Saturday, March 23, 2013

Life didn't turn out the way I thought it would

While part of what I do to make a living involves planning, I plan for everything. Planning is in my DNA, here are but a few examples;

  • Driving Directions – While I have an iPad, multiple smart phones and a GPS, I never just leave the house and trust them. Before leaving I always look at a map, figure out the best path (including multiple alternate routes in case of traffic) and print out my route. Yes, I print it – you never know when all the cell towers might all of a sudden go off-line and the GPS satellite could fall out of orbit. I also plan for plenty of travel time plus extra time to spare. I’m not certain how God feels about it, but being late is a great big sin in my book.
  • Projects – Whether it’s raking leaves or tearing out and completely renovating the kitchen, it’s a project and needs planning. No matter the size of the project, I break it down into several smaller tasks, I put the tasks in order and figure out the total time and cost. When we traveled to Italy, there was a detailed spreadsheet with the dates, places and things we were going to visit and do.
  • Painting – First of all, I carefully estimate the amount of paint that I’ll need and then about double it just to eliminate any possible need to make a second trip to the store. After removing all furniture and things from the walls, I put down a drop cloth and “edge” around the ceiling, corners and baseboards (twice.) Then I roll the walls in 4’ by 4’ sections; starting on the top half of the wall I roll in a “W” shape followed by an “M” shape and then rolling over any uncovered space. I then roll horizontally over the area followed by a final “vertical” roll. I repeat this process around the room, section by section.

By now I’m sure you really doubt my sanity! Yes, I pretty much plan just about everything I do. I even plan all the meals and cooking. I shop once a day and pick up all the fresh ingredients I need for the day’s meals, looking at plans for dinner to ensure that I have all the ingredients. This week I made Asian Noodles in a peanut and tahini (sesame seed) sauce so I needed lots of spices and ingredients. Taking my recipe to the kitchen, I carefully inspected what I had and made a list for shopping at the store. I am happy to report that the Asian Pasta dish came out exceptionally well.

The same cannot be said about my braised pork dinner though. I “thought” I had plenty of chicken stock but forgot that I had just given it to a worthy cause - chicken noodle soup lunch at Mary Ann’s school. Not wanting to go out just for chicken stock, I made a last minute substitution of seafood stock for chicken stock (which is nothing near a fair trade or replacement.) It turned out “OK” but I’m certain that it would have been better with chicken stock. While meals do hang in the balance, no one in our house goes crazy if you make a last minute substitution and produce a clunker once in a while. 

The same cannot be said about life though. This week I had multiple conversations where people said “Life didn’t turn out like I planned.” As I listened, they each had made careful plans, setting the course of their lives, doing all the right things yet they seemed to be missing something. While they had enough things, there seemed to be a hollow pause in their voice as they described life like empty rooms. Rooms that were made to be filled with people, laughter and joy yet their lives seemed to reflect the emptiness of their soul.

All of this came to mind like a flood this morning as I read a piece in (of all places) the Wall Street Journal. Towards the end of this article the author wrote, “Maybe it comes down to this: We want God.”[1]

In those few insightful words, the author captured the essence of what my friends were looking for. They had tried to fill up the rooms of their heart with everyone and everything except the one who could give them comfort, purpose and meaning in life. Without a guide to point the way, we all will drift or run in a direction that ends in loneliness, self-doubt and a sense that life didn’t turn out all that well.

One evening, Jesus was having dinner with the socially undesirable of his day. I’m sure that they asked the same question about life not turning out the way they planned. After all, who starts out in life planning to be a traitor to his people and homeland? Who truly plans to become a prostitute? They were outcasts and looked down on by society as a whole, but especially by self-righteous religious leaders. When Jesus hears the arrogant grumble against his desire to be with these outcasts, he blasts these conceited, self-righteous bigots. “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what God means when he says: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” [2]

Jesus continues reaching out to us. He knows that “life didn’t turn out the way we had hoped.” Sometimes it’s because of our decisions, actions or words. Sometimes it was because what someone else did or said. No matter the cause or reason, Jesus is ready and willing to help and heal our brokenness of soul and fill the empty meaningless of life. He knows our weakness and failures, yet he loves us and wants to live life with us.

Now is the time to stop self-medicating to heal our broken hearts. No amount of self-will or planning can fill us with meaning, purpose and restoration. Only by turning to Jesus can life turn into something good, pure and full.

Blessings - Chet

Chet Gladkowski speaks and writes on topics that touch on culture, life and faith through GLAD Associates. This article is taken from a chapter in his upcoming book.

[1] 'Go and Repair My House,' Heard the Saint of Assisi, By Peggy Noonan, Wall Street Journal, March 16th, 2013
[2] Matthew 9:12,13

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Where did it go?

Now I’m a pretty organized person. I know where just about everything is because I put it where it belongs. I had this drilled into me from a very early age. Everything has a place and everything in its place.

My mom’s kitchen was well organized. Things got put away after each and every use. Utensils went in one of those organizers in the top drawer, big sharp knives in the 3rd drawer, paper and plastic bags in the bottom drawer. Even dirty dishes had their place: they did not stay on the table but were picked up immediately and whisked away to the sink where they were rinsed with scalding hot water before they were neatly stacked in the sink in a specific order (large plates on the bottom, other flat plates next, bowls next, pots were not kept in the sink but put on the left side for scrubbing with Comet and a Brillo pad.

