I’m afraid today’s column may be a bit short. I’ve got a bum wing.
I’m left-handed, and rely on that hand/arm to do the majority of work, but I still appreciate my right arm, especially since so much of the world has create and lives out of a right-handed perspective. For the last couple of weeks, however, my right shoulder has been giving me the business. It’s ok if I move it toward the left side of my body, and if I make sure not to raise my arm above my shoulder, but – for instance – this morning as I mindlessly reached up with my right hand to get something high down, it was as if I heard a thousand little muscle fibers in my right shoulder scream all at the same time. Then I realized it was just me screaming a little bit, as I dropped my right arm in pain and let it hang loose at my side.
It reminded me of watching a mother bird, when a predator bird is swooping into the nest, how she will drop to the ground, and drag one wing behind her to make it appear that she is injured and can’t fly, in order to draw the predator away from the nest. Pretty smart. My trouble, of course, is that I nothing to chase away, and it all happened before I even got my first cup of coffee.
It’s miserable to wake up in pain, or to have it greet you moments after you get up. I took a long lasting pain killer (supposedly) to drop down whatever inflammation there was, and my beloved wife used her strong little hands to grind on the offending shoulder as I moaned in agony. She’s a nurse practitioner, so I trust what she does, but holy cow – it hurt. A lot. She then went and got an automatic neck massager that she draped around the shoulder, and started it up. It ground into the shoulder as well, as my rising hope was that it would either break something loose, or I would pass out from the pain. I kept thinking of those dolls my sisters had when we were little, and if you yanked on the arm hard enough, the little elastic band that held it in place and let you raise the arm up and down would break, and you would be left holding a doll and an arm, as you observed both tears and furious anger arising in your little sister. They lost a lot of dolls that way.
So, I am walking around with a wounded joint. There have been whispers in the house of things like “rotator cuff,” or “arthritis,” or “bone spur” – none of which are terms I want to have connected to any part of my body. I’m hoping it’s just a nice old strain, and with enough heat and massage and pills, it might dissipate through the day.
The trouble is, I’ve grown very used to using two hands to type, which also include two arms and two shoulders. Normally, they all work together like a happy society, but today, I have to say there is a bit of fighting going on. Left hand is ready to rock and roll with the typing, but Right hand gives one sentence at a time to the work, and then automatically drops into my lap, to gain both its strength and give away the rising pain.
Now – I’m not a baby. Really, I’m not, but this thing stings and aches and, well you know what it’s like when you have pain somewhere… it captures the attention of the entire body, kind of like a crying 3 month old in the middle of the night. The rest of the body won’t just say, “Oh, it’ll be alright sooner or later – let’s just forge on.”
Nope – it really is like what Paul writes about, when he talks about the Body of Christ. No one part is greater than the others, and when one part suffers – like a stinging, aching shoulder – everyone is on for the ride, and suffers along side of it. For me to get theological on this gray, foggy Sunday, I would then ask what parts of our own churches are hurting today? What parts of our community are in pain and trouble? What areas of our own lives, or those of our family members are stinging and aching, so we hear constant complaining, even though they are doing the best they can?
I’m afraid pain is part of our existence. If we are blessed, we are born into this world crying and fussing because what was at one time a wonderful warm and cozy place no longer wants us. We have so much that is joyful and wonderful in each of our lives, but it’s also true that part of our living carries with it some aching, some sadness, some hurt, and some great disappointment.
You know what I’m going to say, right? With all that part of our lives, it’s just a fact that it’s not what happens to us that matters – even a bum wing. It’s what we do with what happens to us. That may mean we start of whining and fussing and complaining about how much something hurts – whatever it is – but we don’t stay there. Our lives are about abundance, and God’s care and trust, and that should be the song on our lips, even through the crummy times when we can’t even reach to get something off the top shelf.
I hope you are feeling well today. I hope I feel better tomorrow. For now, I guess I’ll just thank God for my left arm, and ask if anything can be done about my right one…
Word for the day: gift. You know how to pronounce it, but sometimes the simplest and most used of words need to be re-claimed. It comes from the Middle English, gift, which meant a consideration, or a dowry, or just giving. The Scandinavian root was gipt, which means “good luck.” Every culture and language has a word like gift, and many sound just like it. Our purest definition is “something given voluntarily, without charge.” That means when you hear or see something that is “free with purchase of…” it’s not free, and it’s not a gift. The best word that becomes a holy word is that we receive “favor.” We enter into someone else’s generosity, and so we receive with no intent or need to “pay back.” By the way, it also means a talent given, bestowed, granted to someone, like the gift of song, or music, or some other “thing” that you realize you do very well. You have worked on the skills to make the “gift” more noticeable, but in the end… it’s a gift, and that’s something to always remember.
After a delightful Christmas season of being able to eat and drink whatever we wanted, including the mountains of homemade goodies stacked on the tall kitchen counter, “we” decided that “we” were all going to eat better, and get more exercise, now that the bleak, dark, cloudy and dim January has set in. We made – and pretty well kept – a menu of at least evening meals, so that we wouldn’t be tempted to order in the fatty and salty suppers that it seems every restaurant cooks lately. That alone has created a significant change in the amount of weight is walking on the floor of our home every day. I think everyone in the house had dropped more than 12 pounds, which is great by any standards.
One of the things that happens when “everybody” is going to eat better is that the grocery list for the week’s eats changes and modifies. Yes, not buying candy or various other fatty and delicious things does make a difference, but it also is an indisputable fact that if you are going to eat healthier, you are going to spend a LOT more money on foods in the house! “We” decided to fill the fridge with tasty and healthy vegetables and fruits. That’s fine, but when blueberries are $6/pound because they are out of season, and blackberries and watermelon and all the others which are supposedly great for smoothies have a sign that, instead of saying how much they cost, they simply say “inquire within,” then you know you are in trouble. Add to that the “sports drinks,” and the infused water, and if you are paying for it, you begin to long for the $5 special at Burger King.
It’s also truly amazing at how picky “we” can get over the new foods purchased. The best example are the oranges Cheri found two weeks ago. Called “Cara Cara” oranges, they really are good – very sweet, easy to peel, and almost remind you of the oranges you used to eat when you were a kid. The six oranges lasted about four days. At the grocery store last week, then, we decided to buy some more oranges. We picked up two bags – 8 oranges – and finished our shopping.
When we got home, and unloaded the supplies, “someone” looked at the oranges, all orange in color, and navel oranges, and seedless, and said, “These aren’t the right ones.” I guess in our efforts to buy out the fruit market, we inadvertently purchased “just oranges.” Now, between you and me, I had one of the “new” oranges, and it was bad… really. The skin was a bit thick, and it left that whitish, yellowish fiber stuff around the orange fruit, and when the slices were peeled off, they were – ok. Kind of sweet, but nothing you would dream about in your “I love oranges” dream. Plus, they were – heaven forbid – light orange in color in the fruit itself, whereas, the “Cara Cara” were more reddish orange, and truly delightful to eat.
Our mistake remained for the rest of the week. The oranges were eaten, but mostly by me. It’s kind of like when someone turns down the beef stroganoff because it’s made with sirloin and not filet mignon pieces…
So, I went once again to the grocery store yesterday, and located the Cara Caras, slightly down the aisle from the plebian oranges. I bought 8 more, hoping that it wasn’t a fluke, and that the new ones would repeat the wonderful taste experience of their former brothers and sisters.
