LESSONS FROM LARRY second edition

My dog Larry, half dog, half chicken...

My dog Larry, half dog, half chicken…

Repost from March 2011

I admire and respect people who demonstrate confidence and are willing to bust their backyard’s and endure and toil to get better at whatever they’re endeavoring to accomplish. I believe that drive or make-up of an individual is what eventually propels them toward success.

It’s rare to find any individuals who excel at anything that like to sit back, be passive, and let others do the work, take the risks, and make the calls for them. To be sure, I’m not referring to insecure micro-manangers who aren’t big picture people.

With that said, I’m also convinced that all the desire, passion, and perseverance, can’t always determine an outcome and almost never the first time. All of us have limitations to one degree or another.

Our dog Larry is a pretty good dog, he barks when he hears strange noises, he also barks at strangers in the back yard if they don’t belong there. His desire is to be a good watch dog, the only problem is that he’s smaller than average and isn’t the bravest dog in the world, at least not yet. Lar wants to be and he acts like he is, but he and I both know he’s not.

About four years back I was working in the yard in the middle of summer, I had an old even more beat up than usual sweatshirt on with old worn out tennis shoes. It was hot enough for me to wear my shade hat, you know the ones as big as a patio umbrella without the ball on top.

As I entered the backyard through the side gate I heard Lar bark and it got louder as he was headed towards me, he thought I was an intruder that he’d scare with his vicious barking. Before he got around the side of the house I pulled my sweatshirt collar up over my nose, leaving just my shades exposed under the strange hat Larry wouldn’t be familiar with.

I started to jog almost in a gallop, my left leg leading, swaying my arms like an orangutan and grunting like a gorilla. My brave watch dog? As soon as he spotted me moving toward him he stopped barking, eyes exploding in his little skull, turned and ran with his tail between his legs, howling like he was being stabbed to death in the shower of an Alfred Hitchcock movie.

Larry’s crying was so loud it brought my wife running out of the closed up house with alarm. Although Lar doesn’t talk, it seemed pretty obvious that he was embarrassed once he figured out he’d been duped. I called him, “It’s okay, Lar, it’s me! – C’mon, you little pansy! – I’m sorry, buddy.” He came with his head hunkered in shame, licking his lips…

I’ve failed at many tasks in my life like my little friend Lar. Larry had passion and desire, he just came up a little short of perseverance that day. We all come up short sometimes. Those failings when used as motivation help us to be a little stronger when the next opportunity arises to test our resolve.

A little over a year ago my oldest brother was visiting with his dog Teddy. Teddy was a Catahoula Heeler, a big, strong, physically intimidating, dog, especially if your the size of Larry.

My wife had three roast bones for the dogs, Teddy got the biggest and Larry and Lola got the two smaller ones. Teddy decided he wanted Lar’s bone as well as his own. When Teddy attacked little Lar, he didn’t realize he was trying to bite into a dog who failed enough times to understand what it took to succeed; Fight back…

Larry didn’t win the fight with the big dog, but he didn’t lose his bone or his pride and dignity this time.

We don’t always get to pick the obstacles that fall into our paths in this life, we do get to choose how we respond to them… In the end, that is the real test…

Take a lesson from Larry…

DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH

k7839385If  you spend enough time with folks you can get to know them pretty well, make it a stressful scenario and it happens a sight quicker. We get to find out who the chunks of coal are and who’s gonna end up the sparkling diamond.

My wife and I wanted to beat the rush hour in the California metropolis, so we got an early 5:30 am head start. The traffic was indeed ugly, and that’s being generous and an understatement… or lacking prose…

Even after being pushed through the screening and baggage X-ray machines like cattle being led to slaughter, we were still an hour and forty five minutes early for our 10:40 flight back to the desert. The gate was a ghost town, I guess you gotta show up that early to sit in the cushy oversized seats with their own plug-ins in the face off the big oversized arms on the leather chairs.

Slowly but surely, time, which usually sails by at the speed of light, passed like filling a barrel of water with one drop of water from a leaky faucet that’s not quite ready to be repaired yet. The other passengers trickled in like the annoying drops.

