Carpe Aeternum

Finding the Eternal in the Every Day

Archive for the tag “life”

Bucket of Crap

I recently attended a friends 50th birthday party, the first of my friends to hit the half century mark. We played a game where each of us contributed a bucket list item by writing it on a card and dropping it in an actual bucket. I contributed my desire to drive the full length of Route 66. The cards were then drawn and we all responded whether we had done that or not. The person with the most achievements won. The winner had accomplished nine of the thirty activities. I had accomplished two.

Bucket lists seem silly to me. The idea that people make a list of things they wish they had done and then try to cram them into their remaining days feels like bad planning. It’s almost like a desperate attempt to prove that they had been here, prove that they had lived.

But realizing that I had only done two of these things made me rethink the concept. Granted, the contributions were other people’s bucket list items so a lot of them didn’t appeal to me; they were not accomplishments I cared about. Many, however, were things I want to experience. I even dreamed for years of doing some of them. My life suddenly felt unlived.

My mom taught me no to brag. Most of my upbringing and my training taught me that as well. I started rethinking that a couple years ago when someone told me to do something worth bragging about and then brag about it. The idea here isn’t to tell everyone how great you are but to do something you are proud of and then tell people that you did it. Things like graduating, or getting married fit this. As does painting a landscape or running a marathon or losing that weight you always wanted to. You did something worth doing, worth bragging about. Share the story.

Don’t mistake this for thinking you will be happy once you do any of these things. This isn’t about finding long term joy through a single a event. It’s about doing things you take pride in.

The idea behind bragging about things worth bragging about is to push yourself to have new stories to tell. Do one awesome thing, then move on to the next one. Don’t stop being awesome. Look for a new opportunities.

I have had bouts of this, stretches where I have accomplished things worth talking about. But I have more stretches where the only thing to truly credit myself with was getting out of bed. Or eating something without wearing most of it. Yes, the majority of my life has been toddler level achievement.

As I approach the half century mark myself, as I am on the short side of the life expectancy chart, I find more urgency to get things done. The deadline gets tighter. I have fewer somedays to do the things that I would like to do someday. If I want to do something I need to get busy doing it.

I need to live while there is life to live.

I don’t know if that equates to a bucket list. It does mean that I need to plan a trip to Arizona. For real. For most of my almost fifty years, I longed to see the Grand Canyon. I don’t want to get to sixty still hoping to do that. Or eighty.

The reality is that I am not guaranteed the rest of my life expectancy. I am not guaranteed tomorrow. I am not guaranteed someday.

Unfortunately, I can’t accomplish everything today either.

I need to find the way to get the most out of today because that is all I really have and then make some solid plans for the future. Set a day to go the Grand Canyon, a real day not someday. Then make the most of each today until that day is the today I get to see it. I hope I have that many todays to work with.

Maybe I find myself trying to prove I lived life, that I enjoyed my days while on this earth. Maybe I represent everything that I mock about bucket lists. Maybe I just need to plan better, just need to plan better.

The scariest part of not chasing dreams is that I don’t want that to be a habit that I pass along to my kids. I want my girls to boldly embrace life, to bravely take risks, to rise to challenges. I fear that my life does not provide an example of how to do that.

Does a bucket list fix that? Or exacerbate that?

I know this, I need to live while I can. I pray that it becomes contagious.

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Shabti Revisited

In last week’s post, I talked about shabti, an ancient Egyptian magical statue used to capture the shadow or essence of a god in order to control that god. As I discovered shabti, it shone a new light on my understanding of the commandment about not having graven images.

The more I thought about it, the more depth I discovered. What if a god willingly gave his essence away to his worshipers? What if he wanted the connection, the interaction that users of shabti desired?

Moreover, what if this god created the shabti that his worshipers could use to contain his essence?

As I understand shabti, for them to work well, need to be made in the image of the god whose essence is being captured.

The scriptures of my faith tradition state that God created all of humanity in his image. That each human on this planet carries a likeness of God in them innately. It’s part of the core code of being human.

These scriptures also tell me that this God wants to place his spirit in us, to live in us. In short, we become shabti.not to control God but to be one with him, to have him work through us, that his essence working in our being imbues us and our world with a transformative power. We have an ability to be like God, to incarnate him.

What if this is behind the no graven images command? What if the issue is to not waste our time creating a feeble replica when God has already provided us with the image to carry his essence and given us his essence to invigorate his image?

It amazes me to think that something so powerfully miraculous is intended to be our normal state.

