Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Breakdowns don't have to be nervous

“The most incredible thing about miracles is that they happen.”  -  G. K. Chesterton

“Miracles happen every day.  Change your perception of what a miracle is and you will see them all around you.”  -  Jon Bon Jovi

     So many amazing things happen on the road - if I told all the stories folks would think I am making things up.  I keep a running log of events that exceed the bounds of coincidence for myself, but sometimes one happens that I just feel compelled to share.

     After finishing a five month series in New England, I swung west through Ohio and then headed south from Columbus OH to visit my grandson in Greenville SC.  It was a beautiful Saturday morning in October and I enjoyed the foliage as I headed into the Appalachian Mountains.  

     As I crested a hill heading south on Rt. 75 through the Kentucky traffic came to a dead halt.  I mean completely stopped – and it stretched to the far horizon.  A couple of minutes later steam came pouring out from under my hood.  I pulled into the center median and raised the hood.

     Coolant was gushing out of the thermostat housing – a metal part that bolts to the engine and couples with the upper radiator hose.  I looked at the clock – it was 2:45 on a Saturday and I am in the mountains.  I figured I was stuck there for the weekend - this was a specialty part and this was not a good place for this to happen.

     I quieted myself and then decided to drive back to the last exit – one for a little town called London Kentucky.  The car cooled down, I added a bit of water and talked folks into letting me cut across to the berm.  I then drove the wrong way along the berm and up the entrance ramp.  I pulled into a service station at a little after 3:00.

     I told the fellow at the service station what was wrong, and he agreed with me that the part was something you could only get from a junkyard or a dealership.  There was no dealership for many miles and the junkyard was closed until Monday.  But we called the parts store on the off chance – and guess what.  They had this specialty part.

     With a comment about me having a charmed life, the manager of the station said if I could get to the parts store and back he would put the part on for free.

     The manager of the parts store told me the part had been specially ordered for someone who had not picked it up. Soon I was back at the garage and the men were putting the housing on for me.  They put in several gallons of new antifreeze and topped off all my fluids.  I insisted the manager take a few dollars to get the guys some hamburgers or beer or whatever they wanted.  

     An ambulance driver happened by and said the highway would be backed up at least another hour or so – the mortician had been called to the scene of a fatal accident.  Suddenly my issues didn’t seem all that big.

     The garage closed at 5:00 – I pulled out at 4:57.  They gave me directions on how to cut through some back roads to get to the next highway exit.  I did so, and when I pulled on the highway there were no cars in my lane – they were all still at a standstill behind the accident.

    Now understand this is the mountains – exits are few and far between – in fact it seemed it was at least sixty miles until I saw another town that MIGHT have a parts store.  And yet here I found myself – once again – with a problem that was solved before I even knew I had a problem. 

     I have been operating under the theory that God is on the journey too – that the future is unwritten and he gives us the one next right thing to do as that is the most effective system.  But this incident throws a monkey wrench into that theory.  Stay posted – I am back searching for a new operational model on that whole God thing.  I am sure he is deeply humored with my attempts to figure stuff out.

     See, if I figure it out, then I might just be qualified to be God myself.  But on second thought, being God sounds like an awful lot of work.  Just arranging for auto parts would be a full time job.  Maybe I will just go back to not thinking.

Today, I am grateful.

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It is a great day !!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Think you got it made?

“Faith doesn’t make sense.  That’s why it makes miracles.”  -  John Di Lemme

“Faith means trusting in advance what only makes sense in reverse.”  -  Phillip Yancey

     I love following the stories of those who have truly turned all areas of their life over to God.  Today we are taking just a glimpse of one of those.  It is a story of a man who finally connected and continued to follow the path even though it seemed clear that it wouldn't take him to the destination he desired.

     This man was a talented mechanic and machinist – he was the head maintenance man at a newspaper, a job approaching six figures back in the 90’s.  He had a problem with alcohol, and ended up going to a treatment center.  When his time as a patient was done, he felt moved to stay on as the maintenance man.

     The treatment center is male only, and has been around for many years. Of course this man longed for female companionship, and of all the things he wanted most he desired to have some acreage in the rolling hills of Ohio.

     Maintenance man at the treatment center gave him a bed to sleep in, three meals a day and a wage of about $3.00 per hour.  This made no sense with the goals he had in mind, but in prayer and contemplation the answer was to stay working at the mission. 

     As the head maintenance man at the mission, all the clients would gather at his shop to chat.  In many ways he did more counseling than any of the counselors did.  His willingness to remain a calm and steady voice of reason at the mission saved many men’s lives.

