The Game Board

The Creator sat down at the game board. He surveyed the pieces in play and then reached into the draw pile. He grabbed my piece and placed it on the board. Next, he took the hourglass and turned it over. I am now in play and the clock is running.

There is a reason why I am in play right now in the world we live in. There is a reason why my name was called. I don’t need to know why I was chosen. All I need to know is that I was chosen. Everything I do matters. Every choice is made based on previous choices. Every action is a culmination of past action. Momentum is built, or it is lost. My words and my deeds are the drivers of that momentum.

Will I outwork and outperform the other players on the board? My environment and circumstances had everything to do with my starting position, but it has nothing to do with where I will finish. The sands of time are running. I either play the game, or I risk going back into the draw pile.

Will I:

  • Forget that I am playing by drinking away my evenings. This is surely a “Lose a Turn” situation as it effects my performance the next day.
  • Go to jail because I keep repeating the same mistakes over and over. Creating my own prison is the result of bad habits never addressed.
  • Be a victim of chance. Fortune comes and Fortune goes. What will I do with the good? Even more important, how will I respond to the bad?

This life is a only a game but one of the highest stakes. I can either play the game, or I can let the game play me. What would the Creator who put my piece on the board want me to do? Okay then. I will play the game because that was what I was meant to do. Game on!

Another Night with the Frogs

2010. For the first time in over 14 years, I was jobless. The first month of unemployment, I was okay only a little worried. I had a good resumé and thought I was highly employable. As the days, then months, went by I became more worried. Relationships, especially my marriage, were strained. Depression set in and even the desire to go out and look for a job went away. By the end of year, I watched the days fade away as I sat doing nothing. I kept telling myself that tomorrow would be a better day. I would be more proactive and do what needed to be done.

When tomorrow came, I did as the day before and the days before that. Nothing. But oh, there was always another tomorrow, another chance to do better.

Then Pharoah summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “Pray to the Lord your God to remove the frogs from me and my people, and I will let the people go to sacrifice to the Lord.

Moses answered Pharoah, “Please designate for me the time when I am to pray for you and your servants and your people, to get rid of the frogs from you and your houses. They will be left only in the Nile.

“Tomorrow,” he said. Then Moses replied, “It will be as you said, so that you may know that there is none like the Lord, our God.”

Exodus 8:4-6

I listened to this passage from Exodus on The Bible in a Year Podcast with Father Mike Schmitz. After the reading, Fr. Mike pointed out one key word: tomorrow. Pharoah was suffering. The frogs were everywhere. When Moses asked Pharoah when he wanted the frogs gone, Pharoah said tomorrow. Why not immediately? Why suffer another day with the frogs? Why spend another night with frogs crawling around in your bed? And like Pharoah, why do we continue with our suffering another day if we could remove it today?

January 2022. I wanted to begin the year just as I left off in 2021. Study hard, finish the gym I am building, and continue the home improvements. Instead, I got Covid. For about two weeks, I laid around doing nothing. Just sitting outside in the sun or taking a walk to the mailbox wore me out. There is so much I needed to get done, but I had no ability to do it. As much as I hated to say it, I was praying for a better tomorrow. Oh Lord, not this again!

As the illness faded and clarity was coming back to my mind, a glimmer of hope began to surface. I was reminded of the importance of time. Never again did I want to tell myself I could do something tomorrow if it was possible to do it today. What matters is today; tomorrow is not guaranteed.

Have you ever been there? When it comes to fitness, nutrition, alcohol, or starting a new venture? Did you ever choose to continue suffering today in the hopes of alleviating it tomorrow? Why spend another night with the frogs when you could make it all go away today?

No Longer Blurry

Lasik surgery

Laying on the table. I am given a ball to squeeze. My eye is clamped open. I feel the pressure on the eyeball. I squeeze the ball as hard as I can. The pressure is almost too much. But to be able to see clearly, I will do anything.

