How To Climb Out Of The Swamp and Stand On A Rock

Blah Blah Blah

He had hands the size of pie plates that were brown as the land he tilled, and now he’s dead.

It’s 5:53 in the morning. I’m sitting on my back porch drinking coffee and listening to the birds sing. The grass is so green you can smell it. It’s going to be an amazing day.

It wasn’t always that way. There used to be days when I dreaded putting the first foot on the floor. We could go all the way back to college or the teen age years before that. Ironically I used to have a paper route and had to get up with the birds. I remember doing all I could to load by bag and balance my bike. The first couple of deliveries were a balancing act.

As the route progressed, the bag got lighter and the world around me looked brighter. It’s funny the things you remember when you reflect. I just remember working really hard, seven days a week and being looked at as a total loser. I used to have zits (not acne) and was waiting for someone to like me and say I was such a good kid, but it never happened. Sometimes I thought about riding my bike into the local swamp. They wouldn’t find me, just the handlebars sticking out of the muck and the papers sprawled all over floating on top.

Before those days there was the farm. Great BIG amazing place! Life everywhere. It throbbed all around you. Used to wake up once in a blue moon and go down to the barn. It hummed. The milking machines clicked and the cows bellowed. We used to grab an utter and squirt a barn cat. My grandfather, the guy with big, brown hands, leaned his head against the cow flanks and maneuvered the milkers with one hand. Then he’d lean against the wall and we’d talk. Don’t remember now what we talked about, but it was amazing.

I’ve been thinking about him a lot lately. I REALLY REALLY miss him. When I tip toe around the house in the morning real early so as not to wake anyone else up, I envision him doing the same. There was dim flourescent light over the kitchen sink. You could hear the Coffee garble as he filled his cup and tip toed out the doors toward the barn. I used to feel sorry for him, but I don’t now that I do the same thing. He had mastered his circumstances in a way that took me 45 years to grasp. I’m still grasping. But I LOVE my day more than I ever have, especially the start.

Three more things about developing the early riser habit!

You look forward to seizing the day. When we were kids, we used to get up at the crack of dawn while the fields were still covered in fog and trudge our way for miles out across the highway in the distance to Fosse’s Pond. By the time we got there we were soaked with morning dew and steam was still rising off the waters. We soon learned fish like worms early in the morning. Occasionally one would surface and SLAP the water when it landed. Now that I’m a little older, every day is a trip to the pond. Getting up early has reawakened my sense of adventure. Every day now I fill the 5 gallon bucket with memories and carry it home, switching hands from time to time to easier carry the load.

Your lows get lower and your highs get higher. My grandfather’s been gone almost twenty-two years now. My Mom has been gone almost sixteen years. My Grandmother’s been gone almost eleven years. There’s a trend here people. The older you get the more you will experience difficult days. But you will also experience and appreciate all kinds of other days. The tendency is to pretend that nothing hard is happening in the world. We tell ourselves soldiers aren’t getting their limbs blown off on a daily basis, our friends aren’t walking around with their hearts ripped out after failed marriages, our children aren’t feeling the pressures of something that moves faster and faster every day! But they are. They really are. But in the midst of it, we can learn to trust. We can believe that behind it all. Behind the curtain there is a God. Someone who loves us and has our best interests in store and is in the process of making all things new! Just this week our circle received news that one of our mentors graduated from a long, painful battle with Cancer. You can’t ignore that. However you also can’t ignore the fact that he impacted many people and his legacy lives on. Embrace your highs and lows. Give up on the idea that life will never be painful. Nobody’s ever made it out alive except for Jesus and even he had to die first.

