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?

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.

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.

 

What Time Is It?

2011 was a very good year.

Work went relatively well.  I received a promotion and I truly enjoy my co-workers.  What more can a person ask?

My family is relatively happy.  All three of my kids are currently living under our roof and it has been quite a blessing to share meals together, watch them find their way in the world, and discover the realities of life, good and bad.

My pets required no additional veterinary visits beyond the yearly check up and shots.

Our marriage is more enjoyable than ever.  Things still bother us from time to time but we’ve grown and matured enough to work through them rather than fight about them.

Our house didn’t require major repairs this year.  Okay…it could have USED major repairs but it just didn’t REQUIRE major repairs.

Over all, it was a very good year.  And Good isn’t bad, relatively.

Of course there were moments, decisions and actions I would change if I had to do it all over again.

If given the chance to do my year differently, I would eat less and exercise more.

I would talk less and listen more.

I would watch less TV and read and write more.

I would go on more dates with my wife.

I would go on more walks with my dog.

I would, I would, I would…the list is endless.

But I can’t go back, I can only look forward.  And so, 2012 is my new opportunity.  My next great adventure.  2012 is my year to do it right, to do it with all the gusto I can muster, to make the changes necessary and make my new year better.

Good isn’t bad, relatively.  I just want it to be better.

Finding That “Perfect” Tree

Our son, Ben found this tree. It is the best one we've had in years!

The perfect tree can make or break Christmas.

Let’s be honest.  If you want the best presents…TV’s, small boats, a car with a bow on the top, a pony…you can’t have a wimpy tree to frame these gifts on Christmas morning.  You need a tree that causes a brown-out in the neighborhood when you plug it in.  You need a tree that can only be topped with a rented cherry-picker.  You need a tree unlike the 2011 Austin Family tree.

This year our Christmas shopping budget requires a smaller, gentler tree.  This is a tree reminiscent of A Walton’s Family Christmas (Goodnight, Johnboy).  It is a tree so small that we were able to cut it down with a Ginsu knife.  It is a tree that only requires one string of lights and half the ornaments from the attic.  It is a tree that bends under the weight of the paper mache angel. In short (and it is also short), it is the “perfect” tree.

Of course there is a method to our madness.  In these tight economic times, we rationalized that cutting back the size of our tree would help us cut back the expectations of the quality in Christmas presents.

Rather than expecting a TV under the previous years’ larger trees, the children will be thrilled when they unwrap an Etch-A-Sketch.

No Smart phones for this family.  Under this tree, even two tin cans and some string are attractive gifts!

No longer will they be disappointed when they don’t see a boat.  Instead they will weep with joy when they open a package containing their very own rubber ducky.

No car with a bow?  No problem!  Matchbox makers have a model to fit your budget.

And never forget that a GoodWill purchased My Little Pony is a lucky find for any child.

Don’t let anyone fool you:  The perfect tree is a must-have for making this holiday season a happy one for all!

The Change Challenge: Let Your Spirit Bloom

I don’t know what we’ve done for this plant to make it so productive but over the years this African Violet has grown into a massive, ever-blooming house plant.  Spanning more than 18 inches from leaf to leaf, the tropical viola has brightened our home for nearly two decades.

I am not a master gardener but I do know that this violet requires a few things to do well.  It must be watered consistently from a shallow dish and it enjoys indirect sunlight.  By providing these two things, we’ve been able to appreciate flowers nearly year-round.

But too much sun and too much water causes the plant to “shut down”.  Flowers are no longer produced and leaves wither and drop.  The plant’s success depends on careful attention and the perfect amount of water and light.

Aren’t we very much the same?  We want attention.  We need care and when we receive it, we flourish.  Too much attention and we feel smothered.  Not enough and we feel abandoned.  We shine brightest when we are cared for consistently and lovingly by those who understand our needs best.

This plant is potted and is solely dependent on my care.  We however, have the ability to seek people who will strengthen us and care for us.  We are not planted in one place.  If those around us don’t provide the love and care we need to sustain our life we MUST move to a climate of love and care or we will wither and die.

I hope you have someone in your life who shines light into your life occasionally and nourishes your soul from time to time.  I pray that you have surrounded yourself with people who cause you to bloom all year long.

Now, if you will excuse me, I’m going to do some watering.

 

The Change Challenge Check Up

Nearly three months ago we started a journey together.  In an effort to make this year better than the year before, we agreed to start making little changes.  We agreed to be better, smarter and kinder.  In short, we agreed to take charge of our lives instead of allowing life to take charge of us.  We will no longer be hijacked by the pirates of sloth, ignorance and circumstance.

Over the past three months we’ve agreed to try a few things:

It hasn’t been easy we must continue to review our progress to better determine what areas are still lacking.

For instance, my own journey has been one of growing generosity but I haven’t worked as hard to extend my vocabulary.

Some of you might have memorized the entire dictionary but have yet to fill a bag of groceries for a struggling family or even buy a stranger a 99 cent diet coke at McDonald’s.

There are always areas of improvement. In the end, the journey to change is as important as the change itself.

Take another look in the mirror.  See anything that needs attention today?