I was not disappointed! They are great, and I’m typing this with freshly washed hands to remove the sticky juice from my fingers. I hate to say it, but they are indeed the “better” oranges, and I hope we can continue to find them, since the life expectancy of an orange tree planted up here in the Dakotas is a matter of hours…
Everyone is particular about something, I would expect. Often there are plenty of items over which we have no opinion, but sometimes, with the right food, or the right ink pen or the right whatever, we find ourselves only satisfied with “that thing.” Now, unless it is ridiculously picky, or so specific and rare that it becomes akin to hunting a unicorn, I don’t think there is anything wrong is preferring one thing over another. It’s the best part of discrimination, to discern better from only good, or only so-so. Now, I have heard some folks talk about the danger of “having a champagne taste on a beer budget,” but I’m saying, within reason, being aware of your preferences is ok, again, so long as it doesn’t become pathological, and you will only tolerate bread that comes from artisanal, organic, mottled rye and Jamaican wheat seeds, hand ground on a prehistoric basalt slab by Alaskan hunters. Preferring one orange over another isn’t really that bad. It’s a sign of an intentional life, so long as your preference doesn’t end up with you throwing a tantrum because this one time you “have” to eat regular oranges. Keep it to yourself, if that’s the case, but enjoy the delights of life – there is enough other stuff happening these days that attempt to diminish its abundance and joy. We can do things differently, if we intend to.
Word of the day: hubris. Pronounced HYOO-briss. We hear this word often, usually used to describe the behavior of someone the person doesn’t like, so it’s a pretty negative term. It’s from the Greek, as it looks, hybris, which originally meant the “wanton violence or outrage” against something. More to the point, it describes someone with excessive pride, or extreme or foolish self-estimation. Someone with hubris holds an excessive presumption of their place in the world. They really tend to lose touch with reasonable reality, and expect and then demand that they be treated in an exalted manner, and if that’s not done, then there is the possibility of verbal or even physical violence by the one holding the “hubris.” The opposite of hubris is of course “humility,” which also comes from the Greek originally, and means “from the ground,” so that the humble person does the opposite of someone with hubris. By the way, just to throw in another one, to “humiliate” someone is to “bring them to the ground” where they came from.
Back in 2006, when we picked out our three cats from the animal shelter (before having a shelter pet was fashionable), they were tiny – most likely not much more than four or five weeks old. That meant that, after snuggling them for hours on end, we needed to feed them with the most nutritious kitty food possible. Their first food was called Vetalac, and although I never tasted it myself, it looked and smelled like melted vanilla ice cream. The little buggers lapped it up like crazy. Next step was moving them to a bit more solid food, so after a few different experiments, we ended up feeding them Friskies canned food – one can divided by three. Lamb and Rice, Turkey – anything but beef, which proved to me that indeed it is possible to have choosy beggars.
Over the weeks, as they grew, we set out dry cat food, reserving the soft canned stuff for morning and evening. Two things I discovered that I never would have believed to be true. First was the way we proved Pavlov’s experiment daily. When the can opener made it first “grrrtch” along the lid, three little cats would appear out of nowhere, mewing and crying for all they were worth… the second thing I learned was that somewhere, the little stinkers carried their own tiny watched with alarms set, so that when Cheri would get up around 5am, they were waiting for her – sometimes encouraging her to wake up, by licking her hands, stepping on her face and sitting on her chest – staring and staring… Otherwise, at 4pm, if you happened to be anywhere near the kitchen, the goon squad began their afternoon work of encouraging a can of cat food to be opened.
Now realize – they weren’t hungry. They had dry cat food round the clock at their disposal. No, it was a matter of want, not need. They were little furry gangsters who would simply not quit until they got what they wanted.
I’m embarrassed to say this went on for six years, twice a day, until we were in the process of moving back to the Dakotas from Nashville. Cheri put her little foot down, and declared that we would use the screwed up schedule of driving and going into hotels to break the habit cold turkey. It actually worked pretty well. With three days of distraction, you could see that the cats knew they were missing something, but it was unfocused and with the little cat bowls hidden away, they were hungry enough to eat the dry food. Still, years later at around 4pm in the afternoon, Phoenix will sometimes start meowing for no reason, and wander around the house, looking for something she forgot a long time ago.
Now, they get occasional treats, where they just go nuts waiting for the little bits of nothing to get poured out of the bag into our hands and distributed to the starving little actors. They also beg like dogs when we eat a meal, staring at us with unblinking eyes. Cheri is the worst one for giving in, which of course reinforces the behavior…
So, I’m not sure when it happened, but during the quarantine, the cats have lots of time on their hands, and manage to watch any human who enters the kitchen for a meal or a snack. I think it took one day, when Adam decided to have a bagel with cream cheese, that the two boy cats sensed an opportunity. They meowed and begged at Adam’s feet, until, on a whim, Adam put a little, tiny bit of cream cheese on two fingers and let them lick it off. That was all it took. From that day forward, we have watched the progression from the cats running to the kitchen when Adam opens the refrigerator in the morning, to the point now when their little cat alarms go off, and they position themselves for Adam’s rising. Thor sits halfway down the stairs, and Hermes will stand at Adam’s bedroom door, howling like someone is pulling his leg off. As Adam makes his way, probably awake before he wanted, they race up the stairs along with him, and then stand eagerly by the fridge, waiting for their morning gangster cut of cream cheese. Every day. Adam calls them goons, and thugs, which they are. He has also suggested that if we are up before him, we could distribute the ransom cream cheese instead. My response is, “not on your life!” It’s all on Adam, and if we were to begin, who knows what else we might release!
So, there is no end to this story, in part because all three of the cats have Adam wrapped around their little cat-paw fingers. In return, they do manage to bother him most all of the day when he is trying to actually work in his room. They have been the stars of numerous Zoom meetings and are heard on many different conference calls, probably to try to entice him to head back upstairs and give them another dollop of cream cheese…
Animals, especially smart little cats, learn quickly when there is some benefit to be had. They are excellent at manipulating their world to please them. I would have to say that humans are the same. It’s amazing how quickly we accommodate changes to our habits and behaviors when there is something to be gained. Of course the opposite is true as well, as we avoid and steer clear of “things” that make our lives unhappy or painful. Most all of it, though, I have to say is accidental behavior as both cats and humans stumble into situations that are either pleasing or hurting. Often, our life’s discoveries happen just because things seemed to be in the right place at the right time. I suppose there is nothing terrible about that, but if the bulk of our lives rests in things just sort of happening to us, it becomes a dangerous and thought-less way to live.
We can’t intend everything, but I believe it is healthier, more focused, and more rewarding to live intentionally, and not only accidentally. That’s true for our relationships, our labor, our dreams and plans, and especially with our experience of God in our lives. Go ahead and enjoy or at least deal with those accidental happenings that come to you, but live your life intending more than that. Live how you mean to live – with purpose and intent. It’s a far richer life when you do.
Saying for the day: sit tight. Well, there’s probably not a one of us – especially if we are parents or in charge of anyone or any group of people – that hasn’t used this phrase. It seems a bit silly, especially we were to use the opposite of “stand loose.” Some believe that in playing poker, when someone wants to neither bet nor fold the hand, that he or she would just “sit tight.” It gives us the mental image of someone sitting forward, knees together, and waiting. It is NOT the image of a teenage boy lounging on the couch.
It really means, in our behavior to not act, don’t change position, don’t move or adjust what you are doing – just wait to see what develops first. One “sits tight and keeps their own counsel,” and only responds thoughtfully. It’s almost like birds become quiet and still when a predator is nearby – just sit tight, and perhaps this will pass…
As I drove Cheri over to work this morning, we saw it, hanging in the western sky, before the sun rose. It’s called the Wolf Moon, and it is the first full moon of 2021. By meteorological standards, it won’t be a full moon until 1:16pm this afternoon, which is going to be pretty hard to see. Before dawn on this cold January morning, however, it shines bright as can be. I can still see it from my office window, between the branches of our big maple tree. The Wolf Moon was named because whether practically or imagined, you can almost hear the wolves howling at the moon as it brightens up the otherwise dark fields and woods. Of course, Cheri looks at the full moon, and just remarks, “Great – there’ll be a ton of crazies in the clinic today.” We get the word, “lunatic” from luna, the moon, as people controlled by the forces of the lunar pull go quite bonkers when it’s a full moon. It appears that is also the very day they decide to go see Cheri.
