Monday, February 28, 2011


I am afflicted and/or blessed with chronic wanderlust. Some people have a mild case, and others have never experienced it at all. And yes, I enable myself. The more I go, the more I want to go.

For me, it's genetic. I blame my parents, specifically my mother, and her mother before her. My grandmother graduated from college as a very young woman, and rather than take a traditional teaching job in Oklahoma, she went to New Mexico to teach the Indians. Alone. And loved it.
My mother graduated from college as a young woman, and rather than take a traditional teaching job in Fort Worth, she and my father went to the Territory of Hawaii where she occasionally taught barefoot and learned to hula dance. And loved it.
I graduated from college as a young woman, and I went into business, being a landMAN in Lafayette, Louisiana, which was another world to me. Alone. And loved it.

Once I married and had children, in our poor years, we went camping. And loved it.
My parents began a yearly family trip, taking my and my brother's families on vacation. We started small, renting a rollover church van and driving to Oklahoma. Then branched out farther and farther, until we were cruising around the world. And loved it.
I've infected my own daughters with wanderlust. I also now experience solitary episodes, which are incredibly enjoyable.

What is it that drives me to leave the home I love? To venture out into unknown worlds, lands, foods, people, cultures? Partly it's curiosity, which supposedly killed the cat, but most likely won't kill me. Even so, it's an adrenaline rush to make sure I do survive. One of my mottos is "as long as I don't die, it'll be a great story later." Partly it's humility, to see how others not only live, but live happily and contentedly. To see how other countries (and even states) make choices different than what I am accustomed to living with, and do well. To see that our way is not the only way. Partly it's energizing, to be "on" 24/7, knowing each second cannot be completely expected nor will ever be repeated. To appreciate life so intensely, when I am used to taking time and life for granted. Partly it's inspiring, to see places where history actually happened; to learn to believe in the past. Partly it's encouraging, to meet people so vastly different from me, that I immediately connect with and know I could forge friendships with, given more time. Partly it's the unpredictability, to taste new things and either love exotic flavors, or attempt to swallow fast (so as to not spit it out at my host) with some semblance of a smile.

Wanderlust is immediately understood by others similarly infected. They get it, this strong, innate desire to travel about, with or without a destination. Others think it's a waste of time and money. A foolhardy slap in the face of Texas, or America. Like many things, it depends on the beholder. It is almost a necessity to me; it would be rash and stupid for them. Thank God for individuality!

Sunday we sang the hymn Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing and reached the words "Prone to wander, Lord I feel it!"  I immediately felt my heart soar, as those words express exactly my heart. And then, I felt convicted, as it continued "Prone to leave the God I love." Oh, how sad that those words also express my heart too often. But finally, "Here's my heart, O take and seal it, Seal it for Thy courts above." Amen.

Leaving home is only worth it because I get to return to the place I love most. The people I love most. Home. I pray that my wanderlust does not permeate my spiritual life as it does my physical life. There is truly no place like Home.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Senior Moments

Someone recently requested I post my Baccalaureate speech of 1998, so here 'tis.

What I want to speak to you about tonight is simple, really. I have had all year long to discuss philosophy, ethics and morals with you. I love doing that, and that is the main reason I love literature. But tonight, I want to talk about your own personal future. You have used up the last page in your spirals, turned in your public education textbooks, and cleaned out your lockers for the last time. No more laws require you to learn. You have used up all of your wide-ruled notebook paper. You are free!

So, now what? Some of you have your lives planned out for the next four years, already having been accepted to a college; some of you have committed to join the armed forces; some of you plan on attending a vocational school for two years, then working at a trade; some of you are planning on working immediately, while others of you are still struggling with these decisions.

What I want you to think about tonight has absolutely no bearing on which of these options you have chosen. Your future plans are totally irrelevant. Your future goals, regardless of great intentions, do not matter. What matters, is now: this very moment, tomorrow, and the next day. Who you are today determines who you will be tomorrow. When I see you 5, 10, or 20 years from now, what I look forward to seeing in you is not what you have become, but who you have become.

I am certainly not saying that education is unimportant, or that the decisions you are making right now are frivolous. They are most obviously consequential. However, your future has already begun: today. Think of the people you know who are truly happy. Is it their social position in life, their money, their wife or husband, or their possessions that make them happy? No. The people I know who are truly happy find their happiness within themselves. It is their ability to be content in this world, regardless of their circumstances. Henry Van Dyke said "What you possess in the world will be found at the day of your death to belong to someone else. But what you are will be yours forever."

