Tuesday, March 28, 2017

When the Bough Breaks

One dare is much like the other when you are a kid. It’s just a friendly jest, a punch in the arm or a tousling of your hair that says you are too little to be taking on such a feat. It’s always accompanied with some level of doubt bringing a challenge that arises from one’s inner self and is hard to beat back, wanting calm amidst the stirrings of shame and self-doubt. But, life carries with it that growing desire to be more, to be capable, being able to rise to the occasion; to both meet and surpass the limitations hoisted upon our psyche by peers, who have suddenly become our competition in the rank and file of daily life.

I can remember vividly that first dare. My father smoked when I was small. His ashtray was beside his favourite chair and was generally not cleaned out until later in the day. I have often wondered if the words were ever truly verbal or just implied, but the pressure to conform was great upon my young heart. I had no desire to smoke, no desire to be caught, bringing on myself any indication that my intention was to smoke, but the need to rise to a level of competence is heavy on a child’s heart. I took a butt and shoved it into my pocket. If I ever showed it to anyone or not I cannot remember; it was the knowledge that I could walk the edge of that challenge and not shrink back that mattered at the time.

Sadly in life we soon learn that most dares are spoken, and often with derision and carry little or no concern for the impact that the pressure of both the reception of the cutting words and the inception of the process to fulfill the challenge, would stir within a person’s soul. It is part of the cruelty of youth that is most often carried forward through life by those who, within their nature, strive to exercise their power over others, to belittle and demean, in their feeble attempt to satiate their own thirst to be top dog, in a dog eat dog world.

The tree was no more than 30 feet tall. It was near our home, in a regrowth pasture that had been cut- over, perhaps a decade or two past. Being a young fir tree the limbs came all the way to the ground and it was easy to climb. There was never any doubt in my mind that I could do it; I loved to climb. The dare was to go all the way to the top. My neighbourhood nemesis was my age, but he loved to challenge, to chide and in some cases take his maliciousness to a higher level in either personal assaults or pressuring others to do it for him. It was all about control and nothing more. The worst part, as I look back through the years past, was that there had never been any consideration for the feelings of others, and there was never any way to know what affect all this had on those he chose to overwhelm, by his words or actions.

So, I climbed the tree… all the way to the top. When you are young, you just want to more than merely survive. The need to be accepted sometimes drives you forward, beyond good sense or even fear. On the way up I felt a sense of the accomplishment about to take place. Like so many things in life, the prize is quite often only one miss-step away. I did reach for the top, but by focusing only on the courage driving me upward, I placed my foot on one of the weaker upper branches and it snapped under my weight. Of course the slim uppermost branch of the tree, to which I attached my next hand grip, was not strong enough to bear my weight, and down I crashed to the ground through the forgiving limbs and landed in a heap at the bottom of the tree. I lay battered and cut amidst the rocks and moss near the tree's roots for a few minutes. The neighbourhood kids scattered after seeing me struggle to get to my feet and I staggered alone to the house, disoriented and bruised.

I wish the scars from that fall were the only ones I carry, but they aren’t. Not all scars are physical and I have learned that being bullied and demeaned in your childhood often leaves you with psychological scaring that is worse than any fleshly marks from mere mishaps in life. How we deal with those scars can make a great difference in the person we become. Not all scars, of the psychological type, are from bullies in either our childhood or early formational years. Scars may form when adversity beyond our expectations confronts us and takes its toll in daily living. It is the act of living, it is the journey that we all face. Some people are more capable of rolling with the punches, seemingly able to shrug off the moments, while others reel under the stresses, and like those who suffer with PTSD, may relapse into anxiety and depression, as triggers take place.

Many of us have grown up hearing in our childhood, nursery rhymes and lullabies. A popular North American rhyme turned lullaby is as follows.

Rock-a-bye baby, on the treetop, when the wind blows, the cradle will rock,
When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall, and down will come baby, cradle and all.

There have been many offhand explanations, about both the origin and the meaning of the rhyme, but perhaps in this case it is better to exegete, or draw a few conclusions directly from the words themselves. In our youth, a babe perhaps, we are sheltered, secure in the comfort of a bird-like nest, protected as it were from the world’s devices and danger. But, oft times throughout life, things happen that are either out of our control, as mere infants in a complicated world, or are part of our personal folly, as we step upon unreliable ground and sink into the mire of life.  Here we are reminded that from part of the happenstances of life, will come both storms and mishaps that can inevitably cause upheaval in our lives, often to the detriment of our health, both mental and physical. Every fibre of our security in life can crash around us.

Part of the hardship here is that we don’t always land fully back on our feet, even if the results of the fall seem minor. Years back, my wife and I lost our first child. We were young and felt that though the trauma of the loss was great at the moment, we could begin to start again and be blessed with family. We were blessed, but not with full deliverance from further tragic loss in our lives; we still had to face the momentary storms.There were formidable moments of confusion and despair, as the hardships of that generation’s struggling to make ends meet became an almost daily battle.

Hardships and disappointments do add up; they accumulate like flakes of snow, seemingly independent, but soon forming a blanket of white that can cover the green of the grass and trees. While it holds a beauty in some respects, untouched by the movement of traffic, it also brings stress, hard work and fear to the lives of many. My life was momentarily shattered one day, 20 plus years after our first son’s death, as I was confronted by the horror of a prenatal child’s struggle, while I sat in a University lecture… the pain of loss and sorrow, overwhelming my very soul, I asked myself then, “Why am I feeling these emotions now, after so many years?” Scars of former battles can lay dormant until something triggers the response, often hidden for years, yet constantly directing our thoughts and decisions, as we forge on in life.

The question has been asked, "does everyone react the same way to tribulation in life?" Perhaps some are conditioned by environment and react differently, maybe there is a mix in the gene pool that makes the difference, or perhaps one’s faith walk can lead them on a different path, seeming to shelter them from all harm. I was told as a child, "don’t go near the stove or you will get burned." I had no realization of the idea or sensation of being burned. I could watch the flame, seeing it eating up the wood or paper, as the fire licked up the fuel. I could even feel the warmth when I stood near it, but the sensation of being burned was beyond my comprehension. I was being prepared for life! We walk near the edge of so many dangers; we ply the waters of various dangers in life and quite often don’t wear the lifejackets provided, wanting to feel the rush of excitement, or even danger, as we throw off the securities of experiential warnings against doing just that. How do we find some level of justification for folly in doing so? Perhaps it can be the desire to break down the barriers of limitation and cast off into the deeper waters of the far end of life’s pool. Others are there, why not me? It seems that some tread the path of exploration and resistance to conformity, while others seek calm and security allowing a stronger sense of the tried and true.... the path most often taken... the safer path!

