Winning and Losing

2015-Year-In-Review.jpg (616×372)

As the year draws to a close, many of us reflect on what’s taken place in the past 12 months, good and bad, ups and downs, dreams fulfilled and resolutions broken.

We see how unpredictable life is. If I was able to write the script of my life for 2015, I would not have written it the way it turned out. But that doesn’t mean it was a bad year.

The defining moment of 2015 for me took place on Feb. 10. I showed up for work as usual that afternoon, preparing for my regular Tuesday shift at the local newspaper. An hour and a half into my shift, I was called into the editor’s office. The editor and managing editor fired me. They gave me a list of reasons, none of which I agreed with, but that didn’t matter. I failed to do my job properly.

In the months leading up to that moment, I felt more stress than I’d felt since the days before I was downsized in 2009 from a job I held for 24 years. The stress affected my health. I drank far too much coffee; I had trouble donating blood, something I’ve done since the 1980s; I wasn’t sleeping as well as I should.

Overnight, literally, all of that changed. I’ve reigned in my coffee intake (I still drink several cups a day, but not at 10 p.m. any more); I’m back to donating blood every two months or so; and I’m getting to bed at a reasonable hour.

Beyond that, I’m finding ways to take control of my life, at least the parts I can control. My primary job now is the job search. I check several Internet sites; I’ve joined a networking group based in Medina; and I’ve taken advantage of the career services department at Lorain County Community College, which is a fantastic resource – even if you aren’t an LCCC student or graduate.

http://www.lorainccc.edu/Employment+and+Career+Services/Looking+for+Work/Workshops/

I’ve had a number of interviews this year, some with newspapers and others in internal communications or other fields.

I’ve learned not to get too excited after an interview. Human resources officials are always polite, and always guarded. I need to take the lead with the follow-up; when they hire someone else, they forget I even exist. Often the reasons are arbitrary; I’m qualified, but so are others, I’m sure.

I’ve learned patience.

When I get up in the morning, I spend a good hour reading my Bible and meditating on different things. That enables me to get through the day, no matter what happens – or doesn’t happen.

I do some volunteering with the Red Cross once or twice a week, just to get out of the house. It’s also a way to meet some cool people, and to travel around Cuyahoga County.

I started writing this blog, also to give me something to do, and to get back into writing. I wrote 80-some columns for The Saginaw (Mich.) News back in the day, most for the newspaper’s Family Page on Tuesdays. Occasionally I’d write about current events.

As a journalist, I’m sensitive to other viewpoints besides my own. I do have strong opinions on certain issues, but even then I realize other people disagree with me. That’s why I wrote a column several weeks ago about respect.

In the Dec. 21 issue of Sports Illustrated, retired golf superstar Jack Nicklaus received the magazine’s Legacy Award. Jack won 18 major tournaments, more than anyone else, and was runner-up in those major tournaments 19 times.

Jack Nicklaus
Jack Nicklaus attends the 2015 Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year Awards Dec.15 in New York. (The Associated Press)

 

Nicklaus had this to say about winning and losing:

 

“Your character comes through in golf. If you’re pissed at the world the whole time, you really can’t enjoy your wins, and in many ways you can’t really – what’s the right word? – you can’t really understand the meaning of your defeats. To get beat is very healthy. Particularly when you’ve really given it your best effort.

“If you win every time, you don’t learn anything. You don’t learn anything about yourself. You don’t learn anything about the other person. You don’t learn anything about the game. You don’t learn anything about life.”

 

Thank you for that, Jack. I’ve learned a lot about myself this year, and about what’s really important to me. How? Because something very important to me was taken away.

Perhaps getting fired was the best thing that happened to me this year.

What does 2016 hold? I have no idea.

I’m learning to embrace that. Me, a copy editor, who thrives on structure, on knowing what each day will bring.

I’m learning what faith really is.

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Benefits of fresh air

bur oak

I enjoyed my usual Tuesday morning light jog today with my youngest son, Michael, who is home from college. My stamina was lower than usual, for whatever reason. Not enough exercise the rest of the week, most likely.

