Working on a Dream




Thursday, March 22, 2018

How to Handle Life's Disapointments

Handling Life's Disapointments
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?

-Langston Hughes, Harlem.
Harold S. Kushner, in his fascinating book, "Overcoming Life's Disappointments" comments on the poem asking, "In these lines, the poet wonders what happens to dreams that do not come true. I wonder what happens to the dreamer. How do people cope with the realization that important dimensions of their lives will not turn out as they hoped they would ..."
Heavy Stuff.
Especially if you are in touch with reality.

The first thing to grapple with is that you will be disappointed. For most of us, we have already experienced our share. But, there was a time, perhaps when young(er) and naive, you happened to dance around the painful events of life unscathed. Then, it got you. Setbacks, losses, unexpected events, Etc. You were wounded on the inside. Never to be the same again. And NO, your life will not be as it once was. I am a victim of this mentality -waiting for things to return to "normal" - they do not. As a man of deep nostalgia, I stood at this doorstep for years, only to have that door unanswered. So I get it, trust me.

As time passed on your pain, you learned that the question was not, "How do I go through life avoiding disappointment?" Rather, "How will I respond to those disappointments?" Today I was reading in the Psalms something that I know was a message for me:
"Light arises in the darkness for the upright" (112:4)
When your heart has broken and you feel lost a lot of the time you feel like you are groping for something. Whether it is the past, restoration or a specific answer, you grope. You yearn like a blind man for answers around you. In our Psalm, we read something that shifts our mind to a different perspective. "Light arises in the darkness!" Your answer will come. Your restoration is on its way. God is not done with you. Your journey, although confusing, painful and down right exhausting can produce something of value.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

The Black Feather

Ever hear of Occam's Razor?
Its basic tenant is, "the simplest explanation is usually the right one."
Many use Occam's Razor as a means to slice through a problem / situation in order to eliminate unnecessary steps.

Today, I would like to apply Occam's Razor to conflict. Jesus said, "If you have an issue with someone, the best way to handle the difficulty is to simply go to them." Face to face.
Toe to toe. Heart to heart. It's a rather direct approach.
It's a rather gutsy one too.  The genius is found in its simplicity.

Just think for a moment how many other ways you and I handle conflict:
-The Ostrich approach (ignore it).
-The Bursting a blood vessel approach (do you really need an explanation?).
-The Big Daddy approach (cover it up).
-The Flapper approach (I talk to everyone except the right one).

Possibly the most dangerous approach is the "Black Feather" approach.
Below, I will share a short story that illustrates this powerfully.

In a small German village, a woman differed with her minister and became so angry that she began spreading ugly rumors about him around town. As fate would have it, she eventually became ill and called on the minister to pray for her. He came gladly, and she asked his forgiveness of her gossiping. "I will grant you forgiveness," the minister said, "but there's something you must do."

"I'll do anything," the woman said.

"As soon as you get well, go pluck the feathers from a black chicken and put them into a basket and bring them to me."  When the woman got well, she did what the minister asked her to do and presented the basket of feathers to the minister.

"You did well," the minister said. "Now take this basket of feathers and scatter them in the corners of the marketplace and from the towers of the church. Scatter them throughout the town. Then return to me."

So the woman did.

She walked from one end of town to the other, scattering the feathers. Then she returned to her pastor. "I have done as you asked," she said.
"Very well. Now take your basket and collect all the feathers. Make sure not one is missing."
"But that is not possible!" the woman said with a choking cry.  "The wind has carried many of them away.
"So it is with your words," the minister said. "While I have gladly forgiven you, do not forget that you can never undo the damage your untrue words have done."

