Momentous Life

*This entry was originally posted 1/19/08. My great Aunt Norma, whose advice was featured in this entry, passed away this morning at the age of 97.

I was in the middle of my first year of teaching fourth grade at a rural North Carolina school when I had my first “wintry mix” driving experience. I grew up and learned to drive in upstate New York and didn’t think it would be much of a challenge to navigate through the milder winter weather of a state six-hundred miles south. It didn’t take long for me to realize that it was a different game altogether in North Carolina. In NY snow plows, salt, and cinder trucks were just part of the scenery during the winter time. In North Carolina they are rare, to say the least. Because the roads are not pretreated and then maintained steadily throughout a winter storm in North Carolina, they, like their northern counterparts, can be pretty slick, too. Nothing too terrible happened, really, but, it sent a chill through my bones when, while driving relatively slow, I attempted a right turn only to find that, because of the slick road conditions, my car was in no mood to actually make the turn and it just continued straight past. It wasn’t until several yards after the place that I was supposed to turn, that my car’s momentum finally slowed enough for me to change course. Too much momentum in the wrong direction can lead to a loss of control.
So, I guess the question is, am I headed in the right direction and, if not, what direction should I be headed in?

I’ve been maintaining contact with my ninety-something year old great-aunt* for several years now by writing letters. She’s a wonderful, retired teacher who is sharp as a tack and full of wit. In one recent letter to her, I asked her for some words of wisdom or advice. My thought was that somebody of her age and experience might just have a good idea of what works in life. In her response she reminded me that I had asked for advice and told me, “You will find it in the bible.” She then listed the following verses:

Proverbs 2:6
For the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.

Proverbs 3:5, 6
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 16:3
Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.

Because, as a Christian, I believe that the bible is the Word of God, knowledge and understanding can be found in it. I should place my full focus and trust in the knowledge and understanding that I find in scripture and I should live my life for Him. Only then will I be able to life a successful life. Will my success be indicated by a loaded bank account? Probably not, but, because it will be built on the wisdom and understanding of He that is the original source of wisdom and understanding, it will last forever and never fail me.

I’m not talking about the supposed wisdom that comes from a wealth and prosperity preacher on television or that of a auto mechanic, an underpaid fifth grade teacher, or a personal trainer at the gym. I’m talking about the wisdom that comes from the infinite, omniscient source of all wisdom who came down to suffer in the bowels of human existence, being born in a barn and laid in a cow troth and crucified on cross beams with nails piercing his limbs. I’m talking about the source of patient, unconditional love who extends His grace and hope to all who are willing to accept it.

As I grow older I am also growing in my ability to recognize, in the rear-view mirror, where I’ve made my biggest mistakes in life and what led to them. It is through this reflection that I’ve found that the only way to slow the momentum that carried me in the wrong direction is to let Jesus reorient my path and direct my future walk. Once I realized that I am loved by Him, my Abba, like the love between daddy and son, I began to experience a new level of peace and understanding. But, its continuance, the momentum necessary to maintain this perspective, is found only in remembering daily where I’ve been and where I need to focus from moment to moment: on His plan for my life. Through daily reading of scripture and prayer in which I ask Him to help me reflect his character, instead of my own, to those around me, I grow in His direction and in peace of mind. It is a realization that, even though I stumble on a daily basis, there is also grace, forgiveness, and renewal on a daily basis that maintains my momentum in the right direction.

Life Defined

My daughter said this evening, while I pretended to be a genie granting her three wishes, that she wished God would make her an angel. My reaction was that I’m not sure how God would do that, but, that it sounded nice…or something like that.

Later, while mopping the kitchen floor in anticipation of her fifth birthday party tomorrow, it hit me: the common explanation for how people become angels. That thought quickly transitioned into a sudden awareness of how fragile we all are as humans. The chain-reaction momentum quickly picked up as shivers of panic started to infiltrate my psyche and, for a moment, I pondered to the thought of losing her, like so many other parents, due to diverse and unfortunate circumstances.

