I grew up in the suburbs. A place of perpetual activity. Of Hurry. Of worry. Of 5 soccer games on the weekend, piano lessons and orthodontics. A place where there is very little time to sit and think about…well…anything.
I still live in the burbs. I don’t love it, and I don’t hate it. It’s the water and I am the fish…the suburbs are where I live. They just “are.”
Last week I attended the funeral of a dear friend’s mother in small town Indiana. It included things I expected – a small country church, home-spun anecdotes about the wonderful woman who passed away, and a delicious “pitch-in” lunch following the service. It also surprised me in a few ways – the genuine warmth I received from people I didn’t know, the breathtaking landscape of rural Indiana in autumn, and how beautiful a funeral can be.
As we left the funeral home in the long line of cars being led to the cemetery by local police escort, one observation struck me. Though we moved at a snail’s pace, every car coming the opposite direction pulled to the side of the road.
I was stunned.
I looked at the people in the cars. Young, old, kids in car seats, businessmen and students. I didn’t see a single person who looked impatient, nervously tapping their steering wheel waiting for the procession to pass. They were calm and respectful, acknowledging the gravity of the moment. There was even an older gentleman on a riding lawnmower who stopped and bowed his head as the line of cars passed.
Where I live, I can’t imagine a scene like this. Even if we were required to stop, I think I would be releasing heavy sighs, calculating how I could make up for the loss of four precious minutes.
I’ll admit it. I like the convenience of the suburbs. I like the school systems and the easy, geographically convenient access to services I use virtually every day. I can buzz around with few obstacles, but do I miss the people? Are the lives around me worthy of honor and respect, and do I steep myself in their richness?
Ask 10 people who know me to describe me, and you’ll almost certainly hear the word “positive” at some point. I’m a cheerleader, the kind of “rah-rah” guy you probably like when you need a pick-me-up, but who may annoy you in a contemplative moment. And if you’re given to frequent bouts of melancholy? Well, you might envy me my upbeat outlook, or more likely, you might characterize me as delusional.
I don’t apologize for it. Whether by personality or pathology, (likely a combination of both), I like being a glass-half-full guy. But….
It’s okay to be sad.
It’s okay to be sad when you’re lonely.
It’s okay to be sad when you experience pain…of any kind.
It’s okay to be sad when you see racism.
It’s okay to be sad when your enemies, and especially your friends, hurt you.
It’s okay to be sad when you’ve been ignored or marginalized.
It’s okay to be sad when you see the plight of less fortunate people.
It’s okay to be sad….period…for no reason, other than sadness.
I recently had one of these sad moments. I have no idea why it hit me, but sadness came over me like a misty, cold cloud. Instead of reaching for my phone to play a game, or text someone, or to start a conversation about football, I decided to let it wash over me. I owned it. I embraced it. I allowed it to run its course. It was, in its own way, something quite beautiful.
Shortly after experiencing this, I ran across a YouTube video of comedian Louis CK on Conan O’Brien’s show. Because of some coarse language, I don’t feel comfortable posting the link here, but in the middle of this clip, he talks about how in our fast-paced, multi-tasking world, we miss the opportunities to really feel sadness. We avoid it with activity, and in avoiding real sadness, we avoid real joy.
I want joy…so I’m going to embrace the sadness when it comes.
For over two years I had pined for it, asked for it, and maybe even begged for it, so when my parents gave me a guitar for my 21st birthday, I couldn’t have been happier. I remember gently removing it from its case and admiring its beauty. The grain of the wood, the smooth feel of the neck and the beautifully inlaid mother of pearl on the fretboard clearly illustrated the care of the luthier. I was overjoyed by the gift. For years, that first guitar was a source of creativity, rest and comfort in the dark places.
Recently, I got to thinking about the luthier that crafted my guitar. The skill demonstrated was obvious, but I also recognized that he or she built it for a specific purpose – to make beautiful music. In some small way, as I progressed as a guitarist, I was bringing glory to its creator.
There are, of course, other uses for my guitar. It could easily be used as a hammer, an oil pan or even a tennis racquet. I’m not suggesting it would work well in any of those capacities, but it could be adapted to serve those purposes. But why?
I’m not sure why I was thinking about my guitar being an oil pan, but about two weeks ago, someone asked me a simple question. “Why were you created?” I thought for a minute, and then it dawned on me.
I am my guitar.
