Friday, December 30, 2011

50 Years, Did They Matter?

Fifty years ago today, it snowed in Muncie, Indiana. It was a beautiful, fluffy snow that coated all the tree limbs and power lines, and gave the landscape a bright, soft feel. That is how my dad described the day I was born to me years later.

50 years.

Where did they go? It’s like I took a nap and I’m now half a century old.

When I was born, John F. Kennedy was president. We had not yet gone to the moon. Our black and white TV only got 3 ½ stations. Nobody had ever heard of a microwave oven, a cell phone, the internet, or even something as mundane as self-serve gas stations. Computers existed, but they took up entire rooms, and NO ONE had one at their house. I probably have more memory space in my Blackberry now than some of those old prehistoric computers did back in those days. No one had ever heard of video games either. The closest thing was a pinball machine, and you had to go somewhere outside the house to find one. Now, you can play video games on your tablet computer against people you’ve never met halfway around the world.

I wonder what things will be like in another fifty years?

It is my personal goal to reach the date of December 30, 2061 while still retaining a fairly good quality of life. I just want to see what things will be like then. I bet if we could leap forward, it would blow our minds.

I asked myself a question today. I took a long drive back up to my hometown, had a Pizza King Royal Feast, then I drove over to Ridgeville, Indiana to see if I could find the place where my grandma lived when I was a little kid. I found it because I recognized the little creek and bridge I used to play around. It looks exactly the same. On the way back, I stopped at a Speedway Station in Pendleton, Indiana for a drink, and that’s when the question occurred to me.

The water tower in Ridgeville, Indiana.  I like water towers for some reason.

Have I done anything with my 50 years that really makes any difference?

I think I’m a pretty good salesman. I’ve been doing it a long time, and most of my customers seem to like and trust me. However, when I have finally moved on, I’m guessing that within a few months or a year, I’ll just be another guy that came and went. Even if I were to be promoted into some corporate leadership position, nothing that I could ever do there would matter much beyond my tenure. Stuff people do just doesn’t matter much after enough water has gone under the bridge.

I like to write. I write blog posts. I write an occasional poem for my wife. I’m working on a larger project that I hope one day will be a book. Even if I succeed in getting published and become even a little famous, it won’t last. I hope I can get good enough at it to someday make a little money with it, but fame and a little money won’t last much beyond my lifetime. How many authors do you know from 50 years ago? A handful maybe. How about 100 years ago? I’d bet the list got shorter. Go back further, and you’ll see that the further back you go, the list of authors with lasting power continues to dwindle.

So, what could I do with my life that would really matter?

I’m reminded of the quote from Clarence the angel to George Bailey in the classic movie, It’s a Wonderful Life: “Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?

My hope really is that I’ll simply make a difference to people I interact with on a daily basis, so that one day I can be remembered as someone who mattered to them.

I think that is the reason that I write some of the blog posts I put up. It’s stuff that helps me, and I’m hopeful that it can be helpful to someone else.

I want to be like one of my family’s old neighbors from my childhood. Emma Ogletree was a young housewife and someone who was committed to Christ and Christian service. She was simply nice to me, and she reached out in service to my family. As a direct result of her simple sharing, I am a Christian today, my daughters are both Christians, my mother eventually became a Christian, my Uncle, my nephew…and others that I have influenced along the way. Someone made a difference to her, she then made a difference to me, and as a result I was able to make a difference to some others, and the chain goes on.

Emma Ogletree and her kids
The thing is, the only REAL difference I can make in this world is not truly of this world. I could build skyscrapers, but eventually they would come down. I could establish an empire, and eventually it would fall. I could set records, but someone else would break them. The only thing that will matter into eternity is to make a spiritual difference to someone else…to help them in their search for God.

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Jesus in Matthew 28:19-20

“We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” The Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:20

Fifty years have come and gone. I hope I’ve helped a few people. But, now I’ve got a new half century ahead of me, and I’m hopeful that I’ve gleaned some wisdom from the first fifty that can make me even more helpful going forward.

Time to pay it forward some more…keeping the chain alive…

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

RU Too Old to Change?

“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks!”

“He’s set in his ways!”

“She’s too old to change now!”

If you are wondering why I put an "RU" at the beginning of the title of this post, you need to read on...
Sometimes, I think we can let adages have too much control over who we are. The ones that I’ve quoted above indicate that once you reach a certain stage in life, there is no turning around, no changing directions, no chance to try, do, or be something new. Somehow, in our minds, there seems to be an unspecified age that once reached prevents a person from exploring new avenues in their lives.

I just don’t believe that.

I’m only two days away (as I write this) from reaching the age where I can officially get my AARP card. I started getting mail from them a couple of years ago. I find it sort of unbelievable that I could possibly be reaching that half century mark, but it seems to be so. Last year, I stopped into a McDonalds in Versailles, Indiana on my way to make some sales calls in Kentucky because I needed to use the facilities. (No, that’s not an age thing. I just needed to go.) On the way out, I decided to buy myself a drink.

Me: “I’ll take a small Diet Coke.”

Counter Girl using a conspiratorial whisper: “I don’t really think you’re old enough for this, but I gave you the senior discount.”

Me: “Ummm. Thanks.”

She didn’t think I was old enough to get it, but I must have been close enough for her to even consider it.


So then, I suppose I need to wonder just how close I’m getting to that magic age when I can no longer adjust, adapt, change, or become anything beyond what I already am. How soon will my path be set in stone? When will learning new tricks become impossible for me? At what point will some younger leader in the church look at me sitting in my usual spot and say, “Oh, we can’t do that ‘cause Mike would freak! He’s way too old and set in his ways!”

Maybe I’ll be blindsided, but I just don’t see it coming. It may get tougher for me to keep up with the faster and faster changes happening around me, but I don’t expect to completely become a pillar of salt while life goes on with those younger than me.

I just don’t believe that you ever get too old to change.

Consider my mother, for example. She spent 80 years living one way, and in the last year of her life she made a couple of huge shifts in direction.

First, after somewhere between 50 and 60 years as a smoker, she quit. Cold turkey. It did take a throat cancer to motivate the change, but change she did. She didn’t take Chantix. She didn’t chew Nicorette. She just put the things down and quit.  Boom!  Done!

Mom & David before her baptism.  We were in a room of friends who were sharing words of encouragement.

Secondly, after avoiding God for 81 years…after living her own way, doing her own thing, and ignoring the pleas from me and others…she finally found some faith in Someone greater than herself.  God worked on her heart through various means and various people, but the point is that even at 81 years old, my mother was not too old to change.  She was not too old to learn about God.  She was not too old to become a follower of Christ.

David and I just about to baptize my mother in my friend Brian's giant bathtub.  She was a bit frail, so we needed to hold her carefully.

Mom's baptism

It was sort of like she broke through a barrier that had been holding her back for years and years.  I loved seeing the wonder in her eyes as the realization that God really did love her began to sink in.

Can you see the wonder in Mom's eyes as Jean Keim (who was instrumental in my mother's conversion) greets her after her baptism?
So, whether you’re stuck in a spiritual rut and you think the chance to really do something with your faith has passed you by, or you have a family member that you think is too old to listen to a spiritual message….think again.

You are never too old to enjoy the adventures that God puts in your path!

Now…where’s my reading glasses? I need to fill out that AARP application!

PS:  If you are still wondering, "RU" is computer-speak for "Are you."

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Muncie Boyhood-Christmas

Me & Santa in downtown Muncie at one of the department stores; Ball Stores maybe or perhaps Sears & Roebuck.

As I look back on it now, Christmas was as much my mother’s holiday as it was mine.  Perhaps, even more so.  It was her time of the year.  She could spend all the money she wanted, decorate the house with a myriad of ornaments, and cook and bake to her heart’s delight.  We had electric candles in the windows, a Styrofoam candy cane held together with straight pins and taped over the archway in between the living room and dining room, and lots of synthetic icicles hanging off of the artificial tree that was overloaded with light bulbs, glass balls, and garland.  Goodies filled tin jars and metal trays.  Gifts were stuffed in every possible space around the sparkling plastic pine.

Notice the tree loaded with ornaments & the Christmas cards taped to the wall.  Mom always taped all the cards around the archway.
 I remember the food.

Ham. We always had ham sandwiches. Homemade macaroni & cheese.  Baked beans.  A fruit salad that was a blend of red (probably strawberry) Jell-O and Cool Whip. Lots of fudge….and I mean a lot of fudge. Mixed nuts still in the shells.

