The ten commandments of me

I’ve been busy the past couple of days coming up with the Ten Commandments of Brian.

Best selling author and blogger Gretchen Rubin suggests that readers of her book, “The Happiness Project,” establish a list of personal commandments to be used as overarching principles and guiderails to help lead a happy life. Other philosophers, self help gurus, and writers have had their own spin on this idea over the years. Some have suggested coming up with a personal mission statement that spells out your goals and objectives.

IMG_1076 (6)I see through the pop culture nature of these things, but I still find myself playing along. In particular, I’ve been thinking about the commandments I would set for myself. You may be surprised by what I’ve created:

  1. Be Brian. Be authentic. Be me. I’m stealing right away from Rubin, but I think she’s onto something. I know that the biggest problems I’ve run into at home or in my career have been because I’ve tried to be something that I’m not. When I’m authentic, when I’m the most honest and, even dare I say vulnerable to others, good things happen.
  2. Love my neighbor. Treat others the way I would want to be treated. Honor my father and mother. In short, follow the original Ten Commandments. Hey, if I’m stealing from Rubin, then it probably makes sense to steal liberally from God. Don’t you think?
  3. Spend part of each day laughing, thinking, and crying. In the words of the late North Carolina State University Basketball Coach Jim Valvano: “If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days-a-week and you’re going to have something special.”
  4. Tell my family and friends that I love them. Daily. More so if needed.
  5. Remember the manners that my mother taught me. Be kind to others. Share. When you’re wrong, admit it. Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody. Leave something for the next person. Clean up after yourself. Hold hands and stick together.
  6. Write each day. When I write, even if only a few trite words, I start to understand how I really feel about a problem, issue, situation, relationship, etc., etc. For me the act of sitting at a screen or putting pen to paper helps me work through the junk of life. It helps me see clearly God’s plan for me.
  7. Have high goals. Work hard to achieve them.
  8. Do your best. Not John’s best. Not Jane’s best. Do my best. And never leave anything in the tank. Be the hardest worker.
  9. Smile. See the positive. The world has plenty of bad, be the force for change. See the good.
  10. Pray, be grateful, and be a good person. In short, remember the big picture.

Too big? Too small? Too specific or too broad? Too concrete or abstract? What do you think?

Taking advantage of second chances

There are certain things that are wasted on the young.

I remember being a teenager, sitting in various English classes every year, trying my best to get the meaning behind some poem and having neither the time nor the patience to understand it.

stream-391168_1280The words and their meaning went over my head. They failed to connect. I found the whole exercise boring and couldn’t wait to move onto a new topic. Oh I remember one year memorizing the words to “The cremation of Sam McGee,” a poem about a prospector who freezes to death near Lake Laberge, Yukon, Canada.

 “Now Sam McGee was from Tennessee, where the cotton blooms and blows. Why he left his home in the South to roam ‘round the Pole, God only knows. He was always cold, but the land of gold seemed to hold him like a spell; though he’d often say in his homely way that ‘he’d sooner live in hell.’”

But for the most part, I didn’t really care much for the poems we read. I was just never a poetry fan. I’m finding, however, that there might be hope for me yet.

I stumbled across a few poems recently and rather than getting caught up on whether the rhyming structure worked or whether it was a couplet or falling meter, or anything else for that matter, I’ve simply took them in. For example, when W.H. Auden writes about a deceased love in “Funeral Blues,” I couldn’t  help but feel his excruciating pain and loss.

He was my North, my South, my East and West, my working week and my Sunday rest, my noon, my midnight, my talk, my song; I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong. The stars are not wanted now; put out every one, pack up the moon and dismantle the sun, pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood; for nothing now can ever come to any good.

Likewise, I stumbled across the Beatles song “I will” and my first thought when I heard Paul McCartney sing the words was that I hope Kathy knows that I love her with all my heart.

For if I ever saw you, I didn’t catch your name, but it never really mattered, I will always feel the same. Love you forever and forever, love you with all my heart, love you whenever we’re together, love you when we’re apart.

My newfound interest in poems has gotten me thinking about other things that I never gave a fair consideration and were wasted on me in my youth. I’ve started to make a list:

–Fruits and vegetables. (I can’t get enough of them now. Okay, that should read some vegetables. I know it’s all the rage, but I still haven’t developed a taste for kale or cauliflower.)

