Here’s Johnny

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Last night Andrea and Kevin wanted to orchestrate a belated birthday dinner for the General. Of course, as part of the entourage, I was also invited. In all truthfulness, I can say it proved to be an exceptional evening.

 

For starters, Andrea and Kevin chose a restaurant where the General and I have never been. Truthfully speaking, I am mostly a stranger to the kind of fine dining that includes something more than a white tablecloth and dinnerware. I am not accustomed to having a myriad of choices for the first course, second course, main course and the grand finale (aka – desert).

 

It was a touching moment when Andrea looked at the menu and said to her mom, “Why don’t we take this and this and this for starters?” She offered several suggestions to include for the second course and pretty much left the third course for our own choosing.

 

Seriously, for the most part, I had looked at the menu and had no idea what was being served. When it comes to culinary choices that include something outside my regular fare or frame of reference, my first reaction is to look for something else on the menu that seems more familiar. I kind of discount the possibility that I will like it if I haven’t already tried it.

 

Andrea has a culinary charm about her where she can get by with promoting a menu selection for consideration. She does a good job of convincing you that you have a treat in store. I had a flashback to the General coaxing Andrea throughout her childhood to try different foods.

 

It was both interesting to observe and experience the role reversal-taking place before my eyes. Andrea was taking on the role of teacher and mentor. Though she’d never suggest that we were her inept students, we were on unfamiliar territory. She was pretty convincing that we would enjoy the taste. Never once did she use the line: “It is good for you”.

 

The waiter was a young man named Johnny. Actually, when he first came to our table, I missed his providing us his name. At least, I didn’t recall his name when he came back around. Consequently, when he came back around I said: “Help me with my memory. I don’t remember your name.” He smiled and said: “It is Johnny. Just like Johnny Cash, except that I don’t have any cash. Okay, so now I had a frame of reference. I would remember his name.

 

As our two-hour-plus dinner took place, I watched Johnny interacting with a host of other folks dining in the restaurant. He was attentive, personable, and had a genuine gregarious nature about him that added to the ambience of the evening.

 

He mentioned early in waiting on our table that he had just returned to work. He had been on vacation. I asked about his vacation and he provided a thumb-nailed sketch. He had gone to Arizona. While he was there, he attended his brother’s wedding. He added: “I also had a great time visiting with my mom. I sprung her from the hospital for a while. She has just finished chemo and radiation treatments”. He mentioned that in four months she has aged about fifteen years.

 

Immediately, I had the thought associated to the complexity of his family’s circumstances. His mother’s health status had to weigh heavily on the family as they rallied around and celebrated a family wedding. I’m sure there were lots of emotions surrounding the celebration.

 

I mentioned that I was sorry he was dealing with that kind of stress. He said, “It comes with life”. Who could argue with that? He went on to say: “It is interesting, but my mother has developed the most magnificent sense of humor. She had never been so funny. I guess she figures, ‘What do I have to lose’?”   He added: “I really enjoyed the time with her. In addition, my brother’s wedding provided an opportunity for me to visit with a lot of old friends I’ve not seen in awhile. It was really nice. I enjoyed my time at home, but it is also good to be back at work.”

 

Through the course of the evening, bits and pieces about his life surfaced in conversation. He mentioned George Straight’s song: “Ocean Front Property In Arizona”. He said he had recorded the song and given it to several friends. His friends had responded with positive reviews.

 

I asked: “So did you come to Austin to get in the music business?” He said he had graduated from high school at the age of seventeen and was ready to advance his career. He had started skateboarding at the age of four and thought he could make it as a professional skateboarder. California was calling his name. He had to go and give that career track a chance”.

 

I doubt that is just the kind of thing every parent wants to hear from his or her seventeen-year-old son? Actually, he told his dad he was going to request court emancipation. The dad countered that he would allow him to go, but that he wasn’t going to be emancipated. The dad wanted to keep him on as an income tax deduction. Did I mention that his dad is a CPA and his mother is an art professor?

 

He had support from his family as he pursued his dreams. In the course of the two hours we shared, he shared several more tidbits about his life. He got a degree in nursing and things began to fall apart with his girlfriend at exactly the same time that he was beginning to see a line of white picket fences.

 

I had the thought: “What a clever way to express where he was in his human pilgrimage.” Romance didn’t work out in California and he made his way to Austin. His story associated to getting into the restaurant business really caught me by surprise. He said, “It was all about the Balloon Animals”. “The what”, I asked?” He said when he was still in high school a friend had showed him a stash of cash in his wallet. He said: “He had twenties and hundred dollar bills.” His friend explained: “I’ve been working at a restaurant making animals out of balloons for children.” He said, “The parents love it and they pay me. Some pay me very well”.

 

“You’ve got to show me how to do that,” was his response to his friend. In short order, he received permission to do the same thing in another restaurant. He said, “I guess it was my gregarious nature, but folks really liked me. When the restaurant decided to stop allowing me to do that, they said I was too valuable to loose. They employed me as a part-time server while I was in high school”.

