Tag Archives: Living Deliberately

Injury Update

Below, you can see the carnage of our recent auto accident.  We are blessed to have survived and to have the assurance that we should fully recover.  In the meantime, there are daily difficulties that arise from being limited because of injuries.  I don’t want to write this in an ungrateful spirit, because my wife and I are so thankful for the kindnesses, meals, rides, errands, and many other tangible expressions of love from the Providence Extension Program (PEP) community where we both serve.

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Perhaps I’m reading the wrong book for this time in our lives, but I’m listening to Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal.  Broadly speaking, Gawande writes about the intersection between medicine and aging, and often finds that treating aging and its complications according to a medical model results in a tradeoff between safety and quality of life.  Gawande’s narrative is mostly comprised of the stories of people as they age, and are confronted with physical, medical, and lifestyle challenges that accompany growing older.

The experience I’m sharing with those in Gawande’s narrative is that because of the injuries sustained by my wife and me, everything takes longer and is much more complicated.  Even daily tasks such as laundry, finding clothes to wear, driving when I’m sufficiently between doses of pain medicine, making sure that Amy’s medications are within reach and organized, and having to take frequent breaks from working guarantee that productivity is a dirty word to me.   A couple of experiences have really surprised me about all of this.

I’m surprised by the amount of joy that caring for my wife gives me.  Amy and I took care of my sister for over a year.  Much of that time, Cathy was more dependent on others than Amy is.  Being in a position to help my wife has been the greatest joy of the accident, and an experience that makes me hopeful for the years ahead.

I’m surprised at how easily little things can upset me.  People have cooked for us and brought us dinner almost every night.  Most of the meals have been delicious, and even people who live far away (45 minutes or more!) have gone out of their way to help us.  But last night, I almost broke down because I wanted to have the foods that we used to cook before the accident.  Since the accident was right in the aftermath of our trip to Peru, we haven’t eaten a meal that we have cooked in five weeks.  Again, the sheer generosity of people is overwhelming!  Most of us would love to be in this position!  But the combination of missing the foods that we have made in the past and my inability to prepare them almost caused me to have a meltdown!

Unfortunately, I’ve been difficult to live with.  The last thing Amy needs is a cantankerous husband!  I need to pause and take a deep breath more often.  Amy and I are well cared for.   Our children couldn’t be more sympathetic or helpful.  But pain and loss of function are difficult realities.  I’m hoping that this isn’t a foreshadowing of what old age will look like for me.  God is showing me how much I need to grow in grace for us to have a gracious, happy, and peaceful home, which is something that with His help, we can achieve no matter what our limitations are.

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On Crankiness

Crankiness.   Most people find this posture rather annoying or just plain boring.  Yes, there is the occasional H. L. Mencken, whose curmudgeonly writing is entertaining partially because of its cranky tone.  But Mencken has a rare capacity for the mot juste, which makes one willing to suffer through page after page of cantankerousness to find the inexpressible one-liner that will knock one’s socks off.

However, crankiness ought to be rare rather than routine.  Yet, it seems that in the writings of the two vocational groups to which I serve, crankiness is routine.  I am a minister in a small, somewhat strict Presbyterian setting, and a classical Christian school teacher.  I’ve read somewhere that there are something like 107 different classifiable feelings.  But in the writings of some in these settings, all of these feelings are easily reduced to one:  crankiness.

I’m writing this because this is a temptation that I’ve often succumbed to.  I’m repulsed by it.  Most of us find complainers insufferable, but we often notice that one is rejected from certain affinity groups without the proper undertone of complaint.

I understand the reason for crankiness.  Pure and simple, the reason is a misappropriation  of conservatism.  Not 21st century American political conservatism, which is ill-defined and cranky in it’s own way, but classic conservatism.  Classic conservatism at its root entails a sense of loss, a mournfulness that the tried and true heritage of the past is being rejected in favor of the new and novel.  Classic conservatism sees an arrogance in this rejection of the past, a lack of humility and teachability, and a dishonor for one’s fathers and mothers by those in the present age.

