On losing strength

My morning reading over a cup of coffee, at my desk at the office, after my devotions and before beginning the grind, continues in John Wesley’s letters–as it will likely do until retirement, which is just 8 years, 7 months, and 18 days away. I found a new passage in one of his letters today that is worth commenting on, but I will put that aside to a future post and continue with the 1731 letter to Mrs. Pendarves that has been the subject of other posts. Repeating the quote, with a new emphasis:

“…I am afraid of nothing more than of growing old too soon, of having my body worn out before my soul is past childhood. Would it not be terrible to have the wheels of life stand still, when we had scarce started for the goal; before the work of the day was half done, to have the night come, wherein no one can work? I shiver at the thought of losing my strength before I have found [it]; to have my senses fail ere I have a stock of rational pleasures, my blood cold ere my heart is warmed with virtue! Strange, to look back on a train of years that have passed, ‘as an arrow through the air,’ without leaving any mark behind them, without our being able to trace them in our improvement!”

After bemoaning about growing old too soon and not having his soul fully developed, Wesley continues with a similar thought: that strength may wane much too soon, well before he could enjoy what pleasures the body could afford. Or, might Wesley have been thinking of the whole man–body, soul, and spirit? Surely if bodily strength and pleasures exist, so to do spiritual and intellectual.

At a college graduation once (I attended four straight years, and am not sure of the year), the speaker encouraged the new grads to “peak at eighty.” That is, as bodily health decreases the power of mind and spirit should increase, with the result that our most productive years should be somewhere around our eightieth on earth. That seemed like good advice. Of course, when I reach eighty, perhaps I’ll change that to “peak at ninety”!

Now 56, my body sure doesn’t work like it did even a few years ago. Why, back in 1995, on a pleasurable Saturday afternoon in August I raked an acre of cut grass and added it to a huge compost pile of leaves, thoroughly mixed the whole thing, then picked up and moved about 10 wheelbarrows full of dead fall apples to the same pile and mixing them in. I was exhausted, but not spent. Now, thirty minutes of weed eating leaves me ruined for the rest of the day. How did this happen? Surely thirteen years could not have reduced my strength that much.

Yet, I sense my mind able to grasp concepts that only five years ago would have been unfathomable. Writers like Emerson, Carlyle, and Macaulay speak to me in a way they once could not. New meaning in Scripture jumps from the page, and preparing Bible studies and Sunday School series is more than mere wishful thinking. Five years ago I had one book on paper an none in my mind; now I have at least twenty in the gray cells, patiently waiting in a disorderly queue for their turn to move to paper or pixels. Even as my body loses strength, my intellect–and hopefully my spirit–give me increased pleasures, increased productivity.

I’ve not given up on my body. I hope at 58 to be younger than I am at 56. I am determined not “to lose my strength before I have found it.”

It’s been a wonderful week

The turmoil of the week before last, which caused me to describe that week at “turbulent”, has passed. I’m currently basking in the glow of Ephraim Todd Schneberger, now age 8 days. Saw him Wednesday through Saturday just passed, and what a cutie he is. Hopefully I will figure out how to paste in a picture. He is incredibly expressive in his face, with many worried, furrowed-brow expressions. He will be a serious person, just like his dad. The parents are doing well, though understandably stressed out, especially with their move to OKC next month, where Daddy will begin his duties as senior pastor in a church there. He’s off today for a quick house hunting trip. Through the miracle of the Internet, they have found an agent they both know from college days there, and have narrowed the number of houses to look at. Sure was different in 1983, when we moved to North Carolina, and 1991 when we moved to Arkansas.

I’m gelling right now. I learned that someone has stolen my corporate credit card, and made four purchases in Australia. Yet, none of that will be my problem, since our corporate card company is on tip of it, and since it isn’t tied to my SSN, it won’t show up on a credit report. Last night I completed some major work on my non-fiction book proposal, and it should be ready for the Ridgecrest conference next week. That should be stressing me out, because I only have till Friday night to prepare (must leave Sat. AM to make it there by mid-day Sunday). Yet, I’m not feeling the stress at all. On Wednesday they are going to use my submission, a post from this blog, on the conference blog. Possibly that will give me some good pre-conference publicity.

