Star Gazing

17991487168I believe the soul is the very being of who you are.  It is the essence of your existence.  It is the principal of your presence.  It matters more than anything…and I mean, more than ANYTHING.  More than your job, more than your house, more than your car, more than your marriage, more than your family, even more than your dog.  And, if this is true, and I’m just thinking out loud, but if this is true…why do we waste time on things that do not feed our soul?  Why do we invest in things that distract us from becoming who we are truly meant to be at the very center of our spirit?

Why don’t we create a space in our life, our home, our work, our commute, and our relationships that feeds this soul, this part of us that will move from this world to the next even as our bodies lie rotting in the grave?  Why instead, do we seek to entertain and numb the senses?  Why do we stress about the money and the drive and the work and the bills and the, and the, and the?  Why don’t we look for ways to renew our soul, to feed the very core of our beings?  Why don’t we seek solace?  Why don’t we pursue purpose?  Why don’t we want wisdom?  Why don’t we ask for answers?

As I write this, I am attending a day-long personal Advent retreat.  I am sitting alone in a cloistered room in the upper level of this three-story, turn-of-the-century home studying the Christmas story and the Wise Men who so committedly pursued the star in the sky in order to see a king in a stable.  It was their purpose.  It was their passion.

This amazing home and the time “away” has giving me the opportunity to reflect on the “Stars” in my own life; those things which guide me into the presence of God.  They may be people, events, places, or even experiences.  And to be honest, as I’ve pondered this idea and searched for the guiding light of my life, I’ve realized that, sadly, I have very few.  Or rather, I am aware of very few: I suspect the stars are there but I’m simply unable to see them clearly.  I’m too distracted by the blinding glare of the false illumination in my world.

I am reminded of our trip to Yellowstone Park in 2009.  We were driving from one end of the park to the other and because of the heavy traffic and the great distance, we found ourselves shy of our destination very late at night in a high plateau in the park. There were no cities, no street lights, and no other cars for miles.  We were there, alone, in the darkness.  We stopped the car and turned out all the lights and sat on the hood, looking up into a sky that was unlike any I’d ever seen before.  Without man-made ambient light to limit our vision, we were able to see stars in a way we’d never seen them before.  The clarity and intensity of those heavenly bodies was breath-taking.  They spanned the night sky and left us at a loss for words, in awe of their scope and grandeur.

As I think about the search for stars in my life that leads me, I realize that there is no time in my life when I am not blinded by the ambient distractions a busy world.  Understand, I don’t blame anyone but myself.  I’ve erected the lights.  I’ve cultivated the distractions.  I’ve created the lack of space and time for careful observation and sky gazing.

The sad truth is that I fail to carve out time that is purely committed to this endeavor.  Instead, I fill my hours with television, movies, busy work, worry and games – as many distractions as possible, diversions of every kind.  As a result, I fail to feed by soul, exercise my body, and manage my physical, emotional, and spiritual health.

And so, it begs the question:  What would I need to do to renew my soul on a daily basis?  What space do I need to create that will allow me to find peace, discover grace, and feed my soul?  And if you are like me, and I suspect you are, what do you need to do?  What space do you need to create?

Let’s be honest; when is the last time you truly looked at the stars?

Taking Out The Trash

cropped-austins-acre-sunrise-barn1.jpgLet’s be honest.  This was a week of crazy.  This was a work week of stupid.

In just three short days in the office I dealt with a liar and a thief and a couple very smart people without an ounce of ethics in their bones.  I was trapped in my office as people went on 30-minute rants about their drives to work, the conditions of the roads and the stupid people who drive them.  I suffered a man who seems to desire nothing more than making his girlfriend uncomfortable with his choices, his humor and his selfish desires.  I tolerated a woman who finds joy in making her coworkers’ lives miserable by assigning meaningless tasks.  I endured another woman who needed action on a project immediately, resulting in hours of work on my part only to find that she meant her 32 emails to go to someone else and their project.

