Mama’s Hands

Her hands tell her story. Over the decades they baked countless cakes, changed untold thousands of diapers, prepared meal after meal after meal, and washed enough laundry to clothe an army for a year.

They washed innumerable dishes and had been washed clean themselves. Each day, she wrung them in ever-present worry, as there is no purpose without worry. They only stopped when the rest of her body came to a halt. 

As the decades wore on, arthritis took its toll, adding twists and turns to her slender fingers. Graceful hands became tough, gnarled knots. 

These hands had sorted, fixed, cleaned, and soothed in their long lives, seeing both noble and not-so-noble purposes. 

Although, for me her hands represented mostly love, in my early childhood they were also fearful objects, capable of causing instant pain and humiliation. More than once they had left a hot red impression on my arm or leg, a perfect outline of her fingers molded into the white of my flesh. 

In these moments, it’s hard to say which one I felt more of—physical pain or humiliation. The loud smack on my skin would intensify the experience, drawing hot tears from my eyes and turning my selfish day in a new and awful direction. 

In her later years, the hands themselves endured blinding pain each day from the arthritis that wove itself through them.

For her, her hands’ movement meant she was accomplishing her duty. Hand work kept her sense of guilt at bay. After all, idle hands are the devil’s plaything. Busy hands showed her dedication to her duties as a mother, wife, daughter, friend, and employee.

Never once do I remember her having painted nails.That just wasn’t her style. Too flashy, she’d say. Too impractical. People might get the wrong idea. After all, these hands were born in the depression and we must never forget the lessons we learned during that time. Practicality and sensibility come before anything else. 

Her hands often worked even in her downtime. A bushel of fresh-picked green beans from our garden meant she’d watch “Barnaby Jones” or “Mary Tyler Moore” that night while mindlessly breaking one bean after another into pleasing, edible pieces. 

At the end of the day, she put her eyes and her mind to bed and patiently waited for her hands to finish their work. Their final tasks might include massaging sore joints, rubbing overworked calves, or trying without success to ease a fidgety leg. When her hands finally rested, she could at last rest her body. 

Her hands have at last found their final rest. They are peacefully still, her left one casually draped over her right. They and she lie free from guilt and worry.

Everything I Know I Learned Playing Little League (well almost everything…)

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My time spent playing Little League baseball each summer when I was growing up taught me many of life’s valuable lessons.

Were it not for the time I spent on that dirt field in my tiny hometown, I might not be who I am today.

OK, that’s not true. Let’s be realistic here. I’m sure if I had never played baseball, my life right now would not be significantly different.

But, that doesn’t mean there weren’t valuable lessons to be learned from my time spent playing on the Braves and the Gyrafalcons (yes, Gyrafalcons—pronounced with a soft “g” like geriatric).

Since I have never actually known what a gyrafalcon is, I just Googled it—it’s the largest falcon species. And its name is spelled g-y-r-f-a-l-c-o-n. There’s no “a” after the “r”.

But our team name was definitely the Gyrafalcons. I know this because it was mispronounced all the time. Gy-ro-falcons. Gyrafalcons with the hard “g” sound as in gopher. And every other mispronunciation possible.

So, our coach—a falcon enthusiast and trainer who had birds of his own—had the name wrong. Oh well. We’ll just attribute his error to the fact that Google was still over two decades away.

Later on (after I became a Brave) the name was shortened to just Falcons, which I’m sure everyone thought was an improvement.

How did we get information before Google, anyway?

Enough digression…Here’s what I learned from playing Little League (in no particular order)…

 

  1. The value of working as a team.  This one doesn’t need much explanation, as everyone knows the importance of contributing to your team and becoming a valuable member. Whether it’s at work, at church, on a committee, or—of course—a sports team, life works better when we all get along and work together. Yes, I’m still learning this lesson, and I have a long way to go.

