Friday, September 09, 2005

Today's Katrina Thoughts

I've had the priviledge over the last week to volunteer at Second Mile Ministry, getting to spend time visiting individually with Katrina victims coming through for help with food, clothing, and gas. I've written a little about what I've seen and learned in the Making Career Changes blog. There's so much more I'd like to write about that, but it'll have to wait until I have more time.

Also, we've been paying close attention to happenings in Gulfport, since the Coast Guard activated son John. His reserve unit is based there, and the base itself was destroyed by Katrina. Since most of his fellow reservists are from Mississippi and New Orleans, one objective is to be able to get in touch with all of them and meet their needs. I'm anxious to hear from him how they are doing.

As a final note for today, I've noticed that many of us are suffering the symptoms of grief and stress as an aftermath of Katrina, even if we weren't directly affected by storm loss. Some are physical effects, and many are emotional effects. Reach out to someone today and really listen to them. And find someone who will listen to you. And some hugs would be a good thing as well.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Poverty Caused the Katrina Disaster

Here's another article from the Houston Chronicle giving facts about the folks hardest hit by Katrina. Consider this fact from the article:
One of the worst-hit neighborhoods in the heart of New Orleans, for example, had a median household income of less than $7,500. Nearly three of every four residents fell below the poverty line, and barely 1 in 3 people had a car.
Poverty is the disaster. Katrina was just an event that brought it to attention.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Race, Poverty, and Katrina

None of us can watch what has happened this last week and not see that while everyone has suffered loss, it's those who were living in poverty that have not only suffered loss, but worse.

For perspective, read Rick Casey's article in today's Houston Chronicle. Also read posts from the last week from Larry James' blog.

Not only were there no plans to evacuate those living in poverty before the storm, and not only were we slow to be able to evacuate them after the storm, but do you suppose there are any plans to help them regain a life after the storm? Since they didn't own homes or businesses, they won't be getting any loans or assistance in rebuilding. And since the places where they lived and worked don't exist any more, they don't have anything to return to. What will happen to them after they close the Astrodome and other shelters?

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Preventing Blog Comment Spam

Spammers don’t just hit email – they also know how to add comments to blogs.  Several of my blogs/podcasts have had Spam comments added recently.  One way to reduce this is to enable “Show word verification for comments.”  That will cut out the machine-generated Spam, since anyone wanting to add a comment will have to type in the word to verify.  I’ve just enabled it, so it’ll be interesting to watch.

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post on using Word to post to Blogger, I’m favorably impressed.  It works great – even when you have several blogs.  Really a nice interface.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Posting to Blogs from Word

Posting to Blogs from Word

I found that Blogger has now developed a tool bar for Microsoft Word that allows you to write your blog post in Word and then publish it from Word.  

This sounds like a good idea to me, especially since that when I’ve copied things out of Word and pasted them in Blogger I get all kinds of codes along with the text – all the stuff carried over from Word.  I spent quite a bit of time earlier in the week cleaning up some things I wanted to post – hopefully this will alleviate that.  It also has the advantage that you can compose posts and then actually post them when you’re ready.

Hope it works as well as I hope it will.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Caregiving Class and more

My daughter Sara and I are teaching a 5-week class for caregivers at church, so I've started a new blog (Caregiving Notes) where I'm putting information that we present in class along with other things I run across that might be useful to caregivers. We'll even see if we can't get Sara to add some things as well.

Posts to this blog have slowed down recently due to the activity with the Making Career Changes blog and doing the podcasts. But as some of that smoothes out, I'll get back to some more regular posts here.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Mom's Paints

One of the things I ended up with after Mom died was her painting supplies. Painting was something Mom took up after she retired, and became quite passionate about in the 90's. The painting supplies were packed up in a number of boxes , and have been stored in my storage unit.

Years ago I did some watercolors, and have always intended to start painting again. Last week we were in Michaels so that Eloise could buy some more knitting yarn and I picked up a book on oil painting which kind of got the juices flowing. So yesterday I went to the storage unit and retrieved the boxes of Mom's painting supplies.

I really hadn't paid that much attention to what was there when I put the stuff in storage, so it was an interesting adventure to go through it all yesterday -- and it brought back a lot of memories as well, which was good.

There are two fishing tackle boxes filled with paints -- one for oils and another for acrylics. There are about 100 tubes of oils and probably 50 of acrylics. Then there's a box of 50 or so brushes. Another box contains about 10 canvases and five or six frames. More than enough supplies to keep me busy for a long time. And worth a considerable amount of money if you've ever priced good brushes or paints.

What was even more fun was finding a couple of new things Mom had painted. We have a number of her works already, but finding these was special. One was a water color she had done in 2000, likely the last thing she painted since she never set up the oils after moving to Houston. Another was an unfinished oil of bluebonnets -- but actually it's close enough to finished to go ahead and spray and frame. And there's also an underpainting of a Lilly (all the detail done in grey tones). She did several of the Lilly, and it's interesting to see one in an intermediate stage.

The boxes also included the books that Mom used along with her lessons to learn to paint. I started reading them last night, and it provided a lot of insight into the methods she used. There's also her notebook with her notes from her lessons.

So it was a good afternoon of discovery and remembering as I start down a path of following in Mom's footsteps.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Achieving First Page Listing on Search Engines

My new blog, Making Career Changes, achieved first page listing on both Google and Yahoo within a week for the key word "making career changes," one of the web's most often searched for terms.

My purpose in writing the Making Career Changes blog is several fold:
  • Viral marketing for my coaching business -- Mapmaker Coaching,
  • Providing a respository of information for people who attend the Job Seeker's ministry I work with,
  • Processing what I am learning as I help people with career change and job searching.
It is also an experiment in determining if what I think I have learned about the power of blogging and podcasting in creating web presence is correct. I noticed that with my other two podcasts, Drawn2Jesus and Retire2Serve, that both got a lot of attention from the search engines. I attribute that to the fact that there are a number of web directories for podcasts, and that listings on podcast directories carry weight with the search engines because many not only provide a link, but reproduce the textual content of the podcast post -- the show notes. Therefore, in addition to traditional text entries in the Making Career Changes blog, I'm including occasional podcast entries, and have listed the podcasts on several of the major directories.

The experimental results seem to be a confirmation of my thesis. We'll have to see if that translates into success in viral marketing.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Faith and Loss

Earlier this week I wrote about Faith and Job Loss on my Making Career Changes blog.

I wrote it about job loss, but I was thinking as I wrote it that the discussion really applies to any kind of loss we suffer as Christians -- death, health, etc.

Again and again through the years I've seen people who have suffered painful losses persevere, maintain their trust in God and his provision, and in the process allow God and his power and accomplishments be seen. It's counterintuitive to our world that God's power and accomplishments would be shown through people suffering loss rather than through people whose lives are going great with no apparent difficulties. Yet those that stand out in my memory as amazing examples of faith, and there are many, are are people who have suffered painful losses and persevered through their trust in God. While I don't like it that bad things happen to people of faith, I'm blessed again and again by seeing their faith, and by seeing the power of God working in them.

Monday, July 25, 2005

The "Making Career Changes" Blog

I have begun a new blog specifically aimed at helping people successfully make career changes.

Helping people navigate career change has occupied a lot of my time and energy during the past several years since my early retirement from Texaco, both in leading a between jobs ministry at my local church and through my life coaching practice. Actually, career development was part of my vocation at Texaco, where I was involved with recruiting, screening applicants, managing the hiring process, and serving as a resource development manager, as well as holding line management positions. It's a subject and an activity that I have a lot of passion for, and one in which I have developed a level of expertise.

In trying to help people one-on-one during the past few years, I've learned a lot about the process. There is no lack of information about the process -- in fact, the problem seems to be that there may be too much information spread around in bits and pieces. It's easy for someone between jobs to be overwhelmed by what they read, what they're told, and what they feel. There's also a lot of misinformation -- things that push job seekers in wrong directions and lead to defeating behaviors.

My goal is to try to put together information that will be helpful, encouraging, easy to understand, and which will debunk some of the myths out there. If you know someone facing career change, be sure to point them to the Making Career Changes blog.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

"I have felt your prayers."

Yesterday we attended the funeral of the 22 year-old daughter of friends who was killed last week-end in an automobile accident.

It's been a while since I've attended a funeral of one so young who was taken so suddenly.

Lots of her contemporaries were present as were lots of contemporaries of her parents (like us). It was a somber time for all of us. No doubt, for many of the young people, it was a first serious time of recognizing their mortality, and you could see it on their faces. For those my age, there was not one of us who wasn't thinking "This could be my child just as easily." You could see it on our faces too.

During the week I frequently heard someone say, "I don't know how a parent gets through a time like this."

