We have a No Whining Rule at my house. Confession time, it’s for me. When you’re in a family of stone-cold super-survivors and the hardest adult thing you’ve ever done is stay up late pushing a record button, you need some guidelines.
I’m getting a cold. That’s not an excuse. My head hurts. I’m coughing. I ache all over. These are facts, people! I got the cold from an un-named family member whom I love dearly. I resisted naming names. So far so good.
The Plot Thickens
Today, however, reveals a disturbing trend. Rather than suffer the man-shame of falling into the whiny-pit, I’ve found a loophole. According to the orignal No Whining documents, it’s perfectly legal to let all discipline go – as long as I do it silently.
Technically Not Whining
My good habits start to slip. I don’t make my bed. I forget how to wash a dish. I skip shaving and call it creative.
From here all barriers are breached. The discipline dam bursts. I start over-commenting on Facebook. I develop opinions. I attempt jokes. I try to explain the internet to people.
If this doesn’t stop soon I’ll be hijacking ice cream trucks and buying in bulk! Something obviously must be done.
Smarmy & Smarmy
It has become obvious that just because I’m not whining aloud doesn’t mean I’m not whining. But Smarmy & Smarmy, the legal team in the back of my mind, has quietly gotten me off the hook on a technicality.
My good habits are the momentum that keeps me going when things get rough. I’ve worked hard to put them in place. I can’t really afford to let them go dormant just because I found an excuse. Thanks to my Smarmy & Smarmy, there’s always an excuse.
It’s time for a new rule.
The No Excuse Rule
Whereas whining has been defined as audible excuses, therefore excuses shall be defined as any reason, stated or otherwise, written or unwritten, that I use to avoid doing the duty I have chosen.
That’s right. I chose this. So, any lie I tell is a lie told to myself. I will do this even if it hurts. Even if I’m sick.
But Wait, I’m Sick
But it’s cold. No excuses! I’m dressed like an Eskimo but I’m shivering so hartd I Can’t hold my ifone stilll. Who mad these tiny keys! I remind myself that the troops wer coldr at the Battle of the Bulge. Probbbably.
I grit my teeth, hold my tongue and thank God for dpellcheck. Gratitude is not whining. I didn’t even mention dyslexia.
If only I can make it to the medicine cabinet for a swig of the hard stuff – NyQuil. I manage it without my legs buckling.
There. That’s better. Now, all I have to do is make it to bed and finish writing before I . . .
Operation Restore Order
This morning I got up and made my bed. Okay, it was after coffee but it still counts. It’s a simple, foundational habit that I chose. If I skip it I’m letting myself down. It didn’t hurt much, even though it looked like there was a bar fight in there.
Today will go better because of it.
I also I ordered my hand-tooled leather “No Excuses Tour” bomber jacket to commemorate my survival. No one else will understand what it means. But you and I will.
I have so many friends right now who are doing the hard things.
Some by choice though others would choose anything thing else. They are taking care of family members with cancer and dementia. They are fostering broken children, rebuilding storm-tossed houses, waiting for the power to come back on.
They are not just waiting for normal. They want more than getting by. They are trying to mean something.
So, they attempt the hard things. They gather research, they dream dreams, they apply hope and summon courage. They gather teams and pool resources. They pray prayers. Then they begin.
It doesn’t always go well.
In fact, it usually doesn’t. They tackle a daunting, overwhelming challenge with every intention of mounting a comeback like Tom Brady. Maybe they will. But nobody will make it easy.
Easy sits in a recliner, drinks cold beverages and posts a concerned Facebook comment. Easy joins the popular cause where they can hide in the crowd if things get rough. And possibly sneak out unseen. Easy demands a government agency or group of experts to fix things. Easy waits until tomorrow.
But the friends I see do not go for easy. They are compelled to take the dangerous step of trying. They see a need that no one is meeting and assign themselves the thankless job. They see that, if they don’t, it will probably never get done.
The reason I know they are out there is because these doers of the hard things have come to my aid in nightmarish times. They didn’t ask for anything. They didn’t ask if I needed help. They didn’t ask permission. They stepped in, like it or not, and stood alongside.
It’s breathtaking when you see them come for you. You know there is no benefit at all, no money or fame or power to be had. The really surprising thing is that they are everywhere – except on the news or in magazines or even blogs.
If anything, they run from such noise. They swear they are not heroes. They say ridiculous things like, “Anybody would have done it.” But we know that’s not true. Most people will not take the heart from their chest and fry it in the intense heat of these situations.
