All life is a matter of perspective

All life is a matter of perspective

Edited from a letter originally written to a friend on Tuesday, 1 May through Thursday, 3 May, 2012

Montano de Oro State Park, San Lius Obispo County, CA.  22 JAN 2012.  Copyright V.K. Starkgraf, All Rights Reserved.

Montano de Oro State Park, San Luis Obispo County, CA. 22 JAN 2012. Copyright V.K. Starkgraf.

January 22, 2012 was a stormy day in winter, the last day of a passing winter storm.  It was the last day of a retreat conference event in Pismo Beach. I had barely had a moment for pause all weekend, save a few hours on Saturday afternoon. It was not a restful weekend for various reasons, and by the time it was over I was so done with a retreat without quietness or rest.  I wasn’t sure about my decision or whether it would be “worth it,” but I took the suggestion of a friend to drive further up the coast to Montano de Oro State Park.

It’s quite the sloooow drive through shopping districts and rural areas.  It seemed far, I’m not much a fan of the beach, would I regret this?

What I do regret is not getting any photographs of the grove of eucalyptus trees on the drive in.

Montano de Oro State Park, San Lius Obispo County, CA.  22 JAN 2012.  Copyright V.K. Starkgraf.

Montano de Oro State Park, San Luis Obispo County, CA. 22 JAN 2012. Copyright V.K. Starkgraf.

I have some pretty epic seascapes from that day — God really came through for dramatic and perfect lighting!  I didn’t have a proper camera and lens to capture the eagles (!!!) soaring overhead and resting on the side wall of a nearby cliff, but they were there too.  Crazy as I am, I spent a couple hours lying down in the edges of various cliffs to capture certain shots.

Montano de Oro State Park, San Luis Obispo County, CA.  22 JAN 2012.  Copyright V.K. Starkgraf.

Montano de Oro State Park, San Luis Obispo County, CA. 22 JAN 2012. Copyright V.K. Starkgraf.

Please remember it was January — very resolutely “winter.”  My mother or sister might’ve frowned at the view, as every growing thing was brown or dead.  But to do so would’ve been indicative of complete lack of imagination or perspective. As I walked out to the cliffs, I noticed how fantastic the light was, and I wondered…

This shot?

Montano de Oro State Park, San Luis Obispo County, CA.  22 JAN 2012.  Copyright V.K. Starkgraf.

Montano de Oro State Park, San Luis Obispo County, CA. 22 JAN 2012. Copyright V.K. Starkgraf.

This shot was a risk, I had no idea what I might get (and no way to know either, as I was shooting with a 35mm camera).  This was taken while lying down on a wet and sandy trail, looking up through a lot of dead brush, shot directly at the light source.

For so many reasons, I could’ve gotten nothing.

And yet — look!!!

On a cold, windy, stormy day with dodgy weather, staring directly at a view of nothing but death and stormy skies, and all from the vantage point of a spiritual and emotional low…while lying on a wet, sandy hiking trail?  In all aspects of this scenario, there promised no aspect of goodness.  And yet?  With the right perspective – low enough to see all that God had on-view that day — there was great beauty to be found (even among storms, death, discomfort, and austerity).  How many people would have merely walked by and missed this?  Glory to God alone for the great and inspiring beauty that day, but what was required to obtain this shot was someone with the imagination to see the (literally!) humble perspective to find it.

All life really is a matter of perspective, and it’s what we do with that idea that really matters.

I come from dark places.  My soul is beyond the reach of darkness, but my day-to-day life is not beyond the reach of its effects.  What I choose to do with those two truths is, however, what can make all the difference in the world with respect to the direction and the character of my life.  Suffice it to say that I am adept at drinking poison from the wellspring of my own despair.  I won’t say I’m immune from the temptation to revert to this, but watching so many I love fall by this?  It’s just not productive.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t still feel it.

Perspective can change much, but one thing perspective cannot change is reality.  The plant life along that trail was dead, the weather was still stormy, the trail was still wet and sandy.  What was variable?  My response.

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Love and blessings for your day my friend

Love and blessings for your day my friend

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Photo source and image copyright Curly Girl Designs http://www.curlygirldesign.com

Originally sent as an e-mail to a dear friend; it occurred to me it would make a good post as well.  The human soul is a fragile thing indeed, but that is one of the things that makes it most beautiful and precious. For it is, as Thomas Merton wrote, like a crystal: it is the light without — God’s light– shining through a soul that brings it to life. May you find hope and blessings this day. — VKS

—–

My Dear Friend,

Blessings for your morning — I love you, and God does too (know that on both counts).  Come what may (come all that may), if you are reading this, you are alive on a day and in a life that holds so much beauty and love.  Know that — take time to notice it.  There is no joy or beauty too small not to praise the Lord.

