My Personal Turkish Delight

Peanut butter and banana toast and I go back a long way. I’ve probably mentioned this before. Now, fifty years later, the slathered combo atop a crispy base holds carbolicious delight…and comfort. You’re probably nodding in agreement iffin you have bitten into such wonder.

When I was a punk in short sleeve sweatshirts bananas were a delicacy. They were not on the priority list. But every now and then they’d show up. Surprise! As long as my mom did her dedicated run to the day-old bread store there was hope. Margarine and a metal bucket of peanut butter, will travel.

But bananas. The rationed yellow boomerangs. When they arrived on scene they wooed me to drop my blankie and toss my pacifier. A new comfort for this creature. Maybe a rite of passage even.

For some reason, my mom thought 12 cents a pound was too much to sacrifice back then. I had no idea. When she doled out dinero it rarely was for Chiquita. Even the commercial jingle didn’t phase her. Remember…”I am a Chiquita banana and I’m here to say.” Could be she thought the peels too dangerous.

Bananas, bananas, bananas—go ahead, say bananas enough times and you’ll at least smirk at how silly it sounds. Try it in Spanish too. Platanos, platanos, platanos. Actually, just about any word you say over and over becomes silly.

But anyway, why I’m a blathering on about a squishy substance sheathed in a sleek yellow holster?

It’s spiritual.

Just kidding.

It’s emotional attachment.

Possibly.

It’s intellectually stimulating.

Are you for real?

Okay, this is why…

“Yes, we have no bananas, we have no bananas today.”

Monday Muse. Thank You Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Are we content with the content of our character? Or are we living skin deep, keeping up appearances and letting our hearts go to seed? Images are everywhere. Platitudes placed between the possibilities of communion with the humanity of it all.

We all have our character flaws, no? Our social media offers cover like a fig leaf of ‘likes’. Proximity becomes relative as our closest relatives see us as we are. Then there’s God who asks, rhetorically, where we are. God sees our skin and beyond, often without our acknowledgement. God sent Jesus to come look for us too.

I don’t know, I just want to honor Dr. King today. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Named after his father, who adopted the name of Martin Luther to honor his march of sorts. Martin Luther had white skin, by the way. He was the one who shook up the church back in the day. I’m sure he had character flaws too.

We still wish for a dream to come true. “That we would judge each other not by the color of our skin, but the content of our character.” It’s a process. There’s always room for character growth.

Thank you Dr. Martin Luther King.

Monday Muse 2020

First Monday. We’re alive. I’m writing and you’re reading. Grace has lifted us once again. How shall we respond?

I write. It’s a compulsion. Sometimes words illumine a way out of a thought jungle. Worry; the great canopy of blocking the light of day. Vines, creepy-crawlies, and unknown sounds and furies. I gotta admit, and I have, that the older I get, the more I am prone to worry. Anxiety strangles the heart, mine at least.

The heart is the matter. What’s the matter with my heart? That question’s been dogging me for quite some time now. So, on the first Monday of this decade I broke out my bible app and entered ‘heart’ in the search box. The verses pertaining to the heart are many, and the conclusion is God cares about hearts. More than ‘likes’ on social media. More than the 24 hour news cycle. More than information and opinions and bowl games. If you have a bible app, look for yourself.

Listen to these verses with your heart…

“Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.”

Philippians 4:6 and 7 The  Message.

What is the center of our humanness? Our hearts of course! God’s desire is for our hearts to be wide open with Him. This doesn’t come naturally to me. Often I get flamboozled into thinking I can’t trust God with my heart. The realization hits only after I’ve stonewalled God, and am deep into self-protection mode. Think of the reasoning in that! I need to protect myself from God? If there’s a need for protection then I might as well join AA (Atheists Anonymous). I’ve said before ‘If God isn’t good, what good is God?’

Make no mistake, if the verse says fret not, God knows our tendencies. God knows where our hiding places are and He is perfect at hide and seek. Once God even sent Jesus to look for us.

This I pray:

That our hearts will be flung open to the goodness of God. That like water to wine, worry will turn into praise because of Jesus, our only hope. Amen

Happy New Year!

I don’t want to abuse the metaphor of 2020 as a vision of the year to come. Honestly, metaphorically, most days I can’t see beyond the tip of my nose, with or without glasses. I glance back occasionally, but there is really “no use of looking up a dead horses arse” like coach Walker said after a Jr. High football loss. So, in effect, 2020, is like waking up to another good old new day by the grace of God.

