Tuesday, September 2, 2014

How Do You Arrange Your Priorities?

 Here's a puzzle for you.  Please arrange the pyramid showing how you spend your time.  There are five categories... Work, Family, Hobbies, God, and Social Media.  The area of your life where you spend the most time earns five stars and goes on top of the pyramid.  Be honest with your rankings.  Don't worry.  You won't be asked to share your answers with anyone.  This test is confidential.

One more question – how do you feel about your life?  Are you in balance?  Are you satisfied?  If not, read on...

There was a time in my life when I focused most of my time and energy on my work.  It was at the top of my pyramid.  God was at the bottom.  He got squeezed out by all the other areas of my life.  I was out of balance.  I needed help re-arranging my priorities.  I did something drastic.  I flipped my pyramid upside down and put God up on top, followed by family and then work.  My hobbies and social media are no longer at the top of the list.  I have balance in my life.  I'm happy.  And I feel fulfilled.  My challenge for you today is to turn your life upside down.  Put God at the top.  Do this for thirty days and see what happens in your life. 

Monday, September 1, 2014

Jeremiah Inspires a Labor of Love

But if I say, “I will not mention his word
    or speak anymore in his name,”
his word is in my heart like a fire,
    a fire shut up in my bones.
I am weary of holding it in;
    indeed, I cannot. ~ Jeremiah 20:9

Jeremiah spoke to his people for forty years.  He didn't just say the words, he felt them.  What an amazing gift.  He loved his people.  He felt their pain.  He's known as the "weeping prophet" because he wanted a "fountain of tears" to weep for the fallen ones.  What I like most about Jeremiah is his optimism.  He understood God's grace.  He felt God's promise of a new covenant in his heart.

What happens when you know God in your heart?  Jeremiah shares how impossible it is to hold it in.  Imagine a woman in her final stages of pregnancy.  That kid is coming and nothing can stop him or her.  God's word is not meant to be locked up inside.  It's magma pushing through to the surface of a volcano.  When it erupts, everyone sees its power.

I urge you to go directly to the source.  Experience what Jeremiah experienced when he felt God's love inside his own heart.  Find the connection.  It's like drilling for oil.  You will discover your own labor of love.  Time itself will stop.  You will say to yourself, "I can do this for forty years."  And in your heart you will know one thing – it's impossible to not do it.  That's what I feel every morning when I wake up.  My labor of love may produce 12,775 additional stories provided my connection remains intact for the next thirty-five years.  That's only one drop of water in God's ocean of grace.  God's love is enough to give you a whole new attitude.  He will inspire your own labor of love.  Today is a great day to get started.  Happy Labor Day.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

A Letter for Larry

Larry McElroy
Dear Uncle Larry,

I trust this letter will reach you faster than snail mail.  Since time is of the essence, I'm enlisting the support of your precious children to ensure this note of encouragement reaches you in time.  Before we begin, please ask your nurse for some Kleenex.  No, it's not for you.  I know how strong you are and I remember you doing those stomach crunches on a 45º angle bench when I was a kid visiting you in San Diego.  You are one tough cigar-smoking geezer who has more love inside your belly than Santa Claus.  The Kleenex is not for you – it's for your children who will be reading this to you.  I heard there may not be time for snail mail, so I'm relying on the fastest mode of news delivery known to modern man.  It's "Tell-a-Mulligan."  God bless them all.

Speaking of Mulligans, I recall the day twinsie read a snippet from one of my dad's final letters when he was in a similar situation.  He wrote, it's not over till the fat lady sings but I think I hear her humming a few bars.  Damn the fat lady.  Why does she need to interrupt us when we're having so much fun together?

You will live forever in my memories.  No one barbecued more creatively than you with your grill made out of newspapers.

I want to thank you for all you've taught me, my siblings and everyone else as far away as Asia during your lifetime of public service.  You are the senior member of the "I'm married to a Mulligan club."  Some may argue, "Mulligans – You can't live with them, you can't live without 'em."  When we said good-bye to your precious wife, you proved that life can and must go on, even if God asks us to fly solo.  Your faith is strong.  You're tough as nails.  And you're surrounded by three loving children who aren't ready to let go of you.  Maybe you're a bit worried about what's going on right now.  Who wouldn't be?  When I'm struggling, I like to make lists.  Here are some ideas for you...
  1. Scotch.  No, it's not for you.  It's for the fat lady.  Bribe her.  Tell her you're not ready to leave yet.  Every moment you spend with your children will help them to cope when you get called up.
  2. Ear muffs.  They will be needed when you reach your final destination.  Put them on as soon as you see your mother-in-law, Alice, running to greet you.  You know what's coming.  It's the world famous scream..."AAAAAAAAAAAAGHHHHHHHH!!!"
  3. Your camera.  Ask my dad to get a picture of you and your precious wife, Mary.  He's a great photographer and he's pretty good with technology.  Ask him to smuggle the picture out of Heaven so the rest of us can get a glimpse of you and your bride.
One last thing, Uncle Larry.  Thanks for being a powerful mentor.  Your legacy will live on in your children and grandchildren as well as all the lives you touched in this world.  God bless you.

Love,

Michael

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Staying Out of the Taboo Zone


King Kodo was one homesick Gorilla.  His keepers were worried about his depression.  He was missing his old zoo.  They installed a tightrope to cheer him up.  Surprise!  He climbed up on top and walked the tightrope rather than hang from it.  That's what I do every morning when I wake up.  I balance myself on the tightrope above the taboo zone and put one foot in front of the other.  Visitors from far and near visit the zoo and observe my playful antics, wondering, will he ever fall off the tightrope?

