The Shrinking Tomb

Right after my mom died, we all assumed that my dad was going to continue to live on his own. I was still finishing up seminary at the time and flew out to Minnesota just a few days after my mom’s funeral. So, imagine my surprise when midway through my week in St. Paul, I received a phone call from my dad telling me that he was in the hospital. He assured me that everything was okay and that he would be fine, but I should have known better.

Dad had lost a lot in a short time period and it would be difficult for just about anyone to recover from that kind of loss. A career. A home. A wife and partner. The familiar. The convenient. The comfortable.

Dad continued on his own, living in the townhouse that was supposed to have served my parents throughout their retirement for the next four and a half months. Then, well, you know what they say about something hitting the fan?! That Christmas may very well have been the worst Christmas in my forty plus years.

Dad was in the hospital for a few weeks, he recovered enough to leave but not enough to be on his own. We were uncertain what would come next for him. I tried to be as sensitive as possible in the midst of my father’s frailty. He had been pushed into so many things in such a short period of time that I didn’t want to find myself guilty of being one more person pushing him into something that made him uncomfortable or sad. So, we held on to his townhouse, hoping that one day he would be strong enough and well enough to get back there again and live on his own.

That day never came.

When I would go down to visit my dad, we would generally go out to lunch, maybe stop by the cemetery to see my mom’s grave, and then stop by the townhouse. Sitting there in the townhouse at the dining room table, opening up the mail that had come, I think it still gave him a sense of control, a sense of solidarity, and a sense of independence. I’m not exactly sure how it felt for him all of those times, but eventually, it was just me going to the townhouse and to the cemetery.

Somewhere along the way, I realized that I was visiting two tombs. Although the townhouse still contained most of my parents’ belongings, it was empty, cold, and lifeless. Sure, there were memories there, but it was as if time had stopped and every time that I set foot in there, it was as if I was walking into an alternate universe where time was suspended for however long I chose to stay. Just as Edmund, Lucy, Peter, and Susan had set foot into the wardrobe transporting them to Narnia, so the townhouse had a similar effect on me. The difference was that while the Pevensie children were in the wardrobe time was suspended, the townhouse acted as sort of a time vacuum to me. The time that I spent there seemed to pass quickly without me fully realizing it.

Over time, I realized that visiting the townhouse wasn’t too much different than visiting the cemetery. They were both tombs, of a sort. One was warmer, an larger, and better decorated, but they both contained something that was no longer there, except in my mind. In that townhouse I could find myself reliving memories, getting lost in daydreams, and simply remembering what used to be.

We embraced the difficult task of getting rid of everything that we did not want to hold on to, helped (thankfully) by a friend who ran estate sales. In the months before the townhouse finally sold, it felt more and more like a tomb as there was nothing there anymore, no furniture, no pictures, no clothes, no sign of what used to be, just emptiness. We transported the remaining belongings to a storage unit not far from my house after the townhouse sold.

One afternoon, not long after the townhouse sold, I found myself driving to the storage unit. As I opened the door, the remaining belongings still held that smell, you know, the smell of my parents. Not sure I can explain that in a way that would do it justice with words, but it was the same smell that hit me every time that I walked into the townhouse.

I realized in that moment that the tomb had gotten smaller. It had gone from townhouse size to storage unit size. In some ways, it was a fitting metaphor for my grief. Not to say that my sense of loss over my parents felt any smaller, but it seemed that I was better able to handle it and on some level it had somehow shrunk from the size of a townhouse to the size of a storage unit.

In the absence of the townhouse, I’ve not got many reasons to frequent Williamsburg. There are no trips to the townhouse, nor are there any trips to the cemetery. My trips to the storage unit are limited, but I know that one day, in an effort to eliminate expenses, we will need to eliminate that storage unit as well.

The tomb is shrinking.

Entering into this Lenten season, it seemed fitting for me to come to this realization. After all, the culmination of the Lenten season has to do with the discovery of an empty tomb and, beyond that, all of the implications that come with it.

