There are days when we put our dog Scooby on a zip line so he can exercise and not be tied to a leash. He’s not on it for long but he likes the freedom and until we finish our fence it’s the best option. The zip line runs across the driveway so we take it down after we’re done so we can move our vehicles safely.
The other day I took him outside, clipped him to the cable tethered to the zip line and was going to cinch it in place on a pole when all of a sudden Scooby spied a cat sneaking through the front yard. “Pew!” he was gone dragging the zip line with him. I ran after him and rounded the corner of the front porch as Scooby ran out of zip line and cable. “Screech!” He seemed confused at first. There was something he wanted and had the freedom, ability, and determination to get it and then he was stopped in his tracks with no way forward. I shook my head, he barked at the cat that was nowhere to be seen and we both went up and put the zip line in its proper place.
Walking into the house I thought about life and the goals we want to achieve. At times we are able to claim the prize, other times we are stopped suddenly so close yet so far from accomplishing them. We have dreams which are unfulfilled, relationships that fall apart or never materialize, love unrequited.
Life can be glorious but it can also be relentless. We have this moment and we must live it fully. We are never guaranteed another second.
Make Sure the Water’s Deep Enough –
In a conversation this week I heard someone say; “Make sure the water’s deep enough before you jump off the bridge.” I hadn’t heard this saying before and found it interesting. It seems to be about planning, understanding, knowledge of a situation before you choose a course of action. As I reflected on it I also thought of NOT knowing how deep the water is before jumping. Maybe it’s deep enough, maybe it isn’t, but once a person decides to jump it’s too late to change one’s mind.
Wisdom tells us the key to gaining wisdom is knowing you know nothing. It’s a paradox. Obviously there are things we know but we approach wisdom with humility understanding whatever our wisdom level might be we are still not wise compared to knowing all things as they truly are and exist. There are bridges we can jump off of with confidence, others where we know not to jump, and there will always be bridges when we risk jumping or choose another way.
Sometimes its only after we jump into the unknown that we find the water is more than deep enough and wisdom reminds us again how much we still have to learn.
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This morning, following the children’s time in the church service, the pastor gave out Tootsie Roll Pops to all the kids. While he was passing them out he said; “The only rule about these is you cannot run while they are in your mouth!” Made sense. Anyone with a chunk of candy attached to a paper stick could choke themselves if they tripped and fell lodging the sucker in their throat. The kids did what I would have done; pulled off the wrapping and put the candy in their mouths. They walked back to their seats careful to heed the pastor’s words of warning.
I reflected on the warning of the pastor, running with a tasty treat but also a choking hazard. There are times when we have a good word or tasty gossip on the tip of our tongue. We want to run and tell someone the good news or the tantalizing tidbit. Instead of first being mindful and still, being thoughtful and thankful for the blessing, or hearing a salacious piece of fact or fiction from someone we rush to the next waiting ear to spill all the details. We forget or don’t care that careless words hurt people.
Words are life-giving and soul-crushing. We must be careful how we use them.
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Pulled Up through the Roots –
It was late last night when I finally sat down and read scripture for the day. It was Psalm 1. I read it as rain pounded on the roof, truly one of life’s most beautiful sounds. We’ve been dry lately. The storms have passed us by leaving the ground, trees, and plants desperate for water. Earlier in the evening, I thought I heard raining so I turned off all the fans and listened as it pinged on our porch’s tin roof. I checked again before heading to the bedroom and it was still coming down.
Psalm 1 says this:
-The Two Ways-
Blessed are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or be counted among the malcontents;
their delight is in the of the Lord and his way,
and on him, they meditate day and night.
They are like trees planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.
The wicked are not so
but are like dry leaves and bark that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not be found innocent,
nor sinners among the people who are humble;
for the Lord watches over the way of all,
but the way of the wicked will perish.
I reflected on these verses as I listened to the rain and it was a great reminder not to be an unpleasant person, not to choose a way of life that only benefits myself, to be rooted in God, pulling up through my roots; love, kindness, humility, and bloom in a too often evil world.
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This past Wednesday night, on my way home from a Dad’s Community Group, I was lost in thought on a two-lane road headed home. One moment I looked in my rearview mirror and there was nothing the next time a huge, black, Hummer was riding my bumper. I had no idea where it came from but the driver of this large SUV was in a hurry. There was no place for me to move over, nor dotted lines for him to pass. He stayed there in the middle of my rearview mirror hovering like a black cloud. I instantly became anxious. I have a mid-size Nissan Frontier which pales in size to a Hummer. I wasn’t going to slam on my brakes because you never know what’s going to happen when you pit aggression against aggression. I also didn’t want to speed on a windy, country road at sundown. So, I took a breath, accepted there was nothing I could do about this giant vehicle hovering behind me and tried to drive as I normally would. Eventually, the Hummer turned off on a side road and I made it home safely.
