Exploring where life and story meet!

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Waiting game

It's Advent, the time when the historical church celebrates waiting and that most hard won of all virtues: patience.  Waiting?  Who needs to wait in this modern era?  I have two day or even same day shipping!  Patience went out of vogue with dial-up!  Get with the times lady, sheesh!  Yeah, me too.  I didn't say I enjoyed it, but that doesn't negate its value or importance, I don't want to work out or eat right either or obey traffic laws...you get the idea.  But we still have to wait, whether we would or not, for there are some things, even in this modern world, that cannot be hurried.  This article reminded me of just that, and not only that everyone must wait for something, but that the waiting is actually a gift, yes, you read that right.  As an adoptive parent, I've spent many Christmases waiting and waiting and waiting, only to have that place in your heart empty again this year, so this season is strangely one I really appreciate, for it reminds me I am not alone in my waiting and others spent centuries waiting for something far more important than my little family disappointment yet many never saw it realized.

I was recently on the hunt for an Advent Calendar and found things like the beer/wine advent calendar so you can drink your way to Christmas or the dog advent calendar so Fido can celebrate the season likewise, because dogs really love Christmas I guess.  There were plenty of specimens with a Santa or other modern seasonal variation counting down excitedly to Christmas with a treat or book or stuffed toy or other little present, but I found none that were real Advent Calendars counting down to Christmas that actually had anything to do with Advent!  Now excitement over the season is fun and counting down to Christmas is a grand tradition, but it isn't Advent so I'm not sure why they still call all these modern secular versions 'Advent Calendars.'  Rather, go listen to a really good version of 'O Come O Come Emmanuel' and just let the mystery, the yearning, the hope, the sorrow enter your soul.  Get rid of the phone, the TV, turn off the lights except for a few candles, and just imagine what it must have been like.  Then put on Handel's 'Messiah' (not just the greatest hits, but the entire work) and listen to the words of the prophets echo down through the ages set to wonderful music.  That's Advent: this almost painful expectation, yearning, hope, unfilled but promised, coming but when?

We sit down and read the Christmas story every year, little thinking of all the anticipation, disappointment, and buildup that led to the cutesy little manger scene we all adore.  Since man was cast out of the Garden, it was promised that One would come to restore all that had been lost.  Through all the dark and turbulent years of exile and war, the nation of Israel was promised a Savior. But the prophets were silent, the temple in ruins, the nation a slave state, and the people scattered across the globe, where was the promised Light amidst so much darkness and turmoil.  And then He came, when least expected, in a way quite unlooked for, so much so that many did not believe it.  But then He left, and we wait still, we long still, we yearn for justice and peace and joy.  But the world is a mess and seems messier every day.  Could this truly be 'the consolation of Israel?'  Where is that promised age when all things will be set aright and tears shall be no more?  We wait, for He has promised to return.  So at Advent we look back to the yearning, the longing, the hope of His first coming and look forward, feeling much the same, for His second.

So countdown to Christmas in whatever manner excites your fancy, but do not forget the true reason behind the season or the countdown thereto.  If you're tired of the garish decorations and soulless music, you yearn for a simpler and more meaningful Christmas, hearken back to the very roots of the season, discover what Advent truly means, and it will make the whole season far more delightful.  Forget the ugly sweater party, crack open Isaiah, and Remember!

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Sophomoric Genius

I was a Sophomore thrice over: highschool, college, and grad school, so I've had the delightful experience of 'foolish wisdom' enough to at least minor, if not major in it.  You know, when you have just enough education to feel like you know it all but not enough experience to know you don't; know anybody who lives their life like that?  Anywho, apparently I'm developing a taste for the 'juvenilia' of my favorite authors.  If anybody has a copybook penned by C.S. Lewis during his boarding school days or perhaps G.K. Chesterton's grammar school joke book, please let me know.  Jane Austen's 'Love and Friendship' has already captured my fancy and lately I've discovered 'The Inheritance' by Louisa May Alcott of 'Little Women' fame.  I saw the DVD at the local thrift store and did a bit of quick interweb research to learn more about it.

Goodreads.com reviewers declared it to be sentimental and romantic drivel penned by our Lady of little ladies at the ripe old age of 17.  How much stuff written by any 17 year old female is anything but sentimental and romantic with probably a great deal of drivel as well?  Especially with a lady with so large a heart and great an affection as Ms. Alcott?  Certainly Miss Austen's snarky wit made great fun of such goings on in the aforementioned work, but Ms. Alcott is not world famous for satirical wit, but rather for her gentle and greathearted heroines.  To be honest, I did not read the book, I bought the DVD for a buck and went in knowing sort of what to expect (both from the source material and the production company, more on that later).  In was wonderfully sentimental and romantic and drivel of the first order, I thoroughly enjoyed it.  The acting was worthy of a Star Wars movie, the plot predictable, and you either liked or despised the characters immensely as they were about as complex as any character in a Star Wars movie too.  And George Lucas was a grown man when he wrote Star Wars so Louisa May is doing just fine by that standard!

My in-laws keep buying us movies from this horrid production company that prides itself on 'clean' movies, and while I appreciate the lack of filthy language, vulgar jokes, graphic violence, and explicit content, just because something is 'clean' doesn't mean it is a quality story, be it book or movie.  Sort of like food labels that tell you what isn't in a product, I don't really care what it does not contain, what's in it?  I'm sure it was a low budget production with unknown actors so I didn't expect a BBC costume drama, that being said, it is a very pretty movie with a good sound track and lovable characters, if a bit awkward.  Mr. Hamilton reminded me of the grandfather in the 'Princess Bride' for some reason, I liked him immensely!

I'm certainly not going to let my husband watch this movie (he's murder on well done Jane Austen films!) but I think I may watch it again sometime.  Just know going in you're in for a bit of fluff, but it is a fun peek into a world that all too soon vanished beneath the smoke and confusion of war, technology, modernism, and financial turmoil, leaving us heirs to a far more jaded, cynical, and lonely world.  The ideals are timeless (if currently considered quaint) and we get a rare peek into the formative mind of a great authoress, which in itself is well worth the effort.  I also wonder how many of we sophomoric moderns would even rate 'Little Women' as sentimental, romantic drivel?  Perhaps it is we who have changed, and not for the better, right along with the world: our innocence lost and our outlook cynical, so much so that we can little fathom a far simpler, slower-paced world, in which the study of personal character, that of all our acquaintance and especially ourselves, was not only possible but a lifetime occupation a la Jane Austen.  Perhaps Ms. Alcott is not so sentimental as we would brand her, perhaps it is we who are not 'sentimental' enough, to yearn for honor and integrity and kindness and gentleness in ourselves and all those close to us.  And in that, this touching little story does not fail, not in the least!

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Lost Discipline?

I just ran across this article extolling what might be one of the lost disciplines, you know, one of those torturous routines we enforce upon ourselves to better some trait, habit, or characteristic: diet, exercise, classical literature...no, I do not believe professional sports of any stripe are an acceptable form of discipline unless you happen to be playing one and fantasy football does not count!  In the Christian tradition, the ones I can easily list are prayer, Bible study,  and fasting, I'm sure there are others, but I had not considered 'celebration,' as an option (apparently tailgating is a discipline, who knew!).  But I think the author has a very good point: our culture certainly takes itself too seriously at times, as can our faith.  A little break now and again from the sobriety, angst, and severe focus on 'success' might be just the thing, not only for each of us as individuals but as a society as a whole.  Think what might happen to the 24/7 news stations if they implemented this strategy; I know many (myself included) have given up even watching because it is just too depressing.  For there are good things in the world, as well as bad, but we never hear of them and that's a pity indeed.  So for once, eat, drink, and be merry and godspeed!

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Home for the Holidays

I'm so excited to be stuck at home for the holidays this year, it's almost like we're a legitimate family or something.  The extended family on both sides lives at least a state, if not two, away so we inevitably put well over a thousand miles on the car every holiday season making the obligatory pilgrimage, what with owning the only grandkid on either side.  Last year we got stranded an extra three days at my in-laws due to a blizzard over Thanksgiving and then they got snowed in here at Christmas.  We also have a new baby, which makes long distance driving even more complicated, that and we can't possibly fit anything else in the car and how do you tell grandma she can't give your child a hand carved life size mahogany rocking horse for Christmas just because there isn't room in the trunk?  Maybe we'll just leave daddy behind...I jokingly threatened that after the first Christmas with our son after he got so much stuff that there was hardly room for us but now it is more true than ever!

Between the distance, the weather, and the kids, I'm not as gungho about road trips as I used to be when it was just me and a backpack.  That and we are an actual, legitimate family unit that can celebrate in our own right, though this is a hard truth for the grandparents to comprehend.  We'll make the trip, just next summer when snow isn't quite so likely (there's always a chance).  But this year we just don't have the vacation time either after the adoption and everything, and maybe once the extended family figures out it isn't the end of the world and sort of gets into the habit, maybe we can make it an annual tradition without drama, guilt, and recrimination.  I'm more than happy to host so if you really want to see the kids this Christmas, I'm afraid you'll have to make the trip yourself.  What surprises me is how insistent certain of 'the fam' is that it isn't Christmas without the kids home, but the kids are home, at our house with our kids!  The first Christmas consisted of a teenage girl, her newborn baby, the stepdad, and a bunch of shaggy sheepherders without even a decent roof over their heads, let alone a Christmas tree of 5 course dinner, so I think wherever you are, whoever you are with, it can still be Christmas, even if things aren't ideal.