It is moments like these that I realize how fortunate I am to have my wife and my children and that I become aware, more than ever, of the real and undeniable dynamic that exists between life and death: love. It is the foundation on which life is built. Denying love in the interest of self is denying life in the interest of death.

Tomorrow morning when she wakes up, we will cuddle in the big chair in the living room as usual. I will hold her close, wish her a happy birthday, and tell her that I love her.

Sin As Self

I can’t remember where I heard it (possibly something that somebody said and attributed to C.S. Lewis), but, recently I heard somebody suggest that sin is primarily a form of selfishness. To some, this may seem completely logical and possibly even obvious, but, I had never really framed the concept of sin this way. Now, however, I have to say that selfishness really does seem to be a major contributing factor to just about every sin I’ve ever committed.

Some of my biggest struggles of late are related to the manner in which I spend my time, the ways that I treat people that I interact with on a daily basis, and my own lack of self-discipline.

Lately, I’ve been spending a fairly unhealthy amount of time on this computer, almost every night, right up until the time that I go to bed. I wish that I could say that such time was spent learning about something worthwhile, or at least writing a blog entry and, by doing so, spending some time sincerely reflecting on my life. But, that hasn’t been the case. Instead, I’ve squandered countless hours on websites like Facebook and MySpace. Sure, both sites have helped me to maintain some worthwhile long-distance friendships, but, in general both boil down to being vehicles for directing others’ attention to me for no greater purpose than to be affirmed by the perceived idea that somebody else is interested, for some reason, in me.

Too often, my personal convenience and self-interests determine the decisions that I make and the ways that I interact with and react to people around me. As a father, a husband, a son, a brother, a teacher, a neighbor, and a friend, I consistently fail to follow one of God’s two most important directives: love others as you would like to be loved. If others dealt with me with the same self-focused intentions that often direct me, I would be a pretty lonely person.

Then there’s the issue of my own lack of discipline. A hearty appreciation for stout beer, chocolate, and most varieties of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream doesn’t exactly make it easier for me to achieve my goal of losing weight and shrinking my gut a bit. I have been going to the gym somewhat consistently lately (consistently being two or three times a week – maybe), but, my typically wavering dedication to going more than one day in a row, in combination with my inconsistent ability to sidestep the temptation to sit down with a half-pint of Ben & Jerry’s Dublin Mudslide, for the most part, keeps any weight loss I might otherwise achieve, in check.

Some might say that I’m being too hard on myself, but, I can’t buy that explanation because that excuse itself is self-centered. The real consequences can affect others. As a teacher, there is always more that could be done or something that could be done better. Every lesson that I plan, every interaction that I have with a student, and every moment that I choose to devote either to myself or to a student has a consequence for that student. If I truly enacted God’s desire to love others as myself, my students, their parents, and my colleagues would all benefit.

Time spent searching for new applications that I can add to my Facebook profile, just to add a more sophisticated, intelligent, humorous, or entertaining appeal to my profile (the online representation of “me”) is time that could have better been spent writing to my great Aunt Norma, talking to my parents on the phone, or talking with my wife. Even worse is the fact that I will never that wasted time investment back.

I don’t have a magic bullet answer that is going to pull me out of this, but, hopefully, now that I’ve jotted some thoughts down, and have come to some level of realization with regards to the current direction of my life, I can start taking some steps on a daily basis to learn from time wasted and turn the corner.

The first step will come right now as I spend a few minutes with God, my Abba, and ask for His assistance so that I can lift my head, steady my gaze on the world around me, and center my focus on Him.

Whats Love Got To Do With It?

When I decided that I would write this piece on the idea of love, my first inclination was to emphasize the contrast between biblical love as defined in 1Corinthians 13:1-13, and love as defined by the world in romance stories, television commercials, and pop radio songs. While such a juxtaposition really is worthwhile, one that I believe is less worn and more necessary focuses the action of love.

