Christmas and Memory

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“What you end up remembering isn’t always the same as what you have witnessed.” ― Julian Barnes

As you decorate for the holidays each year are you putting up all your lights and garland just to have something festive hanging from your windows and branches? Is this annual activity only aimed at putting your home in the festive mood? Maybe this is a traditional chore that just needs to be done? You’ve purchased all that stuff over the years, it would be crime to not drag it out and nail it to the wall, right?

My wife was the decorating dynamo to my grinch every Christmas season. Ask anyone that knows us. She was definitely over the top. As the years passed, our house started to look like a nutcracker flea market. Things are much more low key these days. In fact, I couldn’t find any of our collection of wreaths. Please don’t tell. I must of lost my senses and pitched them all one hot July afternoon. Let’s hope Santa wasn’t watching.

The question I want to ask is, do you think this is really all about just decorating? I think. whether we realize it or not, what we are doing is awakening our memory each holiday season.

“Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love.” ― Hamilton Wright Mabie

When we relive our memories that made us happy – it makes it more true.  The memory we have of being with our friends, loved ones, family becomes more firmly planted inside us as we remember, share it, and pass it on in the telling, retelling (and even elaborating). These memories become happiness for us years later, when at the time we never fully realized what they truly were. They were being planted inside us as we grew up and matured and then one day needed them so much.

“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

What we do with our memories is so important. They aren’t really something to just save for a rainy day. They become richer and vibrant as we share them with others. They need to be passed on so that they can live and continue to enliven with meaning. When you talk about that ornament on the tree that your grandmother made, you are sharing part of yourself with your granddaughter. She will remember it one day as she hangs it on her tree and will have saved a part of you and a piece of what mattered to you.

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

Memory hold us all together. Those rich memories that are being created and shared during this time of year are like chains of gold that hold people together – especially when the going gets rough. Having common memories, even when we don’t all remember the details the same, is an essential form of social cohesion. It’s like super glue that keeps even the most independent free spirit connected to his home base. Somehow.

“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

When Christmas arrives each year, what do you remember?

I’m unpacking boxes in the garage and finding memories stashed away, some very carefully, others crammed in with what looked like a mostly hurried life. I honestly thought that maybe last year I had packed away my artificial tree with all the decorations still on it. It is the season of hope, no? Well, I found the box and no such luck.

My childhood Christmas was in the 60’s and 70’s. Very unique decor. I remember two very different kinds of holiday. One at home with a silver and gold tree in the olive green, dark wood living room. The tree had it’s own rotating multicolored spotlight shining on it as it stood proudly in the front window. We thought it was cool, but because it was in the front living room, where no one ever went, except the little dogs to periodically take a dump, it was an experience we didn’t really fully embrace.

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We had another tree in the den, the regular tree. This is the one where we stashed presents, hung lights and our homemade ornaments. It was the children’s tree. We did grow up doing craft projects with the neighbors. I remember making ornaments for the tree and even presents for our family. I don’t remember all the gifts purchased at the store – I do remember those that we made ourselves. Not sure all the recipients did??

“The smells of Christmas are the smells of childhood” ― Richard Paul Evans

As I recall, my grandparents did hang up on the walls of their little house those homemade gifts. That was the other location for my childhood Christmas memories. There was a life-sized Santa and his sleigh with Rudolph, wooden cut-outs in the front yard. We knew Christmas was almost here when they went up each year. The tree was hung with all the familiar decorations, homemade, store bought, it was an archive of memories as we explored the branches every year to look for our favorites.

Those memories are recorded on polaroid photographs. Remember those? Your aunt with that funny hairdo. Those cousins who looked so innocent. Everyone was like a new jacket. Then you realize how many of those faces are gone now. I can’t really remember any of what was wrapped up in those packages, so colorful and carefully arranged. But I do remember those people that I didn’t pay enough attention to, taking it for granted as we all do. Now Christmas is just a few of us instead of a houseful. All that love is still bouncing off the walls but not as many to catch it.

“My yesterdays walk with me. They keep step, they are gray faces that peer over my shoulder.” ― William Golding

I don’t think it’s a bad thing to grieve a little for people no longer here when you come across a memory. We had a beloved aunt who crafted homemade cards with photos, she wrote on the back of each one, I saved many and run across them now and again. That’s what bittersweet tastes like, I thought, as I put one of her handmade ornaments on my tree last night.

Make it a point this year to take a few moments and remember someone or sometime in your life. Think about what they/it mean to you. As you’re sitting around with others, find something to share – especially with someone of the next generation. Maybe a backstory, a quality, something important that ought to be known. It doesn’t need to be in chapters or make everyone cry. But it will tell a lot about you. If you can be intentional about sharing, you will have helped hold your group together with a few more strands of meaning. And that kind of buried treasure won’t ever run out of batteries.