Mixed nuts still in the shells bring up a question: Does anyone else wonder why they would put Brazil Nuts still in the shell in a bag of mixed nuts? They have got to be the single hardest nut to shell by hand!

I remember the gifts.

A Hot Wheels race track. Tinker Toys. An Erector Set.

My folks did get me an array of gifts that they probably regretted. The noise-makers. One year, I wanted a guitar. Got it. Never learned to play it. Another year, I was going to be a drummer, so Mom bought me a full-fledged drum set. Snare. Bass. The whole bit. I pounded and pounded, but never learned how to play them correctly or with any semblance of rhythm.

When I was a teenager in middle school, they finally got me something I could play quite well. A stereo system. I’m sure after just a few hours of Billy Joel, The Bay City Rollers, Kansas, and several others rattling the windows and vibrating Mom’s knickknacks off shelves, they probably were wishing for a “do-over.”

Another Christmas, in the earliest years of video games, I wanted a wanted Pong. It seems quite crazy by today’s standards, but back then, Pong was the bomb with its little electronic ball screaming across the screen. There were three games in one: Handball Pong, Tennis Pong, and Hockey Pong. Hockey was the best! Anyway, I had a little black and white TV set in my room, and I desperately wanted a video game.

“Mom! Can I have a video game for Christmas?”


“Please Mom. Please. I really want it. Please?”

“No. I’m not getting you a @#%$& video game.”

However, after all the gifts were wrapped and placed under the tree, I began to snoop. I found each one with my name on it, picked it up, shook it, and squeezed it. One likely suspect fit the profile of an electronic device. It was about the right size. It had the feel of protective packing. Hmmmm.

Could it be? Could Mom really have bought me a Pong game?

That’s when I got clever. I walked into her bedroom where she was lounging; surrounded by her police scanner, clock radio, and TV…all going at once.

“Hey Mom!” I said with manufactured excitement. “Thanks for getting me the video game for Christmas!”

Of course, I didn’t really know that that was in fact what it was. I was going for the telling reaction, but she was good, and didn’t give it away.

“I didn’t get you a (bleep, bleep) video game.”

“Okay. If you say so,” I said.

Nothing more was said. I went off to my room to watch my little TV, and she went back to her police calls/Conway Twitty/JR Ewing medley.

The next day, I strolled into my sister’s house down a few blocks on Monroe Street. I spent a good amount of time there as a kid, mostly because I was close to my nephew, David. David and I were more like brothers, and in fact I was closer in age to him than I was to my sister, his mother. Anyway, I walked in the front door, and the conversation went like this:

My sister: “Mike, did David tell you what you got for Christmas?”

Me: “Nope. You just did.”

I remember the parties.

In my family, Christmas was comprised of two major events. First, there was the Christmas Eve party where our extended family always came over to eat and exchange gifts. Second, there was Christmas morning where it was just me, my folks, and the stuff Santa brought. Later, when Santa stopped bringing me stuff, Christmas morning was just a time to sleep in and recover from the previous night’s festivities….and the bigger gifts that my folks didn’t want to give me in front of everyone else.

There were things you could count on for Christmas Eve at my house. Good food. A big party. A number of arguments. A gift exchange. And, finally, an all night Monopoly game between me, David, and my niece Krista.

There were also a few things that you could never really count on…

1. You never quite knew what time my sister would show up. Her preparations were always last minute and invariably, we always were waiting for her to arrive well beyond when she was supposed to have been there.

2. You never knew when the fussing would start and who would be involved.

3. You never knew who would be willing to endure the torture of handing out the gifts. No matter how it was done, it never met everyone’s satisfaction with regard to how fairly they were distributed or at what pace.

One other thing that you could actually count on was air pollution. When I was a child, everyone who wasn’t a child smoked. They smoked a lot. On Christmas Eve, besides my Mom and Dad, usually, my sister, my sister-in-law, their respective fellas, and a smattering of other adults would be over to the closed-up-for-the-winter house…all smoking away to their heart’s distress. As a result, my nieces and nephew and I would retreat to either my bedroom or the basement to get away from it. We would only come out for the food and the presents.

The schedule of events for the adults went like this….


Of course, we were all excited for the presents, so we wanted to start opening them right after the meal. After the last food dish was put in the sink…

“Can we open presents now?” rang out our childhood voices.

“After we have one more cigarette,” replied the adults with the soiled lungs.

“Ahhh, man!” we’d reply as we headed back to the basement.

Now, we’ve all grown up and we’re in charge now. These days, the smokers have to go outside and out to their cars to get their nicotine fixes. Turn-about is definitely fair play.

As I close out this chapter in my Muncie Boyhood series, I want to share two other Christmas stories:

First, my sister had a husband named Lewis. Sometimes he could be nice enough, but a lot of the time he was a…a…a….not so nice guy. This particular Christmas, he told my sister that he’d like to get some Blue Stratos cologne. In her own special way of getting even for some way that he’d mistreated her, she told EVERYONE in the family that he wanted some Blue Stratos, and that we should get that for him. “He would love it!” she said.

She told everyone independently….and everyone complied.

Every few minutes, he would open a gift….and every few minutes he got another bottle of Blue Stratos. I’m not sure how many he actually got, and it didn’t make him any nicer of a person, but at least he smelled good.

Secondly, on Christmas Eve in 1978, I brought my girlfriend Toni over to the house for our family party. This was my first year having a guest, and her first experience with my family as a whole. I was a bit nervous, but all went well enough. No major knock down, drag outs, and it was a fairly painless party as our parties went.

Around 9pm, we decided it was time to take her home. After all, she had an 11pm curfew, and there was no time to waste. She lived about fifteen miles away and I only had two hours to get her there.

Perhaps you are wondering why I needed so much time to go such a short distance.

Well, you see, we liked to “visit” with one another during the drive home. She lived out in the country, and as I recall there were five stop signs between Highway 32 and her road. We would stop and “visit” at each one. Sometimes, if we had the time, we might take a detour further out into the country so that we could “visit” even more. On this Christmas Eve, we took one of those detours and found ourselves stopped in the middle of no where, “visiting.”

After a time, I looked down at my watch and realized that it was 10:55 pm.

“Oh man! We’ve got to get you home!” I said with a touch of panic.

Her dad was not one to fool with when it came to curfew.

We sped off in the direction of her house. There was just one problem. We were coming from the wrong direction.

“You can’t turn in from this direction!” she said. “If dad sees you, he’ll want to know why we were coming from that way!”

“Okay,” I said as we hurried past the house. “I’ll go down to the corner and turn around.”

There was no time to waste! We had to hurry to not be late!

Did I mention that on Christmas Eve in 1978 it was quite cold, and very icy?

Very icy!

About a hundred yards or so from the corner, I applied the brakes to stop and turn around. I hit the brakes, but we didn’t slow down. Instead, the rear of the car began to fishtail. Then, the fishtail became a full out spin. I’m not sure how fast we were going when the spin began, but my dad’s ’68 Chevy Nova did loop after loop all the way through the intersection until we came to a stop on the other side. No need to turn around now because we were facing back toward her house.

Whew! We didn’t hit anything and nothing hit us.

There was no time to contemplate just how lucky we were because we only had about a minute to get back to her place, but I can tell you that the feeling of relief was palpable.

Mission accomplished, and unless she has told him about it over the years, or unless he reads this blog, her dad never knew about our near disaster on Christmas Eve.

There are other stories, but I’ll stop for now. Merry Christmas to all. Take a few minutes to consider the good times and the blessings, and perhaps pass along some blessings to someone else. May Santa stop at your house too.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The "R & R" Challenge-A Whac-a-Mole Follow-up

A few months ago I wrote a post called “Playing Whac-a-Mole?-A Discussion of Personal Demons.” In it, I discuss how we…all of us…are plagued by some sin or sins that despite how much we fight, they keep popping their ugly little heads up in our lives. If you want to read the original post, it is one of my most popular and as such it is listed prominently along the right side of this page…just click on it and give it a read.

Like everyone else, I have my own set of sins that tend to attack me from time to time. I hate them. I fight them. They burden me. They embarrass me. You understand what I’m saying…I know you do.

Anyway, this morning I was lamenting my set of personal demons…and I was struck with an idea. I’ve decided to give it a shot, and I thought I’d share it with you just in case you want to give it a go also.

I shouldn’t need any more motivation to change than the knowledge of how much I’m hurting God when I fail, or how much I’m hurting myself, or even more so how much I might hurt those that I'm closest to, but based on my ongoing failures, I apparently do.

