Archive for September, 2022

20
Sep
22

Celebrating the season

Here where I live in northern Colorado USA, the seasons are beginning to change.

Summer is graciously bowing to receive her well-earned accolades while fall stands just off-stage awaiting her cue. Warm-ups and vocalization exercises done, she is poised, ready to burst from the wings, draped in oranges, reds, yellows and deep maroons.

I’m not gonna lie; of the four contenders, fall is my fave season of all. It is the time of cooler temps, of pumpkin spice EVERYTHING, of the start of American FOOTBALL, and of kids being back in school. It is the time when fresh peaches are canned, chili is cooked, long sleeves come out of hiding, and a brand-new season of Saturday Night Live blasts off.

But most of all, I think I love fall because it is that time when the end of yard work is visible, just beyond the horizon. 

I am sure I’m not alone. Don’t most people say fall is their favorite season?

Fall on the calendar is one thing. Entering the “fall” season of our life is another matter entirely. Why is it, do you suppose that people (like me) who feel a genuine affection for all things autumnal are so very much LESS thrilled when the autumn season of life arrives?

Sure… the “springtime of my youth” was an exciting time. Everything was new and fresh and green. There was an atmosphere of expectation. Vitality coursed through every vein and energy seemed unlimited! Life and liveliness filled the air as new buds appeared on every branch. PROMISE was bursting out all over!

“Summer” was great, too. It was the season we had all been waiting for… the season when our roots took hold, our flowers unfurled, and our leaves fully deployed. (Metaphorically speaking, of course. I personally don’t have any actual leaves or flowers to speak of. Do you?) Summer was the season of life when preparation met opportunity and we were out there every day DOING IT! We were on the stage, saying our lines, hitting our marks, and actualizing the self we knew we were born to be. It was a heady, intoxicating time when PURPOSE coursed through us, and we ended each day spent but satisfied.

But now comes the fall. Life slows down. Limbs creak. Daylight becomes rarer and rarer. The evenings are cooler, and the sap doesn’t flow quite as fluidly. Long sleeves and sweaters come out. Casserole recipes are located and dusted off. 

There is a temptation to lament this season and look on it as the unwelcome reminder of the frozen lifelessness that lies just ahead. But why should we? Fall is that time when our richest, most vibrant colors come out on full display. It is the time when we wave farewell to the vigorous striving of “summer” and dare to relax and refresh ourselves by the springs of wisdom. 

Fall (once again, working with an analogy here… I am talking about the fall season of LIFE) is harvest time… the time when the seeds of spring pay us back for the blood, sweat, and tears we watered them with.

While it is true that the color might have vanished from our hair (unless, of course, you have chosen to put it back in somehow), the colors of our experiences, our relationships, our families, and our indomitable spirits shines forth in a dazzling display… more glorious than a Colorado aspen grove in early October. 

Besides, I love the thing wise old King Solomon had to say about gray hair: “Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life.” (Proverbs 16:31, NRSVU). 

Pretty smart guy, eh?

I don’t know… was Dylan Thomas right? Should we, “… rage, rage against the dying of the light”?

Or should we celebrate the full glory of this fall season of life? 

I know which one I choose.

Abundant blessings;

08
Sep
22

A Rich, Rich Man

Maybe it’s NOT about the Benjamins!

It was one of those perfect, early autumn evenings. The air was still hot and clammy, but the rays of the sun were starting to slant toward the horizon. I was excited because tonight was the first game of the season with my NEW softball team!

[Just so we understand ourselves clearly from the outset, I LOVE playing slow-pitch softball. I am, however, utterly unencumbered by anything resembling actual softball-playing talent.]

This was at least thirty-five years ago, when I was still working at the bank. It was a men’s team made up mostly of some guys I worked with and a few of their friends. After doing some hamstring, glute, and quad stretches, I ambled over to introduce myself to some of my new teammates. 

My eyes drifted toward a man with neatly combed graying hair who stood there tying his cleats at the end of our bench. I didn’t recognize him, so I walked over, stuck out my hand and said, “Hi there! I don’t think we’ve met!”

To which he replied, “Hi there! I’m Rich!”

And since, back then, I was a scintillating and clever young man, regularly given to cracking totally obvious, cornpone jokes, I grabbed his hand, shook it, and replied, “Well, I’m not yet, but I hope to be!” 

[Rich, that is. Get it?]

At the time I unleashed my droll little riposte, my words were absolutely accurate. I was at the very beginning of a promising career as a Series 7 registered investment representative. I worked at a respected local bank and had visions of golden sugarplums and a big, fat 401(k) fund dancing in my head. 

And here, today, half a lifetime later, I am floored to realize how lavishly that dream of fabulous wealth has been realized…

… of course, in God’s own time. In God’s own way.

You see, definition #2 of the word “rich” is, “Abundant. Plentiful. As in, “… the nation’s rich and diverse wildlife,” while definition #5 says, “interesting because of being full of diversity or complexity.” As in, “What a full, rich life you lead!”

I have not (not yet, at least!) become rich in the sense of definition #1: “Having a great deal of money or assets.” But looking back on my life now, I have become fabulously rich by definition #2 and definition #5 standards!

