Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Operating in the Background

I had outpatient surgery this week. It was a hernia. I didn't know what to expect when I arrived because the word "outpatient" made it sound so informal. I really wasn't expecting the whole official operating room experience, but it was definitely that.

They wheeled me in on a gurney, shifted me over to the operating table and stretched my arms out and strapped them down. I laid there staring up at two large lights that would be turned on after I was knocked out.

I was able to look to the left and right, and saw people busy at work getting ready for MY surgery. Two things went through my mind: 1. This was going to cost a fortune. 2. There were several people doing a lot of background work that I had no approval power over, was not asked about or informed of, and that I would never understand even if they tried to explain it to me. Even the nurse who was putting blankets and towels over my alarmingly exposed body had a very definite method to the application of each one. I remember looking at two green objects among the instruments being organized across the room that looked like funnels I would use to put oil in my car and wondering how they fit in to my little operation.

All this reminded me of the times I've told the guys in my class that even before we call upon God for help, sometimes before we're even aware that we need Him, He's already at work in the background. He's bringing about circumstances in other people's lives and arranging details in the world around us that will one day converge onto our path as an answer, or a remedy, a rescue or maybe even a reason. From our vantage point we can only look around at our circumstances and see things going on that we really don't understand and wonder in frustration how anything happening is going to help.

If I can't begin to comprehend what an operating room full of people are doing to prepare for and bring about my healing, how can I question what God is doing when I don't see results yet, or whether what He is doing is going to be of any help?

I do know one thing for sure. I know that I never doubted for a minute that everything those highly skilled people were doing was going to result in ultimate good for me. I wish I could say for certain that I put that same kind of trust in God, even though I know He is always operating in the background.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Simon says....

I'm not ashamed to say I am a fan of American Idol. It's great human drama, and fun to watch with my family as we each root for our favorite singers. The last winner, Lee, was my second choice. I will buy his CD but I would stand in line to buy Crystal's. Every year we cheer for some to make it to the next round and also cheer when an annoyance gets voted home. But every week of every year after every performance we wait on the edge of our seats to hear what Simon says.

Simon Cowell is a fascinating figure. He's purposefully mean to people who annoy, disappoint or disagree with him and is very pointed when someone falls short of his expectations. He takes shots at fellow judges, at the contestants, and even the musicians in the background at times. He is very hard on people in regard to their personal appearance - the camera always focuses on his expression when an unattractive or odd-looking person appears on stage. In fact, he is so caustic toward people that there is this sense of heart-warming awe that you experience when he has something good or supportive to say. I have the impression that the real-life Cowell is in fact the obnoxious, pretentious guy with a sense of entitlement that he appears to be on the show. Don't blame me. He's worked hard to earn that reputation.

Two of the most famous Simon Cowell moments didn't happen on Idol, but on Britain's Got Talent. When Susan Boyle and Paul Pott walked on stage, no one in the world thought they would move forward in the competition. They were two people in whom no one believed but themselves. Had Simon run into them on the street or encountered them at a sales counter at Macy's he'd have dismissed them outright, possibly with an unkind remark. But their lights shined so bright in their auditions that even Simon had to smile. He then signed them up and became even richer on the strength of their talents. When they stop selling CDs, he'll stop taking their calls. That's okay. It's not personal...it's business.

Who is your Simon? Who has that power over you? Who is that person on whom you depend, waiting for an occasional "well done" or pat on the back? Maybe you suffer the insults, hurts and derision only because you so enjoy those rare moments when he or she looks at you like Simon looked at Boyle and Pott - pleased and surprised that you didn't disappoint. They keep you around because you are useful to them and meet their needs. You stick around and try very hard to please them, seeking approval and acceptance, and never feeling really satisfied when you get it.

My Simon had a hold on me for a very long time. Even when I broke away I felt the pull, wondering if there were ways I could get back on the inside and be a confidant again...get welcomed back and resume my quest for approval. This is not a healthy way to live.

Having come to a place where I place my hope in my creator who wants me to live my life the way He made me, I look back on my Simon with a range of emotions from humor to anger. It's good to be free. Breaking away was a process not an event. But one thing is sure - it's good to be able to say I don't care at all about what Simon says.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Do You Need a Nursing Home?

Our family celebrated my mother's 88th birthday this week in her new home, a beautiful independent/assisted living facility in Denver. She is happier and healthier than I've seen her in a very long time, and it got me thinking about how she got that way, and that we all need to go on a similar journey - no matter what our age.

It started with another fall. Mom had fallen in her bathroom before, and this last one was fast on the heels of the previous. My sister - an advocate anyone would be blessed to have on their side - took her to the hospital and there stood her ground, insisting that my mother needed more than an overnight stay and a pat on the head. Going toe-to-toe with those who were very educated and knew better, she finally got Mom accepted for a physical therapy stint at a wonderful nursing home.

