Saying Goodbye…

Saying Goodbye…

We all probably say hello and goodbye thousands of times throughout our lives. Hello’s are usually pleasurable and goodbye’s, well, not very often so. Sometimes goodbyes are followed by “catch you later” or “see you tomorrow” or even “see you next year”. There’s an expectation of renewal and the anticipated enjoyment of seeing that friend or acquaintance again, whether it’s just overnight or even a year from now. We simply rest in the knowledge that, God willing, we’ll meet again.

It’s when the goodbye being spoken is to someone that has passed is what carries the most pain. Saying goodbye to a family member, friend or acquaintance that has passed away is an incredibly painful and hard thing to do. You know that you’ll never have that person in your life again and will never, ever, in this life, cross paths to again say hello. I’m sure most of you know this from personal experience and can relate to what I’m saying.

I also know that saying goodbye to a family pet can be just as painful and difficult.

Just the other day, my wife and I had to put our little Chihuahua, Rascal to sleep. We had him for 14½ years and he was just an absolute delight to us.   He filled our lives with such incredible happiness and joy and we looked forward to coming home to him each and every day. His animated doggie personality was just so funny and he and I had our own little love language between us. I could say something ridiculously stupid to him and he would know exactly what I was talking about. I would often laugh out loud at him and he would look at me quizzically as if to say, “what are you laughing at, you’re the one who said something stupid!” He could bark or growl or whimper or whine and I knew exactly what he wanted. The wagging of his tail and the brightness of his eyes filled my life with pure joy. I loved him so much…

He slept next to our bed on top of a hope chest all snuggled in his little dog bed. I think he had about five or ten thousand small blankets littered throughout the house, (well, it certainly seemed like that many). If I woke up at night, I would always reach over and rub him, then make sure he was covered up. Then Randi would do the same thing, but she would take the covers off thinking he was too hot. We did this little dance with him throughout his life. He didn’t care…he just wanted to be with us.

At the moment, it’s just too painful for me to write about his illness and the decision we had to make in the wee hours of the morning that it was time. And, to be honest, the tears come as I write these words. Walking back in the house after being out is the worst. I expect to see and hear him at every turn and seeing the emptiness of the room where he stayed while we were out is just excruciating.

I tried going to work in the hopes that being with my clients and friends at the gym would ease the pain. It didn’t. I lasted an hour. And, my sincere apologies to those whose sessions I had to cancel.

Cherish each and every moment with those whom you love, because they can be taken away from you in an instant. Please re-read that last sentence and allow it to sink in to your very core. I know this life is temporary, as I’ve written about it before. But, it doesn’t for one moment negate or ease the pain for those who are left behind after a loved one passes.

I miss you terribly my little buddy. But, I know that where you now dwell, there is no pain and suffering. Only love…

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It’s Temporary…

Everything in the natural is temporary. Everything. Even our planet is temporary. Although it could be hours from now or thousands of years from now until it ceases to be, the earth’s existence is temporary. What brought this to mind were scenes from the recent, horrific flooding events in Colorado. Having lived there for almost a year, I can tell you for this to have happened and for it to have caused so much catastrophic devastation, the rainfall must’ve been never ending and torrential in proportion to normal rainfall. In several days, parts of Colorado received what they normally get in a year. Seeing photos and videos of remote mountain roads that I’ve gleefully traveled washed away, towns that I’ve visited dozens of times now underwater and mountain trails that I’ve hiked in absolute spiritual bliss no longer in existence or buried under tons of mud and debris, just brings to mental clarity that our earth’s permanence is not guaranteed. Not by a long shot. Not the planet itself, not the seas, not the mountains, not the landscape and certainly not the people. It brings you to a sobering realization…

The tragic events happening all over the globe (feel free to bring to mind whichever ones you’d like…as there are plenty), whether man-made or natural, have been occurring at a breakneck pace. And, it’s my opinion that they’re not going to stop, much less diminish in frequency anytime soon. As a matter of fact, I think such occurrences are going to increase. Not only in scope and nature, but in shock value.

My apologies, as I know this particular blog post seems to be a bit of a bummer.

