Archive | December, 2010

Reflections on 2010

31 Dec

I admit it!  I am a sap for memorabilia.  I am a deeply emotional man and I can bring on tears to celebrate the joys of family and friends and mourn the heartaches of others, including strangers.  Generally, when a precious moment is captured on video tape, I watch it again and again.  If a special gift commemorates an event, I treasure it, place it in view and touch it periodically.  I have received some extra-special things in the past that are still unopened and are on display next to my desk.  Old photos, writings, kids’ school work, athletic accomplishments, wedding gifts, watches, mugs, etc., etc., you name it, I have it tucked away somewhere.  I believe in capturing moments for posterity–moments that will evoke the deepest of senses, whenever possible.  We cannot go back and relive any one moment of our lives, but we can allow them to live in us at any moment in the present.  With that in mind, I’d like to share some thoughts on a few special moments of my life from 2010, and what I learned about myself.

The Loss of My Dad

June 6, 2010 was the day mom called and told me “It’s over.”  Dad has passed away in his sleep, as he lay in the bed next to the kitchen.  He breathed his last on earth with mom and their best friend close by.  Having spent weeks back in North Carolina helping as best I could, I knew exactly the proximity of the bed in my mind.  It was as if I could actually hear him exhale for the last time.  As I reflect back on that day, and the days subsequent to his passing, I have come to realize a few things about myself and others. 

The first thing I learned is that women and men grieve quite differently and that accusations are thrown around wildly about things and people, all set in motion out of a combined set of emotions of pain, guilt and panic.  The next thing I learned is that life is too short to hold grudges, or allow others’ perceptions of us to hold us back from getting beyond a loved one’s demise.  The third thing I learned is just exactly who I am on this earth, and my value to friends and other family members.  It turns out that, although I was a mistake in this life, that my own personal life and family are no mistakes and that God has had a plan for me all along, for now and for tomorrow.

Sixth Climb of Mount Whitney

Just two days after my father’s memorial service, I was slated to climb/hike Mt. Whitney, here in California.  It was to be my sixth ascent and I was to sprinkle some of dad’s ashes at the summit.  The trip was successful and my mission was accomplished.  What I learned about myself and others that day was just exactly what friendship love is, and how such love is expressed among men.  Men show love differently than do women.  The support and dedication of friends is most amazing, and vastly different from love of family.  I learned that allowing myself to be vulnerable with trusted men is a very safe and uplifting soul-building experience.  Let’s just say, my soul grew by leaps on July 12, 2010, and it is still growing thanks to friends both near and far.

Saying Goodbye to Some

The uprooting of family closeness and old friendships are terribly difficult things to do.  The experiences are like deaths of loved ones.  Emotional connections are so very solid and deep for me.  I learned that where there exists toxicity and turmoil, envy, jealousy, and strife, it is best to leave those things behind.  Sometimes, in leaving those things behind, we need to walk away from those whose lives emanate these negative traits.  I learned a deeper form of strength this past year.  I was finally able to sever myself from a couple of negative people and learned that others were blessed by my severance, as well.  I found life’s best friends in the process, and rediscovered my spiritual foundation, once again.  I also learned that we can never change another person, as much as we would like to do so.  Their negative spirit and hurtful ways are their own.  We must tend to ourselves first and leave the others to God.  Saying goodbye always hurts–but each was a good healing hurt.

My Friends

I was privileged during the first week of August 2010 to spend time in New Jersey, my home state.  My wife and I were able to see family, attend a series of parties, visit with friends, see the matriarch of our family, have dinners with special people, and attend a reunion.  The small gathering of high school buddies was so impacting for me that I long to spend more time with each and every person all over again.  One of the worst parts about living 3,000 miles away is the get-togethers that I will miss.  Distance is sometimes no fun.  But those friends–MY FRIENDS–have touched me deeply, and still do to this day, online and in other ways.

