Avoid Negativity Like The Plague

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Do you ever get the sense that life is at times more like swimming upstream than leisurely floating down the river? For the most part, my life has been an easy ride, but on occasion I am painfully aware there are two forces at work in the world. Honestly, life doesn’t have to be as difficult as a lot of people choose to make it.

 

At times I find myself in social situations where the dominate theme of the conversation is negativity. How many people do you know that live with the on-going belief that “life has gone to hell in a hand-basket”?  I find that most often that assessment has some relationship to one’s thoughts related to the political landscape, but the concept isn’t limited to politics. It raises its ugly head in any number of venues.

 

Isn’t it true that folks find any number of things to complain about? There are parents who complain about their kids, wives or husbands who complain about their mates, employees who complain about management, parishioners who complain about church and some folks who simply complain about everything.  Long story short – avoid them like the plague.

 

Trust me, I attempt to avoid that crowd whenever I can. I find it unsettling. For one thing, I can’t fix it. Whenever I’ve attempted to provide gentle redirection, it is met with a roadblock. For another, negativity is a venue that is as contagious as the common cold. Perhaps that’s where the concept that “misery loves company” originated. The folks who throw rocks are like a pack of wolves seeking to destroy all that come in their path. Theirs is a self-destructive walk through life.

 

The thing that often surprises me is that some of the most negative folks I’ve encountered identify themselves as Christian. In one of John Ortberg’s books, he talks about a man named Hank. Hank was used to having things done his way. When the church altered or embraced another type of music, it didn’t set well with Hank. He complained to the church staff. He complained to his friends. He complained to anyone that would listen including visitors that attended their church. Hank even complained to OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) that the music was too loud and damaging to one’s hearing. And yes, just for the record, OSHA came out to investigate.

 

When a person’s outlook on life becomes sour, it ought to serve as a warning light that something is terribly wrong. When the yellow light comes on the dashboard of my car indicating the need for service, I always pay attention and do whatever is necessary to get the yellow light issue resolved. Aren’t unhappiness, discontentment, negativity and hatred warning signs that something is terribly wrong with the person harboring those manifestations?

 

The litmus test for Spiritual wellness is found in the Scripture: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law”. – (Galatians 5:22-23). I didn’t notice that “consistently negative, fault finding, miserable or angry” are descriptors of the fruit of the Spirit.  They are not the things that a loving God places in our life. On the other hand, there are two forces at work in the world. You might find those negative characteristics elsewhere. If so, that puts a whole new explanation for the concept of “to hell in a handbasket”.

 

Our thoughts and expectations wield tremendous power and influence in our lives. We don’t always get what we deserve in life, but we usually get no more than we expect.  In one of Joel Olsteen’s books, he shares the story of Nick.

 

Nick was a big, strong, tough man who worked in the railroad yards for many years. He was one of his company’s best employees- always there on time, a reliable, hard worker who got along well with the other employees. But Nick had one major problem. His attitude was chronically negative. He was known around the railroad yards as the most pessimistic man on the job. He perpetually feared the worst and constantly worried, fretting that something bad might happen.

 

“One summer day, the crews were told that they could go home an hour early in order to celebrate the birthday of one of the foremen. All the works left, but somehow Nick accidentally locked himself in a refrigerated boxcar that has been brought into the yard for maintenance. The boxcar was empty and not connected to any of the trains.

 

“When Nick realized that he was locked inside the refrigerated boxcar, he panicked. Nick began beating on the doors so hard that his arms and fists become bloody. He screamed and screamed, but his coworkers had already gone home to get ready for the party. Nobody could hear Nick’s desperate calls for help. Again and again he called out, until finally is voice was a raspy whisper.

 

“Aware that he was in a refrigerated boxcar, Nick guessed that the temperature in the unit was well below freezing, maybe as low as five or ten degrees Fahrenheit. Nicked feared the worst. He thought, ‘What am I going to do?’ If I don’t get out of her, I’m going to freeze to death. There’s no way I can stay in here all night.

 

“The more he thought about his circumstances, the colder he became. With the door shut tightly, and no apparent way of escape, he sat down to await his inevitable death by freezing or suffocation, whichever came first.

 

“To pass the time, he decided to chronicle his demise. He found a pen in his shirt pocket and noticed an old piece of cardboard in the corner of the car. Shivering almost uncontrollably, he scribbled a message to his family. In it Nick noted his dire prospects: “Getting so cold. Body numb. If I don’t get out soon, these will probably be my last words.” And they were.

