Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Sometimes Shoes Can Make the Man!

"He was dressed as if everything he wore had come from different stores or from a rummage sale, except that the crease in his trousers was sharp and his shoes were shined." 

Author: Beverly Cleary. As a writer of fiction, I think Beverly Cleary likely had a great sense of the obvious. It is easy for us so called everyday folks, to saunter through life with great expectations, minoring on the mundane things of life, while paying little attention to those around us. While our thoughts on design may be more eclectic in nature, such as wearing different colored socks or even different shoes for instance; we have entered an area where there is a sense of a new freedom that aims at self-definition, unlike perhaps any other time in history. Am I saying that today’s generation is more self-absorbed than that of previous ones? Well, perhaps so, but not to the extent that times have changed so much that human nature has taken a drastic downward spiral. It would be easy for me to just conclude, as it is the nature of some to do perhaps, that my generation is the cause of all that seems horrible (while basically only changes taking place) in the world today.

I remember from my youth that my grandparents, along with many others of that era, were heard to state that their generation and the next, were going to the dogs. I grew up in a changing era like most have. No matter the place or time in which you live, there are always changes. It is dangerous to generalize with such a statement, but I am quoting from the era in which my childhood took its cues. From my youth, I am reminded of my first knowledge of a local murder, and then the Cuban Missile Crisis, that just happened to be acerbated in our area by the fact that we had some huge fuel storage facilities just a mile or so from town.  The fuel held in those tanks, used to refill our Navy ships, could easily make that installation become a target on the east coast. The youth of that time began to feel an urgency to move toward a different outlook in life. It became the time of dissent, a moving away from the status quo and into a freedom highly misunderstood by the previous generation.

This was a confusing time, when the reaction to a world that seemed bent on destruction, and was peopled  with a generation who still remembered the tough times in the awakening of the 20th century; folks who lived through a depression and some through 2 World wars by this time. Some had just returned from the Korean War, and it seemed like conflict would never end. Children of that generation found new freedoms, were spoiled (as many would see it) by a new economic surge that not only tolerated inflated living, but promoted it. Children in some instances had more than they needed, and many cases, they got whatever they wanted. The process of evaluation took on new meaning, or had the debilitating effect of having no meaning at all.

I remember walking through the Boston Commons in the late 1960’s. It was a time when reactionary pursuits were part of the norm for the so called “Now Generation”! For much of rural Eastern Canada, where I grew up, the full realization of its meaning, or the possible effect on how society may one day reflect its influence on our lives, was hazy at its best. People, post-Second World War, wanted something better for their children, but were in fact feeding them the idea that more is better, that there was little or no meaning in the value of what was before them; everything became expendable or replaceable. This began to translate into a synthesis of complicated issues surrounding the value of the future and so youth of that era began to live for the moment.  That sadly included many of the subliminal changes in lifestyle, moral and ethical evaluations for daily living as well.

I have had cause to wonder myself about the changes that have taken place, as my wife and I struggled to raise a family amidst the complacency and over-indulgence of a society bent on what we felt was merely a self-gratification gone awry. I have to freely admit that it is easy to slide into that fashion of living and not even realize that it is the path we are taking. But, what is my reasoning for these thoughts at this time in my life? Am I merely falling into a pattern, historically seen throughout past generations where the seniors of society see a falling away that brings alarm and fear to their hearts? The “going to the dogs” evaluation has both its realistic undertone, holding some degree of truth, and a misconception of both the diversity and resilience of each following generation.  How we view the times, evaluate the potentials and the processes by which each generation formulates and carries out its mandates, reflects our image of where things are headed in the future.

Don’t get me wrong! It is important to watch the processes and have watchdogs who can evaluate in both context and potential. Otherwise we will end up with situations such as the world has seen before in the midst of both cruel and meaningless conflict, due to a runaway liberalism that lead to overindulgence and calamity for the world at large. Hedonistic pursuits at any level of society can lead many or all into situations that become detrimental to culture as whole. But, I digress… It is not wrong to want change, but change should take place to make things better. We find ourselves today overwhelmed and drowning much of the time trying to decide which modifications, in many of the facets or our daily lives, are both untenable and distracting. Transformation at too fast a pace adds confusion, and believe it or not, distrust of the system. Let us not become a society of cynics or unbelievers, all because we are let down by fast-paced, overrated change in almost everything, that previously was felt to be a standard in our lives.

So, you ask, why elude those shoes in today’s rant? Well, shoes are merely a reflection of some of the foundational factors of our basic philosophies.  Each of us has some level of standards, but each of us needs those foundational principles that hopefully keep us grounded, and secure in identifying both who we are for personal reasons, and for practical interpretation by others. Does it really matter if we wear a bowtie or a necktie to a formal gathering? Today’s eclectic interpretation of the norm may be more restricting than you might think. While the lobbyists advance the cause of much of the backroom deals in both business and politics, we are still under the watchful eye of the mainstream of middle-class society in this generation of boomers and the millennials. One writer considers the proposition that the latest generations will consider even more strict references to political correctness, which may, in fact, translate into the laying down of a narrower tolerance for many of our more fragile and perhaps abused standards.

Going back to the quote found at the beginning of today’s blog; how we feel about the dress codes of today, being tolerable or fashionable, may not mean as much as those more corporate reflections, on the level of care taken to be both neat and tidy, as a norm in our more formal presentation. I can remember from my youth a gentleman who worked at a labour job, but wore a white shirt, tie and vest, every day to work. He polished his shoes every day and took great pride in being the best reflection of his personal standards, that he could muster. My question might be then… Is that wrong? While not everyone can or will appreciate such a view, there is a level of respect that one gets, seeing a person who, while reflecting his/her level of economic status/prominence/influence, still takes pride in presentation, by way of preparation. I know that fashion will often be directed by those fads where the unkempt look supersedes the norm of bygone days, but hey, have you noted that even the commercials we see on TV still reflect the need to be both stylish and tidy.

I am not ready to write-off every manifestation of fashion and design just yet. I also cling to the desire so far not to write off each coming generation, as those who are going to the dogs. I don’t understand every whim and wisp of change that seems necessary today (a grand understatement I am afraid) in most facets of our lives, but that is merely a reflection of my age and a lack of response to both the vastness and speed of change taking place. I am no longer capable of the resilience needed to keep everything in perspective like I used to, but that is OK… I have children who fix my cell phone and tell me that I am almost there; being one step from a nursing home! LOL. Do I want to look as though I am aware of respect on Sunday morning, as I go off to Church? Yes! Do I feel the need to wear a black suit and tie? No! But, I do want to reflect the fact that time with God, on this day is different, not just another moment at the workshop; unless there is a particular reason for a total dress-down level of code, for that occasion.

I find it hard to always know the difference, I admit. Knowing when to feel uncomfortable for someone else and when someone may be feeling uncomfortable because of me, does make a difference in my life. I am not one to tie myself to expectations too much anymore, but they are a part of life for all of us, and we can’t just walk away thinking that is matters not, because it does, at one level or another. Being our brother’s keeper still holds a lot of credence in life, whether we like it or not. We know what goes around, eventually comes around, and if we plant, we shall reap what we have sown. So be kind to that individual who may seem a bit mismatched in his/her choice of clothing (or lifestyle), but also do take time to have a look at the shoes… there you may find a bit of reflection on the relationship between care and situational presentation. A rush to judgement may not offer us some great potential for personal growth, by too quick a negative evaluation. In the walk of life, surprises come in many wrappings, and some of those surprises could change our life for the better. It is like walking near the edge, it is important to know both limits and parameters. Never rush at anything, be aware of both who you are and where you are going with decisions. And, before we get too involved in the critical judgement of situations or even of others, look long at the shoes. But don't be too quick to rush at self-judgement either, believe me, from my life's experience, there are plenty who will do that for us.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Can You Still Dance to the Music?

