Monday, August 28, 2006

edge

I’m just beginning to realize that I’m getting old. In 10 days I’ll be 43. That isn’t really all that old to many people I know. Some would tell you that it’s middle age. If it’s middle age, then that would mean I would live to be 86. I don’t think that I want to live to be 86. I know that I don’t want to be in the life phase where every nightly trip to bed is an adventure that I won’t be sure of waking up from. I’ve been in some venues lately where I’ve noticed how much older people struggle to keep up, mentally, physically, and sometimes even emotionally. I work hard to be current. I work hard to keep an edge. I work hard to be a part of the contemporary world that I live in, but I have to tell you that it gets harder every month to keep up, to look like I have a clue about what’s going on around me. The edges that were once sharp yearn to go back to dull. I watch those in their later years struggle with this. I don’t want to struggle.
Whether I want to or not, I may make it to 86. Rest assured that if I do, I won’t pout about it. I won’t grumble about it. I will take advantage of it. When I get old, I’m gonna do whatever the heck I want to do. I’ll have earned it. At least in my mind I’ll have earned it. That seems to be the way it is with a great many older people who I know personally. The rules don’t apply to them. By rules I mean, rules of law, rules of etiquette, rules of physics, you name it, they don’t apply anymore…..apparently anyway.
They drive how they want, act how they want, and just generally live their lives however it is that they want. A part of me admires this. The other part fears it. I’m afraid to grow old and to be like them. I don’t want to be in line at Burger King demanding my right to a Big Mac. I don’t want to be sending the fries back until they are my personally entitled version of crispy. I don’t want to order coffee with my value meal. None of these are okay in my humble opinion, yet that is common behavior for the masses of the aged. They feel entitled and maybe they are. Maybe this is their prize for living so long and contributing so much. I don’t want the prize thank you.
I’ve also noticed that, in general, the older one gets, the more he or she seeks the safety of the known. There are exceptions to be sure, but lately it seems that I’ve been inundated with people seeking the assumed safe path. These same people throughout their lives sought everything but the safe path. Theirs wasn’t foolish, but it was often times not safe. I see the same thing in me. It’s a struggle to stretch and experience new. I’m scheduled. Actually I’d probably enjoy a nursing care facility because they have schedules. But every so often, I do something that is totally unpredictable. It might even seem foolish to my more grounded friends. Each time is a freeing event though. My family and I have shared a great many adventures and the freedom of going boldly where God is leading regardless of safe. But I’m getting old and I’m getting fearful of new adventures. God whispers them to me occasionally as a kind of “what if?” scenario. They’re not all major. They’re not all life altering. They are potentially stretching. They demand attention. Recently I made a change in writing venues. I left the beach for a bit for a change of pace. It’s been a bit freeing. It gives me the courage to try it again somewhere down the road. Yesterday I wore a tie as I stood before my community of faith. It was different. It was freeing. And God, being faithful as He is, took advantage of that moment later in a day in the life of a wanderer, to place me in a room of “older” people who are struggling with the future. I could sense from some the undeniable signs of faith in a God who has always been. I could also sense some undeniable signs of worry about a God who may not be anymore, at least in a way that comforts them. What I mean is, they have lived long lives doing great things and participating in great works of God. They have seen provision and purpose and all that. Their heads acknowledge, but hearts begin to falter in later stages of life. They desire more security than I believe we are afforded or entitled to. I have to believe that it’s age. I fear it, the lack of confidence that overcomes faithful provision, the paralysis more debilitating than arthritis. I don’t want to live to that point in life. I want to get every bit of adventure in before I lose the edge.

