Fruit (of the Spirit)

Yesterday I enjoyed eating part of a fresh papaya, something I haven’t had in a long time. I had forgotten how beautiful they are when cut open — the striking orange-y yellow with the glossy dark seeds in the middle — so I decided to take a photo.

This time of year is when locally grown fruits are still available, such as cantaloupe and watermelon. (I doubt papayas are grown locally.) In another month or so, we’ll be into apple picking season as well. And lots of pumpkins.

One of my personal goals is to eat more fruit. Less sugar, more fruit.

This then reminded me of the verse that talks about the fruit of the Spirit:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Galatians 5:22-23 (NIV)

I definitely need more of these things, and the world around us does, too.

Sunrise, sunset

Yesterday, my wife and I had the rare opportunity of a day pretty much to ourselves. The younger two kids had busy social calendars while the older one was at work. We decided to go for a drive in the country and finished up in a local pie shop and café where I enjoyed a generous slice of quiche.

In the evening, we went out again, and on the spur of the moment, decided to eat supper in a nearby park to watch the sun set. It was beautiful. We really didn’t accomplish much of anything, just enjoyed driving around and being in each other’s company.

This morning, very early, we were awoken by lightning and thunder which had scared one of the dogs and caused her to whine and bark. Neither of us could sleep so we just sat in the living room and watched some videos while the day eventually dawned.

Sunrise, sunset. Another day.

Perseverance

It is hard to keep going when hope is lost. And when hope is lost, it is surprisingly hard to get it back. These are some of the thoughts running through my head of late.

This morning a Bible verse came to me:

Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.

James 1:12 (NIV)

Perseverance is an important character trait, as this verse highlights. You keep going, just keep going, somehow trusting that things will work out.

Another thought I’ve frequently had lately is that every day is a gift; every day is unique and cannot be repeated. I think we all get overwhelmed at times by what we are going through. It is hard sometimes to see or feel like anything good can be found in a particular day. But good can always be found, somehow, or so I believe. I often need help to look for and find it, that’s all.

I hope these ramblings offer a small bit of encouragement to someone else. They are neither revelatory nor unique, I realize.

Don’t lose hope. Keep going. Look for the good.

Love to teach

I love to teach and was reminded of that after last night’s class session, the second week of the Fall semester. If done well, it is exhausting and exasperating and a ton of work, yes, but also very rewarding. The class I am teaching has the largest enrollment of any class I’ve ever taught spanning nearly 20 years.

Over the years, I’ve had students join my classes from all over the world, from places as far away as Japan and Australia. This particular group of students represents a lot of geographic diversity as well, including a student from South Korea and others from all over the U.S.

We are just starting to get acquainted with one another. Last night, I deliberately chose to break students into three separate groups to work on an in-class activity. Part of my thinking in doing this is to get them familiar, early on, with how to function with Zoom. At the end of the course, each of them is required to give a live presentation to the class, so this early work will hopefully help them to prepare for what is to come.

I also wanted them to wrestle with a particular problem, which has to do with definitions. Each time we do this in class, I’ve found that the experience really opens students’ eyes to the complexities of definitions in ways that they otherwise might not appreciate. Each group presents their definitions, along with commentary, to the rest of the class. Each time, I find that groups choose different approaches. This gets the point across to everyone in a very effective way.

An added benefit to this in-class activity is that it enables students to begin to get to know one another. That is especially important for a class this large. I was really pleased when one of the students pointed this out when the whole group was discussing what was learned from the in-class activity.

It excites me when I am able to work with motivated and interested people to learn new things. In some ways, I wish this was something I could do full time.

More lenses than photos

At this stage, I think I possess more camera lenses than decent photos taken with my used Nikon DSLR. Win, win? I don’t know. Yesterday, I drove into the Sheffield Neighborhood of Lincoln Park in Chicago to pick up an old Nikon DSLR for $30. The primary purpose for buying it was to get the lens that it came with. It is a Nikkor 28 mm AF-D 2.8, which sells used on eBay for five times that price, and higher.

This joins the four (!) other lenses I now own. One lens, a 70-300 mm AF-S, was a gift, while the others were purchased for very little money via eBay or Craigslist. I might just have a collecting bug, which is a dangerous thing. I’ve never owned this many camera lenses in my life. Come to think of it, I also now own at least five different camera bodies as well. What is this world coming to?!

I suppose there are worse proclivities to have.

The weather where I live is moderating a bit and I hope to get out and about today to take more photos.

Incidentally, when I parked on a side street to walk to where I was to pick up and pay for the older camera, I happened to notice a French patisserie on the corner that specializes in macarons. I was drawn inside, lost my head a little, and came out with a box of twelve to take home to enjoy with my wife and kids.

Not all who wander are lost

This quote from J.R.R. Tolkien is one of my favorites. One of the heroes of his epic stories is a man who has spent many long years in lonely exile, wandering the wilderness, and this line is from a poem about him. Aragorn is born a king but does not achieve that status until much later in life, and spends most of his life instead trying to save his own as well as protect the lives of others, whether they know it or not.

