Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Can or Can't Do

Yesterday I realized a basic difference that I seem to have with many people: I have a "Can't Do" attitude.

Oh no, not about simple things like making it through the day or completing simple tasks. No, it's more in regards to high vision or grand plans (usually set by others) in which stretch goals are being set, at which point my brain starts to shut down and instead of considering the concept of "Yes, it can!" I mull over "No, it can't!"

So I'm wondering, does this make me a pessimist or a realist?

I'm sure the view from those setting the goals is that I'm a pessimist, the roadblock in any unit or organization. When everyone else is trying to find the reasons we can, I'm finding the reasons we can't. When everyone else is moving forward, I'm dragging my feet and then having to hurry up.

But I'm also a realist. I've dealt with the problems of rushed planning more times than I care to think of. Sometimes "We can" is a thin mask for "We have to, even if it's not prudent" - and so often those that set these high expectations move on to the next thing, leaving those of us who are "responsible for it" trying to cobble together something that will continue to function.

So how do I mesh the two, more of a positive "It's possible" attitude while maintaining some level of "what's realistic"?

A "can do" attitude gets things done, but a "can't do" attitude makes sure that they are done in a way that they can continue to be done.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Shinken

I have started practicing with my shinken - true blade, to those (like me) who existed beyond the world of iaido a scant few months ago. This is an actual blade, 29" in length with an 11" handle.

It's different from the what we usually train with, a bokudo: a laminate wooden sword (mine is 26 inches in length with an 8" handle). Obviously, for availability of use as well as safety, bokudo are what we use on a day to day basis - but the end goal is to be able to use the techniques with a shinken.

The first time I pulled mine from the sheath (saya), I almost dropped the darn thing: it was heavy! The first week, I simply had to practice drawing it and then holding it in the first cut position, not letting the tip fall to the ground (a trick, if your not used to holding a 8-10 lb sword with one hand). As I've been working with it, I've moved up to holding it steady as well as being able to begin to wield it smoothly as I practice overhand cuts instead of the "chop-fall-recover" mode I was using when I first started.

In practicing with the shinken, I realize how light the bokudo now feels and how relatively easy it is to wield. It leapt to my mind, as I was practicing last night, that this is how life is as well.

We complain the first time something occurs. We can hardly do it, or lift it, or move on through it. Then, as we practice it and actually do it, we find that it become easier and easier and the old way of doing things suddenly (almost magically) becomes effortless.

Heartening in a way, as I practice keeping my tip up, that the same is true in life.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Weeding

Yesterday I spent part of the afternoon pulling weeds.

I'm struggling with the concept of living in a rental house again after owning our home for almost 10 years. There is a level of responsibility and effort one puts into their own home, as it belongs to you: it's not only where you live, it's an asset.

A rental is different. Yes, I want to take care of it (because it's not my property), but the level of care sometimes becomes difficult find the cutoff line. So for example the back yard: I spent about two hours pulling out thistles and dandelions. With every pull, I started to see another five that I had missed. As I go over to grab those, eyeing the limp pile of greens in the wheelbarrow and calculating space in the garbage (already filled with leaves), my thoughts start to wander to areas I could clean up, or maybe re-establishing a section of grass, or what would I do if...

And then I snap back. This is a rental. Any effort I put it, while perhaps personally rewarding and giving Na Clann more lawn to romp through, is simply effort that will stay behind me when we go - which we will someday, one way or another.

And then I realize that my life is no different.

We are all just renting time in these bodies. They'll be returned to the Owner someday, and everything we did to them and through them and the things that we got to make their existence more pleasant will be left behind when we move on - which we will someday, one way or another. All the effort and time on the exterior, all the things we had to make them more livable, all the things we expended effort and time and resources on - all will be left behind, leaving us to meet with the Owner.

His question will not be "How did you beautify the rental? What did you fill it with?" but "How did you serve and glorify me?"

Let us endeavor to so work and live that our answer will not be "I made the yard more beautiful for myself."

