LESSONS LEARNED


The New Year is here. I have listened to talk show hosts spout their resolutions for the coming months. I’ve read plenty of the same thing on social media sites. Well, I’m not promising anything to myself. Instead, I’m going to follow the lead Reverend Larry Dial presented during his sermon on Sunday. My goal is to try to remember what I’ve learned over the past year.
First, I learned that I can once again live in the same house with someone other than my dear wife. My son Dallas returned to Knoxville after 15 years in Chattanooga. He decided a job change was in order and found a position and opportunity with an excellent company.
For now, he’s living with us. Little by little, Dallas is emptying his condo in Chattanooga, and before long, the place will be ready for the market. Dallas will then find his own new home. Until then, he will stay here with his dog Harvey. I am working on patience and flexibility, although my son might say I’m more invested in griping and demanding.
Another lesson deals with Amy’s job. The last few years have been a roller coaster for her. She’s worked temporary jobs and permanent ones, but until now, they’ve been poor fits for her. Now she is with a company that values her skills and experience. I’ve witnessed just how much life’s pressures ease when Amy is comfortable in her work. She is a happier and more grateful person. I know now just how important it is to me that my best friend’s life is in good shape.
I’ve also learned to adapt to my own work situation. For a year and a half, I taught English at a vocational school. The job ended when those in charge axed the program. So, I returned to substitute teaching. Yes, I know at one time I declared I’d never take such a job, but I’ve found many advantages. Among them are the abilities to set my own work schedule and work sites. The best thing about the job is that I’ve made new friends at the schools where I work. In fact, they’ve welcomed me and made me feel as if I were one of them.
In 2018, I learned a hard lesson. I’m not able to do what I used to do. That means I can’t work outside all day without being exhausted. Now, I’m good for about a half a day before places start to ache rest is required. Projects take much longer to complete, and I’m not nearly so “picky” about the little things involved in them. Of more interest are such things as sitting by the pool, reading a book, or zoning out while watching the television.
One thing I have re-learned is that God is certainly good. Through all the ups and downs of life, He is there just waiting for relationship. The good lord has led Amy and me through some of the toughest times in our 44-year marriage. On occasion, I’ve been madder than a hornet with Him, but that hasn’t kept God from keeping me safe and leading me in the direction that is best for my life. I realize even more than before that the more faith I have, the more my life aligns itself with positive things and experiences. It’s comforting.
I am curious what this year will teach me. My job is to be alert and receptive to those lessons and to understand the importance of them. I suppose I’m saying that all of life is filled with teaching moments, but they click only when we open our minds and hearts to them.


NEW DIRECTIONS


With the Christmas presents opened, decorations placed safely back in containers, and the chaos of the holiday in the rearview mirror, the time to look forward comes. No, this isn’t so much about making resolutions that will more than likely be dropped within weeks; instead, I’m thinking about what kinds of directions people will choose for their lives.
First off, high school students keep coming to mind. I’d left them for so long when I finished my teaching career years ago, but since I’ve begun substituting, they’re right back with me. I see so many
teens who have no drive. Yes, I goofed off in high school and did as little as possible to get by. However, I made sure I produced enough to make it to college where I had to hit the books extra hard to make up for my failings in the years before.
Too many young people today are just plain lazy. My mother would call them “trifling.” They are the students who show up at school but have no intentions of working in classes. They spend their time causing problems in class and keeping others students from being able to learn. Discipline is weak in too many schools due to restrictions placed by the systems. Overcrowded classes have several of these disrupters that thwart teaching efforts.
My advice to them is to discover a passion toward which they can turn their attention. No, college isn’t for everyone. Plenty of trades need skilled workers, and that fact offers more opportunities to young people. Whatever the path, each of these persons needs to educate himself to be able to make a living wage.
If they refuse to take charge, many of them will face lives of minimum wage jobs that are long on
work hours and short on money. Even if a person makes $10 an hour and works a 40-hour week, 52 weeks a year, his gross income will be $29,120. If a person makes the federal minimum wage of $7.25, that income drops to $15, 080.
Folks in the workforce must face the fact that retirement will be difficult if plans aren’t made now. That means that every person must set aside some money, even if it’s no more than $5 per pay period, and invest it in some program that will earn profits. The more a person can put away now, the better off he will be later, and he won’t have to worry about whether or not Social Security is available. No one should count on it surviving. If a person wants to retire at some point, he simply must invest in his future. Belt-tightening now will prevent future financial uncertainties or working forever to make ends meet.
If a parent wants his children to have money for college, she must save now. Teens should also be encouraged to work to save for education as well. Borrowing money should be kept to a minimum. That means a student might have to take advantage of free tuition at community colleges for two
years and then attend an in-state university where costs are much less. After a student earns a degree and secures a job, he can then go after an advanced degree.
I hope that folks take some time to think about the future and their financial security. This new year can be the turning point in the way young people view education and career choices. People in the workforce can take steps to secure a better future. Doing these things requires hard work, but in the end, a happier future will shine brightly.
Happy New Year!  I hope your lives are filled with joy in the days ahead. Peace be with you.

