Follow Your Dreams

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A little girl was asked to bring her birth certificate to school one day. Her mother wisely cautioned her about the important document and told her to be especially careful with it. But in spite of her good intentions, the child lost it. When she became aware of its loss, she began to cry.

“What’s the problem, Honey?” her teacher asked sympathetically.

The little girl wailed, “I lost my excuse for being born!”

There are enough reasons to say, “Excuse me.” I am not about to apologize for being born.

Some people live, though, as if they are sorry for being different, or for having an opposing opinion than others or for not running with the herd.

Author Linda Stafford was one of those people. When she was fifteen, Linda announced to her English class that she would someday write and illustrate her own books. She remembers that half of the class sneered and the remainder just laughed at her prophecy. To make matters worse, her English teacher responded that only geniuses become writers and then smugly added that she was on track to receive a D as a grade for the semester. Linda broke into tears.

She went home and wrote a sad, short poem about broken dreams and mailed it to a weekly paper. To her astonishment, the newspaper not only chose to print the poem but they also sent her two dollars for publishing her writing. When she shared the news with her teacher, her only reply was that “everybody experiences some blind luck from time to time.”

But as if to defy her teacher’s assertion, Linda continued to write. During the next two years, she sold dozens of poems, letters, jokes and recipes. And by the time she graduated from high school, she had a scrapbook filled with her published writing.

Linda never again mentioned a word of it to her teachers or to her fellow students. Why not? Some people are “dream-busters,” Linda would later say. And her dream was too important, and, at this time in her life, too fragile to risk being shattered by careless comments from people who didn’t believe in her.

Mark Twain said this about dream busters: “Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.”

Linda made no apologies for her ambitions, for her confident belief in herself or for wanting something more out of life. Even at her young age, she somehow knew that nobody on planet earth was more (or less) valuable than she; nobody was more deserving of happiness. She knew that she needed no excuse for wanting to make the most of her brief time in this life and eventually she did become the author she desired to be.

I have found plenty of dream-busters over the years, and I imagine that you have, too. But I have also discovered a few dream-builders along the way – people who encouraged my aspirations and challenged me to take the next step. It was the dream-builders who said yes when others said no. They were the ones who held my vision before me when I wanted to turn away in discouragement. They protected my dreams and reminded me who I really was.

It has always been the dream-builders who made the greatest impact. It is to them I am most grateful.

If some people are dream-busters, others are dream-builders. And I know which ones to listen to. I also know which I want to be.

Grace and Peace

Dreamers Who Do

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Are your dreams and beautiful ideas just pipe dreams?

According to Webb Garrison in his book Why You Say It (Rutledge Hill Press, 1992), the term “pipe dream” has its origins in the 19th century. The drug opium was imported into Europe from Asia and was widely used in certain literary circles in Britain. Opium was smoked in a pipe and, once under the influence, people had hallucinations that were referred to as pipe dreams. So today, an unrealistic or impractical idea may be quickly discounted as a pipe dream.

But not all seemingly impossible or far-fetched ideas are merely pipe dreams. A case in point is the dream millionaire Eugene Lang gave to high school students in the impoverished neighborhood in which he was raised. Addressing a class of eighth-graders in the South Bronx, Lang threw away his prepared speech. The empty eyes of the students in attendance told him they were not interested in his “motivational” talk. Their neighborhood had become a battlefield of poverty, drugs and gangs, and a breeding ground of despair. About 80% of them would not complete high school. Few would ever leave the neighborhood. Fewer still would climb out of poverty. That is why Mr. Lang tossed aside his speech. The students didn’t need a speech; they needed a dream.

Then, the words that came from Eugene Lang’s mouth may have even astonished him! “If you graduate from high school,” he told the youth, “I will send you to college.” Send you to college!

For the next four years he worked with the school and kept the dream alive. And the results were phenomenal: all but two of the 60 teenagers finished high school! True to his word, he sent them to college. “He gave us hope,” one student said, no doubt speaking for the majority. Another one of the students, upon meeting Lang later, said to him, “Mr. Lang, we did the impossible.”

Writer Sarah Ban Breathnach says, “The world needs dreamers and the world needs doers. But above all, the world needs dreamers who do.” Because not every seemingly unrealistic idea is a pipe dream. When that beautiful dream is combined with hard work and great expectation, then the impossible can be achieved. For when you and I believe enough in a magnificent dream, most anything can happen. If we look at what is going on in our streets, our schools, it seems like a world on drugs. We really do need dreamers who do. Lord, send them now, call us now. We need You now.

