Tag Archives: life

In a Few Words

airbnb

The Airbnb concept is somehow both weird and intuitive.  It is weird to spend the night in a perfect stranger’s home, but then again it makes sense to get some use out of something otherwise unused at a mutually beneficial price.

The service thrives on customer reviews, of course.  For instance, any review with “there were creepy people playing with snakes” will pretty much guarantee that I will keep looking.  On the other hand, “there were creepy people playing with snakes—and free churros” might persuade me to stay more than one night.  So it is in the best interest of the host to provide a pleasant stay, which leads to good reviews, which leads to more business.  You know, Economics 101.

What I did not know until recently is that the hosts can also review the guests.  Makes sense, I guess, but I will admit to being a little nervous when I recently received my first review by an Airbnb host.  Here is what I got: “Al is clean and kind.”

I am incredibly proud.  Absolutely love it.  Mark it down, when I check out of the Airbnb called Life, I believe that is headstone worthy.

It reminded me of a great Anne Lamott story (in Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith, 37-45) when she helped her friend with a dance class for adults with special needs.  Several days later, Anne’s friend told her that after the class one of the students said, “I liked those old ladies!  They were helpers, and they danced.”  Those are the words Lamott wants on her gravestone.

I have had more opportunities to be around death so far than I remember requesting and each instance got me to thinking.  After all the resume drafts, and after all the performance reviews, and after all the updating the LinkedIn profile—and even after the obituary is written, read, and recorded—a few numbers and a few words are engraved on a rock in an attempt to sum up one’s life.  An entire life in just a few words.

What will your words be?  I’m just saying, clean and kind ain’t bad.

Running in Circles

Heritage-High-School-Wake-Forest-Latex-Track-New-Construction-2A recent morning run triggered memories of high school track meets in the 1980s.  I ran the distance races for the mighty Falcons, and we barely had time to get off the bus in those days before the 3200 meters race began.  Nothing like racing eight laps around the track to get your afternoon going.

Our first meets of the season often took place in a tiny town called Corning, Arkansas, whose population sign answered, Yes, please.  (Just kidding, more like three thousand.)  Corning’s track sat in the middle of, well, nothing but empty space that provided no break from the strong March winds that seemed to be ever-present.

So it was always cold on those eight laps around the track.  Coach Watson insisted that we remove our sweats and wear only our track uniform when we raced despite the weather conditions.  Our uniform consisted of tiny maroon shorts that as best I recall were made out of cheap construction paper and a white mesh tank top with a maroon stripe.  We provided our own goosebumps.

I remember Corning in particular and those killer eight laps because a quarter of the time was spent running directly into that terrible wind.  Another quarter involved flying down the track with the wind at our back unable to breathe because all available oxygen had been snatched from our desperate gasps.  The corners in between were the best shot of relief, although there the wind tended to blow you into the lanes you had not intended to run in.

So it was a good memory.

Well, it was good in the sense that it occurred to me that those races are pretty indicative of life in general.  There are times when the wind is so at your back that you can hardly breathe.  There are others when the wind is so in your face that you can hardly move.  And there are still others when the wind blows you off course despite your best efforts.  Life leaves you longing for some gentle rhythm yet wondering if you are accomplishing anything beyond running in circles.

My best advice is to move to Southern California where the weather is far more hospitable for running.  But that doesn’t speak to the reality of life.  For that, all I have learned is that you can expect all of the above and more.  And that bracing for each shift in the winds is preferable to being surprised at each turn.

 

This Unpredictable Life

18253094_119542288608447_7804326198149906432_n(1)We travelers, walking to the sun, can’t see
Ahead, but looking back the very light
That blinded us shows us the way we came,
Along which blessings now appear, risen
As if from sightlessness to sight, and we,
By blessing brightly lit, keep going toward
That blessed light that yet to us is dark.
– Wendell Berry, Given: Poems 74 (2006).

