Like Sand Through the Hourglass

Like sand through the hourglass… seems like the hole between the upper and lower chambers of the glass has gotten wider these last few years.

By Ross L. Riggs, D Min.

Those of us who grew up in the 60’s and 70’s often heard a familiar voice in the mid-afternoon come across the television. For me, it was usually  as my mother was ironing clothes. (For those of you who are much younger than I, ironing was something a mother, usually, would do using a steam iron and an ironing board. The purpose was to take clothes, particularly shirts, which had been dried on the clothesline in the backyard [I’ll explain that another time for sake of space] and iron the wrinkles out of them before folding and placing back in the drawer or, for dress shirts on a hanger)

The voice solemnly told us, “Like sand through the hour glass, so are the days of our lives” the introduction to the soap opera  Days of Our Lives. Soap operas were great for those who were hooked on them because even if you missed a few days, or weeks, even months, you could come back and find the storyline not very far advanced from when you left it. But, I digress.

The Bible also speaks of the fleeting nature of life. Solomon, a man who was given more wisdom than any man before or since once bemoaned, ‘Vanity, vanity, all is vanity..” He found little purpose in striving in life because no matter what, one was not getting out of life alive and whatever you had accomplished was left for someone else to claim. A pretty depressing line of thinking. Still, the Bible does give us analogies such as “For He Himself knows [a]our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.15 As for man, his days are like grass; As a flower of the field, so he flourishes.16 When the wind has passed over it, it is no more, And its place acknowledges it no longer.” (Psalm 103:14-16) A great analogy, though editors are always cautious about the use of the word but; whether it is a adjective or a noun, of course spelling helps to clarify.

There is Jack Nicholson who, in Bucket List, declared life to pass like smoke through a keyhole. Of course, the origin of the thought is somewhat less clear. Google lists 166,000 answers as to the origin of the term.

James, the brother of Christ, a leader in the early church and co-author of the Book of James in the New Testament writes, “Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.” (James 4:14 NASB)

What got me thinking about the brevity of life, or rather, the speed with which life seems to pass by came as I left Bethany Nursing Home, the finest facility  with the nicest folks where I had been watching the All Star Game with my brother Rod. The neighborhood around was apparently the night before trash pick up because the street had numerous trash receptacles out to the curb and some bags of trash awaiting pick up. Have you ever noticed how quickly you get from one trash day to the next? The week in between just blows by and the amount of stuff  you have to throw away from the week is incredible.

Allow me to go back to those childhood years when Mom was ironing and the man was solemnly warning us about the sand in our hourglass, we had something in our basement not uncommon in those days; but, now a thing of the past, an incinerator. Think of it as a family size crematorium for trash. You, (meaning the children in the house old enough to reach the top of the incinerator which was about the size of a washing machine) had the job of taking the bag of trash each evening, just after supper, to the basement to be thrown into the incinerator which had a gas fed fire always burning in the bottom, like a port-a-hades. The evening air in the neighborhood was always tinged with the smell of the days garbage being destroyed by the third element of nature. Later, we moved to a newer housing allotment and surprisingly the new homes did not have incinerators. Rather, in the back yard of each home was a burn barrel  and it was exactly what the name disclosed.

Now the children of the house old enough to handle matches unattended would carry  the bag of trash out to the burn barrel and light it up and standby long enough to know the days garbage was nothing but flecks of black soot rising into the air. Not bad duty on a cold winter night but not the best chore in the middle of summer unless you really enjoyed, perhaps too  much, watching things burn. I suppose it was the environmental movement of the 70’s which brought an end to burn barrels and a new suburban glimpse into city life, the appearance of garbage trucks! Still, life revolved, to some degree over the trash pick-up. My Mom would only fry chicken on the nights before trash pick-up so as to not have the bones lying in the garbage for several days…

The trash of our week gets tossed out and forgotten, hopefully being composted or recycled so my great-grandchildren don’t have to live on the waste dump we created. The weeks for which the trash accumulates go by more quickly with each passing year. Going out to retrieve the garbage can and taking the garbage can out, one begins to feel like the guy in the old “Dunkin Donuts’ commercial, who finally meets himself at the door he is coming and going so quickly and so often…

Solomon’s warning of life like a flower, the wind passes over it and it is remembered no more. We should acknowledge the brevity of life and rid ourselves of the trash which accumulates around our lives and we must do so prayerfully and purposefully. We need, at the same time to hold on to what really matters. Hang on to the precious moments which will fill our lives if we allow them .

