Thursday, November 12, 2009

On the Fall of the Wall - Again

In an article published online yesterday in the Wall Street Journal entitled Reagan in Berlin, John Fund recounts some of the debate around President Reagan's "Tear Down This Wall Speech" he delivered in Germany in 1987. Many recognize this speech as the tipping point leading to the demise of the Soviet Empire. Fund mentions that streets are named after Ronald Reagin in Budapest, Warsaw and Cracow. But, in Berlin, no name changes have been made (though I do recall having been on JFK Street there). Fund then quotes Lothar de Maziere, the conservative who served as East Germany's last president before the country was dissolved:
"The decision to name streets is done at the district level, so maybe something can be done with the local officials," he told me. De Maziere, who as a lawyer defended people who had failed to escape East Germany, says he has no doubt that average people give Reagan a lot more credit for the Wall's fall than do elites. "The name of Reagan is in the heart of ordinary Berliners," he says. "While many people jostle to take credit for what Reagan set in motion, in the end his legacy is secure."
The last line has me thinking this morning. Each and every day you and I seek to set things in motion. To act today so that a better tomorrow can be realized. And we labor in the shadows - in secret - unnoticed and unheralded. But, we are effective. There will, in many ways, be a better tomorrow because we have given people hope, encouragement, exhortation and challenge today. And, if the change is really big (or at least significant), someone might even try to take credit.

But, in the end, you know and I know it was our influence that helped make it happen. And, in the end, our "legacy is secure."

So, the real challenge is this: are you willing to stand firm, labor silently in the shadows, and endure today knowing that it may be in excess of two decades before the effects of the change you influence today is realized? Knowing that your legacy or the significance of your influence may never be realized in your lifetime? Then, carry on.

Therefore, my dear brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the Lord’s work, knowing that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. 1 Cor 15:58 (HCSB)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

On the 20th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall

These thoughts were recorded in 1998 as I prepared to journey to Eastern Europe for a three-year mission term. On the 20th anniversary of the fall of the wall, I thought I'd re-post them here.

In 1987, I made a choice. I was in Germany and had a free weekend to sightsee. My wife and I had been in Munich a couple of weeks before and I had enjoyed the visit. On this free weekend, I could return to Munich (which was familiar and "known") or I could journey to Berlin (the unfamiliar and "unknown"). I elected to return to Munich and enjoyed the weekend.

Two years later, I watched with millions of others around the world as "The Wall" came down, reuniting the divided city. At that moment I realized I had missed an opportunity that would never again be available to me. I had missed an opportunity because I had opted for the safe, familiar and comfortable destination rather than the one that held some "risk" for me.

For some reason I reflected on this experience this weekend as I thought about the people God brings into my life every day. Some I will never meet again. Others need a kind word of encouragement. Still others may learn something from our encounter that will impact the rest of their lives. For others, God might use the opportunity to draw someone into a personal relationship with Him.

God, help me recognize the opportunities of lifetimes. May I never turn from their challenges by escaping into the familiar and comfortable.

Photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/fiahless/ / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Where did that come from? Redux


In the last post to this blog (a long time ago), I told the story about how a 10-digit number popped into my head while filling out a deposit slip at the bank. It was my oft-used, long-time frequent flier number.

Last week, I received a note from my airline explaining that, since they had merged with another operation, I now have a new frequent flier number. Really. After 23 years, I now have a new number.

I thought it was a loyalty program! How loyal can it be if it can be -gasp - changed without my knowledge or consent. It's my number! I want it back! Even if it is for my own good. Yeah, right.

Laughable isn't it. I found myself caught up in the "how dare they change anything without my consent."

Change. No one likes it. But it is necessary. That's been my mantra. I've used that line all too often. And, you know? Now that the shoe is on my foot, it fits. I embrace change.

And, in 23 years, maybe I'll have it memorized, too. Like the combination to the lock I used in high school and lost years ago.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Where did that come from?

A couple of weeks ago, I went to the bank to deposit a check. I do not carry deposit slips, but complete counter slips in the lobby. I filled out the slip from memory, including the branch number of the bank and my account number - all 10 digits.

After handing over the deposit to the teller, I watched her enter the data into the terminal and verify it. The expression on her face changed, and she re-entered the account number.

"That number is wrong, isn't it?" I asked.

"I think so," she replied.

I removed the slip of paper from my wallet with my account number and she made the correction. What troubled me was that I had no idea where the 10 digits I had written on the deposit slip came from. It surfaced in my memory without effort. It was the right length. I continued to stare at the number and wrote it on the receipt to so I could figure out where it came from.

Later in the afternoon, I did a search for the number on my PDA. Immediately it popped up in context, and I laughed out loud. My son looked at me with curiosity. I told him what had happened. Then, I apologized for having traveled so much when he was younger. That 10-digit number? My Delta Frequent Flier account.

