Some Words to a Friend

“People do not die for us immediately, but remain bathed in a sort of aura of life which bears no relation to true immortality but through which they continue to occupy our thoughts in the same way as when they were alive. It is as though they were traveling abroad.” ― Marcel Proust

Death has been near over the past weeks. Friends and family have experienced loss, some expected, others very sudden. A dear friend from my past recently went through the slow decline and then death of her spouse. What in the world could I say or write down to offer as comfort? Friends have lost a parent, sibling, close friends. One friend is flying halfway around the world to bury his father. Some have colleagues at work who have become gravely ill and are fearful. My own loss was in 2019, but the pandemic has made it seem like a never ending misery.

“Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o-er wrought heart and bids it break.” ― William Shakespeare

Image result for walking together on the beach sunset

What I did was sit and make a list describing my experiences, hoping something might help or encourage. Maybe something would be useful to others I know (and don’t) who are also traveling this kind of road.

“When someone you love dies, and you’re not expecting it, you don’t lose her all at once; you lose her in pieces over a long time—the way the mail stops coming, and her scent fades from the pillows and even from the clothes in her closet and drawers. Gradually, you accumulate the parts of her that are gone. Just when the day comes—when there’s a particular missing part that overwhelms you with the feeling that she’s gone, forever—there comes another day, and another specifically missing part.” ― John Irving

  1. There’s a hard part every day. Sometimes it’s a simple little routine, like coming out of Starbucks (her favorite haunt). Other times, like today, it’s a letter from my niece telling me about her upcoming wedding. I’m not writing about all the fond remembrances. What I mean here is a punch in the gut, a difficult swerve in the road that can take my breath away. Hard parts are not to be avoided. They are an important piece of the journey. It is what it is.
  2. This isn’t something that one day you will “get over” or “put behind you” – despite all of the best sentiments of your loved ones and even casual acquaintances. I think living with loss is a permanent part of life.
  3. Memory is a living, breathing presence.
  4. For others, even family, a segment of their life has gone, someone who filled an important part. But the rest of their lives goes on, day by day. For you, your ENTIRE life has now been scattered to the four winds and what’s left will need to be reordered, from the ground up. The rest of your circle does not share the same experience.
  5. Some parts of life and living will need to be changed as you walk into your next chapter. But other parts should remain as healthy anchors to what mean so much (see #3)
  6. There are probably other people that will need some of your attention and love – because of their own loss and grief. You are the closest person they have who remains.
  7. Re-establishing a new routine is vital. It’s little things that will matter. The current circumstances are making this nearly impossible.
  8. I had to gently tell people to stop asking me if there was anything I needed. Instead I said, if you feel like there’s something you should do, it’s probably God’s Spirit nudging you to action. Don’t let me get in the way!
  9. Spending so much time alone has turned me into a real chatterbox when I’m with others. At times I stand beside myself and look over and don’t even recognize who I’ve become. It tells me how much I need social interaction – this pandemic is unhealthy for all of us – even without catching COVID.
  10. Eating meals alone has become a problem:
    • I’ve stopped cooking
    • There are too many leftovers when I do
    • I am too often poisoning myself with past its due date food
    • Then there’s always the danger of developing scurvy
    • I’m eating pre-made salads with kale now, yuck!
  11. I’m having to learn how to play two roles at once. Activities I could ignore and take for granted because she was managing all of that (keeping up with details about family members for example) now need my full attention. Things now happen – or don’t because I’m not asking questions or expressing wishes. I’ve got to be more aware as I’m 100% of this now non-existent couple.
  12. Because of the social isolation caused by the pandemic, I’m having a hard time figuring out the cause of the drift I experience in my life. Will it pass once the global virus is gone? Or is this my new norm that I need to become more hands-on about?
  13. I have experienced WONDERFUL connections to family and friends who hang on to me and keep my head above the waters – gifts from God every single day.

“Don’t go through life; grow through life.” ― Eric Butterworth

It’s All Routine

The Seed Sower – Jeremy Sams Art

“Sow a thought, and you reap an act;
Sow an act, and you reap a habit;
Sow a habit, and you reap a character;
Sow a character, and you reap a destiny.”

― Samuel Smiles (1812-1904)

Four days before the Spring semester was to start – the university announced, to be safe, that we would do classes completely remote for the first two weeks. Well, that sent me into a scramble, launching a new plan. What it also did was delay the normal routine of life that keeps me sane and safe, something I take for granted but that’s essential for living a life that’s moving in the right direction. That’s what I want to do, keep moving toward future chapters.

