Dates On Calendar Simply Digits

“Oh, that was last Tuesday I think.”

You know you’ve been together a long time as a couple when significant dates in your relationship quietly sneak by unnoticed and afterward you both only laugh.

My wife and I are now in our 36th year of being together. The math consists of 6 years of me trying to gain her confidence and another 30 with rings on our fingers. Mix in two children, two dogs, and living in over a half-dozen cities and you get the idea of why we are easily confused when asked to provide a zip code when checking out of a grocery store.

I am still not sure why she said yes between classes that day in college. Like I’ve said before, she is smart. Maybe I caught her on an off day. It happens.

So here we are decades later laughing with each other because we can’t seem to remember the dates on the calendar. Empty-nesting they call this stage. Whatever it is, we call it awesome.

We’ve seen things we never ever dreamed existed, discovered emotions we never knew could be felt, and already realize there are not enough days left to spend with each other.

Today as empty nesters we are in a new stage of life. Together we’ve raised and launched two remarkable adults into the world yet can’t wait to see each other at the end of the day. We had no idea there was this figurative pot of gold was waiting at this stage in life.

The other day a friend was telling me about how he and his wife loved their newfound freedom to simply drop and go. No questions asked, no worries. He laughs as he says this is the best part of marriage no one tells you about. Sixteen days exploring Utah without a schedule will do that to you I guess.

But arriving here together is so rewarding. We are both comfortable with who we are, don’t feel threatened by the other, and can’t imagine where we end and the other begins. Not to sound sappy, but this could turn out to be the best stage of life yet.

One night my wife and I were sitting around talking about society’s reverence of youth When we asked what age do we see each other, we both landed on a window when our relationship went from dating to falling in love. Between our ears, we seem to see each other as some version or continuation of the person the other fell in love with decades ago. It is as if maybe love has the magical ability or distort time between our ears.

Along the way, we’ve been broke, more than broke, and not broke. We’ve also faced births, deaths, and times not knowing if we would survive another day. But somehow, by the hand of God and a little maturity, we’ve arrived at a place where dates on the calendar mean more inside our hearts than on a piece of paper.








Hurricane Upends Life in Paradise

I can’t stop thinking about my friend, Jimmy.

Jimmy is a small boat captain in the British Virgin Islands. We are about the same age, both easily laugh at ourselves, and view the world as a beautiful place to be. He’s a big man with an even larger laugh. He rarely wears shoes and can instinctively read the teal blue Caribbean waters like master chef surveys ingredients on a countertop. To both they see a canvas, a world where the magic happens.

Hurricane Irma has changed all that. His home – that is the islands where he grew up and lives – looks like the aftermath of a nuclear bomb. And the worst part is Jimmy is now off the grid and unable to be reached.

We met years ago as Jimmy guided 8 of us for a week through the BVI on a small boat. While we slept below deck in a room the size of an SUV, he slept in a space the size of a small bathroom. But Jimmy quickly went from our single crew member to friend within a day. And before returning us safely to harbor, he was forever family.

As beautiful as the islands and waters are in the BVI, life is as equally hard. The land is barren, built on volcanic outcrops. Farming is difficult. Roads are narrow and dangerous. A flat piece of ground is rare. Making a living in paradise is difficult. Tourists attracted the beauty are the primary trade.

With limited employment opportunities, Jimmy learned to sail the waters at an early age. A good small boat captain is one part instinct, one part skill, and one part being leader. And Jimmy is all of those and more.

As Hurricane Irma violently crossed over the BVI I found myself saying prayers for not only Jimmy, but the faces I’d seen while walking the small, economically depressed communities doting the barren island landscapes. What American’s consider abject poverty is what most residents on the islands consider normal. The standard of living is difficult to imagine.

When photos after the hurricane began to trickle out I was stunned. The lush green landscape, foliage and vegetation covering the mountain inclines lay barren and brown. The housing, many times built with more concern for keeping rain off one’s head than with any semblance of structural integrity, were gone. And the boats Jimmy earned his modest living lay crumbled up along the shoreline like a pile of wooden white matchsticks.

I pray for my friend and hope his disappearance is simply related to damaged cell towers.

The beautiful landscape is gone. Tourists are not there or coming soon. The economy in shambles for who knows how long. Life changing is an understatement in this now third-world economy.

Pray for Jimmy. Pray for the students I saw walking along the narrow street to school. And pray for the fisherman who lived by selling his modest catch to tourists each day. For them, life may never be the same again. Pray.


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Difficult Times Require Perspective

My mother, when faced with a difficult situation or going through a trying time, would always step back and put things in perspective with a few simple words.

In her rolling Scottish accent, she would take a deep cleansing breath and repeat five words of solace – her personal mantra.

“And this too shall pass.”

She was a happy person. Always smiling, always thankful. And her words, when said, would wash over her and magically – at least from my perspective as a child – making all her troubles wash away. As a child, I would follow her lead and relax.

I hear these words in her voice rolling out whenever I find myself in a difficult situation or my nerves ready to explode. While the wisdom is valuable, hearing her voice adds a powerful and soothing impact on me. Suddenly I’m back in the kitchen, her making breakfast, and hearing her voice.

I recently read a piece in the Harvard Business Review about my mother. Well, not her specifically, but encouraging the practice my mother employed. Teams of researchers determined one of the key elements of navigating periods of uncertainty, extreme stress, and facing an unknown outcome, can be better managed by taking charge of the situation through adding a dimension of perspective.

My mother didn’t need a Harvard education to know how to successfully manage life.

The piece recommended taking what you fear or packaging what you are going through at the moment and asking yourself how would you view this a year forward. Or ask yourself will the outcome change the most important aspects of your life such as your family or those you love.