Though created by the Luthier to make beautiful music, I often make choices that repurpose His intent. I am that hammer or oil pan in the shape of a guitar. I’m not at my best when I’m repurposed in this way, and I am in no way reflecting the intent of the Luthier.
Why do I do it?
Because I think I know better. I think I can out-think my Creator, and be something I was never really created to be. As I’m getting older and life humbles me, I’m finding more comfort in living out the Luthier’s purpose, not the purposes of others. Or even my own.
It’s a love that came to me later in life. My brother (pictured) has always loved motorsports – boats, cars, jet-skis, and mostly, motorcycles. It took a long time to rein me in, but I finally caught the bug, and it will likely never leave me.
When I first started riding, I was encouraged to take a motorcycle safety course sponsored by ABATE of Indiana. In 3 days, the instructors there drilled into us the how-to’s of safe motorcycling. I loved it!
A principle that I learned early on was the discipline of turning my head and looking into a turn. In motorcycling, where your head goes, your bike will follow. Our natural inclination is to look down at where we are, but to be safe, we must turn our heads, not just our eyes, and look where we want to go. I must have heard “Turn your head!” a thousand times during the class.
One of the most dangerous things about riding a motorcycle is something called “target fixation.” Essentially, the rider sees an obstacle, and focuses on it. “Don’t hit it, don’t hit it, don’t hit it.” And the rider almost always hits it. Remember, where the head goes, the bike goes, and if the head is looking at an oncoming car…well…disaster ensues.
This same principle, however, can also work in in my favor. If I focus on my line and where I want my motorcycle to go, that’s where it will go.
The same is true in my life. If I fixate on the obstacles I face, I will likely hit them head on. But if I can focus on where I want to go, I will almost always avoid the very obstacles that are freaking me out.
In my case, as a follower of Christ, HE is my target….I want to be more like Him. The beauty of it is that the Bible gives me a terrific verse outlining where my target is to be fixed….in a positive way: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”(Hebrews 12:2)
Earlier this week I spent a peaceful morning at a gorgeous state park not far from my house. The turmoil in my oversaturated life was in stark contrast to my surroundings, which were reminiscent of Thoreau’s Walden Pond. As I slowly walked through the woods, I could feel my stress dissipate. I could sense that my weary soul was trying to poke through the clouds of my circumstances, and I was relieved.
Near the end of my hike, I found a picnic bench near a pond. A huge tulip poplar tree hung over the water in front of me, and within seconds I was drawn to something I’d never seen before. A slight wind was blowing, creating tiny wrinkles on the pond. From the water, gold reflections of light rippled up the tree’s huge leaves and onto its branches. It was like watching the Northern Lights on a cold winter night. For 5 or 10 minutes I could do nothing but stare at the light show…amazed.
Then it dawned on me.
Water has no light properties at all. If I were to sit in that same spot on a moonless night, I wouldn’t even be able to tell I was sitting near water. It can create no light. Water is, however, perfectly created to reflect light. In water, a blinding light source can create an equally blinding reflection.
The same is true of you and me.
We hold no inherent lighting properties. Left to ourselves, we can be dark and murky. But God, in his grace, created us to reflect His light perfectly. He “is light; in him there is no darkness at all.”(1 John 1:5) When we are positioned in His presence, the light of His glory reflects onto those around us, creating a breathtakingly beautiful light show of grace, mercy and love.
In 1 Corinthians 3:18, Paul casts a beautiful vision: “Nothing between us and God, our faces shining with the brightness of his face. And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.” (The Message)
When Johann Sebastian Bach first composed The Well Tempered Clavier, he had no idea the influence these works would have. By establishing tuning requirements for each note, he made it possible for compositions to be played in a variety of keys without sounding out of tune. Prior to these works, re-tuning was required for some pieces, as the distance in hertz between notes wasn’t uniform. Bach changed everything, in a sense, by making music into math.
So why doesn’t music sound like math?
Well, if every instrument had the same timbre, music would be math. Gratefully, each instrument has it’s own tone with its own set of overtones, thereby distinguishing itself from other instruments. Some have mellower tones, providing the “glue” for the musical experience. They are the foundation for those with brighter tones – tones that soar above the orchestral infrastructure.
I find that we are like musical instruments. Mathematically, remarkable similar…easily identified, organically, as homo sapiens. But the timbre of our personalities gives us rare tone. At times, the dissonance of those tones still bring discord to our lives. We long for uniformity….that other’s tones would be more like ours. But in the end, it’s the variety of tones that makes music beautiful and inviting. And so it is with people.