“You can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving.” ― Amy Carmichael


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Worth a Million Dollars

I don’t buy lottery tickets.

On the way to work each day there’s a big billboard that informs us all of the current state lottery jackpot numbers – increasing each week until someone wins. Like everyone else crawling through traffic to their hum-drum jobs, I imagine what life would be like if I just won a single million dollars.

“What is the likelihood, of winning the lottery, then lose it all the next day when you step out your front door and get struck by lightning? Probably, very slim, but then anything is possible.” ― Anthony Liccione

Trying to be a saint, the first items on my list are always benevolent in nature. I’d care for widows and orphans and set up some sort of organization to do good works. I’d pay off all my bills, quit my job and devote my time to my passion in life. Not sure what that really is anymore??

By the time I get to work, a few minutes later, I realize what a disaster having a winning lottery ticket would mean for me. I’d surely make a mess of things, my life included. Money is the root of all evil, right? I’d be a fool and end up in more trouble then than I am now. I’d be a tragic character in an O. Henry story.

“Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.” ― Epictetus

No, I don’t need a lottery ticket. To be honest, God really is taking care of me day by day. You’d be surprised at all the details, until you start looking. Initially we tend to think that most if not all of our problems could be solved with a big fat check in the mail. Then something happens, you make too many wrong turns, someone goes missing, you’re not sure who’s looking back at you in the mirror anymore…and over time you realize that more dollars in the bank isn’t really going to fix most of what’s wrong. You can’t buy a new attitude on Amazon.

As children grow up they learn it all. Humans are emotionally equipped. But what to do with all those feelings? Our social worlds teach us how to manage and act out our emotions, when and how to display what we feel and how we should/should not feel:

  • Look people in the eye when speaking
  • Smile back
  • Hug people that you love
  • Don’t hug strangers
  • Cry with others when they are sad
  • Learn how to control your temper

Often we forget that they are just children with developing brains and everything else. They are brand new selves, trying to negotiate a strange world. Take a look at that extended family photo hanging on YOUR wall and just imagine trying to figure that out (while standing below everyone’s knees). The job of the adult is to make a safe place for kids to figure out who they are becoming – not put them into a pre-figured mold or turn them loose into the jungle of today’s self-absorbed society. Right?

Little children are never as happy to see us as we are to see them. Their feelings don’t last but a few magic moments. Goodbye can be a foreign concept. Attachment isn’t so much about feeling as it is about frequency. Children need to have the time and space to practice how they feel. Never expect a child to mean what he says or does (I’ve made that mistake too often!).

“Children see magic because they look for it.” ― Christopher Moore

It’s been an adventure watching my 3-year-old grandson as he grows and figures out how to express himself. His parents are very laid back personalities. He’s not at all. Runs everywhere and talks as loud as he can – even at 5am. During the week he attends a pre-school, so he gets to have a lot of interaction with other growing up kids his age. Fun and well-planned activity all day long. When do they teach how not slam doors?

The two of us were sitting on the couch, playing around as we usually do, and out of the blue, he leaned over and gave me a kiss on my cheek. Just the spontaneous expression of a child. He probably forgot all about it a moment later. Just a passing feeling quick as a wink flying past his soul.

It just took me a moment to realize that’s all I ever needed, all I would ever need in life.

Who needs a million dollars when you can get that?

It Really Is The Little Things

“When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.” ― G.K. Chesterton

Our Thanksgiving was smaller this year. Well, sort of.  A new member was born into the family a few weeks before and we decided to stay home and recover. There was great weather, an over the top smoked turkey and a soon to be four-year-old bouncing around the house (he is the epitome of joy!).

I ended up washing a lot of dishes (loading and unloading the dishwasher). It was a contribution I could make. Keeping my hands busy usually lets my mind wander. There is so much to notice in someone else’s house, things and situations that can light up little fires of reflection. Watching my daughter with her new child, conversations at the counter with my grandson over macaroni & cheese, searching in a strange cupboard for ingredients to cook with – all filling my mind and heart with memory. Gratitude is certain to break through in that sunlit happiness.

“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

As I washed I could look out the big window over the sink. That soon to be four-year-old tornado bounced around pitching balls into a hoop. Always a big smile. Never walking anywhere, galloping back and forth. And the next time I see him he will be different. That’s how children are, they keep moving and they keep changing. How did I live before he arrived? Now his sister is here, who will I now become? I guess we think adults are always the same, but maybe life is changing us all time too. We can see our children transform before our eyes. Perhaps looking more carefully, we could see our friends and family changing too – and be present and be a blessing and be thankful. 

There were platters, plates, bowls and pitchers to clean up. Many reminded me of a wedding. That big day then reminds me of a relationship that started so many years before. I’m standing with my hands in the sink filled with soapy water of blissful memories. All around in that house filled up to brimming with a relationship that makes me think of a garden that blossoms, puts out deeper roots, casts an inviting shade and beckons others to come and sit to enjoy a beauty – the result of an unending promise. Each relationship that passes through my life is a treasure of hope, all too often taken for granted.