“It’s amazing how a little tomorrow can make up for a whole lot of yesterday.” ― John Guare

As I think about it, routines in my life do three things:

They keep me moving in the right direction. This past year has been a mess for me. A series of starts and stops. It’s not just the dramatic changes in my work and social routines – but my basic life rhythms are off balance as I adjust to living alone. They don’t give names to tidal waves do they?

UPHILL BATTLE | LOVE YOUR SPOUSE


I need to be thinking about where I want to go and the steps necessary to get there and so order my days in that direction. I teach college students to think about their learning like a 9-5 job (that metaphor is quickly going out the door!). Work on class assignments, reading, projects, etc. each and every day. Take specific steps as you plan your day that are carrying you toward your goal. Let’s see if anyone is listening.

While I’m sitting at home, on the couch – not going to my office, interacting with students one-on-one via messages, I try to keep a daily routine running. I write a list of tasks that need to be accomplished each day/week. Big and little, each must be done. There are also routines related to larger ongoing projects that I nibble on most days, like building an online course, painting a picture or writing those books.

These routines hold my focus on what’s important. It’s been too easy to lose whole days (even a week here and there) during solitary confinement. I always thought getting old would take longer (I stole that line). Time really is moving faster. I don’t want to lose days that had something essential in them that needed to be done.

It’s easy to wander off the trail and get confused about what I’m supposed to be doing. This prolonged time of separation and isolation can make anyone wonder about larger purposes. It seems as if there’s so much more time to fill. When I’m asking myself big questions related to mission and purpose, keeping the daily routine helps me to trudge on. You wouldn’t believe how much out loud talking to myself I’m doing!

“Whenever you want to achieve something, keep your eyes open, concentrate and make sure you know exactly what it is you want. No one can hit their target with their eyes closed.” ― Paulo Coelho

Doing work, reaching out to students, devotional/reflection, contacting friends and family, putting ideas on paper – all of these practices have been important and are still. It doesn’t matter how I feel or what the plans are for next week. Shaping each day around these sign posts help to show me what’s important. One day after another.

Routines can replace inspiration. I’m too often looking for burning bushes. Most of life is buttering the toast and putting the washing into the dryer. God’s presence in my daily life is very evident, but that doesn’t mean I don’t often feel trapped in the backwaters of sitting here.

“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” ― Jack London

Let’s be honest, these days motivation and encouragement can be hard to find. Isolation is one cause, fewer social interactions can be another. Inspiration is something that’s often taken for granted. When it’s run dry, we notice, usually too late. I don’t always feel like it, but getting up at the same time, working on my list, getting online and running all the errands – most of the time the inner drive is very half-hearted, but routines keep the ship (me) afloat for another day.

When you put into action each day what you believe and know to be true – it becomes a lived out kind of inspiration. Waiting to be inspired is a death sentence. The trick is to keep walking in the spirit of what’s buried deep within you.

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

Brick Projects | DoItYourself.com

What’s in Your Rear Seat?

Car manufacturers begin implementing back seat reminder technology

“A number of years ago I had some experience with being alone. For two succeeding years I was alone each winter for eight months at a stretch in the Sierra Nevada mountains on Lake Tahoe. I was the caretaker on a summer estate during the winter months when it was snowed in. And I made some observations then. As time went on I found that my reactions thickened. Ordinarily I am a whistler. I stopped whistling. I stopped conversing with my dogs, and I believe that the subtleties of feeling began to disappear until finally I was on a pleasure-pain basis. Then it occurred to me that the delicate shades of feeling, of reaction, are the result of communication, and without such communication they tend to disappear. A man with nothing to say has no words. Can its reverse be true- a man who has no one to say anything to has no words as he has no need for words? … Only through imitation do we develop toward originality.” ― John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America

I’ve got one of those rear seat reminders in my vehicle. Each time the back door is opened it triggers a warning when I stop the vehicle to check the back seat. For me, it’s usually stuff from the grocery store or my school case. I don’t have any quiet children in my life who might be forgotten in the backseat. But this safety precaution is a great idea!

This has got me thinking about other reminders in my life – or lack of reminders. I used to have someone living with me who would remind me how to drive. Have you got one of those? You don’t know how important this feature is until it’s gone. One of my favorite comedians said the other day that when the music was too loud in her car (kids playing it in the back) she couldn’t see well. Maybe I need to turn the music down.