  2. Never give up.  One summer, the Braves had not won a game all season long. It was pretty demoralizing, especially for a bunch of preteen boys. Then one night we played the best team in the league (the Astros I think). Before the game, we had no delusions that we could win, but somehow we walloped them. We scored run after run and they scored none, or maybe only one or two. The final score was something like 28-1. It was incredible. I’m not sure we won another game the rest of the season.

  3. It’s not whether you win or lose—it’s how you play the game.  Yes, this is old and corny, and many people argue with the philosophy of the saying. Our coaches taught us to play hard and play fair—just like they should have. To a kid, it really is all about just having fun. Even though we might lose by 10 runs, it was all good. The sounds, the smells, the feeling of strutting around the ballfield in your uniform and looking at the stands full of people who came to watch you play. It was great. And, of course, we didn’t know any better.

  4. Learn to be flexible.  First base was the first position I remember playing in Little League (I played shortstop some in T-ball). It was my thing and I loved it. But at some point our team lost our pitcher. So, somehow I became our starting pitcher. I didn’t like pitching very much and I wasn’t very good. I knew it and so did everybody else. But I persevered through the process and learned to go with the flow.

  5. Your beginning doesn’t determine your end. Early in my baseball playing days I smacked the ball and ran as hard as I could to base—third base. I don’t remember what happened next, but I did know I was well aware I had messed up somehow. Long story short, I learned that you always run to first base after hitting the ball. My baseball game on improved from there.

  6. Listen to those who know more than you do. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that a Little League coach knows more about baseball than a 10-year-old. But the 10-year-old doesn’t necessarily see it that way. Seek out and heed advice from people who have been where you want to go. Don’t be the stubborn kid trying to field a ground ball with only one hand. Listen to the coach telling you to use two hands so the ball doesn’t go through your legs. Save the hot shot moves for when you reach the Big League.

  7. Put in the hard work even when you don’t want to. I loved playing baseball games, but not so much having the practices. It was boring waiting your turn to bat and field balls. Plus, I remember getting soooo thirsty out on that dusty field on scorching summer days. But all that was necessary if I wanted to experience the action and excitement of going up against another team.


There you have it—life lessons instilled in me through wonderful childhood summers spent playing Little League.

What life truths did you learn in childhood that you still hold on to?

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30 Years of Days

30 years. Over 10950 days. Almost 263000 hours.

Even knowing that’s how much time has passed, I somehow feel caught in a time warp.

As I sit eating my Quarter Pounder at the campus McDonald’s, I can’t take my eyes off the TV screen perched on the wall.

Just as if nothing has changed at all—over the last 10,950 days—Patch and Kayla argue, arms and hands flailing in the air.

Then Hope appears on screen, hardly worse for the wear after three decades.

Can it be? Is that Abe Carver, former Salem police chief, talking in his customary calm voice? Yes, it is. He may be sporting some gray hair, but he still looks pretty good.

Is this real life? Am I really sitting here watching the same “Days of Our Lives” characters on the TV screen as I had exactly 30 years ago—back when I was prepping to move to this town and begin my freshman year of college?

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I’m so ready to be out of this class. Just want to get back to my dorm room, relax, and watch my show.

Thirty years ago, after moving into the dorm, I had the VCR in my room set to tape “Days” every day. If my 1:00 class let out a couple of minutes early, I would usually walk into my dorm room just as the end credits rolled.

I’d let the videotape rewind as I settled in, pulling up my desk chair and plopping down in front of my roommate Bill’s TV. I needed that 45 minutes or so of solitude (I’d fast forward through commercials) to take in my show and unwind after a day of classes.

How are those same characters still on this show—one I once loved and wouldn’t miss for the world?

What if we ask nearly the same question except in terms of 18-year-old me: How weird is it that I’ve fast forwarded the days of my life ahead 30 years, only to find myself gazing at a TV screen with the same characters on it? Where in the world did 30 years go? This can’t be real life…

Later that afternoon, after returning to work from lunch, I’d get resolution to the questions bouncing around in my head—a gentle reminder that I am indeed getting older.

