Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category

14
Sep
21

My Own NGH List

Ninjas ASSEMBLE!

Last night the newly-crowned, 15-year-old champion of the show, American Ninja Warrior gazed earnestly into the camera and assured me, “Hey! If you can dream it and work hard, you can do ANYTHING!”

REALLY?” I replied, reaching to my left for another handful of popcorn, noticing the twinge in my shoulder as I did so. “You honestly think so?”

But hey… you have to love the kid’s heart. He started out with nothing but a dream. 

And then, with a lot of dedication and special training equipment (like his own custom-built Salmon Ladder, Jumping Spider, and Warped Wall), he took his nimble, 15-year-old body and trained it into championship shape. 

But as I sat and snacked and listened to earnest young Kaden speak, my NGH list expanded by one.

“NGH” is shorthand for “Never Gonna Happen.” [Or if you want to be a little more grammatically formal, call it the NGTH List; “Never Going To Happen.”] 

This is the list I keep of the things that are CLEARLY never going to happen in my lifetime. Despite Kaden’s heartfelt pep talk, I knew that becoming the next American Ninja Warrior is light years beyond my personal radar screen. 

It’s NGH… Never Gonna Happen.

Just like my dream of playing in the NBA. NGH. Or climbing Mount Everest. Also NGH. To this list I should probably also add my childhood fantasies of becoming a firefighter, or a policeman, or game show host.

NONE of those are Ever Gonna Happen.

On one hand, I find that moving things onto my NGH List is a very liberating exercise. I mean, if I keep on believing that the day will come when I finally learn to fly a plane, or become a ventriloquist, or sculpt Joan’s lovely image in marble, I invite nothing but frustration and disappointment the longer those goals remain unachieved. 

Moving that kind of stuff onto my NGH List frees me up to discover more reasonable, age-and-ability-appropriate sources of fulfillment.  

On the other hand, I have to ask myself; “Is a rapidly expanding NGH List a sign that I’ve thrown in the towel? Given up? “Settled?” Ceased dreaming?”

I think I was 19 years old when I first uttered the phrase, “Someday, I’m going to write a book.” Today, at nearly 70 years, that dream remains unfulfilled. 

Please understand: I’ve started several books. One even grew to a little more than 11,000 words. 

Each time, however, I have abandoned the effort as I became overwhelmed, discouraged, lost, or disappointed with the sub-standard quality of my effort. But then I pick up someone else’s printed, published work, and become simultaneously inspired and intimidated

And yet, despite the internal turmoil this causes me, I am still not willing to move “Write a book” onto my NGH List.

Ultimately, I (and probably all of us) must look soberly at our goals and ask the question, “Is this quest ‘of God’? Or is it just me and my idle fantasizing?” Another way of asking the same question might be: “Is this THING part of my divinely-appointed PURPOSE in life? Or not?” 

If the answer to that question is YES, nothing should stop you from carrying it out. If it is NOT, you should waste no time adding it to your own personal NGH List

I take a measure of comfort from the Bible’s story of the Israelites. Their divinely appointed purpose (recorded in Genesis 12:3) was to be a set-apart people through whom God would bless all of Creation.

But to get there, they had to endure 400 years of enslavement in Egypt, 40 years of wandering aimlessly in the Sinai wilderness, and then untold months of vicious, mortal combat before they finally “arrived.” I am sure most of them wanted to put “Be God’s Chosen People” on their NGH List at around year six of their time in Egypt.

And yet, despite all the delays, all the setbacks, all the disappointments, and all the dead-ends, God’s purpose for the Israelites was ultimately fulfilled. As the prophet Isaiah reminds us, “… but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:31, NRSV).

Today, no matter what new things are being added to YOUR NGH List, take heart. Wait on God. Renew your confidence that God has a purpose and a path for you.

Abundant blessings;

03
Sep
21

What do you know?

Photo Taken In Kln, Germany

“Look at this,” Joan said as we drove to the park the other day. “According to this FitBit report I just received, I had more average steps per month last year than this year, a higher average heart rate, and got 8 minutes more sleep per night.”

She paused a moment, pondering. “You know… I’m not really sure I need to know all of that right now.”

