Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Getting ready for the future -- Cleaning up the past

It is a dreary cloudy morning here as I sit reading various blog and discussion list posts. I guess 2007 will be remembered as the year we stayed home to get ready for “the wedding”. July here was HOT at least for us. SO hot that for several weeks we were getting up and working in the yard for a couple of hours in the morning and then spending the rest of the day doing inside things. We experience the real dog days of summer in July.

Then one day it seemed like God said to the angels – you left the furnace on high again – and they switched on the air conditioning. (actually I suspect God is sighing over the fact that his created beings have been so careless in their actions that they’ve caused the Global warming thing and that has upset his carefully designed HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning system so he has left us on our own to bear the consequences -maybe THEY (aka someone other than me) will do something about it to get things back into balance)

It has been pleasantly cooler since the first of August (roughly) although it has remained dry. Only this week (2nd last in August) have we gotten any rain—and it looks like we might get more today –although the forecast is a return to ”hot & muggy”. Wish the “angels” would leave that furnace alone!!!

I hate to see my water bill for late July & the first part of August because we were watering the newly seeded lawn and the flowers every day (and the lawn several times a day). The good news is that the grass came up and our lawn is looking a lot better – although it still has along way to go.

Well I got interrupted and now we are into the last week of August – hard to believe the summer is (almost) over. In just over 2 weeks we will have family arriving for the “big event”. Last week Linda was busy cleaning the basement since we will have a full house (up to 15) here for a few days before and after the “re-wedding”. And of those 10 will be sleeping in the house –Kevin, Sarah & Will are in the BBB and Alexander’s parents are staying with neighbors.

Anyhow – as Linda was cleaning her part I was “shamed” into taking a run at my office area plus she wanted me to do something about several boxes of stuff I had brought home when I retired and had just stored in a corner to do something with when I got around to it. (You know one of those circles of paper with TUIT written on it!!!). SO Thursday and Friday I tackled this mountain of paper and binders and books and managed to discard 2 boxes of outdated text books from my teaching PLUS I filled the yellow box with shredded paper and filled 3 garbage bags with other papers—well over 200 lbs (100 kg) of paper alone –plus another 2 garbage bags of old binders and other “non-recyclable” junk.

In the course of doing this I had 3 things happen that led to an epiphany of sorts (not something earth shattering and likely not life changing but still it seemed something significant -- something that I hope I can communicate to younger men who are in the middle of their careers and raising a family. This came about from 3separate incidents that all seemed to fit together to create this one big “AHA”. – something I’ll say must have been God’s way of reminding me of something I needed to remember.

1. The first piece of this “being hit by a lightening bolt” came as I was cleaning out the boxes that were the residue of 35 years of work (including graduate school) – most of it from my 30 years at ASI. As I sorted through the papers I would come across a report or other documents about I project I was involved in. It brought many good memories of the people and the successes we had with some of these things. There was also a lot of sadness because I was “tossing” the “tangible” results of months or even years of my life into the trash. The sadness came because of the realization that this document that represented some much work had little or no value now. Sometimes the work was done; the results had been achieved at the time but changed circumstances meant the documents were no longer relevant. In other cases – there was even more sadness looking at proposals for several large projects – proposals that had consumed hundreds of hours of my time-often at nights and on weekends -- proposals that (in my maybe not so humble estimation) were very well done -- and yet they had been shelved and never implemented – due to circumstances out of my control. It was tough to do it but I realized there was no point in hanging onto useless ”mementos”.

2. The second piece of the puzzle occurred because Linda and I have been involved in a project with our church family. When we came home from one of the planning meetings she said “you seemed angry – what’s the matter?” It took me by surprise because I was actually feeling quite positive about the results of the meeting and my role in it. However, as we discussed why she sensed anger, I realized, that I had indeed been dragging some past frustrations into the present conversation and that was causing me to express anger. (Albeit a mild (or suppressed) anger because as best I can tell only Linda really picked up on it)

3. The third piece of the puzzle fell into place when I came across an item on one of my INTERNET Bible discussion lists that introduced me to the writings of DallasWillard. (click HERE to learn more about this noted philosopher who also writes about theological issues . You may have to, as I did, look up the meaning of some big words to even understand what it is that he studies and writes about but if you get beyond the “academic” language he has many profound things to say about faith and living a life of significance within that faith.)

