Slow Down You Move too Fast

One of my favorite songs is Simon and Garfunkel’s “Feeling Groovy” and nothing makes me feel groovier than taking a slow walk Saturday around Lady Bird Lake in Austin. The song goes something like this with apologies for some modifications:

“Slow down you move to fast,

Got to make the Saturday last,

Just kicking down Lady Bird Lake,

Austin is great and feeling groovy.”

Here is a picture I snapped last weekend during my weekly trek.  These turtles sure know how to Slow Down, bask in the sun, and feel groovy.

While the word Groovy may have been out of vogue since the Seventies, slowing down to regroup is still key to a better life.  Even more so in this time of constant noise and nuisance.  Nothing restores the soul and the spirit then a good podcast, a crisp wind and nature all around.

Slowing down is the key to the healthy and happy life.  I seldom miss a Slow Walk Saturday for the following three reasons:

1.  Time to reflect and adjust.  When we are running from one task to the other, there is seldom time to reflect, learn from experiences, and adjust.  I find that when I slow down and quiet my mind that I come up with the answer that I need.  Proof point?  I have been so busy with work and life that I have been having writer’s block.  A few minutes and miles and I had ten new ideas when I had been stuck for at least a week.  Sometimes the best thing when you are struggling for a solution is slow down, quiet your mind and be thankful for the nature all around you. 

2.  Destress and feel blessed.  Nothing stokes compassion and soothes the soul than to experience nature.  It is hard to feel hassled when you see 20 turtles sunning on a log or see a bird take flight.  It is a wonder this world! Our role is to revel and reflect the love of God in his creation.  Not to strive and stifle.  Slowing down makes us thankful for the pauses and pleasures that are in each day!

3.  Listen and learn.  When you are alone with your thoughts and those of a good book, you learn new things about yourself and your place in the world.  I recommend to everyone the library application Libby which provides audio books for free if you have a library card.  I have learned so much while walking and listening from how Changing your Habit can Change Your Life  to  How to be 10% Happier.  Truly my Slowdown Saturdays have made me a better person!

Life is not a sprint. It a slow walk to the better angels of our nature. So, take the time to slow down and feel groovy.

The Real Art of Racing in the Rain

The other day I went to see “The Art of Racing in the Rain”.  At first, I was not sure why I wanted to see it.  I hate driving cars, especially in the rain.  Just ask anyone who has had the misfortune of driving with me.  I am also not overly fond of Dogs.  I despise being headbutted and sniffed by my daughter’s overly affectionate Pitbull or any dog not named Boots (he is OK). 

So why did I absolutely love this movie about a racing car driver, his family, and his Dog Enzo?  And why did I cry a river of tears when (spoiler alert) both the driver’s dog and his wife died?  A bit because I am the ultimate sap!  I punch my fist in the air when Mr. Smith saves the boy scout camp and weep at every Walton episode.  But this was something more.  Then I realized.  The movie reminded me of my Brother David, his love of cars,  his recently departed wife Debra, and their dogs – Alvin, Jasmine, Zooey.

Three dogs ready to race!

David has loved cars ever since he was a little kid.  One of the most memorable events of my childhood (and one that haunts my dreams) is when David, I, and Gary were waiting for my parents in the station wagon to go on a trip.  David all of 4 years old sat in the front seat. Suddenly, he switched into the driver’s seat, shifted the car in neutral and started steering the car like a crazy man.  My brother and I were helpless as the car backed down our sloped driveway.  We drifted down the hill across a major road (safely thank God) and ended up in the neighbor’s front yard across the street. My parents rushed out to get us and I will never forget the joy in David’s face or terror in the eyes of my brother and me! 

Terror was also in my eyes every time I drove with David.  He treats the Houston highway like the Daytona 500. My heart races as he passes cars, barely missing the bumper.  I in contrast drive like the future Grandpop I aspire to be.  He has translated his love for cars into a career as a truck driver.   He can drive the biggest rig with speed and precision.  He was a lot like Denny, the movie’s lead, except he drove trucks instead of cars.

