Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Fending off Demons

This Friday a couple friends and I will be watching the 100th PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis, Missouri. It's one of golf's four major championships and the season's final major. We'll be there for round two cuts, which means the entire field will be in full swing. At the end of the day, the top 70 players, including ties, make the cut and finish out the tourney on Saturday and Sunday.

As this particular PGA Championship is a milestone, the Gateway City was lucky to land it. On hand will be those upper-echelon players who consistently breathe the rarified ether found at the game's top tiers. Guys like Bubba Watson, Sergio Garcia, Vijay Singh, and Ricky Fowler will be there. Also playing in St. Louis are household names like Jordan Spieth, Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods, and that other guy we may have all but forgotten: John Daly.

Remember him? He's the dude with a penchant for cocktails, a flair for drama, and twitchy fingers at the slot machines. Though his lifestyle seems to have mellowed in the last few years, he's still a colorful character. Thing is, we're gonna to have to get there early to see him at the opening tee. He begins at 7:34 a.m. Nevertheless, I hope to seem him launch one of those trademark boomers that propelled him to 18 pro tour wins.

Daly brings to mind one of the things I really like about golf, and that's the commitment you must have to get good and stay good. The game demands constant attention. Like a virtuoso instrumentalist, top-notch players have devoted the lion's share of their lives to their craft: scrutinizing tee-offs, analyzing bunker play, honing fairway shots, laboring over every nuance of their putting game and, perhaps, most importantly -- like Daly -- fending off their demons.

We all have things that trip us up.

What do you do to steer clear of those landmines that would derail you or run your ship aground? How do you handle the unexpected occurrence/appearance of some pet sin that always seems to satisfy -- and then leave you ... empty?

You can pass along your tips of wisdom by clicking here and telling us about it.

P.S. And if you've got a way to cure a slice, we'd like to hear that, too.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Happily, Ever After?

I enjoyed fairy tales when I was young. I don't think I'm alone in this because those same stories continue to be passed on from generation to generation -- even turned into TV shows and feature films. Why so popular? Because in the end they all live happily, ever after. But experience teaches us that's not how real life works. Throughout our lives we will continue to struggle with various problems: sorrow and heartbreak, financial struggles, relationship problems, sickness and, finally, death. Whatever we may have thought as kids, fairy tales don't come true.

Or do they?

When I was a senior in high school, I wondered about life after high school. It seemed a distant land full of promise: no more term papers, no more daily assignments, no more rules and regulations, no more curfews.

But I soon discovered life after high school was work, and rush-hour traffic, bills, and uncertainties. Then came college and a whole new set of hurdles to jump. Each time I crossed a threshold from one phase to another, I've found the new phase was never quite as golden as I thought it would be. Finishing college, taking my first job, watching my bride walk down the aisle, hearing the doctor say the baby is on his way -- those new phases are full of promise and joy, but they aren't happily, ever after, are they?

I expect the same thing will be true going forward if, God willing, I see retirement and the later years of my life. Each phase will have plenty of troubles, trials, tears, and frustrations of its own.

So, the fairy-tale ending is not realistic, at least not for this life. But what if we step back and look at the larger picture? What happens after death?

The night before Jesus died, He made a fairy-tale-like promise to His disciples -- and to each of us. "In My Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also" (John 14:2-3).

God the Father is our Heavenly King. Jesus Christ is His Son, our Prince Charming. All of us as believers are the Cinderellas He raises from the dust to live with Him in His Kingdom.

On Judgment Day Jesus will return to take us home, and then with glorified bodies, we will live happily ever after in our Heavenly Father's house.

So, when you think about it, your life really is a fairy tale. We just won't get to that happily-ever-after part until Jesus returns to take us home. I think Paul had that fairy-tale ending in mind when he wrote, "I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us" (Romans 8:18).

A fairy-tale ending ... that's not quite what we expect from this life, is it?

