The Whistler's Dream

Everybody needs a dream...
Mine is to go to Oklahoma and play whistles for The Pioneer Woman. (Having been invited, not in a "creepy stalker" kind of way, for the record.) Heck, I'd play in a pup tent in the backyard for the joy of the cows and critters. What can I say? I'm a fan.
Everybody needs a dream...

Random Fluffy Foto!

Random Fluffy Foto!
Writing in bed, and Beka editing by ear. Really. The ear typed some letters. Really.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

"Why Don't You Do What You Dream?" Pt 1

"Sebastian! Why don't you do what you dream?"
- the Childlike Empress in "The Neverending Story" (the movie - I don't believe that line is actually in the book, but it made for high drama at the climax of the film... sort of...)

(Although the young lady that played the Empress did a fine and noble job, I could never quite get over the way she moved her mouth, which distracted me a touch and thus some of the emotion of the ending was lost on me.)

(And then, when I read the book and found out that the ending was totally different than in the movie, I cursed all the closeups of the Empress at the end, which caused me to be so distracted with odd mouth movement and such, and vowed never to watch a film adaptation of a beloved book again.)

(Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go watch either The Fellowship Of The Ring, or Charlie And The Chocolate Factory...)

(I'll save my usual discourse of why I like the Johnny Depp version of the latter for another time. You can thank me now, tho.)

The preceding rambling brought to you by Steve the Hamster, mentally shoving Cal down wandering bunny trails since 1959. Although, come to think of it, the really serious bunny trails didn't start until... never mind.

"Why don't you do what you dream?"

And Sebastian's reply?

(Another fine child actor, but he also had funny mouth movement. This suggests that the issue isn't with the pint-sized thespians, but rather in the head of the observer. Considering this observer has a mental hamster named "Steve," I think we've found the source of the problem...)

"I can't! I gotta keep my feet on the ground!"

Thus endeth the reading of the movie script. We now proceed to what the heck I'm talking about...

In this whole process of being reborn, I've been directionless, waiting, uncertain. The way I've been putting it is,

"I don't know what I'm supposed to do."

I mean, I've been given a new life - bright and shiny, all zeroes on the odometer, new carpeted floor mats, and that lovely new life smell (hmmm... maybe a little too much metaphor mixing there...).

And my counselor, who is a wise woman, keeps gently nudging me by asking,

"What do you WANT to do?"

Big difference there. One that I've been so very slow to embrace.

I do a lot better with externally applied requirements. The simplicity of showing up, being told what I'm to be doing, doing it, then leaving is just dandy with me. No need for me to do some heavy lifting, mentally speaking. (Which is a good thing - Steve is a pretty zippy little hamster, but he's puny. Can't lift his weight in pellets.) Don't think, don't ponder, don't try to sort through a list of seemingly equal and lovely options, and thus get overwhelmed and paralyzed, doing my best "deer in the headlights" impression. Show up when you're told to, do the tasks you're told to, leave when you're done, repeat ad infinitum, world without end, amen.

And I'd be as happy as a clam buried in the sand.

The problem, as so succinctly stated by Jim Carey, as the Riddler in "Batman Forever," is this: "If ya kill him, he won't learn nuthin'." Maybe I should put it, "If he's on auto-pilot, he won't learn nuthin'."

Being on auto-pilot is never a good thing, at least not for me. When I run in a rut, with externally applied expectations and deadlines, I shut down, I go numb. I don't mindfully approach the day, since I don't have to sort through options or make decisions - I just go, do, leave, done.

When I weighed 480 lbs, that's pretty much all I could manage and, truthfully, I didn't manage it well, as any of my co-workers would tell you. I had my moments of light, but I had many moments of darkness, more than normal or expected. So, when I was laid off in 2006, it's understandable that my world caved in - I hadn't developed the abilities needed to find my own way in adult life. I was still living a grade school or college existence - show up, do what's expected, leave.

(And truth be told, I never did that very well - there's a reason I went to college for 5 years, majored in solo performance on an instrument that I hate the solo literature for, and have no degree. I tend to slap it into auto-pilot, without making decisions or thinking through options. If I ever consider finishing a degree, I have a feeling it'll be nowhere near what I started out to do those many, many years ago.)

Here I am on the other side, hovering around 220 lbs, and now it's time to grow up. So, today's question, kids, is this:

"What do you WANT to do?"

The second question is much like the first:

"Why don't you do what you dream?"

And my response, properly in the form of a question, complete with strange mouth movement, is this:

"What ARE my dreams?"

If I cast aside everything, hold on to nothing, put it all on the block, ready to be cut or saved, kept, sold or trashed, what stays? What do I dream? What do I love? If I could be doing anything at all, what would it be? (Or what would they be, since I am and will probably always be a "jack of a few trades." I'm not ADD, but I sure relate...) If mounting financial pressure or a self-imposed obligation to dig us out of the money pit I've gotten us into with my lack of income and my "spend now, pay later" attitude wasn't a consideration, what would I be doing?

"What do I WANT to do?"

In my dreams, I really don't see anything like "travel the world," "live an existence of affluence and ease," or anything involving the words lifestyles, rich, famous, or fabulous. The dreams I can identify, at least at this stage in my ponderings, have more to do with meaningful, mindful activity than gain and getting. Digging out of the hole, living within our means, actually having a chance to change our lives to something smaller and much less cluttered - those are the thoughts that are in the forefront of my mind.

But right now, it's time to see what I dream, what I love, what I want to do. Steve the hamster is spinning up the wheel nicely, getting ready to fling stuff. I'll catch, assemble, and hopefully have some sort of list to play with afterward. Saddle up, kids - we begin in Part 2...

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Disparity

Today, January 27, 2012, would have been my mom's 78th birthday. And though she would have loved to have seen what I've become in the last two years, she would also remind me that everything happens exactly at the time God has for it - not a moment earlier, not a second late. Thanks for the seeds of faith that have bloomed into my own walk. I love you, momma - see you someday!

The disparity: the difference between speaking a blessing over someone one night and getting lost in useless wanderings the next, which can lead to believing that one negates the other or that, because we swing from one extreme to another, we have the word "hypocrite" tattooed on our foreheads.

Were that true, here's some of the folks that should line up behind the needle, awaiting the artist's loving and painful touch:

Asa (along with bunches of the kings of Israel)
... and pretty much anybody sitting next to, across from, behind or in the same room with you in church, including (and especially) the person sitting in your chair. And (by their own humble admission) the dude or dudette up front behind the pulpit.

To those who are inclined to believe that religion is a crock, a shelter for the weak-minded or superstitious, the disparity provides a perfect scapegoat for the uncertainty of their own conscience. "If I can't live the life without being one of those religious hypocrites, then I just won't live it at all."

("Whew - dodged that bullet. Now I can sleep in on Sunday morning...")