Clearing and cleaning up a Thanksgiving meal reminded me of past feasts when this dish or that had been passed down, prepared and enjoyed. So many have stories included in each recipe. They are rich in calories and memories. We ate our pieces of pie near the fire late at night and shared a story that came like a dollop of whipped cream. All these stories were made by the people in our lives. They help to make us who we are, just like they faithfully roll out that flakey pie crust. Our lives are filled with stories. I think it’s important to figure out the important ones that define who you are and who you are becoming. Listen to the stories around you and learn how to tell your own.

While driving back home, with no one to talk with, I was able to file away all the little things that really did matter so much. Sometimes, talking is overrated. Getting your files in order works wonders.

“You pray in your distress and in your need; would that you might pray also in the fullness of your joy and in your days of abundance.” ― Kahill Gibran

A Night at the Movies

The world really is getting back to normal, I hope I am as well.

“In a movie he could dream without effort; all he had to do was lean back in a seat and keep his eyes open.” ― Richard Wright

I recently went to the movie theater again. This was a big “hobby” for my wife and I. We have one of those sit down in a recliner and order dinner theaters a few blocks from our house. We could walk to it. Why didn’t we? It was great to be able to check in online, reserve a seat and make a whole date night out of one trip. Talk about lazy romance.

I think it worked so well for us because for years and years we went at odd hours, when no one else was really ever there. Sometimes we almost had the whole theater to ourselves. We never went at night or when a film first opened. That would just be asking for trouble.

“It’s funny how the colors of the real world only seem really real when you watch them on a screen.”  ― Anthony Burgess

When I went back to the movies recently it was a spur of the moment decision. I had to cancel my outdoor plans due to rain. So, I turned around and headed indoors to my local theater. It was a weekend night. I barely got a seat once I got in and saw the reservation screen. That should have been the first sign that this was not going be what I had grown accustomed to in all the years of movie watching with my wife. But I trudged ahead anyway, anxious to see a new film I had been awaiting for over a year.

This is the kind of theater where you need to arrive early to place your order, like being at a restaurant. Well, for movies that are filled to near capacity, that means that most of the people will arrive right at show time. Don’t ask me why. These people will be talking out loud to their waiter and using their cell phone flashlights to read the menu. It doesn’t matter that there are other people all around or that the movie has started. I need to order my nachos right now. It’s a tragic comedy occurring simultaneous to the real show.

Then there’s the lady behind me who for some reason needs to explain the film to her companion. There’s a constant narration going on for all the rest of us to experience. Is this other person just very confused? Does the lady feel like she’s a tour guide for the evening? Does she not realize there are other people all around her?

“The length of a film should be directly related to the endurance of the human bladder.” ― Alfred Hitchcock

Grandpa was sitting next to me and he waits until the most still, tense and quiet moment in the film to begin his origami practice on the large popcorn bag he had emptied. It’s just impossible for me to ignore all of this, I feel like an anthropologist from another planet observing everyday behavior of the native population. 

I’ve noticed in large groups like this that its very normal for some people to engage in an ongoing dialogue with the film. They talk back to the characters. Expressions of strong emotion are made aloud. Questions are raised that aren’t ever answered.

This may be why I started sitting up toward the front of movie theaters long ago.  Siting with just a few rows between myself and screen limited the chances of too much commotion in my periphery. Maybe there will be a lower probability of someone around me providing a narration?

Despite the larger and larger television screens in our homes, I hope the movie theaters don’t disappear. That experience is unique. With or without the overactive audience. I just saw Nicole Kidman doing an ad for AMC theaters, beckoning us all back to the romance and thrill of going to the movies once again. I notice that she does the whole commercial while sitting alone in a very upgraded theater. Hope mine got modernized like that. See, there is something to watching without a crowd.

“You live by yourself for a stretch of time and you get to staring at different objects. Sometimes you talk to yourself. You take meals in crowded joints. You develop an intimate relationship with your used Subaru. You slowly but surely become a has-been.” ― Haruki Murakami

Sometimes I go to the movies with friends. But now I’m starting to go alone. It’s very convenient and my wife bought a gift card to our theater with lot’s of money still left on it. I’m a cheapskate at heart. When I go now I think about a new way of living, new rituals and all that’s still so much fun. I promise myself to find an odd hour to attend, with as few people as possible in the auditorium.

But, to be honest, going to the dark theater, filling up the grocery cart for one, making every trip with just one in the car, watching whatever you choose on TV, doing laundry in just one load, longer walks in the dusk, never finishing the leftovers…it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be.

Get out of your pandemic rut. Go sit outside at a cafe. Take a walk with friends. When’s the last time you went to a mall (what are those?)? Go to church. What about a sporting event? Find some friends to reconnect with – that’s what matters – and laugh at everything that drives you crazy.

