That’s NOT the Plan

As a project manager, I do a lot of planning. I even plan time to do plans.  It’s been part of my DNA since the 9th grade.  As class president I was saddled with planning the class trip to Lake Winnipesauke (no, I did not spell that correctly the first time.  Thanks, Word, for the red squiggly of spelling failure). I gathered names, confirmed if they were going, collected money, gave instructions when we arrived, and made sure it all went off without a hitch.  It was the first time I was “the man with the plan.”

You can probably guess one of my favorite TV quotes comes from Colonel John “Hannibal” Smith. The leader of the A team always had a plan.  Nobody seemed to know what the plan was, but inevitably all the pieces would fit together, and we’d hear the famous tag line “I love it when a plan comes together.”

Unfortunately, Hollywood often paints an unrealistic picture (thank you, Captain Obvious). Actual military men have a much more realistic perspective on planning.  Dwight D. Eisenhower said:

“In preparing for battle, I have found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”

Prussian military commander, Helmuth vam Moltke, famously said:

“No plan survives first contact with the enemy.”

So true. In battle, software development, marriage, and life in general, plans change. Anyone who’s raised kids knows that no plan survives contact with the teenage years.  If you’re still breathing (and I assume you are), life is probably going to throw you a HUGE curve ball at some point.  It might be a health issue, loss of a job, a wayward child, or a broken marriage.

But there’s good news. We know the Great Project Manager.  He foresaw every twist and turn and change to our plans before we were born.  Consider Jeremiah 29:11:

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

As we all continually we rework OUR plans, I hope we’ll earnestly seek His seek face and trust in HIS plan. His ways are higher than our ways.

Pardon me, I need to get back to my Gannt chart.

Let Go of the Rope!

When I was around seventeen (which is how most funny stories start), I got talked into trying my hand at water-skiing.  So, one fine Saturday afternoon my friends and I launched the bass boat onto the Tennessee River for some high-speed antics and daring, aquatic acrobatics.  At least that was the cover story.  I think I was more concerned with not looking like an idiot.  But, alas, my ego was in for some rough waters that day.

After my friends demonstrated the proper technique and how “easy and fun” water skiing was, it was my turn to give it a try.  I assumed the position – in the water, skis pointed up, knees slightly bent, and a firm grasp on the rope handle.  I gave the driver a hearty “GO!” and he gunned it.

I got up out of the water on my first try, but it didn’t last long.  The natural tendency the first time you ski is to pull the rope toward you.  This makes your feet fly out from under you, so within about two seconds I wiped out.

After a few failed attempts, I finally forced myself to keep my arms locked and voila! – I’m skiing.  Oh yeah, I’m skiing, and I’m feeling pretty good about myself.  “This skiing stuff is easy,” I’m thinking, until my friend decides to turn the boat and I’m introduced to the concept of a wake.

When I hit the wake, my right foot comes almost all the way out of the ski.  I’m literally dragging my right ski down the Tennessee River with my big toe.  I continue to perform my modified slalom technique while my friends are busting a gut with laughter.  After a while, my left leg eventually gives out and I take a header into the river.

That would have been the end of the story, but this was my first head-first crash and I forgot the most important tip from my thirty second training session – always let go of the rope.  As I was about to learn, if you don’t let go of the rope, the angle of your body drives you straight down.

Just before I start dredging the bottom of the river, I come to my senses and let go.  I’m sure it was only about 3 seconds that I held on, but I still had to swim a good distance to get to the surface.  After such a harrowing experience it was nice to be met with the comforting sound of hysterical laughter from my comrades.

Seems like a simple idea – just let go of the rope — but letting go is often very difficult. There are ropes that we need to let go of in our spiritual lives as well.  Maybe it’s a toxic relationship that you think will eventually turn around.  Maybe it’s a habitual sin that we return to time and again.  These are the things in life that will drive us farther and farther down into the river and separate us from fellowship with God.

Hebrews 12:1-2 says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”

Sin entangles us and, just like that ski rope, drags us down.  But that verse also talks about a “great cloud of witnesses.”  These are people that God has graciously placed in our lives to help when we need to let go of the rope of sin.  Summon the courage to talk to fellow believers.  They can point you to helpful verses and pray with you as you learn how to let go.

Man Cave Mistakes

I have an aversion to repetition. Let’s call it “repititionitis.”   I would much prefer a new and unique activity as opposed to something that I’ve already done.  It’s a malady that is both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, I’m not afraid to attempt something new.  If it doesn’t pan out as expected, no big deal; I’ll either keep plowing forward and make it work or cut bait and move on.  Bring on the next challenge!

For example, any kind of construction project is a “keep plowing forward” exercise for me.  As a rookie carpenter I took on the task of finishing my basement.  Needless to say, I made tons of mistakes along the way.  Most professional carpenters have the discipline to recognize a mistake and start over to ensure quality craftsmanship.  When I made a mistake it usually went something like this:

“Shoot,” as my palm slaps my forehead.

Well, that’s not gonna work, I think to myself.  I should probably replace that stud (rerun that wire, rehang that piece of drywall, etc.). But, invariably, the repititionitis won’t allow me revisit those tasks and I hear a familiar, inner voice:

You can make it work.

Oh man, you wouldn’t believe some of the wacky patchwork going on behind the drywall in my basement.  I know the exact location of a stud that is composed of four randomly cut pieces of 2×4.  A professional carpenter would just shake his head.  You’ve heard that “love covers a multitude of sins.”  Luckily, so does drywall.

Carpentry aside, I believe this manifestation of repititionitis is actually a good thing.  A mistake is not something I’m going to dwell on very long.  I’m going to reevaluate, make a new plan, and make the best of the situation.  The scriptures encourage us have this mentality as well.  Philippians 3:13 says, “Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (emphasis mine)” In other words, keep plowing forward.

We can’t live in the land of mistakes.  It’s not a happy place.  But if we can recognize the mistake, pray and learn from it, and then move forward, the Lord can turn our mistakes into a blessing.  Over time, I was able to turn my “land of mistakes” into a pretty nice man cave.  Now I can watch college football every Saturday and yell as much as I want to.  Wait a minute…every Saturday?  That sounds a little repetitious.  Uh oh.

Pet Peeves

Do you have “pet peeves?”  Yeah, me too.  For example, toothpaste should be pressed from the bottom of the tube, not the middle; we’ve known that since the Stone Age, right?  And don’t open a new bottle of soda if there’s one already open.  I’m certain that if I didn’t come along and finish those bottles, we’d be overrun with soda bottles containing two inches of liquid.  C’mon people, there’s still syrupy goodness in those plastic pots of gold.

My family will tell you that those soda bottles are a source of one of their pet peeves as well.  I have a habit of squeezing the bottle in the middle when I pick it up to pour.  Puny soda bottles – Hulk smash!  It’s still in a squeezed state when I put the cap back on.  After some time passes, the carbonation will build up in the bottle and the pop bottle will…pop!  It makes everyone jump a little, which apparently only amuses me.  I guess I should work on that.

