What’s Inside –
This afternoon I burned old collected limbs which had fallen this past winter. Along with twigs and branches, there was a stack of large limbs that I cut up last year when part of a big tree was torn down by a thunderstorm. They had finally dried out enough where they would burn quickly. It didn’t take long to have a large fire burning brightly and hot! After a while, there wasn’t much left of the burn pile but red, orange, and blue scorching ashes. Before heading to the house I took a water bottle that was almost half filled with water and laid it on the hot embers. I watched as it shrunk, popped the top off and melted the places of the bottle where there wasn’t any water. However, where there was water the plastic didn’t melt. I watched as the water inside began to boil but the plastic wasn’t consumed. Because of the water inside the plastic didn’t melt outside. It was awesome to watch and wait to see how long it lasted. Finally, of course, the water evaporated and the plastic shriveled by the flames but it took longer than it should have given the power of the heat and flame.
It was a wonderful reminder that what’s inside; our spirit, emotions, mentality, don’t just protect what can’t be seen but also protects the outside, what we can see; our health, bodies, and relationships.
The sun, which shone so brightly the last couple of days filling my spirit and mind with images of spring, is gone today, replaced by gray, gloomy clouds. My wife’s flu bug which bit her last week seems to have been squished and she’s on the mend. The weekend is winding down and soon a new week will start.
I commented to a friend today about a photograph taken about 4 years ago that; “sometimes it seems long ago and other times yesterday.” I think that’s life. When younger I was told; “time moves faster as you get older.” It didn’t make sense to me then but now, on the other side of the hill (midlife), it’s a boulder rolling faster and faster.
The present moment, where we long to continuously dwell, is the one place that brings thankfulness, humility, and acceptance. We are thankful because we are only “grass that whithers, blows away, and its place remembers it no more.” Every moment is precious, even the ones we’d rather not experience. We are humbled by the brevity of ourselves and the things around us. Nothing is permanent which we can touch, see, feel, hear, or taste. “All things are passing away.” By accepting this truth we can choose to consciously, deliberately, live leaving nothing unfinished, and embrace this flash of light we call being alive.
Slowing Down –
The last few days have been slooooooooooooooooooooooooooow. We’ve had overcast skies, plenty of rain and this makes for a dreary season and spirit. April showers may bring May flowers but February showers bring time to a standstill. The last few months have been long. I always have a difficult time between Thanksgiving and Easter. It’s dark when you arise and when you arrive home in the evening. The darkness that surrounds me seems to permeate my emotions. As someone with Chronic Severe Depression and a Severe Anxiety Disorder the days slowing to a crawl, mess with my balance and threaten to send me over the edge into negative thought patterns and fixations on disappointments and failures.
The balance, of course, is not letting the anxiety get in there and make my brain whirl like a drugged up hamster on a greased up wheel. Again, it is balance. I make sure the things which help me; meds, exercise, talking to others about how I’m feeling, are done and not discarded even when tempted to do so.
The balance to keep life’s rhythm manageable is an everyday if not every moment discipline. If we let it we would be either swept away in a chaotic whirlwind of activity or mired in a despondent state of surrender. Slowing down isn’t the goal but balance and mindful living are what keeps us sane and steady on the path.
It happened several weeks ago but has happened before many times and chances are will happen again. A stranger, someone we don’t know and not sure we want to, approaches us and asks us for assistance. This last time it was at a gas station when a long, matted hair, holes in his shirt and pants man, with a gas can in his hand asked me to buy him some gas. I always feel vulnerable and suspicious when anything similar to this happens and try to take a look around without being obvious. I was almost finished filling my tank and told him to set his canister down and proceeded to give him enough to almost fill it. When I finished he said; “Thank you,” took the container and went back to where he and another person were sitting. I opened the front door, sat in the driver’s seat and told the story to Beth who had watched from inside our car.
It’s been a rule of mine for as long as I can remember to not ask or demand from someone what they will do with money, gas or whatever when I give it to them. I understand some people take advantage of others and use people’s generosity for nefarious purposes. I know others need genuine help. I also believe in serving angels unaware and there’s no doubt I can’t tell the difference between the three. When I give it is a letting go of the abundance I sometimes have and allow others to use it as they deem necessary.
