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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

It's Time to Say Goodbye: Charlie Brown

The Christmas tree is lit. 
A candle sparkles in the background.
It is quiet in the house.
Outside it is the first gentle snowfall of the Fall season.
A seemingly peaceful evening on this November night.  
 
Did you notice that word, “seemingly” in the last line?  That should put you on notice that something isn’t right. 
I write this sitting next to Charlie Brown.  My 13 ½ year old Chocolate Lab.  
He is not doing so well.
 
I watched him over the last two years slowly and quietly lose his stamina, I watched as his once strong muscles atrophied,  and now, on this November night, I am preparing for something that just seems surreal…
 
First, let’s go back in time to see how this whole thing started…
 
I had just lost Tommy the cat.  He was our: I will kill just about everything and bring it to you with a smile, alley-cat, dog- fightin’, everyone’s favorite cat (even if you despised cat’s) cat.  In short, think Tony Soprano. 
 
We were all kinda lost.  Shortly thereafter, my mother said that she heard of a litter of Lab puppies out in a farm located in Laurel township.  So we jumped into the car to just “to look.”  As we pulled up and got out of the car, we were met with about six of the cutest pups we could imagine.  I immediately asked the owner if there were any Chocolate.  Here was her answer:  “There were two, but one was just taken, the other has some gold running throughout his coat and the other dogs don’t really get along with him.”  She did not know it, but she had just picked my future dog. 
 
As I searched for the fuzzy guy, I had to crawl under a Pine Tree and pull him out.  MINE!
 
 

Me and mom were sold immediately, so now we had to convince dad.  That was mom’s part.  Here is how that phone call went down:  “Andy! Me and Anthony are looking at a dog and he’s only five (yes you read that right) dollars. We are going to bring him home.” If you are not familiar, this approach is technically called, “Act now and beg for forgiveness later.” 
 
The money was exchanged and we were on our way home with … with … Wait, what is his name?
I immediately called him : BRUCE.   No need to explain that name choice I am sure. 
 
Growing up we had this tiny thing of a dog that ran in literal circles and its name was Pepper.  I can tell you that with Charlie we had absolutely no clue about this breed of dog.    We had no clue that he would eventually break the cotton string rope that was to keep him tied in the backyard. Or that we should not tie him to the light pole because he would eventually rip it right out of the ground, or that he would not sit, lie down or remain calm for three solid years. 
 
That same day, after we arrived home, it became apparent that this dog was just not a BRUCE.  The qualities of a BRUCE are: Strong. Fierce. And intimidating.  This guy had zero of those qualities. 
The next few days had us throwing many names around, and late one evening someone, I believe our neighbor blurted out, “What about Charlie Brown?”  --Bingo!   The qualities of Charlie Brown are: likes to play pranks, does not listen, is hard headed, has a low tolerance for pain, sincerely believes everyone likes him, and does not listen.  
 
We quickly set up an ironclad set of house rules:
For the first week:  Charlie will live in the basement and can come upstairs ONLY when we are home.
A few days after that:  Charlie can live upstairs but cannot go on any furniture.
A day after that:  Charlie can live upstairs and sit anywhere he likes.
27 seconds after that:  Charlie can go and do anything he wants. 
 
There were three of us giving Charlie attention all of the time. And it was nothing for him to go for a walk anywhere from 5-7 times a day.  If you think I am kidding, just ask a neighbor.  We literally have done it all:  Snowstormssheets of rain, lighting storms Sahara heat, hail, and Armageddon. 
 
As the years rolled on,  I eventually moved out, but because of the love for Charlie Brown, he was shuffled between two houses.  My family liked to joke around and say that we shared joint-custody with Charlie.  We shared him as much as possible so we all could enjoy him.  And enjoy him we did.  
Charlie was a bright spot for us.  Adding to our daily lives, conversations, and health.  It was nothing to call mom and dad and the first thing to talk about was Charlie.  How was he?  Did he get into any fights on the bus?   Is he still eating his homework? Etc.
 
 

Like any Lab, Charlie loved playing fetch, so bringing him to our local park became a regular habit. Every year for Christmas he would get a new toy from L. L. Bean and we would toss that thing a zillion times.  I used to joke around and say that every time was like the first time for Charlie when it came to playing catch.  
 