Where did that number come from? From my experience. Yet another example of how we must be careful about what we take in from our experience - what we see, read, hear, etc. For, as my pastor says often, "what is down in the well, comes up in the bucket."


Sunday, May 17, 2009

Did you wake up with worry?

In these uncertain times, it's not difficult to find something to worry about.

Someone has said, "Today is the tomorrow we worried about yesterday."

So, did your worry yesterday change anything? If something changed, it probably wasn't a result of your worry, but your perspective.

Jesus said it this way: Don’t worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the sky: They don’t sow or reap or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth more than they? Can any of you add a single cubit to his height by worrying? And why do you worry about clothes? Learn how the wildflowers of the field grow: they don’t labor or spin thread. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was adorned like one of these! If that’s how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and thrown into the furnace tomorrow, won’t He do much more for you—you of little faith? -- Matt 6:25-30 (HCSB)

Monday, May 04, 2009

Stripes with Plaids

There are a number of websites I read daily. Sailing Scuttlebutt is one of those. It is a summary of links related to Sailing and Sail Racing. It also concludes with CURMUDGEON’S OBSERVATION, which is a quote or observation that is normally quite humorous. Such as the following:

Once you can accept the universe as matter expanding into nothing that is something, wearing stripes with plaid comes easy.” - Albert Einstein

Don't really have time to elaborate. You can see the point. Slippery Slopes are just that. Once you start down them, it's hard to stop. As you go through your day today, beware of compromise. We don't need anyone else wearing stripes with plaids or dark socks with shorts.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Lightning Storm

During a time of prayer on Wednesday, I had a strong sense from God that I needed to rearrange my schedule to include a visit with my parents on Thursday. It wasn't difficult to do so. The unique thing was that God seemed to be speaking very clearly. So, I did so yesterday.

Last night, as we sat in the living room - watching TV, talking and me catching up on e-mail - a storm rolled in. Actually, it had been all around us for an hour, but after checking the NOAA weather radar, I commented that it looked like a big cell was heading our way. A few minutes later, the rain intensified, and it sounded like hail was bouncing around.

Now, I like a good storm. The raw power of nature is awesome ( in the truest sense of the word) to me. I love watching lightning, feeling the rain and wind, and just listening to the sounds. After growing frustrated wth my wireless connection dropping in and out, Dad and I walked out to the carport. to watch.

The storm was close. Popcorn-sized (not golf-ball) hail was bouncing around. I was standing on the doorstep and dad was just inside the door. FLASH/POW! The hair on my arm stood up. I grabbed Dad's arm. I'm not a jumpy guy, but that startled me. We were now standing in the darkness as several lights were out. Wow.

We went inside and reset several breakers in the electrical panel. Noticed several lights were still out as the strike had caused them to burn out. Then I noticed a smoky haze. As a former firefighter, I began searching for the source. First stop, the attic. All clear. The haze was very light, had an electrical smell and was getting marginally thicker.

Mom had not moved from the recliner. She just kept saying "that whole corner lit up." So, I walked over to the corner and saw little bits of plastic in the floor. And two ends of what used to be one wire. And smoke marks. Apparently the lightning struck of flashed the TV antenna on top of the house and basically exploded at a connector joint. Mystery solved.

Now the inventory. Everything attached to that antenna was damaged: 2 TVs, 2 VCRs, and a satellite receiver. (Insurance has already told them to go shopping today. They have "good neighbors.")

I sat down to blog this last night, but found that I had no internet connection. Troubleshooting that led to fried wires in the phone junction box as well. Not sure about the DSL modem after checking it again this morning.

Storms still amaze me. I still like them. And nothing was damaged that can't be replaced. But there is a larger point. The extraordinary from the ordinary. Here it is.

I was there.

Because I was listening and willing to change my plans, I was there. While Mom and Dad could have handled everything without me, I'd like to think I made it a little easier for them. Because I was there. And, I experienced a really big storm from dead center, right in the middle of the chaos, make your hair stand on end ground zero.

Are you listening today? Is He calling you to make some adjustments to you plans? Can you hear Him? Are you willing?

Friday, April 03, 2009

Being Present in the Present

Until now, it's something only my Men's Fraternity small group knew. Something that I've been striving for. Something that has been challenging, but in the fleeting moments of success, something that has paid great dividends in my relationship with my family. My goal has been to increasingly "be present in the present."

Say what? Well, it means that when I'm with my family, I try to put what has happened up until that moment out of my mind. And, I try not to let my mind wander into the demands of the future. Finally, and this is the most difficult, I have to set aside the gadgets, quit trying to multi-task (which, by the way, I've come to believe is not possible) and focus on the immediate needs of the relationship.

