When I was a little boy, I had some serious allergies. At first, I didn’t understand why crazy things were happening to me like swellings or wild itching or even rashes that covered my entire body when I ate a particular food or got near a certain fabric or even when one year my father brought home a live Christmas tree. That’s when my parents purchased what was probably the first aluminum, do it yourself, allergy-free Christmas tree. You know, I really liked that one! Later I was told that I should probably stay away from bees and wasps, which, by the way, always seemed to gravitate toward me. I was never afraid of the dark -or spiders -or even snakes, but I did develop a serious respect for those winged fiends especially after one afternoon when one stung me close to my neck and they had to pack me in ice. They tell me that I was laughing throughout the ordeal but it wasn’t funny, notably after my parents told me that I almost died. Among the other allergens they discovered was dog hair which obviously meant that I couldn’t have a canine pet like so many of my friends. I tried fish but, well, that’s another story for another time. Again, for some reason, dogs used to follow me around in the neighborhood and loved to jump in my lap and there I went, sneezing and wheezing all over again. “Oh, well,” I thought, “maybe I should ask for a ‘Pet Rock’?” Remember those? Trust me, not the same.
After high school and the somewhat turbulent and restless teenage seasons, I went off to college and graduate school. It was then, years later, studying in a different country, in a different world with all kinds of exciting cultural experiences, including foods, I realized something wonderful had happened. No more allergies! I must have outgrown them, or something like that. Well, I finally got a dog. It was great. And throughout the years, like many of you, I have had several. But of all the companions that God blessed me in His goodness to me, were two beautiful, hilarious, mischievous and loving Labradors. To say that they were spoiled would be a feat of remarkable restraint. I took them everywhere I could, going on daily long walks, fashioning special sleeping blankets, foods, and of course my family and friends loved them, too.
One very hot summer afternoon, it was that time of the year to take them in to the Vet’s. Although they never liked that place, I always made it worth their while, knowing full-well that one day, it would be a sad visit. But nevertheless, we made an adventure out of it. On the way back, I had to stop for gas and pulled up to a station near my home. This was back in the day when you had to go inside to pay before the attendants would even release the pumps. Right away, I noticed what I surmised was a homeless man with a dog. I remember that it was a brown and white, medium-sized spaniel. Of course I stopped. And even to this day, I am glad I did. That man asked me if I could get him some food from inside the little station market. After explaining that although I did not have any cash on me, I would be glad to place any items on my credit card with which I was paying for the gas. “I’ll be right back,” I said. But he sunk his head, looked at his little companion and continued, “Do you think you can get something for my buddy, here? He hasn’t had anything for a couple of days.” My heart melted. “Sure! Let me see what they’ve got in there.” I remember buying the man a couple of hot dogs that would at least be some hot food, and some other things that could last a few days. When I went looking for any dog food, which many places like that actually carry, they were all out. But they did have cat food, which to me seemed to be at least as nutritious for the dog, so I picked up a few packages or cans of that. After paying for everything and writing down the address of where I knew there was a food kitchen downtown, I went outside. That man ate his food so fast that I thought he might choke. As he washed it down with some cold milk, I can picture in my mind how some of it just spilled over onto his neck and chest as if he just couldn’t put it down fast enough. His dog practically did the same thing. There was nothing left of the cat food as his little creature just cleaned out every atom and particle that was there. The man said thank you, his little buddy extended his paw and we said our good-byes.
I returned to my vehicle with my ‘king and queen,’ and watched the man and his buddy walk off, worrying for the safety of the animal with no leash and fearing the inevitable. And I just waited until I could see them no more. For some reason, I just started to tear up, both of my companions becoming unusually quiet. I called out to God: “Lord, it’s not fair. These two labs have everything including a home, lots of friends and a great life. Who knows what will happen to that man and his dog. It’s just not fair…” And then, something wonderful happened. I believed I could hear the Lord speak to me. It was a calm but strong voice that made perfect sense: “Your dogs are blessed because they have you … just like you are blessed because you have Me.” I don’t have any dogs today and maybe and hopefully that will change sometime in the future. But I never forgot my Labs or the way God used them to bring a remarkable amount of joy to my heart. In fact, I’m smiling right now as I’m writing this. I’ll never forget that hot, balmy afternoon in front of the gas station when the Lord got my attention and let me know how much I mean to Him. I pray I never forget.
