The One Thing I Know

Four and a half years ago, I was thinking about someone I loved very deeply, who was suffering terrible pain that I felt I couldn’t do anything to ease. And I was thinking about my own pain, past and present. I was thinking of losses I had experienced, and some of my darkest moments of doubt and despair. And I was thinking about many others I knew or had known, who struggled. And some who lost the struggle. Not knowing what else to do with my thoughts and my feelings, I wrote a letter to everyone in the world.

I keep meeting new people who need this message. I keep discovering I need to hear it again myself. So here it is, in the hopes that it reaches one more person who needs it.

I’m doing fine, by the way. But life is pretty rough sometimes, isn’t it?

Look. I know you are stressed. I know you are anxious.

You think things are spinning out of control. Or maybe you think things are permanently stuck and will never change. Or maybe even both.

You are staying above water for now, but you see swells on the horizon that you know will eventually break over your head, and you don’t know how you’ll survive it this time. You don’t recall how you survived it last time.

Maybe you’ve lost your purpose. Or never had one. Or have a very clear mission in life that you understand is impossible.

Everything you thought was certain has turned to sand. Everything you thought would get better has gotten worse. People you expected would always be there are now gone, or soon will be.

You wonder about your worth, your value, your contribution, your impact. Or you regret the impact of your past actions or words. You’ve done things that can never be undone no matter how much you wish otherwise, or you just lack the courage to do the things you know you really should.

Your opportunity will never come. It’s slipping away. It’s long, long gone.

Your happiest moments only touch a part of you, while another hidden you experiences them as if through thick glass.

You just don’t know what to do or who to be or where to turn.

I get that.

You are loved.

I won’t say that none of the rest of it matters, but a part of me believes that, in the face of this one truth, the rest matters less.

You are loved.

I believe you are loved by your Creator. I know you are loved by other people who know you. If I know you even a little, I either love you already or am working on learning to love you. (Please be patient.) Many others are, too.

And even if you no longer know what matters, or know that nothing matters any more, or darkly suspect that nothing has ever mattered, this does matter.

You are loved. Even if you can only find one person who loves you, that is huge. It is immense, and powerful, and real. Even if you don’t know who it is that loves you, I guarantee that there is someone.

Your connection to someone else matters to them. Let it matter to you.

Together, you and they can get through this. Together, we can get through this. I mean it.

You are loved.

I have been there, and Love has pulled me through. You can do this. We can do this. Because you are loved.

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If Work Had Mandatory Homework, I’d Quit

The school I work with and that my youngest son attends is resuming in-classroom teaching today for the first time in over a year. (Well, only in some grades to start with.) For the past year, students have been doing online schooling, which to be honest is not that great. I have huge admiration for what the teachers I know have accomplished with very difficult circumstances, but it seems to me (and this is about all schooling, not this particular school) that online school is missing out on the best of both worlds of traditional and home schooling. Home schooling allows for a great deal of flexibility. Traditional schooling has very clear boundaries.

Oh wait. Maybe not. Now that I’m thinking about it in these terms, I find a renewed dislike of “homework”. When one of my children complained about the arbitrariness, the difficulty, or the tediousness of their education, I would remind them that its purpose was to prepare them for adulthood. Yes, there are parts you don’t like; but if you don’t develop habits that allow you to tackle tasks you don’t like, you will be miserable as an adult. I would also say that everyone needs some useful purpose in their life. Adults have (among other things) careers. Children are not equipped, yet, to pursue careers, so going to school to prepare to be useful is their use in life, at least temporarily.

But thinking about how school normally works, it occurs to me that we are now asking kids to put in something quite close to a full day’s work at school, and then come home and do more work. Every day. In my adult world, sometimes I bring work home. But it’s a choice. And in a lot of jobs, that never happens at all. When you’re off the clock you’re off the clock.

Why can’t schools just get their work done in the time already allotted to them? I hear it when teachers argue that homework helps concretize lessons, that it is important for students to have time on their own to process and work through learning. Great. So let’s carve an hour out of the instruction that’s already happening and instead designate that “work alone time”. And put it somewhere in the middle of the day, when their brains are still working optimally.

Maybe homework made sense when students were only spending mornings in the classroom. But these days the average student is spending close to seven hours a day at their school, and then coming home to do three or more hours of homework that same day. This is dramatically up from twenty years ago. Not many adults would put up with work conditions like this. I know I wouldn’t.

Now, I’m happy to say that my child’s school is actually fairly good about their attitude towards homework. But even here I sometimes wonder if we are asking too much of the kids.

