Sunday, December 30, 2012

Don't Cry 'Uncle.'

Lately, I've been thinking about some of the more significant stories of my growing up.  There are always people speaking different things over us and our lives.  This is another story like the 'Barn Floor' where I got some encouragement.  My uncle was the source on this particular occasion.

My uncle has a farm just next door to my Grandfather's farm.  My dad and I went one day to help chop some wood in the back corner of one of the fields.  After cutting and chopping, we loaded the wood into the trailer and pulled it back to the barn with the tractor.

When we got ready to load the trailer, my uncle told me to climb up in the driver's seat.  I was not very good at backing up a trailer.  This may have even been the first time I had ever tried.  I climbed up and backed up slowly. I turned the wheel the wrong way and the trailer jack-knifed off to the side.  The tongue of the trailer was bound against the hitch and one of the bolts in the tongue snapped.

My uncle walked back to the barn to get another bolt while my dad and I kept cutting, splitting, and stacking.  Uncle returned a short while later with a new bolt and some tools to make the repair.  We replaced the bolt in short order and he told me to climb back up in the driver's seat and try again.  I protested, lest I break another bolt.  He persisted, and I climbed back up for another try.

I first pulled ahead to straighten the trailer and then began backing up slowly remembering that I needed to turn the wheel away from the intended direction of the trailer. I corrected this way, and that way as I went slowly backward craning my neck to keep track of my progress.  It went well for a short time, but almost inevitably, I overcorrected and the trailer shot sideways and jack-knifed.  Snap!

Back to the workshop for another bolt.  We repeated this procedure a total of about 5 times.  The thing that struck me that day was the single bolt that Uncle brought back from the barn each time.  He only ever brought one.  Each time, he believed that I might get it right this time.  Each time he told me to climb back up in the driver's seat.

Each time he showed me that my past failures were not predictors of my potential for success.

May your failures of 2012 be transformed into the successes of 2013.

Note to self: Don't cry 'uncle.'

Sunday, December 23, 2012

On Scrooge and the Grinch

Every year, it seems that I hear someone saying they can't wait until the holidays are over.  It starts at Thanksgiving with someone slaving for days to prepare the perfect feast for dozens of relatives.  It ends with a paucity of thank yous and un-met expectations of gratitude for the food, the decorations, the hospitality. . . and the list goes on.

Then, we dive into Back Friday sales keeping our kids out 'til midnight so we can buy them twice as many presents if we get them all for 1/2 price.  We hide the gifts, bribe the kids into good behavior with the promise of dreams coming true on Christmas morning.  Then, we rush through the towers of gifts hardly having time to acknowledge one before moving on to the next. . . places to go, people to see and more gifts to unwrap.

Six weeks of greed can be exhausting.  Agreed?  It's enough to turn the most ambitious among us into Scrooges and Grinches.

By New Year's we're laden with guilt after our binge and ready to make restitution with diets and budget cuts and promises that next year will be different.

I can't help but think, "Maybe we're doing it wrong."

The other night we were scheduled to go to a nursing home and sing Christmas carols.  On the way there, Mrs O and I had a disagreement. . . actually, it was just a 'heated agreement!'  We both agreed that I was being a jerk.  There wasn't any disagreement about it!  Things were feeling pretty ugly going into that nursing home and I had all I could do to begin singing.

Then I started singing.

I saw the elderly folk smiling as we performed our amateurish caroling.  I spoke with a World War II veteran who was delighted to have someone who would listen to his stories.  I also met one lady with a strange looking eye.  I don't know if it was glass or if she had cataracts, but it induced a sense of hesitation to say the least.  At the end of the caroling, my two boys ran up to her and wrapped their arms around her.  They wished her a Merry Christmas.

She said, "That was the best Christmas gift ever!"

I left the nursing home that night feeling quite differently than I had upon arriving.  It's not really that surprising when I think about it.  Changing the focus of my actions changed the focus of my thinking.

We can do the same thing with our Christmas traditions.  If you are having trouble with the hustle and bustle of the holidays, try changing the focus of your actions.  If your family is less than grateful for your efforts, put that effort toward an outwardly focused cause.

Invite your ungrateful family members to join you in serving the homeless on Christmas Eve.

Invite some friends to visit an orphanage Christmas morning with a basket of trinkets from the dollar store.

Instead of taking up a seat at your church's Christmas Eve service, volunteer to greet people at the door, decorate, or serve up the snacks.

Changing your focus changes your life.  In fact, it's life inducing, because these are the things life is made of.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

9 days left. . .

Are you a gift-buying procrastinator?  Are you trying to find the perfect gift for the neighbor you don't know all that well?  What about gift-giving etiquette for the workplace?  Have a co-worker that celebrates a different holiday?

Well, Mrs O came across a great resource for give giving and I thought I'd share it.  It's called Cool Mom Picks.  They list all sorts of ideas for all sorts of people and they break down their suggestions by price range.  From DIY homemade gift ideas to gifts that give back by supporting African women or literacy initiatives, there are tons of great ideas.   

Let this be your springboard!

If the above link doesn't work for whatever reason, here's the URL you can paste into the address bar of your web browser:

Also, for the gent who has trouble finding the perfect gift for his lady, don't forget to take advantage of things like pinterest and facebook.  If she likes it on facebook and pinterest, she might like it under the tree as well!

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

A Touch of Whimsy

My Grandpa is a man of little whimsy, but during the summer projects that I did with him, he would sometimes recite these silly rhymes.  I'll remember them as long as I live.

I did a little looking around and it seems that these are rhymes that were popular in the '30s and '40s.  There are many versions, but this is the way I remember it.  It appears the author may be Asa Martin, a country/folk musician from Kentucky in the early 1900's.  If anyone knows where they came from originally, I'd love to hear more about it!

"Twas midnight on the ocean,
Not a streetcar was in sight.
The sun was shining brightly
For it rained all day that night.

"One evening as the rising sun
Was setting in the West,
All the fishes in the trees
Were cuddled in their nests.

"On a summer's day one winter
As the rain was snowing fast,
A barefoot girl with shoes on
Stood sitting on the grass.

"The organ peeled potatoes.
Lard was rendered by the choir.
When the sexton rang the dishrag
Someone set the church on fire.

"'Holy Smoke!' the preacher yelled
As he madly tore his hair.
Now, his head resembles heaven
For there is no parting there."

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The barn floor

One of my fondest memories is working with my grandfather on some of the projects around his farm.  I love telling this story to my boys.  I don't know who enjoys it more, them or me!

I remember one summer working on replacing the barn floor.  We first had to remove all of the equipment sitting on the old floor.  Then we continued by pulling up the old rough hewn boards.  Some of them weren't even nailed down and Grandpa slipped on one of the boards and fell through to the dirt floor, about 8 feet below.

