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Mixing Holidays and Writing

It’s late on Thanksgiving night and I’m home alone after driving over dark, practically empty highways listening to Thriving Ivory Radio on Pandora, night music that gets me thinking, even as I test out the Bose speakers that are set into most every panel of my car.

When I left my family gathering tonight,  the couches were full of relatives who had eaten too many courses of rich food while I had picked through the options that allowed me to hold firm to my non-animal diet. Not that I was judgmental with anyone – after all I was completely outnumbered – but that’s just what I’ve chosen for my life now.

I saved my arguments for a few people online who believed that our football team lost today because of our quarterback when, in reality, when your tight end chooses not to run his route (or even look for the ball) because the play is designed to get the pass to the running back who ends up being covered, the interception isn’t the quarterback’s fault. But I digress…

As I was driving home, I was thinking through my current writing projects. Now, in addition to completing my novel Rock Bottom, Michigan, I’ve started a memoir, told from Graham’s perspective, titled They Call Me Trouble. The goal would be to sell this one with proceeds going toward animal shelters I’ve been involved with that definitely could use the help. Heck, maybe if it would do well enough, a couple new shelters could be created.

Tiny Trouble

Of course the memoir would be Graham’s perspective on both of our lives. There were so many things that happened in both of our lives during the eleven years of his life. There will be stories of love, of changes, of moves, of growth. There will also be stories of pain, of heartbreak, and of depression. It’s amazing how close we all are to the end. One injection that takes away all muscle control, and one that stops the heart forever. It makes you think how fleeting it all is.

It’s hard to write, but it should be cathartic. And hopefully it will be as deep as I want it to be. More than a simple tale of the life of a special cat. And more about what we all go through in our lives – about regrets, the memories that stick with us forever, and how we deal with our weaknesses and scars, even while we hide them from the world. Hopefully it will tell universal truths while telling a unique story.

And…if any of you have some good stories about those past 11 years that you want to make sure I don’t forget to add, reach out and remind me!  And if you have any pictures of Graham to share, feel free to send those as well. Those years flew by, but I know there were tons of moments that jumped out to more than just me.

The possible cover art for They Call Me Trounle

I hope you’ve all had a wonderful Thanksgiving. Obviously my mind is all over the place as the night winds down, but I’m thinking of the people who impacted my life and gave me the best stories to remember. People who, at the moment, are too far away across more long, dark highways. Guess I need to sing along to a few more songs as I imagine  putting the pedal down to drive…

Until the Next Time I See You…

Always comfy in the weirdest spots…

The words come fast, but not as fast as the tears…

The memories pour out – all of the many good times and great times – and pain cruelly attaches itself to each of them as they fly through my head and my heart.  I can’t stop them and, even though each of them come with complete agony, I would never want them to stop.  Because now there are no more new memories that are going to be made.

Because at approximately 11:45am on June 19th, Graham passed away…

I knew absolutely nothing about cats before I adopted that tiny little orange 6-week-old kitten with fur that stuck up in every direction like he’d been rubbing up against a balloon.  As soon as I met him, he climbed up on my shoulder (my right shoulder, the same one he always climbed onto for the rest of his life) as he picked me as his person, and I was the one who was terrified.  I didn’t even know that his foster was expecting me to take him home that day.  I simply thought that I was meeting him to gain enough information to make a decision at a later date.  But, once he’d made his decision, that was it.  I was his, he was mine and it was time to go home.

He was named Punky at the time, but obviously that couldn’t last.  He had the look for that name perhaps, but it wasn’t good enough to do him justice.  On the half hour drive home, as he paced around in a cardboard box set on the passenger seat he howled, the only time I ended up hearing his voice for the first couple of years.  He lived his life interacting with everyone around him simply with looks and gestures that accomplished everything that he needed.  A tilt of his head, a little push on the ankle to guide someone in the right direction, an extended gaze directed toward the top of the refrigerator where his treats were stored, those were all he needed.

When he arrived at his forever home and hopped out of the box, he searched through every inch of the place with complete confidence and I never saw him scared another day in his life.  He only (intentionally) scratched two people in his eleven years.  One was a four-year-old boy who had chased him into a corner behind a couch and proceeded to drop toys onto his head, wanting him to play with them.  The other was a vet technician on the day before he died when she attempted to prepare him for an X-ray.  He was a complete sweetheart, but he had fight, all the way to the end.  And he won everyone over.  Even that little boy who had been scratched let me know a few weeks ago that he was praying for Graham ever since he’d heard that he was sick.  You couldn’t stay mad at that little guy.

