Our own ability to understand something doesn’t affect its value, veracity, or function in the world. Often times, our limited vision and perspective shaped by our particular experiences emboldens us to render strong opinions on things in which we truly have no knowledge or awareness! We often get into unnecessary conflicts with others as a result of our own lack of awareness or misinformation, living in our own tunnel of experience.
As a child, my dad would quiz us kids on math from the time we were quite young because he had a wonderful ability to process numbers quickly in his mind, with what seemed a “calculator” inherently gifted within. He was sharing one of his gifts with us through those pop quizzes. When I was really little, the nightly spot exam (esp. with calculus problems) made little to no sense to me as the youngest, causing me some frustration. But I didn’t give up because of that, I learned to be humble in those moments of frustration. As time passed and my learning curve expanded, I grew to truly appreciate much more of what he was trying to teach us through his pop quizzes. We all went on to take four years of math in HS when only one was required!
Often, it’s our own inability or arrogant refusal during moments of frustration to push through it all, stretching our minds to consider what might actually be possible or really be true. And that leads to further frustration as we judge things we see or experience by only what we know at the time! We rail on people about things which are simply above our understanding, vilifying them for actually be more educated or experienced on certain topics or on particular life subjects. When you are conflicted like that by the actions, words, or beliefs of others, first look within. Live with the humility to learn, to grow, to expand and change your mind, to see life outside your own tunnel of experience.
It’s been a really hot week here, but we’re somewhat used to that smack dab in the middle of Summer here in the Sonoran Desert in the Southwest USA, so I’m trying to bloom where I am currently planted! But when the temps rise beyond 110 F. and hover there day after day with double-digit humidity rather than our early Summer drier conditions, it wears on even those of us more-seasoned desert dwellers! We are in the middle of our monsoon season here, which means there is a chance most afternoons of a thunderstorm developing and bringing with it the possibility for highly desirable rainfall! Even the wild creatures which cohabit my parcel of this desert seem to be attempting to cope with the monsoon seasonal weather challenges.
Each afternoon, I can look out the windows of my house to see a variety of birds and bunnies hovering under the shade of the more-lush plants which I planted closest to the house. I water those plants every morning and evening during hot spells like this to keep those plants from drooping in the afternoon sun, but also to keep a more comfortable and favorable environment for all those birds and bunnies which gather there! They find the moist, shaded soil cooler for their bodies, and often the bunnies stretch out to make as much bodily contact as possible with the soil. The quail which are native to this area also kick out some of the groundcover and soil to burrow a bit further down in and around the plants. Then the peach-faced lovebirds which made themselves at home on my street about twenty years ago find refuge in the shady bright-green branches of the shrubs I have growing there. At times, I have counted eighteen lovebirds along with several quail and bunnies all sharing about a 3′ x 7′ space. It’s magical to peek out the windows to see so many creatures taking their rest and comfort, all so readily visible from inside my house. In a way, their search for comfort provides for me a great opportunity to witness daily such beautiful animals, but also a responsibility to continue providing for them such excellent a refuge!
It’s not always easy getting up early to water and do my landscaping chores when the morning sun is already so intent on heating things up. And it’s not at all easy going out in the evening before the sun goes down to re-moisten the area with a fresh spray of water. But it is more than rewarding to witness how appreciated my efforts are by the creatures which rely upon my provisions! I make sure to keep birdbaths as well as water features clean and refreshed, my numerous plants provide shelter and food, and I even try to leave the area under my windows undisturbed so as not to frighten away the oodles of each specimen which are hanging out there from midday to evening. They bring me pleasure, so it’s the least I can do in return!
Taking the time to notice life as it plays out before our eyes each day is our choice! And I surely have made it my practice to notice the beauty of the natural world unfolding each new day before my eyes, regardless of the heat! I’m eager for the end of Summer, as by the beginning of August the long, really hot weather starts to wear on even the most tenacious, seasoned desert gardener. But since I cannot control the weather, hasten time passing, or alter the conditions in which I now find myself living, I choose to bloom where I am planted by making something good out of it!
Going back to school is really just waking up every day to face life! We never stop learning! All of our lives we must face the fact that we’re always students. We might wish we had moved past that when we left our late teens or early twenties, but in truth, we’re always students having to learn something, taking tests, studying, and moving on. It never ends, this relationship of ours as students in life! It is ongoing, through all facets, stages, and conditions in which we exist. We never stop learning, even when we are adamantly opposed to the notion, or reject the idea outright! If only we could learn to embrace the role, perhaps the role itself would help bring direction to our lives and some peace to our minds.