And to think that each of you is this same miracle. Each person I will interact with at work has the potential to be this same miracle.

God is trying to incarnate himself everywhere in this world. If just breath in his Spirit and get filled with his essence we are part of this miracle.

Further Thoughts on Being Myself

In all my defense of the value of being me, what if my self does need change?

I am currently on day two of being cola free. Odds aren’t very good that I will make it to day three at the moment. I have tried unsuccessfully to beat this addiction for over twenty years. There have been spells where I have resisted but it has never been more than a few months.

Many people dismiss my addiction because they don’t see it to be destructive as if I struggled with drugs or alcohol. I significantly increase my risk of Type 2 Diabetes because of the pop I drink. I struggle to lose weight but the cola habit makes that really hard. Thus I am at higher risk of heart related issues due to my obesity.

These are things about myself that I would like to change. If I followed my philosophy of striving for nonconformity in all I can and fully embracing myself in spite of my flaws, I don’t leave room for change.

There must be a point in being myself at all costs that allows me to change, allows me to evolve past what I currently am.

This is beyond adapting to a work culture or honing my speaking style. This is the deeper stuff. This is exploring why I turn to cola for comfort when stressed. Then I can find answers to something else that needs help. This change can bring about freedom from the addiction and solve my health concerns.

The truth is, there is a lot about me that I don’t like. Not mere negative self image, but character flaws I want to overcome. Fear, worry and anxiety are still driving forces in my life. I make more decisions based on them than other motivators.

I no longer take risks like I used to. A case could be made that I learned form my mistakes. A case could also be made that I haven’t learned from my successes.

I want to be true to myself. But I want a better self to be true to. Perhaps I will find that true self buried inside as I explore the dark places in my heart. When I do, I’m pretty sure he will be less conforming than the me I already am.

Being Myself

“To thine own self be true.” Polonius gives this advice to his son in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Ever sine reading that in high school, I have done my best, as far as I understand it, to live up to that saying. I have always tried to be me as much as possible, not conforming to what the world expects me to be.

Except when I had to assimilate. On the football team in high school, I had to adjust my playing style to fir the expectations of the position I played. Adapting to the role and using newly acquired skills to adjust to what I needed to do. Then more so in college as I learned to play in a different system, adjusting a to a faster game, becoming adept at new skills needed for new positions.

Adapting isn’t the same as conforming is it?

My college coach once told me that some people march to the beat of a different drum, but that I had “my own dadgum parade”. Yes he said dadgum. That’s the way you  swear in a Christian institution that prohibits swearing.

He was referring to my general person, my unwillingness to flow with the fashion trends of the late eighties, my willingness to be different from most of the college population, to definitely deviate from the standard appearance and personality of my teammates. Part of that was that I didn’t have the money to buy the same clothes, part of it was refusal to get the Top Gun haircut that girls all thought was so hot.

Part of this was trying to be myself, to tailor my appearance to what I liked. Part of this was a conscious attempt to avoid what everyone else. i was conforming to the antipathy of what everyone else was conforming to. I created the counterbalance to what the masses flocked to by flocking away.

Then over the years, I have toned this down or amped it up as I felt I needed to keep the attention of the current girlfriend. Yep, I was that guy. I wouldn’t conform to society as a whole, but bent willingly to the whims of the woman at my side.

Bills came and job to pay the bills. then the need to get a better job to get more money to pay for bigger bills. It became a ridiculous cycle.

But jobs require adaptation if you want to keep getting paid or get paid better. Workplace cultures drive assimilation. I found myself conforming in new ways to new circumstances while trying my best to remain me as much as I could.

I needed frequent self reflection to try to be certain of who I was, who I wanted to be and keep that piece clear as I learned to play new societal roles.

New ways this manifests is in my writing and speaking. As I learn to grow in both, I find that my skills need to develop, to evolve Sometimes this requires that I do things that I am not comfortable with. Trying different tone and cadence. Am I still being true to myself as I do this? Am I strengthening my voice? Or am I making it like someone else’s.

I like that I am growing and changing. I like that I have some things that are always there as part of me. Reconciling these feels difficult at times and simple at others. Self reflection plays a key role in this.  This blog plays a key role in that.

Can I move forward, change and grow and stay true to myself at the same time?

Today is a new day, so I will see how it goes. same for tomorrow and the day after that. Adapt but not conform; stay the same while changing; that is a mystery each day brings and an assessment for each night.

If I can’t accomplish that, then I am not me. And if I am not me, then it is a wasted day, a day that I didn’t connect with eternity.

