Yesterday, almost one million students across the United States of America, walked out en masse to protest school shooting and the inability of adults to agree upon how to make our schools safer.
There were two types of protests that were happening. One was #walkout which encouraged students to leave their school classrooms and #walkup which encouraged these young adults to find someone who seemed to exist “on the edges” and talk with them eat lunch and begin a conversation that hopefully would develop into a relationship. I supported the #walkout and the #walkup protests and thought both had merit and could change lives. Neither was a perfect way of protesting but each one was worth doing.
However, I noticed that many folks were for one or the other. Not many looked for balance in the two approaches. Students were either labeled #walkup or #walkout. It seemed not much conversation was happening between the quickly diverging groups. This made me sad. The reason the students were protesting is that adults can’t talk to one another, find a compromise, work together on behalf of our nation’s youngest and brightest. Now, it was happening again.
I am sick of litmus tests that divide us as a nation, community, and families. I am tired of people not being able to listen to one another even if we do not agree with the other. There is almost always a middle way where we remember we’re all human, deserving of respect and kindness instead of disdain and meanness. Perhaps one day we will realize we have more in common than what we allow to tear us apart.
Change Myself –
The older I get the less knowledge and wisdom I think I possess. They say the beginning of wisdom and knowledge is two-fold; fearing God and knowing you know nothing. As each year passes the second part seems to get easier.
There was a time when I believed I knew much. Not just about myself but also about others. I could perceive motives both inward and outward, judge with impunity, and thought myself better and more able to live a life pleasing to God and myself than most other people. Then, I began to grow up.
The word growing brings with it a sense of serenity but growing is painful. It is bursting through old barriers, going places that are uncomfortable and unknown, daring to die in order to live, braving the challenges and elements that surround you.
With growth comes the realization you cannot force others to change. You do not have that power. You cannot stop the world from spinning out of control. You don’t have that ability. You can’t even get past your own hurts, habits, and hangups most days. You, I, am a perfect example of imperfection.
Wisdom and knowledge. They are as different as night and day but compliment each other when embraced and allowed to exist mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact, please you.”
Perfection or Progression –
A difficult discipline to master is self-awareness. It is when you are aware of the good and the not so good, the skills you possess and the ones which need work. The biases, skewed vision, different experiences, which make you the uniquely flawed individual like the rest of humanity.
Some of the men I work with have begun to develop this discipline and it is hard for them to see themselves as they truly are, with no excuses. It is especially for those who thought of themselves as good partners and fathers only to discover they have a lot of work to do. If we’re not careful these revelations can do more harm than good because the road seems terribly long. They may even ask; “Why try?”
Along with self-awareness, another discipline I try to teach is the truth of progression, not perfection. Oftentimes when we see ourselves, perhaps for the first time, we also envision the amount of hard work inside of ourselves out outside. We have this perfect view of what we want to be and what we think our family, friends, and others want us to be. We throw all of our efforts into becoming this perfect version of ourselves, which doesn’t exist and isn’t attainable, and never come close. We fail miserably.
This is why the path to peace and acceptance is progression, not perfection. We are never going to be the idealized version of what we think we want and should be. We will only wear ourselves out and down. To pursue progression doesn’t mean there isn’t hard work to be done but we recognize the realization of our true selves is found on the journey and not at the end of it.
Perfection or progression, the difference makes all the difference.
Perfect Timing –
Today was a great day for yard work. Our lawn has feasted on the rain and nutrients it’s received this week and has started to grow wild. It was windy and cool today and so I put on my blue jean overalls and hopped on the lawn mower. I had exactly one tank full of gas and it was enough for me to mow the front and the back.
About a third of the way through with the front yard I ran over some landscaping cloth. It was thick enough to get stuck around the blades of the mower. I stopped under our big Oak tree. I was busy messing with the cloth and when I was able to get all of it removed I was about to get back on my John Deere when I saw a long, thick branch just a few feet from where I was parked. Because I was under the mower near the engine I didn’t hear it crash to the ground but was certainly glad I stopped where I did and not a few feet further.
When I finished mowing I grabbed the weed eater and began working my way around the yard. The wind picked up and a few sprinkles fell and I wondered if I would finish before the rain started. I got through and was headed into the workshop as the rain came.
I had experienced two instances of perfect timing in the short span of an afternoon. Time is an interesting concept to try to wrap our minds around. We wonder why things happen when they do. We complain when we’re victims of bad timing and consider ourselves blessed with privilege and perfect timing when things work out for us.
The truth is we can’t control time and must accept with open hand the good and the bad. It is hard trusting the path of life to take us where we need to go and when we need to get there. Acceptance, grace, and thankfulness should be how we receive all that life brings our way.
Perfectly Acceptable –
“It is time!” my wife told me last night. “Cutting the lawn can wait no longer!” I was hoping to wait until mid-April because mowing the grass too early can leave it vulnerable to disease. However, last week the church beside us cut theirs and now our yard looks even more unkempt. So, if it doesn’t rain today and the grass can dry out from a shower last night, I will mow today.