“Well, sweetie,” I replied… ever the sage. “You know what they say, ‘Knowing is always better than NOT knowing.’”

In return, I received the well-deserved – yet incredibly loving – eye roll.

In the grand scheme of things, it was just another one of those silly spousal exchanges that happen all the time. 

NBD, right? 

But in the silence that ensued, I couldn’t help but ask myself; “IS IT though? IS knowing always better than not knowing? And who is this ‘they’ that seems so cocksure that it is?”

By nature, and nurture both, I am strongly biased in the direction of knowing. My parents were both fierce advocates of learning and and knowledge and being informed. Right up until he died in January 2017, my father was on top of every relevant event in his community, state, nation, and world. You had to stay on your toes around him because a mandatory current events conversation was a part of every family gathering.

Lately, though, I wonder. 

What I mean is, I wonder about the toll “being informed” takes.

I also wonder what difference it makes that I know the exact, up-to-the-minute COVID death tolls, or the precise margin of victory for the Tennessee senatorial primary, or how many acres have now been burned by the Caldor fire, or the concise number of Americans left behind in Afghanistan, or the minor league ERA of Royals pitcher Joel Payamps, or how many angels can REALLY dance on the head of a pin?

I can easily find answers to ALL these questions right here in my comfy, Fort Collins living room…

… and then do WHAT about any of them, exactly?

Two and a half years ago, when we first received Joan’s cancer diagnosis, the oncologist asked us if we wanted to know what stage it was. Because that’s the question everyone asks, isn’t it? 

“Ooooo! That’s too bad. What stage is it?”

But we said, “Nope. No thanks. Let’s just get busy getting it treated.”

And that’s just exactly what we did. And today, praise God, after surgery, chemo, and careful monitoring, Joan is now in complete remission. Hallelujah!!

We learned what we needed to learn and no more. We did not drive ourselves crazy amassing all the “what if?” and “why?” and “why not?” scenarios floating around. We – and our family, friends, and medical specialists – got very tunnel-visioned and prayer-focused and plugged doggedly ahead.

Our approach was an attempt to mirror the unique brilliance of the line, “And give us this day our daily bread,”(Matthew 6:11, NRSV), that Jesus offered us in his perfect prayer template. 

Such a powerful phrase. Jesus here seems to be suggesting that we not spend a lot of energy fretting about anything more than the needs of THIS day. Just like the manna from heaven the Israelites enjoyed… God’s provision will always be sufficient for right now

A little later in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says the same thing to the assembled crowd in a slightly different way. He says, “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” (Matthew 6:34, NRSV). 

They say what you don’t know can hurt you.

But sometimes I wonder if what we DO know can hurt just as badly.

Abundant blessings;

31
Aug
21

Thank you, Von Trapps

Last week – in fact, one week ago today – I climbed a mountain. 

Literally.

The name of the mountain was Horsetooth Rock. One look at it will explain where the name came from. Horsetooth is not a huge, hulking mountain. In fact, it is rather modest by Colorado standards, checking in at a mere 7,500 feet tall. 

For me though, it was tall enough. As in, at several points along the way I thought there was a good chance I might fall over and die, leaving my carcass to be picked over by the buzzards.

But I didn’t. In fact, I made it to the top, rested, and then made it all the way back down.

Along the way I learned some life lessons… a couple of which I have already made note of in this blog postand this one, in case you missed them. 

My original idea was to compose a separate, new post for each of the lessons I learned on Horsetooth. Instead, I think I will use the rest of this space today to hit the highlights of ALL the lessons so I might move on to bigger and better topics. 

 Without further ado, then, may I present;

Lesson #3.) CLIMBING AIDS ARE YOUR FRIENDS:

In my first “Lessons from Horsetooth” post, I included a picture of my left foot. There beside my foot you might have seen the shadow of a “trekking pole” … or hiking stick to the uninitiated. There weren’t many other people climbing Horsetooth that day who used poles or sticks to help them, so I felt a little bit like a softie. But honestly, that pole was an absolute life saver. So it is in life. Sometimes we need a little climbing aid, or a leg up. We might think it makes us look a little feeble to, for example, stop and ask directions, or ask for help, or own up to our weaknesses. 

If that is the way you feel, GET OVER IT! We all need a little assist now and then. Recognizing that need is a strength, not a weakness.

