Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Free at Last!

Remember all those times in life when you felt so free! You finally had your drivers permit and you could take the car on the road without Mom or Dad being backseat drivers - free at last! Graduation day - no more classes, no more demanding teachers, no more term papers - free at last! Out from under Mom and Dad's thumb - on your own - your own apartment - no more rules - free at last! This kind of freedom is always fleeting - it never lasts.

You go to work and the boss has a whole new set of rules to follow. At work by 8 and don't be late -- freedom gone. You get married and the obligations and commitments of living and loving and working together place limitations on your life - more than you ever considered. When the kids arrive, you have even less freedom, with the needs of your children coming before your own. Where did all that freedom go?

Maybe we dream of the wrong kind of freedom - genuine freedom has obligations - it takes effort to maintain - it has to be cared for, nurtured, protected and treasured.

A neighbor told me a few years ago that he lived for years longing for his great emancipation - retirement. Then he would be free - but what he found was that even retirement has it's demands - the needs of an ailing wife, the struggles of a troubled adult child came to call - it felt as if his freedom had been taken away again.

I consider myself a free person - free to think, to love, to serve, to work, to give, to listen, to disagree, to laugh, to cry - in other words I am free to live!

Freedom is like taking a bath - you have to keep doing it every day to stay free!

As the 4th of July approaches I am enjoying my free life and thanking God for it - the old USA is a good place to live and I am blessed. I will enjoy some watermelon, have a hotdog, and enjoy some fireworks this weekend and remember that genuine freedom is hard work!

Just thinking, Steve

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Arriving Where We Started

I am making a special effort everyday to spend time in quiet, thinking, praying, exploring, and just listening. This is a hard discipline but a rich one to develop. The world of motion, noise, activity, talking beckons me all day long. I live in that world and enjoy it. But it is dangerous place when you cannot ever be still or be quiet without feeling guilty or useless or empty.

I have noticed lately that my thoughts, meditations, and prayers keep finding there way to the place where I started.

I know you have heard these lines from T.S. Eliot:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
T.S. Eliot in Four Quartets

Eliot's words have been bouncing around in my head and heart lately. I am discovering that all my exploring keeps taking me back to familiar places in my memory. Sometimes memory of the past and desires for the future are joined to the love of the present. It is as if we journey and explore and find our self back where we started but with a new understanding and appreciation of that starting place.

Let me illustrate it this way: I spent the day with my dear Grand kids recently and had so much fun listening to them, playing with them - just soaking it all in. At one point I realized that I was thinking of sweet times with my daughter years before, (their Mom) and then noticed I was thinking of joyous times with my Father as a child. I was in one moment enjoying the present and past and somehow I felt like a knew something I had never known. This is part of what Eliot has in mind, I think.

I remember taking a long ride with my Father a few years before his death. We drove around the county where he grew up and he pointed out the places where he had worked, gone to school, and lived. I was driving and pulling over again and again to listen to his stories. Hours later, I realized we were back where we started - we had make a long and winding journey through out the county but we ended up right back where we started. It seemed the perfect end to that journey.

Life is full. Life is good. Explore and explore some more but remember often you will find yourself arriving where you started. Each time, if you are attentive, you will find you have made new discoveries along the way. Enjoy the trip!

Just thinking, Steve

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Growing Old Gracefully

You may have heard the story about the tourist who was on vacation in the mountains of West Virginia one summer. Making his way up a mountain trail, the traveler came upon an old cabin with what appeared to be a truly authentic mountain man sitting on the front porch. The traveler asked the fellow if he could take his picture - the mountain man said, "I reckon so." After taking a few photo's he asked the man what his secret was - "I have always wondered how you mountain people live to such a ripe old age - What's your secret?" The mountain man responded; "No secret how I live - everybody around here knows I drink a quart of homemade whiskey every day, smoke 6 cigars made from homegrown tobacco, and a I party every night." The tourist was shocked - "Wow! That seems like a rather strenuous lifestyle for a man of your age - how old are you, sir?" The mountain man said with great pride; "I will be 32 this spring."

