Saturday, June 30, 2012

How to Not Be a Sissy

About once a week, I call my friend Dale up to see if we can have lunch.  Dale is one of the ministers at the church where I’m serving as an elder, so sometimes we talk serious and sometimes we talk fun.  On this particular day, he suggested a new restaurant, a place called Firehouse Subs in Beech Grove.  (It’s pretty good, by the way.)  When I met him there, as he sometimes does he had a couple of other guys with him, our youth minister and a youth ministry summer intern.  They got there first and had ordered, so I got my food and sat down with them a few minutes later.
I mentioned that sometimes we talk serious and sometimes we talk fun.  Well, a lot of the time we talk fun about serious stuff.  I suppose it is a way to process through the heavier stuff in a way that helps us to keep some perspective.  This was one of those days.  A subject came up that had been seriously discussed within our young adult group the night before, and we started bantering it around.  After a few minutes, I turned to the youth ministry summer intern…a guy who has just finished his first year of college…and asked him:

“So….., what about you?  What do you think we should do about this?”
He started to reply:

“Well, the safe thing would be…”
I interrupted him.

“I don’t want to do the safe thing,” I said.  “I want to do the right thing.  What do you think is the right thing to do?”
As I’m sitting here contemplating what I said to him, I am realizing how ridiculous it was for me to say that.  Not that it is the wrong thing to say.  I believe it to be absolutely the right approach.  The problem is with ME saying it.  See, I’ve spent a large part of my life in various situations settling for the “safe” thing.  I am constantly playing it safe.  I’m afraid to say it, but if I were one of the three guys in Jesus’ parable about the talents (a measure of money) …I would have been the guy to bury his…if you are unfamiliar with the story, that is not a good thing to do.  (See Matthew 25:14-30)

Basically, I tend to avoid conflict.  I don’t take very many risks.  My nephew says I “overthink” everything I do.  (I suppose he is usually right…but, I’m not going to think about that too much.)  Sometimes I wonder how I’ve ever become so successful in my sales career considering how much I dislike rejection.  Perhaps, it’s because I’m in a field where it doesn’t seem so personal when it happens.  Maybe?  Or, maybe I've pushed myself to grow in that area.  Maybe.
Anyway, this has been a battle for me much of my life.  It took me forever to ask my wife out on our first date…the fact is that I only ‘sort of’ asked her out when I actually did get up the nerve.  I have always struggled with this desire to play it safe, but over the years I have gradually grown to blow past my safety ropes and swim in the deep water once in a while.  I can tell you that it does get a little scary out there, but I know that I need to do it to really get stuff done.

Risk-takers are the ones who change things.  They are the ones who make a difference.
I never really came to a conclusion as to the complete right thing to do in my conversation this week.  I’m still working on that.  However, as I think about the concept of not just playing it safe, but doing the right thing in general...well…

Should I say it?
It’s risky.

People might pay attention and notice.

I’m going to do my best to stick with doing the right thing.  I’d like to make a difference, make some positive change, and…
Playing it safe is for sissies! 

Sunday, June 24, 2012

A Battle with Inertia

I have one significant personal nemesis; one enemy that creeps up behind me occasionally and pulls a sneak attack.   He’s a villain.  A mean-spirited bully.  I’ll tell you his name.


It seems that the older I get the more havoc he creates in my life.  I get motivated.  I get a plan.  I hit it full bore and start making some headway.  Then, all of the sudden he knocks me in the head and I come to a stop.
It happened earlier this year.  I had a plan…a detailed plan.  I was going to walk everyday…at least one mile…I was going to slowly increase until I was hitting three miles a day through the summer.  I was also doing push-ups, sit-ups, and squats…slowly increasing each.  I was doing really well.  I didn’t miss a day of walking from January all the way to April.  I was so excited, so proud of myself.

Inertia hit me over the head.  Rrrrrrrrrrrrt.  Brakes.  Everything came to a stop.

In this case, I finally came to a day where I just couldn’t get the walk in.  I tried to tell myself that it was just one day.  Just one.  One out of 365.  No big deal.  Right?