Monday, August 21, 2006

balance

Balance is an elusive thing. The thing about balance is that you’re never really “there”. It’s never really final. Maybe in a perfect world or in a vacuum existence you could achieve balance, but not in the life that you and I live in. Balance is never final because it depends on outside influences that are constantly at work. Balance comes in all forms in every part of life. You have physical balance. It’s the kind that keeps you walking on the straight and narrow. It’s the type that you hope you can maintain when a uniformed individual asks you to walk the yellow line alongside a local highway. It can be affected by what has been introduced to your body, like alcohol. It can also be affected by what ought to be introduced into your body. A few weeks ago I had issues with heat exhaustion and dehydration. The most pronounced symptom for me was that I lost my balance. I had a sense that any quick movement would result in my swirling rather gracefully to the ground in a black haze. It was solved for the most part by consuming mass quantities of water and Gatorade. When I was young, growing up a few hours from Niagara Falls, I remember images of a great high wire artist named Blondin perched on a tightrope high above the water. In each image he had this long pole that he used to counter the physics that were trying to cause him to give in to gravity and plummet to the earth. I remember scenes of the late Karl Wallenda plunging to his death when a gust of wind overcame his determination to maintain balance.
There are other types of balance that I deal with on a regular basis. There is the emotional balance that sometimes comes with the job I have. There is a balance that is always being worked on in my family, in my spiritual life, in my mental health. You name it, I’m trying to balance it. So is everyone I encounter. And like Blondin, everyone needs a pole of some type to counter the affects of whatever it is in life that is threatening your ability to walk the yellow line in a competent manner. For some people, the pole is artificial. There are those who are medicated into balance, legal or otherwise. Not meaning to offend, what I mean is there are some who are rightfully and competently medicated to offset something that is physically lacking otherwise. There are others, however, who choose their own medication without professional help. Not only is the method artificial, but so is the balance, and eventually the natural forces of gravity will plummet them from their high wire existence.
My emotional state at times can waver precariously and I need a pole to pull it all together. I’m scheduled, I’ve confessed before. If my schedule is set and my planets are aligned then I stand a decent enough chance of surviving the week. However, like Ebeneezer Scrooge, the slightest thing can affect my senses. A blot of mustard or an underdone piece of potato…. you know the rest. Anyway, I try to have built in to my life some poles that help me through. The first is some time spent with the one who created balance in the first place. I guess if He created the concept, then He can get me back to it. Some time alone with God, walking in the garden, which sometimes looks alarmingly like a coffee shop, can tip me back to where I need to be. Writing does this for me as well. I sit down once a week, at the beginning of the week, to just blurt out stuff that has been confined in my brain. My time this week was in jeopardy for a few brief moments and it caused me great stress. My pole was nowhere to be found. I was going to need a lot longer walk in the garden to get through this one. But at the last moment, the planets aligned and here I am. And I can virtually feel myself come back into line in much the same way as the gallons of water and Gatorade brought me back to steady feet a few weeks ago. Gravity still calls and pulls and I know that its only a matter of time before I’ll need to wave this way or that for balance to be maintained. I’m just grateful for the pole.

Monday, August 14, 2006

holes

We have holes in our backyard now. I’m not referring to little mole holes. They are in the front yard. I’m talking about big holes, deep holes, intimidating holes. They are holes that used to be filled with hundreds of pounds of concrete. They are all over my backyard. It’s not as bad as it sounds though. Actually they are a sign of progress. There used to be a playground where the holes were. For the past 5 years we have lived with a preschool playground where a yard should be. In the next few months there will reappear a yard where the playground used to be. It’s not much, but it’s progress. We’re praying for the day when we can look out and the holes will be only memories.
I have holes in my life at the moment. They’ve not come all at once. Actually its been a few year progression. It began when my son graduated from high school. Things began to change rapidly around here. Those of you who have gone through this already know that which I am talking about. Those who haven’t experienced this time….it’s coming. And the humbling thing about it is that there is nothing you can do to stop it. It is a relentless progression, growing up I mean. Each day your child wakes up is one less day that they will wake up in your house. And then the holes begin. The void that comes when they are no longer there any time you want them to be there begins to form earlier than you can even notice it. I think it actually begins when they get their drivers license.
Two years ago we left our son in the Midwest and flew home to an empty room. It took weeks for me to be able to walk by it. I had never experienced holes like that. This one caught me unaware, kind of like those sink holes in Florida that swallow cars and homes. They began long before they appeared too. My son has come back in various stages of living with us which I always thought was the worse fate that a parent could experience. Next year he’ll be married and it will be permanent, at least I’m praying anyway.
Two days ago I watched as my daughter flew off to the next adventure in her life. She’s now working in Disney World. Can you imagine, those people actually get paid to work in the happiest place on earth. Some days I’d pay them to work in a happy place. Another hole dropped out from under me that I never really saw coming. You’d think that I’d have been more prepared. I know people who have gone through it twice as many times as I have. They tell me the same two things. First of all, you never see them forming, the holes I mean. Second, it doesn’t hurt any less when they do come.
The holes form because when they leave the routine of your daily existence, what they’ve contributed leaves with them, and a hole is formed. An empty place at the table, a clean room, and fewer loads of laundry, are all reminders that the ground you built your life on is unstable and disappearing. The phone calls, the school activities, the friends leaving pizza in your family room, all leave when they do, and there are only holes left in their place. It’s a sobering realization of how fragile the life that you’ve built with your family really is. It’s there for 18 years and then, in just a moment, it’s a hole.
I’ve learned though, in the midst of aching emptiness, that holes fill in. I could probably write a book on the choices that you can make which will fill these holes. Unfortunately, I’ve known many couples who had nothing constructive to fill their holes in with. Their relationships didn’t survive and rebuild. But I won’t…. I do know this much…. As much as it hurts, I wouldn’t have traded this experience for any other in the world. There is beauty and appreciation and increased love in the midst of the pain. It’s a growing experience that can’t be matched in anything else. It reminds me of a line in a current popular country song, “Life ain’t always beautiful, but it’s a beautiful ride.” Just as our backyard will be filled and made whole with a new look and endless new possibilities, so too our holes are filling and our lives are resurfaced and the possibilities are endless. The memories of our family will always remain even as the new look emerges. Sometimes it seems like it’s not much to hold on to, but it’s progress.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Beaches

