Never Break the Chain

Why You Should Embrace Support from Others - bulldog yoga

There is always a chain holding us to what matters

One of my favorite classic rock groups sings about a chain. When you think about chains do you think about something bad, holding you down, keeping you bound, limiting your freedom, heavy and constricting?

But chains can also fulfill useful purposes:

  • That’s how we anchor the ship and keep it from drifting.
  • Remember that chain on the front door so you could open it and peer out?
  • I had a friend who kept his big wallet chained to his beltloop.
  • Can a bracelet be like a chain? My wife had a big giant charm bracelet that she added to over the years. It needed a hefty series of links to hold all those memories.

“Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone – we find it with another.” ― Thomas Merton

What kind of an anchor is your family?

Almost everyone starts out life intertwined with family. It’s hard to imagine how we would even survive without these essential people who insert themselves and society at large inside of us. As prickly as that usually becomes once you hit adolescence. Your parents enable you to survive and also teach you how to survive as the unique person that you are.

“We define our identity always in dialogue with, sometimes in struggle against, the things our significant others want to see in us. Even after we outgrow some of these others—our parents, for instance—and they disappear from our lives, the conversation with them continues within us as long as we live.” ― Charles Taylor

Think about all the ways that you are wrapped up in the history, rhythm and life of the people all around you. It’s easy to put your family in this category. Sure we are all tied together, for better or worse, right? For almost everyone, our families integrate us into the world in healthy and productive ways. They prepare and launch us so that we will thrive. Sometimes we hear about families that fetter members to disaster. In most large American cities, the number one reason that police get called is a family related disturbance. Families teach us how tied up we are to other people, emotionally, physically, financially, spiritually and even logistically. Don’t you think civilization rests upon the love and care of moms and dads?

Right now, send a note or card to someone in your family, a distant extended member. In fact, buy a stack of cards so that you’re always ready to send something. There’s bound to be someone in your big family who needs some kindness right now.

“When I lived in a small town, the whole town got together to help my family when tragedy struck our home. Now in a big city, my neighbor one block down doesn’t know who I am.” ― James Hauenstein

It’s midnight, do you know where your friends and neighbors are?

A few weekends past, new neighbors were having a celebration in the back around their pool. Music was included. Music that made all of my windows vibrate. I’m certain everyone on two or three nearby streets were swept up into the party via the rhythmic drumming of each tune. After a time I realized that I’ve lived here almost 25 years and never had a single bit of friction with anyone living near. In my neighborhood there are people with last names from all over the world. We are all tied up together, yet following a similar set of norms and managing cohesion. That’s amazing, don’t you think?

The May 2021 American Perspectives Survey discovered that Americans have fewer close friendships than they once did, they talk to their friends less, and no longer depend as much on friends for personal support. Maybe the recent pandemic has set us back. We remain disconnected from our friends both physically and emotionally. Sure, friends can be a lot of trouble, but in the end they are vital to your health.

What can you do? Get in contact with that friend of yours, you know who I mean. Go have lunch or a long phone call. Get caught up. Strengthen that chain.

“The world is so empty if one thinks only of mountains, rivers & cities; but to know someone who thinks & feels with us, & who, though distant, is close to us in spirit, this makes the earth for us an inhabited garden.” ― Goethe

4,316 Two Friends Talking Serious Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty-Free Images - iStock

When I use this metaphor of a chain holding each one of us to what matters most, I think about it in three important ways:

(1) There are our relationships that keep us tied to individual people, to roles with responsibilities and to the rules of living that we learn and pass on. Remember that family becomes for almost everyone that first significant model of how relationships work (or don’t).

When I was a young adult, I don’t remember that being connected to others was very important. I’m certain I just took others for granted, like the sun coming up. The chains that hold us to each other always take some degree of conscious effort.

“When we love someone our love becomes demonstrable or real only through our exertion – through the fact that for that someone (or for ourself) we take an extra step or walk an extra mile. Love is not effortless. To the contrary, love is effortful.” ― M. Scott Peck

(2) Intertwined within these relationships are all of the feelings that are invested in us and that we in turn plant within the furrows of memory. These emotions tie us to places, experiences and to our significant relationships. My friend calls his mother every Sunday afternoon, probably for all sorts of reasons, but I think mostly and deep down, because of the devotion that binds mothers and sons.

These connections aren’t limited to emotions. I’m thinking about examples like obligation, reciprocity and trust. These are like glue that enable us to take so much for granted and lean into one another. We don’t have to start from scratch with each person in our life.

What is the meaning of "“Someone holds the door for you.”"? - Question about English (US) | HiNative

I still cry out for you, don’t leave me, don’t leave me…  Rhiannon, Fleetwood Mac

(3) When thinking about our connections in the world, don’t forget the social institutions all around us. These include our family, church, work, the news, and even healthcare. As you get older or seriously ill, you can imagine how essential your relationship will be with your doctor and health providers. When we were fighting cancer, our oncologist made incredible efforts to connect with us personally at each visit. He was working hard to heal us at multiple levels. I hate to tell you this, but as you age you might have to take handfuls of pills each day. My great revelation here was having mine delivered in dated packets. What an invention! BUT, I still visit our little local pharmacy and pick up a few prescriptions because of the close relationship we developed with everyone that works there. I think that should always beat convenience. 

“A few years ago, a priest working in a slum section of a European city was asked why he was doing it, and replied, ‘So that the rumor of God may not completely disappear.” ― Peter L. Berger

There are chains that we should work to remove:

  • relationships that bring harm to any part of you, inside and out
  • self-talk that keeps wounding instead urging you forward
  • bad habits that keep us spinning our wheels instead of climbing to the stars

I’m thinking about what needs to be reinforced in my life and what I need to turn loose. I only want to be bound up to what love can make anew.

“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.” ― Herman Melville

(Do you think Melville really wrote that? He’s the Moby Dick author, remember?)

