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12 posts from August 2012

Life is more than eating a big pretzel at the city market in Budapest, Hungary



Eating a big pretzel at the Central Market Hall in Budapest.
Great mid-morning snack in Budapest at the Central Market Hall.

It was mid-morning in Budapest, Hungary and we were walking through the Central Market Hall with our daughter, son-in-law and grandson.  That's when we ran into a food stall selling these huge soft-pretzels filled with wonderful bread flavors.


We savored the moment as we thought about where we were and all the things we had seen on our trip to visit and vacation with our kids.  It made us anxious to see more of the world to meet new people and have new experiences.

I'm thinking about these things and what I want to concentrate on as I turn 66 years-old in about 15 hours.  That means that I'm closer to seventy and I am to sixty and that I'm firmly moving into a new chapter of my life.  With fewer pages to fill in my life story, I want to make what's left count.  And I think I'm getting my hands around that.

What about other members of the first class of baby-boomers born in 1946?  Do you have a plan in mind on how you want to spend what's left of your life?  What's driving your life right now?  

With a little more age behind me, I have a firmer idea of what's important to me and what isn't.

I'd love to eat a kabab in the bazaar in Istanbul, even a big pretzel.  But, I know there are things more important.



Newt Gingrich gives his spin on Paul Ryan as GOP vice-presidential candidate

What about Paul Ryan as the Republican candidate for vice-president?  Talk to the Democrats and they say he's the nephew of the Anti-Christ.  Talk to Republicans and you hear some excitement and some quiet mumbling.  Gingrich adds some useful perspective in this NBC interview by Matt Laurer.


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Baby-boomers: Do you pray with your grandchildren at their bedtime?

Are you a baby-boomer and do you have grandchildren? Do you pray with them, especially at their bedtime?  

  1. What do you pray for?  
  2. Is it one of the standard bedtime prayers, like "Now I lay me down to sleep?" 
  3. Is this important?

I faced these questions this past spring when we visited our daughter and family and our grandson who was about 20-months old.  He had his own room in their home in Bosnia where one night I had the chance to put him to bed.  

After putting his pajamas on and brushing his teeth and saying his good nights, we read a story and then I put him in his crib.  As an almost two-year-old, he was still filled with energy and moving in his crib.

What should I do, I thought?  Pray?  What prayer?  I grew-up with "Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep and if I should die before I wake I pray the Lord my soul to take. And this I ask for Jesus sake. Amen."

His attention span wasn't there.  It was maybe four words wide.  I grabbed his little hands and prayed, "Thank-you Jesus for a great day."  

I know that my daughter and son-in-law pray with him.  

When I got up last night for the second pee of the night, I prayed for him and his pre-born sister that they would come to depend talking to Jesus and learn the power that comes from that conversation with the Creator.

That night in Bosnia will go down in my list of top memories.  It was me, my grandson and God.



What are the chances of our pre-born granddaughter being a second grandson?

Super-wife and I don't talk about our pre-born granddaughter more than three or four times a day. It's usually just a quick reference to a potential gift or some other quick comment.  Any gifts for her, we have to ship about a month ahead because our daughter and family live in Bosnia.

Then I read this post by Cindy Bultema who recently told her story through a Day of Discovery DVD. She does a great job of sharing what has happened in her life.  

As a sidenote in her blog, she writes about her son's birthday a few days ago.  When she was pregnant with him, her doctor assured her that he was 100 percent sure it was a girl.  At the birth, needless to say, she and her husband were surprised.

What are the chances of that happening again?  


A gift for my grandson and his pre-born sister from the U.S. Army

There's not much positive I can say about my experience in the U.S. Army during the seventies.  All I can say is that I did my part and that I never had to serve in Vietnam.

But, there was one positive thing from the Army that has stuck with me during all those years.

I was sitting in an outdoor assembly with several hundred other soldier types.  We were listening to a whole line-up of officers talk about the rules.  One stands out and I've never forgotten him.  He was a colonel and a West Point graduate.

As he was going up the steps to the platform, he tripped and fell.  A bunch of guys laughed.  This was in basic training meaning that we were slick-sleeve privates and under their total control.

Instead of an angry response, he used it as a teaching moment.  He told everybody with the voice of a teacher and an Army leader that the issue is not about falling, but how you get up.  And he went on to explain that everybody would fall and make mistakes.  The secret is how you recover and what you learn.  It's how you get up.

I've made plenty of mistakes.  I thought of that day and what that colonel said.  I've tried to learn from them.  It was all a matter of getting back up.

My grandson is two-years-old plus a couple of months.  His sister will be born in the late fall.  

I pass this story and its lesson on to them.

