SWEETER THAN CHOCOLATE

k5626531If there was a bright side to the dark mornings and my adolescent eyes burning in defiance on my way to work with my dad, it was the pitstop at the only place in our small town to get a cup of coffee in the predawn hours. I thought it was luck at the time that it just so happened to be the only donut shop in town to boot.

The glazed bar swimming in chocolate frosting, cut and filled with luscious whipped cream, washed down with a mini carton of cold chocolate milk could make just about any bad situation seem bearable. Even now I can’t figure out why that donut isn’t on the top of the “comfort food” list.

I didn’t know those frigid mornings with my dad would provide a foundation that I would come to hold dear and value more than any number they could calculate in math class… then and now. The most valuable lessons never did happen for me in a classroom.

The folks at The High Calling, in what must have been a moment of charity or weakness, invited me to guest post for them, and before they could think about it or take it back, I said, “Yes!” I’d be almost as thrilled as eating a chocolate donut if you’d join me there today.

Click here to hitch a ride over.

THE BOOTH BANDIT

42-17579939My first instinct was aggravation… It’s a habit I’ve honed and polished over the years and although I’m hesitant to toot my own horn, I’m pretty good at it. There aren’t  many that can jump higher than I can when I’m jumping to conclusions and even less who can fly farther when I’m flying off the handle… It’s an ugly trait that my type “A” personality comes by as honestly as one can in this fallen world. It’s like being a spoiled child, minus the cute and adorable.

As I rounded the corner of the restaurant, mid afternoon to get a quick bite to eat and scribble some ink on paper, I spotted him in my seat. He’s a regular too, but he wasn’t sitting in his regular seat. His backside was parked in mine… I didn’t say a word as I turned to sit in the next old two person booth across from the counter that overlooks the atrium; his, Mr. booth swiper’s seat.

The brown formica table hadn’t been cleaned and there was onion smeared across the old brown imitation leather seat… enough to quell an appetite. I stood beside the booth waiting for the fairly new waitress to show back up from hiding to wipe the scrunge off the booth seat that wouldn’t have been my first choice.

The wandering waitress did finally show up in passing, feigning not seeing me standing there taking up the aisle as she rushed by. I backed up to in front of the seat stealer’s booth with the steam beginning to billow from under my collarless t-shirt.

The waitress that would have made Houdini proud reappeared with an irritated look on her face even though I was trying to disguise mine, “Can I get you something to drink?” she asked.

“Can I get this table and seat cleaned please?” I answered her question with my own.

I caught a glimpse of steam sneaking out from her uniformed collar as she turned without saying a word, looked we were about dead even. She went MIA for another five minutes as I stood beside the booth that had been hijacked by the bad man. I glanced over at the frazzled waitress standing about twenty five feet away getting drinks for another table… I surmised a clean one.

Houdini’s great niece showed up again behind the counter across the orangish small ceramic tiles when our eyes met again, “I’m the only one here!” she called out in frustration. That’s when I remembered Lisa’s words from earlier in the day and my response to hers, “I’m going to be kind to strangers today..”

It’s interesting how powerful words are. I’ve been encouraged by every person that is going to leave a comment here today. Your words matter and carry more weight and merit than you can know. The encouragement we spend on one another doesn’t return void, for they are words from our Father and they belong to Him and come from the hearts that He indwells.

“I’ll have to get a dishrag,” she mumbled, fully out of sorts.

“Just give it to me, I can wipe it up, I’m not too proud,” I said gently and smiling. Her demeanor completely changed.

“No! I’ll get it, I know you would, I remember you,” she said kindly.

“Thank you!” I smiled, sliding into the soggy seat.

“You’re welcome,” she smiled warmly.

I felt better… I might even try to smile at the booth bandit…

Next time…

BOOGALOO DOWN BROADWAY

k5925912I hung the “Boogaloo Down Broadway” felt poster on my bedroom wall with swelling pride, just perpendicular to my oldest brother’s Easy Rider poster that matched the red, white, and blue, gas tank of his Harley…

It was a fundraiser to help pay for our upcoming eighth grade graduation costs, and we were the the willing pawns in the pioneer days of bothersome kids’ peddling magazines for the publishing giants in hopes of a few scraps off their grand table.