Twenty some minutes into 2020, on our way back from festivities in Allegan, our Ford Flexed as a deer got all up in our grill. We hit it dead on. The deer timed it perfectly to square off with 55mph bullet. I didn’t swerve. No time to. The brakes were applied like a knee-jerk afterthought. Was the animal suicidal or just trying to beat a train of sorts? The doe, fortunately, didn’t come through the windshield. Instead, what happened, at least to those of us who were watching, couldn’t be described without the onset of nausea. All of the humans were startled, but safe; the deer…oh, deer.

Makes me wonder what startling things lay in the year ahead. I mean, last year many things got up in our grill. Think about it. If we have a heartbeat, life has its double edges, does it not? Last year was so 2019 with “Oh, the humanity” splayed throughout. I admit, this is from me, Forrest Grump (My self- imposed term of endearment from this holiday season), and I tend to see through a glass darkerly. The blessings arrive as surprises too, if I am paying attention. The daily reading from Frederick Buechner, January 1st, encourages listening to your life.

“Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.” Frederick Buechner

Not only that, but mercies are new each morning. Forrest Grump is double covered by the God of the universe. Grace and mercy. Mercy and grace. Speak Lord. Teach me to listen. Whether the deer is up in our grill, or a calming vision in a cornfield at dusk, help us God, to wend our way through 2020 with our hearts wide open.

Happy New Year!

Needful Things

I’ve adopted a new aphorism. The phrase was cultivated during our latest move. A move which included a plethora of boxes, many notated with vague adjectives. Miscellaneous, i.e. misc, was the numero uno choice of description. Then came the likes of various, random, important, very important, extremely important, fragile, really fragile, special, Dad’s books, Mom’s books, and books.

Near the end, up to the day of closing and bugging out like a M.A.S.H. unit, the writing on the cardboard drew intellectual confusion.

“Socks and picture frames.”

“Pop tarts and junk drawer.”

“Cat nip and scarves.”

The labeling of boxes didn’t give birth to my new aphorism; our barn did. As the great OZ said to the Tin Man: “You clinking, clanking, clattering collection of caliginous junk!” I said this loud and clear to our pseudo-barn. The emptying of the great catch-all was daunting. It was a scene from American Pickers except there was nothing to pick. Okay, maybe my nose, but nothing deserving a handshake.

Two months ago Barbara and I decided to bug out and pare down our material footprint on the planet. We sold the farm. All 7.5 acres, the barn, the chickens, the garden, and the Slop shire She-shed left behind. Now we are trying to stuff a chinook salmon into a sardine can. Our little bungalow on a postage stamp is a quaint booth in a neighborhood where walkers walk and mail boxes are safe from snow plows plowing them over. It is smaller though…by a lot.

The sorting and deciding what to pitch may take months, but we will park a car in the garage come what may. I imagine an old pickup truck full of barn stuff (an envy of Fred Sanford) driving along a dirt road with the tailgate down, and each bump dumping this-n-that like casting lots. I keep telling myself to not overthink, just open boxes and put the old catnip in the trash. But we have to pay some mind to what we want to keep. “What are the needful things?” Geez. Just pedal down the pickup and pray for washboard roads!

Anyway, I ramble. The aphorism…

“Don’t acquire a barn unless you are a farmer.”

Living Within Tension vs. Living With Intention?

The English language is intriguing, unruly; often unpredictable. Sometimes when lost in thought, I find thoughts. Then I text those thoughts to myself. The above title is one, and instead of texting it to myself, I sent it to my wife.

My text: Ponder this: Living within tension. Living with intention.

Her response: Ponderation in action.

Me: Lol

Say the two phrases out loud. Tricky, eh?

Seriously though, without getting too intense about these two phrases, I’m still pondering. I want so much for those twin thoughts, though fraternal, to be identical. I desire for them to get along. Could they be a both/and instead of an either/or? I mean, it was a catchy catch, don’t you think?

On the other hand, what’s the big deal if they are stand-alone ideas? Each thought has possibilities for a commencement speech. A preacher could give a three point sermon on either of them. But throw these two together in a dark alley and who knows. Would they make nice? Would they rumble like Sharks and Jets?

I don’t know. It seems my mind is constantly on the lookout for resolution, for binary ideas to, in the end, cohere. The ole happily-ever-after backdrop slowly cranking by the chaos of life to keep hope on the up and up.

Now, before you write me off as a fuddy-duddy pessimist, consider the possibility that the tension within which I live is like a kindred soul. It’s like one who tells you you’re full of it, grabs you by the ankles, holds your feet to the fire, and then washes them as Jesus would.

If you have a friend like that, consider yourself fortunate.

Tension. Intention. Can they coexist? More to the point, can one exist without the other? There is a risk of living intentionally, no? I mean the best of intentions sometimes get caught in the gears of the tension. Does the tension drive the intention or is it the other way around? Wait. What?