He couldn’t stand other cats and chased all of the strays out of the yard without fail.  He seemed so small to me, but he ran the neighborhood and no one stood up to him, cats and dogs alike.  He played with the moles that dug up the mulch, got along with the family of groundhogs that lived down the hill, and caught moths and flies in his mouth, only to spit them back out unharmed to watch them fly away again.  He killed one bird in his life, a moment that completely surprised him.  He launched himself into the air as it flew by and he landed on top of it as they came down, stopping its terrified little heart.  And, after that moment, all of the birds in the area knew him well and harassed him.  Because they feared him.  It was amazing to see the change in him when he went outside and transformed from the great cuddler into the great hunter.  Though, in his last days, he preferred to sleep in the mulch between the bushes and simply listen to the breeze.

Beside me as I type this now, I have a box containing 3 plaster cast footprints that were made after his death, and a lock of his fur – containing both the orange and the white.  And I hold the memory of holding his little body as he took his last breath, tears and snot dripping down onto the top of his head as I kissed him and told him that I loved him one more time.  I knew nothing about cats when I met him, but he taught me.  And so much more.

Below is a link to a video I took just a couple of days before he died.  When he wandered around outside, he liked to stop in the gravel lane and gesture for me to come over and give him a belly rub.  This time, there was a bird yelling at him and, in this video he tells that bird that he doesn’t have time to mess with him because he’s too busy enjoying the moment.  I’ve probably watched it a hundred times since he died, because I think it sums Graham up so well.  His loving nature, his toughness, and his desire for great quality time with the human he picked to be his companion throughout his life.

Goodbye Graham.  I’ll always miss you and I’m looking forward to getting that big Grahamie welcome home hug the next time I see you…

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2 Nights in the Cage

Graham waking up in Lockdown

I’ve been sitting on this blog for a few months because it’s been an incredibly tough one to write.  But this past week has been Graham’s 11th birthday week (we don’t know for sure on which day he was born so we might as well celebrate it for the whole week, right?) so it seemed like the right time to try and push through it all to tell the tale…

It started back in March.  What started out as nothing more than a routine vet visit (with the expectations of a couple of basic – yet annoying to the patient – shots) led to a very rushed, immediate trip to an emergency veterinary clinic an hour’s drive away from here and – eventually – a diagnosis of congestive heart failure.  A completely heartbreaking moment.

I stayed out in the waiting room for hours as they worked with Graham, wondering what was going on behind closed doors, waiting for the final diagnosis for his little 12 pound body, and unsure if it just might be my final night with him.  Ten and a half years can seem like a long time when it comes to certain things.  But that time completely flies by when it comes to the most important things, like life and love…

Finally, I had the chance to speak to the specialist (with a major headache throbbing as I tried desperately to keep from crying – and completely failing in that regard since I could barely even see the vet through the tears in my eyes).  Fortunately, they were able to drain fluid that had built up in his chest surrounding his heart and lungs, give the little boy oxygen, and prescribe him medicines to temporarily address the issue.  But unfortunately, everything involved forced me to drive away and leave him in the back room of their office for two whole nights as he was pumped full of oxygen.

Over the next couple of days, while he served his time in a cage surrounded by loud, loudly complaining dogs, I tried to visit as often as I could (or as often as they would let me as all of the different receptionists came to recognize me). Occasionally, the office would text me updates and send me pictures to let me know how he was doing.  And it didn’t take him long to show his personality and attitude as he made it clear he was more than ready to come back home.

At one point I was told that Graham had hidden under the blanket, back in a dark corner of his cage, causing one of the staff to wonder if he was actually in there.  And, when she opened the cage, he tried to dash out.  Then, on one of my visits, when they finally allowed him to be taken out of the cage and brought out into one of the visitation rooms, I heard the vet comment in a playful voice just as the door was opened, “now don’t you swat at me”.  And I couldn’t help but laugh (for the first time in days), as I knew he was feeling better.

