Sunday, December 23, 2012

Tass Saada: Muslim Sniper

Please be aware that all quotes in this summary are paraphrasing as best I recall. They are not true quotes.
Tass Saada was once a sniper for Yasser Arafat. He wrote a book called Once an Arafat Man: The True Story of How a PLO Sniper Found a New Life. I bought two copies and already loaned them out – haven’t even read them yet.
Here’s the official bio.
Tass Saada
Tass Saada is a former Muslim and the founder of Hope for Ishmael, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to reconcile Arabs and Jews. Born in 1951 in the Gaza Strip, Saada grew up in Saudi Arabia and Qatar. He worked under Yasser Arafat as a Fatah fighter and sniper. Years after immigrating to America, he became a Christian.
A Palestinian Muslim, Tass hated Jews, Christians and Americans with an equal passion. He points out that the Press will try to convince the world that the conflict between Arab and Jew is political and centers on the small strip of land in Israel (I think he means Gaza). However, Tass made it very clear that the conflict is fundamental, a thing of the heart, and goes back to the time of Ishmael and Isaac. The sons of Ishmael feel they deserve part of the inheritance of the land that was promised to the sons of Isaac. I stated that in incredibly simplistic terms, but you get the idea.
As a sniper he was used by Arafat to bring death to his enemies, mostly Jewish I’d guess. After that he went to a Muslim university where he got into an argument with a teacher. He took a shot at the teacher. (Funny, he didn’t say that he didn’t hit the teacher, but he did say he didn’t kill him.) They kicked him out of school (go figure). Tass’s father wanted him to have an education in spite of this, so told him to choose either England or Egypt and he’d send him there. Tass chose the USA and didn’t waver from that, even though he wasn’t sure why he chose it. (We know, of course.)
In America Tass discovered he liked the people. Americans are not the people he was trained to think they were. Most were kind to him, and he didn’t expect that. At some point he decided he wanted to stay in the US so he asked some Palestinian friends how he could most easily do that. They told him to marry an American girl. No problem, he thought. After all, he was a great looking guy with nice clothes. (Or, as he added, he was 100 pounds lighter and had lots more hair.) What’s not to like? So he went to a night club with a friend and he walked in and looked at a girl and said “She’s the one.” The girl was there for her 21st birthday with some friends. Tass asked her to dance. She said no. He thought she must be crazy, something mentally wrong with her. But he watched her for a while longer and asked again. She said no. Now he thinks she must be blind not to want to dance with someone so obviously full of charm and good looking. His friend laughed at him and said he’d never get her to dance, and he said he would. So this time he went to ask, but was really humble. He said his English wasn’t great, but he made it worse, and he walked up to her and said. “Me like music. You dance me?” She danced with him out of pity. (Guys, take note. Women, please take note that most guys know this already. Pity works, and we don’t mind playing the pity card.) They got married. Tass’s plan was to marry, get his green card and then ditch her, but God had other plans. He’s been married now for 34 years (I think that’s the number).
His family said if he married an American girl he would have to support her, so he needed a job. The only thing he knew were guns, and that wasn’t going to work. Someone offered him a job as a dishwasher in a nice French restaurant and he said “Sure, why not?” After some months there the owner took a liking to him and asked if he wanted to learn French cooking. So he said “Sure, why not?” He points out that he is good at French cooking now (pointing at his somewhat robust figure), but it is still not as good as Mexican food, which got applause. A few weeks later the owner’s wife asked if he’d like to work with customers and he said “Sure, why not?”
The very first customer he served was a well-dressed man in a small party. Tass reached to take his plate, and he was so nervous his hand was shaking. The man noticed and stopped talking, looked Tass in the eye and said “Thank you, young man.” Tass was astounded by his kindness – he says Arabs abuse their servants, they do not thank them. Tass vowed right then he would do his best to serve this man every time he came into the restaurant. The man is still his friend.
Fast forward about 19 years and we find Tass a successful restaurant owner and businessman when this original French restaurant comes up for sale. He wants to buy it (from the second owners, not the original) and move it to a better location. His friend (I think it is the same as the man from that table) helps him look for a location and calls him with an address. Perfect spot, he says. No, says Tass, I looked at that the other day, and it is a perfect spot, but it was once a mortuary and the place gives me the creeps. (Muslims believe that the places where dead bodies reside is a place occupied by demons and evil spirits. Tass mentioned this – I didn’t know it.)
His friend, for the first time in their entire relationship, laughs at Tass and says “Tass, the reason you are creeped out is that you do not fear God.” Tass says “I am a good Muslim. Of course I fear God.” The man says “No, you only think you do. You don’t really know Him. But I can help.” Pointing to Heaven he says “I have connections.” The conversation was over.