 

When asked about his passion going forward he said: “I am a writer. I was made to write. I can’t stop writing. I haven’t gotten anything published yet, but I will. I write. I can’t stop writing”.

 

Something tells me, he’s got the stuff to reach his dreams. I liked his line: “I was beginning to envision a line of white picket fences”. What an incredible way to say much in a very different way of expressing it!

 

Johnny gave me permission to share his story and reluctantly provided the same regarding his picture. It would serve you well to find him. He is an exceptionally knowledgeable server who works for an incredible restaurant. You’ll enjoy a fantastic meal and an exceptional waiter.

 

All My Best!

Don

A Small Room And A Host Of Memories

I’m weird. I don’t have time for this, but I get energized by it and I can’t seem to stop.  I’m figuratively always a day late and a dollar short, but that doesn’t seem to matter either.  In August, thoughtful folks at church thought it was time to resurrect the monthly newsletter. After all, isn’t communication (or lack thereof) always a problem in churches?  So why not start in September?  

I keep thinking that if everyone attended church weekly, communication wouldn’t be a problem. On the other hand, if everyone attended weekly, we’d be struggling with lack of space issues.  Truth be told, three fourths of the time, I fail to communicate all of the announcements someone wants made in church.  Long story short, I’ve got other things on my mind.  Consequently, I shouldn’t be the point person for making announcements.

Fortunately, we’ve got a couple of extremely talented people in our church who are content with nothing less than a top-quality monthly publication.  Consequently, you won’t find the kind of grammatical errors that show up daily in my Carpe Diem blog.  Plus, the professional layout and even the shiny paper the newsletter is printed on spell quality.

So,  what’s the problem?  I try to get the stories I’m responsible for writing written by the end of the first week in the month. The two ladies who actually make the newsletter happen, then do their magic, and the newsletter is mailed the following week.

Because of commitments the remainder of this week, yesterday was my self-imposed deadline for getting my stories written. Would you believe, I wrote three different front-page articles for the December issue. Ultimately, the decision on which article to share is mine to make.  I settled on the third one. I will use the other two articles for another purpose. It wasn’t a waste of time, apart from the fact that I didn’t have the time.

 The first page of the newsletter is mine to fill. I’m good with that.  We’ve also added a section to highlight a church member each month. It is one way the broader small family of faith learn more about each other. We all have a story, why not devote some space to share it whenever possible. It adds to the sense of connection and community.  

Another of the things that adds to the ambience of our place of worship, is the stained-glass windows that grace our sanctuary.  The windows have all been designed in memory or in honor of someone tied to our community of faith.  At face value, the windows speak volumes in and of themselves, but what about the back story? What about the story of the people for whom the windows were dedicated?  The two folks who make the newsletter happen thought it would be of value to share some of those stories. That, too, had my name written all over it.

It had my name written on it because I’ve been around a long time. I’m far from being the new kid on the block.  I’m certainly no longer the dark-haired guy with the beard and hair over most of  his ears who came as pastor in February 1979. My son was seven years old at the time. He turned forty-eight in September. In addition, his sister had not yet been gifted us. She joined us two and a half years later. By the way, she is one of the ladies that makes our newsletter happen. She is the graphic design and layout person.  Janet Bradford, writer/editor extraordinaire is the other lady.

So, what’s the problem? The problem is space. They  don’t give me enough space! Isn’t it true that a half-told story is no story at all?  One of my assignments for last night, because I procrastinate, was to write an article on the two stained glass windows located in the foyer of our church.

Our foyer is small and the two windows are relatively large.  The backstories behind the two windows are larger than life.  I had known one of the ladies honored for eleven years before she died in 1990. I had no idea that at the time of her death, she had been a widow for thirty-three years and had lived in the same house for fifty years.  The home is still in the family and two of  her great grandchildren live in the home now.

I also didn’t know that her family included six sons.  Wow! That’s a large family. The six sons toiled the land and were the workforce behind the farming/cattle operation. They mostly plowed land in the early years with a plow pulled by a donkey. It wasn’t until after WWII, that one of the sons purchased a tractor.  

Reportedly, in WWII each GI was issued a daily cigarette.  This son didn’t smoke. Consequently, he sold his daily quota each day. When he came home from the war, he had enough cigarette money to purchase a tractor.

The grandson who shared that piece of the story with me last night said his grandparents had been unscathed by the Great Depression. Their farm and cattle operation provided everything that they needed.  The Great Depression absolutely made no impact on the family’s quality of life or resources.

Fortunately, that family was not impacted by the Agriculture Adjustment Act of 1933, when the government decided that the issue of supply and demand was crippling the nation economically. In order to right they wrong, the government authorized the killing of cattle to eliminate the supply. Some folk who had a thriving cattle operation one day, had nothing but land the following day after the men from the government showed up did away with their what had been their livelihood.  

