I think I’ve finally changed that pattern.  And all it took was a little attention and a little intention.  And that’s the secret, isn’t it?  Yes.  It is.

Happy Groundhog Day

My District Superintendent and friend, Doug holds my daughter just after her birth.
My District Superintendent and friend, Doug holds my daughter just after her birth.

Many years ago, my District Superintendent told us something that has stuck with me ever since.  He reported to a group of fellow ministers that one of his favorite holidays (and movies) is Groundhog Day.

I love Bill Murray and along side the cult favorite “What About Bob?”, his role in “Groundhog Day” is classic.  I own both movies and watch them whenever Anita isn’t in the house.  (She doesn’t have the same appreciation that I do.)

If you aren’t familiar with the premise of the movie, Murray’s character is stuck in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.  Every day is Groundhog day and he can choose to make self-destructive, self-absorbed decisions or make the lives of others richer and more meaningful and in the process, enrich his own life along the way.

My son and I were watching the movie a few months ago and as Murray’s character is learning to play the piano, Ben said, without even thinking, “If I had every day to live over and over, I would learn to play the piano, too.”  I looked at him and laughed.  “You DO have every day to live over and over.  You have the rest of your life!

This is the point, isn’t it?  Why don’t we take advantage of every minute of every day?  We don’t have to be stuck in some Twilight Zone Rodent Holiday to grow, develop and expand our lives and horizons.  We can be different.  We can be better.  We simply have to choose this option.

And so, as we celebrate the strangest holiday on our calendar, I know that Doug and I are both watching this film, laughing at Murray, thinking about our own lives and ways we can make them better.  Now if I could just bet my wife to join me…

Dance Fever

Jonathan was a great dancer but I suspect he was in it for the outfits.
Jonathan was a great dancer but I suspect he was in it for the outfits.

When our son was about five years old we signed him up for tap dance classes at the Cole Dance Academy.  He was really into Savion Glover who was big on Sesame Street and it was good for his coordination, or so we were told.  But somewhere along the line, the instructor lost sight of the kids and their program and roped in the dads.  They had this great idea: What if the boys and the dads dance together in the final show?

That idea sounded perfect to everyone but the dads.  They forgot that we didn’t sign up as a team.  This is for the kids.  They are the ones who needed the activity, help with their coordination and rhythm.  I grew up in the age of Disco.  I didn’t need help with my rhythm.  Besides, you weren’t going to strap a pair of tap shoes on this guy and shove him out onto the stage!

Unfortunately, we were over-ruled by the mothers.  The song, “Everything Old is New Again” was selected.  The instructor choreographed a cute little number that involved the dads and the boys dancing beside, behind and in front of one another.  And there was no getting out of it.

The only surviving picture of our dancing debut at Emens Auditorium, Ball State University. circa 1995

Please understand that I’ve been on stage many, many times.  I’ve spoken to crowds in the thousands without any problem.  But TAP DANCING?  Are you serious?  I was terrified.

So, in preparation for the big night, we practiced for hours and then practiced some more.  We bought special taps to nail into the bottoms of my shoes.  I rented the outfit and practiced some more.  And on the night of the performance, I straightened my bow tie, laced up my shoes and stood next to my son who was much more confident that I.

I gave Jonathan a reassuring smile and then the music started.  Together, we entered, swinging our arms and tapping our toes to the beat of the music.

And I don’t remember anything after that.  It all goes black.  I’m told that it was a great hit with the audience.  I really don’t know.  I just know that even typing with the tapping sound of the keys ringing in my ear, I’m experiencing a horrid nausea to the pit of my stomach.  The memory has caused me to become light-headed.  The thought of that night has caused my lips to go numb and my arms to ache.

My son dropped dance class shortly after this performance.  And I can’t say that I blame him.  But don’t worry…We worked on his rhythm using my 8-track tape of the Village People in the comfort and safety (and solitude) of our living room.  Now THAT’S music to dance to!

The Perfect Roasted Chicken

A perfectly roasted chicken is an essential first step in learning the art of cooking.
Yesterday’s Bird:  A perfectly roasted chicken is an essential first step in learning the art of cooking.

Julia Child begins the sixth chapter of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” with these words: “Some of the most glorious dishes of the French cuisine have been created  for chicken, and almost all the fundamentals of French cookery and sauce making are to be found somewhere in the chicken realm.

In one episode of her famous cooking show, Child states, The real test of a good chef is a perfectly roasted chicken.

Last year I started learning how to cook.  I used it as a means of feeding my family good food but I also used it as an outlet for my creativity.  Not one to limit my options, I moved beyond my award winning Macaroni and Cheese from a box.