Doing the hard thing hurts. It costs time and money and emotion and blood. But there are people out there doing it every night and every day. Right now. Right here. Lots of them.
I hear people with fire in their eyes talking about how they are going to change the world. But mostly they are talking about their world. They’re thinking about computers and conveniences and glory. They want to surf the wave of the future and rack up a high score for the cameras on the beach.
But the Doers of the Hard Things are out of sight and mind, picking up the broken pieces in the shadows. You can see them if you look but you will have to look closely. They will not pose in the spotlight. They are too busy changing lives to notice the side effects of what they do . . . as they change everything.
With bowed head and fist over my heart, I solemnly salute you all.
I stand wearily atop the hill and spy the hill beyond with gratitude I’ve come this far and visions further on. I’ll sleep the sleep of one who’s done all he can do for now and wake to promised strength renewed and memories of my vows.
You would think it would be obvious what Memorial Day is about. Wikipedia calls it,”a federal holiday in the United States for remembering the people who died while serving in the country’s armed forces.” Seems simple enough. But in today’s tumbleweed culture the word roots applies more to hair color than to foundational truths.
Barak Obama spent the week leading up to Memorial day traveling to Vietnam and Hiroshima to honor the “victims” of the “evil” bombs dropped on Japan. That’s the warped half-truth he said we must never forget. “We come to mourn the dead,” he said and called for a “moral revolution” to end nuclear weapons.
Forgotten was the fact that Japan started the war against us, without warning, violating international law. Forgotten was the brutal treatment of prisoners, the Bataan death march, the atrocities in Nanking, the destruction in Korea. Unmentioned were the 50,000 Korean slaves killed and 40,000 more injured not to mention Chinese slaves and prisoners. Medical experiments and torture were never mentioned. The scant survival rate of prisoners of war was skipped over.
Obama never mentioned the actual war: the kamikaze planes, the banzai charges, the beheading of captives, the destruction of the world for sheer greed and power. The battles were not named: Pearl Harbor, Southeast Asia, Coral Sea, Midway, New Guinea, the Solomons, Guadalcanal, Saipan, the Philippine Sea, Leyte Gulf, the Philippines, Iwo Jima, Burma, Borneo, China, Okinawa, Guam, Tarawa, Palau and more. The individual battles for ridges and patches of muddy ground like Kakazu Ridge or Sugar Loaf Hill were forgotten.
Individual soldiers were not recalled any more than the countless grains of sand my father ate on Okinawa and Guam and unnamed places. My uncle who served on the U.S.S. Arizona wasn’t spoken about. In fact, not a single soldier, marine, sailor, pilot, seabee, frogman, radio operator, code talker, nurse, medic, mechanic, submariner, torpedo man, cook or merchant marine was discussed. Heroes were ignored. There were no hints of family sacrifices.
The cold calculation required to start an unprovoked unlimited war on one side of the globe while partnering with the Nazis and Fascists that had Europe in flames wasn’t reported.
Less Than Half The Story
World War II was the deadliest, most horrifying bloodbath in human history. Three percent of the world’s population was killed by the Japanese, Nazis and Fascists. No one can ever know the number but world-wide estimates are staggering. Over 80 million people died, most of them innocent civilians.
The lives of many survivors were destroyed, their money stolen, their animals killed, their productivity gone. Enslavement and misery were spread around the globe. Dreams were stolen. Families that could have been were not. An entire race of harmless people was systematically turned to smoke. The good all of these people could have done was lost for all time.
The Japanese army killed more than 20 million people in China, many of them women and children in the most brutal fashion ever imagined by the mind of mankind including biological and chemical warfare.
And yet, sitting United States President Barak Obama took five days before memorial day to travel to Vietnam and Hiroshima to lecture us on our morality.
Memorial Day Is Bigger Than One War
All of the wars the United States has ever fought are wrapped up in Memorial Day. All of the soldiers from the Revolutionary War to the current soldiers who are dying in Afghanistan are included. All of this sacrifice was done, not by professional soldiers, but by average Americans who were willing to put their lives on the line.
They had lives to live and better things to do than battle. They left the battlefield and went home to resume what was left of their lives. They were not conquerors in search of world domination. They left all of the hard-fought, blood-bought territory behind. The spoils of war were not stolen. No one was enslaved. No one was cremated. Prisoners were released. Enemy soldiers were allowed to go home. Aid was given. Money was loaned. Social order was protected.
