Thursday, January 31, 2019

Edge vs Equinox

Last week when our neighbor’s looked out their windows they saw three vehicles parked in the middle of our cul-de-sac. Two vehicles blocked in a third, which had two sick kids in it.

The parents of the children moved from one vehicle to the other, mostly bypassing the car with the kids in it. The parents talked intermittently, sat in one vehicle, then the other. Then they drove a vehicle and came back in 120 seconds. They looked at each other and said, “I don’t know. I’m torn."

One car we were considering buying was due back to the dealership 40 minutes earlier. The other car had a buyer waiting if we didn’t want it.

The Chevy Equinox had cost less, was newer, had less miles and had a better warranty. But the Ford Edge was sexier. It had a black leather interior, more gadgets and the exterior was more attractive. We would have felt cooler driving the Edge.

In the cul-de-sac we talked through the pros and cons of each car. It was clear, the Edge appealed more to our senses and emotions than our logic. But the Equinox appealed more to our logic than our emotions and senses.

We didn’t feel the lure of the Equinox like we could the Edge, even though the Equinox made more sense. This confirmed what I already knew: lust bucks logic.

Lust doesn’t consider practicality. It doesn’t care what works best. It wants what it does, a person, car or candle, no matter the cost. Lust causes binge eating, $400 monthly car payments and unwanted pregnancies and the stress and regret that come with them.

Wisdom won the day. We went with our prefrontal cortexes and choose the Equinox, but our temporal lobes made a strong showing.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Hey Survivor

A friend told me about his trip to Mongolia. He stayed with hunters and gatherers. They spend their whole lives trying to survive. Their to-do list might say: weather the storm, find medicine, prepare meals, fetch water, mend clothes, find a warm place to sleep. Those things seem automatic to us.

Our to-do lists put theirs to shame. Mere survival seems like a thing of the past, or for people in poor nations. We might feel like nobodies if all we did were the basics.

But January has been different. It’s been frigid. We haven’t been outside. Everyone in our house is sick. None of us are sleeping well. We haven’t accomplished much besides weathering the storm. It’s been miserable, but also refreshing. There’s no pressure to get big things done since the basics take all the energy we have. In January our to-do has been, “piece together remedies and medicines so we can breathe through our nose and eat toast.” Historically, this is how humans have lived. This is how many of us still live.

Although I look forward to us feeling better and it being warmer than 0, we have felt our humanness and neediness in ways we don’t in May. There’s value in that because we are usually out of touch with simplicity and vulnerability and insulated by technology and wellness.

It’s a nice change to appreciate just getting by and thinking of it as an accomplishment. It feels right to value survival instead of assuming it.

If you live north of Kansas and you are surviving January, kudos. Who cares if you didn’t do anything but eat, throw up and lay in bed.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Page Tearing

There comes a time when you think about people going through your stuff after you die. Maybe that time coincides with going through someone’s stuff that has passed.

In my Bible I write notes in it like, “4/22/18- All four of us went to Pioneers Park and walked around the lake and talked to the geese. It was 60 and sunny.” I also have notes by what I read on the days our kids were born and their birthdays. Notes like those will be fun for people to read after I die.

I also have notes that would make people think I was a good person, prayers in the margins, like “Spread your protection over our family. Surround us with your favor as a shield.” They’ll say, “What a pillar,” and they’ll hear me laugh from my grave.

Then I have notes that would make people wonder if I was a secret lunatic. These are notes about messy, embarrassing and difficult things. I thought about tearing these pages out this morning.

I thought that was interesting. I want to tear those pages out of my life too, not just my Bible. But that’s not wise, or possible. If we are realistic, courageous and humble we embrace those things, are thankful for them, learn from them and turn them on their heads and use them for good.

The tearing out pages idea made me think of the Bible. There are messy, embarrassing and hard things in it. It’s a circus and bloodbath. There’s sex and pain. But God must be content with those pages. Surprisingly, He hasn’t torn them out yet or had us tear them out. It’s ironic that a flawless God is more OK with messiness and pain than us.

Sunday, January 20, 2019


I hate you seeming like you do- not edgy enough, like you sit pure-
In an untouchable, stain-resistant, robe

We wonder if you know how to deal with us-
Twisted everything, demented creatures, on the edge of it all
Are you there, or should we look somewhere else?

I wonder if the lady who reached for your robe saw something in you we don’t; dirt under your fingernails, the edge in you, your love for the edgy 

If we could see you like she did you might seem earthy enough to us-
Like you understand twisted
Like you grasp and counter our sloppy and impassioned lurches to meet our perceived needs
Like you are an off-color poet who gets humans, in a robe with stains, who the edgy can admire- who those on the edge of it all can touch

(Painting by Walter Stuempfig.)

Friday, January 18, 2019

The Mechanic

It was sweet how sad the mechanic was to be the bearer of bad news.

He acted like our car was a person as he described it’s final breaths:

“Three cylinders broke off. One melded to the drive shaft, another tumbled down the conviculator, the third shattered and lodged in the...well, let me show you. (We walk to the car.) You gotta see this. I’ve never seen anything like it in 35 years. You were running on three cylinders.”