Eric and I devised a plan, which always starts at home. Our ambitions were greatly stunted by the fact that I think he got his mom to pop for one magazine and I got skunked at my house.

Some of the other kids parents bought magazines-o-plenty to stock their offices which the school kept us abreast of bi-weekly via the PA system. Between school and basketball practice we hit the tiny downtown area that was a stone’s throw from the junior high school campus. Something magical happened, we learned that you have to ask… While the biggest percentage of folks said no, some did indeed say yes.

We worked daily like rented mules peddling magazines to anyone who’d listen to us. It wasn’t too long and Eric and I had crawled our way into third place, but we wanted more. We worked harder and longer and within another week or so with time ticking away we scratched our way into second place. While that felt good, we were determined to push to the last and make a run at the top spot and take home the spoils of victory.

With swarms of kids trying to sell magazines in the small town, it didn’t take long to fish the small pond out. It began to look bleak for us. Although we’d fought the gallant fight, the number of subscriptions needed to surpass the current leader was out of reach.

The one thing I’ll give Eric and I credit for is being determined to fight to the end… That was when we discovered the magic of the crafty human heart. The owner of the establishment that had taken the time to hear our sales pitch turned us down flat, “No – I don’t need any more magazines,” he said almost with pleasure. Without a thought in my head the words popped out of my mouth, “Would you like to make a donation?” He paused, nodded, reached into his wallet, and handed me a five dollar bill.

If there was ever a time in my life when the sky busted open, golden light fell upon me while an orchestra played, accompanied by high pitched opera voices singing “AAAAAHHHHHHHHHH!!!” in unison, that was it. And that changed everything.

Of course we justified it by gathering enough scads of cash to buy magazines for our family, chalking it up to the bottom line of pushing print. It didn’t take long to bend the ethical lines even further by reasoning that as hard as we were working a bit of the free cash should be used to feed our growling guts pizza and soda.

When the final number of subscriptions sold were tallied Eric and I had beat the competition by a large margin. It would be years before the cheap prizes given to us for our shallow victory would come to haunt me. For a time they made me proud to have won by outsmarting the system and competition.

Being willing to be more dishonorable and being ready to do anything to win is something that this world celebrates. At least the people without honor. The yellow AM radio and the felt poster of a gangster looking cartoon character that read, “Boogaloo Down Broadway” said a lot about who I was at the time, but even more so after they hit the bottom of the trash can.

GOOD WILL

k14279321He looked like a character from a Stephen King novel. The kind of person that catches your eye and spins a tale at a glance. He was tall, walked with his shoulders at attention, a rare thing for someone of his years. His was a long slow gait, but intentions were in each strained stride.

He had a sun soaked blue ball cap to shade his white crown as he made his way toward the Goodwill store. The violet skin splotches on his face would have made a zombie jealous and the lines in his hard face carved into leather. The prematurely aged man looked like he’d spent a lifetime standing up to an unforgiving sun and his battle appeared to be all over but the raisin’ of the white flag.

His right grey eye squinted nearly shut as he blew his cigarette smoke out the right side of his mouth, pulling his lips as far to that side and lifting his grey stubbled cheek to direct the exhaust in my direction. The old guy was tough – that was an easy call. He sported his faded tee shirt with pride over his long lean frame. “VIETNAM VETERAN” is what it said in white letters against the shirt that matched the color of his eyes.

Some people walk through life not knowing much about what’s going on  around them. That wasn’t the case with the elderly vet. He was still a soldier. He studied everything around him like an eagle does an open field. He picked up his struggled pace toward the front door as he pulled his right leg forward starting up at his hip.

He flicked his cigarette butt from between his thick middle finger and thumb into the crushed granite rock planter as he passed it. His shoulders rocked from side to side and he pulled his right leg while he picked up even more speed toward the used goods store.

Even though aged, his left leg was strong – chiseled like a Roman statue, veins sprawled across his calf as it carried the brunt of the load. He had matching old tennis shoes with short white socks. The left one was skin tight around his lean ankle, the right sock flapped down like a small blanket over the top of his faded shoe loosely flanking the thin silver aluminum prosthetic leg that was supporting him.