When visiting the Philippines back in 1998, I was impressed with a part of  their culture which celebrated events rather than be slave to a clock. In the U.S., a time to meet with a friend for coffee is scheduled for 10:00 a.m. and is expected to be finished by 10:45, even placed in our cellphone calendar with a reminder ding and perhaps, too, an alert when time was up, next appointment. In the Filipino culture the event was time with a friend. Set for 10 but maybe it will begin at 10:30 or 10:45, whenever the parties arrive and it will last for as long as it possibly can, the friends taking over an hour to say goodbye even if it meant the next event would have to wait. Of course, a wait wouldn’t matter because the next meeting was also based on the event not the time.

I create for myself, now, a priorities list which is designed to help my sometimes failing memory with what I would like to accomplish each day. Notice, like to accomplish not need to accomplish? A few things have been on the list every day for a month, I’ll get to them; but, I won’t be driven by the list. It reminds me things I would like to do and often an article on it will be a hammock nap. I always include a prayer-time and some reading time. When life changes how the list will go on a given day, no worries, tomorrow will have a new list. When I have a chance to hang with a grandchild, I want to really be there with them not just be in the same place they are but completely disengaged. When they say, “Papaw” I want my eyes to meet theirs and they know they have my full attention. It doesn’t always work and sometimes ol’ Papaw is just too pooped to pop; but, they know my intention is to be part of their moments. When  I was with my one grandfather, my papaw, I knew I was the most important person in the world to him at that moment. He might have six grandchildren lined up for a ‘toopie-too’ ride on his knee; but, for that moment his attention was fully mine and I want my grandkids to feel that same specialness.

Like sand through the hourglass… seems like the hole between the upper and lower chambers of the glass has gotten wider these last few years.

The Bible gives some truly great advice when it comes to living life. Karin and I are about to celebrate 40 years of marriage. Solomon wrote, “Enjoy life with the woman whom you love all the days of your fleeting life which He has give to you under the sun; for this is your reward in life and in your toil in which you have labored under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 9:9) Solomon concludes Ecclesiastes with this:

EASY LIKE SUNDAY MORNING

Hopefully though, every once-in-a-while, everyone can have an oportunity to realize easy, like Sunday morning

The late Michael Conrad, ‘Sgt. Esterhaus’ on Hill Street Blues with his famous admmonition to the cops from the ‘Hill’ precinct, “Let’s be careful out there!” He and most of the real-world cops and first responders who have been around the block more than once would agree Lionel Richie was using a metaphor which only exists in the minds of many. For the rest of us, first responders, cops, clergy, doctors, nurses etc. the idea of an ‘easy Sunday morning’ is laughable. Just when you think you are having one, BANG, the celing comes down with just one beep on the radio receiver.

I recall a frigid, sub-zero Sunday morning, our officers and an area SWAT team were surrounding a house where a male suspect has been shooting at anything he felt like for about three hours from inside his parents’ home. There were many reasons we wanted to get this settled as soon as possible. Daylight was coming, the neighborhood would soon be antsy about being evacuated, it was colder than an elf’s toes on Christmas Eve (you know those shoes they wear CAN’T keep your feet warm!), and most importantly to the cops with me from Rittmann PD, we had Cleveland Browns football tickets for us and our wives! Kickoff was at 1:00 and this was back in the old stadium when the Brownies had the ‘Cardiac Kids’ on the field!

No, there is seldom a ‘typical’ Sunday morning which fits the mental picture one gets listening to the Lionel Richie song.

Today, however, may be an exception. I am with my lovely wife and four of our grandchildren, ages 7,7, 5 and 10 months, at a campground in the middle of wooded hillsides. The sun is just coming over the rise of the hills to the East and the rays are making their way through the tree branches. The three older grandchildren have just come out with coloring pictures and donuts in hand, our plan is to do some fishing after breakfast. Yep, easy like Sunday mmorning.

Most Sunday mornings we enjoy being with fellow believers at our gathering of the church for worship, teaching and fellowship in preparation for service in the week ahead.Yes, there are many people who work diligently every Sunday to make certain things go off as they should. Hopefully though, every once-in-a-while, everyone can have an oportunity to realize easy, like Sunday morning.

AWE – SOME

we can, and should, awe-some. I choose to reserve such respect, admiration to very few; but at the top of my list is my wife, Karin Riggs.

AWESOME! We say it often. Too often. Like using the word LOVE all the time for things that have nothing whatsoever to really do with love. “I’d love to see someone kick such and such’s tail in!” “I love ice cream,” “I love snowboarding,” “I love… yada yada yada…”

When I say to my wife and my children, “I love you” – What do they hear? ‘WOW! I mean as much to my dad as his new fishing rod! I wonder if he will throw me in the lake if I don’t do what I’m supposed to?