I had known the other lady for whom the second window is dedicated for twenty-seven years. She prided herself on being Methodist, but no one was more involved in our church than she. She was always faithful and always present.  For years, she sent birthday cards to everyone from church on behalf of the church. She never drew attention to herself. She was most content to stay out of the limelight, but she was very much part of the fabric that held our church together.

Okay, so the small foyer with two stained glass windows carry the theme of the Texas Hill Country. The two windows filled my mind with stories from long ago. I went to bed last night energized by the memories of people and a family who had touched my life. All it took was two stained glass windows in one very small room.  

All My Best!

Don

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Can it already be December?  Didn’t we celebrate Thanksgiving less than a week ago?  So how do you explain that we’ve abruptly moved from Thanksgiving to the sound of: “It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas?” Only this past Sunday at church it didn’t.  It was December 1st  and more than one person noticed that the traditional Christmas tree wasn’t in the sanctuary. Of course, no one said anything to me. 

Of course, why would they? For starters, I’ve never put up the tree. Everyone knows that despite the fact that I love the reason for the season, I generally find things about the season that make it  seem inconvenient.  I didn’t garner the nickname “Ebenezer Scrooge” because people intuitively associate me with Goodtime Charlie associated to all-things Christmas. 

For months the General has been making Christmas ornaments with needlepoint. Actually, truth be told, she’s been doing that for years. You would have thought I could have connected the dots and anticipated that she’d want to see them hanging on the Christmas tree.

The last couple of years, we’ve opted not to put up a tree. Okay, so I’m probably mostly responsible for making that decision. We have several nativity scenes, and we decorated the house with them.  I just assumed we’d do the same this year.  Okay, so I was mistaken.  

I stopped by the church on Monday afternoon to confirm that the Christmas tree for the church is still where it routinely has been stored. You don’t have to be one of three wise men associated to the Christmas story to know that expectations are high that the Christmas tree be in the customary space inside the church this next Sunday or else.  I’ll leave the else to your imagination, but the thought was more than I wanted to consider.

Opening the door to the storage building, I was confronted with a  problem I didn’t anticipate.  The lower two of the three hinges on the entrance door were more than a little loose. Actually, the screws from the middle hinge pulled loose from the door when I opened the door. In addition, the lower hinge had no screws securing the door to the wooden door jam. How did that happen?  

After confirming the tree was in the building, I subsequently managed to get the door shut again, but how could I leave it for someone else to discover the same problem?  I have the propensity for being a jerk, but surely, I’m more ethical than that. Thankfully, I thought I had the skill set to tighten a few screws. The problem is, what few screws I found didn’t tighten. Did I mention, I didn’t have time for this?  Oh, Yeah, the sound of the “Jingle Bell Rock” was riveting through my head – Not exactly!

 A quick trip [No such animal exists] to Home Depot solved the problem. Yes, and for the record, I had to have help in locating the screws.  I purchased longer screws and subsequently set the loose door right.  I arrived back home to discover the General wanting to decorate the house.  Okay, so I was at the point of no return. I didn’t really have a choice. She wanted to decorate the tree.  

The tree she wanted to decorate is 8-foot tall with a circumference of about 5 feet near the bottom.  We no longer have room to use that tree in our home, but she was not to be dissuaded.  The piece of furniture that we had to move to the garage to make room for the tree has a marble top.  It isn’t that it was too heavy for me to pick up, it wasn’t. It was simply the inconvenience that put me out of sorts. What was the General thinking?

Long story short, once I got the tree assembled, the lights on the center portion of the tree weren’t working.  So how old was that tree anyway?  It was fit for nothing but to be thrown asunder.  The house was now in a mess and I was pouting. It was also way past my bedtime. I really am Ebenezer Scrooge.

I wasn’t mumbling anything inappropriate, but I also didn’t go out of my way to conceal my frustration. I don’t slam doors. I don’t scream and holler, but I have the capacity to act like a spoiled brat with the full intent not to hide the fact that I was bent out of shape. I was frustrated!  As a side note, the General didn’t care! It didn’t faze her at all that I was out of sorts. It was probably because she’s seen the three-year-old behavior before.

The General then suggested I check all of the lights on the tree to ascertain they were secure. Are you kidding me?  It wasn’t that I couldn’t count that high. I read, write and can count beyond a fifth-grade level, so I was good to go. The problem was, I wasn’t going to do it!  Thankfully, the General doesn’t have the capacity to read my mind.  I didn’t verbally express it, but I envisioned Florence Jean Castleberry from Talladega, Alabama saying: “Kiss my grits” and “When donkeys fly”!   I couldn’t have come up with a better response on my own.

In carefully evaluating the problem, the General made the discovery that I somehow had failed to plug in two other electrical plugs on the tree.  Suddenly, in the dark of night, the tree illuminated the room.  And to think, ten minutes before, I was ready to haul the Christmas tree  to the dump.

