How’s that working out for you?

December 27, 2019

As we approach the New Year, many people become reflective about their lives and their circumstances. The quote that Jack used recently in his blog – Jack’s Winning Words – deals with contemplating one such reflection.

“Remember when we were young and couldn’t wait to grow up and do whatever we wanted whenever we wanted?  So, how’s that working out for you?”  (Sent by Oaks)

The young tend to see only the things that they wish that they had the freedom to do and not any of the obligations that come along with that freedom. Finally getting to the age where makings one’s own decisions is possible usually also means doing what is necessary to support and maintain that independence. Many young adults return home after college or service in the military because they aren’t ready for the obligations that accompany that level of independence. That often leads to some level of conflict with parents who wish to maintain a level of control in exchange for the free ride.

Most people have some idea or dream about what they would like to be or do when they “grow up”. Many, however, just fall into a job or trade without much planning or any real passion for the work. Sometimes that works out and sometimes it just leaves the young person feeling trapped and despondent, because they see no way out of their circumstances. Like so many other of life’s problems, the first step is admitting that you can use help and then seeking that help. There are lots of programs that feature advice and training to help people find jobs and careers. If they are ex-military service members there are even more programs aimed at helping those who served transition into productive civilian lives.

In a prior post to Jack’s blog, Albert Schweitzer was quoted as saying – “Success is not the key to happiness.  Happiness is the key to success.  If you love what you are doing you will be successful.”  Albert Schweitzer

Some  people either stumble into a career that they love or knowingly work towards that goal. For them success and happiness go hand-in-hand.

So, it’s really not just being able to do whatever you want, whenever you want; it’s loving what you are doing. That should be the goal that the young strive to achieve. Loving what you are doing for a living also helps to de-couple happiness from money. While one needs to make enough money to live, focusing upon doing something that makes you happy rather than how much money you can make, can lead to a more satisfying life. It also tends to make people and relationships more important than amassing possessions.

Which path have you been on?   Are you still focused upon getting more – more power, more money, more possessions? How’s that working out for you? Always wanting more would seem to have no end point – no happy place. Doing something that you love seems to mean that you are always in your happy place.

You have grown up. You can choose what you want to do and when. What did you choose to do? How’s that working out for you?


Talking for our animals…

December 26, 2019

It is time for a post that is less weighty and serious. Pastor Jack Freed used this quote in a recent post to his blog – Jack’s Winning Words.

“I wanted to talk to the animals like Dr, Dolittle.”  (Jane Goodall) 

Jane spent her life living amongst animals, but never was able to talk to them. There have been notable experiments in teaching animals to recognize certain words and to associate those words with some activity or choice, but no one has yet to achieve the ability to have two-way communications or to understand what animals are “saying” using whatever combination of sounds and gestures that they use to communicate with each other.

Sometimes people seem to adopt whatever “voice” we may have heard in a cartoon or movie for a specific animal. Thus, a large animal that was voices by a deep voiced actor forever is lodged in our minds with that voice; whereas small (and cuter) animals will have a high-pitched voice or that of a female actor.

We also put intonations into the voice that seem to characterize the animal as smart and witty or dull and slow. Think of how you hear Eeyore in the Winnie the Pooh movies and now think of how you would voice a donkey if you saw one. Those things stick with us. We recently had a children’s Christmas play at church in which the children played the animals in the manger the night of Jesus’ birth. The cows not only sounded different; they also used different words and language structure than the pigs or the goats. The dialogue given to each animal reflected how the writers imagined the “character” of each animal.

It is never more painful for us not to be able to talk to, or understand, our pets than when they are sick or suffering somehow. That is even frustrating for the vets involved. The fact that they cannot help by telling us where it hurts or how they feel makes treating them all the more difficult. We tend to nurse them with cuddles and soft talk; much as we might do for a human baby or hugs that we save for a good friends.