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” ― George Bernard Shaw

My daily routine has been sent spiraling out of control – like it has for many people. It was filled with dozens of subtle reminders about how to order my steps. Seeing people on a regular basis never fails to remind me about how important they are in my life – even people I don’t really know. It helps me to realize, again and again, that I’m not the center of the universe. Keeps the pity party clown away from the front door.

Reminders help me to do the right thing. When I keep a list of names going, it helps me to stay on track and to prioritize my thinking. Being around other people, even if it’s a phone call or text, nudges me to think about the cares and worries that my friends and family are shouldering. Maybe there’s something I can do to help? Even a kind word might be just right. I’ve started keeping visual lists (post-it notes) around me so that I can remember the people that need care and prayer.

There is so much of life and living that is out of order right now. Taken-for-granted reminders can seem lost in the fog. So many routines are gone, new or changing:

  1. Going to work or staying home?
  2. Wearing pants or not?
  3. Familiar people missing from your life?
  4. Church services on or off?
  5. Not much in the way of casual entertainment – dining out, movies, events?
  6. Live sporting events are just weird now, right?

That rear seat reminder got me thinking about all of the ways I am having to be more intentional with my social connections – speak to each person in your day; the grocery sacker, the girl in the fast food window, the neighbor passing across the street, wave a lot more to strangers, anyone who delivers to your door.

If you could have a warning light go off to remind you to think about or do the most important things in your life these days, what would the indicator read?

Take a minute and make a list of your life right now. Chart your progress. Pinpoint where you are on the map. What’s getting done and what’s not? Who are you becoming each day? Who are you supposed to be everyday? Who do the people in your life need you to be? I hope this time of isolation will one day be known (among other accomplishments and bitter failures) as a golden age of reflection.

  1. Be sure to listen to what your spouse is saying (and not saying).
  2. Go back and look at your pre-COVID goals, the big ones. What can you adjust and tackle?
  3. Spend extra time with your children (after asking them to put down their phones) in their rooms, doing what they want to do. You might have to get on the floor.
  4. Establish new routines while working from home. A time to yourself, writing and reflecting before you jump into your day. Can you walk “around the block” and get a cup of coffee? Schedule regular times to get out of your cave. Meals around the table instead of the TV?
  5. Weather permitting, go sit in the backyard and watch that evening screen up in the sky while talking to the real people in your life.
  6. Doesn’t sound like much fun, but I’m cleaning out cabinets and closets, Feels better once it’s done. Who really needs a 6-year old can Raid? There may be some spiritual cubby holes that need dusting as well!

As Steinbeck noticed in the quote at the start, human beings need to be around other human beings on a regular basis – to remind us how to keep being human. We learn how to be human from our parents, teachers and friends. We keep learning from others how to stay human the rest of our lives.

“Isolation has carved me in its image and likeness.” ― Fernando Pessoa

Remember when God created the world, each time he made something, he declared each was good. When he made man, he said, “It’s not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18).

209 Tie A Ribbon Around Your Finger Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty-Free  Images - iStock

Look for reminders in your life to stay connected and help others to keep connected. Post some in any way that you can. Otherwise we may all lose something that keeps us human, keeps us civilized.

Entering 2021 as a Three-Year-Old

“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

Over the recent holiday season I have been blessed to be able to spend time with my soon to be three-year-old grandson. As I reflect on the experiences it becomes clear to me that he has taught me some valuable lessons that I should take into this next year.

  1. When he gets up in the morning, sometimes as early as 5:30am, he is raring to go. He has a smile on his face, is eager to jump into action and starts his constant conversation that will take him and everyone else through the day and into the evening. He has always gotten a good night’s sleep. This prepares him for a good day ahead. A happier day ahead. He starts his day on the right foot. Mind over matter. He doesn’t realize it yet, but he’s developing a wonderful habit. I can’t tell you how he changes my whole outlook, now that he can get out of his own bed, comes around the corner with that giant happy face and yells, “I’m awake!”
    Maybe I should be more intentional about the way I start each day?

