Category Archives: People are good

I Think We Can All Eat and Drink at the Same Table

“All great change in America begins at the dinner table.”

Ronald Reagan

A good leader can engage in a debate frankly and thoroughly, knowing that at the end he and the other side must be closer, and thus emerge stronger. You don’t have that idea when you are arrogant, superficial, and uninformed. Nelson Mandela

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Recently, I noticed a raccoon wading in the water at our home on Lake Ola in Tangerine, Florida. I grabbed my camera and as I focused in on him, I noticed there was a green heron right next to him. Each of them went about their business in close proximity and seemed to not be bothered by the other’s presence.

Everybody knows that one of the first rules of keeping peace in the family is to not discuss politics and religion at the dinner table. If only two people at the table enjoy a good debate, then everyone else becomes uncomfortable. If only one person is a good debater, then the other will not enjoy the joust. Once a normal person is outflanked by someone who has prepared better or simply understands the topic more thoroughly, the other person has nowhere to go but to dip into his/her emotions. Once you begin to defend your point of view with your emotions, it becomes personal and the wonderful meal that was prepared for you loses it savor.

The best debates, the ones that benefit everyone in the room, are done by people who respect each other and genuinely desire the best for the other side even though they may be as different as a raccoon and a bird. That respect can be built around a dinner table where interests are shared and people begin to know each other better. Each of us has his own story of struggle…of failure and success…of quitting and persevering…of pain and joy…and we see everyone’s life through the lens of our own lives. Once we understand the life of everyone around the table more, we build respect and a desire for their well being. We also begin to feel that those around the table feel the same way about us.

In this environment, you can allow yourself to be vulnerable because you know that the other side wants the best for you. Once those at the table become vulnerable, your discussion about God or politics or any other controversial issue, can be done without any endgame in mind other than the desire to be unified, not in your opinions of the affairs of the world but in your respect for and understanding of each other…and that is the basis for peaceful progress.

So, add an extra chair and welcome those you love and don’t yet love to dinner. If you do it right, you may actually enjoy the meal!

HighFive your Life Principle

The more that we eat and drink at the same dinner table, the better off our families and our world will be…if we follow the golden rule to genuinely attempt to love and respect our neighbors as ourselves.

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Five Reasons Why You Should Attend Your 40th High School Reunion

“The good old days are now.”
Tom Clancy

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There are a variety of reasons why most of us don’t attend high school reunions. Most of them are just excuses that wilt away after the first few minutes of arriving. You soon realize that nobody else remembers names well either and that looking at name tags is only socially awkward for a moment and can be minimized by wearing dark sunglasses. You also realize that the relentless process of aging is a common challenge that nobody avoids. Yes, there are excuses for not attending but there are more compelling (yet sometimes subtle) reasons that make attending your reunions every now and then a must.

After just attending my 40th High School reunion, allow me to suggest five reasons why you should attend yours.

Reason One
These Are Your True Friends

These are the friends that you grew up with…that you probably knew in grade school…that came over for dinner and spent the night at your home. These are friends whose parents you admired, respected and sometimes feared but who you knew really did love you. These are the friends with whom you discovered and did many things for the first time…your first time driving…your first date…your first kiss. You played sports with them and took tests with them. Though you may have not seen them for decades, the memories of your youth are a huge part of what makes you who you are and so your bond with these friends extends beyond the years. It is the basis for true friendship and true kinship. A great reason to go to your reunion is that a few hours of fellowship with each other is all that is needed to remind you that you were lucky to have grown up together. That is worth the effort to be there.

Reason Two
We Are Mortal

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One of the most sobering parts of the reunion was a poster that was painstakingly made with great love and care that showed our classmates who are deceased. On the poster among other classmates, was a beautiful girl who was one of my first heart-throbs, the funniest guy in the class, a fellow football player, a great grade school friend, a guy I had just spoken to recently…it is impossible that these classmates are no longer alive and yet they are gone. This poster will never shrink and will only grow over time. A great reason to go to your reunion is to renew friendships with awesome people there is no promise you will ever see again.

Reason Three
Your Friends Need You and You Need Them

I had a different feeling at the conclusion of the reunion than at the beginning. In the natural process of catching up on everyone’s life you haven’t seen in many years, what should be obvious to all of us began to sink in. Life is tough and each of us goes through trials that challenge us to the very core. There was not enough time at our reunion to share all of our burdens but I became more sensitive to the deeper emotions of our classmates as the hours went by. Underneath the laughter and smiles there was in many cases, sadness and despair. Health challenges..the death of a loved one…a child in trouble. A long drawn out discussion was not needed. Sometimes a longer than normal hug communicated compassion and shared burdens. A kind word…an understanding look…even shared silence lifted spirits. Sitting on a football bleacher a moment of faith was shared with me… sitting on folding chairs moments of empathy between old friends closed the decades of being apart. A great reason to go to your reunion is to make it not about you but about your friends and to be there for them and to share in life’s burdens with them. I was lifted by the strong shoulders of my classmates.