A girl in her late teens with a cough you could almost see the germs scatter from talked non stop on her cell phone, alternating between giving her mom and boyfriend minute by minute updates between her hack attacks from the chair next to me.

A tall couple, probably late thirties, early forties, were casually dressed, but couldn’t hide their urban professional reserved demeanor.

A mom, daughter, and granddaughter sat across form us. I couldn’t understand them but that didn’t keep the two year old from wiping her grimy little paws all over my water bottle that was lying horizontally across the top of my suitcase, lodged in place by the handle. The mom talked in a language that wasn’t remotely familiar to me, trying to control the whirlwind of a child, but to no avail.

Another mom pushing her daughter in a stroller packed in and brought the max amount of humans, bags, and  buggies that could be fit into our already crowded aisle. The little girl in the stroller had a video game designed to keep her entertained. It worked. the Disney song played as she played, chorus only, over and over and over…

After the third flight delay and three hours later, the Disney tune was beginning to make my right eye twitch… All the elements were in place and began to overwhelm me, and that’s when the coal started to show through my calm and cool facade.

“They’re lying!” I said to my wife with clear agitation in my voice, and not caring who around me heard it.

I know from past experience that this particular airline cancels flights when they have two scheduled close to one another with the same destination and are able to fit most of the passengers on just one of them.

As soon as I spoke in my coal covered voice something special happened in the process. The little girl quit playing her video game and started talking to me. The tall yuppie husband made pretend glasses out of some wire, then transformed them into a hat to entertain the little girl. We all began to genuinely take an interest in one another. My wife offered to get food or water for the elderly lady parked at the end of our aisle in her wheelchair.

By the time the five hours and a couple more delays passed we were chatting like long lost friends, and when the mad, mad, mad, mad, dash to the other gate was announced, my wife wheeled the lady in the wheel chair at warp speed, inadvertently running over a few toes in the process. “Keep your arms in!” my wife ordered as the elderly lady’s grey locks blew in the breeze.

I wonder why it is we dread things beyond our control, knowing they usually turn out for the best?

I checked the mirror in the restroom when we finally got to Phoenix… Not a twinkle in sight…

THEY WORE JEANS

k7266730They wore jeans. Not like the fancy jeans with the gaudy stitching on the back pockets, or worse yet, the kind with shiny balls, chrome, or fake diamonds, in selected various art forms. I’m referring to back when working men, blue collar guys, wore jeans because they were durable and cheap.

Those were back in the days when there was no hiding your waist size with those types of jeans, least ways not until they got so worn out that the brown tag on the back right pocket got too faded to see the waist or inseam measurements.

There also would be no hiding your waist size with an untucked shirt, that was against the unwritten rules.

While those men didn’t have a lot, they had manners, got taught them along with the ten commandments. They also had combs, not the fancy ones of color that stuck out of the back pocket like a status symbol the way we did in the seventies. We wore the same jeans, but had a different outlook.

No, their combs were your basic black comb that could fit and hide with reverence in the back pocket of the blue jeans that ended up closer to the blue color of a sky and fading to white with age and holes. Their combs weren’t for vanity, they were meant for respect, to look presentable if the occasion called for it.

It was commonplace to see an aging pair of jeans get a remodel, the knees usually would get a rebuild out of an iron  or sewed on patch. Money was tight, but the people I’m trying to describe had pride not in their possessions or their clothes, they had pride in character.

Those folks valued honor above money or anything money couldn’t buy, they knew money could’t buy anything with real value. Value couldn’t be counted or calculated by a generation that didn’t worship idols.

If that generation did have a fault, it would have to be the fact that they wanted more for their loved ones. They worked like mules, traded blood, sweat, and tears to be able to provide a lifestyle that they didn’t have. To give us a world better than the world they’d inherited.

Of course they succeeded, who could have stopped them? Who on God’s green earth would have had the guts to try?

The majority of us got things that our parents didn’t, maybe it wasn’t much, but it was more than what the generation of honor had. Maybe part of the fault by our parent’s generation of marching into the unknown was that they assumed the next generation would cherish the same moral principles as well as the ones that led to honor.

That generation knew the words of Christ to be true, “Tis better to give than to receive.” They just didn’t know that too much giving kills the spirit that we’re designed with.

