Crumbs on the Counter

I think the crumbs that keep appearing on my countertops are trying to teach me something…

One of my wife’s last big projects was to redo the kitchen and bathroom. This entailed black granite countertops. I think she got taken to the cleaners on these but that’s a different post. She got an updated look and that’s what she wanted. I’ve now got countertops that can’t be cleaned. Who invented this kind of product? Someone text me his number!

Keep Your Kitchen Countertops Sparkling with These Tips | Foodal

These days, a major part of my life is spent wiping up the crumbs that have collected on these jet black surfaces. My son has had tremendous success on one of those carnivore diets. I seem to have accidentally fallen into a Bulgarian grain only diet – most of it ending up on my counter tops. I was never told that when you start living by yourself – there’s no one else who’s going to pick that up. Secretly, I believe that someone else is sneaking in here behind my back leaving all this clutter scattered about. My haunted ice maker sure makes enough noise to convince me that I’m not really alone.

“Have you ever heard the wonderful silence just before the dawn? Or the quiet and calm just as a storm ends? Or perhaps you know the silence when you haven’t the answer to a question you’ve been asked, or the hush of a country road at night, or the expectant pause of a room full of people when someone is just about to speak, or, most beautiful of all, the moment after the door closes and you’re alone in the whole house? Each one is different, you know, and all very beautiful if you listen carefully.” ― Norton Juster

Sometimes the crumbs are what I need to sweep up, get done with and banish. Other times, I notice, there is a permanent residue about me. Things leftover that don’t go back in the refrigerator. For some reason, my wife and I filled our house with all sorts of clutter. This practice of ours never actually dawned on me until I began paying more attention to the homes of others, that I thought were more similar to Zen monasteries. But all this stuff does have it’s meaning. There are extended family memories and our own 35 years of marriage scattered all around.

I’m looking at all these wonderful photos of my grandson as he gets older and his personality develops. What a character, and I’m not biased at all. I look over almost simultaneously and see a photo of his grandmother holding him and I wish so much, so hard that it hurts.

“He was still too young to know that the heart’s memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good, and that thanks to this artifice we manage to endure the burden of the past.” ― Gabriel García Márquez

Most of my days I spend surrounded by people who are too young to know…I remember how long I spent being too young to know much.

Bread-toast-crumbs-kitchen-counter-countertop - Finding True Magic

What do the crumbs on your counter look like during this pandemic, this political civil war, this economic white water raft trip heading who knows where? People I know are still getting sick, getting engaged, having babies, fighting cancer, working even harder to get along, dying, trying to make another day count. The turmoil of life goes on even in the eye of a storm.

How many hurricanes til Christmas?

Lately I think about my grandmother who never had a dirty dish in her sink, ever. I would stay with her and before an article of clothing would hit the floor (lazy teenager) it would be in the washing machine. She never allowed any crumbs in her life or anyone else’s who was visiting. I’m still being inspired by her work ethic.

These days I notice I’m having some trouble getting busy with the crumbs that must be swept up around here. That work ethic needs a recharge! I’ll get the energy and then do a big wipe down all at once. A deadline at work will loom and come near like a big ship in the dark sea. Then I jump up and get it done. I think being accountable helps with keeping the counters in life swept up. Deadlines and the rare visitor can also get fires lit when necessary.

Sometimes there are just seasons of life when the rhythm section has taken a break.

For years now, someone comes to the house every other week to keep it clean. That always helps with knowing what the standard ought to be. It keeps the downfall of civilization at bay. Not having anyone else here to contribute to the crumbs, like animals or small children helps as well. But that comes with another cost. Messy counters can be lived with when there’s a little boy and his dog in the next room.

If you keep the lights off, it helps to perpetuate the feeling that there’s not really much of a mess at all. Living in a dim world has it’s benefits. My mother-in-law always liked to disturb the ambiance and turn on all the lights. Good for her. It’s easier to keep the crumbs picked up that way. It’s easier to keep from tripping over something in a strange house. It’s easier to see everyone. It’s easier to see that the cleaning lady has left that figure on the shelf turned around the wrong way. Who needs ambiance? I’m starting to leave some of the lights on around here. Those crumbs are still waiting.

There are still many lessons to be learned at this age and stage. One is that the crumbs are going to stay on the counter until I wipe them up. There’s still a lot of debris in my life. When I pay attention (turn on the light), I notice people, projects and adjustments that need some care. Maybe having black granite countertops isn’t such a bad thing after all?

“I don’t want to be a genius-I have enough problems just trying to be a man.” ― Albert Camus

What Dreams May Come?

“Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.” ― Henry David Thoreau

How To Control Your Dreams With Lucid Dreaming - Original Products Botanica  | Original Products Botanica

Of course Hamlet was speaking of death in that partial quote of my title there. Here I’m just writing about the everyday dreaming that we do at night (I’m not even going to go into those daydreams that take place while you’re stuck in traffic).

I know how to interpret your dreams if anyone is interested. It’s not an exact science. Dreams happen for three different reasons. (1) Our brain is filing away its memories – this is why people who don’t get enough sleep start to have trouble remembering when they are awake. (2) We dream because we have unresolved conflicts, worries, decisions or problems that are sometimes standing with one foot in our conscious and another in our subconscious. (3) Sometimes God sends messages to us in our dreams – this doesn’t produce confusion but clarity, peace and assurance. Unless you need a swift kick.