When faced with the emptiness and loss of what was, it’s easy to linger on it, allowing it to diffuse into our souls and somehow convince us that it’s the end. Facing the emptiness of the townhouse and the condensed memories that take up the storage unit, it’s a reminder to me that there is hope beyond tombs, I can picture in my mind that storage unit being empty one day, and I think it will be symbolic to me, in a way, of the hope that remains in the midst of emptiness.

The tomb was empty, the clothes remained, but the body was gone. Jesus was gone. In much the same way, Mom and Dad are gone, the tomb is empty. Sure, there are still earthly shells of what used to be, but the lifelessness and emptiness that seems so palpable point me to a picture of hope, reminding me that death is not the end.

Some people give up things for Lent, they take part in a fasting of sorts to focus them on the meaning of the season. I’ve never been one to do things simply because everybody else does and I don’t think that I will start now. In fact, maybe my visits to the “tomb” might become more frequent in the midst of this Lenten season. Visiting an occupied grave may serve as a fitting reminder to me that there was an empty tomb that was visited many years ago and the implications of its emptiness are as relevant today as they were back then. In addition, the ramifications of that emptiness ring loud and true today and on into eternity, so if that’s what tombs remind me of, bring it on. Nothing like finding a little hope in the midst of emptiness.

Scary Close – A Book Review

scary closeDonald Miller has the ability to seem like one of those friends who you don’t talk to or see frequently, but when you do, it’s as if you just saw them yesterday. He cozies up to you as if he’s never left, as if you’ve been friends your whole life long. You pick up where you left off and sit enthralled as he weaves his latest yarn.

Miller has made a writing career out of telling his stories. Whether it’s about growing up without a father, going on a road trip, living in Portland, Oregon, or something else, he has a knack for telling stories. He’s also made an art form of standing naked and vulnerable in front of people with his words. He has focused his books on the transformations that take place in his life, the ways that he is being made new and different.

“Scary Close” is no different. Miller tells the story of how he had to work through his own mess before he could finally feel fit enough for a long-term relationship. Of course, he didn’t come to the conclusion on his own, he had help from friends who spoke truth into his life. He’s honest about the various ways that he had sabotaged so many relationships with the opposite sex in the past. “Scary Close” is the story of how he finally entered into one of the greatest adventures that life holds: marriage.

Miller’s honesty and candor are refreshing, he never claims expertise. He paints himself as a sojourner, learning from his own mistakes and hoping that others might do the same. From a layman’s perspective, he lays out his own observations of his own mistakes as well as the mistakes that are common among relationships. He identifies some of the characteristics that have stood out as hindrances to his own relationships in the past.

Miller’s work isn’t for everyone. Anyone coming to this book expecting a theological treatise or something deeply theological will be disappointed. There may even be some who would criticize the work for seeming steeped in psycho-babble, but alas, we will all have critics. Miller’s work wasn’t written for scholars but for the common man or woman. Through his unfolding story, he gives hope to the average man or woman who might stumble onto his work and find comfort and solace in the fact that there are other people out there who feel inadequate and fall short of their own expectations of themselves. Through his story, he encourages others who may have found themselves traveling down a similar road to the one which he was on.

“Scary Close” is a quick and enjoyable read. While there were no major “aha” moments or deep takeaways, the book had lots of insights and nuggets that will be a helpful reference as I consider the idea of intimacy and why it seems to elusive to so many.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Harper Collins Publishing. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

When Did Love and Sex Become Synonymous?

This weekend marks one of Hallmark’s most successful holidays (next to Christmas): Valentine’s Day. So why not spend it watching a good romantic comedy or a classic love story? I mean, it’s a holiday whose sole purpose is to celebrate love, right? Better yet, you can go to your local theater and watch a little movie (based on the largely successful book) about S & M between clean cut, young, white people called “Fifty Shades of Grey.”

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, methinks you’ve been living under a rock. Since its publication in 2012, the book has sold more than 10 million copies and the film version has finally arrived. Desperate housewives and husbands as well as those with curiosities killing them like cats have flocked to the book and will most likely flock to the movie in much the same way. There is a deep irony in this movie being released on Valentine’s Day weekend, a holiday as I mentioned which is purportedly focused on love.