During our childhood, we endured years of mandatory schooling, whereby we had to meet certain standards necessary for us to move forward into new pursuits and educational challenges. There wasn’t a way to evade that part of our journey, especially during my generation. Public schools were the norm, and standards were created nationally as well as by each state to keep all students aligned with the pursuit of obtaining certain educational goals. There were standards required in every subject, for every grade level, and for every type of school. The only way we could get to higher grades and levels of achievement in those grades was by accomplishing each grade’s standards before moving on to the next. In my generation, the late baby boomers, there weren’t many opportunities to bypass public school, unless our parents could afford to send us to private schools. There weren’t many home-schooled children that I knew of, and there were no online schools or diploma alternative tests. We were either students, at least from kindergarten through the end of high school, or we were drop-outs.
Having no real choice in the matter, as education seemed essential and mandatory, I then went into each new grade with a sense that it was necessary for my future and inevitable for my progress! Being a student was the role I was in from the age of five through seventeen. I went from grade school to middle school and then high school. The first period of choice I had after those twelve years of not dropping out was going to college when I was seventeen. I chose to go. It wasn’t until sometime in my mid-twenties that I realized the whole student/learning process I had celebrated when it had finally concluded in my early twenties actually hadn’t ended at all! It was still ongoing and never ends until the day we die!
Every day we are learning, going through some lesson, facing some test(s), and determining through such profound moments whether or not we progress onward in our lives! Our role as students in life never ceases, as we are always moving into new circumstances, developing other skills, becoming more adept, learning something new, changing our minds, and growing in wisdom. Each new day we should wake up preparing for that day’s classroom called life! Every day we are really still just students going back to school, but in a classroom without walls, our teachers coming and going with their unique lessons, and our homework found in attitudinal shifts, mental challenges, and quizzical mysteries. We are in one long grade from the time we leave our formal educational confines, the role of actual student, and officially graduate into life. It’s called the process of maturing, and it takes all of our lives to do well! It also takes accepting that we’re never done being a student of something, today, tomorrow, and the next. Each day we must face our lessons, tests, and hope for promotion onward to the next day’s subjects, lessons, tests, and so on.
Tomorrow when you awaken, the bell will be ringing…school has begun!
Growing up is what our bodies do, maturing is what our souls do. When life comes at us rapidly and we don’t know how to handle what we are experiencing, it’s just life’s way of letting us know we aren’t as mature as we could be or need to be! We need to do more to prepare ourselves to deal and cope with the future challenges ahead.
Don’t cheat yourself out of the necessary experiences which propel you to maturity by evading them or escaping from your share of responsibility for them! All of that in life which you might experience which is really difficult, painful, or frightening, cannot destroy you unless you let it. In the face of everything which feels uncomfortable and at times disturbing, you must hunker down, find your strength, persevere through, and eventually overcome!
That is our challenge throughout life, to resolve our own dilemmas, to face our fears, to cope with our emotions, and to learn through experience the wisdom necessary to move onward even through the most difficult, life-altering, or perplexing matters. At the end of our road, with such purposeful focus, we’re sure to be as noticeably mature within as we are visibly grown on the outside!
I mostly wrote this five years ago this very day, but it seems to ring even more true for the world we are living in this day! The greatest challenge and endeavor in life is to learn the vital lesson of discovering your joy within! With that comes the importance of holding onto that joy peacefully and consistently, no matter the circumstances you are currently experiencing, all while reflecting that contentment as a light back into the world. None of us is immune to hardships, traumas, and problems in life or the catastrophic events beyond our control, but we have shared enough similar woes and life experiences to know that our inner joy is truly not a reflection of what has or will happen to us as much as it is a reflection of our choice as to how and what we feel, think, and believe about these matters! We choose how to summarily view our lives based on how we feel about what has happened to us. If we always cede our joy to feelings of despair, worry, anxiety, sadness, constantly mourning what we’ve lost over time, we erode the sense of joy we are meant to experience just by living! It’s as if we forget that our lives were filled with both happy and sad, ups and downs, laughter and tears. Anchoring our joy within ensures us that we won’t look back upon our lives in misery and despair!