Over the past year I have started the practice of intentionally willing myself to dream. It happens to me in the early morning hours. I awake too early and then decide to go back for one more round of R.E.M. sleep. I tell myself that I want a dream and I want to remember it. I think because I am so close to awakening at the start, it’s easier to remember the dream. But it happens more times than it doesn’t. I’d say nine out of ten times.

“People think dreams aren’t real just because they aren’t made of matter, of particles. Dreams are real. But they are made of viewpoints, of images, of memories and puns and lost hopes.” ― Neil Gaiman

It just happened very early this morning. I dreamed that I was having to administer an exam to a class of students. But I also had another class of students next door. As I handed out the tests I discovered I didn’t have enough. I panicked – this is a common fear and one of mine in particular. I always make way too many copies. I left the building to go make more copies – also with the added worry that there was another room full of students waiting for me.

When I got outside there was a car with some people in it waiting to take me to make copies. Matthew McConaughey was driving the car. I had just seen a number of references to him while watching a terrible football game on TV Saturday. Well, he started driving but in the wrong direction. I don’t remember what he was saying, sounded like one of those weird car commercial soliloquys that he has done in the past. All I knew was that we were not going to make copies and that disaster was eminent.

Here is when I awoke.

I’m really behind with deadlines at work. I can’t seem to find my motivation. There’s something else distracting me and taking me in the other direction but I don’t know what it is yet. It’s certainly not Mr. University of Texas reciting lines from his latest Lincoln commercial! (That’s probably just deep seated frustration at someone not being able to pass the football).

“I dream. Sometimes I think that’s the only right thing to do.” ― Haruki Murakami

So here we are swimming in crises after crises. Surely the end will come, it always does. But in the meantime, we can always dream.

Be sure that you’re getting enough sleep – pollsters are telling us that some areas of our mental health are improving during the quarantine because we are sleeping more. This helps people to dream more and to reinforce memory.

Write down dreams that you remember – this can help if there’s something mysterious that needs to be resolved. Talk about your dream over breakfast with your spouse. You concrete-literalists out there, open up your symbolic thinking drawer a little. The more you ponder, the greater the chances you will stumble across some solutions.

It’s possible that one day, God may want to say something to you. It’s not beyond the realm of impossibility that he would use a dream. Don’t worry about it. He won’t contradict what he’s already said. He won’t try and confuse you. It will usually be a treasured experience. That is, unless you’re wandering off in left field and need a strong hand to bring you back home.

“I wish you to know that you have been the last dream of my soul.” ― Charles Dickens

Divide and Conquer

“Divide and rule, the politician cries; Unite and lead, is watchword of the wise.”― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

In Lebanon, Pan-Sectarian Protests Are Raging as Forest Fires Burn

I spent Saturday watching my team lose an annual rivalry game. I’d love to have beat that team – those people really need to lose!

This morning, I watched three young brothers sitting in front of me poking at one another behind their father’s back. As brothers do, have probably always done.

Today’s lesson in Sunday School was about a horrible family tragedy between King David and one of his sons. Absalom staged a military coup and almost took the throne – he had been plotting for several years. The whole thing started when Absalom’s older brother raped their sister. The armed conflict blew up after Absalom murdered his brother at dinner two years later. You thought your family had problems!

Have you yanked your TV out of the wall yet? It’s not just been a season of locked up and sealed off from others – with new rules and methods of interacting and places we aren’t visiting much anymore. All this is bad enough. But what about the constant skirmishes that are going on within our public discourse, on our streets, online, and even within extended families? It has been going for too long and has eaten away at our social connections. We’re afraid to even talk to each other anymore.

It’s impossible to solve collective problems when no one’s willing to talk.

I was texting with friends who live out of the country. Everyone was catching up and sharing about current events. It seemed to go on and off for most of the evening. I started to notice how often labels for people and groups were being used in these quick communications. For ourselves and for others. It’s an easy way to organize into “out” and “in” groups, us vs. them.

“In the animal kingdom, the rule is, eat or be eaten; in the human kingdom, define or be defined.” ― Thomas Stephen Szasz

Do you really think the norm is that we are too different from each other to be able to converse, work and get things that need doing done? Has that been the history of mankind? The threat of external violence or physical survival having kept us clinging to one another just until the hurricane passes. Once we get most of the basic problems of living worked out, we’ve got time and energy to start hating others who aren’t in our camp du jour?

Is that really who we are?

Are there powerful forces at work in our society pulling and pushing us up against one another in order to create conflicts? Does social conflict keep certain people in power – people who promise salvation, cures and never ending provisions?

Just wondering?

I don’t believe we are the same as our primitive ancestors. I think we have self-control. Our society is an exceptional evolution of moral progress. We are being transformed by God. You and I don’t have to sit back and be divided into warring tribes. Instead we can all do the right thing right now.

  1. Watch what you say, text, email – be extra careful during these days
  2. Go out of your way to listen and work extra hard to keep your mouth shut – and your really valuable opinions to yourself
  3. “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you…” – Jesus

Each one of us will have to go another mile and give up some of our will if we really want to keep the social order – our country desperately needs some examples in every neighborhood, place of work, restaurant and church.