Friday, March 26, 2010

Time Management of the Ages

One of the sempai (older students of my dojo) spoke a bit with our soke at the Tokai we attended this weekend. He and his wife speak Japanese, so they were able to interface a little more than the rest of us through the translator.

He asked the soke about his training and his life in martial arts. He was a busy man for much of his life: he became soke at an early age (mid-20's), had a family and a "regular" job, yet functioned as the head of a school. How, my sempai friend asked, did the soke train and improve in this?

Soke confessed that he was very busy at all times but had decided to focus on martial arts, specifically our own art. The keys to using his limited time wisely was (his own words):

1) Concentrate
2) Practice the proper technique

I heard this, and thought about it all the way home. It's deceptively simple, even if you add the pre-step: Focus, Concentrate, Practice the proper technique. But as I thought about it, it became clearer that this in fact is a valid and useful tool in managing one's life and goals.

Given the society we live in, the reality is that none of us have as much time as we want or need, and we'll never be able to do everything that we want or even need to do. For those things that we deem worthy (or required) to spend our time on, it becomes critical that we spend our time in the most valuable and useful way. If I concentrate fully on what I am doing in the limited time I am doing it, and I practice the proper technique in whatever I'm doing, it seems logical that I will improve in those things - in fact, I don't see where one could not. Even in the work environment, concentration on a single task and completing it according to whatever the template ("Proper Technique") is will almost certainly result in a greater degree of success.

Time is not multiplying - all we can do is simplify how we manage it to maximize our use of it.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Too Many Tasks On My Hands

Leaving work yesterday, I realized that I am the in the position of having too much to do and not enough time to do it all.

It's a careful balance, of course. The first place I always have to start is my own use of time: am I using it effectively? I always need improvement in this area, especially at work, which has the interesting sideline of being my main point of socialization as well.

But beyond time use, there is simply a point at which one has to look at the resources and time one has in hand and say "You know, there simply may be too much work here to do and we're not resourced to do it all."

You can imagine how popular this opinion is amongst management.

So what does one do - not only for one's self, but for the employees under one's care? Any suggestion that we can do anything but what is commanded is inevitably met with the raised eyebrow, the tightened mouth, the invisible opinion of "slacker" and "not a team player". To suggest anything other than all things can be accomplished by a less than minimal amount of people is to suggest not that tasks are not possible, but that you are not capable.

Why is it that I've become incapable of making decisions - critical ones - and am willing to defend them? Why do I, who constantly am full of opinions about resources and tasks and time in my own life, cannot apply this same standard to my career? Is it that I don't see the need, that I cannot defend this to those above me, or that I lack the ability to successfully demonstrate my case?

I'm not sure - only that too many tasks with too few resources end up creating issues that cannot be solved, only glossed over.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A Different Spring

Torrents from the sky
rip the phosphorescent night:
Spring comes with thunder.

A Meditation on Death

One of those "Stop and Think" moments yesterday. A rather distant business associate of The Ravishing Mrs. TB passed away yesterday. She die from Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, the brain wasting disease similar to that of BSE. She was diagnosed 36 days prior.

She was 43 years old.

It's one of those things that stops and grabs your attention at work, and then for the rest of the day. 43. That's darn near my age. And then you get to thinking about the totality of it.

43 is considered dead center in a lifespan in the US these days. This is the age where you're supposed to be in your prime earning years (per the actuary tables), planning for the remainder of your life, preparing your children for their own lives even as you are starting to find the balance (hopefully) of them taking less of your immediate time. Life's horizons for the next stage are starting to dawn; you may be able to see the fruit of the last 20 years of your life from college beginning to blossom.

Or not.

