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Archive for July, 2010

Turn out the Lights

Two people, two different houses. Both feel it is important to conserve by turning out lights when they are not necessary.

Are they therefore “equal”? Not by a long shot. You can take the same action (perhaps a praiseworthy one), and if you trace it back from opinion, through perspective, to belief, and all the way back to first principles – you can see that there may be a huge divide even as the bulbs go out. To wit:

One does what he does out of a sense of stewardship – an identity and a life created by God, on a planet designed and sustained by that same Creator. The other lives in apocalyptic fear and angst.

When the light goes out, only one truly sleeps in peace.

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Some do it for money,

Some do it for pride,
Some do it to help the country,

Some do it to help themselves,
Some do it for honor,

Some do it for revenge.
You may love us,
You may hate us.
You might call us crazy,
You might call us brave.
But know when you sleep safe at night,
With your wife and kids beside you;
When you still have the freedom,
to work and worship and play,
All this is because a few of us,
your sons and daughters, stand ready.

We don’t all like it,

But duty calls us to do it.
We defend your freedom,
We fight for your lives;
Hate us if you will,

We’ll still do the job you never could.
Sleep in peace tonight,
Because we’ve got your back on the front lines.
Why do we do it if some despise?
Why do we do it if it costs us our lives?
Because with our hearts and our hands,

We love this country.
And we will protect it at all costs,
Black, white, brown,

Colors don’t matter here,

We’re all family,
We love it and hate it at the same time.
We do it because it’s the right thing to do.

It may not be a safe thing,
But it keeps this country as it should be.
We do this because we have courage, pride, love,
We do it for ourselves, our families, our friends,
We do it for you.

Who are we?

We are United States Marines.

– David Woodruff

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Back in March, we let you know that we were putting all the wheels in motion to pull up stakes here in NJ, and move to Southeastern CT.

We got a pretty good way down the pathway, including an offer on a home in North Stonington that we really liked, but there was one hang-up.

Our house in New Jersey wasn’t going to let us go. It refused to be bought.

Turns out the market for selling houses in this area continues to be truly feeble. We gave it our best shot, and lots of folks saw and loved the property. But it was nibbles only, and we had decided that if a sale did not occur by mid-July, we’d pull it off the market and wait.

So Boonton, NJ remains Woodruff HQ for the time being! The boys are quite happy about this, and many of our conflicted friends at church who really didn’t get a big kick out of praying for our departure are secretly rejoicing that we’re still going to be around. At least, that’s what they tell us. I think it’s mostly Sandy and the boys they’re talking about…

There have been many very helpful people who have supported us in this process, and one who has been outstanding: the realtor on the Connecticut side of the equation, Susan Robotham of Randall Realtors in Mystic. Susan came highly recommended by my friend Joe Cascio and she proved to be an immensely wise and hard-working professional. Assuming our efforts to re-locate to that area are re-ignited in the future, there is no doubt who we will partner with again. If you’re looking to buy or sell property in Southeastern CT, look no further – Susan’s your gal.

We love our NJ house, and as I said to several people once it was listed with all the pictures – it looks so appealing that I’m tempted to buy it! So we’re far from heartbroken about our Plan B. Besides – someone’s gotta smoke the ribs in Boonton!!

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There’s Plan A – all your hopes and dreams and ideals.

Then there’s Plan B – the realities of life. Costly mistakes. Disappointments. Sliding into second and suddenly finding that not only did someone move the base, but the infield dirt was replaced by broken glass.

This book – rather obviously – is about Plan B.

This little volume was written to help people see that God is ever at work in His transforming purposes, even (and especially) in the many “Plan B” circumstances of life. The author is Pete Wilson, an energetic young pastor in Nashville – I came into contact with him through his blogging and his sharing on Twitter. I think Pete does an exceptional job living out the transparent on-line life of this networked younger generation.

We’ve had lots of Plan B’s in our life. Sometimes, it seems like the whole thing is one giant Plan B. And for both my wife and myself, this book was an encouragement. Because often, as the subtitle so eloquently puts it, “God doesn’t show up the way you thought He would.”

In keeping with Pete’s persona, the writing style is quite casual, even conversational. If you only dine on the weighty and detailed theological treatises of a John Owen or a Stephen Charnock, this might not be for you. But if you want to gain an on-the-ground perspective of reality, including some pretty frank and honest stories, then you’ll benefit. Especially if you, like 99.9999% of the world, have not managed to achieve Plan A (the other .0001% is deluded and living in isolation in Greenland).

The 14 chapters are a good length for daily devotions, and there are discussion questions in the back that could be helpful for group study.

No book is perfect, of course, and this one has its flaws. At times, there is a wordy repetitiveness, which shows its “preacher” origin – certain grammatical structures are much more appropriate for the spoken rather than the written word. And, in the noble attempt not to give facile and formulaic biblical answers to suffering, the opportunity was lost in the final chapter to deeply underscore the wise, predetermined, inexorable and unstoppable plan of God in bringing about conformity to Christ, as outlined so profoundly in a passage such as Romans 8:28-39. It is not merely our choice to have faith that makes Plan B work out – it is God’s choice of us in Christ, including His gift of faith. Even if we can’t put a nice bow on the package of our sufferings now, God has still woven a far better bow, and it will crown the end of our days.

One sane look at the present, and we’re forced to say, “I don’t know.” But a sane look at the future allows us to say, despite everything, “I know whom I have believed, and He will bring it to pass.”

Pete’s a young guy, with a young family of boys (something I “get”), and he’s one of the newer generation of pastors who seek to use social media as a means of outreach and encouragement – on-line networked communications are woven into the fabric of his local and extended ministry. Someday, I hope we’ll meet (I still miss Nashville after 25 years away from it!), and while my hairstyle will never be as avant-garde as his, I’m sure we’ll have plenty of tales to tell. Plan B: highly recommended!

P.S. Sometimes a book seems to naturally go hand-in-glove with a song. I’d nominate Tenth Avenue North’s Hold My Heart as the natural Plan B theme song!

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The Long View

Walking in the yard this morning, I observed a healthy-looking milkweed, which had sprung up in recent months and was reaching skyward.

Green. Rapidly growing. And for all that, very temporary.

Behind it was a massive tree that had been there for many decades before we moved in, and which will remain long after we leave.

Stable. Slow-growing. Nearly immovable.

When our Founders laid out the blueprints that would shape this country, they were taking the long view. This was not a coup of passion, an overthrow of convenience. Their plan was to create a framework that would ensure freedom and prosperity for their generation. And for the next one. And for ours. And for our grandchildren to come. They were planting an oak, not a weed.

We would do well to emulate them as we design our lives, our families, our businesses.

In this day of instant everything, of real-time communication, I fear that we often get sucked into the milkweed – that which is new and fast-growing and immediate. Don’t get me wrong – I love all this stuff. But the noise level makes it very difficult to step back and take the long view.

Here’s a suggestion. Take a quiet stroll to a nearby cemetery this weekend. Sit in a shaded spot, look at a stone, and see your name on it. Then compose a 50-character epitaph – a summary of what you would like to have truly accomplished, and left behind. Make it a mini-tweet – hopefully, something more substantive than this one:

That’s your long view. Keep that oak in front of you, even when the distracting milkweed is popping up everywhere. Because people will remember you for something – let it be something that meaningfully touches others.

[You may even want to make your long view here, and print it out to keep in front of you!]

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Reading some blog post or other this morning, my eyes came across a name. Which triggered a vivid memory. Which triggered the jotting down of this story – because it’s about a hug never forgotten.

The year was probably 1980. I was working as a busboy in a fancy-schmancy French restaurant (Julian’s in Nashville). This intimate little converted house, which welcomed many names both obscure and famous into its five little dining rooms, was a relatively formal place – the wait staff was in black-and-white, the music was often Segovia, or perhaps Handel, and the tones were hushed as fine dining was facilitated by very attentive and restrained servers.

We did not walk out with candle-pierced cupcakes, clapping and singing Happy Birthday songs – get the picture?

The wait staff was a mixture of young-to-middle aged men, Caucasian and African-American, who perhaps didn’t view their jobs as a final-destination career, but certainly took their work far more seriously than most restaurant folks. We were trained not to get overly personal with the guests – they were there to socialize with each other, not us – so a certain professional detachment was generally practiced.

This being Nashville, and Julian’s being one of the top restaurant destinations in the city, we’d get the occasional big-name star from music, the arts, or entertainment. That livened things up (who wouldn’t want to eyeball a famous person – discreetly, of course – sitting at a table 10 feet away?) – but even more than usual, these folks needed their space, and we respected that.

Then Leo showed up. Dr. Love.

I don’t think a whole lot of us knew about Leo Buscaglia (background from Wikipedia – worth a minute to read), but he was becoming a star in his own right – and his trademark was the outward display of love. Even to strangers. I think he had a table of four, and it was clear from his animated speech and expressions that this guy was not into “subdued.” Even for an uptight and introverted New England boy like me, this was fascinatingly refreshing.

Now, generally, when people finished their meal and paid their check at Julian’s, they would receive a friendly nod and a quiet thanks from the server – all very proper and formal. Leo’s party that night was served by a fellow who was a friendly and warm enough person, but maybe a bit standoff-ish – pretty good mix for a Julian’s waiter. Leo had been bantering with him during the evening and so, there was some warmth in the air as the party got up to leave.

And Leo came up to the waiter (whose name now escapes me), arms open wide, and gave him a big hug. Which was his trademark – love openly expressed, even with strangers.

After an awkward second or two, the hug was returned, and the warmth of the circuit was complete. I was standing off at a slight distance watching this exchange, both repelled and attracted by it at the same time. Hugging at Julian’s? Hugging a virtual stranger, mano y mano? Is that allowed?

I’ve never forgotten that hug. And the more time I spent in the South (where hugs are more common than my reserved home state of CT), and the more I simply grew up and became comfortable in my own skin, the more I began to drop the uptightness and learn to hug people.

The fact is, we are physical creatures, and we often treasure the innocent and warm reassurance of a hug. In an era of political correctness, I sometimes sense (and feel myself) a certain reservation about physical contact, but if I’m going to err, I’ll mostly err on the side of showing kindness with a touch. Because warmth and love seems incomplete with a bunch of open space between us.

Leo Buscaglia is no longer in the land of the living. But he lives vividly on in my memory. And in the hugs I both give and receive, even now.

(image credit)

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