Category Archives: Optmism

On the Verge: Finding Your Tipping Point – Part 2 “The Verge”

Grandpa Detrick's ca 1890 Seth Thomas Clock

Grandpa Detrick’s ca 1890 Seth Thomas Clock

We often live our lives on the verge. On the verge of success. On the verge of getting out of debt. On the verge of finding a rewarding relationship. On the verge of achieving that sought after promotion at work. On the verge of obtaining the scholarship. On the verge of finishing that degree. On the verge of fulfilling our dream.

The verge is a nice stop on the way to our destination. It is a terrible place to live permanently. If we camp there long enough, it becomes difficult to move on. While camped there we may analyze a million and one reasons why we got stuck in the first place, and another million and one reasons how we might move on, but we tend to be weighted down by the analysis to the point of paralysis, convincing ourselves that it is safer to just stay where we are at. Like I said earlier, passivity is the opposite of courage.

Wait a minute!  Stop the clock! Do not lose courage. Passivity is the inactive response to lost hopes and dreams. It is time for a change. You don’t have to live your life always “on the verge.” You can move past the verge.

Unlike the Apple Watch which I plan to never buy, I do have an affinity for old clocks. Not old clocks from the 1980’s with digital readouts, but really old clocks. Most in my collection are well over a century old, American made, and still working. And I work on them—have for years, both as a hobby and in a practical way to keep my collection running. Working on old clocks has taught me some lessons about systems, and mechanics, and maintenance, and life. They have also taught me about time, and how I use it, how I respond to it, how I measure it. After all, they have a lot to tell by listening to the tick-tock of the pendulum.

Verge - clockworksHow many mechanical items from a century ago are still functioning with their original purpose today? Not many! You probably don’t know that the term verge is a clock word. The verge is that part of a mechanical clock that keeps the pendulum moving back and forth – and keeps the rest of the clock ticking. The actual tick-tock is sound of the verge rocking back and forth, connecting with a toothed wheel that connects to other gears and wheels that eventually move the hour and minute hands, ever so slowly. When it is all synchronized, it is a beautiful thing. It keeps on moving, and keeping perfect time.

A verge is a lot like a tipping point. Malcom Gladwell states in his book, The Tipping Point:   “The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.”

What if you could find the tipping point that would move you past the verge? What if you could stop listening to the melancholy melody that keeps you stuck? What if you could re-discover your courage? You can. Listen to another melody—a happier tune that will actually help you redeem the time:

“Wake up from your sleep, Climb out of your coffins; Christ will show you the light! So watch your step. Use your head. Make the most of every chance you get. These are desperate times!”   Ephesians 5:14-16 The Message

“Make the most of every chance you get.”  The old King James Version actually instructs us, “redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” What if you struggled with financial problems, but had forgotten about an old savings bond your uncle gave you years ago? It may be worth $50,000 but if you never redeemed it, you would just be holding on to an old piece of paper while continuing to struggle with finances. Time is as old as “in the beginning.” To fully take advantage of it, we must redeem it.  My old clocks may be more than a century old, but they have taught me some redeeming contemporary lessons, and I look forward to sharing some of them with you.

Why I Love Old Barns

Why I Love Old Barns Graphic BarnDriving by, what you see is probably different from what I see. The barn may be old and dilapidated. The roof started leaking years ago and eventually the weather soaked into the supporting timbers so the old girl now sags where she once stood firm and tall. If you look closely enough, you might see flecks of red paint under the growing lichens and moss on the sideboards. If you are lucky, you might find the upper floor still intact, once the home to bales or mounds of hay, guaranteeing the livestock would not starve during winter’s ravaging days. And if you are really lucky, you might find the old block and tackle with rope still attached, now rotting and frayed, but once attached to a hay fork or hook designed to transport that hay and probably a young boy or two up to the hayloft on a hot summer day.

Work and pleasure—that’s what comes to mind when I see that old barn, along with a million more memories. Because I once was one of those delighted boys who loved it when the work was done and my dad would use the old block and tackle to provide me a joyous ride on a rope up to the hayloft. It wasn’t quite the same as riding the Zipper at the state fair. But for a home-made thrill, it was as about as good as it gets, at least in those days. Much better than coasting my bike at breakneck speed down Sunnycrest Hill, especially since there was no crash at the end with bloody chin, hands, elbows, and knees, not to mention the smattering of gravel ground in for good measure. No, you could ride to the top relatively unscathed without so much as a concussion, unless a friend other than your dad happened to be hoisting you up and let the rope slip when you were almost at the top! So I stop and take a picture to preserve what will soon be rot, dust, and ashes, knowing that somebody somewhere probably cherishes similar memories from this very place.