However, au contraire…it gets better.

How we view the world and the things around us is what affects us as humans. What I mean is that most folks respond to stressors and conditions from worldly happenings in a negative way. It causes us to lose our happiness, joy and peace because we feel we’ve lost control. We don’t know what to do and we don’t know where to look for help. But, when we learn to change the dynamic of how we view the world and how not to let it affect us, it is only then that we can live in true peace. Sure, we’re still sympathetic and saddened by tragic events, but we don’t let them rule or control our emotions, or our lives.

I’ve come to the realization that in my own personal impermanence, I can’t and won’t rely on man, or the world for my provision, my protection and my place…that is the key. Because I know that this can only come from God. Unfortunately, folks who rely on the world for such things have difficulty understanding that man, along with the world, is irrevocably fallible and that man and the world can and will fail us. We feel safe as long as things are going our way, then when things go belly up or another tragedy occurs, we’re shocked and surprised that it happened! We become discouraged, but over time invariably return to trusting the world again and continue getting stung again and again. Sound familiar?

God however, will not fail us. Ever. In this temporary life, I’ve chosen not to toil by the sweat of my brow or the muscle of my back. It wasn’t always like that, but it is now. I’ve realized that in my walk with God, He has always been there for me. And, it is only from Him that I’ve prospered. Not from man or the world.

In his uplifting second letter to the Corinthian church in Greece around 55 AD, the apostle Paul wrote about the impermanence of this life, but reveled about what lies ahead for those who believe in God. In 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (NIV), Paul said…”Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal”.

It bears repeating. “We fix our eyes not on what is seen, but what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal”. When thought about from a spiritual perspective, the depth of the corollary goes to the core. It is absolutely awesome. It gives hope…

He knew. Paul knew that the world was wasting away. Even 2000 years ago. He knew that man could provide him nothing. But, God would…and, did.

When we fix our lives on what we see…the natural, we’ll toil and sweat to provide for ourselves, with indeterminable results. But, when we look to what we can’t physically see, (the things of God) and rely on that, and for those who believe…God is our provision, protection and place. Paul anchored this scriptural truth in the next chapter. In 2 Corinthians 5:7, he said…”We live by faith, not by sight”. For those who believe in Him, we are His sons. And, we can expect an inheritance from Him as sons that will palpably and deeply change us. In a world of chaos, again for those who believe, we know that it is only God who can provide for us.trust

So, take a brief look around you, locally and globally…do you really want to continue to trust man to provide for you?

A Ground Hog Moment…

I saw something the other day that broke my heart. I was returning home from the supermarket and noticed something moving on the far side of the road, near the grass. Traffic was very light and as I slowed down to look, a ground hog stood up and looked at me from across the roadway. He was standing over another obviously deceased ground hog that was lying on its back, apparently having been struck by a car. I’m using the word “he” as he was much larger than the dead ground hog which I assumed was a female. As I slowly passed, he did something that I’ll never forget…he laid down sideways over his deceased mate and laid his head and neck over and onto her upturned head and neck, then didn’t move an inch. It was as if he was comforting her, coaxing her to get up and telling her that everything was going to be alright. He was exhibiting the animal kingdom’s rendition of grief and sorrow. It struck me in a very deep place…

It also got me to thinking…why is it that we do the things we do to our fellow man? Constant news reports of various acts of violence and brutality are an every minute occurrence once you log on to a news feed, one incident seemingly more abhorrent than the next. Yes, good things do happen too, but reporting them is usually relegated to a small blurb. It seems folks like to read about the other stuff better.

While I know the animal world can be a violent place, it was this particular act, by an animal, of grief, sorrow and compassion that brought me to write about it. We can drop a few coins in the tip jar at the local convenience store or stop to help a stranded motorist along the highway, but as soon as we get home or to work we’ll yell at our kids, berate our spouses or co-workers, or just remain cold, detached and uninterested in the lives of those around us.

Where is OUR compassion for others?

It took the compassionate, grief-stricken act of a simple ground hog for me to realize that I need to bump it up a few notches. I need to care more than I do now. And, then more than that tomorrow. God does things like that…he uses the most seemingly insignificant circumstances to bring us to our senses. And, sometimes to our knees.

