Falling Apart

“At 50, everyone has the face he deserves.” ― George Orwell

I told my dentist the other day that I was in my declining years. These days, each time I visit someone in the healthcare profession it’s bad news. Something big needs to be shifted, repaired, pulled-up, re-examined again and again or prescribed. I’m not sure if I’m going to make it to the end all in one piece. When I was younger, I just don’t remember all this excessive misery associated with keeping on. I think about it each time I bend over to pick up something off the floor in the kitchen. How long has that been such a pain to do?

My mental faculties are also starting to leak out of my ears as I sleep. If I don’t do it right now, I’m sure to forget a few minutes from now. I’m now more conscious of being unconscious. Does that make any sense?

Reversing Cognitive Decline Through Diet and Lifestyle Part 3 | Evolvemental

“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

Actually I was reading last night and it helped me realize that much of what I’m experiencing might be related to being locked up like a hostage for a year – and having to completely change how I work and live. The other dramatic emotional and cognitive catastrophe that I haven’t had the space to process is my own grief over the loss of my spouse. She passed away to heaven in the Fall before the Spring pandemic hit.

“I wanted to get the tears out of the way so I could act sensibly.” ― Joan Didion

Surely that’s part of what’s going on with me, the lethargy, the cognitive fugue, the confusion and even the disassociation from reality (what does that look like these days?). What about everyone else? Seems like each time I turn on the news our civilization is experiencing some sort of existential crises.

My own life is so often real only in the ways that I perceive it to be.

The current world around me, family dynamics, relationships that are changing, work and interests – all that’s happening in this swirling context that is life – is actually real to me only as far as I perceive it to be. I’m defining situations all the time. I hope to be accurate but so often my moods, fears and knowledge are turning my vision in different directions – sometimes away from the truth. Often what I want isn’t the truth but confirmation, comfort, or control. It’s the same for the whole world. A world with a cell phone stuck in their face.

“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.” ― William Blake

Why do many in our society feel so much disconnection and confusion?

I’m certain that the pandemic and lock-down has been at the root of much of our social feelings of calamity. But I also believe that there’s more to it than that. Something deeper. The way that individuals and groups perceive their situations – the worldview they use to define their reality – helps to explain why members of a society can function most of the time and, some times, can’t seem to get even the simplest goals accomplished.

I was working online recently with colleagues from other universities. We were examining extensive research a graduate student had completed on the college experience of students who are in the minority. The research was conducted using surveys of students from across the country. As we talked about a number of variables, all I could imagine was the vast difference in the ways that todays students might define some of these terms. Were we really getting accurate feedback on the research topic we intended to measure? Or were we seeing a wide range of different perceptions. I was afraid we were ending up with eighteen different versions of “when was the War of 1812?”

Theses days, I sit and listen to the “talking heads” on the television and I shake my head at all the confusion about basic definitions. I realize that some time this is deliberate, but mostly I suspect that people are just being ignorant. All the talk that’s swirling around in our information drowned society and much of it only generates confusion, not clarity.

“A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” ― Mark Twain

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“The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend.” ― Robertson Davies

Maybe the best moral to my current story is that perception isn’t always accurate. It’s distracted by our physical and mental situations. Perception is often subconsciously used as a tool to manipulate others. So, here are the lessons I need to be learning as I sometimes feel like I’m falling apart and living in a society that might also be coming to pieces:

Don’t personalize everythingpeople (including me) are shaped by their context much more than anyone realizes.

It’s actually very liberating to listen to where others are coming from and to put words, comments and ideas into a larger framework. No one is an original. We are products of our family, our times, and early experiences. So much of why I do what I do is because of the roads I’ve been on and the people who still live in all of my cabinets.

Don’t ignore the wooden plank in your eye, while you criticize the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eyelashes (Jesus) – Matthew 7:4

Pay more attention to your conversations – how much time are you talking and how much are you listening?

We all start talking for many reasons. Not everyone is good at hearing themselves. This piece of advice takes concentration and practice. I’m still working on this one – mostly failing. I have to pay attention before social encounters or I’ll go into autopilot (and talk, and talk, and talk!).

Even a fool who keeps quiet is considered wise, for when he keeps his mouth shut, he appears clever. – Proverbs 17:28

Ask people genuine questions about themselves and their ideasdemonstrate real interest in others by going past the surface.

When you ask questions and listen for answers, it keeps you from talking too much (see #2). It helps you demonstrate your real self. When you ask questions you get the chance to go deeper, find out more about context (see #1), and practice listening. I was sharing with a friend the other day and I wanted to know some details about his life so I could frame his experience. But I told him, right from the start, that I wanted to focus more on his feelings than on the facts. I am typically never that conscious during conversations. Let’s all hope I get better at it.

We should stop looking out for our own interests and instead focus on the people living and breathing around us. – 1 Corinthians 10:24

Once I got my second vaccination I began to feel as if I (and civilization) was moving forward, inching toward an end to all of this turmoil, fear and uncertainty. Going to all those doctor appointments helps me to feel as if I’m a little more in control of my decline. Our medical care is so incredible these days. The fact we can immunize half the population so quickly is also unbelievable, isn’t it? As we venture into our post-pandemic lives, there are so many bits of advice floating around out there. Most is about lessons we should have learned.

“Perhaps the truth depends on a walk around the lake.” ― Wallace Stevens

When those feelings of falling apart surface, that’s the time to find ways to fall together

What I want to do is slow down and think more deliberately about my perceptions, about my situation, other people and myself. What about you?

“If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.” ― C.S. Lewis

How Many Hairs Do You Have Left?