Each day we make choices, and not all of life’s choices are simple to make. The complexity of life brings things to the table that can create storms, both personal and corporate, affecting ourselves, our families, and our community.  You see, walking near the edge is not ALWAYS the safe path. It seems hard to think that after years of writing about being near the edge, and its positive effect on our lives, that I could now inject such a statement into the equation, but today I am. You see walking or living near the edge has its dangers; without paying close attention to our footing we can easily step over and be lost, or badly damaged.

I personally choose to not walk alone. I have tried never to find myself in that situation, but as cautious as I have tried to be in life, I have on occasion climbed some more “proverbial” trees, reaching for the top, only to find myself crashing to the ground, badly bruised and disoriented. There is a difference between being alone and acting alone. For example, unsecured and out of a parent’s grasp along a sidewalk, a child can rush headlong into oncoming traffic and be struck by a vehicle.  Another being that one can be united in marriage, for perhaps even 70 years, but never bothering to communicate the true basics of the caring and sharing that were meant to be, just because words seemed redundant, once the vows were spoken. Being alone can be subject to both definition and practice. So, who we share with, and how we share, becomes the foundation upon which our quest near the edge, finds its best and most reliable security.

A walk of faith in God, the Great Redeemer and Friend, means for me a sure footing, a light unto my path and a hand of security and healing, should I fall and damage both my pride and my physical being. I pray for you today, that you will not lose touch with your faith. By putting your life in the hand of God, He will keep you safe, or should you fall, you will have both strength and courage to rise again. Keep your footing strong near the edge, for the bough can break!

Friday, February 24, 2017

Skating On Thin Ice

It never occurred to me that you had to really check the pond before strapping on your skates!

There was a huge amount of rain that fall and the low spots in the fields, the swamps surrounding some nearby streams, and of course all of the ponds, were filled to overflowing. The level of water never seemed to diminish and we all looked forward to the cold chill of winter turning all the water surfaces into ice so that we could strap on our skates and begin a new hockey season… or at least pretend that we were playing in the big leagues. It is hard to imagine the lengths that we took to find ice back in those days.

My youth was filled with an urgent desire to play sports and whatever the elements, there seemed to be a sport that could accommodate my desires. Back then I loved winter. We pulled out our toboggans and sleds, along with the most feared snow transport of its time, the homemade bobsled. We tackled every hill that had any amount of snow, until the steeper paths or lanes were packed down and began to have an undercoating of ice; then the challenges began. The regular sleds and toboggans brought satisfaction, but the homemade bobsled provided that extra level of skill laced with danger. Many of the riders found out just how challenging and dangerous the bobsled could become, as they lay entangled in the mass of wood, rope/chain and bodies, often only halfway down a winding run through the trees.
No matter the joy we found in those first snows, the true passion for winter, for many of us, was that moment when you first strapped on your skates, in order to strengthen your ankles for the challenge of ice hockey on a nearby pond. My first memories of skating, while still in my early years, were on the dirt road in front of our home. Too young to go very far, we were given permission to skate on the road. Yes, you read correctly, we skated on the road. Quite often, after the first snows which were accompanied most times with some rain, the road gained a slick surface of ice…. with ruts. It might be hard to imagine the possibility of skating amidst the ruts on a dirt road, but we soon became adept at managing the unevenness of the surface and we found that doing so added an extra level of agility to our skills as well.

The greatest challenge after that was waiting for the ponds to freeze over. We skated on anything that had ice, even the local brooks, once the temperatures dropped far enough to create a hard enough surface to hold us up. One such potential was found in a large pond that formed in our field next to the family home. All that fall the low spot, that once was the location of a huge barn, continued to fill up and held a level of water that created a perfect child sized rink, in our minds. Soon the temperatures dropped, and after about a week we ventured out on the ice, with visions of hours of enjoyment right in our yard, skating through our imaginations. All seemed well, but we were told that we should wait a few more days before giving it a try again, as it seemed too thin around the edges and we hadn’t really given it enough time to freeze properly. But temptation got the best of me and as I scrambled to get my skates on and get on the ice, the only thing on my mind, was the joy of trying out my new hockey stick, and the hours of pleasure to follow.

Looking back for most of us I pray, is always a joy, as it brings fond memories of the challenges that confronted us, while reminding us that we somehow both survived and overcame the worst of scenarios. Well, I was about to experience one of the worst, not in terms of danger per se, but one of disaster and embarrassment to say the least.  Along with the dropping of the temperatures, as winter approached, that caused the small pond to freeze over, was the receding of the level of water beneath the surface of the ice in that pond. What I thought was a perfect rink, was actually just a layer of shell-ice that remained, as the water was absorbed into the soft earth, where once the barn had stood. What I had thought was a solid surface, was soon found to be nothing more than just a “lick of a promise”. You can imagine my surprise when after my first glide I ended up crashing through the shell ice and into what was left of the water, that had not yet soaked into the ground. My joy, short lived, ended with two wet feet and a badly damaged pride, which also included some badly scraped shins. Oh the joy of childhood!

Yet, as often happens, those experiences are not the only thin ice that most of us skate on through life. There is a daily hazard that many face, as we forget to check the potentials, before walking out on that proverbial ice. It is hard to imagine that lessons learned in our childhood can soon be forgotten, or ignored, in the face of what should be a more mature sense of self and self-awareness. It seems many of the lessons learned are either not retained, or they are outgrown in our minds perception of how life is now lived in adulthood, with all its keen sense of worldly prowess. There remains though, that passion for forging ahead, likened to jumping the gun without properly testing the ice before strapping on the skates; only to find that thin ice has a modicum of folly attached to its surface tension.

It is bothersome in some respects to always be checking our steps. There can be moments when spontaneous decisions must be made, and that is life. On the other hand the school of hard knocks should tune us to the point where we acknowledge that it would be better to take our time, and test situations before we jump headlong into what may turn into a shin buster of an event. I wish I could list all of the times that I have leapt spontaneously into the unknown and asked myself afterward, “Just what was I thinking!” I have been fortunate that I have survived all those forays with danger, but I cannot brag that I have come out completely unscathed. Life has taught me that there are prices to pay, as well as those bonuses received, to most actions in life. Not all decisions are good decisions, just like my poor judgement in getting on that shell ice in our field, those many years ago.