I love to talk to people who have a few miles on them. Some folks in their 90's are as alive and vibrant as ever, even if they have some physical limitations. I am always trying to discover their secret - how does a person grow old gracefully?

Sometimes I see someone who looks rather ridiculous trying to act like they are 21 when they are 81. I also have witnessed far too many who simply quit living when they hit 60 - there is nothing more tragic than seeing someone die before they die!

I am learning that the secret to growing old gracefully is in the word "growing." When I talk with people who have quit learning, quit growing, who have parked their brains and quit exploring, my heart goes out to them. How sad!

I talked with a woman recently who was telling me about her new computer, with all the latest features. She was like a kid in a candy shop. She is in her 80's. She is a cutting edge learner and age has nothing to do with it - it's about living!

I met a man a few years ago who went back to college when he was in his 70's and graduated from College in his 80th year. He told me he hoped experience and education would help him land a good job.

Most of the people I run and ride with are much younger than me - much faster - and look better in bike shorts than I do, but it is invigorating to be around them - they praise me for my "long dedication and discipline" - I feed off their enthusiasm and passion.

The truth is we are all growing older - the only question is will we make the exciting journey with grace?

Just thinking, Steve

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Life in the Waves

I have become a lover of the ocean. This took some time for me. I love rivers and lakes and creeks - oceans seemed too massive. I had to get used to saltwater and stinging creatures in the surf like jellyfish and man of war. I have learned to enjoy the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic, and the Pacific on different occasions - each has it's own unique personality.

I recall one occasion when the waves, wind, and undertow at the beach were especially strong. As I went out into the surf, I was pulled, pushed, jabbed, knocked down and left breathless by the power of the waves and currents. One moment I was standing, the next I was down scraping my chest on the bottom of the ocean floor. What power - so much power.

Sometimes life is like fighting the waves of a churning ocean. I recently spent time with a family whose son, a graduating Senior, who had won an appointment to the Air Force Academy, a remarkable and gifted young man, was killed in a car crash. It was like a giant wave came crashing down on them. Another family, lost their Mother and Father in an instant. The storm had come with such intensity that it threatened to take them all under. Life in the waves is so unpredictable. One moment the seas are gentle and rolling - the next they are like a violent storm.

I have to remind myself that living is beautiful and treacherous, sometimes all in the same week, same day, same hour.

The gift of living comes with risk but with amazing joy. The joy is even present in the storm - surrounded by people who love us, who act as Life Guards pulling us from the stormy sea of life, we see again the beauty of loving relationships, even in the midst of loss.

One line from Scripture comes to mind: "Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep..." - we don't have to face the winds and waves alone. (Romans 12:15)

I am stepping back into the waves - thank God I am not alone.

Just thinking, Steve

Monday, June 1, 2009

Too Friendly

I am out and about early each day. Running, swimming, biking or walking - my morning exercise routine is a basic of my daily schedule. When I am running through my neighborhood in the mornings, I greet the people I encounter along the way. After years of being a "friendly guy" to those I meet I know that not everyone is going to respond to my friendly greeting. Those who are regulars have given up being silent and they say hello. When I meet someone new to the morning crowd they often say nothing when I greet them - some even turn away as if I do not exist. I have lived in this same neighborhood for more than 20 years. Some of those I see when I am on my morning circuit are now walking their third or fourth dog since the first time I met them along our route.

I know that to some I am just too friendly. Greeting strangers, saying hello to people who I don't even know - I am a freak. Someone told me that I will make a great greeter at Wal-Mart someday. I was being friendly before friendly was a marketing tool.

On a trip to New York City I had to restrain myself on the greeting stuff - for one thing there are millions of people on the street and my voice just cannot hold up to it. Besides that I was told by those who love me that I would probably get verbally abused if I greeted NYC strangers.

Why are we afraid of friendliness? I hate living in a world that is so fearful that saying hello and offering a gentle smile is seen as a threat.

Being a friendly freak is not all bad. One morning an older fellow that I greeted on the Golf Course cart path stopped me and told me that he looked forward to my hello and smile in the mornings. We friendly freaks tend find each other.

Try a little friendliness - give someone a simple smile today.

Just thinking, Steve