The message from the  illumined lights on the tree changed my attitude. The light of the world is Jesus.  That simple message changed my pouting countenance into one of Joy. I am fairly confident it can do the same for you if you ever have the capacity to be a jerk. Thankfully, not all of us have that gift. I can truthfully say, it is now beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. [Isaiah 9:2]  My word for you is similar to the thoughts I expressed to myself. “Go to the Light! Embrace the Christ of Christmas. It makes a difference not only for you, but for all of those with whom you share life.

All My Best!

Don

Christmas Gift Suggestions

Over the weekend, the General attempted to solicit Christmas gift suggestions from the grandchildren.  Did I mention that Jake is the youngest and he always has a gift suggestion or two in mind?  Seriously, he thinks ahead and anticipates opportunity.  Knowing that a new rifle was out of the question, he “dumbed it down” and said he’d love to have a new Lego set. The one he has in mind is $350.00.  Miracle of miracles, the General thoughtfully redirected him and suggested he tell Santa.

Jake is good at putting gadgets together and I have to hand it to him, he is also good at handling disappointment.  He really came to town this weekend knowing it was his turn for the big one.  His dad was taking him deer hunting. His brother has a shoulder mount hanging in their living area. His sister has one in the making. It has been dropped off for the taxidermist to work his magic.  Obviously, the magic isn’t as simple as saying “hocus pocus”. Would you believe, it takes about a year from “drop off to finish” to have a trophy to hang in your home.  By then, the venison is gone and only the memory of the exhilaration of figuratively “coming home with the bacon” remains.

This was Jake’s weekend. He had absolutely no concern that if given the opportunity, he would miss his mark. With the confidence of a full-grown U.S. Marine, Jake said: “I don’t ever miss a shot”. He mostly doesn’t.  It’s a little eerie.  Craig would say it is “like father/like son”.  The problem is, Jake chose not to settle for a couple of eight points that were within range.  “Been there/done that” is the messaging in his mind. He has the antlers hanging in his room. He wanted more and was willing to wait.

Wanting more and willing to wait is a pretty unusual character trait. Of course, there are two sides to every story. I tell people at my age, it is foolish to wait.  I recently talked to a financial consultant who recommended that I take whatever financial resources I have and tie-them-up for at least six years. Reportedly, it would financially be in my best interest. While I’m hoping to be both in sound mind and body in six years, I anticipate it works in my best in my interest to keep our financial assets liquid. I might want to start collecting Legos. 

Like the Aggie’s are saying related to this past week’s loss to LSU, “They simply ran out of time”.  Most of us watching the game were saying: “Will it ever end?”  Are you kidding me. I watched that game and it wasn’t much of a game.  What am I thinking?  To suggest it wasn’t a “running out of time” issue could put me in conflict the keepers of the  holy grail. 

Speaking of the holy grail, from the knights of medieval legends to Indiana Jones, the holy grail has been the most sought-after Christian relic in popular culture for centuries. The Holy Grail is traditionally is the cup that Jesus drank from at the Last Supper.  Another definition is that it represents a thing that is being earnestly pursed or sought after. 

With that thought in mind, a ten-year-old’s resolve to come home with the deer he had come to get, could fall into the same category.  Of course, it didn’t help that the land owner where they were hunting had made two of three pictures of the 12-point and sent those to Craig before their arrival.  

Craig mentioned on Sunday that the time he shared with Jake in the deer blind during the early morning hours brought back a host of memories from the times he hunted with the General’s dad.  Craig was responsible for carefully being on the look-out while Jake was sleeping soundly in the deer blind. Once the deer was spotted, it was Craig’s responsibility to very quietly awaken the hunter and point him in the right direction.

The problem is, the 12-point deer obviously intuitively knew that when it comes to shooting, Jake doesn’t miss. Consequently, he chose not to show up.  Who could blame him?  No deer in their right mind would envision life with their head hanging on someone’s wall. Worse yet, the deep freezer is even a worse venue. 

Besides that, not having a shot at the 12-point gives Jake another opportunity to look forward to sharing with his dad.  That being said, it hurt my heart that Jake was disappointed. He is really a neat kid and he knows what he wants.

For that matter, so does his older brother. When then General asked William for gift suggestions, he looked at her like she was talking out of her head. William is consistently predictable. All he ever wants in the way of a gift is money. The strange thing is that he seldom chooses to spend any of it. 

With Jenna, she needs more time to give it some thought. The same was true with Lilian. I won’t even go there.  Trust me, many things come to mind. I’m sticking with a gift-card to Whataburger (that’s an inside joke) for Jenna. I’ll also come up with something for Lilian. Of course, I don’t know why I bothered to include any of this.  My grandkids don’t read my blog. 

By the way, another modern interpretation of the holy grail is that “profit” has become the holy grail.  Simply, by happenstance, I saw some Christmas gift suggestions posted this morning. They were from a minister who is offering 15% off on a collection of his sermons. The collection of sermons reportedly, is the ideal Christmas gift (his marketing approach – not my interpretation) . By-the-way, his longest series was on sale for 50% off.  Somehow all of that boggles my mind.