Lesson #4.) TAKE BREAKS. LISTEN TO YOUR BODY

Remember: as you live, you are not competing with anyone. There are no ribbons for reaching your particular summit before others reach theirs. When your body (or your mind, or your spirit) tells you it is time to stop, sit down, and rest, DO IT! In addition to renewing yourself, you will provide a valuable lesson to everyone who sees you stopping and resting. They might even follow suit! 

Lesson #5.) CULTIVATE FRIENDSHIPS ALONG THE WAY

When I finally got to the top of Horsetooth, I met a guy who was already there. His name was Chris. Chris and I started talking about the climb, the view(s), the fantastic weather, and our previous climbing experiences. According to a couple of patches on Chris’ backpack, I saw that he was an Afghanistan War veteran. So we talked about the war and the U.S. pullout. After discovering Chris was also an avid fan of the San Francisco 49ers football team, we had material to discuss for the entire trip back down. (And yes… he is still stinging from Super Bowl LIV). The rapport and camaraderie between us made the descent almost pleasant.

The same is true about our life journeys. When we choose to walk them alone, we find that every challenge along the way is a lot more difficult, the joys aren’t quite as joyous, and the questions dwell and nag at us a lot more.

 Companions lighten every load and heighten every celebration.

“Look mom! I’m on a mountain!”

And finally…

Lesson #6: THE TOUGHER THE CLIMB, THE SWEETER THE SUMMIT

Almost anyone you asked would tell you that climbing Horsetooth Rock is NBD… no big deal. For little, ol’, spindly-legged me though, it was RUGGED. I wanted to quit at least 20 times. After one quarter of the way up, my heart was beating loudly in my ears and my back was really giving me trouble. There were times I said, “OK, that’s far enough. Time to go back.” All of which meant that when I finally made it to the top, I was BURSTING with pride and joy at having made it. 

Keep that in mind the next time you are slogging through an oatmeal swamp, battling hornets, and carrying a 50-pound pack on your back in 112-degree heat: It is going to be SOOOOO SWEET when you finally get where you’re going.

In the middle of the very worst part of their exile experience, God spoke to the Israelites through the prophet Isaiah and told them, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” (Isaiah 43:2, NRSV).

And here is the best news of all: God says exactly the same thing to YOU in the middle of your worst day/week/year. 

And so, as the Von Trapps said so musically; “Climb every mountain! Ford every stream!”

Abundant blessings;

27
Aug
21

Strong Shoulders

Horsetooth Rock at sunrise

Earlier this week, I proudly puffed out my chest and told you about my singular achievement of climbing the famed “Horsetooth Rock” here in Fort Collins, CO. It took me about two hours of climbing to reach the top… 30 minutes of sitting down and basking in the sun… and one-and-a-half hours to get back down.

Although Horsetooth is considerably smaller than any of the 58 “fourteeners” in this state, it was still a challenge for my nearly 70-year-old legs and lungs. I was tempted at several points to stop, look around, and say, “OK… that’s close enough. Time to head back down.”

But I didn’t!

Yay me! Right?

But here is the thing; at just about every step along the way, I was reminded that I did not accomplish this legendary feat all on my own. First of all, the fact that I was following a TRAIL meant that someone else had gone before me and blazed that trail. 

Those unseen saints also thoughtfully installed some strategically placed BENCHES along the way… benches I never passed by.

Then, at a couple of places along the way, the trail became very steep. And wonder of wonders, those same unseen ancestors were compassionate enough to install wooden steps (shown here) and carve footholds in the sheer granite face. 

But guess what else? Not all my aides-de-camp on this trip were invisible! My sails also received an extra puff of wind from a few flesh and blood people I met along the way. There was the older gentleman who was coming back DOWN from the top just as I was getting started. 

Just the sight of him spryly descending helped lighten my load. 

Then there was that young couple (he: shirtless. She: in sneakers. They: not even carrying water) who, when I called out, “You two make it look too easy!” replied with, “Oh no… we’re struggling.” 

(Yeah… right.)

Isn’t that true in life, too? Don’t any of us who make some kind of noteworthy notch in our belts almost ALWAYS stand on the shoulders of others in order to do so? 