Since coming home, Graham has had his good days and bad days.  He’s been on multiple medicines – some that he doesn’t really mind, some that he doesn’t like, and one that obviously tastes absolutely horrible.  But even while he hasn’t always felt well, he’s purring 90% of the time when he’s awake.  And he still makes it clear to the robins, the blue jays, the blackbirds, and even the occasional dog, that he’s the boss of the neighborhood and nothing is going to change that.  We even had a snake – a nasty Coulber constrictor that was at least 5 feet long –  pass through the yard (coming directly to the door) and, as I tried to get it away while it lunged at me and bit the air close to me, Graham tried to get in front of me to take care of it himself.  And I had to make it clear to him that it was up to me to protect him, not the other way around.

So, while it’s been hard to type about his medical situation, and when I know that there’s a huge decision to be made very soon, he’s been living his life as full as he can, strong, happy and fearless.  And I’m holding onto all of the memories that have been, and are still being made.  Because even though that rainbow bridge will have new paws walking across it soon, and the pain will be excruciating, I’ve been blessed.  And when you get a blessing like that and it lasts for more than eleven years, the smiles will always exceed the tears…

 

 

Changes

One More Climb On The Old Car

It’s been a fairly quiet time in Fayette County lately.  A hot summer has lead into a nice, cool fall and now the leaves up in the mountains are just starting to turn all of their colors. The plants around the house are starting to slow down their growth, and maybe, just maybe, I’ve mowed the lawn for the last time this season.

And, in that season of change that fall is, I’ve made a big change myself, trading in my 13-year-old vehicle for something new. Okay, so maybe it was a bit less of a choice than necessity since it was technically illegal to be driving it over the past year or so (silly state inspection laws). But it was just time. And, because I have a major tendency to anthropomorphize things, it was way harder than I expected it to be.

The vehicle that I traded in was a great vehicle, a small SUV that had taken care of me for years and racked up plenty of miles without incident. And, as I took the last few items out of the dash, patted it on the hood and said thank you (don’t judge me) I couldn’t help but think through all of those moments in life that it took me through…

There was the first long trip we took together when it was a brand new car, less than a week old, driving up to MN, moving there for a job I wasn’t sure about, wondering if I was making a huge mistake.

There was the time I drove back home to MN from KY after seeing my grandmother for the last time before she died. 13 hours of driving, through the night and into the morning, fighting to stay awake with the memory of my grandmother wanting to kick me out of the house, not recognizing me and believing that I was her physical therapist that hadn’t visited for over two years.

There was the time I drove Graham home after meeting him for the first time at a St. Paul area PetSmart. Him howling almost constantly for the entire 20 miles from the inside of a cardboard box, the only time I’ve ever seen him scared in over ten years of life. And all through the drive, he never knew that I was more scared than him. Heck, I’d never been able to keep a houseplant alive. How was I going to take care of this little 6 ounce life that now relied on me for everything?

The times I drove through blizzards in the attempt to get safely home, the times I traveled for work, parking it in a hotel parking lot for weeks, or leaving it at the airport, inches of snow accumulating over it by the time I returned.

The people it carried in the passenger seat to restaurants, the theatre, sporting events, bars, festivals, mountains, beaches, and everyplace in between. The notes that were left under the windshield when conversations were too hard to have in person. The fender bender caused by a night without sleep. The license plates from three different states. The time I slept through the night in the passenger seat.

The luggage it carried in the back for trips to see family, romantic weekends, weddings, funerals. The drives to and from hospitals. The time I actually got away from the police in Illinois (completely by accident) by driving down a strange alley after going the wrong way on a one way street looking for a restaurant.

Trips to vets, trips to hardware stores, bags of mulch, bags of goodwill clothes. Slow, relaxing trips, and events of road rage (mostly mine). The week I worked as a rural postal carrier but quit because I couldn’t bring myself to put that car through the abuse.

Driving dates, driving family, driving coworkers, driving friends. Seeing all kinds of state limit signs through that windshield. The windshield now chipped from a couple of rocks kicked up from the road and now facing the wall of a dealership.

So yeah, I felt a little misty eyed as I walked away. My writers mind holds on to every memory. So those are all still with me, and always will be.  But fall is a time of change.

