Monthly Archives: April 2013

Persistence

Persistence - pansy in concrete w copyrightI did a double take when I saw it. A single yellow pansy blooming in the driveway. Certainly nobody planted it there, yet somehow a seed took root. And there it was, its sweet pansy face peeking up from a crack in the concrete. I had to stop and take a photo of a literal “bloom where you are planted” story.

How often do I complain about how the present location isn’t ideally suited to take root, bloom, and produce? Or maybe the timing isn’t right. Or maybe I just don’t have enough time. Besides, everybody knows you can’t grow pansies in concrete cracks. Of course, weeds seem to flourish there. But here was a pansy staring me in the face and reminding me that against all odds, and even without ideal circumstances or conditions, blooming is indeed a possibility. The flower’s beauty and contrast with its harsh concrete surroundings was both stunning and defying the logic of my conventional wisdom.

Persistence. Patience. Possibility. These are the makings of everyday miracles. Stick with it. Don’t give up. And don’t stop believing. What do Olympic athletes have in common? Certainly some degree of natural skill and ability. Beyond that, they stick with it. They don’t give up. And they don’t stop believing they can win. In spite of the daily grind requiring long hours of practice, blistered bodies, bruised egos, and tired muscles, they persevere. And the most persistent usually take home the gold.

The same could be said for virtually every worthwhile pursuit. You could become proficient in a foreign language by studying a few minutes a day. Every day. For a long time. You could become a good pianist if you take lessons every week, practice 30 minutes every day, and do so over an extended period of time.

You’ll need to up the ante if you want to become a concert pianist, and very few do–really want to, that is. Because if you just want to a little, it won’t happen. You have to want to a lot, and then act accordingly. Persistently. Consistently. For a very long time. Despite less than ideal circumstances. Despite distractions. Despite sacrificing personal comfort.

What do you want to do? What is keeping you from accomplishing that dream? Persistence. Patience. Possibility. You can do it. You can find freedom from your circumstances and limitations. Just look at the photo of the pansy emerging from its concrete prison and let your dreams bloom right where you are planted. God, who specializes in making the impossible possible, can help you overcome adversities that you cannot conquer on your own.

It’s not an easy road. Easy roads are paved with good intentions and filled with potholes of adversity. Easy roads have weeds growing in the cracks. The road less travelled is paved with persistence, patience, and possibility. The potholes of adversity are still there, but the traveler choosing that route might just be greeted with the face of an unexpected pansy along the way.

Why I Love Old Barns

Why I Love Old Barns Graphic BarnDriving by, what you see is probably different from what I see. The barn may be old and dilapidated. The roof started leaking years ago and eventually the weather soaked into the supporting timbers so the old girl now sags where she once stood firm and tall. If you look closely enough, you might see flecks of red paint under the growing lichens and moss on the sideboards. If you are lucky, you might find the upper floor still intact, once the home to bales or mounds of hay, guaranteeing the livestock would not starve during winter’s ravaging days. And if you are really lucky, you might find the old block and tackle with rope still attached, now rotting and frayed, but once attached to a hay fork or hook designed to transport that hay and probably a young boy or two up to the hayloft on a hot summer day.

Work and pleasure—that’s what comes to mind when I see that old barn, along with a million more memories. Because I once was one of those delighted boys who loved it when the work was done and my dad would use the old block and tackle to provide me a joyous ride on a rope up to the hayloft. It wasn’t quite the same as riding the Zipper at the state fair. But for a home-made thrill, it was as about as good as it gets, at least in those days. Much better than coasting my bike at breakneck speed down Sunnycrest Hill, especially since there was no crash at the end with bloody chin, hands, elbows, and knees, not to mention the smattering of gravel ground in for good measure. No, you could ride to the top relatively unscathed without so much as a concussion, unless a friend other than your dad happened to be hoisting you up and let the rope slip when you were almost at the top! So I stop and take a picture to preserve what will soon be rot, dust, and ashes, knowing that somebody somewhere probably cherishes similar memories from this very place.

Old Barn and Silo 2 on Mox Chehalis Rd 4-14-13What adventures were staged in that hayloft, real or imagined? Pirates and terror on the high seas played out in a child’s mind, though miles from the nearest body of navigable water? Cowboys riding their horses at a gallop with Winchester Model 94’s pulled from the scabbard while in hot pursuit of a mountain lion threatening their cattle? World War II Soldiers fighting the Battle of the Bulge to protect the world from Nazi tyranny? Or how about a first crush daydream interlude, as a fourth grade boy imagines waking in the middle of the night hearing the screams of Laura Lane, his classmate up the road.  “Somebody please save me,” Laura screams. Our young hero bravely answers the call to duty and rescues Laura from the fiery inferno, although becoming mortally wounded in the process. Stumbling through the flaming wreckage with suffocating smoke, he grabs Laura in his arms. He relishes his final breath as Laura declares her eternal gratitude for her young rescuer and kisses his bruised cheek and smiles as he places her safely on the front lawn, his final act of sacrificial devotion. In a hayloft, heroes lived and died, and imagination was better than a video game.

