THE THRILL IS GONE

k15418489As one of the kids in school that was more interested in having fun than studying, I partook of some activities that other people didn’t. Even if it meant “defacing public property”- that was back in the day when the schools supplied books. As a young jumper onto the train bound for Conspiracyville, I never did buy into the fact that it was just “luck of the draw” that my fellow under achievers and I ended up with the books already defaced by the group of slackers that drug their feet before us.

It didn’t bother me so much writing in the books that looked like they’d been to war and lost. One of the popular pastimes for principal office prone people was turning the school book sideways and drawing a cartoon figure, usually a stick caricature in a vehicle with ridiculous big wheels racing across the pages.

Each page would be drawn in the next scene in progression. About five or ten pages in, I’d introduce the massive jump, another five or so pages later and cartoon of the motorized vehicle, including the wavy pencil lines to add the authentic smoke, would fly through the air in a way that would make Evil Knievel proud and would scrape the sky of sideways printed words above.

The best part was grabbing the pages between my thumb and forefinger and fanning the pages one at a time quickly then showing the other derelict friends my action cartoon… thanks to the tax payers of course.

The older I get the more the pages of our lives seem like the pages in those old text books. Each one is a snap shot that represents the seasons of our lives. The pages are provided by the laws of the universe as set forth by the Creator of all. We get to use our free will to draw the action movie of our lives.

As we think back and see the snap shots taken along life’s merry way in our physical lives, they tend to reveal what’s going on inside us and how our perspectives change along the way. In general, the smiles started awkward, struggling to get traction in our lives, but not far down the track of life we begin to move with speed and ease – like art in motion and our smiles reflect it.

While we move down the track or across the sideways pages of our lives in our self made movie, the edges of our mouths begin to level out and for some of us they fall past parallel and begin to sag on the sides… the thrill is gone…

I’ve heard it said “You can’t take it with you when you’re gone.” There are no re-runs in the cartoons of our lives that we scribble on the edge the pages of the text books provided for our lives, but we can take the best this life has to offer with us.

The grandest of things reside within in us and should manifest what they are and Who we represent on the shape of our smiles as we sail through the air over the bumps and jumps of life. We all get bumps and jumps… I guess the expression of our face is directly relative to where we land…

CALIBRATING A PERSPECTIVE

jp2005_0002587“Brake, brake, Brake, BRake-BRAke-BRAKe-BRAKE-BRAKE!!!” I said, then moved on to implored, begged, screamed, demanded, and flat out yelled, and all in less than three seconds. My youngest who now has her drivers permit wasn’t stopping my truck with the same sense of urgency that I felt the scenario called for.

My right calf muscle was screaming from pushing against the invisible brake pedal on the passenger side of my truck.

“I am!” she countered defensively.

“Well not fast enough – You do exactly what I say, remember?” I countered in emotion.

Talk about faith… Sheesh. Putting my life, and even more importantly, my daughter’s life, in my belief that she’s ready and capable of navigating my big truck that to say “is hard to judge” is a ridiculous understatement, shows real faith in action and trust along with my answer to prayers.

It’s a stressful situation to say the least and I’m probably guilty of making it harder. I used to be better… I know that’s the typical declaration of someone who’s been stirring up dust on planet earth for more then four or five decades, but it’s usually true.

It’s been ten years since I taught Kenz to drive and seven since I taught Ali. When I say I was better back then, it’s true, but it’s the why I was better that draws my mind to calculate and consider the change. Sure, I was obviously younger, but I’m not sure it’s a matter of just the sunrises and sunsets that make all the difference, it’s more the attitude and perspective at the time.

One early winter evening, before Kenz was old enough for her permit, (folks that hail from the south believe to be a good driver you gotta start way younger than the law allows) after cruising the desolate streets of a new custom subdivision south of our house, I had Kenz turn the opposite way of our routine route home.

This route took us out to the main city street where I surprised her with a, “Turn right!” with a grin.

“I can’t!” she answered.

“Yes you can, you just listen to me – you’ll be fine,” I assured her.

We cut the night in my old truck, me smiling almost as much as her after she realized she was well qualified. *News Flash* Time has a way of changing folks and I’m no exception to the stubborn rule. Ten years ago I was old enough to be wise with the lives entrusted to me, but I was also ten years closer to the fearless and reckless kid of my youth.

If I can recognize the simple changes and attitude from when I taught my girls to drive, how do other changes affect my world view now? More than I realize I suspect. When we speak of days gone by and the changes of the current generation compared with ours, we might have a slightly skewed point of view.