 

“The next morning, when the crews came to work, they opened the boxcar and found Nick’s body crumpled over in the corner. When the autopsy was completed, it revealed that Nick had indeed frozen to death.

 

“Now here’s a fascinating mystery: The investigators discovered that the refrigeration unit for the car in which Nick had been trapped was not even on. In fact, it had been out of order for some time and was not functioning at the time of the man’s death. The temperature in the car that night- the night Nick froze to death- was sixty-one degrees. Nick froze to death in slightly less than normal room temperatures because he believed he was in a freezing boxcar. He expected to die! He was convinced that he didn’t have a chance. He expected the worst. He saw himself as doomed with no way out. He lost the battle in his own mind.”

 

Nick’s story adds a whole new dimension to getting what you expect. Perhaps it would serve us well to change our expectations. I really like the concept of “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law”. Think on those things.

 

All My Best!

Don

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Beware Of The Red Headed Stranger

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When I first saw him, there was something about the man that made me a little uncomfortable. His stature was large and imposing and there was something about his countenance and facial expression that was intimidating. Have you ever seen anyone and had the thought that they had a chip on their shoulder? Who knows what it was, but there was something about the man that caused me concern.

 

Actually the car wash was busier than I’ve ever seen it. There were four lines of autos waiting to be washed. Since my car hasn’t been washed in months, I was eager to have it cleaned. Nothing feels better than a clean car. I’ve held off to get mine washed until I was in town on a Wednesday. On Wednesdays, seniors are eligible for a 50% discount off the regular price of the car wash. My experience has been that you have to request it, it is not automatically provided. Just for the record, I always ask.

 

I don’t remember seeing the man when I first walked into the waiting area. He obviously came later. Like I said, “He was large and imposing.” I would have remembered him.

 

I didn’t think about the “Red Headed Stranger” song until later last night. I’m not sure if it was because the man’s hair no longer looked red. It was more of a grayish faded out previously red look. I’m not suggesting it had a pinkish tint. If it had looked pink, I would have thought that was funny. Trust me, there was nothing funny about the man’s looks.

 

More than anything, it was the man’s eyes that bothered me. They looked vacant. They didn’t dance or sparkle with a glimmer of excitement. In addition, the scowl on his face seemed permanently etched in stone.

 

With all of that said, I was caught off-guard and surprised when the man subsequently started screaming at the car wash attendant to get out of his car. The man was standing just outside the lobby entrance/exit door. He was some distance from his car. Wouldn’t you know it, as luck would have it, I was standing between the man and his car.

 

Everyone within earshot turned and looked in the direction of the man who was shouting. The carwash attendant was sitting on the driver’s seat of the man’s Mercedes with the door open. I’m assuming he was washing the inside of the windshield. The man screamed repeatedly: “I said get out of my car!”

 

The young man turned and looked in the direction of the man screaming. Despite the mandate he was given, he didn’t move. The large imposing man walked hurriedly in the direction of his car. At the same time, a handful of people working at the car wash also hurried in that same direction. It was like a showdown at the “Okay Corral”.

 

As the owner of the car reached his vehicle, he looked down at the young man behind the wheel and screamed again: “I said get out of my car”! I feared he was going to physically drag him out.

 

Alarm bells were going off in my head. With so much horrible news of tragedy and violence, I wondered if I was on the threshold of witnessing more. The younger guy got out of the car, but he stood his ground.

 

I momentary had the thought that they looked like David and Goliath standing face-to-face. The difference in their size, stature, and demeanor was of concern to me. I feared the younger man was on the threshold of being victimized. I had no idea what the car wash attendant had done to orchestrate the anger of the man who was screaming. Perhaps he had done nothing. Some folks are quick tempered and violent without provocation.

 

Reportedly, Omar Mateen, the Orlando shooter, fell into that category. According to his former wife he was very quick tempered. Her family eventually convinced her to allow them to rescue her from his captivity. During the four months of their marriage, Omar had been physically abusive and prohibited her from talking with her family.

 

The young man at the car wash continued to hold his ground with the bully. I wasn’t sure which would be the first to come to blows. Eventually, the younger man’s colleagues escorted (as in drug him away) him to distance him from the man who had been screaming. Just before the intimidating man got into his Mercedes, he mockingly faked kisses toward the man who previously was the target of his rage.

