2014 in review

Hoping to make 2015 an even better and more productive year for blogging!  Thank you, this is very humbling and I am grateful.

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,300 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 22 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Hump Day, New Year’s Eve and Change.

calendar
Started thinking that if Hump Day is the beginning of the end of the work week, that it’s the day of the week that catapults you into the weekend, then maybe New Year’s Eve is synonymous to Hump Day in that it’s THE day of the year that catapults you into the New Year.  My analogy probably breaks down at some point, or maybe it already has, but for me, Hump Day is to the week, as New Year’s Eve is to the year; they represent days that are agents of change.
They each represent a shift, at the least a shift in perspective, perhaps a shift in thinking.  I do realize that New Year’s Eve IS the penultimate day of the year, and that Wednesday is not the penultimate day of the week, but stay with me.  This post is more about the change that each of these days represent, not where they are positionally.
To being further exploration, let’s get into some formal definitions of the word ‘change.’
Change -noun.  the act or fact of changing; fact of being changed; a transformation or modification; alteration.
Change – verb. to make the form, nature, content, future course, etc.,
of (something) different from what it is or from what it would be if left alone.
I would like to focus more on the noun change, rather than the verb, although both definitions will come into play.  Found this great quote, that I will base some of my thoughts on.  Just like Hump Day, or our annual New Year’s ritual of making resolutions, we hang the things we want to change on some kind of external affect, or some external force.
But according to Socrates, true change won’t come through that kind of influence.
Socrates quote on changeInstead of looking at the ‘now’, or looking over our shoulder to the past, look ahead.  Sure, the old is gone, the new has come, and it is only human to think, “Whew, I’m glad this or that is behind me”, but we tend to base our forward progress on where we’ve come from, not where we’re heading.
A verse in Scripture says it like this, “And Jesus said unto him, “No man, having put his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the Kingdom of God.” Luke 9:62.
There is a passage in Isaiah 50 that talks about “setting your face like flint”, while this is speaking of Christ and His determination to fulfill his purpose by dying for us, I think it also speaks to how resolute we should be in all things we feel compelled to accomplish.
Sure, change can come from external forces, such as things that come into our lives unexpectedly, or unwontedly.  Death, illness, some catastrophic event, loss of finances, divorce, loss of a job, and other things will change us, that is a given.  It’s how we react to these things that determines what kind of person we are and what kind of change these things will affect.
“Grief does not change you, Hazel. It reveals you.”  – John Green, The Fault In Our Stars.
I heard someone say once that people will not judge you by your actions but by your reactions.  So very true!  Our reaction to unwanted change, or any change for that matter, will reveal who we truly are.  Socrates quote on change
But I believe there is a true change that is also brought about by some kind of catalyst that pushes us to discover who we really are, or pushes us to explore things we’ve never explored, desires we’ve never followed, or to become the person we’ve always wanted to be.  We can easily be lulled into the complacency of who we are, or what we do and never take the dive into something new, something that deep down we’ve always desired to do, or be.
It’s often change that IS the catalyst, whatever, or whenever it invades our lives.  It’s the upheaval in our life that literally pushes into change and it too often happens when we are most unaware.  And that’s what I believe makes it SO great!  If we sat around thinking about the change, or changes, we wanted to make in our lives and never acted upon them, then we would most likely find ourselves exactly at the same spot in our thinking a year, or two later.  The catalyst for change is many times change itself!  Wonderful irony!
change quote-if you want something you've never had
So take this double-whammy of Hump Day and New Year’s coinciding and use that as the impetus for your change.  Don’t focus on it as the motivating factor, take it as a motivating factor.
Set your face like flint, keep your hand to the plow and DON’T look back!
Change!

The Weight of Waiting

I usually find myself creating a couple of blogs this time of year, and since I’ve been laid up from some end-of-the-year surgery, I thought I’d go ahead and get started.  You’ll have to forgive me if all of this sounds a bit melancholy, dark or depressing, I guess that’s where my mind and heart are right now…who knows why.  It’s always this time of year, the whole classic ‘out with the old, in with the new’ part of each year, that sends my soul searching, wondering, and experiencing a bit of forlornness that I don’t experience the rest of the year.

