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When I grew up, the old rule of polite social engagement was to avoid  two topics: politics and religion, especially when traveling abroad. It’s hard enough overcoming the ugly American syndrome, especially if you don’t know what’s sensitive locally. Your motive may be to learn something, but there may be social and political barriers that make it uncomfortable for people to share that information. For example, it may not be wise to ask a Syrian to describe the struggles of living under the Asad government while getting in a taxi in Damascus. And in some places in America, it’s still not polite to talk about Sherman or the civil war while south of the Mason-Dixon line.

But after a short while, it’s easy to exhaust topics of weather, sports, home improvement,  fashion, TV or whatever else is dominating pop culture. So whether you’re traveling or at home, people desire to catch the flavor of something more substantive. And let’s face it, politics and religion affect us all and each of us expends some time thinking about it sooner or later. And social media seems to have relegated the old rule to the dark ages of what I call B.I. (Before Internet).

FB and Twitter have become people’s favorite platform to share someone else’s content or their own views. I think it’s okay to do that and I’ve liked or shared information that I thought was well written and supported my own emotions and thoughts on these former taboo topics. And I’ve commented on others’ posts as well. And it’s in the commenting that I think I’ve noticed a distinct trend.

I noticed the majority of people sharing someone else’s or their own original content aren’t really interested in eliciting opinion other than the one offered. In other words, the comments are usually in the form of a lot of other people agreeing with the person posting the opinion.  Or the comments pile on additional statistics taken from TV, radio and blog talking points that support the post. If anyone posts an opposite view, that person is usually heckled, called names and generally told to “get lost”. Often the friend who posted the original topic doesn’t even edit out sharp criticisms from themselves or other commenters. Why is that? Isn’t social media about being “social”? Apparently not. And what about being “tolerant”? Forget that too.

So why is that? If you post an opinion, do you want to elicit opposite views and generate a civil discussion? What’s your motive?

I believe most people who post on politics and religion want assurance that others think the same thing they do. They are not interested in changing their minds about these topics. Nor are they interested in or appreciate others’ opinions, especially if they contradict their own. Offering an opposite opinion doesn’t provide the positive strokes that the poster is looking for.

When sharing content, I’ve decided my motive will be to include why someone’s content was interesting to me or how I feel about it. Your friend list should be a safe enough place to do that. And if someone wants to respectfully  disagree while providing their feelings or personal experience on the topic, I’d like to hear that and to seek to understand them. I may never agree with their conclusions, but I can attempt to respectfully hear them and listen to how they feel. And hopefully, even though I and my friend may not share the same view, we can both respect each other enough to care about each other as people and seek first to understand rather than be understood.

Recently I read a blog about how to improve your Twitter RT’s (re-Tweets) and FB Shares. The advice was to avoid simply re-Tweeting or Sharing without adding your own knowledge to the post. The direction was to enrich it with your own thoughts and feelings. So like Wiki, the original post becomes richer with each add. And that can work whether or not the poster or the commenter agrees with the shared content. And in my opinion like other polite conversation, folks should police themselves with some basic etiquette and avoid sharp criticism and personal attacks.

What’s interesting is that derogatory comments seem to be more prevalent when people have some sense of anonymity behind a keyboard. Sharp words would likely not be spoken out loud if the conversations were face to face at a dinner table, cocktail lounge or party. Someone might make a snide retort, but generally if the conversation soured, someone would quickly turn to something more innocuous. For men, that’s usually something along the lines of landscape timber or what they bought at Sears. It’s amazing how the latest handyman project can be used to manage almost any conversation whether at work, at happy hour or online.

Now, about those _____ [Vikings, Packers]….

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Class of '81 30 Year Reunion

The weekend before last I had the opportunity to attend my 30th high school reunion. Wow! 30 years! Some memories seem like yesterday and yet I needed to rely on my classmates to fill in some blanks. This was only the third reunion I’ve attended, previously attending the 10 and 20 year ones. I enjoyed this one, even though it was only several hours long.

