Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Just within the past few days, I looked through the sights of my gun while shouting at a mullet-haired creature. “SHOW ME YOUR HANDS!! LAY DOWN ON THE GROUND!” It comes so easily now. It’s like my brain was hard wired for dealing with idiots. “I swear, if you move I will bust your pumpkin wide open.”

As he laid on the ground, my muzzle still trained on his head, my foot on his hand, I could hear sirens in the background. They grew louder as my backup arrived. My hands were steady. Breathing? Normal. Voice? A little hoarse, from yelling over the sound of my own siren. This kind of thing is far from unusual. It’s what I do.

What I DON’T do, is look for cosmetics at Belk’s…or jewelry or handbags or shoes. The exception is Christmas time, and I want to show my wife how much I love her. And as I count my change and look for something she’ll love, I hope she knows the sacrifice I’m making. The sacrifice isn’t in the money. It isn’t in the time spent. I actually love buying things for my wife. I love figuring her out, making her smile, and showing her that I love her. No, the sacrifice is in the dreaded feelings evoked by a crowded department store. “I hope she knows that I am waaaay uncomfortable right now, and I’m doing it just for her.”

If only I could buy her everything she’s ever wanted from Dick’s Sporting Goods, or Bass Pro Shops. I could find it quickly, and at a fair price. Of course, my purchase decisions would be periodically interrupted by visits to the gun counter for a few moments of longing.

As I meander through the fragrances, I get some looks. It could be the plaid, or the fleece, or the camo hat…all of which are foreign to this store. Many of the women behind the counters sport drastically oversized painted smiles. The one even has a line on her neck. I can actually see where her makeup ends, and her real self begins. Most of them don’t ask me if I need help, because they already know the answer. No amount of help will save me from this place. Then I spot a fellow man, and my heart jumps as I realize that I AM NOT ALONE! Well, maybe I am. With processed hair and feminine gestures, I realize why he works in such an environment. He feels very much at home. As I look closer, I realize that he, too, is wearing a bit of makeup. Jeez…

As I look at earrings, my face becomes flush and hot. I realize that if I were loss prevention, I would be looking at me. In this store, I am the mullet-haired creature. I leave empty handed and decide that Christmas shopping is better when done online, in the comfort of one’s home.

Friday, September 25, 2009

People like redemption stories.

Think about it.

A football team that wins every time isn’t as interesting as the one that seeks redemption. You know, the team that should’ve won the playoffs last year but blew it at the five-yard line with a minute remaining. The loss is painful and common. After all, everyone loses at sometime or another. But what people truly revel in is the story of a comeback. The hope of a fresh start. Redemption.

Tomorrow marks a special day for me as I seek a unique kind of redemption, one that is deeply personal. You see, one would think that slaying a deer with an arrow would be relatively easy. We see them at the park, in our flowerbeds, mashed on the side of the road. They are everywhere, until you want to see one.

Well last year, around this same time (September 27, to be exact) I blew it. It wasn’t the last minute of the fourth quarter either. It was about 30 seconds into the game, on opening day, as the sun peeked over the horizon. The big 8-point stepped out into a clearing as I loosed the cursed, wayward arrow. Unscathed, the buck jolted and ran. I saw him several more times throughout the next few months, but never did I have another chance to connect.

He’s bigger now. Nine points of solid bone crown his head. And he still inhabits the 20-acre woodlot in the middle of suburbia, which had been virgin hunting grounds last year. Unfortunately, I now have to share that sliver of soil with another hunter, who says he’s waiting for the big 9-point as well.

Tomorrow marks the anniversary of my opening-day humiliation. The questions have burned for a year, and they now occupy an unbearable percentage of my thoughts. Will I connect? Will I perform?

Will I find redemption?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Toeing The Line

Toeing the line.

