Posts Tagged ‘joy

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.

23
Sep
19

Becoming or Being?

autumn leavesI live in the Midwestern part of the U.S.

It is the part of the country where we have four separate, distinct seasons… according to some.

You see, I used to say that we just had two seasons; summer and winter. The time in between those two seasons I called “becoming” times. What others might call spring is just winter in the act of BECOMING summer. What you might call fall is just summer BECOMING winter.

Sort of the way that dusk is just day becoming night or dawn is night becoming day.

Now I find myself faced with the realization that my cute little semantic trick has done a great disservice to the two very worthy and distinct seasons of spring and fall.

They are not meaningless passageways from one thing to the next! They really do have lives and identities of their own!

Spring and fall, I apologize for my dismissiveness.

As I think about it, I now see that I discovered the error of my ways by reflecting on my own “season” of life. What I mean is: I am certainly no longer young. But I don’t think I qualify to be called old yet either. (Unless, of course, it is by one of my sons who lovingly see me as “older than dirt.”) 

You see, if I applied the same naming protocol to my life that I used for the seasons, I would now be in the tender stage of life known as “becoming old.”

Saying that I am “becoming old” is to jump ahead. It is to undervalue the moment in life I NOW actually occupy in favor of one I will someday occupy. It is to favor WHAT WILL BE over WHAT IS.

Have you ever done anything like that? We might call it the “are we there yet?” syndrome. It happens when you are:

  • Looking forward to the trip you’ll be taking next week, and you overlook the importance of the things happening in your home or community right now.
  • Preoccupied with a message that MIGHT come to you via a social media channel, you miss the messages being sent right now… particularly those being sent by God.
  • Worried about a possible future illness or mishap, you neglect to celebrate the beauty of the moment you currently inhabit.

Guilty, guilty, and guilty as charged.

Wise coaches of athletic teams head off this syndrome by instructing their players to, “Just play one game at a time.”

Wise spiritual guides tell their disciples something like, “Be here now,” or “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?”(Matthew 6:25, NRSV)

The truth is, I love autumn. I wish it would linger longer. These crisp mornings when the dew is on the grass, a gentle breeze stirs the yellowing leaves, and the birds are just beginning to stir are far too few in number.

So come… rest a while. Sit down here with me and breathe this moment in.

Here on this first, full, official day of autumn, let’s just wait here quietly together a while, shall we?

03
Jul
19

Vegan Evangelism

Vegan pizzaMy niece taught me something about evangelism the other day.

And I don’t think she even realized she was holding class.

This is not the new college graduate niece I wrote about earlier (in a blog post you can find here). This is her sister, Natalie.

You see, Natalie is a vegan.

She is also very serious about following her vegan diet… to the point that she has her own dedicated section of the refrigerator and a shelf or two in the pantry of her parents’ kitchen on which to store her food.

I have known other vegans in my life. Most of the time I have experienced them as passionate to the point of being a tad overbearing in their advocacy of veganism.

I have also – VERY briefly – toyed with the question of whether I might benefit from switching to an entirely plant-based diet… a thought that quickly fades away the second someone in my zip code begins grilling steak outdoors.

After spending several days in Natalie’s vicinity, especially at mealtimes, I began thinking seriously about making much more of an effort to go meatless, at least a couple of days every week…

… all because of the effectiveness of Natalie’s vegan evangelism.

In contrast to many other styles of evangelism you might be familiar with, Natalie’s was very quiet.

She didn’t preach. She didn’t berate. She didn’t drone on and on about the amazing health benefits of the plant-based diet. She didn’t throw a massive guilt trip on Joan and me about our willful “murder” of innocent cows, chickens, and fish.

She just went about her business… mashing up chickpeas, blending tofu and various spices, toasting bread, and quietly enjoying herself.

During our visit, Natalie just quietly radiated a sort of health and joy that was magnetic. It made me want to turn toward her and ask questions about her diet, which she answered thoroughly and politely.

It was her conviction, combined with her non-pushy, non-anxious demeanor that very effectively drew me more closely to thinking I might want to give this way of eating a serious look.

And then I wondered; “What if Christians took this same approach to OUR evangelism?” I wonder if we might have the same effect on the people around us that Natalie had on me?

