Thursday, December 23, 2010

Santa, I know Him!

When I am asked by a child if Santa is real, I always answer the same way: “Do you like it when Santa comes to your house?” When they say, “Yes,” then I complete my answer with, “Then it is good to believe,” and I stand by that. We are a nation that celebrates the birth of Christ with a bit of a twist. Do I think the purpose of Christ’s birth is lost in the commercialization of Christmas? Yea, some.

I remember the anticipation and anxious days, hours, minutes that lead up to the moment when we received permission to come out of our room and see what Santa had left. The Christmas tree revealed in front of us in all its colorful glory, bright and shiny with the gifts piled all around.

Mine was a family of five kids, and mom and dad still did a good job in providing material gifts for each of us. Metal erector sets, Tonka trucks, BB Guns, Barbie and other up-to-date toys. There were the obligatory socks, shirts and underwear, of course, but it was the toys that took center stage in our hearts and minds that morning.

The elements of Santa are so much fun – like writing a letter to him telling him all the things you want. Most kids do not get the part about money and the cost of the things they want. My youngest typically lists thousands of dollars in toys and wants on his list. I am sure I did the same. I think we looked through the Sears catalog at toys and circled the ones we wanted.

Going to see Santa at the mall and the obligatory yearly pictures was always crazy when my kids were small. Some kids get scared and the long lines in the mall can be a drag, but, hey, it’s Santa and he is here.

We love watching the reports on the news showing a map where Santa is in his sleigh and we’ve spent hours looking into the sky for Rudolph’s red nose glowing, sometimes seeing it.

Another favorite tradition at our home is the cookies and carrots. When our kids were still young, there was fur and all types of signs that Santa had come down the chimney. The cookies and carrots were, of course, eaten and napkin used. We even left Santa notes, and he responded back!

I admit to my participation in the gift giving to my wife and kids from jolly ole’ Saint Nick. I remember when my oldest son was just knee-high, he got a drivable battery-operated truck he could not even steer. I have purchased all my kids gifts ahead of their time, over their age bracket. I don’t plan out and bargain shop; I do the male shopping technique -- turn and burn. Go in, get out.

Humorist Dave Barry says, “Once again we find ourselves enmeshed in the holiday season, that very special time of year when we join with our loved ones in sharing centuries-old traditions, such as trying to find a parking space at the mall. We traditionally do this in my family by driving around the parking lot until we see a shopper emerge from the mall, then we follow her, in very much the same spirit as the Three Wise Men, who 2,000 years ago followed a star, week after week, until it led them to a parking space.”

Isn’t it amazing that the whole world is mesmerized by the day Jesus was born? Every language has a Merry Christmas: Russian -- "Pozdrevlyayu s prazdnikom Rozhdestva s Novim Godom," Spanish -- "Feliz Navidad," Japanese -- " Kurisumasu omedeto,” Icelandic -- "Gledileg Jol," French -- "Joyeux Noël," Inupiaq Eskimo (Kotzebue area in northwest Alaska) – “Quvianagli Anaiyyuniqpaliqsi suli Nakuuluni Ukiutqiutiqsi.”

I love all the bells and whistles that are Christmas. I am also passionate about the real meaning of Christmas. I live my life for the King of Kings who was born on Christmas Day. I love the whole story, the details of the human and spiritual struggle that is the birth of Jesus. The blessings of a King so mighty but of a meager beginning in this world. He never stood on a balcony with rings on his fingers and ornate robes dictating personal desires and wants. He came to die for us, he gave his life for you and me.

“And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled 'till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store? What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more?” ~ Dr. Seuss

Love on others this Christmas and God bless,

TJ Greaney

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Gotta Love My Mom

I love my mom. She has endured and prevailed all her life. She was raised in a hard working family as an only daughter. She endured the hardships of life with five kids, a fractured home and brought it back together salvaging the home and now creating grandma and grandpa’s house. The place everyone can call home.

My papa, (Mom’s dad), used to own a gas station across the street from their small home in rural Illinois. Back then it was full-service and oil changes. My papa was an honorable man who worked hard. Meme (Mom’s mom) worked for the phone company for 50 years. She worked all shifts and times. Back in those days, every call was handled and routed.

Mom was active in school growing up. A popular beauty, she was kept busy in clubs and school activities. But busy was relative; she also spent a lot of time reading, teaching herself how to make her own clothes and chores around the house. One of her weekly chores was using a rotary push mower to cut the grass each Saturday. Can you see a kid today doing that -- a girl, nonetheless?

Mom also learned the art, the gift, of cooking. She watched her grandparents and her mom make and bake all the foods served at their home. Homemade breads, canning, stews and more were a daily responsibility, and she excelled.

Meme’s house had a cherry tree in the back, apple trees on the side, and everyone had vegetables gardens. Nothing was ever taken for granted and the words disposable or biodegradable were yet to be intertwined into the common vocabulary. Empty jars were collected and used for storage or as drinking glasses. Grocery bags were paper and used for lining gardens or collecting compost. Leftovers were eaten before they went bad or used and incorporated into the next day’s meal. It was a green society.

Growing up, I never went hungry. Even in the hard times mom would bake or put together a casserole that would melt in your mouth and fill up your tummy. I remember for breakfast or snack sometimes she would let us have white bread, sugar and milk cereal. That was a glorious treat, and the more sugar the better – the milk at the end was heaven sent. She also made a bread pudding from stale bread, baked and served with a creamy sauce over the top that was to die for.

Special days like Sunday were good food days. The smells of the meal to come filled the house and the yard. A pot roast or Irish stew made for a complete day. Back then very little was ready to bake or heat and serve. Handmade dough rising in the kitchen, frying chicken in the cast iron skillet, potato salads and coleslaws were creamy and hearty.

To this day, my mom cooks meals each day, prepares sauces and breads, special salads and desserts. I love it when we visit and there is a pan of orange peel bread and banana nut bread sitting out the whole time. You can walk by her kitchen without slowing down for a snack grab or indulgence. She still makes jalapeño jelly that is to die for and cans all types of fruits and vegetables.