When I see a full moon, I often am reminded of Dad. Actually, today is the celebration of his birthday – he would have been 93 today, had he not died at the age of 65. One of the things Dad taught us, however, was to always make sure to keep our eyes open, and observe the world around us. He never said so, but it seemed he believed you could learn more from looking around than from having someone just tell you about what might be.
That’s actually kind of funny, given the fact that you were never able to ask Dad a “quick” question. At age 8, running to Dad for a fast answer to a simple question always – always – ended up with him starting with “Well, that’s a good question…” and so would begin the world-class, Olympic level patriarchal lecture series. It did no good to urge him to move to the simple ending of any explanation. He would say, “If you’ll just cool your jets, I’ll explain it to you…” or worse, “Do you want me to explain this, or not?” There were actually times when, in my mind, when I realized I was being sucked into the more-information-than-I-want vortex, that I would answer, “No – I was mistaken in asking you for a quick answer…”
It’s not that Dad was an extrovert. Actually, he was quite the introvert, and could go hours and hours not saying anything. He like to mow the lawn, in part, I think, because with the noise of the mower, he didn’t have to have a conversation, except with himself. He could be seen, mowing and talking, probably to figure something out that was under his skin. Oh, the other thing he did – was sweat. Good grief. The man, in the middle of a North Dakota Winter, could be doing some kind of physical activity, and you could see sweat pouring down his face. He kept a handkerchief, not for blowing his nose, but for wiping his brow. When “we” would get ready to go on a camping trip as a family, Dad would lay what must have been a 200 pound heavy tarp on top of the car rack, and then pack the sleeping bags, clothing, and anything else soft that was needed, and then fold the edges of the tarp over everything, and then begin the work of tying it all down with a rope. We – the boys – were always given the privilege of helping in this task, as hundreds of feet of rope, it seemed, would get tied down on one end, and then thrown across the roof to us, to be looped under the rack, and pulled as tight as possible, and then thrown back over the roof, and on and on it went. Every few minutes or so, we would have to stop, while Dad wiped his brow, and offered a few of his choicest descriptive words (that he alone was allowed to utter). Then the process continued, making sure that absolutely no single edge of the tarp was left untethered. The other thing Dad would never accept was anything flapping as you drove down the highway. If he saw it on another car flapping away, he would manage to offer them a suggestion from inside our car, like “Why bother?” or “Learn how to secure your load, Idiot!”
I mentioned lawn mowing before. That reminds me of Dad’s – shall we say “penchant” for acquiring equipment either before anyone else ever had it, or what would be on the very fringe of “normal” stuff. For instance, when you think of what a typical lawnmower looks like, it was really something I hadn’t seen until I was a youth. The lawnmower Dad used for years was one he bought from Sears (of course). It was a self-propelled, power reel mower, with a grass catcher behind. It was also white, which made it even more unusual, set apart from the green or red mowers you might see. It also had a crank start ignition. After putting the gas in the mower, stopping to wipe his sweat, he would then crank a short handle by the engine, like he was winding up fishing line on a reel. Fully cranked up, he would then stand up, hit the button on the handle, and what usually happened was it went something like “blaaappp.” He would then bend down and repeat the process, perhaps 10-12 times, increasing the variety and volume of the words he would use to describe the thing that Sears made, all the while clenching his pipe in his teeth like Santa Clause gone manic.
Finally, when the real possibility of seeing the mower launched into the middle of street loomed, it would start, and off Dad would go with whirling reel blades swathing the quarter inch tall blades of grass. Ah, memories.
When my generation gets together, we eventually take time to laugh at Dad’s foibles, which were plenty, but we also make sure to pay homage to what he did that was so right. He was a teacher to us, showing us how to make a fire, how to tie knots, how to process and think out a problem. He showed us the joy of watching old western movies, or other comedies, saying things like “Lord love a duck!” all the while devouring a bowl of ice cream after supper. The Atari 2600 game console came out right around 1977. Dad bought one for us for Christmas. It cost about $200 then, which would be closer to $900 today. So we could have fun playing an amazing toy.
He loved Mom. It’s interesting that when we were little, he would often call her by the nickname, “Kid.” “Kid – can you bring me… (whatever it was)” However, when he came back from 13 months in Vietnam and Thailand, leaving Mom to care for seven children alone, I noticed that his nickname for her changed. She was called “Lady” until he died.
I could share hundreds of more stories, as you probably can about your parents, like climbing the trail up a mountain in the Cumberland Gap, and then having drenching rains, and sliding down on the mud and over the tree roots all the way back to camp, or changing a flat tire on a busy highway with all of us and our dachshund standing on the side of the road. Of when we were all in Hawaii, and going to the beach, one or two of us would race ahead, and that meant someone else would ask Dad, “Will you tell them a thing or two for running ahead?” To which Dad would yell out, “A thing or two for running ahead!” Or even the time when we were all in the kitchen, Dad walked through carrying a box. Mom asked, “What are you doing?” His answer: “Walking through the kitchen with a box in my hands…”
Dad died too soon, it seems, but that’s really not something for us to control. His father finished 8th grade. Dad was the first in his entire family to graduate from college. He retired a Lt. Colonel in the Air Force and the recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross. It’s up to us, in this generation, to share his story, and to help his descendants know what kind of man he was, and who he wanted us to be.
Intentional living is not always perfect – actually, it never is, because we who attempt that way of life still have a long ways to grow. Still, to live intending to be someone of honor, and honesty and thoughtfulness is an important work for any human. That was Dad. Roger William Cross.
Word for the Day: kalopsia. Pronounced kuh-LOPE-see-uh. With that strong of a “k,” we can guess it comes from the Greek words, kalos, meaning “beautiful, or lovely” and opsis, from where we get “optical” – it means “view.” Therefore, kalopsia is a beautiful view, but a bit more… When we hear the phrase, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” often it means, “I don’t see what you see…” The word specifically means seeing something or someone as more beautiful than they are. It’s a delusion of sorts -- at least it’s named a delusion by others. However, When what we see, we believe to be beautiful, then does it really matter what others think?
I think I have mentioned before those things we just take for granted, until we can’t… when we lived on the north side of Fargo many years ago, we were in a parsonage that had been built in the early 60s. Unfortunately, parts of the home had not been updated, and still carried that 60s “charm.” In the dining room, for instance, there was a light fixture over the table. It wasn’t your typical chandelier or even a simple light – it was one of the inventions of that time past, where the large round four-bulb lamp was suspended from the ceiling by an electric cord that could pulled down or pushed up depending on where you wanted the lamp to be over the table. I took to calling it the “third degree” light, since if the table weren’t there, you could pull the lamp down pretty far and have it hanging inches from the suspect’s head. It was light brass with a white bulb cover, and was really pretty hideous – but it worked, so why bother changing it. I’m sure the lights in Buckingham Palace are pretty old, too.
One autumn, as we had scheduled a walk-through of the parsonage with trustees, after showing them the nearly falling-to-pieces curtain sheers on the windows of the dining room, I then proceeded to demonstrate the third degree lamp. I said, “What this!” and I pulled the lamp quickly down. However, for the first time, the lamp not only came down, but came off the ceiling, and I ended up holding the whole thing in one hand. You might imagine there was a stunned silence in the room. One of the trustees then said, “Well, it looks like you need a new light fixture!” The light had been hanging from the dining room ceiling probably for 30 years only by the electrical wires. When I pulled it that time, they ended up coming undone from the live electrical wires in the ceiling. I must say, that’s one way to get a new light fixture…
So, we moved into our home nearly six years ago. Early every morning, or before we were going to cook something, or in the evening, we would simply push the button on the right lower edge of the microwave that is installed above the stove top. As sure as God made little green apples, the light above the stove top would shine brightly – one more push on the button, and we ended up with a nightlight, with just the right glow to let us maneuver in the kitchen without having to turn on the bright ceiling lights. I’m sure you have one just like it in your home.