You’ll be ready. I remember getting up to do the things I enjoyed on Saturdays and days off and taking half the day to wake up. Not any more. Everyday is Saturday! Gazing up now, there’s more light. Still an overcast morning but the grass is a thousand shades of green brighter. The glass table on the back lawn looks like an Adirondack valley covered with small ponds and lakes. The Lilacs are budding and drops of dew are hanging on the furniture. I’ve been away for an hour and fifteen minutes. It’s going to be an amazing day. Did I mention the fact that it’s Friday? All week, I’ve been looking forward to the treat of driving my truck to work. The kids are moving about and starting their day inside the house. My wife has been seizure-free for just over two years! I’m ready for whatever life sends my way. I’m expectant. Anticipating untold miracles today. I don’t want to ride my bike into the swamp anymore. The zits are gone. People can hate me and voice there opinions about me and I’m good with it. I can love them in a way I couldn’t before. I can laugh. Smile. Encourage. Make someones day! And it all began with getting ready. With starting a new SIMPLE habit of getting up early like Grandpa. Whatever it is you’re looking forward to in life, start preparing now. One of my mottos has always been “If you don’t see it before you see it, you’ll never see it when you see it”. In the words of Steve Brown, “You think about that!”.

Your rest will be sweet. I sleep like a baby. No more lying in bed and thinking. In fact, I get in bed by a certain time. Whatever it is that is so important, can wait until the morning. That means the notifications and ringer get turned off. I’m not Super human. If my phone is a machine and it needs to recharge every night, God knows I need to rest. The quality of your rest at night determines the quality of the day that follows. It’s a myth to think you can work all day and night for days on end and not come apart at the seams. If you work hard, you need to play hard and rest hard.

You don’t have to be Superman or Super Woman twenty four hours a day, but you can be if you want to. And it all begins with carving out a routine that works best for you. The sooner you get sick and tired of being sick and tired, the sooner you’ll reap the results of a life that makes a difference. You’re mistaken if you think you can stay up night and day and not experience any collateral damage. At least that’s my experience. You aren’t a turbine that was designed to start and run forever. You’re human. Don’t forget that.

However, don’t get discouraged about this thing called life. Many people have gone through it and managed to enjoy it in the process. You don’t have to be like my grandfather who got up every day at the crack of dawn and worked ’till sunset and you don’t have to be like me. But I promise that beginning the habit of starting early will revolutionize your life and maximize your enjoyment everyday tenfold!

“It is useless for you to work so hard from early morning until late at night, anxiously working for food to eat; for God gives rest to his loved ones.” Psalm 127:2

How I Almost Gave Up On The Idea That Somebody Important Loved Me

Don't Let A Little Potato Salad in Your Hair Ruin Your Party!

I never felt loved by my Great Grandfather. It seemed like I was just a nuisance as a child. I really wanted his love but never sensed I was on the receiving end. I felt like the boy named ‘Sue’ in the Johnny Cash song.

Surely I must be a loser. My mom was ‘poor’. We bought our sneakers in the Supermarket. Then they buried him in the ground and thirty something years went by. Up until a couple of months ago I still couldn’t imagine him caring about me, let alone loving me. I still remember feeling like a total loser because he never had kind words to share that I remember.  I half-hoped he would put out one of his cigarettes on my arm just to acknowledge my presence.

Today I’m reflecting. It’s a random day in my past. It was Summer or early Spring on The Farm. Not just any farm. My mom’s parents owned it and my grandfather’s parents owned it before that.

This particular day I was sitting on the well with my Great Grandfather. It must’ve been near noon. I don’t remember what we talked about, but we sat on edge of the warm tin covering a square section of boards.

Looking back now it was a congregational place. There was a cut off phone pole about six feet high that we used to shimmy up and sit on top of. It was a real good way to get splinters in your forearms. Maybe I went there that particular day because my Great Grandfather did. We called him Je-Je. Like the words jet jet with no t’s.

When I was younger I thought perhaps there was something wrong with him. He never said much. Maybe he’d fallen down and hit his head. Or been in a farming accident, quite possibly kicked in the head by a mule. I don’t know. But in hindsight he taught me something valuable.

I didn’t realize it until this afternoon. It’s Friday and I’m sitting on my back porch looking at the rain drenched yard and listening to the birds sing. Cars are whizzing down the highway out across the river.

Sometimes it’s pleasant to just be.

Satchel page said it this way, “Sometimes I sits and thinks and sometimes I just sits.” We’re really good at sitting and thinking, but not many of us are good at just sitting.

Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still and know that I am God”. We can sit the Psalmist David writes, because we can trust our Heavenly Father to take care of us.

I’ve never been good at just sitting. Sure, I can sit and think but many people are good at that. So here are some thoughts I’ve developed after waking up at 5:30 a.m every day during the month of March 2017.

