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.

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!

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.

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?

July 3, 2012

A crusty bread, some hard Parmesan and a nice brie make for a perfect evening.

As I mentioned before, I love food.  Cheese, cream, butter…okay, anything dairy, is a weakness of mine. Growing up on the farm, we always had a cow.  It was my job to milk her every morning.  From her wonderful milk we would skim off the cream and make butter and ice cream.  We poured the richness into our coffee or directly on our cereal in the morning.

Cooking demanded butter and the the more butter, the better.  My mom’s recipe for a quart of corn cut off the cob from our garden?  Cook in a sauce pan, add a stick of butter and a cup of sugar.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Enjoy.

If you think about it, we use cheese, cream and butter in or on nearly everything.  We spread butter on bread in the morning and layer cheese on our sandwich during the day.  We crumble cheese on our salads at night.  We use it for an appetizer, a dessert and during our main course.  Pasta is nothing unless it is doused with Parmesan.  Onion soup is capped with Mozzarella.  What good is a 3-cheese omelet without…well, you get the idea.

But after 30 days of being dairy-free, a several things have started to happen:

* I’ve never wanted a slice of Gouda more in my life.

* I feel better and have more energy.

* I’ve lost 10 lbs.

But here’s the deal; each day, when I reached into the refrigerator for that bag of shredded cheddar, I stopped, looked at the golden goodness with longing, and then put it back into the cheese drawer for some other lucky soul to enjoy later.  Why?  Because my appetite had become too big, out of control, over-powering.  I allowed my desire for food, especially dairy, to control me rather than me controlling my own desires.

For you that item in the refrigerator that calls your name might be a cheese cake or a bottle of wine.  It could be fast food on the way home at night.  It might be the bag of chips in your pantry.  For me it was cheese and butter.

Sure, it still calls my name…but it’s voice is very quiet now. For supper on June 30th, I enjoyed slice of aged Asagio and a little buttery brie on a baguette.  And that was good enough.  I haven’t had a nibble since.  After 30 days, I control the food.  It doesn’t control me.

The Change Challenge: My Own Back Yard

Sitting on our back porch at night was an open show for all to see. The street lamp, skillfully placed in the center of the yard by the previous owner ensured that no night-time activity went unnoticed.

While cleaning out a box of old pictures, I found group of photos held together with tape.  It is a panorama of our back yard taken some time in the spring of 2002.  Can I just say that I was shocked by this picture?  Compared to the view from our back porch today, the yard in this picture is a different place.  Of course, the trees are filled with leaves today but even without the foliage, there is a huge difference in the view.

And as always, two thoughts come to my mind.

First, I’d forgotten how bad our back yard looked.  I remember that it was an eye sore and needed more work than I could muster at the time.  But I had no idea it looked THAT barren, that bleak, that BAD!

Second, ten years ago I had no idea what that back yard would look like today.  I had no way of predicting that the yard could look THIS glorious, this green, this GOOD!

And then I think about my life.  Ten years ago my life was barren, bleak and BAD.  At the time I had no idea where I would be in ten years.  I couldn’t even imagine what it might look like, what areas of my life might grow into something beautiful or bloom with new purpose.

We can’t always predict what will happen with time.  But we can plant the seeds of hope, tend the soil of opportunity, and water the landscape of our lives.

Who knows, we might look back a decade later and be pleasantly surprised.

Our oasis after a decade of tending and hard work.

No Barriers

Our youngest is completing his junior year of high school and has visions of becoming a great man of music.  His level of enthusiasm for life, his music and his friends is unmatched.

When was the last time you faced life with the same unbridled passion?  If your answer is, “When I was 17,” you fail the test.

Yes, I know the bills pile up and the dishes stack up.  The yard needs mowed and the laundry is calling.  Work is a struggle and your family doesn’t understand.  Your bones ache, your joints creek and you spend more money on tests and doctors than tropical destinations.

But we should live life as if there are no obstacles, only opportunities.  No barriers only beautiful horizons.  No problems, only possibilities.