“Society is always taken by surprise at any new example of common sense.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

Keeping our society held together one more day is as simple as loving your neighbor as yourself.

Being an example of common sense isn’t really that hard. It means putting others ahead of yourself. It means treating people with respect, despite their opinions and actions that might disavow all attempts at respect. It means not being too self-absorbed that we try the impossible, to become the perfect example first before being just a good example right now.

“…for very strangely his officers looked upon Jack Aubrey as a moral figure, in spite of all proofs of the contrary…” ― Patrick O’Brian

If you outlive your mule, don't get another one – so funny! – Alabama  Pioneers

“Once, when I were a child, I were kicked by a small mule. Neither the mule nor I had any sense. I were trying to make the mule go one way, but the mule was trying to make me go another. I were for hitching the mule onto a plow. The mule were for nibbling grass. So, after that kicking, I learned right then and there to respect animals and peoples when they are not of the same mind as you are.” ― Langston Hughes

All in Our Family

How are you staying in touch with your grandchildren during the coronavirus  lockdown?

Maybe the root of so many of our problems is that our families are falling apart?

While our society seemed to be falling to pieces every evening on the television screen, for so many reasons, depending on who you were hearing from, I couldn’t help but think there was a basic cause. For a long time I have looked at the numbers, the outcomes, the long term effects and I honestly think that almost everything that’s wrong with our society right now can be traced back to the fragmentation of our families.

We decided during the decades of revolution (Civil Rights, Sexual, Youth, Women’s) that our own personal happiness was the ultimate goal in life. It’s in the Declaration of Independence, after all! This goal was so much easier to pursue once our economy boomed after WW2 and we could focus our attentions on inner and subjective desires for satisfaction, instead of external and objective standards of success like surviving the winter or having enough to eat.

Fragmented families started to happen because we decided that other people (our spouses and children) weren’t making us happy anymore. Instead of leaning on each other to help and making sacrifices for the sake of someone else, we started looking at our family members as sources of our own happiness. If they dropped the ball, it was time to bail and maybe find a replacement. I need to find someone who will make me happy, not I need to make someone else happy.

Here's The Number One Reason Couples Fight In The Run Up To Christmas |  Her.ie

What do families in America look like today?

During the current quarantine the divorce numbers in America are twice as high as they were a year ago at this time. What’s really discouraging is that newlywed divorce numbers are ALSO twice as high as the were a year ago! Being locked up and facing a seemingly unending crisis together is just too much for many.

People don’t just wake up one day and decide to become self-centered. Our culture is one with an economy that’s oriented around selling more and more stuff. The prevalent hook is guaranteeing happiness – buy this pillow and you’ll get a good night’s sleep, feel rested, refreshed (and so much happier the next day).

There are more couples living together than married. People who live together do so for approximately five years – then they either break up or get married. It’s not a step before marriage, not an alternative. People are afraid of the marriage commitment, of failing at something so important, at not finding happiness.

Right now, less than 20% of households in our country are composed of a married couple and their children. This is true for 86% of African-American children. This practice is setting these children up for an almost impossible future and brings harm to society as a whole.

“Childhood, after all, is the first precious coin that poverty steals from a child.” ― Anthony Horowitz

A majority of children in America will spend part of their growing up years in a single-parent home. On average, children from single-parent homes don’t do as well in almost all measures of life (health, school, social, economic, etc.). Every semester, my student learn this yet the overwhelming majority tell me that if they were in a marriage with children and were not happy they would get divorced. Ending marriages for the sake of personal happiness is today a very strong belief and practice here in America.

Happy Single Mother and Teen Stock Footage Video (100% Royalty-free)  15559906 | Shutterstock

Even though they are working outside the home in more numbers than ever before – many more in college-prepared careers – (more women attend college than men) women still feel the bulk of the responsibility for home and family work. He’s not really sharing the burden very well.

In times of social conflict why don’t we look at our families as a possible cause?

While families in our society are in collapse, we feel helpless. What can I do to stop the flood from spilling over the levee? All you can really do is to keep loving your own family. Sometimes that means keeping your big mouth shut and just loving people in the middle of their mess. Praying for someone you love is different than talking about them to others. Criticizing never does anything good. 

“You can kiss your family and friends good-bye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world but a world lives in you.” ― Frederick Buechner

 

What to Talk About When There’s Nothing to Say?

Didn't everyone standing in a crowded elevator imagine how someone could be  murdered?”– author V. M. Burns – Lana's Blog

What do you talk to strangers about? What do you talk about when you don’t really have anything to say? What do you say when silence just feels too uncomfortable?

There’s the small talk that we use when at social gatherings with strangers. I was at an event recently and talked with someone about foot surgery and the evolution of late night talk shows???  There’s also the small talk we engage in everyday in the normal routines of passing in the hall, riding the elevator, sharing over the fence and catching up before a meeting.

Small talk seems trivial, but these days, I think it’s worth thinking about. 

There’s all sorts of advice out there about how to improve your small talk so that you can be more successful especially if you find yourself frequenting social events with strangers (and need to make a good impression).

