The past couple of Fridays, the guys I meet with for lunch have been talking about the practical implications of Psalm 90:10-12:
“The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away. Who considers the power of your anger, and your wrath according to the fear of you? So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”
I came home from the first conversation and looked up what a few commentators said about the concept of numbering our days. I love Matthew Henry’s perspective:
“It is an excellent art rightly to number our days, so as not to be out in our calculation, as he was who counted upon many years to come when, that night, his soul was required of him. We must live under a constant apprehension of the shortness and uncertainty of life and the near approach of death and eternity. We must so number our days as to compare our work with them, and mind it accordingly with a double diligence, as those that have no time to trifle.”
We must so number our days as to compare our work with them and mind it accordingly with a double diligence.
That’s exactly what we’ve been talking about on Fridays at lunch. One of the guys often reminds us that we don’t have time to waste on the frivolous. A couple of the guys took out napkins last week and began to compute the numbers of days they might have left, as it relates to their current age – not to presume upon the future, but to consider how they want to spend those days.
It caused me to consider my own numbers. If I have ten years left, then I have 3,650 days. I’m a slow reader who gets through a book every three weeks or so. That means I would only have time to read another 173 books. Keeping that in mind will help me make wiser selections in the future or maybe even consume them differently (I recently started listening to audiobooks).
Even if I have another twenty years, that means I only get to read another 346 books. And if I live thirty more years, I might make it through 519 more books. I pretty sure my Kindle already has 519 books on it.
Not everything we do is as easy to count. But just being aware of the fact that everything we do costs us time should make us wiser in the ways we spend it.
I do know that when I come to the end, I’ll be much happier if I focused more time on people than something passive, like watching television. That’s why I make it a point, even as an introvert, to attend Friday lunches with the guys, as well as Wednesday night dinner with a close friend and Friday night activities with guys I’ve been friends with for decades. And I try to meet people for coffee or lunch whenever they reach out, if possible.
As if to challenge me on this, a friend sent me a text as I finished that paragraph (on Thursday afternoon), asking me if I wanted to meet for a quick lunch. I’m headed out to meet him in twenty-five minutes.
How about you? Are you counting your days, pushing out the good (or maybe bad) in favor of the better? I’d love to hear how your numbers break down and the way you might spend those days.
Todd Bol, the founder of the Little Free Library concept, died last month from pancreatic cancer at the age of 62. But before he passed away, he made an observation that should make all of us think.
“If I may be so bold, I’m the most successful person I know,” Bol told a newspaper. “Because I stimulate 54 million books to be read and neighbors to talk to each other. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the very definition of success.”
As readers, you are probably familiar with Little Free Libraries, but in case you aren’t, you can watch Bol’s 11-minute TEDxFargo presentation.
I love so much about the notion of these little libraries that house anywhere from 20 to 100 books at any given time. I love that Bol started these as a tribute to his mother who was a teacher and book lover. I love that they encourage people to read. I love that they take the library beyond four walls. But the thing I love most about them is that they are bringing neighbors together.
In an age when we barely wave at our neighbors or invite each other to sit on the front porch to enjoy a glass of iced tea and good conversation, Little Free Libraries are promoting real community.
This blog post notes that Kristine Huson, communications director of Little Free Libraries Ltd., says she has heard from people who met more neighbors in one week than in the past ten years. And a 76-year-old man who put up a Little Free Library says he met more of his neighbors in the first three weeks than in the previous 30 years. That same newspaper story says the man’s library has become a mini-town square where people discuss Sherlock Holmes, sustainability and genealogy.
It’s difficult to obey the scriptural mandate to love our neighbors if we don’t even know their names. So we owe Bol and others (like Kristin Schell who started the Turquoise Table movement) for giving us simple ways we can move beyond a polite wave across the yard.
If you want to know more about starting a Little Free Library, check out the official page (it even has a map that allows you to search for one in your area).*
* I’m in no way affiliated with Little Free Library. I’m just a fan.
Every physical scar on my body has a good story—one that is deeply personal and reminds me of certain eras of my life.
I have a scar on my chin from the day I went riding mini-bikes with a friend as a young teenager. I had no idea what I was doing, even though he explained everything to me before we hopped on. I ended up losing control, narrowly missing a mailbox, and then flipping over the handle bars. I needed quite a few stitches to close the wound.
I have a scar near my right elbow from the time I was playing Frisbee with a co-worker after working the late shift at Taco John’s one night as a teenager. I tripped while going after one of her throws and the pavement took a bite out of my arm.
I have scars on some of my toes from diving into a pool one hot summer day and scraping my left foot on the bottom. It was shallower than I realized. I also have a scar on the back of my right leg from surgery after rupturing my Achilles tendon in 1997 while playing softball.
But none of them compare to my first scar.
Grandpa Ed, and his wife, Modene, had a wooded acreage behind their house and he liked to take me for walks down there when I was a kid. He would point out wildlife to me that would have otherwise gone unnoticed, ask me how things were going at school, and ask questions about our food situation at home.
After my parents split up, Grandpa took it upon himself to step into the gap—fixing things around our house and always making sure we had enough food. Of course, I had no idea what he was doing. I was just a kid who enjoyed prowling in the woods with his grandpa. But by stepping into the gap, he allowed me to keep my childhood. I wasn’t worried about how tough things were for my mom because he did the worrying for me. He’s been gone more than thirty years now, but I still get moved to tears when I think about him doing that.
