Monday, June 29, 2009

Coming of Age

It is always a shock when you see the first liver-colored spot on your hands or face. Then one day you are looking at your arms and legs and you flex a muscle in dismay. The top layer of skin has a rippled look like wind gently blowing over water--wrinkles. You go to pluck your eyebrows and energetically pull the white hairs out--they were never there before. Somehow that streak of gray in your hair got wider without your even noticing it--until you brush your hair in a different direction and discover a whole layer of it underneath. You used sunblock faithfully but the crow's feet are getting more pronounced, and that frown wrinkle between your eyes has gotten deep enough it never entirely disappears, even when you're not frowning. You start flexing and stretching before exercising, because a strain or sprain has taught you that not doing so is foolish and injury likely if you don't. You go to the next room to get something and can't remember what it was by the time you arrive there. You stop, think through what you were doing, and why you might need something, and eventually it comes to you--ah, I'm in the pantry to get the ... honey!

But there is good news! You've wised up some. There are mistakes you don't repeat any more. There are things you get done, because time is more precious. There are lots of things you don't worry about any more, because you've come to see they aren't worth it. You have things to look back on and see what has been accomplished. It is good to see how far you've come. You've learned that experience is the best teacher--so you try to give less advice and pray more. You have more stories to tell and more to laugh about! And when things are not going well, you panic less. Things really do pass on. You realize there is always something to get riled up about, and when the current crisis is over another one will follow. We do live in a fallen world. You get riled up because you love many things in this world that is terminally ill. You view generations like people standing in line--one generation passes through the veil and you step up in the queue. Occasionally you are shocked when someone behind you takes cuts and steps through first, but your turn is coming. You try to grow in faith, to keep your fears in check, and keep your soul clean. Because the age is coming when what matters most is how you've lived and who you love most.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Fading Away

I hate to keep talking about my hearing loss, but that seems to be what is on my mind a lot. With good reason. In the last few weeks I've noticed another decline. It may be that I can't talk on the phone any more. Just ask Laura. We had a ridiculous "conversation" this morning which was basically Laura shouting into her phone one word at a time and me guessing what it was. I was able to help her, but anyone listening at Laura's end must have thought she was talking to a moron. If you talk to me in person and I have a blank look on my face, chances are I have no clue what you are saying...

I'm going to the library later on. It is time to get books or videos on sign language. Anyone want to join me in this venture?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Not Making Much Progress

but I'm having fun along the way, sometimes. Not sure which direction progress is, most of the time. Not even sure what it looks like when I get there--but it's not a place you stay. Just move on, buddy.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Crazies Within Us

Everyone has little things that they are absolutely crazy about, and I don't mean that in the sense of something you just love. I mean the borderline, if not over the line, obsessive-compulsive it's-gotta-be-my-way things that you are a little insane to insist on. When we are honest with ourselves, we realize that we are being unreasonable in these areas, BUT THAT'S JUST THE WAY WE ARE (or so we think). Most of these things are petty little ticklish areas, and we realize the real issue is not the thing in itself, but the control we feel we need. When these areas come into direct clash with someone who does it differently, turmoil results, and we learn how much we still need to grow in charity. Does it really matter how the table is set, or if the pictures all hang straight on the wall all the time, or what we use to sweep the floor? I could question dozens of trivial things, and the answers would all be the same: no, because they are trivial. We can know we are sane when we can distinguish the difference, and if we can't, we probably will never figure out how crazy we are. It's the other guy!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

You Gotta Love It...

when A-Rod hits a homer.

when you pull into the passing lane, push on the accelerator, and hear that VROOOM as your back pushes into the seat and you lunge forward.

when you do a hard Sudoku without penciling in any little numbers to complete it.

when you type the last letter of the last word of a paper you stayed up all night to complete.

when you go over every entry for the entire year in your bank account, find several mistakes that you fix, and it balances the first time you check it when done.

when you're doing what you love best and are in the zone.

when you make that last car payment.

when you plan a surprise that is a little tricky and pull it off.

when a pro-life Republican ousts a pro-abortion Democrat.

when you hear and feel that thump on the runway after a flight through lots of turbulence.

when Art Garfunkel hits that last note in "Bridge Over Troubled Waters".

when you whap that ping-pong ball and it hits the very tip of your opponent's corner.

when the rain is pattering down on your parched and thirsty garden.

So what's yours?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Hurry Up and Slow Down

It seems like the less you have to do the less you get done, and the more you have to do, the more you amaze yourself at what you can get done in a short amount of time. I really prefer the latter scenario, because I like being productive, but I think everyone needs some of both. We can't go blazes all the time, so when we finally go into slo-mo every little effort becomes exhausting.

Monday, June 15, 2009

On Being Original

How many people in the world are there now? Six billion? The number doesn't really matter. It's a lot of people. I ask myself now and then, what will it take in the future to come up with an original idea--something no one else has thought of? The answer comes to me now and then in a way that makes me want to kick myself. Hard. It will be very hard.

I wrote a book and it sits on my closet shelf getting dusty and yellowed while I screw up the courage to someday maybe send it to a publisher. In the meantime, I read, read, read, and die agonies when yet another author out there has written something with MY IDEA in it! And I tell myself, those publishers are going to think I just ripped off this author, when the truth be told, I wrote my book before this guy, or at least before I read his work. So as time goes by, I feel less and less inclined to enter the fray since what I have done will be nothing new under the sun.

And yet the author of life keeps making new people every day, each one never seen before. And astronomers keep finding new galaxies, all unique and thrilling beyond belief. And biologists keep finding out that life is much more complicated than they thought, and so intricately lovely. And artists, musicians, and actors keep creating exquisitely beautiful expressions.