It took the wind out of my sails and left me discouraged.
Discouragement rides hand in hand with inertia.  They are pals, buddies, amigos.  Discouragement does the dirty work of stopping the action, then inertia takes over to make sure it doesn’t start up again.

As I age, the battle becomes more intense.  It becomes more and more of a struggle; a struggle I cannot afford to lose.  What does that commercial say?
“A body at rest stays at rest.  A body in motion stays in motion.”

I have to keep moving.  I must limit my body’s atrophy.  In fact, I think I can still get fit again.  I can still feel the rush of endorphins and the blood coursing through lean muscle pumped by a strong healthy heart.  I have to be smarter; more careful.  I can’t afford injuries anymore.  They open the door to my nemesis.  But, I can still win the battles…I can still win this war.
I just can’t quit.

My problem right now is that inertia has his claws into my side.  I’m having a hard time getting free…getting going.  I have a bike to ride, but I can’t seem to make myself swing my leg over and pedal away.  I’ve got a road to walk on, but somehow there is always some reason to stay home.

It’s too hot.  I’m too tired.  I don’t have enough time.  I’ve got a meeting in a few minutes.  I need to send an email.  I have to feed the dogs.  I have to…to…to…to.
Inertia.  Inertia.  Inertia.

It’s a character thing.  And this is one character flaw that is a really bugger. 
This morning at church, I shared about how it all starts with a decision.  Mostly, I was talking about spiritual things, but this afternoon I was walking with my wife and complaining about how inertia had its grip on me, and she reminded me of my words. 

“Just like you said this morning,” she said.  “All it takes is a decision.”
Dang!  Now, I can’t blame some impersonal force anymore.  I guess it’s up to me.

Time to move again!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Cage of My Own Creation

I am contained within a cage of my own creation.
Anchored to accidental success.
Heckled by the whispers of self-pity.
Accused by the echoes of unfulfilled dreams.

Perhaps, there is still a road less traveled.
An adventure yet in store.
Lingering just beyond my fingertips.
Waiting just over my horizon.

I have a yearning tugging at my heart.
Snap the bindings.
Unhinge the cage door.
Escape toward a new destiny.

Yet I dare not travel alone.
Loneliness abated.
Elements of a grand journey.
Friendship is itself a destination worthwhile.

Shall I step out of the cage?
Shall I embark upon the new trail?
Shall I walk into that new horizon?
Perhaps the journey is more urgent than the destination.

I am contained within a cage of my own creation.
Peering toward intentional success.
Urged by Divine re-creation.
Revived by the hope of dreams redefined.

Perhaps my cage is simply indecision.
Perhaps destiny is found by stepping outside.

Friday, June 8, 2012

A Muncie Boyhood-The Fire and the Photo

 My sister was seventeen when I was born, and when I was little I thought she was the prettiest girl in the world with her blonde hair and petite features. 
She lived at home with us, but I don’t remember much of that except for a few sketchy events.  For example, I remember once when she had a bad headache and I wanted her to play with me.  She was lying on the bed with a cold rag on her face.
“Sissy, play with me,” I pleaded.

“No!  Go away!” she said.  “I’ve got a headache.”
Well, that didn’t sit too well in my toddler’s mind…so…I grabbed a heavy item off the headboard and smacked her on the head with it.  Maybe you could call that payback for her letting me walk my baby walker…you know…one of those little baby vehicles with wheels where the baby (me) sits suspended in the middle and can walk around….anyway, she let me walk my baby walker down the back stairs.  You’ve got to love those sibling relationships!  Served her right.

Shortly after I turned four, she had a baby, my nephew.  Since he was much closer to me in age than my actual siblings, we ended up growing very close as we grew up.  In fact, he is still more like my brother than she really is like my sister.  I spent many nights at his house, and he spent even more at mine.  We did everything together.
We stayed up late and watched Sammy Terry (the local late night horror movie host).

We built random stuff in my dad’s basement.
We horsed around and wrestled all over our bedrooms.

