Monday, April 29, 2013

Stale blogs, and what might be Broken

     I don’t watch a lot of TV anymore. I used to.  I can still remember some of the plots from my favorite shows.
            The Captain and crew are faced with a hostile enemy, and the captain defeats them singlehanded… in a fist-fight.
            The flippant army surgeon’s attitude gets him in severe trouble with superiors, and his miraculous medical skills get him right back out.
            Or how about this one:
            They almost get off the island this time, but one knuckleheaded cast member botches it.
            Even the best writers might run out of something to say once in a while and have to resort to a tired but true formula to appease the network execs, sponsors, and hopefully the fans if possible.
     I am not the best writer, I am an amateur writer. And I don’t have execs or sponsors either. I have regular readers, but I am fans them.
     But I do, once in a while, run out of things to say for this weekly blog. When that happens, I might consult my notebook of ideas that I carry with me most days. I also might scrape around the barrel of memories with a spatula and see if I can find anything to share my musings over.
     I started Roadwalker blog almost 3 years ago. The first few weeks I wrote almost every day. I wrote about myself, memories that were on my mind and generally tried to paint a picture of who I was. I finally fell into a weekly schedule. But my topics were still Navel Gazing.
It wasn’t until about 9 months of blogging that Prajna encouraged me to make my blog more topical. She told me to write about what God was doing in my life at that time. So I started trying to write about what I was thinking about that week. That is when I think I found the voice of my blog. That’s when I started to really like what I wrote most of the time.
But I often see the same formula in a lot of my blog posts. I was messed up, then praise the Lord, I started to get better. I’m not there yet, but I’m on the mend and on my way and I hope everyone is encouraged by this.
Nice, but growing old. I feel like my blog is getting a little stale. And I wouldn’t be just filling up this entry to reflect on this without trying to make some sense of it.
I think my life lately has been a little stale. Now, don’t anyone get me wrong, my life has not been bad or even boring. I’ve been busy at work, read and listened to some good books, got a new puppy and been amazed at my second Celebrate Recovery step study.
But something is still lacking I think. I haven’t stepped out much or taken a lot of risk. The biggest thing I did lately was fit an extraordinary number of tables and chairs into an assembly room at church. I even blogged about it.
But if my blog is getting stale then maybe I need some new inspiration. And at the mere thought of that, I want to go take a nap. Getting inspired might mean trying something new or getting out and meeting people. I don’t know if my writing is worth me going out on a limb like that.
For now, I want to start writing a new story. I have an opening of a story idea that I want to start this week. I don’t know where the story will go and just want to write the opening scenes that I’ve imagined and see if anything comes after. That’s a start, right?
I don’t know how much that will help my weekly blog. I remind myself that this blog is a writing exercise. It compels me to write at least once a week, and it gives me something to think about over the days. I try to look for things to write about all week. Sometimes it’s profound, sometimes not. Starting a new story might sharpen my writing skills, but I don’t know if it will aid in inspiration.
I should get out more, not just grocery shopping. If my truck worked I could go for a road trip. Is it wrong to blame a broken rear-end for a stale blog?
Maybe it is. One might think that a father of five would never lack for inspiration. Maybe I just need to open my eyes more. But something tells me that all I really need to broaden my horizons and be more inspired is get my rear in gear.

Monday, April 22, 2013

What do I wear to Death's Door?