It was a banner week.  One for the books.  And I can guarantee you’ve had one just like in the past…And will have one just like it in the future.  People can get under our skin.  Their constant droning can ring in our ears like the 7-year locust on a hot summer day.

However, I’ve discovered a new trick to avoid the annoying buzz they bring:  I let them carry out whatever they’ve carried in; not literally, of course, but in my own mind’s eye I see them hauling out the hubris.  What I do is this:  As they talk, blab, drone, blather and complain, I grab a notepad and I scribble down their story.  I record their rant.  I compose their confession.  I draft their droning.  I write their rant.

It’s like taking notes in a meeting…only a lot more fun.  I don’t write entire sentences but only jot key words, central themes and great quotes.  And when they leave, I throw it away. I simply toss it in the trash. I crumple the complaints. I destroy the diatribe.  I shred the sound off.  I trash their tirade.  When they leave the room, they take their garbage with them and I eliminate the evidence.

I don’t allow them to leave their emotional litter.  I pick up their piles of poisoned passion and I sweep away the sour sentiments.

Imagine a day in your life when you are not side-tracked by crazy.  Imagine a time when another person’s philippic doesn’t become your own internal struggle.  Imagine living life free from other peoples’ problems. This is one way to clear your desk and your mind and get back to the things that matter most.

Try it next week.  It just might work as well for you as it does for me!

 

Resolving to Revolutionize My Life

WWLHappy New Year!  This is it.  This is the one.  This is the year when everything changes:  You will make and save more money than ever before.  You will loose those last (or first) ten pounds.  You will find a meaningful hobby.  You will volunteer in a way that changes lives.  You will fix up the house, get a new wardrobe and read War & Peace.

This is the year that you climb the mountain of apathy, plant the flag of determination and take the stance of self-assurance.

This is your year and nothing will change your mind.  You will set your sail, stay the course and find new adventures over every horizon.

Or…you won’t.  You might just stay the same…or worse.

You might make less money and spend it foolishly.  You might blow up like a human balloon because you can’t control your eating and your emotions.  You might live a year of sloth; no hobby, no meaningful service, or no home repairs.  You just might sit around in Cheetos-stained t-shirts watching reruns of Happy Days wishing you were as cool as the Fonz.

Instead of blazing new trails, you are afraid to mow your own yard.  Instead of leading the charge into a life of adventure, you cuddle under your Harry Potter Snuggie in the dark of night.

This is it.  This is your year.  And it could go either way.  Which one will you select?

Happy Thanksgiving, 2013

20131117_160359I try to live my life in a way that reflects gratitude.  Sometimes I’m actually successful at reaching this goal.  There are times when I celebrate little things, give thanks for the many blessings and embrace those in my life who strengthen my heart with love or my character with challenge.  Sometimes.

There are other times that my pride and sense of entitlement overwhelms my better nature.  There are those times when I expect others to understand my selfishness and bow to my childish demands.  There are times when I become upset because life doesn’t fall into a perfect plan that benefits me.  There are those times.

Thanksgiving Day is the easy one, right?  November has become the month of Thanksgiving and we list off the 31 things we are thankful for; each day getting its own item.  But all that seems to change the minute the store doors open on Friday morning (or Thursday night, or Thursday morning, or Wednesday night).

But, what if each moment was as it should be:  Less about us, and more about others?  What if our hearts overflow with joy instead of bogged down with desire?  Shouldn’t we live lives of gratitude and grace instead of the desire to grab and go?  Shouldn’t we have pure souls and open minds instead of jaded thoughts and bitter viewpoints?

Thanksgiving:  It’s not just for November any more.

Grace House

Dinner Table

There are a few places in my life that bring deep peace to my heart and soul.  When I enter the space, I find comfort and ease.  Some of these sanctuaries of solace include the obvious locations:  The Chapel in the hospital and my church auditorium.