I ran inside to get Grammie and fortunately, Grandpa wasn't hurt.  We continued our job of replacing the boards.  That summer, my cousin was working with us.  He was only about four years old, but he had--and still has--a strong work ethic and enjoys manual labor.

When we got to the point of laying down the new floor on the old boards, we used 2x6 boards and 16d galvanized spikes.  These are fairly thick boards and large nails.  They're not easy to drive.  One of us would start a nail for my cousin and while he tap-tap-tapped away, we'd work on a row of 2x6 boards.  My cousin worked feverishly on his 16d spike.  He missed more than he hit the head of the spike, but he succeeded.  At the end of the day, his spike was fully driven.

My favorite part of the story, though, is what Grandpa said to me at the end of the day.  He brought me over to review the day's work for our four-year-old partner.  There, in the soft wood, were a large number of very small dents surrounding the 16d spike over about an 6 inch circle.  With a grin, he said, "You used to do that!"

Why did I like that so much?  Because in not so many words, he told me, "You have come a long way.  You have what it takes."  He was saying that he had believed in me back when a day's work was driving a single nail and hitting the wood more than hitting my target.  He gave me the freedom to miss my mark, because I would eventually learn to hit the nail on the head.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Mrs O at the mic

Mrs O and I were recently invited to participate in a sermon series at The Highland Vineyard Church in Louisville, Kentucky.  We were delighted!  It's not something we have a whole bunch of experience doing, but we have had a lot of fun.  It has been a blessing to us and I pray that it was a blessing to everyone else as well.

I'm attaching the audio in a link in this post below.  This is the last of three.  You can listen to the audio for "The Myth that Everybody's Doing It" presented November 25 by Mrs O.

Happy December tomorrow!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The O's at the mic

Mrs O and I were recently invited to participate in a sermon series at The Highland Vineyard Church in Louisville, Kentucky.  We were delighted!  It's not something we have a whole bunch of experience doing, but we have had a lot of fun.  It has been a blessing to us and I pray that it was a blessing to everyone else as well.

I'm attaching the audio in a link in this post below.  This is the second of three.  You can listen to the audio for "The Myth of the Greener Grass" presented November 18 by The O's.

In order not to inundate anyone with more than you can listen to at one time, later in the week I'll send along "The Myth that Everybody's Doing It" presented by Mrs O yesterday.  

Monday, November 26, 2012

Me and the mic

Mrs O and I were recently invited to participate in a sermon series at The Highland Vineyard Church in Louisville, Kentucky.  We were delighted!  It's not something we have a whole bunch of experience doing, but we have had a lot of fun.  It has been a blessing to us and I pray that it was a blessing to everyone else as well.

I'm attaching the audio in a link in this post below.  I'm trying to figure out how to make a clip with our slides and everything, but I haven't figured out how to do that yet.  When I figure that out, perhaps I'll post it on one of the other pages.  In the meantime, you can listen to the audio for "The Myth of the Self Made Man" originally presented November 11 by me, Mr O.

In order not to inundate anyone with more than you can listen to at one time, later in the week I'll send along "The Myth of the Greener Grass" which we both presented on November 18 and "The Myth that Everybody's Doing It" presented by Mrs O yesterday.  

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Porcupine Tree

This is a story from my childhood that I tell to the boys sometimes before bed.  It's one of their favorites.

A long time ago when I was little and I lived at Grammie Munchkin's old house up in New Hampshire there was a tree called the porcupine tree.  We called it the porcupine tree because sometimes we would see a porcupine sitting up in the top at night.

We would come home sometimes in the dark after the sun went to bed.  As the car came up the driveway, the headlights would shine in the backyard.  Sometimes, there was a porcupine in the backyard and when he saw the lights, he would run as fast as he could--which was not very fast--over to this little hemlock tree.  He would climb up the tree all the way to the tippity top to a place where there weren't many branches and we could see him sitting up there.

My brother also like to climb the porcupine tree.  He would climb up to that same spot at the tippity top where there weren't many branches and look out.  I had a favorite climbing tree which was not far away down the hill by the rope swing behind the brush pile toward the swamp.  It was also a hemlock tree and I would climb near the top to a place where I could sit comfortably and look out and see my brother sitting up in the porcupine tree.

I would sometimes pretend that I was in a castle watchtower or some other place where it was my critical duty to guard the backyard from the evil that was trying to penetrate it.  In reality, there was very little evil trying to penetrate our backyard, so that game didn't last long.

Truth be told, all the fun was in getting up to the top of our climbing trees and not in the fabricated drama.  I was not made for drama.  By the time I got to my sitting spot I'd had my fun and the game was all but over.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Many thanks

Several months ago, we went on an extended family vacation.  Aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, and of course, Grammie and Grandpa.  We all stayed in a cabin in the Smoky Mountains.  One of the favorite things about the week, according to my boys, was the game room--Pac Man, pool, juke box, giant TV, and more.

Since we have been home--over a month now--Little S has been consistently mentioning the 'vacation house' when he prays before we eat.

The funny thing is, he doesn't ask for another vacation.

He doesn't ask to live at the vacation house.

He doesn't ask for a game room at home.

He just says, "Thank you, for our vacation house."

I could learn a lot from that little guy.

Too many definitions

In a book I read a while back, there was this central topic that just didn't sit right with me.  It is a common idea, but I just think it's slightly off.  At first, it might sound like semantics, but I think there's a greater truth at stake.

The book gave what it called the definition of a man.  It listed things like character, integrity. . . you know, all that stuff.

Good stuff.

Great stuff.

I don't like it.  You know why?

Because sometimes, I do those things.

Sometimes, I don't.

Do I cease to be a man if I tell a lie?


I am a man.

Those things are just standards of behavior.  They don't actually define me as a man.

Honesty doesn't define me to be a man.  It defines me as honest, or dishonest.

Character doesn't define me to be a man.  It describes the kind of man I am.

You only need one thing to be defined a man.

A 'Y' chromosome.

. . . some of you thought I was going to say something else, but you could actually cut that off and you would still be a man.  You might walk funny, but that's another story.

Why do I think this is so important?

Because, I think it's critical to realize that there are some things I choose.  There are also some things I don't get to choose about myself.  I don't get to choose WHO I get to be.  I get to choose HOW I get to be.  I choose the actions I take and they determine where I am going.

You don't have to try to be a man.  You either are or you aren't.

Be honest.

Be faithful.

Be kind.

Be compassionate.

Be passionate.

Be confident.

Be secure.

Be wise.

Be you.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Eight for eight

(c) 2004 Eric Graf photography 
Eight years and counting.  That's 2920 days, plus a couple of leap days and a couple of days since our actual anniversary this past week.  I can't believe it's been that long.  Doesn't seem like it could have possibly been more than 2500!  I guess time really flies when you're having fun.

And, I AM having fun!