But I also heard what the first thing was the mom said on Friday when some friends arrived for the viewing. "I have felt your prayers."

What a wonderful reminder that God so often uses us and our prayers to him as the source of comfort and healing for the ones we are praying for. He lets them feel our love and concern that are expressed during prayer. And that's a big part of how anyone gets through a time like this.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Evidence of Change in Job Market

Something very interesting has happened during the last few weeks. I am getting more contacts from people trying to fill positions than from people looking for positions.

For the past couple of years, I have been leading a job ministry through our church. We have meetings twice a month, and there has been a gradual decrease in the number of people coming to the meetings. This year it has generally been only one or two at each meeting, and they have generally been able to find positions within a short period of time. There have been several times recently when no one came to the meetings.

Within the last few weeks, though, I have found that I'm getting several calls or emails a week advertising openings. I take that to mean that businesses are having a harder time finding people, so are reaching out to all possible sources. That's a good thing for folks that are in the job market.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Vocation: What God Has Given You to Do

"Vocation" is a word that has sort of fallen out of favor. We seem to prefer to use words like career, business, job, or even calling. But vocation is a much broader and deeper concept. It is also much more helpful to us in thinking about our whole lives.

That's because a career or business or job is only a partial, time-bound part of who we are as individuals. While these may span a number of years, even so they only deal with a part of what we do or who we are even for that time period. If, for example, your job or career is a firefighter or an engineer, it occupies 40 or 50 or maybe even 60 hours a week. Taking out 8 hours/day for sleep, that still leaves up to 72 hours a week for other endeavors. When we're thinking about our lives, all of our endeavors are important. Just because one of these is what we get paid for doesn't mean that it should dominate our idea of who we are. In addition, for this generation, career may represent only a third of our lifetime, with retirement and second acts encompassing an equal amount of time.

That's why I like the word vocation, and this particular definition of vocation: Vocation is what God has given you to do with your life.

That certainly includes your job or your career or your business.

It also includes the other things God has given you to do.
  • Being a spouse, a parent, a grandparent.
  • Being a child, a brother or sister.
  • Being a friend and a neighbor.
  • Serving in your church and community.
  • Perhaps even being a family caregiver, or any of the other myriad things we are called to do.
Having spent time observing people, and in recent years coaching individuals, it's often obvious that individuals are uniquely qualified to do what God has given them to do. When they have a good fit in career, they perform well and find satisfaction and success. Sometimes it's equally obvious that individuals have found themselves in careers or jobs for which they are not suited, and they struggle, don't perform well, are frustrated, and unsuccessful.

In some of the other situations, the uniqueness has more to do with the fact that they are in the role they're in -- if they don't fulfill the role, no one will.

When an individual moves into retirement, all these facets of vocation are in play. The career portion is the major change.

Traditionally (at least for the century or so we've had retirement), career has gone away, and the other facets of vocation expand to fill the time and the void. People spend more of their time in their roles as spouses, parents, grandparents, and often increase their time serving the church and the community.

More recently, as lifespans have increased, some have begun "second acts." These second acts may be new careers or starting businesses or they may be significant service or ministry roles, along with more time devoted to other roles as well.

Depending on your individual situation, God may be calling you to a traditional retirement or to begin a second act.
  • Family needs may dictate that your vocation in retirement be largely devoted to family.
  • Opportunities for increased service in a church or in the community may be God calling you to devote more of your vocational time and energy in that arena.
  • The emotional and/or financial need to continue working may dictate a second career.
  • The desire to serve others in a major way may mean that your vocation incorporates a new act in ministry.
Where is God leading you? What is God giving you to do in your retirement? It could be to any one or a combination of these. So what will be the elements of your vocation in retirement?

Monday, July 18, 2005

When the World Crashes In

We learned this morning that the adult daughter of friends of ours was tragically killed in an automobile accident over the weekend. The parents had gone to New Mexico to see her perform the lead in several plays, and after watching her performance, she was on her way home from the theatre when a car ran a light and she died. Our friends emotions went from joy to grief in an instant -- their world crashed in. We are filled with grief for them and their suffering, and with fear that something similar could happen to our world.

In such times, we yearn for rational explanations. If we could just understand WHY, then maybe our suffering would be lessened and maybe our fears for what could be would move to the background. I've been here before. Often enough, in fact, to realize that no one in this life has those answers. I've read extensively on the subject and experienced the paths others have taken. I've looked for wisdom and understanding from the Bible. What I've learned is that there is no nice, simple answer that will reduce our feelings of helplessness and grief or that will make the fears go away.

So I've had to make some decisions about how I react to such events, about what I believe, and about how I deal with what I can't explain. This morning I sat down and wrote out several of these things for my own benefit, and am sharing them here.

1. I choose to have absolute faith in God, his love, his control, and his power. I can't imagine life without God, especially in times of loss and pain and not understanding.

2. I recognize that in this life, no one will be able to develop a satisfying explanation of why bad things happen, especially to good people. I accept that this will be one of the areas of mystery in life -- something without rational explanation.

3. I recognize that this earth and the events of life will not be fully under God's rule and following his will until he chooses. For now, other powers are in play, and they are sources of evil and suffering and death. Therefore I pray, following Jesus' lead, that God's name will be holy, that his kingdom rule will come, and that his will be done on EARTH, as it is in Heaven.

4. I choose to believe that God can and will intervene in the affairs of men to provide protection, healing, and peace, so I pray for these things for myself and others.

5. I recognize that my perspective is very limited and that God's is infinite. That means that what I see as desirable and pray for may not be what should happen, because I have a limited view. It also means that what I perceive as tragic or unfair may not be so at all. God is God, and I am not.

6. I understand that this life is brief, and that it is not an end to itself. The purpose of this life is to prepare our spiritual selves for the life to come. If our physical life on earth was painless and without tragedy, we would not be drawn to focus on the spiritual.

7. Finally, I seek to follow the teachings and example of Jesus as the pattern for my life -- loving God and loving others. Jesus said that loving God and loving others summarizes all of the law and the prophets -- the core of Bible teaching.

When it's all said and done, all I know to do is love. When a piece of my world or someone else's world comes crashing in, the only answer I know is to love them and to love God. And to look forward to the time when the hurt and tragedies of this earth are past and God's kingdom is fully come.

When the world crashes in, all that there is love, and that's all that matters.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Getting Over What Others Think

I don't think I had ever spent any time considering what Joseph, who accepted the adoptive role as Jesus' earthly father, must have gone through until reading a portion of The Jesus Creed by Scot McKnight.

Joseph, being a devout follower of the Torah, had to know what other devout followers of the law would think of his marrying Mary who was pregnant. He would no longer be a respected member of the synagogue. Others would not understand or believe that he had received a divine message and command to marry her. He had to know that by marrying Mary that his reputation would suffer in the eyes of those he lived with and respected. He would never have the same standing in his faith community again.

I have some things to learn from Joseph. I've always been much too absorbed by what others think of me. On the one hand, I often heavily factor in what others in my faith community will think about what I do. On the other hand, I'm just about as concerned about what those outside the faith family think. McKnight's point in the book is that we need to be more concerned about our identity than our reputation. More work to do in that area.

This point also makes me do some thinking about people I know who have taken actions that have damaged their standing in the church. Usually whatever it is that causes them to lose standing looks like sin, or at least breaking written or unwritten rules. So how would we have judged Joseph? Are there things we don't know about these people in our fellowships that might make our judgements about their actions wrong?

Which all reminds me of the inscription on Dave Phillip's pen set that his wife gave him and which sits on his desk. "To thine own self be true." I have to keep reminding myself that it doesn't say "And what would Sister So and So think?"

By the way, here's a link to The Jesus Creed.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Some Data on Poverty

Here's some data on poverty that I gleaned from Dave Phillips, co-founder of Cincinnati Works.

Cincinnati has about 200,000 people who live in poverty as defined by the federal poverty guidelines. By extension, a good estimate for the Houston metropolitan area is that 400,000 or more people are living in poverty.

People living in poverty generally fit into two categories:

1. The Chronically Unemployed -- people that have lots of first jobs that don't work out
  • 60% of these are generational due to welfare -- it's passed from generation to generation
  • The rest are situational -- something happened.
2. The Working Poor: working one, often two jobs at minimum wage, but can't get ahead.

Some other facts:
  • 47% have criminal records
  • 60% suffer from chronic depression or anxiety
  • 30-40% are on drugs
  • 55% don't know how to drive (there is a 25% higher salary for same jobs off bus lines)
  • 95% of the individuals that come to Cincinnati Works are single parents
  • 80% of school dropouts are due to poverty
Economic reasons to care:
  • Lifetime cost to society of a household in poverty: $1-1.5 million
  • Five-year cost to society of a household in poverty: $150,000
Total one-time cost using the Cincinnati Works model to reach self sufficiency: $6,000

Sounds like a good thing to get behind and help spread!