Reminders of the past:

  • Waking up and not being able to see
  • Qualifying on the rifle in Basic Training. I did not want to wear the army prescribed glasses, so I wore my contacts without anybody knowing. I got pink eye in both eyes the week we were supposed to qualify. I had no glasses, so I shoved my contacts into my swollen, infected eyes. I kept them closed as much as I could. On the range, nearly blind, I opened my eyes at the sound of the other guns and the targets popping up.
  • Glasses at the age of seven. Hated them. Playing sports with the goggles. All about how I thought others perceived me.
  • When I moved in with my grandmother at eleven, I stopped wearing them. For the next two years, I walked around blind. I looked horrible because I couldn’t see.
  • Perception was all about not looking bad. But I couldn’t see so I had to do the best I could.
  • And then the big reminder, the…

Motorcycle wreck.

Two friends talked about going up the hill at the construction site. They asked me if I wanted to go. I said yes.

I wasn’t supposed to be on the bike, but I went anyway.

I saw the hill from a distance. In my excitement I wanted to be the first to go over it. My friends stop, but I didn’t pay them any attention. I went over.

Time stopped. Somewhere in the far regions of my mind, I heard sirens. They were distant and threatened to shake me from this wonderful dream of nothingness. I could feel a disturbance in my body. An outside force was shaking me. When I reluctantly opened my eyes, I saw a large pair of scissors cutting away my clothes. Firefighters and paramedics were gathered over my body. What happened?

I was loaded into an ambulance and rushed off to the hospital. Still, I had no idea what happened?

I was transferred to a cold, metal table. How long I lay there, I don’t know. All perception of time was gone. A nurse walked in, her wrinkled face staring down at me. She asked me questions, what they were I don’t remember. I asked her a question. “What happened?” I could see the tears in her eyes. She said, “Son, you tried to fly, but you had no wings.”

It turns out half of the hill at the construction site was cut away. I went over a fifty-foot cliff to what should have been my death.

As I lay on that table, I got scared. I couldn’t move. Am I paralyzed? This was trouble. I knew I was in trouble. I should not have been on that motorcycle. A petty thought ran through my mind. I wanted to ask the nurse if she could unroll the bottom of my jeans. I would do it, but I couldn’t move. My dad hated that and if he found out, he would be furious. This was what I was thinking on one of the most impactful days of my life. This was how skewed my vision was, not only in my two seeing eyes, but in that third eye of my mind. I was focusing on the wrong things.

Seven hours of testing. The nurses rolled me up and down the hallways. They asked me math questions to see if I could answer them. They talked about Star Trek: The Next Generation. It was one of the newest shows on television and even  featured a blind guy who used electronic glasses to see. Oh, what I would have given for those glasses.

It was after midnight when I finally made it to my hospital room. The room was dark. I was tired. I knew I was in trouble, but still I wanted my parents. In the corner, in the shadows of an already dark room, sat my father. I was startled when I noticed him but also relieved. Here was my father, my shelter in my time of need. Here was my father, my nightmare. Like a monster he came out of the corner, yelling, throwing things at me. He was furious. “How could I do this to him,” he yelled at me. I don’t know how long the tirade went on. It could have been only a few minutes. But it felt like a lifetime.

That summer I went to convalesce at my mom’s house. Those two months went by way too quickly, and I went back to my dad’s house to start my eighth grade.

The next six months were the most miserable of my life. I woke up, went to school, came home, ate dinner, and went to bed. I had no friends, no one to talk to, except myself. After a few lame, failed attempts at suicide I finally ran away. Eventually, I made it back to my mother’s house.

Over the next thirty years, I saw my father only a handful of times. I moved on and didn’t want anything to do with him. Secretly, I hated him. Any problems I had, no matter what the cause, I blamed him. Even the chronic pain in my neck and back was his fault. Social, psychological, and physical, all him.

Finally able to see

My eyes are checked after the Lasik surgery. I can see clearly. In the next few days as I heal, the blurriness at the edge of my vision goes away. Everything is clear. And as I look on this world with what seems like a new set of eyes, I realize that so much is different. My perception no longer remains the same.

