Archive for the ‘difficulty’ Category

Disappointment, it’s an ointment — or it’s not.

I know. I’ve been disappointed once — well more than once.

I think other people have too, a few of them.

I saw a girl the other day who had on too much makeup. I happened to know she’s disappointed, and interestingly it was the makeup made me think of that. Her husband cheated on her a few years back, they divorced, she’s still looking for loyal love. She’s trying hard.

To not get what we want is one thing, to not get what we need another. It messes with us.  There are varying shades of this.

I had a friend who wanted to follow as successful military career with a career teaching history. I was excited for him. But shockingly he died of cancer in his late thirties even before he could start school.

I was unnerved by this. When I think of it it still flummoxes me; this dangerous force majeure, this ghastly, meaningless jape, this lovely dream gone lost —  for him, his beautiful young wife, his small children. Wow!

I think of parents who have lost a child. The unthinkable. They will never fully recover, always remember, always grieve, never be the same again.

Life fails us. In many ways. We don’t earn as much money as we thought we would. Our career isn’t as successful as we wanted it to be. Our signifiant other is not as supportive as we want her or him to be. Our children have difficulty getting established. The dinner we order at the restaurant is too salty. Our retirement accounts underperform. Our business burns down.

Living with reality, living with realities that aren’t what we wish — unfortunately that is normal, common, prevalent.

But here is the deal, or one of the deals. Disappointment can shape us, make us, not break us. Not everything goes well, that doesn’t mean we aren’t somewhat okay, aren’t moving ahead, aren’t blessed in some other way, haven’t had some of the successes we have indeed had.

Two thoughts.

Disappointed?

Then sit with your feelings, hold your disappointment like you would a child, don’t deny that it hurts. It won’t kill you to just experience it, to feel it. It may do you good. If you feel it, you know what the rest of the human race feels, and you know what reality feels like.

Saying things like, “I don’t care,” or “It doesn’t matter,” aren’t very healthy or helpful. You do care or you wouldn’t be disappointed — and caring is a good thing. And really, what you wanted that didn’t happen may have mattered, a lot! Don’t shame yourself for feeling disappointed.

One of my therapist friends told me recently, “You get disappointed because you care so much, you hope for so much, you are such a visionary. It’s true. Great dreamers have great disappointments, but they also live with so much hope, so much expectancy, so much positivity, so much vision that does come true.

Secondly, to live effectively with disappointment — especially seeing that the researchers tells us we are wired for negativity — we may have to work at not letting the blues become our only reality.

When one thing is hard then it is good to notice that very often something else in our lives is easy. Right now my body is suffering various and sundry chronic pains. But my work — it’s going quite well.

And when we have loss, often we experience — even in the same time frame — some gains. In fact every loss may contain a hidden gain. The loss of one stage of life ushers in another, the loss of one thing leads to the next thing for us that wouldn’t have been possible without the loss of the first thing.

A painful family death may be followed by the making a good new friend. The loss of a great job may be followed by a job that is even better, or has a needed difference in it. What is dashed — it may even lead to the cash, of some variety. The loss of a career, or of our health, or of a loved one maybe be followed by the deepening of our souls.

Disappointment — it’s life, and it is an decidedly acceptable emotion. It’s okay to feel it, and to let it go, and also to keep moving toward a different, newly acceptable future.

I know.

You do too.

We tumble from one stage of life to another. A while back I tripped and fell on my face on the lawn. No damage. But I’m not referring to that kind of falling.

Recently, one of my brothers retired, because of cancer. He lost his career, his work friends, his staff, his vocational identity. I’m thinking of that.

He is tumbling.

I’m thinking about how we are all blown along by the maturing process, by our own developing — our progressing or our deteriorating — our bio-chronological tumbling, our head-over-heals bounding down the aging hill.

Me too, tumbling, through the ages.

In contrast to my brother and I, one of my daughters was recently accepted in a Phd program. But this is also a tumble, a roll, a bounce into a new level of professionalism, responsibility — and debt. She will choose to do this or not — she probably will — but looking back she will see that she didn’t, just choose. Her skills, her economic status, her parents modeling, the opportunities afford her by race, nationality and era — much of what she is experiencing lies far beyond her control.

I’m not saying we don’t choose some stuff. I’m just saying that we grow up, have opportunity — or don’t — and end up doing things –or not anymore — and it’s a bit of a mystery how and why it all goes down, as it does, so fast, so hard, so soft, to us, so uncontrolled.

My mom will soon go into assisted living in her retirement community. My mom is literally being tumbled by age and dementia into another reality. The move apart from my dad will be very difficult for her, and my dad. My father mused the other day, “How did we get here? It’s gone so fast.”

“How in the heck did we get here, all of us?”

What upheaval, what shifting tectonic plate, what smoking super volcano, what giant, crashing meteor, what mass extinction in the past, what new species lasting to the present created our story? What forces operating on us have rendered our racked, rifted, royal, rattled, ragged reality?