God judges man by who he is, not by what he has accomplished, what he has achieved, or by what material success he has accumulated. I challenge you to do no less. John Luther said "Good character is more to be praised than outstanding talent. Most talents are, to some extent, a gift. Good character, by contrast, is not given to us. We have to build it piece by piece - by thought, choice, courage and determination."

Right now you are each facing a crossroads. Which road you take will indeed make all the difference. Again, I am not speaking of educational success, material success or even the American dream. I am speaking of your success as a person - how you treat others, the value of your word, the honor and respect you give God. Proverbs 23:7 says "As a man thinks in his heart, so is he." Be the person God created you to be, and you will be a success, whether you are a prominent attorney or a construction worker. This is success. This is what you should focus on today. Then tomorrow will follow accordingly. An old Japanese proverb says "Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare." God will give each of you a vision of the character He created you to be. Act on it now, and you will succeed.

I decided to complete one of the many assignments I have given you, so here it is:

The Seniors of '98

This poem is for you, the Seniors of '98
For letting me see the potential in your eyes
And the world in your smiles
For reading aloud voluntarily, sometimes
For reading between the lines all the time
For honestly taking in knowledge - don't ever stop.
For showing yourselves and me the depth of your understanding
From Beowulf, to Shakespeare, to Frankenstein.
For allowing yourselves to truly learn about others through words
For allowing yourselves to truly learn about yourselves through thoughts
For your never-ending sense of humor,
From orang-och-tang to sWord.
For the fears you now have of leaving home
For the fears you now have of never leaving home.
For expressing kindnesses to those who are similar to yourself
For expressing compassion to those who are not similar to yourself
For detesting cruelty, lies, and injustice enough to refuse to participate
For desiring truth and honor enough to refuse to settle for anything less.
This poem is for you, the Seniors of 1998
For sharing yourselves with me,
For being you,
I love you.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Un-Valentine's Day

See for a smile.

No, I don't hate love, but I do hate Valentine's Day. It pressures everyone to prove to the world that they have a current love, find a new one quickly, or fake it. From elementary school Valentine's parties, we start pushing our children to fall in love, choose one person over everyone else, and feel dejected when that person invariably chooses someone else. Ugh. Yeah, we sugarcoat it with giving a Scooby Doo Valentine's card to everyone in the room, but deep inside there's always that hope that He or She will know and respond.

If you love someone, let her know every day. Flowers are special only when they are given spontaneously, not when they are mandated gifts according to florists. Candy is special only when chosen with care, not in a token heart-shaped box from Walgreen's. A card is special only when either hand-made (not coerced) or timed appropriately to meet a personal special occasion, not because Hallmark has a specially-themed card available for purchase this week only.

Yeah, encourage kids to show their love to their mothers, but wouldn't it be better to have a sincere peck on the cheek or squeeze of the hand than a dozen red carnations? And when does it become right for fathers to give romantic gifts to their daughters? That's a bit creepy in my book.

Plus, what about the inevitable gift from someone you don't like? Everyone feels awkward, and it could have easily been avoided if the susceptible nerd had just kept his place. Don't encourage stupidity.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


Yesterday, I found a new friend. How does that happen? It's like dating without the drama. But what is it exactly that determines an instant connection with someone else?

If it's someone of the opposite sex, then society usually calls it chemistry, and assumes it's flirty, sexual in nature. Can a man and a woman be just friends? Yes and no. The men in my life that have been my best friends have been just that. They get me, I can trust them, we laugh a lot together, but in the next breath can talk about matters of substance. But inevitably, problems arise. Either they, their wives/significant others, or society deems that there must be something more in the relationship than just friendship. It is so stinking frustrating! Probably, a lot of it has to do with the fact that I'm single, and that creates an assumption in many people's minds that I'm on the prowl. Yeah, right.

If it's someone of the same sex, then it's acceptable. For me, a friendship with a woman is easier in the long run, but harder up front. Maybe it's because I don't want to compete, but feel we're always sizing each other up. Maybe it's because women in general don't have the same sense of humor I do (that of either a 12-year-old boy or a sarcastic, crass old man). Maybe it's because I am self-sufficient (both because I have to be and I want to be), and I see many women flaunting their dependence on men. Maybe it's because I've heard mean, gossipy things from women, and am wary of being targeted. Maybe it's because I'm not AS interested in talking about the same things: shopping, children, animals, domesticated life.