This phrase has meant a couple of things to me at two different times in my life. The first was in Ft. Jackson, South Carolina, while I attended Army basic combat training. Every evening, by directive of the drill sergeant (DS, hereafter), my platoon “toed the line”. There was a white line forming a rectangle in the middle of the barracks, and every person would stand at this line at parade rest, awaiting final instructions by the DS before going to sleep.

The other night I was thinking about the phrase, toeing the line. Many people who aren’t familiar with military life may not be familiar with it, but I think it represents something we all know well. Toeing the line always occurs before something else happens. Good or bad. Exciting or mundane. Toeing the line always precedes another action.

Thinking of this phrase caused me to remember an exercise at Fort Jackson, which was intended to defy a soldier’s fear of heights, and teach the soldier to trust his or her equipment. The obstacle was a conglomeration of wooden poles, ropes and bars. There really wasn’t much to it. You climb the obstacle and meet a DS at the top. The DS fits you with a harness, which is attached to a steel cable. The DS then directs you to step to the edge of the obstacle, and look down. And the ground, which is 40 feet away, looks much further than it really is. The DS then directs you to “toe the line” which is the edge of the 2X4s you are standing on. Then you are told to place your hands behind your head, crossing your fingers. The only reason I can think of to be in this position is because it creates a very helpless feeling. I remember standing there, toeing the line, waiting for the command.


And with that one word, I took a step and fell two or three feet before feeling the restraint of my harness, which then sent me zinging across the steel cable.

Life is full of these moments. When I examine my own life, I see that I am in the middle of several mini adventures, and I can also see many more in the near future. It is as if, every day, I am toeing an invisible line, and being told to step. What happens after the step? Nobody knows until it is taken. You can’t experience it until you’ve stepped. You have nothing to compare it to, until you’ve stepped. You do not know if your equipment works, if everything will be okay, if you will survive…until you’ve stepped.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Digesting God's Idea of Stewardship

The following is an assignment for an upcoming college course, The Quest for Stewardship & Ethical Responsibility. The purpose of this writing was to discuss my impressions of Luke 12:48. Recently I have been considering what the Biblical definition of stewardship is, and how it relates to business. The conclusion I've come to, is that stewardship really is the same thing as creating value, or a return on investment. Just as shareholders expect a profit, and entrepreneurs expect a decent return, God has entrusted us with many things, and He expects a return with added value. As discussed in the paper, most things decompose when left on their own without some type of cultivation or management.

Consider money. If not invested properly, money will inevitably lose value, due to inflation. We have several choices. We can work for money, and spend it on items which depreciate. We can work for money and then keep it, allowing it to depreciate. If this is done, the money will soon be worth less than the work which was exerted to earn it. The other alternative is to work for money, and then allow the money to make more money. This is obviously the best scenario.

Or consider the forest. We can look at it all day long, and ignore it's many resources. But this is far from the best utilization. We can cut the timber, kill it's herds and eat it's plants. But without some form of management, it's resources will soon become depleted. The best scenario, again, is active management which allows the utmost utilization of resources, while allowing the forest to renew itself.

God has given us many things, but "as-is", they are all subject to depreciation or growth, depending on our management. So here goes my take (if you haven't gotten it already!). Hope you enjoy...

In chapter 12 of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus speaks to his disciples, describing how people are prone to become worried, greedy, or apathetic. Jesus admonishes them to live and think counter intuitively, confident of God’s future provision, and grateful for what He has done. His next words are as uncomfortable today as I’m sure they were centuries ago:

From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.
(vs. 48)

What are we supposed to do with this? I believe in reading this passage, there are three ideas I must examine. First, I must do a personal inventory. I must ask, “With what have I been entrusted?” Though the passage uses the metaphor of a steward managing his master’s maids and maidservants, we can look far beyond our professions when answering this question. Personally, I have been entrusted with a wife, wisdom from my parents and in-laws, a profession in law enforcement, money, friendships, opportunities, and so on. The list is endless. There are countless people and things that God has blessed me with. But He has not merely given them to me without precondition. That brings me to the second idea I must consider.