I never had family tradition, joy, or love growing up, so I'm really excited to actually start having our own with our family, for so many years it's been dictated by what the in-laws or great grandma has always done, and since we can never reach those now mythic standards, we're all stressed out, miserable, and disappointed and Christmas is 'not what it used to be,' not that it ever was, we just color it that way in dearest memory.  I guess I really shouldn't complain about the grumblings of disgruntled relatives over this, Mary might have been killed if Joseph decided to press the issue of who the father was.  That's one thing I love about the movie 'The Nativity Story:' they show what it might really have been like, it isn't just a pretty manger scene, it was dirty, hard, cold, scary, and lonely.  I suppose that's why all my favorite seasonal songs are full of minor chords (major chords are happy, triumphant sounding; the minor chords are a little sad and mysterious).

Christmas is full of Joy, but there is an inescapable sense of mystery, awe, wonder, and a pinch of sorrow in the mix as well.  It isn't just 'Jingle all the way,' there's this deep longing, a yearning as old as the world, satisfied at last:

"Long lay the world in sin and error pining. 
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth. 
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices, 
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn. 
Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices! 
O night divine, the night when Christ was born; 
O night, O Holy Night , O night divine! 
O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!"

So whether you're 'stuck at home,' hunkered down in a foxhole, working the night shift in the ER, lost in some jungle, or celebrating with family and friends, remember, it isn't who you are with, what you do, or where you are that makes this season so wonderful.  It's none of our doing at all, so even if the gravy is lumpy or the dog eats the turkey or Aunt Edna voted for him, Rejoice, for we have truly received 'glad tidings of great joy!'  And for all people too, even Aunt Edna!


Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Answer is always C, right?

The weather, the phase of the moon, our parents, our race/gender/religion/socioeconomic situation/relationship status, our education or lack thereof, a down turn in the economy, that guy at work, our genetics, bad luck, our weight or metabolism or health...there are a million reasons, or rather excuses, why we are the way we are: unhappy, unsettled, uncomfortable, restless, dissatisfied with life in general and ourselves in particular.  But we think life will be better when we fix the problem: lose the weight or get a new job, or get counseling for things beyond fixing, like our childhood, but it never lasts, not for long anyway.  We're like the kid before Christmas who has his heart set on X, life will be so wonderful when he has X, but two weeks after Christmas, X is gathering dust in a corner and life is probably the same, if not a little more drab since X failed to fix it.

It isn't a new diet or boyfriend, it isn't travel to exotic places or adopting a dog; all that is wonderful for its own reasons but none of it will fix your life.  As a culture, we are obsessed with finding the problem or placing the blame outside ourselves, certain that Something must certainly be the problem, if not This then maybe That.  But nothing helps, we're still left feeling like a square peg in a round hole; like a jigsaw puzzle missing the last piece.  It is the root cause of most of the evils in society and the world at large: someone decides to do something drastic to fill that gap and thousands suffer as a result.  But those at the top are just as empty as those of us at the bottom of the heap.  Power, fame, riches don't fill that hole any more than anything else.

I grew up in an emotionally vacant home, at least of all the good emotions; we had plenty of anger, shame, fear, and frustration.  I've been trying to change that in my own family, but somehow managed to collide head on with my in-laws.  They are extremely decent and nice people, but as a mother and daughter-in-law, they always seem to rub me the wrong way.  I think I've finally figured out why.  They both had rather wretched childhoods as well, leaving them scarred emotionally, and now that they are grandparents, they are trying to somehow 'fix' those scars by living vicariously through my kids.  And being thus scarred myself, I've let them pretty much walk all over me only to resent it bitterly later.  It's pretty much the same thing in the wider world, though the root cause of the injury varies from person to person, we are all trying to get whole and healthy through our relationships (or protect ourselves from further injury by social isolation), be it friends, lovers, kids, grandkids, employers or employees, we're all a bunch of burn victims trying to piece ourselves back together in the ICU with nary a physician in sight.  This isn't to say we don't have good and honest intentions, we do, but we are so broken and hurting, and this yearning to be happy and whole is so strong and subtle a part of our nature that we do it quite unwittingly; it is very much a part of what we currently call the human experience.

Some people want to medicate or educate or breed it out of humanity, others think the whole race is too flawed and the only answer is annihilation.  To some, science or technology must surely find an answer be it artificial intelligence or genetic manipulation.  Some embrace their base nature and the evolutionist's creed, eager to be the strongest and thrive amidst their depravity.  But nothing will fill that gap or sooth the unsettled soul, for there is no 'balm in Gilead,' or at least not on this mortal earth, or perhaps I should say wasn't, for the Great Physician has come and we no longer need to sew up our own wounds.  But we are unwise children, too wise in our own eyes to see that we are wounded, let alone in need of a doctor; we continue to look to X to make us happy, and if that doesn't work, there is always Y...but the Answer transcends the whole alphabet, a single letter won't suffice, we need the Alpha and Omega and everything in between, nothing less will satisfy.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Looking for ET in all the wrong places?

The last time I watched 'ET' was in Spanish class in high school, and all I can remember was that epic line, "ET telephono a mi casa."  'Green Eggs and Ham' didn't translate the best either.  ET might have actually been better in Spanish, but in whatever language, I really never liked it.  But it could be worse, my husband was a substitute German teacher once and got to watch the first 45 minutes of 'Finding Nemo' in German seven times in one day, ugh!  But this post isn't about linguistic translation or even pop culture icons, but rather modern culture's obsession with finding non-terrestrial life somewhere, somehow, somewhen, especially a sapient variety.  But it isn't just aliens, we've gone through werewolves, ghosts, robots, vampires, and are currently weathering a zombie phase: anything to find we are not alone, that there is more to reality than the span of our heart beats.

But we aren't alone.  And our modern search for the extraterrestrial is a little ridiculous when you consider our planet was actually invaded two millennia ago, and not just by visitors from another planet or even another galaxy, but by Someone from outside our own reality.  Yeah, wrap your mind around that one for a minute.  It's like me physically trying to cram myself into one of my own books: ain't going to happen!  But He managed to do it.  But we're still watching the stars, hoping someone is out there, somewhere, when all we need do is realize that He's already come, we aren't alone any longer, at least if we don't want to be.  There are all sorts of conspiracy theories about the government covering up all traces of alien visitations, but this is the original and still the most controversial.  And no, I am not giving any credence to the theories that say various visions or miracles in the Bible were actually alien phenomena such as Ezekiel's 'wheels within wheels.'  I speak only of the advent of deity within mortal flesh, the Word made Flesh that dwelt among us.

I am currently reading through the Gospel of John, and it is very intuiging to see some of the language he uses and the word pictures he paints, emphasizing this point; this from the same pen that wrote Revelation, now there's a vision!

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews.  But my kingdom is not from the world.” (John 18:36)

This is one passage that caught my eye, but there are many others, especially the first chapter and the passages in chapter 17 where He prays to the Father about His disciples, implying that His followers too are also somehow separated from the world they once knew.  We must still abide within the world, but we are no longer of it, for ours is the Kingdom of Heaven.  So for all those longing to leave behind this troubled and broken humanity, whether you want to join the giant blue cat people from that one movie, run off to become a Jedi, get bit by a radioactive spider, or fall in love with a vampire, this yearning isn't weird or restricted to geek culture: it's innate within our very souls.  We were made to be something more and certainly not to be alone.  And the great news is we aren't.  We just need to know where to look, or perhaps rather to Whom. 

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Set in the hearts of men

Lately I've run across several comments or articles on social media written by adoptees or adoptive parents about a common theme: the adopted person's search for wholeness in their biological roots.  There was the article about adopted Korean children going back to Korea and finding they had no place in that society.  There were cries of many an angst ridden teen who felt the key to their identity and future lies in their genetic past.  What I find interesting about this yearning, this longing, this feeling that things are not right, that I don't fit in or belong here, is that it isn't just an adoption issue.  What these uneasy young people are missing is the fact that everyone feels that way, not just children with non-biological parents.  I'm not saying that adopted children don't have a unique set of circumstances to deal with, but rather this anguished cry of the longing heart isn't peculiar to the adoption community but wrings the heart of every single human soul.

Look at the popular films of our age.  In 'Dances with Wolves' and 'The Last Samurai' we find this longing is fulfilled only by forsaking the modern culture into which one was born and embracing a different, seemingly more enlightened or peace-loving culture.  In 'Avatar' we discover that it is not even a particular culture that is the problem but rather humanity as a whole, thus the only way to find our place is to abandon not only our culture but our species as well.  It is the same for the adopted child: if I am unhappy in my current circumstances, I must find fulfillment in my biological roots, only to discover that their genetic parents are just as ordinary and unfulfilling as their adoptive parents, both being merely human.  Others, especially young women, look to romance to fulfill them, only to find a love interest or spouse isn't the key for that particular lock.  It may be career, success, family, fortune, fame, or a million other good and worthy pursuits that we look to to make us whole, to complete and fulfill us, to give us meaning and purpose, but nothing satisfies.  After the initial excitement wears off, we yet find that unquenchable longing still there and our hearts more bitter and jaded than ever, until we give up in despair and become so cynical and toxic that life is miserable indeed, not only for ourselves but for all those around us.

