Finding Life (in obvious places): Marriage and M&Ms

It was a usual Monday at work. Guys coming in unshaven, disheveled. Girls coming in made up, worn out underneath. Plenty of stories about how much the guys had drank and the girls had forgotten. Oh, they weren’t all like that. One guy had gotten pulled over by the cops and didn’t come in at all. Nobody made his bail.

On break, Ralph asked me how my weekend was.

“Okay.”

“You go out with that girl of yours? Julie?”

“Yeah, we went out.”

“Boy, she’s something. Bet she’s great in the sack, huh?”

I smiled and said, “Wouldn’t you like to know?”  He was eating peanut M&Ms and offered me some. “You know, I saw this house yesterday,” I said.

“Yeah?”

“It was for sale and I think I might just get it.”

“Are you and Julie thinking…”

Pages

“No, no. It’s not that. I’m just… tired of the apartment.  You know…”

“Yeah, it gets to you.”

“So, it’s a great two-story house in the old part of town.”

“Better be careful. Those things are rat traps. You sure…”

“No. This one’s great. I mean, heating costs’ll be out of this world, but…. well, I’ve got some put away.”

“Working in this place? Come on!”

“No, really. I’ve been saving up.”

“Listen, it’s your life. But I’m saying you’re better off in the apartment until you can find a wife that’ll work. That Julie works at the bank, doesn’t she?”

“I’m not marrying Julie!”

“Hey, sorry. It’s none of my business. I, just, well, I just don’t want you rushing into something. It’s tough enough, working at this place, without having a house to care for. By yourself.”

“Yeah. I know. I just, well… I need something.”

“Ain’t Julie taking care of that?” He laughed so hard he coughed up his last three M&Ms. I gave him the change to buy another package. He came back and offered me more.

“You know,” he said slowly, careful in thought, “marriage ain’t so bad as they say. I know I give my wife a hard time, but truth is I wouldn’t know what I’d do without her. She’s a great girl.”

“That’s nice.”

“No, I mean it. Before I got married, I was staying out late, coming to work all hungover. I’m a changed man, and I have her to thank.”

“Well, I don’t drink that much.”

“That’s not my point. Listen, I’m only saying this cause I’m your friend. You better hang on to that Julie. She’ll make a great wife someday.”

I shook my head.

“Just you wait. But not too long. You hear me?” He went off and started talking to a group about drinking beer.

I went back to work and thought about marriage. My grandparents. Constantly yelling and screaming at each other. Especially on Sundays, getting ready for church. Then Mom and Dad. Until Dad ran off and Mom was left with only me and my sister to yell at. That was marriage. A lot of yelling. Especially on Sundays.

Ralph got divorced about a year later. His wife caught him with his pants down parked in the driveway of her best friend. Ralph was never the same. He developed sugar diabetes and started blacking out and losing body parts, one at a time. His ex-wife felt sorry for him and married him again, took care of him until he died. She buried him with a package of peanut M&Ms.

{This is the third entry of a work of fiction called Life (in obvious places) I first wrote in 1985. To follow along with the story, click on the title in the tags below).

Good Work in God’s Hands

robert bellah

In his latest book, Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s WorkTimothy Keller quotes Robert Bellah from his book I remember as required reading in grad school called Habits of the Heart.  Bellah observes that modern “expressive individualism” eats away at the cohesiveness that ties us together as a people and makes our work meaningful and productive.  Something more is needed.  He writes –

To make a real difference [there would have to be] a reappropriation of the idea of vocation or calling, a return in a new way to the idea of work as a contribution to the good of all and not merely as a means to one’s own advancement.

Reflecting on this, Keller identifies streams within the Christian Scriptures and particularly in his own Reformed Christian tradition.  One of these streams flows from Martin Luther.  Keller notes –

The headwaters of Lutheran theology put special stress on the dignity of all work, observing that God cared for, fed, clothed, sheltered, and supported the human race through our human labor.  When we work, we are, as those in the Lutheran tradition often put it, “the fingers of God,” the agents of his providential love for others.

What an invigorating thought!

When you are changing the dressing on an elderly woman’s wound, you are touching her with the fingers of God.

When you are serving up yet another macaroni-and-cheese dinner for your cute yet often ungrateful 3-year old, the fingers of God are wrapped around the serving spoon.

When you are replacing a cracked window on a neighbor’s house to keep the December winds from blowing in, those cold, numb fingers are God’s.

Yes, it’s clear when we labor with our hands doing something constructive for the common good, we are agents of God’s love.  But what about so much other “work” we do?

