Acceptance, Business, Christianity, Communication, Conversational Copywriting, Culture, Faith, Freelancing, Introverts, Jesus, Listening, Marketing, Patience, Persistence, Stories, Storytelling, Telemarketing, Thoughts From the Porch, Uncategorized, Work, Writing

Telemarketers, Plumbers, and Nazis

Thoughts From the Porch: I have a great deal of respect for people who perform dirty jobs. Last month our plumbing backed up. It was a simple fix. The back-flow valve and broken and stopped up the drain. The difficult part of the solution involved the raw sewage that needed to be drained to fix the valve. I can stomach a lot of things, but raw sewage isn’t one of them. Fortunately, we had a plumber friend who helped fixed it in no time. I have no complaints about their hourly rate. Plumbers are paid well for a reason: dealing with ugly, and disturbingly aromatic drainage issue.

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I truly respect people who perform jobs they’d rather not have to do. My friend told me that he’d rather be doing something else, but plumbing had provided a good living for he and his daughter. I know how he feels. I’ve worked jobs I didn’t like because I need to keep a roof over my family’s head and provide food on the table. A lot of people do. Willingness to do what it takes is an admirable trait.

My dad used to tell me that it didn’t matter what I did for a living. Work hard. Try to be the best at whatever job I had. Wise words from a man who grew up during the Great Depression. He understood the value and importance of work. All work was honorable, and one should be grateful to have it. He also grew up prior to the age of telemarketing…

As phone technology advanced from party lines to individual land lines, the telephone became a great marketing tool for business. Telemarketers scheduled their calls around when people would be at home, so they usually called during family dinners (and yes, there was a time when the whole family sat down to dinner…) or when one was in the middle of something. Telemarketers developed a unique knack for interrupting and being a general pain in the you-know-what.

Now that we have cellphones, they can be annoying anytime. One company representing USA Auto Care and some savings club, calls my cellphone at least six times a day. I’ve even counted ten calls from the same company! I’ve tried to block their calls, but they are able to call from different numbers each time. So, I answer the phone, hear the same mispronunciation of my name, and the beginning of the same annoying script. I try to refrain from questioning the caller’s maternal lineage, but I’m not always successful.

In fact, they called again this morning during my ‘porch’ time. I‘ve begun plotting some form of revenge. I’m convinced that even Jesus would have a hard time loving a telemarketer. I told my wife I should get an airhorn to sound of in response to the telemarketers. Her reply was “they are just doing their job”. Isn’t that the same defense used by the Nazis at the Nuremberg trials…

As a freelance writer and a business owner, I know that cold calling is a necessary evil. Telemarketing companies wouldn’t exist if it didn’t turn a profit. Someone out there is staying on the line, right? It’s a numbers game.

I know to that I offer a service and a solution to my client’s problems. I only hope that I’m more sensitive to my prospect’s needs when I cold call.

I’ve gotten it together a bit more since this morning. I’m not getting an airhorn. I wouldn’t like it if someone did that to me. Telemarketers don’t compare to Hitler’s SS, even if they are “just doing their job”. They’ll call again. That’s just what they do. I’ll reply with a firm, “not interested, thank you” and hang up.  

Autumn, Business, Communication, Conversational Copywriting, Culture, Fall, Generations, Marketing, Relationships, Seasons, Service to Others, Stories, Storytelling, Television, Thoughts From the Porch, Uncategorized, What Can I Do, Work, Writing

Telling a Better Story

It’s another Monday morning here in North Texas. Thanks to Daylight Savings Time, I was up well before sunrise. That may not be the case when we fall back an hour next weekend. I love the sounds of the world awakening around me. They are more pronounced on Mondays. The quiet of weekends replaced by the stirrings of a busy world slowly going about its business.

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I’m not a big television watcher. Occasionally it’s nice to curl up in bed, relax with my wife, and watch old TV shows on the cable. Sunday nights we watch reruns of the old Johnny Cash show. It was pretty edgy for the time, and in a way, for the place it was recorded as well.

The show originally ran from June 7, 1969 to March 31, 1971 on ABC, and was recorded at the Ryman Auditorium. Guests included rock, pop, and folk artists as diverse as Joni Mitchell and The Monkees, a bit surprising coming from the home of country music, the Grand Old Opry. I guess only Johnny Cash could have pulled off such a guest list there.