I wanted to learn how to cook real food;  food that people would ask for, come to the dinner table to enjoy.   The first step in my culinary adventure  was to purchase Child’s cookbook; $24 on Amazon.  I read it from cover to cover, marking the dishes I thought I could handle, making notes of the equipment I had and needed.  The next step was to start practicing different recipes.  I jumped in with both feet and tried mushroom soup, asparagus covered in Hollandaizes, potato  and leek soup, roasted Brussels sprouts, and Beef Bourguignon.

Golden-brown and buttery soft.  Perfect.
Golden-brown and buttery soft. Perfect.

My family loved the dinners but I knew I needed to center in on one dish and make it right, rather than simply try a variety of recipes that were hit and miss.  And so after careful consideration, I started with the basic and most beloved, Roasted Chicken.

A few dozen chickens later, and I think I’ve finally perfected this meal.  I’ve tried roasting the chicken whole, quartered and butterflied.  I’ve served it sliced into thin strips, in soups and with noodles and over roasted potatoes.  But, to quote Mrs. Child, “A chicken should taste like chicken and be so good in itself that it is an absolute delight to eat as a perfectly plain, buttery roast...”  I’m proud to say that the last three birds have lived up to this standard.  I now know that I can prepare the chicken in minutes, cook it and serve it within an hour, without any question of the final outcome.  I mastered this one.

Now on to sauces!

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.

Road Kill

During a recent 13-hour day on the road, I was blocked from visiting my next location…And was reminded that spending more time on things that matter might not be a bad idea.

You’ve had a long week.  I just know it.

If you are a parent, you’ve run to a thousand practices, picked up a thousand spills and answered a thousand questions.

If you work in business, you’ve typed a thousand emails, attended a thousand meetings and answered a thousand questions.

It doesn’t matter who you are, where you work, what you do.  Life is just too busy and you’ve had a long week.  In fact this might have been one of those weeks you’d be willing to chuck it all and walk away.

But consider the alternatives and busy isn’t bad.  Active is pretty good.  But moderation is the key:  Learn to turn off your email.  If it is that urgent, they’ll call.  Learn what meetings are actually necessary and schedule your calendar accordingly.  Car pool with the other parents to soccer practice, play practice, band practice, math camp, youth group, small group, knitting bee.  Invite people to find their answers in other ways rather than mining the depths of your worn out brain.

Life is busy.  You’ve made it that way.  Now its time to change that pattern.

Waiting in the Wings

We are all in the same place, whether you realize it or not.  We are standing in the wings, ready to take the stage and the audience is waiting, ready to see the performance.  They are sitting on the edge of their seats, ready to see what you are about to bring to the stage of your life.

Its an impromptu performance that you’ve been preparing for your entire life.

You may not have an instrument in hand or a speech written on note cards.  you may not have a character in your repertoire or the dance steps memorized but the show will go on and you are playing the leading role.

Each and every day of your life, you step into the spotlight and those around watch.  They gape and gawk in an effort to see the show.

And how do you perform?  Do you play the tragedy with each terrible event that comes your way or are you the clown, entertaining without depth or character?  Are you charming but shallow?  Are you self-absorbed and self-centered?  Are you filled with rage at others…or at yourself?  Are you one personality on the stage of your life and another person behind the curtain?

Does anyone know who you truly are?

What performance do you give when you take the stage?  It’s time to decide.

It’s show time.

Run, Forest, Run

I’ve been working my fingers to the bone!

For those of you who are wondering, “Where has Austin’s Acre been?“, here is your answer:

EVERYWHERE.

We’ve been working hard and running fast.  We’ve driven across the state, from north to south and east to west.  We’ve stayed up late and gotten up early.  We’ve worked in the yard and at the job site.  We’ve given blood and gotten flu shots.  We’ve taken pets to the vet.  We’ve gotten hair cuts and car-loads of groceries.  We’ve  payed bills and played Frisbee golf.  We’ve made quarts of apple sauce and tomato jam.  We’ve spent time with friends until late in the evening.

In short, we’ve been very, very busy.

But all that stops today.  As of today, I’m turning over a new leaf.  My days will be different.  My life will no longer control me.

As of today,  I will pause in the morning before I run out the door for my day.  I will take a lunch and spend quality time with co-workers.  I will be home in the evenings to enjoy supper with my family.

I will.  How about you?

The Change Challenge: Checking In

So?  How ya’ been?

Several months ago we started the Change Challenge.  We started looking at our decision making, our choices, our direction in life and realized we could alter the course of our world if we took calculated, determined steps.  Some of you took this to heart and tried it.

Some of you tried reading books.  Some of you tried having a different attitude.  Talking to family.  Eating better.  Moving more.

Some of you even gave up TV or tried to quit smoking.

