Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Keeper Traditions

Some years ago, I saw this interview where a reporter asked a young girl, "If you could change anything at church what would it be?" The cute little girl looked like she was about 13 - she thought for a moment and said, " Well, I would cover the communion bread with chocolate."
Out of all the things she could have said, I would have never guessed that! I had to chuckle.

Sometimes in church we wish we could change things up - tweak it and make it more appealing.
For me somethings are best left alone. Communion is on the list for me. No chocolate please.

I really love some of the traditions in my life. The traditions surrounding Christmas are that way for me. I love Christmas carols, Christmas bells, Nativity Scenes, Christmas cards, and Christmas gatherings and much more. The old stuff is still very rich and meaningful to me.

People love to tweak and change things - I am that way. Doing something differently seems exciting and interesting but of course the new wears off and then we have to keep changing things to get a "new buzz." I have favorite running courses that I run in the mornings - sometimes I run them the opposite direction just for a change - it seems like a totally different run - same heavy breathing and sweating but a new feel to it. Change is fun and good.

But sometimes doing things the same way, in the same place, with the same words, and the same songs is meaningful at another level - it has history, it has depth and meaning that is powerful. Christmas is one of those deeper things for me. The story of God coming to earth in Jesus is old but always new - always rich - always deep and powerful. Love incarnate. Immanuel - God with us. This is a keeper tradition for me.

Joyous Christmas to one and all!

Just thinking, Steve

Monday, December 6, 2010

Reasonable Expectations

Every December I have the same experience. I spend a great deal of time talking to people in pain. In this time when people have hopes and expectations for joy and peace and harmony many struggle to just get through the month. My heart goes out to them - they come to the season with a bundle of baggage and pain that has accumulated over many years and December is often no fun at all.

Years ago, Country singer, Merle Haggard coined the line to describe their feelings: "If we make it through December...". Haggard had a way with a sad song and that old tune was certainly sad - many people can connect with that feeling.

One thing that can help is to step back and have reasonable expectations for the Christmas and Holiday season. If you don't get along with your family all year long the expectation that the Christmas season is going to be some kind of miraculous time of peace and joy is unreasonable. Maybe the exchange of a nice Christmas card or a phone call makes more sense than trying to spend time together. Sometimes turning our focus away from ourselves to bless those less fortunate puts things in to proper perspective - reach out and serve someone and give some joy to someone else. You will be amazed at how much joy you will experience, as well.

Our emotions run high during this season but most of us will do much better to just keep our expectations realistic.

Remember that the newborn Jesus and his family were basically left out in the cold on the night Jesus was born - no room in inn. Jesus knows what it is like to be left out and excluded. Perhaps that is why he was always reaching out to those who were excluded and overlooked. Everyone is welcome in his presence - even those who have a tough time "making it through December."

Just thinking, Steve Yates

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Life is a Miracle! Be Thankful!

One of my jobs is to make hospital visits - these adventures in pastoral care are always different than I expect. While I am planning on being an encouragement to those who are ill I often find that it is the patient who lifts my spirits. I have become very familiar with hospital parking lots, back entrances, short cuts, and where all the Diet Coke machines are located.

By my count I made more than 165 hospital visits so far in 2010 - I have no idea how many hours that involved, how many miles I have driven, or how much I have spent on parking. What I do know is that going to people when they are facing the upheaval of health problems is a good thing to do. When I go I am reminded that life is a miracle!

With all the things that can go wrong, all the illnesses that can attack our bodies, all the accidents that can happen - the gift of life is an amazing miracle!

Every day, every breath, every moment - it is a miracle to be alive! I thought of this on a recent morning fitness walk with my sweet wife of nearly 37 years - I told her that I treasure that one hour together a few times each week - with each step and each conversation and each burst of laughter I am living in the midst of a miracle.

None of us know when the life we now enjoy will be over - that is out of our territory. So how should we respond to this gift?

Gratitude, of course. Thankfulness and joy should be ours. It is amazing to me to hear people complaining about their "miracle" - their life. Jesus said that he came to grant us "abundant life" - life that overflows! (John 10:10) Oh be thankful!

We should also respond with a sense of intention - now is the time to express your love, to act upon opportunities, to do what needs to be done - don't wait - act now!

We can also rejoice that when this miracle of daily living concludes because of God's grace we can expect life unending in the presence of our loving Creator. (I John 5:11-12) We live in the "already but not yet" place of life in the Son - praise God!

My life has been so full -so truly wonderful - to this very moment that blessing continues - this Thanksgiving I am celebrating the miracle of living!

Just thinking, Steve Yates

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Whole Lotta Shakin'

In January of 2010, a huge earthquake that measured 7.0 in magnitude hit the nation of Haiti and thousands were killed and the nation was left in shambles. A few weeks later, another earthquake hit the nation of Chile - it measured 8.8 in magnitude. In fact, the Chilean quake was so powerful that scientists estimate it the moved the earth's axis by as much as 8 centimeters and even shortened our day by 1.26 microseconds. No wonder it seems like the days are shorter - they are!

My wife grew up in Southern California where small earthquakes were a way of life - there seemed to always be some shakin' going on. According to a U.S. Geological research group there were thousands of earthquakes in this past year. Shake, shake, shake - there is a whole lotta shakin' goin on!

Despite all this geological shaking that is happening I think human beings have to deal with another kind of shaking that is even more unsettling. Every day I hear of someone who has experienced some kind of event in their life that has shaken their whole world.

The doctor says that word - "cancer". A teenage daughter says that word - "pregnant". A boss says that word - "fired." A spouse says that word - "divorce". These words and events have a seismic impact on peoples lives.

So how do we live in a world that is always shakin'?

Jesus never denied that our lives are shaken but offered something we all need:
"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." John 16:33

Peace in the midst of all the unsettling troubles of life - can this be possible?

A dear friend confided in me that in the past his wife suffered terrible emotional problems. She was terribly afraid and unable to leave the house for sometime - she could not care for their three children. Along with his demanding job, he cared for the kids, cared for his wife, and did his best to not go under himself. He told me that something helped him make it through - once a week he met with his minister and they prayed together - sometimes he wept, sometimes he laughed - but always he felt hopeful and more at peace after those meetings. Now his wife is quite healthy, his kids are in college and he looks back as those days of terrible upheaval with perspective - he says take heart, the peace of Christ can sustain you when there is a whole lotta shakin' goin on.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts... Col. 3:15.

Just thinking, Steve

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

True Value

A friend confided in me that he has spent his life feeling very insecure about his worth as a person. If you were acquainted with him you would be shocked. He has all the trappings of success: a successful career, a beautiful family, good looks, and the admiration of those around him. How can he feel insecure? He told me that his Father never affirmed him for anything except when he was number one at something: number one in his class, number one in a race, number one in sales - if he ever was second or lower he was ridiculed as a slacker. He has begun to realize that the haunting criticism of his Father has controlled his life. He told me that he had built his life on two premises: First, I can control your opinion and approval of me by my performance. Second, that is all that matters in life.

My friend is working on being free by finding a new way of seeing his value as a person. So how do we assess value if it is not by perfect performance? Our current culture says this is the only method.

In traditional cultures of the past and even some that exist still today, people have personal worth because of "honor". That is they are valued and honored because they fill their role in society - father, mother, teacher, leader, citizen, etc. Honor is not about "winning" and "being on top" but being a genuine success by fulfilling their responsibilities where they are.

There was a time when good families were a "haven in a heartless world" - a place of safety, love, instruction and joy. In his book, On Paradise Drive, David Brooks describes a new kind of family where we have the "professionalization of childhood". From the moment a child is born, Parents and Grandparents begin a plan to produce children who excel in a "profession" not a vocation. The goal is status, power, money - Brooks calls the system many Parents use as the "great Acheivatron". The result is that from day one a child is taught that only as they perform perfectly do they have real value. Brooks suggests these children are headed for the Psychiatrist or for drug and alcohol addiction just to cope with these immense pressures.

To be sure, challenging ourselves to excel and do our best is a good thing. But that is very different than making performance our God.

