Children, Choices, Christianity, Communication, Community, Courage, Emotional Health, Faith, Family, Friendship, Grace, Gratitude, Growing Up, Introverts, Listening, Marriage, Neighbors, Parties, Practice, Prayer, Recovery, Relationships, Simplicity, Spirituality, Uncategorized, Writing

Bridal Showers and Starbucks

Time and recovery has taught me to “stay where my feet are”. I’m not very good at it, but I’m better than I used to be. I’m having some difficulty with staying in the moment when I look ahead to the remainder of the day. Our son is getting married next month and today is the prerequisite wedding. His fiance is an only child and apparently this shower is a big deal for her and her mother, as well it should be. I’m told there will be around fifty people or so there. I feel , well, a huge sense of dread when I think of being part of such a large crowd, especially with people I don’t know.

If it were a recovery, church, or business meeting I wouldn’t have an issue. I know what to do, how to act, and what to talk about then, but being socially awkward and an introvert in a group of strangers is a whole different ballgame. The discomfort has already started, and the shower is still hours away.

Moreover, the shower is in Dallas. I am from Fort Worth. For as long as I can remember, there has been a tension between Dallas And Fort Worth.  When I grew up and spent time in other parts of our state, I discovered that Fort Worth was not unique. Dallas seemed to be at odds with everywhere else in Texas. In fact, most folks will tell you that I might as well be crossing state lines when I enter Dallas county…

Later that day…

Okay. I admit it. I ‘chickened out’. My wife is at the bridal shower while I sit here in a Starbucks down the road with my trusty laptop. It takes a lot to get me to sit in a Starbucks. I would much rather patronize a small, local place, where the coffee doesn’t always taste burned, unless it’s free and then it’s tolerable. It’s just that when we rang the doorbell and I saw all those young ladies between the front door and the back patio where far fewer men were congregating, I lost all nerve. So here I sit, drinking a ridiculously overpriced, pseudo-coffee drink, with my head stuck deep in my computer screen lest someone I know sees me…

I’ve been writing this blog for almost a year now. One of the things I appreciate most is the sense of community that exists in the “blogosphere’. When I decided to leave my contracting business and return to professional ‘business’ writing full-time, my peers stressed the importance of reading and writing everyday, whether it was professionally or not. It was an easy instruction for me as I’ve always been a voracious reader and kept a journal of my thoughts and feelings; privately, of course. I always tell clients that successful marketing includes regular blog posts and customer contact, so maybe I should try some of my own advice. Hence, Thoughts from the Porch was born.

I guess I’m a relative latecomer to the whole blogging deal. I never spent time reading things from the screen. I prefer something tangible, a book or a magazine, that I can hold on to and read at my leisure. However, over the last few months, I’ve discovered a whole world of great writers and incredible thinkers that I’ve been missing for a good while. Today, I follow many other bloggers and enjoy the diversity of words and thought. One of my favorites (which I recommend) is Stephen Black and his Fractured Faith blog site. He tends to end when a question inviting engagement. For me, feeling self-conscious and inadequate, this invitation to engage is sorely appreciated.  I often feel that whatever I have to say just isn’t that big of a deal to anyone but me.

This morning, he asked, “Do you write truthfully?” and I’ve been thinking about it all day. I sincerely hope I do.

When I write, whether it be personally (like here) or professionally (my business and marketing), I strive to be honest. I hope that it has some intrinsic value and offers something new and refreshing. Then I feel as I have nothing to say that hasn’t been said. Like it or not, that’s true. I read and listen to a wide variety of writers and authors and I haven’t discovered something that hasn’t been said before. The thousands of years of human existence leave little room for new experiences. Nothing I can think of or say is new and original. In fact, I feel a little silly when I’m excited by the things I discovered so much later in life than most folks and feel a need to tell everyone. I always was late to the party…

So I’m simply not that special or unique. Yet, nothing I say has ever been said in my voice, from my perspective, and in the way that I feel ( nor has it in everyone else I read or listen to) so maybe that makes it worthwhile, at least to someone. The more I read and listen to others, the more I feel a part of something far bigger than me, the more I feel a sense of community, and the less isolated I feel by my shyness and introversion. If I feel that way, could someone else possibly feel that way as well? The only way to find out is to speak and write honestly…

