20 Things I’ve Learned in My 50s

•Some days when you get out of bed, it’s just going to hurt.

•Ibuprofen is a wonderful drug, preventive and otherwise.

•No matter how much it disgusts you about yourself, a couple of hairs are going to grow around your ears. If there was any remaining hope of coolness, rest assured it’s forever gone.

•When it comes to physical work in a day, you are going to get less done, and it involves a lot more breaks.

•A daily afternoon nap is okay. I’ve earned it.

•I’m not too old to still dream and set high goals.

•It’s a worthy cause to invest in younger adults.

•At this point, and for many reasons, your spouse becomes more and more important to you.

•Do not set some magical, distant date when you’ll “start enjoying life.” Enjoy life and begin doing those things now. There is no promise of tomorrow.

•The newspaper obituary column is more significant to you than it once was.

•There is great pleasure just sitting watching it rain or snow.

•Always be a rookie at something.

•Convictions are worthless without action.

•Find a couple of things that when you do them daily, make you a better person. And do those things.

•Learn not to be so hard on yourself for past mistakes.

•Try to do a good deed every day. It’s even better if the deed cannot be returned.

•I am the only one who is responsible for reconciling the past.

•It is better to live my faith than to talk about it, though talking about it is worthy discussion.

•My greatest fear will always be acting a hypocrite.

•Some of the greatest moments happen around a big table with great food.

2018 – My Best, Worst, and Other List

Favorite Books Read: Building a Story Brand by Donald Miller; My Southern Journey, Rick Bragg; Learning to Speak God from Scratch, Jonathan Merritt

Best Movies Seen: The Greatest Showman, Same Kind of Different as Me

Best Song: What Makes You Country, Luke Bryan;  Reckless Love, Cory Asbury

Great Professionals Lost: Aretha Franklin, Anthony Bourdain, sportscaster Keith Jackson

Worst Lie: Impossible to choose.

Best Thing That Was Old That is New Again: I’m bringing the fishing hobby back into my life. Bought a nice boat a few weeks ago.

Favorite New Dream: An around the world plane ticket, and apparently there’s a new 1,700-mile hiking trail in Chile that passes through dozens of national parks.

Most Surprising New Habit: Evaluating how every word written in every  social media post might actually make someone angry before the post gets made.

Most Surreal Moment I’d Always Thought About and Actually Did: Sitting at a bar sipping whiskey with locals in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland. Sounds crazy, but it was a real thrill.

Last Year’s Most Accurate Prediction About This Year: The danger of a national numbness.

Biggest Conversion: Yes, I will watch the occasional Hallmark movie now.

Favorite Personal Moment: Standing on the Cliffs of Moher, eyes closed, North Atlantic sea spray blowing against my face, breathing in the freshest air God ever created, and taking a mental picture of it all that I’ll carry with me always.

Best Sense of Personal Satisfaction: Not quitting after having three different book proposals rejected by some of the best agents in the country. We finally nailed one in November and I’m so fired up about it.

The Resulting Lesson from the Paragraph Above: Have a teachable spirit and never give up on a dream you know God puts in your heart.

Best Grassroots Experience: I got to travel all around the country speaking at REIs and signing books. But even better was the number of people who opened their homes and took me in as a guest. I’ll never forget spending time with such hospitable friends.

Most Disturbing Trends I See: “us vs. them” vocabulary; placing more value in symbols than the actual idea the symbols represent; an absence of shame.

Characterizing This Year in Two Words I’d Use: Sadly predictable.

Best Epiphany Experienced This Year:  Faith is not some notion that we come to as a matter of last resort. We don’t default to faith, but rather we come to it through an ongoing exercise of doubt and reason.  It’s all God’s design that faith is a reasoned trust. It’s His quest of choice for each of us. We come to faith just as we come to other conclusions in life.

Favorite New Gadget: A portable USB fan that travels with me everywhere.

Favorite New Obscure TV Series: Forever on Amazon.

Biggest Regret: Missing a trip to Morocco during a three-month stay in Spain.

Biggest Issue that I Was Once Set on and Now Taking Time to Carefully Reconsider: Is homosexuality consistent or inconsistent with biblical teaching, and what is the church’s role in all this?