What about the work of writing?  Is writing the work of God that builds community or part of the “expressive individualism” that eats away at the common good?

I think both.  Certainly, when we write we are expressing an aspect of ourselves in the hope that we might be noticed, affirmed, “liked”.  Yet, another key desire is to connect with others and perhaps even offer a word of hope in a lonely, discouraging word.

Writing is meaningless drivel when our aim is to inflict our selfish desires on a world that doesn’t really care.  Writing becomes God’s work when we reach out beyond ourselves and find a way to speak a good word to a lonely soul.

(photo of Robert Bellah from “On Being“, some rights reserved)

Tilling the Soil and Telling the Stories

James Bryan Smith, in his book from An Arrow Pointing to Heaven: A Devotional Biography of Rich Mullins, describes the motivation Rich had to write songs –

Rich believed that the desire to create comes from God and is a duty for all Christians. ‘I think creativity is a very Christian thing. I think if we are created in the image of God that means we’re going to have an impulse to create.’

The first two things God told Adam to do were to till the garden and to name the animals. We were created to create.

To read more, click on the title —

“Tilling the Soil and Telling the Stories”

My Dad (not bad for a sixth grade grad)

At my cousin’s graduation party, we were asked to wear alumni t-shirts.  There were ones from Ohio State.  IU.  University of Chicago.  My dad proudly wore one that said,  Jabez Elementary, Sixth-Grade Grad, Class of 1951.  We told him he should wear it to the Roberts family reunion.  He declined, saying “They’ll think I’m putting on airs.”

The truth is my Dad is quite intelligent.  When he was 16, his father Joe Etsy set him down and said,  “You can quit school now and become a real man.  Earn money for the family.  Pay your way.”

Out of spite, mostly, Dad stayed in school and earned his high school diploma – all the while being the primary family wage earner working at a nursing home.

Dad went in the military and was stationed in Germany.  He has fond memories of seeing the European countryside and meeting new people.  He’ll even tell you he learned to speak German and then share his vocabulary – “Eins bier.  Zwei bier.  Drei bier.”

Dad got out of the service on a Saturday and went to work on a Monday at Cummins where he worked for 32 years, starting out on the burr bench and worked his way up to scheduler, the best paid office hourly worker for the company.

Dad worked to earn a living, but he didn’t live to work.  When he was off, he was off.  One of his passions was getting involved in my sports.   Though he knew nothing about baseball, he accepted a position as assistant coach and statistician on my little league team, the Nineveh Cubs.

Dad had his own way of scoring.  Anytime you didn’t strike out, he counted it as a hit.  I batted over .850 my rookie season.

I once calculated I played in 128 games in my basketball career and Dad attended a total of 127.  He missed one because he was in the hospital after suffering a motorcycle wreck on his way to the game.

Dad wanted me to gain a good college education, but he wasn’t able to save much money to invest in it.  That didn’t stop him from contributing.  After I received a scholarship from Cummins worth thousands of dollars, Dad calculated the exact number of overtime hours to earn it and he worked off the clock, sometimes going in at 3 a.m..

Dad was no saint, though.  For years, he drank and smoked about as hard as he worked.  It took its toll as he developed host of other health problems.  Yet, his strong will has allowed him to make necessary changes.  When he was diagnosed with emphysema, he quit smoking.  When he was diagnosed with diabetes, he quit drinking.  Just quit.  Cold turkey.  And hasn’t looked back.

Now Dad lives modestly in our family home where he watches the hummingbirds out the window, rides his four wheeler through the woods, and roots Tony Stewart on to victory each week.

He’s done pretty well for a self-described “dumb old Kentuckian with a sixth-grade education.”

Dad says when he dies, he’d like to be buried on a hillside near a highway and have one of those smiley-faced waving hands on his tombstone that reads,

“I’m dead, but have a nice day.”

View album

“Hear no evil (Dad).  See no evil (Me).  Speak no evil (Uncle Larry).”

Anything Can Happen (Revisited)

On December 31, 2012, I posted this –

As we approach the new year, it is tempting to set far-reaching goals to change our habits, adapt our lifestyle, transform our character.  It is important, though, to pay attention to the details, to follow the process step by step and let the outcome take care of itself.  It is better to focus on doing what is good and right rather than pursuing greatness.

There’s a great scene in the movie “Dad” in which Jack Lemmon, as an aging father in his hospital bed, shares with his son, played by Ted Danson, some of the wisdom he’s gained through years of living.  His mind wanders to a World Series baseball game in which a second-string left fielder – Al Gionfriddo –  finally given the opportunity to play after years of waiting on the bench, saves the game by catching a near-home run ball hit off the bat of Joe DiMaggio.