Many people (and I’m certainly among this group) try to talk for the animals by “voicing” what we think (or would like to think) they are trying to say or would say, if they could. I’ve noticed (and admit again to being guilty of this) that much of what we “voice” for our pets is couched in the language of baby talk, as if our adult dogs are not capable of conversing with us above a 2- or 3-year old level. Perhaps that’s what we also call them our fur babies. I’ve noticed lately that my dogs both have silver muzzles.  Maybe it’s time that they started talking like little old ladies and men.  I’ll have to go re-watch the movie Grumpy Old Men to get some pointers.

Some dogs are now classified as “therapy dogs”, because having them around is good therapy for someone who may be experiencing depression, PTSD or other mental health issues. Some of those dogs use their heightened senses of smell to sense the onset of a medical emergency and alert their owners in time to take corrective actions. Some may act as the hands and feet of their owners, retrieving items for them or doing simple tasks such as opening a door. I suspect that the simple act of voicing for our pets is a form of therapy. We can actually avoid a feeling of loneliness by carrying on a “conversation” with our pet. The best thing is that they never argue with us.

There doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with giving a “voice” to your pet. It’s sort of like a form of ventriloquism. It’s not scary until the doll (or dog) starts talking for itself. That would be the time to seek help for yourself. So, go ahead and act as the voice for your pet. It’s good therapy for you and he/she may get a kick out of it too. After all they’ve never heard what you think that they may be thinking. It would get boring for them, too; if all they thought was, “throw the ball” or “give me a treat”. You can do better than that. Give them a voice.

Now, excuse me, I have to go talk to Skippy and Sadie. They want to tell me in which direction we should go on our next walk. They can be quite vocal about that.


A world in search of its Golden Calf.

December 25, 2019

Today is Christmas Day, 2019, but already some of the local stores have put away Christmas and New Year’s Day stuff and have their Valentine’s Day merchandise out. By the time that we get to February, the Valentine’s Day stuff will be gone and the St. Patrick’s Day merchandise will be everywhere. That won’t last long, because they have to get the Easter stuff up before mid-February.

We have become a society obsessed with staying ahead of things and maintaining a fast pace. We have no time to relax, because we might miss something. We may not know what that is, but we constantly check Facebook or Instagram to see what that might be.

What are we looking for? What is driving this need for activity and speed in our lives? Why do we rush to find “the next big thing?” What are we in search of?

Perhaps a story from the Bible will shed some light on this question. Recall when Moses led his people out of bandage in Egypt and went up the mountain to talk to God. The people grew restless and impatient for Moses’ return. They wanted something to worship and look to for comfort in the midst of their trying times, so they created an idol – a statue of a calf made out of gold. Unlike their mysterious God, whom none but Moses could talk to or see, this idol was something concrete to them. They could see it and touch it; so, it gave them some level of comfort. Of course, Moses had a fit when he came down from the mountain with the Ten Commandments in hand.

man looking through telescope

In today’s world, the next big thing, or at the least, the things that we don’t yet have, have become our Golden Calf, the things that we idolize. We are impatient to get them, because we think they will bring us comfort and peace; however, when we get each one we find ourselves longing for the next big thing the next thing that we don’t have. We are obsessed with things, with success, with experiences; with whatever we believe is missing in our lives that would make us happy.

The reality for most is that what is missing in their lives is God. If they allowed God into their life and embraced Him, they would experience the “peace that passes all understanding” and know the joy and contentment that this brings. Worldly possessions and pursuits become meaningless when compared to the joy of knowing Him.

On this Christmas Day, take a moment to reflect upon your life. What is important to you? What are you pursuing or searching for? What things do you think you need to make you happy? If you got those things, would you stop and be happy or would you still be running after the next big thing? What is your Golden Calf?

Then ask yourself, where is God in your life? Is He a priority in your life? If He was a priority in your life, do you believe that you would need/want that next big  thing? Stop your searching. The next big thing is right there with you. Embrace God and be happy with your life.