We’re so well-equipped to love, to empathize, to be the face of compassionate caring for others once we have assured all of that for and within ourselves, by recognizing our own ability to keep our peace, joy, and contentment alive within our own soul and spirit! It’s so easy to harden from within with each trauma and every downturn. Soon enough, we have lost our ability to enjoy our own life or to help others enjoy theirs! By instilling in ourselves an indefatigable and rebounding joy within, we make ourselves almost immune to that habit of dwelling in perpetual despair! We may for a time mourn, ache, or hurt, but it need not take our life’s joy for all time! Perhaps we need only shift our focus more to the bright moments, the great times, and the things which we consider blessings, rather than focusing more often on what has grieved us or made us sad. And in just a time, that becomes the new habit!
Find and hold onto your joy from within by habitually deciding to do just that! And then be a purposeful light for others, assuring them as to what joy, peace, and contentment can be for many who possibly need your leadership in that regard! It takes faith to live as a light, but the Lord sets a great example for us as to why we should! Shine your light for all the world to see, especially during this season of Christmas! You never know who might be inspired and led by your example in turn. There is enough darkness and despair in this world, enough sadness and suffering, reflect for others the way which leads them to their joy and light! And have a joyous season celebrating Christmas!
Sometimes we sugar coat things, thinking we’re sparing others upsets or upheavals. But, if we choose to deny anyone the truth by withholding from them the reality of a situation, we don’t really do them any service at all! Speak the truth, give the facts as you see them, relay honest appraisals whenever possible. Trust and deliver the difficult truths with kindness, compassion, and an earnest heart determined to help others.
Our challenge shouldn’t be how we can hide facts and the truth, for now, to protect someone we love from possibly being hurt, but rather our consideration should be how we can best deliver or present to others what they may need to know to make the most optimal choices for them, to face their dilemmas head-on as they are presented in life, while standing up to what they must! Some of the purposeful omitting or concealing we do may seem to soften a blow to others, but truthfully, it might also be that we don’t want to be responsible for having to give bad news or to burden another when they’re under significant duress! It might also be that in white-lying, omitting, or actually distorting reality, we are making assumptions about others which suggest that we believe them weak or incapable of facing reality. And that projection upon them might be a serious disservice to them!
The truth is truly what each of us deserves to know, process, and ruminate, even when that truth seems like a bitter pill to swallow or a hard left to our already-battered head! Some of the storms we face in this life actually provide great lessons and the impetus for significant and positive change, but if we’re always hiding in a shelter of our own making or in one provided too readily by others, we run the risk of missing those important life lessons! Not all storms can and should be evaded. They serve as necessary opportunities for individual growth and personal development! We have to give that chance to ourselves by facing each obstacle and trial in life head-on, but also others deserve that same opportunity! Honesty, reality, and truth are the power of knowing what to do, where to go, and how to proceed. The light of truth reflected in life is always preferable to the darkness of uncertainty and ill-preparedness.
Finally, I’ve gotten to my favorite time of year, time for the gentle Autumn sun! The scorching Summer heat has finally abated and I can do all my outdoor chores without concern as to the temperature, how sunburnt I might get, or if I’ll get heat stroke doing it all! This is the first week we’ve cooled down into the 80’s F, which is idyllic here in the desert Southwest! Nights have been cooler for a month or so now, but the days were still creeping into the mid to high-90’s, even hitting 100, which meant it still felt pretty hot by midday! But, now it’s the ideal time of year here, in my opinion. With cool nights and pleasant days, it’s possible to open the windows, to shut off the air conditioner, and to enjoy outdoor hours without concern!
This morning, I spent a few hours raking up leaves and assorted messes around the yard. I filled three big tubs of debris and watered some plants without even working up a sweat! It was a sweet reward for all the days during Summer, when faced with night-time lows in the high 90’s and days well over 115! On those kinds of days, the sun races to beat everyone in getting up, heating up all the surfaces and even the water in the taps and garden hoses to scalding temperatures! And all those tremendously heated surfaces usually retain that heat even well after the sun finally sets at night. The air conditioner runs almost constantly, frantically trying to keep my home at a livable temperature of 79 degrees, while fans assist in keeping us content. The pool water can even become more like a warm, unrefreshing bath after many consecutive days of truly dangerous heat!