That is where the joy and comfort of not being alone is beneficial. Many of the times in life that I had decisions to make, I had someone there to talk through the possibilities with. Not all of my confidants were mentors. It is great to have a person who you can share moments with, sometimes pour out your heart to, in confidence that what you share is likened to a sacred trust. There is many a slip between the cup and the lip. Things can still go wrong, without good solid advice, when simply choosing perhaps some then present unqualified listening ear. I have found that in some respects my heart still longs for total security in human form, when it comes to having that someone who will listen and not judge, rebut, or reprimand without first hearing the whole story. I am blessed by having a wonderful wife, who after more than 43 years knows me better than I know myself most days, but as the old saying states, “familiarity breeds contempt” and I can’t always trust just her judgement alone.

Ok, before you run to the internet to look me up on Facebook, with the intent of giving me an earful, there is more to the story. Because we know so much about each other, we can oft times too quickly presuppose or prejudge a conversation or proposal. We can, due to the complexity of our human design, chase the proverbial rabbit, as we get caught up in parts of conversations and our minds drift to “other” factors or stored arguments. It is part of the basic fact of relational cohabitation and sharing. Does it make it easy…. of course not! But we learn to adapt and find a path through it all, with love guiding the way. What is the problem here then you ask.

I live in faith! I live by faith! I survive by my faith that God has a greater plan, even when I fall far short in the plan that seems to be where He wanted me to be sometimes. I don’t live a charmed life. The truth is, none of us do. We skate along and sometimes while not paying any attention to the forward surfaces, can skate off onto thin ice. That is like living on or near the edge… It can get scary at times.  It is there that I reach out to the God of Love and Grace, and am reminded that He not only picks me back up, as I crash through the ice, but He, when I stop to listen, is telling me when the ice is thin. I have learned that I can go to Him, pour out my heart, and when I have emptied myself, it is then that in the stillness of my exhaustion I hear Him say, “Are you listening yet?”, and He reminds me that it is far better to ask first and then wait for His answer.

I pray that as you skate along through life that you will remember that not all ice is safe, not all water is calm, and also not all relationships are perfectly reliable, for all facets of life’s journey. I pray that you can see the progression here. The only perfect relationship I have is with God, though I wouldn’t want to lose those blessings of His favour, in granting me a wonderful wife and loving family, along with some of those good friends who count me as a friend in return. Why not take time to check the plan that God has for you; you may just find it comforting to not always be on thin ice.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Collateral Damage: It’s When Tough Gets Even Tougher

“People at war with themselves will always cause collateral damage in the lives of those around them.”  - John Mark Green

I never saw a dog that I didn’t like, but I have met a few that didn’t like me. I have always loved animals and I think dogs have always been my favourite. I didn’t have a dog growing up though both of my parents grew up with dogs in their homes. Dad told the stories of his dog Bunny that used to be very protective of the family. If anyone teased her, she became upset, and almost like an elephant didn’t seem to forget while additionally keeping a bit of a grudge against such an individual. My Mom’s dog, Jack, seemed to be more of a typical rural dog, who loved people and I loved looking at pics of him and his replacement Jack 2. I am not sure of the breed of dog that Bunny was, but the Jacks seemed to be similar to Border Collies. I do remember one dog from my childhood quite vividly though.

It was a daily trip for me to go to the garage where my Dad had worked since returning from his overseas stint that ended in 1945. The owner of the business had a collie and we became quick friends. I struggle at this point to remember the name of the dog, but we spent many an hour together, while I waited for Dad to get off work for the day. On one particular occasion, when I entered the garage, Dad told me not to go visit the dog, as he had not been feeling well all morning and was holed up in the inner office. I asked for the reason not to go visit, and Dad just repeated, “Well, he is not feeling well, so you should stay away today!” My ability to reason the facts, and the capability for my mind to understand the repercussions of not listening to Dads suggestion didn’t kick in, in this case, and I went in to see my friend anyway after a while. When I reached out to pet the dog, he turned his head toward me and snapped out; his teeth cut my hand. Dad took me next door to the doctor’s office to get me fixed up and reminded me that he had said not to go near the dog… and it was for good reason. The dog had an abscess and just snapped at me out of instinct. I call it the sick dog syndrome. People like dogs can sometimes lash out in ways that don't reflect their true nature, all because of something that is going on in their lives.

We often fret over things that happen to us, or to those we love, and may often try to intervene by lending a comforting shoulder or a busy hand to help lighten the burden. There seems to be little accomplished when we are pushed away, having our interventions rejected, only to compound the pain that we may be feeling for those who seem to be struggling. In my youth there were so many occasions when a friend seemed down-trodden, at odds with the world, and I would try to say something that to me, made sense, yet to that person very little consolation seemed present. My inexperience in life, quite often did not allow me any better results at those early interventions than my reaching out to that poor dog at the garage. I most often got bitten for my efforts.

Yet, I was taught as a child that we have to be prepared for life; all the eventualities that may come upon us call for stamina and consideration. My mother was very ill when I was a child and I was taught how to do many of the things that have enabled me to take care of myself while travelling and at home. My grandmother used to read a story from a book  that I think was called, “Uncle Arthur’s Bedtime Stories”. The story revolved around two characters. The first was a farmer, an older man, looking for a young man to help him during the busy summer season. The second was a young lad, looking for work on a farm for the summer. The perfect match right? Well, one would think so at first glance. The old farmer approached the young man at the local exhibition and asked if he was a good worker, as he had been watching him and his steady, strong work ethic all day.  The young man uncharacteristically answered, “I can sleep when the wind blows!” The old farmer, not liking the young lad’s answer asked again and for the second time received the same answer. Not able to get the boy out of his mind, and knowing that he could work steadily, with a good attitude, as evidenced during the day, he asked him to come to work for him. Yet his heart still held some indecision about the boys attitude, when being questioned about his work.

A few weeks into the boys employment on the old farmers land, a storm arose and the old farmer awoke in the middle of the night calling for the young lad to quickly get up. There was much work to be done to save the harvest and animals, as a storm seemed to worsen. The boy did not answer and slept on! The farmer rushed out to his barns, his paddock, and the fields, and all was secured, closed tight and the livestock bedded down. He finally understood the boys answer…. “I can sleep when the wind blows!” Had the old man just flown into a rage and challenged the boy right then and there, a catastrophe might have ensued.

We are not always as prepared in life as that young lad was. Sometime the storms of life blow in and wreak havoc with our best intentions, and mess up life being lived. We like the dog in the garage can become edgy, temperamental, and at times more than unpleasant to be around. Do those around us always understand? Of course they don’t. We often allow things to pile up, without realizing that the very nature of the accumulation is beginning to cause alarm bells to go off, even projecting into our personality. We tend to write off those things as annoyances that will go away, or be handled at a later date. But just like the potential mountain, awaiting the right conditions one day, it may find itself part of a landslide that can cause lots of collateral damage. Surrounding the beauty of a mountain can be found homes, highways, railways, not to mention the people and animals that never seem to be prepared for what might eventually take place. Things that affect us, affect those around us.

