This morning, on my way to a father event planning session, something caught my eye and I pulled into a Mom-n-Pop grocery store parking lot to have a look. Thinking more about turning around then my surroundings I almost hit a van which suddenly pulled out from behind the store. I slammed on my breaks, coming to a sudden stop and was thankful my distractedness didn’t harm me or others.
Life has a way of distracting us, focusing our attention on other things and pulling our gaze away from what’s most important. Then, through a tragedy, series of mishaps and setbacks, physical or mental ailments and diagnosis we’re thrust back into the now, the reason we live and what we truly love becomes crystal clear.
In the moment our focus becomes laser sharp many other things fall away. It’s not that these aren’t good or even necessary they just pale in comparison to what has captured our hearts and souls, the reason the road of life is worth travelling.
Earlier this week I had a conversation with a “fast talker, ” someone who spoke incessantly and rarely paused to take a breath. He was a good guy, a nice guy but wore me out with the amount of words he could fit into a small section of time.
After a while, when he had lost some steam, I remarked that he seemed a person with great passion, energy and drive but that I wasn’t sure he knew where he was going with his life. This sparked a new barrage of words, ideas and assumptions about several directions he felt called to travel. When he inhaled I asked him how he was going to decide which way to go. Silence. Finally.
We then went on to discuss the importance of stillness, living in the present now and not predicting a future we have no way of deciphering.
“Your life is like looking through muddy water.” I told him. “Until you stop splashing around in all directions, the confusion and uncertainty will not sink and settle so that you can see clearly.”
Wisdom tells us that purpose and clarity are like a leaf floating in a stream. We do not try to grab the leaf before it passes us by but trust the stream to bring the leaf to us.
My wife called me on Monday and asked me a series of weird questions. “Have you been to Little Caesars? What about a place called Farm Fresh Markets? Have you been to several different gas stations in the last two days?” When she finally took a breath I inquired what was going on and she said we had received alerts regarding several suspicious bank account activities. I assured her I hadn’t made any midnight runs to 7-Elevens or supermarkets in Virginia and Pennsylvania and we immediately canceled the card.
Identity theft. Ugh. We try to be extra careful with all our personal information. We don’t give out account numbers, pin codes, passwords over the phone or in emails. We cover the keypads when using our cards while shopping. We’re cautious to a fault about someone nefarious doing exactly what we thought we were protected against; spending our money, using our names for selfish gain.
We live in a world we’re people are dishonest. It’s hard not to become hardened, bitter, judgmental and overly suspicious.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. Love for Enemies “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? …Be good, therefore, as your heavenly Father has been good to you.” the Master, Gospel according to Saint Matthew
Tough times, especially when people purposefully hurt you, inflict pain, sacrifice your well-being for their gratification test our resolve and reveal our true nature, desire, reason for being, doing good.
Why do we help, give, offer ourselves and our resources to others? What do we do when others take advantage, steal, con us?
When it’s not our choice to give, when what we have is taken, our reaction reveal how what we possess can have a hold on us. It also reminds us that what truly matters can never be taken and the greatest treasures are the blessings of grace and acceptance which have been freely, unconditionally given to us.
YouTube seems to be very random in what it recommends for me to watch. Sometimes its videos of practical jokes on unsuspecting people, then science facts; “that will blow my mind!”, life hacks to “make house cleaning fun!” (yeah right), and this video about Komodo Dragons hunting a Water Buffalo in Indonesia.
Last week at one of my addicted father groups we talked about the lure of drugs and alcohol. It’s always an interesting discussion with men who are coming to grips with the deadly hold this disease has on their lives. Some are still fighting acceptance. They don’t see their substance use as an addiction but more of a hindrance. “It’s just a little out of control. Once I’m clean it won’t be a problem.” They’re convinced the drinking and drug use isn’t a real threat and they can outrun it, out muscle it, out man it.
Other men in the group understand their addictions are stalking them, hunting them, never far behind them and waiting for a chance to strike. If the opportunity is there, defenses are relaxed, one strike is all that’s needed. Like the Komodo Dragon in the video, all it needs is an opportunity to inject the deadly venom.