We are meant to be together with others. Even if it means someone narrating the film right behind you all night long.

“How long is forever?
Sometimes just one second”  ― Lewis Carroll

Are You Listening?

“Out of the mouth of babes and infants…” – Psalm 8:2

I just spent the weekend with my three-year-old grandson. He’s about to turn four. He has a baby sister about to arrive in the next few weeks. I think he’s very sharp. Of course, I’m heavily biased.

“Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them” ― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

My grandson made several statements this weekend that got me thinking.

936 Little Boy Sitting Alone At River Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty-Free Images - iStock

He was up way too late the first night. He was coughing too. Where we stayed didn’t have a bed for him, so that night he slept in the big bed with me. He rolled around like a bag of monkeys, moaning and groaning – in between the coughing. I just knew he was not going to get much. It was a certainty that he was going to sleep late the next morning. Before the sun was up, so was he. As usual. He rolled over, looked at me and said, “Popo, are your eyes open?”

I’ve said to friends again and again that I’m trying to live a life these days with my own eyes more wide open. I don’t want to just pass circumstances off to coincidence as I’ve done for so long, almost mechanically. God is always doing something, whether we’re aware or not. I want to catch him in the act.

What if we began to expect to see the supernatural in our day to day? As hard as that seems sometimes. Do you think it’s possible you might get more of what you expect?

“There are things you can’t reach. But
You can reach out to them, and all day long.
The wind, the bird flying away. The idea of god.
And it can keep you busy as anything else, and happier.
I look; morning to night I am never done with looking.
Looking I mean not just standing around, but standing around
As though with your arms open.”
― Mary Oliver

We had friends come over for a shared brunch on our last day of the weekend. They brought all sorts of gifts for the expectant mom and some cars to play with for you know who. He zoomed all over the floor. As they were leaving, he and I were on the front porch of the house waving goodbye. I reminded him that we had seen these friends the day before at the football game. He had clammed up, and hidden himself behind his parents when introduced. Very uncharacteristic of him. As he was waving goodbye and yelling thank you, he looked up at me and said about the day before, “I was shy.” 

See what I mean, very self-aware for a three-year-old!

How to Encourage a Shy Kid Who Doesn't Socialize

Do you think it’s possible that we as adults don’t talk more to people around us or stick our necks out in friendships because we’re just too shy? Yes, sometimes you’ll get your hand bit. But mostly, the people around you are waiting for a smile, a kind word or just a little forgiveness. What would happen if you just started speaking, smiling, waving and reaching out? What typically happens is a back and forth good will. The fancy term for this guiding ethic is called a, norm of reciprocity. Returning a smile, asking for help, even paying it forward.

“Nobody is normal once you get to know them.” ― J.W. Lynne

I think my grandson’s favorite food is a donut. It’s a glorious experience for him. All weekend we kept promising him that eventually for breakfast he’d have one, with plenty of sprinkles. Surely, it’s impossible for a three-year-old to conceive of time like that, to have to wait and to understand that promises do get kept. He never let his desire for that donut go. He said again and again, “I’m ready for a donut!” On that last morning together, in addition to all the wonderful gifts, our dear friends also brought the best blessing of all, a box of donuts, with sprinkles.

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As adults we often organize our lives around strict disciplines because we have important goals to accomplish. Living is metered out on a daily calendar. We count our carbs. Hours are spent in the gym or on exercise equipment. I’ve now got one of those bracelets on my wrist that’s counting my steps and reporting my sleep cycles. Sometimes, I’m ready for a donut. Ready to turn away from my screen and look that colleague in the eye and really listen (not getting ready to match her story with one of my own). Ready to park further away so that I can walk in the sunset and unwind and talk with God. Ready to eat just a pickle for lunch all week because it seemed like it might be an adventure.

What if you decided on a donut each week? What if you became anxious about it like a three-year-old? A donut that helped to fill your soul. Something meaningful that mattered in the long run. What if your donut each week was doing or saying something that helped to fill up someone else’s life?

“New mysteries. New day. Fresh doughnuts.” ― David Lynch

Another Trip to the HEB

Do you remember when the global pandemic first hit?

Going to the groSoylent Green original release british quad movie poster - Galerie filmposter.netcery store was a surreal experience. We were lined up out in the parking lot trying to get in to buy some toilet paper. The sidewalk outside was marked so we would stay six feet apart. Someone was spraying us down as we entered, only in groups of ten or fifteen. Seemed like a 1970’s end of the world film.

“If you really want to escape the things that harass you, what you’re needing is not to be in a different place but to be a different person.” ― Lucius Annaeus Seneca

Is it more than just grabbing supplies for the week?

I was the one who went to the grocery store in our family. That evolved year after year as I started doing more of the cooking. Cooking became a hobby. My wife was working two jobs. She tutored kids after school with their math homework at our dining room table. Getting dinner ready for our family was a contribution I could make.

