Tuesday, November 26, 2013


This Thursday is the day Americans pause for some genuine thanksgiving. It seems to me the day will be less about "thanks," however, and more about "giving." It's about giving up time to watch football games, giving money to stores for the latest you-can't-live-without-it gadget, and giving up family togetherness as individual members often have to exit one family get-together to join another.

I'm personally not opposed to parades, football games, and commercial bargains, but in moderation, of course. What gets me most about the day is the simple nod of "thanks" we give to it, usually finding its most visible expression in the obligatory prayer we offer over dinner.

I am a one-person crusader determined to put more thanks into my family's Thanksgiving Day.

There, I said it.

I will wake the family in time to attend our church service, for it is important we start the day with thoughtful worship to Him who provides all.

I will hone my skills, roll up my sleeves, and gather with the family in the kitchen: each of us will take part in helping prepare the day's feast. I know it will be crowded in there, but I predict lots of laughter as we perfect our kitchen-dance routines. I also anticipate the food will taste that much better as we all have a hand in preparing it.

I will roast the turkey; some will fry it. And yes, I will make it a semi-elaborate production as I involve family members in getting the day's "star" ready for center stage. Naturally, there will be groans from the chosen child who plunges in to remove the great bird's innards, and there will be sublime joy for others who rub the turkey down with butter, using their bare hands.

As we sit down and prepare to feast, I will ask each abundantly blessed person at the table to share some of their reasons for thanks over the past year. My personal list includes my wife, my children, my job, and my church, as well as my ability to buy a house this year. I know there will be more reasons come Thursday.

After our banquet we will again gather as a family to clean off the table, store leftovers, and wash the dishes. No one will be allowed to watch the game, go shopping, or take a nap until everyone is able to. Thus I can see many hands making light work.

Guys, while parades, bowl games, and door-buster sales may scream for our attention, I believe fond family memories and time well-spent with others will win the day.

Happy THANKSgiving!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013


Last Sunday's intense thunder and hail storms tearing through the Midwest threatened 53 million people across ten states. In its wake it left tens of thousands without power. This one got personal as it tore into the town I once lived in, killing two, leveling houses, and ripping the steeple and roof off the church where my children were baptized. In the blink of an eye lives were changed forever.

I know the death toll could have been much worse if not for the fact the residents heeded the warnings and sought shelter. One couple who sought refuge in their basement emerged only to find their house completely destroyed. They remarked, "We may have lost everything, but stuff can be replaced."

Men, let us always be prepared.

Let us prepare our homes by having an evacuation plan, smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, fire extinguishers, and an emergency kit that includes water, light sources, radio, blankets, and a way to make noise if trapped under debris. On a personal note, I bought a flashlight powered by a crank that also juices a radio, produces an ear-splitting siren, and can charge a cell phone. That gadget is in my basement shelter since I live in an area prone to tornadoes.

If we live in the snowbelt we need to prepare our cars with food, blankets, shovel, kitty litter or sand, jumper cables, and tire chains. I found an app for my phone that will send a GPS signal to the nearest law enforcement station when I am stranded in the snow and cold. It will also -- now get this -- calculate how much fuel I can use before carbon monoxide poising sets in, and it will let me know how long I can run my engine for heat.

No matter where we live we should prepare our family with instructions and code words for places to meet after a disaster, how and when to dial 9-1-1, and our preferred modes of communication. My wife and I know we first try our cell phones, then Facebook, and then check with the relatives.

We need to maintain a working knowledge of first aid, emergency procedures, and how to act in times of disaster or unforeseen circumstances. Our family will look to us in moments such as these. It is best we remain calm, confident, knowledgeable and decisive -- even if we are not.

Now, especially, is the time to prepare. Heeding my own advice, I'm going to buy another fire extinguisher for the house. After all, Thanksgiving is coming, and one can never be over-prepared when it comes to turkey frying.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

When Does the Bullying End?

The NFL's news about Jonathan Martin leaving the Miami Dolphins after being bullied by veteran teammate Richie Incognito is yet one more incidence of bullying behavior. This story followed close behind the one of two Florida pre-teens arrested for allegedly taunting and bullying another 12-year-old girl until she committed suicide by jumping to her death. Another sad story reported on a Texas teenager who was arrested for allegedly bullying a special needs girl. The bullied girl received a barrage of threatening and vile messages, including one text that read "kill urself," according to North Texas police.

Some may argue the above cases are aberrations and not the norm. Others would say the word "bully" has become a smokescreen for people who can't take a joke, who don't understand the role of teasing, or who are out to make life miserable for others by "playing the victim."

I disagree with those who claim there is no bullying or who maintain it's just "kids-will-be-kids" fun that gets blown out of proportion by the media.

Bullying -- in whatever form it comes -- is a premeditated action intended to belittle, degrade or cause physical pain to another person.

Unfortunately, I have witnessed this sort of behavior among children and adults. I've seen kids at the mall go out of their way to make fun of the person cleaning tables at the food court or demean an employee on the janitorial staff. I've seen adults make fun of others, usually at a sporting event.

I've watched dads use harsh words, threatening their children with physical punishment to enforce obedience.

I've witnessed husbands raising their voices and slamming their wives' behavior, appearance or conduct in public -- seeking to mock and put them down.

Bullying is not an alternative method to get one's point across, nor is it a satisfactory means of expressing one's displeasure at a person. In every case, it's damaging, malicious, and the sign of an exceedingly weak ego.

Bullying stops when the perpetrator halts the behavior. Nothing short of that ends the problem. When the urge to bully is suffocated -- choking it off again and again when necessary -- then some real headway can be made. In time, the knee-jerk bully response can be defeated by the offender striving to show (oftentimes through great personal determination) a measure of self-control, kindness, compassion, and genuine concern for another human being -- no matter how different that person might be.

Perhaps the best way to stop bullying in its tracks is squaring off with it -- one bad situation at a time.

Doing it one man at a time seems the place to start.

I will do my part. Will you join me?

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Turning a House into a Home

Last week I signed papers documenting the fact that in 30 years I will be the sole owner of a house. Now some of you haven't been to the closing table yet, while for a few others once was more than enough. On the flip side, there are those who have been there many times. Regardless, there is something universal in wanting to own a house.

For me a house represents security and safety as I am surrounded by sturdy walls and a non-leak roof that have been inspected and found to be sound. A house presents opportunities to express my creative side with paint color choices, furniture selection and placement, and yard landscaping. It also represents a repository of memories as I get to pile and store box after box of mementoes, pictures, papers and keepsakes chronicling my life's journey. A house also represents obligation and responsibility as I must now meet monthly mortgage, tax and escrow payments, along with repairing all that falters or fails.

But still a house is a thing -- nothing more than wood, sheetrock, nails, paint, plaster and the rest. A house becomes alive when it becomes a home.

For me, home represents love and acceptance. The minute I enter my home all the day's assaults on me and my self-worth are wiped away. I am loved and accepted for who I am, not for my actions, dress, or demeanor. My accomplishments -- or lack thereof -- mean nothing to those who wait for me at home.

Home is not the ultra-modern kitchen, the manicured yard, the leather furniture, or the poster-lined "man cave"; home is the people who love and forgive, who help and holler, who accept me without judgment, without reservation.

For some, home might be a crowded apartment filled with family members who love hugs and accept one another, just the way they are. Then again home could be a trailer in the country with a faithful companion. Home might even be a condo shared with one person for more than 50 years, or an assisted-living site with a partner who no longer remembers.

To be sure, buying a house is nice, but a house does not make a home.

Houses last a while; homes are forever.