It gave me pause as I sat there, surrounded by paperwork of questionable value, demands from others about how I should fill my day, and crises which are only crises to a small percentage of people even at my own company. If I was notified today I had 36 days to live - and all of those good days, not the days typical of an degenerative disease which hardly present one with the faculties one has at full health - would I be ready? Would I look back on my life and say it was well spent and well invested, not in the material but in the relationships with family and friends and my service to God? Do I truly involve God in all my plans - not only the big ones, but the day to day ones - to insure that to the greatest extent possible I am living as I should? Am I spending my time energy on things that matter, or do I squander them on things of little import thinking that I will have time in the future to do the important things, time that is never vouchsafed me in fact?

And if any of this is true, what will I do about it?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Elegance

Elegant: Characterized by dignified richness and grace; luxurious or opulent in a restrained manner; characterized by a sense of propriety or refinement; impressively fastidious in manners and taste.

At Tokai this weekend, our soke, watching us perform a series of particular kata, stopped us with his gentle but firm arigatoo gozaimsasu. He moved to the center of the training dojo, and began to speak.

"Iaido must be elegant" he said. "People are afraid of swords. To make iaido elegant is to make people lose their fear and make it accessible to them." He then performed the same kata; his moves were smooth and graceful, unhurried and well, elegant.

It gave me pause, as elegant was not a word that I had heard in some time - not for years in common speech, and some time even in the literature that I read.

What is elegance? You can see the definition of elegant above: dignified richness and grace, luxurious in a restrained fashion, a sense of propriety and refinement, fastidious (paying extreme attention to) manners and taste. It would seem to be a thing to be sought after: a sense of propriety and manners, dignity, restraint. So why is it something at that we apparently no longer value - or even mention?

We have become a society obsessed by looks and attention and ourselves. Our self and our self image is important, often the most important thing going on in our own lives (and it should be so too in the lives of others). Our cultural heroes revel in the impact that they make through their appearances, sometimes even more so than the substance of their work. The ability to follow a sustained chain of thinking and logic has been replaced with the 3 minute song and the 30 second promo. Even in the business world, the well thought out and well executed plan is buried under the imperative of "Let's make money - now!"

Elegance is not flashy, but it can be beautiful. It is not loud, but it can be impactful. It is not a fast download of sensory images, but it can overload the senses.

It is also not rushed. It cannot be made better by a bevy of lights and colors and cameras and screaming fans. Often it takes time and effort to develop this elegance, something that we as a society no longer have the time - or interest - to do.

I challenge you: take one aspect of your life, one solitary element, and seek to make it elegant. See what a thing of dignity, grace, propriety and restraint looks like and can do - not just for you, but for those around you as well.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Desperateness

"Lord Naoshige said: 'The way of the Samurai is in Desperateness. Ten men or more cannot kill such a man. Common sense will not accomplish great things. Simply become insane and desperate.'" - Yamamoto no Tsunetomo, Hagakure

At Tokai this weekend, our soke (the head of our fencing school) observed us during our drills and stopped us. "This is not good" he said through the translator. "When you are doing the kata, you have to act as if it were real. Don't swing your blades - cut. You must incorporate desperation into your training. You must act as if you were desperate. This will give excitement and make your training real." He then had us go at it again, but this time as if for real.

To the greatest extent I could, I complied. I drew and parried with full force, not just touching the blades. My overhead cut (kirioroshi) was as quick and hard as I could make it. My retreat was low, watching my opponent.

As I reflected yesterday on my training and on the experience, what came to me is that this desperation of which he speaks is both incorporated and not incorporated into my life into the opposite positions of where it should be.

My job is a series of desperations day by day, also known in modern parlance as "Fire-fighting". We careen from situation to situation, from emergency to emergency, adrenaline always pumping and goals which are not of our own making always needing to be fulfilled. We have reached the point of the Greek saying "The bow that is always strung will break."

On the other hand, the rest of my life has no sense of desperation in it. I meander from idea to idea, task to task without ever feeling a sense of urgency to complete them. They then become only nice ideas to think about, rather than things that need to be done.

