“McQueen! Where are you?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ve used this quote before…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Your Country Needs You, I Need You

2020, So Much We’d Like to Forget!

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

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

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

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

What’s needed are some old fashioned heroes.

Normal, everyday folks like you and me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I am late with posting on my blog.

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

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

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

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

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

Name Them One By One

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

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

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

 

Make A List

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Who Are You Talking To?

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

I talk for a living.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some Down and Dirty Rules for Talking

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

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

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

Who ARE You Talking To?

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

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

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

 

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What Matters the Most?

I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.  – Romans 15:13

It’s July in Houston. I think anyone here would tell you that having the air conditioner on and working is essential for living. I’m still not sure how they got the Republic of Texas launched back in 1836 with no AC.

You can decorate for the holidays and go all overboard some years. But then there comes a time when there’s just too much going on or an out of town trip is planned or the kids have grown up. The way you celebrate Christmas often changes throughout your seasons of life. But you must agree, when you walk through the door, if that Christmas tree isn’t there, something essential and right is just missing.

There are aspects of our lives and of living that are really important to each one of us. Everyone has their own list. How about this for a start:

  • having the dishwasher loaded in just the right way
  • taking the trash out when it’s full
  • replying to emails
  • being on time
  • thank you’s
  • access to WiFi
  • gas in the car
  • everyone in the family pulling their weight
  • moving the clothes from the washing to the dryer before it’s too late

Confusing our “important” items with what’s really essential is a common error in judgement. Frustration and anger can cloud thinking very effectively.

“Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own.” ― Robert A. Heinlein

I am right now working through the first year of life after the passing away to heaven of my wife. During her final weeks, I told her each night as I went to bed, if the boat for heaven comes, be sure to get in it. Ten months ago at midnight she did. She spent that summer in hospice here at home. She had fought cancer as a determined soldier, never even stopping to rest. She was and still is pure inspiration.

Now, as I wander through the house during quarantine a day doesn’t pass that I don’t have the feeling that I’m in the wrong place – a place that’s just not right. As if someone broke in, knocked everything over and then tried to put it all back but didn’t get it exact. As I gaze across the room, something seems off.

“…it’s not just the person who fills a house, it’s their ‘I’ll be back later’s’ their toothbrushes and unused hats and coats, their belongingnesses.” ― David Mitchell,

I can’t always give words to the feelings I experience when I look around for my wife. It takes me a few seconds to remember that she’s not coming home late from work. She’s not sitting quietly with her laptop in another room. I have to stop and tell myself again that she’s gone and isn’t coming back.

Living up against each other during this quarantine might be like a hostage crisis for some. It’s easier right now to get pushed to our edges. What’s important to each one of us might be starting to feel as if it’s essential. Arguments can escalate. Pettiness can swell. Words pour out as if a volcano had erupted.

Take Steps to Diffuse Yourself

Stop trying to fix everyone else! It’s probably not you, or her, or him or them. It’s probably the situation. The situation is certainly not as essential as you feel it is. Why don’t you go spend some time standing in a closet or walking around the block or sitting on your roof or somehow being by yourself.

But don’t hurt anyone else because of things that aren’t really essential.

“…you can never love someone as much as you miss them.” ― John Green

Missing my wife isn’t at all like trying to find a shoe that’s been kicked under the bed. Her absence in my life – something no one else experiences every minute as I do – produces feelings more closely resembling the loss of what’s essential. Like having the air conditioning on during July in Houston.

Be extra careful during this time of conflict, worry, uncertainty and chaos to stop and count to ten more often. Keep telling yourself, even out loud if you have to, it just doesn’t matter. Most of what bothers us doesn’t. Loving those people near you is essential. Drawing them near in every single way you can is essential. Sometimes the best way to do this is to shut up and smile more.

I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know…

As I walk through the house with so many reminders of my wife, something inside of me is still searching each room for her presence. Nothing seems right about my day to day routine – everything is up and running (even in lock down mode) but the tree is missing and how can we have Christmas without the tree?

 

 

How Much Worse Could It Get?