The specific item I came across was an interview (click HERE) with Dr. Willard conducted by Bob Bufford related to his book called “Finishing well” (click HERE to learn more about this book – note I haven’t read it yet so I can’t comment on its’ value but it seemed interesting). The book is based on interviews with noted people who appear to have taken their success in stride and moved on to significance – which I take to mean living in a way that your life has meaning that lasts beyond your time here on this earth.

I also note that the information provided at http://www.halftime.org/ looks interesting especially to anyone in mid-career who has achieved a degree of success but is still struggling with finding “meaning” in their lives. However, I haven’t taken the time to investigate it so if you do go to look at it do so with “caveat emptor” in mind. (As opposed to my hope that you would be cautiously optimistic that you might find something of value in something I endorse :) :) )

Anyhow – back to the “aha”. In the interview there is a discussion about the concept of moving beyond seeking success to seeking significance.
Bob Buford states (in part): I’ve concluded there are really four steps that, one is struggle, which is trying to be successful, however you form that in your mind. The second is success, which is that you’ve reached that point, and in my opinion in today’s world most people can [get there] just with focus and effort, and determination if not brilliance. Significance, I’m defining almost in the words you said, which is using your experience and knowledge to be helpful to others. And surrender I’m defining as being fully aligned with God’s purposes.

Dallas Willard responds: Well, I guess [I’d like to comment on] just two things there; I think actually that third step you’re talking about [significance] requires surrender. You can’t really manage that within the parameters of success, you have to give up, and so you have to surrender yourself to this good. The other point would be, for me, … many people cannot hear what you say about the , significance, in terms of God, and so I guess, I want to say to people you don’t have to worry about that now. Start with that third step,[significance?] and give yourself up to that. I think it will, in almost every case, will lead on to the fourth step [surrender to align with God’s purposes?] . Now Christians should be able to, as it were, start from the end, and deal with their struggle and their success in terms of that fourth step, and that would transform

Note in the above excerpt from the interview the items in [square brackets] are notes I added to clarify the meaning I took from the words actually spoken

So what great “AHA” came to-getherfromthese3 seemingly disconnected events. Well I have long known and made efforts to practice principles such as

1. “Seek the important things first; don’t let yourself get distracted from that by the urgent (Of course this is a Biblical principle of seeking first the kingdom but it was (as I recall) something I first heard in this form in the writings of Paul Faulkner. (and was repeated in many ways at many times through my life)

2. “put the past into the past” instead of "dragging the past into the present" – something I had learned from my friend Terry Miller over 10 years ago. (I always thought that this was another way of stating the Biblical principle of maintaining healthy relationships by extending and accepting forgiveness) . Terry often pointed out that if we “drag the past into the present” then our future will be determined by the past. On the other hand, if we have a clear view of what we want the future to be and we "drag the future back to the present" we can create a different future and be freed form the tyranny of repeating our past mistakes. (Well maybe this sounds a little weird – I know it did to me at first but as I thought about it and tried to practice it—it was a powerful way to create change in our personal attitudes and behaviors towards others.

3. “No person on their deathbed has ever said ‘”My biggest regret is that I didn’t spend more time at work” (Not sure were that came from – probably a preacher butit has been one of the messages I tried to play when I felt I was being sucked a WAY WAY too far into working.
4. Tis' one life -will soon be past only what's lived for Christ will last (another preacher's favorite that I've changed alittle -- I'd always heard "done" where I put "lived" (and I would add that "lived for Christ" means to me that I must experience significant transforming relationships with Jesus and with others)

The “AHA” was that as much as I had known these things and even in some ways put them into practice - I wondered if “back then” I could have really envisioned (made real) those days of “tossing those hard earned symbols of “success” into the trash and being left with only whatever significance was carried on in the people I had worked and in the lives of my children and in the lives of those in my community I might have influenced in seeing Jesus. – -- if I could have felt the pain and the sadness of those moments of looking back – and seeing that the past was gone – might that somehow have changed some of my choices.