If you own a dog, you know that it is not all fun all the time. There are vet visits, dog food, picking up after them, and the occasional altercations.  Charlie was great, but certainly had a handful of bizarre behaviors.  To name some of his most famous:  pulling your arm socket out of its place if a smaller object was in the vicinity, not allowing you to stop and talk to any human while on a walk, and most notoriously, the dreaded, “Charlie will not go to the bathroom in the yard habit.”  
 
Further, Charlie had a way of finding other dogs to mess with, even much LARGER ones.  On one occasion Charlie was hunted down by a Pit Bull and even though I did my best to scream at that Ninja of a dog, it did nothing.  I can tell you that if I did not step in, Charlie would have been killed that day.  And since that wasn’t going to happen, I had to step in. I’ll spare you the details, and just let you know that Charlie had to see a vet that day, but otherwise was fine.   That wasn’t Charlie’s day.  Not on my watch. Not like that.  Pit bull = L.  Anthony = W. 
 
Charlie was arguably the center of our world until children entered the picture.  Charlie was an old(er) dog when Isabella and Carmen came along. He was nine years old, so that took some adjusting on his part.  He went from front burner to back and I think he was hurt a bit.  I was too.  That said, he still had more love than most dogs on planet earth and it was cute to see him interact with the kids. The love for Charlie led to Isabella’s very first stuffed animal, a tiny Chocolate Lab!  This still is the sole item she grabs every single night as she goes to bed.  Both kids love Charlie Brown and had lots and lots of kisses for him over the years.  I am so glad that the kids first dog was Charlie. 
 
 

I mentioned earlier that Charlie had some annoying habits.  The irony about these habits are how quickly they dissipate and all that remain are the cherished memories that you shared due to the bond of love between the two of you. A few years ago I was at the Erie Zoo and after a long day of checking out exotic animals, I noticed a bronze statue of a man and his dog.  I remember saying to myself, “there is the best animal in the entire zoo.”  Not the Rhino or the Zebra, the Silver Back; not even the tall Giraffe. Hey, dogs do not wind up with the phrase, “man’s best friend” attached to them by accident.  
 
While writing the first half of this letter, I needed mental break, and my eye caught his favorite blanket.  Immediately I wondered to myself what it will be like to walk in the house and see the items that belonged to Charlie and have him not here.  The chain leash. The box of treats. The plastic bags in every coat pocket.  Chew toyshis bowl and dish now serve as reminders to what was.  Thirteen and a half years.  That’s long.  Do you know how many days that is?  I don’t, but it’s a lot of them.  And during those many many days, Charlie Brown was a constant part of the family.  He was there during the good and bad, the screams and cries, the celebrations, holiday’s, and all the regular events of life.  He was part of our rhythm; ingrained into the tapestry of our lives. 
And that is why this is just so hard.  
 
A hole has opened up.  A hole I didn’t even know was there.  
See, that is the thing that Charlie did, he jumped right into our hearts, and pushed and pushed and pushed.  And as he did, our hearts grew.  They grew because he was our teacher.  Have you ever thought about the fact that dog is God backwards?  Do you think this was by mistake?  I can’t say for certain, but what I can absolutely assert is that dog’s display God’s attributes better than you or me ever can.  Pure love and affection.  Always happy to see you and forgive you.  Loves to spend quality time with you.  Constantly is thinking of you.  And makes you a better person for having them in your life.  
 
 

Have you ever heard about a place called the Rainbow Bridge?
 
Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge. 
When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable. 
All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor. Those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by. The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind. 
They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent. His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster. 
You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart. 
Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together...
 
It is getting late now and Charlie is laying down.  
It is time to go and sit with him. Pet him. Talk to him.  I will tell him that he is a good boy.  Over and over I will tell him this.  
 
In the song, Walls, the singer concludes by singing: 
“Some things are over
Some things go on
Part of me you carry
Part of me is gone.
 
I couldn’t of said it any better…
 
One thing that gives me peace at the moment is that I know that he knows how much he was loved.
And I know that he understands how much love he gave our family. And in the end, isn’t that what this whole thing was about anyway?  
 
