Rejects And Outtakes

Sometimes, you have something to say, and sometimes you don’t.  I am sometimes possessed by something I egotistically think is sheer brilliance.  Then I walk away without writing it down.  I am left regretting my arrogance.  “Oh, I can remember it.”  When I do this enough times, I attempt to make a blog post with the thoughts that didn’t rise far enough.

  • Furnace Dies:  Technically, I guess this would be the air conditioner.  But, since that is what I started with, I will just go with it. The a/c has been a fickle character over the entire summer.  (The original owners put in 3 air conditioners-not my choice.  The upstairs unit collects all the rising heat.  It is also the area with the most difficulty in zapping the heat and making it cool.  After the upstairs folk survived a couple of warm days (I attempted to freeze us out downstairs and send the cool air upstairs.  Yet, without getting the heat to leave, the cool air was content to hang out on the first floor.)  The cold front spared the upstairs guys when the temperature was 20 degrees cooler the next morning.  Getting the a/c fixed long-term involved bribery and raising my voice, but not to the same person.  The game room upstairs now has a new return and a new vent.  The “non-cooling” problem was resolved by fixing a faulty connection outside.  The inside stuff was only because we finally found an a/c guy who knew how to listen and solve problems.
  • Neighbor on walk:  When new neighbors move in during a pandemic, it may take a few weeks/months until you figure out who they are.  Our newest neighbors have been there nearly 3 weeks…or is it 4?  I have spoken to the wife and talked briefly with her.  Part of our conversation involved their “bark-happy-rescue” dog.  After she apologized for him, I let her know the previous owners whopper-of-a-dog story.  As long as she didn’t surpass the previous neighbor’s accomplishments, she had nothing to worry about.  Fortunately, I am almost certain my failed attempt to start a conversation with a couple I passed while walking was NOT my neighbors.  If it was them, their avoidance of my conversation effort was a formal disapproval of my “neighbor’s ghost dog” story.
  • Vietnamese on walk:  Along my walk, I go through two neighborhoods.  Along one street, I frequently talked to a Vietnamese man.  The last time we talked was last October.  It is his habit to go to Vietnam for the winter.  This past year, they lengthened his trip considerably by cancelled flights.  When he could finally fly back, it was through Korea.  He claimed only about 15% of the seats were full. (out of 350) Lucky for him, he has a neighbor willing to take care of his house.  Presently, he claims there is approximately a 4 week quarantine if he goes back to Vietnam.
  • Smoking Neighbor:  Not having a/c is not a problem when you have enough windows to get things cooled down.  But, if the same windows bring in all the smoke from the neighbors “low and slow” meat efforts next door, then it changes the impact.  The fickle a/c wouldn’t allow us to close the windows, so we got to experience calorie-free smoked meat at our neighbor’s–or was is our–expense.

Normally Scheduled Texting

The contrarian response is somebody has to die so I can live to 100–we can’t all live that long. But, the reality is it is very sad. I have hinted at this before…the big question is whether we/you are ready to die and meet your maker. There is no time for adjustments after you are called out of this world. Okay, the preaching is now over. I return you to your normal texting. 🙂

I replied to a friend’s text yesterday.  At the beginning of the week, a high school classmate died.  I had no idea he was sick or was suffering in any way.  After a couple of decades, you just don’t keep track of that many classmates.  Coming from a small school, I am possibly held to a higher degree of accountability.  Clearly, this post is not about the choices you make in maintaining relationships.

In a senior class of under 100 graduates, my friend and I have counted 5 classmates that have died.  Some went from popularity to obscurity, and one of them died before she graduated from college.  We never know when our time will come.  Our body may tell us it is not well, but it gives us no guarantees.  When nothing is for sure, we better make sure we have eternity locked down, or as much as we can lock it down on this side of the grave.