Nice try - but the easy way isn't the right way. Using that excuse to avoid striving with the war of our fallen natures is simply giving up.

To those who, every time they prove in a most profound manner that we all are just human, spout off that most tired of excuses, "I'm not perfect, just forgiven!", the disparity provides a Get Out Of Jail Free card with a lifetime of grace expiration date.

Nice try - was the death of God's Beloved worth you getting to use the grace excuse every time you indulge your lower nature? Or is that all you think He accomplished in His sacrifice?

"Holy cow, Captain - did you wake up on the wrong side of the bunk this morning and set the phasers on 'extra crispy?' "

Yeah, and then I pasted a bullseye on my own backside. "Among whom I am chief..."

Speaking of the Apostle Paul, here's how he put it:

"What I don't understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise." Romans 7:15 (The Message)

Yup, that's me. And that's the disparity.

In my first life, Sightblinder could use the disparity to paralyze me. Since both light and dark could and did dwell in me, it must prove that neither has a majority vote. Remember the whole "lukewarm, so I spit you out of my mouth" thing? Yeah, that was thrown up to me (sorry - no pun intended) at every moment. "Obviously, you're useless for the kingdom since you don't ever grow, you don't ever put the darkness behind you and live totally (without exception) in the light!"

And, in my first life, I'd believe it. Hook, line & sinker. And the whole rod. And the fisherman. And the cooler full of worms - the whole shebang.

But in life 2.0, things have changed up a bit. Ok, a lot. Ok, a whole honkin' lot. And I've been realizing that some of the flowers that are blooming in life 2.0 are from seeds planted long, long ago. I'm thinking of some of those who planted, hoping for but never expecting to see a harvest, let alone one that looks like it does today...

- My theology professor, opening the door to how I view most everything in my world with the concept of "Both/And" - for most theological views, there can be a balance where two things that seem to be opposites can dwell, equally without conflict.

Want an example? OK... Jesus - fully God or fully man?

Answer: both/and. Both, equally, without compromise.

So the gentle balance of both/and stabilizes my world in many ways. Interestingly, this seed really bloomed when I began Tai Chi, which, at its core, is totally about balance.

- My counselor, who has gently been speaking truth over me for years, reminding me that we are never meant to live in guilt and shame but in love and grace. Even when we walk in darkness sometimes, we still live in the light.

Just because we pass through the valley, we don't move into a condo there and put out a change of address form. The enemy can assail our minds but can't overthrow our hearts.

My heart belongs to God alone.

- My beloved, whose clear vision of who I really am inside shone through the layers of weight, depression, unbalance and insecurity, allowing me to see who I really am in her eyes. And no, she's not perfect.

(I pause to allow those of you who know my beloved to recoil in shock... Breathe deeply. Use a paper bag if you have to.)

But she never allows darkness to define her reality - she lives in the light.

(Yes, dearheart, I really was listening all those years. I'm glad that you're finally seeing the harvest of what you've sown for so long.)

- My Father, who knew before I was born that these days would come. He knew every moment that would lead up to this, through all the lonely roads and confused paths. He put everything in place so that someday I could come out the other side shining like gold, blazing with light.

As for the disparity...

- Both/And shows me that both darkness and light are in me. But even though they both dwell there, I don't live in the darkness - I live in the light. Falling doesn't make me a resident of the concrete... I get up, I dust myself off and I get on with the step by step adventure of living as a follower of the Christ.

- I don't live in regret and guilt because those things aren't who I am in Jesus. Sightblinder can confuse and oppress my mind but he can never have my heart. At the end of the day, He who has my heart wins. Every time.

- I am slowly and gently becoming what my beloved has seen all along. Every day I'm a little closer to what she sees with her clear gaze and further away from the things that concealed me. If I have a day when EvilCal seems to be back in control, I need to remember that it's just a game of mental hide and seek - I'm still here, and can easily be found, if I just look around a bit. The important thing is to look.

And the path goes on - I'm not there yet, nowhere near. So there will be bumps and trips and falls. There will be dark passes, times of blazing sunshine, and times of absolute flat roads where it seems like I'm not even moving - miles and miles of absolutely nothing.

But it's never about what I can see.

My eyes are easily fooled, my senses are easily overrun and my fallen nature is oh-too-quick to take over. No, the One who puts the path before me can see all of it, perfectly. He knows where I will stumble, He knows right where I'm going to do a face plant and, though His Daddy's heart winces when I scrape my knee or get a lovely case of road rash on my cheek, my Father knows what lies far beyond what I can see.

And it's gonna be amazing.

No disparity - just a fallen creature in need of redemption, a recipient of grace who is learning to do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with His God. I am a complex, wondrous creature, bearing the image of He who made me, astonished by wonder, frustrated by my own shortcomings, and deeply grateful for unconditional grace. I stumble and stub my toes in the darkness but I live and walk in the light.

And someday the darkness will end, the light will blaze, and "ever after" becomes "now."

Like I said - it's gonna be amazing.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Last Words

No, this isn't to announce my departure from the writing world. Hold off on those celebrations of untamed joy. Also those comments about how I shouldn't get your hopes up like that. Or the ones about giving you a heart attack before the morning coffee, and how dare I sneak up on you like that. Or anything about Chuck Norris.

Thanks for your restraint.

I've been noticing lately how important last words are. Parting words, blessing words, benedictions - all things we may or may not notice, or place value in, but that I think are more important than what we see at one glance. And so I'm trying to mindfully change my actions to match these new thoughts.

As I say so often, 'lemme 'splain.

When my mom was in her final months and weeks and days here in this world, the importance of those last moments came into crystal clear focus. When any moment might be the last one, they all become essential.

But really, doesn't that last sentence apply to every moment?

Anyway, when my final moment with her came, I had no idea it was the last one. We had moved her into a care facility (at her request), we came that evening to see her settled for the night, Vicki was off getting something for her, and God prompted me to do something that I am so grateful for.

A blessing.

I placed my hand on her head, and spoke the words we've all heard so many times... "The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face to shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance on you, and grant you His peace, now and evermore." I don't know if she heard those words - she was in and out of this world and in and out of the new world. But I heard them, and our Father heard them.

And in the morning, He granted His peace and brought her home. So those were the last words I ever spoke to my mom in this world. She departed in peace, and my heart was left in peace as well. No regrets.

This tells me that our last words are essential - more important than we sometimes think. For those we love, if they are our last words, and they go on, those blessing words will stay with them.

But if we are the ones to go on, we will know that we parted with something more significant than, "Catch ya later." There's nothing wrong with casual departures - life, with all its complexities and fast turnings and twistings is filled with them. But when time, circumstance, and God's spirit align, those parting, blessing, life-giving words are more than just spouting off some pithy phrase.

To those we leave behind, they are a blessing over their heads and a light along the road.