CALENDAR-STOCK-THUMBNAIL384x200_1

This final week of the year, the cusp of a New Year and the dregs of the old, is a span of time that seems to almost stand still for me.  Not sure why, but I think some of it has to do with the weight of the past year that is heavy upon me and the anticipation, waiting and expectation of the New Year.

It’s this time of EVERY year, I think about the things that weren’t accomplished during the course of the year.  The setbacks, the missed deadlines, lost opportunities, times of illness, loss of a loved-one, loss of a friend; lethargy and even some despondency, are all crushing in on me.  In fact, I find myself thinking back not just through this year but at times, my WHOLE LIFE during this time of the year!  Then the weight presses in on me even more.  I will break free from this captive way of thinking eventually but for now, it’s where I am.

Emerson asks the question, “How much of human life is lost in waiting?”  And I wonder about how much of our ‘lost life’ we spend time contemplating?  I know, I know, you can’t live your life looking backwards, or wondering about what ‘might have been’ but I feel it’s more like taking stock, or making an inventory of things in our lives.  And if it makes you better for it, then I see no harm.  It can, and usually will, make us better AND stronger.

hourglass

The Bible certainly speaks to taking an account of our lives. Galatians 6:4 “But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another.”  You’ll also find lots of Scripture in regards to perseverance, and patience, too many to list here.  I believe it’s a combination of allowing ourselves the ‘dark times’ of contemplation, and observing, that we can then step into the light of a life that is better lived and perhaps, richer.

Waiting?  Can’t stand it.  A sober assessment of all things?  Bring it on!

But could someone get this elephant of waiting off my chest please!

Finding the Write Way

The Christmas packages have been torn open, the traditional Christmas meal eaten and now the house is humming that familiar after Christmas melancholy tune.  I don’t about you but for me, it’s this time every year that I feel the crushing weight of the ‘what I should have done’ or ‘what I didn’t do’ items leftover from the year.  It’s my time to look at life in the rear view mirror and wonder, “How did I miss that?”  It’s also the time of year I begin to look forward to setting some goals for the New Year.  I realize that if I set enough of them there will be less that I will break!

However, there is a new goal I have for myself in 2015 that I’ve never set before.  I’m going to actually study, or perhaps re-study, the craft of writing.  In case you don’t know, I am a writer, just not in the literary sense.  I’ve been a songwriter for years and have sought to hone the craft of lyric writing through various texts, seminars, blogs, conversations with other writers, etc. for decades.  I guess it’s common to NEVER feel like you’ve ‘arrived’ as a writer.  In fact, while attending a seminar on songwriting I presented one of my pieces, which is always like showing folks your new baby!  You’re always afraid someone will think it’s ugly! After I presented my piece, complete with original text, one of the clinicians said, “Very nice lyric” to which I said, “I struggle as a lyricist” to which he replied, “Keep struggling!”

peninkwellThat’s it!  You’ve got to keep struggling, because you never really arrive!  I can imagine that even world-renowned writers, once they finish a manuscript and it is published sit back and say, “I could have done such and such better”, or something to that effect.

While I did take the obligatory writing classes in college, as part of my non-major degree, there has always been a part of me that desires to acquire more and more expertise as it relates to good writing.

So for 2015, I’m lining up resources I already own, Natalie Goldberg’s “Writing Down the Bones”, Sheila Davis’ “The Craft of Lyric Writing”, and some new editions, and I’m diving into the process of discovering the ‘right way’ to write!  Or, at least beginning the process of becoming a better writer.

I look forward to reading good blogs, posts or articles as they always inspire!

Keep on writing, keep on editing and keep on learning!

The Symphony of All Time

God has been conducting an orchestra of time since before the foundation of the word.  It is a symphony of the billiions of lives that have been, and will be, in this world.  Each life is playing its own unique part.  God is the only One who hears the blended music of these combined lives.  In fact, God Himself wrote the score.  We try our best to follow every gesture of His hand as we faithfully play our individual part in this great Symphony of All Time.