I spotted what the eagle eye soldier had a half minute before me. She was older than him, but was fit and healthy for her age. He arrived at the door a few seconds before her and wrestled the heavy glass door open for her. I saw him nod and her smile and say some sort of greeting with a genuine gleam in her eye.

I’m not sure if either one of them found what they were searching for that day, but I’m certain they both participated in an act of good will. I was just glad to be witness to the small act. You see, I’ve learned that it’s the smallest things that sometimes speak the loudest about our lives… and what we lack shouldn’t keep us from showing others the Good will we’ve been given by grace.

LOOKING FOR A THRILL

k3513099I can still see his feet and arms fly toward the ceiling from that split second glance I stole from him so many decades ago. Funny how a millisecond in time can be etched into our minds for life… It was in the long gone days of adolescence when not more than a few minutes of boredom could fuel less that honorable actions.

The fall night was brisk, the desert moon had the rare night off and my buddy Dave and I were looking for a thrill. I remember navigating the winding and hilly streets that had no sidewalks or street lights when it was so dark you couldn’t see the pavement hunched over at the waist in search of it.

We played all the games the urban kids did, but some of the best games were played on other people’s possessions and at their expense. It was one of those light forsaken nights that I retired from one of my all time favorite adolescent games… I can’t remember if it was Dave’s idea or mine, but we were definitely up for another round of “Ring and Run.”

The big living room window was wide open and we could hear voices coming from inside as we crept up the steep blacktop driveway. “We could get caught!” Dave whispered, backhanding me in the shoulder. That made it even better… I backhanded him in excitement and tradition for good measure. The sidewalk led to the front door and one of the best adolescent toys ever made; a doorbell on the other side of that open window. “We can crawl underneath!” I whispered back.

Maybe it was my neighborhood that made me feel like I should lead… or maybe just sheer stupidity… Probably a solid dose of both…

I stopped just under and at the corner of the big window and spied into the house… Four people, two men and two women. Happily visiting like folks used to do more of. I could tell the guy closest to the door was the owner. He had black horn rimmed glasses, thinning brown hair, his arms folded and resting behind his head as he lounged in the vinyl orange chair that had survived the sixties.

With my heart beating in my throat, I started to crawl toward the musical button flanking the door. Half way across I spotted Dave chickening out and making his way slowly back down the steep driveway. I’m not sure what possessed me to, but I suddenly jumped up in the middle of the wide window and yelled at the top of my lungs, “AAHHHHHHH!!!” and was off like The Flash.

You don’t think about things like looking into a bright lit room then turning to sprint down a steep black driveway not knowing where it flattens out at the street when you’re a kid. The man that pert near jumped outta his skin would have been happy to know my knees and hands looked like hamburger after I hit the road at the bottom of his driveway…

I think about things like that when I spot folks running through life – full speed ahead into danger, not considering the consequences and the cost of finding a thrill. It’s a wise person that calculates the cost…

 

 

 

TUBE SOCKS AND SUPERSTITION

Check out my tube socks! Pathetic…

Check out my tube socks! Pathetic…

It was frigid and dark outside as I plopped on the edge of my bed fumbling with my best pair of game socks. The dim light in the tiny bedroom that I shared with my two big brothers was cast from the jelly jar fixture in the skinny hallway that struggled to reach me all of the nine feet away. I didn’t like the stark contrast of obnoxious light in midst of blackness in the predawn hours. Still don’t.

I was up early and nervous about the game that afternoon as my mind raced and my stomach churned, “I wish I had new socks,” I thought to myself, but knew with my dad working out of town and my mom without a car, new socks would be the last thing on the agenda.

It didn’t even bother me that no one from my family would make it to my basketball game that night; less pressure. I just needed some new tube socks with the blue triple ring around the top that we pulled up to just under our kneecaps. Funny how culture dictates style… or lack of it…

I held the long tube sock up in the dim light not quite able to to see what I was looking for. I felt my way down to the worn area of the fabric where my heel had pounded the sock thread bare in spots. I continued feeling my way around it until I found the least worn area of the sock and rotated it so that my heel had as much cushion as possible. I laced up my basketball shoes that doubled as my school shoes, stood, took a deep breath, blew it out and was off.