I first traveled to California ten years ago to attend the 64th Annual Pepperdine Bible Lectures.  At the time it seemed possible that it would be my first and only trip to beautiful Malibu (ironically blogging at the time, “I cannot imagine working in this gorgeous setting.”).  Life is funny.  By the next year, we were planning a crazy cross-country move to Pepperdine for law school with absolutely no idea that we would just stay—and “absolutely” absolutely no idea that I would ever return to full-time ministry.  So you can imagine the crazy déjà vu feelings this week when “Lecture Central” took up residence in my office for the 74th Annual Pepperdine Bible Lectures.

Life apparently is analogous to a box of chocolates (all rights reserved).

Life is unpredictable, and if you give me enough time to think about it I can pull my brain muscle.  What if we had stayed in Mississippi?  What if we had left California?  How did we really end up here?  Where are we headed now?  What’s for lunch?

But you know what?  I do know exactly how we got here: One day at a time.  And I’m pretty sure that’s how we will get wherever it is we find ourselves ten years from now, too.

Henri Nouwen wrote, “The real enemies of our life are the ‘oughts’ and the ‘ifs.’  They pull us backward into the unalterable past and forward into the unpredictable future.  But real life takes place in the here and now.”  I’m with Nouwen on this one.  I’m not good at it, but I’m with him.

Still, looking back every now and then, as Berry so beautifully described, provides nice motivation for the journey forward.

Beauty in the Fog

17932387_153447835186184_4417267868438102016_n(1)Our 2008 move from Mississippi to Malibu sounds like a seismic culture shift, but moving from affluent, artsy, coastal Ocean Springs, Mississippi, to affluent, artsy, coastal Malibu was not as mind-blowing as you’d think. Okay, it was mind-blowing, just not as mind-blowing as you’d think.

One of the major differences is simply topographical. Ocean Springs sits on the super flat Mississippi Gulf Coast. Malibu officially sits at sea level, too, but that is only half the picture since the vast ocean spectacularly combines with equally stunning mountains. The views we are privileged to enjoy on the Pepperdine campus are ridiculous, and quite often we awaken to see that we are actually above the clouds. It is like a flight with adequate leg room and spacious bathroom facilities.

Recently, on such a morning, I drove from Sunshine Mountain down into the murky clouds for a beachside run along Malibu Road. It is one of my favorite runs because it is nearby, flat, quiet, and scenic, but it isn’t quite as scenic on mornings when the clouds decide to take a nap on the surface of the planet. Despite the cloud cover, I took off with eyes wide open since I have developed a habit of memorializing each morning run with a photograph. It was a challenge. The crashing waves were pretty great in the fog, but not so much for my increasingly outdated iPhone camera, and the horizon was simply nowhere to be seen.

And then I noticed the flowers. The reds and purples, the yellows and lavenders, all nestled in a setting of green and white, almost shy and hiding in the morning fog.

Life lessons exploded from the haze like the colorful flowers. For starters, when life descends into a fog, remember to look for the beauty that is ever present. But also, when life floats in the sunshine above the gray clouds, remember to go to the trouble of joining the world struggling through the smothering gloom. It would be tragic to miss out on the stunning grace that can be found in the obscurity.

Seasons of Life

Baker
(Photo credit: Jeff Baker)

Spring starts today.  Blues, greens, and yellows.  Sunshine.  Seeds.  Awakening.  Renewal.  Fragrant flowers.  Planting.  Warm breezes.  Imagination.  

Unless you live in the Southern Hemisphere, of course, where autumn starts today.  Browns, oranges, and yellows.  Moonlight.  Abundance.  Rest.  Crunchy leaves.  Earthy haystacks.  Harvest.  Crisp air.  Reflection.  

We share the same planet and yet find ourselves at very different stages.

I once read of a particular culture, possibly a group of Eskimos, who believed that you died every cold, dark night when you succumbed to sleep and that each morning you awakened to a miraculous new life.  What a concept: spring every morning and autumn every evening!

Instead, our world is, to put it precisely, polarized.

We share the same planet and yet find ourselves at very different stages.  It will be the same with those you encounter today.  Be sure to notice.

It’s About Time

slipping-away_time

If you ever feel like time keeps slipping away from you, avoid Saturday night when Daylight Savings Time snags a full hour without so much as a please or thank you. The big jerk.

I know, I know, it donated a free hour half a year ago, which I celebrated at the time, so this is just time to settle up. Doesn’t mean I have to like it. I try to make good use of all the hours I get in this blessed life, but it is kind of hard to keep up when they just disappear without a trace.