Not to suggest that things haven’t changed and certainly not all for the best, but I think many of us tend to measure our lives and past actions by our standard and perspective of our life as it is now. Just something to contemplate when we lift the index finger to point and judge by standards we may not have been practicing when we were learning to crawl, ride a bike, drive a car, or anything between then and now.

Doesn’t seem that long ago I watched the newest driver in the family take her first steps…

 

 

THE SIZE OF A SOUL

k10857466I remember the old adage quite well from before the days of full height and face hair. In case you’ve forgotten the old adage, consider this a reminder. One of the first times I ever heard it used was in reference to a kid who went to our church and was around four years older than me and in high school.

The kid was making a name for himself on the basketball court, even though he was short by basketball standards. That was good news to a short point guard on the junior high’s team at the time… I overheard a couple of the elderly ladies at church having a conversation about that kid, who was a nice guy by the way.

I’m not sure the elderly ladies had a clue about basketball, but they were passing on the news they’d learned… I’ve heard elderly ladies in churches are good at that… They were older so I assumed wise. Yes, there was a short time in my life that I did have innocence.

I eavesdropped on the elderly ladies as they were talking about the kid’s game… I’ve heard kids in churches are good at that…

“You know what they say, don’t you?” the generous cheeked woman asked the more frail church pew companion.

“What’s that?” she bit.

“They say dynamite comes in small packages!” They both giggled in appreciation as I pondered the adage briefly before putting two and two together.

Turns out when that kid latched onto his growth spurt he didn’t let go. Last time I saw him he was a lean giant. At least he was from my height back then.

I wasn’t as disappointed as I was surprised that I ended up the shortest of my dad and brothers. But I learned long before my youngest put another adage to work she learned from a preschool teacher, the truth in it, “You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.”

I ponder some of the heroes in our culture who are blessed physically. Giants that move like lightning and are strong enough to move cars with their hands, and backs. Impressive to be sure. Their abilities are worthy of note, but the measure of a person when defining their lives can’t be measured by a plain ole number.

I remember learning about a war hero that I watched in black and white re-runs on TV as a kid named Audie Murphy. Although relatively small, especially by today’s standards, his bravery was beyond measure. Tough to the core, the core of his soul. Only God that made that heart and soul can measure it.

I’m reminded too of the history recorded in the Bible of heroes and what God said about them. Such as Samuel regarding David compared to his brothers, “…. people look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at their heart.” (partial NIV)

David’s brothers looked like kings. David was still a lad, but God knew the size of his soul.

Those of us chosen by our Father know that He created our souls and doesn’t care a lot about the way our soul cage looks. He cares about our souls and the capacity of those that He’s designed in us to change the world according to His good will.

Friends, let not your eyes be deceived. Only God can measure the size of a soul.

 

The Precipice: When Everything We Know Ends

21470336Every so often you read a story, essay, or novel that sticks in your mind like peanut butter sticks to the roof of your mouth, but in a good way, in case you’re one of the folks that don’t like peanut butter! The story becomes part of who we are and has an effect on how we look at the world. It takes some pretty powerful imagery to pull that off.

Monday is the day for the release of “The Precipice: When Everything We Know Ends,” a three short story set by my good friend TC Avey.  These stories are action packed and hard hitting reads that will force anyone to consider the world in which we live and how rapidly it’s changing. 

The stories are fiction but based on real life headlines and technology that is happening all around us and impacting our world while most of us are paying little or no attention at all. The futuristic Christian stories by TC will grab the reader from beginning to the end and well beyond.

Hop over to TC’s site and check out her new book, “The Precipice: When Everything We Know Ends”. Brace yourself! Click here, folks.

THE ROAD TO MORE… OR LESS

k14939265We have prospered. Yes, we’ve come a long way since the days of struggle. Even some of the poorest in our society now have indoor plumbing, air conditioning, TV, computers, and cell phones. Yes, sir  - we’re living grand days and in the land flowing with milk and honey.

Peculiar that all the grand things we’ve strived and struggled for don’t necessarily make life better or bring loved ones closer.

One of the last trips we made as a family to visit our grandparents in California was inconvenient to say the least. My dad was working out of town and had with him the only vehicle that was running at the time. My two older brothers were grown. Bobby, my middle brother, had the only reliable vehicle, a pickup truck – long before the days of extra cabs.

I was at the age of full height but not being in charge of making plans, just obligated to follow them out. The grand plan was to meet our dad in California at my mom’s parents house for Christmas. He in 72′ Javelin, the rest of us, the magnificent seven, in a half ton Ford.