The “Man in Black” was the consummate storyteller. He related the changing world of Vietnam Era America in a way that few could. I appreciate it even more now that I’m older. His stories take on new meaning.

Storytelling, especially folk tales, seems on the brink of becoming a lost art. Looking back just isn’t as popular as running forward. Sometimes it’s nice to take a breather. Hearing those old stories is a reminder that “no matter how much things change, the more they remain the same”. My kids may not relate to his tales of towns left behind because of a new interstate highway being built, but if you change the words they still apply. Today it’s the town left behind by jobs being outsourced overseas and young people stranded in a sea of student debt…

When I returned to writing copy and content, I chose conversational writing and storytelling as my ‘market niche’. Not only is it important professionally, it’s important personally. Everyone has a story to tell and together we can write a better one. Helping tell, and live, a better story is what we were all created for…

Stories remind me of how connected I am: to the past, present, and future. They are a constant reminder that I’m part of something bigger than me. My story is a part of your story, and vice-versa. Together we can write a better story.

How can I help?

Autumn, Business, Choices, Christianity, Communication, Conversational Copywriting, Courage, Culture, Faith, Hope, Patience, Persistence, Practice, Prayer, Relationships, Stories, Television, Thoughts From the Porch, What Can I Do, Work, Worth, Writing

What’s Your Story?

Thoughts From the Porch: A more accurate title for today’s post would be “Thoughts from the Desk”. A cold front flew through the neighborhood Sunday night, leaving a cold Arctic wind and black, rain-filled skies in its wake. It was eighty-one degrees one day and, in the forties the next. I didn’t stay on the porch very long. Needless to say, it’s much cozier here at Dad’s old roll-top. We had chili for dinner last night and our coffee intake has risen dramatically. Something about such weather makes them both taste exquisite and, so very necessary. Such is Fall in North Texas…

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Margaret loves to watch the musical competition shows like The Voice, America’s Got Talent, and X Factor. I am not that crazy about them, although I come and watch when she asks me to see a good performance. I tend to be a bit snobbish about such popular shows, but if I’m honest, I’ve developed an interest as well.

I never watched them before. They tend to be too ‘pop’ for my taste. Heck, before Margaret and I married, I didn’t even own a television. I streamed PBS on my computer. I’d hear people talking about the latest ‘star’, but I didn’t have a clue what they were talking about.

I’ve always had a problem with the idea of ‘instant stardom’. There are so many unbelievably talented musicians, singers, and songwriters in the world. They endure the grind of the road, playing in roadhouses and clubs almost every night. Family life, if they have any, is marked with long separations. They pay their dues, hoping for the big break that may never come. Yet, they continue despite the rigors of life as a touring musician.

They do it because they are musicians. They can’t do anything else. I get it. I write because that’s what writers do. I love writing (whether I’m good at it or not…). Musicians perform because they love what they do. I’m grateful for all the indie labels and the Internet for exposing me to so much more of the great talent out there.

I always wondered what attracted people to these programs. Then I watched a few of them and their appeal became clear. They tell a story, and everyone loves a good story.

They all tell stories about the various contestants. Stories that draw the audience in and develop an emotional bond between strangers. The contestant often had some major difficulty to overcome prior to coming on the show. It may be the loss of a family member, recovering from a debilitating illness, of huge obstacles that stood in the way. Each has had to move beyond some trauma and overcome their fears to become the next big star. America votes for who they want to win. Votes are not always based on sheer talent. People love the ‘rags to riches’ story. There’s always someone to identify with. That’s what gets the votes and the ratings…

I see it in my personal and professional life. It’s all about living a better story. I hope to assist others in living, and telling, a better story as well. As the old saying goes, “Actions speak louder than words.”

Once I understood the story, and not just the talent, I saw why these programs have such a following. We love heroes. Everyone wants to be a hero. We love people who overcome terrible odds and win the prize. Great literature, no matter what genre, survives because of heroes. The Voice has been on for fifteen seasons, not because of the talent they showcase, but the heroes they produce.

