Posted by: ritagone | August 15, 2018

The Know-It-All

 

When we were in London last week, one of the fun “tourist-y”things we did was a London tour in a beautiful iconic black London taxi cab.  For three hours you are driven around London with a driver who is an experienced tour guide giving you a tour based on your desires and requests.

I had asked for a tour for the two of us that was not the usual, since Michael and I had been to London enough times that we wanted to see something out of the ordinary.

It was a hot day, as it had been for over a month in London, with no air conditioning in the black cab because no one in England expects such continual heat.  The lawns and gardens everywhere were yellow and scorched instead of green and lush, something you don’t see very often in the U.K., a marvel in itself, but not so shocking to someone from Southern California.  (Proving that everything really is relative!)  We spent a lot of the three hours in traffic, which was not Jerry’s fault, but which made me feel I was paying to sit bumper to bumper in another country, a weird feeling.

But the result of sitting was that while we were at a traffic stand-still, we got to listen to Jerry.  Jerry was a man of some girth, in his late 40’s or early 50’s I would guess, of that size associated with a person who doesn’t move about much but sits a lot.  He said he was from Edinburgh but he sounded very Londonish to me.  And he did love to talk, which I suppose is essential to the job of tour guide, which he claimed to have had for 12 years, prior to which he was a London cab driver.  So he was well suited to his work, for sure.

At first Jerry was very entertaining and told fascinating stories and anecdotes.  I do love me a good anecdote.  Then, however, I started to notice something very distinct about him: he was an expert on everything: he criticized and complained about the national government over and over again.  Well, who doesn’t do that?  But the implication in his criticism was that he knew exactly how to do it better, what the stupid mistakes of the politicians were and how easily they could be remedied if only Jerry were in charge of things.  People talk like this all the time in the culture we live in, don’t they?  Apparently everyone can do a better job of running the government, be it local or state-wide or national, than anyone actually elected to do so.  That’s nothing new.

But then I noticed something very specifically arrogant about Jerry as he talked on and on, some of it about local color (and therefore part of our tour package and very interesting), and some of it about other topics in general, based on whatever and wherever his mind went, but always pointing to the fact that Jerry knew best.  For example, he asked Michael what field his career had been in, and when Michael told him he had been a writer of television programs, an answer that almost always elicits a fascinated response from his listeners, Jerry seemed a bit impressed but even more eager to inform Michael with his own knowledge of how television shows are made…or should be made.

Writing tables were much too large nowadays, said Jerry, as if he had just come from one and found the size of it off-putting.  Most people don’t even know what a writing table is, much less how big or small it should be.  I’ll give him this: Jerry knew just enough about this subject, the television business, to be sort of intelligent sounding.  He obviously watched a lot of tv, for one thing, because he could name many, many shows, both past and present.  But I saw a small smile curling on Michael’s mouth, even though my husband is too kind and polite to say anything, and even I knew enough to know that a writing table’s size has nothing to do with the quality of the television show itself.  This was after Jerry told us that the reason many contemporary television programs are so bad is because the writing staff is way too big.  The smaller, the better the scripts, and therefore the better the tv shows.

        What amazed me is that Jerry waxed on even after knowing that his listener was a retired television man.  Did he do the same with retired doctors, lawyers, plumbers?  Did he tell them how their fields could be improved if only those in charge would listen to Jerry?

The know-it-all can’t help himself.  He really, truly thinks that if someone were to hand him (or her) the keys to the oval office or the mayor’s  or the governor’s, or whoever is in charge, he or she could do so much better.  There would be less crime, less waste, less stupidity on the part of everyone, and efficiency would rule.  It would only take his or her clearness of vision and insight and strength of will to see through the legislation necessary to create the brave new world in the wings.

If only it were that easy.

There are so many know-it-alls out there that if we just put them in control, we who are so utterly incompetent most of the time, all our problems and worries would be over.

It makes me stop and realize the many times I think I know it all and come off that way.  Please, God, and please, anyone who knows me and loves me, stop me in my tracks when I start to sound like Jerry, so pompous, so sure of the right answers and the only way of doing things and so condescending toward those who aren’t behaving the way I think they should.