While watching this tough, virile, powerful Water Buffalo and the sneaky, scheming, deceptively lethal slayer, I thought of all the dads I know who are doing their best to escape the deep hurts, deadly habits and persistent hangups that threaten them and the lives of their families.
I also thought about how easy it is for all of us to fall victim to things which don’t seem to be a real threat to our sanity and spirits. We fool ourselves into thinking we’re strong enough to handle all that life sends our way. We don’t need rest and recovery for our spirits, minds and bodies. We can bear the load of everyone and everything around us. Life will never get the best of us. We can escape the danger at anytime.
All the while the hunter stalks, biding it’s time, looking for an opening, waiting for a moment of weakness, whispering with forked tongue; “Everything’s okay. Nothing to worry about. No threat here. Just let me get a little closer.”
Yesterday, during worship service, a young woman in another section and a few rows up, began having a coughing fit. She tried to stifle the sudden, sharp expelling of air from her lungs but her body convulsed with each suppression.
I’ve been there. Sometimes those coughing fits come on so quickly and violently you’re at a loss at what to do. You don’t want to cause a scene, disturb everyone by getting up and excusing yourself but you also don’t want to continue being a major distraction. I watched her weighing the options when the small, frail hand of an elderly lady reached across the aisle and handed her a piece of candy. It wasn’t done in an exasperated thrust or with the roll of an eye or an exaggerated sigh. She gently and surreptitiously extended the soothing lozenge, they exchanged smiles and the young woman accepted the gift. A simple act and beautiful acceptance.
I’ve thought about this scene several times since yesterday. Too often, those in need are embarrassed, shamed, forced to find help, go through great lengths and navigate many obstacles to find assistance. Folks with hurts, habits, hangups and shortcomings are looked down upon, cause frustration for “those who have it all together,” know how to behave, can take care of themselves. The “haves” begrudgingly give to the “have-nots” and make sure many are aware of their feigned and forced magnanimity.
To be aware of the need of others, to give secretly, to aid not for recognition or reimbursement but because we can is true generosity wrapped in lavish grace.
You get to the point where it has to be done though you’ve put it off as long as possible… cleaning out the refrigerator.
My wife and I try to be careful not to waste food. We attempt to fix meals in portion sizes for the two of us, freeze what we can, eat left overs for lunches, snacks, even another dinner if needed but sometimes there’s still too much. Containers of forgotten vegetables, misplaced meats, desserts behind milk cartons, add up to an overstuffed and messy fridge.
Finally, after one more item can’t be squeezed onto a shelf, balanced on top of a Tupperware holder, there’s no choice but to begin the dreaded chore. Some foods, covered with tin foil in a glass dish are easy to recognize, others in solid colored containers with lids are a wild guess until you look inside. It’s a bit like being Indiana Jones on an archeological adventure. Afterwards, the refrigerator is organized, clean and, regrettably, ready to start the whole process over again.
I on the other hand feel a great sense of guilt and shame because I know there’s people going hungry, scavenging in dumpsters for scraps, dying from malnutrition and we have so much we’re throwing it away. Sigh. We live in an unfair world.
Wisdom and grace teach us not to just feel empathy for those less fortunate. We are to do everything we can, give away all we can, and never stop trying to make this a more fair and just world. We’re also to be continuously thankful for the abundant blessings bestowed upon us who are not worthy.
This morning the Mrs. and I woke up early and decided to go to a few garage/yard sales in the area.
At one stop there was a lady sitting under her carport selling a few belongings of her husband who recently passed away. One of the items was a large tote with wires, extension cords, an electronic timer and a host of computer cables. The tote was worth the asking price and after we purchased it I placed in the back of the truck and began to rummage through it.
While mentally cataloging the contents I came across a bank bag. I showed it to Beth and asked her to return it to the woman. However, I couldn’t resist the urge to open it first as visions of rare coins, old documents, valuable collectors items danced through my mind. Instead it was a few quarters and piece of paper. I zipped it up and handed it to Beth who took it back to the woman.
