Category: The Stones

Entry-Level Attitude


So, here we go again…

I am once again wading into the turbulent waters of part-time employment. Lord help us all.

And, as He seems to take great pleasure in doing, God led me to one job, only to throw in a sharp left turn at the interview, putting me in a different job at the same place that seems to fit me better.

He’s fancy like that.

And as the paperwork gets going, uniforms get ordered, and my lengthy tainted background is scrutinized, I think about work… Read more

WifeWisdom: A Very True Statement

My beloved, who is truly the wise one of our household, (Followed closely by BekaV, which tells you where I fall in that particular hierarchy…) said a true thing today.

Not that this is an unusual thing for the record. She often says true things. In fact, I have yet to hear her utter something that is not true. She also doesn’t say things that are unkind. She does ask a lot of questions, tho. A LOT…

I was pondering where to start my day today, either to go directly to my work at the radio station, to get some audio work done at home this morning, or go to my favorite Biggby Coffee, to write and to listen to the DAB. And Herself said…

“Write first – that’s where the maintenance gets done. “

Well said, beloved. This is the place where HER beloved does the fixing, the fine-tuning, the examination and analysis that results in steps toward wholeness. She knows, far better than I do, what happens when this time is neglected.

To listen to the Daily Audio Bible is key, because it establishes the framework for each day.

To write? Well, that helps me place myself into that framework. I see where I fit through the lens of God’s word, rather than trying to impose my own shape to the day.

What happens on the days where I just stumble out and try to shape things up on my own? Chaos. Madness. At the very least a feeling of incompleteness – getting to the end of the day wondering where it went and what I did.

I realize that many, many people don’t have this luxury, this blessing of time to get centered at the beginning of the day. So I conclude this with thanksgiving…

Thanks Lord for not only showing me me what is necessary and needful for living my life, but providing the time and resources to use it. May I never take it for granted, as I once did. Grant me the wisdom and responsibility to redeem the time You have given me, so that all my days will be centered in You. Thank you, Father.

And thank you beloved, for a very, very true statement.

“Why Don’t You Do What You Dream?” Pt 2

Check out Part 1 of this post to be pickin’ up what I’m layin’ down… Part one is the intro, Part two is the list of dreams.

Obviously, everything on this list will require work. No dream just pops perfectly into reality, fully born and working in all its glory, regardless what the movies would have us believe. So this list is not the place where I try and keep my feet on the ground, to realize the impossibility of these things. These are my dreams, not my to-do list. So no squashing, no moaning that they’ll never happen, no discouragement. When and if the Lord points toward one of them and says, “Go!”, He’ll make the path open before me. But it’s hard for Him to point out the path if I’ve not even opened my eyes.
So here’s some of the answers to the question, “What do I WANT to do?” Actually, the first is more about “How do I want to live?” And the answer is “Small. Very small.”

Living small is my primary, starting place dream – #1. Of course, this has multiple layers…

Becoming clutter-free – Vicki and I are both messies and have lived with that all our lives. But we yearn to have a home that doesn’t look like a bomb just went off, to actually be able to find things without a half hour of searching, or to be able to say to friends, “Come on over!” That’d be amazing…

Living much, much smaller – I’m not going to smack down a dream with reality here… We’d like to someday move to a new house. Now, by “new,” I don’t mean “bigger.” We’d like to go small – very small. As in less than 600 square feet. There’d be a couple of extra buildings for other activities, but the main living space would be really small. Look up “minimalism” to get a feel for my shift in attitude and outlook.

Staying a one-car family – we’d like to have one vehicle, one that’s capable of pulling small trailers, or of putting a whole load of equipment for a gig inside. Front runners include the Ford Explorer Sport Trac or a Honda Element. (I’m leaning toward the Element, but only if we get it repainted purple. Vicki’s leaning toward, and I quote, “Anything we could afford.” Amen.)

In order to remain a one-car town, we’d need to have pedal power available year round. Enter the Velomobile! Feel free to look up these wonders of the modern age, and imagine the Captain scooting down the Beltline inside of one of these puppies, laughing at the frigid temperatures right before he gets buried in a drift all the way up to his… um… April.
But still smiling.
A little land – with the idea of the small house and a couple of extra buildings for specific things, we’d like a little bit of land to produce some of our own food. I’m not talking totally self-sufficient, off the grid, greener than Yoda – just to be able to garden, to can and preserve, and to live at least partially off of the work of our hands.
Areas for tasks – in this grand plan would be a few outbuildings:
1. office / music / writing studio (potentially could be separated – office / music / technology lair; and a writing / thinking / devotions place);
2. hobby / craft / making stuff and selling it place;

3. garage / storage / wood / metal / glassworking place;
4. guest accommodation – living in a tiny (or at least small) house, it’d be best for guests to have their own little space, that they might not feel run over. Oh, and able to use the necessary without the whole world hearing the outcome.