Assisting another in need is often vague. However, giving to another isn’t about how they use the gift but having a heart that’s willing to help.
Last night I sat in front of a roaring fire outside at our fire-pit. I had cleaned up the yard over the last two days and had limbs and other stuff we no longer needed to burn. I watched as the flames consumed the items and then deposit them in the air as smoke and ash.
I thought about life and all that we hold dear is quickly used up and thrown away. Nothing in this world is permanent. Everything is transient. I reflected upon the life of my friend who is suffering in a hospital holding on to a life which isn’t intended to endure. However, he holds on as tight as he can because he loves his family and his friends. He and we don’t want to say; “Goodbye.” In his weakened condition, he still worries about others and how they will make it without him.
The fire burns down and I start to feel the cold of the evening. I’ve run out of fuel to feed the flames. They get lower, the embers glow less brightly and soon will go out. I get up and move inside. A place of warmth, safety, and comfort. I pray my friend, at the right time, will leave this cold world and find his eternal dwelling place as well.
Earlier this week I watched a powerful documentary on people being released from prison. It was a story of two men who were sentenced under California’s outdated and recently reformed Three Strikes Law. Simply stated the law demanded that any criminal who was arrested and found guilty three times received a harsh prison sentence often 25 years to life. After almost 20 years of being in place, the penal system and the citizens of California realized it wasn’t effective, led to overpopulation in the jails, severely impacted people of color, and left a trail of broken families in its wake.
The documentary follows two of the thousands of men who have been released for petty, non-violent crimes, after serving decades in jail. The transition for both of them was difficult, however, one was able to get back on his feet stay clean and sober, get married and be promoted in his job. The other man, who had a strong family and church structure, struggled mightily. Old demons such as drugs and mental health issues kept him unbalanced and unable to find his groove the way the first man did. At the end of the documentary both men were still out and making their way the best they could.
As I watched the film I couldn’t help but feel for both of these men. I work with men who are incarcerated and addicted. Addiction is a powerful force for evil and destruction. Incarceration can also be a doorway to a life of crime and recidivism but I’ve also seen men who learn how to make different choices so as not to end up in the same predicament.
Men who do three things greatly reduce their chance of going back to jail or getting back into their addiction. The first is having a positive home environment that might not necessarily be with their biological family. The second is a full-time job, a chance to do something and receive. The third might be most important and that is living a life around positive people, folks who will pull you up not drag you down. These three things, which most of us take for granted, will help men stay balanced, sure-footed, and on the path to a new life.
1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.
3 He will not let your foot slip he who watches over you will not slumber;
4 indeed, he who watches over you will neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The Lord watches over you the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
6 the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.
7 The Lord will keep you from all harm, he will watch over your life;
8 the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.
Fear Doesn’t Work that Way
Last night, the Mrs. and I were late going out to water our flowers and bushes. I grabbed my brightest flashlight and went out the front door. Just beyond our porch there is a huge Oak tree. As I stepped off it something falling from the tree caught my eye. I shined the light on the flowers beneath the tree trying to find the object. Seeing nothing I then illuminated the area where whatever fell came from. That’s when I noticed movement and it didn’t take me long to see it was a large Rat Snake (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rat_snake), in fact there were two of them. As soon as Beth heard the word snake she wouldn’t get near the tree. I told her they were non-poisonous, not fond of humans and kept the mice and rodent population down. This didn’t dissuade her nor reduce her fear of snakes.
In an episode of; “Sports Night,”(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sports_Night) Dan and Casey, two sports anchors, were discussing a fear Casey was experiencing. Dan says to Casey; “Don’t be afraid!” Casey smiles and replies; “Fear doesn’t work that way.”
Fear has a way of reaching down inside of us and finding a place to reside where mere words, logic and assurance have a hard time dislodging. Being afraid is primal. It often triggers; fight, flight or freeze response. Too often we judge and don’t understand another’s fears, especially if we don’t share it. We try our best to talk them out of being afraid or tell them how to work through their fright. The best response, however, is to listen, understand, don’t judge, don’t push and allow them to work through their fears in their own time and their own pace.