So, to celebrate our anniversary, here are 8 words that embody my favorite things about my Mrs O. . . with some short explanations.  I can only be so concise, you know.

8. Security.  Mrs O is equally at home enjoying a steak at Ruth's Chris or hush puppies at The Cracker Barrel.

7. Leisure.  She enjoys all manner of British dramas, reading books, and lying in the hammock--everything's better together.

6. Thoughtfulness.  She often comes home from the grocery store with stinky cheese for me!

5. Brains.  She has an amazing vocabulary and insists that people who cuss only do so because they can't say it more intelligently.

4. Strength.  Whether we're playing scrabble or debating miscellaneous issues we're equally matched--she poses a formidable challenge!

3. Equality.  We're even more perfectly matched as teammates.

2. Beauty.  She's beautiful, inside and out.

1. Whimsy.  She is 100% herself--all the time, no matter what.

Thanks for saying 'yes,' Mrs O.  I love you.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Everybody Welcome

Recently, the boys went through a lesson on the civil rights movement.  They were appalled at the notion that some people had to go to one place and the rest of the people had to go somewhere else.  They couldn't fathom a world where everybody isn't welcome.

Then, we read The Berenstein Bears No Girls Allowed.  The boys LOVED the idea of a clubhouse.  We talked about what the clubhouse would look like and what it needed.  There were three requirements: rope ladder, lookout tower, and a sign--the wording of which is still being debated.  Oh, and my only requirement was that it be big enough that I can play up there, too!

We all worked feverishly to plan exactly what this project would look like.  We used Grandpa's drafting tools and had many lessons on perspective which, no doubt, were absorbed despite the appearance of going in one ear and out the other!

We also had some lessons in the proper use and care of tools, and the boys worked very hard on each stage of the process.

Now, for the sign.

Silas' vote: "100 Girls Allowed."

If he were a teenager, I'd be concerned about that.

I suggested that we simply say, "Everybody Welcome."

Elliot liked that suggestion, however, he was concerned that the clubhouse wouldn't fit EVERYone.  "It only fits 5 or 6 people," after all.

I guess we'll have to have post the maximum occupancy per fire code.

Perhaps, our sign could just say, "Welcome!"

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Becoming me.

When I was younger, lots of people would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I think that question might be a little misleading.  They were really asking what I wanted to do when I grew up.  But, how would I know?  What were my motives?  A desire to 'make a difference?'  Have money?  Prestige?  Perhaps, wanting to be like someone else whom I admired.

What about wanting to be me?

I never thought of that.

Not until college. . .

. . . when I first attended college, I was in the Criminal Justice program at Northeastern University.  Only a few months into my first term Dr. Lipton, one of my advisors said, "We have to get you out of Criminal Justice.  You need to be in the sciences!"

I was appalled.

From my perspective, the world was at my disposal.  I could choose to study and be anything that fancied me.  Who was he to think that he knew, better than I did, what I wanted to be?  I didn't want to become a scientist.  I wanted to become a State Trooper.

I ignored him.

You want to guess what happened?

My second year, I ended up becoming dissatisfied with my current classes.  I tried a smattering of different classes.  I liked physics.  I ended up sticking with it and changed my major officially to physics.

After making the official change in major, I had a flash back to the day I was talking to Dr. Lipton and he was telling me that I needed to get out of Criminal Justice.

He was right.

I went straight to his office and told him I had changed my major.  "I know" he said.

"What did you see so early on?  Why did you tell me that I needed to be in the sciences?"

"You're a scientist."

It was a much simpler answer than I had anticipated.

This was a new paradigm for me: the concept that I already was a certain kind of person.  I just needed to learn how to use what I already possessed.

I thought I had to choose whom I would be.

I thought I had to invent whom I would be.

I thought I had to become somebody.

It turns out, I was already me.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Blah Moments

Wow, I didn't realize how long it had been since I had last posted.  Work has been crazy busy, but nothing ground breaking.  I was starting to think that I didn't have anything to write about because I hadn't really had any major 'Aha!' moments lately.  I've had a long run of 'blah' moments.

I wouldn't change it, though.  There's value in the 'blah' moments.  There's not a lot to write-home-about, but we've had a lot of fun family time.

This summer, I had the chance to take my family on a work trip to Chicago.  We ate at Giordano's, met up with some old friends, drove around Fermilab and enjoyed the hotel pool.

The boys have started school and they're doing great!

We visited Gatlinburg, Tennessee with my parents and siblings.  I got to teach my boys to play Cribbage.

We played in the park, watered the flowers, played in the dirt, watched the hummingbirds at our feeder, and took naps.

Maybe it really is nothing-to-write-home-about, but maybe that's just the way I like it!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Getting out of church!

This is my response to a blog post by Donald Miller.  You can read his post here.

He asked some thought provoking questions about the goals and traditions of church leadership.

Love this topic!

Some time ago, I began to wonder if the methods of church are actually self-defeating in some cases.  It seems that we have mission statements and visions statements, but the organization itself is at odds, in some ways, with those goals.  

I felt guilty at a Christmas Eve service.  Guilty, because I was taking up space.  The place was packed--full of visitors.  All of a sudden, I thought, "Why am I here?  I know the Christmas story.  I feel like I am doing something selfish because I came to church and occupied a seat that could have otherwise gone to someone who needs to hear this story for the first time.  I should either be serving these visitors, or better yet, visiting some lonely person who can't be here."

Yes, I go to church. . . still.

I think we need to balance our focus.  I wouldn't say that we should change it altogether, but balance it.  We focus mainly on the community part.  We focus on Sunday morning.  A percentage of really committed 'members' go to small groups (whatever they happen to be called at your church.) And a smaller percentage still really build the habits of reading the Bible and praying all of the time.

Where does the balance come in?  Church is about discipleship, right?  Well, that sounds like it should be educational.  However, the church is the only educational organization insofar as I'm aware, that holds no graduation ceremony.  There should be a graduation.  The disciples had a graduation. . . or rather a commissioning.  There's a period of learning, and then you are ready for on-the-job training.

If we modeled church after Jesus and his disciples, wouldn't we have some finite amount of formal training?  We would start you out focusing on the individual, personal relationship with Jesus.  We would encourage people to begin reading the Bible all the time from the very beginning.  This would not be a habit practiced by only the most mature or learned, but by everyone.  From there, it seems to me that the process would be somewhat natural in its progression.

Goals for the educational leadership:
1. Teach people to read the Bible (focused on individual)
2. Teach people to discover their gifts and passions (focused on individual)
3. Support and encourage people to use those gifts and passions to show love in practical ways(focused on community)
4. Teach people how to mentor the people they are loving (focused on both)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Going to camp

Thinking (again) about the modern parable.  This is now the third related post.  If you're confused or want to refresh your memory, you could start by reading "Early Retirement" and "Princess Diana."

