maximizing the meaning

This Christmas season, let us slow down somewhat. Let us pause long enough to reflect, grasp the meaning, and ask even the tough questions.

But let’s not wait until the 24th or 25th or even for any annual new year resolve. Let’s pause now. Let’s ask the questions now. Let’s maximize the meaning of the season….

Proclamations resound, calling for peace on Earth, goodwill to men…

What does peace on Earth take?
What does it look like?
Do I have a role in this?
What gets in the way?
And how am I contributing to it?

What about goodwill?
Do I really believe in it?
Do I believe instead in goodwill only toward some?
And is that dependent on if another has wronged me?
If they think like me?
Have I limited who I am and who God is by withholding goodwill?

They say the season is miraculous…

Do I believe in miracles?
Do I think they only happened long ago?
Do they happen only in the big stuff or in the practical, too?
What would it change in me if I saw miracles daily? … in my routine?
What keeps me from seeing miracles?

It’s a season of faith, hope, and joy…

Is there an area of my faith in which I know I need to grow?
If I’m refusing to look at that, why?
Where have I assumed I have all the answers?
And hope — pausing this moment to acknowledge what grieves me — am I recognizing the great hope shared this season?
Is it enough for me?

It also is a season of giving — although I don’t think it’s so much about stuff…

Am I focusing more on presents or presence?
Am I spending too much?
Am I focused on stuff?
What about consumerism?
Have I bought into the lie that more is better?
Am I worshipping the so-called god of more?

This season, friends, let’s pause before the actual holidays. Let’s pause long enough to ask the tough questions, maybe refocus a bit, and maximize the meaning of the season.

Respectfully… with a few added Ho-Ho-Ho’s…

the intentional giving of thanks

What I love about Thanksgiving is the intentional giving of thanks.

What I love about the intentional giving of thanks is the removal of focus on self and the sincere acknowledgement of someone else.

Allow me to thus acknowledge someone else…

Thank you to each of you — for joining us here and participating in the Intramuralist.

Thank you to my family and friends — for your awesome encouragement and consistent support.

And thank you to the great big God of the universe — for making all things possible. I could not do this without you.

Allow me one more brief thought on this day of great purpose, as sweetly and succinctly articulated by Joe Fazio in his poem of “A Thousand Thanks”…

* * * * *

“To He who is all powerful, thanks for the many
blessings you have bestowed on me.

To those I love, thanks for all you do.

To my friends, thanks, for teaching me the
meaning of friendship.

To those I have angered, thanks for your patience
and your understanding.

To those I have disappointed, thanks for your
forgiveness. I’ll try to do better.

Thanks, to the strangers along life’s path, for
their kindness.

Thanks, to those who do for others and remain
without acknowledgement.

Thanks, for the charity of others, extended to
those who are less fortunate.

Thanks, to those of differences, who arrive
at the point of compromise.

Thanks, to all in their journey of life, who
attempt to make this, a better world.”

* * * * *

Many thanks, my friends.

Many blessings, too… this day and always…


Respect, Cheers, and Happy 4th…

241 years ago, the Declaration of Independence — a brilliant document written by Mr. Thomas Jefferson — was adopted by the Second Continental Congress. At war with Great Britain, the 56 signers announced the independence of the 13 sovereign states and that the American colonies would no longer be under British rule. The colonies seemingly operated independently for decades; this, no less, was the official decree…

“When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

The Intramuralist is no historian. I come from a layman’s perspective at best. But even sifting through the historical papers and accounts depicting the times, I still can’t completely grasp all that led up to such a decree. Learning much regarding those key political events from grade school on (… thank you, Mr. C… thank you still, Miss Jane…), after Britain neglected their American children for so long, when they finally did step in and attempt to actually focus on those across the Atlantic, Americans must have felt as if government was so out of touch… the rulers had been too distant and did not have Americans’ best interests in mind.

So what does one do? What does one do when our sense is that government is so out of touch?

I don’t believe we’re going out on too much of an editorial limb here to assert that a significant number of Americans — all over the partisan map — has felt government has been out of touch for years… decades, for some. Our self-evident truths have been distorted… “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…”

The truths have not changed, but perceived distortion has been prominent.

Noting first that according to the declaration,“Governments are instituted among Men” in order “to secure these rights” — and also, that government’s power comes only from “the consent of the governed” — it seems we are struggling as a society for multiple reasons — reasons far bigger than the ego and efforts of any of the recent elect.