Jerry was a fascinating guy for three hours.  Most of what he had to say about London history was interesting and well-studied on his part.  But Jerry should not be running the government, nor should he probably be overseeing television scripts.  I wish he saw and understood that truth.

It would make Jerry a much more likeable human being.

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Posted by: ritagone | August 1, 2018

On the Tip of the Tongue

Here’s another great piece out of my daily devotional book by Timothy and Kathy Keller, “God’s Wisdom For Navigating Life.”  This excerpt is from August 6; I’m reading ahead because I won’t be here from August 5-14 and don’t have room in my carry-on suitcase for the book.  So this also will be my last Rita’s Ramblings post until August 15; you’ll have to do without me (!) for two weeks while I’m in London for a few days of fun with Michael and then Communitas’ 50th anniversary celebration gathering north of London in Hoddeston for a few more days. 

 

 

GENTLE PERSISTENCE.  A “gentle answer” can quickly de-escalate an angry feud.  We might infer that gentle speech means being mealy-mouthed, compliant, or pacifying, like saying to a bully, “I give up.” Here we see that is not true at all.  The metaphor of breaking a bone means that a gentle tongue is better at breaking down hardened resistance to an idea than aggressive words.  You may still argue pointedly, but in a gentle, patient, respectful manner.

This insight fits in well with the New Testament exhortation that no matter how much someone may oppose us or may even have wronged us, we must forgive him or her from our heart, first and unconditionally.  This drains out so much of the contempt and disdain that can easily creep into our voice when we are contending with someone.  Most of us are either temperamentally direct, bold, and persistent or gentle, calm, and deferential – but never both.  Yet the wise learn to be both.  They follow the one who always showed boldness without harshness, humility without uncertainty, who spoke truth but always bathed in love.

Do you tend to be direct and persistent or gentle and deferential? How can you combine them?

 

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, you combined qualities of humility and majesty as no one else has ever done.  And through the gospel, which both humbles us into the dust and makes us kings to reign.  Make us, in your image, gentle but absolutely insistent on truth.  Amen.

Posted by: ritagone | July 25, 2018

The Leaderboard

 

In golf, in racing, in many other competitions in life, a leaderboard is used to display the standings between competitors.  Who’s ahead?  Who’s winning?  Who is the favorite?  Who’s coming in second?  Third? What’s the most prominent, important, significant among a host of things?

This image took over my life last week as I was faced with a potentially serious health issue: did I have a tumor on my adrenal gland that was causing a chronic rise in my blood pressure and a drop in my potassium levels?  And if my blood pressure was elevated to serious heights, could I travel by plane to London and spend over a week doing fun things and then attending Communitas’ 50th anniversary conference at High Leigh, a Christian conference center north of London?  Was it too risky?  And the potassium levels being so low were sounding quite dangerous too, as the endocrinologist informed me upon walking into the examination room: “You know, people die from potassium levels this low!” Thank you very much,” I thought to myself. “It’s nice to meet you too.”  This particular health issue immediately assumed place #1 in my mind on my health leaderboard.

Up until then, #1 on my health leaderboard has been my migraine headaches, trying to find either a cure or a way to cope with them.  All of a sudden, though, migraines moved down on the leaderboard to a #2 or even #3 position as other issues crept up, other health anxieties that, for one reason or another, needed to be dealt with quickly because of travel or for whatever reason (like imminent death from low potassium, I guess).

And then I realized that life is like this with so many other things as well: we have mental leaderboards about so many issues in our lives: family, finances, jobs, health.  We rank issues according to how pressing they are or how serious or how much time they grab of our attention.

So what if I could make the leaderboard of my life the things that Jesus told me were the leaderboard of His life?  To concentrate on loving God with all my heart, soul and mind, and doing whatever it takes to make that happen…and to eliminate everything that prevents that from taking place.  And to concentrate also on loving my neighbor, my friends, my family, the people all around me that God puts me in touch with, with all my heart, soul and mind.  And to eliminate everything that prevents that also from taking place.