Mom has written two books. The first one is “Pioneer Living,” where she talks all about the lifestyle and hardships of the pioneers. Her second book, however, may be my favorite; it is her home-style cook book. In it she divulges all of her recipes and tips. This book, in some ways, is the lifeblood, the legacy, the family traditions from her kitchen. I love that she has taken the time to collect and categorize the foods we grew up eating in a way we can now share with our kids and their kids for generations.

All in all, food can be a powerful thing. Proposals for marriage, family talks, laughs and tears all come while sharing food with each other. The Bible has all kinds of references to food from front to back. Jesus used fish, wine and bread a lot. He was especially fond of it when He was teaching and in quiet intimate moments with His best friends.

This year when you are enjoying the bounty of food before you at Thanksgiving, think about the grace that has been given us to live in such an amazing country. Spend a quiet moment giving thanks to God for what we sometimes take for granted. Make a few sandwiches up from the leftovers and go find someone in need or, better yet, invite some folks over to enjoy the time with you.

We are planning our trip to grandma’s house right now, the warm enticing aroma of her kitchen and the fresh sweet treats call us back. In the meantime, I think I will make her bread pudding with an extra batch of sauce; it is a comfort food and we all need to be comforted every now and then. Thanks mom.

See every copy of Country Line Magazine for one of Shirley’s best recipes or e-mail her at

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Jokes, Candy and the Fall

Ah yes, the cool breeze out of the north this morning was perfect. I have been waiting for the fall weather to arrive. This is my favorite time of year.

The month of October includes so many different elements and events. The stores are putting up Christmas and Thanksgiving decorations, archery starts for deer and dove season is slowing down. The kids are excited with the holidays coming and Halloween is just around the corner. Yes, this is a good time of year.

Halloween is different at our house today than it was early on. We still do some of the candy gathering, the kids love it and it is a chance for Sandra and I to have a nice walk. We usually go to another neighborhood than ours; ours is a dead-end street with a dozen houses, so the take has been historically slim for the kids. We have friends in great neighborhoods where almost every house participates with gusto -- that is where we like to go.

I don’t care if they get a bunch of candy, dress up in a creative costume and have fun. We have friends who don’t let their kids do Halloween -- no problem for me. There are lots of options as well: harvest festivals, candy carnivals, parties at church. Great stuff and great options and we have been known to do them all.

Practical jokes have always been a part of Halloween night as well. They range from funny to horrific. I am no fan of anything that hurts or damages others’ body or property. Being an FFA parent, I now also have to do a shift at the FFA barn on Halloween. There have been random acts of violence on animals around the country at FFA barns. People blame black cults, witches and satanic groups for these horrific events and some may be, but I think most of it is kids who are, for lack of a better description, screwed up.

My daughter and some of her friends have a series of practical jokes going among themselves. One of the jokes was on her while we were away for summer vacation. Her pickup truck was left in our driveway and a couple of the instigators completely covered her truck with “sticky notes.” Pink, blue, yellow squares covered the whole vehicle; it was fantastic. The other really good one is a bit more serious. They put zip ties on the crank shaft so when the unsuspecting driver drives, they slap against the under part of the car and it sounds like something is seriously wrong. Pretty good one.

The good Lord loves to joke with us and bless us. He joked around back when he was here in the flesh, and I paraphrase, “You ding-dongs, why do you worry about cleaning out your cup and a tiny gnat when you turn around and swallow a camel?” I bet there was also some kids who figured out sticky scrolls on a camel or leather zippy strips on a chariot axel. God jokes with me.

Recently I was trying to fit a landscape timer into an open spot. I only had one piece left and as I walked across the yard to get it, I talked with him. I asked him if he would just make it the perfect size so I could be done with the yard work. I laughed as I set it in place; it was, to the millimeter, perfect. I love those times with him.

Fall and the holiday season will get a lot of folks to start thinking about family and giving, what life is about and their legacy. That is a good thing. Know that God is not a collector of marks against you. He does not keep track of what we do wrong. God is a loving Father who only wants to love on us and care for us. He wants us to learn and do better, just like a loving earthly father would.

Take time this fall to love on someone who needs it. If you feel so moved, donate to our youth ministry, We are planning fall hunting outings for boys who don’t have dads, and we could use the support. Go visit your family, heal a riff that may be there. Eat some candy, laugh, get out of your world and help someone else. If you know of a good, safe, clean practical joke, e-mail it to me. I like to have a little something in my pocket in case I need to “pass it on,” if you know what I mean.

Picture: Taylor’s “sticky note truck”, courtesy of Josh and the one guy who is always around when the jokes go down -- Dylan.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Today is Our Day of Destiny

Ronald Regan once said, “You and I have a rendezvous with destiny. We will reserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or we will sentence them to take the first step into a thousand years of darkness. If we fail, at least let our children and our children's children will say of us we justified our brief moment here. We did all that could be done.”

Today I believe we are facing that rendezvous with destiny, we are face to face with the providence of our children’s future, our grandchildren’s future, the future of America as you and I know it today.

This country was built on our self sacrifice, hard work, sweat, ingenuity, compassion, commitment and drive. We are the ones who get up each day and fight the fight, live life in this community. We shop at the grocery, pay an electric bill, buy fuel for our cars and trucks, sit in PTA meetings, boy scout meetings and little league games. We are the ones who are unemployed, sick or young and just starting out. We tithe to our churches and donate to the causes we hold dear. We pinch pennies and try hard to make ends meet. This is our life.

Hard work yesterday, today and tomorrow should not be in vain. Our wages and savings should not be taxed or mortgaged to the backscratchers and special interests who have taken over Washington. If we allow this to continue there will be a financial obligation upon our children and their children and their children. It will one day create a burden so heavy that they will never enjoy the life, freedoms and beauty of the America we love so dearly today.

They will live in a society where it doesn’t matter if you get up early or stay late doing more than the employee next to them who comes in late each day and leaves early. There won’t be rewards for those who sacrifice and give more or castigation for those who abuse and choose not to perform with excellence or even competence.

Yes there will always be those who break out of the box, create, explore, build and excel because we are America and that is what we do. But will we be wounded to a point where recovery from generations of a demoralized and liberal society who expects to be taken care of in a mother state be irreversible?

