Saturday, June 30, 2012

In a tight spot

It was a most memorable Fourth of July.

As with all holidays, not many people were traveling on a national holiday. But flights on the Fourth of July evening are even less full because everyone wants to watch fireworks. I boarded early (naturally), as night was falling on New York. Making my way to the nearly empty first-class cabin due to a free upgrade, there were a few intrepid travelers (read “whack jobs”) like myself aboard. We smiled and chatted lightly as we got settled, congratulating ourselves for being true "road warriors". A guy named Jim sat in the aisle seat immediately in front of me. He seemed like a nice fellow and we spoke as we got ready to take off. NOTE: remember this name and his location!

Pulling away from the gate, we taxied out to the runway where the mighty engines roared as we rumbled down the runway towards our takeoff speed. After takeoff we banked to the right, you could see downtown Manhattan off in the distance. There were numerous firework displays all throughout the greater New York metropolitan area. You could see the great fireworks near the Statue of Liberty and throughout many of the boroughs surrounding Manhattan.

Right after takeoff the flight attendant came around offering her thanks for flying with them followed by our choice of beverage and dinner. Normally I carry something to eat on a long flight to help dilute the boredom of sitting in a confined space for hours. But because of the upgrade, dinner was included. Not that it was a gourmet meal, not even close. The choices for dinner were (wait for it) chicken or salad. Being the discerning gourmet I chose the chicken mainly because it was warm (not hot) as opposed to room temperature (not cold), but it gave you something to do.

When the meal arrived, my expectations were not disappointed. It was a here-to-fore unknown piece of chicken anatomy, covered with a yellow-green sauce pretending to be attractive. There were way overcooked vegetables and a salad pretending to be fresh. But since it didn’t smell all that bad, I threw culinary caution to the wind and took a bite. Not bad, but not good either.

On the fourth bite something happened that would alter the course of human history, or at lease my psyche. A piece of bone and gristle were in the meat as I gnashed down. They became tightly lodged between my lower left molars. There was no pain, I didn’t cry out in agony like the time one of my molars cracked while biting down on an un-popped kernel of corn. No, this was just pressure from a foreign substance being firmly fixed between my teeth.

Historical Note: Getting something stuck in-between my teeth is not an unusual circumstance. I get food stuck all the time because my teeth are very tight. If you stick your face into my mouth, and have sufficient morbid curiosity, look into my mouth and you will see that my teeth are so close together that one of them has been squeezed out of place. My friend and dentist Dr. Hulen has remarked on more than one occasion that my teeth are; I believe the correct medical term is, “jammed together”. I’ve come to expect getting bits of food stuck in my teeth as part of “normal” life, so I carry the necessary tools of the trade with me at all times. I never go anywhere without something in my pocket or backpack to help in times of trouble.

Tight spot

So, I coolly but carefully chewed and swallowed the remainder of food and started the tongue contortion routine that I was all too familiar with. Pushing my tongue towards my teeth I struggled to somehow lift the debris and free myself. This went on for about five minutes until my tongue hurt and hung from exhaustion. I had to escalate to DEFCON 4[1] which involved pen tops and paperclips. Poking at the obstruction, I tried and failed to get the chicken wreckage out without damage to teeth, gums or self-respect. It was helpful that there was no one in my row so I did not have to attempt the rescue effort while hiding these modern weapons of dental hygiene.

I was starting to get desperate. I just declared DEFCON 3 and there were only two weapons left in my arsenal. So, as the flight attendant walked by I asked if she had any toothpicks. She smiled that knowing smile as if to say, “Yep, you ordered the chicken, didn’t you.” She quickly returned with two individually wrapped toothpicks, winked and then walked away, discerning that I needed privacy for self-dentistry. I poked and prodded with the skills acquired by the many prior episodes. Feeling the obstruction with my tongue I inserted the toothpick, trying to push it out. No luck. The next move was more desperate; I tried to wedge and separate my teeth with the toothpick just a little bit. This involved some pain but would be well worth it if I got relief, but none was coming.

So, tired and frustrated, I resorted to the only tool left in my arsenal of dental warfare; DEFCON 2 – dental floss. Like James Bond going for his gun, I coolly and carefully reached into my backpack and pulled out my trusty mint flavored waxed floss. Unrolling an ample supply, I wrapped it around my fingers and gracefully began a sawing motion, pushing down with enough pressure to dislodge it but not slice my gums to smithereens when I was successful. While this approach had been successful in days gone by, I was getting nowhere. The dental floss was being cut by the small piece of bone, so it just shredded. Several pieces of floss later, as I tried harder and harder, the results were the same. I was really starting to get rattled and distressed.