I received a Facebook message from one of the girls heading up my 30 year high school reunion, wanting to know if I was planning on attending. She said RSVP’s had been slow coming in, so she’d decided to reach out to class members.

Did I really just call a 47-year-old woman a girl?

So, it’s true. Time has marched on, day by day, just as I had suspected.

Here I sit in this McDonald’s, eating my lunch, and gazing out the window at the campus I—so green and naive—arrived at so long ago.

Much has changed for sure. But much is still the same—like this particular McDonald’s, which had already been built when I came to town. Not much about it has changed—especially the blandness of the Quarter Pounder.

But I’ve definitely changed, some for the better and some for the worse. Now I just need to figure out which is which.

I’ll try to do that over the next 30 years, while Patch and Kayla continue to sort out their stormy relationship.

Who knows, maybe Victor Kiriakis will have made a reappearance by then—after recovering from decades-long amnesia.

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“Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives.”

An Unwelcome Visitor

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Just like good music, death makes a strong impression on a seven-year-old. The young mind, still forming emotions and reactions that will last a lifetime, takes in every scrap of information around him to try to make sense of the world he’s in. His world is one of grown-ups — parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, even cousins.

I was the last child born into the family — a surprise. I wasn’t supposed to be here. As a child, my world constantly tried to reconcile itself with the one around me, the one everyone I knew lived in. It was the world of any number of grown-up decisions about life, money, work, friends, love, or just what to eat or watch on TV. Because of my tender age, I had little or no say in any of these things in my own life. My young, but sharp mind latched onto any anything it could to learn, to survive and thrive. In this regard death is a masterful teacher.

After a lengthy battle with cancer my best friend’s father died when we were both seven. I had spent a lot of time at his house, and had even been to his father’s office a couple of times. Once when I complained to my mom that I didn’t want to go kindergarten, she relented and let me stay home that day. Later that morning I went with her to run errands and we found ourselves at my friend’s father’s office (he was an attorney in our small town).

To my surprise, my friend and his mom were there — she had allowed him to play hooky also. As our parents took care of whatever business they had, we played on the floor of his father’s office, perfectly oblivious to the world around us. His death a year or two later taught me that life is often cold and cruel, and able to remove people from our lives without hesitation.

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For me, a short time after my friend lost his father, death became associated forever with one particular song — “Let ‘Em In”. This track is found on the same Wings album as “Silly Love Songs” and “Cook of the House”. I must have had this song on a 45 record also because I know I didn’t have the entire album on an LP.

I will never forget listening to “Let ‘Em In” shortly before the phone rang that late summer afternoon. A local church youth group had left out early that morning for a canoeing trip. One of my oldest brother’s friends somehow drowned in the river they were on. I knew of this boy, because he had visited our house and had spent some time with my brother.

When I learned of the reason for the call, my young mind nearly went over the edge. Emotion overwhelmed me. I cried. I didn’t understand death and didn’t know why people I knew had to keep dying. It seems that there had been another death around the same time, making this teenager’s drowning the third recent death of someone I knew. I was scared and confused. I felt powerless to stop the onslaught of this horrible, dark thing called death, with which I had had no experience until recently.

I grabbed the phone and, even though my mother was home, dialed the only person I thought would understand — my best friend’s mother. Death had just laid claim to her husband, so surely she would understand the crushing wall of fear and darkness I felt at that moment. When she answered, I wailed into the phone, “It’s happened again…Somebody’s died.” She tried to calm me down as best she could. At that point my mom came into the room.

After that afternoon and until recently, I never intentionally listened to “Let “Em In” again. There were a handful of times afterward that I unwittingly heard the song. Each time I relived the pain, darkness, and powerlessness of that afternoon. The song was and is one of the most profound emotional catalysts of my life.

Not long ago I decided to pull the song up on my computer. I made myself listen to a few lines of it to see if it still had as profound an impact on me as when I was a kid. The emotions weren’t as strong, but they were still unpleasant. Just letting the flute line run through my head sends me crashing back to my childhood with full force.