Grace and Peace

Determined to Complete the Task

I have placed this prized – cherished picture of my granddaughter in the illustration placeholder for a special reason; she didn’t let anything distract her from what she was there to do. That is one of the many beauties of my Abby. She was three years old and she was at the ballpark to run the bases with other kids. To be sure, all the focus is over at first base with some of the older kids. I just happened to catch this shot of Abby still staying true and determined to complete her task no matter what else may have been going on. She wasn’t the focal point, the center of attention, and yet she continued toward completing her task… running the bases and crossing home plate. This is probably why she is academically second in her senior class… why she has many friends… why she has accomplished so much in her 17 years… why she could wallpaper her room with all the academic awards she has received throughout the years… why she has offers from big universities all over the U.S. including LSU, NYU, The New School, Syracuse, Alabama, VMI, Vanderbilt, Tennessee, USC, UNC, NCState… and many others…

Some say that opportunity only knocks once. But temptation and distractions seem to pound on my door forever. Even opening up and letting them in doesn’t seem to make them go away. More temptations and distractions come along and the beating goes on.

Those temptations that cause us the most problems are those that pull us away from being our best self. So I can relate to the Swiss woman who was served dinner on a domestic American flight. She opened up her dessert – a delicious looking piece of chocolate cake – and immediately sprinkled a generous layer of salt and pepper over it. A shocked flight attendant exclaimed, “Oh! It’s not necessary to do that!”

“But it is,” the woman replied, smiling. “It keeps me from eating it.”

She found a way to drive temptation away from her doorstep, at least for a while.

The most persistent temptations in my life are distractions that keep me from doing what is in my best interest.

You may want to quit that reading group, that difficult class or those music lessons. throw that book you are writing in the corner. Sometimes life is just plain hard, uncomfortable with many problems to face. It’s easy to become distracted and get discouraged.

Something baseball great Hank Aaron once said can help out here. “My motto was to keep swinging,” he said. “Whether I was in a slump or feeling badly or having trouble off the field, the only thing to do was to keep swinging.”

Sometimes we just need to keep swinging. And if we tell ourselves that all we need to do today is to take one more swing, that may be enough. We can always take one more swing. And who knows…today we might hit a home run.

Miss Abby always keeps swinging… ignoring the distractions and pushing through to complete the tasks she has set for herself. She is my inspiration in so many ways. Thank you sweetie for being so real and so loving and so you.

Grace and Peace



Victory of the Heart

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Esther Kim forfeited her chance to be a champion in order to claim an even sweeter victory – a victory of the heart. This is her story.

Esther competed against her childhood friend, Kay Poe, in the U.S. Olympic Trials for her sport of Taekwondo. Esther lost the match, but she went on to win all her other fights, which still qualified her for the finals.

Her friend, Kay, also won her successive matches. But in her last fight before the finals, disaster struck. Kay dislocated her knee and went down in great pain. Her knee was reset as she lay in agony on the mat. All the while, her friend Esther encouraged her from the sidelines to finish the fight. Courageously, Kay finally stood up and, on one good leg, concluded the match for a win.

The only contestants now remaining were Kay Poe, with an injured leg, and her friend, Esther Kim. One woman would be chosen from these trials for the Olympic team. “I looked at her with one good leg against me with two good legs,” Esther Kim recalled, “and I said, ‘It’s not fair!’”

On the spot, Esther made a hard decision. She forfeited the match to her friend Kay, whose leg was sure to be fully healed for the 2000 Olympic Games. Thanks to a free ticket from the U. S. Olympic Committee to Sydney, Australia, Esther was able to watch and cheer from the stands.

“This was our dream, going to the Olympics,” Esther said. “It’s so hard!” I have cried about it.” But Esther discovered something important. “I gave her my dream,” she said, “but for the first time ever, I feel like a champ.” Esther Kim won a victory far greater than one fought on the mats. She won a victory of the spirit, which qualifies her as a true champion.

As Kay Poe’s father remarked, “The champions aren’t always the ones who have all the medals.” No, sometimes they are cheering from the sidelines. For success and winning is often about victories won in the hidden recesses of the heart. And in the end, no other kind of victory is nearly as satisfactory.