The next morning…

The thought train was off and running yesterday when I received a text that everyone at the bridal shower was asking where I was, there were more men than expected, and maybe I should come. I thought about it a bit (and prayed!), and mustered up the courage to put the laptop away and head over there. I sheepishly rand the doorbell and was greeted by laughter, a bit of chaos, and welcomed inside. I met some new people, saw some I already knew, and eased my way into the festivities. Honestly, I had a good time despite my initial discomfort. Life’s like that. Every time I walk past the ‘fear’ curtain it turns out things aren’t as bad as I thought. I have a lot more in common with folks than I thought…

 

 

Christianity, Chronic Illness, Communication, Community, Courage, Culture, Dogs, Emotional Health, Faith, Family, Friendship, Grace, Gratitude, Grief, Growing Up, Hope, Listening, Love, Marriage, Pets, Practice, Prayer, Recovery, Relationships, Simplicity, Spirituality, Uncategorized, Writing

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…’

Awe, Beatitudes, Choices, Christianity, Community, Emotional Health, Faith, Friendship, Grace, Gratitude, Letting Go, Listening, Practice, Prayer, Recovery, Relationships, Spirituality, Uncategorized, Writing

Old Friends…

I spent some quiet time on the porch this morning and retreated to my office to check out the newsfeeds and my various social media accounts. I was shocked to find that my good friend and mentor, Edgar, underwent heart surgery and is in ICU recovering. For those of you that know the power of prayer I ask that you offer prayers of healing and continued grace for him and his family. I would not be the man I am today had it not been for the love and guidance he offered when no one else wanted much to do with me. Some of you know exactly what I’m talking about.

I firmly believe that when I’m barraged with the same message from various places that it’s probably something I should give some thought to and, if necessary, write about. Edgar told me that if one person tells me something, I should just acknowledge it and go about my business. If two people say the same thing, I might want to give it some serious thought. If three people bring up the same subject, God might be trying to tell me something…

In the quiet of the porch this morning I kept hearing something Jesus said in what we know as the ‘Sermon on the Mount’. It was his manifesto for life and so I try to follow it as well. I particularly like Eugene Peterson’s translation, The Message. It brings out the fullness of the original Greek and Aramaic of that time. What I kept hearing can be found in Matthew 5.5,

You are blessed when you’re content with just who you are – no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.”

I thought about it a while and went on to enjoy my coffee and go about my morning routine. After the initial shock of what happened to my friend, I settled into my day. The first article I read started with a quote from Queen Latifah that said,

Be bold, be brave enough to be your true self.”

That was twice now I heard about being one’s self, one’s true self. It was followed by a third, fourth, and fifth time as many of the blogs I follow were about the same thing. I can be pretty thick-headed at times, but I heard this one loud and clear. Be true to your ‘self’…

When I met Edgar some twenty-plus years ago, I didn’t have a clue who I was, much less what my true self was about. Poor decisions, bad choices, and a moment of clarity brought us together, and started me on an inward journey to finding who I really am. I wish I’d followed directions better during those early years of our friendship. It wouldn’t have been near as frustrating for either of us. Still, I thank God today for a friend that stuck by me despite my stubborn, hard-headed ways.

When I started following the suggestions he offered me, things began to change. I began to see myself differently and quite frankly, I like the man I am becoming. It’s definitely a journey. I’m not confused. I know God’s grace is the power that truly transforms me into who I was meant to be all along, but His transformation is meant to be accomplished with my cooperation and the people in my life. I’m grateful for all of them, but especially my friend, Edgar.

I spent many years trying to meet others’ expectations, or at least what I thought were their expectations. Today I strive to live honestly, be myself, and recognize that I’m just another thread in the tapestry of life. There are still times I get all turned around. My life looks like the back of a tapestry – a confusing mess of color and wild threads – but I’ve learned that it is really a small piece of the greater, beautiful picture on the front. Most importantly, the picture would be lacking something if it weren’t for my thread.