—–

“There is not a flower that opens, not a seed that falls into the ground, and not an ear of wheat that nods on the end of its stalk in he wind that does not preach and proclaim the greatness and the mercy of God to the whole world

There is not an act of kindness or generosity, not an act of sacrifice done, or a word of peace and gentleness spoken, not a child’s prayer uttered, that does not sing praises to God before his throne, and in the eyes of men, and before their faces.

How does it happen that in the thousands of generations of murderers since Cain, our bloodthirsty ancestor, that some if us can still be saints? The quietness and hiddenness and placidity of the truly good people in the world all proclaim the glory of God.

All these things, all creatures, all graceful movement, every ordered act of the human will, all are sent to us as prophets from God.”
— Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain

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I love you my friend, bless you. I remembered you and your family fiercely in my prayers this morning. I only wish I could give you a hug in-person to give you my love beyond mere words. I am currently reading The Ascent to Truth, which is Merton on St. John of the Cross (phenomenal book even as I am barely into it). I got into what — on my end — was a very interesting argument AGAINST “prosperity gospel” nonsense with G—– last week; she couldn’t wrap her head around the premise of The Dark Night of the Soul and I think thinks I’m completely nuts (and possibly evil or dangerous) for raising the question in the first place. I was also talking about that premise [with K—–] on the way home from church yesterday, that, no — this is not the place where you know things are bad but you know God loves you, this is the place where things are SO BAD you can’t see or feel God anywhere in those darkest of dark moments. And if your life with God includes NO blessings, is who God is ENOUGH to love him, praise him, serve him?

G—– cited that as a weird question. I was also speaking against one of Job’s friends who equated “lack of apparent blessings” with “secret sin” or perhaps some other deficiency of love or faith (as many today would accuse in similar circumstances). I reminded her that it is also the question raised by Job — if all life is without blessings, is who God is ENOUGH? That was dismissed too. I remain convinced, however, that it is a good litmus test for faith — do I love God because I LOVE God, or do I say I love God because he is “the god who gets me stuff”? Obviously my answer is the former (spiritually-shallow people do not take up with Carmelite mystics for “a little light reading,” and then take up with a Trappist monk for deeper reflection!!!!!).

You are loved, dear sister — by God, by me, and by so very many. May that sustain you this day, come what may. The grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you my friend.

Much love in-Christ,

Val

33

33

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Highway 33, one of my favorite places in the world. That lovely photo from the top of Reyes Peak looking south to Port Hueneme, Oxnard, Ventura, Carpenteria, and Santa Barbara that is the main header for this blog? That was taken at the end of the Pine Mountain Summit turnoff from Highway 33 in the Sespe Wilderness.

33.

A fun number I suppose.  Not extraordinary.  Not a nice round number ending in a tidy “0.”  Not a number to be counted off by 5s.  A palendrome to be sure, like all its elevensy kin.  They don’t make special cards for 33rd birthdays.

Maybe they should.

I couldn’t tell you when or what sermon it was, but I remember hearing one of my favorite preachers, Alistair Begg, once say in a sermon something to the effect that he thought that God must love birthday parties because they are about celebrating life.

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That's a really yummy pound cake by the way, there were fresh strawberries and freshly-whipped cream to go with it. Was I really ever nineteen? So young...so innocent...so long ago.

Life is certainly worth celebrating.

The calendar of my life will turn a page this week, and I will add another candle to the proverbial cake.

If I were a tree, the 2012-2013 growth ring would be very thin, and fire scorched on one side.  This has not been the worst year of my life, but it certainly has been one of the leanest and most discouraging.  There are a lot of reasons to take pause and want to forget most of the past year…

…but there is love and beauty to be found on even the darkest days.

I haven’t had a full-time job in eleven months.  That’s not encouraging at all.  The run-up to the election did not bode well for the job market for office contract work, it just didn’t.  I eventually just gave up and decided to throw my hat in the ring for university.

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Sacred Heart Chapel...GO LIONS!

Got in…to my first choice school…one of the most prestigeous universities in Southern California…very easily…on my first try. This wasn’t a gift — I worked really hard, have what it takes…and proved it.

But I can’t go.

Then the car accident.

Then the recovery.