Check out this quote from Donald Miller, author of Blue Like Jazz, about the power of a story

When I was on the adjunct faculty of the Michigan State University School of Journalism, I had a newswriting exercise for students just starting in the field.  

The assignment was to interview a class member and then write a news story about the information they were able to get during an interview.

During the three hour evening class, I tried to drill into their head that everybody has an interesting story to tell about their life.   It was just a matter of taking the time and interest to find it.  My students did not disappoint me.

I still remember the story about a female student from New York City who had been born in the backseat of a taxi cab.  Then there was the student who told this amazing story about how she was the reigning Miss Michigan and was getting ready to be part of the Miss America Pageant.

As they heard about the individuals in their class, students were transfixed by their fellow students and what they had experienced in life.

My experience with the class really connects to this Donald Miller quote about stories:

"Never underestimate the power of one great story."  

This is from his Facebook page a few days ago.  He's the author of Blue Like Jazz, a New York Times bestseller from a few years ago.  It was recently released as a movie.  It's a story about his life and it has connected with thousands who are his age.

Does your story have power?  How about mine?  Can mine help some readers gain insights about themselves or others they care about?

Do I have the skills to tell it?

I'm anxious to see.

I almost hesitate to say this about the Lutheran church

I appreciate a comment on my Facebook page about a series of posts I'm writing to tell my story.  

I wrote a post on my personal blog DailyGrit about how I feel that my faith in God survived my sixty-plus years in the Lutheran church.  I was born and raised in the church, went to Sunday School, went to services every Sunday, went to a Lutheran grade school, married a Lutheran school teacher in a Lutheran Church, served on many committees and boards.

My struggle was trying to find the relevance of God to everyday living.  I got the great news about what happens when you die and go to heaven.  But, what about everyday life.  

Pastors never seemed to preach about the everyday stuff of life, like when the bottom seems to fall out of everything, you lose somebody or the bad guy seems to win in every situation.  Then there's everything else like relationships, marriage, jobs and stuff like that.

My Facebook commenter said, it's not the job of the Lutheran church to connect the dots from God's Word to everyday life.  The relevance is supposed to come from reading the Word during the liturgy and from taking the Lord's Supper.  He seems to be saying that's all you need.  

Because of this lack of connection to everyday life, I started take notes from sermons at a very young age.  I found myself asking at the end of a sermon, so what?  What is this guy saying?  Why is it important to me?  Every Sunday, it was always the same.  I heard the Gospel which is the source of all hope.  Amen!

But, the Gospel got stuck at Gologotha and was not tied to life in Bay City or whever?  What would it look like to live out the Gospel in northern Michigan?  How would it affect in the way I relate to the circumstances of my life as a student, as an adult, as a married person, as a dad and as a son?

The Lutheran church seems to be telling only part of the story.  The Word of God is relevant to everything.  I'm learning that and I see more of the light than I did before.

I wish I would have learned this earlier in my life, but as I get ready to turn 66, I'm glad that I've recalibrated my thinking and my focus.  

It would be great if my old denomination did the same.  It would be wonderful to see Lutheran churches packed out on Sunday mornings and Saturday nights.

Back to my Facebook commenter, yes, I firmly believe it's the church's job to connect the dots between the Word of God and everyday life and beyond.


My faith survived the Lutheran church

Baby-boomers, what would you tell your grandkids about your experience with the local church?

Should they go?  Valuable?  It really strengthened your faith in God?  It helped make Jesus Christ real to you?  Other believers made a real positive difference in your life?

I found my faith there.  It grew for awhile and then I went through many years where it eroded like the shoreline on a Michigan lake during a really hot summer like this one.

A lot of good things happened to me in the Lutheran church.  I was baptized there.  I went to school for eight years there.  I was introduced to Jesus Christ and then I became a teenager and then an adult and my faith started to slip through my fingers like Jello.

If you had asked me a couple of years ago if I had a mature faith, I would have confidently said, yes. Then I got older and I started to look over my shoulder at my life.  

My wife and I talk often about serious life questions, including faith in God.  I recounted where I was at and she suggested that perhaps I never grew out of my baby-faith.  Do you know this term?  I was baptized and confirmed.  In between, I memorized all the verse in the Lutheran Catechism.  I went to church every Sunday.

I was never taught how it was relevant to my everyday life.  As a result, my faith would slide in an out and around.  One day, it was there and then it was over there.  I had trouble grabbling hold of it.

I got involved in local church politics and that only made it worse.  Sunday School classes were pro-forma and seemed more focused on filling blanks on a page than helping people respond to the Word of God for real change in their lives.

We finally got up the nerve to leave.  We tried another and that didn't work.  We've been going to another that seems to connect the dots between God and his word and life.  He's now taken a seat at our table.  

I feel I'm growing spiritually.

