We all know listening and hearing are two basically very different things. Hearing is what you do when, as you are going out the back door somebody yells for you to please pick up some things at the grocery store while you’re out. Pretty basic, you don’t have to engage your whole being to get that message. It’s not as if you and someone are trying to sort out a discrepancy or the issue of whether or not to use white lights or multi-colored ones on the tree. That can have some meaning behind it.

No, this is something I have become mildly aware of the past couple of years. This summer I have been trying to get somebody to come take down a dead tree in my front yard. One of my neighbors told me to leave it alone, it would leaf out. Well, she moved and this tree is still dead. No leaves. I had no idea finding someone to take care of this would be so hard. Is there a glut of dead trees? Has some beetle or borer attacked or Dutch elm disease is making a come-back? Well, this week finally I got a company to call back and they said they’d be here Saturday. That same day, around 9:20 p.m. I got a call again and I thought the guy said the same name. Listen, at about 8:30 p.m. most days I start to really fade. By 9 I’m not much use, so I thought well, maybe he got his notes mixed up or something. So he said he’d be by Saturday, he’d call first.

Saturday came. I’d gotten everything done by Friday so I would be sure to be home. By 2:00 in the afternoon nothing happened. Just about to give up, the phone rang at 3. Sounded for all the world like the same one who woke me out of a sound sleep, said he’d be by to look at the tree in 15 minutes and, sure enough, he was. He named a price, said he’d take care of it in the coming week, I didn’t have to be home, then he left.

Well, about 3 hours later I got another call. Sounded just like the first call, sounded like the same name, everything. Said he’d be by in a few minutes. I said I’d thought he’d told me later in the week. He said no, he was working Saturdays and Sundays. So I said I hated for him to come all the way back out here after he’d just been this afternoon. Silence. No, he hadn’t been. I asked if it was the company I thought it was, he said no, did I already give the job to someone else? I said yes, he asked how much, I told him and he said it sounded a fair price. Then we said good-bye after my profuse apologies, the strange error of mis-hearing the names dawning on me. I even checked my caller-i.d. to note the different numbers.

It’s weird getting older. But at least somebody is coming to take the dead tree away.

Red giants

I was reading Steve Forbes’ article in the Sept. 2 issue of his magazine where he illustrates the history of various economies. Since I only skimmed it I won’t even attempt to summarize, but it got me thinking. There have been all these empires in the world. Roman, Greek, Spanish conquerors, Napoleonic France, the English “empire” (won’t be tempted to spin off on a Star Wars tangent there), and the U.S. So, like stars (astronomy, not celebrity), we eventually come into our own, be the pulse of the world, flaunt our power around for a while, burning brightly, generating ideas and creating products on this maddening streak of inventions and cleverness. We get all full of ourselves, begin to relax, lose the sense of fun in discovery and creativity and get lazy. We sit around, reminiscing about our glory days. We puff ourselves up based on what we or, most often, somebody else did that we think made us great. Then we decide it’s not fair, everybody should have some of it, too. So we try to spread it around. But we don’t keep making more, we just use up what there is. Then it gets thinner and thinner. Everybody may have some but it’s not enough to support anybody. 

When you think of astronomy, a star, it starts out as a bunch of bloated gas and atomic chaos slamming into itself until it becomes organized. I’m no scientist, but as I understand it the organization only lasts as long as the star has enough hydrogen. When that gets low the star gets this red tinge. Eventually, if it’s a small star, it dies, collapsing on itself.

We need to stop looking at where we’ve been. We need to stop looking at what everybody else has, or what we think we don’t have. We need to start looking at what we can do, who we can be. Stop sucking up all our hydrogen asking “Who am I?” or, worse, “Why am I?” and just go and be. But not just feeding on ourselves. What’s left after the U.S. to shine as brightly as we have? 


This is an interesting word. For me it’s always meant someone who brings me back to earth, a reality check, someone by whom I can find comfort or place, or peace. The word actually is defined as “a test or criterion for the qualities of a thing”, it’s something- a stone- that was used to determine the purity of a precious metal (read: gold). For me it’s another word for a good friend. Someone who, even if they let you down they are still in your life. It’s not like they drop out of your realm of existence. I have a very few friends like that, well only a couple really, who I may not hear from in oh, maybe a year, but when we reconnect it’s like time never passed. We are essentially the same, whatever we are reconnecting for- a problem, a joy, just to talk. These people do not flatter, they do not lie, they do not manipulate or try to figure out what it is I “want” to hear. That’s why they are so important. They tell the truth and what I need to hear. And they are always right. We want what is best for each other, we have no agendas, no subversive motives.

And if they do let you down, maybe it’s me who needs to look at the disappointment. Maybe it’s something I need to redo, relearn, understand better. We are on the same wavelength, our radars read the same blips. Sometimes those blips are better handled with a friend like this. Sometimes when I do try to handle something on my own I find out the hard way I needed someone with me in it.