I really had to rely on name tags to make sure I knew who was coming through the door especially for the guys. There are a few who look amazingly close to how they looked in high school. And for the guys this usually means they still have their hair and didn’t put too many pounds on. For the rest of the guys we either fell into one of two camps: not much hair  or a lot of gray. On the other hand, I thought the ladies were generally easier to identify. It’s funny because unless you still have friends from high school that you see often, your memory play tricks on you because your memory is based on how everyone looked 30 years ago. The ladies still made all of the guys look good in the Facebook photos.

Locker buddies! Sievertson and Severson

Here’s why I enjoyed this reunion so much. Since the 20 year reunion, Facebook has helped many classmates reconnect on the web. I’ve learned how to create my own Google + like circles using Facebook lists, so it’s easy to filter a news feed of friends by category. Say what you want about Facebook, but the interesting thing about the news feed from my high school friends list is that I can sort of “see” what everybody my age is doing. One unique characteristic of your high school class is that everyone is within a year or so of each other. So you sort of experience the vagaries of life roughly at the same clip. The social networks have made it a little easier to see how your classmates are faring with kids, aging parents, careers and marriage.

Interestingly, depending on when people got married, the range of kids goes from about 10 or 11 to 25-27. Many have kids in the middle somewhere or they’re struggling to watch their children leave the house and go off to college. That reality seemed especially hard on several of the ladies that I talked to. Raising kids has been the main preoccupation for the majority of folks (myself not included, which is likely why I still have hair.)

Careers was another interesting subject. At the age of 47-48, the majority of us are all hitting our groove in terms of our jobs. We’re in that sweet spot where we’ve had a couple of decades of experience in our professions or businesses. There’s a feeling of being in charge of where we want to work and what we want to do. Most of us are earning pretty good money and we all looked pretty good too!

I was impressed with my classmates and genuinely happy for their accomplishments. I sensed a very real contentment with life overall. Contentment with spouses, kids, choices and jobs. Everyone looked in pretty decent health and there was lots of laughter. My prayer for them is that the next 10 years God continues to shine blessings on them as he has over the last 30 years. The next milestone reunion will be the year 2021 and we will be 57-58 years old and staring at our own retirement.

I was telling my dad about the reunion and he confirmed that he had a similar experience at his 30 year reunion. And then he said something interesting to me. He said in the next 10 years most of everyone’s kids will be grown up and gone out of the house, and this fact will likely prove to be a great test for those who are married. He reminded me that the rest of American society has demonstrated that after the kids leave the house a lot of marriages have trouble and break down. Once the kids are no longer the central focus of the marriage, it seems folks take a look at who’s sleeping next to them and ask, “who are you?”

I hope my class finds a way to beat the odds set by the generations before us. We are the very tail end of the baby boomer generation that was from 1946 to 1964 (inclusive of the last year.) My class was born primarily in 1963. During our lifetimes, the country has undergone major social changes. I’m old enough to remember asking my father to explain the Vietnam War to me even though I was only 6 or 7 and it didn’t end until I was almost 12 in 1975. My class graduated from high school in 1981 as Ronald Reagan had won the presidency in a landslide the year before. In those years which extended into our college years, we witnessed the birth of the proponents of social change to the more conservative, and now back again. We have witnessed (as children) and to some extent we have defined (as adults) the social divide that exists in the country today. There are still fantastic challenges to conquer and adventures to experience in the next decade to be sure!

To the Lincoln High School Class of ’81: Thanks for nice evening of memories. I look forward to keeping in touch with many of you on Facebook. Keep going guys, there’s more greatness in store for us to come!

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After starting up our blog, we’ve learned to appreciate  reading several others’ blogs too. We’ve slowly begun to communicate via comments as well. We’ve entered into the conversations slowly, and lurked for awhile on a few before leaving comments. As we’ve gained confidence, we find ourselves attached to several favorites. Lisa and I talk about their postings with each other as if we’d been chatting with them over the phone recently.

In other words, we sort of feel like we’ve gotten to know several people without ever having met them personally. They are electronic, cyber friendships. And we look forward to checking in with these folks daily or weekly. We’ve gotten so used to it that when we tell others about stories we’ve read, we say things like, “Yeah, we know these people who…”, or “We have some friends that…”.

