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Apr 30, 2011

Close To Commencement

This morning I caught the interview show, Shatner's Raw Nerve. His guest on this early morning re-run was Weird Al Yankovic. Among the myriad of topics from his parents' deaths to his accordion practice schedule, I came to learn that Al finished High School as Valedictorian two years early and went on to receive a degree in Architecture by age 21.
The facts that Weird Al had a record contract and that he had appeared on television prior to graduating from college was not the part of this story that caught my attention. He is very intelligent and quite talented. What attracted my awareness was the Architecture degree. You see, Weird Al has now destroyed some of my parental advice.
My oldest daughter, Meagan, is nearing graduation from college. During her early years, she struggled to decide in what to major. After settling on Film School, she was rebuked by many people telling her there was not much industry in that field for her to get a real job. I continued to support her decision, advising that the degree itself is of much more importance than what it is in and that the only people whose major really matters are certified careers like engineers, pre-med, pre-law and the like. "After all, no one spends five years getting an Architecture degree and then not use it," I told her.
So while I still hold to my advice for her, that having the degree no matter what it's in is more important than not having one at all, I discovered only two weeks prior to her graduation that my primary example has been blown out of the water by perhaps the most famous architect-comedian since Bonanno Pisano. (For the non-architect readers, click the embedded link to get the joke.)
In truth, the talented polka player only further enriched the value of my advice to her: "Go to college; get a degree in something you enjoy and don't worry about what it's in. This will open up more opportunities. Then your talents can take you beyond what you can imagine possible today." I still believe that was good advice - perhaps not for everyone, but it was tailor-fit advice for that girl. And if it is not obvious, I am very proud of her accomplishment.
Lastly, I must admit that Weird Al has usurped my parental guidance before with his releases of Dare To Be Stupid and Don't Download This Song. But I guess I can forgive him again.

Apr 24, 2011

Pray For Drought

Last Sunday my pastor told an interesting story about a Nebraskan farmer. His request for Divine intervention for the benefit of his corn field differed from most farmers who customarily would say “pray for rain.” However, he would ask his family and friends to pray for drought before the harvest.
His young son reached an age where he understood farming well enough to be confused by his father’s words. “Why should we pray for drought, Dad? Doesn’t water make the corn grow?” he asked.
The seasoned farmer sat his son down and explained. If it rains too much and too soon, then the crops become satisfied and the roots remain shallow. Yes, the corn will grow tall, but they are not well secured to the ground. When the strong summer winds come prior to the harvest, the stalks will be easily torn from the earth and swept away, destroyed. But when there is little water, the roots naturally dig deep, seeking the life-giving water below the surface. When those storms come, the drought-suffered crops survive the blast because they cannot be ripped away so easily.
We are so much like those stalks of corn. It is in our hardships that we grow deep. We think we want all the good and satisfying things to keep us happy, but in truth these things only keep us shallow. But moreover, especially in our unstinted American lives, there is a cultural belief of entitlement and that by following the right path and connections someday we will arrive.
I am bewilderingly blessed. I have riches both material and fraternal. More than the birds of the fields, my basic needs are not even questioned, but even more – many simple desires are obtainable on a whim. My life is more comfortable than I deserve!
But yet, when some mishap of life occurs, I tailspin out of control as I am staggered that any inconvenience could have crept into my secure existence, and I rebuke any involved who should have prevented it. Is that accurate and honest enough? Oh, the childlike tantrums I catch myself throw.
The truth is – I don’t know suffering. Because of that, I am spoiled, weak and shallow. My roots are not deep enough to endure the storms. When the winds come, even the gentle breezes of difficulty, I am put under a strain.
However, today I caught a glimpse of a mighty storm in someone else’ life. Seven weeks ago, the Organizations Director of our church, his wife and his two children were struck by an eighteen-wheeler. Amazingly the children came out with no life-threatening injuries, but he was in a coma for a week and his wife in one for two weeks.
Today, as part of the Easter service, they made a triumphant public return. Still facing several more needed surgeries and who knows how much expense and pain, they expressed gratitude for the gift that God had given them in this experience. And the meaning of this gift wasn’t “just being alive.” There was a truly genuine appreciativeness for being traumatized by the wreck.
I admit I cannot fathom how he could be happy to be hurt, but he was. He also said he won’t go seeking it again – so it’s not that kind of happy. However, there were many blessings that had been revealed to him during this crisis and much that he had learned. He offered to explain more when he had healed better but did reveal one illustration.
He said that few people ever get to understand impact and significance their life has had on other people. In the routineness of life, we rarely know whether the things we do really make a difference and whether other people care about our efforts or even about us. So much is scripted civility that is hard to tell.
Yet this experience was much like attending his own funeral to see who took the time to show up. However, this “funeral” lasted seven weeks thus far. Showing up wasn’t an act of ceremony, and the volume of people who came to the family’s aid because of established relationships and because of past compassions extended from his family made him that his purpose here on this earth had not been wasted. That knowledge, that assurance – it is a gift few ever receive in this life.
Now, I have no desire to drive my vehicle into semi-truck to gain this illumination myself. Nor do I believe one should create self-afflictions to gain the character. Those crises will occur enough on their own; God told His children that already (John 16:33).
However, what I have taken from all of this is that the difficulties in my life have value. If I will stop complaining about them, if I will become peaceful in God’s providence and if I will be open to learn and listen rather than just endure or escape, then I can trust I will come through the storm and my roots will have grown a little deeper.
I will pray for drought.