“Groans that words cannot express are often prayers that God cannot refuse.” ― Charles Spurgeon

In my young adult life and during the early years of my marriage I used to pray very specifically and ask for help with real problems I was facing. As I look back on that time, it seems I got in God’s face in some very bold ways.

Later as I experienced more and more control over my life, my prayers became more generalized and less focused on real problems. Maybe I didn’t need to have any answers right away or at least anything that I could count on?

“To be in hell is to drift; to be in heaven is to steer.” ― George Bernard Shaw

I’m now noticing, as I travel through a year of grieving and am spending most of my time alone (thanks to the quarantine too), that I’m getting back to being more daring with my prayers. I noticed it the other day as I said to God very deliberately that I needed to hear some specific directions that would guide me into the next chapter of my life.

After spending too much time by myself, perhaps I was getting forthright in my conversational style with God. Or maybe just desperate. I secretly think that God hears desperate prayers first.

“The sea is endless when you are in a rowboat.” ― Adolfo Bioy Casares

In my opinion, when we pray we should be specific and speak aloud, straight from our heart. None of this reciting beautiful prose (save that for public prayers). When you pray alone in your closet, be yourself!

But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you. – Matthew 6:6

Sometimes, trying to solve problems on our own can make the mess even worse. Praying ought to be a first step before venturing out into the storm of life. Praying often brings about waiting. Waiting on God can be the best step in any plan.

If you’ve never prayed very much, there’s nothing wrong with that. Get started now. No better time than a pandemic! The way to start talking with God is “hello.” Why not start each day by saying hello to God and telling him what you’re planning. Don’t forget to wait, listen and move when the Spirit nudges.

Jesus was asked by his followers to teach them how to pray. They must have seen and heard him. That’s where we get what we call The Lord’s Prayer. There’s a part to it that I’ve always thought very earthshaking.

May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.  – Matthew 6:10

Well, by asking us to pray for this, it means that God’s plans are not necessarily happening all around us every day. He’s not practicing his ability to control everything. He want’s us to get involved in his great work here in the lives of others. When you and I don’t pray, we’re keeping heavenly work from happening, as it is in heaven.

One of the big lessons you can see that I’m learning is to be more bold and specific when I do pray. Every time I talk with God like this – he responds in some way. He doesn’t do a Santa Clause, but he does let me know in all sorts of ways, that he hears me and he hasn’t left me alone.

So we must listen very carefully to the truth we have heard, or we may drift away from it.  – Hebrews 2:1

Why don’t you start praying something specific today?

Why don’t you start asking to get involved in God’s will on earth? Why don’t you think of something specific and bold that will give your faith something to stand on?

“Grandpa had made the Lord seem so real, I wouldn’t of been surprised if he’d said good night to Him. But after a long pause he just said a-men.”  ― Olive Ann Burns

 

Are You and God on Speaking Terms?

“Perhaps all the good that ever has come here has come because people prayed it into the world.” ― Wendell Berry

Americans have a strong belief in God

Here are some findings from the Pew Research Center on religion in America:

The vast majority of Americans (90%) believe in some kind of higher power, with 56% professing faith in God as described in the Bible and another 33% saying they believe in another type of higher power or spiritual force. Only one-in-ten Americans say they don’t believe in God or a higher power of any kind.

Trust Magazine

Americans also believe in and practice prayer

[Out] of 102 countries examined for frequency of prayer by Pew Research Center, the U.S. is unique in that it has both a high level of wealth ($56,000 per-capita gross domestic product in 2015) and a high level of daily prayer among its population.

A Pew Research Center survey conducted in 2014 found that 45% of Americans – and a majority of Christians (55%) – say they rely a lot on prayer and personal religious reflection when making major life decisions. The same survey found that 63% of Christians in the U.S. say praying regularly is an essential part of their Christian identity.

A large portion of Americans believe in God and communicating with him on a regular basis. I do too.

“Believing takes practice.” ― Madeleine L’Engle

Have you and God been speaking lately? What has he been speaking to you about? What have you been speaking to him about?

Last week I was feeling frustrated and overwhelmed. In my prayer (I also write these down so I can keep track) I asked God to help me figure out how I was going to manage the next chapters of my life. I was thankful for all of the ways that he had helped me – in very tangible ways. I named my blessings one by one. But, the bottom line was, help!