I can’t even begin to count the sets of shoulders I have climbed on to be where I am today. On my parents’ shoulders I learned about how a couple is called to submerge THEIR wants and needs below the wants and needs of their children… time and time again.

On my father’s shoulders I learned about the courage it took to make a radical professional restart and follow a higher calling.

My mother’s shoulders gave me the vantage point to see the importance of connecting with the world outside my town’s, my state’s, my nation’s borders. She also showed me what it meant to love the written word.

My junior high friend Kirk’s shoulders were just high enough to help me see that it is possible to take your faith in Christ seriously and not be a complete social pariah. 

And so on and so on… ad infinitum.

Even though the story of the children of Israel is a story filled with struggle, captivity, violence, disobedience, and despair, there was always a faithful remnant who remembered and celebrated God’s promise. In their darkest moments of exile, they were able to look back and see the shoulders of faith they stood on and take solace. 

That is what allowed David to bow his head and write this psalm: “Then we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will praise you forever; from generation to generation, we will proclaim your praise.” (Psalm 79:13, NRSV).

Take a moment and think about all the different sets of shoulders YOU stand on today. Name them by name. Make a list of how they helped you. Offer a silent prayer of thanks for their sacrifice…

… and then go out and offer your shoulders to someone else.

Abundant blessings;

25
Aug
21

One Step at a Time

Amid some stiffness, soreness, and a bit of fatigue, there is also some genuine satisfaction bubbling up in my spirit today.

Horsetooth at sunrise. Photo by Georgia Evans

That is because yesterday, I managed to climb Horsetooth Rock… an iconic Fort Collins landmark. 

At a mere 7500 feet, Horsetooth has not even earned the right to be called a mountain, apparently. But I’ll tell you what… it was plenty high enough for me. From the parking lot at the trail head, it is a 6.4 mile round trip with a 1,584 foot elevation gain. 

Now, you might be as unimpressed as my oldest son who responded to my news with a meme of the Steve Carrell “Office” character saying, “Cool story.” 

But let me tell you… for this particular old guy, it was a genuine feat. On top of which, it gave me six or eight brand new ideas for BLOG POSTS!

First, it provided me with a reminder about the importance of STEPS. According to my calculations and the size of my stride, 6.4 miles is about 11,264 steps. Steps, I discovered, that can only be taken one at a time.

Over the course of my life, I have undertaken many journeys… journeys that have involved a high number of steps. I’ll be the first to admit that those steps have not always been taken with joy and determination. 

My left foot

One classic response of mine has been to pause and ponder the incredibly high number of steps involved in said journey and then turn away, overwhelmed. I am sure that was one of the things that prevented me from pursuing my call to ordained ministry for so long. 

SOOOO many steps. SOOOO many years. SOOOO much work!

Another response to seeing a long, difficult road stretching ahead is what I call the Suffering Stoic response. This is the guy (or gal) who peers down the road, screws his/her face up into a tight grimace, clenches their teeth, and then bravely sets off, sword in hand, ready to slay all dragons along the way. 

This was my approach to learning each musical instrument I have ever played. It was also how I have begun every morning at a couple of the jobs I’ve had the privilege to hold. 

Each of these approaches has the same root problem; they are each hampered by focusing too much on the WHOLE journey instead of looking at just the NEXT STEP

  • Seminary was a much more positive experience when I looked only at THIS class, at THIS paper, and at THIS exam instead of considering the whole 4.5-year lump.
  • Parenthood wasn’t a snap, but we found that it held so much more joy when we looked at each moment on its own merits.
  • Climbing Horsetooth became much more doable when I took one step at a time vs. worrying about all 11,264 of those steps.

Of course, as in most journeys, it was good to stop now and then, step back, and take in the wider perspective. Remembering that your steps are part of a broader context gives each of those steps a much richer, deeper meaning. 

Jesus held this tension perfectly in this parable from the Sermon on the Mount: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matthew 6:25-27, NRSV)

Yes, this lesson is about trusting God. As I read it, though, it is also very much a lesson about taking the journey one step at a time. It is the lesson our sisters and brothers in the addiction recovery community have leaned on as a genuine life saver. 

So… next step: locate a couple of photos to illustrate the main point of this here post… 

… Add some tags.