Never allow the true history of this great nation to be transformed. That first and foremost we are called to be faithful servants to God. That there are many who have and are fighting today for the mighty and better cause motivated by their love for this God blessed land, their fellow American and their families.

We have to stand together and lift each other up. We have to speak out and speak up. We have to mentor and help and give back, hands on.

I refuse to be one of those who wakes one morning knowing that I did not rise up, I did not speak up, that I did not take a stand. That I allowed those who are hungry to go without when I had food or children to be abandoned when I have a home they could come to. I won’t lay down and wait to be cared for or expect others to care for those I am charged by God to care for. I will work hard to be an example, a mentor, a friend who can be trusted to serve, assist and help when called on.

To those who get up each day and pastor our families, protect us from thieves, are fighting terrorism, feed the hungry at the soup kitchen, put out our fires and so many others, thank you. Thank you Lord for these mighty warriors for this country who because of them I can get up and live the dream America is today. I will stand alongside them to my last dying breath fighting for right and good by person or pen.

We are obligated by those who have died for this dream, this vision we call America. Does anybody remember Sept. 11th when the terrorist attacked us in New York? Remember the way we all came together and our country was united? I do. “Let’s Roll.”

Monday, August 23, 2010

School Light

Lord I ask you to pour out over our schools today. I pray blessings on the buildings and roofs and windows. That the corners are softened and the windows are bright and Your light shines in.

I pray over the maintenance staff and their support teams. That they are happy and kind to our children. That our children are kind to them. That they are blessed from the work they do to support our children.

I pray over the teachers. That they are overcome by You Holy Spirit and that they feel a shift in how they think of You. That they leave anything that is dark or not of you at their home. That they are truly hungry to be the leaders of this generation in knowledge and health. That You find a way to use the interaction of our children and these teachers that can only be described as miraculous and amazing from You.

And Lord I pray over all the children. I pray that the ones who know You are bold and unafraid. That Your light shines from them in an amazing and undeniable way. Lord protect them from the evil one, from influences and dark places. Show them the times they need to turn or walk away. Give them strength to stand strong and make wise decisions.

And Lord, thank you for schools. Thanks for getting the kids out of the house for a while so we can get something done.... thanks God!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A/C and Heat - Don't Talk to Me!

In the winter we complain about the cold, and in the summer we complain about the heat. I try to convince myself that I love all the sharp winds of the north and the warm dry breeze from the south, but there is a lot to be said for the comforts of the modern home. However, the direction God has me going with the Kids Outdoor Zone Youth Adventure Ministry, I don’t spend a lot of time cuddled up inside.

I had a friend tell me the other day that society, in his opinion, began to degenerate when air conditioning was created. He believes that when people began to stay inside to be cool, we became detached from each other and thus began societal detachment (I just made that word up but I think it works). People quit sitting on the porch, taking slow walks, enjoying each other as neighbors in many ways.

I think societal detachment happens in a lot of areas. Next time you’re driving in your car, look and see how many folks are driving alone. Our cars are very sacred in this country. I know for me that my truck, in many ways, is a safe haven when I am traveling or even when I need to think about something important. The Ipod is another way we detach. You don’t interrupt folks or try to spark up a conversation with someone who has their earphones in.

For me, I get frustrated when I am talking to someone who pulls out their phone and reads a text message. Can I just say to them right now that is totally not cool and I have been known to walk away? Look at all the kids walking around with a phone right in front of them typing away the whole time you watch them. Not only are they not learning to communicate verbally but they are also doing it in a non-expressive way. They can end a relationship, beat another kid down and laugh all in symbols and letters. And it can still hurt or make them feel good about themselves.

Does anyone remember when we used to call each other and talk for hours? Now you Facebook them, text them and e-mail them a long note without punctuation or correct grammar. Is there a kid out there under 20 who has ever written a letter to someone with paper and pencil today? I am thinking a bar that serves oxygen, plays funky music and has pens and tablets of paper might work. Call them Twain bars after Mark Twain, the author, remember him? Make it cool to write letters. I would go, but then I am old.

What about reading? I think the art of reading is waning in the younger generation. My friend Ben Rehder, an author, was doing a trade show once with me, and there were kids everywhere. When they would come up to his table and ask what he had for them he would say, “Books, kids. Look, you can read them.” They would run off immediately because he had nothing free to offer, and, for the most part, I don’t think mystery novels about the outdoors interested them much. But then, not reading isn’t just a kid thing; most adults are not readers -- I mean book readers. But I digress.

There is a day we have recognized as National Get Out of Your House Day, or National Sit In Your Yard Day – something like that and it works to get some people outside and meet their neighbors. That can only be counted as a plus, but will we ever really have the opportunities to befriend those crossing our living areas again?

The Lord calls us to share the Good News of his gift. It happens in many ways, but human to human connection, emotional and heartfelt, is most powerful. He wants us to know those around us, care for them, include them in our life story.

I Facebook, I text, I use my cell phone when I shouldn’t, I am imperfect for sure. I do, however, strive to do better. This summer, this August, take the time to get outside and enjoy your family, meet a neighbor or a few of them. Take your family on an overnight camping trip or a ride to the lake for the day. The key will be to leave the electronics behind, which that includes the kids’ stuff. Turn off the world beyond your immediate reach and watch how God will move to speak to you and your family. I bet you God will put someone into your life that day who will be amazing and awe-inspiring. You wait and see! Then e-mail me how the day went. I would love to hear the stories.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Random Rocket Men

Science has never been one of my gifts. I love the science channels on television and all types of smart inventions and ideas. I was talking with a group of young teenage boys recently, and they were telling me all about video games and gaming systems. They were explaining new gear that has been created or are coming out that makes the video games more interactive. One of the ones I thought quirky was a helmet and suit you put on that popped you on the head or body when you were struck by another gamer’s virtual bullets during the game. It sounded to me like it would hurt.

I shared with them that back in my days, in the ‘60s and ‘70s, the show “Star Trek” had a room on the ship that you could program to be any environment you want and then enter the room and be in the place you created. On the beach, in the mountains or at an event, it was all just a few keyboard strokes away. They didn’t know the show, but they thought that that idea was not far from reality and I have to say I think they might be right, virtually.

