The 1,000 Foot View

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou’ve heard the phrase.  You’ve probably said it yourself:  “Can’t see the forest for the trees“.  And, if your life is anything like my own, it is often so very true.  We examine the situation, we study the problem, we analyze the issue but the closer we look, the less we see a solution.  We can’t think about the bigger picture because we’re so worried about the details of the problem.

You know the solution.  You know the answer:  It is often helpful to take a step back.  In fact, it often helps to take about 1,000 steps back.  Get the bigger picture.  Take in a wider view.  Climb the mountain and look down, removed from the situation and free from the entanglements of the problem.  Look at the slopes, experience the wind on your face, celebrate the light brightly shining above the canopy of the forest that often shades the decaying detritus and duff.

The next time you find you are without an answer, the next time you struggle for a solution take a walk above the tree line.  Hike the heights.  Mount the mountains and see if it doesn’t help.

A Call to Action

Dear Lord of Heaven and Earth,

Last night was cold.  While I slept warm and snug in my bed, there were people sleeping on the streets, under bridges and in doorways:  People in this very town slept under the stars and exposed to the winter chill.  They are unknown to me.  They are a problem for some government agency to fix.  They are people who would benefit from a program of some sort.

I’m praying today because I realize that these people are not unknown to you.  You know them by name.  If they matter to you, they should matter to me.  If they are precious in your sight, they should be precious in my own.

And so I pray that you will lead me to action.  Guide me to caring.  May I know how to act on your behalf before another blanket of bone chilling cold settles this night.

I pray.

AMEN.

Beating the System

new radarI saw this on Facebook today and already it is raising eyebrows.  Mine sure went up.

How can the government be allowed to place silent, unmanned radars in remote locations?  How is it possible that they are allowed to monitor my MPH’s?  It use to be a free country.  My rights and liberties are being infringed upon.  I will not stand for this.  Don’t tread on me.

But, I have a plan.  I know how to beat this new electronic surveillance system that is invading my privacy and challenging my right to drive any speed I choose:  I’LL DRIVE THE SPEED LIMIT.

That’ll fix ’em.

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?

Early Birds

A Conner Prairie rooster guards his flock.
A Conner Prairie rooster guards his flock.

People often say that it is the Early Bird who gets the worm.

I see several problems with this statement.  First, is there really only one worm that is available early?  Second, how early do you have to be out to get that worm?  If you are too early, it’s just dark and then you don’t see the worm at all.  Next, what about grain or corn?  I often prefer them to worms.  What if I just wait for daylight and then forage for kernels of wheat?  Finally, let’s say I’m not really a morning person (in this case, a morning bird) and I prefer to start my day later…won’t there be worms in the later afternoon when all the Early Birds have returned to the coop?

I’m just trying to think outside the egg carton.

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?

Change My Mind

A Short WalkDear God of Wisdom,

So many times I am convinced I am right.

My way seems right.  My decisions are sure.  My course of action is laid out in my head and there is no turning back.

But I have failed to ask your opinion.  I have forgotten to see your guidance.  My understanding of my action’s consequences is limited.

And so, Dear God, change my mind.  Direct my course.  Give me insight.  Lead my actions.

I pray.

AMEN

Open My Ears

Lord of Heaven,

All around there are voices crying out for your mercy.  Help us to hear.

In every location there are hearts beating a broken rhythm of pain.  Open our ears.

Every neighbor shouts their loneliness.  Help us to hear.

Family members hide secrets behind words of shame.  Open our ears.

The world is filled with so many who desire someone to hold their hand, look them in the eye, and listen without distraction.

May we be that person for someone today.

Open our ears, we pray.

AMEN.

 

Lessons From A Class Reunion, Part 1

Our 4th gathering in less than a month was a great hit!

I’ve never been to one of my high school reunions but when the opportunity came to help organize one this summer, I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity.  It’s been 30 years since our class walked across the stage in the Monroe Central School gym and I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to see the friends from so long ago.

Planning a reunion is quite an interesting experience.  One that I would do again, only because I like the people so much.  Otherwise, it’s a pain in the rear!

But along the way, I did learn a few lessons that I am happy to share with you.  Someday, you too might want to plan a high school reunion and these key observations could be very helpful.  You’re welcome.

1. SOME PEOPLE CHANGE – BUT SOME DO NOT:  Almost everyone at the reunion looked different.  We no longer wear those 18 year old faces.  Boys are now men and girls are now women.  Some people are easily recognized and you know them the minute they walk into the room.  But you will be convinced that you’ve never met others.  Somehow, these strangers were able to sneak into your event.  You will not recognize their face, their name and no one can convince you that you spent one day in school with these people.