What I learned about myself is that the images we have of ourselves, projecting backwards, are not necessarily accurate.  As adults, some of us haven’t changed all that much (mirrors notwithstanding).  Others of us are so radically different that the “myths” of the past are all but demolished.  I also learned that there are people who actually care about things I care about, love as I do, and whatever dysfunctions we had as high schoolers mean very little all these years later.

My Family

If it is possible to fall in love several times with the same person, or whether it is a growth of love–I’ll take it!  Such love is a reality for me.  So many experiences came together this past year that have humbled me, emboldened me, weakened me, strengthened me and sculpted love in ways I never would have imagined.  I cannot fathom the depth by which others love me.  I do know how much I love them:  My wife, my two adult children, and their significant others have tapped a love source I never knew I possessed.  God is so good.  I can’t imagine my life without my family.  Love just gets deeper and more wondrous every day.

My Work

Fewer and fewer are able to say that we have had the same work for over 32 years.  I was meant to teach and mentor generations.  Whether in a public or private school, or one of the many colleges at which I have taught, I am simply, and merely a teacher-at-heart.  I won’t take you back to the time when I first discovered that.  It is sufficient to assume there was a moment and that an entire series of those moments has led me to this very day. 

As I think back on my work, I have found that this last year was both most rewarding and most challenging.  Students and family dynamics are very different today than they were some ten years ago–even five years ago.  Some of the challenges faced were more with working with families on issues that affect students, even before they enter the classroom daily.  Thwarted suicide attempts, abortions, runaways, addictions, finding ways for families to pursue citizenship, and allowing my classroom to become a safe-haven for gay and lesbian students who are bullied, comprise parts of the challenges faced this past year.  These are not even the teaching part!  However, there are many blessings that came my way through work–way too many to bring to account.  Watching students grow into lifelong learners, helping them get into college, seeing my letters assist them in earning scholarships, all this and more continue to enthuse my spirit.  Let us just say that I truly have the best colleagues in the entire district.  They have–and still do–make me a better person and a better teacher, each and every day.

My Faith

My faith has grown signficantly this year as I have recaptured some of the fervor that previous life experiences had tapped.  Sometimes we need to allow the things and people of life to pass from us, in order to recapture vibrancy.  I enjoy growing more each day and my teaching ministry, writing witness, and interaction with people of faith.  As I said, I am a teacher and I have been teaching the Bible, Apologetics, Biblical History, Christian Ethics and Contemporary Issues for nearly 30 years.  Some things just get better in time, when God is allowed to clean house and we allow His will to guide us.

Going Forward

As we ring in 2011, there are some things I look to accomplish.  I have goals and I will pursue these goals as I have in the past.  I won’t go into these right now.  I don’t make resolutions.  I find that those who resolve to do things hardly ever find the will-power to overcome laziness and life’s lethargies to find the persistence required to maintain their resolve.  So, I set goals and work for months, sometimes, to achieve them. 

I will say that I have a goal to grow more this year.  I aim to grow in my faith, in my relationships with my wife and my adult children, and to serve the community as best I can in work and ministry.  Everything else will spin off of these in the forms of open doors. 

So, as we sit on the edge of a new year, I would challenge the reader to think back on 2010.  Think back to move forward.  Live beyond our reputations into new ones.  We never know who will be here at this time next year, and who will be summarized by the old “–” between dates. 

For now, at least . . . Ernest Joseph Zarra, III, born December 14, 1955 — ????

What’s in YOUR “mdash”?

A Few Reminders

30 Dec

Cutting Through the Brush

Amidst the confusion and instability that are just as real to us as they are perceptible to others, there exists an underlying set of truths.  These truths are unchanging and universal and not subject to interpretation.  They cannot be reasoned out of existence.  They can not be reduced to subjective beliefs or mere conjecture.  These truths are matters of life and death.  Let us consider three questions as we cut through the brush and the overgrowth to reveal a few truths.

  • Ever try reducing death to something which is only subject to individual interpretation?   
  • Ever try reasoning that emotions are unreasonable?   
  • Ever try believing that life is something different than it really is?