I’ll never forget that road side moment…and, I pray that God will never ALLOW me to forget.

Taking Stock…

Here in New Jersey, lawns are being mowed, bushes and shrubs are being pruned and homes are being cleaned and aired out. Garages are purged of unwanted and stored “stuff”, and then organized along with cars being cleaned and waxed. Its springtime and the yearly ritual of shedding the old and bringing in the new with a “re-birth” of our surroundings are upon us. The days are becoming longer and warmer and people are stepping outside with a renewed sense of purpose.

Everyone is taking stock…of their lives, their belongings and their mindsets. It seems that springtime brings out the desire for a new perspective with some folks re-evaluating and re-generating mundane lives while others continue to live happily and quite contentedly in the status quo. I believe it’s a good thing that we routinely step back and look at our lives with a fresh set of eyes as there are very often things that we need to keep…and things we need to jettison.

I want things in my life that add value….people, belongings and most importantly emotions. We very often maintain our attachments to things that continue to suck the life out of us, (see my blog on “attachments”). And, these unhealthy attachments can keep us from feeling true joy and peace. Unfortunately, some find a skewed sense of comfort in maintaining relationships that keep them from the joy and peace I just mentioned. Maybe it’s the coziness of familiarity or maybe it’s just that they don’t know (or, are afraid) how to rid themselves of it. As I said, these unhealthy relationships can take the form of people, belongings and personal emotions. Are you one of these people? Ask yourself…is this (enter person/thing/emotion here) adding value and true enjoyment in my life, or is it slowly killing me? In either case, you may have to do some reassessing.

I pray that you’re walking in true contentedness throughout your life’s experiences, as that is how it is supposed to be. Let me repeat that…you are supposed to be content in all your experiences, with true peace and joy.

So…are you?

Confidence, Trust and Love…

Three words sorely missing from our culture and lives today.  As a matter of fact, over the years, confidence and trust in things of the world has been replaced (by me anyway) from gratuitous and often mindless “agreement” to loud chuckling, guffawing and outright laughter.  My parent’s generation was conditioned to follow to the letter and believe anything said by anyone in the public eye.  This included not only those people in charge, but also anything anyone said on TV or in the news.  Today however, I believe it’s a much different story.  We’ve been lied to so many times, in so many different ways, that anything anyone says is looked upon with a jaundiced eye and a raised eyebrow.

I’m a bit of a news junkie, but nowadays with almost every word or written story, I shake my head and wonder in disbelief, “What in the world are they thinking?”  From the self-serving antics of the political arena (on both sides of the aisle), political correctness (whatever that is), global saber rattling and religious power wrangling to the hilarious buffoonery of Hollywood, all I can do is laugh.  The world stage is a comedy of errors, (some would say a comedy of terrors).  But, if anything, it makes for wonderful entertainment.  I often ponder what the person next door is thinking.  Do they see the same things I do, or are they in staunch agreement with things as they are being reported in the world?  I often wonder if others see the craziness as much as I do.

I know my reactions to the above may sound a little disparaging and maybe even a bit condescending, but I really don’t mean it to.  I just can’t help but realize that what is happening in and around the world has been scripturally prophesied for centuries.  We just happen to be a part of the audience in all its spectacular foolishness.  Want to know something though…it’s all part of a grand and wonderful plan.

The one thing that I am fiercely certain of is that I know and have known for many years that my confidence and trust comes not from man, but from God.  Anyone who walks with the Lord knows this.  But, I have to admit…I sometimes like watching the show from the world’s perspective as it is stuff that can’t be made up.  It’s great fodder for amusement.  Maybe I’m wrong for my thoughts about it, but just when I think the head-scratching outrageousness of one story can’t be topped, I’m profoundly mistaken ‘cause there’s another right behind it.  The list of examples is mindboggling and I’m not even going to attempt it here.  Just turn on the TV, pick up a newspaper or surf the internet…and you’ll be able to watch the fun from a front row seat and keep yourself entertained for hours.

