Wednesday, September 7, 2016

We Are One



To my wife, on our 50th wedding anniversary.

We are one. 

This is a profound mystery, but after fifty years, we are one.

We were not always one. We began as two. You were one and I was one. Each of us was looking, seeking "the one." Even after we met, we remained two.

Through Saturday night dates and Sunday afternoons together, I learned that you were a special one. Back then, my greatest fear was that I would say or do something that would make you think less of me or drive you away. I still do, and remain pleasantly surprised that I did not.

When we married, we joined hands, said vows, exchanged rings, and were pronounced one in the presence of God, our families and our friends. We were not yet the one we are now, but we were one nevertheless. Back then, we were like two trees planted closely together, each with its our own separate roots and branches. Over time, we grew together our roots and branches growing entwined to the point we can no longer be separated. It is difficult to tell where one stops and the other begins. We remain distinct, but we are one.

I am more authentically me when I am with you. I sense it's much the same with you. Our one is greater than the two we were could ever be.

Being one does not mean that we see eye-to-eye on everything. That would be boring. But we are aligned on what's important and that's more than enough. 

We've been working on it for fifty years. 

Now, we are one.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

What Makes an American?

What makes an American?

We Americans are different. We are different than the British who colonized our east coast and the Spaniards who colonized our West. We are different from the Canadians to our north and the large hispanic popuations to our south. Our attitudes are not those of the waves of German, Scots/Irish, and Eastern European immigrants who flocked to our shores seeking opportunity and remained to become the backbone of the nation. Neither are they the same as those of the indigenous peoples or the slaves transported here against their will.

Together, we are all Americans, different from the peoples of all other nations of the earth. We are different from one another depending on our region or background, but alike in more ways than we are different.

We are Americans. We are united by a spirit of independence, a spirit that says "we can or will do it or die trying," a spirit that says "we will survive and survive on our own terms." It is the spirit expressed by President John F. Kennedy when he announced "I have decided that we will put a man on the moon and safely return him to earth again." Based on those words, the nation buckled down and did just that.

Nowhere have I found this spirit better expressed than in the following piece by Dean Alfang first published in "This Week Magazine" in 1952:

An American's Creed
By Dean Alfange

"I do not choose to be a common man. 
It is my right to be uncommon—if I can. 

I seek opportunity—not security. 
I do not wish to be a kept citizen, humbled and dulled by having the state look after me. 

I want to take the calculated risk; to dream and to build, to fail and to succeed. 

I refuse to barter incentive for a dole. 

I prefer the challenges of life to the guaranteed existence; 
the thrill of fulfillment to the stale calm of utopia. 

I will not trade freedom for beneficence nor my dignity for a handout. 

I will never cower before any master nor bend to any threat. 

It is my heritage to stand erect, proud and unafraid; 
to think and act for myself, enjoy the benefit of my creations, 
and to face the world boldly and say, this I have done. 

All this is what it means to be an American."

What makes you uniquely American?

What spirit is in you?


Sunday, July 17, 2016

On Coming Home

This post was inspired by Dee Hilyer and his blog "From the Hill"

"He was born in the summer of his thrity-seventh year,
Coming home to a place he'd never been before."
          John Denver, Rocky Mountain High

In May 1982 I came home to a place I'd never been before. I was fresh out of the Army with a new job. My wife and I had settled on a house. The household goods had not yet been delivered. We -- me, my wife, and our four kids -- spent the weekend after settlement cleaning and relocating a few possessions from our apartment to our new house. With no beds -- they were with our household goods -- we slept that night on the floor. 

After eighteen previous addresses, I was done moving. I wanted a home. I wanted to be part of a community, and I wanted to be part of a church.

It rained cats and dogs that weekend. We retrieved the local advertiser's tabloid from beneath the bushes and dried it off in the oven. It listed four churches of our faith. We decided to try the one at the top of the list first. If it wasn't right, we had three additional possibilities. 

In the morning it was still raining. In spite of the rain we got everybody up, washed, fed, dressed, out the door, into the car, and headed to church. 