 “You know what that story means?”  asks the father.

“What, Dad?” asks his son.

The father’s face breaks into a smile as he looks into his son’s eyes.

“Anything can happen if you show up for work every day.”

Since I’m on disability, I don’t have a conventional job to show up for every day.  But I do have daily work with which I’m going to occupy myself.

1) Pray every day.  In addition to meditation, I’m going to renew the practice of keeping a prayer journal to be more mindful of including praise (Wow, God!) and thanksgiving (Thank you, Lord.) as well as confession (Forgive me.), intercession (Please help others.), and petition (Grant me, Lord…)

2) Read every day.  This includes a reflective reading of a passage of Scripture (a chapter or so) as well as readings of classics – right now it’s The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner (on audio books), contemporary fiction (downloading e-books) and blog posts.

3) Write every day.  This month, my focus has been on developing this blog.  I plan to continue regular posting, but I have other projects as well.  I have a completed draft of a devotional book I wrote a couple years back that I want to revise and prepare for publication.  I’m meeting with some business owners and a community group about doing some blogging for them to enhance the traffic on their websites.  I expect to do a good bit of writing in my Internship which I hope will begin soon.  I really want to be more faithful writing letters to my two oldest daughters.

So those are my goals for 2013.

Pray.  Read. Write.

Every day.  And if I do, anything can happen.

 

Looking back, I’ve done a fairly good job of meeting these goals so far.  Each day I pray, read, and write.  While I haven’t kept a prayer journal, I have been drawing closer in my relationship with God.  While I haven’t been reading contemporary fiction, I have been listening to classics on audiobooks and reading many blogs.  I’ve published daily posts for almost six months now and gained a faithful readership.

My goal for the coming weeks and months will be to focus my prayer, reading, and writing, toward getting an Internship.

How about you?  What is the work you are going to show up for every day?

“Dad Movie Poster…”  from Paula Navarro in Timepast – Movie Posters I Saw

Early Morning Meditations from Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton

I was up early this morning – too early.  I was awakened by one of my “vocation dreams” where I imagine doing something new and different in my life and then wake myself up analyzing if it is possible.

Today, there was no going back to sleep, so I decided to look for a decent documentary on Netflix.  It took some searching, but I found one called Merton: A Film Biography.

Thomas Merton was many things in his life.  A little French boy of artistic parents, orphaned by age 15.  A bright, yet carousing student at Cambridge, then Columbia.  A Roman Catholic convert, received into the Cistercian order at the Abbey of Gethsemani, Kentucky.  A hard-working Trappist monk devoted to the contemplative life of prayer.  A poet and philosopher who sought to bring healing to a desperately wounded society.  A hermit who found in Buddhist writings and friendships companionship for a Christian walk.  A spiritual pilgrim who bridged the distance between East and West.

There have been many things written by and about Thomas Merton.  To dig deeper, I encourage you to visit the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University (I think I may take a pilgrimage myself there soon).  For today, I simply want to share with you a few of Merton’s own words (and a prayer) to challenge and inspire you – as they have me.

Do not depend on the hope of results. You may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. You gradually struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationship that saves everything.  (source unknown)

The more you try to avoid suffering, the more you suffer, because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you, in proportion to your fear of being hurt. The one who does most to avoid suffering is, in the end, the one who suffers most.    (from The Seven Storey Mountain)

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.    (from Thoughts in Solitude)

(photo of Thomas Merton from Wesley Ramey in People I Admire)

Out of Nineveh: My Life with (and without) God – Part I

St. Jonah

 

When I was born, Nineveh was no longer the capital of an evil Assyrian empire.

It was a small town in the Midwest, straight out of Hoosiers

With a mother seeking comfort, finding passing victory in valium

And a father consumed by work and entangled by emotions unexpressed.

Their friends put beer in my bottle and laughed

At the toddler toddling tipsy to the turf.

 

A picture in my uncle’s yearbook shows me at 3.

In the crowd at a basketball game,

Eyes riveted on the action; not reacting like the others.

Serious, searching for substance in the orange globe of a ball.

As if God had put it there.

 

Sports gave structure to my days.

Something to do to escape.

Countless hours at the school playground,

I was Pistol Pete Maravich.

Each shot a last-second buzzer beater,

A ticket to immortality.

 

When my parents divorced,

I was made to choose where to live.