I try to understand why people build homes, towns and cities on and around flood plains. I wonder for instance, why daredevils walk out onto rock outcroppings, too close to raging waves that can tear them free from safety and drag them to their deaths. There are so many things in life that can separate us from family, friends, our comfort levels, and yes in fact, even our lives. It is in those moments that collateral damage is at its worst. Those who leave us suddenly in death, that could be avoided, leave behind so many who will never fully understand. They will mourn the moment when the realization that, what should have been, was passed over for something which needlessly took place, and has now left them not one iota of hope, that their strength, courage or love can change anything now.

I can remember stories in my childhood of one of the local hunters going out and shooting two deer with one bullet. He had taken aim at the quarry and when investigating the shot found that a second deer, a fawn, lay beside the one which he had sighted in on. I am not sure of the regulations then, but I often wondered about the feeling that went through the hunter’s mind on finding that one shot killed two deer. Is it is like that in human life? I think so to some extent. One bullet can destroy two or more lives. One death to homicide for instance, can tear the life from a parent, spouse or child even when answers are forthcoming to explain the circumstances.  It can destroy the life and relationship of parents as well as siblings. A child’s or friend’s senseless death brings a sense of death to part of the life of those left behind. Little in life makes sense when the needless happens.

Is it not just death, as I have already mentioned, that can bring with it collateral damage. It is brokenness of spirit, lethargy, raw depression, separation, or loss of job that can cause rifts in relationship. On and on it can go and the list seems endless when you consider the numbers of scenarios that could take place in a person’s life. Is it fair to be asked to consider others too, as we try to deal with life’s situations on a daily basis? Is there a measure by which we can examine the causal effect or the repercussions that our actions have on others? Can we fairly, and with focused emotions, evaluate properly those moments, and is it fair to say that everyone is uniformly capable of doing so, if it were even possible? The hazard is found in the judgment that all things are foundationally equal in life. Society’s strata, though we claim to have mostly conquered that in North America, is still woefully present. Socio-economic differences make the measurement of “norms” almost impossible. To define measurable norms within society’s individual pockets of social and economic strata, the base lines for measurement, can be strewn with bias and cultural bigotry, bound to register a faulty analysis.

Today, I believe more than ever before in my lifetime, that there is a greater need for humanity to take more time for one another. I know that we are socially more active, spend more time trying to make ends meet, and sadly spend more time communicating superficially, rather than on a deeper emotional level in person.  Collateral damage may seem minimal, but it is still there. In all ages people have moved apart, been left behind, and those who suffer, often suffer for the rest of their lives. Let’s remember that what we do, say and how we act, takes its toll on others. By being present, aware and motivated to care about others, we share our love and compassion for what is taking place in other’s lives.  Let’s not make the place that we visualize as being between a rock and a hard spot personally, into something far worse for those around us… those we love and who love us.

Friday, January 13, 2017

When It Just Doesn’t Matter Anymore

Ah… just to be a teenager again! I smile when I think of how many people I have heard say that down through the years. It seems that we are sometimes stuck in the dreams of what it was like and visualize things that we want to remember and it brings nostalgia to a peak. I am not sure that there is any one specific time in life when this takes place. Many might claim that this could be an indicator of the period named as middle age crisis. There may be other times though. One doesn’t have to be in crisis to become reflective. In times of celebration, there can be such moments with old friends, while rehearsing fonder moments, when a person might make such a statement. While it is possible that during those times, such a statement is a mere consideration of the joys of memory and not a true reflection of desire to return to that age.

Someone made that statement a few years back to me. I smiled and submitted that I preferred the age I was then; then well over the tribulations of youth. It might be easy to make such a statement, as some would, and have it mean a return to that age, with the wisdom and understanding of adulthood. But, when that ideal has met full scrutiny, it lacks a depth of consideration of the pitfalls that would surface if that were the case. In my case I struggled with acceptance by my peers. I was a Christian; I had standards and many times took a stand on what I believed to be right, moral and just.  Being a teenager can be tough and finding your center, a place where you maintain a level of peace with self, and a peace with the world around you, is not always easy.

As we become adults, things change. To think that life becomes easier as we mature, is as dangerous as hiding your head in the sand, and pretending that if we just look at the goodness of life and steer clear of the heartache and pain, all will be well. Most of us have heard that old descriptive “fickle friends”. It happens to most of us at different levels. Not everyone understands the need for one of the crowd to wander off into a new relationship. Finding a boy or girlfriend who meets the needs of maturity can change the landscape of what was a norm perhaps for years. During that transition between being a teenager and a young adult, lives can be affected and friendships be uprooted, as people grow apart, while individuals search for their place and space in life.

My best friend in high school once told me that life changed. He was searching, lost perhaps, alone for sure, and looking in many places to find himself. He saw me, now with a wife and family, as someone who no longer understood his plight in life’s changing environment. My focus was now on family and not his and my relationship as old buddies. This becomes the dilemma of many who grow apart from an individual within a peer group, and suddenly feel left behind in life. It happens in personal relationship as well; marriages and families can drift apart. Things happen in life that can change our feelings, our perception of what life’s realities are, especially during times of trauma or long stretches of disturbance in family. There can be so many causes in that scenario, so many triggers and directed blames that surface, and too often silence pervades the true reason for change, creating a festering sore, widening the gap between what was and that which could be.

Why do people drift from the original plan? Why do circumstances in life seem to defy both our sensibility and sensitivity to those around us? How are people to respond to silence and remoteness and not feel deserted and alone in relationship? Why do we hear a statement like, “It just doesn’t matter anymore!” There are not too many answers that make sense. It may seem a simple assumption to just conclude that everyone works on the same level. One can fall into a deep cavern of misunderstanding when reductionism directs our thoughts. There are circumstances in life, reflecting both environmental and physical trauma that have “causal effect” on people, which are not always understood by the “other” in relationship. We must be cautious in judging others, as there is ever possible a moment when suddenly life may take a turn, which could uproot all that is thought to be the stabilizing forces in our own lives.

