Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

I don't know these two hotties but it looks like they know how to celebrate with the best of 'em! May you ring in the new year with great anticipation for a prosperous 2010 and may this new year bring you:
  • peace,
  • good health,
  • enough (not necessarily wealth),
  • happiness,
  • contentment,
  • new friendships, and
  • a deeper relationship with the God who has already seen tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Dose of Humility

Remember those motivational posters that we used to see in the workplace that were designed to inspire and challenge us?  There are companies that parody them and one of those companies, Despair Inc.,  allows you to create your own posters.  I took one of their sayings that I liked and created this one because I thought I needed to keep it's message in front of me.  A little dose of humility goes a long way and is a good thing.

The Apostle Paul cautions us about that BIG HEAD thing in Romans 12:3 NIV.  It's not that I have a big head because I'm one of the bizillions of bloggers out there (Site Meter and Google Analytics do a good job of keeping my head out of the clouds) but I do need to keep in mind that I've deposited only a very modest amount of real U.S. currency into my bank account this fall from my new writing career.  None of the income has come directly from my blog but this blog has most certainly served as the incubator for my writing.  Twenty-ten will be the "make or break" year for my writing career so stay tuned!

What areas of your life need a little "reality check" from time-to-time?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

"Who are her people?"

You know that you live in the South when, after announcing that your son is engaged to be married, your sister responds, "How exciting!  Who are her people?"  You have to read that quote with a slow, thick  Southern accent to really appreciate it.  In her defense, Gail does live in Montgomery (the natives pronounce it  Mun gum ree), Alabama, the original capital of the confederacy.  I'm a proud Southerner but even I shake my head at some of the things that we say.  We mean well but I can only imagine how others perceive us. 

I haven't yet decided how I will answer my sister's question because I want to come up with a witty come-back.   Her query, however, does the beg the question, "Who are your people? To whom do you belong?" 

How would you answer the question, "Who are your people?"

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Negotiating the dowry

Today is the day that our son's fiancee and her parents will come to visit for a couple of days.  I don't have much experience with this but I think this is when we negotiate the dowry.  We're hoping for a nice herd of goats. 

Friday, December 25, 2009

Shhhhhhhh . . . it's Christmas morning

It's Christmas morning.  It's quiet and I like that.  I liked it when my kids were little and Christmas morning was anything but quiet, too.  Only one of our sons is with us this year but that change is the nature of a family as it grows.  Julia and I each have a surviving parent who will be with us later today. That, too, is part of the changing of the seasons of our lives.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas from our house to yours!
Christmas day is just hours away now.  We celebrate Christmas in a very traditional way here, reading Luke's account of the birth of Christ, exchanging gifts with family, and eating way too much good food!  Some of that has changed over the last couple of years as one of our sons has married and he and his wife alternate this holiday with both of their families.  That, too, may change in time.  Our other son will be married by this time next year so we will continue to see the family tradition evolve as the family expands.  I was thinking back to the first year that Julia and I told our parents that we would not be at one of their homes for Christmas.  Our older son was a year and a half old then and we wanted him to experience Santa Claus at his house from that point forward.  Our decision was a catalyst for change in each of our families' Christmas traditions.  I'm not so sure that they liked it at the time but they respected (or at least quietly tolerated) our decision to begin celebrating at our own home.  As best I remember, we've spent every Christmas of our sons' childhood at our own home.  The only time that we were away from here at Christmas was the occasion of the 50th wedding anniversary of my wife's parents and the boys were teenagers (or older) then.  The house that you see pictured at the top of this page is the house we have lived in for the past 25 years and is the only home that either of our sons remember.  It's their place of Christmas memories.  

There's nothing magic about our Christmas tradition or yours, for that matter.  I don't envy your traditions and I don't expect you to envy mine.   I only hope that all of us will be able to reflect on our Christmas memories and smile.  I hope that we will be able to remember them as good times, not stressful times. And more than anything else, I hope that all of us will remember that we celebrate this day because of a God who would rather have died than lived without us.  

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Meet our future daughter-in-law!

The Summerlins got an early Christmas present when our older son, Zack popped the BIG QUESTION on Tuesday!   

Meet our future daughter-in-law, Laura Cassels!  Zack & Laura are students at Florida State University who will graduate with Masters degrees in Social Work (different sub-specialties) this next summer.  Both of them returned to graduate school after working for a few years and met there last year.

We've enjoyed getting to know Laura and her family over this last year and the better we've gotten to know her, the more we realize that she and Zack are very well suited for one another.  Laura is funny and fun-loving and we look forward to welcoming her as part of our quirky family!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Advent Conspiracy

This year I've been re-thinking Christmas, how we celebrate it, and what that says about what I believe.  This video from The Advent Conspiracy is a good picture of what I've been thinking.

