“Why can’t the world be like I thought it was when I was nine?”
“I’m tired of being an adult. If anyone wants me, I’ll be in my cardboard-box fort with some Oreos and milk.”
“I’ve had it with this crap! The whole world needs a good, long recess. Or an enema.”
“Good? It may be out there someplace, but The Lazys have let The Crazys have their way so often we can’t see it. How do we show our kids what Good looks like if all they see and hear is the hideous, bloody junk?”
Come on in and have some fresh medium-roast with me. I’ve been looking forward to spending some time with you.
Here; have a Ghirardelli chocolate square to go with it. These white mint-filled ones really go well with fresh java. ‘Course, there’s the dark chocolate, too, and there’s . . .
What? Things were different than they are? People had more gumption and less grouchiness and grabbyness? There was less self-centeredness and more self-sacrifice? Folks weren’t so tech-savvy while being so terminally underdeveloped in social skills?
Recently someone whose thoughts I’ve long admired wrote me this: “Where is God when things are tough and I just don’t understand? It is the daily struggles–the church that stabs you, the co-worker that treats you with disrespect? When you are dumped on and have to do things that aren’t in your job description but you do it anyway? Why does it have to hurt so badly? Those are answers that people in our world are looking for and don’t know where to find them.”
Does that resonate with you? While you were reading those words did something down inside you go ‘twang’ and you thought, “Yeah, I’ve felt that so often I’ve lost count. And when I’ve dared to voice my thoughts I’ve gotten speeches, memos, seminars, Bible studies and sermons. More words! I don’t need more words. What I need, what I want are some flesh-and-blood examples to follow.”
Emerson once said, “Right ethics are central, and go from the soul outward.” It was another way of pointing out that character is not determined in a crisis; it is only revealed. You are who and what you are regardless of who is around you. Regardless of who agrees with you.
Daily struggles are part of all our lives. Good thing, ay? We’d be pencil-necked, limp-wristed pantywaists without them. Think about it.
Think about the strongest trees you’ve ever seen. They haven’t survived because of what’s above ground. It’s their root systems that’s kept them strong.
There’s a little town in eastern Oregon named Echo. After Indian hostilities ceased, James H. Koontz laid out the town, establishing it in 1881 and naming it after his little daughter. Echo’s on the Old Pendleton River Road, modern route 395 out of Stanfield, and is home to around 700 people, give or take. The town’s so little it doesn’t mean much to anyone who doesn’t live there. It does to me because my maternal grandparents lived there. The Union Pacific railroad ran right past the back of their house. The freight trains thundering past used to jiggle everything in the little house when they went by. As a kid I used to run out and watch every train until the clicking of the tracks stopped. Grandma and Grandpa aren’t there anymore. For all I know, the house isn’t, either.
On a curve leading into town there was a windswept bluff with a single wrangled, ugly little tree on it. There were other smaller, prettier trees out there. It was that one that always drew my attention. That tree always told me we were getting close to Grandma and Grandpa Wise’s house on North Thielson Street. If that bluff and the gnarled old tree are still there, they both mark another important place outside Echo.
Grandma and Grandpa’s remains are buried in the little cemetery where that old tree stands, overlooking the town.
The tree was ugly and wind-deformed. There were other saplings growing some distance away from it, as if to say with a sniff, “We’re not with him.” It had little in common with its taller, more majestic Bob-Ross-quality kin in nearby Oregon forests. Those pines, tamaracks and blue spruces were all crowded together in ways that made loggers salivate. They probably didn’t sniff. Not sure if trees do, but they sigh. Just be quiet and listen.
That ugly little tree outside Echo that the wind routinely tried to bully was all by itself. Tough. Resilient. If trees could talk it could say some stuff. It can’t. I’ll see if I can articulate in its place.
Pride wastes unredeemable time whining, “What if…?” The past is what it is. Get over it, over yourself. Let go of your control-freaky stranglehold on your pride and whatever’s holding you back. There’s a time for grief, sorrow, anger, remorse and every other emotion known to man. There’s also a time to get over it and move on. It’d sure be nice if I was one of those straight, well-formed trees over there by the big gravestones. Then maybe people would sit under my shade and I could wave my branches at them and listen to their conversations. But, no–nobody wants to sit under the UGLY tree. . .
Make peace with your past. Find a way to go forward. Life is a one-way street; going the wrong way can get you hurt. It can also hurt others who have nothing to do with the wounds from your past you won’t let heal. And even going the right way while looking over your shoulder can cause collisions with things you’d otherwise easily see and either sidestep or move out of your way. Really? You want to MAKE something out of MY trunk and branches? Have you taken a good look at me? Why, I’m so gnarled and—-what? Whaddya mean that’s what makes my wood so unique and sought after? Hunh? People pay premium prices for distressed wood? Driftwood? What about it . . . . ?
The more anger towards the past you carry in your heart, the less capable you are of loving in the present. You and I know plenty of past experiences that would make a Dyson blush. Everyone has them. Dwelling on them keeps the wounds bleeding, unable to heal and easy targets for sepsis.
