El Gusto es Mio … the pleasure is mine.

There we sat like knots on a log, two late-40-something men bored and useless at one of the tediously never-ending Junior Auxiliary fundraisers, when my buddy offered a dubious reading recommendation.

screen-shot-2017-01-25-at-9-27-39-am“That new Truett Cathy book is pretty good. I think you’d enjoy it,” he said, staring off into space toward the luxury porta-potties apparently necessary for this particular outdoor charity event at the “ranch.”

“Chick-fil-A?” I responded, silently scoffing at the likelihood of some fast-food propaganda promo and how I might benefit from it.

“That’s him,” he said.

“Okay, I’ll check it out,” I lied.

“Hey, did you check out those porta potties?”

“Yep. Sweet. Very sweet. I think I’ll go back in and pee again.”

Two days later he shows up at my office Monday morning with his used, dog-eared copy.

Trapped. Great Caesar’s Ghost.

But I read it. And something stuck.

***

Truett Cathy was a fine man. He did a lot of good, instilled much goodwill, set an example for the kind of life to which I aspire.  He had his haters. Who doesn’t these days?

But Cathy founded his business with good people. From corporate execs to the janitorial staff, everything was/is personal. And he successfully created an environment that makes people happy to work at Chick-fil-A. He wanted people to give customers heartfelt service with a genuine smile – the kind that comes naturally.

The next time you run through a Chick-fil-A, listen for a key word.

Pleasure.

What do you hear at the speaker greeting? “Welcome to Chick-fil-A. It will be my pleasure to serve you. Order whenever you’re ready.”

Need ketchup? “It will be my pleasure.”

Soft drink too flat? “It’ll be my pleasure to replace that sir/ma’am.”

Cathy created an environment making it a pleasure for his employees to work there, and they pass their pleasure on to the customer. However you may feel about their public positions on certain issues, rarely will you have a bad experience at Chick-fil-A.

***

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Civility’s rapid decay during the last two years has on occasion made me physically ill.

Through modeling from public figures of the highest profile, by way of mass media, the entertainment industry, the lingering effects of a recession from which some will never, ever recover, and the slow, drip, drip, conditioning it creates in a very numb society, it’s now easier to treat others with incredulous disdain than with kindness. We’re almost unconscious in our rude behavior.

The Resistance??? There are may things we need to resist now, and the players in and around 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue may be our least worries. We must resist becoming void of all kindness and civility. The hard part is, no one can do it but you.

I made a decision in October than I will not bow to civil decay. That requires an intentional, conscious effort every day in taking responsibility for myself. Add to a plan of a balanced diet, exercise and spiritual well-being, this:

Intentional gratitude. I’m pausing for it several times a day now.

As I focus on what’s good, (especially people in my life) it actually requires less and less effort over time. It makes it much easier to take my eyes off myself and look outward.

Truth is, it makes almost everything a PLEASURE. Regularly, throughout the day, and with no force of thought I find myself in conversation regularly saying …

“It’s my pleasure.”

“The pleasure is mine.”

“It couldn’t be more of a pleasure.”

And I’m laughing as I write this, but I mean it. Things are much more a pleasure now than they were when I paid attention to all the garbage. I’m not going back into the mire. That behavior is unacceptable. I reject it. This is my Resistance.

And so in everything I now pursue, it’s become an unintentional mantra, and I wasn’t even going for that.

El Gusto es mio…

AND THAT’S A PLEASURE!

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My Day in Jipijapa

The streets of Jipijapa. This is an extremely calm scene relative to most times.

The streets of Jipijapa. This is an extremely calm scene relative to most times.

Notice the name on the commercial tienda. "El Gato." Everyone has a nickname here, and this is the store owner's moniker. Every fourth man here is nicknamed El Gato. Why would any guy want to be called The Cat?

Notice the name on the commercial tienda. “El Gato.” Everyone has a nickname here, and this is the store owner’s moniker. Every fourth man here is nicknamed El Gato. Why would any guy want to be called The Cat?

Pretty typical scene. You don't even want to know how low the prices are.

Pretty typical scene. You don’t even want to know how low the prices are.