Growing up, my Mom had various sayings that all had both meaning and effect on our lives. One, in particular, was about our changing state as we aged. You may have heard it before. The second stanza had these words:
“When I was young, my slippers were red; 
I could kick up my heels right over my head. 
When I was older my slippers were blue, 
But still, I could dance the whole night through. 
Now I am older, my slippers are black. 
I huff to the store and puff my way back. 
But never you laugh; I don’t mind at all: 
I’d rather be huffing than not puff at all!

This anonymous poem had the title “My get-up-and-go has got up and went!” It was so common to walk by that little plaque on the wall and chuckle. For many years I could quote it by heart, but time and tide erased the words, and then, as my age started creeping up on me, that prose came back to mind. Lots of things can kick-start memories for us that remind us of either better, or past, days.

I perhaps have mentioned before that in my work I visited nursing home a lot. Even before I entered ministry I was often called upon by families to visit an elderly person after they had had a stroke. For some reason, I most often understood what they wanted or needed, though their speech may have been very slurred.  I have no corner on some miraculous ability to understand, but perhaps a bit of empathy for those who suffer through uncontrollable circumstances in life. Growing up, surrounded much of my early life with elderly people in our home, I seemed to grasp the changes in life that come no matter what, as we age. There were a lot of changes in our household in my formative years!

I for some reason was able to connect with the elderly and that made me an asset to some families. One dear lady at a Bible Study, which I was conducting at a nursing home, answered me right away when I asked who thought they could jump some six feet between two lines marked on the common room floor. She brightly said with a huge smile on her face, “I can jump that right now with no problem at all!” There was laughter in the room and we smiled at each other as I continued with the lesson. Afterwards, another lady came up to me and said, “What was that Marjorie thinking; she been a double amputee for ten years!” I explained that amputation did not change her minds ability to easily jump that distance like she could when she was perhaps sixteen. The lady laughed; “Guess she was right… easy back then!”

We for a variety of reasons limit ourselves through the years. When I was single I felt no hesitation to go on various questionable adventures. There is a lot less common sense surrounding our mortality during those early years of our lives. Not long after my wife and I were married, I began to travel with a white-water canoe group, taking trips on rivers that were on occasion questionable, to say the least. On one such outing, we lost eighteen of the twenty-one canoes that had begun the journey down a rain-swollen river. It had been surveyed about a month earlier and deemed safe, but after torrential rains, it had then reached a scale beyond safe. It did not take long to find that heavy water in narrow rapids was far worse than had been estimated earlier, and was going to take a toll on both our bodies and our canoes. Being dumped twice, and losing the canoe that I shared with another, I decided to walk out the rest of that day. My decision was based on the responsibilities I carried at both home and work. I was now married and had a family, and to take unnecessary chances seem foolhardy to my wife and extended family. It was not a hard decision, but one that for certain made changes in my life.

One’s ability to maintain youthful exploits varies with both circumstance and conditioning. My early life’s work was rigorous, dangerous and took its toll on my body. I say that, and yet a career change took me from the danger of being electrocuted to one that had its own set of dangers, innate in both environment and spectrum, due to prerequisites that confront on an almost daily basis. In India, on one of my first trips, I blew out both knees and years later that damage has caused me to hesitate taking stairs unless absolutely necessary.  I can walk on the level with no problem and I am thankful for that. We tend to make decisions on those two previously mentioned reasons, circumstance and conditioning. Some would say, “Just stay in shape!” Others are more circumspect in their advice, as life for them has changed due to sudden events of health or other critical issues.

I don’t think that we are meant to just dry up and fade away. I know many seniors and near-seniors, who live active or near hyperactive lives, and are doing fine. In the words of one of my long-time friends, “I wish I had not jogged for so many years!” The constant compaction on “his” particular knee joints made a difference, while others are able to jog for years and seem to do just fine with it. Is there a magic age to begin to slow down? Can we gauge our lives on what others are doing for recreation and health maintenance? While I would love to do some of the things my friends are doing, I still have to maintain that level of health I blessed with now, while not allow myself to slip into too much of a sedentary lifestyle just yet. There will be lots of time for that when the kids slap me into a nursing home!

So … This Grampa got his groove on one day this past week! Remember that stanza in the prose up there? It seems that though my slippers may now be black, I can still wring one dance out of these old knees. You can laugh now, or be terribly shocked that an ol’ Baptist minister would do such a thing! I do get that latter reaction, but that is expected. I was sitting listening to a local band that plays my style of music when a lady asked me to dance. Well, truth be told, she compelled me to dance, as she almost dragged me kicking and screaming onto the surface of the exhibition arena floor. Screaming no… embarrassed yes, but while my mind said what am I doing, my heart was remembering fifty years ago when this was second nature and fun was being had. I relaxed and shuffled with the music. Did it hurt me? No! Did it hurt anyone else? No! Really all it did was remind me that most things are possible while some remain only tenable. The acceptability factored comes in with our evaluation of personal social and moral registers. I had several comments following a social media post that was only meant to add a bit of levity to the day, for my friends. Two, in particular, stand out. Both held credence, both held joy in their own right, even though they were very different in content. I smiled while reading both.

There is little we undertake in life that doesn’t add meaning a lot, in the huge picture. Some say that the best we achieve are those things meant to enhance the lives of others. While I agree with that sentiment, for the most part, I also know that that many a life has been spent in the endeavour of pleasing others, only to eventually find personal emptiness in later years, due to a lack of self-care along the way. The gal who grabbed me at the music event had one thing on her mind and that was to help “make” me have fun again. It was not a judgmental call per say, but one based on her limited knowledge of my situation and circumstance in life. She was challenging me, and it was neither “bad” nor wrong to do so. I did enjoy myself once I got “out there”! The little things we do each day need to have a positive cumulative effect to them, as they collectively form both attitude towards life and an acceptance of our situation therein. I’ve heard it said that for each good deed, there is a bonus in it for you. I wonder if that is not sometimes too hedonistic in nature. If I only do things for others to make myself feel good then I may be missing the mark. But on the other hand, we have to find a balance in all we do and so never doing something for others may lend itself to a self-indulgent lifestyle that is devoid of meaning in the worst degrees.

Well, whether I will ever dance again, is not the question here. It may be more along the lines of “Are you up to the dance?” LOL, there are many degrees of joy in life, many levels of ability or skill, and many degrees of need that just seems to be either unfulfilled or forgotten in our lives. Who we are, on any given day, may be gauged by many factors; but I am thinking that as I grow older, I can still jump that six feet across those lines, just like Marjorie back in the day. If my physical ability on any given day, matches my mental agility (we must be careful there… with a chuckle), why not take the challenge from time to time; if when all is said and done, nothing amiss is taking place.

