Monday, April 28, 2014

It's How You Finish

There was this kid I went to high school with . . .


My very first encounter with him, we almost got in a fight.  I didn’t like the fact that he made fun of my roommate in front of his friends and his girlfriend.  I didn’t like the fact that he pushed him around.  I didn’t like it at all.


So, I went up to him, grabbed him by the front of his shirt walked him backwards off the dance floor, and threatened him with something like, “If you ever come near him or talk to him like that again, I’ll kick  . . .”  I think you can pretty much finish my little soliloquy.  It was one-sided.  When I finished, I even turned my back on him and walked away.


I found out later that the kid was a junior, was considered a “tough guy” and back then, what most would call a “hood.”  I was a freshman.  I can tell you that from the time I walked away from my encounter with him, through my graduation, people viewed me differently.  Not sure I liked that, but that’s what happened.


Not the end of the story, however . . .


I don’t know what happened with this guy, what changed him, what made him change, but he ended up a whole lot differently than how I first met him.  From “tough guy” and a “hood” to someone who smiled, worked in the classroom, and became the Student Council President.  He ended up what we might call back then or even now as “preppy.”  He was a leader- a positive one at that.


It’s not how you start, but rather, It’s How You Finish.


There are a lot of stories that come to mind from my childhood, my youth, my adult life, my professional life.


Along the way during my counseling days, there was a young Latino boy who dressed, acted, and talked the part of what we described back then as a “gang banger.”  He strutted.  He stared.  He flexed.  He threatened.  But a year or so later, I saw the young man working in a clothing store and he worked with my wife and me.  He actually apologized for “who he was before” as he put it.  I told him then, and I mean it even now (and not just for him, but for you and for me), “It’s not who you were that’s important.  It’s who you are now”


Because it really is How You Finish.


Think of a foot race, a sprint.


I have a friend, Tim.  Quick, fast, small but strong, “Mr. Track” in both high school and in college.  He earned himself a track scholarship because he was so good.  He told a story about a race against a big-name talent from a Big Ten School in the 100 meter race.  As he tells it, “For the first ten yards, I was even with him.  For the last 90, he smoked me.”  Knowing Tim, he was being a bit modest.


Some of us start out strong.  We burst from the starting block.  We explode with the biggest and best of intentions.  We have dreams and goals and ideas.  We have energy and life and spirit.  We plan how we’re going to attack them, conquer them, and achieve success.  And then . . . we fade.  We tire out.  We give up.  We convince ourselves that we can’t, that we shouldn’t, that it somehow wasn’t possible.  We blame it on our youth, our inexperience, other people.  We give up and perhaps convince ourselves as a way to explain it away, that we’ve “matured” that we’ve “grown up.”


Others of us have a bit of trouble at the start.  We might stumble out of the gate.  We might get lost somewhere between the starting block and the finish line.  But, we finish.


There is a commercial that is one of my favorites playing on TV every now and then.  There is a race.  There are folks cleaning up the finish line, picking up trash, taking down the sign that says, ‘Finish.’  And long after all the other runners have crossed the finish line and are long gone, along comes an overweight man in running attire with a number on his chest, and he crosses the line and falls down exhausted.  The clean-up crew applauds.  The one taking down the sign puts it back up.  Two others help the man to his feet and pat him on the back.


It’s How You Finish.  It’s always in How You Finish, not in how you start.  Not in how you begin.  Something to think about . . .

Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Voice We Listen To (reposted)

When I drive, I listen to music.  I have my car tuned to about ten stations and push the buttons until there is a song I like.  When a commercial comes on, I switch stations.  Not interested in what someone is pitching.  I might listen to the traffic report, maybe the weather, but I seek music.


I have friends and family who listen to talk radio.  Personally, I think they’re crazy.  Why would I want to listen to some guy’s, some lady’s opinion on  . . . ?  It’s even worse during an election year.  And it doesn’t even have to be a big election at that.  Even just a local election with a few national spots thrown in.


They harangue.  They nag.  They distort.  They color the facts.  They knock down, belittle, denigrate.


They lie!  (I know . . . that comes as a shock to many of you.  Didn’t mean to burst your bubble.  Sorry about that.)


