Thankful is Cool and Other Lessons

 

Turkey 2017

24 pounder smoked on our pellet grill.

We had a great Thanksgiving this year. Plans were changed, requiring the celebration to be at our house unexpectedly; but it worked out okay. We got the place cleaned, dishes prepped and cooked, and even the turkey (pictured here) turned out okay. I’ve prepared three Thanksgiving turkeys these last few years, and this year’s was by far the best. Oh, don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t the best turkey I’ve ever eaten, just the best one I’ve ever prepared (I think because of the brine and the herb butter under the skin). I’m finally getting the hang of the relationship between the pellet grill and that big ol’ bird. Although I do recommend grilling two smaller birds rather than one pterodactyl-sized bird; after brining and all the other stuff, the thing is almost as big as I am!

 

But what makes Thanksgiving a blessing rather than just a gathering are the people. It seems that more and more people are increasingly unthankful nowadays. Maybe they feel they have good reason to be, or are somehow entitled to live in a world of dark, stormy clouds. But this last Thursday, even amid such global ugliness, we were family together in one place at one time. We were thankful for each other, for the ability to have such an ample feast, and very thankful for our merciful God. And to top it all off, the rain stayed away as the turkey grilled in the corner of our deck under the branches of the leafless red maple tree.

The next day we had the great privilege of spending time with some good friends of ours.

Tree 2017

Our tree from Brooks Tree Farm.

They’re a couple we don’t get to spend too much time with. But on that day, we went together to cut down our Christmas trees. And once the trees were cut down, twined into easy-to-carry bundles and loaded into the back of our friend’s pick-up truck, we got a tour of the farm. The owners of the farm are members of our church and they were delighted to give us, including our eleven-year-old son, a tour of their facility. We got to see wreaths being made, trees being prepared to be shipped all over the world, including to Dubai (who knew they had Christmas trees there!). We saw the many large greenhouses where baby trees, called plugs, matured enough to be planted or shipped to nurseries. We saw all kinds of cool equipment as well.

 

After heading home and getting our trees set up and decorated (and eating a turkey lunch, of course), we reconvened and continued our day engaged in other activities. As the day came to a close, my family and I sat around our dining room table in flickering candle light and twinkly tree lights, feeling thankful that our last two days were spent with special people. We were also beginning to recognize that God was blessing us through the lives of others. We spent a lot of time with people that care for and love us as we care for and love them. Perhaps this is why there’s so much “unthankfulness” in this world, people don’t have meaningful relationships in their lives. Or maybe their hope, their future wishes, are based on flimsy philosophies or broken promises rather than on the God of the universe. Perhaps this helps me realize how important it is to be as much of an encouragement as I can to others. After all, Jesus did say:

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
—John 13:34-35

Maybe if I take Jesus’s words seriously, I can help an unthankful person see even an inkling of something to be thankful for. And if nothing else, at least I won’t add to their reasons to be unthankful.

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A Discussion of Time

Time“Does anybody really know what time it is?” asked the rock band Chicago back in 1969 (from their debut album Chicago Transit Authority). I am also asking the question because invariably, my perception of time is drastically different on the weekends than it is during the work week. C. S. Lewis said of time that, “Humans live in time … therefore … attend chiefly to two things, to eternity itself and to … the Present” (The Screwtape Letters, pp. 67-68). Maybe my perception changes because my “present” changes.

Still, usually, time doesn’t really seem to be my friend. When I have plenty of it, I lose track of it; like on Sunday mornings when I’m always late for church (thusly, my entire family is late as well). When I don’t have enough time, I become task and outcome-oriented, more focused on accomplishments than relationships.

Barry Parker, in his biography on Albert Einstein, wrote, “If you asked several people what exactly is time, you would no doubt get a different answer from each of them. And the truth is: nobody really knows. It’s easy enough to point to your watch and say, ‘It’s what that thing is measuring.’ But does that really tell us anything? No, it doesn’t, and even if you quizzed scientists, they would admit that they don’t understand time any better than anyone else” (Albert Einstein’s Vision: Remarkable discoveries that shaped modern science, pp. 101-102).

Time seems both easily discernible and mysteriously elusive. Scripture says that “to everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). Genesis states that, “God called the light Day and the darkness He called Night. So the evening and the morning were the first day” (1:5). Interestingly, the concept of day and night is defined early in the creation account, even though the sun and moon don’t come onto the scene until verse 16. This also clearly indicates that God is not bound at all by time. In fact, as I stated a few blogs ago, He created it.