The best things I got from the man that wore jeans, the man I called “Dad”, were the things he never gave me, the things he couldn’t. The things he did give, I didn’t want, they cost me something that had to be paid from within… I had no way of knowing they were the greatest of gifts a man can give a son.

The things I once dreaded and avoided are the most cherished of gifts… along with the memories of the generation that wore jeans…

 

DRIVER’S SEAT

k5997182I wish I could say I did it with grace, that every time my heart was pure and I was perfect, but I don’t want to insult anyone’s intelligence, not to mention I gave up lying to myself a long time ago. I have been better than I used to be that last few years though, still not perfect, but I could see the end was in sight and wanted to finish well.

I wonder how much time I’ve spent sitting in my trucks over the years, waiting for daughters who were never ready on time… There wasn’t anyway for me not to count how many minutes I’d sit waiting impatiently for them. Sometimes I’d tell them, sometimes wisdom would prevail, not often enough, but occasionally I’d keep my mouth shut.

After I’d moved us north and a long way from the three different schools the girls were in, that inconveniently started at close to the same time, it was impossible for my wife to get all three of them to school. That’s way past the ten year time frame that marks the beginning of my stint as a daughter hauler.

I knew, even back then, that it would one day come to and end, that they’d, Lord willing, all someday grow up and drive themselves to school. The oldest drove herself back and forth from college, now to work, and just today, her mom and herself to the bridal shop in search of a wedding dress. The middle drove herself back and forth to college as well and still makes the drive to see us from the city she stayed to work in.

But before they were all grown up, we shared the cab of my different trucks over the years, struggled to sometimes sound civil to one another. They would sometimes turn their heads away from me to answer the questions that I knew might make them roll their eyes in frustration.

This week marks the last week of school for the youngest, she turns sixteen in a couple of weeks… she and my days of torment are coming to an end. There have been good days and bad days, silent mornings and others that were filled with  words, music, sometimes singing, and an occasional bet on who could get the closest to guessing how cold the temperature would register by the time we got to school. Then in the warm days of the year, how hot it would get.

Regardless how imperfect the day or the dad, the ritual always ended with a kiss on the side of my daughter’s head, carefully so as to not mess up the hair, and the, “Have a good day, love you, babe.”

“Love you too, dad,” she’d answer, even when she wouldn’t be in the mood to.

I’m truly going to miss that… I think it’s in the day to day rituals that we grind against any and all obstacles and odds that show true love. It’s in the love we show with our actions  in our imperfect world that we reflect our Father’s perfect love.

I would have never been my choice to take my girls to school, but in my imperfect choices in this life, I find God’s perfect love and plans for redemption in my life… glad He chose my girls to show me… I’d have never known what I had missed.

I find it’s like that with most things in this life; our stumbling He turns into a beautiful dance.

DIRTY DEEDS

k2703453There was a time when struggling through the river of life, I never stopped to consider my quest, my obstacles, even my nuisances, but especially my enemy’s perspective. All were to be vanquished and disposed of as quickly as possible and stomped to the bottom of the river, footstools to be used to be first to the other side.

These days, even as I fight to rise above, I find myself somewhat content just to not end up with my skull on one side of a boot heel and the bottom of the river on the other…

It was more of a nuisance, but my first instinct was to kill em’. “Kill em’ all, and let God sort em’ out.” They’re uninvited guests, trespassers, free loaders. They make themselves at home around my house and don’t pay anything like it’s their God given right.

When they first showed up six or seven years ago, I enlisted a gun for hire to do my dirty work. After all, it’s about taking care of  yourself and your loved ones, the rest you just gotta scrape off the bottom of your boots.

I paid the hit man, the boy next door at the time, twenty bucks a head for the lives of my enemies and that got rid of them for five years or so, but then one day their offspring showed up again, unannounced and out of nowhere: the pigeons were back.

I first heard them from my office, breaking my concentration and stealing the thoughts that surely would have been the ingredients for a block buster novel. I went out front, which I rarely do, and discovered all the droppings splattering the mat outside my office doors.

I also found and obscene pile of the big bird doo smack in the middle of the front entry – the hanging light fixture had become their toilet of choice it seemed.

