REMEMBERING TO COUNT THE BLESSINGS

k6406423I thought I had a stressful morning, that is until I had an up close glance at someone else’s. Backing out of the garage took a little longer than normal and the extra time we’d allocated for as little stress as possible on the morning drive to school was disappearing like a magic trick.

The mirrors on my truck that is already a wide ride make the entering and especially exiting from my garage a little tricky, especially for an inexperienced and barely-fifteen-and-a-half-year-old-driver. “Stop! – Look at the mirror! You’re gonna rip it off! – Pull back that way!” I pointed ahead and to the right.

After a couple failed attempts to get out of the garage my youngest pleaded in desperation and frustration, “Why don’t you just get it out for me?”

“No – that’s part of it – you gotta do it!” I answered.

Stress doesn’t lessen much when you’re driving with a newbie and no brakes or steering wheel located on the passenger side of the vehicle, although that doesn’t keep the teacher from stomping on the floor board as if brakes were really there.

It doesn’t help that the driving lesson and experience being gained by my little one is on mean metropolitan streets of the sixth largest city in the U.S. As unlikely as it is, there’s a school bus that ends up smack next to us almost daily – the very same one that has as much or more trouble as my daughter keeping the oversized behemoth in their own lane, to add to my stress.

We made the last right turn onto the six lane surface street and my daughter worked her way over to the far left lane for a turn onto the street her school is located on. She’s better with her proper signals and lane changes than her lazy dad.

The last car finally ran through the yellow light as we sat like ducks waiting to turn… no big surprise since Phoenix does top the nation in yellow and red light runners… “Quick, babe! – Hit it!” I said as calmly as possible trying to expedite our exit from the would be entrance to eternity.

We made the turn and were into the “15 MPH School Zone” in short order. I’ve come to really appreciate those lower speeds when everybody is obeying them. My little one pulled over the hard to judge truck with the oversized off road tires perfectly next to the curb. “Good job, babe – you did good,” I said. “Thanks, dad,” she smiled knowing she did. I exhaled a set of lungs full of stress as I got out in front of the school to take over the reins… and real brake.

I immediately heard the screaming – it didn’t take long to a access the situation as my daughter came around the back of the truck to meet me on the curb with wide eyes of dismay. The young girl in the car behind us screamed at her mom from the top of her lungs one more time for good measure, “I HATE YOU!!!”

I kissed my daughter on the side of her head like I do every time I drop her off, “Love you, babe. Have a great day,” I said. “Thanks, dad. Love you too,” she answered.

The stress on the face of the mom of the screaming girl as she mumbled to herself read like the big “E” on the eye chart. It reminded me that we “will all have trouble in this world,” but it also reminded me not to forget to count my many blessings.

OVERFLOWING THE CUP GENTLY

k13627445The pre-dawn hours made it difficult to focus well through squinted eyes that seared and watered with yawns of my inexperienced youth. The faint light over the kitchen sink barely illuminating the small space didn’t help the fight between my eyelids and gravity.

He was efficient in the mornings. Like everything in his life, there weren’t many wasted moves… I’m like that now. I think of him daily still, especially first thing in the morning when it’s pitch black outside and I’m in the kitchen getting ready for another day.

I remember the rituals he stuck to even after technology deemed them outdated. My mom would have the coffee ready to go, all my dad had to do was hit the “on” button. I recall how his coffee cup sat in the empty sink basin with the hot water on just above a trickle overflowing the cup gently as my dad took care of the other items that made up his morning ritual. He’d honed the art of the hot cup of coffee over decades of daily practice.

It’s funny how memories play like a movie in our minds eye when triggered by the common occurrences of our daily lives.

I can still see myself when I was a kid sitting in the chair of the living room with my hands in my jacket pockets slumped over with regret and dread, being forced from slumber to begin to taste what the future had in store as I crawled toward manhood.

I think about not being able to eat anything in the wee hours and actually feeling queasy when my dad urged me to. I have to say I didn’t mind the aroma of the brewing coffee as it filled our modest home. I recall being completely mystified by the magical aroma of coffee and how it’s wafting scent tricked and bit at my gullible tongue.

I sat slumped in silence in the front seat of my dad’s work truck sometimes with eyes closed longing for sleep. Other times taking in the sights of the small town still sleeping while the earth began to lighten as the sun announced it’s authority long before it showed it’s face. The constant was my dad sipping his coffee on the way to face his day.

I think about the times many years later when my dad pulled into the parking lot beside my office on the way to his in the pre dawn mornings. Most times I was there before him and him well before his employees as he unlocked the gate to his yard… Somewhere along the way I managed to bring the senses of my nose and tongue to a mutual agreement on the coffee… I just needed some hard times, freezing weather, and some creamer to pull it off.

My dad’s ritual comes to mind almost every morning when I stick my coffee cup, with just the right amount of creamer, into the micro for the perfect twenty two seconds.

I guess my little one will remember my rituals too, how I sip my coffee in the mornings as we chat on the way to dropping her off at school. She doesn’t like eating in the mornings, says it “makes her stomach queasy,” likes the smell of coffee, but doesn’t like the taste.