It seems knowing the end would make the journey we're on now all the more satisfying. Maybe that's where we step out in faith and let God do what He would with our lives.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Is It Just Me?

Over the years, I've become pretty cynical about what I read, watch, and hear. I do not believe there is such a thing as "unbiased" media. In today's world most media conveys a specific point of view, agenda, or call to action. The same "news" story reported on five different channels will offer five different conclusions. Corporations and governments alike employ a cadre of media specialists to provide "spin," so their point of view is portrayed as fact.

Over the years, I've looked for the "So what?" in what I hear, see, or read -- especially in the media.

I define the "So what?" as an action or attitude that the author wishes me to adopt.

For example, when watching a car commercial, the "So what?" is that I be moved to purchase that vehicle. Those "So whats?" are easy to spot.

When I watch a movie or TV show, the "So what?" may be a little harder to find, but it's still there. For example, any TV show that involves "ordinary" people singing, dancing, or performing has the "So what?" that each of us are talented, capable, and have an opportunity to win millions of dollars.

Ads promoting the lottery offer the "So what?" that you will be a hero to school kids as you spend your money on the lottery, which funds education. Some of these ads leave me feeling as if I am a terrible person who hates kids if I don't plunk down my dollars for them -- at least once in a while.

Now some of you may be saying to yourself, "So what?"

The "So what?" I want you to think about is to become a critical consumer of media. Too often we accept most everything we hear or read without thinking objectively about it. We buy into the mindset that "If it's on the internet, on the national news, or in the newspaper, then it must be true ... at least mostly." This also applies to hearing it from "live" sources as when we wholesale accept something because we heard it from a friend or family member. Suffice it to say, critical thinking should accompany us wherever we go.

As for me, I read the fine print, look for the angles, and will not send money to Africa because someone died and named me in his will.

This whole critical-thinking thing is something worthwhile to pass along to the next generation, too. The world's awash in hyperbole and trivial nonsense, and it's targeted (as it has been for years) at the very young as well. For young and impressionable minds, the world is full of choices like never before. Some are of value; many are not, and it's a huge help if by our input and experience we can help them see the difference.

As any guy knows, one priceless benefit that comes with age is the lesson gained from our hard-won experience. But let's not let these life-changing gems remain with us. Be sure to pass them on when you get a chance, but do so tactfully, in small, steady doses. As we all know, it's good medicine for those who hear it, but for some it may be hard to swallow.

When was the last time you heard something that made you ask, "So what?"?

You can let us know by clicking here.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

People Tend to Forget

We'll be celebrating the Fourth of July next week Wednesday, and with it will come all the parades, barbecues, gatherings of family and friends and, of course, fireworks.

The Fourth of July was always fun when I was growing up. In Chicago we'd often go downtown to the lakefront and watch the fireworks. There'd be crowds of people all along the water, up and down Michigan Avenue, lounging around in Grant Park, enjoying Buckingham Fountain, and pretty much all over the joint. There were street-vendor hotdogs ("red hots"), magnificent burgers, loads of junk food, and plenty to drink.

It was a good time.

Of course, in the end it was all about the fireworks. After the sun set, we'd watch the sky slowly transform from light blue to black. With a rousing background of live orchestral music to properly introduce the forthcoming display, the first shell was sent ripping through the sky. More followed, each with its distinctive display of colors and patterns. Pretty soon it was an all-out barrage. As the shells blasted off into the sky and burst into brilliant colors, smiles would break over our faces, as we gawked and groaned at the fusillade taking place overhead. In between the blasts of vibrant hues, there was the occasional shell that spun its way into the air and then, with a pregnant pause, would boom louder than the rest. Suddenly, its shock wave would reverberate through our bodies.

For some, those were a little too close to home.