  • What if we just LIVED our faith and let our lives speak for themselves?
  • What if we declined to browbeat, guilt-trip, or shame our friends and family members into believing?
  • What if we tried something like ATTRACTING rather than COERCING people to investigate the life-changing claims of our Lord and Savior?
  • What if we gave up the notion that it is WE who do the changing of people’s hearts and remember it is something much more ephemeral and outside our direct control? (Can you say “Holy Spirit”?)

 

Hmmmm. I don’t know. Sounds way too simple, doesn’t it?

21
May
19

How is your HT/WT?

ContentmentWhen was the last time you checked the HT/WT ratio of your life?

Just in case my question is a little obtuse, let me explain. I am referring – of course – to your “Have to/Want to” ratio… the relationship between the things you do during your day because you HAVE TO do them and the things you do because you WANT TO.

I think each of us probably strives for something like a 0/100 ratio. That is, we hope everything we do is something we do because we want to… even if we have to do it.

I have to eat… but I also want to eat. I have to brush my teeth… but I also want to. I have to write a sermon every week (because – you know – I’m a pastor), but I also want to.

I certainly have a whole host of things on my “Have to… don’t really want to” list, including:

  • Exercise
  • Lawn mowing
  • Shaving
  • Bill paying
  • Weed pulling
  • Poop Scooping
  • TV news-watching

… and trust me when I tell you the list goes on.

Most of us, I would guess, fluctuate somewhere within 10-15 points of the 50/50 line on any given day. But I have also talked to some folks who tell me they feel like they are living 100/0 lives where EVERYTHING is a “have to” and nothing is a “want to.”

Another word for the “have to/want to” ratio might be CONTENTMENT.

JOY works also.

Sometimes we can fall into the trap of believing that a change in the outward circumstances of our lives will be the key to improving our HT/WT ratio. We say things like, “If I could only find a different job/place to live/set of friends I would be a lot happier and more content.”

As a person on the brink of retirement, I often catch myself saying, “Once I retire, I’ll be able to do WHATEVER I WANT TO… all day long.”

And while it is true that I will be able to have MORE of the “want to’s” every day, there will still be quite a few “have to’s.” I will still have to exercise… still have to mow my grass… still have to scoop poop. (Unless, of course, I can somehow train the dogs to use the toilet! Hmmmm…)

While we scour the shelves of the “How To…” books, attend seminars, and engage expensive therapists to help us figure out ways to boost our WT numbers in relation to our HTs, the answer has been right there all along: staring us in the face.

Some wise guy once said, “The key to happiness lies not in getting what you want, but in wanting what you get.”

Socrates put it this way: “He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.” 

What it really boils down to is the ancient virtue of GRATITUDE… Being grateful for every day, every relationship, every task, and every breath that enters our lungs. In fact, I am willing to bet there is someone in the world right now who would be tickled to death to have the task of cleaning up his/her back yard after their dog(s).

To emphasize the importance of gratitude, the Bible repeats the command to “give thanks” a total of 61 times in both Old and New Testaments. 1 Thessalonians gets a little more extreme when it tells us to: “… give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”(1 Thess. 5:18, NRSV).

That’s right: ALL circumstances.

Even when you are working out.

Even when you are mowing the lawn.

Even – I suppose – when you are scooping poop.

24
Jan
19

Tree of Light

christmas treeYes, it’s true.

Today is January 24 and our Christmas tree is still up.

Fully decorated and lighted.

Know what else?

It will probably be up for another two days.

Every other scrap of indoor and outdoor Christmas décor has been carefully returned to its off-season storage place… waiting patiently for next year’s winter pageant.

But somehow we felt the need to hang on to the tree… for just a little while longer.

It might be because it has been a rougher-than-usual winter this year.

Part of that roughness is because it is snowier and colder here this year than the past six years combined. The childlike wonder with which I once greeted a snowstorm evaporated about the time I stopped celebrating school’s cancellation for a SNOW DAY.

For the past week, we have also been trying to cope with a sudden and heartbreaking end to the professional football season here in our hometown. I mean, sure… in the grand scheme of things, it is a trifling concern. But sometimes football fans forget to focus on “the grand scheme of things.”

