First, let’s go back in time, shall we? Almost six months ago to the day, here in Fargo we awoke to an outside temperature of 21 degrees below zero. Some would call that a bit chilly. Even more, there was a stiff north wind blowing that day, which dropped our “wind chill,” the sense of what the temperature feels like as you stand outside – it dropped it to nearly -80 degrees. Strangely enough, not much was shut down that day. People just put on a heavier coat. Oh, and to warm up, they would open their freezer door and stand there… but that’s winter in the Dakotas, right? That’s what everyone expects – that we would consistently be colder than Siberia.
So, you ask, what is the forecast for today, on this bright July in close to the middle of the summer? Well, our average July temperature in Fargo is right around 82 degrees. Of course, averages are all based on past temperatures, and they only give us a guess about what today might/should be. Our forecast for today is a little different. We are expected to reach 95 degrees as a still temperature. That’s five degrees off the record high for our city. Actually, when you look back, on July 6, 1936 the high temp was recorded at 114 degrees! We, however, have a couple of added features in store for today. First, we have a humidity of 85%, so it’s a little bit… sultry? And our winds, which seem to always blow in North Dakota, will be out of the south at between 25-30mph. Heat, humidity and wind gives us a “heat index” of around 107 degrees. So, the still temperature difference between January and now is 116 degrees. The felt temperature between the wind chill of January and the heat index of today is 187 degrees! You have to admit that those are fairly remarkable temperature differences!
One simple realization I have come to in all of this, is that in terms of temperatures or even the weather as a whole – is that there is not a single thing we can do about it. No committee exists that holds hearings, weighs into deep discussions, listens to proposals and then votes as to what the weather shall be on any day whatsoever. Moses may have held back the flood of the Red Sea by God’s power, but no one in the course of the world’s history has been able to stop the wind from blowing, or change the direction, or do anything except lean into it! In fact, the most amazing thing we can surmise in terms of the whole enterprise of the weather, is that we have the ability to even come close in predicting the weather at all! After today’s massive heat, we are expected/predicted/have a good chance of big thunderstorms which may bring nearly an inch of rain. All these predictions and calculations are of course general in nature, as it may actually be a bit hotter in my backyard this afternoon than up at the airport on the north side of the city, and certainly the rainfall will vary greatly, even in a three mile expanse.
Still, it’s just going to be hot today, and something tomorrow, and different the day after, and six months from now, even I can predict it’s going to be stinking cold, and we are going to wish it would simply get to above freezing, which will only come about two months later.
The weather is only one aspect in a myriad of things I have no control over in my life. As intentional as we try to be, as thoughtful and determined and direction-set as we hope to be, we know that accidents still do happen, and things in our lives do break, and people we love do get sick, and some do not survive. Plans we make get disrupted or set aside when more urgent matters come to call, and there are times when even I change my mind, and change course, and change my world. It is very easy and even tempting, given that our world is so unpredictable, and our ability to see in the future so limited, to just abandon an intentional life and close our eyes and accidentally live.
I believe, however, that we are called to a different path. Indeed, given the uncertainty of life, and our inability to have power over much of how we live, we would be well-suited to study, understand and even follow the prayer that the theologian Reinhold Neibuhr offered: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. There is so much in our lives that we cannot change, or that change without our power and influence. Because that is so, it doesn’t mean that we give up and run with our eyes closed. It means instead that we do live serenely, accepting the fact that we are clearly not the boss of the world. However, we are still beings that possess the power to direct and control at least portions of our lives, so that not everything is accidental. At that point, it is a demand of our humanity that we must act, must work, must offer not only our effort but our hearts to intentionally grow a more blessed life for us and for our world. Our common sense and our faith will give us the ability to know which is which. Of course, it also helps when we are able to stop for a moment and observe and listen as to whether it’s the wind that is blowing, or just our own speaking and squawking.
Life is so important. Too important not to enjoy, and too significant not to act wisely. And as for the things that are out of our control, like a hot, windy and humid summer’s day – why not simply take it in, as something we are not able to be in charge of. It belongs in the hand of Another.
Word(s) for the day – I can’t help it: pandiculation and oscitancy. Remember when you woke up this morning, and you yawned and stretched? You couldn’t help yourself. When our cats wake up from sleeping, the first thing they do is to stretch their backs as far as they can. What we do when that happens, is pandiculate. (pan-DICK-u-late). It means to instinctively stretch upon waking. You can’t help yourself. From the Latin pandiculare to stretch oneself, from the verb pandere to stretch, we also get the word expand, which is important for stretchy pants after a Thanksgiving dinner. The word oscitancy (AH-sit-un-see) is a partner to that stretching we all do – it means “to yawn,” and to do so involuntarily. You can’t help yourself. See – you have to yawn now, don’t you? Also from the Latin (which took on the middle ages latin, when the hard “c” was replaced with an “s” sound), it was originally os-citare, which literally means, “to move the mouth.
So, pandiculate and oscitate – two of the nicest things we can do when we wake up. Enjoy.
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.