Goodbyes

It’s hard to say goodbye to people we love, even if we only see them on occasion. When they will be farther away, it means they will be farther away. The closeness that comes with proximity is severed.

I recently attended a party to say goodbye to some dear friends who plan to move out of state. I drove almost 60 miles to get there, because I practically live in another state myself. But this event was a big deal. We don’t see that group of friends very often because we live so far away, but not too far to get there for dinner. Their move though will take them too far away for that.

These people are the kind of friends that when you see them, it feels like you have never been apart. Conversations flow easily. We freely discuss the deeper places in our lives, things we might not share with others. Even though it may be years before we see them again, I trust that this dynamic will remain.

But then I wonder why years pass between seeing them. Why have I not made it to dinner with any of the other friends in that room I haven’t seen in years? Life happens. Sometimes schedules get in the way. And frankly sometimes it’s laziness. But these are people I love.

Some days, I want to book every possible moment to make sure I don’t miss my chance to see my friends. Some days, I want to travel to Michigan every weekend to try to connect with my brothers and sisters. Some days, I don’t want to go anywhere so I can just sit at home and enjoy my wife and my daughters. Love’s power builds us up and energizes us when we connect with those we love. But it also cuts deeply when we aren’t with them.

Life is too short not to spend with the people I love. Some days it feels too short to spend time with all the people I love. I know I am blessed to have so many awesome friends in my life. But loving people can be hard.

Entering the Struggle

In his book, “In Sunlight and in Shadow”, Mark Helprin discusses the need for something to struggle against for life to have purpose, to have meaning and to have value. His main character Harry , refuses to remove himself from conflict, either immediate or in the larger scale of life, feeling that the struggle is needed to grow. It is needed to find happiness if it causes turmoil and distress for the time being.

This feels reminiscent of The Matrix. Agent Smith tells Morpheus that the original matrix made everything perfect but the humans rejected it. We needed suffering to make our lives make sense. That created a purpose and acceptance that the fake reality was real. It’s like humans need something bad to enjoy the good.

There are days that I agree with this and days when I don’t. then there are the days I live in blatant denial that there is any struggle anywhere near me and my life. Then there is the factor of how much of my struggle is First World Trouble: I had to throw out a bag of spinach because it spoiled before I could eat it all.

I agree that some struggle, some conflict is necessary for us to grow, to be our best. To achieve more. Without it, we float at whatever level of convenience I have recently found. And I want to be sharp. I want to grow. I am ready to face some difficulty to do so. SOME. Not much, but some. A few of my recent posts have explored this theme a bit, both my awareness of the need and my general ambivalence toward approaching it.

This is the concept of muscles needing stress to grow. As we exercise them, they get stronger but that only happens through stressing them a little to catalyze that growth. Struggle, as uncomfortable as it may be, can bring good.

Someplace in my heart, in the depths of my mind, I know that I need to embrace the struggle, perhaps even pursue it to make my life better. But my couch is comfortable. And inertia is powerful.

My daughters had a teacher that pushed engaging the struggle, that being the point where true learning happens. I like to learn. I truly do. I even enjoy the challenge a new subject offers. But challenge feels less threatening than struggle. Maybe that is just one of the oddities of the swamp of my mind, but the words mean significantly different things to me. Point is, I don’t know if I like learning enough to truly struggle for it.

But I hate stagnating too.

Todd Henry, author of Die Empty discusses that our definition of passion may be askew. We often think of passion as that which brings us joy or excitement. But the truer definition of passion leans toward suffering. A passion therefore would be something we are willing to suffer for. Or, perhaps, to struggle for. In In Sunlight and in Shadow that something is life and living. For me it occasionally is. I used to think that I would struggle for my art, my writing but lately I find it a struggle to want to struggle for that. But I do want to want to.

Just deciding whether to struggle feels like too much of a struggle some days.

Telling Stories

I started this blog, inspired by Donald Miller, to try to live a better story. If you look at some of my early posts, this theme abounds. I deliberately sought out risks. At times this has worked out for me. At other times, not so much. This continues to be a theme in my life and will continue to be a theme on this site.

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years chronicles Miller’s attempts to live a better story. When a movie being made of episodes from his life exposed how little story he had to tell, he consciously made the effort to change that, to take some risks, to seek adventure so that in creating better stories to tell perhaps his overall storyline would be more compelling.

Like Miller, I wondered if I had lived enough story to make a movie. And… if I had, would it be worth watching?

