Sunday, February 28, 2010


So.... the mayor of this small town is out one afternoon working in his yard when a stranger comes driving down the street. The stranger stops and rolls down his window. Speaking to the mayor (he doesn't actually know it's the mayor)... he says, "Hey, I'm moving to this part of the country and was just wondering about your town. What kind of people live here?"... The mayor says to the stranger, "Well,... what were the folks like where you come from?"... The stranger retorts, "They were horrible.... a bunch of gossips, unfriendly, self-centered, uptight jerks. I'm glad to get away from them." "Well, I'm sorry" says the mayor..."but I'm afraid you wouldn't like it here. The folks in this town are pretty much the same as you descibed." With that, the stranger rolls up his window and drives off....
The next day the mayor is back out in his yard and another strange car pulls up beside him. The stranger in the car rolls down the window and says to the mayor... "Hi stranger. I'm moving to this part of the country and saw the sign for your town... and I was just wondering... what sort of folks live in this town?".... "Well, says the mayor,... "What are the folks like back in the town you come from?" So, the stranger tells the mayor, "I'd have to say they were some very nice people... friendly, kind, extremely generous and hospitable folks... I really hate to leave there but I'm being transferred to a new location because of my job." "Well, says the mayor...I think you'd really love it here because the residents of this town are exactly as you just described." ...
Attitude..... Just how important is it?
My wife and I became part of a church several years ago. It was a small church. The people who attended there were great....friendly, warm and welcoming.... except for one couple. They were an older couple and it seemed as though they were pillars of this church... they had been attending there for years. They didn't say much....I just assumed they were the shy, quiet type.
Now, I'm a bit "different" than what the people in that church were use to... meaning, ... I don't wear suits (not that there's anything wrong with suits).... and, I'm sort of layed-back when it comes to worship. I like the old hymns, but I also like the modern worship songs....and, I have to admit, I kind of like to clown around at times....
When the pastor of this church found out I played the guitar and sang, he asked if I would help out by leading worship once in awhile,... an invitation I was pleased to accept. Also, once in awhile I would dig out my guitar and do a "special", ... usually a song I had written. My songs aren't your typical "churchy" songs but everyone seemed to love them regardless...
One day, the aforementioned couple simply up and left the church. When I asked the pastor why they had left he told me.... "Well, if you must know... I think you were the last straw. They didn't like the clothes you wore to church, the way you led worship or the type of songs you sang for special music."
I was shocked!.... I felt terrible. I was responsible for causing this older couple to quit the church!?.... wow.. bummer... I hardly knew how to respond...
I told the pastor, "I'm really sorry this happened.. I don't know what to say..."
So,.... the pastor looks at me and he says,.... "Hey, don't worry about it. I'm surprised they stayed as long as they did. All they did was gripe and complain about things the whole time they were here. If it wasn't you it would have been something else. I'm sure they will find exactly the right church to fit into."
I found out months later that they did. Sure enough....
We often don't realize how it affects our lives. The next time someone tells you they are leaving a church, an A.A. group, ... any social community... it might be wise to ask them why. They might have valid reasons. The next time YOU leave a group you might be wise to ask yourself... "Why?" You may have some really good reasons. Then again.......

Sunday, February 21, 2010


The other day I was driving down the road and I notice a sealed package lying next to the, I quickly made a U-Turn and went back to pick it up. My first thought was, "Wow, what did I just get for FREE?!"
YAY!"... And then, the "other" angel on my shoulder, (the one with the halo), whispered in my ear... "What would Jesus do?".... (I think he even had one of those bracelets on)....
"Shut up,... stupid angel!"....
But, I knew he/she/it (whatever an angel is)... was right. As Spike Lee said in his famous movie, Do The Right Thing, I should..."Do the right thing"... and that "right thing" was to make sure the package got to it's rightful owner...tomorrow...
The next day, (after a non-eventful evening of shaking the box, trying to figure out what was in it), I tossed it into my van and set out to find the company whose address was on the box. Fortunately, the company wasn't too far away...and I found it fairly easily. It was a large, multi-bazillion dollar company... and I couldn't stop myself from thinking, "Hey, maybe there's a big reward for me in returning this!"...
I walked into the main office, package proudly displayed. There, at the desk, was a young lady deeply involved in something vitally imprtant, (like texting her best friend about the previous night's adventures,... or setting up a hair appointment)..... I set the package down and loudly announced, "Hey, I found one of YOUR packages in the street last night... and thought you might want it!"... (smile)...
She took the box from my hands, set it on the desk next to her, said..."yea, thanks"... and went back to whatever non-important thing she was doing.
I was INCREDULOUS!.... "yea,.. thanks?"... That's it?!" I was thinking that perhaps she would call the big boss down to the lobby and say something like,.. I don't know, ... like,... "Hey boss, guess what? This guy found one of our packages lying in the street and WENT ALL THE WAY OUT OF HIS WAY TO FIND US AND DELIVER IT.... PERSONALLY!!!".... And then, the big boss would say,... "WOW,.. thanks so much for doing that!. We REALLY APPRECIATE IT!... AND,.. by the way, why don't we buy you lunch or give you a lucrative position with our company...or a can of Spam.. or.. something....
Oh well...
Someone once said that we humans always have an ulterior motive for the things we do, even the things that seem altruistic. I think the bottom line is,...we want to be appreciated. I know that I do. It got me to thinking about how I treat other folks. Do I show my appreciation for the simple courtesys shown me?... or am I often oblivious to what goes on around me?... As they say in the Recovery world, "Do I have an Attitude Of Gratitude?"
I have to admit, in my journey through life, it's sometimes difficult to "pay attention" and show gratitude for the many blessings God has bestowed upon me... a great marriage and family, a job I don't hate, decent health, a roof over my head, faithful friends, two cats who love me every time I FEED them,.... eternal life...
I know I often disappoint people because I don't show my appreciation as well or as often as I should. With God's help and grace I pray to be more aware of this lack in my life. And, the next time I find an unopened box on the side of the road I may just hand it to the angel with the halo and say to him... "Here, YOU return it!" (to the snottly little office secretary)....
We'll see. .... The journey continues....