Summer on the beach. It’s not really what I had always imagined that it might be. Although this is not your average beach I guess. This morning as I drove around the point I encountered a few of the unique features that go along with Northwest beaches.
The first thing that is apparent here is the marine layer. Don’t know what marine layer is? Neither did I until I moved to Seattle. In most of the rest of the world I think that it would be called fog. The ships are gliding in and out of the curtains floating just above the water line. There may be a difference between them, marine layer and fog, but I couldn’t tell you what it might be. It’s just basically the low lying clouds that obscure most of the beachfront this morning while the towers of the city across the bay rise up into another day of promised sunshine. We won’t see it on our level for awhile yet. An eagle is on the beach this morning, poking around for some seafood I guess. Now there’s something that you don’t see everyday. As often as I see them, I’m always amazed. They look out of place according to my upbringing where I was accustomed to seeing them behind bars in a zoo. I always thought it intriguing that our national symbol of freedom spent the majority of its time behind bars. It’s amazing how your experience dictates your view of the world. It’s also humbling to know that for me as well as the people who surround me, truth relies on experience. Truth about beaches for me, while living in upstate New York, is far different than reality for me in Seattle. I guess that’s what made those guys in the New Testament so sold out on the cause of advancing a faith in Jesus. They had the truth, they lived the experience. Truth and reality coexisted and an incredible bravery ensued. Truth and reality coexisting in the life of an individual is a galvanizing force.
It helps me realize, I think, that the two are crucial to faith development and also that most of us are too heavily relying on one to the detriment of the other. The two worlds in which I exist tend to use one or the other. Those who are of the modern mind, think in terms of absolute truth which can be reasonably and empirically proven. Those who are of the post modern thought process are totally into the reality of personal experience. The tension exists, I’m thinking, because each falls to their own preference. My modern mind told me that beaches were warm places that one would desire to swim in. In that world I believed that the clouds floating low over the water were fog and that eagles resided behind bars. My post modern experience shows me that beaches have marine layers, you could suffer from hypothermia in minutes even in July and that eagles roam and eat freely, often times better that I do. At least it’s true in Seattle. The encouraging part of my faith journey, even in the midst of the conflict, is that the truth of Jesus is the same here or there, then or now, and I can certainly experience Him no matter what beach I find myself on. Truth and reality are powerful forces.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

freedom

Looking out from my window to the beach world this morning, there’s a ship cruising the sound that demands my attention. It is not an ordinary ship. It evokes more emotion than an ordinary ship just as a police cruiser evokes more emotion than the family mini van. There’s a battleship gracefully plowing the waters on its way to the naval base in Bremerton. It’s interesting how your pulse races when a patrol car eases in behind you. You instantly become guilty although you’re rarely sure of what, and most of the time even what you may guilty of is of little consequence to the police. If you’re on the wrong side of the law, the patrol cars become even more alarming. As I watch the battleship pass by, I’m fully aware that it is not on a mission. At least it’s not on a mission to do battle. It’s actually headed home. Probably nothing short of invasion would tempt the crew to about face and head away from home. The ship, in my eyes anyway, represents freedom, in fact freedom bought with a price. There is the obvious financial investment that comes along with a ship of this size. It also involves personal price, sacrificial investment as a matter of fact. I can’t help but wonder if the ship instills the same anxiety, boosted heart rate and sweaty palms from those on the wrong side of freedom.
Just as a criminal with half a brain would flee the presence of a patrol car, wouldn’t those opposed to freedom have that same reaction regarding the presence of a battleship. In fact as I ponder freedom even further, I can’t help but relate it to my own personal freedom. The freedom I refer to is eternal, spiritual, and life giving. I believe with all of my heart that I am free in eternity. I’m free in the present for the most part if I choose, but it’s eternity that I’m most concerned about. It lasts longer. I live among perhaps the most enslaved people in all of the United States, eternally speaking I mean. They are a people group who, at least among the majority have tossed away the keys to freedom along with a relationship with “The Key”, Jesus. They are enlightened here. They are wealthy here. They are technological here. The are educated here. They are physically fit here. They are among the most literate in the country here. They are also enslaved here.
And within this culture of slavery, the very signs of freedom tend to evoke the same sharp emotions as do the battleships to the dictatorial and the patrol cars to the criminal. Their hearts may race, their palms may sweat, their agitation increased by the presence of those freed and the fortresses that they reside in. I wonder why that is. I don’t really have an answer. However I do have a plan. Take off the sirens and the flashing lights. Remove the guns and the flags. Don’t announce your arrival, demonstrate your friendship. I’m convinced that part of the issue is that some of us have been free for so long that we take it for granted. We’ve formed a club. We’re so invested in our maintenance that we’ve ignored the opportunities to demonstrate by a life well lived the incredible gift that grace is in our lives. Maybe we’ve just forgotten how amazing that gift is. As a youngster I would eagerly show off my latest Christmas gifts during Christmas break to everyone who cared to look. However, by Spring break, I’d forgotten the gratitude and they no longer cared. Freedom, especially eternal freedom, is a gift that is as fresh today as the day I received it. I’m guessing that if I could figure out how to let my life show that, then people would not want to run from His presence or mine.