The day I cursed out the trap beneath my kitchen sink

The problem

I really thought I could fix the pvc pipe that became disconnected from the trap underneath my sink. I have absolutely no-confidence in myself as a do-it-yourselfer.  But, we needed to use the sink and it looked as simple as sticking the two pieces back-together.

My background includes nothing of this sort.  I had no dad around to show me and my uncles, well, they had their own kids.  I felt left behind with that kind of thing.

Kept coming apart

When I emptied out the cupboard beneath the sink, I crawled under.  I looked at each piece and tried to size up the situation.  It didn't seem complicated.  I kept asking myself what I'm missing.  I would join the two pieces and they would come apart again.  Keep in mind that they had been joined together for the more than ten years we had lived there.

I used every neuron in my brain that had been developing over six decades.  The two would not stick together.  I've tried home repairs before and I seemed to have a similar outcome.  

You are stupid

That's when the tapes started playing in my head.  I could hear them plainly.  "You're stupid.  You're a shithead.  I'm an asshole.  This shit should be simple and I can't even do that."

Then I started to vocalize my feelings about what I tried and failed at.  The air started to turn blue.

The problem was that my son was in the living room and he heard me.  This added to my personal humiliation over something that anybody should be able to do.  I made myself look smaller in my grown son's eyes.

I'm sure he doesn't know how to do it either.  I never showed him because I never learned.  He has a pretty good self-concept though and he knows where his strengths are.  

He loves me, I know, regardless of whether I can hook two pipes together.  He's a great guy who loves unconditionally.

There's a lesson here

A lesson for all the do-it-yourself guys and dads out there:  Pass it on to your sons and other young guys.  What a great project for guys in a church.  In my church where I went every Sunday with my mom, I don't think the adult guys even knew my name.

For my grandson, learn everything you can from your dad and your other grandfather.  Make use of their knowledge. I know they want to share it.  

I want my grandson and his sister to know who I am

I sat dumbfounded on my front steps listening on the phone to somebody who said he was my nephew and he was trying to learn about his grandfather, my dad.  It happened just about a year ago and I found myself trying to catch my breath.

Why is this important?  

Having a nephew means I had a sister who had the same father as me.  We had different moms.  She had died a few years earlier in the country of Cyprus.  In the process, I learned about two other siblings, brothers, both who had died.

Again, why is this important?

My dad abandoned my mom and me in 1948 by walking out one morning and never coming back. He never called, wrote or anything to indicate that he was alive.  This was during a period when social services were less than basic.  My mom dug her heels in and took on her responsbility with full force.  She was a fighter and she knew how to love without condition.

My dad had an invisible presence that made him a reality everyday.  Life for my mom as a single-mom was crushingly hard.  She talked about my dad and what he did a lot.  To me as a kid, at times, it seemed to be constant.  She would get angry and she would cry.  She had a hurt that never left her. She carrie it to the day she died.

My nephew put flesh on a family that I never knew.  We talked for more than an hour.  He had searched to learn about his grandfather, my dad, and for a long time found nothing.  He was told that my dad had been killed in a plane crash.  His mom, my sister, did not want to talk about him.  

Then he Googled my dad's name and found posts I've written on this blog about him and then he emailed me and we talked on the phone within minutes.

So what?

The veil had been lifted a little and for a short time.  I saw a little of my family on my dad's side.  

It's a couple more pieces of a giant jigsaw puzzle that covers my life.  Fewer pieces are left in the puzzle box.  I'm starting to see more of the whole picture.  It's been a lifetime of trying to fill a giant-sized hole in my identity.  

I've learned that I want my grandchildren, right now, it's just my grandson Xavier and soon to be sister, to know who I am.  I want them to know my part of who they came from.  It can range from the simple of why  Xavier and his mom's chins come in two part.  Same with his uncle Justin.  It can be the more complex family traits like a temper.  

I want him and the others to know.  God has laid some unique challenges in my lap.  I was never sure how it would turn out.  But, I'm getting a sense.  Can he and others learn from my story?  Can they find something to identify with?

I think so.  At least, that is my prayer, God willing.

I've changed the name of my father on my birth certificate

How many of you have never known one of your parents?  

Perhaps your mom or dad just flew the coop and never came back.  They didn't call nor did they write.  Nothing.  Maybe you got your last name from that person.  Maybe you got a dimple in your chin.  There might be a few facts from the left behind parent or from an aunt and uncle and that's it.

It could have been a divorce where your parents split and you hear from your dad once a year and then it's a very short visit.  That's it.  There's so much you would like to talk about with your dad about growing up and living life, but there's nothing.  Your mom is busy working and making ends meet and she does her best.  She has nobody to go to either.

You are left to fend for yourself and you do it.  But there's always a void there that's left by your missing parent.

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