It is hard to understand the mind of a person, whose mind is made up! I’ve heard that in the voice of people that have mattered to me, along with people that I have tried to work with down through the years. It is the voice of surrender. It is the voice of gloom and reticence; it’s a silence that pervades the heart of the heart once broken, and reflects broken lives that often have been vibrant and thriving. There is no sense that makes sense any more. Some will never know that feeling. Maybe their strong personality types have prepared them for handling what seems to be the worst, regardless of what the reality of the situation is. Some can handle disappointment after disappointment; even that which has been self-inflicted, seemingly unaffected by external forces or stimuli. These people are not the norm.

I’ve been there. I know the drill. Some say that those who have suffered themselves try to work with those who are in similar circumstances, in hopes that others will not suffer as they have. It is not an easy process and carries with it many pitfalls. You carry both the heartache and pain of others, along with the need to fine-tune your own psyche to allow personal adjustment within allowable tolerances, so that nothing will trigger a relapse in your own life. Most educators train students, preparing for counselling, to remain aloof, isolating themselves from interfacing too closely with the problem. They are taught to deal first with the emotions being projected, and then ascertain the means by which those emotions can be handled in recovery. It is a long road filled with hazards, and not all clients/patients present exactly the same. The worst cases are those who become quiet, seemly adjusting, making personal contacts again, while any presentation of anxiety, that had been previously severe, is suddenly silent. In these cases life seems to have returned to normal, a crisis averted. While this may seem a good thing, students are cautioned that this may be only an indicator of a deeper problem. 

I have been asked, “How then do we understand, identify and truly know when to deal with depression or in the worst case scenario, suicidal tendencies?” I wish that I could just snap my fingers and be capable of giving a universal blanket statement that would cover all the needs out there. It would be so simple, but for the complexities of life, relationship, and the human factors of embarrassment, defense of family image, along with the popularity of camouflage.  I am not speaking of the style of clothing worn by so many, but perhaps it does reflect societies corporate bent toward wanting to hide behind something that will disguise the reality of life being lived. The camouflage, of which I speak, is when families protect the image with a false front, a fa├žade of good, stable family conditions. Families struggle, people react to stimuli differently and sometimes they grow apart, not meaning to, or at other times being forced to by internal strife or indifference. We can’t hide from that, nor can we hide it form community… it is most often acted out in our personal lives.

Where do we look for answers, is another big question that arises. How we deal with problems in life, as mentioned already, is as varied as it is many. There are no easy answers, but here perhaps those methods in counsellor training, have some degree of meaning for all of us. We all need to discover what is causing the pain, how it is manifesting itself and this takes a true search of feelings we call introspection. It is too easy to deflect during this process, so it is necessary to take time to look inside from a distance, like another may see what is taking place. The second part of the plan is finding a way to manage, or halt the pain, of those emotions. How that is done can be stylized to the individual for sure. There can be mental exercises, medications and even a change of atmosphere, where we are removed from the stimuli causing the stress. How about this as an alternative; I prefer this as a first line of defense of course! Move toward one of the greatest reasons for living, that being love. We sometimes have to love ourselves first, before we can love others. That can be a fair statement in most minds. God says that unless we can love others we cannot truly love Him. Does it not stand true then that if we cannot truly love ourselves, at some basic level, we cannot love others or God fully. It is a hard place to be… standing alone in a puddle of life’s stench and feel self-hatred and lost. There can be nothing worse than that!

It is then that we stand on the edge. It may take great courage to begin to forgive yourself for being you, but that is what life is. It is a series of steps we take, or have taken, that lead to various places that are not always comfortable or tenable. It is then that mistakes are made, reality becomes distorted and discomfort creates within us a misery that isolates and judges our sensibilities wrongly. Here we must rely not on self, but on God. There is nothing that we can do, but surrender; not to stupidity, but to love.  It is God’s love, and His wisdom, that is necessary for healing of our hearts, lives and souls. I pray that if you, or someone you know is approaching a difficult time in life, is there, or has been there, do not allow them to feel alone. Talk to one another and most of all, talk to God… together. He is watching over you!

Saturday, December 31, 2016

About Christmas … You Don’t Always Get What You Want!

“Where there is faith, there is love; Where there is love, there is peace; Where there is peace, there is God;  And where there is God; there is no need.”  -Leo Tolstoy

Christmas, while growing up, was a magical time. Just like all the other children of the post Second World War era, I looked at the mail order catalogues and drooled over all the toys that were being offered. In our world, that protected cloister we called family, there was the small “s” spirit of Christmas called Santa Claus.  I am not sure at what age the truth about his actually being just an image was revealed. I am sure it made a difference at some level, but we still left our Christmas stockings out to be filled and had great expectations of what might be left under the tree, long after we heard the truth.

I am not sure really, that it made that much of a difference about having a Santa Claus or not having one, as the true meaning of Christmas was always present for us. The Christmas Story was read from Luke Chapter 2 through the years, and we have passed that on down to our children… or we pray that to be so. The main theme of Christmas was that of love. All the other bi-products of the commercial celebrations were just a bonus to us. Did we fully understand that when we were merely youngsters? No, of course not, but as we grew and matured it became more evidenced in those family traditions that made up the Christmas season.

I wish I could say that every day was just like Christmas Day, but none of us can say that with all truthfulness, can we. Back then, there was the threat of knowing that the mystical Santa Claus had both a nice and a naughty list, and we lived in fear of a lump of coal or a bundle of sticks in our stockings. We all have those memories where things didn’t always run smoothly and relationships got ruffed up a bit. Some of those moments were hard to get beyond; our ability to let go of “stuff” and forgive, often took a beating. It is said that you can’t take back what comes out of your mouth. Once the harsh or unkind words are spoken, they are fixed in time… and in “memory”… if not yours, the person you said them to.  I remember how important it was for our parents to remind us that we should watch both our language and our attitudes. More than once I have been reminded of my Mom telling us that it was a sin to tell someone that we hate them, and the Scripture reminds us that if our hearts begin to hate someone, we have in essence killed that person already. That was enough to frighten our young hearts, but not always enough to stop our young and contemptuous tongues from spilling forth the words, when our anger got the best of us. Love is sometimes hard to cling to, and even harder to administer under duress, created by self-doubt, or in our weakest moments.

In our culture, in Eastern Canada, we watched Santa Claus’s message every day, following the evening news on the National TV Network. I will never forget Santa’s instruction to all the girls and boys as he ended his talk; “Now repeat after me… I promise to be good in every way and try to make every day, almost as happy as Christmas Day!” That was reflective of the ideal, which hoped for not only joy, but peace in the family, community and world.  Tolstoy’s quote, remind us that there is a “basic need”, required to accomplish the kind of peace in the world, that would be both everlasting and fulfilling. I once wrote of my Mom’s desire to have her sons love her 365 days of the year, not just on Mother’s Day. Love, not being a continuous process on a daily basis, has no great or lasting effect on humanity. There must be a deliberate striving toward that level of love, wherein you gain and retain peace.