I know we all would like to “think” of ourselves as sophisticates, beyond the pale of ignorance, in this age of information.  However, at the risk of sounding less than sophisticated, I happen to think we are more like WalMart than Nordstroms, or Macy’s.  We are surrounded by so much “crappus worthless” that we sometimes cannot see the “true” and qualitative aspects of life itself.  More data does not make us “better.”  More inch-deep reservoirs that cover more miles, do not equate to depth.  Along these lines, here are three practical economic life-points I would like the reader to consider: 

  1. More stuff in life is not necessarily better; More stuff of life is better
  2. Higher-priced stuff is not necessarily better stuff; It is about “cost” and depends where the stuff is made, what goes into the stuff, and by whom it is made
  3. Priceless stuff might very well be worthless in the grander scheme; Finding where these two align is key.

More stuff in life is not necessarily better; More stuff of life is better.

I still chuckle over the bumper-sticker philosophies of many of us.  “He who dies with the most toys wins!”  Remember that one?  Well, ask yourself one question:  “What does he win?”  It’s like the old adage, “Christians all want to go to heaven but no one wants to die to get there.”  Who determines what a “win” is, anyway?

We all spend our lives accumulating so much junk that we tend to lose sight of truth.  If you are like me, your soul is cluttered with so much stuff that it begins to consume my thoughts and crowds out the real value that exists below it all. 

The real “stuff” of life is not in the accumulation.  For we can gain the whole world and lose our very souls, in so doing–which happens to answer the question of the bumper sticker mentioned above. 

The stuff of life is different from the stuff in life.  It is a simple truth, but often lost on the “pursuit of happiness.”  The stuff of life is in what is given away–not in what is retained.  The stuff of life is not numeric.  It is exponential. 

In the process of “giving away,” or “cleaning house,” we find ourselves.  It does make sense.  Removing the clutter of things in our lives reveals the foundation of our personhood.  Our moms were right.  “There is a floor in this room somewhere.”  As humans, our brains seek order, and order provides clarity.  This is the way God made us.  It is a truth that is inescapable, even though covered.  We can deny its existence.  But at the end of the day, junk has to have a place upon which to rest-seen or not!

Higher-priced stuff is not necessarily better stuff.

We’ve all heard the argument “You always get what you pay for.”  It is the old quality versus quantity debate.  So where does this notion of “I paid more for something, therefore it is of greater value” argument come from?  Does it make a difference at all that someone drives a Volkswagen, a Honda, or a Porsche?  If a person was to die in their car, is THAT the value affixed to their life?  It is truly about quality of cost, not quantity of price, or amount of goods gained.  The truth is that if something cost a person all he or she is worth, that is of greater value than all the early possessions accumulated.  What cost was born for our lives?  We will be asked to consider this question one day.   

Priceless stuff might very well be worthless in the grander scheme.

Who among us would die for a poor person, given the choice?  Consider a rich person versus a poor, homeless person.  Who among us would risk life and limb for the homeless person, over the wealthy person?  Would you weigh their lives differently? 

The truth is that the lives of the two are not based on what has been accumulated, the way they are dressed, or even in their name.  Their value is not in a dollar amount.  This is why “religion” is so off-base.  Religion is man-made and often places people in categories of worth.  If we do this we gain that.  If we obey we get something.  That is worthless stuff, in my mind.  Religion can become a “possession” for others to see, just as much as a car, or a house is used in much the same way.

Conversely, this is why a relationship with Jesus Christ is so right on.  He counted the cost and died for all.  It’s not in the money.  It’s not in the value-added by human effort.  Translation?  The truth is that life is more valuable than what it accumulates.  Physicians understand this well.

Count the cost and we will find the place where pricelessness and value intersect.  Become distracted by things that are corrupted by the decay of this world, and we will be deceived into thinking monetary value is actually soul-value.  What can be more untrue than that?  Cultural statements of fact are not universal declarations of truth.  He who dies with the most toys still dies–homeless on the street, or a king-sized mansion!  Dead is dead. 