Now that’s a leaderboard worth having in my life!

 

 

 

Posted by: ritagone | July 18, 2018

A Life

 

 

A dear friend of ours died this past Sunday, age 65, of a heart attack.

Not terribly unusual, although that age seems younger and younger as we get older and older.  He should have had many more years, if only things had been different.

He died in a federal prison hospital.

That’s what was unusual, different about his passing.

Also that this was his second incarceration in a prison.

Not many people I know – and probably that you know – can claim that statistic: twice in the U.S. prison system, state and federal.

He was, still, a good man, a tender-hearted, loving follower of Jesus to the end.  Okay, so why then was he in prison?  Because he made some mistakes, took some wrong turns, did some things that he shouldn’t have done.  Just like you and me.

He certainly paid a price.  He lost everything: his career, his marriage, his home, his standing in the community.  And, of course, eventually his life.

When he died, he left a son, a handful of acquaintances, a sister who loved him dearly, and a small group of friends who knew his value as a human being more than most.

Years ago, when my children were young, he dressed up as Santa Claus one Christmas Eve and “borrowed” a reindeer from a friend of his who happened to own one.  He showed up on our doorstep and – to the delight of our kids – presented himself as Santa about to set off delivering presents around the world.  It took a long time before our son and daughter forgot about that night, and when they found out as adults who had been entertaining them, they loved him for it.  You don’t forget times like that.  That year he didn’t have children of his own, so he was making his friends’ kids happy.  When he went in the wrong direction legally and morally, that night was still something we remembered.  It made a difference as to how we felt about him.

He died in a federal prison hospital.  Alone.  No family or friends with him, holding his hand, sitting by his bedside, whispering words of prayer and encouragement to him.  I know of course that Jesus was with him.  Jesus was always with him, even at the worst of his times.  Even when his behavior and his actions were not something you’d be proud of.  Jesus knew his soul and his heart.  I have no doubt that Jesus welcomed him into heaven and embraced him warmly and tenderly.

And still…

It was a life that could have gone so differently.  Could have been so much more.  I suppose you can say that about anyone’s life, but for this man, it is so very true.

So rest in peace, dear friend. We will miss you, but we will not forget you.

 

 

 

I am fascinated by our words, by our ability to speak, something which we own apart from the animals, and by our awareness – or lack of it – as to when to NOT speak, when, instead, perhaps to listen.

Most of us, I’ve found through the decades, are absolutely terrible listeners.  This is a skill that not only do we often not possess, but we are usually not even interested in honing it as a skill in ourselves.  Why?  Because then we would lose the spotlight, the focus on us.  And that would be, in our distorted minds and hearts, disastrous.

There’s a program regularly on cable television called “Actors on Actors,” which is a roundtable panel discussion of seven or eight currently prominent actors or actresses talking about their craft and their lives, moderated (or at least attempted to be moderated) by a staffer from “The Hollywood Reporter.”  (You can usually tell, humorously, that he or she has had more experience writing about actors and actresses than actually attempting to herd their conversations and keep them on point.  And keep two or three of them from running away with the narration.)

        Anyway, a few weeks ago the panel was composed of current TV series comedic actresses, and it was interesting and fascinating to watch to see which people hijacked the discussion – no matter what the question posed to all of them – and which did not.  I observed that even when one of the quieter, more subdued women was speaking, one of the more flamboyant “please look at me!” personas would manage to capture attention just by exhibiting a very dramatic reaction to something someone else said.  “Oh no!  That didn’t happen!!!” and the camera would of course shift to that reaction, that actress, to capture the comment, moving away ironically and surreptitiously from the woman who should have been the focus because of her original statement or story.

How subtle.  How selfish. How like all of us.

Timothy Keller talks about this kind of behavior in his devotional “God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life,” which he wrote with his wife Kathy and which, as I’ve shared quite a few times this past year, I’m using early in my mornings as a brilliant but often painful devotional.

