Wednesday, November 29, 2006

pearls

In the course of a conversation over a week ago, the phrase “The Pearl of Great Price” came up. Since then, these two little verses from Matthew have been following me around in my mind and in conversations and correspondence and other encounters.

“Again the kingdom of heaven is like a man who is a dealer in search of fine and precious pearls. Who, on finding a single pearl of great price, went and sold all he had and bought it.” Matthew 13:45-46.

This morning I picked up the book I had started to read last night and encountered this very phrase again. Let me just go ahead and admit that I have been running from this concept. I started to write something on it last week, but found other things more pressing. Every time I hear the phrase in my head or encounter it elsewhere, I keep telling myself, I will take some time later to think about it. But most telling is the fact that I have not opened my heart to let God speak to me about it. I have not asked him what he thinks about it and why it is relevant in my life right now.

The word “cost” scares me. The words “great price” make me cringe, and I know my perspective is wrong here, for the words that should grab my attention are “fine and precious.“ Cost is always relative to what something is worth. I have no problem paying $10 for a fine meal, but at $100 I would probably walk away because it is merely a temporary satiation I am looking for and temporary things have much less value than long-lasting ones. You would pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for a house because it is an investment, it retains its value, you can live in it, and it lasts for a very long time. Paying a similar amount for a vacation or an event seems to be a questionable investment of your resources as the item has a limited longevity: a few weeks and it is all over.

The other word that should have stood out to me is “search.“ The person was actually looking for this very thing, searching for something precious and when they found something beyond their wildest dreams, they did not have to give it a second thought - they cashed everything else in and sunk all their resources into the most incredible and precious thing they had ever encountered.

What is the thing I am searching for? What am I willing for it to cost me? How will I know when I encounter it?

A small way for me to understand this is marriage. When I was single, I was looking for a friend, someone to love me and accept me and challenge me and be with me for a long time without it getting old or boring or predictable. When I met Dean, all the important things I had been looking for were found in one person, and I sold my independence, my self-centred life, my desire to look elsewhere for love and attention, my freedom to live anywhere and anytime I chose, and in return I got something of great value, fine and precious and long-lasting and deep and faithful and nurturing and life-giving and growing and fun.

I have been talking about decision-making with some friends and I acknowledge the fact that I need to become a more decisive person and here in these two verses I find the steps to accomplishing that:

1. Know what you are searching for. Keep the goal always in mind.

2. Search. Look. Be active. Make decisions that put you on the path to finding the things you are searching for. If you are saving up to buy a precious stone, don’t be hanging out in dollar stores or spending all your money on candy.

3. Be knowledgeable. If you are going to recognise something precious, spend time with those who also value the precious and valuable things. Learn from them. Read, ask, pray, and think. Practice recognising precious things and dealing carefully and respectfully with them.

4. Save yourself. Don’t waste your hard earned collateral and energy and your very self on shiny or temporary things. Save what you have for that which is worth it - the thing you are looking for. Sometimes you might see a counterfeit and almost talk yourself into buying it because you are tired of searching and it sure looks good, but resist the temptation to settle. You know better.

5. Jump in. Once you encounter something that seems to be “it,“ you are most likely to have second thoughts. The truly precious may not be perfect, but it will be pure; it will be clear and undiluted, though perhaps covered in dirt. It may be smaller and less significant than you expected, but it will be bright and powerful. It may not be the exact colour you wanted, but it will exude an aura of love that you can’t take your eyes off of. You may scrape it but it will not be chipped. You may put it in your pocket but it will not be contained. You may try to walk away but it will not give you peace. This is the precious, the thing worth selling everything else for. Do not be afraid.

I am talking to myself, you know, and perhaps next time I will have the courage to get more personal with the pearl. But this is a start.

Friday, November 17, 2006

what are U looking at?

I workout to an exercise DVD 3 times a week. I have been doing this for several years now, and though I occasionally change the DVD, most times it is the kick-boxing workout that I follow, and after watching it umpteen times, I can predict every move and every word that comes from every person. There are 3 females on the DVD; one is the instructor, one is the faithful side-kick and fellow personal trainer who has been with her for years, and the third is the new gal. After a few months of following the DVD and getting the moves down, I found myself watching the new gal a lot, because she was the one that often stood out - the one making the mistakes and falling behind and needing the instructor to help her out. I began to notice every time she hesitated, every time she faltered, or moved to the left instead of the right, or did not lift her hand quite as high as the rest - mostly because it gave me something to focus my mind on and avoid boredom as the whole thing was getting predictable by this point. After awhile, I also saw that her boxing technique was sadly lacking - a lot of her moves were stiff and her arms sometimes unnaturally flailed about like some drowning man with too-short limbs. Well, she really isn’t that bad, but the more you watch something, the more those tiny mistakes stick out.