And, as I drove away, I wondered what name my new car would earn, what the years would hold with this one, and just what roads we will go down together…

 

Sunshine and Memories

It seems like I come up with my best writing ideas when I’m busy doing something else.  So then, unless I have something to write a few notes on, I have to try to keep those ideas from falling out of my head until I’m finished with what I’m doing.  Today it was yardwork…

It was a hot, cloudless day today so, after spending a few hours out there, I’m not sure if I’m going to be looking tanned tomorrow, or simply burnt.  But everything looks better out there than it did this morning and that makes the sacrifice of looking a bit lobsterish okay, right?

I wore long shorts so I’m not going to have an all-over tan (there were far too many people driving past on their way to who knows where in the greater Uniontown area). But that thought reminded me of the time I accidently volunteered to help someone stain a deck.  And I say “accidently” because I did tell her that I was willing to help, but I didn’t have the right clothes with me at the time so I didn’t think that I’d have to follow through on it.  But…….

I was given a pair of incredibly short women’s shorts to wear.  Seriously short.  And tight.  But, never one to back down from a challenge – or from potential humiliation – I changed into them and started to stain a deck in an outfit that would have me considered underdressed for working at Hooters.  Fortunately, it was the back deck.  With very few witnesses…

Today wasn’t anywhere near so crazy but, in between mowing and trimming and weeding (all of that fun outdoor stuff), Graham wanted to go out.  And, for some reason, he’s been in an absolute mood this week.  I looked away for a minute and he almost took down a crow.  That bird was flying sideways to get away after he swatted a wing.

Then, just when I think he’s safely napping in the shade under the car, I see the brown blur of a cat tearing across the yard with the orange blur of Graham chasing right behind.  Have I mentioned he’s territorial?  Enough so that he punched a 60 pound dog in the nose just for taking one step off the road and onto our yard.  And then he just stared him down, daring that dog to make a move.  But then he just came back looking so proud that you had to be impressed.

But then, for some odd reason, I trusted him out in the yard yet again, thinking that 90 degree temperatures would calm him out.  Yeah…I learn all my lessons the yard way…

This time, after running branches and weeds down the hill and discovering that he was no longer anywhere to be seen, I took a break to search him out.  And, fortunately I picked the right direction to look and found him at just the right time…

As I peeked into the neighbor’s yard, I was just in time to see him leap out of the bushes, scaring a half dozen birds who took off into the air, screaming at him as they escaped.  And Graham had a look of pure joy on his face.  Then, seeing me there in his moment of glory, he ran up to me and quickly climbed up me, all 13 pounds of fur and claws.  And I was incredibly glad to be wearing a long pair of shorts in that moment.

Sure, my short-short ensemble may have given me a great tan over 95% of my body back then, but today at least I’m majority claw scar free…

 

Make Someday Today (Or How ‘Bout Them Cubs?)

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It happened.  Last night (or actually very early this morning) it happened.  And it still hasn’t remotely sunk in yet.  But maybe, just maybe, if I type it out, it will seem completely real…

The Chicago Cubs won the World Series.

Okay, maybe just once more…

My beloved Chicago Cubs won the World Series.

Ahh…it’s starting to seem real already.

No one one ever said being a Cubs fan was going to be easy.  Actually, those of us who have passionately cheered for them over the years have found it incredibly easy to tell everyone around us just how very hard it is.  We’ve shared our expectations of collapse, of ill-timed strikeouts, of booted ground balls and pitching changes that happened either too soon or not soon enough.   We’ve all shared stories of exactly where we were when that proverbial rug was torn out from under us in each and every one of the years past.  And we swear that none of it ever took us by surprise because we knew it would happen all along.

So when Jon Lester threw a wild pitch into the dirt that bounced directly off of David Ross’ face, and when Ross stood up, only to trip over his own feet and fall over as two runs came in, that wasn’t shock in our voices.  It was a collective of choice words that all translated into “Here we go again”.

And when Aroldis Chapman gave up that game tying home run that screamed low and fierce over the left field wall, all of us screamed out words that meant “Yep, I knew that was going to happen” (even if I need to apologize for being a slight bit more colorful with my word choice than that in the heat of the moment).  We’ve been there before.

But this year…?

Maybe there was some hope that remained.  Maybe there was some belief that it wasn’t actually over yet and that this year could still be different.  That maybe it would just be another story about how hard they made it in the end and how much they put us through one more time before coming through in the big moment.  Like we all knew they would this time.  Sure…  I’d like to believe in that.

