Living life as a spiritual exercise; day 18 of Ramadan

Every man dies. Not every man really lives.” – William Wallace (Braveheart)
How terribly sad it was that people are made in such a way that they get used to something as extraordinary as living.” – Jostein Gaarder

Yesterday was my 31st birthday, the start of my 31st year of life, and so I decided that I would go to Lake Geneva Wisconsin. Lake Geneva Wisconsin is a place I have been going to nearly my entire life, and even on my mother’s side of the family they’ve been going there for a long time.From where I live to where Lake Geneva is is about 70 miles. So I loaded up some stuff (no food mind you!) and I headed there for a day of swimming, relaxing, having fun, and being at Lake Geneva…


I knew I wouldn’t be the only there; gorgeous weather paired with Independence Day falling on the weekend, yeah it was quite crowded. But still I was able to find a spot for my stuff, and once I we as settled I jumped into the water.
Now the thing about bodies of water and I is this- I will not tiptoe, go slow, gradually get in…but I will run full force head on into the water. And so, I did! It was cold but not unbearably so, and once my body grew acclimated to it I had a fun just floating and swimming around, being tossed about by the little waves.

As I floated in the serenity of it all I found myself offering up thank-you’s to God; thank you for another year of life, thank you for the capacity to work and do what I love, thank you for the opportunity to go swimming, thank you for the ability to swim, thank you for warm summer days, thank you for little glimpses of heaven found in nature, thank you…and so on, and had I not been swimming I could’ve been sleeping as the ebb and flow was calming to me, calming all the way to the center of my being.

After several hours of swimming, I dried off and made my way to town. Not a shopper, but as a reprieve to my feet for the time spent swimming as well as the time spent driving back to my apartment. Another facet to why I like Lake Geneva Wisconsin so much is there’s a good deal of design architectually-speaking as well as manicured gardens. My apartment isn’t anything fancy, so to see good examples of architecture and gardens whets my appetite for when I am to have some resemblance of the “American Dream”.



It, as my coworker is quick to prompt students and staff, was a great day to be alive! I recognize within my being that sometimes I let the world go by me as if I was stuck on autopilot, stuck in cruise control, and if I am not mindful of time passing I will be passed up by time.
I don’t want to live that kind of life, and so I need to fight against the current that tries to drag me back to a place of complacency, a place that says ‘why fight it? Just do nothing and you’ll won’t have so many hardships.’ But it’s not true, to me doing nothing means not living, not living means merely existing, merely existing means I will never enjoy life to the fullest because the time I am allotted to has become a countdown timer until I have shuffled off my mortal coil. I want to live life, not merely exist!

So with all that being said, living life were my keywords on the 18th day of Ramadan. Thanks be to God who the giver and sustainer of all life. May we be mindful of the time given to us because none of us really know how long we’re going to be alive. And may we be alive than simply exist, may we give in to rejoicing than rambling, may we share the life we’ve been given with others.

Salaam alaikum be yours now and always,
Nathanael

When age/grace sets in

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Earlier this month I went on vacation to a particular part of Wisconsin that my family and I have been going up to off and on for a long time. This part of Wisconsin was where I spent many summers with my family, a place known to us as “the farm”. The farm is where we got away from our Illinois lives for a while, to have fun, go swimming in Lake Michigan, and enjoy time apart from our very busy lives.
The farm is where R* and P* and their daughter and granddaughter also lived. We occupied the upstairs area while they lived in the lower area, and my memories of them aren’t many apart from R* seeming very grouchy at times, smoking heavily and drinking a bit. I also recall Baron their 3-legged dog, and he was scary and fast…for a 3-legged dog. There were times when they had animals on the farm and it was amusing and smelly, but it was for 2 weeks so most of it was bearable.

