The Two Certainties

The Two Certainties (CaD Ecc 7) Wayfarer

It is better to go to a house of mourning
    than to go to a house of feasting,
for death is the destiny of everyone;
    the living should take this to heart.

Ecclesiastes 7:2 (NIV)

Just this last month, Wendy and I happened to run into a couple with whom we are acquainted. They are a stretch or two ahead of us on this road of Life, and we rarely get an opportunity to chat with them. We took the occasion of our running into them to ask them about their respective journeys, and what they have been doing with their lives. Their answer intrigued us. In fact, Wendy and I talked about it multiple times ever since. We’d like to hear more.

What our friends shared with us is that they have been been working together in a personal initiative to help both individuals and organizations to understand that in our current era a person can spend almost as many years in retirement as they spent in the workforce. Their desire is to see individuals realize the value of remaining engaged and productive, while helping organizations tap the value that this growing number of “retired” individuals can bring with their wisdom and experience.

This conversation came to mind this morning as I read the chapter. Last night Wendy and I spent time praying as we drove home from the lake. As I prayed about work and business, it struck me that for my entire life the thought of “retirement” has been just an idea. It has always resided well beyond the horizon. Suddenly, it’s a fixed point on the edge of the horizon.

Then I woke to read the wisdom of Ecclesiastes’ Sage, who tells me that there is wisdom in beginning each day with the end in mind. In this case, he’s talking about the permanent retirement from this earthly journey that lies ever before me. Unlike retirement from labor, which is somewhat fixed on the calendar as a planned end-date, my permanent retirement is less certain.

It might be closer than I think.

It also, to our friends’ line of thinking, might be further away than I imagine. What if I reach that waypoint of “retirement” and still have 20 or 30 years in which I am relatively healthy and capable? What am I going to do with those 7,000-11,000 days?

In the quiet this morning, I hear God’s Spirit reminding me through the words of the Sage that all my tomorrows are simply “what ifs.” There are really only two certainties. Today, thus far, is the first. My permanent retirement, that mysteriously sits “out there” on my horizon is the second. This means that from a practical perspective, “What am I going to do with this day, which is a certainty?” is one of the most important questions with which I could occupy myself, in light of the permanent retirement that certainly lies ahead.

It’s time for me to occupy myself with the first certainty.

Have a great day, my friend.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

The Latest: June ’20 to May ’21

Wendy and I arrived at the lake last night. We’re getting things ready for our annual Memorial Day Weekend celebration with the JPs and VLs. Hello summer!

The last time I posted on “The Latest” was just about a year ago, and what a year it has been. 2020 was the year of COVID-19 and we weathered the storm like everyone else while managing to do so with our close family and friends.

Here are the highlights from the last year… the year of Covid.

June 2020 in Kansas City

Wendy and I enjoyed a really strange weekend in Kansas City amidst the pandemic. We went to see our longtime friends, Matt and Tara. Despite a narrow list of things we could do, we managed to get out for a wonderful evening with our friends and enjoy Covid-KC.

Grandma Vander Hart Turns 93

In July of 2020 the Vander Hart family gathered to celebrate Henrietta’s 93rd birthday. Since none of her children are in Pella anymore, Wendy has been helping her with her daily needs, shopping, doctor’s appointments, and etc. Wendy says with all the years Grandma watched her when she was a kid, she’s glad she has this opportunity to return the love.

Fourth of the July at the Lake

The JPs, VLs, and Schempers joined us at the lake for the Fourth of July this past year. Wendy and I actually spent less time at the lake last summer than ever. We got down just for the holiday weekends.

College Reunion

For the past few years my college roommate, Steve Elliott, and I have been talking about actually getting together. In July, we made it happen by meeting each other half-way in Galena, IL. Steve drove his wife’s Mustang convertible and we spent the afternoon exploring the backroads of the Mississippi River valley through northwest Illinois and southwest Wisconsin, making a stop when we stumbled upon a craft brewery.

Labor Day Weekend at the Lake

While Memorial Day and Fourth of July are typically family affairs, the Labor Day weekend has been a traditional adult weekend for the JPs, VLs, and V-Dubs. Always a nice way to celebrate the end of summer. Even summer of COVID.