Being male as well as the youngest, I knew from history made me a shoe in for the pick up bed for the chilly December four hour joy ride. While we didn’t have much, we had plenty of blankets and we’d need all of them. Though fully grown and in high school, that was the last time I remember nodding out and sleeping like a baby. The four hours passed like four minutes and we made the sacrifice to be with family instead of the excuses the folks who have more tend to make.

The amount of changes that have transpired since those meager days is mind boggling. For all that the technology and advances promised in changing our lives for the better in order to enjoy the truly important things in life, they really only succeeded in changing our priorities and culture in general by making the majority of us more self absorbed. I might well have been served a double portion.

The smooth ride, electrical adjustable leather seats with built in heaters, electric windows and sometimes roofs, cruise control, navigation, stereos that sound like a concert hall, and engines the barely make a sound yet move us like lightning, doesn’t mean we use them for honorable and selfless trips with a proper focus on the things that should matter most.

The cell phones that do everything but wash our feet keep us connected, but not like a face to face meeting or hug can. It’s a cheap imitation of being truly connected.

What is it about sacrifice that makes things so much sweeter? Maybe it’s how we’re reminded that our most honorable actions are always the ones when we’re doing something for someone else and the emotion and gratification that comes along with the action of self discipline.

A famous quote comes to mind, “Tis better to give than receive.” I think I’ve gotten to used to receiving and have forgotten how to give. Lord help us…

Not that I’m recommending riding in the back of a pick up on I-10 during December, but it helps me to remember.

THE ART OF DEPRESSION

k16564251“I don’t know why I’m crying?” she said, chuckling through the tears. I knew, “Nothin’ wrong with that – shows your heart,” I said kindly to one of the women who love me unconditionally, “Trust me, I get it, mom.” They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, I for one wouldn’t argue with that old adage, at least not anymore.

My mom has a caring heart and gets emotionally charged at the injustices of life. As fired up as she can get, her heart cracks, fills her soul, and overflows her eyes at the reality of this fallen world as it manifests itself in so many ugly ways.

I find comfort in the words of Christ from the Beatitudes, (specifically Matt. 5:3-12). And I think there are more than a few folks that fall into the category of “Poor in spirit.”

The holidays and winter months rest on the shoulders of those who are prone to be poor in spirit, or depressed and draped in the cloud like a jacket worn to fight back the cold. For those prone to melancholy, we know that any of the senses can trigger the trip down the slippery slope to poor in spirit.

The eyes can capture an old house, snow, a picture, a million different things. The touch of a hot cup of coffee in the right setting, a soft blanket, sometimes the melancholy sneaks in through our fingers. The smell of a burning fireplace in the distance, a meal from days gone by, the mental sunset can waft in through our nostrils. And one of my all time favorites; the sound of anything like a song that our spirits can hitch a ride on the musical notes to a place of desperate desolation…

Knowing the sights, sounds, touch, and scents that send us to a place of being poor in spirit to a degree that’s unhealthy, is the art of depression. Having the discernment and strength to know how much sadness to let into our soul is a practice of wisdom from God above. A little is good, compassion, sympathy, and empathy for others is what were called to.

When we begin to use those gifts on ourselves they become weapons of the enemy, in my opinion. Grieving and having compassion and sympathy for ourselves is a recipe for disaster. For me, that’s been the worst time and depths of depression in my life. No wonder scripture warns us, “Think less of yourself…”

It is a fight for balance in our souls. (I’m not referring to the ones who have chemical imbalances that medication is a gift from God) God designed us with an instinct to survive, but being created in His image gives us the strength to live above it.

For those who tend toward melancholy and depression know that we will have tough times, trips through “The valley of the shadow of death,” but we know seeking His will and face will deliver us to the other side of the valley and up high on the mountain where He’s chosen to demonstrate His sovereignty and grace.

A trip through that valley without Him will ensure being trapped there like the Israelites were trapped in the desert. If you’ve been in the valley with tears and pain from a long winter living the art of depression, come with me. Leave your broken self there, our spirits are called to rise up!

The view is beautiful up there. Remember?

“NOT CENTERED”

k17073174“Oh man – That’s kinda harsh! Is my nose bleeding?” I asked him in sarcasm as we chatted on the phone.

“No – No! –  I mean… He’s different, you know, not centered. It’s not bad – It’s good!” he tried to make me feel better in his explanation and comparison of me to the guy we were talking about.

“Is the blood trickling out of my left nostril?” I asked, still joking, but feeling the truth in the statement about me that he was trying to spin as an attribute.

I generally have pretty thick skin and I took it in stride as usual, but his words carry weight with me. When a person passes judgment on me that doesn’t know me well, it runs off me like water off a duck’s back. When that person knows me pretty well, the words go a smidge deeper.

