Silence over a Year

It’s been one year and sixteen days since I last wrote a blog. An eternity in the world of the internet. And a way to make oneself irrelevant in that same media. But it’s been one of those kinds of years in my life. During these 381 days, I’ve come to understand a number of things important to my well-being.  Maybe they will strike a cord with you, too.

The World Now has too many words:

I’ve been exhausted by the amount of words and media coming at me every day. Some of this is because I am an introvert and prefer more quiet moments, but in reality I get hundreds of emails a week in my workplace, notices on Facebook, and thousands of 140 character blurbs scroll past my Twitter feed in the same time frame. Everyone wants something of me and I have only a finite amount of time to read, respond and give to these requests. So I have been quiet in adding my own words to the mix.  One more voice in a expanding universe of words that is growing, as Buzz Light Year heralds, “to infinity and beyond.”

Learning to Focus in the Universe of Words:

While the amount of words is overwhelming to me, I’ve learned another lesson. Focus on the words and the ones sharing them that make the most sense to you and to the value they add to life and well-being. I follow less than 100 people on Twitter. I know you are supposed to follow many in exchange for those following you, but in the sea of words that are essential for me to know and understand, I don’t need to see someone’s food, hear of their latest breakup, or read political banter and prejudices that don’t really add to public debate or resolution of the world’s ills. I am looking for thoughts and suggestions that add meaning to life. So I follow the few I’ve found that add quality.  And I tweet or pass along this information only if it will be of value to another. I also discriminate Facebook friendship requests. I have over 200 requests sitting in my inbox. My method of screening is “If I wouldn’t sit and have an extended coffee break in conversation, I probably would not “friend” you.  I know we may have many people in common, but I value time together….not more words about things without meaningful conversation.  In Facebook, I even created a category called “Who I want to See.” I’ve gone through my entire FB friend list and checked those I want in this category.  I now go to it regularly as the place to start.  I may get to the trending or most recent, but those I want to see get priority.

Focus on Family and Relationships:

Over the past four years of my life, my mother and my in-laws have died. It is that age in life (now I’m 60) when all rapidly changes.  I’ve decided that focusing on family has the greatest rewards and benefits. I know focus on my children, grandchildren, siblings, and my dad….who is the last. I love him and want to spend quality time with him. I’ve learned it all changes in a telephone call. I want to live my life with no regrets when asked to give a eulogy. No relationship regrets….say it all when the time is right and live it all when the moments are present. My dad, who is in his 80s, reminds me that every day is a gift…no guarantees. I am applying this wisdom to every relationship I have right now.  No waiting.

Attending to the work that matters:

As I said, I’m 60. I may have six to eight active working years remaining. I want to give value to these years. Thus I am focusing in my work on what matters to future generations. I have the privilege of working in higher education. My current focus is on reducing student debt through a major grant. I know that a student going to college will earn in a lifetime at least 50% more than those who do not. But that comes with a price they should also not have to bear. My work is now focused on helping them graduate with little to no debt. That is a major gift. Also, I am focusing on those things that will give me joy in my retirement years. Peter Drucker counseled to create your second career while in your first. I am focusing now more on research, writing, and those hobbies that I’ve had on the side for a few years. I am also attending to my financial matters of retirement. My wife and I know the realities of a less than well financed retirement as we have witnessed it in others we know and in family members. It is heartbreaking to watch…make this a priority of life from age twenty…it does matter.

Health:

What can I say…health matters. If you are not healthy all the rest is irrelevant. I’ve watched vibrant, active people reduced to a bed in semi conscious states and pain over this past year. When your health goes, all the rest is totally irrelevant.  Period.

I trust 2015 will be a great year for those who read this blog. I hope in it there is wisdom for yourself and others. I plan on continuing action on what I’ve learned in the last 381 days. May you also find what matters and stick to it. Grace and peace to you in this opening day of 2015.

Me & Christopher Columbus

Two hundred and twenty five days was all it took for the history changing voyage. Christopher Columbus set sail with the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria from Palos, Spain on Aug 3, 1492 and by his return on March 15, 1493 had traversed round trip across the Atlantic Ocean, explored, named and claimed the Caribbean Islands for Ferdinand and Isabella, and opened the New World for future travelers. And as we say, “The rest is history.”

It’s been about 245 days since my last writing on May 11, 2012. I never meant to go that long in writing, but life unfolded in a way that has changed our family history and experience from this point forward. We have traversed uncharted waters for us personally and a new part of history is in the making.

My father-in-law died in late April, which little did we know would be the beginning of other events. By May 4, my wife had unexpected double bypass heart surgery with a summer spent recuperating; my in-laws’ house had to be cleared of all its contents so some future residents could make it their home; our daughter went off to college in August; and my mother -in-law moved further along the highway of dementia as she adjusted to her new home in a nursing facility.