A few days later, instead of an “everything is going to be okay” answer – I got some bittersweet news that would mean the next chapter of my life was going to be even more difficult than I could have imagined. What kind of answer to my prayer was that?

“The wise man in the storm prays God not for safety from danger but for deliverance from fear.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

A friend sent me a bird feeder to add to what I’ve already had hanging up. It’s been fun to watch the squirrels work so hard to try and get at it. I’ve been wondering why I didn’t have more birds these days – then realized, those blasted squirrels had taken over the neighborhood and run all the birds out. It’s no longer safe to nest around here.

But the other evening there was a loud and exuberant birdsong in the trees at the back of the house. I craned my neck again and again to try and see which kind of bird it was. It was full of joy and went on and on. Happened again the next evening as I sat and wondered about my answer to prayer. That prayer that seemed to have gone off the rails.

“In Gethsemane the holiest of all petitioners prayed three times that a certain cup might pass from Him. It did not.” ― C.S. Lewis

My Bible study group at church is going to be studying the New Testament letter to the Hebrews next. I will be doing the teaching. In preparation I’m reading it in several different ways. First I went over the whole letter as an outline. I read it in different translations. Next I focused on all of the familiar verses that have meant much to me over the years. Right now I’m reading it slowly, sentence by sentence, to see how God might use it right now speak to me.

So, there I was, downcast about the latest bad news and not very hopeful about my future life. I was starting to slowly look at Hebrews while that bird was going to town out in the back. And there it was…

In the first sentences of Hebrews, the writer explains that God used to speak to his people through his prophets. Now he has spoken to us through his Son, Jesus Christ. That brought to my memory some of the last words Jesus spoke to his disciples as he was preparing them for his leaving,

The Father is sending a great Helper, the Holy Spirit, in My name to teach you everything and to remind you of all I have said to you. (John 14:26)

So that means God doesn’t only use intermediaries anymore, He speaks directly to his people now. So when I sit there reading Hebrews, hearing that bird singing to Kingdom Come, I open my ears to hear…

In Chapter 2 of Hebrews the writer warns, “That is why we ought to pay even closer attention to the voice that has been speaking so that we will never drift away from it.”  Remember, in this reading my goal is to listen and hear from God. Well, while I’m busy worrying about my future (feeling sorry for myself, boo hoo) I am called to remember all of the ways God has taken care of my life so far – why do you think he’s suddenly going to stop? Go back and look at all you’ve written down, read some of these very verses you hi-lighted years and years ago and remember how God provided for you. What are you so worried about?

“We tend to be preoccupied by our problems when we have a heightened sense of vulnerability and a diminished sense of power. Today, see each problem as an invitation to prayer.” ― John Ortberg

Pay attention to the voice that has always been speaking to you.

And if you’re still too thick in the head to get it, I’m going to send a very loud bird to sing and sing and sing in the middle of the squirrel kingdom to remind you not to worry or be afraid.

Look at the birds in the sky. They do not store food for winter. They don’t plant gardens. They do not sow or reap—and yet, they are always fed because your heavenly Father feeds them. And you are even more precious to Him than a beautiful bird. If He looks after them, of course He will look after you. Worrying does not do any good; who here can claim to add even an hour to his life by worrying?  (Matthew 6:26-27, The Voice)

Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and then all these things will be given to you too. So do not worry about tomorrow. Let tomorrow worry about itself. Living faithfully is a large enough task for today.  (Matthew 6:33-34, The Voice)

What should you be talking to God about right now?

 

Can I Ask You a Few Questions?

 

What do your past experiences tell you about your life today?

I received a mysterious call the other day. People that know me would be baffled that I even answered it. I probably talk on the phone less than two times a week. I don’t know what possessed me to say hello. This was a survey measuring the health of Texas citizens. Well, a sociologist can’t hardly say no to a survey. It was about health, so of course that was a hot topic right now. She didn’t tell me how long it would take, but it was an extensive experience.