Alone without a tree and nothing to open Christmas morning. Now, don’t get me wrong here, this is not your very own personal invitation to my New Year’s Pity Party. Hardly. I am the most blessed man I know, and I mean that sincerely. People who know me constantly tell me that I am the strongest, most patient and courageous person they know, and believe me, that’s nice. While I strive to live up to that every single day of my life, some days are better than others and some years are better than others; which brings me to this past Christmas.
Sometime after Thanksgiving, I could tell it was going to be a struggle. The last 18 months or so had been delivering slow growing pressures seemingly from every direction. There was disappointing news at least every month, issues with no apparent resolution in sight and just a mounting challenge to get up every morning to face the same thing, all over again and again. I decided to spend the weeks before Christmas to move out of myself and find all the opportunities to give and share and be joyful with others, no matter where I would find them; especially those who clearly had a much harder time with life than I was having, and even leave carrots and celery for this little wild rabbit visiting my backyard patio from time to time. And you know, it all worked. The height of all this reached Christmas Eve where I spent awesome quality time with family and dear old friends practically all day culminating with Christmas Eve Mass followed by a sumptuous dinner. What a blessing! I went to bed like a 5-year old child, full and happy with a large grin on my face. It was good.
Then came Christmas Day morning. Uh oh! I wasn’t ready for it, and can’t explain why. Because of space and other things, I decided not to have a tree but still decorated festively, not certainly not sparing filling nearly every empty corner or shelf space available. Thus, waking up to go straight to the Christmas tree did not happen. And although there were a handful of cards, email messages and texts, and some nice bottles of wine, this was the first year where there was nothing to open on Christmas morning. Before allowing myself to wallow in self-pity, I quickly returned as many emails, text messages and phone calls as I could and by noon it was time to deliver a couple of turkey dinners to home-bound people, then get back in time to prepare a luscious Christmas dinner for a couple of good friends. I went to bed exhausted.
For the next couple of days, every time I walked back into my home after a full day at work, I caught myself thinking about this past Christmas and how silly and selfish it was for me to frame the experience in terms of the absence of a tree and brightly wrapped gifts. I kept trying to think of all those who certainly had much less than I do. I wanted to remember those in hospitals and prisons. I continued to recall the great outreach and memories that had been made. But, I’m sorry to report, there was still that nagging and irritating emptiness that was simply not going away. I begged Jesus to help me and then resigned to simply accept all this as part of life and then, as soon as possible, to start packing away the decorations and try to move forward. I am good at that I thought. On the fourth day of Christmas, it all finally made sense; it was about five in the morning and I was wide awake; tried to go back to sleep but it was futile. There were a number of powerful dreams that made for a bit of interesting interpretations and a lot on my plate for the upcoming day so I decided to make a fresh cup of coffee and sit outside and drink it with Jesus and watch the sunrise. The first thing I noticed was that my little rabbit didn’t make it to the porch for his carrot and celery salad and hoped that he was still alive somewhere. It was then that I saw something moving by the only tree in my back yard. It was that silly rabbit, caught in between some plastic netting and the fence unable to break free. While I carefully walked over on this rescue mission, I knew I could very well scare it to death so I knew I had to be quick. Taking some kitchen shears from inside, it was a simple maneuver to snip the upper part of the plastic cords with one clean cut—which worked and the little guy took off, well, like a jackrabbit!
Merry Christmas, Bugs! I called out. Freedom for Christmas, what a gift! It was then, in the last few moments of darkness as the sun began to peak over the horizon, that I could see in my mind’s eye, the little Baby Jesus opening his arms to me. It was as if He was saying to me “this is what you open on Christmas, not paper wrapped boxes.” So you see, there was a Christmas tree for me this Christmas and there was a gift for me to open. It just took me some time to find them.