I chose to live with Dad where I could be free

To eat Braunsweiger and Nacho Cheese Doritoes

Until I made myself sick.

 

Dad’s buddies came over to drink Budweiser,

One asked, “Do you like to play with yourself?”

I said, “Sure.”

He burst out laughing: spewed beer through his nose.

 

I moved in with Mom and Dan, my step-father.

He was an EMT and liked to carry guns.

We watched “Emergency” during dinner.

Dan would yell at the TV, shouting instructions.

 

They argued a lot – Mom and Dan.

One day Dan pulled out his gun and started waving it ar0und.

I felt a sharp stab in my gut and yelled out.

Mom got Dan to look at me.

He decided my appendix had burst, so he called the ambulance,

They called it gastritous.

I think it was the finger of God.

 

I was driven to succeed in high school

In sports and studies.

My senior year I discovered girls

Pam Murray, in particular –

Her dad was a missionary.

To date her, I had to go to church,

Which I gladly did.

She was looking for more than kisses and cuddles.

I wanted more than her body had to offer.

 

At 18, I was on top of the world

But it was not such a steady place to stand.

I had mono when I gave the graduation speech.

I talked about the need for faith,

With a runny nose.

 

I recited the poem “Richard Cory” – which begins,

Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.

And ends…

So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.

 

the story continues…

Sent to Serve: My Life with (and without) God – Part II

Prayer, Parenting, Pits, and Pills: My Life with (and without) God – Part III

A Clarion Call: My Life with (and without) God – Part IV

Alone in a Fog: My Life with (and without) God – Part V

On a Teeter-Totter: My Life with (and without) God – Part VI

In the Heart of the Finger Lakes: My Life with (and without) God – Part VII

Chosen to Adopt: My Life with (and without) God – Part VIII

Lost on Long Island: My Life with (and without) God – Part IX

(image “St. Jonah” from Mauricio Alfonso Naya in Art / Illustration / Etc.)

Writing Well: Working Hard to Find the Right Voice

Hard at Work by pangalactic gargleblaster and the heart of gold

In his book Writing Well, Mark Tredinnick claims that good writing is “half gift and half hard work”.  One might debate the percentages.  I’ve heard it said that success is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration.  But since writing is a form of art, perhaps it does rely more heavily on giftedness.  The point is, though, you can become a much better writer if you just work hard, whether you are gifted or not.

When I was younger, I played basketball.  I played a lot.  I had aspirations of playing professionally, but I had some significant obstacles – my small stature, inability to jump, and lack of speed.  I also had no stamina and occasionally threw up if I ran too much.

But I worked hard and eventually earned a starting position on the varsity team of a mid-size school in the Hoosier state where basketball players are akin to demi-gods.

I played fairly well and contributed to our team’s winning season.  The local newspaper reporter often had nice things to say about me in his articles.  I’ll never forget, though, one comment he made that never made it into print.  He said –

You know, for someone without any talent, that Tony Roberts is a darn good ballplayer.

I was hurt at the time, but I’ve come to view it as a supreme compliment.  He recognized that I had worked hard to play as well as I did.  He acknowledged that I was contributing to our team’s success as much or perhaps even more than more gifted players.

If your goal in writing is to become the next William Faulkner, you will no doubt become sorely disappointed.  But you can write better, serve an audience of readers, maybe even become published and gain a following, if you work hard.

The first area of concern Tredinnick addresses in his book is the writer’s “voice”.  There is an intimate relationship between writing and speaking, but this does not mean we should necessarily write exactly how we speak.  What if we stutter?  What if we struggle to express ourselves when we talk?  Tredinnick states the goal this way –

Good writing is the best kind of conversation you never heard.

Good writing captures the essence of believable conversation (whether it be dialogue or narrative), but it also improves the quality of the cadance, the rhythm, and turns the humdrum sound of careless spoken words into carefully crafted music.

Good writing is a transcendent kind of talking.

Whether it be an essay, a love letter, a piece of flash fiction, a nature poem, an article, or a blog post, we should aim to write our words in such a way that, in stringing them together one at a time, they become a song worth singing – a song full of beauty and meaning.

Here’s an exercise –

Listen closely to a conversation going on around you – in a coffee shop or library or office.  When you have the opportunity, write up the conversation adapting the language to make it sing.

If you accept the challenge, send me a link in the comments section of this post.  In my next post, I’ll show you mine and maybe include some of yours (with your consent).

