Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Happy Easter, Bunny!

Permit me to share a little of my story. My wife was born, "Arlene," but when her Daddy first held her she had pink ears and a little pink nose. He declared, "She is as cute as a bunny," and she was "Bunny" ever since.

I called her Arlene on our wedding day and sometimes when I was less than happy, but any other time she was Bunny. Every Easter morning I would awake and begin the first of our Easter traditions as I greeted her with "Happy Easter, Bunny!" Then the other traditions would begin:

New Easter outfits for the kids
Family sitting together at church hearing the Easter story
Dinner featuring ham and a home-made red-velvet, butter-creamed frosted lamb cake (with memories of one lamb that "bled" raw red-velvet dough when cut into - not a pretty sight)
Easter baskets - one hidden in the bathtub, one in the oven, others behind furniture
Egg hunt, featuring plastic eggs filled with jelly beans and an occasional coin
Easter lilies on the table

No matter what the family situation, no matter what the finances, no matter what was the chaos that surrounded us -- the familiar Easter traditions provided a day for stability, comfort, and joy. This day and its traditions surrounded our family with a peace. No matter what the future would bring, we would awake, shout out, "Happy Easter, Bunny!" and hear once again the Good News of the open tomb.

Today, the family is separated by time and distance, with the kids separated by time zones, as well as an ocean. Our kids are now on their own, with children and traditions of their own.

Bunny has been called home to her Heavenly Father, no longer present to hear, "Happy Easter, Bunny." Yet, in the dark, quiet hours of this coming Easter morning, I will awake and speak the words, "Happy Easter, Bunny," and will be comforted. I will not hide baskets or eat a lamb cake, but I will look at the Easter lily in church. My eyes will tear and my throat will close as I hear the words, "He is risen!" And I will whisper, "He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!"

"Happy Easter, Bunny" reminds me of a lifetime of love, joy, happiness, and traditions. I will recall the past and delight in His gifts of today -- another wife, a new family, new traditions, and the opportunity to share Him in all I do.

I thank God for traditions. I thank God for memories. I thank God for promises. I thank God for new traditions.

Happy Easter . . .

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

It's All About Me . . .

I recently flew two different airlines for a business trip I was taking. As I travelled, I noticed how society seems to have become more self-centered and selfish. Let me explain:

When it was my turn to board the first airplane, I had to wait in the doorway as passengers searched for a place to store their carry-on luggage. The flight attendant standing next to me mumbled under her breath, "If these people would just check their bags, we wouldn't have to stand here." She then proceeded to make an announcement about how we were going to be delayed and that everyone should just find a seat. It was all about her and her inconvenience. She wanted to get out of the aisle and sit down. She wanted to leave so she could get home. She spent no extra effort to help the passengers find room -- it was all about her. Somehow she forgot the obvious: passengers were not checking their bags because of the airline's exorbitant fee to do so.

One reason these passengers had trouble finding a place for their carry-on luggage was because their luggage was not really carry-on size. By far the majority of bags brought on board for that flight fit into the overhead bin only with the firm assistance of many hands stuffing them in place. It was a sight to behold -- something akin to watching a size-42 man attempt size-38 jeans. You get the picture. (Sorry about that.) The point of this is that it was all about them. I saw men elbow out women so they could grab an empty space for their jumbo carry-on. I saw women shouldering purses the size of a small car. Then there was the gentleman who darted to the back of the plane to store his bag and then immediately cut back through the oncoming passengers to find his seat in the forward section. I think it's safe to say it was all about him.

Later I flew on an airline that doesn't charge to check bags. The flight attendant announced all the seats would be filled and that we should place our smaller items under the seat in front of us. This was to make room for larger bags in the overhead bin. As soon as the announcement was made I watched a businessman put his suit carrier in the overhead bin, followed by a laptop case, and then his jacket. I was amazed. I would have thought because there was no charge to check bags, there would be less carry-on luggage and, consequently, less competition for space. Boy, was I wrong. People choked the aisle with oversized luggage, computer bags larger than my biggest suitcase, and enough baggage for a 12-day safari. I watched as a wife wedged her husband's duffel bag beneath the seat in front of her, bringing her knees to her chin. Overhearing her comments, I'm pretty sure he enjoyed the couch that night. Again, it was all about him. No one was willing to go out of their way to help a neighbor. Each person pushed and shoved to get what they wanted without little regard as to how much it inconvenienced someone else.
It was ridiculous -- an ugly spectacle of rude selfishness. Young men jockeyed for seats to rest their weary bones, leaving elderly women to stand. Grown adults cut in line to be first to check out with their muffins and coffee, edging out younger people in the process. Oh, and let's not forget those oblivious wannabes on cell phones who couldn't care less if the volume of their blather disturbs others around them.