We are tumble weeds.

We live on and within the tumble dry cycle.

We uproot like trees in rain storms and tumble into the next street, the next house, the next new era, the next iteration of our maturity, our vivacity, our decline. And in the end, we will tumble, trip and fall into our graves.

I’m apprehending this: We choose less than we think.

And yet, in this, even in this reality turbulence, I find my North Star, my ever fixed point, my sheltered home and my final bed to rest in.

God is not missing. There are many forces operating, but God is present too, and he has our backs.

In Him, in powerful God, with the powerful name of Jesus the King — within his love and care and compassion — we live and move and have our tumbled, bumbled, humbled being.

My Infinity G37 stopped accelerating properly last week. I really like it to knock me back in the seat and roar from 0-60 in the low 5’s. It didn’t, and so it was a must-fix for me because very fast is stress therapy.

I took it to the Infinity dealer today. Fortunately it was still under warranty, so it was fixed for free, which involved reprograming the transmission. I waited for three hours — so it did cost me something — but on the plus side, they also fixed the motor mounts that were under a recall and tightened up a lose mirror, except that they couldn’t because it had been previous broken, and slapped back together in a make-shift fashion. Sounds like life. Sounds like me

Life lessens, leaks, lacks, loosens and putts and sputs and mirrors on imperfectly — except when it doesn’t — but it sometimes does with our cars and bodies.

Today my feet hurt. I should not have jumped off that scaffolding last week. Also my neck hurts. I should not have been hit from behind in a car accident a few years ago. Somebody wan’t paying attention. Yesterday my tooth may have stopped hurting— at least it is better — from the recent dental treatment.

And by the way, today, I got a cold.

But here is the amazing thing about this potentially gorgonizing mélange of imperfection. I have a car. I am mobile. I have a body. I have agency. I have eyes. I am sentient.

I have teeth. I can eat. I have feet; I can move. I have lungs and a nose — albeit a sore one. I can breathe.

It is such an incredible thing (a gorgeous, broken and somewhat fixed thing); it is such a good gift (a sick, sniffling, sensuous, torturous, italized sweetness) to have being, to have space and time, to have a brief, bright, barreling, biting 0-60 dash through the thin air of this amazing, spinning, sun-smacked, slap-dashed, broken and mashed, poxed and rashed blue planet, to live and move and stand and have our being within the joyful one, to lean over and into and beyond our imperfect lives and to be stunningly out of our minds, and wonderfully-terribly in, over our grace-filled, love-healed, God-milled heads.

I ran across a fascinating question lately regarding how I view my life, and perhaps how you view yours.

How has disruption shaped us, you and me, during the various stages of our lives?

When I was in my very formative years, my family experienced significant disruption.

We were in fact, living during this time as a dislocated family, transplanted from Los Angles, California in 1957, to rural Missouri for my dad’s work. He took a job overseeing a Christian campground in the Lake of the Ozarks. We moved when I was five.

From the start, and always, we were outsiders in the Midwest. We were Californians, people from somewhere else, and there was always a sense of not belonging. My parents tried to join a local church. They were denied membership because they had been baptized in another denomination. They refused to be re-baptized. We attended. We were not in the circle.

I lived in Missouri from first grade through high-school, and I adapted, I fit in, but early on, my mom hated the experience. She was removed from her new house in Torrance, California and plopped down in a series of cold, small camp cabins, raising three boys in a foreign culture on little money while my dad immersed himself in his work. In the first few cabins we lived in, we didn’t even have indoor bathrooms. We went outside, we tramped through the snow, to outhouses. It was grim.

My mom made it work. She was tough. She was a very attentive and affectionate mother to us three boys, but the dislocation from her California city life to a rural campground was a bitter pill for her to swallow. In some ways she never recovered, and the painful legacy of those years, the forced march in foreign territory, influenced her perspective for years afterwards.

Our early years in Missouri were quite stable, my parents eventually built a home there, but in 1962 my older brother was sent away by my parents to attend better schools in other parts of the country, and he was gone from our family for two and one-half years. My dad and mom thought the small, rural schools in our community wouldn’t provide a good enough education. Again, as with church, so with education — it wasn’t our community.

Then in the mid-to-late sixties things began to unravel. My dad developed a serious back issue. He was in significant pain. I remember him sleeping in a chair at night with a board across the arms to rest his head on. Finally, he could take it no more and he underwent surgery. As a result of this, he simply couldn’t do the physical work that was a part of his job, repairing and building up the campground. Through the late sixties, struggling with his changing physical ability, he went through — in his own words — a “mid-life crisis.” He would have to change jobs. During this time I can remember him working hard during the week and sleeping through the weekends. I know now that he had anxiety and depression, about money, and he suffered significant uncertainty about his future identity.

