Tag Archives: balance

Waiting again for the miracle

There was a time when I felt mired very close to that place we call “the bottom.” A miracle seemed the best hope, maybe the only hope. I’d try to step outside the mess during that time and somehow imagine my way forward to a life that made sense. It seemed remote at best. Impossible at worst. Time and again I found myself thinking, praying, hoping, even begging for the “miracle” that would set my life to rights.

The miracle came. Undeniably. I can point to it there, there, over there and here, in so many places. I’m sure it came.

But I’m also sure it never once came as I expected. Never once came in the simple math of asked for equals answered prayer, like spiritual equations I’ve heard so many preachers promise. It didn’t arrive like a torrential downpour that made me gaze up to the heavens with a stupid happy expression over the obvious miraculous intervention. I pictured that many times. It never once became a reality.

But here’s the thing: I have no doubt that waiting for the miracle was the right thing to do.  The miracles came like dew. Everywhere, yet hardly noticeable. Constant, yet seemingly evaporating before the day went very far at all.

A skeptic would say they weren’t miracles at all.

Skeptics question all sorts of things that others insist are true, like love, like faith, like “signs” and especially miracles. They are fueled by often being right. Let’s be clear. The skeptics are right far more than they are wrong.

We believers in miracles are often wrong.

I think it’s by design. If miracles were that easy to see, we’d all want them, like a genie in a bottle. We’d miss the giver of the miracles and the reason for the miracles and all the other stuff to be learned. That’s why the saints call faith a “mystery.” We can’t know it all. We see, at best, like a glimpse. We are often wrong about what we see and experience. We are often wrong about our miracles. As I look back over the last decade and beyond, I realize I am most always wrong about what God is up to in any given moment.

It was precisely in recognizing how wrong I was that I began to see the miraculous dew that kept my life fresh and growing and vibrant in ways I couldn’t have dreamed up. God’s plan for me far outpaced even what I could plan for myself when dreaming of a miracle.

So why on Earth would I ever think the miracles stopped? This hit me the other day as I listened to a favorite song from singer Marc Cohn who sang,

Yeah, I’m willing to wait for a miracle
willing to wait it through
willing to wait for a miracle
what else am I gonna do 

I have these issues in my life that seem undone. I convince myself that God planned this life then forgot to deal with some really important shit.  I want to fix it all myself. I want to just finish the job. God then asks, “are you willing to wait for the miracle…?”

In AA they have this phrase: “Don’t give up right before the miracle.” It’s compelling to think about. Discouragment can pile on. The slog of recovery can become what seems like an impossible burden. Addicts think about just tossing it in. At those times if we hold on just a bit more, the miracle arrives.

I know this well. And yet… and yet. I still have to remind myself to be willing to wait for the miracle.

I’m living the miracle every day and yet far too often I’m not nearly as happy about it as I would expect. The pressures of the moment, the lack of perspective, the stress I allow to creep back around the edges, the lack of balance that knocks me off stride all conspire to rob me of joy and hijack the gratitude.

When I Iact ungrateful, I make my life more difficult even as it is infinitely better. I choose to be less than happy because I look around and see the need for more miracles. I get anxious about what I can’t change. I stress that I don’t have a plan better than looking to God and saying, “help.” Even now, that place, that dependence is perhaps exactly what God has in mind. Still.

Though I believe I shouldn’t need the miracle any longer, I do. Because that’s the plan. I may be a long, long way from bottom, but I don’t ever want to be a long, long way from faith in the plan that God has that I can’t see.

So the song reminds me. I am best when waiting for the miracles. I am best when I’m willing to wait it through. With so much evidence of blessedness in my life, what the hell else am I gonna do?

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Surf’s up, I’m down and feeling good all over

I have loved the idea of surfing for decades. I’ve romanced it in my thoughts even though in practice the actual experience involves something far more consistent with drowning.

I have never once called myself “a surfer.” But I EFFin love surfing.

So I was stoked to make arrangements to go surfing recently. I knew I’d suck. But sucking does nothing to dampen my enthusiasm for surfing.

I got up at the crack of down and was soon prying myself into a wetsuit while listening to the waves crash on the beach. Nothing big, but they were nice pretty rolling waves that made my heartbeat rise. The surf was up, which meant soon I’m be down, rolling around, crashing around in my humility. It thrilled me.

I pondered all of this floating out on my board among far more proficient surfers. They sat up  straight and still looking out for the next great set, while I wobbled and waded like a dysfunctional Weeble. I looked across the dotted landscape of surfers knowing full well I was the worst one out there. Three guys who counted two hundred years of age between them surfed by me with ease, like artists of the ocean.

But sucking didn’t bother me.

Normally I mind sucking. I mind it a lot. I mind it enough to stop doing what I suck at or work very hard to stop sucking.

Surfing has never been convenient enough for me to practice much. The gaps between outings relegate me to learning and re-learning the same stuff. And surfing’s hard. I’ve done most sports and done many of them well enough not to suck. But this is one that humbles me. The ocean can do that to you.