I figure anything I write in a sermon that is worth sharing, didn’t come from me. Consequently, I simply had the privilege of writing it down.  I figure if the gift of eternal life is free, a collection of sermons may not be a bargain at 15% off.

All My Best!

Don

Gratitude

My thoughts this past week have been those associated to Thanksgiving.  Luke is the only Gospel writer that includes the story of Christ healing the ten lepers. The fact that Luke was a physician, may be the explanation for his chronicling the story. Of course, as the story goes, the ten lepers cried out in a loud voice: “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” Christ instructed them to “Go, show yourselves to the priests and as they went, they were cleansed.”  Luke adds the notation that only one returned to give thanks and he was a Samaritan.” 

In his book, The Gift of Pain, Dr. David Brand talks about the inordinate amount of damage patients with leprosy bring on themselves, because they have no awareness of pain.  Pain is like the yellow light or red-light that is illuminated on the dashboard of our vehicle when it is time to have the car serviced or as a warning light to stop – Danger ahead. 

Brand writes: “Pain serves as an indicator that something is wrong. Pain has value and reveals its importance. Pain lets us know when something is wrong. The reality is: Pain is a gift that none of us want, and none of us can do without”.  

Maybe it’s just me, but across the years, I sense I haven’t always fully processed the story.  Leprosy -The highly contagious disease from Biblical days seems far away and long ago for most of us. The disease still exists in other places in the world, but it isn’t one for which most of us are familiar. It is difficult to wrap one’s head around the banishment, social isolation, mandatory separation from family and home and  community, or even the tragic consequences that seemingly was always the ultimate outcome. 

As I thought about the story of the ten lepers who were healed this week, the plight of leprosy reminded me of another story that is more commonplace in our day. It is a story easier for me to wrap my head around process, but the reality associated to the lack of compassion should sadden all of us. Maybe it is because I’ve met the pastor and I’ve heard him preach. His story was published in Texas Monthly in April 1993. The preacher’s name is Dr. Jimmy Allen, former pastor of First Baptist Church in San Antonio. Actually, he went to be with the Lord in January of this year.

Dr. Allen’s story is filled with heartache, but I’ll share only a portion. Scott Allen, Dr. Allen’s youngest son, followed in his father’s footsteps. He became a minister. Long-story-short, ten hours before their first child was born in 1982, Lydia, his wife was given a blood transfusion in anticipation that she would need a C-Section. As it turned out, she did not. 

Matthew, their first born was sick from the beginning. That same year, the family moved from California to Colorado, where Scott accepted a position as an associate minister at a large church. Health problems followed Lydia and Matthew as they moved from California to Colorado. Two years later, Lydia became pregnant again and Bryan was subsequently born prematurely with heart defects.

Four months following Bryan’s birth, a woman from a San Francisco blood bank telephoned to alert Lydia there was a chance that the blood she had received years earlier was contaminated with the AIDS virus. Subsequent, HIV-testing confirmed that Lydia and both their children were infected with the HIV virus.

Overnight the Allen family became a family that no one wanted in their church. The senior pastor of the church where Scott served expressed genuine concern, but reportedly, almost as a second thought, requested Scott’s resignation.  According to the story in Texas Monthly, Scott didn’t resign, but the next day, he arrived at his office to find a memo from the senior pastor accepting his resignation. The following Sunday, the senior pastor and a couple of church leaders, who coincidentally were both attorneys, called Scott into the senior pastor’s study and granted him a paid leave of absence.

The Texas Monthly article described the church’s response this way: “By that time the secret was out. A friend of Lydia’s had betrayed Lydia’s confidence. Panic set in. Suddenly parents were worried that one of their children might have shared a deadly juice cup with Matthew in the church nursery or had come in contact with one of Bryan’s diapers. A meeting was held to discuss whether any church members could be at risk for getting AIDS. Scott and Lydia weren’t invited, and not a single person in the entire family of faith telephoned to offer a word of encouragement or reassurance”.

The family immediately moved from Colorado back to Texas. Sadly, they were not a family met with open arms by any church. Their story is pretty much reflected on the pages of Scripture associated to the banishment and exile of an individual with leprosy.

In one of his books, John Ortberg shares a little bit about the downside of his humanity. It was easy for me to over identify with him. Reportedly, he was away from home and traveling in the Midwest.  He said that when he woke up, he just felt like complaining. 

Do you ever feel like complaining? John writes that he had been traveling and it was a hassle. “He had looked forward to visiting with a friend and that didn’t work out. He was extremely disappointed, so he was kind of ticked off about that. It was 15 degrees outside. It was beyond his comprehension that anyone would choose to live where it is 15 degrees. That just seems stupid to him.  

“Then I was in a service in a church, and I just got ambushed. There was about a 4-minute moment in the service. People got up and just said about one or two sentences in a microphone. 