On a professional level, I have some pet peeves as well, but none are so annoying than not replying to an email.  Since writing is a personal hobby, I usually spend more time than your average bear making sure they are “perfect.”  When I finally send the finished product, it would be nice to get the requested information in return.  But it seems there are some people (and you know who you are) that don’t feel a reply is needed.  As a project manager, I need people’s input to keep my projects moving forward.  When I don’t get that guidance, I’m stuck. Don’t leave me hangin’, bro!

As a result, I sometimes resort to a different tactic.  If I need a group of people to approve a course of action and I know there are notorious “non-repliers” on the distribution list, I’ll add the following sentence at the bottom, bolded and underlined:

No response will be interpreted as approval.

The “silence indicates approval” method can be risky since I don’t have actual confirmation from the decision maker.  I wonder how many of us employ this method with our spiritual lives.  I know that there are sins in my life that don’t appear to have any negative consequences.  As a result, I can fall into the following line of thinking:

Whew, looks like I got away with that. I guess God doesn’t think it’s all that bad.

The Lord makes it clear that silence does NOT indicate approval in Psalm 50:16-21. After listing various deeds of the wicked, the Lord says “When you did these things and I kept silent, you thought I was exactly like you. But now I arraign you and set my accusations before you.”  The Lord may delay the consequences of sin, but that doesn’t mean they are tolerated.  I’m going to make an effort to work on the soda bottle issue, but I also need to remember that the Lord has “pet peeves” that deserve even more attention.

Doing Battle From the Man Bench

This post is an excerpt from Doughnut DevotionsEnjoy.

Never are the differences between the sexes on greater display than when the two go shopping.

Let me explain it from the male perspective.  In general, men don’t like to shop.  When we do shop, we approach it as a hunting expedition.  If I need a pair of brown shoes, I go to the first store I see, stalk the brown shoe aisle until I see a potential prey.  I pounce on the shoe and try it on.  If it fits, I’m done and I drag my kill to the cash register so it can be bagged and tagged.

Ladies, on the other hand, can turn shopping into a social event.  They’ll invite their friends, go browse random items whether they actually need anything or not.  My wife will walk around and fill up a shopping cart with various items and when she’s got it out of her system, just leave the cart and go home.

Visualize the typical shopping scenario with me.  The husband will usually let the wife take the lead since this is her natural habitat.  Men will pray for extra doses of patience while the wives proceed to pick up and examine every article of clothing in the store.  Praise the Lord that He has shown mercy to men everywhere by leading store owners to create the greatest invention of all time – the man bench.

 

Yes, the man bench.  A refuge for manhood found in malls all across America.  Walk up to any man bench area and you’ll hear a similar conversation:

“Hey.”

“Hey.”

“What’re you in for?”

“The Gap.  You?”

“Old Navy.”   With pleasantries out of the way, we both start reading our email on our smart phones.  The silence will continue unless there’s a disturbance in the Force.

“Look at that guy.  He just went into Bed, Bath and Beyond with his wife.”

“Poor guy must be a newlywed.  He’ll be out here with us soon enough.  Well, good luck.  My wife’s waving at me.  She needs the credit card.”

Kidding aside, I’m grateful for the differences between my wife and me.  She sees things in situations that I don’t and vice versa.

God gave us instructions in Ephesians 5 for negotiating those differences in the Christian household.  If I had to boil it down, a successful marriage is all about submitting to each other in love and putting each other first.  Every day should be a fresh challenge for meeting each other’s needs.  Sounds simple, but judging from the out of control divorce rate, it’s certainly not.  Selfishness is in our nature and has to be battled every day.

Going shopping with our wives is a simple example, but in reality, we are placing our wives’ desires and needs over our own.  So, the next time you see guys on the man bench, just remember, they are doing battle for their relationships…and they are winning.

Blessed are the Scuba Instructors

The first time I went snorkeling, I was hooked. It’s like peeking in on a strange, new world. After experiencing this wonderland for some time, I soon wanted to go deeper and explore. That’s when scuba diving went on my bucket list. On a recent trip to Jamaica, I noticed the resort had a scuba course, so I signed up. Oh man, I was excited. We all got fitted for our equipment and headed to the pool for our, (ahem) extensive training session. That’s when excitement did an about face and became anxiety.

Everything was going great – I had mastered the regulator, I understood the oxygen indicators on the tanks, etc. Then the instructor started showing us how to recover when the unexpected happens, such as getting your mask kicked off by an over-excited, diving companion. The idea is to recover the mask, press the top tightly on your brow and exhale through your nose to blow the water out of your mask. Unfortunately, I inhaled instead of exhaled and needed to stand up out of the pool to cough up some water. That’s when it hit me…I won’t be able to stand up thirty feet below the surface. Gulp!

So, now I’m a little apprehensive. Then our guide tells us to grab our tanks and head to the boat. This is when I am introduced to the weight of scuba tanks out of the water. I think they weigh in at about 4000 pounds. Then they put a weight belt on me. There are waaaay more things about scuba gear that are designed to keep you under water than getting you back to the surface. Add to this a rather choppy ocean and knowing that I was going to throw myself off the boat backward. Well, too late to get out of this now. I guess a burial at sea is a good way to go.

Despite all the anxiety on the surface, the deeper I went, the more peace I experienced. Silence, beauty and wonder crowded out all the anxiety that previously filled my thoughts. Our guide stayed slightly ahead of us and kept a close watch for anyone that might get into trouble. A couple of times I got distracted and he grabbed me by the wrist and pulled me back to the group. It was fabulous. Scuba, check. On to the next bucket list item.

The next beatitude in Scott’s series is Matthew 5:9, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” For me, the ocean has always been an analogy for peace. Not the surface, of course, that’s where all the turmoil of life is. But going below the surface, even in the midst of a hurricane, there is peace. That’s one of the great blessings of following Christ. In the midst of any storm we have the ability to descend into the peace that only he can provide and draw strength to face the tough situations on the surface.

So, what is a peacemaker? I think it’s akin to my scuba guide. He knew what amazing sights were waiting for us if we would just follow his guidance and overcome our anxiety. We know the amazing blessings of knowing Christ and the peace that only he gives (John 14:27). We are peacemakers when we take people by the wrist and lead them to the Savior. Then we can experience the mysteries of His grace together…and we won’t have to come up for air.

Keys of Mercy

Your heart stops. Then it races like Secretariat with the Triple Crown in her sights. The color drains from your face and there’s a slight tremor in your hands.

“I’m a dead man.”

It’s that moment you realize you’ve really messed up and there’s simply no way to explain it away. There will be steep consequences. You briefly think about trying to lie your way out of it, but your momma taught you better – time to man up.

