Unfriended

Bill’s neighbor Grady posted nearly every aspect of his exciting life on Facebook. One Saturday afternoon after seeing a post of Grady and his wife Sylvia lounging poolside with an ocean view from some far off exotic locale, Bill sent the following phone text: “Hey Grady, why didn’t you tell us you were moving? There are 3 guys in your driveway right now, loading all kinds of stuff into a big U-Haul truck. Thanks for not saying goodbye…geez.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Long Night

It was a long, tortuous night; filled with dreams, nightmares, tossing and turning, and sounds …those horrible sounds! All night long, dogs growling, lions roaring, -and bellowing traffic like a freight train rumbling through the room. It was a constant rumble through the ear, barreling into the brain. At first light, exhausted, Stanley decided: Florence must do something about her snoring.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

From Faulkner’s Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech

“I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among the creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.”  -William Faulkner

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Cutting the Cord

“I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore.” -Howard Beale, the 1976 movie Network

I’m no Howard Beale, but my cable/internet/phone bill was irritating. I was spending over $220.00 per month on a phone I never used, and about 500 channels I never watched; although I did enjoy the speed and dependability of the internet service. So, I decided to explore the world of cord cutters. As it turns out, I didn’t completely cut the cord, and that was one of the more surprising things about the whole experience.

So, how does this work? Well, it’s working great so far. We’re a couple months into the experiment, and no complaints from me. My wife is a huge movie buff and HGTV fan; she seems pleased with it . I’ve linked the different devices below to Amazon to give you an idea of pricing and a place to start your shopping.

So, here’s what I’ve  done:

  1. I purchased a Roku 3 device (There are other devices available -Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, and others, but my research seemed to point to the Roku 3 as being the best overall choice, as of a couple months ago.)
  2. I purchased an indoor antenna for local programming.-A TV antenna? Who knew there was such a thing anymore???
  3. I purchased a cable modem (which saves about $7.00 per month from my cable bill) and a WiFi router. These are both highly rated, high output devices to ensure the best HD quality streaming -and viewing on our TV.
  4. I subscribed to Sling TV which allows us to get a variety of channels, including HGTV, ESPN 1 & 2, TBS, AMC, and about a dozen others. This service comes through the Roku/internet and costs $21.94 per month. There’s no long term contract –you can cancel anytime.
  5. We already had an Amazon Prime membership and a Netflix subscription.

A couple things you might want to consider before joining the Cord Cutters: Do you live in an area where you can pick up the major broadcasters, ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, via local programming? I do. I can get over a dozen local channels through the antenna. With the digital, high range antenna the picture is crystal clear –as good as before with the cable connection. If getting local news, weather, sports, or even live broadcast programming is important, you’ll need to consider this.

You also have to have a Roku-type device and an antenna for each TV in the house. So far I’ve only got one TV configured. I’ve been waiting to make sure it’s going to work out  before I invest further in additional TVs  If you’re someone who has a TV in every room, including the bathrooms, you will have to consider the expense of buying multiple devices and antennas. Also, Sling TV only allows you to watch a program on their service one TV, (or computer, smart phone) at a time. So you can’t watch a Sling program on one device while someone is watching it on another device.

My initial goal was to be a cord cutter; to just have an internet connection. Unfortunately, my options were extremely limited:just AT&T and my current provider Comcast/Xfinity. So, with a quote in hand from AT&T, I called Comcast/Xfinity and after about ten minutes of friendly negotiating, I was able to get my service down to about $75.00 per month. The funny thing is, I still have a basic cable connection, very basic… There are only a few channels, and no HD channels. But that’s okay. I’m not connecting my TV to it anyway. So, it was cheaper to have the “double play” -internet and cable, rather than just the internet.

The bottom line: we are saving over $100.00 per month, -in less than two months we’ll make back the investment in the Roku player and the antenna. The picture is clean and clear. We still have more movie/program choices than we know what to do with. I think of Bruce Springsteen’s song “57 Channels and nothings on…” We have many more than 57 channels, but we also have more channels that we actually watch compared with the hundreds and hundreds of channels on cable that we never watched.  And one thing I never considered initially, I’m reading more and watching TV less.  I can’t imagine ever going back to the bloated cable TV packages again.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Short Story

“I’m a failed poet. Maybe every novelist wants to write poetry first, finds he can’t and then tries the short story which is the most demanding form after poetry. And failing at that, only then does he take up novel writing.”  –William Faulkner

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

What’s Filling Your Glass?