But for three days that phrase haunted Tass. “I have connections.” What does that mean? How does it apply to me? What kind of connections? It got to the point where Tass could not sleep, could not eat, could not drink. He was chain smoking and wondering about “I have connections.”
Finally he tracks his friend down at one of his own restaurants and drops to his knees by the table and says to him “What do you mean ‘I have connections?’ Tell me. I can’t sleep or eat. I have to know.” His friend says “Tass, get up off the floor. This is your restaurant. People will think you are nuts. Call me tomorrow afternoon and I will explain.”
The next afternoon Tass calls him and he says “Come to my house.” Tass says he cannot; he is too tired and too upset and will wreck the car. His friend says “I’ll be right there.” Twenty minutes later he picks Tass up and they head to his house. On the way he is telling Tass all about the things God has done in his life, and Tass is thinking who is this guy? They are walking into the front door of the man’s house and he is behind Tass and says “And, Tass, you have to love the Jews.” Tass gets upset. The man calms him down a bit and sits him down. “Tass you have to believe in Jesus.”
“I believe in Jesus. All Muslims believe in him. He was a great prophet.”
“Tass, He was more than that. He is the Son of God.”
Now Tass is upset and gets up, pretty angry. “You’re talking blasphemy,” he says, “and I have to leave.”
His friend replies, “Just give me one more minute Tass,” And Tass sits as the man puts a Bible on the table between them. Tass jumps back. “What’s the matter, Tass? It is only paper and ink.”
“It is the word of God,” says Tass, though he doesn’t know why he said that, since Muslims do not believe the Bible is the word of God. (Again, Tass said this. I did not know it.)
“So you think that this is the word of God, Tass? Let me just read to you what it says about Jesus. It will only take a minute.” And he reads John 1:1.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.
Tass says that is all he heard. As his friend was reading his entire body began to shake. When he was aware again he was on his face, on the floor, with his hands raised to Heaven. His friend was pale. “Are you okay? What happened?” asked Tass.
“I was reading, and you started shaking, then you were lifted up off the couch and placed on your face on the floor, hands raised to Heaven and you were speaking a language I’ve never heard. I don’t know what it is, but I like it.”
Tass accepted Jesus as his personal Lord and Savior. He went home and his son was shaving. Tass said “Son, there is something I have to tell you. I accepted Jesus as my Lord, and I think that makes me a Christian.” His son started crying and threw his arms around Tass and said “Dad, I’m so happy for you.” And Tass is crying and then begins to wonder why is he happy for me? And his son says “I accepted Jesus three months ago.” Forty-five days later his wife accepted Jesus (she was Catholic). He kids her that it took a Muslim to bring a Catholic to Jesus. (It’s a joke; I know a lot of saved Catholics and admire them all.)
One more story about Tass. After he spoke at our church four years ago he was told (by God) that he needed to move back to the Gaza strip (in Israel). He said, as many of us would, “Please God. Why not Hawaii?” But off he goes to Gaza.
He is on the Hamas hit list there. He and his wife were somewhere and suddenly four or five gunmen stepped out of the shadows. They had machine guns. He told his wife “Pray, because we are going home.” He put his car in reverse as these men shot at them and he drove home fast. Forty minutes later they get home. He feels like he is in a dream and they are not injured. When he gets out to look at his car and count the bullet holes – there are none. Not one bullet hit the car.
Now you could say these guys are really bad shots. Not a chance, but you could write it off to that. Tass says don’t ever tell him that God does not protect His people miraculously.
A final story about another young man, a Palestinian in the Hamas. One night he was preparing himself for a suicide run against Israel. The explosive belt and all preparations were made. As he was sleeping he had a dream and a bright light was in his dream walking toward him. “I am Jesus. I am the Way, the Truth and the Life and no one comes to the Father except through me. What you are about to do is evil and you should not do it.” (Again, I am paraphrasing) The young man woke up afraid and the light was in his room, still walking! He bolted out of there and ran to a local Christian church and told them he wanted to know about Jesus. They told him they do not talk to Muslims about Jesus. He ran to the Catholic Church across the street and they told him the same thing. Finally one of them told him to try the Baptist church. Sadly, the Baptist church also told him that. For months (years? I am unsure of the timeline here) he wonders about Jesus. In a university class he is taking English and learning English phrases. He goes to the teacher and says I think that what you are teaching us is phrases from the Bible and I want you to tell me more about Jesus. The teacher is quite afraid – apparently this young man has a reputation as a persecutor of Christians, and he is still Hamas. Some time goes by, the young man is persistent and the teacher finally flees to Jerusalem. He calls Tass and Tass tells him to go speak to this young man. He feels the interest is genuine. This young man is now evangelizing for Jesus, in Gaza. The Hamas is trying to find him and kill him, but he remains one step ahead of them, hiding in one place after another.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Stephanie's Story