If nothing in the physical world can satisfy, if there is an answer, it must lie in the metaphysical, philosophical, or spiritual realm.  Apparently new age spirituality/the occult is gaining popularity again as people desperate for that answer begin turning over old stones that our modern scientific age has long scoffed at, but when the modern scientists repeatedly tell us that we're all one big cosmic accident and nothing matters, it is no surprise our meaning hungry souls begin to look elsewhere for more satisfying answers.  The problem with 'spirituality' is that it is as ill-defined and vacuous as the concept of 'truth' in our post-modern-life is whatever you want it to be age.  Sure, you can have your 'spirituality' like your favorite coffee or burger: exactly the way you want it, but that just makes it another shallow consumer good that is ingested and leaves us hungry and unfulfilled a few hours later; it doesn't give answers to life's greatest questions or fill the longing depths of our soul.  Sort of like going to a rock concert and feeling connected and exhilarated for a few hours, only to get in the car, tired and overstimulated, for a long, lonely drive home or being the one left alone to clean up after the party/wedding/graduation.

So what is the answer, if it isn't in science or relationships or success or foggy spirituality?  Is there an answer?  Why would there be this longing if it didn't have a fulfillment?  Hunger or thirst would be rather odd sensations if we had neither food nor drink to fulfill them or a biological need to have them fulfilled.  It is a spiritual thirst, a metaphysical identity crisis that afflicts each and every one of us.  We may mistake it for a need for more money, a better house, a nicer car, or the latest tech or the longing for a relationship or a job or whatever, but deep down it is 'deep crying out to deep,' the very deeps of our soul crying out to the deepest things in and beyond creation.  There is a Living Water to quench this divine thirst, One who promises to give rest to the weary, and a very Father to the orphan.  We are all of us orphans, we are all searching for our true Parent, in this we are all adoptees, longing for our true Home.  And there is One to whom we can each cry, 'Abba, Father!'  

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Parenting in context

"For this child I have prayed."

It's cute, it's catchy, it's a Bible quotation, what could be better?  This little verse is very popular amongst the Christian adoption/infertility community, at least as judged by Pinterest.  I certainly understand the sentiment, having sojourned in that valley myself, but I think they need to finish the statement.  It's a little like the Noah's ark themed nursery decor or putting 'Goodnight Sweet Prince' on your nursery wall: good intentioned cuteness but when taken in the original context, probably not a great choice for the nursery.  Sure, we all love the cutesy animals but that's not the point of Noah's story, rather we so often overlook the cataclysmic judgement on widespread wickedness that had so corrupted the world that only 8 people could be found upon the whole face of the earth who still kept the faith.  And in our SIDS obsessed culture, I'm not sure putting the last words spoken to the dying Hamlet on your little prince's wall would be a great idea.  And then there's the much celebrated Jane Austen ten pound note being released in the UK, except the quote on the pleasure of reading, though nice, is spoken by a jealous Caroline Bingley, who has absolutely no interest in reading except as a tool that might win a little of Mr. Darcy's attention, perhaps Miss Austen might find it amusingly ironic but it is rather disappointing to her numerous fans who otherwise might be rather excited about this honor for their favorite authoress.

So what is the mysterious context of this particular snippet?  We must go all the way back to the story of Hannah in the Old Testament, before David and the Kings, back at the tail end of the period of the Judges in Israel.  Hannah is barren and miserable, though her husband is supportive and accepting of their infertility, he just doesn't get her misery.  One day she is sitting outside the temple praying in such anguish of heart that she is actually chastised for public drunkenness.  But her prayers are heard and eventually she has several children, the first becomes a great Prophet called Samuel.  Here is the whole quotation:

"For this child I prayed, and the Lord has granted me my petition that I made to him. Therefore I have lent him to the Lord. As long as he lives, he is lent to the Lord." I Samuel 1:27-28.

This faithful little mother, so desperate for a child, then gives the miraculous answer to her most desperate prayer back to God.  How many that quote the first have the heart to do the whole?  But then is it not the duty of every parent to do just that?  For every child is a gift of God, no matter how easy or difficult was the conception or adoption.  They are not ours to keep, but rather a trust to guard and shepherd into the purposes and plans destined for them ere the stars were lit.  So be bold, parents, pray for a child, but be certain to raise them in context.


Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Hold it loosely

In a culture that idolizes fame, power, and material wealth, happiness and contentment via any other means is almost impossible to comprehend.  When we act only out of a hope of personal gain or out of fear of accruing shame or guilt, then our misery is assured.  The celebrities aren't happy, those who have attained the pinnacle of our society's definition of success, if judged by their rate of substance abuse, suicide, divorce, and other signs of personal and relational stress and dysfunction.  How much less are the masses, ever in desperate pursuit of this so-called success, ever to be happy?  Is life simply a meaningless striving before an infinite nothingness as the secular humanists would have us believe?  Is there no other option but pointless misery and then death?  Is there a way to fix things?

The good news is that it isn't yours to fix.  Our society glorifies ownership as the highest good, but we were not made to be owners, but are rather stewards.  Yes, we don't reap the glories of ownership but neither do we incur the stress, cost, and worry of being the big boss, the one who must pay or suffer when the market drops or disaster happens, the one left holding the bag when everything collapses.  We are given a physical body, a personality, skills and talents and interests, relationships, and the material necessities to make it through each day and those necessary to accomplish whatever tasks that are required of us.  Anything more is beyond our scope, interest, and abilities and reaching for it only leads to depression, burn out, pride, and ultimately failure and misery.  'Ye can be gods,' said the Serpent, and our forebears reached out and took the forbidden, and indeed we became gods: the gods of Ancient Greece and Rome, of Babylon and Canaan.  Unhappy, wretched, unscrupulous, capricious, fallen gods.

Then God became Man, the Word became Flesh and dwelt among us.  When man wanted to be God, the only remedy was for God to become Man.  We face the same choice as those in that ancient garden: will we abide within our appointed sphere, content to 'work and keep it,' or will we reach for the forbidden and ruin it all?  That ancient serpent promises happiness, our culture whispers the same, but of all those who have taken that fatal bite, none have yet tasted the promised nectar, finding only a bitter and wormy apple as a reward while their world collapses around them.  Let it go, whatever it is.  No material thing or human relationship is the answer to your problems or current misery.  Only by letting go can we potentially keep it.  Lose your life to find it, lose the world to inherit heaven.

Abraham trudged grimly up a hill, seemingly to destroy a miracle and decimate a promise, but up he went only to discover a greater miracle still.  In giving up his son, he kept both the son and the promise.  God gave up His son too, for us, but that Son was not spared at the last moment and we are the inheritors of that promise, the greatly blessed, though not of our own doing.  We didn't pay the Price, for we aren't the Owners.  We are called to shepherd Another's sheep, tend Another's vines, mind Another's store.  Your children aren't yours, neither is your body, your house, your car, your bank account.  You are born with nothing and nothing follows you beyond the grave, just your own naked soul which will one day give an account of how you used all that was given into your keeping. Will you find a proud and smiling Father on that Day, or a grim and severe Master, disappointed in your poor stewardship?

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Put down the phone and pick up the shovel

If the nineties were cool, our current cultural atmosphere seems to be ruled by equal parts fear and anger.  We're all afraid to say the wrong thing and make someone else angry which in turn makes us angry...world without end.  I ran across this article about a new book addressing this very problem and I hope it will help people see the world we've created for ourselves and that each of us will do what we can to resolve it.  It has nothing to do with fixing someone else or changing someone else's viewpoint, rather, as the book urges, we must each look at ourselves and ask, 'how am I contributing to the problem and what can I do to change that?'  I think that's what the whole problem boils down to: we're all angry about something, blaming 'it' for our current disappointments and frustrations in life, somehow thinking that if 'it' was resolved to our liking or had been different, life would be far better.  So we hop on the internet and complain about 'it' hither and yon, until we've plastered our comments all over cyberspace from the trendiest site to the most obscure blog, while we may feel a sort of satisfaction, grim and cold as that may be, we really haven't done anything to resolve the actual problem and we're still miserable, so we complain some more.

What is this dreadful 'it' that has ruined so many lives?  It varies dramatically between individuals.  For my sister-in-law, she thinks the current presidential administration is the key to solving her problems and anyone who thinks otherwise is held in utmost contempt (like us).  For the insecure mothers among us, it could be diapers or breastfeeding or vaccines or organic or whatever, somehow feeling that shaming and bitterly criticizing how other parents do things somehow justifies your own parenting choices.  For my father it was his parents, they never gave him enough money or did X or Y that would have made his life better.  For some it is 'saving the planet,' and those of us who don't live in tiny houses or walk everywhere are little better than Hitler.  For others it is food: pick your trendy diet or avoid certain ingredients or only eat things from a certain source and all other ways of eating are completely unethical and amoral.  It can be anything, absolutely anything you are or aren't from race, gender, neighborhood, religion, money, politics, a rock band, a TV show or movie, family of origin, favorite color or pizza topping...anything that serves as the great excuse as to why your life isn't what you want it to be.  Anything you use to belittle or judge or criticize others to elevate your own value or blame for your current less than ideal circumstances is 'it.'  And everybody has one or more lurking under the bed or in the back closet, just waiting to leap out at an opportune moment.

