Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thankful for Thanksgiving

In the days when personal computers were the size of an American Tourister suitcase, I remember taking one of the first online personality tests. My friends answered the questions on my survey first, and the results did not reflect my personality at all. So I answered the questions, and we all agreed that the personality profile was much more accurate. The ability to be honest with one's self is important in many aspects of life. We have such an ability to deceive ourselves, as well as the rest of the world; it's amazing we are able to function at all.

Of all my quirky personality traits, and I know it sounds strange, but I am grateful for my sense of gratitude. I am not sure how much of these traits are learned behavior or if it's just how we were made, but I think it must be a bit of both. I remember back in my younger years, I took many things for granted. I expected that things should always go my way and I would become upset or depressed if things did not work out the way I planned. The more success I achieved, the more I thought I deserved, and the more I wanted.

It is so easy to become complacent with our current situations in life. Our job, our spouse, our children, our health, everything that makes up our life right now, as mundane an unglamorous as it seems, are the very things for which we should be grateful. Don't believe me? What if they were all taken away from you tomorrow? Somewhere, maybe just down the street, someone is going through that very situation right now.

How many of us just expect to have our job waiting for us when we show up? How many of us have walked into our place of employment only to be told that we need to go home because our job had been eliminated? Been there, done that, walked out with a cardboard box with my personal belongings. Talk about a bad day.

Now you may be thinking, I wish I could get away from everything in my life. I hate my job, my spouse, my kids are brats and if I could walk away, I would. The world is full of people who have done that, only to find in a few short years they are stuck in another job they hate, with a new spouse they can't get along with and kids that are driving them nuts. Maybe the problem is they can't look past their problems to see the blessing in their lives.

As I sit down with my family this year for Thanksgiving, if I begin to complain about anything, I hope someone will give me a kick in the pants. I have a great family, a good job with co-workers I consider friends, a roof over my head and most importantly, a relationship with a loving God.

From a personal standpoint, I am still a mess. But I keep working on many aspects of my personal life, trying to become a better husband, father, and certainly a better Christian. For all the faults I still possess, ingratitude is one I am working hard to eliminate.

I know that the blessing I enjoy right now have been the result of so many people in my life who have helped me, stuck with me, believed in me, encouraged me, gave me a chance and even a second chance when they didn't have to. Thank you, one and all, and thank you Lord for putting these people in my life.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

A place for everything and everything in its place.

Having been out of town for the first serious storm of the year, I missed a few things. I hear the October storm was a bad one, with strong winds and almost two inches of rain in a few hours. While we need all the rain we can get after three years of drought, the first rain always brings some surprises. I find that the first good rain serves as a wonderful memory jogger. This is how it plays out at my house.

Did I bring any firewood up to the house or is it still in the woodpile? Did I leave those bags of redi-mix concrete outside the barn or did I put them away? Did I leave my bucket of fencing tools on the ATV trailer? Did I move the BBQ under the eves? Did I roll the windows up in the truck? Where is my rain gear?

You get the idea.

A transition must take place between the end of summer and the onset of fall. Some people plan this transition. They have a checklist of things they must put away, store, cover, and protect before the first storm clouds peek over the horizon. I hate these people.

These are the same people who have the pegboard wall with all the tools outlined in felt pen, like some sort of hardware crime scene. They probably have cutting boards marked for vegetables, poultry, beef, and "other." They are the people who have the original box that everything they have ever purchased came in, and they put it back in that box when they are done using it. Cmon', where is the fun in knowing exactly where everything is?

These people will never know the excitement of dashing through house trying to find your camera when you are late for your flight. They will never learn how to make a slip-n-slide out of a blue plastic tarp and a hose because you can't remember where you stored the real one.

No, they will always have everything in its place, but they will never know the thrill of chasing the patio umbrella across the back yard on a dark, windy night because you forgot to take it down in October. It's a shame, I mean really, what a dull existence.

I may try to find some sort of happy medium between these two extremes. This year I am going to break with my own personal tradition and put up the Christmas lights right after Thanksgiving. I will not put it off until the week before, like I normally do. I will also use the next sunny weekend to cut a load of firewood. This year I may, and I shudder just thinking it, have all my shopping done, the tree up, and the decorating done by the first week in December.

Yes, this year I will get everything done early. On the other hand, I might just relax and go shooting.