I need to reverse this trend: work needs to become less desperate, the rest of my life more so. Sensei is right that with desperation comes excitement - in battle the excitement of living or dying, in everyday life the excitement of succeeding or failing with the course of your existence (a form of battle, just more stretched out). I have allowed the two to become reversed in my mind and in my practice, which ought not to be.

At work, I need to chart a course and confidently move towards it, putting emergencies in their place as opposed to them putting me in their place. At home and in my personal life, I need to insert desperateness into those activities which should have them, giving the sense of life or death and the importance thereof.

Because in some cases, it's those things that are the true matters to be desperate about.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Soul

There are times when words become hollow vessels,
Shells of concepts which house appearance but no meaning.
There are times when emotions become landscapes,
Gardens which have been overrun by weeds.
There are times when our dreams become fantasies,
Movies that have no basis in reality but only in relieving our pain.

It is times like this that I wonder, Lord, why?
Why does it seem that I am made this way,
Always seeking something that does not exists,
or seemingly grappling with something alone
that I know others struggle with?
Why is the reality so often less than the potential,
the illusion more powerful in others
than the truth in myself?

How do I tell myself, that self that will not be turned,
that the reality is the reality; there is nothing else,
that even in the reality there is possibility for things greater
than I can possibly imagine?

How? I do not know.
I only know that I whisper words devoid of meaning,
feel emotions devoid of feeling,
live reality devoid of dreaming.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

How to Succeed - By Really Trying

Seeing the results of the Oscars this week, I'm prompted to think of what causes actors and actresses to suceed. It's not as if they start out as being "Best Actor" material or garnering multiple Golden Globes - more often, it's the end of a journey that is marked by such starts as "backup band guy" or "lady in diner" credits. As I was mulling this over, I especially thought of Jim Carrey, whose start was as a backup band guy in "Peggy Sue Got Married".

It crossed my mind because whether I continue in what I am doing or switch into something new, I will hardly start out at the top - so what enabled these people to do the same thing (in a far more viscious industry, I might add)?

This is what I came up with:

1) They do the best they can at whatever role they land. Jim Carrey (above) is the example here, but I'm sure there are a thousand more like it. (For example the first time I remember seeing Patrick Stewart in a movie, it was in the first Dune, which was a total flop. He managed to do okay later, though).

2) They have an idea where they are going. I recall reading of Jim Carrey, who made a carried around a homemade check made out to himself in the amount of $1 million when he started his acting career.

3) They are always seeking to improve their skills. I'm guessing a bit on this part, but I would imagine that in order to expand their abilities to get new and more expansive roles, they have to have the skill sets to make those roles possible.

4) They hustle. It's a cutthroat "What-have-you-done-lately?" industry, and no-one - especially when one is starting out - will do it for them.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Wednesday Blues

By the time I hit the midpoint of the week - usually Wednesday, sometimes as late as Thursday and as early as Tuesday - I'm done. All of my planning, all of my sincere hopes and best intentions are gone. I struggle to get out of bed, my peace of mind destroyed in a welter of general grumpiness and lack of energy.

Why is this? I ask both because of the fact that I get tired of living this cycle week after week and because it insures that I will never get closer to advancing on anything.

So what is it? Sleep? Could be a factor - I usually come off of the weekends as well rested as I am all week. Accomplishments? Depends. Some weeks I am well on my way to checking off my To Do list, other times not so much.

But neither of these encompasses the feeling of blahs, even downright thunderclouds, that haze the edges of my mind even as I write this morning.

If I had to categorize it, I'd say a sense of hopelessness.

By the middle of the week, I've realized (or at least think I've realized) that there's no sense of moving forward in my life, that in some cases the list of things I've set for myself are not at all accomplishable, in other cases that doing those things is not really moving me towards my goals. I'm then overwhelmed by this sense of "What does it matter?", followed by a hopeless sense of duty.

I can't keep doing this. I can't keep living from week to week on this roller coaster of "Achieve and Go Forward" followed by "Stay stuck in the valley for another week."

