The End of Another Semester

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

The older I get, I feel as if I’m getting dumber and dumber. I just assumed wisdom automatically came with age.

I attend college graduation ceremonies at the end of each semester. What a celebration they are, every single time. I often remark to friends, as often as I attend, I myself still never seem to graduate.

Each year, I get to see the anticipation and anxiety as students approach the end of another semester and many, their last semester. Graduation from college is a tremendous rite of passage in life. It’s an important doorway into adulthood and so many dreams about the future.

Think of all the other important life passages people pass through:

  • Getting your driver’s license
  • Your first paycheck
  • Graduating high school
  • The first date
  • Marriage
  • Children, one by one
  • The big promotion

The journey of living is one filled with doorways. We pass through them, sometimes prepared but so often uncertain about what lies ahead. I can’t even remember what was going on during my three different college level graduations. It’s almost certain that I’m now in decline – I can’t remember most of last week! I do know that I’m learning lessons again and again – until they become “automatic” and I no longer have to ponder too long at the same crossroads.

“When I was younger, I could remember anything, whether it had happened or not; but my faculties are decaying now and soon I shall be so I cannot remember any but the things that never happened. It is sad to go to pieces like this but we all have to do it.” ― Mark Twain

When it comes to teaching and mentoring young people who are deliberately marching every day into a bold and frightening future, there are two contradictory lessons to be wrestled with:

  1. We have to pass through one door to proceed to the next. Sometimes this is too difficult for us because a part of us remains in the past with some unfinished business. Sometimes we leave someone important behind, because we need to or because we have no choice. We get stuck and can’t move because a part of us is too wounded to travel any further. There’s just too much pain and change threatens another possibility of hurt.
  2. The only life we are assured of having is the one we hold in our hand today. While dreaming and building a ship to sail on the winds of tomorrow is an important part of who we are – it is still an intangible hope. The risk is losing today and all of its opportunities while we long for the future. We just can’t miss today and all that it holds while peering out the window watching for tomorrow.

Semester after semester, watching all those college graduates strut, stroll and march across the stage to accept their diploma and pose for pictures, I sometimes wonder about what awaits at the other end of the stage. Once the happy family and friends have all left, the next chapter awaits.

Like two sides of the same coin, it’s always a tremendous challenge to balance these two great lessons about living. My wife is now trying to find her post brain surgery balance as she practices walking straight lines. It’s probably a similar feat, keeping one eye on our dreams about tomorrow while still seeking all the blessings in today’s path.

“Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!” – Matthew 26:41

 

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Bind My Wandering Heart to Thee

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“Always hopeful, yet discontent.”- a line from the epic Tom Sawyer by Rush

“Take your son, your only son—yes, Isaac, whom you love so much—and go to the land of Moriah. Go and sacrifice him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains, which I will show you.” (Genesis 22:2)

You remember how the story turns out. God stops Abraham just as he holds the knife ready to strike his son.

I wonder what they talked about on that long road trip to the mountain? Probably a very different conversation walking downhill, back to a different kind of relationship.

Did God need to learn something he didn’t know or did Abraham need to prove to himself (and his son) that the promise from God would never become bigger than God himself?

I want so much. There’s always the danger of wanting something other than God.

Can you imagine Abraham watching Isaac growing up and all the dreams he shapes around his future? And then God calls out of the deep.

Sometimes I pray for God to slay my hopes and dreams. They are too painful to bear when I watch them crash and burn. I am afraid. Fearful that I want what I think God has promised more than I want God himself. There’s always that danger that they will become an Isaac to me. Not a chance to declare his purpose and glory to all who see, but just another opportunity for me to prove something to myself and others.

What will He ask me to do? How will He awaken me to see that He is of more value than anything I could hope or dream?

 “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.” – Philippians 2:13

I am not alone in my efforts to distinguish between the gift and the giver. His Spirit is working within me, leading me up that mountain of revelation. He wants me to see for myself that He is the true delight of my heart. It’s one thing to say this, it’s another to actually seek it. Abraham worshipped God while he cherished Isaac. I worship God and pray to him all day, but the desire of my heart is typically for earthly and mundane hopes. My soul is torn between desires.

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

– Robert Robinson, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing

What a conversation Abraham and Isaac surely had scaling back down Mount Moriah. Isaac must have gotten a whole college degree learning about faith from his father on that trip.  I wonder what I will learn as I walk back down the mountain with my Isaac (dream), back toward the God I love.

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

Find Your Way Back

That’s the song from Starship I was hearing today on the drive home. Someone in the parking lot had called me “sir” and I was once again reminded that something had changed in my life.

  • Fewer and fewer people that I encounter know what I’m talking about when I make references to comedy routines from the television show Laugh-In (67-73).
  • More and more strangers that I casually encounter are calling me “sir.” Even the old men at church started calling me “sir” a few years ago!
  • I almost never look forward anymore. These days I am mostly looking backward.

I don’t usually sit for photographs, ask anyone in my family. But nowadays when I do see a photo with me in it, there’s this old guy looking out. Something has changed and I’d sure like to find my way back!

There’s not much I can do about fewer and fewer people in my world who are aware of 70’s pop culture. I just need to raise awareness, right? So if you see me approaching you with a funny TV clip of Joan Worley betting her bippy, bear with me. I’m trying to stay young.

Maybe if I stopped talking to myself so much people wouldn’t call me “sir” so often. They’re just trying to be helpful, right? I think norms that help us all to get along, like showing respect, are good for us as a society. I need to just accept my new status as a good thing and just get over the shock.

The most troubling aspect of all this is my new habit of spending too much time in the past and not enough in the future. Sure I’ve gotten wounded by some awful giants, but who hasn’t? That’s no reason to hide out, lick your wounds and fear the days ahead. Who am I, a caveman who’s retreated back to my stone age cave? No, I’m a man of the future and what I need is a constant reminder to tighten my grasp on hope. To never stop dreaming, even after the nightmares have come and gone.

Hold fast to dreams,
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird,
That cannot fly.
― Langston Hughes

The longer you look backward, the more stooped you become, and the faster your heart spoils. Maybe that’s why people are stopping me in the parking lot, calling me “sir” (and asking if I need any help)?

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And all that is within me, bless His holy name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And forget none of His benefits;
Who pardons all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases;
Who redeems your life from the pit,
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion;
Who satisfies your years with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle.

– Psalm 103: 1-5

 

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