(picture “Hard at Work” from pangalactic gargleblaster and…, some rights reserved)

Anything Can Happen

Tony - Work

As we approach the new year, it is tempting to set far-reaching goals to change our habits, adapt our lifestyle, transform our character.  It is important, though, to pay attention to the details, to follow the process step by step and let the outcome take care of itself.  It is better to focus on doing what is good and right rather than pursuing greatness.

There’s a great scene in the movie “Dad” in which Jack Lemmon, as an aging father in his hospital bed, shares with his son, played by Ted Danson, some of the wisdom he’s gained through years of living.  His mind wanders to a World Series baseball game in which a second-string left fielder – Al Gionfriddo –  finally given the opportunity to play after years of waiting on the bench, saves the game by catching a near-home run ball hit off the bat of Joe DiMaggio.

 “You know what that story means?”  asks the father.

“What, Dad?” asks his son.

The father’s face breaks into a smile as he looks into his son’s eyes.

“Anything can happen if you show up for work every day.”

Since I’m on disability, I don’t have a conventional job to show up for every day.  But I do have daily work with which I’m going to occupy myself.

1) Pray every day.  In addition to meditation, I’m going to renew the practice of keeping a prayer journal to be more mindful of including praise (Wow, God!) and thanksgiving (Thank you, Lord.) as well as confession (Forgive me.), intercession (Please help others.), and petition (Grant me, Lord…)

2) Read every day.  This includes a reflective reading of a passage of Scripture (a chapter or so) as well as readings of classics – right now it’s The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner (on audio books), contemporary fiction (downloading e-books) and blog posts.

3) Write every day.  This month, my focus has been on developing this blog.  I plan to continue regular posting, but I have other projects as well.  I have a completed draft of a devotional book I wrote a couple years back that I want to revise and prepare for publication.  I’m meeting with some business owners and a community group about doing some blogging for them to enhance the traffic on their websites.  I expect to do a good bit of writing in my Internship which I hope will begin soon.  I really want to be more faithful writing letters to my two oldest daughters.

So those are my goals for 2013.

Pray.  Read. Write.

Every day.  And if I do, anything can happen.

How about you?  What is the work you are going to show up for every day?

(image “dictionary definition: work” from Jaboney, some rights reserved)

What Work is Worth (and our worship of money)

linkedin

I’ve recently connected with a man named Tripp Babbitt on LinkedIn.  Tripp is a columnist, blogger, and speaker.  His blog is entitled “Tripp Babbitt’s Blog: The No Tool Zone“.  In it, he covers a range of topics related to business productivity, organizational structure, efficiency, and the like.  As I browsed the site, I was drawn to one post in particular – “Labor Day Reflection“.  Tripp reflects on Labor Days past and present –

     The first Labor day in the US was celebrated September 5, 1882.  A “Workingmen’s Holiday” as it was called.

Living in Indianapolis, you run into Labor Unions that have slowly but progressively disappeared.  Sure, you still have the Teacher’s Unions and many others but workers in Unions represent about 11.8% of all wage and salary workers.  This number has dropped over the years.

Babbitt goes on to concede that unions have been targeted for blame of late and this blame has spilled over to the average worker.  He admits that he grew up with such bias and that he went to college to “be better than that“.

Then, Babbitt comes to the realization – “However, when you look at the engine that makes things run it is truly more the workers.”   I applaud him for this recognition.

He also identifies the tragic irony of who shoulders most of the blame when negotiations break down.  He writes –

The salaries these folks [CEOs] command and the disparity to workers has come under increasing scrutiny.  The ratio was 24-1 and now is a whopping 243 -1 according to a 2010 survey.  The fact is that such disparity is sometimes deserved, but more often it is not.  Yet, unions and the worker have come under more scrutiny than CEOs, unless of course… you break the law.

While I would contend that such disparity is never deserved, my primary question is – “How have we gotten to this point and where do we go from here?”  The problem is multi-faceted, but I think one key factor is our attitude toward wealth.  Not just the attitude of those who are wealthy, but also those who deep-down want to be.  Consider ….

– The time, money, and energy spent by people of modest (and less than modest) means on get-rich schemes such as the lottery, gambling, pyramid plans, and frivilous lawsuits.

– The frenzied following of outrageously rich athletes, entertainers, and technological wizards.

– The blank check we write to the military-industrial complex in the name of having a “strong defense” instead of having a “lean, mean fighting machine” that would cost the tax payer much less.

It seems to me if we are going to make any headway honoring common laborers and promoting an honest day’s work, we have to get over our worship of money – not just what others have, but what we wish we had too.

more on work… “Good Work, God’s Work

(image of Linkedin logo from Shekhar_Sahu, some rights reserved)