Two philosophers walk into a bar… (That’s to ease the tension.)

Recently my wife mentioned I set my jaw often, almost like I’m biting the side of my lip. It’s as if my lips fix in tension, one on top of the other, almost touching, like Clint Eastwood.  Now I notice when her eyes say to my mouth, “Don’t think too hard.”

Thinking is overrated sometimes, but underrated most of the time. My thinkery often breaks down, but once in a while, by the grace of God, I’m able to lay rails down; parallel seemingly resistant thoughts into a semblance of coherence.

Here’s one for all the life coaches out there:

Live with intention within the tension.

Do it Gerald.

Faith and/or Doubt.

Life verse. Seems a bit narrow minded to pick one verse to frame a life. I get it though, those who tattoo a verse on their calf don’t throw the rest of the Bible to the wind. If I plucked one scripture out of the barrel, John 11:35 comes to mind. “Jesus wept.” Simple. Poignant. I mean, I used to cry all the time. Yet, for the past week or so, I’ve thought about “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” I even had to look up the reference: Mark 9:24.

Yep, those words track the best with my life. Not because I’m a big fat doubter. Notice the order…”I believe” comes first. Actually “Lord” comes first, which assumes an “I’m your servant” attitude. But that aside, the tension wedged between belief and unbelief is palpable. It’s as down to earth as dirt itself.

Yes, I walk by faith, and trip on doubt. Like cracks in the sidewalk, if I don’t look down I might stumble over the fissures.

These are the words of a father who had a son with a real problem. A mute spirit got ahold of his boy a long while back. A situation which throbbed for years. This dad, shoulders slumped, carried concern for his son, and when the disciples showed up, he asked for help. Who knows how many times the dad witnessed the spirit in a throw down with his son, but when the equivalent to Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show arrived in town, well… They tried and failed, but the dad didn’t cave, he went to the top. I can almost hear him firmly say, “Let me speak with the manager.”

This father was desperate, probably tired, and maybe a little resigned. He had heard of the healings. The news got around, and by the time he and his son arrived, a crowd had already gathered. The scriptures called it a multitude. Multitude schmultitude. The Dad cut to the front and told Jesus his story.

So, Jesus gets the scoop, sighs, points out the disciple’s lack of belief, and beholds the son who had a mute spirit. That spirit who, by the way, shut him up, threw him down, and caused foam to come out of his mouth. Then he gnashed his teeth and became stiff as a board too. Wait. Gnashed his teeth? What? Gah-nash. Gah! The definition means “to grind ones teeth.” The closest this son got to talking was grinding his teeth.

Almost doctor-like, Jesus enquires, “How long has this been going on?”

“Since childhood.”

Well, that explains a lot. A dad watching his son struggle and struggle and struggle. This was real, old, and chained to their lives.

Ah, the struggle. The ole “life is difficult” as M. Scott Peck would say. Difficulties come. That’s a fact. The struggle is real. Fact again.

Take the apostle Peter when he jumped ship and strolled out to Jesus on the water. He had no particular problem, except he wanted to be close to Jesus, ASAP. He saw his Lord standing atop of the waves and stepped off. No snorkel. No life vest. Just steps of desire and belief. Then pistol Pete began sinking like a rock when his focus was taken off the Lord. He looked down, saw the waves lapping over his toes and remembered his Jr. High science lab. He was a fisherman too, for crying out loud. Fish swim. Boats float. Humans? Well, they sink.

The father of the mute spirited son came in the context of struggle.

Peter came from desire. Impulse. Longing.

I suppose it doesn’t matter how we exercise our belief. Experientially, when I take my belief for a walk, the resistance is not far behind, or ahead for that matter.

It’s as if the father asked, “Jesus, my belief only takes me so far, can you help me the rest of the way?”

In the story Jesus’ response to the father’s words was almost a non-response. Jesus didn’t rebuke the dad. Jesus didn’t fold his arms and point at the father’s unbelief and say, “Until you have perfect belief I can’t honor your request.” No. Jesus takes action. Jesus shows compassion.

It’s comforting to me that Jesus can operate within the tension. It’s the tension between present reality and the desire for a better reality I suppose.

So, Jesus, I believe, help my unbelief.

On Finding a Rhythm for 2019

I pray the arrhythmia of 2018 will shut down. I’m not talking government, unless it is my self-governing murmurs. Sure, the beat goes on, whether I feel the pounding or not. The heart is more than tissue, more than musculature. Mine? Well, do I will it to thrum? Nope.

Anyway, age and mileage bring with them more awareness of lack of control. The Serenity Prayer will be in the queue, yet there are aspects of control still in place. I chose to awake a bit early. I chose to cream my coffee. I chose to sit and read, think, write, and pray. What other things can I chose? How about you?

