This morning, on my way to see a couple of fathers, I approached an intersection where the main road which I was traveling rounds a curve and another road intersects at the center of the curve. A large phone utility truck approached the stop sign on the side road, slowed but never stopped. Fortunately for him, I was turning or I couldn’t have slowed down enough to stop before crashing into him.
It’s so hard to stop. We as a people seem to always be on the go. The world’s history is a story about people who keep going, striving, exploring, not wanting to stop.
A few nights ago Beth and I watched the movie; “The Martian,” starring Matt Damon. It was a good movie about a man stranded alone on the red planet and the desperate attempt to rescue him. Even on another world he still couldn’t stop but had to work hard and travel a great distance just to survive.
I think that’s why we don’t stop. We believe moving is equivalent to being alive. If we stop, we die. However, there are some places we can go only if we’re still, cease our striving, realizing that the most unexplored places require a journey within.
Last night was our Spring 2017 Certificate Celebration for our Incarcerated Father’s class. On this night we give the men a nice graduation certificate, an official letter that can be used to help them progress towards parole, pizza and pop. We also talk about what they’ve learned and how they’re going to use this knowledge.
About half way through the class the speaker system in the room crackled and the voice called a name. The resident answered and the voice said his ride was here to pick him up. He was going home! All of sudden nothing mattered. Not the pizza, pop, or the celebration. It was his time to get out and he was taking advantage of the opportunity. I met him at the door and told him I’d he needed anything he had my contact information and looked him square in the eye and said; “Make good choices.” He smiled and said he would.
In life there are the important things and the real important things. He chose one last night and hope he continues to make the right choices.
A Little Help –
This afternoon I took a large load of yard debris to the county dump. It was a truck and trailer full. When I arrived I began unloading the trailer first. It was filled with rotten deck boards and trusses. It was quite a bit to handle by myself but the man standing at the dumpster, who presses the button to activate the compactor, wasn’t in the mood to help. In fact, he asked me to walk to the other side of the dumpster to push in a small piece of lumber which was sticking out. I thought to myself; “Dude. You see how much junk I am trying to unload. A little assistance would be greatly appreciated.” Sigh. I finished with one dumpster and moved to the second one, unloaded what was left and drove off.
I don’t know what kind of day the worker had. He might’ve helped everyone before me and was too tired to be of any assistance. It is unfair to judge him by one encounter and so I let the frustration go. However, the lesson of offering help to those in need, little and big gestures of kindness and grace, wasn’t missed. Hopefully, the next time I can lend a hand I’ll remember and not leave someone hanging.
His braided hair was unkempt, long and matted. His feet and hands were covered in dirt. In his hands was a gas tank and as he approached me I knew what he wanted. “Could you give me some gas?” came the anticipated question. “Sure,” I answered. “Where are you headed?” He named a town not anywhere near the gas station and admitted he had taken several wrong turns, ran out of gas and didn’t have the money to get the gas to get him to his destination. I finished filling up my truck and brought the nozzle over to his small tank. I filled it up and wished him the best in finding his way.
As I drove off I thought about the small act of kindness extended to the unwashed young man and was thankful for the ability to offer grace to him as he traveled. I’m also thankful for the many small and big acts of grace and kindness extended to me over the span of my journey to help me get closer to my destination.
On my way to a meeting this morning I was passing through a town with several four way stops. I was also behind an elder gentleman who not only fully stopped at each sight but lingered and proceeded slowly, very slowly, to the next. After a while my patience was wearing thin and I was thinking; “Please just go faster!” We approached the final four way stop, still at a snail’s pace. Trying to mind push him through the four way stop I followed him closely. Half-way in the intersection I realized I didn’t look to see if someone was waiting to go after the elder and should’ve gone before me. Sure enough there was a driver watching the knucklehead (me) go without waiting his turn. I waved at the person, mouthing; “Sorry!” And feeling embarrassed as I slinked through.
My problem wasn’t the elderly man in front of me it was that I allowed someone else to distract me and lose my focus. Luckily the waiting driver was aware of me when I was not.
Fight the Way You Practice –
This afternoon was the first class for Incarcerated Fathers, Spring 2017. The first day of class is always a little awkward. The residents do not know you and you don’t know them. You explain how the class works, what’s required of them and what you will give for the class to be a success.
We talked about respect and relationships and how the key to successful parenting is our children being able to trust that we will be there for them in every way possible. By doing this we give kids the confidence that they can venture out into the world because home is always safe and always there.