But beyond mere appearances, you have to consider the personalities.  Life can be very cruel and also a great journey and over the course of time it can dramatically change people.  Some who were happy-go-lucky are now beaten down and bitter.  Others who lived in their own little shell of a world are now outgoing and fun-loving.  The key is not to expect to see the same person you knew 30 years ago.  Get to know them for who they are today.  Do not depend on a picture in a yearbook to tell you the story of their past three decades of life.

Substance abuse, disease, divorce, mental illness, accidents, loss of a loved one…they visit different ones of us over the years and if we had a quiet corner to talk one-on-one, we would be in tears together at the end.  For some, life’s events break the soul.  For others, those same events give us courage, shape the very core of our beings.

It is so difficult to know how the world has changed those you will meet.  Be open to what you will find.  Be open to how it has changed you and the event will go much better.

Family Dinner

Nothing is better than a Sunday lunch with the family.

I’ve been thinking about the Last Supper.  Not just another meal, right?  But of those sitting around the table, only one knew this truth.  The others took this dinner for granted.

How often do we do the same thing.  How often do we gather for a family lunch without considering that it might be our last?

Perhaps, if we thought about it in that light, we would chose our words more carefully.  We would pass the gravy with more grace.  We would show more gratitude and less attitude.  We would pitch in to pick up rather than leave it all for one person.

I’m sure the Disciples thought about all those things.  And given the chance, they would do that Last Supper a little differently the next time.

The Kiss that Changed My Life

It was a cold Friday night during my 8th grade year at Monroe Central Junior Senior High and my school’s team had just played basketball.  I had played in the pep band. I do not remember the opponent. I do not remember the final score.  I do not remember the music we played (although I’m pretty sure we would have knocked out a killer rendition of “25 or 6 to 4”).  But I do remember several important things about that night and they have nothing to do with basketball.  That was the night that Carla let me kiss her.  And that kiss changed the course of our lives.

I remember it was very dark as we walked from the gym to her sister’s car.

I remember it was very cold and we were wearing large, bulky winter coats.

I remember holding Carla’s hands through thick gloves as we stood by the car.

I remember turning to kiss her, reaching my arms up to embrace her.

I closed my eyes in preparation for the delicate touch of her lips to mine. Carla, much more experienced than I, also lifted her arms. All four arms met in mid air above our heads. I lowered mine and she countered. We clashed again. This went on for what felt like hours. We must have looked like a couple bears fighting in the dark.

Finally, one of us stopped moving and allowed the other to advance unhindered.

My eyes were still closed. My lips were in full pucker mode and I pulled her close.

I do not remember Carla being so tall.  This can be the only explanation for why my kiss did not fall delicately on her lips but rather landed squarely on her chin. I was mortified but not shaken. Novice that I was, I realized I had two options:

1. Abort, Retreat, and Re-Attempt the maneuver.
2. Full Steam Ahead.

Of course, I chose option #2. I continued to press my lips against her chin and determined I would find her mouth. I pushed to the left and found her cheek. She responded with her own shifting, sending me back south. I twisted right. She slid sideways. As the spittle turned to ice on her face, our lips met finally, and we enjoyed the wet, sloppy kiss we had worked so hard to obtain.

After a short time we parted. Carla wiped the spit from her beautiful features and said goodnight. It was magical.

Though devastated, I was not surprised when Carla broke up with me the following Monday morning. Looking back on the moment, I have to think but for my lack of direction, Carla and I would this day be happily married with a six-figure salary, 2.5 children, a dog, and a summer home in the Hamptons.

Life is funny that way.

Common Sense 101

Nearly once a day I see a sign that requires a little thought.  This one is one of my favorites.

The plate is attached to a manhole cover and, in my mind, is a little unnecessary. I’m not a very smart man but even I could tell that this was a tight fit for anyone who might remove the lid and enter this underground hole. It wasn’t too hard to see that this is a confined space.  But thankfully, the sign helped me understand that I need to seek permission to enter.

Or was the sign telling me that to have a permit is required to HAVE a confined space?

So it isn’t so clear after all.

Either way, I have yet to determine what government agency provides a permit allowing one have or enter confined spaces.  I should take some time to determine where I can pick up one of these permits.  I might want to enter a confined space one day and don’t want to be caught unprepared.  Worse still, I might find that I HAVE a confined space and am no longer compliant with local regulations.

I’m all about the rules.

Random Thoughts

If a cow eats grass from a meadow, does that qualify its milk as pasteurized?

Pickles are just cucumbers with sour attitudes.

If a squirrel is acting “squirrely”, how do the other squirrels know?

Do postal workers have to buy their own stamps…And if so, do they get an employee discount?

Oven mitts are a “handy” necessity for bakers.

If a porcupine and a pillow fell in love, would their babies be pin-cushions?