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Bikes, Trains, and the Lord

When I was a little kid, my favorite bicycle was a red chopper with an extended front wheel, high-rise handle bars, shock absorbers, and a banana seat.  Although it took me a few weeks to learn how to ride the bike without falling over or going head first onto the gravel road, I looked pretty cool. (I imagine the neighbors who saw me coasting down the hill thought I was Peter Fonda working on his next movie.)

By the time I turned thirteen years old, I removed the training wheels and was old enough to bike around town with my three brothers.  My brothers and I constantly found ways to improve the look, speed, and sound of our bicycles.  In addition to adding streamers on the hand grips and matchbooks in the spokes, our bikes were covered with stickers – everything from STP to Mountain Dew (Yahoo – it’ll tickle your innards!).  My brother Harry added a high extension sign to the back of his sissy bar that was bright orange and said “Sock it to me baby.”     

I’m older now and I still enjoy bicycle rides.  Riding a bike is a peaceful way to travel and (if you’re not getting knocked into the ditch by passing automobiles) bike riding offers opportunities to slow down and see the beauty around you.  Where I live, in Azusa, California, one can ride a 38-mile path from the San Gabriel Mountains to the Pacific Ocean.  Along the trail – right in the middle of Los Angeles – a bicyclist goes past multiple small horse ranches, farms, rivers, and ponds.  After nearly three hours of weaving through Los Angeles, the path ends at Seal Beach.  To return, instead of riding uphill another 38 miles, you can be lazy like me and grab the train in Long Beach.  Take the Blue Line and, after switching trains at Union Station, the Gold Line takes you right back to where you started – Azusa.           

Bicycle on the San Gabriel River Trail, Los Angeles County.

Speaking of bikes and trains . . .a few years ago, my friend Gary and I saw a man with bicycle on a train.  It was a hot night in August and Gary and I were taking a late-night metro ride from Los Angeles to Pasadena.  The train was dimly lit and smelled like a days’ worth of commuters with some urine added in.  Gary and I didn’t mind the stench – we were tired and it was nice to be off our feet.  Our coach was nearly empty except for us and two other guys – one guy (Bike Dude) was seated in the front of the train with his bicycle and another guy (Other Dude) was in the far back of the train.

I had an early flight the next morning so I was taking advantage of the time to think through tomorrow’s itinerary.  

A couple minutes later I was startled when the Bike Dude yelled at Other Dude.

“What’d you say to me?” Bike Dude shouted.

“Huh?” responded Other Dude.

“Did you say something about my bike?” Bike Dude demanded.

At this moment, Gary and I glanced at each other and then quickly lowered our heads – hoping we wouldn’t be brought into the conversation. 

“I didn’t say anything about your bike . . . I was only saying – “ said Other Dude.

“No one gets away with saying things about my bike,” interrupted Bike Dude (who was getting angry and began loudly sharing choice obscenities).    

At this point the argument began escalating and Other Dude stormed from the back of the train and threw himself down in the seat across from Bike Dude.  More obscenities were exchanged and the argument rapidly moved from talking about bikes to some pretty rude and derogatory comments. 

This was my first time riding a train in Los Angeles so I was pretty nervous.  “Stay calm” I told myself.  “This is LA – this is probably how people get to know their neighbors.”

Soon after, the conversation between Bike Dude and Other Dude started quieting down.  They were no longer arguing but started talking about random stuff.  Instead of talking about each other’s mother, they began asking neighborly questions and talking about the weather in SoCal.    

After several more minutes, the train approached the next stop.

“Well, I’ve learned that the only thing I can trust in this world is my bike,” said Bike Dude loudly.

“And the Lord,” added Other Dude.

“And the Lord,” repeated Bike Dude as they exited the train together.   

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Brief career as a park ranger

My most adventurous summertime job was working for the Game Fish and Parks in South Dakota. It was my first summer home from college and I was looking forward to the new position where I could spend time in the great outdoors. More specifically, I would spend three days a week helping an older guy pick up trash and two nights a week guarding a park.

Picking up trash consisted of driving across the northeastern part of the state, going from one fishing spot to another in a pickup truck. We’d pull into off a small obscure state highway unto a smaller, more obscure county road and then take a sharp turn onto a an unpaved gravel road from where we then slid off the gravel onto a single-lane dirt road. Eventually this road led to the side of a small lake with a trash barrel full of fish guts that had been baking in the sun for the past seven days. Our job was to lift the leaky barrel of fish guts and maggots onto the back of the truck and replace it with a clean, new barrel for another fisherman to fill with fish guts that we could pick up the next week. (The maggots came on their own volition.) Every so often on our way home, we’d pick up a dead deer off the road and throw it in the back to keep the fish company.

When I wasn’t loading trash barrels, I was a night park ranger at Sandy Shore State Park. Sandy Shore had the best swimming beach in the area because of — you guessed it — its sandy shores. In addition to the shoreline, the park offered multiple spots were campers could rest, nestled amongst trees and cushioned by the sweet green grass of the Great Plains. My job (from 6:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m.) was to sit in a truck (not really a truck — it was a Chevy Luv) at the entrance to the park and collect fees from anyone coming to camp for the night. In addition, I sold firewood and drove around the park to see if there where any friendly campers who needed a “howdy” from a park ranger. During those hourly drives, I was also on the alert for forest fires to extinguish or shenanigans going on that needed to be discouraged. (Shenanigans were, essentially, the breaking of any state park rule such as swimming after hours, motor boating after hours, excessive noise, or raising Cain.)

If you know me, it might be hard to imagine my being someone who could discourage shenanigans. I’m not a very big guy and back then I was even smaller. All I had going for me was I wore an ill-fitting uniform with a State Seal patched on my shirt sleeve (this is the same State Seal that was on the side of my Chevy Luv). Basically, I looked like Barney Fife except not nearly as physically intimidating or as competent. Nevertheless, I was hired for a job and that job I did.

I must report that one night there were, in fact, shenanigans to be discouraged. It was about 11:00 p.m. (I remember this as clearly as if it were 40 years ago) and I was taking my drive around the park, prepared to give a “howdy” or see if there were any forest fires to be extinguished. No howdies, no fires.