I threw landscape pebbles to shoo the flying rats, but the minute I went back inside they mocked my moxie and went back to the secluded spot outside and above my office windows.

The hit man has grown up and gone off to college so I had to take the dirty deeds into my own hands. I got the most high powered pellet gun they had and enough ammo to fight off a pigeon attack of Hitchcock proportions. I spent half a day trying to sight in the scope, but to no avail.

With almost a complete day shot, nor a pigeon, I tried to shake off the frustration and trudged back to my office to get some writing done. That’s when I saw my arch nemesis on the high window ledge above the french doors in my office peering down on me with pride, mocking me from above.

I jumped up and ran out the doors, scooped up a fistful of gold landscape rocks and hurled them Nolan Ryan style at the pesky house crasher.

A few days later as I pulled into my driveway I scanned the ridge lines and nooks and crannies for my enemy. He stood boldly and defiantly on top of the fireplace stack above my office… That’s when I noticed my adversary was doing it on one leg…

That was over a month ago…

I often struggle to have compassion on anything or anyone in life when I’m too focused on rising above, gaining ground. In the struggle for survival in this river of life we end up with scars, some seen, some unseen, but we all have them, our enemies and us.

Our Father has given us wisdom to know that we all struggle in the river and when we reach the other side is up to Him. In the struggle we’re not called to just survive, but to thrive. And that can only be done when we see others, including our enemies, the way our Father sees all of us.

I don’t like what my enemy the pigeon does, but I respect his struggle…

Now if I could only get him to respect mine…

LIPS THAT DON’T LIE

k1086979I’ve been too busy to get a post out, but thought I’d share a piece of the manuscript I’m currently working on with you… Happy Fourth of July! God bless you and His nation.

My Uncle Buck’s smile wasn’t to express joy, his was more like a sneer, and it promised good ole’ fashioned pain for some poor soul, once he could get his mind good and numbed from drinkin’. It wasn’t always just another man he was looking to punish, he was hunting for the one without a soul, the enemy of God; the devil himself.

If you believe in that sort of thing, then you know it was that lust for vengeance that the ole’ devil used to lure Buck closer to him, so close to satisfying his desire, and yet just out of reach, but he swore by God that he could wup that ole’ devil given the chance, even sparred him for practice in his sleep. Buck looked high and low for him, searched darn near every bar from Missouri to Arkansas to California, and he doubled back more than a few times to make sure he didn’t miss him in one of the honky tonks.

 

Most of the nine kids were born with that same smile, but the majority of them learned it like they did their names, and that expression with the mouth, raised on one side, eyes squinting, spelled danger. Funny things about folks who’ve got nothing, and aren’t in jeopardy of losing what they ain’t got, sometimes seem to smile as much or even more than the ones who are fretting about the finer things in life that they could lose.

 

My dad’s smile was different. I thought about it that day at my house, a special day, a day I’d never known in over forty years, how his could be so gentle after the life that forbid it still baffled me. Kindness was mistaken for weakness in his world and tears were designed, by God, for women and children. It might have been the new world, in the new South, but they weren’t of any kind of new mind to square the first part of the Good Book with the second.

 

* * * * *

 

My dad smiled the kind of smile that let you know it’s genuine, from the heart, and if you were looking close, you could catch a glimpse of his soul through those soft green eyes. But there was something different about it that day, unique, one I hadn’t seen another one of his exactly like it. It was strained, but happy, beaming with pride, not for himself. That wasn’t his style—it was pride and appreciation. I was proud too, but that’s been something that’s come far too easily for me. It didn’t matter that I was forty-four years old. I was still his youngest son, and it felt like cool green grass under my feet on the perfect spring day when he was proud of me, and told me so.

 

For the life of me I can’t imagine why I hated it when he, or anyone else for that matter, tussled my hair in affection, back when I was young enough for another person to actually be willing to show their emotion. I had no idea how rare it was, otherwise I might have cherished it, but I was the son of strong men, hard men. I knew that before I could speak, before the rest of the world laughed at the kid who couldn’t pronounce an ‘R’ to save my life. My dad never laughed.

 

The strained smile looked almost sad. That’s when I spotted it. I’d seen every different type of emotion on my dad’s face over my lifetime, caused every one of them at one time or another, but it had been too long since I’d seen something close to that one. That day I’d remember all the days of my life… and his.