Poverty is a big deal!

Over the past few months, I've been increasingly sensitized to poverty and why we all need to be concerned and get involved in doing things about it.

It's amazing to me how easy it is to go about life and totally ignore that significant parts of our city, country, and world live in poverty. Part of it is that we compartmentalize ourselves. My life rarely takes me to places where poverty is obvious. We have designed our cities to make it easy to avoid. Living in the suburbs, going to church in the suburbs, shopping in the suburbs, etc. tend to keep you from seeing poverty. In fact, we regularly avoid poverty areas because we correlate them with high crime -- places to avoid.

One of the things that can happen when you retire and begin to pursue other endeavors is that you begin to become more sensitized to the world around you. At least that is what has happened to me. Becoming more aware of poverty was not something I planned, but it has happened through several things that I have been led to for one reason or another.

1. When I started blogging, I found Larry James' Urban Daily. I wasn't looking for it, but found it as a link on some other blogs, so started reading it. His parents and my wife's parents were friends, so there is some feeling of connection to him. Larry relentlessly writes about urban poverty. Over time, it's begun to sink in. If you want to develop an understanding of how big a deal poverty is in the U.S., spend some time reading this blog.

2. Since retirement and starting my second career as a life coach, I've become a voracious reader -- primarily related to religion. As a result, I've become much more aware of how much of the Bible addresses serving the poor, the disenfranchised, and those treated unjustly.

3. We attended a dinner for Second Mile Ministry -- a local outreach to those in poverty in Fort Bend County, generally considered an affluent suburban county. My main insight from the event was how many people they provide services for. They are actually one of the largest customers of the Houston Food Bank. I knew there were people living in poverty in the midst of all of our planned communities, but had no idea there were so many.

4. I became involved with a networking group called "The Get-Together." Again, it wasn't something I was looking for. I was an exhibitor at a Halftime event in Houston (for my coaching business) and Barbara Elliott, author of Street Saints was also exhibiting.
  • Street Saints chronicles faith-based efforts accross the country who are effectively serving the underserved. You'll find it encouraging.
  • Barbara is the founder of The Center for Renewal. The collected my business card at the Halftime event and I ended up on the mailing list for The Get-Together. Eventually I attended one of the networking lunch groups. The purpose of the group is to provide "Stuff" six inner city ministries need.
5. Because of being on The Get-Together mailing list, I was invited to a meeting to consider starting a ministry in Houston similar to Cincinnati Works. Dave Phillips, co-founder of Cincinnati Works, came to talk about their success. The Cincinnati Works program provides job readiness and job search efforts that results in a person who is chronically unemployed or a member of the working poor becoming employed within a month. Then extensive effort is given to helping that person stay employed and to career advancement. The goal is to move people in poverty (defined by federal poverty income guidelines) out of poverty, which they define as an income 2X poverty level. Cincinnati Works has helped 3000 people in poverty become employed, and 900 are now at the 2X poverty income level. While they only are able to help 3% of the people in poverty in Cincinnati, their results are 30% of the total for the city. Virtually all other efforts get people ready to go to work, but do not actually place them in jobs or follow up with them for the years it takes to make sure they are stable and advancing. As a result, where average industry retention is 20%, Cincinnati Works can boast of an 80% retention rate.

Dave Phillips says poverty is the cancer of our society. I'll put more information in the next post to reinforce Dave's assertion.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Podcast Results Review -- July 11

Well, I've spent some time again this morning trying to get some understanding about how my two podcasts are doing in drawing an audience. Last week was interesting, because The Drawn2Jesus Podcast became listed on the iTunes directory -- which looking at Feedburner, resulted in a healthy kick in downloads which I think is new subscribers. Feedburner shows me the number of times aggregators ask for my RSS feed daily, including which aggregators, but this doesn't translate to actual downloads -- actual downloads is some factor of this data. I can also look at the stats from the website I use to host the two podcasts and see the actual number of times each specific podcast has been downloaded.

So here are a few numbers:

Individual Podcast Downloads:

6/13 - 6/19: 414
6/20-6/26: 444
6/27- 7/3: 371
7/4-7/10: 540

Total Individual Podcast Downloads: 2669

Most Frequently Downloaded Podcast:

6/13-6/19: Drawn2Jesus for 6/14 (55 downloads)
6/20-6/26: Retire2Serve for 6/20 (59 downloads)
6/27-7/3: Drawn2Jesus for 6/27 (53 downloads)
7/4-7/10: Drawn2Jesus for 6/14 (71 downloads)

Most total downloads: 168 for Drawn2Jesus for 6/09

Note that during the first 3 weeks of this period, the most frequently downloaded podcast was one of the shows produced at the beginning of that week. But with Drawn2Jesus appearing on the iTunes list last week, one of the older podcasts was heavily downloaded due to new subscribers downloading past shows as well as new ones. In fact, the new shows which came out last week only had 41 and 58 downloads -- maybe because they came out in the middle of the week.

So what I can surmise from all of this is that my podcasts have reached at least 168 people, and that maybe half or more are listening on a regular basis. Further, the numbers seem to continue to grow with time and with ease of access (iTunes). I think that's encouraging.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Spyware Now Less of a Problem

Spyware is the stuff that gets installed on your computer when you visit certain websites. I regularly run spyware removal software. It dawned on me today that since I've switched from Internet Explorer to Firefox for my web browsing, that I find very little spyware on my computer. What caused me to realize this nice change was an article on CNN's website.

If you're still using Internet Explorer, I'd recommend a change to Firefox. It's free, and you can download it here.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

10,000 Steps?

So with all the hype about taking 10,000 steps a day that's been on TV and in magazines, it turns out that it's not the result of any research. Common sense, maybe -- but not research. The AARP Bulletin this month points out that it came from the name of the pedometer developed in Japan in 1965.

So, if you name it, they'll come?

Subscribing to Podcasts Using iTunes

You can now use iTunes to subscribe to my podcasts. iTunes is free software from Apple that is downloaded to your desktop. iTunes is Apple's software that allows you to purchase and download music to your computer and in turn to your iPod. The ability to subscribe to podcasts to listen at your convenience and have them automatically downloaded to your iPod is a new feature of iTunes.

Here are brief instructions for subscribing to my podcasts using iTunes:

1. Download iTunes version 4.9 if you haven't already done so. Note that if you have an iPod and want to automatically download podcasts, that there is an update for the iPod software -- also available at Apple's website.

2. When you open iTunes, you will notice that there is a new category called "Podcasts." When you click on "Podcasts," you will notice a link to the iTunes Podcast Directory. Click on that link.

3. To subscribe to Drawn2Jesus, which is included in the directory, click on "Religion and Spirituality" and then on "Christianity." Scroll down to "Drawn2Jesus" and click "subscribe."

4. To subscribe to Retire2Serve, which is not yet listed in the directory, click on "Podcasts." Then select "advanced" from the menu, and "subscribe to podcast." Then type in or paste this link:

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Trips to Abilene Make Me Think

Trips to Abilene always put me into a reflective mood. It's sort of like going home. We went to school there, we have relatives there, and in a lot of ways feel ties to Abilene. But I think part of what makes me reflective about trips to Abilene is that I recognize that it's not home.

There are differences that seem to jump out at me. People tend to dress differently -- more of a western cut to their clothes. The news is about very local things -- and small things get attention. The sports reports are about Class A football in all the surrounding small towns. The big squabble in Abilene is over redistricting between the two high schools -- and the impact that seems to have had on football fortunes. Conversations often turn to the difficulties Abilene and the Abilene School District are having because of all the development outside their boundaries -- and the population shift to the suburbs (if Abilene can have suburbs). And part of it is also that I'm reminded of the differences that are accented between churches -- whether between groups wearing the same name (churches of Christ, Baptist, etc.) -- or the distinctions between the larger groups themselves. It's not that any or all of this is not good -- it just seems magnified, which sets me to thinking.

Here are a few of the questions that moved in and out of my mind on the drive home:
  • Why do I feel uncomfortable when things are a little different?
  • Why is there such a focus on creating controversy -- about schools, about football teams, about churches -- rather than seeking to find agreement and middle ground?
  • Will there be controversy in heaven? Will we focus on what's different and not feel comfortable?
Well, more questions than answers. But I'm glad to be home where I can immerse myself in my own little universe.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Cows and Horses and Shade

We made a trip to Abilene and back over the weekend, and the temperature was near or above 100 all the way up and back. You get to see a lot of cows along the way, and they were all clumped up everywhere you saw them under trees. Where there were cows, they were standing in the shade, even fairly early in the morning. Horses were a different matter. They were standing out in the sun eating.