Monday, December 21, 2009

YOU are the reason for the season

Christians spend a lot of time reminding us at this time of year that "Jesus is the reason for the season."  It makes for a nice bumper sticker but the truth of the matter is that YOU are the reason for the season.  Now before you get all riled-up and threaten to burn me at the stake, hear me out.  As much as I'd like to claim credit for this statement, it's not original with me.  I heard Mark Price, Senior Pastor of Church on the Eastern Shore,  preach a message on this topic several years ago but he tells me it was not original with him, either.  Beyond that, I don't know who crafted the phrase but I do know Who crafted the idea.  (Hint: Who is capitalized.) The idea is articulated many times in scripture but no other passage is more familiar than John 3:16 which tells us that it was because of God's great love for YOU that He made a way for us to be reconciled to Him through the sacrifice of His Son.  So you see, if it weren't for God's desire for a relationship with YOU, there would have been no need for Jesus to be born, there would be no Christmas and thus YOU are the reason for the season. It all hinges on YOU.  Kinda cool, isn't it?  This whole big celebration every year is really all about YOU . . .YOU and a God who would rather have died than live without YOU.

Now that's something to celebrate!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Give this Christmas away

In yesterday's post I wrote of how receiving gifts is not my primary love language.  So as not to be misunderstood, let me say that the giving of gifts is something entirely different for me and I fully understand how meaningful a gift is to some people.  Listen to this song by Matthew West & Amy Grant from the soundtrack of the latest VeggieTales video and watch the faces of the children receiving gifts sent by people like you via Operation Christmas Child.  I think you'll see what I mean.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Why receiving Christmas gifts has little meaning to me

Lately, I've been struggling about how we celebrate Christmas and it finally came to me that at least part of the problem is that receiving gifts is not my primary love language.  If you're familiar with Gary Chapman's book, The Five Love Languages, you know that he says that there are 5 primary love languages:
  1. Words of affirmation
  2. Quality time
  3. Receiving gifts
  4. Acts of service, and
  5. Physical touch.

If receiving gifts is not your primary love language, then this whole Christmastime gift-giving bonanza is gonna be lost on you.  It's not that I don't appreciate the gesture of gift-giving at all, it's just not very important to me and it doesn't scream I LOVE YOU to me like it does to some people.  Realizing that, I began to think about what is my primary love language and concluded that it's actually acts of service. When my wife helps me tackle an unpleasant job like cleaning the basement or balancing my mother's checkbook, I hear, "I love you" loud and clear.  When my sons travel 4 hours one way to spend a Saturday helping me clean out the brush that's grown up along the fence line of the yard, haul in straw and leaves to mulch the flowerbeds, and dig holes to plant trees and shrubs, I hear, "I love you" loud and clear.  When someone presents me with a beautifully wrapped package containing an article of clothing, the latest electronic gizmo, or a book and even if it's something I will like and use, I just feel awkward.  I wish I didn't, but I do.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

My Favorite Christmas Tree

We have a large, beautifully decorated Leland Cypress Christmas tree in our house.  Our family went out together and cut the tree on the weekend following Thanksgiving and I've been faithfully watering it ever since.  It stands 9 feet tall and holds the ornaments that we've collected over the 35 years that Julia and I have been married and the ones that our two sons made through-out their childhood. This tree has colored lights strung around it and a black angel with pig-tails on top that was made by my college roommate and his wife.  It represents many good memories for us but we also have one like this one pictured to the right.  I think this is the one that's my favorite because it keeps things in perspective for me.  And this is a time of the year when it's very easy to lose focus.

How do you keep focused during the Christmas season?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Fa la la la la . . . SHUT UP!

I don't have much patience with people who fret over what their spiritual gifts are because I think they miss a lot of opportunities by doing so.  Scripture gives us a peek at what those gifts may be in 1Corinthians 12:7-11 NLT.  I've taken at least 3 spiritual gifts assessments and none of them have yielded what I would describe as enlightening results.  I'm of the school that says, "Try something.  If you're good at it and it yields a good outcome then it may just be your spiritual gift."  If you find that you're not good at, say "giving wise advice", then leave that job to someone who is and continue the search for the gift that God has given you. I'm also a believer that if you dedicate yourself to doing something on the mistaken notion that it's your spiritual gift and it's not, God will smack you down, if necessary.  That  may be one of the things illustrated in the case of the chicken in this cartoon.  Of course, another point of this cartoon was just that the chicken was going to wake up baby Jesus with all that noise.  If I were to be so tone deaf as to think that singing was my spiritual gift for building up the Body of Christ, I think God would not hesitate to send the same Angel of the Lord  to appear before me and saith unto me  . . . "SHUT UP!"  OK, I know that singing (or clucking, as the case may be) is not specifically identified as a spiritual gift but I think you get the point.  We can trust God to redirect us if we are earnestly and sincerely seeking Him but head off in the wrong direction.  We just need to consistently  listen for His voice and be willing to take a "smack-down", if necessary.