I’m usually not in a hurry at the grocery story. Sometimes, for variety, I will go to different stores. When I go through the checkout, I try and talk to the cashier and baggers as if they were real people. It usually works. But I fear I’m turning into the old man with the odd banter and bad jokes. This is how it happens, too many solitary trips to the grocery. You can check yourself out these days, if you have just a few items. Unpaid labor working for the store, you even bag your own purchase. People seem to love the privilege.

Have you ever had a car wreck and felt in a daze afterward?

I remember that first trip to the story after my wife had passed away. The virus was months away. Moving down the rows, as I normally did, I had brand new thoughts to wrestle with. What was I actually looking for? In the days ahead, was there any reason to go to the store? I was all alone now. In a daze I sort of wandered around, contemplating the next stage of life. Little did I know then that a pandemic was soon to arrive.

Trips to the store still happen. I don’t really cook meals, when I do, they end up half eaten or as buried treasure in the freezer. Wonder what I’m buying? Mostly liquids and searching for flour. I never make a visit that I’m not conscious of my past trips and what life was once like, as I walk out to the parking lot and sing a little tune. The store seems to be a shadow of the past too – why can’t I find lemon Propel? My search for flour is like hunting for the Holy Grail. Surely the rhythm of life will return again, like those cicadas singing in the trees all summer.

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Have you found a place to recollect those thoughts of yours?

As I look back, I think prowling the aisles of the store was sort of therapeutic at the end of the day. That sounds strange to many people. I wander up and down the rows and think about what’s needed to make something good. I notice all the characters pushing their carts, out and in the way. I talk to myself and try to go unnoticed. Students of my wife often would come up and introduce themselves. Beats me how they figured out who I was? I try to dress incognito.

“Be willing to be a beginner every single morning.” ― Meister Eckhart

The grocery store remains a very interesting experience. All sorts of characters, myself included. There was a lady today clogging up the access to the shopping carts, she was all dressed up in her hazmat outfit scrubbing down everything in sight with her diaper sized medical wipes. I just stood there and watched. It seems that one out of every seven people are completely unaware that there is anyone else on the planet. Probably new tasks, like disinfecting everything (or searching for keys in a giant purse), disrupts automatic actions, like moving out of the doorway. There are many new routines we have all have to now include.

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I went to Target to buy a new pillow. I keep buying cheap bed pillows and just replacing them. I’m probably not making wise decisions. They lose their umph quickly. My first night on the new pillow, dramatic increase in REM sleep! I’ve got a Fitbit tracking me every moment, awake and asleep. That was my goal.

What story is your life telling right now?

When my daughter was a preschooler, we used to visit the neighborhood Target. They had just invented those super size stores. What an adventure I remember us having. Just getting out of the house. Maybe that’s what we all need to do more of these days. It’s probably time for everyone to get back to those little adventures in life.

“My story is important not because it is mine, God knows, but because if I tell it anything like right, the chances are you will recognize that in many ways it is also yours… it is precisely through these stories in all their particularity, as I have long believed and often said, that God makes himself known to each of us more powerfully and personally. If this is true, it means that to lose track of our stories is to be profoundly impoverished not only humanly but also spiritually.” ― Frederick Buechner

The grocery store is like the modern town square. Only now, we are having our products delivered to the front door or the trunk of the car. I have even had my pizza dumped through my car window. Less interacting with real people face to face. So many friends are working from home. Much more convenient, and safe for now, but there’s a cost. We probably won’t feel all the effects for some time. Be careful, don’t replace essential human interaction for automated convenience.

My college students are attending in record numbers – no one wants to skip class for some reason. My theory is that spending so much time locked away has brought out a need to be with others. It’s a normal human need. We are social creatures. Remember God’s declaration? “It isn’t good for the man to live alone.” – Genesis 2:18

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What’s your trip to HEB look like?

More trips to HEB means more things I’ve forgotten. Why not some vegetables? Probably need to bump into some more characters.

I’m making trips to get a pillow, light bulbs, butter and mouthwash. I forgot the laundry detergent. If I don’t write things down I’m hopeless. Maybe that’s the better explanation for all my trips. These trips are always going to be strange for me. But they will also be a way for me to walk a familiar aisle.

I’m taking road trips with friends, sharing meals, face-timing with my family, and trying to do more social events (concerts, sports and plays). I want life to get back to the way it was, but I don’t want to be the same person. I want to be wiser and more aware of the people around me.


“Miracles can only inhabit the reality of our awareness when we surrender our need for the familiar to our desire for the limitless.” ― Eric Micha’el Leventhal

My Three Lessons

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“Suffering introduces you to yourself and reminds you that you are not the person you thought you were.” – Paul Tillich (1886 – 1965)

I ran into a friend the other day. We hadn’t seen each other for a couple years. Despite the masks and the quick interaction, it was clear to me that he was suffering. I knew that things hadn’t gone well for him lately. He was putting on a brave face as men are trained to do. To be honest, there are several of my friends who are suffering these days. It doesn’t escape any of us.

