Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Why I'm Probably Headed to [The Unpleasant Place]...this week. Mild language warning.

I really hate it when people say things like, "I'm an imperfect sinner."  I don't know, it just seems like a throwaway to me.  It's not really a confession or admission of guilt.  To my ear it's actually a kind of excuse.  "Well yeah, I came in your kitchen, and kicked your dog, and stole a box full of ballpoints, but I'm an imperfect sinner, so..."  No.  It's not ok to kick my dog or steal my box of pens.  Ever.  Claiming imperfect sinner status to avoid taking responsibility feels insulting.  To me, true confession requires self-conviction.

And it's more than that even.  Confession also demands specifics.  It demands we step out from behind our generalization and really name what we've done.  Every week at our early worship service we say a prayer of confession in which we say that we have hurt others and been hurt.  We have taken others for granted and we have been taken for granted.  Those words don't do us much good if we don't pause and think specifically about how we have done those things.  "Who, John?  Who have you hurt?  Who have you taken for granted?"  If I can answer those questions honestly, then maybe I've earned the right to consider who has hurt me.

[Note.  One of my flaws is that I answer those questions in the wrong order.  I think a lot about who has hurt me and not enough about who I have hurt.  That is also wrong.]

So I'm pretty sure I'm going to hell.  Not just because of what I've said above, but also because of this...feeling I get.  I get it weekly, if not more often.  It happens at moments when I realize I'm not living up to my best self.  Sometimes it happens when someone points out my error to me.  Other times I realize it on my own.  I'd like to say I always realize it when it's too late to do anything about it, but all too often I could still fix it...but I don't.  I let it go...and then climb in the handbasket and buckle up for the ride.  And I get ready to "enjoy" a steady diet of "devil's spit" spicy boiled okra or whatever else it is they are serving on the level of hell I wind up on.  It's probably one of the lower levels.

"Why this week?" you might ask.

We are having our roof replaced.  We were told when we moved in that it had seven years left, at best, because it had been installed on top of the prior roof.  We made it about half that far before the dreaded water marks started appearing in our dining room and in our bedroom.  We considered attempting to patch it, but decided in the end we just needed to bite the bullet.

Having your roof replaced is miserable for a number of reasons.  First there's the salespeople.  All of them are required to tell you why the other guy's roof is crappy.  They have to tell you that other roofers are going to cut corners.  They have to tell you that your roof is horrible (and they are very sorry to have to be the one to tell you).

So a new roof costs like a billion dollars or something, and there are a few little asterisks on the contract where they can charge you even more...replacing decking and extra roof removal.  As it turns out, this can get really expensive, especially if your house is old enough to have 1x6 decking instead of plywood.

They called us after the first day's work (mind you, there's more roof to go, so it's only going to get worse).  Indeed, we had a whole lot of broken decking which is going to add roughly another billion dollars to the cost.  Well, that's what it felt like.  And like most families, we don't have gobs of cash lying around, so we were really having to be creative to cover the initial cost...only to have it significantly increased.  Blargh!

I handled this very well.  I sent an email to ask for a little clarification.  I whined a lot.  I looked over our finances to see if there had been any financial miracles in the previous 24 hours (there had not been).  I wrung my hands for a while.  And then the feeling started.  Subtle at first, but by this morning, it was undeniable.  I am a total tool, and I need to check myself right this instant.

Not all that far away, just a few hundred miles, I have friends who waded away from their homes in water waist-deep because the water was still rising.  I have family who moved next door because their neighbor's house has 2 stories...so they'll only lose half of everything.  There are people who have climbed into their attics with an ax, just in case they need to cut a hole in their roof to escape while water ruins literally everything they own.  Poor me.  I'm going to have to paint my ceilings and pay some extra money for my roof.  But by tomorrow my roof will be whole.  And if we get rain from this catastrophic storm, it will roll off the roof, down the gutters, and through our back yard without ruining a thing.  The Very. Same. Storm.

How could I be so stupid?  How could I be so petty?  How could I be so callous to the suffering of other people?  It's like comparing a paper cut to stage 4 cancer.  There is no comparison.  The answer is, of course, that I have once again been fixated on my own well-being.