Reason Four
Laughter Is Just Plain Good for Your Soul

You cannot go to a reunion and not spend most of your time laughing. It is impossible. There are just too many sports blunders and school bloopers to keep one from slapping his knees and wrenching his gut. Even though our memories may have faded, there are just too many people with partial recollections to stop the stories from coming. They may not be accurate but they sure are funny….at least to us. I am convinced that there is something therapeutic to remember and laugh. It is good for the soul and is another great reason for going to your reunion.

Reason Five
We Are at the Age When Our Ability to Change the World Is Near It’s Peak

I was so impressed by my classmates that came. We had people from all different vocations and backgrounds. The one thing we had in common was almost 60 years of wisdom. We are at an age and stage in life where some of our best work still lies ahead of us and we are in a position to achieve it. Whether through helping with grand kids or working with charities or as volunteers, we now know the ropes…we know how to get things done. While at the reunion, I heard of dreams and aspirations regarding making this world a better place that reminded me of what is most important. Your 40th reunion will be full of people who care and who have the talent and resources to make the world better. Attending my 40th class reunion reminded me that people are good and that there is great cause for hope in our future.

I am sure there are many more excuses to skip your next reunion than there are reasons to attend….but the reasons  to go are more compelling. May I recommend that you let your hair down (if you have any), relax and unwind. You will have a good time and be a blessing to your friends and they to you if you just go. The good ol days can be now also.

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Leaving Home Tomorrow

As we get older, we appreciate the times we have shared with family and friends more and more. I wrote this song in my twenties when I was getting ready to be away from home for awhile. Now my kids have left our home and we see the circle of life continue.

I know some of our family and friends in Kissimmee will recognize some of these pictures in the short video clip below. I love my family and I love my friends. Gary

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Five Simple Tips on How to be a “Fun” Aunt or Uncle

“Parents, brothers and sisters, grandparents, aunts and uncles are made more powerful guides and rescuers by the bonds of love that are the very nature of a family.”
Henry B. Eyring

Having a fun aunt or uncle in the family is like having outriggers on a canoe. It gives the family balance. Much like a grandparent, they can interact with your children without having the ultimate responsibility for them. An aunt or uncle can be fun and still, either by example or advice, help give your children stability to get through life. They can also add a little spice to your family life without any long term corrupting of your children!

So what does it take to be the fun aunt or uncle in the family? Here are five tips that should help:

Tip One
It really… really… really helps to go out and harvest a ten foot gator

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An adventuress aunt or uncle is a fun one. The “wows” and “holy cows” from my children when they saw the gator that their Uncle Randy harvested screamed from their texts they sent me after seeing this picture. A wall full of mounted big bucks or big fish works too. A stable of horses or teaching my kids to dance the funky chicken rank up there pretty high. Going lobstering or scalloping or shopping or sailing or going to see the fireworks, all bring adventure to the lives of your nieces and nephews.

Tip Two
Break a few house rules

In a world of don’t do this or that, it is a great relief to the kids when one of their aunts or uncles breaks the rules of the house. It may not look or smell great but they not only can get away with it, they remind our kids that it is okay not to be perfect…and they can do it in a way that does not ultimately disrespect the parents. A Green Bay Packers tattoo, lizards on the ear lobes for earrings, irreverent T-shirts and an occasional burp all count towards the crazy fun aunt and uncle label and are somehow tolerated (and even encouraged) without upsetting the “noble” family goals.

Tip Three
Be a good story-teller

Some of the most memorable moments for my kids have been sitting around a campfire or post holiday dinner table listening to stories. Whether it was the bull that kept jumping the fence and what happened to him next or the boat trailer that lost two axles on the way back from the scalloping trip, the kids are glued to every word. A fun aunt or uncle can always tell a good story and can tell a good joke. Laughter keeps the kids coming back. Peeing in your pants from laughter is not stylish but certainly keeps the aunts in an exciting mystery category to our children. They never know what to expect.

Tip Four
Earn their love and respect

Play as hard as you work. Listen as much as you talk. Take them places and do things for them that are clearly an effort on your part. We think that just the adults appreciate this but the kids recognize who is there for them too. Remember birthdays…well, at least remember their names. Ask questions about their lives with sincere interest. With this as a foundation, being a “fun” aunt or uncle will place you in a powerful role to have an impact on the lives of your nieces and nephews.

Tip Five
Kill a ten foot gator

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This is really all you have to do if you want to win the “fun” aunt or uncle award.

I hope every family has fun aunts and uncles. I had them and my children have them now. God bless the fun aunts and uncles of the world!

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Apex Hunter…or Apex Provider (Being the Big Fish in the Pond Comes with Responsibilities)

“The life of a man consists not in seeing visions and in dreaming dreams but in active charity and in willing service.”
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I live on the lake and love sitting on the dock watching the wildlife do their thing. There are fish and birds and insects and otters and snakes and gators and it seems like you are always just a second away from some National Geographic moment. Everybody wants to eat each other! It is a constant battle just to stay alive or just to get a meal.

Throughout the day, the minnows and small fish bunch up close to the shore line as small bass wait just a few feet away to make their attack. Out of the quiet stillness comes a sudden splash as the bass darts among the scattering small fish only to quickly retreat to a few feet away to make another attempt a few moments later. It seems so brutal.IMG_3698

IMG_3695The truth is however that it does not stop there because there are bigger bass waiting just a little deeper in the water that prey on these smaller bass. I have seen a huge bass swallow everything but the tail of a 14 inch bass right in front of me.