So my first question was ”is there anyway I can communicate this to others who are in the place I was 10- 20 – 30 years ago and help them really live the ”Christmas” carol from the perspective of being at the end of their career – how things were back then – how they are now and how they might have been if they really committed to living by these principles. And I will make every effort to do this – to share my
experience with humility hoping that it can help others.
I really want to be able to communicate to them the experience of standing at the end of your career looking at a pile of paper in the trash (or whatever ever other "things" you might have accumulated ) and saying "This is what my life" was about
But the second “Aha” was the reality that the past can’t be changed – but and today “is what it is” but it isn’t over yet. If I will renew my commitment to “put the past in the past” (and I find I am struggling with this) and if I will take the time to ”paint a picture of surrender and alignment with God’s will for my life” then I can “finish well” (or at least better than I will if I just lay back and drift wherever life takes me

So I ask will there be another picture that you can paint that better represents your life? (I want to say that my focus on the trash is about "understanding the reality" of that possibility. I'm not suggesting that's all there is in my life --indeed this other picture shows what is of much more significance to me. My point is that without this 2nd picture (and more such pictures of lives impacted by my life) fully fixed and fully described in your mind -- then a different picture may not come into full focus and be as significant as it could be with a more intentional commitment to those things.
And I am reminded by this "Aha" experience that achieving those "future dreams" comes only through surrender toGod and alignment with his purposes in ALL that I do.

God – I offer this prayer that I like the apostle Paul may say "But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus". Philippians 3: 7-14
God Bless

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Star Light –Star Bright …

Sunday night was the peak time for the Perseid meteor shower (Google Perseid meteor shower August if you want to learn more about this phenomenon. Our friend Sharon Valli would be able to tell you all this information of the top of her head because of her passion for astronomy but I had to look it up.

Our son Kevin was born on August 13 and, from his teen years, he would spend the night before his birthday going out somewhere to watch this display. Since Sunday night was a clear night and promised good viewing Linda & I decided to do some star gazing – as a way of drawing us closer to Kevin - who lives on the other side of the country – and as a way of experiencing the grandeur of God’s creation.

While it was more of a drizzle than a shower it still was an impressive sight to see those brief blips of light streaking across the star filled shy. We drove out to a lake about 20k ((10 miles) north of the city to try to get away from the light pollution. There was still some backlighting from cottages and the occasional yardlight but it was dark enough that we could experience the stars and the meteor show. We arrived about 10 and stayed until 11:30 sitting out on our lawn chairs laying back to look at the night sky. I guess laying flat on a blanket might be better but this was easier on the “old bones” – although it did lead to a stiff neck from leaning back. We saw around a dozen “full fledged” meteor streaks and many other short blips. As I understand it we likely would have needed to stay until the wee hours of Monday morning to really get the full show but you have to be awake to see it and we were (or at least Iwas) already drifting off to sleep when we decided to call it quits and come home.

It was a great experience to sit quietly with the love of my life and commune with nature. There was a tremendous sense of closeness with her and with God that came in the silence and beauty of experiencing this.

If you’ll forgive a personal sentiment, I said to Linda afterwards that 40 years ago I probably would have missed a lot of the meteors because I would have been more interested in looking at and being more physically close to her. I thought it was something of significance that after 40 years we could experience a real and tangible closeness without touching or talking –

Well – other than that life continues. We have finished up the bulk of the yard work – for now. We are pushing ahead with the details of the wedding plans.

Monday, we were talking to a friend about obtaining a sound system for the event. He said he wanted to talk to us about it and it was too hectic at his store to do it there so he came over.

He had had major surgery about 6 weeks ago the remove a malignant tumor. The discussion on the sound system didn’t take long but he did need to talk about and share his anxieties and rejoicings that came as he discovered that what was thought to be a benign polyp turned out to be a cancerous mass and then the sense of relief and praising God when he discovered that there was no need for chemo because he was “cancer free”. Of course there is the ongoing risk of cancer re-developing and he will be having regular MRI’s to watch for that .

As Linda and I listened and gave encouragement as he shared his feelings and fears I thought of the instruction in 1 Peter 5 about “casting our anxieties on him (Jesus)” and was aware of how sharing our burdens with other Christians is an important part of that process.

(Modifying a statement that John made about love I thought “How can we cast our anxieties on Jesus whom we can’t see if we can’t share them with our Christian friends whom we can see?” I also thought about how important it was to simply listen to and affirm the reality of what he was experiencing in this emotional roller coaster and struggle to really give it over to God – rather than as I’m often tempted to do quoting “platitudes” about trust in God and things working for good -- which in effect is saying “there must be something wrong with you because you shouldn’t be feeling those fears and doubts”)

Well that’s enough for now

I dropped by a couple of blog sites last week that I hadn’t been to for awhile

Tim Archer has been “ruminating” on the relationship between worship and assemblyfor the past couple of months – He summarizes this study in his Augus6 post (click HERE).