I think I’ll just leave the song back in my childhood where it belongs.

 

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Goodbye Kermit

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As I remember it, my lifelong love of pop music began in the formal living room of my house sometime around my seventh birthday.

I am the youngest of four siblings. The youngest of my siblings is 8 1/2 years older than I am, so when we were young the age gap often created tension and arguing in our household. I couldn’t stand being the youngest and always felt left out of everything my brothers and sister were doing. They were all near the same age and, in my eyes, had unlimited freedom and access to the world that I could only dream of.

As it happened, one day the family was in the front living room of the house. One of my siblings – my sister I believe — had come into several 45’s of current popular songs. I felt left out because I didn’t have any new records, so I begged to have one of those. My father finally told her to give me one, probably so that he wouldn’t have to listen to me anymore. Reluctantly, she handed me Wings’ “Silly Love Songs” to have as my own. I didn’t know anything about Paul McCartney or Wings, of course. The only records I had at that time for my little plastic yellow record player were Sesame Street and Kermit the Frog (“It’s Not Easy Being Green”). I played these two records all the time.

I began listening to “Silly Love Songs” on a regular basis. I believe I wondered what a “silly love song” was, and why it was silly. As I remember it, I thought the song was OK, but nothing special. I liked the B side, “Cook of the House” a little better.  It was a more upbeat tune that I rather enjoyed.

As a side note, it was only just now, as I went back and listened to the song on YouTube, that I realized it was Linda McCartney singing the lead vocals on “Cook of the House” and not Paul. All these years I had believed it was him.

Young children are particularly impressionable, and I was no exception. My venture into pop music began a lifelong love for music in general, but pop and rock in particular.

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Besides Paul McCartney and Wings, my sister had many other 45’s. I don’t remember most of them, but The Sylvers’ “High School Dance” was one tune I remember she played quite a bit. The face of the 45 RPM disc had a peculiar look to it. The grooves containing the music had been cut in such a way that when the record spun, a swirl pattern moved outward from the center where the hole was. disco-clipart

My youngest brother was a fan of all things disco, as well as just about any female vocalist, disco or not. From him I developed my lifelong love of disco. I have always loved Donna Summer, Sister Sledge, and Diana Ross. The Bee Gees and Chic were among his short list of favorite artists featuring male vocalists. I looked up to him and consequently adopted his love of these artists.

To this day, any music that was popular and ruled the airwaves during those early years of my life seems so much more “grown up” and mature than anything that followed it. As a 6-10-year- old who idolized his older siblings and listened to their music, no matter how old I have become that same music always transforms me into someone wiser, older, bigger, more mature. Donna Summer and KC & the Sunshine Band knew and understood the essence of life. Their songs and their lyrics cut to the bone, they taught me, schooled me on how I was supposed to face life. I learned how to act and react, how love was supposed to feel and not feel, showed me what a grown-up does, what a grown-up believes.

These artists were so much older than I was — they had the life experience that I didn’t yet have. Life was tough, they said, but life can be good. Live — live for love, live for fun, live for freedom and autonomy. Throw in healthy portions of love and sex, along with a dash (or more) of alcohol. Life will hurt, but you’ll be just fine in the end. They did it, they wrote about it, they sang it. I can do the same, albeit without the fame and fortune. Saturday Night Fever was the life. Those in the know danced like John Travolta, sang like Donna Summer, and looked like Barry Gibb and Amii Stewart.

Even though I’m much older now, the music I was exposed to in my childhood has a powerful impact on me. I’m sure it will always be a part of me, no matter how old I am. I’ll probably be 75 years old and if I happen to hear “Hot Stuff” I’ll start to groove a little, even if just on the inside.

A Rough Week

This week I’ve been mad at God, at my wife, at the kids, at my coworkers, everybody around me.