Just last week I trimmed truck loads of trees and bushes from my yard–both front and back.  I am almost done.  I stood amazed at how things grew these past couple of years just by themselves.  They didn’t take any real effort on my part.  The real effort was in cleaning and trimming and removing.  This is the way it is in our lives.  The truth is that “things” will grow in us, whether we tend to them or not.  The effort to clean them out is much more than a hack-job.  Having a relationship with a Master Gardener is what is needed. 

As we move into 2011, I just wanted to remind myself and others that truth does not change with the passage of time.  The truth about time is that each moment is unique and cannot change itself. 

Happy New Year Everyone!

Enshrouded

28 Dec

As the darkness begins to yield to the powerful orb above, there is a noticeable shroud that engulfs us all.  An interesting thing about this shroud is that we observe it as it rests upon someone else, and from a distance.  For those upon which it rests, the shroud is quite imperceptible and deceptive. 

Here I sit, sipping some Wolgang Puck’s hotel coffee from a designer mug.  Gazing out my twenty-first floor window is quite breath-taking.  It is breath-taking for a few reasons.  First, the enormity of the rest of the buildings around me is quite impressive.  Second, some buildings’ tops are not visible, and seem to disappear into the sky, lights fading as they stretch upward.  Last, those walking around below are shrouded in a deep, thick fog.  I know there are people there, even as I cannot see them.  The noises of trucks and horns, are indications of life below.  I cannot help thinking about the metaphor of it all, if you will.

We humans have the knack of maintaining status quo, or even moving forward in life through some very thick and soupy circumstances.  Certainly, we are quite resilient, at times.  But there are those whose lives are in reverse, or are stuck with no seeming way out.  People live on the streets and wander around seeking merely their next meal.  These are the obvious ones enshrouded by life’s fog–in fact most of these folks are blinded as well. 

There are far more people who scurry around in the fog of life, yet live and act as if this shroud rests on others only.  These are different in many ways and so much like the rest of us.

I am just about to walk out into the fog, while my bride sleeps off our busy “yesterday,” which began at the gym and ended with dinner later in the evening.  We didn’t even stop for lunch.  So, I’ll venture out into the fog and see if I can make a difference in one person’s “moment of life” for today. 

We can vacation from our routines in the places we call home.  But we can never vacation from life, as long as we are granted days in which to live. 

Here’s to our own fog-cutting experiences and challenges.  Let us remember another Son that resides above the fog, in so doing.

Have a great day everyone!

“It Ain’t Over ’til It’s Over”

25 Dec

I am not sure of the first usage of this colloquialism, but I will credit the Yogue-, Yogi Berra–the former New York Yankee of the 1950s. 

As the rain pours from the sky this evening and, with our guests and family all home safely with their opened gifts, I have time to reflect upon yet another Christmas.  I’ve lived a good number of them.  But this one was different from the rest. 

This was the first Christmas without my dad.  I won’t go into all of that again.  just making a statement about the first-ness of it all.  As life would have it, one of our long-time family friends had lost her dad, just last month.  Last evening at church we spent some time just talking afterwards and offering some lingering hugs to go along with the tears we shed at service. 

My family had no idea what was going on inside, or that my tears were of memorial remembrance of a man who gave me so many Christmas memories.  Hearing that I was more like my dad, in year’s past, drew humorous moans from lips.   Now, I thank God for that.  I thank God also for my friend’s dad, whom I had occasion to get to know a bit. 

I came to the realization that the lives of these men may be over on this earth, but this is not so in heaven.  Just to take it one step farther, as long as I am alive, my dad’s legacy lives on in me.  The same is true about my friend and her dad.  It ain’t over ’til it’s over!

The Christmas day celebration is finished and the leftover food is all put away.  The extra pounds will begin to show up in about a week.  We all love that, don’t we?  Tomorrow the sun will rise as it always does, indicating that life goes on.  Our time is not yet finished on this orb.  God’s not done with us, as we say. 

