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.