baby-ogren-5.jpg What’s more Jimazing than seeing your grandbaby’s picture?  It’s feeling your a grandbaby kicking.  Danae is 23 weeks now.  Read the photos with her blog entry here.
We had a wonderful visit with all of our family in Charleston.  As we were leaving Danae’s house on Saturday night, I was hugging her and I felt a flutter on my tummy.  I asked her if that was a kick.  She said, “Yep.”  What a great feeling!

Sorting Life

On Peace

corn.jpgThe men’s group where I am a member was discussing Romans chapter 8 this morning.  We were talking about what it means to have God’s peace.  Several in our group are going through tough times; some family issues and others business problems.  They were asking why they aren’t experiencing God’s peace.  It is easy in the middle of a problem to point to someone who is not having the same problem and attribute God’s peace to them.  If I am experiencing a problem that is causing turmoil in my life, and I see someone who is not experiencing the same problem, it is easy to assume that she must have God’s peace unlike me.  Sounds silly when you say it like that, but it is an easy leap to make when you feel life crashing down around you… at least it is for me.  That leap is not fair for many reasons.  The reason I want to focus on now is that life happens; whether as a result of our own actions and decisions or things that are completely out of our control.  It’s easy to fall into the trap of measuring our spiritual status by our physical status.  Are we prospering?  We must be “right with God”.  Are we failing in life?  We must be out of God’s will.  I don’t believe that our physical circumstances and our spiritual circumstances are that easily related…  I’ll try my hand at an un-parable.  Jesus might have introduced it like this, “The Kingdom of God is not like this…”

A farmer planted corn and the corn did well.  Later others can come by and saw acres of corn.  They knew merely by virtue of the plants they saw that the farmer planted corn.

Not so spiritually speaking.  It would be judgemental and wrong for me to look at my friend whose business is not doing well and say that he’s not right with God.  And it would be just as presumptuous to look at my friend whose business is prospering and conclude that he must be close to God. It just doesn’t work like that.  Yes, there is a sowing and reaping, but it’s dangerous to look at the physical and make spiritual judgements.

In my own journey, when I relate the peace of God with my own prosperity, I tend to want to fix the physical in order to address the spiritual.  I create “places of peace” that are really nothing about following God.  They are merely my own “happy places”.  I create peace in my life when I plan, work and succeed.  Am I saying this is wrong?  Please hear me on this:  This post is not about good and bad, nor is it about right and wrong.  I am merely doing a bit of sorting.  What is spiritual and what is physical?  What is peace and what is God’s spiritual peace?  Nothing wrong with creating happy places in my life, but I don’t want to confuse them with the Peace of God that is present even when I’m not in a happy place… In John 9, the disciples asked Jesus why a man had been born blind… well, not quite.  What they asked was whose sin caused him to be blind.  They were connecting his physical condition to his spiritual condition.   Jesus rightly called foul on their presumption. Just because I do A and then get B does not mean my doing A causes B.  In fact, that line of thinking leads to superstition and superstition merely confuses the situation.

On Grattitude

Continuing the sorting process… Later today, a podcast of Speaking of Faith on prayer got me thinking of multiple levels of thankfulness and grattitude.  A little girl read this poem by Mary Oliver (emphasis is mine)

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

erin-grass.jpgHow wonderful to stroll through the fields, to play in the grass all day.  I could be thankful for that.  But the grass must be tended to.  What about mowing the grass?  Can I be thankful for that too?  What about the daily work and grind that saps all my energy and seems to be for nothing.  Can I be thankful for that? There must be multiple levels of grattitude.  For instance, there’s a “childish” grattitude for simple things (generally selfish) and a deeper “adult” grattitude for what’s behind those simple things.  I say “adult”, but it doesn’t come automatically at any age.