Distortion of the self-evident truths comes when we are judgmental… We sometimes look at ethnicities, ages, genders, and the religious faithful, etc. as something less than equal. We, for example, at times feel emboldened to judge both the LGBTQ and evangelical community. My sense is that we are not to aver nor render consequence upon either.

Distortion comes when we are demanding… We sometimes declare that in order for “me” to pursue “my” happiness, “you” need to accept what “I” do as good… “you” need to believe what “I” do… for “you” need to realize that “I” speak truth and therefore “you” do not. Friends, I wholeheartedly believe there is a respectful way to embrace “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” without demanding that everyone else thinks like “me.”

And finally, distortion of these truths comes when we no longer thank nor acknowledge who our unalienable rights have been endowed by. Government is not the giver of every good and perfect gift. Government is not omniscient nor omnipotent — especially in a government that only has power because the people governed have consented to such.

While the rhetorical, political climate seems to continuously digress — with each so-called “side” believing they are somehow justified in their denigration and denouncement — I am increasingly concerned that more will advocate for a separation from “the political bands which have connected them.” Granted, there’s a key difference between now and 241 years ago…

The persons who were out of touch in 1776 lived approximately 3,539 miles away. Today, the persons we may perceive to be out of touch might live right next door. Hence, a separation is not helpful, healthy, nor effective. Also not helpful is judgment. Demandingness. Nor a lacking in true thanksgiving.

This 4th of July, may we follow the founders’ final written words… together… with our neighbor… who may or may not think differently than we… “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”

A brilliant declaration indeed.

May we mutually pledge our respect and support to one another.

Cheers. And happy 4th.


dear graduate

Two years ago, when my oldest son graduated from high school, I penned most of this post. As son #2 experienced the pomp and circumstance so sweetly yesterday, I sat down to craft something new. Yet as I reread the below, I was pretty sure this still needed to be said. Hence…

Dear Graduate,

For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to harvest.
A time to kill and a time to heal. A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to cry and a time to laugh. A time to grieve and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones. A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
A time to search and a time to quit searching. A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear and a time to mend. A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate. A time for war and a time for peace.

Now that you are formally entering adulthood, allow us to address a few more brief truths as you take these next few, albeit humongous steps…

First, there is that time for everything — every activity under heaven, every season under the sun. The reality is you will not enjoy nor desire each of these times. But one of the quiet truths in life is that how you respond to circumstance is typically more important than the circumstance itself. Such is a key to wisdom. Seek after wisdom. Always.

Remember that you have a choice in how to react; too many forget that. Instead of intentionally weighing the wisdom, it’s tempting to become self-focused or demanding. Resist that. Learn the difference between enjoy and embrace. When the time comes to tear down or turn away, embrace the time; when the time comes to grieve, grieve… dance, dance. Maybe even dance a lot. But remember that learning from the experience is most important. The wise one learns and grows from each season, even embracing that which is hard.

Second — and don’t let me shock you — but contrary to perhaps your long-held belief (or some fictional, parenting mantra) — you cannot be whatever you want to be. I’m sorry; remember: we are wrestling with reality. Similar to the Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny, and jolly old St. Nick, there are a few things we’ve told you for some reason, that aren’t actually true.

You cannot be whatever or whoever you want. Also true is that you are not entitled to any of those desired positions. However, you can be something better. You can be all that God created you to be. Embrace your gifts. Utilize the individual, unique wiring within you — the wiring that makes you distinctly and beautifully, uniquely you! Don’t compare yourself to another, falling prey to society’s hollow teaching that another person’s wiring or set up is somehow better or worse than your own. Simply embrace your strengths and grow from your weaknesses. Quit attempting to cover them up. Seek God first; seek his intention for your life. Then be who he created you to be.

And third, our brief rapid fire of encouragement…

Love deeply. Offer grace generously. Never view grace and truth as opposites, as each can be applied in full measure. Always. Wash your sheets — at least before you have company. Don’t be selfish. Be slow to anger. Be fast to forgive. Be humble. Forgive again. And again and again. See the wisdom in forgiveness. Recognize that sometimes intelligence gets in the way. Don’t be bitter; you will be the only one harmed in the long run. Eat healthy. Know when to not. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, as well. Separate the reds from the whites. Be charitable. Be noble. Save some; spend some; give some away. Don’t be afraid of sorrow. Recognize that you can feel sorrow and joy both at the same time. Turn off the XBOX. Sometimes. A lot of time. Value other people. Be sharpened by their differences. Chew with your mouth closed. Don’t ever think of equality with God as something to be grasped. Listen to the elderly; invest in the young. Bow and curtsy when appropriate. Open the door. Show respect — in what you say and how you think. Remember that respect does not mean accepting all as equally good and true. Know that all things are not equally good and true. Know when to be loud — when to be silent. Look another in the eye. Use your napkin. Watch what you put on Snapchat. Be discerning. Be aware that just because something feels good, it still may not be wise. Be prayerful. Figure the faith thing out; know that another can’t do it for you. And embrace each and every season shared above… the time to laugh… the time to cry… the time to grieve… and yes, that time to dance.