But it doesn’t even stop there. Below is a picture of an osprey that nailed a bass right off our dock that was so big it took four attempts to get airborne again! It is not ever wise for the big fish in the pond to get too cocky.IMG_1984 I love competition but we are different from these animals. We don’t look for the weak to prey upon. We try to help those who swim in shallow water get to deeper water. Instead of having our fellow beings for lunch, we seek to make sure those that are hungry actually have something to eat.

In our world, being the big fish in the pond does not make you the apex hunter…it allows you to be the apex provider…it allows you to be the apex comforter…the apex “are you hanging in there okay man…anything I can do?”…all of your own free will and choice. It becomes your opportunity, to make sure those around you are getting a few breaks. You can see it so easily in those around us who use their good fortune to bless the lives of others.

So my hat is off to the big fish that still remembers what it was like to be just a little minnow. It helps “school” the rest of us on how to behave when we make it to deeper water. It makes for a happy and sustainable pond and sure beats being bait!

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How Many Hands Will Go into This Glove?

“A baby is God’s opinion that life should go on”
Carl Sandburg

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Our oldest son Robbie loved baseball growing up. He still loves it. When Robbie and Erica sent me a picture of their baby resting in his glove, it brought many things to mind. First, his wife Erica is the best catch he ever made!..and now their first child Bennett…what a catch he is!

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We generally think of a glove being used to protect the hand that is inside it and, in fact, a baseball glove does indeed do that. But a baseball glove does so much more. It is built to be bigger than the hand to enable it to do more than just the hand alone could do. It is designed to provide more reach and broader coverage. Once it has made its catch it is designed to allow the hand to squeeze it closed to protect and hold what it has caught.

I remember the experience of the birth of our children and how, without any prompting from anywhere but within, the thoughts, prayers and actions of me and my wife began to center around protecting each child. We extended ourselves beyond what we could and would normally do. They are all grown and have left the nest but our thoughts, actions and prayers for their protection have not changed.

It made me ponder how many hands will go into that glove during this child’s lifetime to offer protection, teaching, love and support? The hands of Erica and Robbie will spend the most time in this glove nurturing Bennett. But as the baby grows, Robbie and Erica will depend on other hands to also do their duty inside the glove.

IMG_1263There will be multiple other family members; grandmas and grandpas and great grandmas and great grandpas and uncles and aunts and siblings and cousins. And then add the hands of the teachers and coaches and preachers and friends, nurses and doctors and policemen and firemen and classmates and teammates and soldiers and honest politicians and neighbors and even strangers.

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When I think that God holds the whole world in his hand I do not think he has to use a glove but the image is the same to me.

So many hands will attend to the protection of this and other babies. Shouldn’t we all make a special effort to do our part…to recognize the opportunity for what it is…that it is not about protecting our hands but instead about protecting those around us. Shouldn’t we be ready when the call comes for us to put our hand in that glove?

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What Do Frogs Do in Rome?

“If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you are with.”
Stephen Stills

I was so amazed the other day to see a frog on one of our windows that had changed its color to match our window panes. It was almost an insult that it did not change to a nice clean white color but chose to also reflect all of the dirt and stains on my panes in its new color!

What an amazing feat to have such adaptability. It makes me ponder how we find the right balance between holding on to who we are and what we believe, while also meshing and mixing in with people who do not think like we do but are still pretty neat and amazing people.
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We should never feel the need to change who we are due to surrounding pressures and circumstances. However, the very strength that comes from knowing who you are, should also make you comfortable, “fitting in” and integrating into the people around you.

For example, growing up, I did not drink but most of my friends did. I did not feel a need to change to gain their friendship. I loved my friends and therefore did not try to cramp their style. If they wanted a beer, they had a beer. I just enjoyed my non-alcoholic drink and was the permanent designated driver.

Another example is my faith and affiliation to my church. I am very committed to my faith but I am also very comfortable and enjoy the congregation and services of other faiths when I am in their presence. My faith does not make for awkward moments around people with other beliefs or of no belief at all. I can blend with my friends and support them in their special spiritual moments.

So next time you feel like you are personally being challenged by a situation that makes you feel awkward and defensive, lighten up, hold on to your values and principles and love the people around you. You can always contribute positively to a situation without overwhelming your friends with your principles and your beliefs. Let them show in your actions of love and inclusiveness instead of  insecurities and defensiveness. You can always maintain your good judgment and know when the environment is too much in conflict with your standards and you can politely excuse yourself.

When in Rome you can find a place where you can do some things as the Romans do without compromising the way that you personally do things. Being strong in your principles does not mean you cannot be flexible in the application of those principles. Your adaptability does not mean you give up “territory”. Indeed, you will find that exactly the opposite is true. You will find that your sphere of influence will grow and your love for the people around you will increase.

The ability of the frog to match its surroundings does not make it a window pane. It is still a frog. You will still be you even when you adapt to those around you…maybe even a better you!

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