As my physical vision improves, so does the vision of my mind’s eye. Looking back on my past inability to see, I realize there was so much I missed. Instead of seeing what was, I only saw what I dimly perceived and that from my own perspective. Maybe my dad didn’t go about it the best of ways, but he did not take out that motorcycle on that day. I did. He didn’t drive over the cliff. I did. My pain is not his but mine. I own it, just like I should have owned every decision I ever made. For over thirty years, I tried to shift the blame to him. But it wasn’t until I could see clearly that I realized that I was the root cause for all my problems.

Feature photo by J. E. Schoondergang on Unsplash

The Drowning Man

If a man is drowning, what should you do? The correct answer is to throw him a life preserver, a rope, an oar, or any other tool that can get him above the water and to safety. The wrong answer is to jump in and try to save him. Of course, if you are an exceptionally strong swimmer, you might be able to jump in and rescue him. Anybody else jumping in would be putting their life at risk. Remember:

A drowning man will pull you down with him.

Yes, this is a simple rule one would do well to heed. But this rule goes beyond the water. When the oxygen masks drop down on the plane, you should ensure your own mask is secure before you try to secure the child’s mask next to you. It goes against our natural intuition, yet it is proven to be effective.

Are there people in your life that are drowning around you? Take a moment and consider this question. If your friends and/or family are drowning in life, do your best to help them. Maybe this is advice or a referral to an expert that can help them. Give them the tools to get above the water. But under no circumstance should you allow them to pull you down with them.

In Solomon’s first chapter in the Book of Proverbs, we are instructed to stay away from the sinners. Why? They will ask us to come along with them to do their evil deeds. They will speak of the rewards of their mischief and will want you to join them. But Solomon warns us to stay away from them. Their way ends in death.

We must constantly guard ourselves against those who will pull us down. Even if this means we should separate ourselves from them and sever our ties, we should do it. In this case, we should save ourselves first before we try to save the others.

Feature photo by Autri Taheri on Unsplash

Present and Accounted For

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of catching up with some old friends from the Army. It was a great time remembering old stories and hearing how they are doing in life.

During one of our talks, I had a mini revelation. This was one of the few times I was fully present in the moment. When someone was talking, I was completely immersed in the story. I was interested in what the other person was saying without the desire to interrupt the flow. There were no thoughts of what I was going to say next. In fact, there was no thoughts of the past or the future. I was completely in the present.

Being present is one of the great challenges of my life. There is so much going on in my head, all the time. But letting go of this unnecessary “stuff,” I found myself in a state of bliss. I was free of worry and anxiety. As I thought about this experience, I realized that this state of being is where I need to be more often. How much better would I be? How much more will my family, friends, and coworkers appreciate an attentive person to talk to?

How did I do it?

First, I put my phone in airplane mode and set it down in another room. Without this perpetual distraction, I was more engaged with the others.

Next, I became genuinely interested in the others. This was easy. These were old friends I wanted to spend time with. But what if this was someone else? Would I have been able to do it? I’m not sure, but I do know one thing. My friends, just like anybody else, were talking about things that were important to them. Knowing that it was deemed important for them to share, I felt it was important for me to listen. People want to share with others what they believe is important or at least relevant to the conversation. By listening to them, we can listen to a different perspective. Fully present, we can see the world through the lens of their eyes. This is a chance many miss when they only concentrate on what they are going to say next. I have missed that chance too many times in my life. I hope the experience from last weekend is a turning point in my attentiveness to others.

Feature photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

A Break from the Socials and What I Learned

I picked up my phone and looked at the screen. I didn’t know what to do, so I just stared at it. There was one folder on my phone that was off-limits. In that folder were all my social media apps. I already checked email. I didn’t feel like opening up the Kindle app or reading an article. There wasn’t anything really productive that I needed to do on it. Why did I even pick it up in the first place?