–Free time.

–Naps.

–Music besides just pop or rock.

–Different points of view.

–Technology.

–Fast cars. (No, I’ve always loved fast sports cars. I just like them even more now.)

I’ll never be a great aficionado of poetry. I simply don’t have the patience or desire, but hopefully I’ve matured and can find enjoyment and understanding when I come across a poem or verse in the future.

Through Mary’s eyes: The day Christ died

In my December 2015 blog, Taking a walk in Mary’s footsteps, I posted some thoughts on what Mary might have been thinking about as she gave birth to Jesus. I continue the story by offering a glimpse of how I imagine Mary suffered, seeing her now-grown son crucified on the cross, and how she came to her faith in the resurrection to come. The Bible (and other writers) have described this story better than I ever could; these are just a few simple thoughts that help me personally to better understand the crucifixion story. Hope you enjoy.

…………

I watched my son die today.

His name was Jesus and he died a horrific, unspeakable death for crimes he did not commit. He died for us.

My family and friends are urging me to rest. They’re worried about me. My sister Mary, Mary of Magdala, and John had to carry me from Golgotha, that awful blood-stained hill, just outside the city gates and later to Jesus’ tomb. I understand their concern. I’m exhausted and I know I should rest, but nothing will take away the image of my beaten, bloodied son stretched out and nailed to that cross. My son, the son of God, suffered and died today for our sins. I’m heartbroken. My beautiful, beautiful baby is dead.

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The men took him down from the cross and laid him in my arms. I wiped the blood and dirt from his face and I held him the same way I held him oh so many years ago when he fell as a child. I would hold him close to me — close to my beating heart — and in time his tears would turn into a smile and he would stand up and run off to play some more. I held him once again close to my chest, my tears washing down onto his face and I prayed for a miracle. I prayed that he would stand up again, brought back to life the same way he brought back his good friend Lazarus.

The minutes passed though and I knew he wouldn’t be returning to me today. I thought about the day the Angel Gabriel came to me to tell me about Jesus. “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son,” he told me. “And you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1: 31-33)

I hold Gabriel’s word deep in my heart, but the pain is still unbearable. Jesus’ warnings about his ministry in recent months had been getting more ominous. Coming into the city, Jesus took his disciples aside and told them “the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life.” (Matthew 20:17-19)

Some of Jesus’ followers were confused by what he said and they asked me if I knew the meaning to what he was saying. He told me many times that he came to save us from sin. I’ve long accepted Jesus role in saving the world, but I still have feared this day. No mother wants to see their child in pain. No mother wants to see this for their child. Despite this struggle, my faith in God is strong. God is powerful and loving and caring. I know that he’ll be with me throughout this ordeal. I know he’ll be at Jesus and my side, but it doesn’t make this burden any less daunting.

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On the long trek to the Place of the Skull, I went to Jesus. We touched ever so gently. For a short few seconds, everything else — the militant soldiers with their whips and spears, the screaming hordes of people, the weighty cross, and his battered body — were gone. He willed me to look past the blood and the pain and onto everything he stood for in his life: faith, hope, and love. In that brief moment, it was just him and me. I could feel his love for me, his mother.

And then the soldiers ripped Jesus away from me, pulled him to his feet and forced him once again to carry that rough, heavy cross. The weight of the cross weighed heavy on Jesus. The soldiers pulled a traveler from the crowd — I believe he called himself Simon of Cyrene — to help carry the cross. Jesus fell twice more. Each time he fell, it felt like the soldiers were striking me with their spears. In time, though, they had my son strung up on the cross like a common criminal.

I fought through the crowds, the hordes of people, to be near him. In his greatest discomfort, at the peak of his pain, Jesus continued to look out for me and to make sure that I’ll be taken care of and comforted. He looked at me and commanded, “Woman, behold your son.” And then at John and said, “Behold your mother.” (John 19:26-27) My son, our savior, taking care of me until his last dying breath.

And in his death, he continues to take care of me.

As the reality of the past few hours settles in, the grief that I’m feeling is overwhelming. I reach for Jesus and am reminded that he’s not here. I turn to tell him something and I’m struck with a forceful blow that takes my breath away.

No mother should ever lose a child. No mother should see their child suffer in this way. I’m a simple peasant woman, but I would have given everything I own to spare his life. I would have sacrificed my own life for my son’s.

