Tea Olives & Seasons of Love

The seasons of life are often unpredictable. The Broadway hit “Rent” has a song that always lights me up, “Seasons of Love.” 525,600 minutes are the time span of every year, but it can never adequately describe what happens in that year. What makes for a good year or a bad one depends on the content of each moment. We should make them count, but we live our lives in counter-productive ways that waste both time and money. We live as if our mantra is: Spend it; Save it; and Share it, when our values would better reflect God’s if we reversed the order: Share it; Save it; and Spend it. In the words of “Seasons of Love,” “that’s how to measure a year in a life!”

How do we measure a person’s contributions? Is it our obituary, the influence we’ve had on others, the fruit of our labors, a tree planted years ago? I’ve often told persons who serve on the Staff-Parish Relations Committee of their local church that service on SPRC is one thing for sure that ought to be in their obituary. It’s such a tough, but important committee. Most of us have read the poem “The Dash” by Linda Ellis (http://www.linda-ellis.com/the-dash-the-dash-poem-by-linda-ellis-.html). It is a reminder that the most important thing on anyone’s tombstone isn’t the birth and death date, but the dash in-between and what it represents.

So I’m planning to go shopping in a little while for a fragrant tea olive. We have a spot beside our house that is begging for something to go there. I love tea olives. Their fragrance immediately takes me back to walking past The Russell House at USC in the fall. How wonderful it would be that our presence with others would transport them to a pleasant memory. I want my grandchildren to smell this tree and say, “That’s MacMac’s tree!” We’re all God’s trees planted for a divine purpose. How’s our fruit and fragrance?

Sometimes my years are more measured by my distance rather than my closeness to God. It is really a daily, weekly thing. A diet and good eating habits are only good if they are habits. The same with spiritual disciplines. We all have spells when we get off the wagon of healthy living, and it’s so hard to get back on. If today is the first day of the rest of my life then some changes need to be made. Planting that fragrant tea olive is a baby step. Going to the Y in the morning will be a bigger one. I have 35 days until my annual physical. If I want to have more seasons to love, I’ve got to do my part to make sure that it happens.

Good stewardship isn’t just about our material wealth. It includes our health, too, spiritually and physically, but the silken snare of disinterest and apathy are hindrances to good habits. I loved playing hide-and-seek as a child. Living in a large creaky semi-spooky house with lots of places to hide was a boon. Younger cousins would be toughest to play with because they couldn’t count as well, or they cheated. They would count off to one hundred and say those familiar words, “Ready or not, here I come!” Unfortunately, their counting to 100 often went 1,2,3,4,5, on up to 20 or so, then skip to 94,95,96,97,98,99, 100 and then the warning of “Here I come.”

Because it was my home, I, of course, knew all the best places to hide. Here’s what I discovered. After they went by me for the umpteenth time and I had held back my snickering, I finally got bored. Yes, I would get bored even though the object of the game was not to be caught. I would invariably knock on a wall, or try to throw my voice in order to get caught. I can hear them now, “I found you! I found you! You’re it!” I wouldn’t let on that I let them find me. That would be admitting my own disregard for the rules and purpose of the game. To admit being bored is embarrassing.

Truth be told, however, that’s the way I am with life sometimes. I don’t want to admit that I’m bored when I squirrel away my money for some new splurge, get tired of my unapproved past times, or start disagreeing with my stated opinions on touchy subjects. I end up hiding from God and others, and I know what I need to do.

 I need to admit that boredom and fess up. There comes a time to get caught because the alternative is being stuck in some crack of a hiding place in a creaky old house. That creaky old house might be our own body, soul, or mind. We’re better off coming out from our hiding places and planting a tree, going to the gym, visiting a relative, writing a thank-you note, or a sundry other things that make our dash a joy about which people will smell a tea olive and say, “That reminds me of Tim!” and it’s a joy for them to remember us and not a curse. I’m headed to the nursery to buy a tree! What are you going to do? Come out, come out, wherever you are!

The Yo-Yo Pre-Op Stage

My daughter Narcie wrote recently in her blog “Blessings on the Journey” (www.narciejeter.wordpress.com) about being in the anger stage with her upcoming brain surgery. Denial, bargaining, anger, resignation, and acceptance aren’t descriptive enough to handle the emotional roller coaster of dealing with life’s crud. I have no clue where I am right now, but it’s for sure that I’m pretty tired, no offense, of the well-meaning clichés that abound. I know behind those clichés that you care, are praying, and love us. Please cut me some slack if I give you a wierd look if you say, “God is in control.” My God isn’t a puppet-master. God’s a Savior who sees us through. Nevertheless, I thank you even for the platitudes. You mean well. Sincerely, we thank you, and all the more as the May 10 surgery deadline approaches.

Good God, I just wrote the word “deadline” and it freaks me out. The uncertainty of it all is so scary. Narcie is such a person of faith and strength, but we aren’t pie-in-the-sky sugarcoating types. It’s not that we don’t believe that Jesus can heal her, but, hey, if the amount of faith were the determining factor wouldn’t Lazarus still be walking around? Dead for days and risen – if a tiny mustard seed of faith can make a mountain jump into the sea, surely Lazarus would have enough faith to cure any ailment – right? But, wrong. Lazarus is dead. I have seen plenty of faithful people suffer and die. All the Disciples are dead and gone. Papa Mac and SaSa, Ganny and Gandaddy – they’re dead. I get it even if I often don’t like it – the only way to have eternal life is to die. There’s no Easter without a Good Friday.

The Christian Gospel is no clichéd sham of a utopian existence. The Good News that Jesus brings to me is incarnational in essence, though right now a Christus Victor triumphalism is preferred. So I’ll cling to the Jesus who meets us where we are even when it is in the bewilderment of the walk to Emmaus when all seems lost. The Incarnation proves that Jesus knows all our sorrows and redeems them. As much as I presently deplore the import of Romans 8:28, “All things work together for good for those who love Him,” I am comforted by the fact that we do not worship a God who has been insulated from humankind’s desperate plight. Jesus came to earth to be with us, faced temptation just like we do, and stayed faithful to God’s commands when we couldn’t. Since the wages of sin is death and Jesus didn’t sin, the grave couldn’t hold him. Our faith in his victory seals our own triumph over death and the grave. Therefore, all things can work together for good. Maybe that is Christus Victor triumphalism?

But I want it right now. Sure, I know that the Kingdom of God is already and not yet, both come and coming. I don’t want to wait, do you? I want a Jesus riding in on a white horse in Christus Victor style to save the day, especially to save my daughter – now, by God! Yes, I know someday that miracle will occur and its fullest expression of triumph will be through death and resurrection, but I want Narcie to win the lottery now. Heck, I am very certain that the early Christians felt this way. They faced persecution and martyrdom with a certain hope in Christ’s deliverance through their death, in spite of death even.

Gosh, what keeps ringing in my ears is a swing from Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 4 to the song “Seasons of Love” from the musical “Rent.” Paul said (2 Corinthians 4:16ff): “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands… Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. We live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” In Philippians 1:21 Paul adds the capstone: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

Part of me wants to shout, “Malarkey!” Or, perhaps, I want to say that Paul was speaking from a perspective that only comes with age or severe pain. Surely! I have unfortunately seen the heartache of parents who have lost children. I buried an eighteen month old, a nine year old, and two twelve year old children. There are no words that suffice, only one’s presence and that of Christ can help – the hope and certainty of redemption and reunion. Maybe the whole point of today’s blog is to make the most of life, to make the dash (-) between your tombstone’s birth and death dates mean something – to count each second and treasure them. Listen to the words from “Seasons of Love:”