Also, like Denny, David loves dogs.  In this, he is like his namesake, Uncle David.  Both love Dogs with a passion I cannot fathom.  Uncle David currently has 8 and David 4.  They bring them both joy and I never realized why.   The dogs yap and yip.  Not my cup of tea.  Until the movie showed me why – Dogs are more empathetic than people.  They can realize when you are hurting and give you just what you need to race through the rain and not crash into the wall of life.

In the movie, Enzo the dog helps Denny deal with the premature parting of his wife Eve.  Enzo realizes the signs of Eve’s impending death and helps Denny and Eve deal with her illness and eventual passing.  Eve is like my Sister-In-Law Debra who was afflicted with various neurological  and eventually led to her passing two weeks ago.  You can read more about Debra’s passing in this link. http://obituaries.acremation.com/o/grier/44141/?fbclid=IwAR13i5PLQAHaRBC57t9KCHuu0ZcY4DzbH95BjYpVd7iZS7ql-umZeC3nu6I

Enzo kept Denny whole by driving with him as the rain pulsed down.  Likewise, David and Debra shared the latest antics of Alvin, Jasmine, Zooey, and Cuddles.  David would make Debra’s eyes twinkle with his imitation of the dog’s barking for Debra’s return.  The  dogs also helped my brother to be strong for his wife through unconditional love.    

In closing, there are two quotes from the book/movie that really resonate with me. This one is a quote from the movie.  “If a driver controls his own conditions, then the rain is only rain”.  David through his dog imitations and frequent Facebook posts worked to control the uncontrollable.  In so doing, my younger brother taught me a lesson of how to keep strong through the storm. 

The last quote is from the mind of Enzo the dog.   It is so poignant and meaningful I cannot do it justice.   To me it will always mark the moment that Debra passed and reveals  the true nature of her kind soul. 

“I saw her soul leave her body as she exhaled, and then she had no more needs, no more reason; she was released from her body, and, being released, she continued her journey elsewhere, high in the firmament where soul material gathers and plays out all the dreams and joys of which we temporal beings can barely conceive, all the things that are beyond our comprehension, but even so, are not beyond our attainment if we choose…”

Tonight, before you go to bed be like Enzo, David, Debra and their dogs.  Race on through the rain and love unconditionally.  Turn away from the wall and toward new life through love!

Be Good, Not Great!

Be good not great,

For the time is late,

And we have but a day,

To show God’s way!

Seek kindness, not power,

Make Love a tower,

Your heart the leaven,

To seek out heaven.

Take time don’t wait,

For eternity is our fate,

If we do what he asks,

And complete His task.

Seek the Cross not fame,

As your temptations you tame,

For the time is late!,

So be good, not great.

Love’s Everlasting Kiss

Love does not come easy,

it’s often built in trials,

minute by minute,

day by day.

It is built on sorrow,

As much as hope,

Tears and hardship,

As much as laughter.

It does not flit,

It does not float,

It is SOLID,

and it ENDURES!

Why love then?

It is our purpose and mission,

What we were built for,

What God designed!

Because love does not last,

for a minute or an hour.

It lasts a lifetime,

and through eternity.

So, drive on through the pain,

And strive through the sorrow,

And with one last kiss,

Reach for the tomorrow.

And, remember in waiting,

Not the words left spoken or tears,

But the smile and loving eyes,

That resound through the years.

Change in Midlife, Mid-flight!

I hate flying on planes; doubly so after a hard week at work on a late flight.  Such was the case when I boarded a plane back to Austin a few years ago.  Little did I know that my temperament and life was going to change in mid-flight!