Like I said I have never been good at science. I remember once when I had signed up for a science fair at school. I waited until the morning of the event, got up early and went out in the garage. I took some scrap wood, nailed some plants from the yard on it and wrote edible and non-edible. I somehow snuck it into the fair and forgot about it until later that day when my class was to go see the projects. I was horrified, thinking it was going to be seen and I would look like the total loser I was that day. Much to my surprise, it was gone. I never asked about it again and never heard what had happened. Obviously someone learned a great lesson of science and ate the edible stuff, discarded the non-edible poisonous stuff and threw away the debris. Good science? I don’t think so. A lesson learned? Somewhat.

I did love model rocketry when I was young and to this day enjoy a good rocket launch. I grew up in Nassau Bay, Texas, and the Apollo astronauts’ kids were my friends.

My youngest son, Jon-Michael, and his pal, Luke, have taken model rocketry to the next level. Recently they began a series of rocket launches with a slight twist. They are launching things.
The first launch was a car. It never went up; it just kind of went sideways then burned up. To some, it may be considered a failed launch. To them, it was totally cool. The next launch was a vertical success. They launched a Barbie doll strapped to a rocket. It went really high, and, except for the parachute malfunction, it was flawless. That went so well they figured that, heck, maybe if they taped her arms facing up hands together, she might be aerodynamic and fly. They strapped a giant D-something engine on her and launched her away. Fantastically, she went really high and came back to earth really fast.

I feel like that Barbie rocket on some days. I have a really wonderful encounter with God one moment and then find myself in a ditch the next. My desire today is to try and live in the high parts, the parts where I feel I am in His presence, doing His will. I hate it when someone says you have to accept the ups and downs in life. My friend Jimmy told me once he was at a place in his life where he accepted things to just be God’s will or His plan. He said, “You get a flat, it keeps you stranded for a while and you get mad, when maybe He was keeping you safe from an accident you may have otherwise had.”

I don’t know yet how to live today without an encounter with the world and not get drug into the ups and downs. I like the big G rocket engine on my back, and I am learning to go to God more often, learn to talk to Him before, during and after I do life launch each moment of the day. I also find solace and answers to my life science questions in the book of direction, encouragement, love and life -- the Bible.

Good science for me today is mixing the right ingredients for a barbecue rub or a homemade salsa. My days of mixing salt peter, sulfur and charcoal together creating smoking blobs of stink are long since over. Good science for me today also seems to include cash donations to the rocket guys’ engine fund so they can continue their launching operation and get it on their Web site for scientific documentation.

You ask what kind of science is that crazy Barbie rocket stuff? Well as a matter of fact, that is rocket science in its purest form.

Check out the boys’ launches under Random Rocket Men on Youtube …cool.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Early Mornings, Naps and Martha Stewart

I have always been an early riser. I love the mornings when few folks are out. The mornings are also the coolest time of the day, and if the days are hot, I choose to start early and end early on outside projects. In the mornings, before anyone is up at our house and the world begins to spin, I love the smell of the coffee and quiet moments on the front porch. The older I get, the longer it takes my brain to begin functioning correctly, so I need a few minutes.

Some of my best memories have come around a mid-day nap when I have been up early. Take elk hunting, for example. I hike way up into the timber or along a ridge, find a comfortable tree or a dead fall to lean against and doze, nodding in and out. That time being quiet and just sitting there has provided many a shot at unsuspecting elk. I remember once waking, standing up and being in the middle of a herd of them. Crazy.

Our cat likes to nap a lot, and I know few earthly creatures that are as calm and cool as Pumpkin. Pumpkin was an old feral stray that, over the years, has conned his way into a regular feeding bowl and warm comforts during the winter months. I usually find him tucked away napping or watching his cat world go by. I have seen him pounce on other cats coming in the yard, and he kicks tail on them. He doesn’t want anyone coming in on his gig. But, mostly, he is calm, seemingly going from one objective to the next or resting.

I like a breeze when I am napping, too. I love the sound of the wind through the trees, the song of the wind chimes, the breeze crossing through the house. The air seems cleaner when it is moving, too -- no science behind that observation, just a personal thought.

I saw where Barbara Jordan was once quoted as saying, “Think what a better world it would be if about 3 o’clock, the whole world just had a few cookies, a glass of milk and took a nap.” How can you not like that? Who would not like that in their day-timer every day?

If you really struggle with naps, just consider what Martha Stewart was once quoted as saying, “I catnap now and then, but I think while I nap, so it’s not a waste of time.” That’s it -- nap and think at the same time. I may think best when I nap.

The Mexican culture has it figured out -- siesta. They work hard until it gets hot, then they find a shade tree and nap for a few hours; revitalized, they return to work and finish the day. Long haul drivers say when they get tired, they stop on the side of the road and nap for a few minutes. It refreshes them so they can get on with their work.

I know some folks who just can’t nap or slow down during the day. That is fine. My wife, forget it, she is non-stop all day. I don’t know where the energy comes from, but it wears me out just writing about it and I might have to take a quick nap right here and now.

Truthfully, I have said it before, it is these moments and ones like it when I best communicate with God -- quiet, restful, contemplative times. He is always there; I just don’t always think about Him being there. I guess maybe I take Him for granted. Maybe I just get moving so fast that I forget to talk with Him about things. When I can rest, when I can slow down and be still, I notice Him there with me and I do better.

Yes, there are times you have to mow the world down, push through when you are tired to get something done. Yes, some people can be slothful and wait for the world to hand them something or fill their needs. I am not talking about that.

I am thinking we might be better off if we were more like Pumpkin, maybe a Mexican Pumpkin. Work hard and pay attention to what is going on around us. Take some time each day to slow down and make sure life and the things important to us are not slipping by. I, for one, am going to try my best to take time each day to check in with God, try to keep Him closer, to listen when He whispers and not wait for Him to be yelling, “Hey knuckle head, I am talking to you!”