*My poor little posts are being read by fewer and fewer. If you are inspired and want to keep them coming (and inspire me), it would help tremendously if you would pass this along to someone else and “invite” them to follow by clicking on that green icon in the top left corner…

A Hall Full of Memory

There are three signs (of many) that one has moved into the latter days…

  1. Planning of routine activities are mainly scheduled around the weather forecast – which is observed and talked about religiously.
  2. When returning to the parking lot, there is always shock and amazement that some drunk has apparently gotten your vehicle and re-parked it completely out of the lines and within centimeters of the next vehicle.
  3. The vision of your mind begins to turn in a new direction spending more time remembering and less time dreaming about the future.

Walk Alone Stock Video, Footage - Walk Alone HD Video Clips | Bigstock

I was walking down an almost empty hall in my church. I had arrived early on Sunday morning as usual to get my Bible study class set up. My mind was thinking again about being here, in this particular place. I had started this thought train the week before, walking the same path, down the same quiet hall.

My in-laws had been members of this church as it first launched back in the 1970’s. They were on committees, led classes, he was a deacon, they contributed their lives to this eternal work. My wife and her two younger sisters spent their childhood years here as well.

“You know your children are growing up when they stop asking you where they came from and refuse to tell you where they’re going.” ― P. J. O’Rourke

When my daughter reached her middle school years, we joined this church so she would be a part of a strong youth ministry. She and her future husband met right away, fell head over heels and the rest was history. They’ve just celebrated ten years of marriage, with two children, but have actually been a couple for nineteen years.

As I walked down that hall, in the the early hour before the commotion of hundreds of people would fill every inch of stillness, I thought about these people in my family. A history of people who had made meaning in the nursery, classrooms, choir loft, fellowship hall and sanctuary. Their lives invested in others as they learned and grew up in so many ways.

My wife’s parents had moved away to Dallas when she was a teenager. They joined another church and in the same way became integral parts. We were married in that church. They are both gone to heaven now. Her sisters and their families are far away in Dallas as well. My wife joined her parents in heaven three years ago. Two years ago, my daughter and her family moved far away.

Walking down that hallway, as I do each week, I thought about how strange it was that I was the one left here in “their” church.  As I think about it, I’ve been here in this church longer than anyone of that family ever was. That seemed strange to me as I walked down that quiet hall.

I’m about to hit twenty years teaching our Bible study class. That’s going to seem strange to everyone who’s in it with me. None of us feels that old! 

“It’s paradoxical that the idea of living a long life appeals to everyone, but the idea of getting old doesn’t appeal to anyone.”  ― Andy Rooney

I’ve seen mixed reports about people returning to church, now that we feel past the pandemic. Some researchers think that Gen-X’rs (my children’s age group) are coming back in larger numbers than other age groups. Other researchers report that when we look at overall church attendance, it’s at 2/3 the number it was before COVID sent everyone home in fear. There’s probably still some pandemic hesitancy, but also it’s become easier to stay home and participate from a distance.

What many people may not realize (yet) is that the social interaction is what makes it all worth it. Even more so than the convenience of zooming. 

I’m a social scientist and can’t help but look at numbers. People who regularly attend church:

  • live longer
  • live lives with better overall health
  • experience less stress and anxiety
  • have happier marriages
  • experience lower levels of depression and loneliness
  • have children who flourish in school and early adulthood
  • have families with resilient social networks

We probably already knew all of this deep down. Regularly being with others in person is good for us in so many ways, no matter how much trouble it takes. As the days and weeks and months and years go by you build something that lasts. A framework for your children is built that helps them to organize meaning in their own lives. Meanings made out of beliefs, practices and relationships.

During my growing up years, at times when I didn’t even realize I was drowning, there were people in my little church who kept me floating just because of their presence and consistency. If all I’d had was a screen, I’m not sure I would have made it (even though I did watch a lot of religion on TV back in the 70’s). Those people, who didn’t necessarily have all the answers did provide themselves, and I carry them with me to this day.

A dear friend has gone through a number of terrible life tragedies. Just awful experiences. I don’t know the best way to encourage him back into his church after the pandemic. How did I survive my own hell on earth without my intimate family at church? They took me by the hand and walked me through each painful mile. There are others I know that I see suffering all alone and I don’t usually know the right words to say. I’ve decided I need to invite and get personally involved instead of praying from a distance.

Two men having lunch on a Park bench with a sandwich and drink from cups Stock Video Footage 00:26 SBV-327576766 - Storyblocks

“It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn’t use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like “What about lunch?” ― A. A. Milne

When I walk down that empty hall each Sunday morning and remember who used to be there, in just a few minutes, I hear and see who is now there. Even as I miss my grandchildren, seeing other children grow up week after week is so satisfying. Being around others is essential to keep any of us on course. It’s a wonderful blessing to be able to make moments count each week. Also, another opportunity to notice who could be there and think about how I can do something to invite them back home.

6 Ways to Keep Visitors Coming Back to Church -

Stuck in a Rut

How to ride rutted out trails

Have you ever felt like you were?

In a rut, that is…

I know I have. Not just felt like it, but actually in a rut. Not just once, but many times in my life. You’d think I would learn how to avoid those traveling traps.

“Constantly focusing on the limitations, instead of all the possibilities, is how people become stuck in their lives. It only serves to recreate the same old reality from day to day. And soon the days turn into years, and lifetimes.” ― Anthon St. Maarten

I guess it doesn’t help when you can’t see over the edge of your rut…

People, myself included, get stuck in ruts for a number of reasons. I don’t think we intentionally aim for that rut. I’ve woken up at times and realized that I’m not going anywhere because I’m stuck. I also know that sometimes I have stayed in a rut instead of making hard choices and doing difficult work to get out. Staying in a rut can be thought safer or more comfortable than taking the risk to change or move forward. That’s hard to believe.

Sometimes, people find themselves in a rut because of their own mistakes or self-destructive choices. This is the obvious answer. When we hear a story about someone being stuck, the first place we go is a quick examination of their poorly followed road map.