My friend and business associate that I’ve known for thirty years has had enough interaction with me to make me stop dead in my tracks and consider his words and observation.

My friend was telling me about the character in the magazine he bought for me as a gift. It was a thoughtful gift and while I was looking forward to meeting up with him to get it, the words of comparison rang in my ears with some regret of the realization of that truth.

My old buddy would be the first to tell and be the witness of how much I’ve changed, but the reality is still that I, like the leopard, haven’t changed my spots. Everyone reading this might be able to relate to this, at least to some degree. We all know that none of us are perfect, but we’ve made truly miraculous changes along life’s merry way, although the reality is we still have the same tendencies we had when we didn’t have a lick-uh-wisdom.

“Not Centered.” I’m not sure how many of us are “centered”, but it’s been my observation in life that right brain people with the artistic tendencies, like the majority of people reading this that love to read and write, are rarely “centered”. I guess you could say that lack of being centered would be called “obsessive”. That stripe I wear is etched down into my soul.

We have tendencies we’re born with that we’ll wage war with in our soul for the duration of the time spent shuffling on this earth’s crust. I don’t know about you, but I get weary of the battle… I have to remind myself of all the victories, not because of me, but because of the power given me by my Father to honor Him along the way.

I’m wired the way I am by His design. If He can use my weakness for His glory, He can turn my weaknesses into my strengths, my strengths into my weaknesses. My being “centered” doesn’t matter. When I see my Father as my focus and goal for the totality of life, His perfect Center casts no shadow on the side of my lack thereof.

For all I lack He redeems my imperfections perfectly… I’ve a hunch that’s what my stripes really read if you get close enough to my soul to read the fine print where He resides.

A SILLY QUIRK

bld040417“Take your shoes off  -  stay awhile!” I jested.

“I want to finish my homework first,” our oldest responded to me years ago when she was still in high school.

I’m sure she didn’t get the attitude completely from me, but I most definitely understood where she was coming from. It’s a mindset. Whether she consciously knew it or not, she witnessed me work in my office with my shoes on, sometimes well past the time she’d go to bed.

Everyone uses different quirks to keep them motivated or on task. “Success in life, regardless of how one defines it, is all about attitude.” 

I spent decades writing down goals and plans, intent on keeping my edge. There has been many occasion when the scorching Arizona sun reached it’s highest recorded temperature of the year and drove most folks for the shelter of shade and air conditioning, it drew me out to do battle like a gunslinger to main street in the old west.

I’d pull weeds and do yard work on the hottest day on the weekend summers, desperate to keep my flame burning within. Those type of twisted quirks have become habit, done now without a second thought. Required actions designed to succeed in perseverance, which is the foundation of success in my opinion.

My sweat soaked clothes caused the tremoring earthquake of a shiver shoot up my spine like an electrical current from within me as my body jerked and twisted involuntarily. I considered how long it would take for the sweatshirt that had done a valiant job catching  the perspiration at the gym, as well as the cotton tank top underneath it, to dry.

It was the dead of winter when I considered subconsciously the length of time to endure the drying process, another of those self inflicted quirks designed at keeping myself with a razor’s edge.

I can’t begin to count how many times I’ve endured the discomfort of soggy clothes as one part of my regimen designed to keep me focused and tough. I’m weary of striving to be tough… Moreover, I’m tired of the battle in my mind and the fear of being soft.

Enduring is a mindset. I also think it’s good to be disciplined and I respect others with self discipline, but like all the good gifts, traits, and characteristics provided by God Himself, we can find too much value within ourselves and believe that we have more to do with the outcome than we really do.

We tend to, “Wear yourselves out trying to get rich…” (Proverbs 23:4, partial) I think you can swap Solomon’s “rich” with
“success” which tends to point to the position of our hearts and the “wearing out” process fits. I’ve worn myself out along life’s merry way with a skewed focus; it’s easy to do in this flesh.

There’s still time to change and make a difference and it really does start in the heart and with the seemingly insignificant things in life… like changing out of freezing sweat soaked gym clothes. That really was a silly quirk.

Now on to next one… Kinda feels like the arcade game where you smash one plastic gopher head down and another pops up in a different hole…

SECOND CHANCES

I’ve heard it said, “You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone.” Joni Mitchell’s use of it almost ruined it for me, but like all good adages, they outlast all of us and stand the test of time.