I don’t know one person who has all of life figured out.  No matter how “together” we might appear, we still have areas in our life that need a little attention, that need a little focus, that need a little help.

And so, now that summer vacation is over and we’re back to the routine of life, what is the area that you will work on?  What is the struggle that needs some resolve?  What is the one thing that you can do this week to make you a better You?

The Life of Gary

“Gary” lives in frog-like bliss under the new waterfall.

Last September I bemoaned the poor frog who decided that residence in my plastic water feature was the perfect home.  I wrote about it in “A Very Shallow Gene Pool”.  In my mind, the frog, affectionately named Gary, wasn’t long for this world.

I don’t know if it is because the weather was so mild this winter or if Gary is just more hardy than I realized, but I saw him earlier this spring bouncing from one plant to another as if he hadn’t a care in the world.  We caught him once and marveled at his survival powers.  He slipped from our hands and jumped away.  I haven’t seen him for weeks and just assumed he’d found better lodging along a REAL waters’ edge.

Earlier this week I tore out the plastic water feature and replaced it with a bubbling water and rock ensemble.  Can you believe it?  Gary is still hanging out, enjoying the splash of the water in the cool of the morning!  Gary is now the size of a small goat and seems to be very content hanging out near our back door.

And Gary reminds me of life’s simple truth:  No matter the conditions, the hardship, the situation, we ALL have an incredible ability to survive.  And in some cases, we are even able to thrive.

I don’t know what you are facing today, but if my friend Gary can make the most of disruption in his life, I know you can make it, too!  Now get out there and hop like you mean it!

This is HARD Work

Never let the sun go down on a difficult situation.

Have you ever struggled with a sticky situation?

Have you ever danced with a difficult dilemma?

Have you ever wrestled with responsibility?

Have you ever grappled with a growing grief?

It’s hard work. AND, it’s work that should never be faced alone.  Facing life’s challenges by yourself is foolish.  Some burdens just can’t be carried by one.  So, surround yourself with wise people.  Develop a team of experts.  Pull in people who have faced the same tough task and came out on the other side.  Choose people you trust.  Select people you respect.  Find people who care for you and who are willing to help you through.

And when you do find this team, they will come along side, pick up the burden and walk with you.  They will make the situation simple.  They will help diminish the dilemma.  They will reduce the responsibility.  They will ground the grief.

In the end, the hard work is made easier by the strength of many.

Unite / Untie

I noticed the other day that if you shift just a couple letters, you can change the entire word.  In this case, you create a pair of words that are diametrically opposed.

With one, you bring things together.  With the other, you take things apart.

In one, you find unity.  In the other, you separate.

The same is true in life:  Just a small shift in our focus, attitude, and purpose can makes all the difference.

Sometimes, in our day-to-day lives, we shift “letters” without understanding the full consequences.  We mean to be nice when we really are just mean.  We hope to focus on others but spend more time focusing on ourselves focusing on others.  We want to unite when we really divide.  We hope for better but just make things worse.

Get the “letters” in the right place and it can make all the difference.

Its All In Your Perspective

A 6-hour canoe ride can be wearing on nearly everyone.

Did you ever notice that different people can see the same event from a completely different view point?  Its been proven true with car accidents, crime scenes, and life.

Some are angry.

Some are sad.

Some are just oblivious to reality.

How do you go through life?

Life According to Hoosiers: Your Enjoyment

Coach Dale keeps the boys running in their first practice.

My practices are not designed for your enjoyment.”  And with that, Coach Dale begins putting the boys through their paces.  He has them run up the court and down.  They run from line to line.  They bounce the ball, learn to pass, develop a team mentality.  He pushes them as hard as he can.  He attempts to get the most out of each boy with no apology for the sweat and tears he is producing along the way.

Too often we think that the things in our life are there simply for enjoyment.  But the truth is, anything worth having requires effort. Our family, our work, our homes…these all have potential to be enjoyable aspects of our life.  We want the enjoyment, we expect the enjoyment.  But we rarely want the hard work that is required to reach that end.

Our children can excel in school and when they do, we can celebrate.  But they have to study, put in the late hours, do the hard work.  And that isn’t enjoyable.

We can find success at our job and when we do, we often get promoted or at least acknowledged.  But we have to put in the late hours, know our product, invest in the customer and the product.  And that isn’t enjoyable.

Our home can be our castle and sometimes they look like one.  But to get the siding just right, the kitchen counter correct, the tile perfect requires some sweat equity (or a big bank roll).  Either one isn’t always enjoyable.

But each of these levels of success, each achievement, is a result of effort, time and consistent, hard work.  And, while that isn’t always enjoyable, the end result is worth it.