  • Make eye contact
  • Ask questions
  • Don’t interview
  • Read the room
  • Don’t converse too deep (politics, religion), stay medium (pop culture, restaurants)
  • Show your emotions, smile!

“My father has a tendency to start conversations in the middle of sentences. He’s also suspicious of anything modern – like nouns.” ― Mike Rowe

Cut little Boy sitting on the Tree by Mosuno - Kid, Park - Stocksy UnitedPersonally, I can’t stand getting stuck in social events and having to generate small talk. I can put something together and perform okay but I have much more fun sitting in the corner and watching other people interact. Especially strangers. I was walking through my neighborhood recently. It was evening, the sun was setting and I came up on a driveway with a large circle of lawn chairs filled with older neighbors all sharing. I really wanted to climb up in a tree and eavesdrop.

Maybe, for many of us, this season of quarantine has limited our access to small talk?

What about the simple talk we use every day with our friends, co-workers, neighbors and spouse? The trivial, mundane, “lovely weather we’ve been having” conversations. They pop up and then vanish like the clouds passing overhead. This kind of small talk is almost random in nature. Yet, I think it connects us to each other in all sorts of ways like the seams in our clothing.

Old people's stories more boring - study | Stuff.co.nz“My father could out-weather anybody. Like people anywhere, there were times when it was the only topic where people here felt comfortably expressive, and my father could go on earnestly, seemingly forever. When the current weather was exhausted, there was all the weather that had occurred in recorded history, weather lived through or witnessed by a relative, or even heard about on the news. Catastrophic weather of all types. And when that was done, there was all the weather that might possibly occur in the future. I’d even heard him speculate about weather in the afterlife.” ― Louise Erdrich

We are so oriented to doing business talking and venting important feelings. We use our phones to get directions, restaurant ratings and wiki knowledge. Less and less are we cluttering up our days with the small conversations, stories that don’t really have an ending or a moral. Sharing what we did, felt, the memories and bits of our story.  But I think it’s good to be reminded of how valuable small talk can be at cementing our society together, strangers, friends and lovers alike. Since March, we’ve had less and less opportunity for casual, unplanned conversations with others we pass in the halls of living our normal lives. Who can do small talk with a mask on? I think it comes with a cost.

Each time I leave a social encounter I realize how little I actually listened. These days I talk too much, without a whole lot to say. Too much isolation can produce this. I wish I could listen more to the small talk all around me. When you give time to someone else you are giving a little bit of you. It’s like a gift. So rare these days. Maybe what we all crave is someone to hear us – not what we say, but just to sit in the same room and nod, smile and acknowledge our significance. 

“In the best conversations, you don’t even remember what you talked about, only how it felt. It felt like we were in some place your body can’t visit, some place with no ceiling and no walls and no floor and no instruments” ― John Green

How To Use Empathic Listening To Cultivate Great Personal Relationships

People might be talking to others less because of perceived threats.

  • What if we get into a political debate?
  • I’m so sick of talking about this virus.
  • My feelings lately have been so down in the dumps, I’m not sure anyone wants to hear.

Actually, these are the conditions when talking MORE is the best medicine! During this time isolation, to one degree or another, people around us may have less to talk about and fewer people to talk to about it. Yet, even the small talk is critically important in everyone’s life. It’s worth staying in practice.

  • Call someone while you’re driving
  • Send more texts about not much at all, just how you’re feeling
  • Compose a great email to your kids and close friends
  • Write a card, how about a letter (remember those?)

Making an effort to just pass the time with others is a valuable investment in helping someone else survive one more day – reminding us all that we’re not alone.

“When you have once seen the glow of happiness on the face of a beloved person, you know that a man can have no vocation but to awaken that light on the faces surrounding him. In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.”  ― Albert Camus

All The Little Things

“It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.” ― Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes

It is what it is

I did it again yesterday. I went to class and got all set up. Which is not quick task. I waited and waited. No one showed up. I was discouraged. It was a beautiful day, after all. Once I realized no one was going to show up, I proceeded to unplug and pack up. As I headed to the hall and stairs my students shouted at me from across the way. They had been waiting for me in the right classroom. I had once again been in the wrong room. 

A Closer Look at Salvador Dalí | Spanish Trails“Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.” ― Salvador Dali

 

I’ve written before about Automatic Thinking. Our brains can’t deliberately keep everything on the front burner all the time. That’s a strategy for fast overload. What the brain does – it shifts routine activities to what we call automatic thinking so that it doesn’t need to be completely conscious and can use effort and energy on other tasks that are more urgent and important. This is why I always seem to “wake up” in the parking lot at work having rehearsed my important speech but can’t remember at all how I got from home to there!

A lot of little things to think about all at once!

My next door colleague at work told me he’s just exhausted. It’s because he has to be conscious of everything he’s doing now. Maybe that’s what I feel as well. With so much new going on in my daily routine, there’s less automatic going on in my brain. I realize how much I take for granted in each day. Little things:

  • What’s for dinner?
  • Why did I forget to upload that assignment?
  • What day of the week is it today?
  • I haven’t heard from ________ in weeks!