I answered the usual demographic questions to determine which categories I fit into – age, sex, income, and family composition. Whoever put this together (those paying for it) seemed to have been a wide range of groups. There were questions about:

  • prostate health
  • childhood corporal punishment
  • alcohol consumption
  • hours of sleep
  • doctor visits
  • relations with neighbors
  • trips to the grocery story
  • anxiety and depression

The questions took me back over my adult life thus far. Afterwards I thought about chapters that had been brought up in my mind during the interview. There’s just not much else on Netflix anymore is there?

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”― Søren Kierkegaard

 

I had my carpet and floor cleaned the other day. The young guy doing the work was asking me what I did, professor is a good answer. If I say “sociologist” I typically get a smile and a nod, but know that there’s confusion. I explained to him that what interested me was the context that helped explain why people do what they do. I told him at a party I’d probably ask him questions about his family, neighborhood, school to try and figure him out a little better. I could tell by his follow up questions that I didn’t do a good sales job. He was still thoroughly encumbered with the psychological mindset, as most Americans are.

“Reality is not a function of the event as event, but of the relationship of that event to past, and future, events.” ― Robert Penn Warren

That health survey reminded me of so many life experiences; where was I living when I was in the hospital for that surgery, childhood misbehavior, becoming a parent, taking care of each other once we got married. The experience with that lady over the phone got me thinking while I was talking and for days after.

There are friends of mine right now who are in the middle of terrible health crises. I can only imagine how they are getting through each day. I think about how they will live their lives in the coming years, never the same, always shaped by this terrible turn. What will they remember about these days and how will matter to them?

What do you think has shaped your life the most, so far? Can you find a theme, a theme song? I got desperate the other day and watched that Judy Garland movie. Did you ever see the film Cold Mountain? That Renee Zellweger is an incredible actress. Anyway, to get back to poor Judy Garland. What a mess! I hope your life has better chapters and a better song.

As I thought about my own chapters I realized again some important truths:

  • Stop letting the “Ghosts of Christmas Past” haunt the life you’re building today – it’s over with, there’s nothing you can do about it, laugh off that tragedy and move on! Leave these behind you and keep your eyes on the road ahead.

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

  • Remember all those essential memories – the ones that really helped make a difference in your life (the people too) and find ways to pass them on to someone else in your life. Tell the next generation some of the important stories before it’s too late.
  • Talk to people from your past, catch up, do some hunting. Renew those connections in your life and tell people why they mattered – having friends is nothing to take for granted – have you been out there lately?

“You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.” ― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

Maybe the health of Texas (or wherever you are) depends on your reflection?

 

Hold Fast to Dreams

“Laugh and the world laughs with you, snore and you sleep alone.” ― Anthony Burgess

I’ve been doing research on sleep over the past few years. Very interesting! From a great book by Matthew Walker, Why We Sleep:

  • Whether you’re a night owl or morning person is genetically determined. Around 30% of the population are considered morning types, 30% are evening types and the rest of us sit in the middle or are a combination of the two.
  • You can’t catch up on missed sleep. Getting a few extra hours at the weekend only goes a little way to reversing chronic sleep debt. To re-pay your sleep debt completely, try to reintroduce a steady sleep routine and follow it for at least two weeks.
  • Dreaming is a kind of emotional first aid for the brain; it’s during dreaming that we provide ourselves a form of overnight therapy to deal with traumatic experiences. However it’s a myth that if you forget your dreams, you’ve had a bad night’s sleep. While we know that dream sleep (or Rapid Eye Movement [REM] sleep) is essential for life – studies have shown rats deprived of REM sleep can die almost as quickly as being deprived of food – being unable to remember your dreams upon waking doesn’t mean you haven’t dreamt, it just means when you wake up, your brain isn’t able to access this dream memory.
  • Matthew Walker’s advice for everyone – and an iron rule of his own life – is to aim for eight or nine hours of sleep every night. Routinely getting less than seven hours will undermine health, harm the brain, demolish the immune system, disrupts the body’s blood sugar balance and damage coronary arteries.

“Even a soul submerged in sleep is hard at work and helps make something of the world.” ― Heraclitus

According to researchers from the University of Basel, consumers are sleeping more since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the majority of that sleep hasn’t been restful.