When I text with this friend, I am often tempted to hop on my soapbox temporarily.  He knows where I stand on faith, and he knows what I have faith in.  But, as we have our regular text back and forth, I don’t make it prominent.  He is my friend, and we share many views.  We just don’t share the same view of eternity.  So, when this death took place, I wanted to make sure I gave a little nudge.  If he responds, I am available for the discussion.  If he doesn’t respond, then I hope this attempt lodges somewhere in his mind.

We are all accountable for the life choices we make.  I care for him enough to remind him, but I will not have a one-sided conversation if he doesn’t want to have it.   I can’t force him or anyone else to accept something he is unwilling to accept.  I can only give out reminders of a day I hope is far in both of our futures.  At some point, we both will die.  At that moment, our ability to change the direction of our eternity is forever revoked.  God locks in our eternal destination.  For the sake of my friend, I hope he eventually hears me or hears someone else.  Eternity is a long time to suffer for believing a good life is enough.

If he never delves into this text, that is okay.  I will probably take liberties when another classmate dies.  Once the text is sent, I can just pray that is the text that will tickle his heart and cause him to ask, “What about that eternity stuff?”

…And Then Day 22

After completing 3 weeks of language studying while walking, I started to think I was going to skate through until day 30.  I even wrote a blog post bragging on how well I was doing.  I bragged on what I was going to accomplish.  And I made it seem like Level 5 was mine if I was only willing to show up every day for 5 months.

The Pimsleur system was holding back a surprise.  On day 22 ( i.e. as I write this, that was yesterday), they switched everything over so they gave the instructions in German.  Now, I had to hear what I was being told to do in German.  After doing some amount of translating in my head,  I would construct a proper German response.  After the first listen, I did fair.  After the second listen, I did a little better.  Finally, after the third lesson, I may have had about 80% of it.  I am not sure if my replies were from memory, but most of the replies communicated the desired meaning.

As I write this after the 23rd lesson, it seems Pimsleur felt guilty in their treatment of us on day 22.  They asked us to convert many English numbers into their German equivalent.  That was easy for me, and an opportunity to rest my mind.  This was a treat compared to the feelings I had prior to my walk.  Maybe I won’t dread tomorrow’s walk nearly as much!

Is A Habit Formed?

Ever since my teenage years, I have thought it would be good to learn a foreign language.  (My desire to write has been around nearly as long, but my ability to summon it has been slow in arriving.)  I took classes in high school and college.  The methods used would not allow it to stick.  Yes, I could memorize nearly as well as anyone.  For responding to “How are you?” in German and Spanish, I could regurgitate the desired response.  If they asked me what I wanted or what I needed, I became the immobile animal awaiting the oncoming vehicle on the country road.  While the pain ended up not being physical, I got very frustrated that nothing ever stuck.  Yes, a few phrases refused to fall out of my ears and into the abyss.  The phrases are few, and the lack of retention has been humbling.

Within the past 5 years, I have been regularly trying to use my computer or phone to learn a language.  On one vacation, I did a phone session near midnight so I could maintain a “streak” within the application.  (I believe it was Duolingo.)  I have tried Rosetta Stone, Babbel and a few others with the hope they would use their brief tryout to convince me they were the one.  Most of them relied on memorizing.  With no explanation, it left me guessing what response the application wanted.  I learned nothing of lasting value.  I learned to “game” the program and guess effectively.  If I told someone I was learning a language, any question they offered left me humbled.  Why study something if I couldn’t use it?

About 3 weeks ago, I realized two things.  I needed to be very consistent in my studying of a language.  After looking at my schedule over the past few months, I have been consistent in walking.  Was there a language learning method that would allow me to study the language while walking?  The application I chose, Pimsleur, promotes itself as “a method to learning a foreign language while driving.”  For me, it gives me a valuable way to learn a new language.