There was only one thing to do – the nuclear option, DEFCON 1, total dental war! Carefully cutting a new length of dental floss, I looked at the ends to ensure that there were clean edges. I then carefully wrapped the floss around one end of the toothpick and stuck it along my gum line between the two molars underneath where the bolder was lodged. It took four attempts but I finally got the dental floss through and was able to grasp it with my fingers. Now, carefully pulling some of the floss through, I rewrapped it around my fingers and began the delicate dance of this last try at freeing my teeth from this dangerous prison. I began to pull the floss up against the blockage, nothing happened. I started to pull a little bit harder and move the floss back and forth with greater intensity. This went on for a few minutes till I screwed my courage and tugged the dental floss up for one last mighty pull for liberty.

And then freedom! It was gone, but what a price was to be paid. Yes, the bone and gristle did come out! Yes, my molars were still safe and snug in my jaw. But there was an unannounced NASA launch. You see, I had forgotten to keep my mouth closed in all the excitement. It seemed like time slowed as I watched in horror as the piece of bone and gristle hurled skyward, it would have made any astronaut’s mother proud. The arc of the mass reached its apex, losing its battle with gravity, rolled once more and then began its downward decent.

Everything would have been fine except for the landing zone. Remember Jim in the seat in front of me? Well, the mass from within my teeth landed on the back left-hand side of his head and stuck to his salt-and-pepper hair! It was sitting like a teed up golf ball on a well-manicured golf course. You could not miss it!

So, here I was. Free from the dental pokey only to be left on the horns of a moral dilemma. What was I to do? How could I fix this without embarrassment to Jim or myself? I thought of different schemes of how I could “accidently” brush up against his head and knock the blob off.   Or I could try a stealth surgical strike to remove it without his knowing anything had happened. I could get the flight attendant involved, bribing her with $50 to somehow get it out of Jim’s hair. Quickly assessing the risk-reward pros and cons for each scenario, I carefully came to the conclusion that any self-respecting, seasoned traveler and member of our culture would.

I said nothing, I did nothing and I decided to ignore it. Yes, Jim walked off that plane with what seemed like a giant piece of schmutz[2] in his head. I often wonder if anyone ever said anything to Jim about what was on his hair. Did it just fall off or did he see it when he went to the bathroom? What did he say to his family and friends about it? Oh, and Jim in case you are reading this, …sorry about that…

Tight Spot

We’ve all been in a tight spot, due to our own actions or those of someone else. We’ve found ourselves in a place of embarrassment, hurt and potential danger. Sometimes we are caught by others and brought to the court of public opinion, verbally prosecuted, persecuted and punished.  We think that God is also against us, pounding us for our crimes and moral failures.

Yet, when I see Jesus meeting people in tight spots, I see the heart of God who loves and cares. One remarkable story is about a woman found in the throes of sex outside of marriage, accused by the self-righteous; his reaction is two-fold[3];

First – only the people without any problems or sin have the right to condemn and punish.  That leaves all of us out in the cold. We all have the same problems, same failures and unable to fix ourselves.

Second  Jesus does not approve of her actions, but encourages her to go forward and leave her prior life behind.

This is the definition of repentance – to change direction. Jesus wants us to learn from the tight situations we find ourselves in and change direction towards him. He does not just pat us on the head and say “boys will be boys.” He recognizes who we are and our desperate need for a fresh start.

So today, I really encourage you to turn around and walk towards Jesus. The only person who can accept you right where you are, repair you and make you whole again.

Blessings – Chet

Chet Gladkowski writes on contemporary topics that impact our lives, culture and faith. - email, Facebook & Twitter - blog
GladAssociates - YouTube

[1] DEFCON 5-Lowest state of readiness, Normal readiness
DEFCON 4-Increased intelligence watch and strengthened security measures, Above normal readiness
DEFCON 3-Increase in force readiness above that required for normal readiness, Medium readiness
DEFCON 2-Next step to nuclear war, War readiness
DEFCON 1-Nuclear war is imminent, Maximum readiness

[2] From Yiddish שמוץ, from German Schmutz (dirt), used by mothers to identify that you've got some kind of stuff on your face, hands, head
[3] John 8:1-11

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Looking Back

Call it reflecting, remembering or ruminating, we all look back. Thinking back on our life and experience can either be a sweet stroll down memory lane or a terrorizing rollercoaster ride that makes us breakout in a cold sweat, the hair on the back of our neck standing-up.