There is a true story of a little boy whose sister needed a blood transfusion. The Doctor explained that she had the same disease the boy had recovered from two years earlier. Her only chance of recovery was a transfusion from someone who had previously conquered the disease. Since the two children had the same rare blood type, the boy was ideal donor.
“Would you give your blood to Mary?” the doctor asked.
Johnny hesitated. His lower lip started to tremble. Then he smiled and said, “Sure, for my sister.”
Soon the two children were wheeled into the hospital room. Mary, pale and thin, Johnny, robust and healthy. Neither spoke, but when their eyes met, Johnny grinned.
As the nurse inserted the needle into his arm, Johnny’s smile faded. He watched the blood flow through the tube.
With the ordeal almost over, Johnny’s voice, slightly shaky, broke the silence.
“Doctor, when do I die?”
Only then did the doctor realize why Johnny had hesitated, why his lip had trembled when he agreed to donate his blood. He thought that he had to give ALL his blood to his sister thus giving up his life. But in that very brief moment, he had made the one great decision that would forever change his life.
One day, a young father wanted his son to understand the true impact of making right choices, of obeying and doing what’s right. His idea was unique: every time his son made a bad choice or a wrong decision, he gave him a hammer and one gray nail to go out to their backyard and pound it into the wooden fence.
At first, it seemed like a game for the youngster, as he was excited in a playful way to have to go out and nail these objects into the fence. It was fun, of course, until he had to go out when it was raining or cold or in the darkness of the night. But still, it continued.
Every time the little boy got in trouble, talked back to either of his parents, or caused a disappointing note to accompany him from his teachers, there he went out to the back. However, every time he made a solid, great decision, making his parents and himself proud of his accomplishments, he was instructed to go out to the fence and carefully remove any one of those nails.
This family ritual continued until the boy was now a strapping, handsome young man all of 21 ready for the world and a bright future ahead. By this time, it had been months even years since he ever went outside to either pound or extract any more nails in the back fence.
The night before he was to leave for a new life in another city far away, his father called him outside late one afternoon as the sun began to set. His young man of a son knew what was coming as he saw a few tears begin to drop from his dad’s face. There were no more nails in the fence. They both idly stared at the fence from left to right with powerful memories flooding both of their souls as the light of the sun began to escape.
“Son,” the father continued, “You’ve done well. I am ready to let you go forward. But just look at all the holes in our fence. It will never be the same. When you choose a wrong path, speak a hateful word, give in to a selfish act that hurts another, or violate trust that has been faithfully placed in you, they leave a scar just like these holes. You will find forgiveness, but please think before you act knowing that there will always be consequences.”
“If you can remember this moment and this fence, I can rest assured that I’ve done all I could to raise you as good a man as possible.”
Now the sun had set and only the light of the back porch and a pale soft glow from a full moon gently bathed the two men and an old fence.
Today, this new day, I am a successful student. Overnight my mind and body have produced thousands of new cells to give me the greatest advantages possible. I am born anew, revitalized, and full of energy. I am rare and valuable; unique in all the universe. I am nature’s greatest miracle in action. I have unlimited potential. I believe in my abilities, attitudes, and goals. I am worthy of greatness because I am the most important person in my world.
Today, I push myself to new limits. I use my skills and knowledge every day. I begin the day with a success and end it with a success. My goals are being reached every day and I seek them eagerly. I act positively and happily, fully accepting myself and others. I live to the fullest by experiencing life without limits. I embrace life. I approach each class, each book, and each assignment with enthusiasm, happiness and joy. I thirst for knowledge. I look forward to reading and believing this creed each and every day.
I am a positive and successful student. I know each step I must take to continue to be that way. I am clear on my goals and see myself reaching them. I now realize my infinite potential, thus, my burden lightens. I smile and laugh. I have become the greatest student in the world.