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I want to be a hero today, but being a hero requires work. I used to look on these programs with disdain because they seemed too easy – rewards without the work – but it took a lot of practice and courage just to reach the stage. So, I had to ask myself:

  • How many times have I expected to be on the proverbial ‘stage’ without putting in the work to get there?
  • How many times has my fear of rejection, like all the auditions or in my case, submissions, kept me from realizing my dreams?
  • How often have I lacked the courage to take the next step?
  • How often have I sought the ‘easy way out’ or settled for less than the best?
  • If I were absolutely certain it was my last day on Earthy, would I e happy with how I spent it?

I ask myself these questions daily, not because I want to be the next big star, but because I want to be who I was created to be and have life “in abundance”. One of my favorite authors, Henry David Thoreau said,

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

I get it today. Fear can keep me from following my passion. Today, I pray for the courage to take the next step, to be the man I was created to be, and follow it up with action: to step out on the stage despite my fears, perform my best, and grab onto the things that are truly important to me. I hope you do as well…

Autumn, Awe, Bible, Business, Christianity, Chronic Illness, Communication, Community, Culture, Dogs, Emotional Health, Faith, Fall, Family, Friendship, Gratitude, Health, Listening, Neighbors, Prayer, Recovery, Relationships, Simplicity, Spirituality, Texas, Thoughts From the Porch, Uncategorized, Unity Unlimited, Inc., What Can I Do

Who’s Your Village?

black metal armchair
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Thoughts from the Porch: The leaves are starting to cover more of the yard more quickly than they did a couple of weeks ago. The blades of grass, which would shoot toward the sky after every rain last month have slowed to a crawl in their growth. Mowers scurrying along the freeway right-of-way signal colder weather is on the way. Despite the above-average temperatures, Fall is on its way to North Texas.

This week has been hectic (in a good way, for the most part) and the time on the porch is treasured beyond imagination. Margaret and I have been able to get out more, for which I’m grateful. I love to her out and about. The tender’s been stoked, and the brakes are off on Opal’s Farm. The wheels are turning faster now and building speed toward the ribbon-cutting ceremony ahead. The only blot on the week has been a persistent plumbing problem here at home. At least I’m able to be here to take care of it.

As I started my day with a cup of coffee, I felt intense gratitude for the day I’ve been given. I get to meet and work with some amazing people. I’ve often said I prefer the company of dogs and horses to most humans, and that seems to follow on days that I pour over my newsfeed and read about the pervasive anger and divisiveness in our society. I could go on a major rant about it all, but why?

Sometimes I feel a little like the Old Testament prophet, Elijah, in 1 Kings 19. He had seen so much of the selfish decadence of his world that he felt like he was totally alone and persecuted. Lord knows I’ve been there. Events can be overwhelming. I feel isolated, cynical, and sad. Depression clouds my view of the world. It often feels like, “What’s the use?”.

(side note: continuing feelings of “what’s the use, worthlessness, sadness and isolation are nothing to be trifled with, especially when nothing seems to help. It may be something for which relationships, gratitude, and spiritual pursuits aren’t enough. Please seek professional guidance)

Fortunately, Elijah’s story didn’t end there. Yours and mine doesn’t have to, either. God reminded him that he wasn’t alone. First, by speaking in a still, small voice so he was reminded he wasn’t spiritually alone. Second, by reminding him he wasn’t physically alone. In fact, God pointed to all the other people, 7,000 in his case, who had the same desire to make things better. That’s what God does and, continues to do for me on a regular basis.

Over the last several weeks many fantastic and selfless people have crossed my path: people who look to the common good and seek how to be of service. Opal’s Farm is the pathway God has granted me. Beginning with Ms. Opal, the farm’s namesake, I’ve met a succession of people who have blessed me in ways they’ll probably never know. God hasn’t left any of us alone. The world is filled with people who strive to make our community a better place by serving other, but I fail to take them into account. “You can’t see the forest because of all the trees…”

I write a lot about the people in my life and relationships. Probably more than you want to read, but I stress their importance, whether it’s personally, professionally, or spiritually. Mom used to tell me she could tell who I was by who my friends were. I didn’t appreciate her wisdom until I was older, but she was so right. The more I surround myself with great relationships, the better I become as a person.