He talks about “the wise hold their tongues rather than multiplying words.” “Proverbs,” he goes on to say on July 9’s devotional, “consistently teaches that fewer words are better than many words…The more you say, the less you get to listen to others, and so the less well informed your words will be when you do speak them…Then, too, people who talk too much appear to be more interested in themselves than in you, and often it is the case.”  The actresses on this program who kept pulling the focus back to themselves, weren’t remotely interested in the ones who were speaking by letting them know they understood what had been said; they were saying, “Please, let the attention come back to me!  It’s been away from me for far too long!” That is to say, about two minutes.

Studying people in this mode of “How can I rather underhandedly regain control of the microphone?” is fascinating to me.  Studying people when and how they use their speech is a really big deal.  Again, Keller makes this point in one of his devotionals: “Finally, controlling our tongue is a way to gain self-control in general.  If we can master the difficult task of controlling our speech and our desire to pontificate about every subject, then self-control in other areas will be much easier.”  He references James 3:1-2. (“My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.  For we all stumble in many things.  If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body.”)

I reference Jeremiah 12:5 when thinking about this concept that Keller talks about: “If we can master the difficult task of controlling our speech and our desire to pontificate about every subject, then self-control in other areas will be much easier.”  Jeremiah 12:5, tattooed on my right inside forearm so that I won’t easily forget it, says: “If you have run with the footmen, and they have wearied you, then how can you contend with horses?”  In other words, if you can’t do the easy things of life, how will you ever be able to do the hard ones?

If you can’t learn to listen, to keep your mouth shut, to not need the attention, the focus to always be on you, then you’ll have difficulty, I imagine, to be able to do anything of substance, because, like the actresses on the program I watched, instead of living in the moment and making life better for those around you, you’ll be worried sick about how people are perceiving you, how you’re coming across, and whether or not you’re in control the way you want and feel you need to be.

Think about it.

Posted by: ritagone | July 4, 2018

Sometimes It’s the Little Things…

We got a new clock (pictured here) a week ago.

No big deal…and yet.  It has in reality changed our lives in some very small but significant (and yes, funny) ways.

My “old” clock was one I had seen in a hotel room in New York City last year and thought was very cool.  Battery operated, it only lit up if you reached across the night table and tapped a button on the top of it to make it do so.  Otherwise, at night, you couldn’t tell the time on it. The only problem: for me, that meant it was hardly ever lit up.  Which meant I could hardly ever see the time on it.  Which meant I would have to kind of elevate myself on one elbow and look over Michael’s sleeping head and shoulders to see the lit up clock on his night table.  Kind of stupid.

Still, I did this for the better part of a year.

And then, I got fed up.

        And went on a search on the Amazon for a clock of me own. (Sounding like a pirate here.)

And found the clock pictured here.  It came in all different frame and letter and number colors, but I chose black background with white letters.  I think it’s actually made for the benefit of Alzheimer’s patients, those who are having trouble remembering the day of the week and date and even the time of day or night.  It was so easy to read that I didn’t even need it on my night table; I plugged it in on my dresser, about three feet away from the bed, and could see everything on it perfectly.

Two mornings later, I noticed Michael was unplugging his electric clock and putting it in his night table cabinet.  “I don’t need it,” he said. “I can see yours just fine.”  He meant it as a compliment.

And we were both happy, not the kind of happy about winning the lottery, but happy for having made a purchase that changed our lives in a small but enjoyable way.

We showed everyone who came over our new clock.  I even suspect that purchases were made on the Amazon of that same clock, maybe in different colors, but with the same clarity of message in mind.

No doubt about it: we were bedroom clock trendsetters.  Okay, make that I was the bedroom clock trendsetter.

I honestly do love this $40 purchase.  Every night when I get in bed, every time I wake up (don’t ask me how many times) during the night, in the morning when I’m up for good, I look at it and I’m excited to know the day, the date, and the precise time.  Who wouldn’t be?

