Goals for the New Year

Did you make any New Year’s resolutions? As we embark on 2023, it’s traditional for many people that they set some goals for themselves – things that they want to work on in the coming months. Whether we call them resolutions or goals or setting a personal agenda, I think it’s a worthy thing to do, so with your kind permission, I’d like to offer some thoughts on self-improvement for the coming year.

Practice Kindness. Did you see the news story the other day out of Buffalo, New York? During that region’s terrible Christmas winter storm, a mentally disabled 64-year-old man named Joey became disoriented and wandered out into the weather. He walked for miles, lost, and was just moments away from dying from hypothermia when a lady named Sha’Kyra heard him crying outside her home. She and her family – total strangers to this man, mind you – took him in and cared for him. She used a blow dryer to thaw out his clothes, which had frozen to his body. Sha’Kyra is a nurse, and she cared for Joey as best she could. His hands were so frozen that his rescuers literally had to cut away his gloves. She bathed him, cared for him, fed him, kept him warm and safe, and let him sleep until they were able to find his family, who had been frantically looking for him in the blizzard.

But the family couldn’t drive over there, because of the storm. Ambulances couldn’t get to them, and 911 was swamped, so Nurse Sha’Kyra and the man’s sister Yvonne used social media to organize neighbors, who in turn showed up – on Christmas Day! – with snowblowers and shovels to dig out their vehicles. Then Sha’Kyra and the neighbors transported Joey to the hospital. At last report, Joey is still in the hospital, recovering from fourth-degree frostbite. He may yet lose some fingers, but he’s alive, thanks to the kindness of one woman who was willing to go out of her way to help a stranger.

Granted, this is an extreme example, but I think the truth is inescapable: each of us can make a big difference in someone else’s life through a simple act of kindness. Whatever the situation, whatever the circumstances, let us be willing to be a Sha’Kyra to someone around us.

Give Others the Benefit of the Doubt. There’s probably a certain level of suspicion that is necessary – even healthy. But it seems to me that too many of us have become cynical in the extreme, unwilling to listen to anyone with a different point of view, and even doubting their goodness and basic humanity. There was a time in this country when we might disagree with others about their ideas or public policy, but we still respected them as people. But those days seem like a distant and unreachable memory. Now, when we disagree, we often feel the need to attack opponents personally, to call them evil and question their decency.

Certainly, we need to be able to debate and discuss many policy issues, but we should start by acknowledging that both sides want what is best for the country – they just have different ideas for how to accomplish that. Republicans, Democrats, Independents: everyone needs to quit playing political “gotcha” and work together for the common good.

I saw an excellent example of that just the other day at our own county commissioners meeting, as the incoming and outgoing commissioners calmly sat together before the meeting and discussed an issue relating to their precinct. No drama, no histrionics – just two good men, who both wanted what was best for the residents of that part of the county, and both doing their best to work for that. It made me proud of our local government – and a little bit sad that others in state and national government don’t show the same kind of unselfishness and good sense.

Learn Something New. It’s easy to fall into a rut – it’s much harder to try something different. I’m suggesting that it’s worth the effort to do just that. Read a new book. Learn to cook. Explore a new hobby. Plant a garden. Take up woodworking. Go for a walk. Be willing to explore the new and try the unfamiliar. Develop curiosity and put it into practice. When we challenge ourselves like that, it keeps our minds fresh and provides us with opportunities to make new friends and discover things we never knew.

Too many of us are too willing to settle for things as they are and always have been. Remember, there was a time when everything we enjoy was new to us, untried and unfamiliar. Let’s be willing to break out of our routines. Remember, if you want something you’ve never had, you have to be willing to try something you’ve never tried.

Happy New Year! Here’s to a blessed and safe 2023 for us all.

My Favorite Month

I love October! It’s absolutely my favorite month of the year, for several reasons. It means the holiday season of Thanksgiving and Christmas is not far away, with great family times and all the familiar sights and sounds of that festive time of year. And as an added bonus, my birthday falls this month, so that’s a little extra.

October in North Carolina brings out the best in Fall Foilage.

I really enjoy the changing seasons. Now granted, in our part of the world, the weather doesn’t really “feel” like four distinct seasons. As most of us know, in Texas, it feels like we only have two seasons – summer and not-summer. But still, the days will finally begin to cool off a little and the nights have at least the hint of a chill in the air. Summer is not completely over – we’ve all seen triple-digit heat in October – but sooner or later, the cool will arrive. I’m ready to make a big pot of chili and enjoy. Or maybe head to the back porch and fire up the chiminea. Anyone for s’mores?

