A Perfect Storm

He knows us far better than we know ourselves…That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives…is worked into something good. (Romans 8:28)

Three years ago today, my family had one of those “perfect storm” days.  My sister-in-law lost her battle with cancer at her home while we were there with her.  Though it was not unexpected, it still left her family members crushed.  She was one tough and remarkable women, who spent much of her last years being a caregiver to others in her family.

I was there at the end and was exhausted.  So my family sent me home to get some rest.  The trip should have been from Westminster to Otter River and should have lasted no more than 15 minutes.  When my wife went home some time later, she found me missing.  As she worriedly tried to find someone who might know where I was,  she received a phone call from a friend on the Winchendon police force telling her that I had had an accident on Gardner Road in Winchendon.

Most of the events that happened that night were told to me by my wife and others because I have no memory of anything that happened from the time I left my sister-in-law’s house until three days later after her funeral.  I have no idea how I ended up on the road to Winchendon or how I ended up going off the left-hand side of the road, bouncing over a ditch and hitting a tree head-on.

So, what happened?  It turns out the year of my Chevy Impala had a recall for the ignition unit because the weight of the key fob could cause it to shut the car off cutting out the power steering and the power brakes.  Did that cause me to go off the road?  Who knows.  Then when I hit the tree, the driver side airbag didn’t inflate causing me to do a face-plant into the steering wheel.  Later when I was tested for the injuries I had, they found that I had had some sort of seizure.  It’s uncertain whether the seizure could have caused the accident or whether the accident could have caused the seizure.  Talk about a “perfect storm”…

But I said all that to say this…it could have been worse.  Despite everything that happened, I believe that God had His hand on me.  I could have died or had crippling injuries, but I didn’t.  I could have died from an epileptic seizure, but I didn’t.  I’m sure the accident was scary and painful, but I don’t remember any of it.  And today I’m at least as healthy as I was before the accident.  I don’t think that was a coincidence.  “So, I am not saying this because I am in need, because I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. (Philippians 4:11)

 

Better With Age

young then old

Once I was young, but now I am old and yet I have never seen God abandon a good man or his children. (Psalm 37:25).

Have you ever noticed that when you get up in the morning or when you go to bed at night you don’t see any difference in what you saw the last time you looked.  Age has a way of sneaking up on you.  One day you’re 20 years old with your whole life ahead of you.  Then, suddenly, you’re beyond middle age and in the twilight of your life.  For those of you who haven’t reached those advanced years, remember, they’re coming faster than you can imagine.  Think of the children you have and how quickly they are growing up.  Think of all the things you’ve always wanted to do, but never seem to have the time to do them.  Since you can’t change the past and have no control over the future, remember to actually live in the present.  You’ll never have another chance to do so.

When I was younger and played basketball, I had a vertical leap of nearly 30 inches.  Now I’m lucky if I can clear a piece of paper…on a good day.  I could eat anything I wanted in any quantity at any time.  Now I eat much less, have to avoid certain foods and shouldn’t eat after 7:00 PM.  When I was a kid, my parents would get after me because when I would go to bed, I would take a flashlight and read under the covers for hours.  Now I almost always fall asleep when I read at night–sometimes with my book still in my hand.  I’ve even been known to fall asleep in the middle of a conversation.  In high school, I could type 67 words per minute.  Now my fingers are lucky if I can get through a sentence without having stop and correct several errors.  (I made six different mistakes in this last sentence.)

When you feel that you’re approaching  the twilight of your life, remember that twilight occurs not just as the sun is setting, but also when it rises in the morning.  Looking back at your life is okay, but looking ahead is what will keep you young.  Rise to meet it with a smile and a spring in your step, ready face the world and what it has for you that day.

Just some thoughts on getting older….

“Today is the oldest you’ve ever been and the youngest you’ll ever be again.”  Eleanor Roosevelt.

“In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count.  It’s the life in your years.”  Abraham Lincoln

“Any one who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty.  Anyone who keeps learning stays young.”  Henry Ford

“Wrinkles should merely indicate where the smiles have been.”  Mark Twain

So appreciate where you are in life, make each day count, keep learning and do it all with a smile on your face.  Not only will your life be more fulfilling, but so will the lives of those around you.

Do Your Job!

gabby katie-lou napheesa

Whatever opportunity comes up, go for it and give it your all.  You may never have another chance. (Ecclesiastes 9:10).”

I have been a New England Patriots fan since they became a team in 1960.  Those were years of relative obscurity as the last franchise admitted into the old American Football League struggled to find success.  They eventually began to achieve a limited amount of success.  Then along came Robert Kraft, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.  The rest, as they say, is history.  I’ve always been a big fan of the concepts of  “Do your job” and “Next man up”).  Whatever you may think about this owner, coach, quarterback, or team, you have to admit that their success in the modern era is unprecedented.  And they have maintained this success in spite of free agency, salary caps and the normal year to year injuries.  And the team mantra has been for everyone, “Do your job!”  And if someone goes down (or has to serve an inexplicable 4-game suspension), it’s up the next man to take up the slack and keep things moving forward.  But these are professionals who get paid (quite handsomely) to “do their job.”  What about those who don’t get paid the big bucks?

I became a UConn Women’s Basketball fan back in the early ’90’s when I was looking for a college team to use as an example to the players on the teams I was coaching at the time.  Under Coach Geno Auriemma, UConn went from a 12-15 record in 1985-1986 to having 31 consecutive winning seasons since.  They’ve won 11 of the past 22 national championships-including the past 4 in a row.  They have 4 out of the top 5 women’s all-time winning streaks with 47, 70, 90 and the current one of 105 and counting–with the last 2 bettering UCLA’s men’s streak of 88.  Coming into this year’s season, UConn had lost its top 3 players from last year’s team.  Those players went 1,2,3, in the WNBA draft.  Time for “next man up.”  Three “role players” from last year’s bench suddenly stepped up and, along with the two remaining veterans from last year’s team have turned the team into another UConn powerhouse.  Good teams try to never look ahead to more than the next game in order to maintain their focus on the game at hand.  UConn takes it a step further by trying to maintain focus on each play of every game.  That’s why, in games past, you’ve been able to see a 3-time All-American diving for a loose ball in the third quarter of a game in which UConn had a 40+ point lead.  Play at 100% on each and every play.  A detail-oriented perfectionist, Auriemma has told his players and everyone that will listen, that there is no magic to being successful.  You simply never slack off.  When you “strive for perfection, you achieve excellence.”

That’s a lesson these young women will carry with them for the rest of their lives–in their education, in their families, in their relationships, and in their chosen professions.  The same rules apply to us no matter what our circumstances, our families, our health, our age or our finances.  Strive for perfection in all things and you will achieve excellence.  Don’t get discouraged and take a play off.  But as for you, be strong and don’t give up, for your work will be rewarded. (II Chronicles 15:7)

“I am what I am, and that’s all that I am.” (Popeye the Sailor Man)

Ken at Jekyll Island 2007
Ken being Ken

 

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Ken not being Ken

 

Whatever you do, do well. (Ecclesiastes 9:10)

I recently took a survey to see how my personality would fit into a workspace situation.  To no one’s surprise, my strongest personality trait is conscientiousness.  This means I take a logical, objective approach to things to ensure accuracy.  I’m very systematic and like to create standards to bring about efficient, high quality outcomes.  In order to avoid making mistakes, I can be quite cautious and like to take time to think things through.  I can be very hard on myself when I’m wrong about something.  I prefer to work alone and prize my independence and privacy.  I’m uncomfortable in social situations with strangers.  I can get annoyed with people who ignore logic and incontrovertible facts.  I pride myself on the quality of my work, but I shy away from public recognition.  I prefer to work behind the scenes.

And yet, so many of the things in my life have required me to stretch beyond the pigeon-hole that the survey showed for me.  As a teacher, coach and minister I have had to put myself to the forefront of the things I have been responsible for.  In those same capacities, I have had to deal with new people and those with less knowledge or experience in those areas nearly all my life.  I still don’t like to make snap decisions without thinking them through.  And I still am very organized.  And I’m still a perfectionist.

But you know what?  I’ve never been happier than when I was doing those things that were out of my comfort zone.  So never put yourself in a box where you can’t see everything else the world has to offer.  Your personality may cause you to be more comfortable in certain situations or with certain people,  but there’s a big world out there with endless opportunities to stretch yourself to be more than just comfortable.  Dr. Suess said no one could be youer than you, while Oscar Wilde said to be yourself because everyone else is already taken.  I couldn’t have said it better myself.

 

 

Test your faith daily.

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The top 5

 

For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. (James 1:3)

Some 25 years ago, I had the great pleasure of working with a group of young boys who had just entered junior high school. Each of these 11-12 year-olds already had their very own unique personality that ranged from “flaky” to downright irritating. For some reason, they all decided to go out for the cross-country team. Several of them had older brothers already on the team. Some just wanted to do stuff with their friends. Anyway, for whatever reason, they all showed up. Little did I (or they) know how much they would accomplish over the next 6 years. By the time they had finished, they had amassed a 71-10 dual meet record (including 51 consecutive wins), 5 League Championships, 5 Invitational Championships, 4 District Championships, 2 State titles and 1 State Runner-up. In the process, they grew up to become good students, great athletes and some of the finest young men I have ever known. Throughout the years, we built on our strengths and strengthened our weaknesses and we did it through hard work as a team. The State Runner-up finish came the year after the 2 State titles. It was a great disappointment to all of us. Somehow I had managed to take a 2-time State Championship team and turn them into a 2nd best team. This last cross-country race probably was the most important one of their (and my) careers. And we lost. Yet, I think all of us grew through the experience. We all learned to take nothing for granted and that no matter how hard we worked or how talented we might be, there was always someone else waiting in the wings and working just as hard or harder to take over. The Olympics in Rio have shown that time and time again. Sometimes the veterans amaze with their longevity and their ability to maintain that competitive edge. Other times, the new, unknown and untested rise to the occasion to capture medals. I no longer am involved with running or coaching, but I have great memories to remind me of those years. One of my most cherished running-related items is a sweatshirt given to me by that particular group of athletes at the end of our last season together. On it was written, “Test your faith daily.” Regardless of those records and years of competing together, that sweatshirt summed up our success and left me feeling maybe I had really accomplished something lasting. They recognized that no matter what we try to accomplish in life, it’s always about “testing your faith daily,” rejoicing in your successes, and learning from your mistakes. I still have that sweatshirt today as a reminder.

To Read or Not to Read

Ken reading

Ken reading his Bible

Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path. (Psalm 119:105)

Many times I have been asked what my favorite hobby is. Whether it was a friend, family member, colleague or some survey, my answer has always been reading. I have loved to read since my parents began to teach me as a 5-year old. I started with the typical children’s books—although they were nothing like children’s books today. But I quickly graduated to a slightly higher level of book. We had a small library across the street from my house and the librarian was a little old lady who lived 4 houses down the street. She loved to see me read her collection of kids’ books. Eventually I read through them all and, though I was technically too young to actually take books out of the library, she allowed me to do so. A whole new world opened up for me. I raced through the mysteries of the Hardy Boys and Tom Swift and even series for girls like Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden. But I soon ran out of them as well. Then I graduated to the “Perry Mason” novels by Earl Stanley Gardner, then the books by Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, and H. G. Wells. I never realized that this was pretty heady stuff for a preteen. But it did provide an opportunity to develop a wide-ranging vocabulary and to give me a little knowledge about a lot of things. I now read best-sellers and obscure novels. I read books in a series and short stories. Long books and short ones. Basically, I read thrillers, mysteries, adventure, westerns, science fiction, horror, fantasy, biographies, historical novels, drama, classics, and comedy. But I’ve found that the one best seller that I read over and over again is the one the Guinness Book of Records claims has sold over 5 billion copies—the Bible. It’s a book of history, tragedy, prophecy, instruction and wisdom. While other books may challenge my intellect or my imagination, the Bible challenges who I am, why I’m here, and what I should be. And it never goes out of date or needs revision.

Simpler Times

Ken with cousin Don Rathburn
Ken with cousin Don Rathburn

Young people, it’s wonderful to be young! Enjoy every minute of it. Do everything you want to do; take it all in. (Ecclesiastes 11:9)

Recently, when talking to my wife and some of our friends, they were surprised to find out that as a kid I rarely left my little village of Otter River. That got me to thinking why that was.

To begin with, as a kid, my area of town seemed to be so big. We actually lived on one side of a 3-sided block that had a total of 19 houses counting each side of the 3 streets. Ours was on Pleasant Street. We had our milk delivered to our door every other day. My 2 best friends lived within 3 houses of mine. 2 others lived only two houses further. There was a field in the middle of the triangle that acted as the neighborhood adventure area. When the field was mowed, we played wiffle ball, played tag and caught insects and snakes. When the grass grew tall, we played hide and seek. All year long we used it as a short cut to each other’s houses. My grandmother lived upstairs from us, while a great aunt, great uncle and 5 cousins lived next door. We had an elementary school just up the street and the Catholic Church I attended was across the field. We got permission from the church to use its parking lot as a basketball court. We got together to paint the lines and install some lights. Behind the parking lot was the local Little League field (I played for the Braves.). Diagonally across from my house was a large brick building that housed a post office, library and general store. The upstairs was a function room. Directly across the street was the bustling Otter River Hotel. There was even a bus route with a stop across the street from us that took us back and forth to the “big” city of Gardner. My dad was the driver. We didn’t have to go anywhere else. Everything we needed was right there.

How things have changed from those idyllic times. My old street was renamed River Street and no longer are there milk deliveries. All of my friends have married and moved away. The field has been abandoned and gone to seed. There are no shortcuts. My grandmother, aunt, uncle and 2 cousins have passed away. We’ve lost track of the others. The elementary school was torn down because of mold. The basketball court has been abandoned and the Little League field in overgrown with trees. And I’m no longer a Catholic. The brick building that housed the post office, library and general story is now a bar. The Otter River Hotel burned to the ground on Thanksgiving morning. A few years ago my old house also burned down. There no longer is a bus route to anywhere and my dad has passed away.

When Thomas Wolfe wrote, “You can’t go home again,” He was right. The past is simply memories. Remember them with joy, but live in the present. It can and will be the memories of the future.