Sometimes, people find themselves in a rut because of choices made by someone else. We all live in a connected world. Our families, friends and work world keep us intertwined with the lives of other people who are making decisions that affect how we act and think. Right now and for years.

Sometimes, people decide to stay in their rut because it’s providing the essential attention, connection and love that they have always needed but never received. That doesn’t seem to make sense, does it? Many times, people aren’t even aware that their life in a rut is producing something they deeply need.

“But there was a difference between being stuck and choosing to stay. Between being found and finding yourself.” ― Martina Boone

Isolation Can Produce Ruts

While some age groups are, not everyone is returning to their churches in these post-pandemic months. If there is such a thing as post-pandemic. Some reports indicate that the return rate is at approximately two-thirds. Going back on a regular basis will do wonders for you on many levels. The weekly “live” connections with others have kept me going in so many ways. During the week we use technology to stay tethered with each other. This has kept my focus on what means the most to me.  Praying, encouraging, sharing our journey has all worked to keep me from that familiar rut of paralyzing self-pity.

“It’s all right to sit on your pity pot every now and again. Just be sure to flush when you are finished.”Debbie Macomber

Don’t Overthink It

Maybe during the locked up period of time we’ve come through, you noticed or even developed some bad habits. Some might even qualify as a rut. I’ve been reading some research about how to replace bad habits with good ones. Very eye-opening. Instead of beating myself up about my lack of will power or low motivation, making a good habit is mostly about changing circumstances and getting into a new routine. Habits, both good and bad, happen because we spend so much of our mental processing on autopilot.

My new routine of walking the neighborhood each evening has hit a summer snag. It never seems to cool off until almost ten o’clock! By then I’ve gotten side tracked with something else. So, I’m working on the timing of this routine so I don’t have to make a conscious decision, it will just happen. Wish me luck.

What routines do you need to fix? Make a change in the right direction, give yourself a reward, make it something you don’t have to think about, and you will probably end up out of that rut sooner rather than later.

“If you continue to dig the same hole in the same place in your life, eventually you will be standing in a grave.” – Shannon Adler

Relationships Need Tending Like a Garden

Don’t you have friends who are in relationship ruts? It’s very difficult to break out and build new friendships, especially lately. Even dysfunctional relationships work for us when they keep us on familiar scripts and protect from the risks of rejection.

Your relationship is in a rut when:

  1. Communication isn’t bringing life
  2. You’re drained most of the time instead of energized
  3. Trust has been deteriorating over time

There are many other signs. I think these are significant. Relationships don’t usually fall apart quickly. Some poisons can take a long time to kill. Everyone has difficulty jumping into new friendships and learning different scripts. Such a hard jump to make – these also take time. We hurt and want relief quickly. I think that’s why some people just stay in their relationship ruts.

“People who have been deeply hurt in their relationships will often devalue love so it doesn’t hurt so much. And they often become resigned to never loving again.” ― Henry Cloud

Getting out of a rut takes an understanding of what got you there in the first place. Helping someone else get out of a rut will probably mean going past the immediate circumstances and addressing larger problems and/or people. Most people, even your close friends, will never let you near enough to have those kinds of conversations. That’s an unfortunate part of life and people these days.

The number one reason that people stay in their ruts is because they try and go it alone. It’s hard to admit failure. Even more difficult to let someone else see mistakes repeated. But the only way up and out is mostly with the help of others. Sometimes, we stay in ruts because we can’s seem to lift that heavy brick of pride up and over the edge.

“Generosity is giving more than you can, and pride is taking less than you need.” ― Khalil Gibran

Put Another Dime in the Jukebox

My First Concert Since the Pandemic

10,389 Concert Crowd Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty-Free Images - iStock

The outdoor concert venue slowly filled as the evening light faded. Before too long we were surrounded by a great horde of Millennials all standing, talking in small groups and listening to the vibrant music. Only a small percent were actually focused on the music. They had gathered early up near the stage. This portion of the crowd bounced up and down to each song, waving arms in the air, singing right along. I even saw a brave girl or two crowd surf over the heads of this part of the horde. They were like every crowd I had seen or been a part of during all my years of rock concerts. Of course, as an aging adult, attending classic rock shows, crowd surfing was out of the question. I doubt most of us could even raise our arms over our heads for long. Inflammation and arthritis having taken more of a toll as each year passed.

“Don’t let anybody put you in a box. You are much more than a millennial…much more!”  ― Jerry Gladstone

My generation doesn’t like to stand for long either, much preferring the seating away from the mosh pit. On this evening we were kept safe from the horde in a caged off seating area in the back. I could see everything with very little risk. It was the perfect spot. We did have some Millennial females sneak in to our enclosure. It’s a strange phenomenon I experience at almost every concert. Young women, who I assume have paid a lot of money for their tickets, and then sit near me and talk through the whole show. Talk very loud so that they can be heard by each other over the blaring music. Describing that mole that needs to be removed or the terrible new boss at work. Happened again this night. I don’t get it?? I watched one young lady come over and say hi to a couple on a date sitting in front of me. She then proceeded to stand there and talk (shout) to the girl the rest of the evening. The poor guy was left all alone. I thought they’d been having a great time until the blabber mouth showed up. I still don’t get it??

How to Play Guitar - Beginner's Guide (2022 Update)

In fact, as I surveyed the horde in front and around me, I noticed that the attentive crowd up near the stage was only about one-fourth, if that, of the audience. The rest of the three thousand plus attending was standing around in small groups, chit chatting as if they were at a wedding reception. Most only glanced up at the stage periodically. It took a very familiar song to get everyone to jump around, sing along and become more drawn into the music. Then it was back to the mingling. Maybe the Millennials have been shut away too long and desperately needed the social interaction (more than the music)?