So here is my plan: I’m going to take it back. Ha! Try to mess with me, Mr. Time; you don’t know who you’re messing with. I’ll play along, change my clocks, actually show up to work on time, like everything is cool, but when no one is looking I’m going to take an hour all Harry Potter like, just out of thin air, and do something awesome with it and rub it in Time’s face. The big jerk.

I haven’t decided exactly what I will do with this reclaimed hour, but I have a few ideas. Like a mountain hike. Or people watch. Or count stars. Or play goofy games with children. Or savor an ice cream sundae. Or, just sit and feel the ocean breeze. Whatever it is, it won’t make sense or be productive or check anything off a list. It will be something excellent, and it will drive Time crazy since it seems hell bent on stealing precious hours from me. The big jerk.

If time slips away from me, I think I’ll just take it right back.

Me & Pepperdine Law

 

DCF 1.0

Me as a 1L (August 2008)

In October 2007, in the midst of what now seems like a mid-life crisis my wife and I concluded that I would apply to law school, so I went to Barnes & Noble to purchase an LSAT study book and signed up for the December administration and secretly began to imagine where we might end up.

Initially, there were two schools on the list.  Ole Miss was a strong choice for a Mississippi resident, but I also had dreams of Pepperdine two thousand miles away.  I had visited the breathtaking campus once for the Pepperdine Bible Lectures and spent time with my good friend, Mikey, who taught English there, and the idea of law school at Pepperdine was how I imagined it would feel to win the lottery.

Here I am, over nine years later, and I am pretty sure that I won the lottery.

My wildest dreams did include law school at Pepperdine, but nowhere in those wildest dreams did I think it would be my home for nine consecutive years.  Well, during my first semester of law school, I did think that it might take nine years to learn enough to graduate (if ever) but once I survived that first semester it never occurred to me that I might have the honor to work in this special place for six years after law school.

Tomorrow, I hear there is some sort of farewell party as I transition into a new role as the preaching minister for the University Church of Christ here on campus.  This is directly backwards.  I should be throwing a party for the law school out of sheer gratitude for these past nine years.

I learned so much from the faculty, many of whom became close friends.  I was a proud member of the staff and developed deep relationships as we worked together.  But the students…well, I don’t even know how to begin to describe how special the students have been to me.  From being a student to serving them, spending time with students has been my deepest honor.

Meetings with prospective students.  Move-in days at the George Page apartments.  Launch Weeks.  Freak-out moments.  Personal tragedies.  “Is-law-school-right-for-me-after-all” conversations.  Academic successes.  Academic challenges.  Final exams.  A zillion emails.  Facebook groups.  Administrative announcements.  Just for 1Ls/2Ls/3Ls.  APIL auctions.  Santa Anita horse races.  Orange books.  Dodgeball tournaments.  Quiet gyms.  Saturday morning runs in Santa Monica.  Law school dinners.  Student organization events.  Open conversations.  Global village days.  Sack lunch Saturdays.  Interfaith evenings.  Sunday morning Bible studies.  Wednesday nights at the Gashes.  Thanksgiving dinners.  Job searches.  Moral character applications.  Graduation celebrations.  The dark days of bar summers.  Bar lunches.  Swearing-in ceremonies.  Even officiating twelve weddings!

View More: http://emmaandjosh.pass.us/howaniecwedding

It is all too much to capture in words right now.  I can just say that it has been a deep honor to walk alongside impressive human beings on an arduous journey.

We law school folks say that law school is a marathon, not a sprint.  Mine took nine years.  And it was awesome.

Bring It On

friday-13

Happy Friday the 13th!

I suspect we are all more superstitious than we want to admit.  I don’t like to switch positions on the sofa when my team is playing well on television, which just makes tons of sense.  But, come on, because a particular numbered day falls on a Friday bad things are expected to occur?  That seems a bit illogical.

So I consulted my friend, Google, and searched “good things that happened on Friday the 13th” for proof that all this is silliness.  This returned several lists that shared the following highlights:

  • Ben Franklin said “nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes.” (1789)
  • The accordion was patented. (1854)
  • Alfred Hitchcock was born. (1899)
  • Black Sabbath released their first album. (1970)

Um.  Those are the highlights?  Maybe I should stay indoors today.

