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

I am the project manager on the buildout of a new counseling center for my community.

As a result, I feel weak — like one in need of therapy.

I am fairly confident that I will make the contract deadline for the center and handover a stunningly necessary, functional and even upscale set of gorgeous offices.

I feel strong.

Honestly — I fluctuate.

I worked hard today, and yesterday, and the day before that, and the week before that, and the year before that, and for the last ten years before that — and pretty much all my life on leveraging what I have been given for the benefit of others —  and myself.  I’ve worked hard on personal visions and also on institutionally core initiatives, and I’ve had some good successes — accomplishments and progressifications — but I’ve also had some keen and bitter disappointment-a-mongers too.

The week I enjoyed being part of a team that is finding housing for a resource challenged women with significant disability. I think we’ve got it, thanks to my partner, and God.

And yet, last night I dreamed of a silent, disapproving, disloyal group of fat middle-class white men hovering ominously over me. I wonder where that came from?

I know.

It’s okay.

I have agency, which requires past experience, and I have character, which requires continuity, and I have integrity (I absolutely adore integrity), and yet I have also had  bad dreams mixed up within my agency — which as I am trying to tell you — is required for success, a kind of abject brokenness comingled with unstoppable love — this is the stuff that keeps driving us forward like a giant tunneling, underground drill bit.

And so, and thus and such, like many of us I am making friends with the adversative conjunction “but.”

I’m confident, but also emotionally bumfuzzled.  My core emotions dive into the  abyssopelagic, but they also sore to the summit. I am weak but strong,  disappointed but fulfilled, cynical but annoyingly chipper.

These are normal feelings for all of us who work hard and hope for much.

The low country of emotion — despair, disillusionment and doubt — they are close companions, even friends, even family members of passion, strength and hopefulness. Empowered people suffer, keep moving;  fail, keep risking; despair, keep hoping.

When we hear of empowered people, we picture a person who is fired up, on vision steroids, on courage adrenaline, always strong. Not so much. Remember Sampson. The inspired people range, they vary, they run the gamut, they ply the spectrum, from high to low.

In fact, and this is the deal, as has been said before, “Your mess is your message.” Your weakness creates your strength, your broken moments are your credentials.  You are a hot emotive mess, and a fiery, muscle force, all in one.

Within your empowerment lies your weakness, like the core of a nuclear reactor, and this weakness fuels your success, producing within you a cardinal and necessary equipoise.

Don’t forget this: the essential, contradictory emotional dualism endemic to all humans   keeps us humble. It will keep us from becoming obnoxious, insensitive, and vegetal, and it will keep us emotionally bifurcated in exactly the way needed for others to survive the astonishing success we have yet to achieve.

Sex– everybody makes a big deal about sex, or they don’t.

What’s up with that?

Sex is a normal, natural and enjoyable part of life, like eating ice cream, or sleeping in late, or playing a game.

My view is that sex is God-made and USDA approved.

Sting once said, “If God’s got anything better than sex to offer, he’s certainly keeping it to himself.”

On the other hand, many people get along fine without being sexually active.

Tracey Ullman once said, “As I get older, I just prefer to knit.” Hey, whatever works. Singleness, not being sexually active, getting older has no shame in it, it is just the right place for some of us.

Whatever stage of life we are at, it is healthy to talk about sexual culture because competing views on sexuality have caused a lot of confusion, and harm.

Some of us might see sex as dirty, shameful, something to keep secret, to avoid talking about. Others may have come to see sex as something so casual and free that it is not restrained by anything — marriage or morals or sensitivity.

We Americans are bipolar on sex. On one hand, we are Puritanical, we claim high morals, we shame people over sexual misconduct, on the other hand, many of us just can’t seem to keep our pants on.

So what to think?

First sex is something God came up with, it’s his idea, and it’s a really cool one. The Bible looks at sexuality as part of our God-made identity. I like this. When I experience my own sexuality, I’m like, “God made me this way. It’s his fault.”

Genesis 1:27 tells us that God made male and female out of himself. So our sexuality is an-in-his-image thing. Then the Bible tells us that God set us up to pair up, and make babies. This is why Christians are prolific,  pro-life, baby-making and baby adopting. We grow our own, or we pick up others along the way. We Christians are pro-sex.