… Then hit “Publish.”

But please… just one step at a time.

Abundant blessings;

20
Aug
21

Beloved Blades

A couple of days ago, I wrote about the annoying frequency with which the words, “I’m sorry” have been featured in my daily vocabulary. I mean, there I am, navigating my day with a measure of ease and panache (in my opinion, at least) when BOOM! 

… Suddenly and unexpectedly, I trespass. And when that happens, I immediately feel the need to make amends for my trespass. I say, “I’m sorry” and ask what else I can do to make things right again.

Today the phrase that seems to be popping up with annoying frequency is the phrase, “I FORGOT.” Sometimes, the two phrases appear together. As in, “I’m sorry. I forgot.”

Here is a classic example; I was sent to the grocery store to buy three simple items. Avocados, yogurt, and dish detergent. No need to write anything down… it’s THREE THINGS, for crying out loud!

I zipped in, hit the produce section for the avocados, flew over to dairy aisle for five or six well-chosen flavors of yogurt, and then ZOOP! Up to the cashier to check out. 

As I returned home and proudly displayed my plunder to Joan there on the kitchen counter, she oh-so-lovingly said, “That’s great, sweetie. But where is the dish detergent?” 

“OOPS! Sorry! I forgot!”

And it wasn’t as if I grabbed the avocados and yogurt and then stood there scratching my head, trying to remember what the third thing was. Dish detergent was as far-removed from my brain as… as… as rationalityis removed from today’s internet political debates.

Trust me when I tell you that not all the things I forget are as incidental and easily fixable as an item on the grocery list. 

In my time I have also forgotten:

  • People’s names
  • Appointments
  • Steps in a process
  • Lessons from my past
  • Where things in my house are stored
  • Words to songs I once knew well
  • The last thing Joan said to me

Of course, when it comes to recalling moments or conversations from childhood, or incidents from the Lassie or Rin Tin Tin TV shows, I shine like a star. 

Ask me to name Kansas City Chiefs quarterbacks from the past and I won’t miss a beat as I reel off names like DeBerg, Grbac, Moon, Gannon, Bono, Kenney, Huard, and of course, the inimitable Joe Montana. I can tell you the name of Sky King’s airplane (the Songbird), Pat Kelly’s jeep (Ol’ Nellybelle) and the clown on Howdy Doody (Clarabelle) without turning once to Google.

Let’s start by facing the cold, hard facts: my brain – like the rest of my body – is getting older. The file drawers are kind of full and the wheels don’t turn as quickly as they once did.

There is also the issue of PAYING ATTENTION. If I am not making a point of devoting my entire focus to the grocery list Joan is giving me, or to exactly WHERE the lentils are being put away, or to your story about the U2 concert, I will probably not remember it well, if at all.

Finally, I am guilty of hierarchy-making. That is, I encounter some piece of information and instantly rank it as IMPORTANT… WORTH REMEMBERING, or TRIVIAL… DON’T WASTE THE HARD DRIVE SPACE ON THIS. 

And most of the time, the stuff I forget – but needed to remember – was labeled as TRIVIAL when it really wasn’t.

I am not sure I can solve the puzzle of having an aging brain. But I know I can definitely take steps on the other two problems… I can pay more and better attention, and I can choose to treat MORE things as important.

Which is probably a good time to remember that you and I were created by a God who sees EVERY SINGLE one of us as important. Not just important, but SACRED… BELOVED… PRECIOUS. 

But don’t just take my word for it. Listen to King David in this psalm when he tells us: “The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him…”          (Psalm 103:15-17, NRSV)

I love that!

That is one verse I am certainly going to work on remembering.

OK, time to head outside and pull some weeds. If I could only remember where I put the sunscreen!

Abundant blessings;

18
Aug
21

Mercy Me

WARNING: This post sounds a lot more like a rant than a thoughtful, well-considered pondering. But let’s withhold judgment for a minute and see where it goes. 

“London calling!”

Who knows? We might end up with something with depth and meaning after all…

Todd* was supposed to be there this morning at 9:00 to help with some yard work. Ever since my back has chosen to betray me, I have started hiring folks to help with the heavy stuff around the yard.

