My Final Newspaper Column

I launched it 26 years ago after being in Hayward only a couple of weeks.  Since I had written a column for teens in California called “Teen Talk”, I brought a few samples to the editor, Gary Pennington, to see he he would like something similar for the Record.

He enthusiastically gave me the invitation to write, and so my column, “Teen Talk” began.   The first week someone complained about it, but Gary shut them up and stood with me.  I’m so glad he did!

After a few years, I realized that besides a few English classes, teens weren’t reading it.  The only feedback I received from the column came from people at least five or six decades past adolescence.

We decided to make the column reflect reality:  but didn’t want to call it “Old Folks Talk”.  Therefore, I changed it to “Positively Speaking.”

That has been my goal with this column:  to be a source of encouragement and positive energy for people.  As far as I can remember, I only used the column once to rant — and regretted that one.

People deal with so many negative things in life, I felt that if I could just bring a little ray of sunshine, it would be helpful all the way around.

Positive juice beats negative juice any day.  People who run on negative juice don’t appreciate my column so much — but I’m not writing it for them anyway.  There’s plenty of other media to give them their fill of negativity.  Sources of positive juice are in short supply.

Though my focus on the positive has led a few naysayers to misinterpret and accuse me of being shallow, I’d do it again in a heartbeat.  I’d rather be accused of being shallow than shrill — and in my book, depth is measured by love anyway. Depth, in my mind, is combining a singleness of intent with a wideness of spirit.

I deeply appreciate the editors of the Record who have stuck with me down through the years and allowed me the opportunity to bring this message of hope.

I’ve tried to keep the message wide enough for everyone.  This is why I didn’t use a lot of “churchy” language or Christian jargon.  The newspaper is a public domain, and I wanted to respect all my readers regardless of their views.  The column does not express the totality of who I am or what I represent — but,hopefully, it does reveal the attitude of my heart towards everyone.

“Positively Speaking” opened doors I never would have imagined!  For instance, Famous Dave became my dear friend as a direct result of the column.

John Beebe, National Sales Manager for WGN in Chicago, used “Positively Speaking” to inspire his sales force.  He invited me to bring my boys to be his guests for a game at Wrigley Field as a result.  I’ve met several other great business leaders through the column.

Quotes from “Positively Speaking” appeared in a couple of books, as well as newsletters and other publications across the nation.  I’m amazed at how wide the reach was — far beyond Sawyer County.

We’re still working on the idea of compiling some of the best articles into a book.

Thank you!  Thank you for taking the time to read my column.  From the depth of my heart, I want you to know how much I appreciate you and the relationship connection we have had.

And now a few final, parting words:  Love well!  Pray much!  Give thanks!  Stay sweet!  Serve others! Dream big!  Keep humble! Finish well!

From Dust to Dust

In honor of Ash Wednesday, I’m re-posting the following story from my first book, Filled Up, Poured Out:  How God’s Spirit Can Revive Your Passion and Purpose.

Northern Wisconsin is Lutheran and Catholic territory, and this means two things: Lutefisk before Christmas, and Lent before Easter. I didn’t know much about either growing up. Until moving to Hayward, I had never heard of Lutefisk, and figured Lent was stuff you trap in the dryer.

Living in the Northwoods, I’ve discovered that Lutefisk is a piece of cod that passes all understanding. (Actually, it’s a rather unappetizing, gelatinous Nordic dish made from dried, salted whitefish and lye.) We’ll let the Lutherans keep it.

Lent, however, is something we’ve happily pilfered from our more liturgical brethren. We start with Ash Wednesday, forty days before Easter. I smudge ashes on the foreheads of willing parishioners, repeating, “From dust you’ve come, to dust you shall return.”

For a few years, I drove over to St. Joe’s a couple days before the Lenten season and borrowed ashes from my Catholic priest buddy, Father Bill. He pulled my leg when I asked him where he obtained the ashes. “From the funeral home, of course.” He said it with such a straight face that I believed him at first.

When Father Bill retired, I lost my ash stash. Before leaving town, he finally divulged that the ashes come from last year’s Palm Sunday branches. So now I hoard dead palm branches in my filing cabinet.

The first time I tried to burn palm branches, I nearly set the house on fire, and our smoke alarm shrieked. Cathy sent me and my pan of smoking palm fronds out the back door, and instructed me to never burn them in the oven again. So, I’ve had to take my cremation operation outdoors.

It’s fitting that the ashes are leftovers from Palm Sunday. We can’t depend on yesterday’s praises to get us through today’s problems. Former glory fades to ashes and dust.

A couple of years ago, while smudging foreheads, I decided what to sacrifice for Lent. Normally, people give up stuff like candy, coffee, television, and Facebook in order test their spiritual resolve.

I gave up doubt. I determined that for forty days I would respond to every situation with this question: What would great faith have me do?

This commitment was tested immediately. In fact, I still had the ash smudge on my forehead when our high school pastor, Loretta, came bursting into my office with an exciting but expensive idea. Her enthusiasm bubbled over. “So, what do you think?” she asked eagerly. Dollar signs rolled in my head. How on earth were we going to pay for that? But I needed to keep my vow. What would great faith have me do? I gulped, grinned through gritted teeth, and replied, “Sure, what a splendid opportunity. Let’s go for it.”

And that’s the way it went for the next forty days, responding to every situation with the greatest faith I could muster. Was I ever glad when Easter came, so I could go back to my old pattern of doubting and fretting!
An excerpt from my book, Filled Up, Poured Out: How God’s Spirit Can Revive Your Passion and Purpose : Purchase via Wesleyan Publishing House or Amazon