Capacity for hurt

Many separate and unrelated situations lately have been hurtful. This leads me to a thought early in the morning of another day:

Our capacity for hurt may be great, but our capacity to forgive must be greater if we are to remain functional and whole.

I struggle with the forgiveness part, I’ll admit. It’s especially hard for me to forgive myself. After all these years, it is still a great struggle and some days are worse than others.

The only one who knows our hearts fully and loves us fully is God. How many times, even on a daily or hourly basis, do we disappoint Him? Yet God is love (1 John 4:8 NLT). He never leaves or disappoints us, and He only wants the best for us.

Secrets and lies and photographs

Fifty years ago, a split happened in the Christian fellowship that my family was a part of going back at least two generations. The split was catastrophic, literally and figuratively tearing apart and destroying families all over the world, separating husbands from wives, parents from children and grandchildren, siblings from siblings, frequently by force. In many cases, family members were never seen again and many of them have since died without any further contact at all.

My own family, especially my grandparents, were at the heart of that split. Although I was very young, just a toddler at the time, my whole life has been lived with the backdrop of what happened back then. The sad thing is that this event from long ago continues to affect thousands of lives every day. It has led to numerous suicides, mental breakdowns, alcoholism and drug abuse, and severely warped and broken people.

The truth of what happened long ago has continued to be cloaked in secrets and lies that many people continue to believe as gospel, and these secrets and lies have destroyed many aspects of my extended family. Which story you chose to believe altered the shape of your life from then on.

Most days, I don’t think much about it, and I talk about it even less. As already noted, at the time it all happened, I was very small and I have no direct memory of the events. However, I’ve always known that there is a gaping hole in one side of my family. I have aunts and uncles and cousins whom I’ve never known and never met, and likely will never meet. I grew up with people who all suffered the same thing.

A few days ago, we came into contact with people who had extensive photo albums with recent photos of our relatives. My siblings and I talked through each photo of family members who are complete strangers to us. Our conversation took place during a Zoom call that included my mother, one of the last people still alive of her generation who lived through everything.

It was both fascinating and repelling to see these photos. That sounds harsh but what I mean by repelling is that the heaviness and sorrow, the weight of all of this criminal, twisted, evil, cultish system of things done in the name of Christ and sourced in secrets and lies, broke through the surface of everyone’s minds. Words cannot describe the years and years of unjustified anguish, heartache, depression, anxiety, and overwhelming relational loss encompassed in those photographs. The stories I can tell, without any exaggeration — stories of what is true, what really happened and continues to happen — would freeze your blood.

I do not feel animosity or hatred toward these unknown relatives, only bewilderment. They believe they are righteous and we are evil. At what cost? Is it really worth it? I have walked down the street of a small town on the other side of the world and had people in this fellowship who know who I am cross over to the other side of the street to not be contaminated by contact with me.

However, here’s the good part — at the end of our Zoom call, my siblings and I affirmed that God is over all things. His judgment is true and fully right. He knows all things, and there are no secrets He does not know and lies He cannot refute. We affirmed our trust in Him and our thankfulness for every move, every step, and every event in our lives. We refused to be preoccupied with and weighed down by these evil circumstances and choose to hand over everything into His hands. The faithfulness of my grandparents and my parents was remembered, recognized, and appreciated again through many tears.

There is a lot of hurt in my family, including between me and my older siblings. Much of that hurt is connected to this past I’m writing about. Somehow though, through the miracle of weekly Zoom meetings brought about by a global pandemic, I have begun to see some of that relational hurt begin to transform into healing. I didn’t think it possible.

Praise God, with whom all things are possible.

Dog days

These are the dog days of summer, a time when it is too hot, too humid, and too buggy where I live to feel comfortable going outside much. Historically, it’s also been a somewhat depressing time as well, because by this stage, the specter of having to go back to school begins to loom large. I hate back-to-school sales, to this day, even though I haven’t been a full time student in more than thirty years.