When I poke, jab or slice my finger doing something or other, I don’t stand there just celebrating its bloody stickiness. I go clean it as best I can, put some antibiotic ointment on it, slap a bandage on it and get on with whatever I was doing. And. I. Expect. It. To. Heal. I want it to heal.
So do you.
Jim Fannon is considered the world’s best sports performance coach. Listen: “You cannot hold a future and a past-tense thought at the same time. It is one or the other….You have either positive or negative thoughts, but you can’t think them at the same time. And the best news of all is you have free will to have any thought you choose.”
Yeah. YOU decide what and how you think. All the time. Saying, “Well, _______ made me mad and I—-” is lying to yourself and giving you a cheap excuse to act out. Nobody makes you do or think or say anything. It is, as with all things in this life, your choice.
“Okay. All right. But what about your friend who wrote such penetrating words. You’re making it sound like it’s his fault. Her fault. Whomever–but what about it? Don’t those concerns deserve something better than, “Aw, c’mon, shake it off. Walk it off. You’re tough.”?
Certainly. And to do that, a foundation of personal responsibility must be carefully laid. It’s the one thing that seems to be screaming for attention, but is most often denied: PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY.
- “Where is God when things are tough and I don’t understand?”
- “What about these daily struggles?”
- “What’s going to make any difference with a church that’s long on talk (of all kinds) and short on support?”
- “What about the work environment – even ‘Christian’ ones – where coworkers are disrespectful and dump extra work on you actually theirs?”
- “Why does it all have to hurt so bad?”
I could go on about the senseless brutality and backwards-looking thinking that’s caused so much mayhem and death in our world. This past two weeks is a prime example. Right now there are squadrons of lawyers barking at one another about the ‘rights’ of Islamist terrorists who have publicly blown innocent people into small pieces. As terrorists – enemy combatants – they have no rights. But politically-correct social engineers intent on never offending them while being insanely offensive to all the rest of us have taken common sense and decency hostage in ways that would be hilariously silly were they not so hideously serious.
We cannot change our world until we change us. It must start at the personal level.
This will sound too simple until you think it through. Every ill facing us can be greatly alleviated or stopped in its tracks by all concerned taking personal responsibility for their thoughts and resulting words and actions.
Just think about it. Sit down in a piece of paper and a pen. Pull up a blank Word document. Begin writing down every possible crummy thing you can think of. Then beside it with a red Flair pen, write who you believe is personally responsible for that thing. Be honest about it, now.
If the person or persons PERSONALLY RESPONSIBLE for those ideas, ideals, occurrences and actions were held accountable for them, how would that change the outcome?
I hear you. “Gotta be kidding me, Dan. Pollyanna channeling you or what? You really think that’s gonna happen in our lifetime, in our world? The real one, I mean?”
Hey. I’m with you. In our world, no. Never happen. Not until Jesus comes back and forces the issue. Again. But in your life, today? What might change in and around you if YOU began approaching every situation by filtering it through this thought: “What is my personal responsibility in this matter?”
Sorting that out automatically creates a list of that for which you’re NOT personally responsible–and therefore about which you have absolutely no business thinking or worrying! And THAT, 2nd Cup friend, is a huge step.
It’s also this week’s challenge: begin looking at every situation in which you find yourself through the filter of personal responsibility. If it is yours, take a few moments to consider how you can best fulfill it. If it’s not and merely someone else’s laziness or predatory nature laying it on you, refuse to accept it.
A lifestyle of excellence in character doesn’t just happen. It takes a courageous and sometimes solitary example until others begin to catch on and realize you will no longer be handling their personal responsibilities.
Yup, they’ll whine. They’ll run to whomever just as always. You’ll likely be braced by mid-level managers who themselves have gotten used to skating by on their own personal responsibilities. When it happens, be honest and forthright.
“I know my job and what things are my personal responsibilities. As you can see, I’m busy pursuing and honoring them. These specific things you mention are not mine. I’d suggest you find whose they actually are, for I have only the time to do my very best to accomplish my own. Thanks for dropping by.”
Let me toss some free writing at you that directly bears on this matter of fading ideas of excellence and exceptionalism – and this cloying, disgusting habit of nobody being responsible but everyone being offended.
“It’s being true to one’s self. Being honorable. A man or woman of integrity. It’s setting personal boundaries, living life according to them and deciding to no longer allow others to routinely trample them. It is living life largely on one’s own terms of personal excellence. It is setting the bar high and consistently holding oneself accountable to leave it there. It is having the decency, the moral code to step up and shape up if it becomes apparent one is more often doing the Limbo rather than making any real effort to clear the bar.”
Our kids need to see us doing this, Boomers. We’ve gotten lazy, too. We’ve allowed them to become so unable to recognize excellence in any setting that they are a very dull image of who we initially meant to raise them to be. We’ve allowed them to become lazy and lax in their personal lives because we have.
Excellence. It’s a lifetime thing, a goal that never dims when we close our eyes at night. It’s a challenge I’ve taken on in a new way in my own life.
Anyone with me?
I love you and I believe in you,
(c) April 2013