A Life of Fulfillment & Worth

Photo Credit: “Pain”, © 2006 Jess Johnson, Flickr | CC-BY-SA | via Wylio

Sometimes (often) I sit at my desk wondering what difference I’m making in the lives of those around me. I mean I’m paid reasonably well for what I do, but let’s be honest activating mobile devices isn’t exactly sucking the marrow out of life. Truthfully, it’s a bit mind-numbing. Unless there’s a problem, it’s fairly rote, pretty binary.

Expectation largely matches outcome. But if there’s an issue at least there’s something to work on. If plays havoc with my metrics, but at least it’s something to sink my (metaphoric) teeth into. I’ve got a problem to solve! Which is a roundabout way of saying that a life of routine–a safe, comfortable, easy life–can be a drab one.

Taking the challenge out of life also largely takes the fun out of it as well. Don’t get me wrong here; I’m most thankful for an indoor job, and the ability to provide for my family it affords me. I’m saying that if we aren’t on guard against it that it’s altogether too easy to wake up one day as Miss Havisham (from Great Expectations), wondering why life seems to be something that happens to someone else (just not, you know, us).

That’s a recipe for bitterness. Cocooning ourselves away in safety, watching the world go by around us from behind glass, isn’t life. That’s spectating. And last I heard life isn’t a spectator sport.

Don’t get me wrong; hurts come to all of us. Goodness knows there’re as many flavors of pain as there are roasts of coffee. And the temptation is to give pain the loudest voice… To bow to it, kow-tow to it, knuckle under, and let pain win. God knows I’ve done that enough in my life.

It’s never lead me anywhere good. Nor has any decision made in fear. No, I’m not talking about running from a ravening animal, or an angry mob here. That’s generally a wise choice.

What I am talking about is knowing when to stand up, shout down the fear, pressing through the pain, to a richer, filler life. Let’s face it; blame is cheap and easy here, but taking responsibility for our own lives is… hard. Probably the hardest thing any of us will ever have to do, because if we excel at anything it’s lying to ourselves. We can all come up with thousands of reasons why we feel the way we do, walking away justified in our own minds. But if at the end of day we’re still bitter, cloistered, emotionally stunted, what have we gained?

We–all of us–generally lack the most perspective about one thing: ourselves. We’re also by and large guilty of self-idealization; meaning that we see ourselves as better than we actually are. The unfortunate corollary here is that, by and large, we do not idealize others, holding them accountable for how we perceive them to behave towards us.

It isn’t malicious; it’s just how it is. We need to work at sympathy, at empathy. To make allowances for the creatureliness of our fellow humans. To experience pain, disappointment, heartache, and yet still find a way forwards and upwards. We need to face facts here: a life cocooned away in self-protection is, if ostensibly safe, a life of stagnation.

Meaning that we don’t grow through ease, through sitting back, from disengaging from difficult situations… and people. A pearl is a thing of great beauty, right? Perfectly formed, buffed to shine, a string of them adorning many a neck. But hardly anyone stops to remind themselves that that pearl was formed via an oyster’s lifetime of pain. A grain of sand, a small stone, a bit of detritus gets into its shell, the oyster produces nacre, and over time the nacre becomes a pearl.

Or consider carbon–charcoal–if enough heat and pressure are applied over a long enough span of time, well, the results have kept DeBeers in business for generations. In case you missed it, I’m taking about diamonds here. The conditions have to be just right over millennia for the beauty of a diamond to be formed.

Now these are but two examples of beauty arising from great pain. Consider also: any work of art, sonnet, play, manuscript, sculpture… All are borne of toil, time, a struggle against entropy. And what of childbirth? Is not the life born into the world more than worth the pain in which it was brought forth?

So why do we do often expect the rest of our lives to be easy, for relationships to be easy, love to be easy? In this life, there is no beauty without struggle, without conflict. If we suppose that God is our Michaelangelo, and we his David, isn’t it reasonable to presume that the sculpting just might hurt a bit? Our knowing this may not lessen the pain, but it may indeed help us to better cooperate with the process, might’nt it?

Which brings me back to the mundane activities I may have to endure during the course of the workday. If I keep in mind that there may be a higher purpose, perhaps, to the rote toil, e.g., that while I can’t necessarily change my circumstances, I can control my attitude regarding them. All of which is to say that I completely lack perspective about the positive influence I may have, the difference I may be making, by faithfully doing what is asked of me. It’s these little choices, day in and day out, which shape our outlook–which shape our lives.

The late Charles Williams put it this way: “Altars must often be built in one place so that the fire of God may fall in another.”

100% Pure Molly: A Functional Guide to Dysfunctional Life

100% Pure Molly


No. This isn’t about that Molly–the drug. But it is about 100% pure Molly of another kind. My son’s best friend, Molly the canine. He so loves her that, since getting a job, he pays his sister to take care of her.

