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.

IN SEARCH OF PERFECTION

k15807752It seemed like the perfect Arizona winter morning. The sky was clear from a couple days of rain that had swept the dusty desert sky crystal clear. A few clouds hung half way up in the air taunting any would be artists that might dare try to replicate their imagery.

The McDowell Mountains came into view sporadically over the man made mecca, contrasting the crisp blue sky with the colors hat defy a title; red, brown, or purple might be used to describe the vision, which would be even sillier than comparing the author of the “Dick and Jane” school books with Shakespeare.

The new born day was growing in lamination as the sun ascended toward its authority, bringing life and a reverence to all who might stop to consider it. The earth indeed declares the Creator’s majesty and glory.

I slowly backed into the parking place, grabbing my essentials out of my cluttered console and climbed out to face the day. The cold felt good – felt clean. I could hear music faintly in the distant, as I pushed the button on my key fob to lock my doors and set my alarm. Despite the beauty of the day, I know the reality of this fallen world that I’d been driving through and stepping into.

I remembered when the shopping center was new… I dig back further into my dusty memories of my mind and recall even before that when it was a dirt field… a citrus orchard before that. The “anchor” store moved on over a decade ago to newer and greener pastures.

Close to half of the businesses are empty now with the clutter of signs clamoring for anyone who might be interested in giving a go at their dreams… Despite the fact that the odds tell them they will fail in the attempt. A reminder of the dreams that turn into nightmares.

As I walked into the aging colonnade I heard the music. I slowed my pace looking up and out toward the sky as I enjoyed the faint sounds of piped in music. I walked the long and now aged sidewalk. I kept my eyes peeled for anyone that might be hiding behind the grand columns with ill intent in their heart.

I noticed the ponding water next to the building in the concrete that hadn’t been sloped properly so many decades back now. As I listened to the songs with anticipation in my mind of the next note from the songs I know by heart, I notice the multiple short cigarette butts flanking the sidewalk in the gravel planter along the sidewalk.

We see beauty, but only for a short time once the reality of this life comes into view. Imperfection abounds – it’s limitless, a dire fact of this life. As I strolled through the cigarette butt flanked colonnade with music buzzing through worn out speakers, my senses measured the world, but it was my mind and soul behind the imperfect eyes and ears that measured myself. We’re part of the imperfection.

The earth declares God’s majesty… and the only perfect thing we possess?

Our perfect need of Him…

 

JUST UNDER THE SURFACE

k15426365The church parking lot is a nightmare. With all the new construction and remodeling currently underway, a big section of the parking lot is fenced off and the main driveway detoured through the thin auxiliary lanes that look like they were designed for Pruis’ and Mini Coopers.

We were running uncharacteristically late for church and our usual lane and spaces facing north, for my quick getaway afterward, were already taken. I paused at the end of the row closest to the entry doors of the church before heading out to the north forty, “Go ahead and get out here, I’m gonna have to park a ways away,” I offered to my wife who had just had minor surgery on her leg about a week before. “Just sit as close to our usual spot as you can,” I advised.

I let her cross in front before I turned and headed out to never, never land. I took the second turn in the skinny one way parking lot lane on my way south in search of a precious space. While I tend to speed on freeways, highways, and surface streets, I never speed in parking lots and try to be respectful of pedestrians.

About a quarter of the way between the next two way major entry and exit lane, a group of tardys were ambling toward the sanctuary. I slowed to almost a crawl as the majority of them moved out of the center of the driving area as I passed. One more late-ster was up ahead and looked to be crossing in front of me as I slowed again.

The early thirties looking guy was stout, a tad on the heavy side, board shorts, flip flops, and had the perfectly groomed five o’clock shadow. As I slowed to let him cross, he didn’t. Once he was half across the lane he turned dead center of the lane walking toward me.

I stopped and studied the burly kid trying to figure out in a split second what was happening while he walked toward me. He smiled a wide devious smile and his eyebrows that matched his backward ball cap spread across his forehead with pleasure.

I’m not one who gets easily rattled – mad? Okay, yeah. I looked squarely in the eyes of the man, shook my head with exaggeration and tried to show as much disgust and apathy as my expression could as I moved as far left in the skinny lane as possible, refusing to stop for the punk that revealed the real me hiding just under the surface.

I hate to admit that had he pulled that stunt anywhere other than the church parking lot the least we would have exchanged would have been words… The broken side of me, the “sick” side of me, that Christ said He came for reared it’s ugly face.

We’ve been sitting in the same area of the church and pews for years. Standing next to my wife, my blood cooling, I subtly searched the sanctuary for the guy who managed to bring out the part of me Christ came for. Where would God sit the man I’d never laid eyes on before that day? Directly across the aisle from me of course…

The man had taken off his cap and carried it in reverence. I glanced at the failed test across the aisle from me that reminded me of how easily I still fall. When the worship leader prompted us to “greet your neighbor” the man seemed to avoid me.

I tapped him on the shoulder. As he turned I shook his hand and offered to him and to my Father a genuine, “I’m sorry.”

When Christ said He came for the sick, He was speaking about me… How bout’ you?