“You boys stop that wrestlin’ in there!” my mom would yell.
“We’re not wrestling!” we would shout back as we froze in place.  Ten seconds later, we were back to flips and body slams.

Another thing that we used to do sometimes, courtesy of my sister, was go to the drive in.  Being the late sixties and early seventies, often the kinds of movies shown at the Ski Hi Drive-in weren’t really appropriate for children, but she took us anyway, and maybe that’s another story.  The movies weren’t always that bad though.  Sometimes they were science fiction flics or scary movies.

Eventually, I grew to love going, and started looking for opportunities.  It was just such an opportunity that led to the catastrophic event at the center of this Muncie Boyhood entry.
My nephew, David was off on a trip to Tennessee with some other family members, but his mom (my sister) stayed home.  There was another little girl staying with her, and I was sort of friends with her.  Dawn (the girl) and I decided we wanted to go to the drive-in, so we asked my sister to take us.  It wasn’t too difficult to convince her, since she was in her twenties, she still liked to go out there too.  It was a summer evening.  It was warm.  The drive-in was the place to be. 

We never made it there that night.
The thing you have to know about my sister, though, was that she didn’t have much money, and she refused to buy food and drinks at the venue.  She would make her own popcorn and bring it plus a few Coca Cola’s along.

It was decided.  We were going, my sister, Dawn, and I.  So, my sis started to get things ready.  She checked her money…it was a bit thin.  She gathered a few Cokes.  She put the skillet on the stove to make the popcorn.  (In those days before microwaves, you made the popcorn in a skillet on the stovetop.)
“I’m out of popcorn,” she said.  “We’re going to have to go to the store, but first we’ll need to go see if we can get some money from dad.”

So, we jumped in the car and drove the five blocks to my house so we could squeeze a few bucks out of my dad.  In short order, he came through and we were back on the road.  For some reason that I no longer recall, we stopped back by her house and dropped off Dawn to do something to get ready, then my sister and I drove on to Marshall Carter’s Grocery Store to get the needed supplies.
I stayed outside while she went in to buy the stuff.  Shortly, there were sirens.  Soon, the fire trucks from the station down on Memorial Drive came screaming down Madison Street headed south…the same direction as my sister’s house.  I remember wondering where they were going, but didn’t think anything more of it.  When my sister came out, we just headed back to get the stuff ready.

Her house was on south Monroe Street; just one block off of Madison between 20th and 21st streets.  We traveled down Madison to 20th and made the turn toward Monroe.  We could see the flashing lights as we rounded the corner.  When we reached Monroe, my sister screamed!
“IT’S MY HOUSE!!!!!!!!  IT’S MY HOUSE!!!!!!!”

She had turned on the skillet, but neglected to turn it off when we left to go to the store.
According to Dawn, who was waiting nearby, after we dropped her off and drove away she opened the front door and the whole kitchen was ablaze.  She ran next door and banged on the door.  When the person opened the door, she told them about the fire and asked them to call for help.  Apparently, they didn’t immediately believe her, so they had to come see for themselves before making the call.  By the time we had gotten home, the fire was all but out, but not before destroying the kitchen and living room.  The secondary damage from water and smoke left the rest of the house in terrible shape and unlivable. 

My sister was a blubbering mess, so Dawn and I ran on foot to get my dad.  We told him what happened and he rushed back to handle whatever it is that dad’s handle in a situation like that.  Ultimately, he took care of my sister very well.  He got her a new place to live.  He personally rebuilt her house; doing most of the work himself, and then moved her back in.
In the end, the only casualty was David’s canary.  I remember the moment I realized that the bird had died.  I was sitting in my mom and dad’s dining room a few hours later.  We were all talking about the disastrous event and recounting how everything unfolded, when all at once I thought of the bird.

“Oh no!” I blurted out.  “David’s bird!”  It wasn’t my bird, but I cried anyway.  It broke my heart to know that the little thing perished, and I knew that David didn’t yet know, and somehow that made it even worse.
In the months that followed, I occasionally helped my dad at the burned out house.  He had an old light blue Chevy truck, and we made multiple trips to the dump with the smoky, burned, and water-logged mess that we stripped off the walls and floors.