Over the past couple of years I’ve written here and there about my own experience with suffering. I don’t think I’ve put it all together like this before.

My wife and I fought cancer for several years. During her last few years this beast had traveled to her brain. That was a hard fight. Several surgeries into her brain and even carefully aimed radiation beams, all in the valiant effort to slay that dragon. Being in Houston, we were blessed to be able to have some of the newest available treatments. Her last summer was spent here in hospice. It was very difficult for all of us as she faded away. She was in peace.

That fall, after she got in the boat and left for heaven, I was back teaching classes. Then the global pandemic hit in the Spring. We all scrambled to reorganize higher education. Two years later (for me) we are all just now trying to get back to a sense of normal. Guess what? It’s been four weeks and we are all reporting record class attendance. No one’s absent?? Everyone wants to get out and be around others!

During all of this dark journey, I had tremendous support, prayers, love and lots of wise counsel (just a few crackpot comments meant to be helpful). My family, friends and support system all suffered as we helped my wife fight and then held her close while she slipped away. If I had to explain to someone else, to my friend who I walked with that hot day last week, what I now know about suffering, here’s what I’d say:

God is never surprised by anything that happens to me. Even when I’m not sure what’s around the next corner. Even when nothing goes according to my own grand plans for my life. God was and is never taken by surprise to the events that happen to me – even the awful consequences that happen because of my own bad choices. Even because of the really stupid decisions that people in charge make. Somehow, there is deep comfort in this. God remains steadfast like a lighthouse, as dark as it gets. And maybe what I need when I suffer is not an explanation, but a nearness.

God very rarely is the cause of suffering in my life. A very few of those bad words of comfort that I got during those years (and sometimes now) are all about God and control. What I always do is imagine God as a father figure. This is the way that Jesus presented him to the world. His mission was to model for us this relationship. I know some people have dysfunctional father relationships. I didn’t have one at all. But when we were suffering, as I suffer now, I don’t think of God as the cause. I’m not mad at him. It helps to have people around to talk it all out with. Maybe people who are angry at God don’t always have someone near to listen?

“I am as sure as I live that nothing is so near to me as God. God is nearer to me than I am to myself; my existence depends on the nearness and the presence of God.” ― Meister Eckhart (1259-1327), German theologian, philosopher and mystic

Throughout each moment of suffering, God draws near and never leaves me to walk that dark path alone. I guess because I’m not mad at God and because I know he is certain and consistent, I know he is near. Mostly he is near in the presence of others. Now, if I hole up and stay away from everyone who loves me, it’s impossible to experience this dimension of God. Right? I went back to work, I stayed near to my church family, our dear friends and family members were here and remained (still do) on top of my life, all of this is how God works. He needs me to do the same thing with other people who come across my path and look familiar. Like my friend last week.

God is also near in what I read, when I write, walks in the evening, sitting in the back garden and listening to that night bird, and being still to hear the voice of the Spirit. God is near because I expect him to be. Because he has promised to be.

And who’s to say which is more incredible—a man who raises the dead … or a God who weeps?  – Ken Gire (on Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead)

How Long Do Two Years Take?

Silhouette of man alone and wave on the ... | Stock image | Colourbox

I just read that two years is twenty-four months or
seven hundred and thirty days or
seventeen thousand five-hundred and twenty hours or
one million, fifty-one thousand, two hundred minutes or
sixty-three million, seventy-two thousand seconds.

When there’s a global crises and everyone is acting different, locked up, face masked, afraid, hoarding toilet paper, working from home, staying six feet apart, lonely, watching way too much TV, ordering take-out again and again, lining up in cars for a vaccination, or counting off the days to normal – two years can seem to pass slowly.

Two years ought to be enough time to get on with life, to find the next path to take, but who can get through all the weeds that are now sprouting in the vacant lot that’s life as we know it? Working from home for good, retiring early, supply chain problems, school board wrestling matches, children at home or school, airplane fist fights and new variations of virus floating up from who knows where. Two years may not be long enough, right?

I’m ready for the flight director to announce over the intercom when we will be landing and I can unbuckle this seat belt that’s been constricting my life for what feels like, I don’t know, two years. When will there be time to get off and get on with what ought to be happening? Unpacking, looking at the view from the new balcony, seeing what’s for dinner, imagining the next sunrise. Isn’t it time to turn to the next page?

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing. At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me.”C.S. Lewis

Two years of everything on hold while working together to keep afloat. The past few days seem like the space of two years. I can’t seem to get started on putting out all the fires that burn in any normal week. There just wasn’t time to move on. Grief needs to have its time and space to breathe and find a place. These past two years just didn’t have any time for me to pause for long – and yet I did way too much sitting like bump. Maybe just a little shock settling in every now and then.