In 1965, my older brother came home, and he finished school in our community. He had become unbearably homesick. The education he had received at California and New York schools had been great, but homesickness did him in. He finished his junior and senior years in our local community schools. In 1968 he got married to an amazingly fun, intelligent and cool local girl and they had a baby. Getting out —it hadn’t worked for him.

Who were we? Where did we fit?

For years after this, I wondered why my parent didn’t send me away to school. School was my thing. It was where I thrived. For years, I thought that they preferred my older brother in this choice. Now I know they simply gave up, on getting us out. My plight would have been the same as my brother’s. I needed home too, I need a safe place, I needed my family.

Shortly after my brother married, we found out that my mom had cancer. This was an unsettling shock to us all. Would we lose her? What would happen if we did? She went through a psychologically and physically painful treatment process. She had a very painful surgery. I remember sitting by her bed in her dark bedroom, wondering if she would die. She didn’t, but it was only later in life that I learned from her how much mental pain she suffered over this in the many years that followed.

In the summer of 1969, I moved away from home to work, to earn money for college, and then in the fall I moved into a dorm in Springfield, Missouri and begin studying at the University there.

Finally, in 1970, my father could take it no more, and offered a job at a church in San Diego, he finally left his job at the campground and my dad, mom, and younger brother moved from the midwestern United States back to California, our home state. We went home. It was heartbreaking for my dad. He lost the job he loved the most. It was relief, a homecoming, a restoration, for my mom.

In early 1971, I followed them. They had gone home. I wanted to go too. Even though California was a foreign place to me, I too wanted out of the Midwest. I wanted more. I inherited that from my mom, and from my first year at college. I wanted a bigger world. And I wanted my family. I think most of all, I wanted my family. I got it, somewhat, in California, because eventually both my brothers and their families relocated to there.

What had happened to us? In relatively short time frame, from 1962 to 1971, we experienced major disruption — illness, stress, anxiety, failure, relocation. We experienced the unknown; we experienced life in extremis.

The social backdrop for all this played an important role too. In the United States, during these years, a counter-culture revolution took place. I lived through this and became a part of this, this time when long‐held values and norms of behavior broke down, particularly among my generation. We — the youth of the 1960’s and the 1970’s — became experimental with music, politics, philosophy, drugs, religion, politics and lifestyle. We became political activists. We took on the establishment. We became a driving force behind both civil rights and antiwar movements. We increased the power and expanded the voice of the young.

I was a part of this. In my first year in college, 1969-70, I wore a torn white protest arm band — with a blue dove on it. It was an antiwar statement. I wrote a freshman paper on the war-ravaged children of Vietnam. I immersed myself in the new radical protest music. I eventually, from 1975 to 1978, lived in a church commune, I almost completely abandoned a materialistic lifestyle, I pursued as much education as I could get and opened my mind to new ideas and beliefs. I became a teacher — of literature and history — at the high school and college levels.

Looking back now, I can see from the advantage of time, that in my family, and in my world, there was a huge amount of change and disruption, during some very crucial years of my life.

How did this affect me?

For years I have never processed this adequately, I haven’t looked closely at the disruption — the events, the chronology of these events, the spacing of these events — the elongation and compaction of my experience — the experiences of my other family members, the social movements of my time. These, collectively, affected me during my adolescence and early adult years. Until recently, I hadn’t taken into account, just how much disruption took place in our lives during those years. But lately, through some questions my wife and my brother have asked me, I have begun to put it together

So much change — during the formative years when I was developing my early sense of self — left me a bit on my own to try to figure out my life, my identity, my relationships and my core beliefs. There was a high dosage of instability. My parent’s stay in the San Diego area was short. Only two year after moving there, they moved on to the Los Angles area, leaving me alone again — in San Diego. I suffered. I was a dislocated person.

As a result of all this transition, I had several years of insecurity, of uncertainty, of lostness, of alienation and of loneliness. I lost social and relational confidence. One thing was missing, someone to talk to, to completely and honestly open up to, about my emotions, about our family losses, about my philosophical questions, about how to handle pain, about how to process life, about what to believe. I simply didn’t know — on my own— what to do with the changes in myself, in my family and in my world.

Certainly I got some help at the universities I attended. There I developed a better understanding of history, literature, psychology, sociology, science, philosophy and politics, at the undergraduate and graduate levels. In these places of learning, I greatly expanded my knowledge and experience of a bigger world, and I explored new and exciting concepts with my teachers. I came to understand social change, how it is initiated and how it morphs into mainstream culture over time, and I morphed with it.

Certainly, I also processed life during this time with my family, with my father in particular, as I questioned Christianity — the narrow, legalistic Christianity I was brought up with in the midwest. My dad defended his faith with a relational, authentic and personal experience. This helped me. And I processed my faith more when I returned to church in the mid-seventies, to a different, more radical, open, emotional, inclusive church — one I discovered with the help of my father.

