Monday, July 29, 2013

Communication and Failure

     There has been a common theme in my blogs over the past month. This glum motif of loss is hardly subtle. Even last week when I tried to be positive I just ended up acknowledging everything that’s bringing me down. It may have been a healthy blog, but this ongoing theme is getting old. I’m tired of writing all boohoo about my truck, which still may or may not get fixed. And for our chickens, I found another one yesterday morning almost dead. She took all day to die. These good layers have a short lifespan. What’s going to happen will happen no matter how I feel about it.
     So while I won’t deny I’m still in a funk, I want to be done writing about it. I’m really not that bad off. I have a great job that I love and it provides everything I need. I don’t watch TV so I don’t look into an unrealistic world that might make mine look inadequate.
     I used to be quite the TV watcher. Not as much now. I remember the late night infomercials that would try to sell me things I never knew I needed. How can a 30-60 second film convince me that I need something I wasn’t aware of? Maybe they paint a picture of a sad life where someone else needs something.

     Now is an image like that going to be depressing or amusing? I don’t see how watching something like this could be depressing.

Maybe someone who is very empathetic would feel sorry for these poor people.
     I thought that the goal of the advertisers here was to make someone look and think that they needed a product. They would show an image that people might be able to relate to.

And the viewer would feel compelled to spend money so they would never have to experience that again.
     But what planet do these people live on?

     I’m not feeling sorry for these people. And wait a moment, I feel a little better about myself looking at these. I begin to think that I’m a little more capable of everyday tasks.
     Maybe when these clips of people failing at things are shown in context they make more sense. After all, these are the “before” pictures.

The after pictures might show cheerful and successful people with no troubles in their lives at all. Maybe these ads are very effective. I suppose they have to be in order to be on TV. Or maybe not. Maybe these are desperate attempts to communicate a message, but there is no real point and no clear statement is made. It’s little more than an anguished at pitiful attempt at something, searching, grappling, and ultimately failing.

So what am I trying to say? Just this, I’m tired of being gloomy and am making a desperate attempt to lighten things up. When I looked at these gif files they made me want to laugh. I didn’t laugh out loud. But I may have cracked a smile. I was just hoping to pass on a little light-hearted message this time instead of the miserable dirges I’ve been at lately.
In truth, I am working a lot on the memoir I’ve mentioned in previous posts. Little else is going on that I feel I can talk about. I wasn’t sure what to blog about and I’ve wanted to share this for awhile and so I did. I look back at some of my blog posts and am proud of them. Some I look back on and cringe. Some I even cringe as I hit PUBLISH.

This may be one. But it’s done and out there. It is done and there is no undoing.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Denying the Megrims

