The approaching milestone in my life

My 60th birthday is approaching (and about to swoop past) like a Burma Shave sign on the side of the road. And like the Burma Shave signs, you read them, think about them for a moment, and move on; but somewhere that bit of information stays with you, stored for when you need it.

As that milestone birthday approaches, here are some of the things it has taken me this long to learn, some of them the hard way. Save yourself some serious pain, time, and hassle: benefit from my experience. I’m going to let this post stay on top for a while because it is so important to me. Meanwhile I’ve also given this post its own page: The Stone Monument.

Seriously. Don’t shrug it off, or laugh it away.

This post has taken months to write and to get as right as I can make it. Maybe these pieces of wisdom I can offer will help you.

Read them all and take them to heart:

Value your wife.

She is married to you for a reason, and if you’ve lost the key that unlocks that reason, you’d better start turning your house, car, and garage upside down until you find it. Make it your first priority; don’t get distracted. Go after it with everything you’ve got, because when it comes down to it, she’s everything you’ve got.

Lose her, and you lose it all.

Make your partnership a priority.

Sure you are different people, but that doesn’t give you license to disappear for the evening without her.

Don’t treat her like dirt and try to get away with it. She is a better person than you are. God made her that way. Don’t ask why, just be a man and accept it.

If you mistreat her and she doesn’t find a way to make you pay, then you can be damn sure that God will.

No matter what mental space you’re in with her, take a moment and think about this: no matter how she may be treating you, she’s treating you better than you’re treating her. Women always give back better than what they get; God made them that way.

It’s the modern equivalent of “you reap what you sow”, so get off your feeling-sorry-for-yourself ass and start treating her with love, honor, and patience. Doesn’t matter what’s between you – start working at it. Start with this minute, then work on the next. Before long, those minutes become hours, then days, then weeks, then suddenly you realize you have a lifetime of shared love and joy.

Resolve to give your dog at least half the love that he’s giving you.

Dogs don’t live a long time, and God compensated for that by packing that four-legged body with so much love that it burns brightly; solely for you. He loves so deeply and so without reservation that his life will burn out and end far too quickly.

And it will end before you realize it’s almost over for him. Remember that, and love him back. Make sure you make him loved for his whole life. Don’t shut him away from your presence; greet him when you return at least as happily as he greets you. If you can’t be with him, get him with other company. Don’t ever regularly leave him alone for long periods.

Care well for him, feed him the proper nutrition – not that cheap shit that is on the bottom grocery*mart shelf. His health is worth the extra few bucks for good dog food. If it’s not, then give him to somebody who will feed him right and take care of his health, especially with regular visits to the vet.

If you feel the urge to strike him, ask yourself WHY before you even begin to raise your hand. 9,999 times out of 10,000 it will be on your side and not his.

If you can’t do that, then give him to somebody who can. You’ll both be better for it.

Stay away from radicals. Conservative or Liberal, it doesn’t matter.

When you take a stand firmly and completely to one side of any issue, you isolate yourself.

Picture a big field in your mind, now think about looking across the acreage of the space… that you have chosen to put between yourself and others because of your differences… that it’s now difficult to see the person on the far side; because of that space which separates you.

By moving closer to the other person, you still remain on your side of the issue, and you can begin to hear them more clearly.

Having the conversation is the most important thing, not standing firmly on the boundary of the issue, arms folded, congratulating yourself on your views.

And by yourself you will be, because, hey, look: there’s nobody else around.

Remember this: Radicals lose sight of everything but whatever happens to be driving them.

And that ‘everything’ includes things God made of beauty in this world.

Value your family.

We were each born into a family, and we will remain a member of that family for as long as we live. Sometimes we are so intent on being an individual that we forget that we are part of a family. As a family we are stronger than we are as individuals. Your sibling can be the perfect irritating contrarian; but it doesn’t matter – get over it and find a way to love in spite of it. God made you a family: figure out a way to look beyond it and love.

Do everything in love.

My mother-in-law was one of the wisest people I’ve ever met, and she had such a deep love for people and an amazing giving spirit. This was her saying, she got it from Paul, and it needs no embellishment. It’s an admirable goal; don’t give up because you’re not good at it – keep trying.

Don’t get validation from the Internet.