Take a moment to consider how your attitude affects your daily happiness -the successes you may or may not enjoy in your life.

My father was a famous glass-is-half-full kind of guy. He referred to what most people call problems, as opportunities. In the course of his life, he had many, many opportunities, but he always kept a positive attitude even through to the very end, when cancer took his life at what seems to me now, the very early age of seventy. We used to say about him, “If he ever stepped in horse manure, he’d respond with: ‘there must be a pony around here somewhere!’”

He’d agree with J. Sidlow Baxter: “What is the difference between an obstacle and an opportunity? Our attitude toward it. Every opportunity has a difficulty, and every difficulty has an opportunity.”

In some ways, we are born with elements of our attitudes. I remember many years ago my wife was back-to-school shopping with our boys. She was in the hustle and bustle of a busy Walmart with our nine and six year olds, and most of the rest of the town on the same mission. She hunted down an extensive list of pencils, pens, paper, notebooks, rulers, socks, underwear, shorts, shoes, shirts, household items, and a basketball. The shopping basket was filled and overflowing. It was Christmas in July.

After her two hour expedition through every corner of the million square foot store, and $500.00 worth of items somehow repacked into the cart after checkout, she headed to the exit. As they approached the doorway, a shrieking alarm went off. Red lights were flashing; a security guard jumped up from his chair and quickly headed their way. Hundreds of customers and clerks all stopped to stare and see what was going on with the frazzled lady and her two kids, apparently trying to sneak some items out of the store.

Time was frozen. In that split second of chaos and activity, the God-given attitudes of the two boys in the spotlight were revealed. One boy slam dunked the new basketball into the shopping cart, and bolted through the doorway into the parking lot dashing to the car, faster than Bonnie and Clyde leaving a bank robbery. The other one looked up at his mom with a sparkle in his eyes and a bright beaming smile, and said, “Mom! What’d we win?”

So, if we are born with our attitudes, does that mean we can’t change them? Not at all. That’s the beauty of the human mind. That’s the beauty of God’s gift of freewill. We have the capacity to determine our outlook on whatever opportunities life places before us. Henry Ford said, “If you say you can or you can’t, you’re right either way.”

I worked for a time in an outbound call center. It was a tough job making hundreds and hundreds of cold calls each week to homes and businesses. Even though it was for a great cause, people weren’t always receptive to our message. That was a job where attitude made all the difference between successfully recruiting people to join the mission, or not. You could have a great day sharing wonderful stories with people, or live each minute as if it were a tortuous, agonizing eternity.

Many people could not last a month on the job. Most would quit within a year. And yet there were a handful that had worked there for years and years. I saw that it was their attitude towards the job that made all the difference.

There have been times in my life when I’ve been discouraged because of difficulties, setbacks, and the opportunities in my life’s journey. And there were times when I questioned why God was doing this or that to me, or just: “God, why are you allowing this to happen to me?”

It has taken time and experience to learn that God does not hand out treats, treasures, or demerits based on effort or performance on my part. There’s no report card with A’s, B’s or even F’s from God at the end of the month.

But, I have learned that along the journey, God is with me. We go through the good times, the bad times, and the everything in between times. God’s there whether I acknowledge his presence or not. But the hills and valley’s of life are made much easier with a positive attitude, and the realization that God is along for the ride with me.

To answer my son’s question: that’s what I’ve discovered we “Win!” when the sirens are sounding, lights are flashing and the opportunities of life comes calling. And when I step in it, I must remember, there must be a pony around here somewhere.

Posted in Reflection | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

When Butterflies Rule the World

Embed from Getty Images

Do you ever wonder if your small efforts, quiet prayers, unseen actions ever do any good? I know sometimes I do.

Recently I was reading about the mathematician and meteorologist Edward Norton Lorenz (1917-2008). In the early 1960’s he was working with mathematical formulas, feeding them into computers to predict weather patterns. When he tried to shorten the numbers in the formulas, from six decimal points to three, he found the computer’s weather predictions varied wildly. And so, he determined that the slightest variance -.001 vs. .000001, created completely different outcomes. This gave birth to the Chaos Theory also known as the “Butterfly Effect.” To illustrate this effect he said that a butterfly flapping its tiny wings in Africa could set into motion a whisper of a breath, that could ultimately cause a hurricane in North America.

This kind of reminded me of the words of Mother Theresa, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things, with great love.”

