Me with my lovely wife, Kathy:

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

One of my gripes--there aren't many--about life in Covington VA is that it doesn't do winter right.  December - February, here, is generally, mostly kinda-cold, with a few snowfalls that almost immediately turn into slush and then vanish.  Within a hundred miles of here you can find real winter, but here not so much.
It's not that I even particularly like winter.  I'm not fond of shoveling.  I have one of the few two-wheel, as in non-four-wheel, drive trucks in town, and bad knees made me give up skiing fifteen years ago.  I guess I just don't like compromise, even in the climate.  Winter should be cold.  Summer ought to be hot.
I stepped out of the house this morning and heard a sound that took me back to my childhood in the
suburbs of Chicago.  The snow squeaked when my foot compressed it.  My cheeks tingled.  I was able to sweep the feathery snow as easily as I could sawdust from a shop floor.  Even though it was fairly late in the morning the scene was noticeably quiet.  I was glad I had my real cold weather hat on--an ugly fake fur thing that I inherited from my late father.  It has lasted so long because I hardly ever use it.  It is hardly ever that cold.
I'm not foolish or calloused enough to not recognize the hardship this weather brings to many.  There are those who have to work out in it.  (Again, I think of my childhood and my Dad, looking like an adult version of the kid in A Christmas Story, leaving for an all-nighter in the railroad yard at the steel mill where he worked.  He was mostly outside on those frigid nights.)  I know that moms--especially moms who juggle career and home are about at their wits end.  For some buying fuel for warmth is hard, or impossible.  Still, though it has been mainly through a window from my warm house, I have enjoyed this arctic blast, which for me is a blast from the past.

  • I'm reminded of God's power.
  • I am very thankful for the blessing of home.
  • When it is this cold, I can't forget just how puny I really am.
  • I am aware that my very existence on this hostile globe is dependent on God's mercy and goodness.
I hear it's warming up tomorrow, going to get above freezing.  School administrators, moms with cabin-fever, and utility workers will breathe a sigh of relief.  I'll not begrudge anyone the warmth.  But for now, I figure it's going to be cold anyhow; I might as well enjoy it.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

I don't want to settle for my life turning out to be an ashtray.

Over at one of my other blogs,, I posted some thoughts about the direction our lives take, and what we end up in the end.
Since the four posts there are really a unit, I'm posting all four of them in the right order, here.

But, What Is It?

"It's an ashtray."  
Back in the day it used to be common for children to give their parents gifts related to smoking.  Many ceramic or metal-shop projects ended up being
 gifted as ashtrays.  Making a vase tall and slender, with thin walls, takes a whole lot more skill than making a short, squat, thick, kind of saucer-ish thing.  That dent in the rim of a roundish piece of metal, that was once destined to become a cup, looks a lot like a place to park a cigarette.  There comes a time when increased work isn't adding to its cup-ish-ness, or vase-like quality.  At some point the answer to the question,
"What is it?"
"It's an ashtray."
That wasn't what I wanted it to be.  It's not  what I want, but it has to be something, so . . .
Solomon observed that "Time and Chance happens to all."  I would add to the mix, skill, talent, planning, diligence, and/or lack of all the above.  From time to time I work with wood.  Sometimes a  project gets modified because of a previously unseen blemish in the wood.  
"Why did you make that that way?"
"Because a worm bored into a tree fifty years ago."
Improv-comics, moms, politicians, and football coaches all need that if-life-gives-you-lemons-make-lemonade skill.  If you let those adaptive concepts get out of hand, however, you end up--well--messed up.  We might praise a twelve-year-old for somewhat salvaging a project-gone-bad.  The C- for the "ashtray" is better than a 0 for a no-show.  When a life, or an important institution morphs into the human equivalent of a waste container for tobacco ash it is tragic.
I don't want to stand before the Lord and say about what I've done with my life, "I guess, Lord, it turned out to be an ashtray."
We aren't done yet.  Stay tuned.

"What made you decide that you would make an ashtray in ceramics class?"
"Really, I never did decide.  I just looked at the thing, and it looked more like an ashtray than anything else, so. . . ."
To one degree or another, virtually every hobby project has an element of that kind of imposed parameter about it  It's hard to make a long project with short lumber.  Sometimes the color it gets painted is determined by what was left from the last remodel.