Tay and Clay’s Highlands Wedding with a Stegosaurus

It was a beautiful wedding. We wish we could have been there. We wish anyone could have been there. Taylor and Clayton had hoped to have a private ceremony in Edinburgh with their close friends and then a quiet dinner. Then lockdowns nixed that. So, they opted for an even more private ceremony in the middle of the Scottish highlands with just the photographer and Milo. Milo requested to be a Stegosaurus for the special occasion, so, why not (at least for part of the time)?

Autumn Trip to Austin, Texas

Long before anyone had heard of the Coronavirus, we had scheduled a trip to Austin with our friends Kev and Beck. We had to do so to secure the lodging we wanted. We were determined to do enjoy what we could. As is always the case with the four of us, Beck had thoroughly investigated options and restrictions in order to structure an entire calendar of “fun” places where we could do what we love: enjoy good food, good drink, and good conversation.

Crowning a New Tulip Queen

A couple of years ago I was asked to be Master of Ceremonies for Pella’s annual Tulip Queen Announcement Party (TQAP), which is to say “it’s not a pageant!” Realizing that I’d had a blast doing it and would be doing it again, Wendy decided to sign-on for a six-year stint as a member of the TQAP Committee. So it was that we enjoyed working with the 13 young ladies (who were all amazing) to prepare for their presentations and I was honored to announce the new Tulip Queen and her Court for Pella’s 2021 Tulip Time.

Thanksgiving 2020

Thanksgiving was a quiet family gathering at our house for a small gathering of Wendy’s family.

Christmas and Covid 2020

Wendy and I felt so blessed to have the whole fam at our house for Christmas, and an entire Christmas Day together. Tay, Clay, and Milo arrived in early December. They spent a few weeks with us, and a few weeks with other family. Madison and Garrett arrived in time for Christmas. Ya-Ya (Grandma Wendy) enjoyed Milo being her little helper with Christmas cookies, smoothies, and other cooking duties. We had a Christmas cookie decorating contest and the adults all participated in a Christmas cocktail contest. There were no losers.

To honest, Wendy’s birthday was overshadowed this year as she played hostess, baker, cook, and caretaker. Nevertheless, her heart was full of joy. We even took the rare opportunity of being together to have some family portraits taken.

Christmas Day began with opening stockings before Ya-Ya’s amazing Christmas breakfast complete with cinnamon rolls. Gifts were opened and we enjoyed an equally amazing charcuterie spread for lunch/dinner as we binged on The Crown. I got to use the nifty Lifegoo precision screwdriver set in my stocking to repair Lightning McQueen for Milo.

The Andersons headed back and the Vander-Boeyinks headed to Des Moines for a week of Christmas celebrations with family there. Wendy and I had originally scheduled a cruise to celebrate our 15th Anniversary (New Year’s Eve) but that had long-since been cancelled. I believe we spent a quiet evening at home and went to bed early.

The ‘Rona came to our house on January 3rd with Tay, Clay and Milo’s return. All five of us ended up getting it. Taylor, Wendy, and I had relatively minor, flu-like symptoms. For me it was a day-or-two with body aches followed by a few weeks with zero-energy. Clay and Milo were asymptomatic. Their return to Scotland got delayed due to our quarantine together, and we made the best of our unexpected, extended family time. They eventually flew back to the UK in February.

Getting Out of Dodge

In February, Kev and I were commiserating about feeling a mutual case of cabin fever due to COVID. Deciding we’d like to look at different walls for a few days, we scooted down to the lake for a week of guy-time and working remotely from a different location.

Lake Work Weekend

We returned to the lake in April for a work weekend with the JPs and VLs. It’s hard to believe that it’s been over a decade since we built the Playhouse and there was a fairly decent list of things that needed sprucing up, repaired, updated, and improved.

JP discovered that our dock had been torn from the gangway due to the low water level this winter. He, along with our neighbor, got it repaired. There was a lot of power-washing, labeling, clearing out, and organization.

It also happened to be Shay’s birthday that weekend, so we celebrated the senorita at our favorite local Mexican haunt at the lake.

Easter 2021

Easter was a quiet affair at our house. My folks and Wendy’s folks came to Pell and Grandma Vander Hart joined us for a light lunch and an afternoon of family time. It was so good to have my parents here. They spent so much of the year in lockdown in their senior community. To actually have them physically present was such a blessing.