But it is in this context that we define time. That is, we define time based on divisions of what we call a “day.” A typical day is 24 hours and we divide that 24 hours up into 1-hour increments. So much of our lives are based within this framework of 24 hours, of which around eight of those hours are spent in or around sleeping. And we can get even more technical and explore how sunlight affects our differentiating of time.

But really, is life based off of minutes and hours or is it based more off of experiences and outcomes? For instance, our accepting of Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior occurs in a segment of time; but is the segment what’s important or is what happened in that segment important? I know that’s a rhetorical question, but it sort of gets at the heart of things. A project is due to be completed by x-date; but why and who said it? Is the date based on some other set of issues or on an arbitrary selection in the attempt to get things started? Do people lose their lives if deadline is missed? Or, more likely, will a new deadline be established?

Bottom line is, we live in a structured environment that is highly regulated by our perception and application of time. But isn’t it interesting that many cultures around the world are not as bound by time as we are? Did Jesus wear a watch? Did the Apostles have deadlines and quotas to fill by certain times? Well, no, they didn’t. But we sure do.

Now please don’t get me wrong, we have bosses that tell us when to be at work and when we can go home. We have discipleship groups, youth groups, and church gatherings that all start at certain times, and we invite our dinner guests to show up at specified times. So, yes, time and time-setting are important; they keep us organized and they assist in setting and meeting expectations. But somehow, we need to have more unstructured “times” in our lives when we can just be rather than do. That’s why my perception of time changes on the weekends; I am shifting from a doing-orientation to a being-orientation.

I hope that makes sense. Now it’s time to make dinner.

The Maze of Numbers and Milestones

 

Maze

Pumpkin Patch maze near Jefferson, Oregon.

“Age is just a number,” she said. This was from a school official in a meeting a few months ago about our youngest son. It was a tough meeting, one of the toughest I’ve been through as a parent.

 

When I was a kid, parent-teacher conferences weren’t that big of a deal. Sure, I got in trouble here and there for being a class clown, but I always managed to earn good grades. But somehow, somewhere, things changed on my way to being a father. Now the conferences are more serious and intense. There’s a lot more tests and man-made standards kids must achieve.

At this meeting we had to consider making a very difficult decision. The decision would cause delays in typical age-related milestones, to which the quote above was about.

Since then I’ve been thinking. Who came up with age-related milestones in the first place? What’s so special about 18, 21, 30, 50 and so on? I don’t even see that it’s biblical.

For instance, Abraham and Moses were in what today’s society considers retirement ages. Daniel, Timothy and especially Mary were in what today’s society considers the younger, or more immature years. And we don’t know how old Paul or the first disciples were. And check this out:

Beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day.
—2 Peter 3:8

God is above time, He is not bound by time; he created time (see Genesis 1:3-25). And God will accomplish His work regardless of time. He will accomplish His work in spite of us and He will accomplish His work through us, regardless of our age.

My point is that perhaps age is nothing but a number. Maybe I’m too hung up on age. Maybe expecting my kids to accomplish “x” by age “x” is unrealistic and maybe even ungodly. Maybe I shouldn’t put the same pressure on myself either.

Case in point, in my late twenties I went back to graduate school to work on a Master’s Degree. My goal was to have it finished by the time I was 32. This was before the internet caught on, so classes were brick and mortar classes. I’d drive up to Portland once or twice a week for three-hour evening classes. At this rate, it’d take three years to complete. But I was single, and I had the time (and money) to pull it off. Except I didn’t consider actions the school would take.

What happened is other state schools closed their communications departments and sent these students to Portland State University where the Master’s program was. To accommodate the large influx of new students, the school changed much of the curricula to more traditional offerings. That is, once-a-week evening classes were now going to be offered three times a week in the mornings. This meant that for me to continue I had to either quit my career, which was beginning to really take off, or quit school because I couldn’t attend classes during working hours.

I chose to stay with my career; and that was a great choice, my career has been rewarding, fun and I’ve met and worked with so many great people over these many years.

Another interesting thing, though, is as technology changed, so did God’s leading in my life. This led me to eventually return to graduate school utilizing new, online technologies. And I did finally complete a Mater’s at 54; only it was 22 years past my original age-related goal.

However, the significant shift came in the subject matter: I was originally pursuing a degree in Organizational Communication, but my actual degree is in Christian Leadership and Teaching. My previous studies have come in handy from time to time, but that’s not the subject area of my passion; Jesus is. Had I stayed the course all those years back, I may have missed God’s real call on my life and now be a miserable wreck.

So maybe she was right, maybe age is nothing but a number. Maybe most of my age-related goals are nothing but numbers; and numbers are subject to change and so is our sense of God’s work in our lives.