I’ve been sick ever since, no prospects for work, little hope for school (though, on paper, I am “going” for fall; if I can find a cosigner I can make that a reality).  No clue how I connect the dots from the ghetto to grad school (trying to finish the last two years of undergrad in Theological Studies).  No clue how or where I will find work — meaningful or not.  No car in L.A. is no asset.  Intelligence is no asset without the credentials to prove it.

My credentials prove nothing to potential employers (except, perhaps, instability).  God has a plan in this somewhere.  God?  Yeah, hi — a little direction in this would be nice.

I watched God open doors in supernatural ways — open them WIDELY — toward a bright and promising future, the way out of so much long struggle and despair.  I ended up at dinner with someone oblivious to the fact that he was the devil’s mouthpiece for temptation to the easy way through school.

Was I willing to compromise my integrity to accept help from someone with less-than-honorable motives?

No.

[Sidebar: Realizing that what started out as a business meeting has turned into a dinner date with the devil is terrifying.]

All hell broke loose at that point.  Thanks-be-to-God for protecting me from much worse harm last December.  Much was broken and destroyed, but I am mostly intact.  Life will go on.

A friend and a cousin each got married last summer (not to each other, but each to very lovely spouses) — blessed to be there.

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Annie Wigglewhiskers, 31 January 2013

Found Annie, lost Eleanor.

Lost a dear friend and mentor, got a precious baby niece.

Waiting for little Annie/Wentworth babies…any day.  A second generation of beautiful and precious — the combination of the two best-tempered guinea pigs I’ve ever had.  The kiddos of two of the most dear and precious pigs I’ve ever had.  I’ve loved these little ones since long before they were born, I only wish Eleanor could know them.

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I am waiting…waiting between now and forever.

In some ways? It’s hard to think about 33 — for in thirty-three years Jesus Christ was born, lived, accomplished his entire earthly ministry, died, rose, and ascended to heaven.

In thirty-three years…I can’t even seem to get my feet off the ground.

I was advised by a well-meaning friend back in 2000 to focus every bit of my energy and resources to getting back to school.  I didn’t, and I’m not sorry.  I was able to live a much richer life for making sure that I looked up, and out, and to the world and life beyond…not just singlely-focused on that vague thing “the future.”  There were so many people to meet, so many lives to touch, so many things to see…things to learn…days to fully live.

And life is never fully lived when one focuses only on one’s own self.  It is possible to miss all of life if too narrowly-focused (and what could be more narrow a focus than one’s own self?).

“The future” moves anyway.  It’s clear where I’m supposed to be.  God will get me there…someday.

Today is not that day; tomorrow doesn’t look good either.

There are moments when I am momentarily angry or sad for my struggle.  Is it fair that I have had to struggle so hard for so long…only to just stand still?  Some of my former professors and friends share in this frustration.  Sometimes blessings don’t seem to be distributed evenly or equatably — do little eighteen and nineteen year-old slackers with parents supporting them in everything really deserve a free ride?  No, but we don’t live in a karmic universe.  If life made sense, they would be living in the ghetto and pining for entry-level work.

Life doesn’t make sense, maybe life isn’t supposed to make sense, at least not in a karmic way anyway.  I honestly don’t think it matters.  Whether life is or isn’t fair, what does that really change about anything?  Will singing the injustices of your own world really change anything?  Not so much, but it will let you wallow in unalterable misery.  Will that really change anything?

Yes: it will keep you miserable, self-centered and miserable.

Because, really, to some degree life really is what you make of it.

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And at some point the question that needs to be asked, wrestled with, reckoned with is: what’s the point? What gets you up in the morning? Why bother getting up in the morning at all? What’s going to get you out of bed tomorrow morning?

Are you living life for yourself?

Are you living life for others?

Are you living life for God?

Are you living at all?

Are you merely alive and muddling through?

They’re honest questions, though perhaps incomfortable ones.

Living life for yourself: If you’re living life for yourself, you’ve set yourself up as the center of your own universe. Thus you get credit for the good, but when all hell breaks loose in your life, it’s on you to fix it — alone. Totally alone. You can’t give up, you can’t phone a friend, you just have to plod along. If this life is all there is, that’s it — the beginning and end of everything. Come what may, you’ve got to keep it together, because you’re all you’ve got. I know athiests who try to live good lives, but I can’t for the life of me figure out why. If no one’s keeping score, what’s the point of effort? In The Imitation of Christ, Thomas à Kempis writes at length on the idea that anything “great” one accomplishes in this world will be little noted nor long-remembered. Ashes-to-ashes, dust-to-dust, from dust you came, to dust you shall return. If we are all “dust” and no “soul,” there probably is no point. I absolutely DESPISE the writings of Eckhart Tolle, because I find him to be one preaching false ideas of “cafeteria spirituality” (take what you like of various theological and philosophical worldviews, crowd it together on a tray, and leave the rest), but one thing I think he got at least somewhat right is that most people live their lives in light of their own egos. His “what to do about that” is a view I feel to be dead wrong, but that’s another story for another post I never wish to write. But if you travel through life, perhaps driven by ego, as the center of your own universe, are you — yourself — reason enough for the universe to exist? If you are perhaps not an atheist but a vague deist trying to live a good and moral life, who sets the standard? How good is “good enough” to squeak into a benevolent afterlife? If it’s all on you — can you do it? Eternity is at stake here (no pressure). Living for yourself is empty, very empty.