Now cows are maligned as being very dumb. And we usually think of horses as being smarter. Have cows been misjudged?

Thursday, June 30, 2005

What is Your Theological Worldview?

Interesting quiz -- not sure what it means at this point. But if you're interested in taking it too, the link below will get you there.

Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan






Neo orthodox




Classical Liberal


Reformed Evangelical


Roman Catholic


Modern Liberal


What's your theological worldview?
created with

Our Generation's Biggest Paradox

The Today Show had a spot this morning about how effective we've become in caring for premature children -- those born only weighing one-two pounds, and sometimes even less. They even had a large group of parents and children on the show, showing how healthy they were in later years.

Our generation's biggest paradox has to be that on the one had we invest incredible amounts of effort and money to nourish premature infants -- putting a huge value on their lives -- while at the same time spending incredible amounts of money and having a huge infrastructure to provide abortions to moms who don't value the lives they are carrying. And to a large extent, many of the same people who are strong advocates of abortion are equally strong advocates of doing everything possible to provide healthy lives to premies.

I'm at a total loss to understand how we as a society can value one life so much and another so little.

My only way of beginning to understand it is that in both cases it's mostly about the adults involved and what they want -- and less about the babies.
  • The desire to have children is very strong -- and to get what we want, we are willing to spend whatever it takes to become pregnant and to nourish that life.
  • On the other hand, an unwanted pregnancy is an interruption in our plans at the least, and potentially life-altering, and if we don't want that, we want a way out. In fact, the primary argument for abortion seems to be, "The woman should have a choice."
I admit that I come down on the side of heroic measures to preserve and nourish life. Even while recognizing that even that means that it's more about me and what I want.

How do we move from the mindset "It's all about me and what I want" to the mindset "It's all about God and it's all about others?"

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

iTunes 4.9 and Podcast Support Released

You can now download the new version of iTunes (free). The major change is that it supports subscribing to podcasts, including many from commercial radio stations, and having them automatically downloaded to your iPod. You will also need to download a software update for your iPod.

Feedburner, a service that I use to convert my feed to RSS2, also announced that they will support adding all the new tags Apple requires to help make it easier for those of us who use blogs such as Blogger for our podcasts.

So as soon as Feedburner gets this support up, you should be able to subscribe to my podcasts directly in iTunes.

Abston Church of Christ

Here are some more photos of a "church of Christ." Actually, this one is built of Legos, with Lego people as members and staff. Enjoy!

The Purpose of Our Lives

I've discovered The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime (link below), and I'm using it to help structure my daily worship times.

This morning's concluding prayer reads:

"Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought me in safety to this new day: Preserve me with your mighty power, that I may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity; and in all I do, direct me to the fulfilling of your purpose; through Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen."

While it's not new, our culture teaches us that our goal should be fulfilling our purpose -- doing our thing. What a stark contrast to understand the teaching of God -- that our lives are to be about fulfilling His purpose. It seems so counterintuitive to so many of us.

As a life coach, one of my focuses is to help people understand what they are good at, and to help them find purpose and fulfillment in their lives. One of the things that is most interesting in helping people in this area is helping them discover that fulfillment doesn't come from doing what you're good at focused on self -- but rather doing what you're good at focused on others when that focus is in concert with His purpose.

All of us need God to direct us to the fulfilling our His purpose -- otherwise we get lost in ourselves.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Corrugated Church of Christ

I was looking at blogs which have "church of Christ" in the text using Technorati and came across a photo entitled "Corrugated Church of Christ." It's definitely worth looking at!

Podcast Progress Report

I keep looking at statistics on downloads to try to get a picture of the effectiveness of my podcasting efforts. There are some problems with my website statistics service, but here's what I've been able to figure out.

Total downloads (website statistics) have increased each week:
  • 5/21 -5/28: 20
  • 5/28-6/5: 205
  • 6/5-6/12: 253
  • 6/12-6/19: 479
  • 6/19-6/26" 492

This last week (6/19 - 6/26), Drawn2Jesus had a total of 265 downloads while Retire2Serve had a total of 227 downloads.

The new podcasts for the week had the highest number of downloads for the week:
  • D2J 6/20: 56
  • R2S 6/20: 59
  • D2J 6/23: 55
  • R2S 6/22: 35
Total downloads for particular podcasts tend to rise with time. The 6/6 and 6/9 D2J podcasts have totals of 116 and 119 downloads while the 5/30 and 6/7 R2S podcasts have totals of 98 and 78. (When I switched to a more detailed stats package, I apparently lost some early data.)

The other way I have to look at statistics is through Feedburner. It provides the number of downloads through the syndication feed on a daily basis -- i.e. when someone has subscribed through iPodder or some other aggregator and it hits the Feedburner RSS feed to download mp3 files. So looking at that on a weekly basis, here are the results (Date range; D2J, R2S, Total):
  • 5/21-5/28: 56, 45, 101
  • 5/28-6/5 : 76 , 66 , 142
  • 6/5-6/12 : 83, 67, 150
  • 6/12-6/19: 104, 76, 180
  • 6/19-6/26: 89, 88, 177
These numbers do not indicate whether one file or all files were downloaded -- the aggregators give people a choice of downloading only the last podcast or catching up on all of them.

So, looking at all of this, I'm somewhat encouraged. People are finding and listening to the podcasts, and the number of people listening weekly appears to be increasing, whether they are getting the podcasts through subscriptions or going directly to the blogs and listening from there.

I'll keep watching the numbers to give me feedback on how this experiment is working.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Numbering Our Days

I've begun using The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle to help me structure daily devotional time. It has prayers and readings for morning, noon, evening, and bedtime -- a practice reaching back to Jewish practice before and during Christ's time on earth. I've included a link to the book below if you would like more information.

I was struck by part of the mornings reading -- a passage from Psalms 90:2. "So teach us to number our days that we might apply our hearts to wisdom."

Numbering our days is not something we like to think about. We know they are limited, but we like to proceed with life as if they were un-numbered. The problem with that is that we tend to focus on what's urgent or what the moment calls us to do. Instead of focusing on what's important. On what really matters.

How different would our lives be if we lived in recognition that our days are numbered -- and let that awareness govern what we did and how we do it? We'd spend more time serving, more time in worship and meditation, and more time with those we love most.

It's insightful that the Psalmist says "Teach us to number." It's not natural to do so. A serious illness, a tragic accident, or some other unexpected event is often part of the teaching. We have to learn one way or another that we are mortal -- that our days are limited. Life's not a video game where when you get killed you can just press "start over." How are you learning to number your days?

Thursday, June 23, 2005

My New Blog on Retirement Living

I'm playing with a new blog -- calling it Retirement Living. The basic idea is to report ideas from newsfeeds, sometimes with commentary, about retirement living. It's an area of great interest to me both personally and professionally as a life coach working with retirees. It's still early in it's experiement phase, but take a look and give me some feedback.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Walking with Jenny

I'm back to walking every day, and trying to walk somewhere rather than keeping up with the treadmill. Jenny the dog is in one of her phases where she's put on a few pounds and doesn't want to be too active, so I've decided that she should walk with me.

So yesterday, I put her on the leash and we headed out. When I walk at home, the route is to walk to the corner which is about 4 blocks away and back a couple of times. Jenny was pretty excited about this new adventure, and checked out all the yards and driveways along the way to the corner. On the way back, she did some of the same, but I noticed that she was mostly headed straight down the sidewalk.

To my surprise, when we got back to the house and I was ready to turn around and head back, Jenny wouldn't budge. She'd had all the walking she wanted. I thought she might be thirsty, so we went in to let her drink. She took a sip or two and promptly went and laid down under one of the chairs by the kitchen table. That's pretty much Jenny for I'm not doing anything for a while except take a nap. So I went back out and finished my walk. Sure enough, when I returned, she was still under the chair.

We just repeated the same scene this morning. To the corner and back, not budging, a sip of water, and plopping down under the chair. Guess if I want Jenny to walk further with me, we'll just have to go further before I let her get back home! And I keep thinking that I'm smarter than she is...

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Comfortable at Being Himself

Sometimes you look and listen to someone and are struck by how comfortable they seem at being themselves. James Taylor was on the Today Show this morning, and he just looks and sounds like someone who is comfortable in his own skin. His music is smooth and seemingly effortless. His clothes looked comfortable -- no obvious attempt to make a statement. He did have his Stetson on, but it was just plain. And when he responded to questions, it was relaxed and absent of pretense.