I will not waste another minute when I get a chance to nap, either. I am going to be thinking the whole time, just like Martha. Planning meals, considering drapes for the foyer and cool new craft ideas will be my objective, and I vow to stay napping until I figure out that crazy tomato plant thing I saw on TV that grows upside down.

Thinking, napping and quiet time with God -- perfect!

Monday, May 31, 2010

The War at Home - Our Soldier.

Two years ago my nephew left for the war in Iraq. This is what I blogged and seems appropriate to rerun it today.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The War at Home

Jason has been a warrior his whole life. I have heard stories of his childhood obsession playing with green army men for years. He would play for hours in his room or in the yard strategizing and destroying the enemy. The most recent story I heard was when his soldiers would die, he would bury them then forget where and they would be lost.“I didn’t just dig a hole and stick them in it; I had a service and all. I did it right,” he explained. I can tell you somewhere in south Austin, buried in the yard of his childhood home, are possibly thousands of small green army men. The graveyard.

It seems that some people know their destiny early. They, I believe, are the lucky ones. They are driven to be whom they know they are. After high school Jason went straight into the National Guard. A week or two into it he called home and wanted out. His mom and I talked and she decided to put the kibosh on his leaving.“No, you don’t want to regret this,” she coaxed him. He knew in his heart she was right. He completed the time with honors.Not long after returning from his National Guard training and duties he was milling around trying to figure out what he was going to do next. Police work became his next objective and he started his education at cop school. Upon graduation he found a position in a small town east of Austin and went to work. Police work was good to Jason.

He shared story after story of his days and nights on the job. He loved his work and you could hear it in every word. As he began his emersion into police work, each month he would report for National Guard duties. Then came 9/11. The world was thrown into frenzy. Americans raised their hands over their hearts and were proud to be Americans as we took on the terrorist of our world. They had attacked us all around the world and we were detached, but now they were in our country and everyone felt the heartache and patriotism. We are Americans and this is our country and that cannot happen here. Jason was standing tall ready to go should they call.

Eventually he moved to a bigger city and a new position in their police department. There he had drug duty and sting operations -- he loved all that. He always said, “I want to be in the tough part of the city – the rough side.” He usually was. After years of weekends and summer training Jason’s time with the National Guard was coming to an end. He had never been called up to fight in Iraq, some don’t. He was well into his new job and had gotten married and had a newborn baby girl. Everything was in place. Except for one thing -- he had to decide, do I re”up” with the guard or not.

Resigning with the guard meant a lot of things. It meant he would be able to continue to work on the pension and other rewards he would eventually receive when he completed his service. But it also meant he was probably going to go to Iraq for a period of time, most likely a year or more. A decision that meant leaving his wife, new baby daughter and other family. It meant months of boot camp style training with long days and short nights.We had long talks about the pros and cons of going to Iraq and the chances he would take. He went to council with others and prayed about it with his wife. When he told me he had decided to go and that they had a date for him to leave, I was mad. How, why, why now with the baby?

But I know why Jason went; I know why he is there. He is there because since he was little boy, he has been preparing to be an American soldier. He is there because deep inside Jason, ingrained in this young man with everything going for him, is the desire to serve his country. He is old school patriotic. He is willing to give his life so others may be spared the tragedy of 9/11 or something even more horrific. He is, like so many of our American soldiers, committed to the calling of God and country.

Don’t tell me American is anything less than great. Don’t put our president or our soldiers down in front of me. I stand next to my nephew who is headed to Iraq; I am humbled by his bravery, his honor of country, his willingness to die to protect his nieces and nephews. He is willing to sacrifice all he has for you and me. He is a man. I pray a legion of angels will protect him as he goes forward and that God will use him to minister to others in His great commission.

We can agree to disagree here in America and not have our hands cut off, our families killed, our daughters beaten and raped because of the freedom our soldiers have sacrificed for. So, tell me, what are you doing?

***Update: Jason, his two daughters and wife are good, living in Victoria, Texas and continues his police work and National Guard service.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Survival Camp

With Kids Outdoor Zone youth adventure ministry Jesus has and still does come alongside us time and time again. He loves on us and cares for us. He carries the yoke we struggle with and talks to us in those still quiet moments encouraging g us and comforting us.

Over the last few months we have learned to “press in,” to strive for God’s love and direction in our lives and KOZ. We are learning a lot about preparing our hearts and our intentions before acting on behalf of KOZ. He showed us this weekend that He is there and that He loves that we love Him and are coming to Him for cover and direction.

This Friday we left Austin with eight boys, one guide in training and three men who have a heart for the Lord and KOZ.

Saturday was spent teaching survival skills to the boys as if they were stranded from a plane wreck. They learned about finding water and purifying it. They were taught how to start a fire and create an SOS. They build debris huts and learned how to select the right spot to build shelter. They caught fish with survival tools and ate them. They all did a great job.

We love all the guy activities. It gets hot, we get tired and hungry but we bond together during these lessons. This trip was no different than ones we have done in the past except that, the weeks leading up to this trip our leaders, prayer warriors and intercessors cried out for Jesus to be with us, to heal the boys who were coming, to love on them. To show us how to love them, care for them, lead them to Him.

Saturday evening started off tense with a lot of the boys tired and hot. That can be fuel for anger, frustration and a mean spirit. The talk about the campfire was all but loving and caring. One of the leaders called for a time of quiet reflection and for all the boys to separate for a period of time. They were not allowed to talk or be together, they spread about the pasture, valley and creek side.

When they returned we pressed in. We began to talk about where they were in their walk with the Lord. That is when He came. The Holy Spirit filled the valley, the pasture, the camp ground, the area about the camp fire and the boys. Over the next period of time they shared their hearts and heart breaks, their love for family and worries. We wept and hugged and cried more. This was one of the most powerful times with God many of us had ever experienced. The wounded began healing, the lost accepted His direction and caring. Eternal life changing moments flowed from the 10-year-old to the 17-year-old. Beautiful words and emotions. By the end of the time together we were exhausted and sleep came easy.