If you have read my blogs you know that I live on the edge, and walk most of the time on the edge. You also know that statement carries with it so much breadth in meaning, that it can be scary on lots of fronts. Do I ever get nervous or afraid? Why yes, we all do at one level or another. But I, fortunately, do not walk alone. Not everyone is so privileged to be in my circumstance or situation in life. I have a loving wife and family, and a faith that has carried me through the best of times and the worst of times. Actually, there is little that does not make us nervous, as life drops it worst in our laps, but with love and support, we seem to make it through. As we are taken to the edge, or walk near the edge our minds may be flooded with doubts of all kinds and that “is” the norm. Circumstances confronting us, decisions to be made, and the harshest of all scenarios, being deteriorating health conditions, can wear us down, but it is just another walk near the edge. My reoccurring statement, that you may have read before, rings true at all times; ““Living near the edge is not bad, it has moments of testing, moments of required courage and moments of extreme joy... It's all in how we define the view from there.” So, can you still dance to the music? Life is not a continuous funeral dirge; it is more often be a call to action in response to a still lively heart-beat! Go get your groove back, if it is among the missing… it’s good for you soul… I’ve been there and done that!

Monday, April 16, 2018

Always Darkest Before the Dawn

Moonlit nights have always seemed special. Not everyone would agree with that of course; especially perhaps teachers, who lay claim to the idea that those days, surrounding the Full Moon, are the worst for classroom behaviour.  For me, most nights there is just something about the ability to walk around and being able to see features that while during the daylight are quite familiar, now take on new sheens and hews, becoming almost magical. Oh my, I am sounding artistic, and that is not me. Ok, here’s the skinny on that one… I just enjoy the new perspective a moonlit night gives my most familiar surroundings.

In my youth, I was terrified of the dark. I am likely not alone in that category of fearful childhood states. I am not altogether certain how I got to be that way, but as I survey back through time, I can perhaps see a few outstanding incidents that may have contributed to my phobia. I won’t take time to air my laundry here today though, as I have other things on my heart. A lot of years have passed since my first fear of the dark ended in stitches. My phobia was rewarded with an open gash in my forehead and a terrible headache, as I careened down a dark hallway in the night, only to run smack-dab into a door jamb. I remember my Mom telling me later to look around the room (with the light on) and see if there was anything that made me afraid. Of course, there wasn’t.  Her answer for a cure was to have me close my eyes, and recount what I had seen and then to see if anything there upset me now. Again, of course, there wasn’t… Mom was right there beside me. But, I guess I figured out that while there were things that could come out of the dark to scare me, for the most part, the darkness was not that much different than the light, so I eventually overcame my childhood terror.

Suffice it to say, there is something about the night that can be both disarming and alluring at the same time. It is like we hesitate to be in the dark, but curiosity often calls us out into its mystery. This following illustration was not curiosity, it was out of necessity. I had the occasion, in my young adulthood, of walking many miles down a lonely midnight road toward home. There was no traffic; it was a Full Moon and for the most part, over 15 miles of the 20 I travelled that night, there were no street- lights or structures. Lonely though it was, it seemed peaceful and the sounds and shapes of the night brought no fear. The years now have unfolded…. Almost 50 years in fact, since my moonlight walk returning home from visiting my girlfriend…. Oh…. It was worth the walk… I married her. I had to go to work the next morning on a paving crew and fatigue and the aches and pains of hard work made the journey that much harder. Looking back I recognize that the benefit of youth is that your body bounces back faster, and your body and mind can sustain a lot more than you may be capable of at later stages in your life. The journey toward old age can be strewn with varied challenges, which like the extreme labour in our daily work, tend to wear us down so that the darkness of the night, becomes once again a fearful time. That statement needs clarification I know.

The other day I took an old friend, with pneumonia, to the hospital. He has his troubles, as we all do, but his troubles are compounded, as well, by the reality of cancer spreading through his body He puts up a good face to his situation and makes plans for the day, the week, and the future. In our chats over a game of cribbage, conversations may range from how much timber we have to cut to complete his supply of winter’s wood for the next year, the challenges of the work he is doing on any one of the projects he has on at one time or another, to stories of his 80 years of travel, work and relationships. But, he fears the night. Like many of us who are getting on in years, the reality of his demise is sometimes a part of what he faces each day. Most nights are times of interrupted sleep, a harsh reality for many who for whatever the reason, find it hard to get a complete 8 hours of restful peace.

You might ask, “Why the fear of the night at his age?” As curiously odd as this may seem, we are not always afraid of the dark, but perhaps are more afraid of the dawn… the process of the night is its progression toward a new day.  Youth holds in its essence that idea of the utopia of invulnerability. I used to watch extreme sports a few years back, (people climbing free-style without a rope, up sheer cliffs and in remote places) and they undertook their sport with such seeming lack of care or fear. Their motivation was the adrenalin rush they got, and they were willing to take chances beyond the norm… they looked forward to each new challenge to defeat. After a while, I became so tense watching these people taking their lives to the edge that I had to give up watching.  I remember my own Dad who one day suddenly stopped watching his favourite TV show, Saturday night boxing. He said the doctor told him that it was driving his blood pressure up and it might be better to give up watching boxing and live longer. I began to think that perhaps that was worthy of my consideration as well, so I gave up watching those extreme sports events.

So, where’s the correlation between extreme sports and fear of the night you ask? Have you ever considered tomorrow in its fullest reality and begun to fear its potential for trial and risk? The best example is perhaps a common one that is easily understood, whether it has been your own experience or not. There are many who face financial loss during job change due to redundancy or closures. Most families today depend on double wage earners to keep the household and the family afloat, and in these families, the hardship of the loss of one or both of their incomes can create a whole bevvy of emotional stresses, and cause a rollercoaster ride of anxiety and fear over the coming tomorrow. Thus we find this parallel in that fear of the night is an exhaustion created by not knowing what tomorrow will bring and the reality of its coming can be almost unbearable.  My friend fears what tomorrow will bring as he lays a bed at night; knowing his situation and facing it alone, in the dark.

Back in the 80’s, when I sang in a quartet, one of my favourite songs was “Give Me a Song to Sing at Midnight” by the Kingsmen. The first verse started this way….”In my darkest hour my lonely troubled hour, when walking by faith's the only way, I would ask of You one thing, and that would be a song to sing…”. Not everyone can sing a song and find peace when darkness brings distress, not peace. Growing old has its parallel in many situations in life, but we do not all face the same circumstances. Growing old may be one of those situations that most of us have to face, as there is no cure for old age. The key I am told (and have been told many the times, by many people) is growing old gracefully. For those that know me, that may be a true stretch of one’s imagination, but I am willing to try. I digress,… let me get back to my favourite song, during my night terrors… Ok… a bit over the edge… my worry moments at night! Better? I, like everyone else out there; and yes you, as a reader also my friend, have those moments. Life is not a bowl of cherries, but it need not be a sewer-pit of despair either. While struggling as we do sometimes during the dark of the night, with the worries of the coming day, we need to be reminded that each day has its redeeming element.

For me… it is faith that gets me through. I know that not all who read these blogs walk the same path as I do in life. I have no great expectation that all do, but as I write I record my experiences, and assemble if I can, some meaning to the how and why balance in life keeps us near the edge, and not over it. God with His presence and His peace provide for me more than a cushion to life, He adds meaning and direction. During my years of full-time pastoral ministry, it might be expected that spiritual challenge could not factor into the everyday life of a member of the clergy, but it does. We struggle as much, or perhaps even more than most, for our own set of reasons, and a song to sing at midnight becomes very appropriate. Your tomorrows will perhaps be different than mine, possibly different even than that of my friend, who faces the uncertainty of each coming day… maybe, your situation is even worse.

