“I haven’t heard from him much lately,” that’s what I would say if I was asked.

But saying that — like that — I feel guilty about it, like it’s my fault, and I feel less than the the great ones.

We haven’t talked on the phone — we don’t do that, but of course nobody does that even though some act like they do — and we haven’t sat down and just had it out. I mean, we have sat down, every day, but he hasn’t been that forthcoming. With me he never is. He is never very obvious, never blunt, never commanding.

Some people are like, “God told me this, or God told me that.” Some people are like “I felt like God wanted me to do this, or I felt like God wanted me to do that.”

I’m more like, we pretty much hang out most of the time, and I really want to do the right things — make good choices, puzzle out what to do, please him, ask others what they think —  so I just assume that I am always hearing, always being led, always pretty much in step, except when I know I’m not because I do something so selfish it’s obvious it’s wrong.

For me it’s kind of like, “I haven’t heard from him lately, because I have been hearing from him constantly lately,” if that makes any sense at all. It’s like the voice is so constant that it is never absent so it is not that obvious! It may seem arrogant to say that it is like that for me, but it is really a very humble and ordinary thing. Wisdom shouts, constantly,  to all of us, from every corner. Isn’t that what the Bible says? Tozer says it this way, “God is continuously articulate.”

On Saturday, I took an unlikely moment to ask someone how they were doing, listened a lot, affirmed their perspectives and prayed with them in a parking lot. It was ordinary in the sense that it was normal for me, just what I do, but perhaps it was more than that too.

Was it led? Did it come from God? I’ll leave that to the super-spiritual to determine, but I don’t need to decide that to make it spiritual or special or to claim that I’m special.  Like you, like all of us, I live and move and have my being within the divine ambit, the supernatural circle and the profound ambience of God.

My read on this is that it’s all led — except when it isn’t, and we mostly know when it isn’t. The rest — it is pure God.

I’m good with that. We are not hearing that much because we are always hearing.

The everyday good, the common care, the normal love — it’s all spiritual.

I could hear him, just outside my office window, talking loudly to someone in the church parking lot as the Narcotics Anonymous group was letting out.

“Hey, you can talk to Pastor Randy!”

He continued, “Really man, you can talk to him. He is a normal person, just like us.”

I laughed. To me it was a compliment of the highest order. I am a normal person.

We educated, professional muckety-mucks. We stage-loving, microphone-hugging, hyper attentive, drive-to-the-top-of-the-mountain spiritual maniacs. The truth is that we are just like them, like everyone!

Some of my pastoral colleagues aspire to be prophets, some to be great speakers, some to be great reformers, some to be miracle workers, some to be powerful leaders of large organizations. I get this. Good for them.

I aspire to many things too, always have, always will. I hope for much, but the reality is that I have everything in common with the members of the AA Group that meets at the church I help lead.

I have never had a life-ruining addiction, but I am one of them, like them, normal, just another person trying to figure out life. Like them, I have been though stuff, been weak, gotten better, dealt with my issues, found out that I am tough. I too am in recovery — from myself.

It’s fine to aspire to much, but know this: None of us will ever rise above — the rest of us. We are all wonderfully, similarly human.

We sleep.
We eat.
We work.
We rest.

Life has rhythms.

We start.
We finish.
We love.
We lose.
We cry.
We laugh.

Life has seasons.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

There is a time for everything,
 and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to be born and a time to die,
 a time to plant and a time to uproot,

a time to kill and a time to heal,
 a time to tear down and a time to build,

a time to weep and a time to laugh,
 a time to mourn and a time to dance,

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    

a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
 
a time to search and a time to give up,
 a time to keep and a time to throw away,

a time to tear and a time to mend,
 a time to be silent and a time to speak,

a time to love and a time to hate,
 a time for war and a time for peace.

Here we find an important subject from the teacher of Ecclesiastes, the rhythms and seasons of life.

The writer, or Teacher, has experienced it all, had it all — big houses, lovely gardens, fancy cars, delightful relationships, entertainments and wealth, and he has come away both delighted and disillusioned, realizing it is all transient, it passes, we die.

Perhaps more than anywhere in the Bible Ecclesiastes embraces the complexities of experience and the paradoxes of living.

Life is wonderful; it is painful. We dance; we don’t.

Yesterday my daughter Laurel was down from Costa Mesa to try on her wedding dress.

What? Wasn’t it just yesterday that she was born? Only yesterday she wore her first dress, and tomorrow she puts on her wedding dress.