When Beth returned she said; “I’m glad we did that, the document in the bank bag, was her husband’s birth certificate.” We both smiled and wondered what she would do with a piece of paper, useless and meaningless to us, but not to a wife who missed her husband and children who missed their dad.
Part of the thrill of going to garage/yard sales, auctions, storage unit bidding wars and such, is the possibility you might discover, and own, something of great worth. Today, however, we were able to give away what might have been for this widow a priceless find.
Yesterday, I arrived home to find a flock of Turkey Buzzards (or Turkey Vultures) inhabiting my front yard and circling overhead. Immediately I knew there was something dead nearby and the scavengers had found their afternoon meal. Luckily for me, not for the animal, it had been hit by a vehicle across the street.
Pulling into my driveway I sounded my truck horn to try to get the birds to scatter but apart from a few of them fluttering their wings I was mostly ignored. After parking I tried shooing them away by yelling and exaggerated posturing but they remained unconcerned. Their attention was on the meal being served not the crazy man making strange noises and acting even stranger. I gave up and went inside but every so often I would hear a driver honk their vehicle’s horn, rev the engine, threatening to run them over but the birds weren’t leaving until their appetite was satisfied.
Later I reflected upon the birds and the sign they were to me that something rotten was nearby. I wondered if, when we had an unpleasant habit, a putrid attitude, a relationship that was dying, a miserable personality, it would be helpful if a flock of menacing fowl would begin to follow us around. We’d be alerted and understand that the birds would only leave when what’s attracted them is removed.
Unfortunately, too often we’re the ones indulging, gorging ourselves on our cravings, rotten prejudices, stuffed egos, slanderous words, harmful actions, bitterness and self-pity.
Wisdom teaches us that self-awareness and humility are what keep us from becoming prey to, and becoming one of, the scavengers which seek to feast on our souls.
“A young monk asked his Father Abbott how to find contentment and stillness in a world where things are always changing, where nothing is permanent and nothing remains the same. ‘When loss and grief are inherent in our very coming in to existence, how can there be any happiness?’
That elder monk, looking compassionately at his brother held up a glass which he had been drinking from said: ‘You see this goblet? For me, this glass is already broken. I enjoy it. I drink out of it. It holds my water admirably. Sometimes even the sun reflects in its beautiful patterns. If I should tap it. it has a lovely ring to it.’
‘But when I put this glass on a shelf and the wind knocks it over or my elbow brushes it off the table and it falls to the ground and shatters I say; ‘Of course!’ I understand that this glass is already broken. Every moment with it is precious, every moment is just as it is, and nothing need be otherwise. When we recognize that like this glass, our body, our life, is already broken, that indeed we are already dead, each moment becomes precious and we are open to fully appreciating the unbroken now, this present moment.’
‘When we understand that our loved ones are already dead. our children, our mates, our friends. how precious they become. Fear cannot rule us, uncertainty of the future, the unknown does not have power over us, estrangement cannot put doubt within. When you live your life as though you’re already dead, life takes on new meaning. Each moment becomes a whole lifetime. A universe unto itself.'”
One of the greatest lessons of wisdom is the truth and eventual acceptance that life is in constant transition and passes quickly. From the moment we are born every breath is one closer to our last. Every day, hour, moment brings us to our final resting place. The great struggle is in our intellect, emotions and souls to learn to live joyfully in the knowledge of the passing of our temporal existence.
Too often loss, instability, death are seen as causes to worry, be anxious, fearful and hopeless. Instead, they can be a reminder to appreciate the blessing of each moment as a unique, never to come again, miracle. To love extravagantly while the opportunity exists. To mindfully experience every “now” before it changes to a fading memory and hold loosely a future which is not guaranteed.
I like this video. The turtle, obviously in an awkward spot, didn’t let the predicament stop her from enjoying the tasty pink flower. Her view may have been skewed, her world topsy-turvy, but she still knew a good thing when it presented itself.
This resourceful tortoise reminded me of one of my favorite wisdom parables;
“One day, while walking through the wilderness, a monk encountered a vicious tiger. He ran for his life, and the tiger gave chase. The monk came to the edge of a cliff, and the tiger was almost upon him. Having no choice, he held on to a vine with both hands and climbed down.
