Sunday, December 27, 2020

Making the Final Inch

In a podcast entitled, "The Osterholm Update"by epidemiologist Mike Osterholm, from the University of Minnesota, he used a phrase that ignited numerous thoughts, "A vaccine is only a vaccine until it becomes a vaccination."

An early present arrived from my daughter. I now have a Peloton bike in the basement. It is more than a stationary spin bike. When you get a Peloton (bike or tread) you also are required to purchase a monthly subscription to their live and on-demand classes. The classes focus on a total body workout. Yes, cycling and running are primary depending upon your piece of equipment. In addition you can access strength training, meditation, yoga, stretching, and numerous other activities to provide a complete training regimen. Now I have more than a basement bike. I have a multitude of exercise options, with both a live and virtual community.

Phrases like, "This is the beginning of the end." and "Soon we can return to normal." have been prolific since the two vaccines have received emergency use authorization in the United States. There is a sense of relief and giddiness. Yet, until a vaccine becomes a vaccination nothing substantial changes. The final inch! Getting the vaccine into the body is when change occurs.

Another recent acquisition made its way into the basement. Prior to the Peloton, I brought home a Nordic Track Pro ski machine. A friend did not use it any longer. He said, "I just cannot get into a cardio workout in my basement." As I set it up in the basement I used a cleaning solution along with wood polish to give it a clean and natural appearance. From indications it appeared to have been accumulating dust, debris, clothing and other non-essentials for a significant amount of time. It was no longer used for its intended purpose. Sounds familiar, does it not? Good intentions. Maybe even some good use. Finally the luster wears off. Getting on the machine and staying on until it becomes part of a lifestyle is difficult.

Many of us have completed or soon will complete the season teeming with feelings, sensations, and emotions. Glad tidings, good intentions, resolutions, sights, sounds, expectations, and promises to make future celebrations special are abundant and I believe, heartfelt. Similar to wanting the pandemic to end and to change into a healthier lifestyle, words of wanting a different Holiday Season are easily verbalized.  As the phrase states, "If nothing changes, nothing changes." It is when change gets into your choices that life becomes different.

If you are familiar with the early stories in New Testament Christian Scriptures, two particular people (Mary + Joseph) hear that they to be pivotal characters in God's salvation. Had they only enjoyed their sweet, angelic dreams without taking action would anything have changed? They made a 70 mile journey on foot, traveling numerous days, while Mary was in the later stages of pregnancy. After giving birth to a child in a relative's house in Bethlehem, another dream told Joseph to take his now expanded family to Egypt for safety. Once again, the request was placed into action. Who did they know in Egypt? They traveled over 40 miles to get to safety. Remaining in Egypt about 3 years. Had they only thought nice thoughts and not changed their choices, their pivotal role may have ended without traveling an inch!

Faith, hope, forgiveness, reconciliation are only concept words until they are acted upon, incorporated, and practiced in our daily lives. I sense we all hang a lot of non-essential things on the aforementioned words. It seems easier to voice the words than to get onto something that will change our lives. Making that final inch, getting on that machine, living spiritual values will expose us to a community which we previously have not experienced. It will be difficult, challenging, and frustrating work. Yet those are the markings of change. 

I hope you make that final inch. Whether it be a healthier lifestyle, spiritual growth, connecting to a supportive and honest community, or rolling up the sleeve when the COVID-19 vaccine is offered.  The final inch is the most difficult, as well as the most important distance for all things in life. 

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Decorations -- The Reason for the Season

The prominent Norway Spruce proudly stood near the intersection of our farm driveway and the gravel township road. Every December, with the bucket loader on the front of the Allis-Chalmers WD-45, along with an extension ladder and long poles my father would wrap that stately conifer with large, colorful incandescent bulbs. His efforts over the years provided vivid light in the darkness of the rural landscape. I enjoyed the opportunity to place the plug into the extension cord and gaze in wonderment at the beautiful sight unaware of the frigid temperatures. 

December 1996, our older daughter wanted lights hung on the outside of the parsonage. It was a rambler, so only a tall step-ladder was necessary. Placing plastic hooks on cold aluminum gutters without gloves quickly made for numb fingers. Plastic breaks easily in sub-freezing temperatures. Copious amounts of snow had fallen since early November. Ladder placement beyond the driveway was only possible after shoveling. At least the aerobic activity with the use of mittens provided some respite for my fingers.  Finally the lights were strung. Some areas sagged due to broken plastic hooks. Some of the miniature bulbs did not light. I was not going to fiddle with small lights with frozen fingers! The job was done. I swore to never do it again. Besides, it paled in comparison to what my father produced in a more difficult setting.

Before you conclude that I am a Scrooge, I thoroughly enjoy the lights and decorations of the Holiday Season. In my footed exercise around the Fargo-Moorhead area (North Dakota + Minnesota border cities), the lights and displays take me down streets and avenues usually untraveled. I appreciate the physical efforts, the visual effects, the creative beauty, and the random chaos of the exposition. From breath taking to belly laughing my wonderment for decorations is as great as ever. If I do not have to be involved my joy is multiplied!                     

The seasonal phrase, as well as the marketing slogan, "Jesus is the reason for the Season" has been popular for decades. I sense it is often shared with the sentiment, "the real meaning of Christmas." My observation of light displays and lawn ornaments do not appear to go in that particular direction. Will Ferrell's, Elf Character, Nutcrackers, Santa, and Snow People are as popular, if not more popular than the traditional Nativity Scene. Multicolored lights aligning roof lines, moving snow flakes, and colored dots swirling on house siding are mixed together with air inflated Charlie Brown, the Grinch, and Star Wars characters. 

I do not advocate a particular meaning for the Holiday/Christmas Season. The traditional Nativity Scene is not necessarily historically accurate. I wonder if snow people grace the lawns of people in Columbia or Figi? What I really appreciate are the efforts of people to place lights and displays providing color in the cold and dark areas of my life.  Especially as the pandemic continues and uncertainties swirl like flakes in a snow globe, I am grateful for the distractions.  The multitude of displays provide hope, amazement, chuckles, and gratitude in my daily life.

I also ponder thoughts of God, a Higher Power being quietly displayed in our human actions. A traditional Christmas hymn has lyrics that capture my thoughts, "the hopes and fears of all the years are met in you tonight" and "how silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given." (O Little Town of Bethlehem)  This portion of the Gospel of John, also provides me reason to contemplate, "A light that thrives in the depths of darkness, blazes through murky bottoms. It cannot and will not be quenched." (1.5 VOICE Translation)

From a majestic Norway Spruce decades ago to a mannequin with a homemade sign, decorations are the reason for the season!  They express more than we can ever say.