“Everything is calm,” I thought to myself. But, as I eased the Chevy Luv along the beach I heard noise coming from beyond the shore.

“This can’t be! It’s past the allotted swimming hours!” I muttered to myself as I turned the Chevy Luv and carefully parked it between the painted parallel lines in the spot marked “Official Use Only.” “Why, it sounds like shenanigans!” I quietly exclaimed to the framed picture of Smokey the Bear I had on the dashboard.

As a park ranger I was less-equipped for emergencies than a mall cop on a Segway. (Don’t be offended, I was also once a mall cop, but that’s another story.) All I had to stop shenanigans was a flashlight and my authority. And where did this authority come from? My authority came from the State Seal patched on the shoulder of my khaki shirt. Knowing I was hired to make the park a family-friendly place, I quietly walked up to the shore and then — without warning — I turned my flashlight on and aimed it toward the 16 hoodlums floating on the diving platform twenty yards away.

“Huh? What the — “

“Uh, guys. You aren’t supposed to be out there. It’s after hours.” I said, deliberately turning so the moonlight would illuminate the State Seal of authority on my shoulder.

After about four minutes of silence, some wisecracker said, “Why don’t you come out and get us?”

I didn’t know what to say. I had never been trained for shenanigans, much less wisecrackers. For a moment I stood there contemplating my next move. After wetting myself, I got the nerve up and spoke again.

“Well, you’d better come off or . . . . you’ll be in trouble” I said, turning my arm to once again illuminate the State Seal. I then said something like, “I hope you’ll choose to do the right thing.”

I slowly walked to my Chevy Luv, slid into the driver’s seat, and drove away praying that they wouldn’t be there when I returned. (Somewhere in the distance, music from a western movie played.) Heaven forbid I would have to do something drastic. And you know what? One-by-one, they left the diving platform, downcast and sorrowed for their shenanigans.

I like to believe that society is a much safer place because of what I did that summer night at Sandy Shores State Park. I like to believe that those young fellows, especially the wisecracker, turned from their evil ways and became upstanding citizens. The next summer I took a different job — a job more in line with my personal gifting and talents. Though very thankful for the opportunity to be a park ranger, I decided being a hero was way too stressful.

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Beauty instead of ashes

Most days I jog towards the mountains and face the scars left behind by the fires of 2020. Today I jogged the other direction and when I turned around, I saw that beyond the ashes was freshly fallen snow from yesterday’s storm. 2020 was a year of storms, scars, and ashes for many of us. But as we embrace the love of Christ, He helps us see that in the midst of the fires He has done something beautiful. May the year 2021 be a year of beauty for each of us — beauty in the midst of ashes.

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. (Isaiah 61:1-3, NIV)

We vote and all they can do is dance.

As I arrive at the community center to vote there are two little girls nearby.  They are overly happy for seven o’clock in the morning.  Smiles.  Laughter.  Dancing.

We adults — the mature ones, the wise ones, the responsible ones — impatiently stand waiting for the line to move forward.  There’s no dancing in our line.  Occasionally one or the other of us acknowledges “how thankful we will be when this election is all over.”

“Too many insults, and not enough talk about what they really believe in.”

“And from both of them, too.”

“I can’t believe the mess we’re in these days.”

. . . these days, the responsibility of voting brings with it a melancholy feeling.  A gray numbness like stepping into a room to visit the terminally ill.  Whispers and nods.  Awkward silence.  I don’t know where to look so I examine my shoes.  “My feet hurt,” I think.

I edge forward to confirm my name and address.  I find my spot in the voting booth and make check marks for individuals (or not), party platforms (or not), taxes (or not), legalizations (or not), more taxes (or not).

My job is finished.  With eyes on the floor and “I voted” stuck on my shirt, I  respectfully exit past the growing line of equally somber visitors.  And nearby two little girls laugh and dance.

The birth of Christ affects us all

Christmas Truth:  Whether we admit it or not, the birth of Christ affects us all.  The juxtaposition of the harshness of life positioned next to a baby in a manger makes us wonder which is more real.

The Christ-child at Christmas  makes us long for something different.  That longing in our souls is God’s reminder that what really matters is not the busyness of the season, but the stillness of the night — we were made to see Christ and worship Him.  May each of us experience Christ anew this Christmas, and like the Magi in T.S. Elliot’s poem after having met Christ, be “no longer at ease” in living an ordinary life.

————-

Christmas Myth #12: The original name of Santa’s team leader was “Ned the flying chicken,” and the miracle of the night was that an unpopular chicken suffering from a head-cold could guide Santa’s reindeer through the Christmas fog. (Sadly, however, Ned was not welcome to join in the reindeer games.)

Christmas Myth #11: A new version of the movie “White Christmas” is scheduled for release in 2016 with Chuck Norris and Mr. T in the lead roles.
“We’re doing much of the dancing and singing ourselves,” said Norris, “and I think we’ve even added some extra kicks in some of the original White Christmas fight scenes.”
“Pity the fool who doesn’t like this movie,” added T.

Christmas Myth #10: A once favorite children’s game in Hamburg, Germany, was to chew through a six-foot string of Blutwurst. Whoever chewed the fastest got to hang a dried, star-shaped, Landjäger sausage on top of the tree. After many years, the dried Landjäger was replaced by a less-pungent glass ornament. Legend has it, however, that on Christmas Eve in the remote sausage factories of Germany one can hear the faith humming of “Silent Night.”

Christmas Myth #9: Not to be outdone by the Americans, in 1947 the Soviet Union produced a Christmas movie based on Kafka’s short story “It’s a Life” where a man named Borst Svelle jumps off a bridge and nobody notices.

Christmas Myth #8: The idea of giving gifts at Christmas time was first connected not to the Magi, but to taxes in Bethlehem. Because of this, the income tax in the U.S. was originally collected on Christmas Day in 1894-1895. In 1896, the Supreme Court declared a national income tax unconstitutional.

Christmas Myth #7: In 1870, naughty Chicago children were delighted to find that political correctness had replaced Santa’s “magical spanking spoon” with a harmless lump of coal in their stockings. Little Edmund gathered the coal from all his friends and saved it to start a small bonfire the following October. With the aid of an angelic bovine, the magical coal quickly burst into wondrous warmth and light that would be remembered for years to come.

