Saturday, July 28, 2012

Cleanup in aisle 3

I don’t know about you, but I really enjoy coming home. After a long business trip or vacation, the best part is walking in the front door. I’d rather eat a hotdog at home than an expensive meal at a five-star/four-diamond restaurant out of town.

We experienced this sense of homecoming just the other day. We had been away for two weeks in the Northeast. It was a pleasant mix of vacationing at the beach, just hanging out with family, catching up with friends and several speaking engagements woven into the schedule. Arriving at the Orlando airport, we drove home exhausted but excited to be home once again.

We had a friend, Debbie, watch the dog, house and water Mary Ann’s plants while we were away. Debbie is a faithful friend so we knew everything was going to be in good order for our homecoming. I had cut the grass shorter than normal just before leaving, anticipating two-weeks of growth while we were away. Driving up to our house, I was somewhat surprised by the jungle-like height of the grass. Then I noticed how all our plants and trees were lush, green and full of blossoms. Debbie must have done a remarkable job of watering the plants each and every day I thought.

Unlocking the front door, our dog, Jitterbug, ran in tight counter-clockwise circles to express her pleasure for our return. She danced, gave her little yelp and then went back to sleep in the other room, as she is easily bored. Having learned the science and joy of traveling light, bringing in the luggage only required one trip from the car.

Before leaving on our holiday, I had been on a crusade to eat everything in the house that might go bad while we were away. I was successful in this war on waste, so even though the cupboard was bare upon on our return, that is a much better reception than opening the refrigerator door only to be greeted by a science project gone terribly wrong. One year I had been less successful only to be accosted by a yogurt that had mutated during our trip, growing hair and legs.

Coming into the house, the plan was to immediately make ice tea, the elixir of life in the Gladkowski household, followed by a relaxing, refreshing and somewhat idle day of just hanging around. Perhaps, if all went well, grabbing a nap in our own bed was also a possibility in the schedule.

Moving into the family room, I looked out into our back yard and pool to be greeted by green grass and an equally green pool. While we have an automatic pool pump, filter and salt chemical system, we had many summer monsoons during our vacation, dumping lots of rain that overwhelmed our system.

So, my dreams of relaxation and sloth were immediately replaced by all-out chemical warfare. Since the chemicals in the water were so depleted, I made a couple of trips to the local pool shop to get the necessary potions to purify the pool. First, I had to “shock” the pool with a double-dose of liquid chlorine and stabilizers. This was followed up by four very large bags of salt that I had to spread around the perimeter of the pool. All in all it cost me more than $56.

The money was a one-time investment. I then started the repetitive process of cleaning the filter and pool water;
  • brush down the pool
  • stop the pool pump
  • drain the filter
  • remove the pool filter
  • hose down the filter to remove all the trapped green “junk”
  • replace the filter
  • prime and restart the pump
  • replace dirty DE in the filter

If there was a way to only have to clean everything once, or even twice, it would not be so bad. But starting that very hour, I began repeating this process multiple times. At first the water was so green that it required hourly cleaning, moving to every 90 minutes, then every couple of hours. Over the next two-and-a-half days I repeated this process 19 times to restore our pool to sparkling blue.

That’s the way it is with life. Something happens and life gets “green” and messy. We want an instant fix to a problem, but there is none. Just this week I listened to several people express their hurt, disappointment and pain. Some are looking for relief, some are searching for why, and all are looking for direction and a solution:
  • After long and fruitful years of service, lost their job as the organization transitioned to new leadership with nothing on the horizon
  • A misdiagnosis has left a husband and father lethargic, depressed while his future recovery potential is uncertain
  • Stress in family relations has replaced love and grace with hurt, disappointment and fear
  •  Being told that their job was redundant 8 months after relocating and buying a house for a new role in a large organization
  • Feelings of loneliness and abandonment

As I listened to these people pour out their sorrow and souls, I watched and felt their pain. These were no small boo-boo’s where a spray of Bactine and a Band-Aid would fix them up. The wound was open, the hurt was deep, and the pain was real.

Their emotional suffering was accompanied by changes in their appearance. There was this cracking in their voice, emptiness in their eyes; their backs and necks were hunched over from the weight they carried inside. As they spoke, all of them opened their hands palms up as if to show the emptiness of their life, asking why and to receive back their blessing.