To those who are left behind, they are closure and peace when the unexpected threatens our sanity.

In a weekend recently past, we spent time with family, those we don't see often because distance separates us. It had been a year since we had seen one another, way way too long, but time and gas prices sometimes rear their ugly heads to drive a wall between intention and reality.

Or perhaps I'm just too lazy - after all, gas prices don't really matter to a trike, only time does. Oh, and luggage - camping stuff, for example. There's fuel too - the fuel to keep the legs pedaling and the fuel to keep the mind clear and functioning. Got to take training into account too - one can't just take off without at least some preparation. Well, one can, but one will find himself kicked in the can not too far down the road.

Can one justify months of riding for a short visit, then months of riding the return trip? Let's see... months on the trike, off the grid and out of the loop, traveling at snail's pace under my own power? *sigh* Let me think about it, and get back to you...

(I wonder if Greyhound or Amtrak would get me and Big Blue part of the way, to trim a couple of months off the trip...

This random thought brought to you by Steve, the Mental Hamster, who reminds me that whither I goest, so goest Steve. Months of just me on the trike, with Steve for a co-pilot... That may kill the whole thing right there.)

So when my dear ones left, I took the time to speak words over them.

To myself, I was thinking, "Here you go again - putting the 'Weird' in 'Weird Uncle Cal'. A little pompous, isn't it - pronouncing a benediction over them? Who do you think you are, a pastor blessing the flock on their way out the door and home to pot roast?"

And myself told myself to stuff it.

I don't know when I'll see them again - I hope it's soon, I intend for it to be soon (after all, their trike riding season starts WAY earlier than mine, so a spring fever trike trip in, say, early March would do a lot to take off the chill of Michigan February!), but my intentions can easily get splattered in the aftermath of the reality steamroller. It could be months or a year or more until I see their faces and hug their necks...

Or never.

Life is fragile and fleeting, and although we can't live on eggshells, like every moment is "the" one, we can live realistically, intentionally. So it may be weird, it may be pompous, but I think it's only weird and pompous in my own head, and so I veto my own vote and get on with it.

Words of blessing at our parting. Words that will stay and light the ongoing path, or will grant closure and peace at the end of the path. To that end, I'm becoming a blessing collector. I want to have many, many words of blessing in my head and heart, a wide palate of choices so that when the Lord prompts me, He can speak the words He chooses over my loved ones, my friends, or whomever He wants.

There is a leather bound journal, made for me by my nephew who was one of those I spoke a benediction over that particular weekend, and I'm using that book to write blessings. When I find blessing words in scripture, they get written there by my own illegible hand in my own faulty penmanship. When I come across blessing words in something I read, a post I see, a sign I remember, they get written in the blessing book. Sometime, someplace, those words will be used to become a light on the path or peace at the end... even if those words are only for my own eyes and heart, to remind me to be watching and waiting for those times when blessings must be spoken.

Weird? Perhaps. Pompous? Hopefully not, but I guess you could see them that way. But way, way too important to just let them slide, to worry about being seen as odd, or to allow my self-conscious self to shut them down.

Parents? Speak the blessings - always.

Families? Speak the blessings - always.

Lovers? Speak the blessings - ever and ever.

Friends? Speak the blessings - over and over.

After all, the One from whom all blessings flow speaks the blessings over us - always, ever and ever, over and over.

"Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen."
Hebrews 13:20-21 (TNIV)

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Did It Once... Do It Again

I've always thought of myself as having no willpower whatsoever.

That's typical of fat folk, by the way. After all, "everybody" will tell us that if we had even a little willpower, we'd eat less, exercise more, and voila (pronounced: "Voy-LAH!"), we'll become skinny, well-proportioned, automatically beautiful, and unreservedly popular instantly.

(And by "everybody," I mean well-meaning people directly involved in our lives; well-meaning-but-skinny people directly involved in our lives who are clueless when it comes to the multi-layered issues involved in obesity; not-necessarily-well-meaning-or-snarky people who don't know us at all; and, most obnoxiously, all types of media, who don't even care that we exist, except as a huge potential market that they can guilt into buying whatever poopy they want to sell us. We be sheep. And dumb sheep at that.)

Of course. Why did I never see it's just that easy?

So through that haze, you and I, the fat persons du jour tend to believe the idea that we have no willpower whatsoever, and that whatever fancy enters our weak minds, we will succumb to - after all, we have no power to resist.

Quick quiz:

1) Have you ever been so angry at (insert person who is the target of your wrath) that you could have done physical violence to their mortal being?

1a) Did you?

2) Have you ever been so frustrated at a service provider that you wanted to throw (insert heavy object of your choice) through their front window? (Or their virtual front window, in this age of technology, with a desire to bomb their servers back to the stone age?)

2a) Did you?

3) Have you ever gotten so ticked at your (insert your make and model of vehicle) that you said you'd be better off driving it into (insert body of water of your choice) or off the (insert bridge of your choice, but not the Mighty Mac, 'cause you might damage it and I really love that bridge)?

3a) Did you?

If you answered any of questions 1, 2 or 3 "yes," congratulations! You're just as human as the rest of us. (If you answered "no" to all of them, I don't want to know - you are dead to me.)

(Just kidding. Really. But you do live on a different level of existence than I do...)

If you answered questions 1a, 2a and 3a "no," congratulations! You have willpower - the ability NOT to act on something your mind brought forth and conceived of, even possibly entertained, or pondered, if only to allow yourself a cartoon moment involving some product labeled "Acme."

(If you answered "yes" to ANY of questions 1a, 2a or 3a, by the way, please seek professional help immediately. And I DO mean immediately.)

(And yes, I do have some names I could pass along if you need 'em.)

(But not because I answered "yes" to any of questions 1a-3a, just so we're clear. I have issues, but those ain't them.)

Isn't that all willpower is? The ability to NOT act on something our mind could entertain? Allow me to elucidate (thus getting an opportunity to use the word "elucidate," which is a fun word):

- Ever shown up for an appointment on time? Or a meeting? Or church?

- Ever dropped off / picked up / transported to various and sundry activities your kiddos, and got them there on time?

- Ever done something exactly correct in a timely manner because someone was counting on you? Or because you love them and didn't want to disappoint them?

- Ever withheld something from your child / pet / other being in your care because you knew that the "something" in question was not only bad for them, but dangerous?

"Yeah, but that's just common sense."

Yup. It's also willpower. The ability to NOT do something when it's within your power to do it is exercising your will. Ergo, willpower.

So perhaps even us fat folk (or reformed fat folk - my outsides may be different, but my house is still on the same street...) have some willpower. We are not as powerless as others would have us believe, or that we would allow ourselves to believe.

When some folks have the type of surgery I've had, a response that they fear (and actually sometimes get) is, "oh - you took the easy way out." (Which can bring about a question 1 thought, and dance close to a question 1a response...)

