Everyday Greatness For Everyone

28 10 2009

everyday_greatness_coveyI don’t know if its the mid-life crisis thing or not, but I’ve been dwelling a lot on what real impact my life is having in this world. Am I all that I should be or could be? Is “greatness” achievable for me? What is greatness, after all? In lieu of being able to afford a new sports car, I guess my crisis and the unanswered questions are all I’ve got.

We tend to over-label greatness in our world. We throw the word out on so many cheap things that the truly great things of life get ignored. Those things are, after all, the little things, the EVERYDAY things that ordinary people do when they make choices to be and do something extraordinary. These moments may or may not be immediately recognized or honored as great, because the world is often looking for other kinds of stuff on which to place the label.  In the end, however, when the smoke clears and the label-maker is broken, it is these stories that will stick with us.

That is exactly what Stephen Covey is doing in his book, Everyday Greatness. He is compiling a collection of stories that reveal hidden greatness and ask us to make choices in our own lives that will push us toward the same. The stories are all compiled from that trusted pile-o’-goodness The Reader’s Digest, and each chapter has several stories that relate to one attribute/characteristic/action that Covey reminds us is a facet of true greatness in our lives. Chapter subjects include responsibility, courage, integrity, gratitude, vision, respect, empathy, perseverance, balance, and simplicity, among others. Each chapter also comes with great quotes (and I love quotes) as well as insights and commentary from Covey to draw the point for us in a practical way.

The book is not a “read-through” kind of book so much as it is a “I-have-a-quiet-moment-to-read” kind of book. The stories are short but poignant and provide us with big things to consider in a brief moment of respite. The book as a whole is humorous, sad, moving, and inspirational – a Reader’s Digest on steroids. As such, it is a great collection that reminds us (even us in our mid-life crises) that greatness is often overlooked in the actions and choices of everyday people just like us, and so we all have the opportunity to live greatly.


This Blog Is On the “House”

21 10 2009

Dr. HouseJust wanted to take a moment to put in a word for what is one of the best shows on TV. “House,” airing on Monday nights on Fox at 7pm has for a few years now been must-see TV for me. Admittedly, the “storefront story” is usually the same – bizarre medical puzzle stumping genius doctors for approximately 50 minutes until a completely unrelated and innocent statement is made which magically reveals that the condition is not the incurable disease once thought but is instead the fact that the patient got a splinter from a rare African wood imported to the US and handled by a guy who sneezed on it and kept it in his house for a while to let his dog with mange defecate on it resulting in a deadly toxin that has created a multitide of symptoms which on any other occasion would look like an auto-immune disease ravaging the body when it simply requires 3 doses of Nyquil and a roll of cherry lifesavers to chase it from the bloodstream. That part of the show is always a bit predictable, but interesting if you like the medical mystery thing; still, it is hardly the most interesting and poignant part of the show.

On the second level of the story-telling is the character (or lack thereof) development of those on the show. These are people with complex pasts, complicated relationships, all kinds of psychoses, neuroses, and just wads of life-stink. These people are flawed beyond imagination, just like every other real group of people in the world. The writers didn’t even provide us with a “foil,” some archetype of perfection to stand over and against all these pathetes running around in the sewers of their own devices. It’s just a bunch of broken people doctoring up broken people. Still, as engaging as I find these characters, this is not the most powerful part of the show.

“House,” more than any other show I am aware of, overtly wrestles with the questions of God  – if he’s really there, who He is, how He works, and all those things that we ask deep down and deny publicly that we would ask such things. Meanwhile, the world around and outside the church find no shame in asking them, and “House” is evidence of that.

House, the character, is staunchly atheistic (or so it seems), yet the show itself often allows for “mysteries” that House insists can be explained scientifically but which are more suited to the realm of the supernatural. Some of the most honest, open, and important questions about God are being asked on that show almost weekly – questions I don’t always hear so often from “church-people” on Sundays. This season has presented moral, ethical, and eternal questions on the value of life (the evil ones, not just the innocent), the measure of wealth against family, and how to live and relate in light of an oncoming and certain day of death – just to name a few.

