Monday, May 14, 2018

THE GIFTS OF PAIN AND FEAR



A New Day, Kiawah Island, SC


Worry, Anxiety, Courage and Hope

Pain and fear are great gifts from God that none of us want and none of us can live without.  We all go through seasons of worry and anxiety because of the nature of the broken world we live in and the function of the early development deep within our brain that alerts us to danger for survival.  When I first read about the “gift of pain” in a Philip Yancey book, I was incredulous that pain would even be considered as a gift.  But on further examination it became apparent that without the sensations of pain that are transmitted to our brains we are subject to all manner of life threatening injuries.  Sadly, the many instances that result in the loss of limbs in lepers is not the direct result of this terrible disease, but the loss of feeling on nerve endings which leprosy destroys.  This lack of pain sensations results in a person not alerted to a severe cut or infection that soon can cause the loss of a limb.

The amygdala area of our brain provides us such critical functions as automatic breathing and the “gift of fear”.  Once Again, calling the very real experience of fear a gift seems to be a big stretch!  But we’re a direct product of the DNA of our very early ancestors that were primitive survivors of all manner of threats to their lives such as volcanic eruptions and attacks from saber tooth tigers!  Today we have weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, plagues and many other new threats to our existence.  The red flag of fear results in the automatic response of fight, flight or freeze!  Even today this response can save our lives, but if the response begins to recycle in our head it can also quickly get out of control.

Adam Hamilton in his book on Unafraid offers an acronym to combat our fears:

·         Face your fears with faith.  (Scripture can be helpful)
·         Examine your assumptions in light of the facts.  (Don’t rely on a runaway imagination)
·         Attack your anxieties with action.  (Therapy can be helpful)
·         Release your cares to God.  (Turn over those things totally out of your control)
·          
The instruction “Do not be afraid” in one form or another appears over 140 times in scripture.  That teaches us that fear like pain is ageless but faith can help us find peace.  Many heroes have stated that courage isn’t the absence of fear, but rather moving through our fear in spite of it.  My physical therapist helping me recover from a total knee replacement advised me to consider pain as “weakness leaving my body”. 

One of my favorite quotes from Mary Anne Radmacher is that “Courage does not always roar.  Sometimes it is a quiet voice at the end of the day that says, ‘I will try again tomorrow.’”  Biblical scripture offers us both courage and hope and my favorite quote comes from Paul in his letter to the Philippians (4:6-7); “The Lord is near.  Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks.  Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus.”

Monday, May 7, 2018

SOUVENIRS

Shell Souvenirs, Kiawah Island, SC


I bet that you, like me, have collected more than a few souvenirs of our trips around the sun in our lifetime!  These tokens of remembrance are objects we acquire for the memories we associate with them.  Scholars have broadly classified souvenirs as markers of locations, pictorial images and symbolic natural items or mass-produced objects that can probably be purchased on-line at home.

I certainly like to take interesting and unique photographs of the world I’m traveling through at the time, both to record the journey and also to sharpen my focus on the place in time itself.  For instance, if I’m able to photograph a masterpiece painting, I will focus on only one section that catches my eye.  Some folks wouldn’t ever recognize that it was taken from such a recognizable work of art.  On trips into nature, I might gather up a small rock or shell as a remembrance.  Vandalizing an area is sadly all too common.  I remember walking up the Washington monument in DC and noticing all the remains of objects that had been torn from niches in the walls.  And watching a family encourage their child to pick colorful wild flowers close to a sign that read, “Take only memories, leave only footsteps” on a trail in a national park. 

But it isn’t just material things that we collect on our trips around the sun.  In the final analysis, it’s the relationships and lasting memories of good times that sustain us.  Unlike material souvenirs, these keepsakes do not change in importance over time.  They help to shape our character and their significance is priceless.  And only we can relate those souvenirs which we have retained in our possession over the years to our own personal experiences and the people we shared them with on our trips around the sun. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

SIMPLE PLEASURES


Elaine's Coffee Call, Chicago, IL
           
Once I had posted my essay on The Indulgence of a Rainy Morning, it occurred to me that I had written other posts on the simple pleasures of life.  So, I searched my blog on observations and highlighted others that involved simple pleasures.  Then I just finished converting these posts into both an electronic and bound book on the subject.

Psychology Today defines simple pleasures as “experiences that are brief, positive, emerge in everyday settings, and are accessible to most people at little or no cost. They are highly personal, meaning what is a simple pleasure for you may not be a simple pleasure for others.”  The researchers found that folks who have a better awareness of these moments are able to make steady progress on their daily goals by checkmating daily hassles with these positive, uplifting feelings.


It's not always the big changes in life such as a new house or car that have a positive impact on our lives.  Simple pleasures give us the happiness, energy and perspective we need to carry on and accomplish the difficult but important issues in life.  

It turns out to be a neat exercise for everyone—try it!

