The Bottom of the Inbox

I’m staring at an empty inbox.

That hasn’t happened for months. But this past weekend, I methodically and, somewhat painfully, worked through every item in my email inbox. And there, at the bottom, I found something wonderful.

Freedom. Release from the nagging pile of questions and duty.

I emptied my inbox on Sunday. I painstakingly worked my way through each and every message. I answered some, delegated a few, and organized information from the rest in a way that moves my work and my life along. What a wonderful feeling to see the bottom of my inbox.

When I awoke on Monday, I found my mind drawn to a new view.

I have other life inboxes that are filled to the brim with unanswered questions, unfulfilled relationships, and unmet visions. And, for a moment, I felt discouraged because I longed to see each and every one of those inboxes empty.

Later in the day, I received a message from a former student. He told me of the things that he was doing and of the items that were in his inbox these days. That’s when I realized that the bottom of my other inboxes will probably not be reached by me alone, but by others I’ve been blessed to come to know along the way.

And that is a good thing.

Talk About What Matters

A lot of disgusting talk swirls around us. It’s always been here because people have placed a high value on status. We don’t have to be the very best at anything — just prove ourselves better than others.

Yet, many of those who are the best are those who spend no energy on aggrandizing themselves. In fact, in their quest for excellence in their chosen pursuit, they help others along the way.

I hear — and personally feel — much despair over the tone of our public conversations. We have focused on the rancor in politics, but the same bile is spewing in all levels of our existence. Many have longed for a societal solution to this poisonous behavior.

Here’s one that isn’t original with me, but one that will change the world even if it doesn’t stop the inane mutterings of our elected officials.

Talk about individuals. Tell stories of tragedy and losses balanced with victory and gains. Don’t concentrate on the negativity surrounding an event, but on the stories of that woman, child, or man who stepped forward to do something good.

Those are the stories that matter. The news about the awful things will be framed in the telling of what is good. And that will be talk that matters.

Time is of the Essence

Time is factored into everything. And it seems that everything can be factored into time.

Photo by Cliff Johnson on Unsplash

In our work and our play, time is a consideration.

The statement that “time is of the essence” has its origin in contract law. Those five words carry a heavy weight. They say, “There is no margin for error when it comes to time. Even a little late breaches this contract.”

You may know people who live their lives as if time is of the essence. We find them to be remarkable and stable and champions of both professional and personal relationships. They’re the ones toiling in the sun who pause to lean on their shovel to chat. They’re the ones who stop, even in the middle of the most tedious task, and make room for you to sit for awhile.

Oddly, those who truly seem to make time the essence of their lives are the ones who seem to be unaware of time.

I’ve become lost in stories where the author describes an experience as timeless. It’s not, of course. But it seems that way because of the focus in the moment. Our attention is shifted away from the demands of life to honor the sanctity of relationship or beauty or calm.

Holy scripture teaches that finding God is best achieved in timeless moments. It is in those precious intervals that He unlocks the secrets of time and servant opportunity. And therein is the essence of living life as it was intended.

Adrift in the Sea of Pleasure | Missing the Islands of Joy

Semantics aside, there is a difference between pleasure and joy.

Pleasure

Photo by KaLisa Veer on Unsplash

Both can be good. Yet, as I watch the world around me I can’t help but notice the emphasis on pleasure. It is advertised and sold in the marketplace, online, and on the street corner. Pleasure comes with a surge of dopamine and good vibes. But ultimately, its energy source dims and our memories of the moment drive us forward to find, to procure, and to consume pleasure.

Addicts are those who constantly chase pleasure. The cravings created by the rush of stimulation are seeming undeniable. Talk to someone who is dependent on pleasure and you’re talking to a person who suffers more than they smile.

Joy, on the other hand, is a perspective on life and a way forward fueled by a self-renewing energy cell. Joy comes from relationship and an acceptance of how we fit in with the world around us. Great literature and holy texts speak of joy. Yet, you don’t see anyone advertising joy as a commodity.

Joy is generated from walking among the hurt and the chaos of the world with the ability to see and grasp the good that exists there. Good is resilient. Even in the face of seemingly overpowering evil, good will surface. And joyful people seem to have a special talent for brushing away the dust and grime to make joy apparent to others.

If you’ve ever experienced joy, you know that it isn’t a heart-pounding experience. Joy is release and contentment. Joy is more than pleasure and simple happiness. Joy is a glimpse of heaven on earth.

Pleasure has its purposes. However, the constant drive toward pleasure displaces the essence of joy — the sense of purpose that does more than paint a smile on our faces.

If you feel an absence of joy in your life, take a look at those things you chase. In all likelihood, they are the things that you believe will bring pleasure. The short-term may allow you to grab pleasure, but eventually, you’ll discover you are adrift and unable to sustain the momentum.

Remember the islands of joy are all around you. Walk ashore. Sit down. Enjoy the security of solid ground. You may be surprised how many joyful people you meet on those beaches.

Letters from Home

Letter-writing used to be big. Trips to the mailbox held great promise. Most days there was enough mail to preoccupy and distract for a little while. But letters were the best.

I spent a good number of years in my youth at summer camps — Camp Blue Haven as a camper and, later, Camp Grady Spruce as a dishwasher and counsel0r. (Two separate jobs and two separate summers.) The mail-call ritual was a highlight of the day.

As a camper, I was so excited to hear my name called. I would tuck the envelope into my pocket and let the anticipation grow as I hurried through lunch. Then off to my cabin in The Barn and the mandatory rest period after lunch. From my bunk, I would read the latest news from home — at least the news that would interest a 10 to 14 year old boy. Most often the letters were from my mom with an occasional missive from my grandmother.

As a camp worker, I don’t recall getting letters from Mom, although I probably did. But I do remember those from Nancy, my life-long love, and from Nikki and a few other friends. As I recall, I received a number of letters from girls who were interested in my brother, Carl, and who thought that making friends with his little brother was a good tactic. I have to admit, I felt a little bit of power from being in that broker role.

Regardless, they were all letters from home. “Home” is a relative term. After all, I heard from people who weren’t from my home. But it was through this correspondence that I learned that home really is where the heart is. The thought that someone would take time and put pen to paper while thinking of me created a place of belonging and brought home wherever I was.

I witnessed Nancy’s dad, Jack, practice this labor of love. I watched him write letters to family and friends. I carried hundreds of his letters from our mailbox to our kitchen table. I watched Nancy reading those letters and then writing her response in turn.

The phone was right there. But there was something magical about letters from home. Not quite as good as a face-to-face visit, but a tangible, lasting conversation on paper.

I know. That era is gone for the most part. But if you can remember letters from home, find a way to recreate the same anticipation, joy, and satisfaction with those you love.