As I’ve continued to grow older, I’ve begun to realize the good things about this time of year in the area where I live. In particular, this is the time when fresh fruits and vegetables ripen. In the U.S. Midwest, this means sweet corn, cucumbers, kohlrabi, beans, cantaloupe, watermelon, and, best of all, tomatoes. There are few things more tasty than freshly picked and freshly cooked sweet corn along with sliced, farm grown tomatoes. Yesterday, my wife and I went to a favorite farm stand nearby to pick up the first fruits of this season.

Many people love the heat and humidity; I can’t stand it. And I’ve never, ever been one to enjoy being baked to a crisp in the sun on some beach somewhere. I especially don’t care for biting insects. So, I stay indoors a lot with the air conditioning on. Rather pitiful, I know, but there it is. Give me a crisp Fall or Spring day, or even a bitterly cold winter day full of snow, and I’ll be happy.

Below are a few recent photos.

A long ago travel story

Recently I told a few people at work about an adventure I had many years ago when traveling through the South Pacific. One of my coworkers remarked, “You have had many exciting adventures!” My initial reaction was to downplay that comment, but then I thought back to some of the events in my past and realized that there were definitely some interesting moments. Perhaps one of the more exciting ones involved a trip to Fiji.

I have family in New Zealand and the trips I’ve made to visit them have been on Air New Zealand from Los Angeles. I don’t know if they still offer it but years ago, for a slightly higher than normal airfare, Air New Zealand offered the option to basically island hop in the Pacific. As a result, I got to briefly visit exotic places like Rarotonga, Tahiti, and Fiji.

On one trip, traveling with a family friend, I spent several days in Fiji on the way home from New Zealand. It was a wonderful time with many interesting experiences. For example, I got so entranced by snorkeling on the Coral Coast of Viti Levu, that I lost track of time and received the worst sunburn of my life. Then there was the time my friend and I walked the beaches at night, hunting for coconut crabs and scaring ourselves silly. Or the time we were invited to participate in a traditional kava ceremony in a Fijian islander community after befriending a worker in the resort where we were staying.

Partway through our visit, though, we heard news of an approaching cyclone. Although we were staying on the leeward side of Viti Levu and therefore a bit more protected, we grew increasingly concerned about the potential for harm. This concern sharpened when Fiji’s main radar station conked out completely, leaving everyone in the dark about the exact whereabouts of the cyclone and unsure of when it would hit. Funnily enough, my friend was more concerned about getting hit by falling coconuts than anything else!

We decided to get out of the country if possible, ahead of the storm. As it turned out, we were able to catch the last flight from Nadi. Because of the inability to know exactly where the storm was centered, flight preparation was more tense than usual, and I was quite nervous on takeoff. What made it worse was that the pilots flew the plane low for about an hour, constantly switching direction as they tried to find a safe way through the storm. It was a tense time, but we eventually made it. I’ll never forget that feeling, though, of just hanging in the sky at night, continually at a sharp takeoff angle and therefore pressed back into our seats, waiting to see if we’d make it through.

My friend and I have often laughed about the whole experience since then, but it was definitely something I don’t want to go through ever again. It turned out that it was a very wise choice for us to leave when we did because the cyclone was one of the most devastating in Fiji’s history, killing many people and wiping out the roads we travelled from our resort to the airport. There is even a Wikipedia entry about Cyclone Kina.

Below are a few photos from the trip to give context. Unfortunately, since then, I’ve never had the opportunity to go back. Some day, maybe. I’d really enjoy spending more time in Rarotonga, especially, if I ever got the chance.

Everything costs too much

What I write in this post is meant tongue-in-cheek, and should not be taken too seriously. It’s about my attempt to buy something I really want, and about my repeated failures to get it. Lately I’ve been thinking and writing about deemphasizing possessions, but this thing I want to buy is part of hoping to spend more time exploring an interest or passion or hobby.

I want to buy a used, entry level DSLR camera, and I have a specific make/model/kit in mind. I also have a specific amount of money I can afford to spend (meaning, very little, relatively speaking, roughly US $250). Even the amount of money I hope to spend feels like way too much for a guy who has many expenses and very little extra for niceties. This camera, though, is something that would allow me to grow in doing something I really enjoy, which is nature photography.