When did we change the Golden Rule from "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," to "Do unto others -- first"?

When did we become a nation of individuals who only care about . . . me?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Good Enough

Over the years I have done a little bit of everything. I have painted walls, hung wallpaper, constructed furniture, loaded trucks, shipped parts, changed oil, hung doors, built a camp fire, pitched a tent, reloaded shot gun shells, repainted a car, and grilled steaks. I must confess that in all these activities, I never once had a goal of good enough. My goal was always perfection -- paint where paint belongs, wallpaper seams matched and straight, functional and aesthetically pleasing furniture, trucks with a balanced and safe load, parts shipped to arrive in one piece, oil in the car and not on the driveway, doors that sealed, camp fires that gave heat and light, shot gun shells that delivered their proper load, a car that looks like it was made that way, and steaks medium -- charred on the outside and pink and juicy on the inside.

I do not like the phrase, "good enough." Good enough implies to me I'm beginning with the lofty goal of mediocrity. Good enough implies to me I really don't need to try my best. Good enough implies to me the effort is more a vague intention than a real attempt at getting it right. Well, I say, "good enough never is!"

I agree with the old adage, "If a job is worth doing, it's worth doing right." So why do we often seem to think that good enough is? As I look around today I see lots of examples of poor craftsmanship. I see expensive furniture made with butt joints and not dovetail ones. I get recall notices from car manufactures who inform me parts are out of alignment. I buy pens that won't write. I watch workers stock shelves with dented cans. I have to finish cleaning the car after it has been through the car wash. I look for gifts that will not break the first time they're played with. I am surrounded by companies who overpromise and under deliver.

I am pretty sure if I hung a door that didn't close, my wife would be upset. I am very certain if I shot at a trophy buck with a shell that misfired, I would be upset. I know for a fact if I put more paint on the floor than on the walls my wife will get verbal about my ability. Yes, I know that when I start a task, my goal is not that it's just good enough, but that it's perfect -- or at least as close as I can get to something approaching that. I still take pride in my work. I take pride in my accomplishments. I still drive by the brick wall I helped build and feel a sense of triumph to see the joints still holding, the wall still standing. I believe guys are designed not merely to be good enough, but to be always striving for perfection.

Can you just picture the results from a good enough nuclear weapons safety-switch design?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Let's Tax Our Way to Health

In 1960, the federal minimum wage was $1 per hour and a fountain soft drink cost five cents, while a slice of pizza in New York City costs around 60 cents. In 1960, children ran and played outside after school; they left the house on Saturday mornings and returned at dark. Bicycles, skates, hula hoops, and stick ball were the fitness machines of the 60s. Elementary school students wore gym uniforms and sweated in gym class; recesses were spent climbing jungle gyms, swinging on wooden swings, and playing ancient games called, "tag" or "hide and seek." Children in rural areas did chores like feeding livestock, cleaning up after livestock, and running errands. City kids did chores like making beds, washing dishes, and running errands. City and country alike, children ran, played, socialized, and enjoyed the freedom to just be kids.

Today, the federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour and a fountain soft drink costs $1, while a slice of pizza in New York City costs around $2.50. Today, children come home after school and chat, text, and game -- all electronically. Schools have eliminated gym classes due to lawsuits and increased operating costs. Elementary students are watched over as they play on rubber mats and stand and chat with each other. Children in rural areas do chores, but now they have access to four-wheelers. City kids do chores like hooking up the wireless Internet and showing parents how to surf the Web. City and country alike, children have become more isolated as all of their socializing is done via electronic media.