Others are more obscure:  McGregor Park, Turkey Run State Park, The Rocky Mountains, The Library.  But one haven of healing stands out above all others.

Of all my precious asylums, our abode is my favorite.  Our house is nothing short of a retreat center for my spirit, a balm for my soul.  It is a residence of rest, a hearth of harmony, a quarter of quiet.  Our home is a dear and wonderful place of tranquility and renewal.

I’m not exactly sure what makes this place so magical to my weary heart.  It might be the way the light shines through the dining room window on a late autumn evening.  It could be the way the grass grows in the back yard, thick and lush even on dry summer days.  It is possible that it is the amazingly warm and inviting colors we’ve painted the walls.  Or, most probably, it is the love and trust we’ve honed over the past thirteen years in this a little, vinyl-sided structure planted on a cul-de-sac in a norther-Indianapolis suburb.

Whatever it is that creates the mystery of this mansion, this house is more than my home.  It is my sanctuary: A place of grace.  It is “Grace House”…my place of safety and strength. And I love it, dearly.

And the Setting of the Same…

20131113_173505

When the day comes to an end and the sun slowly drops below the western horizon, it is a good opportunity to give thanks for another day; whether it was good or bad, evil or holy.  It is a moment to reflect that our world, though filled with trouble, does not compare to those who just lost everything in the wind and rain of a storm.  Our life, though disappointing at times, does not come close to the devastation that some suffer as they learn of the violent death of their loved on on the field of battle.  Let us be thankful.  Today, we drove to work and made it home safe.  Today, we earned money to buy food, put shelter over our heads and clothes on our backs.  Today, we celebrated the rising of the sun and the setting of the same.

Changing The Way You See It

“Mercy triumphs over judgement.”  James 2:13b

First, read this four-word nugget of wisdom again.

Now, think about the last time you were judgmental.  Perhaps it was in the line at the grocery store when you questioned the items of the person in front of you.  Maybe it was at your last family gathering when a sibling started talking about their financial struggles, again.  Or, on the other extreme, when a coworker blathers on about their new car, boat, TV, or their latest trip to some exotic location.  Or it might be every morning on the highway as that car cuts you off and speeds away.  We often begin and end our days with judgement.

We are very good at judging others.  We should be; we practice it enough.  But what does that get  us?  I would suggest it gets us nothing more than a jaded perspective and a hardened heart.

Now think of the last time you showed mercy.  It’s not as easy to come up with examples, is it?  Let me help:  It could be the time you listened to your coworker, spoke gently to your children, forgave your brother, encouraged your sister or bought lunch for a stranger.

Mercy triumphs over judgement.  It could if we practiced it more often.  I should if we allowed it to be a driving force to our actions.  It will when we stop thinking of our selves and really pay attention to those around us.

A Place To Call My Own

The New Office
My new office space / spare room.

There is something about having a room to call my own.  For the past many years, I’ve either had a desk in a dark corner of a busy room or in the middle of the chaos and hubbub.  However, this past weekend we claimed my sons’ room and turned it into a space I can finally call my own.

Grandpas Chair
Made by my great-grandfather, this chair is passed down to the first Austin son of the next generation. It will stay in my home for a very long time.

In this space I will study my class work.  At this desk I will write my novel.  On this couch I will read devotions.  In my grandfather’s chair I will sit quietly and pray.

This is a holy place.  It is a holy space:  Set aside for a purpose, this room will speak to my soul and allow the creativity of my inner being to flourish.

Who knows?  I might even pick up the guitar from time to time.

 

More of the Same

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf you follow Austin’s Acre, you know that I post pictures, thoughts and comments from time to time.

But did you know that I also post daily to my second blog, “My Journey to 50 Blog“?  It’s true.  If you are one of the 120 people who follow Austin’s Acre, you might also enjoy some of the posts in Journey to 50.

Journey to 50 is my attempt to track my life during this last year of my 4th decade of life.