“No matter how different you are, no matter how different you think, no matter how extraordinary or how ordinary you are, when you get on a train, you will go in the same direction as everyone on that train! That’s what happens to you if you mingle with the crowds! The crowd always takes you where it goes!” ― Mehmet Murat ildan

11 Tips for Surviving a Concert Without Your Phone

When people used to smoke more, a mellow song would start and the lights would dim and then a magic moment started.  People all around would pull out their lighters and hold up the flames above their heads. This may have evoked much deeper memories of the gathered tribe lifting their torches to the inspiration coming from a leader telling a story or an epic song shared by all. On this night I noticed that when a special moment arrived, the phones went up. People were recording the experience. But this looked to me to be producing the exact opposite effect than the one I remembered. The light was on the little screens cast back on each person holding up a phone. Instead of a social experience of raising up a collective flame, it was a self absorbed moment, directing attention away from the experience we were all having and up to a little private screen – rewarding each person with their own spotlight. How weird we’ve become.

“Normal consumers declare rock to be dead whenever they personally stop listening to it (or at least to new iterations of it), which typically happens about two years after they graduate from college.” ― Chuck Klosterman

It was a great night of music and people watching. My favorites. The weather cooperated, even here in heatstroke Houston. It was a beautiful sunset after the cool off of rain earlier in the afternoon. Even more of a big deal because it has been such a long time since any music has come to town. I was also very encouraged to see Millennials out having a really big social experience. We hear reports about people staying home, working digitally, living a distanced life, dropping out of organizations like church, etc. Attending this big night together told me that people, no matter what demographic they fall under, still like to gather and have fun with great music all night long. It was a good sign for the future, no matter what the TV is telling us.

“Music needs to be felt to be heard.” ― Anthony T. Hincks

Love is a Long Road

Tom Petty | Biography, Songs, Albums, & Facts | Britannica

I’m searching through song titles in my music library. It’s hard to believe how many include the word “love” in them.

LOVE IS A LONG ROAD is a Tom Petty song.

Yeah, it was hard to give up
Some things are hard to let go
Some things are never enough
I guess I only can hope
For maybe one more chance
To try and save my soul
But love is a long, long road
Yeah, love is long, long road

There are people I know who have hearts permanently broken because of love (and betrayal). Some have a nasty dog chained up in their spirit keeping everyone away. There are others in my circle that keep searching for true love. It’s been a long time, but no one’s talking give up…yet. I’ve run across a few people (haven’t we all) who are too much in love with themselves to ever find it anywhere else. If you’ve grown up paying attention to what’s playing on the radio – love is something everyone is looking for at some time in their life.

Have you found it?

It’s a long and winding road. Isn’t it?

“Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.” ― Rainer Maria Rilke

Summers are strange periods of time for people in higher education. The schedule isn’t as rigid and there are less people in one’s orbit. Mostly, its different because the students are no longer around. My living alone becomes more accentuated. I really cherish my time spent with friends and family. These are ordinary connections; talking on the stairs on the way to parking lot, a FaceTime visit,  having lunch at our regular table, a phone call late in the evening, sending a note in the mail. These seem to especially matter during this overheated and dried up summer. I’m slowly learning a bigger life lesson about reciprocity. Don’t wait to receive, make something happen with a simple gesture. Love, to become real, needs someone else to share with. 

(EVERYTHING I DO) I DO IT FOR YOU

Oh, you can’t tell me it’s not worth tryin’ for
I can’t help it, there’s nothin’ I want more
Yeah, I would fight for you
I’d lie for you
Walk the wire for you
Yeah, I’d die for you

Bryan Adams

I’ve decided to stop just praying for other people. Really to stop praying that someone else (God) would solve someone else’s problems. Instead I’ve started to pray that God would solve the problem but ALSO would use me in that solution. I’m volunteering for service. I’m ready to get up and get involved. When I was younger, I talked about love. I didn’t know what to do about it. There wasn’t much sown into my own field. As I grew older, more scarred, and scared, I realized how much love I needed. Then I discovered I was never going to get enough. My only relief was to find some way (today) to give some away.  Love isn’t really a feeling, it’s a verb that must be put into action.

The Sower by Jean-François Millet | Obelisk Art History

The Sower, 1850, Jean-Francois Millet

All those years that you spend making dreams come true will one day happen to you. One way or another. People last, plans rarely do. Others in your life need your love. Mostly they don’t realize it. What they know for sure is how much you loved or didn’t love them. (Remember, it’s not a private feeling but a verb, something to share). Be careful about the bed you are making. When you are older you will have to lie in it. I have a friend who has been cut off from his children. What must that be like? He keeps trying, day after day, year after year. One day, when they are on their own, they will see the truth of his love.  Love is always a long, long field that is sown with seeds and some will take a lifetime to bear any fruit. 

LET LOVE IN

And you’re the only one I ever believed in
The answer that could never be found
The moment you decided to let love in
Now I’m banging on the door of an angel
The end of fear is where we begin
The moment we decided to let love in

Goo Goo Dolls

Pay attention to all the love in your life

One certain way that all of us let love in is when we become conscious of all the ways that people in our lives practice loving us. Sit down and think it through. From the big heroic acts like felling a giant to every little word of kindness and comfort. It’s easier to remember what we don’t have than all that we do. It takes effort. Put your mind and heart in the right place with more frequency and see what happens – see what view appears as you travel down THAT road.

Premium Photo | Man walking down a desolate road, man walking backwards on a road surrounded by vegetation

Love is a long hard road. But it’s the only road worth traveling. That other road isn’t going anywhere.

“When we love, we always strive to become better than we are. When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.” ― Paulo Coelho

 

 

A Little of This, A Whole Lot of That

Smash Burgers

I was ordering a hamburger the other day. Sometimes I get a craving for ketchup. Never on my hamburger, but to go with the fries. So, a hamburger to go with the fries. Make sense? I noticed on the menu as I was ordering that cheese on my burger would cost more. I asked the teen taking my order, “can you really tell that there’s cheese on this burger?” As any good employee, you know what his answer was. My burger really looked like the size of one of those in a happy meal. It tasted great, but was very small. How do they get buns that little? No, I could not tell that there was any cheese on it, not enough surface. Maybe it was what they call a “boutique burger”?