Grace and Peace

Happy Birthday to Me


Back when we were carefree teenagers we only lived for the day… the next test, next date, or next significant thing. While I was in the Marine Corps I only thought about honor and giving everything my very best… the next mission or deployment. In Vietnam I only thought about the present mission and staying alive. Once a young, physically fit Marine who could do a little 25 mile hike with 80 pounds of gear on my back… land on a beach on Puerto Rico and climb to the top of hill 105. All this today stuff was preparing us for what we would face tomorrow.

Back then none of us thought that we would ever be this old and decrepited. But guess what… through many ups and downs we got there!!! When I wear my Marine Corps sweats some young guys look at me in wonder, I just tell them I am a Marine Corps recruiter and finish with this: “Sign up and you too can be in this same condition when you are seventy-four.” For some reason it doesn’t seem to impress them enough to join the Corps.

The condition I am talking about is better explained in the words of my doctors. One of my doctors recently told me I had the constitution of a bear. I smiled and stood taller than ever. Poked out my chest in pride about how he had described me. He said “Don’t get so cocky, in medical terms the constitution of a bear means: Your kidneys are “barely” functioning, you heart is “barely” pumping enough to keep the fluid off, your diabetes is “barely” staying stable, your liver is “barely” working, your mind can “barely” remember yesterday, your neuropathy is so bad you can “barely” feel a hammer hitting your foot. In other words, you are “barely” staying alive.” Busted my bubble big time. 

I’ve had a lot of health problems due to our government spraying a defoliant on us called Agent Orange. I am now 100% service connected disabled. I use a cane and a rollator to help with balance. We are getting a walk-in shower installed to help keep me from falling while stepping over a tub. The VA has put in the monster looking ramp to help me get to the car.

All of this sounds like I am ready to check out. But that is not the case. It is true I have little energy and have to watch a lot of things like diet and fluid intake. Sometimes I feel like I am worthless, useless and a wet blanket at all family events. But most of the time I am happy, still have a good sense of humor, love my family – and they say they love me. I really feel very fortunate and blessed to be 74 and have the constitution of a bear. I get to see my family grow… enjoy my wonderful grandchildren, and talk with friends. My son is still the best man I have ever known with a very high sense of integrity, who has a wonderful lady, Annette Osborne, as his significant other. She brings an additional special beauty to our lives. We look forward to many years of love with her. It doesn’t hurt that she is a PhD nurse. My wife still puts up with me and helps me with almost everything… I would be lost without her.

So, in this old decrepited condition – it is indeed a very happy birthday. I am so blessed to be celebrating this day.

Grace and Peace

Breaking Free

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A hot, new business capitalizes on people’s need to ‘fess up, as well as their interest in eavesdropping on the confessions of others.

Fee-based phone services and Web sites allow customers to confess anonymously – anything from admissions of petty theft to adultery and even murder. Or, those who are inclined can listen to or read the sordid tales of others. (This is where most of the traffic is headed, by the way.) After the first year of business, one such telephone service, The Confession Line, reportedly made 17 million dollars. Plans were implemented to expand from 25 telephone lines to 100.

I question how beneficial the online confessions sites are for those who actually need to get something off their chests. There is a noticeable lack of contrition and a great deal of self justification. One gets the sense that these so-called true confessions are little more than verbal exhibitionism for contributors and voyeurism for readers. Yet the need to confess, or more importantly, to own up to past mistakes and misdeeds, is vital if one is to be truly free.

Confession is, as they say, good for the soul. And it is also good for the body. Researcher James Pennebaker, author of Opening Up: The Healing Power of Expressing Emotions, studied health benefits of confession. Some people’s secrets literally make them sick. He discovered that criminals who confessed to lie detector technicians were often so grateful for the physical relief they felt after “getting it all out,” that they actually sent birthday, holiday and thank you cards to the polygraph personnel who heard their stories.

It seems that what we bury deep does not quietly go away. Like a nasty parasite, it eats us up from the inside. Our secrets become our sickness and we won’t recover until what we concealed is finally revealed.

So how do we ultimately find freedom from haunting memories and harmful guilt? The best advice goes like this:

  1. Bring it up and bring it out into to light. Talk to someone safe. And if it makes sense, talk to the person you wronged. Remember, an apology must never include the the word “but.” No excuses. No rationalization. Just lay it out there and take responsibility. You may be surprised that others are quicker to understand your misdeed than you are even to admit it. But if not, you still did the right thing.
  2. Make amends if possible. This is the step most often omitted, but may be the most therapeutic for you and essential for anyone you may have wronged.
  3. Forgive yourself. Regardless of whether or not the other forgives you, forgive yourself. Once you’ve done everything else you can, self flagellation will get you nowhere.