It’s easier to reference our electronic friends by calling them simply “friends” than trying to explain by saying things like, “Yeah, I understand what you mean, we blog and exchange blogger comments with some folks who…”

One in particular has been a great inspiration lately. Joey writes his blog Wide White. Now truthfully, I [Brent] met Joey once by sheer luck last summer at a Twins game. We both were following each other on Twitter and while watching the game at Target Field, we both realized that we were at the ballpark sitting in consecutive sections no less! So we found each other within a couple minutes and spent an inning chatting for awhile. But that was the only meeting.

Joey and his wife Jamie are going through a tumultuous time in their lives right now. They are expecting a daughter in July, but they know from the ultra sounds that their daughter has Turner syndrome and they may only get a very limited time with her after she’s born. Joey has been blogging through this experience and I have found myself with tears in my eyes after reading a few of his latest postings.

Other than the brief introduction at the ballpark, the blog has served as this terrific spring board into sharing an intimate time of grief, of pain, of love and special relationship. His posts have really served to help Lisa and I focus on our faith walk together, our prayers have become focused and Joey and Jamie’s shared pain has helped us ensure that we are appreciating each day even more.

Their daughter’s name is Kaylee Hope. And Joey and Jamie have been brave as they’ve shared their grief, pain, hopes and desires. They have laid their faith down in words. They have expressed their feelings openly in their blog. We thank them for that. Somehow this blogger medium has extended beyond a few bits and bytes and we feel like our electronic friendship with them is as real as the relationships we have with people we work with. Strange that the Lord would use this painful experience to help us see the importance of relationships with people. Even when we haven’t spent any face time together.

Joey and Jamie’s relationship with God has been encouraging and I wish we could give them a real hug. I would like to thank them for being so brave. I would like them to know how much we care about them and what they’re going through.

God’s peace be with you Joey, Jamie and Kaylee Hope. Here’s a virtual <hug> from us. You deserve so much more, but I hope it helps a little today.

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Ok. Long post here. But it’s been a week and I’ve been working on this one since the SuperBowl.

This fall and winter, the Lord has been providing instruction on contentment. Are you familiar with this verse from 1 Timothy 6?

6 “But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9 Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”

God’s instruction began in August when co-workers invited me to participate in the annual football pool. This annual football pool is where you throw-away….I mean throw in $20 for the season and then each week for 17 weeks, you have to pick a winner for each game and rank your picks, putting 1 point on the team you’re least sure about and the highest point value on the team you’re most confident will win. You score the point value you place on the team if that team wins the game.

Anyway, the person with the most points for the week earns some money back from the total pool and the person with the most points overall at the end of the season wins a bunch of money. I’ve played this game in the past, never placing in the top 3 for the season. Well, starting in week 2 of the season back in September, I took an early lead. At week 7 I was still in the lead, up by 2o points and I started to think I could win this thing. However, the excitement about maintaining my lead gave way to pressure and it started giving me headaches. Each week while Lisa and I were out enjoying biking and the fall weather, I was keen on logging onto my phone and getting caught up on the scores. It became a distraction. It took away from the real enjoyment of spending time with Lisa and enjoying my favorite season of the year in Minnesota. I became obsessed with the outcome of every game and every weekly point total. And each week that I maintained my lead over the top 5 people in the pool I would breathe a slight sigh of relief only to begin sweating how to make picks for the next week. And the cycle would begin again.

Lisa asked me if the stress and rise in my already high blood pressure was worth it. I said, “No hon, it’s not. I love football and I’ll always root for the Vikings, but this isn’t as fun as I thought it would be.” She gently asked if I would consider not doing this again. She was right to ask me. But even more than that, I had to admit that the prospect of winning the money was a temptation. “Think about what we could do with that money if I won!” I said. Lisa just looked back at me and said, “Yeah, but is it worth what you’re going through now? I think it’s shortening your life and you don’t even know it.”