 
 

R.I.P. Good boy.  We love you. 
 
Now go to that bridge and wait for us.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Dear Isabella: A letter from your Daddy

Dear Isabella,

Recently I read something that made me think about our relationship.
Although you are only 6 months old; can’t talk, walk or crawl. You need to hear this. 

Recently, I wrote an article about being, “A Good Girl.” In the article I highlighted two very important qualities that all girls should embody. The first is that you should know your worth. The world has a way of creeping up right behind your ears whispering all kinds of untrue messages. Messages like, “You have to act certain ways to fit in.” Or, “you should try to be part of the cool crowd and despise the other kids around you.” And then there is, “You don’t have to listen to your parents, especially your father …” (That last one you should especially reject and take special note of if you ever want to get your license or go to prom or leave the house … ever). The lesson here is simple and powerful: Isabella, know your worth and know it well. You are a person of infinite value! This I hope is something you get a handle on early in life; you are created in the image of God and hold tremendous value that cannot be added to or taken away. 

The second thing I want to relay to you is the implication of understanding and embracing your inner value. A firm grasp on this will leave you strong. You will be the type of person that will not be defined by the TV shows you watch or the pressure your acquaintances put on you. You will be above it all. You get to set your own limits, live your own life and steer your own ship. You will also ward off many, many rotten apples that roll your way. And in doing so, you will have saved yourself a lot of grief and heart-ache (and lectures by your dad that will go on and on and...). 

So let’s peer into the future together because your dad is planning something special for you. 

Sometime in the future, say when you are 12ish, I will take you on a date. We will both be dressed to the 9’s. During dinner, I will pull out a box wrapped in fancy paper with a bow on top. I will then share how important it is for you to understand and embrace the things that I have written about -that you know your worth and so forth. I will probably be crying so you will have to listen intently. And don’t worry; I will have requested a private booth so no one will see me sobbing like a baby. 

At some point, I will hand you the box and you will open it to find a necklace with a golden apple charm inside of it. The apple will represent a few things: 1 is that you are the apple of my eye and 2 is that the apples that grow on the top of a tree are valued the most since they are the most difficult to pick. I will then come over to your side of the table, take the necklace and put it on you. It is an outward symbol representing your inner beauty and worth. My hope is that every time you see the apple around your neck you remember the high standard that you are called to. That you always remember that day as the day your earthly daddy pointed you to your Heavenly one. 

Isabella, you are fearfully and wonderfully made, full of life and joy. Each day you bring new light to the worldI! 

Know who you are.
More importantly, know Whose you are.

Signed,
Daddy



If you have a daughter that you cherish, pass this on!

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Getting the Man right.

 

Prologue

Once upon a time there was a very successful business
owner. His company had faithfully served millions of customers
for many, many years. But lately, business had not been so good,
and his competitors were just waiting for him to fail. For weeks
and months, the man pondered the crisis, but the problems were
so complex, and solutions seemed nowhere to be found.
Everyone was wondering what would happen to this great
company, so finally the businessman announced that he was hosting
a dinner for all of his employees to unveil a plan that would
save the company and return it to its former glory. He wanted to
convey to them how important each person was to the future success
of the organization.

The morning of the dinner, he was sitting in his study at home
working on his speech, when his wife came in and asked if he
would mind watching their son for a few hours while she ran
some errands. He was about to say, “I really need to focus on finishing
my speech,” but something caught his tongue and he found
himself agreeing, reluctantly.

His wife had only been gone about ten minutes when there
was a knock on the study door, and there appeared his seven year-
old son. “Dad, I’m bored!” he exclaimed. The father spent
the next couple of hours trying to amuse his son while also trying
to finish his speech. Finally he realized that if he could not find
some way to entertain his child he was never going to get his
speech finished in time.

Picking up a magazine, he thumbed through the pages until
he came to a large, brightly colored map of the world. He ripped
the picture into dozens of pieces, and led his son into the living
room. Then, throwing the pieces all over the floor, he announced,
“Son, if you can put the map of the world back together I will
give you twenty dollars.”

The boy immediately began gathering the pieces. He was
keen to earn the extra money, as he needed just twenty more dollars
to buy a toy he had been saving for since his last birthday.
The father returned to his study, thinking he had just bought
himself a couple of hours to finish working on his speech, because
he knew his seven-year-old son had no idea what the map of the
world looked like.