Jesus once compared God’s followers to sheep. “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.” (John 10:27-30)

I know God will protect me like one of his sheep. I cling to God’s promise. Despite everything that has happened, I pray simply to God to give me strength to get through the night and the coming days.

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I pray that Jesus’s will be done, that he will indeed rise on the third day. In fact, his words caress me now. They prop me up and push me to carry on for another day. I pray with . . . anticipation. They give me faith that I will indeed see him once again and hold him close to my heart. I look forward to that day be it the day after tomorrow or twenty tomorrows. I pray to be with him again.

I pray too for his countless followers. I pray they have faith for what’s to come.

I pray for all of us. In this horrible, wretched time, I pray the words he taught us: “God your will be done.”

…….

(I hope you’ve enjoyed my story. I’ve tried my best to stick to the details spelled out in the Bible. I apologize in advance for the many errors and omissions that I’m sure that I have made.)

In times of need, what do you say?

I stuttered and stammered and, later when I was alone, I shook my head in disgust for making a fool of myself.

I barely had a chance to take a sip from my coffee several weeks ago when I ran into a former coworker who recently lost his wife. She was involved in a serious car crash. She was coming home from picking up a few groceries, when another car rear-ended her stopped car, sending it into the other lane and into the path of an oncoming truck. She died instantly. My friend had taken a few weeks off from work to mourn and to help his kids adjust.

I knew my friend had been back to work for a few days, but we hadn’t seen each other. We used to run into each other on a regular basis in the local Wawa, both getting our cup of jolt for the day. I was looking for him because I wanted to be sure to pass along my best wishes. We’re not extremely close, but I wanted him to know that others were thinking about him. Of course, my thoughts were a jumbled mess and came out in a disorganized assault of words.

In my defense, what do you say to an acquaintance at his most vulnerable, in his neediest time?

I finished up by encouraging him to reach out if he needed anything and that he was in my thoughts and prayers. If he were family, I would have given him a long hug. Since we’re both men, in a cold work-like environment, however, we nodded, shook hands and went our separate ways.

He mentioned getting together some time for lunch. I said I would forward an email from another friend who’s working now in Boston. And with that we were back in full work mode like nothing ever happened.

I told my wife that evening about my awkward conversation and she laughed at me for “being a typical stupid guy unable to express my true feelings” and for worrying about it. “I’m sure he was just glad you asked about him,” she said. “It’s the thought that counts.”

Death can be a tricky issue. Life for that matter too. When my father died, I remember countless people offering support and kind words. I have trouble remembering most of them, but they were still very much appreciated. The mere act of reaching out, helped get me through a challenging time.

I hope that’s the case for my friend. I hope that he’s able to look past the stuttering and stammering and see someone that cares.

The simple skills we fail to learn in high school

My day had not started well. I forgot that I needed to drop my son at school and I was running late to work. I still needed to make a few tweaks to a presentation I was giving later that morning and I desperately needed my morning coffee.

Despite the time, I stopped at a coffee shop along my commute. I hoped to be in-and-out in minutes.

I walked into the shop and, of course, there was a line. I thought about turning around and getting back into my car, but I decided to wait my turn. For someone who went without drinking coffee for much of my life, I’ve become hooked very quickly. Despite my concern for the late hour, I kept a close eye on my watch and one minute turned into two, two turned into three, etc., etc, etc.

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Finally I made it to the second spot in line. My heart sank though when the guy in front of me ordered not just his own coffee, but seemed to be ordering for his entire office. I’m embarrassed to say that I groaned out load. Yes, I need to work on being a more patient person.

In any event, I smiled when the young cashier started to ring-up the man’s order and I promised myself to never stop at this particular shop again.

However, I realized right away though that I had jumped the gun. The cashier’s electronic cash register was malfunctioning and he had to perform basic subtraction to figure out how much he owed the guy. Nothing major, simple “see Spot run” arithmetic, but it seemed to be confounding him.

Finally, I snapped to the two of them: “You owe him $2.67.” The cashier and customer both looked at me with a mixture of awe — like I had solved an ancient math equation — and horror like I was the rudest person on the face of the Earth.