The movie, despite bad reviews from many critics, will most likely have a big opening weekend. Just the hype alone is drawing more attention to the movie than it would if it were to have to rely on its sheer brilliance, which based on the reviews so far, is non-existent. In fact, I hesitated to even mention it within this post for fear of perpetuating such drivel.

“Fifty Shades of Grey” in both book and movie form represents a bigger problem seen across our culture. Somewhere along the way, we’ve cast aside good old fashioned love stories and love songs and replaced them with seductive stories of one night stands, of sexual escapades in the back of limousines, of drunken experiences that still remain hazy in the heads of those who have experienced them. We’ve replaced the notion of love with a cheap imitation.

Consider the recent Grammy event where many of the songs nominated for awards were focused on sex. “Take Me To Church” isn’t really about wanting to get up on Sunday morning and go listen to a sermon. Many may have read about Kanye West’s further antics of standing up when Beck was awarded album of the year. Kanye thought that Beyonce’s album was more deserving because of its artistry. Containing songs like “Blow”, “Drunk In Love” and “Partition,” Queen Bey’s album contains enough material to make the prudish among us blush. Is it really necessary for us to sing about our sexual experiences? What Jay-Z and Beyonce do in the privacy of their bedroom is not really something that I’m particularly interested in. Should the rest of the world be?

The list could go on and on. These are just some examples of a bigger picture of the fact that there has been a radical shift in our society. I’m not exactly sure when it happened. It might have been something subtle. It would be easy to simply point to the free love of the ‘60s as the cause. Regardless of where it had its genesis, there seems to be a problem within our culture and our world. Our terminology has been skewed and jaded. We’ve lost sight of real definitions and embraced vague terms which become too interchangeable to have any real meaning. Somewhere along the way, we got confused and someone thought that it was a good idea to unite love and sex together in such a way that the two became synonymous.

As I see it, there are some severe problems with this. The first of which is that we make love shallow when it is so inherently tied to an act. If love is defined by the sex act, it’s really no wonder that marriages are failing and commitments are waning. If love prevails because of the sex act, when the sex act becomes boring or unfulfilling, because our notion of love is so tied to it, we will abandon that “love” for something which better resembles our faulty definition. We will move from relationship to relationship thinking that those relationships are defined by their sexuality rather than something deeper.

We are holistic creatures, we are not simply physical and sexual creatures. If our relationships are not holistic, then they will fail us, or we will fail them. We will simply seek out things that will fulfill the physical and sexual rather than seeking out the longer lasting emotional, mental, and spiritual aspects of our relationships.

But what happens when their sexual experiences slow down? What happens when the urge isn’t there anymore? Sure, it may be many years down the road, but if our relationships are built upon the foundation of sexual experiences, what happens when that foundation is removed? Will what has been built on top of that foundation be strong enough to withstand the collapse of the foundation?

For me, there is nothing like walking in a public place and seeing an elderly couple walking hand in hand. My eyes will inevitably fall upon them and become glued. I’m watching. I’m listening. I’m observing what I see to try to get an idea as to how they got to that point. While Viagra can go so far, I think we would be foolish to think that the same passionate sex that one might have experienced in their earlier years would be as easily achievable in the twilight of life. That’s not to say that it doesn’t exist, but I can guarantee you that if you were to talk with a couple like this to find out the secret of their longevity, they would most likely not point to the fact that they had defined their relationship simply by how much they “loved” each other through their sexual relationship. In fact, I would guess that if that had been their focus, they would most likely have abandoned that relationship a long time ago.

The other disturbing thing about this is that it doesn’t really work both ways. We might say that love can only be fulfilled through sex, but the opposite is not true. It’s possible, and even likely in this day and age, that sex can be completely loveless. We can have sex without love but we can’t have love without sex? Is that right? Can this be true?

The more that I see this distortion, the more I wonder what I’m missing.

I want to be one of those elderly couples that young people look at and wonder about our secret. I want to have a relationship that incorporates sex but is not defined by it. If my marriage relationship and my love for my wife is simply defined by the sexual aspect of it, then I don’t think we’ll make it to those twilight years! My foundation will crumble when the very thing on which I’ve built my relationship is taken away.