I feel like maybe God has kind of “given me over” to all my anger and rebellion this week. Like maybe He’s saying, “OK, that’s what you want? You want to be bitter and angry and good for nothing? You got it. I’m not protecting you from yourself anymore. You’re on your own to allow your flesh to consume you.”

Of course, I don’t know if that’s it, but I’ve felt that way. I’ve had no real pull toward God, toward wanting to be a good husband or a good father. I’ve only felt like satisfying my desires, what I want and what I think I need.

Honestly, it’s not been a good feeling. I’ve felt very distant from God, like He was a million miles away in another universe or something. At heart I want to serve God. I’m just so frustrated with life I don’t seem capable of pulling myself together to serve Him.

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I was reading in a book earlier tonight that God wants to give us good things, that He wants us to be happy and successful. On the one hand I don’t know if I agree with the happy and successful part, but the bible does say He wants to give us good things, just like our earthly fathers do.

Most of the time I really don’t see any evidence of God’s desire for good things in my life. If that were true, why do I feel so miserable? Why have I been unhappy and depressed so many years? Wouldn’t God have stepped in by now if He really cared? Wouldn’t He have rescued me from this drudgery called life by now? How can I continue to hope for the best and be optimistic after all these years? For the most part I have been miserable all my adult life, at least 24 years. How much longer do I have to wait until something changes?

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Maybe I’m what needs to change. I read a quote today that said, “When you feel like God is doing nothing, that’s probably when He is doing the most.” That stuck with me. Maybe a breakthrough is around the corner and life will change for me. Or maybe not my life, but simply my attitude toward life.

I guess I need to remember, however, that I may never have the life here on earth that I think I should have. I was never promised that after all. I am promised eternal life in the company of my Savior. For that I should be thankful and happy everyday.

There is nothing on this earth so bad that it could ever tarnish the thought of eternity with God. Even after living with and loving Him for 1000 years — and that’s a long time — I’m just getting started. And even after another 10,000 years (which I can’t possibly fathom), it will still be like I’m just getting started. My existence and fellowship with God will never end. It will keep on going and going.

We humans can’t get a real grasp on eternity because the longest any of us has ever lived is a few decades, which to us seems long. God created the concept of eternity for us. He lives outside time. He always has been and always will be. Quite simply, He is timeless. Time is an invention of His for us to use while on earth. After our bodies die and we join Him, time has no meaning to us either. We just are — and will continue to be — forever.

To Turn or Not to Turn…

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The act of driving taught me something important about myself recently.

Picture yourself driving down the road. You’re thinking about the next turn you have to make up ahead. If you need to change lanes you may put on your turn signal and wait for a break in the traffic, or perhaps some compassionate soul will slow down and flash his lights at you, allowing you in front of him or her.

That’s probably how most people would do it. Not me. I rarely use my turn signal. I will wait for a break in the traffic, but I hate to put on my signal and wait for somebody to let me over. Crazy as it sounds, I believe this is a strong indicator of my resistance to relying on anyone else. I don’t want to be at the mercy of another driver, waiting on him to show me mercy and let me over. I don’t want him knowing I need over. To me, that would be construed as weakness on my part. Instead, what I do is watch and wait for my moment. Yes, I have to plan ahead, but this is my way. When I have an opening, I zip over to the other lane. I always do it safely, or at least I try to. I really try not to cut people off, but at the same time, I don’t want them to allow me to get over. If they have to slow down, I want it to be because I’ve already made my move and they need to slow so we don’t hit; not slow to let me over.

I’m sure this attitude is a grave weakness on my part, and is indicative of my world view. It’s me against the world, doing it own my own, my way, without help from others. Because relying on others would show weakness. I have to be capable on my own, the first time I try, and succeed, or else it’s all a failure. If I have to ask advice, or seek counsel, or ask for help, then it’s not just me, it’s not by virtue of my innate talent or ability. It’s watered down and meaningless. Consequently, I need to have and display my natural ability to zip in and out of traffic, changing lanes at will without using a turn signal. No reliance on another driver.