These things did not have to be.
Once you realize the gaping holes in the history that’s being presented to us, one great question appears––”Why?”
Why take the week before Memorial Day to portray America in the worst possible light? Why demand, out of context and in spite of history, that we need to revolutionize our morality? Why is evil being selectively and deceptively presented? Why is blame for the world’s greatest conflict being transferred to the citizens of the United States?
You might say it’s just politics. Do you expect the truth from a politician? What harm can a lie do?
On this point I want to be very clear – one man’s lies started World War II. He lied to the German public. He systematically used schools to separate children from their parents with the Brownshirts. He lied that the Jews were responsible for Germany’s problems. He lied to dehumanize them and make the Holocaust seem like a solution. He lied to the Jews to get them into the Ghettos. He lied to them to get them passively into the gas chambers. He lied to the Russians to keep them out of the fight. He lied to persuade Christians while practicing a twisted paganism. He lied to muslims to turn them into part of his war machine. He lied that Germans were a super race.
It was all a lie.
Japanese militarists lied to their people about the Chinese to unleash hatred in unthinkable ways. They lied that the Americans would eat their children to the point that soldiers and civilians committed suicide to prevent a fiction. They lied about medical experimentation, chemical and biological weapons. When the bombs were dropped the Japanese public thought they were winning the war.
It’s this simple: lies kill.
Why Does This Matter To Me?
Freedom of speech is one of the founding principles of this country for good reason. The Bible puts it this way – all men are liars. The corruption of lies can only be washed away by a fountain of truth.
Complacency is the enemy of truth. We don’t have to participate in the lies. We just have to stand by in silence.
The corrupting lies by socialists, atheists, race-baiters, politicians, teachers, entertainers, scientists, heavily financed institutions and foundations in this country are growing ever bolder. They rail against the foundations of the nation. Religion and family are openly mocked. Democracy is derided. Capitalism is vilified. Government is magnified. The sacred core convictions of my family are made into jokes.
Any possible human weakness is exploited. People’s religious convictions are being outlawed. Ridicule is used as a weapon. Freedom is being wiped away in favor of ever more oppressive politically controlled thought.
The lies and misinformation are no longer subtle. History is being replaced by propaganda. Over and over again we hear America is at fault.
The President’s unprecedented trip to ground zero after Vietnam is a calculated attempt to make us feel guilty, to shame us and perform moral jujitsu. Our highest elected official challenging our morality is yet a further insult to years of unwarranted apologies.
It is time to stand up for the truth.
This Is Personal For All Of Us
My grandfather was attacked by a weapon of mass destruction when Germany gassed him during World War I. He barely survived. Had he not, I wouldn’t be here.
My father and his brothers were farm boys from Mississippi who grew up with a knowledge of the dangers of war and still went when their country called. My dad was waiting to attack the Japanese mainland when the bomb was dropped. Had my father not survived the landing I wouldn’t be writing this today.
I probably owe Harry Truman and the Manhattan Project team my life.
War was declared. Multiple warnings were issued by leaflet and radio. No warnings were needed as the full might and intentions of the U.S. had already been amply demonstrated. All of Japan’s major and many smaller cities had been devastated by incendiary bombs. The Japanese were surrounded and driven back to their home islands. Germany and Italy had already capitulated. When Russia officially declared war on Japan, every significant power on earth was aligned against them. Yet still they fought on.
Top secret for forty years, we now have the declassified plans for Operation Downfall to take Japan. It was more than twice as large at the D-Day landings yet it was still less than half the number the Japanese made allowances for in defense plans. The Japanese military had no intentions of surrender and had trained their soldiers to die before capitulation. Experience proved they would do it.
It would take something beyond belief to make them change their minds. An atomic bomb did not do it. Let’s take that in for a moment. An atomic bomb was not enough to make Japan surrender. Hiroshima was vaporized. Japanese scientists were flown the same day to the sight and confirmed it as an atomic weapon. Yet, they fought on.
More than anything else, this proves the need for the atomic bomb – it required two of them.
One apocalypse was not enough. This one fact reveals the mindset of the Japanese command. But there is more. There is an even more compelling reason to believe that we are not the evil that we have been made out to be.
Beyond all of the above, there is one reason that I sleep at night with a clear conscience. There is one powerful fact that demonstrates that our moral compass is not wrong, that we do not need a moral revolution, one reason that I know we are not monsters.
After Little Boy and Fat Man, there was a third bomb that remains unnamed for one reason – we never dropped it.