How?  Change your attitude.  Live a life of gratitude.  Look at others for what you can do for them, rather what they should do for you. Reach out to others and offer your very best. Every person is a new friend.  Every day is a new adventure.  Imagine who you could meet and where you could go if you only opened your eyes to the possibilities.


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.

The Day the Super Bowl Came to Town

Lucus Oil Stadium is decked out for the big show.

Let’s just be honest about it.  It’s a circus downtown.  If you’ve had the chance to visit the Super Bowl Village or, better yet, the NFL Experience you know what I’m talking about.

Hundreds-of-thousands of people have wandered along Georgia Street in the hopes of being a part of the action.  The city has transformed itself in to a block party of gigantic proportions.  Zip lines, Human Hamster Wheels, non-stop concerts, ice sculptures, balloon artists, face painting, hurling demonstrations, corn hole and much, MUCH more make it a tailgating extravaganza unlike any other.

My wife dragged me down town last Sunday, and being early risers we missed most of the crowds.  But it was still quite an experience. It was a beautiful day and we had a fantastic time (aside from being blown down the street by 40 mph winds).

The city is breaking all kinds of records for attendance to the pre-game party.  The news media and sports personalities are giving thumbs up with each interview.  Even Madonna reports that she is happy to be here. Locally, there is already talk that we have proven ourselves to be a great choice for hosting another Bowl game in the future, which might be a little premature since the game hasn’t even been played yet. But I’m not here to burst any Bowl Bubbles.

I just want to congratulate the city for a job well done.  Getting the Super Bowl wasn’t easy. (Watch Naptown to Super City here.) As in life, the journey was filled with tough decisions and lots of hard work.  But it appears that all the effort has paid off.  Indy is in the national spotlight. Hoosiers have taken center stage. The world is watching.  And no matter who wins the big game, it looks like the Crossroads of America is the biggest winner.

Life According to Hoosiers: An Awful Name

"I thought I already had the job."

In Coach Dale’s first encounter with his new co-workers, he gets off on a very wrong foot.  It is probably because his other foot is now in his mouth.  After being grilled by fellow teacher, Myra Fleener (played by Barbara Hershey), he makes a big mistake.  Rather than walking away (as we’ve discussed earlier), he opens his mouth and with his words he sets the stage for a rocky relationship from that point forward.

“If everyone is as nice as you, Country Hospitality is going to get an awful name.”

You’ve done it.  I’ve done it.  We’ve all opened our traps at one time or another and allowed that witty statement to escape our lips only to lead to hurt feelings and damaged relationships.

Today’s Hoosier lesson?  Keep your mouth shut whenever possible.

Life According to Hoosiers: “Gentlemen, its been real nice talkin’ to you. Good Night.”

Coach Norman Dale meets the men of Milan, Indiana for the first time.

Experience proves that many times people will offer their help, their opinion, even their friendship with the underlying agenda of directing your own actions.  Coach Dale, when confronted by the men in the town’s barbershop makes a wise decision.  Instead of outlining his coaching strategy, explaining his methods, accepting their direction or defending his own opinion, Norman Dale raises his hands, thanks the men and leaves the shop.

He sets a good example.  Too often we fight for our beliefs, make our stand, defend our rights.  What we should do, instead, is to politely walk away.

When co-workers gang up, when friends triangulate, when family manipulate, the best thing we can do is to stand up and walk away.

Never sacrifice your beliefs at the insistence of others, whether their methods are overt or covert.  “Thank you and good night.”

The Change Challenge: Shut That Pie-hole

Have you ever found that your words bring insight and illumination to a difficult situation?  Does it happen very often?  Do you often bring wisdom and brilliance to the table when you speak?

Me either.

Have you ever opened your mouth and discovered that your words are brainless and pointless and only confuse the state of affairs?  Does it happen way too much?  Do you reveal your ignorance and lack of understanding?

Me too.

There is one skill I have yet to master:  Biting my tongue.


The Change Challenge: Live Life Large!

This past week brought some changes to our house.  My daughter moved into her first apartment.