Family members can be touchstones. My brother is one. He and I have a history- our entire lives- together. So by virtue of what we lived through we have a basis of understanding we won’t have with anyone else. We lived through the function or dysfunction of our family and learned to use it for strength or how to laugh about it. My son is another. As he has grown into his depths he has learned to temper a lot of what he and I lived through with greater compassion, but we still laugh about things, too.

I guess touchstones, when they are people are not so much a thing that tells you the quality of a precious stone, they are the precious stone itself.

Misery loves company (… and it’s never their fault …)

You know, I feel really sorry for unhappy people. And I don’t mean those who are down on their luck, unemployed, childless, alone, sick or facing unimaginable challenges. I mean those people who seem to have it all, who have the great house, kids, marriage, club membership, education, substantial income, car, maybe a boat… and they still cannot find something (or things) to be grateful for. They take it all for granted. It’s never enough. They find things wrong with everything and most other people. Nothing’s ever right. These people are soul vampires, I’m telling you. Stay around them too long and the life will drain right out of your blood.

I have worked with people like this. I have met people like this at parties, while traveling, or just even in the grocery store. They are neighbors, they can be anywhere. And you can’t tell them anything. There is no amount of positive news, or sensible advice or future hope that will affect them in any way. Not sure what to do about them, almost as if they try to put you down in that abysmal pit with them. Maybe they think if they can do that they will have something to use to climb out themselves. Then what?? There you are, down in all that muck. But you know what? The muck wasn’t yours to begin with so, *poof*! It disappears. You have your life back. Or rather, you never lost it, you just put it out on loan for a while, but since it wasn’t used you get it back. Or even if it was used, it’s still yours.

You know, it’s just so much easier to say “Thank you.”


This word immediately evokes thoughts brinking on magic, something superhuman, supernatural, beyond understanding. Probably because they are but for me they are also protection, heroic, something God will do just at the point I think the darkness is going to overcome the light of that tiny candle and snuff it out. I cannot imagine a darkness so impenetrable that even the slightest glimmer (hope) cannot penetrate it. Today we need miracles, I think, more than ever. But can we be instruments to encourage the actual happening of a miracle? I think we can.

Look at how many times doctors have given a patient over to beyond help and the patient has miraculously healed. It wasn’t necessarily an anomaly of science or nature. Or something simple yet incredibly inexplicable as the refraction of light through a drop of water or a prism. The brilliant magnification of clear and pure color sprayed across a moistened sky or the wall of your home.

There are those times when, despite all our meager efforts, the human spirit has sunk to a place where it appears hopeless and devoid of rescue or enlightenment. Just at that point Someone smiles, our dim darkness is lifted and we soar beyond the boundaries of our captivity. Oh, our circumstances may not have changed, but our spirit is renewed and light has returned to our souls.

A light that can not, will not be extinguished.

Mega faith?

I occasionally visit a church with 3-4,000 members. A mega-church some would call it. Yesterday a guest pastor gave a sermon based on 1st Timothy 1:12-16. Let me first qualify my subsequent comments to say this: Christianity is lifelong learning for me. Some days I “get it”. Some days I probably should just pull the covers up and wait till the light shines again. Yesterday I got something that made me wonder about not just me, but people in general. The pastor was a heavily-accented Puerto Rican, so he said, but I found no problem understanding every word he spoke. Did he make that claim to apologize for those of us who would not get his message? Give us a scapegoat? That’s not fair. I understood his words clearly, and think I also even understood the basis of what he explained those words to mean: namely, no matter how anti-Christian, ill- or well-intentioned or insufferable we are, God’s mercy, grace and forgiveness are available to each one of us in accepting what Jesus did by his crucifixion, death and resurrection for us. As Paul says in this passage, ” … He considered me faithful, putting me into service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief.” (v v. 12a, 13) (1) God’s love extends to each one of us. Every human on the planet. Every day. You do realize what that means, don’t you? Not just you, or me, but every jail-incarcerated prisoner, every prisoner to addiction or habit, every individual with pre-meditated malice or evil, even every terrorist. Every person.

So I looked over those seated in this vast congregation. I’m thinking to myself, How many of these people who are hearing this sermon, including me, are actually listening? How many of us will leave this place reassured knowing God’s love is for us? For me? For you? And will know the absolute, pure joy of that forgiveness, grace and love that we accept in what Jesus did for each of us? Or do we just get back in our cars, drive to the restaurant to meet other church-goers, or drive ourselves or our families home maybe arguing on the way what chores need to be done or how some offhand comment made us feel? Will we remember what we heard in that sermon by the Puerto Rican-accented pastor?

Will we live it?

(1)Holy Bible, New American Standard version