I blame the mild winter and the enormous amounts of rain we’ve had the last two months on the lawn being so out of control. Everything is blooming, budding sprouting and looks beautiful. The grass is the exception. It’s not all one height. Part of the grass is several inches tall while other parts are just turning green and still short.
Waiting for the sun and slight wind of this beautiful spring day to chase away the moisture I’m also reflecting on how the lawn and life are similar. There are parts of our lives where everything seems to be growing and flourishing while other parts seem to have trouble keeping up. There are relationships that are blossoming and healthy while we struggle with others. Our job may be going well but our home life needs improving. We are well-balanced emotionally but our physical side could use some conditioning. Mentally we are strong but spiritually we are lacking.
Wisdom teaches us that life is rarely, if ever, simultaneously great or terrible. What we look to do is find balance and acceptance. To do this we must ask; “Are we giving too much time to one area while neglecting another?” or “Is it just seasonal?” Perhaps a little more attention and lot more patience and we will see the blessing of a life that’s not perfect but is loved, accepted and a work in progress.
This morning I was on my way to give a lecture and counsel a group of fathers with addictions when a white box truck pulled in front of me. We stopped at a place where you must cross a busy four-lane highway to continue on our current road. I knew the box truck would need extra time to get to the center of the highway where there was a large section used to wait and then continue across to the other side. So I, and several folks behind me waited, and waited, and waited but the box truck driver wouldn’t go though they had ample opportunity. I finally figured out the driver wasn’t waiting for the traffic coming from his left to cease but also from the right. They wanted all four lanes clear and as a result, couldn’t find the right time to proceed.
As I sat there, and when I was finally able to cross the highway, I thought about the stubborn attitude we all have to want everything perfect, “just the way we like it“, how we think it’s supposed to be, before we make decisions, hard choices, take steps of faith, on the road of life. We spend inordinate intervals waiting, wondering, if it’s safe to continue, is this the right time, and, as a result, miss genuine opportunities of growth and progression on our path.
Wisdom teaches that most of the time there isn’t a perfect time to keep going. We must trust the path, it’s maker, ourselves and the belief a greater reward lies on the road ahead.
Abundance & Assistance –
Beth and I spent most of the day putting a green tin roof on our porch extension. It looks great but we are exhausted!
Two short reflections from the last two days…
The first was the wonderful rain we had last night. A gorgeous, much-needed soaking rain. It was either ironic or sad but the rain started just as I had finished watering the flowers and the garden. A few drops hit my shoulder as I watered the Blue Spruces we have in the front yard and by the time I got to the front door it was coming down hard. At first there was irritation; “Couldn’t the rain had started 30 minutes before?” but this thought soon withered as I listened to the storm pound the roof, opened the door and watched the water drench the thirst of the grass and trees. Abundance was given to nature last night and I was not only a witness but a participant.
This morning, before tackling the roof on the porch, I made a list of needed materials and headed to the hardware store. Once there I collected and purchased the items, which included 10 sheets of heavy, 12 feet long, sheets of tin. They were cumbersome and difficult to load, carry and navigate the store aisles. When I wheeled the cart out to my truck I began to unload the sheets and put them in the back. It was a frustrating job. The sheets were heavy and got caught the wind, dragging me in a direction I didn’t want to go. The cart began to roll back and other vehicles were passing. At the exact time I needed the most help I caught a glimpse of a hardware store employee walking in my direction. Without a word he assisted me in doing a job I’m not sure I could’ve done myself. I was very thankful and told him so.
Two stories, related to each other in a couple of ways, helped remind me that abundance and assistance may arrive unexpectedly but sometimes their timing couldn’t be more perfect.
The lawn caretakers for the church next door came early this morning, before 7AM. Luckily I was already up and taking the dog outside for his morning routine. As I stood there, in my bathrobe, I heard a noise over the sound of the zero turn lawn mowers. At first I couldn’t make it out but as I focused on the sound it became clear someone was singing. It was one of the men on the mowers. He had headphones on and whatever song was playing he was singing along with it. I began to smile. He hadn’t seen me and continued for a while bellowing at the top of is lungs. Before long he noticed me, quieted down until me and the dog went inside.For a lawn jockey he was a decent singer. He didn’t need to be any more talented than what he was because his purpose was to mow grass, take care of lawns, not entertain folks with his musical abilities.
The incident reminded me of a professor I had in college. I asked him one day; “How can we, who are so frail, weak, selfish, short-sighted and sinful, so human, ever please a God who is so good?” He smiled and took a pen from his shirt pocket and pointed out the scratches, dings and dents, faded color of the imitated gold casing and asked me; “What is the purpose of this pen? Is it to look good? Impress by its shine? Cause awe to all who behold it? Or, is it to write when pressed on to a piece of paper?” “To write.” I said. “Then it is a perfect pen because it fulfills its purpose. As long as it writes, its perfect no matter what it looks on the outside. In the same way our purpose is to love and be loved by God. Oftentimes we aren’t much to look at but if we desire to love and be loved by our Heavenly Father we are fulfilling our purpose and His love is what makes us perfect.”
He was a wise man.