Photo by Ross Parmly on Unsplash
A change occurs midflight

I had just settled into my aisle seat.  I always get an aisle seat, especially back then when I was a bit north of 250.  I had already gotten up one time for the person in the window seat.  Now I was spreading out hoping against hope that I could dissuade someone from taking the middle seat.  It was not to be. 

Near the end of on-boarding, a young clean-cut guy asked if the seat next to me was taken. People were pressing so he was standing directly to the side of me, blocking my way from getting out. I said in an abrupt manner, “I could let you in if you would move and stop blocking my path.” The lady behind him caught my grumpy facial expression, took pity on him, and moved back so I could let him in. Yeah, I thought, I now had a tall occupant with wide shoulders occupying the seat next to me. Fun! Time to lean out in the aisle a little more.

I glanced over to size up my neighbor, since by this time I was feeling a little bad about how I acted.  I noticed three things off the bat that were different.  First the guy was reading a religious book; something not expected from a young man without a collar.  Equally unique was the Miraculous Medal around his neck; something you do not often see except on a Nun.  Lastly, I noticed he had a rosary in his lap. 

Thinking I had a priest or a seminarian next to me, I began feeling even more sheepish than I did before.  So, I decided to try and make amends for the way I acted and strike up a conversation.   I reached out my hand to my neighbor and said, “Hey I am sorry about how grumpy I was a moment ago.  My name is Don.”  He replied his name was Travis Moran and we struck up a conversation.   

Wanting to find out more about Travis, I said, “I noticed from the religious book and the rosary that you must be Catholic. I am too, even though a few moments ago I may not have appeared to be. I was just about to listen to a podcast of Father Mike Schmitz. Have you heard of him?” Those who regularly read my blogs know I am a devoted listener to Father Mike Schmitz’s podcasts. He is an excellent speaker whose lessons on life and God are inspired. Travis promptly pulled out his cell phone and showed me a picture of him with Father Mike and others. Travis had just been to the SEEK conference in San Antonio and heard Father Mike and others evangelize. This was the first indication that maybe Travis and my meeting was not by chance.

For the first time in a long time, I decided to talk to the person next to me on the plane.  I usually do not like to talk on planes.  But this was unbelievable.  Travis is an amazing young man. He was discerning to be a priest when he got another calling to be a physical therapist for Special Needs kids in Connecticut.  Working with his father and others, he treats autistic and other special needs children at Crossroads Physical Therapy.  I was so impressed by his kindness and devotion to God that I was not sure if it was all real so I looked him up (see http://www.quchronicle.com/2011/12/this-is-me-a-man-with-faith/).

I now asked him about book that he was he reading.   It was called 33 Days to Morning Glory.  He explained that the book was a 33 day retreat to grow closer and consecrate yourself to Jesus through the intercession of Mary.  Ok, I thought.  A little deep for me but he was so devoted I listened attentively.  Maybe God was speaking to me. 

We talked for another 20 minutes or so until Travis asked if he could take time out and say his daily rosary.  As we closed our conversation, he told me he was praying his daily rosary today for my intention.  I thanked him.  Later as we left the plane, we shook hands and I told him how much I enjoyed the conversation and prayers.  Little did I know that this was not the end of this change that started in mid-flight.

I could not get the conversation with Travis or that book out of my mind on the drive back home.  So that night I went on to Amazon and purchased 33 Days to Morning Glory  see here https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13559128-33-days-to-morning-glory.

Or so I thought! Instead with at that late hour, I through blurry eyes bought another book: 33 Days to Merciful Love! Noting that I ordered the wrong book, I later bought 33 Days to Morning Glory. After reading a few chapters of each book, I put them aside as work and life distracted me. The original spark faded until several months later, when God broke through again.

I was on a work trip in Raleigh, North Carolina. I could not sleep and got up at 4 O’clock. Wanting to get some restless energy out, I walked the streets of Raleigh with my earbuds in, listening to the latest podcast from Father Mike. It was the opening homily for Lent and as he finished, he told his parishioners at UMD that he had a book for all of them. The book was 33 Days to Merciful Love! Here is the actual podcast with the link to the book https://soundcloud.com/bulldogcatholic/wholehearted-part-i-go-big-be-small I have never felt God’s presence in my life more, as a tingle ran down my spine.

