Memory Maker

fall trees

Here in the Northeast, we are quickly moving into the fall season. The last day or so of August brings a change that says, “Get ready”, because there is a coolness in the air that is unmistakable. We have already seen a few leaves show a seasonal color change that will eventually rival the best imagination. Splashes of red, brown, orange and yellow have come out as the evenings have come more quickly and the morning dew has laid heavy and wet on the ground. Early morning fog now blankets river-valleys and fields in a wispy shroud of white, and the melancholy music of a string of geese overhead adds a hauntingly ancient sound as a backdrop for what is yet to come.

These things herald in a very nostalgic time of year for me, and for those who live in the Northeast. We look forward to it, and even though it means winter is moving in our direction, there are still plenty of clear, brilliantly colored days and brisk nights yet to be enjoyed. We are a hardy bunch, and this seasonal change stirs something in our blood and emotions that is hard to explain. It moves upon us quietly and brings an unspoken inward cry to come home, start the fire and gather the family around us. It causes us to remember life as it was, and as it should be, and we yearn to pass that on to the next generation.

I tend to be the first, of the first, to spot and announce those initial splashes of color that show up on the hills of the Adirondacks. In the later part of August I walk the banks of my trout streams and begin to look for those early “turners”. That’s the lone Maple, or the solitary Birch that seems to jump the gun and just has to change before the rest. I make my way around a bend in a stream and there it is, in all it’s glory. Overnight, an entire branch of brilliant red, orange or yellow leaves is waving in the chilled breeze saying, “Here  I am! Now you can tell everyone that Fall is officially on the way!”

From that point on, every new day brings more and more vibrant colors to the land. I see it move from tree to tree, and hillside to valley. I can smell it on the cooling wind. The aroma of moist earth or a yellow blanket of newly fallen tamarack needles floating  on a cold stream, are all part of it. The perfumed crunch of leaves under foot, and the hint of wood smoke in the air blend together into a rich mixture of smells, sounds and sights that permeates my clothes, my heart and my soul. Long forgotten memories of past autumns are stirred up, when family and friends gathered together and shared life. They bring to mind the laughter, the meals and the stories that were told over a mug of spiced cider or a slice of bread just pulled from the oven.

Fall is a time machine. It comes in on the breath of chilled Canadian air, and catches us up in brisk, clear, sunny days. It wraps us in the echoed gunshots on an autumn hillside and the earthy smells of an October forest. It is filled with change and visual images that enrich our lives down to the core. Winter is cold and barren. Spring is lush and muddy. Summer is hot and dry. But fall, …… fall is the memory maker. It is the Creator’s paintbrush, carried on the cooling breeze to the canvas of the earth. It is nature’s perfumer, experimenting with earth, leaves, water, soil and wood smoke. It is the primal symphony of winds that lift the song and the winged wonder of a string of geese as they “v” their way above.

Fall is the time we slow down and enjoy the last, lingering daylight hours of sun and warmth. These remind us that the beauty all around is a fleeting and wondrous thing, and it needs to be savored in the moment. It is the amazing sight of a huge orange moon rising above a harvested field. It is the scurry of squirrels collecting the last of the bounty they will need to carry them through the winter. It is the sight of wood stacked, the drumming a partridge and the smell of stoves and fireplaces set ablaze to drive out the dampness of frost kissed air. It is the smell of apple pies, sweet cider, roasted potatoes, corn, squash and meat cooking in an oven-warmed kitchen. Most of all, it is sharing the food of life with family and friends, and making memories, one slice of pie and cup of hot tea at a time.

This fall, slow down and enjoy the beauty of God’s creation. Make a few memories of your own. Connect with friends, neighbors, family, food and drink in a deliberate way. Choose to set aside some time to share a meal, or a cup of hot coffee, with those you love. Begin to enjoy the glory of making memories in the colored blaze of an Autumn world. All too soon your time on earth will be over, and then you will wish you had done more. Why? Because, then it will hit you that soon you will be the memory of others. I have learned that many things which seem so important, can actually wait, but making memories is not one one of them!

So in this wonderful season of colored change, put down the cell phone, turn off the TV, shut down the internet and close down your computer. Go meet with loved ones face to face. Share a meal, enjoy the view, tell stories of life well lived, breathe in the aromas of fall and become woven into the fabric of all that is to come. Let the sound, sight, smell, food and feel of autumn get inside you. Let it soak into your clothes, your thoughts, your bones and heart. Once it’s there, it will change everything, because  you will become the stuff of fall memories for those who will follow after. Become the memory maker of others, and you will leave a great legacy behind. Fail to do so, and life will simply move on and fade into the future. Now, go make some memories and enjoy the beauty of this amazing time of year!