Several years ago, I had a paradigm shift.  I had several of them pretty much back-to-back, which you may have gathered!  I had just moved back to the northeast and I took a fresh look at an old New England summer tradition: going to camp.  

Now, this may be unique to New England but, 'going to camp' means a trip to a cottage.  Often, 'camp' is by a lake, river, the ocean, or just out in the woods.  It's a little glimpse of a simpler life.  You don't necessarily worry about the color or style of the counter tops.  You are simply there to enjoy life, whatever it happens to bring.  You don't worry about having stainless steel appliances.  In fact, some of the allure may be the 50 year old Frigidaire still whirring away in the kitchen!  When we first moved back, I had 'camp' on my list of things to achieve.

What changed?

I was listening to a co-worker talk about the limited time her family had been able to spend 'up to camp' that summer.  It was a 150 mile trek that they took every Friday night through the 13 or so weeks between Memorial Day and Labor Day.  I remember thinking about the amount of time spent driving versus relaxing.  It seemed so sad to have to leave camp and come back home at the end of the weekend.

I decided that camp would have to be closer to home in order for it to be worth the effort, to me personally.  But how close?  What if the simpler life were just 100 miles away. . . or 50. . . or 10!  What if camp could be less than 10 miles away?  I could have the simple life all summer long!  

But, wait.  

If I could live there all summer, why would I move back home in the winter?  If camp was just 10 miles away, would it be worth the drive in the winter, too?  I could have the simple life all year round!  If I were going to live at camp, then I wouldn't need my 'first home' at all.  Camp could be my first home. . .

What a life that would be!  

. . . then, it occurred to me.  I already had a modest house on a wooded lot.  I could open the windows in the morning and it would smell just like camp would smell 10 miles down the road.

My home is camp, already.  I just needed to rename it.  Achieving the simpler life is actually quite easy.  

It is not a location or a building.

It is a mindset.

Understanding the mindset was the only requirement to living the simpler life.

What a home!

What a camp!

What a life!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Princess Diana

I'm still thinking about that modern parable.  If you haven't read it, you can find it here.  It got me thinking about the late Princess Diana.

Now, I'm not an anglophile or anything, but I do remember the day Diana, Princess of Whales, died in a car crash in Paris.  I remember thinking and talking about how horrible it was.  I remember noting the irony of the situation: Princess Diana, like countless celebrities seemed to spend a great deal of time trying to gain what I take for granted every day.  She always seemed to be wanting a moment alone.

I have what she wanted.



A moment to myself.

I am sitting in my living room, right now, next to my wife and I am not worried about anyone interrupting me. . .

. . . well, perhaps one of my two young sons, but that's different.

When I look at the rich and famous of the world I can't help but feel the allure of what they have--just a little.  In light of my observations, however, I think my real desires are different.

I could climb to the next rung on the proverbial corporate ladder.

Would there be a big payoff for all the work?

What would it cost my family?

What if it's not all it's cracked up to be?

What would happen when I reach my goal?  What would I want then?  Perhaps, like Princess Diana, I would then want what I now have.  Maybe I should skip the middle step and decide that I am content.  Right here.  Right now.  Content.

Ahhh, there's the little guy.  Coming out for one last hug long after he is supposed to have fallen asleep.  Life is pretty good right here.  Perhaps my goal will not involve climbing to the top.  Perhaps, I'm already there.

Thursday, August 2, 2012


I love politics, and I hate politics.

I love it because it's all about people.

I hate it because it's all about rhetoric.

I love it because it's all about values.

I hate it because it's all about sound bites.

Someone starts out with facts, but then there's this flood of opinion which turns into rumor and stereotype.  We form opinions based on other people's opinions and we don't actually take the time to look at the facts.  The news becomes saturated with blame-shifting, name-calling and  accusations.

Have you ever seen a really smart person that invents really ingenious ways of causing evil?  Take the people who write computer viruses, for example.  If they could just turn their brains onto something productive, they'd be unstoppable.  I think this is like the computer viruses.

We've got a bunch of people who want to protect traditional marriage and they are ticked.  They want to make sure that we haven't lost our freedom of religion and freedom of speech.  I understand that.  I respect that.

We also have a bunch of people who want to make sure that everyone has equal access to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, right?  I understand that.  I respect that.

I understand both sides.  Both have respectable goals at the core of what they believe.  The thing I can't respect is that we don't use our passions for real change.  We get offended and we are instantly on the defensive.  You know what happens when you're on the defensive?  You don't make any real change.  You're just reacting.

What if we turned all of this emotion into something productive?  What if we really meant it when we said that we wanted to protect marriages?  What would that really look like?  I'm pretty sure eating chicken sandwiches wouldn't be the crux of the operation!  But, there are hundreds of thousands of marriages that are struggling.  About 1 million marriages will end in divorce this year.

What if we put down our chicken sandwiches and started talking with one of the 2 million people who are likely to divorce this year?  Who is protecting those marriages?

What if we put down our picket signs and talked with a few of the 4 million people who will marry this year?  Could we, perhaps, help some of those newly-weds find their happily-ever-after?  Who is protecting those marriages?

Am I going to boycott Chick-fil-A?  No.  I'm not a boycotter.  I don't boycott things as a general rule.  Did I attend Chick-fil-A Day?  No.  Those are really just distractions.  None of those chicken sandwiches saved a marriage.  If you want to protect marriages, love on hurting people.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Early Retirement

The following is a 'modern parable' that I recently heard from a good friend, Bill Turner.  I don't know where he got it.  Maybe he just came up with it.  In any case, it resonated with me and I wanted to share it.  This is a paraphrase, but the original is available at the link below.

A wealthy banker from New York visits a small coastal fishing village in Mexico.  While he relaxes in the sunshine, he sees a local fisherman coming in and tying up his boat.  On his boat, he has just a few fish.  Puzzled by the meager catch, the banker approaches the fisherman.  "How many fish did you catch?" asks the American.

"A few," replies the fisherman.

"How long did it take you to catch those fish?" asks the American.

"Not long."

"What do you do with the rest of your time?" asks the American.

"I sleep late, play with my kids and take a siesta with my wife.  Then each evening, I stroll into town to sip wine, and play guitar with my amigos.  I lead a very full and busy life!"

The American banker was irritated by the fisherman's answer.  He said, "I can help you!  You should spend more time fishing and with the extra cash, you could buy a bigger boat.  With the bigger boat you could catch more fish and with the proceeds from the bigger boat, you could buy several boats.  Then, you could sell your fish directly to the processor and eventually buy your own cannery.  Then, you'll be able to move to Mexico City, then Los Angeles, then New York where you'll run your expanding enterprise."

"How long will this take?" asks the fisherman.

"Fifteen to twenty years," replies the American.

"What then?" asks the fisherman.

