Life is About Addition. Not Subtraction.

Yes, I used mathematical terms in the title of this piece.  No, that does not mean I have wavered in my view that math is the devil’s language.  However, I have learned something interesting this past year of my life.  Or should I say remembered.  The first time I learned it I was in elementary school.

I always loved addition.  Carrying those ones, discovering the sum, finding satisfaction in the increase.  It felt like I was going somewhere.  That was thrilling.  I hated subtraction.  The method was just more complicated.  Scanning from right to left, invariably you had to borrow and take away.  Just like robbing Peter to pay Paul, you knew at some point, down the line, you were going to have pay the piper.  As the numbers grew bigger, it just became harder for me to keep up.  In fact, the only thing I liked about subtraction was checking my work with . . . yep, you guessed it . . . addition.

It is easy, as we grow older, to see life as a relentless game of subtraction . . . one that leaves us with a less than desirable difference.  As our chronological age increases, the things we lose become more and more evident.  Dexterity, flexibility and physical prowess retreat.  The 40’s squint kicks in as you realize the words on that page three inches from your face aren’t as clear as they were yesterday.  Hairlines recede, skin dries and cracks, hormones diminish leaving you a sweaty, angry mess.  Our families spread out. Children leave for college or for life.  Good friends accept promotions across the country.  Neighbors sell their homes.  We live paycheck to paycheck, playing beat the bank with mortgage payments and school tuition checks.  We watch some relationships disintegrate; alienation doesn’t knock on the door.  It simply moves in.  We sit with our loved ones on their death beds.  We hold their hands.  We sing them away.  We ache.  Time gets small.  And oh, how we feel the irony when we realize that the only thing in our lives that is increasing is our waistlines.

I made a giant move in my life this year.  I left a place of employment I loved and cherished for the better part of my adult life for another.  And it was scary.  And it hurt.  Really badly.  The only thing I can tell you is that the decision I made that seemed to be a divine appointment initially only felt like a profound loss.  I didn’t get it.  God was moving in my life, and yet it felt like I was dying.  And then one day I wasn’t.  I looked up and saw the power of addition.  Unfamiliar faces have become more than just familiar.  They have become friends.  An early carpool commute brings with it cherished companionship and spontaneous hilarity.  My students of old have become folk heroes to my new crew.  They routinely ask me for stories.  And as tales starring Meatball, Horton Haven, flying snakes, strange chapel speakers and A102 spill out, I find myself calculating a most exquisitely beautiful sum.  All of those soul ties that I thought I was breaking?  I was just bringing them with me.  And the people who have loved me through it all?  Well, they still do.  God was just asking me to die to an idol I had created in my own image so that He could give me more than I knew how to ask for.  That’s how dumb I am.  That’s how good He is.

I don’t know what you are busy calculating in your life.  But I encourage you to use the plus sign.  I think you will find the total an overwhelmingly gracious and undeserved gift.

 

I’m Not Comfortable

I’m not comfortable.  Not entirely uncomfortable either.  I’m somewhere in between.  And it’s weird.  Really strange.

When you venture off the shore of your life into unchartered waters, you quickly realize, no matter how many people love and care about you, that you launch the skiff.  You alone skim the surface and ride the waves.  In solitude, you stand at the prow fronting the winds of change.  It is both chillingly frightening and wildly thrilling.

Your people, your tribe, your squad.  They are still there.  They still love you like crazy.  You hear their voices in the distance; they are waving from the shore.  Shouts of encouragement, bursts of timely directional advice, empathetic outcries buoy you . . . from afar.

On the edge of that boat, you hear a voice that you don’t normally hear.  It carries a tragically unfamiliar tenor.  A quiet whisper typically drowned in the clamor of your former life.  It’s the voice of the great sailor.  The one who has traversed these uncertain waters time and again.  He is always speaking.  You simply have chosen not to listen.  Until now.  Until the fear opens your eardrums and clears the cobwebs from your mind.  His voice is crystal.  It is warm and it is comforting.  It is real.  It is tangible.  It is liquid life.

Now, I’m not prescribing you all grab your canoes and take off into the murky darkness.  I haven’t covered enough distance to feel safe in offering that admonition.  I do know one thing though.  I am closer to the one who has wooed my soul in the middle of these boiling depths than I have been for some time.  And, I will be honest enough to say it.  Because his providential sovereignty is the only steadying force in the midst of this uncertainty.  And even though I am seasick, there is a part of me that doesn’t want to find the opposite shore.  For I fear the clarity of my discourse with him will fade again into the complacency.  And I don’t know if I ever want to be comfortable again.

I Need a Sister Wife

I’ve always been interested in the idea of the sister wife. No, I’m not a Mormon. No, I’m not advocating polygamy. No, I’m not needing a psychiatric evaluation. I am just simply pondering the idea of having an extra set of eyes and an extra set of hands to help accomplish the daily mundane tasks of life.  The mundane that can quickly pile up and paralyze.

We apple sauce-stained, sleep-deprived, zombie-like females are some of the most over worked, under appreciated humans on the planet.  We command a vast battalion of men and women, some under four foot tall with minds and wills of their own, on a daily basis.  We make beds, and we make lunches.  We clean dirty bodies, and we clean dirty houses.  We work mind numbing hours at actual work, and then come home to an entirely different sort of to do list.  We bandage knees.  We mend broken hearts.  We remove unidentifiable stains in hard to reach places.  We birth actual human beings like a scene from an alien movie.  And then we forget about it like it was a bad case of the flu.  We are the central command center for all the parts of this life that make it worth living.  Yes, we are that important.

Now, with all of that on our plates and more, every one of us could use a helping hand.  And that’s where the sister wife idea comes into focus.  We all have a good friend. A best friend even. One you can call at 4:30 in the morning with your worst news. But your BFF never says to you, “Call me with your worst news anytime day or night, AND I’ll come over and mop your floors while I listen.” No mere friend would agree to that arrangement. Oh, sure, those best friends we have, they have some long suffering ears, and boy, am I grateful, but sometimes I just need a friend who likes to sweep under refrigerators, preferably mine. Where is the line for that type of friend??  Exactly, they don’t exist.

Now I’m not ignoring the fact that having a sister wife would make things super awkward and strangely complicated at home, but I am saying that binding someone to your family in a semi-legal, semi-religious sort of way would commit said sister wife to the menial tasks that you hate the most, especially since she came second. She couldn’t opt out of laundry duty just because she felt like it or because friends don’t do that kind of thing.  Instead, you would be able to divide up all the household chores with her based on your least favorite tasks:

1. A home-cooked meal after a long day of work?  Sister wife.
2. Ironing clothes? Sister wife.
3. Spring cleaning? Sister wife.
4. Toilets in a house full of boys? Yes, definitely toilets. Sorry, sister wife.
5. Can’t finish grading that last set of research papers? No worries. Sister wife has a degree in English.

Now, I’ve thought long and hard about this. A sister wife could diffuse those tense stand-offs that happen from time to time in marriage. Imagine this. Wife loves Double Stuf Oreos.  Husband does too, usually as a late night snack. Sense her frustration level when wife finds the stay fresh seal only partially closed overnight, leaving her chocolate therapy hard and stale. A small marital spat erupts. This time, sister wife steps in with a calm, matronly tone while producing a new package of Double Stuf Oreos she picked up while doing the weekly grocery run. And what about when your child has inexplicably said your name 420 times in the past five minutes, and you can feel Space Shuttle Crazy Eyes is a go for launch, but just in the nick of time, sister wife enters with an even tone, “Yes, child. I can help you. Now, leave your mother alone for a little while. She needs to finish her spa treatment and bubble bath in peace.” Can you see it?

When you strip away all the negative cultural ideas about this practice, we women all know somewhere down deep inside that we would be better at being us with the help of a sister wife. We may have even conjured her in our minds. Mine is an older, sweet grandmotherly type. She possesses qualities that are a cross between the common sense of Alice on Brady Bunch and the street smarts of Mrs. Garret from Facts of Life.  Sprinkle in a touch of Aunt Bee’s culinary skills and a dash of her Southern charm minus the busybody.  There she is, ladies.  Can you see her?  Her name is Rhonda. And she comes complete with her own room off the garage.

Let it Burn.

“When I have fears that I may cease to be before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain.”  -John Keats

I have some things to say, and until I say those things, it burns.  Not a roaring burst that must be instantly extinguished, but a low flame, a source of heat that lives beneath the light of my everyday.  The release that comes once I speak or write is pure peace, peace for the moment until the burn begins anew.  I can’t explain this.  I never have been able to understand why I used to lie in the bed reciting Bible story tapes I memorized while trying to take a nap, why I used to stand in the front of the mirror reciting my notes for a test the next day, why I used to rehearse conversations out loud before I had them, or why I used to practice the inflections and facial expressions for a properly articulated hook in a speech.  I can’t tell you why, but I can tell you how.  Teaching.  It has provided an outlet for this low burn for almost twenty years.  Teaching and the occasional speaking engagement or the infrequently posted written note for Facebook.  No doubt about it, my students have been my captive audience all this time, my test audience, my guinea pigs.  And I have loved every second of it.

Now, however, I am craving a new outlet.  A different platform.  I have no intention of forsaking the teaching podium because I believe I was born for it.  However, there seems to be something calling me in the distance.  And believe me, if this burn could be doused by a Zantac or a Harley or a new relationship or some retail therapy or a pill, I would have found a way to shed myself of it long ago.  There is nothing quite as exquisitely painful as living near the edge of an unrealized dream.  So, I am going to let it burn.  Let the intensity grow until it burns away the apathy and the procrastination and the busy-ness that impedes the best of us.  And I don’t know where this lighted path will lead, but I am going to walk it anyway, being intentional about speaking my dreams aloud.  I don’t want to write merely for an intellectual exercise or a creative outlet.  To write honestly and to speak boldly.  For me, both acts are simple expressions of a grand pursuit of meaning and purpose defined in the light of an absolute and made most abundant in its shadow.  And this blog is the first step of that process.  So today is the day of declaring the burn, and I hope you will walk along this path with me, and carry your candle as well.  Let’s all walk  in the light of our shared dreams lest our fire burns out.