Category Archives: Worldview

The Card Unpurchased

Something about Mother’s Day 2017 hit me hard—when I realized there was a card unpurchased.

With intense scrutiny do I select cards for special occasions. Occasions like Mother’s Day.

For my wife I try to alternate between cards which express my deep appreciation for how she invested her life into the lives of our children and grandchildren. On alternate years, I pick a card as over the top humorous as possible. Either way expresses my appreciation for my fabulous wife and all she does.

With equal care I sort through cards for my mother-in-law. She is a special woman, for me because she raised a daughter who became my wife. Now in increasingly frail health I appreciate her more and want to express my gratitude for how she welcomed me into her family.

For my daughter, who lives out of state, I select mostly serious cards. I want her to know how I appreciate how much work it is to be a mother. I also wish I were closer to be of more assistance and to enjoy my grandchildren. That is currently not feasible. Part of me remains amazed that the little baby with a scrunched nose, whom I held, fighting back the apprehension I might somehow break her, is now a mother of two.

The final card I selected was for my daughter-in-law. My wife and I prayed long for the future spouses of our children. I especially prayed for my son’s spouse. My wife called them the LPIs—Life Partners If. This card I pick with special care (in spite the fact that the daughter-in-law selection seems the leanest). How I want to insure her how much I appreciate her being a part of my family and the mother of three of my grandchildren. A card is an expression (albeit inadequate) of my delight she is the love of my son and the mother of my grandchildren.

This year as I took a final look at the cards before heading to the register a realization hit me hard. There remained a card unpurchased—a Mother’s Day card for my mother. I don’t know why six years after her death this hit me so hard. The tears came, unashamed in the store. In the quietness I grieved the absence of my Mom, represented by the absent card.

For only a two-year period in my adult life did I live within reasonable driving distance from my parents, making holidays with her infrequent. Still my Mother sent the birthday, Christmas, and anniversary cards. I smile at the recollection of her calling and saying, “I couldn’t get ahold of your brothers and sister, and just wanted to talk.” How delightful those times were when we visited and caught each other up on family events.

Then she became forgetful. The calls and cards became more sporadic. Eventually I was the one to call and she’d talk, but more and more she’d give the phone to Dad who did the visiting. When Dad had some medical issues, in the spring of 2010 I planned a trip to visit them. How delighted Mom was for our visit. Melodie, my wife, did most of the cooking, but Mom puttered around the kitchen helping as she could. How tragic—the “master chef” of my childhood no longer remembered how to cook. She fell asleep in her recliner more frequently and no longer took her Bible. Dad privately informed me that she had trouble reading and didn’t want to be embarrassed if someone asked her to do so. Such a change from the woman, who as a short-term missionary in India, sponsored the Bible reading competition among the students.

Still she regaled us with stories, often repeated a couple hours later, and delighted to tell us what the best items were on the menu of their favorite restaurants. This delightful week was perhaps her most lucid week of that year. What a precious gift for a final visit with her.

That following November first, after a brief illness, she left us.

So, now when Mother’s Day (and since my Dad died in 2015 Father’s Day as well) comes around I look but no longer purchase cards to send.

The memories are precious but …

… the card remains unpurchased.

Leave a comment

Filed under Worldview

National Novel Writing Month: My Personal Day 1 Challenge

In September 2006 my eldest daughter, Ruth, challenged me to utilize National Novel Writing Month to fulfill my life long dream of writing science fiction. Each year since I have participated in the daunting challenge of writing a 50,000-word novel during the month of November. What an exhilarating experience seeing my stories come alive and discover where my characters would lead me.

I take time off early in the month to concentrate on writing and get a jump start toward the goal. Even though the fewest words I have written is 75,000, I still feel insecure each November 1 and worry about reaching my goal. Something might happen to thwart my goal.

That “something” happened November 1, 2010. My heart was not in my writing. The prior Wednesday my mother entered the hospital with what was determined to be a rapid onset leukemia. On Saturday the Doctor told my brother that Mom had 24-48 hours left. So, Monday I dreaded the call, which came at 1:30 PM. When my brother couldn’t finish “Hi Dave…” I knew the end had come. My mother now slept in the hope of the resurrection.