     I don’t know if I’ve ever been very close to death. I thought I was, once. But I probably wasn’t. I’ve had a few times in my life where there were near misses on the road where I may have been inches from death there and never realized it. But when things are moving quickly and I have to keep focusing on after, there isn’t time to reflect how close to death I could have been.
     The one time I thought that I was going to die was when I was 19 years old. I had tonsillitis. Anyone who has had a severe bout of that might know that it may not feel like one is at death’s door, but at least that death had blown smoke in one’s throat from some hellfire cigar.
     This was my third case of tonsillitis in about a year. I had landed in the hospital for the first case and had the tonsils lanced in the operating room under a local anesthetic and barbiturates. I stayed in the hospital for two days on fluids and antibiotics and almost missed my high school graduation. The second time I got the tonsillitis I was admitted again for the same procedure and only stayed the night. The ENT doctor agreed that my tonsils should come out but before they could remove them, they became infected again. You can’t operate on a sick person so the surgery was postponed.
     Tonsillitis means having tonsils infected, swollen and painful. I couldn’t even swallow my own spit. This third affliction was caught early. One of my parents took me to the doctor and they had a look at me to confirm that yes, I had it again. I was feverish, weak and miserable. The standard procedure was to give me a shot of penicillin. I quietly agreed. I tried to tell them that the last time I had gotten a shot like that it made me nauseous and dizzy. They acknowledged me and gave me the shot.
     It barely hurt and I was able to sit back down in the exam chair right after. Time might have passed by. Someone asked me if I felt okay and I heard my voice say yes. I felt myself rise from the chair, point myself toward the door and walk forward. Then I heard the clatter of the tray beside the door being bumped.
     Next thing I knew I was back in the chair. I had no memory of getting back in, if I made it myself or was helped or carried. My blood pressure was being taken and I couldn’t see anything.
     “You’re okay, David,” a voice said in the distance.
     Then I had a memory flash of the shift manager at Pizza Hut answering the phone the previous evening when I called in sick. I thought I was having my life flash before my eyes and the only part I caught was: “Lahaina Pizza Hut, Russell speaking, may I help you?”  
     I’m dying, I thought. I thought about the coolest item of clothing I owned, an imitation leather vest. Two friends owned identical ones. It was the mark of our gang, KittyHawk. I had thought that if I ever went out in the blaze of glory, it would be while wearing my KittyHawk vest. But that morning I had put on my dark green hooded sweatshirt. I almost never wore it. This was before hoods were cool and I didn’t expect to see anyone that day. And of course I didn’t expect to die.
     I’m dying and I’m wearing my green hooded sweatshirt, was all I thought about.
     Well I didn’t die. I guess it’s normal to be knocked out by any kind of strong injection if someone’s got an empty stomach and is in a weakened state. I don’t think I was in any danger. But I had never blacked out before and it was scary. A few days later they lanced my tonsils in that same chair with only the local anesthetic. To this day it’s the most painful and physically unpleasant thing I’ve ever undergone. But I never thought I would die during it.
     I got my tonsils out a few months later and kept them in a specimen jar in the console of my Mustang.
     There is more than one way I can wrap up this story. I could say that I started wearing my KittyHawk vest every day from then on just in case, which is true. But I wish that experienced had changed me in a different way.
     I wish that instead of lamenting about what I was wearing when I thought I was going to die, I had done a quick inventory of my life and hoped that everything in my life was in order before I left.
     I don’t have that vest anymore. But I can still wear something each day. I can put on hope each morning. I’m still learning what that is. But I think it’s something that if I was to find myself at deaths door I would not only know that I was entering God’s kingdom, but the life I left behind pointed the way. That is the hope I wear each day.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Freedom from Fear

     I don’t know what it was like living in the days of World War II when the demise of the free world was a genuine fear. I look at the Rockwell Painting with parents tucking in their children at night. The dad is holding a folded newspaper where the only clear words are bombings and horror. The times must have been scary to live in.
     People fought and died to give us freedom from fear. I don’t know how long it was supposed to last. The war ended and new ones came and went. More people died. It’s even happening today. And it’s hard to not still be afraid.
     I hope I am not seriously sinning here not trusting God. I do trust Him for my salvation. And like so many Bible heroes I try to trust and obey. But the world is scary. And it’s not just war. Yes, there are megalomaniacs out there with the power to kill thousands or more. But that isn’t all. People are killing each other for no clear reason. Kids are killing themselves because they are hurting so bad. And so much of this is happening in schools or with kids and young people.
Leaders are scrambling and debating about the best way to end this violence. Putting more control over ways to kill (gun laws) seems to make sense. But then someone rampages through a college with a knife and puts people in the hospital. It looks to me like people are going to lose touch with sense and reality and try to hurt or kill one another no matter what laws are in place. Sure, better laws may be good. Keeping weapons out of the hands of dangerous people seems smart to me.
But I don’t think an important factor is being lost on anyone here. I see it and I can’t imagine no-one else does. We can’t ignore this truth: something is making people snap. People out there are misguided, broken. People are hurting.
And I sit in my safe little house and feel overwhelmed. I hear the newscasts that break my heart and sometimes just want to go crawl under my bed, plug my ears and hum. Or sometimes I become so discouraged I just want to say, “I don’t want to live on this planet anymore.” And it’s overwhelming. I wish I could do something, but I don’t even know where to start.
I get overwhelmed at work sometimes. Once in a while, there is a tremendous amount of things to do and I don’t know where to begin. Let me unequivocally state here that I love my job and hope I can keep it forever. But sometimes when a large event is done and I’ve already worked a long day and I need to get everything ready for Sunday morning, I feel a little beleaguered. And here is the thing: the room will have a semblance of how it should look for Sunday. But the floor will be dirty and need vacuuming. I will need to pick up all the table and chairs vacuum, and reset the room. So I have to step backwards to move forward. The restrooms will need a deep cleaning and the corridors will need vacuuming to. It all sounds easy written out. But standing in a big room late in the day and thinking of all that must be done can give me this feeling. And I realized yesterday that the feeling I get thinking about all the hurting and broken people and the sad state of so many things is the same feeling I get late in the day with a plethora of tasks ahead of me.
There is so much to do. Where can I even begin? I don’t have the strength to do all of this. 
But each time I get onto it. I stride into the room and unceremoniously grab one chair, I fold it, then another and another until I have four in my hands. I take them to the side of the room and lean them on the wall. Then I go get four more. There may be 168 chairs.
I stay distracted listening to my iPod. This is usually when I like to have an audiobook on. I keep at it for the hours it takes. In the end I go home and go to bed and sleep well.
Maybe the same thing would work with helping the world. Maybe instead of succumbing to being overwhelmed, I could look for the first little thing to do and just do that. It’s true I don’t have what it takes to do it all. But, maybe it’s so cliché that it’s unapparent, I have what it takes to do the first thing that I’m capable of.
Perhaps it’s simple-minded to liken my little world to the great big broken world. But my point is that the great big broken world can’t be fathomed unless looked at simply.
If my iPod keeps me cool doing the work resetting a room, prayer could guide me and calm me in the world. And one more thing I’ve recently admitted, I could get help. A few nights ago, there were not 168 chairs with tables, there were 244 chairs and accompanying tables. I got two people, not to help me, but to pick up the room and vacuum it for me while I went home and fell asleep. I was able to get up early the following morning and set for the next event starting with a clean room. 
special setup with 244 chairs and 31 tables