Life is good. The steeple of the church where I pastor is falling down. Last week I got the call and we spent 24 hours putting a plan into action. We had to arrange for our old building to be inspected and set up a new place to meet. Finally, we had our initial plan in place. When it was all said and done, I never lost a moments peace about the whole situation. In fact, it allowed me to re-focus. Yes, there were 1,000 different things to do. But I learned to focus on the priorities. Family. Common wisdom said it was time to get into a frenzy.  The Holy Spirit taught me otherwise.  It’s brought my family closer together as well as the church I pastor. They are an amazing team, working together as God does great things in our midst. How could I? Because of the things I’m  while using the nearly 157 extra hours of work- time by getting up 4 or 5 hours earlier each day! That adds up to almost 4 extra 40 hour work weeks each month!  Now, despite doing more than ever, I am experiencing and enjoying a life that is rich and fulfilling. Life is good!

I became a morning person! Actually an all day person! My energy is much higher, sustainable, and ever-ready, due to the new routine. I can rest now at the drop of a hat, but rather enjoy this new boon in the form of greater presence and influence. In the words of Bob Weir, “Even a blind man knows when the Sun is shining”. Say it how you like, ‘Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise’ or ‘the early bird gets the worm’. Carve out times of sufficient rest and every day is like Christmas morning.  People will notice and congregate around you.

You can have a poor start and still have a great ending! Don’t believe it for a minute when people tell you you’ll never amount to anything. This weekend I’m preaching about how God is still in the human raising business. He healed a cripple near the temple and Peter compared the cripple to Christ who went to a bloody cross, was stuffed in a hole in the wall, yet rose again triumphantly. You can be risen with Him! It’s the season of resurrection and renewal. The Tulips have pressed through the soil after a long winter, the grass is flourescent green again and the birds are warbling. Get in on what God wants to do in your life. Don’t wait to do something amazing for your mind, body and spirit. Rest in God. Perhaps He’s looking to gain some glory by using your life to show the world how powerful He really is. He can transform you from the inside out! Trust Him. Lean on Him. Rejoice in Him.

I learned to enjoy ever part of every day. The good and the bad. That’s not being super-spiritual, trust me. It’s the truth. Our lives aren’t just a vapor in the sense that they are short. Sometimes they are really long and the only thing you can do is breath in and breath out. The quality of your life right now is determined by your ability to inhale. No inhalation and you’re done. Ever choked on a Chicken bone? My buddy did out on a river in the early morning hours beneath a starlit sky….all alone, no one to help. Then he dislodged the bone from his throat and was able to inhale again. It’s so easy to wish your life away. It’s so easy to look forward to the day you won’t work anymore. It’s so easy to look forward to the vacation at Disney Land. Then the date comes and goes and you look for something else to look forward to. It doesn’t have to be that way. Wherever you are, you can be all there. Paul said he had learned to be content where ever he is. Godliness with contentment is great gain. Kind of like Heaven on earth if you get my gist.  I can’t be killed, spiritually, because I died 25 years ago on a Spring day in Quaker Springs, N.Y when I gave my life to Jesus.  Everything since then has been a bonus!  Since then I’ve been alive in a whole new way and when I lay down this earthly body, I’ll be more alive than ever!

Of course we could go on and on and riff off this set of chords we’ve laid down. But we won’t.

All I know is that it doesn’t hurt as much anymore. Sure it’s very painful at times. Sure we all have bad days, weeks and years. But we don’t have to. Life really is too short to eat our ice cream cones in the pouring rain and cry about it. Why not laugh?

Getting back to the story. Someone I really loved had died. It was Summertime and we were all gathered around the well on the farm (didn’t I tell you it was a place where people congregated?). Anyway we had just come out of the house and we were eating our plates of Cold-cuts and salads (It’s true, 45 minutes after your funeral service, everyone will be eating Potato Salad). Anyway, one of the attendee’s was eating her plate standing-up and she slipped on a Banana peel someone had carelessly tossed on the ground by the well (wasn’t me….o.k, maybe, but it was an accident) we had sat by some many years before. The ‘Slipper’ let out a screech and fell on the ground. Her plate landed all over her, gobs of food were in her hair and I can’t record her words for the sake of privacy and other issues.  Then she laughed out loud.