I preached yesterday on a topic which we like to overlook. The message title was, “When Faith and Belief Come into Conflict”. The struggle arises when we want to believe, and have faith, and yet we become overwhelmed with the enormity of the problems we are facing. Humanity, with its natural frailty, can take us to the edge of exhaustion, as we search the meaning of what is happening in life. We often ascribe to one of the many outlooks on life that shape our response to trouble. The first might be Dogmatism… “The old way of handling this is always the best way and I am convinced of that.” The second is Pragmatism… “I am willing to do what works best.” The last is Realism…. “Everything is beyond our control… so it is useless to try!” Which perspective we take as we face the day, or more importantly the night, is the key to finding a holistic life in peace. One can argue that faith need not be a component of the equation, but let’s face it, we all place our faith in something. The key is placing faith in the right location, to have it be a true and lasting answer in life.

For those whose reality is a daily struggle, and a night-time of restless anxiety, over what tomorrow will bring, it is oft the stuff of the continuing journey of living near the edge. The older we get the closer to the edge we come. It can be scary stuff for sure; it can also bring peace to others, who after a long struggle seek a rest from the weary battle of keeping on, keeping on. Whatever your situation today, my theory is that each day holds something for us and not all of that is bad. I personally have so much to give thanks for each day. I am reminded of the old bit of advice, which has great meaning for me these days as I creep up in years, “Remember to stop and smell the roses along the way!” The journey towards the reality of your particular edge, may be darkest before the dawn, but sometimes there is the beauty of a golden sunrise to make it all worthwhile. My prayer is that there will be a golden sunrise for you each day; something that will remind you that no matter what follows, there are moments of great beauty to behold, beyond the dark of the night. Perhaps... God will provide that song to sing at midnight; His comfort will bring peace... all you ever have to do is ask.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Till the Storm Passes Over

It doesn’t seem too many years ago that storms appeared an accepted part of our lives. Perhaps it may just have been my youth that made it just another exciting part of our yearly events. Every winter I reminisce about how deep the snow used to be in my childhood, how long driveways were hand shovelled, and even before my time roads, had to be kept open by community members who took their turn at clearing up the snow on roadways in front of their homes. Do we have storms like we did 50-60 years ago? For those of us in Eastern Canada, our recollections don’t need to go back to far, to be aware of the famous Groundhog Day storm of “1976”. Oh my, the upheaval caused by that tempest.

I remember watching the news as stories of damage hit the headlines on our television and radio stations. The damages ran into the millions of dollars along the Eastern seaboard of both Canada and the United States, without one life being lost. We often just shrug our shoulders and get on with life, because we consider the blessing of not too many lives either lost or interrupted by these storms… but is that really a correct assumption? It is difficult to look into the private lives of the many whose welfare and livelihood changed drastically due to that particular storm, and this was just one of many types of storms in life.

Back in 2002 a rogue wind tore through Southern Nova Scotia and caused much damage to woodlands and shoreline. People wondered where the storm came from, but it was a series of different airflows that united and suddenly turned to hurricane force winds. In late 2017, and on into the starting days of 2018, we have had a few bad storm days. With high winds and odd weather patterns throughout eastern Canada, people in many areas have had to be without power and telephone communication (landlines) for 2-3 weeks. In these days of reduced maintenance crews due to cutbacks, private contractors have to be brought in to fill the gaps and progress has been slow. People who have to rely on electricity for heat, and especially those who, due to our ageing population, are hooked up to lifelines which need landlines to operate, are at a loss.

We get used to having our creature comforts, but when that changes, our lives take a dive into apprehension and sometimes despair. This past evening my wife and I took a drive along our waterfront which is but a few houses down from where we live. With high winds and unusually high tides, we were expecting storm surges, and so it sparked an interest for us to go out to have a look. Only a few minutes later the police closed Dock Street to traffic and onlookers began their quest to record the event with amazing videos and pictures of the rising tides, winds and the wave action it was causing. The whole waterfront along Dock Street was flooded and in some cases, people were evacuated. Damages caused will have to be evaluated, and time lost while repairs are made or equipment replaced, may only be the tip of the iceberg, as the exact damage is surveyed. The fortunate will give thanks, but those who sustained damages will need time to recoup losses and recover from the storm.

Life does not always glow with the joy of sunshine and warm breezes.  When twists in the road suddenly bring disruption and disaster, it takes a strong sense of self-reliance and more importantly a deep faith that we are not alone in all that unfolds, to get us through. A dear cousin of mine reminded his followers (on social media) that we have a higher power on which to rely. While this generic term gives a sense of someone out there, my thought gives light to a God of mercy and courage, as we stand in the shelter of His hand upon our lives. I have often been asked why God allows tragedy, upheaval and yes, bad things to happen if He loves us so. There is no easy answer to that question, as it requires an understanding that we know so little of this God we love and serve, as His people. Just like our parents sometimes allowed us to make mistakes, go through trials and temptations, but more importantly were hopefully there to hold us through the pain of sickness and hurt, so God allows things to happen, not to test us necessarily, but to remind us that even through the worst of times, He is with us. The Psalmist David stated that even though he had to walk in horrible places, he was not alone; he had no need to fear even death.

Today in this short reflection on the storms of life, I am reminded that storms come and they go. How I approach their presence, their destruction, along with any fear I may feel, it is simply a superficial part of living that comes and goes. Anything I have is merely a garnish upon the act of living. Do I long to keep what I have?… absolutely!… it is part of my human desire for comfort. But, in the end, we could lose all and still be blessed. That is the difficult part! Letting go of “stuff” and losing everything is never easy. I have stood alongside those who have lost it all, as their homes burned, along with all of their treasures and keepsakes. While all I could do was hold their hand for a moment, God was already working to renew their losses, as His people dove in to relieve their pain with community generosity and love.

Today is the day after this, particularly powerful storm. Above is a 2013 pic of what Dock Street would have looked like, but last night it was pounded by heavy waves. The historic Barrel Factory surrounded by water took quite a beating.  I was able to go to bed with a simple reliance upon God’s protection for our community and His help when and if there were damages to be repaired and property to be replaced. Till the storm passes by, many the heart will tremble, many are the fears that arise, but storms do pass by and the darkness of the night is followed by the light of day, and renewed hope. Why not put your faith in trusting God. Sure, things will go awry, they always do, but how we face those moments, days and sometimes even weeks or months, will reflect our trust in that higher power; God who is our guide, help and hope.

Last night we looked over the edge and it was rough out there. Living near the edge has its benefits, but it also carries with it those moments of great storms as well. Keeping safe takes two things in my estimation; the wisdom to not be reckless with our attempts to find stability in comfort and patience to ride out the storm where necessary. For most seasonal storms we are given advanced notice, so be prepared when you can, and give your fear to God; He is watching over you. Standing at the edge of the storm is scary, but put into perspective, so are many other things in life. Be safe until the storm passes by!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

A Candle in Our Window

Not everyone gets excited about Christmas in our hometown. When I stop to think about it, there are some who do not celebrate the event at all. It is no great surprise for us, as we stop and think about it, even in small-town rural Nova Scotia. The days are gone when it was a natural assumption for everyone to begin to get excited when the Eatons and Sears Christmas Wish Books came out in the local order offices. For those in the dark on that label of “Order Office”, here is the skinny on that one. Each town, and in some instances each community, had a local store where they could go to submit and then pick up orders for both of the named catalogue companies. Each fall children waited in great expectation for the Wish Books to be delivered so that their parents could go pick them up and the initial perusal could begin. Soon pages had their corners turned down and items were clearly marked for interest and pleas for their placement under the tree were made.

