Month: May 2019

A Busy Week

This week is a busy one, where the demands on time, energy and attention seem unreasonable. There are anniversaries, holidays off, field trips, school presentations, moving, baseball games, yard sales, and any number of the routine responsibilities that populate weekly to-do lists.

This is the kind of week where I’ll end up exhausted and irritable, and by the end of the week, the voices in my head will begin the familiar chorus of ‘should’s and inadequacies, the ‘not good enough’s. Sometimes, I’ll get the selfish buzzing of pride where the noise in my head is simultaneously inflated because I’m sooooo important the world couldn’t continue without me and frustrated because the world can’t continue without me, angry that I have to do everything. Both of these are terribly misguided and idolatrous, yet they come just the same.

I see this coming (because it always comes,) so the only question is, Now what?

It often seems like that is the only question. We learn something new, now what? We find a different side of an argument, now what? Our circumstances change, now what? 

I don’t want that entire 2nd paragraph, so now what?????

There isn’t really much I can do about the 1st paragraph… Well, I guess I could. I could not go to school to see my boy present his book buffet project, not chaperone the Kenbrook field trip, not coach baseball, not whatever. Probably a lot of the stress that produces our fear and anxiety is directly related to the feeling that we are totally out of control, that someone else is pulling our strings, that we are powerless. But that’s simply not true, usually. (But that is a conversation for another day.)

The truth is, I don’t want to do anything about the 1st paragraph. 

But how can I avoid the 2nd, how can I change my response?

The answer is ‘putting God first’ and ‘letting go and letting God,’ obviously. But no one knows what they mean, (and again,) now what? Yesterday in the message we spoke about learning spiritual truths through everyday practices. 

Putting God first will nip that gross impulse to think I am the one in charge, with all the pressure stemming from the demands of being good, and being god. How do I do that? Read the Scriptures (Genesis 1 is a very nice place to start – the world was created by Him, His words, and Colossians 1:15-20). Of course, I would say the Scriptures, and the reason I would is because it’s the right thing to do. Not that I always do – sadly, I don’t always do the things I want to and instead do the things I don’t want to. (I think I read that somewhere…) But it is the right thing to do and the best way to ‘put God first.’ Before the gym, before the People’s Court, before Facebook, read Genesis 1. I also have this devotional on my phone that can point me towards the light when it gets too dark (if I let it.) This will also help to combat the onslaught of negative thoughts and unhealthy self-talk: if I know who, and Whose, I am, free of expectation and obligation.

As for the exhaustion and irritability, ‘let go and let God,’ even though I still don’t know what that means. But I now have a better idea than I had yesterday. Today, I think it’s gratitude, being fully present and awake to the reality of the blessings that not everyone gets that I wished my whole life for but way too often take for granted as they are happening, getting great sleep and finding rest whenever I can, taking off my shoes and walking in the grass, but the ABSOLUTE MOST IMPORTANT thing I must do is breathing. Not the mindless kind that I mostly do, but the kind where I count and my belly moves as I inhale and exhale. It works as a slow motion button on the world and especially me, because the real problem isn’t necessarily the schedule, it’s my posture of hurried distraction. I don’t notice anything, don’t see you or the shine or sadness in your eyes, don’t listen to all of the communication in between words, miss the breeze on my face and the melody of the song and of my life. 

Just breathe. Breathe myself into consciousness.

At the end of this week (and every week,) the point is to not wake up and say, “God was in this place and I did not know.” I’ll let you know how it goes…

This Angel

Monday is our 18th wedding anniversary, in 3 days our marriage will be old enough to vote. I have so many thoughts about that…and I’ve been sitting looking at a mostly blank screen. It’s not that I haven’t started. I have, quickly tapping out several sentences. And then immediately delete what I’ve written. 

Because what can you write about that? 

We’ve been together 1 day and, at the same time, a million years. It’s been smooth and easy, natural and peaceful. And it’s been difficult and uncomfortable and full of all kinds of tears. I know her like I know me, and I am consistently surprised by this Angel.

So now, what can you say about this marriage, any marriage that has made it this far?

I know it’s unbelievably important to kiss each other a lot. I’ll tell you my favorite thing we have done since the first day, as long as you don’t tell her I told you. Anytime either of us comes in the door, we get up – no matter what we’re doing – and we go to the door and say Hi and give the other a hug and kiss. (We do the same with the boys, too, but this isn’t really about them. It might be, now that I think about it. Theodore Hesburgh says, “The best thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.” So, I’m doing the “best thing” for my boys because I sure do love their mother.)