One of my favorite Psalms is Psalm 8: David speaks of our majestic God - creator of all things, who shaped human beings by his grace - "made a little lower than heavenly beings, crowned with glory and honor". (Psalm 8:4-5) Our worth is because of God's grace and love not something we have done or will do. God has crowned us with glory and honor - his action, his love, his view of us.

My dear Mom used to sing this little song to her children, including me...
"You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are gray. You'll never know dear how much I love you - please don't take my sunshine away."

She followed up that song by treating us with honor and admiration - I always believed her when she sang the song.

God is singing a love song to you - do you hear it? - do you believe it?

Just thinking, Steve

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

No Mask Needed

As a kid, I could not get over the idea that on one night each year we could go house to house and get all the free candy we could bag and then come home and eat it. All we had to do is wear a really cheap and cheesy costume that made us look just a little like a Cowboy or Superman or Popeye or Snow White or Cinderella. This was just too good to be true. These costumes included a plastic mask with a couple holes in it and the cheapest rubber band on the back to hold it in place. The rubber band always broke and you could never breathe out of those holes.

Trick or Treat was the magic phrase and the goodies would come our way - what a great deal! I cannot believe that my parents suspended all the rules on this night - wandering the streets in the dark, wearing weird clothes, and eating enough candy to cause anyone to become a diabetic over night! What were my parents thinking! Even crazier is that I did the same thing with my daughter and now with my Grand kids!

Wearing a mask is fine for Trick or Treating but wearing masks in our daily life can be disastrous. I am constantly amazed at the people I meet who are hiding behind a mask, trying to be someone they are not. Why do we do it? Some hide because they are afraid that if you knew who they really are you would not accept them or love them. Some wear masks to try to bully or intimidate others in to doing what they want.

Being real is basic to being healthy and content. Living in some kind of fantasy world about who we are is dangerous. How can we build real relationships if we cannot be real with the people we love and care about?

No masks are needed. Your creator knows what is under that mask - you can hide nothing.

"God so loved _________ "(put your name in the blank) not because of how you look or some human accomplishment - God's love sees through all the masks to the real me.

Just thinking, Steve

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Voting Stories

It is voting time again. The mid-term elections are upon us. I do encourage people to get out and vote - what a great responsibility to prayerfully prepare and vote.

When I was a kid the local politicians, like the local Sheriff who was up for reelection and had been Sheriff for years, would send his Deputies out to pick up people to come vote. And yes, they used their patrol cars to give them "free" rides. Seems a little fishy to me but it was the way it was done. The Sheriff seemed to always win by a landslide.

Texas politics has always been pretty colorful. Some people running for office were known to have had people vote for them who had been dead and buried for years. Someone apparently went to the cemetery and got the names off the gravestones and cast their vote for them!

For years many states had a "poll tax" - you literally had to pay to vote. So politicians would send their supporters out with money to pass out to all those who might be a little short on cash come election day. Who says you cannot buy votes.

I heard a country and western singer talking about getting in trouble with the law and ending up going to jail. He was convicted of a felony and so he was no longer allowed to vote or carry a gun. He said he did miss being able to vote but being a country and western singer and not having a gun was downright dangerous in the crowd he hung out with. He said he did get one good hit song out of going to jail, which eased the pain a good bit, especially whenever the royalty checks would come in every year.

One couple I knew were opposites when it came to politics but they would always vote just to negate the others vote. There are all kinds of motivations for voting - sometimes all it takes is knowing that your spouse will vote for the other person!

Early voting is great! Getting it done early usually means a shorter line. Some of the most enthusiastic voters are early voters - they are so excited you would think it's the Grand Opening of a new Wal-Mart! My parents would always vote on the first morning of early voting - they could not wait!

We are blessed - in some countries people who vote for the wrong candidate loose a hand or finger or worse!

Enjoy the blessing - see you at the polls!

Just thinking, Steve

Saturday, October 16, 2010

New Seasons of Life

Fall is here and I am thinking of all the things I love about it. Football, pumpkins, trick or treat, changing leaves, cooler weather, and so much more. Of course, I love all the seasons. When Winter arrives I glory in the cold days and the chill in the air but I also love those first warm days of Spring and the spring flowers that are so spectacular. And of course, Summer is so great with days at the river and on the beach and time with family - wonderful!

The need for seasons in our life is so clear. We need the change - something new, different, a new way, a new challenge, a new journey, a new place and time. Seasons in life are often resisted by human beings. I see people who live in denial that they have entered a new season in life. They are not in their 20's anymore but they kick and scream about the natural change of becoming older. Why not welcome it and enjoy the new experiences it will bring. Some couples dread the day that their kids will grow up and leave home - the "empty nest" leaves them with an empty heart! But this is simply a new season in life - embrace it, enjoy it - see what you can learn from it!

I read recently that more people are living into their 100's with each passing decade. Life can be long and full - what will you do with the seasons that come? You can moan and groan and complain about each passing season of life or find the amazing newness of these God shaped new experiences - you have a choice.

I, for one, will embrace each one and live it to the max!

"There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven" Ecclesiastes 3:1

Just thinking, Steve

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

In the School of Life

The topic of education in America is a hot item these days. Everyone has an opinion about the solution for our ailing education system. The problems are complex and I feel very inadequate to mount a soap box and blame anyone for the challenges we face.

What I do know about is the joy of learning. After a lifetime of learning I feel as if I have only scratched the surface. One of the great blessings I have enjoyed is a love for reading and exploring and discovery. I am grateful to my parents, my teachers, my fellow students, my professors, and my mentors for modeling for me the joy of learning.

I never thought of learning as a way to make money but as the great adventure of living. Some kids make better grades than others in school but some kids have the great blessing of falling in love with learning. For whatever reason, I have a great love affair with learning. I love to read, to reflect, to ask questions, to explore - to dig deeper. I am not sure where this love was born but I am so grateful.

Tony Compollo has this wonderful story he tells about growing up in Philadelphia. Each morning this very Italian American boy walked to school with his Jewish friend down the street. Each morning the last word from the Jewish boys Mother was "Do you have your books?" For Tony, the Italian kid, the last word from his Mother was always "Do you have your lunch?"

Not all families have the same passion for education but it doesn't mean that we have to miss out on the great adventure of learning.

One of the highlights of my adult daughter's life each month is Book Club. She loves it. Reading and then talking with others who love to read and learn and grow. Like her Mom, who is an avid reader, even with a busy career, a husband, and two kids, my daughter has not lost her love for learning. Nothing makes me happier.

Until we fall in love with learning all arguments and blame about education problems seem pretty useless to me.

Just thinking, Steve

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Big Things

When I was a boy I remember my Father saying that people often "major on the minor things". He was talking about church and all the constant squabbles that church folks have about "minor stuff". He was right and his assessment is still true. But the principle applies to more than just to church politics and disagreements - it is the way of the human mind and heart.

One of the things that has transformed my marriage is a focus on the big things. When I get peeved at some small irritation that comes with two people living in the same space I have lost my way - that little stuff is a waste of energy and time. There are "big things" that matter: being respectful at all times, demonstrating genuine love, solving serious conflicts with kindness and patience, practicing forgiveness.

Being able to take a step back and see how silly the minor things are is so essential in good relationships. Honestly I don't have the time or the energy or the interest to talk about so many of the things people yap about all day long. I think some people just love to fuss and fight. This is true in churches, in families, and at work - give me a break and give yourself a break.
Jesus was a big things kind of guy - "justice, mercy, and faithfulness" - these are the matters that carry more weight. (Matt. 23:23) The big stuff needs my attention - to do what is good and right, to be full of mercy, and to be reliable.

Just thinking, Steve

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

That Little Word

When I was kid the number one subject at my little church was sin. Nothing else even came close. We talked about sin, the preacher (my father) ranted about sin, we listed sins, we compared sins - we knew we were sinners and we knew everybody else was too, even if they would not admit it.