Living life for others: Living life for others isn’t exactly wrong…unless you’re living life only for others. Because if you’re living life only for others, you’re setting yourself to be the center of someone else’s universe. It’s a quick trip to holding up all of the sky at that point. The pressure of living to carry the lives of others is enormous — no pressure, but you never get a day off and can never, ever, ever fail.

Not fail, not ever.

Your entire life exists for the sole purpose of only serving other humans — perhaps only one other human — with no higher purpose apart from this service. There is no glory or honor in that, you are a slave. And — no matter how much you love the person or how lovely the person might otherwise be — people are inconstant and disappointing. Eventually there will come a moment of resenting and feeling trapped under the weight of this life. “Oh, no, that sounds terrible…I’d never do that.” No? What’s first in your life? If you’re the type of person who makes idols out of relationships or the type of parent who stops at nothing to serve your children, this just might be you. Don’t tell yourself it’s love, it might not be love. If it is an all-consuming obsession and drive to serve, it’s not love. As the Bob Dylan song goes:

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

So what about the Lord?

Maybe this is the first of St. Val the Eccentric’s posts you’ve found. Could be…I’m an ecclectic person, I often throw a few odd tags — fitting, but odd — into every post. I have a pretty ecclectic following. If you’re following me, I’ve read at least some of your blog — enough to get a picture of who you are and what you’re about. I love the “tag cloud” widgit — tag clouds give a beautiful picture of what we write about. The biggest words in my tag cloud are: Christ, Christianity, encouragement, guinea pigs, hope, love, and theology.

This is me.

I am about hope, love, and encouragement all rooted in Christ Jesus (and also about guinea pigs, because I am “fearfully and wonderfully made,” and God decided I was supposed to be the Guinea Pig Whisperer, and I’m okay with that).

So…you knew it would come to this, yes?
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Nothing is more practical than finding God,
that is than falling in a love in a quite absolute, final way.

What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination will affect everything.

It will decide what will get you out of bed in the mornings,
what you will do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read,
who you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.

Fall in love, stay in love and it will decide everything.

— Pedro Arrupe, S.J. (1907-1919), former Superior General of the Society of Jesus (i.e., the Jesuits)

Living life for God: Some time in the past calendar year, I quietly crossed a line and have now lived longer “beyond” the day when I was so powerfully redeemed from death so many years ago than all my natural life before it. That’s something to give me real pause. I’ve lived long enough to know and experience profound loss, and to also experience profound gratitude for the precious pieces of my life that remain. I struggle, however, with a general “elevator pitch” statement for why you, too, should love Jesus. All I know is that I was powerfully redeemed from death through faith and prayer, I am not the same person I was, God always keeps his promises (“I will never leave you or forsake you” being among them), and that even though sometimes God can seem to disappoint because my life doesn’t quite go the way I think it should…God is still sovereign and comes up with answers that are (in the end) better. My life is just better for God being in charge. I’m not sure I have a better answer than that.

A friend of mine sent me a quotation she found in her studies a few days ago:

“Faith is an expression of the fact that we exist so that the infinite God can dwell in us and work through us for the well-being of the whole creation. If faith denies anything, it denies that we are tiny, self-obsessed specks of matter who are reaching for the stars but remain hopelessly nailed to the earth stuck in our own self-absorption. Faith is the first part of the bridge from self-centeredness to generosity.”

— Volf, Miroslav (2009-08-30). Free of Charge (p 44). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

I think there is a whole lot of truth in that statement.
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“Men and Women for Others”: Pedro Arrupe, S.J. coined the phrase “men and women for others” in a famous 1973 address on the feast day of Ignatius of Loyola when he declared:

“[O]ur primary educational objective must be to form men and women for others, who believe that a love of self or of God that does not issue forth in justice for the least of their neighbors is a farce.”

