Time to Get Vaccinated

“When health is absent, wisdom cannot reveal itself, art cannot manifest, strength cannot fight, wealth becomes useless, and intelligence cannot be applied.” ― Herophilus

My vaccination categories arrived. I got myself on several lists. On Friday night an email arrived notifying me that I could go to my local parking lot and get in line for the first step toward immunity. This was going to be one of the two dose immunizations. I thought I’d better not look a gift horse in the mouth and jumped to it.

I got up Saturday, prepared myself for a long wait with the “herd” and drove out to the giant parking lot. There were hundreds and hundreds all lined up, coming from every direction. Everyone (almost) was minding their manners, taking turns and waiting patiently as we inched and inched along around and around our special events center.

“The two hardest tests on the spiritual road are the patience to wait for the right moment and the courage not to be disappointed with what we encounter.” ― Paulo Coelho

Hours later I got to what looked like a check-in area. I had been sent a QR code the night before to use. I needed a picture ID and this code on my phone. The poor guy with his reams of paper looked and looked. He consulted others. Asked me to drive over there. Took my phone to double check. Came back and said, “you are not on the list, you will have to leave.” Hmm.  Like a good citizen I asked where the exit was and drove away.

Then the frustration set in. I had followed all the directions. I patiently waited in line, I met the criteria, why wasn’t I on the list? I ran a few errands on the way home. Once I stopped and parked, I figured out who to contact to express my frustrations. I decided it wasn’t the governor. I filled out the online contact “form” and resigned myself to having done all I could.

“Some third person decides your fate: this is the whole essence of bureaucracy.” ― Kollontai Alexandra

These magnificent bureaucracies of ours accomplish so much. Can you imagine what it’s like to identify, notify and then actually vaccinate thousands of citizens in a city, county and state? Our modern technology has made this possible – organization and people management unimagined in all of history. We could probably get a pyramid built next week.

This wasn’t really what I was thinking as I thought more about my wasted morning and decided to pick up a couple items at the store. How come on a Saturday there are no shopping carts at Target? And why does the Target lady standing there not seem very concerned? And why is the guy retrieving carts in the parking lot on his cell phone? Maybe building a pyramid is wishful thinking.

Of course, at the store those few items I wanted to get seem out of stock too often. I can’t figure this out. There are hundreds of cans of tuna and boxes and boxes of corn flakes. Why do I want what can’t be kept on the shelves at my store?

“Our frustration is greater when we have much and want more than when we have nothing and want some. We are less dissatisfied when we lack many things than when we seem to lack but one thing.” ― Eric Hoffer

I felt my phone in my pocket giving off consistent vibration. Someone was calling. Well, don’t answer it in the store, was my first thought. I pulled it out and looked. It was a number from the county seat. Hmm. I walked down an empty aisle and answered. Before me were rows and rows of canned chili. What’s happened to our society that has caused us to eat chili out of a can? I listened to a woman from the county health office who was responding to my “complaint” sent less than an hour ago.

Someone from the media had posted registration information for vaccination in my county. A terrible mistake. This caused thousands of ineligible people to sign in and show up. It royally messed up the entire system. They only had 800 doses to give out! This official who called me back was very apologetic and offered to get me back in that day through the employee entrance. I told her I didn’t need it right now, no emergency. She set me up for an appointment later in the week. I told her I was very thankful for her hard work as she apologized again. It wasn’t her fault or the county health departments’ but it was great to have her helping put out the hundreds of fires that must have been set.

“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.” ― Edward Everett Hale

What’s making you crazy with fear or frustration these days?

I stopped thinking about all those cans of chili. I’ll check back another day and locate those items I can’t find at the store. No big deal. I’m really not that worked up about getting my vaccination. It will happen. But there in the canned goods aisle as I felt thankfulness for someone working the phones in Fort Bend County I opened up my spiritual eyes and took another look.

Another reminder. They probably happen all day long and I’m too busy or full of cares to notice. God is always saying to his children, stop that worrying. Walk through your life with an unexpected calmness. If your bus is late, talk to that stranger next to you some more. Frustration doesn’t have to be the go-to response to every roadblock in your way. If life today seems to fall apart unexpectedly, imagine something new out of the pieces.

Think of all that “we” could have gotten accomplished in that long wait in the car this morning.

“So do not worry about tomorrow. Let tomorrow worry about itself. Living faithfully is a large enough task for today.”  – Jesus (Matthew 6:34)

After the Thaw

As I began to thaw out at the end of The Big Chill of ’21, I started thinking about the fact that this was one more hurdle that seems to be keeping me from getting on with my life. There is a next chapter awaiting me. Lines I need to start writing in the story that will go on.

“Have you noticed that only in time of illness or disaster or death are people real?” ― Walker Percy, The Moviegoer

I don’t think the hurdles in my way are really all that personal. My wife passed away to heaven after a four year battle with stage 4 breast cancer. It ultimately traveled to her brain. That’s what finally stopped her. People deal with struggle and loss every single day. This happened in the Fall – in the Spring, the COVID-19 virus arrived.