Merry Christmas! May you know God’s peace.


Doubts and second thoughts…

December 23, 2019

A recent post to the Jack’s Winning Words blog had this headliner quote – “If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt.”  (Rene Descartes)

It is almost a rite of passage that the young doubt almost everything as they mature. For many this occurs while they are in High School or maybe in College. They doubt or question everything that they were told by their parents as children. A major catalyst that kicks of this period of soul searching is the independence that most children become aware of as they hit their teenage years. As they are trusted by themselves more and maybe become more independent for things like transportation and money they also recognize that they no longer seek the opinion and approval of their parents for every decision that they face. That independence includes making decision about what is right and wrong in day-to-day life. That quickly escalates into doubting, or at least calling into question, decisions that have been made for them by their parents.

Often that period of doubting includes questioning their religious beliefs. Some are able to separate the religion part from the faith part of their beliefs, but many are confused by the interplay of the two. In that period of rebellion against prior parental decisions, regular attendance at church often goes by the wayside. Sometimes the faith of the young adult becomes muddled in the doubts about the practice of religion. The rush to feel free of the requirements of particular religious practices or dogma can leave the questioning young mind adrift, with nothing to anchor their faith and no way to put it into practice. Fortunately, most have second thoughts about completely abandoning their faith along with the practices of their specific religion.  Sometimes that leads to experimenting with various alternative religious practices. Some seek an alternative in Buddhism or other non-Christian religions, but most eventually find a way to rationalize the practices of some practicing religious group with their faith.

Young children tend to accept without questioning what their parents tell them. For a while, both Santa and God are real to them. The belief in Santa may be the first childhood beliefs to be discarded, along with fairies, goblins, ghosts and witches. Eventually the religious beliefs that were given to us by our parents are also discarded. At that point, either we develop our own, new beliefs, based upon our faith; or, we continue searching for meaning in life. How many times have you heard a younger person say that they are still trying to “find myself”? What they are searching for is something to have faith in; something to replace that childhood faith that they discarded. The good news is that most are found again by the Good Shepard and their faith is restored. One side benefit of having those doubts or second thoughts about your faith as an adult is that the conviction of your beliefs becomes much stronger when made as an adult.

Maybe you went through that process of questioning your faith as a youth, or maybe some traumatic event later in life caused you to have doubts about God and your faith in Him. Maybe you asked the question, “How could a loving God let this happen to me?” Instead, you should be thanking that loving God for helping you get through that event. Whether you realized it at the time or not, you turned to Him in that troubled time; because, in the back of your mind, you realized that He was the only one there with you and the only one who could help you.

Friedrich Nietzsche said, “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.”

I believe that the same can be said about our faith. Doubting or questioning your religious practices doesn’t necessarily call your faith into question, but does usually cause you to examine it Examining your faith does not kill it and can make it stronger by stripping away the man-made parts of religion that may be troubling you. In the final analysis, your faith starts with the relationship that you have with God. What trappings of religion you want to embrace from that base is up to you. As long as that remains the foundation of your beliefs, you have nothing to doubt.

Have a great Christmas by putting the Christ part first. No doubt.


Be strong…let go…

December 21, 2019

A recent post to the Jack’s Winning Words blog used this quote –

“Some of us think that holding on makes us strong, but sometimes it is letting go.”  (Herman Hesse) 

That quote is especially true if what one is holding on to is the past. By that, I mean holding on to the hope or wish that things could somehow be as they were in the past – in what one imagines were happier or more satisfying times. That is especially true in cases of the breakup of a relationship. The breakup of relationships, especially long relationships, are seldom symmetrical in the feelings or reasons and is often quite surprising to one of the parties. That one of the parties is surprised may actually be a part of the reason for the end of the relationship – a lack of attention or awareness of the other party’s feelings is often at the root of the problem. Be strong…let go.