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Dash Between The Dates

This last fall my wife and I had the opportunity to take a week's vacation in New England. We traveled through Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont. It's a beautiful landscape, with all the changing leaves, and I highly recommend visiting if you get the chance (early fall). One thing that particularly struck me was the old cemeteries. Growing up in Kansas I'm not use to seeing dates in the 1600's. Here lies Sara Safford, 1685-1723.....Andrew Smith, 1709-1729.... James Hartford, 1690-1742......and so on.
Cemetery headstones have one thing in common.... the "dash" between the dates. A person's entire life history is, in it's finality, summed-up in the chisled-out, two inch line. Some lines represent an infant, representing a life that ended much too early... while other lines represent decades of love, laughter, earthly pursuits, hopes and dreams.
In the Bible, James (the brother of Jesus) writes in his letter to fellow believers.... "What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes." (James 4:14). The apostle Peter echoes this sentiment in his epistle by quoting the Old Testament Prophet, Isaiah: "All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the Word of the Lord stands forever." (First Peter 1:24).
The dash between the dates is a stark reminder that it's too easy to sum up the total of our lives by a simple line carved in stone. We are given the tremendous opportunity, in this life, of writing the content of our lives by the choices we do (or don't) make. Without a doubt our lives are confined by the circumstances we find ourselves in .... the time and place of our birth, our biological family, our physical, mental and financial limitations, etc.. but, we still have the capability to choose how we will respond to the circumstances surrounding us. At the beginning of this writing I was unaware that there was actually a poem called "The Dash". It was written by Linda Ellis and I think it says all we need to consider as we wake up every day, pen in hand, ready to write another line, another paragraph, another page,...another chapter... in the book of our lives....

THE DASH... by Linda Ellis

I read of a man who stood to speak
At a funeral of a friend
He referred to the dates on her tombstone
From the beginning to the end

He noted that first came the date of her birth
And spoke of the following date with tears
But he said what mattered most of all
Was the dash between those years

For that dash represents all the time
That she spent alive on earth
And now only those who loved her
Know what that little line is worth

For it matters not how much we own
The cars, the house, the cash
What matters is how we live and love
And how we spend our dash

So think about this long and hard
Are there things you'd like to change?
For you never know how much time is left
That can still be rearranged

If we could just slow down enough
To consider what's true and real
And always try to understand
The way other people feel

And be less quick to anger
And show appreciation more
And love the people in our lives
Like we've never loved before

If we treat each other with respect
And more often wear a smile
Remembering this special dash
Might only last a little while

So when your euology is being read
With your life's actions to rehash
Would you be proud of the things they say
About how you spend your dash?

Saturday, February 6, 2010

History Lessons

Last week I talked about how, as a youth, my personal history intersected with the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., and how, at the time, it didn't have much of an effect on me. I believe history is important, as in the old saying, "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it".
We had a young fellow in drug and alcohol treatment who seemed unreachable. For days on end he wouldn't speak up at meetings, kept to himself, and put up an invisible wall that we couldn't scale. One day, out of the blue, during a group meeting, he simply announced, "I shouldn't be here... I'm not insane!"....
We kept the 12 Steps of Recovery taped to the wall of the treatment center for everyone to see. It seems that Step #2 had been the stumbling block to this young fellow since day one. Step # 2 reads: "Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity"....
It was obvious that the particular wording of the second step could have a double meaning. Most people would define insanity as a defect of brain function, which makes a person incapable of knowing right from wrong, or real from unreal, whether it's a psychological phenomenon or a problem with organic brain chemistry.
In A.A., the term "insanity" is given a different interpretation. It is described as: "Doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results". What we are trying to do in A.A. is revisit "history", looking back at our actions and responses, particularly in the use of addictive substances, and seeing how the pattern of such use is affecting our lives. The insanity of alcoholism (or any addiction) is the inability to see how what we are doing by pursuing our particular obsession is ruining our chance at living a normal life. We, as counselors, are hoping that in the 30 day treatment program, there might come a moment of "aha" moment when the light comes on and the person sees clearly, perhaps for the first time, that their drug use has blinded them to a whole new world. It may sound like a simple matter for most people (the unaddicted), but for the person who lives their life in an obsessive state, it's an earth-shattering event.
Once this young fellow actually understood what we were meaning by using the word "insanity", it became a door-opener for him. He finally understood what it might mean to revisit his "history" and see how doing the same thing over and over and over again would keep him in a life-cycle of despair and heartache.
Recovery is a life-long process, and , often along the journey, it is necessary to "play the tape back", or revisit our "history" to remind us of where we were, where we are now, and how far we have come. Sometimes it may seem like it's "two steps forward, one step backward"(or visa-versa), ...but it's ALL steps, and each one is just as important as the next. The important thing is to keep walking, keep believing, and to turn our mistakes into tools of learning... history lessons.