Now with a full semester of teaching and administrative work complete at the graduate school I serve, all these things are reminders that my (our) world has changed significantly.
The older I get, the more I become aware that it is critical to savor the present moments because one’s “history” can be overwhelmingly reshaped in 200 days (give or take a few). Often we are lulled into a stupor of sameness believing that we have control over what will happen and we can guide the days to be similar in outcome from those of the past. But just as Columbus didn’t know he would lose two ships and survive a near mutiny, we do not know what each sunrise will bring in the hours that follow. A slip and fall three years ago which took nanoseconds broke my leg that now leaves me with a lifetime limp and daily ache. In a thirty second treadmill walk, my wife’s life changed with a rush from one hospital to another for open heart surgery. A telephone call in the night, a missed stoplight, being in the “wrong place at the wrong time” can change our worlds—our histories—forever.

I’m learning to hold each day as precious, not sweating the small stuff (as best I can), savoring each blessing I receive throughout the day, and spending time reflecting on the grace extended to me in a 24 hour period. It has made me somewhat more quiet and reflective—which I’ve been most of my life as an introvert—but now with a purpose, being more grateful and less judgmental of those around me than I had been throughout much of my life.

Christopher Columbus had a plan as do I. I have plans for the future that I hope will take me places that are good and the best for me, my family, and to those I am connected. But a lot of life is uncharted, providing adventure each day. So I’ve relearned the old “loose-tight” principle—holding onto things that matter as best I can but not so tightly that I edge into despair when the uncharted changes the course of life—at least for the moment.

Blessings to you all as you traverse open, uncharted waters of your own lives. May you mix courage to move forward in all life’s moments with the grace to learn all you can from each situation. May there be grace and peace in the next 245 days of our life.

Choosing Joy

Try to guess what ails me.  You won’t see it because it is inside of me.  From outward appearances, I look good (if I do say so myself).  Yet I ache, all the time, from an injury that shattered my femur, the largest bone in the human body.  Surgery, a metal rod with screws, and a metal band put me together.  Four months of rehab and therapy bring me today—about 85% of my former self.  My final doctor visit tells me “this is as good as it is going to get.”  It is now a time of ongoing ache, back pain, and fatigue, as well as a little hitch in my step that those closest to me see, especially when I am tired.

This has been a year of lessons for me.  The first relates to what we cannot see.  I no longer look at people the same.  They may look just fine on the outside, but “you cannot tell a book by its cover.”  I have come in contact now with many people with hidden physical, emotional, or mental hurts in their lives.  Most simply go about life without complaint.  They might easily be judged by external appearances, but they carry burdens most would never want to bump into during life.  So, I have learned that most people carry hidden burdens which require my grace in how I might interact with them.

The second lesson I have learned deals with personal choices about my “lot in life.”  I could choose to be bitter, vindictive, a constant complainer to everyone who would listen.  But I have chosen to not talk about my situation, except on occasions with those who are close to me and understand my daily feelings.  Otherwise, you won’t know my internal aches, pains, and mental state that comes from being as “good as I am going to get” after this devastating accident.

I have chosen this because of my faith and in echo with the Apostle Paul “to be content in whatever state of being I find myself.”  I trust God daily for the strength I have and the situation I am in.  I know he was there with me at the moment of my accident, the surgery, the recovery, the long and distressing days of rehab, and now everyday—he knows my frame and I trust that by faith.  I choose to believe God’s good will ultimately prevails in what I experience each day.

Charles W. Naylor, a practical theologian out of my own faith tradition, wrote a book “The Secret of the Singing Heart.”  This book has been encouraging to me—and I think it might be to you also—in this new season of my life.  Naylor was injured in the prime of his career as an evangelist.  He was traveling around the country in the early part of the 1900s.  He was sought after for the power of his teaching and preaching.  Life couldn’t have been better.  But, he was injured in an accident that left him confined (I use that word literally of this period of time) for the next 41 years.  Yet, in time, he saw that he had a choice to make about life; he chose it to be one of optimism and living faithfully, even from a darkened room where he lay day after day.  He changed lives of those who came and sat with him.  He believed in life, goodness, and the present we all must encounter.

Naylor once wrote, “Long ago I determined to be happy.  I determined to be happy no matter what happened and no matter what condition I might be in or what my circumstances might be.”  What are the circumstances of your own life?  What choices are you making about them?  What prejudices and judgments might you make of others when you do not know their “lot in life?”  Fellow life pilgrims, I invite you to choose grace as we live with each other.  I invite you to extend grace to others when you encounter them who do not appear as you might want.  You will never guess the ailments of most people, but if we extend grace to them we might lift another human’s burden, even if it just be for a moment.  And I hope you, too, choose to live well in the circumstances you find in your own life.  Choose to live with joy at what is present with you.  Make the best of what is happening in your day today so that you might experience potentially brighter tomorrows.

Blessings for you this day. Grace and Peace.

David Neidert