The horrible shooting in Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, the senseless and tragic deaths of twenty school children and six teachers, is just the latest in the abuse of guns in this country. What doesn't get much press is the attack in the Chinese school that injured over a dozen children. That first attack used guns and left innocent victims dead. The second attack used knives and left innocent victims injured, some perhaps fatally.
I admit that I am conflicted, and have been for over a decade, about the use of guns. I believe in our right to bear arms (which means to own them). I certainly don't think that means we have the right to keep automatic weapons, or weapons designed for a single purpose - killing other humans.
I know that laws will not keep guns out of the hands of lawbreakers, by definition. Lawbreakers do not obey laws, except when convenient for them. I know for a fact that it took someone I know only hours to procure a handgun in the Houston area. Laws might make that harder, and that would be fantastic, but he didn't go to a store to get the gun. When he was eventually arrested, an ex-cop took the gun. I don't know what the ex-cop did with the handgun, and I don't care, knowing that he took it out of circulation.
The young boy that killed his mother took her guns and went to the school, on a killing rampage. I have no idea what went through his mind and doubt anyone else does either, regardless of the suppositions of all the learned men and women with their hypotheses. As far as I'm concerned, they are just garnering headlines.
This isn't the first time I've known of violence with guns.
This is Stephanie's Story.
In Christmas of 1993 armed robbers invaded the home of dear friends of ours, Stephanie and David. A few months ago Stephanie gave her description of the tragedy to the church. I asked Stephanie if I could share her story in my blog and she said I could.
There were no dry eyes as Stephanie told her story. I know mine weren't, though I wiped the tears away as subtly as I could. I knew some of the story, but I never heard the story straight from her.
Stephanie is a slight woman, a little younger than I am, certainly in better shape. She looks fit and dresses impeccably. She wears glasses with thicker frames and a bit darker than we usually see on such well-dressed women. The fact that she can see at all is a miracle.
Stephanie, David and their children were at home in an upscale neighborhood. Their son and his friend walked in from shooting hoops in the driveway, followed by four men in ski masks, waving guns and yelling "This is a robbery. Get down on the floor."
Everyone complied. Two of the men ransacked the house while two stood over the family, agitated, with guns waving.
Stephanie's dog started growling.
"Shut that dog up," shouted one of the men. "Shut him up or I'll shoot him!" Stephanie calmed the dog, and turned to her crying son, huddled on the floor a few feet away. A gun roared. That's the last thing Stephanie remembers.
The gunman blasted half of Stephanie's face away. Her life, as she knew it, changed irrevocably.
I don't know when the men left the house, but Stephanie picked up the story at the hospital, where a team of specialists gathered to try to reconstruct her face.
Due to strange circumstances the hospital was staffed with a couple of friends of Stephanie and David when they arrived. One of the head surgeons, a friend of the family, told David not to get his hopes up. They needed some structure to rebuild from and he found nothing in the gaping hole where half of Stephanie's face had been.
David looked at him and said quietly "Don't be surprised when you get in there and find something. God takes care of all the details." He called everyone in the church and they all did what they could - they prayed.
The surprised Doctor found a half-inch piece of bone intact, from which they worked to repair the damage.
Stephanie talked a bit more about the surgeries, the work done by the doctors. The doctors were shocked that her eye remained intact and she could see with it. Stephanie wasn't surprised. Her eye was not held in the blasted remains of her face, she said, but held carefully in the loving Hand of God.
At one point she did break down, as she explained her thankfulness for David, a steadfast man who never wavered in his devotion and love for her. Stephanie didn't talk much more about the physical ordeals after the attack. Instead she focused on the mental anguish.
Stephanie says she was angry, asking over and over, "Why me, God?" At one point, she said, she was driving back from a doctor's appointment and asking God where He was. Did He leave? Was He ignoring her, ignoring her pain? She turned on the radio and heard a song with lyrics that said "I am here." <<I'll try to get the song title and singers from her for this.>>
They caught the gunman, but the first trial ended in a mistrial. She didn't elaborate, stating simply that the trial is a story all its own. After the man was convicted, Stephanie had the chance to make a victim's impact statement during his sentencing.
Stephanie was honest about it. She was angry for a long time, and she thought of all the things she wanted to say to this man who disrupted her life, who irrevocably turned her entire world upside down.
But God had other plans.
As the months went by God worked in Stephanie's heart, softening it, uprooting the bitterness so that it could not take hold of her. Slowly, ever so slowly, God drew Stephanie into the center of His own heart. From that holy vantage point there was only one things Stephanie could say to this man, the man who broke into her home, threatened her family, shot her and indelibly changed her life.
In the courtroom Stephanie faced her attacker and she forgave him.
In the final analysis, when I look at Stephanie I don't see a woman with scars from an attack two decades ago, who still has periodic surgeries, over seventy-five to date. I see the shining face of someone who listened to the voice of her God and did what is right in the eyes of the Lord.
She is beautiful.