 

Last night as I was reflecting on the experience, I thought about Willie Nelson’s song “Red Headed Stranger”. In my mind I could hear the melody of “Beware of the Red Headed Stranger as he comes riding into your town…”. In truth, those words don’t appear anywhere in the lyrics.

 

“The red headed stranger from Blue Rock, Montana

Rode into town one day…

 

The yellow haired lady was buried at sunset

The stranger went free, of course

For you can’t hang a man for killin’ a woman

Who’s tryin’ to steal your horse

 

This is the tale of the red headed stranger

And if he should pass your way

Stay out of the path of the ragin’ black stallion

And don’t lay a hand on the bay

 

Don’t cross him, don’t boss him

He’s wild in his sorrow

He’s ridin’ an’ hidin’ his pain

Don’t fight him, don’t spite him

Just wait till tomorrow

Maybe he’ll ride on again”

 

Ours is not a perfect world and some people are more broken than others. We are all broken, but the level of hostility and volatility of some put them in a place where they represent danger to others. The words of the song have merit: “Don’t cross him, don’t boss him…don’t fight him, don’t spite him”. I’d add to that, “Do what you can to avoid him and under the worst of circumstances, do what you can to flee him. Folks like that represent danger.”

 

All My Best!

Don

Was It A Suicide Or Was It A Woman Scorned?

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He described it as the funeral from hell. I can truthfully say that I’ve never witnessed or been a part of that kind of experience. I’ve heard horror stories of things that happen at funerals, but I have no first hand knowledge. All I’ve got to say about the preacher who shared his story is that he remained amazingly calm through what could have been a very unsettling set of circumstances.

The only positive thing he said about the funeral is that it was one of those occasions where the only appropriate thing to share was to brag about God. There was simply nothing about the departed that seemed worthy of highlighting or bringing to anyone’s attention.

As was his custom, the pastor entered the chapel area at the funeral home from the side door. From his vantage point, he did not have a view of the front side of the casket, but he could see folks as they entered the chapel. He didn’t know much about the young man who died apart from the fact that his death was an act of suicide.

One of the things that he immediately found a little troublesome was the number of people who entered the chapel area, sat down briefly, looked up at the casket and then stood and walked out the door. The alarm bells were going off in his head, but he didn’t yet have enough information to have any sense of cause and effect.

If yours were the belief that the preacher is the guy orchestrating the order of service at a funeral, you’d be wrong. Generally, the pastor has some idea of the order of activities, but not always. First up was the brother of the departed. He raised his filled glass to propose a toast to his brother. “How the ‘@#$%#’ am I supposed to get through this without this (referring to the contents of the glass)? He then gulped it down.

You can imagine what the preacher was thinking? Actually, you probably can’t. He was experiencing some level of empathy for the brother dealing with his grief in the only manner he knew. Obviously if it provided any relief it was only temporary.

Before the program moved farther, someone from the second row started stomping his feet and verbally invited the crowd of other members from their motorcycle club to do the same. Collectively they joined in a chant in honor of the departed. By now, the preacher was feeling a little anxious (very anxious is probably more descriptive.) As people stomped their feet, clapped their hands and chanted, the noise level grew louder and louder. This was proving to be a disaster. In this kind of environment it would be easy to totally lose control of the crowd. Yet, when the chant was over, order was restored.

Next up was a pictorial overview of the young man’s life. Normally, you don’t expect that in the midst of the funeral service, but maybe so. However, there was a troubling aspect to the pictorial representation. It was then that the preacher remembered he didn’t share with me the full back story. Allegedly the young man killed himself because he was caught cheating on his wife. Since she was still his wife, she was the one responsible for the funeral service.

You’ve probably heard the expression: “There is nothing like a woman scorned.” Trust me that could have been a contributing factor to the preacher’s perception that this was a funeral from hell. Toward the end of the pictorial presentation of the young man’s life, there were a number of pictures of him with his arm around a woman. “Busted!” They were not pictures of the man and his wife”. However, the two of them looked, shall we say: “Quite cozy?” Reportedly, the primary reason the man took his own life was that he was caught cheating on his wife.