I’m sure there will be some who will accuse me of being a prude, but such an accusation is missing the point of what I am trying to get at here. What you do in the confines of your bedroom are your business, don’t make them everyone else’s business too.

Somehow or another, we have to redeem the notion of love as something much greater than an act, something much bigger than a few moments of pleasure. The oversexualization of our culture isn’t going to do anything to move towards that redemption.

The World Is Different

It was more than a year ago that a local husband and wife were out for a morning jog when a car hit and killed the wife. In the aftermath of the accident, the running world rallied around a cause to keep the memory of this young runner, mother, and wife alive with Meg’s miles (or Meg smiles).

The driver of the automobile that hit the woman was recently sentenced to four years in prison. The surviving husband, a local police officer, was interviewed after the verdict and he shared what his family has been going through in the year since they lost their wife and mother. His children haven’t been able to sleep and his 8 year old, in what he called a true moment, told his father that the reason that he hadn’t been able to sleep since he lost his mother was because, “the world is different.”

When I first read the article about the interview with Scott Menzies, that phrase haunted me. I turned it over and over in my head, thinking about what it meant and how true that it was….and is. I thought about the end of The Lord of the Rings when Frodo and his friends are sitting around a table in their local pub, hearing the familiar sounds that don’t feel so familiar anymore. They look at each other with acknowledging looks that tell each other that they understood what the others were thinking. The world was different.

When things change, there’s usually no way to get them to go back the way that they once were. I’m sure that’s the way that Scott Menzies and his family have felt. How painful for his three young children to have to come to that realization that the world is different and that it can never go back to what it once was for them.

I can understand a little of what they are feeling with the loss of my own parents. The world is different now, things have changed. Although I was much older when I lost my parents and the circumstances by which they died were not nearly as tragic as the Menzies family, for anyone who loses someone, there is a realization that they all must come to in facing the new world, in facing the fact that things are different and will never be like they once were….

Well, not on this side of eternity, at least.

Tolkien uses the phrase, “everything sad is coming untrue” to describe the vanquishing of evil. It’s a phrase that I replay in my mind over and over again, thinking about what is to come when I’ve found myself focusing far too much on what’s been lost.

The world is different now.

Every time that I drive by the memorial that has been set up at the site where Meg Menzies was killed, I feel as if I am on sacred ground. I say a prayer for Scott Menzies and his family. I don’t pray for the driver of the vehicle like I should, but that’s probably something that I need to start doing as well. His family has experienced a different world as well, nothing is the same for them either, and there is nothing that they can do to return things to the way that they once were.

The world is different, but different isn’t always bad, especially when there is hope beyond that difference. We can’t see things in full, but only in part. I equate it to trying to do a puzzle without the cover, we don’t really know what it is that we are building, we haven’t been given the whole picture, but do we trust that there is One who sees things in full, who knows all things, who is sovereign over it all?

Yes, the world is different now and it’s not always easy to take. Things will happen that will challenge our thinking that will disrupt the normality, simplicity, and comfort of our lives. Where do we find hope? It’s a question that I constantly return to and one that I think that we all ultimately need to answer.

Just for context’s sake, here is my original post about the tragedy that took place last January: http://wp.me/p3tHzf-cn

Following Instructions

read instructionsIf you spend any time on social media and the internet, then you have most likely encountered videos that go viral. I’m not big on clicking every single video that I see, but when more than one friend has it posted on their walls or shares a link to it, I will usually see if there’s something to the shared video.

Recently, I saw a video shared by a number of people of Stephen Fry during an interview. The outspoken actor has been a supporter of atheism and other liberal causes in the past. In this interview, the interview asked him how he would respond if, after he died, he found himself at the pearly gates confronted by the Creator God. What would he say if it turned out that all of his protestations against God had been wrong.

Fry went on to pointedly state that some of the egregious travesties in this world, sickness and disease, were reason enough for him to doubt God’s existence and, more so, to still want to deny God to his face simply for the sheer fact that God would allow such things. He said that he wouldn’t even want to be let into a heaven run by such a God if that was a picture of his character (you can watch the interview excerpt here).