But the truth is life isn't great or ideal, ever, for anybody.  It doesn't matter who you are, what you do, what you have (or don't), where you live, or what you like, life is hard, period.  Just look at celebrity culture if you think money or fame or success is going to make you happy: addictions, broken relationships, ruined lives, misery...  Sure, you can spend your whole life blaming your parents or the divorce or the adoption or your education (or lack thereof) or an addiction or some group of 'other' people that make it impossible for you to accomplish your dreams, but does that actually help you?  No, all it might accomplish is making others afraid or angry or discouraged when we lash out at them in frustration at our own wretchedness.  It isn't their fault, so let's leave 'them' out of the argument for a moment.  All this negativity does nothing but add to the seething mass of hatred and uncertainty already drowning our world and only furthers our own misery.  What can we do then?

Instead of lashing out against 'them,' let's turn inward and focus on ourselves for a moment.  Why are you angry, frustrated, discontent, or bitter?  Stop, falling back on 'it' as your go-to excuse won't resolve anything.  Dig past the obvious and get down deep, into the very knot in your soul.  It's tender, it hurts, that's why we instinctively lash out at others when they get too close, like an injured dog snapping at anyone who gets too near the wounded leg, even if they are trying to help.  Gently, gently, no judgement, no shame, just dig, dig, dig, and it may take a while.  We tend to bury it deep, shroud it in darkness and mist and obscurity, so much so we don't even know it's an issue.  We've all been hurt, we all carry some secret sorrow or shame, but we're all so busy pointing fingers that we don't understand we're all wounded and should be helping one another heal instead of wounding each other further.  What is it?  Bring it out into the light in all its ugly glory and let it go.  No, not forget it, acknowledge it but no longer let it hold sway over all your thoughts and actions.  Begin to heal, far easier said than done, but it is possible.  But it takes work, patience, and honesty.  Be gentle with yourself, and with everyone else too, they hurt just as much, they just don't realize it.

And someday, no matter how much it hurts now or in the interim, you will find Joy again.  Need some encouragement?  Go read Jane Eyre or Anne of Green Gables or Mansfield Park or Les Miserables or Lord of the Rings, wherein the main characters face external circumstances that range from the uncomfortable to the horrific, yet each understands, though often through much personal struggle, that it is who we are and the strength of our character that determines our happiness rather than our history or lot in life.  Bashing others over the head won't make us happy, it only makes them miserable too, so instead, let's bash our own secret sorrows, disappointments, injustices, and shortcomings over the head with all the vim we once used to scathe our 'enemies.'


Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

In the dog house

"Let them own dogs..." was the astonishing statement from Ms. Antoinette before she was made to pay the ultimate price for her heartless remark by the maddened hoard of infertile women.  Yes, my history is a bit revisionistic, not that many amid the tech generations would notice or care how badly I abused and manipulated historical fact to fit my own designs.  But it is a question that has puzzled me of late, not fake news and revisionist history, that would be too timely and prominent a topic to discuss on this blog reserved solely for obscure philosophical maunderings, but rather the role of dogs in society.  Stay your giddiness and warm fuzzies, we are not discussing the various merits and anthropomorphic characteristics attributed (fairly or not) to our canine companions, rather this modern notion that dogs are people, or even better than people, has been one that puzzles me significantly.  Don't get me wrong, dogs are wonderful and amazing creatures, but they are not people.  They are not a substitute for children, friendships, or good human society.  But why are so many determined that dogs and people should be interchangeable, at least on a social level?

Yes, in your theoretical vacuum inspired by cute animated stories and heartwarming CG marvels, even a pig could be good company, but then in that happy land everybody can sing and dance and the sun always shines and the bad guy always loses.  But that is not real life and no matter how many Disney flicks you imbibed as a child, I think on some level, everyone knows that to be fundamentally true.  But why does it persist?  Why do childfree couples expound upon their dogs the way society used to extol their children: complete with birthday parties, doggie spas and day care, cutting edge medical treatment, specialty foods, adoption/birth announcements and showers, countless pictures on social media...  But none of it is real, it doesn't mean anything; in the end it is all shallow, vapid, and short lived.  The dog doesn't care, he's as happy eating roadkill as that Organic Caribou and Tibetan Leeks diet you special order from those monks that hand mix each batch according to some ancient secret recipe handed down from heaven ere the worlds were made.  The owner (pet parent, really?!) might get a short lived thrill out of it, and there's nothing wrong with having a little innocent fun, but to obsess about your dog the way others obsess about their children (which also isn't healthy for either the kids or the parents but that's a whole other topic) and insisting that the whole world care likewise is the epitome of self-indulgence.

And that might be the answer right there.  Dogs shape themselves quite naturally to our personalities, behaviors, expectations, and treatment of them, in effect we create them in our own image, whereas children and people in general tend to have wills of their own which will inevitably conflict with our own.  Dogs are the easy way out.  You can kennel a dog, sell a dog, breed more dogs, train your dog to do whatever, and even euthanize your dog if necessary (no I am not advocating for human euthanasia!) but you can't do that to a child, spouse, boss, friend, neighbor, or parent, no matter how tempting, rather you must deal with the conflict and resolve it in a way that accounts for the wellbeing of all involved.  We've become such a culture of 'have it your way' that we even want our children to be as we want them rather than as they are, and in lieu of this or in fear of it, we forgo having kids and substitute 'fur children' or avoid actual human relationships in favor of our pets, it is so much easier that way but far less rewarding.  Our focus is inward on our pets, they adore us and we enjoy them, we become small and insular.  Other people annoy us, frustrate us, challenge us, humble us, they force us to grow and look outside ourselves.  The love of a good dog is a wonderful thing, but to conflate it with the relationships between people is to diminish the value of both.  Let's have our dogs and people too!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

A tale worth the hearing?

My favorite stories are full of people doing the hard thing, the right thing, of sticking to the right and the good and the true even when the road seems impossible and the personal cost staggering: Jane Eyre's flight into the night, Jean val Jean turning himself in to spare a man wrongly condemned in his place, Rebecca and Ivanhoe parting ways amidst a budding romance, Elizabeth Bennet spurning her presumptuous suitors, the astonishing conclusion to a 'Tale of Two Cities,' Sam and Frodo plodding hopelessly into Mordor, Luke Skywalker taking on the Empire, when God became man to pay a debt He did not owe...to quote Sam (from the movie):

"It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn't want to know the ending, because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened. But in the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come and when the sun shines it'll shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you, that meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr Frodo, I do understand... I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only the didn't. They kept going, because they were holding onto something...

Frodo: What are we holding onto, Sam?

Sam: That there's some good in this world, Mr Frodo... And it's worth fighting for."

Society once held that there was such a thing as right and wrong, a standard of goodness and truth apart from any individual, cultural, or national preferences, opinions, or ideas.  Now everything is relative, based on individual inclinations, emotions, or whims at some particular moment, do what feels good or seems right to you and everybody will just get along fine...until my whims interfere with yours and then we have anarchy.  And though our cultural mood seems to say there is no truth or right or wrong, practically however this is ridiculous, imagine how you would feel if I just happen to help myself to your $100 you left sitting there, because obviously if it makes me happy I should do it, not that it makes you very happy, but hey, there is no wrong, right?  Right and wrong, moral truth, and virtue have not changed, merely our cultural observance of them.  Perhaps that is why all the stories have died.  I have yet to find a modern author that can captivate me like those who wrote the tales above.  And our modern storytelling venue, the movie, has not only fallen flat on its face but continues to sink into the murky depths of the fen it now occupies with each passing year: remakes, obscure comic book characters, sequels and prequels galore...not one good, memorable story in the bunch.  Why?

We do what's easy rather than what's right.  We must have things now (on credit) rather than saving and working and earning to own it later.  Our consumer mentality has infected not only our moral lives but our stories as well.  Sam's right, the tales worth telling and remembering are the ones where the characters stick it out through the good and bad, doing what they know is right rather than what's convenient or expedient.  Will our own tales be worth remembering someday?

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

'She is tolerable, I suppose...'

“She was nothing more than a mere good-tempered, civil and obliging Young Woman; as such we could scarcely dislike her -- she was only an Object of Contempt”  
~Jane Austen, Love and Friendship

While Mr. Collins may be the master of 'flattering with delicacy,' Jane Austen is no stranger to the witty criticism or comeback.  Sadly, most of us are nowhere near so witty in our own attempts, though we seem to make up what we lack in quality with quantity, much like Miss Bates and her three dull things.  While in school and sports we must each have high self-esteem and everybody is special and perfect and a winner and nothing negative is ever said, and in the media and university and workplace we must be culturally sensitive and politically correct, afraid to speak anything that might be construed as negative or critical of any sensitive group, online and in person however, our tongues are very sharp indeed, or if not sharp, at least a deadly bludgeon with which we happily whack away at everything and everyone from retailers to fellow social media addicts to bloggers and journalists and politicians.  Just check the comment section on any blog or for a given product on any retailer or sites like yelp or your favorite social media site.  The 'mommy wars' are a great example, where one mother runs down another for her choice of feeding, diapering, work or not, or whatever, because the way the former does it is obviously the only way to do things and anyone who says otherwise is a child abuser (ouch!).