Wow. That has been challenging for me. But, I think I'm making incremental progress. And now, the biggest test of all is upon me. And I'm going cold turkey.

Spring break is upon us. We have not had a family vacation that did not involve a visit to our extended family in years. So, we have been saving our time and money for this vacation. On Monday, we snagged a last minute deal to stretch our vacation dollars. Tomorrow we will leave for six days of "just the four of us and a couple of thousand other people" fun in the sun, sand, and water.

The test? When we leave home tomorrow, I'll leave without my computer. GASP! And, on Sunday, when we leave the car in the parking lot, my cell phone will be in it. ARRGH! Unplugged. No Twitter. No Facebook. No blog (not that that is a big stretch these days...). No Drudgereport. No e-mail (I'm sure I'll pay for that when I return).

It's my choice. It's an investment in the relationships that are most important to me. I want to be present in the present. No distractions. No intrusions. Just un-interrupted time with my family.

I'll let you know how it goes when I plug in again next week.

New Computer


My absence from this space is, in part, a result of changing computers. The system I was using had to be reassigned, so I took the opportunity to move into the ultra-portable, tablet PC world. After a warranty claim, a reshipment that was held up in customs, and a climb up the learning curve, I finally got Scribe Fire configured again.

I know, I could have posted directly w/o this platform, however, old habits die hard. I've been reminded of that point in the last week as I grew accustomed to Vista, MS Office '07 and several other new twists related to the new system.

Each of us are continuously creating new habits. Would it not be in our best interest to make sure that the habits we are forming are helpful and not harmful? Old habits die hard. Let's make it easy on ourselves.

How happy are those who uphold justice, who practice righteousness at all times. Psalms 106:3 (HCSB)

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Why You Need a Coach - Or, "What I learned from my first week of contacts"

Well, it has been a week of learning experiences. First time I've ever tried contact lenses. Here is a summary of what I learned: about me and about life.

Day 1- Friday: My "Contact Coach" aka the lady at the eye Dr.'s office, while watching me attempt to put the contacts in my eye for the first time, said "you're blinking." Well, duh.
     For over four decades, I have embraced the maxim "don't run with a stick or you'll poke your eye out." Notwithstanding the fact that you won't really poke your eye out - you might poke it IN, but not OUT - I have trained my eye that when fingers approach, CLOSE IMMEDIATELY. So, yes, I was blinking.

Day 2 - Saturday: Attempting to put the contact lens in my eye this morning, it strikes me that it is difficult to see this small, round, transparent object without having the small, round, transparent object actually in my eye so that I can see small, round, transparent objects. What's wrong with this picture?
     Ok, put on glasses, position lens, take glasses off, attempt to insert... oops, dropped it, find glasses, put them back on, find lens and repeat, skipping the "oops" step.

Day 3 - Sunday: Applying the "better living through modern chemistry" approach, I take a dose of antihistamine when I get up. It doesn't make the lens go in any easier, but it does cut down on the sneezing, runny nose and itchy eyes.

Day 4 - Monday: Tried at home for 20 minutes to get the lens in with no success. Packed the stuff up so I wouldn't be late for a breakfast appointment. Ordered by memory since I couldn't read the menu. Arrived at the office. Tried for 20 more minutes without success. Frustration level mounts. I pack the stuff up again and drive to see my "Contact Coach."
     When I walk into the office, the coach says perkily, "Hi, may I help you?" Without pausing in my stride, I say, "Yes, you can. You can come over here to this table, watch me poke my eye IN, and tell me what I am doing WRONG! Please."
     She did. Thankfully. I think I was afraid I was going to break them.  "No, they're very durable," my Coach assured me.

Day 5 - Tuesday: Success at last. I got them in my eyes in under seven minutes.

Day 6 - Wednesday: Yesterday was a fluke. After 15 minutes, I packed things up in a hurry to get out of the door. When I get to the office, I open the case to try again. I realize that when you don't take the time to get the lens all the way into the case, floating in the solution, when you screw the cap down, you can slice that little sucker right in two. Durable, indeed.
     Back to the Contact Coach. I showed her what happened. She rolled her eyes. I prayed her contact would pop out.

Day 7 - Thursday: Whoa! Driving 3 1/2 hours with mono-vision contacts. Now that's a hoot. But I made it without running over anybody or anything.

Day 8 - Friday: There is hope. I got them in and had the best day yet.

Day 9 - Today: It's my off day. I'm glad I kept my glasses! :)

Seriously, I have come to appreciate my Contact Coach. I have come to admit that I'm much more comfortable coaching others than I am in receiving coaching myself. Why? Because I have to admit my inability to perform. But, leaders are learners, so I've been reminded of the value of a coach.