Of course, a day doesn’t pass that I’m not reminded of my aging. One day when I was at church I realized a cataclysmic shift had taken place in my life. My church was started as a new neighborhood fellowship back in the 1970’s. It has grown as this part of town has. Right now, we have a lot of senior adults in our church. In fact, the “traditional” service that I attend I refer to as the senior citizen worship service. Tongue in cheek, sort of. My brutal collision with reality happened one Sunday morning when one of these senior adult men called me “sir” in our casual interaction. I almost dropped my Bible.

The power went out in our neighborhood this afternoon. The temperature indicated it was 104. I guess that means they didn’t actually get the Texas power grid updated and ready when everyone in the most advance civilization in the history of the world turns on their heater or AC at once. I’m not sure that people in Texas realize that our legislature only meets five months every two years. The only other times they can meet and get something serious done is when a special session is called. Only the governor can call one of these.

How to Cut Watermelon

When the power went off I panicked and went to the HEB. They had power. I got a slice of watermelon. That made perfect sense to me. Do you remember people putting salt on their watermelon? I wonder why they did that and why people stopped doing that?

It’s especially hot out in the parking lots during this time of year in this part of the country. I mean, very hot. I can’t figure out why some people come and get in their cars and just sit there for a while. I don’t know why they aren’t in a bigger hurry to get moving, get the air flowing, get home and out of that hot car. Maybe they don’t feel as hot as I do waiting for their parking space?

“I have noticed that the people who are late are often so much jollier than the people who have to wait for them.”  ― E. V. Lucas

Certain categories of jobs attract different personality types. Or at least they should. Anyone working as a mail carrier ought to be a detail oriented type, right? Recently I stood out in the hall and watched an office full of people who I considered to be very obsessive about details – and rightly so – cleaning up spilled salad dressing off the floor. These people are in charge of individual academic records. That’s a lot of very important information that must be accurate. I thought about this as I watched several on their hands and knees wiping up balsamic vinaigrette spots off the carpet. I would have stopped after half an hour and called it a good job. But then, leave it to me and your child might or might not graduate on time.

“How you do the little things is how you do everything.” ― Sharon Pearson

In my brand of church, at the end of each service there is a time when people who want to join or become Christians are invited to come to the front and speak/pray with a minister. There’s a guy that repeatedly marches down the aisle during the invitation time. He doesn’t do it at every service, but at enough to be noticeable. I wonder what’s going on? I’ve heard about this phenomenon at other churches, someone who responds to the invitation again and again. I don’t think he’s rejoining the church each time. Maybe he needs to say something important to the pastor. These walking down the aisle invitations were first invented in the 1800’s by having what was called an “anxious bench” on the front row. If someone was feeling particularly led by the Spirit, they were encouraged to come down to sit at one of those seats and resolve your anxious feelings by praying or speaking with a minister. But I’m not sure one was supposed to become anxious every week?

I think I’ve finally figured out how to prevent Netflix from only showing me Eastern European selections on my television menu each time I log in. Most of these choices are dubbed in English or have subtitles. Sometimes the dubbed film or television series isn’t that bad, but other times, when the budget was too small, they only have a couple people doing all of the voices. Really cuts down on the dramatic moments when it’s the same person doing each character but trying to sound different. Never really works that well.

“being sick feels like you’re wearing someone else’s glasses” ― Megan Boyle

For two weeks I was sick with the COVID virus. I’m all vaccinated and boosted but I got sick anyway. The first week I had a fever each day. Once I had met the CDC guidelines for being out of quarantine, I went to work. For that week, I felt like lying down on the floor and taking a long nap every day at about 2pm. Once the third week arrived, I felt much better. I guess I caught a variant that I wasn’t fully vaccinated against. I had traveled out of state and got sick on the flight back. Since moving to Houston, when summer arrives, I become much more lethargic. Sitting on the porch, swatting mosquitos, sipping mint juleps, watching the parade of life go by… So I guess suffering with the virus didn’t cause a tremendous difference in my life – considering the time of year. I am a real baby when under the weather.

Starve a cold and feed a fever. Ever heard that one before? I knew I had neither, took the COVID test twice. But I did feed whatever it was, again and again. Being stuck in the house 24-7 with only Yugoslavian Netflix to watch (I hadn’t solved that problem yet) was probably the chief cause of my eating too much – not the virus percolating inside. I had gotten accustomed to really just eating one meal a day. This quarantine really messed that up. I felt like a hobbit. Don’t they eat seven times a day? Add to that very little physical activity and I was glad it was summer or I might have looked for a cave to start my hibernation.

“Just because a man is a hermit doesn’t mean he’s hiding.” ― Paul Doiron

Everybody needs someone, right? The lady that has been cleaning my house for the past decade (probably longer) went to visit her family in Ecuador. The country was going through a period of civil unrest while she was there and she couldn’t get to the airport to come home. She eventually did make it home and will be here to clean up my messy house. My grandkids were here and spent the night. They don’t really make a mess, but I do when in the role of caregiver. Now there’s two of them and only one of me. I just can’t imagine how frightening it must have been for Ana to have been trapped in her own country with all that chaos erupting around her, knowing she really needed to find a way out.

“Far too much modern Christian prayer has insisted on words, on logic, on getting everything clear and out into the open. This is of course important and indeed vital–as one aspect of the whole. But prayer, if it is to be Christian prayer, cannot be a grasping at control. It is precisely a relinquishing of control–to the one who is capable of doing far, far more than we can ask or imagine. It is saying ‘Thy will be done.’ It is therefore appropriate that, at some times and in some ways, that prayer should pass beyond the merely rational and wordy and engage with God, as Paul says in Romans 8, at a level too deep for words.” ― N.T. Wright, chair of New Testament and Early Christianity at the School of Divinity at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland

 

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Roses in December

“God gave us memory so that we might have roses in December.”  ― J.M. Barrie

Have you traveled back to a once familiar place or run into people from your past and experienced a reunion? I remember visiting my hometown and being shocked at how rundown everything had become, thirty years later. Nothing stays the same. I’m certain I looked like a mile or two of bad road myself.  Friends from the past become aged, their once care-free happy faces can sometimes be tinged by hard years. We have all walked long roads, our hometowns have weathered the storms of life. But that doesn’t stop the chain of memory that is carried along by the people and places.