My dad’s work room downstairs was equally well organized; tools were kept in their toolbox or tool belt. Each electric tool (drill, saber saw, circular saw) had individual boxes and slots in his workbench. We were welcome to use his tools, but we better put them back right afterwards. I was convinced that it was a very serious sin to leave a tool outside overnight, right below wasting food in the hierarchy of trespasses that were sure to send me to an eternity of stale food and dirty tools while being chased by frothy Brillo pads.

Now you would think that my bedroom growing up would have followed in the same mold as my parents’ kitchen and workroom. You could think that but you’d be dead wrong. While I was required to “dust” my room, I just pushed the dust bunnies that were the size of large rats under my bed. Once a year I had to clean out my closet so my dad could get to the Bat cave (that’s what I called the attic where the Christmas lights were stored.) I use the term “clean out” rather loosely as I picked up all manner of stuff off the floor; toys, clothing, goulashes, pieces of my Erector set, loose B-B’s and dropped it all unceremoniously in paper bags, setting them aside waiting for the end of Yuletide. Once the Christmas decorations were returned to the Bat cave, I emptied the bags back onto the floor until next year... same Bat-time; same Bat-channel.

Now that I’m a law-abiding, responsible and productive member of society, I keep my life well planned and organized. There is an “in-box” on the right-hand corner of my desk where I faithfully deposit the contents of all my pockets whenever I return home. This ritual includes keys, wallet, cell phone, golf tees, you name it. Receipts and other trash immediately go in the can while loose change goes into a clean red Chinese takeout box.

For the most part, my physical and computer “desktops” are also well organized, clean and free of miscellaneous junk. The only exception is when I’m working on a big project (putting together all my records and receipts for taxes.) I have well organized physical and virtual “folders” that are in alphabetical order with sub-folders when needed. I have been blessed with a good memory so I can quickly and easily find most anything whether it’s in my work area, kitchen, filing cabinet, computers, iPod, smart phone, internet.

There is a method to my madness; there is a very important reason why I do all this. I don’t follow this detailed plan because I enjoy doing it, just the opposite is true. I do all this and more because I hate not being able to find things. Did you hear what I said; I used the “H” word, HATE.  I hate not being able to immediately get something, knowing where things are. The panic I feel when I lose something is really deep. When I can’t find my keys, or misplace my cellphone, there is a real feeling of being out of control. I start checking and rechecking all my normal spots, looking over and over for it.

Can I tell you a secret? As I write these words I feel like I’m on Oprah or Piers Morgan when they lean in and say in that low and friendly voice, “Come on, you can tell me, just between the two of us.” I really admire people that can relax when they can’t find something and put it out of their mind. Not me. If I can’t find something, I start slowly and methodically looking for it, as I feel the anxiety rise within me. If after five minutes I still can’t find it, panic starts to grow and grow. It would have made a great episode on any sit-com to watch me search for any lost item, with the emphasis on ANY.

Now you might feel that my fear is a bit over the edge, some will think that I need professional help and others are firmly convinced that I should be institutionalized. But if we are honest with one another, we all have some area of sensitivity and feelings about being out of control. For me, it’s not being able to find things. For some, it’s having a clean home, a nice looking home, an orderly appearance for everyone to see. For many people they are deathly afraid about some part of their past coming out.

This is exactly what happened when a woman was thrown in front of Jesus. The “spiritual leaders” of that community found her in bed with someone other than her husband and they challenged Jesus to be judge, jury and executioner. Rather than argue law, morality or how they found her “in the very act,” Jesus ignores their words and goes to the center of their heart when he told them "All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!" One by one they skulked away, embarrassed no doubt by their personal moral failure memories. While Jesus briefly talks about her past, he is definitely more interested in her future. Jesus concludes his conversation with this poor, unfortunate woman by assuring her that he does not condemn her, sends her on her way with a warning to stop. [1]

I really believe that Jesus wants us to Look back, Learn but not Linger about our past. Jesus does not want our past to “define” us but he wants to use his forgiveness in our lives to instruct, motivate and change us.

Recently I listened as someone wanted help in asking forgiveness. I could have probed; bringing up dirty details, holding their feet to the fire and “stoning” them for every little thing they said or did. But I thought about Jesus and how he freely gave forgiveness to this woman, but more importantly his free and total forgiveness to me. As I listened, I heard how God had been moving in their life and their humble and broken heart that yearned to restore broken relationships.

Jesus words to you and me are as powerful and applicable as they were when he first uttered them more than 2,000 years ago to that broken, condemned and scared woman.  The words and heart of “Neither do I condemn you” should be on the bumper sticker of our heart since each of us has missed the mark so many times. He neither condones nor condemns, he gives. If Jesus, who is both God and a perfect man can forgive, so should we. If God is willing to pay the price and forgive me, I cannot think of a single reason not to forgive others or myself, other than my pride and self-centeredness.

Please understand, some who are reading these words have been deeply hurt by the acts and sins of others. I’m not dismissing their wrong in the least. But our ability to heal, grow and move on with our lives is deeply tied to our willingness and aptitude to forgive.

Our need and ability to move beyond who we were to who God wants us to become is a powerful and demanding question. Go and sin no more give all of us the freedom to lose our guilt and shame before God, others and ourselves. I can rest my life and conscience in Jesus. As I lose my guilt and shame, that’s something worth not finding again.

Blessings - Chet

Chet Gladkowski speaks and writes on topics that touch on culture, life and faith through GLAD Associates. This article is taken from a chapter in his upcoming book.

[1] John 8:1-11