OK…I’m done poking fun at the world.  My apologies if I’ve offended anyone who may not see things as I’ve described them.  It’s obviously not all like this, because there are some wonderful things going on in the world.  But, the majority of it can’t be denied.  The sad truth about it is that man (humans) will always let us down.  They will disappoint us, steer us wrong and deceive and mislead us.  As Christians however, we still have to love them.  We don’t have to trust, believe or “buy in” to them, but we’re called to love them.  It’s putting the heart of the Father on display in our lives every day so others see it.  And, it’s what separates us from those who don’t believe.  This has nothing to do with going to church or loving those people in our lives who are easy to love.  It’s about loving those who are difficult and challenging to love.  Those who cause the hairs on our necks to bristle every time we see them or hear them speak.  Do you know a few folks like these in your life?

The grand and wonderful plan I spoke of earlier is God’s plan.  I’ve explained in other blog essays that God isn’t surprised by anything.  He knows exactly what is happening, how it is happening and why it is happening.  So, I try not to be annoyed or get upset about what is happening all around us.  I just try and let God be God and continue to love on people as much as I can.  The word “love” and variations of it can be found between 500-600 times in the Bible, dependent upon the version.  Plus, there are over 35 scriptures relating to loving our neighbors (people/humans) and the word “trust” is used over 100 times.  So, my humble assumption is that these are key commitments in our walk with Him…wouldn’t you agree?

Jesus was asked by a religious leader of the day which of all the commandments was the most important.  His reply can be found in the book of Mark, chapter 12, verses 29-31 (NIV); “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this:…Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.  The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’.  There is no commandment greater than these”.

Loving those who are difficult to love can be hard, and I am a definite work in progress when it comes to this.  But, it is a foundational tenet of having a relationship with God and this is where unwavering confidence, trust and love can be found…in Him.  He is the only one who will not let us down.  So, when things of the world seem chaotic and confusing, know that you have absolutely no control over it.  Just put the heart of the Father on display and love on those around you…every day.

And, maybe…just maybe, by doing so, you’ll make a vast and enormous difference in the life of someone whose existence is mired in the world’s madness.

Attachments…

On the heels of my blog essay on simplifying our lives, it came to me that I might expound on the use of the term “emotional attachment”.  I thought I’d write about this because I know from personal experience that it’s sometimes difficult to rid ourselves of extraneous and unneeded belongings.  As humans, we have a distinct propensity to become attached or connected to our possessions longer than we need them.  For some, certain objects can be a definition of who we are or who we may want to be.  For a child, this is very obvious.  They might have an attachment to a toy or other possession, most likely a pacifier, stuffed animal or blanket.  And, that’s fine ‘cause they’re children.  But, I’ve known folks who have kept similar items well into adulthood, (a 2010 survey by the hotel chain Travelodge of 6,000 British adults concluded that 1 in 3 brought and slept with a stuffed animal).  Now, I know everything we read on the internet is true (sarcasm), but that figure astounded me.  How many of you folks still have stuffed animals on your bed right now as you’re reading this, or maybe even in your car? (Big smile here!).  I’m certainly not saying this is wrong, but it may point to other things in our lives that need to be jettisoned.

adult with teddy bear

I’ll use some personal examples as you may be able to relate to experiences in your own lives.  The pick-up truck I’ve owned since 2006, (with 108,000 miles on it) recently died.  I use the term “died” here as when a motor blows, the life of a vehicle is, in essence over.  I wasn’t going to put a new motor in a vehicle with a transmission that had that many miles on it, so I sold it to the owner of the repair shop where it sat.  The day I went to clean it out and sign over the title was a little emotional for both me and my wife.  This was a vehicle in which we spent many, many hours (even, days) and which took us to many wonderful places.  Randi didn’t even want to go into the lot where the truck was parked and to be honest, neither did I.  As I was cleaning it out, a flood of memories came back to me (see my essay on Road Trips) and I actually got a little choked up.  Here was an object made of metal, steel, rubber and other inorganic materials and I felt as if I was selling my first born child.  I gathered my stuff and bolted away from there as quickly as I could, not once looking back at the truck that gave me such great pleasure.  I felt as if it was calling after me…”Hey!!, Yo!!, where ya’ going, why are you leaving me here?”  Even as I write this, I can still feel a bit of emotion.