Like a lot of people, we donated to the relief effort.  We chose UMCOR for our funds because 100% of everything we donate will be used directly for relief, and they do a great job with both short and long-term recovery.  (You can give here if you would like.)

Maybe that's a step in the right direction, but it's not enough.  What I really need to do is pay more attention to those who have less than I do than those who have more.  Let's be real--there will always be someone with more (literally true for all except one person in the world).  Thinking about them will only make me want more.  But thinking about the much greater number of people who have less, not just those in Texas but in my back yard, will make me thankful for what I have, which is a lot. I have an awesome family.  I have a comfortable home.  I have a calling to work I enjoy, and I have the health to answer that call.  When I'm hungry, I can eat.  When I'm thirsty, I can drink.

When I communicated with one of my friends who has been affected by the floods, he said, "We'll be fine.  We have flood insurance, etc.  Just need to figure out housing while the house gets cleaned up, etc."  That's right.  He just referenced his entire house being flooded in the way I might describe one of the children throwing up at night.  "Yes, it's ok.  Just need a place for the child to sleep while I wash the comforter."

Except HOLY CRAP HARVEY JUST THREW UP IN THEIR WHOLE ENTIRE HOUSE.  I can't even fathom it.  But for the love of God, don't charge me too much for my broken roof decking.

And I keep doing this.  Over and over.  The feeling comes.  Something like this will adjust my attitude.  I'll have an epiphany.  The clouds will part and the angels will sing.  I'll see everything clearly and understand my privilege.  This moment will happen when I am truly grateful for what I have.  Until something or someone challenges it.  Until I feel like I am losing...or fear that I am losing.  It doesn't matter how much or what or if it's cosmically significant (it never is).  Rest assured in no time at all I will find myself focused on what I don't have instead of what I do until God grabs me by the sideburns and points my head in the right direction again.

The only hope--the-only-hope--is that Jesus, in addition to showing us how to love each other, also showed us that there is infinite grace and infinite love and infinite forgiveness.  I certainly hope so, because without it, my ticket for the handbasket to hell is already punched.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

This Is Not an Article About the Eclipse

Ok, it is.  This is an article about the eclipse.  I'm sorry.  It's over, right?  We should just let it go.  Besides, there's going to be another one in just seven years, so what's the big deal?  Well, I would be willing to bet that anyone who saw totality on August 21, 2017 would tell you it's actually a huge deal.  I had a few thoughts on it (thoughts that were not science-y thoughts about the moon's alignment with the earth and such).  So without further ado...

Tales from Theclipse

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Mad props to Matthew Waller, who nailed this picture.
Chapter 1: Preparation

I heard there was going to be an eclipse visible in Georgia on August 21 back in February.  Since that's my birthday, I resolved immediately that my family and I should go see it, and I set about planning in that direction.  I set up lodging in advance.  I purchased the funny glasses in advance.  This was weird for me because I'm more often a last-minute kind of guy.

There were a number of people who, as the event approached, set about trying to find lodging only to discover that a million of their closest friends already had the same plans.  Then there were people paying ungodly sums for special 3D glasses (I mean, that's what they looked like to me) because they didn't buy them while they were $1.99 at Kroger.  [Yes, that's where I got mine and how much I paid.  I did check in with the NASA site to make sure my retinas and more importantly those of my family would not be fried over-medium by the end of the eclipse].

If you want to see the total eclipse, you need to do a little planning.  You don't have to go overboard or anything.  It's not mandatory that you set up the NASA live feed on your computer, and unless you're a dork like me it's not even critical that you know the contact times (eclipse start, totality start, totality end, and eclipse end).  Shoot.  You don't even need a camera.  Unless you want one.  Then you need one.  And you need a few other items...

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Like a solar filter made out of torn up glasses since you bought extra at Kroger
and your camera isn't really nice enough to put a filter on anyway.
PS Whose hand is that?  So nice looking.
Point is, you need to get yourself ready.  Be prepared.  Basic Boy Scout stuff is all.