  • One guy got up and said, ‘I’m grateful God was with me this last year even though I lost my job’ Do you ever think about your job and how blessed you are to have it. Or do you simply take it for granted?
  • Somebody else got up and said, ‘I’m grateful that God was with me this last year, and I could marry the person of my dreams.’ Do you live with a sense of gratitude for the person with whom you share life or do you simply take the experience for granted?
  • A 10-year-old boy got up…this got me…and said, ‘I’m grateful God was with me in chemo this year’. 
  • Somebody else got up and said, ‘Though I lost most of my money this year, I’m grateful that the less I have, the more I find I have.’
  • The last one was a woman who came out in a wheelchair, and she said, ‘I’m grateful that when the doctor said to me, ‘Either chemo or Hospice,’ and I said, ‘No more chemo,’ I had such a sense of peace with God.’”

Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Catholic Benedictine monk says, “We’re not grateful because we’re happy. We’re happy because we’re grateful.”  Perhaps that should be the framework that we embrace going forward!

All My Best!

Don

He replied: "It wasn't a good day".

As Jake was getting ready for bed last night, I asked him: “Jake, did you have a good day?”  Of course, Jake is always consistently predictable. I already knew the answer to my question. Jake lives with an incredibly positive attitude. Of course, he had a good day.

Jake respectfully didn’t suggest that I asked a stupid question. However, the expression on his face told me as much.  He responded: “Granddad, I didn’t get the buck that I wanted and the Aggies lost. It has not been a good day.”

Somehow, I was shocked by his answer. In some respects, Jake lives what he’s learned. Why would anybody yell at the television during a football game? Crazy isn’t it?  I can truthfully say, “Like father/like son.” Of course, this game was somewhat different from some of the others I’ve observed. I didn’t hear either Jake or his dad suggest that the referees were responsible for the loss.

To suggest that Jake was frustrated with the quarterback and the coach, is an understatement.  After all, isn’t there always someone to blame?  Okay, so when it comes to football, there is a lot that I don’t know other than the fact that I’m mostly not a fan.  I think the quarterback is one of the team’s players and the coach is the guy on the sideline that gets a lot of live coverage from the television camera.

Interestingly, although Kevin graduated from UT, he grew up in New Orleans and went to LSU for three years. When he moved to Texas, he didn’t intuitively lose his interest in beignets and strong coffee at the Café Du Monde. At least, I think that is why he may have spent some time in the French Quarter. He also didn’t lose interest in Mike the tiger.  He is definitely still a fan of LSU.

Of course, it is totally off the subject, but I once reviewed a foster care record for a foster family that lived on the Texas side of the state line separating them from Louisiana. They, too, had a love for Mike the tiger.  Actually, I’m not sure they named their pet tiger Mike, but they had one and they also had foster children.  

Who is their right mind thinks that a foster home to care for children can also double as a home for a tiger?  Of course, that took place about 30 years ago. It was pretty much a black or white issue for me back then. My response was: “Absolutely not!”  Actually, I know live with a lot more shades of gray than I did back then, but I’d still say: “Absolutely not!”

So last night’s game viewed from my daughter’s home was interesting.  Kevin and Andrea were subtly for the Tigers. I say subtly because they didn’t scream and holler throughout the game.  Who in their right mind does something like that?  Whatever happened to the concept of “inside voices?”  Craig and crew, including his mother were clearly placing their hopes on the Aggies.  

Then there was me. Like I said earlier, I know nothing about football, but I didn’t fall off the turnip truck either. I had ever confidence that the game was going to be a very humbling experience for the Aggies.  From my perspective, it was a sure thing.

Thoughtfully, yesterday morning my daughter suggested that I bring over my  laptop so I could busy myself with something I enjoy since a full day of football was in the lineup. In terms of games, I have to say the Alabama/Auburn game was worthy of a watch.  Wow!  

At sometime yesterday morning, I made the discovery that the weather outside was as close to perfect as it could get. Consequently, I spent a portion of the day on my computer outside. That kind of setting makes it most enjoyable to work from home.

So, when it comes to having a good day, it is all or nothing?  From my ten-year-old grandson’s perspective, he obviously appeared to think so yesterday, but that pretty much is a contradiction to the way I’ve seen him negotiate life.

By the way, he is already on his way to the deer-blind in hopes of getting the buck he wants. That is one of the nice things about a new day. Every day represents an opportunity for a new start. By the way, I reminded the young hunter’s father that church is at 11:00.  

For most of us, everyday doesn’t represent an opportunity to cross the finish line or realize the fruition of our dreams and hopes. Don’t must of us spend much of our time in “the meantime?”  We are all not on the threshold of the big win or the shoulder mount trophy.  Our lives are routinely more commonplace than that.  But every day is an opportunity for a good day.

Our lives or circumstances don’t have to be perfect for the realization of a good day. This morning I thought about a host of people I know who in all likelihood will have a good day, but that doesn’t mean that losses from the past or the threats they face moving forward into the future don’t carry the potential for a temporary setback.  

