A Whiter Shade of Pale

 

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The Procol Harum song from 1967 is full of skillful instrumentation and some mystical lyrics. It is an iconic song as far as rock ‘n roll is concerned and many people know it well. I thought of this song as I searched for this photograph of Carson, our Westie, which I took in the summer of 2018. Carson was indeed white when clean, but took on various shades of pale, especially after digging in dirt which was almost a daily ritual for him !

The song’s meaning is full of conjecture and possibly some unpleasantness. My intent is only to focus on the title which fits the image I chose. Our world is full of questions and much conjecture due to the pandemic. We read and hear daily of one-sentence snippets of hope and encouragement for which I question their benefit. On the flip side are the purveyors of doom-and-gloom forecasts. I doubt these are helpful to anyone.

So, we exist in a time where there seems to be a lot of pale and very little white which I equate with truth and purity (not about skin color). This much I feel is certain…our world will not be the same once we are rid of this virus and its devastating effects. My purpose is to look at the positives that will come (and are currently taking place) out of this uncertain experience. Hope is an essential ingredient, as is a real dose of unbiased reality. Remain vigilant in staying engaged and find an anchor to hold onto to. Mine is Jesus. I hope you stay secure. Carson was.

 

Coming of Age

The term Coming of Age is roughly translated to mean the period when a youth transitions into an adult. Ages vary from culture to culture, but the adolescent years are generally considered to be in-sync with this term. Sometimes this period is marked by special ceremonies which celebrate this passage from childhood to adulthood. However it is defined (or wherever) there is a universal sense about this period in one’s life. In America, many adults recall this season with fondness. Like the carnival sign below, very often our youth is remembered as a magic carpet ride, full of fun, fun, fun and zero difficulties or troublesome issues. That’s not exactly how I recall my youth, although there were plenty of fun times and the occasional magic.

The other morning – without any forethought – I began to think about this term which, in turn, took me back to my childhood, through my teen years and into the early adult years. Funny how the mind works sometimes because I can’t figure out what triggered this avalanche of mental images. Although this piece may seem like a vain trip down nostalgia’s road, this is not what I want to explore or present. Rather, I desire to probe the era where so much change occurred and I developed so many of my habits, convictions, perceptions and responses to life’s challenges. Perhaps some of my examples may resonate with you.

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My childhood years were pretty wonderful with few cares in my world. The only serious issues during this period were my asthma which put me in the hospital on a pretty consistent basis, and my mom’s second divorce. Life for me and my family wasn’t always easy, especially as we entered our second decade of living, and there were real hardships, and even dysfunction for a while, but mostly the memories are positive, and I count my blessings. Memories are powerful and can transform my mood in either direction. When the bad ones pop up, I strive to reject them so they won’t haunt me. When the good ones sprout I grab onto them and relish their soothing effect on my soul. Memories, moods and behavior are inseparably linked.

Enter adolescence with the exuberance and the baggage that comes with it. These are the years that most think about when a child develops into a young adult. Do you remember? Some days I would be on top of the world-I could hardly stand how great I felt- and other days I was so uncertain of myself and growing up that I barely coped. Mood swings, the blues, jumpin’ for joy at times, and periods of serious contemplation attended these lean years of growing up. Life seemed either superbly great or fearfully awful. Certainly there were many mundane days, but life as an adolescent seemed like an uncertain adventure most of the time.

Those were the days of close friendships and enemies; independence and peer pressure; standing tall and compromising; achieving and failing; caution and recklessness; confidence and self-doubting; dares and stupid follow-throughs; puberty, attractions, dating and lots of questions; first loves, first jobs, heartaches and disappointments; courage and fear; learning and repeating the same mistakes; muscle cars and fist fights; rock-n-roll and solitude; learning and ignoring; war and peace; politics-good and bad; Wide World of Sports and soap operas; bell bottoms, mini-skirts and ugly glasses; drugs and the war on drugs; family mealtimes and TV dinners; regular visits to the moon and ballistic missiles; peace rallies and riots; drag racing and getting caught; hanging out and clicks; drive-in movies and drinking. Yes, we had it all during my coming of age years, and I probably just touched the surface.

My later teen years morphed into the early twenties and shared some of the same dynamics as adolescence, but not nearly as extreme. Maturity began to overcome the child in me and what I learned actually made sense. I began to see the world in a different light and comprehended the vastness of the universe and complexities of life. There were many wonderful moments during these years, and there were just as many tough ones, but they all contributed to my development into the person I am today. During this period of my life I was similar to most other young persons, in that I thought I knew more than most adults-including my parents. You can laugh now! Time and the School of Hard Knocks have taught me the folly of such thinking.

It has occurred to me that our entire lives are really coming of age times. As we mature we become wiser, thereby reducing the mistakes, failures and mishaps. Obviously, we are never free of these negatives and their consequences. On the flip side, the positives and their consequences accompany us, as well. Each day…each year produces new experiences and sensations; some feel completely fresh and alive while others seem routine and pedestrian. Some are short-lived and others stretch-out for what seems to be too long. Regardless, we are still coming of age in the same way as when we experienced the transition from adolescence to adulthood. I believe the difference is one of perspective: the traditional concept is more or less age-based, while our current transitions are reflective-based. By that, I mean we transition from one level of understanding to another through the process of evaluating the past, present and future. We have a lifetime of experience and learning to fall back on. As we are constantly being presented with new and challenging concepts and situations, we can respond with increasing assurance.