Each year when Autumn finally sets in, usually well beyond the calendar’s mid-September date earmarked for it, is a reason to have a celebration as a gardener and outdoorsy person! The unrelenting heat of Summer keeps me indoors or in the pool if I’m outside. But when temperatures finally become not only tolerable but enjoyable, it’s time to go out and catch up on all the chores long waiting for my attention! I can busy myself each new day with watering, clean-up, pruning, and my favorite pursuit, planting! I adore working in my garden, honing my landscape into something of beauty, which is truly hard to do when I am limited by the intense Summer weather. Unlike places which endure the dormancy of cold and snowy Winters, here in the desert, we endure a long, hot, dry Summer season. That is our period of doing less or just the bare minimum, while our plants, gardens, and landscapes struggle to survive until a softer, gentler season ahead. And finally, Autumn arrives on some random day like today!
This morning, I opened the windows and left them open until noon! The only reason I closed them at all, I was heading out for the afternoon. I wouldn’t dare think of going for a swim now, the pool is far too cold for comfort. But that is a trade-off I am willing to make for weather which is finally comfortable! I hate to feel as though I’m wishing for days to pass quickly, but each Summer here in the desert stretches on for usually four or five months. By the end of that period, I look so eagerly towards the sweet return of Autumn’s gentleness, just what we’re finally now having! I don’t resent Summer, but I do consider it a necessary part of what must happen here so that we might finally be rewarded with this! I’m so thankful for what is ahead in the next weeks and months, days spent doing so many of my favorite things under the warmth of a gentle Autumn sun! I’ll surely take my time enjoying all the moments ahead outdoors and in, savoring the sweetness of a softer sun and an easier time of things!
So many people these days are insecure, riddled with self-doubt, and unable to positively identify themselves by decisive means. They are lost, meandering through their lives looking for validation and for acceptance! It’s really sad to watch seemingly successful, established, attractive people flailing about looking for the approval or esteem from outside that should be naturally flourishing from within!
You probably have seen these people around you every day. They may have jobs, careers, families, friends, and present themselves as well-adjusted and successful at reaching their goals in life. But, in fact, they are struggling with insecurity. This insecurity stifles their creativity, befuddles their pursuit of goals, and hinders the real progress they could make in relationships as well as personal development.
Insecurity is visible! It shows up as narcissism, jealousy, anger, envy, intolerance, excessive criticism, and in those who are always easily offended by others. Insecurity is when we don’t quite believe we’re worthy, or that we’re attractive, talented, capable, our opinions or beliefs are valid, or that we’re loveable. It is any sense of our lacking when we’re estimating the value of others in comparison! Are we as popular, pretty, slender, wealthy, successful, talented, smart, (or whatever measurement we’re using to compare and contrast our life with the lives of those around us)?!
We’re meant to get our value and worth from the knowledge and assurance that we’re beloved children of God! He’s our Creator, so He made us as we are with inherent human value and worth to achieve the purposes He has designed just for us! But many of us don’t believe in God’s dominion over our lives, and so we don’t know that our value is derived from knowing who we are through Him! We instead get our value from other places then, from other people, from the things we’ve collected and boasted of routinely, from the position we hold, from the level of our personal or professional achievements, from how attractive others think we are, from our ability to do certain things, or to hold particular positions. Without having that relationship with God, as Father, we are always going to live our life comparing and contrasting, competing and defeating, dwelling and then repelling all the subjectivity of flawed and irrational human thinking, our own and that of others! We spend a lot of energy and time dealing with insecurity as a result, which takes us from our life pursuits, the purposes God has in mind for us. And when we’re insecure, we spend a lot of time finding fault with others in an effort to raise our own self-perception!
When we know that we matter, we’re loved, we’re loveable, and that we were created as we were meant to be by the Lord, we don’t need to feel insecure about our appearance, our thoughts, our beliefs, our talents, our bodies, or our level of achievement in any area of living! We can go into anything certain that He goes with us, He has prepared us or will for whatever we face, and that we needn’t doubt our ability or any other facet of our being. He leads us, He goes with us, He is our strength, and He is our guide. Now, it’s true that those who don’t believe won’t grasp this difference! That is obvious. But they also don’t see the nature of issues with insecurity rising in this nation as we push God further from our personal lives! Such rampant insecurity is a clear indication of lives lived without the sense of God’s value known for certainty within them! Even believers struggle at times with thoughts that can erode our confidence and our assurances! When you know you matter as you are though, then someone else’s wealth, acclaim, position, race, sexual identity, possessions, and beliefs won’t seem threatening at all! And our own struggles to achieve the success we think we should attain won’t become such an overwhelming weight upon our souls! Knowing God is our designer sets us free from the embattled sense of entitlement, jealousy, envy, narcissism, greed, self-doubt, self-obsession, constant self-promotion, and any other eroding measure! Struggling is part of life, but to wrangle with insecurity, lacking confidence in ourselves as God’s invaluable creation, is to struggle needlessly even more so!