Now, all that information about Wish Books will date those who understand, and you may chuckle at the memories it elicits. How many hours were spent pouring over their pages; sometimes writing notes, or letters, to Santa explaining how and where he could find the items being wished for, along with an assurance that we had been good all year? In my early childhood (the 1950’s) we looked forward to Santa being on the early evening CBC programming, and listening to his little speech, followed by his wonderful laugh, as he wished every boy and girl a good night! Even then I began to realize that not every boy and girl got their wish. The harsh realities of life meant that many (far more than I realized at that time) had no real Christmas at all. It had little to do with culture or tradition… it was more about poverty, loss and so many things beyond life’s control. We sometimes overlook those truths. We hide them from our mind's eye, hoping that things will be the same for everybody. We merely want our personal and family situation to find a brighter, more meaningful measure of peace, joy and fulfilment, above all the stresses of preparation and hype surrounding the Christmas Season.
In this generation, diversity of culture along with a heightened respect for the traditions/beliefs of others has softened the language of the Season and it is sometimes difficult to know when to wish someone a Merry Christmas. We find ourselves hesitant, not wanting to offend their beliefs, tending to be embarrassed by our inability to proclaim the joy for the season. I believe in diversity, but still defend my right to celebrate what I believe, as long as in doing so it does not clearly offend someone personally… within reason. True diversity is found not in self-right alone, but in common deference for difference. Our joy is made complete when we love one another with openness and presence rather than indifference and aloofness.

Though commercialism has reigned in much of the traditional true meaning of Christmas, there still survive those elements of the season that remain. They are the “Hidden Meanings” that have become mere decorative rudiments that touch the heart of familiarity, more than that being tradition. Someone was reminiscing to me a few weeks back that it was becoming harder for them to “get it all out and in place” each year. Yet Christmas seemed to be missing something for them without those familiar ornaments, lights and special decorations. Our home is not a strict reflection of conformist traditionalism. Ok… who knows what that means? More to the point… who cares? Well, basically our home follows more the true meaning of Christmas and not the commercial enterprise that it has seemingly grown to be, but varies to a larger extent from the “old look of traditionalism” of our grandparents. We buy and exchange gifts, but we also make gifts; something that I enjoy as often as I can. With a gaggle of grandchildren and all the wishes that may find their way to our hearts, there are some things that can be realized and some that cannot, but nevertheless, Christmas is about the “Reason for the Season” in our “Faith Walk” not just about gifts being exchanged. Faith is not just a belief; is it a life strategy that finds it meaning in, caring, sharing and presence, which means much more than a “one-off” presentation of generosity… it is a lifestyle of meaningful presence in the lives of others.  Ringing in my ears is that jolly Santa shouting forth, “… and let’s make every day just as happy as Christmas Day!”

So I digress… I am known to do that… reading this “Stuff” takes patience. We have a tree. It doesn’t look like my grandparent's tree. First, it is not been plucked from the forest… it is stored in a box from Christmas to Christmas. Second, it does not have tinsel or garland, popcorn and cranberry strings adorning its branches. Third, you may have to look very hard to see glistening balls or icicles… they will only appear in your imagination. So… you ask… what “does” your tree have for ornamental presentation? It is artificial, so there is no odour of freshly cut fir present… rather bland eh! In our mind's eye, it is not the “presentation” as much as it is the “representation”. It is a tree… OK … artificial yes… but there’s still meaning for sure! Without debating the mixed histories of “the tree”; its presence in our home reminds us of the central place of memory, along with the joy of having a focal point for the Season. Our tree has lights of various colours, poinsettias, a few meaningful ornaments that our children or grandchildren have made and here’s the kicker… it has bears. Yes… lots of bears.

My wife loves bears. Our grandchildren have collected bears for Grandma, and they get added to the tree each year. Atop its branches, sits a beautiful bear angel. I did mention that we are not “strictly a conventional Christmas tree” family! I am asked each year for my opinion about a proper time to put  up said tree. I guess that most in our region begin to decorate for Christmas in either late November of early December. We are home in early December, so it seems to be appropriate to have it in place to enjoy before Christmas Day… so, up it goes around the first week in the month. I enjoy a front row seat that allows me a clear view of its presence in our home every day.  For me, not all memories are joyous, so a fun tree filled with “our memories”, representing both the family and its connection with our faith, has deep meaning for me.

We also, like many homes in our area, have candles in the windows. There is just something that draws my heart in when I see candles adorning the windows of homes during Christmas. Wonderful displays of the Christmas presentations are judged, viewed and held in awe, as we tour the communities to see all the decorated homes, but still, the practice of candles in the window, hold for me a special place in my heart. The tradition stems from a very practical application of adding a light to the window, to guide a missing one home. Somebody once said, “Yeah, the old man is out getting drunk and his wife wants him to come to the right house!” Well, maybe so, but the point was that she wanted him both home and safe with her again. Do we really take in the poignancy of the meaning of some of what we do? Not everything is just about laughter and smiling faces.

On the water, fishermen once depended on the lighthouses along the shore to not only guide them but to keep them from harm’s way. The simplest of accepted practice becomes mundane in recognition, just by virtue of its design. Do we question the headlights on our cars or the need of a flashlight in our homes or automobiles for emergency use? How about those bright street lights at intersections along the highways. Common practice makes these items almost unseen, not by any ineffectiveness, but merely due to their collective presence in our lives. Without those lights, our lives would be much different.

Then there is the angel or the star placed on your treetop at Christmas; if in fact, you do celebrate Christmas in your home and life. Like the light in the window, guiding the missing person home or welcoming the guest in, the treetop star has a purpose as well. It is a reminder of the “Star of the East”, that once guided the Wisemen to Bethlehem town, where the Baby Jesus lay. The angel atop our tree still reminds us that the announcement of the Christ Child’s birth came to mere common folk (the shepherds on the hillside), not just to kings and governors. How you perceive either the treetop star/angel or the lights in the windows, may make a tremendous difference in what Christmas becomes for you.

As you read today, I pray that you might find a deeper meaning for your celebration this Christmas. We tend to put so much effort into the preparation, that our energy is expended in the work needed to carry off a day, that literally just flies by. For many, it is followed by a horrible anticlimactically decent into exhaustion and for some even depression.  Take time to stop amidst the cookies, cakes, treat making, gift wrappings and decorating, and remember … God’s gift was a child, born in a manger… no frills or banners there… just a star, some shepherds, along with a variety of animals…  a truly a humble event. Let’s not make Christmas more than it needs to be, but more a time of family, friends, and the celebration of an event in time given to us. May the light, perhaps found in your window extend welcome to others this Christmas! May God’s richest blessings flow into your lives as you celebrate the birth of Christ this year!

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Bard asks: Is Silence Golden, Or Just Plain Yellow?

To my Dear Wife Karen; Thank-You for this thought provoking title, spontaneously submitted!

