Exploring where life and story meet!

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.