I digress, and need to backup to the beginning. It was three years ago that Molly entered our lives. We got her as a rescue. As such, two things are true of her:

1) We don’t exactly know her breed–other than possibly part Cockapoo.

2) She was spayed at just weeks of age.

Number one above isn’t so much of an issue as is (and isn’t it always) number two. You see the veterinary literature suggests that spaying too young can lead to health issues. These can include growth and/or maturity, cognitive problems, and in Molly’s case, seizures.

So here we had this cute, sweet, playful little puppy doing the things puppies do: pooping, peeing, playing, chewing…

And seizing. Out of nowhere, she would drop, losing control of at least one side of her body. At the time, we didn’t know of the link between spaying and seizures; we thought she was just sick. Sick, and that the rescue shelter hadn’t disclosed the issue. When contacted, they affirmed that we could bring her back; whereupon she would be promptly put down.

We weren’t about to do that.

So we just loved her.

Molly is still with us, has grown out of the seizures, but still has a problem which had persisted since puppyhood:

She doesn’t just chew; she snaps.

We’ll be watching out daughter playing with Molly (this little girl loves animals), and  they’re happy, having a great time, frolicking , running, and then for no particular reason at all snap! go her jaws. This is not a playful bite, but a quick, powerful  slamming. Molly inst upset–isn’t snarling, growling, and she hasn’t been hurt. The closest we can figure is that she’s overwrought–over-excited–amd this is how she behaves. Being a dog, we’re not sure that even she knows why. It just is.

Not being canine behaviorists, we can only speculate that PTSD being a thing with people, it’s entirely possible that it’s a thing with dogs as well. Molly suffered childhood trauma: was born into less than ideal conditions, removed from that setting, cleaned up, operated upon, separated from her mother and siblings, introduced into a new environment, and then to top it all off had seizures as well.

It’s no wonder that life sometimes is too much for her. Why she’s dysfunctional. Why she gets anxious outdoors, preferring the security of her crate.

I bring that all up, because it’s like that with dysfunctional people, too; they probably don’t even know why they are they way they are. They have suffered some kind of childhood trauma, and adopted a particular set of coping skills to make life survivable. Understanding this–like Molly–give us a way to love them, have them in our lives.
One could, for instance, be having this awesome conversation with your loved one, be feeling the familial bond, like you’re relating, then the <snap>  comes. Just like Molly, out of nowhere, one is cut, emotionally bleeding.

We’re all conditioned to trust our family members, but then get seriously sidelined when they let us down, hurt us. We have to bear in mind where they’ve come from, the hurts they’ve borne, and go prepared. That to my mind is the difference between a reaction and a response.Forewarned is forearmed.

Make no mistake: this is  not excusing bad behavior, but understanding its origins. Like Molly, people don’t often know  they’re being hurtful. Like your loved one (or mine) for instance. They says things probably because that’s how they were spoken to. They don’t know there’s something wrong. Just like Molly getting over excited and snapping her jaws. She’s not trying to be bad, she’s not trying to hurt anyone; she’s just being Molly. 

Understanding this is the difference between reacting to a perceived (or actually hurt) and and having a prepared response. It’s knowing that the hurt will come, and having a plan going into that time without always being so hurt, so caught off guard, by them. We go into any interaction with the understanding that sooner or later the <snap> is coming. In the case of Molly, she goes back into her crate for a cooling off period. With people, much as we want to at times, we can’t simply lock them away.

But we can excuse ourselves, having determined in advance just what our limits are, and what to do when those boundaries are crossed. It could be words: “that’s unfair,” “it hurts my feelings when…,” or it could be simply getting up and leaving ourselves. If my family has learned anything Molly, it’s that when she’s acting out reprisals, reproach, recrimination, or call it discipline doesn’t work. People aren’t so very different; defensive behavior will almost always escalate situations. Or as the Bible says, “a soft answer turns away wrath.” In the case of these difficult situations, and especially in cases where people just don’t even know they’re being hurtful (and tempers can easily flare), sometimes that soft answer is simply walking away–thereby gaining much needed space and perspective.

It’s amazing what we can learn from a little dog, isn’t it?

How do you handle the Molly’s in your life?

Lazarus, Come Forth

deesisPanel2_lazarus from Flickr via Wylio

© 2012 Tim, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

Today, I woke with thoughts of Lazarus in my head. To my knowledge, I myself have never been, you know, dead. The neurons are still firing up in my head. At least I’d like to think so. We’ll leave that for you, gentle reader, to decide.

“Lazarus, come forth.” It wasn’t a suggestion, but a command. This was clearly a miracle performed to show those in Bethany (where Jesus had spent so much time) that the Lord had power death. We understand that. We also understand the grief, the sense of loss, Mary, Martha, and Jesus himself felt over Lazarus’s demise. Yet this also was a command which would not have been necessary had Jesus come sooner, had healed Lazarus as he’d healed so many others.

Yet he didn’t.