For those of you worrying about all of the studies that supposedly show that stress shortens your life, meet Yisrael Kristal, the world’s oldest man. Yisrael survived two world wars and Hitler’s Auschwitz death camp.
When asked the secret of his long life, he pointed to Heaven. “I don’t know the secret for long life. I believe that everything is determined from above and we shall never know the reasons why,” he said. “There have been smarter, stronger and better looking men than me who are no longer alive.”
Whatever the secret, you cannot say that Kristal had a stress-free life. If you believe the stress headlines, he shouldn’t be here smiling; but he is! We are now learning there is more to the story. It seems that your response to stress is more important than trying to arrange a stress-free life. Because how stressful would that be?
So, how did Yisrael handle things?
Yisrael’s daughter commented,”My father is a religious man who observes the commandments and prays every morning. In my opinion, what has kept him going all these years is optimism. When something bad happens, he always says, ‘It could have been worse.'”
He was born in the village of Zarnow, Poland, on September 15, 1903, three days before the Wright brother’s first flight. Son of a Torah scholar, Kristal learned to read Hebrew at age four and still recites his prayers daily, from memory now, because of poor eyesight.
He was a confectioner by trade, a skill which helped him survive in Auschwitz. The Nazis wanted candy. He lost his wife and two children to the camp. There couldn’t be a more stressful situation on the planet. The stress gurus on the internet would have this man in an early grave, but Yisrael will undoubtedly outlive all the researchers and writers pronouncing his doom.
The Stress Killer
What some have called the faith factor has now generated hundreds of studies. Many of them try to create a provable scientific formula for achieving the goal of longer life or less stress. I believe this misses the point.
When a journalist told him beforehand that researchers were trying to verify his title of world’s oldest living man, Krystal answered,”Big deal.”
The point of Yisrael Kristal’s faith is not to extend his life. The point of his life is to live his faith. He didn’t do what he did to set a longevity record. And yet his belief helped him through life’s most horrible ordeals. His faith didn’t relieve him from life’s stressful circumstances. It changed the way he responded.
Stress is, after all, an internal problem. And if you change your internal response, you diffuse the effects of difficult circumstances into something other than stress. What causes unmitigated stress in some causes an increase of faith in others. Faith acts like a stress shock absorber.
I am not a Christian to try to hoodwink God into letting me have a few more years on the planet. I am not trying to trick stress and manipulate happiness into my life. I’m not using a business strategy to meet people at church to build my business. I’m not trying to avoid a gambling addiction by using services as a twelve step program. I’m not crowdsourcing my local congregation as a networking tool to build relationships to support me if something goes wrong.
Love just does all of these things. And God is love. How could it not be good for me.
God doesn’t promise me a stress-free life. In fact, some of my greatest life lessons only happened because of difficult situations. Let’s face it, I just don’t learn much when everything is perfect. I can’t find the motivation when I’m too busy having fun.
And by the way. All of the studies that show faithful church attendance will increase my longevity by seven years are wrong. There are no guarantees that any of us will have another day on this planet. Instead, the better promise I got from Jesus was forgiveness of my sins and eternal life with Him.
One of the most powerful ways I found to help us through the toughest of times are the stories of other people who have been through the worst things imaginable. They reveal the unbelievable power of small things to pull you through. Things like chocolate . . .
The summer sun was still sweltering when I had my first clue that this Christmas would be different. I’m not normally known for being observant, much less prescient of things to come, so it had to hit me over the head. Suzie looked at me with a mischievous sparkle in her eyes and announced, “I’m finished!”
“Finished with what?” I asked. I had no idea what was up but she was obviously pleased with herself.
“Finished Christmas shopping!” She smiled in triumph. I couldn’t believe it.
“No way!” was my eloquent response. Suzie had, for the first time ever, begun buying presents during January sales at the beginning of the year. But I didn’t realize she’d kept it going. “Wow, why?” I asked. I’m prone to imaginative responses under pressure.
“I don’t know. This year I just felt like being smart. Once I got started, it was a challenge.”
“So, what did I get?” That rapier wit again. She threw something at me. She has little tolerance for rapiers in the house. In fifteen years we had never finished shopping until a few days before Christmas. Or moments. I’d never even thought of it. I’m not sure I knew it was possible. Yet somehow Suzie perceived that this Christmas required a new strategy.