Photo by Szabo Viktor (Unsplash)

 Before Christmas, I made the choice to take a social media break. Did I have a problem? I don’t know. I’m still debating it. I went a little over two weeks and here’s what I learned about myself:

  • The habit to pick up my phone is strong. Any downtime, I pick it up. Have an iPhone and curious about the amount of times you pick up the phone? Check the stats on Screen Time. A person that sleeps 8 hours a day and picks up their phone 48 times through the day averages one pickup every 20 minutes. The week before I stopped social media, I had a Tuesday with 61 pickups. I wonder how many times to check notifications? I get it for messages, but are likes really that important? How many times was I scrolling mindlessly?
  • Thinking about mindless scrolling…How is that really being sociable? Am I looking for content that I can engage in or am I just wasting time swiping up? And if there is no content in my feed worth engaging with, maybe I need to change my content. If I don’t, what’s the purpose?
  • You only get so much time in this life. Killing time on my phone is a crime against this gift. I did this trial during the holiday season. How many family gatherings have you witnessed where the family members spent more time on their phones that they did in fellowship with the rest of the family? When I got past the habit of constantly picking up my phone, I found that I was more attentive to those around me. This was a worthwhile trade-off.

Social media is not bad. Used properly, the benefits are enormous. Without balance, it could suck the very life force out of you. I’m still struggling the find the balance. If I can stay mindful in my daily practice, I can win this battle. This may mean taking regularly scheduled breaks. So if you follow me, and I go dark for a while, you know why.

Have a best practice? I would love to hear about it.

Old and New Friends

Last weekend, the family took a trip to Charlotte. While there, we took the time to meet up with an old friend I knew back in my Army days. We met him at the restaurant he manages, and this is my take-away.

The place was packed as usual on a Saturday evening. While waiting for a seat, we were standing next to a wall trying to stay out of the way of traffic. I noticed an older couple with their elderly mother waiting to be seated as well. I gave up my place next to the wall to make room for the mother. Doing so, the gentleman introduced himself to me. For the next few minutes we conversed like old friends. Having this type of conversation is rare for me, and this was really a treat. I will most likely never see this man again in my life, but it will be a long time before I forget our short chat.

Once seated, we finally got the moment the catch up with my friend. As mentioned before, the restaurant was really busy. In snatches of free moments, he came by, sat down, and the next portion of our conversation resumed. We spoke about all the usual stuff that friends who haven’t seen each other in almost twenty years would be speak about. After dinner, I walked out of the restaurant truly grateful that we took the time to stop by.

Reflecting back on the evening, these are the things that stood out for me:

  • Smile to strangers and take the time to say hello. You never know what good things might come from such a small gesture.
  • Part of the joy in reconnecting with an old friend is to see how well that friend is doing. The years have a way of deteriorating the mind and the body. To see someone who is still able mentally and physically with a spark in their eyes and warmth in their soul is something none of us should take for granted. Though this night I did not drink to his health, that was my truest wish.

I didn’t get home until late that night and missed a text from another friend. I woke up the next morning to see “I need to hear from you” showing on my phone. When I got the chance to call Monday morning, I received some more good news. This friend, now sober for 9 days, was wanting to catch me up on her progress. She seems to really be on the right track in life, and I can’t wait to see her progress in the future.

Hey Google, Set Timer to 14 Months

A month ago, everything seemed fine. And then three weeks ago, there was a seizure that led to brain surgery. Another incident last week, and the news was delivered to my Father-in-Law, “You have 14-18 months left.” The news is difficult for him. It is difficult for the family. And yes, it is difficult for me. Here is a man who has had an enormous impact on my life. He has taught me so much, and yet, I feel as if there is so much more for him to teach me. Selfish? Maybe. But isn’t this how things have been done within families since the beginning of time? A man teaches his son, who in turn teaches his son. Down through the ages, knowledge is accumulated and passed down, strengthening those who would bear the torch of the family name into an uncertain future. In this case, maybe selfish is really a survival instinct in man’s evolution.

My Father has been given an hourglass. The sands are running. I can’t imagine what he is going through and what he is thinking about. I wonder what he is going to do with his time left. But as I think about his remaining time, I am drawn back to my own selfish thoughts and how this impending doom affects me. He has the timer, but someday I will have it. And yet even that is wrong. I will not receive a timer someday in the future. I already have it.

Your days are numbered. Use them to throw open the windows of your soul to the sun. If you do not, the sun will soon set, and you with it. -Marcus Aurelius

If I was told I had a year left, what would I do? What would you do? You could make a bucket list. You could go and see all the wonders of this world. Do all the things you have always dreamed of. Making a bucket list would lead to three questions?