Setting out to make a bench six feet long, but ending up with one five feet, nine inches, because you had this lovely piece of oak just short of six feet is likely a good use of resources.  Ending up with one six inches tall--not so much.  Adapting is a virtue.  Settling for that which clearly isn't what it should be, or won't do what it ought to do, is unsettling, to say the least.  Striking the appropriate balance requires, among other things, holding to some unalterable core values, and having a clear view of reality. 

Over the years, building my greatest project--my life--I have messed up in both directions.
On occasions I have gotten hung up on minutiae. Important thingswent undone, essentials were ignored, but I paid close attention to some stupid detail that a year later--maybe ten minutes later--didn't matter at all.
At other times I have let my impatience, or desire to please others, or failure to plan, or (fill in the blank) talk me out of some absolutely essential element.  I settled when I should have insisted and persisted.

If you get the idea that I struggle some between those two extremes, I'd say you've got it about right.  I've still got some more ideas on the matter, but how about we finish up by doing something I ought to do a whole a lot more, praying.

Lord, I need to know the difference between what is essential, and that which doesn't matter.  I know that understanding Your word is essential, so help me to learn it better and obey it more thoroughly.  Lord, don't let my life turn out to be something it never should have become.  Amen

We aren't done yet.  Stay tuned.

I'm pretty sure it's too soon to quit.

A long time ago I built a set of shelves for my living room.  There was a window in the middle of a wall.  One shelf unit on the left, another on the right.  The lower part of the units was deeper than the upper portion.  So about thirty inches off the floor there was a ledge.  I built the left unit and put it in place and was pretty pleased.  I started in on the unit on the right.  When I set it in place, I could immediately see that something was wrong.  That ledge part of the unit looked like it was about a foot higher than the one on the left.  Really it was 3/4 of an inch, but it stood out like it was much more.
I very much wanted to be done.  I remember laying down in the floor, staring at the obvious error, and trying to come up with a good reason why I didn't have to fix it.  All my reasons to leave it alone were short-sighted.  Consideration of how long these shelves were going to be a part of the main room in my house finally won the argument.  Back to the shop. . . .

When trying to find that sweet spot between settling for that which just won't do, and adapting to that which is beyond my control, that distinction between short and long term is something to remember.  Wisdom counsels us to never sacrifice the eternal on the altar of the temporary.  (I heard that somewhere.)  Yet, how often for the sake of temporary convenience, or short-term comfort do we settle--forfeiting long-term gains?
Maybe it makes sense, the night before that art project is due to declare it an ashtray and turn it in for a D.  It makes no sense to treat my life that way.  If you are still breathing God's air, it's too early to quit.

We aren't done yet.  Stay tuned.  (There is much that is out of my control, but nothing is outside the reach of God.  Lord willing, tomorrow.)

It's STTA.

Generally speaking each STTA is a stand alone.  This one, however is the last of a series of four.  You might want to go hereand read the last three STTAs, start with 1/14 and work back to yesterday.  

"Aiming at nothing," and "Mission Creep," are ways of describing people or organizations who have no, or have lost their, direction.  "Rigid," "Inflexible," or "Suffering from hardening of the categories," describes others, on the other end of the spectrum, who fail to adapt to changing conditions. How do we maintain a balance between being flexible but lacking in core convictions, and being rigid about things concerning which we ought to flex?  I've been especially concerned about the end result of a life.  It's possible to be so blown by the wind that the end will reveal a result determined by external, often impersonal, and sometimes hostile, forces.
Speaking to the Ephesians the Apostle Paul said, that mature Christians would not be, "tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine."  (Ephesians 4:14)  Yet an examination of the great Apostle's ministry indicates a remarkable flexibility.  See 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 for an example. 
It is absolutely clear that Paul wanted to be effective, but above that he was committed to being faithful.  I need to make obedience to God the number one objective of my life.  Of course, in order to do that I have to understand the commands.  That is a life-long project.  As I live a life of obedience, I run into a lot of forces that would toss me here and there, and carry me about.  It may be to appropriate to adapt.  In fact there are times when obedience demands that I flex.  The Pharisees were not wrong because they kept the rules.  They erred because they kept too many rules, sometimes being blinded to essential, by an undue focus on peripheral matters.
I should try to be effective, relevant, engaging, and useful, but I should never be any of those things if it means I must be disobedient to God.  
There are a lot of things I face that I don't understand and
can't control, but God does, so I must trust Him.
So, after four days of musing, I find myself back in SundaySchool.  Mrs. Marsceau is holding up the flash cards to a song, "Trust and Obey, for their's not other way to be happy in Jesus, but to Trust and Obey.