Monday, December 17, 2012

An Adventure with Grandma

I found this story years ago and recorded it in 2008 in one of my personal journals. It says the Author is Unknown, and perhaps he or she is. I don't even know if the story is true.
You know what? I don't care. It's a great story. Merry Christmas to all! Feliz Navidad!
I remember my first Christmas adventure with Grandma. I was just a kid. I remember tearing across town on my bike to visit her on the day my big sister dropped the bomb. "There is no Santa Claus," she jeered. "Even dummies know that!"
My Grandma was not the gushy kind. She never had been. I fled to her that day, because I knew she would be straight with me. I knew Grandma always told the truth, and I knew that the truth always went down a whole lot easier when swallowed with one of her world-famous cinnamon buns. I knew they were world-famous, because Grandma said so. It had to be true.
Grandma was home, and the buns were still warm. Between bites, I told her everything. She was ready for me. "No Santa Claus!" she snorted. "Ridiculous! Don't believe it. That rumor has been going around for years, and it makes me mad, plain mad. Now, put on your coat, and let's go."
"Go? Go where, Grandma"? I asked. I hadn't even finished my second world-famous cinnamon bun. "Where" turned out to be Kerby's General Store. It was the one store in town that had a little bit of just about everything. As we walked through its doors, Grandma handed me ten dollars. That was a bundle in those days.
"Take this money," she said, "and buy something for someone who needs it. I'll wait for you in the car." Then she turned and walked out of Kerby's.
I was only eight years old. I'd often gone shopping with my mother, but never had I shopped for anything all by myself. The store seemed big and crowded, full of people scrambling to finish their Christmas shopping. For a few moments, I just stood there, confused, clutching that ten dollar bill, wondering what to buy, and who on Earth to buy it for.
I thought of everybody I knew: my family, my friends, my neighbors, the kids at school, the people who went to my church. I was just about thought out when I suddenly thought of Bobby Decker. He was a kid with bad breath and messy hair, and he sat right behind me in Mrs. Pollock's second grade class. Bobby Decker didn't have a coat. I knew that, because he never went out for recess during the winter. His mother always wrote a note, telling the teacher that he had a cough, but all we kids knew that Bobby Decker didn't have a cough, and he didn't have a coat. I fingered the ten dollar bill with growing excitement. I would buy Bobby Decker a coat!
I settled on a red corduroy one that had a hood to it. It looked really warm, and he would like that.
"Is this a Christmas present for someone?" the lady behind the counter asked kindly, as I laid my ten dollars down.
"Yes," I replied shyly. "It's for Bobby."
The nice lady smiled at me. I didn't get any change, but she put the coat in a bag and wished me a Merry Christmas. That evening, Grandma helped me wrap the coat in Christmas paper and ribbons (a little tag fell out of the coat, and Grandma tucked it in her Bible) and wrote, "To Bobby, From Santa Claus" on it. Grandma said that Santa always insisted on secrecy. Then she drove me over to Bobby Decker's house, explaining as we went that I was now and forever officially one of Santa's helpers.
Grandma parked down the street from Bobby's house, and she and I crept noiselessly and hid in the bushes by his front walk. Then Grandma gave me a nudge. "All right, Santa Claus," she whispered, "get going."
I took a deep breath, dashed for his front door, threw the present down on his step, pounded his doorbell and flew back to the safety of the bushes and Grandma. Together, we waited breathlessly in the darkness for the front door to open. Finally it did, and there stood Bobby.
Fifty years haven't dimmed the thrill of those moments spent shivering, beside my Grandma, in Bobby Decker's bushes. That night, I realized that those awful rumors about Santa Claus were just what Grandma said they were: ridiculous. Santa was alive and well, and we were on his team. I still have the Bible, with the tag tucked inside that read $19.95.
--Author Unknown

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


I usually post on days that are Prime Numbers. Sometimes I make a Bonus Post, but usually that's because I have a burning desire to post something. That doesn't happen often (hence, the "Bonus").
So tomorrow is the Thirteenth of the month, so in America it's 12/13. In two years it will be 12/13/14, which is cool. Today, however, is 12/12/12, even in Europe, where they put the day first. Today, we are not confused (much). So today's post is in honor of TWELVE Day, which will not come again (at least not for me). So I'll post today instead of tomorrow.

Famous Twelves
There are Twelve Days of Christmas.
There are twenty-four hours in a day, which is two sets of twelve (and who decided that, I wonder?), so a clock has twelve numbers.
There are twelve months in a year.
AA has a twelve step program, an archetype followed by other organizations dealing with addictions.
There are twelve signs in the Zodiac.
There are twelve tribes in Israel, but I think ten of them are lost.
There were twelve disciples.
There were twelve angry men.
There were twelve monkeys.
There are twelve eggs in a carton (or I could have said twelve in a dozen).
Hercules had twelve labors.
Arthur had twelve knights at his Round Table (and himself).

Twelve things I am thankful for this year.
1. Darling's surgery went well and all the Cancer was removed.
2. I remained employed all year at my current job. I've had to do some different job functions, but that's okay. New skills are not that hard to acquire.
3. This was a Leap Year, so we had a Leap Day.
4. All five of our children are healthy, as is our son-in-law. That's vitally important.
5. Our youngest son turned eighteen and graduated from High School. I think that's an accomplishment, and always will. It wasn't too long ago in our society that many people did not finish High School.
6. Our youngest daughter got her College Degree. Again, that's quite an accomplishment. Welcome to the working world!
7. We moved from the house we lived in for a decade into something more suitable for us. That took a lot of work, including erasing a tree. Darling was a genius managing all the repair people for the new house.
8. Our old house sold. In this market, that's an accomplishment. Darling was amazing handling all that also.
9. We traveled to Michigan to see my Dad and two of my brothers. I wish we lived closer. My nieces and nephews are growing up and I missed it all.
10. My next younger brother turned fifty. That's a milestone, isn't it?
11. Darling and I published a book. It's a good book, useful and timely.
12. My Dad is pretty healthy still. He even went on a trip to Florida for vacation.

Any of those good things that happened might not have happened, except by the grace of God. There is one thing I am always thankful for, and that is God's presence in my life and in Darling's life. I guarantee you that God is a personal God.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Mary Stewart's Prayer

After my Mom died I collected all the documents she had on her computer and some that were simply written by hand on scraps of paper. A few were stories, one of which was her version of Christmas. One of the other documents she had was Mary Stewart's prayer, one she mentioned to me years ago. At the time I didn't think much of it, but Mom thought it was important enough that she kept a copy of the prayer.
When I ran across it recently I wondered what kind of prayer the Queen of Scotland would pray, and why - and who preserved it. I had the wrong Mary.
Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, queen regnant of Scotland, wife of Francis II of France and potential heir to the English throne, lived from 1542 to 1587 and was executed by Elizabeth I, who found her guilty of plotting against the Crown of England.