I’m guessing that will probably change in time. What won’t change is the love passed from generation to generation and how it will be remembered in the seemingly insignificant things in life… like warm water gently overflowing a coffee cup… and heart.

It’s Possible: How To Thrive, Not Just Survive

Head-Sho_croppedtSome people have a way with words. I find the ones who do the best with their words are the ones who live out their words in actions. They are the ones who inspire and delight. My friend Dave Arnold is one of those types of special people.

Dave works in the inner city of Detroit with refugees and immigrants, showing them the love of Christ in action. Although Dave was born, lived, and served in a pastoral capacity in the suburbs, he felt called to what he’s become famous for now as “the alley”.

Dave’s most acclaimed work was titled Pilgrims Of The Alley… until this; his newest book, It’s Possible; How To Thrive, Not Just Survive. Dave blogs at Reflections From The Alley and touches and inspires others as his life’s mission. “It’s Possible” continues in typical Dave Arnold fashion, inspiring and reflecting on his life’s journey to lift up all of us who are blessed to read and interact with him.

Today is Dave’s book launch and I’m supporting him in his worthwhile endeavor. “It’s Possible”  is a quick and enjoyable read that will make you stop and consider your life regardless of age or maturity. Dave is one of those people that you feel like you know personally without ever having met.

Click here to check out Dave’s newest book, “It’s Possible; How To Thrive, Not Just Survive.” You’ll be glad you did.

SOMETIMES YOU GOTTA FIGHT

LARRY THE FIGHTER and leg lifter

LARRY THE FIGHTER and leg lifter

Larry isn’t tough, but he doesn’t try to fool anyone. He’s pretty honest and open about the fact that he’s less than macho. He howls at sirens, lifts his leg on everything, even the things he knows he’s not supposed to sometimes. Lar, (pronounced lair) barks at strange noises or people coming around, but that’s pretty much where his duty ends. If it comes down to an altercation, Larry’s not remotely interested.

When my wife takes Lar and Lola to the vet’s or occasional grooming he loves to go, but when the big dogs are close by, Larry looks the other way – he avoids eye contact that might get him into a skirmish. He’s just a good natured dog… with the heart of a chicken.

Some years back, in the dead of summer, I was in the front doing yard work. I had on a baggy sweatshirt and a straw sun hat that’s got the shading circumference of a card table. I heard Larry as I made it through the side gate, his ear piercing bark that sounds too shrill to come out of a dog even as small as Lar.

Before Lar came into view I began galloping toward him and swinging my arms like an orangutan. The second my brave watch dog spotted me, he tucked his tail, literally all the way underneath him, and ran like a greyhound for the other side of the yard, yelping like he was being skinned alive.

Lar was so loud my wife came outside to see what was killing him. She spotted me belly laughing and demanded, “What did you do to him?”

“Nothing!” I laughed, “He didn’t recognize me in the hat!”

Larry slowly walked back over realizing it was safe and he was just a shamed coward.

When my dad was sick my oldest brother came to visit and brought his dog Teddy with  him. Teddy was a real dog, and real tough, not a bully, but the real deal, and Larry knew it. Lar worshipped Teddy and followed him around our backyard looking for pointers.

While Teddy was a good dog, he was still a dog. One late afternoon after Teddy devoured his bone, he decided he wasn’t just going to take Larry’s bone, which Lar most certainly would have given him to avoid confrontation, he was going to hurt Lar first.

As the catahoula hunting dog went after Lar’s neck he got a surprise… While Larry didn’t want to fight, he wasn’t going to be killed without one. I was shocked to see our stocky little shih-tzu jumping backward on his hind legs snapping and biting back the jaws of death in defense. My brother called Teddy off and saved Lar from any harm.

I think about all we hear in the media about bullying, how they’re trying to educate and change people from doing it… There going to teach people right from wrong? I have news for them: People know what’s right from wrong and while the majority do okay in general, there’s still the small percentage that just don’t care… no matter how much you try to educate them.

The old Kenny Rogers song comes to mind, “Sometimes you gotta fight when you’re a man.”

It’s a heartbreaking reality that I had to prepare my girls for the ugly and insidious side of this fallen world… The only thing worse would be me depending on human nature to change…

 

INSIDE A TREASURE

k4251105Maybe it’s because I was a good kid, but that wouldn’t square with all the other rules I broke when authority had it’s back turned. I have in days past tried to convince myself that it’s because I wasn’t as dumb as I looked, that I did have a lick-uh-sense after all.

To get caught stealing the treasure would be a disaster.

I’m sharing a story from my childhood and how I began to learn about giving over at my good friend and Christian sister, Betty Jo’s today.

Betty Jo is a talented and warm hearted lady who has a way of making you feel right at home even across the vast blogosphere.

Betty Jo is a retired missionary and blogs at Living Real about life, family, love, food, healthy recipes, and even shares some of the artwork she’s done along the way. You’ll be encouraged by her generous and contagious personality and can encourage her this week while she is in the process of moving and make her site one of your regular ones. A blessing awaits you.

You’ll have to click here to find out if I stole the sacred treasure when authority blinked…

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…

 

 

 

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