The internet is a great tool for some things. Just like a screwdriver is a great tool for some things. You can get advice from dozens of folks far away who’ve taken that same engine apart and can tell you that you absolutely will need to spend the money on a special tool; or you can waste time watching some cat fall in a bathtub.

It’s an impersonal medium; don’t use it for personal advice.

Get personal advice from a real person.

The person on the other end of that chat line may be a twelve-year-old kid who thinks he has it all figured out.

Don’t let electronics be what defines your life.

We’ve got lots of neat gadgets like smartphones, pads, tablets, and the like. More are being invented and overly-marketed every day.

But don’t spend so much time with them that you don’t spend time with people.

God made people.

And he made them to be friends, communities, families. The key word is personal interaction.

Don’t let nut-cases on TV or the radio decide your point-of-view.

These people get put on the media talk-shows for only one thing: they are entertaining, and people will watch or tune in. In reality, their opinions and foci are so far out there from what really matters that they can become an unfortunately loud and compelling distraction from what really matters.

Stop caring about what the latest conspiracy theory is, and start living your life.

Read.

Read real printed materials, like newspapers. If somebody took the time to commit the bucks to put ink on paper, it will matter as to whether it’s a valid story.

Unless it’s a tabloid. The “Elvis Returns!” story on the front page should be a dead giveaway.

Drive on your own side of the road.

Especially around blind corners. And when approaching on straight roadway. It’s much less stressful for those you meet.

Need I say more? I could, ya know.

Easily.

Get outside.

Go outside and listen. Take a book; sit and read. Be part of the outside environment, not just look at it from the inside. Look around you at the weather while you’re out there, watch it happening.

See how God made all of creation as a living, breathing thing which evolves and changes, moment-to-moment.

Get outside and just watch the sun set. See how the world changes as the light slips from the sky; notice how sounds become different as the world rolls from day to night. Hear the creatures of the day go to sleep, and the raptors awake to begin the night’s hunt.

Likewise, get up, get outside, and watch the sun rise.

Notice how the daylight affects sights, sounds, smells, and activity as the world awakens from sleep. See how things seem to maintain a reverence for the quiet that night brought; and therefore seem to have a difficult time letting go of the silence until it is broken by something which does not respect that silence.

This won’t make sense to you until you’ve tried it for a few mornings and nights.

Go out in the weather. Deliberately.

Go out and get wet. Or cold. Or cold and wet. Or hot. Or just windblown. Bundle up and go out where nobody else wants to be.

While you’re out, try thanking God for good warm clothes and things like dry shoes. Notice when you come inside that you are far more alive than you were when you were just sitting inside and looking out.

You don’t have to be going anywhere, all you have to do is go outside – deliberately.

Others are not to blame for your situation.

It doesn’t matter how you got to where you are right now. The situation you live in is YOUR situation, and it’s time for you to own it. It won’t change until YOU do something about it yourself. Blaming others is a guaranteed dead-end into self-pity. Note the term: dead-end. 

Face reality: They didn’t get you there, you did.

See “Stop fighting your circumstances”, next item:

Stop fighting your circumstances.

Things happen.

Bad things happen.

And then sometimes, worse things happen.

The key is to not concentrate on all the bad that you see happening to you and instead ask God what he wants you to learn from it.

Just a second: Did you just ask God what he wants you to learn? No?

Then take a second and ask. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

The universe will wait.

No matter how pressing you think stuff is. God always makes time to listen, especially to you.

As you’re taking time to ask, he will make things around you take time-out, as he makes time to listen.

You may not get some kind of understandable answer right away, but there will be an answer. Trust that there is an answer, because there always will be. Maybe you don’t see it or hear it right now, but there is an answer. Trust in it. Meanwhile, make up your mind to set the “woe is me” attitude aside, and get yourself going on the next thing. Whatever the next thing is. Just get going.

Victims look helplessly around at circumstances and ask, “Why me?”, while collapsing into a puddle of uselessness; of no good to themselves or anyone else.

Meanwhile, faith looks to God and asks for strength, patience, and wisdom to deal with what’s happening – then trusts God to answer.

Trust God to answer. 

Not hearing anything yet? Ask God to be real to you.

Let others help.

If you’re in a situation where someone offers help in some physical or emotional way, let them. Chances are it’s going to bless them just as much as it blesses you.

Stop be-ing ‘in-de-pen-dent’, as my folks would say, often through gritted teeth. Giving others a chance to help you gives those others a chance to be helped themselves.