And then something happened. For one moment all of our eyes were fixed on her and while just an hour before they were fixed on the lifeless body of a loved one, they were now all locked on something electric and comical. There was a pause. Like a flashbulb popping and for just a moment we were all froze in time, together, in the very same place my Great Grandfather had taught me that sometimes the perfect solution is to just rest and enjoy each other’s company!

Pay It Forward

Start Fresh Today!

Sometime before the onset of puberty, I had an imaginary friend.  I asked for extra cookies so that he could have one.  I’m crying as I imagine why any kid would feel like he needs to put others before himself at such a young age.

Hello.  Most of us don’t mind rules, until they affect us personally. It’s so easy to take a stance when it doesn’t involve flesh and blood. Things change when it’s time to think about how topics like divorce flesh out. There are always people with scars and fresh wounds; people who are still searching; people whose future exposure to Christ might be hanging in the balance; people with fragile faith; people who will never embrace the idea of resurrection because something crumby happened to them as a kid.

When you go through the bible, verse by verse, you’re bound to deal with some touchy subjects sooner than later. For example, divorce. This is a major issue today. I’m sure many people you know have  been effected by it’s ramifications somehow. If you’re not careful, you can read what God has to say about this subject and totally misunderstand it, especially based on today’s culture.

Take for instance the phrase, “And no man may separate what God has joined together.” (Mark 10:5-9, TLB). Jesus said that Moses allowed divorce because men’s hearts were hard. If he hadn’t allowed it, there would have been mutiny. How can God be so insensitive? Good question. Here’s the deal.

We live in a time when people can divorce and go on living quite comfortably. It’s not uncommon for women to work today or to remarry.  Then again, there are people in asylums and prisons because their father went out and never came back or their mother felt a sudden need to find somewhere where there wasn’t any pain.  Not always a good recipe, especially for young, developing hearts and minds.

Now rewind the tapes. What if God is against divorce, because He’s for people? Especially women. In New Testament times, women had fewer options. Men fended for their families and women cultivated the home. They trained the children.  Wrapped them in their arms when they fell down and scraped their knee and put a Band-Aid on it. Said kind words.  Listened.  Prayed to God.  Provided nourishing meals and opportunities to reconnect after a long day.   Again, not because they were inferior but because they were important. People have the idea that God hates women and that’s just not true. In fact, He tells husbands to love their wives, like Christ loved the church and gave himself for it (Ephesians 5:25). Jesus provided for his wife (the Church) while he was still alive, to the point of dying for her on a bloody cross and turned over the sheets of soil to get out of the grave.  He was and is the greatest husband who ever lived.  He dealt Death a death blow and hung an “Out of Order” sign on the gates of Hell.  As a Husband, he put the needs and comfort of his wife above his own.

Despite the example of Christ, the idea crept into society that women are dispensible. Not true! For instance, some Rabbi’s allowed that if your wife burned your toast, you could file for divorce. Talk about cowardly Rabbis. Man likes a binding contract until it becomes too hot in the kitchen. Then they usually look for the nearest exit!  Meanwhile, women who were ‘put away’ found themselves tossed out in the streets like trash. They had no rights, position, and worse yet, no income in society. God knew the fate of these women since before the world began and instituted the law against divorce so that it wouldn’t happen. When it did, there was always a wake of wreckage and hurting people. You couldn’t just go out and get a job or marry anyone you wanted to.  In some cases women starved  to death or were forced to make a living however they could, even if it meant stepping outside of ethical boundaries.

Jesus’ teaching on this subject highlights God’s love. It’s not meant to be a curse. The picture it paints is of an All Wise Creator who loves his creation and wants the best for it. The unity between a wife and man was meant to remain intact even if there was a physical separation. If a man left his wife, he was  still supposed to support her and provide for the needs of her and any children. The Pharisees were looking for an escape clause when they brought this topic up, and unlike the lenient Rabbi’s, Jesus wasn’t about to grant one. I don’t know about you, but I can love that kind of God.

