Surfing or Drowning –
I just finished reading an article from seven years ago today about a father and son who were killed by a drunk driver. The mom shared it on social media and the heartache is still present and the wound raw. I can’t imagine the pain. I knew the father a little. He was in our church’s youth group. He was a few years older than me but always seemed cool. He was an athlete. He ran, biked, swam, and surfed. The morning dad and son were killed they were training for a triathlon. The father was named after his father and the son carried on the tradition. He was the III.
How do you have hope in the midst of such loss? How do you not drown in sorrow? How do you not get lost in such darkness? I don’t think there’s an easy answer. Quips and quotes don’t begin to address the brokenness and reveal our lack of intimacy with death. We do everything we can to avoid it. Most of us try to prolong our lives by any means necessary. When death finally does come we are quick to make the arrangements, organize a memorial or funeral service and push past it as fast as possible. But even then, death finds a way to corner us, trap us, confront us. After the hustle and bustle of meals, flowers, sympathy cards, and services we find ourselves alone when death, misery, mourning, comes calling.
Experts tell us that when we are caught in a riptide to not fight the current or it will surely drown its victim. Let it grab you and then slowly, moving parallel to the shore, slip from its grip. I think this is how we deal with the loss of those we love. There’s no escaping and fighting and refusing to acknowledge its power end in certain defeat. To allow it take hold, scare us, shake our faith, sweep our “normal” life away, but not giving up is the key. Slowly our strength returns, we regain our bearings, we slip from its grip, rise above the waters and live.
The past few weeks there’s been an invasion of Middle Tennessee! The multi-legged, orange-colored, flying insects called Ladybugs. They’re everywhere and this morning they kept stealing my attention away from the pastor as he spoke from the Book of Saint John, chapter 12. They were collecting near every light fixture which was about 10 feet from the pews the people were sitting in. Every now and then one or ten would fly across the room landing on someone. One tried to use my neck as a resting place but he didn’t stay there long. I watched hundreds on one light fixture as they crawled around it seemingly looking for a way in. I am not sure if they were attracted to the heat or the light. Of course, once in it was nearly impossible for them to get out. They very thing they were after was actually a trap. They would die there getting what they wanted but not able to get out.
I reflected on the Ladybug’s fate and how it also mirrored our own fascination with those things in life which promise safety, warmth, and light. We become fixated on things which we believe will make life better, bring satisfaction and enlightenment only to find out once we’ve achieved or possessed them it was an illusion. Wisdom teaches that what is worth having comes to us. It is our humility, our acceptance that we are not able to control or manipulate love, peace, kindness and a grace-filled life that makes it possible for these to permeate our minds, emotions, and spirits and bring a unique warmth and light to our cold and dark world.
To be unselfish is the key to abundance. To not hold on to anything, desire anything, be covetous of anything or anyone. Abundance comes from being content and this comes from acceptance of all life brings our way.
Too often we see the lives of others or review our own lives and wish they would have turned out different brings suffering. These illusions only lead to pain and heartbreak. What we have received is only temporary. As hard as it is to accept this world only gives us transient treasures and trinkets. Whether it be people or things, our inability to control when and how they leave our lives is a lesson we need to learn.
Only eternal gifts last. When we are given them we may hold on to them as tightly as possible but to do this we must let go of what we hold dear that is not eternal. Transience is not evil. To love those who bring wonder, kindness, and love to our life is not wrong. However, it is a bittersweet connection because it is temporary. While this is painful to know and experience it also makes every moment more treasured.
Most of our lives are full of abundance but knowing they are not ours forever is the test of true life, true love, true wisdom.
I had a conversation last week with someone about a person I used to know who got on my every last nerve almost every day. We talked about how this person, who probably had good intentions, didn’t have a way with people. In fact, there were many who repelled by his brusque personality and crude behavior. I relayed a story about a time he wanted to help but was unable because of who this person was on the inside and outside.
There were days I dreaded knowing I would encounter this man. It got to a point where this person was beginning to take up an inordinate amount of space in my mind. One day it dawned on me that I was spending too much time thinking about them and not focused on stillness of spirit. I threw on my tennis shoes, took a long walk, and hashed out in my mind all the things this person did and when I felt I had it all in a nice tight ball in the pit of my stomach, I took it out (metaphorically of course) and threw it away. I decided I would not give this one the power to make me crazy(er?) any longer. It was the freest and at ease, I had been in a long time.
We can’t and will not get along with everyone. Personalities clash, goals and visions collide, certain people and us don’t mix. This is okay as long as we treat them with respect, put some distance between us if at all possible, and never let them steal our inner peace.
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.