Chapter 2: Patience

I had set an alarm to go off when the eclipse began.  [For those of you with an Android phone, it was "Argon," which I thought added nice ambiance to the event.]  We picked out our spot and got ready.  The alarm gently acknowledged that the eclipse was beginning.  I was so excited.  I whipped out my "You can totally look at the sun with these but geez don't do it too long because it's the freaking sun" stylish 3D glasses and peered into the inferno.  What I saw was...not mesmerizing.  Not at all.  It looked just like the sun I saw the first day I got the glasses when I looked up outside of Kroger.  WHERE'S MY SOLAR ECLIPSE?  Relax, brah.  It's coming.

Some things just take time to develop.  There are some things that, if you commit enough resources and mindfulness to it, you can hasten.  But there are other things over which you have absolutely no control.  Honestly there are more of the non-control things than the other kind.  I had something like 90 minutes to wait until totality would arrive.  Be cool, y'all.  It's coming.  And like so many things in life, it's worth every bit of the wait.

But it's more than that, too.  Don't wish that time away.  Like in that Adam Sandler movie with the remote where he fast forwards through stuff he doesn't want to do.  If we had missed the 90 minutes of the eclipse prior to totality, we'd have missed the eclipse shadows cast on the ground by the trees.  We'd have missed the gradual darkening...the bugs coming out [note on the preparation side of things: Lisa's suggestion that we use bug spray was pure genius].  We'd have miss some of those eclipse phases where the sun looked like the moon.

And we would have missed the knowitall dude up the hill who was explaining everything about eclipses to everyone around him when, as it turns out, he had never seen one either.  There's one in every crowd, I guess.

There's something about waiting that's important.  It's not wasted time.  Or at least it doesn't have to be.

3. Totality I: Choose Your Own Adventure

I have neither the space here nor the words to communicate what totality was like for me.  The sun and moon seemed close to me, not far away.  The color was kindof purple and white and rainbow, but to me it looked nothing like the pictures you see (which I know is stupid).  It was surreal.  Other people experienced it differently.  They saw it differently.  Or their primary focus was making sure they got a picture of it.  Or their primary focus was looking at all the people who looked funny looking up at it (I heard a couple of women talking about that as they walked by).  Probably at least one person was focused on his upcoming meeting with the little green space people who were certain to come down next.

Everyone experienced it differently, a unique combination of what they were expecting and how their senses perceived it.  That's true of a lot more than solar eclipses.

4. Totality II: There's Never Enough Time

Time flies when you're having fun, right?  Whether you are transfixed by the sun's corona, obsessed with trying to get a panoramic shot of the 360-degree horizon, worried about getting your picture with your friends, or...whatever else you had in mind...there isn't enough time to do it.

Time is that thing we can't get any more of.  That's why pastors will tell you if you want to see where you priorities really lie to take a look at your calendar (and your pocketbook of course, but since that doesn't go with what I'm writing here I'll just leave it out).  You can get more of a lot of things, but time is relentless and unforgiving.  When totality arrived, we had 1 minute and 40 seconds before the sun reappeared.  No extensions.  It reminded me of Kipling's assertion that part of being a "man" (a person?) is filling each unforgiving minute with 60 seconds worth of distance run.

Again, that's true of a lot more than the seconds of totality in an eclipse.  What did you do with your last minute?  Was it worth it?  (Likely the answer is read this blog...and the answer may very well be that it isn't!)

In any event, the limited moments of totality stand as a reminder to live each minute, no, each second, to its fullest.  The sun is never more than a moment from coming back into view.

5. The Diamond Ring

I knew what the diamond ring was.  (In case you don't, it's pictured above.  It is what you see the last moment the sun is visible for totality and the first moment after).  I knew I wanted to see it.  I would love to have a picture of it on my camera.  I don't.

That was a conscious decision on my part.  I didn't want to be so focused on getting a picture that I didn't enjoy the moment.  It was absolutely spectacular.  You can look at the pictures if you want...they don't do it justice.  Truly.  Honestly I knew folks would get a picture of it (Matthew did!).  I could see a picture later.  I wouldn't be able to experience it first-hand again.  So I watched it.

Live in the moment.  I was there with my family on my birthday experiencing something transcendent.  All I have to remember it is my memory of it.  And my kids.  But that memory is vivid precisely because I was focused on the things that really matter to me.