It didn’t help to learn that some really bad things have happened on Friday the 13th.

  • The collapse of the Aztec Empire. (1521)
  • The first of seventy-six consecutive nights that Germany bombed London. (1940)
  • An oxygen tank exploded on Apollo 13. (1970)
  • Tupac was pronounced dead. (1996)

I’m not feeling better.

And coincidentally (?) law school grades are released to our first-year students today.  This will be a particularly good day for several of our students, but experts in mathematics informed me that 90% of the students will not be in the top 10% of the class (I double-checked their math to be sure of this).  More disappointment than elation on the way.

So what to do today?  Well, I have to go to work.  But beyond that, I have a carefully designed plan of attack:

  • Face the world head-on;
  • Bob and weave; and
  • Dive into the fray singing the classic song from our Malibu neighbor, Pat Benatar: “Hit me with your best shot!”

When I go down, misfortune will at least be worn out from the fight.

It’s a Sickness

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I’ve been thinking about sickness lately, primarily because most everyone in our office suite has taken a turn and the rest of us are a little jumpy.  I mean, someone coughs, and the rest of us instinctively dive across the room and stick to the wall like Velcro.  Miraculously, we all still seem to like each other: We’re just equally terrified of each other right now.

And then last Sunday my wife and I enjoyed a nice afternoon date at a neighborhood urgent care and discovered that she had strep throat.  She probably had strep throat before we went to urgent care, but one can never be certain.  I mostly spent my time there hovering over a plastic chair and practicing not breathing.  It was just for fourteen thousand hours or so.

I’m not technically a germophobe.  I’m more of a germo-philosopher who would rather not get sick.

The worst part of when “something is going around” has to be the paranoia.  If someone with the plague sneezes in your mouth, well sure, buy a box of Kleenex and head for the sofa, but more often than not we spend our waking hours convinced that every single physical contact with anything is fatal (e.g., Where has that paperclip been?).  This is quickly confirmed by the tickling in the throat and the warm body temperature that immediately arrives after coming into contact with every single thing.

So what do you do when the world you inhabit is virus-infested and nowhere is safe?  Maybe you’re the type that wears a mask and washes your hands like you’re destroying evidence, or maybe you’re the type that lives in denial convinced that you’ve cracked the code and are dodging invisible germs like a fighter pilot.  Either way, you can’t hide forever, and you have to go out and live life anyway.

There’s a metaphor in there somewhere.  Life can sometimes feel like a dangerous place with invisible forces that you don’t know how to avoid.  Go live life anyway.  If it gets you, at least go down swinging.

Spinning Plates

spinning-plates

“Have patience.  All things are difficult before they become easy.” – Saadi

Some days when life is particularly challenging I search Monster.com for openings with the circus, but since scooping elephant poop is less attractive than pretty much anything, I rarely finish the cover letter.  There is one circus art directly in my wheelhouse—plate spinning.  However, it is the constant challenge of keeping plates spinning that makes me consider the circus in the first place.

Life has been particularly full recently, which is one way to describe a plate count.  This isn’t the first time, nor do I anticipate it being (or even want it to be) the last, but it does feel different, and that difference eventually came clear: Not only are there many plates spinning, but various life developments have created plate spinning performances in multiple rooms for multiple audiences.  It isn’t the plate spinning act that is challenging: It is the running back and forth between acts that is difficult.

You may not believe me when I say that this is neither complaint nor cry for help.  But this is neither a complaint nor a cry for help.  It really is okay, more than okay, and I find the challenge exhilarating despite some periodic exhaustion.  I’m just adjusting to a new understanding that I am a plate spinning artist who is working on a new act and that people will pay good money for a ticket and some cotton candy to enjoy the show.  I’m just honored to be on stage.

New circumstances often come with a bonus gift of questioning whether it is worth the effort.  As a general rule, it is at least worth the effort to practice patience to see where the new circumstances lead.

I am certain there is no need to join the circus.  My life is already a bizarre, traveling show!