I’m not the sharpest Crayola in the box, but I wasn’t buying it. I’ve watched too many episodes of Cannon P.I. on CBS when I was much younger. Do you remember him? Frank Cannon was a detective with the Los Angeles Police Department. However, he retired after the deaths of his wife and son in a car accident. He later became a private investigator. The cause of death of Cannon’s wife and child was not clear through the first four seasons of the show. The first episode of the fifth and final season of the series revolves around Cannon’s investigation of the deaths, and he finally finds out why they were killed.

I turned to the preacher and said: “Problem solved. This was not a suicide. This was murder and the scorned wife got away with it.” That makes a lot more sense than his being overwhelmed with regret. Trust me, he wasn’t that kind of guy.

At the close of the service, the preacher stepped around to the front of the casket to greet or offer support to folks as they walked passed the casket. It was then that the dots connected in his head. The “Harley Davidson” casket had the words: “Final Farwell” painted across the front. Actually, “Final Farwell” isn’t the two words that were written. The message did include two words. You can only imagine. Actually, I hope you can’t imagine, but the two words were not for a family friendly audience.

By this point in the preacher’s story, I had to admit. It really was the funeral from hell. But wait, there is more to his story. When they got to the cemetery one other surprise awaited the preacher. Instead of starting the committal portion of the service in a timely fashion, there was one other surprise in store. The director of the funeral home said: “This is going to be a little different. The folks on motorcycles want to spin out around the grave and sling dirt into the opening. The preacher handled it well. He turned to the funeral director and said: “I’m done” and walked away.

I guess you’ve got to know when to hold them, know when to fold them and know when to walk away. It is a sad story. The preacher was right, it was the funeral from hell.

All My Best!

Don

For Better or Worse – The Conflict Between Right and Wrong

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I was a man polarized by two overwhelming forces.  You’re probably envisioning the caricature of an angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other. I know what you’re thinking.  Most of you aren’t going to risk wagering a bet as to the direction I yielded.  You have the wisdom to know, it could have gone either way.  Sadly, there is probably more truth to that than I’m comfortable to admit.  Pardon the pun, but “honestly” I need to be more consistent in the direction in which I pitch my tent.   When one comes to a fork in the road, it always serves one best to choose the best course.

This time the conflict had to do with the appeal associated to “Go West, Young Man, Go West” and the “Lure Of The City” opposed to the internal conflict between “good and evil”, although both expressions have the potential to result in a similar quandary.  The expression “Go West, Young Man, Go West” is credited to John Babson Lane Soule in the Terre Haute Express in 1851.  It became popular when Horace Greeley rephrased it slightly in an editorial in the New York Tribune on July 13, 1865.  He added the concept, “Go West, young man and grow up with the country.”  It caught the imagination of young men returning from the Civil War.  They headed west to take up a homestead.

The term “Lure Of The City” appeared in a novel entitled “Sister Carrie” (1900) written by Theodore Dreiser.  It is the story about Caroline “Sister Carrie” Meeber, a young country girl, who moved from her rural Wisconsin home to Chicago at the age of 18.  She openly embraced her own version of the American Dream which to, carried with it the same quandary, the conflict between good and evil.

For me, yesterday, the quandary wasn’t directly associated to the conflict between good and evil.  The lure of the city was associated to the fact that I was hungry. It was very close to the near of the work day and I had not had breakfast or lunch.  I was starving (well, maybe not so much, but I was really hungry).  Just as Esau sold his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of soup, I was leaning toward (lure of the city) driving to the Galleria area in Houston (ie: heavy traffic) to dine at Canyon Café.  The restaurant is located on Post Oak and hands-down it irrefutably serves the most scrumptious cobb salad I have ever eaten.  Even as I write these words, the assortment of bacon, blue cheese, and avocado are vivid in my imagination.  Add to that the salsa and assortment of chips they serve as an appetizer and it is a venue worthy of both lunch and dinner.

The notion of “Go West” won out.  It all had to do with traffic patterns.  My hotel was located in the “West Houston Energy Corridor”.  I needed to get well beyond the Beltway as quickly as I could to avoid the stop and go (mostly stop) traffic congestion.  In reflecting back, I’m not sure I made the best choice.  I opted to avoid the traffic and go west.  In so doing, I also passed up Pappasitos, another of my favorite restaurants.  I guess that further substantiates my disdain for heavy traffic.