Many of the men I teach in these classes didn’t have that kind of home life growing up and find it difficult to picture what a family such as this would look like. As we go through the class we will practice showing them it is possible and necessary to give their children the childhood the residents didn’t grow up with and for them to be the parents they aren’t sure they can be. Once they work on these skills, practice them they will begin to believe it possible.
“You can only fight the way you practice.” This the hope we have for the men who participate in our class; to learn to fight in such a way that builds up, not destroys.
New Life in Dead Things –
This morning I was walking, reflecting, on a number of things in a friend’s yard where we are spending the weekend. As I ambled around I came across a rotted tree stump about three feet tall (pictured). I jiggled it a little then a lot and soon it came loose and broke off from the bottom. Carrying the piece of dead wood to a place to throw it away I felt a flutter by my hand and looked down in time to see a bird fly up and land on a tree limb nearby. At first I thought it strange for a bird to fly that close but then I examined the dead stump in my hand. Looking closely I spotted a hole in the trunk about a quarter size with tiny red dotted eggs. I realized I had, like a giant movie monster, yanked up the bird’s home and carried it off. I gently righted the stump and took it back to where it was removed. I hope the mama bird will return.
It was a wonderful reminder that life can be found even in places which appear desolate, dark and dead.
Left Behind –
Whew! It’s been a long day! So, this will be a short entry.
Today, Beth and I went through the belongings of a dear friend who passed a few years ago. It was both erie and interesting.
To know one day each of our lives will be reduced to a few boxes, pieces of furniture and other knick knacks is a great lesson in humility. Truly, what we do, who we are is what matters in the short time we exist in this planet. What a shame it would be to just be remembered for the trinkets we left behind instead who we were and the lives we impacted.
Thankfully, my friend lived a life that touched many, didn’t collect a lot of useless things and as we went through her left-behind belongings they paled in comparison to who she was and what she left in us by her love and grace.
My truck smells good! It’s Certificate Ceremony Celebration night for one of my Incarcerated Fathers classes. For 10 weeks they’ve listened to me, took notes, completed homework and now the smell of success will go from my truck to the classroom. They’ll also receive a completion certificate, a letter of recommendation, but pizza will be their most beloved prize tonight.
Its amazing how quickly you can get to know and like someone. These guys are serving sentences for everything from drug running to stealing to assault. Some of them have been beaten down by a system that’s can be more punitive than educational. However, the sheriff in this county believes in redemption, that no one is beyond saving. We’re all human and nothing really separates us except the walls we erect.
So, off I go. A glamorous pizza delivery guy. I hope, when all is said and done, they will have received much more from me than a few slices of pie.
Brian Loging (Twitter)
About the Journey –
As a Benedictine Oblate (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oblate), I receive a monthly newsletter from the Archabbey I was adopted into; Saint Meinrad’s (http://www.saintmeinrad.org/). Last night I read the newsletter for February. The newsletter’s chosen subject was stability and faithfulness. Included in it was a story; “The Worn Path,” by EudoraWelty.
The story is below but the point of it is missed by most. When Eudora Welty was asked if the grandmother was able to save her grandson with the medicine, she replied; “It doesn’t make any difference if the grandson is alive or dead because the story is about the journey.” She went on to say that it is the force of the grandmother’s will and her willingness to face danger, hardship, setbacks and the longest of odds to journey to and from the doctor to procure the prescription. Her fidelity, faithfulness, and stability to see it through to the end no matter the outcome.
In our world getting what we want, when we want it, without waiting or struggling to achieve any real meaning in our lives is because there is no journey to travel, no roads to wander, no paths to navigate.
Too often we miss the point of living. It’s not arriving that makes it worth doing. It’s how we get to the end and beyond.
If you have the time, read the “The Worn Path” below. Reflect on it and be sure you’re in it for the journey.
It was December—a bright frozen day in the early morning. Far out in the country there was an old Negro woman with her head tied red rag, coming along a path through the pinewoods. Her name was Phoenix Jackson. She was very old and small and she walked slowly in the dark pine shadows, moving a little from side to side in her steps, with the balanced heaviness and lightness of a pendulum in a grand-father clock. She carried a thin, small cane made from an umbrella, and with this she kept tapping the frozen earth in front of her. This made a grave and persistent noise in the still air, that seemed meditative like the chirping of a solitary little bird.