I've not gotten hit with this one, probably because those close to me know my journey, both the sublime and the unmentionable; the glorious and the downright disgusting. (Aren't you glad that there are indeed some things that I don't put out in public? Don't you wish there were more of them?)

Anyway, a post-surgical patient has to exercise a great deal of willpower, not just to keep losing weight, but also, especially in the case of my type of surgery, to prevent malnutrition and becoming very, very sick. My will comes into play when I keep after my maintenance, taking my calcium and extra vitamins, drinking all my water, and sticking to the types of food I can and must eat, while staying away from others that will cause issues.

So I do gots some willpower. I ain't gots good grammar (or grampar for that matter), but I gots some willpower. Yay me!

At my last counseling appointment, we were looking at an area of my life that still is difficult - something that I am able to do, something that when I finally get to it, I really do love to do, but so far am dragging my heels on. It's right there, there are projects overdue, I have all the tools and skills, but I simply don't do it.

Why the HECK not?

Near as we can suss out, I'm being a little bratesque. I'm not pushing myself, I'm not working on it with focus and effort. I'm not using my willpower.

And, sometimes, knowing that can change everything.

See, I've already been down this road. My morning routine, which I've discovered is not only essential for my mental health but feeds my soul as well, has grown from something that got thrown under the bus anytime I felt like it, to something that I knew was important but I could do without easily, to something that I knew I needed to do, even sacrificing other things to make it happen...

To today, where I eagerly come to it each morning. Listening to the Daily Audio Bible, spending some quiet time thinking and meditating, then turning to my keyboard and iPad and writing. Some days, it's just time in the Word and then I move along. Other days, the words flow and God uses them to frame my mind and heart for the path ahead. But each day, to be here, to offer it to Him, is something joyful.

So, I've taken a task that wasn't that important to me - or that I didn't understand was so important - and made it into something that I'm eager to do... Something that I must do.

And since I did it once, made that kind of a change, I can do it again. I can apply those lessons to another area, another task, another opportunity, and make it work. I know that it's hard, that it takes time and a lot of effort to make the new behavior stick, but I also know the satisfaction of what comes when it does stick. When it moves beyond obligation or habit, becoming important and essential.

The trick is, as my list of those essentials grows, can I stick with them all? Can I keep each one in the place it should be, not forgetting or shrugging off any of them because it's too much work or I just don't feel like it?

As I was writing this, I just got a great visual to help me see how this flows...

I've always thought of all the tasks in a day as juggling, trying to keep them all in the air, all moving in the pattern, not dropping any of them, all soaring in time perfectly.

*Pause here to let the lovely vision of objects smoothly floating through the air fill our minds and hearts. Aaaahhhh... inspiring.*

The problem?

I can't juggle. Not at all. So the image of juggling is one that makes no sense to me - it doesn't help me navigate the chaos, but rather it intimidates me and makes me want to shut down. But that was the only image I had to see my day with, when it's filled with multiple tasks and stuff. Throw it all up there, and try to keep it all moving without dropping anything.

*Pause here to let the awful vision of everything crashing to the floor, making a mess, fill our minds and hearts. Arrrrrgggggghhhhh!!!... and don't think I don't hear you laughing back there! Stop it!*

So, for this visually-oriented non-juggler, here's a better picture... a charm bracelet.

I have a day ahead of me - one day, one bracelet. And it's the only one I get today. On this bracelet are some beautiful things - some are silver objects - tasks that are before me today; some are beautiful jewels, lovely joyful things that are waiting for me today; and some are woven into the structure of the bracelet - things that are a part of every day, and must be in each day's bracelet.

Here are all these wonderful things, all together, that will make up my day today. And my goal is to not let any of them drop off. Just like when I make a bracelet or a necklace, I make sure that all the links are closed, all the wires tightly wound, the piece finished and ready to wear. It's everything I have to be aware of today - not trying to keep balls in the air in a certain pattern, but mindful of the jewels and charms of the bracelet, that none of them drop off and get lost.

Now, some of them might get moved to tomorrow's bracelet - but not because I dropped them, picked them up, and then stuck them on because they were just laying around. No, just as I choose the elements in a piece I make, or in something I write or music I play, I choose where they fit on tomorrow's bracelet, just in the right place where they will work the best.

The mindful, careful progression of day to day, item to item, link to link. To me, that's way more amazing than trying to keep all the balls in the air. *shudder*

Can I build my willpower and structure my mind to insure that these jewels that are hung on my day don't fall off and get lost? I think so.

After all - I did it once... I can do it again.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Grace of Moving Step to Step

Watching my teacher move is sheer poetry.

It's been a year since I began my journey into Tai Chi and, although I love it, I'm not great at it. Of course, no one is after just one year. Some are getting good, some are really moving along, and some actually practice every day and are getting downright amazing, but we all are students. And that truth is obvious.

My teacher will say that he is also a student, just one who got started a little ahead of the rest of us. Here's another obvious truth - "a little ahead of the rest of us" is an understatement.

When he demonstrates a move for us, shows us the transition from one move to another, or shows us how they link together in one continuous flow, I understand the phrase "sheer poetry."

I have an instructional DVD with Master Yang - we are learning Yang style Tai Chi, and Master Yang is the 6th generation of the family that invented this style. Watching Master Yang demonstrate the form is like this: if my teacher is sheer poetry, Master Yang is a symphony. Absolutely beautiful.

(As opposed to faltering student me, who looks more like a baby giraffe sliding down a muddy slope while being assailed by penguins bearing Nerf bats. Sheer slapstick.)

So how does one get from fumbling sub-part-time student to the Master Yang symphony? Simple - one step at a time. Add countless hours of practice, season with years of study and pursuit, and serve something that looks effortless and is beautiful to behold.

As I'm re-learning life, in my second year after being reborn, I'm trying to figure out how things move forward. I'm getting the basics down, turning the necessary little things that I have to do for the rest of my life into habits. My weight seems to have settled, and I really like where I'm perched, at least for now.

My wife thinks I'm cute. And some days, very quietly, I'm inclined to agree with her. I actually allowed myself the rather non-modest thought that I'm kind of... sort of...maybe... possibly (a little bit)...


I guess wearing a beret can do that to you.

So now what? How do I expand my horizons? How do I increase my world to match how I feel inside? How and when do I transition from "waiting and learning" mode into "mindful and active" mode?

How? One step at a time.
When? When God says to.

So I'm learning the grace of moving step to step. I'll admit - it's a slow, frustrating road that I simply don't get sometimes. I see things coming so fast all around me, I hear the cries of the urgent yelling for my attention, I feel the pressure of the immediate and all those demands push and pull me.

