Posts Tagged 'questions'

Mary’s Box

Mary slowly drifted into awareness. She struggled against the bright lights as she worked her eyes opened. Sounds drifted into focus, from muffled noise to the calming sound of a loving voice. Something had been placed in her hand. The voice’s words grew clearer as she sat upright.

“Welcome to the world, Mary. I am your mother and this is my gift to you.” Mary looked down at the object in her hand. It was a box no bigger than her opened palm. It fit neatly in her hand. It was cold but slowly warming. The surface simmered with the light of many colors. It had a lid, and atop the lid there was a spout. From this spout was flowing a sparkling fluid that rolled off everything it touched and pooled on the blankets and on the ground around her.

Mary brought her other hand up to touch the fluid. It bounced and rebounded off her skin, but she didn’t feel a thing. She turned the box over in her hands. Other than the spout and the hinges of the lid, it was featureless. She started to open the box, but the woman quickly clasped Mary’s hands to the box and held it tightly closed.

“You mustn’t open the box early, child.” She smiled warmly at Mary. “It will open on its own one day. Hold it to your ear.”

Mary lifted the box to her ear and listened carefully. Inside she heard a faint ticking.

“Do you hear it ticking? It’s a clock, dear. It is counting down until the day when it will open. You must take care not to rattle it too hard, or the clock will tick faster. Put the spout to your lips and drink.”

Unsure, Mary eyed the strange liquid and brought it closer to her face, but she hesitated to drink.

“Go on,” the woman urged gently.

Mary let it touch her lips and stuck her tongue into the flow. It tasted sweet. She gleefully drank some down and chuckled happily.

Laughing, the woman went on. “That is your fountain of life. It’s always sweet at first, and the more you drink the more you will learn and grow. Some day you will take a drink and notice that it has turned bitter. Do not worry, the bitterness will pass but you must drink that too. The sweetness will bring you joy, and the bitterness will bring you strength. You need both to live.”

“What’s inside, mother? How long until it opens?”

“Nobody knows, sweetheart. Everybody has one, and everybody wonders what it holds inside and how long until it will open. A few have opened their boxes to take a peek, but when they do they are sucked inside and their fountain ceases to flow. And since that is also what happens when the box opens on its own, we believe it is better to enjoy the fountain and the strength and joy it feeds us before we venture inside the box.”

Mary’s head was instantly flooded with a hundred more questions, and more and more the box scared her. Mary’s mother saw the fear building in her face and pulled her in close.

“There, there, my child. You need not fear what you do not know. My mother used to tell me that my box had a beautiful kingdom inside, and that the more I drank from my fountain the bigger the kingdom grew. And when I drank the bitterness of the fountain my kingdom grew more beautiful. She said that when I shared my fountain with someone it meant that I would get to see that person in my kingdom. She also warned that if I am not careful with my box then it could cause the kingdom inside to crumble to the ground.”

“Do you believe it, mother?”

“Well, my father told me that my box might have nothing inside, and that when it opens you get sucked inside because the box is a part of you and you are a part of it. But he also said that if you treat your box badly it would just make our time together shorter, so treating it like it has a tiny kingdom inside isn’t a bad idea.”

“Do I have a father?”

“Of course you do. He’s outside waiting for you. He’ll want to have a word with you before you go out and explore.”

Mother helped Mary out of bed and showed her to the door. Outside, Father gave her a big hug.

“Make sure you keep your box with you and take good care of it. And drink as much from the spout as you can, even when you don’t like the taste. Don’t let anyone else touch your box, but you can share from its fountain. And make sure your box stays closed.”

“OK, father.”

As she walked toward the door to the outside with her parents, she took another drink from her fountain. It was sweet, but perhaps a bit less so than before. At the door they all shared from each other’s fountain and said their goodbyes, and amidst tears, Mary stepped out into the world on her own.

 

Just as Mother had explained, everyone else had a box too. After her parents’ warnings, Mary took great care to keep her box’s lid shut tightly. She carried it lightly, imagining a tiny castle made of glass inside.

Mary enjoyed meeting others. She had many conversations with people, and enjoyed hearing what they thought was inside their box. Some, like her Mother’s father, believed there was nothing inside. Others pictured whole universes. Many felt that drinking and sharing from their fountain was an important part of forming the contents of the box.