Maybe I'm attracted to someone who appears so comfortable with who they are because sometimes I'm not. Sometimes I'm too concerned about trying to make other people like me, so I'm overly conscious about what I wear and what I say and what I do. In those times, I'm not comfortable. And I suspect that others see it and hear it.

At the same time it's a balancing thing. The desire that's built into us that wants to please others has many positive benefits. In fact, our ability to live and work with each other is highly dependent on it. So part of our humanity is struggling with the balance.

Maybe part of the attraction of Heaven is that you're just who you are and that's okay.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Where you live defines who you are.

That's what the sign says in the Sugar Land Mall. It's an ad for an upscale housing development. It got me to thinking because I didn't like the message. In a sense it's true -- we do judge people by where they live. If they live in an upscale neighborhood, we tend to think highly of them. If they live in the hood, we may not have as high opinions of them. We all know that there is something wrong with that, but we have bought into the notion that where you live defines who you are. I'm trying to get over that. I know there are some rascals living in River Oaks in Houston -- they've been in courtrooms and the national headlines. I know there are some great people living in the Third Ward. I've met some of them.

For more of my thoughts on this, you may want to listen to today's Retire2Serve Podcast.

And if you're in a listening mood, I talked about "Kings and Kingdoms" on today's Drawn2Jesus Podcast.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Coaching About Organizing

It's amazing how often as a coach you end up coaching someone around an issue that's all too familiar to you. It happened again yesterday. I was working with a client who is struggling a little with personal organization. He's a collector -- he keeps everything because someday it might be useful, or it's just too good to toss or otherwise get rid of. And he doesn't enjoy organizing -- there's too much else to do that's more fun. The problem is, all the horizontal surfaces around him are filled with stacks of stuff, and often he can't find what he wants. He enjoys having everything organized and in it's place -- he just doesn't particularly enjoy taking the time and effort to make it that way. That sounds very familiar to me, because I'm a lot like that. I was totally able to relate to my client.

But I was also able to help him devise a plan to get started changing his situation. It's interesting that most of the time we know pretty well how to fix what it is about us that is bothersome -- we just need encouragement. His plan is to begin sorting through stuff with the goal of getting rid of a lot of it. Then he plans to organize what's left and assign a place for it. He and I both realize that we'll never be neat freaks, but there is a level of organization that we need to feel good about ourselves and function well.

And, my conscience has made me pledge to do some tossing and organizing myself -- even though there are so many other things I want to do that seem to be more fun!

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Conversation with a First Grade Mentor

Yesterday was the Texaco Retiree Luncheon, and since I've taken on the role of Asst. Secretary, I had to be there early to get some things ready. We finished early, so I had time to visit with some of the others who have service roles in the organization.

One conversation was with Eleanor, who during the school year serves as a volunteer mentor at the elementary school near her home. Every morning she spends an hour at the school helping two children with reading. She has different children each day, so all together she works with 10 children, working with each child every week. For many of the children, English is a second language. For others there may be a learning disability.

Eleanor told me about a couple of the children -- about how they had improved in their reading and how excited they were when they passed their tests. She was especially proud of one girl she helped who had dislexia. Eleanor's daughter had dislexia, so she had some experience in helping. With Eleanor's help and encouragement, the girl was able to improve her reading skills and be on grade level. You could tell from the sparkle in her eyes how much that meant to Eleanor.

She also told me that she was always trying to get other retirees to mentor, but that she hadn't been successful. Eleanor thinks fear of the unknown is a big factor. She said that her friends ask her all kinds of questions about how she does it -- like her mentoring is some sort of super-human effort. She said that she keeps explaining that it's not -- it's just being there and spending time with the children reading. Still she has a hard time convincing others.

She did tell me about a neighbor who also mentors at the school. But he likes to work with fifth graders, and math is his thing. Eleanor says she could never do math mentoring, so it's good that people with different interests and abilities agree to mentor. And she indicated that's there's a comradship between her and her neighbor. They see each other in the neighborhood, and always wave.

Serving has taken on an important life role for Eleanor. It was fun seeing her excitement, sense of purpose, and satisfaction from this role she's taken on. It's sad that so many others have not found this joy in retirement -- for themselves, and for those who would be the beneficiaries of their serving.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Manipulated by Jenny Dog

This weekend I discovered that Jenny Dog had figured out a new way to manipulate me. She is very clever. Sometimes I'm a little slow. Just being honest.

She knows that when she goes over to the back door and acts like she wants to go out, that I'll get up out of my chair and open the door for her. She had put that together with the knowledge that when I get up, that I may go and get her a rawhide -- her favorite joy on earth. And she knows that if I don't get up out of the chair, that she's not getting a rawhide. So lately, she has been working overtime to get me to get up and let her outside, with the knowledge that when she comes back in that I am already up and may make the trip to the kitchen to get her a rawhide. Last night it reached the point where I finally understood. Every few minutes she wanted to go outside. Sometimes she would even go to the edge of the porch before coming back in and heading for the kitchen.

Her new game obviously worked well enough for her to think she had it figured out. So when I would just go back and sit down instead of going to the kitchen, she would just go back to the door to go outside again. She must have thought that I had forgotten the new trick she had taught me. So last night was an interesting time of letting Jenny out and then back in and me sitting down in the chair over and over again. I'm not sure she's figured it out yet, but we'll see.

It makes me wonder -- if it's that easy for Jenny Dog to figure out how to manipulate me to get what she wants, then how susceptible am I to being manipulated by others?

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Giving Bad News

Last week was one of those weeks when Sara was involved again and again in giving bad news to patients. Several new people had come in for consultations in her clinic, and they had no hope to offer. I guess it's just one of those statistical things -- during some periods of time, it seems that everyone that comes looking for help is someone you can't help. Of course, that is balanced by those periods when people come in who have been given no hope by others, and other eyes and experience are able to offer hope, even healing. That's just the reality of working in a cancer center.

Weeks like this last one are hard on Sara. Giving people bad news can never be easy. Many of us would find it impossible to do on a regular basis. But it occurs to me that it's the price for being able to deliver incredibly good news to someone who's been told there is no hope, which Sara also gets to do. Those of us who don't know the depths of having to deliver bad news can't know the heights of being able to deliver amazingly good news.

For Sara and her colleagues, I hope that this is a week where the statistics play catch up, and that the news they have to deliver is good.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Apple To Make Subscribing to Podcasts Easier

Having recently started producing a couple of podcasts (Drawn2Jesus and Retire2Serve), the announcement this week by Apple that they are building podcast subscription into iTunes is exciting news. The details are in Steve Jobs' keynote which is available at

The new release of iTunes coming out at the end of July will allow you to find podcasts of interest and subscribe to them directly in iTunes, all in a very transparent way. By subscribing, you will automatically have new programs downloaded into iTunes and then loaded on your iPod to listen to whenever you want. Basically, it lowers the barrier to listening by not having to use another program to do that for you.

The other thing that is exciting is that Apple appears to be adding functionality that will allow the inclusion of art with the podcasts, and allow that art to change during the podcast. Exactly how that works is yet to be released.

There are currently about 8000 podcasts. Over 6000 of these are produced by amateurs like me, and the rest are being done by radio stations and commercial enterprises. Some estimate that a year from now there will be 80,000 podcasts available.

The new iTunes functionality will go a long way toward moving podcasting into the mainstream.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Increasing My Memory

You're probably hoping that I've found a way to increase my personal memory. Sorry.

But I did have to find a solution to the memory crunch on my laptop. It's a several-year old ThinkPad T30 with a 20 Gbyte Hard Drive. And it was down to only a little over 1 Gbyte of free space. Needless to say, it wasn't running very well.

So I ended up picking up a WD Passport portable hard drive with 40 Gbytes of storage that plugs into a USB port. And then I had to buy a PCMCIA USB 2.o card so that I could get the higher transfer rate, because the ThinkPad is old enough to only have USB 1.1 (40 times slower than USB 2.0). And of course, I bought one of the cheaper cards and then had to return it and get an expensive one that would actually work with the WD.

After I moved some stuff to the WD Passport, I decided to defragment the hard drive. Guess it hadn't been done before, because nearly all of the files on the drive were fragmented. Needless to say, it had to run nearly all night to get the job done, but the result was more free space. So now the machine runs a lot better.

Just relating all of this to let others know that there are solutions other than buying a new machine. And that cleaning up the hard drive occasionally is a good idea.

Now if there were just something as straightforward that I could do about my brain...

Sunday, June 05, 2005

A Celebration Feast

Last night we enjoyed a celebration feast with our friends Lewis and Elaine. Lewis, one of the BMC layoff casualties of a month ago, begins his new job Wednesday. His story about the steps involved in getting this new job is one that those of us who are believers easily see the hand of God in. So it was only fitting that we spend time in celebrating.