Do you sometimes struggle to identify your spiritual gifts?  If so, has God ever had to smack you down?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

It's our first anniversary!

Today is the first anniversary of this blog!  After 12 months and 122 posts, the blog and I are still together. I can't speak for the blog (or maybe I can?) but it's been a good experience for me.  I've had an opportunity to explore and write on a number of different topics but admit that I'm still trying to find my voice.  This blog has been the birthplace of articles that have subsequently been published in 3 magazines (and soon-to-be in a 4th). 

Here are some of the surprises about blogging for me:

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

"If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it . . . "

A friend invited me to be a guest on his radio show last week to talk about blogging.  I have to confess that although I agreed to do the interview, I wasn't looking forward to it because I am, by nature, an introvert.  It was a one hour segment, he did a great job as an interviewer and host, and I actually had fun!  Here's the kicker:  after the show, we discovered that there was a glitch and the show failed to stream to his website, failed to record for a later podcast and apparently failed to broadcast over the air!  When I realized this, all I could think of was, "If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?"   Here I was worrying about someone hearing me fall and there was no one in the forest to hear it!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Drops Like Stars - a book review

Even though it's a beautifully and creatively illustrated and constructed coffee table style book, at $35 suggested retail, a book that you can read in 30 minutes seems kinda pricey. However, Rob Bell's newest book, Drops Like Stars is worth every penny!  After just finishing it, I still struggle to describe what it's really about.  It's not a story, although it contains stories.  It's not a discourse on scripture, although it contains scripture.  It's not a how-to-live book, although I feel  like I know better how-to-live my life after having read it.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Season's Greetings! . . . the battle heats up

I'm taking off the gloves, but in a good way.  I don't know about you but I'm weary of the annual battle about holiday greetings this time of year and I'm ready to take off the gloves and lay them down.  I'm a Christian and I celebrate Christmas but here's a news flash for you:  Not everybody is and not everybody does.  While I will continue to affirm my beliefs by wishing people a Merry Christmas, I think that as Christians, we undermine our own cause by practically insisting that all others use the same greeting and insinuating that anything other than Merry Christmas is an insult to Christianity.  It's as though Happy Holidays have become fightin' words!  In this season of the year, many other faiths also celebrate significant spiritual events and they have that right as do I.  If my Jewish friends want to wish me a Happy Hanukkah, I will graciously accept that greeting.  If the Seinfeld  groupies want to wish me a Happy Festivus for the Rest of Us, so be it.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The 13 Best Things About the Recession of 2009

Who said that this recession is all bad?  Not me!  There's an upside to the effects of the recession that we've been experiencing of late and, as a casualty of that recession, here's my personal take on a few of them:
  1. After 35 years, I get a break from working a 40-50 hour/week job. Not a permanent break, mind you, but a much-appreciated temporary break.
  2. My wife has an excellent new housekeeper (me) who already knows where everything is in the house because I've lived in this house with her for the past 25 years (and I work cheap!)
  3. I don't have a 64 mile round-trip daily commute to get to work. The distance to work is the distance from the bed to the floor, roughly 25 inches.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Growing Deep Roots

I enjoy working in my yard but sometimes I can be downright lazy about the less desirable tasks like raking leaves or digging holes.  As I've gotten older, those jobs just take a toll on this body and I had been putting off planting some shrubs and a tree that I purchased knowing that I needed to devote enough time and energy to the project to do it correctly.   I finally buckled-down and got those plants in the ground last week but as any good gardener knows, just getting them in the ground is harder than it looks.  Planting correctly is more about what you don't see than what you do see.  Digging the hole to the correct depth and width,  loosening the soil below and around the planting site to facilitate good root growth is harder than it looks.  After all, growing deep roots is critical to the long term survival of most trees and shrubs.

Friday, November 27, 2009

What are you thankful for?

It's Thanksgiving Day as I write this although we won't celebrate the holiday at our house until Friday when the rest of our family will be here.  Julia and I attended a Thanksgiving service this morning at a Fairhope United Methodist Church.  Even though it's not my church home, we know a lot of people on the staff and in the church so we felt at home with them.  Attending this brief service took the focus off of the preparation for the holiday meal and the festivities of the occasion and put it back on the meaning of the occasion. I think this service (or a similar one) will be a new tradition for us.  As much as I love a great Thanksgiving meal (and at my present weight, it's clear that I love food), I realized that I put too much emphasis on the meal and festivities and too little emphasis on the meaning of the occasion. It's funny how easily we can corrupt a  good thing in our lives such as the Thanksgiving holiday by putting an unreasonable amount of emphasis on the wrong things.