 

Mary often pondered on the contents of her box. Sometimes thinking about it made her afraid, other times it just filled her with wonder.

It frightened her to learn just how fragile the boxes could be. She heard that it wasn’t uncommon for boxes to break open when dropped. No matter how the box opened, the moment it did its owner was pulled inside.

 

One day a boy approached her and offered her a sip from his fountain. “It’s extra sweet today,” he remarked. Although her parents had urged her to share of her fountain, she had rarely done so because it was not a common thing. Most people didn’t seem interested in sharing, especially with strangers. Mary was surprised by this boy’s offer, and didn’t know how to react. “Go on,” he urged.

Mary took a sip, and smiled. It was, indeed, very sweet. Her fountain had been particularly bitter lately and the sweetness was a refreshing change. “Thank you,” she said. “I’d offer to share mine with you, but it’s been especially bitter lately.”

“It’s no bother,” said the boy, “I’d love to take a sip so we can share the bitterness together.”

“Really?”

“Sure. When your fountain is really bitter, sometimes it helps to share with others.” She extended her box and he took a sip. His face contorted and he shook his head.

“Wow. That really is bitter!” He smiled. “My name’s Tom.”

“Mary. Nice to meet you.” She took a sip from her fountain, and just as he had said, it didn’t taste quite as bitter. “Hey, you’re right. It’s not as bad.”

 

Tom and Mary became good friends. They spent a lot of time together, and often shared their fountains. Mary noticed that when her fountain was sweet and she shared, it got sweeter. And when it was bitter and she shared, it got sweeter then too.

Mary and Tom grew together. They learned many things. One day they learned that parents build new boxes together and pour from their fountains into the new box and shut the lid. After a while, a child comes from inside the new box. Tom suggested that someday they might want to build a box together and become parents. The idea excited Mary, but she wasn’t sure if she would want to or not.

 

One day they were walking together and they encountered a man standing alone staring down at his box. As they approached, the man flipped his lid open and was whisked inside. The box fell to the ground and broke into many pieces.

Mary gasped and ran to where the man had been standing. Tom ran to catch up with her. She was very upset. Fighting back tears she asked, “Why did he do that?”

Tom put his arm around her and held her close. “I don’t know,” he said. After a while he added, “My mother told me that sometimes a person’s fountain will be bitter for a long time. When that happens and they don’t have anyone to share it with, some people decide that whatever is inside the box has to be better than the stuff coming out of it.”

 

The image of that man getting sucked into his box stuck with Mary for a long time. Once again, she found herself fearing her box. Then, one day she and Tom were together when two men grabbed Tom by the arms and a third took his box. Mary was too afraid to run, and watched in horror as the man opened Tom’s box. “Empty,” he said, and smashed the box to the ground. Turning to Mary, he said, “And what of your box, lady? Any treasure inside for us?” The men tried to grab her, but she fled.

Mary ran and ran without looking back. She had always been so careful not to rattle her box, but while she ran she didn’t care if it ticked a little faster. She ran all the way back to where she had started, back home.

Sobbing, she pounded on the door until her Father opened. She fell into his arms and held him tightly. Mother ran to their side asking what was wrong, but Mary couldn’t speak. They all held each other for a while before Mary went back to the bed where she first awoke. Hoping that her fountain could provide some comfort, she took a sip. But it was more bitter than it had ever been before.

She stayed in her bed, crying to herself, for a long time. Her parents tried to help. They wanted to drink of her fountain with her to share in the bitterness, but Mary refused to share.

Days, weeks, and finally months went by. Mary kept hoping that the fountain would once again produce sweetness to brighten her life, but it was always bitter. She often thought of the man who opened his own box, and found herself wondering if it wasn’t true. Perhaps there would be a beautiful kingdom inside. Perhaps it would be better than staying outside of the box and drinking of its bitterness.

 

One morning she decided she was going to open her box to see what was inside. She had decided that it couldn’t be worse than continuing to drink from the horrible bitterness that was flowing from her fountain. She just couldn’t stand another day of drinking bitterness.

When Father came in to see her as he normally would, Mary told him that she was going to open her box.

“I’m glad you told me,” her father said as he sat down next to her. “But before you do, would you mind telling me why?”