"When the time is right, you'll announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich!" replies the American.

"What then?" asks the fisherman again.

"Then, you will be able to retire!  You can move to a small coastal village.  You'll sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siestas with your wife, and stroll into town each night to sip wine and play guitar with your amigos."

To hear the whole sermon by Bill Turner dated July 15th 2012, visit the Highland Vineyard website at and click on "Media Library."

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Making the right decisions now

I'm excited to introduce my younger brother, also Mr O, to you.  I invited him to write down his thoughts and he has taken me up on it.  The following is his first contribution!

Why is it that it is when times are tough that people ask God why and look to him for advice when it has been their bad decisions that got themselves into it in the first
place. All too often I hear that someone wants to fight for their marriage after the marriage has fallen apart and one half has left and they aren’t even talking anymore. At that point you aren’t fighting for your marriage you are just fighting.

It makes me thankful for the wonderful wife I share my days with and as Psalms 37:23 says: “the steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord.” I want to follow his direction in all my days good and bad before it’s too late. Even so sometimes we still wonder if we are on the right path and in ministry and church leadership. You wonder if this is really what God has planned for me. As I was wondering this I came across Acts 20:24, however, I consider my life worth nothing to me if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me, the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s Grace. I am so thankful for the tasks God has given me. The chance to love a great wife and serve the chance to serve Christ.

God is truly good.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The good Republican

Image courtesy of
Image courtesy of

A long time ago, I read the Bible all the way through.  I was about 12 years old.  I wanted to know what it said.  I knew what other people told me it said.  I wanted to know for myself.  I still had questions.  That was the beginning of my journey.  A journey of faith.  Political things followed by necessity.

It was probably my second time through that I really started to change some of my political views--not all of them, but some.  I mean, I can't just agree with either party across the platform and I have some views that are out of line with both parties, altogether.  

The thing that got me is that the Republicans are always talking about money.  Their OWN money, and how no one has any right to take it and give it to poor people.


Back up.

How does my family claim to love Jesus and hold these views?  We're so against taxes and government programs.  But this stuff doesn't exactly line up with what we say in church.  

In church, it's not OUR money.  It's a gift from God.  

In church, we're supposed to be the good Republican Samaritan.

In church, when we have two of something, we give one to someone else who doesn't.

In the ballot box. . . what happens?

In the ballot box, if you give a man a fish you feed him for a day, if you teach a man to fish you feed him for a lifetime.

In the ballot box, it's not the government's job.  The church should be taking care of that.

These are all sound philosophies.  

Trouble is, there are still poor people in church.  

Trouble is, Jesus didn't say, "Teach a man to fish."  

Jesus said, "Feed my sheep."

Jesus said that there are two kinds of people.  He called them sheep and goats.  The sheep are the good guys.  You know what makes you a sheep?

35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’  Matthew 25:35-36 NLT

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Heavy-hearted. . .

My friend Jim used to come over to our house in Maine every Tuesday morning.  We'd have coffee, sit on the bench overlooking the brook and chat just as the sun was coming up.  We talked about being men, being married, being christians, and everything else.  I wish it could've been every day.  His conversations and advice gave me so much confidence, courage and comfort.  He seemed to think that I was perfect!  

He passed away last Friday afternoon.  He was 67.  

See you soon, Jim.  I love you.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

On the GOP and Jesus

"I felt so far from my upbringing, from my narrow former self, the me who was taught the Republicans give a crap about the cause of Christ.  I felt a long way from the pre-me, the pawn-Christian who was a Republican because my family was Republican, not because I had prayed and asked God to enlighten me about issues concerning the entire world rather than just America."

From Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller

Sometimes, when reading Blue Like Jazz, I feel like I'm reading a biography of my own life.  I, too, grew up thinking that everyone who loved Jesus had to be a Republican.  I grew up thinking that Jesus hated government and taxes.  I grew up thinking what everyone around me was telling me to think.

One winter, I was spending a weekend with my grandfather in New Hampshire.  It was a nice break.  At that time, I was going to school at one of Boston's sixty-odd universities.  One of grandpa's friends came by and greeted me, "Why aren't you down in Massachusetts learning how to be a democrat?"

"You, shut up," Grandpa retorted.  "We're trying to keep him from that!"  That was a critical moment in my introspection.  I began asking myself what I really thought and valued. . . or, rather, if I thought and valued anything for myself.

Funny thing is, I considered myself a Republican all through my days in Boston.  I don't anymore.  I don't really consider myself a Democrat, either.  Maybe I am, and my history just won't let me admit it.

What changed?

Well, I read the Bible.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Real love and the real New York

(This post is continued from Vegas baby!)

Real love is like the real New York: Manhattan is messy.  I mean, not buried in dirt, but not pristine, either.  Paris is the same way.  Cairo is probably similar, but I haven't been there!

New York also has some great stuff: those vendors selling delicious hot dogs on nearly every corner with the sauerkraut on them.  They have Garrett's popcorn, Central Park, cabs, crowds, Broadway, Times' Square.  Real love is like the real New York: sometimes, the mess is part of the experience.  The fake stuff doesn't cut it.

It struck me that Vegas has done the same thing with love that they've done with New York.  In Vegas, there are the places that claim to offer a sensual atmosphere, but it's just another facade.  The ads almost look like something real.  Something we want.  But they're not. They're just fakes.  It almost looks better than the real thing--picture perfect.

Trouble is, as I see it, there's this part of the sensual stuff that can't be faked: my emotion.  The excitement is real.  Even if I recognize the sensual ad for the bogus thing it is, the incited emotion is real.  I've heard it said, "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas."  But, does it?  You leave the ad, the show, the you-name-the-indulgence, but you take something with you.


Anger.  Bitterness.  The result of a person who has made emotional investments and ended up underwater.  And, what's worse?  It doesn't feel like it's really directed at anyone or any event.  How do you resolve that?

I think lust is like unrequited love.  There's a real excitement involved.  An emotional investment made.  The only problem is that the rate of return is guaranteed to be zero.  The emotional deficit that follows is destructive.

Lots of men struggle with lust and lots of men struggle with anger management.  Perhaps these are connected.  Perhaps the cause of the anger problems is related to unresolved baggage--underwater investments--in an emotional sense.  Perhaps, it's time for us to break up with our beloved facades.

Real love is like the real New York.  Sometimes, it's messy.  It's not always like a fantasy but, that's the best part.  Unlike a fantasy, real love can love you back.

I have a great suggestion for reading on the subject.  The book is an easy read.  Check out my post on the book Sex God by Rob Bell.   

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Random acts of giving

One of my favorite annual events starts today!

It's the semi-annual sale at Bath and Body Works--yes, I said 'annual' event because the sale in December is not nearly as good!

Mrs O loves their stuff!  I like to stock up on these things in June.  I stash them and give them at random times throughout the year.  It makes giving spontaneous gifts easier, because all I have to do is go to my stash!