As it turned out, there is a Lupe’s Tortilla a couple of miles from my hotel.  When I arrived, the host asked if I preferred inside or outside.  In uncharacteristic fashion, I opted for outside.  The weather was perfect and the dining experience proved so as well.  Of course, it may have had more to do with a telephone call I received in the midst of my dinner than the actual dining experience.

I received a telephone call from a friend.  His name was identified on my phone before I actually answered the call.  He said, “Don, I am calling about the book.  Did you get my email?”  I had no idea what he was talking about and I had not looked at email.  He went on to explain, “I’m calling about your book.  It is incredible.   Thank you for sharing it with me.  I found it really helpful”.  Wow!  What a feel good experience!  I later discovered his email.  It stated it part: “Your book is captivating and inspirational.  Chicken soup for the soul!  It really made me think, how can I be a better person?  You must sleep good at night knowing you’re an outstanding and wonderful friend, husband, father, granddad, brother, uncle and grandson. I’m honored to have received a signed copy of your book and hope many more folks get to read it.  Thank you for your friendship!!!”

My friend’s telephone call and email was a feel good experience that really boosted my spirits. Truthfully, anything I’ve written down that is beneficial for anyone is evidence of my good fortune to have had the opportunity to write it down.  It didn’t come from me.  I’m still the guy who often halts between two opinions.  I am at times a man polarized by two overwhelming forces.  The caricature of an angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other is a fairly accurate picture image.  Truthfully, the times I opt to get it right, I can’t take credit for those either.  I am simply the recipient of God’s unconditional love.  That too, is the ultimate, feel good experience.

All My Best!

Don

Life doesn’t always turn out as we anticipate or expect

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Life certainly doesn’t always turn out as we anticipate or expect. We often forget that there are two forces at work in our world and both are not designed to promote our greatest good. I can’t think of a more graphic example of what I’m talking about than last week’s terrifyingly purposeful crash of an airbus into the French Alps killing 150 people. It was only for a number of brief seconds that the passengers recognized they were in harms way. Of those killed in the crash, sixteen were tenth grade students along with two of their teachers from a town in Western Germany. They had just spent a week on an exchange in Barcelona and were less than an hour from landing when their Germanwings flight crashed.

Of course, everyone on that plane had a story. Their story is not confined to the purpose of their travel. It could have been vacationing, sightseeing, visiting friends, going to school, searching for work, returning home or an endless number of other reasons that people routinely travel. People don’t live in a vacuum. They live in community. Their stories are wrapped in the stories of hundreds of other people who will forever be impacted and imprinted from the tragic outcome.

As details associated with the Airbus A320 crash gradually unfolded, it almost added an enormous level of agony and despair to what already was heart wrenching and painfully life changing for the family and friends who lost loved ones.

Initially, there was fear or speculation that the crash could have been related to terrorism. According to news reports, the following day many pilots working for the airline refused to fly. Because of the pilot shortage, Capt. Woiton volunteered to fly even though it was his day off. On Thursday he flew the Düsseldorf-Barcelona-Düsseldorf route, on the return leg of which Lubitz crashed his plane.

“The mood of the crew and passengers was insanely depressed. You could see it in their faces.” Capt. Woiton has been praised on Facebook and Twitter because he decided to stand outside the cockpit while the passengers were boarding and greet them with a handshake.

Then he made an announcement, saying: “I will bring you safely from Düsseldorf to Barcelona. You can count on it, because I want to sit with my family at the dinner table today.”

Have you ever thought about the fact that the disciples who made their way to Jerusalem with Christ to observe the Passover had no idea that the tide of public opinion concerning Christ would appear to change?   Christ had attempted to communicate that he was the sacrificial lamb slain before the foundation of the world, but they refused to hear it. They had a very different kind of kingdom in mind. They anticipated an earthly kingdom where he and they would ultimately be in control. In fact, two of the brothers expressed the desire to sit on his right and left side when he came into his kingdom. The concept of a kingdom established in the hearts of men was beyond their understanding. They, like the passengers who boarded Germanwings Airbus A320, were anticipating a very different outcome than what they experienced when they went for Passover.

We refer to today as Good Friday, but when Christ was crucified, those who followed him, loved him, thought him to be the Son of God felt they had obviously been mistaken. His story didn’t end they way they anticipated or envisioned. Fortunately for them and for us, Sunday came and the story changed.

The miracle of that story offers the greatest hope for finding comfort and solace for those in the midst of grief and heartache.

All My Best!

Don