She wore a dark striped dress reaching down to her shoe tops, and an equally long apron of bleached sugar sacks, with a full pocket: all neat and tidy, but every time she took a step she might have fallen over her shoelaces, which dragged from her unlaced shoes. She looked straight ahead. Her eyes were blue with age. Her skin had a pattern all its own of numberless branching wrinkles and as though a whole little tree stood in the middle of her forehead, but a golden color ran underneath, and the two knobs of her cheeks were illumined by a yellow burning under the dark. Under the red rag her hair came down on her neck in the frailest of ringlets, still black, and with an odor like copper.
Now and then there was a quivering in the thicket. Old Phoenix said, “Out of my way, all you foxes, owls, beetles, jack rabbits, coons and wild animals!. . . Keep out from under these feet, little bob-whites…. Keep the big wild hogs out of my path. Don’t let none of those come running my direction. I got a long way.” Under her small black-freckled hand her cane, limber as a buggy whip, would switch at the brush as if to rouse up any hiding things.
On she went. The woods were deep and still. The sun made the pine needles almost too bright to look at, up where the wind rocked. The cones dropped as light as feathers. Down in the hollow was the mourning dove—it was not too late for him.
The path ran up a hill. “Seem like there is chains about my feet, time I get this far,” she said, in the voice of argument old people keep to use with themselves. “Something always take a hold of me on this hill— pleads I should stay.”
After she got to the top she turned and gave a full, severe look behind her where she had come. “Up through pines,” she said at length. “Now down through oaks.”
Her eyes opened their widest, and she started down gently. But before she got to the bottom of the hill a bush caught her dress.
Her fingers were busy and intent, but her skirts were full and long, so that before she could pull them free in one place they were caught in another. It was not possible to allow the dress to tear. “I in the thorny bush,” she said. “Thorns, you doing your appointed work. Never want to let folks pass, no sir. Old eyes thought you was a pretty little green bush.”
Finally, trembling all over, she stood free, and after a moment dared to stoop for her cane.
“Sun so high!” she cried, leaning back and looking, while the thick tears went over her eyes. “The time getting all gone here.”
At the foot of this hill was a place where a log was laid across the creek.
“Now comes the trial,” said Phoenix.
Putting her right foot out, she mounted the log and shut her eyes. Lifting her skirt, leveling her cane fiercely before her, like a festival figure in some parade, she began to march across. Then she opened her eyes and she was safe on the other side.
“I wasn’t as old as I thought,” she said.
But she sat down to rest. She spread her skirts on the bank around her and folded her hands over her knees. Up above her was a tree in a pearly cloud of mistletoe. She did not dare to close her eyes, and when a little boy brought her a plate with a slice of marble-cake on it she spoke to him. “That would be acceptable,” she said. But when she went to take it there was just her own hand in the air.
So she left that tree, and had to go through a barbed-wire fence. There she had to creep and crawl, spreading her knees and stretching her fingers like a baby trying to climb the steps. But she talked loudly to herself: she could not let her dress be torn now, so late in the day, and she could not pay for having her arm or her leg sawed off if she got caught fast where she was.
At last she was safe through the fence and risen up out in the clearing. Big dead trees, like black men with one arm, were standing in the purple stalks of the withered cotton field. There sat a buzzard.
“Who you watching?”
In the furrow she made her way along.
“Glad this not the season for bulls,” she said, looking sideways, “and the good Lord made his snakes to curl up and sleep in the winter. A pleasure I don’t see no two-headed snake coming around that tree, where it come once. It took a while to get by him, back in the summer.”
She passed through the old cotton and went into a field of dead corn. It whispered and shook and was taller than her head. “Through the maze now,” she said, for there was no path.
Then there was something tall, black, and skinny there, moving before her.
At first she took it for a man. It could have been a man dancing in the field. But she stood still and listened, and it did not make a sound. It was as silent as a ghost.
“Ghost,” she said sharply, “who be you the ghost of? For I have heard of nary death close by.”
But there was no answer–only the ragged dancing in the wind.
She shut her eyes, reached out her hand, and touched a sleeve. She found a coat and inside that an emptiness, cold as ice.
“You scarecrow,” she said. Her face lighted. “I ought to be shut up for good,” she said with laughter. “My senses is gone. I too old. I the oldest people I ever know. Dance, old scarecrow,” she said, “while I dancing with you.”
She kicked her foot over the furrow, and with mouth drawn down, shook her head once or twice in a little strutting way. Some husks blew down and whirled in streamers about her skirts.