My comment was rude and I really did feel bad, but it got me thinking the rest of the day on the basic skills that many people fail to learn in high school. (I live with a teacher, these are the things you talk about on daily basis mixed in with how horrible the Governor and Legislature is for cutting education funding.)

Some of my suggestions are big, some are small. Everyone learns to read and write and perform sixth grade math, but these skills are important too to creating a healthy, cultured society.

Here’s my list of skills everyone should learn for themselves before they graduate:

–Creating a budget, saving for a rainy day, and balancing a check book.

–Knowing the difference between a w-2, adjusted gross income, and the 1040 versus the 1040ez and, most important, how to file your own taxes.

–Knowing how to write an informative and persuasive resume and ask for a raise.

–Living below your means.

–Delving through flashy, so-called important statistics to get the real meaning behind a problem or issue.

–Listening. Understanding how to really listen to another person.

–Treating others with respect.

–Having a thumbnail understanding of the world’s religions. Most people have some understanding about Christianity, but few have ever taken the time to learn about the rest of the world’s religions and how they touch and interact with each other.

–Using basic time management skills.

–How to have a healthy, two-way conversation with another person.

–How to tip. I went out for lunch several months ago with a friend of mine, who will go nameless, but she knows who she is, and we spent more time figuring out how to break up the check and leave the appropriate tip, than we actually spent talking. (Yes, we were both communications majors.)

–Using good manners. Manners used to be common sense. Everyone knew them, everyone shared them. Unfortunately manners are not quite so common anymore. The original Ms. Manners would be rolling over in her grave.

–Using basic self defense because we don’t live in such a nice place anymore.

–Understanding that “no means no.” This one is probably more for the guys, but it’s a message that seems simple enough, but doesn’t seem to be getting through or understood on college campuses across the country.

–Understanding how to eat nutritiously (and not the pre-packaged, low-fat junk Madison Avenue says is supposedly healthy.)

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–How to play an instrument. If I have one regret from my own high school experience, it’s that I never learned to play an instrument, piano, trumpet, anything. I know it would have helped immensely when I went to learn another language years later.

–How to worry less, relax more and destress in a healthy, productive way after a stress-filled day. (Yea, I’m still working on this one.)

I could be wrong, but if everyone had these basic skills, I think the world would better for it. And I might even get to work on time the next time I get a late start.

Speaking up for what’s right

How do you judge what’s in another person’s heart?

My son and I were talking with a college representative about my son’s chances of earning a scholarship or grant money for college. The man talked about how tough the fight for scholarship dollars can be. In a nonchalant fashion, he continued, asking if we had an “ounce of diversity in our blood? Even a little?”

The comment was said quickly and I didn’t detect any malice in his tone. As I drove home from work the next day, however, I got to thinking about the conversation and a small part of me wished that I had probed for more information.

I told a friend a few days later that I wished that I had asked the man to be more clear in his statement. His comment was generally benign. He said it and moved on. His reaction and the look on his face, however, implied something altogether different, like he wanted to say more, but stopped himself.

Was he simply checking off a box? Was he looking to help my son get the most out of the system? Or was he trying to say that minority candidates were not up to par and getting an undeserved leg up on my son?

My son would love to earn the scholarship. He has strong grades and would seem to be good candidate, but he’s also realistic and recognizes that his chances for that particular scholarship are slim. He also wants to earn what’s his. When I brought it up to him, my son explained that he doesn’t want a handout. And he doesn’t want to take away opportunities from someone equally deserving.

I came away feeling great about my son. I also came away feeling more determined to respond to questionable comments in the future. My hope is that the man meant nothing by it. I suspect that’s the case, but to leave it unsaid is wrong too.

In the end, my son and I both learned a lesson.

My neighbors think I’m a vampire and other strange personality traits

I feel the bile first. There’s dread too. The sweaty palms come next.

Our daughter works in her college admissions office and one of the admissions counselors asked us recently to attend a local event for accepted students. The counselors and current students would talk about the college. My wife and I were asked to talk about our daughter and how she had changed since starting college.

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When the counselor first asked us, the idea sounded interesting: a nice dinner at a trendy King of Prussia restaurant; quality time with my daughter; and the chance to give back, even in a small way to the college. It all sounded fun on paper.

As each mile in the car brought the restaurant and the evening closer, I remembered all the reasons why I hate these events: large groups of people crammed into a small room, small talk with strangers, and long awkward pauses.