The key for a good day is how a person views life and ultimately where they place their faith.  It carries with it the courage to trust God with their future and to simply make the most of today.  Last week I invited three people at church to share two or three minutes on things for which they are thankful.  This morning, I plan to do the same thing again. We learn a lot about people and a lot about life when we have the capacity to be thankful even when things are not perfect.

It is one thing to be ten-years-old and anticipate two big wins to realize neither. Of course, that’s disappointing. It is quite another thing to have decades of life experiences and fail to recognize that things don’t have to be perfect to be good.  In the meantime, is how most of us live life. In the meantime, represents much for which to be thankful. 

All My Best!

Don

The Hunt Is On

I awakened to the sound of shuffling feet in the hallway outside our bedroom door.  I had awakened a couple of other times throughout the night. In the darkness, I had allowed my thoughts to reflect on a kaleidoscope of memories from the day before. My grandkids are growing up.  

The shuffling feet in the hallway outside our bedroom door this morning was my son and youngest grandson heading out the door to go hunting.  All three of my son’s kids are hunters. They also like to fish. The fabric of their lives are interwoven around those two activities.  They’ve done them all with their dad.  Add to that their incessant need to excel in every sport imaginable and it is no wonder they seldom have time at home. They are always on the go.

Intermittently, across the passage of time, Craig missed large chunks of their lives serving Uncle Sam in faraway dangerous places. He has taken it all in stride and maintains one of the most positive family orientated mindsets of anyone I know. It’s all about his kids. 

Craig thinks he should be a candidate for “parent of the year”. He sums it up this way: “I keep letting my kids shoot bigger deer than any I’ve ever shot.” Of course, the kids have the drill down to three-part harmony. “We eat what we shoot”.  Okay, so I’m collecting grandchildren who excel at every sport including hunting.

Just to make it perfectly clear, I own an over-and-under shotgun and I’ve shot some skeet in my lifetime. However, it’s been a long-long time since any of that has taken place.  If memory serves me correctly, there is a skeet shooting range on the base at Camp Pendleton.  

Of course, Jake who turns eleven next month, has yet to add a shoulder mount to the family collection.  Horns are in plentiful supply at their house, but a trip to the taxidermist for a shoulder mount has only fallen to Jake’s two older siblings.  Both Craig and Jake are of the mindset, that today is the day for Jake. 

The two went hunting yesterday and took my truck to drive the 20 miles where they plan to hunt.  Craig, joker that he is, wanted to know if I had a couple of packages of Cheetos that he and Jake could eat in my truck? He knows full well that I have a “no eating” policy in my truck. The same is true for the General’s car for that matter.  

Since he brought the subject of my truck up, why not clarify how the truck is to be used. Craig assured me that off-roading wasn’t on his agenda. I clarified that I don’t drive a truck with scratches. When they returned late yesterday, Jake was pretty impressed with my truck. It felt brand-new to him.  Of course, he knows that when the truck gets 40k on it, I will get another one.  He thinks that’s crazy, but he has been unduly influenced by is dad. 

We had dinner last night at my daughter and son-in-law’s.  The meal was exceptional and so were some of the video clips my daughter played back for our viewing. Of course, they all revolved around her niece and two nephews as well as dear old dad.  Okay, so I don’t hunt. I don’t fish. I don’t play sports. I don’t do much of anything other than standup comedy. How I keep showing up in family videos, I don’t know.

Last night, Jenna and her mom talked about a shopping trip into Austin today. She needs a dress for the prom. She needs a what?  Somehow, I’m more comfortable with her wanting a new deer rifle than a dress for a prom. Of course, the prom won’t take place until the end of the school year, but now is the time to start looking.

Girls are weird.  We have a couple of the General’s “formals” in a suitcase in our garage.  I don’t know if I’ve ever opened the suitcase or seen the formals. If she wore them to a prom, it wasn’t with me.  Do we need to keep them? Duh! Of course, we do. For what, I don’t know. 

Last night, I mentioned to Jenna that if it had been up to her, Jake would have been a baby sister, rather than another brother.  When Becky went for the ultrasound to determine the baby’s gender, it was a family excursion. It was in the doctor’s office that Becky shared the news with her family. Jenna and William were going to have a little brother.

Through a veil of tears, Jenna asked “Why?” Why didn’t her parents make a girl instead of a boy? Jenna was more than a little teary eyed. She was extremely disappointed and crying. Becky explained to Jenna that God decides those matters rather than the parents.  Jenna replied: “Then God cheated us.”

Seriously, where would this family be without Jake?  He was doing stand-up comedy from the very start.  Like I said, I awakened several times through the night with reflections from yesterday.  In a nightmare of sorts, I dreamed that the General and I had another child. From day one, the new kid spoke in complete sentences. It was absolutely amazing to hear a one-day-old child taking.  I awakened in a cold sweat. Thankfully, it was a dream. With grandkids, you can send them home when you need a break.  Of course, they’ve never stayed long enough that we really needed a break.