There are times I marvel at those who tune into hatred, to disrespect, to intolerance.  Stations even pay a salary to those who purport these sentiments, these attitudes, these feelings.  There are those companies who sponsor these individuals who spout these beliefs.


Sort of sad, really.  Okay.  Maybe a lot sad, really.


I think of the Bible story about John The Baptist.  Tough guy to listen to.  Not necessarily likeable.  Not a guy many would gravitate to.  Legend has it he wore the skin of an animal and ate locusts dipped in honey.  Hmmm . . . not necessarily my kind of guy.  Don’t know that I’d tune my radio to his station.


Then we have that Other Guy.  The Guy who talked about loving your neighbor as yourself.  The Guy who talked about peacemakers, the humble, the poor.  The Guy who wanted the children to come to Him.


I think we have a tendency to seek out those who speak on our behalf, who give credence to our beliefs, be them right or wrong, good or bad or evil, tolerant or intolerant, accepting or rejecting.


My dad had a saying: “Garbage in, garbage out!”  A lot of truth in that, I think.


I think if we seek out those who preach intolerance, who preach indifference, who preach hatred and distortion, we become those same individuals.  How can we not?  “Garbage in, garbage out!”


And, if we seek those who preach acceptance, who preach kindness, who preach tolerance and belonging, isn’t there the possibility . . . the probability  . . . of becoming those same individuals?  Perhaps, “Goodness in, goodness out!”

If we surround ourselves with those who preach negativity, don’t we become like them?  Don’t we become them?  Wouldn’t it be better . . . wouldn’t it make the world better . . . our lives better . . . if we surrounded ourselves with positive people?


So . . .


I’m wondering what you’re listening to today.  Tomorrow.  Next week.  What is your station set to?  What is The Voice You Listen To?  What is it you wish to become?  What is it you wish your children to become?  Garbage?  Goodness?  What is The Voice You Listen To?  Something to think about . . .

Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Nothing Like A Song

I have been around music in one form or another for all of my sixty years.  I’ve written before about growing up in a large family that, because of a broken radio in our green Plymouth station wagon, we used to sing in three and four part harmony.  That was my introduction to music and I’m so thankful for it.


As a kid, I can remember sitting in front of our record player for hours listening to my sisters’ records.  Yes, records made of vinyl.  The Everly Brothers; The Chad Mitchell Trio; Harry Belafonte; Peter, Paul and Mary; Duane Eddie, and so many more.  Later, I discovered Rock ‘n Roll and fell in love with The Beatles; Bee Gees; Aerosmith; Bob Seger; Bruce Springsteen; Bon Jovi; Tom Petty; Journey; Tom Cochrane; Eagles.  Even some of the lesser known, but equally good groups, like Cheap Trick; The BoDeans; Foreigner; and .38 Special.


I listen to country music because of the lyrics and stories, the melodies and harmonies.  Seldom do I take a trip without a Kip Moore or Sugarland CD, and a Seger or Springsteen or Petty CD.   


When Kim and I lived in California, we went to concerts more so than we do now, and honestly, I miss it.  Once upon a time, we saw Gordon Lightfoot, Kenny Loggins, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Springsteen, James Taylor, and a host of others.  On the country side, we saw Alabama, Brooks and Dunn, Martina McBride, Keith Urban, and Tim McGraw.


There is a movie Kim and I and the girls like titled, “Music And Lyrics” with Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore, and in it, the Hugh Grant character, Alex Fletcher, says something to the effect that – and I’m paraphrasing rather badly – “there is nothing like a pop song to brighten your day and make you smile.”  I know it was something like that, and the meaning is the same.  I promise!


Kim taped a special a couple of weeks ago and this past Sunday, we watched it.  It was James Taylor sharing the stage with Carole King.  Songs Kim and I grew together with and dated to.  As we watched, both of us hummed or sang along. 


It was a show of beauty.  Two artists doing what they loved doing.  Lyrics that meant something, with melodies and harmonies that lifted and uplifted.  From their expressions, they love doing what they do.  It was their life and their gift to us.  I can’t explain why, but watching and listening to them, there were times I had tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat.


There are songs that, when I hear the first couple of notes, the first lyrics, I associate with my kids.  Martina McBride’s “Wild Angels” and Faith Hill’s “This Kiss” with my daughter Hannah.  Zak Brown’s “Chicken Fried” and Rodney Atkins’ “Watching You” with Emily.  Just about anything of Aerosmith with my son, Wil.  Eagles’ “Easy Feeling” with Kim. 