There is a time for everything. God has made everything beautiful for its own time.

Graduates, without a doubt, now is your time…

Sweetly, With a Special Salute to Our Grads…

here’s to moving forward in 2017


Each year seems marked by its uniqueness…

’41 was the attack on Pearl Harbor, the escalation of WWII and the USA’s involvement…
’63 was when a nation mourned the death of its sitting President, stilled by the poignancy of his young son’s salute…
’97 saw the deaths of two of history’s most beloved, benevolent contributors in Princess Diana and Mother Teresa…

It makes me wonder how 2016 will be historically remembered, as there was division manifest in far too many arenas. How do we move forward? … through the masses? … how do we do so wisely?

Allow me to return to my family’s unique experience a year ago. We found ourselves in the middle of Times Square as the ball and confetti dropped at midnight on New Year’s Eve. We had never done that before — “a bucket lister,” said one enthusiastic son. And so with an approximate 999,995 others, we did our best packed sardines imitation — albeit mostly without the odor and oil.

Picture the most crowded place you can imagine — a stadium, a massive conference room… people everywhere… with little room to do anything more than raise arms with your smart phone, in order to capture the next snapshot, chat, whatever. But unlike such typical scenarios, where a crowd of massive size would be aware of varied interests and individual wants, needs, opinions, emotions, etc., we were all focused on the same thing…

We were all excited about the same thing.

We were all looking in the same direction — eyes focused — waiting and wanting for the big ball to drop.

Without a doubt, there is something inherently beautiful laced in the meaning accompanying the dropping of that New Year’s ball…

Instead of focusing on our differences and maximizing what we don’t have in common — noting that in an actual, estimated crowd of one million people, countless significant differences exist — we shared something greater. Indeed, it was far greater… so great, in fact, our individual differences did not matter…

Our individual differences were also not watered-down. They did not have to be ignored or removed in order for the celebration to ensue. We were each excited about a celebration greater than self.

Hence, after the uniqueness of 2016, I’m wondering if the way forward is to find a way to focus on the same thing. What could that be? What could be that good?

I’m reminded of the interaction between my youngest son and an older New Yorker that night. Josh, that incredible kid who has never been disabled by his special needs, said ‘hello’ to an elderly New Yorker. Note that previous to our trip, we had (sadly) cautioned him in regard to taming some of his typically more overt, overly friendly interactions in Manhattan. But after a brief, positive acknowledgement from the gentleman, Josh was encouraged. He meekly continued, “Hey… want to be friends?” The man was first taken by surprise; there was a slight pause. And then he lit up with a humongous grin, articulating a hearty, warm Italian response, and said, “You just made my whole night!”

Here was a man and my son who from most first glances had little in common. The individual differences were obvious. But they did not matter. Their focus on the same thing brought them great joy — and helped them navigate through the masses (and sardines) in a beautiful, God-honoring way.

Here’s to the start of 2017, friends… as we wrestle with our individual differences, may we always do so respectfully.


after christmas


Just a few words this day…

As the decorations are dismantled and all hung with care keeps coming down, my thoughts turn to the reality after Christmas.

I paused the other evening, as I, too, sat seemingly amidst a sea of crumpled wrapping paper and contented kids, hearing that iconic pop singer, George Michael, passed away. As choruses of “Freedom” and “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” quickly danced in my head, I was again reminded of reality.

Immediately, many lamented the challenges and pain of the year behind…

… the deaths… division… and undesired outcomes…

All of the above existed in 2015. They will be again exist in 2017.

But depending on who are the deaths, where is the division, and what are the undesired outcomes, the reality affects different people to different degrees. Reality affects us differently.

And so I immediately think back to the bells heard on Christmas Day… the messages of hope, proclamations of peace, and the depth of a great, great joy.

What is beautiful about that hope, peace, and joy is that it lasts for far more than a day; it’s available more than a single day each year; and it has the power and potential to transcend the pain within any of our realities.