Dare we impugn Lazarus? Was he lacking in faith? He knew the Lord–saw him–in ways we ourselves do not, and cannot, now know him. Yes, he lives inside. Lazarus knew him, ate with him, laughed with him, loved him.

Yet Jesus let him die.

What a letdown this was for everybody. Mary, Martha, their family, friends, the people of Bethany who knew what Jesus could do, what he had done. They knew, they saw. And yet here was one of his closest friends laid in a tomb, mouldering after three days (“I’m a servant of the Lord! Look what it’s done for me!”).

And if Lazarus, beloved of Jesus, was allowed to die what does this say of us? It seems that, rather than our best lives now, often the beloved of the Lord suffer great hardships, great losses, even die, before the miracles happen. The Christian life is, and this is not original to me, about death:

Jesus’s death on the cross, our respective deaths to ourselves. For it is in dying that we live. The lesson of Lazarus then is that while, yes, God can (and does) heal He doesn’t always. We don’t know why, except that we know him, have experienced his character–that he is good. So the lesson is that even (and sometimes especially) death can be redeemed. Somehow out of death–death to ourselves, expectations, plans–life arises.

Death often precedes the miraculous, the numinous, intruding into the courses of our everyday lives. Why is this? Only God knows.

All that we can do is lay down the gift (life) which God has given each of us back at his feet from whence it originated.

Only then can we truly live. And like Lazarus, we will live again.

Believest thou this?

Parenting For the Dummy in Your Life

There’s something I need to say, something I need to get off my chest: I’m a dummy. Not a stiff, immovable mannequin (although I’ve been accused of that), but rather a dummy with regards to the raising of offspring.
 
 Now what I’m talking about here isn’t so much about the inculcation of values, moral instruction, family rules, etc. Because there are non-negotiables: don’t cheat, don’t lie, tell the truth, clean up after yourself, help out around the house. What I’m talking about is the staggering realization is that, yes, while the goal is to (hopefully) one day raise responsible adults, children are not adults.
 
 You see: that’s how I was raised. Kids were mini-adults, expected to be interested in adult things. And it’s just what I did with my own kids: expected them–instead of being their own people with their own likes, dislikes, prejudices, interests–to share my likes, etc.
 
 I’ve spent a great number of years trying to uplift them into my world; instead of meeting them where they’re at. I’ve been such a dummy! Parenting doesn’t necessarily mean that ones kids will follow you into all of your interests; rather, it often means taking an interest in theirs. It means playing video games (even if you hate them), playing dolls, or ball, even if there are a thousand other things to do (like reading through that ever-growing stack of books). It means training them up in the way they should go–not necessarily in the way you would have them go.
 
 The quickest way to shut someone down, whether kid or adult, is to show no interest (or outright indifference) in something they care about. Conversely, showing an interest shows that we care, that we’re invested, in not only the activity, but in them as well. Because the fact is that quality time doesn’t just happen.
 
 It happens in the midst of a quantity of time. It happens via an intentional investment. So folks–men, women, moms, dads–how can we be more intentional today? Because I’m thinking I’m not the only dummy out there.
 
 
 

The Not-So-Precious Promises of God #fb

Everybody loves Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord. Plans to prosper you, and not harm you. To give you a future and a hope.”

We eat that stuff up like delicious, delicious candy.

Or what about “I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me?”

That’s a good one, too!

“Taste and see that the Lord is good, and blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him.” That’s a great one, which has adorned many a pillow down through the years.

How about “God is faithful in that, with every temptation, He provides a way of escape that you may be able to bear it?”
That’s a good one! And it’s probably the genesis of the oft-quoted (but less than biblical idea) that “God never gives us more than we can bear.”

Poppycock, I say! Tis pure balderdash!

Is this the same God Who says “In this world you will have tribulation?” Is it the same God that admonishes us to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling?” Is is the same God Who promises us “they shall hate you because they first hated Me?”

When the last time you saw that cross-stitched anywhere?

Or taught about in your church for that matter?

What about the epistle of First Peter, where we’re told “after you shall have suffered, God will?” We kind of gloss over that don’t we? Nobody wants to suffer, endure pain, or hardship.

But God promises it.

We shall be delivered up, the world shall hate us. Some of us will even die for our faith–be martyred.

Cheery thoughts, I know. These are the not so precious promises of God. The ones we don’t like think about.

Here’s another one: “Whether we live, or die, it is for Christ.” And “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” Fact is, nobody wants to die. But sooner, or later, we all do. There’s no avoiding it. Whether by “famine, or nakedness, or sword, or peril” nothing is able to separate us from his love. Not Ebola, or ISIS.

OR ANY OTHER THING ANYWHERE.

Here’s a promise you can stake your life (and afterlife) upon:

“Fear not him [ISIS, disease, the devil] who can destroy the body, but Him Who can destroy the soul [God].”

What’s your favorite not-so-precious promise of God?