Personally, after both saying and hearing my mother’s words, I dial back to what matters most in life – and they are never material. Will my wife still love me tomorrow? Will my children be safe? Will my health allow me to wake up the next day? Honestly, after that, the list runs dry. Everything else is simply everything else.

A good friend of my recently lost a lifetime of possessions in flooding. Household furniture, her car, and all the appliances. But as traumatic as this is, she is remarkably calm and confident.

“It is a hard thing to see your life piled up on the curb waiting to be picked up,” she said to me. Then, remarkably, she shrugged her shoulders and offered a hint of a smile. “But what can you do but move forward,” she said.

And there it was – another example of taking the worst the world could dish out and taking control over the situation by defining the impact across what is considered most valuable. She has her health, her husband, and her family. She is remarkable and strong.

We all go through moments in life where we can’t seem to imagine coming out of the other side. We ask God for guidance, we ask others for help, but in reality, the answer will always begin deep inside each of us and our hearts.


The Texas Miracle

Hey America. Are you watching Texas? No, not to floodwaters – the people and how they are getting along during the largest natural disaster in US history.

A couple weeks ago our nation was a powder keg of emotionally-charged division. The streets and media channels seemed to be flowing with an ever-increasing volume of hate and divisive words. This was not the America we all knew and loved.

And then came Tropical Storm Harvey.

If you didn’t know, Houston is not only the fourth-largest city in the US, but also carries the distinction of being the most racially and ethnically diverse major metropolis in the nation. To visit this part of the country is to witness what experts project America will be inside of a generation.

Were Houston a box of Crayons, this region would be the big 64-count set – with every nationality, creed, or orientation generously represented.

And herein lies the what I believe is the Texas Miracle.

Tropical Storm Harvey put a hurt-on Texas like nothing ever before in history. Dumping feet of rain in short windows of time, people found themselves fleeing fast-rising waters. The storm’s damage, now estimated at $160 billion, is the largest ever recorded. And Harvey, unfortunately took innocent lives and displaced tens of thousands of people.

Stress, displacement, fear, and uncertainty  – the perfect storm for people to turn against each other.

But Texans are different. Fiercely independent and determined to always do the right thing, the DNA of the state is on full display for the nation to witness. In this region populated with every race, creed, color, or orientation, people repeatedly pull together with a higher purpose. To help one another is normal. To help someone during times of need is an unspoken tenant of the Texas fabric.

What some may see coming through television screens as remarkable acts of kindness or generosity is truly not unusual in this fiercely independent part of the country. Texas is a place where a long strong steak of independence continues to run close to the surface. And for those on the coast, getting knocked down repeatedly by Mother Nature is simply part of life. Getting up, rebuilding, and moving forward is a discipline forged over dozens of generations.

When I first arrived on the Gulf Coast of Texas a friend explained to me why, at least in his interpretation, this immigrant-rich region is so welcoming to others and repeatedly rises together during times of crisis.

“During a hurricane, if you see a hand coming up from the water you never stop to wonder who is behind it,” he said. “One day it could be you.”

With all apologies, excuse me if I am not too surprised at seeing people pouring out their hearts or putting themselves into extreme danger to help one another. Learning to respect, value, and put the needs of other ahead of yourself during these trying times is normal. And if this represents the future America, our nation is in good hands.



















The Flood Damage No One Talks About 

Now we rebuild. With Tropical Storm Harvey behind us, Galveston County is left with the monumental task of rebuilding lives, homes, and businesses. And in many cases, these threads creating the fabric of our communities are at risk.

Furniture can be replaced, cars repaired, but there is something much larger here – the potential for psychological suffering as people face the long road of rebuilding their lives.

Mental health is an underreported aspect of disasters. The lasting effects on our emotions or psyche tend to live quietly beneath the surface of our minds, quietly brewing or festering until a trigger moment arrives. And it is the trauma of the recent flooding that may put many people in Galveston County at risk 

According to the US Department of Veteran Affairs, studies point to 50% or more affected from natural disasters suffering from clinically significant distress. And unaddressed, such psychological scars can lead to depression, feelings of helplessness, and create a corrosive force on impacted individuals. This condition is more widely referred as post-traumatic stress disorder or simply PTSD.

Times of disaster can cut people off from their natural world of interaction, creating feelings of being overwhelmed and an unsettling sense of depression. These elements can lay in wait for days, week, months, or even years. But they are real. 

In Galveston County there are thousands of people unable to either return or to live in their homes in a normal fashion. And to most, a home is a safe space, a place where you retreat to when the day is done or you need to unplug your mind. The challenges for children can be even more dire and unsettling as young emotions are less developed. 

The World Health Organization regularly deals with the emotional challenges of disasters. Key contributors to the condition include family separation, loss of employment, concerns for safety, and a low level of familiarity in those helping or providing resources. And if anyone remembers Abraham Maslow’s Theory of Human Motivation, these elements are rooted in the foundation of our basic needs.

This is not to say the outpouring of generosity from individuals, companies, and organizations from across the nation in unneeded. On the contrary, they play an important role in the rebuilding of both the immediate and near-future needs of those impacted. And we thank them for opening their hearts.

But as a community we need to understand there is something that cannot be trucked in from surrounding states. What we need to do is recognize the need to offer support and care to those who are in the crosshairs of this tragedy. For every truck filled with water, we will also need to understand those on the receiving end may need our help as they navigate this life-changing event.

 Galveston County needs to recognize and take action to address the potential for this power symptom of natural disasters taking hold. Not doing so could further destroy the lives of people who unknowingly slip into a dark and dangerous place.