But to go any faster than step to step is to lose my balance. To ignore the graceful way of slow movement is to forget my path. Interestingly, in the last day or so, I've begun to wonder if what I see as being stuck, being shelved or cast aside might be something else altogether:

Being intentionally set aside, carefully nurtured and tended, and prepared for a specific purpose - one whose time has not yet arrived.

I've noticed that the faster I move, the less mindfully I move. Slower means I take more notice and more time with things... always better. How I think of this, the language I frame it in, can totally change how I live and how I view life. A conscious step away from impatience, frustration, and feeling useless, and a step toward patience, understanding, and anticipation of when the waiting is over and my time arrives. It's all a matter of perspective...

One of my all-time favorite books is "The Phantom Tollbooth" by Norton Juster. I totally identify with Milo, the main character, who is surrounded with things to do and see, but is usually bored. All too often, I miss the wonder and the opportunities all around me and stare at my shoes. Yeah, way too often I relate to Milo.

But I think my favorite character in the book is Alec Bings, who sees through things. In the Forest of Sight, Milo meets Alec - he stands about three feet in the air, which puts his feet right about Milo's eye level. In Alec's family, everyone is born with their heads at the height they'll be when they grow up, and their feet grow down toward the ground. So their point of view stays the same regardless of their age.

Alas, not so for me.

My point of view, my perspective, changes almost daily. Sometimes it changes by itself, adjusting to new input. But a lot of the time, it has to be changed from the inside out. I have to mindfully, actively change how I perceive something, change how I think of it or how I see it, and work to make that change stick.

Not easy.

Changing your perspective can be tough, requiring time and attention, making the subtle and not-so-subtle turns to keep your sight toward a new direction. Perspective wants to snap back to the rut it was used to running in - it likes the path of least (or less) resistance. It really likes auto-pilot and prefers not to have its little world rocked. Perspective, or point of view, is fond of the big comfy chair and snacks. Getting up, moving, changing the furniture around, eating carrots instead of popcorn - these are things that perspective does not love. Being reborn does not a happy perspective make.

Well, it does - eventually.

Eventually comes in the grace of moving step to step. The slow, mindful learning and repetition that results in a symphony or poetry. And in that slow graceful progression, perspective shifts and point of view moves.

And, at any age, when our perspective shifts, we all grow up a bit.

So, for the record:

I'm not stuck - there is a purpose, but it hasn't arrived yet in my slow, mindful journey.

I haven't been shelved, forgotten or "Plutoed" - the One who in His grace brought about my rebirth is the One who will move me into place at exactly the right time.

I hear the loud cries of the urgent all around me but, with focus and concentration, I choose to listen to a calm Voice, guiding me in graceful movement.

There are things to be done, responsibilities to fulfill, obligations to keep, and I can and will do all of them - but I have to do them in the grace of moving step to step. To try and move any other way is to lose my balance.

And get hit by penguins with Nerf bats. Nobody wants that.

Alec tells Milo, "Once in a while, someone is born upside-down, with their head toward the ground and their feet pointing up. But we try to discourage that sort of thing."

"What happens to them?" Milo asks.

And Alec replies, "They grow to be giants, and walk among the stars."

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Unclenched Hand

I'm getting older.

I'll pause for the shock and denial of that statement to pass through you. After all, I'm Momma O's baby boy, youngest of my clan, with all the baggage that implies - how could I, the kiddo of the family, possibly be getting older?

Oh, the horror...

(and if nothing else proves that I'm the youngest in my family, the preceding dive into melodrama certainly does...)

So what? Age is something we all have in common - get over it, baby boy.

Really, I am over it. I didn't have much of a hump turning 50 a couple of years ago; I passed 52, the age at which my dad died, so that was a biggie. From here, then, the getting older thing really isn't an issue.

It's the stuff that goes with it that I take umbrage to. Specifically the aches, pains, creaks, groans and other strange sounds and experiences that hover around aging people like seagulls in a Wal-Mart parking lot. (Or is that just at the one in Sault Ste. Marie? Makes me think of "The Birds" every time we go there... *shudder*.)

(Of course, that makes me think of the scene from Mel Brooks' "High Anxiety" - the dark suit, the park bench, the BIRDS, the run to the dry cleaner's, the people running out... Now I'm laughing. Loudly.)

I watched members of my family age: My great-grandmother, who was so tough of an old bird that were she still around, she could still whoop my hiney without breaking a sweat. Honestly, somewhere along the line she HAD to have been an ancestor of Chuck Norris. Seriously. My great aunts and uncles, who slowed down gracefully and faded, each one of them still able to whoop my hiney without breaking a sweat or straining a muscle. My mother, who could and did whoop my hiney just with a glance...

(I tell you this truly - when I saw her laying in the casket, the expression on her face startled me... it was the same expression that her face bore when in church on a Sunday morning I was being perhaps a bit too boisterous and, as her eyes remained focused on the Pastor, her hand, on my coloring pad, was writing - in her perfect teacher penmanship - "just wait until we get home...")


And then there was my grandmother, Wilma Ardra Carlton, who went by Ardra. Yes, my grandmother's name is a palindrome. Envy me.

Grams was a woman of faith and a woman of an open heart. She constantly taught us all the gift of giving, and I'm ashamed to admit that I learned the lesson way, way too slowly. In fact, the lesson is hardly evident in my life... yet. I'm getting there.

She rose before the sun almost every day of her life, often around 3:30am, to go downstairs to her restaurant and begin the prep work for the new day. She owned that restaurant for 28 years, open every day but Sundays and holidays, sometimes opening way early for the deer hunters, and she showed us all what faithfulness and hard work looked like. She was smart, savvy, and above all, giving.

She knew the lesson of the unclenched hand.

In fact, when and if some of my friends and loved ones from Oscoda (my ol' hometown) read these words, they'd be able to tell story upon story of Grams and her giving heart.

Where this story intersects with today is in my hands. Something that I share with Grams and my mom is arthritis and all the joy that implies. Mine has been showing up mostly in knees and back, since an early age actually, multiplied by weight, but I'm noticing in my later years that it's making its presence known in my hands. I love having things in common with Grams, but I was hoping to pass on that one...

Grams' hands were stiff - very stiff. At times, she couldn't close her fingers. What she did with those stiff painful fingers was magic - the work of her hands was blessed indeed, as was the work of her heart - but I saw her suffer. And I was hoping that my own hands would stay free of it, since as a musician I tend to be really, really protective of my hands. But the stiffness seems to be coming. Slowly, I'm thankful to say, but still there.

The interesting thing I'm noticing, and remembering from Grams' life, is this: things get worse with clenched hands.