So, Sunday evening I walked into the dark kitchen, felt around on the front of the microwave, and pushed the button. What to my wondering eyes, but nothing happened. Just darkness. So, I did what any normal human would do – I pushed it again. Nothing. I then proceeded to push the button a good six or seven more times, each time in awe of the fact that absolutely nothing happened. I heard the click, but that was the extent of the process.
After I had tried the thing many times, I called out to my beloved family, telling them the light on the microwave wouldn’t work. As I presumed, they came in to see this new phenomenon. Of course, all three of them believed the old man of the house, and trusted my word. Not. Each one in turn had to push the button numerous times, I guess to experience for themselves the strange and curious nothingness of the light switch. “I told you – it’s not working!” “Well, did you check the circuit breaker?” “The light on the microwave shows the time – it works, so I don’t think there is a separate breaker for the light switch…”
This exploration went on for a while, akin to a bunch of chimpanzees trying to crack open a coconut with a palm leaf. I then offered the idea that the bulb probably blew out, with their stunned response being that we have only had the bulb in there for… oh yeah, and we don’t know how long it was working before we bought the house…
So, yesterday (I decided to give it a day or so, in case it was just tired…), I got a small screwdriver, and a flashlight, since there was no light under the microwave to see about unscrewing the cap on the light. Actually, that part was pretty easy, and upon shining the flashlight onto the bare bulb itself, of course I had to realize that instead of it being a nice 15 watt, double bulb arrangement, it was a light bulb most likely pulled from an alien ship crash at Area 51. It was weirdly shaped, with two small metal tines protruding at the bottom, and apparently it served as both the bright light and the dim light. Alien work, for sure.
I pulled out the bulb, looked at it under the bright flashlight, and it looked perfectly good, for some reason. I put it back in the two-prong place, pushed the button on the microwave, and lo and behold – it worked! I repeated it about six times just to make sure, and with a sense of pride and accomplishment, I then screwed the cap back on, having it look as good as new, pushed the button… and nothing happened. Six pushes later, and I was back to square one. What else could I do but unscrew the cap – again – and once again examine the bulb.
That was actually a good idea, except that when I unscrewed the cap and pulled the plate down, the bulb all on its own decided to plunge to its death on the stove top. With a nearly two-foot drop, it was fatal. Looking at the bulb at that point proved to me beyond any doubt that it was shot. At least there was no gray area…
So today, I will put on my mask, and go up to the boutique battery and bulb place, and try to buy a couple of alien bulbs, and see if I can restore the light to its former glory. I have no confidence that this project will end today. Frankly, I just don’t trust it, but I’ll go through the motions – just please know that in my heart, this is a fool’s errand, and the story is not done. Not by a long shot.
Now, please know that I am not a pessimist, but I have seen this kind of scam a number of times in the past, where some part of some machine promises to work just right and then when you place total trust in it, it giggles quietly as you fail. Indeed, there are times when, if you had enough money, you just want to pull the entire microwave out and put a new one in, just so you can get a new bulb!
You see, I think human beings are trusting creatures, until we aren’t. We rely on, put our faith in, assume and stand on what in the end is really a promise, isn’t it? When we do that with our relationships, or other fallible, breakable, fail-able things, our hearts nearly break, our gentle, open natures become a bit more like granite, and closed with a rusty key when our trust is broken, by a trust-breakable action or intent. And the hardest thing, when that has happened, is to talk with someone so victimized, because their response is, “Well, I’ve tried that before, and …” And it is easier not to trust, not to rely, not to depend, but it also creates a sad and dark, cracked and hurting hole in our hearts.
Of course, you know now that I am not talking about silly lightbulbs. I’m talking about fundamental faith that helps us walk through life without seeing the results before we act. Cheri often reminds me that, when it is really difficult in life, and we have already suffered pain, or the future ahead looks as dark as a room without a microwave light, that God says to, “Do you trust Me? Can you believe that I am here for you, and that no matter what things look like… I am here for you?”
You see, and you know that huge chunks of our lives are mysteries, with no clear paths. That’s why the scripture reminds us that “we walk by faith, not by sight.” If all of our lives were live out only when we were clear about what was ahead, we would never take a step. Instead, not knowing gives us the open door to trust that God does, and that intentionally placing each day in God’s hands, we can live with hope, which is always defined as “faithful expectation that God is working God’s purpose out in our lives.”
See today as full of Gods’ possibilities, and find the light there that will illuminate your path.
Word for the day: illecebrous. Pronounced ill-ESS-uh-brous. I just stumbled on this word, but it’s a great word to be used by anyone with a romantic heart. The word comes from the earliest root, lacio meaning “to ensnare.” Add to that, in, and you have illicio, meaning “to entice or to seduce.” An “illicit” affair always intends seduction of some sort. So, when one is “illecebrous,” it means one contains the quality of being pretty, or attractive, or alluring. The flower is always illecebrous to the bee. The thing is, however, when you are talking about humans and not wildlife, an illecebrous woman – or man – always includes the dangerous possibility of losing what you already have for the idea of what may be just beyond your reach…
In now 64 years, like you I have witnessed the wind in a thousand different settings. I felt it in my face as we sledded down the hill near the cemetery in Omaha, with our great-grandfather. I heard and felt it blow through the sunburst pines in the woods of South Carolina. It has blown constantly on the beaches of Myrtle Beach, California, Hawaii, Queensland, Australia, and the Mediterranean near Tyre in Israel. It blew around me in Okinawa, and at the DMZ between South and North Korea. We enjoyed the breezes at the Old Faithful Lodge at Yellowstone, and as we walked around Sylvan Lake in the Black Hills. It blew around me at Times Square, and as I stood waiting for the El in Chicago. It was strong and hot as we had our picture taken by the big Texas State sign as we came into the state, and down at Corpus Christi. Oh, and don’t forget Cabo, or Jamaica, where it had a near musical quality to it.
Of course, the champion of all wind blowing in my book is claimed by the record holder in the Red River Valley in North Dakota. In a place where it seems you can count the trees on one hand, the wind winds up for the pitch in Northern Alberta, and then fires the blast for hundreds of miles until it reaches our front yard. Of course, back in the 30s, it picked up most of the topsoil and shoved it under the drafty doors and windows of the prairie homes. Fortunately there is a bit more conservation now a days, but I remember even in the 70s when the winds would mix the topsoil with the snow, and blow the dirty mess over everything and everyone, so that when you came inside, you now only had snow on you, but what we called “snirt,” which would melt into muddy pools on the floor.
This morning, as the sun is rising, you can see the branches of the bushes and the trees acting as if they dancing to a Bee Gees hit, shaking and bobbing to the invisible music. The winds have come for the next couple of days to the Dakotas winter. It’s actually a deadly beast, because it brings the words more hated than “blizzard,” or “ice on the road.” The “wind chill” is actually a pretty benign title for the thing that happens. It sounds like something that keeps your ice tea cool, but in essence it is far worse. It changes the whole feeling as you go outside. I know it may seem silly to you when on a nice day we say, “Wow, it’s up to 25 degrees!” as we sometimes don’t even zip up our coats, and walk leisurely to go check the mail. When the wind chills are larger numbers, it’s always going the wrong way – the negative, below zero numbers climb as the wind blows harder and harder. I took Cheri to work this morning, and the first ten steps out our door was fine. It was 5 degrees at that time, but then we walked past the corner of the garage, and both of us lost our breath. The wind was gusting from the north at about 35 mph, but it created a wind chill – the way it feels – of about -25. That’s cold, and it promises to get worse as the day goes on.