Love becomes more than a stretched-thin combination of vowels and consonants when it is treated as a verb and lived out. I can tell my wife that I love her, but, it means a lot more to her when I make it a point to spend time with her in the evening instead of sitting in another room squandering my time away on the computer. Likewise, singing the Beatles song “All You Need Is Love,” while being a fine and enjoyable thing to do, is wholly insignificant compared to taking advantage of the daily opportunities that we all have to affirm and support somebody else through a kind word, an open ear, or a lent hand.

God defines Love as sacrifice for others. Sacrifice means putting the needs of others before our own.

What do you love? Who do you love? Whose needs do you place before your own? Who are you willing to die for? Family? Friends? Neighbors?

Who is your neighbor?

30Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’There is no commandment greater than these.”
Mark 12:30-32
12My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command.
John 15:12-14

Childlike

My four-year-old daughter has a habit of picking up rocks from the ground and then giving them to people as gifts. So, it wasn’t a surprise the other day when she came home from daycare with a handful of rocks. This time, however, the rocks weren’t stones that she picked up from the ground. Instead, it turned out that she had taken from another child’s cubby. I spoke to her about the fact that taking somebody else’s things without permission is a sin according to the ten commandments while she sat in time out. The next morning she woke up and, while cuddling with me in the chair, the first subject she talked about was wanting to give the rocks back to Miranda at daycare. I then suggested that she might want to pray to Jesus for forgiveness for taking the rocks. Her voice started to quiver and crack as she said, “Ok,” and proceeded to pray to Jesus for forgiveness for taking the rocks. When she finished I assured her that Jesus has forgiven her, that he was happy that she prayed for forgiveness, and that I was proud of her.

Admittedly, as an adult the concept of God and Christ can seem tangential and abstract at times. The real, visible impact that sin and redemption had on Julia that morning was a breath of fresh air for my life faith and it lent evidence to the words of Christ found in Matthew 18:3:

And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Summer Setting

Just over a week to go until I’m forced back to the classroom to prepare for a new year. My time with my daughter is more recognizable as a prize possession – now that our remaining days for making summer memories are numbered. It is the thickening tension between not wanting to let go of the radiant sunshine that lit my summertime with her and the impending reality of all that has yet to be done to prepare for school.

I know that I’ll never get this time back again. I know that this, here, is one of the most golden times of my life. She’s so beautiful and she floats so effortlessly on a river of pure joy.

Moments of reflective recognition like this cause me to check myself just to make sure that I’m not investing too much of my own awe and emotion on her existence (as if that was possible!). On the contrary, I think this appreciation that I have is just a sliver of that which I’ll experience when He returns.

”And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 18:3

Big Daddy

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Excerpt from Reflections For Ragamuffins by Brennan Manning, Pp.220

Do you ever think that Jesus appreciates you for wanting him, for wanting to say no to so many things that would separate you from him? Do you think that Jesus can ever be grateful to you for pausing to smile, comfort, give to one of his children who have such great need to see a smile, to feel a touch? Do you ever think of Jesus being grateful to you for learning more about him so that you can speak to others more deeply and truly about him? Do you ever think that Jesus can be angry or disappointed in you for not believing that he has forgiven you totally? He said, ‘I do not call you servants, but friends…’ Therefore, there is the possibility of every feeling and emotion that can exist between friends to exist here and now between Jesus and you.

“Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him.” Isaiah 30:18

While God maintains the all-powerful, all-knowing, judicious aspect of his Character, He also loves, encourages, and practices patience and mercy through his identity as our Abba – our divine Daddy. As a father to a four-year-old girl, I know that there are times when I have to correct her for doing something she really shouldn’t have done. Sometimes, though, I have to turn my head to keep a straight face while directing her because her antics can sometimes be very amusing and I know that she is just a child. This morning, I’m led to believe that there are times when our Abba looks at us the same way.