Practicing random gift giving has proven helpful for me in many ways.  I learned early on, to value the big days like Valentine's Day, our Anniversary, and Mrs O's birthday.  I don't want to guess how my gift will make Mrs O feel.  I want to KNOW that she will feel priceless.

Learning to give those gifts can be stressful.

Did I get the right thing?

What's she going to say?

After an anniversary, one co-worker once told me, "I've got a lot of making-up to do next year."

My solution was to give little gifts at random, unexpected times.  When Mrs O isn't expecting a gift, ANY gift exceeds her expectations.  I have learned a lot about how she works based on her responses.  I have learned that she likes tulips more than roses, she uses bubble bath more than lotion and a few minutes of quite bath-time solitude are more precious than pearls!

Knowing these things makes gift giving all the easier, no matter the occasion.

(By the way, I am not affiliated with Bath and Body Works, except as a regular customer.  No one asked me to say any of this, I just really mean it.  I make no money from Bath and Body Works, whatsoever.  As a matter of fact, quite the contrary!)

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Vegas, baby!

New York-New York Hotel, Las Vegas, NV

Have you seen the movie, "The Holiday?"  Right at the beginning, you hear a monologue on love from one of the main characters, Iris.  She talks about love lost, faded love, love being found, and she proclaims to be an expert on one other kind:

Unrequited love.

You know. . .

Love offered, but not reciprocated.


Iris can't seem to shake her infatuation with a man who doesn't love her back.

New York-New York reminded me of this movie. . . or was it the Sphinx?  I took a shuttle down Las Vegas Boulevard one evening for dinner.  I had to take a shuttle as I was in Vegas for training and not staying on 'The Strip.'  I was gazing at the Sphinx, New York, the Eiffel Tower, and all without moving except to pivot in place.

How cool to be able to see all of these things in one spot!  Driving by the Sphinx, it was so neat and tidy.  I mean, it had a nose!  There were other replicas of ancient objects with hieroglyphs on them.  The detail was great!  Everything was sharp and clean.


New York was the same way.  I didn't make it all the way to Paris, but I presume I would have found it comparable.  Everything is luxurious: valets and limos, huge rooms and marble lobbies, waterfalls and palm trees--indoors--and the list goes on.

It's almost better than the real thing!

Except. . .

. . . it's not the real thing.

(to be continued. . . read more)

Sunday, May 27, 2012

On Frogs and Princes

I remember hearing a man tell of an experience in a restaurant.  I think he was in New York City.  Anyway, he was unimpressed by the lackluster attention he was getting from his server.

At one point, he summoned her and referred to her as a "waitress."

"Oh, I'm actually an actress!" she replied.  "This is just for the meantime."

"Well, then. . ." he said.  "Act like a waitress!"

That would've made her a good waitress.

Then, the other day, I was listening to a man preach a sermon on marriage.  It was great and he made some great points.  While he was talking, my mind started going crazy. He was talking about how we act differently over time.  He has been married 10 years and he cited ways that he acts differently than he did when dating the lady who became his wife.

How many times have you heard something like: he's not the same man I married. . . or, she's not the woman she was when we were dating?

It's easy to fool ourselves, isn't it?

Am I the same man I was 8 years ago?

Let me ask it another way:

We just bought a "new" car.  I say "new" with quotes, because it is a 1998, and it has 130,000 miles on it.  If we've done our research right, it will last me for as long as I need it.

I'm sure it doesn't drive quite the same way it did when it was new.

When the former owner--who had owned it since 1998--brought it in to sell it, could he argue that it wasn't the same car that he had bought?

That sounds a little silly.

Of course it's the same car.  It's just older.

So it goes with us.  I'm older than I was 8 years ago.  I act differently.  I hope that most of the differences are for the better.  The cool thing is that I get to choose how I act!

Once, I asked Mrs O why some women seem to fall in love with a frog hoping he will be Prince Charming, but then become dissatisfied when they kiss the frog and he's just a frog.  What's a guy to do?

She replied, "Most of the time, it's because she fell in love with a prince.  She kissed the prince and he turned into a frog.  She just wants her prince back!"

Note to self: Act like a prince.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Freezer Bags and China Plates

My grandmother sometimes washes out her freezer bags.  Maybe your grandmother does, too.  I've heard of many grandmothers of the same generation who do things like that.  She just figures that they're still good.  Not ready to throw them out.  Still worth the effort of a little minor maintenance.

She also saves her butter wrappers.  You know, the waxed paper on the outside of a stick of butter?  She saves those after she puts the stick of butter on the butter dish.  There's still a little bit of butter on the inside of the paper.  Later, when she's making a batch of rolls, she whips out the waxed paper butter wrappers and uses up that last little bit of butter by smearing it on the warm rolls.


Is it worth it?

Well, I don't bother.  I still think it's genius, but for one, I don't make homemade rolls as often as Grammie does.

I don't wash out my freezer bags either, but then, I prefer to use those 'reusable' plastic containers rather than the bags.  I don't wash freezer bags, and I don't wash plastic forks.  I guess Grammie might say that freezer bags are 'reusable' now, wouldn't she?

I wash flatware--the stainless steel kind.  We don't have silver.

I wash our dishes.  They're not china plates or anything, but they're too valuable to throw away.  I can't afford to keep replacing them every time we eat on them!

It occurred to me the other day that marriage is like a freezer bag.

Am I starting to lose you?

I am always trying to figure out why marriages fail.  I've heard all kinds of explanations: marriage isn't 50/50, it's 100/100!


Is that it?

I've known a few long-married couples who don't seem to be giving it their all.  Why are they still married?

I think it's deeper and simpler than all the relational philosophy.  Simpler than analyzing communication styles, gender roles, intimacy issues, etc.

I think some people view marriage like a freezer bag.  When it gets dirty, it's time to throw it away.

I think that some people view marriage like a china plate. No matter how old and dirty it gets, it's always worth cleaning up.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Blue Like Jazz

I saw a new movie recently: Blue Like Jazz.  It came from a book by the same title, written by Donald Miller.  Miller is a fantastic writer.  I hadn't read Blue Like Jazz when I saw the movie, but I've checked it out of the library and began reading it this morning.  I already love it!

"To me, God was more of an idea.  It was something like a slot machine, a set of spinning images that dolled out rewards based on behavior and, perhaps, chance."
-from chapter 1, Beginnings, Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller

I used to feel this way.  I grew up going to church and found a way to do the 'right' things and managed to look pretty good.  But it wasn't personal.  Then, my family fell apart.  My parents divorced and I became one of those people that no one ever talks about. . . to their face, at least.

I felt like God had let me down.  I went to college and put God on the shelf.  I didn't think I needed him.  That is, until I needed to pay for my schooling.