Except Todd didn’t show. Todd didn’t text to say, “Hey, sorry, something came up.” It is now five hours later and not a peep from Todd.

I have no idea where Todd is or whether something horrible possibly happened to him.

I sure hope not because I really like Todd.

Earlier this year we had a similar experience with our remodeling contractor.

No show. No communication. No response to repeated attempts to connect saying, “Hey! What’s happening?”

Finally, out of the blue, after many weeks of radio silence, we finally received a brief note saying, “We’re on it.”

Ah, the small magic and MASSIVE benefit of simple COMMUNICATION. When it happens, it is like oil poured over wounds of anxiety. When it doesn’t, it is like salt rubbed into those same wounds.

I know that sometimes you have nothing to report. I know that sometimes you have bad news that you are very, very reluctant to share. I know that sometimes you are up to your eyeballs in alligators and can’t even think straight, let alone take the time to shoot me a quick note.

I know all of that because I have been on your end of the equation MANY times. 

But you obviously have no idea how calming it is to receive SOMETHING from you. Even if it is just a quick note to say, “Hey… sorry. I know you’re waiting for this, but I don’t have it yet. And honestly, I am not sure when I will. I’ll keep you posted.”

Even a note as simple as that is enormously comforting.

In the end, it is about empathy, isn’t it? It is about nurturing the ability to step wholly into the shoes (or for me today, the flip-flops) of another person and be able to feel their feelings… to silence the “me” – even momentarily – and listen to the “you.”

Now that I think of it that way, I realize Jesus had a few words to say on the subject after all. No, I don’t mean the subject of non-communicative contractors. I mean the subject of EMPATHY. Except when Jesus talked about empathy, he used a different word. He called it “mercy.” For a great parable about the importance of empathy/mercy, flip to Luke 10:30-37 in your Bibles and read all about the man from Samaria who stopped and helped the man from Judea who had been beaten and robbed and left by the roadside to die. 

I don’t know if it really is true or not (because I haven’t given it enough thought), but I am going to conclude today by suggesting that good COMMUNICATION is ultimately about EMPATHY. It is all about the act of taking the time to stop and asking myself, “If our roles were reversed, what would I want to hear from me?”

That’s it. Did that all sound too petty and peevish?

Anyway… if you hear anything from Todd, let him know I am worried about him, OK?

Abundant blessings;

* Not his real name

16
Aug
21

Sorry (Not Sorry)

Lately I find myself apologizing a lot. 

True, it is mostly to my lovely spouse Joan. But that’s just because we spend so much time together. If you and I were to spend time together, I suspect I’d be apologizing to you in direct proportion to that time.

The single, most apologized-over topic in our household is around the timing of putting (or throwing) stuff away. Here is a quick vignette to illustrate what I am talking about…

JOAN:  Hey! What happened to my Diet Coke? It was sitting right here!

ME:     Oh, I thought you were done with it. There was just a tiny bit left, so I threw it away.

JOAN (with justifiable annoyance in her voice):  NO! I wasn’t done with it! You need to ask me before you start throwing stuff away.

ME (Sheepishly):         Sorry.

And… SCENE!

When any of us commit an offense against someone – spouse, family member, or total stranger… and regardless of whether the offense was intentional or not – it is good to apologize. 

But have you noticed how difficult it is to take that simple step? It could be because the first step in making a genuine, heartfelt apology is the recognition that we screwed up. The second prerequisite is feeling genuinely remorseful about our screwup.

And for some of us, that recognition and remorse just don’t exist. 

Last week we were treated to a textbook example of how NOT to make an apology in the person of then New York governor Andrew Cuomo. In his resignation speech, Cuomo said (and I quote), “In my mind, I have never crossed the line with anyone, but I didn’t realize the extent to which the line has been redrawn.”

In other words, “It wasn’t my fault. This all happened because of those darned line re-drawers!”

Harriet Lerner – psychologist and author of many books, including her best-selling, The Dance of Anger, has a new book out called Why Won’t You Apologize… Healing Big Betrayals and Everyday Hurts. In it she draws some very CLEAR lines between GOOD and BAD apologies. 

