Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Coffee Is The Morning Lubricant

Eating my evening bowl of cereal I wonder why ritual is so calming.  Every morning the first thing I do is turn on the coffeemaker. Some vehemently insist I set the timer—but I don’t. The measuring out of the coffee, the adding of water and the final press of the button are part of a ritual that transitions me from sleep to workday. Coffee bars have built a business on tying ritual to stimulant.

Every coffee joint has ‘regulars’ that purchase the same drink the same days of the week. It’s only partially about the caffeine. I have roughly the same conversation with the ‘regulars’ everyday; “Investors are coming by this morning. Give me an extra Lemon-poppy. Did it get this hot last April?” I work the morning shift. The customers come in to transition from their home to their workday. Coffee is the lubricant between the two.

There is that electrical charge that comes from the first sip of the latte. It’s heightened because the work day adrenaline is beginning to flow. Night is slipping away, dopamine is almost fully flushed from bloodstream and cells are flowing faster. Fully transitioned the last bit of coffee is inhaled as the elevator stops on the office floor.
Photo courtesy of Waferboards photostream on Flickr. 

Monday, April 29, 2013

Pinterest Exists To Make People Salivate

In my twenties some friends told me to drive through a certain seedy part of San Francisco much like you would recommend one take a trip to the circus. Their word of warning was not to leave the car and not to walk on the sidewalk because, “They will forcibly pull you into their establishments.” Contentment is that field trip turned on its head.

Culture is like the seedy establishments in that San Francisco neighborhood. Magazines in the grocery store scream out, “Buy me. You need me. An experience to remember!” Then the answer seems simple: Don’t walk by the magazine stands. What about those social media sights? I have friends on Facebook that fly places I can never afford and stay at hotels I’ll never see in the flesh. Pinterest exists to make people salivate. The object is to make Boards full of the house you wish you had, the hair you wish you had, the mate you wish you had---and the wardrobe you wish the mate you wish you had- had. Ah, you say, but those are worldly web sites and I’m aware of the danger. What of the more sinister dangers?

We live in a small rental in a less than perfect neighborhood. It meets our budget. It meets our needs. We feel God has provided this house specifically for us for this season. Still we hear voices say to us, “You need a bigger house. You need a place you can feel safe. Wouldn’t an updated kitchen be wonderful?” The words come from well meaning folks in our larger circle of friends. It’s that constant nudge toward more. It’s that push toward want and away from need.

Maintaining an attitude of contentment requires vigilance. It must be cultivated along with a heart attitude that is thankful for what one has not bitter about what one doesn’t have. So enjoy Pinterest but recognize that the things on those boards come with a price. That price may be sour grapes and a spirit of envy.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Breeze That Cools Our Day

My customer, Bob, had spent this Sunday morning talking to his 90 year old mother who resides in Florida. After getting his morning cup-a-Joe he was going home to call a friend that he’s had since they were five years old. He told me, “We are the last two remaining of our circle of ten.” Bob is somewhere between sixty-five and seventy years old. That’s the bittersweet thing. His mother and him have made it farther than some. There is richness in celebrating that.

As I write a breeze cools the night air and lifts up a plastic tablecloth covering one of the many round kitchen-tables at Cindy’s never ending Vintage Yard Sale. The table sits amongst the purple and yellow flowers comprising her garden. Life is full of matchless moments that are life affirming. Like that cool breeze after today's first double-digit temperatures they restore our perspective.

Friends and family are like those cool breezes. It is a gift to make those connections. These bonds buoy us up when we are down. They provide opportunity for reflection and to share the heights, depths and doldrum days that life gives us. What a blessing to celebrate those unions that comprise our lives. While Cindy’s Vintage yard sale may last forever, Bob’s comment was a reminder to delight in the blessings given us today.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Yellowstone And Change

“Ever since he had been military governor of Texas shortly after the Civil War, Sheridan had advocated the slaughter of the bison herds across the West as a way to starve the region’s American Indian tribes into submission.  He often expressed praise for the buffalo hunters, who killed an estimated 31 million bison between 1868 and 1881.”---Rocky Barker, Scorched Earth: How The Fires Of Yellowstone Changed America.

I am a man of strong opinion as was Phil Sheridan. I have my views on most things and believe I’m right on all of them. I am proud to be an American. Though not a radical conservationist I believe we should take care of our environment. I am in favor of a strong federal government but believe most issues should be a matter for each state. It is good for me to read history and wrestle with these concepts.