I enjoy my regular treks through a couple of Lorain County Metroparks. It’s fun to see how the parks change each season.

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Bur-Oak/194524397234157

Or, how they usually change. Michael jogged in shorts and a T-shirt this morning (I had on a long-sleeve T-shirt and wind pants). Today is the first full day of winter, three days before Christmas. And it’s 50 degrees in northern Ohio.

I like winter. I like the fresh cold air on my cheeks, the crunch of snow under my sneakers, the occasional sight of a deer, the silence of a crisp sunny morning. I jog carefully because the two bridges in the park get slippery when ice coats them.

Today, the bridges were a little slippery – not from snow, but because it rained all day yesterday. Rain. No snow to shovel, which is great for those of us traveling around the holidays. But it still feels like fall.

Drab, bare trees – no leaves, no snow glistening, others walking their dogs or jogging (a couple of them also in shorts) … we can see through the trees to the Black River, or just deeper into the woods. Be careful on the wet bridges.

When winter comes, snow blankets everything in white. Softness. Cold. Crisp. I just add layers of clothes, and enjoy it. Beautiful.

When spring comes, the birds return. Squirrels frolic. Leaves on the trees hide the deeper woods, and give the deer places to hide.

In summer, many young moms come out, walking or jogging with their preschoolers in strollers. Numerous folks walk their dogs. We say “Good morning” to each other, especially to the regulars.

In fall, the leaves change color, then drop to the forest floor. Some blow on to the path, crunching under my feet. They become natural compost for the soil, and the annual cycle of life begins again.

I jog to relieve stress, because it makes me feel good. Gets the heart pumping. Fresh air invigorates me. A great way to start the day.

Other days, I walk. I’m not training for a 5K or anything; I just like to be outside. With someone or alone. Mostly, alone. My mind clears. It wanders sometimes, places that surprise me. I’ve come up with ideas for this blog on my jogs/walks, or thoughts to flesh them out.

I don’t have to be in a hurry to go anywhere.

Some Tuesday mornings, I do have to be somewhere. Last week, I did my jog in late afternoon – and because the sun set so early, I was the last person to leave the park. I didn’t plan that. It just got dark too quickly.

That’s what happens when winter approaches. Weather is unpredictable, but the clock isn’t. Time marches on.

The days will get longer now. The new year arrives next week. So much promise, so much hope. An unwritten script. Time marches on.

Weather isn’t the only thing that’s unpredictable. Family situations change, jobs, health … we’ll elect a new president next year.

Time marches on. How we handle the things that happen to us determines our character. The events themselves are not good or evil, even those that seem so. It’s not your fault. It’s not someone else’s fault. It’s up to me how I live my life next year.

I choose my responses. I will jog at Bur Oak next year too, Lord willing. Or if the Lord wills something else …

I can’t make it snow. But I’m ready when it does. I’ll be out there, even as the young moms with strollers and most of the joggers move indoors to exercise.

Me and my thoughts. Me and God. That’s all I need. That, and a heart that pumps a little faster during and after the jog.

A little exercise is a good new year’s resolution if it’s not already on your list. I see young and old, men and women, boys and girls, even the occasional person with a cane. That impresses me. A person who struggles to walk has to make a special effort to visit a county park. Wow. If such a person can keep going, then I certainly can.

Hope the holidays are good to you, inside and outside. Til next time.

The real Christmas story (hint: it’s not warm and fuzzy)

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The true and accurate Christmas story isn’t the serene manger scene with the nice shepherds and the friendly barnyard animals surrounding a sleeping baby Jesus with one big star in the sky and three wise men looking on.

No. That’s not how it happened at all.

I’ve never heard the true Christmas story in a Sunday sermon, or in a Christmas Eve service. It’s too controversial. And violent.

The true Christmas story is found in the Bible, of course. But not where we expect to find it. The Bible works that way sometimes.

To find the real story of Jesus’ birth, we must read Revelation 12. Yes, a chapter in the last book of the Bible, a vision that God gave to the apostle John.

The vision is very real. It takes place in the spiritual dimension – which we ignore at our own peril.