When I've been loom knitting for a while, my right hand, the one that holds the tool, locks up and becomes sore (so does the left, the one that holds the loom). Too long without stretching and my right thumb stops being able to do its part. Too much of any activity that requires a closed or clenched hand produces pain and stiffness. If I'm playing wind controller and don't take the time to stretch my hands between songs or in places where I have a break, the fingers will lock in a curved position for a bit, and I have to carefully work them a bit to get them loose again. I don't seem to have that problem on bass guitar, for which I am grateful. As for whistle, the low whistles use a technique called Piper's Grip or "flat fingering" that lets me keep my fingers stretched. Thus explaining why I'm happier on the low whistles.

(More detail than you ever wanted to know - that's what I live for. That and Ramen noodles. Oh, and chicken. And beans. Like I said - more detail than you ever wanted to know.)

Why this all hit my radar this morning is wrapped up in today's Daily Audio Bible podcast, in the reading from Proverbs:

"Honor the LORD with your wealth and with the best part of everything your land produces. Then he will fill your barns with grain, and your vats will overflow with the finest wine."
Proverbs 3:9-10 (NLT)

Brian Hardin, the voice (and heart) of the DAB, commented on this, asking us what if this becomes an opportunity to open our hands and experience freedom? What if, instead of clenching and hoarding and worrying over our wealth, we open our hands and give it all over to God? What kind of freedom comes when we know He is in control of it all and we can just let it go?

Freedom comes by being obedient to God, and not just paying our 10% so that He will bring all sorts of prosperity and goodies into our lives. (Sorry if I offend by this, but I do believe that the phrase "prosperity Gospel" is an oxymoron. Just sayin'.) Obeying God is not playing the lottery or dropping coins into a slot machine, expecting a payback. "I did my thing, just like the rules in Your book say - now gimme, gimme, gimme!"

In obedience we acknowledge that He owns everything - all we have and all we are, by the fact that we offer our best, our first to Him above all. Even when we can't see how we'll put food on the table or keep the lights on. When we can't see how we'll put gas in the tank or find somewhere to go to earn anything to buy gas with. We clench, we hold, we buckle down to survive and endure. We dig trenches and foxholes and we hold on to the little we have, because that's all we know how to do.

There has been a lot of clenching going on in our house lately. We've gotten ourselves into some very deep water, very tight situations, and no hope on the horizon of digging out.

Actually, let's dispense with the royal "we" here - I'm clenching. I've gotten us into deep water. I don't see hope on the horizon. Not wallowing in pity or blame or regret - just truthfully admitting who the "free spirit" in our family is (to use a Dave Ramsey term...).

So I grasp, I tighten in anxiety, I wring my hands over worry and regret and frustration...

And wind up with closed, locked, painful fists.

There's still no hope on the horizon, at least not from my limited view; there's no resolution I can bring with my small power, and my feeble efforts can't move the mountain before me.

There's a little too much "I, Me, My" in that preceding sentence, don' 'cha think? Me too...

In my unfaithful, faltering, infrequent pursuit of Tai Chi, I'm learning not just poses and postures, but a new way of movement, at least for my stiff ol' bod. In Yang style, the form I'm learning, the hands remain open, not stiff, with the thumb extended - the "tiger's mouth" (the space at the base of the thumb) is open. The hand is soft, not rigid; the fingers relaxed, not stiffened. When the hands need to close, to make a fist for a punch or another movement, they are able to do so because they are relaxed. When that movement is complete, they open and become relaxed once again.

"Honor the LORD with your wealth and with the best part of everything your land produces."

Grams knew the freedom and blessing of the unclenched hand. So did my mom. So does my wife, who models a servant's heart in everything she does.

So Lord, I confess a clenched, painful, stiff hand, and the clenched, stiff heart that goes with it. All my grasping, my holding, my keeping back - even from You - is wrong. I'm creating more frustration when trying feebly to relieve it. I'm causing more insecurity when I should be letting go. I'm creating instability while trying to find solid ground, because I'm looking at the wrong things.

Come and take Your proper place, Father - the head of all I am and all I have. I open my hands, Lord. All I can see and all I can figure out screams at me to close and clench, but my own wisdom is, as always, flawed. Holy Spirit, close my ears to screams of desperation, and open my eyes to Your freedom. When I get rid of it all, when I open my hands and put it all in Your hands, then I'm truly free. The problems I've created, I confess them and ask for Your forgiveness. Remind me that the solutions are Yours to reveal - my job is trust and obedience. Help my resolve to give You the first and best of it all, and to leave the rest with You too, guided by Your wisdom and Your economy, resources that You can use according to Your perfect will.

My hands are open and relaxed. And all that they held is Yours.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Beautiful Ugly Clock

"Broken Time" by Andrew Van Zyll
Check out his creative pursuits at
his Etsy store

God's timetable: the clock is always 100% perfectly on time, but it's an ugly clock.

I'm sorry - was that a little impious? Should I couch it in more Psalm-esque language? Yelling stuff like "HOW LONG, O LORD??" Nope - I'm stickin' with hows I sees 'em.

I do not doubt God's timing - in my limited, narrow view over the past 52 years...

(Come to think of it, it was more like 51, since that first year is pretty much a blur, an "eat, cry and poop fest.")

(Come to think of it, that first year wasn't so bad, except for the whole diaper thing...)

(Come to think of it, that'll pretty much sum up most of my final years, I should think - up to and including the whole diaper thing...)

(Come to think of it, I think we've discovered that Cal really shouldn't "come to think of" anything. Especially sitting in front of a computer keyboard. Ever.)

Anyway, I've seen God's timetable work its perfect way in too many places to ever rail against it or deny its existence. Everything falls to His sovereignty, willingly or unwillingly. We can accept the roaring flow, go with it, or we can try to buck the tide and end up on our hineys, flying downstream, producing the kind of facial expressions captured for all time in those photo thingies they always take at the most horrific moment of the most mind-numbing amusement park rides, then sell you at a "bargain" price for this souvenir that will bring back wonderful memories for generations to come. (Like panic, screaming, and bile, to name a few.)

But just because I accept and surrender to God's timetable does not change that fact that, in my limited and narrow view, it's an ugly clock.

Maybe I see it as ugly because I simply have no way to read it or understand it... It's like one of those LED clocks that tells the time in binary code, thus prompting smug looks from geeks and geeklets in the room, sharing their secret knowledge of being able to read the thing while us lower mortals wander in confusion...

Until we look at our phones, see the time, and get on with our uncaring agendas, leaving the geeks and geeklets frustrated, their lake of superiority dammed up with the concrete of indifference. Hoover dam, baby. Deal with it.

I stare at God's clock with no comprehension. I can't even see the whole face of the thing. The hands move in ways I can't perceive; the units they measure have no meaning in my existence; and the outcome of its progress is beyond my understanding.

Now, I do admit that I've never been the sharpest chisel in the tool box when it comes to clocks. I didn't learn to read the clock until fifth grade, even though I started reading at age 3. There was always someone around to tell me what time it was, so no need to learn the significance of "the big hand is on the 3, and the small hand is on the 8."