Unlike the year prior when I wrote over 5,200 words on November 1st, in 2010 I wrote just over 2,700. More than that my heart was not in the writing, so distracted was I waiting for the news. Amid the travel to Florida for the funeral, participating in the arrangements, grieving with family, and the funeral service, I wrote some each day. I wanted to retain some connection with my writing even as I was connecting with and grieving with my family.

By the time I returned home on November 6 I had reached just over 6,100 words. That is a lot of words but when compared to the year before I was way behind my output of 36242. Even in grief life goes on and I found the habit of writing in November assisted my ability to focus on something other than my grief and I did exceed the 50,000-word goal. I also knew my mother had been pleased with my writing so I also wrote in part to honor her memory.

But November 1st remains difficult. The year after Mom’s death I told a friend my concern about writing on November first. She suggested I incorporate some of my mother’s characteristics into a character and so honor both my mother and my writing. That I did and exceeded my output from the prior year. Since then the malaise of grief hung over my first day of writing. I found myself procrastinating, checking email, Facebook, and games on my phone fascinated me. My reaction to this was self-recrimination. How could I waste this much time when I really want to write?

How? Because I am still grieving over the loss of my mother and five years later the loss of my father. After the excellent advice from my friend the first Nano after Mom’s death, I went into denial. As if by not thinking about or acknowledging the reality of November 1, 2010 I could somehow participate in the writing month as I had the years prior.

But grief does not work that way. No matter what I do to suppress my grief, it will rise to the surface one way or another. My procrastination in subsequent years was my subconscious grief telling me things were not the same as before—that things will never be the same. That’s what the transitions of life, especially death of a parent, do. They tell us of the inexorable progress, as a popular film expressed it: the circle of life.

Mom was the family matriarch as Dad was the patriarch. They lived to see the first of their great-grandchildren. Now in my family I am the patriarch and my wife the matriarch. We recently learned that grandchild number six is due next May around Mother’s Day. How better to honor my parent’s legacy than to provide a similar legacy to my children and grandchildren. I relish the time with my family and long to see them all grow, not just physically but also mentally, emotionally, socially, and spiritually.

To that end I will spend time with them, share my life with them, model life and living (including grieving), and shower them with love.

By facing my personal November 1 challenge, by acknowledging my grief and loss, by writing about it as I have here, my challenge becomes an opportunity to grow into the person I desire to be.

But –

I still miss you Mom.

I still miss you Dad.

I’ll see you both in the morning!

Leave a comment

Filed under Grandparent, Worldview, Writing

Noisy Soul

The crisp crunch my steps on the newly fallen snow soothed me. It had been too long since I’d pioneered a pristine landscape. The lingering snowfall melting on my cheeks hid none of the sparkling gems dancing under the street lights.

Sound, sight, touch, senses attuned to the moment. Quite measured paces syncopating with vaporous puffs of my breath.

It doesn’t get much better than a walk in the first snow of the season. In my childhood I had to walk – to the bus stop, the library, and the local mom and pop grocery store (the closest thing we had them to a convenience store). And shovel. Did we have a long wide driveway!

Not today. Using my Fitbit as an excuse I ventured forth. Alone, my spouse risked not a slip and fall. Initial aloneness shifted to contentment. Undisturbed quiet and calm seemed a rarity; this walk refreshing.

The streets in my subdivision form a large “E”. My home is at the top corner at the junction of the top line with the back. I usually walk from the top cross street to the bottom and then back up. Today I wanted a longer walk so when I completed the bottom leg, I turned around.

That piqued the interest of the two boys playing under a street light. At that moment it looked more like sitting in the snow, but the footprints around them boded a temporary hiatus in their play.

“Hey mister, why do you like walking in the snow?” one of them asked. Good question I thought, a better one would be, why do you like sitting in the snow? Rather than ask I replied, “it’s pretty and it’s quite.”

That seemed to satisfy. “We’re brothers, but I live in Texas.” Somber story, but it provided as partial an answer to my unspoken question as my response to their verbal one.

Such a fleeting conversation to get me thinking. Why did I enjoy walking in the snow? The boys focused on the snow, but to me the benefit rested with the walking, and not even primarily in that.

My life is packed with people, activities, and things. Not just my external environment, but also – more so I believe – my inner landscape is cluttered. Full of regrets, hopes, longings, sadness, grief, duties, and obligations. I read a fitting description – a noisy soul.