That was a huge step forward in that day in age. Other cultures devalued women and made no provisions for their well-being. It was a big deal when Jesus came onto the scene and reaffirmed his Father’s original intentions. And the ramifications of his actions are still in effect today.

The next time you come across something in life that seems like it’s against you, take a few moments to think about how it might be designed to work in your favor. It’s so easy to  be cynical. To get hardened.  To believe everyone is out to get you. To embrace the idea that the world is a cold, horrible, meaningless place. That’s not to say that all rules and regulations are good ones. Or even half good. Man has always done an excellent job of taking God’s loving guidelines and twisting them. But in God’s ways you’ll always discover unimaginable love and comfort.

Do yourself a favor today and  open the prison doors of the people who have hurt you and set them free.  You can let yourself off the hook, but God can and He’s more than glad to when you love and forgive those who need your love and forgiveness.  Before the Dr. hung you upside down and smacked your tush, there stood a bloody cross and a glorious resurrection!  Who are we to exact a penalty that has already been paid in full?  Friday’s gone and Sunday’s coming.  Don’t miss out on Saturday!

“And why did he say that?” Jesus asked. “I’ll tell you why- it was a concession to your hardhearted wickedness. But it certainly isn’t God’s way. For from the very first he made man and woman to be joined together permanently in marriage; therefore a man is to leave his father and mother, and he and his wife are united so that they are no longer two, but one. And no man may separate what God has joined together.” (Mark 10:5-9, TLB).

How To Love The Person Who Stole Your Candy

Now that I’m older I wonder what it must have been like when he went to prison.

I used to play with his brother but I haven’t seen him in years. One year they ganged up on us and stole our Halloween candy….at the end of the night. What kind of kids (I wondered at the time) would lounge about all night while we were out working door to door for FREE candy? Not only the candy, but our pillow cases too! What can I say, we were poor.

Then I heard he was in prison for attempted murder! Can’t imagine what that would be like. New faces and people sizing you up. Talk about a rough first day at school. Can you say MOMMA!?

Here are five things I learned while reflecting on my childhood.

1.The dog was always in the pup. Just waiting to grow up. My Dad brought a puppy home one day and although he was only eight weeks old, he was twice the size of our mongrel Beagle puppies. He also turned out to be twice the dog. But all of the traits were there to begin with, they only blossomed as he got older. He was always a cool puppy, confident, at ease, royal and he was all of those things as a dog.
2. If you want to know your future, just look what’s in your hand. As I grew older, I often wondered why people did the things they did. My grandmother said that even after her death, she still wondered why my grandfather did some of the things he did. You may not know why now, but if you live to be as old as Solomon, you will. Not all at once, but gradually. Like the dawning of the sun, many mysteries will be revealed. They don’t call them the golden years for nothing!
3. The things you don’t like when you’re younger often turn out to be the things you love. Why else would an Olympian train for four years just for a few moments in the limelight? Hard work, patience, perseverance….they all have their rewards. The most expensive thing you can pay is attention! Ditch the distractions and focus on the details. They’re a rare commodity and so is the ability attend to them. Label the key. Read the memo. Rather than asking what it says, determine what it means. You’ll be rewarded nicely.
4. You’ll love the things you love even more so! The old vet used to pull up to the milk house at the farm and it was fun just watching him lather up and get all of his instruments ready. I can still smell his mysterious potions and envision the small bottles of Oxytocin. Even all these years later, nothing takes me back down memory lane like a good dose of country perfume. They were wonderful days, magical days. It was good to be alive and even more so now!
5. Never forget your friends. Billy. Mike. Mark. Johns, Bryan, Jamie (died in a fire!). Marshall. Many are long gone now, but never forgotten and yet only some of my comrades. You’ll never see their names in light, but they will withstand the annals of time. They scraped their knees with me and cried with me and laughed and I am all the richer for them. Some of my greatest treasures will always be the people I love.

I still don’t know where P is, but I wonder. Despite his faults, I really believe he was just a young, mad kid whose Dad went away and never came back. And though he did something he shouldn’t have, I still miss him even thought he beat me up and stole all my candy. Even as I lay here now in bed typing these words I wonder where he is tonight. i wonder if where ever he is he has someone to call friend. And so I’ve decided this post is for P. Wherever you are tonight….if you’re still alive. I love you and I wish I had some more candy so that you could steal it. Because if you really needed it that bad, I’m glad you took it from me.