And so Mary told him all about Tom, and the man she watched open his own box, and the men who opened Tom’s box. She told him about how her fountain had produced nothing but bitterness ever since, and that she was tired of drinking it. “I’m not sure what I’ll find inside my box, but I am sure it will be better than this.”

Her father listened carefully to everything she said, and when she was finished he put his arm around her shoulders and lowered his head, letting out a deep sigh. “I can’t stop you from opening your box if you want to,” he said. “These boxes are fragile, as you’ve noticed. They break easily, there is no lock to keep them shut, and somehow or another they all open in the end anyway. And when a fountain goes bitter for a long time it’s a tempting thing to open your box and move on. It is hard to drink from a fountain that is only bitter day after day. One thing I’ve learned,” he held his box next to Mary’s, with the spouts side by side, “is that the bitterness is more manageable when you share it.”

Keeping their boxes side by side, he lifted her hand up and drank from the two spouts together, then had her do the same.

The sweet liquid of his fountain mixed with her bitter fountain was much easier to drink.

“If you share your bitter fountain with those who love you, and mix their sweetness with the bitterness you have to drink, then over time your fountain will once again return to normal. It might take a very long time, but we’re here to share our fountains with you as long as you need us.”

Mary hugged her father, sobbing, but feeling a little better.

Five Lessons

English: Illustration from Lessons in Geography.

Image via Wikipedia

There are five lessons that I must pass on to my family. Primarily, it is my hope to mold my life until I can be a good example of these five principles for my wife and children. As I approach a personal mastery of each lesson I will be better equipped to help those who look up to me in their efforts.

Each lesson contains specific benefits to our spiritual, mental and physical health.

The Power of Words

Words have a powerful impact in every part of our personal lives and the lives of those around us. They can change attitudes, control actions and influence others. The benefits of verbal self-mastery are unquestionable.

Say what you mean and mean what you say. Speak only the truth. Ask the questions you want the answers to. Choose your words carefully before you open your mouth. Do not blurt things out. Negative speech of all kinds should be avoided. An entire lesson can be taught with a simple, well-planned and well-placed question.

By controlling our tongues we become masters of our minds, bodies and spirits. We can be a great support for those around us and we can be powerful teachers. Our speech should be uplifting, enlightening and wise.

The Importance of Honest, Hard Work

Working hard, doing work the right way and learning to do it with a good attitude are essential in life. Work is an eternal principle.

It has been shown that doing work the hard way is excellent exercise for our brains. Learning to be efficient is different from taking shortcuts. You should work as hard as required. Be honest about your work. Proper planning and care can ensure success with any task, regardless of how hard or big it may seem at first.

If you do not understand the goal your work could be in vain. Ensure that you communicate clearly and ask questions until you fully understand your task before you begin working.

Any change, large or small, that you make around you should make the world a better place. If it does not make the world a better place, fix your change so it never happened. If you can’t fix it, try to make it better and get help if you need it.

Putting Away Childish Things

It is important to enjoy each stage of life to the best of your ability. Childhood is a great time to have fun and focus on the few responsibilities you may have.

Maturity doesn’t happen by accident. As we pass from one stage of life into another we must seek out ways that we can grow. By reviewing past stages of life and identifying behaviors and possessions that are childish we can work to put those things behind us.

True friendships mature with us and get better with age. Other relationships can stunt our growth and work against our efforts to become more mature. Do not work to prolong a relationship with someone who is a hazard to your physical, spiritual or mental health.

The Benefits of Simplicity

Antoine de Saint-Exupery said, “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

We must learn to distinguish between needs and wants, and we must balance our lives. It is necessary to have some entertainment and comfort in life, but these things must be enjoyed in moderation. Too many physical belongings, regardless of their purpose, can distract from what is truly important.

Get your priorities straight and shed any physical possessions you may have that do not truly enhance your life. My father taught me to ask three questions before buying anything: “Do I need it? Do I need it now? Can I live without it?” Asking these questions prior to acquiring anything can help us avoid amassing clutter in our lives.

Cleanliness, order and simplicity give clarity, peace and focus that cannot be experienced amidst clutter and chaos. Our brains cannot generate order in a messy environment and the spirit of God cannot abide a disregard for cleanliness.

