We need rain! Our grass is turning brown from intense heat and barely any rain the last several weeks. The grass was a beautiful green most of the summer, with showers almost daily, and then not much since mid-July. I have a friend who keeps me informed of their weather and they said its raining almost every day. I asked them to send some our way but that didn’t work. I mowed patches of grass and dirt last Friday and the lack of moisture was noticeable.
I’m curious how in some places they’ve had too much rain and its flooding, in other places like California forest fires rage and they are desperate for it. My friend who’s been getting rain almost every day reminded me of the Biblical statement; “The rain falls on the just and the unjust.” That didn’t help because I don’t know if I’m doing something right or wrong but I’d be happy to change to receive the needed rain.
Like summer droughts our souls are at times parched, cracked from dryness, and we need nourishment to replenish us. A person facing a difficult time asked a question yesterday about burnout and I told them some of my symptoms a few years ago and pointed them to my writings from the last several years as one person’s experience of spiritual drought and emotional barrenness. I hope a post or a poem helps remind them what I have learned; the mountaintop highs and the valley lows are all part of this journey of life. Rain does indeed fall on the just and unjust. Don’t let your desperation for rain, for nourishment, convince you the healing will be quick or easy. Rest. Find peace in the dust and dirt. Trust that it will not be like this forever.
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Last night I watched the “The Post” starring Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks. The film is described as; “thrilling, based on a true story. Determined to uphold the nation’s civil liberties, Katharine Graham (Streep), publisher of The Washington Post, and hard-nosed editor Ben Bradlee (Hanks) join forces to expose a decades-long cover-up. But the two must risk their careers –– and their freedom –– to bring truth to light in this powerful film (https://www.foxmovies.com/movies/the-post).” It was an interesting movie dealing with an historic and chaotic time in this nation that I am too young to remember. I did find myself cheering Streep’s and Hank’s characters on as they took a case of the freedom of the press all the way to the Supreme Court. I won’t spoil the ending but it was a good watch and worth anyone’s time who is interested in an event that would directly impact how the press covered the Watergate break-in (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Watergate_scandal) and news moving forward to the present.
What I’ve wrestled with since watching the movie is; “News exists in a vacuüm. The lives of the reporters, editors, and publishers are swayed by their political leanings, experiences, preferences, and worldviews.” We as the readers face the same limitation in our consumption of news. There are so many places to receive our news today that we can stay perpetually stuck in a bubble where only our viewpoints are legitimized. When this happens we cease being open to new ideas or our current ones being scrutinized and challenged. We become entombed, trapped by our own beliefs and limited knowledge. The truth isn’t important anymore only our belief of what is true.
On Demand –
This afternoon I had a follow-up appointment at the doctor’s office. They needed to do a routine check-up and wanted a deposit. I had figured as much so I made sure not to leave my deposit at home before I left. I went to the restroom, readied the bottle and…nothing. No matter how much I concentrated there just wasn’t anything that was going to happen. After several minutes I meekly came out of the lavatory and explained the situation to the nurse. She then sent me to the staff vampire who had no such trouble sticking me with a big needle and taking my second deposit by force. I now have a cotton ball and medical tape covering a hole in my arm.
We live in an; “On Demand” world. We get and expect things instantaneously. The problem is sometimes life doesn’t work that way. We may demand expediency but delay and obstruction is what we’re given. If we decide to take what we need to wait on by force pain is often the what we receive instead of what we desire.
It does us good to wait, to not get what we want, to be told; “No!” It reminds us we aren’t all-powerful, possess full control, aren’t as able as we’d like to believe. Wisdom, and the lessons it uses in everyday life remind us who we are, who we aren’t and how to be at peace with both.
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.
Into the Light –
Today was a special day for our incarcerated fathers class. The men, who attended and participated, received a certificate of completion, a letter from me along with pizza and soft drinks. Our certificate ceremony isn’t fancy but it is a way to let the guys know how much I appreciate letting me be a part of their lives for the semester.