We bought our Christmas ornament early, too. Suzie had long been taken with Hallmark’s Nostalgic Houses series. It had become a tradition with the goal of building a tiny Christmas village on the tree itself. We had a few laughs the year we had a kitchen fire and the ornament turned out to be a red brick fire house. Maybe we should have taken notice earlier when the current ornament was a drugstore. At the time we just thought it was cute. Nostalgic, even.
Thanksgiving changed all of that. A routine check up had prompted more tests and our worst nightmare came true. Breast cancer. Suzie’s mother had died a slow and painful death from it. Her aunts all had it. After surgery and radiation they lived but we concluded, for Suzie, it was inevitable.
What we didn’t expect were three separate primary tumors, breast cancer times three. A bilateral mastectomy was not on our Christmas list either but we were relieved when they sent Suzie home with a positive prognosis. Chemo after the holidays then reconstruction and she’d be fine, they reassured.
The doctors gave up with the brain tumor. They didn’t tell us, of course. Two weeks after her surgery Suzie awoke to find she couldn’t put together a sentence. She thought clearly but words wouldn’t come out. She was trapped inside her brain. An MRI confirmed that the tumor was huge.
The difficult surgery went all day and late into the night. In recovery we were ecstatic when Suzie could recite tongue twisters. The doctors were happy, yet restrained. We had no way of knowing metastatic breast cancer spread to the brain was usually fatal. We couldn’t imagine why they told us we could go home instead of looking for more tumors. Why would we wait?
We really didn’t understand their joy when the biopsy showed it was not breast cancer but a different kind. We thought that was bad. They thought it was a blessing. Their joy turned somber, however, when more tumors were discovered in Suzie’s kidney, liver and spine.
“I want you to know, your situation is not entirely hopeless,” was her oncologist’s idea of encouragement.
This time Suzie was given no option but going home. Even life-saving super doctors took holidays. The new year would begin with more surgeries and exploration. For now, it was Christmas. Since Suzie couldn’t travel, close family decided to bring Christmas to us. No one said out loud that it would probably be Suzie’s last.
There would be two weeks before her next doctor visit. Two weeks to think. Two weeks to try to pull together a semblance of a holiday for the children. Two weeks for Christmases past, present and future to play through our heads. Two weeks to ponder what the new year would bring before the long winter ahead.
When I saw the strange car pull into the drive, a wave of emotions swept over me, an all too familiar mixture of gratitude and guilt. It was another family taking time out of their busy Christmas season to bring us food. I checked the room quickly. The kids were watching TV, toys were everywhere, a busy mess. Not up to Suzie’s standards but it would have to do.
Not that we didn’t need the food. Suzie had been unable to cook since Thanksgiving and I was no substitute. My answer was usually fast food but there was no money for that kind of extravagance anymore. A hot chicken casserole delivered to the door was a welcome treat, not to mention the bar-b-que, roast, pizza, cakes, homemade pies and cookies. The kindness was overwhelming and humbling. At the same time it reminded me of the fact that we really needed the help, hence the guilt.
As the car door opened this time I saw, not a casserole, but a Christmas tree emerge. Well, this was different. It was four feet tall, green and covered with red ribbons. Behind it I caught a glimpse of Richard Gay, the preschool minister at our church. Suzie had answered one of the church’s endless calls to keep toddlers while adults were in class. I came along to help. Richard was in charge of it all but he’d never been to our house.
I opened the door and he reported taking up a collection for us in the children’s ministry before I realized what was happening. When I looked closer I saw the ribbons on the tree held green bills folded like origami ornaments. The tree was covered in money!
I asked him to come in but he forced the tree into my hands and walked away while I was still in shock, saying he didn’t want to interrupt us. My mouth opened and closed a few times and I think I got out a thank you before he closed the car door and was gone. I glanced down at the armful of tree. On the corner of one of the folded green decorations I saw a 20.
Christmas trees naturally attract kids, as does money, so Rebekah, Sandy and Billy made enough of a stir to wake Suzie. She called from the bedroom to see about the commotion. With white silk tape and bandages cocooning her head, Suzie’s eyes widened as I squeezed through the door and popped when I told her the decorations were made of cash.
In forty years of living it was the most unexpected and generous gift either of us had ever received. It came from total strangers. We were the only teachers in our class and had barely met anyone else.
I set the tree on the dresser so Suzie could see it and we pondered how much money was there and what we should do with it. There was no question we would need it. The question was, how long could we keep it? And what could we do with it that would be worthy of such generosity?