Two things normally happen at this temperature: one, the kids probably won’t be able to go out for recess, although it’s surprising, after a morning cooped up in class, how sometimes no one checks to see what the wind chill actually is, and so they open the doors and gently toss the children outside to work some of the cabin fever off. Secondly, we tend to hear more planes take off, heading south with those who can afford to say goodbye to the north, and find the warm breezes of the south.
Language follows each culture, so in the south folks will talk about “sultry summers,” and perfect spring days in the Midwest, which is Ohio for some reason. It’s interesting that up here, people will refer to a “brisk morning,” or the need to “brace yourselves for the north wind” as you try to hang on to your car door if you park in the wrong direction, so that it nearly rips it off by the hinges. It’s not a gentle land when you have to “brace yourself.”
The good news is, this winter it seems as though our wind chill days have been fewer, and farther apart. Like I said, two days of bitter cold, and then we get to warm up to about 25 again. Of course, it will be just in time for the next snowstorm, but it’s almost February, and that means after March, and Easter, we indeed may start to leave a coat behind, and not have to start the car 10 minutes before we want to go somewhere.
Please know I’m not complaining – just describing. I have sat down with shorts on a black vinyl car seat in the middle of a “sultry” South Carolina afternoon in the summer, and truly wondered if I would be able to keep any of the skin from the back of my thighs that now seemed to be permanently sealed to the vinyl. I have also had to drive through flooded streets in New Orleans, carefully watching for manhole covers floating off, in the middle of driving rains. Each of us has our own very “special” weather that we get to own, don’t we? I just share mine today, because it’s a good reminder to me of just how little we can control what happens.
Of course, as I have said so many times – it’s not what happens to us that matters. Even weather, or other things out of our control and sway. It is instead what we do with what happens to us that really makes the difference, from our behavior, to our reactivity and anxiety, to our resilience, and ability to adapt to a quick change or an upheaval to our lives. What we do may indeed not determine the outcome, but it will certainly determine how we live out and cope with the windchills that come to our lives.
Of course, that begins with how we pray. If we are able to move our hearts and minds into a gentler state, a more flexible and again, adaptive way of seeing the world, by offering all we are to God, knowing that from start to finish we are in God’s care, and there are much worse things than wind chill, or any other “thing” that’s thrown at us, then indeed, we will find the path to a serene life, to a more joyful life, and to a stronger, face-the-mess- head on kind of life. Then indeed we will know the victory that is ours in Christ.
Saying for the day: sour grapes. When we hear someone (certainly not us!) grumbling or muttering because they didn’t get their way, or things didn’t quite turn out the way they wanted, we may often say that it’s all a matter of “sour grapes.” What we may not realize is that we are quoting the end of an Aesop’s fable. You remember the one, don’t you, where a fox attempts to eat the grapes off a grapevine, and after eating the low-hanging ones, he tries to reach the ones up higher. He leaps and leaps and finally wears himself out, failing to pull down the ones that are simply beyond his grasp.
His response: “Well,” said the fox, “I’ll bet those grapes way up there are probably sour! Who would ever want those anyway!” When “someone” grumbles about what they do not have, or were not given, it’s a matter of sour grapes.
Of course we know that each day carries something special of note as we look back at that same day in history. As I start my day and charge up my trivia batteries, I like to go online and discover what is special about each day. I did so this morning, and found an interesting mix. For instance, on this day in 1888, Mendelssohn’s Wedding March was first played at Queen Victoria’s daughter’s wedding. I can’t for the life of me figure out how newly married couples were able to walk out of the sanctuary without it… in 1989, Michael Jordan scored his 10,000 point in five seasons. In 1939, Enrico Fermi was able to split the atom for the first time. And of course, on this date in 1964, The Beatles hit, I Want to Hold Your Hand, reached #1 on the music charts. We should also remember that in 1993, Sears closed its catalog department, and truly ended an era. Of course, there are hundreds of more “special” moments in history, if you are willing to search them out, and not fall asleep from boredom after you read about the cricket player who scored a perfect game – whatever that is.
The Internet world will also happily inform you of famous people having birthdays on this date in history. No matter what day it is, somebody important was born at some point in the past on that day. For instance, even though today is a bit sparse in terms of personalities of note, we find that the Scottish poet Robert Burns was born on this date, as was Etta James, known for her all-time favorite jazz song, “At Last.” Writer Virginia Woolf was also born on this day, although I am glad to have never read any of her material. Finally, for a younger crowd, Alishia Keys, fantastic pianist (note her last name), and singer was also born on this date.
As I was reading through the list, I also found myself nearly shell-shocked with the dozens of “famous” people I have never heard of, most likely because I’m not on Facebook, or follow TikTok or all that stuff. For your information, here is a small smattering of folks that apparently somebody has heard of: Lil Mosey, Calum Hood, Jai Waetford, YNW Green, Naomi Neo, Sanket Mehta, Pooh-Man (can you imagine picking out that name on purpose?), Tiny Texie, Itani and Sher Deng. Like I said, I could nearly fill a page with just names of the “famous people” that somebody or some group somewhere follows or ever pays attention to.
And so we really have to go back and look at the definition of “famous” in order to be honest with lists like this one. Now, granted, just because I have never heard of them doesn’t mean they are unknown to the world. They probably don’t know who I am either. However, here is the dictionary definition of “famous:” Known and recognized by many people. Pretty vague, don’t you think? How many is “many” and what does “known” involve? Another definition is “celebrated, or distinguished.” Ok, that’s a little better, because it implies a standing of some sorts in some area of our culture or world. The word comes from Latin famosus which again means “much talked of…” often, however, it really refers to someone or something that is notorious or of ill-repute. Today, we use the word, “infamous,” which really sounds like someone who is NOT talked about, so that’s curious. The Old English word for famous means “name-known.” Again, of some kind of reputation or celebrity status, most likely.
So in a real sense, “famous” is as famous does. Nearly anyone can be, or become famous, even if they are famously stupid or famously evil. I suppose Benedict Arnold, Judas Iscariot, Charles Manson and even Lizzie Borden are all “famous” persons, but I wouldn’t want to hold any of those up in honor or celebrate them.
Then of course, there are those persons who never will become celebrities, or “famous” in any real sense. They are unknown in our world, as they go about their lives with no hint to others of their truly incredible gifts. When I served a local church more than 20 years ago, there was a little (barely 4’10”) old lady named Dolly. Dolly was the kind of person who always came to church if something were going on, and yet was so quiet, you might never know she was present. She was never elected to anything, led anything, or had any real reputation at all, not even for baking great cookies or playing a musical instrument. For all the years I knew her, she took care of her bed-bound husband when she wasn’t at worship or Bible study. I knew her to see her, but one of the great mistakes of my life is that I never really took the time to know her.
It happened that Dolly died, and I was tapped to lead the funeral. I realized how little I indeed did know of her, and so I began to ask her friends to tell me who she was, what they knew about her, how they would describe her. To a person, almost everyone said what I knew – quiet, nice, sweet, gentle, agreeable and such – except they also told me one more thing. One incredibly special and important thing that I never heard about. “Dolly was great at knitting.” “She was fast and fantastic with the knitting needles.” I began to then ask more about the knitting. Folks told me that, well, you know, Dolly and her husband never really had any money, so we would frequently buy and give her skeins of yarn when we went to the fabric store. Apparently it was tons and tons of yarn, of all kinds and colors. Dolly would thank profusely, and then use every bit.