Of course, our emotions and thoughts are quite a jumble:  We are proud of her and nervous for her.  We miss her terribly and don’t want her to ever move back.  We’ve collected some canned goods for her pantry but are very happy she’s off our meal ticket.

It’s a mixed bag, really.

But her move caused me to stop and think about how we lived life when we are young.  Without much concern for the consequences, we played harder, stayed up later, laughed louder, loved quicker, and sometimes we acted dumber.  But in that impetuous state, we experienced so much of life.

As “grown ups” we don’t always take the same chances that we use to.  We’ve become comfortable in your routine.  We no longer live life large!

We don’t go to that show, because we work the next day.

We turn down dinner with friends because  the weekend is already packed.

We pass over thoughts of travel to an exotic location, just picking up and going, throwing a backpack together and hitting the road.

We have any number of excuses:  Well we have work on Monday.  But someone needs to watch the dogs?  Who will bring in our mail?  What if we get that call from your brother?

Well we…But we…Who will…What if…Those are all very good question.  But they are the wrong questions.  Instead, it’s time to start asking again, “Why not?”

Where has the week gone?

Dear Lord,

What did I do with my time this week?  Where did my days go?

I started my Monday with hopes serenity and meditation.

I planned a time of reading and devotion for Tuesday.

I desired a spirit of charity on Wednesday.

I expected to live a life of graciousness and forgiveness on Thursday.

But here it is, Friday and I have yet to live my life in a way that honors your good works, your loving kindness or your compassion for others.  Instead, I filled my week with activities, television, blind ambition and selfish gain.  I’ve put myself above others.  I’ve met my needs without giving one thought to the needs of those around me.

Forgive me for my failure and renew my heart for the challenge of the weekend and the week ahead.

Amen and Amen.

Life According to Hoosiers: Playing the Hand You’ve Been Dealt

Coach Norman Dale sizes up his new team.

Let’s see what kind of hand I’ve been dealt here.”

With those words, Coach Norman Dale begins to get to know his players and how best to play the game of basketball.

Every day we wake up, climb out of bed, and begin our day.  Many times we do this without ever evaluating the strengths and weaknesses we bring to the court.  Too often we forget our strengths and overlook our weaknesses.  Too many times we march into the field of play without considering how we should approach the game.

Before you lace up your shoes today, stop and consider what you bring to the court and how you can play to your strengths and strengthen your weaknesses.

Life According To Hoosiers: “Let’s be real friendly, here.”

Coach Dale lets the assistant know where he stands: On the sidelines.

“Let’s be real friendly, here.  First off, my name is Norm.  Secondly, your coaching days are over.”

With those words, Coach Norman Dale cuts loose the former assistant coach and lead critic of the newly appointed Coach.

We’ve all met them.  We’ve all dealt with them.  People who think they can do our job better.  People who believe they should have been offered the position but because of a lack of training, poor people skills, an inflated ego, or any number of life’s circumstances they were the last person you want for the job.  And yet, they stand up, grab the whistle, make the schedule, send out the email, call the shots.

They undermine, undercut, challenge and destabilize the entire process.  They may do it in subtle tones or with a smile on their face but in the end, they will do everything in their power to chip away at your leadership until no one knows who to trust.

It happens in jury rooms, school groups, work meetings, sports teams and ESPECIALLY in churches.  The self-appointed captain of the squad isn’t always the best leader…in fact, they are usually the worst choice for the job that needs to be done.

The hardest but most necessary duty of any boss, pastor or coach is clearing the team of anyone who stands in the way of success.  Even the best-intentioned assistant can weaken the leadership vision of those responsible for the direction of the team.  It is always better to play with a team member that loves the game rather than a team member that wants and needs the power.

Change Challenge: Keeping The Calendar Clear

Kroger Display, 146th Street, January 2, 2012

In a world in which Christmas items begin appearing on the shelves in October, Valentines’ Candies are sold just after the New Year, Easter Bunnies start gathering their eggs in early February, fire crackers are sold after Presidents’ Day, Pumpkins and Ghosts haunt store shelves along with back-to-school items it is easy to feel that we are always late for the next big event.