    “Children see magic because they look for it.” ― Christopher Moore
  2. Of course, being at my house is a somewhat new adventure. He is getting used to things and routines. But he remains a constant engine of curious energy. Questions are flying out right and left. He is reaching and touching and grabbing and opening and searching. He is living in each moment. He is learning and questioning. Each experience is a growth opportunity. He cherishes routines and at the same time is always eager for something new; to see, to eat, to drink, to read, to feel, to play.
    Maybe I should live in the moment, one day at a time, refusing to miss what’s right in front of me?
Two children talking to each other by Lindsay Crandall - Child, Talking -  Stocksy United
  1. My neighbor came to the door late Christmas Day to bring over some green enchiladas she had made for her family. Who can celebrate without some Tex-Mex? Her two little grandsons came with her. I’m passing out packages of my “crummy Christmas cookies” to everyone that comes to the door. I gave each little boy a bag and as they were heading to the curb, my grandson came tearing out of the house with his brown bear house shoes on. He ran right up to both boys, who almost made it to the street, and started talking (I think, I can’t figure out what he’s saying two-thirds of the time). He had escaped the land of everyone is bigger than he is and found some kindred souls. Everyone is a potential new friend. Everyone has a story to tell. Everyone needs a friend eventually.
    There are people everywhere I go who need a kind word and to know I’m interested in how their life is going these days.

As adults we are responsible to socialize our offspring into adult roles – to make them successful members of the world. There are so many traits, skills and values that they must internalize. Mostly this happens by being around their parents and watching, imitating and practicing.

I am struck at the end of this year by two great realizations. Number one, after having taught three classes in one semester about American families, the grim facts have never been more stark. Most children in our country grow up in broken homes and most without their biological father. This sets most of our children at a disadvantage more emotionally and socially disastrous than any economic or educational deprivation could ever bring about in their current or future lives. Number two, there are deep lessons about how to live life being played out right in front of me if I will just watch the innocent and eager leaps of my own grandson.

All the talk today is about how to jettison 2020 and find new hope around the bend. I think hope-filled ideas for how to face tomorrow might have been right here with us the whole time. Even while we were all locked up.

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Try to be around kids as often as you can in 2021.

“The soul is healed by being with children.” ― Fyodor Dostoevsky

Buried Treasure

This is a time of year that’s full of memories. As I get older, they become more important. Hanging on seems critical. Memories are like handles to help open all of the drawers and cupboards to find what I need. What I need to make it. Everyone needs to find something to help them make it through days that can be hard, lonely or full of worry.

“Poverty is apt to strike suddenly like influenza, it is well to have a few memories of extravagance in store for bad times.” ― Graham Greene

Memory is like a buried treasure.

Christmas was like magic when I was a child, mostly because of my grandparents. They did a thankless job helping to raise me. Theirs was a homemade world. Christmas was very much a season of lights, smells and anticipation. My grandfather erected in his front yard a wooden, cut-out, life-size Santa in his sleigh – like a billboard – with all the colors of children’s fantasies. It was lit up with spotlights each night. We couldn’t wait to see it and knew that the days were counting down until the presents could be opened.

How Did the Tradition of Christmas Trees Start? | Britannica

There were hand-made decorations everywhere – even the potty seat had a peek-a-boo Santa! There was an artificial Christmas tree eventually. I remember making fun of it, asking what animal had been sleeping on it during the year. It seemed to be flattened out on one side. At home we had a fancy silver tree with gold decorations. It sat in the front window with a rotating multicolored light shining on it. Children weren’t allowed in the living room much. This was the 70’s. Dark wood, gold and avocado green reigned supreme.

Cookies, queso, tamales and a twenty pound block of cheddar cheese were always a part of the Christmas Eve festivities. I think a business client must have given the cheese each year. It became an annual race, to consume it before the mold started to grow. When we gathered to eat or “appetize” before the Christmas presents, it was always a race. I don’t remember what anyone else received. I don’t really remember giving much. It wasn’t until much later in life, as an adult, that I started playing the game from both sides. It became so much bigger and better when I did.

“The family. We were a strange little band of characters trudging through life sharing diseases and toothpaste, coveting one another’s desserts, hiding shampoo, borrowing money, locking each other out of our rooms, inflicting pain and kissing to heal it in the same instant, loving, laughing, defending, and trying to figure out the common thread that bound us all together.” ― Erma Bombeck

When I remember the events and experiences from my childhood, the ghosts of Christmas past, I realize that these were built by real people who worked to keep traditions and practices up and running. My memories were productions – the meals, the staging of decorations, rituals associated with gifts, and all the other actors deeply involved (even the uncle asleep in the chair).

I regret not doing a better job as a young adult on the work of building memories with and for others. It was always too much trouble. I wasn’t mature and couldn’t see the value of extra time, more effort and paying attention to all the time that was being invested. Right now, I’m living off that treasure. I only wish I had been awake long ago to gather more coins in my war chest.