Feel free to visit, to read a little and to follow the blog.  By clicking the button in the upper right-hand corner of the page, you’ll get an update every time I post.

It might not change your life but it surely can’t hurt.  And that’s really my goal.

http://myjourneyto50blog.com

From Boys to Men

Boys to MenThere is a beautify that comes from living with good friends over many years.  A rhythm develops and a give-and-take grows from weekly interactions, soulful conversations and an ongoing, loving dialogue.  You get to know each member very well and they, in turn, get to know you.  They can see when you are struggling.  They can help you prepare when the dark clouds form on the horizon. They stand beside you when parenting is hard.  They are present during surgeries, illness and family funerals.  They love you through the painful days in ways no one else can.

And they can share in your hopes, dreams, joys and celebrations.  They relish in your successes.  They are present when babies are born.  They cheer when graduations occur.  They sing at the tops of their lungs during birthday parties.

They are good friends walking with you along this path of life.

I’m am so happy that I am able to reap the benefits of this relational treasure.  But with the benefit comes a responsibility that to the members of your group and the generations that will follow.

The picture on the left is from May 2006. It reveals the men of our group and young Elliott, then 10 years old, as we volunteered at a local women’s shelter.  That day we moved wood, cleaned trash piles and gave sweat and blood to the project.  In short, we all spent a fun morning doing hard work that made a difference.  Elliott is now 18 years old.  He donates his time to the church.  He travels on missions trips.  He engages the community.  He is a productive member of society.  And we were a small part of that journey to adulthood.

The picture on the right was taken last night (July 5, 2013).  Javier is eight.  He is funny, energetic, and creative.  The men in our group engage him in conversation, ask him questions about his life and love him like a son.  There is no way for us to know what he will be ten years from now.  But we do know that it is our responsibility to stand with him, to love him, to guide him along that path and into adulthood.

Over our many years together, our group has helped raise Eli, Abby, Jonathan and Emily.  Most recently, we’ve loved Benjamin and Elliott to adulthood.  But we aren’t done.  We still need to hug on and pray for Claire, Hannah, Javi and Mia.  The youngest members of our troupe, Audry and Wesley are just learning what it means to be a part of this odd mix of extended family: Aunts and Uncles that are not in their blood line but love them as if they were.  And with each passing year we will find new ways to engage, love and care for these blessed charges as we continue to engage, love and care for each and every member of our group.

May God continue to give us wisdom, patience and love as we live out this incredible responsibility, this amazing challenge, and this awesome opportunity.

Happy Father’s Day To Me

042This is one of those days when the person in the chair doesn’t really know what to do with themselves.  Being a dad isn’t about getting pats on the back and high-fives for a job well done.

In fact, Father’s Day smacks against what it really means to be a father.

Men take hills and conquer armies, they don’t sit back a soak up the sun in the quiet of their back yards.

We keep our heads down and power on rather than look for congratulations and “job well done”.

There isn’t time for a day to honor.  There are yards to be mowed, trim to be painted, bushes to trim.

We can’t wait for breakfast to be made at 9:30 when we are use to being up at the crack of dawn.  We’re hungry at 6:45 and ready to get out the door before the traffic gets heavy.

On the other hand…It is awful nice to hear what a great dad you are.  And the little ankle biters did buy me an awfully nice grill. And I have been wanting to try roasting a chicken on that grill.  And it is suppose to be a beautiful day.  And I do have live Reds baseball streaming on my phone.  And it wouldn’t hurt me to take a day and rest.

By golly, I’m doing it!  I’m taking full advantage of this Hallmark-driven holiday.  I’m cooking my chicken and listening to my game and I deserve it.  I’m getting hugs from my kids and soaking up the glory because I’m a Father…and I deserve it.

But for my own piece of mind, hide the mower.

Old Man

0008_In%20FocusIt was nothing more than an attempt at Intaglio printing; my first print from 1982.

