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…

A WEEK OF WRITER’S BLOCK

k16141726I watch people there. It’s not the design of the old place, but that’s what it’s best at…. heaven knows it’s not the food.

I’m no restaurant expert, but if I were the person in charge, I’d change a few things. Then again I seem to be the only one who really notices the glaring imperfections.

I’m not sure which one has more imperfections; the old restaurant or the people who frequent it. I marvel and appreciate the simple folks that don’t mind the imperfections – I don’t think they see them… but I do.

The floor has old stains that if someone were determined enough could wrestle them off the outdated 8″x8″ brownish orange ceramic tiles that were cleverly grouted in black… at least I hope it was.

The golden orange swiveling oak bar stools mounted on the steel poles that are secured to the floor tell of the generations and style of time and culture from a distant past.

I wonder if it’s the low ceilings that make the place feel cozy, like home away from home… only dirtier. It’s different on that side of town. The waitresses and cooks who overcook the simple food about eight feet away from the bar area interact like family. They’re loud. The cooks boom box glares the oldies station while the cooks talk politics.

The waitresses in the blue collar area bus their own tables and wear the stains on their matching uniforms with honor. They and the cooks interact like it’s part of a show the customers get as a free perk.

“Hey darlin’ – What can I get you?” the friendly waitress who knows me as a fairly quiet regular asked with a hint of southern charm.

“Egg white omelet, one extra egg, and onions – No cheese and no mushrooms today – Oh and Pam spray instead of butter,” I answered.

“You got it! – Have it right up!” she announced.

I sat with my pad of paper and favorite pen struggling to find words in a world that was spinning inside my head until real life snatched my attention. When my imperfect food arrived it was even more imperfect than usual. After I finally got the waitresses’ attention I pointed out to her kindly, “This has cheese in it.”

She quickly filled my coffee cup, dousing everything with splashes in a three foot radius and dropped off more creamer, the type that comes in the little round mini-containers with the peel off lid. As I poured the creamer into my coffee it dropped like a chunk of sludge. It took some time, but I did eventually get my waitresses’ attention again to trade for a new cup of coffee and cream that actually poured.

There I was in an imperfect world; me, trapped in a week of writer’s block as I began to study the folks in earnest. I watched an ancient man with his wife and a cane that kept him from falling over, he was bent, permanently, at the waist. One regular, a man in his probably late forties that rides his bike year round and talks to himself, barks, and howls for no apparent reason, sat in his usual seat at the breakfast bar. I considered the single mother/waitress that can’t afford dental care, the one that worked for thirteen hours on Thanksgiving.

After too much coffee making my way to the bathroom after eating my healthy omelet that they had forgotten the third egg on the next try as well as almost drowned in grease, I came sliver close to slipping on the greasy floor that must have been mopped with dirty water.

I realized the imperfect place was really just a step away from disaster… Kinda like the rest of us that have the grace of God in and on us. The way I figure it, I fit in pretty well at that place and the folks in it…

So I went back the next day too.

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