What Are Your Financial “Ducks” and Why Should They Be in a Row? - Private  Client Wealth Advisors

When the semester started for me there was mostly panic as I tried to get and keep my ducks in a row. A lot is falling into a little routine now (except showing up to the right classroom!?). Some of that is healthy, some not. I am a little more aware of the taken-for-granted now. I know first hand what it’s like to be thrust into a new and uncomfortable situation. Feeling powerless to fix things makes me feel angry, frustrated and isolated. 

“We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.” ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Maybe this can help me to be more aware of these same experiences and feelings in others? Once things settle down and get back to normal (?) I hope I don’t forget. I’m sorry Herr Pastor Bonhoeffer, but most of the people I encounter each day I am evaluating on the basis of what they are doing or not doing. This is going to take some serious conscious thought on my part. I’m going to have to be far less automatic in my responses, emails and feedback that I post. 

Our current state of chaos has given each of us an opportunity to pay attention to some of the details we once sped past too quickly. 

My wife was never really very good at gardening. She always liked to get involved and pick out plants at the nursery. Choosing the right ones and actually getting them in the ground was another story. But, we faithfully went through the ritual. I remember her grabbing a very deep purple colored little plant several years ago. It looked too delicate. I didn’t think it stood a chance in our sweltering climate and sporadic watering. It struggled and strained and eventually I lost track of it, knowing it had gone the way of hundreds of its ancestors from our flower beds over the years.

“The small things of life were often so much bigger than the great things . . . the trivial pleasure like cooking, one’s home, little poems especially sad ones, solitary walks, funny things seen and overheard.” ― Barbara Pym

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There has been more watering lately in my yard. I was coming in to the house the other day and peeking out by the bed near the front door were those dark purple leaves and spindly stalks of that plant she put in the ground a few years ago. It made it after all. It was a little thing, a quick glance as I hauled plastic bags in before the rain came. A little thing that shouted so loudly, if I would stop for just a moment to hear.

I’ve got several close friends who are paying attention to family and friends in crisis right now. Some are strangers to them, others very close. I can’t help but think that this unusual time of stress and strain has also sharpened people’s focus on human need.

“Resolve to be tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant of the weak and the wrong. Sometime in life you will have been all of these.” ― George Washington Carver

This season of fear and uncertainty has drawn our collective attention toward large crises. I’d like to challenge you to draw your eyes away from the burning dumpsters and look for little things that demonstrate God’s presence and the gifts of love all around you. Maybe that’s all anyone ever wanted – was to be loved. 

“Treasures are hidden away in quiet places.  They speak in soft tones and often become silenced as we approach.  They don’t beg to be found, but embrace us if we do happen to find them.  They are the product of completely ordinary circumstances unfolding in wonderfully extraordinary ways.  They are found hidden in the nooks and crannies of our existence; all around us if we quit allowing our attention to be captivated by that which is noisy and listen for that which is quiet and still.” ― Craig D. Lounsbrough

There are people you pass by each day. I was speaking with a number of friends from the past the other day. It made me think about all of the silly and sensible conversations we had over the many years. I realized how much I had been given by the everyday people in my past. My memory sweeps past so quickly, jumping from tragedies to monumental turns in the road. But really, my ordinary life has been constructed one brick at a time by so many, so many who knew me and so many who never will. 

In the chaos and crises, make time to pay more careful attention to the people around you, what they are saying and NOT saying. 

I saw a quote the other day from the writer George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans 1819-1880). It made me think, and keep thinking about all the people that surround me who accomplish so much for so many by the hundreds of little acts of service and kindness. Never thinking about what they do, as natural as the wind blowing through the grass. Their hidden lives make all the difference in the world. They always have.

“..for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.” George Eliot, Middlemarch

Instead of trying to change the world, try making today count. Try making someone else’s life count for just a minute or two in that brief interaction. Try to stop that “automatic” flow of events and instead do or say something intentional and meaningful. You don’t have to change a life, just a moment.

Keep on the Sunnyside!

Well, there’s a dark and a troubled side of life
There’s a bright and a sunny side too
But if you meet with the darkness and strife
The sunny side we also may view

Keep on the sunny side, always on the sunny side
Keep on the sunny side of life
It will help us every day, it will brighten all the way
If we keep on the sunny side of life

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“McQueen! Where are you?”

That’s what my grandson and I yell throughout his house when we are trying to locate one of his cars. He probably has a hundred. Some of his Disney cars have character names. They are easier to call out by name and then listen to see if they will honk back for us to come and find them. Losing cars is fast becoming one of his great skills in a very young life.

This is making me think about all sorts of loss. We each go through life missing people, places and things don’t we?

“Every one of us is losing something precious to us. Lost opportunities, lost possibilities, feelings we can never get back again. That’s part of what it means to be alive.” ― Haruki Murakami

I remember many years ago going back to the city where I grew up and driving by the house I lived in as a child. Everything was very shabby and run-down. The years, so many, had left their brutal mark on the whole memory I carried with me. You really can’t go home again. I drove the car away quickly, I didn’t want this harsh reality to spoil what I had hidden away deep inside, the joys and the pains.

The truth is – those places of memory will not last. It’s best to cherish them and not go looking for them in the present. The best way to keep them alive is by sharing with others – your family, friends and ancestors. Don’t lose those places by trying to find them again, but make them real by sharing what means so much with someone else. I’m saving those times together peering under the couch searching for cars.