But what we are all missing, whether we are of the 'no input for fear of crushing self-esteem or being labeled a hate monger' crowd or the 'running down someone because you think you know better or are better' groupie is that none of it is effective.  There is a place for constructive criticism certainly, but this culture wide addiction to insult and negativity is destructive not only to our social fabric but to each and every individual heart, mind, and soul.  It is a canker that is quickly undermining our very value as people and the cohesiveness of our society as a whole.  What can we do to stop it?  How about noticing the good, the excellent, the wonderful for once.  Instead of 'straining at the gnat,' let's appreciate the soup!

My in-laws are a perfect example: they mean well, they certainly care deeply for their grandchildren and son, but they think the best way to 'help' is to criticize and advise at every turn, making us feel like they think we are stupid, horrible parents, when truly the best thing they can do for their grandkids is to support and encourage their parents.  It is the same with every aspect of society and every relationship.  My mother learned from her mother, and so forth back into the foggy mists of time, that the only way to raise a daughter is to constantly tell her what she does wrong.  I certainly learned what not to do, but I never figured out exactly what to do and I ended up hating myself for being such an idiot that could never do anything right, certainly not a healthy habit!

I ran across this little article on just this topic.  It is very strange to me that the world has been ending since first I opened my 'Weekly Reader' in elementary school, but the cause is always different and we have yet to witness the world's last night.  Back then it was a looming oil crisis (we would have completely depleted world petroleum supplies in 50 years, but 30 years later here we are in the midst of a surplus!) and the Ozone layer was being depleted and the Rainforest was being destroyed and acid rain was obliterating our temperate forests and frogs with supernumerary appendages were a certain harbinger of doom for the rest of us...then there was bird flu and SARS and Y2K and global warming...but we're still here.  I'm not saying there aren't real problems and threats and concerns in the world or that everything is perfect, far from it, but this chronic pessimism is, well, depressing!  I think we all need a good dose of G.K. Chesterton, most especially the media.  A good laugh is just what we need, and he'd be laughing at us certainly, if he could see the muddled pinnacle our modern pessimism has attained.  So remember, above all else, if you want to make the world a better place: laugh, smile, have a little fun, compliment somebody on something they did well or right, contemplate the good and the true and pass it on to others.  Bring a little sunshine to your own dark corner of the world; be a vector of Joy!


Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The beauty already there

We live in an age of fixers, especially since google makes it so easy to solve every problem in three easy steps with the contents of your sock drawer.  Men are notorious fixers when it comes to relationships, or so I've heard many ladies repine, they just want him to listen, not fix them then and there.  Women aren't much better, especially moms, we look on Pinterest to discover how to easily make our baby quit spitting up (let me know the secret when you find it!) and try to fix everything from grammatical errors to plumbing issues and get impatient when we can't magically resolve something.  I think it's a drug, we get a momentary high when something goes right and we want to feel it again, bring on the problems!  Except it doesn't work every time and then frustration and discouragement set in.  We want to know we are in control, we want to know we can handle everything and anything that comes our way.  And with more technology, information, and resources at our fingertips than any generation or society has ever before possessed, our desire to succeed only grows, and so too our frustration when things don't go right.

My family has gotten into a complaining rut.  We look only for problems and things that aren't going right and lose sight of the 95% of things that are good, right, true, and beautiful.  We can't see the person for the wart or enjoy the cake because it is slightly dry or we wanted chocolate not vanilla.  Pretty petty, but it can destroy happiness, contentment, and make life miserable.  We've lost our sense of fun, wonder, and adventure and feel overwhelmed and depressed.  It's time to take off our blinders, put aside our petty complaints, and look at this marvelous world anew.  Let us be thankful someone is in our life, warts and all, and enjoy their company.  Let us be happy to have food, let alone something so extravagant as dessert!  There are sunsets, music, books, food, forests, rivers, cats, clouds, smiles, old jokes...just waiting to be enjoyed.  But we must choose it.

The world surrounds us with negativity and despair (just watch the news or read something online); it falls into our lap without effort or thinking.  We must choose the good, the beautiful, the wonderful.  We must choose to enjoy things.  We must choose to have an attitude of mirth, joy, and contentment.  It isn't just a modern phenomenon, it's a problem as old as Eden, perfection and Paradise surround us and yet the serpent whispers doubt into a susceptible ear.  Will we let that wretched snake spoil our Joy or will we choose to trust that things are not as grim as he would have us believe?

Trust, it is so hard to do in this 'do it yourself' culture.  Especially when so many never learned it at home, having no one to take care of them and depend upon but themselves, we can't trust anyone but ourselves, but that way lies misery and despair.  There are some things we can't do alone.  Laughing at our own jokes sounds rather hollow.  Enjoying a movie alone night after night is rather sad.  We need community and society and companionship and we aren't likely to find it online.  We need real flesh and blood relationships, but that requires trust.  And work.  And the risk of getting hurt.  But it is the only way to live, all else is just existing.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

A constant dripping of rain

One thing I love about the Old Testament is its use of metaphor and analogy to describe a variety of situations, in our visual culture, we often forget our forebears relied on word pictures because visual representations were impossible to come by or prohibitively expensive.  Everything from a donkey in heat to a swarm of locusts is used to represent something else, and some of them are downright funny, especially in the Proverbs.  Such as the man who would rather live on the roof than in the house with his ill-tempered wife!  Another such example is, 'a wife's quarreling is a continual dripping of rain.'  I never appreciated that line as I have in the last few days, and no, I have not been a quarrelsome wife, but rather we have had some adventures in plumbing and it has really been a literal damper on life as usual.  I didn't know how much until it was actually fixed!  There was either a constant drip drip in the background or we had the water shut off to the entire house to keep it from dripping (you don't know how much you rely on something until it is gone!).  After they fixed it, we all sighed in relief.  I literally felt like I had had a broken leg that had yet to be attended to and once it was set, life was so much more hopeful and joyous.

Is there some unresolved wound in your life or soul or emotions?  Is there a 'constant dripping,' an old wound or leak, that has become normal and you don't even realize it?  Mine was a broken family and the resulting emotional havoc, which will likely take a lifetime to heal, but I didn't even know it was a problem until I figured out that what I thought was 'normal' was far from it.  How much misery are we unwittingly inflicting upon ourselves or others by putting up with such 'drippings?'  Ignorance is one thing, pretending something is fine when it isn't or ignoring the problem and hoping it will go away are something else entirely: it's like knowing your roof leaks but not wanting to do anything about it for whatever reason while it slowly destroys your house.  And sadly, modern life encourages just that.  There is no longer anything that is Good or Right or True for everybody, rather we each define our own reality and what is good for me might not work for you.  But the roof still leaks, no matter how you, me, or anyone else tries to justify it and the damage is still going on, even if we can't see it at the moment.  How much injury are we willing to endure just to pretend that everything is 'fine?'

Social media shows us that everybody else has it all together, but it's a lie, we're all a mess, in our own peculiar way.  That's another thing I love about the Old Testament, it doesn't sugar coat anything.  The greatest heroes of the faith are also painfully flawed: murder, adultery, cheating, lying, fear, doubt...it's all there; it's still here today, just nobody's talking about it.  You're no worse (or better) than anyone else in history, we're all human, we're all a mess, and happily we're neither alone nor required to stay that way.  You can heal and grow, but first we need to admit there is a problem: I had to admit there was a leak I couldn't handle before I called the plumber, and life's Plumber is always on-call!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

They shall rise up and call her blessed

What is success?  What is a meaningful life?  What is our purpose and reason for being?  It's a question man has asked since first he gazed upon the stars, lifting his eyes in wondering bafflement at his own place in the universe to those glittering dots, so certain and sure of their own place and course in the heavens above.  It is certainly a question that haunts modern man, perhaps even more so the modern woman.  For millennia a woman's place was in the home, raising the children and seeing to the needs of her family.  In the modern world, a woman can pretty much do as it pleases her, but with so many choices and opportunities, how is she to be certain what will make her happy?

That's easy, promise a thousand different voices, all vying for precious time or money, you need only do X, be Y, or own Z to make all your dreams a reality, but we've tried each and found it lacking, much as the writer of Ecclesiastes protested thousands of years before us: pleasure, wealth, power, relationships, he had 'it all,' but was still unhappy.  How about we modern ladies, can we
'have it all' and be happy and successful with everything like all our female heroes seem to proclaim?