And yet, I feel so guilty about it. Like, it is selfish to want something that really isn’t necessary and is a luxury.

Also, so far, I have come up empty in finding one for the right price. The two places I’ve looked are Craigslist and eBay, although I’ve also looked at some standard, well-regarded online stores that specialize in photography and offer used equipment. It seems like I’m always too late to get the deal, or, especially when it comes to eBay, I get pipped at the very end of bidding because I’m unwilling to go over a certain amount. Everything costs too much!

As is commonly said these days, this is such a first world problem. Around us, people are homeless, jobless, hungry, dying, suffering. So forgive this little whinyness about a silly camera. I’ve spent a long time researching, investigating, trying to find one for the right price, trying to justify spending the money, and for what?

My blatant lack of success in getting this camera has forced me to think more carefully about why I want what I want sometimes. And about self discipline, patience, consideration of others (my wife is not that supportive of spending this money and I want to respect her wishes), and whether this pursuit is trying to make me happy just by buying another possession that won’t in the end really make me happy after all. To fill a need that can’t be filled by a possession, yet again.

Such mixed feelings.

Fewer days ahead than behind

For me, there are fewer days ahead than behind. It’s a little weird to think about. What does that mean? What can be done about it? What might change as a result of this reality? Big questions, with few clear answers.

For starters, this does not represent some sort of crisis. It just is the way things are. I am not necessarily depressed about it or preoccupied with it, necessarily, either. The thought that I’m well along on the downward slope of life simply causes me to take stock, to think more clearly about what is left and what I would like the rest of my life to look like.

In some ways, it is liberating, freeing. I want to focus on what really matters now, and I have a much better sense at my age about what really matters than I did 10-20 years ago. Career — doesn’t matter. Money — doesn’t matter. Looks, position, house, whatever — doesn’t matter. I’m never going to be wealthy or fabulously successful, however the world defines success. I’m never going to have an incredible house and car and whatever else we think we need to have to be happy.

So then, what does matter? My family and my relationships — they are what matter most. This includes my faith walk with God, of course. It matters to live what I believe, regardless of whether that is popular. It matters to have more moments of joy and a settled peace and trust in the Lord. It matters to define my level of satisfaction less by things or possessions and more through experiences and memories.

Here then are some hopes for the rest of my days:

  • To abide fully in the love of God
  • To love others as much as I possibly can and to rest in the love of others
  • I especially want my wife and children and extended family to be in no doubt about my love for them as shown by investing my time and attention in them and supporting them in whatever way I can
  • To travel more in order to enjoy and learn from the experiences of other people and other environments
  • To stress less and enjoy more
  • Peace, I really want to experience more peace
  • To do more things that give me, and those around me, joy
  • To work less or at least, de-emphasize the central role of work/career

It’s a rather hodgepodge list but it’s what I’ve got so far.

Fuzzy was he

A word I have begun to use a lot lately to describe my state of mind is “fuzzy.” The New Oxford American Dictionary defines the word as “difficult to perceive clearly or understand and explain precisely; indistinct or vague.” Yes, I think that fits.

It is hard for me to remember certain things and hard to express what I’m thinking at times, too. My vision when wearing a mask is often fuzzy as well due to being unable to prevent my glasses from fogging up. So irritating. But of course, wearing a mask is necessary so I’ll just have to get used to it. None of the supposed solutions to this issue work by the way. I’ve tried ‘em all.

If I didn’t feel mentally clouded most of the time, I’d probably feel more worried than I can manage to be so far about this development. It is no doubt my body’s reaction to difficult circumstances, sort of a protective or preventative thing. I don’t know.

Here’s to clearer days ahead. When things get fuzzy, we need to cling more tightly than ever to God’s promises and to drink deeply from the well of His trustworthiness and faithfulness.

Guilty pleasures

Writing a coherent and (hopefully) thoughtful blog entry has been a lot more challenging of late. My mind has all too often been blank. It is therefore a bit odd to think up a topic of guilty pleasures for today’s post. Perhaps it is my mind’s way of countering recent seriousness, doom, and gloom.