Once there, Mom got all the support she needed to get as healthy as she could. They reduced her prescriptions that were causing some of her imbalance and making her appear weak and frail. They helped her stop smoking in a lovingly assertive way. They taught her how to properly walk with a walker and cane, and convinced her that these items must always be with her in the future if she wanted to never fall again. Most importantly, when she talked they listened, and they responded to what they heard. They didn't treat her condition out of a pretext of knowing what all little old ladies need because they as professionals know what is best.

Mom is now healthier than we've seen her in a very long time, and relocated to an independent living facility full of community and people who care about the residents in the same way they did at the nursing home.

So, my question is, why aren't we all doing this? Why aren't we all checking into a nursing home plan for our lives? After all, we in the sandwich generation are usually the ones who have to tenderly yet firmly persuade the senior loved ones in our lives that, for their good, they must get some help because of their sometimes broken condition. But will we check ourselves in when we need it?

Life gives us a beating, and our bodies and spirits become broken down. And we fall. Fall in to sin or defeat, destructive habits or addictions, or simply lethargy and apathy. Whatever it is, it's some kind of pit that makes us feel weak, alone, and in a very dark place.

I think the first reason is that we don't allow ourselves to become cared for by an advocate. We don't have a person in our lives that we allow in to know everything - all our needs, weaknesses, pain and damaging habits. This is vital. We need someone who will go toe-to-toe with us and tell us that we need some kind of therapy program. A plan of action to recover and move forward living a healthier existence. Having a person like that in your life isn't just a good idea, it's God's plan for living a balanced and productive life.

What do you do to medicate yourself? It might be your work, television, sports, alcohol, the internet, or any of a number of things that in themselves are not bad, but taken in too high a dose cause fatigue or weakness of mind. It takes a certain amount of humility to allow someone to point out that there are habits we need to rid ourselves of that might be damaging us in some way. Giving up old habits for new ones takes practice, patience and exercise. You might not need to stop an addiction like smoking, but do you need to give up anger, or sloth, or poor eating habits? Do you need initiate new behaviors? Do you read, connect with friends or take sabbath rests in your life? Do you isolate yourself as if living in a dark and dank world, or do you come out into the world and exist in community, sharing the joys and pains of life with other people?

Last question: What walker or cane do you need to have with you at all times to keep you from falling back into your old habits? What or whom do you have in your life that you can lean on when you feel weak - when you feel as if you might fall again?

Maybe you're one who lives a healthy, balanced life. You have someone you lean on, who acts as your advocate and can speak truth into you. If so, my question is: for whom are you an advocate, going toe-to-toe with someone's adversary for them?

We all need a nursing home experience. We all need that rest and recovery time to recuperate after tough roads in life. I've never known anyone who checked themselves into one voluntarily though. It always takes someone else in the family to say "It's time. You need help."

I dare you to be the first. After me.

Thursday, May 14, 2009


There's really nothing new in regard to people who walk around with a Bluetooth headset in their ear who appear to be talking to themselves. We clandestine talk radio listeners have been doing it for decades. (Am I really old enough to say I've been listening for decades?) As I perform my daily rounds in the delivery of very important junk mail, I listen in frustration to scores of people daily who need me to straighten their thinking on a myriad of issues. Since I can't call in, I sometimes just talk to my radio: "NO! You've got it backwards!" "You don't know what you're talking about!" and "Say this, you ridiculous talk show host, say THIS!"

My favorite time to talk to the radio is when a secular host gets on issues of faith and the Bible. They are always speaking from knowledge they have yet to attain, and are then called by Christians who want to educate them on all things theological. Point in fact: a caller recently phoned a local show to explain everything he knew about God's creation of the universe, or intelligent design. He appeared well informed on the subject, discussing old vs. young earth, quoting phDs, and backing his position up with data. An interesting subject, but any outcome, in my opinion, is of minimal importance when compared to vital Christian doctrine. When the host told the caller that he was troubled by the Bible's story of creation mostly because it also teaches that man was created in the image and of God, and that means the creator is some being who looks like you and me and he just can't accept that. The caller's response: "Good point".

My head almost exploded. Given an opportunity to talk about the incredible doctrine that flows from the fact that we are created in the image and likeness of God, this Christian was totally unarmed. He had obviously spent hours in the pursuit of arguments for the creation of a young earth (an issue that will do nothing to turn others to the faith) but little if any on matters that could change entirely how a man might think about the creator.

Soap boxes create narrow, unbalanced believers. And, I have found that when I stand on them, I end up looking down on everyone else.

Thursday, March 15, 2007


Optimism isn't always all it's cracked-up to be.

I guess it depends on what your foundation for optimism is. Some base it on their faith in God, that He is faithful and can always be counted on to create something good out of even the worst of messes. This is certainly a solid reason for hope.

The optimism of others is planted firmly on the foundation of what they believe they can accomplish on their own merits; that they have the experience and wherewithal to create a good outcome, no matter what lies ahead. I like and admire those guys. I want to punch them in the nose sometimes, but I really like them.