Who knows? Maybe God has laid it upon them to be of help, and is giving them a special strength, blessing, and heart to do so. Pushing them away affects more people, more things, more places than just yourself. Wanting to do it all yourself or by yourself is selfish. And it’s denying God’s power.

Let them help, and watch what happens. It will ripple outward, some of it in ways you will never see in this life. Just trust that it helps more than just you.

What you do, do well.

Anytime you touch something, leave it in a better state than when it came into your hands. When you pick up a pencil to edit, hear the original author’s voice in your head as you do the markup, and honor their original intent.

But this applies to anything you do – never give half an effort, always take it through to the end. If all of us could learn this one simple thing, we would be living in a much better place. Imagine how much more one can trust the efforts of others when it’s known that they did their best.

The tagline I use when I post to various forums says this pretty well: “Always do the right thing; not because it’s easy, but because it’s harder.”

Don’t be stingy. Especially with the things God has given you.

God has given you several things into your life to work with and use. Use them to their fullest. When you are stingy with those resources in their use of accomplishing the job God has given you to do, then you short not only yourself, but others through a halfway-done, less than best-effort result.

Let me give you an analog: I have a propane-powered firepit and I use it a LOT during cold weather every night when I go out to honor God for this place we have, do my devotions, read, and find the quiet space I need in my life. This firepit helps keep me warm enough that I can be out for however long it’s required for me to practice the presence of God. One night in particular though, it was bone-chilling cold, and the firepit wasn’t really helping much. My eye was directed to its meager flames; as I’d set it all the way down (as usual), to save gas. Meanwhile, I had been so distracted from the cold that I hadn’t been able to concentrate. The unspoken question hung in the air like the tiny wisps of steam rising from the firepit: “And you’re wondering why?”

I haven’t run it that low, since. The gas doesn’t last quite as long, but now I’m not worried about it anymore.

Figure out what God made you to do, then go after it.

Full blast.

I’m going to quote from Tony Dungy:

Too often we tend to think of our platform as something that is tied to our position or occupation. We influence the people who work for us or who have a direct relationship with us. Certainly we don’t have a platform to influence others outside our areas of authority, we think. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Every one of us has a unique skill-set that God gave us. Sometimes where we are right this minute isn’t where we’re supposed to end up. But keep something in mind: God is the Master of all Creation, and he created you for a unique purpose. Maybe what you’re doing right now is a training for your future purpose.

But how are we supposed to know what that purpose is?

First, ask. Then listen. Sometimes the clarity of the answer will take a long time to get through the fog of today. Sometimes, the lesson is that you’re just supposed to realize that you have to ask!

But meanwhile, think: what thrills you more than anything? What really gets your juices going? What one thing would thrill you to be doing every day, but seems impossible in the face of what your world is, right now?

Look in that direction. Pray about it. Beat on God’s ear, like the woman in front of the judge, asking for justice. WHY? Because in praying, you are spending time with God. Close time. And that ‘spending time with God’ will change you in subtle ways you cannot imagine, nor perceive. Remember that nothing is impossible with God. Look for God’s leading, and when you think you see it, ask again, this time for clarity, before setting out.

When you get to that place where you’re doing your all, every day, and it’s in that precarious place where you just know that you have to have one hand in God’s to walk your way through the day… THEN you’re where you should be. You’re living to your potential, and knowing in your heart that you can’t do it without God’s help.

And God will use you in ways you can’t imagine.

THIS is living, full blast.

“Full Blast” refers to a steam locomotive: it comes from when the engine is being worked to its maximum effort — the throttle is close to wide open. As the engine is rolling, each time an exhaust valve opens, there is a tremendous bark from the stack as the spent steam rushes through the blast pipe and out the stack. (An experienced engineer has a ‘feel’ for his engine and knows how much throttle and cutoff to use; as there is only so much volume that the blast pipe can handle at a given speed without becoming inefficient.) That exhaust pulse in turn pulls air through the firebox, making the firebox almost as hot as Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace. Fuel is being burned at a tremendous rate, converting the water in the boiler to steam at incredible speed; this is all elements of fire, water, air, and earth working together.

The sound from the engine at full output is deafening; a big engine at full effort is a truly awesome sight – the ground shakes, you literally feel it in your chest, and the thunder from the stack is … for lack of a better term, biblical! 

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