WHAT PRESENTS ARE IMPORTANT


So, it’s here again. Christmas will arrive on the same day as always, but the speed at which it comes seems to increase with each passing year. I used to dislike it when people said such a thing, but now I realize that with age, everything speeds up. What is important also changes as the years roll along.
As children, we spent hours thumbing through Spiegel, Sears, and General Products catalogs. Every toy we saw was added to our Christmas lists. Our parents rarely had any idea what we actually wanted Santa to bring. Eventually, they finally made “executive decisions” as to what to buy. I never
remember being disappointed on Christmas mornings; Mother and Daddy possessed those special powers that led to their picking just the perfect presents for us boys.
When my children arrived, I worried about choosing the right things for them, and after they’d opened those presents, I always tormented them with questions about how satisfied they were with the items they’d received. I continually asked them if they were all right until the question was met with furrowed brows and laser stares.
These days, I still hope we choose things that our children and grandson like. Of course, saving the receipts helps, and then they always appreciate some Christmas money. Amy declares that it is “always the right color and the right size.”
For me, the presents aren’t so important now. Sure, I want to be remembered, but I have no special items in mind for my own gifts. I have everything I need, and unless someone is interested in giving me a new truck or a leaf vacuum for my mower, I don’t think I require much of anything else.
I’m more about spending time with family during Christmas. Having a few days with my grown children, son-in-law Nick, and grandson is a much bigger joy. We pile in on each other and celebrate the season. Sometimes, a person needs a bit of a respite from the noise and commotion, so he retreats to his bedroom. Before long, he returns for another round of chaos. By the time he holidays are finished, all of us are ready for a return to the normal life that is free of so much hubbub. It’s not that we don’t love each other; it’s that too much closeness grates on anyone’s nerves.
Soaking in the season and all that comes with it is a blessing. The truth is everyone loves receiving gifts and spending time with loved ones. At some point during the holidays, I’ll grow a bit moody and even teary-eyed. It happens when I think about those people whom I loved and are now gone.
I look at myself in the mirror sometimes and wonder how in the world I grew so old. My mind is still that of a young man, but the body that houses that mind is filled with aches and pains. I am at that place where my parents and grandparents were in years gone by. What I most need to do now is live in the moment and love my wife and children and grandson as much as possible. At some point they will have to continue Christmas without me. It would be nice if they remember me fondly and even have a few laughs at the goofy things I contributed to the season.
I hope you have the opportunity to spend times with the ones most dear to you this Christmas. Make sure you give them extra hugs and kisses and “I love you’s.” Most of all, bow your head and give a word of thanks to God for giving you these wonderful people. They are the presents that are most important.
Merry Christmas!

IN TRAINING


I’m sitting on the couch and watching the rain fall. The weather is too cold and raw to travel outside for some kind of activity like mowing the leaves for the eighth time or taking the dogs to the park. Instead, I’m doing my best imitation of a lump. At the same time, I’m stuffing my face with one food after another. Yep, I’m in training for the holiday eating. I’ve done it for years.
Mother began her food preparations soon after Thanksgiving. She stood at the stove and stirred her fudge concoction. It always looked to be a chore as she mixed the stuff the way I’ve worked concrete; however, I’m positive that that her fudge was tastier than my walkways.  
She also made peanut brittle and a candy she called “divinity.” I never
cared for the stuff, but neighbors who received a container of it raved.
Other snacks littered the table. Loaves of pumpkin bread and zucchini bread were stacked in one corner. Rice crispy treats stayed fresh in a large Tupperware container that was so old that the plastic
no longer was clear. The top was worn from hundreds of openings. Another huge tub was filled with “nuts and bolts,” Mother’s recipe for Chex mix.
Always believing that dessert was an important item for holiday meals, she baked at least two pumpkin pies. Days before Christmas dinner, she baked a white cake and then iced it with coconut and cream sour cream icing. The whole thing stood almost a foot tall, and it sat in the refrigerator so that
the cake could soak up the icing and make the entire cake a heavenly delight.
The real eating began Christmas morning. When we were kids, Mother made pancakes and bacon for breakfast. We left the table in a semi-diabetic coma caused by rivers of syrup on stacks of carbohydrates.
When all family members arrived that afternoon, dinner was spread across an extended table, on kitchen counters, and even on a table on the screened porch. All filled their plates with mounds of food that included
turkey, ham, dressing, mashed potatoes, gravy, and rolls. Not a tinge of green was visible on most plates; people swore that vegetables only took up room that was better used for heavy food.
Everyone finished and searched for a comfortable chair or couch where they could moan until sleep overtook them. In no more than half an hour, the kitchen was again alive with people looking for dessert. After that, the crowd thinned and left a mountain of dishes to wash and tons of leftovers that we attacked before going to bed Christmas night.
I don’t eat as much as during my youth, but I can still put large portions away. With a month of training on all sorts of snacks and extras, I’m ready to eat attack that big meal, loosen my belt, and have a holiday nap.
May your Christmas be filled with plenty of food, family, and fellowship. I’ll see you at the YMCA with the arrival of the new year.