I imagine we’ve all been there. The first time I encountered this situation was in Mrs. Ellis’ fourth grade class. I know this may come as a surprise to you, but I was kind of the class clown, always looking for an opportunity to get a laugh. Let me set the scene on this fateful, Friday afternoon. I was standing around Mrs. Ellis’ desk with a few other students. I noticed her keys lying on the desk. I thought if I pretended to slip her keys off the desk in an obvious way then I’d get a playful response such as, “Not so fast Lane, you delightful little scamp, put those keys right back where you found them.” I executed my overt maneuver, thinking she certainly saw me slip them into my pocket. Nope. She didn’t notice and then I must have had an “Ooh, shiny” moment and forgot all about them.

I got home later that day, had a snack, watched a little Schoolhouse Rock and then went to change clothes. When I pulled Mrs. Ellis’ keys out of my pocket, my eyes and my mouth grew wide in disbelief. Time stopped. I broke out in a cold sweat as I realized the unthinkable…I had stolen my teacher’s keys.

I walked the green mile to the kitchen and told my mom the whole sordid tale through a quivering voice. She placed a call to the school and spoke to Mrs. Ellis. She had been tearing the room apart looking for her keys. Yep, I was a dead man. Mom hung up the phone, took the keys to Mrs. Ellis and they agreed to handle it on Monday. That was the longest weekend of my life.

When I slinked into class on Monday, I told the entire story to Mrs. Ellis and apologized profusely. I stood awaiting the index finger that would point me to the principal’s office, but to my surprise, I saw compassion in her eyes. She said, “It seems like you’ve suffered enough; try to be more careful next time.” She was right; I had imagined every kind of punishment imaginable over the weekend. When she dismissed the punishment that I clearly deserved, I was overjoyed. The weight of guilt that I carried all weekend was lifted and I’m pretty sure I levitated off the ground a few inches.

Pastor Scott continued his sermon series on the beatitudes with “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” He defined mercy as “not getting what we deserve.” I certainly deserved punishment for the grief I caused my teacher, but Mrs. Ellis taught me a lesson greater than state capitals and multiplication tables; she gave me a lasting lesson on mercy. Scott’s sermon reminded us that mercy is compassion in action. It flows from love, leads to forgiveness, and is balanced by justice.

There was another time in my life that I realized I was a dead man. I clearly deserved punishment for my actions. But, the Father showed mercy and sent His son to take my punishment. Jesus showed “compassion in action” as he made His way to the cross. Are we following His example?

By the way, has anyone seen my keys?

Chicken Finger Theology

I was a pretty finicky eater when I was a kid. My primary staples were chicken fingers and plain hamburgers. Remember the old Burger King commercial “hold the pickles, hold the lettuce, special orders don’t upset us?” Well, for me it was “hold everything but the meat.” The only vegetable I would even consider eating was hominy. I was the poster child for bland diets.

Food just wasn’t that important to me. I wasn’t your typical teenager that ate everything in sight. I got hungry, but a Pop-tart would suffice and I could get back to riding my bike or building a fort in the woods. My son has my DNA. Food isn’t important to him either. The other day he was complaining about a headache and said it was probably because he didn’t eat until 7PM. Dumbfounded, I asked him why. “Well, Kayla wouldn’t go get me anything” was the reply. I proceeded to lecture him on all the food that was in the pantry if he’d just go make himself something. After a few minutes I realized I was channeling my dad so I just gave up – he’ll eat when he gets hungry. Someday the appetite will catch up to him just like it did with me.

This past Sunday, Scott preached on the next beatitude: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Scott relayed some startling statistics on true hunger in the world:

  • 225,000 people die every day because of starvation or hunger-related diseases
  • 3.6 million people die every year because of a lack of clean drinking water.
  • 842 million people in our world do not eat enough to be healthy (1 out of 8)
  • 1 in 4 children have stunted growth because of a lack of nutritional food

The precious souls impacted in these statistics would do anything to quell the gnawing hunger they face on a daily basis. That’s the kind of desperation that Christ is referring to in this scripture. But, instead of physical food, Christ is referring to a hunger for spiritual things. Psalm 63:1 says “You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water.”

As I pondered that verse, I had to admit; sometimes I’m a finicky spiritual eater as well. Just like my appetite as a teenager, I can pass up a spiritual meal and not really feel deprived. Maybe I can feel a little spiritual hunger, but a quick Pop-Tart devotion is enough to tide me over and I can get back to my busy schedule. When I do sit down to eat, am I guilty of “chicken-finger theology” – only reading the verses that appeal to me and not addressing some of the weightier topics that God would like to use to transform me?

Lord, forgive us when our spiritual diet consists of only hominy, plain hamburgers, and dare I say, doughnuts. Give us a gnawing, unquenchable hunger for a seven-course smorgasbord of spiritual food from your word.

 

Release the…Meek?

“Release the Kraken!”

That’s a favorite movie quote of mine. The Kraken is a mythical sea monster that was kept under control until it was time to do some damage. Scott’s sermon this past week was also about strength under control. The Bible calls it “meekness,” which some mistakenly equate to weakness. As Scott explained, an example of meekness is the idea of a tamed animal, such as a horse. Unfortunately, that’s a concept I’m very familiar with.

I grew up in a rural area where horses were plentiful, but I never really had a desire to ride. However, when some friends offered to take us riding I thought, “Sure, why not?” We followed the typical trail ride technique, horses following each other at a leisurely pace.

After conquering that, I started channeling my inner cowboy so I asked, “Hey, can I take her out in the pasture and try a gallop?” My friend reluctantly agreed and soon I was at one end of the field giving my valiant steed a swift kick and a “Giddyup!” That was obviously the cue for the horse to release the strength he had been keeping under control.

The next few minutes are still a blur of terror and shouting “Whoa!” Judging from the start out the gates, my horse must have had some unfulfilled dream of competing in the Kentucky Derby. I had no control over that animal whatsoever. Soon, we were headed straight for a group of three cows minding their own business. I swear when they looked up I could see their eyes widen. Cows may look slow, but let me tell you, they can jump out of the way quickly when they see a screaming, colorless rider on an out of control horse bearing down on them.

After successfully dodging the bovines, I realized the tree line was rapidly approaching. Luckily, as I was calculating limb evasion techniques, my little filly decided it was time to stop…and head back across the pasture at the same clip. When we got back to our starting place, my friend just stepped in front of the horse and said, “Whoa, girl.” I guess I had the wrong inflection in my voice when I said “Whoa” over a hundred times.   No matter, I was just glad to find the ground on my own terms.

At the appointed time, my horse released the strength that was previously held in check. As Christ-followers we have the strength of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us. We keep this strength internalized most of the time, but consider these situations when our hidden strength needs to become visible:

  1. Boldly sharing our faith
  2. Defending our faith and biblical principles in a world marred by sin
  3. Coming to the aid of those in difficult situations to comfort and provide tangible support

Yes, we are to show the love of Christ in compassion and gentleness, but there are times when love comes in the form of assertiveness and a firm resolve to stand for what’s right. As we encounter those situations, we should pray and ask for wisdom. If the Lord gives the OK, “Release the meek!”