Things have changed in so many ways over the past 6 decades. A few days ago our family took a drive around the area to look at the outside decorations and lights. In the 1970’s there were pockets of brightly decorated homes in certain areas. People would flock to those communities and drive around, just to enjoy the beauty of the Season. Not all of the decorations reflected the Christ of Christmas; many were just reflections of childhood interest, in a seasonal reproduction of gifts, and Santa Claus, along with the special arrangements of coloured lights. While the joy of the trip to visit those communities was often discussed among friends, little of the peace and joy of the Christ Child’s birth was retained, just because of superficial dressings of people’s homes. It was what took place inside the homes that was of more interest, as I began to mature, and my heart still wonders, as we drive through those same communities, visiting friends and family during the Christmas Season; do they know the true Reason for the Season?

I can remember pouring through the Christmas Wish Book, which was one of the delights of the pre-Christmas season, as a child. Those mail-order catalogues, though there were central outlets for them in most communities back then, were important factors in every child’s penning of a wish list for Santa, to be delivered through Mom and Dad. Some will remember that old song where the lyrics went something like this: “Johnny wants a pair of skates, Susie wants a dolly; Nellie wants a story book, she thinks dolls are folly”. I may be off on the lyrics there…. It was the version my Dad used to sing. We soon learned that just because we wanted something, our dreams did not always come true.

We lived in an era when the Walt Disney program sang that song, stating that our dreams come true when once we have wished upon a star. Those fantasies soon disappeared when we had to look at the future through some not so rose tinted glasses. Work for you supper and you’ll get breakfast was more in alignment with what took place. Not that we were stone poor; it was a bi-product of living with older parents who saw the plus side of teaching their children the responsibility of helping to support the family by earning their own way in life. It helped everyone, including our parents, who no longer needed to fully shoulder the burden of meeting all the expectations of a new age, with new dreams and potentials, that for the most part, cost lots of money.

Christmas has become even more commercial than it ever was. Can one turn back the clock and revert to a slower, more moderate time and survive the penalty of peer humiliation? Some would say, “Absolutely!” and not care about the repercussions of derision heaped against those under their care, especially those children in relational and fellowship groups in school and playgrounds. There has never been a time when people did “not” look down on the less fortunate. That is a sad statement for sure. But human nature raises its ugly head and scoffs at those who do not come up to the standards of the times. But, still, we don’t always get what we want.

In my work as clergy through the years, there were other circumstances, other reasons, other criteria whereby I experienced the plea for a wish to come true. I’ve stood by the side of dying people and heard their family’s plea for a life to continue, for sickness to turn once again to health. I have listened while well-meaning individuals promised the sick that if they surrendered and believed, and asked for healing, they would be healed… after all faith can move mountains… right? And, that just scratches the surface of pain and misfortune I faced almost on a daily basis. That may sound so harsh, and on the edge of unbelief, but I can tell you that not all sickness stems from sin, other than Adam’s sin… and not all prayers are answered as we want them, just because we pray in faith believing. We must be cautious about how we approach God. We come as a privilege to his throne, not as demanding servants who bring a wish-list and expect that list to be filled. We, who are the servants of God, understand the mystery of His will, only as He allows us to see it… just like everyone else. God is not Santa Claus nor is He Walt Disney who grants wishes because we have written him a letter (prayed) or wished upon some star. I have written before of Christ’s plea in the garden, just before His arrest. That was a believer’s prayer! He received what was needed, not what he desired, in the human context of his prayer.

I got my sword… a wish come true. I met the woman of my dreams… bingo! God allowed me to attain an Electrical license, that happens to serve me well to this day! My prayer was, “God allow me to become an electrician and I will go where you want me to go!” (And so I went, even to India on 4 different occasions in service for Him.) Well… I got it partially right anyhow. Out of electrical work and into ministry He sent me … kicking and screaming, for the first 5 years or so. Sometimes we get what we want with added codicils. Now, 30 years or so later, I am coasting through my retirement years, clinging to the hope that financial burdens of home ownership, and standard maintenance, will not shove us too close to the edge. Who am I kidding? That is standard fair for everyone these days! LOL  

So? How about those Christmas dreams? Mine include family gathered, time to laugh, a meal shared and most of all love, that binds us together, no matter the size or intrinsic worth of what those Christmas wrappings enfold. Quite like the Christmas fever, that we pay homage to in a commercial sense, daily life can spring some surprises on us from time to time. A turn of the tide, a fork in the road, or even a flat tire can change the planed design of your day and cause either deep heartache or bring a rich blessing. A poet  by the name of Robert Frost once wrote of the road less taken; it can bring meaning to life, as we plan ahead, and I want to share the last verse with you today, as you consider the theme I bring forward.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

While planning life, I find myself in my latter years more able to let go of what I thought should happen, and the fears of what could happen, and I cling to the promise that no matter what does happen, I am loved. For me, this has made all the difference; you might say it is the only instance where I could be assured that I really got what I wanted. I have given my wife and family every reason in the past, to really dislike me on many levels. I have been absent when I should  have been present, and I let my work take the place of the relationships that were most important to me, as I strived after what I thought was the Master’s calling on my life. But, He also called me to be a good, present husband, and father to my children. I was reminded of my remiss early enough to make some changes, but the continued pressures of work and the stresses of ministry did take its toll. Am I sad? Yes, sometimes more than I need to be perhaps. Am I ashamed? Yes, more than most will ever know. Yet God is not only good, He is great! As you look down the road toward the future, measure what you want over and against what you need, and be careful not to put all your eggs in the basket of guaranteed assurances… You don’t always get what you want! Maybe you need to look to the right "Star" and hang your future on it! That is living near the edge!

Friday, December 30, 2016

Starting the New Year with Wings

My wife and I grew up, as some will know, in Bible-believing families. We all had our favourite Scripture verses and my wife’s favourite is taken from Isaiah 40:30-31. The latter verse states: “… but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (NIV) It is a powerful image of just how our faith can help us rise above calamity, trial and tribulation, to soar with new freedom in our daily lives.

But, what about the reality check that many do each day? We are never without some sort of problem for very long in the context of our daily lives, or that of our family or friends.  A parishioner of mine once said; “If my life were a TV program it would be a soap opera! ... Every day is filled with endless drama and nothing ever gets settled … it is just one thing after another!” It is hard to imagine living a life without drama. For those who follow Facebook on the internet, you will find that there are many who post statements proclaiming the desire to live without the constant drama, and will give sage-type information on how to overcome relationships that are always causing “Drama”.