As you wander through your house, especially when you pack and unpack from moving, you run across things that hold cherished memories. There are photos of loved ones and important places that hang on the wall or got pushed back in a box. My daughter recently spoke aloud about all she remembered when I pulled out some of her childhood toys. They weren’t just something new for my grandson to play with, they also bore magical history for her.

Somehow I ended up with my great-grandmothers cane. What I remember is walking with her a time or two down her long dirt road to get the mail. It was delivered off the state highway. She lived and raised her family in a whole other world. A world of pastures, sheep, horses and red dirt. I think I spent every summer of my childhood swimming and fishing in the river. See, that little tiny cane sitting by the front door of my house is filled with wonder. I was thinking the other evening about how I would explain it all to my own grandchildren. Your great-great-great-grandmother??

There are artifacts all around you, especially if you are a collector (hoarder?), that bear so much significance. This too has to be passed to others. Those memories are inside of you not attached to each item. You’re the one that must cast the aura of significance and pass it down to others.

And of course, people leave us for many reasons. Friends pass through our lives. If you’re blessed friends from the past may come back into your life again once you’ve grown by a few more pounds. There will be times in all our lives when people you love depart. Sometimes it happens all at once and other times as part of the normal course of life. But there are days and even years when these losses are almost impossible to bear. When people leave your life, with the memories of love left behind the cost is often a part of yourself.

I’ve used this quote before…

“Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime, and falling in at night. I miss you like hell.” ― Edna St. Vincent Millay

Maybe the most important memory you promise to pass on is the ones you have with the people in you life – those still here and those who’ve traveled on to heaven. We all sat around my dining room table one night, friends from forty years ago at college. Photos were passed around the table and all the bits and pieces of long ago were reassembled and put back into place in all our hearts. Right where they were meant to be.

“Sometimes things become possible if we want them bad enough.” ― T.S. Eliot

Don’t let people slip away from your dreams. Pass on to others why they were so important and in so doing who you were (and have become). I passed on a song to my niece this week as she was recuperating. She told me it was soothing. This is her first semester away at college. My memory to share with her was that this was a song sung in a concert during my first weeks at college. The first week at college of her aunt who has been gone to heaven now for a year. When we connect our memories with others it binds us together in a wonderful web of shared hopes and dreams.

“And the memories of all we have loved stay and come back to us in the evening of our life. They are not dead but sleep, and it is well to gather a treasure of them.” ― Vincent van Gogh

During these days and weeks and months of shared suffering, separation, isolation, fear, uncertainty and some hope – work harder at remembering. Help your family and friends to stay anchored to love and faith. That means you’re going to have to do something. Maybe something each day.

We’re still looking for some cars. I’m hoping to keep searching for memories and never give up.

“The things you do for yourself are gone when you are gone, but the things you do for others remain as your legacy.” ― Kalu Ndukwe Kalu

 

 

Your Country Needs You, I Need You

2020, So Much We’d Like to Forget!

How would you describe your 2020 so far? I’m sitting just a little west of Houston right now with Hurricane Laura barreling down on the  Texas/Louisiana border late tonight. We just started the Fall Semester this week at HBU.  Like most colleges and universities in America we are doing a hybrid model with students attending and online. Well, once the hurricane predictions got more accurate, it was decided to go completely online (remote) for the rest of the week. We have students commuting from all over the region. Much better to play it safe!

Have you had time to make a list of what 2020 has really been like for people in our country (not to mention the rest of the world)?

  • Pandemic forces the closing of businesses and an economic shutdown.
  • Quarantining at home keeps people safer. Most of us have been in lock down for six months.
  • Childcare has shut down and parents have had to scramble to find other solutions – that is if they themselves haven’t lost their jobs or were furloughed.
  • Online education replaced public and private school last spring and is happening for many this fall. That means an adult at home is having to supervise what once took place in classrooms.
  • Healthcare and even deaths have dramatically changed our experiences with healthcare professionals and hospitals. You can’t be with loved ones in the hospital!
  • Veering away from the COVID crisis, have you been paying attention to the political circus? This is really the best that the greatest nation on earth can put forth?
  • For so many, the year has brought about loss in one way or another. Dramatic changes in employment, benefits, childcare, and school have created catastrophes in every social class.
  • Well of course, we’ve become increasingly disconnected from one another over the past six months. We took the physical presence of others for granted. In quarantine we only had a text or email. Even now, trying to communicate past a mask while distancing doesn’t do away with all the frustration. It doesn’t bring enough solution to our deeper problem.
  • What has your life been like in lock-down? Too much TV? Not enough church? Have you reached your togetherness limit? Who do you think you’ve become after this much change in your normal routines? Are you finding out what you’re really made of? (Considering posting some homemade music videos?)

Anyone can put together a bad news list. How depressing.

What’s needed are some old fashioned heroes.

Normal, everyday folks like you and me.

Even under the mask, someone who will carry a smile into every frustrating situation, and keep it no matter how deep the fear and anger gets.

“There’s a lot of difference between listening and hearing.” ― G. K. Chesterton

Someone who will think first and speak second. Who listens carefully and tries to hear what’s behind the inflamed words and withdrawn quietness. People have been cut off from others in lots of ways. Listening is an urgent first step to helping and healing others.