(I saw one amazing example of a great guest room for a tiny house – a couple bought an Airstream trailer in need of some work, refurbished it inside, parked it in their yard, and built a roof over it to keep it from leaking in the rain. That’s their guest bedroom – brilliant!)
5. Greenhouse / prep kitchen – I do think this is a bit brilliant, and I don’t say that about my ideas often…

Attached to a moderate but useful greenhouse would be a moderate but useful kitchen space, complete with freezer, dehydrator, sink, stove and lots of counter space for cleaning, chopping and washing. Why? To take our produce after harvest and prep it for storage – either canning, freezing or dehydrating. And to be able to take the produce, cook it into soup or whatever, and can it right there. In a small house, we’d have a kitchen sufficient for day-to-day life and a little more, but to do the kind of tasks that food preservation requires, it’d be nice to have a little more room to work with. Wouldn’t need all that space daily, but having it available for use would make things run smoother.
6. Exercise – I’m not talking home gym, spa, or anything extravagant here. Just a space to have room to do Tai Chi without standing in a snowbank, to have the trike on the rollers without having to try and find a place in the living room to set it up, or to use a treadmill without having to redecorate. A few weights, a balance ball and some resistance bands would keep it simple.

(Those last two might be combined, by the way – greenhouse with room for exercise and kitchen addition. Working out in a sunny space always makes Cal a happy boy…)

7. Outdoor entertaining / clay oven – if you look up the word “yurt,” you’ll see what I’m thinking of as an outdoor space that would allow for entertaining or even guest lodging. This could also become the exercise area. The clay / brick oven would let me do some baking and other type of cooking – ok, it’s an extravagance, but a pretty cheap and fun one to build.
Does that sound like a little much? Why not just one house, with areas for all that garbage?
Honestly, I’m easily distracted and a messy person, at least in my home persona. I tend to be neater at work, where it counts. In order for me to actually function, multi-tasking is my nemesis. So one area, one function is my path to efficiency, or at least making one area do multiple things by being able to completely switch it over from task to task, getting rid of distractions and clutter in the switchover.
Dreams sometimes are shaped by reality, and how we’re wired.
Ok, now we live in Smalltopia (to borrow the word from Tammy Strobel of Rowdy Kittens). Now, what do I want to do when I get there? Well…

(Steve ramps up the “suspense / big revelation” music, using not only his tiny kazoo but a really small hurdy gurdy...)

Storytelling – being able to tell stories in churches, camps, libraries – wherever – is the most amazing thing I could imagine. Of all the many things I do, being a storyteller brings me so much joy.
One of my fondest memories happened in the fall after Mom retired from teaching… We did something we had promised each other we would do for years – we went to the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, TN. Three days of some of the most amazing storytellers I have ever heard. On that trip, Mom discovered that she was a speaker who likes to use stories – I confirmed that I AM a storyteller.
One area of storytelling I’d like to explore is Kamishibai – Japanese paper storytelling. It’s amazing, and I think it could be a niche that would work well with my gifts. I just realized that an area of ‘telling I’d like to explore is hospital visitation, especially for children. Kamishibai would be a great technique for this, as would some of my musical gifts. (Probably not the tuba though, for the record. Tuba good – hospital tuba bad.) Anyway, I’d like to see how it would work to be able to minister to sick kids in that way.

Writing – I had no idea that I’d ever consider this one, but I’m learning and growing so much from my writing. And I’m finding myself desiring – even compelled – to spend time at the keyboard, writing away. One of a gazillion bloggers, typing away, believing that someday our words will catch on, thousands upon thousands will flock to our doors, and we will be “there.”
Yeah. Right. I’m a dreamer, not delusional.

If the Lord would show me the link to be able to write stories that I could then tell, that’d be amazing. So far, not yet. But there are seeds here that could lead to something else – more than one person has whispered the word “book” in my hearing, and they weren’t talking about the type of thing that happens on “Hawaii Five-O…”
(Too old of a reference? How about on “Cops?” Better? Alrighty then.)