But five minutes later, just as he was settling into his speech,
there was another knock on the study door. There stood the
young boy holding the completed map of the world.
The father said in amazement, “How did you finish it so
quickly?” The boy smiled and said, “You know, Dad, I had no
idea what the map of the world looked like, but as I was picking
up the pieces, I noticed that on the back there was a picture of
a man.” The father smiled, and the boy continued. “So, I put a
sheet of paper down, and I put the picture of the man together,
because I knew what the man looked like. I placed another sheet
of paper on top, then holding them tightly I turned them both
over.” He smiled again and exclaimed, “I figured, if I got the man
right, the world would be right.”

The man handed his son twenty dollars.

“And you’ve given me my speech for tonight. 
If you get the man right, you get the world right.”

Told by Matthew Kelly.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

When God gives you a Bloody Nose


By:  Jean de La Fontaine 

Once there was a country bumpkin
Who observed a great big pumpkin
To a slender stem attached;
While upon an oak tree nourished,
Little acorns grew and flourished.

"Bah!" said he. "That's badly matched."
"If, despite my humble station,
I'd a hand in this Creation,
Pumpkins on the oaks would be;
And the acorn, light and little,
On this pumpkin stem so brittle
Would be placed by clever Me."

Then, fatigued with so much thought, he
Rest beneath the oak tree sought. He
Soon in slumber found repose
But, alas! An acorn, falling
On the spot where he lay sprawling,
Hit him--plump!--Upon the nose.

Up he jumped--a wiser bumpkin.
"Gosh!" he said. "Suppose a pumpkin
Came a-fallin' on my face!
After all, if I had made things,
I'll allow that I'm afraid things
Might be some what out of place.



The meaning of the acorn and the pumpkin?

God knows better than we do. Before the man took a nap under the acorn tree, he mocked God's creation.  He stated that a tree as giant as an acorn tree surely would have been better fit for something large, like pumpkins, to grow on.

However, he later found that he was mistaken when an acorn fell on his nose, causing it to bleed, making him realize that had it been a pumpkin, he would not have been as fortunate.

That is why at the end of the poem he says,"God knows His business after all, no question!" He realized he does not know more than God, and he should learn to trust Him.


"Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!"
-Romans 11:33-
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Thursday, September 21, 2017

it IS your fault!

There are 2 types of people in this world, those who take responsibility for their lives, and those who do not.

Have you noticed that we live in a culture of blame? There is the overweight woman suing McDonald’s for making her fat. Did the Golden Arches reach out, grab her, and force food down her throat?  There is the guy that throws his money away at the casino. Did the blackjack dealer drive him to the bright lights; take the money out of his wallet and place bet after bet? In both cases, shift went from the individual to some outside external force.

I read a book once with the title, “Take control of what’s controlling you.” Aptly fit for our society today. Dr. Henry Cloud wrote a fascinating book that inspired this post (It’s Not my Fault) that I benefited from measurably. In it, he says you need to, Take responsibility for your life, then put your arms around reality and take ownership of it …”





(B.O.B.) The beginning of blame
Genesis records the origins of much of what you and I experience today. Life, death, murder, marriage, etc. In Genesis chapter 3, we discover that right after Adam and Eve disobey God and sin, they start the blame game. Adam points to his wife, his wife then points to the serpent. Blame, Shame and Guilt. All there in the garden. For our purposes however, we will focus on blame shifting. We just love to shift blame and responsibility on to others. We love pointing to external factors that will get us off the hook. One interesting element about blaming outside sources is that they may be true AND we may even have good reasons to blame -but it does not solve any of our problems.

I will unabashedly state that if you are the type of person that consistently shifts blame on externals --you have serious problems. I know it and your friends / family know it too. I can’t say for certain that you know it, but the sooner you understand this hang-nail about yourself the better off you will be. See, those in life that are successful, those in life that have risen above their circumstances have figured out some important life lessons, one is that they take responsibility for their own lives. 

Is it time for you to look inward, instead of outward?
Choose to man-up and rise above the external forces and when you do, you choose to be a victor instead of a victim.