There is an elite group of optimists that combine one or both of the above with an upbeat view of other people. They have an innate ability to focus on the positive characteristics of most people they meet. It's not that they don't see negative traits; they just try to overlook them. I've heard the statement made: "every man is my superior in some way." These CCOs (cream of the crop optimists) seem to get this. I like these people too, and it would be very, very bad to even think about punching them in the nose. They'd probably find a reason to thank you for it anyway.

"Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups."
< (Despair.com)

As a recovering sarcastiholic*, I have to point out another kind of optimist. They have a disorder I call the Union Member Syndrome. These are the ones who are optimistic only because they are too dull to see the predicament they have gotten themselves into, and would be too lazy to do anything about it if they did. Their optimism is founded solely in the expectation that someone is going to bail them out of every situation. With that in mind, their outlook is rosey because their view is only one crisis ahead. They don't manage their lives; they manage their emergencies. Pity the fool who has UMS but is working a non-union job. Those in union leadership who have the unenviable job of representing these people should get a purple heart and a lifetime supply of Tums.

In a back-handed (sarcastic) compliment someone once said "Brazil has a bright future and always will." I don't know anything about Brazil, but I think I know a lot of "Brazilians." They each have a union steward, and the future never comes.

*sar.cas.ti.hol.ic [sar-cas-tuh-haw-lic]
1. Pathology. A person suffering from sarcasm-ism
2. A person addicted to getting the last word in.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

The Naked City

I was born in 1958. That same year, a television show was born that had a run long enough for me to remember it. I didn't watch it, of course. I was into Bozo the Clown, Captain Kangaroo and Romper Room. My parents must have watched it a lot, however, because at the end of every show I remember an ominous voice that came on saying "There are eight million stories in the Naked City. This has been one of them."

I thought about that line today as I drove to work from having breakfast with a friend. He's someone that I've not known long, and whose experiences I have only begun to hear. He has a life that has been full and treacherous and uplifting and heartbreaking. He has a story. We all have a story.

I am a man most blessed with friends and loved ones who have heard or are willing to hear my story. I have found over the last ten years that telling that story is important. Telling your story solidifies it in your mind. It brings reason and truth to your experiences. It puts the chapters together for you, because until you tell your story, you don't realize that the parts you choose to tell connect in amazing ways to the parts you keep secret.

The chapters already written cannot be edited. The characters are already established. Many of them have had a major influence on the plot while others are bit players. The villains are in place, and the heroes are yet to be fully discovered. When you tell your story, you become the narrator, sharing only a chapter at a time and adding emphasis and drama for flair when appropriate. You skim over the mundane details to hold the interest of your listeners. It's your story, after all. It has to be interesting. It's what put you on the page today, now, this very minute.

Look around you. Make yourself aware of where you are, what you are doing, where you are sitting , how you are feeling. That is where the story has led thus far. It didn't just happen, it's part of the plot. What's next? How will it end? Will your character develop? Will your story matter?

Remember that there are "eight million" other stories out there. You are in many of those too. In some you are a major player - maybe a villain or a hero. In most you are a walk-on, a "man in doorway" or "women walking dog." What if you decided to be part of a happy ending - if not of the story, at least of a chapter? Would it change your role?

Tell your story. If you aren't connected to someone who will listen, then go out and listen to the stories of others until it's your turn to talk. When it is, tell it the way it was written without the edits and without the eraser. You will see it in a way that just mulling it over on your pillow at night never allowed you to.

You will see that you can have the editor's pen and decide how it ends. You're the hero, it just hasn't been written as such. Yet.

Thursday, February 22, 2007


I am too.

Not as in also, but as in excessively. I'm too much or too little. It's not easy being too. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone. Too plump, too bald, too loud, too opinionated, too...you get the picture.

The other day a guy at work said I was too far to the right politically. He only said that because he's too far to the left. In my opinion, there are too many people that are too much in the middle. I mean, balance is fine, but at some point someone has to make a decision and do something, and that means taking a turn left or right. Oops, too political. So sorry.

I have a sixth sense, by the way. It kicks in when I'm out and about. In traffic, in malls, in restaurants. It's uncanny, really. It works like this: I can detect stupid people wherever they are. I discuss this with myself all the time. Too much, as a matter of fact. I really think I should let these people be. They can't help it. It's in their genes.

Some can't help driving too slow in the left lane. For others it's an inner impulse too strong to resist that makes them enter the check they just wrote into their registers at the checkout lane. If the math is too hard, they don't mind hauling out the mini calculator, either. And sometimes it's just too hard to decide which value meal to order while snaking through the line at Burger King. It's easier to do your thinking right their in front of the person taking your order.

I'm always too much in a hurry. I hate being late to anything, but I leave too late because there is always too much to do. I'm way too busy all the time. Why can't people understand that about me? Is it asking too much?

I really admire people who aren't too. But I know their dirty little secrets. These people have clean desks, balanced checkbooks, routinely changed oil and day planners with stuff written in them. They join health clubs and actually go there. They eat food grown in dirt in balance with food that walks on it. I see them from my little office at home at 5 a.m. while I'm sorting through piles of papers deciding in what order to procrastinate. They're out there running their dogs while pushing a jogging stroller...

Those people are going to live way, way too long.