The week before Christmas was peaceful, kind of like the quiet that settles in the eye of a hurricane. For a while the sunshine and bird calls seem surreal compared to the raging storm that just passed. We decorated the house. The kids played video games, argued and giggled. Meals were eaten.
Suzie couldn’t get out of bed much but managed to sit up and join us for brief moments. She directed things from her bedroom sanctuary but tired easily. I was on a mission to be encouraging and make this as good a Christmas as possible, under the circumstances.
We didn’t talk about the looming issues of life and death. We didn’t talk much about the previous month of constant crisis. We didn’t speculate on the tests to come. Instead, we enjoyed life in an almost studious way, trying to soak in all of the rare and precious everyday moments, to heighten the experience with the urgency and perspective of near-death.
It can’t be done. It’s exhausting to try.
We did manage to lock worry away for hours at a time. It made no sense at all to ruin the short time we had left worrying about the short time we had left. Foolish, in fact. So, we soaked up the sublime beauty of such perfect moments as washing the dishes together. Chores of daily life became events to be cherished and memorized.
The endless needs of children took our minds, thankfully, off of ourselves. We felt like a family for the first time in weeks.
The big issues were still there, packed firmly away, building pressure. The stress grew as we got closer to Christmas and family visiting. Having been scattered by a rolling crisis, we grew jealous of our time alone, just our young family. We clung selfishly to each moment and simutaneously felt bad about it.
The tension broke through occasionally as a lack of patience with the little things. Things that normally wouldn’t matter. If things were normal. The flare ups of frustration also scared us a little. We were striving to be strong and reassuring for the kids and each other and had managed the nightmares relatively well. But if we couldn’t handle simple tasks like housecleaning or getting ready for company, what would happen when the coming storms broke again? Were we finally losing it? Were we past the end of our strength when so much more would be needed?
The breaking point finally came when my Mom, Dad, brother, sister-in-law and nephews arrived the day before Christmas. They understood the situation and were the model family, kind, helpful, sensitive, loving. They stayed in hotels so they wouldn’t bother us. There wasn’t a cross word spoken. I was even on my best behavior. So, when I found Suzie in her bed crying I was surprised.
“What’s wrong?” My crisis alarm pegged. Suzie was one of the strongest women I knew and had faced the horrors of the previous month with barely a tear. Now they poured.
“I’m sorry. I’m just overwhelmed. I’ve ruined Christmas” she answered.
“That’s not true, and if anybody has a right to be overwhelmed it’s you.” As usual, I only made it worse. Tears welled again.
“Everyone’s here and I can’t clean my house or cook or do anything. I feel helpless. We have no money. There’s no food in the house. I can’t even take care of my children!”
Suzie is one of the strongest people I know. I’d seen her mad and I’d seen her snarky and I’d seen her in pain and I’d seen her exhausted but I’d never seen Suzie in tears for herself. I knew she was at rope’s end.
“It’s not you or anyone else.” Seriously, she was apologizing. “I feel terrible because everyone’s being so nice but I just want to be left alone with my little family!” For Suzie this outburst was the equivalent of Mt. St. Helens erupting. She hadn’t used the phrase “my last Christmas” but it hung in the air. Not sure what to say, I sat on the bed and found myself staring at the dresser.
“We could use the money tree,” I finally said.
“But we were going to save that for something important.” I saw a flash of hope on her tear-streaked face. This was not a time to be sensible.
“I think this counts. How much do you think is on there?” Her eyes lit up.
“I don’t know but it’s a lot,” she said. By the time we got through untying ribbons and smoothing bills there was more than five hundred dollars spread on the bed. From total strangers. We were amazed.
We could have been more sensible and fiscally responsible with our gift, but we weren’t. We could have treated the money from the tree as an investment, but it wasn’t. It was a gift. And a gift is more than a paycheck. It holds the spirit of the givers. It is undeserved, earned by the sacrifice of others.
So, in that spirit, Suzie made a list, I went to the store and bought a feast. We turned our thoughts to the meaning of Christmas, God’s gift of a son who loved us enough to sacrifice himself in our place. We thanked God for the blessings of family, friends and total strangers.
On Christmas day the house swirled with aromas of food, spices, chocolate and coffee. The tree was decked, the ornaments hung. The kids opened presents and played. My father blessed a sumptuous dinner. Before we knew it they were all packed into cars and driving away, waving.
It was a meal provided by strangers in the spirit of the One Christmas celebrates. A free gift we got to share, provision both for ourselves and others. Christmas itself is such a gift.