As the Intramuralist continues to reflect on the end of the year, we wish you great blessing… including that hope, peace, and joy… always…


what it’s about


Sometimes the most powerful messages are shared in the simplest ways, such as 51 years ago, in “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Near the animated special’s end, a discouraged Charlie Brown mutters the following:

“I guess you were right, Linus. I shouldn’t have picked this little tree. Everything I do turns into a disaster. I guess I really don’t know what Christmas is all about.

[shouting in desperation]

Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?!”

And then Linus van Pelt — Charlie’s best friend, Lucy’s younger brother, and the show’s seemingly calming philosopher however insecure — chimes right in…

“Sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about.

Lights, please. [a spotlight shines on Linus]

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not:

[Linus drops his security blanket on purpose]

For behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’

[Linus picks up his blanket and walks back towards Charlie Brown]

That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

That’s what it’s about… peace on earth, glory to someone bigger than self, good will toward others, and a joy-filled confidence and hope that allows for the intentional dropping of all that qualifies as our security blanket.

Blessings, friends. For all those celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, or neither this day, the Intramuralist wishes you peace, hope, harmony, and joy. Always.

May we each love all people well.

Respectfully (… with a few extra ho-ho-ho’s this day)…

a proclamation of thanksgiving


It was 1863…

January first brought us The Second Battle of Galveston. Three companies of Union forces under the command of Col. Isaac S. Burrell were captured or killed both on land or by sea by the armies of Maj. Gen. John B. Magruder. Magruder had prioritized the re-seizing of the city. 26 people were killed. 117 were wounded.

January later brought us The Second Battle of Springfield. Confederate General John Marmaduke attempted to overtake a Union supply point in Springfield, Missouri. It was unique battle in that it was an urban battle, fought actually house-to-house. It is estimated that 70-80 persons were killed and over 200 were wounded.

February was The Battle of Dover — March included battles at Brentwood, Thompson’s Station, Vaught’s Hill, and many more. April was the first fight in Charleston, South Carolina.

Look at the fighting… states, houses, peoples all attempting to harm one another. And the battles didn’t cease as the year went on. Suffolk, Vermillion, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg… these were fierce fights. In fact, the war was ongoing the entire year. It did not end until Pres. Andrew Johnson’s formal declaration on August 20, 1866 — over two years later.

And yet, on Thanksgiving in 1863, then Pres. Abraham Lincoln wrote this:

“The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God…”

In a year filled with unprecedented battle, Lincoln exhorted that we dare not miss the blessing… a blessing that is always present, always available… no matter the struggle… no matter the suffering… no matter what.

The giving of thanks is a beautiful thing… It takes the focus off of self; it reminds us of the source from which our blessings and bounties come; and it softens the individual heart.

Lincoln continued…

“… I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.”

Lincoln acknowledged a day set apart, encouraging all to think of far more than self, to think especially of those who have suffered greatly — the widows, orphans, mourners, and more. Yes, there is much strife in this world. This is not — nor should it ever be mistaken as — heaven.

The great beauty of Lincoln’s proclamation is that in a year of unprecedented struggle and strife, he calls on all people to come together, kneel in both reverence and humility, and fervently ask the Almighty to heal our nation’s wounds.

Happy Thanksgiving, friends. May we spur one another on to good things. May we love our neighbor well, do our part in building unity, and may we sincerely embrace the restoration and full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and union in our land.

Respectfully… with Thanksgiving…

why I love America


One of the best things about celebrating the 4th of July is that it brings together people from all demographic backgrounds… rich, poor, black, white, gay, straight, you-name-it… It prompts us to push all this polarizing crud that we’ve allowed to fester — that our so-called leaders have encouraged — to nothing more than the background. There are things that mean more to us… our liberty… and our love and respect for all mankind.

In acknowledgement of America’s 240th birthday, several articulated the reason why they love our country so much. From blogger Ivan Raley: “… It is a land of new beginnings, a land where you can dream, a land of millions of unselfish people with outstretched arms to embrace others. My land is a land of goodness, hope, joy and inspiration. Never have we fought a war where we kept the land of others, demanded payment for the price of our young men and women who have fallen in death. Always we come home leaving the land of struggle with new hope and greater dreams. I love America; it is my home, my joy and the legacy I leave to my children and theirs. Here freedom is real and dreams are always possible.”

From “The View” co-host, Candace Cameron Bure: “We all have a vote. I think that is why this country is so great because we all do have a voice here, and we have the chance for opportunity here. We have the ability to love God here. I don’t ever want to see that taken away from us. We have freedom here that is what makes America so great and that we have people that are willing to fight for that freedom on a daily basis.”