I believe my first 3 weeks on this program have been effective for these reasons:

  • They group the lessons into 30 days per level.  With German, there are 5 levels.  If building a habit can be done in 3 weeks, I have achieved that today.  Then, in just over 4 weeks, I will have a basic understanding of German.  My goal is to go on through the other levels.  But, I am going to allow myself to celebrate the accomplishment of the first level.
  • I don’t have to click my mouse to go to keep the lesson moving.  Each lesson is about half an hour.  My phone starts and ends per lesson length.
  • It has greatly reduced my audiobook time.  This is okay; I have already achieved my reading/listening goal for the year.  Yes, I like listening to books while I walk.  My walks are long enough that I can still find some time to listen a little, too.
  • In fact, my walks are long enough I can go through the lessons twice.  The first time through I may hit the “rewind” button a couple of times.  After a 15-20 minute break of book listening or thinking, I will listen to the same lesson again.  I know what is coming, and I know where I had trouble with the first time through.  At the end of the second lesson, I usually feel confident I understand the day’s concepts.
  • The lessons include a daily review.  It doesn’t feel like a review.  Each builds on the previous lessons. There are also online tools available.  For me, Pimsleur seems to know exactly when to include an old (or rarely used) word in the lesson.  Most times I can recall the word and better lock it into my long-term memory.
  • They encourage you to do only one lesson per day.  Since this doesn’t count replays, it doesn’t feel like an overwhelming commitment.  When the next lesson comes up and I can respond to questions in German with minimal hesitation, it proves my belief in the learning system.

The Gray Of Youth

A recent conversation forced me to confront reality.  I am no longer as young as I once was.  While my hair may not be graying at the pace of some of my peers, I am an expert in pointing out exactly which strands have “flipped” to their next color.  While my graying is obvious, the graying of our youth goes almost unnoticed.

What kind of graying am I talking about?  Beyond my hair, my answer may also show my age.  Many who grew up when I did grew up with cleaner lines between “black” and “white”.  While young, many of my peers may have blurred the lines when making social decisions, but they knew deep down on which side most issues fell.  The generations of today are less able to draw those same lines.  If given a specific question, many of those asked may come up with an answer like, “While I have no opinion, I can’t blame someone for answering either way.”  Or, they may even say, “It is true for me, but that does not make it true for you.”

How did we get here?  When we were a society where the church has a stronger presence, these types of debates were laughable.  While not everyone in my generation is as black and white as I am, we still agree that many issues are not eligible to be gray.  You need to make a commitment to where you want to be.  To use an extreme example, most people have a firm opinion on abortion.  Being gray on abortion is being intellectually lazy.  Abortion is a life ended or the removal of an inconvenience.  In my mind, I can’t find the gray here.

The problem is the gray.  Specifically, I am referring to the gray in the matters of the church.  As a Christian, the Bible is a tool to help us in our Christian walk.  The Bible has black and white answers for many of life’s issues.  While some answers may be less clear than others, the Bible casts its vote.  And, if the Bible doesn’t voice an opinion, I feel comfortable calling those area gray.  For individuals, these unanswered questions may be very black and white.  Yet, the Bible has left them as gray.  My concern is how even topics the Bible has made black and white become gray in the minds of our youth.

If a person states, “I want to love God.”, nothing sounds wrong with that statement.  If a person puts on his “God’s Love” hat and his personal interpretation of the Bible allows him to shift a “black” item into the gray, how should we view this?  Are we allowed to define personal truths rather than global truths?  Does a person with a set of redefined truths make a better witness for Christ, or are they sowing confusion in those they witness to?  If I felt comfortable saying, “Let God sort them out.”, I would not bother to write any of this.  If truths can differ, what is truth?  And, if the Bible is not the source of truth for you, then do we still worship the same God who provided the inspiration for the Bible?  The subtle distinction is important to me.  If we cannot agree that God’s grace as established in Christ’s resurrection is foundational to our Christian faith, then at what point can our spiritual paths ever cross again?