 

Some Things Should Not Change

 

cash register

I have lived a few decades at this writing, and during that time, the things I have witnessed are amazing. So much has happened so quickly, that at times it’s hard to keep up with it all. Thus, I am convinced that some things should not change. Those truths that anchor us to reality, and remind us about life as is should be, need to remain a constant beacon of light in a darkening night of endless change.

Let me give you some examples of the changes that have happened during my brief time on earth. The Beatles upended the fabric of music, men walked on the moon, lap-top and hand-held computers arrived. DNA was discovered and the genetic manipulation of every organism is now possible. We have had numerous wars, the internet was birthed, smart phones revolutionized communication and spacecrafts traveled to and traveled on other planets, while other crafts went to every planet of our solar system and beyond. Mega-typhoons slammed the earth, men began living in orbit above the earth, the fall of both the Berlin Wall and communism happened. Terrorism by demonic religious fanatics murdered thousands, and 70 million babies have been murdered in the US through abortion on demand. Meanwhile, riots and unrest have been spread because any person with a cell phone and an agenda, can now do a live broadcast any time, and any place they want.

With all this change, distress, growth and development, I am so glad that some things have remained the same, and they needed to. Why? Because people still have to know the basics. They need to know how to have honest, personal communication. They need to know how to express their feelings, and recognize and respect the feelings of others. They need to know how to make a good meal, and enjoy it with loved ones. They need to know how to show compassion for those around them, and how to help those who are genuinely in need. They need to know right from wrong and how to spot a liar or a con-man, or when it’s time to go the extra mile for someone, even when it hurts. These are the things that make us uniquely human, and they hold life together in many wonderful ways.

The problem is, we all feel so pressed, pressured and rushed that we have nearly lost the art of doing the basics. We are distracted by cell phones at play, at home, at work and on vacation. We are bombarded by endless advertisements which encourage us to buy more and go deeper into debt, which means we have to work more to pay for it. From childhood we are entertained by violent and sexually oriented video games, movies and tv programs. To make matters worse, over the last 15 years, televisions have found a place on the wall of every store and restaurant, livingroom, bedroom and classroom. Companies have now put them on gas pumps so we are forced to listen to their annoying, self-serving drivel even while gassing up to get away from them.

The art of conversation, and building meaningful relationships, is nearly dead. Anything other than a brief Tweet or a condensed lettered text, (LOL, OMG) is considered unnecessary. A hand written letter in beautiful penmanship…..what in the world is that? It would be time-consuming, take days to deliver, and growing numbers can no longer read hand-written script. Beyond that, it’s not free. You have to go to the post office, buy the stamp, put it on the envelope and put it in a mailbox. Who has time or money to waste on that? All I can say is, if I receive a computer generated, spell checked and instantaneously, electronically delivered email to my inbox, it better be a short. I mean, get to the point, or it goes into the massive pile of spam that automatically is deleted daily from my four email accounts.

How bad has it gotten? Well, I have observed couples, or at least I assume they are couples, stopping at my local diner. This is where I go to enjoy reality with my wife, or one of my friends. There we sit, typically engaged in focused, meaningful conversation , solving the worlds problems. So, into this place comes a younger “couple” and I brace myself for the show that is about to begin. First of all, they must pry themselves away from their phones, long enough to glance at the menu. This is confusing and unsettling, because the menu is printed on paper. It’s not back-lit, there is no scroll button, and there is no instant electronic points to apply, or code to be scanned. Just as they adjust to this reality check, the next shock comes. They discover the menu is two-sided and they uncomfortably hesitate as they flip the page over to read what’s on the back.

I watch in fascination as they look at each other wondering what to do next. There is no kiosk, no electronic voice telling them how to place an order, and no flashing, ever-changing menu rolling across the wall. There is no place to tap their phone, insert a credit card or beep for service. They look helpless and bewildered, and they are about to leave this alien environment as the waitress walks around the counter and comes to their small wooden booth. When she says, “what would you like to drink hon?”, a look of relief floods over their faces and they say, “we will have a double, low-fat latte made with almond milk and a sprinkle of cinnamon”. Then a desperate confusion sets back in when the waitress says, “We have hot tea, coffee, orange juice or water. What will it be?”

In all honesty, this floor show is well worth the price of my morning tea. The facial expressions, the confusion and misplaced curiosity that shows up as the waitress hand-writes their order on a green order pad, is priceless. However, that is not yet the best of the morning’s entertainment. No… that comes when it’s time to pay. As they near the end of their coffee, the waitress, who is the only one ever on duty, places their bill on the table and just walks away. It has been hand-written, the total has also been added by hand, and it has simply been left there without a word. What they don’t understand is they have to physically get up, take it to the old red mica-topped counter to pay.