Barns can also be a place of worship and prayer, of meeting with God. In the Old Testament, Gideon was threshing grain when the angel of the Lord appeared to him. Jesus was born amid livestock and laid in a manger. Farmers know well the biblical injunction to “pray without ceasing.” Whether praying about the weather, a crop, or a prodigal child, a farmer’s work often allowed ample time to pray while milking the cows, slopping the hogs, feeding the chickens, or driving the tractor. The pace of life and nature of the work provide a symbiotic relationship and environment for prayer and reflection to flourish. I remember a young boy praying while performing such chores, or while lying flat on his back in the hayloft. “Lord, what do you want me to do with my life?”

What about the economic benefit to the family and community? The livestock produced, the cows milked, all providing more employment for the hired hands, the delivery people, the feed store, and the grocery store workers? A single family farm could have far-reaching influence for labor and industry. Not to mention the lessons learned in thrift, character, and the satisfaction of working with your hands and cooperating with God in the care of his creation and growing things beneficial to God’s children.

Old Barn and Silo on Mox Chehalis Rd 4-14-13And what about the family ties, stronger than the rope in the hayloft, that intertwined and made family the heart of the family farm? While not fair to compare it to contemporary living in a city apartment, the truth is, there is no comparison. Memories of farm life are all about family, love, endurance, strength, doing things, and getting things done—together. Unlike most twenty-first century families, farm families lived, worked, ate, and played—together. We knew our land like the back of our hands, every fence, valley, creek, tree, and blade of grass. And we knew each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Despite the latter, we worked together to make each other successful. Every meal lovingly prepared was the tasty culmination of a team effort.

So, that’s why I take photographs of old barns. I see a different picture, an image carefully concealed and hiding beyond the pile of junk you might glimpse driving past at sixty miles per hour. I see the intersection of time, space, weather, God’s creativity and faithfulness combined with human existence to produce a work of art. Capturing it in a snapshot of time seems the least I can do.

Letting Go!

Letting Go - remote controlPut down that remote control. Now! Yes, I’m talking to you. Even if you are a male. Especially if you are a male. Put it down, slowly, on the coffee table. Then step back.”

Hard to do isn’t it? We’ve all watched siblings or spouses wrestle over the remote control. Nobody wants to wrestle to a draw. Everybody wants to wrestle to win. But what if the person you’re wrestling with is yourself?

Giving up control is seldom easy. Neither is losing. Unless by losing you are actually gaining. Like the times you might have lost at a game or something you knew you could easily win. Instead, you let somebody else win because you knew losing at that moment was actually winning. Winning a friend, or winning the heart of a child, or winning the wrestling match between your humility and your selfish pride. Tough choice to make, but often worth it. Because keeping your hand on the remote control is not the most important thing.

We come into this world crying with a closed fist. We generally leave with a final sigh and an open hand. What if we lived every day in between our first and last with an open hand? Instead of being grabbers, what if we moved toward opportunities for letting go?  Instead of trying to get at the head of the line, the closest parking space, the corner office, how would it feel to let it go?

“What a loser of an idea,” you might conclude. Taken to an extreme, I would agree. But most people don’t take it to an extreme. Most of us have to daily make a conscious effort to even think a little about others. Because we default to think a lot about ourselves. We are hardwired to think like a crying, grasping baby. Only maturity and an awareness of God’s grace makes us think more like Mother Teresa. What if we took a bit more seriously these words from the Bible?

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same attitude of mind Christ Jesus had: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a human being, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:3-8 TNIV)

Remote. Control. What do those words really mean? I think they mean “distant” and “demanding.” Not qualities we normally admire. Quite the opposite of Jesus who humbly drew near the human race by becoming one of us, and took on “the nature of a servant.” Even though he could have been a “remote control” God, he did not choose to do so. Relationships thrive, not when we are distant and demanding, but when we draw near and serve one another.

“Put down that remote control.” Trust me, you’ll feel better if you do. Let somebody else win that wrestling match. What you gain will be so much more than what you lose.

Semper Fi: Enduring Influence – Part 2 “Heroes”

Semper Fi = Enduring Influence“We’re looking for a few good men”

– The U.S. Marine Corps.

I remember frequently seeing or hearing that phrase as a boy growing up during the Viet Nam era. In print, television, or radio commercials, the message was the same: it requires something to be a Marine. It requires faithful service, and only a few meet that requirement.

Though not a Marine, our nation yesterday (4/11/13) honored a faithful hero. The Congressional Medal of Honor was awarded posthumously by President Obama to U.S. Army Chaplain (Capt.) Emil Kapaun, a hero who died in 1950 during the Korean War serving and saving the lives of his fellow soldiers.