Further, I have noticed in life that, generally speaking, people do have good motivations for the things that they do.  So do not fill  your mind with all the "reasons" why so and so did such and such, oftentimes you are wrong.  You are inserting your own motivations into the story that may not be true. Remember, in the absence of information people will make up their own.
One of my favorite quotes is Thomas Watson's, "What fools are they who, for a drop of pleasure, drink a sea of wrath." This is precisely what happens when you and I choose to let things fester within our hearts by not going directly to the source of our conflict. In a real way, it is like we gladfully go to the shelf, pour ourselves a glass of destruction and drink it straight down. Your life will be better off if you put that glass down and get direct when handling conflict.  When you do, you will switch that old glass of wrath for a fresh goblet of peace. 

Any reasonable person will see that out of all the alternative options, the direct approach is certainly the best.  It is also the toughest --let's be honest, nobody is running to the front of the line when it comes to conflict resolution.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

"If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea." - Antoine de Saint Exupéry

I read a story by James K. A. Smith, in his work titled, “You Are What You Love.”

The author recounts a time when he was in the Tate Britain museum in London and was captivated by a painting.

The painting is called, “The Boyhood of Raleigh” and attempts to tell the story of who would eventually become Sir Walter Raleigh, the great Intrepid explore sailing for Queen Elizabeth.

Image result for boyhood of raleigh

Cool picture, right?

Here is what I love about it.  While there are no words attempting to tell us what is going on –we intuitively know.  

The older man, the hardened, skin-salted, sailor is pointing the boys towards the sea with great tales of thrilling adventure!

“Boys,” he says in a whisper, “The first time I set sail as a young man I remember…”  And the story begins.

Now notice the young boy’s faces.  Totally on the man. Every word.  They sit. Hanging on his words as he paints pictures and as he tells them stories, something is happening to them.  They begin to see themselves as sailors. Standing on the mast. Commanding the large wooden ship through the mighty seas.

This is teaching.  And do you want to take any guess as to the greatest teacher our world has ever known? If you guessed Jesus, then you are correct.  Man was He good at painting pictures.  “I am the Vine and you are the branches” (think of this being said standing right in the middle of a Vineyard).  “I am Living Water” (imagine being situated in the hot sun-beaten dessert next to a well).  I could go on, but there is just one more aspect of Jesus’ teaching that I want to highlight before I finish.

If you have ever read the Gospels, you probably remember Jesus using a phrase that goes like this: “The Kingdom of God…” When He is saying this, He is painting a picture for His followers much like the sailor in the painting.  He is casting a vision for what life can and should look like as His message spreads.  Because when His message spreads, you, I – the world starts to reflect the character of God – in other words we will be a little bit of heaven right here on earth. 

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Press On (2018)

A parable is told of a farmer who owned an old mule. The mule fell into the farmer's well. The farmer heard the mule 'braying' - or - whatever mules do when they fall into wells. After carefully assessing the situation, the farmer sympathized with the mule, but decided that neither the mule nor the well was worth the trouble of saving. Instead, he called his neighbors together and told them what had happened. He then enlisted them to help haul dirt to bury the old mule in the well and put him out of his misery.

Initially, the old mule was hysterical!

But, as the farmer and his neighbors continued shoveling and the dirt hit his back, a thought struck him. It suddenly dawned on him that every time a shovel load of dirt landed on his back he should shake it off and step up. And, this he did, blow after blow.

"Shake it off and step up...
shake it off and step up...
shake it off and step up!" he repeated to encourage himself.

No matter how painful the blows, or distressing the situation seemed, the old mule fought "panic" and just kept right on shaking it off and stepping up!

It wasn't long before the old mule, battered and exhausted, stepped triumphantly over the wall of that well! What seemed like it would bury him, actually blessed him because of the manner in which he handled his adversity.

It's hard to go through life 
without getting it thrown on us or at us.
And yet, when it comes flying in our direction, 
like the mule, 
we have a choice to make.
With God, 
our mess becomes our message. 
Our test becomes our testimony. 
Help us to not ever give up, 
but to "throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.". (Hebrews 12:1-3).
-Author Unknown

Print this out and put it in a visible place as a reminder to keep going!

--Happy New Year 2018🔥

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.