While we were on one of those walks in the woods, I saw something that caught my attention. I can’t remember what it was, but I took off running toward it. He was close to sixty at the time, so he wasn’t able to catch me. Just as he said something about me slowing down, I ran into something that felt a lot like a wall, only with barbs, and it knocked me flat.
A warm substance trickled down my left cheek and it only took me a second to realize I was bleeding. When I glanced up, I saw a barbed-wire fence. It scared me to death, but I think it scared Grandpa even more. I’m sure he felt responsible, but the truth is, sometimes boys will be boys. They get intrigued by something and just take off without any regard for the possible consequences.
I probably should have gotten a stitch or two, but in my opinion, the scar only gave me character and a good story to tell the girls—if only I hadn’t been too shy to actually talk to a girl. But I learned later that scars do much more than make a person look tougher. They also serve as reminders. Cormac McCarthy once wrote, “Scars have the strange power to remind us that our past is real.”
I’m the type of person who is grieved when landscapes change because it feels like someone is wiping out my personal history there. The playground where I experienced my first kiss is now a housing project. The grade school—my grade school—that used to sit across the street from that playground is now an apartment complex. The marquee that sits outside my high school now says it is a “magnet school,” whatever that is. One of the roller skating rinks I used to frequent as a child is now a grocery store. I bought some cat food from that grocery store once and when I opened the box, it had worms in it. That seemed about right, since my memories of the place had been spoiled.
As I drive past these places now with my oldest niece in the car, I’ll briefly fill her in on the history of the place and tell her why it is so important to me. She tries to grasp what I’m saying, but, in reality, how can she? She wasn’t there.
Recently, I was in the car with my mom and we were driving through that same neighborhood. She pointed to one little green house and told me the name of the family who used to live there, saying she had been inside many times as a babysitter. She pointed to another house and said it was her sister’s best friend’s house. On and on she went, trying to solidify the reality of her sacred grounds that have since been desecrated or maybe worse, forgotten by everybody else.
Thankfully, even places have scars—reminders of what used to be. That old playground still has the gravel-covered alleyway that runs behind it. My old grade school turned apartment complex still has its original marquee. My old high school still has the same front steps. That old roller skating rink turned grocery store appears to have the same doors. Every time I pass by one of these scars, they speak to me, and I listen.
Knowing the value of scars, I like to ask people about the stories behind theirs. You can learn a lot about a person by listening to those stories. I find that people are much more willing to talk about the cause of their physical pain than the cause of their mental pain. And that’s okay. You have to start somewhere.
You can find this essay, and others like it, in Sacred Grounds: First Loves, First Experiences, and First Favorites.
Did you know that if you were to attempt to hike the Pacific Crest Trail that stretches 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada (going through California, Oregon and Washington), you might just encounter trail angels along the way?
Trail angels are self-appointed volunteers who assist hikers simply because they feel called to do so with no expectation of compensation. This LA Times article says there are fewer than 100 such people, and that they might just be “America’s least-known charitable army.”
“They reach into their own pockets to provide, food, shelter, medicine and hot showers to hikers,” the story says.
One couple opens their five-bedroom home to up to sixty hikers per night. Another couple offers a place to sleep as well as food for pets. A man offers hot coffee and fresh fruit from his pop-up café.
And as they minister to hikers, they say they get to witness the “inevitable baring of souls” and connections that sometimes last a lifetime.
Isn’t that what all of us really want?
I have a friend who always strikes up a conversation with restaurant staff when we meet for lunch. He knows their names, asks them questions about themselves, compliments them often and asks them where they worship. He wants them to feel special, and I’m guessing they do. He’s a restaurant angel.
I know another man who coaches a boys baseball team and he looks for opportunities to help his players. He had a conversation with one about his future one day and that led to the boy agreeing to attend a private high school. When my friend learned the boy’s parents couldn’t afford it, my friend wrote the check. He’s a baseball angel.
I know a woman who helps Christians through hoarding situations (she’s quick to point out that they aren’t hoarders; they are people with hoarding issues—people whom God loves). She has a heart for helping them realize their identities are not tied to their possessions, and she lovingly but firmly walks them through the process of letting go. She’s an identity angel.
What sort of angel are you?
“Excuse me, ma’am?”
I’d spotted the middle-aged woman lurking in the grocery store parking lot through my windshield. I had a feeling she was going to approach us to ask for money. Mom wasn’t feeling great and I was there to help her get groceries as quickly as possible so she could go home and lie down.
Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, this time being the exception, when I’m approached in a parking lot, someone either asks me for money or something else.
One woman approached me on more than one occasion in the same parking lot with the same story about needing money because her car broke down and she needed to get to Lincoln (a city about sixty miles away).
Another time, I was approached by a member of the Communist USA party to recruit me. If other people can recruit in parking lots, why not communists?
One guy, who was so drunk he could hardly stand, got so mad when I refused his request for money that he lifted his hiking-booted foot to kick my car. Thankfully, he stumbled backward before he could pull it off.
So, a person can get a little jaded. Even a Christian.
Back to the middle-aged woman in the parking lot. Just after she stopped us, a shopping cart rolled across the parking lot behind me and was headed for my car, so I hurried to control it.
When I turned back around, the woman touched my mom’s elbow, said something to her, and pulled away.
After the woman got into her car, I asked Mom what had happened.
“She just wanted to tell me I looked nice today.”
I hadn’t seen that coming. But it was a good reminder of how easy it is to make a difference with a small gesture, and that not everybody is out for him or herself.