  • I am rich in FAMILY. The one I was born into and the one I helped build along the way. They are all such awesome, goofy, great, smart, idiotic, special, warped, and splendid humans. I don’t know what I would do without any one of them.
  • I am rich in EXPERIENCE. Some of which I sought out on purpose… some of which sneaked up and ambushed me while I was looking the other way.
  • I am rich in RELATIONSHIPS. Living in one place for 45 years will do that for you. But now, since Joan and I decided to uproot ourselves and move to a brand-new town, we have a chance to build a whole bunch MORE!
  • Thanks to my parents, many, many mentors, the mysterious working of the Holy Spirit, and God’s inspired Word, I also wake up today to find I am rich in FAITH.
  • And finally, today’s list would not be complete without mentioning that I am also rich in LOVE. Both the love that has been astonishingly lavished upon me, but the love I feel toward the people and the world around me.

WOW! When you put it that way, I am a much richer guy than I could ever have imagined when I made my famous wisecrack to Rich on that softball field so very long ago.

That could very well be what Jesus was talking about when he sat his disciples down and told them, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10, NRSVU). 

I have lost track of Rich over the years, but wherever he is, I pray he has discovered that he is not only Rich, but also (definition #2) rich, and (definition #5) rich.

And wherever you are today, whatever your name is, I pray the richness of God’s good grace for you as well today. 

Abundant blessings;

01
Sep
22

Block Party Confessional

Joan and I went to a block party last week.

Partying on the block!

The party wasn’t technically on OUR block. But someone on that other, partying block was kind enough to invite us.

It was a nice event featuring grilled goodies, a potluck spread of salads and desserts, and even some live music. It was the perfect occasion to meet neighbors we might not have met before and re-connect with those we have.

About an hour in, I was standing and chatting with a mixture of those old and new friends, when suddenly Tom* came up beside me, grabbed my arm, and said, “Do you have a minute? I really need to talk to you.” 

I thought to myself, “Tom… can’t you see I am right in the middle of something here?” But when I turned and looked at Tom, I could tell he was really “in a state,” as folks say.

“Sure,” I said, politely excusing myself from the conversation with my neighbors about our favorite methods of crabgrass control.

Before I could even ask Tom what was up, he grabbed my arm, pulled me close and said, “He’s HERE!”

“Who is here?”

[For this next part of the conversation transcript, I will be replacing all of Tom’s very visceral, extremely profane phrases with quaint colloquialisms. I trust you’ll be able to make the necessary substitutions].

Tom – fuming and turning red in the face – hissed, “Do you see that fellow over there in the blue shirt… the one taking pictures of the band? That ornery cuss cheated me out of $25,000, my mother out of another $25,000, and my sister out of $50,000 back in 1999. I testified against him in court! He was sentenced to 60 years and got out of jail in THREE, for crying out loud! And now HERE HE IS!! He’s just walking around our block party, eating a hamburger, and smiling like he doesn’t have a care in the world!”

As my eyes grew wider, I gulped and said something profound like, “Wow, Tom! That’s incredible!”

Tom leaned in and filled in more of the story. About how the man in question had come to him, his mother, and his sister as an “investment advisor” over 20 years ago. About his slick brochures with charts and testimonials from “satisfied customers.” About the confidence he generated and the guarantees he made. About their excitement at the thought of investment profits.

And finally, Tom told me about their shock and shame – not to mention the fiscal damage – when they finally realized they had become victims of a modern day flim-flam man. A Professor Harold Hill in polyester pants.

“Russell,” Tom continued, “I sat there watching him for about 30 minutes and then walked over, stuck out my hand, and said, ‘Hi! Do you remember me?’ And do you know what? That sorry so-and-so HAD NO IDEA WHO I WAS!!”

At this point of the story, your question is probably the same as mine was. I mean yes, I was stunned and amazed to hear Tom’s story. I was equally flabbergasted to try and figure out how THAT GUY ended up here at our little block party.

But I was also thinking, “Tom… what is it you need me to do for you right now?”

Tom soon filled in that blank for me. As if reading my mind he said, “Russell, I know you are a man of faith. And I know that forgiveness is an important part of the Christian faith. And after the trial, and after the sentencing, and after about 10 years had gone by, I thought I had completely washed my hands of this scoundrel. But suddenly seeing him here like this has brought it all back.”

Tom continued, “I honestly don’t think you need to worry about me going over and inflicting any bodily injury on him. But you also need to know that, until just a few minutes ago, I was VERY seriously considering it.”

“What I need you to help me with is figuring out what to do with all this ANGER that is boiling up inside me right now. I know God doesn’t want us to be angry, but DARN IT! He hurt my family BADLY!”

I wish I could tell you I had an instant, magic bullet answer for Tom. In that moment, standing there in the middle of the street, with the band playing and people milling all around us, I felt a stabbing inadequacy to address Tom’s emotional turmoil. I DID manage to pray a prayer for illumination before daring to speak to this very wounded, very agitated, very vulnerable man. 

And when I finally spoke, I found a way to remind him that the central message of the gospel is forgiveness… as Jesus preached and demonstrated over and over. I was also able to remind him that forgiveness is NOT about acceptance or approval of the unacceptable, but rather about the purging of a deadly poison from heart and mind. 

I spared Tom the spectacle of grabbing both his shoulders and praying with him in the middle of the block party, but I will say that a quiet prayer was uttered. 

I don’t know if our conversation helped or not, but I thanked God for making me available to be a listening ear in the moment it was needed. 

Abundant blessings;




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