It's STTA.

Thursday, January 2, 2014


2013 in review:  I'm writing from Louisiana, so I'll begin with a quotation from a famous Louisianan. 
Those were the three words that James Carville put on a sign and hung up in Bill Clinton's campaign headquarters to keep the staff on message. As the saying goes, "The rest is history."
Wasn't it George Santayana, who said, 
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."?
A friend of mine, who would probably just as soon not be named here, says, 
"Put a period on it and go on."
Like so much of life this must be lived in balance.  

Remember the past < - Live in the present - > Keep your eye on the future.

It's not the balance of a peaceful ecosystem.  Satan and Adam made harmony in our world something that has to be worked at--worked at hard.  The Apostles John, and Paul, as well as my physics teacher tell me if you just sit around things will get worse.  (herehere, and here)   It's the nature of the beast in this world we call home. 
The tension in life, here at the dawn of a new year is to remember, and learn from the past without dying there.
So, since I am in the Bayou State:  I offer a sign to hang in the mental office of our campaign for the better future.
The Future, Stupid!  (Don't be insulted.  I include myself in the last word.)
No doubt those who dream big dreams and plan awesome plans are apt to accomplish more than those who don't.  Sometimes, though, those who dream big, get hammered bigger, and awesome plans become impressive wrecks.  Solomon warned that in this entropy-infected world things don't always turn out as they should.   Dreams are dashed and plans are shredded.  Solomon's observation was made through a self-imposed filter.  Looking beyond his providence blocker I know that ultimately, everything will work out exactly as it should.  I trust in the God Who took the greatest injustice, and brought about the supreme blessing.  I totally believe in Romans 8:28, but we're not there yet.  In the mean time the 
"The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men Gang aft agley,An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,For promis'd joy!"  (Robert Burns)
Given the choice, I'd build my nest in the warm house rather than the cold field, but, though I may have the power to plan, and choose, the power to follow through on those plans is often beyond me.  In my book-educated head, I have no idea what "Gang aft agley" means.  In my hard-knocks trained heart, I know exactly what Burns is talking about.  
So again, I look at my sign I have hung in the Better New Year department of my mind.  "The Future, Stupid"
When I put it all together I conclude that cynicism has no place in the life of the servant of God.  My dreams have no magic power, but they do propel me to the edge of what is possible.  I lack the omniscience necessary to build a perfect plan. Still, well-laid plans help me get there.  Especially when we get to the place where we look back on more of life than we can reasonably expect to look forward to--I don't think I'll make 126--it is important to work at keeping that future orientation.

Often those who win, and always those who lose like winners come to a critical gut-check place late in the game, or, more realistically when the battle is about done.  Be it the three hundred Spartans at Thermopylae, Lee at Appomattox, or the twelve-year-old kid who steps up to bat in the bottom of the 6th, two outs, two strikes, team loosing just one run short of the slaughter rule, that left-hander who looks like his mom put steroids in his baby-bottle is on the mound, the ump has an anniversary date with his wife--if its close, it's a strike.  
Even when we come up short we ought not to allow the past to be the deciding factor.  There is not enough bravery and determination for three-hundred Spartans and a few hundred more allies to hold back a force that numbered hundreds of thousands.  Yet would we tell tales 2,500 years later of the surrender at Thermopylae?  The Rebel forces would have yelled and charged one more time for the beloved General, but would artists lovingly paint portraits of the general who led his men into a slaughter for an empty cause, a cause that would die that day whether more blood was shed or not?.  Leonides had the courage to fight, and Lee the wisdom to surrender, because they looked to the future.  The heroism of the Spartans inspired others.  The wisdom of Lee allowed others to live.
With the same determination and ferocity as those Spartans, and the same calm as the Gray general, the kid adjusts his batting glove, tucks his elbow, and showing several thousand dollars worth of metal on his teeth, casts his best glare back at the Goliath on the mound.  The wind-up--I forgot to tell you the bases are empty--the pitch.  Somewhere from the core of that kid comes a swing worthy of Micky Mantle--no more than that, it is the swing of a Spartan fighting impossible odds.  It is a swing that is about The future.

Lord, give me grace to live 2014 as I should.  Amen