Back in the ‘50’s there was a popular song sung by Kitty Kallen called “Little Things Mean a Lot.”  I’m humming that song right now, because it is so, so true.

What’s a little thing in your life recently that means a lot to you?  Share it with someone today.

 

Posted by: ritagone | June 27, 2018

Sick Leave

Please forgive me for not writing my blog this week.  I’m a bit under the weather with a cold and am trying to take care of myself by doing as little as possible and resting as much as I can.  Hopefully I’ll be back next week with my usual clever repartee and something brilliant to say.  Thanks for understanding.

Posted by: ritagone | June 20, 2018

War and Peace by the Pool

On my recent trip to Maui, accompanied by my husband and joined later the same day by my two children, my son in law and all four grandchildren, I learned something very valuable: you cannot read “War and Peace” by a busy hotel swimming pool.  “Why?” you ask.  Because children and adults make noise by the hotel swimming pool, talking, laughing, screaming with joy as they jump and dive and run around with friends and family.  “War and Peace,” on the other hand, demands the utmost concentration, lest you forget who Pierre is or where Rostov fits into the plot, why Napoleon wanted to conquer Russia in the first place or what was happening to the boots of Russian soldiers on the march to whatever city in Austria you can’t remember because someone was yelling her lunch order to her mommy during that paragraph.

My friend Sue texted me when I returned home and wanted to know what we did on this wonderful vacation.  I texted back that there was snuba-ing (a combination of snorkeling and scuba diving where you don’t go lower than 10 feet in the water but have all the visuals of both activities and none of the fears of drowning in your prime), surfing lessons, a helicopter ride around Maui and over to an adjacent island, and zip lining, which almost killed Michael.  Not the zip lining itself, mind you, which looked amazingly fun, but the hike up to the heights of the mountain so that you could zip line DOWN, down, down to the end of the runs.

Meanwhile, back at the condo, where it was deliciously quiet, I kept reading “War and Peace.”  Sue wrote back to me how impressed she was that I had finished “War and Peace” in five days, admitting that it would probably take her at least a year to read it.  I wrote back that she mis-read my text: I hadn’t finished “War and Peace,” I had merely begun the process.  When I arrived back home to Westlake Village, I had read 17% of it, just a little over 100 pages on my Kindle.  Only about 645 Kindle pages more to read!!!

I thought about switching to the paperback edition of the novel that I decided not to pack due to its weight, over 1,000 pages of text.  But when I found my corresponding page in it and started to read, the text was so small that in a short time I was losing my vision, so I switched back to my Kindle version, where the font size is so big that every time I swipe, I have read about five sentences on the regular print page of the paperback.  Still, I prefer that, because I’m building quite a bit of dexterity with my right hand swiping technique while moving along slowly but surely through the novel.  I figure I may be done with it by the time summer ends.

Lesson learned: sometimes two things are at cross purposes with each other through no fault of their own.  Ecclesiastes 3:1 tells us: “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven.”  Reading “War and Peace” is a noble undertaking.  Vacationing by a hotel pool in Maui is amazingly relaxing.  But you probably should not mix them.  One demands a sort of quiet solitude so that you can concentrate on the exorbitant number of characters that march through the novel with varieties of names in Russian.  The other beckons you to laugh and be cheerful and enjoy the frivolity of family and friends, to bask in the sun and pretend that all’s right with the world, even for a few hours.

Apples and oranges.  Oil and water.  They don’t mix. I’m sorry, Count Tolstoy, but I must finish your tome in the quiet of my room, snuggled in and savoring the language (translated), the characters (with many names), the plot (Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812), and everything else about this jewel that so many people will never read because they are daunted by its size and stature.

But I, I will finish it.  I will finish it.  I will finish it.  I will finish it.

 

Posted by: ritagone | June 13, 2018

The Highlight Reel

“Stop me if I’ve told you this already.”

As we get older, we tend to need to say this sentence more and more.  Why?  Because we forget what we’ve said.  And who we’ve said it to.