However, this crankiness quickly turns into a requiem for the past and a scorn for the opportunities of the present.  Yes, true conservatives do and should long for a celebration of the best of the past.  However, what is required is not the proverbial turning back of the clock but the joie de vivre of seeing the opportunities of the present day and a creative imagining of a preferable future and the faith-filled steps and processes to bring this preferable future into place.  A robust theological and philosophical vision must be brought to bear to face the “fallen condition focus” of the environments in which people serve.

Crankiness is not a fruit of the Spirit.  It’s not enough to grieve the virtues of bygone eras. Biblically, the only “good ole’ days” were the ones before the Fall.  While many “white-bread” American Protestants look back with longing at the fifties, one does not need to think too hard in questioning if our African-American brethren experience a similar longing.  Crankiness is an unfortunate lapse into the flesh and a blessing of what is more properly called the lack of joy in our lives. Crankiness is the work of the flesh that the Christian must put off.  Joy is the fruit of the Spirit that we must “put on.”

“Rejoice in the Lord always.  Again, I will say, rejoice.”  While this is easier said than done for a habitual pessimist like myself, this is the imperative of the gospel.  The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is what allows us to rejoice, even when temporal circumstances may not bring happiness or optimism.  As long as God is present, all things are possible.  This is what is cause for rejoicing, rather than bygone virtues or present optimism.

 

 

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It Takes A Long Time To Learn To Do Something Well

I’m planning on finishing up Paradise Lost tonight.  It’s quite a challenging read.  Even having been to seminary and having taught Homer, Virgil, Plato, and Augustine for the past eight years and even having taught Dante before, I still feel like I’m missing so much.  It’s going to need more than one reread before I think I can do a good job of teaching it.41Ux+jGSkCL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

However, I keep telling myself I have to start somewhere.  The good part of this is that I can sympathize with my students as they struggle with the text.  Also, most of my students have a degree of familiarity with the Scripture, so we can all follow the basic plot.  But thinking about this made me consider how long it takes and how much effort it takes to become really proficient in a craft.  It’s taking me eight years of teaching Plato’s Republic to get me to a place where I can read it both sympathetically and critically, and engage the students in a reading that’s both sympathetic and critical, and to really be able to enjoy this process.  It’s taken me six years as a Latin teacher (starting out literally one lesson ahead of my students) to be able to enjoy the rhetoric and the rhythms, the timing and the pacing of Cicero, and to take pleasure in reading an author who makes a language sing.

It’s rather ironic that I’m closer to having this experience with Cicero in Latin than I am with Milton in English.  But Paradise Lost is so rich that the time invested in it will be repaid a hundredfold.  Maybe after I teach it eight years, I’ll have a greater degree of confidence in engaging students with the text, rather than us all sharing ignorance.  Diligence.  Industriousness.  Making the most of my time.  Applying myself.  These were virtues that were largely absent from my misspent youth and young adulthood.  So I’m making up for lost time, and enjoying the journey.  I’m getting to read all the books that I’ve wanted to all of these year, and getting paid to understand them and to share them with others.  It’s a great life. But I have not been able to get around just how long it takes to get good at something.

Any shortcuts out there for becoming competent and proficient to a high degree in something that you are passionate about?

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Morning Routines

818kGmg0fFL._SL1500_I thought I would share my weekly routines and get some input as to what works from you.   Monday-Thursday.  I get up, write for a half hour or 45 minutes. Then, I read the Bible and pray.  Usually, at some point I’ll do a quick check on my favorite internet sites and email to make sure that nothing life-altering has happened overnight that will change my plans  After that, I get ready to do in and teach.  M-W I teach straight from 9-3.  T-Th I have a 3 hour break when I can get some things done:  grading, work that doesn’t require quiet or sustained attention.  at 3, it’s time to go home, go run, see how I can help with dinner, and eat dinner with my family.  I generally put in an hour and a half to two hours reading, writing, or planning content to teach.
I don’t teach Fridays, so I try to get myself ready to go on Monday morning.  If there are things to be read, studied, lesson planned, work that needs to be done on a sermon, or the like, it usually takes place on Fridays.  I try to keep Saturdays open, but generally I will need to put in a couple of hours on Saturday.
Sundays, I usually have church responsibilities, so I’ll get up early to prepare to lead worship and go over what I’m teaching.  Sunday afternoon and evening are generally when we “veg.”  I’ll often do some planning for the next week.
That’s how I usually roll.  I’d love for you to share what works for you!
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Broad and Narrow Reading