Three cylinders sounded like a lot to me, but judging from the way he said it he didn’t think so.  

As we stood under the hoisted car he showed me the failed parts. He spoke like an impassioned professor- in detail about things I didn’t understand. But I did not misunderstand his passion or expertise.

He is a brain surgeon, but for cars. And I was witnessing his greatness.

He said something similar happened with Dale Johnson's Chevy a few years back, but that ours was worse. He told me Ford’s design was flawed this particular year. He told me he called his mechanic friend to tell him what happened to our vehicle. I wondered if these mechanical events were a special blessing or curse from God or the devil.

My wife and kids were waiting for me outside and they were cold and hungry.

But who was I to cut off this moment?

Denny was making an apology for something he felt bad about. He was experiencing the chemistry empathy elicits, which like a good cry, shouldn’t be truncated.

So, selflessly, I let him finish as I looked out the window at my wife and kids unknowingly paying the cost necessary for this moment.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

What we want, What we need

“I don’t want to do that.”
“I don’t want to go!”
“That will be too hard.”
“I’m uncomfortable.”
“I’m not interested.”
“I’d rather do something else.”
“That won’t make me happy.”
“That’s going to be boring.”

Those are thoughts we often initially think about things that end up giving meaning and purpose to our lives.

In 1989 I refused to get out of the car for baseball practice. I would have rather been at home. I didn’t want to play. But when I got on the field I felt joy, belonging, purpose and vitality- none of the things I initially felt or predicted I would feel.

From that experience I should have learned that just because I dread something at first doesn’t mean it won’t be fulfilling in the end. I should have learned the things we resist at first become our lifeblood.  

But that’s not something we learn once and know it for good- it’s something we relearn every hour, because we forget.

We relearn it when we have a great conversation with someone we didn’t want to talk to.

When we do a task we didn’t want to do and it makes us feel alive. (Cleaning a car or trimming trees.)

When we sense our purpose serving others when we didn’t want to. (Giving someone a ride or making them a meal.)

When we find joy from a circumstance we wanted to avoid. (Running a half marathon.)

When we find our giftedness somewhere we didn’t think we would.  

When we see God's purpose in going a place we didn't want to go.

When we experience abundant life playing in the snow when we’d rather sit by the fireplace and read (happened Saturday.)

Amazingly, left to ourselves, we are poor forecasters of what will give our lives meaning and purpose. We require God and others to nudge us toward what is best for us- which is often not the same as what we want.

(*Painting is Factory District by Walter Stuempfig.)

Friday, January 11, 2019

The Home-Us

It's easier to an all-star outside of the home than in it. The visible, public-us is easier to master than the private, home-us.

Like you, I have work nailed. I’m productive and successful. I know what to do and I do it. I color between the lines. I have a good reputation. I have new khakis. Sometimes I have good hair days.

Like you, I also shine in short public appearances- the ones where you make eye contact and nod when people talk.

It’s easy to maintain our image in those situations.

But it’s impossible to maintain our image at home. At home, we can’t hide behind appearances like we can in public. The spouse of every Harvard Humanitarian Award knows how much of a jerk their spouse can be. Gandhi’s sister knew he was a thief and crybaby. Joseph got mad when Jesus forgot to flush the toilet.

Even good people have no chance at a good reputation in their home.

Home is where everything in us comes into play; insecurities, wounds, snoring, selfishness, entitlement, untidiness, stubbornness, judgment and hypocrisy. At work and in brief conversations in social settings, you see shades of those things, but at home you see it all. Every part of us shows up like urine under a black light. Our lucky family. Lucky us.

This is why the person who does well in the context of family, and those closest to them, does the hardest thing humanly possible. They don’t climb Mount Everest- they climb a mountain higher and more difficult. They navigate the craggy shards of busted souls as they cope with their own.

So, the hardest thing is not winning a Humanitarian Award or walking across Africa. It’s not being successful and productive in an organization. The hardest thing is not earning a good reputation at work, making 1 million dollars or becoming President. It’s not having a shiny public image. The hardest thing is at home, where we do life with others and they do life with us.

I'm afraid the challenge is closer than we like.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

You could be DT

If you were born a white baby boy to Fred Trump and Mary Anne MacLeod Trump on June 14, 1946 in New York, New York...
If you received the physical unit of heredity- a linear sequence of nucleotides along a segment of DNA that provides the coded instructions for synthesis of RNA, which, when translated into protein, leads to the expression of hereditary character- from Fred Trump and Mary Anne MacLeod Trump...
If you had the body, mind, emotions and presence those genes tended to produce...
If you had the exact upbringing and experiences as Donald Trump...
If you were born Donald Trump and given what he has been given to deal with himself, how much better than him would you be?
In a way, Trump’s types and degrees of wretchedness chose him, just like ours did us, and we want, and need, compassion for who we are
Is that a call to mercy?
(*Donald Trump is on the left in the photo above.)