Wednesday morning while watching the unfortunate girl once again struggle occasionally to keep up with two pros, and somewhat gloating that my moves were now better than hers, I heard a loud and somewhat chiding voice in my head say, “What are you looking at? Keep your eyes on the right way, not the wrong way.“ Oh oh. There was my judgemental and critical attitude flaring up again when I wasn’t looking. My bad. Yes, I admit it, I do tend to pick up on mistakes and point out the errors that people make, even if only in my head. I don‘t know why, but the inconsistencies just jump out at me and take my focus off all the good stuff going on right beside it and I know that is not a good outlook on life.

One of the rules for safe and defensive driving is that you always look at where you want to go, not at what you want to avoid, because you will naturally steer towards what you are looking at. So if an accident happens in front of you, or unexpected danger comes into your path, keep your eyes on a clear path around the problem instead of ogling the mayhem. I KNOW that it is better to keep your focus on the RIGHT things instead of the WRONG things because we eventually go towards that which we focus on, but it is something I must continually work at.

Yesterday, on the way home from dinner with a friend downtown, we were listening to the radio and someone who administers lie detector tests was being interviewed (www.jacktrimarco.com). I was most impressed with the man’s integrity and respect for the truth. He was quick to point out the limitations of what he does (polygraphs done by experts are usually 90% accurate, and can only measure what people BELIEVE to be true, not actual truth), but the thing that impressed me most about him was one situation he mentioned. A few times a week he will have a distraught young woman come to him wanting him to test her husband or boyfriend because she thinks he is cheating on her. He usually answers the person with something like, “What will the results do for you? You already do not trust him, so if he fails, you will only strengthen this belief that he is untrustworthy. If he passes, you might perhaps celebrate the outcome but it won’t be long until you probably see something else you don’t trust in him. Do you want to come back here every time something suspicious comes up? I think you would be better spending the money on marriage/couple counselling than a lie detector test.”

I believe the trait that makes this man, Jack Trimarco, one of the best in his field (he used to work with the FBI), is that even after a lifetime of encountering liars and dishonest people, he still maintains an unshakeable belief, respect, and admiration for the truth. His standard is unwavering and he will not stoop to even seemingly harmless common sales techniques in order to sell his services when he feels they are not useful or necessary - that would be dishonest on his part. How knows what the truth looks like and therefore, can easily point out the disguises untruth might take on, however slight the change might be.

I want such a familiarity with truth and purity that anything else is two-dimensional in comparison. Every time I see imperfection and unrighteousness, let it reaffirm my love for the truth and drive me to refocus on what is right and good. Let me be constantly looking at my goal of the upward calling of Jesus, so much so that it gets deep into my subconscious, and even when I am not thinking about it, this being pointed in the right direction becomes my detente and natural position.

“Summing it all up, friends, I'd say you'll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.” Philippians 4:8-9 The Message

Friday, November 10, 2006

detemined choices #$&^Q(#&$)(*&$

I have just finished painting the first coat on the walls of my newly renovated bathroom. I can be pretty indecisive at times and I am trying to work on that, so it was no surprise that right after I bought the paint colour that Dean and I had agreed on, I had second thoughts and almost went right back to the store and bought another colour just as a back-up. I have been living with my indecisiveness for many years and know it as part of the fear and paranoia I am trying to rid my life of, so I ignored the familiar urge to re-think the decision and instead, went home and spread the paint on the walls and am happy to report that it looks good and I have no regrets. A friend of mine says that making no decision is worse than making a bad decision - with a bad decision you can always learn from your mistake and in most cases, right things in some way, but in the case of indecision, you are paralyzed. Being faced with choices is something we all have to deal with and the better we get at making good choices in a timely manner and sticking with them, the better off we will be (I am preaching to myself here).

I have been discussing determinism and free will with someone this week and was pleasantly surprised to find out that I have made some good progress in the choice department. I will not let anyone tell me that my actions are caused by social influences and circumstances and that like a billiard table - once the play is set in motion, there is little we can do about it. I can’t even fathom why someone would WANT to believe that, for it removes the adventure of living - like participating in a game where the outcome is already set. What’s the point? I suppose there is some sort of fatalistic comfort in assuming that you are not totally responsible for your life, but I want none of that. I own every choice I make, good or bad. I have opportunities and setbacks thrust upon me and depending on how I choose to respond, both can be equally valuable in my becoming the person I want to be. I enjoy the roller coaster ride and would not trade some of my worst mistakes for anything mundane because in those low places I have often learned the most precious lessons.

The people I admire the most are those who have not let their circumstances dictate their state of mind or status in life - they have broken limitations and expectations; they have set their eyes on something larger than themselves; and they have never stopped trying and learning and living. Most of them have also made many mistakes along the road for they are never afraid to try something that seems like a good idea.

I guess what I am trying to say is that my deterministic friend will probably give up before he does his best work or stop short of love that conquers all obstacles for he does not have a basic trust that God is at work with a purpose higher than the one he can see. One must have hope, one must have faith, one must have love. That will make all the difference in my choices.

“I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.” - Thomas A. Edison