It doesn’t have a name and there is only one copy remaining in my portfolio.  And yet, it is one of my favorite prints.  There isn’t anything about it that will win awards.  It doesn’t excel in composition, line quality or style.  It doesn’t tell a story.  It is doubtful that it will ever hang on a gallery wall.  But I like it.

It represents a time when I was trying to learn a craft.  It reflects a moment when I was willing to take a chance.  It reveals a period of my life when I stretched my comfort zone and explore new media, new ideas and new goals.  It tells the tale of a desire to be different; to be better.

When is the last time you took a chance?  When is the last time you stepped out into the unknown?  Was it 1984?  Have decades rolled past without a challenge?  Have you stayed in your comfort zone so long that the idea of peaking over the fences into greener pastures is terrifying?

Since 1982, I’ve changed jobs (pastor, deli manager, warehouse worker, ICU clerk, law firm lackey, research coordinator) and each new position brought new challenges.  I’ve become a writer (blogging since 2004, 3rd place winner of Writer’s Digest Short Story Competition) and some of my stuff is really good and others stink.  I completed my Fine Arts degree.  I completed my Master of Divinity degree.  I’m starting on my Bachelors of Science in Communication degree.  I’m learning Spanish.

Perhaps more important than any of these, I’ve learned how to cook the perfect roasted chicken and a yummy Beef Bourguignon that would make Julia Child very proud.

But the point is I’m still that guy who drew this face back in 1982.  I’m willing to try it.

New job?  Sure.  Different food?  Of course!  A revolutionary idea?  Why not?

What will you do today to stretch your comfort zone?  What will you try that is new and different?  How will you grow beyond the self-imposed boundaries that you’ve created over the years?

I suggest you try drawing an old man, rather than becoming one.

 

Life Lesson #32 – Use the Baguette

IMG_4154[1]Whenever making a chicken sandwich, it is best to roast your own chicken and then slice it into nice, thick pieces.  Refrigerate the remaining chicken for later use.  Gather an onion and some fresh lettuce and a perfectly ripe tomato from your garden.  Slice them into thick pieces.  Whip up a little mayonnaise using fresh egg yolks from your barn-yard chickens and a little light olive oil and freshly squeezed lemon juice with a pinch of salt and a dash of pepper.  Gingerly slice some 3-year-old Gouda and prepare to toast the meat and cheese to a bubbly perfection.  Combine all the ingredients and enjoy.

Please understand, all of this is negotiable.  The sandwich is good with these ingredients but the truth of the matter is that the meal will live and die based on the bread you use.    It is possible to buy sliced chicken, lettuce and onion.  You can skip the tomato and use Miracle Whip if you want.  Throw on a slice of processed American cheese if that is all you have.  But you must never, and I mean NEVER use anything but a whole wheat baguette for this sandwich.

Slice the crispy, crunchy, wonderful bread along the body of the loaf.  Use six inches for a nice sized sandwich.  Put on the meat and cheese and place it in a toaster oven.  When done, bring it out and finish with the remaining toppings.

Enjoy with a nice white or red wine.  It will change your life.  I promise and you’re welcome.

Rebecca’s Party

We love our friends, the Mullens Family.  We’ve stood beside one another for many, many years.  It was such a joy to celebrate with Rebecca and her family in recognition of her graduation from high school.  It doesn’t seem possible that 18 years have gone by so fast!

A Little Change

IMG_4070I walked to the counter and ordered a large diet Coke.  In Indiana, after tax, the cost is $1.09.  I handed the 17-something cashier a ten-dollar-bill.  She punched some buttons on her screen and it told her that I should receive $8.91 in cash back from my payment.

This stymied her.  She thumbed through the drawer and picked up some coins.  She put back the coins and tried again.  She thought about it a minute and then pulled out a five dollar bill and three ones.  So far, so good.

And then she dropped the coins into my outstretched hand and said, “Thank you.  Please come again.”  When I looked at the change in my hand, I realized that she’d miscounted.  Instead of $8.91, I just received back $9.06.  It was like getting six ounces of diet Coke for free.