Yellowstone is a favorite national park. The family and I have visited it twice in the last ten years. I am glad that it is pristine; I am glad that there are huge packs of bison roaming freely in the park as well as elk, bear and other wildlife. Yet I believe that hunting is important for food and to maintain the ecosystem.

The American views of Native Americans, hunting and national parks have changed in the last 150 years. As an individual I must be willing to change as well as I wrestle with concepts---even allowing that not all things are always black and white but being principled in all places is what matters.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Thoughts Of A 52 Year Old On The Way To Becoming Alive

Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat. ---Theodore Roosevelt

Knowing what makes you come alive isn’t a one stop process like buying a burger. It’s a series of stops, starts and turns with some dead-ends tossed in. Speaking of tossing it may even resemble a salad more than a burger; a combination of different items that fit together as one. The search will be incredibly rewarding. The search will be demoralizing as well because fully coming alive isn’t an earthly possibility.

I’m fifty two years old and still searching. Wonderfully I know much more now about what makes me come alive. Part of me feels I should have it down pat by now. Yet the list of artists and inventors that had ‘epic fails’ before massive success includes: Henry Ford, Soichiro Honda, Harland David Sanders, Winston Churchill, Oprah Winfrey and many others. There is significant comfort to be had in that. There is great delight in the pursuit and perseverance of a life alive.

One pictures Jacob wrestling with God until he was blessed. The narrative states that Jacob’s thigh was dislocated by God. Perhaps our search for coming alive through our gifts, talents and convictions requires a wrestling with who God is knowing that we may be bruised (or worse) in the process. At the end Jacob was blessed and so we shall be as well.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Working On Giving Thanks And Not Grumbling

It’s easy to grumble. In one of his letters the apostle Paul says to do everything without grumbling. God’s really been working the opposite direction with me---to be thankful and content. He’s even doing it through comments on previous posts! Not that I have it down at all. I haven’t arrived. I’m just trying to move that direction.

This summer the wife and I are planning a short trip to Guatemala to visit some missionaries. I’m guessing that will open our eyes and broaden our perspective. That’s what we’re hoping.

On a side note: Have you ever noticed how much sleep, diet and exercise fit into having a healthy attitude? I notice that on days where I didn’t sleep well I am much more apt to be distracted, unfocused and unthankful.

You have a front row seat. Feel free to kick me as needed. I’ll try not to complain if you do.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Coming Home Part 2

Whether you go out on the town for the day or are gone for a week to a distant country; there is nothing like coming home. The house may be small with imperfections or mansion like with all the fixtures. Still there is something about the bathroom where you can find everything, where you know the quirks of the faucet handle and where the hand-towel is. There is a comfort in plopping down on your own couch then finally getting up and climbing into your own bed beneath crisp sheets and atop a pillow that’s accustomed to your head. You can let your hair down in your own home more than anyplace else in the universe.

Home is a safe place; or should be. We’ve encountered houses that weren’t homes. We’ve come home to a place that wasn’t safe where relaxation wasn’t possible because one had to keep our guard up just that little bit. This was coming to a place where you lived but really it wasn’t coming home. Your stuff was there but your nemesis was there too, in whatever form it came, work, drink, money problems, addiction or maligning spouse. It was a place that you lived and so you called it home.

It’s never the perfectly safe place or the fulfillment of all creature comforts. We want the escape from pressure and the complete retreat from the world. The children of God will one day experience this. We are promised a place imperishable and undefiled that will not fade away. Perfect rest will be met there and perfect comfort and fulfillment will be ours to experience. For now though the coming home is sweet, the couch perfect and the bed---oh, the bed at the end of the day!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A Merciful Pathway

“Those who believe in Jesus Christ and are justified by faith and become the children of God are not taken out of this world of woe, but are given the grace to experience the very judgments of God on the human race as the merciful pathway to holiness and heaven rather than sin and hell.”---John Piper

One doesn’t have to look farther than the recent earthquake in China (188 dead, 11,000 injured at last count) to confirm that we live in a world of woe. The sane reaction is to groan, to pray and to give if possible to relief. The other reaction is of course to ignore it and go on living. How we react to tragedy mirrors what is going on inside of us and which highway we are on.

On a smaller scale we deal with those around us that wrestle with significant physical suffering. Certainly we can not understand all the components of the suffering nor fully identify with the ones that suffer. Our challenge is to give of ourselves in ways that feel like death to us that others may live life a little more.