I find the quiet in this part of the building makes for difficult working conditions. I will be shifting to a new cubicle sometime within the next three weeks, up to where others have moved, so will be back in the ambient noise of people, phones, faxes, printers, and copiers. It’s also quiet at home, as Lynda is still playing grandma to Ephraim. Hopefully this week I’ll find time to make three or four posts. Stay tuned.

Self-starter stuff

Writers write, right?

Somehow I’ve got to carve out some time each day to write; posting on this blog might be that only time for a while. I’ve got to leave the television during this fascinating election season, leave the political readings and writings, leave the silly little writings I do now and then, and focus on my writing “career”. Hopefully I’ll post here more frequently, even if only short posts.

I want to go back to the quote from one of John Wesley’s letters, which I wrote about in a couple of post recently. Here’s the quote, with particular part I want to focus on today highlighted.

“…I am afraid of nothing more than of growing old too soon, of having my body worn out before my soul is past childhood. Would it not be terrible to have the wheels of life stand still, when we had scarce started for the goal; before the work of the day was half done, to have the night come, wherein no one can work? I shiver at the thought of losing my strength before I have found [it]; to have my senses fail ere I have a stock of rational pleasures, my blood cold ere my heart is warmed with virtue! Strange, to look back on a train of years that have passed, ‘as an arrow through the air,’ without leaving any mark behind them, without our being able to trace them in our improvement!”

“Before the work of the day was half done”–that is written for me. I feel like so much of my time is not productive, is not seeing results. It is the true “arrow through the air”, doing nothing but move invisible gases. At work, much of what I do now is self-starter stuff. I work alone, waiting for people to call of come by my desk with their most difficult engineering problems. Yet almost all the people who came by on a regular basis, who cared about learning how to solve their problems, have been laid off. Now, with few exceptions, I only see those who want me to solve their problem for them, not teach them how to solve it. When waiting for these problems to come my way, I have my own residual projects with soft, self-imposed deadlines, and I have work to keep our corporate engineering standards up to date. It is all self-starter stuff, and I find myself not self-starting the stuff.

My writing is all self-starter stuff, except for this Life Group study I’m developing, writing, and teaching; well, I guess that is self-starter stuff, cause I self-started it. But all the other stuff I want to write, I have to make myself do it. In the words of Emerson, “the good world manifests very little impatience” for my writings. If I don’t go after it, I’m not even moving invisible gases.

In all this self-starter stuff, especially the non-vocational stuff, something must yield to make way. Yet, with a fixed number of hours in the day, little is left to yield. While in my mind I embrace that “there is time enough for all that I must do”, reality is that the days are clicking off toward that time when the night comes, “wherein no one can work.” The road to publishing is so long and arduous, that right now I truly fear “the wheels of live [will] stand still” long before my self-starter stuff is done.

An arrow through the air.

It’s been a joyous couple of days

Yesterday, at 5:17 PM, my first grandchild was born in Kansas City, Missouri. Ephraim Todd Schneberger first breathed on earth weighing 6 pounds 15 ounces, 19.75 inches long. Our daughter is doing fine, the baby is fine; son-in-law Richard seems to be doing okay, thought I haven’t spoken with him since the birth. In fact all this news come from my wife, who drove to KC yesterday and arrived shortly after the birth.

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow.

Back to other subjects soon.

It’s been an even more turbulent week

More than a week has passed since I last gave the “weekly report”. Sorry for my absence. Many of the days during this time were chock full of what I can only describe as turbulence. Much of that was at work, but some was personal, especially yesterday. I can’t say anything publicly. The immediate crisis has passed, but a long term crisis looms.

But, each cloud has a silver lining, right? The good news is that all the stress has about taken away my appetite. I’ve reduced to the lowest weight I’ve been at for two or three years.

Hopefully tomorrow I will find time to get back to the Wesley letter of recent posts, then to a Carlyle letter I began research on three weeks ago.

