Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving thoughts

When I think of Thanksgiving, visions of childhood holiday meals around the table with my family spring to mind, complete with turkey, stuffing, candied yams, corn or carrots, potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin or mincemeat pie.
We are a large family. I am the oldest of six, so in the last years I was at home in Nebraska there were eight at the table. Mom and Dad would work in the kitchen from early in the morning until the bird and fixings were done. Then we’d all sit down at our dining room table and thank God for his blessings of sustenance – food, a home, clothing, a good job for Dad and good health for all.

Sometimes, after the plates were cleared and dishes done, we’d sit in the living room and each share one other thing we were thankful for at the time. Then it was time for the Cornhuskers or Cowboys to play football on television. Those not interested in the game would retire elsewhere to entertain themselves. As a diehard Husker fan, I was not privy to what those diversions might be.
Though we were not financially wealthy on a teacher’s salary, we never lacked for the necessities. There was a better wealth – a clear sense of family and priorities, of caring, humility, sharing and thankfulness.
Things are different today, of course -- not traditional in the sense I just shared. This year, instead of making the trek to Nebraska to be with our parents and siblings, my wife, youngest son and I will spend a quiet day together.
The world today is a faster-paced place and families are spread to the winds. Finances and family structures often prohibit such gatherings, and it seems some of the "thanks" in Thanksgiving has been replaced with a more hollow, less humble and familial feeling.
With that in mind, here are my not-so-traditional, but heart-felt Thanksgiving wishes:
First, I want to thank all those who care – not just for me and my family, but who care for others in nursing homes, childcare facilities, hospitals, schools, the armed forces, living on the streets or in poverty. Thank you to those who minister to the spirits, minds and hearts of those who are down or downtrodden, as well as to their temporal and physical needs.
Thanks to those who work to keep us safe, be it EMTs, fire and law enforcement personnel, members of the military, and even the conscientious politicians (there are some!) who work to make this nation a better place for all (not worrying about party lines).
Personally, thank you to my wife and sons for caring and standing by me; and to my co-workers, family and friends everywhere for their thoughts, prayers and assistance during what has been a rough year for me. Thank you, also, to those who have cared enough to read these ramblings.
Finally, thanks to God for taking care of my needs and giving His Son for all.
Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Our debt to military veterans

What would we have?

United States residents, living in one of the most prosperous nations on Earth, owe a deep debt of gratitude (and more) to veterans of the Armed Forces. Without the sacrifices of so many men and women over the years, there would be no United States and no such prosperity.

One of the proudest moments of my life came when my oldest son willingly went to Iraq to serve this nation in the restructuring of that country. He and his comrades were stationed at Abu Ghraib, teaching the Iraqi Army how to guard its own prisoners ... a thankless, emotionally and physically taxing job.

Like all involved in any stage of a war, he paid a price. For some it's emotional distress, while others suffer physical damage and yet others pay the ultimate sacrifice.

Big picture, all of us need to thank a veteran for what we have and how we live. They're not war-mongers or thrill seekers by any stretch. They are patriotic and loyal citizens who deserve our respect and thanks -- and not just on Veterans Day.

So, my thanks to any and all veterans who read this at any time ... and thank you especially to my son, father, nephews, father-in-law and brother-in-law for their service.

My earliest blog entries

A rough year

(Sept. 2009)
I've had a rough year, and in particular a tough six months -- both knees partially replaced and two other painful, bizarre surgeries which have left me at far less than full strength and doddering around like a much older man. Not that I'm not old. I'll be 53 later this month, and frankly, that's older than I ever thought I'd get.
When I was in my 30s, I used to annoy my wife by saying that when I was 45 I would just fade off into the Davy Crockett National Forest and never be seen again. Now, walking up the steps at work is a major chore ... never mind the forest.
Regardless, I refuse to become insignificant or ineffectual. If doing is difficult, I can teach, share, listen and just be there for my wife, sons, students and friends.
No one can be sure what the future holds. I just plan to take it day by day and thank God for the gifts, people and opportunities that come my way. So, like Father Time, I'll just keep inexorably marching (er, shuffling) on 'til my time comes. Too bad Missouri Military Academy won't allow me to grow back my beard!

Attitude platitudes

(August 2007)
Sometimes, when I get low, it occurs to me that pity parties are for those who have the time to waste. Free time is far too precious to spend very much of it worrying.
"Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. They toil not; neither do they spin. And yet I say unto you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall He not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?" (Matthew 6:28-30)
No one is ever going to accuse me of being Mister Energy or Captain Excitable, but I'm also only Eeyore part of the time. When I think my life is bad, I open my eyes, take a look around and remember that I have value, regardless of any outside problems or input to the contrary.
So, whatever's got you down, Bunky, remember above all that God loves you ... and for grins, reflect on Stuart Smalley's daily affirmation:
"I'm good enough, I'm smart enough ... and doggone it, people like me!"

For the birds

(June 2007)
It occurred to me ... as I drove to work this morning and watched the crows fly over wild Missouri fields and corn, hay and alfalfa plots, that there is at least some truth to an urban legend or longtime Texas tale: "Everything is bigger in Texas."

Well, maybe not everything, but the crows definitely are. That realization came to me one sunny afternoon as I drove the East Texas backroads en route to an assignment for the newspaper I worked for at the time. "These are BIG crows, I thought." The next day I looked them up in a birder book, thinking they might be ravens or something else ... but they were just Texas-sized crows.
Having grown up in Nebraska, my wife and I had seen our share of crows over the years, so we had a definite frame of reference. We used to amuse our oldest son when he was small by telling him to watch for the "giant flesh-eating crows of East Texas" and counting the birds when we went on road trips.
When we moved to northwest Arkansas, we had to change our tactic with our younger son, calling the plentiful buzzards of the region "giant flesh-eating crows." As he got older, he wasn't buying it anymore, though ... Guess I'd better watch it or this blog could be for the birds, huh?

Pop philosophy

(June 2007)
It occurs to me ... after seeing "Pirates of the Caribbean 3," that Captain Jack Sparrow has it slightly askew when he says, "The world is the same size it has always been. There is just less in it."
The world continues to grow by leaps and bounds in terms of population and discovery, knowledge and history. While it is lamentable that certain traditions, pleasant pastimes and some of God's creatures are gone (like Jack's giant squid/kracken), they continue to exist in memory, and are often replaced by new, interesting and sometimes better things. I try to remember that every person is a new horizon, and the imagination can take one anywhere he or she wants to go.
For me, it's a matter of positive perspective. We must never lose sight of how wide and wonderful the world really can be ... or we will sink into the perilous pit of lost identity and depression Jack found in Davy Jones' locker, a place none of us wants to visit.
Ain't pop psychology and movie philosophy grand?