It was easy to walk the tightrope five years ago when no one was around.  I woke up, picked a topic, and wrote a story.  I did my best to keep it simple.  No one at my day job knew I was a writer.  I published in order to honor a promise I made to God – to share all the good he is doing in my life.  Family members pleaded with me to keep them off the grid.  So, I made a list of taboo subjects.  No family stories without permission, no politics, no specific religious denominations, and no stories about my day job.  There is a strict "no media" rule at my day job.  I developed a Clark Kent/Superman persona.  Then, one day a co-worker walked up to me and said, "I heard you're a writer."  News travels fast in small towns.  Every day it gets harder and harder to stay out of the taboo zone.  King Kodo sure makes it look easy.  As for me, I'll keep practicing until I get it right.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Caveman Celebrates 5 Year Blogiversary Today


Where can I go from your Spirit?  Where can I flee from your presence? ~ Psalm 139:7

On this day, five years ago, I emerged from the cave and began my writing journey.  I was called out.  No longer could I hide.  That's me in the top photograph from a Halloween party.  I blocked out the right side of the picture to hide the Mrs. and protect her identity.  That keeps me out of the "dog house" pictured in the second photo.  Maybe you're wondering, why does this guy call himself a caveman?  Or, why does he write every day?  Here's my story...

I shunned writing.  Reading was a close second.  My high school English teacher asked us to bring in something we liked to read.  This is going to be fun, I thought.  I popped in the next day with a cereal box.  My classmates laughed.  Then, Mr. Nelson instructed the class to write a paper about why we enjoyed our particular genre.  I went home and got busy.  A writer was born.  It didn't matter that my subject matter was scant.  I had all the ingredients I needed to crank out my assignment.  And yes, Mikey liked it.  My teacher liked it, too.  He gave me an A.  It was a good day.  Then a dark cloud appeared on the horizon.  Only one of my classmates knew about it.  I hid the truth from everyone else.  My parents were divorcing.  Our family was falling apart.  On the inside I was seething.  On the outside I was the happy kid, Mikey, who liked his Life cereal.

I hid my demons well.  When I fell in love, I hit another roadblock.  I thought, How am I going to make it through my marriage classes with all my anger issues? 

"Don't worry," my sister said.  "I know someone who will help."  I passed.  The real test came years later when a visitor came to our church.  "Your Bible is like a mirror," he said.  "All you have to do is open it up and see yourself in all the characters.  God put them there to help you see yourself."

I took the bait.  Yep.  I went home and said a prayer to the Holy Spirit to show me who I am in God's eyes.  Wham! he showed me.  The pathetic character I found couldn't have been any worse.  I was the naked caveman possessed by multiple demons in Luke's story, chapter 8, verses 26-40.  No mask is strong enough, no cave large enough, to hide who you are from God.  The jig is up, I thought.  I'm a caveman!  I walked around with slumped shoulders for weeks.  Then I found the solution one day when I returned for a closer look at my alter ego.  Jesus was the solution.  He was the one who exorcised the demons in Luke's story.  He called the man out of his cave and granted him freedom.  Jesus is responsible for all that I am today.  When he called me out of my cave five years ago, he nudged me to write – not about cereal boxes, but about all the good he is doing.  Here is what verse 39 said in my Bible... Return to thy house, and tell how great things God hath done to thee. And he went through the whole city, publishing how great things Jesus had done to him.

What's next?  My first novel, "The Caveman in the Mirror,"  will be birthed in 2015.  Mikey likes it.  I hope you do, too.  Thank you for visiting today on my 5 year Blogiversary.  You're invited to leave your comments below.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Called Out of the Cave


My best friend shot this picture during one of our spelunking adventures many years ago before I descended into the darkness.  We used flashlights and candles to navigate the underground caverns.  The experience took my breath away.  I loved the journey.  Without any outside light, we lost track of time.  Hours passed before we returned to civilization.

Tomorrow marks five years since I was called out of my spiritual cave to begin a new life as a writer and blogger.  I will celebrate my liberation tomorrow on my five year blogiversary.  That's 1,829 consecutive days of writing.  It was preceded by five years of daily love letters to my wife.  Each day I see a little more light.  I learn how to better use my writing talents.  I become more comfortable using the modern writing tools available to this generation of story tellers.  Please join me tomorrow for the celebration.  The best part of the journey is knowing I'm not alone and that you are with me.  Thanks for giving me the opportunity to share my life with you. 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

You Can Find Peace Anywhere


I shot this photo yesterday beside the Cedar River on my lunch break in Cedar Rapids.  The town is in the process of rebuilding after massive floods over a year ago.  Streets are torn apart, buildings condemned and families dislocated.  One of my assignments at my day job is to introduce people to our company and there's no better way to do that than some face-to-face contact.  This quiet spot was an amazing find in the middle of a city filled will so much loud noise from all the construction going on.

I took off my shoes, ate my favorite peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and basked in the sunshine while enjoying a cool 70º breeze.  My time in Cedar Rapids these last two days reminded me about my own life.  I know what it's like to experience disaster.  Sometimes, it may appear that peace is impossible.  I disagree.  Real peace is what you experience when slow down and smell the roses.  It's what you feel on the inside when you allow your mind to be quiet, even if it may only be in thirty minute increments.

Have a great day.  Peace be with your spirit.  Don't allow any disasters to get in your way.  Sometimes, Mother Nature is just trying to get your attention.  Give her time.  Eventually, she will show you her good side.  For me, it's in the middle of the corn fields in a small town off the beaten path.  Yes, you can find peace anywhere.