Carpe Aeternum

Finding the Eternal in the Every Day

Archive for the tag “living”

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.

Foxhole Prayers

There are no atheists in a foxhole, or so I’ve been told. Mike Warnke, before his fall from grace, told a story of a Marine in Viet Nam who was Protestant/Catholic/Orthodox/Jewish/Muslim/Buddhist/Hindu, just in case. He wanted all his bases covered in case things went bad.

People often talk about the desperation prayers that soldiers say when facing tragedy, imminent death or terrifying circumstances. The movie Guadalcanal Diary from 1943 captures this beautifully, when a marine named Taxi hiding in a bunker confesses to the chaplain that he doesn’t pray because he changes things but sometimes like the horrendous barrage they are under makes him realize that he needs someone bigger than himself, someone God big to do something. He then details what kind of prayer he would say if he knew how to pray. When taxi stops talking, the priest crosses himself and says, “Amen”.

In the church I grew up in, these weren’t considered real prayers. They felt that a relationship  with God was necessary to have real prayers. Prayers sent up by nonbelievers and sinners had no value. They were the equivalent of spiritual barfing.

But I wonder if the emotional realism of those prayers are more significant that properly theologized prayers given by the faithful.

The counter argument is that relationship builds a better prayer life. The closer you are to God, the easier it is to pray and the more meaningful the prayers. Based on my experience, I agree that those are both true statements. Neither, however, negates the value of the desperate prayers of desperate people. Those prayers have power too.

The counter argument to this is that these prayers are the equivalent a friend or relative that only calls when they need something. They reach out in the time of need but never to just connect, or to see if they can help you. Those people are annoying. And it sucks to feel like you are nothing more than a contractor to resolve their issues, that you get nothing out of the relationship. And it’s worse when you want to have connection but it only comes when fixing their problems.

And I’m sure that as much as people like that annoy us, they also annoy God. He desperately wants relationship with us. He wants the connection of everything all the time, like the daily (or weekly)call back home when you first move away. The family wants to know everything that’s happening. God wants the regular, connected prayer that brings us closer.

But he is far more patient with  us than we are with each other. Jesus tells us to forgive far more often than we want to. Scripture tells us that God is ready to forgive us even more than that. If that is true of forgiveness, wouldn’t also be true of requests for help?

The thing that pissed Jesus off more than anything else were those instances that people prevented others from drawing nearer to God. Religious rules that made it hard to connect with God riled him up. Perhaps telling people that their prayers are lacking blocks them from God. Maybe we should be crossing ourselves and saying “amen” instead of assigning bad grades to the attempt to call out to God.

What if, every prayer we say is a foxhole prayer? What if our lives are in dire enough situations that every request for God’s presence or providence is an act of desperation.

We are all in the process of dying. Sure, we are living but we are also dying. The trick is to live as much as possible before we die. Some of us are closer to death than others, but we all face a significant risk of dying today. And tomorrow. And the day after. Prayers to get through today or to be done with today are as much foxhole prayers as they are anything else.

As simple as it is, a prayer of “God, help!” is significant. It is reaching out to someone cares and can do something about it. But most of all it is reaching out.

And that prayer may just connect you to a God who is already reaching out to you.

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.

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.

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.

Brad Bellmore Gets a Life 28

When I get up in the wee hours of the morning, reruns of Andy Griffith show. A recent episode shoed Opie excited about sleeping on an ironing board suspended between two chairs. When told that sounded uncomfortable, he responded, “No! It’s adventure sleeping!”
I remember when I was a kid, or even in college when anything rough or hard seemed like an adventure. I welcomed such situations. Now they are just hard and rough. I avoid them. Is that just getting older? Is it getting wiser, realizing that the adventure is hard and often not as adventurous as first promised? Or is getting lazy, sliding into inertia that becomes impossible to overcome? Is it settling into my grave well before my death?
I want adventure. I want to welcome adventure. I wan tot not be daunted by the difficulty of a situation. I want to embrace the challenge instead.
I want to get off my couch and live. I want to get out of my grave and embrace living until I truly belong in one.

Brad Bellmore Gets a Life 26

Last week, I wrote about being alive and getting the most out of a day. I intended that to focus on doing big things, or taking more risks. However, I missed the point of being present. In the back of my head that was there; it is a crucial part of being alive or trying to squeeze the most out of every day, but I did not state that.
I have a wife and kids. Being connected with them and letting them know that I am involved in their lives matters deeply. When I consider trying to live a day well enough that I would be happy if it were my last, connecting with my family is a vital part of that. It has to happen. For them yes, but for me more. I need this. I can get a lot of stuff done and have my day still feel wasted. I can hang with my kids and not get enough done and be happy. I may regret not getting more things done. I don’t regret using my time the way I did though.
Around the time I wrote last week’s post, I had a great meal with my family. Nothing spectacular, but it was fun. It was nice. It was a great memory. The next day I thought about that moment and decided that if that was what I saw of my life when I died, that would be wonderful. It made me eager for more of those moments.

Brad Bellmore Gets a Life 25

I watched “The Grey” over the weekend. I still can’t decide if I liked it. There were distinct parts of it that bothered me, but there were parts that spoke to me. I hated the wolves, or too much of the wolves and the general bleakness. I loved the poem that Liam Neeson’s character quoted. I didn’t so much at the time, but it stuck with me. The closing line “Live and die this day” continues to haunt me. It’s become a morning prayer.
What more can I want for or expect from a day that I truly live it, live it like it might be my last and invest it with real value. Live like I am truly alive and I’m bringing life to those around me. Try to make each day that I would be okay with being my last.
I find myself living my life more like those guys in the movie though. They survived a plane crash and are trying to continue to survive. The move forward because they can’t stay where they are, but they don’t really know where they are going. They just move forward. That’s the struggle of surviving. I get stuck just making it through the day, just taking another step, just moving forward because I can’t stop moving.
I want to live. I want to survive, but I want to move past that to living. How do I get there? Oddly, one day at a time, just like survival. But investing in it like it’s the last day I have and making it count. I want that poem, “to live and die this day.”

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