Having gone back to this part of Wisconsin my mother informed me that P* had passed away a few years ago and R* was living on another farm not too far away from where we were camping. I don’t know how it got coordinated, but we were able to spend time with R* one day.
I am very glad we did, because R* welcomed us to his place with open arms, and if I had not been the driver for my mother and myself I would have had the beer he offered me. R* offered us Diet Mountain Dew, which upon him talking about his wife who had passed away, I realized that he was probably serving us the soda she herself liked to drink. As he shared of what his wife had gone through leading up to her passing, the man before me appeared to be full of grace. Maybe it’s the years that have passed, maybe my perception of him was wrong all along, but even my mother grasped that age had made him into a softer and graceful man.
R* told us about how one of his regrets was that he didn’t vocalize I love you’s to P* more than he did. They loved each other dearly, but he didn’t always communicate it by words or by hugs or by kisses, and that is something he wished he did. He said all this sadly, but his gracious demeanor never waned. He shared with us with great pride what his kids and grandkids were doing, he talked as a man who embodied love- both in the giving as well as the receiving. When our time with him was coming to an end he told my mother and I where P* was buried and invited us to go visit her. That was endearing to me as well as to my mother. And as we were driving away he told us to text him and come visit him next year and the year after that, and God willing we do the latter.

***

Grace is…well, what can I say about grace? Personally, grace has set me free, it has enabled me to love and care more for others. It has unlocked the part of me that always was but unfortunately was tucked away because legalism bound my mind as well as my heart for a while. This binding was self-imposed as well the Christian culture I was a part of; both paired together led me to live out of fear and the law rather than love. Without giving too much away, grace given and received and extended out of love and even more grace reminds me of Jean Valjean from Les Misérables, whereas grace dismissed and not extended reminds me of Javert from the same play. I have been Jean Valjean my entire life, and yet the extending love and more grace has been but a fraction of my mortal coil…but still I press on with love and grace as my banner, I intend to wave it and extend it for the remainder of my life so help me God.
R* stirred the part of me that wants to be present to life, all of it, both good and bad, but to also be present to grace and to love. I realize so much of the the time…actually, all of the time, my demonstration for how much I love God is demonstrated in whom I love the least. When I am not loving, when I am not graceful, my love for God is not present or at the very least I mar the face of Christ with my actions.

I can’t wait to see R* again, to share life with him but to also extend the grace and love he extended to me. And that is what love does time and time again, that is what grace does time and time again; it gives more and more of itself with no shortage ever.

All is grace,
Nathanael

The woes of ice floes – 3/28

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A handful of years ago I was in Wisconsin with my immediate family, and some friends and their families as well. Now the place where we went to was and still is a place where I have spent summers camping in the great outdoors, but on this occasion we rented a cabin and enjoyed it provided that the fire kept going because we went there in the winter.

The awesome fact of winter on landscapes that I know well during the summer, is they’re completely different in the winter! While obvious statement is obvious, it is actually something neat (and as someone who is not a fan of winter by any means, I am even surprising myself). One thing that is gorgeous and dangerous (same suffix, interesting) is Lake Michigan. When it doesn’t freeze, the ice creates ices floes, chunks of ice tossed upon the shore, it piles up, and you can walk on it…more or less.

I say less, because on this trip to the Northern woods with friends, my friends and I and the father of one of my friends were on the ice floes, and it so happened I got a bit too close to where ice meets Lake Michigan and the next thing I knew I fell in Lake Michigan, I was actually taken out to sea as it were!

Now I don’t know if I were just cold or confuzzled, but I didn’t vocalize I fell in, but my friend’s father (my former Scout Master no less – you think he’d be use to my stupid/foolhardy antics by now) swooped/scooped me out of there, and I was good! Well, kinda, I was freezing cold, so I ran/dragged myself back to the cabin, and boy! The warmth of the fire within the cabin was the best cold-to-warm feeling I’ve ever had. I changed my clothes, thoroughly dried off, rehashed my stories to those around me who weren’t there for the “fun” of it the first time around, drank cocoa, thanked my former Scout Master, and didn’t venture to the ice floes the rest of the trip.

***

Now a year after this happened, we went back to the same place, same cabin, same season, same group of people… It was a milder winter but no ice floes, but it was decided prior to returning that we’d have a polar bear swim. So my friends, my father, and I returned to the spot where I fell in and went for it! It was cold and exhilarating and our hearts lub-dubbed faster and we ran out of breath. But the moral of my story is this;

If you’re going to go into Lake Michigan in the winter time, make it on your own terms, not nature’s.

~Nathanael~

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