Land you know what?  I kept watching.  The game went on with me absorbed, Schwarber to Almora Jr. to a run, then another then giving back one in the bottom half of the inning before…  It ended.  And the Cubs had won.  And I had no idea what to do.  How do you celebrate something you’ve been wanting for years but you never planned for?

So here I sit, basking in the glow of a moment that will stick with me forever, typing and eating left over Halloween candy, and feeling a little like something has changed in the world.  Maybe nothing all that much has actually changed, or maybe all of it is only in my mind, but it does feel like a whole new day.

It’s like there’s just a little more promise hovering in the air.  A little more hope dancing around making it easier to believe in those parts of life that have stayed just a little out of reach for too long.  And my lips are pulled up into the start of a smile through each moment of the day thinking of possibilities   It’s sappy, sure.  And it’s probably me being a bit of a hopeless romantic.  That too.  I’ve been called that before.  But not everything we experience is completely quantifiable.  What fun would that be?

Sometimes it’s just about enjoying what life might have out there for us and believing that someday isn’t as far away as it can feel on certain days.  That’s what I’ve learned as I try to wrap my head around it all today.  Sometimes the Cubs are more than the Cubs.

So how ’bout them Cubs?

Drawing Dinosaurs

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As I’ve been spending a lot of time going through the book giveaways I’ve received lately, I came across one that can supposedly teach me how to ‘Draw People in 15 Minutes or Less’.  I’m not sure if my end result after those 15 minutes would actually resemble my less than complete willing models, or if those subjects I selected would be flattered by my attempt or just insulted by the sight of the final product, but I guess an ugly drawn person is still a drawn person.  So the author would still be technically correct, right? Because I drew a person in 15 minutes (or probably much less ’cause my attention span is…oh, a squirrel!,).

But, more important than the lesson it thought me about my lack of artistic talent, that book reminded me of another one from years ago…

Back when I was a kid, we went to the library each week during the school year (and probably at least twice a week during the summer).  Sure, it was probably just a plan conceived to get us out of the house and keep us out of trouble for a few hours (me more than my sisters of course), but we loved it and I always came home with a big stack of books to try and get through before it was time to go back and find some new ones.  At least until this one time when, as a 7-year-old, I made it onto the library’s banned list.  Yep, I started my life as a trouble maker young…

According to ‘the system’, and what ‘the man’ told me (through their 68-year old woman representative behind the desk), I had never returned one of the books I’d checked out and it was now overdue.  No new books for me until it was returned.

“I returned it,” I told my dad.

“I know I returned it,” I told my mom.

“I’m 100% certain I returned it,” I told both parents.

“Shut up,” I told my sisters for what I assume was a good reason.

I had no doubt whatsoever that the library was wrong, that they had it somewhere in the back and were blaming me for a crime that I didn’t commit and enjoying my emotional pain.  Weeks went by.  Months went by.  $1.24 in late fees accumulated.  And, completely against my 7-year-old wishes, my parents went to the library’s front desk and paid for the book.

I was shocked.  I couldn’t believe my parents’ lack of belief in me and their lack of willingness to fight the system on my behalf.  It was disturbing but, then again, at least I was allowed my previous library rights and the librarians treated me as if nothing had ever happened.  But my faith in my parents was still shaken.  So much so that when, two years later, I found the book behind my dresser, I was tempted not even to tell them about it.

So a thin, orange hardcover book showing me just how to draw the 40 top styles of dinosaurs that everyone would want to see was now mine.  Permanently.  It was bought and paid for.  But, due to the immense amount of 7-year-old shame attached to the find of that book, I don’t believe that I ever opened it up again.

Now, if I try to draw a dinosaur, it pretty much looks like a couch with arms.  So owning the book for all these years hasn’t helped me one bit.  And, opening it up and re-reading it now won’t help because…well…I’ve lost it again.  And I’ve even looked behind the dresser this time.

 

I’ve Still Got It (Don’t I?)