Robby hugging truck

I also recently threw away a backpack I’d owned since 1982.  You may be shaking your head, not only at the fact that I’d owned it that long, but that I actually remember the year in which I bought it.  This backpack had been all over the world with me and “we” had great adventures together.  I think I kept the Duct Tape Company afloat just by owning this thing.  As I stood at my front door and watched the trash men throw the plastic bag containing the torn and tattered backpack into the back of their truck, I felt as if a part of my life went with it.

For you it may be a vehicle, a backpack or something else.  It could be an old TV, a piece of clothing or even a house.  I remember sitting at settlement when I purchased my first home and the elderly woman I bought it from was sobbing as she signed the papers.  She explained that this house was where she and her husband lived their entire lives, worked and raised a family, retired and where he eventually passed away.  Her whole life was tied to that house…and, I understood.  She was grieving a loss.  The physical bonds we have with the things we cherish can be sentimental, emotional or they can even be financial.  But, I believe it’s the sentimental part that holds the most power over us.  When we touch, caress or even look at an object we own, it can bring back very pleasant memories, (and, it can also elicit unpleasant ones too).  We feel “connected” in some way, there is a definite nostalgia involved and we can re-live those times in our lives when and where we felt the most pleasure, joy or sense of peace.

So, why is this?  Why is it that certain inanimate objects can mean so much to us and why do they very often have such palpable control over us?  There are explanations for this phenomenon all over the internet and I’ll leave that for you to peruse at your leisure.  The point I’m trying to make is when these things control us to the place where “we” lose control, then it can become a issue.  Have you seen the show American Pickers?  The stuff these guys buy from folks all over the country are often stored in rows and rows of out buildings and barns, sometimes taking up acres of ground.  Every time I see the show, I think to myself “why in the world do they keep this stuff, they certainly can’t take it with them”.  In my recent blog about simplifying our lives, I talked about the freedom we can feel when we rid ourselves of objects and belongings once they’ve outgrown their usefulness.  Once we’ve removed these things from our lives, we no longer have to maintain a place for them.  But, when we hold on, it forces us to watch over them, ensuring that their feigned importance is preserved.  That alone is work in and of itself and it can be stifling.  While ridding my life from my own stuff, I’ve come across things I’d held on to that I didn’t even know I still had…sound familiar?

Folks, everything has a shelf life.  Some things last longer than others, but for purposes of our attachments to them, we must realize that the usefulness and longevity of our stuff is for the most part, going to be temporary.  Unless a possession has a specific purpose for daily living, it just doesn’t matter.

Look around.  See what doesn’t matter in your life, then let it go.  Each thing you let go is one less link in the chain that binds you to them.

Once the chains are gone, so is your tether to the unimportant…and in that, there is freedom.

freedom from chains

Road Trip…

Ahhh…road trip.  Two words that evoke excitement and anticipation.  I was fortunate enough to have been exposed to road trips early in my life as we vacationed every year in Virginia where my parents grew up.  Shortly after they were married, my parents moved north to New Jersey where my brother and I were born and raised.  But, their hearts always remained in Virginia.  So, every year after school let out and 99% of our Jersey friends and families were preparing to go “downa’ shore” for vacation, my brother and I knew the time was getting close to making the six-hour road trip to the hills and backwoods of Appalachia.  Seeing our relatives was cool enough, but it was the drive I loved the most.  Motoring past Philly, Baltimore and then Washington DC brought unbridled exhilaration as I knew the remote roads of south central Virginia lay ahead.  The smell of the farmlands, woods and red clay dirt was intoxicating and I never wanted it to go away.  I knew just about every landmark, every building and every rest stop along the way.  When we finally turned onto that long, winding, gravel road that led to my grandparent’s house, I could’ve cared less if I ever saw a blacktopped highway again.  The thrill of road tripping was burned into my spirit.