What can you and I do to reclaim the meaning of the holidays?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

"No God? No Problem?" Part 2

When I read the USA Today article about the National Godless Holiday ad campaign by the American Humanist Association, it was newly posted and there were only a handful of comments.  The last time that I looked there were 123 comments on this one article!  The comments were far longer than the entire text of the article and the emotions ran high on both sides of the debate.

After reading the first 10 pages of the 14 pages of comments, I stopped.  I was surprised by the disgust, anger and hostility conveyed by so many commenters but more than anything else, I was disappointed with how Christians responded both to the article and to other commenters.   Let me tell you, if I were an atheist, I wouldn't have been won over by any of the comments I read from those representing Christianity.  Only a couple of the comments would have even created any curiosity about our faith.  Perhaps I'm naive, but I didn't realize that Christians are held in such low esteem by atheists.

In Part 1 of  "No God? No Problem?", I posed the question: How do you respond to the humanist assertion that you can be good without a belief in God? So far, no one has offered a thought on this.  If I get at least 3 comments in response to that question, I'll share my thoughts in a Part 3 on this topic.  If not, we'll move on.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

"No God? No Problem?" Part 1

I was intrigued by this article in the Faith & Reason section of USA Today.  It generated an ample number of comments that were as interesting as the article itself. If you've read this blog before, it will be no surprise that I take a different stance than the "No Problem!" response to the question posed by this ad. 

How do you respond to the humanist assertion that you can be good without a belief in God?

More to come on this topic  . . . 

Sunday, November 22, 2009


I was standing in the shower this morning just letting the hot water run down my back and thinking how thankful I am that I have an ample supply of hot water.  Then I thought that I'm thankful not just that I have an ample supply of hot water but that I have any hot water . . . or just that I have access to clean water, hot or cold.  When I start to peel back the layers of blessings in my life, I'm overwhelmed by God's goodness toward me.  In his weekly challenge to his church, my friend Jim Caple pointed out that ingratitude is not the opposite of thankfulness, apathy is.  Just taking God for granted and all the blessing that he showers upon us (like hot water, pardon the pun) is the opposite of thankfulness.  It reminded me, too, that the opposite of poverty is not wealth, but enough. Understanding that the more reasonable measure against which I should evaluate my circumstances is enough and not wealth, helps me put this in perspective. When I compare my life to those who truly don't have enough rather than the Donald Trumps and Bernard Madoffs of the world, I see how incredibly blessed I am.  I have so much for which to be thankful: a loving and supportive wife, two amazing sons and a wonderful daughter-in-law, a comfortable home in a safe and beautiful city, and so much more.  And lest I forget, I also have hot water!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Why I read and why I write . . . .

The tag line for a blog I ran across said, "We read to know that we are not alone.  We write to let others know that they are not alone."  I thought that was a pretty good representation of my philosophy about reading and writing.  I want to know that others wrestle with the issues of life, as do I and I want others to know that I wrestle with the issues of life, as do they.  Life is not always simple or easy but we are not alone in our quest to understand and live successfully.

Jesus said, "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly."  John 10:10b (NASB). Life is about the quest for that "abundant life" that Jesus promises us. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Excellent customer service in a most unlikely place

The consistently best example of good customer service that I receive is found in what many people would consider a most unlikely place  . . . the U.S. Post Office.  Yep, that's right, the USPS.  If we could clone Mel, we could completely change the reputation of the postal service and set a new standard of excellence in customer service for all other industries.

Mel works at the post office in my hometown, Fairhope, AL.    I have never seen him be anything but witty, delightful, efficient and competent.  His  pony-tail and earring are the first clue that he's not your ordinary, run-of-the-mill postal worker. I don't care what kind of day you're having, when you step away from Mel's window you cannot help but have a smile on your face.  Shoot! I have a smile on my face if I even get to stand at the window next to his and be served by one of our less-charming USPS employees!  Just overhearing him interact with a customer brightens my day. 

Some customer service staff buy the affection or loyalty of the customer by over-serving them, giving them more than that for which they are paying.  It's a bit of the "Robin Hood" syndrome where the employee steals goods or services from the "rich" employer to give to the "poor" customer.  They give away goods and services for which they did not pay themselves in order to gain the approval of the customer.  I have no respect whatsoever for that but that's not Mel's mode-of-operation.  It's not like he charges his customer for parcel post and then ships their package priority. . .  I'm pretty sure that the USPS has made that nearly impossible.  He earns the respect of his customers by being consistently pleasant, advising them of all of their options, and making good recommendations, when appropriate.  And he always does it with a well-executed bit of wit, not some nauseating cutesy act, just a slight and appropriate injection of jest.