But worse than that, I’ve found that I’ve forgotten huge chunks of my life, because the longer you live, the more opportunity there is of forgetting segments of your life, experiences that you’ve had, especially if your life is chock-full of wonderful events and people and experiences in different places around the world.

        So…stop me if I’ve told you this already, but there was the time a few years ago when Michael and I were checking into a wonderful hotel on the river in Budapest, Hungary, after a Communitas conference for one night just to enjoy the city and relax for a bit.  The young lady behind the front desk said to us, “Welcome back, Mr. and Mrs. Warren,” and we shook our heads negatively, saying, “No, we’ve never been here before.” To which she replied, “Yes you have. You’re in our computer from 2009.” She had proof.  We had none. We were flabbergasted, to say the least. Not only did we not remember staying at the hotel; we didn’t remember a single thing about that particular stay in Budapest.  Weird? I’ll tell you it was!

Or you know the experience: Someone starts talking about a time when you were with them, relating details of that time together…and you can’t remember a thing about it.  You’re lucky if you remember the person who’s telling you the story.  It’s as if a blank wall is facing you. Like someone has dug out portions of your brain wiring that included that particular episode of your history.  Strange?  Yes, sir!

But then, there are those moments etched into your memory forever: the births of your children, your wedding day (not in that order, of course), events that were so wonderful or terrible that you can’t escape the memory of them, because they are permanently etched on your brain.  I can remember the stained ceiling tiles of the old Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Los Angeles, where my son Matthew was born some 43 years ago, as if it were yesterday.  They were relocating to the new hospital, Cedars Sinai, in a few months, so everyone felt okay with letting the old place get a bit seedy, including water damage, so as I lay on the birthing table, I could look up and see those ugly water stains staring back at me.  I see them now.  They are with me forever.

I remember emotions I’ve felt at times, people who shared those times with me.  Not everything, mind you.  Else why would I have forgotten completely what surely was a lovely time in Budapest in 2009?

So what I’ve decided is that our brains create a sort of highlight reel, like the best pieces of a film or television show that are preserved to show everyone on the last night a cast and crew are together for a wrap party.  It’s called a highlight reel because it is truly the highlights of the endeavor recently finished.  Someone sat in an editing room and decided, “This is great!  Keep it!” and “This is not worth it.  Throw it away.”  Maybe that’s exactly what our brains do about all the experiences and times of our life: “This is worth keeping; this isn’t.”  Otherwise, we would be so inundated with memories – both good and bad – that our heads might explode.

        So instead of bemoaning the fact that I can’t remember every single incident in my 70+ years, I’m going to consider that my brain is compiling its own highlight reel, and that’s good enough for me.  I will allow those experiences that it has stored away for me to come to the surface, I’ll enjoy them, then tuck them back into their drawer, and then hopefully be able to retrieve them again in the future, because my brain thought at one time they were worth keeping.

A highlight reel.  Sounds good already!!!

Posted by: ritagone | June 6, 2018

Life Is An Adventure!

When I was younger – much younger, in fact – I was very much afraid to try anything new: new food, new undertakings, new people.  Why?

I don’t really know for sure, except what the psychologist or pop culture people tell me, that is: we stay comfortable, in our zone of recognized places and things and people, because they’re…well, comfortable and recognized.

Then I began to realize that life was short and getting shorter all the time.  All those new places to see and visit, those new foods to eat and taste, those new people who might broaden my view of the world were out there just waiting for me to find them.  So I went looking.  Some of them were wonderful.  Some were not.  The places that were not so great I crossed off my list of re-visits.  The foods that I didn’t like the taste of I just decided not to ever eat again.  I must confess that this includes a great assortment of dishes, probably more than I liked a lot, but at least I tried them.  And if I didn’t enjoy the company of certain people, I realized that I didn’t have to spend more time with them in the future.  So it made it easy to keep going forward seeking the tasty food, the interesting places and people.

It’s a good rule to live by: find what you like and then find more of it.  You can’t go wrong.

Life should always be a bit of an adventure.  Otherwise, we just get stale and old too quickly.

Don’t you agree, even a little bit?

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