Saturday, October 21, 2017

Cracking the Creative Wall
Sometimes, you hit the proverbial wall and it’s hard.  It makes your head hurt.  That’s where I’m at with blogging and writing.  I worked on my first completed novel for several years, and it is about to be released.  (Watch for postings about “Abandon Hope” to find out where you can get your own copy.  It is likely to be released in early November.)  I also did a great deal of blogging alongside of that project.  For a while, I had two different blogs going.  I was adding to Caaamper’s Thoughts a couple of times per week, and I was also cranking out articles for my church family’s leadership blog on a regular basis.

Then, I hit the wall.

Somewhere in late 2015 or early 2016, my creative well ran dry.

I ran out of ideas.  Sometimes, I’d have an idea flutter around in my brain, but by the time I got to a position to write about it, it would flutter right on out of my ears and be gone.  Frankly, I’m still struggling with that problem.  I think, just like sometimes you have to force yourself to take a walk or go to the gym, writers (and other creative people) have to force themselves to produce—something.  It may be weak or “not their best work,” but it is still stirring the juices.

Two other things happened that contributed to the wall:

First, there was the 2016 Presidential election and the non-stop bitterness in all forms of media ever since.  Obviously, the election and the results have given new energy to a great many other creative spirits, but to me, well, I just find it emotionally and spiritually draining.  My goal in life is one of peace-making and the generation of goodwill within my readers.  This current environment has overwhelmed my creative spunk.

Second, I started a new job role at my employer.  It takes a great deal of mind energy to get into the groove in a new position at work.  Further, this job now has me traveling to new places and in new ways.  I’m driving further, staying in more hotels, and flying on a regular basis.  While the new challenge is fun, it is also tapping into my well of energy.

When I would have a few minutes to write, I’d waste it on mindlessness.  I wanted to escape to someplace that didn’t require my inner core to participate:  Candy Crush or Netflix.

This is not to say that I haven’t written anything.  I’ve sputtered out a couple of blog posts for my church, and I did start a new novel last summer.  (I wrote six chapters before my internal generator ran out of gas.)  The new novel is tentatively called “The Redemption of Molly McKanna” and it is loosely based on stories from my mother’s life.  It will be fictional, but based on real events, starting when she was eighteen years old.

I have two other writing projects in mind.
I was moved by a book written by my friend, Don McLaughlin.  Love First, for me, drills the problems with our modern church life right in the nose.  As a result, I’ve been thinking about writing a practical follow up that would detail stories where people have demonstrated that biblical love in my life juxtaposed to examples where I fell short of doing the same.   I may or may not ever get this one off the ground, but if you are a Christian, and you haven’t read Don’s book, I highly recommend it.

Lastly, I need to write the sequel to Abandon Hope.  My wife has been telling me to do it for a while, but I just haven’t started it.  Well, that’s not entirely true.  I’ve been working on the story in my head.  It’s just the part about actually sitting down with the laptop and typing it into reality that has been the stumbling block.

Here’s my commitment to you, my readers:  I will find a couple of blocks of time each week to set aside and devote to writing.  Some of that time will be used to write some blogs, and some of it will be used to work on one of the above projects.  I promise.

There’s a crack in my brick wall and I’m determined to bring it down!  

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Prejudice, Death, and a Movie

Prejudice, Death, and a Movie

When I went to sleep last night, people were marching in various cities to protest another set of tragic deaths of black men in police-action shootings.  When I woke up this morning, five police officers were dead in Dallas.

I think I’m still numb from it all.

Still, I’m going to attempt to share some of my thoughts and feelings in the aftermath of this week.  The story begins with a movie.

The movie was Tarzan.  My wife, my oldest daughter, and I went to the Regal Cinema in downtown Indianapolis to catch the flick on Sunday evening.  This theater is comfortable with reclining seats and little snack tables that pull in front of you for convenience.  One other interesting feature is that it has assigned seating.  When you buy a ticket, it gives you a specific seat to sit in.

So, we all go in and sit down.  I’m on the far left of our trio.  On my left is an open seat, then a couple apparently on a date.  After I sit down, the man with the date moves around and he takes the open seat beside me.  The way it was arranged, it put him closer to his date than the one he was assigned, and since it was a single seat, he figured that no one would be filling it.

He was wrong.

A few minutes later, a young man came walking down our aisle with a ticket for that seat.  Despite the fact that there were lots of open, untaken seats on the other side, he pulled his ticket and asked the man to move back.  He wanted that seat between me and the other man’s date.  I thought that was a little unusual.

Then, I noticed his briefcase.  He was carrying a briefcase.  Who carries a briefcase to a movie? I wondered.  Immediately, I became suspicious.  He wanted to sit specifically between two strangers, and he’s carrying a briefcase into a movie.  With all the mess in the world, I became anxious.  He could be carrying a weapon, planning to open fire during the movie, or he could be carrying a bomb that he would set off—blowing up himself and us with him.

I decided I couldn’t do anything about a bomb, but if he was carrying a gun, I would prepare myself to do whatever I could to take him down.  I was seriously concerned about it.  I moved that little table out from in front of me.  I lowered my foot rest so that I could exit my seat easily.  And, I kept watching him out of the corner of my eye.

The movie started.  He seemed to be enjoying it.  He chuckled a few times and reacted to scenes.  Was that just a ploy to fit in before he struck?  There was no way for me to tell.  About twenty minutes into the movie, he opened up his briefcase.  I went on high alert.  He rustled around in it, moving things around.  Then, he pulled something out—a bag of some sort of snack and a drink.  He had used the briefcase to smuggle in snacks.  After that, I didn’t exactly relax, but my anxiety level dropped several notches.