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“Memory believes before knowing remembers. Believes longer than recollects, longer than knowing even wonders.” ― William Faulkner

As the pandemic has slowly begun to pass away, I awaken now and see that I am living in a cobweb of my own self-constructed memories. I was looking at repairs that needed to be made in the guest bathroom and there was another memory hanging on the wall. Not just a photo but an experience.

This made me realize they were strewn all over the house.

Not so surprising, I’m a collector of symbols. I started surrounding myself with meaning long ago. I needed something to balance out my life. So, there are pictures, people, and sayings all around me. I even have a photo of the lady who redid my other bathroom, hanging on the wall in that bathroom – as a tribute.

I’m sitting here typing this out and I can see through the doorway at the album covers hanging on the wall in my hallway. They are of aged rock stars who have played concerts I have attended. Not just the songs but the events of seeing and singing along with each of these artists in person is a memory of nights long ago in my middle age. Sometimes it was a lot of trouble, but I never regretted attending and creating those wonderful memories with family and friends. All that music also draws me back to my much younger days and the radio and the tape deck and my own car and the hot summers a thousand years ago.

In my office at school and here all around me (in every room of the house) there are shelves filled with books. Someone else’s story but a remembrance for me as well, a connection to new information, a lesson or mostly a pleasant escape. I just re-read for the third time a fun novel about a college professor enduring so much of the same turmoil that all of us in this profession muddle through. Just as many laughs as the first time.

There’s a giant photo portrait of my daughter on her wedding day here before me. She and her husband have been dating and married for almost twenty years. They have twice as many memories as a ten year wedding anniversary might predict.  I remember the day I had been married to my wife for longer than she had lived with her own parents. We were the two adults who knew one another the longest. We must make our times together count, they never last as long as they imagine. 

“There was a long hard time when I kept far from me the remembrance of what I had thrown away when I was quite ignorant of its worth.” ― Charles Dickens

How will I pass on what really matters?

I walked out the front door last week and looked down at the coat rack. There was a little cane that my great-grandmother had used. I knew her and was able to spend time with her as a child and young adult. Who do I pass that memory on to? My daughter didn’t know her. It’s a memory that I guess will stop here with me. I wonder what she implanted in me that I’m unconsciously passing on? 

I’m working on being more conscious and intentional with my own descendants and passing on the legacy of those who have left. I think it’s important for people to know how I remember their loved ones. What are your memories that you are passing on?

“But we are never alone. We bring with us the spirits of our ancestors. We are haunted by their demons and protected by their deities.” ― William Ritter

These days I’m encouraging my peers to write down what’s important to them so that they do have something to pass on – memories of what’s important for their own grandchildren and loved ones. One day when they are much older and might need something (or someone) to hang on to when life gets gray and the road dark and difficult. Can you imagine what it would be like to have a volume of experience from one or two of your own ancestors?

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“Happiness, not in another place but this place…not for another hour, but this hour.” ― Walt Whitman

Every day, there’s something wonderful waiting for you to notice

I was sitting in the burger joint waiting for my children and grandchildren who were visiting from out of town. Remembering things that were working and things that weren’t. It’s been too hard to have them gone for these past few years. I haven’t done a good job of figuring out how to relate well from far away. Technology has been a wonderful tool, but it only takes us so far.

My four-year-old grandson came through the crowded doorway, looked around, saw me sitting in the corner, beamed a big smile and ran right to me. I got a big hug and kiss on the cheek. I only thought I’d been happy in life before that moment. It comes when it does like a flood of starlight and music only your soul can hear.

“I can only note that the past is beautiful because one never realises an emotion at the time. It expands later, and thus we don’t have complete emotions about the present, only about the past.”  ― Virginia Woolf

Marriage Gives and Gets, Part 2

In my first post I wrote about two important relationship experiences that we create together during marriage. One was empathy and the other was keeping track of each other. Here are two other important gives that provide us, over time, with so many more gets than we could imagine.

As you can tell, I’ve been reflecting on marriage. Not just because of the courses I teach but also due to a number of personal experiences, mine and those of others. Marriage and family makes, and for some, breaks us.

“You are not good for your own sake. That probably isn’t even possible. You are good as a courtesy to everyone around you. Keeping a promise or breaking it, telling the truth or lying, matters to those around you. So there is good you can do and always do again. You do not have to believe you are good in order to act well in any specific case. You never lose that option.”  ― Marilynne Robinson

This is tricky, but when we are in a long-term relationship with someone, there is a kind of accountability that develops. I truly believe a lot of this is subterranean. We unconsciously figure out what manners to mind and how to keep one another happy. We negotiate the best game plan for living and if we’re smart, we learn to first figure out how to make our partner happy. Over time we make conscious adjustments and also a great deal of internal shifting that happens as swiftly as paint drying.

Holding one another true to what we each know really matters, our values, beliefs, customs and norms – this keeps us civilized in our own little ways.

For some reason, I can’t seem to forget the dear pastor who was providing us pre-marital counseling. He told us this story about his new bride and her rule about never sitting on the bed once it was made up. He thought it was a strange custom but knew it was important to her, so that’s the way they lived the rest of their lives. I think this was part of his pre-marital counsel because he wanted to communicate that keeping each other happy, no matter how bizarre the expectations, would always be worth it.

I never made the bed during my married years. Who makes the bed in your house? Now that I’m alone, I make it every day, knowing it’s the right thing to do – in my heart being accountable to the memory of my spouse. Aren’t there things you do as a habit just because of the other person in your life? Likewise, aren’t there things you don’t do because that person would let you have it?