While listening to people in trouble is not my favorite thing in life, it is a sacred time and I count it as an honor to be with them. I have learned the hard way what not to do being with people in desperate times like this and it is not:
  • quote a poem or song
  • tell them you know exactly how they feel
  • offer empty encouragement based on some good-feeling philosophy
  • promise a miracle with instant restoration
  • reassure them to hang in there, things will get better

What we need in times like this is hope and help from someone greater and stronger than us. Someone who is there and hears when we cry out, they understand and comfort. There is such a person and that is Jesus Christ. He is[1]:
  • greater than us and our problems
  • strong enough to anchor us through the storms of life
  • understands and empathizes with our weaknesses
  • remained pure as he endured temptation
  • strong, yet approachable
  • will receive us, responding with kindness

I can’t say that I know what you are going through, understand your circumstance or can solve your problem. But I can say that I do know Jesus Christ and he is the one true solution for you and your life. He is the ultimate truth and solution for whatever we may go through. He stands ready to clean us and our messy lives up.

Blessings - Chet

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

[1] Hebrews 4:14-16

Saturday, July 21, 2012

You were there

We seem to always remember where we were whenever significant events occur. For me, I clearly remember:

  • 8902 Old Harford Rd – I was in Mr. Spark’s 5th grade class when we were suddenly dismissed and told to get home the best way we knew how. We weren't told why, but as I went outside to ride my bike home, some teachers were huddled, talking very quietly. Mrs. McClintock was bent over, sobbing deeply as others tried to comfort her. It was only as I got home to see my mom’s moist face from her crying that I found out that President Kennedy had been assassinated.
  • 2912 Scherer Ave – As a first grade kid, my best friend Dante and I were playing outside with a rocket ship toy. As the spacecraft careened into the stratosphere, an unforeseen crosswind carried it onto the roof and it got caught in the gutter. Not to let a little thing like this stop our fun, I climbed out of the second story window, successfully retrieving the spaceship and throwing it down. As I turned to climb back in the window, I thought about how the rocket ship floated safely through reentry onto the grass. It didn't look all that high, so I jumped.
  • Intersection of Perring Parkway and Putty Hill Rd – I was taking Mary Ann Hildebrand on a date when she abruptly changed the subject, turned to me and said, “By the way, the answer to your question is yes.” Two days earlier I had asked “Will you marry me?”
  • 1858 Loch Shiel Rd – There was a large cherry tree in our backyard, and the trunk had split in two. I got out my ax and started to chop it down (please note – this has nothing to do with George Washington, telling the truth or any redeeming idea like that.) Ken, our neighbor, watched with delight, sipping on a cold beverage as I slaved in the hot sun. Taking careful and detailed measurements, I cut a deep notch in the trunk so that the tree would fall harmlessly into our yard. However, there was a sudden micro-burst tornado, a huge shift in the earth’s tectonic plates and reversal in gravitational forces, throwing the tree directly on top of Ken’s fence, pulling the electric wires that serviced his house out of the wall.  Five hours later, electric service was restored to Ken’s house. We laughed about this and remained good friends till the day of his sudden death due to a massive heart attack.
  • 1600 JFK – I was walking down the hallway in an office building as many co-workers were watching the liftoff of the Challenger when it suddenly exploded in mid-air.
  • 1900 Buena Vista Drive – we were holding our annual software user conference just outside Walt Disney World.  Customers and friends were there from all over the country. On Sunday morning, a divisional vice president committed suicide, leaving many people distraught with nothing but questions. The next morning was Monday September 11th, 2001.

  • 2100 East Joppa Road – This Friday morning, July 20th the alarm went off at 5 AM as I had an early morning speaking engagement.  Quietly letting myself out of my in-laws house, I went to Dunkin Donuts and ordered an extra-large coffee, two Sweet-and-Low’s and milk. As they were getting my order together, I looked up at the TV and saw lots of flashing lights, police cars and heard something about Denver Colorado. As I paid for the coffee newscasters mentioned that the shooting took place in Aurora.

While I normally would be somewhat interested in a story like this, mentioning Aurora really caught my attention because our son, Dan, and his wife live there. I stopped and watched footage of the movie theater, and I immediately remembered driving by it several times since it was not all that far from their house. I started to get messages from family members, wondering if they were OK. Around 7AM we got a text message that everyone was fine.