Also pretty typical.

Also pretty typical.

We have a presidential election here coming up in two weeks.

We have a presidential election here coming up in two weeks.

This is AgriPac, a store where you buy seeds, feed, chemicals, kind of an old time feed store. There is no rhyme or reason to how you get waited on in these stores. Patience carries the day, especially if you have fair skin and blue eyes.

This is AgriPac, a store where you buy seeds, feed, chemicals, kind of an old time feed store. There is no rhyme or reason to how you get waited on in these stores. Patience carries the day, especially if you have fair skin and blue eyes.

Shoes for the ladies.

Shoes for the ladies.

Maria "la Chihuahua" Blount on a mission TCB.

Maria “la Chihuahua” Blount on a mission TCB.

Street meat. Not for the gringo gastronomy. Don't go there people.

Street meat. Not for the gringo gastronomy. Don’t go there people.

The sno cone guy. Every town has several sno cone guys with carts like this. For 50 cents you can get refreshed.

The sno cone guy. Every town has several sno cone guys with carts like this. For 50 cents you can get refreshed.

Centro de Jipijapa. Center of government and commerce. Where everything happens.

Centro de Jipijapa. Center of government and commerce. Where everything happens.

Check out the price. You'd be surprised how some things are considered a luxury here. Shaving cream is one. Unfortunately, I needed it.

Check out the price. You’d be surprised how some things are considered a luxury here. Shaving cream is one. Unfortunately, I needed it.

Almuerzo.

Almuerzo.

Ciao por ahora. Hasta luego.

Ciao por ahora. Hasta luego.

I Am a Christian: A Confession and 15 Personal Principles

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(Note: This list of principles isn’t something I sit around and study, pour over daily, or even consciously consider, but rather an articulation of words expressing practices that have come naturally over time. Sometimes, in my own spiritual journey, I find it’s important to write these things down. That’s really all this is. Nothing more, nothing less.)

A general distaste for labels aside, I am a Christian whose identity is in Christ. I claim it without pride, superiority, self-righteous indignation, guilt or shame. I claim Christ as my only saving grace and aspire to follow Him. We communicate in words and so Christian is as good a word as any for what I am. I’ve found none better.

I’d also wager that because of a growing movement in my own tribe I’m considered by many as a soft, weak, even an unpatriotic Christian. The juxtaposition of those latter two words doesn’t even really work, but that’s where we are today – an entirely different topic. “Libtard.” “Moron.” Suffering from “cranial-rectal syndrome.” Those are a few things other Christ followers have called me, or said about me lately.

“Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” John 13:35

Haha.

It’s possible during the last couple of years I’ve had upwards of a hundred conversations with non-Christians. Atheists. Agnostics. People of other non-Christian faiths. Frankly, they’re among the most constructive conversations I’ve enjoyed, and in many cases the quality of these people’s character is unsurpassed.

If you’re a Christian who’s never entertained a deep conversation with a non-Christian, you should try it. What non-Christians see in the “Christian” community, and the conversation they’ll engage you in as a result might just test you more than you know. Try, without judgment, to explain Christian evangelical support for some high-profile things non-Christians have seen in the last two years. Imagine, without emotion, how you might explain your belief system in those various contexts.

I’ve done it dozens of times, and will do it dozens more, and I’m okay with it, but it ain’t easy. I had one such conversation last night with a couple that I adore and care about as much as family.

Consistently, non-Christians express three ideas about this distaste for the faith. They say:

  1. That we almost never practice what we preach;
  2. That we claim forgiveness without repentance. (Those aren’t the words they use, but that’s what they mean.) and;
  3. They say that we rub God in their faces with language such as “God did this, or God did that,” as if He micromanages the minutia of our daily lives. Did God really cause you to find your keys? Then he also caused you to lose them, right?
This morning's sunrise over the foothills of the Andes mountain range is as good a visual as any to pop in here for some variety.

This morning’s sunrise over the foothills of the Andes mountain range is as good a visual as any to pop in here for some variety.