I had never before been given a topic or a title for my blog, that might be opened up for my personal interpretation, regardless of the suggested idea put forward. This title, when offered, I receive from my dear wife one day as we were driving alone together. She has always seemed to enjoy my musings, so in conversation about my latest blog, I casually asked if she had a topic that might be of interest to her, and others. Each of us thinks differently and that is a good thing. While I had my original thoughts, as I mulled over in my mind a direction that the title might take me; at the time she offered no explanation on her idea. Before I tackled the theme that was now pervaded my thoughts on the title that she suggested, I decided to reconnoiter the lay of the land, and see if there might be some different revelation forthcoming from such a valuable source. She is such a dear and after a few minutes of circumspect silence, she thoughtfully voiced her reason for the suggestion, and left it for me to flesh out, and to later pay the consequences, if it did not meet her standards. I am not too concerned; I have not failed her yet, as far as I know, in literary undertakings. Your first insight into my real life! (Yes, I did chuckle as I wrote that!)

There is a duality in our natures that creates within us some very opposing situational events in life. For instance, what we may say in a moment of great challenge, might not always elicit the response we desire.  We live day to day under the assumption that everything is straightforward while we are very young. It doesn’t take long for us to understand that life can be complicated; as issues arise greying the areas of our understanding, while complications and contrasting voices expound differences of more than just opinion alone. It has been said that if you put 2 people together in one room, you will get 3 opinions and this presents the unstable foundation upon which we begin to set levels of personal expectations, and our perception of life being lived. That period of life, known as our formative years, is where we begin to find more than a confusing comprehension of a looming complexity, mixed into an already overwhelming diversity that life holds for us, and can lead us to the slippery slope of cynicism and doubt.

 It begins sometimes with the actuation of life’s most confusing issues; that being the challenges found in bringing up children in our home. I grew up hearing those directives, meant only to keep me in line and safe, yet bearing both the ridiculous and apparent message of confused context that most often portrays the frustration of a parent at their wits end.  At least I pray that is all it ever becomes. Have you ever heard someone in defeat say to their child; “If you don’t stop crying, I am going to give you something to cry about!” In fact I found myself using that same phrase as I as a parent, much to my chagrin. It did nothing to instill an assurance of process, in the hearts of my children, which would lead to perhaps a better dialogue of understanding and a positive outcome for both them and me. But I am able to now reflect on how hopelessly insufficient it all was, in helping my children to understand both their situation and my own, in such given circumstances. Ah, those awkward moments of self-confession. 

For those who have studied history, or even read novels on historic themes, you will know that in past centuries that spousal relationship was highly protected in secrecy, in fact just as much as one’s personal privacy. Not really so much has changed as we might think. Today secrets are still prevalent in all facets of society and are perhaps most blatantly visible throughout politics, as we well know. It is not good, we are told, to have a total open window into the running of our political machines. Too much information made available undermines security, fiscal planning, and economic stability… if all that can be believed. One might become totally paranoid and not want to discuss anything with anyone, if the barriers of total secrecy were broken down altogether. This brings us to my first premise, containing its own irony, when considered from a deeper perspective.

If silence is most often found while being totally alone (where silence is actually possible), how can it be golden? Here we must begin with the definitions related to the understanding of the old proverb; “Silence is golden!”  The internet relates that the poet Thomas Carlyle, translated the phrase from German in Sartor Resartus, 1831, where it is concluded that silence gives one the time, ability, environment to bring forth beautiful though, due to having time for clear and more purposeful thought (paraphrased). Most people are social in nature and will not often withdraw into a most private realm of presence without drastic provocation. You might say that we love to have interaction, the sound of laughter, conversation and as the mood strikes, and in some cases, the loud intervention of music and entertainment to heighten our zeal for life.

To withdraw into oneself, away from the din of the world, is not always as uplifting as we might think. For those of us who are introverts by nature, there can be a healing level of comfort to find ourselves alone from time to time. I understand from personal experience that this is not always the situation for everyone. Personally I was literally dragged from my shyness and the comfort levels I had in life, while remaining behind the scene. One day God called me into those arenas in life which became; as the phrase I have used often quite aptly describes it, as merely tinkling cymbal and sounding brass. I was called to the fray, the administration, into leadership when all I wanted was to be just one of the labourers at the table of life. Is there a clear and obvious time where we always feel content, at peace and yet fully engaged, while in the midst of total silence?

I have met people who find it difficult to find themselves comfortable in total silence, being enabled to bask in the possibility of total relaxation or the opportunity to find inspiration, either in problem solving or the healing of the soul. They have a tendency to panic rather than relax. Most may define it more normal to use their ability to withdraw from the world and curl up with a book and steep themselves in in a quiet time of reading; but, is this what we can call true silence. We may not hear the children’s playtime, or the television’s low expressions of media, but is this true silence? We have to ask then this question; “What can be defined as true silence?” In the observation of eastern meditation, it could be defined as focused presence, the absence of thought along any vein of concern. You can see the dichotomy of the issue at hand.  It may be that much depends upon our desire for outcome. Thus is the quiet reading of a book true silence for the soul, if one is in an interactive state with the plot?

Where there is an overwhelming negativity to find ourselves in a state of emptiness; to awaken to the fact that we are more confident in the presence of the others, desiring the opportunity to interact for our own comfort, the idea of silence being golden rings with less of a kinship with our take on life. Here is where the idea of silence, as being just plain yellow, begins to find the basis of meaning in some perspectives. There is no right answer to everything in life, but here as we have considered the first of the varying viewpoints on this proverb, let us at least take into consideration that the variables found in those perspectives do not always have a more correct or acceptable answer. If silence is to be both a unique and acceptable state for all of us, then may we offer to those who seek both true silence in the emptying out themselves in meditation, and to the others who seek a more quieting comfort in whatever level of silence seems most appropriate for them, a loving respect for their individual choice.

This brings me to the second premise which contains a certain element of fundamental decision making, where again not everyone feels either secure or comfortable. Is silence really golden or are we fearful of speaking out and being heard? I was never told that my opinion was worthless by my parents. Of course there were others who made it plain that what I had to say meant little in the grand scheme of things, but those naysayers were mere mortals like me and in that grand scheme, it is sometimes better to have not spoken, than to decide to choose to make a fool of those who chide you. After years of chairing very large boards and committees, I soon found that when the time is right; in God’s timing, your voice is heard by those who need to hear what you have to say. But, it does build one’s character and sense of worth to hear someone say to you; “It’s OK… I want to hear your opinion!” and really mean it. I have questioned, down through the years, while counselling with people, whether they ever had a voice in anything. Sometimes people can be very cruel.

I grew up in an era where children were to be seen and not heard. Well, perhaps I am only partly right in that; it was merely on the fringe of acceptable practice in families at that time. I grew up in the early post Second World War generation. I was born into a family who were loving, and for the most part accepting of everyone’s voice on matters. I remember when our Mom decided that it was necessary to reconfigure our home to accommodate both our family and our grandmothers. There was also to be a built-in added income flat upstairs, to give us more financial freedom, which would allow my Dad to work less hard to make ends meet.  My mother at the time was busy, when time afforded, making drawings, and so with delight I waded in with my own set of concept drawings, which ranged from underground bunkers to images of castles. There was no end to my creativity and each plan was accepted as part of the process, even though they were kindly rejected for more modest and feasible models.

