Posts Tagged ‘complex

08
May
20

The “Simple” Life

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NIV)

HandymanHGTV lies.

Home repair and remodeling never happens with that kind of speed or ease.

Where is that time-lapse photography effect when I really need it? Eh?

Case in point: our two wall sconces. (Actually, I am trying to impress you with the fact that I can use the word “sconce” in a sentence with reasonable accuracy). 

Once we got most of our boxes unpacked here in Fort Collins, we looked around to see what needed fixing or updating. High on the list was the replacement of the two Miami Vice-looking wall sconces, circa 1989.

Our domestic arrangement specifies that Joan is the BRAINS and I am the BRAWN of the operation. So naturally, she picked out just the right design for the new sconces and then turned it over to me to install them.

Piece of cake, right?

Nope. Not right. Not even a crumb of a morsel of a piece of cake.

I won’t bore you with the 101 details of how this simple, straightforward task spiraled out of control and turned into an electrical engineering graduate degree final exam question. I’ll just say that a professional has now been called to come and sort through the carnage left behind by yours truly.

In the dusty aftermath, what stands out in my mind is the phrase I muttered to myself in the course of my third (or was it the fourth?) trip to Home Depot: “Can’t anything be SIMPLE anymore?”

That question was meant to be a comment on a string of recent events in my life, all featuring surprise appearances of unexpected complexity.

In a way, though, it could be a question about our world today. Over the course of the last two months, I am sure we have all had reason to stop and ask, “Can’t any part of life be simple and straightforward anymore?”

The current COVID-19 pandemic has turned routine activities like going to the store, going to church, going to the doctor’s office, or taking a vacation into intricate logistical dances. Heck, even having a drink with friends requires high-speed internet service and a high-def webcam.

The yearning for simplicity in daily life is strong these days and it is understandable. But we have to watch out that the yearning for simpler daily lives doesn’t morph into a misguided kind of nostalgia for an imaginary “simpler time” that frankly never was.

No matter what anyone might tell you, life has never been simple. It has only been different.

Possessing a brain and a heart and a soul and a spirit automatically muddies the waters. Living among other similarly equipped sentient beings multiplies the complexity exponentially.

I might be missing something, but from where I sit there are really only two available responses to the reality of living in this three-dimensional, seven-billion-piece jigsaw puzzle we call THE WORLD: 1.) Try to hide from it, or 2.) Embrace it.

It won’t be easy, but I am going to try to go the “embrace it” route. What will that mean? You ask. Well, for starters it will mean…

  • … I will have to become committed to continuous learning.
  • … I will have to be prepared to be regularly humbled and/or confused.
  • … I will have to turn and ask for help – probably more often than I like to.
  • But most of all, it will mean I will have to be at peace with being the guy who doesn’t have all the answers.

For those of you who do not (yet) have the privilege of knowing me personally, you have no idea how tough that last bullet-point item will be for me. I’m the guy who likes to know EVERYTHING about EVERYTHING.

But you know what? It’s really OK if I don’t.

Because I serve an awesome God who DOES!

Hallelujah!

02
May
20

Me and Rosie and the GOM

Grumpy manFort Collins, Colorado – the place where Joan and I moved last November – is a friendly place.

And when I say friendly, I mean VERY friendly.

Actually, I have an introverted friend here who loves almost everything about Fort Collins. The one thing he doesn’t much care for is the uber-friendliness of the place. I overheard him complaining about it once, saying, “You can’t even make a simple purchase at the neighborhood convenience store without somebody asking you how your day is going and what you have planned later on! I mean COME ON! Just ring up my breath mints and let me leave in peace!”

So, it was no surprise to me today when I was out walking the dogs and was cheerfully hailed by every person we passed.

Everyone, that is, except one. The GOM, as I called him. The Grumpy Old Man.

As we passed on the sidewalk, he had his head down, his hood up (the weather was a little on the chilly side), and he was scowling down toward the ground. I know he was aware of my approach because as I moved toward him, I was doing my best to try and keep two rather frisky, 40-pound Wheaten Terriers somewhat in check.

I glanced over in his direction and said, “Hi!” but instead of a wave, a “Hello,” or even momentary eye contact, the guy just trudged past, continuing to stare down at the sidewalk.

“Hmmm,” I muttered to myself. “I wonder what HIS problem is. Why couldn’t he even be bothered to look up for a second and at least wave?”

I felt rebuffed.

I must have actually given voice to my thoughts, because no sooner had I finished that question than Rosie – the female and by far the more intuitive of the two dogs – spoke up.

“Maybe this isn’t about you, Russell,” she said.

“Oh?” I replied, deftly hiding my astonishment at Rosie’s keen insight.