A few years have gone by since those Fourth of July days. Now when I watch those flashes of color and feel the shell's explosive vibrations, I find my thoughts turning to my oldest brother, and to my father. My brother did two tours in Vietnam with the Marine Corps. His military career, like my Dad's time with the Navy in World War II, was one that put him in the thick of it at times, with all the gut-wrenching spectacle that involves. For servicemen and women everywhere, the Fourth of July's "rockets' red glare" carries real meaning. As we enjoy the celebration of our nation's independence, others may recall different times -- harrowing times of terror and uncertainty -- that they would just as soon forget.

Let us remember them as we applaud our nation's independence this Fourth of July and give thanks for the courage of our servicemen and servicewomen throughout the world. If you have a veteran or active military person in your orbit next Wednesday, be sure to let them know their service is appreciated.

Any fond or poignant recollections from the Fourth of July you'd like to pass along? If so, please click here and share your thoughts.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

When Right Now Seems Like All There Is

In his youth there wasn't much room for God. He was far too busy thinking about this life -- his goals, dreams, and aspirations. He was preoccupied with getting ahead. That didn't leave much room for sympathy either. It's pretty hard to put yourself in someone else's shoes if all you can think of is yourself. He brashly did whatever came to mind, without giving any thought to the fallout that would result.

I could be talking about many young men -- myself included. But I'm thinking of Jacob from the Bible. When his older brother Esau was famished from his work in the fields, Jacob saw his chance to steal the birthright: i.e. all the rights and privileges that belonged to the firstborn. For a bowl of stew, he tricked Esau out of that precious birthright. (Of course, that shows Esau didn't give much thought to the future, thoughtlessly trading away the honor of carrying on the line that would lead to the promised Savior, Jesus Christ.) But hey, when you're hungry, you're hungry.

Some time passed, and Jacob and Esau's dad Isaac thought he was going to die. So he sent Esau, his favorite, to hunt and prepare a special meal. Afterwards, he would pass on his blessing to his son. The problem was he didn't realize his wife Rebekah was listening in. She knew God had chosen Jacob, so she told Jacob to dress as Esau and trick his nearly blind father to get the blessing instead. Jacob was a natural-born deceiver, but he was also shrewd, too. Sure, he had a lot to gain if he could secure that blessing, but if Isaac saw through the deception he'd earn a curse, instead of a blessing. Mom insisted, however, and Jacob went along.

The problem was neither of them was thinking things through. The trickery might work in that moment, but eventually Esau was going to come in with the meal. Soon enough Isaac would learn he had been duped by Jacob. But mom Rebekah insists, and Jacob gets his father's blessing, with the reward of having to flee for his life when Esau is furious enough to kill him. This ends with Jacob spending 20 years away from his family as a result, during which time his mother dies.

How often do we shipwreck our lives with foolish decisions, rash words, or perverse actions when we're young? God dedicated the much of the book of Proverbs in the Bible to young men, warning us of the many booby traps, snares, and pitfalls our youthful desires can lead us into. Wise is the young man who trusts God's Word and resists those lusts and passions with God's help.

But the story of Jacob (Genesis 25-49) is the story of God's renewal, even when we have shipwrecked our lives. Jacob was in the middle of his flight from Esau when God appeared to him in a dream. Suddenly, the God he had never given much thought to was important to him. As Jacob became the victim of dishonesty and selfish deception from his Uncle Laban, with whom he spent those 20 years, he learned God was the only One he could rely on. He was Jacob's only help and rescue when 20 years later he returned to his brother Esau.

God created us to love and serve Him as we care for one another. Our sin makes us selfish, faithless, and reckless, but God faithfully, persistently, seeks us out, offering forgiveness and complete restoration. Through the perfect obedience of Jesus, our Lord, which included suffering the punishment for all our sins on the cross, we have a new life waiting for us.

What is the story of your life? Have you seen God's hand in it through the years? Have you been able to dodge a few disasters by leaning on His Word -- trusting and being patient when all your senses urged you to go rushing forward?