I have such fond memories of Christmas meals with my dad’s family in West Virginia.  So much family in one room that you could hardly move.  The aroma of more wonderful dishes than you could imagine.  So many that you could hardly taste taste them all in just one sitting.  I was thankful for that even then… and I am thankful for the memory of those gatherings now.  But I had no thought for (and hence no grattitude for) those who did the work to cook those meals and plan the evening and clean the house and… It’s only as an adult that I can see that side of it.  Only as an adult, do I realize that the events like these that set the stage for great memories take great planning and execution.  They do not merely happen.  That doesn’t lessen my childish grattitude.  In fact it enhances it and in a sense, completes it.  I can only be thankful for what I have some understanding of.

So, yes, I can be thankful for a walk and a tumble in the grass… and I can be thankful for the ability and the tools that I need to mow that grass.  I can be thankful for the family times and thankful that someone has put the energy and planning into creating these times.  The more I know, the more I can be thankful for.   As I write those words, I hear the dryer tumbling freshly washed clothes and I realize that if my sweetie hadn’t taken care of that, I would be doing laundry instead of blogging.  Thanks Honey… Happy Monthiversary… thirty years and 2 months!

Amazing Jimazing Memory

brokenbrain.gifToday on my way to lunch, I was carrying on a conversation with my friend, Will.  We opened a door to a small elevator waiting area where I saw someone who I had hadn’t seen for a few years.  We had a casual work relationship with a few years ago, so I wouldn’t say I ever knew him well.  Without missing a single beat, I said, “Hey, Drew.  It’s been a long time. How are you doing…” [insert 5 seconds of small talk here].  How did I know his name so quickly?  I marvel at the way my brain works so very efficiently sometimes.

I heard a podcast recently in which the speaker was describing how memory and creativity work.  In his comparison, he said that storing information in memory was like finding items and putting them on shelves.  Creativity happens when someone takes two or more items and sees something new in common between them.  In other words, no one really creates anything completely from scratch.  I digress.

Right after seeing Drew and remembering his name, I imagined the process my brain went through to pull off this amazing feat…  A few years ago, when I met Drew, I stored his name on a shelf somewhere in one of the great empty rooms that is my brain.  For a while I visited it regularly as I would see him in the hall and need to use his name.  Then I didn’t see Drew for a long time.  His name grew dustier as I forgot about it.  After all, I wasn’t using it.  When I stepped into the elevator lobby, instantly flashing lights went off inside my mind.  Sirens started screaming and the memory-librarians in my brain went rushing faster than the six million dollar man to get that name to the front of my mind.  Somehow they dusted it off and had it there fresh and solid right when and where I needed it.  To me on the outside, it was as if I had just been talking to him or about him.  Unbelievable!

A little later, while we were sitting down to lunch, Jeff walked up to me and said hello.  Now I don’t know Jeff very well.  He’s in a church men’s group that meets at the same time and place that my men’s group meets, but we haven’t spent a lot of time together.  I’m guessing that it has been four to six weeks since I last saw Jeff.  I looked up, shook his hand and said, “Hey Ken.” (Wrong name!)  Ken is another guy in Jeff’s group.  Ken and Jeff don’t even look much alike at all.  Why didn’t it work right that time.  I  said something silly to mask my mild embarrasment and went on with my lunch.  No big deal, right?  Why did my memory work so efficiently for Drew and so close but not quite for Jeff?  Who knows.  I still think it is fascinating.

Reminds me of a joke…

An elderly couple had dinner at another couple’s house. After dinner, the wives went into the kitchen and the gentlemen went into the parlor to smoke a cigar and talk.  One of them said to the other, “Last night we went out to a new restaurant and it was really great. The food was scrumptious and the service was impecable.  I would recommend it very highly.”

The other man said, “It sounds great!  I would like to take my wife there sometime.  What is the name of the restaurant?”

The first man thought for a moment and thought some more… Finally he asked his friend, “What is the name of that flower you give to someone you love? You know… The one that’s red and has thorns.”

Do you mean a rose?”

“Yes, that’s the one,” replied the man. He then turned towards the kitchen and yelled, “Rose, what’s the name of that restaurant we went to last night?”