William Arthur Ward (1921-1994) was an American writer and one of this country’s most quoted inspirational writers with more than 100 articles, poems and meditations written an published in such magazines as the Reader’s Digest. He once wrote a piece based on a Chinese proverb that said, “If you keep a green limb in your heart, the singing bird will come.” The obvious application that he was asserting is that there are certain pre-set attitudes (limbs, branches) in one’s heart that are conducive to a happy life and outlook. Let’s take a look at his idea of these spiritual tree branches that can invite goodness and peace into our earthly existence.
Enthusiasm is not only contagious, it is attractive. Where there is enthusiasm there is always excitement and where there is positive excitement, there is more joy in the job, sparkle in the eye and more zest in living. “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson) You and I can practice enthusiasm by being excited about life, doing things wholeheartedly, being inspired by simple things, putting love and joy into what we do, smiling and laughing and having a great sense of humor, and having a positive spirit. As the great Vince Lombardi stated, “If you aren’t fired-up with enthusiasm, you will be fired with enthusiasm.”
Kindness is actually putting the words of Jesus into action when He said, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:31) Others have defined it as a behavior marked by principled characteristics, a pleasant frame of mind, and concern for others. It is known as a virtue, and highly esteemed as a value in many cultures and religions. Mark Twain perhaps said it most appropriately when he wrote, “Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”
Generosity has been defined by some dictionaries as sounding very close to our previous selection with some nuance: the quality of being kind, understanding, and not selfish: the quality of being generous; especially with a willingness to give money and other valuable things to others. The famous artist, Pablo Picasso, had a very interesting take on the matter when he said that “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” The word has its origins from a deep root meaning, “excellence” which could explain why being generous truly catapults a dreary, selfish existence to something wonderful. The word’s opposites also speak volumes, as in stingy and petty. Makes you wonder what they’re going to write on our gravestones, doesn’t it?
Humor: It has been said that if we learn to laugh at ourselves we will always be amused. Do you think that’s accurate? There has got to be something remarkably healthy about being able to laugh at our own silly mistakes, foibles and other wise human fumbles. I think a good sense of humor can help us look at the world more realistically, improve our relationships and help us resist from taking ourselves too seriously. William Ward had this to say: “A well-developed sense of humor is the pole that adds balance to your steps, as you walk the tightrope of life,” while one of my heroes, Groucho Marx, was attributed with this gem: “I never forget a face but in your case I’ll be glad to make an exception.”
Gratitude is simply a disposition of always giving thanks, for everything and anything. When you and I are thankful for our lives, good days and bad days, for our talents and for all the people around us, our lives literally “sing with joy.” When we decide to begin and end our day with the decision that we are going to thank God and those around us, several awesome things happen: 1. We live in the present moment, 2. we block toxic and negative emotions, 3. we are better able to counteract the effects of stress, and 4. we experience a kind of solidarity (connected-ness) with others and a healthy dose of self-compassion, that is, the ability to love ourselves as God does. I think that is why some have called gratitude the “miracle disposition.”
The incredibly imaginative EPCOT Center in Orlando, Florida opened some 16 years after its principle architect and dreamer, Walt Disney died. It had been a concept still in development by the masterful Disney who envisioned it to be a “real city that would never cease to be a blueprint of the future.” Even though there were many who said that, first, they didn’t understand what he was talking about, and second, there was no way they could put all that together in one place, Walt never lost sight of his vision. You see, nuts-and-bolts procedures didn’t faze him. He was a student of the philosophy of beauty, cutting-edge technology and entrepreneurial enterprise. He was a man who had the mind of an architect and the soul of a time-traveller. Whatever idea or conceptual rendering he couldn’t crack open himself, he immediately flung over to his elite “Imagineers” (Walt Disney Imagineering Research & Development, Inc.). “Walt Disney had one foot in the past, because he loved nostalgia, and one foot in the future, because he loved new technology,” said Marty Sklar, who joined Disney’s marketing and publicity team in the 1950s. Several sources have documented an incident that reportedly occurred at the Grand Opening of EPCOT Center on Friday, October 1 in 1982. Apparently, one of the speakers of that day lamented, if just for a short time in these or similar words, that “It is a shame that Walt Disney didn’t live long enough to see this day and this magnificent place!” However poignant and meaningful that phrase may have been, the next speaker rose to the podium and the occasion and countered brilliantly with, “He did see it, that’s why it’s here!”