I reminded myself that I would have a chance to help fellow parents and that I was in their shoes just a few months earlier. For good measure, I tried to calm myself with the thought that I wouldn’t see most of these parents again.

In short, I am very much an introvert. I get energized by alone time and small group exchanges. A room full of people — no matter the audience, be it friends, coworkers, or complete strangers — drains me.

A lifetime of avoiding mindless chit-chat

I can chit-chat to a point, but I eventually need my alone time. When I was in college and my fraternity would host a mixer with a sorority or a rush event, I would dive-in and hold my own until finally the madhouse would get to be too much for me and I would need to slip away for a few minutes of alone time. It’s not that I hated the back-and-forth with new people. Many times I made new friends, some of whom have become life-long friends. I just needed time to vent and not be “on.”

The same goes now for networking events. When I start to feel that the discussions are short and not productive, I start to look for an out. When we’re getting ready to go to a party or event, my wife always laughs at me. She makes fun of the fact that I need to have an “out.” I need to know exactly who is going to be at event and how long we plan to stay.

Watch out for the vampire next door

My personality type doesn’t usually affect me much, but sometimes I need to explain myself to others. For example, one of my neighbors likes to give me a hard time by calling me a vampire, only to be seen late at night. He’s partially right. When we first moved into our home oh so many years ago, my wife was the one more likely to hang out on the front porch or to wave to people on the street.

In my defense, it didn’t help that before we were even done unpacking everything, my wife whisked off  for a ten-day conference. Rather than coming home to an empty house that I barely knew, I spent my time working. I’d get home late and usually went straight to bed.

So I somehow became a vampire. I’m more inclined to think my habits make me studious or even a hard worker, but so be it.

Do whatever the job requires

Like my neighbor, my wife likes to poke fun of me. She often wonders how I survived working as a reporter and approached perfect strangers for a quote or how I’ve managed to survive networking in a large corporate environment.

She’s right. My actions and career goals would seem to be a contradiction. I like to tell her that when I worked as reporter I could hide behind my job. I prided myself on my job. If I needed a quote for a story, I did whatever had to be done get the quote. My Central Pennsylvania, son of a steelworker, work-until-the-work-is-done mentality rules over any introverted personality traits.

I find too that networking today is more important than ever, thus making small talk more important than ever. Fortunately, I think people are more aware thanks to books and social media that introverts play just as an important role in a team’s success.

A walking contradiction in personality types

While I certainly hate larger crowd settings, I absolutely love smaller settings. I love the one-on-one interchange between two intelligent people. In those settings, I’m able to ask questions and, most important, I’m able to be myself. I’m able to be my authentic self.

If only all conversations were like that.

So how did the admission event work out? Did I make friends with the restaurant wait staff and retreat to some dark corner? Was I a wallflower, helping to hold up the walls in the restaurant?

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Despite all the horrible thoughts in mind, the event went off without a hitch. I managed to speak clearly on how our daughter has changed and how much I look forward to our semi-regular Monday night calls because I get to learn all the fun things she’s signed up for since we last talked to her. I even managed to get a few laughs when I joked with one couple that the set-up in her dorm room made me jealous and reminded me of a stay at the Four Seasons Hotel.

When we got ready to leave, the admissions counselor, who organized the event, asked if we’d be open to participate in future events.

“Us, of course,” I said. “No problem. We would love to.”

Let’s hope the counselor forgets my name when planning begins on next year’s event. At least that’s what I’m hoping.

Giving up control of the steering wheel . . . and life

I’m holding onto the shoulder harness above my head with my right hand like my life depended on it. I’m fretting over every slight move of the car; how close we are to the middle of the road; how close we are to the edge of the road; every start and stop.

My head is a on a swivel, watching out for cars and pedestrians that might surprise us and cause us to crash. We approach a busy intersection. I step down on my make-believe, passenger-side brake. I push down on it again. And again. We’re getting closer and closer to the intersection. Nothing’s happening. We’re not slowing down. I push down a fourth time and yell to my son that he might want to think about using his brake. Yes, the brake.  Any day now. Any time. And finally, he brakes and we come to an abrupt stop-on-a-dime halt.

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I let out a sign of relief. I try to hide that I’m a mental wreck, while also doing my best to encourage and offer a few insights to my son that might help him the next time he gets behind the wheel. Yes, my son has his learner’s permit and is learning how to drive.