We walked through the front door and it was like coming home. The ushers greeted us, asked our name and noticed we were new. Then, they asked a lady of our age to show my wife the way to the nursery for our two youngest. The boys and I took a seat near the back and my wife joined us.

The preacher strode forward and opened his greetings with the words "Weather like this sure shows who the faithful are!" and suddenly, I was home.

After the service, the lady sitting in front of us turned around, said "I don't know you," and introduced herself and her husband. That afternoon, another lady came by, welcomed us, sat on our packing boxes, visited, and answered our questions about the community, where things were, and if their was youth soccer.

In a place we had never been before among friends we had yet to meet, we were home.

That was 34 years and seven preachers ago. The kids are now grown with children of their own. We remain at home. In the words of the song we are

"Home, where my thought's escaping,
Home, where my music's playing,
Home, where my love lies waiting silently for me."

Home. It's not where you grew up. 
Home. It's people.
Home. It's a state of mind.
Home. It's a beautiful thing.

Have you ever arrived somewhere new and known you were home?


Friday, June 17, 2016

A Father's Prayer

As Fathers' Day approaches I can't help but realize I have some genuinely neat kids. Even better, all four have grown up to be some genuinely neat adults. I look at them and wonder "How did I do that?"

The answer is I had help. I had lots of help. In addition to my wife, extended family, and the countless coaches, teachers and others who worked with my kids along the way to adulthood, I asked God for help; I prayed for my kids every day.

Still do.

In 1995, I wrote my prayer out. This year, for Father's Day, I offer it to my sons, my son-in-law and also to you. You don't need to be a dad to pray it. Moms, Grand moms, and Grand dads can pray it equally as well.

If it works you should use it.

Prayer for My Children

Eternal Father, whose will is always directed to His childrens' good,
Thank You for the family with which you have blessed me.
Like You, I want what is best for my children.

Grant me, I pray, the wisdom to know what is best and how to provide it.
Teach me to know and respond to my childrens' needs rather than pandering to their wants.
Help me to communicate with them rather than lecturing at them,
And grant me the power to instill in them the desire to achieve everything of which they are capable.

Above all else, Father, empower both me and my children with the strength to know and to do your will.

Be my partner in raising my children, that they might be your children also.

I ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord,

        Amen.

Do you pray for your kids?

How do you ask God to help you?




Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Seven Undeniable Truths for Graduates

It is the season of Graduations and Commencements. As usual, I have not been asked to speak and offer sage advice to the graduating class. Nevertheless, I feel compelled to offer our graduates the following seven undeniable truths:

1. Nobody owes you anything. Not your family, not your friends, not society, not anybody. Anybody may from time to time give you a hand-up or a hand-out for any reason, but it's not required and you have no right to expect it. Life is not "fair". You are owed nothing and entitled to even less. If you want something, you must earn it. So, get out there and earn what you want. Earn your living. Earn your reputation. Earn the respect of others.

2. You will not start at the top. You will start at the bottom. It's called entry level. Whether you stay there is entirely up to you. Money will be very tight. Deal with it. What you get paid depends entirely on the value you provide to your customers and employer. You will never be paid more than you are worth. Deal with that too. Only after you demonstrate your ability to deliver results will you advance. Experience counts.  

3. You can't have everything, at least not immediately and not all at once. That's the bad news. The good news is if you're willing to put in the time, effort, and practice, over time you can have just about anything you really want to become quite comfortable. Going after what you want is a decision you get to make every day for as long as you live.

4. You think you know where you're going and how to get there. You don't. You have a dream; dreams change. You have a vision; visions change. You have goals and plans for reaching them; life happens, goals are altered and plans change. And that's okay. The good news is you don't have to decide at age eighteen where you want to be at age 70. Trust me. Getting there is half the fun.

5. You will fail. Once, twice, three times or more. Failure is part of life. Failing is not the worst thing. Giving up is the worst thing. Giving up makes failure permanent.  Never give up. In speaking of failed attempts to invent an electric light bulb, Thomas Edison stated "I have not failed. I just discovered 10,000 things that don't work." He went on to continue trying things that didn't work until he discovered one that did. Therefore, dare mightily. Fail spectacularly. Discard what does't work. Use what does. And keep going.