I'm a displaced professional, I tried the career thing but ended up burned out and dissatisfied, wanting to be at home for my then 1 year old son.  A lengthy and messy job loss and an eight hour move later, I got my wish but the career ended up on the back burner.  I've enjoyed my time as a mom, wife, and domestic CEO but as school loomed on the horizon for our son and no more children seemed forthcoming, I assumed I'd be heading back to work this fall on a more regular basis.  But then our daughter appeared when we had almost given up, I was all ready to sell the crib and donate the diapers, having waited almost 3 years with nothing but a failed adoption to show for it.  This past weekend I attended a professional conference, baby in tow, and was reminded just how frustrating and hard it was the first time to balance baby and career, even with a stay at home dad, could I do it again?  The answer was a resounding 'no!'

Now this isn't the answer for everyone, certainly, but I felt a sort of weird peace that I was doing the right thing.  Many still question my choice (mostly those who want the convenience of calling me at strange hours for something that may or may not be an emergency) or those who prize prestige or possessions as life's highest good, but I know this is not that for which we were made.  I married a pastor, not only do I have a family, but I have a church to take care of.  I don't get paid, nor do many realize the hundred little things I do that make a huge difference, the same goes for life in our home.  Can I live with that?  Some have glorious careers, devoted clients, others famous ministries that do worldwide good; my fame barely crosses the living room, where my five year old seems to have forgotten that I just told him not to wake up his sister.

The feminists would tell me that this is demeaning, a waste of my time and talents.  The financial gurus would say I'm wasting my prime earning years.  I'll forgive their ignorance, as they've probably never waited three years for the chance to hold a baby.  No, this isn't what I planned to do with my life...it's better!  There is no magic formula for a happy life, except to do what you know is right, even if the whole world thinks you're nuts!  Even if it is really hard or not what you want (or think you do) and life gets ugly, disappointing, or confusing for awhile, it will be worth it one day, just keep going.

My grandmother never was able to have biological kids.  She adopted my father and his sisters out of the foster care system and strove valiantly her entire life to be the mother they needed, but they had various issues and made poor choices.  One died young.  One is an alcoholic.  My father was abusive, paranoid, and self-absorbed and never once thanked his adoptive parents for anything but rather blamed them for his failings and was always demanding money.  My grandmother never had a day of maternal peace and joy in her life, but ever she pressed onward, was patient and loving towards her erring children, and ever cheery for her grandkids.  She died nearly 20 years ago.  She didn't live to see her great grandkids, but without her influence and example, I'm not sure she'd have any, for she was the only positive familial influence in our lives: she showed us what family could be, she was a light amidst the darkness of neglect, abuse, divorce, and dysfunction.  She never had a fancy title or made a lot of money; her efforts were never rewarded with temporal joy, but the difference she made in our lives will influence generations to come.  Is it worth it, this 'slaving away' in obscurity?  Yes, totally, even if we do not personally live to see it, certainly others will, as does He who, 'sees in secret,' and thus our efforts are neither unknown nor unappreciated.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

We're all orphans

Here's an excellent article about adoption, love, and the Trinity, it's a good read for anyone who has ever been human!

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Of corn, lobsters, and the end of the world

Has anybody else been disappointed that the looming apocalypse has not yet materialized?  Between Y2K, Bird Flu, SARS, acid rain, depletion of the ozone layer, two headed frogs, global warming, and a hundred other scenarios, I would have thought the world would have imploded, exploded, or otherwise gloriously disintegrated by this point.  I'm getting a little tired of apathetic doomsday scenarios, if you are going to say the world is going to end for whatever reason, it would be nice if you were actually right.  Two fairy tales come to mind: Chicken Little (who thought the sky was actually falling) and the Boy Who Cried Wolf (and got eaten when a real wolf showed up).  The Emperor's New Clothes wouldn't be out of place here either, but where's the kid to holler that the Emperor is naked?  All we have is scientists and activists and alarmists nodding gravely and pointing fingers about who is to blame, with no one saying that the last 374 predictions have all come to naught, why should we believe the latest one?

My favorite example involves whales.  Exhibit A is Star Trek IV (yes, that cheesy '80's movie).  Exhibit B is two trips on an east coast whale watching cruise roughly 10 years apart.  So we have 1987, 2007, and 2017 represented along with Humpback Whales, what could be better?  In the movie (my favorite) aliens from the future are inadvertently destroying the planet because the extinct whales won't return their calls and Kirk and crew must go back to 1987 and bring back a whale to 'tell the probe what to go do with itself.'  My two whale watches both involved an onboard naturalist (a college intern majoring in some -ology) who on the first trip assured us that midwestern crop farmers were responsible for the despicable shape of the oceans, while on the trip a decade later it was actually lobster fishermen who were responsible for most cetacean-type woes.  At least Star Trek blamed it on some actual whalers.  So there you have it, three theories on why the whales, and probably everything else is going to die; personally I prefer the Star Trek version, at least the movie had plenty of funny parts.  These modern doom and gloom prognosticators have no sense of humor whatsoever.

It was also a little annoying to be spoken to like a small, clueless child by someone in their sophomore year of college.  I simply asked after the birds they were likely to see on such an outing (being an avid birder and a landlubber) and was told that yesterday they had seen a Manx Shearwater feeding near the whales and it was beautiful (all in a tone that implied that obviously I could in no way appreciate such aesthetics and couldn't tell an albatross from an ostrich) but on this trip there really wasn't much to see save an occasional Wilson's Storm-petrel so I'd best go sit in the galley and drink overpriced cocoa.  But I was pretty sure I had seen something but had to wait to discover what until I got home and could download my pictures and there it was, a Great Shearwater; she was wrong about the birds, maybe, just maybe the lobster theory was flawed as well.  But then sophomore means, 'foolish wisdom' and I remember from my own sophomore days that I really felt like I knew everything, but a year later I suddenly began to realize how much I didn't know.  I was just as confident in my ignorance as she was, but thankfully life has taught me a few (painful) lessons since.  Just like this gal is so sure of the evils of lobster fishing and the behavior of pelagic birds, so too are 'the experts' who tell us the world is going to blow up or wither away in the next decade or two in some creative way or another.

That is not news, we all know the world is going to end; no matter who you are or where you are from, we all know that things cannot last forever as we know them.  All stories end, everyone dies, and so too will the tale of the universe one day come to an end.  It's fine to develop theories and prepare, if you can, for doomsday or try and save some species from extinction, what isn't good is telling everyone that you are certain sure everything will end tomorrow or a decade from now via this means and then it doesn't happen and then you do it again and again with some other trigger or cause now the greatest threat to existence we have ever seen.  Today it's lobsters, tomorrow it's corn, next week it will be singing off key...world without end (that's irony!).

Forget about the means for a bit and focus on the end.  What will you do on the world's last night?  Be it the end of the world or the end of your own life?  That's a far more important question.  For the whale lady, everything will just go down into darkness, the forgetfulness of death and the great infinite nothingness.  But there are other theories.  This isn't a new question, the disciples were pestering Jesus about it 2000 years ago and I'm sure people were pondering it long before that.  The question is, is the End really the End of Everything, or is it just the curtain falling on the first act of some far grander tale?  Personally, I think the whale lady's theory is just depressing and saps life of all its purpose and interest, but if this flawed reality is just the warm up for something far better, no wonder we're anxious to know how it ends and what comes after!  We spend so much time predicting and arguing about the means but no one seems to care what happens at the End, which is really a far more important question.  

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Worse than broken dreams

The greatest perceived heartache in American culture is dreams that are never fulfilled, some personal goal or vision that is never realized, but I would posit that it is actually when those dreams are fulfilled and still happiness is not found, rather after a momentary thrill of triumph, we are already looking ahead to the next dream or goal guaranteed to bring joy unending in its wake.  The truth is, if we are not happy and content without X, we'll never be happy and content with it.  We've waited nearly 3 years to welcome another child into our home, and after the near miraculous arrival of our daughter, life is still much the same as it ever was.  While she brought joy unthinkable into our lives, the stress and disappointments that were there before the baby are still there afterwards.  There's a study somewhere determining who is happier: amputees or lottery winners.  Amazingly it is the amputees, in general they were able to adapt to this new normal and get on with life whereas many of the newly minted wealthy completely destroyed their financial stability and lifestyle with their sudden windfall, leaving them poorer and more discontent afterwards.

It appears to be all about attitude rather than what we do or don't have or what does or doesn't happen to us.  If you are content and happy with little, so too will you probably be with more, and if you are discontent now, having all your dreams come true isn't likely to make you any happier in the long run.  My heart aches for all the young people waiting for the job, the person, the situation, that will make life worth living, who realize only too late, that we need to be living in the moment, rather than waiting for life to start at some point in the idealized future.  Enjoy school for its own sake rather than pining for the day when you can actually start your career, only to realize that three months in you'll be yearning for the next big raise, promotion, or a better job.  Each new blessing or life phase also brings along with it its own attendant stresses, disappointments, responsibilities, and frustrations, a thing we so easily forget when longing after it, we forget that we must also live with it.

I've seen a picture of horses, divided by a fence, each in its own pasture, but preferring to graze under the fence in the other horse's paddock!  Look at the fads and trends that so often take the world by storm, a certain toy or food or movie or whatever suddenly becomes insanely popular and everyone MUST have it, paying obscene amounts of money for it only to find that it isn't worth anything in a month or two.  We all desire what we have not got, especially if someone else has it and we don't.  But what we are yearning for isn't what we think.