In fairness to him, he’s doing a great job, way better than me when I was the same age. He’s very calm behind the wheel, makes sure to double and triple-check before pulling out in traffic and puts safety first. He’s going to be a great driver.

Stepping aside for others

Later when I’m back in the comfort of our home, I think about why the experience is so uncomfortable for me, especially since he’s been practicing frequently with his mother and seems to know what’s doing. I know it’s a rite of passage for the both of us, him experiencing the freedom that comes with driving and me handing over the keys to my car. I never thought of myself as a controlling person, but sitting in the passenger seat has taken me out of my element. I’m no longer in control. My safety is in his hands.

I groan at the mere thought. Ugh.

Since that particular road test, my son and I have gone driving a few more times. I’m trying to make sure he has experience in all types of weather — rain, snow, fog — and conditions. I’ve found that I’m learning to live with the feeling of being powerless, but it doesn’t come natural for me. I’m sure I’ll get used to it in time. It’s just going to take time — a long time.

The moments that challenge a father’s soul

As I get used to my son driving, I’ve been thinking about how most people, me included, fool ourselves into thinking that we’re in control of our lives. I make decisions all the time about work, home, kids, family. The list goes on-and-on. But am I really in control?

Besides driving, I’ve been thinking about other experiences that I’ve faced over the years that have slapped me in the face with how little control we have over our lives. Some of those experiences have included: the birth of my kids; coming down with an appendicitis at the worst possible time in the middle of a meeting with my boss and coworkers; and watching my kids’ ups-and-downs in the classroom and on the playing field and knowing that the best I can do is to encourage and pick them up when they’ve fallen.

Playing tricks on you

We really do have very little control. Life tricks you. It sneaks up on you. It makes you think you’re in control and then, poof, it steals it away. It says go right, when you should go left.

In the end, though, we have no control.

I could hold onto the steering wheel forever if I’m so inclined, never letting any of my children have their own experiences, but I’ll never really have complete control. I’ll only be fooling myself. God’s the only one in control. The only one really in the driver’s seat.

I sit in the passenger seat once more and think about that concept for awhile. Right when my son completes a near perfect park job, it hits me that control isn’t everything. In fact, seeing him beam with pride from his accomplisment, I’m reminded that when we stop trying to tinker with everything and learn to be in the present, we find happiness and joy.

And we help prepare a young driver for the real world.

 

Writing short

You would never know it by reading my writing, but I love short, tight sentences. I’m not a particularly big fan of Stephen King, but I love his often quoted writing advice: “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”

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A writer’s site that I follow posted this week “six word stories that tell an agonizing story.” While short, these sentences still manage to knock you off your feet. You can envision them. You can see the pain, the sadness, the emotion as clear as day. I picked out a few of my favorites:

  • “An only son, a folded flag.”
  • “’Just Married!’” Read the shattered windshield.”
  • “I met my soulmate. She didn’t.”
  • “He hit send, then a tree.”
  • “What’s your return policy on rings?”
  • “It’s our fiftieth, table for one.”
  • “Mom taught me how to shave.”
  • “Goodbye Mission Control. Thanks for trying.”
  • “The smallest coffins are the heaviest.”

I couldn’t resist trying to come up with a few suggestions of my own:

  • “She never trusted me again.”
  • “I forgave. She didn’t. She won.”
  • “We would’ve celebrated 49 years together.”
  • “The plane went down over ISIS.”
  • “Her final memory: the screaming siren.”
  • “He flew left, his coffee right.”
  • “The solider died on Christmas morning.”
  • “Heaven? Hell? Which?”

Most of my ideas fall flat compared to the one’s listed by the site. It’s actually really hard to say all that you want with only a handful of words. In my lame attempt, I would inevitably end up with one or two extra words. I think it goes to show you the value of being precise and getting to the point.

It takes a lot of work to write short.

Now if we were just as careful with the words out of our mouths compared to what we put down on paper. I suspect we’d be a heck of a lot more loving and kind to our family and friends and those around us.

Maybe not, but I’ll certainly be watching my words.