Because I’m frequently in these situations (and welcome them) it’s been more important than ever to find the clearest ways to articulate the who, what, where, when, why, and how of my Christian belief. It begins with knowing those things myself, not only how to express them, but how to live them. Witness is how it might be best described.

And here’s an uncomfortable confession: While I’ve never been more at peace with my beliefs based on bible study, church attendance, and the guiding of the Holy Spirit, I often tell non-Christians that I’m not the “typical” Christian. And I don’t even know if that’s really the right thing to say, or even if it’s good or bad, but it’s surely how it feels. Ah, the struggles of imperfection. Some things we’ll never understand on this side of the realm.

Since life is less about what we say (although, yes, words do very much matter) than it is about what we do, the following are some guiding principles I try to practice in being the kind of Christian I believe God wants to see in me. I fail at these things, yet try, … in no particular order of importance:

  1. Know what you believe, and why you believe it. Period.
  2. Be quick to apologize.
  3. Listen without judgment and never, never, never condemn.
  4. Understand every person you see is wounded and in need of a friend.
  5. Avoid “we vs. them” language and move through conversations slowly.
  6. Know that doubt is a part of faith and ultimately causes growth.
  7. If you remain inside four walls, the only thing you’ll ever see or know is the same four walls.
  8. Don’t be a hypocrite. Keep convictions and actions consistent and be hyper vigilant about it. It’s that simple.
  9. Be charitable, but low profile. Don’t shout your good deeds from the mountaintop.
  10. Remember, someone is always watching. See #9 above.
  11. Create for yourself a mission-field mindset the moment you walk away from the bathroom mirror each morning. This mission begins after you brush your teeth.
  12. Have a world view, and lose the false notion that God has some kind of special fondness for your homeland.
  13. In the emotional valleys, remember that the vine dresser prunes the vine so new and better fruit can grow.
  14. Be the cheerleader you always needed. We’re at our best when we’re cheering for others, plus, everyone needs a cheerleader.
  15. Jesus is the model. Live like Him. How I live like Jesus is determined by how I learn about Jesus and how I learn about Jesus is entirely up to me. But live like Jesus.

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Relax. You’re on Beach Time.

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The photo above shows a sign I keep on the pantry door of our little Casa Azul in Puerto Cayo, Ecuador. It has a purpose. Probably not the one you think.

On the exterior, I can be just about whatever you need at the moment. Extrovert? It’s not my natural style, but I can play it well enough just about any time if that’s what you need. I made a good part of my livelihood as an adjusted-style extrovert. Curmudgeonly hermit-like introvert? Yes, it comes quite naturally, thank you. Business guy in suit and Johnson and Murphys? Sure, no problem. Country farmer with dirt underneath his fingernails. Even easier.

On a positive note, my bougainvillea is looking pretty good for such dry conditions.

On a positive note, my bougainvillea is looking pretty good for such dry conditions.

But my comfort zone is being my own boss making enough money to pay bills and travel a couple of times a year, and focusing on whatever my limited attention span is interested in for the next few months. I don’t mean that in an egotistical or sarcastic way. In fact, up until not so long ago my proclivity to boredom was the think I disliked most about myself. But during the last year it’s a simple truth truth I’ve accepted – even embraced – and knowing who I truly am, supercedes most, but not quite all, things these days.

I’m no longer caught up in things like image, public opinion, social status, or chamber of commerce award banquets. I just kind of like to be my own guy. Is that so wrong?

It’s easier some places than others. If nothing else, Ecuador has taught how to chill every expectation.

There’s a radical and immediate shift in time somewhere between Arkansas and Ecuador. I’m a high-strung traveler, anxious on airplanes, exhaustively pro-active in heading off unwanted potential surprises, hyper conscious of where everything is all the time. Travel Mode begins the night before a trip and doesn’t end until wheels down at whatever destination. It took me a while to learn that wheels down in Ecuador means time moves sideways into a different dimension.

High-strung doesn’t work here. And you’d better lose the attitude fast if you don’t want to drive yourself and everyone around you nuts.

I recall the time a carpenter finally showed up at the house a week after the initial appointment. He came in, surveyed the work, and immediately left because he didn’t bring his hammer. “Back in an hour,” he said. It’s always, “back in a hour, or tomorrow, maybe.”