So, here’s the idea…

I’m going to reward myself for success. Each day that I am successful in avoiding my specifically targeted failures, I will pay myself one dollar. I will put that dollar in an envelope marked as “R & R” for safe-keeping. I will save the money for a future item that I’d like to buy…in my case I think I’m going to save for a new laptop computer. If I stay successful, I should have the new device in about eighteen months. Of course, if I hold out for a Mac, it may take a bit longer.

On the flip side, there is a penalty for failure. If I fail, I have to pull 50% of the money out of the envelope and donate it to my church. The longer I’m successful, the bigger the penalty for failure and the more disappointed I'll be. For example, if I’m good for 100 days and then fail, I give $50 to the church and I start again with $50 in my envelope. If I make it to 300 days and then stumble, the penalty jumps to $150, and I lose 150 days worth of successful effort.

In case you’re wondering, the “R & R” stands for “Repentance & Reward.”

If you want to join the challenge, here are the rules:

1. Get an envelope or small box and write “R & R” on the outside.
2. Identify an item that you’d like to save for so that you have a clear reward.
3. Determine how much you will put in the envelope/box for each successful day. Any reasonable amount will do.
4. Decide where you will donate the penalty money. Any charity you feel good about is appropriate.
5. Clearly define what constitutes a failure so that you cannot rationalize your way out of the penalty…I know how you think….or, at least I know how I think.  Be specific with the targeted sin.
6. Start today and pay your first reward tomorrow.
7. If you have a failure, immediately pull the money out and prepare your donation. Don’t put it off and don’t hesitate.
8. Share the plan with an accountability partner.

This may seem like a crazy idea, but it’s got my attention, so I’m going to run with it. Wish me success.

Now….where’s my mallet? I’ve got some moles to whack!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Muncie Boyhood-Random Memories of Home

The little two-bedroom house has blue collar written all over it. From the diluted white aluminum siding to the rusty, ancient wire fencing around the backyard, it screams lower, middle-class America. It wasn’t much, but it was my home; the place where I grew up, and the place that still holds a special spot in my heart.

Nestled comfortably on the corner of 21st and Hackley Streets in Muncie, Indiana , it still seems inviting every time I drive by in stalker mode to see how the current tenants are caring for it. It seems like I ought to be able to pull up in the front driveway, trot down the sidewalk on the north side of the house, swing through the gate that my dog used to climb up and over, and slip through the back door onto the landing above the basement steps. Do I turn left and go up into the tiny kitchen, or go straight down the stairs into the full basement? My memories can carry me in either direction.

This little house holds memories for me in every corner, every nook and cranny. In fact, the only spot on the entire property that contains no memory for me is the attic. Otherwise, I can walk the entire place in my mind and remember some little thing or some big thing that happened to me, with me, or for me.

In the front yard, I can reminisce about drinking a Coke or a Mountain Dew at midnight while sitting on the porch steps and watching the traffic going by. I can think about my years of searching for the pocketknife I lost while trying to make it stick in the giant chinese elm that shaded the house and overhung the street. My dad gave me that knife and it was lost for several years until a guy visited the house with a metal detector. He found it for me, all rusted up. I wish I still had it…yep…I lost it again.

Or, I can remember talking my brother down from dragging his family off in the middle of the night in a drunken rage. He had driven home from California towing a travel trailer with his wife and girls to attend a high school reunion. He drank too much at the party and something upset him. He and his wife came home in the middle of an incredibly ugly argument, and he was determined to hook up the trailer, get his girls, leave his wife there, and head back to California. I got him talking on the front porch until he calmed down. Eventually, he laid himself down on the grass and fell asleep. I stayed there with him until the wee hours of the morning.

The backyard was Sugar’s home. It was bordered by that old wire fence on the sides, broken in a few places, the house in front, and the small, wooden one-car garage in the back. Sitting along side of the garage was, and in fact still is, the grape arbor that my dad built when I was maybe seven or eight years old. It will probably still be there in another forty years because he built it very well, put a coat of tar on the posts and set them in concrete. I can still remember the huge splinter I got in my thumb while helping to hold a brace piece while he nailed it in place.

Behind the garage is my old pet cemetery. Buried there is my hamster Arthur (Fonzi), my parakeet (Peppy), my turtle, various wild birds, and my dog….Sugar…in a small wooden box.

Sugar was my confidant and my best friend. She was my buddy from the time I was one until I was seventeen. She shared my pain, loved me anyway, and kept all my secrets. She never made fun of me, and always was there to cheer me up when I might be down. She even scared off a bully once, even though by then she was completely toothless. Thinking about her makes me emotional still.

In the house, it’s hard to know where to begin. My bedroom was in the northwest corner, nearest the intersection of the two streets. There was no air conditioning, so in the summer we’d have the windows wide open and sometimes a box fan blowing fresh air in to keep us cool. There was lots of noise from the street, especially when I was really young and there was a trucking terminal a block away, but your mind adapts until you just block all that out. In the winter, dad would replace the screens with storm windows, and if there was a big snowstorm, my nephew David and I would sit for hours and watch the cars sliding through the stop sign into the middle of Hackley Street in hopes of seeing a crash. Shame on us.

The floor of my bedroom was hardwood. If you went there today, and looked closely under the window on the north side, you could find evidence of my use of the wood-burning set my folks got me for Christmas one year:
M. D.
T. F.

Those letters will be forever burnt into the history of that house as a reminder of a young boy’s crush…at least until the house is demolished or someone decides to refinish the floors.

My parents were both smokers, so if you didn’t find me in my bedroom, you’d find me in the basement trying to escape the nicotine pollution. It was a giant playroom with a concrete floor. My dad kept his tools and personal stuff down there, and I used to go down there to “make something.” The most impressive thing I ever made was a chess table. I tacked two pieces of plywood together, mounted some ugly-looking legs on the bottom…in a way that left it remarkably stable…and used stain, shellac, paint, and polyurethane to create a chess board on the top. If you want to see it, you can go over to my sister’s house on west 17th Street. The last time I was there, it was sitting on her front porch, faded and a bit warped, but still stable.

Whether it was flinging darts like baseballs across the room or kicking deflated volleyballs up the steps and out the unlatched backdoor, I found some of my fondest times goofing off in that basement. I built things. I read books. I created a couple of art pieces…one of which still hangs in my kitchen today. And, I dreamed of…of…of…you know, I don’t know what I dreamed of. I guess I just always imagined growing up and going places, becoming someone important, and moving away. Isn’t that strange? Now, I just miss that old place, and sometimes…I just wish I could go back.

More stories to come.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

50 Thanksgivings

This Thanksgiving Holiday marks my 50th. I turn 50 years old in December, and since my first Thanksgiving happened before my first birthday, I am about to celebrate my 50th Turkey Day.

In honor of that fact, I am going to share 50 things I am thankful for…by the year in which they occurred.

1. 1962—Diapers. Cloth diapers to be more accurate. My mom used them and I wasn’t traumatized too awfully much.

2. 1963—My first dog, Sugar. She stayed with me until I was 17 years old, and was my loyal companion and confidant. It still hurts a little when I think of her…still miss her.

3. 1964—Rides on my dad’s shoulders. I remember him carrying me on his shoulders as we would walk the nine blocks north on Hackley Street to Heekin Park.

4. 1965—Guiding words from my dad. As he held me one night: “Mike, the most important thing you can ever do in your life is to love God.” Those words have stuck with me ever since. I wish I could fully fulfill them.

5. 1966—Saturday morning cartoons. A ritual that continued for another ten years or so.

6. 1967—Roller skating with my friend Cheryl. Gibson’s Skating Rink held lessons, and my friend Cheryl and I used to go every week. I’m still frustrated by the fact that I never learned to skate backwards.

7. 1968—My brother, Freddie. He gave me a red stuffed dog from the Delaware County Fair. He was 19 years older than me, and was a good big brother until his death in 1969. Also, that year: A red Schwinn Stingray bike…I had that bike until middle school. I wish I still had it. It would be worth some money now.

8. 1969—My mom. It was a really tough year for her with my brother’s death. It took her a long time to get through the grief, but eventually she emerged on the other side. She’s been gone for eight years now.