That was part of the prompt I picked for my university admissions essay, and it’s stuck with me ever since. “Men and women for others” — isn’t that a very large componant of Christian discipleship?

I think it is (and argued it deftly…and will someday finish editing that essay to blog format).

Because the difference between merely living for others and living for God for others is that when we live for God for others, the motive is to serve God. What is on offer from God is such a beautiful and powerful gift — life, eternal and beautiful; we do not work for the kingdom to earn salvation, we work for the kingdom to glorify God with our lives in a gratitude response of obedience to his call to love and to serve. It’s a beautiful thing. Life and love are meant to be celebrated, not kept in a box on a shelf.

Life is, in many ways, what you make it. Celebrate life this day and every day. Love and bless others. Sparkle and shine.
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Farewell to 32

Farewell to 32

wpid-Sylmar-Hill-Walk1-8-MAR-2013.jpgIt’s just a day, but somehow the day before my birthday always gives me pause.

What have I done with the past year of my life?

What do I think about that?

Where have I been?

Where am I going?

Today will probably be an ordinary day, but it’s the last page in my calendar for 32.

That’s something…

Every day, know that you shall not pass this way again.

Blessings for your Thursday. — VKS

Post-script — Annie STILL hasn’t had her babies!!!!  I told God to perhaps arrange that she should hold off until Friday…didn’t think it was possible, but now?  It’s very possible indeed.  What a beautiful gift that would be!

Sad day

Sad day

My sister had to put this little guy to sleep this morning.  At 6¼, he had a long and beautiful life.  Mr. Skeffington was a very special little pig, and he will be much missed.

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The incomparable Mr. Skeffington

Pets probably won’t outlive us, and sometimes give us pause to consider mortality.  Don’t be lulled into the false comfort of muddling through.  Don’t be distracted by all the unimportant things in life and miss life’s fragility and preciousness.  We live life in a tension between now and eternity.  If you have been duped into the false idea that each moment as it comes is the only thing that matters, you are living a lie (and attempting an impossibility).  Yet to live only in the past for nostalgia or regret, or to look only to the hope and promise of the future is equally wrong; missing every moment of today because you are looking only to yesterday or tomorrow is just as wrong.

I will never cease to sing the praise that life — always, and whether you like it or not — is a very precious gift.  Life is always beautiful — even amid suffering, even in the darkest moments, and even in death.  Life is still life, and everything about life is an unfathomable miracle — is it so much an unfathomable miracle as to be completely beyond our power to comprehend its miraculousness?  Life, even in suffering, can bring gifts and love to others.  Life isn’t just “muddling through” and “taking up space” in the world, life (no matter how small) matters.  Yes, even the ants and roaches and the germs that make me sick matter…they just happen to be enjoying their sanctity of life in my personal space, and my sense of self-preservation rules that they have to go.

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But life — even amid pain, suffering, sadness, and death — is profoundly beautiful.  Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever allow yourself to forget it.  Life is dirty, messy, painful, shocking, uncomfortable — sometimes unbearable even — but still a very precious gift.  Never deny that, dismiss it, forget it.

There really isn’t a place for the idea of “an animal” in my mind.  By no means do I discount humanity’s distinction as the creatures made in the image of God, but I know I am but soul and dust, and if I am alive on this planet I am just as fragile and made of dust (and to return to dust) as every other creature.  I have been in the presence of death — of the very moment of death — many times.  It isn’t pretty, but you know what?  Birth isn’t that pretty either.  Life is beautiful and precious, it just is.  And while I suppose I understand their perspective on some level, I’m always left generally speechless when people argue that the #1 reason they do not want a pet (especially when they could seriously use the love and companionship) is that they can’t deal with death.  Don’t get me wrong, I have fallen on my face howling over the death of belovèd pets, but it just seems so wrong to deny oneself the deep love and joy possible in sharing life with others — pets or humans — if our focus is on the idea that we will someday lose them to death.

Mortality makes me want to love more, not less.

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I was reading a passage from Thomas Merton’s autobiography The Seven Storey Mountain yesterday afternoon as I ended up on an accidental bus misadventure through a good portion of Los Angeles.  As he introduced his thoughts on the delight of discovering the life and writings of St. Thérèse of Lisieux (her autobiographical reflection, The Story of a Soul, is in queue for me to read after I finish The Seven Story Mountain), Merton wrote the following reflection:

It is a wonderful experience to discover a new saint.  For God is greatly magnified and marvelous in each one of His saints: differently in each individual one.  There are no two saints alike: but each of them is like God, like Him in a different and special way.  In fact, if Adam had never fallen, the whole human race would have been a series of magnificently different and splendid images of God, each one of all the millions of men showing forth His glories and perfections in an astonishing new way, and each one shining with his own particular sanctity, a sanctity destined for him from all eternity as the most complete and unimaginable supernatural perfection of his human personality.