Large Pirate Treasure Chest

What sort of treasures are you burying right now in the lives of those around you? You too will reap a reward in days to come. No matter how much trouble it takes – especially these days – it’s always going to be worth it. Someone will one day need those precious memories that right now seem so common and trivial. I’ve been spending days and days around here setting up Christmas. No one will see it but me – save for two days when family visits. But I now know it’s worth all the trouble. I’m rehearsing memories from my own recent past and arranging others for the future. It’s worth all the extra time and trouble (even though my tree and cookies just don’t really meet the standard).

“As with marathon runs and lengths of toilet paper, there had to be standards to measure up to.” ― Haruki Murakami

I put a small white Christmas tree on the front table today. It can be seen from the window as the lights come on at dusk. The tree has been a part of our Christmas memory since 2016. It’s a recent addition. My wife decided one year that she wanted to have a big white Christmas tree. I think she had a tree in every room of the house. Christmas was her season. The year we got the big white tree, she had brain surgery during the semester break. Recovery in the hospital took longer than planned and she missed Christmas and her tree that year. Her best friend, wanting to make a memory, sent her that small tree we now have in the front window. It lit up her room in the ICU that year and now, each Christmas, helps us to remember so much more.

Is it Too Late to Say Thank You?

“The thankful receiver bears a plentiful harvest.” ― William Blake

Thank you for sharing your dinner.
Thank you for the phone calls, even the one’s I didn’t return.
Thank you for coming over to visit.
Thank you for sharing nachos even when I know you wanted something else.
Thank you for not saying a word when you knew I needed to stew some more.
Thank you for being nice even when I wasn’t very nice to be with.
Thank you for making my sister feel good about her decision.
Thank you for loving the people that I love so much.
Thank you for buying my lunch that day.
Thank you for sending me that song.
Thank you for picking up my mess and never saying a word to scold me.
Thank you for laughing along with my stupid stories you’ve heard too many times before.
Thank you for having the guts to tell me the truth.
Thank you for praying for me, again and again.
Thank you for hanging out with my friends even when it’s not a very fun evening.
Thank you for putting up with my family.
Thank you for keeping secrets.
Thank you for going with me to all those rock concerts (that weren’t that much fun for you).
Thank you for telling me the truth about that shirt.
Thank you for not telling my mother the truth about that dress.
Thank you for spending extra time with the kids so I could have a break, even when you deserved one too.
Thank you for sharing your weakness with me.
Thank you for letting me apologize, too many times.
Thank you for not making be feel guilty.
Thank you for sitting with me and not saying a word.
Thank you for sitting with me in the hospital.
Thank you for waiting until we’re alone to let me know…
Thank you for remembering to contact me – just when I needed it.
Thank you for that note and not an email or text.
Thank you for being persistent – and for knowing when to back off.
Thank you for cleaning up another one of my messes – again.
Thank you for sitting and listening with such patience while I talked too much.
Thank you for helping me figure out my phone.
Thank you for letting me remember what really matters.
Thank you for helping me when I didn’t even know I needed help.
Thank you for being such a good example for me and my family.
Thank you for asking for forgiveness.
Thank you for that gift, it means so much to me.
Thank you for not having to be asked.
Thank you for giving me a ride that day and telling me your story.
Thank you for holding my hand.
Thank you for bringing those meals over when I didn’t realize how much I needed.
Thank you for being a good example.
Thank you for telling me how important I am, even when we both know you’re really just being nice.
Thank you for helping me solve that problem, and making me think I did it on my own.
Thank you for listening to me when I don’t really know how to say it.
Thank you for making me feel more important than is true.
Thank you for going to a lot of trouble to help others I care about.
Thank you for sitting next to me when it seemed like others didn’t want to.
Thank you for those lemons.
Thank you for making sacrifices for the benefit of others.
Thank you for sharing a wonderful adventure I never would have done on my own.
Thank you for waiting patiently for me.
Thank you for walking across the hot parking lot to just say hello.
Thank you for remembering me.
Thank you for helping to tie my shoe.
Thank you for that book, it meant so much.
Thank you for reminding me what really matters.

“St. Augustine said, “The very pleasures of human life men acquire by difficulties.” There are times when the entire arrangement of our existence is disrupted and we long then for just one ordinary day – seeing our ordinary life as greatly desirable, even wonderful, in the light of the terrible disruption that has taken place. Difficulty opens our eyes to pleasures we had taken for granted.” ― Elisabeth Elliot

Crumbs on the Counter

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

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

Keep Your Kitchen Countertops Sparkling with These Tips | Foodal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How many hurricanes til Christmas?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Dreams May Come?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is when I awoke.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Divide and Conquer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is that really who we are?

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

Just wondering?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All in Our Family

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do families in America look like today?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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