9. 1970—Collarbones. In August of 1970, I was racing my buddy Jerry down the alley on my bike. I looked over at him and when I looked back, I was headed off the alley path toward a bush. I hit my brakes, slid sideways, and hit a concrete post. I can remember flying through mid-air, doing an aerial somersault, and landing on my shoulder. I snapped my right collarbone. My neighbor, Emma Ogletree came to my rescue.

10. 1971—Glasses. My dad took me to get my eyes checked. I didn’t know I had a problem with my vision until I put my new glasses on. Oh, wow! I could see so much detail that I had been missing! My folks were concerned that they wouldn’t be able to get me to wear them, but that was not an issue. Maybe they would have helped me miss that concrete post the year before…hmmm.

11. 1972—Baseball. I discovered the Cincinnati Reds and the sport of baseball. Johnny Bench became my hero, and I became determined to be a pro baseball player…a dream that stuck with me until my fourth year of being cut from the team when I was a sophomore at Muncie Southside High School.

12. 1973—California and Amtrak. My mother, my grandma, and I made a journey by Amtrak from Indianapolis to San Jose, California and back to visit my brother Bob and his family. It was a fantastic trip worthy of its own blog post.

13. 1974—Minnie Alice Terrell. She was my grandmother and the only one of my grandparents that I got to meet. She passed in 1974, but we became very close prior to her death. I have wonderful memories of her living with us for the two or three years before she died.

14. 1975—Star Trek. Thanks to my friend, Jerry, I discovered the moral teleplays known as Star Trek. It became my afterschool ritual to watch the exploits of Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, and Dr. McCoy as they solved the problems of the universe. I once had a poster that said “Everything I need to know in life, I learned from Star Trek.” As crazy as that sounds, when you read the list the poster gave, it kind of makes sense.

15. 1976—Mike Runcie. He was the youth minister at the Fairlawn Church of Christ. In October of 1976, he baptized me on a Monday night. I was incredibly nervous and self-conscious.

16. 1977—Erector Sets and the ultimate mouse trap. This is another story worth of its own post. (Between Star Trek and Erector Sets, I was headed toward a role on The Big Bang Theory, but I was saved by the next year.)

17. 1978—Toni, my first girlfriend. What she could have seen in my goofy personality, I’ll never know, but she took a liking to me. We are still friends to this day, and I very much appreciate that fact. Another item from that year: Drivers License….Oh, yeah! Freedom!

18. 1979—The Fairlawn Church of Christ Youth Group. My closest friends in high school weren’t actually at my school. My closest friends were part of my church youth group. This group helped me overcome a number of personal insecurities. It gave me a place where I could experience the responsibility of leadership in a way that built my confidence. A special “thank you” to Neil Parsons, the youth minister who pushed me to be a leader in the group.

19. 1980—Williamstown Bible College. If I had it to do over again, I don’t know that I would go there again. However, this place holds so many formative memories and experiences that I have to be thankful for it.

20. 1981—Nancy!!! I met the woman who would become my wife in the fall of 1981. I was home for a weekend from college, and after church I saw this lovely girl with long, curly, dark hair. Flirtations were required. Over the next year, we became great friends…despite my initial flirting.

21. 1982—Home. After two years away in West Virginia, I came back home again. Not just to my folks and their house, but also to my friends and to my home church. At the end of 1982, I had my first official date with Nancy.

22. 1983—Great friends. I picked up a couple of new friends, and developed some that were already there. Rick Anderson. Sheridan Wright. Phil Dargo. My friend, Jim Wilkinson was in and out with trips to India…at least I think that was true that year. Also, it was in March of this year that Nancy agreed to “go steady” with me.

23. 1984—Bearings, Inc. I got a job so that I could have money to go out on dates. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was to become the beginning of my lifelong career. Also, Nancy agreed to marry me. Hurray!

24. 1985—Marriage. Nancy and I tied the knot and began our life together. We started out in a small house on East 14th Street in Muncie that we rented from my friend, Phil.

25. 1986—Columbia, South Carolina. We moved there in August so that I could become a ministry intern at the Shandon Church of Christ. It was the start of our love for that state; a state that we will likely return to one day. Also, I met another of my key friends that year in Columbia, Bill Buffington.

26. 1987—Calvin Conn. He was an elder at the Shandon Church of Christ, and even though I never got to know him as closely as I would have liked, his example is one I reflect on from time to time today. He passed that year from colon cancer.

27. 1988—Diet Coke. I started drinking diet soda that year, and between that and the exercise I was getting at work, I lost almost 50 pounds!

28. 1989—Angela! My first daughter came into the world in July of that year. If you have no children, it is impossible to imagine the joy you feel when you hold your first baby. I am very proud of the woman she has become.

29. 1990—My first promotion. I had returned to Bearings, Inc. when we moved back to Indiana in late ’87, but it wasn’t until this promotion that I began to climb upward in my career. The promotion took us back to Muncie where I worked as an outside sales representative.

30. 1991—Steve and Tammy Martin. They came over to our house every Wednesday night after church to watch Quantum Leap with us. It was such a blast!

31. 1992—Andrea! My second daughter was born. I worried beforehand that I wouldn’t be able to love her as much as I loved Angela. However, from the moment I held her tiny body in my hands, I understood the capacity for love that the human heart holds. As with Angela, I am very proud of the woman she is becoming. Also in this year, I received my second promotion and was moved to Columbus, Indiana to become a branch manager for Bearings, Inc.

32. 1993—My third promotion. Bearings, Inc. sent me to Indianapolis to become the branch manager at one of their two Indy locations. It was here that I finally started making enough money to be dangerous.

33. 1994—California with the Krebs. Nancy and I flew to San Francisco with our good friends, Steve & Brenda Krebs for a nice little vacation before we attended a conference in LA. We toured the Wharf, we had a cookout with my nephew David and his family, and we drove down the coastal highway. When we reached LA, we visited Hollywood and drove around the Hollywood Hills. We were there when O.J. allegedly murdered his wife, but didn’t know about it until we were home.

34. 1995—Sanibel Island. This was a tough year for me, and I was feeling quite depressed on our 10th anniversary trip to Florida. That was tough on Nancy. As tough as it was, I enjoyed the natural beauty and the pleasant surroundings of Sanibel. It was soothing to say the least.

35. 1996—David returns. The one person that has been the closest to me my entire life is my nephew David. For a few years, he lived in the Bay Area of California, and I missed him a lot. During this year, I flew out to help him drive his possessions home. He and I drove a full-size Ryder truck towing a trailer with his minivan all the way from Tracy, California to Indianapolis, Indiana.

36. 1997—The ole homestead. Thinking about this year reminds me of the house I grew up in on Hackley Street in Muncie. Mom & Dad moved to an apartment in 1997, and we sold the old house. David and I worked together to get the place ready for sale. There are memories for me in every corner of that house, and even today when I drive by, I feel like I ought to be able to stop, walk in the back door, and plop down on the front sofa.

37. 1998—NSK Corporation. After over 13 years of service with Bearings, Inc./Applied Industrial, I decided to make a jump to a new position with a new company. It was a great move for me, my family, and finances. Also that year was a fantastic family vacation to Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, San Diego, and Disney World.

38. 1999—Dad. This was my last full year with my dad. He and mom moved in with me and my family in January and we got to care for him and enjoy his presence in our lives for a whole year. He passed in early 2000.

39. 2000—Catalina Island. Nancy and I took a cruise for our 15th anniversary and the highlight for me was waking up just off the coast of Catalina. It was a beautiful sight from the balcony of our suite on the Carnival ship.

40. 2001—The United States of America. Obviously, this was a pivotal year in the history of the United States. It just proves how precarious life and security really are, and it makes me thankful to live in a land where freedom is still a cherished possession.

41. 2002—The Indianapolis Mini-Marathon. For the first time…and only time in my life…I ran a mini-marathon. My wife had been running in it for a few years already, and I wanted to be able to say that I’d done it. So, here I am saying so. I did it. I was in great physical shape after that event and the 70-mile bike ride I finished a month later, but I never had much interest in running 13 miles again. I can say the following things about that event: I never stopped, I never walked, and I ended up losing a toenail.

42. 2003—Mom. My mother passed away in early December of that year, but it was all the stuff that occurred prior to Thanksgiving for which I am thankful. She fought throat cancer and beat it. At 81 years old, she finally began to look toward God, and I baptized her in my friend Brian Holeman’s garden tub in August. It ended up a tough year, but mom’s turn toward faith made it all worthwhile.

43. 2004—Grace. In 2004, I rediscovered the healing power of the Grace of God.