Good book anyway!

It also was not Mary Stewart, the English author of The Merlin Trilogy, (The Crystal Cave, The Hollow Hills and The Last Enchantment). I really liked her books, though.
This Mary Stewart was the principal of Longmont High School in Colorado when she penned this prayer in 1904. The prayer is used by many women's clubs in Canada, United States and Britain as an opening prayer for their meetings.

Mary Stewart's Prayer
Keep us, O God, from pettiness; let us be large in thought, in word, in deed. Let us be done with fault-finding and leave off self-seeking. May we put away all pretense and meet each other face to face, without self pity and without prejudice. May we never be hasty in judgment, and always generous. Let us take time for all things; make us to grow calm, serene and gentle. Teach us to put into action our better impulses, straightforward and unafraid. Grant that we may realize it is the little things that create differences, that in the big things of life, we are as one. And, O Lord God, let us not forget to be kind!

Mom added one line to this file at the end of this document: COURAGE-FEAR THAT HAS SAID ITS PRAYERS.
Mom often found some good stuff.

Friday, December 7, 2012

LoTR Easter Egg in OS X

Before I jump in to today's post, if you want a funny growing-up story from my younger brother, jump to his post. It's worth your time. He's pretty funny.

Cult of Mac's Killian Bell posted something that immediately captured my attention - there's an Easter Egg in MAC OS X. For those of us who are gamers, the term Easter Egg has almost visceral meaning.
The method to reveal the Lord of the Rings Easter Egg is simple. Open Terminal on your Mac and type the following command: cat /usr/share/calendar/calendar.lotr

01/05 Fellowship enters Moria
01/09 Fellowship reaches Lorien
01/17 Passing of Gandalf
02/07 Fellowship leaves Lorien
02/17 Death of Boromir
02/20 Meriadoc & Pippin meet Treebeard
02/22 Passing of King Ellesar
02/24 Ents destroy Isengard
02/26 Aragorn takes the Paths of the Dead
03/05 Frodo & Samwise encounter Shelob
03/08 Deaths of Denethor & Theoden
03/18 Destruction of the Ring
03/29 Flowering of the Mallorn
04/04 Gandalf visits Bilbo
04/17 An unexpected party
04/23 Crowning of King Ellesar
05/19 Arwen leaves Lorian to wed King Ellesar
06/11 Sauron attacks Osgiliath
06/13 Bilbo returns to Bag End
06/23 Wedding of Ellesar & Arwen
07/04 Gandalf imprisoned by Saruman
07/24 The ring comes to Bilbo
07/26 Bilbo rescued from Wargs by Eagles
08/03 Funeral of King Theoden
08/29 Saruman enters the Shire
09/10 Gandalf escapes from Orthanc
09/14 Frodo & Bilbo’s birthday
09/15 Black riders enter the Shire
09/18 Frodo and company rescued by Bombadil
09/28 Frodo wounded at Weathertop
10/05 Frodo crosses bridge of Mitheithel
10/16 Boromir reaches Rivendell
10/17 Council of Elrond
10/25 End of War of the Ring
11/16 Bilbo reaches the Lonely Mountain
12/05 Death of Smaug
12/16 Fellowship begins Quest

Thanks to all of the programmers who did this for us.
Some of my favorite Easter Eggs include the cow level in Diablo, the WoW chicken quest, the exploding sheep in Warcraft: Orcs and Humans, the purple 3D landscape in Excel 97, and the DOOM room in Excel 95. There were more, of course, but those are the ones that come to mind.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


