The Return: Have A Vision As Big As Texas

We are approaching Thanksgiving.  This year, 19 years since my Dad’s passing, I will be thankful for the lessons that I learned from him. 

I wrote about two of those lessons in previous blogs linked here. Getting the Iron Out Door – Lessons from Big D for DevelopersLife’s Game Changers – The Power of Thanksgiving The second blog is about the day of his passing and the miracle of the Thanksgiving cows.  This October for the first time in 19 years, I returned to the Land described in the blog where I thought the last lesson from my Dad occurred.  But another lesson, equally as important was waiting to be discovered this year!

As discussed in the previous blog, my Mom and Dad left Houston for the Land in the late 90’s.   It was out in the middle of nowhere in East Texas.  I never kept the hand-written directions.  So, I did not know how to get to it anymore, since it was before the time of Google maps and I did not have the street address.  Until on a whim while on vacation in Tyler, TX, I found the new street address on-line!  I now had the location and was close enough (still an hour away!) to drive to the Land on the way back home.

The land and the house that my Dad built looked much the same.  I was a bit amazed at how well the metal house has stood the test of time for 20 years.  The only thing missing were the cows.  I walked around a bit and again thought about that amazing, last Thanksgiving when 10 new calves were born.  Getting up to leave, I glimpsed the lake that he dug with an old rusty backhoe. And with that I left for home with what I thought was the last lesson still in my mind’s eye.  Except it was not the last one!

I remember the first time my Dad started building the lake.  He had just got the backhoe and had begun scraping out a ditch.  He took my brother and I out there.  Then pointing to a muddy gouge with a few puddles, he said  proudly, “Look at my lake!”.  My brother and I started laughing.  Dad said, “Why are you laughing?”.  My bother pointed out, “Dad, when you say lake it connotates images of water!  This is not a lake. It is a puddle.”  Dad just shook his head, climbed in his backhoe and said, “You will you see smart alecks”. 

And we saw.  A year or two later there was full-fledged lake.  The next year there were fish in the lake and a dock.  But Dad kept tweaking the lake up to the day he died.  We wondered why he did this, since he proved his point and given us our initial lesson.   Having returned to the land and now with the direct coordinates in hand,  we were about to find out.

The Land and the Texas Lake

I sent my daughter the coordinates just before leaving from home. She fed the coordinates into Google Earth while we were driving back. The resulting aerial picture of the land and the lake floored me. The picture is above. The lake is more than a fair replica of the State of Texas! The lake was dug before satellite imagery or drones were available. My Dad through persistent sweat, determination, and will made a lake in the shape of the state he loved! He also left us several final lessons from the grave that are applicable for everyday life.

1. Plan with the end in mind.  We did not know it until many years later, but my Dad had an ultimate vision for the lake.  With each tweak and every plough, he was turning a mud puddle into a lake in the shape of Texas.  The lesson for all of us is always start something with the end in mind.  A clear vision gives you a clear direction and keeps you on course even when the going gets tough.   

2.  Don’t get discouraged.  My Dad did not get discouraged even when his two oldest sons mocked his first efforts.  There will be trials along way.  Some rain must fall when building a lake.  But drive on through the rain and stick to the plan. 

3.  Strive to the end.  The weeks before my Dad passed away, he was still making tweaks to his lake to make it further resemble Texas.   He was striving for excellence up to end.  This is a lesson for us in our work.  It is important that when we achieve some success not to stop.  For the excellence of today is the mediocrity of tomorrow. Finish the race.  Keep striving to the end to make your goal a reality!

4.  Try and Try again.  I will perhaps never know how Dad shaped the lake into the outline of the Texas!  He did not have satellite imagery to guide him.  But what he did have was a vision, determination, and the willingness to try and try again.  He ploughed and experimented until he got the lines right.  Sometimes a wrong turn threated to turn his Texas lake into one of Oklahoma!  But he shifted his backhoe, back filled the wrong cut and soon he was on the right side of the Red River! 

Happy Thanksgiving from the Land with one last message from Big D, communicated almost 20 years from his passing from this life to the next.  I know he is up there in the heaven smiling down on a little ranch in Slocum, TX and a lake in the shape of Texas that started as little less than a mud puddle.  May we all strive to the fulfill a vision as big as Texas!

Elvis and the Pandemic

Two songs sung by two Elvis’s are my go-to’s during this Pandemic. Both speak of driving through hard times with hope around the corner. They acknowledge the pain while seeking the future.  And my favorite part.  You can belt them out with a beer in hand after a hard day.