44. 2005—Arizona Raft Adventures. The year started tough with a herniated disc in my neck, but by late July, Angela and I were rafting down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon on a trip organized by the AZRA organization. It was a father/daughter adventure for the two of us and an adventure of a lifetime. By the time we were done I was also thankful for hot showers, beds, and air-conditioning.

45. 2006—Yellowstone National Park. Three friends and I took a week-long adventure to South Dakota and Wyoming that culminated with three days in Yellowstone. What a magnificent place! Magical!

46. 2007—Hawaii. We took a family vacation to Maui and Oahu for some fun in the sun. Technically, this took place after Thanksgiving that year, but another thing I’ve discovered is that I don’t have to be legalistic about everything. Hawaii is going to see my face again. I don’t know when, but I’m going back.

47. 2008—Salmon, Idaho. Andrea and I took a father/daughter trip also. We toured around south central Idaho, southwestern Montana, and Yellowstone National Park. One cool place we stayed was The Greyhouse Inn in Salmon, Idaho.

48. 2009—The eldership. In late 2008, the Southeastern Church of Christ expressed their confidence in me and asked me to serve the church as an elder. I have never felt up to the task, and I often feel very undeserving, inadequate, and unqualified, but I am honored to be of service to my church and my God. I began serving in January of 2009.

49. 2010—Being able to walk. In late 2009, I tore my right Achilles Tendon and had surgery to repair it. I spent 2010 trying to recover. In fact, I’m still working on getting my abilities back. When you are stuck in a chair for hours, or have to hobble around on crutches, it gives you a new appreciation for mundane things like just being able to walk or run. I’ve always said that I hated to run…now, I kind of wish I could run.

50. 2011—An empty nest. It is a joy to see your daughters grow up and begin to spread their own wings to take flight in their own lives. It is also a joy to have life take you back full circle to where it is just you and your spouse again. Nancy and I have been enjoying our time together, and the freedom to go places and do things again without needing to consider the school year or kids’ activities.

That represents 50 Thanksgivings in my life. I have lots more to be thankful for, and many more friends I could have mentioned. As I worked my way through the years, I did have a few where it was tough to find something to be thankful for, but if I thought long enough and considered things carefully, I could always come up with something. God has been good to me.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving and a wonderful Christmas season!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Fairlawn-What Church is Really About

I’ve been thinking about church a lot lately. Not my current congregation and not church in general. Rather, I’ve been thinking about the Fairlawn Church of Christ in Muncie, Indiana. I attended there from sometime around 1974 until August of 1986, and it will always be a special place for me.

For many I think, church represents sort of sterile, holy place…maybe a little cold and dark. For others, church is just a place to go once in a while to keep your spiritual credit in good standing. Perhaps church is synonymous with dogma, ritual, and inhibition.

I see it differently.

For me, church is about relationships.

My first experience at Fairlawn was as a child attending Vacation Bible School with my neighbor. Later, that same neighbor asked the minister to visit my mother in the hospital; then the two of them conspired to have the youth minister reach out to me. Soon, I was riding a JOY Bus to church each Sunday. At first, I agreed to go so I could get the side benefits of going with the youth group to places like Kings Island, Cincinnati Reds games, and summer camp, but later on as I built some friendships, that began to change.

In essence, I went from being an unchurched child to a Christian man at the Fairlawn Church of Christ. The majority of my teenage friends were there. My first real girlfriend was there. I met my wife there. I learned to overcome my insecurities there. I learned sincere faith there.

But, for some reason, sometime in the late 1980’s, I let my relationships with my Fairlawn family wane. I didn’t plan it. I just didn’t make it a priority anymore. I had moved away to another city, and I had a family and career to consider. I was busy in another church in another city and I just made no effort toward maintaining those bonds.

Years went by with no contact. A whole decade passed with practically zero interactions.

Did the bonds of relationship fall away? Did they forget the young goofy kid who used to walk their halls?

In February of 2000, after over ten years of neglecting my former church family, my dad died. We were planning to hold the funeral in Muncie, and we had no place to gather after the funeral for a meal. Hotels are too impersonal. My sister’s house was too small. I thought it over and decided to approach Fairlawn to see if they would allow us to use their building. I was prepared to pay a fee. I was just hoping that someone would be willing to come by and let us in.

On February 8th, 2000, I walked into the office of Paul Cunningham…a man I had known from my many years at Fairlawn…I had been friends with a couple of his sons in the youth group. He was the administrator at the time. We hadn’t spoken in a long, long time.

I’m going to paraphrase the conversation:

“Paul, my dad has passed away.”

“I’m sorry, Mike. How can I help?”

“Well, we have the funeral planned, but we don’t have any place to hold the reception,” I explained.

“When is the funeral?” he asked.


He turned back to his desk and opened a drawer. He reached inside and pulled something out. It wasn’t a datebook. It wasn’t a rental contract.

He handed it to me….a key…a key to the building.

I had not been a member of that congregation since August of 1986, and I hadn’t even visited them for church in over ten years. Yet, there he was holding out a key to the building.

“You’re giving me a key to the building?” I asked with some disbelief.

“Of course,” he replied. “You’re one of us.”

I can’t think about that meeting with Paul without feeling the tears well up in my eyes. It moved me. It gave me new insight into what it really means to be in the family of God and the body of Christ.

You see…church, when it’s done right…is really about relationships.

And, by the way, I didn’t really need the key because on the day of the funeral, when we arrived at the building…Paul had arranged for several women to be there to serve the food to my family…and they had made the food too.  They really took care of us that day....because I was still one of them.

Let me just say that if you live near Muncie, Indiana and you’re looking for a church family, you can’t do better than the people that call Fairlawn their home.

Link to the Fairlawn Church of Christ

Friday, November 11, 2011

A Muncie Boyhood: Stock Boy in Ladies Apparel

The old K-Mart South building on South Walnut Street in Muncie, Indiana
Looking back on it now, I’m having a hard time deciding if the stories I’m about to share took place during my junior year or senior year of high school. There are some factors that make me think junior year, and others that make me think senior. I suppose it doesn’t matter all that much, but it is frustrating to not be able to pin it down. There’s a saying that time heals all wounds, but I think it should be restated as “time fuzzies all memories.”

I had two jobs before I graduated from high school. First, I worked at my uncle’s gas station…Keith’s Union 76…located at 18th and Macedonia Avenue. I pumped gas, added oil, sprayed off the lot, and played poker with Roach, the old guy that usually ran the place. It was a pretty easy job most of the time, but I did have a couple of interesting situations.

For example, I was asked to drive down to some lady’s house to charge her car battery. I was given the electric charger and sent on my way. The trouble was that I was never trained on how to operate the charger, so I hooked up the cables opposite of how they were supposed to be hooked. I knew something was wrong when the little needle that was to show the progress of the charge was popping back and forth instead of just steadily moving to the right. It all worked out. No harm, no foul. But, I think someone told me later that I could have caused the battery to explode.

That would have been bad.

My second job was at K-Mart South in Muncie, Indiana. As a teen boy in the late seventies, there weren’t a huge number of options for jobs. My cousin worked at one of the grocery stores, and he did really well. He earned enough money to buy his own brand new Chevy Camaro! Cherry red! Can you spell J.E.A.L.O.U.S? After I saw that, and the fact that I got tired of bumming money off of my dad every time I wanted to go out on a date, I decided I needed a job. K-Mart was a logical choice, so I went and filled out an application. Soon, the phone rang, I had an interview, and I got the job…

Stockboy in Ladies Apparel!

Now, depending on how you look at it, this could be a teenage boy’s dream or a teenage boy’s nightmare. I mean, I had to hang, tag, and display women’s clothing, lingerie, and underwear. On the other hand, I had to hang, tag, and display women’s clothing, lingerie, and underwear. Both exciting and embarrassing at the same time.

K-Mart was set up in departments. Each department had a manager, sales staff, and often a stockperson. In addition to the departmental stocking staff, there was a set of storewide stock boys and general managers. This fact will be important a few paragraphs down.

Ladies Apparel had one stock boy. Me. I had a number of general duties, but the primary reason for my existence was to carry the heavy boxes of clothing up and down the stairs. A shipment would arrive, and I would have to carry all the bulk boxes upstairs and stack them up. As we needed to replenish the display racks, I would have to carry the boxes back down, open them up, put the clothing on hangers as needed, and add the price tags.