However, once friendship with a woman is established, then it is there for the rest of my life. Miraculously. My best friend from the 4th grade attends the same church I do, and although we don't hang around together, I know that if I needed her, she'd come running. And vice versa. In July, I saw a friend of mine I hadn't seen in about 15 years, and we fell right back into being friends, although I may not see her again for as many years. In August, I got together with friends from college, some of whom hadn't seen each other for 30 years. Yet, it was incredibly easy, nice, and truly affirming to renew our friendships, regardless of the differing paths our lives have taken in the interim.

But what draws us together initially? Sometimes, it's purely experiences we go through together that create friendship. Due to difficult or even wonderful (but usually intense) exposure to the same event, a shared understanding and trust develops, sometimes immediately. But that is understandable due to the rarity of the event, and the obvious commonality between the two people.

What about meeting new people for the first time, when you just know you enjoy that person's presence? It often happens when someone is similar to us, whether it be in outward appearance, age, passion, interests, or vocation. It's easy to have much in common with someone like yourself. But that's not completely it. I often find people like me boring. I don't want to hang around with clones.

I don't have the answer, but I sure am grateful for whatever it is. That spark of potential intimacy known as friendship is an unexpected windfall, a hope for more.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


Howard is my second brother. He moved onto our suburban Houston block when we were in elementary school, and soon thereafter became my older brother's best friend. Howard was the smallest of all the neighborhood guys, eventually standing at about 5'7" compared to their 6'+, but he never let that be an issue. He was pound-for-pound stronger than most of them, and had the fight to back up his talk. 

I've never known anyone like Howard, so the name "Howard" defines his personality to me. His face never shows any fear, almost always a half-grin, and always eyes that say "let's do it!" no matter what "it" is. He had my back just as much as my brother did, even as an adult. I could count on him for anything, even just a laugh.

While teaching high school, I would fill empty minutes in class with "crazy Howard" stories, all of which seem unbelievable, but all of which are true. Or as true as my telling of his adventures could be. 

Pranks, like when he and my brother put skunks in the basement dryer of the boys' dorm, turned on the heat, and let the aroma spread.

Like when they collected fingernail and toenail clippings for weeks on end, then let me watch while one distracted the cafeteria lady and the other mixed them in the cottage cheese. What a memorable lunchroom experience.

Like when he ran through the girls' dorm wearing only an old man mask and his undies, causing unknown excitement in the Baptist haven and me to be questioned by the police. I informed them I couldn't identify Howard, as I didn't recognize him in his underwear.

Like when I took my teenage daughters to meet him, and he offered to sell us to a skanky old man in the next pickup at the red light.

Animal encounters, like when he went swimming in the river while at college in San Marcos, caught a baby alligator barehanded, and kept it in his bathtub for a week. He later donated it to the zoo.

Like when he was on a mission trip to a tiny village in Tibet(?) and tracked a wild lynx which had been eating the local chickens. He followed it into a lean-to with no exit, and finding himself stuck in the small area with the cat, grabbed it by its hind legs and swung it to death against the walls. I assumed he'd been offered the local chief's daughter as a gift of gratitude, but evidently not.

Like when he grabbed a snake by its tail, and popped it so hard that the mouse it had eaten flew out.

Like when he shot local farmers' prairie dogs with a high-powered rifle, killing two birds with one stone by ridding them of the pests, and fine-tuning his (in)famous shooting prowess.

Protective scenarios, like when he was on another mission trip overseas' return flight home, and a drunk man was bothering a teenage girl from their church. Howard politely told the man to quit, but the drunk persisted. Howard returned to his seat and waited until the man went to the lavatory, where he beat some semblance of respect into him. Upon landing, the stewardesses vouched for Howard, and he avoided arrest.

Howard lives and loves his life intensely. He exudes enthusiasm and passion for life. He gives God credit for every good thing, and every grace he has ever experienced. He loves people as a natural extension of his love for God, and people respond enthusiastically.

I saw Howard Sunday, as he nears death due to cancer invading his body. In less than a year, he has been all over the world, getting the latest treatments, allowing himself to fight this cruel disease with the same intensity with which he lives. Now the end is near; he is close to seeing Jesus, and he is ready. 

As a testimony to his sincere witness, the sheer number of people who have lovingly responded to his physical crisis is amazing. And every single person has a powerfully personal relationship with him. That's just Howard. His life truly glorifies God.

His eyes say "let's do it!" as he anticipates heaven.