After I watch them impatiently waiting another ten minutes or so, because no one has come back to their booth, I usually point at the counter to indicate that’s where they go next. So up they go, phone in hand, and the grand finale is about to begin. I watch their stunned faces as the price of each item is separately pressed into the ancient cash register, and the hand crank is pulled back to add everything up. With a final flourish of two pulls the bell rings, the total flashes up on hand-lettered metal cards in the glass window, the cash draw pops open.  With a smile the waitress says, “that will be $3.00”. This is a pleasant surprise, because these two usually pay $5.50 a cup in some overpriced, cafeteria style coffee barista.

Then it happens, they look for a place to swipe, or tap, or insert, or scan, but it’s nowhere to be found. There is an aquward moment of question until the waitress says, “oh, we only take cash”, and then the fun begins. They frantically look at each other and begin to dig through pockets, wallets, purses, backpacks and shoulder bags. Eventually, they may pull together enough money, but at times I will chipped in an extra dollar or so, because they came up short. When that happens, just for the extra entertainment value, I let them sweat it out for a few minutes first. Finally, in true Adirondack hospitality, I come to the rescue and they thank me profusely. Once the cash is handed over, they leave the coffee shop, which has been the same for over 60 years, having had a new experience with the old, unchanged ways.

Yes, some things should never change, because they remind us of who we are, where we came from and what’s really important. They slow us down so we don’t get where we are going, too fast. Life can be rushed, it’s true, but we don’t have to be caught up in it 24/7, and miss the best that living has to offer. Find time every day to slow down, and decided for yourself what things you will hold fast. Is it a coffee shop that is frozen in time? Is it a friendship that holds conversation at a premium? Perhaps it’s a special weekend meal or a family tradition or a desert at holiday time. Whatever it is,  keep it close, enjoy it to the fullest, and let it be like a rock in the river that the rush of time must move around.

All of life may have to change, but every one of us must keep a few things forever anchored in the rich fabric and heritage of the past. These things hold us to reality and give us a point of reference to go back to when life gets too busy. From these unchanging places of stability we gain rest in the moment, insight for the present day and clarity for the days to come. Without them, we are caught in the rush of life-to-fast, and are swept along in unending change that rules over way too much of the precious time we have.

Are you feeling the crush of speed living, and the rush of constant change? Have you been over-run by adds, programing, distraction selling and the push to buy more, do more and be more?  Let me suggest that it’s time to find a small local diner, or a mom & pop coffee shop that is locked in time. These are wonderful places that have no TV’s on the wall or music in the back ground vying for your attention. They are gems from days gone by, that harken back to a time when phones hung on the wall at home, and conversations were savored over a cup of coffee and a fresh made doughnut.

When you find such a place, go there on a regular basis with a loved one, get a cup of coffee or tea, turn off your phone and just sit a while. Dunk a doughnut, eat a piece of pie and begin to enjoy the unhurried atmosphere of this unchanging place. It will do something within you that is desperately needed in this high pressure world. Here you will rediscover yourself, and the art of honest conversation. Here you will find words that are anchored in the past and bring clarity to the present. This is where your thoughts will finally begin to settle, and the push to live someone elses idea of life, will give way to the joy of living life the way you see it.

Now, if you will excuse me. My booth at Petes Coffee Shop is waiting!

 

Walking In Your Wilderness

wilderness

Deuteronomy 32:10 says “He found him in a desert, and in a howling waste of a wilderness, He encircled him, He cared for him as the apple of His eye”. What a powerful picture is painted here of God’s concern and care for those who a wandering in a wilderness of life. It matters not if they chose it for themselves, it happened unexpectedly or God Himself actually took them there. The point is, they were in it alone, and in His own time God came to them and cared for them, whether they deserved it or not.

I say the above because there is a time in everyone’s life when they find ourselves totally alone. This is not so much a physical thing, but it’s more of an emotional and spiritual season of isolation. When it finds us, we cannot avoid the impact it has on everything we hold dear. This wandering might last a few weeks, a few months or even longer, but once it arrives, it does not depart until it’s work is done. This isolated plateau of the soul is identified in the Bible as a place called “the wilderness”. We arrive in this place by ourselves, distracted and in an unrefined condition, but rest assured, we will not leave it the same way.

In this empty season no one is there to carry us, guide us or give us the companionship we think we need. Not one person is there at our side, providing step by step instructions to bring us into the new place we need to be. The fact is, every man or woman of God who is destined to fulfill their life calling, has to make this journey. Even those who do not know God, but are hungry to do better, will be taken to this place. The truth is, I believe this trip into the wasteland of our soul, is a necessary part of healthy personal and spiritual growth. As a result, it is my conviction that these times of barrenness should not be avoided, but they should be looked at with clarity, embraced with sincerity and fully walked out.

