messin’ with Balaam

balaams_donkey1

If you drop the “g”, everything sounds “hipper” somehow.

I’m still listening to the Bible in the mail Jeep.

I take back what I said earlier about the first 5 books being tough to wade through…there’s some amazing stuff in there.  It’s just that when they get on the lineage stuff it get’s kind of hard to focus.

The other day I was listening to the story of Balaam.

Wow.

The part where he’s riding the donkey and an angel appears and because the donkey is the only one who can see the angel, he stops and won’t go any farther.

Balaam starts whipping the donkey, cursing the donkey…but the donkey won’t move.

Finally, after a bunch of whipping, God gives the donkey the ability to speak, and the donkey asks why Balaam keeps wailing on him….and Balaam replies, “BECAUSE YOU’RE MOCKING ME!!!  STOP MOCKING ME!!!!”

Then the angel appears to Balaam and tells him that Balaam kind of lucked out…that because the donkey was the only one who could see the angel with his sword, the donkey really saved Balaam’s life by refusing to move.

How about that?!!

The thing that really struck me in this story…in addition to the angel and all the other miraculous things…is how blase Balaam seems to be about that donkey talking.

I’ve seen it in Shrek…but never when I’m riding one.

Shrek_donkey

A talking donkey would be enough to freak me out….never mind an angel.

But if I think about it, I’m riding a donkey a lot of the time.

( I think some people think I’m kind of a jackass sometimes…so maybe just “riding a donkey” is a mild way to describe the situation.)

I suppose I spend a fair amount of time (figuratively) wailing on my donkey, too.

Someday, someone is going to tell me that the thing I was most upset about was the only thing that was really protecting me from something damaging.

Now, from what I remember of the story, Balaam had it coming.  He had some issues that needed addressing.

That donkey thing really distracted me from the rest of the story, though.  He was the hero of the whole tale in my eyes.

People talk about the patience of Job…but how about that donkey?

It’s tough to make it through this world with a jerk riding your back.

 

running in the dark is fun

This is what it’s like for me in the morning.

Out here in the country, you’d be surprised how easy it is to get a 5 AM rave and run going.

You just put out the word, and soon a bunch of headlamped and glowsticked people are here to run and party with you.

Just kidding.

It is quiet here in the morning.

I run in a black t-shirt and don’t wear a headlamp.

It’s just me, the bears, the snakes, and the on-coming headlights.

I do have a reflectorized Road ID so the infrequent drivers may still be able to see me.

We do live fairly far out in the country, so the traffic is minimal.  I wouldn’t recommend a black t-shirt as being an intelligent choice for night running, though.

Our bodies are sometimes fairly forgiving.  I’m a little over 2 weeks into a return to running and it’s hurting a lot less than it did that first day.  It’s starting to feel a little more normal to get up every morning for a short run.

Somewhere in the world, they’re having a disco night running party.

It isn’t anywhere close to here…unless you count my party of one.

oceanfront property…for a price

plane on beach

It used to be that when you were looking for a place to stay at the beach for a couple of nights, you asked friends for recommendations, you made a couple of calls and then you booked a room somewhere and that was that.

Now you can sit at a computer and open window after window, see pictures of all the aspects of a resort or hotel they want you to see, get more information than you probably need, read disgruntled customer reviews, wade through it all to try and figure out if the positive reviews were done by the staff of the hotel…and just, in general, go crazy from the options in front of you.

That’s the way it goes these days.

You either swoop down on something with a complete lack of information and planning…or you have so much information that you don’t really know how to process any of it.

I remember driving down to Myrtle Beach around the 4th of July with no reservations anywhere,two adults and two kids in our ancient Plymouth Valiant, no air conditioning in the ancient Plymouth Valiant….blissfully unaware that you really had to have a room when you drove to the beach.

Did I mention we were driving our ancient Plymouth Valiant?

I think I thought we’d just drive down and it would be easy to find a room anywhere along the beach.

It doesn’t work like that.

It’s funny how sitting in front of a computer screen can approach those same feelings of frantic helplessness….finding places that look good only to get to the next screen and find that it’s unavailable, finding places that are “too ‘spensive” or finding places that are too corporate or too far from the beach, or finding places that are cheap but really pretty scary looking when you look closely at the pictures the motel provided.

And after a couple of hours of “how about this one?”, I think you’re broken down enough to just pick whatever’s available.