We all yearn, we all long, it is as natural as breathing, but it isn't for money, power, fame, prestige, food, drink, drugs, sleep, sex, pleasure, children, possessions, land, or relationships, none of these things can fill that hole in our hearts, though we pursue one thing after another in desperate hope that finally, this time, the key will fit in the lock, but we come away disappointed, always disappointed, especially in this world full of keys of all shapes and sizes, but nothing seems to fit.  We are trying to fill an eternal hole with a temporal key.  The hole is bigger than anything in the material universe, broader and deeper than even the universe itself.  Only a thing bigger than reality itself can fill that gaping hole in each and every human heart, for 'eternity is written into the heart of men.'

There's a subplot running through Tolkien's 'Lord of the Rings' detailing how the men of Numenor, and later Gondor, yearned for immortality and life unending rather than attending to their daily lives, which brought about their downfall and the decay of their nation as, 'childless lords sat in aged halls musing on heraldry or in high, cold towers asking questions of the stars. And so the people of Gondor fell into ruin.'  And we are still guilty of this uncouth longing for what we cannot have even in the real world of this 'more enlightened' day and age.  Think of the various projects aimed at downloading your psyche into a computer or those searching for the medical equivalent of the 'Fountain of Youth.'  But take heart, for though man was meant to last forever, it will not be in this broken, fallen state.  Our problem is, we yearn to live forever as ruined and broken creatures, too scared of the unknown to pass beyond this ruined sphere into things too glorious for comprehension.  We want to remain as we are, rather than changing to become what we were meant to be.

I hatched out a moth once (Polyphemus), I found the cocoon in the Fall after a heavy rain alongside a water-filled ditch, where it had apparently washed ashore.  In the Spring, it hatched out but the wings were crumbled and brown as old leaves, it would never fly, it was a sad, pathetic thing.  We want to go on living like that moth, or worse, we want to stay a caterpillar or remain dormant inside our cocoon, but either way, we will never truly live.  We are so desperate for change, as long as it is in our physical state, careers, finances, or relationships, but we are loath to change our selves, at least the part of us that will last forever.  Forget about your waistline and look to the health and wellbeing of your soul.  Quit looking to the next 'big thing' to make life worth the living but rather live the life you have now.  Therein is great wisdom.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

When Joy doesn't come

Here's a beautiful article on how to survive when Joy doesn't come; how to find beauty amid the ashes.  Warning, tear-jerker, have a hanky handy!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

No one will take your Joy

There is a short list of websites I check on a regular basis, and as I was perusing one of them, an article title caught my eye, "no one will take your joy."  The meaning of that phrase to me was probably different from what it meant to everyone else, most especially the author.  Not to go into gory details, but I've spent over two years slogging through the mire of broken dreams and twisted emotions, the result of years of abuse and neglect as a child.  I've grieved, been angry and frustrated, and at other times felt I deserved it or the world would be better without me, a lie, but a common one to those in such circumstances.  Just as I felt I had shaken the last bit of stinking, sticky mud from my feet and stood on solid ground, at last eager for 'Joy in the Morning,' after my troublous night of sorrow and despair, when I felt I was at last an emotionally healthy person, the phone rang.

During this whole mess, we've sat on an adoption waitlist and pretty much nothing has happened, save the one that fell through a year and a half ago.  Our son will enter Kindergarten in the fall and tired of waiting, leaving this last gaping wound of my heart open, we decided we would be done in December when we would have to renew everything.  I had already given up, making plans for the crib and diapers cluttering up the empty nursery.  We had agreed to have our photo book looked at for a special situation and the phone rang the evening of the day the birth parents would be looking through the books belonging to hopeful parents.  I knew it was our social worker calling to say we had been passed over again.

That wasn't quite the message.  Apparently our book had been picked.  And mom was in labor, now!  The baby wasn't due until the end of the month, even if we had been picked we hoped for a couple weeks to prepare.  But apparently that wasn't to be the case.  We quickly arranged matters for work, etc. and called the grandparents to watch our son, threw everything in the car, and drove.  We didn't know gender, as the mother wanted to surprise us, but I've had names picked out since before I was married, a girl name at least, our son used up our boy name, if it was a boy I might be in trouble.

It was a girl and mom had already named her.  I wasn't sure at first, but it was very pretty and fit the beautiful child.  We suggested an alteration to the middle name, which both parents agreed to.  It wasn't my beloved name, but it was the right name.  Later we looked up the meaning of the first name, it was the same as her middle name: Joy.

We took her home (after many tears and more paperwork) and during the risk placement, a weeks long period in which the birth parents can change their mind, the what-ifs have been raging in my mind.  Then I saw the title of that article, and with a sudden sense of peace, I knew it was meant for me.  God really does have a sense of humor!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Dreams

We all have dreams, desires, hopes, and fears, but can you really achieve them?  What happens if the plot line of your life runs in a different direction?  Here's an excellent article on realigning your dreams with reality when everything seems to be falling apart.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Oracle of the Dog

'YES,' said Father Brown, 'I always like a dog, so long as he isn't spelt backwards.'
'The Oracle of the Dog,' The Incredulity of Father Brown, G.K. Chesterton

Pinterest can be a very dangerous thing, like any social media it should be used with extreme caution, never taken internally, and not while operating heavy equipment, that being said, it is just as addictive as anything else (like chocolate and Jane Austen).  I love it for finding ideas for recipes and projects around the house (all except that 'natural' weed killer recipe with the vinegar and salt, a lovely exfoliant but hardly a weed killer), but it can certainly depress you like any other social media: comparing your rather mundane life with the highlights and boast-able moments that seem to make up every second of everyone else's existence but yours, but worse, like all other forms of social media, instead of actually living you are only reading about it.  But it can also be an interesting gauge of how people think of a certain topic, how they see the world, and what is important in this perplexing age where nothing and everything is true.

I foolishly typed in the word 'adoption' the other day.  While in common parlance, 'to adopt' is used rather casually to mean anything from acquiring a new hairstyle to actually making someone an official member of your family, quite drastic extremes, only two main themes showed up on this unofficial poll of humanity's view of this particular word (a rather skewed sampling of mostly female persons in the Western world) and I'm not sure which is worse.  Two-thirds of the search results were cheesy, trite representations of adoptive parenthood, making it look like instant happiness and easy as clicking on the Pin; it reminded me of those radio commercials in the US that jokingly said if you could breath and string two words together, you could foster parent, it was as easy as that.  The other third were devoted to dogs, and I am sorry to offend any of you canine enthusiasts, but no matter how much you love your furry friends, they are not people; they are wonderful creatures, but happily for their sake (and ours) they are not human.  No matter how hard the Golden Retriever rescue organizations make it to 'adopt' one of their fuzzy proteges (and yes, my sister went through a so-called 'home study') it is far from the same thing as adopting a child.  And yes, I have heard actual people (well-meaning but clueless) say to other actual people (adoptive parents) that they were in the adoption process as well/were adoptive parents of yes, a dog; ouch.  When our adoption (human) fell through last year, I actually saw a Pin on how to survive when your canine adoption falls through, nothing like a little salt in the wound.

There are actually articles on what to say when people talk to you about your maternity leave being a vacation and people who think maybe everybody should have one!  You can get medical leave for a hip replacement or gallbladder surgery and no one considers that a vacation, but here you endure a major physical trauma and have an extremely needy new family member to boot yet it is some sort of vacation?  This kind of thinking is a little scary, exhibiting either the complete ignorance or indifference our society as a whole now holds pertaining to children, as if they are some sort of a hobby or fettish, no different than keeping parrots or a fondness for marathon running, little realizing that each of us owes our very existence to such fettish-obsessed forebears and that society and civilization as a whole would soon cease to function if there were no future citizens to populate it.  But we leave that to others, little realizing they are leaving it to us.  I'm not saying everybody should have kids or be parents (or even have pets), but we've relegated what was once a very normal part of human existence and society to the list of things we might do, would like to do, or will get around to someday.  Or even congratulate ourselves as some sort of Green saint for not contributing to human overpopulation.  As cute as Mr. Wiggles is, he isn't going to be President, cure cancer, or be there to help 27 years from now when dementia sets in; he won't pay taxes, help the neighbors in a crisis, or drive grandma to the doctor; he can't play the piano, enjoy Hamlet, or ponder the glories of nature.

For all of its messiness, work, and sacrifice, parenthood, however achieved, is worth it, even if our kids end up in jail or living in the basement into their fifties.  It makes us more human.  It humbles us, teaches us to sacrifice and love in ways we can hardly understand beforehand.  It teaches patience and self-discipline.  It brings joy and wonder unimagined and sorrow and frustration hardly to be comprehended.  We shape dogs in our own image; children shape us into the image of God.  Perhaps that is why we marginalize it, minimize it, and raise other idols in its place: we don't want to change, we don't want to hurt, we don't want to learn faith, hope, patience, and love; we don't want to discover that we are broken and imperfect and full of faults, things our dog will never see, or at least won't mention or hold against us.  The dog won't talk back or rebel and thanklessly break our hearts, yet neither will he enlarge it, he might fill it for a time, but he won't push it to the limits, burst it asunder, and force it to grow.  Dogs are content with what we are, children force us to become what we were meant to be.