Here’s another embarrassing thing (for her) that I’ll tell you. I wrote earlier that the nearly 20 years we’ve been together sometimes feel like 1 and others like a million. I still see her and lose my breath and get nervous because she’s so ridiculously foxy EXACTLY like I did before I ever spoke to her, when she was “this girl in some of my business classes.” You would think that would fade a little, but it hasn’t, and I don’t know if that has more to do with her remaining this foxy or the more I learn about her, the more attractive she is. I’ve seen the way she loves our sons, gets out of bed the second they call her name (never mine,) cries over the things she sees and feels at work, and builds decks and bookshelves; each of which make her ever more stunning in the dresses she wears as well as her pajamas, fully made up or fresh out of bed.

I know now what to write about that! As I’m sitting here thinking about my special lady, about all of the things that I love about her and the many arguments and frustrations and storms and floods and heartaches and celebrations and all of the everything that comes with a full life, I realize that each of them contain some variation of the word ‘thankful.’ And I guess that’s what ties everything together. We go to the door because we are so grateful that they are the ones that are coming home and that we are the ones who are there to greet them. I still deeply appreciate the way she looks (instead of being overrun with the numbness that familiarity can easily breed, taking the most lovely woman you’ve ever seen completely for granted) because the God to whom we have given our lives and our marriage has opened my eyes, and transformed my life until I am the kind of man who is present and awake enough to see what is right in front of my face. I’m thankful He brought us together and that she chose me then, and continues to choose me now. 

I’ve been incredibly thankful for these 18 years, overwhelmed at the grace I’ve been shown, and I sure can’t wait to see what happens next. Happy Anniversary!

     

   

Every Detail.

After more than 2 months, today is the last week of this series, the week where we take all we’ve been discussing and reflecting on and tie it all together. Mostly, it’ll be an entire post of questions, because remember, no one can tell you what is actually important to you.

(Of course, everyone can, and usually does, tell you what should be important to you. Even you know “the right answer” and will happily state what should be important to you. But we are not in high school, we are not in the business of “right answers” and should be’s. We all ‘should’ like Radiohead albums but if we were all totally honest and not pretentious music-snob pretenders, they’re all unlistenable since The Bends.)

So, first and most important, who do you want to be? This question is made up of many factors. Who are you? Whose are you? What gives you peace? What is the deepest desire of your heart? What gets you out of bed in the morning? What do you do that makes you lose time and have that feeling that (fill in the blank) is what you are made for? What gives you joy? What do you want? 

*Maybe this isn’t very difficult. I suspect it will not be, because these things are hard-wired in our souls, they’ve just been buried under many, many years of unconscious routine, too many moments asleep. We’ve been made a certain way, it just takes some time and quiet and honest contemplation for your heart to re-engage.  

Once you start down this path, these answers will inform your concept of weight. We all have internal value rankings of people, actions, possessions, everything. If we don’t give any attention to these rankings, it doesn’t mean we don’t have them, it just means we don’t give them any thought. Instead of, say, Jesus, we give the throne to comfort or laziness or the People’s Court or whatever is popular or pressing or discomfort or fear or what they think. It means we are building our lives on a foundation that shifts and will collapse under stress.    

*In contrast to the first step, this is super hard in practice, because our initial answers are hardly ever what we truly live.

If you decide that honesty weighs heavily to you, but you call in “sick” from work, um… 

If you say creating a safe, healthy home for your children is your priority, but haven’t seen them in days because the demands of work have you working late hours… 

If it’s your friendships, but the second your life goes off the rails, you drop out and isolate yourself…    

If living a healthy lifestyle is your deal, but you spend each evening with cocktails…

If your wife and marriage is what you’ve decided, yet haven’t sat down to dinner with her or told her you loved her or held her hand or laid like spoons in months… 

(See, this is really uncomfortable. I’ve been struggling with questions, here, because I want to build a home of grace and service, but I also want that home to be one where consequences and discipline live together. But sometimes, they come into conflict. If I ask Elisha to put his clothes away (because for some reason HE DOESN”T MIND RANDOM PILES OF CLOTHES AROUND HIS ROOM?!!!???????) and he doesn’t (BUT WHY WOULDN’T HE?!!!???!???) then maybe I would do that for him or I would ground his filthy buns for 6 months so he can learn the values of cleanliness, order, respect for authority, and obedience. Or maybe I wouldn’t ask him at all and put them away because I want to show him what it means to do things to help someone else, for no reason other than you want to do something for someone else. Which weighs more?)