Much of the plethora of things I collect, the hobbies in which I engage, and my overfull “to-do” list emanates from a desire to silence my noisy soul.  I’ve found this strategy wanting. Instead of silencing my soul I add to my inner cacophony.

I have discovered a quiet walk, on the other hand, stills the noise within. By removing myself from physical clutter I allow the inner clutter to speak. Much of the noise of my soul is childlike. Longing just to be heard, acknowledge, and even welcomed.

So, amid the rhythmic crunching of the snow, I think. About God’s blessings in my life. About my plans and how to improve or discard them. About the story or blog I am writing. About my regrets and how or if I can remedy them. About the clutter and what I can release.

The boys are gone now. So is that early snow. I still walk. I say it’s for health reasons. But it is actually for my noisy soul.

In the quiet my soul speaks.

So in busyness my soul rests.

My rhythmic steps repeat. Almost the patter speaks.

“Be still, my noisy soul.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Worldview

The Best Valentine’s Day Ever

For the past eighteen years I have not celebrated Valentine’s Day. Instead I recognized February 13th as “Bravest Day.”

After twenty-two years of marriage to a compulsive, selfish man who lived in denial, my wife said that enough was enough. Since I refused to get help, she would, but she wasn’t going to live with the toxic person I’d become.

That confrontation shattered the tenuous hold I maintained on the “everything’s okay” façade of my life. Standing amid those shattered fragments, I knew I had nothing left. I faced the hollow person I was. And I knew I could no longer live this way.

I sought help, real help this time. In opening up the putrid wounds of my soul, healing began. I found support to deal with my compulsions. No longer hopeless, change ensued.

Simultaneously my wife also experienced help, hope, and healing. There followed three years of painful self-examination, false starts, and slowly rebuilt trust. After three years our separation ended. I moved home.

During this period, as our marriage teeter between hope and despair, I began my personal remembrance day by giving my wife bulb flowers – a symbol that as the flowers died but bloomed again the following spring so too I hoped our marriage would follow suit.

I couldn’t bring myself to celebrate love with the day’s declarations of eternal love knowing how insensitive I had been for all those years. Even substituting Bravest Day only partially remediated the sting of regret.

Usually on January first a growing malaise started culminating in Bravest Day and then it dissipated. I see now this was lingering shame over my past treatment of my spouse. She had clearly demonstrated her forgiveness and love. Deep down I still held on to my regrets and felt unworthy of forgiveness.

Until this year. I had psyched myself out to defuse the malaise. No longer would this time of year blindside me. But no malaise came. Pleasure married surprise and I paid as little attention as possible to its lack. Perhaps by not pondering my situation I could prevent that proverbial “other shoe” from dropping.

On February 13th I planned on purchasing another pot of hyacinths when my wonderful wife said, “You don’t need to get me anything for Bravest Day this year.” She remarked that she appreciated my continual expressions of love and appreciation.

As I drove to work my eyes filled with tears. In recent years I have learned that when my response is out of proportion to the cause, I should take note and discover what in me facilitated this reaction.

Throughout the day an increasing tide of emotion bathed me. By the time I reach the store I understood. It was not so much that I didn’t need to celebrate Bravest Day. I felt freed from the vestiges of shame, liberated to celebrate Valentine’s Day.

I bought a pot of azaleas decorated with a small heart on a stick and a Valentine’s card, the first in nineteen years. It was perfect:

img_20170219_071748152

My tears, they come as I write this, are tears of gratitude for the healing on our lives. Gratitude for the prayer I started using six years ago. Unite my heart to fear Your name. God has answered and for that I am eternally grateful.

And so Valentine’s Day is back.

I hope I celebrate love’s day at least eighteen more years.

Leave a comment

Filed under Worldview

Christmas Windows

I find the week after New Year’s somewhat sad with all the marvelous Christmas decorations coming down. Particularly I miss the outdoor light displays. During the season I enjoy driving at night and seeing some of the elaborate displays.

While I enjoy the flashing lights, inflatables, and houses with glowing brilliance, I also favor the simple displays. One house in particular has candles displayed in each window and spotlights illuminating the wreaths adorning the windows. I find the simplicity enchanting and enjoy that house more than the grandiose displays.

Last Christmas season during the Sunday School discussion someone commented that since Jesus was a window to God, we followers of Christ are windows to God.