Now, here is where this story fits into the mess of this week.  What I didn’t tell you is that the young man with the briefcase was black.  It was a little odd that he wanted to take that specific seat when there were other open ones.  It is also odd that he carried a briefcase into a movie—even if he was smuggling in snacks.  Even so, as I thought about this situation during the week, I came to the conclusion that if he had been a young white man, dressed the same way, I would probably have not given it a second thought.

Folks, that is my built-in, society-induced, unintentional prejudice at work.  I don’t like it.  I don’t want it.  Still, there it is.  I, like you, have been ingrained with bits and pieces of prejudice.  As humans, we cannot avoid it.  White folks have it.  Black folks have it.  Latinos have it.  We all have it.  Even so, we seem awfully good at denying it.  We don’t want to admit it, but it is there, and it colors our thoughts, our interactions, and our beliefs.  The first step in correcting it is admitting its existence.

Some of us are better at empathy than others.  I seem to have been blessed (or cursed) with an inordinate ability to empathize.  When we have weeks such as this—weeks with so much tragedy, my heart aches deeply.  First, I ached for Alton Sterling, a man who was minding his own business one minute and was dead a minute later—for no good reason.  Then, I ached for Philando Castile, a seemingly genuine and good man who was shot by a police officer as he tried to retrieve his ID during a traffic stop—for a broken taillight.  And, finally, my heart ached for those five police officers and their families in Dallas, officers who were serving their community by ensuring the protection of peaceful protesters.
It’s all senseless.

Now, I don’t have enough of the details about the two police-action shootings to accurately comment on those specific cases beside the fact that these men had done nothing that justified their deaths.  However, I can comment on the pain I can feel emanating from some of my friends who happen to be black.

My friend Marvin and my friend Jewel.  I have multiple friends, who happen to be black, but these two have called out to my heart and I feel their pain.

Marvin, I haven’t seen him since we were in 8th grade.  I’ve written about him before.  We met in 7th grade, when we both entered Wilson Middle School in Muncie, Indiana.  Up to that point, I’d never gone to school with any black kids.  The only experience I had with black folks was through television and maybe, once in a while, at Heekin Park or Tuhey Pool.  Frankly, I was nervous.  It hadn’t been that long before when there were a number of race riots at Muncie Southside High School, and our car had once been stoned as we passed through a predominantly black neighborhood.  However, when I met Marvin and his buddy, James, all my fears were relieved.  They were fun.  They were funny.  I thought they were the coolest kids in school and I truly loved being in class with them.  Marvin took away any anxiety I might have had about going to school in the early 1970s with black kids.  He changed my perspective and opened up my mind and heart.  After 8th grade, we went to different high schools, and I lost touch with him until many, many years later.
Facebook reunited us.

I was excited.  I was happy.  He didn’t really remember me, but he still seemed genuinely open to reconnecting, and my heart was full of joy over finding that old friend that had meant so much to me in middle school.

Frankly, though, as much as I am still very happy to be connected, and he is my friend, regardless the conditions of this world, he is not the same happy-go-lucky, full-of-jokes boy that I knew so many years ago.  Now, based on his Facebook posts, I sense that he is full of pain and anger—pain over the way he sees white folks treating black folks.  Anger over the history of abuse that black folks have endured.  Pain and anger, more than likely based on how he has been treated, or the way his friends and family have been treated.

His pain hurts me deeply and I cannot ignore it.  And, frankly, I can’t do much about it, either.  Except, I can assure him that I will always be his friend, and speak up and speak out when I can.  I don’t always agree with his perspectives, but I respect his convictions, his experiences, and his pain.  And, I love him because he was a friend to me when I needed it.

Jewell is a relatively new friend.  She is a black woman with three young kids, the oldest being a boy not yet in his teens.  She is highly educated, an engineer, and is employed at a prestigious company.  She is also a member of the church where I attend and serve.
We have had a number of talks about race, and she has shared with me a taste of what it’s like being a black person who is generally operating within a predominantly white set of organizations.  One thing she told me that has stuck with me is what she does when she enters a room for a meeting or other event.  She looks around the room to see if she is the only one—the only black person.  If you are white, do you ever do that?  Walk in—look around—ask yourself:  Am I the only white person?  I know I’ve never done that.  How foreign that concept is to me.  That was a clue to me that there is no way I can really relate to what it’s like being a black person in America.

The second thing she told me that has stuck with me has to do with The Talk.  I had never heard of that before our chat.  I had to ask her what it was.  She said that as a parent, she has to really drive home to her son exactly how to act and interact with the police—in order to ensure his safety during the interaction.  This is more than the simple things my dad taught me about being polite and not arguing.  This has to do with body language, and posture, and eye contact, and so many other things.  I wondered why she felt the need to do that, and she told me that generally all black parents have The Talk with their kids.  This was clue number two that I really could not relate to being a black man in America.  I mean, I would teach my kids just like my dad taught me, but I had never had any concept of being actually fearful of interacting with police officers.  Like anyone else, I’m afraid of the blue lights flashing in my rearview—basically, because I’m afraid of getting a ticket.  But, that is nothing compared to being actually afraid of the police themselves.

What has our society done to make an entire segment of our population afraid of the police?  This is genuine, folks.  It isn’t a piece of media propaganda.

It’s history.  Everyone acknowledges that most police officers are good, caring, conscientious people just doing their best to serve and protect.  Still, over the years, prejudice leaks out.  Sometimes, maybe many times in the past, it was overt bigotry.  However, even short of that and even now, there is that built-in, inherent prejudice that is formed by our society, our family, our interactions—it leaks out, too.  Over the years, after repeated examples, people become “gun-shy” to use a phrase that is probably too correct.