I found out that she only knitted three things: hats, left hand mittens, and right hand mittens. Dolly lived in one of the poorer parts of town, and long ago, as she watched kids from her neighborhood walk to the elementary school just down from her house, she would see them go by with no hats and no coverings for their hands, which made Dolly herself almost freeze to death watching them.
So apparently this tiny woman decided that there was something she could do. She started knitting. For the kids. She knitted probably everyday of the year, and made all sizes of the three things she could knit, just right for kindergartners to 5th graders. Over the years, I found out, most likely every child in every classroom of that poor elementary school got a pair of mittens and matching stocking cap every year, and if they somehow lost or forgot theirs, or it went to some other relative, they would get a replacement pair. All courtesy of Dolly, and her magic knitting needles. When I asked how many she had probably made, the answer was always, “most likely in the thousands…”
But here’s the thing: none of the kids knew, and probably very few of the teacher knew of this knitting woman. Dolly would finish a bagful, and then walk over and drop them off at the school office, most every day. It was her gift to the world, so the children wouldn’t be cold. But she never got her name in the paper, or on the internet, or was awarded a plaque or a certificate. It was never “Dolly Day” or any type of recognition – just ladies piling her up with yarn, and knowing her ministry.
Dolly was not notorious, nor was she anything other than a giver. But I guess in a sense, she was known. She was known by her friends, as she did what no one else did. Maybe not known by the children, but certainly appreciated by them, every time they pulled on mittens.
And she certainly was known by God, and blessed with a gift that she used, and blessed with the knowledge that she was doing with her life what God needed her to do. It wasn’t a burden – it was a joy. I didn’t know her well, but since her death, I have tried to share her story – the story of this now-famous woman – so that others might know what it takes to indeed be known. By her intentional, thoughtful, careful and determined decisions, she changed the lives of hundreds and hundreds of children and families.
I invite you to consider how famous your life might be, by the way you intentionally work to change your world into one like Dolly dreamed of. That’s being truly famous.
Word for the day: emacity. Pronounced ee-MAH-sit-ee. Interesting word. Coming from the Latin at its root emo, which means “I buy.” Normally nothing is wrong with saying “I buy an orange,” or “I buy a shirt,” but emacity, growing out of the next level of the word, emo, is emacitas, which means “a fondness for buying.” So, instead of an orange, I buy a sack of them, or a shirt, I buy two, or perhaps three. That takes us to our English word for today, which implies, when buying oranges, I have the desire to buy 40 pounds worth, or the entire shelf of shirts. Emacity is that “itch” for buying something, or almost anything. It grabs hold of someone, and they can’t say no. Kind of like someone dear to me who, when a sale is announced, can’t stop herself from getting so many good deals and saving so much money doing so that she is nearly broke. Today, we would call the person a shopaholic, but it sounds a bit classier to simply say the person is caught up with emacity. Just don’t talk about my stoneware pottery collection…
Ok, it is true that I have written a number of times about our jigsaw building experiences over our CoVid year. And yes, we have done many different ones, some more difficult that others, some very simple, it seemed. We were just about at the point where we thought we would take a bit of a break from the puzzle building and give the kitchen nook table a bit of a breather when what to our wondering eyes should appear but a Christmas present from our beloved sons. Cheri actually opened the present, and with all my other wonderful gifts, I wasn’t listening very closely as she told me what it was. I heard, “Puzzle!” Ok, I thought – that’s fine… another puzzle to put in the pile of ones yet to do, as we finally moved the boxes of puzzles out of my office and into the storage area downstairs,
You know how it is, a little while after presents are all opened, and you have time to go back and look more carefully at the gifts you were given. Well, that’s what I did that early Christmas morning, as I came to realize just precisely what our sons had gifted to us. It indeed was a puzzle. More than that, it was a heavy, big-boxed, non-Hallmark puzzle made by the “Anatolia” puzzle company. Now, frankly, I wasn’t aware that Turkey was such a big producer of jigsaw puzzles. I really have never imagined the Turks sitting at a table and building a jigsaw of little puppies or a big clear jar full of marbles.
I can honestly say that our puzzle was neither of those. I perhaps turned the adjectives around a bit, because it’s not so much that they are a big producer of jigsaw puzzles, as we held in our hands the proof that they are indeed a producer of BIG jigsaw puzzles. The one the boys had picked out was entitled “Venice at Dusk.” The box was actually kind of pretty, and promised a finished creation that would also be “pretty.”
The challenge, however, was that it wasn’t your typical 500 piece puzzle. It wasn’t your more challenging 1000 piece puzzle. Why, we have even put together a couple of 1500 piece puzzle, where we were hard put to find space to lay out all the pieces, separating the border pieces from the main body. Had it only been 1500, we might have just smiled, and gotten right to work. No. the puzzle we were given was a 3000-piece monster! It probably weighed over 5 pounds of little pieces of color and shapes. We left it in the closet for a few weeks, perhaps thinking it would shrink over time.
It did not. As we finished the rest of our pile of other puzzles, we were in agreement to take a little break. Both of us knew what was lurking in the closet, I believe, and we weren’t quite ready to move up to Olympic jigsawing. However, yesterday, as we had finished all the errands and chores we wanted to do, Cheri said, “Well – what do you think? It is time?” I knew what she was asking. In a moment of weakness, I said, “Well, sure, let’s at least put the pieces out on the table.”
You know, don’t you, that you never really accidentally fall off a cliff, right? I mean, as I sit right now at my desk typing, there is zero percent chance of my having that kind of accident. Sure, I could fall off my chair in some freak accident, but falling off a cliff – no. In fact, the only way that happens is when someone on purpose is walking or standing somewhere close to, or at least in the vicinity of a cliff. Even with that, if you saw a cliff 100 yards away while you were, say, standing in a parking lot, again, there is a zero percent chance of an accident occurring. No, you have to actually on purpose walk toward the edge of an abyss, perhaps even putting your toes over the edge into nothing but air, and then, as that moment, you might lose your balance, get blurred vision, uncontrollably sneeze or something like that – right there – which then might result in you slipping and falling, which then people call an accident. I contend it’s not an accident if you are that close to that kind of danger. It’s kind of like cutting the tip of your finger off while you are chopping onions and your eyes are all teared up, and you don’t see the blade coming down on your pinkie. However, that “accident” is simply one of the many possible consequences of picking up the knife in the first place.
So, when Cheri and I say that we accidentally decided to open up the gargantuan of a jigsaw puzzle – it’s on us. There was no threat against us if we didn’t and no gain if we did. We made an intentional decision to do a dumb thing.
In earlier discussions, we had already decided that 3000 pieces would never fit on the kitchen table, and instead, we were going to have to take tablecloth off the dining room table, about 50% larger, and spread out the pieces there. So we began, taking small pile after small pile, turning the pieces over color side up, and with a fairly good pace, separating the border from the normal pieces. After the first 30 minutes or so of just turning pieces over, we realized that 2/3s of the dining room table was already covered with pieces. That meant we needed to change plans. We moved the border pieces we had already culled from the pile onto the kitchen table, and proceeded to try to finish the sort, realizing that now we were going to have the “supply table” and the “building table” in adjacent rooms.
In just under an hour, the first task was done. At least we hope so. We sat in the breakfast nook and began to put pieces together with the fading light of early evening. More than once, we said to each other, “I think we might have missed a few border pieces. We will probably need to go back and look for them…” That probably will be our job for today, as we search back over the acreage of puzzle parts, somehow having the eye strength to discover a flat end that then can join its friends in the other room.