But it isn’t just the dramatic, found in friends and relationships that can cause the sap to be drained from us on a daily basis. It is the effort of living, the constant drudgery of the mundane, along with the normal everyday things that can be overlooked. Like snowflakes that gather into mountainous drifts, the “small” things left unattended, due to exhaustion or indifference, caused by busyness overwhelming our sensitivity, can soon become another nail driven into our striving for just plain peace in living. There are so many factors in our lives in this era in which we are living. The striving after all the trappings of living today can tire us out and there is more and more chance of our souls being weighed down, than ever before.

I have always loved nature. Who doesn’t; right? Even as an adult I was mesmerized by the effort of squirrels for instance, who work tirelessly to prepare for winter. Even while invading my outhouse at the cottage, and using its eves for a winter nest, those little creatures gave testimony of their endurance and stamina. Ok.... I got them out of my eves, but that does not belittle their effort, and their seemingly endless proclivity for doing what came naturally. The interesting part was their chatter and then their constant scolding when I interrupted their work, or even came near them. They got disturbed, but not to the point that they could not continue.

I wonder how many times a beaver will rebuild it’s dam, once the forestry department has torn it open. How many times will a wildcat or coyote approach a trap and try to steal the bait without being caught in its grasp? It seems that nature’s design has as part of its plan, to make us both tenacious and resilient. My wife and I once saw two birds flying up the harbor near where we live. They had come quite a distance and they seemed to be struggling, as their flight looked wobbly, reflecting perhaps their exhaustion as they carried what looked like sticks in their talons. They were eagles, carrying building materials to their nest somewhere in the Provincial Park near our home. What stamina! No matter the energy needed to build the nest, this nesting pair took on the project and I suspect continued until it was complete.

But, that is the animal kingdom … right? What makes us so susceptible to the weariness, found in the activity of living? Why are there so few moments where we just rest peacefully, rather than wander about in the maze of mental gymnastics, while caught up in subjective reasoning, rather than seeking freedom in the solace of faith? Is it our training, our upbringing, some cultural environmental disease that is battling our immunity, finding a way to block sensitivity to our own plight? Well, perhaps so. We are the product of so many environments these days. We are looking down all the avenues of reasonability for answers, but want too many quick fixes and superficial answers. I was once accused of being too pragmatic in my early adulthood! Can you imagine! LOL… I had to look it up. I am a linear thinker, or so I found. Everything for me runs in straight lines, or so I was told. That made me a good Chair of the Board, because I wasn’t easily pushed down rabbit holes in conversation. While there were many occasions where I had to defend a decision, concerning the direction of higher academics in my job, I wasn’t drawn away from the point of the argument by those who would try to dismiss this mere mortal, who just happened to be the bearer of not-so-glad tidings by times.

The question arises then; why do we rise to the occasion sometimes and crash and burn on other occasions? It wasn’t always easy to face the upper echelon of academia, believe me! More than once in my academic journey I was reminded that my duty to the job at hand was my studies and not chasing after the call of God in my life. Yes… you heard it right! There is a fine line between an active Christian trying to fulfill the mandate toward preparedness, and being that of a servant in the activity of carrying out their calling. Balance in life is not always found even in the hallowed halls of Seminary. Many were the blossoming theolog, who fell under the weight of striving after academic achievement, far above the true path of preparedness through surrender. I do not believe God’s desire is for all who enter preparation for the work place, either as a seminarian or through a broader path of academics, to gain the highest academic standing in every case. Taking time to understand a broader spectrum of understanding of life, family, community and the world, better prepares young minds for both living and thriving through the stresses of life being lived; not just striving after being on a Dean’s list somewhere.

But people do fall down and many more are weighed down so heavily by life that they have trouble seeing the forest, much less the trees, the moss, the nature that surrounds them. There is often little that supports the effort to rise to meet the needs, much less the courage to match the desire to find such exertion. I read this morning that we often carry the weight of living daily too much on our own. The burdens of our own little world on our shoulders can make flying impossible. Imagine tying 40 pound logs to the talons of those eagles, wanting to build their nest. There is no way that these majestic birds could carry such a burden, but we, like the eagles in that scenario, often overwhelm ourselves with such burdens and yet expect to rise above it all, just on the power of self-proclamation and inner strength. This is a circumstance headed for a collision course with reality.

So, what is the answer? Inner peace, though elusive by times is just a matter of surrender and release. Ok… too much reductionism for some, but take time to do the research. What makes life so stressful for you? Where do you put the focus of your efforts? What drives your desires on a day to day basis? Most importantly, what is the most significant thing in your life … something that means more to you than anything else? Put away your cares for a moment and walk to the edge. Yes… the edge. That is where we face all the fears; it’s that place where one decision can make the difference in the direction of our lives. There we find ourselves evaluating our priorities with a deeper sense of importance, and it is there that we most often are enabled to make good decisions, over against those that may lead us back into the fog of just daily living. Being on the edge is like being at our lowest point in life. I once said that I was at a point where I felt lower than a snakes belly in a wagon rut. It was no picnic there… it was life or death for me. As hard as the moments were in those days, I found that there were things worth living for.

Today, I look back and wonder how many times I have felt the weight of situations that I could not handle, on my shoulders, and still I tried to manage. My first instinct tells me, “I can do this!” But God says, “Let go and allow Me!” That is no easy task, believe me. Pride and embarrassment take its toll and when the effort to handle the moment alone overwhelms me now, I am reminded that I am not alone.

Are you carrying around burdens that are not yours to carry? Don’t just let them go for a minute while you pray, only to pick them up again afterwards and carry them away with you. If a short prayer does not seem to work, then kneel down in your heart and surrender to His peace. I can tell you that it is not easy… but it is worth it. Walk over to the edge, dump the load and take time to see those things which bring you joy while you are there. Be reminded that life is not just a minefield waiting to blow up in your face; it is a garden in which dreams and joys are planted, so that the harvest might bring dreams fulfilled and even greater joys. Blessings are not fiction; they are a real part of our surrender to God, so that He can bring peace as He carries our burdens for us… so that meanwhile, we can find our way!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

When the Going Gets Tough.... There Is God

My hands have hurt a lot lately. My doctor told me some time back that I might begin to suffer more each year with arthritis. We had that whole conversation about family history, what types of arthritis my parents and grandparents had, along with the usual suggestions for diet and exercise. All that would be great if I lived a sedentary life and was not the type to be out doing things that perhaps might be qualified as "hard" work for most. I grew up hearing about what daily life was like in my parents and grandparents time. Hard work was the norm back in the early 1900's. It was not just expected, it was necessary for the welfare of the family. There were not the conveniences we have in this day and age. Work with your hands included hands not just in dough for our favourite recipes, but in dishwater, washing clothes, along with cutting, splitting and piling wood that had to be harvested in the forest without our chainsaws and diesel driven harvesters and hydraulic hoists on log trucks that deliver the wood to our door. After a days labour I feel exhausted and my days are not 8-10 hours long anymore. I am lucky to get 4-6 hours out of this old body these days, but I keep going.