Christmas Myth #6: The World’s largest singing Christmas tree was held as an outdoor concert at Grace Church in Bismarck, North Dakota in December 1994. The “tree” that the 900 member choir sang from was lined with green Jello, hoping to insulate the singers in the sub-zero weather while also adding extra color to the display. Sadly, the frozen Jello’s expansion caused the tree to break and the concert only lasted one night. Luckily for choir director Winfred Johannson and the choir members, the fall from Grace was cushioned by green Jello and the sound of accordions softly playing beneath.

Christmas Myth #5: The story “A Little Drummer Boy” is loosely based on a true story of a boy named Hal from rural Persia who played his harmonica for Baby Jesus while his pet pig danced. Several people from the region, however, were offended by a “dancing ham” so the story was re-written in its current format in 1830 by a newspaper boy from Penske, Indiana named Elias Van Strumbellwaller.

Christmas Myth #4: The phrase “here we come a-wassailing” was first connected to Christmas because “Wassail” is a Latin word that means “to sing loudly and out-of-key during the winter season.” Later, “a wassail” was used by the Germans to describe any manger animal in Christmas plays (e.g., “Look, I see a wassail resting at the feet of Mary!”).

Christmas Myth #3: In 1946 Norve Lundgren from Bemidji, Minnesota, carved a life-sized replica of the entire town of Bethlehem and its neighboring communities out of ice. Some say that a special star was seen over the ice manger each night. The replica, sadly, melted in the first Minnesota thaw in early July.

Christmas Myth #2: The song “Jingle Bells” was first written during the Revolutionary War by George Washington‘s top Captain at Valley Forge. It was written in code and sung by Paul Revere to warn newly enlisted men to bring warm socks.

Christmas Myth #1: Danish parents place tiny wooden shoes in their children’s ears so they cannot hear St. Nicholas arrive on Christmas Eve. In the morning the children fill their tiny shoes with fruitcake to save for the Christmas feast.

 

 

 

“12 Christmas Myths” was originally posted on my Facebook in December 2009.  — C. Roso

 

 

 

Advent: God is going to come through

“Though circumstances say otherwise, God is going to come through, on schedule, fulfilling His long-appointed plans for you. Don’t give up before the time is right.” — Louie Giglio, author of Waiting Here for You

Are you looking for a way to catch up on what this season is really supposed to be about?  I’m currently reading a 7-day devotional on YouVersion Bible App that is “Waiting Here for You, An Advent Journey of Hope.”

Don’t expect much this Christmas!

When I was a kid I expected a LOT from Christmas.  Nevertheless, my mother did her best to calm down my expectations:

  • 1969:  “Don’t expect much for Christmas this year, we don’t have much money.”
  • 1970:  “Don’t expect much for Christmas this year, the Avon lady is low on cologne for nine-year-olds.”
  • 1971:  “Don’t expect much for Christmas, there’s starving kids in India.”
  • 1972:  “Don’t expect much for Christmas this year, your father and I are tired.”
  • 1973:  “Don’t expect much for Christmas this year, we think Nixon is going to resign.”
  • 1974:  “Don’t expect much for Christmas this year, your aunt and uncle and cousins are coming over.”
  • 1975:  “Don’t expect much for Christmas, you and your brothers have acted like a bunch of idiots all year and you’re driving me nuts.”

Christmas was simple when I was a kid in elementary school.  Back in the 1960s, our public school celebrated Christmas.  We sang carols, put up trees and decorations, exchanged gifts (I probably brought a can of pumpkin pie mix) and, on the day before Christmas break, we had a HUGE party.   All of the kids, kindergarten through sixth grade, gathered in the gymnasium to watch The Nutcracker Suite movie.  I didn’t understand the movie much and, although I was a little disturbed by the dancing mice, I pushed through because Christmas was coming.

In spite of Mom’s persistence and in spite of what was going on in the world, Christmas always arrived.  Even the years when the gifts were few, or we got things we didn’t want or couldn’t use, things were good.  My three brothers and I seemed to temporarily set aside our issues.  Somehow the innocence of childhood was able to forgive and move on during Christmas.  We didn’t have money to buy each other gifts in those days, so the least we could do was to not whack each other for 24 hours.  And that season, the season of not whacking each other, made us feel a little bit closer.  After all, it was Christmas.  

We always opened our gifts on Christmas morning.  We weren’t like those progressive families who opened gifts on Christmas Eve.  Maybe it was because Santa couldn’t make it to our end of town until later, but whatever the reason we were told to wait until morning.  One Christmas I got up at 3:00 a.m. and found my parents (Not Santa!!!) putting gifts under the tree.  At 3:00 a.m. it wasn’t time to question what my parents were doing with Santa’s gifts — I was sent directly to bed.  Later, at 4:30 a.m., all four boys were out in the living room dismantling the nicely-wrapped packages of games, socks, toys, and Avon decorative cologne decanters.  Even though Mom and Dad were barely awake and the room was waist-deep in discarded bows and wrapping, and the family dog was choking on candy canes behind the couch, the mess didn’t matter because it was Christmas.

So what’s the point of all my rambling?  Maybe it’s that if our eyes are open we will be able to look past the messy parts of life and see Christmas.  If our eyes our open, a Christmas gift of reconciliation — person to person and person to God — can occur.   If we open our eyes like children, we can find hope and life, we can find grace, we can find Christ this Christmas.

 

Follow my blog on Facebook, Twitter @croso1, at crosoblog.com or have a copy sent directly to your email. Calvin G. Roso © December 2015

Scary Dreams for Grown Ups:  Where is that Coconut?

Here it was the last week of the semester at a new school and I realized that I (the teacher) hadn’t shown up for most of my classes since early October.  To make matters worse, the days I had shown up, I wasn’t teaching the students or recording any grades. Who had been watching the students while I was away?  What, if anything, could be done to help the students catch up?  In addition, the other teachers were on a new schedule and I didn’t where to go or what to do.  My new boss was pretty understanding, but how was I going to explain this one? (I couldn’t even explain it to myself.)