The high dive is scary. One wrong move and it’s going to hurt. You can’t go back. Once the decision is made you are going to get wet. Maybe we should think about this first, reflect on the past or dream of the future. Anything but dive in.
It’s Not About My Lunch
I don’t like talking about me here. I’m not doing this for me. It doesn’t do you much good and this is about you. You don’t need regular photos of my lunch or my vacation (as if).
But occasionally I need to talk about the backstory so you understand my point. I made a few grand declarations about changing things around here and then didn’t post much. There were reasons, not excuses. Here’s the story.
We’ve been taking care of my mother at home for four years. She had an allergic reaction to a medication and the side affect was dementia. It was severe until we discovered the cause. Then it was better, but recovery was slow. Mom is, after all, in her eighties. She moved in and we changed our lives to fit her needs.
We used every lesson we’ve learned about chronic illness, recovery and encouragement to get her better. When she started she was in a wheel chair and couldn’t feed herself. Eventually she recovered to the point that she could walk for miles and remember details I forgot.
It’s been hard but so many people my age are going through this that I knew it could have been much worse. I initially thought I could write about it here but it felt wrong. It felt like a violation of her privacy and she’s always been private.
It was rewarding but costly. My dream of living and writing in the mountains slowly fell apart over the next two years. Money only stretched so far. Mom was taking up time that I needed to write and organize my new life. I had to go back to work.
My skills as a recording engineer and music producer were worth much less outside of a music center so we moved the crew back to the Nashville area. I took a part time job teaching engineering at a local school and did a little work from home.
It wasn’t glamorous or particularly profitable but it was steady and left me some time for Mom. I was surprised to find I love teaching. But without consistent attention Mom’s progress slowed and plateaued.
We tried an assisted living facility, thinking that would help but it only made matters worse. We moved her back home after two months and did our best. Suzie and my son had to step up and fill the gaps. I felt guilty every moment I was away.
Recently Mom got to the point that she couldn’t stay home. She loves to walk and it is part of what has kept her going through a difficult illness. But she started staying out for hours and having problems on the way. She passed out several times, fell in the driveway, got overheated, forgot her coat and got too cold.
She had to be rescued a lot. There were trips to the hospital and doctor visits. Neighbors and total strangers helped her. There was a harrowing and illegal drive down a walking trail to get her. People would show up at my door to tell me where they’d found her and what she was doing.
We tried to keep her home but we would blink and she would be back out the door visiting with a neighbor or watching rabbits or admiring the sunset.
She handled it with grace, courage and a sense of humor. She always wanted to help someone, even if she didn’t have the ability. She prayed for people, remembered birthdays and had an amazing grasp of financial details. We laughed, cried and worried but she never complained about her problems and kept going.
There’s much more to the story but it is heart-breakingly typical for this illness and doesn’t merit repeating here.
Time For A Change
One night a few weeks ago, despite weeks of discussions, Mom decided to take a walk when I nodded off to sleep. The problem was that it was after dark. I woke up with her gone and no idea where she might be. I drove the neighborhood and found her blocks away near the local elementary school.
The area is very safe, though not well lit. I had passed her once without seeing her. My imagination pictured dozens of horrible scenarios, each worse than the last. It was a clear sign that things needed to change.
Last Monday I met my brother and his wife at Mom’s storage unit and helped them load the truck to move Mom to their house. She will have someone with her twenty-four hours a day and the situation will be improved. Mom will have the same problems but will have more help. It will be tough on them all but they are taking it on willingly even while knowing the problems. We are fortunate to have them.
Freedom = Responsibility
Back to the present! This leaves me with more freedom but an urgent commitment to accomplish things while I’ve been given this new opportunity. My commitment has deepened with my understanding of just how fleeting life’s options can change.
My priorities are very clear. There are important things that need to be done. The time is now!
That’s my story. Now you know my heart. Enough about me. Too much talking is just postponing. Let’s get off the board and into the pool.
*Please note – I started this post last Saturday and couldn’t finish.
Today I bandaged a dog’s foot. It was not my plan.
Daisy, my nervous, tiny, loving, competitive, unobservant, endlessly shivering Boston terrier, got stepped on by my massive, loving, competitive, unobservant, big-footed, rake-clawed, tightly wound Labrador retriever, Nessie.
Though Boston is assuredly capable of winning endless Superbowls, in the battle to get through our back door a decade old pup bred to sit on the lap of a Boston blue-blood is no match for a hound the size of a walrus bred to swim the Labrador Sea in the icy north Atlantic, dragging fishing nets behind.