Prior to a person becoming a Christian, I place no spiritual expectations on them.  The Bible does not provide them a guidebook for their lives.  Yet, after they realize their sin and inability to save themselves, the Bible should become a guide as they seek to be more Christ-like.  It might be at this point my friend wearing the “God’s Love” hat and I will differ.  The person wearing the hat and I are in full agreement in how to treat those who are unsaved–you model Christ.  After they are saved, what truths are the new Christians held to?  If the Bible is a series of recommendations, then how can you be held to a recommendation?  But, if the Bible provides truths that we must all seek to reach—knowing full well we are imperfect and not able to achieve them as Christ could–then are the youth with the hat and I on the same path?

I would like to tell my young friend, “Good luck with what you choose to put in the gray.  I am not smart enough to promote something from black to gray if the Bible states a position.  That sounds like you are taking liberties with God’s truth.”

This blog post will have to serve as a warning to my young friend.  I don’t claim to be right, but interpreting the Bible differently than most of its readers is far above my pay grade.  As your life continues and your life experiences accumulate, I hope you will also want to “wash the gray out of your life.”


Screen Scream

As the weather transitions into fall, we can turn the a/c off and open the windows.  In the south, this is something we look forward to.  Summer has its place, but it can keep its temperatures.  When the windows can open, we open them at my house.  I especially like to open the window right next to my desk.  Because the springs in the window are not working correctly, I have to prop up the window with a small vitamin bottle or something similar.  In my excitement last week, I decided the small bit of air the bottle would allow in was not enough.  I grabbed the first thing available–an sample item that was the size of a piece of paper but much more rigid.  After playing with the best way to prop up the window, I left my desk and den and let them breathe in the fresh air.

You can imagine how surprised I was when I sat back down in my chair.  The window was closed, and the tool I used to prop up the window had plunged into the screen.  The screen was not a new screen.  It put up NO resistance.  The tear in the screen was in the bottom right corner.  The hole was about 11″ wide by 8″ tall.  The screen was still connected, but it was no longer eligible for my window in its present condition.  Mosquitoes and what-not could not avoid the temptation.

After watching some videos on how to change out a screen, I went to Home Depot to get a screen-changing kit.  I knew the kit would need to have a rolling tool to work the screen into the frame.  And the video told me I would need “spleen”.  I had no idea what size spleen  to purchase.  I stared down the headlights of the vehicle threatening to run me over in the Home Depot aisle before finding a product called ScreenMend.  As I reviewed the packaging, a memory surfaced about a product on SharkTank.  There was no mention of the product appearing on SharkTank, but it clearly could solve my problem.

Fortunately, it could solve my problem.  The product was easily trim-able.  I cut one sheet into 3 strips.  I placed one of them over the injury.  I applied it in the opposite direction of a Band-Aid.  My goal was to allow as much as possible of the tear to be covered by one strip.  (A Band-Aid does not want any of the sticky parts on the injury.  These strips worked more like a butterfly bandage)  One side of the sheets had a small amount of meltable plastic on it.  If that side of the strip was against the torn screen and a hairdryer was used, it would melt the undercoating enough to allow the healing to begin.  Using multiple strips and some overlapping,  the screen emerged as functional, but still slightly disfigured. If the operation was plastic surgery, the patient would need to go under the knife a few more times.

In conclusion, I would absolutely use the product again.  It was a time and money-saver.  It reminded me to “respect the screen.”  Screaming is optional, but it won’t make the screen whole.

Rejection Of Style

I knew I was going to get a haircut this week; I was not sure of the day.  As I was nearing the end of my walk, I decided today was the day.  I used the online check-in.  I didn’t need to.  There was no one ahead of me, and no one behind me the entire time I was there.  Unless requested, you get the next stylist that comes up.  Today, someone who had never cut my hair before cut was “up.”

This person was of a different faith than me.  She referred to praying while in troubled times.  And she claims to talk to others often about her faith.  I complimented her on her values, and we didn’t talk about much else.  She did compliment me on my full head of hair.  (My dentists used to compliment me on my great teeth…until they didn’t.  It was like I woke up one day and found out my teeth had aged two decades in a 6-month period.)  I didn’t let my “hair pride” get the best of me.  I took her comments about, “Some of our product lines are on sale” and “You should get yourself a new style for your women” as idle chatter.  I would not make any changes.  My only hope was she didn’t make my cowlick into a creature I could not control.

