Saturday, September 29, 2012

You would have thought that hunger, poverty and disease had been conquered. Everyone was so ecstatic; it was like world peace had been achieved. We were so far down in the valley of the shadow of death that we could not even see the top. There was no meaning or purpose to life; we were wandering aimlessly looking for someone to save us.

And then it suddenly happened, the NFL lockout ended and the regular officiating crew received a standing ovation as they entered the stadium.  Indeed, life could now return to normal.

Throughout the lockout there has been much speculation about what was really going on. After all, it seemed inconsistent that the $9 billion NFL should react so harshly towards a small number of part-time employees. What was the real story behind the story? Even now, we really don’t know. But like most things in life, we don’t see everything.

  • A friend receives threatening letters from an attorney
  • Someone does not keep their commitment to help and be there when you need them the most
  • Worry and uncertainty as you await the doctor’s call, giving you the results of a test that could radically change your life
  • A spouse abandons you as they chase a fanciful relationship, leaving you with the kids, mortgage and debt
  • Lost your savings and about to lose your home
  • A young child is killed in a freak auto accident

I clearly hear the wounded cries of hearts and voices as people tell me these true stories. The pain, feelings of abandonment and loss are as real as the ground under our feet as we struggle to make sense of it all.

This week, I listened to a friend unload for almost two hours as they described their life and circumstances. At the end, their conclusion was that God was some kind of sadist, that he enjoyed pummeling, punishing and giving us pain.

While I have not gone through the same pain and frustration, I deeply and respectfully understand something about it. Right after we got married I was taken to the emergency room with heart attack symptoms, but it turned out to be something more serious. I rapidly became paralyzed from the neck down as they frantically searched for the cause, which turned out to be an aneurism in my spine. Lengthy surgery was able to remove this pressure on my spinal cord, returning my movement but I had substantial nerve damage that daily generates dull to agonizing pain in my neck, back, shoulders and legs. Barring a miracle after these many years, I will live with this pain all the days of my life.

As the pain feels like someone is stabbing me in the back with an ice pick I cry out to God, “Why have you allowed this? Why didn’t you stop it? When will it end?”

I have discovered great comfort in the fact that God has personally experienced all these feelings and more in Jesus. Think about it;

  • He was betrayed by a close, trusted friend [1]
  • He cries out to God asking that the upcoming pain and suffering be taken away [2]
  • He was wrongly accused for something he never did [3]
  • His best friend deserted him [4]
  • He felt abandoned by God [5]

I cannot explain the exact reasons for the pain and suffering that you are going through. Neither can I promise you that you will find out in this life. But we have the absolute assurance that God does understand and care. Whatever the reasons, it cannot be because he is indifferent or far away. We can know this because he personally experienced the same loss, loneliness and pain that we have, and oh so much more.

God wants us to cry out to him when we hurt, knowing that he cares and comforts with a love that experienced the same things we did. He does not hide from us, but seeks us out to wrap his arms around us in his everlasting love.

Blessings – Chet

Chet Gladkowski writes and speaks on practical topics that touch culture, life and faith. - email, Facebook & Twitter - blog
GladAssociates - YouTube

[1] Matthew 26:14-16
[2] Matthew 26:36-42
[3] Luke 23:4
[4] Matthew 26:31-35
[5] Mark 15:34

Friday, September 21, 2012

My "special" gift

Some have very unusual gifts and talents.

  • Ere Karjalainen won the 2012 Mobile Phone Throwing World Championship, hurlinging his device a staggering 332 feet

  • Russ “Rock Bottom” Byars managed an impressive 30 skips to take the pro division of the World Stone Skipping contest (yes, there is an amateur division but the best they could do was 24 skips)

  • Allen “Nasty” Nash is the current Toe Wrestling World Champion

My unusual gift to the world is being able to do just about anything totally backward. Looking at a problem to figure out what to do or how to put something together, try as I might, my inclination leads to getting it totally wrong. Give me anything to put together that has more than 2 parts and I will figure out a way to assemble them wrong. During my time as a father of young children, the days before Christmas were always frustrating. You might as well ask me to calculate the correct speed and course for Captain Jean-Luc Picard to engage warp factor 7 through the hyperdrive then to be able to assemble toys correctly.