But what I didn’t get, and needed, during some of my most formative years, was someone who was able to draw out my feelings, to process my pain, to help me develop my emotional and relational IQ, to understand how the events in our family were effecting me and us, our family identity, our shared history.

It would have been helpful back then to have had someone — a therapist, a parent, a sibling, a friend, anyone — ask me, “How is your family processing the pain they are experiencing? How are you processing this pain? Is what you are doing, to cope, working for you? Is it healthy? What are you feeling about your mom’s cancer? What do you think your dad is going through right now in his career? What do you think your brothers are feeling? What losses are all of you experiencing?”

It would have been helpful to have someone say, about my loneliness, my feelings of uncertainty, “The feelings you are having are normal. You are feeling alone because you are more alone than when you were younger. You are uncertain because you are questioning the beliefs you were raised with. Your whole generation is questioning these beliefs. This is okay, this is normal. You will work it through. You are afraid because you fear you may lose your mom. You are more alone now because your father is in crisis. He is anxious and afraid he won’t find a new job. Your dad is hurting. Your mom is hurting. They are experiencing loss and dislocation. This is not your fault, but it is hard for them to be there for you right now.”

In transition, during seasons of disruption, we are often deprived of needed emotional resources. In times of trouble, emotive issues are often not the focus of the family. Experiencing disruption, most families do not have the awareness, the knowledge, the time or even the money to get the emotional and relational support they need, particularly in the past. During the late sixties and early seventies, my parents were barely able to manage their own emotions; they certainly didn’t know how to talk about these; they didn’t even have the language to do this, and understandably they weren’t equipped to help me process mine. They were experiencing depression, anxiety, fear and uncertainty. They didn’t know what to do.

But what could they do? How could they know what to do? They were caught in health issues beyond their control. They were swept along by life. They too were caught in a changing 
American culture. They were not equipped to process all they were experiencing. They came from parents who pretty much shut up and put up. From what I can tell from stories my parents have told me, my grand parents handled psychological pain by working more, and by talking less, by being stoic, and by being strong. This a good model for survival, its a good modeling of toughness in a tough world. It does not, however, lead to the self-understanding necessary for good emotional and relational health.

So what happened, how did my family come through this?

It’s fascinating how things turned out. We came through it pretty well. My parents stayed married — no easy feat, and retired well. My brothers and I all graduated from college. We found good spouses, had children, accumulated wealth, developed good friends, developed careers. And yet these events too were disruptions, these success, and with each one, we were again faced with change, transition, pain, process and recovery.

What to do?

What got me through it all — particularly on an emotional and personal level — was that eventually, I found places to talk, to process, to understand, to recover, to develop emotional understanding, authenticity and psychological congruency.

I found this at church, where my Christian community accepted me, valued me, and gave me places too develop and define.

And I found this in my wife — my very intelligent and very emotionally rich wife — and to her I give most of the credit for my recovery. She literally — over time — erased my loneliness and my relational awkwardness through her deep connection with me. Through her candor, her authenticity, her own emotional freedom, her willingness to be who she was and feel what she felt — I healed. She was much more open than anyone I grew up with. With her, no emotion was or is alien, taboo, hidden, unacceptable, inexpressible. She opened me back up, to process pain, to talk about emotions and thus to understand disruption and what it does to us.

And I also found great help in my therapists, the many counselors and doctors I have gone to through the years who have taught me how to take off the masks, how to process pain, how to identify my emotions, how to be congruent, how to reveal to people on the outside what is going on with me on the inside, how to talk about feelings, how to grieve and how to celebrate too.

Through talk therapy, through education — and through more disruption, for example, the learning and developmental disabilities of my oldest daughter, my own medical issues, my significant career change from teacher to pastor, my painful transition from pastor of one church to pastor of another — I have over a long period of time become more human, more accepting of differences, more understanding of emotions, less likely to be critical, more likely to ask questions, more able to accept differences, more able to understand the pain of others and my own too.

Disruption, pain, dislocation, transition — it’s normal, and we can learn from it, and we can get through it — and grow and mature in it — if we can understand it, and understand what it does to us and to the loved ones we carry along with us, and particularly if we can talk about it.

Increasingly I am making friends with reality, with disruption — with failure and success.

I am becoming more than ever, an advocate for emotional honesty, for personal openness, for relational authenticity, for psychological congruency, for the talking cure.

Is life hard?

Have we succeeded?

Have we been knocked for a loop?

Are we making a come back?

Let’s talk.

We have all had those moments, when someone said something to us and it just froze us, it was so off-the-freakin-charts insensitive.

I told someone one time that my daughter had epilepsy.

She look at me and responded with all sincerity.

“My Saint Bernard had epilepsy. He had a seizure one time and died of it.”

People say stuff. They aren’t thinking — clearly.