But, thinking of the Butterfly Effect,  even those small things done with great love, can do great things.

What are those small things? Smiling at that co-worker who drives you crazy; taking out the garbage without mom asking; forgiving someone who doesn’t even know they’ve hurt you; checking on an elderly neighbor; laughing at a friend’s so-un-funny joke; running another errand just as you walk in the door, -cheerfully; lending an ear to a stranger who wants to share a story; quietly praying for a friend who’s struggling to find a job, or having a tough time at home.  Sending an unusual note…

Several years ago a man approached me at my father’s funeral. He was a family friend, a big stocky gentleman and a former Marine, like my father. As we shook hands outside the church after the service, “Bob’s” weathered, wrinkled face gently filled with emotion.

“Your dad was something special,” he said in a solemn tone. “You probably don’t know this but every year he’d send me a birthday card.” He paused and looked away, then he laughed to hold back tears that were welling up. “It wasn’t on my birthday, that’s the funny thing. It was on November 10th, the birthday of the Marine Corp,” he paused to pull out a cigarette. “A card on the birthday of the Marine Corp,” he said with another laugh. “Yes sir, I really loved that about him.”

He just fumbled with the unlit cigarette as he quietly spoke about other kind things my father did; but the birthday card each November 10th, “he’d really miss that,” he whispered as his eyes grew misty once again.

The thing is, my dad wasn’t a typical former Gung-ho Marine. He wasn’t even a Gung-ho Marine, when he was a Marine. He served in combat in the Korean War, but he never talked about it.

After his time in the service, he packed away all the pictures, uniforms, medals and mementos from that part of his life. The only thing he shared with us was silly made-up Korean phrases that made us laugh. “Ideo-ship-sho-nay-chingo,” he’d cry out and then Karate chop or high kick the air, with a bread basket on his head. Yeah, he was a real warrior.

But, he knew “Bob,” was a proud Marine. So, he acknowledged that each year with a simple card. I never knew that until Bob shared it with me; an unknown, unseen act that brought a big rough and tough Marine to tears.

So, you never know the hurricanes, tornadoes, cyclones, tsunamis your own seemingly butterfly prayers, wishes, and deeds are setting into motion; only the one’s you never put into action.

Posted in Reflection | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Are you Making a Diamond, or Fool’s Gold?

Embed from Getty Images

I went to my nephew’s wedding this past weekend. Our extended family rarely gets a chance to be together so it was a special time, not to mention the wonderful reason for us being there –Rachel and Ben’s wedding.

One of the readings they chose for the ceremony is a perennial favorite of weddings throughout the Christian world. It’s from Paul’s first letter to those rascally Corinthians. Chapter 13…love is

I love this passage. However, as it was read I thought about how I have a different view of it now than I did thirty-plus years ago when my wife and I were married. My guess is that those many years ago, I was hoping my bride was listening carefully to Paul’s words: love is (implying you [are]) patient, kind, forgiving, etc.  I’m sure I was thinking: Bonnie, I sure hope you are listening to this. Yeah, at twenty-four years old I liked the sound of those wise Biblical! words.

After three decades however, I don’t think it really works that way. I believe Paul’s words are directed at us, but more importantly for me to carry out. Almost four years ago I shared this with my own son and daughter-in-law on their wedding day. I suggested, “Insert I into everything love does in Paul’s letter.” When you do this it reads something like:

“I am patient, I am kind. I am not jealous, I am not pompous, I am not inflated, I am not rude, I do not seek my own interests, I am not quick-tempered, I do not brood over injury, I do not rejoice over wrongdoing but I rejoice with the truth. I bear all things, I believe all things in you, I hope all good for you, and I’ll endure all things for you. I’ll never fail you.
So, faith, hope, and love remain. And the greatest of these is my love for you.”

When two people are firmly committed to living this way, through humility, there’s no way they can fail in their marriage.  On the other hand, if each one expects the other to be the one who bears all things, there’s virtually no way they can have a successful long term relationship.

A marriage is kind of like two jagged rocks thrown into a rock grinder. Over time, the grinder spins and spins, and the rough edges are knocked off and smoothed over. But, there’s a lot of contact and friction going on to make that happen. How do we keep it together while being tossed and turned by the rock grinder of life? We stay together -we actually become one, by living out the marriage vocation, in service to the other. John the Baptist said about Jesus, “He must increase, I must decrease.” This kind of humility gives us a good direction.