“Did you ever stop to consider that he just might be carrying a really heavy burden right now?” she asked. “I don’t know… maybe someone close to him like his wife just tested positive for COVID-19. Maybe he just heard some bad news about one of his grandchildren. Maybe he is running out of money and doesn’t know how he will provide for himself and his family over the next month.

And then, pausing right there in the middle of the sidewalk so that I would be forced to turn and look her in the eye, she pointedly asked, “Did you ever think of any of those possibilities? Hmmmm?”

Wow. I had to admit that I hadn’t.

I was – just as Rosie had suggested – so busy making the moment all about me and my momentary pique that I hadn’t bothered to consider what might be going on from GOM’s point of view.

Rosie’s abrupt reality check made me stop and realize; every person we encounter – whether waiting in line at the grocery store, driving on the highway, or walking in the park – is smack dab in the middle of a rich and complex story. It might be a story of heartbreak and anguish, a story of longing and estrangement, a story of joy and triumph, or just a story of dry, flavorless tedium.

It is a story made up of intricate details, colorful characters, and unexpected plot twists. And it is likely a story just as interesting as my own.

And here’s the real kicker: Thanks to Rosie’s prompt, I realized that I don’t have to know all the deep details of your story in order to be compassionate toward you. I just need to assume that you’ve got something going on; something that vexes or challenges or delights you.

We can all take great comfort in knowing there is someone who DOES know every teeny, minute detail of our story and still loves us more than we can possibly imagine. Jesus put it this way: Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.  And even the hairs of your head are all counted.  So, do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29-31, NRSV).

Next time we are out on our walk, I’m going to try my best to heed Rosie’s advice.

She is pretty astute for someone who regularly sniffs other dogs’ butts.

30
Sep
19

Sometimes it’s complicated

Rosie and Patrick in the kitchenIt seemed like a good idea at the time.

Our little Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier puppy Rosie had grown to her full size and was becoming a handful for Joan and me.

Yes, a fuzzy, lovable, cute handful. But a handful nonetheless.

We decided that instead of trying to match her level of playful puppiness stride for stride we would try to find Rosie a canine companion.

Ideally, this companion would be a neutered male Wheaten… approximately the same age as Rosie. Finding exactly that dog was a long shot at best, but as providence would have it, the breeder we bought Rosie from was about to retire Rosie’s daddy Patrick from sire service and was seeking a friendly family home for him.

[Theological side-note: I am really not convinced that God spends a lot of time engineering the connections of people and their pets. But it did all fall together pretty smoothly for us, so why not hand out a little Divine credit?]

Adding Patrick to the family has been exactly the remedy we were looking for. Rosie and her daddy get along famously and romp and play with each other in the back yard to the point of exhaustion.

But here in the last week, Joan and I have woken up to an inescapable fact about life with TWO dogs as opposed to ONE: it complicates things.

We have to keep track of two different immunization schedules. We have to buy twice as much dog food and pay twice the vet bills. We have to find house- and dog-sitters that are willing to watch over two animals instead of just one. We have to double our vigilance at the off-leash dog park. We have to wash double the number of muddy footprints from the carpet after a rain. And when it comes to bath time… well, you can just imagine what that is like with two active, energetic dogs.

In fact, right after bath time this past Saturday, Joan and I very nearly looked at each other and asked, “Was it really a good idea to bring a second dog into our home?”

But then something stopped us right at the brink of asking the question. I don’t think either of us wanted to go where that question might have taken us.

We probably refrained from asking the question because we have become quite fond of our Patrick.

But we also might have stopped short because we have never said that a simple, uncomplicated life is one of the goals we are pursuing.

It is also possible that we didn’t ask the question because we each remembered those times in our lives when increasing life’s complications has also led us to increased joy.

Any parent who has gone from one child to two (or from zero to one, for that matter) knows exactly what I am talking about.

David Brooks, in his latest book, The Second Mountain, makes a distinction between happiness and joy. Happiness, which he says is mostly a temporary and situational state, and is about expanding the self. Joy – a much more durable and lasting commodity – is about surrendering the self. Or in the words of Jesus,  No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13, NRSV).

Brooks goes on to say that two of the things that open us more fully to a life of joy are our CONNECTIONS and our COMMITMENTS… connections to other people, to our community, and to our souls… and the steadfastness of our commitments to abide with each of those.

All of which – I feel compelled to add – sounds like the exact opposite of living a simple, uncomplicated life.

Still, I am reluctant to draw the conclusion that our choice is between a life that is simple, neat, tidy, uncomplicated and joyless or the life that is connected, committed, messy, complex, and full of joy.

I know it is not that cut-and-dried. The lives of the desert mothers and desert fathers demonstrate the great joy to be found in extreme simplicity.

For now, I think I will just stick with drawing the conclusion that bringing Patrick into our lives – muddy paws and all – was a good move after all.

Bow wow.




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