 

Really, I’m not a Vulcan

I never cry at funerals. While others around me are creating mounds of used Kleenex, I just get very quiet and reflective. Don’t get me wrong, the sadness of the loss is heartfelt, it just doesn’t generate tears. To be honest, it makes me feel a little self-conscious. “Why aren’t you crying, you heartless Vulcan,” is what I imagine people are thinking. Well, just to disprove that I’m not Spock’s long-lost brother, let me share with you two things that do generate tears for me.

Music – A powerful worship song with penetrating lyrics has been known to moisten the eyes. Music is powerful medium that can fiercely tug at my heartstrings. If you suffer the same malady, let me suggest something more up-tempo during rush hour on I-75. Gridlock + blurry vision = an increase in your insurance premium.

There’s one annual music event that causes my tear duct geysers to erupt like Old Faithful. When the first few bars of “Arise my Love” start playing at Easter, I just start waving the emotional white flag. When the guys get to the bridge and sing “the grave could not hold our King,” well, there’s no holding back the flood gates. See, I’m clearly not an emotionless Vulcan.

The other sure-fire way to start the waterworks is a movie that contains a redemption theme, especially if it’s a father redeeming himself with his family. You may find this odd, but the disaster movie Armageddon is one of my favorites because it has not one, but two father-redemption stories. The first is when Bruce Willis chooses to stay behind to blow up the killer asteroid to save his daughter on earth (sniff). But the one that kills me is Will Patton’s character, Chick. In an earlier scene we see him trying to make contact with his family. He’s obviously messed things up. When his little boy asks who that man is, his mom replies “he’s just a salesman.” Later in the movie when Chick is on his way to the space shuttle as part of humanity’s last hope, the little boy says “Mom, that salesman’s on TV.” She cradles her son in her arms and replies “That man’s not a salesman, that’s your dad.” I swear; I’m tearing up just writing that sentence. I know, I’m a sap, but redemption is a powerful theme. I think it stems from knowing that we were hopeless without the redeeming sacrifice of our Savior.

Pastor Scott continued his “Living with Hope” series with the second beatitude – “blessed are those that mourn, for they shall be comforted.” I’ve mentioned above what makes me cry, but what should make us cry? What should make us mourn and grieve like the loss of a best friend or family member? As Christ-followers, what causes us to grieve should be what causes God’s heart to grieve. Per Scott, God is grieved by “anything that separates people from God and from each other.”

In Isaiah 59:2 we see that our sin creates a distance between us and God. Christ’s redemptive act bridges that distance and restores our relationship with the Father, but sin can still interrupt our fellowship with Him. Sin also damages relationships with family and friends. That is certainly worthy of grief and shedding tears. I pray that we will all feel that sense of heaviness and grief over our sins and confess them to a loving God. If we do, He’ll “turn our mourning into dancing” as we experience his forgiveness and restoration. Sounds like a no-brainer to me; even Spock couldn’t argue with that logic.

Putting All Your Eggs in One Basket

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”     Matthew 5:3


“I’ve got a hot stock tip for you!”

If you’ve ever dabbled in the stock market, you’ve probably heard this phrase. Translated it means, “If you take my advice you’re either going to make a lot of money…or lose your shirt (although that part is never discussed).

Let me share with you a recent shirt-confiscating investment. Ventrus Biosciences is a pharmaceutical company that was a few weeks away from introducing a new drug to the market. The FDA schedules approval dates in advance, so it’s typical to see the price rise as that date gets closer. From everything I could tell, this was a slam dunk. Testing had gone great and the company was gearing up to start marketing the drug. It was going to be a blockbuster.

With a “sure thing” on the horizon, I pulled the trigger with a sizeable investment. Then I set back and started planning my retirement on my own personal Caribbean island. Oh, I’d work a few more weeks so I wouldn’t put my coworkers in a bind. It was the least I could do for those poor schmucks that had to work for a living. It was a great plan…but somebody forgot to tell the FDA.

Yep, reeeejected! The FDA rejected the drug and before any mere mortal could respond to the news, Wall Street crushed the stock. My fingers were flying to enter the sell order, but the damage was done.   I lost 62% on that trade. You can still see the tear stains on my unused two-week notice.

Most financial experts preach diversification to avoid this kind of loss. “Don’t put all your eggs into one basket,” as the old saying goes. Solomon knew this; in Ecclesiastes 11:2 he writes “Divide your portion to seven, or even to eight, for you do not know what misfortune may occur on the earth.” I wonder if Solomon had a run-in with the FDA?

Eggs

Last Sunday, Pastor Scott began a new series on the Beatitudes. The first lesson was about being poor in spirit. He used the term “spiritually bankrupt” which got me to thinking. Poor financial decisions (and stock trades) can certainly lead to bankruptcy. Financial bankruptcy implies that things have gotten so bad you can no longer pay the debts you’ve accumulated. You have no choice but to throw yourself on the mercy of the court.

Spiritual bankruptcy is similar. It means we’ve reached a point in our lives where we realize we’ve accumulated debts (sins) that we cannot pay back. We take our broken lives to a loving God and throw ourselves on His mercy. His solution is different than the financial gurus. The Father wants us to put all our eggs in one basket – Jesus Christ. If we turn our lives over the Christ and single-mindedly invest in the Kingdom, those debts will be erased. I may not be able to retire early to a private island, but a mansion in heaven is a much better outcome.

Laughter Thoughts on the Beatitudes

I’m starting a new writing series today.  Our pastor at Summit, Scott Miller, delivers encouraging and thought-provoking sermons each week. This past week he began a series entitles “Living with Hope” based on the Lord’s teaching in the beatitudes.  As I listen, I often think of humorous anecdotes to compliment his main points. I’ll post my laughter thoughts here each week.  Hopefully, they’ll bring a smile and get you thinking as well.

 

New Year, New Blog

I’m sitting here on January 1st, 2014, enjoying the first cup of coffee of what promises to be a heavily-caffienated year.  I’m planning on writing more in the new year, starting with a new blog.  I’ve tried blogging in the past, but never seemed to find the time.  I figure if I make it past the second week of January, I’ve exceeded most new year’s resolutions.

A friend just interrupted my footy-pajama time to hand-deliver some hand-written comments on my book, Doughnut Devotions.  Wow, I appreciate the extra effort; you don’t see that too much these days.  I hope to finish up the first rounds of edits today and get it back to the editor.

Happy New Year!

Christmas Letter – 2017

I’m writing this year’s letter as we travel to Alabama for a family Christmas gathering. That’s probably appropriate because travel was the primary activity in this year’s recap. Man, it seemed like we were barely home this year. One of big trips was a cruise to Cuba. It was interesting to see a communist culture up close. If I had to describe it in one word, that word would be “crumbling.” It doesn’t appear that infrastructure has received much attention since the “revolution.” Nonetheless, the tour guide had an extra dose of the communist Kool-Aid that day – she was very excited about free health care, free education, school supplies, etc. But after a first-hand look at the hospitals and schools, I think I’ll stick with capitalism. The other big trip was to New York for Sonya to run the NY marathon. Unfortunately, she injured her foot and was in a boot. I thought she was gonna just jump in there boot and all, but we stuck to spectating and cheering on her running buddy. We stuck around a few days and had a great time sightseeing.