Leadership needs, well - leaders. W. Edwards Deming made that abundantly clear when I heard him speak decades ago.
Years ago someone told me that leadership was "an influential relationship with followers."  That seems true, but deserves some thinking.
Followers must be willing to do what you want them to do. I suppose you could have negative leaders, where the followers do precisely what you don’t want them to do. A clever negative leader would then propose plans for the opposite of what he really wanted to accomplish. So if he planned to fail, and did, would he really succeed? Let's not follow that train of thought…
There are a lot of leaders. These are the ones that came to my mind immediately and not in any particular order.
Jesus Christ. You can argue his divinity, perhaps try to argue his even existence, but you cannot argue the impact that Jesus of Nazareth had on the world. When I look at my list of leadership characteristics Jesus has them all (with the possible exception of adaptability).
Robin Hood. Okay, he was just a legend, but I wrote about him in a previous post, and I certainly think he had leadership skills.
Genghis Khan. The guy conquered most of the Eastern World with a horde of barbarians. Not only did that take tons of stamina and manpower, it took a plan, as well as a long-term vision. I doubt The Khan ("Kirk! KIRK!") ever sat in his tent at night watching his personal version of Dancing with the Stars and said “Gee, I don’t know who we should conquer tomorrow.” The guy had vision. He sold that vision to his people and persuaded them to follow him, leaving an indelible stamp on the Eastern world. AND he forced the Chinese to build that amazing wall.
Queen of Sheba. Okay, she is legendary, but she ruled an entire nation, one whose wealth apparently rivaled the wealth of King Solomon. I have to infer that she had the qualities of a great leader. Whether she also became the mother of Solomon's son is also legendary, so I'll just leave it there.
Alexander the Great. I include him for the same reason I included the Khan. Before his mid-thirties Alex (as his friends called him) consolidated the known world, which included parts of the western world and parts of the eastern world. The rest of the world remained unknown, probably by decree. “If I don’t know about it, then it doesn’t exist. Take it off the map.” I’m sure Alex said this as he rode Bucephalus along the western shore of India. When he conquered a land he made them part of his country, a practice later adopted by the Romans. He had a vision and must have communicated it well, since he kept most of his personal troops away from home for years.
Yes, I know she isn't
REALLY Cleopatra
Cleopatra. She was famous, certainly. She also wielded tremendous power and swayed the Roman Empire. That's persuasion. I can't even find a last name for her. I mean I could just say "Churchill" or "Hitler" and you'd probably know who I mean, but "Cleopatra" is all we need for her - and all we will ever need.
Winston Churchill. The man wasn’t nice, he wasn’t polite and he was full of himself. By all accounts he smoked nasty cigars and drank a lot. However, he held together a hurting nation, a disillusioned and downtrodden people. When he spoke, people listened and they believed. His single-minded vision (for his country to survive the war), his communication skills and his persuasive skills gave a country certainty that the sunrise would bring victory.
Adolph Hitler. Oh, you can object that he was a bad man and committed genocide, and I won't argue with you. I'm not saying he was a good guy; I'm saying he was a leader. Hitler had a plan, made some brilliant decisions, chose the right people, persuaded an entire nation to implement his personal world view. He had a vision of Germany that he shared effectively with the people in his country. Yes, he made them think too highly of themselves and they led the conquest and slaughter of tens of millions of people and ignited another global war. These aren't good things, but they are the kinds of things a leader can do. (I have to point out that the genocide in Rwanda in the 1990s was horrendous also, but did not receive global attention.)
George Washington. Washington is one of the few historical leaders with an anecdotal story about his integrity. That's pretty rare. I don’t believe the popular story about the cherry tree. What George really said to his Dad was “I could lie to you about that stupid tree, Dad, but I won’t. I chopped it down and used it to make a new stock for your rifle, a humidor for your cigars and a writing desk for Mom.” Washington didn’t even want to be President of the United States, but the people elected him anyway. He did the job, then went home and had a real life. I have to love that about the guy. “Leave the politics to Hamilton,” he probably said. Hamilton isn’t on my list.
Abraham Lincoln. I have to include Honest Abe. He had integrity and he had vision. They named a really nice car after him. Lincoln did what he had to do. He was a strong leader, and he died because of his beliefs. You can be a martyr without being a leader, of course.
Chuck Norris. Okay, I'll admit I don't know if Chuck Norris is a great leader or not, but he could single-handedly kick the butts of all these other guys and then kick mine without breaking a sweat, so he's on my list. Plus, he does have integrity and I admire him for a lot of things he accomplished in life. Accomplishments alone do not create a leader, but they can certainly highlight one.
There are many listed characteristics of an outstanding leader, but I think they need to have most of the following (though not all of them):
Communication/Persuasive skills
Ability to listen, and make decisions
Planning skills
Ability to work with teams
Ability to develop and maintain relationships
Ability to coach others

I personally think that a truly great leader knows he cannot lead alone, so he must also have the skill to choose the right people to help achieve his vision. (I used "he" as the generic, by the way, meaning men and women!)
If I search for a list of leaders on the internet I find lots of lists. I really cannot argue with any of them. Here is an incomplete summary of the lists I gathered, in alphabetical order.
Abraham Lincoln
Albert Einstein
Alexander the Great
Count Basie, Pianist and Bandleader
Dale Carnegie
Douglas MacArthur, United States General and WWII Hero
Eleanor Roosevelt, Former First Lady and Social Reformer
Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd President of the United States
Gandhi, Mohandas
Genghis Khan
Gloria Steinem, Writer and Feminist Leader
Golda Meir, Former Prime Minister of Israel
James T. Kirk, Captain of the USS Enterprise
Jesus Christ
Joseph II
Martin Luther King Jr., Minister and Leader of the American Civil Rights Movement
Mother Teresa
Muhammad Ali, Cassius Clay
Nelson Mandela, Political Prisoner-Turned-South African President
Norman Vincent Peale
Oprah Winfrey, Media Mogul and Humanitarian
Pope John Paul II, the Catholic Church's Supreme Pontiff for 27 Years
Queen Elizabeth I
Steve Jobs, Co-Founder and CEO of Apple Inc.
Vince Lombardi, Legendary Coach of the Green Bay Packers
Winston Churchill, British Prime Minister

Now, here's the thing. All of these people are famous, yet I look at my life and it is full of leaders, people who will remain unsung outside the song of my own life. My Dad was a leader to his four boys, as was my Mom. Each of my brothers is an amazing leader. Darling is a leader to many of the women in our church (and she probably doesn't even realize it). The visions and plans differ, but the efforts are ongoing and daily.
So how many followers do you need to be a leader? I think it only takes one. Even without followers, though, the qualities of a leader are worth cultivating.
One more thing: you don't need to be a leader all the time, but everyone gets the opportunity. You just need to look around - and not follow.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Pizza Fish

(Not quite this bad, but... Read on!)
One of my brothers is now adding more war stories from our respective younger years to his blog. Already he covered an analysis of my blog post on Mom's meatloaf, a funny confession of electrocuting our youngest brother, and now a post giving the enduring tale of Mom's grits.