In our day to day dealings with the manifestations of fallenness in others and the brokenness of daily living choosing right responses is incumbent upon us as children of light. There will be many that will take the easy way and respond in kind to unkindness or throw up fist or finger when their cheek is slapped. Travelers on the road to holiness and heaven call on heaven’s strength to respond differently.

The world is a place of woe which we see manifest in so many forms. The saving grace is to remember that we are citizens of heaven. Holiness of heart and character are our goal. Knowing which path we are on will help us know how our heart and hands will respond to this groaning broken place we currently call home.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Timeline 5th Grade

Our life is like a good puzzle---if we examine it close enough we will see all the connections and how they fit together. Yesterday I began charting my life on a timeline where the crisis (A crucial or decisive point or situation; a turning point) are delineated. Thus my brain has been working on the problem overnight and this morning I had an epiphany. 5th grade was a key point in my life.

In Mr. Warner’s class I sat across from Sam and Gary. Both of them were in Boy Scouts. As I remember it they regaled me week after week with stories about hikes they took and adventures they had. It wasn’t long before I went home and asked my mom if I could join Boy Scouts with them. That journey would take me through high school and change the way I saw the world.

Mr. Lence pushed all of us toward leadership. This meant learning to speak publicly and to organize other scouts in activities and plan weekend camp-outs. I still remember him instructing us that when teaching or speaking one has to, “paint the cat black,” that is, to delineate the lessons clearly and visibly. Thus began my move up the ranks; leading meetings, planning camp-outs, making menus and motivating my fellow scouts to obey and chip-in as a team; a great experience for a shy, scared boy with low self-esteem. My character rounded there was one other place that Scouting got a hold of me. I went from crush and infatuation to a full on love for the outdoors.

Scouting took me around Catalina in canoe and down the Colorado by the same means; it took me through many canyons and up many peaks in the Sierra as well as into wilderness areas as far as Montana. I learned to carry a backpack and eat whatever was placed in front of me. Most of all I grew to enjoy and feel comfortable with myself in the outdoors.

Flash back to Mr. Warners’ class. Do you remember picking teams for sports in 5th grade? I was usually the last one picked as I was small with asthma and hardly the athletic type (though I made up for this lack of comfort at school on Boy Scout backpacking trips). One day I got talking to the other kid that nobody picked. His name was Keith. We grew to be close friends, then I grew close to his brother and his brothers’ circle of friends. Keith and I don’t talk much anymore but his brother Kevin and Kevins’ friend John were groomsmen in my wedding.

Forty years later and connections made in my 5th grade year still have a deep and rich affect on my life today. The friends I made then influence me today and rippled through my high school and college years into wider circles of friends and adventures emanating from those connections. In the same way those initial steps into Scouting were steps into manhood though it took me years to see it. Even as my love for the outdoors is richly embroidered into who I am so too those 5th grade experiences forever changed my life.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Timeline: Childhood Asthma, a Looking Glass, and The Girls Next Door

Here’s the assignment for tonight: Draw a timeline of your life highlighting the crisis events that culminated in who you are today (H/t Donald Miller and his Storyline Blog). It’s a bit daunting isn’t it? How do you know what’s important? The other concern: Are you going to highlight only the good stuff? The bad stuff? The other thought is that it’s different if you create it to share or if you do it in the privacy of your own living room---because some of those crisis points are exceedingly personal (mine are anyway). For tonight I will pick three. Perhaps I will add to my timeline in an additional post.

My childhood asthma was so severe that I rocked myself to sleep to escape the pain and fear. I would rock so violently that I would move my bed across the room. I was rushed to the emergency room six times. The asthma attacks were anxiety producing and painful. I believe that those times produced in me mental and physical perseverance (among other traits). Asthma goes on the timeline.

My neighbor had a magnifying glass that folded into a smooth leather pouch. The glass was enclosed in a ring of brass. It was beautiful, practical and fun for burning things. My neighbor left it out one day and I stole it. This was my first realization that I could do evil. That realization was foundational in recognizing that I was a sinner. The magnifying glass goes on the timeline.

The boy with the magnifying glass moved away and a family full of girls moved into the house next door. They were teenagers while my sister and I were in kindergarten and first grade. Thus they came over to watch us when mom was busy. Somehow they also had a hand in teaching us to swim which largely meant being thrown into the deep end of the pool. It was a horrible experience. Somehow it took. I grew to love swimming in water of any kind. I’ll add learning to swim.

I’ve worked my way all the way up to the age of six. I’m out of breath. I’ll focus in on additional events in a later post. Sink or swim I’ll continue adding to the timeline next time.