Our Daytimers fill with meetings, telephone calls, and deadlines.

Our school calendars load up with concerts, sport events, competitions, and graduations.

Our social agendas reflect dinner with friends, gatherings with strangers, weddings, parties, and church functions.

Our minds begin calculating our daily tasks from the minute the alarm goes off in the morning to the minute our heads hit the pillow at night.  Worse yet, our minds don’t stop with the planning.  So many people report that they can’t “turn it off” even into the early hours of morning.  Their sleep is disrupted by the constant call of that growing number of things they have to do and the limited amount of time in a day to get them done.

I want to offer a suggestion, some advices, a word of wisdom from an old calendar junkie:  Schedule some time for nothing at all.  Go ahead.  Mark it on your family calendar, create an Outlook event, secure a spot in your date book.  Put away the pencil and use a red pen.  Give yourself an hour.  Put one hour on your calendar to sit, read, reflect, pray, sing, draw, laugh, cry…whatever you need to do to escape the constant barrage of activities that are placed on your already-full schedule.

Take control of your calendar before someone else does it for you.  Take a minute.  Take an hour.  Take a day.  I give you permission.

And you deserve it.

Life According to “Hoosiers”

Celebrating 25 years this year, Hoosiers has set the bar for motivational sports movies.

My wonderful wife gave me the Blu-Ray version of the celebrated movie, Hoosiers.

I watched the film on Christmas morning in the quiet of my living room as the rest of my family slept soundly in their beds (I assume there were visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads).  As I viewed the movie again, it occurred to me that this was a story that had less to do with basketball and more to do with life and how we live it.  I started thinking about the coach’s decisions, the players responses, the community’s reactions.

It was then that I determined to watch the movie repeatedly over the next few weeks and months.  Each time I view the film I will examine it from the perspective the individual characters.  I will start with Coach Dale and work through the rest of the cast.

Together, the characters and their own strengths and weaknesses will speak to us, guide us, and hopefully, make us better and this game of life.

Adding Extra Buttons

Even the best gingerbread house can benefit from some additional powdered sugar, candy canes and gum drops.

If you’ve ever ironed, you probably noticed that your good shirts come with extra buttons sewn into the lower hem.  If you look closely you will discover that these buttons match the buttons used in your collars, on your sleeves, or down your chest.

Think about this for a minute.  Why would shirt manufacturers do this?  Why would they take the time and add the expense of providing buttons that might never get used? Is it a massive shirt-maker conspiracy?  Does the entire garment district see this as a way to use surplus inventory, elevate profits and hurt the little guy, the shirt wearing public?

No. The reason is that buttons crack.  Buttons fall off.  Threads break. If you wear shirts with button you have experienced this truth.  Buttons, like left socks, disappear into unknown places.  There is a laundry vortex.  They just go away.  And the shirt makers determined that is was possible that a matching bobble might come in handy when you need to replace that inevitable missing button.

Unfortunately, many of us live our lives as if buttons will never fall off a shirt  We aren’t pro-active like shirt producers.  We live life as if the inevitable will never happen.  We live carelessly and recklessly.  Oh, sure, a missing button isn’t the end of the world but it is emblematic of our daily mindset.  If it were up to us, we would never add buttons to our shirts, in the same way we fail to prepare for the other inevitabilities of life.

We ride bikes without helmets.

We drive at high rates of speed, after drinking too much, or without our seat belts.

We travel without jumper cables and a tool kit.

We remove the chirping batteries from smoke detectors rather than replacing them.

We eat too much, we exercise too little.

We are under-insured, under-financed, under-saved and over-spent.

In short, we are unprepared for the events of life that might happen, that could happen, that eventually WILL happen.

Perhaps we should take a cue from Brooks Brothers or Croft & Barrow.  Perhaps it isn’t such a bad idea that we add a few extra buttons to the everyday areas our lives.  We may never need them, but won’t we feel better when we do.