When the haircut was over, she did not comb my hair over.  She left it sticking up in the front.  Her mention of “Brad Pitt” may have been her last attempt to convince me I should try a new style.  As I stood up, I used her mirror and her comb to put my hair back the way it belongs.  Her unsanctioned styling looks to be a battle I will fight with my hair in the coming week.  She did not cut it to comb-over where I like to part it.

Fortunately, I had something to rejoice about as I checked out.  Nearly every year, I buy a hair card and prepay for 15 haircuts.  Two years ago, the card was purchased but soon disappeared.  The “Put it back in the envelope” rule developed soon afterward.  With some encouragement and two key pieces of information from my favorite stylist on a previous visit, I could call the corporate customer service number.  Within a few weeks, I had received a new card MINUS the one haircut that had already been used.

I got a haircut.  Because I used the recovered card, the cost was only the tip.   With this haircut, I have now received a haircut from everyone at this location.  I will only let this stylist cut my hair if I give her very specific instructions.  On the positive side, I have hair to cut, and it grows in quickly.  This puts me ahead of many my age.  It is motivation for me to continue to act and feel as young as I can.  When necessary, I will adopt the philosophy of many of my peers, “Beauty is only hair follicle deep.”


And Then There Was One…

My Favorite Coffee Mug

I didn’t grow up drinking coffee.  It entered somewhere before marriage.  While I still don’t have a strong love affair with coffee, it is part of my morning routine.  I will do everything possible to avoid drinking coffee black.  And, if creamer or a donut is not available on the side, I am likely to add some sugar.

My normal routine is a bagel or toast with peanut butter along with my 2 cups of coffee.  That is what makes this mug so special.  When my wife drinks from her little mug, she is getting very near “one cup” of coffee.  This mug swallows 2+ cups of her coffee cup.  When I drink two of these mugs, I am drinking almost half a pot of coffee.  I assign one cup to each piece of toast or each side of the bagel.  That is how I do it.

This mug said goodbye to one of its siblings today.  When they started, they were a set of quadruplets.  Romantically, I could say my wife got these mugs for me as we spent our first Christmas together.  She hoped its impressive depths would make me addicted to coffee for the duration of my earthly existence.  As of today, only one sibling remains.  Today’s accident was my fault.  To avoid doing dishes, I creatively stacked the dishes on the counter.  When my wife came into the kitchen, she accidentally bumped my stack.  I could say my deceased mug was a hero and sacrificed himself for others, but we all know that is not true.  He became another statistic.  I have no recollection of how the first sibling died.  The previous sibling was bumped, and it no longer had a grip on its handle.  Because I could not let go, I glued the handle back on the mug.  It was a poor repair job.  It saddened me every time I lustily drank coffee from its incredible reservoir of caffeine.  After too many repairs and possibly a stern talk from one of my children, I let it go.

Now, there is only one.  Other mugs entered my life as just a “one”.  Knowing I started with 4 of these mugs and am now eulogizing the three that are no longer in my life, I am saddened.  My immediate response when I heard the crockery breaking was, “No.  Darn.  That is too bad.”  Since the rest of the day had not been great, the shattering of the mug brought me back to reality.  Even though these mugs escorted me into my coffee addiction, they are just mugs.  I have plenty of love to share with the mugs who will lobby for my affections.  With a new Mrs. Baird Bread Store (The factory store on the south side of Fort Worth was a socially-distanced success) available to provide my coffee its morning company, I have much to be thankful for.