My personal relationships keep my perspective positive, my business relationships sharpen my focus and service professionally, and my relationship with God expands my spiritual life. What are your relationships doing for you today? Are they a priority in your life? Are you grateful?

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Rolodexes

 

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Thoughts From the Porch: It’s been a crazy week already and it’s only Wednesday. It’s all been ‘good’ crazy. My professional obligations have overflowed into my personal time. Combine them with whatever allergen blew in with the last cold front and I sniffle and sneeze my way through the day…

I was sitting here sorting through the various business cards and it occurred to me that I need a new Rolodex. Some of you know what I’m talking about: that circular file that holds your contacts, addresses, and phone numbers. I’m not sure many people use them anymore. Everyone else seems to organize such things online. I guess my friend Gary was right. I’m a dinosaur…

It’s not that I’m technologically illiterate, mind you. Heck, I write for a living and that includes the web and social media. It’s just that keyboards and screens feel so impersonal at times. Heck, I lost my phone one time and couldn’t call friends or family because their numbers were stored by the phone’s contact list. I can still remember my very first home number – GL (short for the Glendale exchange)1-0249 (and yes, kids, there was a time when they had letters instead of numbers). I could tell you what part of town someone was calling from by the prefix, which was helpful as caller ID was still years away. One memorized the important numbers in one’s life, wrote them in a phone and address book, or filed them on a Rolodex for future reference. Nowadays, they all go to the phone by name instead of having to dial. I was married two years before I could tell you my wife’s phone number. It was filed away by name on a contact screen. Sometimes smart phones make me feel dumb…

Don’t get me wrong. I love emerging technology and all the new toys. They make life, professionally and personally, so much easier. The world has become much smaller as a result, too. It’s nothing to be able to communicate, both audibly and visibly, with folks on the other side of the world in a microsecond. I definitely find research on the internet preferable to the long hours spent in the library or on the phone. Unfortunately, technology is often impersonal at times and that can be brutal on relationships.

As I’ve grown older I’ve come to believe that everything in life is about relationships. For all the connectedness technology enables, it inhibits real relationship. One night shortly after Margaret and I started dating, she asked me to come to ‘family night’ at her house. As we all found our seats in the living room and turned on the movie, it became apparent that no one was either talking or watching the movie. Instead, everyone’s face was buried in a phone screen. I think they were texting each other across the living room. Just so you know, we have great, loving relationships with all our kids, but after that evening I became increasingly aware of the downside of technology – stifling relationships.

I’m not a big ‘phone guy’. One of the biggest complaints a friend has about me is that I don’t answer my phone right away. I leave it in the truck when I’m meeting or working with a client. They aren’t paying me to answer my cell phone. I always return calls. I am not, and I refuse, to be tethered to my phone. Besides, I value ‘face time’, and not the iPhone kind, over phones calls, texts, and emails. One of the best pieces of advice my mentor ever gave me was to spend more time watching and listening. The experts say that much of our conversations are non-verbal. We say more with our body language and actions. Just ask my wife. She hates it when I sigh or roll my eyes and still say okay…

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Something special takes place between people when they sit and share together. The closer my relationship, the more one is aware of the non-verbal cues between one another. My non-verbal cues often indicate a far deeper meaning than what I say. They often turn my “everything’s okay” into “what’s really going on?”. As a result, my relationship with others, and with myself, deepens.

The ultimate face time takes place over the dinner table. In certain cultures, a meal is the most intimate offering one can give to another. To paraphrase another friend, “I don’t get to choose who I am kind to, but I do get to choose who I have dinner with”. Many of my best memories are of meals shared and friendship enjoyed. I guess it’s no wonder that Jesus spent a lot of time hanging out with people over the dinner table…

Here in a bit, I’ll head off to a Development Group that meets weekly to discuss personal and professional development, how to be of service to others, and network with other professionals. It’s something I look forward to every Wednesday. There are no cell phones or computer screens present; only good food and good folks. We spend the time together trading business cards and the weeks news. I always feel uplifted and full of energy when I leave. That rarely happens when I step away from this computer screen.