"Oh, God.  How am I going to do this?  I need you."

Then he came through for me.  I got a scholarship, for which I had not applied.  I had received the scholarship the year before.  No one had applied this particular year, so the attorney, trustee of the fund, sent the money to me.  He happened to send this money just at the same time that I was praying asking God for money.  I received the check two days later.

Then, I put him on the shelf again.

"Problem solved.  I don't need you anymore."

That is, until I needed a co-op job.

"Oh, God.  How am I going to do this?  I need you."

Then he came through for me. . . you see where this is going?  I wasn't getting the co-op job that I thought I wanted.  So, I prayed for a co-op job and told God that I was willing to take anything--even the job that he wanted me to take.  It was the best decision I've ever made.

After that, it became personal.  I started giving up more easily.  Not giving up like laying in bed and not getting dressed all day, but giving up like saying, "Ok, God.  If you have a plan, I know it's going to be better than any plan of mine.  I'll explore all my options, you open the doors, I'll go through them."

This strategy led me to graduate school.

This strategy found me the best wife in the entire world.

This strategy found me a fantastic career.

This strategy brought us to our current hometown.

It has been a wild ride, but I wouldn't trade it, and I'm not going to change my strategy!  I've taken God off the shelf for the last time.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Going through hell

When my boys are playing in their room, what happens?  EVERY toy in the room ends up on the floor!  It makes a tedious task of cleaning up.  It would be less work to properly put away each item after they were through and before they got out the next toy, right?  We learn that at some point in our growing up. . . or, do we?

I think it works the same way in marriage when we have conflict: it's best to 'put each one away properly' by finding resolution. We can't avoid dealing with the conflicts forever, we just deal with them later.  They pile up and when we finally get around to cleaning house, we're angry and overwhelmed because we're trying to deal with them all at once.  If we don't find resolution, the problems don't just go away.  

Frank Barone, a character on Everybody Loves Raymond puts it this way:
". . . if you are having trouble with your woman, you don't go get another woman.  Then, you just have two problems!"

Simple. . . perhaps simple-minded, yet somehow profound.  

So, how do we put them away properly?  By refusing to give up.  That doesn't mean refusing to compromise, or give up some of our demands, but refusing to give up the ardent search for resolution.  Refusing to let the conversation end until we find peace.  Real peace.  The kind that puts a smile on your face and makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.  It means refusing to let our pride stop us from achieving the goal of reconciliation.  Don't stop when it gets ugly.  You just have to keep going until it feels good again.

Winston Churchill is quoted as saying, "When you're going through hell, keep going."  

Words to live by, don't you think?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Bad Things. . . Good People

Why do bad things happen to good people?  How could a loving God allow bad things to happen?

Growing up, I had this picture of God sitting on a throne making judgments about individual scenarios allowing or disallowing each one.  In other words, I imagined that God was dictating both good things and bad things, when and to whom they would happen.

What if it's not like that?

A few years ago, I was struggling with the idea of my own failings.  I was praying a lot asking God why he made me with all of the brokenness and weaknesses that I saw in myself.  Then I had a dream that changed my whole paradigm.

In my dream, I was decorating a Christmas tree.  I would examine each ornament and enjoy the work that had gone into creating each one.  One of my favorites is a very detailed, egg-shaped, ceramic ornament that my in-laws got on an Alaskan cruise.  It's beautiful!  In the dream, I held that ornament up and said, "I'll put this one right here."  Then, my perspective changed.  My focus zoomed in on the ornament, and it was different--it was me.  Someone was holding me and saying, "I'll put this one right here."

Then it hit me.  I was like one of those ornaments--unique and beautiful apart from my surroundings and situation.  What if those things that I hate in myself are not weakness and brokenness at all?  What if those things are gifts?  What if I'm looking at them from the wrong perspective?  What if I am a work of art apart from my situation--I am not defined by my situation.

The new paradigm: each one of us is a unique and perfectly crafted individual created on purpose for purpose.  The weakness and brokenness come from somewhere else--from the way I choose to react to my surroundings and situation.  Every weakness represents a poor choice I made in response to my situation.  I could have made a better choice and avoided the baggage and brokenness.  The good choices are not always as easy as the bad ones.  Sometimes, my situation does not depend on me alone and other people's choices can make my choices difficult.  However, my choices determine my baggage.

What if God is sitting up there saying, "You're not broken.  I made you that way on purpose.  Instead of hating those things about yourself, start by asking me why I gave you those gifts."

What if God isn't dictating the bad things?  What if God simply chose to give us the freedom to fail?  What if those failures are the cause of all of the brokenness?  What if God is giving us only the good and allowing us to choose what to do with it; not dictating evil, but rather allowing us to do some of the dictating?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Who's who

I was just reading the story of Jesus clearing the temple (Matt 21:12-16; Mark 11:15-18; Luke 19:45-47; John 2:13-16) and I have been trying to discern just what I can learn regarding marriage, from this passage.  It seems to be a significant story, but I have had a hard time fitting this into my relational paradigm--or perhaps, fitting my relational paradigm to this example of Christ and the church.

Then, I had a thought: I need to first figure out who is 'the church' in this story.

It's easy to presume that the people in the temple are 'the church' and that he is angry with 'the church' and taking that anger out on 'the church.'  But, further along in these passages, it talks about 'the chief priests and teachers of the law' trying to think of a way to kill him.  These were people in the temple, and around the temple, but are they 'the church' that Paul talks about in Ephesians chapter 5?  The more I think about it, the more I would say, 'no.'

The church = willing followers of Jesus

So, if the church is made up of the willing followers of Jesus, then what do we see about the way he is treating them in this scenario?  Well, my NIV Study Bible says that in the outer courtyard, there were merchants selling animals for the Passover at unfair prices.  They were taking advantage of all of the pilgrims who had taken the trek to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover.  The merchants were not 'the church.' They were taking advantage of 'the church.'

Jesus is protecting 'the church.'  He ruffled some feathers and, I dare say, offended some rather prominent individuals--to the point that they wanted to kill him!  But, he stopped them from trampling His followers.

Note to self: Risk some ruffled feathers.   Stand up for my family.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The 'S' word: submit

Does that word give you hives?

We don't really like to talk about submission very much.  Recently, I heard a co-worker talk about how much she HATES to hear sermons on marriage because she can't stand the subject of wives being 'submissive' to their husbands.  I think this comes from a misunderstanding or rather misrepresentation of what the Bible says about wives and husbands.  The thing that is so despicable is not the way a wife would be submissive, but the way of a husband--am I right?  No wife wants to feel like she's under the thumb of her husband.

She doesn't need to be.  I don't believe the Bible is asking for that at all.  Let's start with what the Bible does say:

Ephesians 5:21-26

"21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
"22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
 "25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her . . . "

Ok, so we see the word submit in there, right?  'Submit to one another. . . ' that doesn't sound so bad.  But, when we get to the part about the husband being the head of the wife, we all get a little tense, don't we?