Here are some of my guilty pleasures:

  • Singing competitions (watching clips from them, I mean)
  • Any Sherlock Holmes videos featuring Jeremy Brett, the definitive actor to play the role
  • Any Miss Marple videos featuring Joan Hixson, who like Brett for Holmes, was by far the best at playing Miss Marple
  • Stuff made by Apple
  • Photography
  • Fresh homemade bread
  • Naps
  • Really good coffee
  • Sad love songs
  • Licorice
  • Negra Modelo beer
  • Travel

Upon reading this list, you may wonder why I use the word “guilty.” After all, as I sometimes jokingly say, guilt is so overrated. Nevertheless, I feel a pang of guilt about each item on my list for different reasons.

For example, I like most things made by Apple but they are far too expensive, so I feel guilty about spending money on their devices. I enjoy photography, too, but it is generally an expensive hobby as well. I feel guilty about naps because it has been drilled into me that they are selfish and that I could be doing something more productive. And so on.

What are your guilty pleasures?


Something most people want is certainty. Part of our collective struggles right now is a significant lack of it. Uncertainty breeds anxiety and fear and leads to all kinds of consequences. I’m convinced, for example, that the core issue behind disastrous support for the current U.S. administration is a wrongheaded reaction to lack of certainty.

There is a distinct lack of certainty in key areas of my own life and I’ve been thinking lately about how it affects me in multiple ways. I am frequently on edge due to dysfunction at work, for example. A better way to put it may be that whatever buffer I normally have to help deal with organizational weirdness is very, very thin to almost nonexistent.

Physical problems due to lack of regular exercise have led to unexpected challenges. I cannot rely on being able to handle certain physical tasks that I used to do all the time and took for granted. I can no longer be as certain about what I can do. Of course, that can be addressed by dedicating myself to exercise more.

We are inherently uncertain when doing otherwise normal things like grocery shopping or going to a doctor or taking a walk. We worry about our children socializing with friends and thereby possibly getting infected with a virus.

I do not consciously live in fear and in fact, I try to focus on what is positive and what I can be sure of, such as my faith. Each day, I try to live in a way that is not driven by fear, uncertainty, and doubt. But I think it’s important to recognize how significant a role they play as we collectively try to get through present difficulties. And how important it is to fight against them every moment of every day.

No wonder I am exhausted.


Looking over some recent posts, it seems I am exhibiting a predilection for one word titles that end in -ing. I thought therefore it was worth continuing for at least one more time.

As I write this post, it is raining, and that is quite a relief from days of burning sunshine and high humidity. Temperatures are in the low 70s (Fahrenheit) for the first time in a long while. However, the view outside is quite soggy and dark. There is a metaphor in there, somewhere. It reminds me of an early song of Amy Grant’s called “Raining on the Inside.” I never liked that song and I’m not a huge fan of Amy Grant, but there is some truth to it. There’s a lot of “raining on the inside” going on around here.

I work in higher education. And it’s in big trouble. There is a lot of anxiety about the Fall and I’ve mentioned before that I feel rather critical about plans that include students returning en masse to campus for what will, at best, be a distorted and disjointed educational experience. I’m especially critical that many administrators do not seem willing to openly acknowledge this, even as I understand the reasons why.

Then came my government’s bizarre directive a few days ago that international students enrolled at U.S. colleges and universities that plan an online-only Fall semester must return to their home countries. This is nothing more or less than governmental blackmail, and it is despicable. I am so angry at this regime, and that anger is mixed with a large amount of despair. (Use of the word “regime” here is deliberate.)

I hold no illusions that the other political party, the opposition party in my country, is significantly better than the one currently in power. But we the people must do everything in our power to vote out and destroy any vestiges of power accumulated by the current administration. We have to restore and repair the incalculable damage that has been, and continues to be done.

Again, though, the real heart of the problem lies with the millions of people who put the current regime in place and continue to support its outrageous lies, bizarre narcissism, and complete moral bankruptcy cloaked in a thin veneer of rectitude. You are being used, people (especially many evangelicals). Wake up and smell the coffee.

In the meantime, it’s still raining.