It is only during our wilderness experience that we are fundamentally changed. Our metal is tested, our character is developed and our flaws are painfully exposed. It can be a powerful time of personal evaluation and transformation. The excess baggage and wrong thinking we have picked up in life are finally thrown off. What is really important and genuinely necessary comes into clear focus, perhaps for the first time. For some, this brings a shocking revelation of how shallow and self-absorbed they really are. For others, it is a grand adventure as they rediscover who they are, and begin to build upon that good foundation to become even better. These are powerful times we enter into alone and unsettled, but emerge focused and quite comfortable in our own skin.

I was just in such a season not long ago. I got back from a powerful ministry trip to the Philippines. Myself and an Apostle did two conferences and ministered at numerous church meetings. When I returned home, my wife then flew off to California to be with our daughter, who was having our 10th grandchild. I was alone in our house, after all that personal attention and activity, surrounded by the “stuff” of our lives. I was totally alone for two weeks, and the impact this had on me was quite deep. It became a time of introspection, where I was able to seek God, ponder my life and consider how I got “here”. I reflected on the family I grew up in, the wilderness seasons I had been through, and the lessons I learned that made me the man I am.

I pondered how my father was a strong presence of security in our home. He made us feel wanted, valued and safe. He was an intelligent, slender, quiet, thoughtful man who spoke very few words, but meant every word he said. He was kind and gentle, filled with internal strength yet tender. He had a will of iron and a backbone that could support it. He was an outdoors-men to the bone and loved the woods, but could still carry his own with any city dweller. His word was his bond. He had a peaceful stability about him that filled our lives, and had the power to make everything alright, even when it wasn’t. On his death bed, his bright blue eyes looked at me with a calm resolve and they were able to reassured me that even this would be fine.

His example, both the good and the bad, served to shape me in ways I am just now discovering. Among other things, he taught me the wholesome value of a strong cup of hot, black tea and a slow cooked venison stew. He taught me the blessing of honest work and the need for personal sacrifice when it came to family. He showed me that failing to plan for retirement meant you could never retire. He showed me how to love the wife God gave me, and how to care for my family, no matter what the personal cost might be. He demonstrated the value of living debt free, and within our financial means. He also showed me why it was important to pay cash for the things we needed or wanted. The truth is, my father taught me how to be a real man.

Because of that, I became the kind of man my children could look up to. I showed them it’s OK to not always be right, but it is good to always be willing to make things right. They learned how to be a leader in their own homes, and the voice of reason to their children, when it is needed. They were shown how to love their wives and children in ways that are meaningful to them, and to do what must be done to provide for their families. Most of all, I taught them not to see the government as their source of income. Welfare is NOT a lifestyle, it is an emergency crutch until someone who needs it can get back on your feet. They were taught to seek God, plan with care and work hard. They learned from me that these things are more than enough to bring them all the provision they will ever need.

How did I learn these things, you might ask? These truth’s became life lessons during my wilderness wanderings. They became real when there was no one to prop me up or carry me, but Jesus. It was the time I found myself needing a teaching job. I prayed and sought God, and the perfect job opened up where there had been none the week before. It was the time I quit my teaching job, at age 35, and my a wife and three boys followed me back to college. We needed a place to live in Plattsburgh NY, and out of nowhere an apartment opened up near the college that we could afford. It was the time our cupboards were totally empty and I gave my sons the last of the powdered milk and instant mashed potatoes for breakfast. I went to class hungry that morning, but when I returned home that evening, food filled our shelves, our hallway and every counter top in our kitchen. I told no one but God about our need, and He showed me His faithfulness.

Without those wilderness journey’s my knowledge of God, and experiences with Him, would be sorely lacking. Unless I had been willing to walk through those barren wastelands, I would have never seen God’s ability to bring such abundant provision in my desperate lack. My faith was built up, my trust was properly anchored and my life story was enriched, all because of a desert trip. How grateful I am that many times God has led me into a waste-howling wilderness, to be tempted, tried and tested. At times I failed, but even in my failure I still learned valuable lessons that changed my life forever. The truth is, I would not trade those experiences for any amount of money or fame, because they made me, and my family, what we are today.

Right now, are you looking at a dry, sandy landscape, where there is no water and everything looks dead? Are you feeling alone in a barren landscape, with no clear answers, and you wonder where God is in all of it? If so, let me suggest to you that your current condition is actually designed by God to change you in ways you don’t yet understand. He is simply doing with you the very same thing He did with Jesus. What a privilege that is!

You need to walk it out, one step at a time, and pray with an honest and pure heart. You need to get real about your weaknesses until you find the place of rest in God. Once you are open to change and ready embrace your own weakness, you can then exchange your whole, weak mess for the strength God offers. Until then, you will find yourself a desert dweller. Perhaps this is your time to finally change and fully embrace the truth about who you really are. Once that’s been done, you can move on. Never forget that today’s wilderness is the perfect foundation for the God-ordained life you will walk in tomorrow !