Weekend in “COLA”

Wendy and I headed to South Carolina in April to spend a long weekend with Madison and G. It was our first time in SC since their wedding in October of 2019, and the first visit to the house they purchased last year. We also got to meet our grand dog, Bertha. Madison arranged for both Wendy and me to have facials at the salon where she works, Pout.

We enjoyed a quiet weekend and enjoyed some great restaurants in Columbia. G’s family were in town that weekend and we all got together for breakfast on Saturday morning. It was nice to spend time with them, as well. G demonstrated his grilling skills for us before we left on Sunday, and on the way to the airport we stopped to pick-up a new grand dog, a puppy named Hazel.

April Birthdays

I got to wear a sombrero like Shay, when my bud Matthew took me out for lunch to celebrate my birthday at the end of April. Actually, Kev, Beck and I all have birthdays within 13 days of one another, so it’s become a tradition to get together to celebrate each year. This year the celebration was in Pella. We enjoyed some time at the Peanut Pub and the rooftop of Butcher’s Brewhuis before retiring to Vander Well Manor with George’s Pizza.

Tulip Time and Mother’s Day2021

There was a modified Tulip Time this year, but at least it didn’t get completely cancelled like it did last year. Wendy and did our annual turn as Pella’s founding couple. We make a couple of pop-up appearances each day of the festival to give a little spiel about the history of Pella. There was a great turnout for the festival and, as usual, we got stopped many times each day to have our pictures taken with new friends from all over.

Not to be redundant, but the year of Covid-19 was a year of a lot of redundancy in so many ways. Mother’s Day (the Sunday of Tulip Time weekend) we hosted Wendy’s grandma, folks, and my folks. Wendy’s brother, Josh, was also back in Iowa for a visit. We had a light lunch and shared family stories around the table. It was good, once again, just to be together.

And, there you have it. The highlights of the past year. More memories to be made this weekend as Memorial Day kicks off another summer.

The Point

The Point (CaD Ecc 6) Wayfarer

A man may have a hundred children and live many years; yet no matter how long he lives, if he cannot enjoy his prosperity and does not receive proper burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he.
Ecclesiastes 6:3 (NIV)

As I have been contemplating the words Ecclesiastes’ Sage this past week, the character of Ebenezer Scrooge has repeatedly come to mind. It happened again in the quiet this morning as I read today’s chapter.

Scrooge is such an embodiment of the person that the Sage describes when he writes of one who has everything and doesn’t enjoy it as he lives life “squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, his body is a musty cellar.” (see Matthew 6:22-23 in The Message). When he describes a man with many children who nevertheless dies alone, unremembered, with no one to give a proper burial, I can’t help but envision Scrooge asking the ghost of Christmas future to show him a single person who felt something, anything at the news of his death. The ghost takes him to the home of a couple who were his tenants. The emotion they felt was one of elation that their merciless landlord was dead as they now had time to get their finances in order.

It’s easy to sound too Hallmark sappy when it comes to expressing the en-joy-ment of life. Yet I find the Sage contrasting those who live in joy and contentment with those who live in misery and discontent no matter their lot in life. I can’t help but hear the echoes of Paul’s words in his letter to the followers of Jesus in Phillipi:

I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself contemplating not only Scrooge’s reputation, but also his transformation. Isn’t it ironic that when I hear the name “Ebenezer Scrooge” my first thought is about what he was, not what he became? I wonder how often I do that with people I’ve known along my life journey. But the transformation is the point of Dicken’s story. It’s the point of the Great Story:

“If anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation. Old things pass away. New things come.”
2 Cor 5:17

And the one who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I’m making all thing new.”
Rev 21:5

Here I am at the beginning of a new day. Where will my heart and eyes lead me this day?

Misery and discontent?

Joy and contentment?

The further I’ve get in my spiritual journey with Christ the former becomes more-and-more of an impossibility, and the latter comes naturally with each breath.

The point of the journey is transformation.

Speaking of enjoying life. Wendy and I are off to enjoy the start of summer at the lake, and I am taking a break from the chapter-a-day journey. I plan to be back on the path June 7. If you need a fix, please visit the index or the ol’ archives. Thousands of chapter-a-day posts to choose from. Cheers!

