Me with my lovely wife, Kathy:

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.

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