Monday, November 16, 2009

A Tale of Two Widows

You've probably heard a hundred sayings like this:
  • Attitude is everything.
  • Happiness is a choice.
  • Some people focus on what they have lost and others on what they have left.
  • Whether your glass is half-full or half-empty all depends on your perspective.
I saw that clearly illustrated when Julia and I visited with one of her elderly, widowed aunts who is now home-bound.  Mary Lee greeted us warmly and invited us to sit down, as one might expect.  Since having a brain aneurism, she has required around-the-clock sitters but spoke kindly of the women who performed that service for her as well as the meals that they prepared for her.  She spoke fondly of her sons, their attentiveness to her needs and their faithfulness to visit her when they could.  When Julia inquired about the brace on her arm, she down-played the seriousness of the injury that resulted from a fall and insisted that it would be better in time.  Julia had baked a cake for her and Mary Lee thanked her for it and told her that she was sure that she'd enjoy it.  She acknowledged that her memory was bad and was confused on a few points of our conversation but she was cheerful, nonetheless.  When it was time for us to go, her aunt thanked us for the visit and bid us goodbye without cajoling us to stay longer or pressing us for a specific commitment to visit again. I never heard her complain, not even once.  That's how I want to be if I reach her age and am incapacitated.  I want to be thankful for what I have left.  I want to see my glass as half-full. I want to be grateful and gracious.  I want to be a pleasant person to visit.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Anonymous commenting

There's a popular feature in our local newspaper called Sound-Off where people can call in an anonymous comment that will appear in the daily Sound-Off column.  Most callers comment on current news stories or events but the caller can say pretty much anything without responsibility for the truthfulness (or even the saneness) of what they say.  Occasionally, the editorial staff will print a follow-up comment to clarify or correct a misstatement but most of the time, the comments just stand alone and speak for themselves.   Having read the column, I've come to the conclusion that the more absurd the comment, the more likely it is to make it into print.  I've heard numerous people say that it's one of the first things that they read and it sells newspapers.

I have come to believe that there is no integrity in anonymous commenting.

Monday, November 9, 2009

I'm a sucker for dogs

Looking at these pups, how can you not love a dog?  Julia and I stopped at the grocery store this weekend and The Haven, a local, "no kill" animal shelter was having a pet adoption event in the parking lot. Julia had to steer me away because I'm just a sucker for dogs and we already have two dogs that came from another local shelter many years ago.  I've written about both Rags and Lizzie here before.

Yeah, yeah  . . . I know.  They shed, they pee and poop, and when they're puppies they chew your favorite pair of shoes or maybe a sofa cushion but they're so darn lovable at the same time.  Right now, one of mine has crawled up on the back of the sofa and is resting his head on my shoulder as I write this.  When I turn to look at him, he gives me a little lick on the cheek and I forgive and forget any inconvenience associated with him.  We tell our sons that if we had gotten the dogs first, we would have just skipped having kids.  That's not true, of course, but there's a lot to be said for dogs. I don't think it's any coincidence that God spelled backwards is d-o-g.  I'm not saying. . . ., I'm just saying  . . .

Friday, November 6, 2009

"You can clean my windows, too"

My, friend, Joe Langley was leading worship at our church last Sunday and told a funny story about himself that happened that very morning on the way to church.  Joe drives an older truck that doesn't have electric windows.  It seems that the driver's side window on his truck was sticking and, like every normal American guy, he concluded that spraying a little WD-40 into the opening around the hand crank would fix the problem.  What sticking problem can't be fixed with a little squirt of WD-40, right?  Well, Joe discovered that WD-40 sprayed into that little opening may solve the sticking problem but it also has the unfortunate consequence of making for a nasty, blurry and stubborn mess on the glass.

The weather was cool that morning so Joe donned a favorite old denim shirt and a knit cap before he left the house.  Joe is the manager of the Mars Hill Cafe in Mobile, an outreach ministry of the Mars Hill Church.  On his way to church, he stopped at the cafe to help prep things for the day and pick up a cup of coffee.  Returning to his truck, he brought out some window cleaner and newspaper to see if he could clear-up that WD-40 mess on the window before hitting the road again.   Dressed in that old denim shirt, sporting a knit cap, and with a 2 or 3 day growth of beard, Joe looked exactly like the cool, college-educated, 30ish worship leader and musician that he is.  Cleaning the window of his truck with newspaper, he apparently looks a bit like a homeless guy, too. Just about that time, a man pulled up beside him and politely offered, "You can clean my windows, too and I'll give you a dollar."


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Better late than . . . well, maybe not

Being late has its consequences and as this cartoon suggests, they can be significant!  Like me, you probably have some folks in your life that are habitually late (or you may that person in someone else's life.)  Sometimes being late is nothing more than a little inconvenient but sometimes it causes real problems and has real consequences.

Years ago, Sharon used to cut my hair.  No matter what time of the day or day of the week that I made an appointment with her, I could count on waiting 30 minutes to an hour after my appointment time before she would get started.  She did a good job of cutting my hair and had a pleasant personality but I eventually quit using her because of all of the time I wasted "cooling my heels" waiting for her.