Here we go.

“A great portent (omen) appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pangs, in the agony of giving birth.”

Here is the mother of Jesus, bright and beautiful, ready to give birth.

“Then another portent appeared in heaven: a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems (crowns) on his heads. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth.”

This great red dragon is Satan – he will be named in a minute – and he’s in attack mode.

“Then the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, so that he might devour her child as soon as it was born.”

Why? What’s going on?

Satan had rebelled against the living God, hoping to overthrow him one day. But he knew that once this child was born and grew to adulthood, his days would be numbered.

God was declaring war on Satan with the birth of this child.

“And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron. But her child was snatched away and taken to God and to his throne; and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, so that there she can be nourished for one thousand two hundred sixty days.”

As soon as the male child was born, God protected the baby from the red dragon. The new mother fled to a place of protection as well, but a different place – in the wilderness, for 1,260 days, or 42 months, or 3.5 years.

I can’t say what the specific meaning of that number is, except that it also is mentioned in the chapters before and after this one. In Revelation 13, the red dragon is allowed to exercise authority on earth for 42 months.

Are we living in this time period now? I think we are.

“And war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon. The dragon and his angels fought back, but they were defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world – he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.”

Not exactly a silent night, is it? The multitude of heavenly host that freaked out the shepherds when Jesus was born in Bethlehem were praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” (Luke 2:14)

And for those whom he does not favor …

I do not want to be on the wrong side of this battle, on the side of the red dragon.

This revelation is frightening. And encouraging.

Satan was defeated and cast out of heaven; the battle between God’s angels and Satan continues on earth, even today. A glance at the nightly news reveals this war being waged on numerous fronts.

Yes, today’s news events are spiritual battles. There’s no doubt about it.

How is this encouraging? For two reasons that I see:

  1. Satan is not God’s equal. He is a fallen angel, on the same level as Michael. God is much stronger than the Devil is. We cannot forget this.
  2. The red dragon was given authority on earth for 42 months, or 3.5 years. This means his time here will end at some point. Satan knows his reign is finite; that’s why he’s stepping up the pressure, making the battles increasingly intense, to take as many of us with him to hell as he can.

Back to the Revelation vision:

“Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, proclaiming, ‘Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Messiah, for the accuser of our comrades has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God …’ ”

Jesus is born. The battle ensues.

Next, the apostle John describes what will happen to us:

“… Rejoice, then, you heavens and those who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, for the devil has come down to you with great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!”

When the dragon saw that he could not kill the child – Jesus is protected by God’s throne, and the dragon was cast out of heaven – he went after the child’s mother:

“So when the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle, so that she could fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to her place where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time.”

When Satan realized he couldn’t reach Jesus’ mother either, he turned on us:

“Then the dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her children, those who keep the commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus.”

Do you wonder why God allows evil in the world? It’s because of Christmas.

God declared war on Satan with the birth of Jesus. Satan is returning fire. But only for a time.

Don’t be surprised. This is the way God planned it. The red dragon is having his moment now. But his clock is ticking.

Merry Christmas.

Respect: We must give to receive

Aretha Franklin got it right in 1967. She just wanted a little respect from her man.

Franklin wanted to be esteemed, admired, honored. Here’s the lyrics to her song, and a YouTube video of it:

http://www.metrolyrics.com/respect-lyrics-aretha-franklin.html

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6FOUqQt3Kg0

Is R-E-S-P-E-C-T such a bad thing? Is it wrong to demand it?

In today’s America, it appears the answer is yes. I see very little respect any more, anywhere.

A few examples:

Trump/Muslims

Presidential candidate Donald Trump said this week he wants the United States to ban all Muslims from entering the country, in the wake of the attack last week in San Bernardino, Calif., by a “radicalized” Muslim couple who killed 14 people and wounded nearly two dozen others.

http://www.nytimes.com/politics/first-draft/2015/12/07/donald-trump-calls-for-banning-muslims-from-entering-u-s/

Seriously, Mr. Trump? Since when do American citizens blame an entire religious community for the actions of a few? “The free exercise of religion” is one of the principles the U.S. was founded on, and it’s included in the First Amendment. The Constitution doesn’t say “free exercise of Christianity;” it says “religion.” Look it up. (Muslims aren’t the first religious people to kill in the name of their god, either. You can look that up too.)