Yes, we do remember the place where significant events happen. We even sometimes commemorate the place with a plaque. There are memorials all over our memory and country where these important events happened. Personally, I need to erect a concrete memorial marking an important spot with the following inscription; “It was here that Chet jumped off the roof, eventually needing knee and hip surgery, transforming himself from 6 feet-2 inches to 5 feet-11 inches.”

But of all the places I remember and want to commemorate, two stand out above them all;

  • 4359 Ebenezer Road – Michael, a good friend, met me in the parking lot of a bowling alley to go get something to eat. I was complaining bitterly about all the bad things that were going on in my life. Now Michael had hinted about God before, but I easily dismissed his arguments. This night however, he rocked my world when he said, “Chet, God loves you.” Now, I had been in church all my life and I’m certain that message had been delivered, but I never received it. I don’t remember hearing those words before that parking lot encounter, but I look back on my life as those four words being the start of a journey where I was looking for meaning, purpose, forgiveness.

  • 8240 Loch Raven Blvd – After the parking lot incident, Michael invited me to meet with others who were searching like me. It was here that I was introduced not to a place but a person that loved me so much that he gave himself to restore my broken heart and life. It was here that I met Jesus Christ, God’s son and the son of God, giving him my life.

It was here that I first heard the words of Jesus saying, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”[1] And that was me; worn out, weary and carrying a heavy burden of insecurity, guilt and shame. He was saying that it’s not about a place or performance, but a personal relationship. He is asking us to bring ourselves, not our best, but just our broken, bloodied and bruised life.

In looking back at life, I’ve come to realize that it’s not really about the places that are important to remember. It’s all about personal connections and relationships. And I’m here to tell you that meeting Jesus Christ is the beginning of real life, both now and into eternity…and “you are there”.

Blessings - Chet

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

[1] Matthew 11:28

Saturday, July 14, 2012


As I think back on the news this week, the one word that comes to mind most is scandal. Multiple incidents involving Wall Street, brokerage and investment firms are coming to light. Acts by numerous city, state and federal officials are being uncovered, forcing some to resign while others are facing certain prosecution. Sports, entertainment and other public figures were all in the headlines for their actions and words. Time does not permit me to list them individually, but I bet you can remember many.

The one that impacts my heart most was the report on Penn State and the awful child abuse tragedy, abuse of power and subsequent cover-up. Undisputed evidence was released, detailing years of exploitation, denial, greed and cover-up. I don’t know about you, but listening to Louis J. Freeh, the former federal judge and director of the F.B.I. report about child abuse and how everyone turned a blind eye to years of undeniable evidence was gut-wrenching. When asked why people did not come forward, everyone was afraid to say something negative. They didn’t want to rock the boat, be the source of bad publicity or bring consequences to people, the football program, Joe Paterno or Penn State.

With universal condemnation, people and pundits from all sides have roundly denounced not only these heinous acts but also leadership failure and fostering a “concealment culture” exhibited by one and all. Those in positions of leadership were responsible for providing oversight and protection. They failed on all counts. Leadership leads, celebrating success and courage. Leadership also identifies, seeks out and exposes moral failures, no matter what the cost.

Today’s leaders and elite are more talented and tech-savvy but lack a conscious. We have moved from living right to win/succeed at any cost. If you want evidence of this, just listen to students talk about how cheating is not wrong if you don’t get caught. The same is true in business. I once worked for a manager who intentionally inserted an incorrect calculation in a spreadsheet in order to report better results. When I brought this to his attention his exact words were, “It’s only lying if we get caught.”

This week, a friend and I were talking about these incidents, trying to find a pattern in them, seeing what root causes they might have in common. It’s easy to condemn something so awful, especially when we have no personal involvement. We batted many thoughts back and forth, looking for a “silver bullet” that would explain and make sense of the senseless. However, as we looked for reasons for these failures in others we could not help turning the conversation personal, looking into our own souls, confessing our own moral weakness and failures. It may be a hard, bitter pill to swallow, but if we are honest with ourselves we have the exact same flaws, weakness and evil.

Malcolm Muggeridge, perhaps England’s greatest journalist, author, media personality and satirist astutely observed that the wickedness of man is at once the most unpopular of all beliefs, but the one that has the most examples that are easily verifiable. Malcolm’s message is not one we like to hear. We want only positive reinforcement and feedback. We want to be patted on the back and congratulated for a good job, celebrating our contribution and decency.