At our church meetings we ended the service with an "altar call" to sinners - when we had a revival or gospel meeting the speakers goal was to get every sinner down that aisle, confessing their sins, weeping, and begging for forgiveness. The unconfessed sin was the target - did you lose your temper today? did you have a lustful thought? did you speak a careless word? Truth be told, I had done all of those things and did them most everyday to some degree or another. But after a while it all just seemed crazy - why did we have to make a spectacle of our sins? I had been down the aisle several times. Yes, I was a sinner but I hated the circus atmosphere so much that I determined that come heaven or high water, I would not go down that aisle! This made me more of a target than ever - the visiting evangelist would move toward me - looking straight at me, as we sang "almost persuaded" but I never was - it was a test of the wills and I stood my ground.

The word "sin" has fallen out of favor these days. You can do about anything and it will never be called sin. We talk about all the results of crazy behaviors but we rarely speak of these choices as sin. Drop the word sin in a conversation with your co-workers in the corporate world and you will get some funny looks.

The typical overreaction has occurred. We hated the way sin was used as a manipulation tool by churches and preachers and parents so much that we "threw the baby out with the bath water"! Now we don't know how to talk about sin in a way that makes sense to people.

Anthropologists have found something true of all human cultures - acts of wrongdoing cause a sense of guilt and regret.

I would love to recover the word sin in our vocabulary. Not so we can beat each other up but simply because it restores a true sense of responsibility for my actions and yours. When I hurt someone it matters. We see so much that is destructive and evil in our world and when the word "sin" becomes illegal to use, something has gone wrong.

Balance is always tricky. We can do better.

Just thinking, Steve

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Can't Shake the Blues

One of the things I am noticing more and more is how many people seem to have the "blues". Sad, depressed, down - the blues - whatever you want to call it they have it.

I have been blue before and honestly it stinks. The best thing about the blues is looking back after they are gone! What I am encountering currently is a kind of down mood swing among the general population. People moaning about the bad economy, moaning about politics, moaning about their jobs, moaning about their marriages, moaning about the weather, moaning about church life, moaning about their kids, moaning about their parents - the list goes on and on.

There is a famous quote of Alex de Tocqueville after he visited America and spent time with us back in the 1800's - he noted "a strange melancholy that haunts the inhabitants...in the midst of abundance." His observation seems accurate for today's "melancholy" mood.

We have so much - so many "things" - all of which promised to make us happy and yet we still have the blues! When the global economic crisis hit back in 2008 a string of tragic suicides made the news - most of these people were wealthy people who had lost their wealth and their status with the collapse in the world markets. They were riding high and then when the money was gone they thought their life was gone - one was the chief financial officer at Freddie Mac, another the CEO of one of the largest US Real Estate Firms, one was a French money manager who had invested 2 billion dollars of his clients money with Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme, another was an officer in one of the countries largest banks, another was an executive from Bear Stearn's who lost his job - the list of powerful people whose world came crashing down all around them.

One thing I have discovered about the joy of "things" -- it is temporary. A new car soon has scratches, dents, high mileage, and the new smell is gone. A bigger house, new shoes, the latest tech gadget, a 50 inch flat screen T.V. - all these new "things" promise to bring us joy and for a time they do -- but only for a while.

All of us are searching for something deeper, I think. Something that will not rust, break, lose it's newness.

Paul had this amazing attitude about his life: he said he had learned to be content (at peace, happy, joyful) in whatever circumstance. (Philippians 4:11-13) The strength to live that way came from the Lord. There is something to this.

I know people who have lost jobs, had to uproot their families and move, start new careers, leave retirement for the work force again and they are very content and joyful people. They do not whine and moan about these challenges they have faced - they dig in and live life with purpose and meaning and joy.

I am praying that you will find this kind of joy - the kind that will help you shake the blues and sing a new tune. The kind of joy that does not disappear when life tumbles in.

"The joy of the Lord is your strength." (Nehemiah 8:10)

Just thinking, Steve

Friday, September 3, 2010

Learning to Rest and Recharge

I am back in the saddle after my brief Sabbatical. I must say it was outstanding. I think I should write a book about my experience - I have a title - "Eat, Pray, Love and Nap". Has anyone used that?

Seriously, I had hoped to truly spend time reading, praying, and getting plenty of healthy exercise and all that happened in abundance. I read a whole stack of good books - some very recreational and some very thought provoking. My wife and I did our morning fitness miles through the hills - we covered nearly 40 miles during a 7 day period. We saw hawks, doves, chaparrals, white tailed deer in abundance, and enjoyed some spectacular views at the top of those high hills in the Texas Hill Country. We would be out of breath on the way up those hills but the climb was worth it - so beautiful!

Life needs cycles of vigorous work and periods of rest and "re-creation" - it is a great secret to being healthy spiritually, emotionally, physically and intellectually. When I work all the time and take no breaks I become maladjusted - my thinking becomes skewed.

One of my favorite descriptions of Jesus is from his childhood - Dr. Luke tells us that he grew in wisdom, stature, favor with God and favor with men. (Luke 2:52) That is the the healthy balanced growth that we all need.

So work hard and do your best in your vocation and your relationships, but remember that times of rest and reflection will keep you balanced and healthy.

By the way, on the first day of our little retreat in the Hill Country I fell in the little creek that flowed by our cabin. I trudged my way back up the hill to the cabin wet and muddy and laughing outloud. My wife loved it - but was not surprised. Little boys never stop exploring.
Stop exploring and you stop living.

Just thinking, Steve

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Rest from Work

I am preparing to leave my work for a brief sabbatical. The word sabbatical is simply defined as a rest from work - a hiatus. In it's strictest sense it may last from several months to a year - mine is certainly not that long. I am very fortunate and blessed to have the time for rest and reflection.

The problem is that I love to work. Maybe I am even addicted to work. I had my first part-time job for pay when I was 10 years old. I have been working ever since. I have never been unemployed (I know that is a remarkable blessing.). I have always found work meaningful and rewarding. For one thing, I like to eat and my Dad said, (quoting Paul, the apostle) "If you don't work, you don't eat." I have enjoyed some work situations more than others but have always found work invigorating and a source of great satisfaction.

So now I will take my leave and rest. This is easier said than done. I may need a support group to help me pull this off. My dear wife has volunteered to help. Making a list for every day and attacking it with great determination will need to be set aside for a while and that will be a challenge. The first few days may be like being in the detox unit.

Jesus told his harassed and busy Disciples to "Come away and rest for awhile." I guess if Jesus needed some "sabbath" time, surely I do. In one of the translations of that text, it reads "Come apart..." - Jesus is telling his friends to come apart before they come apart. Time for rest and reflection helps us to restore a healthy perspective about our life and work.

I have a stack of books to read. I plan to take long walks with my dear spouse. If I can get my mind to stop thinking about work, I plan to think about other things - like life, love, and good Mexican food.

I also plan to spend plenty of time in prayer. It will be nice to not feel like I have to rush through my times of prayer.

I will tell you how it went in a few weeks. In the meantime, I have some work to get done before I leave. (Now I can check "Blog entry" off my list for today- I feel better already.)

Just thinking, Steve

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Some Like It Hot

It's August in Texas which means it is very hot. This morning the low was 83 with oppressive humidity that made breathing quite a challenge. I did my morning Bike Ride with a good buddy who is kind enough to not ride off and leave me somewhere out on a country road in East County. I was in a full sweat before I got on the bike. Just topping my tires with air, putting on my bike shoes and helmet had me sweating big time. I drank an entire bottle of sport drink on the ride and sucked down some Hammer Gel to keep from passing out. Isn't it great to live where the heat index is nearly 100 by mid morning?

I remember my High School football twice daily practices in the Texas heat. Our coaches believed that drinking water just slowed you down - so we would practice for hours with maybe one water break. The fact that we did not die in that heat is nothing short of a miracle. I would begin the season at 175 and lose 10 to 15 pounds in the first week.

My Grandfather loved the hot weather - he never complained about the heat. He said that hot weather separates the men from the boys. In his prime he could work all day out in the heat and never slow down. At lunch, he would find a spot in the shade eat his lunch quickly - drink some hot coffee - black, of course - and then sleep till the lunch break was over. When he woke up he was ready to go till the old sun was sinking in the western sky.