I use this quote because I’ve done a lot of mental wandering (and wondering) of late. I haven’t felt up to writing much as a result.

Unfortunately, difficult times continue. I learned earlier this week that a dear friend and mentor of more than thirty years passed away. It was a shock. The unrest from the shooting of an unarmed Black man by police in Kenosha, WI has also shaken me quite a lot. In particular, it has revealed what has been beneath the surface all along: systemic and violent suppression of Black people by white people, and the widespread, tacit support for white supremacists, vigilantism, assault weapons, and glorification of the current U.S. administration.

If it isn’t obvious, the party of the right’s platform boils down to: Pander to fear. Pander to fear. Pander to fear.

The party of the left is only marginally better. I don’t have many illusions about that.

This past week was the start of the Fall semester where I work. For me, it was little different than any other week in the sense that I continue to work remotely. But tensions were even higher than usual among coworkers for various reasons. Let’s hope that somehow, things will calm down a bit because it’s exhausting.

Something important that comes with the territory of being a manager or leader of people is spending a lot of time listening to, reassuring, and trying to address the valid concerns, fears, and anxieties of others. Never in my long career has this been more necessary and important as right now. A basic tool to help with such things is repeated, clear, and transparent communication. I try my best and still fail at times. But somehow the burden of managing or helping with other people’s anxieties, over and over again, in combination with one’s own, can be hard to bear at times.

One of the jokes in my family is that although I’m the youngest, I look the oldest. I’m not sure why that is the case, but it reminds me a little bit of Aragorn’s story. He was quite old by the time he became king, and long before that, Tolkien describes him as very weather beaten, careworn, and stern. Please know, I’m not comparing myself to Aragorn in some grandiose way. No. But I am drawn to his depiction in the Lord of the Rings stories. We often focus on all the good, heroic stuff he did, but it came only after a very long time of hardship, abuse, persecution, loneliness, misunderstandings, and danger, so there’s something to learn from that, I guess.

On a more positive, less gloomy note, I was able to help a former student get a job this week. There are few things that make me happier than to help in this way.

The golden hour

The featured photo for this post shows the view from my living room window yesterday evening as the sun was setting during the golden hour. The light was beautifully warm, definitely golden, with a special quality. To me, it was a small bit of encouragement, somehow.

Bits of encouragement are needed every day. Heaven knows there is a lot to be discouraged about. Plenty of that to go around.

I recently found out I do not have COVID-19, which I expected, but it is encouraging to know that for sure, especially because that means more importantly that my wife and children almost certainly don’t have it, either.

I was able to go somewhere in the car for the first time in a while, by myself. That felt good. (Hey, it’s the small things.)

I’ve caught up on work email and some long-standing problem-solving, which is also encouraging.

What else? Our income tax refund should be on its way soon after I endured an hour on hold with the IRS.

Finally, an encouraging thought I had overnight is that in this life, we have many battles, but we must remember that the war is already won. Jesus ensured victory. Our sins were nailed to the cross and are gone evermore, as the wonderful hymn says.

Time flies

About this time of year, five years ago, a dream of mine came true. I was able to go on a trip to Alaska, where I then met up with two older brothers and two nephews. It was a glorious trip with absolutely perfect weather and no mosquitoes. That’s right, no mosquitoes, or any other bugs for that matter. We fished, hiked, and drove to different places on the Kenai Peninsula. I took a lot of photos and although I secretly hoped to see bears, we didn’t encounter any. But we did see moose.

Time flies.

Here are some photos from that trip.

Aches and pains

Aches and pains have featured prominently in life these past few days. I’m not sure why, but migraines are occurring again with more frequency. In addition, I tweaked a shoulder that I somehow injured a while ago. Neither issue is medically serious, but still rather discouraging.

A bright spot was receiving the lens on Friday that I won on eBay. It is amazingly well built and about the same age as I am. Because of needing to isolate for two weeks before an upcoming outpatient procedure, I haven’t been able to get out and about much to try out the new camera and the lenses I’ve managed to acquire. But this most recent purchase produces wonderful bokeh as you can see in the following image.

Another bright spot has been watching all of the various Sherlock Holmes episodes in the evening with one of our kids, who’s taken a real interest in them. I was reminded also of one of my very favorite movies, The Laurel-Hardy Murder Case, a movie I’ve seen probably dozens of times, but which still has the power to make me laugh so hard every time.

Endings and beginnings

My heart is heavy after learning that a lifelong family friend died last night from a short battle with cancer. She is free from suffering and pain and with her Savior, for which I give thanks. I still grieve for her and the family and friends left behind — I can’t help but feel — too soon.

I may have mentioned it before, but along with this sad news, I am reminded that a lot of what we collectively are feeling these days is grief. A lot of things feel like they have ended. Thousands upon thousands of lives are lost, yes, but it feels like a way of life has been lost as well. It feels like there have been, and continue to be, many endings.

Endings and beginnings.

This is the pattern of our lives.

I grieve those endings; I feel mired in grief. But I also am looking for, hoping for, trusting there will be the beginnings of new things.