Other trips included beach outings to Miami for our 30th Anniversary and a trip to Hilton Head just because Sonya can only go so long before the sand and sun magically call her to the shoreline. The perfect tan is still the goal, although its starting to feel like skin cancer Russian Roulette every time we go out there to soak up some rays. Oh well, it keeps the dermatologists in business.

There were several other opportunities for water sports during the summer as well. We rented a boat on Lake Allatoona one weekend and did some tubing. It was my first experience as skipper (although I’ve always identified with Gilligan). I had two primary responsibilities – don’t hit any other water craft (successful) and try to violently throw my kids off the tubes (also successful). When they climbed back in the boat looking like a cowboy thrown from a killer bull, I knew I had done my job. We also went tubing with our lifelong high-school friends on a weekend getaway. We used to get together every year, but took a long hiatus to raise kids and participate in our own family activities. It’s nice to get those going again. We also had a frozen watersport outing to go skiing with our church friends. Well, a couple of us stayed in the lodge where it was cozy and warm. The last time I skied I came home with a shoulder injury and decided it was time to hang up the skis. I never quite mastered the art of stopping. I usually relied on the plastic orange netting to keep me from careening off the mountain.

We broke in a couple of brand new Atlanta venues with inaugural concerts. We saw Billy Joel at Suntrust Park (Atlanta Braves) and Garth Brooks at Mercedes-Benz Stadium (Atlanta Falcons). Both concerts were more successful than the sports teams. We did get a chance to catch a Braves game with all the extended McGullion crew. It’s tough to get us all together, but certainly worth the effort.

Sonya turned 50 this year, but she’s fighting Father Time with all her might. She spends so much time in the gym, I’m pretty sure they all yell “Norm!” when she walks in. She’s tinkering with the idea of becoming a personal trainer. That will allow her to combine two of her favorite activities – working out and being bossy (now that’s funny, I hope it makes it past the editor). We had a big shindig for her birthday. How she continues to get better looking over the years still boggles my mind. I’m pretty sure research papers will be written to chronicle this medical oddity. I’m sure part of the reason is being around kids all the time at church. She’s a blessing to all the kids in her ministry and they bless her in return with a magical youth elixir apparently (OK, maybe I’ve made up for the bossy comment).

I had the great honor of walking my eldest down the aisle in November. Kayla married Tyler Willis in a beautiful ceremony and they are now happy newlyweds. Yes, Kayla married a Tyler. Cassidy is married to a Tyler. Now we just have to find a girl named Tyler for Austin. Kayla was promoted this year to a full-time victim’s advocate with Cobb County. She always has a new story about a family she’s assisting – some funny, some quite tragic. Her job pays the bills, but its also a ministry. I’m sure the Lord will use her in some significant ways. Kayla and Tyler got a new dog, a Siberian husky named Kira. She sheds like nobody’s business. It’s like a cloud of hair in the air everywhere she goes. When I asked her about some highlights for the year she ended the reply with “just overall adulting going on over here.” Yep, welcome to the real world.

Cassidy and Tyler are in their second year of wedded bliss. Both just graduated from Kennesaw State. I think Cassidy thought it was a race, graduating a semester early and almost overtaking Tyler. But he technically graduated 4 hours before her, which he is fiercely hanging on to. Cassidy graduated with honors and had a couple of job offers immediately. She will be a labor and delivery nurse at Piedmont hospital starting in March. Of course, that’s assuming she passes her boards in the next couple of months (no pressure).

Austin continues to work at Chic-Fil-A while he considers his options for the future. He had a burst of independence in the summer and moved into an apartment with friends. I actually think he was tired of “dad lectures” and needed to be his own man. Part of that evolution was probably his brush with death in May. He and a friend were rear-ended by an impaired driver. The car was a mangled hunk of metal, but they walked away without a scratch, physically anyway. An event like that can change a person. It was significant enough in Austin’s life that he had the date tattooed on his arm. In his words “this is the date that I realized God knows who I am and cares enough about me to spare my life. Now I need to do something with it.” Well, I’m not a tattoo fan, but its hard to argue with that.

The hardest part of writing this letter is the initial motivation. I keep waiting for something to give me a “spark.” I got that today. We just completed our Christmas musical at church. The drama centered around an older man in a nursing home lamenting the lack of Christmas cards he’s receiving. It got me thinking that I’ve received fewer cards this year as well. It seems with the advent of social media, Christmas cards are becoming an outdated medium for keeping in contact with friends and family. Well, not on my watch, baby! I know not everyone really cares about the McGullion exploits, but it gives me the chance to recall the blessings and challenges each year. We spend so much time looking forward to the next event, it seems we don’t take the time to cherish the precious memories of the past. So, I encourage you to spend some time this holiday season remembering the good times of family and friends. And spend some time pondering the greatest event in the past, the birth of a Savior who reconciles us to a loving Father. Merry Christmas and happy new year!

Christmas Letter – 2016

One of my childhood memories of my grandparents was their ongoing subscription to the National Enquirer. After a Sunday afternoon meal, it was always amusing to flip through the oversized pages. Even as a young tadpole, it didn’t take me long to figure out that Bat Boy leading police on a three-state chase was probably not great journalism (you millennials will need to Google “Bat Boy”). Consider these other riveting headlines:

  • Obama Appoints Martian Ambassador
  • I Was Bigfoot’s Love Slave
  • Titanic Survivors Found on Board
  • Man Fries Egg on His Bald Head

I kid you not, those were real headlines. As strange as those seem, a quick review of 2016 makes me think we’re living in a strange, National-Enquirer-like reality today. Consider these headlines:

  • Bob Dylan wins a Nobel Prize
  • Britain exits from the European Union
  • Laughing Woman in Chewbacca Mask Becomes Overnight Sensation

and finally,

  • Donald Trump elected President of the United States

When I look back at the McGullion year in review, it’s not quite as flashy, but I’m inspired; if Trump can become president…anything is possible. So, I’m going to pull out the ole crystal ball and include some predictions for 2017 from Swami Lane (writer places turban squarely on head).

Let’s start with Austin. 2016 was a banner year for our guy. In the sports arena, he finished up a great basketball season where he made huge improvements in his game. I guess the coach thought so too by awarding him “Most Improved.” We learned early in the spring he has an undiscovered talent for soccer. He progressed from beginner to key player very quickly. It helps to be the fastest guy on the field. This was Austin’s senior year, so there were lots of big events. Prom was great; he looked very dashing. Graduation was bittersweet. He’s the last of our brood to finish high school, so we’re starting to look forward to empty nest (if anyone ever leaves ). Austin just finished his first semester at MTSU. He’s decided to move back home and reevaluate his future plans (remember that part about nobody leaving). Seriously, we’re happy to have him back around the house and look forward to seeing what the next phase of life holds for him.