Chaplain Kapaun heroically saved the life of a wounded soldier who was about to be executed by the enemy by running to and lifting the wounded man. Both were captured and sent to a POW camp, where the chaplain continued to serve as a representative of Jesus, frequently giving his own tiny ration of food so other soldiers could live. He modeled faith and virtue. While keeping hope alive for others, he died of starvation in that camp.Chaplain Kapaun US Army Hero - Congressional Medal of Honor - Korean WAr

One iconic image of Chaplain Kapaun captures his story. The photo shows him helping a wounded soldier, with his arm around his shoulder. In an online article in Time magazine, Chaplain Col. Kenneth W. Stice describes Chaplain Kapaun’s heroism:

“I’ve read his story and wondered what were the influences that shaped him to be such a man of influence, willing to make extraordinary sacrifices for others.  Well there’s the obvious formation of his abiding religious faith and practice. That is common to all chaplains.

But there’s also the influence of his family life – as one who grew up in rural Kansas, on a farm, within a tightly-connected community. It was in that context that he learned the value of hard and honest work, loyalty and support of neighbors, and simple a lifestyle with meager possessions.

Both of those streams of influence were absolutely vital in preparing him to endure captivity with such humility and courage, so that he became the inspiration of other POWs to carry on.  Chaplain Kapaun was consistent in his daily walk, and how he lived his faith.

The remarkable acts of bravery under direct fire in November of 1950 were reinforced through those daily acts of religious faith. All chaplains have the opportunity to make that impact on others with consistent living that was epitomized by Chaplain Kapaun’s example. His consistent walk and witness encourage me on my own journey of faith. But that same witness serves to convict me of areas that I need to be more faithful.”[1]

Did you notice how many times Col. Stice used the word, “influence” to describe this heroic man? I was touched reading about Chaplain Kapaun’s faithfulness and enduring influence. And I had to ask, What do all faithful heroes have in common? Here’s what I came up with:

  • They are present and available rather than absent and inaccessible. Can my loved ones count on me to be present and available–to be there for them when they need me?
  • They are alert and engaged, rather than pre-occupied and distant. Am I present when I am present, or neglecting my duty to pay attention to my family, my friends, my responsibilities?
  • They are courageous and sacrificial, rather than playing it safe out of harm’s way. Will I protect and serve others, or only myself?

The Marines are looking for a few good men who will be “always faithful.” It’s not a gender thing, anybody can be a hero to somebody by being faithful in who you are and faithful in what you do. Enlist today, your faithful influence will endure. Semper Fi!



[1] U.S. Army Chaplain Col. Kenneth W. Stice, “Medal of Honor: Chaplain Kapaun’s Heroism Feted Today. Time, April 11, 2013 at http://nation.time.com/2013/04/11/medal-of-honor-chaplain-kapaums-heroism-feted-today/ accessed 4/12/13.

Semper Fi = Enduring Influence: Part 1

Semper Fi = Enduring Influence“There’s no such thing as an ex-Marine!” While I have heard NCIS Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs on television’s top-rated series make the remark many times, I was somewhat surprised to hear the unison voices of three students echo the exact sentiment. Someone in the university class I was teaching happened to mention that a number of their cohorts were ex-Marines, thus their collective and corrective response.

It got me thinking. What is it that makes a select group of individuals so impassioned that they proudly wear the title, “Marine” as a badge of honor forever? Not “ex-Marine,” mind you, but even years following active duty they subscribe to an identity in the present tense, “Marine.”

What occurs within that window of time in active service, be it two years or thirty, that becomes part of the fabric of their lives forever? What creates the ethos, the culture, the duty, the mission that permeates their collective DNA? What could inspire random diverse individuals with unique personalities, gifts, and talents into a unit with a collective identity and purpose? What is so compelling about their mission that men and women risk life and limb to defend each other and more importantly, defend the dignity and freedom of their nation? What could possibly generate such enduring influence?

Books could be written on the subject (and they have). Techniques, strategies, training, culture, combat, duty, shared quarters, community, language, experience, camaraderie—these all contribute. But in the end it really comes down to two words: Semper fi. Not “semper fidelis.” The abbreviated version works fine, and is more efficient in the Marine economy. Latin is not the strong suit for most Marines. And like Special Agent Gibbs on NCIS, most Marines I know are people of few words. They choose action over verbiage. They don’t need a lot of fancy words to proclaim their faithfulness, they show it every day. They get things done. They can be counted on when it counts. Their influence endures. In a word, leadership is influence, and they lead by example.

We have all experienced the effects of unfaithfulness. Needless suffering, broken promises, broken vows, broken families, and broken lives are the inevitable result. Even the most faithful person may have a lapse of faithfulness. Unfaithfulness is common. Faithfulness is rare. That explains the question posed by the writer of Proverbs: “Many claim to have unfailing love, but a faithful person who can find?” (TNIV)

Semper fi. Always faithful. Always on active duty. Always ready to be found, identified, and counted. What if every disciple of Jesus Christ was as quick as my Marine students to identify with Jesus? Never an ex-disciple. Never a lapse, but always faithful. Who knows, we might become people of enduring influence. And we might just change our world.