It's not enough just to set goals - they have to include goals that actually advance you towards somewhere.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The End of the World and Things

I finished watching Rolland Emmerich's 2012 last night. Overall pretty predictable for the end of the world movies that he puts out (although watching California slide into the ocean was sort of interesting).

It got me to thinking in this time of financial uncertainty and global earthquake instability about how we live our lives.

As you watched the pictures of Haiti or Chile over the last weeks, you saw pictures of complete destruction, pictures of people alive but with everything they owned buried under rubble. It's sobering as I sit here is my warm home, cup of coffee nearby, listening to the rain bubble down (from inside), surrounded by accouterments of living that one acquires having a wife and children, to think that all of this could inexplicable be beyond my reach by the time I get home from work today.

All the plans we make for the future, all the things we save for and save up, all can simply be immediately - and inexorably - change in the blink of an eye.

In light of that, how much time and energy do I put into these things?

Aye, there's the rub: pouring my time and life into things that in the end don't last and I can't truly control. Why is it that I am so reluctant to see that, or even to say that? Why is my first reaction so often "More, more"? Why is it that the things that are intangible - my family, my friends, my God - something that I don't view with the same sense of investment, the same sense of care and concern, the same sense of realizing that they are gifts which, by the grace of God, could be removed from my life at any time.

In Me, Myself, and Larry Phil Vischer quotes Henry Blackaby in saying "He who has something plus God is no better off than he who has God alone" - that things are not the addition to our lives that we so often think that they are.

What are you investing in today?

March Rain

Early morning rain
pours down, as the aroma
of coffee wafts up.

If the opposite
were true, would I love the rain
as I love coffee?

Monday, March 15, 2010

New Home Dawn

In morning stillness
Oak leaves drop, a clicking snow:
Prophecy of Spring.

Confidence

"Nothing splendid has ever been achieved except by those that dared believe that something inside of them was superior to circumstance." - Bruce Barton

Where does confidence come from? On two levels, I suppose: the day to day level of confidence, and the ultimate underlying bedrock of the Christian's confidence.

I ask this in the context of being one who often does not have a great of deal of confidence, at least in myself. There are morning like this morning that I feel ready to take on the world, to bend life's mighty energies to my purposes; and then there are the evenings when I roll home and hang my head in the car after I turn it off, feeling completely defeated.

So where does it come from, this confidence that enables people to do what seems impossible to to me to even conceive? I'd love to have that kind of confidence, the kind of confidence that enables one to engage in a career day to day knowing that by working on the true dreams of the heart, there would be a success. One reads of it often: the individual who, toiling away by night and early morning, achieves success in a given field and everyone is surprised that someone like "that" could do this.

On one level I understand it: when I feel confident, it's like a high. I feel alive, full of energy, ready to face the world. It's like the feeling you get after a run (only better, in the sense that it doesn't involve sweat). It's probably one of the closest things to the fountain of youth as one gets older, because it's not dependent on physical prowess or looks.

I know that my ultimate bedrock of my confidence comes from Christ, from what He's done on the cross on my behalf and the behalf of all sinners. As He is a promise keeper, I can have confidence that He will keep His promises and that all He promises will come true. My question is how do I translate this into a day to day confidence that will allow me to rise beyond my circumstances, see those goals and talents that He has placed within me, and move towards them?

In writing the above sentance, I see that I used the word promise a lot. Promise. One of the motivational speakers I read talks often of keeping promises to yourself - that in setting a goal you are committing yourself to complete it, making a promise. So often, we are more willing keep our promises to others rather than the promises to ourselves.

So maybe that's a place to start: keep the promises you make to yourself. Believe that as you keep your promises to others, you will keep your promises to yourself.

And then, of course, keep them, as the Primary Promise Keeper has kept His.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Friday Blues

Another Friday where I arrive at the week feeling exhausted, rather than exhilarated.