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Of Spirit and Paperweights

Of Spirit and Paperweights (CaD Ecc 5) Wayfarer

Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God.
Ecclesiastes 5:19 (NIV)

I still remember a big, glass Skippy jar that belonged to my brother, Tim. The lid was wrapped tight with athletic tape and a slot for change was snipped into the tin lid. It was filled with change (Note: a Skippy jar full of pocket change could go a long way in those days). It sat there. For years it served as a paperweight on my brother’s desk. For years I saw that thing just sitting there…years.

During those years. I didn’t have a piggy bank or any such change jar. There was no point. If I had a dime I spent it.

That’s a parable, by the way.

It’s also a confession that I was not great with money for much of my life. It was a lesson that ended up being a long, hard stretch for me on both the spiritual and physical levels. But learn it, I did. As a sincere follower of Jesus, I couldn’t get around the fact that money and the spiritual implications of it, was His number one subject.

Not sex.
Not drinking.
Not drugs.
Not politics.
Not church attendance.

Money, wealth, possessions and their spiritual implications was numero uno on the Top Ten list of subjects that Jesus talked about. And, for anyone reading this who has not read Jesus’ teaching on the subject yourself, please know that it’s completely opposite of those televangelists who twist His teaching in order to pad their own pockets.

Yesterday morning I had the honor of kicking-off what will be a six-week series of messages about the economy of God’s Kingdom (it’s on the Messages page, btw). Talking about economics is always a tough subject from a spiritual perspective because money and economics are so intertwined with my life, my mind, my heart, and my spirit. I believe that’s why Jesus talked about it so much. I can live a good, religious, morally pure, upright life, but if I don’t get the spiritual lessons of economics right, then I’m still hopelessly stuck in spiritual kindergarten.

It felt like a little spiritual synchronicity that the Sage who authored Ecclesiastes is talking about this same subject in today’s chapter. What fascinated me is how it dove-tailed what I spoke about yesterday, and what stuck out to me in the chapter was an interesting contrast.

In verse 10, the Sage warns of the spiritual trap that wealth creates because there’s never enough, and the dissatisfaction and discontent of the perpetual more will eat a person’s soul.

In verse 11, the Sage warns of the spiritual trap of limitless consumption because it is also never satisfied. It leads to life as described in the movie Wall-E.

In verse 12, the Sage observes that there’s a certain simplicity of life and peace of spirit the comes with having very little, while having much only adds increasing layers of complexity and anxiety. This robs life of sleep (and peace, and joy, and goodness, and contentment, and etc.).

Wealth and consumption are spiritual traps that lead to bad places.

Then at the end of the chapter, the Sage observes what appears to be the exact opposite: “when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God.” 

But I couldn’t help but notice the key ingredient in this latter observation. The wealth and possessions flow from God, they are received and held as the gift from God that they are by a person who manages those resources with a sense of gratitude, contentment, and spiritual discernment.

In my message yesterday I spoke about the spiritual lesson that I’ve learned (and learned the hard way) which must precede any conversation about money itself. Interestingly enough, Jesus told one wealthy man that selling all his possessions and giving it to the poor was the one thing he had to do. But Jesus had other people in his life, like Lazarus and his sisters, who were wealthy and Jesus didn’t ask them to do the same thing. I find this an important distinction that the Sage is revealing in today’s chapter.

The wealth isn’t the issue. The issue that precedes the money conversation is one of heart, eyes, and worship. You’re welcome to listen to the message if you’re interested in unpacking this more.

By the way, on my dresser sits a large coffee mug full of change. It basically serves as a paperweight. It’s been there for years.

I’m learning.

Wayfarer Weekend Podcast: Andy Bales on Skid Row

“I worked my whole life to end up on Skid Row.”

Andy Bales

At the age of 15, just a few months after my decision to become a follower of Jesus, I met Andy Bales. For the next three formative years he was my youth pastor, my mentor, and my friend. When I think of Andy I think of John the Baptist’s words about Jesus: “I’m not worthy to tie his shoelaces.”

Andy is an Iowa boy who has given his life to serve the poor, addicted, homeless, and most destitute people.

This week, my Wayfarer Weekend podcast is a conversation with Andy. I’m not worthy to tie the laces of the shoe on the one foot he has left, but I’m grateful for the opportunity of having this conversation and sharing it with you.