Can you afford your list?

I know I can’t. Give me a year, I would probably die in poverty. I wouldn’t want to work, but I would have no choice. I have debt. I like food. I have a family depending on me. Could you imagine clocking in to work every day knowing it could be your last?

Of course, this is a scenario if you are in debt in your last days. If you carry debt and minimal savings, you are out of luck. You will toil unto the last of your days, so that you and family may eat.

Why not do it now?

Remember, all of our days are numbered. We have no guarantee of tomorrow, let alone a year. Why are we not living life to the fullest right now? But you say, “I can’t afford my bucket list, how can I do this?” Start getting yourself in position today. Prepare now that your family may be covered. Prepare now that you are not working to the very end.

What is on the list?

To see the world, you are preparing to leave, is it necessary? Maybe yes, if it is to share those experiences with loved ones. If you have the means and the desire, then go for it. But what if your bucket list was less about travel and experience and contained such things as:

  • Capturing as many sunrises and sunsets as possible,
  • Spending more productive time with family and friends. Hugging a little longer. Loving a little more. These are the ones that will keep your memory alive.
  • Spending more time contemplating the life to come. Some would suggest there is no after life. That may be fine for them, but I would not rather take the gamble. If there is even a one-tenth of one percent of going to heaven, then there is also a possibility of a hell. I would rather aim for a chance at heaven, then risk whatever misery could be waiting in hell.

These three items alone may be the poor man’s bucket list. But are they not of far greater value than a trip to the pyramids or a bender in Vegas?

Get busy with life’s purpose, toss aside empty hopes, get active in your own rescue- if you care for yourself at all- and do it while you can. -Marcus Aurelius

The clock is winding down on all of us, whether we realize it or not. For my Father, he has been given 14-18 months. What does that mean? Death stands at the threshold patient and waiting. The old Marine could go tomorrow or he could go fifteen years from now. He is no different than us, only more aware than us of things to come. He can wallow in grief that the time is near or he can make the most and count each day as a gift. It is his choice. So, it is with us, we get to choose what we do with the time we have left.

You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think. -Marcus Aurelius

The Unexpected 12 Days of Christmas

With about 12 days off for Christmas break, I had so many plans. I imagined all the things I could get done, and yet so little of it actually got checked off. In the end I was left with two questions:

  • Will I ever be able to accomplish all the things I want to get done?
  • Where does my personal checklist weigh in compared to the things that really matter?

Quick recap of events:

Days 1-7. The family was in town. Every morning we woke up and drove to my parents (in-laws) house and stayed past our normal bedtimes. We watched kids play. We ate. We did most of the things families do when they gather. Nothing on my list got done. No workouts, very little reading, very little writing. All of the “I want to’s” were replaced by “We did this” and in the end isn’t that all that really matters?

Day 8. I decided to shave my head. There really wasn’t a whole lot to shave off. All I did was hasten the inevitable along. Turns out taking a razor to my head was practice for the future.

Day 9. Dinner at the in-laws. Just a normal afternoon, but Hank, my Father-in-law, never made it back from an errand. Instead, we got a call saying he may have had a stroke and was being air-lifted to Greenville. Good news, it wasn’t a stroke. Bad news, they found a mass on his brain that needs to be removed.

Day 10. They are going to have to operate to remove the mass. After a little research, we find out that the #8 neurosurgeon in the area in going to perform the procedure. Top ten is not bad, unless there is only sixteen. Did you know doctors get reviewed like restaurants or products on Amazon? The #8 doc has a lot of 1 stars in the comments.

Day 11. Happy New Year with a bit of uncertainty. Operation: Mass Removal takes place in 2 days. When you are planning to have someone dig around in your head, you want the best skull driller out there. Just so happens a family friend and fellow Marine to Hank sits on the hospital board. Put away your Junior Mints #8, because the #1 guy is going to be in the room as well.