All you have to do is read the history of mankind and the vastly overwhelming observation is that we choose selfishness, wrong, evil. It always happens like this; someone puts themselves above others, they put this new “lower class” down, make fun of them, eventually leading to oppression, cruelty and violence. And these are the kind of wicked people that we enjoy hating; really evil, no questions asked.

Think about “The Shawshank Redemption” and Warden Samuel Norton, we love to hate characters like him. He has a religions exterior but inside he’s evil, abusive and corrupt. Not only is he skimming money from the prison and contractors, he’s vindictive and hateful towards prisoners. It’s easy to hate characters like Warden Norton, Adolph Hitler and Lord Voldemort because their evil is so visible. As we point the finger at evil characters like these, we may be tempted to puff up ourselves with self-pride, assured that we would never do something like this. But would we fall just like them?

I’m reminded of Tiger Woods; his great talent, success beyond measure both on and off the golf course, loving parents, a beautiful wife and family, everything he touched seemed to blossom into success and fame. From this lofty perch high atop fame and fortune he fell into scandal, and it was such a fall. Faced with virtually unlimited resources he slid into the abyss of excess, one step at a time. One reporter asked Tiger how he could lie to his family and public for so long. Tiger’s answer was brilliant, “I could lie to them because I was lying to myself.”

Does seeing others fall into scandal frighten us? Or do we think “That will never happen to me.” Drifting into the second option can be the result of egotism, thinking that we are better than those that fall. Our failures may not be as public, but our arrogance of self-sufficiency is the same quality of evil. When we look at someone with feelings of superiority, when we fail to speak up for the truth or the weak, we are just as guilty.

Jesus taught and exhibited this kind of life. Not only did he live a life of complete purity, he loved and spent time with the weak, sick and those others loved to hate. He was called a friend of tax collectors and sinners[1], which was a label not meant as a complement in the least. And on top of all that, he said he was God come down from heaven to restore our relationship with God and each other.

No one else in all history said the kind of things that Jesus said. No one else claimed to pay the price to buy us back from the slavery we all find ourselves chained to, bringing us back to God. Our inability to do and say the right thing stops us dead in our tracks. Jesus said that he was the track and truth life.

So when we fail, and we will, we need to turn to Jesus for forgiveness and restoration. There is no failure or fall so great that he cannot forgive or restore. Let us run to him and be forgiven.

Blessings - Chet

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

[1] Matthew 11:19

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Looking for Mayberry

This week an American and entertainment icon, Andy Griffith passed away at the age of 86. His distinguished career included theater, recordings, movies and television. While Andy played many roles, perhaps none is more fondly remembered than that of Andy Taylor on The Andy Griffith Show. Each week, and through countless reruns, we return to Mayberry and long for a slower pace of life and quieter days gone by in a sleepy southern town, feeling secure, doors left unlocked and children playing safely outside.

One of the unique qualities of Mayberry was its overall sense of quiet. No one was screaming into their cell phone in the grocery store. When trucks backed up, you didn’t hear that really annoying “beep-beep-beep” high pitched sound that make the hair on the back of your neck stand up as you try and sink your head into your shoulders. Cars didn’t have subwoofers repeatedly pumping out “thump-thump-thump.” People spoke quietly and gently to one another, even when they were involved in some hair-brained scheme or relational bumbling episode of life.

There may be a part of us that daydreams for a life in an idyllic town like Mayberry, but do we really want to go back? I live in a small, central Florida town that has some similarities to Mayberry, but it’s also very different. I’m typing this blog on my 21st century laptop with two 24-inch external monitors and an encrypted wireless connection to the Internet. My car gets almost three-times the miles per gallon that were available in the 60’s. The windows on our house reflect heat, keeping the house cooler.

Yes, I like the technology, comforts and convenience of modern life, but the noise of life is sometimes more than I can stand. Once in a while, something happens and I start looking for Mayberry and answers.

When we first moved to central Florida, we had a small shiatsu poodle named Boots. Boots came to us while we were living in Connecticut. She would run through the woods and snow, chasing raccoons and the neighbor’s twin Dobermans. She came with us to the desert of Scottsdale, AZ where for three years she chased baby quail while hiding from the unbelievably hot sun. Landing here in Lake Wales, Boots transitioned to chasing squirrels and small lizards.