The Blessings of the Gospel

Never cease seeking out truth. Many differing ideas exist surrounding our existence and our brains are hardwired to seek meaning behind life.

It could all be for nothing in the end, but when the end of our life does come, which would be worse? Living trying to obey God only to die and cease to exist, or living as though there is no God only to die and come face to face with Him?

If for this reason alone, never stop trying to live the Gospel and seeking spiritual health. You will find that there are numerous benefits to living a life centered on the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Should you one day choose to follow another faith, I will still love you. However, I encourage you to trust in my faith for a while and see if you can gain a personal conviction of its truth as I have. My personal testimony of my spiritual beliefs is something I treasure above all else in life.

 

Edited on January 16th, 2012 to include a line about changes we make in the world. Also included some minor paragraph edits.

All About Me

Who am I? What am I doing? Where am I going?

Ah, the classic questions. It seems that everyone either has their own version of the answers or they openly acknowledge that they do not have the answers. If you put people into respective groups based on this assumption, there are those who know and those who do not.

I would generally consider myself to be in the group of those who know. I say this because if you ask me who you are, what you are doing and where you are going, I will have clear, true answers for you. As for me, the general truths I am familiar with (those I would share with you to answer those three questions) still apply so I am safe to say that I am one of those who knows.

But am I really? I know the answers to those questions, I understand them, I have personal convictions that run deeper than than a wishing well and testify to the truth of what I believe. I don’t have an issue with my beliefs. I have issues with me.

Here’s where it gets a little complicated. If you’re not willing to sit with me and explore some of the vastness that is my persona, my complex and my enigma, then I suggest you stop reading, leave a nice comment about what a silly person I am and go find something light to read (like The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank).

Where’s the problem?

Now that’s an interesting question. I would say that I am the problem, but in reality I know that either I created the problem or I was born with it, like one of those personal challenges we’re given to struggle with and try to overcome while on Earth (you know, like some people are blind, others only have one leg, and so forth).

Back to the question of where the problem is, I think it’s safely tucked away somewhere inside me. The most likely place inside me that you might find the problem is in my head. No, the problem is not in a sinus or a nostril, I’m pretty sure it’s in my brain, my mind, my head.

What is the problem?

Well, I stated it simply above saying that I have issues with myself. What are a few of those issues?

Would you like a bullet list, a numbered list or some stories to illustrate? First, I’ll just start listing a few off in paragraph form and see where that leads me.

I annoy people, and I especially annoy myself. I annoy myself the most when I am annoying someone else, and horribly so when I am annoying someone I care about. In fact, there is an inverse relationship between how much I care about a person and how normal I can be around that person. For example, people who I don’t really care about may never realize that I have issues. On the other hand, people I hold dear and close probably wonder occasionally if I might benefit from a little professional help.

The source of this problem eats at me. It eats at me because I haven’t been able to find it as of yet. Perhaps this frivolous inquiry and these superfluous thoughts on digital paper can help me in my quest to eradicate the issue. (How do you pronounce that word, by the way? SuPERfluous? Or SUperFLuous? I once preferred to pronounce suPERlative as SUperLAtive because I thought it sounded better. It does have the word “super” in it, so logic dictates that the prefix should not get swallowed up in the pronunciation of the whole word, but should retain its identity through clear pronunciation of each part as they were before being joined together. Whichever rule is followed, I think it would be nice if we could just follow the same rule for any word containing the prefix “super” and avoid any confusing pronunciations due to inconsistencies.)

(Oh, and I prefer to throw any idiotic irregularities in our language to the French. It’s a nasty language where words have twelve or more letters and only one or two syllables.)

Let’s take a look at my class environment, for example. At first I didn’t care about anyone there, and I was largely successful at remaining transparent and unnoticeable – not annoying. Now, though, I have made a friend in class (that’s right, only one) and I seem to be on her nerves about a third of the time (I was going to say half, but I don’t think I can take credit for all of that).

(Plus, she’s not actually annoyed at me half the time, most of that time I just think she is.)

What’s worse, is that other people in class seem to get annoyed at me too.