We had just moved to Florida and were trying to get settled in our house. Boxes were everywhere, the walls were bare and the curtains were down in eager anticipation of repainting most of the house. We had finished the living room a couple of days earlier and were about to tackle the kitchen. Mary Ann and I ran to the grocery store to get some ground beef for hamburgers when we were stopped by a dear elderly woman. Since she talked like she knew us well, Mary Ann sweetly engaged her in conversation.

But not me, it bugged me that I could not think of her name and where we had met. Without use of keyboard, laptop, smartphone or wireless Internet connection I “Googled” her face in my brain, trying to come up with a match. Did she work at the law office where we signed the papers to buy the house? Had we met while visiting churches? Did she work at the company I came here to lead? Did she live down the street? My internal face recognition software was coming up empty. Where was access to NCIS, CSI, CIA, FBI, Interpol or other local, state, federal and global databases when I needed them?

After about 10-minutes of conversation, this petite, sweet, dear older woman commented that she really liked the color we had selected for the living room. How did she know that? Did she secretly work at Home-Depot where we bought the paint? Was my near-term memory fading that fast? I couldn’t stand it any longer. With all the gentleness and grace I could muster I asked, “Excuse me, I don’t mean to be rude, but I just can’t remember you visiting our house. When did we meet?” She smiled that innocent little-old-lady smile and sweetly said, “Why no, we’ve never met before.” How in the world then did she know so much about us? Again, trying not to get upset I asked the all-important follow-up question. “Well, if we’ve never met before, how do you know what color we painted our living room?” Her answer is still burned into my memory though it took place nearly 15 years ago – “Why, it’s my hobby to drive around and look into people’s houses. I can’t wait to see what colors you have picked out for your kitchen and bedrooms.”

As we said our goodbye’s and walked away, Mary Ann tugged at my arm, leaned over and whispered in my ear, “Before we eat or do anything else, the curtains are going up.” As I said, looking back can be an interesting journey.

Looking back…

Starting in first grade, I took public transportation to school. One day I was goofing off (no surprise there) after school, so I missed my bus. This was a great tragedy because waiting for the next bus would put me on the edge of missing that great theatrical and literary experience known as the “Rocky and Bullwinkle” TV show. I was deep into the latest epic sage and needed to see the next episode. Waiting for the next scheduled bus, my palms sweated wondering if Rocky would save the day. Looking intently over Parkville’s retail epicenter landscape, I strained to see the next bus. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, the figure of a bus peered over the horizon. With breathless excitement I got my bus token ready so I could hop onto the bus, deposit the token and flop into a seat in record time.  Belching billows of diesel fumes, the great pale green hulking monster of a bus moved more slowly than ever. I anxiously jumped up and down in an uncontrollable mix of excitement and fear of being late.

Historical and cultural context: In some households; cleanliness is next to godliness. In my family; you were late if you were only on time. We were never “fashionably late” but always annoyingly early. This was drilled into me from my earliest memories. I remember going to my cousin Bobby’s wedding and the extreme consternation of not being able to get into the church early. We thought the flimsy excuse offered did not match our “inalienable right” to be early for every event. After all, just because they were wheeling the casket out of the church from a funeral didn’t seem like such a big reason for stopping us.

But I digress… back to the drama… as the bus crossed over from Parkville into Carney, my anxiety rose to even greater heights. I was so flustered that I forgot to “ring the bell” for my stop. Oh no, I was now going to have to wait till the next stop, making me even later. I frantically pulled the chord to ring the bell. I made my way up to the front door of the bus, crouching down into my sprinting position, getting ready for the race of my life. Like an Olympian waiting for the gold medal race to crown the world’s fastest human, every fast-twitch muscle was ready to explode. A hush came over the bus as it lumbered to a stop, expelling pent up air pressure and a blue-gray diesel cloud that had the undeniable whiff of petroleum. The bus driver reached to his left and pulled the lever, opening the doors that would release me to run home as fast as my two skinny legs would carry me. The doors were only a blur to me as I bolted out of the bus and made an immediate left turn in front of the bus to cross Harford Road.

The next few seconds are fuzzy followed by excruciating pain as I was hit by a car. For all you historians (or those with absolutely nothing better to do) "CLICK HERE" to see this significant, legendary site. The injuries sustained were not life threatening, but the retina of my right eye ruptured producing a really cool looking red spot in the middle of my pupil. This gave great rise to my popularity in school, as I would make girls scream as they looked into my “bloody eyeball” – how cool is that! Needless to say, since that day I carefully look both ways before crossing any street, road, parking lot.