“The improved individual sleep-wake timing can presumably be attributed to an increased flexibility of social schedules, for instance due to more work being accomplished from home,” the researchers wrote. “However, this unprecedented situation also led to a significant increase in self-perceived burden, which was attendant to the decrease in sleep quality. These adverse effects may be alleviated by exposure to natural daylight as well as physical exercising.” 

During quarantine people are sleeping more hours, because they are stuck at home, but the quality of their sleep is diminished because of worries. Solution: get outside and exercise more (shut off the stupid screens!)

“Man is a genius when he is dreaming.” ― Akira Kurosawa

I try to convince my college students of the value of sleep, how it’s the easiest way to improve their learning and retention. I’m not sure how successful I’ve been.

  • Each night of the week that college students have sleep problems was associated with a 0.02-point drop in their cumulative grade point average (GPA) and 10 percent higher odds that they would drop a course.
  • For first year students, the impact of each additional day per week with sleep problems (less than 8 hours) had the same impact on GPA as binge drinking and drug use.
  • Only learning disabilities and diagnosed depression or anxiety appeared to have a larger impact on academic success than lack of sleep.
Monica E. Hartmann and J. Roxanne Prichard. Sleep Health, Journal of the National Sleep Foundation. October 2018, Volume 4, Issue 5, Pages 463–471

What can you do to improve your sleep and thereby your overall health?

Russell Foster, Why Do We Sleep?

  1. Stop using all technology 30 min before bed- no cell phone- no laptop- no tablet. The light blocks melatonin which can help you fall asleep. A 30 min wind down with relaxation and reading (a paper book) can make it easier to fall asleep. Apps to reduce blue light on your devices are helpful when you need to work late, but still harmful if you’re trying to sleep.No caffeine after 3 PM. If you are up late studying or just need a little more energy, try a small energy-boosting snack instead of a caffeinated beverage. If you feel that you have to have caffeinated coffee when you are up late studying, try to limit the amount.
  2. Incorporate a small amount of time each day to be outside in daylight. Time spent outside during the day helps to preserve your body’s sleep and wake cycles.
  3. Be physically active most days. Exercise can promote more regular sleep and wake patterns as well as reduce stress. Avoid exercise and other vigorous activities three-to-four hours before going to bed to avoid awakening the body even more.
  4. Use the bed only for sleeping. Avoid doing other activities such as studying or watching TV. This ensures that your body will not associate the bed with these activating tasks, which can make it harder to fall asleep. If there are few options other than your bed for these activities, reduce the level of intensity of the reading material or TV programs you select.
  5. Go to bed only when you are sleepy. If you can’t fall asleep after 20 minutes, get out of bed and do a relaxing activity somewhere else until you feel sleepy again. Try deep breathing or relaxation techniques if you’re having trouble falling asleep due to stress or anxiety.

What I’ve learned lately is that sleep is a big deal. When I dream I am storing away memories. As I age, memory becomes a problem. Dreaming helps me to keep my memory sharper. Sleeping, exercise, sunlight – sounds like simple things I can do when the world seems like it’s become so unpredictable.

 

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

 

The World is Too Much With Us

“I could no longer discern what was real and what was fake. Everything, including the present, seemed to be both too much and nothing at all.” ― Clemantine Wamariya

I have been feeling overwhelmed the past weeks. Maybe it’s been a month now.  Most of us are having the same kinds of experiences all at once and all together. I think if I made a list it would look very similar to yours. So many of our feelings right now are driven by a lack of control, the feeling that so much of life in general is off balance.

“Don’t despair: despair suggests you are in total control and know what is coming. You don’t – surrender to events with hope.” ― Alain de Botton

One of the ways for me to get a better handle on things is to try and figure out what’s really going on. I’m a sociologist. That means that what I’ve been trained to do is to dissect the world of people, like I did with that frog back in middle school science class, and see how it all works (or doesn’t).

Right now, a global pandemic has left us all feeling like life is veering in and out of control. It’s an even more powerless experience because we can’t hit back at a virus. There’s no visible enemy, like a terrible boss or a marriage falling apart. So, what we end up wrestling with is the state of information being transmitted to us from leaders and healthcare experts. How well do we believe what we are being told? The issue becomes not the actual state of our health but what we believe.