Swami Lane predicts:

  • After a chance encounter at Wal-Mart, Austin and Bat Boy become best of friends inspiring the second season of Stranger Things (you Baby Boomers may have to Google Stranger Things).
  • In search of a career to make his father proud, Austin takes up the profession that his father only dreamt of. He now travels the country as a world renown rodeo clown.

Cassidy started off the year with wedding bells. She wed the dashing Tyler McIntosh during a chilly, January 1 ceremony. When you walk to the car holding your newborn daughter, you know that someday you’ll also walk her down an aisle, but it was still surreal – and the only time my eyes started to leak a little. Luckily it was cold enough to turn them into little icicles before we reached the altar. The newlyweds have taken up residence in our basement while they finish college. So, not only did she not leave the nest, she brought one back with her (sigh). Seriously, we love having them around, even if I do have to move three cars every morning to get out of the driveway. Both Cassidy and Tyler will be finishing college this time next year with a Nursing and Finance degree.

Swami Lane predicts:

  • Cassidy will put her nursing skills to use by performing the Heimlich maneuver on a patron at a local restaurant. The grateful man, who turns out to be a local producer, casts her in a supporting role for his off-Broadway production of Romeo and Juliet With a Twist (everyone may need to Google that).
  • The McIntosh’s Weimaraner dog, London, will escape one wintery afternoon and have a chance encounter with a dashing Chihuahua. The resulting Weihuahua puppies (pronounced why-wah-wah) are the newest hit in the hybrid community.

Kayla finished up her college career with a study abroad trip to Germany and the Netherlands. She had a great time while mom and dad eagerly awaited updates to confirm she hadn’t been taken. I warned her before she left to be careful because I am not Liam Neeson and I don’t have any special skills to get her back. She returned tired and with broader worldview. She graduated from KSU in the summer with a degree in Criminal Justice (Wahoo!). She had been working at a local ice cream place, the Frozen Cow Creamery. She was promoted to shift leader and doing a great job, but she knew it was time to get a “big girl job.” During her studies she gravitated toward the field of Victim Advocacy. She took the initiative to setup a fact-finding meeting with the director of the Victim Advocacy department for Cobb County. She didn’t really feel like that meeting accomplished much, but apparently it did. She got a call from the department head several weeks later to offer her a clerk position for the district attorney. Can you say “foot in the door?” She started just before Thanksgiving. Since then she’s received a positive review and will start shadowing an advocate in the courtroom once a month.

Kayla has been dating a fella for several months. His name is Tyler. My son-in-law is Tyler. I also just hired a young guy at work named Tyler. Not at all confusing. As long as Austin doesn’t start dating someone named Tyler we should be fine. Kayla and Tyler seem very happy and have even adopted a Siberian Husky.

Swami Lane predicts:

  • In a dramatic courtroom twist, Kayla will be called on to represent a defendant. Her eloquent argument results in justice being served. She will be on the fast track to district attorney.
  • The owner of the Frozen Cow Creamery decides to aggressively franchise his operations. He asks Kayla to consult and train an army of supervisors due to her mad liquid nitrogen skills. As a result, she receives a 25% stake in the company when it goes public.

Sonya is still my “Inspiration” That was our song from back in the day (Millennials – it’s a band called Chicago – just keep the Google app handy). She’s continuing to rack up medals for her running achievements. Speaking of Chicago (I wish I could say I planned that clever segue, but it was just a happy coincidence), she completed her third marathon in Chicago this year, shattering her personal best by 45 mins. While she was running I shattered my personal best of pancake consumption. When she’s not running, she’s becoming quite the animal in the gym. Her muscle definition is impressive. My muscle definition is – “a band or bundle of fibrous tissue in a human or animal body that has the ability to contract, producing movement in or maintaining the position of parts of the body” (you’ll get that eventually). Her fitness activities have translated into coaching – primarily in the Run For God ministry that she leads, but she’s considering making it official with a personal trainer certification. That’s right, fellas, I’m gonna be married to a personal trainer – BOOM!

She still burns the candle at both ends as a Children’s minister at church. It’s a time commitment for sure, but it’s worth the effort – the lives she is in a position to impact makes it all worthwhile.

Swami Lane predicts:

  • Sonya will be contacted by First Baptist Atlanta for a potential position in the children’s department. Apparently Charles Stanley ran across some YouTube videos of her VBS characters and in his words, “She looks spunky.” She declines because…
  • Sonya qualifies for the Boston Marathon. Grit and adrenaline push her beyond her limits and she miraculously passes all runners to win in a stunning upset. She’s an overnight sensation in the sporting world. As a result, she launches a line of motivational and training videos based on her best-selling book “I Beat the Kenyans. So Can YOU!”

Lane is still settling into the IT Manager gig. Hiring, firing, and performance appraisals – it’s what every little boy dreams of when the rodeo clown career seems out of reach. I’ll celebrate my five-year anniversary with Georgia-Pacific in January. As a service award I chose a cookware set. When I told my Stylist Supreme that I was going to wrap that up as a Christmas present for Sonya she almost sent me away with a half haircut. OK, OK, I’ll get her plan B – a lovely vacuum cleaner that I can tell she’s had her eye on.

Swami Lane predicts:

  • After ghost-writing the Kenyan-bashing blockbuster, Lane will use the power of the pen to help millions of parents around the globe with a series of books:
  • “The Empty Nest – Turning your Dream a Reality”
  • “Use Real Estate Investing to Purchase Your Empty Nest – Leave the Kids at Home”
  • “101 Tips to Offspring Independence”
  • President Trump will create the Department of Psychic Defense and appoint Swami Lane as department head. Many international incidents are foreseen and dastardly deeds are foiled. Everything is going well until an unfortunate prediction about a new presidential hairstyle goes awry. This results in Swami Lane being on the receiving end of the now famous tag line…You’re Fired!

What am I thinking? Empty nest is not a problem – we spend most of our time trying to figure out a way to travel anyway. This year we went on a cruise to St Maarten and St Thomas. Sonya ran laps around the boat while I tried my hand at surfing on the Flowrider. I’m happy to report that I stayed upright for a respectable 2.5 seconds. I’m also happy to report the whiplash-induced neck pain only lasted 24 hours. Over the 4th of July weekend we visited Miami. It was awesome to wade out into the ocean at night and see fireworks up and down the coast from Miami to Fort Lauderdale. I already mentioned Chicago. We also had some weekend getaways with friends. Pretty much anything that involves packing a bag, we’re up for.

So, Swami Lane made some astounding predictions for 2017, however, I’m certainly not a prophet. You know what is really astounding? Real prophets made over 300 predictions about the Messiah hundreds of years before Jesus showed up and fulfilled them all. All of them. I could bore you with the math, but the odds of that happening are far beyond a mathematical impossibility. Let that sink in and fortify your faith this holiday season.

Have a wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year (Swami Lane has foreseen it).