6. The Sunrise

I really wanted the dark of totality to last a little longer, but most of the time that's not the case.  Most of the time, when we are overcome with darkness, we crave the light.  Sometimes we convince ourselves that the light is never coming back.  It sure can seem that way.  I don't mean to trivialize our tragedy.  Rather I mean to aggrandize the universe.  Nothing was going to stop that sunrise.  It was coming.

Like Tom Hanks said in Castaway.  Tomorrow the sun will rise...who knows what the tide will bring?  This is closely related to the first point about patience, actually.  We fixate on our own perception of time, but our timetables don't govern the universe.  Friends, this is absolutely a good thing.  It's best not to fight it, but to learn to live comfortably inside it, knowing that what will be will be when it will be.  It's not that we don't have any power over anything...it's that we have power over us and little else.  Focusing our energy on managing our self is generally more fruitful than focusing on trying to make the sun rise sooner...or keeping it from rising for another minute.

7. The Getaway

This is going to seem antithetical to my assertion that you should live in the moment, and maybe it is, but still.  We left our viewing spot about 10 minutes after totality.  Hopped in the car and headed home.  By then it was considerably brighter.  The crickets had cut out their racket.  The eclipse wasn't over...Lisa and the kids kept their glasses handy and kept looking from the car windows.  But we were headed home.

Because we left early, we managed to avoid the massive delays that many people experienced coming back into town.  This reminds me that even when you are living in the moment you are still living in the world.  Finding some way to be mindful of that without wrecking your momentary experience isn't a bad idea.  I wish I could tell you how to do it.  In fact, I will aware 10,000 Cowden points (a lot of Cowden points) to someone who can give me a three-step process for maintaining mindfulness of the moment and the cosmos all at once.

8. I Guess That's About It

Those are just a few things I was thinking about yesterday and today.  Be prepared.  Be patient.  Be yourself.  Drink in the moment.  Focus on what matters.  Remember the sun will come out...tomorrow.  Remember you're still in the world...don't get lost.  Gosh, this is starting to sound like some epically boring commencement address from 2009 or something.  Sorry about that!

Oh, just one more thing.  I told the kids this was a once-in-a-lifetime thing.  This morning I said, "Remember when I said it was once in a lifetime?  Not quite true.  In 2024 we'll be heading to Arkansas to view an even bigger eclipse in the motherland."  Interestingly, that doesn't cheapen the experience we've already had together.  It may bring it into even sharper focus as we look toward 2024 with anticipation and experience...perhaps a reminder that even when we think we're completely out of chances...sometimes we still get one more.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

This I Believe

A little more than 10 years ago I wrote an Essay for This I Believe.  I was 27 when I wrote it (which is why the age group says 18-30).  I had been serving in ministry full time for about a year.  I was thinking about my essay this morning because I remembered writing that the truth is seldom if ever black and white.  I said, "Why, the most annoying question asked by children, becomes the most important question to ask because it leads me to discover ever more shades of gray."  So I looked it up on thisibelieve.org and read through it.  My belief has drifted a bit since then, but I will also say that I still believe what I wrote.  Today I would add that the truth in the middle is a moving target--that the intersection of always and never doesn't exist in a single place.  It ebbs and flows.  Still, the truth is somewhere near the middle.  That holds up.  (If you want to read the whole thing, you can view it here.)

I missed the mark a bit more elsewhere in the essay.  I did not remember writing this: "Maybe this is why the term 'extremist' is sometimes used as a derogatory term, implying that a person who ignores context in favor of a simple answer exists in a slightly different world from the rest of us."  Twelve years ago I was either a master of understatement or I didn't understand extremism.  It's not a slightly different world.  It's an alternate universe.  No, it's an alternate reality.

It's an ugly reality, too.  It's an unchristian reality that maintains one set of people is better than another.  I'm talking about the neo-nazis and the KKK and the white supremacists, yes.  But to be clear I'm also talking about people like James Hodgkinson who took it upon himself to bring justice to members of Congress who were playing baseball and the crusaders who decided to go and "save" everyone in the Middle East.  Let me be perfectly clear.  I am not suggesting in any way that there is violence "from many sides."  Actually the opposite.  There is violence from one side: the side of hate.  The side that preaches injuring someone or even killing them is somehow good for them.