Sunday morning was beautiful and a cool breeze crossed the valley. We awoke to find the Lord was not finished with us. One young man with a wounded eye from months before woke in severe discomfort. His eye was red and swollen and he could not keep it open. A leader asked if he could pray healing over him and as he did the Lord told him to press in. He prayed over and over and over pressing in as the boys eye got better, and better and then, like the man on the road to Jerico, his eye healed. Healed. A physical healing. A wounded eye from a wounded boy crying for the Lord to help him, heal him, be with him. It was nothing less that miraculous.

After breakfast the boys made their way to the creek. The cool waters were a comfort in the heat the day before and on this Sunday morning they became a place of healing and commitment to live a life for the Lord. Four boys accepted the eternal gift of life with our Lord in front of their peers. The time was joyous and filled with cheering and laughter. A true day of glory for the Lord.

The blind man took up his garments and followed Jesus after he was healed. Lord we pray these boys, mentors and leaders hunger to follow you each moment. It was not a prayer that Jesus prayed, it was the blind man’s trust that the Lord would heal him that healed him. Lord thank you for the boys who inspired faith this weekend. Thank you for their hearts of innocence and joy. Thank you for filling us with the Holy Spirit and His guidance. Lord thank you for those who cover us in prayer and stand beside us when we waver or feel down. Holy Spirit use us, tool our hearts into servant hearts that please You.

The survival skills for the boys at this camp were well received and the one boy who has done Marine Corps training summer camp said it was awesome and he learned a lot. As far as us leaders, we changed the name from Survival Camp to God Camp. He provided the boys with survival tools they can use for eternity and used the leaders along the way. We, again, found He provides us with pure fresh living water, burning fire, comforting safe shelter and food for life. The best survival tools we could ever need and no devastating crash required.


Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Summer Vacation

I have lived the movie “Vacation” with Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase). The crazy adventures and slapstick humor are off the wall but just barely different from my experiences growing up and some of those we experience at our house today.

My dad built the ultimate camping trailer when we were kids. It had compartments for every item from the tent and coffeepot to the Coleman stove. It was a rolling shadow box of camping gear that pulled behind our family station wagon.

We would travel each summer to a different destination mapped out on our free Shell gasoline station map and handy camper guide. Mom had the check-off list for everything we needed. We travelled to the Grand Canyon, Petrified Forest and Yellow Stone. It was there in these national treasures we had our National Lampoon moments.

There was the time we were camping when, in the middle of the night, my sister needed to go to the bathroom. I was charged with walking her to the public restroom. Just as we began to leave, out of our camping spot a large black bear walked in front of us. She screamed and we both ran back into the tent scared. We watched out the tent window as the bear moved from camping area to camping area, destroying ice chests and picnic baskets. On another night, in the middle of the night, a bear chased a small squirrel up and over our tent. My mom used hairspray to coat the bear paw prints that went up the side of the tent just above where my brothers, sisters and I slept.

Other wacky, crazy events from my childhood summer vacations include once, while horseback riding in the mountains, my horse spooked, broke from the pack and bolted across a field, stopping at a fence and launching me from the saddle. Another adventure ended in disaster when I tried a shortcut down a steep cliff face where I lost my footing, slid and rolled to the bottom. My hands were cut up and my body bruised. I remember camping up on a mountain side once and watching a tornado in the valley below. I was frightened and kept asking my parents what we would do if it came after us. They explained we would just lay in a ditch, but that it would not come up the mountain. It didn’t. I did, however, become mindful of ditches at every camping area thereafter.

My kids are creating their own vacation memories. Jon–Michael remembers when we were passing through north Texas and entered the town of Dumas, Texas. He thinks “Dumas” is funny. He also tells of the time we were driving along a highway in Colorado when we passed two guys in Ninja suits with a sign that read “Free Ninja Hugs.” My daughter on the other hand remembers horses and young cowboy wranglers at the dude ranch and surf camp instructors -- uggg.

Jesus had a wacky vacation when He was young. His family went to celebrate the Passover, a must back then, and when his family was leaving, that nutty, crazy kid Jesus, then 12, slipped off and his parents left without Him. They each thought the other one knew where He was -- that He was with His buddies chasing camels or something. When they realized He was not with them, they had to go all the way back to town. They finally tracked Him down inside a temple teaching the adults.

That, for Joseph and Mary, was the moment they realized Jesus was going to be leaving their care soon. They realized that their time parenting Him was coming to a close and the intimate childhood moments and time together was to be savored.

The memories of time together, be it summer vacations or family night at home watching a movie, are precious moments etched in our hearts and, in many ways, make us who we are. I am sure those camping adventures as a young boy are a big part of why I am an outdoor writer and love outdoor adventure.

A favorite quote from “Vacation” -- Clark: “Hey, hey, easy kids. Everybody in the car. Boat leaves in two minutes... or perhaps you don't want to see the second largest ball of twine on the face of the earth, which is only four short hours away?”

This summer I am taking my family somewhere special. I haven’t got all the details worked out yet, but I have ordered a really good first aid kit, emergency radio, topographical map showing all the ditches in the area and a large bottle of Tylenol. You need to be prepared.

God bless, TJ

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A Name Means Something

I was born into a Catholic family in 1959. From what I can tell it was a pretty standard family of that day. Five kids, mom stayed home and dad worked. I was the second of the five -- three boys, two girls. Brother, me, sister, brother, sister. We, for the most part, also carry the traditional Catholic names and names of our forefathers, grandmothers and saints.

I am Thomas Joseph. My grandfather and great-grandfather carried the same name. The family history is a checkered past with stories of troubled lives and mysterious happenings. Some of the stories have never been confirmed and probably won’t. Still, nothing unusual for the times, I don’t think.

Recently, I thought about my name and the apostle Thomas. Thomas was one of Jesus’ 12 favored followers. He was lesser known and, like many of the others, had a different name, Didymus, before Jesus came along. Jesus liked to change their names.

I grew up as Tom. Mom and dad called me Tom Tom when I was good and Thomas Joseph when I wasn’t. I heard the latter one named frequently as I got older.

Names back in the old country were many times given to a person for whom they were or would be. Bob Carpenter was a woodworker, John Smith, a blacksmith, Betty Crocker, a cook. Names in the new world did not always follow that trend; they created tough names like Buck, Wyatt, Jessie and Hop-a-Long.