I began re-evaluating this after my mother’s funeral a few weeks ago. My siblings and I sat around sharing stories about my mom. It was neat to hear about aspects of her life that I had not experienced.

Shortly after my mom retired from work, she began to volunteer as an assistant teacher at a local elementary, helping kids understand their assignments so that they could prosper in class rather than falling behind.

My siblings told story after story of while walking through a store, they would hear someone call out “Hi, Grandma B!” When the person that called out came over to talk, it was always someone who my mom had helped when they were little, now as an adult. Her assistance made a difference to them in school and in life. Enough that they wanted to speak to her when they saw her.

When pondering this, I realized that a certain part of living a great story is taking a smaller role and helping others excel in their own story. Lifting others up can be as powerful as rising up to my own challenge.  I now feel inspired to find ways to do both, to live my life better, creating a better story for me, but to also help others do the same.

Is That Me?

I recently revisited the novel Journey to the Center of the Earth. This story fascinated me as a kid but I remembered little of it. I hoped for that great nostalgic feeling I get when I reread Treasure Island or The Hobbit. Instead it disturbed me.
Axel, the narrator, is a wimp. It seems that about every chapter or so he gives up, flops on the ground and prepares to die. Before long, I couldn’t stand it anymore. I just couldn’t take the whining. I began to hope that Axel would die and that the others would move on without him.
After awhile, the thing that grated me more than Axel’s cowardice was the mirror that Axel holds up to my life. I whine as much as he does, perhaps not as loudly as him, but I definitely outlast him. What I lack in volume I make up for in endurance. In fact complaining is one of the few facets of my life where I have grown stronger over the years.
More recently, I find that I am far too ready to quit. Just like Axel, my immediate response to hardship is to abandon hope, abandon the adventure and abandon the plan.
How did I get here? I used to revel in the adventure. I enjoyed it when life put up a little fight, making me struggle to the victory which i would ultimately savor more because of that.
I didn’t like the image in the mirror. Is this truly me? Or is this just the way I look because I haven’t engaged the struggle?

 

Shameless Self Promotion
I will be performing comedy at First Presbyterian Church of Woodstock Talent Show fund raiser on March 9.
I will be speaking at a Toastmasters workshop in Naperville on March 15.

Grand Return

I have been absent for a few months. This summer is dedicated to re-evaluating everything and refocusing my vision. Part of that is looking at what I do and why. If the why isn’t strong enough, I look to see if there is a better one to apply. If not, I am trying to step away. The idea here is to spend more time doing the right things for the right reasons and to cut out the time thieves, the burdens and the things I do because I’ve been doing them.
One of the themes of this blog has been perseverance. I am trying to learn to push through again. I decided that this blog is an exercise in perseverance for me as well as a creative outlet. The fact that I have something to come back to and build on inspires me. Sometimes I feel like this is more work than it’s worth. Then later their cumulative effect of working here again and again, over and over helps keep me sharp.
I find this is one of the things that I don’t want to give up. I enjoy it too much. And, it pushes me to show up and try again. So, this one passes. After evaluation I will press on in this blog.

Brad Bellmore Gets a Life 29

I received an email to register for Donald Miller’s Storyline Conference. Unfortunately, at present he isn’t offering one at a location that is geographically favorable to me. At a different point in my life, I would have figured out a way around that. Road Trip!
Miller is the impetus behind this blog. My efforts to try to get a life or a better life were originally inspired by his book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. In that book Miller encourages us to live a better life. Well, his words are to live a better story. Thus, the storyline conferences. Thus, my desire to attend. I really want one to land in the Chicagoland area.
But as I said, my stage in life limits my ability to just run off to such events even though I long to do it anyway. But a lot of situation in learning to live a gain came from my stage in life. I left college with ideas of changing the world. But there are more people dependent on my ability to provide food shelter and clothing than just me. I have had to focus on changing their world first instead of changing The World. If As I focus on that more, focus more on their dreams, I find my dreams floating away.
Somehow, there has to be a way to accomplish that, to deliver on my primary mission and still grasp those things that matter in the deep places of my heart. In my coming alive, I need to make sure those around me live. As I provide a living for those around me, I need to be fully alive.
I thought I was onto something there, but it feels like I just keep finding more questions. This blog continues to breed questions. Is that part of coming alive? I hope so; I’m on the right path if it is.
And it all started because Donald Miller convinced me that all these fun little stories of my life would have more power if they were connected to solid storyline that ran through my life. Perhaps if I drove to Oregon for the conference I could figure it out.

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