What was once a mystery usually turns out to be a truth or a lie. Yet, some ambiguity remains in our lives because we live in a world with ever-changing dynamics. We are finite creatures with limitations which restrict our full understanding about everything we encounter. This frustrates many…the not knowing. That is not to say I turn my back on education; by no means! For each new day we probe deeper and deeper into the unknown, we discover abundant and new facts which challenge and change us. This is a wonderful thing about being human. However, we must not deceive ourselves into thinking we can know ‘it ‘ all…we will always be left wanting.

For me, the only constant is found in a God who was and is and always will be the same. This is my reality. I recognize it is not everyone’s. I find security in this truth, for no matter how much chaos surrounds me, I know God doesn’t panic or wring His hands wondering what will happen next. He has it all figured out for He is sovereign over all creation. Amazingly, all He asks of me is to simply trust Him. And, I do. Hopefully, you do, too. The ultimate coming of age will occur when I see His glorious face in the light of eternity.

Clinging

Craig's Crossing 5-23-14 009To cling or not to cling, that is the question, at least for the purpose of this post.

Clinging is a rather fascinating word because it includes so many adaptations. Consider this photograph of a creeping vine steadily growing up and around this old wooden post…clinging to it like a cat who injects her claws in your flesh after an aerobic jump from chair to shoulder (I know this scenario well). Or, consider how a small child clings to his mom when he is uncomfortable in a particular situation-mom couldn’t pry the child off her with a crow bar. What about clinging to something for safety. Think of grabbing onto a rock wall as the ledge underneath you gives way. There is no chance you will release your grip until you secure firm footing, someone rescues you or you simply can’t hold on any longer. And then there are the endless objects which we cling to for security and the numerous people that we cling to for all manner of reasons. Our clinging isn’t limited to the tangible, but also includes concepts, theories and dreams.

Clinging: it denotes the positive as well as the negative. So, as I considered the vine clinging to the post I thought of things I cling to…or have clung to in the past. Wow, did that thought break open Pandora’s box. BTW, I don’t know Pandora, but she sure does get credited for many things! Perhaps you can relate to some of these examples.

I have clung to habits which seemingly provided security or comfort at the time, but I either outgrew them or became aware of what they really were…crutches. I have clung to other people in the hope that they would make me better or bigger somehow. This type of clinging usually ended up in disappointment. I have clung to ideas which shaped my outlook on life; some helped me grow and some didn’t. I have clung too tightly to a few I have loved which suffocated them and exhausted me. On the flip-side I have clung to values and principles which have positively guided me. And, I have clung to truths which have shaped my response to many of life’s uncertainties and challenges.

Currently, I am clinging to the hope that the future will be brighter, better and more fulfilling. Perhaps such clinging may prove to be counter-productive, but I am hoping that is not the case. I strive to cling to the Old Rugged Cross, especially in times of trials and pain. This clinging is always beneficial, but too often lacks consistency. I am drawn to cling to that which I find familiar, helpful or distracting. Familiar clinging brings a sense of order and security. I would describe helpful clinging as anything which benefits the person without having poor side-effects. Clinging is such an easy way to cope with the difficulties of life. It really doesn’t matter what the distraction is as long as it works. Problem…distractions don’t last very long and must be repeated to keep one’s mind off the thing they want to avoid. So, we tend to cling onto these more and more. This type of clinging can often become destructive to the person and relationships.

Since clinging can be beneficial or harmful (my humble opinion), the outcome depends on what the object is that we cling to and the reason why we choose to cling. This is cause for serious self-evaluation from time-to-time. We don’t want to be too serious too often for that dynamic creates the opposite of clinging…namely fleeing. However, it is wise to pause once and again to consider what it is I am clinging to, and to ask oneself if it is healthy.

One of the most wonderful things to cling to isn’t an object, a relationship or even a concept. It is actually best described as a feeling, although it is also referred to as an expectation. The word which describes this feeling of expectation is hope, and without it we dry up and give up. Without hope, life becomes dull, boring, predictable, worthless, and simply undesirable. To the contrary, when one is full of hope life has purpose (no matter how difficult or tragic), more meaning, more wonder, and certainly more joy than a life void of it. To be without hope is to be filled with a sense of dread and impending doom. Such a tragic way to view and live life. But, alas, many do live this way.

So, here is a toast to living with hope. Hope that a loved one will come home from foreign soil. Hope that a relationship will mend. Hope that a loss won’t be the end of things. Hope that there is a God who really does care and is in control. Hope that He loves you and you find Him. Hope that the sun will rise tomorrow and birds will sing their joyful songs. Hope that babies will grow old. Hope that older adults don’t become children again. Hope that one will always have a friend or two to count on. Hope that nothing can destroy one’s integrity. Hope that children in impoverished nations will be fed, clothed, educated, treated with dignity and allowed to become responsible adults. Hope that wars will cease and hunger end. Hope that cancer will be beaten. Hope that life has more pluses than minus’. And the list goes on and on. There is enough hope to go around for everyone so give hope a try…even if you aren’t up to it. As the Apostle Paul so eloquently expressed in his famous chapter on love (1 Corinthians13), “These three remain: faith, hope and love”. For hope to be bookended by faith and love makes it a very important verb to live by. May we all experience the blessing of hope every day of our lives.