In a day of instant Weather Channel, my favorite AP on my Blackberry, I monitor the heat index from my cool, comfortable office and talk about how hot it is! I really think the "heat index" readings have made most of us feel much more miserable during the dog days of summer. When I was a kid I had no idea it was so hot - 110 heat index? - all I knew was that when you jumped in the river on a hot day it sure felt good!

Soon we will be talking about the biting cold - looking for our gloves and wishing for summer again! I am reminding myself today that some like it hot - Papa did. But then he never complained about the cold either - he never complained about anything. He lived with a grateful heart.

Thinking about such a dear old grateful man makes me feel better already! The old dude was a cool character!

Just thinking, Steve

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Good Gifts

What a beautiful world I have the privilege to live in! Despite all the problems, the ugliness, the pain and the challenges our world faces, there is such beauty if we look carefully. There is beauty in nature - blue skies, delicate clouds, spectacular sunsets - an array of amazing creatures that lift my spirits! When I mowed my yard this week, I saw a snake, a squirrel, numerous beautiful birds, insects of all varieties, including a katydid. All around me there is such beauty - gifts for the delight of my soul and spirit!

There is amazing beauty in people. Every shape and size and color - they are so remarkable. They go about their lives with such unique ways of doing things - even when they look odd they are interesting to me. Children laugh - they cry - they squeal with delight and it is all so beautiful in its time and place. An older couple walking together hand in hand - a picture of time tested love - this makes my heart rise!

There is such beauty in the arts - music, writing, films, plays, paintings and so much more! People using these amazing gifts from God to make the world a more delightful and thought provoking place to live - good gifts from our God.

There is great beauty in the service offered to those in need by willing servants. Feeding those less fortunate, helping someone find a job, taking someone to the Doctor, checking on an elderly neighbor, being a friend to someone who is hurting -- beautiful gifts given to others.

As I think about this I realize that there are really two ways to live: one to bring ugliness and pain into this world or to bring beauty - to be a blessing. I want to always to do the latter.

"Everything is beautiful in its time" says the wisdom writer of Ecclesiastes.

What will you offer to our world? Something beautiful, I hope. Begin today.

Just thinking, Steve

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Mind

In his book, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for A Hat, Dr. Oliver Sachs tells of his work with people whose minds are not working quite right. Sachs became famous because of the movie titled "Awakenings" starring Robin Williams and Robert De Niro. In the film, Sachs is working with patients who have been in a catatonic state for long periods and after receiving a psycho active drug called L-dopa they begin to wake up. For some, it is exciting and a real adventure. For others, it is terrifying - they feel overwhelmed by the world they have awakened to.

In the case of the man who mistook his wife for a hat, he suffered from visual agnosia - his brain literally could not recognize people and objects correctly.

For those of us who have had parents who have aged and began suffering from dementia, Alzheimer's, or any of the aging disorders of the brain we know first hand the pain of seeing someone begin to lose the use of their brain. It is heartbreaking.

I reflect on this as I think about the gift of clear thinking. Despite all the abuse my brain has undergone (Saturday morning cartoons, getting hit with a bat in the head at my friend's birthday party when he (Julio) missed the Pinata, too much loud Rock N Roll in the 60' s and 70's and bumping heads with my dimwitted brother trying to pick up the candy that fell out of my Halloween bag and more) I am so thankful that I can still recognize my dear wife and that she is happy that I can!

Thinking is a wonderful gift - try thinking about the good things, the noble things, the excellent things - it will change your whole attitude and outlook! (Philippians 4:8-9)

I am celebrating my brain today. Thank you Lord!

Just thinking, (and glad I can)


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Mountains Are For Climbing!

I love hiking and mountain climbing. My times out in the wilderness areas have been some of my most memorable outdoor experiences. There is nothing like climbing a peak and the exhilaration of being able to summit. All the effort, the pain, and facing our fears has been a good teacher in my life.

Lance Armstrong was the king of the Tour De France for several years - he could tackle a mountain on a bike like no one I have ever seen. He is one amazing athlete. But of course, Lance cannot win the Tour De France forever. Seeing him out there still riding is both inspiring and a reality check. He says this is his last Tour. Lance will have to find new mountains to tackle.

We all need new mountains from time to time in life to keep us excited and engaged. Life is a great adventure when we set new and challenging goals. One of my favorite writers challenged himself on his 75th birthday to write the book he had always wanted to write but had been afraid to tackle. Even though he had written more than 60 books, many of them best sellers, he set out to climb a new mountain by writing the book he never dared write!

Some start a new business, others adopt a child that needs a good home, others learn a new language, pursue a new course of study, volunteer to serve their community - whatever the new mountain climb it with joy, even when the going gets tough!

Challenge yourself - it will not only make your pulse race - it will bring new joy and satisfaction to your life!

Just thinking, Steve

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Masked Man

Some years ago, I had a frightening encounter with a masked man wielding a very sharp knife. I can say now that I am grateful for this encounter but at the time it did not seem good.

The guy with the mask was actually a friend of mine who was a surgeon and after he completed his work on me the only thing that caused me much pain was his bill.

What I recall about my recovery time from this surgery was the stern instructions for me to take it easy for a while. I was not to lift anything heavier than a biscuit. This was a terrible embarrassment to me when we went on vacation soon after the surgery and I could not even carry my chair down to the beach and my wife and daughter did all the heavy lifting. I was forced to stroll down to the beach carrying my towel and book. I could just imagine all the people in the Beach Houses that lined the ocean front seeing my behavior and speaking with great disdain about me: "Look at that jerk making his wife and daughter do all the work while he sits in his beach chair! I hope he gets stung by a jellyfish!"

I have trouble sometimes being willing to let anyone serve me. I want to pull my on weight - do it myself - I have just enough insecurity that it makes me uncomfortable allowing someone else to do something for me. What I forget is how good it feels to serve others - I know that feeling and yet I seem resistant to allowing others to experience that same joy.

I am learning to appreciate the value of graciously allowing others to serve me. Sometimes we learn valuable lessons by being still and just saying "Thanks!"

I hope you will not have to face an encounter with a masked man to learn this lesson.

Just thinking, Steve

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The World and a Round Ball

I am a new fan to soccer. After all I am from Texas where the only ball that really counts with most Texans is football. Being a soccer fan has been a long and difficult journey for me. It all began with the Unicorns - my daughter's team when she was just a sprite of a young lady. She wanted to play soccer - I wanted her to be interested in basketball or softball or anything but soccer. She really only wanted to play soccer because her little girlfriends were all going to play and the uniform was "really cute", according to her. For a guy who would regularly injure himself because of his passion (and lack of skill) playing his favorite sport, to watch those little girls who knew nothing about soccer and really just enjoyed picking the little wild flowers they found out on the field - it was misery for me. After the game, they would all come running to the sidelines, "Did we win? Did we win?" For heavens sake, they did not even know the score!

After a while, I learned to just laugh and enjoy seeing my daughter run aimlessly around the soccer field, hoping to have an opportunity to kick the ball occasionally. This brand of soccer was all I knew and so it did not leave a positive impression.

But I have recently found the sport very interesting - the world cup has filled my cup! It was especially interesting with the big event taking place in South Africa. My wife was born in East London, South Africa and her family lived in Johannesburg and Durban. The passion and devotion the players and the fans of world cup soccer have is something to behold. The USA team got my attention with their last second win and their battle into overtime in a later game.

The world we live in is huge but it is also getting smaller. Events like the World Cup remind us that we live on a vibrant planet with people from numerous cultures and backgrounds enjoying the same sport and playing it with the same enthusiasm.

I know people who live and work in Europe, Russia, Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Australia, Japan, Mexico, Canada, and Panama. A world economy has us connected in ways we never dreamed we would experience.

A round ball that gets kicked around is making our world a more connected place than ever.

I need the reminder that "he's got the whole world, in his hands", not just my little corner of the world.

I am also reminded of this word from the Bible:
"God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16) That is God's world view and I long for people to know about his love.