Old Barn and Silo 2 on Mox Chehalis Rd 4-14-13What adventures were staged in that hayloft, real or imagined? Pirates and terror on the high seas played out in a child’s mind, though miles from the nearest body of navigable water? Cowboys riding their horses at a gallop with Winchester Model 94’s pulled from the scabbard while in hot pursuit of a mountain lion threatening their cattle? World War II Soldiers fighting the Battle of the Bulge to protect the world from Nazi tyranny? Or how about a first crush daydream interlude, as a fourth grade boy imagines waking in the middle of the night hearing the screams of Laura Lane, his classmate up the road.  “Somebody please save me,” Laura screams. Our young hero bravely answers the call to duty and rescues Laura from the fiery inferno, although becoming mortally wounded in the process. Stumbling through the flaming wreckage with suffocating smoke, he grabs Laura in his arms. He relishes his final breath as Laura declares her eternal gratitude for her young rescuer and kisses his bruised cheek and smiles as he places her safely on the front lawn, his final act of sacrificial devotion. In a hayloft, heroes lived and died, and imagination was better than a video game.

Barns can also be a place of worship and prayer, of meeting with God. In the Old Testament, Gideon was threshing grain when the angel of the Lord appeared to him. Jesus was born amid livestock and laid in a manger. Farmers know well the biblical injunction to “pray without ceasing.” Whether praying about the weather, a crop, or a prodigal child, a farmer’s work often allowed ample time to pray while milking the cows, slopping the hogs, feeding the chickens, or driving the tractor. The pace of life and nature of the work provide a symbiotic relationship and environment for prayer and reflection to flourish. I remember a young boy praying while performing such chores, or while lying flat on his back in the hayloft. “Lord, what do you want me to do with my life?”

What about the economic benefit to the family and community? The livestock produced, the cows milked, all providing more employment for the hired hands, the delivery people, the feed store, and the grocery store workers? A single family farm could have far-reaching influence for labor and industry. Not to mention the lessons learned in thrift, character, and the satisfaction of working with your hands and cooperating with God in the care of his creation and growing things beneficial to God’s children.

Old Barn and Silo on Mox Chehalis Rd 4-14-13And what about the family ties, stronger than the rope in the hayloft, that intertwined and made family the heart of the family farm? While not fair to compare it to contemporary living in a city apartment, the truth is, there is no comparison. Memories of farm life are all about family, love, endurance, strength, doing things, and getting things done—together. Unlike most twenty-first century families, farm families lived, worked, ate, and played—together. We knew our land like the back of our hands, every fence, valley, creek, tree, and blade of grass. And we knew each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Despite the latter, we worked together to make each other successful. Every meal lovingly prepared was the tasty culmination of a team effort.

So, that’s why I take photographs of old barns. I see a different picture, an image carefully concealed and hiding beyond the pile of junk you might glimpse driving past at sixty miles per hour. I see the intersection of time, space, weather, God’s creativity and faithfulness combined with human existence to produce a work of art. Capturing it in a snapshot of time seems the least I can do.

Resurrection: Signs of Spring

Resurrection - Signs of SpringI saw it this morning, a lone neighborhood rhododendron protesting the stark dormant landscape by unfurling its pink and ivory petals. Against all odds on this dark and rainy day, it victoriously displayed the inevitable triumph of resurrection. Though all outward circumstances indicate winter still maintains its frigid clutch on the landscape, the rebellious rhodie down the street courageously emerged to reveal its delicate beauty, despite the cold. And despite the biting wind and rain, I watched famished bumble bees, laden with pollen, battle one another for the sweet nourishment it offered them following months of impoverished hunger.

As I write this afternoon, another late winter squall fiercely peppers my window with raindrops like bullets from a machine gun. Although the official announcement of spring  is only a few days away, today the coming of spring seems a long way off–except for the memory of this morning’s lone rhododendron. Like a brave sentinel, it boldly maintains its post within enemy territory.First Rhodie lower res large 3-16-13 Petal by petal it unfolds to reveal a spectacle so gloriously un-winter like that I threw caution to the wind and rain, jumping at the chance for a photograph. In the face of possible damage to camera or equipment, I gladly took the risk in exchange for a permanent reminder that winter does not last forever. Knowing the unpredictability of our Pacific Northwest weather, spring may not truly arrive for a couple of months. In the meantime, the photo is a vivid reminder of spring’s inevitability.