THE HOKEY POKEY

x25131763“You put your left foot in, you put your left foot out, you put your left foot in and you shake it all about, do the Hokey Pokey and you turn yourself around – that’s what’s all about!” I’m not sure what body part the Hokey Pokey dance is is supposed to start with, but it covered just about every body part… including shaking your noggin’ like an imbecile.

Little kids love the Hokey Pokey… they even lured some of us older kids to do the Hokey Pokey at the skating rink, putting your let foot in with a heavy roles skate attached and shaking it like a lunatic took some serious balance. Probably half the show off skaters ended up on the seat of their pants… I know one for sure.

Before long we were a little too cool to be doing the Hokey Pokey, we were older, mature, slightly distinguished. Yes sir, we’d graduated from the Hokey Pokey and Duck, Duck, Goose. It was time to be grown, mature, time to show the world we’d come of age… We’d earned our way to be inducted into the world of the L.A. Shuffle.

Steps forward, (the exact count I couldn’t begin to remember) another so many steps to the right, leaning with your upper body before following with the lower half for effect, then the ever so clever clap, in time with all the other cool participants. Even the bad student could remember the lyrics to that song, and we shouted along with the choirs, “Do the Shuffle!”

Days rolled into years, tennis shoes were swapped for dress shoes, Levi’s 501’s for pleated dress pants, fine long sleeved shirts, and matching belts and ties added for effect. The Hokey Pokey rolled into Rock-N’-Pop, disco balls into strobe lights and curfews into all nighters.

Funny how our perspectives change, and not always for the better. I remember thinking as a child the silly things like the Hokey Pokey were for children. Then somehow I believed that I looked mature, cool, as I moved my body to more refined tunes.

To put away childish things, as Paul wrote about, we miss the point sometimes. It’s not the form of dance, be it the Hokey Pokey, the Shuffle, the Twist, the Swim, or the dance of the King of Israel. It’s the understanding of the motivation behind the moves.

If it’s to teach children their body parts and to help form coordination, I say good deal. If it’s to move in joy and celebration and acknowledgment and worship to and for God, even better.

Dressing in slick duds and hairstyles because we’re older and can, doesn’t makes us any wiser than the pre-schoolers doing the Hokey Pokey… and not nearly as cute.

Putting away childish ways is about how we think, and how we think will show in what we do… It shows in my wife…

She wants to take ballroom dance lessons… the Hokey Pokey isn’t looking so bad after all…

A CHRISTMAS PRESENT IN JUNE

u26401554It was like a scene out of a comedic drama, one that makes you cringe, even if it’s not happening to you. The old saying, “Truth is stranger that fiction” is a hard reality on occasion. Coincidences stacked on top of one another begin to convince a fella’ that the Divine Power loves a good story and definitely has a sense of humor.

It was Christmas Eve last year and Walmart was hoppin’. It was a mob scene taken right out of the ringing of the classic seasonal song that talks about “shoppers rushing home with their treasures”. Well, some of them would get to rush home…

There were four of us on a mission; get as many sleeping bags as possible for my family to hand out the next day when Ali got to town for Christmas. We were also collecting scads of socks and some rubber bands to roll them in for convenient hand outs.

My wife, the oldest, the youngest, and I all had a heaping basket plus one more we managed to caravan as we moved like a lanky worm through the crowds toward the check out.

Kenz, the oldest, is a natural born leader and was blazing the trail.

“There’s one right here!” she called back to us while she maneuvered the way with us in tow, me now pushing one basket and pulling the last behind like a caboose.

It was like God was on our side to get an open lane at the busiest store on the busiest day… that’s what good livin’ will do for you…

The cashier was a bit overwhelmed as we kept loading items on the conveyor then reloading baskets on the other side. We quickly developed a system just about the time we figured out the reason for our good fortune… we were in the express lane and over two or three times the “fifteen item limit” in each basket…

The other shoppers with the proper number of items were filing in behind us and beginning to grumble. “Sorry – we didn’t realize this was the express lane,” my wife apologized in embarrassment. We got loaded as quickly as possible and the cashier was kind.