The point here is that perhaps the level of accepted interactivity, modeled in family in our early years, goes a long way toward what level of confidence we display in being forthcoming, with our opinions or revelations about self or situations, in our later years. Time does not heal all wounds. Once stung, twice cautious, as a proverb seems to ring as a more temporary truth, but actually has a more lasting influence on people that we might think. Without the opportunity, somewhere along the pathway of life, to overcome such life shaping negative influence, one may always struggle to feel either equipped, or at ease in situations calling for opinion, reflections, or even one’s own defense if needed. I used to use an illustration of this concept being a real part of growing up and finding the ability to trust. When an infant is placed on a tabletop and we hold out our hands and beckon them to run into our arms. If they feel secure they will, without much hesitation or great consideration, toddle or run into your arms, even stepping off the edge of the table to do so. As long as you don’t drop the child, causing them their first experience of fear, they will repeat the action and giggle in enjoyment while doing so. But, drop them, or allow someone to enter the room shouting their disapproval, stating that the child could fall, then trust is ether lost or badly shaken. We are products of our upbringing in many ways, shaping our personality and forming our behavior in community.

So there is this further complication in life, where it is not always golden to be silent. In this latter premise of thought, persons withholding from interaction for whatever reason, or on the other hand those others who want answers, may be of that opinion that silence is much less than golden. Consider the case of two people seeking love in their relationship; with one person who does not feel the need to speak openly after the vows, and the other who longs for those moments of intimacy in sharing self, in spoken reflection of life history or personal desire, here golden is far from an adjective for silence. It is more likely that in this scenario these people may be finding silence as just plain yellow… some worn out and faded, diminishing joy, in life. I’ve worked with some relationships not too far in the past. A wife once related to me that her husband had not told her that he loved her after the wedding vows were spoken. His take was simple; “She knows that I love her…. I told her enough to get her to marry me!” Life is not always as simple as we presume it to be. The complexity of issues for all of us can rob us of meaningful interaction that might otherwise allow a blossoming relationship in life.

There is of course “that” silence, quite often misunderstood, and that is in relationship with God. There is so much to be said on this topic and I will deal with it in a greater depth another time. But, in the case of silence with God, it is far different from that silence of God. In life, no matter our nature, we can come to God freely and in confidence of His hearing us. We may feel that “His silence” is not golden, for it “is” sometimes difficult to hear His voice above the scream of our constant and consistent pleas. “OH!”… you say! Many are there who forget that Biblical characters,(even the Christ), had to withdraw, and in silence await the strength, courage and direction, forthcoming from God for their lives.  Are you waiting in silence for that loved one’s voice to join yours in intimate conversation, or more importantly awaiting God to speak plainly, clearly and loudly, so that the intention of His message for your life is succinctly understood? Remember if you will, that in the case of God’s silence, it is for our good. I pray that your decision for silence is golden for you and those around you… not a mere yellow reflection of what should be for a more desirable, healthy and secure life. May the Lord bless you in your attempts at a positive silence… it is living near the edge when attained, and the view from there can be astounding!

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Those Golden Years – Where We Wear Out, Rust Out Or Just Fade Out

As I began to approach the later years of my life (I guess I am there now) I have begun to think about the past more, and it is reflected in this series of pieces with other themes on memories, thus now the Golden theme. Down through the years from our adolescence on into what becomes the age of supposed maturity, we have occasion to examine our lives. Being a pastor for nearly 30 years, and laymen steeped in the work of all facets of the church before that, I experienced many of the uplifting times in life, as well as the sadder moments.

I was never a daredevil so to speak, not really, but I was up to a dare or a challenge, if it seemed reasonable and within the norm of my latitude of acceptability. There are those things that young people get caught up in from time to time, as you hear the words; “I double dare ya!” I was not however the type to just leap in without due consideration of consequence, not just to me bodily, but for me psychologically. Ah ha, you say… he was a person of reason even back then. No… I am not saying that! I was afraid more of what disturbance it may create within family and community, with the negative effects on my desire to maintain an acceptable decorum. Ok … perhaps a bit of a thinker even back then. The ordinary pulse of growing up includes the push and shove from within the peer group, and we naturally do our best to stay on a reasonably strong footing, because if you didn’t, it could mean disaster for you socially. 

I didn’t have a lot of friends, a few perhaps, but none who would turn out to be BFFs, in my case anyway. Was I a total loner then?... no not at all. I was athletic, and it led me to several types of teams at school until I began to work, and then my time was taken up with that necessity in life. I enjoyed the evenings out in the group settings of dances and some parties. I was not “the” social wall flower, but I wasn’t a VERY popular person in school either. I had my run-ins with the bullies of the time and people who were perhaps a bit jealous, when I received an athletic award at one year’s graduation; but for the most part my life in school was quite normal I believe. I was however an “administration pet”. I got along well with the office staff and leadership of every school I have ever attended and there have been a few. Enough said on that subject.  So I made few friendships that had expiry dates! The hard part of it all was that I began to realize that these friends, though not bound to be best buddies for life, still tied me to memories that I cherished and there is for me an element of sadness that that entails. 

As the years have turned into decades, and those into generations, I have tried to cautiously rekindle some of the fringe friendships that I nurtured to some degree in my childhood and adolescence. As the social media has made contacting old friends more accessible, I did spend some time cultivating that idea with only little success. Those who I have found, and felt I still had a close enough kinship with, have remained my friends on the media for some time now. It is good to watch their families grow, as they began to have grandchildren of their own, and in some cases, we still carry on weekly interactions of jests or blessings for one another. As life sometimes announces, the time soon arrived, when the joy of remembering had its difficult moments. I can’t say exactly when I lost my first friend to death. It was some time ago and his death was a shock, it was sudden, and it was a heart attack. I have had heart problems of my own down through the years, and it was my first reminder that life is precious, and perhaps I needed to take better care of myself. 

Where does time go we might ask, as suddenly we realize that we are no longer the young, energetic persons we used to be? I had never really looked deeply into a mirror before, and gazed into a strangers face, until the time of my father’s death. Having parents alive and situationally present in our lives, seems to define us as still having a modicum of youth still remaining, I believe. Well, I paused that morning, in front of his bathroom mirror as I began to shave, and gazed almost in disbelief, to see a man present and looking back at me; he was a much older version of who I used to be. I have to admit, it was troubling to say the least. He was wrinkling, there was a heaviness above and below his eyelids and those once flat and sleek eyebrows had suddenly begun to look bushy… just like my Dad’s. That reflection had jowls and a pronounced double chin, and so much more that just seemed to startle me immediately.

My Mom once said that I was too much like my father. "Oh?"... was the rhetorical question I lobbed back in return. Because we did not always see eye to eye, my Mom and I had to banter from time to time just to keep the air clear. By this time in life I had a fair sense of my Dad’s past and most of the work he had done throughout his working years. He worked hard; there was no doubt about it. Physical labour was not above him, and he didn’t easily back away from the difficult challenges placed upon him, in the standard workplaces of his lifetime. On one day in those early years, I had just come off of a stint of work with a large local paving contractor, when the secondary roads within the county were being repaved. That day in particular I had arrived home and was planning to go out for the evening, to meet my girlfriend at the time. Mom could see in my eyes that I was exhausted and a mere fast meal and shower was not going to meet the needs for my recovery that evening. I had literally hand swept, with an industrial broom, 10 miles of highway, (yes miles!) cleaning the gravel left behind from the process of laying down shouldering, next to the new pavement. I went up 5 miles, doing one lane, and then back down the other five miles, sweeping the other lane. Why? For some reason the owners felt I could be trusted to do the job properly, and so I was chosen to be kept on that “last” day, enabling me to earn more wages,  before they began to shut down for the winter months, which they did while I swept. They could have easily taken the tractor, with the forward sweeper, and completed the job in a couple of hours or so. I had started work as per usual, at 6:30 that morning, and arrived home at 6:00 that evening, and I was only working on the road less than 1 mile from home. Exhaustion or not... I had a date to keep!