Why is this? I could chalk it up to a lack of sleep - indeed, it's been years since I've had a "normal" sleep pattern - but that's not the totality of it. Work? Work's been no more or less difficult than in the past. And we're going into the weekend as well - that period of time where neither of these two are a factor. Yet here I sit, desperately trying to motivate for the day ahead.

What is it about things that draws me to this point from time to time? It's consistent in the sense that it happens periodically without any visible reason.

Hope possibly? A sense that today is one more day like any other and (barring something revolutionary) it will end on the same note as every other day. How do I fight this?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Dip Ahead

One of the dips in the roller coaster ride raised its head yesterday: the exciting kind, where suddenly you find yourself staring straight down at a long line of tracks with no indication of when the tracks go back up again.

My first reaction, of course, is my typical reaction: become depressed, retreat, grumble. But this is certainly not compatible with what I proclaim, that God is in control of all the circumstances, and that I am to glorify Him - because the reality is that these things don't occur in a vacuum: even as on a roller coaster your fellow riders are watching you (well, maybe - they're probably watching the track), so those around me are watching me to see how I react. I proclaim I believe in an omnipotent God - do I act like I believe it?

Making God real to those around us is not only the case when we are in a good place, it's probably even more relevant when we are in places not so good.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Vineyard

My reading this morning included Mark 12: 1-12, the parable of the vineyard owner. In it, Christ tells the story of a land owner who clears and prepares land for a vineyard which he plants (including hedges for a fence, a tower, and a wine vat) and then leases it to tenants. At harvest time, the landlord sends his representatives to collect his portion of the harvest; the tenants beat some and kill some but send all away empty handed. Finally, the landowner sends his son, whom he believes they will respect. The tenants' solution is to kill the son (as the heir) and take the land for themselves. The landowner's final decree: he will cast out those who were currently leasing the vineyard and give it to others.

In the context of the gospels, this story is directed at the Pharisees and Sadducees, those two groups perennial groups that opposed Christ's ministry and bound the Jews to their laws instead of the law of God. Fair enough. But what struck me in reading it this morning was the activities of the landlord.

The landlord, Christ says, owned the land. He cleared it. He prepared it. He even planted the vines - and if he was coming back to collect the harvest, the implication is that the vines were not just newly planted but established (3 years minimum). He provided protection for it (in a planted hedge) and prepared facilities for use (a tower and a wine vat). Only after all this was done did he rent the land.

What are the responsibilities of the tenants? If you know anything of vineyards, hard work but not a great deal of challenge: prune in winter; manure in spring and fall, trim in spring; water in spring and summer, drive off the birds in sumemr and fall, harvest and prepare wine in fall. The hard work, the clearing and ripping soil and planting and preparing a water source and buildings are already done.

And what does the landlord ask for? His share, the share he earned for putting in the preparation and expense of the vineyard, not to mention the ownership of the land.

But the tenants are selfish and ungrateful. They don't seem to appreciate or realize everything that was done prior to their arrival, only that they "did" all the work but the landlord (who was in a far country and not visible) did nothing to assist them. Casting aside all gratefulness and memory, they attempt to hoard it all for themselves, forgetting that in the end, they have no ability to either hold the land or a right to it.

What a wonderful metaphor (wonderful in the sense of a stinging rebuke) for much of my own life in relationship to God. I neither own the world nor my own life: I didn't prepare it, I didn't make it, I just happen to be occupying it. God only asks of me that I care for the vineyard I'm in and give Him His portion of the fruits at the end of harvest - in both cases acknowledging the fact that He is the owner of the vineyard, and I am only a tenant.

My response? Too often it's like the tenants' of Christ's story: I fight against all God sends to me (not stoning or killing anyone, like that makes it better), denying Him the rights to which He is entitled. My "work" is "mine".

How often I get stuck on my "rights" and not on God's grace in ownership - or His patience in dealing with me, time and time again. Perhaps it's time to look down the nodding rows of vines in spring and remind myself Who made this all possible and what He is really asking of me.

