Weeding the Garden in My Mind

This image is from, and linked to, Olofson Design (http://olofsondesign.wordpress.com/ and http://www.olofsondesign.com), a clearly very talented maker of wedding cakes based in London, UK. To the artisan – You do amazing work and this image was perfect for my post – if you have any concerns with my using your image, please let me know and I’ll be happy to take it down.

This year for my birthday, I’m weeding the garden in my mind:

  • I’m forgiving myself for the things I’ve attempted that didn’t quite work out the way I’d hoped.  I’m choosing to view those events not as failures but as (sometimes rocky) detours that led me to where I am, and I’m recognizing that without these detours I may not have any of the good people or things I have in my life now.
  • I’m giving myself the lessons I’ve learned from mistakes I’ve made and letting every other aspect of those mistakes go away.  I cannot live in a state of fear or paranoia.
  • I’m evicting the two tenants in my mind.  One constantly reminds me of the flaws in others.  One constantly reminds me of the flaws in myself.  Neither has ever paid a dime in rent.
  • I’m giving myself the ability to grow by letting go of anger and resentment; toward others, yes – but mostly toward myself.  Nothing good ever grows in piss and vinegar and what does grow is contagious.
  • I’m allowing myself to not give up on my dreams; No matter how unrealistic or distant.
  • I’m giving myself to right to appreciate the things I have. I will not feel guilty for having what others do not and I will not obsess over the things I still want. Things are things.
  • I’m giving myself the right to be proud of my five beautiful children.  Who are brilliant little sparks that need my care and my help to grow to their full potential.  I will not be apologetic for letting them be who they are, I will appreciate who they are becoming and I will focus more on encouragement and less on correction.
  • I’m giving myself the chance to appreciate my wife.  She is the most wonderful partner in life that anyone could ever hope to have and realizing that without her companionship, support and love, I would have burned myself away long ago.
  • I’m giving myself pride in what I have accomplished in my life.
    • I’m an Army veteran who served proudly in a unit distinguished throughout its history for its courage, flexibility, daring and skill.
    • I earned two degrees in fields I’m passionate about.
    • I have a house, a beautiful family, and make a good living working with some of the brightest minds in the country for a company I still believe in and I’m one of the ten best in the country at doing the job.
    • I’ve taken control of my physical health to the extent that I can and over the last few years I’ve gotten myself into great shape with a lot of hard work.
    • I’ve bounced from hobby to hobby and interest to interest since I was a young kid and I’ve been learning and storing knowledge all the way.  The unintended result is a good foundation of knowledge and experience with which I can usually tackle any situation.
  • I’m letting myself embrace the things that make me a nerd.  I love fantasy and science fiction at least as much as I love classic literature and poetry.  I’m a huge Woody Allen fan.  I have an active presence on almost every social network and I’d rather read than watch football.  I’m a hypocritical grammar nazi (which means that I love to point out others’ mistakes even while I make my own).  I still dig hair bands.  I can read a book and listen to an audiobook at the same time and enjoy both immensely.  I really enjoy legal research.  I have a goal of growing, gathering, hunting and raising all of the food for our family.  I love to tend my garden.  I watch politics like most men watch sports, and, nerdiest of all, for about 3 months a year starting in June, I drop almost everything and obsess about the reality show Big Brother.  I even watch the live feeds.
  • I’m giving myself a minimum of 30 minutes a day to write.   There are at least four novels and several short stories I’ve been kicking around in my head for the past decade – it’s time to put them on paper.

Oh, and I’m giving myself an opportunity to take my sons to see Star Trek at the theater.  Tonight.

On Faith…

For the first time in my life I’m not struggling with my faith.  As in … I have some now.  I have finally solved the riddle of faith, and here’s how I did it:  Are you ready? Are you sure? Here goes: I asked God to give me faith.

I KNOW!  Isn’t that amazing?  I’m so brilliant.  <insert eye roll here>  It only took me 35 years, but I finally just asked God to give me faith and remove my doubts.  I told Him I needed His help and that I couldn’t do it on my own and that I was willing to part with my doubt and skepticism and just accept Him if he would have me and if He would just give me the strength to take the first step.  And then it hit me (or maybe He hit me): I already had faith.  If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have been praying in the first place.  Circular logic? Yes.  Do I care? No.  Even *I* didn’t realize what a burden the lack of faith had been for me.  I’ve been happy since that morning and He has reaffirmed my faith in a hundred ways since.

Here’s one:  While on a business trip last week, I caught a program on the Catholic TV station EWTN about St. Thomas Aquinas and something about it piqued my interest a little, but I fell asleep anyway – give me a break, I’d been up for 22 hours at that point.  Then this past weekend, I found out that I could download audiobooks to my iPhone for free through my public library via an app called Overdrive and the library’s website – and in my browsing I found a book called Aquinas for Armchair Theologians by Timothy M. Renick, which I downloaded because of that program I’d fallen asleep to.  Yesterday, I was listening to it on the way home from Bloomington and there was a section about whether man truly has free will, and the differing views on the issue (which I won’t get into here).  The questions implied by this conversation include one that’s bugged me for a long time: Does God control everything or does some stuff just happen?  I know in my heart of hearts, from my intellect, that God doesn’t cause the evil that’s in the world.  He doesn’t cause the tragedy.  Some stuff just happens.  But how do you square that with the concept of an omniscient, omnipotent God?