The on-line WORD dictionaries define AWE:

“a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder”

“an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, fear, etc., produced by that which is grand, sublime, extremely powerful, or the like: in awe of God; in awe of great political figures.”

I’m a little concerned about God and great political figures in the same example, but it is what it is. Such was AWE as a noun. As an adjective AWESOME is defined as: extremely impressive or daunting; inspiring great admiration, apprehension, or fear. “The awesome power of the atomic bomb” – quite a bit away from ‘Our God is an AWESOME God…’ to go to the atom bomb but, C’est la vie!

I would most likely fall into a strange category of people who are trying their best to not follow culture on this one but say rather, we should ‘AWE-some’ and in that ‘some’ are VERY few human beings.

God is AWESOME. I am filled with AWE and wonder in the love of Christ! The Holy Spirit’s work in my life is AWESOME! I will also exclaim such awe when viewing the majestic grandeur of God’s creation. Usually it happens on a dark night, far away from city lights, looking up at a host of heavenly lights; it can be an AWESOME sight! The unmatched grace of an eagle in flight or the intricacies of a spider’s web on a split-rail fence still wet with morning dew. Those things are awesome because their creator is awesome. He is the One for whom we should have an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration and fear.

There are other parts of God’s creation which deserve at least a quiet moment of ‘awe’ or a grasp of the awesomeness of a particular part of nature.

The title… AWE-SOME means just what it says. We should awe some and not very many. Many things might be ‘ah-some’; give you a quick minute or two of amazement; but to really be in AWE, that is a very special category.

What brings me to write this after midnight, when I should be asleep, is watching my wife these last few days and recollecting some things from the past.

Dr. Karin T. Riggs, M.D.

Karin and I will celebrate 40 years of marriage this August. Success in marriage is a partnership, sometimes 80/20!  in our case, Karin is doing the heavy work!

On Friday night, after a long week at work, anticipating a long weekend, she arranged to have six of our eleven grandchildren overnight. Not just a typical overnight but a ‘let’s sleep in the camper in the driveway… Mamaw is bringing in a movie and food for us to celebrate the first night of summer vacation!’ It was that kind of overnighter.

On Saturday, she rode with me on our Harley trike for four hours to raise money for preventing veteran suicide. (“SAVE 22” a great cause, please get behind it if you can!) Then, once we were home, she was helping out another of our children. Did I mention she helped our granddaughter sew a custom designed dress ensemble for a horse-back riding show and a grade in school?

I’ve listened to her talk with patients everywhere we go. They love her and always stop to talk to her. I’ve listened this week as she counseled a patient on the phone as she does so often – no matter what she was supposed to be doing. I’ve watched tears fall as she shares a prayer request for patients and others, she has learned of through a friend who have suffered great losses. After 30 years of practicing medicine, she has not become hard and calloused about her patients; but even more so she is touched by them in ways I cannot explain. She shares her love of Christ through her life, her actions, her words of comfort. I see how she aches and her heart breaks over pain for people she loves dearly.

I watch her feed and bathe the babies and I think to myself this godly woman, who is so incredibly intelligent, so lovely, so loving, so self-effacing, has been God’s precious gift to me for all these years. She hears me tell her ‘I love you’ but she cannot know how very deeply, unendingly in love I am with her; even when she frustrates the beejeebers out of me. I know how frustrating I am to her… she ran out of beejeebers about a dozen anniversaries ago!

(Beejeebers is a word, or at least an idiom – but I don’t like to call even strange words names, so I won’t call it an idiom- the Free Dictionary and the Urban Dictionary both include in the definition it is a less heretical term than its origin ‘bejesus’ which of course I have to look it up too since the dictionaries claim it is sacrilegious… In their definitions I could not find any ‘religious’ connotation, other than an old Irish exclamation of surprise. (I would absolutely LOVE -see, there I go again, to share with you the Urban Dictionary’s example sentence they use for it; but you’ll have to look that one up yourself. Hint: if you find the word ‘shizzing’ in it, you’re there. And, yes, I looked it up, and no – shizzing is not even an idiom!)

I apologize to for digressing but, to my point, God the Father, Jesus Christ, His Son and the Holy Spirit deserve awe, our overwhelming admiration, reverence and fear. His creation, we can attest, is awesome in many ways from the bubbling of a country brook to the babbling of a baby and in His creation we can, and should, awe-some. I choose to reserve such respect, admiration to very few; but at the top of my list is my wife, Karin Riggs.