Ideas for Alternative Kitchen Tables

“Bravery is listening even when you don’t want to hear it.” ― Alaric Hutchinson

I joke with people these days about what it’s like living alone. If I see something that needs to be picked up, the new normal is, no one else is going to pick it up! When you live with someone else a division of labor of love evolves over the years.

I made sure that before I was married we had a prenuptial agreement that I would never load the dishwasher. It held up, even years later when I messed up every pan in the kitchen cooking for company. But mostly, couples figure out what works and doesn’t over time, as they navigate their shared life down the meandering road. It’s generally not something that can be pre-planned and written up in a contract.

Research tells us that opposites DO NOT attract. People come together and fall in love because they have so much in common. But if you ask couples they will tell you that they were opposites. After many years together, because of this division of labor – people use their selective memory to decide that they must have been attracted due to their evolved complementary relationship. He cooks and she cleans, he puts IKEA together and she cleans up the leftover bits, he rearranges the furniture and she vacuums the floor. Seeing a pattern here?

This kind of labor isn’t just the jobs that need to be done, it’s also what social scientists call “emotional labor.” There are emotional responses that are required from parents of adult children (and grandparents). Now that I’m the only parent and grandparent I feel the duty to play both parts and all the emotional scripts that go with each. I used to be able to sit back and relax while mom did all the mothering – being nosey, interested, expressive, up-to-date, involved, and actively participating. I was always very much in the backseat, ready to change any flats or provide the urgent directions when needed. What was I thinking? 

Adorable Clip Shows Grandpa Carry Little Girl in Bucket on Shopping Trip

I’m not always comfortable playing both parts – but it must be done for the good of all parties and the success of the family. It’s good for me too. The division of labor, to work well, must be oriented around our love for others – never about what’s best for me. That always poisons the soul.

“They never fail who die in a great cause.” ― George Gordon Byron

So, that’s what I think marriage is about when all is said and done. It’s a series of “gives” and in the long run we end up with a wealth of “gets.”

  • You have become a more empathetic personality because of those closest relationships in your life. You’ve given of yourself and in the long run, you’ve become wealthier
  • Keeping track of each other, physically, emotionally and spiritually is one of the best ways to stay honest and to remain connected to the world.
  • Long and deep relationships create a kind of accountability in each of us. This is one more way that we shed more of our selfishness and internalize civilization.
  • That division of labor that has evolved over time in your relationship has made you into someone more ready and better able to give of yourself to others.

“When you stop expecting people to be perfect, you can like them for who they are.” ― Donald Miller

Sit down and think about this most important relationship

Think about the one’s that were lived out before your eyes.  Be thankful for all that you’re getting. Figure out how to give some more.

293 Young Couple Doing The Dishes Together Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty-Free Images - iStock

Marriage Gets and Gives, Part 1

Come Sit Beside Me on My Mourning Bench – Leading Captivity Captive

“If I get married, I want to be very married.” ― Audrey Hepburn

The other day I was sitting outside in the rain waiting for an Uber to take me home. For the first time ever I realized that no one on the planet knew where I was or where I was going. I really was living more detached than I ever have. Throughout my life, I never had to think like this.

I teach classes about family relationships, how they work and what they look like these days. I gave a talk a about a month ago to a senior adult group about some of the stark numbers related to the family situation here in American. It was a very depressing presentation. You should have seen everyone’s face as I went on and on. I’m certain I won’t be asked back.

People today put off getting married until much later. They probably do this for many reasons. These days, most people decide to live together for a short period of time before they tie their knots. Five years, on average. There are a number of explanations for this new phenomenon. Not wanting to try to forge a meaningful relationship probably isn’t one of them.

A friend just told me she was celebrating 40 years of marriage. As I was thinking about two people living together for most of their adult lives, I realized that there are several shared experiences that may, over time, just get taken for granted. We wake up one day and come to believe this is just the way life has always been for us – but it’s a creation of two people who have given and taken to build a joint project called life together.

Here are two important shared experiences. I’ve got two more in a second post next week.

Couple married for 71 yrs die within 4 mins of each other! | Trending News,The Indian Express

“Love is about bottomless empathy, born out of the heart’s revelation that another person is every bit as real as you are. And this is why love, as I understand it, is always specific. Trying to love all of humanity may be a worthy endeavor, but, in a funny way, it keeps the focus on the self, on the self’s own moral or spiritual well-being. Whereas, to love a specific person, and to identify with his or her struggles and joys as if they were your own, you have to surrender some of your self.” ― Jonathan Franzen

Once you’ve been married for a good long while, you realize that there isn’t going to ever be anyone else who is will truly be able to empathize with you in the same way. No one else is going to “get you.” Think about it:

  • A look across the room
  • Laughing at the unspoken joke
  • Hearing their voice in your ear when your alone

An empathetic relationship takes time. It grows like the plants in your back garden. It can’t be overshadowed with fear or reservation. You’ve got to learn to be yourself and grow together, and let your partner have space to grow as well. That’s always easier said than done.

“A great marriage is not when the ‘perfect couple’ comes together. It is when an imperfect couple learns to enjoy their differences.”  ― Dave Meurer

Sure, you know of people who’ve jumped ship, trying to search for that perfect dance partner who will deeply understand. Typically, these don’t last. This kind of person is still in love with himself. A truly shared life produces real empathy. Research tells us that there are three important components of empathy:

  1. Real feelings – we need to share our hearts with each other. Sometimes men and women experience roadblocks when it comes to expressing and understanding each other. It takes effort and humility.
  2. Real knowledge – this one is simple. If you’re not communicating nor spending time time with each other, it’s almost impossible to empathize. We just won’t know what’s really going on.
  3. Real concern – this is easiest for couples, because love has drawn them together and kept them connected.

If you’re not feeling enough, that means you’re not sharing enough. Come out of your hiding places more often. Some people can’t take that risk, or at least it’s so much more difficult. Over time, partners learn how to understand this and with patience, love and deep understanding slowly dance in rhythm.

