When the storm rolls in…

I was watching television with my youngest son yesterday when I heard a grumbling in the sky – indicating a storm was about to roll in. I quietly stood to my feet and made my way to the front porch to await the approaching weather and watch it as it drew near. At first, it appeared the storm was already passing by and that I was sitting too far south to get the experience I was expecting. The sky was a dark shade of grey to my north and I could see flashes of light toward the east. The clouds appeared to be moving in an eastward direction. When I saw this, I allowed my expectations to change. But I remained in my seat with the thought that I would enjoy the peacefulness of my surroundings. Then, I felt a cold steady wind. I looked up and saw that the clouds were, in fact, now heading my way. Within moments the bright shine from the sun had disappeared and the darkness had overtaken area surrounding me. Before I knew it, the heavens had opened up and a heavy rain began to pour from above. Lightning flashed seemingly only a short distance away before a crack of thunder sent rattling chills up my spine. I began to stand to my feet to re-enter the safety of the home, but before I could muster the strength to lift myself, I felt myself easing up and relaxing back into my chair as if I knew I had nothing to worry about after all. It wasn’t but a matter of minutes before the storm had rolled on and left the area allowing the sun to once again peak through the clouds and remind me that all is well on the other side of the storm. I must say: It felt good to ride out the storm. It truly was a beautiful process to be a part of.

I’m not sure exactly what has sparked my fascination with storms. Some people fear them, some chase them and some just sit and ride them out. The truth remains: Storms are scary. They carry a power with them that cannot be thwarted by man. Whether we fear them or not, they have the power to take us. This is quiet the humbling thought as I realize there is more to this world than me. I am only a small part of a much larger existence. Even though the storm left me a little unnerved, I couldn’t leave. I could only stay and watch as it revealed its power to me.

In life, storms come and storms go. There isn’t much more we can do than simply watch and hope for the best. It’s amazing how one moment in life we feel safe and it may look as if our location exceeds the reach of the storm, but then it turns, and in the next moment we are watching as it wreaks havoc on our very existence. This begs us to run and take cover. We want to hide and pray it away, but storms are a necessary reminder that we are small. We are powerless. Life is bigger than we are. It didn’t start with us and it will not end with us. It’s a beautiful process and all we can do is watch and wait while we ride out the storm.

The sky may be grumbling and growling in our lives. Flashes of light may be setting us on edge. A cool breeze may be blowing in while tree limbs begin to dance in the distance. Concerns may crop up in our minds: “Are our garden crops okay?” or “Will a tree fall on our house?”. Maybe we will want to run and hide from it all. I know I wanted to yesterday, but only for a moment. Then the storm passed and it was almost as quickly as it came. Suddenly, it was gone. I survived. I couldn’t control the storm. We can’t control the storm. It’s bigger than we are. But when it rolls in … Maybe we should just relax and ride it out. That way we don’t make any storms in our lives bigger than they already are.

 

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Give with all your ‘mite’ …

I was out of town recently and found myself walking slowly on a sidewalk behind a woman who inched her way along. She slightly wobbled as she walked and she took up most of the sidewalk. Because of this, there was no room to get around her. I had no idea where she was going or where her destination was, but I just continued behind her slowly as patiently as I could. I didn’t want to be rude so I simply slowed myself down and allowed her continue at her pace. As rushed as we are as a society today, I have to admit, it pained me a bit to slow down for her. I think that slowing down is exactly what I needed to do in that moment though. You can learn a lot when you change your pace. I know I did.

As I walked nearly the entire length of a city block behind this slow moving woman I couldn’t help but notice her clothing was not very desirable. Her hair was a mess, as the clip she was using to hold her hair down appeared to be broken. Her shoes were old and I’m guessing she either walks a lot or she hasn’t purchased a new pair for many years. I’m guessing by the way she was dressed that when she got those shoes they probably weren’t even new then. I’m not saying all of this to run the woman down or give a negative portrayal of her. I’m simply wanting those who are reading this to understand that this woman didn’t appear to have anything. For all I could tell she lived there on the street somewhere. It was what I saw next that made me realize that this woman had more than most people ever will have.