That’s good. It’s spiritual.

Your sexuality is a God-made pleasure, a sacred way to oneness in marriage and a spiritual way to join God in his creative work. How cool is that! Sex is divine!

1 Corinthians 6:12 explains this, esp in the Message version of the Bible.

“There’s more to sex than mere skin on skin. Sex is as much spiritual mystery as physical fact. As written in Scripture, “The two become one.”

This scripture is clearly marking out sex as spiritual thing, not simply a skin thing. This follows Jesus when he says, “A man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh?”

If sex is about spiritual oneness in a marriage, then, what about sex outside of marriage, sex by people who aren’t married or by people who are gay? The answer is so important for Christians.

1. God’s love for us any of us is not stopped by our sexual behavior or even our sexual sin.

2. Salvation is not achieved by sexual purity.

That’s really good news for most of us.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. Ep. 2:8

God saves us by what he does, not by what we did. God is very compassionate toward our sexuality.

So many of us fall into sexually immoral or harmful behavior because we just want to be loved. I was talking to someone recently, who slept around a bit when she was younger. She said something like, “I wanted love, I just got sex, I still wanted and needed love.”

God, he get’s that, and so he comes to help us into moral, lasting, loving relationships.

But we still need to understand that not everything is good for us.

1 Cor. 6 says, “Since we want to become spiritually one with the Master, we must not pursue the kind of sex that avoids commitment and intimacy, leaving us more lonely than ever—the kind of sex that can never “become one.

There is a sense in which sexual sins are different from all others. In sexual sin we violate the sacredness of our own bodies, these bodies that were made for God-given and God-modeled love, for “becoming one” with another.

Don’t you realize that your body is a sacred place, the place of the Holy Spirit? Don’t you see that you can’t live however you please, squandering what God paid such a high price for? The physical part of you is not some piece of property belonging to the spiritual part of you. God owns the whole works. So let people see God in and through your body.”

God loves and values us so much he doesn’t want us harmed by misusing your sexuality. God wants us to build trust and safety with him, and each other, in our marriages and churches. Therefore we must carefully and mindfully avoid sinful sexual behavior such as lusting, cheating, sex outside of marriage and adultery.

God doesn’t want us to do these things, because they deeply damage trust, erode relationships and just crush love.

Consider water. Sex is like water. It can be tasty, life-giving, healthy and satisfying and it can also flood your house, and wash it away.

This is why the Proverbs speak of drinking water from your own well. Drink your sexuality from your own marriage, and do not go outside of that where you may encounter a flood of damage and harm.

What to do?

1. Mind your own moral business.

Steward your own sexuality, work on your own purity, not on others. This enough work, to work on yourself.

Of course some people are called to bring justice to this area of life, to prosecute sexual predators, to protect with laws, to stand up for those who can’t stand for themselves.

But too many Christians have gotten so busy judging non-Christians for how they have messed up, or how they have compromised marriage that we end up presenting Christianity to them as a judgmental, rule-based, hateful religion.

I get it. Not many people take their sexual morals from the Bible. But the truth is, I can’t control others, and I am personally responsible before God for only my own sexuality, and for the sacredness of my own marriage.

And here is the cool thing.

My wife and I — by our faithfulness to each other and God — make our lives and our marriage sacred and this is not compromised by anything anyone else decides to do.

I encourage you and me, to mind our own sexual business.

That will keep us busy enough.

2. Don’t condemn others. especially for their sexual choices or failures.

Jesus didn’t.

John 3:17

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

God did not call us to be the moral sheriffs of the world. We won’t redeem the world by condemning it. We know our work is to help them see Jesus, and that his death on the cross, and his forgiveness, will clean them up. When we point people to God, he points them to righteousness.

3. Let God work his purity in you.

Lastly, I advise you to get off the shaming treadmill of trying to make yourself pure, and to let Christ live out his purity in you. This is such a deeply mature and spiritual way to view yourself. Righteousness is something God gives me, and works in me, not something I do by just trying harder.