Yes, no digital clocks. I am indeed that old.

Anyway, I came late to the party with the whole "learning to tell time" thing. I did make up for it later, when I started working in broadcasting. When one is responsible for every second of every minute of every hour of an air shift, you start to gain a sense of time passing, really understanding just how long it takes to do some things. Learning to read something out loud, so that it comes out to exactly 27 seconds (to allow 3 seconds for the music hit at the end) teaches you a lot about time. So does having to vamp the weather forecast when you have 30 seconds to fill, and a forecast that says "partly cloudy, partly cloudy, repeat repeat repeat..."

So I do understand how time feels.

And I think we all understand how time feels in the long, long silences when we think God has gone south for the winter. Those stretches of darkness where we wonder if we've ever really heard from Him at all. The heavy night curtain that falls after a long, sunny, extended period of His blessing, when things go from bright to dark faster than the switching off of a lamp in a basement room. We all, or at least most of us, understand how the dark rises up, immeasurably fast and overpoweringly strong.

At times, we believe that not only is God not in the same time zone as us, but that He's changed over to another calendar, one where seconds, minutes, hours and even days and weeks are graded on a sliding scale. Where time itself becomes elastic, and it ebbs and flows in harmony with the One who exists outside of its steely grasp.

Time is NOT finite in the hands of the Infinite.

But we feel every dragging second in our small world.

Right now, I'm in a place where the clock is very ugly, moving so slowly that I have to fight the urge to keep replacing the battery, and it doesn't show signs of changing anytime soon. I'm on the other side of almost two years of very fast change, where time flew beyond my ability to catalog it. I tried, vainly, to grab some small pieces of it, to note the events in these pages, to be aware and keep reminders before it all blew past, never to be seen again.

Then it all stopped. We got stuck in a holding pattern while the runway is being cleaned by three Oompa Loompas with toothbrushes. It's gonna be awhile.

Meanwhile, to stir the pot of ugly clock soup, throw in a few years without employment, add in someone not wise enough yet to learn to live within his means, and whip into a financial frenzy.

** before Vicki or a few others jump in here, I probably should have said "gainful employment," or something like that. I have been pursuing an occupation - learning my new life so that all the things that come with it become habits, a part of my normal life. It was necessary, it's equipped me to live in this new body and keep it working well, and everything is happening exactly when it should. I just didn't learn the bigger lessons, and I took a little longer to grow up, so it'll take a little longer to dig out. **

Always on time, but it's an ugly clock.

Sometimes, some of that ugliness is self-imposed, I'm discovering. The clock is ugly because it has a highly polished surface and shows me all the mistakes I've been making while the timetable moves on. Maybe the ugliness I see in the clock is just the choking regret I feel for lessons not learned, time lost, resources wasted, failures committed. In the mirror of the clock, I see my own ugliness.

I don't think God intends us to look at ourselves in that harsh, unyielding place. With nothing between our limited viewpoint and infinity, how could we ever stand the sight? How could we perceive anything but LOSS... LOSS... LOSS...

"In the fullness of time, God sent His son..."

"God works all things together for good..."

"If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed..."

"Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?
Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay them?
For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen."
Romans 11:33-36 (TNIV)

By itself, God's timetable is perfect, always on time, always on track.

From my limited view, it's an ugly clock.

From His view, He makes all things beautiful, even where I only see ugly...

In His time.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

The Lost Puppy Lesson

In high school, there was a group of guys. And they, in my view, were cool. Not cool by the standards of how others would gauge cool - hot looks, mad sports skillz, that sort of drack. They were cool because they were unique. They weren't afraid of being themselves. They fired off Tarzan yells from a little cassette player at the drive-in movie during love scenes. Now THAT'S cool!

And I desperately wanted to be one of them.

A couple of them played guitars. They played in bands. They did, at least in my own imagination, many other amazing and wonderful things each day, the details of which, were mere mortals like myself to know them, would make them weep with the sheer weight of their awesomeness.


And boy howdy, did I ever want to be one of "them."

And boy howdy, was I ever not one of them. Not even close.

Not to say that I didn't know them, that we weren't at least acquainted, or that they were so snooty and cliquesque that they wouldn't even notice my existence. Nope. I just wasn't one of them.

Like most teens, I wanted desperately to belong, to be a part of some group someplace. It would be years and years before I ever came to understand that I'm not really a "belong" sort of person. I'm more of a "hang on the fringes and observe" type of person or a "comfortable with my beloved and a small list of close friends but not really totally integrated into any group" type of person. And years and years more before I came to accept that.

And every once in a while I catch myself in that behavior. I'll hover around the edge of a group, imagining all the camaraderie and fun they must be having together, and begin wishing I was a part of their "club." Trying to fill some sort of void I think I perceive in my own existence by filling the lonely hole with belonging.

I call it the Lost Puppy Lesson. Hovering around the edges like a little lost puppy, hoping that someone will take me in and give me a home.

(I think my mom first gave it that name when she would laugh a bit about my attempts to fit into this or that group. Not quite sure why she needed to revisit those memories, or find amusement at them, but there it is.)

Recently, I've been wondering if I'm dancing around that lesson once again, hovering around the edges of somewhere I was employed for a very long time. I do a little bit of part-time work there, which is cool, but I'm wondering if, by keeping my "foot in the door" (so to speak), on some level I'm doing the Lost Puppy thing, hoping to get taken in, to be welcomed back and officially be part of "the group."

Which isn't cool, for the record. At least, not for me.

What I know now, that I didn't know then, is that I don't need to look for something external to "belong to" in an attempt to fill some sort of hole or void. If there's a hole, the solution won't be found out there - the place to look is within, usually in the area of having stepped away from where I belong in relationship to my Father. As always, if I feel distant from Him, He's not the one who moved. If I'm feeling disconnected, I'm probably the one who pulled the plug.

Ok, so knowing that, I now have a grid to process things through. In the case of my part-time work, am I hovering around the edges, hoping to be let back in and to belong? Honestly, maybe a little bit - but I think it's more a desire for some sort of regular work and income. I don't think I'm searching for something to fill an emotional hole, but rather something to help in an increasingly tight financial situation. A little stability in a stormy sea.

I think God uses our past lessons to help us navigate our present path. The question is, will we mindfully look at where we are through the lens of what we've learned?

One more thing to add to that - using the lessons learned is alright, as long as we allow Him to teach us through them and not let our past be an open door for all sorts of regrets to reach out and choke us. God doesn't intend for us to live in our regrets, but rather to commit our past to His keeping, and our present to His grace.

The final thought: sometimes, in God's grace and timing, good can come from the Lost Puppy Lesson...