If you are not a “House”-watcher, you are missing what I think is an important conversation by the world around us about God, life, morality, relationships, and perspective. Admittedly, the answers provided by the characters are not satisfying or pretty or pleasant to see or within a Christian worldview. There is adult content, language, and elements with which some Christians may be quite uncomfortable. It is not a show for the faint of heart or those weak in discernment or those who want to continue living in a safe “God-bubble” secluded from the issues and questions in our culture. However, I believe that we would be remiss to not hear and be able to engage the questions about God our world is (and we are) asking. “House” is a pretty scary, often uncomfortable, and yet somehow refreshing place to hear them.

Nose Hair and Paradise Lost

13 10 2009

Now that I am 40, life at this age occasionally drops some perspectives on me that slipped by me in my youth. One, of course, is that a person really does require at least 7 or 8 hours of sleep at night (who’da thunk it?). Another is that red meat, carbohydrates, Mountain Dew, and gummi-worms actually do not constitute a balanced diet and  – after a period of concentrated abuse – will generally make you feel like you’re sporting a hangover while being hit by a truck. But the one that is becoming more and more real to me with each passing year is that the unsung and hidden curse of Adam’s fall in the garden is that wild, aggressive, and annoying species,  folliculus probiscus, commonly referred to as the common nose hair.nose hair

I don’t know if any studies have been conducted on this particular subject, but I believe it could be shown that the nose hair is the fastest growing carbon-based entity in the known universe. A hair can spring forth within one’s nostril and span a lifetime from larval stage to fully mature hairdom during the morning commute. What’s worse, as these hairs grow they seemed to have naturally evolved into the ability to find the nearest inside edge of the nostril and place the hair tip just up against it so as to make it itch ever so slightly – just enough to assure that as you have a face-to-face conversation with someone you make every possible facial contortion to assuage the misery of the itch even as you wonder if there’s not a ginormous hair that has emerged and begun growing like Jack’s Beanstalk toward your upper lip during the last sentence. All the while, you’re trying hard to smile and actually listen to the other person, but your mind can’t help but drift toward the intolerable torment of what this person is thinking about the coaxial cable hanging from the left orifice in your nasal construct which you remember had a lot of goo in it earlier (is that being revealed as well?) even as  you make every effort humanly possible not to move your hand to your nose thereby drawing attention to the protruding monstrosity with its residual goo and suggesting to this now bothersome conversationalist who will not shut up that you are – in fact – a habitual picker. Can you imagine what this person will be posting on twitter and facebook later about this horrific experience?

Or scenario two – the attack of that one relentless hair that has apparently been growing from the dawn of time, rooted in your medulla oblongata, bearing the diameter of a #2 pencil, and – against all advice from Poltergeist’s Tangina  – is “going to the light” found out the front of your face while you innocently drive your vehicle. images-2While you think there is a possibility your car is a buffer zone of safety against detection by others of you actually reaching to your nose to attempt to clear the intruder that is suddenly making you a mouth-breather, you come upon a traffic standstill or a redlight, temporarily barring you from the pluck of freedom because you know you will have to reach deep enough with both thumb and forefinger to bring nostril distortion in order to rip this demon seed from its bed of torment somewhere within the gray matter that has illegitimately spawned it. So you fake the “I’m reaching for something in my opposite floorboard while I’m stopped” deal and you try the 1 in 100 shot of the quick snatch-and-pull, only to hear the people behind honking now that traffic has begun to move and to sit up quickly in your seat to realize you have pulled out several of the little tiny worker hairs that have just been birthed in order to guard and protect the queen. This, of course, hurts like a compound fracture of the femur, your eyes begin watering and prevent you from being able to see where you are driving, and you begin a sneezing fit previously unknown to humanity as your body tries to expel the foreign invaders it doesn’t recognize as its own digits because they are where they simply not wanted.