Fear is our society’s worst enemy, I think.  Our prejudices make us fearful.  The problem is that sometimes, just as we are about to put our fears aside, something happens to rekindle them.  A black man gets shot in a traffic stop, or a police officer is shot by a sniper.  A young, white pastor’s pregnant wife is murdered in a burglary or a black teenager is killed while walking home from a store.  Those things happen and our fears find new life—and our prejudice leaks out.

So, what’s the answer?

I wish I had a magic pill to make it all better.  Frankly, though, there is no easy answer.  The bottom line is that we are a broken world, and only God’s influence can change our course.  Jesus told us to love our neighbors, to love our enemies.  I once wrote a blog post called The Hardest Command

, where I talk about forgiveness, and that is an element.  There is the concept of “grace” where we forgive even when it isn’t deserved.  That’s what God has offered us, and we should extend it to others.

The Apostle John wrote 2000 years ago that “…perfect love drives out fear.” I John 4:18  In context, I think he was talking about how God’s perfect love drives out our fear of being punished for our sin, but by extension, if we would all begin to love one another, perhaps we wouldn’t need to be so afraid of one another either.  If we didn’t see black or white skin, but instead saw our brother or sister, our mother or father, our wife, daughter, husband, or son—family that we love, then, perhaps, we would embrace one another instead of reacting out of the prejudice that our fear creates.

Maybe there wouldn’t be so many senseless deaths.  I’m willing to give it a try.  How about you?

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

My Journey Toward Authorship--Part One

I wrote a book.  It's a novel, and my agent is calling it an "urban young adult suspense/thriller."

Well, that’s something.  Lots of people want to write a book, but I actually did it.  It took me about four years to create my first complete, novel-length story, and I’ve spent the another year trying to get it out to the world.  It’s not quite there, although it is underway and I’m learning a great deal about the process.  The purpose of this blog is to share with you about my journey toward becoming a published author—so far.  I'll catch you up, and then add detail as things change going forward.

I’ve been hearing this often:  “How’s the book coming?”

The answer is:  Too slow for my taste.  This publishing thing takes forever.

In this first installment, I’ll share with you two details.  First, I’ll tell you how the story in my novel first began, and second, I’ll tell you how I started on the path toward becoming an author.

How the story began…

It began with just the seed of an idea, really.  It sprung from an offhand comment about what happened to a missing item in our house.  The year was 1988 and I hadn’t yet had the idea to write anything—except checks to pay bills, maybe.  (Frankly, I don't think I was yet over the fact that I would never be a pro baseball player.)  My wife and I had a small group Bible study that met in our home.  There was an older couple, Bill and Jean.  Lovely people.  We were friends with them until their deaths a few years ago.  Then there was a married couple with two boys—twins.  Let me just say, those boys were a handful.  They are one factor in this sub-story.

Another factor is that my wife had braces when she was younger and she still, to this day, wears a retainer from time to time to keep her teeth in proper alignment.  Basically, if she feels her teeth getting misaligned, she wears the retainer while she sleeps at night in order to straighten them out.  It is kept in a small, hockey puck-shaped plastic container.  Well, one night in 1988, she went to put her retainer in and it was nowhere to be found.  We searched high and low.  We looked in every drawer.  Behind every piece of furniture.  In the refrigerator.  In the Freezer.  It was just the two of us living there, so there were no dogs and no kids to blame.  Or, was there?  Anyway, we were at a loss.  The thing was not in the house.  That was when I made the comment that ultimately led to my novel:  “Maybe the ‘Dimensional Bandits’ took it.”

Dimensional Bandits?
I don’t know where that came from.  It just sort of jumped out of my imagination.  Really, that’s where all great stories come from, right?—somewhere in the imagination.  From then on, I played with the concept.  Over and over.  For a couple of decades.  If one of us lost something, it was the Dimensional Bandits.  If something was found, the Dimensional Bandits brought it back.  How did they get in?  What were they like?  So on and so forth.

Back to the retainer.  It was gone for a long time.  I know it was missing for at least a month.  Then, one evening, I walked into our bedroom, and BOOM.  There it was.  It was sitting out in the open on the corner of our dresser like we’d just been overlooking it all that time.  I guessed at the time that the Dimensional Bandits were done with it.
More likely, however, is that one of those two boys that hung around our house during that small group Bible Study thought it was a toy and took it home.  That’s what we really think happened.  Probably, one of the parents found it at their house, but rather than just tell us, they slipped it back into our bedroom without saying a word.  

Thus, my novel was conceived.

Still, that would have meant nothing if I had not gotten on the path toward becoming an author—toward writing.  Keep in mind, the only things I wrote back in those days were checks at home or sales tickets at my job.  I was a simple customer service representative serving mostly walk-in traffic at Bearings, Inc. (Now, Applied Industrial) in downtown Indianapolis.  Creativity had not really been my focus up to that point.

The thing that set me on the path was a book.  The year I found it was 1992.  I had moved up to being a branch manager for the same company, and we had moved to Columbus, Indiana.  It was evening.  My wife needed to go to the store and I decided to go with her.  We all went, now that we had a toddler.  My daughter, Angela, would have been about three.  Andrea may have been in the oven.  (No, not an actual oven.  For those who are quick to jump to conclusions, she was in the womb.)

We all walked into the store, and I did what every red-blooded, American man does when he goes to the store with his wife and child.  I abandoned her with the kid and made a beeline for the magazine section.