Somehow I think he still thinks Mom was a good cook. I loved my Mom and I miss her all the time. At some level I can say that Mom was a good cook. She had the fabled ability to take a quarter pound of meat and expand it to a complete meal, including vegetables, for four growing boys, my Dad and herself. Let me be clear, however. I'm the eldest, and I watched Mom cook. I can say with absolute authority that she imbued beef flavor into a steaming pot of water and beef bouillon by waving a small piece of left-over beef over the top of the kettle. This was her beef stew recipe.

She tried, as evidenced by the foray into cooking Southern grits (my shorter version). She managed to make passable fried chicken in the months and years that followed, yet each try remained a unique dish. Mom did have recipes and recipe books. I saw them, the books neatly arranged on the book shelves and the recipes on scraps or three by five cards stuffed in the book pages. Following recipes? That's something else altogether.

Mom made a great pot roast. All of us loved her pot roast. As an adult I discovered that it doesn't require much cooking skill to make a great pot roast. Not to detract from Mom's ability with a pot roast; it was mostly meat, which was a great change.

Okay, let's leave the pot roast. Mom was good at hot dogs. I'm pretty sure they have some meat in them, but that isn't Mom's doing. We had a Great Uncle who said he liked hot dogs until he started making them. He worked in a sausage factory in Ohio.

Mom’s hamburgers started as meat. When I discovered that most people didn't add filler to their burgers, I was a little amazed. Mom’s technique for cooking burgers was to convert them to black charcoal briquettes. I still like that style, but don’t prefer burgers that way.

Mom made great spaghetti. I guess I need to clarify that a little bit also. I loved her spaghetti. Discovering that you could eat spaghetti with sauce on a plate astounded me. We used bowls, since Mom's sauce was, well, sauce (and a little meat).

I won't reminisce about Mom's cooking skills any longer. By now, you get the idea. She wasn't a gourmet cook, but we loved most of what she made; well, we didn't have a lot of choice, did we? (One brother said that I didn’t need to mention SPAM™ so I won’t.)

There was one incident involving Mom's cooking that is now a family tale - at least in my family. The tale of Pizza Fish.

I should clarify something about me before I proceed. I was asked once by a boss whether I knew how to change a gasket on a centrifugal pump. I told him the story of pinching my thumb. Someone once asked if I could fix a ceiling fan. I told of the time I thought the electricity was off - and it wasn't. Why? Because of the dozens of times I changed gaskets or fixed fans, those were the funny stories!

So, for my children, here's the written version of Pizza Fish. I checked with my brothers and they have no memory of Pizza Fish, so whatever I say must be true. How very cool (since memory has faded).  


I was off in college, at Central Michigan University (CMU). Of all my colleges, CMU remains my favorite - well, the first year there remains my favorite. I had a girlfriend, surprising everyone who knew me at the time. I was not very comfortable with girls, let's just leave it at that and move on with the story.

Dorm food was the only edible fare I had available to me at college. Oh, I'd occasionally get a few extra dollars and go to the local burger place for a burger and fries, and even more rarely manage to pitch in for my share of delivered pizza. Once in a great while I'd order the vegetable sub from the pizza place. It arrived hot, with melted cheese and oven-roasted vegetables limply lying in the long bun, including hot lettuce. I really did like the veggie sub; it certainly didn't hurt that it was the least expensive item on the delivery menu.

I didn't go home very often. I didn't have a car, so I had to hitch a ride with one of the very few friends heading into my hometown of Rockford. I don't remember the circumstance, but I caught a ride home and was delighted to be there.

I just talked about the dorm food. Good, standard food that filled us and provided nutrition, but I was looking forward to Mom's home cooking. Yes, I know that sounds like it contradicts the entire first part of this narrative, but we love what we know, and I knew Mom's cooking.

As we sat down at the table, Mom was all smiles. She had a new recipe and spent hours preparing a special meal for us, since I was home.

Pizza Fish.

I still shudder a little at the name. Some sort of tomato sauce as a base, or perhaps just canned tomatoes. I don't really recall. A layer of fish fillets. They were some sort of white fish, but still quite fishy. More tomato-something and spices, topped with melted mozzarella cheese. No doubt Mom added bread crumbs to top it off.

One look had me doubting. One taste removed all doubt.

The Pizza Fish was just short of terrible. I'm pretty sure my brothers and I all exchanged glances and reached a mutual understanding. We ate the Pizza Fish and thanked Mom profusely. After all, we were older now than when the Grits Incident occurred.

If it ended there it would still be a slightly sad tale. Boy starved for home cooking comes home to a new recipe that is worse than any dorm food. Eats it anyway. Goes back to school and gladly eats in the cafeteria.

That isn't quite the end, though.

I don't know how much longer in the future this was, but I actually came home with my girlfriend, JL. You don't need to be psychic to see where this story goes; Mom served Pizza Fish again. After all, it was such a hit last time...

We rebelled. I'm pretty sure my brother B spoke up first and we all decided that real pizza would be the better meal. JL thought the entire incident was funny and cute. She admired Mom for trying something new and different.