(WW) Andy Bales on Skid Row Wayfarer

Please listen, and check out this article about Andy in LA Weekly:

Click on this photo to read the story.

The Value of “Another”

The Value of "Another" (CaD Ecc 4) Wayfarer

There was a man all alone;
    he had neither son nor brother.
There was no end to his toil,
    yet his eyes were not content with his wealth.
“For whom am I toiling,” he asked,
    “and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?”
This too is meaningless—
    a miserable business!

Ecclesiastes 4:8 (NIV)

A few weeks ago I happened upon a post on LinkedIn. It was one of those heart-warming stories that almost sounds too good to be true. It made me curious. I dug into the story. I’d like to share with you what I learned.

Dale Schroeder was an Iowan from my hometown of Des Moines. He grew up poor, and couldn’t afford college. After high school he got a job as a carpenter and showed up at work every day for the same company for 67 years. It appears that retirement wasn’t something he considered worthwhile. Dale lived simply. He owned two pair of jeans. He had one pair of jeans for work and one pair of jeans for church.

One day, Dale showed up at the office of his friend and attorney. He told his friend he’d been thinking. He didn’t have the money to go to college and he’d like to give kids who couldn’t afford it the opportunity he never had. He wanted to set up a fund and invest all his savings for the project.

“How much are we talking, Dale?” his attorney asked.

“Oh, just shy of three million,” Dale answered.

Dale’s fund paid for the college education of 33 young people before the funds ran out. Calling themselves “Dale’s Kids” the strangers, who are now doctors, therapists, and teachers because of Dale’s gift, meet periodically to honor his legacy.

A simple man, Dale asked only one thing in return for his generosity. He asked that they pay-it-forward. “You can’t pay it back,” his attorney would explain, “because Dale is gone, but you can remember him and you can emulate him.”

If I pull back and look at today’s chapter from a distance, I find that the Sage has divided his wisdom into two parts. In verses 1-6, the Teacher describes the cold futility of self-centric lives and the tragic fruit of living lives of envy, greed, and hatred. In verses 7-16 the focus shifts. Verse 8 describes Dale sitting on his three million in the bank, asking himself “What am I going to do with all this money I’ve stored up my entire life?”

Verses 9-12 describes the value of living, not for self, but for another.

“Do something for someone else,” the Sage proposes as he whispers to me in my soul. “Invest the fruit of your labor into someone else’s need. Step out of the chill of self-centered isolation and warm another person with your kindness, then feel the warmth of their gratitude take the chill out of your own soul. Tom, if you look below in order to reach down and lift another person up your gaze won’t be fixated enviously on the height of other people’s stacks of stuff.”

In the quiet this morning, I find myself pondering Dale Schroeder showing up to work every day in his work jeans for 67 years in order to invest everything into the lives of 33 strangers. It’s an act of extravagant generosity that has not only changed the lives of those 33, but also their families, patients, students, and descendants. Who knows how it will be gratefully paid forward to affect the lives of countless others that you and I will never know about.

The Sage has me silently asking myself this morning:

“What is truly valuable in this life?”

“What does my life reveal about what I truly value?”

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

The Inescapable Fact

The Inescapable Fact (CaD Ecc 3) Wayfarer

All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return.
Ecclesiastes 3:20 (NIV)

Like most people, Wendy and I spent much of the year of COVID finding old television shows to watch. We found ourselves falling in love with a handful of British series. There is a bit of a formula that the Brits have mastered. First, you set the show in a gorgeous, remote landscape. Second, you find a protagonist detective who is just a bit broken. Third, you surround the protagonist with team members who have their own unique issues. Then, of course, people in this gorgeous, remote area of the United Kingdom die all the time in strange ways.

It’s predictable, but it works. It always works. Death is the number one ingredient in our stories. Protagonists are constantly threatened with death, escaping death, and chasing a perpetrator of death. Antagonists are constantly threatening people with death, initiating the death of others, and they often become victims of death in the end. Television, movies, novels, and comic books are filled with death.

I am going to die.

This is an inescapable fact.

I have probably been around death more than most people. I have stood over individuals as they took their last breath. I have officiated many funerals. I have buried loved ones and complete strangers, individuals and couples, infants and aged.