If, since the fall, this plan will never be realized in millions of souls, and millions will frustrate that glorious destiny of theirs, and hide their personality in an eternal corruption of disfigurement, nevertheless, in re-forming His image in souls distorted and half destroyed by evil and disorder, God makes the works of His wisdom and love all the more strikingly beautiful by reason of the contrast with the surroundings in which He does not disdain to operate.

Just stop and think about that for a minute…that as completely messed-up as the created order is, as completely messed-up as we make it — as completely unnecessary as we are for God’s completeness or sovereignty (and, arguably, things would probably be a lot less messy for God if we didn’t keep messing them up) — God doesn’t just “tolerate” us, he loves us.  Indeed, if we are his saints as disciples of Christ, we are his adopted sons and daughters as co-heirs to the very Kingdom of Heaven with Christ (see Ephesians 1:3-14).

For if God thought life was that beautiful and precious, do we not owe it to him to consider a little bit on its beauty and preciousness ourselves?

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Life is beautiful and precious, but so too is death a part of life.  I will miss my sassy, fuzzy, silly little Skeffy friend very much, but I also know that I always wish to live with as much joy and love as he did.  I always wonder why it is that — so often — the lesson which our fellow creatures can teach us is how to truly embrace and enjoy this very precious gift that is…life. — VKS

Treasure what is precious, desire what is best

Treasure what is precious, desire what is best

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Travertine leaf fossils, The Getty Museum (external walls), Los Angeles, CA (taken May 2012)

“This thing all things devours:
Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;
Gnaws iron, bites steel;
Grinds hard stones to meal;
Slays king, ruins town,
And beats high mountain down.”

— one of the “Riddles in the Dark” from The Hobbit by J.R.R.. Tolkien

When I was a girl, perhaps five or six, a book came in one of the boxes of mysterious oddments from my father’s mother, or perhaps it was received among my Christmas gifts that year.  Honestly, I am not certain.  It was an odd sort of book — fantasy stories, mostly about children, with seemingly no particular significant origin.  These were not collected tales from an author or place, they were just…stories.  As I am more widely read now, these stories remind me somewhat of George MacDonald’s work.  It was a hardcover volume, illustrated in color.  The book itself — along with too many others — eventually ended up at the local Friends of the Library bookstore in a particularly traumatic move.  I remember little of this book but the vague outline of one particular tale:

There was a girl who somehow came upon an enchanted ball of silver string (I believe there was an odd old woman or a witch involved).  What the girl discovered about her magical ball of string was that if she pulled the loose end, it caused an instantaneous and enchanted passage of time: a tug for a moment, a pull for a span.

The ball could not be rewound.

The girl began to use this string in small — and later large — ways to affect the passage of time: first to avoid small unpleasantries and waiting, later to grow up more quickly.

Only too quickly, however, the impatient girl found herself a very old woman at the end of her life…holding a very small length of silver string…facing death.

The girl woke up and found she had been dreaming  (to her great relief), but forevermore considered time a much more precious commodity.

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Footprints in the sand, Carpenteria, CA, 8 SEP 2010

Could we all but be so wise.

In America our society tries to both escape death by attempting to eternally cling to the spectral shadow of youth…while also avoiding life by running at a break-neck frantic pace — without rest — in pursuit of “progress.” Time affects us all, and death is the great equalizer. After love and life, time is the next most precious gift we have in this life.

Time cannot be bought…sold…or stopped.

I have held four beloved guinea pigs in my arms as they breathed their last breath (most recently, of course, my beloved Eleanor…Wentworth’s sweet mama). The story was that after a prolonged (but gradual) terminal illness — with baby Annie as her beloved friend — Eleanor was actively dying the Tuesday morning after Thanksgiving. I could not get out of my stupid shift at work. I helped her drink some water when I came home at lunch, and miraculously (by greater grace than can be quantified), I found her barely clinging to life when I came home that day. I helped her drink more water, wrapped her in a towel, and held her on my chest.

We both fell asleep that afternoon; only I woke up.

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Eleanor Wigglewhiskers, 12 MAY 2010

Time is precious…

fleeting…

measured in breaths…

in sunrises and sunsets…

in grains of sand…

in waves on the shore.

It cannot be bottled, nor saved…

nor kept, nor held —

only savored, cherished, remembered…or else merely regretted for its passing.