Thomas is a pretty common name. It is very popular in England, Australia and Canada. It has over 24 spellings and pronunciations --, Tam, Tamas, Tamhas, Thom, Thoma, Thomason, Thomson, Thompson, Tom, Tomas, Tomaso, Tomasso, Tomasz, Tome, Tomek to name a few. Each one carries a little different history but, for the most part, ends up back to the doubting, yet zealous, apostle.

I believe that kids can take on their names, become a namesake. Say a doubting Thomas might be a guy who is always in trouble or a bit of a misbehaver but has a great heart and the sweetest disposition. He is, can be, a bit of a skeptic and learn a lot of things the hard way. He is probably really cute and had great hair, as a child anyway.

You have names that have got to be bad choices and influence those who carry them. Vader Blauwbaard was convicted of murder and rape, Adolph Hitler, hello, bad choice. Pedro Rodrigues Filho convicted of 70 murders and Gwendolyn Graham who murdered five elderly nursing home residents and claimed to have killed another. My favorite, Thomas Ketchum, known as Black Jack Ketchum, a cowboy and cattle driver who later turned to a life of crime. Just teasing about these names -- lots of great folks have the name Vader and Adolph.

I do believe we speak into our children who they are at a young age. If you tell them they are bad, stupid or are never going to amount to anything, guess what -- you’re speaking it over them. Parents, the most important people in the world to them, telling them they are not worthy of great things can be devastating.

Thank God we have a loving Father who does not care about any of those things you may have been told as a child. Thank goodness He loves us no matter what and teaches us how to forgive. Mark 11:25 says: “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins."

As a Thomas, I did pick up the craft of carpentry and tend to be a skeptic and doubter sometimes. I have never robbed a bank but do like the way of the cowboy. I love the Lord and know I have been forgiven; I have forgiven others. Let April, the beginning of spring, be the beginning of your new life in Him. It is not who someone says or said you are, it is who you can be.

God bless,

TJ Greaney

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Pyromaniac - Burn Baby Burn

I remember when I was young I had a thing with fire. I made a lot of bad decisions with fire. When I was about 8, my father built us a life-size, full out playhouse. It had doors, windows, rafters and shingles on the roof. It was truly a miniature house. He was a great carpenter.

You can guess where this is going. One morning I climbed into the rafters and held a match to the wooden roof. I watched it as it began to catch on fire. By the time I ran and got a dog bowl full of water, it was too late – it took my dad, a hose and a fireman to put it out. My tailbone got a lashing that day.

A few years later I stood over a five-gallon bucket of water, poured gas on top and dropped a match in. The explosion burned my face and all my eyebrows off. I thought the water would minimize the effects of the gas -- not true.

Today I enjoy my fires contained in the fireplace at my home, carefully crafted and screened. I also enjoy a good fire pit at the ranch. I can sit and watch what has been called “Texas TV,” (a burning fire pit outdoors) for hours. There is something peaceful and calming about sitting there watching the flames and colors, the warmth and the sounds.

When I went to Colorado last November to the Wild at Heart conference with John Eldredge, I was again drawn into the flames. It was not a physical burning flame that consumes playhouses and five-gallon buckets, not even logs of cedar or oak. It was a burning flame inside me to be a better man. To come to know Christ in a deeper and more personal way. It is a fire I hungered for a long time.

It seems most of us today are always in a hurry and few of us fan the flames of our passions. Even fewer folks listen to the quiet talk of our hearts or when God speaks to us. Oh, we try to when someone gets hurt or we are in trouble, and I believe God listens to us then, but what about in between?

Our country after 9-11 is a perfect example. The flames of patriotism and a search for God in our lives was evident by the masses heading into churches and giving financially to help organizations. Eventually that all faded and we returned to the hustle and bustle, the business of our lives. God, well He will be there when I need to chat with Him, on my terms, right?

What I want to do is live in the peace and comfort knowing God, a loving Father, cares about me. I want to please Him in who I am and what my life means. The love of a father is an intricate part of knowing love, feeling comforted, feeling safe, feeling OK. When I was on the mountain, I learned a lot about it. I learned more about God as my Father and how important that love is to me and for me.

The fire that I now crave is the one God placed on my heart to know him. It is a deep and burning flame that warms me and fills me. Yes, it does burn down and I have to intentionally and purposefully stoke it. The difference is that I want to know it more; I want it to burn in me.

When I burned down the playhouse, I remember being confused as to why I did it. I also remember when I was looking at myself without eyelashes after the water bucket fire experiment, thinking how stupid that was. Today, though, I am excited about the new flame I found burning. The one for which I was looking. I want to sit and enjoy it, the warmth, the comfort, the quiet, the complete sense that no matter what, my Father loves me and it is all gonna be OK.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Love and Money the Oldest Profession

The oldest profession in the world is held by women. They have been in the business since early on. The trade is not necessarily lucrative, and I am amazed at how many women choose it as a career path. I love that they do; I am a big fan. My wife loves it, and if she could, it is all she would do.

What -- you thought I was talking about … oh no way. I mean a mom, a wife, the keeper of the home. Eve was the first mom, wife and the grandmother to us all if you go all the way back. In society today, the mom is the rock. She is the one the guys yell to when they win the Super Bowl or World Series. It is always the wife or mom whom even the biggest ole’ boy wants around when he is sick.

The wife or mom is also the one in control of certain things most guys won’t touch. Take the grocery store, for instance. I am almost, just short of, evil-eyed close to not allowed to go. I will get a list or a call for a loaf of bread or gallon of milk. I will get the occasional call to pick up a few big steaks or diet soda. Beyond that, it is no use. I am not wanted in the grocery store aisles shopping for our home.

I tried going with her a time or two over the last 16 years; not gonna make that mistake again. When she goes, it is a slow process where she compares, experiments, works up and down the aisles in a very deliberate fashion. I say let’s rock this out and get home -- wrong. She knows what the kids need, what the house needs and what I might need.