We can slap a label on our new and improved choices of 2019…Resolutions. Breaking out in hives yet? You and I are free to change up our choices, but do we believe it?

There are some change ups I desire this year. The usual deflate my gut and pump up my pecks, sure. Less Little Debbie, and more rabbit food, yes. Give the word ‘budget’ more weight in our daily operations, fo sho. But what I see as higher on the shelf is relational changes. Starting with God, and working my way down through the village.

You see, I would rather hermit myself (In this house? Pshaw), read, write, and skip the arithmetic. My poetry will protect me, right? What a crock. I struggle with reactive attachment, and in this house of adoption, there is plenty of that to go around. If you don’t know what RA is, the Reader’s Digest version is “please come closer…get away from me.”

So, about 2019, here are a few of me changes by the grace of God.

-Be more of an active listener, meaning eye-contact, and attentive body posture. Oh, and not formulating an impressive response while appearing to hear. Uh, Jerry, remember there’s a difference between hearing and listening.

-Touching, hugging, when appropriate.

-Share my thoughts. Use words. Audible words. Like open and shut my mouth while my vocal chords rub each other.

-See the good in others, and let them know.

-Be thankful to God and others in my life.

-Initiate junk. Anything. Put a dent in 2019 for crying out loud! (Thanks Mom, for that little phrase. Miss you.)

Here are some of my relational reso resol resolu resolutions. You got any?

When 2020 rolls around, I hope we can all look back and find better connections, and a splash more love.

Here’s to 2019!

The Most Interesting Man in the World

Yeah, you might have seen the commercials. I think they’re advertising a beer, anyway, I got to thinking… Would I really like to be the “most” in anything?

Even the most interesting man has to accomplish the most uninteresting of duties. Take a leak. Brush his teeth. Eat some eggs.

I caught myself thinking “I want to be the most humble man in the world.” I don’t know if that is a paradox or an oxymoron. Maybe it’s simply moronic.

Maybe I want to be the most “telling-it-slant-poet” in the world. I would lay down lines which echo for a hundred or so years.

Being the most… Most. Most. Most. What a funny word. The more I ponder it, the sillier it sounds. Say ‘most’ out loud enough times and well, what do you think?

Honestly, have you ever met anyone aspiring to be the most UNinteresting person in the world? Maybe you have, and just didn’t notice. Did you see what I did there?

I think God-math comes into play as far as being the ‘most’ in any endeavor. You know, it is in dying we live. It is in denying we receive. Like walking backwards to settle into the starting blocks… I think.

The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp started all this mental wondering. She got all up in my stuff by reminding me of Jesus’ words…”Unless a grain of wheat dies, it abides alone.”

That is all.

Zip-tied or slipped tide. (Sorry, I didn’t know what to title this one.)

My eyes welled up yesterday. I felt hijacked by a compassion stored in the fruit cellar of my heart. A nice surprise.

Over the last few years of my life I’ve been doing some soul shifting. That’s right, soul shifting, not soul surfing, or even soul shaping. Shift happens. Well…not so fast.

I didn’t slouch on the sofa waiting for life to slap me across the face. I did, however, put my will down, and backed away slowly. What seemed like striving to free myself from zip-tied hands was really fear manipulation. Every time I attempted to wrangle out of the cuffs, my wrists bore witness of the struggle. Funny, the more this happened, the more it appeared as if I brandished a razor blade on them.

Is true freedom a suicide pact of sorts? May I be bold enough to say I was afraid to live and scared to death? How dramatic!

Anyone who knows me, knows my life is full of life, yet for years (Decades? Even before my thirty something years of mid-life crisis? Since my mother’s water broke?) I settled into a fallback position of sorts. My therapist described it like sitting a hundred yards from the house in the tall grass observing my family’s goings on. It’s what I knew. It’s what I was shown, father effect you might say. Father affect more like it. My Dad had the affect too, at least that was my experience of him. I miss him and wish we could talk about the similar wounds we carry. Our heart rates seemed flatter, not flattering.

Now, my thumper is fluttering on occasion. I feel, and in the feeling comes water tension on my eyes–A vision-smearing lubrication reminding me I still have a heart, and not to be afraid of it breaking, even breaking into joy. In our family there are plenty of opportunities for both kinds of breaking. Who am I kidding? I’m fairly sure every family fractures their hearts in wringing life out in close proximity.

“Oh the humanity!”

I think that might sum up this little stream of sub consciousness micro tome.

I’m feeling more human…more humane, and by the grace of God my heart will break open more frequently. The zip ties are loosening and I’m not as afraid.

Peace and prayers peeps.