I paused on that. True enough, my heart raced on close games and I was experiencing migraine headaches. It seems I had pierced myself with many griefs over the prospect of more money. And we didn’t need the money. In August I joined the pool figuring $20 ÷ 17 weeks = $1.18 per week wagered and the prospect of winning $10 would make all the games more interesting and exciting. But it wasn’t interesting nor exciting, it was nerve-wracking.

I wondered, as I prayed to God, “what could be done about this?” I apologized to Lisa and to God and wondered what good could come from this experience? I asked God to help me keep my mind and heart open to hearing from him. Scripture is a good place to hear his voice and the reminder of this verse from 1 Timothy 6 had my attention.

The answer to my question came from an unusual place. Let me explain. Lisa and I have been reading a book by June Volk, The God Who Answers by Fire – A Jewish Saga that we purchased from the author on Yom Kippur last fall. Keep in mind that Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, was on September 18th – which was week 2 of the NFL regular season, and that was the weekend I took the lead in the football pool and from there led the entire season.

[As an aside, I wrote about our bike trip that weekend in an earlier post. We planned that adventure with some Jewish friends as a way to celebrate together and enjoy a great meal after the fast. It was because we’d worshipped on Shabbat which freed up our Sunday afternoon with our friends so we could spend time together and learn about Yom Kippur. I didn’t realize that God was going to take me on a learning adventure that would last for 17 weeks.]

Now, returning back to June’s book; we met June when we attended Shabbat service at the Seed of Abraham which is one of the Messianic Jewish congregations in the Twin Cities. Rabbi Rothman had arranged a special Shabbat with June in attendance. (For more on June and her book, check out this YouTube.) June has a chapter in her book where God helps June find contentment with God’s provision. One of the verses in the chapter is Luke 16:10a, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much,…”

Lisa and I have been reading chapters from June’s book as our daily devotional and when Lisa read this verse out loud it stuck with me. Now I want to say that the following conversation with the Lord took place in my mind. I didn’t hear a literal voice. Rather it happened as a sense, as urgings, and gentle prompts. I have been working to practice paying attention to this and seek confirmation as I believe a conversational intimacy with God is entirely possible and quite normal. We can talk about that in a separate post.

As I considered June’s story and the verse, I thought about Luke 16 and felt kind of bad because betting the $20 on the football season didn’t seem like a representation of responsibility with a little of the provision that God has given me and Lisa. Especially considering we’d made the decision just a week before to learning about Yom Kippur.

Over the course of time the senses, the urgings and prompting with the Lord went something like this:

[Me thinking about the verse in Luke 16] “Trust? Didn’t I just prove the opposite about myself?” I wondered . “It seems I can’t be trusted with $20.”

God’s prompting resulted in, “It’s not for you.”

[Me: thinking about that revelation] “The football pool money?”

[God’s prompting me again] “Right.”

“Ok. Who’s it for?”, I asked.

[God] “You’ll know”, was the sensation I had.

“What will Lisa think of this?” [Me wondering if Lisa is going to think I’m crackers.]

So about week 14 into the NFL season, the picks were getting tough, and I was still in the lead. Unbelievable. I had actually picked poorly a couple weeks in a row and the lead could’ve changed, but it didn’t. I was ahead by 10 points. That is the outcome of just one game with the wrong points on it; and there were 3 weeks to go. But by this time I had committed to giving the winnings away. So the pressure wasn’t as intense. But I still felt a slight amount of pressure. So I prayed and asked God, “Why do I still feel some anxiety about this?”

I sensed him saying, “Do you trust me?”

[Me] “Oh oh. Is this a trust issue too? Yes God I do.”

[God’s Spirit prompting me] “Put some skin in the game.”

That was the thought. Pony-up. The Day of Atonement was here. Repentance was demonstrating that not only did I not need to win the bet, but that I could go to Lisa and and tell her that I needed to put some of our own money down as a way of acknowledging God’s provision for all that he has provided for us.

So I agreed to put in 10x the amount of the single week that I’d won along the way.

NFL Week 15 arrived: I went up by 20 points!

NFL Week 16: maintained lead by 21 points!