Last week another photo opportunity reminded me of the same principle as I captured a shot of a rose bush with emerging leaves next to dead and decaying blossoms from last season, alongside a bright red rose hip (top photo). That rose hip, like the emerging leaves, serves as a reminder of life. For some reason, possibly having something to do with our bumblebee friends, that particular blossom was pollenated. So unlike its dead neighboring blossoms, it has become pregnant with seeds, and grown fatter over the winter months. Unless pruned by the gardener, it will soon open to scatter its seeds, spreading life. Death and life. Winter and spring. We can’t have one without the other.

During this holy season in the weeks leading up to Easter, we are reminded of resurrection hope in the midst of challenging, wintery circumstances. Jesus said, “Because I live, you shall live also” (John 14:19). But before a resurrection, there had to be a death. The sunshine of Palm Sunday gave way to the wintery shadows of the Holy Week. The weather changed when the passionate crowds turned icy in their fickle rejection of the King they had warmly welcomed days earlier. And the entire world seemed captured by winter’s frigid, dark embrace, culminating with the seemingly not good crucifixion on Good Friday.

Can you imagine the questions peppering the minds of Jesus’ followers? They had no familiarity with machine guns or bullets, yet the questions must have relentlessly pounded at the window of their souls. Mary no doubt was reminded of Simeon’s ominous prophecy given years earlier, “a sword will pierce your heart” (Luke 2:35). She wondered, “Why my son? Why now?”

For the disciples, the last three years were re-lived, revealing persistent questions. “Where are the miracles now? Why are we powerless to do something? Why doesn’t God do something?” Where was the glorious revelation of the Heavenly Father, like the voice they heard at Jesus’ transfiguration? Why was His booming voice, “This is my beloved Son,” silent on that day? Why did darkness cover the face of the earth, like the dark questions brooding in their hearts and minds, enveloping their hopes and dreams in disappointment and fear? Why only shadowed silence?

“Why?” always takes precedence as the most persistent of all questions when things go awry. And it persistently remains the most troublesome question. Why did Jesus cry out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Forsaken by God – that seems the conclusion when winter covers the landscape and winter’s chill seems permanent. For the disciples it must have generated even more questions. Had God forsaken them? Is that what they had signed up for, given the last three years of their lives for, to be forsaken by God?

During times of winter questioning, it is best to remember the words spoken in an earlier season. The words of explanation, words of comfort, words of hope, spoken to give us perspective on the days ahead when our gardens are currently overflowing and beauty abounds. To remember, we must listen in the first place. What had Jesus told them earlier that would have explained these tragic circumstances? What has He told you, that might sustain and offer hope during a bleak winter storm? What did you learn in the light that you must remember in the dark?

Virtually every birth comes at a painful price. Whether the birth of a human child, or the birth of a dream, birth pains are part of the deal. So why do we endure it? That question trumps the question of pain and suffering. Why does the rose scatter its seeds in the spring? Why does the gardener plant tender young plants into cold soil on a dark and rainy day? Why did Jesus go to the cross? Because of the hope. The hope of new life, eternal life. The hope of something better. The hope of an entire landscape filled with warmth and beauty. The promise of a bountiful harvest.

Thus Jesus went to the cross. He endured the winter of suffering, so we can enjoy the spring of resurrection. That doesn’t mean we won’t have struggles here, or questions. It does mean we can courageously rise above them, like the rebellious rhododendron down the street. And maybe we can provide sweet sustenance to nurture a famished friend. Signs of spring are all around us. Sometimes you must search for them, or create them yourself, but they are there. Hope springs eternal. And eternal life brings hope. ©2013 Don Detrick

 

Do Pessimists Live Longer?