The day passed painfully slow, kinda the exact opposite of how they feel now, but eventually the day did grind away and the game and the butterflies were on and in me in full force. I can’t remember who we even played, but I remember we won. On top of that I had my highest scoring game and assists-uh-plenty. Peculiar how you never think of things like socks when you’re focused on a monumental task that requires concentration – a concentration that disappeared faster than a quarter from Houdini’s hand in the classroom.

There weren’t any new socks in my foreseeable future at the time, but I had a new perspective on the worn sock dilemma. The next game day I sat on the edge of the bottom bunk rotating the worn sock between my thumb and forefinger searching for the least worn spot.

I knew that I’d found one of the secrets to success in my new ritual. I’d wear the most padding of the sock on my heel area, put the right sock on first, and I’d have another break out game… Even after the rest of that season not having as good a game as I was trying to recapture, I kept up the superstitious ritual to recapture the magic… that never came.

Funny how superstitious we can be. I still think about the supposed bad luck when I walk under a ladder… We take on the role of God by adding our own laws to the universe as if we have that power. Or we drink someone else’s Kool-aid believing that they know as much as the Being that created all of us and supplies the very power that allows life on this planet.

We want so desperately to have control and create our desired results that even as adults we fall into the trap of superstition and magic. Ignoring the True supernatural Power that resides in heaven, earth, and inside of us… and that Source is infinitely more powerful than how we might wear our worn out socks… or if we step on sidewalk cracks…

 

CONSEQUENCE

k2302766She could see him in the distance. He was a good man… how she loved him after all the years. She waited at the stream, watching the only man in her life as he worked in the field. He was bent over meticulously pulling every weed, he’d been bent over most of his life now and his hunched back showed it, the precious scar on his side now faded.

He paused, stood, wiped through both eyebrows with the back of his arm. His hair was grey now, so were the eyebrows. He caught sight of her and waved from a distance… he still had the most generous smile. She smiled and waved as if she were still a girl.

She glanced down into the water; the bright midday sun reflected her image in the gentle ripples. Her smile faded as she saw a glimmer of the once headstrong girl. She thought about the earth, her life, her man, their past, their future… and consequences.

She remembered the early days…Life was perfect. She had all she could imagine… for the life of her at her age looking back she couldn’t figure out why she wanted more, but she did…

Her tears mixed unnoticed into the moving waters as the memories washed over her, carrying immense regret that reflected in the waters. She thought about the death of her son… and her estranged son… How he could break their hearts was as unbearable as the loss of the other.

She tried to fathom how much her actions affected her world and the world all around her. She could only imagine… She was grateful for her man and all the other children she’d been blessed with… She was the Matriarch now, but she didn’t feel worthy. Her children could never grasp what it was like to walk in her place, to carry the burden she did.

She gazed at the wrinkles around her eyes and realized her remaining days were fewer than she might know. As a young woman she had planned to live forever, but she wanted more… traits that were obvious in her offspring…

She filled the bowl with the cool water and took a drink before filling it fuller for her man. She could see his tired skin still shining with sweat as he turned; he always seemed to sense when she was around… She appreciated that he worshipped the ground she walked on… even now when she was old.

“You’re too good to me, my love,” he said. She loved hearing those tender words and came to count on them like the rain.

“It’s just water, dear,” she passed it off humbly. He drank the whole bowl down, the drips falling into his heavy  beard.

“It always tastes better from your hand, my love,” he smiled.

“You’re watching for snakes?”

“Of course!” he reached out and grabbed his wife, turning her, placing both arms around her and clasping his hands in front of her, “The crops are going to be strong this year,” he said peering out over the pathetic crop.

“Mm-hmm,” she paused, “We just didn’t know how good we had it…” She leaned and turned to see the face of her man, “Why don’t you blame me or hate me for what I’ve done?” she asked again.

“We’re in this together, have been all our lives,” he answered.

“But I ruined our family… I couldn’t have known that it would ruin the world!” she began to cry.