Third time is the charm.  I could not ignore the message any longer.  I performed both internal retreats covered in the books.  At the end, I consecrated myself to Jesus through Mary.  It was a life changing experience and though not yet all the way there, those retreats have helped me to grow closer to the Lord.   I now hope to bring others closer to Jesus both as a Core Team member with the Life Teen ministry.  

I still tear up thinking about this change in Mid-flight and Mid-life.  I hope this true-life message inspires you to put down that iPhone on the plane and to be a little more kind to the person in the seat next to you.  It just might be God trying to talk to you!

Back in the Saddle for St. Jude’s

This Friday marked a major milestone on my road to recovery from a major heart procedure.  A little worse for the wear but not so bad if I do say so myself.  Luckily our instructor did not end her usual unleash song, Tina Turner’s Rolling Down the River.  I would have ended up breaking Rule 2 below and looking more worn.  I simply can’t resist going 120 RPM’s on the chorus of that song. 

For those of you follow my blog regularly, you know how much I love spin class.  I fell in love with the music, movement, and madness that is spin about a year ago.  It is indeed one of my favorite ways to relieve stress.  But before getting back in the saddle, I first had to follow these three rules:

1. Rest, recover, relax.  This first rule was the hardest for me.  Having lost a ton of weight a few years ago, I was nervous that taking time off to rest and recover would throw me back off track.   So, I did a very stupid thing and broke this rule.  I went for a long 5 mile walk the day after returning from the hospital.  Initially, I felt great as you can read in this blog. https://weightlossleadership.com/2019/02/13/a-heart-filled-with-gratitude-and-love/ But, it was not to last.  During that whole week, I was recovering from the walk.

If I was going to get healthy,I needed to go back to the basics and follow this first rule.  So, I took the entire next weekend completely off and rested and relaxed.  It did a world of good and sped up the healing process.  It is very important to take time for yourself and relax after surgery before diving into your normal regimen. 

2. Ease back into exercise.  The second step after taking time to rest is to ease back into exercise.  As much as I wanted to, I did not get on the bike until three weeks later.  Instead, I went back to basics and walked at a much slower pace and for shorter distances than that first Sunday.  This less strenuous regimen provided two major advantages.  First it allowed the bruise around the insertion point to heal.  Second, it gave me a benchmark on my heart rate and gave me confidence the procedure had worked.  I now was ready to take the plunge (or in this case the seat!

3. Unleash without fear.  The last step is perhaps the most important one.  Once you have taken the time to recover, you cannot be afraid to test the limits.  It is the same lesson we all learned as kids.  Get back on the bike when you have fallen off!  I did watch my Fitbit carefully the first few songs but then gave into the vibe!  You must trust in the professionalism of your Doctor’s and your own preparation.  Get back in the saddle and ride!

And that is what I did and will continue doing.  This coming Saturday, I will again be participating in Lifetime’s Ride for A Reason to fund the good work of St. Jude’s Children Hospital.  Last year I rode all four hours and will hopefully do so again if the three rules allow.  Please consider supporting the good work of St. Jude’s through a donation at the link below.  The last picture is of me after last year’s event. https://fundraising.stjude.org/site/TR?px=4996114&pg=personal&fr_id=103544

America the Beautiful But Broken: A Prescription and a Promise (Re-post)

After a 30+ day shutdown decided to re-post this timely blog. I was in church and as in every week before July 4th we sang America the Beautiful.  This time I really looked at the words and as I sang at the top of my lungs (anyone who ever heard me sing knows that is the only way I do it), I choked up.  You see I could sing some of the lyrics like spacious skies by rote.  But other parts I should read and remember.  And on this July 1 as we head into the celebration of our nations birth, I want to convey the words that choked me up.  In this time of uncivil discourse, I think it is necessary to remember what binds us together as a nation.  It is not military might or economic strength but rather the belief of liberty for all, freedom from oppression, and most of all, the steady march of progression toward a more perfect union.  So, let’s dissect the versus focused on the bolded sections.