Children move in, children move out, they move in again — thankfully they eventually move out, that’s the goal, to get someone else to take them.

“Oh life!” — the ironies, the intricacies, the nuances — all that happens “under the sun.” Life is both delightful, and a chasing after the wind.

Peace and war, love and hate, tearing and mending — all these contras and contrasts exist “under the sun.”

What to do with this?

Be aware of rhythm.

We do well to accept the rhythm and season of life we are in. It helps to be philosophic, reflective, to make friends with reality. Life is young; it gets old. Life brings us close to people; it rips them away from us. We build things; they wear out and we demo them, we build again.

“Didn’t we just paint the bathroom?”

“It needs painting again?”

We must accept it, all, the first painting, the smudges, the painting again. Life has both one and the other, and everything is “beautiful in it’s time.”

Take the season of old age.

Not working, not competing, not playing the game — retirement sometimes feel empty, lost, lacking purpose. But there is a place for being, for not pushing anymore, for not having to justify your existence with work, with chasing wind.

Better one handful with tranquillity
    than two handfuls with toil
    and chasing after the wind.

Two years ago, we vacationed in the San Juan Islands. We took a boat trip to the Salish Sea, to see the Orca whales. When we arrived at the pod, they shut off the boat, we just sat among them, enjoying the massive, splashing black and white wonders. We had no other place to go, we were there. It was good. It was the season to just turn the motor off and sit amid the wonders.

Some of us want so much.

The Teacher speaks of the “miserable” striving and craving of life.

But, right now, today, we each have only have what is right in front of us. It is okay in any season to turn off the motor, to sit with our Orcas, to see what is present, to take that and just enjoy that, even if it is not perfectly balanced.

It is good to revel in those quiet moments, because life won’t always be in balanced, even, calm seas. This too it is good to accept. We must face and accept the reality that we won’t always have perfect balance and rhythm. It is normal to experience times of disequilibrium.

All the kids and grandkids go through smooth, calm periods, and then they go into other periods where they unsettled, get upset, experience failure, break down.

At eighteen month old the little ones often sometimes stop minding, stop being reasonable. At two and one-half they can take over your house. It’s called autonomy.

I heard a mom told her daughter recently, “I love you.” The little girl was like, “I love me too!”

That’s cute, until she dominates the rest of the household with her self-love!

And it isn’t just kids. All of us experience cycles, mood swings, times.

I think I experienced some disequilibrium last week. Change is all around me. My mom died recently. We are moving soon. My daughter is getting married.  Last week, I couldn’t be told anything.

My wife was like, “Take care of yourself; eat more fruit.”

I was like, “Fruit? Really, back off! I had fruit loops for breakfast.”

It’s okay.

We won’t have balance in every season, we won’t alway be on. We will get off, our kids will get off — not to panic. We will do well to just love ourselves and others through our seasons of disequilibrium.

This too, will pass.

Lastly, it is good to see God, there, in every season.

Despite his disequilibrium, his Biblical cynicism, the writer of Ecclesiastes was very God-centered — “He [God] has made everything beautiful in its time.”

The message of the book is that life is messy and yet — God. We moderns have come to think in our world that it’s all about us pursuing fulfillment on our own, but the author of Ecclesiastes has a powerful message for us: fulfillment is God’s business.

“To enjoy your work and accept your lot in life–this is indeed a gift from God.”

Flicker, flame, fire — conflagration!

That’s how it goes.

You have the flickering of an idea —  in the car, in the bathroom, in a conversation, in the night.

“Hmm!”

“I could go back to school.”

What if I start a business and market my passion?”

“I’ll start a blog about my struggle with my struggle.”

I’ll lose weight. I’ll have a baby. I’ll retire and start a nonprofit. I’ll reconnect with my dad. I’ll change the organization I work in.  I’ll change my attitude.”

A passion for such illuminations can seize you, overtake you, inspire you! Then out you rush to tell others, to formulate a plan. You boldly ask others to go along with you; you work your bushy, smushy, tushie off  — and boom!

Kaboom!

Kazoom!

Life, is different!

That is how we renew our lives, how we get to the good future, how we have no regrets. We do what falls into our heart to do, and we do it hard.