THE WHISPERS OF SHADOWS

k5356981The season of long shadows has a way of transforming the perspective in our lives and the era we spend time stirring up dust on this planet. It is the time of year when the indomitable sun takes a coffee break from the season that has beat and worn the delicate soul cages wandering this part of the earth into submission.

The sun seems to have found its compassion, crouching at the sidelines of the cosmos, glistening its softer rays along side us. This is the time in passing of a season that I tend to reflect. The task at hand questioned, the priorities of our longings pondered, our near and ancient history examined.

The long shadow cast by the late season can’t reveal the heart of the being standing in the cast light. Our actions and thoughts in the course of the repetition of seasons speak to who we are – the thing the shadows can’t speak of. The heart hidden in the long shadows.

A heavy coat, a turned up collar, a hat or cap, none of these things speak to the condition of our souls. Who are we behind the mask of the long shadows?

The ominous power of the sun can’t reveal the heart of mankind, only the reflection of light it casts. The Source that powers the sun is infinite. That Source of power is the secret behind the sun and its glory. That Source is so powerful He sees and knows what the sun can’t. It is created for the purpose of demonstrating the true source of power; The God of all that is.

He directs the sun, the seasons, and the long shadows. His powerful spirit that made our physical life made our hearts to ponder our existence and purpose for being here. When I see the long shadows I ponder the dark side of a soul. The season of the long shadows that once seemed like an eternity now begins to seem more like a breath in time.

We take our turns in chronology of this globe as it takes its revolutions. Only the Source of power that spins each knows how many we get. The years and turns in all seasons when I cared more about the silhouette I struck in the eye of human kind and the long shadow is falling behind like the past seasons.

My shadow can’t tell much about who I am, but it can remind me of the sovereign power that designed the shadow along with our souls. How many seasons did my shadow reveal a fool chasing the wind? How many sunrises and sunsets and the seconds between have been wasted?

I’m reminded of this during this season of the long shadows as well as every season allotted to me is this; “Fear God and keep His commandments… for this is the whole duty of man.” May we find peace and joy that exists in this cosmos that only comes from He who holds this sphere and all of us on it in His mighty hand.

TUGGIN’ ON SUPERMAN’S CAPE

Superman-300x225Repost from March 2011

There are some things in life that you’re just not supposed to do. The list is enormous, but there are some popular “don’t’s” that stand out. We heard them as kids and if a person is lucky enough to get old will probably repeat them.

“Don’t play with fire!” Did anyone, or maybe more accurate a question would be, did any boys ever keep that command? My mom didn’t catch me in the act, but she definitely knew someone had burned our cats whiskers off and it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that I was the culprit.

We all know the rules, the do’s and don’t’s, but we tend to break them anyway. “No scuffling in the house!”I can’t remember how many stitches I’ve had from breaking that one. “Look both ways before you cross the street!” It took me a while before I started paying attention to that one too.

There were the so many as a kid how could we remember all of them? “Don’t pick your nose!” –  “No double dipping!” Blah-blah-blah…

Jim Croce a popular folk/pop singer from the early seventies even had a song using some popular cultural fictional icons and common sense to make a point in the song, “Don’t Mess Around With Jim.” Here is the chorus, at least the way  I remember it.

“You don’t tug on Superman’s cape

You don’t spit into the wind

You don’t pull the mask off the ole’ Lone Ranger

And you don’t mess around with Jim.”

Point made. Jim was a tough and dangerous guy. Although young, I understood the connection and enjoyed the bit of humor. If Jim was in the same category as Superman and the Lone Ranger, then Jim was one bad dude! I mean, only a fool would tug on Superman’s cape, spit into the wind, or pull the mask of the Lone Ranger!

Some more serious rules were talked about back then as well, namely the Ten Commandments, the Biblical belief or perspective that our country was founded on. I find it interesting that our society now kind of picks and chooses which of the Commandments they agree with for their life. Many of us will justify actions that come in contrast with the Commandments we do agree with.

A society that tries to enforce the rules like the Ten Commandments as rules or laws for life  without acknowledging the sovereignty of the Law Giver perverts the laws. The first four rules or Commandments that our forefathers based our Constitution on are the laws that acknowledge the author of life and all laws- God himself.

The fifth law is more like the first four in that it’s about acknowledging and honoring someone else. In this case it is our parents who God calls us to honor. Not that all parents deserve honoring, but have you witnessed some people who haven’t honored their parents? What do their lives look like? Hummm. Maybe there is something to these laws after all?

The other laws most everyone agrees with in general are, no murder, no adultery, no stealing, no lying, and no jealousy. The Commandments are obviously given in order of importance. If a person doesn’t think the first 5 have merit, they will certainly struggle with the last 5.

As a reminder to some who think we are evolving and becoming like “gods.” The standard we’re held to was defined by Jesus Christ. He reminded us that if we commit any of these acts in our minds we are guilty as if done in the flesh. With that as the standard of good, we all fall short… No wonder we need a Savior.

Looking back, tuggin’ on Superman’s cape and taking the mask off the ole’ Lone Ranger seems like harmless child’s play compared to mocking The Almighty…

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…

 

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