You can click here and share your experience and reflections.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Default Thinking

I was thinking about all the tiffs between people that, seemingly, have no end. Sometimes even finding the origin of the dispute is an exercise in futility. What happens at the human micro-level, of course, plays out between groups of people and extends even to the hostilities shared between nations. It reminds me of a bit of dialogue fashioned a while back by that American master, Samuel Langhorne Clemens, aka Mark Twain. In it he relays a bit of homespun conversation between Huck Finn and Buck Grangerford in his timeless classic, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The gist of it is Huck trying to ascertain how the long-running blood feud between the Grangerfords and the Sheperdsons all started -- and why it keeps going.

Huck begins the conversation:

"Did you want to kill him, Buck?"

"Well, I bet I did."

"What did he do to you?"

"Him? He never done nothing to me."

"Well, then, what did you want to kill him for?"

"Why, nothing -- only it's on account of the feud."

"What's a feud?"

"Why, where was you raised? Don't you know what a feud is?"

"Never heard of it before -- tell me about it."

"Well," says Buck, "a feud is this way: A man has a quarrel with another man, and kills him; then that other man's brother kills him; then the other brothers, on both sides, goes for one another; then the cousins chip in -- and by and by everybody's killed off, and there ain't no more feud. But it's kind of slow, and takes a long time."

"Has this one been going on long, Buck?"

"Well, I should reckon! It started thirty year ago, or som'ers along there. There was trouble 'bout something, and then a lawsuit to settle it; and the suit went agin one of the men, and so he up and shot the man that won the suit -- which he would naturally do, of course. Anybody would."

"What was the trouble about, Buck? -- land?"

"I reckon maybe -- I don't know."

"Well, who done the shooting? Was it a Grangerford or a Shepherdson?"

"Laws, how do I know? It was so long ago."

"Don't anybody know?"

"Oh, yes, pa knows, I reckon, and some of the other old people; but they don't know now what the row was about in the first place."

Hmmm. While our mental defaults might not be as entrenched -- or trigger-happy -- as that of Buck Grangerford, it's still easy to go through life with a preset frame of mind.

We all have predispositions toward things that we've inherited along the way. When do you know you're defaulting back to those kinds of ideas in your own life?

How do you try to "neutralize" that thinking to keep your mind open and ready for new ideas?

You can let us know by clicking here.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Sensible Art of Ambulation

I don't know if it's age or routine or what, but I don't get outside to walk quite often enough these days. I remember periods in my life when going for a walk just to go for a walk was an anticipated and almost daily occurrence. The chance to brush off the cobwebs in the open air was a welcome respite from the stale oxygen of closed spaces. And there was always a feeling of rejuvenation at the end of my trek, with a renewed focus on whatever the day held next.

I might add too that the particular peregrination of which I speak is unaccompanied. Absent are cell phone, headphones and a playlist of jams, and/or any other device that distracts or preoccupies my thoughts.

Rest assured, you can do without them for a while.

Evidently, not a few creative types have found walking a healthy pursuit, with a dedicated allegiance coming from those who write for a living. Authors from Dickens and Thoreau to Orwell and Nabokov were fond of practicing the simple art of ambulation in their quest to vent their minds and inspire their creativity.

"There is something about the pace of walking and the pace of thinking that goes together," said Geoff Nicholson, author of The Lost Art of Walking, in a BBC interview. "Walking requires a certain amount of attention, but it leaves great parts of the time open to thinking. I do believe once you get the blood flowing through the brain it does start working more creatively. Your senses are sharpened. As a writer, I also use it as a form of problem solving. I'm far more likely to find a solution by going for a walk than sitting at my desk and thinking."

So, do you ever feel like your brain's not firing on all cylinders? Is your thinking sometimes dull and uninspired?

If so, put on your favorite pair of kicks and see where you end up. You may find the fresh air and open spaces therapeutic in ways you never imagined. (And remember, leave the gadgets at home.)

Do you have any favorite treks you make to clear your head and sort out your thinking? You can share your thoughts here: click here!