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Some days are just so much better than others.  Some days are for staying in bed and avoiding the rest of the world at all costs.  Sure.  Those happen.  They’re usually referred to as weekdays.  But then some days are for singing at the top of your lungs in the car and not worrying about the person next to you at the stop light staring at you with a smirk on his face.  And this is coming from the guy who was massively embarrassed to be voted “Most Easily Embarassed” in high school…  Ironic, huh?  But when the German version of Nina’s 99 Luftballons comes on, you just have to sing along, even if you don’t know a stitch of German and are just making random noises until the chorus comes back around.

I’m a pretty impressive dancer too, as long as I’m not observed and I stay seated.  So I guess you could call me a double threat when I’m driving.  A triple threat if you add in my driving skills.

A number of years ago (you know…once upon a time…) I went out with some co-workers on a Friday night, thinking we were just going to hang out at a bar, have a few drinks, listen to some music and recover from a long week.  However… (You know what?  If I ever have a biography written about my life, that’s going to be the title.  However…  I think it fits perfectly.)

But back to the point…  Instead of a relaxing night out, I was being set up with a friend of a friend.  It happens.  People try to set their friends up and see what crazy thing happens.  It’s usually painful and awkward for those involved.  But at least it makes for some great stories.  And, in this case, that’s all it made for.

The club we went to was loud and packed, but somehow we managed to luck into a table where we could sit and comfortably watch the people around us.  Or so I thought… When a few of our group got up and headed over to the dance floor, my “date” took my hand and pulled me along with them.  And, on our way, she leaned in close and whispered a frightening phrase in my ear…  “I hate guys that can’t dance.”  No pressure, right?

The rest of the night was pretty much a blur.  Of course that might be for the best.  We were out there on the dance floor for a while and she didn’t ditch me so I must have done all right.  I don’t remember bumping into too many people, or smacking anyone with an arm that flailed out in a move that was uniquely all my own.  So we’ll call it a success.

There was no follow up date (though that was a mutual decision that I believe had nothing to do with my moves).  She could have been jealous of my skills…  You never know.  I’ve just got to have confidence, let loose and who cares what anyone thinks.  After all, AC/DC’s You Shook Me All Night Long just came on.  And I’m gong to belt it out, even if the window is rolled down and everyone can see and hear me at every stoplight along the way.  Because life’s way too short to hold in your swag…

 

 

Merry Christmas!

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I can’t believe that there’s less than 4 weeks until Christmas.  And if that’s the case, you know I’m having a really hard time believing that it’s only hours away now…

It doesn’t help that we’re setting records for high temperatures this month and that its supposed to reach 70 degrees today (the average is somewhere in the high 20’s around here this time of year).  And, when the novel I’m writing takes place in late spring through early fall, my mind just isn’t on winter at all.  Especially when the weeds are growing, birds are singing and there’s the smell of green grass and approaching rain in the air.  It’s crazy.

Obviously I waited to do my Christmas shopping until the very last minute because the UPS driver just dropped off a handful of packages at the door.  He didn’t stop at any of the neighbors – not a single one – so I guess they were a bit more prepared…  Maybe once I start wrapping gifts (something that should take a while since it’s not something I’m overly talented at doing) it will feel a bit more like Christmas around here.  I’m debating whether or not to wrap Graham’s gifts since he’s going to let me unwrap them for him anyway.  Plus I wouldn’t want to take up too much room under the tree when he likes to nap under there anyway.  Seem like a fine excuse…?

Santa was across the street late this morning on a motorcycle in case you’re tracking his progress.  There were 4 other bikers escorting him on whatever route he was driving, so he appears to be well taken care of.  It makes me wonder where he was off to and what is going on for the kids today.

Every year, as Christmas flies by, I wish that I had been more involved in doing things for those who are struggling.  For those who really don’t have anything.  There are certain times of year that make it obvious how blessed we are, and Christmas really jumps out as the most blatant example.

So I wish you and your families and loved ones a wonderful, safe and merry Christmas.  And I pray that all children out there have a surprise waiting for them and can enjoy the day with a sense of excitement and wonder.  I’ll be in good ol’ Fayette County for Christmas but will still be remembering all of you in all of the places I’ve called home over the years.

Have an absolutely blessed Christmas!!