     Looking over my past few blog entries, it looks like I’ve been dealing with the megrims. I even wrote a mid-week entry to deal with how I was feeling about stuff. I don’t like being a crybaby. I used to be one, not a just a little boy prone to weeping, but an adult who tried to get attention by playing up what was wrong in his life to others. I don’t regret my past few posts that had a theme of loss, but enough is enough. I found my glove and a week later found my knife. The hen is still dead but we’ve got seven new chicks that will be laying eggs this time next year. As to my broken truck, I have to deal with that.
     Sometimes everything around me gets me down and I get stuck there. Over the past few years I have discovered that what I tend to get stuck in the most is denial. Denial isn’t just ignoring something. It may sound like someone walking along with a pebble in their shoe, not bothering to remove it and denying that it’s hindering them.
I was standing about a quarter mile from the finish line of the Surf City Marathon last year watching the runners. Most of them looked exhausted, but happy at the sight of the finish line. Some looked less happy than others. Then I saw a kid in his late teens. He was barely running, but still moving forward. He was crying, not bawling, but there were tears and his face was pinched in agony. He was about to complete the marathon, in sight if the finish line. But he was hurt. How did he get through the pain of it? Was it denial? No, that was perseverance. Denial is different. He may have been trying to deny he was hurting, but his face showed that the pain overrode any thought like that.
Denial is a state that I have lived in where I have felt safe. It’s easy to get stuck there. When I’m there, there is little pain. Denial means that while my truck is sitting, broken probably never to be fixed again, I plan my next road trip in it. Is that perseverance or positive thinking? Or am I just in denial? What about when I go to the Carmax website and browse their 4WD pickups? That isn’t positive thinking. That’s not doing anything productive.
Each evening at work I drive the little electric golf cart through the church parking lot just for a security sweep. Some nights I get a good look at some nice little trucks that I could wish were mine. My thoughts get clouded. I think that if other people have nice rides like this then I can too. The five digit price tag on these vehicles doesn’t seem to come into play for me. If other people can afford it, I can to.
But I don’t think about the fact that I am not those people. And I am only looking at a few people. Not everyone can afford even a reasonably priced used vehicle. Some people don’t earn a whole lot of money and have to live within their means.
Back when Prajna and I got married we made a conscious decision to be a one-income family. We saw other families like that and saw good kids and we wanted to be the ones home with ours. It hasn’t always worked out that way. Prajna has had a few jobs. But we are getting by now on my salary. We live comfortably within our means. We get along alright, but that means that if we don’t need a vehicle just for my use then we should not be putting money into it.
Prajna reminds me that I can take the family minivan on a lone excursion sometime. Sure I can. There is nothing wrong with driving out to the desert in an air-conditioned vehicle that’s comfortable and easy to drive. Why do I want my little pickup with its manual transmission, broken air-conditioning and four-wheel drive? When it broke I was on my way to Mahogany Flats in the middle of Death Valley National Park. The campground can only be reached with four-wheel drive. I was on my way there. I had planned my getaway for weeks, maybe months, and it disappeared in a groan of gears and smoke off a broken rear-end.
And I need to get out of this comfortable denial and face the fact that I may never see Mahogany Flats again. Because here is the thing: Skirting around that fact makes everything else seem miserable too. It gives me the megrims. If I step out of denial about this, then I can’t deny the blessings I am surrounded with either. I am surrounded by a wonderful family and I have a job I love. My writing is going well. There is little more I can ask for and want.
So I am going to try to stop being a crybaby and at the same time make an effort to look at things as they really are. Instead of looking forward to camping alone in Death Valley, I think a lot about the novel I want to write this November for NaNoWriMo. I think about the responsibility I am stepping up to in ministry and hoping it makes me a better person.
And when I get to feeling sorry for myself I might write it here and share it. But I will do the best I can to keep it balanced. I had a funny story I was going to write about today, but it was 29 years ago that it happened and I’m trying to focus this blog more on what I’m thinking about now. But the story was about loss, kind of. Maybe next week. And maybe next week I will have brought my truck back from the mechanic and arranged to have it towed away to a wrecking yard. I can’t deny that will still make me sad. Denial, you are so comfortable.   