A Prayer for Lent III

"Lord, make possible for me by grace what is impossible for me by nature. You know how little I can bear and how quickly I become discouraged by a little adversity. I pray You, make every trial lovely and desirable to me for Your Name's sake, since suffering and affliction for Your sake is so profitable to the health of my soul." - Thomas A' Kempis, The Imitation of Christ

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Purpose

An epiphany of sorts last night - in the sense of purpose of life.

I don't know why I hadn't seen it before. I've certainly danced around the issue before with other writings and postings, but it never hit me head on. What is my purpose in life?

1) To Glorify God.
2) To Advance The Kingdom of God

That's it. That's the purpose - or purposes, I suppose (they're sort of two sides of the same coin): to glorify God by my life, indeed by my existence, and to advance God's Kingdom.

How do I do this? Ah, there we fall back on some of the previous issues that have plagued me in the past, knowing what to do.

But maybe not now. After all, if glorifying God and advancing His Kingdom are my purposes, then what I do is a little less critical so long as I am doing those things. I have to believe that as I do that, other things that I am to do will become more apparent.

But some of them probably are. What are the opportunities that are in front of me now? What situations has He put in? What talents and gifts has He given me, what do I like to do? What audiences are granted me (that would be you, gentle reader)?

All of these are signs, hints, indeed tasks to be accomplished. What I am to be doing right now?

The things that are in front of me - right now.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Quick Thought for a Monday

My apologies - the van is still out of commission and I have to borrow a ride from Fear Mor this morning.

"I guess more players defeat themselves than are ever beaten by an opposing team." - Connie Mack

Friday, March 05, 2010

Frustration

So The Ravishing Mrs. TB calls me yesterday at work. "The Van is making a noise and gurgling" she said. "I think we'll have to take it in."

My first reaction - Frustration.

"Why me?" I roared to myself in my mind. "Every time it feels like we get ahead just a little bit, something else happens."

I run through the gamut of bad things in my mind, ranting and raving against anything: bad timing, problems, not enough money, undoubtedly some giant plot against me designed by the universe. Somehow frustration at The Ravishing Mrs. TB enters the picture, as if somehow this is caused intentionally.

All my plans, cast aside into the ash heap of the day.

But in the end, who am I frustrated at? Events? The World? God? Or just at my own sense of how the world should run to convenience me?

It's not the event that matters - it's how I react to it.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Jesus and Time

How did Jesus find the time to do what He did?

I ask this in the context of my own life, where on any given day I only ever accomplish half of the things I intend to do. I collapse into a heap each night (seldom now do I have the problem of falling asleep); each morning I seem to stagger out of bed half conscious. My day is filled with running hither and thither on this and that, an endless series of motion seemingly resulting in nothing.

And I, I have not nearly the life that Christ had or the purpose He came for.

How did He do it? Surrounded by people at virtually all times, many of whom sought miracles, having no true home in His three year ministry (I forget that everywhere He went, except by boat, He walked), so often probably feeling as if He could not even get His message across to His closest friends.

And yet, He accomplished all He came do.

So the question is this: am I seeking to do too much, not enough of the right thing, or the wrong thing?

Christ prayed - often, and for long periods of time, and still accomplished much. Do I pray? At anywhere near that amount?

Could it be that my seeiming sense of failure and His success is a combination of the two?

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Pursued

Another one of those nights where you wake up feeling not at all rested, chased into wakefulness by dreams that haunt you after you crawl out of bed.

Specifics - There were two or three separate dreams, one in which I was at at college attending, always have to move/be chased for reasons that were not clear to me; finding a booth that could be rented and writing on the sign up sheet essentially a manifesto about why I needed to rent it yet realizing that the writing made now sense; a recurring dream (second time) in which I am having to run from some kind of hideous evil in the shape of a initial lightening strike followed by a tendril of semi-protoplasmic ooze that one cannot let touch them but follows you around relentlessly like a small rivulet of rain, veering right then left, splitting way from itself as you double back, close doors, climb objects to get out of the way as the liquid tendril, a slight red heart at its center, balefully watches what you're doing, seeking only to touch you for a second to electrocute you.