1. Verse 1. O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!

America! America! God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

Commentary.  We are truly a blessed nation.  We have resources and the freedom to pursue happiness and the means to do it.  So why the vitriol and the rancor on both sides.  We need more brotherhood and sisterhood and less tweeting on both sides.  We do not have a problem, we have an opportunity!  We have people that believe in our country coming to our borders for a better life.  True, it is not all of them.  We cannot take in those impostors who want to harm us.  But most people escaping from the south just want a better a life.  Surely the country that rebuilt our enemies with the Marshal Plan, sent people to the moon, and built a nation of immigrants can discern in a professional way the people that do not wish us well. We have done it before and we can do it again.  Instead of protesting, roll up your sleeves.  This immigration problem is solvable and we a nation built on immigrant citizens and a history of practical solutions to thorny problems can do it.  The President and Congress can do it if they put down the iPhones, look up to the Heavens, and realize how blessed we are.  Call me naïve, but I think at the end of the day, we all want a fair but firm response to the immigration crisis.  Heck we may even consider a new Marshal Plan for the South.

2.Verse 2.O beautiful for pilgrim feet,
Whose stern impassion’ d stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America! God mend thine ev’ry flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!

Commentary.  This is by far the most consequential verse.  The first line “O beautiful for pilgrim feet” speaks to how the pilgrims escaped religious persecution and later civil strife to find this beautiful country.  Like the pilgrims of yesteryear, the pilgrims of today are seeking the same thing – liberty and the ability to reach their human potential.  We must be a resting place for those men and women of good intent to find their home free from persecution.  Note I said good intent.  There are some with ill intent but we need a humane process and procedure to discern who they are.  Those of good intent have and will protect our nation, build innovation, and will progress us on our path to a better nation.  Which brings us to the later stanzas of this verse.  We have flaws as a nation but we are the best thing going.  Do not kid yourself.  But we will lose our leadership status if we neglect self-control as one stanza of the song points out.  As one President and a famous Saturday Night sketch pointed out we must practice prudence and self-control.  All of us, especially the President, need to stop the late-night twitter rants and practice prudence and self-control.  Lastly, our liberty is built in law.  We somehow need to figure out a way to expedite legal immigration and provide asylum for those who need it and an opportunity for those that want it!  Laws do that and where the law stops or hinders it we need to change it.

3. Verse 3. O beautiful for heroes proved In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved,
And mercy more than life!
America! America! May God thy gold refine

Till all success be nobleness,
And ev’ry gain divine!

Commentary:  It is a disgrace to those men and women that laid down their lives for this beloved country, that we cannot stop the bickering, and the twittering, and find a solution to this immigration issue (and other issues facing our nation).   We are to be refined, refined by the blood of patriots, and anyone who does not look in their hearts to find a middle way does the soldiers that fought and died for this country dishonor.  We also must show mercy to those like us are seeking a better life and freedom. I ask everyone to rise-up, roll up their sleeves, and put on their working boots to solve our issues.  And our President and Congress need to lead the way or get out of the way!

4. Verse 4. O Beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam,
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America! God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

Commentary:  The patriots dream is that their country continues to press for a future!  One that sees beyond the years and today’s expediency to understand the nation’s imperative is to welcome those decided in the course of liberty and freedom.  In the end, America is not a nation but an idea.  An idea that those with the will and the drive can escape to a new beginning where the tears will stop, the freedom will flow, and the nation will prosper!

Flag on July 4th
Photo by Stephanie McCabe on Unsplash