We can hope.

Body and Soul

Life continues to conspire against me, against giving me time to write, and to do so many things I would like to do. Alas, how hard it is to embrace Emerson’s words, which I championed on this very blog, “…there is time enough for all that I must do….” But there is, there is; I need only to keep reminding myself of it, and chipping away at the massive monolith that is my to do list.

I want to go back to the quote from one of John Wesley’s letters, which I wrote about two posts ago. Here’s the quote, with particular part I want to focus on today highlighted.

“…I am afraid of nothing more than of growing old too soon, of having my body worn out before my soul is past childhood. Would it not be terrible to have the wheels of life stand still, when we had scarce started for the goal; before the work of the day was half done, to have the night come, wherein no one can work? I shiver at the thought of losing my strength before I have found [it]; to have my senses fail ere I have a stock of rational pleasures, my blood cold ere my heart is warmed with virtue!”

“Of having my body worn out before my soul is past childhood.” Those who have studied the life of John Wesley might almost laugh at this. Who, in church history, other than John Wesley developed his soul when young, yet had many years of strong body and active service ahead of him? Who shunned leisure, and ministered so fervently that he changed a nation? Yet, Wesley wrote these words in his young adulthood, when he was 28 years old, unmarried, fairly new in his university teaching career. His Georgia mission and his Aldersgate Street experience were years away. The Methodist movement was a single, struggling club, subject to more derision than to praise. From Wesley’s perspective when he wrote those words, he had a legitimate concern. We know, however, that he did what he needed to overcome that fear, and developed his soul into maturity and maintained it so for decades, long before his body wore out.

All of us should have a legitimate fear of this happening to us, of not developing our soul–our mind. I have heard it called “Biblical illiteracy”, and it is rampant among church-goers. How many have really dug into the scriptures and learned what they have to say? Too few, I’m afraid. The proliferation of modern entertainments crowd out soul-development time. How easy it is to go from radio on the drive home to network news during supper to a game show to a sitcom to a drama to the Internet to computer games, and find myself exhausted and to bed too late to have the rest I need to optimally function the next day.

I’m fortunate, though, that God seems to have given me an inquisitive mind and abilities to articulate and to work with both grand concepts and minutia. Digging into the scripture, into non-scriptural books related thereto, into books old and new, secular and sacred, is just about the greatest discretionary pleasure I can think of. Well, add to that writing about them. Has this writing bug infected me for the purpose of dovetailing a love for these writings of others with writing of my own? The Bible study I’m currently working on for our adult Life Group has been an incredible blessing and joy. I titled it “The Dynamic Duo: Lessons from the Lives of Elijah and Elisha.” I pulled ten events out of their lives (could have done closer to twenty, but I thought this about the right number for our class), and have been intensively studying the passages, then developing the lessons each week, both teacher’s notes and student handout. I taught lesson 5 last Sunday, and just finished lesson 7 prep last night. I should be able to complete the remaining three lessons in the next week, putting me ahead of schedule and giving my substitute all he needs to teach on May 11 and May 18, two weeks when I believe I’ll be away.

But, as I’ve been preparing this lesson series, thoughts for three or four more Bible study series have come to mind. I have captured those thoughts most briefly (a title on a page, waiting for a skeleton on which to put meat and sinews), and have them ready to work on next. Maybe, just maybe, this is the direction my writing should be going in. In the process of doing what will hopefully enlighten others, my soul is being developed.

My body, now–well, that’s another subject.

A Turbulent Week

I can’t believe I let the entire week go by without posting! I had such good intentions, planning to write two more posts from the Wesley snippet I found, then going on to something else. I can only plead the strangeness of the week, and the turbulence thereof.

On Monday we had another corporate downsizing. Twenty-two people were laid off in our offices nationwide, I think eleven in our Bentonville home office and the rest scattered among all offices. In addition, pay cuts have been implemented, affecting me and many others. Management took the greatest pay cuts, and people who are wholly in production took none at all. This seems a fair way to do it. No one wants to have a pay cut, but that is better than looking for a job.