And then I woke up. The dream was so intense it took a few moments to convince myself it wasn’t true. “You don’t teach high school anymore.”  I then realized that I’d been dreaming the same dream for several weeks. I had similar dreams when I was in college and now, decades later, I’m still wondering if I’ve forgotten to go to class.  The dream goads me with the thought that one day I might mess up.  I’m haunted with the fear that someday someone might discover I that I don’t know what I’m doing.  Someone will discover that I really don’t have it all together.

I know.  I know.  There are psychological explanations for why I had the dream:  (1) We recently moved to a different state and I am three months into a new job.  (2) In the midst of the move there have been a lot of changes and with new routines — lots of stuff to “juggle.”  (3) In all of our unpacking I cannot find a nativity set from Haiti. The nativity is hand-carved out of a coconut. I’ve been looking for it for days now and I find myself walking around our house, opening random cabinets and drawers muttering, “Where is that coconut?”

Throughout life, my scary dreams haven’t evolved much.  When I was in junior high school I had a recurring dream that I couldn’t find the right classroom — it was that last day of the semester and there was an exam to take and everyone knew where to go but me. Arriving to class late I realized that I was the only one who hadn’t dressed appropriately.  (Yes, I was usually in my underwear — tidy whities to be exact.)  These childhood dreams reveal my nagging fears.  Fear of failure.  Fear of exposure.  Fear of people discovering who I really am.  Deep down I’m still a kid who is trying to convince the everyone else in the room that I really have it all together.

Why is it that whenever I am presented with new opportunities, my mind moves to anxieties instead of child-like wonder and expectation?  The adult in me tells me I need to be in control, fearless, flawless.  But the kid in me realizes that no one else in the room has it together either.  That’s okay because, in God’s eyes, we’re all just kids.  We all need help.  The search for the Nativity . . . The search for the Christ-child, begins when we are willing to admit that we need help.  When I find Him . . . when you find Him (and you will, because He’s been searching for you all along) your fears will be exchanged for hope and wonder and expectation.  In the midst of the sometimes scary dreams (life has its share of scary dreams), you will realize that you no longer have to be afraid. God came to earth as a man so that you no longer have to do life alone.

Follow my blog on Facebook, Twitter @croso1, at crosoblog.com or have a copy sent directly to your email. Calvin G. Roso © December 2015

Driver Exams for Dummies: It’s going to be okay

I’ve been the to California DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) twice in the last four weeks to take an exam.  These visits were unnerving since the last time I had taken a driver’s exam was at the age of 16.  Back at 16, I took a Driver’s Education Course and all I remember is watching gruesome horror movies about what happens when people drive drunk.  Since I wasn’t a consumer of alcohol, the only impact on me was that I learned to like gruesome movies.  However, had I actually studied the book I was given, I would have been well-prepared for the exam.  Like any kid in the Midwest, I drove my car to the exam — no need for an adult to  accompany me.  Sixteen years old, and 4 feet 11 inches tall, I was my own man. . . .  After quickly failing the written exam, I drove home, parked the car, and rode my bike for the next month until I could re-take the exam.

Studying for the California exam has been intense but it is nothing like exams in other countries.  I’m pretty sure the information I  discovered on this topic is accurate because I found it on the internet.  According to “research,” one country does not require drivers to take an exam as long as individuals are 18 years old and they pay 626 pesos.  Another country requires extensive training including a Gradual Rearing of Adult Drivers (GRAD) program (Is “rearing of adult drivers” the same as tail-gating?).  The final license in that country is not granted until age 21.  A country in the East has an driving exam that exemplifies street and traffic conditions.  Candidates may “fail for not staying far left enough in the lane or not bending down low enough when checking under the car for cats or children before setting off.”

On my first visit to the California DMV, I didn’t bring the right identification (I.D.) and was told to come back at a later date.  I was, however, allowed to complete my vehicle registration and get my new license plate on that day.  Feeling embarrassed and upset about my mistake (and about the fact that I needed to come back again in three weeks), I drove my car to the other side of the parking lot to get it verified for the new plate.   As the man came out to check my car I murmured something about having to come back again and how crazy it was at the DMV.  Sensing that he was listening, I murmured about being nervous about taking the exam.

“I haven’t taken a driver’s exam since I was 16,” I whined.

“You’ll do fine.  It’s going to be okay.”  A touch of humanity in the midst of bureaucracy.  An act of kindness during a difficult day.  A touch of Christ.

Reflecting on how I was treated made me think about how I treated others that day.  I had rushed to get my place in line.  I rolled my eyes if someone got ahead of me.  I was judgmental toward the worker who took longer than I expected.   I was irritated when I was told I had to return.  Once again, my day had become all about me.  I had forgotten that the others — the people in front of me as I waited my turn and the employees who were trying to help — are all souls who need Christ.  Each person I encounter needs someone to step into his or her day to offer kindness and hope.

In order to show God’s grace toward others, I need to trust Him with the little things that might trip me up.  It’s easy for me to trust God in the big things — of course God will pull through if I need Him to part the seas — but can I also trust Him when I’m waiting in line at the DMV?  Can I trust God when I’m in a room full of impatient people waiting to speak with an angry clerk, only to a pay a fee that none of us wants to pay?

I am convinced that the best witness I can be of the love and grace of Christ is through how I show kindness toward others in the midst of the small pressures of daily life.  Ironically, I get to test my convictions again in two weeks . . .  Although I finally passed my exam, we need to return to the DMV because my wife didn’t have the required I.D.

 

Calvin G. Roso © January 2015

Find driving tests around the world at  http://www.barringtonfreight.co.uk/blog/driving-tests-around-world/

 

 

I see people

A number of days ago I decided to visit our youngest daughter who lives 20 some miles away, near downtown Los Angeles.  Twenty miles in LA traffic can be at minimum a 40 minute drive so I decided — just for the adventure of it — to take the metro to see her: a bus ride and then catching the Gold Line train to Union Station.  The last part was a three-mile walk through China Town and Echo Park.  I’m a people-watcher so public transportation and long walks bring rest to my soul.  On a good day, I see people . . . I’m reminded that everyone I see — from the man being reprimanded for smoking weed on the bus, to those living in tents on the sidewalk beneath the freeway — everyone, including me,  is a soul that needs Jesus.