Here’s a short list representing some of the simple pleasure posts in my blog:

·          Rainy mornings
·         A child’s view of the world
·         Mountain vistas and nature sounds
·         Walking the beach
·         A full moonrise
·         Sacred quiet places
·         Colorful tree cathedrals
·         People watching
·         Walking a dog
·         Morning coffee
·         Catching fireflies
·         Playing catch
·         Watching the season’s change
·         Sitting on a porch with friends and relatives
·         Viewing and smelling a flower bloom

Saturday, April 28, 2018

BREAD OF LIFE



Europe was overwhelmed with hungry, homeless, orphaned children after WWII.  Large camps were created to house and feed the children, but the caregivers noticed that they were anxious and fearful which resulted in sleepless nights.  Finally, a psychologist resolved the issue by instructing the caregivers to give each child a piece of bread after they were put to bed.  The bread was NOT placed in their mouth, but in their hand and the results were astounding!

The children slept all through the night because the bread gave them a sense of security (they were safe), significance (somebody cared), and satisfaction (there was bread for tomorrow).  We need these things also and Jesus has proclaimed that he is the “Bread of Life” who satisfies the spiritual hunger of the human heart and the eternal hunger of the human soul.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

THE INDULGENCE OF A RAINY MORNING

Rain Drops on Spring Lilacs, Jamestown, NC

SIMPLE PLEASURES

Awakening early this morning to the sound of rain drops on the bedroom windows and water rushing through downspouts, I realized that this simple pleasure is quite possibly the most rewarding of all in retirement.  Like most life experiences, the level of satisfaction can only be relevant when compared to other similar memories, both positive and negative.  One positive thought could harken back to our first awakening in the womb to the soothing sound of amniotic fluids surrounding our developing bodies.

I’ve worked all of my adult life up to the day when I was old enough to have accumulated enough retirement income, in addition to affordable health insurance so that one critical illness would not consume it all.  And there was never a more difficult time to rise and shine than early on a work week Monday morning with the same familiar sound of rain drops on rooftops.  It’s a siren song of nature that is luring you back into a deep nirvana slumber like no other.  But I had a mortgage and bills to pay, a family to support and associates at work that depended on my presence or possibly a 6:00 AM plane to catch.   So I rose, showered, woofed down a quick bowl of cereal, inhaled a warm cup of coffee and trudged out of the comfort of home under the dismal spring rain clouds singing “I owe, I owe, it’s off to work I go!” to the synchronic rhythm of the windshield wipers.

But the spring rain this morning gave me pause to reflect on those days and appreciate the simple indulgence of turning over for a few more minutes in a semi-conscious state to soak in the soothing chorus of the rain on the roof.  And then rising to an unhurried morning with no entries on my planner that required my presence.  But it really was those hurried days of yesteryear that ultimately gave me the acute appreciation of such a simple pleasure that was beyond measure this morning.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

WINDOW-ON-THE-WORLD

Moving Van, Chicago, IL

While staying with my one-year old grandson during the day recently, I realized how out of touch I had become when it comes to having the curiosity and imagination of a child.  Jesus remarked in Matthew 18:3-4 “Truly I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”  We adults have lived long enough to have accumulated and be blinded by all the biases and lenses through which we filter the world around us.  It was a renewal of spirit to once again see the world through the lens of a little child.

We literally spent off and on hours with two cut-out books that had successively larger holes for truck wheels and fish.  The Zoom truck book has already received so much attention that the spine has separated from its moorings.  But that wasn’t a result of repeated readings.  No, this spineless book has been through an unlimited number of passing’s of small trucks through the one page where cutout wheels are big enough for the drill.  Of course, that’s not the book’s intended purpose, but one that has already claimed its destiny in this life.

And just when you think that the game is over, a screeching ambulance, a large white delivery truck, a noisy sports car, or a bright yellow school bus interrupts the silence of the third-floor unit in the Chicago Greystone and we rush to our window-on-the-world just in time to catch a glimpse of the passing vehicle below amid the wonderous verbalizing of the language of a young child’s “Oooooooo’s”.  That reality sparks renewed interest in once again passing the miniature trucks through the magical portals to a new dimension!  These traits will serve him well as his window-on-the-world begins to expand exponentially.

Soon a moving van realizes that it has just entered a one-way street going the wrong way.  So, it turns into the alley below and maneuvers around as electronic back up signals sound the alarm.  The urgent sound immediately brings us back to the window sill so that the entire episode can be absorbed.  And then just as the street traffic seems to settle down, a city trash truck can be heard digesting the cast-off waste of the big city dwellers before it continues on its never-ending mission to our eternal childlike delight. 

Monday, March 26, 2018

MOUNTAIN SONG HAIKU

Blue Ridge Mountains, NC

High country mountains,
like sunny, sandy beaches,
offer solitude,
from worldly noise and chaos.

Driving to the top,
lazy clouds float in blue skies,
and the crisp fresh air,
awakens hidden senses.

Hiking mountain trails,
provides a glimpse of God’s view,
while swaying grasses,
conceal soothing songs of praise.

The insect chorus,
sings as one in harmony,
amid soft breezes,
another simple pleasure.