The woman moved over out of our way, grabbed a windshield wiper blade of a car on the side of the street and lifted it to place what looked like a bookmark bearing the words ‘God is Joy’ under it. I’m not going to lie, sometimes I can’t stand getting that stuff under my wiper blades. I usually have to pull my car over to remove it so it doesn’t blow away while I’m driving. Not only is it annoying in that sense, it may really upset someone who do not have certain religious beliefs. Regardless what you or I believe, though, I was very impressed with what I saw. Here is a woman who has nothing but she is giving what she can to make someone else’s day better. Although we may see litter on our cars, in her mind, she is trying to brighten someone’s day. Suddenly I felt like no matter what a person’s religion is, I would be happy to know they care about me so much as to give me the only thing in this world they have to give. It doesn’t matter who you worship or if you worship no one at all, it’s good to know someone cares. The woman could barely walk but she walked that block for someone.

I’m guessing the person who owned the van probably rolled their eyes when they looked on their windshield that day, but they’ll never know about the woman who took all day (it seemed) to walk to their vehicle to brighten their day. I’m guessing if anyone at all who had anything at all would do the same for this woman, she wouldn’t have looked the way she did that day. I would never have noticed her if I wouldn’t have slowed down. We should all slow down and notice the sacrifices of others. This woman didn’t have to be out in the hot weather walking to reach others with her cause. She could have sat at home and hoped that someone else would do it. How many would walk a mile for her? I doubt very many at all. I realize that some who are reading this will only look at the religious part of this story and will over look the effort the woman made to make someone else’s life better. I will apoligize to you if you are offended. Suddenly, though, I find myself much less offended by these people. I don’t care whose name you do it in, if you want to show me love, I’ll take it. Hopefully someone will read this and decided to give the best of themselves to others as well, especially those like the woman on the street that day. These people could really use it. Some people hold out their hands. Others hold out their hearts. This woman held out her heart. Sadly, I’m not sure anyone will ever reach theirs back to her. We all need to slow down and take notice so we can give back to those who give so much of themselves for us.

Stepping off the path…

Last night I went for a long walk in McArthur. In some parts of town that means I walked in a well lit area and had no reason to be concerned of finding obstacles in my way. In other parts of town, however, the streets were very dark and I had to rely on the small amount of light that was shining from other areas to provide me with enough lumination to know where to put my feet down with each step I took. I did have my cell phone with me and could have used that to provide a guiding light for myself, but instead I was Facebooking, which means the light wasn’t shining on the road, it was shining in my eyes and making it even more difficult to see where I was going. Instead of walking in a straight line I was all over the road. I stepped of the sidewalk into the street or into the grass on the other side. I learned that texting and driving is far easier than texting and walking, especially in the dark. I think next time I go for a walk at night I will leave my phone in my pocket so I don’t get picked up for public intoxication.

It seems like the older I get the more my walk in life becomes like my walk through McArthur. I have one set direction – a set path I want to walk in, but I find myself distracted by other things that throw me off course and make me step off the path. The road is darkened by the night and the distractions are too heavy at times for me to find my way. I’ve stepped off the path far too many times, it seems, and I wish I could just get to where I’m wanting to go. I can’t. I’m intoxicated by the world around me and my fullest potential cannot be reached this way.

I want to walk a straight line. I want to walk tall and bold. I want to stand above the crowd. Somehow, somewhere along this path I got off track. I stepped off of the course and my walk led me astray. I’m just a simple man and I don’t know much, but I know this: It is so much easier to work to build someone else’s dream than it is to work on building your own. I’m going to keep walking. I’m sure I’ll step off of the path again..and again, and again, and again. I may never even get to where I’m going because of my inability to walk straight, but I’m going to walk. I’m sure most people who are reading this have stepped off the path in their own lives at times. Some may have their foot in the grass right now wondering how they ever got away from where they were wanting to go. I bet we all get this way sometimes. Let’s all continue to fight through our distractions and keep our feet moving one right in front of the other. I think death may be the only destination we ever actually reach in life and the only thing that should matter to us is the steps we’ve taken all along the way. Sometimes I feel like people are critical of my walk. To those people I would like to say this: I don’t walk this road for you. I walk it for me. If you don’t like where I’m going, watch out, because you’re probably going to put your foot in a ditch. You should probably be focused on your own steps, not mine. Get back on the path.