Perhaps it’s best, iconically expressed by John Wayne in his 1973 narration…

“You ask me why I love her? Well, give me time, and I’ll explain…
Have you seen a Kansas sunset or an Arizona rain?
Have you drifted on a bayou down Louisiana way?
Have you watched the cold fog drifting over San Francisco Bay?

Have you heard a Bobwhite calling in the Carolina pines?
Or heard the bellow of a diesel in the Appalachia mines?
Does the call of Niagara thrill you when you hear her waters roar?
Do you look with awe and wonder at a Massachusetts shore…
Where men who braved a hard new world, first stepped on Plymouth Rock?
And do you think of them when you stroll along a New York City dock?

Have you seen a snowflake drifting in the Rockies… way up high?
Have you seen the sun come blazing down from a bright Nevada sky?
Do you hail to the Columbia as she rushes to the sea…
Or bow your head at Gettysburg… in our struggle to be free?

Have you seen the mighty Tetons? …Have you watched an eagle soar?
Have you seen the Mississippi roll along Missouri’s shore?
Have you felt a chill at Michigan, when on a winters day,
Her waters rage along the shore in a thunderous display?
Does the word ‘Aloha’… make you warm?
Do you stare in disbelief when you see the surf come roaring in at Waimea reef?

From Alaska’s gold to the Everglades… from the Rio Grande to Maine…
My heart cries out… my pulse runs fast at the might of her domain.
You ask me why I love her?… I’ve a million reasons why.
My beautiful America… beneath Gods’ wide, wide sky.”

My prayer is that in all this festering, polarizing crud that surrounds us — especially in an election year — we never miss the beauty embedded in the Kansas sunset, Arizona rain, Missouri shore, Michigan chill, Alaskan cold, or in the Rockies, way up high. May we never be numb to God’s beauty.


mothers day 2016


None of us would be here without our mothers. Likewise, none who is a mother would be the same without their children… without all the joys, tears, and teaching embedded within the obviously, divinely-designed experience.

As I wrestled with what I most wanted to say — about why we love our moms, appreciate our moms, thank them, bless them, and why we miss them when they’re gone, why they miss us when not near — acknowledging that this day is merry for some and mournful for others — or maybe a little bit of both for several of us — I saw this comment from one parent: “I almost missed the incredible gift in front of me.”

… missing the gift… I don’t want to miss the gift…

I used to think that as a parent, we would engage in all this teaching. We would teach and train our kids, training them up in the way they should go, and it would be this amazing, educational experience. Whether it’s for biological or adoptive children… whether is for young ones who we are called to be a “mom” to… it would be this awesome, sharpening experience. And it is…

For us.

I almost missed the gift that the teaching would have on me.

Said by one parent who seems to have realized that, from “Love That Boy” by Ron Fournier, a nationally known journalist and parent to a special needs teen…

“… Our son is learning to connect and belong, and we know he will be a happy, thriving adult. Rather than sweat over his Asperger’s, I see how much I’d miss if he wasn’t an Aspie — his humor, his bluntness, his unaffected obsessions with everything from video games to family.

In the spring of 2014, my father died. Mom decided to rent a boat and scatter Dad’s ashes in the Detroit River. After my mother, my siblings, and our families had boarded the boat, we filled the 30-minute ride with awkward conversation. How’s the job? How about those Tigers?

My sister, Raquel, lost her composure, dashing below to find a bathroom. She almost ran into Tyler at the bottom of the stairs. He recognized her distress and said, ‘I don’t know what to say to make you feel better, but I can give you a hug.’

That was exactly what she needed. ‘He hugged me so tight. And kept hugging me,’ Raquel told me later. ‘It meant the world to me.’

At the appointed spot, the boat stopped. Raquel poured Dad’s ashes over the side, while Mom stood alone behind her. My brothers made eye contact with me. What should we do?

Rather than step forward to comfort Mom, I stepped back. It was not my finest hour. But Tyler exceeded my expectations, walking over to hold his grandmother tightly. He whispered to her, ‘Everyone thinks I’m comforting you, but really I need comforting.’

Finally, I know what perfect is. It’s a child blessed with the grace to show goodness, even on the worst of days. No, Tyler is not my idealized son. He is my ideal one.”

I think that’s it. I think that’s what I most want to say. I like how this parent sees his child as the “ideal one.”

We don’t get to pick our parents. We don’t get to pick our children. But I used to think it was the parent that always teaches the child. What I’ve since learned is that the children teach us even more.

With a heart that is humbled and sometimes knows not exactly how to say all there is to say…

Happy Mothers Day…