On a bad day, I see others through the lenses of pride and insecurity.  At Starbucks I am  the customer who is easily irritated when someone else gets my favorite spot to sit.  Social gatherings might momentarily drift toward others as long as the attention always returns to me.  I skim posts and tweets only to judge the intentions of those who write them.  I see the accomplishments of others and envy their success.  On a bad day, no matter how much there is to be grateful for in my own life, I see the success of others and ask, “Why them?”  Or, “Where’s mine?”  On my bad days, people are soul-less interruptions at best.

I just finished reading a New York Times Bestseller by Christina Baker Kline where one of the main characters was confronted by her own self-centeredness:  “Why is [the main character] so hostile? She should be grateful. . . .  But it kind of feels nice to nurture her resentment, to foster it.  It’s something she can savor and control, this feeling of having been wronged by the world.”  That’s me on a bad day: resentment and ingratitude are justified through my warped perspective of right and wrong.  My soul demands to be fed first. 

In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis says that the greatest things we learn about God are not “new truths,” but instead basic truths that we need to be reminded of again and again.  The “basic truth” of the gospel is that God loves me whether or not I feel, or believe, it is true.  No matter how much I try to deny God’s existence, God still loves me.  God has a plan.  God hasn’t forgotten me.  As I remind myself of God’s steadfast love and mercy, I remember that it’s all going to be okay.  It is well with my soul.

I need to daily remind myself of God’s love and then live His love for others.  Michael Oh says, “Revisit the gospel . . . rehearse the gospel, and live your life as an echo to the gospel.”  The gospel says “God loves me,” so I quietly share His love to others.  God says He hasn’t forgotten me and I then echo His faithfulness to others.  God tells me it’s all going to be okay and I generously offer the same hope to others.  “Mingling in this wide swath of strangers shifts my attention from myself, that tedious subject, to the world around me” (Christina Baker Kline).  As my attention is lifted beyond myself, my eyes are opened to the souls of others and in that sweet spot comes healing.    

What Real Estate and New Year’s Resolutions Have in Common

I have this reoccurring dream every several weeks or so where I’m walking through my house — sometimes it’s an apartment and sometimes it’s a mansion — sometime’s I’m alone and other times I’m with my wife and daughters. What remains consistent is that as I walk through the house I’ve lived in for several years I discover unused rooms, forgotten rooms, unexplored rooms that I’ve never entered. All these years I’ve occupied maybe 690 square feet when in reality I signed a lease for 100 times that space.

I’m at an age where my belief in God is pretty secure. There are moments, days, and seasons where life’s problems cause some drama, but when I calm down I remember that I can trust God. After all, God has been around a lot longer than I’ve been and He seems to have things under control. When I look at the big picture of life, I am forced to acknowledge that God has never left me alone. Nevertheless, I expect too little from God.

I think I’ve created emotional walls of self-protection: protecting myself from high expectations being left unmet; protecting myself from potential disillusionment or disappointment. I know that in some ways I’ve settled for second-best. It’s easier — safer — to live an ordinary life with an ordinary God than it is to believe in a God who is larger than my dreams or expectations. My low expectations are a small stream that slowly uproots my dreams and replaces them with short-sightedness, apathy, and cynicism.

I don’t see very well. I see a small living space that is easy to maintain. I see a manageable life that isn’t beyond what I can handle. I see a God who can be depended on to come over to repair the plumbing or fix a broken furnace — but only after I’ve proven to Him that I’ve done everything possible to fix the problem on my own. Yet every now and then He reminds me, God softly whispers to me, “Don’t you know? Don’t you remember, that what I have for you is so much bigger than this? Why are you limiting yourself to 690 square feet?”

I quit making New Year’s Resolutions a few years ago. I’m now starting my third year focusing on My One Word. The idea is I choose one word focusing on self-growth or improvement that goes beyond the surface and deep into my character. Then, I depend on God’s help to become a better, less self-centered person. That word becomes the lens through which I develop priorities and make daily, moment-by-moment, decisions. I like focusing on one word each year because it brings focus to my actions.

The 2015 word for me is “see.” I want to see God for who He really is. I want to dream — for myself and for others — really big dreams. I’m done settling and can’t wait to see what there is outside the walls I’ve lived in for all these years.

Calvin G. Roso © January 2015

Check it out: http://myoneword.org

The Best Days.

When I was a kid I’d get really, really angry whenever I couldn’t get my own way. I’d pout and yell and kick things. Then, if those didn’t work, to prove my point (and my intelligence) I would bang my head against the wall. Mom and Dad always responded in a caring and compassionate way: “Just ignore him and he’ll stop.” And I did (eventually).

I still have the days when I don’t get my own way. Sometimes I wish I could make things better by pouting or kicking a wall. Instead I do the mature thing and throw my tantrums internally. My attitude turns sour and it affects my view of everyone and everything around me. I grow jealous, envious, critical, cynical and judgmental. I give myself freely to the sins of disposition until I find myself all alone. “Just ignore him and he’ll stop” (hopefully).

The best days aren’t necessarily any better than the bad days. On the best days I still don’t get my own way. It’s just that my choices are different. I try to slow down. I try to be grateful. I try to consider others. When I walk in a room, I’m convicted that I should see the other people. I’m convicted that it’s not about me. If, or when, people rub me the wrong way I am reminded that we are all people who need God’s grace. We are all poor in some way. We all need Jesus.

The best days are when I gradually move away from myself and I attempt to serve others. Then in the midst of serving I soon realize that I, too, need help. I need God’s help. A few moments later I have forgotten what I was whining about because I’m with God and serving others. With God and serving others is a great place to be. These are the best days.

On the best days I find myself feeling closer to God. In fact, I realize that He never left me but was there all along. (Who knows, maybe He was ignoring me earlier because of my temper tantrum.) My whole perspective about life changes. In the stillness of those days — the best days — I hear God softly whisper, “It’s going to be okay. It’s going to . . . be . . . okay.” And that’s enough for me.

Follow my blog on facebook, Twitter @croso1, at crosoblog.com or have a copy sent directly to your email. Calvin G. Roso © August 2014

You can’t sell a cat on eBay (or at a garage sale).

Note: For the sake of continuity and the safety of the participants, both the plot and the names of characters in this story have been changed. No cats (real or fictitious) were harmed in the writing of this story.