But you already knew that.  People everywhere are getting in line to denounce the hate groups.  It's oddly chic at the moment, which is in itself disturbing.  The dirtier truth just under the surface is that a frighteningly high number of people are denouncing extremism out of expedience while many of them, in their hearts, sympathize with the overall cause.

We throw the word "believe" around willy nilly.  We say we believe in things.  WC Fields famously joked, "Everybody's got to believe in something.  I believe I'll have another beer."  Much of the time when people say, "I believe..." what they really mean is "I think" or "I hope" or "it might be that..."  Like so many words in our language, it has been overused--abused even.  Its overuse has obscured its raw power.

Belief, true belief, leads to action.  It's most obvious in the world of policy and politics.  It is belief that compels someone to get on a bus and head to Washington to go to an inauguration...or to go to a protest the next day.  It is belief that compels someone to blow up a building...or to run into that building while it is on fire to rescue anyone left alive.  It is belief that compels someone to stand up and be counted or sit down at the front of the bus.

Paul and James both struggled with belief and action in their letters (they called it faith and works).  Action is the outward sign of an inner conviction (ignoring for a moment the effect that repeated action can have on your belief!).  It's not that works save you.  It's that if you're saved you'll do works.  While I might want to remove some of the salvation language from that idea, it's nevertheless true that action springs from belief, not the other way around.

Just last week, this is what we said in our worship services at Decatur First UMC.  It's a part of the statement of faith of the United Church of Canada:

We are not alone, we live in God's world.
We believe in God:
   who has created and is creating,
   who has come in Jesus, the Word made flesh,
   to reconcile and make new,
   who works in us and others by the Spirit.
We trust in God.
We are called to be the church:
   to celebrate God's presence,
   to love and serve others,
   to seek justice and resist evil,
   to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen, our judge and our hope. 
In life, in death, in life beyond death,
God is with us.
We are not alone.
Thanks be to God. Amen.

This is one of my favorite creeds.  I love it because it says we believe exactly one thing: we believe in God, a creator who came to us in the form of Jesus to reconcile us to God and make us new--and that God works in us and others by the Spirit.  There's a lot of room under that umbrella for us to disagree on a lot of things without falling apart.

But the best part is that it doesn't stop there.  It goes on to say what kind of action come from this belief.  We will be the church.  We will celebrate God's presence.  We will love and serve others.  We will seek justice and resist evil.  We will proclaim Jesus.

So it's decision time.  Like Indiana Jones, it's time to ask yourself what you believe.  Not what you think.  Not what you hope.  Not what you dream.  What you believe.  And, just as important if not more so, what of your actions betray that belief.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Can't Touch This

Somehow or another we wound up with Lisa's parents' wedding photo album at our house.  I ran across it a few months ago, and I thumbed through it.  Two things were immediately obvious:

1. Lisa's dad used to have a lot more hair.
2. His tux for the wedding has expired.

Image result for powder blue tux
That's not exactly it, but it's in the right ballpark.  It's worth noting that for the most part if you do a google image search for powder blue tuxes, mostly what shows up is costume ads.

If you just look at the photo, you can get a pretty good idea of when the photos were taken.  And it's not just the tuxes, either.  It's what the other folks are wearing.  Or what their eye shadow looks like.  Or how long the tail fins are on the cars.

If you lived during a given decade, you might even remember what you looked like when you dressed that way.  Maybe you had a favorite pair of bell-bottoms or disco platforms.  I'll bet you absolutely ROCKED those MC Hammer pants.

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This guy is not pulling it off like you did.
I'm boring.  I never really got into the trends much.  About the only thing I ever cared about were my glasses...and I just wanted those to look like my dad's.  I was never hip, cool, or stylish.  Never had the Umbros.  Never wore the Starter jacket.  Never spent 3 paychecks on a pair or Nike's.  It's not because my parents said no.  I just didn't care to.  Like I said.  Boring.

Boring and unpopular.  In part that was because I was still learning that correcting peoples' grammar was not as endearing as I imagined (one thing on an extensive list of things Lisa taught me).  But in part it was because I had no real desire to fit in.  I was an outcast...on purpose...and not in the trendy way they are sometimes portrayed on TV now.