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That being said, I have also discovered that if I use my turn signals consistently for a while, then my attitude toward using them begins to change.

Slowly, I begin to feel like an honest citizen, an above board kind of guy who lives in harmony with his neighbors. Turn signal use becomes the catalyst that legitimizes my need and my right to change lanes. Rather than a sly fox making a quick jaunt into the next lane, I am a gentleman thoroughbred horse, making a friendly gesture toward his neighbor while I ease over. And we’re both smiling.

It actually feels good to use my turn signal properly. I believe that doing so makes me feel more legitimate in other areas of my life — as a parent, an employee, etc.

I’m not sure what all this means, other than that it is probably best (and for my own good) that I don’t try to do everything on my own. Rather, I should work in conjunction with those around for the betterment of all — not just myself. Doing so will make me feel better and help me feel closer to my fellow man.

You may be saying something like, “This is the craziest stuff I’ve ever heard. What does using your turn signal have to do with how you interact with your fellow man?” I don’t know that it does have anything to do with other people. I can only say for myself what the difference is when I do or don’t use my turn signals. If it’s true for me, however, then it may very well be true for at least one of the other seven billion people on this ball we live on.

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Four

Nothing seemed out of the ordinary when I hugged him and told him goodbye. He probably told me to be careful on my way back home, but I don’t remember. I climbed into my car and pulled onto the highway, making a mental break from my brother and preparing for my long drive home. My mind was filled with all the events of the weekend — seeing my old classmates at the reunion, driving past the the house where I grew up and seeing the inside warmly lit, visiting with my extended family. It would take me quite some time to process the deluge of emotions swirling around inside my head from all that had happened that weekend. These emotions were so intense that my relationship with my last surviving brother was not of much importance at that moment. I didn’t know it then, but we would let years pass by without so much as a word to each other. In fact, today marks four years exactly since I last saw or spoke with my brother.

I had felt it creeping up on me. These four years have not elapsed without weekly and almost daily realizations that more and more time had passed since our last conversation. For the first year or two, each time I would think about it I’d say to myself something like, Yes, I really should call him. We are flesh and blood after all. We shouldn’t go on like this without having at least some kind of relationship. I would often picture myself several years down the road, stressing over finally calling him after such a long time. I never wanted to become one of those middle-aged adults you see on TV who reestablishes contact with a brother or sister after decades of separation.

family-of-originHowever, for the last year or two, I haven’t cared so much. If there’s one thing I’ve learned as an  adult, it’s that time has a way of softening painful emotions. The importance of difficult situations and their attending emotions seems to diminish ever so slightly with each passing day, week, and month. Now when thinking about the the whole situation, I have pretty much resolved myself to the fact that I no longer have any siblings (my sister is a whole other story), a condition that I anticipate will in all likelihood remain the same for the rest of my life.

Of course I feel some guilt for this situation. I could easily have picked up the phone and called him at some point over that last 48 months. I never did, however. I’d say this is mostly because the thought that he never bothered to call me either showed exactly how much worth he had placed on the relationship. Why should I bother to go out of my way when it is quite apparent that he has no desire to maintain a relationship with me? I would very conveniently my apathy for him out of my mind.

I’ve often wondered how he’s doing. He’ll soon have been married to his fourth wife for five years. I’m quite surprised that their relationship has lasted as long as it has. She is the uptight gossipy type, while he’s the type of guy who has always hidden his true character from his partner. When he was married to his last wife, with whom he had two daughters, they both drank quite a bit. I’m not sure how that has been reconciled in his current marriage. Based on what I know of her, I don’t see how she could stand for that and still play the piano at church on Sundays. I see them eventually splitting up — his ways are just not her ways, in my opinion.

I regret not maintaining a relationship with him. The concept of a strong family unit was always important in my family of origin. My mother used to say, “Family is all you’ve got. Girlfriends and boyfriends will come and go, but you’ll always have your family.” Also, I remember the day she told me that biologically I’m closer to my siblings than to either of my parents. She explained that we siblings all came from the same two parents, making us biologically as close as possible.  But for that same reason (that we’re a product of both parents), we’re not as biologically close to either of our parents individually as we are to our siblings.