Please don’t think me to be a simpleton. Many people make that mistake. I am aware of far more possibilities for explaining these behaviors than I am willing to write out, and some of them you would probably never even consider. You know why? Because I do social things the same way computers play chess. Basically, I take a look at where I am (the whole situation), calculate every possible reason for why things might be that way, how they may have gotten there and where they could possibly go next; and I do a very robotic, detached and mathematical evaluation of the situation based on my data. It’s like I’m not even entirely human (but I’m not the only one).

An example of just one of my thoughts about the classroom situation (outlined above) follows:
Perhaps the situation is entirely a product of my own perception. I could be creating something out of nothing just because I am beginning to take emotional stock in the situation. (Details and variations of the same idea omitted for brevity’s sake.)

I share this one because that is the answer my logical mind has selected as the one I am most likely to hear (or any number of variations on it, which I also have automatically iterated in my mind) from someone trying to give advice and insight into the situation. Each possible interpretation of a situation has detailed information attached to it along with every variation or mutation, and all of that is thoroughly cross-referenced and cataloged with everything else I know and have observed in life. The relationships between bits of information in my brain form spontaneously and painstakingly and comprise an elaborate, multidimensional network.

Making sense of social, emotional or even logical events in my life requires a maddening amount of mental effort. I literally exhaust myself physically performing these calculations all of the time. I am a very skinny person, yet I eat more than (or at least on par with) the average guy my age. Doctors have told me I must have a high metabolism, but I tend to think my brain burns all of the calories I consume just to get through the day.

Because of the physical nature of my mental activity, I prefer routine and regularity to help keep a steady pace. Abnormalities and irregular events tend to disrupt me more drastically than I wish they would, especially when I am under any stress that may be preventing my mind from adapting to the change.

I do not like that I am a low energy, bland person either. Some people may perceive me as less than bland, but they are not around me as often as I am. I bore myself, sometimes even to tears. I get excited about things, but not the same way most people do. I get happy about things, but I do not show happiness in a way that allows others to see how happy I am. Granted, the way I show happiness about one thing may differ greatly from the way I show happiness for something else. That doesn’t mean that I am more or less happy about one thing than the other thing. It just means that I express my feelings differently for different things.

I complain about this because people I perceive to be “normal” (as in, people who share traits and tendencies with others around them in a manner that leads me to view their type as the majority and those whose traits and mannerisms differ greatly from the majority then fall into minority groups I call “abnormal”) tend to have predictable reactions for happiness regardless of what has made them feel happy. “Normal” people tend to show excitement, happiness, sadness, anger and other emotions in varying degrees, and they do so in proportion to the degree to which they are feeling the emotion. I just can’t seem to emulate this behavior. I can’t even crack a half descent smile for photographs, and my birthdays must be horrifying for potential gift givers because I just can’t seem to get my body and facial elements to work together to send the same message I deliver verbally – “Thank you, I really love your gift.”

I don’t like unanswered questions, unsolved problems or unfinished work; all of which I have an abundance of all of the time. I enjoy too many hobbies for any one of them to be enough. It’s like having a dozen or more favorite, I mean absolutely favorite, foods and trying to decide what to eat for just one absolutely perfect dinner. You couldn’t possibly finish every dish if you decide to include all twelve favorite dishes, but you can’t think of which ones could possibly be omitted from the perfect meal. Such is the nature of my hobbies and interests. There are too many to be satisfying.

There is plenty more I could mention, but you’ve gone far enough with the conclusions you are drawing about me. Yes, my over-active brain has been tracking every possible conclusion a person could draw from every thought, every word, every sentence, every idea I have shared here. While you will not come to every one of those possible conclusions, the numbers are not looking good. You might feel inclined to suggest that I edit some things out then, so as to reduce some of that effect.

Nah, I’ll leave it as it is. If you liked me before I find it unlikely that there is enough reason here to stop liking me now.

On to something more positive to wrap this up… for now. This is something I find very therapeutic so I will probably revisit this topic in the future.

Is there any hope in sight?

My brain is beginning to chatter at me like an uncontrollable, unintelligible man from India. If that little man doesn’t quiet down soon, I may have to discontinue my writing for the evening and leave this question unanswered.

Hope? Yes, I always believe in hope. I believe people can change and people can overcome. If the problems I face are my own creation, then I should be able to undo them. If I was born with these issues as challenges, then I should be able to rise to the occasion and overcome. If I am just messed up for no reason, then I can become stronger and better and make changes in my life to become more comfortable in the world.