Our individual parts, while together yield beautiful harmonies, individually can be disjointed or obtuse to our ears. Our individual part might sound disconnected from the whole, it sounds incomplete or lacking.  The individual part we play doesn’t make sense on its own It might be a difficult part, just like our lives don’t make sense, or might be difficult at times.  Sometimes, our part might be a little easier.  Sometimes, our part is harmonious and tonal, other times it is dissonant and atonal.

conductor-hands-sized2Meanwhile, we faithfully focus on the part placed before us and try with all of our might to play it the best we can.  We struggle with it, we get frustrated with it, we play it over and over again, making our best effort to put all the notes in just the right place.  We work out the rough places before we feel comfortable presenting it to the world.  We feel like every mistake is heard and we cringe at wrong notes.  We might be ashamed of the way our part sounds until we perfect it.  Too many times, we never reach perfection, yet we keep aiming higher and higher.

We are surrounded by fellow musicians.  They are playing their own part in this symphony of time.  We lean on each other for support.  Sometimes we don’t notice the part they are playing, we’re too busy focusing on our own.  Yet every now and then, we hear how our part meshes with theirs, and we smile.  We’re comforted and inspired by the fact that our parts are working together as part of a greater composition; a harmonious whole.  During this great symphony of time we are connected with our fellow musicians by the hand of the Great Conductor, we follow His every gesture as He works tirelessly to pull our music out of us.

violin-old-new-670So we play on, each note, each phrase, each section, bringing us closer and closer to the grand finale of this wonderful work.  When we begin playing, the end of the score seems so far away, even unattainable, yet the more we play, the more we enjoy the music, the more we throw ourselves into the performance, we quickly realize the end is approaching all too soon and before we know it, we’re at the coda, and then the music is ending.  Fine.  Complete.  Our part in this great Symphony of All Time is finished.  It is then that we pack up our instruments, gently lay them in their cases, say our goodbyes and head home.  Our seat is empty, the music of our lives is silent, and it is time for someone else to take up their instument and play their part.

This Life I Live

Today’s blog is a short poem, reflecting on this life I live, on the life each of us have been so graciously given. #bethankful

Each sunset, a reminder of Your presence through the night. 
Every sunrise shows Your mercy, shining new and bright. 

May I always pause to thank You for the fullness of my days;
And lift praise to You alone for the morning’s first soft rays. 

For it’s only by Your hand I can lay my soul to sleep,
And it’s only by your grace alone, another day I’m blessed to keep. 

So forgive me when I live, as if life somehow deserved;
Was always promised to me, as I journey through this world. 

Now that age has been my blessing, and more days have come to me;
I’ve quickly come to realize, just how fleeting life can be. 

I humbly take my place in time, a vapor, mist and breath;
And thank You once again for any time I might have left. 

Autumn’s Annual Abashment

fall+picFor me this time of year, autumn, fall, whichever word you choose to use, is filled with a sort of discomforting or unsettledness in my soul.  I’m not really sure why, but when I found this quote, it helped me to at least start to understand this annual event and how it affects me so deeply.

It was Stanley B. Horowitz, a prominent leader and humanitarian in the Jewish community, that said, “Winter is an etching, spring a watercolor, summer an oil painting and autumn a mosaic of them all.”

As the calendar seems to tumble quickly into the autumn season, a kind of melancholy mood mixes with the elation of seeing the glorious fireworks of nature that are on display this time of year.  I’m not sure why that with the rainbow-colored sunsets, the crispness of the air, the first smell of smoke from fireplaces and the rich depth of brilliant color all around, I being feeling this way. Each autumn, I experience a convergence of the entire year that has passed and quickly realize that we’re staring winter in its ugly face.

It might possibly be the sadness that another summer has faded away.  Or, maybe it’s the thought of winter’s icy grip coming just around the corner.  Perhaps it’s that the serene images of spring have long ago left my memory, who knows.  What I do know is that autumn has become kind of reckoning of all things regarding life for me.