Adopting a dog can be a fun and rewarding experience, but it is not parenting.  Dogs are not children nor a substitute for them and thinking such is unhealthy not only to the individual and society as a whole, but to the dog itself; dogs are least happy when treated like children, that is why we love them: because they aren't human, it diminishes the dog and the child both to confuse the two, no matter how cute and innocent the sentiment seems.  Don't believe me?  Type in 'doggy shower party' on Pinterest and see what comes up; I've been to few baby showers that nice.  Or read 'The Oracle of the Dog,' a Father Brown mystery by G.K. Chesterton (careful, if you aren't hook on Chesterton or Father Brown, this might be another bad habit worth acquiring, like Austen and chocolate).

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

A personal note

"And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above;and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.  But you, Daniel, shut up the words and seal the book, until the time of the end. Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase...But go your way till the end.  And you shall rest and shall stand in your allotted place at the end of the days.”

When most people think of the book of Daniel, they remember the lion's den or think of the hand writing on the wall or perhaps his prophetic visions or Nebuchadnezzar's dream, indeed, that is usually what comes to mind for me, but the above blurb from the last chapter caught my eye the other day.  Daniel has just finished seeing all these odd things, some involving his own scattered and exiled nation, and he's rather curious about what it all means and how it will all turn out.  But he isn't given the exciting details, save the puzzling prophetic visions he's already recorded, rather he's told how the whole grand tale ends, not the details concerning Israel's exile, moreover, it ends on a personal note, which is rather astonishing, and reassuring, coming from a book addressed to all nations, tribes, and tongues, written for all people in all times.  This particular part of the grand and epic story of the universe and our reality ends on a personal note!

I was overlooked as a kid, forgotten on more than one occasion, neglected or ignored when I wasn't being criticized or publicly humiliated, thus I have a very hard time understanding that I can be loved, that I am lovable, that I have value and worth and that I matter.  So when I am personally remembered, when someone does something specifically for me, it touches me deeply.  And here, after all these grand visions of things yet to come, a sweeping saga touching empires and vast stretches of time, a simple man is remembered, he is asking about the future and well-being of a whole nation, but it is he himself that is remembered and reassured.  He is not to know all those things pertaining specifically to his nation's fate, of which he is vastly curious, but of his own he is assured.

And that is the promise of this great book, for each and every human soul.  We can have an 'allotted place at the end of days.'  We can shine like the stars in their courses above!  Or we can run to and fro after knowledge, vain and ever increasing (were they envisioning google with that prediction?) and go down into darkness and infamy evermore.  As grand and epic as this tale is, it is also a very personal tale.  That's why the Word became flesh and dwelt among us; he had friends and enemies, joy and sorrow, a name and a face.  We each desire to be known and loved individually, and that is the very promise of this marvelous book, though it deals with happenings throughout all of time and history and that yet to come.  I love that I can still discover little gems like this, tucked away in various places though I've read and reread it time and again.  Written to all peoples, but also to me. 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Life is war

Do you ever feel like your life is pointless, that you are weak and useless, that your existence in general is a string of dull and tedious nothings?  Sometimes it is good to remember we're in a war, and that while things seem quiet and peaceful, the Enemy may come at any moment and surprise us, hoping to ambush us or break through the defenses.  Not that war is all that exciting at every moment,  I think I once read somewhere that it is, 'long stretches of tedium interrupted by periods of sheer terror.'  Whether languishing in the trenches of the first World War or slogging through the endless swamps of Vietnam or sweltering in a desert somewhere, soldiers of every age have never had an easy time of it, but the next time you think about being 'bored,' just remember what you're fighting against:

"And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him...Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!”

Not that we wrestle against such things physically or even on a level we are much aware.  For there are mightier warriors than we mere mortals of flesh and blood, and they fight on a level we cannot comprehend, as hinted at in this passage from Daniel:

"And he said to me, “O Daniel, man greatly loved, understand the words that I speak to you, and stand upright, for now I have been sent to you.” And when he had spoken this word to me, I stood up trembling.  Then he said to me, “Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words.  The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I was left there with the kings of Persia, and came to make you understand what is to happen to your people in the latter days. For the vision is for days yet to come.”

This mighty angelic warrior was delayed in delivering his message to Daniel because of this dreadful Prince of Persia, whom he could not counter without the help of one of the greatest angels known to mankind.  If such great and mighty beings cannot overcome such evil, what hope have we, fickle and fallible creatures of flesh and blood that we are?  Paul gives us some idea of this struggle in his letter to the Ephesians:

"Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.  Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.  For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places."

Wow!  But how do we fight against THAT?  He continues:

  Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.  In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.  To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints."

It isn't with swords or bows, guns or knives, bombs or even our fists with which we are called to fight, a strange thought to our violence obsessed culture.  Rather prayer, God's word, and a virtuous life are our only weapons and protection, for the fight is not ours, but the Lord's.  We who have no power or strength or virtue in ourselves, can be competent and valiant soldiers in this war from beyond the reach of time that has spilled over into our own reality.  So the next time you are tempted to be bored silly with your dull and tedious existence, remember, you're at war, a soldier manning the walls of some remote outpost, with the enemy snarling and hissing beneath you, looking for a breach in the defenses, a weak point by which to invade.  We don't need a video game to feel like we live in a war zone, it's in our own backyard, our living rooms and cubicles, but do we ignore it and pretend it isn't there and hope it just goes away, do we allow ourselves to be conquered and live as prisoners and slaves of that grim dragon, or do we stay at our posts and fight the fight set before us with all faith and confidence in the One who has thrown down the dragon and waits only until the time is right to vanquish it forever?    

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Sweet and salty

The place where I used to work sold a product boldly proclaiming: 'orphan no more!'  I think they have since rebranded themselves but the idea is the same: a powder you sprinkle on a motherless calf to help bond it to another cow.  Cows are strange creatures sometimes, some wanting to kill or abandon their own calves and others so desperate to mother that they'd steal another cow's calf before their own was born.  Most happily fall somewhere in-between.  But life happens and some calves lose their mothers and some cows lose their calves, so if you could match up the orphaned calf with a calf-less cow it is a wonderful thing, but as I said cows can be a little weird about that sort of thing.  Perhaps you've read the stories or seen the movie where the orphaned lamb, foal, or calf is clad in the skin of the stillborn and placed under the bereaved mother's nose in hopes of her adopting the stranger that smells like her dead offspring.  This wondrous powder is supposed to do the same thing but without the grisly effort: just sprinkle it on and voila!  The farmers raved about it, so it must work, so one day, curious, I looked for the magic ingredient.  Molasses and salt.  That's it (and maybe some anti-caking something or other).  Sweet and salty!  They knew the miracles of salted caramel before it was trendy.  But it isn't so easy with people.

"I will not leave you comfortless," was one translation but my version read, "I will not leave you as orphans." Wow, I'd read it a hundred times but never before had it sunk in, never before had I understood those simple words.  In the modern West we don't struggle with orphans in the same way they did in a backwater realm in the first century where the poor kids were pretty much on their own.  If there are no parents or family to step in, the government sees that the physical needs of such children are met, but our society struggles just as desperately with a different sort of orphan: the spiritual, the emotional, the social orphan.  It is very possible to have two actually living parents and still grow up an orphan; I did.  I never lacked for clothes and food, but I never had love, acceptance, encouragement, direction, attachment, understanding, or belonging; I was never wanted.  We all just lived in the same house with no more emotional or social connection than indifferent roommates thrown together by chance.  I never understood why the idea of 'family' was so important to some people; I just didn't get it.  They did their best but they couldn't give what they never had; emotional neglect and abuse runs back at least three generations in my family and probably even further back than that.  How many have grown up in homes where this is 'normal?'  It leaves you empty, awkward, and sad, wondering what's wrong with you and why nobody likes you, but even if you had an ideal childhood and great parents, each and every man, woman, and child is an orphan, in a spiritual sense.  We all thirst for something: that meaning, that purpose, that direction, that belonging.  But something isn't right, we're all empty and lost and wandering aimlessly about, seeking that 'something more.'

Social media exists because so many are hollow and empty inside, desperate to be filled.  We form 'tribes' with those of like circumstance, interest, or cause hoping to find community and meaning.  We lose ourselves to addictions or even suicide when the world grows too dark.  We try to lose ourselves in and live through our pets, our children, or some hobby or cause.  We're all orphans to some degree, no matter our family origin or lack thereof, we've all run away and lived selfishly and wonder if there is such a thing as Home.  But there is, Dad's waiting on the porch, and He'll joyously come running the moment He glimpses that wandering child coming dejectedly up the road.  It's a promise from the same Source that said we wouldn't be orphans.  I never knew what home was, what the big deal about family was, I didn't understand.  Now that I do, I so desperately want it, and it is mine, and can be yours, for all we need do is come Home.  He won't leave us as orphans, but first we need to admit that we are and then we get to start counting the days until the biggest and most fabulous Family Reunion in history, where we'll be welcome guests and people will know our names and be happy to see us, rather than being merely tolerated due to social obligation.  We'll finally be home!