I reflected on that Hummer and life. There are times, on our journey, where difficulties, intimidation, challenges appear and hover over us. We try to choose the best way to get away from them but nothing works. Eventually, we accept that we’re going to have to learn to live with this threat to our way of life. We remember to breathe and keep going the best way we know how. Maybe it goes as quickly as it came. Maybe it’s here to stay. Either way, we trust the road, trust ourselves and find our way home.
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Little Things –
While I was outside mowing today a big shadow went across me and when I looked up it was a Turkey Vulture. It hovered and landed on a high branch of the Oak Tree outside our front door. It wasn’t long before it was joined by another who was surveying the area for anything dead and rotten. My focus went back to mowing until shadows appeared overhead again. It was the Turkey Vultures being chased away by a Mockingbird who has a nest in an adjoining tree. The Mockingbird was relentless, swooping up and then dive bombing both Turkey Vultures that had to be five times its size. I watched until the Turkey Vultures were out of sight and the Mockingbird perched high on a tree scanning the horizon for their return.
I found it comical and awesome that this small bird could put the two large ones to flight. Then I thought about the Turkey Vultures and their appetite for spoiled, rancid, deceased things. I also reflected on how in our lives there are times the Vultures are circling. We’re tired, weak, worn out, done for and the scavengers surround us. Then, when it seems the end, someone says or does an act of warmth, love, empathy, and chases the Vultures away. It may be a small act but it has a great impact on us. We are renewed and able to keep going.
No act of kindness no matter how “small” is ever wasted.
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Watering the Weeds –
Last night I took the dog outside and while he was doing his business I turned on the spigot and began watering the flowers we have on the front side of the house. There are flowers in barrels, long cement pots and hanging baskets. As I watered I kept an eye on the dog whose losing his hearing more each day. He began walking down the driveway and I wanted to call him before he was out of hearing range. I continued watering as I yelled his name and when he turned around I looked down to see I was watering a flower holder that we had not planted anything in this year. It was full of weeds. As I watched the water nourish them I asked myself; “Why are you watering weeds?“I stopped as soon as I realized what I was doing and began watering the flowers my wife had planted again.
I reflected on the wisdom in not watering the weeds in our lives. Too often there are habits, thought patterns, worries, difficulties, and challenges that our mind focuses on to the detriment of the good that needs attention. Instead of giving the energy needed to rid ourselves of these weeds or accept there is nothing we can do at this point in time, we obsess, ruminate, give these problems and issues valuable nourishment. We focus and feed the bad and not the good in our lives.
Our mental, emotional, and spiritual lives need nourishment not the weeds of discouragement, disillusion, and defeat.
I was asked earlier this week by my talk therapist; “What is your perfect life?” I didn’t hesitate in describing to her my idea of bliss. After listening, she paused a few moments and asked; “Why do you not have this life?” I reflected on her question and responded; “Because it would screw up other people’s life.” I know my perfect life doesn’t equal the image, illusion, of what those who are connected to me have of their “perfect life.” My idea of a perfect life isn’t grandiose or over the top. It’s simple but would complicate my relationships with those who love and care for me the most. These complications would make my life imperfect. So, the choice to let go of what I think I want, need and accept what I have is key to stillness of mind and spirit.
Life isn’t complicated. We choose to make it that way. One of the ways we make it this way is comparing our “perfect lives,” or the idea of what we think perfection would be, with what our lives are currently. These types of comparisons only cause us to suffer, to strive for an illusion that is improbable. Letting go of comparisons about our lives, each other, and accept this moment, exactly as it is, is a big step forward on the road to a wise and content existence.
He was trying his best to reach the last few boxes of Crunch ‘n Munch on the store shelves. I was checking off items on my list and heard him jumping. I turned around and asked the boy; “You got it?” He responded in the affirmative as he grabbed one and took it down. Another second and he was jumping again. I was about to leave when a meek voice rang in my ears; “Can you help me?” “Sure,’ I replied, walked over, grabbed the next to the last box and handed it to him. ‘Do you want the other one?'” He shook his head “no” and then ran out of sight. I smiled and hoped he enjoyed his snack.