6. Nobody has to like you. Nobody has to agree with you. Nobody has to approve of your actions or treat you with any kind of respect. Neither do you have to like, agree with, or approve of the actions of anybody else. The world is full of assholes. You will be forced to deal with more than your share. Whether you address them with courtesy, diplomacy, and grace, with belligerence and hostility, or by ignoring them and walking away is always your choice. You can even act like an asshole yourself, but I hope you don't. How you choose to deal with others will determine the outcome you get. You may even surprise yourself and make one or two of your most serious detractors into fast and loyal friends.

7. Circumstances will not always work out in your favor. They may never. The deck may appear stacked against you. Stuff happens. Life gets messy. You will have to deal with a lot of messes whether you made them or not. How you deal with your messes, whether you ignore them, sweep them under the rug, root and wallow in them, go in for the full deep clean, or accept with grace the wisdom they offer and move on is up to you. The results you get depend on what you choose.

Remember, in the entire history of creation, you are the only one of you that will ever be made. Only you in all history have your unique blend of genetic makeup, knowledge, skills, abilities, interests, and experiences. Only you have your unique blend of drive and ambition. No matter your background, your family, your resources, your IQ or street smarts, your desires and ambitions, YOU are the primary ingredient in making your life happen.

I expect you to set the world on fire with your success.

I expect you to do great and wonderful things.

I expect you to be all that YOU can be.

Only YOU can do it.



 



Friday, June 3, 2016

Yesterday's Wine

We come here quite often

And listen to music
Partaking of yesterday's wine
                         -- Willie Nelson

Nobody sings a nostalgic song as well as Willie Nelson. Kristofferson may have written "For the Good Times", but Willie packs it with more pathos. Willie's signature anthem "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain" pulls the heart out of the listener and into the world of lost love never forgotten and the hope for a future yet to be. However none of these songs speaks as powerfully as "Partaking of Yesterday's Wine"

Yesterday's wine: memories of times long past, warm spring and summer evenings, familiar music, walks and talks with friends long forgotten. Sometimes, yesterday's wine opens windows in the mind with images and impressions real enough to be touched. Yesterday's wine can be pleasant.

But yesterday's wine can be dangerous. Sometimes, the images are not peaceful and pleasant, drawn from the best of times, but rather from the worst. Sometimes, yesterday's wine brings forth not fondest memories but dreadful nightmares in hideous detail. Sometimes, yesterday's music is not worth listening to, yesterday's wine too strong. The hangover is intense and passes over you in unending waves. The only option is to ride it out, for days, weeks, and months at a time, however long it takes.

Sometimes it takes forever.

We come here quite often and listen to music, partaking of yesterday's wine.

Do you come here often?

To which music do you listen?

As you listen, of which wine do you partake?

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Behind Each Name




There are 58,307 names on the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial wall in Washington. Graven deep in black granite, each name represents a person who died doing his nation's will. Each name represents a story. Four of the names belong to sixteen-year-olds. Their stories ended way too eearly. Eight of the names belong to women, nurses charged with caring for the wounded. Their stories were also cut short. 508,307 names, 508307 lives, and 508,307 stories, all cut tragically cut short.

Vietnam was my war. I know the persons behind some of those names. Long ago, they touched my life and became part of my story and my story a small part of theirs. When I visit the wall, I find the names of those with whom I served. I find a name and say it aloud. If it is within reach, I touch it, reaching back to when our stories ran in parallel and were the same.

And then I tell the story to my wife, kids, grandkids or whoever is with me. I tell them about the person behind the name, who he was, how I know him, and what I know of his story. By doing this, I keep both their stories and mine alive. It is, for me, a very solemn and emotional experience.

Some pacific islanders believe a man lives as long as his name and story are remembered. My comrades and friends are kept alive by me saying their names and telling of their stories to others in hope they also will remember.

They were taken from us too soon. May their lives be celebrated in story and song.

To absent brothers!

What are you doing to keep the story alive?