Nothing, however, held my attention very long, so my eyes wandered over to the book rack beside the glossy journals.  It had been a very long time since I’d read a book for fun.  I think I was still a teenager when I’d last been caught up in a story--some werewolf thing that I don't recall.  Hmmm, I thought, I wonder if there’s anything interesting?
This is the book that started it all.
That’s when I found it—the book that set me on my course toward authorship.  Twilight Eyes by Dean Koontz.  Wow!  It grabbed me and wouldn’t let go until I’d flipped the final page.  I love Dean Koontz books.  I haven’t read them all—thank goodness.  I’d be disappointed if I had because I wouldn’t have any more to look forward to exploring.  He just has a way of creating scenarios and characters that keeps me wanting more.  If you like adventures, some with paranormal stories and some without, but all with great characters, that will keep you on the edge of your seat, I highly recommend the Dean Koontz novels.

After that, I became a reader.  In the twenty-four some odd years since, I’ve rarely been without a book I’m reading, and probably one or two in the queue.  I’ve got two going right now.

I have heard it said that to become a writer, you first need to become a reader.  I have come to the conclusion that that is a true statement.  Reading spurs the imagination.  Eventually, you begin to realize that ANYTHING can happen in the imagination, and you start playing with it—first in your mind, and then, if you keep going, on paper.

So, there you have it.  How did it all start for me?  It started with a missing dental device and a book by Dean Koontz.  You never know from where inspiration will spring.  Just jump with it and keep going.

The next installment will cover how I actually started writing.  See you next week.  

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Thoughts after Orlando

It’s been a painful, sad, heart-wrenching few days since the news broke from Orlando.  It hurts so deeply to see the pain, the tears, the loss.  There is a sense of helplessness as we watch our world sort of implode in high definition.  Then, the politicians start their ranting.  Hillary wants all the guns.  Trump wants to ban all travel to the US by Muslims.  Blah, blah, blah.  On and on.  Thank goodness for Christian love…except for that pastor in Sacramento who lamented the fact that the shooter didn’t finish the job.  Seriously?  How do you get from “Love your enemies” to that? 

How did we get so full of hate?

Then, again.  Are we really any more full of hate than we’ve ever been?  If you don’t twist the numbers to suit the story, Orlando wasn’t the deadliest mass shooting in US history.  Not even close.  Look up Wounded Knee in 1890.  Besides that one, there are still a few more that were larger—they were just a long time ago.  And, let’s not forget the institutional enslavement, abuse, and murder perpetrated against black folks over the last several hundred years.  Plus, the Irish have been hated, the Italians have been hated, the Japanese have been hated.  I could make nearly an endless list.

No, I don’t think there’s any more hate than there ever has been.  Rather, we’ve just redirected it toward new targets.

Folks, our solution is not going to be found in the November election.  Neither Clinton nor Trump holds the answers.  The world will not change unless we change our hearts.  Or, rather, unless we open our hearts and allow our creator to change them for us.  We have to set aside our anger and rage.  Then, we have to decide to try something new, something different.

Jesus said:  “You have heard that is was said to ‘love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But, I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”  Matthew 5:43-44a

You know—maybe he really meant that.

Or, if you won’t listen to Jesus, would you care to consider these lyrics from Bill Backer, Billy Davis, Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway:

I’d like to build the world a home

And furnish it with love

Grow apple trees and honeybees

And snow white turtle doves

I’d like to teach the world to sing

In perfect harmony

I’d like to hold it in my arms

And keep it company

Those are my thoughts for tonight.  Time for sleep.  Tomorrow is a new day, full of promise and opportunity.  I think I’ll look for someone to love.

Monday, February 29, 2016

My Quiet Time from James 1:1-18

I have been largely away from my blog for about a year.  My apologies  Part of that absence was due to the distraction of other projects, and part of it was pure lack of inspiration.  Lately, I've been wanting to get going again, but I was still lacking in ideas.  One idea that has struck me is the concept of doing a personal study of a passage and interspersing the given scripture with my thoughts that came to me as I studied.  Some of the thoughts are random.  Some of them are meaningful.  You might get something from it, or you might find it ridiculous.  Who knows?  If you are curious, the first example is below.  Let me know if you want more.  Anyway, I hope to be reviving this blog with a variety of material.  I hope you welcome my return.
My Quiet Time (James 1:1-18 NIV)

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, (This is the same James who was the brother of Jesus—likely one of the brothers who came with Mary to “collect” Jesus when they thought he was off his rocker.  Now, he considers his brother to be his LORD, and he is his servant.  When you really see Jesus for who he is, it changes you and the course of your life.)

To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations:


Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, (Probably one of the harder expectations from scripture.  No one enjoys difficulty.) because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. (Kind of like exercise ‘tests’ the strength of your body, and then causes the body to develop more stamina.  The more you ‘test’ your body, the stronger and more perseverant it becomes. When your faith is tested, if you don’t quit, you become stronger in that faith.)  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.  (Reminds me of an old Geometry teacher I had.  She demanded I come ask for help, but when I did, she berated me about my ‘Mickey Mouse mistakes.'  God, however, doesn’t consider any question to be stupid.  No ignorance is worthy of abuse.  You ask; he gives help.)  But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. (Kind of like Peter, who walked on water, but began to sink when he took his eyes off of Jesus and began to think about his own human frailty—If you trust God, you can expect help, but if you put your trust in yourself and doubt God, then you bounce around like a buoy in a hurricane.  Been there.  Done that.  I think I have a t-shirt somewhere.)  That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.  Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do. (When Peter began to sink, Jesus reached out and pulled him into the boat.  But, we never heard about Peter walking on water again.  Hmmm.)

Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. (The first shall be last and the last shall be first.  This is so counter to our culture.  Wealth can bring distraction from reliance on God.  In essence, we become poor in our faith and humiliate ourselves in the wake.)  But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower.  For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed.  In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business. (Trump?  Perhaps he is like Nebuchadnezzar, whom God blessed through Daniel, and whom also was taught great humility through God’s discipline.  Regardless of the electoral outcome, I need to trust that God will rule in the end.)