Morning Makeover

30 Days of Waking Up at 5:30 a.m.

As a child, by the time I rolled out of bed, my Grandfather was usually coming in for breakfast after milking the cows!

This past month I focused on developing the habit of waking up at 5:30 a.m. every morning.  The results were amazing!

The quality of your morning routine dictates your whole day!

More than becoming a morning riser, my specific goal was to launch each day in such a way that the rest of the day was amazing. I kid you not, this was one of the most incredible months of my life!

It all began after discovering a book called ‘The Miracle Morning’ by Hal Elrod. His book emphasizes 6 practices every morning. Silence, Affirmations, Visualization, Exercise, Reading, and Scribing (writing). S.A.V.E.R.S.

It’s not a race. At first, it was a bit regimental. But that was my own fault. I would set the timer on my iphone for a period of time and then try to accomplish each step. You’ll soon learn that your morning routine becomes stressful rather than enjoyable when you do it this way. There is no hurry.

You’ll develop incredible energy reserves. In fact, I regularly have the energy to enjoy 17 and 18 hour days as a result of this new routine.

You’ll develop a habit that will provide lifelong returns. Arnold Schwartzenegger’s Dad took his children on day trips and required them to write reports about their experiences. The hulking figure you see today was no accident. If you study his life, he is one of the most self-disciplined people in the world and that discipline has allowed him to develop into the man he is today. All of your healthy habits snowball over time.

You’ll see the world differently. Even the army knows this. They insist soldiers make their bed first every morning. The beds are then expected. Why? Having a great day begins with a sense of accomplishment from performing one simple task well. When your morning routine changes for the better, your whole world changes and you begin to see it in a whole new way!

Amazing things happen! The first morning I implemented this routine was one of the happiest days of my life. After completing my routine the first day I can truly say it was a miracle morning. I spent the rest of the winter day hiking under an Ultra-Marine Blue sky in the Adirondack mountains of N.Y with a sense of peace I had not experienced in a long time. Last night I was invited to watch the Liberty Flames baseball game from a sky box in Lynchburg, Virginia with an world-wide expert in the field of counseling and his family! God is good….all the time.

You’ll stand out in the crowd. As you begin to feel better about yourself, others will feel better about you too! In the words of Dr. David Black, a leader is someone who when he says he’s going fishing, people don’t yawn and walk away. They want to go too. Your self- discipline will begin to ‘stick out’ and people will be drawn to you. Chances are they may not even know why, but they will.

You’ll start to dream again. If you’re like most people, there’s someone you’d like to meet in your lifetime. Maybe it’s a famous musician or a ‘movie star’, or perhaps an athlete. You can’t rewind the clock and tomorrow’s not here yet but you can start dreaming right now! You have to decide what you’re going to talk about when you meet these people. Otherwise when you meet them, you will not be able to capitalize.

Dreams really do come true! If I told you all of the things that happened this past month, you probably wouldn’t believe me. It really has been amazing!

The most amazing part is that I have fallen in love with getting up and seizing the day and you can too! I realize you’re ‘busy’ and you have a lot on your plate right now. But there are only so many hours in the day. If we don’t carve out time to do the things that really matter, our lives pass us by and we miss out on all that God has for us.

If your old model isn’t getting you the results you want, why keep using it? Don’t just tweak it or improve it incrementally, try something new. This model really works. The important thing is to find what works for you. Customize it. Tweak it. Maximize. 30 days from now you have the potential to be a whole new person.

Don’t get discouraged. No, it’s not going to be easy to begin with, but after awhile it will come as naturally as walking or riding a bike. There is an uphill battle and you will have resistance, but in time, what was once hard will become easier.

Here are three action steps:
1) Design a curriculum that works for you the night before. Think about what you want to accomplish this month and then decide what steps you have to take. Write the plan down on paper.
2) Set your alarm and make it so that you have to get out of bed to turn it off. Once you’re up, leave your bedroom a.s.a.p.
3) Drink a glass of cold water as soon as you wake up.
4) Have your materials ready so that you can begin immediately.