“The amount of violations of human rights in a country is always an inverse function of the amount of complaints about human rights violations heard from there. The greater the number of complaints being aired, the better protected are human rights in that country.” ― Daniel Patrick Moynihan

As I’ve written before, the tremendous social movements now taking place are actually the result of months living under quarantine. The video of police kneeling on the neck of George Floyd and his subsequent death was a match that lit a population already kindled for catastrophe.

Social movements fall into two broad categories:

(1) Top Down (Resource Mobilization) or

(2) Bottom Up (Collective Behavior)

I was reading an article the other day about the making of the We Are The World song and video. It was a 1985 project to raise global awareness about suffering and starvation in Ethiopia and other parts of Africa. It would fall under the category of a Top Down Movement. These tend to be organized around ideas and actions that need to be communicated to the population or groups so that action can be organized and problems solved.

What we are now experiencing with protests, marches, riots, vandalism and public displays by political and pop leaders would fall into the Bottom Up category. In response to the video of the police arrest and later death of George Floyd, people who felt tremendous anger and bottled up grievances exploded in protest. Political and pop leaders tried to catch up – but mostly looked silly and out of step.

In a Mass Society like ours, the media plays a powerful role in shaping public opinion about the “how’s” and “why’s” of social movements. Our media landscape is unique:

  • We have hundreds of media sources of information and opinion pouring into our lives each minute.
  • The distinction between information and opinion is typically blurred to the receiver.
  • We have media monopolies controlling a wide variety of content, from news, entertainment, social media, sports and publishing. All interwoven to produce a profit for shareholders. Go back and watch the film Network.

The goal of the media is no longer to provide information to the public. That is a secondary objective. The primary objective is to gain viewers – profit. This has happened because there is too much media, too many channels and apps. It’s not some evil plot, just basic market dynamics.

What’s happened in history right now? Viewers were tired of the endless Corona-virus narrative that seemed to never have a happy ending. A mass protest for social change regarding race relations was exactly what the doctor ordered. Each media source jumped on the events and shaped the telling to fit into their narratives.

History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new.  – Ecclesiastes 1:9 (NLT)

Now, as you click around on your television or phone you will see that the information from the media is not the same. Remember, they are not reporting just facts but telling stories to gain and maintain audiences. So, you will hear one source emphasize the “A” part of the narrative and downplay the “B” part. Another source will do the opposite. This is normal marketing activity. We are not citizens in need of truth, we are consumers shopping for a narrative that fits.

“If you believe that your thoughts originate inside your brain, do you also believe that television shows are made inside your television set?” ― Warren Ellis

Remember, this social movement aimed at addressing injustices regarding race relations is happening now because the atmosphere was stoked by the quarantine. People were laid off, lost insurance, had no childcare, were trapped at home with family, experienced the hospitalization/death of family/friends. Who were we to express our frustration and anger at in the midst of all this? A mysterious virus floating around in the air?

Marching in protest about racial injustice and examples of police violence makes perfect sense in light of our collective circumstances. This doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be happening, just an explanation of why now. Of course there are a lot of actions taking place that don’t make sense – there always are. Welcome to the drama of living in a free society with a camera always on.

So, despite an explanation, I’m still as overwhelmed. I’m doing a few things different so that I can at least tread water and not feel too waterboarded by history. To counter this feeling, here’s what the doctor recommends:

  1. Talk less, listen more
  2. Stop watching TV news
  3. Read fiction (with happy endings)
  4. Read magazine articles that stoke your curiosity
  5. Take a drive in the country
  6. Watch an interesting documentary
  7. Write a note of encouragement to someone who needs it
  8. Tell your kids what life was like back in the Dark Ages, when you were their age

If you do get into a current event discussion or debate why not talk about something specific that you can do to help make it better? Talk about hope not anger or frustration or fear – there’s already plenty of that to last a lifetime.

And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it.  – 1 Peter 3:15 (NLT)

The World Is Too Much With Us

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.