Prediction for Next Year’s National Scene: It’s going to get worse before it gets better, but it’s going to get better.

-30-

 

 

Daddy, They Came!!!

Daddy:

 

My simple pleasure. The majestic purple martin.

Just before you you left us, you asked me to take care of a few things. You knew I would do them, but I’m glad you asked, anyway.

What you didn’t know is that I planned to carry on some of your favorite traditions – in honor of you, and for my own pleasure as well.

After you left us, I went to the farm and dug your martin houses from the ground. You had set them well. After digging four feet down into the sand, I finally got them out, and onto the trailer. It wasn’t easy, but I did it.

I brought them over the 30-mile drive to Jonesboro, repainted them, and set them in the best place I could find. I knew you would say it wasn’t the best location, but it was the best I had.

Just as you did, I tracked the martins on the internet. When I saw the migration was getting close, I watched every day … but they never came. I kept hearing you say, it wasn’t the right place.

Dana and I went on a vacation last week. I saw you in the sunset there on the beach, then looked back and saw a rainbow over the mountains. It was your promise. I knew it.

We got home a few days ago, dad, and you wouldn’t believe it. The martins came!

I’m so happy!

You sent them here didn’t you?

Oh, daddy, you should see them.  They are so majestic and magnificent. They soar with beauty and the sing to the heavens. I can’t believe it.

I know now why it made you so happy. I sit and watch them, and I can’t take my eyes off them.

Oh my, Daddy, the martins came!!!

PS: I have your BB gun to keep the bad birds away… and the squash in the garden looks good too…

Vacation Not – Adventure, Yes

Dana and me in one of our more relaxed moments in Montanita, an hour north of our base in Puerto Cayo.

While we’re not particularly die-hard fans of anything on television today, Dana and I have always been drawn to the CBS reality show, The Amazing Race, where paired couples are challenged daily to travel the world in unknown territories and uncharted waters while the clock ticks away.

Unlike most of the other reality series’, Amazing Race carries a certain sophistication, and the huge benefit of taking people out of their comfort zone to experience a world created by the most creative of artists.

A few months ago when I began thinking about the possibilities for Dana’s 39th birthday, I wanted to create something memorable for her. A new blender and a pair of earrings, just didn’t seem pass the test for her upcoming milestone. She would have well appreciated anything she received, but an experience with a lasting memory was the gift which I sought.

Nearly three hours into our drive from the airport, we came across this scene on the extreme southern coast of Ecuador. At this point, we pretty much knew we were lost, though it’s not an uncommon scene anywhere you go.

A few years before we were married, Dana, at various times, served as a missionary in Mexico, Greece and Morocco. Among the things she’s experienced in her life, those times created some of her fondest memories. Her time in Greece and Morocco was solo, without the benefit of a guide or tour group, and so there’s a proven adventuresome spirit God put in her from the beginning.

So as the birthday possibilities streamed through my mind, I determined to create yet another memory – but this time, one that would be shared. I wanted an experience that would challenge us both, push us outside our comfort zone as a couple, so that every day would be a source of memories for years to come.

About a week prior to her birthday I purchased gifts that would have been adequate enough. They would be nicely wrapped with a loving card, presented at a nice surprise birthday party with a gathering of friends and family … but on one particular day the feeling came across that it just wasn’t enough.

Going back through some research I had done in the previous year, my heart led me to Ecuador. And to make a long story short, within the next 24 hours, the flight was booked, and rental car accommodations were made.

What would we be doing while we were there? I really had no clue. We’ll figure it out when we hit the ground, I decided … and so the adventure took form.

Though I’m not the most cosmopolitan of world travelers, I’ve been around some. Gulf Shores, Cocoa Beach, Bahamas, Cancun, Playa del Carmen, I’ve been there, done that and sipped all the poolside pina coladas a man could ever want.

The 10 days we would experience on the Ecuadorian coast, inland highlands and rainforests would not replicate our “vacations” of the past. We would push ourselves in territory that is literally uncharted. We would not be afraid to get lost, and we would immerse ourselves in the culture of this diverse land and its people.

After 9 hours of driving on what should have been a two-and-a-half-hour drive, we finally arrived at this scene, our base for the week, Puerto Cayo. Beautiful as it may be, the tranquility can be deceiving. This is a fishing village where the average monthly income is $300.