Just thinking, Steve

Thursday, June 17, 2010

No Friends, Please

Please do not ask me to join Facebook. If you like it, fine. The whole "social network" thing is not for me. I am trying to keep my number of "friends" to a manageable number. Really about a half dozen really good friends is all I can manage - having 5,000 would drive me nuts. Just buying a birthday present for all of them would send me into bankruptcy!

I need friends who have skin. Friends that I can look in the eye and know. I want friends who are so real that I know what they look like when they are not all dressed up and not trying to impress someone.

I have no interest in connecting with all these people from the distant past - I am sure they are living wonderful lives but I want to live today, not in the fantasy world of the past. My Grand Kids are better looking and smarter than theirs are anyway. What else would we talk about?

If I ever do choose to join Facebook please forgive me now for making fun of all of you who are currently addicted. Perhaps we can start a support group and become friends. Surely the 12 Steps could be adapted to those addicted to Facebook: "Hello, my name is Steve and I am a Facebookaholic."

Someone will say, "Steve, I started with just an occasional blog, then started reading blogs everyday, before I knew it I was "twittering away" and now I am a member of every social network available - you see what happens!"

It makes me tremble to think where all this might lead - it's a slippery slope, my friends!
There I go, using that dreaded word "friends"!

Just thinking, (and kidding around) Steve

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Smart Women

The world is changing in regards to women in new and refreshing ways. Read your daily headlines and women are moving into leadership roles that have long been reserved for men. In politics, business, journalism, education and research women are the cutting edge leaders of our time.

I have known all my life that women are gifted and smart. My mother was one of the most gifted and intelligent women I have ever known. She had limited formal education but her keen mind and passion for learning impressed me even as a very young boy. My mother was a leader by using her gifts to the maximum. She understood people and she cared deeply about building strong relationships that would last a lifetime.

I expect that soon there will be the first female President of the United States of America. I also expect that women will continue to thrive in leadership roles.

One of the gifts that some women have that make them especially good leaders is their ability to build good relationships without the need to play the power games that many men play. I know that some women can be as ruthless and power hungry as their male counterparts but some truly have a wonderful gift of making people feel included, appreciated, and valued in ways that are quite remarkable.

I have a daughter who is razor smart. She has gifts to offer this world that our world needs and I am glad we live in a time where opportunities for using those gifts are greater than ever. God speed the day when men and women work side by side to make our world a better place to live, to work, to love, and to serve others.

Just thinking, Steve

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Watching People

I admit it. One of my favorite things to do is to watch people. My wife and I do this when we are on vacation, in a department store, having dinner at a favorite spot - anywhere we see people we are intrigued by their behavior. As far as we can tell, we are really the only normal people left on the planet. Just kidding.

I watched the Father fuming about something and his kids listening to him with painful looks on their faces. The man clearly had no idea how strange he looked with his ranting and raving behavior.

We watched the little children on the playground running and climbing and falling. Some of them seemed totally free and willingly to try anything. Others seemed timid and hesitant and worried how the other children are reacting to them.

I watched a group of teens together - no one was talking to each other. Each one was texting or twittering or facebooking - but they never spoke to each other. Seemed odd to be with your friends and to not talk to each other.

I watched two guys looking over a new bass boat - they were so excited. Their eyes were lit up and their conversations were so animated. Like kids in a candy store.

I watched an older couple having dinner - he cut up her meat. She touched his hand. They seemed very content and happy.

All the world is a stage -- there is drama going on all around us. I wonder what people say about me when they see me. Do they say "He seems so excited about life - happy - those two have been together for a long time. They really enjoy each others company. That must be their Grand Kids with them - what great fun they all seem to be having."

I hope people see something like that because that really is my life.

Remember: I am watching you! So for heaven's sake do something amazing!

Just thinking, Steve

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Lost Thoughts

The end is near. Those who have been addicted to this strange phenomenon called "Lost" will watch the final episode this Sunday. The title is really appropriate because the more I discuss it with others the more "lost" I feel.

I am glad that this is all going to be over soon. I have lost my bearings and need to get back to believing that I know where I am and what is happening. What happened to those days when I always knew who the bad guys were and who the good guys were? It may have all be a facade but it was so comforting to feel as if you knew who you could trust.

So I plan to swear off any more long pondering thoughts about the meaning of "Lost". What it really means is that the people who wrote, produced, and starred in this series are now loaded and famous and will be headed to Tuscany for a long vacation with no concern about the cost. I on the other hand will do my normal low cost vacation to the Hill Country and watch what I spend while I am there.

My favorite story about a guy lost on a tropical island goes like this: A guy falls off a cruise ship and survives, swimming his way to a beautiful beach on a tiny island in the Pacific. After he has lived there for many years all by himself, one day a boat lands on the beach with a couple on board. He welcomes them to the island and takes them to his beach hut that he has constructed. He prepares a meal with all the fresh fruits and nuts that grow on the island. They are quite impressed with his hut and the food and the life that he has carved out for himself. He asks if they would like a tour of the island and they said sure. So he takes them on a walking tour of the island and they arrive at a beautiful little chapel - a church building that he had built himself. He told them this is where he worships each Sunday. They continued their tour and soon arrived at another little church building. The guests were very puzzled - "What is this?" they asked. The man responded: "This is where I used to go to church before I got mad and left and built the new church building you saw earlier."

I could not resist. Sorry. It would be funnier if there was not something prophetic in the little story.

Enjoy the last episode of "Lost". I am expecting something bizarre. And, of course, that is really why I watch - the expectation of something really weird.

Just thinking, Steve

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A Generous Heart

I recently read about a person who loaned her car to some friends while she was out of town on a business trip. Some weeks later she received a very unexpected gift in the mail - a speeding ticket. The ticket was mailed as the result of a "red light camera" and the photo clearly showed her license plate number going through the intersection. She tried to remember driving through that intersection but could not ever remembering being there. Then she checked the date - it was the week her friends had borrowed the car from her. What would you do?

This person did something I am not sure I would have even thought of doing. She paid the ticket and never mentioned it to her friends. What she knew was that for her friends this would have been a real financial burden - they were living on a very limited budget. She also knew that they would never deliberately run a red light. So she simply acted out of a generous heart.

Sometimes I kid myself and say that money does not matter to me. I almost pride myself on living a simple lifestyle with no debt. But sometimes it becomes clear to me that there are moments when I love money too much. I am not proud of this but I know that it is true.

A generous heart finds ways to protect, to show respect, to give quietly to others in need. I truly want that kind of heart.

My old Grandpa was as generous as they come. Once his old friend died and did not have any teeth - my old Grandpa gave him his teeth so he would not look so bad in the casket. That's real generosity.

One of my Profs in college, a man with two PhD.'s, a brilliant mind, who taught hundreds of students every semester, took the time to come to my wedding and to buy Linda and I a gift. I still remember the gift - a very nice teapot. That act of generosity took place almost 37 years ago and it still blesses my life. I recently saw him again and my heart was so full to see this dear old man, now well into his 80's, still brimming over with love. When that old teapot would whistle I would think of his generous heart.

Paul said, "God loves a cheerful giver." I do too. And so do you.

Be generous - I am determined to be more generous than ever.

Just thinking, Steve

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Do You Feel Competent?

I have many things in my life that are easy for me. Meeting new people is easy for me. I am one of those "extroverts" that drive you crazy when they make friends with the waitress at the corner cafe and the security guard in the parking lot and the President of the Bank, and the custodian at the school and the next door neighbor that no one talks to, because he is odd. Meeting people is easy and getting them to talk about themselves is a snap for me. Doing regular exercise is easy for me, not that I always want to get out of bed early, but I am by nature and habit a morning person who loves to be outside and get moving. Getting excited about a new adventure, something I have not tried before is easy -- the payoff is often learning something new about myself and others and I really enjoy that.

I have things that are not as easy for me. Confronting someone about a problem is not easy - I do it quite regularly, but I often feel nervous and anxious before hand. Buying big ticket items is nerve racking to me -- I would never buy a car, house, or anything very expensive again, if I did not feel I had to. Part of the reason, is because I don't want to let go of my money and because I feel very unsure whether I would ever get a "good deal", what ever that means. When I have to do it, I do my research and I get it done but it is never easy for me.

All of us need a certain level of competence. We need to feel capable of making decisions and of doing what needs to be done when it needs to be done. This is a basic skill of living.

Day after day, I interact with amazing people who are remarkable in their talent and skills. And yet many of them feel incompetent. I am blown away by this. I spend a great deal of time and energy convincing people that they have what it takes to be successful.

In his novel, Bridge of Sighs, Richard Russo portrays a startling scene between two of the main characters in the book, a Father and Son. The Son is now grown and his Father confides in him a deep, dark secret with the plea, "Don't tell nobody". He tells his son, that every election he would go to the voting booth and he would stay in the booth long enough to fill out the ballot, but in reality he never voted. For all his life, he felt the urge as an American citizen and knew it was his right and privilege to vote but he never felt competent to decide and so he never did.

I almost wept when I read that scene. To feel so insecure and incapable and the end result is to be frozen, unable to act - what misery that must be.

I meet truly amazing people week after week, who have great gifts from God and yet they feel as if they do not have anything to offer this world. Much of what good friendship is about is to encourage our friends and associates to use their talents and to believe that with God's rich blessings they have much to offer and the joy is using those talents.

My word for you today is that even in your weakest moment you are valuable and capable of being a blessing - Paul, the great Christian writer, said it this way "For when I am weak, then I am strong." (II Cor. 12)

I offer this word of encouragement - you are capable and competent for the challenges that come your way - tackle each one with courage and with confidence that God will help you to do or say what is needed. Go for it, friend!

Just thinking, Steve Yates

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Having My Way

I like having my way. This is not a shock, I know. Most of us I suspect like having our way. What is so strange is that some of you don't see things the way I see them and this means that often I don't get my way because of you. When I was a kid not getting my way was so difficult that I would complain to my parents and they would respond the way parents do: "Life is not fair." I really hated that answer but now I know that it is true. I still don't like it but it is true. One songwriter I know says this way: "The only thing that's fair is the weather." (and that changes, I might add.)

Now that I am a "big boy" I have had to learn how to cope with this not getting my way thing quite a bit. First, I got married and even though my sweet wife is very understanding she still wants her way so we are always having to practice give and take. I like the take part but often I must give. Second, I had a daughter. She has always been a very agreeable person but even so her ways are not my ways and through it all I learned that I don't get my way even in parenting. Third, I work with people. Hundreds and hundreds of people who all seem to want their way and often their way is so strange and doesn't make any sense at all, but they often get their way.

One thing that I know now is that getting my way is not the secret to happiness. I have gotten my way on several occasions and lived in misery as a result.

Learning to live with others and to love others when I don't get my way is good for me. It teaches me patience, makes me see others points of view, and challenges me to love people even when we do not see everything eye to eye.

Paul, the most prolific writer in the Christian scriptures, has this personal "thorn in the flesh" that he prays to God about. If he got his way, the thorn would be gone. He didn't get his way. (II Cor. 12) He did get an answer - he got "grace" - abundant grace. Not a bad deal really - he learned that grace was better than getting his way.

Just thinking, Steve

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Not the Boss of Me

My dear Grandson has a very dear older sister - he is 5 - she is 7. The wisdom and savvy she has gained in those two extra years makes her an expert on many subjects. On occasion she wants to share her vast experiences with her brother and give him clear direction about what he should do or should not do. His response: "You are not the boss of me."

I was very fortunate as a boy - I had four older sisters and they were a storehouse of knowledge, expertise, and advanced skills. On occasion they were willing to share their superior know how with me and give me the instruction I so sorely needed. My response: "You are not the boss of me."

For whatever reason, none of us like to be bossed around and we resist it vigorously. For some, it is such an issue they have a hard time ever keeping a job. For others, it means they always want to be "their own boss" (chuckle, chuckle).

Leadership and being bossy are not the same thing. Plenty of people are bossy but they are lousy leaders. After 30 plus years of fumbling around trying to learn more and more about the dynamics of good leadership, I have learned a few things.

People respond to honesty and hard work. If you want to be a leader, you must be willing to work harder and be more transparent and truthful than the average person.

People respond to good listeners. If you are full of yourself and never listen to others don't expect them to follow your lead.

People respond to joy. If you really enjoy what you are doing and demonstrate that daily it is contagious and people catch it!

Some years ago, a fellow I knew had some special needs. He seemed different, had some odd behaviors and talked too loud at times. We talked often. He would often ask me who my "boss" was and before I could answer he would say, with a big smile on his face, "God is your boss, right?" I would say "Yes sir - God is my boss - the best boss anyone could ever have!"

I miss being able to say that - so there it is - I said it and it is true - I have the best boss any one could have. My boss has taught me so much about how to be the right kind of leader. Thanks boss.

Just thinking, Steve

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Growing Season

Spring has sprung, my friends. I can tell because my nose is dripping and my azaleas are blooming. After the coldest winter that I ever recall, this spring has been especially welcome. During my morning run, I am amazed at the beauty and overwhelmed how quickly things have come to life after the cold of winter. Flowers in bloom, trees bursting with new leaves, and the humming birds hard are work draining my feeder - everything is alive and growing!

There are seasons of growth for humans, as well. I think I am in a genuine season of growth. My love for my work, my passion for being successful and for making a difference may be at an all time high. I want to be a better friend, a more loving husband, a more attentive neighbor, and a more dedicated Grandparent. I am not sure why, but I welcome this "spring" in me with an open heart.

I have enjoyed my quiet time so much lately: praying, meditating on what I read, being still and listening for God's voice and direction. I am also experiencing growing pains, challenging me to think outside my little territory into the vast open places that God would take me. It is exciting and just a bit frightening.

C.S. Lewis once told the story of what happened in his life when he let God take control. He said I first thought it would be so pleasant to have God in the "house of my daily life". But then I noticed that when he moved in he began doing a total renovation, adding on a room here and building a tower there. Before I knew it, he had begun to totally change me - reshaping me from the inside out. His plan was to build a new house of my life and this he proceeded to do.

It's spring - time to witness the creation come to life and to embrace what God will do with our lives. Brace yourself my friend, an adventure lies ahead!

Just thinking, Steve


Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Easter Chicks

When I was just a boy, one year at Easter my Dad bought my brother and I a couple of baby chicks. One was blue and one was yellow. I am sure this was their natural color. (Not!) We brought the chicks home and let them roam in our back yard. Amazingly enough they seemed very healthy and happy there. Soon they lost their blue and yellow color and grew into very normal looking chickens. All day long they would just scratch and peck and roam our rather large back yard. They got fat and big and then one day they were gone.

That evening we gathered around the table for our evening meal and we said thanks for the bounty that was set before us. We had mashed potatoes, green beans, homemade bread, and the most delicious fried chicken I had ever tasted! It seemed as if it was fresh off the farm!

At some point, my brother and I who must have been as "dumb as a bag of hammers" made the connection between the missing chickens in the backyard and the finger licking good supper we had just consumed. How can you weep over fried chicken? We did.

My brother and I remembered how cute they were, how cuddly they were, and wept great big crocodile tears, as we digested what had happened.

A few weeks later we both received new puppy dogs, given to us from a neighbor friend. We both thought about the future and told Mom that we did not want these puppies. "But why", Mom said, "you have been begging for puppies for so long?" We both teared up and then she knew.

Dad explained that we did not eat dogs - dogs fetch balls, catch Frisbees, and chase cars. Dogs are man's best friend - we do not eat dogs. This assurance helped us receive the puppies with great joy.

One day my brother, who was known for his wisdom, said to me, within the hearing of my Dad, "It is hard to be a chicken."

This became a favorite bit of wisdom passed down in our family - someday it may appear in my brothers first volume of wisdom for the common man.

Feel free to use this wisdom any way that best suits your needs - it can be used at work, in family life, even as a sermon illustration, in a blog entry, and someone should put it on a bumper sticker.

Have a joyous Easter - the true message of Easter has nothing to do with baby chicks and dimwitted brothers - it is a message of life, life in the Son, life abundant and everlasting!

That is something worth celebrating!

Just thinking, Steve

Thursday, March 25, 2010

You're Worth It

Sometime back a friend told me that he had started therapy for some personal issues he was facing and was seeing a Psychotherapist. He said the biggest challenge was to set aside the time and the money to do it. I said to him, "That's wonderful! You are worth it!" When I said it, I saw his eyes well up with tears. Being the "manly men" that we were, I said nothing about his "wet eyes" and neither did he. About a week later, I got a note from him. The note said, "You will never know how much it meant to me, when you said, "you are worth it!"

One of the things that I have noticed about people is that many of us don't believe we "are worth it." Most of the people that I meet who are so angry or defensive or anxious are people who believe that they are "not worth it." Often the reason it is so hard to be around them and deal with their bizarre behavior is because they see themselves as either worthless or worth very little. They may put a brave, pride filled front on but down deep they see themselves as a person of little real value.

I remind my self often that I am created in the image of my creator and that my creator makes masterpieces everyday. I also remind myself that despite all the ways that I have messed up God's great creation, that because of his love I am renewed and growing more and more into his image day by day. (Genesis 1:27; II Corinthians 3:18)

So, I say to you today, even if you don't feel it right now, you are worth it!

Just thinking, Steve

Thursday, March 18, 2010


I had some time off for Spring Break recently and spent a good deal of the time doing what I call recreational reading. I read at work several hours each day but it is rarely what I would call recreational reading. I am preparing to teach a class or make a presentation or write an article or a preparing a speech or message. On vacation, I read purely fun stuff. Richard Russo, Lee Child, Robert Crais, Carl Hiason, Steve Martin - writers that take me off my normal path into a world of craziness, mystery, and the like.

So what is recreational reading? For me, it is the joy of the story. The story can be fun, silly, sad, scary, even wild and crazy - I love a good story. It gives my brain a break from the seriousness of normal life - of work, of projects, of research. Heaven knows my brain needs a break. It has a way of recharging my battery and refreshing my spirit.

My taste in fun reading is probably not like yours - no matter - it relaxes and re-creates me.

That word recreation is literally to be re-created - to get new energy, new zip in your mental attitude. After all those funny, crazy, fast paced stories of weird people, I returned from my brief break with a light feeling. Relaxed, refreshed, and ready to tackle the real stuff of life.

On my first day back at work, I am preparing a memorial service - the service is this evening. This is real life - the reality of death and loss which intrudes into our daily lives. The recreation time helps recharge us for times like these.

Even Jesus needed to withdraw from the crowds - how much more do we need to do that as well.

Off to work we go - feeling energized for the tasks before us.

Just thinking, Steve

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

People Make Me Laugh

The single most amusing activity of my life is listening to and observing people. People do make me cry, they do make me mad, they sometimes make me shake my head in disgust, but most of the time people just make me laugh.

Dogs and cats are often funny and people seem to always have their video camera going when their cat or dog does something really funny. But people are funny day after day, week after week, year after year - sometimes they are so funny that you can spray milk out of your nose, if you are not careful. I avoid drinking milk when I am watching people. The risk of a milk spray is just to great.

I recently saw a guy talking to another guy and the entire time he was sticking a pencil in his ear. I do not know what he was probing for but he kept it up during the entire conversation. I am so glad I was not drinking milk when I saw him - I would have had a major explosion of the bovine fluid on my hands.

On my way to work one morning I watched as a woman talked on her cell phone, put on her make-up, brushed her hair, drank her coffee and drove her rather large SUV, at a high rate of speed, all at the same time. OK, I know I should not laugh at this but, it was so funny to see someone who had taken the fine art of multi-tasking to new heights. (or lows, if you are the one she runs over!)

Just recently, I saw a man who left his fly down and his shirt tail was coming out the opening flapping in the wind. He would walk by and people would almost fall down laughing - I had to wonder how he felt when he finally noticed later that his fly was down and that he was flying a flag! Hopefully he laughed heartily about it.

I realize that sometimes laughing at people is just cruel. I have no interest in doing that. Kids were very cruel to kids who looked a bit different when I was in Junior and Senior High. The laughing was often mean spirited and hurt others deeply. I am not talking about that kind of laughing. What I have in mind are just the odd and quirky things we do each day that are just so hilarious. I know that I do them and despite all efforts to be cool, I am far from it. Once when I was about 13 years old, my brother and I went fishing on a small creek and when it started to get dark the skunks came out and starting chasing us and we sprinted with our fishing gear in hand across an open field. It was almost dark so I never saw the single wire about belly high that was in front of me - it was a "hot wire" designed to keep the cows in the field and off the road. I was ahead of my brother in a full sprint when I hit the wire and fell to the ground laying on top of the wire. About every 3 seconds a surge of electricity would hit me and I would scream - my brother on the other hand was laughing his little league hat off his head. I still have great compassion for the shock that cows get when they bump up against a hot wire.

The wisdom of Proverbs says that a "merry heart is good medicine". Laughing is good therapy and I often provide people with excellent opportunities to feel better after they get a big belly laugh watching one of my funny escapades. I am glad to be of service.

I need more good laughter in my life - don't you? Just pay attention to people around you and it will bring a smile to your heart!

Remember: I am watching and listening - do something funny! You can count on me to return the favor!

Just thinking, Steve

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Life Is Good

I spend a good deal of time each day hearing people's problems. This has been true for more than three decades now and it will not likely change in the future. This is my life. I am a listener. I am called to be a helper. While some of what I hear truly pulls at my heart strings and can even sap my energy for a while, I understand something about this life I have. This is a good life.

It is a wondrous place to be involved with people who are hurting and are reaching out for help. If I may say it this way, it is a sacred place. I know personally what it is like to be hurting and to need someone to listen and to care and to offer wise counsel. This is holy ground.

On occasion, someone will say to me something like, "I don't know how you do it." While all of us suffer from fatigue at times in our work, doing good work is energizing. It gives us a real sense of purpose and meaning. This is true if you are teaching children in an elementary classroom or being a therapist with people facing relational struggles. Good work is rewarding and affirms that we are blessed with a good life.

Paul had this great line where he said, "we are God's workmanship (meaning handcrafted for good work) created in Christ Jesus for good works that were prepared in advance for us to do." (Ephesians 2:10)

Whatever your work - your calling - your task - do it with all your heart!

Even God looked at his work and said, "This is good, very good!"

Life is good - even with the bumps in the road and all the challenges - it is good.

Just thinking, Steve

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

What Do You Value?

It really is true that $1,000,000 will not buy what it used to! For example, recently a comic book that originally costs 10 cents sold for - you know it - $1,000,000! Of course, the comic book was the produced in 1938 and was the first Superman comic book. Even those who are avid collectors were stunned by the price - a measly $400,000 was the previous record for a similar item. Wow - someone really valued that Superman comic book!

Value - now there is an interesting concept. What do you value? For some, value is all about stuff - houses, cars, boats, gadgets, etc. For some, its position. Titles, promotions, being in charge, power, etc. For some, its time. Time to relax, to pursue their interests, time away from pressure and demands, time with friends, etc. What we value says a great deal about us - it often defines us to others without us saying a word.

When I ask myself this question the answer was in my daily calendar - it is what you do everyday - the way you live that tells the story. You can also clearly see what you value by looking through your financial transactions, your checkbook - how you spent your money and what dominates the list.

Jesus had these sayings that are just floor me - like this one -
"What will it profit a person, if they gain the whole world and lose their soul?"

The quickest way to "lose your soul" is to sell your soul for the sake of the stuff of this world.

Value - what about love, joy, peace, patience and all those virtues that shape our lives to help us see what really matters - now that is worth $1,000,000 and much more!

Just thinking, Steve

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Who Dat?

I always watch the Super Bowl. I would feel Un-American and out of touch to not watch it. The hype drives me nuts. The games are often boring but I resign myself to the duty of watching it each year.

But this year, there was something different about this normally over blown and over hyped event - it meant something more than football. After all it was the Cinderella story of football - the New Orleans Saints finally in the Super Bowl after decades of mediocre teams and lack of success. But, of course, the real story is of a city crushed by the worst national disaster in the history of our nation and the lives that have been changed forever, as a result. The success of the Saints became a new beacon of hope for a city trying to rebuild.