I wrote my first article for publication after the flicker and flame of an idea about the value of children smoldered in me for a few years. I switched careers in the middle of my life on the flicker of an idea that a pastor wasn’t that different from a professor. “It’s all mind control,” quipped my zippy, quippy wife. I helped renew the church I now pastor on the flicker and flame and fire of the ideas that beauty, humility, integrity and authenticity and God matter — most!

I’ve seen a bunch of this lately. A woman becomes a professional gardener in her fifties. Another begins a new marketing career in her seventies. Another, at eighty, takes on a volunteer pastoral care role at her church.

A disabled woman moves to a new neighborhood that is much safer and yet cheaper than where she lived!

A young woman becomes a youth group leader when she has never done anything like that before.

A girl moves to another city to see if her long-distance relationship with her boyfriend will work out. It does!

They are getting married this spring.

Think it up, get fired up, do it!

Flicker, flame, fire, explode!

Last week, we hung art in our new REFINERY Church and Center For Enriching Relationships Counseling Center.

It was the end of a process.

First we prepared the walls — dusting, wiping, sanding, re-texturing, applying primer. Next, we installed new French doors in every room, black wood with gorgeous etched glass squares. Then, in went the floors — unifying, lightening, pulling the rooms together from below with a warm, clean, modern look. After that, we went after the application of wall color — a beautiful warm grey, perfectly matching the flooring — then a second coat, then touching up, installing white baseboards, caulking the baseboards, more touching up.

After all that, we choose the art. That was a wild boar hunt and more — a hunt for color, content, matting, framing, cost, size, style, feel. It had dead ends, stone walls, frustrating web searches, super-vetoes from our passionate decor team members.  Too small, too cliched, too expensive, too cheap, too orange, too realistic, too abstract — too not just the right blue.

We finally bought some gorgeous stuff, just the right colors and lines and splashes of creativity for a place dedicated to healing.

Then there was the measuring-of-the-wall, the establishing-of-an-attractive-hang-point —  not to low, not to high, midway between to lateral points. Borrow a hammer-drill, buy a masonry bit  — the walls are solid concrete! — drill a hole, drill deeper, put in an insert, pull it out, drill again, insert, screw in the screw, adjust the screw, adjust again.

Hang the picture off one side while holding the other side up, put a level on top, mark a second hole, drill, insert, screw, hang, check with the level, right on  — “Ah!”

Admire!

It was all work, it was all plan; it took more steps and more time than expected; it wasn’t exciting; it was! This will be sacred, healing space.

Wow, that art, on that wall, it’s subtle, just the right feel, medicinal, except for that one on that wall — that one just pops with curative warmth!

Fitting, restorative, salutary, soothing, perfect. “I love it!”  I knew we would get to this point, this end-of-the-line, this excitification, exultifaction, soothosity, satismongering.

Life — it is a series of steps.  Life is a process, life is preparing, finding, drilling, hanging, finishing. Life is pushing through, pounding through, so we can get to solid, to good, to admiration, to satisfaction, to gratitude, to beauty. God himself knows that, and he himself took steps, many steps, to get to beautiful earth, to very good, to just right, for us.

Sometimes we want instant. Instant money, instant status, instant skill, instant comfort, instant art, instant food, instant healing. We want to take step one — and be there.

Not so, not reality, not how things work, not how the good life gets hung. Everyone healed from psyche wounds in the new counseling center will themselves engage in a process, will heal over time, will heal step-by-step.

Do this.

Do this to thrive.

Take the first, second, fifth and tenths steps that you need to take toward the exultant good surging within you. Step, and step again over the crumbling sea wall of your own immediophila, your single-stepiditude, your skulking sloth.

Resistance to hard work —  and to process, and to steps — has for too long been restraining the swelling passion for healing, and for beauty surging within us all.

I held her hand like we did when she was little, me driving the car, her riding along beside me, close  — my oldest daughter and I — moving down Freeway 5 South from L A to San Diego, clomping through the carpool lane, flying though concrete corridors in the night, going home together.

Earlier in the day, we both held my mom’s hand in the skilled nursing center, perhaps and quite probably for the last time, the ultimate bonne bouche — her hand white, veined, shriveled; our hands pink, smooth and thick around hers —  and we both kissed her on the forehead and said, “I love you mom,” and she said, “I love you.” My mom is 90 and she is dying.

Today, New Years Day, 2018, my wife and I finished up the remodeling of our guest bedroom. We  moved stuff out of the room to simplify it, fixing one last damaged spot by spraying texture on it and painting it. We hung pictures, arranged furniture  — beautiful, clean, restored.