It really is the same feelings of helplessness that we experienced on the trip in the Valiant.  You’re clicking icons with a mouse, staring at pictures and reading descriptions…but it’s not so different from running into lobby after lobby, checking to see if maybe this motel was going to save us from my naive lack of planning.

We picked a place finally.  It’s on the beach. It has a pool.

How hard could it be when those are the only real considerations?

Job in the Abstract

book-of-job

I’m still listening to the Bible in my car.

I’m a captive audience out on the mail route.

Some parts of the Bible are hard to wade through….I didn’t think I’d get through the first five books of the Old Testament.

I think my mind wandered just a little bit.

But then I got into some of the later books and it was easier sailing.

I was listening to the book of Job and was thinking, “Good for you, Job…you hang in there.  That’s the way to do it…”.

I think that a part of me was thinking that maybe that would be me…steadfast and true, rising above the torture and seeming abandonment, trusting that the plan for me was kind and just…trusting that I was loved and would be taken care of in the end.

And then,early last night, my youngest son pitched a major fit being carried out of the Wal-Mart toy section, I almost backed into the “other car” that I wasn’t watching for, I couldn’t pick a good place to grab an overdue bite to eat, and in my borderline hypoglycemia just generally turned into a really mean and incomprehensibly angry jerk.

I wasn’t being a good family man.

In the midst of my minor Krakatoa, if I could have backed away from myself for a moment and limited my self-absorption just a little, I would have realized that I might have been jogging perilously close to the “why hast thou forsaken me?” zone.

So much for my ability to identify with the steadfastness of Job.

It doesn’t really take much for me to lose my way.

No leprosy or other unnatural skin issues, no crushing blows…just an almost 4-year-old tantruming in a crowded place…just someone much smaller than me trying to control the situation.

I can’t blame my apparent lapse of faith on a four-year old…but he is powerful.

In the story of Job, God allows Satan to bring trials to the “just and faithful” Job to show that Job is a good man and consistent in his love for God.

Satan asks the question of God….and I paraphrase….that “maybe Job loves you because times are good, but how would he do if it all fell apart? Would he still praise you if things were horrible?”  And God says…and again, I paraphrase….”check it out, he’s a good man…you’ll see…”

Now I’m not saying that my 4-year-old is some kind of weird trial that God has sent me to test me.  It’s nothing like that.  I am blessed and I know it.  My little guy is a major part of those blessings….whether we’re trying to get out of the Wal-Mart toy section or not.

What I am thinking, though, is that it amazes me how little it takes for me to fall apart.  I am not the fount of patience and light that I sometimes would like to think I am.

I told my wife that I thought I was a pretty laid back person once.

She said, “No, you’re not.  You’re not laid back.  You think you are…but you aren’t. You aren’t laid back.”

I’ve never felt less laid back that when she told me that. 

Maybe she’s right.

I’d like to think that someday, whether things are good or bad, I could learn to just consistently adore and appreciate.

Maybe I need to listen to Job again.

 

living in a van down by the…campus

I don’t think I’d encourage my daughter to do what Ken Ilgunas did to save money in college.

I don’t think I’d want her to live in a van to cut down on her living expenses.

But that’s what Ken Ilgunas did…and he wrote a book about his experience called Walden on Wheels.

walden on wheels

It’s a pretty interesting story.

After graduating with an undergraduate degree in History and English…and 32,000 dollars in student debt…he went to Alaska and worked various jobs, made some money, moved back to the lower 48, prepared to start Graduate School at Duke…and bought a van to live in.

It’s ingenious…non-traditional…and inspiring.

He lived in his van, showered at the school gym, used the school wi-fi at the library, and saved a bunch of money doing it.

Here’s a link to his website .

Jenny is horrified I think when I start showing an interest in really non-traditional ways of doing anything.  She sees the trouble ahead when I go off on some weird tangent.

But I’m really fascinated by this story.

Check out some of Ken Igunas’ YouTube videos…he’s hiking the length of the Keystone Pipeline.  It looks like another interesting story.

straight line

 

possibility-concept-images-5When I was in Art School, people used to say, “You’re studying art?!  I wish I could do that…I couldn’t even draw a straight line.

I thought about that on my run this morning.

This morning I ran 3.5 miles instead of the usual 1.5.