Final NFL Week 17: I won the season by 14 points. God had come through because honestly, I don’t know a thing about betting on sports – which is probably a very good thing. From one week to another, I have no idea what’s going on around the league. I like football, but I don’t study teams or play Fantasy Football or scour injury reports.

Lisa and I prayed together before bed at the end of the season. I said I’m thinking I know what to do with the football pool money, but I need confirmation that it’s the right choice. I asked her to pray about it too and to tell me if anybody came to mind. She did. Later, I told her who I thought the Lord wanted to bless and she looked at me and and smiled. God had promised that I’d know. And now I did.

The beauty in the whole thing was not only how I learned to be faithful with a little, and that I was also to be trusted with much. But the real beauty was that Lisa and I got to be the broken vessels by which he blessed someone else. The recipients of the blessing were surprised and delighted. They thanked us and that’s okay. But I want all our readers to know that God was the one who orchestrated the entire thing. He provided the blessings to our friends, he redeemed my thinking and my attitude. He cured my headaches. He proved he is to be trusted. He did all those things and he allowed Lisa and I to experience the delight and surprise of our friends. We just trusted and obeyed. He did the work. We experienced all the benefits.

Does this sound like a miracle to you? Has God ever turned your thinking around? Has he redeemed one of your poor choices and demonstrated his love to you? Tell us your story in the comments. We’d love to hear it!

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Britt, MN - in the Superior National Forest

My first annual men’s snowmobiling weekend is in books and upon returning home, I kissed Lisa and asked where the bottle of ibuprofen was. And that means the weekend was a great success. We arrived at Lake Leander around 6pm last Friday night and noted that St. Louis County Minnesota had as much or more snow than the Twin Cities. It took us a couple hours to blow out 3 feet of snow from the driveway, clear a path to the outhouse, unload the van and begin starting the snowmobiles so they’d be ready for Saturday.

One pesky cold start forced us to postpone the Friday evening ride, but we eventually got the machine started. Of course it didn’t help that it was -14 below zero F. But according to the locals, this was the most snow they’d had in years. So the sledding was perfect.

Let’s get one thing straight, snowmobiling in Minnesota is a whole culture where the trails are groomed and posted with street signs (stop signs, curves, slow, etc). But the most important signs are the ones telling you how to get to the next bar and lounge.

Our machines took us on a ride that landed us at Liquid Larry’s, The Oasis, The Voyageur and Britt’s Lounge. Honestly, we never got cold even though by Saturday night after 12 hours of riding, the temperature was -20 F on it’s way to -39 F.

My Facebook check-in’s helped to confirm for Lisa that the Man’s Snowmobiling weekend is mostly about male bonding and she was glad to allow me to experience it. She’s doesn’t like the cold, nor the idea of riding a loud smelly machine, nor the thought that trips to the outhouse are not heated.

I also want to give a call out for the folks up on the Range: they are good people. A guy named Jim had gone over to the cabin in the afternoon and fired up the gas space heater before we arrived to warm it up. Another guy loaned us an extra machine so all 4 of us could ride together. Another guy opened up his repair garage when we needed to store a machine with a broken suspension arm. Everyone was glad to see us and helped show the best of a real Minnesota winter.

All of this helped me enjoy a couple days with some special friends. I’ve known Gary since 5th grade & Mark since 3rd grade; and Chris is one of Gary’s co-workers. He has had all of us over for grilling and is one of the funniest guys I know. It isn’t often we get the chance to be goofy,  eat steaks, have a couple cocktails and crack jokes at each others’ expense AND drive snowmobiles around. Livin’ the dream! Thanks guys!

Gotta dig 'em out first!

Revin' the engines!

Chris & Gary

Mark

Yours truly!

Entering Narnia

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I recently came across a 2007 journal entry that asked this question. It was a direct inquiry to God as I  began to get to know Brent. Having been single for over 40 years, neither of us was looking to jump blindly into marriage. Think about it, that’s 40 years of developing patterns, opinions and goals all on our own while making major decisions independently and coming and going as we pleased.

We could have danced all night.