In autumn, you see the death of things living, but in their death there is glorious beauty.  Isn’t it that way with us mortals as well, especially when that one knows they will be with God after leaving this earth?  It is certainly a spiritual event when a person passes from life unto death.  We don’t understand it, we cry, we grieve, we ask why, but how many times have you heard loved ones, who gather around the bedside of someone who has just been ushered from this world into the next say, “They had such a peaceful expression on their face when they passed.”  I know I have, and maybe a bit of that is reflected in nature during this time of year.

Yes, a lot of things that were vibrant and alive during spring and summer are now dying.  Yes, winter will continue complete this process and freeze nature until the warmth of spring will allow it to burst forth with life once again.  So we see it in a person that is passing from life unto death when they have secured their glorious eternal future through Jesus Christ.

I’ve found that it’s this convergence of all the seasons of the year, and what they each represent, that creates this annual discomforting, or discontentment in my soul.  It is nature’s visual representation of our mortal lives passing from life to death.  It is not unlike the fact that when someone dies, you often hear them talk about their entire life passing before eyes.  So I get it more now than ever before!  We see all the seasons of the year crammed into autumn because we experience the passing of spring and summer and nature preparing itself for the winter to come!

It is often said that ‘art imitates life’, I would like to suggest that ‘nature imitates life’ on a much deeper, yet often unnoticed level.

 

 

We Play Like We Think

This is going to be a musicians post.  It actually will apply primarily to musicians who play in a church, or religious setting.  It doesn’t mean if you’re not an instrumental musician, instrumentalist if you will, or maybe just a musical person, you can’t read it.  But be forewarned, you might not ‘connect’ to it if you’ve never been in the heat of a performance playing a musical instrument.  
 The reason this applies primarily to instrumentalists and not vocalists (singers) is that, well, just read the article, I think you’ll figure it out!

musicnotes

Our worship pastor shared in a seminar recently about the importance of ‘watching our words’ during worship.  The premise was thinking through the lyrics we sing and making song choices that center on God, His characteristics, attributes and His glory.  I started thinking about this verse, Psalm 19:14, in light of hearing him speak, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer”, and how what he was pointing to, and what this verse says, might apply to instrumentalists during worship, or any setting for that   matter.

So I started talking about this last week in rehearsal and challenged our instrumentalists to think about what they think about while they are playing.  Are they meditating on the lyrics?  Are they focusing on the God as they play? Are they thinking about the next note(s)?  What is on their mind and in their heart as they play.

Personally, I find myself almost ‘day-dreaming’ at times when I play during worship.  I’m a little ADD so that doesn’t help! It’s easy for me to be singing, or playing and my mind is a thousand thoughts away from ‘the moment.”  Sure, I get it, we can almost be mechanical or rote if we’ve played a tune many  times before.  It’s also easy, as musicians, to get caught up in the chord structures (or lack of at times), or the harmonic progression, or groove, or what the guitar playing is doing.  Of course we all wonder what the guitar player is doing at times!

But you see, it’s easy to be distracted by anything and everything during worship.  This is especially true as instrumentalists.  I remember a friend of mine saying he used to have his players write the lyrics in their music to help them focus on the message.  Great idea!  Whatever it takes to get the ‘meditation of our heart’ moving in the right direction is worth the time!  During the ‘heat of the moment’ in a service it’s easy to forget Who we should be focusing on, I believe this is especially true for instrumentalists given all of the technical things that can, and often do distract us.

einstein_thinking

I know I’m challenging myself with this and also our players and hope it sinks in more and more.  Verse 14 in Psalm 19 follows beautiful descriptions of the heavens proclaiming God’s glory even though we never hear it audibly, at least not with human ears, and how they also reveal God’s glory.  The Psalmist also recognizes the absolute sovereignty and purpose of God’s Word, and His eternal and never-changing truths.  All followed up by a prayer-like response of repentance and humility.  Do these go hand in hand?  Absolutely!  When we direct our mind’s focus and our heart’s desire solely on God’s glory and worship of Him, we will desire to live according to His Word and be humbled by His great power and glory!  We will be changed!  Even while playing an instrument!