Looking back, I admire Mom too, even for trying Pizza Fish. I won’t be making it any time soon, though.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Women and Men Think Differently

Women and men think differently. Most of us know that. Some people try to say it is nurture instead of nature, but I don't think so. I think we are hard-wired differently. But does it really matter at this point?
My Pastor actually showed part of a YouTube video with Mark Gungor explaining these differences dramatically. The video does an excellent job of showing the differences, but I'll still try to sum up what he says, but in my own words and with some of my own thoughts included.
Men compartmentalize everything. All topics and situations have their own little mental box. From personal experience I can tell you this is absolutely true. Talk to me about the car, and that's what we're talking about, not about whether we should plan a driving trip to Mexico. That's an entirely different box. I have to put the car box back into my brain - carefully, because it can't touch any other boxes - and take out the one for a trip to Mexico. If I don't have a trip to Mexico box I can create one, but give me a few minutes to process the request. During those few minutes my eyes will go out of focus, my face might get a little red, my tongue might express creative reasons why such a trip can't be made. Let me finish processing, though, and we can talk about it. Don't let me finish processing and I'll have a broken box in my brain. I won't be able to focus on what you want to talk about AND some part of me will blame you for interrupting the box-building process. I might run off to another room. That is probably simply to fix the box and finish processing the newness of it. I'll be back. I will certainly be more conversant. I will probably apologize (and, if I don't, I should).
Women connect everything. This is exactly why they can multi-task, although they really cannot do make-up, talk on the cell phone, adjust the radio and drive at sixty miles an hour down the freeway all at once. I don't care what they say. That's not multi-tasking, that's just nutty. Women think of one thing and that makes them think of something else, etc. etc. etc. (as the King of Siam would say). They can keep all these thoughts in their minds at once.
Women are brilliant. All these thoughts are connected by the most powerful energy in the universe - emotion. Really, it is. It wasn't hardware that took the United States to the moon. It was emotion - the fervor and passion to do something extraordinary before someone else could. Those poor astronauts traveled in a tin can and landed on the moon in an aluminum foil tinker toy. My kids played with stronger rockets than astronauts risked their lives in. HEROES, every one. (See? I pulled out my astronaut box and wanted to empty the entire thing right there on the page!)
So a woman will mention how dinner was nice, then think of the roast, remember the time we had some roast at dinner at that little restaurant, which reminds her of the nicest dinner we ever had, which was in Cabo and they served this amazing coffee and the sunset was so lovely and it was all so peaceful and when the sun set it got chilly but we didn't care, and why don't we go on vacation again, maybe someplace nice like Cabo.
I hear "Dinner was nice. Why don't we go to Cabo?" I'm totally confused. I was just finishing up the box for dinner and putting it into my brain, which, by the way, is getting a bit sleepy from having to manage a half dozen boxes in the last hour. Now I have to search for the box on Cabo. I might even panic.
Women are fantastic. They can connect the slightest details with no obvious clues. Darling will play checkers with me and have me beat before I can make three moves. I just don't know it until I'm ten or twelve moves into the game. She knows it though. At the same time she can describe to me what each of the kids was doing last time she talked to them, cry a little because she misses them all so much, and outline how we should plant a garden in the spring AND the price of groceries this morning.
Darling is amazing.
Now here's a cautionary note. Most guys don't expect their gals to think like them. To most men, the thought processes of females are a deep and unsolvable mystery, entirely beyond comprehension. There's a joke about that…
In my experience women believe men think like they do. Or they believe all men think about sex constantly. That part is true to some degree; sex seems to be the only thing that we don’t need to compartmentalize. Depending on our age, sex thoughts can randomly appear without the need to access them. (Careful, lads, what you put into your brains; it can come back to haunt you later - literally!)
Please, dear Women of the World, at least try to understand that we don't think like you do.
One more thing: a man has a box in his head that is there from birth, and it's a large and easily accessible box. He accesses it often. You'll know his brain has it out when he smiles stupidly and watches insipid television shows for hours on end. It isn't the sex box (we don't have a box for that, remember?).  It's the nothing box.

Mark Gungor says that some women come up to him after a conference and say "I finally get it! That nothing box is where he spends most of his time. Can I get in the nothing box with him?"

Uh, no. Think about it.
So when you ask us what we're thinking and we reply "Nothing," we really mean it.

Mark Gungor has much more out there that is useful for marriages. I can't cover it all here, but this should get you thinking a little. Except you guys - you're already thinking about nothing, aren't you?

I just ran across priceless advice for men when talking with their wives. Pay attention now, lads; these are important.
DANGEROUS: What's for dinner?
SAFER: Can I help you with dinner?
SAFEST: Where would you like to go for dinner?
DANGEROUS: Are you wearing THAT?
SAFER: Gee, you look good in brown.
SAFEST: Wow! Look at you!
DANGEROUS: What are you so worked up about?
SAFER: Could we be overreacting?
SAFEST: Here's fifty dollars.
DANGEROUS: Should you be eating that?
SAFER: You know, there are a lot of apples left.
SAFEST: Can I get you a glass of wine with that?
DANGEROUS: What did you DO all day?
SAFER: I hope you didn't overdo today.
SAFEST: I've always loved you in that robe.