I must know that I am an active manager, not a temporary possessor. Like plants, most things will die without cultivation. For example, consider marriage, friendships, money or education. Each of these require active management. A marriage will not last without hard work. Friendships will become distant, money will inevitably become worth less, and education will become obsolete. The owner of these things must consistently manage or add value to these things.

The third idea we must embrace is that there will one day be reckoning for the ways in which we managed God’s “estate”. We all must one day answer for the ways in which we did or did not apply His principles to the things He entrusted to us.

Much like an investor or business expects a return on investment, God is expecting that we not just offer back His gifts in a depreciated state. We are to add value to and enhance the gifts and responsibilities with which we are entrusted.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

103 days come to an end...

Tomorrow is the day. It is the end of a 103 day pursuit of Tennessee whitetails. It’s interesting to consider the internal struggle I’ve fought over the past two weeks. I know many of you really aren’t interested in deer hunting, and could probably care less if I succeed in what is really a blip on the map, considering the complexity of life. But what I’ve experienced, I believe, is common to all people everywhere who are intent on succeeding. It is the fight against our own minds, to stay in the game, whatever that game is.

It seems to me that perhaps the greatest reason for failure is thoughts of failure. It feels unnatural, pompous, presumptuous to envision success, not once, but as a way of life. Consider professional sports. An NBA player toes up to the free throw line and watches the ball sink into the net many times before he actually looses the ball. It would be ludicrous to expect anything else.

For the past two weeks, it’s been easy to rise at 4:30 for work. I have to. The consequences of not showing up aren’t pleasant. But to voluntarily crawl out of a warm bed at 5:30 to slip into a pair of bibs and fleece and make my way into the woods. After being consistently tricked by the area’s bucks. After blowing two cake shots. After having the wildlife sightings trickle to near zero. I’ve convinced myself to abandon the woods only minutes after sunup. I’ve snoozed, and sometimes turned the clock off completely. It’s easy to imagine how unlikely it is to kill a good buck when you haven’t yet. And it’s easy to imagine how good it would feel to crawl back into bed when it’s right behind you. With your wife in it. And a soft pillow.

So in this mental battle, I’ve considered quitting. But I know that if I do, I’ll always ask, “What if? What if I didn’t quit? What if I went to the woods one more time?” In my mind, quitting would make me a quitter. And that is something I am not.
Regardless of what happens tomorrow, I know three things that I did not know last year.

1. I know the habits of the deer on this specific property.
2. I know myself better.
3. I know the rewards of success will be greater next year than they were
this year.

I guess my point is this. In life, we all have competitors, quarry, prey, whatever you want to call it. Understanding our competition is vital in rising to the top. But equally, if not more important, is our ability to identify the effect our pessimistic minds can have on the outcome. To succeed, we all must keep our minds in the game until opportunity comes.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Its Crunch Time

Every muscle in my body is tense yet still. I’m trying not to breathe, lest my heaving chest give me away to the 2 ½ year old buck that is nervously staring me down. Yet I can feel the adrenaline trickle from my brain through my veins, and the more it trickles, the faster my heart beats, the more oxygen my body requires, and of course, the harder I must breathe. He doesn’t know what I am, but he is certainly aware that I don’t belong. I am sure at any moment he will duck low and wheel around, leaving only some kicked up leaves on the ground and a distant memory in my mind. His front right foot lifts slowly before striking the ground. I am familiar with this gesture, as it is exhibited by deer as they attempt to bluff a potential adversary. The three nearby does had been feeding on acorns but they’ve now taken note of his alert posture and they too are piercing my camouflage and seeing my trembling body beneath.

“Lord, please don’t let them bust me. PLEASE.”

Suddenly, they all relax and begin feeding again. I watch as their ears relax and pivot left and then right, listening to the sounds of rustling leaves and chirping birds. The buck picks up some pace and begins moving to my right. I try to match his speed as I turn right also. As he enters my shooting window I come to full draw. His speed is too fast and I realize that if he doesn’t stop walking NOW, I won’t have a shot. I let out a low guttural grunt and the buck freezes mid stride, again fully alert. As my pin hovers over his vitals I release the arrow. The buck bolts, and I can instantly tell it was a clean miss.