I think the changing seasons have a lot to teach us about God, His grace, and His many blessings. There’s a familiarity about it that is very comforting: summer always follows spring; autumn always follows summer. And yet, no two autumns are ever exactly the same. Some years, we have an early freeze, and some years, it’s very wet. So in some ways, they’re the same, but in other ways, each is unique. I like that.

Here’s something else: as I have often expressed, I love baseball! October means that the MLB post-season is here, and the World Series is not far off. There’s a reason they call it “The Fall Classic.” I have been a Texas Rangers fan, through and through, for 45 years now, but since the boys in Arlington rarely make the playoffs, I usually pick a team to root for through the post-season and into the Series. As has been often said, big players make big plays in big games. I’m ready to see if there will be a “Cinderella” team this year, or if one of the familiar squads will bring home the trophy. (But please, please, PLEASE, anybody EXCEPT the Yankees!)

Another point: This month is a reminder that each day is a precious gift, and we shouldn’t waste even one. The Bible points out that the number of our days is established by God before we are even born. If autumn is here, that means winter is not far away. If there are things we need to do to get our homes or vehicles ready for cold weather, now would be a good time.

Even as the trees are shedding old leaves and dropping their dead stuff, remember that sometimes, we need to do the same. If there are things in our personal lives that we need to let go of – past regrets, self-condemnation, old grudges – NOW is a good time for that, too. Let bygones be bygones and forgive. Remember, we forgive, not because others deserve it, but because WE do. As long as we’re holding onto that pain, we’re giving the offender the power to keep hurting us. When we forgive, their power over us is destroyed. So forgive. And forgive yourself, as well.

We should remember that autumn in Texas doesn’t last long; winter will soon be here. We need to appreciate the blessings that God gives us while they last. As C.S. Lewis once observed, “The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the very nature of the world: but joy, pleasure, and merriment, He has scattered broadcast. We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstasy. It is not hard to see why. The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and pose an obstacle to our return to God: a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting with our friends, a bath or a football match, have no such tendency. Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.”

In other words, enjoy the blessings that God gives, but realize they are never permanent. And Happy October.

October Blessings

I love October. It’s absolutely my favorite month of the year.

I don’t think this will come as a galloping surprise to anyone – I mean, LOTS of people consider autumn their favorite season. But for me, October specifically is my favorite, for several reasons.

And okay, yes, full disclosure: my birthday is in October. I remember as a kid feeling a kinship with others in my school grade who shared October birthdays. Later, I learned that my best friend from college has an October birthday, and my brother Jimmy and wife Christy got married in October. Of course, once you get past the age of 10 or 12, people stop making a big deal out of your birthday. Still, I enjoy mine. But that’s not the only reason I love October.

Getting to October means that we’ve survived another Texas summer. This is not a small thing. Summers around here are brutal, and September is nothing but a tease. The calendar may say that summer is over, but really, it isn’t – even in late September, the highs can easily reach the upper 90s or more. But October is a different matter – there are still warm days, to be sure, but the evenings and mornings have a delicious chill about them.

Another thing I like about October: postseason baseball. “October baseball” means that only the best teams are still playing. Playoff baseball is a thing of beauty – even more than the regular season. Big players make big plays in big games. And there’s a reason nobody in baseball is ever nicknamed, “Mr. April.” (Thank you, Drew Bowen!) As I write this, this year’s World Series is about to begin, and I’m ready!

The changing season also means some changes to the menu. I love a good pot of chili, and there’s something about good chili – especially venison chili – that is warm and comforting and satisfying. I don’t know why we don’t eat chili when the weather is hot – we eat other soups and stews – but chili is the ultimate cold weather comfort food. And I know, at some point soon, I’ll be making a pot of it.

Or chicken and dumplings. Or Guinness beef stew. Or something else warm and filling. There are plenty of delicious, hearty foods to enjoy with friends and family this time of year.

October means the holidays are coming, but not here yet. We have the excitement and anticipation of those good things, but don’t yet have to put with the craziness of too many events and too little time to do them all. I can, and do, look forward with a child’s excitement to the approach of Thanksgiving and Christmas.

I love the colors of fall: red, orange, yellow, golden brown. Even though we don’t have the brilliance of New England or Appalachia (or even East Texas!), it’s still nice to see the changing colors of leaves and appreciate the beauty of God’s creation.

In some ways, autumn is like a parable. The changing colors can inspire us to glorify God by taking up a new interest and exploring new opportunities to grow. The loss of leaves can remind us that sometimes we need to let go of some things, to allow old habits and destructive patterns drop away.

October is a reminder that nothing is permanent. Seasons change. Life is transitory. Make the most of every opportunity. We can choose either to be resentful that something is gone, or we can give thanks that we were able to enjoy it for a while. Savor it – appreciate it – then say, “What’s next?” and move on.