Remember that line from Forgetting Sarah Marshall when Paul Rudd plays a surf instructor who keeps saying, “Do less. Jump up. Do less…less, well more than that. Jump up. Do less…”? Well, that’s surfing. Somehow you have to do less and do it so well that you can succeed at something that takes an incredible amount of energy, grace and courage. I suspect that’s why I love it. It’s hard.

As the sage Jimmy Dugan says, “It’s the hard that makes it great. If it was easy, everyone would do it.”

So, I didn’t worry too much about my general sucky-ness. Instead I embraced the present moment. I practiced stillness and tried to relax. When I positioned for my wave I tried to deepen my effort with less frenetic energy. When I paddled out I tried to even my breathing despite the enormous effort required. When I crashed (most every time) I tried to roll with the turbulence rather than panic.

I even stood up, sort of, a couple of times.

In between sets as I weebled and wobbled, my new BFF/surf coach and I talked about God, work, vocation and disappointment. We talked about stuff, the real stuff, the stuff that makes life a life. We had just met in person after weeks of getting to know each other online. I felt like I known him for a long time.

This is the stuff, I thought often, of both the conversation and the experience.  All too often I get so wrapped up in trying to find my life, I forget I’m living it. I get bogged down in the muddle and forget that the muddle is the life. So I remind myself often, this is the stuff. This is my life.

I needed this morning in the water flailing about. It turned into one of those hoof-to-head type of days that restore my sanity. Even as I wobbled trying to stand in the roaring tide of the surf, I felt the joy of needed balance coming back to me.

Sitting on a surf board in the Pacific Ocean challenged me physically, energized me mentally, nurtured me spiritually and well, it was just … bitchen.  Something about it.

But it was also something about me. Coming up on six years sober after a twenty-year dance of destruction with alcohol, I am well aware of how much more expansive life is these days. It’s full even in the struggle, rich even in the poverty, blessed even in the suffering. It’s surfing even in the near drowning.

I do all sorts of things I suck at simply to experience them, things I would have never taken the time to do, or had the interest to do, or been humble enough to do back in the ambitious, flawed days in my addiction.

Somehow in all of this I learned to accept what I suck at, which enhances the embrace of those moments when I don’t suck, those ah-ha moments when I say to myself, “I’m an EFFin Artist, man!”

Someday soon I’ll hit that moment on a surf board when I say, “I’m an EFFFIN SURFER, Brah!” and that will be … beyond bitchen. Until then I’ll keep practicing because when I do I feel better, from my toes to my bald head and everywhere in between.

Sucking never felt so good.

Effin Art from rocks and dirt

I write best when I think.

But if life crowds out anything, it’s time to just think. I find myself holding all these gadgets that offer so many things to do and ways to lose track of time with mind-numbing simplicity that my brain often goes hours a day without doing much of anything I consider important.

Digital drugs, I call them. Like most of the world I see, they can quickly shift from useful tool to crack-like addiction.

So what’s all this have to do with writing? Because I haven’t been writing as well as I can. More importantly I haven’t been writing as well as I need to in order to accomplish my two writing goals: 1) pay the rent each month, and 2) write books that people actually read.

I was having coffee recently with a mentor where I languished over what I was supposed to do with my life. I had spent so little time thinking, I was mostly in knots. I felt out of sorts, out of kilter, off target … like one of those map gadgets that says “location can’t be determined.”

She reminded me of a Frederick Buechner quote from a book I read decades ago: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

I’m not sure my writing is exactly what the world’s deep hunger yearns for, but it’s about as close as I ever get. I started thinking why I wasn’t writing about these things, because writing is my deepest gladness. I recognized I wasn’t writing enough about what I wanted to write. Paying the rent had dominated and my deep gladness had suffered.

But to write what I wanted requires thinking, another thing lost in the shuffle of time. Like a cat chasing my tail I circled around and around these thoughts aware that I wasn’t really getting anywhere. Not thinking is like that. It’s full of motion that accomplishes little. Thinking, I have found, is more stillness with far more recognizable results.

So thank goodness into the cacophony of my mindlessness I agreed to help my daughter and future son-in-law fix up their yard. I arrived to great piles of debris and the change to do some real hoof-to-head wellness work that had been lacking in my life.

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For four days I hardly held a gadget. For four days I worked. I hauled logs, raked dirt, burnt slash and cleaned trash.

In the midst of all that labor I took a bunch of dirt and rocks and made them a pond, which I have found is about the most alluring little place to do nothing but stop and think.

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As I worked, I thought. My mind was not hyper like the cat/tail, but calm and focused in contrast to growing physical fatigue.

One thought that kept returning: balance. We live on a spinning sphere both figuratively and literally, so it makes sense that a great and ever-present challenge is to stay in balance. A cell phone is handy, but excessively it can erode your ability to connect with others. A computer is necessary for work, but excessively it can replace healthy activity. Working to the pay rent is responsible, but working too much can become an ego-building obsession.