This was not an acquired skill; I’ve always had “the gift. As a kid putting together plastic models, I became especially skilled at pulling sections apart after gluing the wrong pieces together.

After all these years I still have to say “righty – tighty, lefty – loosey” to myself because my inclination is to turn either wrench or screwdriver the wrong way. You would thing that after the first million screws, nuts and bolts that I’d have it figured out by now.

Instruction manuals might as well be written in Sanskrit. I can read the words but they make no sense to me. Even the diagrams don’t seem to connect. Yes, I seed the lines on the page giving a detailed illustration, but it doesn’t connect in my brain. I look at the diagram, then the real thing, back to the diagram and I just don’t get it. Sometimes I put the diagram next to the actual item, thinking that will help – NOT.

Here’s another one – I can’t read a putt correctly to save my life. I look at the green, shadows, even where water would run off and I still get it wrong. Now I don’t just misread the putt by a little, I get it 100% wrong, 100% of the time. To me it looks like it’s going to break right, but breaks left.

One of my more famous backward incidents happened while we were living in Connecticut. There was a shower stall in the basement bathroom that had a curtain for privacy and keeping water in. Both Mary Ann and I thought it would be a nice change to put in a glass shower door. After talking about it for a few minutes I said to myself, “Hey, I can do this.” Carefully measuring, making a diagram and writing everything down, I drove to the local “big box” store in search of two things;

First – a shower door that would be simple to put together and install. Ideally, it would come pre-assembled to my exact measurements. Realizing that was highly unlikely, I was really interested in having as few pieces as possible.

Second – an experienced person who would be willing to talk with me about the process and steps needed. I’ve found that I learn best when I can talk with someone who’s been there, done that.

Walking into the “big box” store, I carefully start examining the staff, looking for that special someone who has “the look” of experience. You know the type; dressed in working cloths that bear the marks (frayed, dirty, stained), a bit overweight, hasn’t shaved in a couple of days, fingers covered with callouses. Looking over all the people working there, I saw Walt and knew that he was ‘da man. I walked up to Walt, waiting till he was finished helping some other poor intrepid homeowner who was also lost and in need of help. Introducing myself and my problem, Walt took me on a tour of the “big box” store, picking out the right glass shower door, waterproof caulk and everything else I would need. Taking out the installation manual, Walt walked me through all the steps needed to install the shower properly. As we went through each step in the process, Walt stopped and gave me invaluable tips for what to do and what to watch out for.

Returning home with newfound confidence and information from Walt, I immediately started assembling and installing the shower door. Even though dinner was only 30 minutes away, I was certain that I could easily install it and be ready to eat with plenty of time to spare. And everything did go remarkably well – the pieces went together easily, I cut the aluminum trim and it fit first time, drilled pilot holes for the screws, everything was progressing just like a well-planned NASA launch.

But I did do one thing different from what Walt told me – I did not fully tighten any of the screws, nuts and bolts. Experience has painfully taught me that I always have to undo something, so I leave everything tightened firmly, but not too tight. And it’s a good thing I didn’t.

Now was the moment, everything was ready for me to install the door. I carefully lifted the door, guiding it into position as I backed into the shower. The shower door was heavy, but I slowly guided it into position until it slid and “clicked” – just like Walt said it would.

There was dancing in the streets, church bells rang out, fireworks exploded, bands played, people invited their friends and family over for great feasts and gave presents to one another. And I had the settled self-satisfaction of completing this great task, for the betterment of all mankind and the unwashed masses in our family.

Did you notice the phrase I used above; “I backed into the shower?” Now under normal circumstances this is not a big deal but I had made one slight error during the shower door installation – I installed it backwards. So, instead of opening out as every other shower door in the inhabited universe, mine opened inwards. And this would normally not be a problem if I installed it from outside the shower. But not me, I installed the door from inside the shower and the door opened inward, trapping me inside.

Do you know this kind of panic? I called out to one of our kids who were so sweet and supportive as they fell over with laughter. Try as we might, we could not get the shower door out; remember that click I mentioned earlier? So I had to start taking the shower door apart from the inside, now you understand why I didn’t fully tighten everything. Mary Ann was able to keep dinner warm until I could remove the door, setting myself free from shower prison.

Now I can laugh at myself about the shower door incident. Hopefully I’ve learned a thing or two about projects requiring me to work with my hands; I now write checks to people with skill, experience and the right tools. But I also see the same thing in life where we think we’re doing the right thing but it turns out all wrong. Looking back, our words, thought, actions and attitudes were the exact opposite from what we should have done. And once we start down that wrong path, we need to change directions.

When Jesus said “You must change your hearts—for the kingdom of Heaven has arrived”(1). The word “repent” is sometimes used in place of “change your heart.” Repent means to change direction.

Jesus is calling us to change direction and follow him. He is fully God, fully man, and his direction is for us is to fully realize that we do not have the answers in ourselves. All the answers in life are to be found in him as we turn over our rights, wrongs, hurts, hang-ups, anger, disappointments, fears and joys over to the only one who can guide and make sense out of this life and all eternity.

So I encourage you to turn your eyes, heart and life towards Jesus. He is the only one that can turn our backwards life forward again.

Blessing – Chet

Chet Gladkowski writes and speaks on practical topics that touch culture, life and faith. - email, Facebook & Twitter - blog
GladAssociates - YouTube

Matthew 4:17

Friday, September 14, 2012

I’d rather do it myself

I was brought up in a culture that said, “Chet, no one’s going to give you anything. You have to go out, work hard and get it yourself.” I’m grateful that my Mom and Dad taught me self-reliance, self-motivation, not to mention that bigger and faster is always better. Heck, I didn't wait for school to learn how to read, I taught myself. Using the best, high quality literature available (TV Guide) I sat down and figured it out. By watching TV along with the list of shows and descriptions, I walked into first grade reading quite easily. The down side to this was all the “See Dick and Jane” books seemed trivial and boring.

These values have served me well in my career. After my initial computer technology education back in the day of wired boards, punch cards and paper tape, I’ve worked hard to stay up-to-date. Other than the keyboard layout, virtually everything has changed many times over when it comes to technology. Reading everything I can get my hands on and talking to experts, I’m current on the latest Apple iPhone/iPad, Google Android and Internet cloud technologies (at least until they change in the next fifteen minutes).

Yes, I’d really rather do it myself. That was my mantra. There was even an Anacin commercial where a really frustrated woman screamed at her mother those immortal words, “Mother, please, I’d rather do it myself.” And for certain things it’s OK. 

For example, never reading or receiving any instruction, I started changing the oil in my car. I mean, after all, how difficult could it be? How big of a mess could I make? The answers were “Big” and “Really Big.” After draining the oil and taking out the old oil filter, I put on the new oil filter, replaced the drain plug, filling the engine with the right amount of new oil. How could I screw that up.

Oh, I forgot to mention one small detail…

When I was installing the new oil filter, it slipped and fell to the street. I picked it up and easily screwed it into place. It never crossed my mind to look at the filter and see if the rubber gasket was still attached. Well, it wasn’t, it got knocked off in the fall so there was nothing to keep the oil inside.

Starting the engine, I made a 3-point turn in my neighbor’s driveway when I noticed smoke and a burning smell. Knowing that something was wrong, I turned off the engine and ran to look under the car only to see all my oil was now seeping into my neighbor’s driveway. Needless to say, our friendship was tested that day with this unexpected “anointing” of his property.

I still like to do things myself, even when it comes to medical procedures. Because of my genetic background, I have numerous small “tag” moles all over my body. At the annual physical, my doctor looks at these tags and assures me that there is nothing to be concerned about. However, one of these tags is continuously being irritated because it’s in a sensitive area between two appendages that is very difficult to see.

You guessed it, this week I decided it was time to do something about it. Getting out a small, sharp pair of scissors, I boiled them for 15 minutes on the stove. I then cleaned my hands and the “area” with lots of alcohol. Grabbing the tag with one hand, I pulled and extended it out and “snip” – it was off. The pain wasn’t all that bad; it wasn't nearly as much as when I bit off a wart on my wrist.

I was well prepared for the ensuing bleeding; I even had an anti-hemorrhagic agent (something to help stop the bleeding). Applying firm and steady pressure I thought I was home free – not. After about 5 minutes I thought it would be safe to remove the paper towel and apply a bandage. But the hole left from the tag was still bleeding, and we’re not just talking about a few drips here and there. As the blood started to run down one of my appendages, I put on more of the stuff to stop the bleeding and got another paper towel, this time I applied pressure for 10 minutes. I then repeated the process for another 15 minutes – same results.

About this time I was beginning to wonder if I had cut off more than I could handle, literally. Holding the paper towel with one hand, I was able to get to a phone and call my doctor with great difficulty (thinking back on it, this must have been a sight that would have gone viral on YouTube.) After explaining what was going on, or should I say what had come off, he calmly reassured me that everything was going to be ok. Apparently, tags have lots of blood vessels and this kind of bleeding is common. He told me to just continue holding pressure on it for 20 minutes or so and the bleeding should stop. Carefully following the doctor’s advice, it did stop bleeding – eventually.

I now blog to you, tag free! No more irritation; but at what price? While I survived, was it the right thing to do? It wasn’t a matter of whether or not I “could” do it, it’s was more of a questions of “should” I have done it.

Looking back, I bet we could all ask ourselves the same question, but not about a small mole. We made a choice that probably did not involve scissors, but there certainly was cutting and pain followed by a long period of bleeding. The healing and scar are most likely invisible. It happens to all of us, even great people of faith.

Peter, the leader of Jesus’ followers, made a H-U-G-E mistake. When confronted, he broke down crying and ran away. After his resurrection, Jesus sought Peter out, talked with him, bringing forgiveness and restoration. At the end of this amazing conversation, Jesus’ final words hit us right where we live; “You follow me” (1).

Yes, we are all damaged goods. Yes, we all have hurts; some are still bleeding. Yes, we all have scars. And when we try and heal ourselves, the results can be more pain.

But Jesus wants to be our “wounded healer.” He wants to comfort, console and care for us. He wants to clean and heal our injury, but we have a part to play. Our part is to follow. Follow is one of those strange actions that never happen all at once, when you follow it always takes time. And follow is never done alone, it always requires someone else.

So, if you are emotionally or relationally wounded, broken, bruised, bleeding; the answer is to come to Jesus and start following. He does not ask us to clean ourselves up first, fill out an application to see if we are worthy or not. No, we are to come and follow from right where we are. And through following, we begin the healing process with his help.

Blessing – Chet

Chet Gladkowski writes and speaks on practical topics that touch culture, life and faith. - email, Facebook & Twitter - blog
GladAssociates - YouTube

(1) John 21:22

Saturday, September 8, 2012

When push comes to shove

You would not know it to look at my office, or my tools in the garage, but I’m a fairly organized and neat person. For the most part I put things away after I’m done with them. For example, after making dinner (a.k.a. making a mess), I cleanup right afterwards before I am distracted (which comes all too easily). I first collect and take all dishes to the sink and rinse them off in hot water (this is step 1 taken from the official MRMD publication, “Mother Rita's Methodology for Dish-washing” that guided me through my early childhood dish washing days.) Then I collect all the pots, pans and miscellaneous tools used in making dinner, taking them to the sink to be followed by copious washing, scrubbing and rinsing by hand. While we have a very nice and efficient dishwasher, I still prefer the good old fashion hand washing. After air drying, I put everything away.

I don’t know how you take care of your house, but we have a weekly routine of cleaning. Once a week, normally on Thursday mornings, the house gets cleaned. Bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchen, living and dining rooms are vacuumed, steam cleaned, washed and sanitized. Beds are stripped and made.  Towels and dirty cloths get washed, dried, folded and mostly put away.

This past Thursday I was cleaning up, putting things away as normal. As I pushed a drawer closed, ready to move on to my next task, the drawer bounded back, it would not close. Returning to the scene of the crime I tried again, with the same results. This time I carefully watched the entire event – I pushed the drawer closed, it started to close and then it seemed to bounce back out before fully closing.

This startling turn of events seemed to violate the rules of Thursday cleaning, or at least the immutable laws of physics. Being a good scientist, I performed the experiment multiple times to ensure that gravity had not been temporally suspended, that a meteor had suddenly shifted the axis of the earth, or some other mundane, logical explanation.

At the conclusion of these experiments, my normal inclination was to rip something apart. In this case it was to remove the drawer, take out its contents and reduce the drawer down into its subatomic parts, hopefully not breaking anything too important in the process. As I started down my normal path, I did something very uncharacteristic – I didn’t tear it apart. Pulling the drawer out, I peered behind it only to see something on the floor. Eureka, that’s the problem! There was something behind the drawer that was blocking it. It was too dark to clearly see what was down there so I tried reaching with my hand, but the opening was just too narrow.

After another 15 minutes of experimenting with long and narrow instruments (wooden spoons, tongs, knives) I pulled out the heavy artillery. Bringing in the broom handle, I was able to poke some of the debris towards the front where I used the long tongs to pick it up. It took nine attempts to retrieve everything. The picture to the right gives you some idea what was blocking the drawer.

After recovering from the cleanup process, allowing the drawer to close once more, I started to think about how I got into this mess in the first place. Where did all that stuff come from? How did it get there? I mean, if I had trouble getting to the stuff, it would only seem logical that it would have been equally hard for it to get there.

Then it hit me like a ton of bricks. The stuff on the floor blocking the drawer had spilled over from other drawers! I had overloaded and stuffed the drawers on top with towels, plastic container tops, plastic bags and a myriad of other things. It’s amazing that we think we can keep shoving stuff into a drawer and suffer no consequences.

Isn’t that just like life? We try and squeeze stuff into one part of life only for it to spill into another. Most of this “stuffing and squeezing” relates to time and our schedules;

  • The driver in front of you stops right in the middle of the road to talk and there’s no way around them
  • Your boss is late for a meeting, pushing everything back, forcing you to stay late
  • You have 2 kids with different interests and schedules, consuming all your energy, time and gas money
  • The 4-some in front of you is painfully slow, dragging your round of golf to more than 5 hours
  • You help someone move and it takes so much longer than you thought, consuming the entire day and all your energy

We look to get the most packed into our lives so we can get the most out of our lives. Through the use of technology we feed the push to get the most done in the shortest amount of time. Perform a life experiment with me – count the number of people talking and texting on their phones while driving.
Now don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy technology and how it can help us. But what need is pushing us to have to be in constant contact with others 24-7?

While Jesus was never asked about cell phones, he was asked about the great priorities in life. Here is his answer;

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.

Pretty simple stuff; when you boil it down, life is all about loving God and people. That’s the priority list. If we keep that as our life focus, everything else stays balanced.

So the next time you are pushed to overcommit, over-packing your life and schedule, ask yourself this question; will it directly support these two priorities that Jesus wants for my life? Staying focused with God’s priorities will help “push back” when push comes to shove.

Blessing - Chet

Chet Gladkowski writes and speaks on practical topics that touch culture, life and faith. - email, Facebook & Twitter - blog
GladAssociates - YouTube

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Generators and other things

As Hurricane Isaac approached Central Florida, we were inundated, not with wind, rain or tornadoes, but with weather forecasts of our impending doom. Life here was about to be changed forever as this approaching storm certainly would reap death and destruction. Schools were closed, businesses shut down and even the Republican National Convention delayed its opening.

Now, even though I have friends that are weathermen on local news channels, I am personally suspicious of them as a people-group. They seem to get paid whether they are right or wrong. There are very few professions where this is the case. Personally, if my consulting advice turns out to be wrong, someone (namely me) might not get paid. Or at the very least there would be a heated conversation about it.

It seems as though there are three forms of weather forecasts;

  • Acc-u-weather; this is what every station claims to possess. Theirs is the fastest, most accurate weather forecast, using 21st century hyper-accurate radar and computers that can tell exactly where every raindrop is falling. While the claims about what has happened are accurate, there is precious little accuracy about what will happen in the near future.

  • Guess-u-weather; this is what we get about 95% of the time. It’s a guessing game with varying percentages – not to be played by the faint of heart. It’s sort of like that famous line in The Hunger Games where Effie Trinket says, “…and may the odds be ever in your favor.”

  • Panic-weather; this is weather reporting on steroids. It’s a constant barrage of worst case scenarios, as the ever present eye of the storm almost hypnotizes as it spins in front of the countless masses glued to their TV set. We are encouraged, almost commanded, to rush out and buy milk, bread, water and other staples as we hunker down and await our inevitable doom.

So, in light of the media blitz, I felt enough guilt to take some hurricane preparedness for our house. We bought a case of bottled water, checked the battery supply. I walked around the house; put a few items away that might become airborne in high winds, made sure the gutters were clear of leaves and debris.

But the thing that most concerned me was the possible loss of power. Do you know what happens to life without power? During Hurricane Charlie we lost power for 6 days; we lost everything in our refrigerator, no lights, no hot water, no clean cloths, no air conditioning or fans. So, right after Hurricane Charlie I went out and bought a generator. That was August 2004.

With Hurricane Isaac taking aim at us, I thought it was time to get the generator ready again. I had not started the generator since Hurricane Charlie, 8 years ago, so I had no illusions about it starting right up…and I was right. After an afternoon of futile attempts (four trips to six different stores for a battery, spark plugs wrench, spark plugs, oil change, and other assorted parts) I raised my man flag.  Putting the generator on a trailer, I took it to the professionals for a tune-up. Now, $200 later I have a great generator ready for the next storm, money well spent.

There is an interesting thing about the generator not starting – all I had to do was nothing and it went from running well to not starting. It ran perfectly back in 2004, providing power till electric service returned, but it’s been sitting in the shed and garage since then.  But more than gathering dust on the outside, the insides became clogged; fuel wouldn’t flow to the engine. On top of all that, moisture collected in the gas tank mixing water with the gas, making it impossible to ignite.

I have found my spiritual life to sometimes be like that generator. Every so often something happens to “generate” my attention and thinking about spiritual things. This normally creates conviction, confession and commitment to change. At first it’s easy, I see with new eyes; everything is clean, shiny, life starting on the first turn of the key. But it became easy to not pay attention or invest time to keep going forward. Falling back into old attitudes and habits is easy – all you have to do is nothing.  My good buddy Leesburg Louie has coined a word for this…”ignorapathy”.

That’s the problem with a performance-based relationship with God – it all depends on us. Sometimes we’re up, sometimes we’re down. Sometimes we’re close, sometimes we’re far away. It’s based on who we are and what we do, and the pressure is all on us. There is no love, there is no grace, and there is no forgiveness.

This is where Christianity and faith in Jesus is the total opposite of every other faith, philosophy and religion. Faith in Jesus is where we come to God with empty hands, not being able to fix ourselves and our brokenness. The scales of life are heavily tipped towards our inability to do or choose right, and nothing we can do will offset our failure. We have been worshiping ourselves and our self-sufficiency, not needing God or anyone else.

One day some people came to Jesus who wanted to earn God’s approval. So they asked Jesus, “What must we do to do the works of God?” Jesus answer is so revolutionary and life-shattering, “This is the work of God; believe in me, the one that God has sent.”[1]

Jesus says that it’s not based on what we do but who he is and our relationship with him. The answer was not;

  • Join a church or any organization
  • Make a list of things to do to get God’s attention
  • Dress in a certain way, sit a certain way, empty your mind

No, the answer is not based on our performance. The answer is with Jesus, letting him be the boss and lord of our life

And this relationship with Jesus requires time and attention in order to energize and change us; reading his word, talking with him, being with his people. Without a daily relationship and interaction with him, our life will be just like that generator, drifting into disrepair, unable to restart.

So, no matter where you are along your journey, this is the time to turn to Jesus. He’s the only one that can truly change and charge you…start your engines.

Blessings – Chet

Chet Gladkowski writes and speaks on practical topics that touch culture, life and faith. - email, Facebook & Twitter - blog
GladAssociates - YouTube

[1] John 6:28,29