It all started 16 years ago when we (by “we,” I mean my wife) told our daughters we’d buy them kittens. Now, 16 years later, our daughters have moved and one cat has recently passed away. The other cat is still with us (by “with us,” I mean alive and in charge). I am convinced we are stuck and The Cat has won. We have a few fine memories of The Cat, but life is full of transitions and he has served his purpose. Our eldest daughter, who The Cat belonged to, lives across town, owns a dog (a better choice from my perspective), and denies any emotional attachment or responsibility. Our other daughter lives at college and also denies any responsibility. My wife and I would be experiencing all the signs of empty-nesting except for The Cat. So, no matter the cost, our goal has been to be cat-less by the end of the summer.

Wherever I go, I’ve tried to help The Cat make his necessary life transition.
Me: “The Cat would be so good for you,” I tell the 40-year-old barista. “He could keep your coffee warm and and he can even bake pastries.”
Barista: “Sorry, I live with my parents and they’re allergic to cats.”
Me: “Then The Cat is perfect for you, because he probably won’t live very long.”
Barista: “Why are you trying to get rid of this cat, anyway? Didn’t you say it was your daughter’s?”
Me: “What were we talking about?”

I also tried selling The Cat at a garage sale.
Me: “Free cat.”
Person: “Cute. I’m interested. How old?”
Me: “16 years. His sister passed a few months ago and he’s a bit lonely.”
Person: “Never mind.”
Another Person: “How awful. He’s already gone through so much with losing his sister and now you want to move an elderly cat?”
And Another Person: “How cruel. Your kitty must be traumitized. How dare you do this to him!”
Me: “Would you like him? We’ll even give you a weeks worth of food and some litter.”

I am not an evil person. I wanted to do the humane thing and give The Cat to someone who needed a cuddly companion to entertain them with endless hours of yarn-chasing. I’ve avoided any hint of animosity toward The Cat. I pay for his food and greet him kindly each morning. But the summer is coming to an end and each day The Cat is still with us. Each day, I have asked him if he would like to leave and each day, like Melville’s scrivener, The Cat replies, “I would prefer not to.”

In the pursuit to free our house of fur balls and litter droppings, I found the world contains four groups of people:
(1) The haters. Easily recognized by the subtle statement, “I hate cats,” these are evil and hurtful people who do not deserve mention or compassion. After all, hurt people — hurt cats.
(2) The liars. “Oh, I would love to have your cat, but my little Jimmy’s eye-lids sweat profusely whenever he hears a cat’s tiny meow. As you know, Jimmy’s studying to be a world-famous neurologist, and he can’t read his neurology books with sweaty eye-lids.”
(3) The crazies. “I’m not sure . . . I already have 23 cats in my one-bedroom apartment. Oh, what the heck! What’s one more cat? I’ll be right over to get him! Actually, can you deliver him to me? I saw his picture on your eBay post and I’m busy knitting him a sweater.”
(4) The jugmentals. “Why are you getting rid of a cat? Why don’t you let him be in peace? It might only be another 10 or 15 years . . . be kind to him. Let him live his final days in dignity.”

Early tomorrow morning, I will walk into into the kitchen to make a cup of coffee. I will greet The Cat, like I have the past 5,870 days.
Me: “Good morning. The time has come and you must quit this place. I am sorry for you, but you must go.”
The Cat: “I would prefer not to.”

Follow my blog on facebook, Twitter @croso1, at crosoblog.com or have a copy sent directly to your email. Calvin G. Roso © August 2014

How time travel nearly destroyed my trip.

I wore a watch. I can’t believe I wore a watch. In July, four other adults and I helped 18 high school students experience short term missions in Alaska. Living thirty miles north of the Arctic Circle, we ate seal (okay), whale (never again) and caribou (loved it). Our team shared a very crowded 2 1\2 bathroom house with the pastor, his wife, and five interns. But the trip wasn’t about us, so we sucked it up by showering less and only occasionally brushing our teeth. For six days we gave up a bit of personal hygiene and a lot of privacy for a greater cause.

I typically don’t wear a watch — especially when I travel with students in the summer. Usually where we visit it’s too hot outside to wear a watch. But because the temperature barely reached 60 degrees Fahrenheit in Alaska, I left home with a watch on and never took it off. Our purpose was to have a vacation Bible school for local kids and run youth services at the church in the evenings. I think that the most important thing we did during our time there was when we were off schedule — just being with people who needed to know they mattered to us and to God.

Still, I wore a watch. I kept my daily schedule and occasionally made it my job to keep a schedule for others, too. I found myself sometimes getting a little irritated (putting on my “cranky pants”) if others weren’t moving along according to my pace, my agenda, my time. But the best conversations and the best times of sharing God’s grace to others came in the timeless moments. The moments when I detach myself from the demands of schedules and time to simply be with are always the best moments.

The Bible says that to God a day is as a thousand years. I used to think that verse tried to explain why sometimes God takes a long time answering prayers. I’m beginning to think the verse means that God isn’t as concerned about time because He lives with us during the moments of our lives. God is willing to be with us, no matter how long it takes. In order to live my days according God’s schedule — busy, but not hurried — I have to slow down (maybe even stand still) to listen to God’s concerns and the needs of others. I have to learn to be with. The book Soul Keeper (Ortberg, 2014) says “Every day is a collection of moments, 86,400 seconds in a day. How many of them can you live with God? Start where you are and grow from there. God wants to be with you every moment.”

The other day I had a conversation with a dear friend I hadn’t seen in years. He has been retired for nearly 20 years now and was remarking on how quickly time goes. “When I was in the Navy, one time we were stationed in Greenland for six months. Because it was dark nearly 24 hours a day, we didn’t live by our watches, we had to work to according to getting the job done. Sometimes we’d work 18 days and other days not work at all. I like it better that way — not needing a watch.” Live with. Be with.

Follow my blog on facebook, Twitter @croso1, at crosoblog.com or have a copy sent directly to your email. Calvin G. Roso © August 2014

The Awkward Ones

I was at a fundraiser the other day where I met an older man who didn’t speak English. As we tried to communicate, I thought how awkward and lonely it must feel to live in a country where you don’t know the language. Later I wondered, “Did Jesus ever feel awkward? Did He ever feel uncomfortable or unsure of himself? Did Jesus ever feel “un-cool” in social settings?”