I’m okay being a dinosaur. What all the great technology doesn’t do is help me be a better human being. I need other folks to help me get there. I need relationships. Technology is a great tool, but they are not the be all and end all. So, before I get to the meeting, I think I’ll stop by the office supply store and see if they carry a Rolodex…

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I Don’t Know…

The rain started on Thursday. It was brief that first day, only thirty minutes or so, but enough to clean the air and drop the temperature. Then it rained for most of the day on Friday, off and on Saturday, and I have awaken to wet streets and dripping eaves each day since. Another day of wet, wonderful rain is predicted, and the heat won’t return until the end of the week.

Such things don’t usually happen in North Texas in August. It’s a welcome relief to the brutal heat of summer, especially this year. Drought, with all its attendant problems, has left us with falling, dry leaves and the almost winter-like brown of the grass. Finding relief in the middle of summer is a gift from God. I’ve never been so grateful for having to mop the floors because of the dogs’ muddy feet.

The biggest blessing of the week came Friday night though. I drove to our friends’ house in Oklahoma and returned with my lovely wife. She remarked that she was thankful I didn’t get upset by her week-long absence. How could I be upset? I’m simply happy she was able to get out and about, especially with her physical limitations and dealing with chronic pain. Getting out for the day is a little victory. Getting out for a week is a miracle. I missed Margaret, yet the solitude was nice, even though it was interrupted by the kids coming and going. I had a lot of time to work, write, and do projects I’ve been putting off. Still, it’s definitely true that “absence makes the heart grow fonder…”

Our life together is overflowing with blessings I often wonder why I, of all people have received so much grace. I certainly don’t deserve it. Much of my life has been an example of what not to do, and yet, here I sit basking in the glow and freedom of God’s grace. I’ve come to believe that everything in life is about grace, still I have moments of doubt, both in God and myself…

I, like so many others, was taught to accept articles of my faith tradition without question. That may work for those that need easy, simplistic answers, but it can foster judgement, self-righteousness, and false piety. The fragility of faith without doubt and question was a contributing factor to my long trek away from the God I know today. God invites questioning and doubt. Faith grows in the crucible of doubt. Despite my questions, doubt, and periodic low self-esteem my faith has grown, matured, and transformed into an intimate relationship with the Creator.

I finally accepted questioning and doubt as part of the human condition, especially in these times, and life experience has transformed my belief into faith and faith into trust. God has my best interests at heart even when I doubt and question his course for my life.

God really is control. He cares for me deeply, even when it feels like he’s absent. I’m not immune to grief, sorrow, and disappointment. While there’s no easy answer to these feelings, I find myself guilty of offering trite and somewhat cliché answers to others going through their own periods of such feelings. I don’t intend to, but that still doesn’t mitigate the damage they cause to the one asking the questions. I’m beginning to learn the admonition of Jesus’ saying, “Let your no be no, and your yes be yes”. My dad used to tell me to “say what you mean and mean what you say”. When in doubt the honest answer is always “I don’t know”.

Three little words free me. I’m able to listen, really listen, to others’ views and understandings and even the “still, small voice” of God himself. Moreover, they provide much fodder for further conversation with God. He seems to actually enjoy our conversations. I know I do…

It takes a lot of courage to say, “I don’t know”. It requires putting aside my false pride, false self, and ego. It requires a certain vulnerability not to know the answer, to be judged by others as lacking in some way. Ironically, the more I say, “I don’t know”, the more assured I am of the things I am certain of, the more I become the man I was meant to be. I’m not the best, the smartest, or the wisest, but I am uniquely loved and equipped to be part of the human family.

I don’t know why bad things happen. That’s just how life is. I know when my dad passed away in 2002, and when last year my mom died, I didn’t want to hear how “they’re in a better place”. I wanted them here and now. I didn’t want the clichés and yet, when the shoe was on the other foot, I often responded the same way. I do believe in the “new heavens and new Earth” that God promised, but it does little to comfort me in my grief. I’m sure others feel the same.