Then she went on, parting her way from side to side with the cane, through the whispering field. At last she came to the end, to a wagon track where the silver grass blew between the red ruts. The quail were walking around like pullets, seeming all dainty and unseen.
“Walk pretty,” she said. “This the easy place. This the easy going.”
She followed the track, swaying through the quiet bare fields, through the little strings of trees silver in their dead leaves, past cabins silver from weather, with the doors and windows boarded shut, all like old women under a spell sitting there. “I walking in their sleep,” she said, nodding her head vigorously.
In a ravine she went where a spring was silently flowing through a hollow log. Old Phoenix bent and drank. “Sweet-gum makes the water sweet,” she said, and drank more. “Nobody know who made this well, for it was here when I was born.”
The track crossed a swampy part where the moss hung as white as lace from every limb. “Sleep on, alligators, and blow your bubbles.” Then the track went into the road.
Deep, deep the road went down between the high green-colored banks. Overhead the live-oaks met, and it was as dark as a cave.
A black dog with a lolling tongue came up out of the weeds by the ditch. She was meditating, and not ready, and when he came at her she only hit him a little with her cane. Over she went in the ditch, like a little puff of milkweed.
Down there, her senses drifted away. A dream visited her, and she reached her hand up, but nothing reached down and gave her a pull. So she lay there and presently went to talking. “Old woman,” she said to herself, “that black dog come up out of the weeds to stall you off, and now there he sitting on his fine tail, smiling at you.”
A white man finally came along and found her—a hunter, a young man, with his dog on a chain.
“Well, Granny!” he laughed. “What are you doing there?”
“Lying on my back like a June-bug waiting to be fumed over, mister,” she said, reaching up her hand.
He lifted her up, gave her a swing in the air, and set her down. “Anything broken, Granny?”
“No sir, them old dead weeds is springy enough,” said Phoenix, when she had got her breath. “I thank you for your trouble.”
“Where do you live, Granny?” he asked, while the two dogs were growling at each other.
“Away back yonder, sir, behind the ridge. You can’t even see it from here.”
“On your way home?”
“No sir, I going to town.”
“Why, that’s too far! That’s as far as I walk when I come out myself, and I get something for my trouble.” He patted the stuffed bag he carried, and there hung down a little closed claw. It was one of the bob-whites, with its beak hooked bitterly to show it was dead. “Now you go on home, Granny!”
“I bound to go to town, mister,” said Phoenix. “The time come around.”
He gave another laugh, filling the whole landscape. “I know you old colored people! Wouldn’t miss going to town to see Santa Claus!”
But something held old Phoenix very still. The deep lines in her face went into a fierce and different radiation. Without warning, she had seen with her own eyes a flashing nickel fall out of the man’s pocket onto the ground.
“How old are you, Granny?” he was saying.
“There is no telling, mister,” she said, “no telling.”
Then she gave a little cry and clapped her hands and said, “Git on away from here, dog! Look! Look at that dog!” She laughed as if in admiration. “He ain’t scared of nobody. He a big black dog.” She whispered, “Sic him!”
“Watch me get rid of that cur,” said the man. “Sic him, Pete! Sic him!”
Phoenix heard the dogs fighting, and heard the man running and throwing sticks. She even heard a gunshot. But she was slowly bending forward by that time, further and further forward, the lids stretched down over her eyes, as if she were doing this in her sleep. Her chin was lowered almost to her knees. The yellow palm of her hand came out from the fold of her apron. Her fingers slid down and along the ground under the piece of money with the grace and care they would have in lifting an egg from under a setting hen. Then she slowly straightened up, she stood erect, and the nickel was in her apron pocket. A bird flew by. Her lips moved. “God watching me the whole time. I come to stealing.”
The man came back, and his own dog panted about them. “Well, I scared him off that time,” he said, and then he laughed and lifted his gun and pointed it at Phoenix.
She stood straight and faced him.
“Doesn’t the gun scare you?” he said, still pointing it.
“No, sir, I seen plenty go off closer by, in my day, and for less than what I done,” she said, holding utterly still.
He smiled, and shouldered the gun. “Well, Granny,” he said, “you must be a hundred years old, and scared of nothing. I’d give you a dime if I had any money with me. But you take my advice and stay home, and nothing will happen to you.”
“I bound to go on my way, mister,” said Phoenix. She inclined her head in the red rag. Then they went in different directions, but she could hear the gun shooting again and again over the hill.