The first one is from that other Elvis, and truth be told my favorite Elvis – Elvis Costello.  Unlike his other hits, he did not write this one (Nick Lowe did) but Elvis does the best rendition – “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding” . For you have not hear it, here is the official version https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ssd3U_zicAI.

I once listened to this song on repeat at least 20 times after a hard week.  The first verse and the chorus tell the story:

“As I walk through this wicked world
Searchin’ for light in the darkness of insanity
I ask myself, “Is all hope lost?
Is there only pain and hatred and misery?”

And each time I feel like this inside
There’s one thing I wanna know
What’s so funny ’bout peace, love and understanding?
What’s so funny ’bout peace, love and understanding?”  Lyrics Nick Lowe

Every time I read a friend attacking another friend on Facebook in some political fight or hear about the loss of another brave soul I ask myself the same question in the first verse. But then catch myself and realize that the peace, love, and understanding lies within me. Our soul longs for peace. We just need to cling to it and understand that everyone carries pain. It is up to you to bring inner peace, to show love to your friends and enemies, and understand the pain and hope of others. Rise to the occasion, extend a hand and be the peacemaker.

The second song is by the THE Elvis – Elvis Presley. This song was sung for the first time in Elvis’s Comeback Concert in 1968 at the end.  It was written by Walter Earl Brown and came 2 months after Martin Luther King’s assassination.  It also contains some MLK quotes.  Only 5 at the time, I still remember it.  Here are some of the words. 

“There must be lights burning brighter somewhere
Got to be birds flying higher in a sky more blue
If I can dream of a better land
Where all my brothers walk hand in hand
Tell me why, oh why, oh why can’t my dream come true,

Oh why.

There must be peace and understanding sometime
Strong winds of promise that will blow away the doubt and fear
If I can dream of a warmer sun
Where hope keeps shining on everyone
Tell me why, oh why, oh why won’t that sun appear

We’re lost in a cloud
With too much rain
We’re trapped in a world
That’s troubled with pain
But as long as a man
Has the strength to dream
He can redeem his soul and fly”

The Elvis’s sang the truth!  What’s so funny ‘bout peace, love, and understanding?  Absolutely NOTHING!  Is there a light shining brighter somewhere? It is in our grasp.  If we choose to live, love, learn and lead!  

Here is my attempt at channeling Elvis.

Not Elvis but maybe not bad. Be the brighter sun! 

Getting Rid of Junk Food and Throw Away Values

I would never say that the current pandemic is a blessing in disguise.  It is a painful scourge that has caused pain to many and has dramatically changed our lives.  But I would call it an opportunity, if we are bold enough to seize it.  An opportunity to reflect on what is important and perhaps change the direction that we are taking individually and as a nation.  In that way, it is reminiscent of a personal health scare that I had some five years ago.   This event, while extremely negative and scary at the time, changed my life for the better. 

Six years ago, I was on a downward trajectory. The bottom hit in 2014 when I was out of shape (350+ pounds), stressed and overworked. I was in Kansas on a work project and I was trying to keep up with one of my colleagues who had offered me a lift to the hotel. I was trying to keep pace with him  as we climbed the stairs. On the third flight as we approached the car, I could not catch my breath in the brisk air. It took more than 5 minutes of deep breathing to get it under control. My chest was constricted and heart beating out of control.  In that way it had some of the symptoms of the current virus.

Something had to change! Left to my own devices, I would have done what I always done – driven on. But this was something scary and new. The Iron Man’s armor was beginning to rust, and I had to reassess my habits.  In this case, one of the habits I had to change was eating junk food.   A sugar junkie I used to literally drink Peanut M&M’s as I drove through another 14-hour workdays.   

This scare made me make abrupt changes to some of my habits, but not all.  Instead of eating junk food such as M&Ms, I switched to apples.  Instead of sitting in a chair for 14 hours, I got up and took a walk.  Slowly over a year and a half I took off a 150+ pounds and got healthy.  But I still retained some bad habits.

That is where the current pandemic comes in.  It is a similar shock to the system.  But instead of getting rid of junk food, it has forced me (as I suppose some of you) to reassess and replace junk values with real ones.   Chiefly these three:

1.  Reassessing Work-Life Balance.  I am not sure I ever practiced work-life balance.  I was more Work first then life; but the current situation changed that.  Work can disappear in a second.  If you pour yourself into work only, you lose your identity.  And then what do you have when work goes away?  Fortunately,  that has not happened to me yet.  But the situation has caused me to reflect and rebalance.  I focus now on life first.  That has also rippled into my reactions with others.  I used to focus exclusively on work in discussions. But with everyone working from home, it has made me more tolerant and even appreciative of the lives of others seeping into work.  Just the other day I had the joy of seeing a colleague’s child sing “Baby Shark”.  My kids are all adult and with no grandchildren to date it was fun (although you younger parents must think I am nuts!)