Today, I’ll quit offering trivial sentiments to people who are going through hurt, pain, and disappointment. I’ll let them question God just as I often do, and trust that they are in the same process I am. Rather than offer trite slogans and clichés, I’ll simply answer, “I don’t know” and offer my presence and empathy, because we all share the same emotions, the same struggles, and the same questions. Today, I’m okay with “I don’t know…’

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“Jim-isms”…

Rain came to North Texas last night; everywhere except here in our little cul-de-sac. We may not have gotten wet (yet) but we enjoyed the benefit of a sweet, cool morning. Margaret’s still in Oklahoma so I spent extra time reading, praying, and meditating out on the porch today. This summer is on track to become one of our hotter summers and the relief of coolness and freshness in the air is more than welcome…

I thought about this morning’s blog for quite a while and how to approach it. I am in a twelve-step recovery program and have been for many years. By nature, twelve-step programs are anonymous in nature. As such, I generally do not post or repost anything about “the program”, nor do I wear my recovery publicly. I don’t put recovery-oriented bumper stickers on my car or wear my recovery on T-shirts and such for the same reasons I choose not to put “fish” emblems, crosses, or other Christian symbols on my vehicle or person, even though I am a follower of the Teacher. When I act up, and I do on occasion, I don’t want to set a poor example. It’s not dishonest. I simply don’t want to be a stumbling block to others. I don’t want to be their excuse to miss the opportunity to discover the same joy I’ve found in a relationship with God.

Although I grew up in a home of strong Christian faith, it didn’t take with me. That is how I ended up needing a twelve-step program. It’s ironic that my relationship with God (as I understand Him), didn’t flourish until I found recovery. Over the last twenty-seven years, I’ve been blessed with the wisdom of so many people that have been where I have been and recovered from a “seemingly hopeless state of mind” that wreaked havoc on my life and the lives of everyone around me. I may not wear my recovery on my sleeve, but I’m not ashamed of it either. As my friend Jim used to say (quoting Popeye, of course) “I yam what I yam and that’s all that I am…

I was thinking about my friend Jim a lot lately. He passed on last February and, like my parents, hardly a day goes by that I don’t think about him. I hear his voice throughout the day. A few weeks ago, I joked with a mutual friend that I should write a book of “Jim-isms”: all the little sayings that were so appropriate to the various events of the day. Although I wasn’t serious at the time, that began to change over the last several weeks. I spoke with his widow and she sent a list of “Jim-isms” that an inmate in their prison ministry had compiled. Jim’s voice grew louder as a result.

Jim’s wife said that he never would’ve been comfortable calling them “Jim-isms”. He was simply repeating the things that he had been told repeatedly by his elders. I always knew that “Jim-isms weren’t original, but they were timeless words of wisdom from a man who truly believed in helping others. I won’t go into his biography here. Suffice it to say, that Jim was definitely Jim – you either loved him or hated him as he loved those around him in his often acerbic, sarcastic way.

I have many of my own stories to tell about my friendship with Jim and how he mentored me through the various stages, and often, difficult times of life. I wondered if anyone outside of twelve-step recovery, especially here in North Texas, would even be interested and if I shared them, would I be breaking the tradition of anonymity? The more I prayed and thought about it, the more I realized that Jim’s own recovery was open to anyone, whether in ‘the program’ or not. In fact, as he matured in his own faith, he helped many others beyond the rooms of recovery. He exercised the same spiritual principles no matter what he was doing. Moreover, the twelve steps of various recovery programs came from the wisdom of Jesus’ teaching in the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ and the Book of James in the New Testament. Jesus didn’t exactly seek to remain anonymous and anyway, Jim’s wife gave me permission…

“Jim-isms” apply to far more than twelve-step recovery, although that’s where I first heard them. I was hard-headed, and recovery came about over the first few years I knew Jim. When I finally got on track, I thought my name was ‘Dumb-ass” for the first year or so. After that, I was excited to become “Cowboy”. Once you begin to hear “Jim-isms” that will make perfect sense.

Now that I’ve told you about “Jim-isms” I have a request to make. I’m compiling a complete list and would appreciate it if those of my readers who have their own “Jim-isms” or stories about Jim share them with me. Leave a comment or PM me if you’d rather do that. Please give me a day or two to respond as things are a bit hectic here with a new project starting.

The greatest examples of what it is to live a spiritual and joyous life of freedom are often disguised as old gruff cowboy, ex- Marines, who “love God with all their heart and love others”. I certainly learned not to “judge a book by its cover…”