 I can relate to the poor old guy.

Frontline: Jesus in China

chinese-church.jpgI just watched a Frontline video report called Jesus in China, which was about the state of the Christian church in China.  The report was about how the Chinese government relates to the modern Christian church in China.  They address how the government has created a state sanctioned church and how the government is persecuting underground “house churches” and arresting their pastors.  However, it was something else altogether that stirred me.  In fact the thing that bothered me was never mentioned in the program.  I was bothered by how western the Chinese church looked.  If you ignored the obvious language difference, the state sanctioned church might have been any large traditional protestant church in the US, and the underground churches all looked very much like any of a number of more charismatic churches that I have been a part of.

chinese-house-church.jpgI hesitate to write about this for fear that others will take this as a critisism of how a particular group of people “does church”, but that is truly not what’s on my mind.  This not really about how to “do church”.  I just expected the Chinese church to seem more… well… Chinese.  I was excited by the title to think that I would get to see how the message of Jesus is being lived out by people from a different culture than mine.  What I saw was my own culture being lived out in a different group.  From the architecture of the church building to the clothing, the state church looked just like First Baptist of Smalltown America.  From the the bouncy dancing while singing repititious choruses to the few young folks with microphones leading the singing in a line on the stage… it could have been any one of a thousand trendy new evangelical or charismatic churches.  I don’t necessarily see anything wrong with “doing church” like that, I just wonder why church gatherings are not more expressive of the people who are gathered.

God created us as individuals with many varied talents, interests and experience, and I believe that everything we touch and create as Christians should naturally be a unique expression of who we are.  “…Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms…” I Peter 4:10.  It seems to me that using “whatever gift” would look differently for every believer.  Individual church gatherings ought to look very different for people from very different cultures. For me, it just doesn’t add up.

Again, I feel compelled to go overboard in saying that this blog entry is not about the Chinese Church.  I think it is wonderful that people who have been oppressed by their government are experiencing a newfound (or newly fought for) freedom to worship God.  If anything, I want to see them free to worship God as Chinese, not as westerners.  God is God and western society is western society and they aren’t the same thing.

1978 to 2008 makes 30 Years!

jim-and-jeanie.jpgI wish so much that I could travel in time back to 1978 and have a talk with a certain young man. There is so much I would tell him about life. I would warn him about some really lousy decisions that he was going to make and encourage him that some of them would actually be good decisions. I would tell him that his thoughts and dreams are important. Mostly I would assure him that his decision to ask that the pretty young lady to be his bride was a super good decision. Yes, today is the 30th anniversary of Jeanie’s and my marriage.

I still remember the surreal feeling of standing at the front of the church while she walked down the aisle. I was thinking to myself, “So this is what it feels like to get married.” That says a lot about me. Most guys, when they are making one of the biggest choices in their life, would be getting cold feet and second guessing themselves. “Is she the one? Did I make the right decision?” Not me. I was thinking about the meaning of life… what this experience feels like. I have been like that ever since… (how she could stand to live with me these last 30 years is a mystery to me)… but I’m sure thankful that she has.

June 3rd 1978 started a new chapter in the book of our lives. It has not always been blue skies and rainbows. We have had our share of tragedies and sorrows, but somehow we seemed to get more than our share of joys and celebrations. Now, 30 years later, we have four beautiful and successful daughters, two handsome sons-in-law and our first grandchild on the way? I feel overwhelmed with grattitude to God for giving me such a wonderful life. George Bailey has nothing on me.

Happy Anniversary, Sweetie!


I’m gonna be a Grandpa

grandpa.JPGIn case you haven’t heard, I’m going to be a grandpa! Danae and Mark were selfless enough to make a grandchild just for me. How sacrificial of them! She’s due in December, and I am excited… in case it’s not coming through loud and clear! She posted pictures of the little spud here on her blog.

Thanks Mark & Danae!