“God has mercifully ordered that the human brain works slowly; first the blow, hours afterwards the bruise.”  ― Walter de la Mare

I recently trudged through a few airports lugging a too heavy suitcase. It wasn’t modern enough. Didn’t roll very well. We’ve all been there, right? Trying to get across three football fields full of people in five minutes lugging two sacks of cement on roller skates. Traveling for the novice is such an adventure. Two years hauling around a grief I’ve not had time or space to check.

Should You Shrink or Plastic Wrap Your Checked Luggage?


“The tears I feel today
I’ll wait to shed tomorrow.
Though I’ll not sleep this night
Nor find surcease from sorrow.
My eyes must keep their sight:
I dare not be tear-blinded.
I must be free to talk
Not choked with grief, clear-minded.
My mouth cannot betray
The anguish that I know.
Yes, I’ll keep my tears til later:
But my grief will never go.”
― Anne McCaffrey

A View From the Hilltop: Don’t You Forget About Me

How to Forget a Bad Memory

“The degree of slowness is directionally proportional to the intensity of memory. The degree of speed is directionally proportional to the intensity of forgetting.” ― Milan Kundera

What speed is your life moving these days?

click here to age yourself quickly

I’ve written before and said to others many times that as I get older time seems to be speeding past me. The days are slipping through my grasp. I lay my head on the pillow each night and it seems I was just there a few minutes ago. I bought a t-shirt with “I though getting old would take longer” written across the front.

And yet, at other times I look around at family and friends who are busy with the normal activities of living and I feel as if I am sitting on a bench under a tree of memory still where I was so long ago. Time doesn’t seem to have moved much at all. There are moments each day when I am suspended in memories.

I believe that it’s important for all of us to spend time remembering events and people that matter to us. This helps to make us more whole.

Day by day, I perceive that my life is moving along at a faster pace and simultaneously there are moments when I know I am at a dead stop and all the rest of the world is shooting past. I don’t think this is an uncommon experience. The trick, I suppose, is learning how to balance back and forth between these two speeds of living. We must all stay on the bus as it hurls us through our life but also, when necessary, step off and sit on the curb for bit and catch our breath (or let the nausea pass).

“Silently, one by one, in the infinite meadows of heaven,
Blossomed the lovely stars, the forget-me-nots of the angels.”
― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I have given my first day of class speeches now. This year it’s different. We’ve come through another disaster. We’re getting through it, I’m reminded as I look out on my class full of young faces, many wearing masks, most with looks of uncertainty peering back at me. Probably not the same as usual. This time there’s something more, an extra tinge of worry. Or is that just me looking for something?

Last week we heard from an expert telling us all about the characteristics of this generation of students – a group that grew up feeling anxious and worried about their future. And then a global pandemic came and took away their high school graduation. It made me think that while caught up on the business of everyday activity, it’s critical to always be thoughtful, to let memory and reflection anchor action.

There have been two young boys sitting with their dad several pews in front of me for many years in our church worship. I looked up recently after we’d all come back from being locked out and isolated for so long. How did those two boys get so tall so fast? I think they each doubled in height! I can’t even remember so much of when my daughter was a child – and I was her caregiver during each day. I guess I just wasn’t paying attention. These days I’m always ready to shout out loud to my grandson’s parents, as if a meteor were about to strike, to be careful and remember as much as they can.

“Time goes faster the more hollow it is. Lives with no meaning go straight past you, like trains that don’t stop at your station.” ― Carlos Ruiz Zafón, 

It’s important to find a balance to your life by anchoring your pace to meaningful memory.

Maybe balance isn’t the right word here. Once we begin the habit of memory, it serves to stabilize our lives during the chaos and commotion that frenetic living often brings. This is what I mean by balance. An ability to stand on both feet at once, living and remembering, and thoughtfully move in the right direction.

“It is a phrase that may well perplex a poor modern, girt about on every side by clocks and chimes…For we are all so busy, and have so many far-off projects to realise, and castles in the fire to turn into solid habitable mansions on a gravel soil, that we can find no time for pleasure trips into the Land of Thought and among the Hills of Vanity.” ― Robert Louis Stevenson

There’s a balance that’s necessary between living an ordered life with a purpose and at the same time making time and effort to pause, remember and reflect.

  1. Memory is important because it helps us to anchor what we now do to what is important and meaningful – it helps us to understand a larger context. We must steal time away from our speeding lifestyle and create habits of reflection.
  2. Memory helps us to know how to feel. Our memory is a reminder of deep longings and essential emotions. When it first happened, we didn’t know how we felt. It takes time to understand what a feeling really means as we mature and discover new depths to our character.
  3. Memories become a language that we use to share and connect with others. They become a common bridge we can use to communicate deeper experiences – sometimes without having to say everything out loud. Memories are meant to be passed on to others, shared and used to enrich the lives of our ancestors.