I was having lunch this week and in walked a group of New Orleans fans chanting, "Who Dat? Who Dat?" The "Who Dat Nation" is living in the afterglow of an unlikely and remarkable story of victory!

The joy of seeing an underdog excel and succeed is like nothing else. It gives all of us hope that we too can fight our way through adversity, through the challenges we face, and be successful in life.

My problems and challenges seem rather small today - no more grumbling or complaining for me - dedication, desire, and the generous blessing of God with get me through!

Who Dat!

Just thinking, Steve

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Last Season

My confession of the week is that my wife and I watch "Lost", the television series. I am so thankful that this is the final season. I am not sure what it is I like about this odd and confusing program. Perhaps that is the secret: it is odd and confusing. One of the ways the creators of "Lost" keep you lost, is by bouncing around in time and space. Is it now or is it later or is it before? Does anyone know what time it is? The characters remind me of people I have known over the years - I will not reveal names to protect the innocent. In this series, dying does not get you off the show - you simply reappear in a different time and place. Time travel in this series is as common as changing planes in Dallas, Houston or Los Angeles.

There are television programs that I watched in years past that truly were awful. I was a faithful viewer of "Kung Fu" - when I think about it I am horribly embarrassed. On Sunday evenings, I believe, my family gathered around the TV to watch "Bonanza" - when I see a rerun it makes my skin crawl. What were we thinking? Adam, Hoss, and Little Joe were the world's worst Cowboys - the acting and script is so bad, it is laughable. Our family loved this terrible show - what was wrong with us and the millions of others like us?

As bad as all that television was it cannot compare to the horrible addiction to "reality TV" - this is proof that the decline of Western Civilization is well underway. The furthermost thing from reality is of course any reality program that is on the air.

All of this reminds me that there is no reasonable explanation for people's tastes in television, movies, music, politics, sports, etc. - it is one of life's genuine mysteries. My personal taste is so strange that it would make yours look normal, I am sure.

Week after week, we will find time, via our DVR, to watch one more espisode of "Lost", so we can scratch our head and discuss over popcorn what we think is coming next.

Just a reflection about all this: Isn't it wonderful that we are all so different? Who wants to be a clone? I find people so interesting simply because of our different tastes, different interests, and different ways of seeing the same thing.

It makes my job and life interesting and challenging every day. I like that.

Just thinking, Steve

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Best Friends

Our dear friend, Larry, died last Friday. It was a shock like nothing I can ever recall. Friends came from all over the community to the hospital, all of us in shock. Larry was a one of kind guy. Genuine, loving, positive, determined, gifted, a get things done person - so smart and talented and yet so self-effacing - humble - what a remarkable person.

The thing that caught my attention is that all of his friends were convinced that they were his "best friend" - that includes me. What does it say about a person that all his friends believed he truly cared for them deeply? Larry knew the art of friend making and he made all of us feel as if we were his very, best friend. That is so powerful.

I want to be that kind of friend to others. I am inspired by his example and determined to make friendship a priority in my life.

I asked my Granddaughter Ella what BFF stands for she smiled and said, "Best Friends Forever", Papa!

Hey Larry - BFF! We take the challenge to be outstanding friend makers! Thanks for teaching us by your example!

Just thinking, Steve

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Addicted to Media

The reports that made the news this week regarding how much time kids spend online, on the phone, texting, playing computer games, listening to music, etc. were not much of a surprise. Kids spend more time with some kind of media daily than they do sleeping.

Parents who hear this are not shocked by this - they know how addicted our kids are. Frankly adults are also addicted to the various forms of media and technology. The challenge, of course, is to find a healthy balance.

William Glasser had the idea that humans will all have addictions, so our challenge is to find healthy ones - he called them "positive addictions." I am not sure there are any healthy addictions frankly. I know people who are addicted to food, sex, drugs, booze, exercise, religion, social networking and the list goes on and on. The nature of an addiction is that we have lost control.

The idea of self-control (temperance, moderation) is almost a lost concept to a culture that goes from one addiction to the next. In scripture, self-control is presented as evidence that we are filled and bearing the fruit of the Holy Spirit. (Galatians 5:23) I need self-control in my life to do well.

I had a friend years ago who went from one hobby to the next with reckless abandon. He would spend thousands of dollars on a hobby, go after it for maybe a year and then it was on to the next one. He almost bankrupted his family with his addictions to the latest greatest whatever.

Finding ways to limit our time with media and technology is a counter cultural stance and will be viewed as odd. I know a family that raised all their children without ever having a television in their home - all their kids were well adjusted, top students, and a joy to be around. You could actually have a conversation with them because they were avid readers and had great social skills.

Our daughter never had a television or a computer in her room growing up - it was not punishment, it was called parenting. She is a pretty remarkable person today, thank the Lord. Her two kids do not have a computer or television in their rooms and I predict they will do well. (The fact that they are my Grand kids gives them a real advantage, I humbly realize.)

Too much of a good thing, makes it a bad thing.

Just thinking, Steve

Thursday, January 14, 2010

At the Movies

I love movies. Thankfully my wife of 36 years loves them too. We watch more movies than most people. We get two or three movies a week through the mail and usually watch that many each week. The convenience of movies on DVD is still so amazing to a non-geek guy like me - I know that the newest technology will soon make DVDs like cassette tapes and eight track players something of the distant past. For now, I am happy being able to see and experience these movies in the comfort of my home, eating my own excellent, low-cost popcorn.

During the recent Christmas holidays there were a number of new movies that debuted and so we ventured out to the Theater to see a few of them. I love the sound system and the big screen and even most of the fragrances of the movie house. There are one or two smells that I could do with out - something like road kill is under the seats in some older movie places. I love seeing people come out of a movie and talking and laughing or even with tears in their eyes. The experience of movies on the big screen and among people is unique and can be very moving.

What I cannot get over is how expensive it is to buy a bag of popcorn, a soft drink and a bag of M&M's. It shocks me every time I go. I faintly remember going to the movies on a Sunday afternoon, watching a double feature, getting a big coke, popcorn, and candy and the total cost including the ticket was one dollar. That is the problem with a good memory of the past. Honestly, I know that the owners of Theater's have to make a profit and they make most of it from the junk at the concession stand. What I cannot imagine is going to the movies if you had a large family - you would have to cash in your 401K!

I am going to the movies tonight - I have the best seat in the house right next to the cutest girl in California or Texas - and the popcorn will be so good and so cheap!

See you at the movies - just thinking, Steve

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Longhorn Memories

Tonight the Texas Longhorns will play for the National Championship in College Football, facing the University of Alabama, a formidable opponent to be sure. I have no predictions about the game but I will be watching with all the millions of fans, personally hoping for a Longhorn victory.

My memories of Longhorn football go back to the days when they dominated college football without ever throwing a pass. Coach Royal did not know any pass plays and did not trust them, if he did. It was run up the middle, run to the right, run to the left - touchdown! For a football purest it was great but for many it was just boring. My High School coach took us to a Longhorn game each year in Austin - it was amazing - thousands of people - horrible traffic jam - and seats in the end zone. We loved it and secretly dreamed of one day being a Longhorn ourselves. I don't know how they overlooked my talent but somehow they did.

One year we went to Austin and spent the week-end with some friends - they lived just a few blocks from the Stadium and so we walked to the game. We felt like hometown folks - not fighting the traffic and walking right into the stadium - after the game we strolled home celebrating another victory and laughing at all the people in the traffic jams!

Despite the fact that people will live and die with each play tonight, tomorrow life will go on and the game will be history. The coaches will be second guessed, the officials will be vilified, and the cheerleaders will be so glad the season is finally over! The respective Universities will walk away with millions and a few of the players will go on to play in the NFL.

The game of life is more than a highlight film - more than just a big event - it is the daily journey of living, loving, working, trying, failing, trying again, succeeding, and so much more! The game of life is the one that really counts - give it your all - enjoy the adventure -forgive often - love always - trust God - follow Jesus! That's the good life!

Just thinking, Steve