She walked on. The shadows hung from the oak trees to the road like curtains. Then she smelled wood-smoke, and smelled the river, and she saw a steeple and the cabins on their steep steps. Dozens of little black children whirled around her. There ahead was Natchez shining. Bells were ringing. She walked on.
In the paved city it was Christmas time. There were red and green electric lights strung and crisscrossed everywhere, and all turned on in the daytime. Old Phoenix would have been lost if she had not distrusted her eyesight and depended on her feet to know where to take her.
She paused quietly on the sidewalk where people were passing by. A lady came along in the crowd, carrying an armful of red-, green- and silver-wrapped presents; she gave off perfume like the red roses in hot summer, and Phoenix stopped her.
“Please, missy, will you lace up my shoe?” She held up her foot.
“What do you want, Grandma?”
“See my shoe,” said Phoenix. “Do all right for out in the country, but wouldn’t look right to go in a big building.” “Stand still then, Grandma,” said the lady. She put her packages down on the sidewalk beside her and laced and tied both shoes tightly.
“Can’t lace ’em with a cane,” said Phoenix. “Thank you, missy. I doesn’t mind asking a nice lady to tie up my shoe, when I gets out on the street.”
Moving slowly and from side to side, she went into the big building, and into a tower of steps, where she walked up and around and around until her feet knew to stop.
She entered a door, and there she saw nailed up on the wall the document that had been stamped with the gold seal and framed in the gold frame, which matched the dream that was hung up in her head.
“Here I be,” she said. There was a fixed and ceremonial stiffness over her body.
“A charity case, I suppose,” said an attendant who sat at the desk before her.
But Phoenix only looked above her head. There was sweat on her face, the wrinkles in her skin shone like a bright net.
“Speak up, Grandma,” the woman said. “What’s your name? We must have your history, you know. Have you been here before? What seems to be the trouble with you?”
Old Phoenix only gave a twitch to her face as if a fly were bothering her.
“Are you deaf?” cried the attendant.
But then the nurse came in.
“Oh, that’s just old Aunt Phoenix,” she said. “She doesn’t come for herself—she has a little grandson. She makes these trips just as regular as clockwork. She lives away back off the Old Natchez Trace.” She bent down. “Well, Aunt Phoenix, why don’t you just take a seat? We won’t keep you standing after your long trip.” She pointed.
The old woman sat down, bolt upright in the chair.
“Now, how is the boy?” asked the nurse.
Old Phoenix did not speak.
“I said, how is the boy?”
But Phoenix only waited and stared straight ahead, her face very solemn and withdrawn into rigidity.
“Is his throat any better?” asked the nurse. “Aunt Phoenix, don’t you hear me? Is your grandson’s throat any better since the last time you came for the medicine?”
With her hands on her knees, the old woman waited, silent, erect and motionless, just as if she were in armor.
“You mustn’t take up our time this way, Aunt Phoenix,” the nurse said. “Tell us quickly about your grandson, and get it over. He isn’t dead, is he?’
At last there came a flicker and then a flame of comprehension across her face, and she spoke.
“My grandson. It was my memory had left me. There I sat and forgot why I made my long trip.”
“Forgot?” The nurse frowned. “After you came so far?”
Then Phoenix was like an old woman begging a dignified forgiveness for waking up frightened in the night. “I never did go to school, I was too old at the Surrender,” she said in a soft voice. “I’m an old woman without an education. It was my memory fail me. My little grandson, he is just the same, and I forgot it in the coming.”
“Throat never heals, does it?” said the nurse, speaking in a loud, sure voice to old Phoenix. By now she had a card with something written on it, a little list. “Yes. Swallowed lye. When was it?—January—two, three years ago—”
Phoenix spoke unasked now. “No, missy, he not dead, he just the same. Every little while his throat begin to close up again, and he not able to swallow. He not get his breath. He not able to help himself. So the time come around, and I go on another trip for the soothing medicine.”
“All right. The doctor said as long as you came to get it, you could have it,” said the nurse. “But it’s an obstinate case.”
“My little grandson, he sit up there in the house all wrapped up, waiting by himself,” Phoenix went on. “We is the only two left in the world. He suffer and it don’t seem to put him back at all. He got a sweet look. He going to last. He wear a little patch quilt and peep out holding his mouth open like a little bird. I remembers so plain now. I not going to forget him again, no, the whole enduring time. I could tell him from all the others in creation.”