Preacherman talks about “Walking with God”. I hadn’t been by to visit him for a long time. Some may remember that he was very ill with Guillian-Barre Syndrome as a child and experienced a (rare) reoccurrence last November. (click HERE for the report of this). He recently reported good progress on his recovery (click HERE). Reading his story let’s you see a living example of someone who has made the promise of Romans 8:28 very real in his live – finding good where many would find bitterness and despair.

Some other thoughts from “blog land”
Bobby Valentine suggests that all Christians need to be “theologians” -- probably a weird thought to many – Why not check it out and see why he thinks that? (Click HERE)

John Dobbs cautions us to look at ourselves before we put on the judges robes to pronounce sentence on others (click HERE)

Monday, August 06, 2007

A quiet summer

I haven’t been blogging much for the past several months. Maybe “writer’s block”, maybe laziness or busy-ness or maybe it's just that it didn't seem there was a lot to write about. Not sure I can explain or that anyone cares for that matter.

Since we got back from BC six weeks ago (aside from the weekend trip to the wedding and to see Melissa which I covered in my last blog) we have been pretty busy with a major landscaping project (I wrote a little about that in my "rocky path" post a month or so ago). That coupled with the regular demands of daily living and summer maintenance has filled our days.

The first picture shows what it used to look like along the front of our house . The second pictures shows the "new look". We have pretty well finished the “rocky path” and the associated landscaping.

We pulled weeds from the lawn area seemingly “forever” but last Tuesday morning I took a leap of faith and re-seeded. This morning (Monday) I was pleased to see a few new grass sprouts here & there. I’m hoping that it will soon be a sea of green – We’ll see this week if how that goes.
(This weed-pulling and re-seeding seems like a natural for a modern day parable - weeds in our lives, the futility of trying to fix ourselves - the need for renewal through God's grace -- well maybe -- but since I'm trying to do this without outside help it doesn't quite fit --at least I hope it doesn't fit - if it turns out that my efforts are futile and the weeds win then I'll have to revisit the parable!!)

We found an arbor (one that Linda intends to use as part of the “wedding” in September) that was a key part of the “vision” Linda had for the revamped front yard and it is assembled and temporarily in place. I have to figure out how to install permanent footings so it won’t blow over if we have a high wind(right now I’ve got it tied off to a tree but that doesn’t seem to be a good long term approach!!.

I have spent sometime over the past 2 weeks ordering textbooks and doing other preparatory work for the course I expect to be teaching this fall (assuming they are cancelled for lack of students which can happen).

One unpleasant thing that has happened is that Linda has contracted “shingles” – one hip and leg is affected. It has been very painful and has kept her bedridden a lot of the time. She is “stubborn” however and rests for an hour or so and then gets up and is back at the work – painting, housecleaning, washing curtains – etc. We have had words a few times when I’ve tried to tell her to stop – anyhow we are praying that this will not last too long – especially with the wedding coming up and all the stuff that needs to be done to prepare for it.

Our new “preacher” Paul Hillier (and his wife Michelle) arrived here to take up the assignment on July 1. Lloyd & I and Paul have spent time each week “orienting” Paul to the congregation and talking about approaches to the work here. We kicked off a”40 days of prayer” initiative this morning -- based on the fact that many significant Biblical things occurred in 40 days, -- the flood, Jonah’s warning to Ninevah and Jesus time of prayer prior to his temptation.

I took a couple of hours this afternoon to take my Dad to Thessalon. He & my Mom worked several years during the summers as the “overseers” of the township heritage centre at Little Rapids. Every year on the August Civic holiday that have a heritage day event and he had not been able to go for several years.He enjoyed meeting and visiting with his friends and neighbors from when they lived in that area.

So we have been working steadily during June & July bu the tempo and urgency is picking up as we go into August-- 5 weeks until the big event – that’s scary.

As I reflect on what seems to be a fairly humdrum summer I remind myself that I need to remember that each day is one God has given us and we want to live today rather than spend today getting ready for tomorrow. (but we also need to get ready for tomorrow!!)
I also have not been doing too much "visiting" on other blogs. But I did see a few things that were of interest

Dee Andrews provides a touching description of how her mother is part of the fabric of her life ( click HERE)

Reports of VBS by Neva (click HERE) and Bobby Valentine (click HERE)drew my memory back to the “Wild About the Bible” kid’s day that Pinehill put on last year. Sadly we haven’t been able to do anything similar this year. Perhaps next year.
I hope you have a great August
God Bless