I, of course, could go on with scenario after scenario, but I must spare those of you who are faint of heart. Also, I must speak to pollyanna optimists who assure me that the nose hair is not part of our curse, but a gift from God designed to keep foreign invaders such as dust, dirt, germs, insects, small rodents, etc. from entering our bodies through our nasal passages. Let me remind you, however, you naive little glass-half-full non-thinkers that if Paradise was all we crack it up to be, there would have been no need to protect us from getting sick and therefore no need for these bearskin rugs layered inside the walls of this delicate sensory organ that God originally only intended to allow me the pleasure of smelling brownies baking, wood burning, my wife’s hair, my baby’s post-bath lotioned body, Vicks Vaporub, magic markers (the really good kind), and gasoline … oh, but I digress.

Oh yeah, don’t give me the nose hair trimmer thing. We don’t have time for the discussion about those no-good tools of Satan. Let’s face it, we are subject to this body of death until glory comes. What I can’t imagine is being a Hindu and having my goal to reincarnate as a cow – have you seen the nose hairs on those guys ? And you know getting the hoof in there has to be much more challenging in the long run.

nosehairThey tell me I will soon expand my hair experiences to the ear canal. I can’t wait. Thanks, Adam and Eve. Not only do I have to mow the lawn by the sweat of my brow, I have to mow my face.

Remembering 9/11

11 09 2009


Regardless of your politics or feelings about wars and rumors of wars, I believe the events of 9/11/2001 generate common emotions in us all. I’m sure we all remember that day, where we were, and our promise to never forget. Today, 8 years later, a friend of the left-brained artist blog has a great posting on his site that includes memories of that day from several people. I wanted to provide you with a link so that all of us can keep that promise we made.

http://broadwaydave.blogspot.com or click on  “Clouds in My Coffee” in my links to the right

“Fearless” Typical Lucado

8 09 2009

Fear (and fear-mongering) is a huge business in our world. Governments, media outlets, and – yes – even a good percentage of churches peddle fear of all kinds. Into this fray steps Max Lucado with his new book, “Fearless,” with the subtitle promising a chance to “Imagine your life without fear.” Sounds like a pretty good idea.

Lucado uses specific verse references and his story-telling exposition of Biblical narrative to offer reasons we shouldn’t fear anything from the practical issues of our day such as catastrophe, violence, failing to protect our kids, and economic devastation to the philosophical fears of life that doesn’t matter, life that disappoints God, or life that ends with nothing after. His writing is always accessible, pleasant, honest, insightful, and inspirational. That is why he is such a popular author. He has a familiar kind of style, answering your questions – not with statements – but with stories and illustrations that bring you to answers alongside him. He is not preachy, and he is Biblically sound.

I must admit I’ve never been a huge Lucado-guy. It just feels in the end to be a little too sugary and trite. Like a Snickers bar for lunch, it meets the immediate need but doesn’t really have long-lasting effects. I know he did not set out to develop a theological treatise; he wants to be pastoral and inspirational. Still, if the goal of this book is to eradicate fear from your life completely, I think the answers here are little too close to the surface. There’s not much new here, not much life-altering; it’s just re-packaged in better stories.

If you’re a Lucado fan, this will be exactly what you expect, want, and love about him. If you’re not, this book probably won’t change your mind. It’s more of the same from the author. I don’t think these insights will or can accomplish something so elusive as a “life without fear;” however, if you can use these truths as stuff to help you in these battles we all face, you will have used this book well.

Your Mistake is Mistaken

7 09 2009

Okay. That’s it. Proverbial straw and camel’s back and stuff.

I’m admittedly a little bit obsessive about this, but, at some point, SOMEONE has to draw the line. Are we just gonna let this stuff go on forever?

To get to the point, I have been amazed at the ever-widening meaning for the term “mistake.” It simply doesn’t seem that words have any real meaning anymore, no way of keeping words in categories so we can actually communicate from a common understanding. Apparently, even our Presidents aren’t sure what the definition of “is” is anymore. Now, in our 24/7 media-driven world, our constant over-exposure to and over-analysis of political scandal, athletes “being athletes,” and celebrities being drug-induced idiots, we apparently have lost the depth and the meaning of the term “mistake.”