Have you ever told yourself that what you were considering was impossible before you even began? I’ve done it more in recent years than ever before because I’ve grown accustomed to thinking that with middle age, I am naturally more limited! But that, I would suggest, is a lie. And with aging, there aren’t any rules! I am no less able now than I was twenty or thirty years ago. The actual difference in my fitness or abilities is only evident in that I may have a few more aches or pains when I do something, I may have to warm up a few minutes longer, and I may have to go a bit easier at first when attempting things, but the only real limits to training and physical fitness is in my imagination!
When I was younger, I had amazing endurance. It always took me a long time to get winded when working out, or when doing something physical. As an avid hiker, I was often chided by my friends as being part mountain goat, because the uphill effort wasn’t as taxing for me given my endurance. I’m not a fast runner or a speed demon in any pursuit, but I have that endurance consistently. Well, even with age, that hasn’t changed much. I’m still able to “go the distance” when it comes to physical activities and sporting endeavors. I can still hike and do hike, I can move up a flight of stairs without getting winded, and I can train for a considerable time before I start to get winded or fatigued. But the minute I try to sprint, run, or race through any sport, I can’t maintain the effort for very long. So really, not much has changed for me at this stage of life! With stretching, I’m just as flexible, with effort, I’m just as conditioned. The only thing I’ve really noticed with aging is a need to build and keep more muscle, as that seems to be less easy to do and more a challenge of our body’s aging process.
So the lesson I’ve learned the last few years is to not limit myself by what I might perceive as the natural result of aging! Why start to tell myself that aging will impact me this way or that if in fact, it’s not true! Why limit myself and possibly become more sedentary? Why would I keep putting limitations upon my abilities, my possibilities, my efforts, and my goals just because a calendar flips another page? I shouldn’t! I’m realizing that all the changes I perceived about aging are more about giving into self-limitations and false expectations associated with certain periods of life. And that notion of the possible limitations of aging leads a lot of people into prematurely sedentary lives, actually accelerating the aging process, mentally and physically! Loads of people tell themselves that they can’t, so they never make it to can! I don’t want to be one of those people, as life ceases being as meaningful when we give it less space for growth and when we give ourselves less capacity for fullness and fulfillment! I enjoy being active and challenging myself.
Last year, I set a goal during the Summer of swimming two miles without stopping. I have a pool in the backyard, so it was easy to imagine that such a goal would be possible in our long Summer swimming season here in the hot desert Southwest. I worked hard, built up my time each swim, and then swam with the purposeful fine-tuning of my stroke by paying attention to instructions I had once received in swim lessons. I bought equipment which made the effort easier, such as goggles, a cap, and a one-piece swimming suit. I swam several times a week, achieving my goal of two miles non-stop by early July of last year. Even though I had to quit swimming too early to have shoulder surgery (unrelated to my swimming), I felt great for pushing ahead with such a strong goal! This year in mid-May, I started on a new goal, swimming three miles non-stop! It’s a lot of laps in an in-ground residential pool, easily a couple hours of commitment per swim. But, I achieved that goal this year by early July and enjoyed a very productive and rewarding swimming season again! I’m not sure I will increase that goal for next Summer, as it requires a lot of time to swim even three miles at a time. I will keep that as a goal though, even though I’ll be another year older by then!
Since it finally got too cold in the pool for me to swim, now that it is Autumn, I have taken my physical pursuits and can-do attitude in fitness and put them into a new effort – running! I do struggle more with it as a goal, as it takes a lot more physical control and conditioning for me, with such an impactful exercise routine. The benefit of swimming is the low impact the water provides my body. But I’m determined to not let myself be limited by my own mind’s perception of my possible limitations! My body is amazing in that it accepts my efforts by acclimating to my conditioning efforts, so I am left to ponder what more I might accomplish?! Why would I say “never” until I at least try?! And my efforts, though slow and steady so far, have proven that I am already able to do more than if I had just told myself that I was incapable from the onset! My challenge is to build up to some major achievement with this, just as I did with swimming! Remember, with aging, there aren’t any rules.