As for my father, his way of encouraging tight family connections was to tell us when we were going out for the evening, “Don’t do anything to disgrace the family.” There is no telling how many times I heard that appeal to my siblings when I was younger, and then to me personally when I reached my teen years and began going out regularly. My guilt over not calling my brother makes me feel like I’ve let the family down in some way, like maybe I’d still have a brother to talk to if only I’d called him at some point.

Perhaps, after all these years, the time is right to reach out to him. I can’t help but wonder about his spiritual state. If he died today, would I have any assurance that he’d experience eternity with God instead of suffering and eternal isolation from Him? No, I don’t.

I guess I know what I need to do.

Random musings…

In recent weeks, God has taught me in two distinct areas. Over the course of a day or two I heard three different sermons/teachings on 1 Timothy 6, about how contentment is great gain. I didn’t seek out any of these teachings knowing that they were on this topic. The other topic was on Alfred Nobel. As the story goes, his obituary was mistakenly printed in the newspaper one morning, and upon seeing himself labeled as the “Merchant of Death”, he became so disturbed that he used his fortune to create the Nobel Prizes. Once again, over the course of two or three days, I heard or read three different teachings on Nobel. Prior to this, I was not familiar with the story of his obituary or how the Nobel Prizes came to be. After learning about his efforts to create a better legacy for himself, I’ve given a lot of thought to my own legacy and how I want to be remembered after I’m gone.

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As I was listening to an old song by Kitaro, the Japanese musician, I was flooded with memories and emotions from back in 1986 when I first heard this song. I had been introduced to his music at a summer program that lasted for several weeks. How in the world did I evolve from being a scared 17-year-old kid to a middle-aged man with two teens of his own? The enormous differences between my life then and my life now are amazing. I suppose there is only one answer for how this happened — one day at a time.

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Lately as I’ve really tried to rely on God for everything (my daily sustenance), I’ve viewed my dependence on Him sort of like being in prison — waiting blindly for the door to open and some food or a package to slide through. I’m sad to admit this, to myself as well as to others. It’s hard feeling like you’re not in control, however. I pray that I can shake this feeling and begin to see my relationship with God as it should be.

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As I was taking a shower one recent morning, I realized after a couple of minutes that I had already had three very different songs running through my head — the classic hymn “Shall We Gather at the River?”, Skid Row’s “Youth Gone Wild”, and Andy Gibb’s “I Just Want to Be Your Everything”. I have no idea why my brain decided to play these three particular songs that morning.

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I’m always happy when pulling out of the driveway to leave for an overnight trip. I finally realized why. The road gives hope — you have something to look forward to, a destination that will give you a break from the daily monotony of ordinary life. This fact may be obvious to others, but for me I just realized it.

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I’ve always been fascinated how conversations will evolve, how one topic leads to another, then another, etc. Recently I was sitting around talking with a mixed group of people. An older lady was remarking how her husband used to write her love notes when he was overseas in World War II. A younger lady then told how when she and her husband were first dating, he wrote her love notes on blue toilet paper. Then the thought struck a couple of us that you can’t find colored toilet paper on the shelves anymore. A teenage girl googled the subject, finding one result that said the dyes in colored toilet paper were banned several years ago due to a suspected link to cancer found in lab animals. The conversation then took a turn toward discussing the primate research lab at the local university. One of the women works in the medical center of this university, so the conversation drifted onto the effect that Obamacare has had on their industry and healthcare in general. So, our group’s conversation went from WWII love notes to the reduced quality of healthcare in a matter of minutes. And we were scarcely even aware.

 

 

 

Expletive (NOT) Deleted

This topic is difficult to write about, as it paints me in a negative light. I believe, however, that this is something that needs to be said.