I once had an accountability partner with whom I met weekly.  Regardless of the time or place that we met, I could always count on him being 10 or 15 minutes late.  It happened almost without exception.  Over time, I learned that he didn't single me out for the tardiness but that was just the way that he operated, consistently committing himself beyond his ability to meet those commitments.  The consequence was that I just let our accountability arrangement die a quiet death.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Cultivating friendships

If you know anything about me, you know that I highly value friendship.  I plant seeds of friendship, I nurture them when they begin to grow, I grieve them when they are wounded or when they die.  I'm not afraid, however, to cultivate my garden of friendships and weed-out those that are unhealthy. A recurring theme you'll hear from me is this:  You and I are made for relationship with God and with others.

The soil of our lives is capable of maintaining multiple, healthy relationships.  When I plant too many seeds in a vegetable garden, they all may sprout but none will flourish because they're too crowded and are competing for space, sunlight, and nourishment.  Likewise, my garden of friendship must be planted and cultivated judiciously so that each friendship has all the resources from me needed to grow into all that it can be.

Like vegetables in the garden, friendships are susceptible to disease or pests. Friendships must be guarded and protected from things and people that would harm them.  I can't simply sow seeds, leave them untended and expect to reap a harvest.  More than anything else, friendships require time, my time.  But healthy friendships also require that both parties make substantial investments.  One-sided friendships, where only one party makes the investment, are the ones that I'm most likely to weed out of my garden.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Starting a new small group

I'm starting a new small group soon.  Having been involved in leading small groups for a dozen years, I've missed it since we brought our Crossroads group to a close in July when the store closed.  It's been 3 months now since I've connected in a meaningful way with the same group of people on a weekly basis and that creates a void that leaves me empty because you and I are made for community. 

I was first introduced to small groups in 1996 while I was attending a week-long workshop in Colorado.  The leader of the workshop explained to us that he would not join the rest of us one night for dinner because his small group met each week on that night.  He had been traveling the previous week and missed the group meeting and his group had all made a commitment not to miss two consecutive meetings.   I was intrigued by this commitment and later questioned him about it, learning more about his small group and their purpose. His group was comprised of about 10 people who met weekly to study the Bible, pray and share life together.  They had developed a covenant that outlined the ground rules of the group (built around transparency, trust, confidentiality, accountability, and commitment) and had been together for more than five years.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Choosing a birthday card

I spent a ridiculous amount of time recently choosing a birthday card for my wife, Julia.  (Let me clarify myself  . . .  that's not to say that Julia isn't worth that time!)  When I worked in Christian retail and handled greeting cards every day, I could pick one out in a nanosecond.  Today, not so much.  If the folks monitoring the security cameras in the store where I was shopping had a camera trained on me, they must have been wondering what was going on.  I moved up and down the aisles reading cards, then circling around again and reading some more.  Just how hard can it be to pick out a birthday card?  In a nutshell, here's the problem:  there are too many choices.  I think Henry Ford may have had the right idea when he offered his first mass-produced car in any color you like, as long as you like black. Having such a vast number of choices in cards just gets me in trouble.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Lizzie is my "Wild Thing"

Our older son, Zack, took his mom and me to see the movie version of  "Where the Wild Things Are" that opened this weekend. It's based on a book that we read to Zack a gazillion times (that's right, a gazillion) as a kid.  If you're not familiar with the book, it's described by IMDb as "an adaptation of  Maurice Sendak's classic children's story, where Max, a disobedient little boy sent to bed without his supper, creates his own world--a forest inhabited by ferocious wild creatures that crown Max as their ruler."  It hard to believe that they can turn an 11 sentence children's classic into a 90 minute movie, but they did!

My favorite part of the movie is when Max instructs the Wild Things with the command, "Let the wild rumpus start!" and all of them, including Max, begin howling.  It was then that I realized that our dog, Lizzie, is a Wild Thing.  She howls just like that when I get her started.  All this time I thought she was a Corgi (or at least a Corgi mix) but now I know for certain that she's really one of Max's Wild Things!

My dogs are a blast although they are very different in many respects.  Lizzie has been described as A.D.D. (attention deficit dog) because she craves  . . . no, demands attention.  She will continually nuzzle her snout under your hand to try to get you to rub her.  She's persistent and usually wins the battle.  She's a sweetie, too and she gets along famously with our other dog, Rags, whom I wrote about in an earlier post.  She doesn't understand that humans interpret growling as something quite negative because she growls at you for all the wrong reasons.   She's been known to growl when she wants you to pet her, or let her outside, or play with her.  You can imagine how disconcerting this could be to a kid who meets her for the first time. She snores, too but then so do I and Julia still lets me live here.  All in all, she's still a great dog and a fun addition to our family of  Wild Things!

