With Pentel P205 in my right hand, a mug of licorice spice tea in my left, and Kristene DiMarco singing "It is Well" in my ear (thanks to YouTube), I smile in joy over the simple things in life.  Pencils, tea (nothing added), music - and the ability to write, taste, swallow, hear, emotionally respond. 

Last night as my wife and I prayed with our children at bedtime, among other things, I praised God for the gifts of a warm house on a cold night.  Today I rejoiced in the knowledge that when the plumber fixed
the water valve connectors in both our toilet and our washing machine,  we were able to afford the bill. 

Today I also thank God for sweaters.

As I write, I'm wearing a beige (off white, light brown, I don't know!) cardigan.  It provides, inexplicably, a comfort within - a security. 

As I wrote those words, I questioned myself.  Do I risk losing your "I get it!" to "What?  That's strange!"?  Like I mentioned, the fact that knitted wool comforts proves unexplainable, at least to me.  If only sheep could speak!  (I digress.)

Pencils, tea (nothing added, remember), music, warm homes, financial security . . . and sweaters.  Ordinary things.  Simple things.  Meaningful things. 

What will you add to the list?  As you do, please feel free to drop one or more of mine, add cream to your tea, or laugh about sweaters.

Take a few moments to think.  I'll wait.

. . .
. . .
. . .

Was that enough time?  If not, pause from reading once more and resume thinking.  Think so that you can thank.

8 Let [us] give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
    and his wonderful deeds for mankind,
9 for he satisfies the thirsty
    and fills the hungry with good things.

Psalm 107:8-9 (NIV)

Start Here

Four score and . . .
I have a dream . . .
Ask not what your country . . .
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind . . .
Frankly, my dear . . .
You can't handle . . .
Two roads diverged in a yellow . . .

Undoubtedly you know several, if not all, of those phrases and you can pick up where the ". . ." leaves off. 

You and I are wired for words.  Words not only communicate, they insist on our attention. 

Three words (in English, at least) begin the first book of the inspired Text as well as the fourth record of the gospel of Jesus.

"In the beginning . . ."
Whether "God created" or "was the Word" follows the ". . ." those combinations of three insist on the reader giving attention that all things started for, in, and through one Being - namely,God.  The Triune God spoke, formed, and loved all things into existence.  From that mark, we calibrate our life compasses. 

When we do so, we discover, in the words of the anonymous poet, that

Whether the weather be fine
Or whether the weather be not,
Whether the weather be cold
Or whether the weather be hot,
We'll weather the weather
Whatever the weather
Whether we like it or not.
Those words do more than play a song in my head worthy of Rocky Balboa's famous run up the stairs of the Philadelphia museum, they remind me to check my compass. 
When gray skies block out blue, do I remember the One before "In the beginning"? 
When bird song drowns out sad songs, do I remember to thank the One who set all things in motion?
Long before my beginning, the One from the beginning knew my steps, foresaw my pain, smiled at my joys that would become my experience, saw who would stand by my side, and set His plan in motion.  So, if my path fails to line up with "In the beginning" - I fail to walk the right direction.

You and I, like all before us, live in a time that is a mix of joy and jealousy, crime and celebration, destruction and determination, certainty and confusion, smiles and sin. 

We, longing for a Garden world, live in a Genesis 3 world.  We, therefore, face a weighty decision.  Will we calibrate off of --

"In the beginning"
If we will, we will find more ease in seeing raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens and, perhaps, even silver white winters that melt into springs for, indeed, these are a few of our favorite things.

Red, Blue?

How will you vote on November 8th? If you are reading this and you are not a U.S. citizen, you might count yourself lucky.  "Contentious" doesn't even begin to describe the political world as we know it today.  Each of my everyday, ordinary days for the past several weeks (maybe months) holds progressively more doses of information regarding the merits and/or ills of candidates, parties, and voters. 

These days remind me of a lunch table conversation from my elementary school days.  My friend, Derek, and I, merely echoing our fathers' opinions, debated whether a "peanut farmer" or a "Hollywood actor" should preside over our nation.  I could not vote then, obviously.  Several years later, now a college student, I argued, merely echoing one side of popular opinion, with others about whether a White House veteran or a rookie candidate should take the oath. 

By my count, in all the elections in which I have voted for the Presidential office, I have "lost" and "won" just about an equal number of times.  In less than a month I will walk into a booth and shade an oval.  Perhaps you will, too. 

A few days ago, the political rants of the day found themselves as topics of conversations at our family meal.  Our oldest child will be able to vote in four years.  Our other two are much farther away from voting age.  They each are interested in the topics of the day.  They often, to my enjoyment, echo my views or (sometimes to less of my enjoyment) echo the views of some other adult influences. 

During the early morning meal a few days ago, I led a devotion from the Bible and prayed. In preparation (to which I devoted the time between pouring waffle batter and sitting down).  I Googled "pray" and "submit" and "government authorities."  I eventually landed on Romans 13.

1 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.
6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

Romans 13:1-7 (NIV)

Those are straight-forward and, at times, hard-to-swallow commands.  They are some of the most fitting words for our November 2016 days.  