If I hadn't wanted so desperately to be a part of that group from high school, I wouldn't have fixed my eyes on a certain instrument, one that would enable me to jam along and (hopefully, in my eyes) let me "in." At the very least I wouldn't have pursued that instrument so desperately at that time. The group of guys came and went (and I'm friends on Facebook with a couple of them!), and I moved on to other lessons and other puppy pursuits from time to time, becoming a little wiser for the wear.

Yet that instrument - my attempt to become one of them - remains a huge part of my life. I think of the guys sometimes on Sunday mornings when I'm part of the worship team at First Cov...

playing my bass guitar.

The one I play now has six strings and no frets, but the black and white four-string Electra bass that my grandmother bought me (after much begging, I'll admit, and much thankfulness) set my feet on the path. Thanks guys, especially Jeff - I had no idea at the time that a case of wanting to be part of the cool dudes would turn into a lifetime of joy playing bass.

The moral of the story? Sometimes puppies learn cool tricks, that they still do as old dogs.

Monday, January 02, 2012

The Advent Writings: Postlude

Behold, the new year rises.

Yay. Woo hoo. *insert sound of party horn here*

*insert sound of Cal coughing up a furball here*

*insert sound of literally twos of mouses clicking on various bookmarks*

These last couple of weeks of 2011 have kicked my formerly huge hiney. (Now it's more like my formerly huge now smaller but saggy hiney. Mental imagery to give you nightmares - that's why I'm here.) Frankly, things feel like they haven't moved or changed at all this last month.

When I began The Advent Writings, they were a way to try and sort out the season, to find some answers to deep feelings not just about the season, but about my walk and faith in general. I wanted to see what would happen as I pushed myself to write more frequently - daily if possible, but certainly much more frequently than my normal habit of once an age. (Or twice, if things were particularly weird) In the course of this 'experiment' (for lack of a better term), the Lord once again reminded me of why I am compelled to write - to journal my story, to document the journey, to raise the stones and remember, and to use these words to clear some of the fog in my mind that would keep me bound in the darkness.

Does that sound selfish? Wasn't there way w-a-y too much "I Me My Mine I MeMeMe" in that last paragraph? Shouldn't I be saying something about encouraging others or edifying others, or at least desiring "world peace?"

(shout out to fans of Miss Congeniality 1 - Sandra Bullock, comedy genius)

These last couple of weeks have reminded me that my "forward" gear doesn't have as much power as my "backwards" gear does. All through this month, trying to mindfully approach Christmas from a new perspective, I've been making some good steps. I've been learning things about my journey, I've been seeing how to walk in a new way, and I've been marveling in where God is bringing me in my second life. There have been moments to laugh, moments to be astonished, and moments to hang my head in shame.

And then, wham. It's like playing a living game of Snakes and Ladders (or as it's known in kiddie game world, Chutes & Ladders) - you're moving along, maybe taking a ladder up, making progress... then you hit one of those pickin' snakes, and you crash all the way back to where you started.

I hate that game. Seriously.

"Snakes. Why does it always have to be snakes?"

(Harrison Ford, comedy genius!)

"Laugh it up, fuzzball."

(See? Comedy genius!)

In the last couple of weeks, it seems like all the learning, all the growing went right down the biffy on the express train to the set of Dirty Jobs. It got flushed. Step, slip, down the stinkin' snake, back to square one, start all over. In the parlance of the Uglies series, it's not very happy-making. In fact, in the parlance of the Cal, it's very, very Grrrr-making.

You'd think I'd at least be able to grab some traction, to not fall as far, to slow my decent, or even hit the ground running and climbing. Nope. *wham!* Hit the floor (or whatever the heck it was that I just landed on - I really don't want to know), gasp for air, stagger back to my feet, then look around, blinking and dazed, wondering where I am and how I got here. I don't even recognize the scenery, which is kind of weird since I was just here not that long ago, last time the dumb snake dumped me on the express train down.

I really, really hate that game.

And now, for the light at the end of the snake... um, tunnel.

(Captain Cal, comedy dufus!)

Because God is faithful, and because He knows that we're slip-slidin' away (to quote the Bard, thankye Mr. Simon), He tells us to raise the stones. He tells us to put markers along the way to remind us of where He has brought us and where He is taking us. I guess I always thought of them as memorial stones or signposts - kind of like the "Somewhere In Time" spot on Mackinac Island.

("RIIIICCHHHHAAAARRRDDDD!!!" Jane Seymour, comedy genius and Medicine Woman!)

I never thought of the stones as hand and food holds. Kind of like the things on a climbing wall that you grab and cling on to as you keep going up. Unless you're a certified GirlyMan like me, and have never ever climbed or even been near a climbing wall, but have been the subject of much laughter and derision during gym class when the teacher said, "Olson - climb the rope!"

(My gym teacher - comedy genius and torturer du jour all rolled into one manly bundle!)

Last night, after another rough slide downward, I realized that I haven't 1) listened to the Daily Audio Bible in 4 days, and 2) haven't written in a week. Not for dumb reasons, just because my attention needed to be in other directions. Mostly, helping my wife clean out a storage thingie we've been paying rent on for about 12 years.

12 years of paying folks for the privilege of storing CRAP. Talk about a stinkin' snake...

Anyway, after the distractions, the good, right and valid distractions, I had no handholds, and somewhere along the way had changed into my silicone bodysuit, making me very slippery and taking my wind resistance down to nil.

** I pause to allow the mental image of me in a silicone body suit to plant itself firmly in your psyche, to assault your dreams in a disturbing manner. Don't thank me - it's my job. **

So, onto the snake I go, sliding down, getting ready for the inevitable crash into the unmentionable at the bottom...

And I slow to a gentle stop.

Why? Because God says, "open MacJournal, read what you've written there, toss out hands and feet, and grab some traction. You've raised the stones, now look at them, read them, USE them."

Handholds and footholds to stop the slide. Traction to fight the downward fall. Rubber grippers for snakeback.

"BWAAH HAAH HAAH! Take that, stinkin' snake!"

"Hold on, little superstar - remember that whole pride-fall thing..."

"Right. Sorry."

Now, I'm not back where I was. I have some climbing to do. But I'm not at the bottom either, up to my nose in... um... Nope, not gonna say it. I didn't hit the bottom, and I'm on my feet, climbing. And maybe, just maybe I'll make it a little farther before the next slide. Maybe, just maybe I'll catch myself faster on the way down, and not slide as far. Perhaps, just perhaps I'll stay on my feet, get back to climbing, and make it farther yet. And hopefully, definitely hopefully, I'll remember sooner to use my handholds and footholds. Or clip a safety line to my Partner so He can help break my fall.

Maybe I'll get up the rope after all, and show my gym teacher my turbo-moon happy dance from the gym ceiling.

"Ahem... pride? Fall?"

"Right. Sorry. No turbo-mooning, right?"

"Definitely not."