Finding my faith

I remember the day clearly in my mind. It was a brisk, sunny day. The wind whipped through the light jacket I wore as I walked across the parking lot. I opened my car door and made a mental note to pick up a heavier jacket when I left later that evening for Washington, D.C.

sun-49143_1920Despite the cold temperature, I sat in my car staring inside the small black box in my hand. After months of saving money each week and searching for the perfect ring, I had purchased the diamond ring that I would use to propose to Kathy.

My plan was coming together. I would work until noon and then drive three-plus hours to D.C., take Kathy out for a romantic dinner to a  restaurant that we liked, and propose later in the evening.

Leading up to the big weekend, I thought the reality of the situation might hit me or that I might have concerns about the step I was taking. Staring at the ring, however, I felt a deep calm. I wrote later in a journal that I felt a mixture of excitement and peace unlike I had ever experienced. I remember thinking that I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else in the world. It felt like the exact right thing to do at the perfect time and place.

God’s finger prints in our lives

I’ve been thinking about that memory since I read a story about a man who described the moments and situations in his life when he felt touched by God. He wrote how God was at his side during the most challenging moments in his live.

Like many people, I struggle with my faith. I believe in God and I see his blessings every day. I struggle though understanding how God so powerful and mighty would care so deeply for an imperfect wayward, sinner like myself.

Despite the obstacles I put in my own path, I continue to see God’s fingerprints throughout my life. I see the moments, the times, where he’s lifted me up and protected me from my own idiot self. I think we all can point to those type of moments.

Life, death and everything in between

When I think about God’s handiwork, I think of the kid’s births. For example, when Kathy was pregnant with our oldest daughter and her water broke, we quickly got ready to race to the hospital. In our haste to get on the road, we both came close to falling down our small flight of stairs.

Kathy started down the steps. I followed right behind her and my feet went out from underneath me, nearly kicking Kathy’s legs out from underneath her. She could have very easily fallen face-first down the steps and God only knows what could have happened to our baby girl. However, as Kathy tottered on the edge of a step, I was able to grab hold of her waste until we both miraculously regained our footing. I’m convinced that God caught us that day ensuring a safe and happy delivery.

In the same vein, but many years later, God protected us again when we came across a  snowy blizzard on the Pennsylvania Turnpike the day after Christmas that caused a massive 28-car pile-up. We went from traveling on a clear, wide open highway one minute to white-out conditions that turned the clear road into an icy mess that left you searching for control. In fact, the snow fell so fast that the wiper blades in my car could barely keep up clearing the snow from the front window.

We rounded a curve and as our luck would have it, a larger SUV lost control and started to veer into my lane. I pumped my brake hard to avoid hitting the SUV, swerved one way and then another, crashing into and kissing the concrete median. We continued on, completing  a full 360-degree turn before crashing into stopped car. A third car finished off the crash, running into our rear-end, pushing us into a guardrail.

Bible

Kathy and I let out a sigh. We sat motionless for what seemed like minutes. We weren’t sure what to say or do. We looked all around us in amazement. The highway looked like a battle scene. Cars ripped apart, trucks on their sides. When we felt safe, we quickly went to check on other drivers. Most had the same shell-shocked look that we had on our face. Despite a few minor aches and pains, we walked away from the accident without injury. When I reflect on the accident, I’m still not sure how we escaped more serious injury.

The mundane too

Both incidents represent times when God has protected us from harm, but he’s been there too in the good and the bad, the happy and the mundane, the once in a lifetime and the everyday things too.

For example, I find that God has given me exactly what I’ve needed throughout my life. Oh, he hasn’t come through yet with the winning Powerball numbers despite my pleas to donate half my winnings to the Little Sister of the Poor or some other wonderful cause. And on busy days when I struggle to be patient and loving like his son Jesus, he hasn’t parted my modern day Red Sea — traffic on Route 422. Instead, I’ve been forced to make my way home in the onslaught of traffic.

However, when I’ve been unable to go  on other days, God’s provided me with an encouraging word or reminder of his love. He’s given me the strength I’ve needed to keep fighting, keep pushing forward, to believe in the power of his word. Bad medical news. A challenging schedule. Conflicting priorities. No problem.

I’m sure that I will stumble again in the future. I know my imperfections too well, but every time I think God has left me, every time I feel like I’m on my own, I learn later that he has in fact been the one carrying me all along and has put me in an even better spot than I could have ever imagined.

In the end, he reminds me that a little faith goes a long, long way. Thank God.