If you or I vote Red, Blue, Neutral, Conservative, Liberal, eenie meenie miney mo, or not at all, Romans 13 applies to each of us.  Join me in remembering that on November 9th.  And, regardless of the outcome of the election, if you are a follower of Christ, you can, in the old words of Jim Reeves sing, "This World Is Not My Home."

Well Spent!

"That takes commitment!"

I heard those words directed to me last Wednesday morning.  The time was 6:03 AM.  The place was a coffee shop.  The purpose was a morning meeting with a group of friends.  The temperature outside was between 37 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit.  The man who voiced the words did so when he saw me sitting inside holding gear that gave away my means of transportation - my motorcycle.  He was impressed that I would brave the chill  

His words were correct.  I am committed to riding.  I bought my Shadow in the summer of 2015, having wanted one since the 80s.  So some of my commitment arises from a still-alive-and-well "I can't believe I finally get to do this" syndrome.  My commitment also arises from the fact that I really don't like buying something only to park it.  (I have to do that all winter-long anyway.)  Yet there is another and far more motivating reason for my commitment.  I love it!  I love to ride.  

You, too, might love to ride.  You do love to do something.  
Play tennis?  Ski?  Eat?  Sleep?  Play with your kids?  Sing?  Spend time with your spouse?  Write?  Read?  Teach?  Run?  Color?  Dance?  Preach?  Pray?  Spend money?  Save money?  Garden?  
(My apologies if I failed to list your "love.")
Call those passions, interests, favorites.  Call those what you will.  Whatever you call them, you love them.  You know you love them because you commit to them.

You also commit time to . . .

Laundry?  Dishes?  Snow plowing?  Cleaning?  Plunging the toilet?  Pulling hair from the drain?  Changing diapers?  Taking your meds?  Changing the bandages?  Serving your time?  Apologizing? 
("You're welcome" if I didn't bring up that thing you really don't enjoy.)
Call those chores, burdens, have-tos, honey-dos, pains in the neck, hastles.  Call those what you will.  Whatever you call them, you despise (or, at least, don't enjoy) them.  You know you despise them because you commit time to them.  Wait!  That doesn't sound right!

And so it goes.  Life as we know it entails highway cruises and hallway spills.  "Clean up on aisle 7!"  

Your commitments and your "musts" fill your time.  While most of your musts are non-negotiable, you can choose your commitments.  

A wise scholar (or a person claiming to quote a wise scholar) said something to the effect that one can tell the most about a person by simply taking a look in his/her checkbook and calendar.  How you choose to spend your "non-must" money and "non-must" time reveal your priorities.  

I know it's not yet Spring, but the cleaning that we must do can't wait that long.  Will you join me in some "spring cleaning" in October?  (Why not?  Easter baskets will be on sale at your nearest box store in just a few weeks.)

What can you remove from your "choose-tos?"  Trust me, you can do this.

Now, one last thing.  When you finish reading this sentence, go do a "just because" thing before you move on to your next "must do."

The "Not Much" to the "How"

The two men share the same first name and a similarly-spelled last name.  One makes me laugh on a daily basis while the other feeds my appetite for hearing a beautifully-played piano.  The latter, Brian Crain, a gifted musician on the ivories fills my study with sounds that promote a soothing stream of calm.  I'm glad (selfishly, perhaps) that his dreams of hitting, running, and catching in MLB didn't come true.  You'll have to ask him if he agrees.

The other aforementioned Brian, the Brian with an "e" and no "i" in his surname, illustrates and gives voice to Earl and Opal Pickles, the charming elderly protagonists of the comic bearing their name.  Along with Baby Blues, Zits, and Peanuts, Pickles makes me smile multiple times a week. 

The other day I smiled and laughed as Crane invited me (and all his readers) to eavesdrop on a conversation between Earl and his park bench friend, Clyde. 

Earl notices Clyde's demeanor and asks,
"You look a little down, Clyde.  Are you okay?"

After his aged friend lists a number of reasons for is downcast composure, Earl, in "sincere" reply, confesses, "Actually, I meant that as a yes or no question."  (9/29/16)

You know the routine.  One asks, "How are you?"
The other replies, "Not much."

Or a waiter encourages his guests to "Enjoy your dinner" and the diners reply, "You, too!"

Unlike Earl, most people actually care.  Misspoken responses are often accompanied with sincere smiles.  So the epitome of nonsense replies does not necessarily indicate some sort of societal breakdown.  It does, however, quite certainly, provide a statistical measuring tool for discovering the effect of rush, hurry - whatever you choose to deem it - on our sense of hearing.  Or better yet, its effect on our ability to focus on what that sense takes in. 

At this point in your reading of my post you might guess that I am about to launch into a biblically-based apologetic on the value of Sabbath.  Maybe some other day.  For now, I'd rather focus on our everyday, ordinary lives. 

Rest on one out of seven days proves beneficial (imagine that!).  However how well do we do at slowing the rush and restraining the hurry every day? 

I offer the following four-question test:
1. Yesterday, did you multi-task while eating lunch?
2. Did you even take lunch?
3. When you called your spouse (child, friend, parent, etc.), did you play Angry Birds or compose an email at the same time?
4. Are you currently pretending to listen to someone?

I leave it to you to provide the correct answers. 
(Hints:  No, Yes, No, No)

How are you doing?

Earl doesn't care.  I'd expect that from a man who shares a name with a vinegar-soaked cucumber.