“All right.” The nurse was trying to hush her now. She brought her a bottle of medicine. “Charity,” she said, making a check mark in a book.
Old Phoenix held the bottle close to her eyes, and then carefully put it into her pocket.
“I thank you,” she said.
“It’s Christmas time, Grandma,” said the attendant. “Could I give you a few pennies out of my purse?”
“Five pennies is a nickel,” said Phoenix stiffly.
“Here’s a nickel,” said the attendant.
Phoenix rose carefully and held out her hand. She received the nickel and then fished the other nickel out of her pocket and laid it beside the new one. She stared at her palm closely, with her head on one side.
Then she gave a tap with her cane on the floor.
“This is what come to me to do,” she said. “I going to the store and buy my child a little windmill they sells, made out of paper. He going to find it hard to believe there such a thing in the world. I’ll march myself back where he waiting, holding it straight up in this hand.”
She lifted her free hand, gave a little nod, turned around, and walked out of the doctor’s office. Then her slow step began on the stairs, going down.
Go, Now! –
For the second day in a row, a traffic light has been an inspiration for reflection (“Up Ahead -https://thewannabesaint.com/2017/01/25/up-ahead/). Today, on my way to lecture a group of fathers with addictions I was stopped by a red light and waited for it to turn green. My attention was elsewhere; what I was going to say to the men, thinking about the week that is quickly evaporating. As I sat there pondering I noticed a yellow arrow going out and then the main light turning green. I had missed a green arrow, that would’ve allowed me to proceed through the intersection. I never saw it. Looking behind me I was relieved that no one else was amused or aggravated by my lack of focus.
When our focal point is other than where we want, need, to go we can miss the signs, indicators, of where and when we need to proceed. If yesterday’s lesson was patiently waiting, today’s would be that sometimes there are clear and present signals that the time to proceed, to continue on with the journey is now.
In the Air –
A couple of weeks ago the Mrs. and I were sitting by the firepit talking about our day with our Siberian Husky, Trooper, laying beside us. One of us were in mid-sentence when he popped up and began sniffing the air. He smelled…something. We weren’t sure what. We hadn’t heard, seen or smelled anything but he has the stronger; “sniffer” so his alertness got our attention. I grabbed the flashlight and began shining it all over the area and sure enough, there was a possum ambling through the yard. Possums aren’t dangerous but I wouldn’t want one to waddle through my legs and Beth might still be running today if it had scurried past her. Thanks to our dog’s senses we had ample warning of the encroaching critter.
Wisdom can give us an extra sense of perception, a radar of sorts, which alerts us when something isn’t right, a correction needs to be made, or heightened alert is in order. It’s in these times we want to shine a light in the dark places, be vigilant, ready to make a course adjustment, be still or move forward cautiously. Finding our way can be difficult. We must be sure that every sense is used and heeded.
A Strange Season –
When I was growing up Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were filled with family, food and gifts. We were at one grandmother’s house on Christmas Eve and the other on Christmas Day. In between was the opening of gifts followed by a big breakfast with my parents. It was a special time and for me never to be repeated.
People say the magic of Christmas is lost as you enter your teens and twenties but can be recaptured when you have children and eventually grandchildren. The joy, excitement, anticipation in a child’s eyes can reignite the ember within. Christmas can also transform into a time of being with family and friends. Instead of gifts you open your hearts to others and allow relationships to be renewed.
Beth and I don’t have any children so recapturing the Christmas Spirit this way isn’t an option. We live near Beth’s family and she loves spending time with them. Her Christmas Spirit is almost always burning brightly. She comes from a large family who welcome me with plenty of love and open arms but the amount of people in a confined location triggers my social anxiety. I’ve tried a few times in different settings to be a part but it’s difficult to be comfortable while fighting a real battle on the inside.
So, Christmas has become a strange time for me. I have not given up hope for the return of the Christmas Spirit. I am thankful for it being on a Sunday this year and the chance to celebrate it with others. I’m also thankful for a wonderful wife who supports me and the challenges I try to overcome each day. Knowing when to push, when to hold, attempting to understand what I have a hard time describing. She is my greatest gift.
Location, Location, Location –
Last week I ordered some pizzas from the Pizza Hut down the street from our offices. I have done this before, several times, when we’ve had our Incarcerated Father’s class Certificate ceremony. Yesterday morning I dialed the same number as always and no one ever answered. I tried again and again with no luck. It was getting close to needing to pick up the pizzas so I decided to hop in my truck and drive there, order them and sit and wait.