But Trump can make such an outlandish statement – and get away with it – because we live in a culture that respects no one.

Happy holidays/Merry Christmas

This is a minor issue. Why do “Christians” berate those who say Happy Holidays? Most people in this country are not “Christian,” even if most Americans do celebrate Christmas.

Lighten up. This one isn’t worth the fight. It does more harm than good.

Obama and the presidency

Barack Obama
The Seal of the President of the United States. (The Associated Press)

Here’s a big one. I see vicious comments nearly every day about President Obama. I also see, occasionally, vicious comments about previous presidents, especially George Bush (both of them, but especially the younger Bush).

We are so caught up in politics and policies, we have forgotten what the presidency stands for.

The President of the United States is possibly the most powerful person in the world. In our hatred for the office-holder, we have dis-respected the office itself.

Whether I voted for President Obama or not is irrelevant now. He is my president. Period. I don’t have to agree with everything he stands for; indeed, I do not. But I respect the office he holds. There are ways to oppose his policies. Legally and respectfully.

Not all of his policies are evil, by the way. Obama is a human being, just like you and I are. The nature of the office requires him to have a thick skin. He is not the devil. He is not our savior. No president is.

Let’s respect the office. With that attitude in place, we might actually discover we aren’t as different ideologically as we think we are.

Teachers/public education

One of my sons entered college planning to be a high school teacher. When he discovered all the micro-managing that teachers must deal with now, he changed course. I wonder how many other qualified teachers are leaving – or not entering – the profession because they literally are not allowed to teach. Their passion is being snuffed out of them.

How can students and their parents respect teachers when significant class time is taken up by standardized tests? Setting year-by-year standards for education is fine, but how can special education students be expected to keep up in a regular classroom? If a student is better at fixing things or making things than understanding a textbook, what’s wrong with vocational school?

Children are different. They don’t all learn exactly the same way.

News flash: Adults are different too. Different does not make me better than you. We are just different. That’s all. We can respect each other’s differences. And the differences in our children.

Sports referees

Walt Anderson
Referee Walt Anderson (66) reviews a challenged call in the second half of an NFL football game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Pittsburgh Steelers on Nov. 29 in Seattle. (The Associated Press)

“The ruling on the field is a completed catch. The ruling is under further review.”

Football is the worst. Basketball is getting there. And baseball is headed in that direction too.

Like teachers, referees and umpires are no longer allowed to do their jobs. Every decision they make is second-guessed.

In my opinion, they have no incentive to get the call right – because if it’s even remotely controversial, it will be reviewed by someone not even in the stadium.

No respect for authority

Since we no longer respect religions other than our own, the office of the President, teachers or referees, why should we be surprised when Donald Trump rejects an entire culture?

Any authority figure who makes a controversial decision gets criticized, or worse. I’m convinced that the best presidential candidates never even try to run for office because they know it’s a no-win situation.

Why would anyone want to become a teacher today? Why would anyone want to become a football or basketball referee? What incentive do they have to do their jobs well? What praise do they get?

Who respects them?

What does this teach our children? Where is our society headed?

Joy and happiness: They aren’t the same

CharlieBrownChristmas.jpg (2550×2550)

I saw a plaque in a store the other day that read, “Happiness is a choice.” I don’t think so. We choose to do things that make us happy. Happiness is a result, not a cause.

When we say we are pursuing happiness (which the U.S. Constitution guarantees us the right to do), we really are pursuing joy. Most of the time, anyway.

I did some research on happiness and joy; there are quite a few articles out there that contrast and compare them.

Happiness is temporary, fleeting; we are happy when we buy something we like, win the lottery or spend time around people we enjoy. The opposite of happiness is unhappiness or misery.

Joy is deep, long-lasting and not dependent on our circumstances. We can have joy even if things go wrong. The opposite of joy is fear.