So maybe there is hope after all that I, the only me in the whole world, in my individual originality, could create something that I could call all my own...

Friday, June 12, 2009

Divine Math

A friend just told me about getting cheated out of some money coming to him. He then went on to relate how unexpected income came to him which more than compensated for his loss. He credited it to God watching out for him. One could dismiss this as being overly simplistic, but it has happened to me many times. Sure, life could just work that way, the pluses getting neutralized by the minuses and vice versa. But more than math happened in my friend's transactions. In the end, his cheater lost. Either his conscience will smolder within him forever or be entirely snuffed out. My friend gained assurance that he is being cared for--his faith was built up because he chose to look for God's hand at work in his daily life. If we don't have this kind of faith, our faith will be in an impersonal God way out there, who knows we exist but is too concerned with bigger things to let our small troubles come to his attention. This is not what God wants or what we need. He is serious about us knowing him personally. So when you are counting up your pluses and minuses, use divine math. God is in your counting house investing in your eternity.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Just yesterday...

I say that all the time! Just yesterday I... And then I stop myself (sometimes) when I realize that yesterday was months ago. Time is that swift. All kinds of phrases express its fleeting quality. "It seems like yesterday..." "I can't believe it has been that long." "a flash in the pan..." "Babies today, graduating from college tomorrow." "Enjoy them while they're young. They grow up so fast."

I was looking at vacation pictures today from two years ago in Germany. It doesn't seem that long. The baby in the pictures can walk and talk and dress herself now. The toddler is in school. The mother probably does not need an au pair ever again.

I was talking to my son about college today. It is such an exciting time of life. For most of us, it's only four years. Poof. Over and done.

Much of our memories are like a blur. The kind where you look at things close by from the side window of a car or train. You can hardly make out what you're seeing. You look at photos of yourself and what you were doing, and they hardly seem real any more. And yet a few stand out vividly. A special moment captured and branded on your mind.

Because, excuse the cliche, life is short, do we try to pack in as much as possible? No. I don't advocate that. The quiet, empty moments are important, too. They give us time to reflect, catch our breath, and renew our reserves for what is to come. We don't want our lives so full, that we don't have time to treasure what we did just yesterday.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Death Comes in Small Packages

Life is full of choices and often the most important are so small they are overlooked. The big picture looms ever before us, and for Christians that picture usually takes the form of getting to heaven. But I contend that that vision falls short of the truest goal of all: becoming like Christ, so that we can endure entering his presence, so that we can desire being in his presence, so that we can lose ourselves in his presence for all time. Losing is not to say that we cease to exist, but that our existence becomes a trifling to us, compared to the One we have devoted all our strivings to see.

To get to that goal a staggering journey awaits us, though the steps that lead us there can be tiny. Some can march forth in great strides. Others progress along the way like a cheetah in full gallop. Most of us toddle, stumble, fall and rise again, not always pointing in the right direction, but erect and moving...somewhere. We often feel leaden, the horizon never changes before us, or we seem to be swimming upstream and passing the same landmarks over and over again. Somehow we haven't learned a lesson, so it repeats and repeats like a scratched record, until someone lifts the arm to skip the fault.

And each stride, gallop, tottering forward is a death of sorts, leading to the last death--the veil that separates us from our goal. What impedes our progress? Our own free-will making choices that either help us or hinder us. The big picture choices are often easy to make. It's the little ones that annoy us like a buzzing mosquito that we feel we shouldn't have to endure. We slap and wave off and fuss, but it's still there waiting for a chance to land unawares and be nourished at our expense. If we would just be patient and let it land, then we can pick it off. A little death of a mosquito, a little death of impatience.

What other little deaths do we encounter? A death to the need to be right. A death to indulging ourselves too much. A death to criticizing. A death to anger at receiving criticism. A death to love of possessions. A death to rebellion against aging, failing health, lack of success, authority.. Death can come in small packages. Let's not overlook the opportunity to be remade into the image of God's only Son, who embraced little deaths daily and the final death on the cross for us.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Irksome Tasks

Faced with a list of chores, none of which inspires enthusiasm, one can wonder how any will get done. It is not the jobs themselves that is the problem. Even time is usually not the problem. It is a matter of will. We often find that once we've begun one of these irksome tasks, we settle into a contented rhythm of movement that leads us to the completion of a mild unpleasantness. The old adage, "once begun, half done" is a terse truth. Even when we feel the real obstacle is fatigue, it is more often ennui that is dispersed with a sincere beginning. What we often cannot see at the outset is the heightened enjoyment and satisfaction we experience at the completion: an onerous job behind us and a pleasure in surveying our labor. The more distasteful or monumental the hurdle, the more often we find ourselves returning to overview results and give ourselves credit for persevering. Work gives us dignity. Challenging work gives us a rightful pride. A completed manuscript, a scoured bathroom, a purged closet, clean gutters, whatever it is that we shun but do, strengthens us. We grow in virtue each time we say yes to the labor; we grow in holiness when we say yes without grumbling.

Monday, June 1, 2009

What's it to you?

Rain for a gardener is a blessing.
Rain for a beach bum is a bummer.
Rain for a duck is just another day.
Rain for a weatherman is a good call.
Rain for a desert nomad is a miracle.
Rain for a outdoor wedding party is a glitch in the plans.
Rain for a baseball player is waiting, delays, frustration.
Rain for Santa Claus is out of place.
Rain for a picnic is dreary.
Rain for a day on the road is fatiguing.
Rain for a funeral is extra tears.
Rain for Noah is a confirmation.
Rain for a drought is an answer to prayer.
Rain for the heat is relief.
Rain for the thirsty is joy.