We need everyday heroes who will pick up the slack in our broken political and social culture right now. That means you might have to sit on your opinion, no matter how mad you are. As uncomfortable as it makes you, loving others who are from the opposite end of the spectrum may be just what the doctor ordered.

“It’s a civic virtue to be exposed to things that appear to be outside your interest. In a complex world, almost everything affects you – that closes the loop on pecuniary self-interest. Customers are always right, but people aren’t.” ― Clive Thompson

This virus that has struck the whole world has provided an opportunity for each one of us to see what we’re really made of. It’s a crisis for each of us individually but it’s also a crisis for our family. It’s a crisis for our neighbors and our city – even though we are locked away and socially distant we’re still citizens with a responsibility to others. It’s a crisis for America. Who do you think this will turn us into?

“Democracy gives us citizens a measure of political power. That power comes with a responsibility to foster a culture that makes it possible to live and work well together for the well-being of all.” ― Diane Kalen-Sukra

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I am late with posting on my blog.

Trying to get ready for the semester has had me all in a fog of panic. All my courses have to be filmed with a new laptop while I’m teaching all medically sealed up and safe for my half class each day (the other half comes on the next day). I just knew I’d fumble the ball. I went to training demonstrations and watched film clips online. When Monday arrived it seemed I knew which buttons to press. Tuesday was a different story.

On Monday, the problem was I had inserted the wrong textbook in the class syllabus and everyone was mixed up about how to launch with their assignments due that week. Ugh!  Then, that afternoon I went to my second class, got all the wires plugged in and waited and waited, no one showed up. Once the time was almost over, it was made clear to me that I had gone to the wrong room. My class had been waiting for me in the right room. Ugh!

So, I had cleared up the fog but remained lost. In the past, I never worried much about instructional technology. My wife’s EdD is in that field. I just always took it for granted that I would have someone to help me over every obstacle. She’s gone to heaven now. In two weeks it will be a year. Every day it has seemed to me as if she just walked out the door.

This has probably been what has slowed me down from blogging. It’s also what has increased my stress about jumping back into this new routine at school. I’m so glad to be back out of my hostage crisis and back with people again. But I think I’m not really aware of my constant broken heart. I’m so thankful for all the heroes in my life.

“We have no reason to mistrust our world, for it is not against us. Has it terrors, they are our terrors; has it abysses, those abysses belong to us; are dangers at hand, we must try to love them. And if only we arrange our life according to that principle which counsels us that we must always hold to the difficult, then that which now still seems to us the most alien will become what we most trust and find most faithful. How should we be able to forget those ancient myths that are at the beginning of all peoples, the myths about dragons that at the last moment turn into princesses; perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us.” ― Rainier Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

Name Them One By One

My in-laws came over for lunch the other day. Upon entering the front door I said that I had been counting my blessing, making a list and they had made it to the top ten! They are incredible.

I really had sat down that morning and instead of just mildly giving thanks for so much in my life, I decided to be literal and start a list. I’ve been putting things down on my phone for several years now. What not to forget at the grocery, random thoughts to flush out later and even a poem now and then. So why not my running list of blessings to count?

“The unthankful heart discovers no mercies; but the thankful heart will find, in every hour, some heavenly blessings.”  ― Henry Ward Beecher

 

Make A List

I began an itemized list of names, situations, and things that are blessing my life now, in the past and in days to come. This is a strategy to make the unconscious a more powerful force in the conscious day-to-day. By turning the hypothetical into something concrete (a list) anyone can increase its power and influence over attitudes, decisions and interactions.

Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God has done!

This is the first part of the chorus to that familiar hymn. Each verse describes a bitter trial. When we face hard times and suffering one way to increase our courage and march on toward the light of day is to remember all the ways we have experienced blessings in our life. It’s always too easy to forget our blessings and spend too much time on our miseries.

“Our life is what our thoughts make it.” ― Marcus Aurelius

 

What I’m urging you to do is to literally start right now to write down;

  • names of people who have been a blessing to you and yours
  • the material possessions that are yours that help to make your life rich
  • all the circumstances that have occurred along the way that have shaped your life in ways that brought you to the right place

As I made my list I discovered that it didn’t take much time at all. Over time, I found that it really did help to correct my steering – get my thinking back between the lines of reality. It made me happy. One item would often lead to another. Thinking about people would trigger situations and encounters that had been so important to my journey. There were of course people that came up that I wasn’t particularly thankful to have had in my life – but as I thought about it – I had learned valuable lessons and knew that the damage these people had done created valuable scars. Can you believe that?

Don’t waste idle time sitting in the waiting room. Turn off that TV for a few minutes. Use this practice to start or end each day. Going to bed every night with these kinds of thoughts is so much more healthy than a head full of worries. Instead of another trivial conversation with your spouse, family member or best friend, what about taking a few minutes over dinner to work on your list together?

Over time, keep adding to your list. Your life is a work in progress. Don’t forget to keep track of how God is taking care of you and the ones you love. The constant practice will keep your heart and mind in the right frame. You will be less likely to wander off into the bushes of doubt and despair. Ask someone to help you if you lack the motivation.