After working together, my wife Linda and I sat downstairs over coffees and reflected on the week. We hosted my brother and his wife as guests in our home, took them to the zoo, ate good food together and talked, talked, talked.  We celebrated my youngest daughters engagement by hosting her finance on Christmas Day with with good food and good talk and by sitting close. We also finished the bedroom remodel, and we made that trip to L A to see my mom and dad.

In his book The Emperor of All Maladies, Siddhartha Mukherjee writes, Great Science emerges out of great contradiction.” So does all great living. Our family, full of contrasts, contradictions, differing directions, in morte and de novo.

One moves toward death, one begins a new phase of life. Some things old we fix, others we let go — with some tears involved. We move forward, we move back and we shuffle in place too.

As my wife and I sat at the kitchen table this morning, we discussed our family values, our competing, sometimes contradictory familial values. We talk, that’s one value, and then talk some more. We value simplicity, but we also value quality. We value connection; we also give space for independence. We value adventure; we also nurture stability.

Equipoised, fractal, hopeful — we think ahead; we make plans, we make friends with realities. My mom will die this year, one daughter will marry, we will all move toward increasing independence. We will try to stay close, but we will also try to be gentle with movement.

And we will keep holding hands and talking as we adventure out and as we keep holding hands and as we keep letting go and as we keep taking up hands again.

This morning I very carefully measured my burr-ground coffee into the portafilter on my espresso maker. I raked off the top, tamped it down, twisted it into the machine and ran the hot, pressured water through for 21 seconds.

In contrast to that, yesterday, I pretty much stopped using peppermint bark. On my last bite — the day before — the chocolate had been too warm, the chocolatey bite too bitter, the pepperminty mintlyness too minty, and so I had enough, then too much. Done! I’m done snorting chocolate peppermint bark this Christmas!

“Ah,” dosage, timing — the start, the stop — measuring, exactitude — it matters.

The coffee this morning from the espresso machine came out dark, rich, creamy, chocolatey, not bitter — perfect on my tongue, perfect, sliding down my throat — excellent! After that shot, I sat in silence for three hours, reading, reflecting, praying; it was the perfect amount of coffee, but the hours, I had to stop too soon to take my daughter to work, approximately 0.10201 hours to soon — about.

We dose.

We all do.

And we get dosed constantly, by life, with hits of love, sleep, violence, caffeine, power, cat fur, sex — perhaps–  a lot of TV. It matters.

They say that the number of combat tours military personnel serve has a huge influence on how much they suffer from PTSD, and how severe it is. The higher the dose the greater the danger of psychological harm, the longer it may take to recover.

Dosage, think about it. It is at the essence of the summum bonum, the good life, of aponia, the Greek thing about the absence of pain. But, consider this also, dosage is at the very core, the very essence, the very brutal quintessence of every, horrible, heart-breaking harm and addiction.

The more, more, more — creates what we abhor! The ones who can’t stop complaining, or those trapped inside of an opioid, or the ones who can’t stop liquoring up or sexing up or beating themselves down or dominating the rest of the world — this is hell for them and us!

There are important questions regarding this issue:

Who can control intake?

Who can’t?

Who thinks they can, but they can’t?

Who is wisely enjoying the good things life has to offer?

Who is blitzed by these same things?

Some thoughts:

The whole subject needs a great deal of personal honesty.

Portions work.

Floods, binges and overdose don’t.

Corpses don’t work.

So, what to do?

Dose up, with the best things of life. Try contact with children, hard work, time with people loved.

For me, I want to tank up more on God, friends and healthy food, working smart, writing  — also stillness and silence.

But limit yourself. I’m trying to also.

Measure. Rake. Evaluate.

Fine tune. Use moderation.

And some things, and I think you know this; some things need to be stopped, and completely avoided, forever.

Like what?

You know.

Don’t you?

As I backed out of the driveway yesterday, I noticed the sun inclined in the trees of the Redbud Forest Pansy in my front yard. Warm and yellow, the leaves glowed, backlit by the fading, evening light — apricity, complicity. I paused my car between reverse and forward  — a moment of  stillness.

And so it goes, the fall has warmth in it, its colors delight, yellow is good, the color of the sun, the color of fire, splotchy effulgence.  We note it.

Life has a yellow, sun-smacked look to it.

But there are the other colors too, “Muddy-Yuk” for instance  — by the way that’s an official color established by the Global Board’s Periodic table of colors  — the color of the floors in the new remodeled counseling center that I scraped last week.