The simple displays of these candles in the windows reminded me of that comment and I thought about windows. I don’t often think about windows. And that’s probably as it should be.

Windows are not intended to draw attention to themselves. When I admire the simple candles illuminating my ‘favorite’ home I accept the basic purpose of a window – to allow something to pass through it. In the case of candles that is light.

This is such a basic concept. Without conscious thought we interact with our windows within the framework of light. In the morning we open the curtains to permit the light to illuminate our houses. At night we close the blinds so that the light within our houses does not reveal what is going on inside.

Yet more than mere light passes our windows. Refracted light displays the colors of the grass, flowers, clouds, and passers-by.

Windows also permit the passage of air. On pleasant days we open the windows to catch the gentle breezes and the fragrance of flowers, freshly mown grass, or a gentle rain. But when the rain intensifies the windows close to keep the unwanted from our house.

Sound also enters (as well as exits) via our windows. We enjoy the pleasant chirping of birds and the background hum of activity. Even the occasional honk of a horn. And yet on New Year’s Eve we close our windows in futility against the bombardment of fireworks.

So we try to keep our windows in good order and so ensure they function as we’d like. Sometimes that isn’t so easy. I heard of a couple who moved into a new home and the woman complained to her husband how dingy her neighbor’s laundry looked when it dried on the old fashioned clothes line. That is until one day she commented to her husband that the neighbor must have found a new detergent. “No.” Her husband said. “I washed our windows.”

That is the biggest challenge for windows to keep their primary function. Dirt does not normally cover a window pane quickly. Gradually, speck by speck, dust and grime accumulates until the pristine transparency of the window is lost. So, if we neglect our windows, frequently we end up with a big washing job (as in spring cleaning).

The same applies to us. If as my friend suggested we are windows to God, we need to keep our windows as clear as possible. I know for myself many little things can accumulate over time so that the image of God in my life becomes obscured. Things like pride, laziness, envy, the need to be right, using humor to put others down, ridicule, selfishness, and pouting. I’m confident many of you could add you own foibles to this list.

If, as my church friend says, I am to be a window to God, how does this develop in my life? I need first remember it is not all about me. As a Christ follower I want others to look through me and see the God who loves them. As a window transmits light, color, and fragrance, I desire to transmit the multifaceted wonder of God to all who are around me.

I accomplish this two ways. First, by cultivating my personal God-wonder. For too much of my life I strove to know about God. I accumulated facts, books, and the “correct” doctrine. It was as if, deep down, I believed the more I knew the more I could confine Him and somehow control the Uncontrollable. Now, it may be a symptom of maturation, or, more likely, the futility of confining God to my understanding, I desire for and orient my life to developing an ever deepening intimacy with God. Discovering the multi-faceted wonder of God is the penultimate foundation for showing that wonder to others.

So closely connected (as to be inseparable) to deepening intimacy with God is deepening self-awareness. Encountering God shows me both how I am like Him as well as how different we are. As I grow in understanding I realize how much God loves me and from that love I respond with a deep desire to minimize those actions that accentuate how different I am from God’s ideal love.

It’s like cleaning the windows. The more frequently I connect with God, through prayer, meditation, reading, and service, the less challenging I find self-reflection and the need for dramatic efforts at change.

And that is the challenge. As a window needs frequent cleaning, so I too need frequent soul cleaning.

That way I can be a Christmas Window all year long.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Worldview

It Doesn’t Feel Like Christmas

I like my Christmas traditions.

I don’t particularly care for change.

Last Christmas my traditions changed. Whew. It wasn’t a major cataclysmic change, rather the culmination of a process over the last few years.

We began transitioning to the “empty nest” when our oldest moved out of state. Then when our son married we told him we wanted to see him and his wife (now family) sometime during the Christmas holiday season but it didn’t have to be on Christmas day itself. Finally our middle child moved to her own place. Only she returned for Christmas …

..until she met a young man and got married.

So we faced our second Christmas without any of our children home for the day itself. Since my wife occasionally visits a pen-pal in a state correctional facility, I suggested we could surprise her friend with a visit on Christmas day. Actually, my wife would visit and I would drive. What better day to visit someone in prison than the day we celebrate the birth of He who told us to visit the prisoners.

Our son’s church has a service on December 23rd so the church community could spend Christmas Eve with their own families. My tradition of a Christmas Eve service with my family is no longer in effect.

