Saturday, January 31, 2015

Pushing Past Complacency

 Outside my window the trees bend eastward; palms and pines shaking moisture from frond and needle. We are into our third day of rain.   I delight in the brisk wind and smack of cold I feel as I step outside the house.  Its how I want God and verve to blow into my life; fresh and clear; brisk, sharp, cold---invigorating.  I think that the shaking is happening; the blowing and clearing my life of dead stuff.  Not a quick storm; it’s more a shaking season.  It’s less invigorating and more frustrating. 

“According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind,” writes Lewis in Mere Christianity.  I have a sense that the rebellious employee and the demanding supervisor at work are placed there to bring me up against my own selfishness.  I have these conversations with Christ and ask him how He did it?  How did He live among us; put up with us and love us?  I don’t serve well and I want revenge when you go against me.  The wind blows cold and smoothes layers off my thick skin. 

Life delivers these growth opportunities to my door.  I’m never asked to sign and approve delivery; they just show up uninvited; the good and the bad.  The choice then is mine; to ignore or to improve.  Minute by minute I decide to move into doing the right thing.  I deliver ice to the Service Deli as requested by that areas’ manager---though I’ve a million things to do.  I am frustrated but pray and choose to serve.  At home I sit down to write some paragraphs believing my writing will be improved.  It’s the walking against the wind where we grow.  Usually that is the case.  Sometimes we stand still and just hold on.  Always the decision to move forward—or at least to stay standing—is ours. 

If you look around you its easy to see complacency.  You don’t have to look far to see reacting.  Finding people that choose to act is much more difficult.  The couch potato and the sluggard live next door to every one of us.  The fighter is hard to find---albeit hard to be.

The wind blows harder, colder; everything shakes.  The sky above is still grey.  In the distance there is bright blue; the grey pales against it.  I can almost reach out and touch the blue.  The season will pass.  Spring will come with perfumed air; bright skies and life.  It’s only a season.  I press forward.  I hold on.  We press forward.  We hold on.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Finding Healing In Impossibility

“A man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years.  When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he had already been a long time in that condition, He said to him, “Do you wish to get well?”

“From where I lay to the healing pool it’s fifteen feet of impossibility.  Day after day I lay here.  I plan the way to get to the water when it is stirred up.  Each time I begin to crawl and every time somebody beats me to the water.  Some are able to walk on in.  Some have a close friend or family to put them in.  I am bereft of help and relationship.  I will never be healed.  I can think of no other options.  In every direction there is only darkness. 

How agonizing to be so close yet never make it.  Day after day for years on end.  I have tried everything; crying, screaming, begging and bleeding but nobody would lend a hand.  I will never make it crawling on my own.

I've cursed God.  How could I not?  God had provided others with help.  Heck, God had allowed others to live healthy lives.  I can’t remember health.  Musing leads to bitterness, bitterness to self-pity, pity to self-loathing and God cursing.  Still I focus on the pool and its’ healing water.

Sometimes it takes years to break a man; once in a while it happens quickly.  I’ve had a long time to reflect on my sin.  Boatloads of sin.  Throw in the cursing and I’m done for.  Someday maybe I’ll walk.  My spirit never will.  God will never forgive me.” 

Jesus singled out this man.  He said to him, “Do you wish to get well?”  The sick man replied, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up…”  “Why are you asking me this?  Yes, can’t you see how I long to get to the water?  But I can’t!” I say it, gripped with emotion.”

Jesus said to him, “Get up, pick up your pallet and walk.”  Later on Jesus tells the man, “Behold, you have become well; do not sin anymore so that nothing worse happens to you.”

The final kicker is that the man had spent many years focused on the water and it wasn't the water that healed him.  In the full context there’s a larger point to the story.  I see a great lesson here in the smaller scale.  The man focused on the water and almost missed Jesus.  Still Jesus stepped into his life and solved his impossible situation.  There’s hope there.  Even if my focus is wrong God can walk in and fix my impossible situation.  

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Using Personal Talent To Project Beauty

“Don’t know if I could write like that!” I said to myself---finishing a chapter by Anne Lamott.  Every artist feels this way at times.  Pressfield says, “If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), "Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?" chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.”   In every endeavor the temptation is to look at the great (famous) artists and say, “I’m no Ansel Adams or Annie Dillard so I best find something else to occupy my time.  Perhaps I should do something more akin to who I am.  I can finally accomplish that goal I have of watching every Hitchcock movie!”  The comparison is a false comparison.

I’m acquainted with a bunch of artists.  I know thespians and photographers, painters and roasters (I consider coffee roasting a fine art).  Each of them captures the beauty of this world and projects it.  Each has a small audience that appreciates their work.  Here in the high desert there is a local theatre which puts on plays.  Many of the actors are astoundingly good, some uproariously funny.  They are delighting others with their craft. 

The gift that each of us has is uniquely personal.  It’s like the story of the talents.  In the biblical story a master goes on a journey and gives each of his slaves talents “each according to his ability.”  To one he gave five, one he gave two, and to one he gave one.”  So too I have a gift unique to me.  The challenge is twofold; to act on investing it and to be wise in the investing. 

My life is made rich by the artistry around me.  It is in these that I am reminded of beauty---and reminded that there is an Artist as well.  We encourage and fuel one another’s passion when we use our gifts.  The world would be a much more horrid place without them.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Principled Living Provides Peace and a Sound Footing

As a teen I had no boundaries.  My parents let me get my own subscription to Playboy before I was eighteen.  I had no curfew.  My moms’ only rule was to call and let her know where I was and to provide an ETA.  Some might think this wonderful.  They’d be wrong. 