Initially, I was supposed to only work maybe four days a week and only maybe three or four hours a night. Soon, that morphed into five hours every night, and then started to creep into Saturdays. After a while, I was working right up to the limit of the number of hours possible without being considered full-time. Good money for a teenage boy…too bad I had a little bit of a lazy streak.

Here’s a few stories from my Ladies Apparel days…

The first time I was asked to work on a Saturday, I learned that the crew had a meeting in the cafeteria an hour before the store opened. Part of the time was a meeting, and part of the time was a few games of bingo…played for prizes…and these folks took their bingo game seriously. So, here I am, the new guy, playing for the first time, playing the first game….and I won!

I thought.

I yelled “BINGO!”

I was wrong. Oops. My mistake, but by the time that was clear, everyone had dumped their cards. My name was mud.

“Stock boy to Ladies Apparel with a mop!”

An interesting feature of the Ladies Apparel stockroom was its proximity to the security office where they took people caught shoplifting. More than once, I was tagging clothes in my area and listening to interrogations at the same time:

“You’re in big trouble, son,” said the mean-sounding security guy.

“I’m sorry,” said the sobbing boy.

“It’s too late to be sorry kid!”

Another time, a boy called his mother:

“Mom,” the boy said meekly. “I’m at K-mart.”

Quiet moment.

“I got caught stealing.”

Loud crying.

“Stock boy to Ladies Apparel with a mop!”

It is amazing how many messes people can make in a department store. Gum on the floor. Spilled drinks. Dropped hotdogs. Puke.

“Stock boy to Ladies Apparel with a mop!”

My manager didn’t want me to spend my time tracking down a mop and bucket to clean it up, so I was supposed to use the storewide intercom to call for a “stock boy to Ladies Apparel with a mop…stockboy to Ladies Apparel with a mop.” I thought that was the way things were supposed to be done, and I was happy to not have to do the clean up, so I did what I was told. I don’t think that made me very popular with the other guys though.

One bright spot of working in this department was all the cute girls. They ALL came to my department to shop. Even one of the girls I worked with was cute…really cute. In fact, I thought she was the cutest one in the store…by far...and she even talked to me. We took our breaks together a lot and became kind of friendly. It didn’t take long for me to develop a little crush on her, but I was too chicken to ask her out. I wanted to. Even my boss knew I wanted to. But, nope…I was too scared.

After I quit K-Mart, I came back in for a visit and my boss asked me why I didn’t ask her out. I told her that I didn’t think she’d go out with me, and that I thought she liked another friend of mine who also worked in the store. “You oughta ask her out anyway,” she said.

I decided to do it. I was going to face my fears. I was going to ask her out.

“Hi Julie.”

“Hi Mike.”

“How ya doing?”

“Pretty good.”

“Hey. I was wonderin’…would you like to go out sometime?”

“Ah, thanks Mike, but I don’t want to mess up my chances to go out with Pat.”

Insert needle into balloon and let all of the air stream out. Deflation.

Under my breath, I said: “Well, you can’t say I didn’t ask.” (Insecurity talking.)

“What?” she said.

“Oh, nothing. See you later.”

At a ninety degree angle from my stock room were the dressing rooms where women would try on various garments. Now, it may come as a shock to you to know that some girls would take clothing in there to try on, and then just leave it on under their regular clothes when they walked out. Thieves. So, there were rules for dressing room use. The girl had to check in with no more than three items. If they had more than that, they had to leave the extra garments with the attendant. They could then step out and exchange items to finish the fitting.

As a rule, one of the girls in the department acted as the attendant, but once in a while, if everyone else had to be elsewhere, they would ask me to step over and check women in and out. Normally, this wasn’t a problem. After all, the attendant window was open to the store and open to the stock room. One day, though, wasn’t normal. The store was busy. Lots of customers. Heavy traffic in the fitting room. Women checked in. The attendant had to step away. I stepped up.

One woman had gone into the first room, but had one too many tops to try on, so she left one with the attendant. The thing is, since the attendant was another woman…or so she thought…she didn’t bother to put her own shirt back on before stepping out to exchange garments.

Ooops. Can you spell E.M.B.A.R.R.A.S.S.E.D?

I nearly snapped my own neck by turning away as fast as I could. The woman ducked back in, dressed, and quickly departed…leaving her garments with me.

“Stock boy to Ladies Apparel with a mop!”

Right before summer began, I decided to quit K-Mart and give up the bundles of cash (they paid us in actual cash, which often didn’t make it out of the store), so that I could enjoy all the summer activities with my youth group buddies. I gave my notice to my manager, and worked out my two weeks. On my last day, I found myself sitting in the break room in the rear of the store. I can’t remember what I was doing. I was just sitting at a little round table waiting for my free time to end on my final day hanging and tagging ladies clothing. In walked one of the storewide general managers.

“I need to talk to you,” he said.

“Okay.”  I replied.

“From now on, you need to clean up your own messes. I don’t want you calling my guys with a mop anymore. You can clean up your own department. You got that?”  He ordered.

“Sure. No problem. I won’t do it again, I promise.”

A couple of hours later I went home, and I’m sure that within a week there was a new guy just following orders on the intercom saying:

“Stock boy to Ladies Apparel with a mop. Stock boy to Ladies Apparel with a mop.”

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Christianity 101: Baptism

We’ve reached a critical point. If you’ve followed these Christianity 101 posts, then you’ve learned that God is all about the relationship with us. You know that each of us have sinned and broken that relationship. However, God took the necessary steps of Grace through Jesus Christ to arrange for our redemption because regardless of our lack of faithfulness to Him, He still loves us and wants that relationship. We’ve come to our part, and we’ve learned what it means to repent. Now, we take a look at baptism.

Before we do, if you haven’t read the previous posts in this series, please go back and review them. This post will make more sense to you if you do.

Acts 2:36-39
Peter: Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.

The Cut-to-the-Heart People: Brothers, what shall we do?

Peter: Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.

Let me rephrase this exchange. I’m going to take some liberties to try to express how this strikes me.

Peter: Well, all of you can be sure of one thing: God has made Jesus…the one YOU killed on a cross…both Lord (Your Master. Your King.) and Christ (Messiah. Savior.).

The “What-Have-We-Done” People: What do we do now?

Peter: Change the direction of how you are living your life and be submerged in water by the authority of Jesus…the Messiah, the Savior…so that your sins will be forgiven and the Spirit of God will live within you. This is not just for you, but for your kids, and everyone who comes after you too.

So, what’s the deal with this baptism thing? I called it being submerged. In the original Greek, that’s what the word means…to be submerged or immersed in water. What’s the big deal? Is there something magical in the act? Or, is it just a symbol? Can we do without it? Or, is it necessary? People in religious circles often fight over these questions. Book after book has been written to support one view or another…over and over again.

I’m going to try to skip all of that. Let’s just look at what we can know for sure that these people understood as they heard this in Acts 2.

Here they are just going through their lives. They thought they were doing the right things. They thought that they had brought about the death of a heretic who was threatening the relative peace that Israel was enjoying under Roman rule…cruel as it was. They felt justified.

Then, on the Day of Pentecost, God flips their lives upside down.

A crazy sound of a wild, rushing wind. Tongues of fire. People who shouldn’t be able to speak other languages are speaking clearly in tongues not their own.

"What is this? This is a fulfillment of a prophecy? Joel? Really?

The heretic is not a heretic? He has risen from the dead? Not only that, but he was the Messiah? We killed the Messiah? But, he didn’t stay dead? Now, he’s more….now, he’s the Lord….the king?

Where can I hide? How can you hide from a king who has risen from the dead?

But wait! Not only is he the Lord…he’s also the savior.

Is there any hope?...any hope for me?"

"Sure there is. Repent…change. Be immersed. Your sins will be forgiven and God will live inside you!"

"That’s all? That’s it? Geesh! Where do I sign up?"

3000 people did. 3000 people repented and were baptized that SAME DAY. They didn’t fuss about it. They just responded to what they were told. They put their faith in Jesus through the words they were told....those same words that we have been told in every generation since in the Book of Acts.

The problem is that we want to fuss about it.

All they knew is that they’d messed up and this was the answer. Isn’t that true for us? We’ve messed up, and we have an answer that Peter said was for “all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”


We do have an advantage over the folks in Acts 2, however. We can read other passages that can broaden our understanding of what GOD DOES when we submit to baptism. It can give us a clearer picture of the beautiful union that occurs…or, should I say reunion?

Romans 6:3-4
Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

When we are baptized, God buries us with His son, and then raises us up with a whole new life…a fresh start…free from the burden of our sin. Keep in mind that God does this. All we do is submit ourselves to what He is doing.