Day 12. Time to get razor blades out. Nobody is scalping the Colonel without experience, and it turns out my shiny pate decision gives me the most recent experience in this area. After a nice family lunch, I take off the guard on the blades and do my first fly-over. Follow that up with a warm wash cloth, a generous amount of shaving cream, and a fresh blade, and before we know it, there are two good-looking men in the family (no offense to the others with their fancy quaffs).

My Christmas break ended. As I returned to work, Hank was preparing to go under the knife. The surgery went well. There were no complications. And until we learn the origin of the mass, we are, for the most part, out of the woods.

2018 has ended. 2019 is here. Many take this time to reflect and prepare. As I reflect on the last two weeks, I have been reminded of a few lessons and learned some new ones.

  • As so many of the Stoics teach: Control what you can control. There is so much that is not in our control. We can make plans. We can work diligently to execute them, but we have to keep in mind that there is so much more in life than accomplishing our personal goals. We are not guaranteed of having a tomorrow, so we must live to our fullest today. As the chaos of what we cannot control unfolds around us, we must control what we can control. We can control how we deal with the chaos. We can control our response. Maybe the gods are out to get us, but do they get to dictate our attitudes? We can control our attitudes.
  • The Army is huge. Outside of a few close brothers that I served with, I have never felt the brotherhood of the organization as a whole. The Marines are different, and I am always amazed by it. They won’t leave you behind on the battlefield, and I have yet to see one left behind off the battlefield. The Marines I have had the pleasure of knowing have always been faithful.

Who am I to look down on a person that has given his life to the study  and practice of medicine? Outside of his reviews, I don’t know #8 from Adam. He may be an excellent doctor. Who am I to judge? I am quick to scoff and say I would only want #1. I demand the best out of others, but do I demand the best out of myself? How many 1 stars do I have in my contributions to making this world a better place? On that day of judgment, nobody will be standing before God on my behalf. His review will be the only one that matters, and it will be based on the things I have done, not wished to have done.

The Christmas Ten

Yesterday, I read The Ultimate Guide for Becoming an Idea Machine by James Altucher. I read this article last year and somehow forgot all about it. I may have not been an idea machine back then, but now I am ready to give this a try. How do you become an idea machine? Make a list of ten things. Every day. It doesn’t even matter what the list is about. You get to choose. It could be 10 things you want to do or 10 ideas for someone else’s business. Not every idea will be a gem, but that is not the point of the exercise. The point is to come up with the ideas. And maybe along the way, some good ones may pop up.

Today will be my put attempt at it. Being that it is Christmas, here is my list of ten things I could write about on this day.

  1. Today is all about hope. Why some would choose to deny that or prevent others from that hope is beyond me.
  2. I often forget how amazing Joseph is. His story is a lesson in humility and understanding that I could stand to learn and apply to my own life as a father and a husband.
  3. I wonder what Jesus’ childhood was like. Can you imagine Him as a toddler? Did He conduct Himself differently at that age?
  4. Thinking of children. The joy and excitement on their faces truly is precious. I hope they never lose it, and I even hope that I can become more like them in my enthusiasm. As Dostoevsky said, “The soul is healed by being around children.”
  5. If this day is about peace and love, I do not need to be an additional thorn in the side of those who are hurting. I need to be patient, thoughtful, and kind every day but especially on this day.
  6. There is a temptation to sit around and do nothing, maybe get sucked into the drain of social media. Doing this is not being a servant to anyone. I need to put aside this temptation and get engaged.
  7. Making a list of 10 isn’t as easy or quick as I thought. But with practice, this task can become second nature . I’m reminded of something a friend’s recently departed mother used to say, “Go to the pantry and find a can’t.” There is none in there, but there are plenty of cans.
  8. This is also a day of faith. When ours is waning, let us remember those dearly departed who have gone before us. Those whose hope and faith never wavered even on the darkest of days. Their example is one we all can learn from.
  9. If I eat too much of the bad stuff today, I won’t have any room left for the good stuff that my body really needs. A little moderation and self-discipline can go a long ways.
  10. This day is also about LOVE and the greatest show of love comes in the form of sacrifice. Maybe today we are not laying down our lives for others, but we can sacrifice our selfish desires and freely give our energy and our time for the good of those around us.

I wish you all a Merry Christmas!