Interception of a dream

I understand that at the mere mention of football, many of you may navigate away from this page, but I should tell you, this is not about football. This is about life. Let me start by saying I have loved the Oakland Raiders since I was a young child. As a matter of fact, I can’t tell you why I love them or how that love was inspired. I can only say, It is a love that has always been. After watching the team share a horrible display during the last ten years, that love has not changed. This year, for whatever reason, has been a year I hoped to see some change. The team has been very strong and has had a great ability to score and stay in games until Sunday’s game. The Raiders lost their quarterback to an injury in the previous game against the Browns and was forced to make some changes at the position. With only one week to properly prepare, none of the quarterbacks on the roster were prepared for what was to come against their division rivals, the Kansas City Chiefs. The team played two quarterbacks in the game, each of them finishing the game with three interceptions and no touchdowns. The Raiders could not get into the end-zone at all in the game and lost 28-0.

I’m not sure what kind of a setback the team will face after Sunday’s loss or how they will come back when they play again, but this game had to hurt. After a decade of not being able to win, they finally seemed to be on track, only to be humiliated against a division foe who came into the game with a worse record than them. It didn’t matter that the Raiders actually played pretty good on the defensive side of the ball and that it was the interceptions that made the difference in the game. They lost. You come out with a ‘W’ or an ‘L.’ That is how it works in football. It is also how it works in life.

I can say, in my personal life, I feel very much the way the Raiders probably do. After many years of feeling like a failure  in various aspects of my life, I feel like in the last couple of years I have really started to grow up. I felt like I could put a few ‘W’s’ on the board and move away from the past that has haunted me. Everything seemed to be moving in the right direction. I was holding a winning record for once, but then I recently ran into my division foe. Interception after interception has kept me from reaching a score. I feel like I did when I was watching the Raiders play Sunday. I know that I may lose this game, but I would like to see a touchdown, a field goal, a saftey, I didn’t really care. I just wanted to put something on the board to maintain some respectability. That did not happen for the Raiders Sunday, it may not happen for me.

I’m sure many of my readers are aware that I recently lost a job I loved having. I was proud of that job but in the end, that job wasn’t proud of me. Interception. Just when you think you are on track and you are ready to score, someone steals the ball. I have been working to give my kids a better future. They deserve the very best. I want to provide them with a good home a healthy family life, and the best that can be offered. I feel like I have been intercepted. The older they get, the more I realize they may never know what it is to be a part of a real family…  In school, I have maintained straight A’s in all of my classes. It was my goal to continue that, but I was intercepted. I was doing so good, but when I scored 88 points in one of my classes at the end of my last term, that goal was ripped away from me like the Chiefs ripped it out of mid air from the Raiders… I finally found someone in my life who I cared about deeply and was given the same in return. I had finally grown up. Everything else was immature. Now I was ready to love real. I was ready to be loved. It’s time to put some points on the board, but wait, just when I throw a pass into the air, Interception. It wasn’t meant to be. Doesn’t matter how bad you want something, if that dream is intercepted, you lose possession. It’s just not my turn anymore. I’ve thrown plenty of interceptions recently, that I wish I could have back, but we can’t turn back time. We can only wait for our next chance. I’ve done that consistently. I have held on for another set of downs. I’ve waited to have another chance, only to throw another interception. Suddenly, I know why I like the Raiders so much, They are who I am. After so many turnovers and no score on the board, I feel like I have lost this game.

It’s a good thing life isn’t played in a single game. This week the Raiders have a bye week and will have some time to prepare for their next game. I don’t know if I’ll ever get a bye week, but I could sure use some rest. My heart hurts, both literally and figuratively and rest may be needed to prepare for future games. Why still play? Because I know that while I’m here, I can always suit up again and keep taking the field with the intent to win. I don’t just want to score. I want to win – not just one game. I want it all. I want the championship. Maybe my interceptions have displaced me temporarily from the dreams and goals I have in life, but I can’t give up. There is a championship on the line. I want to win it. I need to win it. I deserve it. I’ve played hard. I’ve been focused. Maybe I’ve been a little unprepared at times, but I’ve been focused. Please, please, please.. let me win. I don’t want to lose anymore.