For the notepad - You need a coach because:
  • A coach can change your perspective. Coaches see things you cannot see. When you know what to look for, you can see things differently, so your perspective on your position changes. It is important for leaders to see from the proper perspective.
  • A coach can improve you performance. There is no doubt that my coach has helped me be able to get these lenses in more quickly and with less trauma to my eye and my attitude. Who knows. Maybe I'll actually decide to keep them.
  • A coach can increase your potential. With practice, we can all be better at what we do. And with improved skill, we can be more successful at other things as well. I'm learning to be more patient. I'm learning to control my frustration. And that gives me more potential to work patiently and calmly in other settings as well.
In Acts 9:22, Luke writes that "Saul grew more capable." In context, he was spending time with Ananias and other disciples in Damascus. Luke doesn't say it explicitly, but I believe that Saul was being coached. People around him watched him, listened to him and then helped him with his perspective, improved his performance, and increased his potential.

Want to grow more capable? Get a coach. SEE you later! When I get my lenses in...

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Game On!

Like many of you, I receive a lot of cold calls from a variety of organizations seeking to sell me a product that may or may not be of any use whatsoever. Having been involved in sales and customer support, I know many of the techniques. If I take the call, I'll usually get politely to the point and cut through the pitch to the next action step.

If I can't take the call, but the sales rep asks me to return the call, I will out of respect. (I know that's sort of strange, but having made these kinds of calls, it really bugged me when church leaders said they'd call back and didn't. Can you say integrity?) Anyway, I just returned a call from a couple of days ago. Unfortunately, I called at 9:15. And the representative was not expecting my call. So, she wasn't prepared. The excuses included everything from "my computer is slow, what church did you say you were calling from," to "what is your zip code so I can look you up."

Needless to say, the call was brief, I didn't buy anything, and probably won't in the future. In retrospect, she could have benefited from  Art Sobczak’s Telesales Blog.

For the notepad:
  • If I ask someone to return my call, have my game on when they do. Be ready with the pitch or elevator speech to move the conversation to a point that is mutually beneficial.
  • If I promise to make a callback, deliver with integrity. James 5:12 says "Let your yes be yes, and your no, no."

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Patriotic Grace: What It Is and Why We Need It Now

    Peggy Noonan has been an inspiration to me. Ms. Noonan was a speechwriter for President Reagan. So, you know she has the ability to communicate. I've always had an appreciation for the way she uses themes in her essays, which are published regularly in the Wall Street Journal.

    More recently, her writing contained something else. A strong supporter of President Bush - she actually took a sabbatical to work for his campaign in 2004 - she became critical of his leadership and administration. Even though I've often said that critique is good, I was still troubled that one of my heros didn't seem to see things "my way."

    I've just finished her latest book and have a new understanding for Peggy. The book was summarized by this quote from page 170: "We need more actual adults who are serious about the business of the nation." Indeed. Her essential point is that, as a nation, we are tired of the politics we have experienced for the last two decades and long now for "leaders who can summon us to greatness and unity."

    If you are a political junkie and wonder why you feel so burned out or cynical as we await the upcoming inauguration, you'll find some solace in this little volume. If you are a little awestruck and anticipate the pagentry, pomp and circumstance of the largest peaceful transfer of power in the world, you'll find this book a great "curl up by the fireplace" read as well.

    The most important thing I gleaned from this book was a greater understanding of Peggy Noonan's perspective. I thought she had jumped ship. Instead, I found she simply ran to the bow to sound a warning to us as we try to navigate our country through some very dangerous waters. I'm grateful that she's still aboard. And, I'm grateful that she taught me something new about seeking first to understand.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Make XP Look Like Windows 7? Why?

I enjoy productivity websites. Lifehacker.com is one of my favorites. They recently posted an article entitled: Featured Desktop: Make Your XP Desktop Look Like Windows 7. My question is simply "Why?"

Admittedly, I can be a technogeek. An early adopter, but non a bleeding edge kind of guy. And, I really need to see a benefit before jumping to new technology.

As I understand it, Windows 7 is still in a beta state as I write this. Vista is the current version of MS Windows. On most of the machines I work on, we're still running XP. So, I ask again, Why would I want to make my current generation software "look like" the generation after next software version. If I really wanted the look, shouldn't I upgrade? It sounds to me like I can run the old stuff, but give the appearance that I have something new. There used to be a couple of words that describes this situation, as I understand it: poser or faker.

Hmmm. There are a multitude of applications here. Just think of a situation in which you want to hold on to the old, while pretending that you are state of the art. A relationship that is broken, but you pretend that it's not. You pretend transparency, but wear the mast.

C'mon if the new version is worth the upgrade, make the investment. We don't need any more pretenders.