Ever since I accepted Christ as my Savior when I was 15, I have wavered back and forth in my faith. I have gone through many different periods when I was close to God, seeking His will daily in my life. On the other hand, there have also been many times when I have rebelled from God, committing sins and living a lifestyle that I knew deep down I shouldn’t be.

If I’m at a point in my life when I’m closer to God and trying to live the way I believe He wants me to, Imagethen the harshest words I might use are “heck” or “dang”. During these times, it’s natural for me to react more softly to daily trials and tribulations. It’s something I don’t really even have to think about, but instead comes as a result of regular bible reading and prayer. “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt. 12:34b).

On the flipside of this, however, during times of rebellion I do not hesitate to take God’s name in vain. When I get angry or bitter about something that isn’t going my way, I tend to put His name in front of “d****t”, making this expletive even harsher and more cutting.

At the moment that this pair of words comes out of my mouth, it is as if I am saying to God, “I really mean what I’m saying here. I’m not kidding around.” For instance, suppose I’ve had a particularly bad day and then on top of it all my favorite shirt rips when I’m putting it on. After spewing out those two words I might grit my teeth and yell something like, “I have absolutely had it with this day!” At that moment I may as well be yelling to Heaven, glaring with my fist raised to God, telling Him that it all needs to stop now because I’m not going to take it anymore! Or else!

Or else what? one would ask. Or else nothing actually. What am I really supposed to do if I’m mad at God. Of course, there’s nothing I can do except sit and pout.

In the moment, my childish nature is completely ruling me, yet all my anger and rebellion seems effective to me.

I realized several years ago that I could use my response to stressful situations as a kind of barometer of my spiritual condition.

If something unnerving happens in my day, and I simply smile and shake my head, then I realize that I’m on track spiritually speaking. Look back over recent days and weeks, I’ll be able to see that I’ve made strong efforts to live for God. On the other hand, I know my spiritual life is in the gutter if “GD” comes out of my mouth.

I have found this barometer most helpful to my spiritual life in the area of comparison. I can either stop and think to myself, Boy, I’ve come a long way in the last six months. I remember when I use to get all bent out of shape being stuck in traffic. Or I can think, It’s sad to realize how much my spiritual life has deteriorated in the last few weeks. I really need to get back on track with God. In this way, the barometer either serves as kudos for myself, or as a convicting reminder.

ImageMusic has played a huge role in my life, ever since I was about five years old. Over the years I’ve often written about its effect on me.

Along with the profanities (or lack thereof) that come out of my mouth, I discovered several years ago that the type of music I’m listening to at any given time is also a kind of barometer for my spiritual state.

For example, if I’m content listening to lighter music such as KLOVE, and I feel “nourished” by it, then there’s a good chance that in recent days I’ve actively been trying to please God and not rebel against him.

On the other hand, if I try to listen to KLOVE, but all it really does it irritate me (because who is that happy and content anyway to be able to sing in such a “smily” voice?), then it’s probably something harder, edgier that I really crave — maybe pop or even hard rock or metal. If I pause long enough to reflect on my situation, I’ll realize that I’m most likely not at a point at that moment where I care enough to live my life for God.

There are many nuances to this music barometer. I could go into great detail describing scenarios for the different types of music I listen to. It doesn’t really matter, though. The point is that the music I’m most comfortable with at any given moment reflects my spiritual state.

Yes, of course, I realize that the reverse is also true. What I allow into my ears (and consequently my mind) has a huge effect on my attitude and my desire to live for God. “Garbage in, garbage out,” as the experts tell us. Here I must assert that often I will choose to listen to something “better” (read less rebellious and more spiritual) if I realize that my walk with God is suffering.

Referencing these indicators is not meant to belittle my faith in God. As human beings, most of us value our appearance. We look in a mirror to give us an idea of what we look like to other people. Over the years I’ve realized that because I’m thankful to God for His salvation and I want to worship Him, I can use these behavioral barometers to get a quick check of my spiritual condition — kind of like taking a quick glance in the mirror to see if I have anything on my face.