That was September 27. It’s now December 11 and I’ve only seen this buck two other times, never with a shot opportunity. There’s a dull ache that forms in my stomach as I watch the pages of the calendar flip by because I’m running out of time to make this happen. Season has been closed for a few weeks, and in a few weeks it will open again, but only for a few sweet, stressful days.

My hunting expeditions thus far this year have resulted in frustration. I’ve learned the intricacies of bowhunting deer while on the ground. The smallest movement or a shift in wind direction has left my freezer bare and the local whitetail population all the wiser. Sometimes my wife asks why I continue to go if it is so stressful and frustrating. What can I say? When it comes to hunting, I’m a glutton for punishment. And I only have a few short days left to endure.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Wealth Distribution...Where Does It End?

Redistribution of wealth. We’ve heard it all over the news recently, though it has been shouted by opponents of Barack Obama’s fiscal proposals for months now. And what has poured gas on the growing fire is a recent comment in which Obama stated, “I think when you spread the wealth around, it's good for everybody.”

Many people call it socialism or communism. Even Fidel Castro has twice verbalized his support for Obama as a candidate. And former Communist Party USA member Frank Marshall Davis is spouted as a lifelong mentor in Obama’s book, “Dreams From My Father”.

At the heart of socialism is the notion that all people should be equal, that classes of people should be eliminated. Those who have, should be taxed and robbed, and the loot should be passed on to the less fortunate in a Robin Hood fairy tale fashion.

Doing so has immense negative consequences. First, the less fortunate have no motivation to improve themselves or their input to society. Government gives them what they need. As a police officer, the majority of people I come into contact with are lazy and jobless, paying for their groceries, rent and beer with government help. They are disabled by age 20, due to their “nerves”. They are simply walking the path their parents walked. And they all know that if they were gainfully employed, their standard of living would drop. They would rent a $300 apartment instead of enjoying the $600 government subsidized apartment they currently enjoy. They would be forced to buy Natural Ice instead of Budweiser, or maybe be unable to afford alcohol of any kind. Socialism destroys their will to be meaningful in society.

A second effect of wealth distribution, is that it punishes success. Those with entrepreneurial talent or skills of high demand will have no motivation to improve their businesses. All of their hard work will be taken from them and given to others.

Laws of economics show that people naturally move into markets where their return on investment is greater. The jobless population will find new skills that are in demand and will pay better. Businesses will decrease production of goods that are in less demand, and increase production of those goods that increase profits. The motivator for every person is success. In a socialistic environment, there is no motivation besides avoiding success and reaping government subsidy.

So here is my question: If America travels down the road to wealth distribution, where will it end? How do we define wealth, or equality? Some families have three vehicles and others have none. Will excess vehicles be taken from the wealthy and given to those who must walk or use public transportation? That sounds extreme, but it is no different than Obama’s proposal. Taxing those individuals and small businesses with annual revenue greater than $250,000 may mean those individuals and businesses are unable to buy an extra vehicle. And the receivers of government help may then be able to purchase vehicles they otherwise couldn’t afford. There is simply no difference between the two scenarios.

What if we consider beauty as wealth? Surely, American society values beauty, we see that fact all around us. Will the government mar the faces of America’s “beautiful” to discourage success that may be derived or accelerated by those faces? Will the government pay for cosmetic procedures for the genetically unfortunate? And will fat be taken from America’s overweight, and put on the small population that metabolize food efficiently?

I know these ideas seem ludicrous. But it is imperative that Americans understand that people are equal in importance, and should have equal rights. That does not mean that all people are inherently equal. Some are fit to be teachers, others plumbers, yet others, CEOs. No one person is better than another. America has always prided itself as a melting pot. Socialism is simply an effort to make every person the same.