Competitors, Sisters, Best Friends
It can’t be easy for Daisy living in the house with Nessie, but she doesn’t believe that it’s the size of the dog that counts. Daisy is, in a word, fearless.
She can often be found barking at the back fence at our neighbor’s giant black mastiff. Not just barking but digging in a frenzy while throwing frenzied doggie challenges to the unconcerned bear-sized monster. She wants a piece of him.
Daisy has clawed down chunks of wooden fencing in her pursuit, and if she wasn’t stopped would dig through. I’m certain she would stand her ground between us and Godzilla if the need arose.
But her late night dance at the back door in between Nessie’s lumbering paws did not go so well. She squealed as she got stepped on twice. Last night she bounced right back but by this morning she couldn’t put her left foot on the ground. Closer inspection revealed a nasty gash between her toes. Something had to be done and since Suzie was at work it was up to me.
Ideas Are Easy
My plan this morning was to change the world. I would bound out of bed, work out furiously, get Suzie to work and write something that would make a difference. I would start a business, invent time travel, find the cure for heartburn and take a break for lunch.
Instead, I stumbled out of bed, shuffled my way to the back door to let the dogs out and found that Daisy couldn’t walk.
After debating an emergency trip to the doggy ER, I decided I could probably take care of her paw. I drove to one store for bandages and another for a doggie boot to keep the bandage on. I washed the foot, applied antibiotic pain-killing goo, bandaged and booted a bull-headed dog and fell asleep cuddling her. Sigh.
I must remember this. There has never been an idea or a dream worth pursuing that didn’t immediately spawn buzzing distractions, urgent interruptions and downright emergencies.
I’ve been spoiled by recording studios. Imagine a sound proof room designed for creating with people turning away distractions at the front door and holding all calls. Cell phones are off. There are electronic locks, intercoms and buzzers to preserve your creative privacy.
No clocks are allowed. People actually expect to work late into the night. Talk is kept to whispers and flashing technology dances at your fingertips. Producers crack the whip and you can really get work done.
Change The World . . . Tomorrow
But out here in the real world I have no dog-bandaging interns. Puppies need love now. So do the rest of us. And there’s the point.
All of my world-changing ideas are a poor substitute for simple kindness and committed love – right now! Not movie love or novel love or internet love but the plain old, everyday, hard-working kind of love that the real world needs: take-out-the-garbage, clean-up-baby-vomit, change-diapers, bandage-the-dog kind of love.
Change The World A Little At A Time
In the end, this kind of love is probably more valuable than the self-glorifying, big-idea, propose-while-skydiving, rent-a-limo, one-up-this, post-it-on-Facebook kind of love.
I know there’s a lot more everyday need.
All things added up, the everyday love that we give yields a lot more real-world results than a few big idea fireworks. Just imagine a world where no one took out the garbage.
Kindness happens one person at a time. It doesn’t trend, make headlines or stadium kiss cams. It’s more powerful than that.
Persistence is the most powerful tool available to mankind. Persistent love is the best application of it.
It adds up every day like God’s version of compound interest. How does that work? Like this.
I can’t change the world in a day. But I can change the world everyday. I just can’t change it very much.
So, the thing that matters the most is not the thing I do today; it’s the thing I do everyday, consistently. All I have to do is do it again.
First = Last
On the big list of world changers my name would probably be close to the bottom. Few people know who I am. I have an average number of friends. I haven’t invented anything amazing. I haven’t discovered any breakthroughs. I don’t have a billion dollars to give away.
But I have as much love as anybody. And I have today. Fortunately, in God’s economy cash is not king. Instead, love reigns supreme.
Added up over a lifetime, that’s the investment that counts that most; it’s what matters.
That’s why I smile at my little terrier barking at my neighbor’s mastiff. It looks comical, like she’s taking on too much, but she’s not.
Her method is my example when facing big, scary problems. She knows fear is not an option. She knows it’s not the dog who barks loudest that matters, but the one that barks longest. She knows that silence never wins; persistence does.
Truth needs a voice.
It’s been two days since Daisy’s foot was hurt. She’s curled up on the love seat, not because she’s hurting, but because the mastiff is banished back inside his house.
She pulled off the boot and bandage the next morning. I re-bandaged for one more night. She’s not the only stubborn one.
Now she’s running around like nothing happened. Time for me to get back to work.