Many of my childhood memories are the awkward moments: self-consciously standing on the shore when other kids were laughing and swimming; unable to catch or throw the ball in gym class; feeling one lesson behind in school, and in social settings, too. Although I gained confidence during my teen years and early twenties, beneath it all there were times when I still felt like everyone had it all figured out but me. No matter how old I get, there are occasional moments when I still play the wall-flower because making new conversation feels awkward.

If I dare to stop and notice those around me — the random people who are the faded images in the peripheral edges of my day — I notice that they, too, feel awkward. Many of them, like me, say and do things to cloak their awkwardness and gain acceptance. Separately we strive for acceptance, for relevance, to make a difference. And in the striving, we all lose out. I spend so much effort pulling myself together that I forget to be Christ-like is to be broken.

Sometimes we work so hard to make ourselves relevant, cool, or real, that we think we need to make God relevant, also. We say things like, “Jesus is my homeboy.” Or, “Jesus is my biggest cheerleader.” We half-way apologize to those who doubt Christianity and say, “Even Jesus didn’t like religious people.” Some days we treat God like the awkward little brother who always tags along. We love Him because he’s family, but we wish he had stayed back home.

So did Jesus feel awkward? Was He, the Son of God, so “heavenly-minded” that He felt out-of-place on earth? Did Jesus strive to “fit in” or be accepted. I’m not sure how Jesus felt, but I am sure that He felt . . . He grieved . . . He had compassion . . . He loved. Somehow, His 33 years on earth were never about Him or His feelings. We are tempted to sell ourselves out — to deny ourselves — in order to alleviate awkwardness or to gain love and affirmation. Jesus denied Himself not to gain love or affirmation, but to give. He gave it all so you could be loved.

Follow my blog on facebook, Twitter @croso1, at crosoblog.com or have a copy sent directly to your email. Calvin G. Roso © May 2014

Graduation: Prepare for life in Technicolor.

Once I walked across that stage and received my diploma, my life would be forever changed. I purchased my graduation cap and gown, invitations were mailed, I even had my hair newly-permed for the big event (this was 1979, after all). I waited for high school graduation (some students worked for it — but I simply waited) for 13 years and I had BIG expectations of what life would be like the morning after. I loved high school: I was very involved, had good friends, enjoyed my church, and drove a red Ford Pinto — what more could life offer? However, in a lot of ways, I felt like high school graduation would change life from black and white into Technicolor.

Graduation was held the day after my 18th birthday on a warm Sunday afternoon in the high school gym. For some reason I remember the number of graduates — 293 — and I remember that although our names were being called in alphabetical order, I was seated in the front row. The eventful day felt uneventful: I walked across the stage without tripping or wetting myself. I went home to a small party, opened gifts, ate cake, thanked everyone. Later that day, I hung out with friends. I got home before midnight to lay my head down on the black and white pillow for one last time.

The next morning I woke to no more school, but still more of the same. I got up, ate breakfast, and went to work. Life was good, but life was — life. I promised my mom I would send “Thank you” cards to everyone that week, but I never did. (NEVER did — the cards are still in a box somewhere next to old photos and a picture of me with my fro.) Two weeks later, the cat chewed my graduation diploma. I ran out of gas twice that month. I dealt with personal issues of laziness, moodiness, and procrastination throughout the entire summer. Life was still life and I was still me.

I expected an event — the event of graduation — to solve my problems, change my flaws, and make all of my dreams come true. When I soon realized that nothing had changed, I was a little befuddled. So much emphasis was put on graduation but it didn’t occur to me that an event wouldn’t change my life. Graduation opened the door for me to grow in freedom and potential but the world was still the same. I could depend on God to open big doors — which He did — but things like character, maturity, and discipline were dependent mostly on choices, decisions, and commitments I made.

If you have recently graduated from high school or college, congratulations! You did a great thing! You achieved something that the majority of your ancestors and a great percentage of the world has not achieved. But remember what the great philosopher Uncle Ben told Peter Parker, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Life has incredible possibilities — but it won’t change automatically. Dream big. Dream bigger. Then, dream bigger still — but the achievement of those dreams will take time, hard work, humility, gratitude, and the grace of God. In the midst of the long days of perseverance, feel free to get your hair permed. And remember to mail those “Thank you” cards like your mother asked you to.

Follow my blog on facebook, Twitter @croso1, at crosoblog.com or have a copy sent directly to your email. Calvin G. Roso © May 2014

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Elite travel status and first-world problems

Alex arrived to drive me to the airport at four a.m. so I could make it in time for my 6:50 flight. We had become friends over the past week and I saw in him a hard-working man who had set his professional dreams aside to provide for his wife and five children, working nearly 80 hours a week driving a cab. As we headed to the airport, he pulled over to stop at a small store to buy me some local candy to bring home. “You must try this,” he said. “It’s the best.”

Six days earlier, my host had hired Alex to drive me around the city and show me the famous sites. We had lunch at Hard Rock Cafe. “It’s been a long time since I was here last,” he said while enjoying his lunch. He made a similar comment later that evening when we stopped at Starbucks for coffee. (This day was only my second time at Hard Rock, but I frequent Starbucks almost daily.)

That week I had visited a number of people who survived on very little, including one man who recently escaped his country because of religious persecution. Probably my most powerful times were visiting a state orphanage and meeting people involved in orphan work in that country. This is a country where 30 percent of the current orphans will never be adopted and, into early adulthood, 80 percent the unadopted will end up living on the streets or in prison.

Meeting people who think and live differently challenges me to think about my life back home. My family and I are pretty frugal (by U.S. standards), but a lot of things consume me that in the big picture of life aren’t really important. Meeting Alex and others reminded me that I am often busy with things that don’t really matter. Oswald Chambers said, “The busyness of things obscures our concentration on God. . . . Never let a hurried lifestyle disturb the relationship of abiding in Him.” I was about to step back into a lifestyle that constantly competes against a life of abiding. Could I choose to live more simply? Would I choose to live more simply?