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A Useless Cinquain

Boredom
Planless, alone
Dreams and games and art and worry
The inspiration for it all
Stop scrolling

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A Blitz, of Sorts

“Mind without Meat”

Blank page
Blank mind
Mind your manners
Mined for answers
Answers forthcoming
Answers without questions
Questions are annoying
Questions your integrity
Integrity is wholesome
Integrity is rare
Rare is the bird
Rare but not undercooked
Undercooked meat
Undercooked ideas
Ideas are like butterflies
Ideas are cheap
Cheap eats aren’t always good eats
Cheap drinks can be costly
Costly phrases for the ages
Costly plays make a great game
Game of thrones
Game of loans
Loans are not investments
Loans and savings
Savings are not leavings
Savings and groans
Groans at the thought of leaving
Groans at the thought of staying
Staying true to yourself
Staying the hand that strikes you
You wish you knew what it was all about
You never really know until you do
Do you know the song of love
Due to an unfortunate miscalculation
Miscalculation is the art of finesse
Miss Calculation would make a good name for a math teacher
Teacher said I was smart
Teach her well so she will succeed
Succeed where others were sure you’d fail
Succeed at what no other would try
Try to bend the rules now and then
Try to not want
Want what you can never try
Want some bitters to go with your gravy
Gravy is as gravy does
Gravy is the icing on the cake of the meat
Meat and cheese and vegetables and bread
Meet the cheesiest one of all
All
Bread

Okay, that was pretty weird. It’s my half-hearted attempt at a poetic form I just learned about, called a “blitz” poem. I didn’t quite follow the rules correctly, and I certainly didn’t make any effort to plan it out so it would be any good. So it’s basically nonsense. But it was kinda fun to put together.

If I wasn’t so cold and tired and busy, I might actually enjoy sitting down and crafting one properly so as to actually express something beyond the weirdness of how my mind associates phrases when left unguided. But even just the exercise of barfing out a technical example was somewhat enjoyable.

I like structure for its own sake, sometimes. Creativity thrives when facing limitations, and fades when there are no boundaries to lean and pull against.

Creativity, in other words, is a tomato plant.


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I Am Not a Cat

But you can see that, I suppose.

How are you doing? As of this past weekend, we are eleven months into operating under pandemic restrictions. A year ago today, what did you think mattered? What were you looking forward to and what were you dreading? Thinking about this reminds me of how bad we all are when it comes to our assumptions about the future.

But that works both ways, too. Whenever you find yourself thinking, “This problem will never get better,” I want you to remember that you don’t have a great track record of predicting your own future. Most of our assumptions about our own futures are based on way too little information. And we get lulled into a false sense of foreknowledge because just assuming that the future will be like the past does, in fact, work up to a point–but then when that point comes we are suddenly wildly off track and totally unprepared.

That’s how comedy works, by the way. It’s where the “rule of three” in humor writing comes from. A joke is something that intentionally sets up an expectation by drawing to points on a graph, daring us to assume we know where the third point on the line will go, only to smash our expectation with a punch line that shows the line wasn’t a line at all but a curve. Our momentary resorting of our expectations versus our results, and the tension and release that comes with that, is the core of comedy.

Where am I going with this? Well, on a serious note, I hope you are finding ways to laugh, to surprise yourself, to humbly acknowledge your ignorance, and to experience an occasional catharsis of endorphin-releasing light happiness. Because statistics say you could probably use it. Symptoms of anxiety and depression are sharply up over the past several months, and people are hitting the COVID wall.

We’re not out of this, yet, and it can feel like we’re swinging from one hoped-for turning point to another like a crazed trapeze artist sometimes. For awhile, people took solace by saying blaming the year, but going from 2020 to 2021 didn’t seem to make a big difference. Maybe a new President of the U.S. will make things better? Not instantly, at least. Yay, there’s a vaccine? But…not really sure when we will all actually get it.

Things are progressing. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. But sometimes looking forward to relief turns into a spiral of disappointment and impatience. Sometimes (often) the best thing to do is to let go of the future a little, and focus on the very immediate present. When the people cried out to the Lord because they had been forcibly relocated from their homes to the strange land of Babylon, they were told through the voice of the prophet, Jeremiah to settle in and make a life, and to stop yearning to go back to how things were:

“Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”

Jeremiah 29:5-7

So look for what’s good right in front of you. And find ways to be a part of what’s good in the immediate lives of others around you, too. There are steps you can take to shore up your emotional resiliency. Prayer, meditation, laughter, humility, and useful service are all healthy parts of living purposefully in the present. I encourage you to pursue them.

And, like I said in a sermon two Sundays ago, read the Word. Not just as a form of instruction, but also as a means of connection with the Lord.

Speaking of reading the Word, I am planning a new online group that will be starting in a couple of weeks: “Let’s Read: The Easter Story According to Luke”. Starting a week from next Wednesday (February 24th), and for six Wednesdays leading up to Easter, I will facilitate an online group for reading and discussing the Gospel of Luke’s account of the Lord’s final week on earth. This group is open to interested people everywhere through the Grand Human Project. So mark your calendars. I’m looking forward to exploring this story with you all.

That’s it for now. Have a great week.

[Chekov’s Cat Reference]

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