While I get the wisdom in those simple words, they don’t take into account the precious gift of redemption. I was all business with the older daughters, from coaching them in lacrosse to teaching them to drive. It was all about results… and it’s worked well for them in their professional lives, not that it’s due to me. I’m proud of them and their accomplishments.

k5435951But time has a way of catching up with the skewed perspective of a younger person. That old adage doesn’t take into account second, third, and fourth chances. Not to mention that sometimes the ones who got slighted along the way gain something from seeing a change in the life of another, especially someone we love.

Seeing changes in others who we’ve spent time with can make us feel like we were part of the journey that God uses for wisdom and redemption. I’ve witnessed changes in my parents – although great parents, wisdom and life, especially when seeking God, has a way of changing folks for the better.

I thought about them a bit deeper a few weeks back when the youngest and I were on an excursion that started with an excuse for her to practice her driving. Enter; Barnes And Noble… no idea where she gets her love of reading and writing…

She looks at books, I cruise the aisles and escalator around the magical place like a kid in a candy store. I eventually maneuver my way to the $4.99 CD section as well. “You wanna get a coffee and walk around?” the youngest asked me. I thought for about a millisecond, “Sure,” I answered.

The sun was losing it’s zeal over the edge of the earth as we walked around the desolate outdoor mall, not too fast, I can’t make too good a time in flip flops. It wasn’t that many years ago I didn’t even own a pair… wouldn’t have worn them in public if I did.

My little one and I strolled the streets, up one side and down the other. We talked about the birds in the massive ficus trees fighting for their spots as they were bedding down for the night. She told me about the marshmallow roasting station that was there the last time she and her girlfriend were at the corner as we passed by it.

Apparently I did really miss out on something… No do-overs for the big girls or me… We talked about nothing and everything, one of those long comfortable conversations that you have when no one has an agenda… the kind that makes even bad decaf taste good.

We listened to and talked about the music being piped into the overhangs and trees throughout the outdoor mall. My little one asked questions – good ones, about things she’s just discovering. She pays better attention to things than I did when I was her age, by a long shot.

I think sometimes God gives us second chances… sometimes we get to live long enough, experience enough, to know what we’ve got before it’s gone. I’m sad for what I missed when it was right in front of me, even with my wife’s urging, but I’m grateful for another chance.

As we listened to our five buck CD, her favorite track over and over, like I do mine,  as she drove us home, my little one blurted, “Oh my gosh! – I’m just like you!” I didn’t say anything, I just chuckled…

and pray it’s the older me…

 

A BAR TOO LOW

k14410737“At least I told you about it,” he said, pointing out his honesty despite his screw up.

“Well, you know I appreciate that, but you also know it’s expected – that’s a given,” I responded chuckling in light of a somewhat serious scenario.

“Yeah, I know, I’m just looking for the best in a bad situation,” he answered with a nervous laugh.

“I hear you. I appreciate your honesty, but you know you are grasping in desperation and are holding the bar woefully low when you start with the words, ‘At least,’ don’t you?” I asked smiling.

“Yeah, that’s the bottom I guess, ‘At least’ says it all,” he chuckled as the mood lightened.

“I can’ t tell you how many times I’ve used those words myself,” I admitted.

I’d never really pondered the depths of those words, “At Least,” in my life until that very moment. All of life is about perspective and attitude. The more mature we get, which is eerily linked to the amount of years I’ve been wandering this dusty planet, at least in my neck of the rocks, the more we grasp that a higher standard is an honorable attitude and perspective.

The times we fail, and we all fail, with the bar set higher, says everything about who we are. Although I’ve used the pathetic words, “Good enough” in my life, I now cringe when I hear someone lean against them. It sounds like a compromise of character.

I can’t recall how many times I heard the adage, “If it’s worth doing – it’s worth doing right,” as a youngster. Folks used to use that quote on kids that were slacking or taking short cuts… no wonder I heard it so often… Who we are in our heart is closer to us than our shadow. Who we are guides the actions that can be spotted in our lives and in our shadows as we conduct ourselves in the most basic of everyday scenarios.

None of us are perfect and our actions, and sometimes lack thereof, are the opposite of honorable, but giving into the weakness of our flesh and surrendering it is a victory for the enemy and this world. Sometimes it feels like we’re fighting a losing battle in this world and striving for our best in all cases is of little value and has diminishing returns, but I think it’s just the opposite.

The words of Christ are ever present in us and are revealed in our actions, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.” When I witness a person doing what they do with a good attitude and striving for their best, even while making mistakes, in any endeavor, I’m encouraged. It’s simple yet powerful honesty.

When a person does less than their best and justifies it in their mind and heart they’re lying to themselves, the worst kind of dishonesty… their actions betray them… “At least” that’s my opinion…

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