Take On The Challenge

As I was nearing the end of my walk today at the park, a boy on a scooter approached me.  As I tried to figure out what side of the sidewalk he was going to take, he uttered, “Are you going to take on the challenge?” before slowly surfing down the paved hill.  It was clear what his challenge was–he was going to see how far he could coast without pushing off.  My challenge was a little less clear.  So, the kid forced me to think…

  • What are you going to do today in trade for another day of life?
  • Who did you make feel better about themselves today?
  • Were you a helper or someone who avoided helping those who needed it?
  • Did you show those you loved that you cared for them today?  Do you need to have a bigger list so you are more challenged?
  • Did you laugh today?  Did you make someone else laugh?
  • Did you feel empathy for someone who hurts? (Preferably someone you know personally.  There is a spectrum of hurt–it can land anywhere on that spectrum.)
  • What did you do today that will be remembered tomorrow?  For how many tomorrows will it still be remembered?
  • Do you think you were more good than bad today?
  • What reward do you think your opinion deserves?

It seems I have come to a point where I am challenging you to think about where you will spend eternity.  Am I allowed to do that?  Could it hurt someone’s feelings?  In the past, forcing a person to think about their eternity was effective.  In the present, a discussion about eternity could trigger someone.  If anyone is curious about the hereafter and what you can do now to affect your eternity, please contact me on the contact form for this site.

Being Kind

Earlier this week, we had some work done in our backyard.  The previous owners in the first half of our house’s life (The house is 20 years old, and we have been here 10 years.) had some concrete work done.  Although nothing can be proven, it seems quite likely the “cleanup” from that work found its way into our drainage pipe.  The cleanup for that previous project took place this week.  It was strenuous work.  And, for me, it was made more difficult by not being able to communicate with the laborers–they were all Mexican.  The rest of the blog is largely about how we treat others.

The oldest of the laborers appeared to be blind in his right eye.  He may have been twice the age of the other two workers.  Early in the project, he tore one of his knuckles up working.  (Do I need to even say he was working very hard and definitely not getting overpaid?)   I had misplaced some inexpensive work gloves two weeks ago.  I bought myself a new set of 10.  When I found the gloves I misplaced, I had 3 sets remaining.  The gloves seemed meant to be given to the workers.  The older gentlemen took the gloves without question.  I set the other gloves down where they could quickly be put on.  After I left and returned, all 3 of them were wearing the cheap gloves I offered them.  This made me feel very good!

After the workday nearly was complete, I had the hydrogen peroxide, Neosporin, and bandaids for my injured friend.  I am not sure he received the full benefit of my efforts.  I hope he left thinking, “He cares about me.”  I know I have not always been the nicest of people.  After having kids, friends and relatives make big mistakes, I feel deep regret for those who are the victims of just a few life-changing decisions.  I made some poor decisions when young, but none of them had the consequences of some decisions these men working on my yard had made.  Because of decisions they made or decisions that were made for them, they are in a country where they do not speak the language of the majority or have the means to generate an income where they will ever get ahead.  Instead, they are forced to do whatever is necessary to survive.   While I am pro legal immigration, my heart grows soft when I see people who won’t ever have the opportunities I have.  If I wrote a check to each of them, it wouldn’t change their lives.  The best I can do is try to show them a Christ-like love during the time they are in my life.

Finally, I am not claiming to be better than anyone.  If you have the means to give someone something that benefits them, consider it.  (If people are begging as a way of life, I ask myself, “Will this benefit them?”  Most times, I seem to say, “No.”)  Any kindness I have is traceable to a pre-pandemic life.  Assuming I don’t have any false memories, the size of my heart and compassion for those who are genuinely hurting has grown.  The harder someone works with no proper opportunity to get ahead, the worse I feel for them.  And the lower the person is in the organization, the more I hold back my frustrations.  When a person is just doing what they have been told they can do, the people who sign their paychecks mean more to them than me.

My purpose in writing this?  Being kind takes only slightly more effort than getting angry.  If you need to ask, “What would Jesus do?”, use that as your motivation.  If you need to realize, “My bills get paid today whether or not I work.”, then allow that to push you toward greater compassion.  We share this planet with at least a few billion other people.  If you believe your bad day gives you the right to stomp on everyone else who doesn’t perform the exact way you would like, then you are very arrogant.  Try kindness.  You will like yourself better, and others will like you better, too.