The list I carry around on my phone is now a resource. It’s a treasure, like money in my wallet. I can consult it on a bad day or when truth becomes too shallow. You’re going to say, “Oh I know my blessings, I don’t need to keep a list.” I even know who you are that’s saying this to yourself. But I’m telling you, there is great value when human beings engage in deliberative action to think critically about their experiences. So start writing.

Your blessings are not as powerful a force in your thought and action until they are made real by intentional activity.

When you hit a wall of difficulties and start to feel anxious or fearful about your circumstances, consult your list. God has taken care of you and there’s no reason to think he won’t continue his work in your life. He has promised this in his Word and in your life (take a look at your list!).

Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have because He has said, “I will never leave you; I will always be by your side.”  – Hebrews 13:5

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I’ve still got a favor to ask:

  1. If you’re not already doing so, click on the link to “follow” this blog
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  3. Post a comment below – let me know you’re out there – you don’t have to write anything brilliant, just a word of encouragement

Who Are You Talking To?

“Women speak because they wish to speak, whereas a man speaks only when driven to speak by something outside himself-like, for instance, he can’t find any clean socks.” ― Jean Kerr

I talk for a living.

These days I am living by myself. This situation is made even more solitary by the quarantine situation we are all enduring. I find myself roaming through the house doing a lot of talking aloud and often stop and wonder, “who are you talking to?”

I do realize that my situation leaves me brimming with words to spill out on to others when the rare social occasion arrives. This seems odd to me because historically I’ve not usually someone who feels the need to share – I will always entertain, but not always reveal. But these days, I can’t seem to stop talking.

Dear friends had dinner with me last week. I had told myself AGAIN to please keep my mouth shut and listen more. Halfway through the evening I realized I was feeling hoarse and suddenly became horrified – have I really been talking that much? Like some sort of prisoner released from solitary confinement out of the Russian gulag? What’s wrong with me?

Is this need for social connection really that powerful? This desire to communicate, to be heard, to share our experiences, to know deep down that we are not alone? I think I’m bumping into a yes answer to much of this. I can show you in all sorts of textbooks why this is true, but now I seem to know it from my own lived experience.

“When you have once seen the glow of happiness on the face of a beloved person, you know that a man can have no vocation but to awaken that light on the faces surrounding him. In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” ― Albert Camus

Even using technology; texting, emails, zooms, and face-timing have all made this life we are now living so much more bearable. We complained before about how technology had wormed its way into every crook and cranny of our living – but now we ought to be so thankful for these tools that allow human connections to continue – people are joking about that guy’s funny shirts on laptop meetings.

Where would I be if I didn’t have all of these people in my life constantly throwing out lifelines of connection to me? All those taken for granted bits of small talk, shared experiences and personal updates? These little webs of interconnection hold us together AND hold us individually together inside (keep us from turning into a cat lady).

Some Down and Dirty Rules for Talking

Listen to yourself: if you’re talking so much, so fast, dominating the time and space, then you’re not hearing yourself. You’re breaking the speed limit. Slow down when you’re no longer aware of what and how you’re speaking to everyone else in the room. Don’t become a mindless word processor that doesn’t know when to shut up or slow-down or back up.

Listen to the other person: The best conversationalists are not the talkers but the hearers. How do you know someone is hearing you? They look you in the eye, they ask follow up questions, their expressions match the mood you are setting with your story. Don’t stomp all over the end of each other’s conversation because you’ve become over-eager to tell your own story. As we get older I think this might happen because we’re all afraid if we don’t spit it out now, we will forget!

Watch your body language: Being isolated like this has kept us from being in shared space where we use body language to communicate so much of our experiences. Now, wearing a face mask will continue to make this difficult. The eyes become that much more essential conveyors of emotion. But if you’re not even going to look at someone or if you’re on a computer screen with your eyes off camera watching something else, body language is lost. This is such an important dimension of communication, when we miss out on it, it’s too late that we discover the poverty of the interaction.

Who ARE You Talking To?

What if this season of isolation was a time when you could do some more talking with God? Maybe you could make some good happen out of this misery? It’s been my experience that when we regularly talk with God our levels of frustration, fear and despair seem to diminish. Circumstances might not change, but our outlook and perspective is altered when we are consistently talking with God.

“For many of us prayer means nothing more than speaking with God. And since it usually seems to be a quite one-sided affair, prayer simply means talking to God. This idea is enough to create great frustrations. If I present a problem, I expect a solution; if I formulate a question, I expect an answer; if I ask for guidance, I expect a response. And when it seems, increasingly, that I am talking into the dark, it is not so strange that I soon begin to suspect that my dialogue with God is in fact a monologue. Then I may begin to ask myself: To whom am I really speaking, God or myself?” ― Henri J.M. Nouwen

I think this is exactly right! But maybe now there is time, time to be silent, time to be still and wait. Maybe during the lock-down in your life, there is time to listen for an answer – maybe even one that’s been there all along.

 

I’ve got a favor to ask:

  1. If you’re not already doing so, click on the link to “follow” this blog
  2. Share this blog with someone else (ask them to “follow”)
  3. Post a comment below – let me know you’re out there – you don’t have to write anything, just encourage…