Monday, July 15, 2013

What is Lost

     I don’t just do things I am later ashamed of, I think things too that later on I wish I hadn’t. Maybe I’m not the only person like this, but this is my blog and it’s about what I’m thinking about.
     People are dying. I can’t help thinking that every time someone dies, at least one person is devastated. At least one.
I’ve read the local news, young men were killed. One was shot by police after they say he fought with them and either produced a gun or went for one of theirs. In a different story, a young man was killed crashing the speeding car he stole into a street sweeper. When the names of these men were released I went ahead and looked at Facebook. There they were. One profile had anguished messages mourning the death. Another profile had posts by the deceased man, mostly expressing his dislike for things.
     And right there on the news stories are posts by people talking about “Darwinism in action” or “thinning the herd”. People are pleased there is one less car thief on the road. Posts are claiming that if someone tries to shoot a policeman then it should be no surprise that he’s gunned down on the street, even if it is in front of a church.
Also in the news, this past week there were victory celebrations and angry protests when the Texas State Supreme Court put considerable restrictions on clinics performing abortions. Well, good, maybe there will be more life there to make up for the loss, right? Pro-life advocates are hoping less babies die I’m sure. While those opposed to the abortion restrictions see it as a blow to woman’s rights, even human rights, oppressively controlling what a woman is allowed to do with her body.
There are some things I believe are wrong that I just kind of have to let go. Abortion is not one of them. I just think it’s the killing of a child. But I listen to the arguments for abortion and hear that people are scared. What would happen if all of these children were born to single moms, extreme poverty and hunger, or broken families where they did not learn love? What would happen then if they failed to learn boundaries or respect? Would they be the ones stealing cars and killing themselves before their 21st birthday?
When I saw each of these local news stories where two young men were killed because of their bad choices, I felt indifference. And then that apathy turned into the same feeling that others had when they posted comments on the news pages.
Hey stupid, what did you think would happen when you tried to take a policeman down? Oh, yeah, I’ve had stuff stolen from me before and my friends have had cars stolen. So what were you thinking when you boosted the Honda and took off? What did you think would happen when you ran the stop sign?
Yeah, I was thinking stuff like that. And now I am ashamed for thinking that way. Later I thought about all the babies who might live because of the new abortion restrictions. I don’t know how much socio-economic status has anything to do with anything. But if babies will be born that wouldn’t have before, they already might have a strike against them. Whatever culture or family they grow up in, will they too someday be looking a crackpipe passed to them for the first time?
Maybe I’m assuming too much. But it’s what I’m thinking about. And something else I realized about two young men who died. Their moms seemed to choose to allow to live. Someone wanted them and someone is grieving that they don’t have them anymore.
And now as I write this, in Florida people are polarized again about the shooting and killing of a young man. Regardless of what the law says, regardless of who was wrong or right and who was a punk and who was an asshole, there is one thing that can’t be denied. Someone died. People are grieving a loss.
When someone dies, people hurt. They say that’s even true for mothers having an abortion. I don’t know. But if there is a chance at life, can we keep it? Too many young people are killed already.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

unnamed loss

     I was already feeling rotten when I went out to put the chickens away. We don’t really put them away at night. They instinctively go into their coop, which is a metal storage shed. They hop up onto their roosts and turn in for the night all on their own. All day long they have free rein of the backyard and can go in and out of their coop. At night someone needs to close up the door to the coop to keep them safe. Yucaipa does have its share of critters and predators.
     I had finished an easy night at work but was feeling upset because I had lost one of my framer’s gloves. I use the gloves every day at work. When I vacuum they keep my hands from blistering and they are helpful to wear moving tables. I had worn my gloves sometime that evening, then later noticed one missing. They were pretty new gloves and now I was missing the right one. Just thinking about missing it makes me run my thumb over the inside of my palm as if feeling calluses.
     And if that wasn’t enough, I had lost a folding utility knife sometime too. I keep my knife and multi-tool in a pouch on my belt with Velcro closing it. Yesterday I noticed the knife had disappeared, fallen out of the pouch somewhere. I don’t know when or where and that got me down too. Prajna had given me the knife and multi-tool for Christmas a few years back. I tend to attach feelings to objects.
     I stepped into the chicken coop and counted. There were 14. There should be 15. A few weeks ago we had had 17 chickens. Two had died in two days. We weren’t sure how but suspected the heat. I counted the chickens again, this time looking at the different breeds until I realized which one was missing. I shone my light all over the corners of the coop and inside the nesting boxes. No, one of our Plymouth partridge rocks was not in the coop.
I stepped outside and shone my flashlight around the yard. I looked around behind the shed where the girls hang out a lot, in the kid’s old playhouse, and under the trees. Then from a distance I saw it over by the side fence. As soon as I saw it I knew, but my mind just kept saying, no. But there she was, dead on the ground. Feathers were around her like there had been a struggle. This hadn’t been the heat. She had been killed. If could have been a predator. Or worse, it could have been one of our dogs. We had been letting them outside unsupervised and never had trouble with them and the chickens. The puppy sometimes chased them but they were too fast.
I came inside and told Prajna. I got a plastic garbage bag, scoped up the dead chicken and put it in the dumpster. I don’t know how hardly dignified and perhaps hardly legal.
I felt more miserable than ever. It was hot outside still. I didn’t want to go to bed but didn’t know what I wanted to do. I took the stuff off my belt to get ready for bed and felt around where my knife could have fallen out. I have a cluttered area on top of a bookshelf where I keep all my gear. My fingers touched something and I pulled it up. It was a key holder that I had lost about a week back and thought was gone forever. I have two of them that I keep on my belt to hang my keys on. I had forgotten this one was missing. Now it was found. In my deep sadness, I felt just a little rise in my hopes. Just a little. But it wasn’t really enough.
I tried to use the tools I have to get in touch with my feelings. Was I frustrated, angry, what? It was my fault for losing the glove and maybe the knife too. Was it my fault if one of our dogs, the puppy perhaps, had killed the hen? All I knew is that I felt sad. Sad was the only word. Maybe I was ashamed at myself for grieving over a dead bird. Sarah had named it. The hen had been shy and gentle. There is so much loss and grief in the world, who am I to feel bad for losing a pet chicken?
I tried not to deny the sadness while still having a sense of perspective. I could get a new glove; I could get two in fact. I had other knives. And we have 7 new baby chicks.
I hung the found key holder on the hook where I keep my personal keys. Right now my personal keys there are only my house key and the key to the family van. My truck key is at the mechanic along with the truck that probably will never be fixed.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Caught on a Catchphrase