Friday, April 19, 2013

People: Different and Wonderfully Unique

We are different. We forget this all the time. We don’t fit in. This should be normative operating information for us. I noticed it again when somebody asked me for directions to the highway. I assumed they were going to visit the national park. No. They were going to Las Vegas for the weekend. The choice to visit a city to throw money away, drink, smoke cigarettes and see a show is low on my list. I know it’s not wrong. It’s just not how we are wired.

Most folks go along with the crowd. They don’t make waves at work. They only have an opinion if it’s the same opinion that’s popular today. The ideal is to settle into a happy medium in everything. Don’t stir the pot. That seems the easier way. Certainly makes you more popular overall.

Then there’s the fifteen percent. You know, fifteen percent of people do 100 percent of the work. We push in our public lives and we push in our private lives. We set goals. We shoot to raise the bar not meet it. We struggle with not fitting in and we struggle to deal with the other 85 percent.

We wrestle with our own restlessness and our own standards. We wonder if we are normal to do this. Seems like we’re not. Seems that’s the balance though. To be pushing to be better but not be driven to be better; to allow for peace; to enjoy the gifts that come our way.

I’m processing those differences while realizing at the same time that each of us is wonderfully unique. Perhaps it’s as simple as making that uniqueness our own comfortably space to dwell in. Perhaps it’s all about being secure and significant. God created us uniquely and in Him we find that significance. That’s where I’ll rest today.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Biblical Principle Of Holy War

These were the nations the Lord permitted to remain so he could use them to test Israel—he wanted to test all those who had not experienced battle against the Canaanites.He left those nations simply because he wanted to teach the subsequent generations of Israelites, who had not experienced the earlier battles, how to conduct holy war.---Judges 3:1,2 NEV

Why would God put you into a situation where you had to fight your way out or succumb to failure? That God would do this grates against the perception of what is right and wrong or fair and unfair. We want God to take away all of the tough issues we encounter. The biblical principle is that He allows these trials so that we learn to fight the holy fight.

I don’t like to pray. It’s not because I don’t enjoy talking to God. I fight against dependence on God. Though it’s obvious that most everything is out of my control I still cling to this false belief that I am master of my fate. So this year God is allowing a number of issues to occur to force the issue. I’ve had car issues and financial issues, personnel issues at work and issues with my family. In each situation there is little that I can control. The only wise choice is to pray to Him who controls everything. In the process my prayer muscles are growing stronger. I am learning to connect with God at a deeper level.

Hebrews puts it this way, “But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.” There is a principle of practice here. Through practice we train our mind. In talking of King David’s military prowess it is said that through practice his arms were strengthened to bend the bow. It is in pushing against tension that muscles, whether mental or physical, are trained for battle.

While difficulties are distressing there is an attitude of joy that can also accompany them. For while we are struggling we are being trained for bigger battles. Do we obey and trust our commander in chief or do we trip and fall headlong? God has left these obstacles in our path that we might be taught war.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Punctured Tires and Bad Turns

Journal entry for April 16---Tuesday.

Day off tomorrow—Need it. Need to get out on the bike. Maybe go to Joshua Tree and climb. That way the wind won’t matter much.

Darling daughter over tonight. The wife came home from work concerned about her tire being low. As we were going out for dinner we stopped by the gas station to put air into it. Then I found the nail! It’s in the middle of the tire though so patching should be no problem.

Off to the tire store to see about a patch. Nope they can’t patch it since the tread is low. So we price new tires. We will switch cars and I will take the car in tomorrow. There goes training in Joshua Tree. (Note to the wife: I’ll do it on Friday). Off to the restaurant to eat dinner.

The restaurant has a sign up that says, “Cash Only-computer down.” So we decide to go get cash and comeback. Leaving the bank the highway is crowded so we turn the opposite direction from the restaurant. “No U-Turns” so we make another turn. Finally get to our dinner destination.

Chilly-Willys is out of Cod. The wife, a lover of fish-n-chips, is disappointed. We get the fish n chips with some other fish in it that the waitress recommends. We head back home and catch up on The Amazing Race. The wife is drop dead tired and heads off to bed. Darling Dot and I watch another show then she’s off to bed. Time to blog.

Some days are just like that full of punctured tires and bad turns. Cold and windy outside now. Looking like it may be a day to get on the Trainer. Time to crash. Can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings.

Monday, April 15, 2013


“No! Oh my God not again,” is what I was thinking, maybe even saying, as I listened to the news report in my car. Then I felt the emotion wash over me even as I felt anger at whoever did this.