I suspect there might be another reason we feel the need to hang on to the lights and shiny ornaments a little longer than usual.

I suspect it might have something to do with a shadow that fell onto our house about four months ago; a shadow that first showed up on a routine CAT scan that led to nine weeks of chemotherapy, a major surgery, and nine more weeks of chemotherapy; a shadow that caused both silent and out loud tears to be shed, but which also brought forth amazing outpourings of prayer, love, support, and hope.

So yes, we still kind of feel the need to have the tree here to twinkle and blink and light up the room.

But we are just about ready to pack it up and then try and see if we can find another source of light and joy.

I think I just might have an idea…

26
Dec
18

Christmas Past?

Outside picAnd… it’s done.

It is back to being the wet winter world full of car horns, dry cleaning, bare trees, and muddy footprints I always thought it was.

It is the 26th. And today all the dreamy blurred edges and Christmasy fairy dust have been washed away by the cold rain.

Was I dreaming?

Did any of that really happen?

Did that Asian couple I passed in the park yesterday actually look at me, smile, and say, “Merry Christmas” as we passed?

Was that actually a glow of peace and goodwill I saw framing the faces of my family members… even the ones I usually speak of with air quotes firmly in place?

Did peals of delighted laughter from grandchildren really bounce off these walls just a couple of hours ago?

Is it possible I caught a quick glimpse of myself in the mirror and saw flecks of kindness and grace sprinkled there in the lines of my face?

Was I actually content to block out the news with its reports of roiling unrest and Real and Imagined Epic Disaster and then breathe slowly… deeply… calmly?

Did all of that just happen?

I don’t know… maybe we were all just under the spell of some Master Hypnotist whose fingers have just snapped and jolted us back awake.

Maybe it was the psychotropic effects of one too many pieces of homemade fudge coursing through my bloodstream.

But maybe…

Just maybe…

Hope Incarnate really WAS just born into the world.

Maybe the Word really did become flesh and dwell among us.

O God, let’s hope so.

 

O God, let’s make it BE so.

13
Dec
18

Christmas Present

It is one of the hardest questions I ever have to answer at this time of year. I puzzle over it for hours and still really don’t ever come up with a good answer.

Christmas listThe question in question is, “So, Russell… what do you want for Christmas?”

My wife asks me… my kids and stepkids and their spouses all ask me… beginning usually before Thanksgiving.

And yet somehow every year I continue to respond with a big, blank look and a sentence like, “Ummm… let me think about that and get back to you.”

And then I never do.

There could be a couple of reasons I might struggle so much with this question. It could be that my Christmas wishes include too many things that are huge and expensive and beyond anyone’s gift-giving budget.

For example, I would LOVE to attend the Kansas City Royals Alumni Fantasy Camp in Arizona some year. The price tag, however, for the five-day trip is a mere $4,000. Not including transportation.

I also don’t think it would be right to tell my son I’d like a 12-string guitar for Christmas… Or that the model I would really love to receive is the Taylor 956 CE, priced at an entirely reasonable $5,399.

That’s just not the kind of thing a loving father does.

Clothes are always a good gift to give me… mainly because I never buy them for myself. But if you start asking questions like, WHAT KIND of clothing, I freeze up and begin to stammer and stutter. The most detailed guidance you will get from me will be something like, “Uh… something nice?”

But there might also be a positive reason I have a hard time with this question. It might be that I feel so grateful and blessed with what I already have in life that I can’t think of a single thing that I want or need.

I may also have learned the lesson that adding more “stuff” to one’s life does not increase anyone’s level of happiness. I might have learned that additional “stuff” usually only increases the recipient’s hunger for more and more “stuff.”

And yet… the Christian faith tells me “it is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35, NRSV) Consequently, if I can’t come up with any concrete gift ideas for myself, maybe I am thwarting my family’s opportunity to be blessed through their giving!

Of course, I am kidding. No matter what our net worth is or how much we have in our bank account, we have God has enriched us each more than we can possibly imagine.

Today I count you as one of my richest blessings and look forward to celebrating the miracle of LOVE INCARNATE with you throughout the Christmas season and beyond.

 

Abundant blessings;




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