The venue for the feast was the Swinging Door -- a pecan-smoked barbecue place you have to plan on visiting because it's out in the country. But when you walk through the door, you know you've made a good decision -- the aroma is amazing.

Since it was a feast, we had the family style all you can eat dinner. Beef, ribs, links, turkey, chicken, along with beans, potato salad, cole slaw, and bread. I knew immediately that I would overeat, and be sorry later. But maybe that's what a feast is about. And to top it off, there was blackberry (and a bite or two of peach) cobbler covered in ice cream.

While the food is hard to forget, the highlight of the feast was Lewis telling the story, and the big smile on his face and the sparkle in his eyes as he told it. It's good to celebrate what God has done!

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Podcast Results to Date

I've been interested to see what results I'm getting from the two podcasts I started a few weeks ago -- Drawn2Jesus and Retire2Serve.

I have two ways to look at how many people are listening.
  1. Feedburner provides some statistics. Feedburner is the web service that converts the feeds to RSS so that people can subscribe. It tracks the total hits to the RSS feed, and it also tracks requests for the feed, which converts into downloads. So it gives an idea of how many people are subscribing. It also counts click-throughs to the blog if someone goes to find more information or a link. From Feedburner, it appears that about 30 folks have so far subscribed to each. One episode of retire2serve had 16 clickthroughs.
  2. The website I use to host the mp3 audio files also provides statistics, including the number of times the mp3's have been downloaded. The most popular one has been downloaded nearly 200 times.
The retire2serve website where I host the podcast files has received over 1000 hits in about three weeks. Not bad for a new site.

And the really interesting thing is that Google and other search engines picked up on the site and on the podcasts quickly. Because the podcasts are listed on a number of podcast directories, and because Google hits them regularly, Google tends to draw a lot of attention to a website.

So, from an early perspective, it appears that some folks have found the podcasts and are listening, and that the website is getting quite a bit of traffic. We'll see how that works out over time.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency

I've now joined Eloise and Sara as fans of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series of novels. I just finished In the Company of Cheerful Ladies, sixth in the series of novels by Alexander McCall Smith.

All are set in Africa, and do a wonderful job of giving a flavor of the culture and civilization. Smith is good at creating likable characters and sucking you into their lives so that you keep turning pages. Part of the allure of his characters is their strong morality and their kindness toward others. Novels that have great stories and a moral to go with them.

Makes me regret not having picked up on the series before the first five went to Uganda with the missionaries! Now I may have to go the library and check them out.

Here's a link to the book at Amazon:

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Things to Teach Grandchildren

Eloise is on vacation this week, and is fixing biscuits and gravy this morning -- a special treat we only allow ourselves during vacations. Otherwise it's oatmeal, which is also good, and which conventional wisdom says is healthier.

With a grandchild on the way, it sparked the idea that I need to start a list of things to teach grandchildren. Maybe I'll even start a separate blog to record all of these things. There are so many things I learned from grandparents that I need to get my ducks in a row or I might miss something important.

Like biscuits and gravy. Or peanut butter and syrup stirred up. Maybe even saucering coffee. And certainly the joy of toast and syrup for breakfast. Things that I don't do, at least often, but that I learned from grandparents, and that every grandchild should have a chance at.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Memorial Day

I'm glad that Memorial Day is not just about sales and picnics -- although I think both are great. It's good to have a day set aside that reminds us that others have made the ultimate sacrifice to provide the life we enjoy.

I read a story about a soldier from a small town in New York that gave his life about a year ago by falling on a grenade to save his buddies in Iraq. He's a great example of all the others, even those whose action may not seem as heroic. There have been those in Iraq whose deaths have been termed "accidental," -- vehicle accidents or whatever being the cause instead of enemy action. But the truth is, their death was the result of stepping up to the plate for the rest of us, and today I think of them too.

This war has its detractors, but that's not the point. Whether you think this war is a good thing, whether you think it's justified or not, the sacrifice that others are making for us are just as real. Just as it was for our friend Bill Reese and all the others who served and died in Viet Nam.

It's good to stop and remember their sacrifices, and to remember that all wars have a terrible price. And even to remember that Memorial Day originally was established to remember all who died during the Civil War.

So amid the shopping and picnics, spend a moment remembering both the sacrifice and terrible cost.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

The Capacity to Murder

"We all have the capacity to become murderers." This is a quote from "Think you're normal? Then you may be a killer." in the Houston Chronicle from today written by David M. Buss, Professor of Psychology at UT-Austin, and author of "The Murderer Next Door: Why the Mind is Designed to Kill" (Los Angeles Times). Buss's research began when he saw a close friend suddenly become enranged and nearly kill his own wife. Buss says that his research indicates that evolutionary adaptation is responsible for this capacity, due to competition to survive and reproduce.

I don't know about the validity of Buss's theory, but I know God included a prohibition against murder in the law he gave to Moses, so obviously man's capacity to murder is real. Most of us believe, however, that we individually never could murder someone. We think that people in our society who do commit murder have some unusual fatal flaw. Maybe those of us who believe this way are mistaken.

Maybe that's part of what's behind Jesus' teaching that hating has the same effect as murder, and even calling someone a fool puts us in danger of hell's fire (Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7). Jesus is pointing out that when we allow contempt for another to develop in our hearts, we have gone over the line. He wants us to understand that anger and hatred are dangerous. It's not much of a step to physical murder.

So how's your battle with road rage going?

Saturday, May 28, 2005

What Ever Happened to Bailing Wire?

Some of you probably don't even know what bailing wire is. It's the wire that is wrapped around bales of hay -- the old fashioned hay bales, not the new round bales -- to hold them together. But it's fame came from being used to hold all kinds of other things, mostly mechanical, together. When something broke, you could just use a piece of bailing wire to hold it together to keep on going. Thus the saying, "Held together by bailing wire."

I was reminded of this because my nearly antique riding mower needed a piece of bailing wire recently. The mowing deck became unattached on one side due to age and rust, and I quickly saw that I could hold it together a little longer if I had a piece of bailing wire -- which I did not. But I did manage to get the job done with a coathanger, though not as well. I'll be ordering the replacement deck soon to fix the mower correctly, but the bailing wire-like patch is working just fine for now. (It's also amazing that parts are still readily available for a 20-something year old riding mower!)

Now that I think about it, it's interesting that I even know about bailing wire and its importance, because I never lived on a farm (except when I was less than three years old and we didn't have a hay bailer), and my experience with bailing hay was limited to a few days on a friend's farm when I was an early teen. I don't think I learned about bailing wire for repairs from that experience. But the adults who were influences in my life all grew up themselves on farms and around machinery. I suspect that's where it came from.

Anyway, it just seems like knowing how to use bailing wire is a passing thing with our increasingly urban living. And this morning that seems like a shame. Being able to make a quick fix and keep going is a valuable skill.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Time Doesn't Erase Memories

It's been 10 years today since J. W. Stapp, Eloise's dad, died. Although time has passed, his memory is still strong. He was remarkable in many ways. He continued his banking career into his late 70's. He always had a big garden where he grew all the important things -- tomatoes, okra, squash, and black-eyed peas. I think it was a way to stay close to his roots on the farm as much as it was for the good food. He loved sports, and would often listen to one game on his transitor radio while watching another on TV. He was a great dad and granddad, and loved it when the family was all together. He was a great role model for me, and I still find myself thinking about he would handle some situation or opportunity. My life has been blessed and influenced by so many, and I'm thankful.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

What Could You Do That Would Make a Difference?

Yesterday I attended the Get-Together -- a networking group I have written about before whose purpose is to use their social networks to provide "stuff" that several inner city ministries need. Barbara Elliott, who wrote the book Street Saints and leads The Center for Renewal talked about the good things that Christians are doing all over the country to make a difference. And she suggested that the next step in Houston may be to develop an effort that will place hard to employ individuals in jobs and provide mentoring and support to help them succeed. There are a number of good programs in place to prepare underemployed or unemployed individuals for employment in Houston, but none to help them take the next step.

We then heard from two ministries that have summer programs for inner city teens, efforts that have a track record of making a difference in their lives.

The thing that occured to me is that there is no shortage of needs to be met, or even of ideas for how to meet them. All that's missing is people and resources to step up and make it happen -- and connections between people to link the needs and the ideas and the resources.

We're all to one extent or another stuck in a paradigm that the church will take care of all this. And the church does to an extent. But our paradigm of church has become highly focused on taking care of the church, and reaching out to take care of our neighbor's needs is generally a peripheral effort. What if our paradigm shifted to individuals as church with individuals taking on efforts to meet their neighbors' needs? What if our paradigm shifted to churches focusing on meeting their neighbors' needs as the focus and taking care of their own needs as the peripheral effort?