Isn’t that the real message of Christmas?  Once the toys are played with by children and have become less than exciting, and the leftovers lose a bit of their luster as soothing elements to assuage the hunger pangs, life begins to sort itself.  Routines return and sometimes post-holiday depression sets in.   

It is at those moments that I remind myself of something, and I have to do it every year.  I remind myself that the life of the One who came as a baby, and died as a man, lives on in us by His Promise as God.  Near the close of His pre-resurrection earthly life, Jesus told His disciples:  “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.”  (John 16:7)  You see?  It’s not over ’til it’s over!  The Holy Spirit is within us!  How encouraging to know we do not have to mourn once the baby celebration is finished. There is so much more to the story.

Se. we can take down the tree.  We can put away the ornaments.  Feel free to throw out the old leftovers, especially the ones with the funny, fuzzy colors on them.  Send the loved-ones home.  Shed the tears for the joys and the losses.  But take heart, dear friends.  Cherish each moment like it is the last.  For one day, this early life will come to a close. Yet, for those of us of faith in our Lord, we shall come to grips with eternity. 

At the risk of stepping on Yankee sacrilege, I’d like to add to Yogi’s wisdom, if I may.  “It’s not over ’til its’ over, even when it is.”  That pretty much sums it up for me.  Does it do so for you?

May we continue to recognize that our joy begins with a baby who broke into Creation and that we live on by becoming more like Him, until we see Him face-to-face in eternity. 

Thanks for reading. 

P.S.  There is no fat lady who will sing.  Thanks.

Life’s Disappointments

20 Dec

The few readers who take the time to read my blog might think I have gone a bit off my rocker this evening.  I do appreciate all of you.  You must be asking yourself:  What in the world is he doing by writing about the disappointments of life during Christmas preparations?  Honestly, at this time of the year, the contrast between uplifting moments and dashed hopes is more stark than ever.  This was brought home to me again today. 

I could address the “stuff” of life, and how some people have jobs, while others don’t.  I might have chosen to write about the wealthy versus many of us who are just getting by.  True, I could have easily decided to make it a point that many of us have lost loved ones this year.  All of these things are very important and greatly hurtful and disappointing in their own right.  Furthermore, these things can have devastating consequences for those who have been selected on any given day of this life to experience them.

For all the disappointments brought to us in this life, there is none greater than the disappointment of being let down by someone whom we love and trust so dearly.  Such disappointments have a way of settling into one’s spirit and gnawing at the very fabric of our vitality.  When people let us down, it is like a literal punch in the gut.  That’s the way it feels to me.

When it comes to children and young people, we sort of expect to be let down.  They are, after all, learning to get things right.  So, forgiveness is granted without much hesitation.  The elderly, due to failing memories and health issues are also forgiven and understood.  Brothers and sisters who grow up and move away can sometimes let us down.  After all, raising their own family, connecting with jobs and in-laws, we all know how those things can be.  We understand their predicaments and love them anyway and, more often than not, they love us in return.

We can also be let down by others.  How about our co-workers and colleagues?  If they are not our friends, we shouldn’t hold much against them, in terms of promises and work-related plans.  Now what about our friends–the very folks we say we are closest to?  Things come up and plans for coffee, or shopping are broken.  Promises are made and promises are broken, all in the name of friendship. 

When it comes right down to it, circumstances can let us down.  Family and colleagues can let us down.  Friends can let us down.  All of these let downs lead to life’s disappointments, and each of them hurts.  However, I contend these are all forgivable.

Here is the twist on all of this.  We desperately need to see life’s disappointments through the eyes of a child.  That’s right, the eyes of a child.  Consider these things:

  • We need to be sitting on the sofa and experience what it is life while waiting for a favorite uncle who never shows. 
  • We need to see the child’s countenance, as his father phones and has to cancel his weekend visitation with his son because he is taking his girlfriend away. 
  • We need to watch as a mother places her new lover first over her daughter. 
  • We need to feel the breaking heart of a child whose single mom cannot buy anything for Christmas. 
  • We need to see life’s disappointments through the eyes of children–the children desperate for love and acceptance and our time. 