The tux I wore at our wedding consisted of standard black tails with a deep purple paisley vest that matched the bridesmaids dresses.  Boring.

Image result for tails with purple paisley vest
It was a little more purple than that, but that's about right.  Imagine that with tails.
If you come to my house, we have white trim with solid color on the walls.  Boring.  My car is boring blue.  I usually wear khakis and a polo or long sleeved-plaid in the winter.  I wear a solid shirt with a tie on Wednesday and Sunday.  Boring.

But being boring has its advantages too.  One day someone might look at a picture of me and laugh a the goatee or the hair, but it's highly unlikely that someone's going to look at a picture of me and say, "The 90's called, and they want their jacket back."  People have been wearing black tuxes with accents colored to match the bridesmaids for...a long time.


We were talking about the upcoming solar eclipse in the workroom today, and you can probably guess that someone started singing "Total Eclipse of the Heart."  Because of course.  That got me thinking about the literal video for the song, which as absolutely nothing to do with this post, but is about the funniest thing I've ever seen on YoutTube.  (If you're ok with some mild adult content, see it here:Funniest Youtube Video Ever.)  It also got me thinking (because my brain has a short circuit) about a religious pantomime from the what, early 90's?  Another quick youtube search shows me it has been updated for the 2000's.  Here it is.

The presentation and theology in this video date it.

There is a lot about our church and theology that reveal when (and where) it is located.  If you made a photo album, one day you might be able to look back and say, "Yes, I remember when that's how we did it.  Do you remember when everyone in the church was focused on soup kitchens?"  Or medical clinics.  Or camp meetings.  Or revivals.  Or large Sunday School classes.  Or increasing the number of small groups.  I've complained about all the "5 Things Your Church Needs to do RIGHT NOW" kinds of articles before.  Let me be clear: those ideas are being published because to some extent or another they actually work, so there may be some wisdom in following them.

But...that's not my style.

I mean this in the nicest, most lovingly Christian way possible: I don't care what everyone else is doing.  I keep coming back to a single question: with respect to our faith, what is timeless?  What is essential?  What is the faith equivalent of solid walls and white semigloss trim with a flat white ceiling?

Think about that wedding album again.  Yeah, the tuxedos are amusing.  And the hair.  But you know what else you can see?  A marriage built on love that began about 25 years before my own marriage and continues to this day.  A commitment to living and working and staying together no matter what occurs.  That day, Lisa's parents vowed to be together until they are parted by death.  So far, so good; she hasn't killed him yet (though I understand it is occasionally touch and go)!

That's what that album represents.  It's what almost all wedding albums represent.  Even if the marriage doesn't end well for one reason or another, on the day those pictures were taken, and on the day they were put together in a book to remember, there was a commitment to pure, timeless love.

Oddly enough, I think it's that very same love that is at the very core of our faith.  Love is the essential.  It's the timeless component, the thread that weaves through each age.  Admittedly there have been seasons in the church when the thread has been obscured by some pretty horrible things.  There always will be.  Like Dalton says, church was perfect until we walked in, right?  But when we get it right, there is Universal Love.  It's more than the timeless part of our faith.  It is the core on which our whole faith is built.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Summer Vacation (only not to Wallyworld)

Back on July 9, I sat on the organ bench at Decatur First and played morning worship, and then when the service was over I stepped out the door...and I didn't go back for 2 whole weeks.  That included 2 Sundays.  I don't think I've taken 2 Sundays off together for...a long time.  I was thinking back on that vacation over the last week.  So if you'll pardon the stream of consciousness...

We didn't go anywhere exotic.  Actually we didn't go anywhere at all.  We stayed at home.  I'm not even sure I'd call it a "stay-cation" actually, because while we took a few opportunities for local family fun, we didn't spend the entire time finding fun local stuff to do.

Most of the time we spent working on the house.  A few years ago we moved into a house that needed a lot of love and care.  That first summer it was like the arrival of one of our children: long days and short nights feeling fortunate if we were able to keep up with the bare necessities, to say nothing of getting ahead.  But over the past few years we've managed to make good progress, and today the honeydo list looks more like things we'd like to fix rather than things that absolutely have to be fixed.