Galatians 3:26-27
You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.

If you have enough faith in Jesus Christ to submit yourself to baptism, then you are covering your life up in His. He is covering your sinfulness much like clothing covers your nakedness…making you acceptable to being seen by God.

I Peter 3:21
…and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge (response) of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ,…

By submitting to the process of baptism, we are responding to God’s call in good conscience. We are giving ourselves in pledge to Him.

It is the great reunion of a lost person with the God who loves him.

Let us simply relish in the beauty of this gift of Grace that God has provided.

In conclusion, I want to say that baptism is neither nothing, nor is it everything. There are some who discount it completely as only a ceremonial act that we have no need to do. There are others who think that everything revolves around this one step. For me, it is a culmination. Loving God is the prime ingredient. God has done the work. It is up to us to both repent (change) and submit (be baptized) into the grand reunion.

This promise is for ALL whom the Lord will call. Do I hear your phone ringing?

Monday, October 17, 2011

To Ramble or Not to Ramble? A Ramble.

Okay. So here’s the deal. For over a year, I was prolifically writing blog posts. Well, prolifically for me anyway. It seemed that I had something to say about every other day. Idea after idea came to me, and I typed and posted away. Then….all of the sudden….poof. All of the ideas just came to an end. Ugh. Putting together a blog post became work. No energy. No fun.

So, I thought: Mike, you’ve just got to slow it down. Give yourself a break. Take some time and allow the creative batteries to recharge. Well, time has gone by. Weeks in fact. However, I’m still finding myself lacking in defined inspiration.

I’ll think about an idea during the day (when writing isn’t really an option), but by the time I have a few moments to create it’s all gone.

Now, I’m left with a choice. Do I just hang it up? Consider the blog a passing fancy? Or, do I act like a baseball hitter who’s in a slump and keep swinging until I work myself through this?

What do you think?

For now, I’m left with random thoughts. Just little snippets of opinions and views that I can’t seem to develop into something more substantial. Here are a few examples:

1. Occupy Wall Street. Somehow, I think these protesters are somewhat na├»ve about what they are trying to do. I don’t want our country to veer totally into the direction they are trying to pull it. People need to feel a sense of ambition to succeed, and an expectation that they will reap the benefits of that success without the concern that the government is going to ‘redistribute’ their earned reward. On the other hand, have you ever looked at an annual report and considered what the CEOs of major corporations make per year? I saw one the other day, and the guy’s annual compensation package reached $1.5 million. 1.5 million dollars! He’s just like you and me. He has two legs, two arms, one brain, and 24 hours in a day…and, somehow he’s worth that much? I don’t blame him for taking what’s offered to him, but the question is begged….why is it offered? Why do American corporations feel so obligated to be the so profitable and so successful that they lay off their fellow citizens and move those jobs to other parts of the world? Sure, they can automate every function and save on human overhead, but do they really need to?  You've got to wonder why to save a few million, they'll lay off dedicated workers and move factories to foreign countries, and then on  the other hand pay ONE GUY well over a million dollars? If the Occupy Wall Street protests do nothing more than pull back on the reins of greed, then they’ve done something good for this country. I just don’t want them to stop the wagon altogether and park it in the barn.  Balance, folks.  Balance.

2. Dan Weldon’s Death. I’m a guy who cannot view someone else’s grief without struggling to contain my own emotions and I usually lose that battle. Watching the pain in the faces of the crews in Las Vegas was tough to take. Also, I was touched by how they all banded together and honored their fallen fellow racer in such a fitting manner. That said, I think I’ve seen that wicked crashed just a few too many times in the last 24 hours. Why do the news channels feel so obligated to show a man’s death over and over and over? Lastly, I’ve heard it mentioned on the news today that maybe the IRL should stop racing on oval tracks, or that they need to change the rules to make it more safe. Slow things down. Etc, etc. Folks, part of the excitement of racing for both the racers and the fans is the danger. I hope I never see another driver die in my lifetime, however, they know the risks. It is their choice. Let them make it.

3. Politics. I am completely sick of both the Republicans and the Democrats. I don’t think either party has a clue of what to do. One side doesn’t want to stop spending, and the other side doesn’t want to sacrifice. Are we going to have to collapse as a nation before things change? Or, is it finally time for a new party to arise and lead our country down a reasonable path. Is it time for one of the traditional parties to go the way of the Whigs? I think it is possible today for that to happen. As a society, we are much less dependent on TV and the costs incurred by advertizing there. Now we have the internet. Just look at what the protesters are doing with the social media. What if that got harnessed for a fraction of the cost of TV to create a reasonable new choice for leadership in our country? Notice I’m not saying a “third” party. I want a new party. One or both of the current ones need to go. And, I’m about sick to death of the TV pundits on both sides. Geesh, enough already!

4. The Proposed 9. 9. 9. Maybe it’s not the answer for our tax system, but none of the traditional candidates seem to be able to think outside the box. Right now, we need someone thinking outside the norm. We need a game-changer. Is Herman Cain the guy? I don’t know, but I like the fact that he’s not just the same old stuff. If point 3 above doesn’t come about before November 2012, I’m going to have a difficult set of choices to make and maybe Herman's the guy.

5. Bank Fees. Recently, it was announced by several major banks that they are going to institute a monthly fee for people to use their debit cards to make purchases. They claim they NEED those fees because of changing regulations that have caused them to lose profits on credit card charges to retailers. REALLY? Come on now. Seems to me that I’ve recently heard of the billions of dollars in net annual profits reported in annual reports. So, they need my $4 or $5 per month? Maybe they could drop the salaries of their CEOs by a million or so, and let us keep our money as a show of good faith after we bailed them out a couple of years ago. Just a thought. Besides, I thought that debit cards were saving them oodles of money since they didn’t have to handle all those paper checks anymore. What happened to that? If I get hit with a fee, maybe I’ll go back to paper checks in protest.  I think what I hate most about the major banks is how they make you feel powerless.  They are like towering tyrants pushing the peons around.  No wonder people are protesting on Wall Street.

I guess that’s enough rambling for now. Pray for my creative streak to return. I like to write, but I just need something to say.

Until my next ramble….


PS. My dog, Xena is snoring on the couch. Do they make those Breathe Rite Strips for dogs too?

Sunday, October 2, 2011

A Muncie Boyhood-Bullies and Bumblebees

I’ve been hearing a great deal in the media these days about bullying. It seems to be a popular drum to beat, and it’s played up as if this were something new or as if it were a problem unique to a certain subset of society. The fact is that bullying is as old as humanity. For as long as there have been people, I’d be willing to bet that there have been bullies.

As a boy of the sixties and seventies in Muncie, Indiana, I interacted with any number of bullies. In elementary school, the kids to avoid lived down on 24th Street, east of Hackley. A good punch in the gut seemed to be Kenneth’s favorite game. I avoided him at all costs.

In those days, I walked to school. It was only five blocks straight up 21st Street, but I was only about six or seven years old at the time. One day, I headed off to school, and being wary of the bullies that were lurking in the area, I didn’t take the direct path. Instead, I slipped over away from the road to cut through people’s yards, hoping to make the trip unnoticed. My dad noticed because he tracked me down after a couple of blocks to find out what I was doing.

Besides the fear of the brutal punch in the gut, there were the insults…

“Hey fatty!”

“Are ya chicken?”

“Your hair looks like somebody put a bowl over your head before they cut it.”

“You’re stupid!”

And, the list could go on.

How about always being picked last for….just about everything?

That was elementary school. Then middle school arrived with gym classes that included locker rooms and showers. The athletically insufficient meets the sports stud. Not a good combination.

One example of being bullied stayed with me for about thirty years. Let me paint the picture: 8th grade at Wilson Middle School. Math class. I’m at the heaviest point of my life to that date, and haven’t yet hit my growth spurt. We get a new kid in class. Jimmy.

I remember Jimmy from Roosevelt Elementary. I hadn’t seen him in years because he gone on to another school, but he was memorable because he was a bully and was good at fighting. He was like that old Jim Croce song: “You don’t tug on Superman’s cape. You don’t spit into the wind. You don’t pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger, and you don’t mess around with Jim!”

Of course, the teacher rearranged the seating chart and put me right next to Jimmy. I thought I was safe because we were basically two feet from the teacher’s desk, but that was not the case. He turned out to be oblivious to the situation, and Jimmy had become an expert at subtle, covert terrorizing and humiliation. His favorite tool was a little synthetic bumblebee attached to an elastic band, and he sat there everyday flipping me with it…constantly.