I try to base my friendships on similarities and interests rather than sameness. I have friends who I love dearly with whom I don’t agree. We have chosen to agree to disagree and I appreciate the fact that I can still be challenged and questioned by them and we can still maintain our friendship despite those differences.

There are times when friends will post things that will attack my own personal ideology and it stings. I know that their intention isn’t to personally attack, so I can generally pass by all of those posts without much thought. When I saw this post of the interview by Fry, something rose up in me. I couldn’t simply let it sit there because it troubled me deep inside. I thought long and hard about what it was that was troubling me about Fry’s statements.

As I thought about it, I kept coming back to the idea of instructions, rules, and guidelines. I’m not a big rule follower. Sometimes I struggle with authority. When I buy something new, I don’t generally read the instructions. Having been well educated and having received multiple higher learning degrees, if things are too complicated for me to figure out on my own accord, I wonder if they are simply too complicated.

Regardless of my feelings and viewpoint on instructions, rules, and guidelines, it doesn’t change the fact that I have to obey them. If I refuse to obey them, there will always be consequences. Sometimes those consequences can be as innocuous as added time and effort in putting something together. Other times those consequences can result in a monetary loss of something more severe if I choose to disobey.

What would happen if I went out and bought myself a very expensive luxury automobile? What if I completely disregarded the instructions that were given to me by the manufacturer of that automobile, the creator, if you will? Depending on the extent of my disregard, the result could be catastrophic. If I refused to use regular gasoline and insisted on putting diesel gasoline into the tank instead, my engine would cease to function and I would need to spend a significant amount of money to fix the problem.

If after disregarding the instructions and paying the consequences to have it fixed I continued to disregard the instructions, should I be surprised when I encounter the same problems again? When the engine ceases to function because of my blatant disregard for the manufacturer’s instructions, should I get mad at that manufacturer for not giving me enough freedom to use their car the way that I want to use the car? Should I say that the manufacturer was unjust because of their inflexibility in the design of the automobile?

The more that I thought of it, the more that I kept thinking that Fry’s statements seemed to be on a parallel with someone who would yell at a manufacturer because their product didn’t work the way that the consumer wanted it to, regardless of whether or not the consumer disregarded the rules and tried to make the product fit their own selfish desires.

I believe that God created the world (I won’t get into how he did it or how long he took to do it for the sake of the length of this post). I believe that, like most good creators or inventors, God gave instructions to his creation on how it should be cared for and handled. I believe that God’s creation rebelled against the rules which they were given, resulting in catastrophic consequences which are still felt today.

Atheists like Fry rebel against the notion of a Creator God who would allow such travesties to take place in the world, but what of the rules, guidelines, and instructions given by the inventor? Do they rise up and rebel when they show the same blatant disregard for instructions given them by the manufacturers of their automobiles, their appliances, their amenities of life? Do they expect that there will be no consequences when rules, guidelines, and instructions are disregarded?

The question often asked is, “Why does a loving God not intervene in the midst of circumstances like this?” I believe that the answer is twofold. First of all, if the manufacturer had intervened multiple times when its creation had been disobedient, how many times would be enough for this kind of intervention? At the same time, Fry and others like him stake a claim to their own freedom to choose, to their freedom to do as they see fit. Wouldn’t intervention be contrary to this freedom that they so readily choose? If God intervened at every wrong choice and overlooked rule, would that not take away the freedom to choose? Would the freedom to choose not be lost if every free choice was reversed by God?

The second answer may render the first inconsequential. You see, God already has intervened through his son, Jesus Christ. Things couldn’t get back to the way in which they were initially created if left in the hands of creation, so God’s intervention had to provide a foolproof means by which this intervention should take place, but it still required a choice. For it to involve anything other than that would result in creation not really being given a choice but rather being created as robots with the inability to choose (for all of my Reformed friends, I am oversimplifying here for the sake of the argument and my readers).

If I am put into a situation with specific rules and guidelines and then refuse to obey those rules and guidelines, I can expect consequences. To rebel and call those consequences unfair and unjust because I didn’t choose them seems to be the epitome of selfishness and self-centeredness. Do I have the right to rail against the manufacturer because he didn’t make something the way that I think it should have been made, because it isn’t as convenient for me as I would like it to be, because there are consequences when I refuse to obey the guidelines laid out for me?