It didn’t take long to write, but it expressed my heart perfectly.
Recently, as part of an exercise, I was asked to write out a prayer. The facilitator wanted us to be thoughtful…writing our prayers as did the psalmists and ancient believers. Here was my entry:
The road is barely visible Covered by the dust of frantic inactivity The remnant of miles traveled hopefully Long ago. What of great import drew me away? Why was the road inadequate – the destination re-routed?
The lure of significance? The beauty of a throne? The nobility of sacrifice or the promise of reward?
The road to joy remains unexplored. Its destinations plural…its source, singular.
I need a Map.
It’s interesting what pours out of my heart when I take a few moments to examine it. The noise in my life often drowns out what is actually important.
John Adams, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill and others have SO much they can teach us. We can learn from their breathtaking successes and their stunning defeats. We can learn from their brilliant insights and their bone-headed stubbornness. To ignore these influential giants it to miss out on an education that only hindsight can give.
A couple years ago, I read a book entitled, “His Excellency: George Washington“. (I had just finished reading David McCollough’s 1776, which, of course, included many details of Washington’s life in that year.) Since I have loved reading about our presidents since I was about 8, much of the information in the biography was review for me. What was new, however, was a three-dimensional Washington. A Washington with ego, vanity, brilliance, courage, and, occasionally, a man who looked like he had problems making decisions.
The beauty of leaders like Washington, however, is that THEY learn from their lives, too, making mid course adjustments when the game is on the line. The attack on the Hessian encampment on Christmas Day after crossing the Delaware was daring, risky, and altogether brilliant. WHen it was showtime, Washington, the leader, had his “A” game.
Enter Tim Tebow. I know, a football player has no right being placed in the same sentence as one of the world’s great leaders. Still, while I personally like Tebow, I was among the throngs of people laughing at the Broncos when they drafted him. I thought his throwing motion looked like he belonged in high school, and that professional football players wouldn’t follow a guy who had such marginal skill.
I, like most everybody, underestimated the power of a leader.
Yes, he looks horrible for most of the game. Yes, it seems unimaginable, even to the uninformed observer, that Tebow has a job as a quarterback in the greatest football league in the world. But, in those key moments, when other players shy from the spolight, Tebow shows up. Again, and again, and again.
Champ Bailey, an almost sure-fire Hall of Fame cornerback, spoke for the rest of his teammates after Denver’s improbable 17-13 win over the Jets last night when he said, “I know people are still going to talk bad about us, but I don’t care. … We always have a chance with 15 as our quarterback.”
Sure, the bubble may burst. But there is no doubt that Tebow is another illustration, (albeit a more temporary one), of the importance of leadership. We know it’s true because we see it in history.
The world is horrified by the images. We watch as a toddler in China gets run over by a car….twice. 18 people have the opportunity to save this helpless child, but they avert their eyes and pass by. By the time a stranger picks up the tiny, broken body, it is too late. The child would not survive.
Is this us? Is this what we have become?
I live in Indianapolis, and this summer during a severe summer squall, a straight line wind of over 70 miles per hour toppled the stage trusses supporting the lighting and sound systems at the Sugarland concert at the Indiana State Fair . 4 people were killed, and several people were trapped beneath the crushing weight of the trusses.
As lightning, thunder and horizontal rain pelted the crowd, something amazing happened. Hundreds of onlookers, instead of running for cover, jumped over barriers and fences and ran toward the stage. Ignoring the grave danger, they worked together to lift the trusses off trapped victims. Why?
Because it was the right thing to do.
I am writing this on a flight from Bangkok, where I attended a conference with my organization – Campus Crusade for Christ. As you know, floods have ravaged this nation, and millions of people have lost their homes, their possessions, their livelihoods and even their lives.
In the midst of this mounting catastrophe, the CCC staff that live in Thailand had a decision…..should they work to protect their own homes, or should they leave their material lives to the floodwaters and help others in need? Knowing they would lose everything they owned, they made the only decision their faith left them. They helped others. But why?
Because it was the right thing to do.
They made this sacrifice without any promise of personal recovery, but perhaps we can do something to thank these heroes. If you would like to help, you can donate to them here. Why?
Because it’s the right thing to do.
Here’s a video on the effort to help….thanks for considering this!