 

As John Lennon said, “Imagine…”

Peace Ain't Weakness

Peace Ain’t Weakness

Let’s get serious for a minute. No…seriously…

Sometimes when you see all of the media coverage of the evil that takes place in the world, the videos, the tweets, the links and the words written by the ignorant, it becomes nearly impossible to believe that one good person can make a difference in this world. It feels too big, too overwhelming. There seem to be more people on the other side of the fight and evil seems so much bigger – and stronger – than good. You start seeing all of the bile and anger and rage that is spewed out over the Internet and hate seems more powerful than love.

Attacks on innocent people are not about gun control. They’re not to be used for a political agenda. They’re not about religion or God’s judgement for our sins, or anything that pumps up our own ideals or desires.  They’re about people suffering and dying in a world that faces the action of evil men.

Senator Ted Cruz said this on his website in response to the attacks in Paris – “We must immediately recognize that our enemy is not ‘violent extremism.’ It is the radical Islamism that has declared jihad against the west. It will not be appeased by outreach or declarations of tolerance. It will not be deterred by targeted airstrikes with zero tolerance for civilian casualties, when the terrorists have such utter disregard for innocent life.”

Not to play into the red vs. blue politics here because I believe that people on either side can be wrong, but this statement explains everything wrong with the world’s way of thinking these days.  You attack me and I’ll attack you and your family. You kill one of ours, we’ll kill two of yours.  If someone like us is killed, we’ll kill as many who are different from us as possible, regardless of guilt or innocence.  Those aren’t the values our country was founded upon, they aren’t the values of any civilized group of people anywhere in the world. We, along with our allies need to make very conscious decisions on how we will use the power of our nations  – the power of our people – to make this world a better place – a safer place – than it was yesterday. But we can’t respond in hate. In that scenario, everyone loses.  And our leaders aren’t put in place to make the easy decisions.  They’re to do what’s right, regardless of the challenges in place.  Sometimes, that involves acts of war and violence because there is no other option to protect others.  But it is never something to take lightly or to be flip about.

There is so much violence in the world today that we’ve become desensitized to all of it that doesn’t occur in a beautiful Western city and anything that’s not played over and over again in front of us on the news. There are so many people living in fear, so many innocent men, women and children experiencing violence and hunger on a daily basis that it’s time we looked at ourselves and the world around us and stopped using our hate as a weapon. Did someone change their profile pic on Facebook to the French flag? No problem. It means that they’re feeling pain for others.  There’s no reason at all for you to be mad.  Is someone offering to pray for the people in Lebanon? Good. That’s not an offensive act.  Accept that act of kindness in the spirit it was given.   Is prayer not your “thing”?  Then take up your own action to make the world better. I’ve seen more people getting angry and offended by people who want to do a little something than I’ve seen directed toward murderers around the world. Politicians want to ban refugees who are suffering to make a statement and people are encouraging this through hate speech on-line.  And it’s disgusting. I’ve seen so much anti-Muslim, anti-Middle East, Anti-Israel, anti-America, anti-everything it makes me ashamed.  We’ve been created to love our neighbor. Even if you don’t have a religious belief structure, and even if that’s not a commandment you believe in, that still feels like the right thing to do, doesn’t it?  But how many of us have forgotten how it feels to make another person smile?  The amazing rush of joy that comes over us when we pick someone else up, simply because they need it, without caring about ourselves for a moment.

My God is so much more powerful than man’s explosives and bombs. Your God is so much stronger than man’s inherent hate. Our God has the strength to calm the violent seas stop the winds. And the love I have been given is enough to love Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Atheists, Wicken, hate-filled “Christians”, and every other person of every group on this planet.  It takes nothing away from me to love each of you, to want everyone to have enough to eat today, to pray for the safety of families and individuals living in the midst of way and terror. No one is made weaker by doing their part to clothe others, to feed others, to provide shelters to all of those in need.  And it doesn’t matter if they believe what I believe.  Love first, debate later.

Some people will always hate.  Some peoples’ world view has become so distorted that they can only see the differences in people and view the world around them as scary and evil and dangerous and see violence as the only acceptable and justified response. But you know what?  We outnumber them.  If we’d shut down the people who respond to the bad of the world with hate and anger… If we’d show them the strength of love and compassion… If we would just show them that we’re all just so much better than those thoughts and actions, we could make a difference rather than being part of the mindless complaining crowd.

The world hasn’t become a worse place to live over the past 20, 50 or 100 years. The same problems exist that always have. We’ve just gotten lazy.  But just imagine what could change if we all woke up.