Today, I heard a report how today's children will be the first generation in the history of the United States to live shorter lives than their parents. The report cited the epidemic of childhood obesity as the cause for these shortened lifespans. The report said the federal government now has the answer to childhood obesity: an 18-percent tax on soft drinks and pizza. The reasoning behind this tax proposal consisted of "if soft drinks and pizza costs more, then kids will consume less and be healthier."

Now that really doesn't make any sense to me. In 1960, a person would have to work three minutes at minimum wage to buy a soft drink; today a person has to work eight and a half minutes for that same drink. In 1960, a person would have to work 36 minutes for a slice of pizza, while today one would have to work only 21 minutes. Hence in the logic of the government -- since soft drinks cost more -- soft drink consumption should be down while pizza slice consumption should be up. According to its own report, soft drink consumption is higher. Oh well, so much for their logic.

Will an 18-percent tax on soft drinks and pizza create fitter children? I would guess the only thing that would get slimmer is our pocketbooks, while the government coffers get fatter. Would things like more exercise be good for kids? Would creating a safe environment where kids can run and play be good for them? How about fast-food chains offering inexpensive healthy choices so a working single mom can afford to feed her family something besides inexpensive grease-saturated food? Perhaps, healthy school lunch programs run by lunch ladies that actually prepared food from scratch instead of being required to use pre-packed, government-issued, convenience food would be better for the children?

I may be naïve, but I don't follow the logic that says we can tax our way to health.

Am I the only one?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Put the "Men" in Mentor

My Dad was a great Dad; he was there when we needed to talk. He disciplined me when I needed it; he showed mercy when I deserved his anger, and he loved my Mom. He had a quick temper, but always asked us to forgive him. He was fair and honest. Though he was very conservative, he let the world know his viewpoints about liberal government leaders. He was a Christian who worked hard for his church -- leading, supporting and praying for it. He was the father I try to be today. In many ways he was my mentor, my teacher, and it was he who taught me how to be a dad and husband.

I was very blessed to have other mentors in my life. When I was in sixth grade, our neighbor, Wayne, sat on the front steps with my Dad and me. He looked over the lawn and pronounced, "Your son is old enough to take care of the lawn." From that day on Wayne showed me the best way to cut grass, how to apply the correct fertilizers and weed killers, and how to trim the edges. Since his lawn bordered on ours, the two houses presented a unified front to the neighborhood. We had the best yards! I still use much of Wayne's teachings in my yard work today. When I was married, Wayne was there as a groomsman -- fitting since he was the one who taught me to groom a yard.

Corney was the man who taught me to be the best in my profession. He worked in the next town over doing similar work that I did. One day he walked into my office and proceeded to show me the best ways to organize my office, purchase supplies, and file invoices. He shared secrets he had learned over the years about managing people and dealing with complaints. He gave me friendship and knowledge -- all the while building my confidence to be a leader. I will be buried in the same cemetery as Corney -- fitting since his best advice to me consisted on how not to be buried by paperwork.

Then there was Bill; he was a quiet man. He was also very thin. Bill and I worked on a project together. He had skill, knowledge, and drive. One day he and I sat drinking a beverage, and I asked about his health, for he seemed to be suffering. He shared his story -- one that involved military service, capture, a forced death march, imprisonment for two years, getting sick, and then, finally liberation! He shared how his military experience had helped him in the business world, for he was willing to risk everything. He laughed about the fortunes he made and lost, but always came back to, "It was better than a cell." Bill taught me perseverance, courage, and the importance of Christ. He taught me to survive those times when I thought I wouldn't. He was the most generous man I have known, freely giving, and expecting nothing in return. He showed me what it was to be a strong disciple of Christ. I continually strive to live my life up to his -- fitting since he lifted me up many times by his generosity and encouragement.

Today, I am surrounded by other mentors, some of whom I will not embarrass by mentioning them here, since they read this blog. Suffice it to say, it took other men in my life to teach me to be the man I am today. I still need other men in my life -- as mentors.

Men, let's put the "men" in mentor. Let us look for the man in our life we need to build up, encourage, teach, train, discipline, or just walk beside.

Anyone come to mind?