The Long View

Perspective is everything, right? I’m not talking about rose-tinted glasses in hard times. I’m not talking about bubbly-cheerleader-go-team self-talks to get you through the day. I’m just talking about keeping a grip on life when the world knocks you down. The kind of grip that allows a person to get out of bed and go to work every stinking day no matter the challenge.

Some days it’s not easy. Some days it’s necessary.

I meet most Tuesday evenings with a group of guys who give me perspective. Or, who attempt to keep my perspective in balance. One guy flew helicopters in Vietnam. One holds a PhD in Astro Physics. One is a preacher with a solid head on his shoulders. One is a fearless Army tank commander, CSM retired. Then there’s me, the tree guy.

Talk about perspective! There’s plenty of that to go around the table with this bunch. Throw in lots of very black, thick coffee. A Bible or two. And more experience that you can shake a stick at. And what you get is a reality check.

The pandemic year has given us more than enough reasons to be in a sour mood about life. But, one thing about this group. If you come to the table a little cranky and with your head down, no one lets you get away with that. You leave with something good on your mind in place of all the heaviness on your heart.

The conversations can be deeply engaging. Like this past Tuesday. We talked for a while about how to dispose of dead hogs. Seems that one of the guys lives on a dirt road where the scoundrels of the county feel like that road is their personal dumping ground. Things like washing machines, mattresses and used tires show up along the side of the road all the time. Only this time the prize dump was six dead wild hogs. Two-hundred-pound hogs, drug off the back of a pickup truck and left as a gift.

Our friend was looking for perspective on what to do about that.

In an unrelated twist, we ended up talking about Joseph, the Jewish kid who was despised enough by his own brothers that they sold him off to slave traders. The kid who spent part of his life in a foreign prison for a crime he didn’t commit. The kid who rose up out of the dust with a sliver of hope only to find himself back in prison wrongfully accused. The story points to this observation: “What you meant for evil, God meant for good.”

There it is. The perspective that trumps all perspectives. The ability to understand that the Creator of all things great and small has a hand in our lives through all things good and bad.

CSM retired guy closed out the conversation by reading a piece from a retired preacher from Kentucky. The old tank commander got a little choked up reading it to us. Truth can have a powerful affect. And if you’ll forgive me for copying the idea, I’ll share with you some of my own perspective.

No matter what challenge or hardship life brings, I will always be grateful that I had godly parents who raised me. I saw my Dad sit in his recliner week after week after week preparing for what must have been 40 years of Sunday School lessons that he taught. My Mama sat on the side of my bed and talked with me about life choices the summer after I graduated from high school. Nothing I ever did made me worthy of the life they gave me.

I am grateful for a small country church. It was there that I learned about community and the value of having folks around you that care about you and your family.

I am grateful that by the time I came along, baseball in Hampton got divided up into four Little League teams. If there had been only one, I probably wouldn’t have been good enough to make the team. I might never have played the game I loved.

I am grateful for my one and only sister. We were far enough apart in age that sometimes it seems like we lived separate lives, but in these last few years we have wept and grieved and worked together seamlessly. Closing out a chapter of our lives and relying on sibling bonds that run deep. Maybe, I could have done it without her, but I’m glad I didn’t have to. I love her for that.

I’m grateful that I have witnessed death up close. The first time was a friend of mine who died of Leukemia when we were in grade school. I’ve been with friends who lost their parents in a car crash. I sat on the floor next my Dad after we found him. It was a quiet goodbye. I watched my Mama waste away to a shell of the woman she once was. I witnessed a beautiful friend die way too young of a brain tumor. Each death taught me things about grace and hope that otherwise I would never have learned.

I’m grateful that I broke down on the side of the road in Tennessee one night. No cell phones. No call for help. Just a flashlight, duct tape, some wire, a McDonalds cup, and a creek at the bottom of the hill. I learned to improvise and move on.

I am grateful for doctors who figure stuff out. I’m pretty sure they kept me from dying at least twice.

I am grateful for walks after dark with Max. The full moon and the cool air washes away the stress of a day that feels like the wheels are coming off the bus at 80 mph.

I’m grateful for a little college campus in East Point, GA where a young girl turned an ankle on the basketball court and allowed me to open doors and carry books for her. She has been the love of my life for nearly 45 years now.

I am grateful for the experience of raising three kids. Parenting has brought me to my knees, taken me to court rooms and hospital rooms and midnight bathrooms, but it has also taught me to love and forgive in ways that would otherwise not be humanly possible. They think I am strong, but without them I would be weak. They have changed my life.

One more. I am grateful for indoor plumbing. I’ve been places where there was none.

If you haven’t caught on by now, the one perspective that puts all of life into perspective is to be grateful for every little moment. The people and experiences that come to us through all the messes and joys that life throws at us. Each one of them meant to sharpen our perspective. Each one of them a reminder that Someone else is in charge of life and death, laughter and sorrow, despair and hope.

It is so tempting to judge my life by the moments that are the most difficult. Buried in work. Standing at a graveside. Losing sleep over things I cannot control. But in my better moments, I realize that life is more than any single moment. Any one year. It is the accumulation of a thousand mercies. In the long view, there is always good that outweighs the bad. Purpose that overtakes the struggle.

I need to remember that from time to time.

And to be grateful that I don’t have dead hogs piled up on my road.

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