And it lived up to every expectation.

Five minutes after packing the rental car (A Chevy Spark with 9-gallon gas tank, stick shift and approximately 3-square feet of space within its four doors) we were as lost as two people could be. Our first miracle was simply finding a road that would lead us out of Guayaquil, a city of 3.1 million where the roads have no lines, no rules and it’s every man for himself. It was a driving fiasco. It took two hours to find our way out of the city and another 7 hours to get to our destination at Puerto Cayo.  Properly driven, it should have been a two-and-a-half hour leisurely road trip…

I left home with full intention to blog daily about our experiences in Ecuador, but it was not to be. In the beginning, 10 days sounded like a lot of time to read, write and record our adventure, but we realized quickly that every moment was precious. Too many experiences were to be had. Every moment was an investment in learning, and so I took feverish notes as time would allow to come home and share those experiences later.

This is 3-year old Carlos, the nino of Manuel and Ivonne, two friends we made at Los Suenos del Mar.

In the short time we’ve been home (less than 24 hours now) a few people have asked about our takeaway from the Ecuadorian adventure. It’s a hard thing to pinpoint, but to some degree, I can say, in a general sense, my faith in humanity has been restored.

We met and enjoyed time with some bold American expatriates who, over the next few years, will make a huge difference in the Ecuadorian economy. They are entrepreneurs of the highest caliber, and our time with them was well spent.

But we also found ways to spend invaluable quality time with local Ecuadorians who welcomed us with open arms, and even though the language barrier could be a challenge at times, the sharing of a drink, firm handshakes and hugs and kisses, warm embraces and smiles of realized friendships touched our hearts in an unforgettable way.

Yes, God’s people are good, and we find it in His finest creation (that which He created in His own image) around the world.

Over the next few days, I’ll be documenting the specific experiences we shared, and some tips should you ever decide to explore what many expatriates there now call the world’s last undiscovered frontier.

I’ll write about the best ways to travel, food, transportation, Ecuadorian culture, the economy and its potential, people and many other topics. We learned a lot. Some of it the hard way – just as we planned!

At one point in our travels I made a joking Facebook post about one night at dinner when Dana asked me this: “What’s the most amazing thing about being married to me?” All our friends wanted to know my response and so I’ll close by paraphrasing my response to those requests for an answer.

“You all tell me the right response is that Dana has a great heart, that she is beautiful, trustworthy, genuinely good and a bright spot in the lives of everyone she meets. Well guess what? I already know all that. But here’s the real deal.

“We’re not on your typical vacation here, and never planned for it to be such. We’re working with roads and roadmaps that have no similarity or relationship whatsoever, so you can pretty much throw the maps out the window. There are 3-foot potholes about every hundred yards. Donkeys, pigs and dogs dart out onto the road from nowhere. We have only an elementary grasp of the local language. There are no mohitos or cabana boys serving our heart’s every desire. Hot water for a shower happens about 33 percent of the time, and toilet paper is to be treasured. Yes, you’d better carry it with you at all times.

“This is not a vacation, it’s an adventure … and so any girl who would come along on an excursion like this and love every minute of it, is my kind of girl.”

That’s what I said.

Next post: “Day One: What in the World Have We Done?”

Dear Daddy…

 

I was thinking of you at this moment.

For just a fleeting second I was thinking how much you would enjoy this view…then I remembered you see something greater every day.

I wish I could look into your eyes again.

I wish we could embrace and I  could feel your chest against mine. I wish my hands could feel the strength in the broadness of your back.

I wish you could give me some good advice while we sat in the backyard watching the martins.

I just wish I could reach out and touch you again.

I’m doing my best to carry out the things you said. I really hope you are proud.

I wished you were here for this moment … and then I realized you were, but I still miss you so.

I know you are enjoying the everlasting Light in which you now bask. You will show me around won’t you?

See you soon. I love you so.

Steve.

It’s an Honor: An Open Letter to WordPress Bloggers and Those Who Read My Blog

“If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write things worth reading, or do things worth the writing.” ~ Ben Franklin

On any given day, there are at least half a million blog posts on wordpress.com

It’s a dose of reality reminding me that my work is just another grain of sand on a long stretch of beach.