Halfway down the cliff, the monk looked up and saw the tiger at the top, baring its fangs. He looked down and saw another tiger at the bottom, waiting for his arrival and roaring at him. He was caught between the two.
Two rats, one white and one black, showed up on the vine above him. As if he didn’t have enough to worry about, they started gnawing on the vine. He knew that as the rats kept gnawing, they would reach a point when the vine would no longer be able to support his weight. It would break and he would fall. He tried to shoo the rats away, but they kept coming back.
At that moment, he noticed a strawberry growing on the face of the cliff, not far away from him. It looked plump and ripe. Holding the vine with one hand and reaching out with the other, he plucked it. With a tiger above, another below, and two rats continuing to gnaw on his vine, the man tasted the strawberry and found it absolutely delicious.”
Life has a way of knocking us for a loop, turning everything upside down, distorting our view, putting us in uncomfortable places and positions, not going according to plan.
Too often all our energy and passion, our sole focus becomes trying to get our lives back to “normal.” We long to be comfortable, safe and stable. However, when all we’re concerned with is getting to the place where the hard, difficult, uneasy and painful parts of our journey are over we often miss the blessings the trials and tough times bring.
Last week, driving on the 840 bypass around Nashville, TN, a fast-moving white SUV passed me. As it made its way around my little red truck I noticed its right front tire was very low. It was moving too quickly to sound my horn in hopes of getting their attention and I considered speeding up to catch the vehicle but it was moving too fast. As I watched it get further ahead of me I became concerned that the tire would blow, the driver might lose control, injure themselves and others. After a few minutes the SUV suddenly pulled over to the side of the road. When I arrived at their location the tire had blown and the vehicle was stranded. Another driver was stopping to help so I continued on my way.
I reflected upon the tire, the driver and the quick pace of our hectic lives. Oftentimes our days seem to be made up of keeping appointments, getting from one place to another, being in a hurry whether we have a reason to be or not. We are so consumed with our next destination we miss the warning signs, the words and actions of others who would caution us to slow down, take an inventory of ourselves, be sure we aren’t headed for a breakdown, blowout or burnout, that could hurt ourselves and those around us.
The road of life is long. Patience, mindfulness, maintenance, wisdom are some of the keys to traveling well.
This morning I awoke to the beautiful sound of rain drops pitter, pattering on the roof.
It’s been an incredibly dry summer. Several times over the last few weeks the skies threatened to open up and give what was so desperately needed only to mockingly, slowly pass by. The puddles on the ground when I went outside suggested the rain had been falling for a while and the thick humid air suggested it might stick around. As Beth was getting ready for work I stood in front of our window, pulled back the curtain and for a few moments soaked in the beauty of a rainy, stormy, Monday.
Last week, while working in the yard, I couldn’t help but notice the cracked, parched ground. The dust and dry, dying grass choked me as I searched for the few areas that needed mowing. I walked around the yard with the sound of already fallen, dead, leaves crunching under my feet. The withered, rustling limbs on the trees echoed nature’s thirst for life giving, sustaining water.
As I watched the rainwater cover the ground, fill the cracks, settle on and satiate the blades of grass, petals of flowers, shriveled fruits and vegetables I reflected on the need for slow, rainy, seasons in our personal lives. The chaos and rush of everyday living has a way of draining us dry, leaving us empty, sucking the energy, passion and mindfulness out of our bodies, emotions, minds and souls.
To have those times when recovery and renewal settle upon and satiate us is a must. Unfortunately, we often pass by these opportunities and miss meeting the desperate needs of our spirits.
“Into every life a little rain must fall.” …a blessing we should be careful not to miss.
Grace and peace,
This morning I sat on a bench under a large tree in my backyard reading and praying the Psalms. As I reflected upon them a storm front began moving through our area. Thunder rolled and the wind began blowing. I considered going inside but waited, enjoying the stiff breeze, to see if any rain would fall.