Faithfully living in service to your spouse has many Transfiguration moments –times similar to what the Apostles experienced when Jesus revealed his divine nature to them. This brilliance sustained them through the tough times they were to encounter as Jesus made his way to Calvary. In our married life there are innumerable moments of joy and ecstasy beyond comprehension. It’s those moments that keep us hopeful and fires us with life-giving happiness. But there are also Garden of Gethsemane and crucifixion times in the little details and large events of everyday life. “How many times do I have to take out the garbage? Why can’t he just pick up after himself? Why does he/she have time for friends, but not for me? Who’s cooking dinner tonight; not me again! I know he’s sick, but why can’t he…?”

Marriage is ultimately the formation of a unique, beautiful jewel –a diamond perhaps. And just like the life of a diamond, there’s deep darkness, high pressure and heated moments… But through those times, and through the good times, the multi-faceted jewel that God calls married couples to be, emerges and reflects a brilliant light for family and friends to follow; when we live like this, we build a treasured gemstone, instead of chasing fool’s gold.

Posted in Lessons | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Confessions of an 8 Year Old Bandit

Embed from Getty Images

I got my start in business at a very early age; actual business and funny business. In the summer of 1966, I was the assistant-cashier-shelf stocker-sawdust spreader-feather duster-inventory control manager-and general side kick to my grandpa Oliver, at his corner grocery store in Ottumwa, Iowa. We were inseparable that summer. We enjoyed drinking “pops,” and eating liver cheese sandwiches on dark bread (unfortunately I discovered what liver cheese was made of a few years later… ugh!)

I ruled the roost of that little store from my Bob Cratchit-like perch behind the front counter.  I sat regally along side the wood cased cash register; behind me was a wall of candy, gum, pills, tonics, pipe tobaccos, and cigarettes…I developed a pretty bad “cigarette gum” habit that summer.

After a few weeks on the job I had noticed a shiny pearl handled silver six shooter with a brown leather-like holster temptingly hanging on the toy rack right next to the bright red Coca Cola ice-box.  All day long the drink box hummed away, full of swirling icy water, and “pops.” Since I was the beverage inventory control manager as well, each time I replenished the stock, the pistol called out my name.

After just a few days of fantasizing about joining up with the Lone Ranger or Marshall Matt Dillon, I made the bold decision to simply take the gun and holster for my own. I didn’t want to go to the trouble of asking my grandfather for it. I was too proud to ask. So I simply walked over one afternoon while no one was looking, and I ripped it off the toy rack.  I then made tracks to the only place I could think of to enjoy it -my grandparent’s basement in their house right next door to the store.

There in the dark, cool, quiet confines of my grandparent’s cellar, I tore open the plastic packaging and I savored the cold steel of the prized pearl handled six shooter in my greedy little hands. I strapped on the vinyl brown holster belt and began gunning down bad guys and bringing justice to the Old West.

However, after a while of blissful pretend playing, I realized I had a problem. I couldn’t take the gun out into the world and show it to anyone, after all, it was stolen property. I was pretty much confined to the basement, to clean up the Old West. And then it hit me: regret. I regretted taking the gun and holster, because I couldn’t really do anything with it, except play in the basement, and what was so fun about that? But even more than that, a worse feeling settled in. I regretted stealing from my grandfather.

He probably knew the minute I did it. Surely he noticed the guilt in my quiet, standoffish demeanor for the next few days, but he never said a word about it. I think we must have established an uncomfortable, but mutual understanding for those few days.  I took something I shouldn’t have, and he knew it. But, he was going to patiently let me sort it out. So, on the third day, I couldn’t take it anymore. I finally broke down.

“Grandpa, I took a toy gun from the store, …and I’m sorry” I told him with my eyes firmly focused on the ground. My quavering voice squeaked out the …and I’m sorry.  And then I just cried, and cried and cried. He leaned down and reached out and brought me to him; he hugged me and maybe laughed just a bit as my tears trickled into the white apron he always wore in the store. He held me long enough to let the warm embrace and the tears soak in.

“Timmy,” he said, “all you had to do was ask me and I’d have given it to you. Anything in this store you could have -all you have to do is ask.” That made me cry all the more. But as I felt his large hands embracing me around my trembling shoulders, pulling me in tighter, I knew at that moment we were back to being partners. I knew our bond was put back together.