Bring it up, make amends, forgive yourself. It sounds simple, but don’t think for a second that it is easy. Getting free from the tyranny of past mistakes can be hard work, but definitely worth the effort.

And  the payoff is health, wholeness and inner peace. In other words, you get your life back.

Grace and Peace


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Don’t Stop Growing Up

I recently read about a study of ninety top leaders in a variety of fields. Interviewers were trying to determine just what it is that sets leaders apart. They discovered that, for one thing, those who rise to the top of their professions share a never-ending capacity to develop and improve their skills. The key concept here is “never-ending.” They know how important it is to always increase their knowledge and hone their skills.

But what about the rest of us? Author M. Scott Peck said, “All my life I used to wonder what I would become when I grew up. Then, about seven years ago, I realized that I was never going to grow up — that growing is an ever ongoing process.” I agree. Growing, learning, developing… the process is ongoing. And those who want to live fully will intentionally make learning and growth a lifelong habit.

I once visited a church member who had just celebrated her 80th birthday. She talked with much enthusiasm about a quilt she was making for her great-grandson Loren. She was almost finished — everything except the center square which she had saved for last. She wanted that to be something special that Loren would particularly like, so she asked him what he would like her to make for the all-important center piece. The little boy replied, “I would like a turtle, please.”

The problem was that she had never made a turtle and wasn’t sure if she could. So she tried to redirect him. “How about a dog?” she suggested. “Or a house?” She had done those before.

But little Loren, too young to sense her discomfort, persisted. “No thank you, Gramma. I think I would like a turtle.”

“Are you sure you wouldn’t like something else? You see, I don’t think I know how to make a turtle.”

Now this was something he didn’t expect. Gramma, who seemed to know how to do everything, even make quilts, didn’t know how to make a turtle.

At first he looked perplexed. Then he must have thought of the many times his own parents encouraged him, because what came out next welled up from a desire to be helpful: “Well, Gramma,” he said pensively, “I think you’re old enough to learn.”

Gramma laughed. “Yes, I suppose I’m old enough to learn.” And since she was a believer that she could do whatever she set her mind to, she set it to learning this new task. When she finished the quilt, it had a turtle right in the middle.

My friend was especially proud of that quilt. And she discovered that Loren was right: she was old enough (and she was also young enough) to learn.

You may or may not want to be a top leader in your field. It doesn’t matter. But when you decide to explore new directions every day, to never stop learning and growing, the most wonderful things can happen.

Grace and Peace


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Face To Face With the Wall

In light of the death of honorable men and women at the Abbey Gate, I offer these words from years ago.

The Journey

This weekend seems to always draw my thoughts back to Vietnam, my time there, what I went through, what we all saw and did… and those who were killed in action, many in the prime of life, in that far away place.

I wasn’t over there (in Khe Sanh) long enough to know the names of many people – I was so new and so scared I am lucky to even remember my own name. I can check out some of the many web sites for our unit (Lima Co. 3 Bn 26 Marines, 3rd Marine Division) and learn the names of those killed in action in Feb – April 1968.

There were two Marines whose death caught my attention. One young Lance Corporal had thirteen days to go before heading for home. He had spent almost thirteen months in combat and he was killed in action just before heading for…

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Staying Calm; I’m Working on it.

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As an airport skycap checked through a customer at curbside, he accidentally knocked over the man’s luggage. He quickly collected the fallen bags and apologized for the mishap. Unappeased, the traveler burst into an angry tirade, raging and swearing at the skycap for his clumsiness.

Throughout the traveler’s rant, the baggage handler calmly apologized and smiled. The livid customer continued to berate the man, even as he turned away and headed for his gate. Through it all the baggage handler smiled and remained calm.

The next customer in line witnessed the incident and marveled at the skycap’s professionalism and self control. “I have never seen such restraint and humility,” he said. “How do you keep your cool when somebody is attacking you so viciously?”

“It’s easy,” the skycap answered. “He’s going to London, but his bags are going to Tokyo.”

I won’t recommend that we use revenge to relieve stress. But let me tell you about someone who has found a way to go through most of his life unfazed by the turbulence that affects most people.