Summer’s over, winter’s coming, but for a few more days, October is here. And I’m happy about that. Let’s enjoy it while we can.

Looking Back at a Year Gone By

It’s hard to believe but this week marks the completion of my first full year with the Haskell Star. And what a year it’s been! So here are some things that come to my mind as I reflect upon the twelve months that have gone by.

New Community Leadership. This has certainly been a year of transition and change. For one reason or another, we have new leadership in several key areas of the community. Michelle Stevens is the new CEO at Haskell Memorial Hospital. Lonnie Hise has returned to Haskell to assume the duties of Superintendent for Haskell CISD. Coach Mitch McLemore, remembered with such respect from his days in Stamford, has taken over as Haskell’s Athletic Director and Head Football Coach. And last but not least, June Ellis has begun his tenure as Haskell’s City Administrator, bringing his financial management experience to our city’s benefit.

And they are not the only ones – just in the last few weeks, the DCOH Director and the Haskell Chamber of Commerce Director have both resigned, for unrelated reasons. Of course, this means we will soon be having new leadership in those key positions, as well.

We welcome all these folks to their new posts and pray for their success, because to paraphrase outgoing President George H.W. Bush’s comments to incoming President Bill Clinton, their success will be Haskell’s success. They will undoubtedly bring some new ways of thinking and fresh ideas with them – AND THAT’S A GOOD THING! We can’t solve tomorrow’s problems with yesterday’s answers, so before we write off some “new-fangled” approach because “we’ve never done it that way,” let’s be willing to listen, to learn, and perhaps to grow.

Remember, every great idea was once just somebody’s harebrained scheme.

Haskell is Booming. Some of us were born here; others of us got here as soon as we could. (A few of us came and left and came back!) But however it happened, we are happy to be in Haskell, and we recognize the blessings of being part of a vibrant community. Part of that vibrancy is a growing number of businesses and an expanding economic base. Our Development Corporation of Haskell, the DCOH, has been a valuable part of that expansion.

Just in the last few weeks, we have seen new businesses and restaurants come in, and existing ones expand and grow. Some of these include Kaleidoscope, with its numerous venues for crafters and local artists to show their merchandise; Sunnybell Florist & Gift Shoppe, now open on the north side of the square; HASK – Roewe Outfitters, catering to this area’s hunting needs and outdoor tourism; The Ugly Mug Kitchen, planning to open soon for coffee, breakfast, and lunch; and Vista Bank, which recently moved into the historic bank building on the northwest corner of the square. The new P6 Tire Store is having their Grand Opening next month, and let’s not forget the Historic Jones & Cox Building, on the southwest corner, now providing another much-needed venue for concerts and meetings.

The Drug Store has recently changed owners but kept its commitment to service. The new Texas Star Museum honors local history. Modern Way Grocery Store & Ace Hardware celebrated their 40th anniversary a few months back. ALL our community’s establishments – new and old – deserve to be celebrated. More than that, they just want a chance. They are the ones who support our kids, our schools, and our churches, not to mention the Scouts, the athletic programs, the livestock show, and more. They are the businesses that donate and contribute so much to our way of life. They understand that they have to compete for the dollars that you spend. But before you head off to Abilene to shop at some Big Box retailer that doesn’t care about our community, please give our local businesses a chance to earn your business.

And finally, one bit of unhappy news –

Get the Shot. Coronavirus numbers are surging again. Infection rates are rising, as are the number of fatalities. Hospital ICU admissions are swelling, even at Hendrick, with dangerously rising Covid rates. And this time, it’s not primarily among the elderly, but among 20-40-year-olds. Literally thousands of children being orphaned by this disease.

And the sad part is, this time, it’s pretty much all preventable. They’re now calling it “The Pandemic of the Unvaccinated.”

I truly don’t understand how or why the decision to get vaccinated became such a politically charged controversy. It shouldn’t be – it’s a health issue, pure and simple. Yes, there are a relative handful of so-called “Breakthrough” cases, of people who have been fully vaccinated but contracted the disease anyway, but the overwhelming number of this latest wave of fatalities – something literally above 99% – are folks who could have gotten the shot, but out of pride, or fear, or some kind of stupid macho nonsense, or to make a political statement, chose not to.

The longer it takes us as a nation to become fully vaccinated, the more of these virus mutations will keep popping up, and the longer the economy will take to recover. Well over 600,000 of our fellow citizens have already died. It shouldn’t matter if you’re a Republican or a Democrat, a watcher of Fox News or CNN – just get the damn shot. Please. For yourself. For your family. For the country.

Life in the Slow Lane

I recently made a trip to East Texas and a good part of that time was spent driving on the freeway. At one point while I was on I-20, I came up behind some slow-moving traffic. I checked both mirrors and looked over my left shoulder. There was no one coming, so I pulled into the left lane and began to pass an 18-wheeler.