So, last year we attended the service with our son’s family and then the two of us attended a nearby Christmas Eve service. After which I broke my crowning Christmas tradition. Instead of exchanging gifts Christmas morning we exchanged them Christmas eve so we could get an early start on the three-hour trip to the correctional facility.

While my spouse visited I found a fast food restaurant, which was open Christmas morning! I read, worked on a craft, and played games on my phone before returning to the prison to get my wife for our return trip.

She was hungry so we found another restaurant open and ate a quick lunch. When we were on the road again I commented. “It doesn’t feel like Christmas.”

Indeed it was a Christmas season unlike any other. Yet, as I thought about my off-handed remark I realized that I may have never understood what Christmas felt like.

My “feelings” about Christmas came from family traditions, many of which are healthy, positive, and faith affirming. But they are feelings centered in my family and happy memories. My faith, though, provides a different perspective.

Christmas is about God entering the human race and walking with us. He came to bring us into a life transforming relationship. A relationship in which our values cease to revolve around “us” and those things which make “us feel good.” He enables us to ground our values in the loving God, who has our best interests in mind in all He does.

So taking time at Christmas to radically reorient the way I celebrate the season and make it a time of service to others – may actually be the real “feeling” of Christmas.

To express God’s love and follow the example of Christ is how Christmas should feel.

“It doesn’t feel like Christmas.”

Maybe…

…I felt Christmas for the first time.

Leave a comment

Filed under Worldview

“Do it ‘gain!”

Family camp was winding down to the final service on Sunday night. The children’s program coordinator had already gone home with a sick child. With no childcare provided I chose to take my four-year-old grandson and two-year-old granddaughter to the playground. That way my daughter and son-in-law could participate in the service unencumbered by the demands of active and somewhat fatigued children.

Not for the first time I acknowledged the energy differential between my grandchildren and me. Neither of them seemed to walk, especially not at my preferred pace. Nor did they stay at any one play area for long.

That is until my granddaughter asked to go down the slide. The day before she had attempted it but her parents took her off the ladder. Apparently since they were not going to stand with her every moment she wasn’t allowed to climb. Me? I had time and stood behind her ready to intercept any fall. She navigated the climbing well until she reached the top where the last ladder rung was only a couple inches from the bottom of the decking.

“Hold me.” She said. Gently I held her sides enough to stabilize her. In that confidence she climbed the final portion and ran to the slide. I had just enough time to get to the foot of the slide before she commenced her downward journey. I needn’t worry about her speed. The pink boots she insisted on wearing (a gift from a church family that afternoon) dragged against the metal slide.

Once on the ground she said, “Do it ‘gain.” And so we did. Time and time and time and time again. This must have been an exciting adventure for her as it kept her attention much longer than I expected. Her brother kept belly swinging and only once joined us on the slide.

I smiled at those times, as her proficiency at climbing increased, when she didn’t ask me to hold her. Maybe she forgot as her confidence grew. Maybe she trusted me to be there. Maybe she realized she didn’t need the reassurance of my touch.

With each “Do it ‘gain” my joy at being with her and seeing her develop grew. I delighted in her growing skills.

If this is how I feel about my granddaughter, how does God feel about me? Climbing a ladder for me is a simple thing; for my granddaughter it was a momentous accomplishment. I delight in her. How much more must God delight in me?

At that question I pause. What does it mean for God to delight in me? Often I associate God with demands and judgment – not with joy and delight. I suspect this is my heritage of an intellectual theology. When I elevate the primacy of my mind, I focus on tasks and accomplishments. “Knowing” has become about the accumulation of facts and cultivating reasoning skills.

Yet, Biblically, knowing is more about relationship. Knowing God is not the accumulation of facts but the cultivation of relationship. Facts cannot delight in me. A loving Father can.

And does.

As I continue on this journey from my head to my heart, the similarity between my experience on the playground parallels my cultivation of spiritual practices (often called “disciplines”). When I discover joy in a practice and repeat it, not only do I develop proficiency I also experience the delight of God.

God who does not demand I develop any of these practices but stands close to me as I do, delights in my joy at drawing close to Him. So, I think I’ll …

… Do it ‘gain!

Leave a comment

Filed under Grandparent, Uncategorized, Worldview