The worst part, of course, is that you wake up in the morning feel pursued, not rested, your mind not on what lies ahead in the day but what happened during the night and "What the heck is chasing me?"

Which is, of course, the real question: What is chasing me to the point that it is pursuing me in my dreams?

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Just Like Them

In reading the gospels this time around (which I always do at this time of year in John MacArthur's "Read Through the Bible in a Year") I am struck by the patience of Jesus. Not just the patience with the crowds, although that alone is amazing: we read how He was surrounded by people almost continually, moving from place to place, constantly being importuned by individuals about their needs, from healing to spiritual warfare to who will feed them. The part that has really spoken to me is His patience with His disciples.

The more times I read, the more I am struck by the fact that the disciples were human, totally so. They missed the point - almost constantly, sometimes. They argued. They tried to determine how Christ should act ("Lord, should we command that fire come down from Heaven?"). Sometimes they tried to manage who came to Christ (as in the children), sometimes they put the whole crowd on Christ ("Who can feed this multitude?"). And most of all, in the most critical part of Christ's earthly ministry, His death and Resurrection and the redemption of mankind, the disciples never seemed to get it. Day after day, with the Son of God preaching repentance and the Kingdom of God, they seemed never - up to the very last moment and a little beyond - to get it.

Which, in an insane way, give me hope, because more often than not, I'm just like the disciples.

I argue. I try to determine how God should. I try to manage how people come to God, or turn the whole responsibility (including my legitimate role) over to Him. And so often, even though I am on the other side of Easter Sunday, I still fail to get it. My repentance is shallow, my service light, my faith more often bolt on that an integral part of my life.

But the part I must cling to in these times is that Christ loves me and is patient with me no less so than the disciples - or for that matter, the men and women that have gone before me for 2000 years. Christ never (thankfully!) forgets that we are human - not that that becomes an excuse for remaining where we are, but a confidence that even where we are, He still loves us - and puts up with us.

Because, I suppose, if there was hope for Peter, there is hope for me.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Second Violin

I have run down - or at least am willing to admit to - the reason that I don't try harder.

Senior year of high school, Spring Musical. If you were involved in any kind of annual performance, you understand the way things work: it's a seniority thing. Year by year you participate, slowly climbing the rung of "extra" to "says a few lines" to senior year, where seniors typically get the lead roles as it is their last year.

My senior year we did "The Sound of Music": Maria, Edelweiss, the whole works. Threemajor male leads, three major female leads. Three seniors, including myself, audition. Two of the three seniors move on to the lead roles.

I am not one of them.

I participated of course: played the butler (I always played the butler) and the local political chief, but the reality, at least the one that stuck in my head, is that if you follow the system and do all that's called for, you'll still only be second violin.

You wouldn't think this would be so crippling: after all, I was almost 18 when it happened (seemingly far beyond the years where such things make an impression) and it was only one item. But a significant one: it reinforced every concept that I had that I was only a support personnel, never a leader, and that no matter how hard one works it is always subject to whims beyond your control.

But to some extent, it probably explains why to this day I have always tended to move away from leadership roles and putting in all my effort: why, when it will at best mean nothing and at worst will be time and energy wasted.

It would seem foolish to base the outcome of one's life on a failure to be a lead almost 25 years ago, and even more foolish to use that as a lens to map out the future. Unfortunately for me, I am more wont to be foolish than I am to learn from the past.

Or was.

I cannot go back and get the lead (nor would I want to). I cannot go back and change the past based on a lens that was overcorrecting for a problem that was not there. I can, however, accept the fact that one failure to achieve through playing by the rules and effort is not indicative of how things work all the time. For that example, there are others in my life that effort and rules have resulted in great success. I need to turn to them, instead of the sad murmuring of a ghost that cannot be restored.

Today is a New Day.