When I arrived I was greeted with a sign on the door which read; “We’ve Moved!” It had a new address so I jumped in the truck once again and found their new location. The door was open, I walked in but immediately noticed the machines weren’t hooked up and no pizzas were going to be made there anytime soon. Exasperation set in. I felt as if I was wandering all over Columbia, TN looking and needing something which wasn’t going to be found or attained. Finally, I went to another place, bought their pizzas and everything worked out fine.
The path of life is rarely dull. I was talking with a friend earlier this week and we discussed the places on the journey we find ourselves. He expressed frustration that he hadn’t arrived at the point he wanted to be, being who he desired. We shared our mutual frustration at times when what we’re looking for and what we long to embrace cannot be found when we feel we need them most. A sense of frustration and loss can set in. However, we also reminded each other the path and path maker can be trusted to provide what we seek and what we need at the right time and the right place.
Wrestling with the Wind –
The wind has been blowing today, seemingly from all directions, ahead of a cold front which will settle into the area over the weekend. I spent part of the day raking leaves. Raking, gathering, keeping leaves in one place when the wind is determined to send them back to where you brought them from can be frustrating and defeating. The wind can’t be stopped by any force I have, nor can it be altered by anything over which I have control.
After a while I figured out if I would rake small piles, keeping the rake in place to keep the leaves from being blown away, I could eventually form a big enough pile to burn. I also discovered the raking job I was doing today wasn’t going to be close to perfect and I had to be okay with that.
This past week has been similar to my wrestling with the wind today. Many things are moving, changing, and it’s hard to pin anything down. No matter how hard I try, I do not possess the ability to keep things the same nor make them transition slower. Life’s journey has a speed all its own.
So, like the raking method, I take it in small, manageable sizes. I accept what I can that is changing and trust that each partial choice will lead to full acceptance of the inevitable transience of life in time. I’ll also allow for the truth of never being perfectly happy, blissful about change. Wisdom tells me progression not perfection is the way to peace.
“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” Second Book of Corinthians, Chapter 4
Broken Vessels –
Yesterday, on my way to work I backed the truck up to turn around in the driveway and heard a loud crash. I checked all my mirrors and didn’t notice any flower pots or other things I might have ran over, nothing seemed amiss. I proceeded on and forgot about it until yesterday evening. When I took the dog out to take care of business I spotted the culprit who created the loud sound I heard while backing up. It was the dog’s water dish. It was in pieces all over the driveway. What once was good for holding water, giving our active Siberian Husky vitality was no longer good for anything but to be thrown away.
As I picked up the pieces the verse above from Second Corinthians, along with the song from Jars of Clay based on the same section of scripture, recited itself in my brain. I wrote yesterday about a funeral home speaker I listened to at a luncheon on Tuesday and perhaps it was still rattling around in my mind as I reflected on the fragility of human life. What now holds us together physically, emotionally and spiritually will one day not be able. It is not a morbid thought but one which reminds us to live fully and completely in each moment while our earthly vessels are still able.
For the Weary –
Today, I am tired. I did a few house chores this afternoon, worked from home for awhile this morning but it’s been slow going.
I’m not sure if it’s an election hangover or simply being worn out from a busy work week. Probably both.
Life isn’t easy. I have been reflecting on the election the last few days. As the dust settles some are ready to build, others feel covered in dirt as if they’re being prepared for burial. As each side recovers from a scorched Earth political season there is an uneasy silence. Both sides have little fight left. Bridging of the fissures of our nation will begin at the appropriate time but not soon, if ever, for lack of conviction, ability and perhaps desire. We all need time to heal.
I sit in a parking lot waiting for a play my wife’s performing in. We went to dinner before and she noticed my tiredness. “You okay?” “Just tired.” my reply. I could tell she was also looking for the energy to perform over the next three days. Our dinner seemed like silence with moments of words injected into it.
Now, I’ll go inside, enjoy Beth’s play and hopefully be thankful for the distraction from the weariness or weary mess life can sometimes be.
All You Need –
Yesterday I wrote about the battle with rodents that begins every fall (There’s a Catch https://thewannabesaint.com/2016/11/05/theres-a-catch/).