Heart’s Desires

whisper1.gifI wonder if it is a coincidence that the word “heart” begins with “hear”.

I learn by taking things apart. When I was a little boy, I took my toys apart to see how they worked. As an “old guy”, I still take things apart. Now instead of making my toys into a mess, I tend to take my thoughts apart to see what makes me tick. Sometimes I get all worked up and emotional and it leaves me wondering if the world is really the mess I have made it out to be. Thankfully, the One who put the wonder in me, who put the take-things-apart in me also built me with a reset button (called a good night’s sleep). You see, I started writing this over two weeks ago when it was heavy on my heart. I was feeling all mixed up inside and felt like I just had to get it out. I got as far as writing an outline then the distractions began… It was time to go out shopping for a while. When I came back home, I sat down to finish it and my web server was missing. It took all weekend to finally get the web hosting folks to admit that there was really a problem and that they would fix it. By that time it was Monday with all the distractions of the work week. Two weeks later, my internal reset button has evened all out those knotted up emotions, but the topic is still very real…

I feel like I am just learning to hear my own heart; my “heart’s desire”, the longings that are deep inside me. Although my squelch knob usually catches them before they become part of my outside voice, my heart frequently expresses itself to me in extremes like a toddler. You always listen to other people but you never listen to me! I know that it’s not true exactly. I can think of lots of times I have listened to my heart over the years, but it feels like something new to me. Maybe I’m beginning to listen better.

So what happens when a 50 year old codependent mess–a guy who likes to take things apart begins to listen to his heart? He watches things unfold and learns from what he sees and feels. There’s another thing you need to know about me. I am a learner. When I take things apart, I am learning about them. The learner is deep inside my soul. Here’s what I have learned about hearing my heart. There are at least three ways I can discover my hearts desire…

  • Having what I want
  • Not getting what I want or getting something I didn’t want
  • Seeing someone else get what I wanted

Having what I want – When I have what I want, I am content with it. Contentment is an easily ignored emotion. Things are good. They are just the way I like it. I’m happy. No need to take this one apart. Except… I want to be more aware of it. I want more of whatever has me feeling content. It’s a clue to who I am. The places I find contentment are not likely the same places you find contentment.

contentment.gif This reminds me of the way the mind works as described by Jeff Hawkins and Sandra Blakeslee in On Intelligence. The mind is constantly taking in information and predicting the future. As long as what it predicted is what happens, the mind ignores it. For instance, my mind expects the letters to appear on the screen as I type these words. I don’t even think about it because it happens the way I expect. (Of course I’m hyper-aware right now since I’m writing about it). Think about all the sounds we tune out like the hum of our computer. Have you ever turned of your computer and only then realized how loud it was? We tune them out because we don’t need to be aware of them. Our minds predicted those sounds and so it ignores them. If there is a unexpected, loud noise, or suddenly there is silence, we become instantly aware. Why? What we predicted didn’t happen.

Getting what I want is like that. It is what I want to happen. I’m satiated, comfortable, relatively pain free. So this is not a particularly effective way of learning what I want. Unless I intentionally focus on what is causing me to feel content, I won’t know. Funny isn’t it? The most pleasant way of discovering my hearts desire is the very one that is easiest to ignore.

Not getting what I want or getting something I didn’t want – Unawareness is definitely not the problem with this method. I am usually painfully aware when I didn’t get what I want… although I might not understand the pain I feel. As I am thinking of examples, I realize that it is not so much about getting things. I have more than my share of things to be sure, but tangible things is not really what I’m talking about. It’s less about that one special gift I didn’t get for my birthday and more like finding out my friend isn’t going to make it to my party after all… or I won’t be able to make it to their party. The feeling of disappointment doesn’t care why.

miners.gif I feel a bit of disappointment and that disappointment tells me that there was something that I wanted. It doesn’t tell me that someone is against me, nor does it tell me that I should have it. Mining these emotions is not about letting the emotions have their way, it is about learning what they are trying to tell me. The emotion is a clue to my own hearts desire. Unless I am intentional about reflecting and examining them, I am likely to react to my feelings of disappointment by trying to fix them; to make the feelings go away and make me feel better. When I do that, I miss a great opportunity. Not only does it not help the situation, I miss a great opportunity to mine for gold. There’s gold in them-thar desires! God has put great desires in my heart and He is for me! I want to know more and more about what these desires are. Not so I can get everything I want, but to know who God has made me to be.