For me, so many years later, this is my experience with the sacrament of reconciliation. When I sin, I realize the sin isn’t as shiny, or attractive as I thought it would be, but instead it has put me in a cold dark lonely place.  It does no good to pile a guilt trip on myself and simply acknowledge personally it was wrong. When I sin, and when I acknowledge that is an offense against God, I have to go to God, and I have to say the words: this what I’ve done, and I’m sorry. For me, in that exchange there’s heavenly grace; it’s nothing less than a miracle that comes from this sacrament.

Today, I see myself as my grandpa Oliver. I think of the bonds and the relationships with my children, and now my own grandchild.   I believe this is a glimpse into the way God sees us as his children. And I think of that re-bonding I did with my grandfather so many years ago. What a miracle it is that I get to re-bond in a similar way with God in the sacrament of reconciliation.  When that happens, my inner spiritual tears of joy flow just as freely as they did, down my freckled little cheeks on that Iowa summer day so many years ago.

Posted in Reflection | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Stay Here and Watch with Me

Backyard 6.2.13 007

Patiently Awaiting Summer’s Flowers

In your relationships, have you ever been in attendance, but not really present; or have you ever wondered why a close friend suddenly becomes distant and out of reach? Have you ever been frustrated by the thought -hey, I’m doing all the heavy lifting here…how about some help?

I am reminded by my friendships that it takes two full participants to make a true relationship. It’s the same with my relationship with God. I need to remember that God is always knocking at my door. To be in proper relationship with him, I need to be present, not just in attendance, at the door; and I need to be watching with the eyes of faith. I need to be prepared to answer at whatever door or form he reveals himself to me.

Some years ago I recall I was regularly in attendance but not present with God. I remember over twenty years ago, our first Sunday at our new church; I quietly surveyed the large congregation, and I zeroed in on our “new” pew. I led the family to the vacant 3rd pew from the back of the church. I did this quickly to head off my wife’s preference for sitting at or near the front of the church. At this point of my spiritual life, I was an attend-at-the-back-of-the-church, preferably under-an-hour-Mass, kind of guy.

I wanted to worship at the altar of parish anonymity. From our new pew, staring at the backs of the heads of nearly 700 total strangers this fit the bill perfectly. Sitting up front, someone might notice us, and invite us for coffee and donuts, or ask us to join some committee or club. No sir, not me. I’m just here for my Sunday hour obligation.  It’s funny how God can have other ideas.

We settled into our new pew, about a mile and a half from the altar. My wife started to cool down from my insistence we sit so far away. I heard the choir start to tune up, the candles were lit, and I sat back for a nice hour (with luck…) of random thoughts about the upcoming week’s activities, a game on TV later on that day, where we’d eat lunch, etc. As I drifted off into my pre-Mass thoughts, I felt a firm tap on my shoulder.

“Would you and your family like to bring up the gifts today,” a friendly older usher asked? His kindly face smiled. However, his big farmer-sized hand remained solidly on my shoulder waiting on an answer.

I am hard headed. I admit that. And in that hard-headedness, I refused to respond to God’s call that Sunday morning. Oh, we did take up the gifts, I didn’t want to mess with that usher, but right after the recessional hymn I hurried our family out of the church; and then I barely did more than fulfill my minimum religious obligations …for the next six years!

In the Gospel Jesus tells me: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8)

So how does this work? It’s mysterious and all that, but on the one hand, I’m surfing along the outer margins of any kind of spiritual life, and God -through that usher, taps me on the shoulder, knocks on my door. But I don’t answer; I’m spiritually AWOL. And then there are times, when I’m knocking, knocking, knocking on God’s door, but no one seems to be at home? It can be very frustrating. God must have the same thought over the years about me.

This reminds me of an essential piece of good relationships: patience. God called me. I wasn’t ready and so he waited. He quietly, but persistently hung around, just like a good friend would do. And then, I need to be patient too. When I can’t find God in my life, maybe I should take a break from knocking down doors where I think he is, and just sit in his quiet for a while, and listen. Maybe then I can hear his tap at a door I wasn’t even watching before.

As you search for God, keep in mind, he is always reaching out to you too. But if your search is isn’t producing fruit, ask yourself: do I have my eyes focused on something else, or on one particular door -the one door I’ve chosen; am I being patient enough to allow God to speak to me?

Good friends always know how to find each other. With God, sometimes that means being present at all the doors of your spiritual home, fully present, with patience.

Posted in Reflection | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment