In All Things…

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“In everything give thanks…(I Thessalonians 5:18)

Thanksgiving has come and gone with its three “F’s”–family, food, and football.  Well, maybe not football.  We’re thankful for our family and friends.  We’re thankful for having enough food and a roof over our heads.  We’re thankful for our health and our jobs.

With people living longer, the size of our extended family has become larger and larger.  Medical advances have helped to prevent and treat injuries and illnesses that might have been fatal in years past.  And our ability to travel long distances has given us greater opportunities to gather together.  With social media, the number of our “friends” has increased daily.

Most of us have more than enough food and our homes are often far more than we actually need.  When we consider the  multitude of people around the world (and even  in our own country), that don’t have enough to eat or a place to live, we should be extremely thankful.  Maybe even enough to try to help others who are less blessed.  We may complain about what our jobs pay, but there are people who would love to have even one of our day’s pay–and then would make it last for a whole year.  They don’t have motorized transportation, multiple changes of clothing or grocery stores, health care, or even much education.  So, yes, we do have much to be thankful for.

I look back over my life and realize how much I have to be thankful for.  My parents have both passed away, but I’m able to remember them by the life they lived and the way they passed that example down to  me.  I don’t have a huge number of friends, but the ones I have, I trust.  They have made my life better for having know them.

My wife and I were never blessed with children, but were given a life-time of working with children, teens, and young adults.  And, at last count, we had well over 100 nieces/nephews, grand-nieces/grand-nephews, and great grand-nieces/great grand nephews.  Along with my wife as my partner, that’s a lot to be thankful for.

I taught and coached for 40 year–both jobs that I loved.  How many people can say that?  It was a job that allowed me to provide for my family then and still helps to provide for it now that I have retired.  If not for health issues, I would probably still be doing both.

My health hasn’t always been as good as I hoped it would be.  Three heart attacks, diabetes, sleep apnea, arthritis, and a “predisposition” for epilepsy are not what I had planned for in my “golden years.  But, while any one of these could be deadly or debilitating, I’m still here living my life to the fullest side by side with my wife.  And then there are the medical devices have helped to keep me going strong.  Reading glasses, hearing aids, and artificial knee, and a machine that keeps me breathing at night. If you think this is complaining, think again.  Despite these things, (or maybe because of them), I am still able to live my life with little to no restrictions.  Not a lot of people my age are that fortunate.

So as Thanksgiving day has passed, remember to be thankful for all things.  They make you who you are and are what you pass on to others.

 

Back in the Saddle

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Do not “give up” or “lose heart” (Luke 18:1)

I ran just 2 marathons during my running career.  My fastest was 3 hours and 18 minutes-not very fast, but fast enough to beat over 400 other runners.  The key was to never give or lose heart.  There were days when I simply did not want to run–either from fatigue or injury or just plain laziness.  But instead, I never gave up and accomplished something I never thought I could.  This was a choice I made for something I wanted to do.

I’ve found over the years, however, that I’ve been challenged by a number of difficult circumstances that I never asked for or wanted to experience.  I’m sure each of you have had similar experiences.  When hit by these difficult times, I have found myself becoming “gun-shy” about picking myself up to get by them.

First, understand that I am not by nature not very gregarious.  I am an introvert.  I like my friends singly and in groups, but I have no compulsive need to have others around me all the time.  In fact, give me a good book, some art supplies or some music and I can vanish from everyone else’s life for hours.  Unfortunately, this does not help when I’m struggling with something.

There have been a few times in my life when a situation has knocked me flat.  Some were of my own making.  Others were brought on by others.  Still others just happened.  I didn’t ask to have a heart attack; it just happened.  I didn’t ask to have a negative reaction to a medication; it just happened.  You just have to “suck it up” and deal with it.  The ones of my own making can be humbling, embarrassing  and sometimes hurtful to others.  For these I’ve had to apologize and make things right.  When humbled or embarrassed,  I’ve simply had to get over myself.  The world doesn’t revolve around me and my feelings.

The tough ones, though, have been those problems caused by others–the ones that change how you feel about yourself, change the direction of your life and then continue to re-insert themselves into your life when you’re least prepared to deal with them.  Fortunately, these kind of problems don’t come around too often.  I was once accused of something I never did.  Though everyone who knew me knew the accusation was false, the accusation remained.  And, with people being people, this accusation was kept alive by others for years and years.  Their belief was “where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”  And over the years, they created a lot of “smoke.”  This wasn’t a case of just dealing with something or simply getting over myself.  Thankfully, I came to realize that there is absolutely nothing that I could to do to eliminate the accusation or the accuser.  And my negative feelings about them never hurt them.  They only hurt me.  So the only thing I could do to save myself a lot of lasting pain was to forgive them and move on-hard though that was.

This was one of those times where it was good to ignore my introversion and have others around me.  Their prayers and encouragement were what kept me going.  It took years, but life became good again.

“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.

Requiem

The Lord will come from heaven with a command, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet [call] of God. First, the dead who believed in Christ will come back to life. (I Thessalonians 4:16)

Aunt Helen

My family recently suffered the loss of one of last of her generation.  There are 2 other sisters and then the elder of the family will be me.  That’s a sad and frightening thought.  My wife and I no longer are the “kids” in the family–though we sometimes still act like we are.  We recently held our annual water fight in memory of my mother-in-law.  As she always does, my wife, Betty, started things off by coming out in a costume.  This year she was Chuck, the Angry Bird.  With the temperatures in the 90’s, everyone had a great time getting soaked.  That included brothers, sisters, cousins, nieces, nephews, grand-nieces, grand-nephews and so on.  In this way, we always remember her mom with joy and thanksgiving.

The death of a loved is never easy.  It leaves an emptiness inside each of us that we feel will never go away.  And with the passing of each older relative, my wife and I relive the passing of those closest to us–mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers.  And with each passing, we all question where they are now.  My aunt’s mother always believed that this life was all there was.  Once you died, there was nothing else.  Her children never accepted that and truly believed that there was a better place to go to.  And they lived their lives accordingly.  As did my aunt.  When my time comes, she will be one of many waiting for me on the other side.

So, in remembrance of her, and thinking of our family, here’s a repost from Facebook:

Requiem

There’s a hole in my heart.

She was my aunt and so much more,
A sister, daughter, wife.
A mother and a grandmother–
She was so full of life.

Her final days went by so fast,
We hardly saw them pass.
A type of peace shone from her face,
And then she breathed her last.

As each one said our last goodbyes,
And as we shed our tears,
She now is in a better place
Away from all her fears.

No longer will she fill our lives
With all she had to give.
The love and joy she shared with us;
Hers was a life well lived.

From dust she will return to dust
And yet she will live on.
The memories we’ll always have;
She never will be gone

         There’s still a hole in my heart.  But now it’s being filled with memories and with hope for tomorrow.