Building Others…

These kids built bears for children in a hospital. The story seems simple enough, but I learned a great deal from them and the service they provided to society that day.

A couple of weeks ago I was at the mall in Charleston when I ran into a group who were working together at the Build-A-Bear store. The group was mostly middle school age children and there were several adults with them. They were making stuffed animals and dressing them. I originally assumed the group was having a birthday party or something. I went into the store and began talking to one of the guys working with the group and he told me he belonged to a church group. He said the group he was with was a Sunday School class that had recently learned a lesson about giving without receiving a reward. He said the group had put together a plan to do that with the help of the Build-A-Bear store. The plan was for the group to make stuffed animals to send to kids at the Children’s Hospital in Cincinnati. That in itself was touching enough, but the man went on to explain that he has a young family member who regularly makes visits to the hospital because he was badly burned in a house fire when he was younger. These kids were wanting to help people like this. What a wonderful plan.

I immediately fell in love with the group and called the local newspaper in Charleston to ask them to provide a reporter for the story. The story was no good for me because, even though I was a reporter, the story was not related to my area in any way. Still, I thought these kids deserved to be recognized for what they were doing. I was told that the newspaper’s reporter was on assignment already and they didn’t have anyone else to send on a Sunday so I enthusiastically asked if I could write the story for them. I told them I am not interested in money for writing the story, all I wanted is the satisfaction of bringing recognition to the kids who were building these stuffed animals. I was given an okay and I began to write the story. It would later be the most wide spread story I would ever write. The newspaper’s circulation well exceeded any of the newspapers I had written for before. I felt kind of special. More importantly, I felt like I had made these kids feel special. If my name had not have been on the story, I would have still been happy that it ran. They deserved to be recognized.

Why was I so intrigued by the story of these kids? I’ll tell you why. These kids were not only building bears that day. They were building others. They were creating something that was going to place a smile on the face of a kid in the hospital. They may not ever get the chance to meet the children they are helping, but they are doing it. It’s not about a reward for them. It is about sharing love with someone who is in an undesirable situation. It makes me feel good to know that there are people who would go out of their way to make the day of another. I’m glad to know that there are those who want to build someone up even when they are down. We should all learn a lesson from these kids. We should all learn to work for the people who need it most. It isn’t only about ourselves. This life is also about serving others. I’m glad I ran into these kids at the Build-A-Bear store in Charleston. I’m glad I was able to write a story about them. They deserve to be recognized. We could all learn a lesson from these kids. I learned a valuable one that hasn’t stopped teaching me yet.

Accidental Arrival…

I went to the Reds/Indians game over the fourth of July weekend with my girlfriend. My girlfriend is from Cleveland and has always been an Indians fan so when the game ended with the score of 8-2 in favor of the Indians, I thought that my night had gotten even better. We watched the post-game fireworks show and then headed out on our long journey back to my house in McArthur – a two and a half hour trip. I have only been to Cincinnati a few times, so I am not very familiar with the proper navigation to get back on the highway that will get me back home quickly. All we had to rely on was her gps and other Ohio license plates that were on the road ahead of us. I’m not sure if any of you guys have ever tried to drive in unfamiliar territory with a woman who wants to get somewhere, but it can be an unpleasant situation if you don’t get her to where she wants to go and quickly. For her the destination was Steak-N-Shake. Trying to rely on the gps to get on the right road and Google Maps for the nearest Steak-N-Shake, we ended up going several miles off the correct route and deeper into unfamiliar territory. The great night was turning into a nightmare rather quickly for both of us.