When it comes to writing, I’m a purist. I don’t do “musings,” or “ramblings.” Poetry’s not my bag, and I won’t be sharing recipes with you any time soon. There’s a place in the blogging world for all those things, I suppose. It’s just not particular cup of tea.

There’s an irony to my blogging posts. By day, I’m a private, guarded person with a close circle of only a few friends to whom the guard comes down. But at the keyboard, something magnificent happens because it allows transparency to flow.

I will share with you, the blogging world, my shortcomings, my failures, and more importantly the lessons learned. And I say a prayer before hitting the “publish” button that it will make a difference in someone’s life on any given day. It’s a powerful thing and an honor to be able to share.

Every writer’s greatest honor is to be read.

It’s a rush to sit in a rural corner of northeast Arkansas, USA, and see that someone in Gibraltar or the Netherlands, New Zealand or Indonesia has taken time out of his or her day to read your work.

It brightens my day when someone takes time to read and “like” the blog post of the day.

And whether they agree or disagree, it’s a thrill when a reader comments and gives feedback to the words you typed earlier in the morning.

I’m thankful to have a creative outlet to share an experience, thought or opinion.

And so know this: When you read my blog, you do me the highest honor, you make my day and you reinforce the purpose within me.

For that, I am thankful.

(Blogger‘s note: For the next two weeks, I’ll be blogging from Puerto Cayo, Ecuador with my wife where we’ll be sharing experiences from our own “Amazing Race.” See you on the equator.)

Let’s Pray About It (or just do nothing)

Keenly aware of his own shortcomings, Jack still liked to think of himself as a decent enough man.

Complex by nature and misunderstood by most, Jack walked around most days with an invisible guard that only few could permeate. Very few.

He didn’t necessarily like that about himself, but the circumstances of his every-day life reinforced his intrinsic nature. At least that was his excuse.

But made aware of an injustice against a brother or an urgent need, he could be provoked to radical 360-action in the blink of an eye.

Jack lived a busy life with a good day job and lots of peripheral interests. His phone would ring dozens of times during the day and he was selective in the calls he took, and the ones he let go straight to voicemail.

When his phone rang at 9:14 that morning, he only vaguely recognized the number, but it was familiar enough that he decided to take the call. On the other end was a welcome voice – an old friend wise in years and experience that called every couple of months just to check in on Jack.

He did it because he was a good man, and he cared.

“How ’bout a cup of coffee with old friend,” Simon asked, “… say around 9:45?”

It was impossible to say no to Simon, the man who had counseled him through tough times and even conducted the wedding ceremony for Jack and his wife Diane almost three years ago.

“See you then,” Jack said, knowing any visit with Simon was a time to treasure.

Simon arrived three minutes late whipping into the parking lot at breakneck speed. “Sorry I’m late,” he said, “I had three people come into the church and wanted to talk and I just told them I had an important meeting.”

Simon was an elder-emeritus at a church that over the past year had been on the brink of chaos. A split in the congregation had created deep wounds that compelled Simon to action and take the reigns to lead the healing process. It had become his full-time job. And it was beginning to wear on him.

Jack and Simon exchanged the normal pleasantries and talked about the important things happening in their lives, and Jack noticed an unusual burden on the man he so loved and respected.

“Are you okay,” Jack asked.

“I’m fine, just tired. I’ve made a commitment to the church to see us through until we find a new pastor and then I’m going into hiding for a while. I’m tired,” Simon said.

Jack shared with Simon his plans for a vacation adventure on his schedule in the coming week and Simon’s eyes lit up with curiosity.

“Boy, I wish my wife and I could do that. I need a break,” he said. “I guess I’ll have to live vicariously through you. Will you send me a postcard?”

Jack reached across the table and grabbed Simon’s arm. “This is what I want you to do,” he said. “Think about yourself today, forget everybody else, go and make a reservation to somewhere tropical and get out of here tomorrow.”

“Well you don’t understand, I’ve made this commitment and I’ve got to see it through, and I don’t think we could pull it off anyway.”

And Jack’s wheels started turning.

The conversation continued, the two parted ways, and as Jack drove away he determined to respond to call he believed came straight from God.