Edgar’s mentor, and our mutual friend, Jim, used to say that “self-examination, coupled with prayer and meditation, followed by vigorous action, produces favorable results”. That’s been my experience. He also told me that “obedience to spiritual principles shortens the distance to my hopes and dreams”. That, too, has been my experience. In the process, I’ve become “the proud owner of everything that can’t be bought”.

Communication, Emotional Health, Faith, Grace, Gratitude, Persistence, Positive Thinking, Practice, Simplicity, Spirituality, Uncategorized, Work, Writing

Fake it ’til you make it…

Not only is rain predicted for Monday, but the weather gurus say we’ll actually have below normal temperatures for a few days. I’m so ready. The oppressive heat has worn me down: physically, emotionally, mentally, and even spiritually. I normally strive to be positive in my writing. There’s enough negativity and complaining in the world. I’ll be the first to tell you how blessed and grateful I am, but it’s become increasingly difficult to write over the last couple of weeks. I keep visualizing the old “Drug-Free America’ commercial with the eggs in the frying pan – “this is your brain on drugs”. I haven’t partaken of any mood-altering substances, but my brain is definitely fried…

When I was a young person living in Denver, we used to have these unbelievably strong winds that blew down off the Rockies and across the front range every Spring. They were such a force that Denver named its then minor league baseball team, the Zephyrs, after them. I recall a story about the effects of continual strong wind on people and the resulting depression. I guess our heat wave has the same results, for me at least. Perhaps there’s a government grant to conduct multimillion dollar research on my hypothesis…

I’m a firm believer in the old saying, “fake it, ‘til you make it”. I don’t want to be a fake person. God knows I’ve been there. Sometimes I just need to act as if it’s okay until it is. I guess this is one of those times. I must do the right thing, whatever it may be, whether I want to or not, until everything is okay (or the heat wave breaks).

My friend Edgar always tells me that ‘I can’t think my way into right acting, but I can act my way into right thinking’. I used to have that backwards and it didn’t work out so well. No matter how many positive thinking books I read or speakers I listened to, I never became a regular ‘Norman Vincent Peale’ kind of guy. It wasn’t until I changed my actions that my thought processes, and likewise, my attitude, began to change.

One of the blogs I follow asked the question, “What does it take to be a good writer?”. ‘Timing is everything’, as that was the same question I was asking myself on the porch this morning. I’ve thought about it a lot over the last couple of weeks. Work has been slow, and I’ve been frustrated. I question myself constantly.

When I started my blog, it followed my return to writing professionally as a copywriter. As with anything one seeks to perform well in, whether it be sports or the arts, one needs to practice. “Practice makes perfect”, as my Dad would say. The only way to practice is to, as the Nike ad says, “Just do it”. My blog seemed like a good way to develop the proper muscles to excel in my chosen craft…

That being said… I’m often filled with self-doubt as to my writing abilities, especially professionally. Although I have extensive experience in ‘business’ writing, I still question if I can create anything worthwhile for my clients. However, I generally ignore the committee inside my head and produce good work (and on time I might add).

In many ways this blog, which helps me immensely to grow on a personal level, has probably been professional suicide. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become less willing to deny who I am and the experiences that made me who I am today. Honesty has its drawbacks in the work arena, even though the life experience of someone ‘saved’ by grace is of immeasurable value. That, however, is another story…

I remember my freshman English professor telling a story about Ernest Hemingway (and that’s about all I remember…) and writer’s block. He was asked what he does when that happens. His reply was, “I tell the truth”. I don’t claim to have any corner on “the” truth, but I know what’s true for me. I can’t be something I’m not. Like my father used to say, “If it walks like a duck…”

So, the answer to the question, “What makes a good writer?” is one of honesty and practice. It doesn’t matter if it’s personally or professionally. Writing and honesty both take practice and sometimes practice is hard work.  I need to push through the periods of constant rewrites, frustration, and self-doubt that inevitably come around, whatever the reason. I don’t know if others will think of me as a ‘good’ writer, but I pray they’ll at least deem me honest, despite my shortcomings.

I’m a writer. That’s what I do. I trust I’ll get better with practice. Practice I will. One of my favorite suggestions is from Jack Kerouac’s, On the Road. He says something like, “you have to write with the energy of a Benzedrine addict”. I can get with that. I’ll leave the substances to others better fit to handle them and keep on writing…