Tag Archives: time

The Muleona Virus and the Ravages of Time

I must begin this column with an apology and a plea for your patience. This is third column, in as many weeks, in which I mention the coronavirus. Witless, I know. But terror drives people to extremes. (Well, yes, but terror is not my problem; a lack of imagination is, and when a column idea flies overhead, I’ve gotta snatch it, pluck it, and cook it even if it comes in a familiar flock, flight, or gaggle.)

The fact is, I’ve already had a deadly virus in that category and been categorically cured by the finest medical minds. We were keeping three grandkids for the weekend, two of which are ages four and five, at our home in the Greater Muleplex, Muleshoe, Texas.

So when I swooned back-first onto the bed (I always try to swoon in the direction of soft places) and stammered, “I feel really bad! I think it’s the Muleona virus!” and I began to cough and hack in a braying, hee-hawing fashion, I knew help would come.

A city doctor might well miss this, and the patient might quickly expire from lack of critical and specific Muleona care, but I feel sure a country doctor would recognize not just the difference between a mule and a donkey but also between a mule’s bray and a donkey’s bray, and thus nail the differential diagnosis.

I knew my pint-sized medical team would drop everything, grab their toy medical bag, and rush in my direction.

All sorts of tests were run. Pulse. Temperature. Blood pressure. Though the dread diagnosis of Muleona was confirmed—and I’m not sure about a bedside manner with that many giggles involved—I was quickly cured with a shot. Doctor Garrett couldn’t find the “shot thing,” so Doctor Kendall just fired a shot at me using a plastic pistol, and I was quickly released, no worse for the wear and presumably chocked full of valuable Muleona antibodies. I only rarely revert to semi-mulish behavior.

As when . . . my wife and I were sitting in the living room last evening, and I said, “You know, they’re saying that if you’re over 60, you should try to avoid going out a lot. That seems to argue for brewing more coffee or steeping some tea and launching into a good book. In fact, I’m 61! Maintaining good health at my age in this coronavirus crisis must certainly mean barricading myself behind a bookmark!”

The dear lady rolled her eyes sardonically: “You are not 61; you are 63. And you are insane.”

Quick figures. Our oldest granddaughter just turned 13 a week after my own birthday, and I was a very young fifty when she was born, so . . .

“Good heavens! I’d not realized the virus was so diabolically strong! It’s just robbed me of three years of life in less than five minutes, and I’m not even infected! Get me a book and a blanket before it’s too late!”

Even with poor math skills and without a virus, life breezes by. The psalmist prudently asks the Lord to “teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Ps. 90:14).

Hmm. So far we’ve had in Texas no coronovirus case within 300 miles of me, but New Mexico has had none at all. That seems to argue for skiing this thing out in the New Mexico mountains, just to be safe. I’ll read at night.

Note: Oops! As of a day or two after this column was written, my Texas data is still true, but New Mexico has four cases and counting. By the time this hits print, well, you better check more recent statistics. And I may need to consult my pint-sized medical staff for more advice. Maybe a shot.

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

Copyright 2020 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or profiteering is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


“Well, You Got Old, Too! I Give Up!”

“Well, you got old, too! I give up!”

That was the greeting offered to me recently by a cherished (and dare I say?) old friend who is one of my respected predecessors in my present (for almost 35 years) pulpit.

In his Gospel, St. Luke tells us that when the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and “greeted” her, Mary was “deeply troubled and wondered what manner of greeting this might be” (1:29).

The Bible writers almost never waste words in describing events, but my suspicion is that Mary was deeply troubled even before the perplexing greeting. With few, if any, exceptions in the Bible, folks who see angels are scared almost to death; their first worry is not that the angel’s introductory remarks are unusual. The angel always has to proffer some version of “Fear not!” prior to delivering God’s message. Gabriel will get to the “fear not” part in the very next verse.

All that to say that, ever since I received it, I’ve been (mostly) smilingly pondering “what manner of greeting” my friend’s recent salutation might have been. I’m afraid I know.

You see, I’ve just celebrated another birthday. (I celebrated two, actually. My oldest granddaughter and I were born one week less than 50 years apart. Our larger family got together this year for Christmas and our two birthdays on the same day.)

The good news is that I’m still kicking and, if our clownish politicians (both sides of the aisle) don’t screw it up further, Social Security and Medicare may ere long be within my reach.

Back to the greeting proffered by my friend.

It was three days after my birthday. Along with a host of others (“host” is a preacher word which should be interpreted as “a big bunch”), we were both at the funeral of an amazing mentor, colleague, and friend, a veteran minister, 99 years old, who had loved and pastored, taught and inspired, all who were gathered that day and so many, many more. My own father had died 20 years (to the day) before this good man and, had he lived, would have been 106 just a few days before this service. Both “knights” in God’s kingdom, they loved and respected each other deeply, and when time came for each to be laid to rest, well, those were sweet times, mighty convocations of gratitude when many gathered to thank our High King for such lives.