I turned to bring this to her attention but before I could say anything, one customer had already ordered a baffling amount of food and another was standing in line with an open sandwich and a frustrated look on her face.  I decided that this wasn’t the right time to quibble over 15 cents.

But then, I asked myself if there is EVER a good time to quibble over 15 cents?  If she shorted me the 15 pennies, would I really care?  If every place I went, people gave me 15 pennies, would I eventually just give in and pocket the cash?

The point is that every day we get over-paid and short-changed.  We get a little more than we deserve and give a little bit less than we want.  In the end, I think it pretty much balances out.  Unless, of course, we spend most of our time and energy feeling bamboozled, stiffed and hustled.

Little things happen in our lives each and every day that can drive us to distraction if we let them:  People pull into the 2-second gap we’ve created for safe driving, forcing us to back up even further.  Tellers scan the peanut butter twice by mistake.  Trash is tossed into my yard by a passing driver.  We step into the check out lane that is ALWAYS the slowest.  Our neighbor blows his grass clippings on the sidewalk.  Life stinks.

Sure, we can carp about the crime.  We can cavil concerning the calamity.  We fuss over the favoritism, protest the partiality, object the outrage, and take exception to the trespass.  We spend so much time and energy on the 15-cent transgression that we lose site of the bigger picture and the blessings that are going on all around us.

Because, at the same time these infractions are occurring, there are so many good things happening in our lives: A manager opens a new checkout lane and calls you over to run your purchases.  You see the neighbor who walks her dog every single day with scooper and bag in hand.  Friends offer to come help work in your home because they know the burden you  have in completing a kitchen remodel.  You get an unexpected check in the mail.  A flower blooms.  A baby laughs.  A cat curls up in your lap.  A cup of coffee is brewed.  The sun peaks through the clouds.

Instead of focusing on the loss of 15-cents, we could celebrate a little charity.  We might bless the boon.  We should glorify the gift, praise the positive, or even extoll the excellent.

We are fickle creatures.  Fifteen cents to the good, we easily forget.  Fifteen cents to the negative and we’re all over that.

Perhaps it’s time for a new perspective.  Perhaps it’s time for a little change.

My Neighbor’s Yard

A view of my neighbor's yard.
A view of my neighbor’s yard.

From my back porch, I can see a mess.  The yard is overgrown and unsightly.  It hasn’t been mowed in two weeks.  The grass is at least a foot tall.

One corner of the yard (the area closest to us) is growing a strange, thin grass because the barking, crazy dog keeps trampling this section as he tries to kill us.

The table and patio is littered with broken toys and cans of cigarette butts.  A roll of wire fencing and PVC pipe is tossed on the deck to add a nice touch.  Thankfully, a trampoline was added last year to give the place a touch of class.

And here is the thing; People in this neighborhood turn one another in for yards like this.  They demand that the visible mess be cleaned up so that everyone feels better about the neighborhood.

But no one mentions the invisible mess.  No one wants to address the broken lives and crying wives that live in the neighborhood.  No one places a call concerning the wrecked homes, the isolated families, the hurting children, the failing marriages.  Keep your outside cleaned up and your messy lives to yourselves.  Just keep the doors shut and the windows closed and we’ll all be happier.

It’s easier to send a letter about overgrown grass than engage the dysfunction that leads to a life of chaos.  It’s cleaner to call the homeowner’s association instead of knocking on the door and entering into conversation.

Yes, I know that you can’t fix crazy and sometimes getting involved is messy.  Sometimes it just doesn’t work out.  It isn’t always a storybook ending.  But it is time to engage the broken hearts or ignore the messy yards.  It’s time to be neighbors rather than strangers.  When is the last time you went calling?  When is the last time you spoke over the fence?

Now, if you will excuse me, I have some cookies to bake and a neighbor to visit.