I am troubled that our rebellious nature as human beings has caused us to venture down a path on which rules become temporary and expendable, being governed by our feelings rather than our safety. With all of this talk of evolution and improvement of a species, I haven’t seen any evidence that our higher functioning has led to anything more than selfishness and self-centeredness with an occasional altruistic deed thrown in for good measure. I’ve also not seen any of us have the ability to take anything back to a manufacturer and ask for a refund because the product has stopped functioning after a blatant disregard for the rules given by that manufacturer. I would expect that most manufacturers would laugh at us if that was our claim. So, is it possible that God is laughing at us for coming to him with a similar claim?

The Daniel Plan – A Book Review

The Daniel PlanTypically, Christians can be pretty good about pointing out egregious and socially unacceptable practices and sins. It’s why so many people who don’t follow Christ have a perception that all Christians are judgmental and divisive. When Christians point out certain sins while continuing to practice others, their consistency and witness are tainted and they can easily become ineffective at witnessing to the transformative power of the Gospel.

One such sin that had gone mostly unnoticed, or at least unaddressed, was the sin of gluttony. Along with gluttony, with the hope of our future resurrection, many Christians don’t see self-care and attending to one’s physical body as a major concern or priority. At least, it hadn’t been a concern and priority for many years.

Pastor Rick Warren came to a startling realization while baptizing many people in his church in Southern California: many of them were overweight. When he looked harder, he realized that he himself had a weight issue as well. How could he serve as an example to his congregation to take care of their bodies when he was such a poor model?

It was through this realization that Warren partnered with medical doctors, Daniel Amen and Mark Hyman, to come up with the Daniel Plan. In his own words, “The Daniel Plan is far more than a diet. It is a lifestyle program, based on biblical principles and five essential components: Food, Fitness, Focus, Faith, and Friends.” Together, Warren and these doctors came up with a holistic approach to move him and his congregation towards better health, physically, spiritually, mentally, and emotionally.

Using the Biblical example of Daniel and his friends in the court of the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, Warren, Amen, and Hyman have put together a plan to succeed in achieving and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Just as Daniel and his friends bucked the system in Babylon to stay healthy and strong, so can we buck the system of fast food, genetically altered ingredients, and inactive lifestyles to stay healthy and strong ourselves.

At first glance and upon diving into the first portion of “The Daniel Plan,” it seems that Warren has settled into his modus operandi as it begins to read like a companion or sequel to “The Purpose Driven Life,” Warren’s best-selling book that put his church on the map and began a revolution among some evangelical churches. His use of Scripture can be suspect as he seems to find many proof texts to support what he is saying. While the Scripture does not seem to be misused or used completely out of context, at times it reads like a self-help book or a “Better Me, Better You” kind of book.

Essentially, that’s what “The Daniel Plan” really is: a book about helping yourself. Warren does not go the way of pop psychology though, he fully admits that the changes necessary to move towards a healthy life He writes, “Trying to change by willpower along is exhausting. You can keep it up for a while, but it feels unnatural and stressful to force yourself to be different simply on the basis of willpower.” Warren informs the reader that this kind of life-change can only occur through building your life on truth, through wise choice, through new thinking, through the power of the Holy Spirit, and through the power of community.

Throughout the book, the writers constantly remind the readers to pace themselves. This is not a life-change that will happen overnight. They suggest starting small, writing down goals, finding accountability partners, and taking it one step at a time. They offer suggestions and pointers on what steps might be taken. The book is full of sample lists and even contains exercise and meal plans in order to begin implementing necessary changes into your life to make lasting change happen.

It might seem overwhelming at first, but the steps offered by the authors make it seem possible. There are links to websites in which you can begin to keep a journal or even download an app in order to document and track your progress along the 40 day journey. Once the 40 days are up, they encourage the reader to continue on, step up their game, keep moving on a healthy lifestyle track.