“It would only take about $2,500 to send Simon and his wife away on a surprise and well-deserved vacation,” Jack thought to himself. “And we could have him in Bermuda shorts within a week sitting on some Caribbean beach. I’ll chip in my share,” he thought, “and make a few calls to friends who love Simon the most and we’ll have him on his way before the sun goes down. Everyone would surely understand and be compelled to help.” He just knew it.

Over lunch Jack made a quick list of a half-dozen people to whom he could call and make the case. How exciting! What a great surprise for this wonderful man. A few calls here, a few calls there, start the chain call for the cause and the deal will be done.

Jack, the naive dreamer. Oh, the humanity.

“It’s a great idea and well-deserved, the recipient of the first call responded. My first thought is it would be better to do this later, but we’ll pray about it and see what happens.”

“I don’t really have time to give this the thought I’d like too, but it’s something we ought to do,” the second call recipient responded. “The timing may not be right for the church to pull something like this off. I think it’s something we’ll just have to pray about.”

“I’m glad you’re taking the initiative,” the third call recipient responded.”I want to pray about this.”

Let’s pray about it.

Jack saw the writing on the wall. He tried not to be angry, but it was hard.

“The timing’s just not right,” … the message from those he called kept running through his mind.

Maybe we’ll pray about it for another six months and Simon will be so spent that it’s too late.

Maybe instead one day we’ll spend thousands of dollars on flowers for his memorial service and talk about what a great man he was. “We sure did appreciate and love him. He was a great man,” we’ll say with our posthumous honor and glory.

“Let’s pray about it…”

Or just do nothing. That works.

Not.

-30-

The Holy Spirit: Our Bastard Stepchild?

“It is better for you that I go away. If I do not go away, the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, will not come to you. If I go away, I will send Him to you.” ~ John 16:7

Notice the last sentence in that verse. “I will send HIM to you.”

God the Father.

God the Son.

God the Holy Spirit.

Seems the Spirit is the last one to get our attention. We put Him at the bottom of the list.

We count the Spirit as one of the Trinity because the Bible tells us to do so. But why do we so often view Him as the lesser of the three, an occasional afterthought, when John tells us in the verse above that it is better for Jesus to go and the Spirit to come.

Another translation of that verse says: “It is expedient for you that I go away.”

Though Jesus now sits at the right hand of the Father in Heaven, it’s the goal of most Christians to follow Him and to become more like Him. How do we know Jesus if he’s away in the Heavenly realm and we’re here on earth, and why was it better for Him to go away?

Jesus’ task on earth was completed on the cross. It is a finished work. The job was done, and thank goodness for that.

But we do well to remember that God himself took on our humanity as Jesus the Son, and by His own choice He limited himself by becoming man. Jesus (as man) could not be all things to all people, in all places at all times.

In other words, if the Lord Jesus were here today in His human body, He couldn’t be where I am now and where you are at the same time.

But there is one who can, and is.

If the “headline” on this post makes you uncomfortable, I join with you in that discomfort. I mean no harm and no disrespect. It makes me uncomfortable because it points out my failure, and moreover, my sin.

So many times, I’ve heard people in church say … ‘the Holy Spirit was really present in our service today.’

Are we guilty of viewing the Spirit as some magical energy force, more powerful at one time than another, choosing to “show up” at one moment and not the next? Is He just some heavenly fog that we eagerly await to descend upon us and transfigure the moment? Is He just some spiritual portal through which we must pass to touch the face of God?

I’m guilty.

A pastor in my hometown was courageous enough to ask this question to his congregation last  Sunday. His question stopped my thoughts dead in their tracks. Why would I long for the Spirit to show up and do a great work in my life when he’s already right there, all the time? He lives inside of me.

He grieves when I violate my moral consciousness. He disciplines me in love when I go against His will, but He stands beside me at all times and loves me because I belong to Him. The deal is done.

Somewhere along the way, we’ve gotten things wrong. We’ve bought into the idea that the Spirit is some transcendent force or power – some notion just beyond our grasp and reach. We hope and pray that He will show up and move us on Sundays.

We’ve learned it all wrong, and so now, we have a lot to un-learn.

I know I do.

Thank goodness for the Better Way, and let the lessons of un-learning begin.