They tell us if we are single that one day we can hope to be married, if we lost a family member that they lost one too and they are better now. If our pet dies, well, we can get another one, if we have lost money “it is only money.”

If they offer to help with something, it is often on their terms, in a way that works for them, mostly advice — or veiled criticism.

A young single mom with young children told me recently that people have said to her, “You are a beautiful woman, you can easily get a man again.”

But would you want one?

It is just assumed that you would, because this is the patriarchal mindset that dominates everyday family-style clishmaclaver.

Helping often seems to be all about the helper, and the world view they are comfortable with.

People aren’t okay with our losses because it makes them insecure about their lives — that they could lose too — and so when they encounter our difficulties they want us to “get well,” to get back to social normal, for their sake, so they can continue basking in the blissful myth that all is well with the world — always or at least eventually.

It is not. God doesn’t fix everything, neither does money, nor does time, nor does “a man.”

What to do?

We can get cynical. We can get comical. We can get snarky. We can get quiet. All these work, and we will need this whole arsenal of response to survive — them, our saviors, our little helpers.

That being said, it occurs to me that no pleasure is greater than a comeback — that’s not later.

Someone I don’t know told me a while back that I was going to hell for not giving them money when they asked.

The next time I get that I think I’ll just agree with them. I have often thought the same thing myself. But I don’t think the main thing against me will be stinginess with users. God knows there is worse than that.

Of late I am of a mind to simply agree with those who think poorly of me. They don’t know the half of it. If we had time, I could give them a truck load of my failings, but it might just upset them more — poor things.

People are just full of judgment, and advice. When I was going through a particularly hard stretch I got this trite and untrue message from overly-Christianized people, “Everything happens for a reason.”

Yeah, it does. A lot happens because some people are jerks! People do bad stuff, and there are no good reasons lurking in the background behind all their mess making. God didn’t do it, the harmful stuff, a person did, and that isn’t easy to live with.

People want to nullify that, the legitimacy of hurt, taking responsibility for evil, and they want to powder away all negative responses. “Don’t get bitter,” they advise sagely.

“Bitter, of course we get bitter! And do you know what, I’m sure God is bitter too, in his own righteous way, because he didn’t want this stuff to happen to us,  and you would have a bitter taste in your mouth if this kind of thing happened to you!”

When we eat bitter fruit, we taste a bitter taste, and that isn’t a sin or a failure or a choice. It’s a bitter reality.

Now I’m getting worked up and so you can all see clearly,  “Wow, he’s a piece of work.”

Yup, you have no idea.

Little things make us sane — a delicious pastry with coffee, a flowering vine on a trellis, a hug, a cat on our lap, the sound of small round pebbles rolling in a wave on a beach.

Little things also drive us crazy — a wood splinter in our finger, dropping a plate in the kitchen, an unanswered text, a sarcastic comment or unwanted behavior by a friend or family member.

It’s funny how much little stuff can make or break social equanimity, especially in our close relationships.

Someone makes a comment. It has a slight edge to it — we flinch. “What did they mean?”

We make a mistake, suffer an omission, toss off a negative comment, fail to do what was asked.

“Will they like us anymore?”

“Are we still okay with them?”

They fail us, in these same ways, or so we think.

Are we still okay with them?

It comes down to this: self-management, the management of emotion, the management of response, the management of behavior,  the management of our hearts, the management of each of our precious relationships — to wisdom.

Responding to small irritations is always a decision, a judgment — just let it go, shed it, process it by yourself (“It doesn’t mean anything. It is an isolated incident.”), or the other route — bring it up, talk about it, find out what is really going on, work it through with them or with someone we trust, “Hey, what’s really going on here?”

There is no formula, but a few things might help.

We need to ground our emotions in reality. Often the problem, our anxiety, our irritation is in us, in our own pickiness, our own insecurity, our family of origin issues, our friendship of origin issues. Our emotion is rising out of our previous conflicts and tensions with others. If this is the case we must identify the real source of our emotion.

If the emotion is coming from a past harmful or toxic relationship, we must be careful not to let that emotion contaminate our new relationships. What ruined one friendship must not be allow to ruin another. Toxicity from one relationship doesn’t belong in another. It has no right, no place there. The people who have hurt us in the past, how we responded, does not belong in our new, healthy relationships. We must bar the door.

But if the current irritation is the result of a persistent abrasive behavior that currently exists in us, or in our current friends, in or colleagues and is beginning to build up, to cause resentment, to fester, then we must bring it up, to the surface, with ourself, with others, and apply the talking cure to heal it. If someone is letting us down, failing us, hurting us repeatedly, we must be brave and bring this up to them.

This helps, this kind of analysis. We do well when we ask the question: “Where are these feelings coming from?” And, “What is reality here?”

We must identify relational and emotional reality, ground our emotions and our responses in reality, and proceed from there.

The proper handling of little things, our emotions, our specific behaviors, other’s emotions and behaviors, this is essential to maintaining mental health and good relationships.