Suddenly my rear-view mirror was filled with the reflection of the massive grill of a large pickup – I mean, this guy was RIGHT ON my bumper. I was already going a few miles an hour over the speed limit to get around the truck that was now beside me, but I sped up as much as my little car could. I finished passing the truck and pulled back into the right lane, and the guy in the pickup roared past me, leading about three or four more cars behind him. I was going well over the speed limit by this point, and they were leaving me behind like I was standing still.

I certainly realize that there are emergencies in life, and there are times when speed is necessary, for a variety of reasons. And I’m aware that no one ever had a hit song, “Life in the Slow Lane.” Still, it seems to me that many of us would do well to take a breath and slow down a little bit from time to time.

I was in the ministry for a long time; I have also been a teacher and a neighborhood coordinator for a faith-based non-profit organization. I have done news and sports for radio and print, and if there’s one thing all those jobs have in common, it is that they all involve talking to folks and hearing their stories – building and developing relationships with other people. And the thing about relationships is, they take time. There is no substitute for this. It takes time to get to know someone, and to share stories. It takes time to sip a cup of coffee and look at pictures of family, or to share a glass of iced tea and talk baseball. Friendships and good relationships with neighbors and others develop slowly, gradually, over a long time, and they can’t be rushed. But they don’t happen by accident. Good relationships occur when someone is intentional about making them happen.

We understand this principle applies in many areas of life. When you plant a garden, you invest time and effort, and then (and only then) can you harvest your crop. When you cook a meal, it takes time to let flavor develop. But many of us have lost our understanding of this.

In a society where microwave popcorn takes too long, we’ve lost our appreciation for slowness. We have the world literally in the palm of our hands, and we can just Google whatever we want to know, for instant solutions. In our rush to get to work, to raise our kids, to juggle everything we have to do, we miss out on the joys of slowing down and savoring moments. Even in our leisure, we rush to get somewhere, so we can take it easy, forgetting that life is a journey, not a destination. So not only are we forgetting to “stop and smell the roses” – we’re not even noticing that there is a rosebush.

The good news is, things don’t have to stay that way. Summer is a great time to practice slowing down just a little. Invite a neighbor over to sit on your porch or your patio and get to know one another over something cold and wet. Fire up the grill and practice your outdoor cooking skills for your family and friends – you’ll discover it’s time well spent, and you may also discover that conversations are more enjoyable over a charcoal fire.

Or just slow down and take a moment for yourself and find some peace in the solitude.

It’s very common at graduations or weddings for parents to think about the baby that they brought home from hospital, seemingly only yesterday, but now that baby is grown up and moving out. The parents wonder, where did the time go? But by then, it’s too late to savor those moments. All you can do is cherish the moments to come.

It may take a little getting used to, and you can’t do it all the time, but there’s a lot to be said for occasionally pulling over and enjoying life in the slow lane.

Changes, Changes

Someone has said that change is the only constant. Or as a character in a movie once said, “Nothing changes but the changes.”

The truth is, change is always with us. And most of us don’t like it. We get used to things being a certain way, and we want them to stay that way. Even when we don’t like something, if it’s familiar, we often prefer keeping it. “Better the devil you know,” we say.

But if life teaches us anything, it’s that everything changes. Parents grow old and die. Children grow up and leave. Neighbors come, neighbors go. Jobs end, and jobs begin.

It can be very depressing if we dwell on it with the wrong perspective. But it doesn’t have to be.

When change comes, we can either become angry and sullen about having our routine upset, or we can be thankful for the blessing we had and the time we had it. C.S. Lewis once pointed out that God gives us glimpses of heavenly joy, but only for a time. That way, we would understand the eternal joy that awaits, but we would never mistake this world for our true home. I don’t know if I agree completely with that or not, but it’s worth thinking about.

Another thing about change: every change is an opportunity for growth. It’s true, we like things the way we get used to them, but it’s also true that every familiar thing was once UN-familiar. I hated coffee the first time I tried it. Now I drink it every morning. Every best friend was once a stranger. Every golfer had to go through picking up a club and making that first ugly, awkward swing. The changes around us present us with a wonderful buffet of new opportunities, new experiences, possibilities for personal growth.

An old proverb says, “Be not the first to embrace the new, nor the last to forsake the old.” I think there’s some wisdom in there.

One other thing about change: the constant changes in this life and in this world, make our hearts yearn for the One who is the same yesterday, today, and forever, the One who does NOT change, the One whose love is always constant and whose compassions never fail. So I hold on to the unchanging Eternal One, and He gives me the strength and courage to face the changes I meet.

Bring it on.