Now where did I put my .308 ammo?

Monday, November 16, 2009

An early Thanksgiving

Is it just me or have the major retail stores skipped over Thanksgiving this year and have pushed straight on into Christmas? It seems I was just watching my daughter carve her jack o lantern last week and now I am supposed to be whittling down my Christmas shopping list? Is it too much to ask for, taking one holiday at a time?

Can we have the chance to celebrate Thanksgiving, please? It is one of my favorite holidays. Okay, so I love turkey and pumpkin pie, but there is much more to Thanksgiving than a big meal with family and friends. It is a time to take account of all the things in our lives we are thankful for. There is even a 30 days of thankfulness going around on Facebook, and I am glad to see people counting the blessing in their lives, even if it's on a social networking site.

In that spirit, there is a special event coming up this weekend I wanted to share with you. This Sunday, November 22nd at Bayside Church of Woodland, they are holding their Heroes Weekend service. It is a chance for our community to give thanks to all those who serve us the line of duty. There will be special presentations, music and as a way to say thank you, each department will be receiving a donation to their favorite charity.

The Woodland Police Department, Yolo County Sheriffs Department, Woodland Fire Department, California Highway Patrol and the emergency dispatch center, these are the people who come to our aid when trouble hits. It's not very often you get a chance to say thank you to these folks, and this will be a wonderful opportunity to do just that.

If you have children, this Sunday will be a very special time. Barring any major disasters or events, all the departments bring out a few squad cars, mobile command units, fire trucks and this year, it sounds like we will have an actual Black hawk helicopter land out by the football field at Pioneer High School.

If you only make it to church on Christmas or Easter, you should try to make it out this Sunday to the Pioneer High School Theater for Heroes Weekend. The first service is at 9:15AM and the second service is at 11:00AM. Come out and say thank you to the people who put their lives in danger everyday to serve us and our community.

Walt goes Inside the Actor's Studio

Tonight we have a special treat. Tonight the Actor's Studio turns its spotlight away from film and Broadway to look at a very unique individual. Father, husband, writer, rancher, musician, lay pastor and amateur demolition expert, Walt Lucas.

Thanks James, this is unexpected indeed. I'm still not sure why you are here to be honest.

We do not limit our search for talent to Hollywood and New York. Inspiration is where you find it, Mr. Lucas. As Allen Ginsberg said "inspiration is just a feeling of heightened breath or slightly exalted breath, when the body feels like a hollow reed in the wind of breath."

.....Okay, whatever you say James. Please, call me Walt.

Let me start out with the usual questions. At what age did you feel the call to perform?

Um, I don't really know, I guess I have always felt like I could perform in front of people.

Do you feel at home in the spotlight?

No, I am actually quite nervous just before I speak or play music in front of a crowd.

And you never caught the acting bug?

No. I did play Bob Cratchit in a Christmas play in elementary school, but that was it.

Most of us know you through your writing, your blog and the guest opinion pieces you write for the local newspaper. How did that start, the writing?

I don't know really. I love to read and the more I read, I began to appreciate good writing and good writers. When I would read an article in the paper, I would get upset at the dumb things people would write. I thought to myself, heck, I could write a better piece than that, so I started my blog. It was fast, easy and free so I began to write at The Roughstock Journal under the name of Yolo Cowboy.

How did you come up with your nom de plume?

My what?

Your pen name, Yolo Cowboy.

Pretty easy James, I live in Yolo County and I am, or at least have been, a cowboy for a living.



Where do you see you writing taking you? Is there a novel in your future, a screenplay perhaps?

Uh, I don't think so. I usually just write about what is happening in the world around me, what is going on in my life and try to pass along some of the lessons I have learned the hard way. I figure even if I don't learn from my mistakes, maybe someone else can.

How magnanimous.


We will close tonight by asking the questionnaire made famous by the Frenchman, Bernard Pivot.


What is your favorite word?

Colloquialism. It just sounds cool.

What is your least favorite word?


What turns you on?


What turns you off?

People who won't bother learning the facts when they argue with you.

What sound or noise do you love?

I love the rhythm of a horse's hooves and the creaking of the saddle when you ride. I also love to my kids sing when they don't know I am listening.

What sound or noise do you hate?

Nancy Pelosi's voice.

What is your favorite curse word.