As a cyclist I have ridden in a number of sponsored bike rides. Imagine the layered horror of having a day that you’ve looked forward to and trained for as both competitive and enjoyable turn into a terrorist attack. It is overwhelming. Simplistically not being able to run the race is bad. To lose limbs because of an evil bomb…I can’t find the right word.

A short post for tonight. It seems sacrilegious to me to write or think of anything beyond Boston. Tonight is a night for praying and grieving. Tomorrow I will attempt to go back to normal.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Fashion, Coachella Fest and A Fathers' Heart

Being the father of a teenager, the Coachella Fest dress ethic troubles me. I serve coffee in Palm Spring so I’m right in the heart of it. The clothing is a mix of dubious fashion and beach wear. It’s low cut tops and high cut shorts often with nothing covering the bellybutton. The shorts are as short (or shorter) as Daisy Duke’s and the tops as revealing. In my mind the comfortable clothes choice would be a pair of Levis and a tee shirt but those don’t draw the attention that Daisy Duke does.

Time was I would have had no problem with the dress code (though the alcohol and drugs would have bothered me even in my youth). As any young man I would have gone to the festival for the music and had no problem with the scenery. To quote Paul Simon, “I do declare there were times when I was so lonesome that I took some comfort there.” That was before fatherhood.

Now I see only young women less intent on fashion than on selling what’s (barely) concealed under the clothing. It seems it’s more about ‘hooking up’ and having a good time than it is about the music. I understand but note the dynamic all the same. It saddens me in some way. I find myself blushing for the women.

It causes me to wonder where these girls’ fathers were. Would they have addressed their daughter’s style sense when the daughter lived at home? Were they present for their little girl? Would their strong presence have made their girl more comfortable in her skin hence less comfortable showing it off? My heart stirs and aches with these questions knowing that Coachella Fest is just a microcosm of the present culture.

In my confusion I check in with my Father and prayed for us all. I pray for forgiveness for being absent and love for the broken. With mixed emotion I pray this generation will be affirmed and awakened to significance that like Eve they will know they are naked and go to God to be clothed.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Night Of The Carnival

The carnival is in town so it’s no surprise that the cops have a set up a checkpoint through town. It’s one of those nights where the moon hides in its own shadow and the wind carries something dark. People walk to and fro from the carnival. It’s teens mostly and they seem to wander listlessly as though possessed. Though there are some teenage boys dancing on mountain bikes who seem to know exactly what they want and it is neither good nor reassuring.

On cue my living room lights up neon blue. A police car has pulled over a red vehicle in front of my driveway. The night seems darker than usual yet the lights also seem overly bright so that you can’t see into the shadows. I will check all the locks before I go to bed. Usually the dark and the quiet bring peace but tonight one can sense the shadows---and the quiet is eerily too, too quiet.

One is afraid to go to sleep on such nights. Crawling into bed is the most wonderful of things, greeted by cool crisp sheets and firm mattress the tension slips quickly from ones’ body. Tonight I am afraid of what the dreams will be; the cement pathway and the locker that I can never find though I follow the handrail on and on and on….The falling from on high only to arrive later than I should have; I’ve failed the test but still have to take it over and over…The sense of helpless anxiety creeping in. No! I will not dream those dreams.

Perhaps it is only that the house is quiet; wife gone, daughter with her mom, only work on the horizon. The sun too will rise from that horizon coloring the clouds and chasing away the dark. To sleep then! Morning can not but come to quickly.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Coffee, Triple A and Escapism

Glancing at my desk this very instant you would know some interesting information about me. You would know that I like caffeine in various forms as attested to by the coffee cup sitting right next to the empty Mountain Dew can. You would guess that either I like my hands and skin soft or that work kills my hands and they need lotion. You would also learn that I am a member of the Auto Club from which you would further surmise (based on the torn out pages laying helter-skelter) that I enjoy good food and road trips. What you couldn’t know is how these things realistically fit into my life.

You couldn’t know that I’m a coffee snoot. You couldn’t know that I and my wife have our coffee mailed to us bi-monthly from a special roaster in Redlands. You couldn’t know how the mix of caffeine and ritual, hot liquid and robust taste provide a stable platform upon which begins an often stress-filled day. Knowing, perhaps you can relate, but the coffee cup only hints at the reality but doesn’t reveal it.