As Alex and I walked into the airport, I was mentally preparing myself for a long trip home to see my wife and daughters. Hopefully I could catch some rest during the flights. A lot of this depends, of course, on which seats you get on the plane. As the ticket agent gave me my boarding passes I was visibly pleased that my new “elite” status would allow me the privilege of boarding early on an airline I didn’t usually fly. “What’s so great?” Alex asked. “Good seats,” I murmured, quickly realizing how trivial the idea of elite travel status really was. “Maybe I’ll go to Starbucks a little less when I get home,” I thought.

Look for my weekly blog on Tuesdays and Fridays. You can find it on facebook, Twitter @croso1, at crosoblog.com or have a copy sent directly to your email. Calvin G. Roso © March 2014

Love God first. Then, find a child and play awhile.

There’s a small group of high school students I know who spend one Saturday each month playing with little kids at a shelter. That’s it — all they do is play. The children at the shelter are there “temporarily.” They’ve been put in the shelter by the courts because of trouble their parents and/or guardians are in. The hope is that the children will be taken in by other relatives or by foster parents within a short amount of time.

Sammy is six years only and has been at the shelter “temporarily” for several months now. If he gets a pass to visit relatives, he returns to the shelter angry and combative. Like all the children at the shelter, Sammy is there at the worst time of his life — having suffered violence and abuse and then thrown into a shelter where his best hope is for some stranger to take him in. So how do these high school kids help Sammy? They play games with him. “Don’t pick me! Don’t pick me!” Sammy shouts in a game of Duck-Duck-Goose. But everyone knows that Sammy wants to picked first in this game, because the game of life has left him on the sidelines.

I’m so impressed by these teenagers who give up time to help others. And they don’t do it for pay or praise. On the contrary, it costs them sleep, time, and even a loss of income for some. And not every time of play is fun, either. Sometimes the children at the shelter are loud, and angry, and fighting. If kids start to fight, the teens try to distract them. “Who wants to play soccer?” the teenagers ask in response.

These high school students are drawn to helping children because they believe that serving others isn’t just an event; it’s something that should become a lifestyle. They are drawn to little children because Jesus is drawn to the children. I used to imagine that when Jesus told the disciples to bring the children to Him it was for a quick blessing and photo op. But I bet Jesus took time and played with the kids. Why does play work? Because play is the love language of children and time spent together is the love language of God.

The teenagers could easily burn out or quit if they were just doing this for a “project.” Likewise, the employees at the shelter would quit if it was only a job. Without God, a compassion for others or a desire for justice will eventually become corrupt or burn out. But a desire to do right and love mercy because we first love God is unstoppable. Oswald Chambers said, “If we are devoted to the cause of humanity, we shall soon be broken-hearted; but if our motive is love to God, nothing can hinder us from serving our fellow men.” Love God first. Then, find a child and play awhile.

Look for my blog on Tuesdays and Fridays. You can find it on facebook, Twitter @croso1, at crosoblog.com or have a copy sent directly to your email.
Calvin G. Roso © February 2014

SO STRESSED I COULD DIE!

When I was a kid I got stressed about things. . . . Things like whether or not Danny the bully would finally catch me alone on the playground. Or whether or not anyone would notice the zit on my forehead that was larger than the Empire State Building. Or even big stresses like whether or not Minnie the Tall Blond Girl (not her real name) liked me. And, if she did like me, would we get married? (At age nine finding my life partner was a huge concern.)

To claim that I no longer worry or stress now that I’m an adult would be a lie. Most of my current stress focuses on the worry of not having enough. Not having enough time or not having enough money. Sometimes the worry is that I don’t have enough information about tomorrow. “How will it all work out?” I ask. Ever since Adam and Eve left the Garden where they daily experienced the fullness of God’s presence, mankind has stressed about the unknown. Ironically, eating from the tree of knowledge left Adam and Eve clueless about the future.

This week has been crazy busy. I believe I sometimes make choices that create anxiety. I’m often only as busy as I choose to be. Many mornings this week, I’ve woke up with the nervous question, “How will I get it all done?” Yet, in spite of me, God has always supplied everything I’ve needed. Moment-by-moment, new mercies I’ve seen. Great is His faithfulness in my life and the life of others.

In days of anxiety, I need to relax. To chill out. But just telling myself to calm down isn’t enough. I need to remind myself why I can calm down. I can calm down because God is in control and He is faithful. Hebrews 10:23 reminds me that I can trust God because He has proven Himself trustworthy. Daily peace is a matter of daily perspective. No matter how busy life is, each day should still focus on loving God and serving others.

C. S. Lewis said, “The real problem of the Christian life . . . comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day.” Lord help me to listen to your voice. To take the other point of view. Help me to choose the larger, stronger, quieter life.

Note: Look for my blog on Tuesdays and Fridays. You can find it on facebook, Twitter @croso1, at crosoblog.com or have a copy sent directly to your email.
Calvin G. Roso © February 2014

I gave Jesus a ride to work (re-blog)

I gave Jesus a ride to work today.  When he got in my car he introduced himself as “Marcus” but I knew he was Jesus.  He told me he worked at 61st and Peoria selling cigarettes.

I was on my way to work and saw him walking on the street in the cold.  I was careful; before I offered him a ride I put my wallet in my coat pocket and slid my bag with my iPad behind the seat.  He was friendly and inconvenient and inappropriate. The moment he sat in the car he thanked me and then cranked the heat high without asking.  A few minutes later he asked me to turn some country music on the radio.  I hate country music — inconvenient and inappropriate.  He asked me to stop at McDonalds and when I offered to buy him his sandwich he asked if I would buy him coffee, too -— with six packets of sugar and six packets of cream. The nerve of this guy.

Ironically, he did a better job asking me about myself than I did asking him.  He told me he didn’t go to church because the churches he’s attended didn’t say what he wanted to hear.  “But, if I do go to church I want to go with you.  When are you going to take me to church and have me in your house in Broken Arrow?”

I found myself back-tracking.  I wasn’t looking to invest my life . . . I was only looking to do a good deed and then get on with my day.  I found myself thinking of people and/or churches in his area I could contact who were “better able” to help him.  I gave him my work number instead of my cell hoping he wouldn’t call.

As he finished eating he said, “I never eat the last bite — I always leave it for the homeless because they don’t have anything.”

Calvin G. Roso © December 2013