   Both of my vocations require a fair amount of reading merely to stay current with my
responsibilities.  I’ve often considered how, why, and even if it’s beneficial to read more broadly outside of these demands.  I’ve come to the conclusion that if I don’t read more broadly, I stunt my intellectual growth and lose the ability to speak to the issues that I write, teach, and speak about.
Today, one of the choices that I need to make is whether or not to take the time to stay current on my Bible reading plan, or go straight to the sermon and claim this as my “Bible reading” for the day.  I don’t necessarily think that there’s a right or wrong answer, but I do believe that if I don’t maintain the daily habit of reading other parts of Scripture than I’m studying to preach and teach from, then I’ll regress in my understanding of and command of Scripture, not to mention personal godliness and enjoyment of God’s Word.
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Likewise, whether it’s mass-market fiction or other genres, reading broadly helps me to think through the connects between the material for my current projects and other items that create interest in them and relate to them.  So, I need to continue to make the effort and schedule the time to read broadly outside my disciplines.
What are your reading habits?  What has been most helpful to your spiritual, personal, and professional growth?
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Small Things, Big Influence

The new year often brings out the belief that we ought to make sweeping changes in our lives.  Beginning a rigorous exercise regimen, losing a substantial amount of weight, living within our means, and disciplining ourselves to save for the future are common New Years Resolutions.  Some of us also serve in professions or capacities that continually pressure us to do the “new,” the “unexpected,” the “unprecedented,” and to be “innovative.”  All of these desires and expectations may seem a huge burden to us.

However, the small things, done day by day, have an incremental value that we often overlook.  We underestimate the impact of faithful habits, incorporated into our days.  Those who have deep influence are faithful in what we would consider the small tasks.  For me, one example is circulating among my students and greeting them, talking to them about how their day is going and other small talk, instead of having my head down and ignoring them because I have “significant projects.”  Will I have deeper influence in their lives because of how well I prepare my lessons, or how much I connect with my students?

There is some proportionality here as well.  We are not to ignore what Jesus called “the weightier matters of the law” and be satisfied that we can check off the details.  This is the error of the Pharisees that Jesus condemns in Matthew 23,  However, Jesus is not advocating that we neglect the details and concentrate on the big picture only.

Faithful, daily tasks, as small as they may seem at the time, grow into something greater than the tasks themselves.  Consistent care of children usually results in more than a checklist completed of child care tasks, but children who are loving, well-behaved, and a pleasure to be around.  Sometimes it’s difficult to remember this.  But it’s encouraging when we do and are able to carry out this idea in specific ways.

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Vegetarian? Vegan? Macro?

I made my post Christmas pilgrimage to Barnes and Noble a couple of days ago.  It’s a “pilgrimage,” because I enjoy the blessing of having raised a family of avid readers.  So, there’s no shortage of books in our home, and no shortage of enthusiasm for visiting bookstores.  Indeed, aren’t bookstores the real reason for shopping?

The object of my quest was to find a book that was a combination of personal journal/explanation/how to concerning making the change to a vegetarian, vegan, or macrobiotic diet.  The thought of making this change has been rattling around in the back of my head for some time now, and I wanted to read more than Wikipedia had to say about this.  I’m not exactly as svelte as I was in my 20’s, and realized that most likely I’ll never get there again.  But I’ve talked to people who have done this, and they seem happy that they made the change.  Those whom I’ve talked to feel better, report health benefits, and seem to be able to eat all they want within the range of their food philosophy.

I wanted to find the story of someone who “waded in the shallow end” of this journey and didn’t try to do it all at once — someone who would make me think that this might possibly be achievable for someone who includes friends and loved ones in their eating habits.  I also felt like I needed to be “sold” on the why of doing this, and read the words of someone who enjoyed and benefitted from making such monumental changes.