I imagine you are asking yourself, “So, how long to do you think putting the puzzle together will take you” Good question. It’s kind of like asking when winter will be over, or when the leaves will be back on the trees in a beautiful spring. I don’t foresee this being a question of hours. You see, when you have a little puzzle, the number of possibilities of trying to put the wrong pieces together is relatively low. When you add another five hundred or so, the challenge rises. As I said, we have put together a number of 1000 piece puzzles. However, a 3000-piece monster doesn’t just triple the opportunity of picking up the wrong piece – it grows exponentially, especially if you are not acquainted with the Turkish mind. What we do have on our side is time. We can cover the dining room table carefully with a tablecloth and remove it when we want to work on it. Our main dangerous challenge comes in the form of 12 little paws, attached to three very curious cats, who somehow have the physical natures of sticky pawpads that can lift and throw puzzle pieces easily off the tabletop, so that they hide where they can’t be found. These are the dangers we face.
But like I said, and the focus of this column today, is that we aren’t doing all of this by accident. That is, this is not an occurrence that “just happened.” Yes, we may not have fully thought out things in the beginning before we took on the task, similar to what happens in a plumbing job. I remember my mom and sister recounting the time when Dad was going to “fix” under the sink. Dad was not a plumber – no training – no aptitude. A great navigator, but it started dangerously. Mom said she intervened, and called an actual plumber when she saw Dad come out of the bathroom and say, “I’m going to need a blowtorch…”
So, we do many things accidentally, by acting without intending the result, or not thinking, but those “accidents” all have our names on them. Instead, we are far better off pausing in our business, and consider consequences of future acts. Certainly we usually intend good, and success and joy and love and blessing, but there are times in those “good intentions” that we fail to sharpen our focus and our actions to leave out unintended consequences of pain, or suffering, or sadness, or brokenness, or frustration or whatever else may loom around the corner.
That’s all – we are called to think clearly and to act with purpose and good decisions, and not get trapped down a hole, or falling off a cliff, because we think there is no other choice. We always have a decision – it’s just important to ensure we make the best one. Have a great day – on purpose.
Word for the day: kentledge. Pronounced KENT-lodge. Fact is, you either know this word or you don’t. If you have ever been part of a large sailing vessel, you would know the word. It comes originally as quintelage, with the French word, quintal, meaning “100 weight.” Quintelage, or kentledge, is the term for the pig iron, or other scrap iron that is stored in ship’s hold and serves as ballast. Seems strange to make a ship heavier, but the ballast makes the ship more stable, especially in choppy seas.
More spiritually, we can ask, “Where is the kentledge in my life?” What is the “ballast” – the heavy, solid “stuff” that keeps my life afloat and stable? I think that’s a great question, and I won’t try to answer it for you today. Peace.
So, as I mentioned yesterday, it was the day Cheri and I were to take a trip up to Grafton to see Cheri’s mom. We hadn’t been up for a number of weeks, and when we planned last week, our friendly winter snowstorm blew in and made travel outside of town pretty dangerous. So, the backup plan was for this week, and after a couple of missed starts we were on our way up I-29 through the North Dakota winter lands. I realized, as I set the cruise control at 75 (the speed limit, since I don’t speed!), that I hadn’t driven that fast, or gone out of town since October 30. It kind of reminded me of my cousin Joey, who lived in Omaha. When we were visiting one time, we asked him where he had traveled, since we had been across the country and over to Australia before any of us were 10 years old. Joey simply replied that he had never been outside of Omaha. We were shocked! His family had never taken vacations, and the extent of his life’s experience didn’t even take him across the river to Council Bluffs. I couldn’t imagine it. It wasn’t that we pitied him or anything, but it certainly was a far different life that we even knew.
So, we headed north. It’s always kind of nice to ride with Cheri, where we aren’t distracted by tons of other things that often get in the way. Our conversations are stellar and deep, but they do give us a chance as a married couple to evaluate our life and let the topics float wherever we want, knowing we have two full hours from doorstep to doorstep. Of course, there is always the opportunity to try to school other drivers we encounter about how they could improve their driving skills. You know, I think if I were terribly rich, that I would just employ someone to be our driver, and no longer have to hassle with the particulars of getting from one place to another. I’ll let you know if and when that becomes a reality. Don’t hold your breath.
Well, we made it to Cheri’s mom’s place, and after a few minute of chatting, we were swallowed up into the day’s work. Cheri’s parents moved into town from the farm about four or five years ago, and with the death of Cheri’s dad, her mother made the decision apparently to not move back. That left a house full of “stuff” that had been relatively untouched since 1972 – almost 50 years. Her mom’s mission over the past while has been to somehow clear out the house, give away or dispose of thousands of items, ostensibly so that we won’t have to do it after she was gone.
That’s a fine and noble task, as far as it goes. However, just as if you were given the assignment to write down everything you own or have in your house, most likely pretty soon you would give up, since every “thing” would trigger the remembering of another “thing,” and on and on. Beyond that, the invention of closets created a haven for forgotten and possibly never remembered stuff that when brought out to the light of day, begin to grown and expand and take over rooms and rooms of space.
Our task yesterday was perhaps the most daunting and dangerous of the sorting campaign. Our job was to… look through pictures of the family. I know. Gasp. Now, we had already spent a few different visits going through the black and white galleys of yesteryear, including the blurry and fuzzy photos of grandparents and great-grandparents, and maiden aunts and cousins in black suits and bowler hats. Let me tell you, there are a few choice words that can describe the experience of looking through old family photos of long-dead people that you have never met, that aren’t even part of your biological family. On top of that, there were mixed in about 5000 pictures of people not related to Cheri and her family, but just happened to be saved, and gone along for the ride. The boxes – yes, boxes – of old photos were from both sides of Cheri’s family in history. Imagine spending days of your life, looking at someone else’s relatives that you have never heard of, all the while going through photograph after photograph with your mother-in-law saying, “Hmmm – I’m not sure who this is. It could be your great-aunt Alvina’s cousin when they visited Seattle that one time, or maybe those are folks who lived two farms over back in the 1920s.. or…” I had to discipline myself to not just sit at the table with my eyes glazed over, and my mouth open in an inappropriate gape. It was like sitting at a table with Swahilis and Nepalese as they negotiated a trade agreement for hex-head metal screws. And I have to tell you – time does NOT fly by when all of this happens. It crawls like snail with a migraine.
So, yesterday… the old, old pictures are pretty much sorted, even though I know there is an entire trunk in Cheri’s mom’s living room in which is stored some other day’s job. No, our task for the day was a bit more, how do you day – sinister. Her mom had gone through envelope after envelope of developed prints, and had pretty well sorted them according to year, from the 1980s to current day. Yes, more than 30 years of photos. She wanted us to go through them, and to pick out any we might want to keep. The process, however, was far more complicated and gruesome than just that work. Cheri’s mom would open an envelope, go through each picture – normally about 36 or perhaps 72 if they had gotten double prints – making appropriate comments, and then she would hand the envelope to Cheri, to go through, and then finally, I was given the precious commodity to review.
Do you know, or can you guess, how many pictures of birthdays, and present openings and cakes being blown out and people sitting around tables eating a meal, of sisters in law, brothers in law, cousins, parents, grandparents nieces, nephews, not to mention photos taken as they would open presents on Christmas eve, one present at a time, when we weren’t even there, because I always worked on Christmas as a pastor. Oh, and don’t forget the pictures of people just awake, with hair all wild as they sat in pajamas and went through their stockings on Christmas morning. I wish there were only hundreds. I wish.
Envelope after envelope. No expectation or plans to organize, or just toss pictures away. Not even the ones that had people you could barely recognize standing by a house or garage as the photographer snapped a photo from a good 50 feet away. And heaven forbid if you actually just had a “bad” photo that should never really be seen by anyone, that you might just tear up and throw away. Nope – photos with eyes closed, or weird expressions or food in their mouths, or whatever are all kept and preserved, despite Cheri’s mom’s threat to just throw the whole bundle out.