Four days with dirt and rocks reminded me of other talents I have, artistic expression that is not just time at a computer banging keys much like I’m doing right now. It reminded me of muscles I like to use and brainpower that demands attention to stay oiled and creativity that results in something pretty.

Ironically, my daughter’s family is having the same struggle with imbalance. Theirs is the opposite. They have a new home and with it a fierce desire to make it perfect. The project list is long and all-consuming. They are wearing out with work, badly in need of some down time that may well be doing little more than looking at gadgets for a while.

What we do is often amoral. It’s purpose and value comes from how we do it and what its results are and how it all stitches together in a balanced fabric of our selfhood.

I’d just been too busy to think about such things until I got busy doing things that gave me time to think. Infused with thoughts, I look forward to writing and reconnected to that deep gladness of my life with a faint hope that such words might also skitter across the lake of the world’s great need.

Jumped off the band wagon for cake pops

Here’s two truths I felt strongly about: 1) I don’t do trendy, which is why I haven’t had the least bit of interest in cake pops. 2) By popular demand of my relatively cranky family email chain, I’ve been making healthier stuff in the test kitchen to help battle the post-holiday bulge.

Having finished Bran Muffins (which went for about three weeks instead of one) I was moving on to Energy Bars.

But then my truths collided. In an impulsive desire to make a birthday present (and probably because my food drug was Jonesing for a rush) I went out and impulsively decided to make cake pops. That’s the drug talking, I’m sure.

Turns out, forget trendy, I love these little suckers and they reinforced a core principle I have about life in general. Philosophy on a stick, that’s what these are.

I made two types (of course… I have to experiment… clearly you get that by now, right?) with a couple of different ways to top them. The chocolate topping I used a tradition melted, pre-tempered product that only further convinced me that I need to get over my fears of tempering chocolate and figure it out. Soon… soon… (I hope?)… For the peanut butter ones I used Reese’s Peanut Butter morsels, melted down. They were heavier and had to be painted on, which made them look like hippie cake pops with shaggy hair. I sort of liked it, but we’ll work on the presentation (and apparently the photo… I wasn’t high, I promise!).

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Here’s the one key, above all keys… whatever you use for the glue, be it frosting or like I did, a caramel filling, don’t use VERY much. I used less than a 1/3 of a cup for 3/4 of an entire cake (ON impulse I dug out some frozen white chocolate frosting I had from the holidays, because you know I never waste anything!) and cut a couple of pieces for The Bride and I. Nothing like chocolate cake and a big glass of milk!

I let the cake chill overnight in the fridge, which wasn’t necessary but really helped when it came time to make the pops. You need them to form and stick and hold together while you make them or they will fall off the stick. (By the way, I nabbed the foam to hold them from a florist for a couple of bucks.)

This is the whole thing when it comes to cake pops, that delicate balance between wanting the center to taste like cake, not gooey dough, but still hold together on the pop.

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Balance. That’s the key. I held all these things in tension and with a little practice discovered a delightful treat, which is really the perfect size for those cravings or treats or whatever you call it when you need something delightfully sinful.

And that’s why I now love cake pops. They are balanced, which is really the secret to most everything in life.

As I ate my delightfully fluffy, moist, but not gooey cake pops, I reflected on how they emulate life, precariously perched on the point of a stick, doing our level best to hang on and still turn out delightful, balanced and sweet. That’s life. Cake pops as life! Seinfeld looked to the cookie! I look to the cake pop!

Enjoy!

New revisions for new year– free of resolutions

I don’t do resolutions for the New Year. I do revisions.

For years I did the whole resolution thing. It’s a tired topic by now. We are split into two groups: those that try every year and those who know better. I’m in the latter.

If I lacked the discipline to fix up my life on Dec. 29, I likely don’t suddenly have it on Jan. 1. Only when I started living with daily intent did I find the discipline I badly needed to fix my life. I think it started in July a few years back. All I know is by January that year I was slimmer, sober and for the first time in my life disciplined. I didn’t need a resolution. I was living it and that has lasted now for several more years.

That doesn’t mean the effort doesn’t need tweaking now and again. I often stop and pause and refocus. I call these revisions. I take what I’m doing and tweak it, like tuning up an engine I’d imagine (since I have no idea how to tune an engine). I try to recapture a clearer sense of balance and better use of my time. I revise my plan for life to make sure its humming along with peak performance.

This new year I am aware of how many changes have come these last few months. I know my routines are out of whack and some practices are slipping through the cracks. I accept that it won’t always be the same. I resolve to  let some of it go, and refocus my energies on what I don’t want to see diminish. These are the revisions I’m making today for the months to come. From hoof to head I know I still have plenty of work to do, which I welcome. But I also celebrate the me I am now, rather than being absorbed on some fictional future me that will likely never emerge, no matter how many resolutions I muster.

I am free to be me, to revise as needed, to grow and most of all to celebrate in this moment. I am not besieged by my inadequacies and guilt that fuel most resolutions. It’s a relative small shift of thought, but on these first few days of the new year, I believe the focus is vital to starting the year off right.

Screw resolutions that make you feel bad. Instead revise and feel great.

Happy New Year.