If there were any high-level thought waves going on inside Boots brain, I’m sure that she was a confused little dog, not understanding all these changes in her life that were completely outside her control. She went from green and wet Connecticut to brown and dry Arizona. Now, she was in central Florida where there were no familiar smells and the alligators near the lake were a complete mystery.

But I think the thing that made Boots the most upset were the loud “booms” of thunderstorms. When the sky darkened and the first low thunder rumbles rolled into town, she started to shake and run in circles looking for a place to hide. She eventually wound up in one of three places; under the bed, under the dishwasher or behind the toilet. There she would stay, literally “shaking in her boots” until the storm had passed.

One day, Boots and I were just hanging around the house, not doing anything especially important. I remembered reading something about the Space Shuttle landing scheduled for some time later that day, but didn’t pay it any mind. Sometime in the middle of the afternoon, with no warning there came the double sonic boom-boom of the Space Shuttle returning to earth. If you’ve never heard the double sonic boom from a returning Space Shuttle, there are some YouTube links at the end of this blog that you can watch[1].

To say that this really upset Boots is a great understatement. She ran in circles with that “what the heck was that” look in her bulging eyes. To this day I don’t comprehend how she never got dizzy from running in circles like she did. Eventually she made a beeline for the back bathroom, curled into a ball and squeezed herself behind the toilet.

With thunderstorms, there was some warning, an unexpected cool breeze accompanied by darkening clouds. You would hear a distant, faint rumble at first that grew in volume and intensity as the storm drew closer. There was time to get use to the idea that a storm was coming, there was time to prepare, close the windows in your car, bring the lawnmower into the shed. But not with the Space Shuttle and its powerful double sonic boom.

In a rare moment of compassion, I walked back to the bathroom and Boots. She was not only coiled up in a physical ball, but had emotionally gotten herself into a frenzy. She was sweating profusely as she shook from sheer terror. I had to get down on both knees, crawling to reach around the toilet and gently pick Boots up. I cradled her in my arms, taking her to the couch where we sat down together.

At this point I had a decision to make. I could take her outside, point to the sky try and explain that the Space Shuttle was returning to earth. I could switch on TV news coverage and interviews, hoping that this would calm her frayed nerves. I could have sat down at a computer display and attempted to explain the laws of physics and aerodynamics through numerous web sites, graphs, diagrams and PowerPoint’s. While all these would have provided information, this is not what she needed. She needed comfort and assurance that everything was OK.

This past week I listened to several people whose Mayberry world was shook by things outside their control;

  • Sudden and unexpected loss of job
  • Death of a close family member
  • A promising career path was cut off due to a merger, requiring an unplanned job search
  • Howls of anguish and anger at failed relationships
  • Emptiness and a meaningless life 

As I listened, I came to realize that no amount of information or piece of pop-psychology would help. The pain was too deep, the hurt too intense, the wound too fresh. Perhaps you’ve been there recently, the place where life just doesn’t seem to make sense. Where hurt and bitterness overwhelm you in a sea of confusion as you look for a place to hide till the storm passes.

This same thing happened to a small group of men I know[2]. They were on a boat far from shore when a sudden storm started tossing them around violently. The wind was ferocious; water was coming into the boat faster than they could bail. They didn’t see it coming and now they were facing certain death. They were at the end of their wits and there was nothing that they could do to fix their situation. Then, they turned to Jesus who was there all the time.

Jesus then did something incredible – he spoke to the storm. Like a general speaking to lowly troops, he gave a command to the wind and waves. His command was to be quiet and still. He put a muzzle on the storm and told it to be quiet and stay that way. Their reaction was priceless; they were terrified and said;

“Who is this man? He commands the winds and water, the storm obeys him.”

Like these men in a storm, Jesus is right there. When we don’t understand what is going on, when we’re looking for help, when life takes us to the edge, we need to turn to Jesus. He’s the only one that has the power to speak to the storm, calm the winds of uncertainty and fear in our soul. And we know that he loves us because when we were still his enemy, he took our punishment, reopening the way to a free and transparent relationship with God.

So, now is the time to take our problems and life to Jesus and quiet the storm raging in and around us.

Blessings - Chet

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

[2] Matthew 8:23-27