Coupons are a big deal. If she does not get back $10 or $15 in coupon savings, she feels like she did not do well. Another very interesting sniglet is if she has, say, $200 to spend that day, you can bet it will be almost to the dollar, after coupons, without a calculator. I don’t know how she does it; she just does.

When anyone is sick around our house, it is always mom who gets the call. Medication is strictly controlled by her, and she knows who reacts and how. She knows the substitute drugs and homeopathic cures as well. Chicken soup, cold wash clothes, heating pad, oatmeal bath, stay home from school -- all the doctor’in is from mom. I am for that in a big way, especially when I am not feeling well.

Most guys I know just slam some painkillers or cold meds and hammer on down the road. That is what I do. However, when I am really sick, she steps in and takes care of me. I have noticed, though, that after all these years, some of the glamour of taking care of the old man has worn off and she has been known to cut corners. I have even had her tell me she was leaving to run errands and was not sure when she would be back while I laid on the couch sick. How could she be so cold? It could not possibly be that I am being a total un-nice sick person?

Home decorations are another thing moms are in charge of that most guys don’t have a say over. My wife has an affinity for rugs. Seems every other week she has a new rug replacing the old rug from the week before. Candleholders, picture frames, towels, tablecloths, drinking glasses. Things. I don’t know how much they cost. I don’t ask how much they cost. I know better than to go there. She spends money on things I see as frivolous and silly, but they make our home a home and that is what moms do. They nest. They create a home inside the cave, the teepee, the wood frame box with sheetrock on the walls.

Moms are the ones who love things that don’t make sense to anyone. They take the scribbled-on construction paper and put it on the refrigerator door. My wife kisses every card our kids have ever given her, paper, note or whatever before she disposes of them, if she ever does that is.

Now, it has to be said that moms love to be cared for as well. I have talked about scrubbing the big pots in the kitchen before. When we have large pans or pots dirty in our kitchen, I jump in and clean them. Motivational speaker Zig Ziglar talks about how he will take his wife’s car out early Saturday morning and fill it with gas, run it through the car wash, change the oil. These are things she could do, but he does them as part of the care he shows for her. Moms need to hear they are appreciated and feel they are appreciated. Kids don’t always understand it until later, but, usually, they figure out that mom was a pretty big help when they were young and dumb. I know I did.

The Bible talks a lot about moms and wives. It tells us just how much of a blessing they are. Any real man worth his weight knows that his wife, the kids’ mom, is a machine and deserves a Golden Globe, a Heisman, a Red Cross Safety and Medic award, a Purple Heart and a slew of precious stones in her crown when she gets to heaven.

Tell your mom you love her; hug your wife. Teach your boys to honor their moms and one day wife.

TJ Greaney

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

100 mph Baseballs and God

Why Do I Agree To Settle for Less?

Everyone struggles to stay on top. When your game is on, when your relationship is running smooth. When the money is flowing in from work, when all is well, we are good, we are on top. When the money slows and the wife is mad and your team is losing and the work load is piling up we lose that sense of happiness or feeling of “all is well.” It doesn’t take a computer scientist to figure out why, it is just life, it is the way it works, it is going to happen. Do we just agree that that is what you’re going to get and just expect it, that we can just expect the minimum most of the time, the raw end of the deal, that it is never going to be great all the time?

During Nolan Ryan’s baseball career he was considered the meanest man on the mound. Even the great batters of his era knew if he was on, throwing 100 plus miles-per-hour strikes, they would never hit them and they prayed for a walk.

"He just blew it (Nolan Ryan strikeout number five-thousand) by me. But it's an honor. I'll have another paragraph in all the baseball books." - Rickey Henderson

During his career Ryan experienced many times where he was in a “slump.” Game after game he would stand on the mound and try to find his motion only to be replaced after a few innings. Things just would not come together.

Then the game would come when Ryan would walk to the mound and begin to pitch. The pitches would be right, the speed would be there, the motion was smooth and it felt right. Ryan pitched in the big leagues for 27 seasons. He threw 7 no-hitters, 324 wins, 7 MVP awards, 5714 strike outs, 277 wild pitches, 158 hit’s by pitch and on and on.

Through it all his work out never slowed. His physical regiment and practice routine was and is the model for pitchers today. He would work out and throw the ball time and time again, every day.

Ryan tells how it took two years after he left the game, (1993), to begin to stop doing the things he did every day to stay ready. He tells how he thought “Ok, when I finish with baseball I will have my ranch and other things set so baseball will be done.” That plan was short lived.

Ryan founded the minor league team Round Rock Express in 1998, one of the most successful minor league team ever. Then it was a team in Corpus Christi. Ryan’s passion and love for the game would not let him leave. His life was built on baseball and he was good at it in more ways than he would know standing on the mound all those years. His knowledge and talent was the foundation for the minor league teams but it was his heart, his passion, his love of the game that kept him in, all in.

I get so frustrated that I can’t stay connected into my relationship with God on a really high note for extended periods of time. I have been on the mountain top and experienced His grace and kindness. I have had days where the blessings just poured in and the next thing I know I am angry and frustrated with something trivial, I mean stupid things that really carry no weight if I admit the truth. I find myself in the valley so quickly.

I have been told time and time again that the valleys are inevitable. The ups and downs are just life and expect them. OK, I expect them as real and the attacks to be there. But do I have to settle for that? Do I have to just go along with it and not believe that God wants me to be happy, to be immersed in the love I have felt from Him? No, I think not.

Nolan Ryan knew that feeling when everything was working right, when his fingers gripped the ball perfectly and his arm swung down at the right angle and the pop as the ball stopped in his catcher’s glove. He never settled for mediocrity, he never agreed to “just throw it slower and you will be fine,” “don’t try so hard and it will be OK.” He would never stand for “we all have our ups and downs, just go with it.”

He pushed himself hours on end, day after day because he knew the feeling he got when it was all right. He knew the feeling inside of himself when he had a good outing, a great outing. His heart and convictions moved him to be the best he could be, he was hungry for it.

I have an autographed baseball from Ryan, I am pretty proud of that ball. I have also felt the love God offers each of us and it has changed me. I am hungry for it, I strive for that overwhelming feeling when he is present with me. I know it won’t be there every waking moment, but I refuse to settle.