Get this right, and we will remain sane, and connected — kind of, the best we can, okay for now.

I’m good with okay for now.

 

Do we think, feel or act our way to practical solutions?

All of the above. We do well to throw the whole armamentarium of solutions at any problems we encounter, but lately I’ve noticed that you can’t much beat thinking, then taking action.

This morning I set about moving a couple of electrical plug a few inches — out of our bathroom backsplash and onto the wall — to make way for a new backsplash and countertop. It was harder than I expected. Working inside the drywall with very little room to navigate, I ran into a problem.

In both of the new electrical boxes that I was anchoring in, the ground wires were too short to reach the new location. They hovered stubbornly at the back of the boxes.  I tried wire nuts to create extensions, but they didn’t hold the three wires firmly enough to inspire my confidence. I imagined someone getting fried years from now — my ineptitude, my fault!

Momentarily confuzzled, I did some thinking; I needed a better way to extend the ground wires, a better way to protect the future, so I went to Lowe’s for something to crimp them together — or whatever.

I was helped by a knowledgable staff person and with his advice bought some plug-in wire connectors — very snazzy, little high-techy things you just push the wires into. Using them to connect the ground wires and add length, I was able to finish the job perfectly. No chance these wires will pull apart.

Neuroplastic solutions, discoverable solutions, good solutions — these are almost always at hand for those who think, take action, perhaps go for help, figure it out.

Touché!

Hooray!

Within that ever-expanding ambit that rounds the temples of the indefatigable head-scratcher, lies the gorgeously available soluble.

“I severed its head off! Dead as a door nail,” she texted me.

I wasn’t surprised. It goes like that.

I’m a perfectionist, but I keep being faced with the fact that reality is never perfect.  My gardener friend was letting me know that she had cut the electrical cord with the electric lawn mower. That’s one disadvantage of electric lawn mowers; they tend to cut off their own umbilical cords. I know; I too have used an electric lawn mower to chop up several cords. On the other hand, the electric’s don’t belch nasty gas and oil.

Noting is perfect. I’ve been noticing lately that life isn’t perfect — cinemuck.

Last night at home my family got into a nice row over the accommodations for an upcoming family vacation. Wonderful! What is supposed to be fun suddenly wasn’t fun. And yet, no big deal. I believe that it will turn out to be a wonderful time together — with perhaps one day of it not. That’s how family vacations go. You always have one day that you just have to write off. The Greek’s might have had a penchant for aponia, much like our pharmaceutical companies and the general public, but I’m learning to be good with a bit of pain now and again. It’s normal.

This week I screwed some freshly painted master bathroom cabinet doors back on, one step in a beautiful bathroom remodel at home. But in doing so, I chipped the edge of one of the doors with the tip of my elctric drill.

There it is again — the flaw, the chip, the ding, the family spat, the cut cord. But here is the deal: I’m good with it. I’m good with not perfect. I even like it. It is equiprobable that things will go well or not. I’m not perfect, my work isn’t perfect, my family isn’t perfect and that’s okay with me.

I am finding that accepting mistakes, expecting flaws, embracing conflict, being good with not perfect — this actually makes life so much easier, and it sets me free to enjoy my imperfect self, enjoy my flawed relationships and to enjoy my sometimes sketchy efforts to make the world better.

It comes to this: Don’t look down at the floor when you are at the cinema; enjoy the movie.

This morning I went to the dentist. Her conclusion?

“I’ll see  you next week.”

Once is selddom enough, for anything, so next Monday I will make my fifth visit to her in three weeks.

That’s life; it is seldom one and done. Most things are a process, and that is okay because we get to good places by steps. I’m glad to have dental care. I am glad I can take steps, to have good teeth.

This morning, when I was painting the house, a small branch from a bush near where I was painting got caught in my brush, then sprang away, slapping me upside the face with paint.

I went in the house, washed off the paint, and went back at it. I got more paint on me, but now the house — it looks great!

I advise you to quit infrequently and to give up inconsistently.

Why?

Because life is tough, and so we must be tougher.

My neighbor is in the hospital. His daughter told me this morning they had to cut off some of his toes because of an infection. That’s no fun. It sucks, for him.

But, I expect to see him at home again soon. He is surgery man, one after another, and yet I see him again and again after being cut up, out in the neighborhood, jogging, or walking. And if he can’t walk this time, he can drive the Corvette he has waiting for him in his garage.

Life sucks, and then it doesn’t. There is hard, and then there is good. Get used to it.

If you perish, revive. If you die,  rise from the dead.  Life will kill you many times before it does. I suggest you get used to rising from the dead.

Life is tough.

Be tougher.

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For more thought on being tough, check out my proverbs on toughness at http://www.modernproverbs.net

When I hung up I cried.

The numbers weren’t down as much as I had hoped.