And when we rank these qualities, we must clearly define what they mean to us. Sometimes, words don’t mean what we think they do. For instance, provision can mean a lot of different things to different people. It’s possible two men both rank providing for their families in the top 3, but those ideas of provision bear little resemblance. One believes that being a strong provider carries largely financial implications. The bills are paid, the house is warm and cozy, and the kids have clothes that fit. To do this they might have to work long hours away from the family that is the focus, away from the people who are the motivation. The other man believes that he is called to provide financially, but also spiritually, emotionally, and psychologically in equal measures. He might carry the stress of late fees, but doesn’t miss a game, devotions or date night.  

It’s these small, ‘insignificant’ details that are the bricks of our character and are, ultimately, who we actually are. 

For instance, whether or not to allow space in our lives for pornography appears relatively inconsequential, yet its radius of affect is wide. As a man, such ‘entertainment’ completely transforms the way you perceive sex, women, yourself, and on and on. The word pornography itself has roots in commerce, or the buying and selling of goods and services. Except, in this case, the goods are people. Porn is the buying and selling – the using – of people. Now, how you see the performers – if they are to be consumed, if they are to be regarded only in terms of whatever pleasure they can provide to you, if they can be segmented into only one aspect of their physical makeup instead of as complete, fully integrated human beings – holds to the same rules as everything else. 

How you perceive, or value, one is how you value all. To dehumanize one woman is to dehumanize them all.

How you do anything is how you do everything.  

Do you really want to outsource such important matters?

The point of these past 3 months is really mindfulness; active participation in the creation of your own character and the pillars of our lives. It’s not alcoholism or overtime or socks or baseball or messy living rooms or porn or the People’s Court or cake or watch batteries. It’s about all of them. And what you think about each of those is what you think about each of those, the point is that you think about each of those. The enemy of full-on presence is disengagement, distraction and routine. 

The first question in the first entry in this series (after “what is Todd Syndrome?”) was “Sooooo, how do we change it?” This is the answer, and it’s also why there’s so many rules and shall’s and shall not’s in the Bible. Details. Marie Kondo’s method isn’t to clean the whole house now as fast as you can, it’s to look at that one blouse in your hands with thankfulness and decide if it brings you joy, if you’re the kind of person who wears a blouse like that…and if you can do that with them all, with each item getting respect and care, then the house will be the sort of house you want to live in, one you’ve built with attention, intention, gratitude, and most of all, love.  

Watches

This morning, I picked up 6 watches I had taken to a local jeweler for battery replacements. I had been missing them for quite some time, and it is very nice to have them back and the one that is apparently my favorite, back on my wrist.

I love the look and function of a nice watch, I think it says something wonderful about the person that wears it. I also like the look and function of people, too, so I engaged him, asking an innocent question – more a statement with a question mark, really: “There sure aren’t many that still do watch batteries anymore, are there?”

He had opinions (and we’ll get back to this in a minute.)

First, there is a machine that exerts pressure on the face to put the piece back together. This machine is fairly complex and, if the proper fitting isn’t used, the crystal can easily break. Sometimes, the hands get bent and the mechanics get damaged as well, if this machine is used inappropriately. To prevent this sort of problem, it takes patience, training and careful operators.

Second, watches can be pretty cheap. Most of mine are. In fact, I bought 2 in Canada at a department store that was having a GIANT sale for less than $2 each. My watches aren’t all that inexpensive, but I also don’t have any that I have to insure.

These 2 actually share the same root. We are living in an increasingly disposable world. It’s cheaper and easier to buy a new watch than replace a battery, it’s cheaper and easier to hire a new employee than train and keep the old one. TV repairman are relics; if my picture fails, next Thursday I’ll take it out to the curb with the rest of the trash. Sewing is a lost art. I’ll put the pants that split right next to the tv.

I find this mostly depressing. I like cheap and easy, but I’m not sure I like it as much as patience and care. Speaking with the jeweler, who would’ve gone on all day about the watch replacement battery procedure and the many different choices of tools involved, who spoke slowly, softly and clearly (also anomalies), I was struck by his passion and talent. You know how that is, when someone cares deeply for something, you find yourself completely engrossed in whatever it is, right? (I have a good friend who is a tax lawyer and absolutely love to hear stories about codes and assessments) I wanted him to go one all day, was disappointed when the next customer opened the door. (She wanted a bracelet engraved. Engraved. Nothing I own is engraved. Yet.) I wanted him to offer to show me the machine, to train me, to give me a job. I wanted to be a jeweler. I wanted more fancy watches and I wanted them engraved.