If you don't already have a copy, I hope you'll read the book, Where the Wild Things Are.  It's a keeper and the movie's pretty good, too.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Published on MTL again

I'm pleased to have another article published on  MTL (More to Life) is a publication that addresses the concerns of Christian women.

Why would a guy have an article on a women's magazine?  While the subject is about a particular dilemma many men are facing, most of MTL's readers are married (and married to men, I might add) and, for that reason, I think it could prove to be very helpful to that reader.  Apparently, their editor thought so, too!

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you'll recognize the article as a post I first published here a couple of months ago.

Take a few minutes and look over their site here.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Truth or Consequences

I received an e-mail from an acquaintance who's fond of forwarding purportedly true (and usually, political) stories that all too often prove to be completely false.   Occasionally, I fact-check his e-mails and find them to be erroneous but just let it go.  I decided, however, to call him out on this last one since I was growing weary of being in his channel of misinformation.  My rebuke provided evidence to clarify the facts and was fair but firm. He didn't like it . . . not even a little bit.  This was not the first time that he has been called out by a recipient of his e-mails.  A couple of months ago, another recipient had used the "Reply to All" to correct him and set the record straight on a defamatory and completely false report he circulated.  Since that time, he's elected to conceal his list of recipients and I suspect that's to protect himself from another "Reply to All" embarrassment. His response that time was that he normally checks his facts but this one slipped by.   Oddly enough, that's precisely the same excuse that he gave me this time, too.  Hmmmmm  . . . I'm starting to think that he probably doesn't check the validity of the stories that support his political position.  That's his right.  He can choose to believe what he wants and decline to validate what he hears.  Where I think he crosses the line is when he chooses to share those bogus stories with others under the pretense that they are valid.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

A blog by any other name . . .

I made a minor adjustment to my blog recently by changing the blog title from (the URL or domain name) to just words.  The URL or domain name remains the same, the title has just been modified to something I think is more appropriate.

It's not exactly earth-shattering news but I thought I'd point it out.  

Friday, October 16, 2009

A Tale of Two Jims

I'm encouraged and inspired by people who are far-sighted, who understand that they are players in something bigger than themselves.  I have two friends, both named Jim, who have modeled that for me in recent years. Both of them left successful careers to return to the classroom but this time to teach because they realized that teaching was perhaps the most effective way that they could positively impact the future. 

Jim Koehr graduated at the top of his class from Notre Dame, had been an associate in one of the nation's most prestigious consulting firms, and was hired at the corporate office of the company with which I spent 20 years in my first career.  He was brilliant!  He was instrumental in transforming our company, first by completely redesigning our MIS department and making it the leader in our industry.  He took over other divisions, reinvented them and advanced to Vice President in short order, all the while still looking like a kid just out of college!  When the privately-held company sold to a group of foreign investors, Jim took the opportunity to apply his expertise to several other companies that he bought but the most striking decision he made was to teach.  Jim told me once that he realized that his greatest potential to impact history might just be in shaping the lives of students so that's what he did.  He signed on to teach upper level high school math and coach at Seton School in Manassas, Virginia.

Jim Perry took a different route to the same destination.  He began college right out of high school but found it beyond his financial means to continue at the time.  He enlisted in the military and spent the next 10 years, first as a Korean linguist and later as a Spanish linguist. He left the military to return to his hometown and raise his family, where I first met him.  Jim came to work for me as a service representative at the industrial uniform company that I managed and was later named as our plant manager.  Jim Perry demonstrated that, like Jim Koehr, he, too was brilliant!  He did a spectacular job running the plant operations and distinguished himself throughout the corporation as an innovator and leader in quality management.  He later was transferred to the company's top, state-of-the-art location to oversee the plant operations there.  When the company sold, Jim continued in the industry for a time but came to the same conclusion as Jim Koehr.  He, too, wanted to make a lasting difference in the world so he stepped-down from his job, returned to Fairhope and started back to college to earn a degree in education.  Over the next 4 years, Jim held a full-time job and also went to school full-time, graduating with all A's.  Entering the education job market at perhaps the worst time in recent memory in our area, Jim was hired to teach a 6th grade class at Robertsdale (AL) Elementary School this fall.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Nothing left to steal

When I came back to Fairhope in the mid 1980's to open a new location of the company I worked for, I scouted the area to determine where we would first focus our efforts.  As I drove down Martin Luther King Blvd. in Prichard (a suburb of Mobile, AL) trying to identify the industrial areas that would be our most likely customers, I drove through what once had been a prosperous downtown shopping district.  Most of the stores were now closed but I stopped my car in front of one building and read a message spray painted on the boarded-up windows.  The sign read:  Nothing left to steal.  I was stunned.  I had never seen such a blatant sign of depression and the stark reality of the plight of this community was sobering.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Published in Relevant

Last week, Relevant Magazine published an article that I wrote for them.  If you've followed this blog for a while, you may recognize it as an expansion of an earlier post that I wrote here.  I'm pleased that Relevant published it and and with the response that it's received.  If you want to read it on their site, click here.