Roadtrip

While stationed at Parris Island, South Carolina, I would usually try and catch a ride home from someone on base.  But if I couldn’t, I would hitchhike from South Carolina to New Jersey.  Going home on leave was only part of the enjoyment though.  For me, it was the chance to sit in a car or truck for hours talking, listening to music, sightseeing or just being alone with my thoughts.  Let me say that hitchhiking cross country 40 years ago was much less dangerous than today, especially for a U.S. Marine in his green utility uniform.  Anyway, I always looked forward to meeting folks and having new adventures along the way…and, a road trip was always the answer.

After military service, I started doing some short backpacking trips with friends along the east coast.  It was 1980 and I had just finished several long hikes on the Appalachian Trail through the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.  These hikes took well over a few weeks to complete, but I found I wanted more adventure and it was then that I discovered climbing.  I came across an ad in an outdoor magazine for a rock and ice climbing school in North Conway, New Hampshire.  Whoa, that sounded like fun…another road trip!  I went during the height of the fall foliage season and New Hampshire was majestically beautiful.  The moment I stepped off the ground onto that near vertical, 500’ granite face, turned and looked out across the painted forest and mountains…I was hooked.

fall

Over the past 30 years, my mountaineering trips throughout the continental United States have been absolutely incredible and the accounts of these adventures could fill volumes.  But, it was almost always the journey, getting there…the road trip that excited me.  I loved spending days and sometimes weeks preparing for my excursions and would pour over just about any climbing book I could lay my hands on.  Packing, unpacking and re-packing became a wonderful part of the process as I would anticipate what the next expedition would bring.  I’ve driven cross country literally dozens of times and have put hundreds of thousands of miles on no less than 5 pick-up trucks over the years.  And, I was blessed to have had friends with me who shared the same passion for the road and for adventure.  Today, I am just as blessed to have a beautiful wife who shares a love for road trips and adventure as much as I do.  There is absolutely nothing like cruising down long, desolate “roads less travelled” while looking at incredible scenery and experiencing nature in its rawest form.  It does something to the mind, body and spirit that’s difficult to describe with words.  An example was a trip through some of the most remote areas of northern Alaska which allowed me to see things that most people may not ever get to see in their lifetime.  It culminated one night with a light show from the aurora borealis that will be forever etched in my mind.  Another was a solo trip to the Grand Canyon, just me and my dog.  While driving at night through the four corners region of the southwest (where Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah converge) I had a flat tire.  By the time I pulled over to repair it, it was pitch dark and I decided to sleep in my truck.  So, I opened my sleeping bag, crawled in and fell asleep.  The next morning was magical.  I hadn’t realized it but I had fallen asleep in the desert near a Navajo Indian reservation.  A burnt orange sunrise that created a multi-colored landscape greeted me as I crawled out of my bag.  Huge saguaro cactus trees and flat topped mesas loomed close and in the distance as far as I could see.  It was one of the most beautiful vistas I had ever seen.  These experiences are spiritual folks…and if you’ve done it and are familiar with what I’m talking about, I’m sure you’ll agree.

mesa - cactus

Over my many years of travelling, I knew it was God who was calling me to the mountains and I believe this is just one of the reasons we’re now in Colorado.  God has met me on the roads, on the hikes and on every rock or ice laden mountain I’ve ever climbed.  And, He’s met me in the valleys and on the summits too.  I think this is a huge part of why I love the mountains.  It’s because I meet my Father there and He speaks to my heart and to my spirit.  The better part of 50 years in and around the mountains is a testament to this.  Oh, sure, I can also meet Him in my living room, but He has given me a love for the high mountains where I know He feels the same joy as do when I’m there with Him.  Isaiah 2:3 says, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob.  He will teach us His ways, so that we may walk in His paths.”  I know there is more for me there and all I want to do is allow that to happen.  God has given me the love of this journey with Him and I know that is what He desires.  So, I will continue this road trip with Him for as long as He deems fit as I always know He has something there for me, on the journey and at the destination.  It keeps me coming back, time and time again.

So, grab your music, jump in your vehicle and take a road trip folks.  Use an atlas or GPS as your guide and let your spirit take you on an awesome adventure.  Remember, as has been said so many times…it’s the journey, not the destination.

And, I hope the Lord meets you there too…

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