Now, it’s an hour later and I don’t honestly care too much about watch batteries, outside of the simple fact that my watches tell time again. But this disposable world issue is farther reaching, and that’s harder to ignore. Our relationships are disposable, people are disposable. I guess it was inevitable, We treat each other as commodities, as we would dish soap or bedsheets  – remaining as long as they are useful. If my buddy has a rough patch and is no longer making me laugh or providing a fun time, I’ll find a new buddy, leaving him to deal with his rough patch alone. If my marriage doesn’t feel very good lately, maybe it’s time to upgrade and get a new one. Of if he disagrees with me, or has something negative to say about a decision of mine, or she expects too much of me, or wants me to do things I don’t want to, everyone can be replaced. Who has the time to invest in something that doesn’t offer a high return immediately? 

Marriages, authentic relationships, honesty, loyalty, kindness, care, love – these things aren’t cheap and easy, but they’re so great, they’re the best things about being alive. What does it say about us when we so quickly discard the most important for the most convenient? When we trade commitment for detachment and indifference? 

I know they’re only watches, but I’m not convinced we should become the kind of people who just mindlessly throw anything away.              

Tidying Up with Marie Kondo

My new favorite tv show is Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. The idea is that a lovely Japanese woman, an “organizing consultant,” enters someone’s house and life and helps them decide what to keep and what to get rid of and where to put the things that are kept. Actually, that’s not exactly true. She doesn’t help anyone decide. They want her to help them decide. They want her to do more than help, in fact they want her to make the decisions for them.

But she doesn’t. Making the decisions teaches helplessness and breeds resentment. As far as I can tell, she’s not in that business.

In the KonMari method (her clever name for the process), step 1 is to have the client take all of their clothes and pile them up on the bed. Think about that for a second. All of them. Do you have a big pile or a little pile or the kind of pile that prevents anyone else from ever going in that room again? (Years ago, while checking an oxygen machine, I was forced to climb a pile of clothes taller than I was, then servicing it lying on my belly with my feet over my head in a diving position. Good times.) Once the pile is created, you would take each item of clothing, from shirts and pants to socks, flatten it out with both hands, and as she says, “Keep only those things that speak to the heart, and discard items that no longer spark joy.” Does this jacket bring me joy? Do these t-shirts? If they do, they stay. If they don’t, they go. Now, this sounds incredibly long and tedious because it is. But it is also completely present and mindful. 

It’s valuable because we do soooo many things by rote. (As long as we’re here, a definition of rote is “mechanical or unthinking routine or repetition a joyless sense of order, rote, and commercial hustle.” Unthinking. Joyless sense of order and hustle. How much of our lives are joyless hustling, coasting on autopilot?) 

Step 1 sounds new-agey and goofy, but it engages every part of us, every sense, every intention.

The episode I watched (I know, it’s hard to call a show your favorite when you’ve only seen 1, but I’ve always been given to hyperbole, so it’s not only my favorite but it THE BEST TV SHOW EVER) featured a family of 4. What was very interesting was that the clutter (relatively mild, some clothes on the floor, dishes in the sink, things on counters and tables) was eroding the marriage. The young couple, married only 5 years, was being consumed by the noise and restlessness of a lifestyle neither had chosen. The garage was full of boxes of treasured memories that should be inside, displayed as reminders of love and commitment. Their time spent together was bickering over closet space and toys on the floor. They spoke of ‘differences’ and ‘frustrations.’ Both wanted to find each other again, but thought they had grown, and were growing further, apart.

But mindfulness has this amazing thing that it does, it brings you back to here and now. When we offer our most precious gift, our time and attention, our eyes snap open to the gifts we have been given, by our spouse, partner, co-worker, friend, child, and more importantly, the gifts OF our spouse, partner, co-worker, friend, child. All gifts we have been given by Our Creator. And so, when we actually see and acknowledge them, we have no choice but to be grateful. 

Marie Kondo is not addressing our books or our silverware, she is addressing our mindset, our approach to this beautiful gift of life to which we have grown blind. The couple didn’t suffer from “differences” or even a messy house or too many shoes, they had simply fallen asleep over time to what was there all along. It just took a woman and huge piles of undies – small, far from ‘insignificant,’ details – to point it out.