Do Pessimists Live Longer“Thanks for noticing me” defines Eeyore’s typical negative self-image and outlook on life, but he might live longer than his more optimistic cohorts in the hundred-acre wood. At least that would be accurate if you accept a news release issued a few days ago by the American Psychological Association. The report indicates a study showed that older people who have low expectations for a satisfying future may be more likely to live longer, healthier lives than those who see brighter days ahead. [1]

“Our findings revealed that being overly optimistic in predicting a better future was associated with a greater risk of disability and death within the following decade,” said lead author Frieder R. Lang, PhD, of the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg in Germany. “Pessimism about the future may encourage people to live more carefully, taking health and safety precautions.” The study was published online in the journal Psychology and Aging.[2]

While the study allegedly showed a more realistic perspective on life’s expectations may be safer in the long run, it misses a bigger question. Who wants to spentiggereeyored their days listening to, living with, or working alongside a companion like Eeyore? Tigger’s enthusiasm might get him in trouble, and his frantic pace might cause an accident or two along the way, but he surely is a lot more fun to be around than the depressed donkey. Wouldn’t you agree?

The Bible’s cast of characters far outnumbers Winnie the Pooh’s friends in the hundred-acre wood. But among those biblical personalities one can find multitudes of both positive and negative individuals. Some are prone to be one or the other, optimist or pessimist. We see that early on in the biblical narrative, as the jealous and angry pessimist Cain murdered his more compliant and presumably optimistic brother Abel (Genesis 4:1-16). The positive Job worshiped in spite of horrific circumstances, while his negative wife urged him to curse God and die (Job 2:9).

More often though, both descriptors could characterize the same person at different times. Multitudes of biblical characters were both/and when it came to personalities and perspectives. And circumstances often dictated their positive or negative response. Their outcomes however, depended largely upon their attitude of faith and hope in spite of adverse circumstances. Here are a few brief examples:

  • Faithful Moses triumphantly led the children of Israel across the Red Sea, but failed to enter the Promised Land himself because of an angry act of disobedience.
  • The shepherd David became a hero as he single-handedly defeated the giant Goliath with a slingshot, but his biography also shows times of discouragement, depression, and defeat. Read Psalm 55 as an example.
  • Elijah fearlessly faced the prophets of Baal, but ran in fear from Jezebel.
  • Peter walked on water, but also denied the Lord and dejectedly left the ministry to return to his fishing business.
  • Paul could describe his own wretched sinfulness, but also declared he could, “do all things through Christ.”

For each of these individuals, it would not be fair to judge their entire lives by a few events, and there are countless others with similar shortcomings. The examples I cited are only a small glimpse of what would become the big picture and final outcome of their lives.

We are seldom defined by a single action or moment in time. But repeated actions and attitudes become patterns. Those patterns then characterize our perspective and resulting behaviors, as well as the perspective others view us by. Better to focus on things that will matter, than trivial pursuits. Better to focus on the positive than the negative. And better to focus on the eternal, rather than the temporal.

Paul wrote that there are three eternal things: faith, hope, and love in 1 Corinthians 13. It is easy to consider these three virtues as abstract platitudes. But they become concrete when coupled with faithful, hopeful, and loving actions. We should never underestimate the power of our attitudes because they govern both words and behaviors. These eternal elements become the building blocks of a significant life, one that is characterized by the positive, not the negative.

Frankly, I have a very personal reason to question the results of the study. German blood runs through my veins. Detrick used to be spelled Dietrich before my ancestors a few generations back Americanized the spelling of the name. My maternal grandparents were German-speaking Swiss who immigrated to this country a century ago. If my family is any indicator, we could naturally tend to be a pessimistic bunch. We are prone to toggle between, “Thanks for noticing me” and, “You better notice me, and I don’t mean maybe!” In any event, it is interesting that the study which concluded pessimists might live longer took place in Germany with only German participants. Hello! Does anybody besides me think that might make a difference and skew the results?

Even if the study is correct, would you rather live a bit shorter life and be happy, or live longer and be a grouch? Thankfully we have more choices to select from, like this sound advice from the writer of Proverbs:

“My child, never forget the things I have taught you. Store my commands in your heart. If you do this, you will live many years, and your life will be satisfying. Never let loyalty and kindness leave you! Tie them around your neck as a reminder. Write them deep within your heart. Then you will find favor with both God and people, and you will earn a good reputation. Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek His will in all you do, and He will show you which path to take.” (Proverbs 3:1-6 New Living Translation)

Regardless of your ethnic background or personality type, you can decide to control your attitude. So choose to take the path of faith, hope, and love. It might just be the best formula to increase your days. At least it will bring more loyalty, joy, and kindness to your abode, and make the environment more pleasant for the other residents you meet in your own hundred-acre wood. You will be thankful you did, and they will notice you, too—in a good way. Long live the optimists!