Along my life journey, I’ve observed something ironic. We entertain ourselves ceaselessly with stories in which death is the main ingredient, yet most of us want to pull a Houdini when it comes to this inescapable fact. We want to avoid thinking about it. We want to avoid talking about it. We want to put it off as long as humanly possible.

The ancient Sage of Ecclesiastes wants me to stop trying to escape this fact. He want me to stop running from the inevitable and look this inescapable fact straight in the eye. He makes it a matter-of-fact statement:

There is a time to be born. Check. April 30, 1966. St. Luke’s hospital in Sioux City, Iowa.

There is a time to die. Date unknown. Location unknown. Still inevitable.

I mentioned back at the beginning of this chapter-a-day trek through Ecclesiastes that the Sage is pushing into what is really of value in this life. In the quiet this morning, I hear him telling me that there is value in considering my day, this very day, in light of this inescapable fact. David Gibson wrote about it in his book Living Life Backwards:

I am convinced that only a proper perspective on death provides the true perspective on life. Living in the light of your death will help you to live wisely and freely and generously. It will give you a big heart and open hands, and enable you to relish all the small things of life in deeply profound ways. Death can teach you the meaning of mirth.

I want to persuade you that only if you prepare to die can you really learn how to live.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself pondering two things as I things as I prepare to press on into this day:

One: I think I should allow the inescapable fact of my impending death to inform what I value.

Two: A disproportionate number of arcane murders seem to occur in gorgeous, remote areas of the UK, if one believes what one sees on the telly.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Ecclesiastes (May/June 2021)

Each photo below corresponds to the chapter-a-day post for the book of Ecclesiastes published by Tom Vander Well in May and June of 2021. Click on the photo linked to each chapter to read the post.

Ecclesiastes 1: Valuable
Ecclesiastes 2: Present

Ecclesiastes 3: The Inescapable Fact

Ecclesiastes 4: The Value of “Another”

Ecclesiastes 5: Of Spirit and Paperweights

Ecclesiastes 6: The Point

Ecclesiastes 7: The Two Certainties

Ecclesiastes 8: Humility and Uncertainty

Ecclesiastes 9: What in the “Hebel?”

Ecclesiastes 10: Topsy-Turvy Times

Ecclesiastes 11: Brewing Interpretation

Ecclesiastes 12: Journey’s End

Present

Present (CaD Ecc 2) Wayfarer

A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God…
Ecclesiastes 2:24 (NIV)

Wendy and I had a lovely evening last night with friends who joined us for some mesquite-smoked, barbecued chicken breasts I threw on the grill for dinner. We sat leisurely around the table long after Wendy’s amazing dessert was served. We shared our respective stories with one another and plied one another with questions.

Our guests, like Wendy and me, find ourselves with more of Life’s road behind us than before us. Like Wendy and me, our guests find themselves in a good place. Like Wendy and me, our guests had their own stretches of pain and struggle in which the journey was a long, hard slog. Ironically, two of the four of us lived much of life as “straight-arrows” who, nevertheless, got tripped up along the way. Two of the four of us had stories of foolish rebellion. We all recognized how our Enneagram Types factored into the way we reacted, responded, and related to others along the way. All four of us ultimately had stories of gracious redemption which we celebrated and thanked God as we shared.

In the opening chapter of Ecclesiastes yesterday, I shared that the wise sage who authors the book, identified as wise King Solomon, is ultimately pushing into what is of value. In today’s chapter, he seems to speak from a place on life’s road in which there is more road behind him than before him. He is looking back and recounting the veritable plethora of things from which he attempted to find something meaningful and valuable.

As I read, I couldn’t help but see different Enneagram Types in the descriptions. The chapter begins (vss 1-3) with what feels like the Type Seven “Enthusiast” who indulges in a long string of pleasurable distractions. Then it shifts to the Type Three “Achiever” (vss 4-11) who scrambles to make a name for himself with his resume of meritorious successes and all the earthly rewards that came with it. Next, it’s the Type Five “Investigator” (vss 12-14) who quietly ponders the lack of meaning and value in everything he’s tried and attempts to find wisdom in these lessons. The pessimistic Type Four “Individualist” (vss 15-17) then shows up with angst and finds the glass half-empty, futile, and meaningless. The black-and-white Type One “Reformer” (vss 18-21) then waxes despairingly about how completely unfair and inequitable it is that he did all the hard work to amass all the good things in life and it all gets inherited by his children who did nothing to deserve it.