While we both wanted to be married and had asked God to bring the right person along, we knew it would mean adjustments, sacrifice and change – along with opportunities for God to move in our lives in new ways. At that point in our friendship, we were each wondering if we were ready for that change and if this was “The One.”

And so I asked, “Can we be best friends?” And wrote,”Brent is unlike other men that I’ve dated – show me Lord what I need to know, to see. … I long for a husband and companion, but not at the expense of Your will. … He seems to be a man wanting to do things in Your way. Show me Lord. Does he seek you in this relationship? Is he looking for Your wisdom and direction?” Three and a half years ago, these were the questions I asked.

Unbelievably, we’re now headed toward our second anniversary next month. God had walked me through those questions and gave me a husband after His own heart. I’m so grateful for the gift of doing life with this man. We’re now seeing God use marriage as fresh canvas upon which to transform our weaknesses and reveal himself to us.

Even as I journalled the “best friend question,” I didn’t fully realize how very important it was. I had heard of people who settled for a spouse who was a merely a good provider and a nice person. Perhaps it’s particularly important at our age and not having children, but I love being married to my best friend. He’s the one I most want to share my joys and dilemmas with. I love our conversations and our adventures. I look forward to growing old with Brent.

The Best is Yet to Come

It turns out the answer was, “Yes.”

It’s a bit premature, but as we celebrate the start of a new year, we also look forward to another year of marriage together. Happy early anniversary to my best friend! And blessings on your marriage or search for a spouse in this coming year. In either case, it’s never too late to keep asking questions and praying for your best friend.

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What were your biggest questions as you dated your spouse? If you’re single, what’s at the top of your list of questions?

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Friendship is truly one of God’s perfect gifts.  God has arranged to gift me with three friends that I’ve had since I was in elementary school. I’ve known Terry and Mark since I was in 3rd grade and the three of us met Gary when he moved to our neighborhood in 5th. It seems rare these days to have such long standing friends. And we live close to one another. Three of us are in the Twin Cities and the fourth is a couple hours west. Hunting season is one of the few times during the year when all 4 of us try to arrange it so we can spend time together; and pheasant hunting is our perfect venue.

The pheasant hunting wasn’t so great this year. The fields were soaked. In fact, I’ve never seen so much water at this time of year. The rain in September was just too much and even though it was mostly dry in October, we ended the month with a few days of rain and the ground just couldn’t take it. It was enough rain to prevent farmers from getting corn harvested. The birds are lounging in the corn and there’s just no way to get them out of there. Hunting pheasants will get better when the corn is in and the water has frozen over. We saw a few birds, but we had other obstacles this year too. Terry’s dog had a bum foot and couldn’t take the field. We hunted sans chien. It’s just not a very productive hunt without a dog.

Our bad luck didn’t deter us from having a great time. We took a break at noon and lingered awhile longer over fried chicken and chips at the local cafe. I think we’ve all slowed down a bit as we’re 47 years old and feeling a few creaks in our joints. It took me half of Sunday just to get stretched out and feeling better. But it was worth it.

The four of us marched across several fields yesterday with a chilly wind in our faces and warm sun on our backs. We saw a couple dozen turkeys, a big buck deer and many geese. I looked at the faces of my buddies as we joked with each other and caught up on the details of life as we walked across the Minnesota prairie. I could see extra wrinkles, less hair and grey whiskers on our faces. But mostly, I saw the years of our youth flash forward through time. I recalled youthful memories like boy scouts, bike rides and football. I heard new stories about kids, gratitude for having jobs in an uneven economy, updates on parents and plans for the holidays. I felt the rays of the sun setting on our day together as the memories became another year richer. Lord, thank you for the gift of camaraderie: four friends, a few pheasants and a lifetime of genuine happiness. Godliness with contentment is great gain.

Do you have grade-school friends that will always be by your side through thick and thin? What are your favorite memories? How do you continue to create new memories together? Do you see the handiwork of God on how He’s arranged for you to have friends in your life? How would your life and your contentment be affected without them? Share a memory in the comments, we’d love to hear it!

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