Up through college I tried working out my own personal guidelines.  I’d found some anchors along the way but an anchor’s no good unless secured.  I wandered a lot.  I tried to figure out my career path without a counselor.  I screwed up many a relationship.  Pride and foolishness caused many a crash; spiritually, relationally and physically.  I got nobody pregnant and I didn’t kill anybody (though I came stupidly close on both accounts).  I didn’t get into drugs.  God kept me from ruin.

Up through the 20’s I was everything but firmly planted.  Boundaries are important.  Principled living guides one’s life along a solid pathway.  Psalm 1 puts it like this, “…He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, Which yields its fruit in its season And its leaf does not wither; And in whatever he does, he prospers.”   As I grew older I discovered key concepts to live by. 

The Bible is the filter through which I find my parameters.  It is the bedrock for every other tenet that I hold to.  In that vein I have some nuggets which keep me on track:
“God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him,” which is John Pipers’ summation of all of scripture.  “A ship in a harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for,” a saying which adorned my wall when I was a teen.  A life truly lived means taking chances.  “Let people feel the weight of who you are and let them deal with it,” an Eldredge quote—put simply---be yourself.  Finally that principle taken from Jesus which is that we are to die to self and live for others. 

I view my early years with considerable regret and some personal pain.  Though there was considerable joy and richness of experience there were some serious mistakes whose ripples are still felt.  Now I can run my questions and experiences through a grid that’s not all about me (and I always wish it were less about me).  Now I have sound principles to securely guide my heart and my actions.   A great deal of peace flows from that.

There is some wisdom in hammering out our own guiding principles.  The caveat however is that any principle apart from God will eventually shipwreck us.  Hammering out our own principles is good, ‘working out our salvation with trembling” is better. 


Monday, January 12, 2015

Vibrating Senses, Thanks and Coffee

The screaming alarm awakens the senses to the new day.  Each experience contains opportunity for being thankful.  Hearing the morning alarm means my ears are working.  Somehow the sound of the alarm vibrates the air and my ear processes it.  My brain shifts gears.  My mind goes from dreaming to screaming as it processes the sound.  Leaping up from the bed I note the pounding in my chest.  My heart is pumping properly, adrenal glands are functioning quite nicely too.  My feet feel the cold tile as I head toward the coffee pot. 

Making the morning coffee centers me.  I grind the beans until I no longer hear chunks being decimated (ears still working).  The coffee is measured out; cold water is poured into the machine.  I press the switch to begin brewing.  The smell of coffee permeates the kitchen…..

Orange juice is another morning enjoyment.  Drinking orange juice is a three-dimensional delight for me.  There is the sweet taste and the feel of pulp on the tongue.  I realize too that there is a memory component.  Drinking good orange juice I remember great breakfasts out; such as sitting on the Omelette Parlor (or the Summerland Beach CafĂ©) patio with a view of the ocean.  I think back on late nights at a friends house during college; where grabbing a glass of orange juice before driving home became ritual.  Then too there were the Alta Dena milk-man deliveries in Thousand Oaks; where we’d get fresh milk and fresh-squeezed orange juice right to our doorstep.

The body and all my senses react as I open the front door with one hand while the other holds a hot white mug.  The heat from the cup contrasts the blast of cold as I walk to my car in brisk morning.  My eyes take in the stars; light against the still-dark sky.  I set the cup on the dashboard.  Steam clouds the window.  Starting the car and grasping cup in hand I leave morning behind me and head off to face another day.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Resolutions From the Wrong Side of 50

 A friend refers to my age as, “The wrong side of 50.”  I’m closer to retirement (or worse) than I am to college.  I can think of only one friend that has a father still living.  Of those that have moms still alive most are at an age where leaving the house is an adventure.  So I wonder if the resolutions I make this year should be different than those of previous years.

There are key areas to focus on—save and simplify, live and enjoy, grow and improve.  Retirement, if it comes, will be a challenge.  Wisdom and financial gurus tell us to have a sizeable chunk of change in the bank.  This is cause for anxiety.  Life has thrown me a number of curves which drastically impacted savings.  Still one flesh always wants more, more and more.   The calmer voice of the spirit tells one to slow down and simplify.

Life is less about accomplishing things.  I’m in the season of enjoying things.  More free time is important.  I want to enjoy friends more.  I want to sit out on my wood porch and read.  This life season will be one of simplification. 

There is a tension in setting these goals.  I want to live a great story.  I wish to explore and travel with my wife.  The saving of money and the simple lifestyle slam up against these other goals and pull in two directions.  The setting of goals helps in making judgments. 

There is a constant wrestling.  For in sitting on my porch and reading I enjoy a glass of wine or cup of coffee.  These beverages enhance my enjoyment of life but impact my pocketbook---tension again. 

My father grew sedentary after retirement.  This is what killed him.  Some goals shouldn’t change.  I will continue to bicycle even seeking to improve my speed.  I will do at least one 75 miler.  I will discover new music.  I will try new restaurants.  I will celebrate travel with my wife.  I will keep moving. 

I’ve finished the hors d’oeuvres and I’m into the main course.  I’m going to savor and enjoy it before desert comes.  Then I’ll excuse myself and go for a walk.

“We are not now that strength which in old daysMoved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;One equal temper of heroic hearts,Made weak by time and fate, but strong in willTo strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”