I spent much of the week on drainage issues on two or three projects, including some “heavy” calculations for one project. I say “heavy” because I haven’t had to do this for a few years, and we have new software that I have barely used. I found it easy to use for most things, but some complicated features of a storm water detention pond could not be easily handled. I entered data and ran the program, thought I had it right and printed, only to find when perusing the report that it wasn’t right, and I had to do it all over again. I don’t know how many trees I killed with printout I found were erroneous. Our recycling box was considerably fuller by the end of the week. But, I got that done, went on to other projects that I had to review (not do the calcs), and found a bit of closure at the end of the week. I still have one more set of calculations to run on Monday-Tuesday, and will have to begin a fairly major flood study about the same time, but my workload seems manageable.

Then, I wrote two lessons in the Sunday School series I’m currently teaching, “The Dynamic Duo: Lessons from the Lives of Elijah and Elisha”. That puts be one week ahead, and with another started and well along, almost two full weeks ahead. I need to be two ahead–or three if possible–because I will miss two weeks in May, if all goes well. That is really the only writing I’ve done this week, except for a series of e-mails to a project manager in our Dallas office, explaining to her how to run a public bid project. I don’t suppose those qualify for creative writing, though.

I will hopefully be back before the day is out, and make a follow-up post on Wesley’s letter, then will be more active this week.

Growing old too soon

Continuing with that quote from John Wesley’s letter to Ann Granville, here is a shorter version of it:

“…I am afraid of nothing more than of growing old too soon, of having my body worn out before my soul is past childhood. Would it not be terrible to have the wheels of life stand still, when we had scarce started for the goal; before the work of the day was half done, to have the night come, wherein no one can work? I shiver at the thought of losing my strength before I have found [it]; to have my senses fail ere I have a stock of rational pleasures, my blood cold ere my heart is warmed with virtue!”

Wesley interestingly expresses concern about growing old in body, but not being mature in his mental development, of “having my body worn out before my soul is past childhood.” This is something we all need to be concerned about. The body grows old as a natural process. Development of our soul (i.e. our intellect, our emotions, our spirit) is NOT a natural process. This is something we need to be deliberate about.

Of late I have been very concerned about my intellectual development. The result is that I have chosen reading material that I feel will improve my mind. I suppose one could say that all reading improves the mind, and I would agree with that in part. Obviously some things we could read will improve the mind more than others. I’ve also been concerned with advancing in my spiritual development. It seems that this goes in fits and starts. For a period I will be incredibly focused on the Bible, and study it with great intensity of mind and find myself growing. At other times, secular concerns crowd out Bible study, and stagnation develops. Maybe that is the way it will always be. Maybe intensive spiritual study for too long a period can be draining–exhausing–and I must back away until mind-improving activities of a lesser intensity have a chance to give my mind a rest.

At present, the Elijah and Elisha Bible study I’m doing is a great springboard for Bible study. First with a general reading and selection of items to present to the class, then in intense reading of the selected passages along with a couple of commentaries, and finally to preparing a handout for the class to have each week, I have found this study quite meaningful, and have felt my mind, soul, and spirit growing. We just finished the fourth lesson today. Six remain, with most of the intense study still ahead. I guess by the end of May I’ll be ready for a breather.

But this part of the journey is certainly a joy.

It’s been a worse week

Yes, after writing last week that the week had not gone well, this week was worse, mainly from the standpoint of not having the time to do much that I really wanted to. Work has been intense. Life Group preparations have been demanding. The world, the flesh, and the devil have all pounded on me. As with Wesley, “leisure and I have [indeed] taken leave of each other”, except this week not due to a conscientious intent to accomplish, but due to commitments of life. I was working on a post to this blog, something from the letters of Thomas Carlyle, when life swallowed up the small amount of time the research required. Maybe this weekend.

Yet, in all of this, God remains on the throne, not high and lifted up, but in a still small voice close at hand. Praise His name!

May next week bring improved state of mind to mirror my state of soul and spirit.

Author | Engineer