That's My King

A few years back for Easter, I posted the words to famous Sunday's Coming sermon by the late Rev. S.M. Lockridge. This year again I chose to not attempt anything of my own for such an important day to those who share my faith for fear of the injustice my words would do in the shadow of so many other great inspirations that are available. So in that spirit, I simply offer this link to another Lockridge sermon to remind us who this King we serve is.

Apr 14, 2011

Social Media P.R.

I have a very simple post today, as I have been thinking about the different reasons that people use social media, like Facebook, Twitter and others. Clearly, some people are more “social” on these networks, where others have more business-oriented goals for their norm. However, as we all “be ourselves” on these systems, I wonder who we are telling other that we are.
The point for me is to learn more about myself. Anyone reading this can glean his or her own lesson. That said; I think there are two general categories of social broadcasting into which people fall. There are those who tell others what they want them to see, and there are those who reveal themselves uncensored. The truth is we all probably do a certain mix of each, but mostly likely we gravitate to one side or the other.
Either way, I find it interesting the consistency of the theme of “who you are” that is sent to one’s friends and truly the rest of the world. This is likely how we are in public, business meetings, around the dinner table, etc. The difference is it is often impracticable to take inventory of one’s own image and behavior in real life, as it is difficult to observe oneself outside of personal perspective. However, with social media, there is a record of what we’ve said and posted.
It would be intriguing to use the “Facebook Download” features to pull the history of everything every posted and then truly inventory it. Place each status in either an optimist/pessimist category, or in theme groups like joking around, what I’m doing, complaining or news events.
If presenting an image for business or networking, this may not apply because that is more strategic than personal; however, there are those who pretending to be something they are not and strategize about their personal image in hopes the world will like “that person” rather than who they really are.
This is not me as I have a bit more tell-it-like-it-is attitude, but if it were, I would have to question what I was hiding and why I was afraid of being myself. On the flip side, the inventory of “who I tell people I am” is probably a more accurate reflection of the true me. From this view, I will look at this to determine more about who I really am.
Either way, there are lessons we can learn about who we are, whether that person really is who we want to be, then take steps to maintain or change accordingly. It’s a challenge; one few ever take. But to paraphrase Socrates, I question whether the unexamined life is worth living.

Apr 4, 2011


So today marks the passing of Hour-72 since my break-up. And I'm not even sure I'm allowed to call it that since we never defined or labeled our relationship - at least beyond “Fashion Coach.” But there was an affinity, whether it was designated or not; so there is a coping process I have to navigate.
However, this is not a tear-in-my-beer piteous post about my wounded berries. Nor will it be an explanation of what happened or a venting of any sort. That would be tacky, and I've been uncivil enough to date.
But enough with the disclaimer and on to my point...I was discussing this with a friend when I mentioned I wasn't really that upset but it was curious how quickly habits form. What I meant was in only a month's time, certain patterns had already occurred. Now that I won't call or visit, there is a void where those behaviors happened.
This is where my epiphany occurred. And it's nothing new; people have acknowledged it for centuries, but somehow the idiosyncrasy of this change revealed the ancient wisdom to me. I was far less bothered by the “break-up” and more so for having to fill that above-mentioned void.
Further, the not knowing what to do and standing on unfamiliar ground created apprehension. Humans fear the unknown and the uncertain. Taking it even one more step, we don't like to have fear as an emotional state for long. We are biologically designed for a fight-or-flight response. Thus, often this apprehension turns to anger - and it did in my case as well.
Counselors will tell us that battered women will stay in abusive relationships because the fear of leaving the familiarity is worse for them than the physical and psychological abuse they endure. Often when they do leave, there is a scornful wrath associated with the exodus - perhaps a vindictive justice for the wrongs done to them, but also much anger comes from this fear of going into the unknown.
My mind then drifted to the animated scene in The Wall where Pink Floyd sings the lyrics, “What shall we use to fill the empty spaces where we used to talk?” And while this scene also refers to a break-up, it really is about coping with change. The change could be as painful as a death or as a simple as a change in the economy; it all promotes anxiety, fear and potentially anger. I wonder how often we blame our anger on occurrences when it is more likely our own poor coping method to something changing.
The ironic part of this free-associated writing is I called this an epiphany earlier, but it was only a week ago I explained this very concept to my daughter, just using different words. I told Rachel that stress is caused not by events but rather the unexpectedness of the events. Expected difficulties make us far less angry than when we don't get what we anticipate.
So in closing, I claim only that I have rediscovered the same truth spoken by the Father of Taoism a long time ago. Lao Tzu said, “Act without expectation.” How much happier I would be if I would follow that advice.