Seeing someone else who has what I want – Again, for me this is not about coveting a nicer house or fancier car. I figured out a long time ago that every time I own something new, it owns me even more than I own it. I just got a new computer when the old one called it quits. As much as I love my new computer, in the couple of months I have had it, it has already taken many hours of my life that I will never see again. First there was the whole weekend I spent setting it up and learning things I never wanted to know… (like Money 2004 won’t run on Vista and the new version of Money called Money Essentials won’t open files created from any other version of Money). Then there was the weekend I spent trying to figure out why it decided to reboot itself over and over for no apparent reason. My things serve me well… when I’m not serving them.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not above getting more stuff… even coveting every once in a while. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a nice digital SLR camera… of course that means the images will be larger than my current cameras, so I’ll need a bigger hard drive and…

greeneye.gif So if it isn’t about stuff, what is it about? Frequently it is seeing someone living in their strengths which happen to not be my strengths. I see God in them and I admire them. Who am I kidding? I feel jealous. When my friend Curtis asks one of his penetrating questions that cut straight to the heart, I am impressed, thankful for his gifting and a little jealous. When I see my friend John meet someone and connect with them in such an engaging way that they are immediately talking about important things, I am amazed… and jealous. When I experience the artistry and courage of my friend, Dave to step out and follow his dream of painting hot rods, I am impressed, inspired and jealous. I really don’t want to be Curtis or John or Dave… but my heart’s desire is trying to come through in my emotion.

man-behind-curtain.gif Warning, I’m going to open up a little more than is comfortable and let you see the silly man behind the curtain… A few years ago, Jeanie and I went with Dan and Hope to see Chicago and Earth Wind & Fire in concert. When I was a young trombone player, I wanted to be James Pankow… understand me… not just be like him, but to be him. So here I am, a middle aged guy in the audience, ostensibly singing the horn parts… but in my heart, I was on that stage. I was playing those trombone parts just as clean as Jimmy P ever did. I danced his dance. I laughed with the band. I received the applause. I felt… jealous! Not too long ago, I told someone I love, “We see things in the lives of others that we want, but it’s just one small facet. We don’t get to see their whole lives. If we could wave a magic wand and trade places, it would not be fair to trade for just the good stuff. You’d have to trade everything for everything. My life for theirs.” Do I really want to be Mr P? Not likely. No other whole life would be worth trading for. I don’t know James Pankow. All I see is a 60ish guy who looks like he’s having the time of his life on stage… My emotion is not really about wanting to be him. It is about something that I want from what I see. It’s my hearts desire… and I believe deep down it is good.

My heart’s desire is not ultimately about my comfort. It’s surely not about leaving my family to go on the road with a band. My heart’s desire is a clue to who God made me to be. I don’t know exactly what it will look like when he’s done with me, but it will be somewhere in the middle of loving God and loving my neighbor. For me, the journey itself is the destination. The taking apart, hitting the reset button, learning and applying what I can along the way is what it is all about. My prayer is that living my journey “out loud” will help others find their way too.