Christmas Letter – 2015

In a few hours I’ll be joining some rabid Star Wars fans to watch The Force Awakens. So, before I get my Wookie on, let’s recap 2015. I’m writing with a touch of jetlag, so if I doze off in the middle, just give me a nudge. Sonya and I just returned from a trip to Germany with some friends, Leon and Tina. Since Leon is nearly fluent in German, it was a chance to travel with a personal translator that we couldn’t pass up. I think the only phrases I walked away with were “Danka schoen” (thank you) and “Sprechen sie Englisch” (do you speak English). Sonya did a great job of saying English words with some kind of German accent which I’m sure was very effective. Tina would occasionally slip into Spanish and answer “Si” so we were glad to have Leon around.

Before we left our traveling companions asked what we wanted to do. I responded with “castles and mountains.” Germany did not disappoint. We visited the Zugspitze which is the highest peak in Germany. We took a cable car up the sheer mountain face to reach the summit. The view of the Alps was stunning. The country border with Austria is at the summit, so we took a quick trek to another country while we were there. Later we visited Neuschwanstein, the castle that Cinderella’s castle was patterned after. It looked like it was plucked right out of a fairy tale. I’m pretty sure I saw Tinkerbell fly by, but after the climb up the long, steep mountain road to get there, it could very well have been altitude sickness. Besides castles and mountains we visited Dachau concentration camp, the imperial palace in Nuremburg, and Kristkindlsmarkts in Munich and Rothenburg. Great trip.

Most people thought we were a little nuts to squeeze a trip into December because on Jan 1 wedding bells will be ringing. Our little girl, Cassidy, is getting hitched. She’s marrying a fine Scottish lad, Tyler McIntosh. Did I mention Leon and Tina’s last name is McIntosh? Yes, our traveling buddies are the future in-laws. So, the clans McGullion and McIntosh will be united. I suspect land will be exchanged.

They officially got engaged on Sept 22. When we talked to them about a wedding date, they originally wanted to shoot for Thanksgiving. After the laughter subsided, we realized they were serious. After some negotiations we convinced them to wait until Jan 1, which apparently is still a very short window to plan a wedding. Of course, I’m staying out of the planning. I just sit in my recliner with my checkbook and give them a check every time they walk by. We’ve turned the basement into an apartment for them to have a place of their own. They’ve got a lot on the horizon – Cassidy was accepted into nursing school, which is no small feat at KSU. Tyler will finish his undergrad next year and pursue law school. A lawyer and a nurse. Yeah, they should be OK. They apparently think they have it all under control, because they’ve adopted a dog. London joined the family a few weeks ago, because we clearly needed another living being under our roof (smh). Yeah, she’s a cutie, but our cat is none too happy.

Austin is a senior this year so the McGullions will soon be done with high school (let the pigeons loose)! He’s really starting to show some independence and maturity that all started with a trip to Colorado this past summer. He joined a couple of classmates for a 4-week discipleship adventure and really came home changed. He’s been accepted and will be attending Middle Tennessee State University next fall. He’s thinking about something in the computer science field, but he’s leaving his options open. Austin is also active in basketball again this year and will give soccer a try in the spring.

Kayla is a senior at KSU and she can see the light at the end of the tunnel. If the planets align, she should graduate after summer semester next year with a degree in criminal justice. Her plan is to pursue a career in victim advocacy. She’s got one very packed semester in the spring and then is planning to study abroad in the summer. She’s headed to Amsterdam and Germany (so our trip was a bit of recon too). We can’t wait to see what the future has in store for her (translation – I can’t wait to stop paying tuition bills). She’s currently working at Jimmy Johns where she is perfecting her “freaky fast” reflexes. She’s still active in Kappa Delta and recently held the position of ritual chair, among many others. She’s also coordinating activities in relation to her Maid of Honor position. She’s actually pretty happy when she’s telling people what to do, a trait she picks up from “you know who.”

Speaking of “you know who,” Sonya is still feeding her bling obsession by winning race medals. If she keeps this up I’ll need to add reinforcement to the medal display. She runs lots of 5Ks but the big race this year was the Marine Corp Marathon in Washington DC. We traveled up there with some friends whose husband was also running. She did great, finishing in 5 hrs, 9 mins! Much better than her first marathon time of 6 ½ hours. She still leads a Run for God group at church and encourages others to get healthy physically and spiritually. Sonya redefines the word “tireless.” She puts in waaay too many hours during the summer getting ready for VBS and kids camp. She’s always available for a middle of the night text from one of the kids who has a question or concern. Plus, she’s the Mother Theresa of Facebook, always looking for a way to virtually encourage or support anyone in need. She even manages to carve out a minute or two for me. Most of her time right now is wedding planning. Hold on, I need to write another check.

As for me, I crested the age mountain this year and I’m headed downhill. My 50th birthday was in September. We had a nice weekend with friends at a cabin in Elijay to soften the blow. I also softened the blow with a Mustang convertible. I highly recommend it for all those about to experience mid-life crises. Since I’m all grown up now, I decided to take the plunge into IT management this year. It’s been an interesting transition to say the least. I’ll be celebrating 4 years with Georgia-Pacific in January.

There are several more items to mention in 2015 – a trip to Disney, KSU and Auburn football games, concerts, a rocket launch, firework malfunctions, weddings, Data impersonation (what was I thinking), proms, ski trips, etc. But, time is growing short and I have to go get in line with storm troopers and Jedis. May this holiday season be filled with joy and the peace of knowing that the baby born in Bethlehem is also the soon returning King.

I’m outta here. Have a happy new year and (if you didn’t see this ending coming, shame on you) may the Force be with you!

Christmas Letter – 2014

It’s the Saturday before Christmas and I’m staring at a blank screen. By now I’ve usually had that random spark of inspiration to get started on the Christmas letter. This year, nothing. It’s a case of Christmas letter cramp, I guess. So, here’s the scoop – the next thing that comes on the television will be my spark of inspiration. Here goes…

Taylor Swift? C’mon, man! (sigh) OK, I guess I can work with “shake it off.” Most Christmas letters focus on just the good stuff, but if we’re honest, there’s a lot of hard things that fill the space between the happy times. But, those can be positive things too. Let’s give it a go.

Sonya has become the jock of the family. Every time I turn around she’s headed out the door to run more miles than I even want to drive. She trained hard for her first marathon this year, but a mission trip to India cut into some valuable training time. She finished, but I think she would admit, it wasn’t pretty. Her knees went out at mile 14. She walked most of the way after mile 18. She stopped at several medical tents in the last few miles as she fought consciousness. They made her sign a waiver at mile 24 to finish the race. She finished based on pure grit and determination alone. She was disappointed with her performance, but she’s already “shaken it off” and started training for another marathon in March. I think that kind of determination deserves a theme song, don’t you? Here’s a little ditty sung to the tune of It’s All About That Bass:

Yeah, it’s pretty clear, that she’s a size two
From exercising and
Some healthy eating too
That Sonya runs for God and sets a good pace
Encouraging others with firmness and grace

Yeah, her mama she told her don’t worry about other guys
With a fella like Lane there’s no reason to compromise
He’ll support you in all of the crazy things that you do
And though he’s got bad knees he might run a race with you too.