“What does it mean?” I didn’t know, I couldn’t tell — and the doctors didn’t seem to want to say.

It’s multiple myeloma, cancer, and I’m not sure what to make of it; neither is my brother. He has it, and there seems to be no puppeteer above his stage, pulling on his strings, jerking him away from it.

There are a lot of variables at play in his disease, and the numbers don’t tell the whole story. The doctors say that the course of this disease is not predictable, that every patient responds differently to treatment, that they will have to try things to see if they work, and so my brother and I and everyone else who cares for him are left with the unknown.

At time like these, life can appear to us a unsettlingly uncertain, confusing, as random. Its events may not have discernible causes, patterns or solutions.

An accident, a sudden disease, a family member who dies and suddenly we experience the shock of the unexpected, the chill of the unknown, the unwelcome, surreal face the random.

With my brothers cancer, for us, there are more questions than there are answers. Why did he get cancer? When did it begin? Was there a roll of the dice in it? And what about God? My brother is a pastor. Despite my brother’s allegiance to God, God clearly didn’t stop him from getting cancer. And God clearly hasn’t healed it, despite many requests to do just that.

Is randomness playing a part in my brother’s life? Does it play a part in the realities we all experience?

Let’s consider it. Say we happen to be driving through an intersection when a car is also crossing the same intersection perpendicular to us, and the light fails and is green in both directions and the other car hits us. Under such circumstances it is common for someone to say, “That was horrible luck! I guess I just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time,” and everyone understands what is being said.

There are many variables at work in the crash, the failure of the light, just at that moment, the presence of the two cars at exactly the same time, the drivers choices to drive out that day, the speed of the cars — it’s complicated — and so we are right in seeing chance as playing a role in bringing all these elements into play, placing us and someone else at a scene at just that second on that day at that speed when the light failed and involving us in the crash.

It feels like this with my brother’s cancer. It’s a car crash we didn’t see coming, couldn’t prevent, with a result we can’t predict. There are so many variables in my brother’s situation — our family medical history, his genetic makeup, his age in life, the aggressiveness of the cancer, the drugs that are available at this time, his doctor’s choices of treatments, his body’s unique responses to the treatments. Indeed, there are so many factors at play here that we are left with little ability to make accurate projections, draw conclusions or make stable plans.

Life with cancer — for us it has a kind of surreal randomness, at the very least because of our vast ignorance, and quite possibly, because there are elements of it that are random at it’s very core.

This awareness of randomness is real, and it can be observed everywhere. We experience the rather common randomness of life when we take up dice. When we roll dice, the outcome is uncertain. For instance, on any given roll of five dice, we may get a pair of dice that will match or we may not. Anyone who has played dice knows this. We cannot say for certain, before we roll, if we will get a pair or not, nor can we discover a formula by which to accurately predict each roll.

However, the roll results may be calculated as a probabilities. For example, when we roll five dice one time, there is a 70% chance that we will get one pair that match. So from this we can see that the frequency of some outcomes can be calculated even when the outcome of a certain roll cannot be known.

This seems similar to my brother’s treatment plan. The outcome of this is unknown. When he is taking treatment, he is rolling dice.

Some scientists would argue against randomness. They would argue that everything is explainable, if we dig deep enough. There is one problem with this; it has not been proven yet. There are many things scientists do not understand. In fact, for all of us, there is more we don’t understand than we do.

Some of the very spiritual would argue that there is no chance or luck in life because the hand of God is in the world, because the power of God is present to control our affairs, and that because of God’s sovereignty, and his omniscience, nothing is random.

That is not what the Bible says.

I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.

Ecclesiastes 9:10

The wise Solomon observed chance, just have we have, and not just in the dice. He spotted it by looking at gifted people and seeing that they fall prey to random forces — the swift, strong, wise, smart and educated fall into trouble by chance. A great athlete is ruined by a chance injury. A strong, young person dies of chance contact with a disease.

We see this kind of thing in the New Testament. In Acts 12, King Herod Agrippa began to persecute some believers in the church. He had the apostle James (John’s brother) killed. He arrested Peter and threw him in prison. It’s odd; Peter was miraculously delivered from prison by an angel, while James was brutally killed.

Why was James killed and Peter saved? We don’t know. It must have seemed random, perhaps even unfair, to those who loved James.

Did James’ death have any element of chance in it, the car at the wrong place and the wrong time, and if so, why would God allow chance as part of his universe, particularly for his useful, chosen ones?

Perhaps this is because God has not chosen to be the great puppeteer, pulling the strings on all the events of his universe.

The Bible reveals a God who lets go of some of his control. In the command of Genesis 1:28, we humans we given the power to create, to make choices, and to steward the earth. And then we were held responsible for our decisions.

God gave us choice, and so he has let us decide many things in our lives, and these choices are consequential and he holds us accountable, just as he did with Adam and Eve. We can see in this that God has in this way taken his hands off the wheel a bit, and he has let us drive. Apparently, he wanted to let go of control.