I reflected on the young boy’s attempt to attain what was out of reach and how easy it was for me to go over, grab it and hand it to him. I thought about how some things are easy for some and harder for others. What might take all the strength one has to barely, perhaps never, accomplish a difficult task, others can do effortlessly. At first glance, it might not seem fair but I think it highlights our need for each other. We are made to work together, to be the strength to another’s weakness, to give courage when one is about to give up, to be their legs to help them stand, their hands to grab or let go, to connect when all else seems distant and unattainable. Of course, it works the other way when we are in need as well. Only together can we fully live and accomplish all we were meant to be.
This morning at church the reverend closed the service by asking people to come to down to the front altar and pray for a woman who was leaving with a team of people to go to Africa on a mission trip. She knelt and many of the people in attendance gathered around her. As someone began to pray I heard a sound; “Clank. Silence. Clank. Silence.” I looked up and saw an elderly woman moving towards the group using a walker. By the time she made it up to the front, they were almost finished with the prayer but that didn’t seem to matter. What mattered was she wanted to be a part of the group, show her support, be closer to the one who was leaving, because she cared and caring most often requires our presence.
As she struggled I reflected on this woman and her concern for the other overcoming her condition. The world as we know it seems to be coming apart at the seams. Institutions, foundations, and truths we thought would last forever are crumbling before our eyes. What do we do? How do we stop it or at least stem the tide? I think we should do as the woman did this morning. We recognize our weakness, our lack of power and control, but still run, walk, crawl, towards a need and be present, change what we can by getting closer. When things are too big, too unruly, too far gone, it’s easier to stay where we are, shrug our shoulders and say; “There wasn’t anything we could’ve done.” or we can get “some “skin in the game.” We can try. We can put forth the effort with an attitude that only those who show up can make a difference.
Almost Finished –
I started mowing the grass today around 10:00AM. According to the weather report, a front was pushing through our area near 1:00PM and it takes about 3 hours to mow and weed our yard. It was hot and humid when I began, the skies were blue with puffy clouds. It was warm enough to sweat even though I was on a riding mower. I stopped to drink some water when I finished the back and noticed a patch of dark clouds coming my way. I continued mowing and all of a sudden the wind picked up, the temperature dropped and the skies grew dark. I increased my speed and hoped to get finished in time. Fortunately, I did complete the mowing but the bottom fell out of the sky and I couldn’t squeeze the weeding in because of the heavy rain.
As the rain pounded on the tin roof of our porch I reflected on life and all that is done and left undone. We fill our lives with appointments, events, occasions. We think we have time to do everything which needs to be done. The sun shines on us, the blue skies and the beauty of being alive gives us the illusion that time is on our side. Then a storm of disappointment, disillusion, danger, and death reminds us that time is limited and we can’t take even a moment for granted.
#BenjaminFranklin said; “Be careful with every moment. For these are what life is made.”
Today was a great day for working in the yard. The sun stayed behind thin clouds, a breeze kept one from getting too warm and no rain. As I mowed, trimmed, collected trash and went to the dump, helped my wife with the flowers, I reflected on a friend who’s going to an event tonight for the first time since her life changed dramatically several months ago. I know, in part, what she’s feeling. In 2014 my life irrevocably morphed into something I didn’t recognize anymore. After the trauma its difficult to try to find your way back to balance, peace and growth. It’s been four years for me and I am still waiting for the dust to settle.
The first year might be the most demanding and punishing. It is a “year of firsts.” Life goes on no matter how much you want it to stop so you can catch your breath. Things keep moving and you feel run over. The firsts keep coming; anniversaries, special days, holidays, birthdays, events, occasions, and there’s no ignoring them. It is a challenge to try and can be heartbreaking when the healing wound is punctured again. You hope, pray, you’ll be able to make it.
Wisdom teaches us that a humble spirit, good friends, and patience are the way to a new kind of wholeness and acceptance.
Popped in the Mouth –
The other day I heard a discussion between two women about a mom “popping” her adolescent child in the mouth. I cringed as the two women agreed sometimes it has to be done when a kid won’t stop talking back. This week #RoaseanneBarr was “popped” for using words which degrade and dehumanize others. I once had an adult tell me they were “popped” in the mouth by a parent when they were in college for not respecting her parents. I think all of us at one point or another have been “popped” because of something coming out of mouths that weren’t needed, necessary or helpful.
The swift punishment “popping” implies is that the words were barely out of the mouth before being punished. I’ve reflected on the words which have come out of my mouth over the years and if I was punished for every wrong phrase or wording, egotistical and asinine thing I’ve let loose I’d be hurting a long time and most of the pain would be deserved.
Words matter! A famous wisdom quote reads; “Do not speak unless it improves upon silence.” Perhaps if we were slower to speak the world would have less pain and more love.