Life has brought illness, in its various forms, in my stretch of lifetime thus far. I have always seemed to bounce back and be well enough to carry on with some success. But as we know each illness takes its toll on many facets of life and our body parts either wear out or give out at some juncture, after the wear and tear of continued illness. Some of us know the hazards of years of prescription medications. While they do add comfort, relief and even acceptable levels of important readings for our medical needs, they sometimes create their own sets of problems for other parts of our physiology, relying on not being attacked just to save another organ, gland or muscle. As an example, many meds to control colesterol will attack our livers. LOL It sometimes reminds me of the proverb about robbing Peter to pay Paul. Not everything becomes a quick fix in the medical world.

So it is that we begin to realize that aging has begun. Most of us, or at least some of us, try our level best to grow old gracefully. I am not one to join a gym and begin a regime that will transform me into a remake of a 50 year old. All power to those who can do it, or have a driven passion to undertake the pain and discipline to take it on… but it is not for me. I already have too many problems that will not allow me to exact that kind of exercise on my already broken body. Some years back I hurt both knees in the Himalayas, in the northern regions of India. It was my first trip there, and in the following years I was no longer able to undertake the treks down the mountain paths to visit local pastors and their families. Today I am having trouble negotiating the stairs in our home and will soon have to consider sleeping on the main floor level. My aim is to be able to walk more and further to keep my cardiovascular needs met.

How we choose to live, what we are willing to undertake in the name of work, and with only reasonable risk in doing so, along with a good diet, (event that is under discussion and argument these last few decades) can have much to do with the outcome we find for our later years.  For instance, my Dad ate bacon and eggs (2 at least), along with baked beans, brown bread, coffee or tea a great deal of his life. He was for the most part quite healthy and was told that he may even live to see 100. Unfortunately a stroke shortened his life, complicate by pneumonia at age 96. But his body reflected the punishment of those years of physical labour. 

In life you may choose for yourself to be a person who lives a simple, yet athletic, lifestyle. And there is much to be said for that. On the other hand there are many who work in more sedentary situations, such as you would see in offices, vendors in cubicles in the mall, where life become a matter of keeping up with what is before them on a desk, on the computer screen, or in the confines of the home. I once heard a woman say that a day’s work at home was worth as much in exercise as any formal regime. Well… that may be so for some, but I tend to feel that most of those mothers out there would be well served with some form of cardiovascular exercise for both their heart and their souls, to augment their needs when possible.

I’d been asked if, when I retired, I knew what I was going to do with my life. I was retiring early, opting out of the stresses I found myself in, and needed to recover myself and my soul, so that I might have fullness of life, not just life in eternity. By that I DON’T mean that I dreamed of perfect health, but a more fulfilling life, spending more time with the love of my life, being my sweetheart of 45 or more years, and more time with family, doing some of the things that our dreams had envisioned for our later years. We are fortunate to live close enough to our children and grandchildren that we can be of some assistance, but not fulltime babysitters or mere maintenance workers. We have the options to jump in or reservedly refuse the most difficult of situations, if it is not a matter of life or death (and we all know about many of those circumstances) and most are not! My Mom once reminded me that there has to be a time to cut the umbilical cord and like the eagle, give the chicks a shove out of the nest to test their own wings. Yes… in some eyes it is either fly or die folks… I err most times on a more cautious reserve and take a long look at each situation as it arises, before I jump to a solid conclusion. I have much to be thankful for from my mother’s advice, and in doing just that, I learned to take hold of problems with eyes wide open, finding acceptable solutions, and meeting the challenges that come every day for us, as families now on our own.

So, how does one manage their life, so that the outcome matches their dreams? Well, it may be a real eye opener for some to suddenly realize that the best of well laid plans, do not always work out in the way intended. There is an old saying about the word assume… “It makes an ass out of you and me!” Now before you go all viral and send me to the back burner for using such language, it was for illustrations sake only. It is NOT part of my everyday language, believe me. In terms of plans, it is good to make them, and if you can, they should be well thought out and reachable, along with being simpatico with those you love. It is always dangerous to assume that just because you have well thought out plans, have done the ground work in financial and physical planning, that all is going to be well with the outcome. 

My answer to the question of what I was going to do was this; “I will find more than enough to do, for my plan is to wear out and not rust out!” Each of us will have those options available to us.  No matter the social or economic strata which we fit into, there are things to be done, things to accomplish for humanity, for community, and most importantly for God. The simplest of undertakings may seem too miniscule to be of any meaning to others, but God’s hand is working through you, as you work for Him. That doesn’t mean that you must immediately run out and join a foodbank, start raising money for a mission trip to Africa, India or the street missions of a North American city. It may be that you will answer the call to wash dishes one day at a community breakfast, note the snow-blocked front steps of an elderly person’s home and decide to shovel it off for them;  it is often the small things, within our body’s means that can mean the most, especially if done in secret, so that the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing (common saying meaning anonymously).

Well, the mirror did not lie! It has now been nearly a decade since that first shock, and as I look from time to time at that old man staring back at me in the mirror these days, I just grin. The “Golden Years”! What are they besides the time spent in the deepest joy with family, friends, (both old and new) and in company with a host of believers who raise their voices in praise to the God who created and now sustains. He brings comfort to those of us who mourn their losses, and grants peace in the midst of those mighty storms that oft rock our foundations. I don’t really mind the so called “Golden Years” at all.

Are you nearing the Golden Years, or walking through them, while wondering what is in store for you in the days ahead? It is the truest and most significant walk near the edge that we shall ever take. In the questioning of certain facets of the past, it is there that we face our present reality; what about time spent, the validity of our choices, the value of our personhood to others and finally perhaps, “AM I AT PEACE WITH GOD”? It may be the selection of our individual choices in life that will make the final decision, regarding those enduring questions, found on the heart of those approaching the Golden Years. Do you want to choose now and hope for the best:  will you wear out, rust out or just fade out? I suspect that, when all is said and done, many of us will just fade out after all. In closing I will leave you with the wisdom of my Dad’s epiphany, after wrestling with failing strength, and the limitations placed upon him, as his last stroke left him very weak. “I started life in a crib (actually it was the drawer of a dresser) and now I am ending life in a bed with rails… I am again in a crib!” Then, he cried; we cried together, as I held his hand that night! But God was walking with him through it all, and some months later, as I was holding his hand again, and gently rubbed his forehead, God took His precious child home to be with Him. Dad “may” have faded away in some respects, but he has left an aura of greatness, that many alive knew and loved about that man! In reflection today though, I truly believe that my Dad really did just wear out! He never sat still until his failing health no longer allowed him to be an exceptionally active part of his home, church and community. Lord, if it is included in your will, my choice would be to wear out, as neither rusting out nor fading out seem to me to be a preferred set of options in my mind.