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Drawn2Jesus and Retire2Serve

Drawn2Jesus and Retire2Serve are Podcasts - my newest projects.

A podcast is an audio file that people can listen to on the internet and/or download onto their mp3 player (like iPods). There are directories on the internet where Podcasts are listed, and new ones can be found and subscribed to. If you subscribe, they can be automatically downloaded to your computer and/or mp3 player for you to listen to whenever you want.

Podcasting is a new thing, but growing fast. The attraction is that people can find content they are interested in and listen to it when they want. Thus audiences self-select around topics of interest. So I'm joining a number of people providing Christian content for people to discover and listen to.

It's one of those ventures I really enjoy -- turning on a light and see what kinds of creatures gather around it and what they do. Rather than pushing stuff at folks, you just put it out there and let them find it and react. So it'll be interesting to see what happens.

I'm still working to get comfortable with the whole thing. I invite you to listen to the podcasts and give me feedback.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

January 29, 2006

January 29, 2006 has suddenly become a big day for our family -- it's the predicted birth day of Mark and Kathy's first child (and our first grandchild)! Needless to say, there's major excitement everywhere.

It's difficult to tell who's more excited -- Mark and Kathy, the uncle and aunts to-be, or Nana Eloise. Mark was talking fast -- like he does on a Starbuck's caffeine high. Kathy was jumping up and down. John quit mowing the yard and talked to Mark for 30 minutes. Sara said "Shut up!" Eloise was crying. I mostly smiled a lot. And Mark's friend Brad quickly offered the use of his name.

We're all looking forward to the coming months passing quickly and to assuming our new roles!

Friday, May 20, 2005

Work and Boundaries

I was coaching a friend last night around work issues. In some ways it is a unique situation, in others similar to a lot of people today. He admits to working 60-70 hours/week. If he didn't work that much, the job wouldn't get done, and in fact the small company he works for possibly wouldn't survive.

He's struggling with how to increase his personal productivity, thinking that if he could just figure out how to be more productive his hours might not decrease, but at least things might smooth out.

There are a couple of things going on here that others of us might recognize in our own lives.

1. "Increase your productivity" is a phrase that was invented to ward off complaints when companies laid off part of the workforce but the amount of work didn't decrease. Workers are told to increase their productivity so that the company will survive and they will remain employed. While there are some things most of us can do to marginally improve our productivity, the reality is that to take up the slack left by departed workers and slim margins, improving productivity is a catch-phrase for working longer hours.

And it's an ever-increasing spiral, because as workers maintain or increase productivity, competition does the same, so to survive, there's another reduction in force and another call to increase productivity.

Somewhere you reach a point where this all stops working -- no matter how many hours you put in, you can't do what needs to be done. You, and the company as a whole, simply don't have the resources required to be viable. If my friend is not already in this position, he is close.

2. The further this situation goes, seemingly the more addictive it becomes for the worker. Although they recognize the damage working too many hours is doing to the rest of their life, they become addicted to the responsibility of keeping the company going. "If 60 hours won't get the job done, then maybe 70 hours will." " If I don't do it, it won't get done." "The company will fail if I don't succeed." People who never dreamed of being workaholics get sucked in.

So how could you avoid this trap -- or begin to work your way out if you're already snared?
  • Setting boundaries within the different aspects of your life is absolutely necessary for achieving life balance. A healthy lifestyle requires a balance of work, recreation, home life, and spiritual life. Work is the one we usually abuse, and when it gets out of whack, all of the others suffer. We have to set the boundaries ourselves -- draw a bold line we will not cross. Do you have a boundary set up for work? How about boundaries for minimums in the other areas?
  • In order to set boundaries for yourself, you probably need to spend some time focusing on your core values. What really matters to you? When you're honest with yourself about your core values, you won't have a problem with deciding what the boundaries should be.
  • If you're outside the boundaries already, then you will need to develop strategies to bring yourself back into alignment with your values. This is not necessarily easy, but it is necessary. You may need help to make it happen.
Just because it's the trend in the marketplace doesn't make work without boundaries a good thing!

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Settling for Less

The contrast and its effect on me were totally unexpected.

We were driving back home on Highway 6 yesterday afternoon, and I found that I was feeling overwhelmed by the crush of traffic. I thought to myself, "There are as many cars sitting here waiting for that stoplight as there were total in the Padre Island National Seashore at lunchtime."

True, it's offseason at Padre Island. Still, there were probably only about 75 vehicles in the whole park. About a third were park workers, about a third were pickups with empty boat trailers behind them in the parking lot at the boat launch into the Laguna Madre, and the rest were those of us visiting. Peaceful is the best description.

Driving toward the park, I found myself smiling even before we reached the entrance. The large white sand dunes and the dense vegitation and the quiet and the solitude just seem to bring on a smile. And when you reach one of the locations where you can access the beach, the view of the white sand and the beautiful green water are incredible. Sitting there, taking it all in, was amazingly relaxing and refreshing.

Driving down Highway 6, by comaparison, felt crushing.

Now I drive on Highway 6 every day and usually think nothing of the traffic. Why yesterday?

Simply because I'd just experienced something that spoke more deeply to my soul, and when I returned to Highway 6, I recognized that I live in a way that insulates me from things that speak deeply to me, and that as long as I stay insulated, I don't even recognize it. So why do we choose to live that way?

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

An Elevator with a Quirk

The elevator is one of two public elevators side by side at the Holiday Inn in Corpus Christi.

If you're on the third floor, which we are, and you walk up to the elevator bank and push the button to go down and the door to the elevator on the left opens with the arrow pointed down, you get an interesting ride. The elevator goes UP to the fifth floor, opens the door, closes the door, and then goes down to the first floor. Every time.

The first time this happens to you, you're surprised and try to decide if you got on an elevator that actually was in the process of going up. Maybe someone on the fifth floor pressed the call button. And you expect it to stop on three on its way down -- to pick you up -- but it doesn't.

The second time this happens, you're not as surprised. You have made sure to look at the direction the elevator arrows say you're going, but since you've taken this ride before, you're ready -- sort of.

By the third time, you think you have this all figured out. And sure enough, you're not disappointed. There's never anyone waiting on the fifth floor to get on. It's just what this particular elevator does.

Unless there is someone already on the elevator when you get on who is coming down from another floor. Then you just go down to the first floor.

So I've grown kind of fond of this elevator. When I push the down call button, I find myself hoping that the left elevator answers rather than the one on the right which just works like all other elevators. Finding an elevator with a quirk adds interest to what otherwise is routine.

Quirks -- the things that are unique and unexpected -- are one of the things that make people so interesting. If all of us just did everything the way everyone else does and the way everyone else always expects, our lives together would be awfully dull. Society does all it can to engineer the quirks out of people, but fortunately people don't engineer very well.

I'm sure someone will "fix" this elevator and take its quirk away. But wouldn't it be nice if we quit trying to "fix" each other and just enjoyed each other for who we are -- and especially for the quirks?

Monday, May 16, 2005

What You Can Do About Job Uncertainty

Many people today live with uncertainty in the workplace. Layoffs, downsizing, reorganization, or whatever you want to call it are business as usual in much of corporate America. Here are some strategies that I recommend following to both minimize the stress of living in today's uncertain workplace, and to make dealing with a layoff easier if it comes:
  • Build and nourish your network now, before you need it. Having a robust network is your most valuable asset when the time comes that you decide to change jobs. Statistically, most people find jobs through other people, not from the internet, sending out resumes, want ads, etc. Having this in place during times of uncertainty provides a great measure of comfort and assurance.
  • Have a great, up-to-date resume ready at all times. Going through the process of updating and preparing a resume that you are proud of not only is good preparation, it also helps provide self confidence and affirmation that you have something to offer. This has the benefit in uncertain times of taking some of the fear away.
  • Know what you're really good at and what you really enjoy. Sadly, most people I work with, when they hit a job crisis, don't really know what they're good at, or even what they really enjoy. God has gifted us and wired us each in unique ways. As a result, there are certain things that we each are really good at, and there are certain environments that we flourish in. Understanding these has a lot to do with both job satisfaction and job performance. I generally don't have clients do a lot of testing to develop this understanding, although any testing such as a Meyers-Briggs is useful. Instead, I use a few exercises that surface the same information. In my experience, this is not only less expensive, but more effective.
  • Understanding the job search process -- in case you get thrown into it -- ahead of time is valuable. There's a lot of misinformation out there, focus on the process and proven stategies.
  • Develop a plan for strengthening your value to your present employer, for strengthening your marketability should you choose to make a change or be forced to, and/or for making a pre-emptive career change to an area that may provide more security.
When you take charge and become proactive, you automatically stop being a victim. You have control of yourself and being prepared even if you don't have control of decisions regarding whether your job will continue with your present employer.