“Yet God, being compassionate, forgives us, restrains his anger toward us, and doesn’t let it get the best of him. He remembers that we are but flesh, a wind that passes and does not come again.” Psalm 78,v38-39
Not long after reading this portion of scripture the wind died down and the skies partially cleared. What was once a lot of sound and fury quickly dissipated with nothing to show for its bluster and posturing.
I thought about the truth of this Psalm and how our lives are; “a wind that passes and does not come again.” I’m 44 but I’ve felt my age, perhaps even older, the last several weeks. I connected with a friend yesterday I haven’t seen in 10 years and it doesn’t seem possible its been that long.
After soaking in the Psalms I read a selection from the Rule of Saint Benedict on humility. One of the key tenets of Benedictine Oblate and Monastic life is accepting who we are; our shallowness, selfishness and sinfulness. Benedict believed, and I concur, that when we become self-aware of our weakness and need, we are far less likely to judge and condemn others while also becoming more capable of authentic grace and love for all, including ourselves.
The wind which bowed low the cattails and bent tree limbs decreased, the gray clouds blew away and once again I accepted a life which is quickly fading.
It’s happening quickly. I noticed it mowing the faded green grass this week, the brownish leaves which are beginning to descend on the driveway, the sun setting earlier each evening. Summer is coming to an end. It is the middle of August and in a few weeks we will welcome fall.
Beth told me last night that according to meteorologists we are in for an unseasonably cool winter. Seasons never stop to ask permission to come they just force their way in without care or thought to how we feel or which we’d prefer.
I responded to another author this morning who wrote a reflective article on dealing with simplicity and the importance of appreciating what we have instead of being obsessed with replacing the old and familiar with something new.
I said; “The rhythms of life are important to a mindful, simple and monastic life style. It’s why monastics and oblates try to pray the Psalms, rise, eat, work, read at certain times, do the same thing, in the same way. It’s about being able to sense life as more than the passing of time but as a way to be in tune with the heartbeat of God…
The Rule of Saint Benedict instructs that each monk be given a tunic for winter, summer, paper and a writing utensil, a bed for sleep. No gifts unless approved by the Abbott. They share meals, only a small allotment of drink. Saint Benedict believed the less we possessed, the more God could possess our hearts, minds, spirits. As oblates we try our best to honor this simple, stable, satisfying way of life. ”
So many times we are too busy, too hectic in our lives. We miss the signs of seasons changing; the warm sun retreating and nature preparing for winter’s embrace. We lose our awareness that life has a pattern, is never stagnant, always moving, transitioning.
There are many distractions of our divided attention. Simplicity, mindfulness, awareness are not primarily about being wary of material things but ensuring our spirits are not dulled by them and are instead attuned to the rhythm of time and seasons, the pulse of nature, which reveals the heartbeat of God.
On my return trip today from giving a lecture on fathers and families at a university about an hour from home I noticed traffic backed up on the exit I needed to take. To avoid being stuck I bypassed it and decided to take another route through scenic Thompsons Station, Tennessee.
Rounding a back country road I noticed a sign that indicated a low bridge. My mind was elsewhere as I came upon the bridge and a box truck that didn’t quite have the clearance it needed to pass under. I quickly applied the brakes and cautiously made my way around two-thirds of the vehicle sticking out from one side of the bridge. On the other side of the small, height challenged overpass was a stunned driver standing in front of the crumpled and very stuck other third of the truck talking on a cellphone with a look of; “what happened?!?!” all over his face.
I thought about the road I had not taken to avoid being stuck and the gentleman who either missed the sign of misjudged the stature of the delivery truck. Either way his day got a lot longer.
Life. Sometimes the road we choose to travel lets us avoid troubles and stress. Other times it leaves us stunned, stranded and stuck.
This painting, creatively placed on the side of a building, is of people having fun by the lakeside but it can only be seen properly on the reflection of the water.
I was talking with a friend this week who struggles with a positive self image, has trouble believing they are worthy of being loved, cared for, accepting empathy and affection. Because he has difficulty seeing the good in himself, when we connect I make sure to reflect back to him the strengths and value within.
There are folks in our lives who have distorted views of who they are, what they have to offer, their significance, desirability. When we encounter these hurting ones, perhaps the greatest blessing we can bestow upon them is to reflect back to them who they truly are and not who they see themselves to be.