(Here’s a Steve the Hamster Memory Moment: The whole dorm was gathered in Quincer Lounge, watching the last ever episode of Hawaii Five-O [before it was ushered into rerun pergatory], waiting for the ending, and the last uttering of the immortal words by the terminally tough Jack Lord, “Book ’em, Danno…”
And he said, “Wait, Danno – I’ll book this one myself.”
Thanks, Steve – now get back on that wheel…)
Moving on…
Gospel magic and clowning – this goes hand in hand with storytelling. I love being a magician, because I love the wonder of it. Being able to teach or tell a story and have some of the wonder of it happen right in front of others is such a kick!

As for Eye-Bee the Clown, the only reason that he got stuffed into a trunk for years was my physical condition. I never lost the desire, even though I said I did. I just couldn’t do it when I was way over 400 pounds. This past October, I wandered around our church’s Hallo-luia party in face, doing some marginally funny stuff, dreadfully out of practice, but found that it’s fun once again. So I’d be open to working on my character and routines, and getting back to “bumping a nose.” (The clown equivalent of “breaking a leg.”)
BIG DREAM… I’d like to go to Clown Camp this summer. It’s the week before our 30th anniversary, and it’d be amazing to go and camp there. I’d toddle off to clown camp while Vicki has the days free, and I’d get to learn so much. There’s no way it can happen from what I can see on the horizon right now, but these are dreams – no stomping.

(Alright – I did stomp a bit… I didn’t fill out the application for a scholarship since I knew that there’s no way we could make the rest of it work, even if I had gotten a scholarship. “The difference between an adult and a child is the ability to delay gratification.” [Dave Ramsey] Since the Lord didn’t open a path, that’s enough for me.)

– If you know me at all, you know that just saying the word “music” opens quite a vast chasm – I do need to narrow that dream down a bit, but continuing to use my musical gifts is important.

For the record, I still really want to learn to play the Chapman Stick. And the cello. And possibly a folk harp. I have plans for a series of hymn albums called Quiet Strength, as well as finishing the series The Church Year (my Advent album was the first of these), but reality has put most everything on hold. So we’ll give those dreams CPR when the Lord says to.

The amazing man to the left, by the way, is Emmett Chapman, the inventor of the Chapman Stick. I sigh, I swoon, I drool. Sorry about that last bit…

Fiber arts – this includes loom knitting, weaving, sewing, machine knitting, and (since we’re dreaming here) learning to crochet. (I’ve tried, I’ve died. My dad had the gift of crochet – and didn’t pass it along, apparently.) Weaving is a biggie – I’d love to get a floor loom.

Woodworking – building stuff, doing things with a scroll saw, making stuff. I’ve always wanted to work with wood ever since I was little and my great-grandpa cut me a very simple bunny out of some plywood with a bandsaw. No time to learn growing up, no dad in the house to learn from (and a mom who wasn’t a handyperson) or anybody else for that matter, and shop class always conflicted with music – thanks, public school. 😀 No complaints – I’m a musician born and raised, but it would have been nice to make some sawdust along the way. Someday, Vicki may even trust me with tools. Maybe.
Jewelry making – I love bending wire, either in sculpting a pendant or weaving a bracelet. And I really like soldering and making pieces with that technique. I like metal work in jewelry more than beading or stitching.
Glass fusing – this has applications in jewelry but there are many, many other projects for fused glass, and I’d love to explore them. I love glass and the boundless things you can do with it.
Audio workI really do love editing and sound design, even though I have to kick myself to get to work on the projects on my plate. The storyteller in me finds it so rewarding to take a spoken word performance, adjust it to make the words have the best rhythm and impact they can, and then add to it the special touches of sound effects, music and those other things that bring the story to life.
Those are pretty much all personal dreams. They all have Vicki’s support (although the instruments she wavers on a bit – she’s more behind the Chapman Stick than the cello. And is neutral about the harp. She is VERY positive about me continuing to record music, loves it when I do magic at children’s church, enjoyed seeing Eye-Bee get out of the trunk, and would join me in glass fusing. She also wears the jewelry I make and the scarves I knit.

Floor loom for weaving? Um… not so much.)