Feel free to email me for resources to help accomplish these items, or to have a discussion about a period of coaching to help you implement these strategies.

Friday, May 13, 2005

retire2serve -- A New Venture

I've been working on a new venture for the last week or so -- retire2serve. My goal is to further the vision of people who retire taking on part or full-time service to God and others in place of career -- retiring from career, but filling that gap with purpose and meaning.

The foundation of retire2serve will be using the internet to reach people and churches and faith-based organizations needed to help them be successful.

So there's a new website,, that will serve as the home base. A centerpiece of the effort will be a podcast -- an internet "radio" broadcast -- providing information and encouragement for individuals, churches, and faith-based organizations. There's more information on the website, as well as an introductory podcast.

This is still in the formative stage, so feedback is welcome!

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Serving His Purposes

For the last week, untold numbers of people have moved whatever was going on in their lives toward the back burner to make room for thinking about and praying about the Whaleys and baby Noah. Comments on the blog testify to the level of prayer and compassion flowing from people. Many talked about how this event has brought them closer to God and fueled their prayer lives. Others have talked about their faith growing because of seeing the faith of the Whaleys.

I'm part of this group who has been deeply touched by Noah and his family. My heart hurts for the whole family, especially Julie and Ethan. But I'm blessed by seeing faith in action, and by seeing people connect in community around this family.

It's hard to accept that God is not a respecter of people -- that in this life bad things do happen to good people, just as good things happen to bad people. But it's comforting to see proof that even when terrible things happen to good people, that these events serve the purpose of working for good -- for serving His purposes.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

The Passing of a Company and More

ChevronTexaco will now be known simply as Chevron.

The name change simply acknowledges what has been obvious since Chevron bought Texaco and closed the deal in 2001. Texaco ceased to exist except as a brand name for stations actually owned by Shell and through Chevron's right to increasingly use the brand.

It never really was ChevronTexaco. About 90% of Texaco's 16,000 employees lost their jobs in the merger. Most of those are no longer in the oil industry -- part of over one million workers who have left the industry during recent decades. I'm one of them.

I think Dave O'Reilly, the chairman and CEO of Chevron, really meant for it to be the merger of equals he espoused when it all happened. In fact, some folks got into serious trouble during transition team meetings for saying out loud, "Chevron bought Texaco." But bringing the two cultures together to create something new didn't happen. All were quickly introduced to "The Chevron Way," a set of principles governing how business was to be done. Rebranding them to "The ChevronTexaco Way" didn't hold much meaning. It quickly became obvious that they were simply "The Chevron Way" because Chevron did buy Texaco.

Everyone thought the merger would be easy because in so many ways the companies were very alike. It became obvious, however, that there were some major cultural differences. For example, in the Chevron culture, there was an attempt to avoid conflict by avoiding talking about it. Even when the elephant was in the room, it wasn't okay to acknowledge it -- thus you couldn't say "Chevron bought Texaco" and Chevron holds all the cards. In the Texaco culture, people would not only talk about the elephant, but were proud of talking about it.

It's not that any company that passes hasn't done things to deserve their fate. One of our leaders once said, "I'll drink all the oil found in Alaska!"

So, the Texas Company is no more, not even in the merger name. With all its flaws, I miss it, especially the community. A long time friend has passed, and as I still grieve the loss, I choose to remember the good in our friendship. And to see the name change simply as Chevron choosing to take back her maiden name after the death of her marriage partner.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005


So, what do you believe?
  • Is the spirit world close enough that physical individuals who are sensitive enough can have interactions with those in the spiritual world? That's the basic premise of the TV show Medium.
  • Or is Medium just good drama, a ghost story that is fantasy and entertainment, but impossible in reality.
Seems to me that our answers may have some relationship to our beliefs about God. What do you believe about God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit?
  • Are God, Jesus, and the Spirit close enough that people living in our physical world -- who are sensitive to them -- can have meaningful interactions? Can we have conversations with them -- hearing them as well as speaking to them?
  • Or is the Bible just good literature, fantasy and entertainment, but just impossible in reality.
Belief in the reality of the spirit world was very strong in Biblical times. The interactions with and the effects of spirits were real -- in fact Jesus had conversations with evil spirits and cast them out of people.

When mankind became so "smart" that we won't believe anything we cannot scientifically prove, we began dismissing the spirit world -- and with it much of what the Bible teaches.

If Post-Modernism, which basically rejects that everything can be explained by scientific logic and embraces mystery, helps us accept the spiritual realm as real in relation to God and his kingdom, it can be a very good thing. And maybe Medium can help us challenge our thinking about the spiritual.

Monday, May 09, 2005

The Power of Community

Few would deny that community has suffered from our frenetic lifestyles of the last 25 years. We have convinced ourselves that working longer hours, spending more time in commuting, and having kids involved in multiple athletic and other after school activities are requisites for life. The result is that time in community life has been drastically reduced. You only have to look at schedules of church services and activities compared to 1980 to see the proof.

Yet it's encouraging to see that new and powerful ways of connecting in community are arising. For an example, see the blog centered around Noah Whaley. A now world-wide community has formed around Noah and his parents Julie and Ethan. It's amazing to see the level of true connection and ministry happening through cyberspace. High tech AND high touch.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Mother's Day 2005

What a day of experiencing so many different emotions I'm having.

About my Mom on the third Mother's Day since she went on ahead. The sadness from missing her presence, being able to talk to her, not sending the orchid she always loved. The thankfulness for having such great memories, for her unconditional love, for how special she treated my wife and each of our children. For the 60 plus year love affair with my Dad. Anger that she suffered and died prematurely. Gratitude for her strong faith in God that she passed on to me, and gratitude for the fact that she's beyond suffering and enjoying eternal joy.

About my wife, who I gave a card to this morning pointing out that she is my wife, lover, sweetheart, etc. but not my mother. A cute card, but one that says she is even more. And also a great mother to our three children. And I'm thankful.

At church, I was reminded that many friends' mothers have gone ahead as well. I feel special kinship with them on this day.

And finally, I've just hurt for the pain Julie is feeling for her son Noah. Like everyone else, I wish I could make the hurt go away.

Most important in all of this, I'm thankful for the reminder from God of how special this life is, even with its hurts. For the reminder that this life is just the short preparation period for eternity. For the reminder that God settles up on the other side.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Noah Whaley

Noah is the newborn son of Julie and Ethan, and he's struggling for life. Julie's brother Steve started a blog for Noah, and you can go there to read about his condition and to see notes written by Julie and Ethan.

Noah, Julie, Ethan and their families have been at the front of my thoughts and prayers since early this week when Noah was born. While my heart has been crushed by the hurt that they are encountering, at the same time my heart has been lifted by seeing the power of God alive and active within them. I am so thankful for the glimpse into their hearts that blogging is providing. My faith is stronger because of theirs.

Monday, May 02, 2005

What in the World is Podcasting?

Podcasting is a new internet technology that allows individuals to subscribe to audio content which they can listen to whenever they want on iPods or other mp3 players, or on their computer.

One major feature is timeshifting. It's similar in concept to TiVo. You select what you want to listen to, and internet technology delivers it to the device you want to listen on.

But what is probably more revolutionary is that anyone can produce podcasts, and do so quite inexpensively. So like blogs have become a door allowing virtually anyone to publish text and photos to which others can subscribe, podcasting allows virtually anyone to publish audio.

From a listener's standpoint, the technology is pretty simple. The first thing you need is a free piece of software called iPodder. iPodder allows you to subscribe to podcasts, and downloads the audio files for the podcasts you subscribe to. If you have an iPod, then you already have iTunes, and iPodder moves the downloaded podcasts into iTunes. When you sync up your iPod with iTunes, the podcasts are downloaded to the iPod. (If you have a different mp3 player, check your software instructions for how this works.) You can also choose to listen to the podcast on your computer using iTunes (which is also a free download if you don't have it).

There are currently about 3000 podcasts being produced. Some are pretty good -- some are awful. You might find the ones done by Godcast interesting to listen to as a sample of some of the better stuff. iPodder also has a catalog of podcasts from which to choose, and there are several other catalogs readily available.

This is a technology that has the potential to radically change the way we receive information in the future. There is even potential to provide not only audio to devices like mp3 players, but also text (including web links) and powerpoint information that is viewed in the iPod window.

Production of podcasts is a little more difficult, but I managed to produce a test podcast today that downloaded to my iPod flawlessly. I'll write about how I did that in a future article. And I expect to begin producing a podcast or two in the near future, as well as helping a few organizations get some of the audio (like sermons) available as podcasts.