2.  Slowing down instead of speeding up.  I used to change gears at the moment’s notice.  With no restrictions, I would get in a car or plane to meet a friend, take in a movie or fly to a client site.  The need to social distance and shelter at home has slowed everything down and took away our freedom of movement.  But if you think about it, maybe we were too frantic in the first place.  We now have more time to plot our next move and to think reflectively.

3.  Appreciating the human touch.   I am not one for crowds.  Truth be told I am a bit of a curmudgeon.  But with the inability to see people real time, I now have a longing to be back with friends and family.  I cannot wait to be back in the office and see my colleagues at work or sit with my Weight Watchers group in the studio again.  Virtual Zoom meetings can help replace some of the interaction, but it cannot fully satisfy the human longing to be with each other.  Springsteen says it best that when facing a world with too few answers:

“You might need somethin’ to hold on to
When all the answers they don’t amount to much
Somebody that you can just talk to
And a little of that human touch”

 – Bruce Springsteen “Human Touch”

I would like to close with one a verse of my favorite Irish song.  Although I could not sing it with others on St. Patty’s Day, I am hoping the shock of Covid-19, like a thunderstorm in April, can lead to a flowering of new life in May.   And we can again shake hands …

Strength in the Broken Places – A 2019 Resolution

The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places
Seeking Strength in the Broken Places

One of my favorite quotes is from Ernest Hemingway in A Farewell to Arms.  He writes “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places”.  Truer words have never been written!  Each of us one day will face a hardship that tests our very fiber, but if we make it through, we will grow and flourish.  You assuredly learn from your mistakes, but you grow from your pain. The imperfections of this world are designed to test our mettle and prepare us for a more perfect world beyond.  

Although the world breaks everyone in some way, many but not all become stronger in those broken places. What gifts have been bestowed on us, so we can be strong in the broken places?  St. Paul provides us with the answer:  Faith, Hope, and Love with the greatest being Love.  As we end this year, let me provide three examples of these saving gifts through the lives of others.

Faith is trust in God and self that things will get better either in this world or the next.  It isa powerful weapon in confronting hardship and in forging a new life.  One example of abiding faith is St.  John Paul II. As a priest and bishop, he showed faith that his beloved Poland wouldshake the bonds of oppression from the Soviet Union and it came to pass. As a new Pope, he had faith in the protection of Mary who shielded him from anassassin’s bullet.  He later showed faith in the redemption of others by forgiving this would be assassin.  As he aged, Saint John Paul II showed faith in God’s plan by showing us his weakness as he confronted Parkinson’s.

Hope is the belief that things will get better despite current hardships.  Gandhi epitomizes hope to me.  He faced obstacles and trials as he strove to establish the modern nation of India.  Any one of the obstacles that he faced would have dissuaded a lesser person.  But through the March to the Sea, the horror of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, and his many imprisonments,  Gandhi retained his hope that the dignity of man would prevail. In his words, “To believe that what has not occurred in history will not occur at all, is to argue disbelief in the dignity of man.”  Hope is the belief that the ultimate purpose of man will shine through despite the broken places.

Love is the greatest gift.  It transforms the heart and soul.  I have seen it do this to my brother David, his wife Debra, and his mother-in-law Marge.  Debra is dealing with the debilitating disease of Aphasia and has been in a nursing facility since September. Please read more at this link https://www.gofundme.com/6d948wg .    She can no longer speak and must use a respirator and eat through a feeding tube as she rehabilitates.  Though she may not recover fully, she shows her love to David and Marge by getting up each day and taking on the rehabilitation exercises.  Marge shows her love for her daughter by coming by daily and sharing time.  Despite some of her own health issues, she is always there for her daughter in this time of hardship.  Perhaps the most transformed by love is my brother David.  We have had our occasional arguments over the years which is to be expected from a younger and older brother.  He has in the last year become an inspiration to me and others.  He is there after work every night to spend time with Debra and provide her with support.  He also fights for his wife as he strives to get justice from the insurance company.  I am inspired that the kid that used to tantalize me daily has been blessed with love in the broken places. 

 As we ring in this new year, let us learn from the examples above and strive to become stronger, more perfect in love!  Let’s God’s glory shine through the broken places to be an inspiration for all to see.