Yes, the beauty and significance of this occasion was profound. In the midst of it, though, a side point. I know and love deeply so very many of those who were present that day. I just don’t see many of them very often. (One or two commented on my beard; I’ve had it for almost 30 years.) So, not to be unkind here, may I just say that I had noticed that many were looking a good bit older than they did when we last enjoyed each other’s company.

Ah, but the picture one carries in his head of oneself often defies what he sees in the mirror. I’ve wondered what pictures of themselves the human gerbils on the treadmills at 24-hour gyms see as they toil along vainly—and maybe even somewhat valiantly—trying to trample on the clock and defy gravity. I am trying to get used to seeing my Granddaddy Key looking back at me from the mirror, but that still is not the picture of me I see in my own head.

“Bodily exercise” is of “some value,” the Bible says, but “training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:8).

An event such as I’ve described, and the verse just quoted, leads me to another Scripture. If we want to gain “a heart of wisdom,” the psalmist says, our prayer should be, “Lord, teach us to number our days” (Psalm 90).

That will put a “You got old, too!” greeting in perspective and make it much less “troubling.”

 

 

      You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com! 

 

 

Copyright 2020 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or profiteering is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

 


“Wednesday’s Meeting Has Been Moved Forward”

Good morning.

Forgive me for even considering such, but I almost planted an exclamation point at the end of “morning.” It is indeed morning as I write. I’ve eased into light, speech, and a little thought, but that I would even consider assailing your mental ears this early in the day with the kind of volume implied by that loudest of punctuation marks, well, I apologize for almost falling into such brutish behavior. Those two words followed by an exclamation point become a contradiction in terms.

So, settling for the more civil ante meridiem (as in a.m. for morning) greeting, we move on into the day, fire up, log in, open up the computer, delete a few dozen ads and several phishing attempts masquerading as legitimate emails, and peruse this real one: “Note to Committee on Committees Members: Wednesday’s meeting regarding the creation of another committee to further complicate the lives and work of the many too many committees already created to complicate our lives has been moved forward by two days.”

Here’s the question: Is that Wednesday meeting, “moved forward by two days,” now set for Monday or Friday?

Okay. Pause. Take your time. Don’t lock in your vote and alter your calendar too quickly, but do take notice of your first reaction.

It’s clear to me that the meeting is now set for Monday. But I also know, and so do you, that a significant number of other folks will be quite sure that the meeting is now set for Friday. If we’re the ones wording the message, we know very well that we’d better spell out the day or confusion will reign. Two groups half the size of the whole will find themselves meeting on two different days four whole days apart. The confusion hinges on that simple word “forward.”

According to author, psychology lecturer, and BBC broadcaster Cynthia Hammond in her book Time Warped, the little vignette above illustrates how very practically in our daily world the way we associate time and space and the way we feel about time “moving” separates us into two groups.  Hammond says that those, like me, who now plan to head to the meeting on Monday, see time itself as moving “like a conveyor belt,” the future coming towards us. Those who plan to meet now on Friday see themselves as moving in time towards the future.

As Hammond writes, “either you stay still while the future comes toward you or you move along towards the future. It’s the difference between thinking that we’re fast approaching Christmas or that Christmas is coming up fast.” Either point of view is defensible; the point is that each of us defaults into one or the other.

I find this sort of thing fascinating. But far more important than whether the future is heading toward me or I’m heading toward the future is the fact that my Father holds all of time and all of the times of my life in his warm hand.

See ya Monday. But my vote is that we cancel and spare the world one more meeting and one more committee.

 

 

    You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2018 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


“We’ve Made It Through One More Time Change”

Well, we’ve just made it through one more time change.

I’ll check in a minute (note the subtle time reference), but I always have to think about whether we’re going ON to Daylight Saving Time or going OFF of it. ON is the spring thing, right? We seem to be doing one or the other pretty much all of the time, or at least every ten minutes or so. About the time my internal clock makes peace with the most recent chrono-lux-economy change, it’s time for the next one.

The handy little mnemonic device . . .

By the way, mnemonic devices are handy by default (and what a cool word); I don’t recall ever meeting an unhandy mnemonic device. If I don’t recall it (that ill-fated meeting of a device designed to help one recall stuff), it’s probably because I failed to grab one of the assuredly handy little mnemono-thingies as it scurried by). I digress.