Holding on to a bad job (or marriage), or continuing to put up with an abusive or offensive boss (spouce), in hopes that he/she will change is not a show of strength, but rather of weakness. It takes (and displays) much more strength to stand up for yourself by reporting such behavior. In many small businesses (and all marriages), unfortunately the business owner (spouce) is the offending boss. In those cases, the strength of your character and resolve may lead you to the conclusion that you cannot stay in that situation and that job (marriage). Be strong…let go.

For many, who have served their country in the military, letting go and putting the events that they were a part of, especially in war zones, behind them is hard, if not impossible.  Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is very real and not something to be dismissed. There is help available for those struggling with PTSD and it is actually a show of strength to seek that help. For many, though, it is not a struggle dealing with traumatic events; but, rather, a form of nostalgia for the buddy relationships that they developed with their comrades in the service. It is a feeling that is similar to the relationships that one might have with teammates when in school, but taken to the next level. Service overseas, away from family and familiar friends, especially when combined with the intensity of dangerous hostile situations, forges strong relationships and dependencies with buddies in arms. Many do not find that same level of intensity of feelings when they return “to the real world”. It’s hard, but they must, Be Strong…let go.

OK. Time to get real. Sitting back and saying be strong and let go is easy to say, but it is not easy to do. It starts by admitting that you are holding on to something and haven’t been able to let go. Let me quickly state that I am not saying to forget, just to find a way to let go of the fear or feeling that is holding you in its grip. Whether it is a feeling of failure or loss, a fear of consequences, a feeling of loneliness or the feeling that the “real world” is not as intense and satisfying as the world that you may have experienced in combat; you need to refocus on the here and now, put those experiences into the perspective of history, and, Be strong…let go.

Refocusing can take many forms. Sometimes it is turning your attention and energy to learning from the experience. Sometimes it is rechanneling that lost intensity into a new venture or new job. Consider it your new mission, if that fits better into your vocabulary. Sometimes is means pushing your fears into the background by focusing upon planning or researching a new job or doing what is necessary to get ready for the change that you know is inevitable (in  job or a marriage). Sometimes just having a good cry releases enough of the tension in the situation to allow you to take a less emotional, more logical approach to the problem. That release allows you to, Be strong…let go.

The bottom line is that you realize what is going on and say to yourself, “I’m not holding on to it and I’m not going to let it hold on to me.” Whatever “it” is, or was; it will no longer hold you back when you , Be strong…let go.

Have a strong and free day.


Have faith in life…

December 18, 2019

I get a kick out of the various “”life is like…” quotes. Do you remember what Forest Gump said life is like (or at least what his momma told him life is like)?  In today’s post to his blog, Jack’s Winning Words, Pastor Jack Freed used this quote – “Life is like playing a violin solo in public and learning the instrument as one goes along.”  (Samuel Butler) 

Whether you think that life is like Gump’s mysterious box of chocolates or like trying to learn the violin while playing in public, both seem to point to the unpredictability of life and the need to learn, or adapt, as we go.

Below are three of the best “Life is like” quotes that I found. Think a bit about each one.

“Life is like a game of cards. The hand you are dealt is determinism; the way you play it is free will.” – Jawaharlal Nehru

“Life is like a book. There are good chapters, and there are bad chapters. But when you get to a bad chapter, you don’t stop reading the book! If you do… then you never get to find out what happens next!” – Brian Falkner

“Imagine life is a game in which you are juggling five balls. The balls are called work, family, health, friends, and integrity. And you’re keeping all of them in the air. But one day you finally come to understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. The other four balls…are made of glass. If you drop one of these, it will be irrevocably scuffed, nicked, perhaps even shattered.” – James Patterson

Going back to Butler’s quote, I think it is very important that we learn as we go, not only to avoid repeating mistakes, but to grow in intellect and wisdom.

Patterson’s quote in particular helps one put some perspective on the important things in life.  Perhaps, as we learn, we will discover that there are other balls in our lives like the rubber ball that Patterson described as work, which we can drop without fear that they will break. Some that we may drop, like prejudices or unfounded fears, we hope will not bounce back, Those balls are better left behind in life.

