A year of peace and well placed trust

So it is finally 2017…2016 was a pretty crappy year here in my house as it was for many I know. In all actuality, even though we all say stuff to the contrary, we know that the new year is really just another day in the long line of days that is our life. Life has its ups and downs and sometimes those days are mostly good and we have a good year and sometimes it is the opposite. Perseverance is the key…perseverance and trusting that whatever comes God is on His throne and all things will work out to His glory.

We went back to the mountains for Christmas this year and while I was there I snapped the picture above one foggy morning. It is what remains of an old train trestle bridge spanning the South Holston River. It has always struck me: these small trees have persevered through severe weather only rooted into the crevasses of the stones. How they came to be planted there is anyone’s guess but they have held on for decades in those rocks.

The interesting thing about trees is that their strength comes from their growth rings; the tighter the rings, the stronger the tree.  Rings are only close together in the years the tree has to overcome great stresses and thus grows very little; otherwise the tree can grow easily and the rings will be farther apart. The more stress, the stronger the tree and the more likely it will survive whatever comes its way.

It is easy to get caught us in the woes of this world, be it personal or global. I myself have problems not getting caught up in it myself. It is easy, especially in the bad years like 2016, to become downcast and sit in defeat, despair, and hopelessness. I for one have stayed there for far too long. Becoming this way leaves me catatonic in fear as life swirls around me. Life never stops regardless of our personal circumstances. This leads me to complete exhaustion and a complete lack of planning and prone to make major mistakes, and that perpetuates the cycle and lack to margin.

I have this icon of Saint Thomas that I keep in my wallet. I am unsure exactly of how it came to find its way there but I keep it there as a reminder that doubt and fear are normal but easy. It is easier to believe that nothing is going to change and have an “I’ll believe it when I see it” mentality. It is harder to take things on faith. The doubt and fear come from a place of mistrust, or at least, misplaced trust. I fear that XYZ will happen because I am misplacing my trust into myself and others and not placing that trust in the right place-with God.

Regardless if a child has a resurgence of illness or another financial disaster plagues this home, God is on His throne and all will be to His glory. It is laughable that I move my trust from the unfailing God to myself, a sinner and mistake prone human. It is laughable, but oh so easy to do. It is easier to misplace our trust into ourselves and others, that we can see and feel, and not place it where it belongs with God; because that requires that we trust the unknown.

Trials are of two kinds. Either affliction will test our souls as gold is tried in a furnace, and make trial of us through patience, or the very prosperity of our lives will oftentimes, for many, be itself an occasion of trial and temptation. For it is equally difficult to keep the soul upright and undefeated in the midst of afflictions, as to keep oneself from insolence and pride in prosperity.”
~St. Basil the Great

This year I have no resolution…no word of the year. There is no guarantee of tomorrow…or for the next breath, for that matter. Instead of living in fear I choose to trust in God. I choose to work toward my goals every day and no longer look at them as pipe dreams that will happen ‘whenever I get the time and money’ or ‘one day when I retire’. Most of all, I choose life..to live in the world as the creation of God that I am…because to borrow a phrase from the musical Hamilton, “Dying is easy, son. Living is harder”.

Counting Costs

 

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’ ~ Luke 14:28-30

It has been a while since I have written here. Many things have come and gone…good and bad. In the end nothing much has really changed though. I still have my same job (didn’t get the promotion), Elliana and Josiah are still just as sick, and the doctors still have no certain diagnosis for Elliana. Everything else has come and gone…except my shingles those have come and decided to stay a month or two. It is interesting however to note that for one reason or another I have changed greatly. I’m not sure when it happened but I stopped caring so much, or at least not caring enough to act on every issue. Not in a bad way mind you but in a boundary setting way. I’ve learned to let things be where they are and not try and fix everyone’s issue.

At work this has meant letting things go until the person whose job it is to fix it deals with it instead of jumping in and getting it done because I know how. At home it has meant putting aside external factors and being a bit more lax on the chores to do in order to be more present and engaged. In all of this I have begun to care less and less about what people think of me because of it.