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Carpenteria Beach Sunset, 8 SEP 2013

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Me and Eliza, 11 JAN 2013

Thus far, 2013 has been a rough year. A friend of mine remarked yesterday morning:

“Wish you could wake up in 2014…it’s got to be better.”

My reply to her was:

“No guarantees to that. My Lord and my God is good and sovereign. Against all odds he has still preserved a place for me in this world. His providence brings hope worth anchoring my life on. But there is this — the question of St. John of the Cross — if life with God and Christ comes with NO blessings, is who God is still enough to merit faith in him? (*Hint* — the answer is “Yes,” but a person can’t “own” that from a theoretical perspective. Sometimes the path to heaven neans you have to pass through hell first.)

My friend meant well, I know she did — and I love her well — but even such a well-meant statement given in love and sympathy is downright horrifying when considered from an eternal perspective.

Would I really rather sleep through the next 9.5 months of my life?!?!?!?!

My precious, beloved baby niece is now eight weeks old. In developmental terms, the first year of life encompasses a lot. Infants come into the world as scrunchy little grublings — a novelty for their tiny perfection, but on the whole not very engaging little creatures; by a year old they are well on their way to being their own unique little people — shreiking, squeaking, playing, engaging with the world, expressing opinions.

To sleep through 2013, I would miss all of that my friend.

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Annie Wigglewhiskers, 31 JAN 2013

My beloved little Annie is expecting pups. She and Wentworth are the two nicest guinea pigs I’ve ever had in my life — not a trouble-making bone in either of their bodies (Eleanor, on the other hand, was an absolute imp of a pig!).

Have you ever seen a baby guinea pig? They are about the cutest baby anything on the planet — like most herbivorous herd animals, they are born “ready to go” — all feet and ears and fluff. Eyes open, ears open, alert, they begin to explore their world from the moment they are born. Every day I watch Annie change as we wait together. She’s never had babies before, she doesn’t know what exactly is going on. There is nothing in this world more amazing than new life, and these little expected friends are already beloved.

A second generation of beloved tiny friends? I wouldn’t miss raising those little ones for anything in the world.

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Pine Mountain Thunderstorm, 30 SEP 2010

And as for so many I love? None of us are getting any younger, and the future is never certain. Last night I watched a man nearly run down by a car ten feet in-front of me, as I crossed in the same intersection from the opposite corner. I’ve had many close calls, and several instances where I was spared from certain death. I’ve lost dear friends who were not old and still had much living to do. That any of us will live to greet the following morning is neither known nor certain. Every moment of every day in this life is a dear and precious gift. Time cannot be bottled, nor saved…nor kept, nor held — only savored, cherished, remembered…or else merely regretted for its passing.

Life in this world is to short and too precious to live with regrets.

Life and time are dearly precious, but love is the single greatest gift in all creation. Do you know it? Do those you love know you know it? Do those you love know you love them? Seriously. Those you hold dear and love — all of them — do they know without question that they are loved? Do they know without question they are loved by you???

It’s a valid question, though perhaps a disturbing one: Do you say “I love you” enough — and mean it unquestionably — such that there can be no room for doubt in the minds of those you love that they are loved?

It’s not that hard (unless you don’t mean it). If a loved one suddenly comes to mind, pray for them, and drop a very quick line or two of love and encouragement in their direction (not that complicated, don’t overthink this…). Most of us have camera phones, if you see something fun or beautiful that someone you love would particularly enjoy, send the moment along.

Because the truth is, the greatest cost to you will be a few moments of your time.

There are likely a few among my own close friends reading this with a wry smile at this point.

The truth is, “just because” is the most wonderful, beautiful, important reason in the world to love and bless someone. Let the sun never set on your anger, truly, but just as important? Never part company with those you love lest your parting words be that you love them — you never know if or when you may ever meet them again (and life in this world is too short and to precious to live with regrets).

I wouldn’t be a good friend to opt-out of the chance to love, bless, encourage, share wonder, and pray for all those I love (especially if I am opting-out of 9.5 months of life for the expressly selfish purpose of potentially avoiding personal suffering — that’s inexcusably shallow!).

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Sylmar hill walk, 8 MAR 2013, Santa Monica Mountains

Whether I am a good disciple or not I will leave for Christ to work out, but it does not follow for a good disciple to be one self-seeking comfort for one’s own sake in a way that divorces herself from life, love and all humanity. I simply love life — and love my Lord and my God — too much to ever wish such a thing. And if my friend only meant that by my sleeping my life away, that she wished it so that I may be further protected from suffering and harm? I remind that to be so-protected from harm not only means I will be unable to experience pain and suffering in my slumber…but that I will be unable to experience all the joy and love possible in this life as well.