There was once a plumber who just finished a very difficult and long day. He lost a few clients, one died, a check bounced, and one of his employees quit taking all the tools that we purchased for him a year earlier. On top of that, a flat tire caused him more stress as did the amount of crazed drivers who thought they were on the Indy 500. One of his co-workers needed a ride home and asked him to please drop him off at his house and he would walk from there. While they were driving, the frustrated plumber just steamed in silence, without saying a word trying to make sense of this very crazy day.
When they arrived, he invited his young co-worker to come on in and meet his wife and two children and stay for dinner if he didn’t have any other plans. As they were walking inside, the plumber casually walked over to a medium-sized tree in the front yard and almost ritually began to wipe his hands on its sprawling, bright-green leaves as if he was removing grease or oil or dirt.
As the plumber waled through the door, something remarkable was taking place right before the young man’s eyes: there was an amazing transformation. The plumber began to glow and began to beam as he hugged his children and a long embrace for his wife followed by a loving, tender kiss.
After a delightful dinner, the plumber and his young associate walked outside and the they said their good-byes. But before the apprentice got to the sidewalk, he passed that tree and remembered the little ritual that had taken place maybe an hour before. So he asked:
“Hey, Sir, as we were coming inside for dinner, I saw you do something with this tree and you changed quite a bit. What was that all about?”
The plumber replied: “Oh yeah, that’s my ‘Problem Tree.’ My job can be pretty stressful like it was today and I know I can’t do much about that but I also know that I shouldn’t bring any of those problems back home with me. So, at the end of every day, I pass by my ‘Problem Tree’ and wipe my heart clean and hang all my problems out for the night and pick ’em up again in the morning!”
“Well, Sir,” asked the young man, “does it work?” The plumber replied, “You know it’s kind of strange. In the morning when I leave for work, I pass by my ‘Problem Tree’ to pick up those worries and stress monsters, and you know on some mornings, it seems as if they aren’t as many as they’re were before. I guess they just crawled away during the night, or maybe, someone came by and just picked them off!”
On his way home, that young man touched every single tree branch he passed! I wonder what happened the next day or whatever happened to him…..
Is that you?
“There are far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” ~C.S.Lewis
“The most worth-while thing is to try to put happiness into the lives of others.” -Robert Baden-Powell
A man built a prosperous business through much hard work and was certainly an honest man. As he got older, he began to be concerned about the future of his business mainly because he had no children of his own, no close relatives, but in fact three distant cousins who were actually in charge of different parts of the business. After much prayer and consideration, he decided to all a meeting with all of them. He told them he had a problem and needed a solution. He also took a huge gamble. They nervously gathered in his spacious office, a little intimidated but mostly curious. After they sat, down exchanged polite pleasantries and finished their cups of coffee, the wise man stated that, “There is a problem that I have and I want you to find the solution. The one who indeed brings me the best remedy will be the next CEO of this great company.” Then, very unceremoniously, he handed each of those young men an envelope with the exact some of money, $2000 to be exact. They continued to be baffled, scratching their heads and looking sheepishly at one another. And then the challenge was put forth. “I want you to find something that will fill this spacious office of mine; spend no more or less than what you have been given and be back here in my office no later than sunset. Now go!”