A classic bad apology is the one that is really not an apology at all. It goes something like, “I’m sorry if my actions (or words) offended you.” The person is really saying, “I am sure I did nothing wrong whatsoever. But somehow you were wounded in the process, which is too bad.”

Then there is the “I’m sorry, but…” apology. It tries to SOUND like an apology, but quickly launches into a detailed explanation of exactly why the offensive thing happened. My story about the premature disposal of Joan’s Diet Coke is a perfect example. “Well, yes, I’m sorry I threw your Diet Coke away, but there wasn’t much left in the can, and besides, someone might have knocked it over while it was sitting there.”

The best apologies, Lerner says, are the simplest. 

You say, “I’m sorry.” 

Period. 

Full stop.

End of story.

Lerner tells us that the simple apology – owning full responsibility for the insult and regretting it – is the one that most quickly opens the path to healing. A person’s genuine, vulnerable contrition actually draws the offended person compassionately toward them. 

It is the spirit embodied by King David as he was attempting to apologize for his monstrous offense of impregnating Bathsheba and trying to hide his adultery by having her husband Uriah killed. In Psalm 51 David kneels before God and says, “The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17, NRSV).

Over my years, I have also learned that there are things that I SHOULD apologize for and things that SHOULD NOT. It has taken me a long time, but I am finally beginning to realize that it is absolutely unnecessary to apologize for actually BEING the person God created me to be. 

You see, there are parts of the essential ME that are pleasing and acceptable to others, while there are also parts of me that just rub some folks the wrong way. 

  • My twisted sense of humor, for example.
  • My emotionality, for another.
  • My lack of organization, for a third. [I could go on and on here, but you get the point.]

But thanks almost entirely to friends in the LGBTQ+ community, I have finally learned to stop expecting everyone to like everything about me. I have also learned to STOP APOLOGIZING for the whole, complete human being God made me to be. 

And for those two gifts, I am deeply grateful.

Trust me… there are still LOTS of rough edges to smooth out and character flaws to overcome.

But with God’s help, I won’t confuse those “projects” with the genuine Russell that God created and loves unconditionally.

Abundant blessings;

12
Aug
21

Well, I declare!

Despite instincts to the contrary, I regularly try to keep an open mind.

Life has shown me again and again the hazards of latching – iron-fistedly – onto a particular thesis or paradigm.

God seems to take great delight, in fact, at throwing cherry bombs into the middle of my settled certainties and watching as they are blown to smithereens.

Multiple burned fingertips and shrapnel wounds have taught me to tread very, very carefully before puffing out my chest and declaring, “HERE I STAND! MY FEET SHALL NOT BE MOVED!!”

[I have no such hesitation, you understand, when it comes to standing up and declaring Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. That is what we refer to as a “layup.”]

All of which is prelude for this moment of puffing out my chest, ascending the soap box and declaring, 

“HERE I STAND… MY FEET SHALL NOT BE MOVED!! COVID VACCINES SAVE LIVES and CLIMATE CHANGE IS REAL.”

I feel compelled to make these declarations for one simple reason; because WAY too many people are sending exactly the opposite message (with great conviction, I might add) to the peril of MILLIONS of humans… present and future.

They say, for example; “Whether I am vaccinated or not is a matter of personal freedom.”

BZZZZT! WRONG ANSWER! Vaccination is a matter of community compassion, not personal freedom. Because of the VERY lethal and VERY infectious nature of this disease, your decision NOT to vaccinate endangers ME, your neighbors, your family, and total strangers. 

Contrary to what someone might have told you, you are not free to kill people.

They also cry; “The climate has gone through cycles of increasing and decreasing temperatures for eons. All this ‘climate emergency’ nonsense is just a liberal plot against Big Business.”

BZZZT! SORRY… WRONG AGAIN, Chucko. In defense of my central premise, I’m not going to wear you out with a lot of mind-numbing statistics. Instead, I am going to ask you to visualize our Precious Blue Marble as a living organism… sort of like a human body. 

(This analogy is not actually as far-fetched as you might imagine. Google “Gaia Hypothesis” – or click here – and read it for yourself.)

Then I am going to ask you to imagine what happens when you repeatedly inhale poisonous smoke into that body, or repeatedly wound its outer layer of skin. 