I hope my mom doesn't read this James. I try not curse, but if I do smash my thumb or drop my keys into lake Berryessa, again, I would probably say - Horse$#it.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

I have always loved music, I would like to produce music in a studio.

What profession would you not like to do?

Press secretary, for any politician. Lying for a living would kill me in a month.

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

Well James, I do believe Heaven exists and when I arrive I would like God to say, well done my good and faithful servant, but He probably won't. He will say, it's a good thing you are a friend of my Son, because without Him vouching for you, it wouldn't be pretty.

Thanks for sharing with our students.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Winning the small battles.

Every few months the Men's group at our church's gets together on a Saturday morning. We go around the room and share a bit of what has been happening in our lives, we always have a good breakfast, and we usually finish with a special guest speaker. This past breakfast was special, not only because Roger made ribs for breakfast, which were great, but the guest speaker was one of our own. Darrin Williams is relocating to the Midwest and this was his last men's breakfast with us.

One thing about our church, we are a little 'outside of the box', as the ribs for breakfast would suggest. Darrin started his talk with a short video presentation. Not many church groups would start a devotional time by showing a few minutes of the movie Gladiator, but it was great. Trying to get men to pay attention on Saturday morning is hard enough, but when you start out with Gladiator, it makes it a bit easier. Darrin's message spoke about the way we view our spiritual lives. Not as one epic struggle but as many small battles. We learned how to win those battles, using strength and honor.

Strength and Honor, why are these traits so important in men, and why is it important that you strive for both, not just one or the other. Strength without honor is pride and selfishness. It is using your power to have things your own way. Having honor without strength means you will be honorable, which is good in itself, but you will not be able to make a strong impact. We need both in our lives if we are to become the men we were made to be.

Honor is doing the right thing, but how do we do that?

I know what I should do, what I want myself to do, but many times I fail and end up doing the exact opposite. When I fail in some part of my walk, the next failure seems more certain. I gave in the last time; I will probably give in the next time. It is almost as if you have a spiritual momentum. When you are heading in the right direction, one stumble can lead to two and then three, and soon you are heading in the wrong direction.

Strength or better-stated, spiritual strength comes when you allow God to use His strength in your life.

When I rely on my own strength to run my life, it usually ends up in disaster. Like most men, pride is how this manifests itself in my life. As soon as I start thinking, I am going to do it my way, and I don’t come to God in prayer before a big decision or when I am in a crisis, it ends badly. I have had enough practice doing things the wrong way and paying the price for those decisions, you would think I have learned by now. However, like so many of us, I am a slow learner.

No matter what direction we are heading right now, we can draw upon two things to win the next small battle, strength and honor.

As the saying goes, I can resist everything, except temptation. No matter what area in your life you struggle with, if you can break this big fight into small battles, you can prevail. I am going to win this time. I am going to resist, using God's strength to do what is right, what is honorable, right now. The other part of this strategy is to flee from temptation. There is no shame in running away when it comes to spiritual matters. Many times, I have been in a bad situation that I should have seen coming, that I did see coming, but I did not run away from it. Sometimes not putting yourself in a compromising situation, not showing up to the battle is the best plan.

So how we develop honorable and strong spiritual habits? We draw our strength as Christians through spending time in God's word. If you are not spending time reading the Bible, through a small group study or just on your own, you are losing some of that spiritual strength you need to win the next battle. Fellowship with other Christians is also important. I always feel uplifted after church, or after my small group Bible study, my spiritual batteries are recharged. I seem to make better decisions, more Christ-centered decisions.

To summarize, break up the big fights into small battles, flee from temptation and develop strong spiritual habits through spending time in God's word and fellowship with other believers.

We are going to miss Darrin, his wife Lisa, and their two boys. They have been a blessing to our church and in our lives. Good luck Darrin, strength and honor my friend, strength and honor.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

History; ancient and otherwise

I remember as a high school student reading about Columbus, our founding fathers, Lincoln and FDR. At the time they seemed as distant to me as if I were studying Greek mythology. As I grew up, I began to understand what was happening around me would someday be taught in a monotone voice by a seemingly disinterested teacher to even more disinterested students as history.