     After eight years there he met a woman who had no material assets to speak of and who had gone back to college to get a degree in clinical counseling.  She had been praying for ten years to have her life mate revealed, and although she had been given a vision of his face she had no idea where to meet him.  But meet they did, and marry they did.

     So now they lived in the basement of a house on the mission grounds.  He continued to work maintenance and she continued to work on her degree.  She worked part time doing social work and he worked part time fixing people’s lawn mowers and cars. Anyone can tell you – if you want to buy some acreage in the country this is no way to go about it.  It just isn’t happening.

     I have known of the date of his sobriety for some years, and I try to call him every year on that date.  This year he had completely forgotten that it was the twelfth anniversary.  He and his wife had just closed on better than 12 acres of land in the rolling hills of Ohio – that very day.  It is the property in the photo at the beginning of this article.

     When asked how they managed it they both say they have no idea.  They prayed and were led to look at the property, and then they just followed the guidance they were given.  Within a month the property was theirs.

     She now has a master’s degree and works to help people rehabilitate their lives.  With their move out into the country, Brent has a new job also.  He now collaborates with employers and people with disabilities  to find matches that allow those with disabilities to find and keep gainful employment.  He works with them their first few weeks on the job to help them grasp and master their responsibilities.  And both Brent and Michelle are active in their church community.

     This photo was taken while I visited Brent for a few days on my return to the Carolinas last week.  The second day I was there, he knocked on the bedroom door about nine o’clock in the morning.  “Dave, you got a minute?”  “Sure Brent, what’s up?”  I replied.  “I broke my arm.” “You bleeding?”  “Nope.  But I fell off the roof and need to get it set.”  

     As we are bouncing down country roads on the way to the hospital he says “You know, I think I have a little shock going on.  I bet this is going to start to really hurt in a while.”

     After the hospital does x-rays, they tell him his wrist is shattered in so many pieces that they can’t set it.  He has to be referred to an orthopedic surgeon.  No big deal - Brent says how grateful he is that he didn’t land on his back.  And now he is learning to perform tasks with his other hand.

      And that is what life is like when you are living in the spirit – nothing makes sense but everything fits just fine.  You find gratitude in everything that presents itself.  You don’t sweat the small stuff – and you realize that it is all small stuff. 

      These are the people I love most to be around.  They are quiet and stay in action, but make no mistake.  In my book they are rock stars that shine with a far greater light than anything Hollywood has begun to dream of.

     A footnote – the photo of Brent with his cast?  I sure hope he gets mobility of that finger back – it might be tough getting taken seriously if it atrophies in that position.

Today, I am grateful for true friends. 

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This is our only chance to fully live this day!!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

You don't count !!

“Feed a cold to starve a fever, but never argue with a ‘true believer.’” – Phyllis McGinley

“Tyrants cannot live with truth and survivors cannot live without it.”  -  Chrystine Oksana

     It is hurtful when we are rejected by someone we are close to.  Regardless of how we decide to view it -and even when we forgive the person we are left with an uncomfortable feeling in the pit of our stomach and a bad taste in our mouth.

     Recently I was having one of those “catching up on each other’s lives” conversations with someone close.  I asked them in detail about their work and was fascinated with their observations about some of the projects they are involved with.  After a while they in turn inquired about my life.

     I explained how incredible this journey has been – how God has turned up at every spot when I needed help.  I expressed how amazing it is to live on the intuitive and inspirational plane – and how much I appreciated God’s guidance.  They asked how I discerned what God’s guidance was.  I explained that I look to do the “next right thing,” and on those occasions that I do not have intuitive nudges I get the answers from others that I rely on.  

     They replied – with anger in their voice - that now I had forced their hand – that I had pushed them into responding with all this “God” talk.  There is no valid relationship with God unless – and next came the lines of rhetoric so common to the particular religion this individual is a devotee of.  For a second I thought they were joking, but it was quickly clear they weren’t.  The best I could do was to state that in no way did I question the validity of their relationship with God and steer the conversation to the welfare of their children.

      But to no avail - as far as they were concerned the conversation was over.  If I didn’t toe the line with their dogma and profess that their brand is the only valid one there was nothing to discuss.  Nothing valid could come from me.  The conversation ended, and although I had not said anything I regretted, I was unsettled enough that I sought counsel with several folks that I trust.

    One pointed out that no one can validate or invalidate my relationship with God besides God – nor can I anyone else’s.  Another pointed out what might be root causes of the fear behind this reaction and championed empathy.  So I was soon past the chagrin and able to examine the situation in more detail.