Because you know she’s all about that race
‘Bout that race, no walking
She’s all about that race,
‘Bout that race, some jogging
She’s all about that race
‘Bout that race, now she’s crawling
She’s all about that race
‘Bout that race

Besides running, Sonya continues her ministry as the Children’s Minister at Summit Baptist Church. She went on an eye-opening mission trip to India this past summer to minister to the children at an orphanage. To witness the overwhelming needs of those kids tends to put things in perspective. She’s decided we can’t have an electric can opener. Not sure why she’s zeroed in on the can opener, but it’s become our symbolic item of unnecessary luxury. Oh well, guess I’ll have to shake that off.

Kayla is a junior at Kennesaw State, majoring in Criminal Justice. She has hopes to join law enforcement in some capacity. Cobb County – your streets will be a safer place very soon! She’s living at home for the moment, looking for the first opportunity to escape us again. She had some roommate malfunctions last year that definitely fell into the “shake it off” category. But she’s one of the most resilient young ladies that I know. Well, maybe not so resilient bouncing back from hernia surgery. She definitely tiptoed into the “milking it” zone. After a month she’s still claiming she can’t clean the cat’s litter box because she can’t bend over. Uh huh, right.

Kayla is still very active in her sorority, Kappa Delta. She recently took two little sisters. There seems to be a requirement that you shower your littles with gifts, so she’s now learning firsthand how expensive a family can be. Good thing she has some cash flow from her nanny job. That cash flow also helps with all the expenses from the cat she’s adopted. Pepper joined our family this year. She’s pretty cool, you know, for a feline.

Kayla turned 21 this year. To celebrate, she went on a trip to Disneyworld with some friends. The timing for that trip was unfortunate, because the rest of the family was there the following week for our summer vacation. I know some people head to Disney every year, but to me, it loses some magic when your grown children only care about the thrill rides. I think we rode Rockin’ Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror four or five times each. We did manage to avoid “It’s a Small World.” Oops, did that song displace “Shake it Off” that’s been rolling around in your head since the beginning of the letter. Sorry about that.

Cassidy left the nest this year (excuse me while I swallow this lump in my throat). We moved her into Kennesaw State in the fall and she’s doing great. She just finished her first semester with all A’s. She’s planning to go into nursing and has her class schedule planned all the way through graduation. I knew one of them would get the project planning gene.

Cassidy is still dating that boy; I think his name is Tyler. A while back I told him if he was going to continue dating my daughter I was going to need his signature. I handed him a sharpie and a .30-06 rifle bullet. I placed the signed bullet on my mantle and told him “it only takes one and this one has your name on it.” Don’t worry Tyler, I’m just kidding around (or am I?).

All the graduation activities were bittersweet. She was beautiful at her last prom and on graduation day. It was a proud moment but really hard to see my little girl grow up. Guess I have to shake that off too; there’s no stopping the circle of life. Cassidy spent her summer as a lifeguard. She worked at Legacy Park most of the time, rain or shine. She was up there on some days under a blanket, freezing, diligently watching an empty pool. Nobody was going to sneak in and drown on her watch!

Austin plays games. The end. Seriously, that kid would play video games 24 hours a day and not stop to eat if we didn’t put some boundaries on him. He’s a junior in high school this year. He plays basketball and is going to give the golf team another try in the spring. As for academics, did I mention he plays games a lot?

Austin and I attended DragonCon this year. For the sci-fi geek, this is like a pilgrimage to Mecca. We saw all sorts of costumed characters that would make you cross to the other side of the street on any other day, but at DragonCon, you run toward them with your camera at the ready. There are some really creative people out there in geekdom.

Austin hiked a portion of the Appalachian trail this year in April. The guide who was supposed to get them to their campsite was a little challenged. The first night they spent under the stars instead of tents; sleeping bags only in 12 degree weather. He was not a happy camper, to say the least. But, it made for a great adventure and probably the basis for a video game that he’ll create some day.

He and Cassidy embarked on another adventure in June to Hawaii. Our youth group went on a mission trip to minster to the native Hawaiians. This was not a vacation in the least. The first night they fought a swarm of termites that overtook their cabin. After a few cans of bug spray they finally succeeded in beating them back. There were dead termites everywhere including their sleeping bags. You guessed it, they had to shake them off. It was an eye-opening trip for all the kids that went. They witnessed some fairly harsh economic conditions for the native people. In the end, they were able to share God’s love with them plus gain an appreciation for the blessings they have in their lives.

As for me, I’ve enjoyed the positive feedback I received from my book. It’s probably not going to win the Pulitzer as I had hoped, but it was nice to check that off the bucket list. Who knows, maybe there’s a sequel rumbling around in me.

I attended my 30-year high school reunion this summer. It was great seeing all of my old friends (we are all starting to fit into that category). As part of my walk down memory lane, I tried to put on the orange and brown corduroy suit that I wore in the senior play. Yeah, it’s pretty clear, I ain’t no size two.

I’m still working at Georgia Pacific as a project manager. We have a big implementation over the
holidays so I get to ring in the new year working all night on December 31. Awesome. Alas, such is the life of the project manager. Someone suggested there’s a Jeff Foxworthy routine just waiting to be written for PMs:

  • If you create a project plan to go on vacation – you might be a project manager
  • If you hold a lessons learned session after dinner to list the ways your wife could improve the next meal – you might be a project manager (a hungry project manager)
  • If you create an action plan after your daughter cries on your shoulder about friend problems – you might be a project manager (and wasting your time, because she just needed to cry a little)
  • If you have a daily reminder on your smartphone to tell your son to brush his teeth – you might be a project manager.
  • If you create a 20-page business case to propose the purchase of a Keurig – you might be a project manager (and a have an unhealthy dependence on caffeine).
  • If you have an unhealthy dependence on caffeine – you might be a project manager
  • If you have a packing checklist containing every item that you might need for any trip – you might be a project manager (and I still forget stuff).
  • If you’re excited that this turned into a list that required bullets – you might be a project manager

Yep, I’ve definitely got enough for a routine here. I’m going to kill them at the next status meeting.

2014 was filled with things that needed “shaking off.” Kids moving out and kids moving back in. Watching your newly-licensed driver run over the neighbor’s mailbox. Losing at Settlers of Catan over and over to the Geils. And the list goes on and on. But the love of family and friends far outweigh the daily challenges. Why, it’s enough to inspire another song:

Sonya’s gonna run, run, run, run, run
Austin plays games and has fun, fun, fun, fun
Lane just cracks jokes and makes puns, puns, puns, puns
Shake it off, shake it off

Cassie hangs out with Ty, Ty, Ty, Ty
Kayla wants to travel and fly, fly, fly, fly
Lane’s just gonna write, write, write, write
Shake it off, shake it off

Here’s hoping that you can shake off the challenges of the year and count your blessings. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!