     Whiteboards are remarkable. I saw the message and ignored it. When my friend filled in the blank at the end I objected. Then I relented. What I thought was an empty catchphrase became full of truth.
     Some of the cliché Christian catchphrases make me uncomfortable. I hear people announce clever witticisms like W.W.J.D. as if this is supposed to be a perfect signpost directing the right way to go. I wonder how many people realize that they can’t know W.J.W.D. without a good knowledge of The Bible. When I was working at a church one evening I had to ask some people to leave, telling them that they couldn’t operate their loud remote-control cars in the parking lot while a worship service was going on.
One guy leaned over and grinned. “You know,” he said. “I’ll bet Jesus would tell us we could stay.”
     I sighed and asked him when the last time he talked to Jesus was. It was probably hypocritical because I don’t think my prayer life was good back then either. What I should have told him was this: Jesus would probably suggest sell his remote control cars and give the money to charity. I didn’t know W.J.W.D. Maybe if I had talked to Jesus more often or read my Bible I would have thought of that.
     Yes, I am just as guilty of misinterpreting these sayings. At our last Friday night meeting there was a message left on the whiteboard from earlier in the week. It essentially asked what one must do when agreeing to serve God. The sentence ended with a blank line to fill in a personal answer. My friend wrote: Let Go, Let God.
     I objected. I called it out as just another feel-good catchphrase. To me, it meant that someone can just make no effort to do anything. It sounded like someone could just relax, like they were evacuating and letting go. Let God worry about everything, I’m just going to sit here and do nothing but let go.
     I’m not sure what I felt was wrong about this except that it sounded like a cop-out to me. Then I read over the lesson I agreed to teach that night. And right there in the night’s lesson were those very words Let Go, Let God.
     Great, was my first thought. I agreed to read the lesson out of the Leader’s Guide and the leaders guide was wrong. Well, maybe I could still salvage it.
     But then I re-read what the lesson was saying. It was lesson 14, READY. And it was all about submitting to the changes God would make in my life. Releasing control over to God means allowing God into my life. Suddenly there was context. Let go, meant let go of the control I am so very fond of. Let God didn’t mean let God go take care of things that bug me. Let God means to let God into my life. Surrendering things I hold onto like pride, mistrust, resentment, and so many other things that keep me from being who I am meant to be.
     The context made the difference. The empty phrase that looked like it belonged on a license plate frame became the fuel in the tank. I taught the lesson and got a good laugh from everyone when I admitted that I had learned from the lesson before I even taught it. Like the whiteboard, the writing on my mind had been wiped clean and replaced with truth.
     It’s amazing what some solid context will do to what one might think is just an empty phrase regarding a Christ-centered walk. It’s not enough to pull out what sounds catchy or even what sounds wrong in order to try to prove a point. And my lesson that night, my personal lesson in addition to the one I taught from the book, reminded me that partial surrender, like partial truth, is not enough.
     So I’ll share the question I’m pondering. What am I still holding onto that I need to let go of and let God into?