Thing is I grew up in a small mountain town where things move slowly and have for centuries. People take the time to slow down and enjoy the day to day and to help one another. This is a major juxtaposition to where I am living now. Here people, for the most part, are in a constant state of hurry and multi-tasking as they do it. I see it every day, people driving fast and erratic while texting or talking to one another while texting someone else. It is enough to drive you crazy but it is also easy to fall into that trap.

I am ashamed to say I fell into it myself. The cultural push to hurry and get as much done as possible and to be constantly connected to work/social media got a hold of me. I felt as if I was required to respond to those work emails on the weekend or answer that Facebook question/comment right away. I felt that pressure and I know that my boss helped encourage that mindset, she has been known to say ‘You are an exempt employee and I can work you however and whenever I want’. This added unnecessary stress to our already stressful lives.

For some reason I’ve snapped out of it, can’t point to any one thing that made me change my mindset but I have. Truth of the matter is no one will die or even be injured if some computer at the my work isn’t working. There is so many stressors in our life right now that we can’t control (ie.medical and financial) but I don’t need to add anymore stress to the mix. Most likely this added stress was the cause, or at least a contributing factor, in my shingles. Maybe so maybe not but I do know the more stressed I get the more it hurts and the least it has hurt me was when I was on vacation hiking in the mountains with my family.

This is of course the curse of technology. The internet, computers, and smart phones have given us great opportunities and advancements but they come at a cost…as do all things. We as humans, and I am a huge offender, have an issue with counting the cost of or actions before acting. I think this is a human trait and we have done it since creation (hello Adam and Eve) but I do wonder if it is more of an issue in this modern era. It seems that all our modern “conveniences” have given us an avenue to distraction and force us to make rushed and rash decisions.

Luke 4:28-30 sticks out in my mind when I think of this. There Jesus is speaking of the cost of discipleship but he gives the example of a man wishing to build a tower. He say who would not first count the cost and make sure you could finish it so you would not be ridiculed. This is also the verse that I point out when a new building project at a church begins. Sadly all too many times those churches have not made sure and come up short or had to borrow so much it put them in a financial hardships.

I am trying to change that in me at least. To do that however I must slow down and think things through. It is hard to examine a situation thoroughly if you are moving at 100MPH. The world will not end if I take the couple minutes to think. Of course also pivotal to this is to be rested. Making decisions while exhausted has never worked out for me and I dare say most people are the same. Of course this might explain some of my bad decisions. It is also important to note that it is vital that you accept and own your mistakes and work to learn from them. Look for the cause of the mistake not for an excuse for it…often times they are polar opposites of one another. One helps you to accept and heal the other breeds contempt and anger.

The fact of the matter is life is fragile and precious. Treat it with care and enjoy in all it has to offer…good and bad. My grandfather used to say ‘everything (happens) for a reason’ and that is true…even if we don’t know or understand that reason at the time. It is in that process of change from bad to good that I see God in the day to day. He does turn all things to good…we just have to pay attention. To pay attention you must slow down.

Nature’s Call

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Nature (n.) the material world, especially as surrounding humankind and existing independently of human activities.

Look up nature in the dictionary and there are several definitions but this one is the most raw…the most natural definition as it were. Mankind likes to take control and control our world. As a race we strive to control our lives and create our own world. We use terms like “man made park” and “man made lake” to label what we call our creations. However, these aren’t creations at all, not in the truest sense. We manipulate the created to make into something we desire and call it our creation, but we have not created anything we have merely manipulated the created world and rearranged it to better serve us. We build dams to have lakes that allow us to power society and manipulate the irrigation of our land. We beat back the weeds and cut down the trees to make our cities with all their conveniences. We do these things in the name of progress trying to control the world around us and in turn our lives.

The irony in all of this is we haven’t truly created anything and unless we continually fight nature what we have built will be destroyed. If we do not continually cut back the woods they will take over. If we do not continually monitor our dams and relieve the water pressure regularly the dam will burst. Over the centuries we have slowly tricked ourselves into this belief that we are creators of our own world. So much so that with the modern advances in science we are trying to clone and genetically modify plants and animals. Slowly we have told ourselves we are a pseudo-god that can do as we wish. Sadly may have used the Bible itself to say this is good quoting Genesis 1:26 as their reference for their right to dominion.