Looking Back…

We often look back at our lives; decisions, words, actions and attitudes with considerably less laughter. I listen intently as people open their hearts, hanging their head as they describe the terrible things they did, or things done to them.  I see the terrible weight of guilt, embarrassment and shame scream through their hushed tones. And when I listen to someone brag about how they are afraid of nothing, everything in their life is great, full of success – I normally see a frightened child in an adult body, hiding from themselves and their own fears.

I have a friend that is crippled, but doesn’t use crutches or a wheelchair. He has a lame life, unable to move beyond his past. Stuck in the sewer of his thoughts, he continually slips back into old patterns, old habits and old choices.

Yes, God does want us to learn from our decisions and mistakes, but he does not want us to live under a condemned conscious. Step one of his plan starts with forgiveness and restoration through Jesus Christ. We bring him our brokenness and guilt; in exchange he offers forgiveness, restoration and peace[1]. Step two is becoming the person he wants us to be, looking forward and reaching towards his goal for us and our lives[2]. God has an “end game” in mind for us and it is not achieved by wallowing in shame or guilt.

Not that I have my life all together, but let me encourage you to take your past to Jesus. He came for people just like you and me, wounded and weary of pretending to have it all together. I am really comforted by Jesus when he says “For I came not to call and invite those who are upright and in right standing with God, but the erring ones and all those not free from sin[3].”

It’s time to transform from “Looking Back” into “Looking to Jesus.” And that’s really good news.

Blessings - Chet

Chet Gladkowski writes on contemporary topics that impact our lives, culture and faith. - email, Facebook & Twitter - blog
GladAssociates - YouTube

[1] Martin Luther called this The Great Exchange – “by a wonderful exchange our sins are no longer ours but Christ’s, and the righteousness of Christ not Christ’s but ours. He has emptied himself of his righteousness that he might clothe us with it and fill us with it; and he has taken our evils upon himself that he might deliver us from them.”
[2] Philippians 3:13-14 I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
[3] Matthew 9:13

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Someone has to pay

It seems like Facebook is everywhere. It’s far and away the single largest and fastest growing computer phenomenon in history. With more than 900 million users, it would qualify as the third largest country in the world, lagging behind only China and India.

With Facebook’s growth and achievement, their recent stock offering has been anything but a success.  Their failed IPO has taken a beating; the media is full of news, talking heads and conspiracy theorists. The digital airwaves are filled with endless chatter as everyone looks for the hidden meaning and reason for this failure from Facebook’s meteoric rise. Everyone was certain that they were going to make a killing only to see the stock price slide.

As I write these words, Facebook President, Mark Zuckerberg personal net worth has dropped from more than $17 billion to somewhere in the neighborhood of $15.5 billion (don’t you feel sorry for him.) There are more than 54 million Google search references to the failed Facebook IPO across the internet. Numerous suits have been filed in various local, state and federal courts as everyone is looking for reasons, the guilty and for someone to pay, with the emphasis on the pay part.

Someone has to pay.

Something similar happened to me a few years ago. I was traveling for work and had a meeting in the city that was hosting the NCAA Final Four men’s basketball tournament. When I arrived a few days before the semi-final game, I could not help but notice that everything (and I mean everything) was for sale to memorializing the upcoming games. The four college names, logos and mascots were printed on hats, t-shirts, coats, sox, underwear, you name it. Remembering that Sam, a good friend at work, went to one of the schools, I casually bought him a t-shirt with his alma mater’s name and stuffed it in my suitcase. Returning to work on Friday, I gave Sam the t-shirt, wishing him and his alma mater good luck. You have seldom seen someone more grateful in your life, his eyes welled up and his voice trembled as he struggled to get the words “thank you” out. He grabbed my arm and told me that this was about the nicest thing anyone had every done for him. Sam nearly ripped off his suit coat and put the t-shirt over his starched long-sleeved white shirt and tie. He then paraded around the office, strutting like a peacock, showing off his new t-shirt and boasted that the new “good luck” from this gift assured victory and a national title. Before leaving work, Sam gave me his sacred, personal vow that he would wear the shirt during Saturday’s game, taking a picture to commemorate our friendship.

Watching Saturdays game with casual interest from home, I noticed that Sam’s college fell behind early. They struggled in all aspects of the game. Quickly falling behind by more than 15 points, they looked outmanned, outclassed and outgunned. I really didn’t think much about this till the frantic call at halftime. It was Sam, screaming “It’s all your fault” followed by curses and obscenities that were difficult to follow as they flowed without pause or breath for more than 5 minutes.