Flip, flip.

“What ya gonna do ‘bout it? Huh? Am I bothering you? Ah, too bad.”

Flip, flip.

"What's the matter?  Can't you concentrate?  Having trouble with that problem?  Too bad.  Hahaha!"

Flip, flip.

I tried ignoring it. I tried to make friends with him. I didn’t dare complain to the teacher because that would be grounds for an after school sneak attack. I had two choices, either I could sit there and take it or I could turn around and punch him in the face. In retrospect, I should have drilled him. There would have been consequences with the school, with my dad, and with Jimmy, but it would have ended the situation, and maybe gained me some personal self-respect and the respect of my classmates. Instead, I just bore the burden…for weeks on end. I just put up with it, and inside I struggled with hating him.

Of course time changes all circumstances. Eventually, that school year ended. Jimmy and I parted company. I saw him rarely through the high school years, and I can’t even remember if we went to the same high school. In high school, I grew enough that I finally got bigger, and the direct bullying ended.

The problem was that I carried that pain for years afterward. On the one hand, I gained some strength of personal endurance by bearing the situation, but on the other hand I suffered for years from a lack of self-respect, AND I couldn’t shake my anger with Jimmy. As a Christian, I wanted to forgive him, but as much as I wanted to, I couldn’t find the way to get there. I tried. I failed. I kept trying, but the pain kept creeping back in.

Fast forward about thirty years. I’m now in my mid-forties and a successful industrial sales leader in my industry. I’ve matured past my youthful insecurities, and have gained a measure of personal toughness I didn’t have as a kid. I live in Indianapolis, but I’m in Muncie on business. It is lunchtime, and I’m enjoying my Ham-n-Cheese sandwiches at Mac’s Restaurant on south Madison Street. At the table next to mine is a face I recognize, but I can’t quite place. He looks so familiar. We must have gone to school together. We start to talk.

It was Jimmy!

It is interesting how time changes people. My mind still had him in eighth grade, and still an obnoxious bully. Now, he’s a middle-aged man just trying to live life like everyone else. Despite the image in my mind, time had not frozen him in place.

Jimmy starts to tell me how his life has changed. He’d had some rough times in his life, but he had found God. He was a Christian, and he was doing his best to live right. He was oozing with humility. He knew he’d done a lot of wrong things back when he was younger…

“Yeah, you were pretty hard on me,” I interjected.

He looked me in the eye. “I’m really sorry about that.”

Two things happened at that instant. 1. I found that place of forgiveness, and my entire burden of anger toward him had dissipated. 2. I gained a much better understanding of the meaning of GRACE.

I can tell you this….Grace feels much, much better than hatred and resentment combined. No wonder God is so eager to give it out.

All that said, I don’t like bullies. Bullying is wrong no matter the target or the reason. It causes a great deal of pain, pain that lasts for years and even decades.

If you are the target of a bully, it won’t always be like it is. Talk to some folks and get some help, but don’t despair. Time changes things, but be proactive. Maybe society would frown on you taking direct action like punching someone in the face, but still you have other options. Go to a person in authority and get help. Confront the situation head on.

And, if you are an idiot math teacher who is sitting two feet away from a kid who is being terrorized with a synthetic bumblebee on an elastic band…do your stinkin’ job!

Maybe I’ve got someone else to forgive now. What do you think?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Angel in 22D

Over Labor Day weekend, my wife and I took an extra day off of work and flew to Denver to visit some friends. It was a fantastic time, a time of laughter, good food, and relaxation. We took in the Allison Krause and Union Station concert at Red Rocks. We drove up to our friends’ cabin in the mountains. We hiked the garden of the Gods. We saw Boulder. We saw Golden. We held our niece’s baby, our great niece. We had a wonderful time.

The flight out to Denver was uneventful….just the way you prefer that a flight be. We moved smoothly through security without the need of a personal pat-down, our flight took off and landed on time, and our friend was there to meet us.

It was the flight home that I’d like to share about.

But before I get to that, I want to say that I must have one of those faces. Some people have faces that others would just as soon avoid. Scary faces. Mean faces. Faces that make you want to look the other way.

I guess I have a face that makes you want to talk.

It’s not really new to me. I’m sort of getting used to it. Sometimes I go into a brand new restaurant and say “hi” to the waitress, and the next thing I know, she’s filled me in on the details of her life…where she’s from…why she’s where she’s at…what she’d like to become…

Sometimes it’s ordinary stuff. Sometimes it’s difficult stuff…stuff that breaks people down.

Once, on a flight home from Albany, New York, I caught a connecting flight in Detroit. The guy in the seat next to mine started talking to me as we taxied to take off, and he stopped talking to me as we exited the plane in Indy. He shared that he and his wife were separated. She’d had an affair with a friend who was staying with them. He claimed that he was to blame because he had gotten caught up with online porn. By the time we were done talking, I knew all about his business, I knew why he was coming to Indiana, and I knew that he loved his wife despite the mess.

I don’t really know why people feel so free to talk to me. I have friends that I sit down with at lunch, and the next thing they know, they are telling me stuff. I have customers that spill their personal lives into my lap. I’ve come to expect it and it just happens, and usually I am happy to listen and if needed, I try to help.

But, sometimes, I just don’t want it to happen.

Sometimes, I just want to relax. Sometimes, I just want to enjoy a trip with my wife.

Now back to my flight home from Denver. We were in the terminal, and we were early, so we found some seats facing our gate. My wife sat down first, there was an open seat next to her and then there was a seat that had a guy’s stuff on it. The guy with the stuff was in the next seat after that. He was taking up a bit of space, so being courteous, I said hello as I sat down.

I guess that opened the door.

He started talking to me. He said he flew a lot. He told me that he had been in the military. He used to be married, but he left when his wife got bossy. His brother was still in the military. He was coming to Indiana to go on a religious retreat. He thought Eli Manning was a much better quarterback than Peyton Manning. On and on.

He also fidgeted a lot. He couldn’t sit still very long, and kept rubbing his face, smoothing his straggly beard. It didn’t take me very long to decide that he didn’t have all of his mental screws tightened down.

He made me feel uncomfortable.

I really just didn’t want to talk to him, but I didn’t want to be rude. I didn’t want to outright shut him down. However, I also didn’t want to encourage the conversation, so I didn’t carry the conversation forward. I only spoke in response to something he would say or ask. I kept hoping he would sort of understand that I didn’t want to converse. Despite my stoicism, he kept talking to me.

Silently….I said a little prayer…

“Please God, don’t let him sit next to me on the plane.”

Now, there were dozens of people on this flight. It was basically full. The chances of him sitting next to me were 100 to 1, but I knew as soon as I said that silent prayer that he would be right next to me.

My seat was 22C. It wasn’t five minutes later that I learned that his seat was 22D. He was directly beside me, across the aisle.

Maybe I should have gotten the hint from that fact, but I still didn’t want to talk to him.

Our flight boarded. I sat down. He sat down. I was sort of in luck in that there were two cute young women who were sitting on the other side of him, so they got some of his attention also. I felt kind of lucky, but I also felt kind of guilty.

Still I didn’t want to talk to him. So, I took the freebee ear-buds that Frontier Airlines gives you so you can hear the sound from their little seatback TVs, and I put one in my ear on his side to discourage him from bothering me. I watched a little TV. I read my book. I ignored the slightly crazy guy in 22D.

For the most part it worked. He only nudged my arm a few times during the flight. The rest of the time he sat and fidgeted, or talked to the girls. I flew in peace, and….

…I failed the test!

When you think through this whole thing, does it really sound to you like a coincidence? I mean, what are the chances? I already shared the odds.

Now, maybe he was just a slightly wacked out former marine. Or, maybe he was something more. There’s just something about this thing that’s been gnawing at me.

Consider Hebrews 13:2

“Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.”

Would it have been so bad to have spent some time talking to him? Could I have opened my heart up to a stranger and made him feel safe and cared about? Could I have taken some of the burden off of the two young college-age girls who sat on his other side? Did he need a friendly ear?

Would it have been too much to ask of me to sacrifice a little bit of my personal satisfaction on a two and a half hour flight home? In retrospect, I think not.  I failed.

My “angel” in 22D is still on my mind. He reminds me that I have some growing to do…in compassion…and, in dealing with my own personal selfishness.

Next time, I’ll do better.