I think we worked our way through 60-70% of the honeydo list.  Things like finally refinishing the sunroom, changing all the exterior door locks and knobs, pulling down handrails from the stairs and replacing them with better rails that are properly returned to the wall.  Finally finishing painting the windows...and taking the storm windows off and cleaning all the glass.  Did you know windows are clear?  I had no idea.

We still have a lot to do, and we likely always will.  Not because the house is bad--at this point it needs about the same level of care as most houses.  It's because of two realities.  The first is about us, and the second is about the house.

We change.  All those knobs I put on the doors?  Brushed nickel.  They go with all the other interior knobs I replaced a few years ago.  And the hinges.  And the light fixtures.  And the bathroom hardware.  As Jessica V said the other day, "The 90's called, and they want their polished brass back."  But in ten years or twenty years or something like that, someone will say, "2017 called, and it wants its brushed nickel back."  Some real dork will make a joke about a Canadian band, and then everyone will get their car out of their briefcase and head home.

We change.  Things we love today we might not love so much tomorrow.  Someone tell my mom I eat broccoli and see what she says.  (Mom, if you're reading this, I still don't eat broccoli salad because it still makes me gag).  One day I had some in a Chinese entree and thought it wasn't too bad, and it's been a slow journey ever since.  And today I eat steamed broccoli.  I don't even have to have cheese on it (not that there's anything wrong with that).  It's not that everything about us changes.  I mean, I still don't like tomatoes, but the things we like, well...let's just say last time I watched "Hoosiers" it wasn't as good as I remembered (although I still love Jimmy's hair).

And the house.  Bless it.  It's going to age.  There is no such thing as aging gracefully.  That's an illusion.  Things will start to sag and wrinkle.  Things will weaken over time (I'm talking about floors, carpet, and the roof...what were you thinking about?).  So we'll never be finished.  Because we'll fix one thing, and another will need to be fixed.  I just hope it doesn't all need to be fixed at the same time again.  That was pretty rough.

So anyway, I was doing all this stuff to the house, and I have to tell you that those two Sundays I took off were magical.  I didn't go to church somewhere else like a good Christian.  I stayed home.  I got some stuff done.  I got a little closer to the continually elusive goal of getting "caught up," whatever that means.  That extra time on Sunday morning, it was a gift...from God?

I've written before on this very topic...that what we do together in church on Sunday morning has to be pretty spectacular to make it worth missing Sunday morning at home.  Every time I go on vacation I am reminded of that truth...and also the truth that what we do together in church is absolutely worth the time, even if we need to be away now and then to preserve our sanity (a statement to unpack another day, perhaps).

I told you this was more or less stream of consciousness, didn't I?

I guess if I'm honest, I have to admit that I didn't know how tired I was.  Not physically tired, though I guess that's true too (and sleeping in a little over vacation helped with that, even if I wound up offsetting that sleep staying up watching Parenthood on Netflix with Lisa).  Mentally tired.  To be clear, I love my work, and I really enjoy all the fun things we do during the month of June.  Music Mission, VBS, and Music n More are three of my favorite weeks of the year!  It's not really about June or April, I don't guess.  It's about leaning into the church all the time...and the need to step back and gather myself a bit.  The change of pace that was working on the house and seeing a lot of my family was even more welcome than I thought it might be (I had pretty high expectations in that regard)...and reminded me that I need to do a better job of prioritizing that throughout the year.  I've already got some plans working in that direction.

I remember talking with a friend once who reminded me about the law of diminishing returns.  It's an educational concept that means after a certain amount of time, you get less return on your investment of time (in the classroom, as the lesson gets longer the amount of learning begins to decrease).  A break is needed to reset the mind.  I've seen this in choir rehearsal many times.  A piece will seem very difficult for us at the end of a rehearsal, but if we attack it fresh in a subsequent rehearsal, I almost wonder what the problem was!  My time off is like that break...and I've come back to work fresh.  It seems easier.  Let me be clear.  It isn't easier.  But it seems like it.  Well, so maybe it is.

And now...back to it.  Rehearsals.  Worship.  Meetings.  And if I learn the lessons this vacation had to teach, at least a couple of stretches of family time too.