     I have learned that when someone else’s behavior disturbs me, it is some fear in me that is driving the disturbance.  Further, I have found that I am often secretly guilty of the same offense that has angered me.  So I have pondered further this notion of “invalidating” others.   I find it in the Carolina’s – when you want to ignore someone you just presume they are a “Yankee.”  If you are from New England and want to dismiss someone, you just say “Well, they are from ‘away.’”  On the North Carolina coast other people are “dingbatters.”  I am sure I will find more along the way.

     I heard another one the other day – it was about researchers invalidating the work of another person because they did not study at MIT, Stanford or Berkeley.  This is without even considering the work done or the results.  The list of things we use to discredit others is endless.

     Myself, when I see the young kid with the pants below his buttocks I think “street thug” and walk right by.  That person might be the one who a bit of friendship would help most.  The guy with the mirrored sunglasses in the Mercedes?  I can’t get away fast enough.  How about the Muslim dressed in their garb?  The Asian with the camera?  The street preacher, bible in hand searching for a convert?  Yep, right on by I go.

     This behavior says much about me and nothing about the one I would dismiss.  It says that I am afraid and that I am going to allow my fears to dictate my actions.  Maybe I fear that considering another point of view will in some way invalidate a pet belief of my own.  Perhaps I have been conditioned to see a particular group in a certain way.  Maybe I judge that they have nothing to offer one as great as me.  But whatever it is, I am the ultimate loser.  I miss chances to connect with my fellows, to learn, to grow and to help others on this same journey. 

     So I will speak kindly to the next street punk, to the next Muslim and Oriental photographer.  And I will continue to love the ones who seek to invalidate me.  But the Mercedes and the preacher?  Maybe next year.

Today, may I be genuine.

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We only get one chance to enjoy this day !!


Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Do you see what I see?

“Wrapped up in our thoughts, we can’t hear love or beauty’s song.”  -  Marty Ruben   

"Distractions and detours dig our grave."  -  Kishore Bansal

  Every day life affords us opportunities to enjoy great beauty.  But they are fleeting and so easy to miss.

     Heading back to South Carolina from the New England leg of my project, I wanted to spend a bit of time with family in Ohio.  I left Cape Cod and was quickly on the turnpike that would carry me through Massachusetts and upstate New York.  Being October, the foliage was on full display and I was relieved that I didn’t feel I had to stop and take photographs for an article.  For once I could just relax and enjoy the natural beauty.  Colorful hills rimming green valleys revealed how the leaves changed more quickly at altitude.  A brilliant red maple had vines with yellow leaves interspersed, looking more beautiful than any Christmas tree I have ever seen.  New England is world renowned for the brilliance of its fall foliage.

     I passed through a toll booth.  Another few miles was another toll booth.  A half an hour and another toll booth.  Then I had to get gas.  I pulled in and the gas was $2.39 a gallon on the turnpike – it had been $1.99 everywhere else.  Another toll booth.  And the roads were not in nearly as good of shape as they were in places that had no tolls.  Next I am thinking about the companies that choose to take financial advantage of a “captive audience.”  I am thinking about how the interstate highway system was designed to make this country great – not line the pockets of greedy politicians and their cohorts.  The foliage hadn’t changed – my plans hadn’t changed – and yet here I am in a confrontational mood while driving through one of the most beautiful spots on earth. In the span of an hour I went from feeling amazement and deep gratitude to anger.   

     It took me about fifteen minutes to catch myself.  Then I had to laugh.  I left on this journey two years ago with a tank of gas and $190.  God has shown up at every turn – countless times I have been down to my last couple of dollars and have chosen to put it in an offering basket, bought a homeless person a sandwich or put it in a Ronald McDonald house collection basket.  Long ago I made the decision that I no longer place my trust in money – I trust God.  And God shows up every time, in ways that never cease to amaze me.  If God wanted me to visit family on my way back to the Carolinas, it doesn’t matter what it cost.  It would have been provided – and indeed I had the monies I needed for the trip.  So why do I get upset?  Why do I even begin to care about something so trivial when my needs are always met?

     We are all capable of “righteous indignation,” and we are all capable of using it as a blunt instrument to bludgeon others with if we have the opportunity.  But who does the club strike first?  And last?  And every time in between?  It is me that suffers most.  And here I was – for the first and perhaps only time in my life passing through the most beautiful spot on the planet this time of year blinded by ingratitude.  I am glad I have matured enough to catch it quickly and was able to enjoy the rest of the scenery. 

Today, may I be present.

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Enjoy today!!