The best mnemonic device for DST’s advance or retreat is “spring forward, fall back.” So last night before heading to bed, having conjugated “spring” just for good measure (I spring, I sprang, I have sprung), I sprang up off the couch in search of clocks from which to steal an hour.

Ah, but before any of us waste time in this supposedly light-saving mandated clicking, turning, tapping, or dialing forward of more clocks than any home, vehicle, or office can possibly need, we face a precision decision.

Adrian Monk (I loved that TV series) supposedly had two carpentry levels. One he occasionally used; the other was his level-checking level which, twice a year, he took to a hardware store to be calibrated. A man after my own heart.

My clock-checking clock is the U. S. Naval Observatory’s master clock. The Department of Defense (and most of the world) trusts it. Since it is supposed to “neither gain nor lose one second in about 300 million years,” I accept it as a pretty decent standard for me, too, as I’m standing in the kitchen amidst three digital clocks—two on ovens and one on a microwave—and trying to get them to agree and move on to the next displayed minute within a window of discrepancy I can tolerate. My rule is that they need to be displaying exactly the same time three-quarters of the time. (I can live with that; Mr. Monk could not.) Anyway, once I’ve determined that my computer and my cell phone are both in agreement with the USNO master clock, the time-setting commences.

They (the experts) say that this twice a year time-tinkering (look up biannual, biennial, and semiannual to view an all-out brawl between word-parsers) has some advantages, but it can mess a bit with our Circadian rhythms and thus our sleep. And that, I postulate, tends to make some of us a little loopier and a tad more eccentric than usual. I offer this column as support for that belief.

I love the Apostle Paul’s meaning-packed phrase in Galatians 4, “When the time had fully come . . .” That’s when God sent his Son to save us and, the apostle writes, to free us from the futile slavery of trying to save ourselves. Nothing in the universe has been the same since that Son-light-giving saving time.

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

Copyright 2018 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


“Christmas Seems to Come Around Once a Week”

Years ago, when a friend and church member who was well into his eighties told me that for him Christmas seemed to come around about once a week, I believed him.

But now, having tasted life at sixty, I’m getting Jay Butler’s point even more clearly. I might not say that Christmases seem to flit by “once a week,” but they surely do seem to come around far more quickly than they did when I was a child (or even, say, 25 or so).

You don’t have to tell me that the rate of m.p.h. (minutes per hour) really doesn’t change. Or that the whole thing is an illusion.

I understand that, though the moon certainly looks a lot bigger when it’s right above the horizon, it’s actually the same size always. I’m a very scientifically-oriented person. I realize that lunar green cheese doesn’t really expand or contract nearly as much as a quick glance might lead us to believe.

And, no matter how “slow the moments go,” or seem to, when you’re in love “for sentimental reasons” (says that sweet old song), minutes are minutes made up of sixty seconds strung along at exactly the same rate whether you’re gazing in eternal bliss into the eyes of your sweetie or gripping chair arms in unending agony as your dentist performs a root canal.

The reality, of course, is that the blissful moment only seems eternal and the cursed agony only seems unending. The sands of time actually drop through the glass at a fixed rate.

We know the reality, but we also know that it doesn’t feel real. Of course, if we trusted our feelings—the unhappiest and most dangerously unstable people in the world always do, and I hope you know better than to make that mistake—we’d swear that our fun/happy times fly by while our sad/painful times drag on forever.

An Internet search regarding this phenomenon led me to an article in The Observer which pointed me to psychologist and journalist Claudia Hammond’s intriguing book, Time Warped. I’d thought that the perception of the frequency of the Christmas season’s arrival had to do mostly with the varied frames of reference, the obviously different chronological perspectives, of, say, a four-year-old and an eighty-year-old. Yes, in part.

But Hammond points to a “holiday paradox.” As they’re being lived, special times seem to fly by, but their memories last much longer than the “ordinary” times that seem to drag endlessly but whose memories fade in a heartbeat. The ordinary times we zip through on autopilot. The special times in which we do new things and create new experiences are rich in lasting memories. For good reasons, your memory of a sweet event one Christmas will last a lot longer than what seemed like an eternal bout with your last cold, even though Christmases seem to fly by. (I’m not doing the book justice. It’s a good read.)

How long did God’s people of faith wait for that first Christmas? Almost forever, it seemed. But at just the right moment, “when the time had fully come,” God sent his Son and hope that will truly last forever.

I love Christmas. I’m okay with Christmases coming around very quickly. But I want to squeeze the juice out of every moment. I know now that I shouldn’t waste a single moment of Advent expectation/preparation and deep Christmas joy.

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

Copyright 2017 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


“A Time to Mow, a Time to Rake, a Time to Shovel, and a Time to Sow”

 

Well, here we go again.