At Spring Break ’20, college students across the country were sent home and learning was converted to a remote model. That took a lot of fancy footwork on the part of instructors and students, all the while trying to learn difficult subjects.  Undergraduate students struggle with online learning, period. We continue to work hard to try and figure out the best ways to make this work for everyone involved. It’s now a year later.

I spent the summer doing a lot of baby-sitting. My daughter was doing much of her work remotely from home. That’s tough with a two-year old on the loose. I was able to spend much more time with them, keeping him busy. Little did I know then how precious those days would become. They told me in July that careers were forcing a move to Dallas at the end of  that Summer.

Losing part of your support system can be a monumental obstacle that slows down the move forward. It will be done – but at a different speed.  Without people near, it’s hard to always know for certain which direction is the right one. Loved ones give us reinforcement and feedback, most of the time without even realizing it.

“Give feedforward not feedback.” ― Chris Dyer

Once this Fall of 2020 arrived, college life was following a full pandemic script. Everyone was learning their lines as best they could. It was still reasonably new territory for students, faculty and administrators alike. The delivery of instruction was still being reinvented, learning from mistakes and fixing as we plunged forward.  Helping students figure out all the pitfalls was a significant priority.

Spring arrived and we kept learning what works better and what doesn’t. The Christmas break had been spent making major adjustments to courses and getting new ones ready. And then the fifth week came and with it a brutal winter storm. We closed up shop for the whole week. Who would have thought the most advanced civilization in the history of the world couldn’t turn their heaters on when it got cold outside?

All of these twists and turns in the road have kept me busy. Notice I am using the word “busy.” I keep learning and try to help others stay ahead of the tidal waves. When I think about it all (and I’m not really doing that enough), what’s got me frustrated is not knowing how to start working on my next chapter – because there seems to be something new on fire to put out every time I turn around.

After each tumultuous event arrives and we all figure out a way to ride it out – something else seems to be arriving on the next flight. I don’t want to admit that this is my new normal.

“So it’s true, when all is said and done, grief is the price we pay for love.” ― E.A. Bucchianeri

I also wonder if I’ve spent enough time resting in a normal flow of life so that I could grieve. Then I think about the bigger picture and how people have always had to deal with death and disaster, mostly without the luxury of time to process it all. When the barbarians invade, there’s no time to see a counselor.

I Thought Growing Old Would Take Longer

Is this just impatience? Fear always scratching at my door about so many uncertainties, especially when I start doing the math and counting the number of arrows left in my quiver. I’m starting to fall apart. Will I really be able to make it into this next chapter, whatever that’s going to look like?

“And I realized that there’s a big difference between deciding to leave and knowing where to go.”  ― Robyn Schneider

To be perfectly honest, God has been carrying me along, it’s been clear to me, during all of this year (and even way back, as I reflect). It makes me think about my worries and how unfounded they really are. Maybe I need to think bigger about all of this?

I started to think about all of these obstacles to my moving forward a few weeks before the great freeze last week. As Texas thaws out from the great Valentine’s Day Ice Storm, I’m also experiencing some clearing in the weather between my ears. Right now, halfway through the writing of this post, I have changed my view and my frustration.

What if waiting for life to get back to normal isn’t realistic?

What’s normal supposed to be?

What if today is all that’s for certain?

Teach us how short our lives really are so that we may be wise. – Psalm 90:12

Why Wait?

So, instead of focusing my attention (and frustration) on waiting for all of these obstacles to go away so I can start to figure out how I’m going to live my new normal life – the real life I should be trying to live is the one that’s right here in front of me. There is no tomorrow. There is just today. Sorry to sound like a hippie. But I can honestly report, I am missing out on too much here and now because I’m waiting for an imaginary bus to arrive.

“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.” ― Henry David Thoreau

Why I hate an empty bus stop - Chalkdust

I’m going to start turning the pages right now, instead of waiting. I’m going to invent my routines so that they lead me through the current semester. The main objective is to be as people focused as I can. The one thing I am more acutely aware of is that there is much more uncertainty, pain and struggle. I need to do what I can to help – just today, with who is in my path, as little or as much.

“In magic – and in life – there is only the present moment, the now. You can’t measure time the way you measure the distance between two points. ‘Time’ doesn’t pass. We human beings have enormous difficulty in focusing on the present; we’re always thinking about what we did, about how we could have done it better, about the consequences of our actions, and about why we didn’t act as we should have. Or else we think about the future, about what we’re going to do tomorrow, what precautions we should take, what dangers await us around the next corner, how to avoid what we don’t want and how to get what we have always dreamed of.” ― Paulo Coelho

Social Distancing and Loving Your Neighbor

As, therefore, God’s picked representatives of the new humanity, purified and beloved of God himself, be merciful in action, kindly in heart, humble in mind. Accept life, and be most patient and tolerant with one another, always ready to forgive if you have a difference with anyone. Forgive as freely as the Lord has forgiven you. And, above everything else, be truly loving, for love is the golden chain of all the virtues.  -Colossians  3:12-14 (Phillips)

The Apostle Paul wrote to the new Christians at Colossae a town in what is now Turkey. He urged them to live out their beliefs as they interacted with those around them.