“If I’d have been the man I was supposed to be, you’d never have made a mistake to begin with… I was weak… I blamed you, but it wasn’t you, my love… it was me.”

“You’re too good to me, my love,” tears ran like her stream.

“We’ve not been the best, but I fear much worse will likely follow.”

“I’m sorry, Adam.”

“I’m sorry too, Eve.”

OUT FOR A STROLL

u23589394The silver haired gentleman looked like a fish out of water the moment I spotted him. I was already in the momentum of my busy Saturday in order to try to get everything on my ridiculous to do list accomplished before nightfall. It was still early when I jumped into my truck and I caught him out of the corner of my eye via my garage window.

I paused momentarily eyeing the unaware elderly man as the sun was just peaking over the edge of the earth as if watching with me, it sprinkled it’s gentle rays on the old guy as if the street in front of my house was his stage. He moved methodically with intention and purpose in each slow and deliberate stride.

I quickly deduced that he didn’t live on my street and that he must be one of my neighbor’s dad. “There’s something different about him,” I thought to myself as I glanced at him,  fired up my truck, fastened the seatbelt, and hit the garage door opener, hoping he might not hear it groan and disturb him while I studied the thin man that was sporting jeans and a sweater.

I backed out still unseen and unheard as I pulled out and up slowly and respectfully toward him to let him clear my path. He finally spotted me not twenty feet away from him almost stopped and he waved grandly as his face seemed to light up in delight. I lifted my hand just off the steering wheel and nodded and smiled as he strode to the other side of the street.

I continued to study the graceful gentleman in my rearview as I drove slowly away, which is also a rarity for me. I watched the distinguished looking man look about thoughtfully at everything in his line of sight. Just before I turned the corner out of our short cul-de-sac I peered back one more time and finally put my finger on it.

It was his body language as he walked. People that go on walks around my neck of the woods walk with a different purpose. The walks taken around these parts by the folks who live around here are for exercise. This man wasn’t out for a walk, he was out for a stroll.

The art of strolling and the sure sign of being on a stroll I’d seen so little of in the past two or three decades that I didn’t recognize it. It was how the old fellow held his hands; clasped gracefully behind his back as he strolled. His generation knew how to walk and they knew how to stroll… and they knew the difference and purpose of each… a trait that doesn’t seem to have been passed on to a generation too busy to be bothered with nonsense like pondering the beginning of a new day.

I hit the gym hard and fast, took care of business, cleared my computer post haste, and hit my office and was buried in blueprints all day. Come late afternoon I raced to the shower and grabbed a protein bar to arrive five minutes late for church… I thought about the strolling senior the next day as I headed off to my office to pen this post…

I folded my arms behind my back and slowed my pace to a stroll.

We race through this life striving for the grand things, never realizing as we pass an old man with his hands folded gently behind his back that he is reaping the true treasures of wisdom…

SILLY TRADITIONS

k5414870It’s an odd ritual that has been part of our lives for as far back  as I can recollect. And it’s a rare thing when one of us other than my wife remembers or volunteers for the task. We’re like the lazy farm animals that don’t want to help make the bread, we just want to wolf it down.

My diligent wife asks the question she already knows the answer to, “Did anybody light the candle?” These days life and time has whittled the family dinner number of participants down by two for a grand total of three of us. That leaves only  our youngest and I to answer the loaded question. You’d think my wife would quit asking after all these years.

My little one and I look at each other with eyes at half mast – that’s how family members talk when it’s better not to talk… My daughter also asks me with her eyes if I might do the honors… I rarely do. I raise my eyebrows high in silence to let her know she’ll be doing the honors if her mom doesn’t beat her to the punch – make that candle.

Similar to the redundant question my wife asks, so do we, “Why do we have to light the candle every night?” We get the same traditional response, “It makes the food taste better.” My youngest and I again look at each other with eyes at half mast and straight faces in unanimous silent disagreement.

Neither one of us believes it actually makes the food taste better – her even more so when it turns out to be fish… The truth is, even despite my laziness and seeming apathy, I really do appreciate that my wife goes out of her way to make every dinner special. They are. I’ve figured out by now that it’s those seemingly insignificant actions that demonstrate love.