He is one of the calmest people I’ve ever known and he describes how he keeps his cool no matter how turbulent a situation becomes. He says, “It happens.” And that’s the way I try to look at most of what happens to me.” With that philosophy, this guy, one of our best friends, goes through life with a serenity I can only envy. As my wife said to me while we were driving in a downpour (25 mph) on I40 last Sunday: “Just sit back and go with the slow flow of the traffic.” Back in the early 80’s we were heading for Myrtle Beach… driving way to many miles over the speed limit… angry with all the slower traffic. That day I found out that, after all that reckless driving – all that built up tension – we arrived at Myrtle Beach 15 mins earlier. T’aint worth it. Didn’t enjoy the trip… didn’t see any scenery. Was not calm. Now that I am a crusty old man I drive slower, enjoy the drive and the trip. And when we get there I am still calm. Now days you can tell the people who pass me on the highway appreciate my cautious driving by the hand gestures they make as they pass.

Another friend likes to say things like, “A rude customer has no power to make me angry; he just fusses.” And, “A mistake I made has no power to make me upset; it’s just a chance to do better.” He shows how we can truly find calmness in the midst of chaos.

Eminent 20th Century American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr wrote a short prayer that has been reprinted countless times. Bill Wilson, co-founder of the support group Alcoholics Anonymous, became familiar with the prayer about 1941. He edited and adapted it, and then circulated it with the title “Serenity Prayer.” You are likely familiar with his version:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

The prayer has been a great help to many hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of people over the years. I say it to myself quite often. And the truth of the matter is that there is much which cannot be changed. We can’t do anything about this evening’s traffic. Another person’s reaction is not something we can control.

Furthermore, we may have made any number of mistakes that we probably regret, but they are in the past and that is something we cannot change. Reliving the past does not help us change the future. This one I fight with all the time.

There’s a certain power in calmness. And those who learn to accept with serenity that which they cannot change will find power to change those things they can. I am still working on it everyday. How about you? Are you remaining calm in the midst of it all? I pray we are all getting better at it. Lord knows, the world needs much more of it.

Grace and Peace,


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An Adventure

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One man says it really happened. At the conclusion of his medical exam, the doctor asked him if he would please call in the next patient. So, he opened the waiting room door and called, “Mrs. Colchester, please.” Then he left the doctor’s office.

He had walked some distance along the street outside when he heard Mrs. Colchester’s voice behind him, “Where are we going?”

She knew she was being called, but she misunderstood the intent. I wonder if she made it back in time for her appointment.

There are times I can relate to her. I, too, have experienced “callings” in my life, though mine have taken the form of callings to a certain vocation or a particular life-direction. And sometimes I’ve been confused about exactly where I am going when following that voice and just as uncertain about where I may end up. It was extremely difficult at times to remain in that calling… but I knew that the calling was real.

It’s an old-fashioned word, “calling.” It can mean a profession or line of work. Or even a strong inner urge or impulse. In my case, callings have led me to dedicate myself to something I believed I was meant to do in life. My wife didn’t like it at first… when I announced I was entering the ministry she had an every-loving fit. I gave in to her at first but finally had to make the decision. I believe she adjusted and loved what I did… as long as she didn’t have to fit the old role of a pastor’s wife. It all worked out for forty years.

Oprah Winfrey says this about callings: “I’ve come to believe that each of us has a personal calling that’s as unique as a fingerprint – and that the best way to succeed is to discover what you love and then find a way to offer it to others in the form of service, working hard, and also allowing the energy of the universe to lead you.”

It is a satisfying thing when we feel called to a worthy purpose. How beautiful (and how rare) it is to believe we are doing just the thing we’re meant to do in this life. But is it realistic to think we must do THE ONE THING we were meant to do? How about doing ONE OF THE THINGS we are passionate about? Let me explain.

Consider a Swiss Army pocketknife. It is a multipurpose tool. It can cut, saw, file, snip and open up cans and jars. With it, one can turn a screw, pull out a splinter, pop the cork in a wine bottle and even pick one’s teeth. (My advice: never leave home without one.)

You and I are more like Swiss Army knives than butter knives or steak knives. We can DO more than one thing. We can LOVE more than one thing. We can BE more than one thing. Likewise, we may be called to more than one thing.

Like Swiss Army knives, we have options. Ours is to discover those truly worthwhile things we feel led to do and be – things we love, that are life-affirming and deserve our best – and then to commit to them, to give ourselves over fully to them and pursue them with joy. That is what it means to be called. And that is how to make a life count.

But beware of this about callings: they may not lead us where we intended to go or even where we want to go. If we choose to follow, we may have to be willing to let go of the life we already planned and accept whatever is waiting for us. And if the calling is true, though we may not have gone where we intended, we will surely end up where we need to be.

It is like an adventure. Are you ready?

Grace and Peace

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