Fifty is Nifty

It is now 12:08 AM on the 19th, so I can say with confidence that my 50th birthday was a great day. Thanks to all of you who made it so special… I am a blessed man!  Check out this video my friends made for me…


Last Lecture

“What would you do if you knew you only had 6 months to live?” This is one of the classic questions we ask ourselves to help find what is truly most important to us is. The cover story in this morning’s Parade Magazine in our newpaper caught my eye like none other in recent memory. normally, I read the headline, look at the photos and keep going on my quest to find Ask Marilyn. However, this morning, I read every word. The story, My Last Lecture, told about a talk given by Randy Pausch, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, last September after he learned that he had terminal cancer. Reading it merely whet my appetite for more so I spent the next 75 minutes or so watching the lecture (below) on youtube. It’s hard to get me to sit still for a 3 minute video, so watching for over an hour is saying something! I invite you to watch it when you have time. It’s only a little longer than a TV show and a lot more valuable than most. Randy is scheduled to be on a show called Primetime: Last Lecture this Wednesday night, which I also plan to watch.

I was moved by what Randy considered most important for him to communicate to his children and incidentally to me. Helping others and receiving help; how reaching our dreams is important and helping others reach their dreams is even more important. One real kicker to me was what Randy said about allowing others to be an influence in our lives. He said we need to have “feedback loops” in our lives to tell us where we need to improve. As uncomfortable as it is, I want to welcome tough feedback! When someone takes the effort and risk to tell me their view of what I can do to make myself better, it means that they believe I am worth it. Conversely, if I am executing poorly and yet no one is telling me about it, it means they have given up on me. As my friend Curtis said recently, “If feedback is the breakfast of champions, I want to be fed like a champion!” There’s another great story in the lecture about how to give constructive feedback well, but I’ll let Randy tell his own story. Now get comfortable, sit back and enjoy…


The Cruise

disneycruise.jpg We are back from our Disney Cruise. Yes, I said, Disney. On the advice of a coworker who did a Disney Cruise for his honeymoon, we decided it was worth a try. In a word, WOW. Disney is second to none in customer service! We did seven days in the Eastern Caribbean with stops at St Maarten and St Thomas islands. From St Thomas, we took an excursion to St John. Every night we had great food, excellent service and lots of rest and relaxation.  Click on any of the photos or here to see a short slide show of photos.

americascup.jpg The first two days at sea, I was still feeling sick. I have been feeling poorly since February 1st and the trip to the ship from Charlotte was more than I was ready for. Having two days at sea was just what I needed to get well. By the time we reached St Maarten, I was ready for the sailboat ride excursion we planned. Little did I know that this leisurely sailboat ride was really an America’s Cup sailboat race in which we were the crew! What a rush. Early on in the race, the boat was tilted so far that water was about to come over the side where Jeanie was sitting. One of the crewmen asked if anyone was uncomfortable with the current position of the boat. Jeanie said, “I am!” He shouted back, “Get over it, there’s nothing I can do about it!”

We met the guy who created Yoda for the Star Wars movie and picked up a neat gift for someone we know and love who has loved Yoda for as long as I can remember.

trunkbay.jpg At St John, we visited Trunk Bay, which must be one of the most beautiful places in the whole wide world. There I did my first snorkelling. I enjoyed it with the one exception that it was hard for me to see without my glasses. They had markers under the water explaining what we were looking at. I could see them, but I couldn’t read them. I could see the fishes and the coral which was just beautiful.

After leaving St John / St Thomas, we had one day at sea before we would arrive at Castaway Cay (say “kee”), Disney’s own private island. They had a problem with one of the ship’s engines and the captain announced that, since we would be three hours late, they were going to refund everyone $100 and provide all rentals of floats, bikes and snorkel equipment for free. I thought to myself, “Disney even fails well!”

The final act of great customer service was the luggage handling. Like all cruises, they handle getting your luggage on and off the ship, nothing special there… however, Disney didn’t just take our luggage off the ship for us to pick it up, they sent it to the airport and transferred it to Delta who moved it on to our destination. We didn’t touch our luggage until we got back home! Unfortunately for us, they don’t have any control over the air traffic system. We spent the entire day in the Orlando airport waiting for our flight to take us home. We arrived safely though and we’re struggling to get back into the swing of real life…

I leave you with a recording of the coolest ship’s horn you will ever hear.

A jimazing view of life