Too often, today, children are learning to see life’s disappointments through the eyes of their parents.  Many of our choices, along with the set of circumstances that life deals us, just give to them way too much to shoulder. 

If you are near my age, think back for a bit.  Speaking for myself, when I was a young boy, I was aware we were quite without.  Apparently, so too were many of my friends.  I was a normal kid with aspirations and hopes for my future.  Through no fault of my own, I was let down by many adults along the way.  I thought it was me, or that I wasn’t worth the time.  I still have not gotten over some of those let downs.  I simply got beyond them. 

The truth was that some were not thinking much of my existence.  Others simply were thinking more of themselves.  Yet here I am.  And here you are, as well.  My plight was not an isolated circumstance.  So, I am not seeking any sympathy.  just telling it like it was, or at least as I remember it.  Disappointments have a way of clouding reality, sometimes.  But here’s the deal.  We ought to have learned from those experiences.  I question whether we as a nation have learned, or not.

For all intents and purposes, I think way too many adults have become the major disappointments of life for one or more children.  Children are unable to compartmentalize the issue from the person.  This is why things that happen to children are still recalled by them as adults.  disappointments are inseparable from emotions. 

Circumstances may be truly horrendous for some of us.  But what price is there on love?  How much does that cost?  Some children equate time with love, yet we are too busy being “us,” and missing the boat.  Cell phones, technology, and culture do not undo disappointments by those whom they love.

It is no fun receiving news that disappoints.  I can speak from experience.  I got some of that today and it stings.  Hopes can be dashed and optimism tempered.  I’ve had my share of disappointments and I am certain you’ve had yours.  I know I can be disappointing to others simply by acting human.  For that, I ask forgiveness.  I am still trying to get it right. 

Others might have different problems.  Some might even be struggling at this very moment with a teenager, or adult who has not learned to forgive.  Or maybe it is the other way around.  This Christmas why not make it a point to move things along toward “reappointment,” and away from disappointment.

I think back to the birth of Jesus and the various personal disappointments surrounding his conception and birth.  People must have been cruel and harsh in their judgments.  I can more than imagine the ridicule.  But that is not the end of the story.  Neither is it the end of the story for us.  I know that life is not a disappointment and my life and your life are not mistakes.  The life is child is not a mistake.  It is precious, which is why we must honor our word and do the right thing, even if it means placing ourselves in second place.  Our children are both our offspring and our legacy.  I only pray that when they are adults they echo these words:  “My parents gave their word and did their best to honor that word.”  May I go one step farther?  How about we take that to mean our vows, as well.

Merry Christmas everyone.  I remain optimistic, but I am a pragmatic, rational empiricist.  I should have been born in Missouri.

Soulmate

20 Dec

SOULMATE

Copyright 2010, Ernie Zarra

 

Love is not only in the eyes;

For, if I was blind

I could still envision her.

 

Love is not merely in the sounds she makes;

Perchance that I was deaf

I could well hear her melody and harmony.

 

Love is not bound by her outward touch;

For if I was devoid of sensation

I could still sense her gentleness and warmth.

 

The station of love surpasses “jus caro”;

With age and inability to perform

Still, oneness of person exists

 

Love is not only in the building passion;

Neither is she in the advancing years, although unkind

She is still vibrant.

 

Love is deep in the chest;

She resides between the ears

Securing trust and removing fears.

 

In heart and head;

Before the hands

Profound proclamation, her oneness understands

 

Unconditional actions, much more than innate;

Yield infinite attractions

Welcome, soulmate.

One Touch

16 Dec

One Touch

 Copyright, 2010 Ernie Zarra 

That smile, a fuse that sizzles hearts

Her endearing eyes of fire, which starts

With moistened lips and sensual parts

Our kiss, each born by heavenly arts. 

 

Zephyrs’ passions arise, of embers below

Titillations, love, and bodies aglow

Twixt souls, as deep as man can know

One touch, once-hidden-love, bestow. 

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