When a politican gets caught in the middle of an international sex-scandal, he cries and apologizes for his “mistake.” When a “czar” in the present administration signs his name to a document asking for investigations into the former administration’s role in allowing 9/11 to occur in order to justify military action, he issues an apology for the “mistake.” When an athlete tortures and kills dogs for years but wants to have the privilege to play again (and make millions of dollars), he apologizes for his “mistakes.” When celebrities of any ilk do anything that ranges from the bizarre to the stupid to even the inhumane, they depend on the blind, forgiving culture of America to overlook their “mistakes” and let them back into the unrealistic lives they lead making more money in a week than the average American makes in a year.

Before you get really uncomfortable, my issue here is not whether or not we should be so forgiving. That is another blog altogether. This is about the subtle way we blur the lines of word definitions to allow us to act as we want with as little responsibility as possible.

If I call the wrong number, that’s a mistake. If I neglect to set the alarm clock, that’s a mistake. Should I forget to stop by the store on my way home to pick up the milk my wife needs, that’s a mistake (and a deadly one at that). Mistake doesn’t necessarily exclude severity, but it should have to do somewhat with the absence of volition. I am not choosing to call the wrong number. I am not choosing to leave the alarm off (well, not always). I am not choosing to forget to stop by the store, for why would I choose to pile marital misery upon myself?

Repeated, intentional actions are not “mistakes.” They are choices. Stupid choices. Bad choices. Sinful choices. They require more than just an “I made a mistake” like it’s a craft project in elementary school; they require repentance, and they bring consequences. If we can turn a DUI and manslaughter into a mistake, maybe consequences can be avoided. If we can turn sexual irresponsibility into a mistake, maybe we can escape unscathed. After all, what consequences does the guy who forgets the milk have to suffer? (Oh, if you only knew, grasshopper)

Some actual mistakes can be terrible. They may carry some repercussions that are harsh and costly. Again, it’s not an issue of severity. Neither is it an issue of  a one-time or repeated event. You can repeat mistakes, and you can “one-time” sin. The issue, for the sake of us defining words, is volition. Am I consciously choosing to act in a way that is wrong?

Then don’t cry “mistake.” You’d be mistaken.

Soapbox dismounted.

I Feel A Bit Flushed

28 08 2009

click pic for info link

Okay. I have just finished Jay Robb’s “3-day Fruit Flush Detox.” The prospect on the front end was to lose “up to 9 pounds in 3 days,” which usually means 1 person at some point somehow lost 9 pounds while doing this thing (results not typical, your results may vary because they also ran a marathon every day after working in construction for 8 hours in the sun), while everyone else lose on average about 1.239 pounds. Still, I figured it was worth the try because, weight loss aside, I often feel run-down, fatigued, and generally like a pile of poo. The detox part promised to help cleanse my organs, to make me feel better, to make my children respectful and obedient, to heal the blind, and restore order to the republic through the once-lost offspring of the Empire’s Dark Lord.

Anyway, for those of you unfamiliar with the flush/detox process via the fruits, I am using this forum to record my experience for the expansion of your knowledge and discernment about your involvement in said flushing.

First, no coffee, no sodas, no caffeine. Hint: these are much of the things that we are trying to remove from our toxic bodies.  We are going to use protein and fruit to restore our bodies to Eden-ish status. Drinking soda is drinking death unto yourself and banishment from this beautiful garden now guarded by the archangel Renal with the flaming sword of kidney failure. I, being the man that I am, thought 3 days without caffeine would not be a big deal. Lesson learned.

Day 1 of my adventure – Protein day

The idea of a “protein day” always sounds good to a meat/potatoes guy like me. People have been trying to get me to consume green, leafy garbage all my life. Now I get to say, “no thank you, it’s protein day” with a smile on my face and visions of steak and eggs for breakfast, hamburger for lunch, and (because this is a health thing after all) a nice piece of Bourbon Salmon for dinner. I could even  do without the potatoes because I am putting my body’s health over my base human desires. I am denying myself for the greater good. I am awesome.