Cleaning mouse traps and the areas where the little fuzz balls like to hang out is one parts determination and nine parts twisting, turning, bending and stretching. To make it easier I decided to use a few of the attachments which came with the vacuüm cleaner. The problem was I didn’t know where we kept them. I began looking in all the obvious places and then not so obvious ones but couldn’t find them. Finally, frustrated and out of ideas, I used just the hose along with a broom and dust-pan. It would’ve been easier with the attachments but I made it work without them. Once I finished the chore I was wrapping up the cord of the vacuüm to the hooks on the handle. As I did this I noticed that embedded in the handle were all the attachments I’d been looking for…forehead slap…“ugh!”
I remember a conversation I had with a friend several months ago who was starting a new chapter in her life and she asked me to give her some advice. “Breathe‘ I said, ‘Remember you already have all you need. You’re awesome and you’re going to do great.” To another friend, same message; “Don’t fret and don’t doubt. Trust the path and the path maker. It will not take you where you shouldn’t go nor leave you alone. What you carry on the journey is what you’ll need. Everything you’ve experienced before is leading you here.”
May this wisdom be remembered and guide all of us today.
Our Siberian Husky, Trooper, has taken to rolling around in the grass every time we take him outside. He’s doing this because his thick winter coat is coming in and so his thinner summer coat needs to go. So, looking like he’s having a fit, he rolls over on his back and aggressively thrusts himself back and forth getting rid of that which is no longer necessary.
Watching him today I reflected on the desire to do the same thing. Not rolling around on the brittle, brown grass, although that might be interesting to do and for others to see, but shedding myself of that which I no longer need.
Its hard to rid ourselves of the unneeded. We become accustomed to the safety, the comfort, the security of what we know and do. To change is difficult and requires a courageous decision to willingly, perhaps aggressively, remove that which we is no longer necessary, knowing we can’t grow unless the old is left behind.
All that Glitters –
Today, before an addiction lecture, I sat and chatted in a room with several men. One of them was an intelligent, well spoken, good looking older gentleman. He asked good questions, had a gregarious personality and didn’t fit with the rest of the mostly younger, lower class, good ol’ boys who occupied the room.
After the lecture, he came up to me shook my hand and I asked him; “What is your occupation?” He replied; “I am, was, a dentist. I’m hoping to practice again, but we’ll have to wait and see.” We talked a little more, he left and flashed a perfect smile with straight, bright white teeth, as he departed.
To look at this man, one would not think drug addict, alcoholic. One would think of a big house, nice car, country club, kind of life. One would be very wrong. He didn’t have much of anything in the way of material wealth and was sharing life, going to group, sleeping, in a room with meth heads, cocaine addicts, drunkards, pill poppers. At his core, he was exactly like them.
Wisdom tells us to be extra cautious judging the outward appearance of a person. No matter what one looks like we do not know their story, the battles they’ve fought, what they’ve possessed and have had taken away.
“But for the grace of God, go I.” But for the grace of God, goes us all.”
“The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord. All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the spirit.” The Book of Proverbs, Chapter 16
How Much Does a Spirit Weigh? –
This morning was my regularly scheduled session with my therapist. I wanted to leave early because traffic approaching Nashville can be hazardous and slow. I arose with the alarm and went into the living room to do my morning prayers. Following, the above verse from the book of Proverbs was stuck in my head.
I pulled out of the driveway and began the trip. Everything was going fine until my cell phone rang and it was Beth, who was on her way to work, and while listening to the radio heard there was not one but two vehicle accidents on the interstate which I was traveling. “Sigh!” Brake lights soon lit up the road in front of me and I couldn’t help but be amused at how quickly my plans fell apart. “Oh, how little control we have over anything.” I finally made it to the doctor’s office and the waiting room was already full.
I found my seat and occupied myself with my phone and the TV which was on. Minute after minute passed by and it wasn’t too long before my appointment time came, went, and still I sat in the waiting room. My plans for the morning were vanishing before my eyes and I wondered what the Lord’s answer to me would be? Perhaps, “Brian, just breathe and let go of your irritation. I know where you are and I am there with you.”
Planning and scheduling my days are part of how I deal with my Severe Anxiety Disorder. It helps me break my schedule into smaller, more manageable parts. It seems innocent, “pure” as the verse from Proverbs would say, but I also recognize that the control I seek isn’t really possible and handing control over my daily existence to the One who is eternal is the only way to true peace of mind.
When my anxiety and/or depression begin to permeate my spirit it seems to get heavier and heavier until it’s an effort to do any and everything. However, when God, who knows my spirit is being weighed down by mental illness, plans, worries and a host of other things, sees me burdened he picks me up and breathes his lightness into my spirit so I can rise up and keep going.