I have been unemployed for most of 2015. I certainly am not happy about that. Happiness is an emotion. I try not to get too emotional about life, happy or sad, high or low, up or down. I keep plugging along.

I count many blessings in my life. This is joy. There are things I can hold on to even when life is difficult.

Joy is hard to describe. It’s not a feeling that ebbs and flows, rises and falls. It’s just there, deep within our souls. It’s a comfort that even if the world crashes around us, all is not lost.

From healthpsychology.org, http://healthpsychology.org/is-there-a-relationship-between-happiness-and-joy/, “Joy is something that lasts. Happiness is temporary. Joy is an inner, conscious belief. Happiness is external – something people may feel for a short time, for example, when they buy something that they desire.

“Joy brings with it a feeling of contentment when someone is in the middle of a life storm. Happiness is not present in a life storm.

“A person’s genetic baseline level of happiness is fixed on the personality style in which he or she was born and can increase over time.”

So, some of us have a higher “baseline level of happiness” than others of us do. If I buy something I desire, my happiness will increase, but only for a time, and then I will return to my “baseline.” This is why we say, “Money does not buy happiness.” We will never be satisfied if seeking more money is our life goal. We’ll get excited when we reach a goal, but then we’ll need to reach another goal to be happy again.

From the same online article:

“Being joyful requires feeling connected to other people in life, with nature, also by appreciating the arts, and it requires an acceptance of life as it is, in the present. Sometimes life does not treat us well – financial devastation, becoming ill, a divorce, developing a chronic illness, becoming disabled, death of a loved one or adapting to growing older. Everyone will have these challenges in varying degrees until the day they die.

“Some believe that joy is a conscious commitment to be happy, to have a sense of contentment for the moment, despite life’s challenges. Joy is an internal lasting emotional condition.

“When someone experiences joyfulness, physiological and biochemical alterations occur that encourage a sense of well-being, altering the negative views of life. Joy is an attitude or a belief, which soothes even in the most sorrowful of situations. Joy comes from within; it is an internal view.

“Joy in the Biblical context is not an emotion. It is not based on something positive happening in life, but is an attitude of the heart or spirit.

“There is evidence that suggests having a religious belief helps people cope with the stresses and strains of life.

“Therefore, to answer the question: Is there a relationship between happiness and joy? In the Biblical sense, the answer is no.

“Happiness is not the emotion that many strive to find and keep; this emotion is joy. No one is happy all of the time, but some are more content and at peace.

“Studies on what makes people happy reveal that it does not have much to do with material goods or high achievement. Joy seems to be to one’s outlook on life and the quality of his or her relationships, along with the ability to give and receive.”

For example, says diffen.com, if one wins a lottery of $10,000, he would be very happy, but if that person works hard and sets up his business and earns $10,000, he would feel joy. Though the ultimate benefit is the same, the cause, being different, makes the final emotion different.

http://www.diffen.com/difference/Happiness_vs_Joy

Here’s another way to try to explain it, from Danielle LaPorte:

Happiness is like rising bubbles – delightful and inevitably fleeting. Joy is the oxygen – ever present.

http://www.daniellelaporte.com/definition-of-happiness-and-why-its-different-from-joy/

So, as Christmas approaches, what are we really seeking? I watched “A Charlie Brown Christmas” on TV last night, a classic I’ve seen many times. Charlie Brown is not happy, and he can’t explain why. Lucy says he needs involvement, so he directs the Christmas play.

The story revolves around the Christmas tree Charlie Brown buys for the play – a lame little thing with falling needles. His friends laugh, because they wanted him to buy a pink artificial tree that keeps up with the times.

But when his friends consider Charlie Brown’s unhappiness, now caused by their response to his purchase of the tree, they discover something. Joy. They found the good in that little tree. In the end, they thanked Charlie Brown for it.

That’s what joy is: Finding the good in life, even when it seems like it’s all falling apart. Happiness can’t hold a candle to that.

Merry Christmas. I hope you find joy this month – and every month. Regardless of how many presents are under your tree.