The time three guys made an emergency call to save us from raw sewage overflowing a septic tank onto our back yard? You don’t even wanna know.

We have a water shortage here. Sometimes you’re lucky enough to get it through a municipal line. Other times, you call a tanker to fill your cistern. Need a shower desperately? The tanker guy will be there when he gets there.

Sometimes I’ll hear people talk with a wistful romanticism about their travels to exotic locations such as Cancun, Fiji, Madrid or maybe Puerto Vallarta. “Time stands still,” they say, dreamily imagining a life with so many umbrella drinks.

Maybe so, but in Ecuador, time gets turned upside down and “beach time” isn’t always the most romantic thing in the world. The key word in the sign on my pantry is “Relax.”

Tranquillo.

It isn’t perfect, but life is good in Ecuador.

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Day 3: Nate and Faith Walter

Published today on my companion blog, noteaday.com

Note A Day

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Dear Nate & Faith:

It was such a pleasure meeting you both in Santiago de Compostela last November. Lucky for us Dana made us keep searching the narrow, crowded streets, and that we finally came upon you at Pilgrim House.

I had my reservations. Not sure why, but I did. I thought Pilgrim House might be some mystic out-of-the-way place, the smell of incense burning from the back, full of strange people I wouldn’t connect with all discussing their karma and listening to tracks of buddhist chant music playing about. I’m not sure why I presumed that, but I did, and not that it would’ve been the end of the world. It’s just not my comfort zone. Of course, to my great pleasure, it wasn’t, and to our great fortune, we had the pleasure to meet you both.

Thank you for being so kind to us, for washing our clothes…

View original post 332 more words

2016: My Year-End Review – Filters and Anchor Points

(Blogger’s Note: This is the last in a series of posts looking back at 2016, and ahead to the new year. Thank you so very much to everyone who read the posts at Pilgrim Strong this year. Your encouraging comments and friendship are so much a part of what’s real in my life. We really are “just walking each other home.” May the Lord bless and keep you. May He make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you. May He lift up his glorious countenance upon you. And give you peace. I hope you’ll join me for a new and different kind of writing adventure next year at noteaday.com. )

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When the final numbers come in, these are the likely top 10 movies of 2016:

1) Finding Dory
2) Captain America: Civil War
3) The Secret Life of Pets
4) The Jungle Book
5) Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
6) Deadpool
7) Zootopia
8) Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice
9) Suicide Squad
10) Doctor Strange

Notice any trends? It’s all fantasy. More and more every day, we’re living a very real life in a make-believe world driven by fantasy and conflict. We’re losing touch with reality at unsurpassed momentum. And so many of those whose public professions you hear about making things great again, are really just driven by self-serving motives best advanced when you’re kept in a fog. I’m imploring you not to be part of the shell game.

It’s never been more important that we take responsibility for ourselves, especially as it relates to how we formulate important, fundamental opinions. To a great extent, civility’s survivability depends on how successful we are in knowing what we believe, and why.  I’m challenging you to be as shrewd as Kido the cat as you face the bait-and-switch shell game ahead in 2017.

You watched that video didn’t you? Admit it. I knew you couldn’t resist.

In 2017, please don’t let your reality be based on people or media conglomerates or commercial businesses whose self interest is to manipulate every part of your brain. Just say no.

You can help yourself with two things: filters and anchor points. These are my working definitions:

Filter – methods, personal experiences and hands-on techniques you can use to sift fantasy from reality; lies from truth.

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Anchor Point – a solid, unwavering, fixed point of reference reminding you of your identity, purpose, and direction. A practice creating a north star-like quality.

I think a lot about those two things this time every year. Isn’t it wonderful how every 365 days, we sort of get to imagine new beginnings, second chances, and do overs?