So it should be during worship.  If our focus, as we play, is on anything else but God and His greatness, what we give to Him will not be acceptable in His sight.  The challenge for us, and our players, is to keep that thought at the forefront of what we ‘present’ to Him in worship each week.  In fact, it doesn’t even have to be during a worship service!

My prayer, the Psalmist’s prayer, is that everything I say and do and think about during Sunday worship, and my daily worship, will be acceptable and pleasing in His sight.  Nobody else matters, including, most of all, myself.

Dying Can Be Complicated

My mother has been diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer, she is 89.  In fact, she just turned 89 a few weeks ago.  It has taken us all by surprise.  This is a woman who has been widowed for almost 40 years and has lived by herself longer than she was married.  Hospice is at her home most everyday now and the Oncologist has not give her very long.  Of course, we know the One who gives life has already numbered her days and they, like ours, are in His hands.

She is at peace, and after speaking to the doctor has felt like it is best not to have surgery to remove the already large tumor.  Chemo is not in the picture. She is at a place where she knows what is next and has accepted it with grace and beauty. In fact, one of the great things about my mom is she still has her wit and sense of humor.  And this in spite of the fact that her life hasn’t been easy.  She has shared bits and pieces of her life with me from time to time and from those I’ve discerned it to be, let’s just say, less than comfortable.

waking dead graves

She and my dad were great together!  They shared life, work, struggles, triumphs and everything you can imagine.  I can always remember them as being happy and content, whether they had a little, or a lot.  They never really had a lot by the world’s standards but were two of the most loving and happy people I know.  My mother continued to pour into me in every way possible and I thank God for her life.

So, we’ve been dealing with a lot of what you would expect when a parent comes to the end of their life.  She still lives in the same house I was raised in, so there’s that to deal with.  We’ve talked about her dying and her wishes.  She has planned extremely well.  All of her documents and articles are in order and well managed.  If there is such as a thing during this time as easy, it would only be associated with how prepared she has made herself for this time of life.  She is an amazing woman.

We were at the attorney’s office the other day dealing with some legal issues.  After signing some legal documents, she turns to the attorney and says, “I never realized dying could be so complicated!”  She had everyone in the conference room laughing!  It was a wonderful moment and a small glimpse into where she is with life, or perhaps death, right now.  Her quip was loaded with truth.

The actual moment of our death is the total antithesis of complicated.  It’s everything in between, and what is left to deal with on earth that is complicated.  The legalities, the insurance, the burial, the obituary, the selling of an estate; it goes on and on.  It can take weeks, months or years.  Then there is the emotional aftermath of our lives.  We are the ones who have to pick the pieces of our souls and carry on.

Complicated?  Absolutely.  Yet there is also a beauty and grace in the death of someone who has lived their life to the full.

It’s the ending to a beautiful symphony, a sunset that takes your breath away, a lone eagle flying off into the distance.  We should all die that way.

Uncomplicated and full of grace.

Leankit – Electronic To-Do list manager

Ran across this review on an interesting piece of software. In my old(er) age *wink*, I find myself in desperate need to get organized! Being a right-brain kind of guy, I REALLY need help with this!

I think I’ll try it. Not sure which platform it works on (Mac-PC) but it looks like something that could work!

Live to Write - Write to Live

Every once in a while, you come across a tool that you just need to crow about.

A little background – every morning, I sit down and write my to-do list. In the past, I’d either write it in a notebook or on separate index cards.

Trouble was, if I lost the cards or notebook – well you know that expression, out of sight, out of mind – I’d lose track of my tasks. I also used white index cards, where one card looked like another. I never knew *at a glance* who needed what. What I needed to do was just a big pile of sameness. It was an adequate (not great) system, as long as I didn’t misplace anything or have a priority that I had forgotten about.

I’m not ever sure how I found the website, but I one day stumbled across Leankit at leankit.com.

Can…

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