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.  (Hang in there!  The retirement benefits are out of this world!)

When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.”  For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. (I’ve heard the saying, ‘the Devil made me do it.’ Well, as it turns out, no, he doesn’t.  We do it to ourselves.  The Devil might facilitate the process, but it is actually our own ugliness that grabs onto our minds and keeps prodding until we fall victim to our own temptations.  Take responsibility for your own faults.)  Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.  (Thank you, Lord, for your grace.  As David said, ‘my sin is always before me.’ And…’restore to me the joy of my salvation.’)

Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters.  Every good and perfect gift is from above, (I may work hard, but I need to remember who brings the blessings in my life.) coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like the shifting shadows. (Our culture may change drastically, and we can adapt our methods to reach that culture, but we should be careful to remember that God himself does not change.  What he loves, he loves.  What he considers sin, is sin.)  He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. (Though God made all of creation, from the smallest microbe to the lofty galaxies, he still has taken special notice of us and lifted us up before his eyes.  We are his special possession.  His adopted children.)

Saturday, February 27, 2016

My 2016 Health Journey

In December 2015, I didn’t feel very good.  Actually, it wasn’t that I didn’t feel good.  It was that I actually had begun to feel rather bad.  My clothes had begun to feel tight again.  I ached in a myriad of places.  I was getting out of breathe incredibly easily.  I could feel my face getting flushed with a little exertion  I was taking Ibuprofen almost every day—sometimes more than one dose a day—for headaches.  It was time to do something about it before I made an early exit from my life.

Before I go into what I’ve been doing, let’s go back about a year to the winter of 2015.  I was sitting in a heart doctor’s examination room.  He was following up on a recent stress test I’d taken.  (The cardiologist couldn’t find any specific problem with my heart.)  He was asking me questions about various issues in my life and I was responding.  I was rationalizing poor lifestyle choices, making excuses for myself.  I could hear myself doing it.  (Can you relate?)

Then, he stopped me.  Looked me square in the eyes.  He said:  “Fish, chicken, vegetables.  Got it?”

I laughed it off.  “What?  No fruit,” I asked.

“You can have fruit for your dessert.”

It took me almost a year, and I ruminated on that conversation the whole time.  Finally, after feeling so bad in December, I decided it was time to take action—while I still could.  I made some changes—not New Year’s resolutions.  Actual changes.

Some of you have asked me what I’ve been doing.  I thought I’d take this opportunity to share the specifics with you.  Now, if you are considering following in my steps, there are some things you need to realize.  A.  I am not a medical professional.  Nor am I a nutritionist.  B.  What works well for one person may not work as well for someone else.  Everyone has a different physiology.  C.  Make sure that you don’t have some chronic or acute health issue that would dictate a different approach.

That said, here is what I am doing:

  • No More Sodas.  Somewhere around December 27th—give or take a day—I had my last Diet Coke.  Wow!  For about ten days it was like a bomb was going off in my head every afternoon.  The headaches would kick in sometime between 3pm and 6pm.  After about ten days, they were gone.  And I mean they were really gone.  Where I used to take at least three 200mg Ibuprofen a day—sometimes more—now I almost never need them.  Since the first week of January, I’ve taken only three doses, as of this writing.  Only two of those were for a headache.  That's almost two months!  Weight aside, this was one of my all-time best decisions.
  • Drinking Water.  I decided that instead of drinking so much soda, I’d focus on drinking a lot of water everyday.  I still drink a cup of coffee in the morning, and I’ve found a great green tea that I drink in the evening.  However, water is my primary drink of the day—everyday.  I think I’m consuming somewhere between 50 and 60 ounces of water a day.  (By the way, that green tea, I’d like to give it a little promo here:  Mint & Honey Green Tea by Sweat Leaf Tea Company.  All natural ingredients.  Sweetened with organic cane sugar and organic honey.  Awesome tasting when it’s ice cold.)
  • Natural Sweeteners.  I am avoiding Aspartame like the plague.  I’m not going to go into all the potential negatives of the product.  You can do your own research.  However, it might be interesting to you to know that they put it in all sorts of products from sodas to breath mints to chewing gum.  I’m using actual sugar or honey instead.  Keep in mind, besides water, the only thing I’m drinking that would be sweetened is one cup of coffee in the morning and one bottle of the green tea in the evening.  If I were drinking those green teas—one after the other—all day long, I’d be getting way too much sugar.  As it is, my body can deal with a small amount of sugar.  It was designed to do so.  However, you have to be committed to drinking a lot of water to make this work well.
  • Heathy Snacks.  Mid-afternoon, I have a snack.  Usually, it is a small package of nuts.  Planter’s has some Men’s Health or Heart Health versions that are hitting the spot.  One package!  Don’t eat three or four.  Also, if you are going to pick up a bag of mixed nuts at a convenience store, be careful about the package size.  Some bags are larger than they appear, and the calories add up quickly with nuts.  Some days, I might have a banana, a pear, or an orange instead.  Maybe even a slice or two of cheese.  Whatever you do, focus on either protein or a fruit.
  • Avoid Starchy Carbs.  I have eliminated probably 90% of the starchy carbs from my diet.  Nearly zero bread, potatoes, and rice.  I love my favorite Mexican restaurant (El Rodeo), but I no longer eat the chips.  I still eat lunch there at least once every week, but now I order the lunch-size chicken fajitas—without tortillas.  I’m pretty strict on this, but not obsessive.  For example, one lunch I’ve been eating frequently the last few weeks is a combo lunch at Applebee’s made up of the tomato basil soup and fiesta chicken chop salad.  It has small portions, but still enough to hit the spot.  However, it has several croutons in the soup and some tiny, crispy tortilla strips in the salad.  I pick the croutons out of the soup, but eat the tortilla strips.  (Speaking of croutons, they don’t seem like much, but if you put them all together, they would equal at least a slice of bread.  They add up.)  Another good option for the low-starch diet is the Jimmy John’s Unwich.  The Unwich is the same as any of their other subs, but instead of bread, they are wrapped in lettuce.  They taste remarkably good and you don’t get all the starchy carbs from the normal bun.  I've been having the turkey versions.
  • Fish, chicken and vegetables.  Here’s where my doctor’s advice is kicking in.  Again, I’m not obsessive about this.  I will have an occasional small portion of beef—think bowl of chili, or some sort of soup.  However, my first choice for a “meat” in a meal will be either fish, chicken or turkey.  And, along with that, I’m eating a lot of vegetables.  Besides lettuce, there is broccoli, cauliflower, beets, zucchini, asparagus, and the list goes on.  There are a myriad of unique and tasty ways to prepare this stuff to make it appealing.  Watch things like corn and peas.  They are starchy.
  • Exercise.  Consistency is the key.  I can’t run anymore.  I have too many issues since I had a herniated disk in my neck a few years ago.  Still, I can walk.  So, I set a minimum distance to start with, and I do it every day.  EVERY DAY.  Since January 1st, I’ve missed only two days.  I either walk outside or I get on the elliptical.  As I’ve lost weight and improved my fitness, I’ve extended the distance, and the intensity on the elliptical.  This step is important.  Losing weight is mostly about the diet, but adding the exercise is vital to push it over the top.  It keeps your metabolism firing as you’ve cut the calorie intake.  Without the exercise, your metabolism will slow down and my weight loss more difficult or slow.  That's been my experience anyway.  Even if your health is even more limiting than mine, you can do something.  Start wherever you are and build from there.  If you can only manage a few steps, then do those steps every day.  And each week, add just a few more steps.