It helps to start small with the first task one can do. But sometimes it’s so valuable to have someone step in before me and help clear things up. What I got was a clearer picture of what I needed to do.
It’s not the task that’s daunting. It’s the vision of it. Looking at the world, the idea that people are hurting and killing and cannot be stopped is enough to paralyze me. But when someone steps in and wipes away the clutter, I can see there are people close to me, within arm’s reach that perhaps I can get to. It would never be up to me to “reset” or “clean” them. I don’t really know what I would do. It’s not up to me to ever plan a response for that. God tends to not work that way. I just have to be ready. There may not be freedom from fear and I might always feel fear. But I can still step forward despite it. Fear diminishes with each guided step.

Monday, April 8, 2013

For want of a helping Hand

     I don’t have to guess too hard as to what type of person wrote the little parable titled: For want of a Nail. It’s an old, unattributed little dirge.
For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.
     Nice. Has anyone stopped to think how much pressure that put on blacksmiths? No, I was speculating on the writer of this. Because if he was anything like me, he may have been a blacksmith. And the similarity this smithy and I have is this little obsession I have with getting something right.
     Now, I am not a perfectionist. At least not with everything. I can sleep in an unmade bed, park my truck crooked, and no kidding, even sigh and hit “post” on a blog I don’t feel is quite good enough. I’m not obsessive-compulsive. But I still have this thing. I don’t know if it’s a disorder or how unhealthy it is. Let me explain.
     In For want of a Nail, one stupid, missing nail, or lack of one stupid nail causes a whole kingdom to fall. There are perhaps thousands of lives lost because of this one little missing thing. Most people probably take this story as a cautionary tale. “Little things do matter” or “be sure to cross your t’s and dot your i’s, kids”. And sure, that’s a good way to interpret this story. But I have my own version. It’s not inspired by For want of a Nail. They just remind me of each other.
     I’m a church custodian. I work all week keeping things clean, setting up and breaking down for weekly events, locking up at the end of the day 6 out of 7 days a week, and other things. I work Fridays and Saturdays. My job there is essentially to make the church ready for Sunday. I make sure every room is clean and set. The restrooms need to be well stocked as well as clean. Floors have to be vacuumed or mopped. If there is an event that weekend I need to facilitate that event and then clean up after it and take every step to get the church ready still.
     Before I go any further I have to state that I really love this job. I listen to my iPod, work at my own pace and feel very appreciated and supported by everyone there. And working alone is probably my favorite thing.
     But like I said I have my own version of the nail story. What if there was still a smudge on a bathroom mirror? A stain on a toilet? A dirty spot on the floor? The idea is very disturbing to me. And I am not exaggerating when I say this. Someone might walk into church, see the dirty floor and be put off. They turn around and walk out. They never step into church again. Their soul is lost along with the souls of their family. Their eternal damnation is all because I missed a spot on the floor.
     I know it’s unrealistic and even a little prideful to think that. But that’s what goes through my mind sometimes. Last weekend I had a tremendous workload due to some scheduling conflicts. There was a part of Friday afternoon where I needed to do 2 ½ hour’s work in just an hour. Help was offered me and of course, I declined it. That’s the even more unhealthy thing I do. I would rather work alone than accept help. That’s pride more than the want to be alone. I took a big gulp and swallowed that pride and admitted I needed the help after all. The work was busted out in less than an hour with some help.
     I thought about the story of the missing nail. If a blacksmith was the one who wrote that, he was prideful and vexed about the significance of his work. He went home each night worrying about the strength of the shoes he had nailed onto the horses that day, even if they were not battle horses. But he might never have considered this: The battle could still have been won.
     I’m no battle scholar. But I am learning about human nature every day. I think that if a battle horse or messenger horse threw a shoe. There may still have been hope. Because when there is a need for extra help, people step up. The only way hope would have been lost would be if the rider or some general somewhere refused that help. But help would have been there. It’s not what everyone does. But it is what many people do.
     When the need arises, help rises up along with it. And even if there was a mess from a war horse right there on the floor of the church foyer, someone would have greeted that newcomer walking in the building and made them feel welcome despite my failure. It’s only up to me to do the best I can and then trust God for the rest. He’s got plenty of children willing to come alongside and share the load. The nails were taken care of long ago.