Yesterday, on my way out of Bedford, Tennessee, I passed a fire hydrant which was was shooting water several feet high in the air onto a drenched bush. A local water worker was monitoring it, enjoying the moisture spray on a hot summer day.
As I watched the flume of water I reflected on a conversation I had with a dad earlier in the day. We talked about a lot of things as we walked around his neighborhood and one of the topics was the importance of being able to find positive, constructive ways to release the pressures and stress of life. “Too often,’ I told him, ‘We let difficulties and hardships build up and if we don’t have a way of letting them go, cleaning out the gunk, dealing with them, they will take their toll on us and those we love.”
Even the strongest of us need support, the bravest of us; a safe place, the most patient; a chance to scream and complain, the ultra dependable; a chance to pass and let someone else do it.
Moments and seasons of release and relaxation aren’t for the weak but the wise and well balanced.
Yesterday I arrived at the county jail for an incarcerated fathers’ class and walked around to the passenger side of my truck to get the materials needed.
When I opened the door a plastic lid fell out and slid under the truck. I squatted down trying to avoid; “getting on all fours” so as not to dirty my pants or look silly to a passerby. I reached, stretched and tried my best to look for and grab it but to no avail. Finally, I got on my hands and knees and was able to see and grasp the elusive object.
Oftentimes we do everything we can to avoid looking desperate or putting ourselves in a vulnerable position. We forget that to locate and attain what truly matters we must be willing to get down low, not worry about appearing foolish and not give up until we find what we’re searching for.
When we bought our old farm house/cottage last year it came with an old wooden bench. This metal framed piece of furniture is a weather worn looking antique with wood slats and not at all sturdy enough to sit upon.
Yesterday I moved the bench underneath a large beautiful tree on the side of our house. I then reinforced it with newer pieces of wood, screws and then tested it out by sitting on it. It held. “Whew!”
The sun had climbed high enough in the sky that the bench was shaded by the tree’s branches. A cool wind was blowing and I let out and took in several calming breaths. As I enjoyed doing nothing a hummingbird almost flew into me and landed on limb a few feet away. For a moment we were both still, taking in our surroundings, just being alive.
In that instant I saw myself in this beautiful frenetic creature. The last few weeks have been a blur of non-stop, meetings, speaking engagements, special events, celebrations, crises, physical ailments and more. Like that hummingbird I’ve been using a lot of energy to stay up, moving, just getting from place to place.
As I stared at my now resting, unhurried, feathered friend I was reminded that stillness of soul, mind and body isn’t just a good idea but necessary for survival and sanity.
Jon Stewart, comedian, actor and host of the “The Daily Show” for the past seventeen years retired Thursday evening.
Depending upon your political persuasion, and sense of humor, you either loved or loathed him, cheered or teared up when he signed off for the last time.
I’ve been a Daily Show fan for many years. No doubt Stewart could be crude, crass and condescending. His scathing satire coupled with his over the top antics and use of “adult” language didn’t just skirt the line of good taste and sensibility but, at times, crossed over it with gusto!
There were many cringe worthy moments and several change the channel instances, when I wondered; “what was he thinking?!?! Why did he have to take it that far?” Jon could never be accused of not expressing what he felt, telling it like it is, at least from his point of view.
What I liked most about Jon Stewart was his willingness to remind an all too serious world to lighten up. He went after personalities, corporations, media entities, government, and especially politicians, holding them accountable for much of the fear, suspicion and hate that dominates our lives. He relished walking up to the biggest bully, flicking them in the nose and daring them to do something about it.
I didn’t agree with Stewart on everything. There are some political issues, philosophy of life and theological viewpoints where we vary greatly. However, in a chaotic and mad world sometimes we need someone who’ll call it what it is; “bat ______ crazy!”
Humor, like taste, is individualistic but it can be a powerful way of pointing out the insanity that surrounds us. Perhaps it might also help us find some sanity within. For that and his willingness to try and change our world with a smile; “God’s speed Jon Stewart and thank you.”