Let me put it another way.  If God is all-knowing, then He already knows every thing that will ever happen.  If he is perfect, then He cannot be wrong about what he knows.  If he is both all-knowing and all-powerful, then everything that happens is His will (or he would see it coming and change it).  Makes sense, right?  But I know, somehow, that not everything that happens is God’s will.  So then, I’m left with a conundrum.  If God didn’t cause it and God didn’t allow it but it happened anyway – then how can God be considered all-powerful and all-knowing?  Head hurt yet?

The book points out that Aquinas addressed this problem, albeit indirectly when he addressed whether man has free will at all or if everything is predetermined by God.  He essentially came to the conclusion that God can create in more than one way.  He can will something to happen absolutely – as in “Let there be light.”  There is no doubt that it will happen.  But maybe he can also will that something happens dependent on other circumstances.

All of this was interesting on a purely academic level and I pondered it as I drove, wondering why I had a mild headache all of the sudden.

Then about 2 hours later, I found myself on the phone with my Brother’s girlfriend – the one who lost her beautiful, tiny, innocent baby in July.  My nephew Caden.  And during the conversation with her, this very issue came up as she questioned whether Caden’s death was somehow her fault – as in she was being punished for something by God, or whether God had anything to do with it at all – and I had an answer for her – maybe not a perfect answer and maybe I didn’t articulate it perfectly – that’s quite likely in fact – but I had something to say to her.  I was able to offer her some comfort and maybe that’s all she needed right then at that moment, for that minute.  The answer I was given just two hours before, was there for me when I needed to pass it on to her.

Okay, okay you say – that’s convoluted and ridiculous and you’re stretching.  First off, I disagree…it’s actually very simple, it’s just tough to communicate.  But okay –

Here’s another:  Two weeks ago I went to the Indiana Catholic Men’s Conference, and God got me with a right hook.

It was a wonderful day and featured, by pure coincidence, a speaker who addressed two of the exact questions about my faith that I had come to accept but that I still didn’t understand.  How by coincidence?  Well, a speaker who was originally scheduled to be there had to cancel last minute due to illness and they brought in a replacement – who addressed my two primary questions about Catholicism.  Questions I’d prayed for more understanding on just a few days prior.

While I was still reeling over that, God hit with me with a jab with his left: I have issues with the legal profession.  Rule of law and justice are such noble pursuits, but the profession itself is twisted and warped to the point that it’s nearly impossible to be involved in it without becoming corrupted yourself.  At lunch, I sat down next to a man and we started talking and it turns out he’s a lawyer, shares most of my legal interests and experience and we had a great talk that gave me some amount of peace on this issue.

And then another right: the man on my right, whom I’d sat next to all morning struck up a conversation after lunch and it turned out he is an aspiring author who is concerned about how to connect with a younger generation.  Folks, in case you don’t know, that’s what I DO for a living.  I work with some of the best and brightest young minds in the country and while I’m by no means perfect at engaging them – I do have a lot of experience and lessons learned in the last 5 years of trying, and in the next 10 minutes before the conference started I was able to share a lot of what I’d learned with this man.

Then came the knockout blow: I was feeling so close to God and so blessed by this day that as I sat at my table during a break I prayed to God to please let this Conference continue in future years so that it could reach others like me and to show me how I could help.  When we came back from the break, the Master of Ceremonies took a minute to thank the conference organizers and had them stand up.  Yeah – the man on my left was one of the 10-15 people in a room of hundreds and I was able to thank him personally and tell him how the conference had blessed me, and I hope he gets the chance to share what I told him with the other organizers.

Those are just two ways…it’s only been a month, but I’ve had dozens of smaller things as well.  If I ask a question, it gets answered in the very next homily at Sunday Mass, or in one case, my know it all 10 year old son gives me the answer in a seemingly unrelated conversation on the way to Mass.  Or, in another case, I go to bed confused on something and wake up totally clear the next day as if I’d known it all along.

Moral and ethical issues I’ve wrestled with since I was in Junior High School are now clear as day for me because I asked for them to be made clear to me.  Habits I’ve been trying to break for years are just gone, because I asked for them to be.

Folks – I don’t know how else to say it but this: I’m absolutely sure that God is.

 

Starting a new read…

George R.R. Martin – A Storm of Swords – Book III of the Song of Ice and Fire series.  Really looking forward to it.

One of the things I love about this series is that I think I’m supposed to dislike the character I love the most.  It takes a talented author to make a really grotesque character likeable.  He’s completely self-serving and grotesque and yet he’s an odd sort of hero.

HBO’s Deadwood did the same thing with the Swearengen character.

Book Review: Enchantment: The Art of Changing, Hearts, Minds & Actions

I just finished the audiobook version of this book and may very well pick-up the actual, physical book as well.

It’s rare that I find a book with applications to the sort of sales/marketing I do – the sales of intangible products to people who receive their access for free and see the competitor’s product as completely interchangeable.  The main points in this book can be applied easily to virtually every situation I encounter and – what I like best – the book is focused on ME as the seller, helping me to identify reasonable, ethical things I can do internally in order to persuade the client and not what I need to do to “trick” the client into buying something.

I found the chapters on push/pull technology particularly helpful.  Kudos to you Mr. Kawasaki.

Book Review – Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World has Never Seen

I first heard about this book when the Author, Christopher McDougall, was interviewed on NPR a few years back.  Shortly thereafter, I heard him on Howard Stern.  Then I saw him on The Daily Show.  Each of those times I found his story fascinating – but I wasn’t a runner, so I didn’t care.

When I started running again, I was almost immediately halted by injury because I tried to do too much too soon.  So, as I waited to heal, I picked up this book and it changed everything for me.

If you’re a runner – you need to read this book.

If you’re interested in primitive skills – you need to read this book, if for nothing else, for it’s explanation of primitive hunting.