Historical note – this verbal abuse exhibition easily shattered the previous Guinness Book of World Records sports tirade of 4 minutes and 17 seconds held by Kobayashi for his 2003 performance on Fox Network’s Man vs. Beast show. Kobayashi lost in an eating competition against a 1089-pound Kodiak bear when he ate 31 bun-less hot dogs in 2 minutes and 36 seconds to the bear's 50. The ensuing sports related tirade is classic but has been removed from due to its graphic and adult content.

When Sam finally paused to take a breath, I yelled “Sam, I’m sorry that your alma mater is playing so poorly, I really am. But why are you yelling at me?” Well, this really incensed Sam; the pitch of his voice and volume went to heights previously thought impossible for the human larynx. “It’s all your fault! It’s all your fault!” He kept repeating the phrase, “It’s all your fault!” yelling it over and over. Now, I was raised to feel guilty for just about everything, but this was new guilt territory, even for me. As it sounded that Sam was going into convulsions I blurted “I really don’t understand Sam. How am I responsible?” Now his sobs could be clearly heard through the words, “The shirt. The shirt. You bought the shirt, I’m wearing it. It’s bringing us bad luck. It’s all your fault.”

Someone has to pay.

With this background, and being the scientific and rebellious cuss that I am, I set about conducting a serious, detailed and well documented systematic study to see if this law of nature was true or not. Does someone really have to pay?

I walked into a bagel shop this week and ordered breakfast. My order was short and to the point; asiago cheese and jalapeno bagel, toasted with plain cream cheese, the largest coffee known to mankind with milk and two sweet-and-low. The young woman scurried off and with amazing efficiency and speed, joined by her happy team, filled the order in a matter of minutes. Smiling, she presented the completed order to me in a paper bag. Returning her smile, I gently accepted the bag, giving her my biggest and best “thank you.” As I turned and started walking back to the car her smile faded, she got this very puzzled look on her face as she said, “Excuse me, aren’t you forgetting something?” I turned around, got this thoughtful but puzzled look on my face and said, “No, I have everything. I can’t think of anything I’m missing.” Her confused look now decidedly turned more serious as did the tone of her voice. “You forgot to pay.” Looking directly in her eyes I smiled and replied with a questioning tone, “Pay? Do you have to pay?” Now the look on her face got more serious, her eyebrows came down and those little lines appeared in her forehead and at the side of her eyes. I apologized, paid for my breakfast and experiment, leaving a very handsome tip.

Someone has to pay.

The same can be said about our broken relationship with God. We have turned; no run away from God as we hurl abuse and arrogance at him. He lovingly created us to live with and for him in perfect harmony. He reached out with kindness and we spit in his face as we race away in hurtful disobedience.

Someone has to pay.

We were not able to make it right with God; we could not restore ourselves to God no matter what we did or said. So God took the initiative and paid the price himself. When Jesus Christ lived a perfect live and died a perfect death, he paid the price we could not pay[1].  He has made it Ok to come back to him. He’s not mad at us any longer; he paid our debt that we were unable to repay. Our response is to humbly return to him with gratitude, love and thanksgiving in our heart.

Some will think that this is an excuse to do anything we want and then just say the magic “I’m sorry” words, giving us permission to live and do anything. But, when we see how much it cost God to pay our debt and restore us, living for ourselves will seem like a slap in the face. Our thankful response will be to live for him

Someone had to pay. And God paid; the one who was hurt paid the awful price to restore us.

Blessings - Chet


Chet Gladkowski writes on contemporary topics that impact our lives, culture and faith. - email, Facebook & Twitter - blog
GladAssociates - YouTube

[1] 1 Timothy 2:5-6 there is only one God, and only one intermediary between God and men, Jesus Christ the man. He gave himself as a ransom for us all—an act of redemption which happened once.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Having one of those days?

Thursday started just like any other day – I woke up. From there it seemed like everything went downhill at just about the same speed and intensity as Space Mountain. From the moment I rolled out of bed, things started to unravel.

Did you ever open up a baseball and start unwinding the string? Or cut open a golf ball and unravel the never ending rubber band inside? Then, in a panic try and rewind the mess and put the ball back together? That’s about how my Thursday went. To say that it went from bad to worse is like hearing those immortal words from your car repair shop supervisor, “The air conditioning in your car can easily be repaired; all you need is a new compressor, evaporator, belts, motor, filter, coolant recharge and $5,700.” That was Thursday.