As for dreams involving the two of us…
Traveling – I’m not going wild here, not dropping everything to trike across the country (although triking Route 66 did cross my noggin – wouldn’t that be amazing?…). But too many people that I know, including my mom, said for too long that they’d always like to go to *insert selected destination*, or to see *insert selected attraction or other cool thingie* and never did. Life interrupted, opportunities never came, and it didn’t happen. I think seeing some stuff is really important, I think it deserves a place on our radar and, in my world of dreams, getting out and seeing new things is a biggie. So here’s some traveling stuff that is on the list:

First of all, to make traveling possible, we’d like a teardrop trailer of some sort – it’s basically a mobile bedroom, camping at its simplest without putting two people in their nifty fifties in a soggy tent, (ok – Vicki has a few months before she joins me in that happy club) and just about the right size for the two of us. Vicki would like one that we can sit at a table in (a “standy,” as they’re sometimes called), but I’d be happy with a very small one – just enough room to sleep. Taking our own tiny home on wheels would make traveling affordable, and it can be pulled by a tiny car instead of a honkin’ truck or SUV. Best part – this could be something that we build ourselves, if I had some of the aforementioned skillz (or could get some guidance from some of the dreadfully talented folks I know.)
As for where to go…
1. Route 66 – ever since I saw “Cars,” I’ve been wanting to get my kicks on Route 66. I’d like to travel the length of it, not necessarily in one trip, although that would be outrageous, but I don’t want to wait until I’m too old to remember what I saw yesterday.
2. Alaska – we’d like to see it someday. I’d really like to do a short term mission trip to our denomination radio station in Nome, even in the dead of winter – that’d be a hoot!
3. San Francisco – I was there when I was like 8 or 9, and I’d love to take Vicki there someday. I still remember Fisherman’s Wharf – loved it.
4. Florida / Disney World / Universal – I was at Disney World in the first year they opened. They set a record for reaching park capacity early that day, so the lines were obscene, the crowds immense, and my memories vague. The only ride I remember is “It’s A Small World.” *shudder* I’m told EPCOT is amazing – I’d like to find out for myself.
(Alright – you got me. Yes, I do really, really, REALLY want to see the Wondrous World of Harry Potter. There, I said it. Happy now?)
5. New England – does one really need a reason? I think not.
6. West – Montana, Mt. Rushmore, and other big ol’ amazing rock formations – Land, spreadin’ out so far and wide…
For the record, you’ll notice that these are domestic locations. I don’t have fantasies of flying off to exotic destinations, since you can see some pretty awesome stuff right here. But there are a couple of places…
1. Ireland & Scotland – I’m a whistle player. That’s all the reason I need.
(Our eldest Niecelet left for some studying abroad in Scotland, and although we’d dearly love to go and see her while she’s there as well as to do a little touring while on that side of the pond, unless the Lord makes a way, that won’t happen. No squashing – just truth.)
2. Israel – as Brian Hardin puts it, to see the Bible in 3-D.

“Ok, Cal – this is all interesting, but utterly useless for most humans. Why in the name of Fats Waller would you put this, a cross between pure flights of fancy and a very useless letter to Santa, out there for public view? Who cares??”

That is a fair assessment and question.
Bear in mind that this blog and journal are tools to help my mental recovery and rebuilding. These are the things in the physical world I use to help remake my inner landscape – to try and sort through all the twists and turns on this path of being reborn. If this list were all fantasy, there’d be a LOT more stuff, MUCH more whimsy, and perhaps a few ponies.

Or at least alpacas.

What it gives me is some sort of picture of the many, many things rolling around in my noggin. If I ever needed proof of being reborn, consider this: I’m a 52 year old man, who still thinks that maybe someday I’ll have time to learn the Chapman Stick or the harp. That I might be able to learn to be a clown – a good clown. That I just might start on that writing career, “tho’ no one read me, still I will write-o.” (Just trying to make it fit the song…) Honestly, dear ones, there’s nothing on this list that seems ridiculous or fanciful to me – they all seem good, noble, practical (sort of) and possible. Nothing so outrageous that it’s out of the range of what might just come into being.

In short, “Hey – it could happen.”

Maybe buried someplace in all these ridiculous notions is a glimmer of reality, a nugget of possible, a tiny diamond of hope in the rough of the mundane. And therein would lie a compass, a spark, a direction to help point the way in this adventure God lays before me.
And maybe, just maybe, someone else dreams. Maybe someone else feels like they’re looking at a brick wall, no path, no way to move. And maybe, just maybe, they’ll think, “If an old dude like Cal can dream like this, maybe I can too.”
Hey – it could happen.
This is the dream list, with stuff that catches my attention and imagination. Some of it is downright fantasy, some of it possibility, all of it resides somewhere in my heart. Getting it out into the world gives me the opportunity to sort through it, see which ones really move me and which ones don’t. Hopefully I’ll reduce some mental clutter, get some focus, and allow God to shape my sight and illumine the path.
To continue this grand experiment, Part 3 will ask the question, “What do I do with this stuff now?” Steve, play us to commercial, then we’ll be back…
(insert sound of “Hampsterdance” being enthusiastically played on a very small kazoo, along with bongos being played by tiny hind feet…)

“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…

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.”

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.