“The Daniel Plan” is a faith-based program to move to a healthy lifestyle. While there may be portions of the book that seem hokey or shallow, overall, there is good information here. The authors share relevant statistics that may be eye-opening to some readers. They have done their homework in putting together this plan and it has been tried and tested by the population of Warren’s mega church and shown to be effective and useful.

If you are unsure where to start in moving towards a healthy lifestyle or you want to give someone you love a helpful resource for themselves, “The Daniel Plan” is a great place to start.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Zondervan Publishing. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

In Excess

I went to my closet the other day to pick out a shirt for the day. As I meandered through the shirts hanging on hangers, I realized that I seriously needed to do some ironing. There were a bunch of shirts that looked like I had slept in them for a month straight (thankfully, they didn’t smell like that). My wife isn’t one who likes to iron, but I am, so that works out well for both of us.

The other thing that I realized was how many shirts that I had to choose from. Blue ones, white ones, black ones. Striped ones. Solid ones. Ones with designs. Ones with pockets. Ones without pockets. The possibilities were endless and I was having a hard time figuring out which one to choose. I hastily chose one, gave it the once over, threw it on, and headed downstairs from my room. But that wasn’t the last thought that I had about shirts.

Well, maybe not shirts, but about the excessive amount of shirts that I have. For the rest of the day, I looked at everything through a different lens. I began to assess quantities of things that I had and how it impacted the way that I made decisions. Everywhere that I looked around me, there was excess. Books. Movies. CDs. Clothes. The list went on and on.

The funny thing is, you might think that having an excess of possibilities might simplify the decision of which to choose, but that wasn’t the case. The more that I had to look through, the harder it was to decide. The endless possibilities didn’t simplify my decision, it complicated my decision.

Back in December, as I lay on a hospital bed, attempting to reconcile what was happening to me and what the future held, my wife and I were engaged in conversation. As we talked and assessed our lives at that point, one thing that we both agreed on was that we needed to simplify.

Simplify.

Wow. Now that’s a word that I think we throw around to casually. When was the last time you looked around you to see just how complicated things had become? Turn on your cable box and surf through the hundreds of possibilities. Seems to me there was a song about thousands of channels with nothing worth watching. Go to the grocery store. Go on your favorite internet shopping site. Possibilities are endless.

Consumerism has won the day on offering endless possibilities, but does limiting the possibilities hurt a business or product? I began to think about Apple. While there are plenty of options as far as storage space and speed of their computers, their offerings are somewhat limited. Still, that doesn’t seem to have impacted their popularity. Everyone is still in lines around the block every time a new iPhone is available.

I have some good friends who have taken their families and moved them to countries who are steeped in poverty such as Haiti. They’ve done it as a calling, feeling like God was calling them to make this move and life change. In fact, one friend commented on Facebook how their home had been broken into again while they were out at a party. Where they live, excess isn’t really an option. There are other countries around the world where excess isn’t an option either.

Worldwatch.org reports that, “The 12 percent of the world’s population that lives in North America and Western Europe accounts for 60 percent of private consumption spending, while the one-third living in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa accounts for only 3.2 percent.” 60 percent of private consumption. Boy, we sure do know how to consume.

And you know what? I’m a consumer. I’m not even sure if I can yet consider myself a recovering consumer. I make my wishlists. I collect my gift cards. I’m never content. I’m never satisfied.

Sure, there is a healthiness, to some degree, in consumerism. In order for the world to go around, products need to be offered, manufactured, and bought. Supply and demand. But I think we’ve far surpassed the idea of supply and demand.

Like so many other things, this problem didn’t get here overnight. We didn’t wake up one morning to find that our houses were stock filled when we had gone to bed with them empty the night before. The problem has been gradual and I expect that any change away from such a problem will have to be just as gradual. It starts one moment at a time, one item at a time, one person at a time.

When I sit down and make an honest assessment, I think there are bigger issues here, but that’s a blog for another day. In the meantime, I’m taking note of all of my own excesses. While I like choices, they haven’t simplified my life in the ways that I thought that they would, in the ways that I may have been promised that they would by the people who sold me those choices.

On the “back 9” of life, these are the kinds of things that I reflect upon. The time is now.