I also know that the day is coming when it will most likely be me that insists on lighting the candle that sits in the center of our table before we eat… even when it’s just my wife and I. I’m already forming the rapidly approaching vision of a future where three moms will be asking there families, “Did anybody light the candle?” Their little ones will squawk about the senselessness of it all as they slowly over time begin to understand the lasting value of traditions of a loving mom who sat in the chairs where they once sat… many dinners ago.

My little one struggled to light the big candle with the wick buried in the dried wax. I took the lighter, turned the cream colored candle on an angle and let the melting wax uncover the tired wick from so many nights before. I watched the light dance on the other side of the almost translucent wax for a moment before my wife sat down.

We moved on to our next tradition of prayer in thanks to the One who provides all things and gives us the minds to grasp the precious gifts we all tend to take for granted. You know, I didn’t use to, but I really believe the prayer of thanks makes the food taste even better… even when it’s fish…

ONE OF THESE DAYS…

k14986532Repost from January 2011

If I had a nickel for every time I heard someone say something like, “You know one of these days I’m gonna…” I’d have a lot of nickels… Finish that sentence just about any way you can think of and we’ve all probably heard it more times any of us could recall.

I’ve found that people that talk about change excessively rarely earnestly attempt it.

That’s why New Years resolutions never made a lot of much sense to me. If I feel a need for change I’m not going to wait for a new year to get started on it. If it’s important enough to warrant a change it shouldn’t wait until a certain date unless there is a binding contract or agreement involved.

I remember decades back when my dad quit smoking. He didn’t make a New Years resolution, he contemplated it for years and one day he threw out his pack of unfinished cigarettes and never fired up again.

I have to confess I ate like a horse over the weekend of Christmas, I had let down my discipline a bit for a couple months even prior to that. April from Blessed Beyond Measure (add shameless plug for your friend’s blog here) had a picture of a candy store in one of her posts and my mouth watered just thinking about it knowing the delicacies I’d soon be scarfing.

I knew it was time to get some extra cardio. I didn’t wait for the week to end so I could start fresh in the New Year, I started that day, the day I realized the need. I’m not saying I’m exceptional for having done so, I just know that my human nature, if allowed to put something off, will very likely continue to put it off, whatever it is.

One thing I do at the start of the New Year is make a list and the title at the top of my scrap notebook paper reads “Goals,” the things I want to be a priority in my life for the next 12 months. I fold up that list to the size of a business card and keep it in my wallet. My list of goals is with me everyday of the year. I don’t look at it everyday, but occasionally I’ll pull it out, unfold it and measure where I’m at on my quest and goals for the year.

Things like doing cardio to lean out or landing a literary agent don’t make it onto my list. I figure if I take care of the big things, the little things will take care of themselves. Here is a sample of the last list I’ve carried around for over a year;

1. Trust God in everything.

2. Learn to have only fear of, and/or reverence for God. (no fear of the world)

3. Be of the highest character during everyone else’s meltdown.

4. Honor God by how I love my wife.

5. Be a bigger part in my kids lives.

The next two lines were business related and the goals for my Lacrosse girls regarding work ethic, character, and their self image… OK, and yes, to win a state championship. (I didn’t say I was perfect!)

In truth resolutions and goals are essentially the same thing. We have to be resolute or determined and unwavering in our pursuit of fulfilling our goals or desires. I like to use goals, not only due to the negative connotation that have become associated with resolutions, but also because goals don’t ever have to be completely attained in order to receive gratification. I think anything attempted in life that is done for the right reasons and is carried out with passion, desire, honor, and perseverance, carries the gratification within the process, not the outcome.

I’ll make a new list of goals for this year and I’ll have to carry some over from last year, probably even every year for the rest of my life. Each year as I do a little better and get closer to my goals I’ll be encouraged… God honors seekers.

“Someday” isn’t one of the days of the week and I’ve also heard it said that “someday never comes.” Whatever day of the week it is, regardless of what week or month it is, it is today… you know what today is?

TODAY’S THE DAY! Lets not just be talkers, lets be doers. It happens this year for all of us and it starts with action.

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