I had another blog idea driving in to work today, but I forgot it five minutes later, once I got to the computer. My friend called and I answered the phone. That in itself is a miracle. We came up with this as an alternative blog. It’s probably a much better idea!

“Sorrow looks back, Worry looks around, Faith looks up” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

I watched a film the other evening about the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary. They had to trace back not just the definition of each word but the word’s origins. They began in 1858 and didn’t really finish until 1928! Have you ever used the word “fret”? It’s another way to describe worry. It’s origin is found in the words like devour. We sometimes say that “He was eaten up with worry.”

Your prayer isn’t supposed to be “take away all my problems!” That’s not going to happen. Welcome to planet earth. Welcome to the land of death and decay.

My life passes as swiftly as the evening shadows. I am withering away like grass. – Psalm 102:11

No, your prayer ought to be, take away my worries. I know who holds my hand. 

Jesus sending out his disciples ahead of him said:

“What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.” – Matthew 10:29-31

  1. They may have been sitting at the Temple looking at the cages of animals for sale to be used for sacrifice. The cheapest animal to buy was a bird. Yet God knew all about their lives.
  2. God is so intimately acquainted with each of us, he’s even keeping up with our diminishing hair supply.
  3. What’s the big lesson here? Don’t be afraid. You are of great value to God.

“Drag your thoughts away from your troubles…by the ears, by the heels, or any  way you can manage it.” ― Mark Twain

These days, while putting my new life in order, I’m often going to bed at night with a full brain still running around with things to do and issues to resolve. Mostly about the basics of living. While giving his famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus addressed worry and the cares of life:

“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.”  – Matthew 6:31-33

I don’t think he means not to address and manage the issues of living. I think he means not to worry and let these consume your life, moment by moment. Not to let your thinking about living become worries that dominate. We all need to figure out the balance, keeping our mind on riding that bike while simultaneously pushing the fear of falling out the window.

So, I’ve been asking people who want to pray for me to for this very thing, ask God to help me not worry while I’m working hard at reordering my life. 

The big lesson is: take care of your business, do it in thoughtful ways, always put people ahead of yourself, but don’t worry – even about the most important and essential things. Put these in God’s hands and then go about the work he has left for you to do.

“It ain’t no use putting up your umbrella till it rains!” ― Alice Caldwell Rice

Favorite Words from 2017

Here are some of the words of wisdom that helped me get through 2017. Maybe something here will help you in 2018.

God does not give us overcoming life – He gives us life as we overcome. – My Utmost for His Highest Devotional

We don’t follow him to be loved, we are loved so we follow him. – Neil Anderson

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

Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails. – Proverbs 19:21

Mostly it is the loss which teaches us about the worth of things. – Arthur Schopenhauer

The Lord’s mercy often rides to the door of our hearts on the black horse of affliction. Jesus uses the whole range of our experiences to wean us from earth and woo us to heaven. – Charles Spurgeon

We are weak and do not know how to pray, so the Spirit steps in and articulates prayers for us with groaning too profound for words. – Romans 8:26

Faith is not the belief that God will do what you want. Faith is the belief that God will do what is right. – Max Lucado

Suffering introduces you to yourself and reminds you that you are not the person you thought you were – Paul Tillich

The Golden Rule for understanding in spiritual matters is not intellect, but obedience. – Oswald Chambers

A religion without mystery must be a religion  without God. – Jeremy Taylor

The greatest happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved – loved for ourselves, or rather, loved in spite of ourselves. – Victor Hugo

Most of us are not spiritually coherent because we are more concerned about being coherent externally. – My Utmost for His Highest Devotional

Sometimes the Lord rides out the storm with us and other times He calms the restless sea around us. Most of all, He calms the storm inside us in our deepest inner soul. – Lloyd John Ogilvie

The very best and highest attainment in this life is to remain still and let God act and speak in you. – Meister Eckhart

For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, “Do not fear, I will help you.” – Isaiah 41:13

Anyone who has ever known Him has known Him better in the dark than anywhere else because it is in the dark where he seems to visit most often. – Frederick Buechner

So when the troubles begin, don’t be afraid. Look up – raise your head high, because the truth is that your liberation is fast approaching. – Luke 21:28

If the Spirit of God detects anything in you that is wrong, He does not ask you to put it right; He asks you to accept the light and He will put it right. – My Utmost for His Highest Devotional

People who are crucified with Christ have three distinct marks: (1) they are facing in only one direction, (2) they can never turn back, (3) they no longer have plans of their own. – A. W. Tozer

Trust the past to God’s mercy, the present to God’s love and the future to God’s providence. – St. Augustine

What is it to serve God and to do His will? Nothing else than to show mercy to our neighbor. For it is our neighbor who needs our service; God in heaven needs it not. – Martin Luther

When you have nothing left but God, then for the first time you become aware that God is enough. – Maude Royden

We must alter our lives in order to alter our hearts, for it is impossible to live one way and pray another. – William Law

I have held many things in my hands, and have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that I still possess. – Martin Luther

God is never too late, nor too early, but just in time. – R. T. Kendall

Are the things you are living for worth Christ dying for? – Leonard Ravenhill

I call you friends because everything I have learned from my Father I have made known to you. – John 15:15

I know all those words, but that sentence makes no sense to me. – Matt Groening

You can’t depend upon your eyes when your imagination is out of focus. – Mark Twain

Christians must learn again what Christians have always known – how to live without immediate hopes in the world. – T. R. Milford

I have to see a thing a thousand times before I see it once. – Thomas Wolfe

Nothing under God’s control is ever out of control. – Charles Swindoll

God is not interested in our spiritual life. He is interested in our life. – John Ortberg