Alas, I found no such book!  I didn’t look at the books that were mostly scientific information– I’m just not going to read that.  The science seems pretty sound from what I’ve read — at least it’s more on the side of a plant based diet than what I’m eating now.   However, it just cannot be that there has never been anyone in the history of mankind who considered attempting this change one meal at a time.  I’m astonished that there is no one in the history of the planet who contemplated taking baby steps toward this.  The books I found were either straight-out cookbooks that assumed that I was sold on their particular philosophy, or “how-to” books.  Of the two varieties, the how-to books started out with advice such as “take everything out of your refrigerator, freezer, and pantry, and throw it in the garbage.”  No consideration whatsoever that person who may attempt to follow such advice may be married to a spouse who would advise reasonable, prudent steps toward a better diet, or more like exclaim, “you’re throwing hundreds of dollars of food into the garbage!”  No advice given on how to win over a skeptical spouse whose wisdom has been nothing short of life-saving.

So, my quest was halted in frustration.  However, I’m sure that there is at least one person in the history of the planet who has been in the circumstances described earlier who has written a book about their experience that’s worth reading.

I’d love to hear from you!  If you have researched transitioning to vegetarian, vegan, or macro and found a helpful book that is makes it sound fun encouraging, and achievable, let me know!

 

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Do What You Can With the Body You Have!

I posted yesterday on how I’m in doubt about plans for future ultra events.  However, there’s another take on this subject, or for that matter, any other physical challenge.  This attitude is, “do what you can with the body you have!”

Now, this attitude is not original with me.  I read this somewhere, and I can’t remember where.  But it makes sense.  Rather than trying to diet, slim down, and get into “better condition,” whatever that may mean, do what you can now.  And push yourself to do more.

The idea here is that physical perfection is probably beyond most of us,  So we use this mythical ideal to hold us back, rather than enjoy what we can.  So, do what you can with the body you have !  And enjoy yourself!

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Why blog?

Why blog?  This is a question that I’ve been asking myself for the last couple of years.  If you follow this blog, you find out that the usual answer is, “there’s no reason to.”  And for the past several years, I’ve managed to marshal some reasons not to blog that sound like good arguments.

I don’t have anything to say.  In other words, there’s nothing that hasn’t already been said.  Now, this form of thinking is one to which I am prone.  What I’ve discovered, however, is that there are new ways of saying what has been said, and new audiences who are looking for a fresh take.

I’m not that interesting.  Blogging is a good way to become interesting.  It’s good to have a driving force that will push me to be more engaging, develop new interests, and to pursue the interests that I have more wholeheartedly.

I’m not a narcissist.  While there is more than enough shallow, self-centered banality that sounds narcissistic, it doesn’t follow that anyone who wants to put their thoughts in public is a narcissist.  There are writers whom I read who stimulate me, challenge me, and edify me.  These are results that don’t come from navel-gazing narcissists.

I don’t write that well.  My self-evaluation of my writing has deterred me from sharing most of my writing with anyone.  But the opposing point of view says, “how am I going to improve?”  The path to improvement is regular writing, revising, and sharing what I write.

I don’t care about being famous.  There are bloggers whose readerships is in the tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands.  Developing an audience and bringing dependable content to that audience sounds like pressure.  But building an audience is not easy.  It takes effort.  At this point, I’m writing as if I have an audience, but I’m far from being famous.

I’d rather teach than write.  Fair enough.  But won’t writing and editing and revising make me a better teacher?

I’d rather while away the hours in unproductive pursuits.  This is the honest truth.  But it’s one that I want to change.

What keeps you from blogging?  Why do you blog?  What motivates you to keep sharing and publishing content?  I’d love to hear from you!

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Theme for 2015

2015 Annual Theme: “Change the Script!” It seems that I’ve built a life script of making excuses instead of working to bring out the best in me and those around me. In order to begin to bring out the best in me and in others, the script that plays in my head, I need to change the script that “writes” my life. Instead of striving to achieve a breadth of goals a mile wide and an inch deep, I choose to focus on areas that bring the greatest joy, satisfaction and return on investment.

Have you developed an annual theme that captures your desires in coming year?  I would love to hear from you!

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