I am one of the fortunate ones I believe. My discomfort is not unmanageable. I take over-the-counter pain management meds as needed. Doctors continue to say that the pills don't work when you won't take them. There is that fine line between being medicated for the pain and medicated so you won't feel pain. I have known people who medicate so that they won't feel pain, and that can be a downhill journey. I am not trying to be judgmental, but for myself, I fear that journey. I need to be able to function daily and manage pain that is real so that I can continue to be reasonably pain free, but also be alert, especially as I use machines that call for my complete awareness. I can't afford to be numbed or medicated so that I might be in a situation and not be aware of some critical decision making process that I am not acutely aware of, or fully capable of handling. I value my life and the lives of those who may be assisting in a project, especially in the woods, working with a chainsaw and felling trees.

Some days are worse than others. I believe we all find that to be true don't we. For my physiology, the weather makes a difference. As a sufferer of migraines for most of my life, I have been critically aware of weather patterns and changes in seasons which have been tough on my pain management program. As seasonal climate changes take place and one season changes to the next, I may suffer for several days as my body acclimatizes to the difference in temperatures. As another example, while working in the woodlot this fall, I have been lifting heavy loads and my hands have taken a beating. My wedding ring no longer fits, and my knuckles are so stiff and sore that getting them moving in the mornings is a real chore, but I persevere and exercise gets them limbered up. I remember my Dad being told to get a small rubber ball and squeeze it in first one hand and then the other through several repetitions each day. His hands, that had begun to twist as the arthritis did its damage, began to straighten out a bit, and for several years he kept up those exercises, and it helped his condition to a great extent.

Due to the damage to my knees some years ago, arthritis is now finding a home there as well. I often wonder; how far can this advance? How many of my joints will succumb to this painful disease. Well, all perhaps, or so it seems. My wrists, elbows, shoulders, hips and even my ankles seem to be saying to me some days... "How's that for lack of response!", and I limp on until the fluid motion of this old body finds somewhat of an acceptable level of norm. I've been told that there is a key to living with an arthritic condition. Like all keys there is a limit, but within that limit there lies a diversity of options that gives us some leeway, in the decision making process. From my doctor's perspective, along with the idea of pain management through medication, there is that simple age old and time proven method used by my grandparents. We just keep on moving not matter what! One could ask the question, "Won't that do us more harm?" Well, with today's technology, there are the advantages of joint replacement. But I continue to wonder why our "now generation" has come to that so quickly. It may perhaps be as simple as diet, lack of the proper exercise and repetitive action on joints that were once used in a broader spectrum of functions daily, that kept wear-out and tear-out at a minimum. But, I am no specialist and I can only speculate. So I wonder; is my hard work good for me or more destructive than I should be taking on at my age? After all, a great deal of my life was more sedentary, in style, in the workplace. I guess the answer is going to be found in the undertaking! 

I am not sure that God wants me to rust out. Some of my longtime friends are convinced that wearing out is better than the alternative of rusting out. As I mentioned I stay busy, but when needed I stop and rest, I do. That has been my mantra of late, as my body feels like it is about to shut down. What I mean by that is, as I reach a certain level of exhaustion, and I can feel my body beginning to not just slow down, but also to scream with pain, it is telling me that enough is enough. You know what? I am just a young buck next to Methuselah or Noah. After all, when in your 60's, you should be able to go a full 16 hours and be ready for an evening out. After all Noah built an ark when he was a lot older than me... actually he was over 500 years old. Ok... We don't live that long anymore... That’s not my fault! LOL But, I believe that God has a plan for my working life as well as my resting life. What's the difference you ask? 

My resting life is that period in time when I am fully aware of Him...His being God! Some take that time during one day only per week... Sundays perhaps. Others choose a life that includes God daily, keeping in touch with Him through the daily journey and with a constant mind for Christ, so that as events and circumstances arise we feel His presence and relate our needs to Him. For me it is the latter. Yes, I do practice the Sabbath Day to keep it holy, but every day is God's day for me. I want to feel Him with me, near me, beside me and around me, and when I feel like collapsing in exhaustion, I know that He has me in His care. When I am weak He is strong. So does that make me vulnerable or over needy? No, it makes me reliant on God for my daily walk, my work, my up-time and my down-time and I am not ashamed. I have heard people state that we should not bother God with the small stuff. I can tell you from experience that if you try to handle the small stuff single-handedly, you soon lose control of even the big stuff along with the small... we are just not strong enough to take it all alone. Even Christ knew the hazard of reliance upon self and its pitfalls, as He petitioned The Father for courage and strength, if not the removal of his tribulation to come.

Each day becomes a journey of trial for us all. It is folly to try and gloss it over with an assumption that the pathway is paved with joy and blessing each moment. Life does not happen that way. We may have moments of peace, but we also endure hours of pain through exhaustion and failure. Like my arthritic condition we may seek chemical answers as some relief, but there also has to be a rethinking of life, its values and our personal actions. I know that if I abuse my body, without considering the consequences, I feel horrible. So I have to limit myself, keep my life in check so to speak, and be cautious of those moments when desire to accomplish something takes over and leads me into over-extending myself. It is living near the edge on a different level daily. It is as dangerous being an over-achiever as it is as being an under-achiever. To rust out as an individual means a waste of good potential, and to wear out, without regard for sustained potential being met, is folly as well. So I strive to walk the fine line. I walk to the edge each day and consider the options, the possible positive outcomes of whatever seems to be on the plate before me. How I reach the right outcome depends on my dependency upon God and my reliance on what He enables me to do, without taking steps independent of His will. 

It is not an easy journey, this journey of life management, focused in Christ. It is however an incredible journey, when we cast off the burdens of self-definition and determination and take on His will each day. It is hard to always be true to that path, for it is fraught with pitfalls, which include stresses and pressure from all sides. The blessings though outweigh the trials. Keep your eye on the Christ and your heart in tune with His will... Living near the Edge becomes less scary and more manageable then.