Cheri was smart and shrewd enough to use a sleight of hand and pull out a few pictures from the hundreds and put them in her purse and away from review. It’s really hard to keep up a full head of steam, knowing there is a tall stack sitting right next to her mom, all the while knowing she has only brought out the “1998” pile, and she remembers seeing that one picture of the boys that was so cute that she has to find…
When time to leave mercifully came to pass, we said our goodbyes and got in the car to take the two-hour drive home. It’s amazing that for the first half hour or so, neither of us said anything – we just stared out the window. When we finally started decompressing, we were in total agreement that we hoped we would never have to undergo that experience again. I was ready to turn over secret nuclear weapons plans to a hostile nation, just to no longer do what we had to do.
Even this morning, over coffee, we re-reviewed the day. It was tough.
So, I will only say this: sometimes, in our grand scheme of trying to live intentionally, we accidentally pull others into our orbit and force them to find value in what we alone value. The result, if everyone is polite, is to have them spend an inordinate amount of time doing something they don’t intend to do, only to care for us in our misguided “stuff.” Worst case, of course, is that they aren’t polite, and our poor intentions get scuttled, and feelings get hurt.
Part of living intentionally means that we also live with a self-awareness, and not needing to have others fulfill our lives’ plans. We can invite others, but our first task then is to make sure they are still on board to have that experience, or otherwise, leave it all as something we alone will want to do, and not force others to do so. I can’t recall the number of times I got roped into doing something I really had no heart to do. I also expect there have been plenty of times I ruthlessly forced others to do what I wanted, instead of intentionally listening and being aware of what is best for everyone, and not just for me.
I’m sure there are other photos in our future. I’m just glad it’s not today. I’m not particularly liking birthday pictures right now…
Word for the day: scrouge. Pronounced “skrooj.” Don’t misinterpret it to be “scourge,” which is a word concerning whipping or beating someone, or describing someone who is a horrible person in society. “Scrouge,” sounds like Ebenezer, doesn’t it, although the word predates Dickens’ writing. “Scrouge” is an old English word, probably coming from an older English word of “scruze,” which is a combination of screw and squeeze. However you want to find its origin, the word indicates an encroachment on someone else’s space, or crowding in.
Our three cats have no sense of personal space – they scrouge each other all the time. As an introvert, I hate it when someone “scrouges” me – elevators are terrible that way, and in the days of the coronavirus, we would be well served to read the sign that says, “No scrouging!”
Most of the leaves were still on the trees up here in North Dakota when we last made a trip up to Grafton to see Cheri’s mom. It was just before Halloween, and the temps outside were unseasonably warm for a change. I’ve mentioned before that it is a two-hour trip up and of course two hours home, but it is really important to connect, and just to make sure everything is fine, even with Cheri’s brother and sister-in-law living in the same town. Our “normal” visit schedule has been every two weeks, on Fridays, when Cheri is off work for the day.
However, the beast got in the way. A friend of her mother is unfortunately married to someone who can only be described as arrogant and self-centered. Believing he was blessed and invincible, he ignored all warnings and cautions about the coronavirus, and so of course, he came down with the virus. He then shared it with his wife, who, before she knew she had it, came and visited Cheri’s mom and her mom’s other good friend. Long story still pretty long, both Cheri’s mom and her friend, when they heard the other friend actually had the virus, went and got tested, and sure enough, both of them also were officially positive in terms of the virus in their systems.
The good news was that, although Cheri’s mom is 87, she and her friend were “asymptomatic,” and even after a couple of weeks, the most she had was a bit of achiness and a slight cough. Now, this virus is a real son of a gun, and sneaky, because there are no clear, irrefutable honest facts about CoVid once someone gets it. Maybe you will get sick, and end up in the hospital, and even in ICU on a vent – and maybe you won’t. Maybe you will have very mild and non-threatening symptoms, or none at all, and still be infected, and maybe it will lay you out for days and days nearly crippling your ability to recover. Even after a certain amount of time – one week, two weeks, three weeks? – there is no definitive answer on whether you might still be contagious, or whether all is well once again. Unfortunately, Cheri’s mom and her friend, after about 11 days, declared themselves cured, after no real symptoms, and not only that, but they also announced they were fully protected against getting the virus again, at least for a very long time – perhaps six months, perhaps two years.
I have said a number of times before that this virus is completely predictable, until it isn’t. That’s why they call it novel. So, especially with the fact that Cheri sees patients most every day, and were she to come down with the virus, not only does that take her out of work, but also threatens the lives of pregnant women and such. ON the basis of that, we had to make the tough decision that we couldn’t go up to see her mom until we had some better assurance or protection about it all. We became like so many different families across the country, except that instead of trying to protect our elderly parents, we needed to protect ourselves.
A lot has happened in 12 weeks. Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New year’s, my birthday, Cheri’s birthday, and more… the breakthrough finally came when a few weeks ago, Cheri was lined up to get the “shots,” which by tomorrow should give her pretty formidable protection against anything that Grafton may throw at her. Granted, I’m still vulnerable, but my job doesn’t depend on it, and I have been so isolated for so long that – well, anyway, tomorrow we are going to go see Cheri’s mom.
For a change, we have moved away from our every-Friday snowstorms that have been part of our existence since just after Christmas. Yes, the temperature will be about a high of 15, but at least it’s 15 above zero, and when you put Iso-Heet in your gas tank, it keeps the water in the tank from freezing up in the gas lines, so we should be in pretty good shape. Plus, especially during this time of the year, I make no apologies about driving during daylight hours, so our time in Grafton will be maybe a little shorter than we might otherwise want. Still, we’ll get to see each other, probably go out to eat at the local restaurant, and just catch up in a way you can’t when you are on the phone.
I’m sure you know what I am going to say next… over the past 12 weeks, and even into this week, the name of the game has been “intentionality.” We didn’t just take the attitude that “Well, it probably won’t infect us – we should be fine just ignoring all the warnings and the cautions…” No, we took it seriously, and didn’t act accidentally in getting in the car and just driving to see someone we wanted to see. I know there is a terrible fatigue that is setting in among our friends and neighbors, and some folks are just deciding they aren’t going to “play” anymore, as though this was ever a game. But when we commit ourselves, and our health and our future into “what will be, will be,” things will not turn out the way Doris Day hoped. Our lives, and our families – and it even stretches to our communities – survive and thrive not by accident, but on purpose, with intention of doing the right thing, and staying of the right path, no matter what else we would rather do.
I pray for you and your family during this time, as daily, I offer our world back into God’s careful hands. But please intend to do what you plan to do, and be responsible. Otherwise, accidents will happen.
Saying of the day: When in Rome, do as the Romans do… The phrase today usually is meant to say that when you are in someone else’s home, or some foreign place, it is best to follow those traditions. When I would visit my Korean friends, I always removed my shoes at the door. Tradition.
The original meaning came way back in the 4th century. St. Augustine moved from Rome to Milan, and found out that, although the Romans fasted on Saturdays, it was not so in Milan. He consulted St. Ambrose who told him in so many words, “When I am in Milan, I don’t fast on Saturdays, but when I am in Rome, I do as the Romans do, so as to not create a scandal.” Now, this doesn’t mean that you give up or give over all your standards and morals, simply because you live in a different place for a while. However, in the things that may not truly matter, but are just part of the tradition of the place you find yourself in, basically, don’t be an Ugly American. I remember visiting in Israel, and many members in our group wanted to have milk or cream in their coffee with dinner. In Israel, however, you never serve dairy with meat – it’s a religious practice. I remember the near fights the travelers had with the waiters to try to get cream as they were eating their chicken. When in Rome… it’s better that way, and you aren’t going to die if you can’t get your cream…
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.