Of course, I remember that after buying my last new truck, we were taking the kids home. Jenna, complained of being hungry. I stopped at a service station/grocery to get her something to eat.  I explained that she’d need to come inside the store with me and that she’d need to eat whatever she selected outside the truck.  She wasn’t good with that.  She was going to eat in the truck.  

Okay, so I have the wherewithal to be more hard-headed than my grandchildren.  I stayed calm. I didn’t raise my voice. I explained again the ground rules for riding in granddad’s truck. I didn’t waiver. Neither did Jenna.  I figured fifteen minutes was more than ample time for her to decide if she was hungry enough to eat outside my truck. She wasn’t that hungry, so we moved on down the road.  Consequently, I won that round.

All My Best!

Don

Thanksgiving Is Mostly A Heart Issue

I try to avoid fast food whenever possible. But to get it right or at least according to my taste, five minutes on each side is plenty on my cast aluminum  BBQ pit.  Of course, the charcoal needs to produce a really hot fire.  Otherwise, each side of the steak won’t be properly seared. The secret isn’t just the thick layer of McCormick Montreal Steak Seasoning covering each side, but the importance of letting the steak sit for ten minutes without cutting into it once it comes off the grill.

Okay, so we opted for something other than a traditional Thanksgiving fare yesterday.  We had just eaten Turkey, dressing and all the fixing’s on Sunday at our Community Thanksgiving Celebration at church. Why would we want to do the same thing again four days later? We didn’t.  Consequently, most folks would say we didn’t have a proper Thanksgiving meal.

Trust me, the General was all-in on the plan for an alternative.  Why not color totally outside the lines and have shaved Belgium Brussel Sprout salad as a side?  If you haven’t tried it, don’t knock it.  It was delicious.

According to Dr. Jim Dennison’s “Daily Article”, eighty-eight percent of folks ate turkey yesterday. In fact, 70% of folks would refute classifying it a proper Thanksgiving meal without Turkey. At the same time, 65% of those eating turkey would prefer to have something else. 

So maybe I’m not a play-it-by-the-book kind of guy? I was grateful (pun intended) for a steak.  Several years ago, when the General had surgery, I insisted she let me do all the cooking for the next six-weeks. Would you believe that I grilled steak every night for six-weeks? Some things just never get old.  Of course, my anti-red-meat healthy friends would be the first to say you’d never get old if that was your regular diet.  Okay, okay, I get it. Fish is a nice alternative.

So, did yesterday feel like Thanksgiving? Truthfully, there was something missing until the General starting baking yesterday morning.  The aroma that filled our home transformed the place into “grandma’s house” and set my mind to memories too precious to forget.

The General thoughtfully baked a pecan/coconut pie like my mother used to bake.  The pie had the same effect on my niece who shared Thanksgiving with us yesterday as it had on me. Her eyes filled with tears at the taste. They were happy tears. 

I have to tell you that neither of my parents would have enjoyed the steak. Well, that isn’t necessarily true. If they had tasted the steak it would have transformed their culinary mindset, but they’d never have gotten past the pink.  They equated pink with “raw” and only a carnivorous animal would eat raw anything. In order for them to enjoy a steak, it had to be well done.  Really? We miss a  lot when we are not open to trying new things or doing things differently.

In a perfect world, our home would have been filled with people yesterday. I generally equate Thanksgiving with a house-full kind of venue, but as it was, it was perfect.  The full house will be here mid-to-late morning today. I figure within three hours of Jake and William’s arrival; the 180 pumpkin cookies will be history.  That makes me smile – everything in moderation. Of course, it could be just like me to hide the pecan/coconut pie. After all, there is also pumpkin pie, cheese cake and a host of other Thanksgiving delicacies.

I’ll spend my Black Friday at home today without the need to join lines of shoppers who are looking for the deal of a lifetime.  Excuse me, what’s wrong with this picture?  We carve out a day to be thankful and then we allow ourselves to be absorbed in a crowd of shoppers the very next day vying for more. What’s wrong with this picture?

Isn’t it true that if we are not content with what we have, we will never be thankful?  Of course, we live in a land of plenty, but many don’t have the resources for meeting basic needs. Sometimes health, opportunity and a host of other things interfere with our fully embracing life or getting needs met.

The tragedy associated to Thanksgiving is the absence of familial closeness that layers life with a sense of contentment and inclusion.  People need people. We all need others in the periphery of our lives that we love and who love us. That doesn’t mean that they have to be present on Thanksgiving day in order for our lives to be full.  The fullness is something we carry in our hearts.

Thanksgiving is mostly a heart issue.  When our hearts are right with God and others, thanksgiving is a natural response. If we’d be open enough to embrace the thought that the empty spaces we’ve created in our lives don’t have to be empty, it would serve us well. It would set us on the path of thanksgiving.

All MY Best!

Don