Relevant is a somewhat edgy publication that has a target audience in their 20's.  Their readers might be surprised to know that this article was written by someone old enough to be their dad!

Let me know what you think by commenting here or on the Relevant site.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Train wreck!

I never claimed to be a computer geek.  When I transferred my domain name ( from the account under which it was created at Christ United Methodist Church to a new account in my name , I messed it up and my blog disappeared.  Yikes!    How was I to know that I had to set up a hosting server?  I still am not sure what that is or how this happened but the fact that you're reading this is proof that I got help from the coolest geek I know, Janet Reid, a web designer extraordinaire!

This is just one of those times when I'm reminded of how little I know and how important it is to have some really great geeky friends.  Thanks Janet  . . . you're the best!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Friendship among men

Today I had lunch with a friend of mine and was reminded of how important friendships are among men.  Jack Wade and I got to know each other through the Christian retail industry when I owned a store and the relationship continued when later I managed another store for someone else.  Jack is a sales rep for Dicksons, the #1 distributor of Christian gifts.  He's a very competent sales rep but over time I also learned that he's just a great guy, too and what started out as a purely business relationship turned into a friendship over the years.  I'm no longer in the Christian retail industry so his continued relationship with me offers no professional benefit to him. Nonetheless, he called me yesterday to say that he was going to be in the area and asked if I'd like to meet him for lunch.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Attic treasures

In a post last week, I explained why Julia and I were prompted to clean out our attic.  I'll spare you the stinky details but you can read about it here if you really want to know.  The up side to that adventure was that we decided to remove everything from the attic, sort it into keep, sell, and toss piles and thoroughly clean the attic before putting things back.  Did I say that was the up side?  There's really never going to be a up side to having to completely clean out your attic.  What I meant was that there was ultimately a benefit to all of this work. 

We've lived in this house for 24 years, since our sons were 1 and 4 years old.  Among the items stored in the attic were some of their childhood toys, clothing and furniture and pulling everything out  was like opening a time capsule for us.  Many of the items we unpacked were things I had not seen for more than 20 years!  We're really not pack rats and were judicious in the childhood items that we had kept, saving only those things that we thought held the most memories and would be most likely to be something that they would appreciate as adults or as parents themselves one day.  The antique iron baby bed that both of them slept in, a wooden rocking horse, trains, and some clothing were among the items that we had chosen to keep.  Each of them brought back a flood of memories for us and we were thankful that we had saved them. 

I'm equally thankful that we did not try to keep many of the other items from their childhood.  It would have been a shame to have had many usable things stored away in an attic when they could have been put to use by another family.  I hope that Zack & Peter can appreciate the things that they shared with other kids as much as the select ones that we saved for them and their kids to share one day. 

Saturday, October 3, 2009

New widget or . . . .at least, new to me

My kids are so much brighter than me and I suppose it means that they got their smarts from their mother!  Zack, my older son, told me today that I can add a widget to my Google homepage for any website I choose and he had added one for my blog.  For an old guy, I'm not completely inept on a computer but I may be the last person to have learned about this tool. 

If you use Google as your homepage and want to utilize this tool, just click this link to get to it. I hope you find this useful.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Finding a new church home, the journey continues . . .

Julia and I think we're getting closer to discerning where we should make our new church home.  True to form, God is stretching us in that search and taking us to unfamiliar territory.  It would just be so easy to slip into a church where we already have many friends and are familiar with their ministry but that doesn't seem to be where God is leading us.  He has prepared us for service and He's calling us to that.  As important as service is to where we land, it's equally important that we go there with the full expectation that we will continue to grow in our faith through our association with His people there. 

Wherever we land, it will be a place where we can both offer a hand-up to others and expect that God will already have planted someone there who will offer a hand-up to us.  That, I think, is the essence of discipleship  . . . being both a teacher and a learner all at the same time.

Are you both a leader and a learner?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Cultural Christians

In a sermon that I was listening to this past week, the pastor referred to Cultural Christians.  He didn't go into detail in defining the term but said enough that I knew what he meant.  Later, I thought about people I know who might fit the definition of Cultural Christians, those who would identify themselves as Christians because they live in what's considered a Christian culture but who don't demonstrate or acknowledge that they have a personal relationship with Christ.

Many of us start out as Cultural Christians, I know that I did.  I was raised in a home where my mother took us to Sunday school and church each week  . . . I was living in a Christian culture.  That didn't, however, make me a Christian.   My decision as a teenager to follow Christ is what made me a Christian.  I'm not slamming the Christian culture in any way because that's the very thing that has led many of us into a personal relationship with Christ.  What I am concerned about is the many people who comfortably live in the Christian culture and mistakenly consider themselves to be a Christian without ever having a personal relationship with Christ, himself.