I remember being given an old clock as a kid. When I received it with a puzzled “thank you” in my voice, my uncle told me to have fun taking it apart. I lit up like a firecracker and hugged him for a nanosecond before dashing off to get screwdrivers, needle nose plies, wrenches and all manner of tools needed to rip its guts out. It only took me about 20 minutes to reduce the clock to a pile of gears, springs, wires, nuts and bolts. Taking the clockworks “kill” proudly back to my uncle, he congratulated me by rubbing my curly red hair (yes – I really did have curly red hair, the details of which are reserved for another day, another blog.) Then he uttered words that I never anticipated, “That’s great Chet. Now, put it back together.” How was it possible to put together what had been pulled apart and shredded into a million pieces? I didn’t have a set of instructions, and I certainly didn’t write a set of destruction. The puzzled look on my face gave all my aunts and uncles a good laugh. My face turned as red as my hair. I retreated to my inner sanctum to plot my revenge, which took the form of shaking up a grape soda and letting it explode all over my uncle’s white ceiling. The ensuing animated dialogue would certainly have made riveting reality TV rivaling that of “Keeping Up with the Kardashians.”

Getting back to Thursday, my two carefully and meticulously planned appointments were a total disaster. In the first meeting we had an agenda that everyone agreed to, was “hijacked” by a latecomer to the meeting, asking detailed questions that were only related to the agenda in that we were speaking English. No one was prepared for either the topics or level of detail being requested. Our week long preparation was totally down the drain, no one was happy. For the second meeting, the key contact for the meeting showed up 20 minutes late without a word of apology or concern that he wasted everyone’s time. When we finally tried to get started, computers and internet connections would not work. We finally got underway but there was a well-deserved air of dissatisfaction.

I then had to deal with an emergency financial need.  Finding a branch of the right bank in a strange part of the country, I spent the next 20 minutes explaining what I needed to do to a total stranger who sat behind 2 inches of reinforced plexiglass saying, “Well, I’ve never done that before.” While in the two appointments that went nowhere, I got a frantic voice message from my Mom to call her. This was followed by another voice message from my brother, telling me to call Mom with that “you better call Mom right away” tone in his voice. I called my Mom only to discover that someone claiming to be our son asked her to send $3,000 because they were in a New Mexico jail. Twelve calls and two hours later I was able to get to the bottom of the matter and reassure everyone that the scammer was lying and that everyone was safe and sound.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, I ran out of underarm deodorant. My razor blade was dull, cutting my face to ribbons. My shirts were wrinkled after being packed and traveling across the country. There was something stuck in my teeth and I didn't have waxed dental floss. My shoes needed shining.

And as if to add insult to injury, the button that holds my pants up popped off (I am very certain that this final blow wasn’t the result of added pressure exerted due to the bag of fresh made caramel popcorn or Cheetoes…Nah!)

As I catch my breath, and hold up my pants from Thursday, I’ve come to the conclusion that we’re all very much alike. It doesn’t matter what your race, color, marital status, ethnic background, job, or anything else; I bet we’re pretty much the same. It doesn't matter if you’ve just won the lottery or declared bankruptcy.  If you live in a lake house, boat house, townhouse or outhouse, I bet that we all struggle with the same things.

When life seems to be headed downhill, we all easily drift in that same direction, losing concentration and motivation on what’s really important. When the general trend is downward, it seems like it doesn’t matter if it’s something really big and serious or something small and irritating.  The easy thing to do is throw up our hands and take a negative route.

You may be surprised to learn that even some great people of faith in the Bible have this same reaction;

  • Moses – “If this is how you (God) are going to treat me, kill me[1]
  • Jacob – “Everything is against me[2]
  • Jonah – “O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live[3]
  • David – “I am laid low in the dust[4]
  • Elijah – “I am the only one left[5]

These were all great men of faith, yet they each reached the end of their rope. Life became unbearable and they cried out to God to end it all.

I’ve been there, and if we’re honest, we all have. The pressures becomes so heavy and intense that you felt like screaming. One time when I came to that breaking point, I kicked a telephone pole with all my strength. The final score was;

Six weeks later my broken foot was healed, but my basic problem remained.

And the basic problem is that we've come to the conclusion that we deserve better. We think that we’re not so bad, we’re better than murders, rapist and kidnappers. We look at people who are deathly sick due, their lives cut short due to poor choices and lifestyles. With smug arrogance we condemn them and elevate ourselves in self-righteousness.

Jesus tells a story to describe this kind of person, self-assured, arrogance, proud[6]. In the story, the man says, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people” and then he filled in the blanks of those he felt superior to. Who would you and I fill in those blanks with? Jesus says that man did not receive forgiveness or restoration with God.

The story goes on to a second character who beats his breast and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Jesus says that this second person was made right before God. And this just blows me away.