For a while, it doesn’t seem to matter much. But then that abuse eventually catches up. The relentless assault overwhelms the healing process. Permanent damage starts being done. 

And that is what we are seeing today with unprecedented events like the flooding, hurricanes, forest fires, earthquakes, and droughts that are all happening at the same time.

Once again, people will cry, “PERSONAL FREEDOM!” and yet again they are as wrong as wrong can be. Action that will prevent our planet from burning, shaking, flooding, or choking to death is – yet again – a matter of community compassion. 

The apostle Paul hit the nail right on the head for BOTH of these issues when he sent his first letter to the members of the church in Corinth, Greece. He was trying to resolve issues of dissension in this fledgling church by reminding them of their common bond and connection when he wrote, “Or do you not know that [each of your bodies are] a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own?  For you were bought with a price; therefore, glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20, NRSV).

When did we forget these essential truths? When did MY RIGHTS come to matter more than OUR COMMON FUTURE?

I pray that we figure out a way to recognize the divine bond that links us all and then join hands to help save one another…

… before it is too late. 

Abundant blessings;

09
Aug
21

A Question of Purpose

Say hello to Rosie and Patrick.

I am quite jealous of them.

And no, not just because their days consist entirely of eating, sleeping, walking, and pooping… although that does seem like a pretty sweet gig.

No, I am jealous of them because they have no questions at all about their purpose(s) in life. 

They both know that beyond the four activities listed above, they are here on earth for one shining, central reason…

… their purpose is to be the loyal, unconditionally loving companions of the people who put kibble into their bowls twice a day.

They pursue that purpose diligently, single-mindedly, and steadfastly every day. That purpose helps them sort through the conflicting demands on their time and zero in – laser-like – on the things that best serve their Purpose.

Lucky dogs.

Since retiring two years ago, I have struggled with the notion of purpose. For most of 2020, of course, my purpose was very straight-forward: STAY ALIVE and UNINFECTED!

Naturally that is still #1 on my list. But I will confess to a degree of befuddlement about what else should be there. 

‘Way back when in my working life, I had occasion to counsel men – usually men in their mid-to-late 50s – on this very topic. In most instances, these were men who were facing sudden unemployment and were now adrift and bereft, uncertain of either the meaning or the purpose of their existence.

In every case, I counseled them not to confuse their WORK with their PURPOSE in life. The two are NOT, I told them, the same thing. [I only reference men here because I never encountered a single woman who needed this reminder. Every woman I’ve ever met somehow knows the difference between WORK and PURPOSE.]

And now, here I sit… needing to hear that same counsel myself. 

For lots of newly retired people, the question of their life purpose is pretty simple and straight-forward: relax, kick back, and take it easy. Work on the yard when it needs it. Play as much golf as humanly possible. Walk to the mailbox once a day. Take up a new hobby. Alphabetize the vitamin supplement bottles.

Except that those are ACTIVITIES. And activities are not PURPOSES. 

A goal of mine in retirement is to write a book. “Well and good,” you might say. “Go ahead, get off your butt, stop talking about it and DO IT!” 

But again: GOALS are also not the same thing as PURPOSES.

I recently listened to a podcast on the topic of PURPOSE. The interviewee made a helpful distinction between the concepts of MEANING and PURPOSE… concepts I have often conflated in my mind. He pointed out that MEANING has to do with looking backward at the events in your life. 

PURPOSE, however, is about looking FORWARD. 

Don’t fret about me too much; I wouldn’t call myself utterly lost and clueless on the subject. I am certain, for example, that SERVING GOD and LOVING PEOPLE still sit right there at the center of my life’s purpose. The fact that they will no longer be done in a professional capacity doesn’t change that at all. 

I am just a little stumped at the moment about just HOW that needs to happen.

Oh well… when in doubt, sit down, take a few deep breaths, quiet your mind, and pray the Wesley Covenant Prayer:

Dear God;

I am no longer my own, but yours.
Put me to what you will, place me with whom you will.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be put to work for you or set aside for you,
Praised for you or criticized for you.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and fully surrender all things to your glory and service.
And now, O wonderful and holy God,
Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, 
you are mine, and I am yours.
So be it.


And the covenant which I have made on earth,
Let it also be made in heaven.  Amen.

Abundant blessings;




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