I had a starting weight of 285 pounds.  I set a goal of 235 pounds.  As of this morning, I’m almost to the halfway point.  I weighed in this morning at 260.6 pounds—down 24.4 lbs.

I no longer ache everywhere.

I no longer have daily headaches.

I no longer get out of breath easily.

My clothes are all getting loose.  I’m going to need to buy a new (shorter) belt very soon.

I think I even look healthier.

All of this, and I’m still probably 50 pounds overweight.  I have 25.4 pounds to go to reach my initial goal, but I will need to drop another 25 after that to really reach the sweet spot.  Even so, I have already stepped back from the edge of the abyss.  I feel so much better already that it is a bit hard to explain it.

One day, I will eat a burger again.  I’ll have some pizza.  I’ll even drink an occasional soda (no diet versions).  But, not right now.  Not for some time.  Even then, it will be in moderation.  No more multiple sodas in a single day.  Once I’ve corrected my health decline and reached a good place, I can occasionally indulge.  Until then, I have to be firm.  Be strong.  Be committed.

I’m doing it.  If you need to, you can too.  You don’t have to pay someone a bunch of money to do this.  You don’t have to drink special shakes or go to special meetings.  Just start making healthy choices and get moving.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Windshields, Courage, and the Real Me

Windshields, Courage, and the Real Me

What is it about windshields that make us so brave?

It happened today.  I was running late to a memorial service.  Time had gotten away from me and I didn’t realize it until I was on the edge of tardiness.  So, I jumped in my car and zoomed out of my driveway.  Gotta get there!  Gotta get there!  Gotta get there!

One mile later, I pulled to a stop at a four-way intersection.  The guy to my right had clearly gotten there before me.  There was no question.  He had the right of way.  A third driver pulled up directly across from me.  And, we all sat there looking at one another.

We all know the rule, right?  If two drivers reach a four-way stop at the same time, the driver on the right goes first.

So, I look over at the guy.  He’s just sitting there.  I wave him on.  He just sits there.  I wave again…and that’s when my courage makes an appearance:

“Come on and go, you freaking idiot!”

I’m looking right at him.  Saying this out loud.  But, he's oblivious, so he waves me through instead.

“Fine!  If you’re not going, then I’m going!”  I hit the gas and sped on.

And, then I wondered if maybe he could see my lips moving.  Could he read lips?  Was my emotion on my face?  Could he tell that I was being hateful?  Ummm, did he know me?

Hmmm.  That hadn’t occurred to me as I blasted him from behind my magic force-field.

And, then I felt guilty.  Well, I didn’t just feel guilty.  I was guilty.  You see, if you take away the windshield, I would never have said those words.  In fact, if we had simply been standing in the open air, twenty feet apart, I probably would have just smiled at him and kept waving him on until he went first.  That’s just who I am when I’m not secure behind that special invisible barrier.  I don't know why.  I guess people are just more real to me when there's no glass between us.  (I'm going to have to think about that.  There might be another blog in there somewhere.  Hmmm.)

Then, something else crossed my mind.

Maybe, when we are all alone and tucked in behind that engineered safety glass we finally feel like we are in a safe place.  Maybe it is the only time we can truly let the inside come visit the outside.  We unconsciously let all of our guards down.

We say out loud what we really think.  About politics.  About our spouses.  About our bosses.  Everyone.

We practice speeches.  “Here’s what I should have said: Blah, blah, blah.”  “Next time, this is what I’ll say…I’ll really tell him!”

We laugh at stuff on the radio that we might shun if someone else was around.  We sing the real lyrics of songs instead of bleeping ourselves.  (Come on church folk, you know who you are!)

We fart without ramifications.

We sing along to Katy Perry …or Madonna… or Cher …or Leo Sayer.  (Leo Sayer, you say?  Well, look him up.)  And, we don’t care that we are out of key.  In fact, we think we sound pretty darn good.