Many have used the term dominion to mean we can do whatever we want with the world around us. In truth we can’t. To have dominion means we are called to be a good steward of the land, to watch over it and nurture it. For centuries mankind did this in relative consistency, there were those that exploited the land but as a general rule the land was taken care of and nurtured. Somewhere this all changed, in my mind this begun in earnest at the industrial revolution, and we began to treasure money, power, and things more than we valued the world around us. We became obsessed with inventing to make our lives easier and have more and to have it quicker.This has morphed into the instant gratification device crazed society that we have become.

Over time we have not only lost the respect for the land but also for one another. We have begun to stop respecting life. As a society we don’t respect the natural world and feel free to take from or simply destroy if it suits our current desires. We see evidence of this with mountain top removal and deforestation. Nature is destroyed in the most harmful way to make our lives easier or make more money, and in the process poisoning the people and nature in the area. It is easy to point the finger at the coal company who blows off the top of mountains or the real estate industry that is stripping the land to make way for a shopping mall, but we are to blame as well for it is us, as consumers, that drive the profits of these industries.

God is everywhere but mankind has invented distractions so that we may not hear or see Him. It is only in nature, surrounded by His creation, that we remove these distractions and can truly hear and see. I find that it is in nature that I am able be come closer to God. Yes, in church while worshiping God I can feel His presence but even during liturgy there are our man made distractions that dull the experience. In nature, if we leave the cell phone and other tech off, we are not only able to worship God ourselves but also are able to join with creation in worship.

He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” ~ Luke 19:40

So many times my time in nature has balanced me back to center. When I am feeling discouraged and worried nature drives home Matthew 6:26 , especially during winter. When I am feeling angry my time in nature God revels to me how my anger is pride based and humbles me. In nature there is a type of freedom that one can only get while surrounded by God’s creation. Turn off the cell phone, leave the tablet and internet at home and walk into nature and simply sit and listen to creation it will change your perspective. When it is time to come back into your regular every day life try to hold on to the knowledge gained and return often.

Stewardship Pt.3

 

Dropdown_Paradigm~ Image from http://www.thwink.org/sustain/resources/images/menu/Dropdown_Paradigm.png

I’ve been talking and thinking about Stewardship a great deal recently. Stewardship is truly a work in progress. It is not something that is automatic. I believe at one point in time it was automatic but somewhere along the way the thought was not passed down from one generation to another. I know this is certainly not the case for me. My wife sent me a link to a blog post over at Charming the Birds from the Trees that I found both inspiring and a bit convicting. I have found Stewardship to be a difficult row to hoe. The thing is those things that are truly worth it are difficult and take investment. We are in a society of mass production and instant gratification. If we want something chances are it is out there had can be had quickly and cheaply. On the surface this appears like it is a wonderful thing… who wouldn’t want to have everything at their fingertips and cheaply at that. The problem is that the value of something is tied to the resources spent on it. Be that time or money. This is why things are cheap…we have perfected the manufacturing process decades ago then we add cheap materials and cheap labor and we have a product we can send out quickly to the masses cheaply. Problem is because it was made cheaply with cheap materials and labor it breaks easily or is not really usable as advertised. The company doesn’t care that just means you’ll go buy another one and they will make more money. This is actually an economic concept called planned obsolescence; where a product is designed to break or wear out after a set time…usually quickly. This low quality combined with the consumerism culture is taking its toll on us. If we want to admit it or not we are damaging ourselves and the earth.  According to the EPA in 1960 88.1 Million Tons of garbage was produced… in 2011 that number was 250.4 Million Tons.* (to be fair thanks to concerted recycling efforts that number is slightly on the decline) Not including the environmental toll of manufacturing and shipping that alone is a huge increase in strain.