I hear one of those songs and I picture Em, or Hannah, or Wil, or Kim.  I see their face, hear their voice.  I picture them thinking.  I see them smiling.  I see them day dreaming.


There really is Nothing Like A Song.


James Taylor and Carole King sang and told stories.  They lifted me . . . us . . . up.  Made our spirits soar.  A song does that.  Nothing Like A Song. 


The song doesn’t have to break eardrums.  The lyrics don’t have to be screamed. 


Taylor and King sang in such a gentle way, like a mom or dad saying, “You can do it!  Really, you can!”  Like best friends saying, “I’ll be with you, right by your side.”  They smiled.  At times their eyes were closed.  They told stories in between their songs that brought a smile, a laugh.


I realize this is a bit of a departure from what I typically write, and I realize my writing is a bit clumsier than it usually is, but I just wanted to pay a bit of tribute to them.  Real artists.  Real musicians.  Storytellers and Dream weavers.  Thank you for sharing your gift with us.  Thank you for sharing your hopes and your dreams with us.  Thank you for sharing your stories of failure and sadness with us.  Because in your songs, your stories, you gave up a piece of your heart and shared it with us.  Perhaps, showed us what we were thinking and feeling and hoping.  Thank you.  Something to think about . . .

Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!  (Perhaps in a song or a story of your own to share?)

Friday, April 18, 2014

And Then Some

I remember as an eighth grader preparing my science project for the school science fair.  The summer before, my dad, my mom, my little brother and I had visited Yellowstone National Park and of course, Old Faithful.  So, I brought back that interest back with me, and my dad and I worked together on building a reasonable facsimile for my project.  I had to do all the research and my dad and I came up with a percolating coffee pot that would serve as the geyser.  It was housed in a wooden case he and I built together.  On top of the case in order to simulate the geyser, we used a putty concoction.  From a picture of the real geyser, we molded it and shaped it and eventually, I painted it.  It was pretty cool.  I won second place and I was one of three students to take their projects to the Marquette University Science Fair for display.

My dad had always told me to do my best.  Settling for something was never an option.  Never!  Okay wasn’t good enough.  All right wasn’t good enough.  I had to do my best.  Each time, every time.  It was something that has been ingrained in me since the time I was born.  For me, there isn’t any other option.  No way!

This week, our school district had an Excellence Awards Reception for various employees.  The Assistant Superintendent, a friend of mine, congratulated each of the honorees and in the course of her speech, talked about “And Then Some.”

It was in relation to not only doing their job, but in going above and beyond what was expected of them.  Hence the idea of, And Then Some.

The custodian who not only cleans the building and fixes the AC or the leaky faucet, but befriends a boy who looks up to him.  The teacher who buys stickers for her kids or candy for awards out of her own money, on her own, out of the goodness of her heart.  The nurse who counsels a parent who is worried about her young daughter’s choices after her work day is done.

I think of the volunteers in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombing who helped those in need.  I think of the special education para who, in the Sandy Hook Elementary School, comforted a little boy as they both died in that horrific shooting.  I think of the passing motorist who stopped his car and ran to help children in a car, while their mother tried to drown them and her.

All examples of And Then Some.

Because it is a daily, sometimes an hourly, choice to do one’s best, to not let things slide, to not settle for just getting it done, getting it over with.  To rise above average, to rise above mediocrity, to give it your very, very best.

And sometimes, it just isn’t easy to do.  Sometimes one gets tired, angry.  Sometimes, one gets one more task on a plate that is already overloaded.  Sometimes, one gets asked to do something by someone that is disagreeable, nasty, bossy, and who is recognized as a slacker.  No, it isn’t easy.

But . . .

We can’t shy away from doing our best, from giving our best effort.  And sometimes, that involves And Then Some.  Because there is the satisfaction of knowing deep down in the recesses of our being, our soul, that we can look at a task, a job, a person- perhaps a child- and believe that we can and will make a difference by doing our best, going above And Then Some.  And by our effort, our action, and the example of who we are and what we’ve done, we might create that same belief and action and effort in others. And if that happens, look out world.  Our world.  Something to think about . . .

Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!

Monday, April 14, 2014

A Blinking Red Light

I’ve talked about my morning ritual upon rising from my bed each morning in previous posts.  My first stop is to look out the window.  Every now and then, if I’m lucky, I might spot a deer grazing, sometimes two.  Kim and I put bird feeders in our backyard, so now I look to see what type and color of bird we might be feeding.  Being fairly new to Virginia, I’m not that familiar with some species other than a sparrow, a robin, a cardinal or a bluebird.  


Overlooking the trees in our backyard, way up the hill and off in the distance, there is a radio tower.  The light blinks on, then off, then on, then off, over and over and over, nonstop and presumably forever. 


Then it’s shower time.  I hate it when the water starts out hot, goes to warm and then runs cold.  I mean, come on!  Tough way to begin a morning, right?


A Blinking Red Light.  Hot water to warm water to cold water.


Kind of like relationships and the stages we might go through in those relationships, and sometimes – sadly – what happens with those relationships.


A Blinking Red Light is a warning.  It warns low flying aircraft that if they go too low, they might be in danger of hitting it.  A Blinking Red Light is sort of like a beacon that says, “Hey!  I’m here!  Do you see me?”  Or perhaps more aptly stated, kind of like an “I need you now!” and then an “Everything’s okay, no need for you now!”  Over and over in a pattern that again, presumably lasts forever.


Whereas water turning from hot, to warm, to cold is like the beginning to the end.  The warmth is gradually, sometimes suddenly, gone.  Perhaps sort of like passion.  Perhaps sort of like friendship.  Perhaps sort of like love.


I sometimes think of my relationship with God as a blinking light.  At times, things are going so very well, so nicely, that I forget.  Sometimes I don’t feel “the need.”  I don’t read, or think of, or meditate, or pray as I should, as I ought, as I “need” to.  But when things don’t go well, when things are rocky, when there is doubt and fear, I most definitely feel “the need.”  I’m literally driven to my knees.


How sad is that?


Perhaps you can’t “picture” that, but think about it in terms of a relationship you might have . . . or had.  Like the water turning from hot to warm to cold, did that relationship grow in the same direction?


Or . . .


Think about your relationships with others. 


Do you sometimes take that person for granted?  Things going well, at least from your point of view, so there isn’t the need to reach out, to talk with, to be with, to give comfort to?  Then you recognize the distance, the “coldness” and the “lack of light” and suddenly there is the need to reach out, to close that distance, to make amends?


Like A Blinking Red Light, we have times in our life when there is light and when there is darkness.  And like the water that starts out hot, and then goes warm and then goes cold . . . well, I would hate for anyone to have a relationship like that.  Real friends, true friends, are hard to come by.  I think we need to do all we can to nurture friendships, to grow relationships and grow friendships, rather than watch them . . . feel them . . . grow cold.  We need to take care of them before they grow cold, before the Blinking Red Light goes dark.  I know it happens from time to time.  I get that.  But I’d rather have one or two close, loving friendships, true giving and supportive relationships, than any that are like insipid lukewarm or cold water.  Something to think about . . .


Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Be That One! (reposted)

Just for a moment, I’d like you to read this and then shut your eyes and answer it.  Ready?  Here we go . . .

Think back to a time when someone said or did something hurtful to you . . .  Shut your eyes and think about that for a moment.

Chances are, you thought of the person who said or did it, the time and place where it occurred, and the exact or nearly the exact words or actions that were used.  Some of you might even picture the time of day and what the weather was like.

For some of you, this took place years ago, but you remember as if it were yesterday.

How powerful words and actions are!

For me, it was early in the sixth grade.  We were on the playground and a group of my friends were standing around talking and as I approached them, one or two drifted away.  Three turned to me and one said, “I’m having some friends over and you’re not invited.”  He and the other two friends turned and walked away . . . laughing.  Yes, they laughed.

For the life of me, I can’t tell you why.  I can’t tell you what I had done or said.  I can’t even tell you what I didn’t do or didn’t say.  I was stunned.  These were my friends.  Guys I hung out with.  I had always done things with them.  Always.  I was one of them.  But now, I was excluded.  I didn’t know why and to this day, still don’t know why.  But I can tell you that I was hurt deeply. 