The Day Trip article from “Triple-A” features the suburb of Lomita. I don’t know that I’ll ever go there. It’s just that idea of travel and escape lures me. My conviction is that one must make room for these little trips as Sabbath rests if you will. Apart from days off I find the need to take trips to energize my soul and restore focus. Working with the public has its’ own unique issues and it’s necessary to take the time away from them in order to pursue loving them well. Thus the cut-out articles on food and travel. These are not dream trips these are drives and visits that instill lost sanity.

So it is that my desk tells part of the story of work days that begin at daybreak with dark coffee and are filled with the pressures of customer service. It tells the tale of days given to wanderlust and rest, promise of good food and new adventures. In between those two the rest of life fits in far from the desk where I enjoy my caffeine.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Today's Forecast: Wind

Today’s forecast: wind. Tomorrow’s forecast will be wind followed by strong gusts slowing to light breezes by evening. This isn’t the best weather for hay-fever sufferers; spring blooms accompanied by 50 mile per hour winds. Seems like it’s making the natives restless as well. Life can be tiring on a good day; on a windy day the world is on edge.

Coincidentally life has thrown us a mix of stressors this week; the darling wife picked up a short-term substitute teacher job; the state is testing the daughter on all her subjects save pre-calc and I am being hammered both at work and with a long list of serious to-dos in the off hours. All the time the wind whistles along the line of the roof and through the vents in the house she forces her way letting us know she’s here.

The weather channel didn’t give any hint that the wind was coming. Life sneaks up on us like that the good and the bad. Soon the weather will get calm and no wind will mean hotter days. Hopefully lazier calmer days will walk in as we move toward summer. Then we don’t need to nail everything down and hold tight to keep it all secure. We can relax a little, let go a little and spread out to relax a little---until the next season comes.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

This Too Will Pass

Sometimes when we hear, “This too will pass,” it really does. The last time I sat in this attorneys’ office it was 2008 and I was divorcing my wife. Those were gut wrenching years. The past was in shatters and the future uncertain. Today I sat in the office with my new wife for a very different reason.

We were there to get the paperwork for our will in order. It’s a rather humbling experience to admit that you won’t live forever. Like any other planning process though it also culls out the blessings in one’s life. We sat there and detailed our meager finances and non-existent portfolio. At the same time we discussed glimmers of financial possibility that might occur in the future. And we discussed divvying up those finances.

We each have children from previous marriages. The positive was to look at how God has provided thus far. Providence has brought us together to shore up aspects of their lives that were non-existent; for instance seeing the parent in a committed God-honoring relationship.

The last five years have seen a whirlwind of change the loss of my parents and destruction of my first marriage. God has given a wonderful new wife, a continuing positive relationship with my teen, two new boys via the wife and her parents which I enjoy tremendously. If we are fortunate the tough times will not only pass but will open up new fields of blessing we’d never imagined.

Monday, April 08, 2013

The Lie of Customer Service

It was my first significant job after college and I still remember my enthusiasm when Mr. Kummer detailed Prudential’s commitment to customer service and to doing things right. I remember too the shock I felt when they laid off Olga just shy of the time she needed to be fully vested for a life of benefits. Olga was German and stereotypically always punched in on time, never missed a day, punched out on time for breaks and gave each day her best shot. The company wasn’t about rewarding employees for good service nor did they really believe all that talk about their customers. That was when I grew jaded. That was when I fully understood the disconnect between what most large companies say and what large companies do.

Today I work for a large grocery store owned by a large company. The employees are union employees. The contract is up for renewal in March of 2014. Every Monday the President of the company along with the VP and a marketing guy broadcast a rah-rah-rah video. Today they highlit how much money this Company puts toward pensions and employee health insurance. This was prefaced and followed by words and pictures trumpeting the value of the employees to The Company. I suspect that is not the truth.

I’ve gone through a number of contract negotiations and each time both sides begin pushing their propaganda a year before the contract is to be ratified. Today was the opening volley in what will be the Company’s position. They give us health insurance and a pension. In return we should not even think about not accepting their proposals. Nor should we even remotely consider the idea of a strike.

As I watched the video today I thought, “What a shame that I can not trust nor respect this leadership team.” Words mean little when they are not followed by action. Currently there is a small fault between what we hear and what we see. My fear is that it’ll be obvious what’s shaking when the union and the company collide next year.

Picture courtesy Library of Congress

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Joshua Was Old And Advanced In Years

Now Joshua was old and advanced in years when the LORD said to him, “You are old and advance in years, and very much of the land remains to be possessed.”