I have little hope in the world managing sexuality well. There is no good track record! But Christ at work in us, that is the hope of righteousness.

Once when my wife and I were house shopping, I wanted to buy this one house, she didn’t. So we didn’t buy the house. God — well my wife — said not to! A few months later, we found another house, perfect for us. There we raised our girls.

Sexuality works well when it is like houses shopping with God along as the Realtor. When God says, “No, this is not a good deal,” then “No” is best.

God always has the best in mind for us — regarding sexuality and love — therefore, it is best to wait on him, to hear his voice, and to follow his ways.

Yesterday as we drove into the Rocky Mountains, I was particularly struck by the yellow fire.

It lit up the tops of the Aspens as they flamed above the dark green pines and blue-green furs. Gorgeous fall-infused yellow, lovely golden-yellow, perfect round leafed-yellow, pale-yellow, sunshine-yellow.

Some of the Aspens were light green at the base, that flowing up into pale-yellow, that transforming here or there at the tops of the trees into sunset yellow and faded-orange.

By way of contrast, we see.

One thing juxtaposed beside another, nature’s palate, a wonderland of extremes, one thing not another, one thing becoming another.

Colorado in the fall is blue sky, turning grey; green forest, turning yellow.

The Aspens seem to thrive on contrasts, their trunks soft bark-white, with back splotches and thin black horizontal lines marking them up. It’s an artist’s dab and artisan’s fine-brush stroke.

Black, white; forest, framed; free, bound; poor, less poor; lovey, more-so; faithful, not-so-much — one world, many contrasts.

I’m getting okay with this.

I am like you, but not like you, and more-and-more I like you. It’s mind expanding. I am able, we are able — by means of acute social ambling and oblique relational bumbling to get on down the path of experience and begin to see better.

We are able — aided by the brand of specialized humility that comes by being cracked wide open like a nut by brutal-beautiful life — to accept different, to like different, to thrill to different, to honor different, to see better by means of different.

This is good, this is better, this is best.

By means of contrast, we thrill.

“O life,” she said.

We’ve all said it, or thought it, or felt it.

It means, “O life, you’re so beautiful, you promise so much, and yet, you little traitor, you’ve let us down a bit now, you cad, you flit, you flipper flopper.”

The ancient turn, the classical about-face, the emotive “O,” the wistful, apostrophic, exclamatory sigh into the void — it gets precisely at the exacting ambiguity of life’s blissful-distrubatory.

I’m in the people business —  the nonprofit kind.  My young, optimistic staff and I people farm — daily, weekly, monthly, yearly.  We sow, irrigate, harvest, bundle, haul, barn, transport and distribute people — sometimes, mostly, kind of, always very gently.  It’s good work —  messy, fun, disappointing, fulfilling, exhausting.

Yesterday, I gave a talk to a room of biomes concerning the happy navigation of the various and sundry vicissitudes of the culture wars. This morning I set up a plan to pay for a disabled child’s therapy. Tomorrow I’ll work on the buildout of a new counseling center. Next week I’ll give a talk on mental illness and suicide.

It goes well. It doesn’t.

Yesterday a person I’ve been helping turned on me. Someone else I have high hopes for didn’t show. Another slept during one of my talks. Another seems to be on track to perpetually ignore reality.

Today, I am in need of some serious ice cream.  It’s an “Oh life” kind of business. They come they go; they shrink they grow.

I think that for me, the hardest thing is how life — and choices —  carry them away, like the bright orange and yellow fall leaves floating on an inclining mountain stream.

My particular brand of dysfunctional co-dependence needs people-permanence. I used  to teach full-time — in the humanities — and I used to grieve like a doleful poet when my students graduated.  My current role is better, they stay longer in a church, but not long enough.

And so it is, “O life!”

They ebb, they flow, they come, they go.

And yet, there isn’t an option; there isn’t any other kind of life, the kind without the “Hi,” the sigh and the “Goodbye.”

This life is the good life, but it’s the next one that will be more stable. Can’t wait!

“Hmm, nothing seems to be as constant as change.”

As part of my survival strategy, I’m beginning to make friends with that.