I grew up in a church environment; I tried to do all the right things. I wanted to impress God and others with what I did, how good I was. But the end result was twofold;

  • First, I thought that I was better than everyone else, I was superior to everyone, and I told them so
  • Second, I failed, and failed and failed again. No matter how low I moved the bar, I failed

When someone first explained that God loved me and wanted a relationship with me through Jesus, it sounded so good but I wanted to know how I was supposed to pay for it. What did I have to do? What group did I need to join? What price did I have to pay?

God’s “secret sauce” was that there was nothing I could do to earn or deserve His love. All I could bring was dirty in comparison to God who is perfect. So, He had to take the responsibility of paying the price I could not pay, living the life I could not live, in my place, for my good.

God was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice and bring me into a personal relationship with him. He took all my brokenness, failure and fears and made me his child. I didn’t deserve it, I don’t deserve it. Yet he reached out to me – I’ll never fully understand.

So, Thursday was a total bomb. But in light of God’s goodness and mercy to me, it’s all good. Yes, I’ll try to organize meetings and keep things from totally falling apart. But no matter how bad it gets, I know that life is worth living and God is with me, popped button and all.

Now that’s really one of “those” days.

Blessings - Chet

Chet Gladkowski writes on contemporary topics that impact our lives, culture and faith. - email, Facebook, Twitter - blog
GladAssociates - YouTube

[1] Numbers 11:15
[2] Genesis 42:36
[3] Jonah 4:3
[4] Psalm 119:25
[5] 1 Kings 19:10, 14
[6] Luke 18:9-14

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Don’t do that, you’ll hurt yourself

Pointing to health concerns, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg[1] declared war on large sodas and other sugared drinks this week. I won’t bore you with the details of the proposed ban. If you are interested, more information on what is/is not banned follows[2].

Reaction has been swift and loud as “talking heads” all over the media and internet have responded into two basic camps;

On the one hand, there is significant evidence that sugary drinks are the largest driver of rising calorie consumption and obesity. Sweet drinks are linked to long-term weight gain and increased rates of diabetes and heart disease. The data relating to weight and health is without question, the Surgeon General reports that nearly 2 out of every 3 Americans are overweight or obese[3].
On the other hand, people don’t appreciate more governmental influence and restrictions. They cannot stomach someone telling us what we can or cannot drink, especially when it comes to soda. Someone called it our American “unalienable right” to life, liberty and the pursuit of beverage happiness.

The firestorm will eventually quiet down, and we’ll move onto something more immediate. But there is an underlying thought to this discussion that needs examination;

“Don’t do that, you’ll hurt yourself.”

I remember those words of warning from my mom and dad so well. “Don’t do that Chet, you’ll hurt yourself.” If I heard it once, I heard it a million times.

One day my mom asked why I was going down into the basement. With unlimited excitement I explained my great plan to build a skateboard from a 2-by-4 piece of lumber and an old pair of skates. Not wanting to stifle my creativity, she said it was fine but to “be careful and don’t hurt yourself.”

With that advice tucked away somewhere in the back of my brain, I descended into the mysterious cave known as “the basement.” I entered my dad’s spotless workroom, which was sufficiently sanitary to saw wood or perform open-heart surgery. Assembling the resources to build my engineering masterpiece, I was confident that it would make me the envy of Carney, MD.

I imagined myself as one of those doctors performing open heart surgery in front of adoring surgeons, nurses and an audience of millions on TV.

  • Stage 1: saw the 2-by-4 to exact specifications of “about this long”
  • Stage 2: grasp the skate as if it were a live beating heart, cradle it expertly in my ever-so-clean preteen boy hand
  • Stage 3: skillfully separate one roller-skate into two equal sections
  • Stage 4: firmly affix each section of the newly separated skate on either side of the 2-by-4 with 4-inch steel nails
  • Stage 5: and this was the most critical from a public relations and “cool factor” standpoint, paint the skateboard Chinese Red with a white racing stripe

Like Hawkeye Pierce in M.A.S.H. emerging triumphantly from surgery, I ascended from the basement full of self-satisfaction and confidence. I bore all the marks of surgical success; sweat on my forehead, grease and Chinese Red paint on my hands, pants, shirt, face and shoes.

Taking my newly minted skateboard, I ran up the street to where the sidewalk started. I confidently dropped the skateboard onto the concrete while giving a quick gaze and nod to all my adoring fans (my neighbor’s dog burped and scratched himself in recognition.) I jumped on the skateboard and began my ride into history.