Then reality hits. Protein day is an 8-oz protein shake every 2 hours, culminating in a raw vegetable salad and 3-6 oz. piece of lean meat for dinner. (3 to 6 ozs.? Is that even considered a piece of meat?)

As the day went on and all I had consumed was protein shakes, I must say that 3-6 ozs. of actual meat sounded more and more like a bliss I had not known as a human. I began to imagine what delectable piece of meat my wife would be treating me to at the end of my long work day and as a reward for my stringent self-denial worthy of record in the halls of heaven. When I arrived at my humble abode, my wife had “misinterpreted” what was supposed to happen. She thought the meat was supposed to go on the salad, not on the plate. So, had stopped to pick up some thin-sliced deli chicken.

WHAT? I have starved all day on a liquid protein shake-a-palooza, anticipating actual food for dinner, and I get a raw spinach salad covered in olive oil and lime juice with a 3-6 oz pile of cold thin-sliced deli chicken?  The only thing that keeps me from caving immediately is the anticipation that I get to actually eat during the day tomorrow. Go to bed hungry. And by hungry, I , of course, mean ready to eat my dog.

Day 2 – Fruit day version 1

I like fruit. A lot. And by a lot, I mean a lot of fruit. Incidentally, Jay doesn’t give fruit generously on this plan. I get one serving of fruit every two hours. 1 banana or 2 medium apples or 15-18 grapes or 2 grapefruit or some other relatively meaningless amount of food that simply teases your body (whose hunger from day 1 is like compounding interest on a million dollars).

Middle of day 2 – fading fast – vision blurring – I am in purgatory – at point of rich man in Lazarus story – “if only someone could come over from the other side of the food consumption chasm and give me but a small piece of their  steak grisle.” But Jay Robb stands on the other side and reminds me that I have often laughed condescendingly before at dieters while placing high-fat content Ribeye into my mouth, so no grisle is forthcoming. “Eat your fruit and suffer with your caffeine and fried food deprivation headache you toxin-filled wretch worthy of the flames of the fruit-flush abyss.” Dinner is another spinach salad and – tonight in place of my pile of deli chicken-  I get a protein shake. I fall asleep in the midst of my hunger pangs simply because my body can no longer be conscious. I want to die.

Day 3 – Fruit day version 2

Actually feel better today and not as hungry as yesterday, I think because body is either giving up hope that I will feed it ever again or because it’s trying to fool me into thinking that the detox has already worked and there’s no need to go on with it any further. I press on, thinking I can make one more day. All day, I feel okay. Still hungry, but keeping myself busy to ward off the awareness. Dinner is salad and protein drink. Will not eat spinach salad for quite a long time after this is over. Only sheer human will power (the kind I don’t have) is helping me hold on. Just a few more hours … a few more hours. Go to sleep and awake to a brand new day.

The Day After

Today, I feel pretty good. I go to the scale to see what happened. I have lost 7 pounds. Not bad. And I actually cut OUT exercise for these three days. It’s amazing what starvation can do for your body weight. I’m actually considering NOT drinking coffee with breakfast this morning. Don’t know why but I think it may be related to not wanting to feel bad again so soon. I scramble some eggs add throw some cheese on them. Ashley has fixed biscuits. Even have 15-18 grapes with that for old times sake.

All in all, I would not use the word enjoyable – “survivable” is about as far as I would lean. I have no way of knowing if my liver is praising me with shiny, fresh teeth and good breath, but I actually do feel pretty good. Maybe I should alter my normal eating practices somewhat if this is for real, although I’m sure that feeling will pass as soon as I have some deep-fried chicken wings and pizza for lunch.

It’s not for the faint of heart, but it seems to work well as far as a weight loss jump start and helping that “blah” feeling go away in the end.

Thanks Jay?! (and yes, both the question mark and exclamation point are necessary)