It is a rather hard idea to grasp as a sophomore in high school, but it is true nevertheless; history is happening every day. Students give your thumbs a break from texting for a moment and try to remember just one or two things about what is happening in the world right now. Even if your world view changes in the years to come, just remembering how you felt about what is happening today may give you an insight to balance what someone writes in a textbook or newspaper years from now.

This coming Monday, November 9th marks the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. For those of you in high school, let me put this event in context for you.

Imagine for a moment out there in the world is a very real, very large, very militaristic, and very evil nation who has vowed to defeat your way of life and conquer your nation. Imagine that for as long as you can remember, you have watched the flickering, grainy images of "Duck and cover" a short film on how to protect yourself from a Soviet nuclear attack on your city by getting under your desk. Imagine that same nation is expanding its reach across the globe and there are those inside your country who think Soviet Communism will ultimately overtake American Capitalism and freedom. Imagine a world with two competing ideas, two very different ideas on the best way forward for the human race. One that focuses on individual liberty and freedom and one that emphasizes the collective good of "the state" over the individual. Imagine you are right in the middle of that battle, and there is no clear favorite.

That was what it was like to be alive in 1989. For many of us, the center of this battle, this Cold War, was Berlin in West Germany. Not the bustling, prosperous Berlin of today. This was a city divided into two parts, West Berlin, a free democracy, the other surviving under the oppression of its Soviet masters back in Moscow. The wall separating the city was not put up by the free citizens of West Berlin; it was built to keep the oppressed people of East Berlin from escaping.

While everyone had an opinion as to what to do about the cold war, not many had a clear understanding of the stakes, and the real differences between the two ideas at the center of the struggle.

Ronald Wilson Reagan was a man who understood this struggle and more importantly, he understood that we could win, we must win. Twenty two years ago President Reagan stood at the Brandenburg Gate, the dividing line between East and West Berlin and called out the new soviet leader.

The infrastructure holding up the Soviet Union was a rotten and ready to collapse. From the outside, the facade looked menacing and impenetrable, but underneath was a crumbling foundation. It is not clear just how much of this was known outside of the Soviet establishment, and many folks have claimed that we just needed to give it a push and the evil empire would come crumbling down. In hindsight, I don't think that is right. No one knew how vulnerable the Soviet Union was at that point, Reagan just knew the west needed to push because it was the right thing to do.

I remember many criticized Reagan for even talking about pushing back against communist aggression. When Reagan called the Soviet Union the evil empire, there were those in the media who were terrified that we were provoking our mortal enemy. This actor turned trigger-happy politician was going get us all killed, that is what elites in the Washington thought. President Reagan stood up to the Soviets because we were right and they were wrong.

Right here is where your civics teacher will stop and point to the sins of America, from slavery to the unjust treatment of Native Americans to the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII. Guilty as charged. America is not perfect, it simply the last best hope for freedom loving people around the world. I often quote the late Democratic Senator, Daniel Patrick Moynihan "Am I embarrassed to speak for a less than perfect democracy? Not one bit. Find me a better one. Do I suppose there are societies which are free of sin? No, I don't. Do I think ours is, on balance, incomparably the most hopeful set of human relations the world has? Yes, I do."

Now for a confession; early on, I was not a fan of Ronald Reagan. I was still young and naive, dreaming of a world where everyone would learn to get along and we could settle our differences by talking nice. In other words, I was a Democrat. Reagan opened my eyes to the realities of the Soviet Union by telling me who they were, what they stood for, and conversely who we were and what we stood for. Warts and all, Reagan truly loved this nation and wanted to show the rest of the world what is possible if you unleash people to pursue their dreams, free from an oppressive state or an overpowering government. What can I say, I was young.

Reagan's speech aimed at the new General Secretary of the USSR contained a clear and concise message.

There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace.

General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate.

Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate.

Mr. Gorbachev -- Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!

Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall. Even Reagan's own State department guys did not want him to mention the wall in his speech, too inflammatory, too confrontational; this was not talking nice.

In two short years, on November 9th, 1989 the collapse of the Soviet Union was well underway and the Berlin Wall was torn down by jubilant Germans from both sides. The reunification of families separated for decades by this concrete barrier was a scene that flashed around the world. The world learned that day to put their faith in freedom.

As we look back on that day, let's remember it was not about armies as much as it was about ideas. It's not that Reagan was right about the wall, or the fall of the Soviet Union, it's that Reagan was right about America.