We even think that we're invisible as we mine our nostrils for hidden treasure.

But, we're also real in other ways behind that transparent wall.

We cry in the car….all alone.

We scream in the car where no one can hear.

We pray.  Real prayers.  The ones that matter.  Really sharing our hearts, the good and the bad with the God that we hope hears and cares.  And, sometimes that’s because we think that He may be the only one that does.

Windshields are amazing.

It is a statement on our modern society that the only place we can truly be ourselves is all alone in the car.  Can you relate?

Sometimes, I wish I had someone that I could be completely real with.  Someone that I could take off all the guards and be real without the fear of hurting that person or hurting myself.  Share my hopes.  Share my crazy dreams.  Share my weaknesses.  My shortcomings.  My struggles.  My pain.  My joy.

There always seems to be a reason to hold back at least a little bit, even with the closest of friends….at the very least the farts and the goldmining.

Oh well, thank God for windshields.

Saturday, December 27, 2014


The view from a mountain ridge
The sun upon my face
The ocean breeze in my hair
The touch of her caress

The colors of the sunset
The freshness of the dawn
The purity of newly fallen snow
Her kiss upon my lips

A forest stream
A desert flower
Songbirds in the morning
Her smile, Her heart, Her love

Monday, December 15, 2014

Digging Deeper and the Confusicating Nature of Language

My daughters sometimes think it’s cute, and sometimes they think it’s irritational.  Other times, they are simply confusicated, and thrown for a loop by my tendency to invent words.  But, then I have to remind them that new words are added to the dictionary every year.  My words are just baby words waiting to grow up and become mature enough to be published in Webster’s big black book.  In fact, if you take that big black book and flip through the hundreds of pages that detail and define the thousands upon thousands of words in the English language, you will in fact be simply seeing all of the other words that someone else “made up.”  All of them.  Every word we use was made up by someone.  So, if my strange word leaves you confusicated…well, just get over it and wait for my word to grow up.

Language is a funny thing.  Always changing.  Sixty years ago, if you said a man was “gay,” it just meant that he was light-hearted and happy.  Now, if you use the word, you’re likely referring to his sexual orientation.  When I was a teenager in the 1970’s, we used to say the word “bad” all of the time, but we weren’t describing the negative qualities of any given thing or situation.  Nope.  We were telling you how awesome it was!  So, bad meant good…at least in those twisted years.  It was the language of my culture.

If I told you that I put some drinks in the fridge (not refrigerator) to chill, you would know that by “chill” I meant to cool, get cold, remove the heat.  But when a few minutes later I tell you that the Colts are far better than your Patriots and you get all frustrated and angry, and I tell you to “chill out,” you don’t even imagine that I’m telling you to go put yourself in the fridge.  Why?  Because you understand that in our culture the word “chill” can have more than one meaning, and I’m telling you to calm down and relax, not jump in the icebox.

So, the fact is that language is in a constant state of flux.  Always shifting.  Always changing.  Affected by culture.

Imagine that you were suddenly time-warped back to England in 1611.  No problem, right?  Assuming you speak English, you should be good to go.  Really?  You really think so?  I mean, there were a lot of “ith’s” and “eth’s” used in those days.  The word “your” was “thy.”  “You” was “thee.”  I betcha thee’d have a harder time understanding thy King’s English than thee might think.

And, translating languages can get even trickier.  Have you ever watched one of those really old Godzilla movies?  I mean one of the ones that were filmed in Japan?  Or, maybe one of the Chinese Bruce Lee flicks?  Those old movies where the original actors were speaking Japanese or Chinese, but they did English voice-overs for those us who are linguistically-challenged?  Isn’t is funny how sometimes the faces on the screen look like they spoke a dozen words, but we only heard four or five in English?  Or, maybe it was the opposite?  There would be faces that seemed to only say one or two words, but a dozen English ones were used in their place.  I used to think that was really weird.  After all, if they simply translated it word for word, the number of words spoken should be the same.  Right?


Words and phrases and their cultural meanings don’t always translate directly.  Sometimes you have to elaborate to get the full meaning to come through.  Sometimes, the full meaning is simply lost in translation.  There just is no easy way to get the full meaning to come through.

So, now let’s combine the two issues:  The shifting meaning of language over time, and the problem of translating one culture-ridden language into our own culture-ridden language.  Let’s go back about 2000 years.  (Remember, that the 1611 example, which is the year that the King James Bible was published was only about 400 years ago, and technically the same language.)  So, let’s make it tougher.  Let’s go back 2000 years and convert the ancient Greek used in the Mediterranean region by a people completely imbedded in the Greco-Roman culture of the first century into modern English for the use of those of us completely imbedded in the American culture of the 21st century.  I wonder how hard it might be to completely understand the full depth of meaning in every turn of phrase?

Of course, I’m talking about the New Testament of the Bible.

First of all, the vast majority of us cannot read ancient Greek, so we have to rely on translators.  Other human beings who are also imbedded in modern culture, but who are educated and able to understand and cross-communicate the ancient meanings of texts into our modern lingo.  And secondly, we have to sort of trust them to properly interpret the old Greek, and then further trust them to accurately communicate it to us.  And, then finally, we have to work to understand what they were trying to communicate.

Are you confusicated yet?

Am I being irritational?

And, sometimes things are lost in translation.  Oh, I don’t mean the basics of the Gospel message.  Those come through quite clearly.  Jesus was the Son of God.  He did die on the Cross.  He did rise from the dead.  We are saved by grace through faith.  We do need to repent…be baptized…and live our lives in reflection of our Lord.  But, still there are deeper things…and subtle things…and cultural things that are lost to us.  Lost unless.  Unless we dig deeper.  Unless we go behind our favorite English translation and look at the history…the ancient culture…and the conceptual meanings of the original words.