Getting in and out of the jail is rarely easy which is, I suppose, the way it should be. There’s buzzers, intercoms, thick steel doors and tempered glass to keep people inside. Usually, I arrive at each door, buzz the “door keeper” and identify myself. I then wait until he or she is ready for me to go through the door. Today, however, the corrections officer was especially attentive as I was leaving. He buzzed me out as I was arriving at each door. It was almost as if the doors were unlocked.
In one of our classes during the semester, we talk about action and acceptance. I tell the men; “If the doors of this jail opened and you knew it was okay to walk through you would leave immediately, no hesitation. The problem is this isn’t going to happen. You have to accept you are here until they let you leave. At the same time, you can take action on keeping your family together and connected with the ones you love.” This is the balance of action and acceptance.
I thought about the men in my class today, the lesson of action and acceptance and their decision to come to class, listen, ask questions, share their stories and finally receive their certificates. They are trying to bring balance to their lives and hopefully to those who are travel life’s path with them.
Grace and Work –
Someone asked me today; “So, is it grace or works which get us into heaven?” My answer was; “Yes.” After a moment to let the words sink in I went on to explain that grace is God’s “unmerited favor” or “God’s love for us is absolute even if we never love God in return.”
“Grace is given to us and then we give it to others. This is the ‘work.'” We are blessed to receive God’s spirit of love, forgiveness, and kindness and in return, we give it to others. When grace touches the deepest part of us our worldview, the reason for living and being, come into focus. We are placed here, at this time and place, to give God’s love, forgiveness, and kindness to others.
Too often; “work” is made out to be dogma, discipline, dutiful acts of trying to be good and acceptable to the God who alone is good and has already accepted us. “Work,” should be a celebration. We freely give to others what we have freely accepted.
Not Ready –
At the end of my lecture today to a group of fathers and men suffering from the disease of addiction I asked those who have wives, girlfriends, partners who are pregnant or children of a certain age to stay for a few moments after everyone leaves so I can talk to them more about some of the services our organization offers. I do this after each talk given at this addiction treatment center. It doesn’t take long and usually the men oblige with no hesitation. Today, however, there was one father, I asked to remain, who flatly refused.
My first impulse was to say; “Why? Don’t you want to help your family? Don’t you need every resource possible so you and your family can break the cycle of addiction which is so prevalent in kids when they have parents who are abusers of drugs?” There was a rush of frustration and anger at the nonchalant way he refused help when I had just spent an hour talking about choosing to live a clean life and the impact this choice has on families. However, I bit my tongue, dismissed the group and spoke with those who decided to stay.
Wisdom teaches us to focus on the ones who are ready to receive not those who aren’t willing or able to grasp the hand extended to help. There is a temptation to keep chasing after those who run from us at the expense of those who are right in front of us, hands out, ready to receive. Part of our persistence in running after those who refuse is ego. We believe we’re the ones to “save” them and if the opportunity is missed they will be lost forever.
Wisdom, however, tells us; “When the person is ready the teacher, savior, will appear.”
A few months ago I spoke with someone who was heartbroken over the life choices being made by someone they cared for deeply. It was an agonizing conversation and a stark reminder of how little control we have over another’s path. We fool ourselves rather easily when it comes to those we care for and the way their life ultimately unfolds. We like to think we can convince them to turn around, take a right or left, choose the way we believe is best for them. In truth, this power eludes us. We have no more real control over another being than waves that roll on the ocean, a moon staying in orbit, whether or not the sun shines. Good or bad, right or wrong, negative or positive another’s ability to set out on a course cannot be diverged from unless the other chooses to do so or gives their power over to someone or something else.
What we do have control over is our reaction to their actions, our responses to their choices. Will love or rejection be the way, grace or condemnation shown, presence or absence in one whose life choices we struggle with, don’t understand, would change if we were able. One of the hardest and most difficult battles in life is the acceptance that each of us choose our path and the ultimate destination.