Now, I want you to read the next statement and then shut your eyes and answer it.  Ready?  Here we go . . .

Think back to a time when someone said or did something to you that made you feel so good . . . Shut your eyes and think about that for a moment.

Once again, chances are you thought of the person who said or did it, the time and place where it occurred, and the exact or nearly the exact words or actions that were used.  Some of you might even picture the time of day and what the weather was like.

And like the hurtful words or actions, perhaps, it occurred years ago, but you remember as if it were yesterday.

There were so many kind words and actions given to me over the years, that I’m having trouble choosing just one.  In fact, it was far easier to remember the hurtful words and actions than the more pleasant memory.

Interesting how that happens, isn’t it?

We might remember the negative far easier, and perhaps far longer, than we recall the positive. 
I think we need to remember, especially those in positions of authority, that our words and our actions mean something.  They have an impact- either positive or negative.  And sometimes the negative outlasts the positive.

Scary, really.

So my charge to you this day . . . my charge to you every day . . . is to choose your words and actions carefully and wisely.  We might not ever know what impact we might have on whom.  Further, I ask that you Be That One that makes a positive impact in what you say and in what you do.  Life is so short.  We need to help and not hurt.  We need to build up and not tear down.  Please, Be That One!  Something to think about . . .

Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Endings And Beginnings

This past Monday, my family buried my mom.  It was tough, hard, and sad.  All of it, but even those words don’t come close to explaining what I felt, what I feel.  And I have to admit, I’m not sure how I feel even now as I sit down and write this.


The service was beautiful, meaningful, and moving.  Those who were able had a part in it and I think mom liked it.  Mom had requested that the four boys sing together on “How Great Thou Art” so my brother, Jack, asked us to be at the church early to practice with the church musical director.  It was the first time in a long time we sang together and it was a special moment for me.


I had the feeling, honestly, that when we had practiced, Mom was there in the first row smiling and nodding her head like she would.  She loved music.  All kinds.  And, she loved her family and especially liked it when we all got together.


I think the best part of the day was the visitation where family and friends gathered to tell stories, reminisce, and kid one another.  We did the same at the luncheon.  There was a lot of laughter.  A lot of laughter.  Got to see a few family members I hadn’t seen or talk to in a long, long time.  That happens in families, both big and small.  Too often, I think.


And just as we did at my nephew’s funeral in October, we promised to get together more often, to keep in touch, to talk or write more often.  Difficult to do with busy lives, our own lives, the lives of our own kids and grandkids.  Difficult to do as we work at our jobs, as we take care of our business.


A day becomes two days.  Two days become a week, then a month, then a year.  Even more years.


Funny thing about families.


There is an unspoken bond, a love, that unites and surpasses time and distance.  Though members of a family might not see one another as often as they want, as often as they would like, there is a closeness of mind and heart and soul, of blood, that unites and binds and ties.  Always.  Forever.  Our family is no different.


Each time we get together, even after a lengthy time away, we fall into the same comfortable rhythm, the same comfortable groove that we’ve lived in and grown up in.  As we gather together, we tell the same stories and jokes that were told at each gathering, have been told and retold, and we pass them on to our kids.  The young ones gather around to listen and laugh and soak it all in and eventually, they’ll pass them onto their kids.  It becomes a cycle.  It becomes a story of life.  A story of a family.


And just as we did at my nephew’s funeral in October, we gathered together in honor of our Mom to share, to take part, to listen and to laugh.  And, to weep and to mourn and to console.


We gathered together for an Ending.   To celebrate a long, long life of 99 years. 


And just as there is with any Ending, there is also a Beginning.  Always Beginnings.


You see, I believe that life never truly ends.  Life is always about birth, always about newness.  Life isn’t about death, because the spirit lives on.  While there is an Ending, there is and always will be Beginnings. 


We might have laid my Mom in the ground next to my Father, but my Mom is not there just as I believe my Dad isn’t there.  His body like her body might be, but his Life, like her Life, and his Spirit, like her Spirit live on in each of us.  And because the Spirit lives on, it is a celebration of Life.  It is not an Ending, but a Beginning.  It isn’t and never will be about death, but about life.  It’s all about life.  It always has been.  It always will be.  Always.  Something to think about . . .


Live Your Life, and Make A Difference!