What is the use of a fine house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on. ~Henry David Thoreau

The environmental impact is an easy one to see but what about the silent erosion of ourselves…this is harder to see. As we diverge from the quality things in life and into the cheap (and I am not just speaking of materialistic things here) we lose the sense of value these things have. Speaking materialistically if we elect for cheap tools we will care for them less and less. They will be left out in the weather, fail to keep up proper maintenance, or maybe even become lost forever because what is the point…I can always get another “new” one for cheap. It is here, in this mindset, we loose the stewardship of the things we have. I can tell you from experience it is easier to take care of a $80 ax than it is a $20 one…it is worth so much more and is less replaceable (especially when you have to run all over town to find it).

Another unfortunate side effect has been we are exchanging real quality experiences for fake virtual ones. It was only a natural progression really…once we started replacing quality for quantity and real for artificial it was only a matter of time that we did the same with our relationships. With the invention of the internet and social media we have replaced meaningful deep relationships with shallow ones. Face to face relationships are becoming fewer and fewer with the majority occurring with our coworkers or other in our church. We have lost the connection to our neighbor. Social media is not all bad…I enjoy using it too (all be it sparingly)..it has allowed us to keep in touch with those that we are geographically separated from but it also has handicapped our relationships we are not geographically separated from. Think about it this way what is the point in asking that Facebook “friend” at church how their week has been if you already know. They may need someone to take the time to ask because they would never put in writing how their week really went for the world to see but the question never comes because it is already known or at least assumed. It also can lead us into a state of envy and discontent. If we are always concentrating on what everyone else has and dreaming of another life it plants that seed. (again speaking from experience)

Whereas social media is not all bad there is one cheapening of relationships that is. Intimate relationships are being replaced by their cheapened counterparts. Anyone in a real intimate, caring and loving relationship knows how hard it is. It takes work and vulnerability. So many are making the decision to forgo the difficulty and chose instead the “instant gratification” of pornography. Pornography has been there for years but with the technological revolution it has gotten so much easier to get…and secretly. No more is there a person checking the ID’s at the smut store it is an automated “I Agree I’m 18” button. Sadly more and more children are seeing porn even before they understand what it is. I am sad to say I was one of those children. I was 11 when I found the “stash” of dad’s dirty magazines. That would have been in 1993 today the average age is 8….8 years old. **

Porn is a drug with the same addictive properties (once again I speak from experience). It is a synthetic method to release chemicals like dopamine into our body and with the more that is released this way the more addictive it becomes. And like drug users it takes more and more to keep getting high. This often leads the person to change their behaviors and they begin seeking increasing more hardcore and taboo fixes. This spreads out into society and the addict stops seeing the women and men around them as humans and only sees them as pathways to pleasure. Pornography has the ability to destroy a marriage with its effects. ***

All of these things..from one extreme to another…have a similar theme and cause. They all stem from the disconnect from the value of the item…relationship…etc. The second we allow ourselves to see something or someone for less than what they are worth we begin to loose stewardship of that person, place, or thing. Sadly by the time we realize the importance and true worth it is often too late. Cue the Passenger music.

So what to do??? How to change??? I hate to say I haven’t figured that all out yet. I can tell you it requires a reboot. A reboot of thought. A reboot of the heart. I started with prayer honest vulnerable conversations with my wife and priest. I walked away from social media and really the internet (as much as an IT professional can) for a while, and when I feel that pull to look at my Facebook, Google+, and Pinterest I walk away for a while again. The smartphone makes that harder but I found the trick is to uninstall the apps and not take it to the bathroom…but make sure you carry a good book or you’ll be reading the shampoo bottle. I will tell you though all jokes aside it isn’t easy and the only way to change is through Gods grace. Trust me I’ve tried doing it on my own only to be left angry and frustrated. It boils down to where we direct our energies…as the old Cherokee story says:

One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside all people. He said, “My son, the battle is between two ‘wolves’ inside us all.

“One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”

“The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf wins?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

 

One final note to anyone struggling with pornography addiction there are places and people to help. A good start is Fight The New Drug or XXX Church. It isn’t easy but it is worth it.

 

*http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/nonhaz/municipal/pubs/MSWcharacterization_508_053113_fs.pdf

**http://www.focusonthefamily.com/lifechallenges/love_and_sex/pornography/how_to_confront_children_using_pornography.aspx

*** http://www.fightthenewdrug.org/get-the-facts