There was one more crazy thing about that fire that we discovered when we were first allowed back inside.  I’ve told the story before about my brother who committed suicide.  He left behind a widow, and she and my sister were fairly close.  They loved each other dearly, but often fought like true sisters (or cats and dogs).  My sister had an 8 X 10 photo of her in a frame sitting on a coffee table in her living room.  When we walked in the front door, the charred mess was everywhere.  Nothing was untouched and nothing was unmoved.  Nothing, that is…except for that photo of my brother’s widow.  It sat there in the middle of the soggy, burnt out room like a beacon in the dark of night.  It was unmoved and carried no indication of any damage either from fire, smoke, or water.  It was almost as if someone had carried it in after the fact and placed it there.

The expressed opinion of my mom and my sister was that my brother Freddie had protected it and kept it safe during the whole ordeal.  Who’s to say?  I will say this…I saw the carnage and I saw that picture sitting there.  It was truly weird.
One final thought…

In retrospect, sometimes it just might just be cheaper to buy the popcorn at the theater.

Monday, June 4, 2012

"How's your Spiritual Life?"

I had lunch today with a good friend and mentor.  I met him at his “office” as I have done many times over the last three or four years…the Bob Evans Restaurant on East Washington Street, here in Indianapolis.  He started the conversation as he nearly always does:

“Mike, how’s your spiritual life?”
Have you ever had someone ask you that?  I mean, we often ask each other things like: “How’s it going?” or “How are you doin’?”  We don’t actually want to know…we are just being courteous.  It’s another way of saying hello.  My friend’s question, though, will make you pause.  It does a few other things too, like….

Make you nervous.
Make you embarrassed.

Make you want to slide down under the table and hide!
The first time he asked me that question, I was caught off guard.  Not because I had never before been asked that or a similar question.  Rather, it was because it hadn’t happened in a long time, and never in the ministry of which I am currently a member.  I was caught off guard…and a bit embarrassed because at the time, my spiritual life was less than stellar.  When that happens, you have a choice to make: Will I be honest or will I hide?  In my case, I was sort of honest.  “Sort of.”  That means that I didn’t want to really hide…I wanted to tell the truth…but, I was also embarrassed and didn’t want to be completely straightforward.  So, I hemmed and hawed…I admitted to some struggles, but I lacked detail.  That said, you know, I walked away from that encounter refreshed.  I felt better because someone had pushed me to be open even just a little bit with what was on the inside, and my struggles had leaked out some.  It felt good to have someone care enough to ask me how I was doing.  I felt like I had company on my spiritual journey. 

Today, when he asked me that question, I answered like this:
“Keith, I try real hard to be doing really well anytime I’m going to have lunch with you.  Don’t ask me about last week, and next week isn’t here yet, but for right now, I’m doing pretty good.”

He nearly fell of his chair in laughter.  Never, in all the years that he’s been asking that question, had anyone answered it in quite that way.
But, you see, that’s the glory of great spiritual relationships…especially relationships where there is a sense of mentoring or discipleship.  They drive you to be better than you would be otherwise.  They influence you to focus on the facets of life that are primary and of highest importance.  Like the Six Million Dollar Man, they make you better than you were before.  (Children of the 70’s will get that reference.)  I am a better man today because there have been a handful of men over the years (along with my wife) who have taken the time to really ask me how my walk with God is doing, and through their influence my life has been changed and continues to change for the better.

Here are a couple of scriptures to emphasize my thoughts:
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.  Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others.  Philippians 2:3-4

To the point of my post, we need to care enough to ASK and LISTEN to one another.  We need to show an interest in the lives (interests) of each other.
This is the message we have heard from Him and declare to you: God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all.  If we claim to have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth.  But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin.  1 John 1:5-7

When we hold all our mess inside, are we not hiding in the darkness?  We need to have folks in our lives that will help us drag it all out in the light.  We need to be honest with God, and we need to be honest with one another….and we can then have real fellowship with both God and our friends.

How IS your spiritual life?