Just in this same way, as noted by Solomon, it appears that God has decided not to dictate every dice throw, or every moment of nature. It looks very much like he decided that he did not want to run the whole show. He has allowed the dice to roll random, he has set up the game this way, because he choose to let go of the wheel. He apparently wanted us to experience choice and chance, and to let himself experience our choices and the universe’s chances because that would make for the world he wanted. We can’t be certain why he did this, but we can note that the alternative would put him in a very bizarre position.

For God to to dictate every dice roll, to superintend every event, to manage every accident, to dispense all diseases, to hand out all sufferings — this would nullify all choice, remove all human responsibility, take away consequence, delete the sow and reap principal that now operates, and present instead a world totally controlled and dominated by the creator. In this scenario God himself would become the world’s great unrelenting, hyper-attentive, over-active, mad, mad, mad tyrant of phenomena. This is not God.

God is not a crazed puppeteer, frantically working all the stings, making every thing move. God is not the crooked casino manager, loading all the dice. God is not the over-controlling boss, the mad micromanager of life, nor is he the horrific, disease-breathing monster of the universe. God is not the Pandora’s box of the world, unleashing every ill at every turn, in every case. He has certainly allowed the possibility for disease, and in his great power he can certainly can allow a disease to overtake a person or a nation, (we see this in the Old Testament) but he isn’t the horrible disease dispensing, disease mongering dictator of all of life.

Here is the deal. God obviously didn’t want it that way, a totally controlled creation. And yet we must also insist that according to Christian orthodoxy, God does retain ultimate control of life, that he does intervene, that he does sometimes fix things, help us. Christian history and theology include the belief in the incarnation, Christ bringing salvation to earth, God intervening, God fixing human kind, God is far more than a Divine Watchmaker, winding up the world, stepping back to let it tick along on its own.

How do we square all this up? Well, perhaps in this way. God is actively involved in the universe, God does care, does step in, but chance still operates. Why? Perhaps God has allowed chance in the world, just as he has allowed free will, because he saw what he could do with it.

What could he do with chance? Chance has its uses. By chance, by the presence of the random, we transient humans live blinded to the future. Because of randomness, we see the roll of the dice dimly, as through a glass darkly. Perhaps in this way, chance was allowed to confound us, to humble us, to lead us to depend on God. Chance is perhaps an antidote to pride. We can’t figure it all out, we don’t have all the answers, we can’t predict the future, we are not ultimately in control. Also, by means of chance, or randomness, we are sometimes pleasantly surprised. Good things fall to chance, not merely bad things. By chance we may get a full-house! By chance we see beautiful wild animal. By chance we win one of the many games of life.

And there is perhaps one more virtue in chance. By means of chance, mystery is maintained, and mystery is a deep part of God himself.

Let’s bring up one more problem. Open theism, as presented by proponent Gregory A. Boyd, is the view that the future is in part, a set of possibilities and known by God as possibilities. This has caused tremendous debate from the traditionalists who insist that this limits God’s knowing and determining power in a heretical way. Open theism is not what I am arguing here. The Bible seems to make it clear that God knows everything, past, present and future. God does not, not know what will happen yet. He knows ahead what possibilities and probabilities will become realities. He knows which “might happen” will become a “did happen.” And we might even say that what seems random to us, a possibility, or a probability, may have a very clear explanation to him. And yet this need not make us abandon the doctrine of free will or the possibility of chance.

God, if he is God, that is omniscient and omnipotent, is never surprised, nor is he limited. He sees the way all the dice will roll before they roll and yet, seeing ahead or knowing ahead is not the same as causing, and giving choice is not controlling, and letting chance work in the world does not mean he cannot intervene at any point he chooses. Apparently, God is big enough to allow other forces than himself to be at work in his creation. God has gifted the creation with power.

We may maintain our affirmation that God is omniscient, and yet agree that it is still clear from the Bible and our experiences, that there is human free will and a random element in life. In trying to make sense of this, David Bartholomew puts it this way, apparently “God can have it both ways” – randomness and order.

What to conclude? How do we comfort the family who loses James? What do we tell the Christian with cancer? What do we celebrate as God’s intervention, what do we accept as his will, what do we take responsibility for?

I’m still not always completely sure, but I am sure that God is wise and responsible and makes good choices and handles the random well and that so should I.

My brother told me recently that he has experienced God walking with him through his personal car wreck, walking with him through his unwanted, seemingly random numbers, through his suffering, with him through the apparent randomness of his experience, with him not as a magician who chants the abracadabra and the disease is gone, but with him as a God of beauty, a divine beauty maker, offering bits and pieces of respite and wonder that refresh, in the middle of the news that shatters.

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Note: For my modern proverbs on randomness, visit http://www.modernproverbs.net