“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

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My first anecdote about waiting for the ride reminded me about being married and always having someone tracking my movements. Sometimes this drove me crazy. I felt like I wanted to live like a spy sometimes and go underground. Very silly. In hindsight I now see how valuable it was to have someone in the world out there who knew where I was, and visa versa. That balloon is no fun at all if it comes loose from my hand and gets pulled off into the clouds. It’s meant to be held. In our relationships we are meant to be connected to others. Literally as well as figuratively.

These days, when I get up on the ladder to change the light bulbs in the kitchen, I have to call someone in case I don’t come down the right way. Before, there was someone there that knew where I was and was not supposed to be. Like it or not, at the time, being connected was a lifesaving constant way of life. Couples can’t help but take each other for granted. What we talk about is when that person is late,  missing, or somewhere else and we don’t know why.  I don’t mean to infer any sort of insecurity in the relationship here, just that feeling that something essential to yourself is not where it should be.

“He felt now that he was not simply close to her, but that he did not know where he ended and she began.”  ― Leo Tolstoy

 

More to come in the next post…

The Hills Are Alive

Top Kid-Friendly Things to Do in the Texas Hill Country

I was driving through the Texas Hill Country the other day. We were supposed to be heading to a specific destination. I was probably wandering the back roads too much. I know I was wandering around in my mind with chapters of memories evoked by the scenery. The Hill Country is a unique part of the state and very different from the low country of Houston where I now reside. As we drove up the winding roads, the memory machine started to crank up.

“Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.” ― Marcel Proust

There were a few cedar trees in my sights. When the seasons would change, the cold winds would blow down through the hill country and carry he scent of the cedars. An unmistakable reminder that it was time to look for your long sleeves. I remember even a few trips to cut firewood for winter with noisy chainsaws. Back then you couldn’t buy it at the grocery store.  There were a few Christmases that we trekked off to the north and chopped down our own cedar to use as a tree to decorate. Apparently no one in our family had any allergy’s. Doesn’t your memory also come with an assortment of smells?

The Hill Country is where my distant relatives lived. During my childhood, we went back there to hunt, fish, camp out and have reunions. As I grew up, I could see that there were branches of the family that lived a very different life out in these small rural towns. In my mind they were indelibly linked with animals, hard work and dirty pick up trucks. My larger family liked to read, play music and name their children with the same first letter of the alphabet. We seemed to have had an unusually large percentage of introverts in the clan. It was always interesting to see what kinds of personalities these people searched for to marry. What kinds of characters are in your family? How did that aunt help turn you into you?

“You should always be taking pictures, if not with a camera then with your mind. Memories you capture on purpose are always more vivid than the ones you pick up by accident.” ― Isaac Marion

The past few days I was at a beautiful lake. My Hill Country memory also has a lake in it – two. We grew up first on Canyon then mostly on Medina Lake. South of the hills but fed by rivers (Guadalupe and Medina) that flowed through them. It’s impossible to stare into the bright waters of a Texas lake and not see, hear and smell a hundred memories from days on lakes of yesterday. It was so quiet in the mornings, until that boat with loud boom boom box trolled along past the tranquility. Old farts like me don’t always have the groovy frame of mind at 8am. Isn’t there a body of water in your treasure trove of memories?

It was on the Frio River that I spent summers at camp with my friends from church. That’s the coldest river in Texas. The most beautiful spot in the world. We grew up together in so many ways along those banks and in those cabins under the cypress trees. The most significant decisions in my life were made during some of those hot summers under that big open air tabernacle.

The Frio is Chilly but That's the Point - Texas Highways

Growing up I spent different seasons in the Hill Country. I’ve sat in deer blinds while it rained, played on the tangled trails left by sheep, floated and splashed down bright green rivers, and camped to the music of frogs and crickets under magic skies of lights deep in the heart of Texas. Down here in Houston there doesn’t seem to be much seasonal variety. It can get cold, hunting during deer season. The summers are hot. You want to be near a water source to jump in and stay cool. Fall is magic with that cedar in the air, cold fronts down from the Panhandle and the Hackberry’s lose their leaves. When the weather changes, what changes in your own treasure of memories?

“If it don’t kick, bite, tear, burn, sting or maim – it ain’t from South Texas.” ― William Jack Sibley

There are important lessons about life I learned during all those trips to the Hill Country. Try to sit in the middle seat, that way you won’t have to jump out to open and close the gates while traversing the dirt roads through the ranchlands. When you pass by a bathroom, use it, even if you don’t have to. Meals ALWAYS taste better when cooked over an open fire. When watching older relatives playing dominoes around the card table, don’t stand too close to those who are chewing tobacco. Use a walking stick to rustle the brush along the way as you walk – hopefully scaring off any snakes. Only the homesick play radios and recorded music while out in the open. Those ready to go native make their own music. What sounds do your own memories make? What songs come up and take you back a thousand years to when the cares of the world and yet to arrive?

WATERFALL ROAD: AT A GUM TREE FARM BAND CONCERT

Is it possible that a place gets into your soul like red dirt into the bottoms of white tube socks? The sound of fiddle music, burning branches from a bonfire, dark night skies as bright as heaven, and even the wind whipping through your hair as you race down the lake on a fast boat – all is deep inside me. When I sit on a lakeside porch now, in my reclining years, it comes back to the surface, like those fish early this morning, hitting the top of the water.

“Every man’s memory is his private literature.” ― Aldous Huxley

Where is your place of memory? Is it a part of the country? A house, school, church or town? Is it a time of year in a part of your past? Memories are wrapped up with sights, sounds, smells and people that produce all kinds of feelings. I don’t think you have to go back and visit, I think it’s there inside you and it’s providing you with fuel and treasure that continues to carry you into all your days to come.

Midwest Center for Hope & HealingMidwest Center for Hope & Healing

Take some time sooner (rather than later) to be quiet. To be still. To listen and remember. All those people and events really do still matter.

Whisper a thank you as you take another turn around the hills.

“It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.” ― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry