I have borrowed from all of my tomorrows to fill today with more than it can contain in a poorly-conceived, idealistic grasping after comfort.

My fears, my certainties of inadequacy, are driven by such bonds of debt, obligations to tomorrows which cannot be met in today’s currency of unsecured hope.


In folly, I have borrowed.  In arrogance, I have stumbled.

My weakness has produced and strengthened my chains.

My chains have brought me unto a death.

A death has prevented life.

A death has borne life.

“For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake . . . ”

For Jesus’ sake, but unto death nonetheless.

Sounds noble, is painful.  Vain?  Like dying.

Dying to be living?

“Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”

“So then death worketh in us, but life in you.”

Who?  You?  Us?

“Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus . . .”

But I came here of my own weakness, my own vanity, my own folly, my own ingratitude, my own, mine.

“Can anything good come from Nazareth?”

“That sin, by the commandment, might become exceeding sinful.”

Debt.  A promise which tomorrow cannot bear.  Tomorrow is only real when it is today.  Today is always inadequate to its obligations.

Where then is hope?

In weakness.

“Yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.”

“Take no thought for the morrow . . .”

But I have sold myself into slavery unto it.  It lords over me in expectation of calamity, in the assurance of brokenness.

“The law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath set me free from the law of sin and death.”

“There is therefore, now, no condemnation . . .”

“The assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.”

Bankruptcy.  Emptiness.  Vanity.  Overwhelming need coated in desperation and soaked in abject poverty.

“Corruption must put on incorruption.”

“Apart from me, ye can do nothing.”

“I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”





“Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death:  because it was not possible that he should be holden of it.”




“Nevertheless I live.”

a novel idea

Have you ever tried to write a novel?

The trick of it, apparently, has a lot to do with figuring out where to jump into the story, and what to include in the details of the story.

Conventional wisdom (which may be a hideous oxymoron) is that when writing a novel you have to stick to the story and use nary a word that doesn’t participate in moving the story forward.  In addition, a novel-writer should refrain from being overly descriptive, which is only a slightly different principle, I suppose.

All of that, of course, reminds me of the scene from The Princess Bride in which Westley, having just been revived by Miracle Max from being mostly dead, is trying to understand why he, Inigo, and Fezzik are about to storm the castle gate, so that he can come up with the plan (which is the whole reason Inigo had to find Westley and have him revived).  Inigo, in a hurry to storm the castle and find the six-fingered man who killed his father, says to Westley, who is also in a hurry to storm the castle and stop the wedding of Prince Humperdinck and Buttercup, his true love, “Let me explain.”  Then he pauses, shakes his head, and starts again with, “No, it’s too much.  Let me sum up.”

Now, I realize that, as Christians, we’re uncomfortable with the idea of spending valuable time reading, much less writing, novels because we’re serious people about serious business, and novels, being make-believe and all, are hardly serious, unless of course, they are allegories and devoid of profanity and/or sexual references and/or sarcasm.

So, I suppose the same principles can be applied to nonfiction, or even creative nonfiction, based on the evidence presented in the Gospel of St. John, in which John himself confesses to leaving out some elements of the life of Jesus from his account, by saying in the very last verse of his last chapter, “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written.  Amen.”

I’m not one to criticize Biblical authors, but I have to roll my eyes a bit at John for that exaggeration about the whole world not being able to contain the books.  On the other hand, John’s awareness of the actual size of the whole world may have been a bit misinformed.

Nonetheless, I get his point.  He had to stick to the central story, as he saw it, either for lack of knowledge, lack of parchment, lack of time, or lack of the ability to otherwise keep the interest of readers.

Beyond all of that, though, there’s another point we have to consider, if we have to consider this topic at all.  We have to consider the idea of engaging the readers in the creative process in at least as much as they are translating the symbols we call letters into ideas and mental images of those ideas.  Whether fiction or nonfiction, the reader is going to envision the story based on his or her interpretation of the written words.

This is dangerous, but necessary.

In the same way that every reader has distinct fingerprints, and DNA, and odors, they will have a distinct interpretation of every element of a story.  They must.  And not only is that a factor for consideration in the writing, it’s a necessity.  You have to stick with the story, using words as economically as possible, knowing that readers will each have unique images of what you’re describing, and in order to keep them engaged in the story, you have to leave out just the right elements to engage their imaginative processes and envision whatever it is that will keep them interested enough to keep reading.

Or, so I’m told.

Too much descriptive information, and they’re sleeping on you.  Too much boring dialogue, and they lose track of the point.  Too many pages, with obscure, ancient maritime references, as I found with my most recent attempt to digest Moby Dick, and they put the books back on their respective shelves, probably in the wrong locations, with disgusted looks on their faces.

But – and that’s a very big but – this is of critical consideration for all of writing, reading, and life.

We are constantly editing in the process of writing, reading, and living.  Constantly.  Always.

Some of us are not good at this.  Others are better.  None of us are perfect.

Take a minute and look around the room in which you’re sitting.  Try to think about how you would describe the room.  Try to think about every detail and imagine putting words to it.

Or, take your experiences today.  Think about describing every detail of every step of everything you’ve done today to someone else who has no contextual reference for your life.

Yep.  I know.  Maybe John was right, after all, about filling the whole world with books, right?

We take a lot for granted.  We filter out a lot of noisy details without ever recognizing we’re doing it.  Our minds do this instinctively – constantly translating data perceived through our senses, imaginations, desires, and abilities of spiritual discernment.  It’s a necessity and we’re better for it.  We don’t, and can’t, consciously process every data point that enters our realms of experience.  Thank God, we don’t.

Of course, and here’s the rub, if we, either acutely or chronically, filter incorrectly, perceive incorrectly, or imagine incorrectly, in this incessant dance between writer and reader, transmitter and receiver, leader and follower, savior and sinner, we may alter the story to something that bears no resemblance to the author’s intent.

Our contribution to the story, even as writers for whom the prerequisite of all writing is reading, in more ways than merely literally, is absolutely critical.

Stick to the story.  Use words economically.  Balance description with room for interpretation.  Do so with precision and skill.

This is a nearly impossible task, which great writers complete with the illusion of ease.  I’m listening to the audiobook version of Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens.  He’s a great writer, and his work is classic for that reason.

John was a great, or at least good, writer, and his subject matter makes up for any of his shortcomings, and that’s why his work is classic, even though he left out so much stuff.  I wish I knew more of that story, more of those unnecessary details.

As a reader, I can get distracted.  I skim, I skip, I rewind, I misunderstand, I misinterpret, I give up, I want less, and I want more.  I am also moved and inspired and enlightened and humbled.

As a writer, I write too many words, trying to convey an idea without risk of misinterpretation because I have difficulty trusting readers to get it right.  Then, I lose the story, and the reader.

See, I did it again.

I have to keep telling myself:  trust the story, trust the reader, trust the heart . . . trust the friend, trust the child, trust the vision, trust the author.

Trust the author.  Let the author tell the story.  That’s a novel idea.

but Noah found grace

Monday’s are generally difficult, but lately it seems they’ve been thick and heavy; heavier.  Actually, a lot of Thursdays and Wednesdays have also felt like Mondays.

Today, in particular, has been laden with all sorts of things a Monday is generally incapable of containing.  It’s not a good recipe.  Waking up with the distinct, disturbing phantom of a sneaking suspicion that you’re overdrawn from relationship bank accounts, and being certain that the “life” savings account is near zero, is no way to start a new week of responsibilities.

Noah must have woken up on the same side of the bed I did.  Noah is only 12.  That’s not right; a kid shouldn’t wake up feeling the world is demanding more of him than he has.

Renee called me a little after 9 this morning.  I like it when her number shows up in my office caller ID.  It’s nice to know somebody cares, especially on Monday.  As I recognize the phone number, in that second, I debate in my head whether I can talk to her about my day and how the world is turning the wrong direction for some reason.

“Hi, how are you?” I ask.

“Okay, but I’m having trouble with Noah,” she replies.

Hmmm.  I guess I won’t divulge my internal seismic pressure.  If she thinks Noah’s trouble . . .

She explains how Noah has a lot to do, and he’s struggling already.  She asks if I can help move him along.

Over the next 20 minutes, Noah and I talk through the stuff.  I am completely empathetic and understanding on this day, unusually so, and Noah responds, and it’s cathartic for me.

Noah has 12 things on his list today:

Clean the rat’s cage.  Science.  Colorado History.  Logic.  Language.  Math.  Word Study.  Literature.  Spelling.  Bible Study.  Planner update.  Read a library book.

How is it right that a 12-year-old has so much?

We talk about the rats, and how they stink and how cleaning their cage is a pain and maybe we should get rid of them and get a hermit crab instead.

We talk about how he likes Colorado History and how the homework is easiest.  His voice breaks when he talks about Science because it’s so hard and he doesn’t really understand it right now.

We talk about the things we’d rather be doing.  We talk about how much Monday’s suck.

We prioritize Noah’s list for the day.  We plan a break after he gets past number 6.

As we talked, I looked around my desk and set a few priorities for myself.  Noah unwittingly talked me back from the edge of a totally wasted day in the malaise of self-loathing, confusion and despondency.  He didn’t even know what he had done.

Still though, waves of something wash over me in some moments, and my internal voice breaks.  What is it that can make a middle-aged man choke back emotion without identifying itself?

The quote from my day-plannner notes page today says:  “Never hurry; take plenty of exercise; always be cheerful, and take all the sleep you need, and you may expect to be well.”  Apparently, a fellow named James Freeman Clarke said or wrote those words.  I don’t know what world he lived in, but he would have been a foreigner in mine.  It’s a nice sentiment, but I want to ask James, “So, what should I expect in the absence of that prescription?  Unwell?  That’s what I’ve got, James.  Unwell.”

I guess James was right.  I need to slow down, exercise, smile, sleep more.  Got it.

So, during a nonsense meeting, in which I had no valid input and nothing of substance to take away, I made a list surrounding James’s quote about the things that are disturbing me today – the things that are playing a violent game of king of the hill in my head.  None of them are work things, really, but at work is where I’m thinking about them.

34 things and people.  I don’t think it’s exhaustive, but it’s current.  Jesus is on the list.

After the meeting, I called home to check on Noah.  Renee says he’s doing great, moving right along, and he even helped prepare lunch.  He told me that he’s on number 5 – the rat’s cage cleaning – and he feels good.

I got another cup of coffee and ate some peanut butter from a spoon, and searched my iPhone for music that would respond to turmoil.  It’s difficult to find the right song for the moment sometimes.  I’m not sure the song exists.  There are glimmers of that song in other songs, like an aroma left behind when it sneaked through the melody for a moment.  It soothes a bit, like the pain of a massage on sore muscles – inflicting a painful pleasure of its own and never lasting long enough.

Who are we?  What are we?  Where are we going?  What, if any of this, matters?  Am I doing what I should be doing?  How do I know?  How do I stop doing the things I shouldn’t be doing?  How do I know?  Why does it matter?

Jesus, how is it between us?

The only lyric that keeps coming to mind is from U2, a band I hardly know:  “I want to run.  I want to hide.  I want to tear down these walls that hold me inside.”  What the heck does that mean?

Somewhere, something just beyond the naming, something elusive to my vision, but present, ever-present, stirs an ache in shadowy places inside me.  It would be best if it could be ignored, I think.  Can I kill it?  What is that?  Go away.  Stop disturbing me.  I have these things, and you’re a distraction.  You’re the wind blowing through the leaves of a tree visible only when I have the strength to pull myself up and peer through the bars of my cell window.  You’re a nag.  You taunt me.  I can’t have you.  I can’t come out and play.  I don’t know how.  You hide.  If I can’t have you, why are you here?  Go away!  Then the nagging, unidentified reply, “I’m not only outside your cell, I’m in you, in the cell walls, in the tray slid under the bars.”

Does everyone hear/see/think this garbage?

What does that mean, anyway?  Is it good?  Is it evil?  Is it just my imagination?  Am I making stuff up?  Why can’t I just be normal?

Far too dramatic.  Nonsensical romantic notions. This is silly.  Stop.  Work.  Ignore.

Then, another song-aroma, a pang in my gut.  A longing.  A loathing.

Dang Mondays.

Thank God there’s Noah.  At least there’s Noah.  He should be on his break by now.  He’s making progress today.  Tomorrow’s Tuesday.  Maybe this will make more sense on Tuesday.

testing, testing, one, two, three

With his grease-covered hands plunged into the darkness of his pickup’s frozen engine compartment, his eyes straining to see the wrench’s target, and the back of his mind a million miles away among the churning history of painful memories of the same day’s events from three years earlier, Samuel was caught entirely off guard by the intrusion of an unfamiliar female voice.  He was so startled by his unexpected return to the present that his whole body jolted with the shock, and as he turned, as if he were about to instinctively fend off an assailant, he struck his head hard against the upraised hood of the pickup.  The sudden addition of the sharp pain to the moment’s whirling ingredients sent his pulse soaring, and he spun away from the pickup with a jump and a kick, threw the wrench into the gravel of the driveway, and without thinking, spat his frustration in the general direction from which he had heard the voice.

“Aoww!  For gods sakes!  Holy son-of-a . . . “, he spewed, and strained to a stop with his teeth clenched tight before gaining enough control to exhale slowly, blowing a stream of visible condensation into the frigid air.  “What the hell!” he blurted before he was able to clench his teeth again, straining to prevent himself from making a further assault on his intruder before he could identify her.

Samuel bent forward in a half-squat with his blackened hands alternating positions from his knees for support to the back of his head to grope his wound.  He was simultaneously trying to figure out if he was bleeding to death and to gain his composure, embarrassed at the possibility of a making such an introduction to someone who seemed to be a stranger.

When he finally mustered enough control over the pain to turn, squinting in the direction of the voice, but with his whole face puckered against the pain screaming through his skull, all he could see was the shadowed figure of a human enshrouded in a halo of bright light from the sun rising directly behind it, and a cloud of illuminated, white fog from the figure’s breath adding to the otherworldly effect.  Then he heard what seemed like a disembodied voice, since he couldn’t make out the face clearly enough to identify the movement of lips, pleading, “Oh!  I’m so sorry!  Are you okay? I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you!”

As she spoke, the glorified shadow moved two steps back with her arms raised to her chest and her hands forming awkward fists in front of her face like a cornered fighter in cover-up mode.  Then, lowering her hands cautiously and reaching out toward him, as if to offer some consolation, she moved a step forward again and another half step to her left before returning her hands back to her mouth for protection, flinching as if she were very likely to be struck at any moment.  From that pose, she feebly offered once again, “Are you okay?”

Samuel was still holding back a foaming stream of epithets when he glanced back toward the haloed ghost to find that some of her glory had faded as she stepped to the side and he moved equally but oppositely around the perimeter of an imaginary circle of insecure safety between them, again like fighters circling each other, measuring each other, looking for an advantage.

She remained more shadow than real, with half of her golden, blonde hair on fire from the streaming sunlight, and her face veiled in the shade of her hair.  The contrast of the darkness and light was striking, as if she were a half-moon: all glory and contour-revealing light on the sun-facing side, and all darkness and mystery on the other.  Behind her clenched hands, Samuel could see half of her teeth set in a grimace that seemed to spread over her entire expression and posture, searching him for some sign of assurance that everything would be alright.

Keeping his distance but softening at the curious and gradual unveiling before him, Samuel forced himself to stand upright, instinctively pulled a cloth rag from his back pocket and began wiping his hands nervously, as he stepped again to his left, away from the pickup, around the imaginary circle between them, subconsciously hoping this phantom in his driveway would step further in the opposite direction, closer to the pickup so he could get a view of her suitable for a more thorough assessment.  As he did so, he muttered through teeth still set against the now throbbing pain, but with wide-open eyes, willing himself to calm his voice, “No, no.  I’m fine.  I’m fine.  It’s okay.”

She repeated her apology, as she stepped, as Samuel had hoped, around the circle where her face suddenly became entirely, beautifully human.  “I’m so, so sorry.  I really didn’t mean to startle you,” she said, still pleading but this time with a lighter tone.

Samuel spoke again, “No, no, no.  It’s fine.  No worries.  I just wasn’t expecting anyone, and . . . and,” he went on with a flurry and a chuckle busting out through an awkward grin, “and, you just about gave me a heart attack!”  Then, reminded by a piercing sting, moved his right hand to his wound again and added, “and a concussion, to boot!”

“Oh!  I’m so sorry!  Is it okay, really?” she asked again, but with slightly more confidence betrayed by a cautious giggle.  “Yes,” he said, “I assure you, I’ll be fine!  Really.  My head’s too hard to get damaged so easily.  I just wasn’t expecting anybody, really, and you surprised me.”

“I’m sorry, I was just going to ask for directions,” she said.  “I’m not from around here, and, well, I just got here and . . . and . . .” she hesitated, there, realizing that even in such a small town she ought to be leery of offering too much information to a stranger, and becoming suddenly aware that she wasn’t even sure enough of her own mission, what had brought her to this tiny town in the middle of the Kansas plains, to confidently offer an explanation.  She felt as if she were some kind of ghost, a non-entity – mostly unseen, unheard, unknown and intangible – searching for ghosts of her own, and she certainly couldn’t just blurt out such nonsense in the middle of asking for directions.  “Well, I was just looking for a place to stay.  I was hoping to find a hotel here, or nearby, and I just saw you there, and thought I’d ask if you knew of a place.”

“Oh, yes!  Yes, of course.  Miss Sherry’s got a place, a little hotel, with some nice rooms, just up the block on main street, right there,” Samuel said, pointing now back out the driveway to his left, then shaking his extended forefinger a few times to the north for emphasis.  “Miss Sherry’s place, The Marston Inn, that’s what you’re looking for,” he continued nodding as he spoke, invigorated by the change in subject and the chance to be helpful.  “Real nice place, and she’ll fix you up.  I mean, I’ve never stayed in one of her rooms, but I’ve seen ’em, and they’re real nice.  Good food, too.  Miss Sherry’s one of the best cooks in town; maybe the best!”

“Miss Sherry’s?  Okay.  The Marston Inn,”  she repeated, confirming the name with a nod and forced frown, and her lower-lip slightly protruding to show she was seriously weighing this new information.  “Right up there on main street?”  She waved her right arm in the same direction Samuel had just pointed.

“Yep,” Samuel assured, gallantly, “right up there.”  He pointed again out the driveway and motioned to something in the general direction of north.

“Okay,” she said, now moving back down the driveway in the direction Samuel had pointed.  “Thanks, and I’m sorry, again, about that . . . you know.”  She pointed to the back of her head and then at him, grimacing slightly as she said it while taking a few backward steps in the direction from which she had come so quietly only moments before.

“Oh, you’re welcome, and no worries.  I’m fine.” Samuel said, waving her off, as if to assure her that this kind of thing happened to him all the time, and he was never bothered by any of it.

There was an awkward pause there, as each of the fighters seemed to wait for the bell to release them to their corners.  Slowly, as they each worked through the wondering if there were any obligation to more conversational formalities, to more action in this round of their surprise bout.  Two complete strangers who had never intended to meet, much less be more friendly than a polite directional inquiry should require, thrust into each other’s personal spaces by the imposition of unexpected pain and apologies, forced by the circumstances to at least feign concern for the other beyond what their topic demanded, were now working to extract themselves from the interchange.  As if by unspoken, unrecognized, mutual consent, they averted their eyes away from each other and moved hesitantly toward their starting places.

“Thanks, again!” the ghostly, glorious, golden-blonde shadow pronounced as she stepped into her escorting sunlight again, then vanished around the corner of the hedgerow which bordered Samuel’s driveway.

Samuel said nothing more, as he moved back toward the pickup, absent-mindedly stooping to pick up his wrench along the way.  Thoughtlessly, he put his right hand to his head and gently explored the swelling knot there beneath his hair, and the small, moist opening at its peak which stung as his finger swept across it.  He winced and jerked his hand away.  That would smart for a few days, he thought.

He leaned his elbows onto the pickup’s right fender, staring into the engine compartment as if trying to remember what he had been doing before being interrupted.  He wasn’t thinking about that, though.  As far as he was aware, there was no engine before him.  His mind was swept away with curiosity about the blonde-headed stranger who had just left his driveway, and then he felt his face flush red as he realized what a foolish first impression he must have just made.  He hadn’t introduced himself.  He didn’t even know her name.  Then he realized, caught unaware by a kind of surging emotional intrigue which had long ago become unfamiliar to him, that none of that little interaction mattered anyway.  He bristled at his folly, like he had been caught up in some reckless teenage prank, and with a kick his thoughts sank abruptly away from that unwelcomed interruption to his day, and came crashing back to the reality of the tasks, and memories, at hand.  Real memories of real people, and the losses he had yet to finish rehearsing.

thankful for things

I’m uncertain and hesitant about publishing this. Being thankful can be so annoying to those who are assaulted by it when unprepared for its celebratory intrusions. I certainly am annoyed by it on a regular basis; like I am when a bee is trying to get a chunk of my watermelon when I’m eating my leftovers out on the deck.

Nonetheless, Renee and I have attempted to be more intentional about noticing thanks-worthy things.  So, in August, we started a new blog.  I know, I know . . .

But, it was just private at first. Just the two of us. We wanted to get comfortable about the idea of being so blatantly thankful. It’s kind of weird.

Maybe it will make you feel better to know we don’t post something every day.  Sometimes we’re just too tired to be thankful.  It can be draining.

Anyway, we’re more comfortable now, so we’ve made it public. You don’t have to read it. It’s more of a personal journal of goodness, but we decided that even though it may be awkward, it also may be inspiring, and occasionally, we’re all about that.  So maybe you could check it out, occasionally.  We’d be thankful.

Read the “About” page, if you want to know more about what it’s about.

Click the following link to go there:

reflecting: highly effective daily planner notes revisited

I came across this page of “notes” from my 7 Habits of Highly Effective People daily planner from May 13, 2011.

It’s ironic that such notes are found in the context of such a page.  Makes me chuckle a bit, sardonically.

(By the way, I had to look up “sardonically”, and found it interesting that says the root word alludes to “a Sardinian plant which when eaten was supposed to produce convulsive laughter ending in death.”  Insert more sardonic chuckling here.)

It’s also enlightening that, though I have no idea what events were taking place on May 13, 2011, such churning below the surface is happening again, or continuing still, behind the scenes of other equally insignificant events happening today.

The churning.  The inner turmoil, bubbling and boiling and stirring and disturbing.

I hope to God (literally) that it’s productive.

The quote at the bottom of the page from Arnold Palmer also seems ironically suitable.  Concentration on what, may I ask, and what exactly is the nature of the challenge?  Is it just getting through today’s daily planner to-do list?  Is it achieving some competitive goal and attaining consequential rewards?  Is it humbly submitting to the direction and power of Christ working within us?  Is it just surviving?

When we reach inside, what do we really discover about our personal resources?  Can we view the same resources from different perspectives and conclude, depending on the angle of the view, that they are either woefully inadequate or exceedingly abundant?  Can they be both simultaneously?

I don’t know, but I am comforted by what must have been supernatural insight (or desperation?) poking through the mist of stirrings back in May, as evidenced by the final words I wrote at the bottom of the page.

I’m hanging on to those again today:  hoping against hope, crying for redemption, confident in invisible things.  May it be so, Oh, may be it so.