  • WARNING: What you are about to read is dangerous. It should not be attempted without adequate education, expert advice or protective gear (helmet, goggles, shoulder pads, arm pads, elbow protectors, wrist guards, gloves, ankle supports, knee pads and athletic supporter.) This is not for the faint of heart, uninformed or novice. This historical account was originally performed by someone who had absolutely no earthly idea what he was doing and potential consequences or harm to his body or psyche.

As I began to pick up speed, the adrenalin rush moved my excitement to worlds unknown. I heard the click-click of the wheels as they rolled across the expansion joints in the sidewalk (take note to remember the expansion joints). I stretched out my arms as if to fly. I looked like Jack Dawson on the bow of the Titanic yelling, “I’m the king of the world!” Little did I know that I was about to perform my own personal reenactment of the Titanic.

Remember those expansion joints in the sidewalk?  The front wheels ran into one that created a small but important rise in the sidewalk. It was only a half inch, but that made all the difference in the world. I was rolling forward at a rapid pace when the wheels (and attached skateboard) came to an abrupt halt, creating a test for the laws of physics. The laws passed with flying colors, I lost and just started flying.

The skateboard stopped dead while I did an impromptu impersonation of Superman soaring over Gotham City. This was not a silent pantomime of the Man of Steal, this came with an bloodcurdling, earth-shattering, scream.  Time does not permit me to adequately describe the emotions (fright and horror) followed by pain (scraped knees and assorted bruises and contusions) ending in tears, embarrassment and permanent emotional scaring which I bear to this day.

My mom’s words of prophecy always seemed to come true, “Don’t do that Chet, you’ll hurt yourself.”

Yet, when I came screaming into the house, she did not remind me about the prophecy, laws of physics or gravity. She did not quote from Newton’s Three Laws of Motion; how an object in motion stays in motion, how there is a reaction for every action, or the relationship between an object's mass, its acceleration and applied force.

No, her response was more practical and relational. She carefully rolled up my pant legs, cleaned my self-inflicted wounds while trying to comfort me. Applying a disinfectant and non-stick Band-Aids, she hugged me. When the tears subsided she assured me that while it still hurt, everything was going to be OK. Wiping my eyes I looked up into hers, there was an assurance that she knew what she was talking about. My manhood repaired, I screwed up my courage and went back outside.

Many years have passed yet my eyes still well up as I think about my mom and this memorial incident in my early life.

Yes, I did something that was dangerous and warned about. Yes, I was hurt due to my own decision and actions. Yes, I deserved the pain. Yet I received more comfort and healing than I deserved, enough not to quit, but to go out and try again.

I immediately think about more serious decisions and actions in my life. How I’ve done and said terrible things that hurt me, my family, those I love, friends and even total strangers. But not only have I hurt people on planet Earth, I’ve turned away from God, inflicting indescribable emotional and relational pain on the one that made me and loves me so.

When I’m honest with myself, I have no defense, no mitigating circumstances, no one to blame but myself. I am responsible for my own actions. And, if you will permit me, I'm also responsible for my response to words and actions from others. My conclusion is that I've earned and deserve more pain and punishment than I've received. I am guilty before the court of people and God.

It was to repair and restore our brokenness that Jesus came. He is God from eternity past; sitting on the throne of heaven he received worship. Yet he was willing to give that all up to come and pay a price of undeserved pain to heal our broken and arrogant spirits, restoring our relationship with God starting now and moving into all eternity[4].

Jesus offers us this kind of restoration and relationship right now. He came to give and renew our life, both now and forever[5]. I was not going to pull away from my mom; her comforting words and healing touch. How then can we turn away from Jesus, the one that wants to hold us, comfort us, heals and renews?

Chet Gladkowski writes on contemporary topics that impact our lives, culture and faith. - email, Facebook & Twitter - blog
GladAssociates - YouTube

[1] Michael Rubens Bloomberg, born February 14, 1942 is the 113th Mayor of New York City. He earned his undergraduate (Johns Hopkins-1964) followed by an MBA from Harvard Business School (1964). With a net worth of $22 billion, he is the 11th richest person in the United States.
[2] Any sugary beverage larger than 16 ounces would no longer be legal to sell.  The ban would apply only to drinks that contain more than 25 calories per 8 ounces. It would not apply to diet soda or any other calorie-free drink. The ban also excludes drinks that are at least half milk or milk substitute. The ban would restrict both full/fast food restaurants, movie theaters, sports venues and street carts. It does not apply to drinks sold in grocery or convenience stores. It would apply to bottled drinks as well as fountain sodas.
[4] Romans 5:6-11
[5] John 10:10