No matter what happens, or what turns out to be the answer to any of the questions I have posed tonight, I really do have all of the answers I need… somewhere. It may be a matter of figuring it out, it may be a matter of sorting priorities and evaluating things, or it might just be a matter of time.

Whatever.

The thing is, I’m not really all that unhappy with the way things are, I’m just uncomfortable. That’s a feeling I have grown fairly comfortable with over the years, and even if I see absolutely no change over the course of my remaining years, I shall live, love and be happy.

Cheep Advice #1

I need to get some writing in tonight. I’m not going to do much, because there is a lot that needs to be taken care of around the house, but I’ve been slacking off a little.

I don’t feel that I’ve been wasting my writing time (with the possible exception of this morning), but I don’t feel that I’ve been getting any quality writing done.

I have, as you may have noticed, felt slightly uninspired; but that shouldn’t stop me. This morning I just plain slept through my writing time (I honestly felt that the sleep was a better use of my time since the baby had kept us up late and all night). That’s the first time since I started getting up early that I slept though my morning writing time though, so I don’t feel all that bad.

Today on the way home from work my wife and I were discussing something that brought a saying back to mind that I learned in Mexico. It’s one of those ideas that you are aware of, but might never hear it put into words. The wording in Spanish is elegant, but it still works in English.

In English it goes something like this: “If your problem has a solution, why are you worrying about it? If your problem doesn’t have a solution, what are you worrying for?”

Simply put, every problem either has a solution or it doesn’t, but worrying about it never does any good. I think the saying came to mind because of some issues at work where everyone is nitpicking about the details of how something is going to be scored. In the end, if you do your best why would it matter how they score you? I’ve always seen inquiries like this as “how bad can I be” questions. Like when you want to know how far over the speed limit you can drive before the cops will take notice, or how many times you can call in to work with a family emergency before your boss will fire you. It’s important to have and be familiar with limits, but not with the aim of knowing how bad you can be.

I remember the story of a trucking business that needed a new truck driver (I think it’s made up, but it teaches a good lesson). The owner of the company put out a wanted ad, and eventually narrowed the applicants down to three drivers. The route the new driver would be negotiating had a very dangerous mountainous stretch with steep cliffs right at the edge of the road. So, the owner took the three of them out to this part of the route and had each of them demonstrate how they would negotiate one particularly treacherous turn.

The first was a middle-aged driver with several years of experience. He assumed that the manager wanted to see how skillfully he could make the turn, so he took it at a moderate speed but got as close to the edge as possible. When he was done the manager acknowledged his skill stating that he had taken the truck closer to the edge than anyone else before him.

The second applicant saw this and thought, “I can do better than that.” He was, of course, the youngest of the bunch, but he was very skilled, and indeed he pushed the truck past the edge. Some of the tires were hanging off the cliff as he tore around the curve well past the recommended reduced speed limit. He returned safely, smugly tossing the keys into the hands of the astonished business owner and shooting a smirk at the first driver. With a proud, crooked smile he thought to himself, “Let’s see what this next guy can do. I doubt he can do better than that!”

The owner handed the keys over to the final applicant, an older driver who had been in the business for longer than the second driver had been alive. The man climbed slowly but swiftly into the cab and started the engine. First gear, second gear, on up he accelerated carefully to the recommended speed and went around the curve, almost hugging the mountain on the inside, as far away from the edge as he could get. Thinking themselves to have clearly demonstrated greater skill, the first two drivers laughed at the last driver.

When he returned, he climbed down from the truck and walked over to the owner. The owner took the keys from him and thanked him, asking him when he would like to start his new job. The other two drivers protested, saying that they had far more driving skill and one of the should get the job, to which the owner responded, “I don’t know if the man I’ve hired can do what you can or not, but I do know that he will always transport my goods safely and they will always arrive at their destination.”

That last driver did not ask “how bad can I be?” He just did his best with integrity. Living in this manner we never have to worry about the details of how we’re “scored” or how we’ll be judged (of man or God). Whatever your problem may be, a test, a judgment, or a relationship; if your problem has a solution, why worry? If not, what are you worrying for? Just do your best.

OK, that’s your cheep advice for the day. Take it or leave it!


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