I ran slowly…and other than the mental hurdle of running a little farther than usual and it taking a little more time…there really wasn’t much of a difference.

It’s tough to get over that mental hurdle, though.

When people used to say, “I couldn’t draw a straight line”  it was like they were saying, “I COULDN’T…I CAN’T…I COULDN’T IF I TRIED…IN ONE MILLION YEARS, I COULDN’T DO THAT. IT’S SOMETHING I KNOW…DEEP IN MY HEART, I KNOW THAT I COULDN’T DO THAT.”

“PERIOD.”

When I thought about it, the obvious conclusion was that it wasn’t ever a matter of “couldn’t”…it was usually a matter of “haven’t”.

We have very well-defined zones of comfort.

We build our own comfortable cages and feather them in ways that make them easy to take.

And if we do notice them and feel a little chafed, it’s too easy to slap a little “veneer” on the situation and learn to live with it again.

Sometimes minor changes can be a deceptive balm.  A coat of paint, a new car, a freshly mowed lawn….anything to take our mind off the awareness of the “quiet desperation” that pops up every once and awhile.

“I couldn’t draw a straight line.”

That really used to be a common comment.

Strange.

“Sure you can” I felt like telling each and every one of them.  “You can.”

When we bought our house that we live in, it was gutted.  It was a wreck of a house.  I’m sure it looked like a crazy decision to buy something like that with a young family.

But it was out in the country and it was peaceful and it looked like a “good fit” for us.

I don’t think we knew enough to understand what we’d gotten into when we bought it. Naiveté is a trap and a blessing.

Later, after most of the clean up and rebuilding had been done, someone made the comment that we had “gotten lucky”.

We made our own luck, though.  We taught ourselves to “draw a straight line” and when we finished figuring that out, we moved on to the next problem.

We moved on to the next opportunity.

There is really no limit to what we can accomplish in this world and this life.  There is no limit.  Knowing that is a big responsibility…it’s hard to live up to unrealized potential….easier to make excuses like, “Oh…I’m getting a little old for that” or “I’m too young for that” or “I’m too this…or that..I don’t think I could right now…”

Or…”it’s too ‘spensive”.  (That’s a phrase my daughter repeated early on…not something you want a child to have as part of their collection of phrases.)

We can start from a position of “I can”.

What’s the worst that could happen?  Something might work out?

 

 

 

evaluated

 

1944-U_S_ troops almost buried by parcels do their best to handle that year_s holiday mail-A_2008-51The USPS is in the process of closing down our mail processing facility in Asheville.

It’s a cost saving measure.

Even after a big money renovation of the facility in Asheville, it is more effective to have our mail processed in Greenville, SC.

Apparently.

When we heard the news of the closing, we were surprised.  It didn’t make a lot of sense…but “ours is not to wonder why, ours is but to do or….”.  I guess.

Then we started thinking about it.  “This could work…”, we thought.  “Instead of getting our mail last, and having our outgoing mail picked up first because of the way the delivery schedule is set up…maybe now we’ll be first in line and have a better shot at getting our mail on time so we can get it ready to take to the street.”

Well….it turns out that they process it in Greenville…but then they drive it up to Asheville to distribute it.

So instead of being last in line to get our mail…now we’re last in line to get our mail but we get it an hour later because of the new route it takes before it gets to us.

Unless it’s a Wednesday….or a Thursday…or a Friday….or a Saturday.  Then it’s probably going to be two hours later because the truck that is supposed to get to us at 8:30 gets to us at 9:30.

The driver brings a late slip…and he gets paid for being held up at the distribution center so he doesn’t mind being late...he’s making more money…but it makes things interesting when he’s two hours later than when he originally brought us our mail…but still picks up the mail at the same time each evening.

Some of the schedule has changed…some stays the same.

This brings me to something called “evaluated time”.

At the Post Office, we have something called evaluated time.  It’s determined by a “mail count”.  We have periods when each piece of mail is counted, the numbers are put through a bunch of complicated computations, our mileage is considered…and then they come up with a figure that they use to evalutate how much we should be paid.

Of course, because there are a lot of variables in both mail volume and the experience of the person doing the counting (our past couple of counts were done by very competent…very nice… but completely inexperienced people…often it was the first time they’d ever done a count), the number they come up with can be questionable.