I apologized to her again as I swiped my credit card so we could get our five full baskets that were clogging the entire area out of the way. “I”m sorry, sir, your card’s been declined,” she alerted me.

“Seriously?” I asked, already knowing full well she was.

I pulled my phone out of  my pocket and began dialing as my wife read me the number on the card written in the fine print that I struggled to see without my reading glasses. The line behind us by that time was beginning to growl as my cell phone dropped the call.

“Would you like me to cancel the order?” the cashier asked.

“No! – Do not cancel it – We just spent ten minutes checking out – I’ll make the call outside,” I told her, and off I went… the light’s better outside anyhow.

My wife and daughters would have been in serious trouble if Walmart sold pitchforks…

By the time I got things straightened out with the overly cautious bank and back in the store to re-run the card, we’d become enemy number ones… all of us.

My wife quickly grabbed the frail woman’s groceries who was right behind us and the mob’s ring leader while she sat barking from her motorized wheel chair, “Let us get these for you, I’m so sorry!” my wife said with sincerity… You’d have thought we’d just saved her cat from a tree or something…

Once we broke outside our red faces began to cool, “Oh my gosh, how embarrassing!- That was the worst thing ever!” Kenz said. A figure of speech for a girl who works in the ICU.

Sometimes the moments that seem to last the longest end up meaning the most… and are the ones we never forget…

MAN OVERBOARD!

k0134435Ever so often someone will ask a tough question. My friend and brother, Bernard Haynes, whose blogs over at his site titled Lead To Impact, did just that to me when he asked me to write a guest post on “vision”. I struggled through it and come up with what I hope is worthy of your time and energy.

For those of you that don’t know Bernard, you need to! He’s got a great passion and is very gifted at encouraging and stirring the mind and heart. I’ve never once read anything he’s posted and not been lifted up by his words of wisdom and encouragement. Follow me over and make a note of his address, you’re gonna want to make it a regular stop in your schedule!

Jump on here for a ride over.

GAME FACE

k1510581My friend Ceil wrote a post not too long ago about dealing with people that had their “game faces on”. Ceil had a great point, “No one likes to deal with people who are cold and care nothing about who they’re dealing with and are only trying to get through the day or trying to accomplish a specific task.

Ceil’s post hit close to home… actually a direct hit. I pondered my game face and how often I sport it. The game face came to me in the same way it come to most folks; it starts as a kid focusing and concentrating to succeed at our endeavors.

The business world took my game face to a whole new level of stone. I didn’t realize as a kid I was the “new” generation of management. I couldn’t begin to fathom at the time that my ambition and drive painted me into the role of a hatchet man in a world where a game face wasn’t a facade, it was ready for the worst. It was real life… dealing with real lives, and some men struggling to make ends meet would get down right emotional.

In that mans’ world, emotions didn’t bring tears, they brought anger, threats, and occasionally a fist fight.

There’s no way I could begin to recall all the people I’ve hired and fired or laid off over the years. A few colorful characters do stand  out. If someone cheated on their time cards or had no pride of workmanship, my game face was stone as the axe fell.

When times were slow and the man or crew of men didn’t deserve to be let go, just forced to by economics, my heart broke… I still sported the game face, but was honest with them.

I remember the look in the green eyes of the man I was made to let go that not too long before had been my boss. He was a giant of a man and I’d mocked him in jest when he was my boss… I was shocked he didn’t crush me as I gave him the bad news with my game face on.

He just nodded, said he’d be happy to take the truck back to the yard and asked about his and his men’s checks. I pulled the stack of yellow colored checks from my back pocket. He nodded again as I handed them to him.

That’s been a lifetime of game faces ago… Even now occasionally when a manager that I haven’t even hired is deemed to be dangerous, a loose cannon and physical risk, I’ll wear the calloused game face and do the honors, just in case.

I suppose I could be considered a hypocrite in some ways. I do business with many people who don’t know the writer side of my life, not that I go out of my way to hide it, it just doesn’t come up when I’ve got my game face on…

It occurs to me I need to bring those two world closer together and let my game face fade into compassion, though I recognize the world in general tends to mistake kindness for weakness.

How transparent is your life?

Do you have a game face?

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