Thank about it.

The children in Yemen are starving. It’s because of the war. I saw the pictures on 60 Minutes last night. Disturbing. Yuck.

The same sun that delights me makes life unbearable for them. It’s horribly hot in Yemen. The children are dying. They fade, like light-hungry leaves, but differently.  It’s tragic.

What to think?

I don’t today, it’s quite beyond me —  Can it be beyond me-productive for just today? —  the why and when, while, want and whip of wasting, whooping time.

Granted. Today, really, I just am. I exist, and tired from a long season of hard work, I surrender to reality.  I hate some of it. l love some of it. I necessarily bow before all of it.

By personality, I am driven, high-output, a change-maker, and image conscious, an inveterate doer, a 3 on the Enneagram typology.  I feed people. I fix problems. But today, with the cat on my lap, I just wish to be a be-er —  to loll, to laze, to loaf; to slouch, to sag, to slump; to dangle, dawdle and droop outside of the push of the ever-pulsing push-a-thon and push-a-nator.

I know that some of my own healing lies in stillness, my spiritual wholeness lies in being, my recovery rests in a robust tranquility, or just tranquillity, or just —  a yellow just.

Don’t call.

I won’t either.

Tomorrow maybe, but today, my sunlit vow — not to break a necessary stillness.

My mom has dementia.

This is very hard for my dad, my brothers, me, all the family.

Last week my brother was with her. They sat together on the porch in front of the home where she lives with her constant nursing companions.

My mom was quiet so my brother asked, “Mom what are you thinking about?”

“I’m thinking about God,” she replied.

More pause.

“What do you think about God?” he plied her.

She paused again and said, “That he’s watching over me.”

Mom doesn’t know much these days, but she knows this. In her disabled, confused and very vulnerable state, she knows that God is watching over her.

Perhaps as we age, we become more and more like we are and retain and exhibit more and more of who we have become. Mom has always known this — that God is near — and at this very challenging time in her life, she still does.

That isn’t her dementia; that is her reality.

Short Grace

Posted: October 28, 2017 in poverbs, proverbs
Tags: , ,

Yesterday I drove my daughter to a dance, then later in the day picked her up from the E Street trolley station as she came back home.

While she was on the trolley, we kept in touch by texting, and I watched her progress on the Find My Friends app on my phone. When she accidentally took the wrong trolley to a rough and tough part of town, I called her, talked her down, and helped her get back on the other side of the tracks and headed for home.

I was relieved when she was finally safely in my car, and we gave a little hug. We stopped and got her her favorite lunch. She hadn’t eaten much all day.

My wife tells her all the time, “Your dad adores you!”  I do. Grace.

Yesterday, I did one other small thing. I wrote a set of thought-proverbs — as I so often do to sooth my soul — my five-hundredth set of proverbs, which means that I have now cranked out 5,000 plus thought-proverbs, quasi-epigrams, smart-assisms, tartlies and mini-aphorisms since I began in early 2011.

I love my daughters, both of them. I nurture them. I also love my axiomatic truths — and nurture them too — my short truths, brief truths, smallish quips, wititudes and truths-micro. I am a fan of Emily, Solomon, Ben, William, Mark and Leo, G.K., Jesus, Peter and Soren, they have inspired me, especially when they came at life shortly.

I began by simply extracting a few of my best lines from my personal journals, then got phrase-crazy and work berserk and began to perfect the art of blunt, brief and buzzy — unnoticed.

Thus, a secret milestone, 5,000  —   dined, lined and thrice refined.

I decided to celebrate the five-hundredth category with a notable topic, “grace.” And so I  talked it in, fed it lunch and brought it home with a deep sense of personal satisfaction.

Here she is friends.

Short grace, with a small hug.

I love these. I love them all. I hope you do too.

Grace

Grace — it is the means by which the unacceptable become the respectable.

Defeat your oppressor; use grace, and some pressure.

What saves us is grace — from relational mace.

Humor is the highest form of grace.

Too much grace and they’ll clear out the place.

The art is grace, with a straight face.

The truth is raspy; grace quite ghastly.

Quality not grace, defines the workplace.

Grace isn’t equilibrium; it spins within declivium.

Grace lifts the place, raises the face.

There, but for the grace of God, go the successful.

Proverbs — grace shards.

You can find my other 5,000 thought-proverbs at http://www.modernproverbs.net