There is another ball that Patterson didn’t mention, which many keep in the air in their lives – faith. Indeed, even if the other four balls that Patterson identified as important and fragile – family, health, friends and integrity – are somehow shattered in your life, keeping the ball of faith in the air (in your life) is the only ball that will help you bounce back.  

Faith is what helps us get through the bad chapters in life that Falkner was alluding to and faith shapes our free will response to life that Nehru was talking about. It is our faith that God is there with us that helps us deal with the problems that come our way and to see and celebrate the good in the situation that God is always putting there for us.

No matter what allegory you may use for life, if you keep faith alive in your life the music that you create as you go through life with be beautiful indeed.


Whom do you exclude?

December 16, 2019

A Welch Church sign provided Jack’s quote of the day in his Jack’s Winning Words blog today – “At the end of the day, I’d rather be excluded for who I include, than be included for who I exclude.”

It is a sad commentary on our times that there are those who exclude anyone who includes members of the LBGQTI community in their circle of friends. Some churches and entire denominations have put out the welcome mat to members of that community by declaring themselves Welcoming churches – the Southeastern Michigan Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is one such welcoming synod. Other churches or entire denominations continue to exclude, rather than include.

Do you have a list of “those people” whom you explicitly exclude from your circle of friends? Have you ever rally stopped to ask yourself why? When you were a child, you may have excluded a few other children for reasons that you couldn’t really explain. Maybe someone said that they have “cooties” and you just accepted that without even knowing what “cooties” were. As adults we sometimes exclude people based on nothing more substantial that the adult equivalent of “cooties” – some vague, unexplained, and unsupported rationale that we picked up somewhere. It could be something as trivial as how they dress or look. Maybe it’s how they act or talk. Whatever the reason is they are put into the “THEM” group of people that we avoid or, at least, don’t accept within our circle of friends.  

Of some, an unspoken fear of those who do not accept and welcome people who are different from them is that, somehow, by welcoming the, you may become “infected” by whatever it is that makes them different. For a while, in the 90’s, that “infection” from the LBG community took on the very real concern about the AIDS epidemic  that swept through that community. That fear has subsided as treatments become more effective in controlling the disease; however, for many, there is still an unfounded fear of those in the LBGQT community somehow “infecting” our children and causing them to choose that lifestyle.

Others may choose to exclude based upon race or ethnicity. People and groups to exclude the unwanted have used even social standing or wealth. Most of the time the criteria used to exclude has no bearing whatsoever on what type to person is being excluded, it’s just that they are one of “THEM”.

The sad truth is that we are shortchanging ourselves more than we are hurting THEM. We are limiting ourselves to the narrow point of view on things that is defined by those whom we have decided to include. We allow our narrow, excluding view of the world to define all sorts of things that could enrich our lives, if only we knew about them. Instead of a life full of rich sights, sounds, tastes and experiences, we confine ourselves to the grey, muted and bland world defined by our prejudices. We think we are being safe, but in reality we are just being dull and boorish.

So, start your week out by examining your list of people that you exclude – you avoid or you choose not to associate with – and ask yourself why? Other than some imaginary case of “cooties”, what reason do you have for excluding someone that you’ve not even met? What are you afraid of?  Is there the possibility that this person might prove to be fascinating or provide you with new information or insights?  Is there a different point of view on things that this person might introduce into your thinking? Have you ever considered things from that perspective? Is your inability to deal with the differences that you encounter protecting or limiting you?

Wouldn’t you really rather be defined by who you include than who you exclude? Do you really want to go through life using only the 3-4 colors that you now allow yourself to see; when God has put the entire box of Crayons in front of you and invites you to see and experience the entire spectrum of life that He has created?  Life can be so much more beautiful when you are inclusive, rather than exclusive.

Whom do you exclude? Why?