After all the seeking, pursuing, toiling, mulling, regrets, frustration, and investigation, the chapter ends with a simple, humble observation from the sage. Rather than seeking outward satisfaction in pleasures, successes, merit badges, wealth, gadgets, graduate degrees, awards, and fame, the Teacher looks inward. He addresses this one moment of being. He eschews all the previous days of the journey he’s just recounted and chooses to turns his gaze from contemplating all the days ahead which are not promised and may never come. He considers this one, present day.

Savor the flavor of mesquite-smoked chicken and the sweet tenderness of Iowa corn casserole. Soak in the laughter and love of good company. Relish the life stories for the unique and dynamic living fingerprints they are. Embrace gratitude to the full. Lay down your head with satisfaction in the tasks accomplished this day. Allow the guilt and shame of things undone fade away into the vacuum of meaninglessness. Caress the warmth of her presence, her body next to you in bed. Allow her laughter to languish in your ears.

I sit in the quiet at the beginning of this, another day. All my yesterdays are gone. All my tomorrows are only an assumption. I have this day.

I choose to be present.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Valuable

Valuable (CaD Ecc 1) Wayfarer

No one remembers the former generations,
    and even those yet to come
will not be remembered
    by those who follow them.

Ecclesiastes 1:11 (NIV)

How much do I know about previous generations of my family?

As the unofficial family historian, I probably know more than most. Nevertheless, it’s relatively little considering the 70-90 years each of my great-grandparents lived on this earth. If I go back one more generation than that it’s really just names, dates, and facts preserved on government records.

Interestingly enough, there are virtually no tangible things left from that generation that have any real value in today’s world. I find it fascinating that the only tangible things left are bibles. I have a handful of bibles belonging to various ancestors that family members have given me over the years.

Observation:

  1. Bibles are the only tangible things to survive from previous generations.
  2. Current generations seem happy to dispossess them and give them to me.

There are spiritual lessons to be mined there. I’m taking note of that for more excavation.

Today, this chapter-a-day journey begins trekking through the ancient wisdom of Ecclesiastes. In the alternate-reality that I seem to be living in these past few years, I figure a little ancient wisdom might provide me something more lasting than the contemporary cycle of news and trends which ebbs and flows more quickly than I can keep up. And really, if something’s value as news can only hold five-minutes of attention then what’s the point?

And that is just the point of the sage who authored Ecclesiastes. When I was young I kept getting stuck thinking that the he was waxing existential pessimism. The further I’ve gotten on this road of Life, however, the more I’ve come to understand that the sage is inviting me to consider what is valuable.

There is only one of my great-grandparents who had what I would consider significant impact on subsequent generations. I’ve blogged about her many times before. My maternal great-grandmother, Grandma Daisy, was a matriarch honored and revered by her children and grandchildren. I have heard about her my entire life, and the impact she had on her family, my family.

A few years ago I was going through a box of ephemera that my mom had kept. In it I found Grandma Daisy’s handwritten will, subsequently transcribed and typed by her daughter. “My material things are so small,” she wrote to her children. She specified that she was basically giving each child the things they’d given her. Here’s the comprehensive list of the tangible things she left behind for her children:

Baby rocker
Electric blanket
Photographs
Rosewood vase
A picture of a feathered bird which hung on the wall
Samsonite bag
Dining table and chairs
Wall plaque with verse about “trees”
Desk
Rocker
Electric shaver
Heating pad
White blanket with pink flowers
Teapot
Jewelry box
Electric fan

I read through this list of items in the quiet and pondered their value. I doubt any of them still exist, except the photographs. Their material existence lasted but a breath or two past her own final aspiration.

Then, I find myself recalling distinct memories I have of multiple family members sharing stories over the years about this woman. There were usually tears as they talked about the impact that her faith, hope, and love had on their lives.

So what is it that has real value?

I hear Jesus ask His followers: “What do you truly treasure, and where is it stored?”

One of the things I treasure is Grandma Daisy’s Bible that is staring at me from where I write these words.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Just another wayfarer on life's journey, headed for Home. I'm carrying The Message, and I'm definitely waiting for Guffman.

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