After spending a while on the wrong route we decided that Steak-N-Shake was out of the question. We agreed that by the time we arrived at the next one, we wouldn’t be hungry enough to eat. Instead we would be ready to lay our heads on a pillow and go to sleep. It was already late and we still had a long ride ahead of us. We were discouraged and hungry, but we were headed home. I decided that the gps was going to take me home regardless of whether or not I knew the route so I figured that I would just follow it home and quite trying to get back to a road I was more familiar with. I took the first exit I saw so I could grab a  somewhere to go and get back home on the alternate route that had been given to us. Even though a decision had been made on which way we would get back home, I couldn’t help but wish I were in the passenger seat. It’s never fun to get lost, especially if getting lost is affecting the person in your passenger seat too. Both of us were hungry and irritated at the way the night was turning out to be. Even though we wanted Steak-N-Shake, we gave up on food. We just wanted to get back.

Shortly after I had taken the exit, in the midst of our discussion about dropping the idea of food, my girlfriend started laughing. I wasn’t sure what she was laughing about, but I wasn’t in the mood to laugh. I just wanted to get home. I looked up and what did I see directly ahead? A sign for Steak-N-Shake. It wasn’t the same Steak-N-Shake we had planned to drive to, but it was a Steak-N-Shake nonetheless. We were both instantly revived from our bad moods. We still had a more than two hour trip ahead of us, but we had just arrived at one of our destinations, one we had thought we were going to miss. It was very amazing to me that we would arrive at a Steak-N-Shake after I had intentionally ignored a few of the turns the gps told me to take and I finally decided to take it’s advice. When I did, I reached my destination.

While this story is amusing to me, and may be to the readers of this blog, it also gives a very real representation of what many of us experience every day in our own personal walk in life. Many of us start with a strategic plan to reach a specific destination in life. With time these plans change for most of us. None of us can control what will happen in our lives from one day to the next. Some of us even give up and decide that we may never reach the place in life that we wanted to go. I found out over the weekend that there is still hope even when you are lost. You may not even know the way, but you can still find your destination. We had given up on Google. We gave up on the gps. All we had was a general idea on how to get home. What we found was even better. We found the only thing that either of us really wanted that night. It wasn’t the food. It was a working plan. We all have hope. Keep your head up as you walk through this life. It doesn’t matter how lost you may think you are in life, your accidental arrival could come any minute. You might be one exit away from reaching it. Don’t give up. Keep going. You might not be lost at all.

Coloring Outside the Lines…

I don’t really remember at what point in my life I began to properly color a picture and stay inside the lines.  I know that as a child I must have colored all over whatever picture I was working on.  We all have.  In watching my own children, I have noticed that, as they mature and get a little older, their pictures have become more precise.  They have gotten better at coloring inside the lines.  I do remember in school that some of the children were better artists than others.  Even though we all began the same and all improved our ability to stay inside the lines, some became masters of their artistic ability.  While some were creating what seemed like a masterpiece for the parents refrigerator door, others were doing their best to just keep their crayon inside the lines on the page.

As an adult I feel like i still suffer with this battle.  I have never learned to create a masterpiece.  My whole life has been a struggle to keep it between the lines.  From the time I was young I have wanted to paint a beautiful picture of what I felt like life should be.  Unfortunately I am not a very good artist, at least not in creating the portrait of my life.  I struggle every day to stay inside the lines and not destroy the good that I do have.  In the same way that a little child wants to present the picture he colored in class to his parents when he gets home from school, I also want to present the most beautiful picture for the people I love.  I want to give my children, my family and my friends a masterpiece.  I want them to be proud, but I cannot paint.  Even as a journalist, I want to create a masterpiece for those who read my stories.  I want to present a beautiful piece of artwork, still, I struggle.

One day my kids will grow up.  They will have a life of their own.  Have I colored the picture of them the best way I possibly can to provide a promising future?  Have I stayed between the line enough to build on my relationship and create a masterpiece that will forever be cherished?  We can’t all be great artists, but is what little I can do enough?

I am going to try my best to simply keep it between the lines in this life.  I hope no one expects a masterpiece.  Maybe in the future I will be able to create stand out work.  Right now, It is more than a full-time job to keep everything between the lines.  Maybe you have struggled with this as well.  We all want a masterpiece.  Many of us fall short.  I feel like I couldn’t ask for better people to be in my life.  I can only hope I live up to offering back to them what they have given to me.  I want to give you all a masterpiece you will never forget.  I’m going to keep it between the lines.