I taught a class on the Sociology of Religion this past summer. We read about one of the reasons why Christianity spread so effectively through the ancient world. These early believers lived out their faith. They helped others who were in difficulty. They cared for the sick, dying and aged. They loved their enemies.

Remember, the ancient world didn’t have a faceless state to take care of it’s citizens. No Social Security Administration, Obamacare or Medicaid. If the plague came to your house, tough luck.

The plague has now come to our world. It’s an opportunity, in the midst of fear and panic, for people of faith to put their money where their mouth is. Is your Christian faith a hobby or a way of living?

“Don’t give in to your fears. If you do, you won’t be able to talk to your heart.” ― Paulo Coelho

To remain healthy and keep this plague from spreading one thing we must do is keep our distance from others, especially in large numbers.

To keep others feeling safe and secure, loved and accepted, heard and connected, we must find ways to shorten the distance between us. Replace all the idle fear chatter with some concrete ways to reach out and draw near to those who need it most.

Now is a time to be thankful for all this technology at our fingertips. Talk on the phone more, text often, send an email to as many people as you can think of. Especially be conscious of older people you know, people who are feeling marginalized.

“Old age is like a plane flying through a storm. Once you’re aboard there’s nothing you can do.” ― Golda Meir

Help people who are suffering in all sorts of ways to bear it:

  • Pray for peace, a good night’s sleep and protection
  • Make more frequent contacts
  • Share some extra toilet paper??
  • Send a card in the mail
  • Send some groceries to an older person

You’ve probably already thought of dozens of better ideas. Do something right now to help make someone else’s world a better place. Tie that golden chain around someone else.

“When there is a crisis, let your heart pray, but let your hands work.” ― John Kramer

 

Learning to Fly

Well, some say life will beat you down
Break your heart, steal your crown
So I’ve started out for God knows where
I guess I’ll know when I get there

I’m learning to fly around the clouds
But what goes up (Learning to fly)
Must come down

I’m learning to fly (Learning to fly)
But I ain’t got wings

– Tom Petty, Learning to Fly

Do not allow this world to mold you in its own image. Instead, be transformed from the inside out by renewing your mind. As a result, you will be able to discern what God wills and whatever God finds good, pleasing, and complete.  – Romans 12:2 (The Voice)

I get to keep my grandson this weekend. It’s one of those rare treats that don’t come along often enough. He just turned two. Every time I see him he seems to have changed. He’s literally growing up right before my eyes.

Every now and then I see a former student of mine. It seems like I’m stuck in time, they always look so grown up. These college graduates have launched themselves into careers, families and difficult but bright futures.

My peers at my church Bible Study all have grown up children. I’ve gotten to watch them move through school, off to college and now entering into the world of work. What’s always remarkable to me is the tremendous change that always takes place in the lives of these young people. They each become their own marvelous version of an adult right before our eyes.

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

I must confess, when I do run across former students or people from the past, I’m not sure there’s always much change in my own life that’s evident. I look back over years of journals I keep and, sad to say, there’s not much progress. I’m too often writing the same lyric over and over. You know what that’s like, being stuck in the car for a too long road trip with only one tune on the radio?

But, keeping track of myself by writing it all down, does help tremendously. I am able to see patterns that all too often lead to ruts in the road. There are also breakthroughs that demonstrate, little by little I really am making forward progress in the process of transformation.

“Either your purpose is running your show or your process is.” ― Jim Lawless

What about you? What transformation is taking place in your life? Is it intentional? My grandson is really working on learning words because he wants to be more specific with his important constant stream of requests.

When all of us get to a certain age, we tend to sit back and just let things happen. Until an emergency knocks us off our groove. But you don’t have to wait for a crash to start moving out of the lane you’re in right now.

“If you spoke to your friends the way you speak to yourself – would you have any friends left?” ― Jim Lawless

  • Keep a journal each day and reflect on where you’ve been and where you’re going
  • Easier to do if you get in the habit of self-talk, while you’re alone in the car, waiting in line, sitting by yourself for a few minutes
  • Self-talk is much more constructive if you turn it into prayer

“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”  ― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Ongoing internal conversation can help to raise your awareness of both external and internal reality. This practice builds your connection between who you are and how you are transforming. Regularly let someone in to listen so that you can remain grounded in social reality as well. Transformation isn’t a solitary experience.

Becoming more self-aware is usually the first step in transformation.  The next step is to start making some realistic goals. Find some more ways to love, that’s always going to be the right move.

“When we love, we always strive to become better than we are. When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.” ― Paulo Coelho