I’m talking about firing up the lawn machines, mowing, trimming, fertilizing, weed-spraying, weed-eating, weed-picking, and the whole nine yards of yard and lawn care.

Actually, in my part of the country, we’ve been moving slowly back into mowing for at least a month. An April 29th snow which, I admit, I had hoped might slow the grass down a bit, didn’t much.

Friends in lower altitudes/swamps or other areas that spend most of the year garbed in green, or friends with yards the size of postage stamps, or, on the other hand, friends whose yards are the size of Rhode Island or a mid-sized Texas ranch, will have little sympathy for me.

If you can trim your yard in fifteen minutes, or if you’re sentenced by your geography to mow your massive estate twice a week in the summer, you’ll not likely shed many tears for a guy who grinches about having to mow once a week when the grass is really ginnin’.

I’m not looking for sympathy. I actually like seasons. And I like living in a place where we have four of them that are generally distinct. I admit that the more time the grass spends under snow, out of sight and out of my mind in the winter, the better I like it. I’d much rather ski over snow than mow over grass. But I’m fond of green, growing stuff (except dandelions and crab grass); I’m just happy that here grass—and weeds—take a few months off.

In my better moments, I even like mowing. A little. Sometimes. In my work, I get to visit with plenty of folks who’d absolutely love to be healthy enough to mow. That gives some perspective when I’m out cursing one hill in my yard that’s been trying to mow me under or break my ankles for thirty years.

I will also admit that chasing a mower over 10,000 square feet of grass seems a more productive exercise to me than chasing my tail in gerbil-like fashion down the belt of a treadmill. (I particularly despise lining up on those things with a bunch of other waddling gerbils.) I also like the fact that my cell phone is in the house when the mower and I are out in the yard. So mowing is not without some benefits.

My mother was a yard person. Well, actually, she was a gardening person. She was not averse at all to tackling lawn mowing chores, but she was more of a plant artist. I inherited her love of green things but not her ability. (I think my younger brother got more of her gardening gene.) Still, I try. I plant plants. About half live a normal plant lifespan.

Mom spent decades growing really pretty plants in the High Plains where ice in the winter, drought in the summer, and wind most of the year around all conspire to kill vegetation. But she was more than equal to the challenge. Then we moved to Houston and Mom got a canvas worthy of her ability. While she was there, it was beautiful. Ten minutes after she was gone, it reverted to swamp.

But in God’s economy no genuine beauty is ever wasted or irrevocably lost. I can hardly wait to see what God grows and lets us help tend in the new heavens and new earth where the season for joy is forever.

 

     You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2017 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


Just Thinking About “Time in a Bottle”

 

“What is a grain of wheat?” Paul Tournier asks. “It contains a whole plant you cannot yet see. What is a silkworm? You cannot define it without seeing in advance all its metamorphosis. What is a child? You cannot describe him without thinking of the whole life of the man, with all its unknowns, for which he is preparing.”

As I first read those words years ago, I sat at my desk and examined the little Christmas present I had just received from my mother. It was a simple little thing—a small bottle with a glass stopper. Inside were ten or fifteen marbles. She’d tied a thin baby blue ribbon around the little bottle.

Once it was a vitamin bottle, but now it was becoming a very special paperweight. I remembered the marbles, every one. They were mine, or at least they had been.

The bottle? The bottle once sat on the small table by my aged maternal grandparents’ bed in the old house at Robert Lee, Texas. It had held just enough water to use to take a pill or to wet a dry throat.

Dr. Tournier writes of the metamorphosis, the transformation, we see when caterpillars are changed into butterflies and blonde-headed little boys into graying grandfathers. That little bottle is for me an appropriate symbol of the process. Nestled inside the glass bottle of the aged are the glass trinkets of childhood. Thus encapsulated by a marble-filled bottle is the whole spectrum of life from spring to winter, from youth to old age.

No one is immune to the metamorphosis wrought by time. With each tick of the clock every one of us is being transformed. Tournier is right. We see a small child and wonder what the adult will be like. We wonder about the many unknowns life holds for graduates walking across the stage. We each, no matter what our age, remember what we ourselves have been and ponder what we may yet become. The present flits into the past on the wings of a hyperactive hummingbird, and we are powerless to slow it down or grasp it into stillness. The future races to meet us with blinding speed, oppressed with such a low opinion of itself that it can’t wait to change its name to “The Past.”

But Christians needn’t be frightened of the frenetic future or paralyzed by the echoes of the past. We are all being changed, but God’s children know that the transformation can be filled with joy and hope. Our Creator promises to lovingly fill our lives with His life, continually re-creating us by Resurrection power, changing us “into Christ’s likeness from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

 

 

Copyright 2012 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


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