I got back to the PO yesterday, and our OIC (Officer in Charge…like a substitute Postmaster.  That’s what we’ve had for the last couple of years) told me that I’d gone over on my evaluated time.

We had the typical heavy volume Monday…so instead of using the allotted 7.40 hours I’m evaluated at, I used 7.86 hours.

So I got a red flag for the week.

That irritated me.  It kind of warped my “go along to get along” mindset.

We get paid the same every day. Some drivers drive like bats out of Hades to get paid for 9 hours and work 7 hours.  I tend to mosey…I want my Jeep to last a while. No matter how fast we go, we get paid the same evaluated amount.  Going over that evaluated amount still counts (somewhere) for some reason,though. I guess they don’t want to be reminded that sometimes the numbers don’t always mean much.

The only thing this really does is make me think that instead of signing in when I get to the office, I’m going to start signing in when I actually get my mail.  I’m going to charge them for any extra trips.  I’m going to be a lot more conscious of what I’m getting out of the deal and learn to protect myself.

What do they call this kind of post? A rant?

We don’t get overtime….so that can’t be the issue.  I wonder what it really is?

But if they’re going to cut my legs out from under me, the least I can do is let them see the stumps.

Did I mention that I am profoundly and sincerely thankful for my job? I like what I do…it’s just that some of the stuff that happens in a big organization that might be running a little scared is kind of weird.

you don’t want to know

AdamandEveAdam and Eve had a pretty good thing going.

Think about it….they really did.

It was Paradise.  With a capital P.

And there was only one rule, really.  Just one.  That should be pretty easy to remember.

“Don’t eat from that tree.  Don’t eat from the tree of knowledge.”

I’m listening to an mp3 Bible that I downloaded from a link here.

It’s pretty familiar…fortunately, I grew up with the Bible…and, once I wade through all the killing and begetting, it’s pretty exciting.

This Adam and Eve thing is pretty bizarre, though.

God tells them, basically, “OK, here you go…I’m setting you up nicely, you’ve got everything you need, you should be just fine here.”

And it’s pretty nice for a while until an acquaintance…some snake up in a tree…tells Eve to just try this fruit and she’ll know as much as God and her eyes will be opened.

Wheeeeee.

And then the fun starts.  Welcome to the modern world.

People say that ignorance is bliss.

You have to wonder if it wasn’t so much a matter of God saying, after the fruit had been sampled and awareness came flooding over Adam and Eve, “OK….you’ve done it now…didn’t I tell you not to eat that?  Now it’s going to get really bad for you. I’m going to make things really bad for you.” but instead, maybe, “That’s really disappointing…but you’re not puppets…I gave you a choice…and now YOU KNOW.”

From something as simple as being naked in the world down to the worst of sins, now “you know”.

It’s no picnic in the Garden of Eden to have your eyes opened like that.

Maybe Hell is knowing?

The “Bible Scholars” would say that Hell is much more than that….”how naive a viewpoint” they’d think.

And I suppose there are a lot of levels to the situation.

I do wonder if the things that really bring us pain are the things we bring the most attention to. Until we were given the “gift/curse” of knowledge, we were oblivious to all but the gifts we were given.

God set this world up to be something better than just “good”…and until we made the mistake of having our eyes opened, that’s what we saw in the world.

We saw the good.

That probably is a pretty naïve and simplistic way of looking at the story of good and evil.

Evil already existed in the garden…(where’d that snake come from otherwise?)…but it was only at the moment when Adam and Eve only stopped looking for the good in their world that things fell apart for them.

To lose that ability to be unconsciously expectant of only good things is a real curse.

I know people who would say, “THAT AIN’T REAL!!!  THE WORLD’S A REAL PIECE OF CRAP!!! EVIL EVERYWHERE…ROBBING, KILLING, FAMINES, PESTILENCE…IT’S ALL GOING STRAIGHT DOWN TO THE FIERY PITS OF HELL!!!! AND IT’S BECAUSE ALL YOU PEOPLE ARE SINNNNNNERRRRRRRRSSSS!!!!”

Actually, I don’t think they know the word “pestilence”…so leave that one out.

Unfortunately, too, sometimes those guys are thumping on a Bible while they’re doing the yelling about how bad things are.

Some people really like to beat up a Bible.

What excites me, in spite of being fully aware of the bad in the world, is the possibility of something good.

We missed our shot at paradise….but we can make things better.

That’s something I really do believe.