In the First Week of his Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius of Loyola wrote:

“Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul.

And the other things on the face of the earth are created for man and that they may help him in prosecuting the end for which he is created.

From this it follows that man is to use them as much as they help him on to his end, and ought to rid himself of them so far as they hinder him as to it.

For this it is necessary to make ourselves indifferent to all created things in all that is allowed to the choice of our free will and is not prohibited to it; so that, on our part, we want not health rather than sickness, riches rather than poverty, honor rather than dishonor, long rather than short life, and so in all the rest; desiring and choosing only what is most conducive for us to the end for which we are created.”

Now, my friend’s wish for me had two clauses…the second part being that the reason for sleeping until 2014 would be because “it’s got to be better.”

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Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, 12 MAR 2013

Does it? I’m not sure that’s actually true. I’m not signing up for a lifetime of masochistic asceticism, but “being comfortable” isn’t on the list of promises associated with being a faithful disciple of Christ. The Bible has a lot to say about suffering, we are also promised comfort for our afflictions, and we are promised glory both in heaven and when Christ comes again…but there are no promises that following Christ will be a comfortable journey. To be clear, I’m not seeking suffering, but I also do not seek (nor do I explicitly prefer) a life of insulated apathetic comfort.

Because like it or not, life is under no obligation to “get better,” and God is under no obligation to “make things better” in accordance with our particular requests. However? My Lord and my God is a good God, a loving God, a merciful God, a gracious God — a God who keeps his promises. If I strive to live my life prayerful that my desires be in alignment with God’s will for my life, “better” becomes completely beside the point because living life in alignment with God’s will is already “best.”

And can anything I wish for myself possibly be greater than what God wills for me?

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Wildwood Park, 12 SEP 2010, Thousand Oaks, CA

Q. 1. What is your only comfort, in life and in death?

A. That I belong — body and soul, in life and in death — not to myself, but to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ, who at the cost of his own blood has fully paid for all of my sins and has completely freed me from the dominion of the devil; that he protects me so well that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, that everything must fit his purpose for my salvation. Therefore, by his Holy Spirit, he also assures me of eternal life, and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.

— The Heidelberg Catechism

By no means would I ever say I don’t want life to get better — I absolutely do — but I also believe life is only worth living when you can find God in all things (sometimes a stretch, but always possible). “Life always getting better” didn’t make the list for “only comfort, in life and in death,” but God’s love, mercy, sovereignty, and providence did.

I can live with that. — VKS

Another beautiful day in the City of Angels

Yesterday morning got off to a rough start, but became a blessed day.  The joy for my dear friend whose happily-awaited fifth grandchild was born early that morning, and joy for her family carried me through the day (and joy is always a blessing).

For various reasons — not the least of which that it was a gloriously beautiful day yesterday (as it is today) — I went downtown to explore the city yesterday afternoon with a Metro Day Pass.  Lunch at Union Station, Little Tokyo, Olvera Street (Olvera Street NEVER disappoints for the air being electrically charged with fun); patronized my favorite shop too), then Chinatown and home.

Woke up prayerful today, but today is turning out to be one of those days with no peace where every moment tests my patience and resolve NOT to have a negative emotional response to everything that is making me crazy about my life and world.  My temper is short and I know it, it’s about opting out.

Not always the easiest thing in the world to manage.

I woke up prayerful and happy, but life soon blasted the peace out of my morning.  Life can be hard, but days with an emotional storm cloud are a bit harder during Lent somehow.

My Ignation contemplation is presently the question of the heroes of my faith (I’m still thinking about this and what I have to say about it). 

My small group lesson this week is on love…with directed questions that are making me cringe (as the questions are directed questions that will draw a line between my life/outlook on life and “normal” people).

There will be a lot of challenges this week, and I’m facing a lot of personal, relational, and circumstantial challenges.  I’m staring down a week from the vantage point of a Monday…staring at a week full of things I don’t particularly want to face.  As I was typing this a giant nasty roach started exploring the edge of my tablet (it has since been killed…I’m so done with them too).  My life doesn’t work, it’s not sustainable, and I’m afraid I have more questions for God than answers from God about how to “fix” this.  Like so many things in my life, only God can fix this…and I really wish he would.

I read on, I write on, but it may be a pretty quiet week for writing as “real life” is both challenging and exhausting right now.

But on the bright side…today is another bright and beautiful day in the City of Angels. — VKS