It was certainly a long day for each of the three prospective future CEOs. They all went their separate ways trying with all their might and intellectual acumen to fulfill this lofty challenge. On the one hand, it seemed such an easy task to accomplish, and yet, on the other, overwhelmingly puzzling given the magnitude of the reward offered. Finally, the hour arrived and all three returned to the high and lofty office of the company. There the wise old man sat, behind his desk, scribbling aimless words on the leather-clad pad in front of him. Each made their presentation. The first man brought in four to five huge sacks of packing peanuts and packing filler that almost in fact filled the large office when they were opened and spread across the marble floor. They were removed to make room for the next attempt. The second man brought in literally hundreds of helium-filled balloons which he immediately released into the large office. And, once again, they nearly filled the entire space assigned. Then, after all the balloons were whisked away along with several dozen packing peanuts still left a strewn, the third candidate stood silent and seemingly upset. The silence became awkward and nervousness crept into that space.
“So, what do you have to say for yourself?” the boss called out. This outstanding young man carefully moved to turn out all the lights in the office and then said, “Sir, I did the best I could possibly achieve, but as I went searching throughout this big city I ran into a family whose house burned down last night and gave them half of what you gave me. Then there was a school with not enough funds to keep the cafeteria open and functioning so, I gave them the majority of the other half and with the little bit I had left, I purchased this candle and matches.”
Then he lit the candle and the soft shining light filled every corner of the office. The wise entrepreneur with the experience of many decades rose from his desk, recognized immediately the wisdom of this third applicant and welcomed him as the new CEO of a great and long-lasting company.
“I believe that God put us in this jolly world to be happy and enjoy life. Happiness doesn’t come from being rich, nor merely from being successful in your career, nor by self-indulgence. One step towards happiness is to make yourself healthy and strong while you are a boy, so that you can be useful and so can enjoy life when you are a man. Nature study will show you how full of beautiful and wonderful things God has made the world for you to enjoy. Be contented with what you have got and make the best of it. Look on the bright side of things instead of the gloomy one. But the real way to get happiness is by giving out happiness to other people. Try and leave this world a little better than you found it and when your turn comes to die, you can die happy in feeling that at any rate you have not wasted your time but have done your best.” -Robert Baden-Powell
I can still remember an outstandingly moving story that I heard at a retreat that made so much sense to me at the time that I allowed it to make an impact on my life so I would not forget it.
The story took place in a small, rural town somewhere in the Midwest. There was a horrible house fire and all the members of the family escaped with their lives, but just barely. The ten-year old son was alive, but suffered severe burn injuries over 75% of his body. To say the least, the pain was pretty unbearable, especially for a youngster who literally saw most of life go up in smoke. Since there were no hospitals close by that could truly administer the help and recovery that he needed, he had to be flown about two states away to a hospital specializing in burn victim treatment. Once again, a horrible change for this little guy, overnight. After about three weeks or so, the young boy simply had enough. He became despondent and nearly lifeless, refusing to eat, play or even interact with others on his floor. However, that soon was about to turn around the following week, by a teacher from the local school district who came to the hospital. Since he was going to be there for quite some time, the doctors believed he should begin in-house tutoring so he would not fall too far behind in his fourth grade studies. When she arrived, immediately realizing how much pain he was in, she began English lessons including vocabulary words, spelling exercises, grammar and that “good stuff.” She continued for the next three days and on the fourth day, a nurse stopped her in the hallway before she went into his room.
“What in the world have you done to that boy?” she asked. “What do you mean?” came the tutor’s reply, “I’m only trying to help him…”
“No, no, you don’t understand,” continued the nurse, “He is a changed little boy who has made a complete turn around and it looks like he wants to live!”
Everyone involved with the life of this young man came to realize what had happened. He had indeed given up all hope until the tutor arrived. When it occurred to him that there must have been a good reason to send him a tutor. “Nobody would not send someone to work with me on nouns and verbs and spelling if I was actually dying, right?,” he would exclaim later. I guess what we are saying here is that you never know the entire impact we potentially make on another person’s life. Yet, every single day, those opportunities to love, share and comfort are present. If we ever doubt or wonder about why we are here on this planet, perhaps it would be good to sit back and wait and seize upon those moments that make an eternal difference. We are definitely a part of something much larger than ourselves.