Since God was speaking to him face to face a reply of, “You know you’re pretty ancient yourself,” wouldn’t have been the right response. It seems that God isn’t reprimanding Joshua. He has a two-fold purpose here, the first to affirm and the second to cause Joshua to evaluate. These are two principles which we would do well to heed in our own lives before we get to that point where we are ‘old and advanced in years.’

God affirms that Joshua has already done much in the way of leading into the Promised Land. In the chapter before we see a recounting of the thirty-one kings that were defeated by Israel. The chapters following detail the dividing up of the land between tribes. Finally in the last chapter of the book Joshua recounts the many ways that God has fought for Israel.

On the heels of reiterating the history of Israel one can sense the coming meeting in the war room. Clearly there is a divide between ‘where we have been,’ and ‘where we are going.’ This is why Joshua lays out the ways that God has fought for the nation. They need courage to march forward in the same way that he needed courage to take up the mantle of Moses and march forward into the land. Remember God’s words to Joshua in chapter one, “No man will be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall give this people possession of the land….Only be strong and courageous; be careful to do according to all the law….Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous!”

This is a reminder to us to set goals in the years we have on Earth. By the grace of God we will make some measurable progress. We may not set out to complete all that we desire to accomplish. The overarching goal is to have God affirm us at the end of the race for what we’ve done and to pass the baton to the next generation to finish the race.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Joy and Living Purposefully--The Wrestling

My thoughts today keep coming back to joy and living purposefully. Seems joy is easily lost if we base it on our current circumstance. My head hurts today, sinus’ are in an uproar (which would have been evident if you’d recorded my snoring last night) and lungs are tight which makes breathing tough. Easy to be grumpy for me but I try default to joy. Work is a struggle. Then I keep thinking about my sister-in-law and her cancer. Easy to question, harder to trust.

The flip side is coming home to the wife, the rose bush blooming along with the Lavender and Purple Robe. Cranking on my Squirrel Nut Zipper station on Pandora and listening to Glenn Miller and Satchmo warm the heart and restore perspective.

None of these things is permanent or guarantee deep soul stirring, gut affirming joy. I find that only in God’s character. Apart from God I can’t maintain joy—can barely do it with God (though that’s my fault not His.)

Friday, April 05, 2013

Nature, Nurture And A Good Eye

In my college classes we’d always argue ‘nature vs. nurture,’ now that I’m a dad I’d say both. My dad enjoyed photography and got my cousin hooked on it. I’ve been taking pictures since I was five and had my first Brownie. My father bought me my first 35mm upon college graduation. Today my daughter takes pictures like a fiend and she has an eye.

I played violin for six years. I could hear the notes and place my fingers and body in such a way that appropriate sounds would emanate from the instrument. I was never a musician. The musicians in orchestra with me could feel the music; they could mentally arrange the music, they could think in time and move up, down and between scales. My brain never worked that way. It’s like that with any art form. There are people that take vacation photos and pull up Flickr while you are visiting them. That is usually the point that you remember you left your dog in the house without turning on his favorite Pandora station---“and you know what that means!”

My daughter enjoys taking the pictures and she has the eye for it. The technology has changed since I began with my Brownie but the basics remain the same. It helps if you have received the eye to compose a good photo and the family history to frame it in.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Spring Tip Toes In

I’m thump thump thumpin my hands on the steering wheel with Garth turned up loud. There’s a cool breeze keeping the daytime temperature in the seventies. The clouds in the sky are dark in patches surrounded with solid blue; feels more Midwest than south California. I pull the car into the Stater Bros. parking lot to purchase some Granny Smiths. Granted the cashier lacked fire in her eyes but a customer took my shopping cart back in from my car just on a whim. Its’ as if the wind blew the cares of people into the foothills and woke them to life.

The wife and I had French toast together. In the morning sun she noticed that the Purple Robe plant is showing bloom. Our neighbor Kathy is out watering her butterfly garden between shoppers at her two-week long vintage yard sale. If you’re in the market for a charcoal burning barbeque circa 1970 she’s still got three for sale.

Apple cobblers cooking in the oven and beer is chilling in the fridge. The neighborhood children ride by on bikes, trikes and a Big Wheel. Morning doves and sparrows prance around the front yard in search of seed and bug. Wildflowers (or weeds) burst into yellow bloom and the grasshoppers leap out of hiding. Yes that means the ants are out again too along with a bunch of other scary critters. We’ll cheer on the birds—and probably spray a poison barrier around the house.