I do.

There's something about my understanding of that verse that has just never really settled in my mind.

The issue comes up when we have a disagreement, right?  When we both disagree and our desires are mutually exclusive, who wins?  Who gets to break the tie?  I've heard one philosophy: the man has 51% of the vote.  I've seen that kind of philosophy carried out even more often than I've heard it or others like it.  That, I think, sums up the traditional conservative, evangelical view of a husbands headship--even from some of my more liberal peers.  When we disagree, the husband gets what he wants.

So, my question is: can we back that up with an example of Christ and the church?

Just this evening, I'm thinking about all of this and something occurred to me: maybe I should look at what the Bible DOESN'T say:

It doesn't say that the husband is the one to enforce the submission.

It says that the husband is to love his wife as Christ loves the church.

I can't find any example of Christ enforcing his way on the church.

In the example of Christ, I see a servant.  A protector.  A kind-hearted friend, always choosing to do the right thing, giving everything up for his willing followers.  He never forces his way on anyone, he simply asks and lets each individual make his or her own decision, e.g. the rich young man(Matt 19:16-29; Mark 10:17-30; Luke 18:18-30) or the woman at the well(John 4:1-26.)

My conclusion: husbandly leadership is leading two people to a consensus rather than pushing one viewpoint aside when the two have not yet reached a consensus.

See also: leadership.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Being The Church

Just one week after severe weather ripped Marysville, Indiana apart, 13 people from the Highland Vineyard Church in Louisville, Kentucky went to see if we could help.  We even got on TV as you can see.  The best part, though, is that I got to do all of this alongside a cute girl in a pink 'Purdue' sweatshirt!  This is my perspective on that day.

Signed up, briefed on safety, equipped with gloves and sturdy shoes, we are ready to go.  Pulling up by the post office in Marysville, there is no doubt we are in the right place.  Several trees are missing their tops, telephone poles still sporting their wires are scattered in the fields.  Volunteers have lined the streets with cars and trucks.  The somewhat informal leaders find us a place to work.  "You see that house over there with the diamond window?" they ask.

We head off toward the farmhouse.  The diamond window as our beacon.  Things are looking worse all of a sudden.  The Community Center roof is completely collapsed.  The church has had its siding peeled off and is boarded over.  There is one house halfway to our destination that has no top whatsoever.  You can stand outside, look through the windows and see the cloudless blue sky.  In the yard, between the tree limbs and the debris, the crocuses and the daffodils are blooming as though unaware of the catastrophe surrounding them.  Perhaps, they arrived just late enough to have missed the whole thing.

The scenery is starting to sink in.  I stare around me and each moment I become aware of new things--new levels of destruction--that have been right before my eyes the whole time.  At first, I am unaware of the comprehensive nature of the damage.  I begin to realize that these houses that appear to be standing unscathed are not actually sitting on their foundations.  The church that is missing siding is also displaced three feet from its original location.  Then I notice some concrete slabs--former dwellings--now barely symbols of the structures they formerly supported.

I hadn't even noticed all of that, at first.

As we arrive in the field near the farmhouse there are mounds of rubble.  Mounds.  Not only are there mounds, but in the field toward the horizon there are bits of every kind of human possession strewn in a thin layer for as far as the eye can see.

As far as the eye can see.

A pizza cutter, a broken Barbie doll, bits of insulation, several chapters of Harry Potter, asphalt shingles, a Twilight DVD, and the list goes on.

Someone (or many someones) have begun consolidating this thin layer of debris into little piles.  About 100 feet in any direction and there is a pile, and another, and another, and another.  We step gingerly over the mud and around the piles to make our way to one of the tractors with trailers and we join a group in the loading of the debris.  It is loaded onto the trailer and moved to a large pile in the middle of the field, separated into metal and wood, and left for the next round of cleanup--a bonfire.  Actually, conflagration is probably more appropriate.

Before long, we're shedding our sweatshirts.  The sun is warm.  I can smell the onion sprouts as we trample them underfoot.  We get several piles picked up and loaded and then the tractor heads for the pile.  How good it looks with those piles gone.  Yet, how many more hundreds of piles are left?  More volunteers keep coming in droves and the tractors get kind of crowded.  With my level of coordination, I'm sure that I'm going to poke someone with a splintered piece of hardwood flooring.  I'm getting hungry, anyway.  Time for lunch.

The afternoon is much like the morning, working on the rubble from several houses that used to line this little country street.  Where to start?  We begin by filling 5 gallon pails from what looks like bare ground.  It is actually chunks of wall board, broken glass, silverware, National Geographic magazines--some dating back nearly 70 years, and a few pieces of jewelry that we recovered for a former resident.  You can fill a pail several times over without even moving from one spot.  Without even saying a word, we begin to form a method with these strangers working alongside us: emptying pails into wheelbarrows; rakes and shovels working synchronously to pile and scoop.

At the end of the day, I'm weary.  I survey the afternoon's results: It looks good.  Well . . . it looks better!  We head back to the car, no longer stepping gingerly, and I can't believe how far we've come in only one day!  There is bare ground along the street next to the farmhouse.  The piles out in the field are gone!  GONE!  No more piles.  As far as the eye can see!  But, as far as we've come, I can't believe how much more there is to do.  I can't wait to come back.  I have to come back.  Our work here is not finished.

Friday, January 13, 2012

I am what I am

I was just picking up my journal to write a few things and began reading some past entries.  This has been a big year of transition for me and I've done a lot of thinking introspectively.  I came across an entry where I was journaling about who I am, or maybe even deeper: what defines who I am.  

Where do my roles come from?  With particular regard to marriage, where do my roles come from?  In Ephesians 5, Paul indicates that I have a God-given role as a servant--a leader, following the example of Christ, himself.  Trouble is, I don't always feel like a leader.  I don't always feel like leading, or serving.

So, then I took these thoughts related to marriage and compared them to the business world--this seems to work quite well with one exception: in the business world, I believe, the gender issue disappears.  At any rate, I have a role at work.  That role was given to me by someone else.  I don't really get to define that role, I just have to accept it.  There are leadership aspects to that role at work and sometimes I don't feel like leading.  Sometimes, or rather often, it's a lot of work to lead.  

So, if I don't feel like leading, can I put that role aside?  Can I delegate the leadership to someone else?  I don't think so.  I can delegate the tasks that are under my authority and responsibility, but doing so is leading, isn't it.  The only way to avoid leading would be to ignore my responsibilities altogether.  

My conclusion: if I believe that God defines who I am and my role, then I need to act like the thing that God has declared me to be.  Acting otherwise doesn't make me something else.  It doesn't make me not-a-leader.  It just makes me a bad one.