The tools are there for us.  Lexicons.  Dictionaries of Bible words.  Commentaries.  Studies by a multitude of scholars.

 Cross check.  Research.  DIG!  The world of meaning hidden in the ancient language is amazing.

And, I say all of this not as a Greek scholar.  I am not.  I’m just like you.  All of that old language stuff is Greek to me.  But, I sometimes get a bug to dig into something, and I use the tools.  I read the articles.  And, I find interesting and inspiring stuff.

For example, a whole new meaning of the interaction of Peter with Jesus in John 21 opens up when you know the words used by Jesus in the passage where Jesus asks Peter: “Do you love me?”  It used to bother me that it took three times with the same question before Peter was suddenly hurt.  But, then I learned that it wasn’t the same question the third time.  In English it is.  In English, it is still “Do you love me?”  But, in the Greek, that third question was different…more personal…more emotional, and it hurt Peter.  However, we completely lose that key nuance in English.
It is still there, though.  If you are willing to dig for it.  And, there are others.  Many others.

Why, you might ask, are you being so confusicating and irritational with this whole article?  Well, I am doing this because we all have a tendency.  A tendency to either forget or ignore the fact that the Bible was not originally written in English, and it was also not specifically written to those of us in the United States of America.
I do it.  You do it.
We start looking at a subject or an issue, and then we dig into our favorite English translation in order to make our argument.  And, that is all well and good.  However, before we get too stiff-necked on our particular position, we had better dig a bit deeper.  We need to consider the shifting of language.  The differences in culture.  The context of the passage.  Who wrote it?  Who was it written to?  Where was it written?  What were the circumstances surrounding the people who wrote it or it was written to?  All of these factors are important in the proper understanding of any passage.

That was Bible Study 101 back during my days in Bible College.

So, if you are content with the basics of the message of the cross, you can keep to your favorite English translation.  However, if you are going to get all worked up on an issue, please do your homework.  Or, if you are intrigued by deeper understandings of your favorite passages, break open the books.  Study more deeply.  And, open up a whole new wondrous world of understanding.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Christmas and an Incredible Ability to Miss the Point

I heard on the morning news recently that someone had stolen the baby Jesus out of the Nativity scene at the Masonic Home in Franklin, Indiana.  Now, mind you, this isn’t some cheap, plastic or blow up baby Jesus.  This is a actual 25-pound statue.  It took a little work to carry it off.


Why would anyone go out at Christmas and steal the baby Jesus?

Me and Our Tree
When I was a child, our annual Christmas tree had these really large plastic decorative bulbs that ringed the bottom.  Mom put them there every year.  They weren’t anything truly remarkable.   They were only plastic after all.  Maybe they were unusual in their design and size, but they were not made of anything expensive.  Finally, one year I asked Mom about them.  Where’d they come from?  She told me that my brother had given them to her.  My brother that had died when I was only seven.  Then, she added:  “He stole them from Muncie's downtown Christmas decorations.”

Okay, so I understand a mother’s natural sentimental feelings regarding a gift from her lost child, but the fact is that she had been using those stolen ornaments for years before he had died.


Why would anyone use stolen ornaments to decorate their CHRISTmas tree?

A few years ago, my daughter spent the night with a friend.  It was a group sleepover, and they watched a video of one of the hottest recent movies of the time.  The Passion of the Christ.  Yes, the movie that graphically depicted the death of Jesus Christ…the fellow that Christmas is named after.  Well, they were all gathered around the screen engrossed in the intensity of the film…eyes glued to the events depicted…when someone got up and walked in front of the movie.  No, I don’t mean that one of the girls got up in that room and walked in front of the TV.  Rather, I mean that someone on the screen got up and walked in front of the movie.  Basically, the girls were watching a stolen film of The Passion of the Christ.  Someone had sat in the theater with a video camera and had filmed the movie, and then distributed essence they stole the death of Jesus.


Why would anyone steal the film depiction of Jesus Christ dying for our sins.  Um, sins like stealing.

They steal statues of the baby Jesus.  They hang stolen ornaments on their Christmas tree.  They steal movies of the death of Jesus.  They do all of those things for the same reason that folks like us get so angry and raise so much ruckus over the removal of Christ from Christmas.  Happy Holidays.  Seasons Greetings.

They do it because human beings have an incredible ability to miss the point.

You see, Jesus Christ did not come to this earth, walk our streets, heal the sick, be flogged to a bloody pulp, and die on a cross just so that we could all have a holiday in December named after Him.  He wasn’t born in Bethlehem, lain in a manger, and announced by angels just so we could break down the doors on Black Friday or break the internet on Cyber Monday.  No, folks, He didn’t come to seek and to save Christmas.

Rather, He came to seek and to save us…to change us.

He wants to change us from the self-serving, thoughtless, broken people we are, and make us into a people who love one another.  A people who care for the unfortunate.  A people who build up instead of tearing down.  A people who bring peace to a broken world.

Doctors and nurses who risk their lives to save Ebola patients.

A young boy who gives out free hugs at a protest.

A police officer who buys eggs for a grandmother trying to feed hungry children with no money.

A ninety year old veteran who feeds the homeless.

And the countless other nameless individuals out there that secretly assist their fellow man or woman without any need or desire for commendation or notoriety. 

So, this Christmas, as you fight the crowds, attend the parties, and watch your favorite Christmas movies, try to keep the point in mind:  

Jesus Christ is the reason for the season, and we can keep Christ in Christmas by keeping Christ in us.

“Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be a sign to you:  You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”  
Luke 2:10-14

Merry Christmas, and I hope you have a wonderful New Year in 2015!