On pilgrimage in Spain this year I felt the strongest calling to make 2017 a time when I’ll take my eyes off myself and be ever-aware of the motives behind my actions. In 2017, I’ll launch a new blog designed to do just that. (You can sign up to follow that blog by email here). I’ll travel a lot – it’s high on my priority list for understanding a world outside Jonesboro, Arkansas. There will be an extended adventure/walk somewhere, most likely on the first one-quarter of the Appalachian Trail or the John Muir Trail, and I’ll walk upwards of a thousand miles getting ready, and actually doing it. I’ll start fishing again. I love fishing, and have missed it for years. I’m going back to stand in cold streams and feel the thrill of a taut, jerking line. And I want to spend a lot of time thinking about how my giftings can help others. Those are some of my plans for the new year.

In all the things I’ll do, I’ve resolved to do them with more vigor, deeper passion, greater gusto. I want to take deep breaths of fresh air, stand in awed amazement at breathtaking vistas, listen intently  to birds singing at the dawning of a new day. And I never want to stop having laughable dreams. They’re among my greatest personal anchor points.

As we close out this frenetic year and look to a clean start, I wanted to share with you some possible ideas for thinking about your own filters and anchor points.

FILTERS

  • When it comes to social media, learn to recognize bait, and just don’t take it. It’s easy enough to spot certain trigger words that immediately create ascreen-shot-2016-12-24-at-5-53-20-am “we vs. them” forum. Don’t get caught up in the false idea that your participation in these discussions advances some convicting cause or that you’re making a difference. You’re not, and no one’s really listening anyway because everyone’s talking and thinking about what they’re going to say next. Don’t take the bait.
  • As a general rule for social media, limit your time there, and don’t use it as a babysitter for your boredom. I have a lot of work to do here.
  • Limit your time watching television. I haven’t watched network news in almost 80 days and life is better. The world isn’t nearly as bad as they’re telling you.
  • Resist the comfort zone you perceive in being around people just like you. Yesterday, I received the nicest note from a man who’d read one of my blog posts in this series and he asked for some clarification on a religious matter I’d raised. We had a wonderful genuine exchange about some things on which we disagree, and yet further advanced the respect we have for one another. Isn’t that so refreshing?
  • Do your best to look at situations through the eyes of others, and realize that very few things are truly as they seem. There’s usually much more to the story.
  • Be proactive, not reactive. And calm down, for crying out loud.
  • Resolve to listen more than you speak. Be present. Again, I speak to myself.
  • Don’t take yourself too seriously. I’ve laughed at myself more in the last couple of years than in all the rest of my life combined.

ANCHOR POINTS

  • Be someone’s cheerleader. Younger, older, it doesn’t matter. This is SO important. One of the things I believe most about life is that we’re at our very best when we’re cheering for others. I have a few specific people already picked out for 2017.
  • Do some very difficult things all ALONE. I’d never discount the immeasurable value of sharing life experiences with a loving, trusted partner, but some of my most profound anchor points also come from times when it was just me, mentally and physically depleted, and when I had no idea what came next.

“You can’t accomplish ANYTHING without the possibility of failure.” ~ Gary “Laz” Cantrell, founder of the Barkley Marathons, the race that eats its young

  • Meditate regularly on why you believe what you believe. The ability to answer this simple question is important for you and everyone you touch.
  • Keep an understanding inside your head that the current world economy is driven by fear and conflict. Don’t be afraid. Is it any accident this phrase is mentioned 365 times in the bible?
  • Consider a daily journal and the lasting power your written words can have on your outlook.
  • Develop some new hobbies that actually require a lot of time. I mentioned fishing as one I’ll bring back next year. And I love watching Bob Ross videos and trying my hand at painting, even though the outcome is always laughable.
  • Read. Pretty simple.
  • Do some good deeds that remain a complete secret. Don’t tell anyone.
  • View life through the lens of time. So much of my thinking now is shaped by the realization of how short my time is on earth.
  • Invite people into your home. I think this is so important, and it’s such a shame that the “dinner party” is less a part of society than it once was. We’re designed for communal fellowship. Three years ago we began hosting a New Year’s Day Feast for as many friends as we can get to come. I love this day, and it gets my year off to a great start surrounded by people I care about. In fact, I’m planning the menu this morning for our fourth annual event.

In fact, it’s time to go do that now.

Happy New Year, everyone.

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