April often sends a mixed message. Usually there’s a strong hint of Spring and a cold front or two that passes through. Consistent with the total lack of rain we’ve had this year it looks as if she’s marching straight for Summer. We’re hoping, like we hope every year, for a mild one. Today however is all about enjoying her tip-toe out of winter.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Desert Fortresses and The Apocolypse Part 2

Who surrounds their property with Cholla on purpose? “Honey, let’s move to the high desert and build a little fortress far from Los Angeles. We can shoot animals in our backyard, stay off the radar, build up our gun collection and be prepared for the zombie apocalypse.” Why else buy land in the high desert and build a house surrounded by walls?

We are six miles from Joshua Tree National Park. Two-thirds of the year you have views of San Gorgonio and San Jacinto covered with snow. The stars at night are amazing, the sunrise and sunsets and the full moon cause me pause on a regular basis. So what kind of person would move here only to build a house with walls that block out the beauty of the desert?

There is no parapet visible from the outside. My guess is that the house has small windows made of bullet proof glass. It’s the desert so I’m ruling out a moat---but certainly land mines make sense (except for the rabbits and coyotes). Oh how I want to see what the house behind the walls look like. Next time I pass these houses I’ll be getting an address so that I can see what’s visible via Google Earth.

Everything comes back to conspiracy theory. The walled-off house is only thirty minutes from the Marine base. However I’ve heard it said that ‘they’ want people to go the base if there’s an emergency so that ‘they’ can keep people confined and controlled. Whatever the thinking the Cholla is a great idea. My wife once stepped on a branch of cholla and the spikes drove up through the sole of her tennis shoe and into her foot. It’s not about enjoying the desert flora it’s about using them as weapons and shields.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Finding Fear Amidst Apocolypse

 Three long dry years in Southern California have the experts worried. Fire danger is always a concern and could make for a scary summer and fall. The Morongo preserve saw only 3.23 inches of rain this season and a meager 2.17 inches (according to the Big Morongo Canyon Preserve newsletter) last year. Add to that the decline in local wildlife sightings and it looks as though we are on the edge of an ecological precipice. There is always one more element that gives worry but that is fully out of anybody’s control.

My daughters’ mother tells me that she is worried that the government has bought up all the ammunition and there are no bullets available. This is a concern because soon the dollar will be devalued and the government is going to crash. This will incite panic. If it doesn’t then the effects of movement on the San Andreas Fault will.

One doesn’t have to look farther than the world news to find things to worry about. Whereas I believe that preparing for emergencies is a good idea I don’t think you can figure out the way things are going to turn out. Like in high school and you imagined how asking your favorite girl to the dance would turn out. You imagined her reaction and the conversation. In reality the encounter was nothing like the one in your mental movie script.

Healthy concern is a good thing. Conspiracy theorizing not so much. I can get overwhelmed with the simple difficulties that come into my own life. Freaking out about the coming ‘zombie apocalypse’ just doesn’t seem worth the energy. The words of Christ console when media and chitchat do not; But seek firstHis kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself.Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Monday, April 01, 2013

God Gives Breathing Room

He changes a wilderness into a pool of water And a dry land into springs of water; And there He makes the hungry to dwell, So that they may establish an inhabited city, And sow fields and plant vineyards, And gather a fruitful harvest...But He sets the needy securely on high away from affliction, And makes his families like a flock.---Psalm 107

There are seasons that life presses in upon you with such weight that you feel you can get no rest. Physically you may sleep but the days are filled with such emotional pressure that the sleep counts for nothing because the strain on mind and heart is so consuming. A different season may bring about a pressure that is intense but not overwhelming. Within a season there may be a period of unrest and turmoil as well.

Into these seasons God will often reach in and insert a parenthesis of rest. It will come in different forms. A friend will insist on a visit whereupon you leave the house on a mini-adventure with laughter and discussion ensuing. It may come in the form of church on Sunday or percolate up from hours watching a newly released film. You may be surprised to find that a day at work has distracted you from thoughts of the terror that is present at home. Or God may remove the trial or at least downsize it.

God has granted breathing room this week. Surprisingly on Easter I learned that my store director (the one that demanded at least one cup of coffee be brought to the staff meeting because he needed his coffee) was transferred to another store at the opposite end of the valley! He is being replaced by a director that I’ve worked with previously and get along with. Our car seems to be working and we’ve gone one-and-a-half weeks without a dead battery. The big issues remain but some of the significant ankle-biters are done away with.

Someone has said that God is never early but he’s never late. He promises that we will never be tested beyond what we are able to bear. Often the key to the bearing up under the pressures are those small interludes of rest smack dab in the middle of the chaos.