“How often do we tell our own life story? How often do we adjust, embellish, make sly cuts? And the longer life goes on, the fewer are those around to challenge our account, to remind us that our life is not our life, merely the story we have told about our life. Told to others, but—mainly—to ourselves.”  ― Julian Barnes

The moral of my post: sit down for a few minutes today and remember someone dear to you. Write a note or a journal entry. Say a prayer. File something away in your heart. Save it to pass on to someone who will need it later.


Starting Anew

If you could, what would you like to go back and start again?

“Be willing to be a beginner every single morning.” ― Meister Eckhart

I went to a rock concert last week. My first in a long time. Certainly since the pandemic has kept us all so isolated. It was like my experience at the ballpark a few months ago – the first game since isolation. All the people, and the little boys running around with their gloves. It made me think the world was right again.

Each time I go to rock concerts the audience always gets older and older. They always used to say that 11 am Sunday mornings was the most segregated hour in America. We all like to congregate by kind when we worship. I think that’s changing. I do notice the same thing with music styles. Classic rock tends to attract old white guys. Go to a RUSH concert if you want to see senior males and their sons. So, when I go to rock concerts, everyone looks like me, sort of.

I’m a social observer by training so I tend to look for “types” when I get around groups. At these rock concerts, there’s always two guys who keep getting up every five minutes to either go to the bathroom or get another beer. Then, up in the balcony overlooking the stage at many venues, there’s a lady who wore her Stevie Nicks skirt and wants to twirl and twirl and twirl all night long. I’m always afraid she’ll get too dizzy and pitch herself off the railing. I’ve been to some concerts with people sitting behind me that like to talk really loud (over the music) nonstop throughout the whole night. I can’t ever figure out why they came in the first place.

Hot Classic Rock Concerts to Warm Up Your Winter Nights | KC Limo

Sometimes, as happened last week, the band has saved up and wants to keep playing and playing. The lead singer has important thoughts to communicate. Lot’s of rifts to work through. As the audience gets older and older every year, once 10 pm arrives, they start looking at their watches. It’s getting late. Gotta go to work tomorrow. Need to remember to take my nighttime medications. With all that inflammation and a new hip, getting out to the parking lot is going to be a real chore.

Despite the current uproar about wearing masks again and the surge in new virus cases among the unvaccinated, I really do hope normal is around the corner. College classes are starting for me next week. I have been looking forward to this for a long time. Looking forward to that kind of experience that had been replaced by something foreign for the past year and a half. I’m making a list of what I’d like to do over again:

  • Give more detailed feedback, sooner so it’s not too late
  • Demonstrate that I’m on your side
  • Find more ways to make meaningful connects
    (students tend to not remember the class, but do remember the instructor)

I spent a day this week in a professional development seminar led by a speaker full of tremendous ideas about how to effectively teach today’s college student. It was very inspiring and full of great ideas. Made me ever more eager to get started.

“I have been and still am a seeker, but I have ceased to question stars and books; I have begun to listen to the teaching my blood whispers to me.”Hermann Hesse

Time to get (re)started on something, isn’t it? Someone asked me today, how do you carve out the time to accomplish more intentional tasks? To get started on what you really want to do. I don’t think I had a good answer. Before the pandemic, I started to learn how to live more day-to-day and less long term. Career collapse and fighting cancer will do that to your perspective. I’m much better now. Much healthier, if that makes any sense. It’s easier for me now to pay attention to little things that really do matter more. Like people’s ordinary lives – people with broken hearts and dying dreams and faith that got lost and not enough relationships to fill up half a day. A note to a friend who’s spouse is heading off to a cancer screening.

“If the point of life is the same as the point of a story, the point of life is character transformation. If I got any comfort as I set out on my first story, it was that in nearly every story, the protagonist is transformed. He’s a jerk at the beginning and nice at the end, or a coward at the beginning and brave at the end. If the character doesn’t change, the story hasn’t happened yet. And if story is derived from real life, if story is just condensed version of life then life itself may be designed to change us so that we evolve from one kind of person to another. ” ― Donald Miller

My friend told me recently that my blog is drifting a little dry. Probably a symptom of the locked down living and working arrangements around here. Very difficult to write about a made up life. But right now, I’m hopeful as next week approaches. A week with classes of students getting ready to start another chapter. That expert I heard from this week believes my students are probably extra anxious, full of pent up fears about the future. I’m planning to pass out some hope.

“A story has no beginning or end: arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead.” ― Graham Greene

I’m ready to to start something new as well, to be someone new, a survivor who is always being transformed by the good and the bad. What do you want to go back and start again? Where’s the next chapter in your story going?

A person reading a book, close up - Free Stock Video