Carpe Diem

Photo by Pam Ecrement

These words come into focus each day I sit down at my desk to write. They are etched in a glass cube given to me by a friend for a birthday some years ago. They first made an impression on me more than 30 years ago when my husband and I went to see the movie, Dead Poets Society. As time passed, the words continued to leave an imprint, nudging me to discover what that looks like for me.

What does it mean for me to “seize the day”? Various definitions given most often speak of enjoying the moment, the present, or even “plucking” the day as if it is ripe and ready for enjoyment. Some have said it means to also make the most of each day since the future is uncertain and largely unknown.

Photo by Pam Ecrement

I once heard a graduation speaker say, “If you love life, do not waste time for time is what life is made of”. As a result, reflecting on the words “carpe diem” cause me to consider the speaker’s admonitions as well. It would be wonderful to tell you that I have not wasted time most days, but I can make no claim to that. As I have gotten older, I am less clear on what might be considered a “waste of time”. Too often our culture drives us to be productive and to accomplish something that translates into what the culture values at that period, but what if the culture is not what is to be the guide for my life, as I believe it is not?

Sitting watching the beauty of a sunset might be considered a waste of time by many, but if it stirs my soul to not only enjoy the beauty but also draw closer to the One who created it, is it not valuable? Taking time to read a story to a grandchild while I ignore laundry waiting to be done may not seem very productive, but is it not truly choosing the best? Pausing to be still so that I can enter into solitude and simply enjoy the Lord’s presence would be described by some as wiling away my time, but is that how He would see it? Choosing to skip a meeting to listen to a friend who needs encouragement and care seems to have more eternal value than attending a meeting.

My faith is to be the guide for my life and many times that faith does not align with current cultural values. That faith is to be informed by His values above all others and reflect His truth. That faith is also to shape my character and be stamped on my priorities as evidenced by my words and my choices.

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A few years ago, my husband and I were visiting our son’s church. During the pastor’s message, he quoted a line from Martin Luther that crystalizes the meaning of carpe diem for me. The quote is this: “There are only two days on my calendar, today and THAT DAY!”

As Luther’s words have stirred in my heart, I have looked at seizing the day a bit differently. What would He have me choose today that would most impact “THAT DAY”? The words have not sent me scurrying off to get involved in more religious activities, but rather slowed me down to reduce my activities to discover the important ones He would appoint for me “today”. That focus has pulled me to consider how often I foolishly can get caught up in the “cares of this life,” what John Eldredge would call “the Midlands.”

Christ’s life, his ministry lived out on this earth, did not match the societal culture of the day or the religious culture of the day. He took time to be alone with His Father. He went off to spend time in community with His closest friends. He took time to notice a woman at the well, a blind beggar, a wee man up in a tree, and so many others missed by those aligned with the culture of the day. He was more present in the moment than anyone else who has walked the earth.

As a result, when I look at the glass cube on my desk that says carpe diem, I am reminded of Luther’s words as the Lord’s guidance for the day: “There are only two days on my calendar, today and THAT DAY!”

Photo by Tanner Ecrement

Something Is Missing

Photo by Pam Ecrement

We have just had several of those drop-dead gorgeous days we get to experience in October. The mornings have been frosty, inviting me to snuggle under the covers just a few minutes longer. And as the morning has moved forward, the sun has warmed the air just enough. The bluest of skies dotted with a few wispy white clouds coaxes me outside.

The leaves are not yet at their peak of color but are starting to give hints of deeper orange and red to create anticipation in the midst of the yellows, browns, and pale orange hues. These are the days that slip by too quickly and I want to push back the darkness each night to savor just a few more hours of this grand display.

Too soon these days will bring rain and wind. In the blink of an eye the leaves will be stripped from their branches and the long season of barren looking trees will begin. I know that. So, savoring each day before this happens becomes a desire.

Photo by Pam Ecrement

Too often our desires meet disappointment, disillusionment, or a dull sense of discontent. As a result, we might choose to deaden those desires that spring from somewhere deep inside us or we search for a way to soothe them causing us to chase what John Eldredge calls “less wild lovers”. These other things that we choose can ultimately lead us into habits and addictions fueling more disappointment and despair.

Somehow, we want more than life as usual. Life as usual doesn’t satisfy this nameless longing fueling our desire.

Perhaps it is that “divine discontent” that Chesterton speaks of in Orthodoxy, that sense that “we have come to the wrong star….We come from somewhere else. We have lost our way.”

C.S. Lewis speaks of our “lifelong nostalgia” to be reunited with our Creator.

In Into Abba’s Arms, Sandra Wilson wrote, “our souls harbor a deep, nameless knowing we were created for something far better, something unmistakably solid and enduring…ancient echoes of Eden.”

Could it be that on beautiful (nearly perfect) days like this in October, we get a momentary glimpse of that kind of beauty we were made to enjoy all the time?

Photo by Pam Ecrement

But it isn’t so much the beauty that can satisfy our desire. The beauty points us to the true desire, the One who created the beauty, the One who whispers to us that we were made for something different, something more, something better than even this gloriously beautiful October day can give.

Perhaps that ache in the deepest part of us, that longing and desire in us, is a reminder that He has left as a candle flame to guide us back to Him, to help us find our way back home with Him.

Beauty somehow deepens the tug on our hearts even as other days of despair does. In both cases, we get a sense that something is missing. What we do with that longing and desire will make all the difference!

The longing and desire that we do not name might send us scurrying down side trails so we buy a new dress or other trinket we do not need. We indulge in a fictional romance novel. We drink an extra glass of wine or try to soothe it with a decadent chocolate treat. For the moment, these might mute the desire, but too soon the desire becomes louder again.

Photo by David Ecrement from Harpswell, ME

The better choice sends us looking for the One who created the desire. We find evidence of Him in heartfelt worship. We see Him in his story, The Word. Those point us to the better path, the true path.

Then when I sit in my favorite red leather chair and I reflect on Him just a few moments longer and let my words to Him pour out on the pages of my journal, I get just a little closer. It gives me a sense of being suspended between the earth and what will be one day a far more fulfilling closeness when nothing can obscure my vision of Him.

It is then that I see clearly what is lost, what is missing. It is what we lost in Eden.

But the desire He left planted within our hearts reminds us of the hope we have of a reunion with Him when every desire will once more be satisfied. Then we will truly be home where we were always created to live.

Photo by Pam Ecrement from Watkins Glen, NY

What Choice Will We Make?

Photo by Andrew Neel from Pexels

For those of us who enjoy going to a museum, what draws us there? It could be the works of a particular artist we appreciate, the style or type of art that is on display, the era that the museum pieces represent, or any number of reasons. Perhaps the less obvious reason is that we can be fascinated by the stories the art tells of not only the artist but also the subject created and what era it represents. Those who love visiting museums will often be seen standing or sitting without distraction focusing on a piece of art and few are rushing from room to room or display to display.

This type of behavior itself is unusual. We are oftentimes interested in a story and yet are challenged to stay focused on it. Sadder still, we take little notice to our own story that is being added to day-by-day, moment-by-moment that shows we are present in the story because we are so distracted by the smartphone in our hand. This one little device has stripped too many of us with being present in not only our own story but also the BIG story we have all been a part of since the beginning of time.

Last night my husband and I were enjoying dinner at a restaurant that was also the choice of dozens of young high schoolers celebrating their fall homecoming. Each girl, couple, or group came through the door dressed in every color of sequined dress you could imagine with shoes boasting six-inch heels in colors to match. Some guys came with a tie or flower matching the dress of his date. Some of those who entered were giggly, uncertain, and unaccustomed to the attire that was too short, too tight, or too cool for the very chilly night as well as the protocol of a restaurant that required reservations and a modicum of decorum. Others had a bit more confidence as they strolled in and walked to the person at the reservation podium.

Photo by Ron Lach from Pexels

It was a special night for these revelers and the first homecoming celebration for some. Most were clearly headed for a dance somewhere after dinner. And nearly everyone was having a hard time being fully present in the story of the evening they were living in. Each carried a smartphone he or she was staring at instead of enjoying a friend or the restaurant. And if we are not present in these moments, how can we figure out how to live out our own story and grow to understand more about who we are? These devices can and will tell us how much time we spend using them each day or week, but most of us ignore that. But perhaps that’s where we need to start to pay attention to how much time we have spent staring at a screen instead of reading a book, visiting a museum, noticing the beauty of the sunset or the shape of the moon as it pops over the horizon.

Every museum has a curator and the task charged to them is to select, organize, and look after items on display to convey the story being presented. A curator knows there is limited space so they must assess what is most important and precious. Perhaps we each (no matter our age) need to become curators to keep in mind that we are finite, and time is slipping through our fingers every day without us noticing much until we are aging and recognize how much less time is ahead of us in this life. Maybe we do less of this all along because we cognitively know we have limits, but emotionally we really aren’t eager to look at limits or recognize their value. We want to experience so much, do so much sometimes.

“The good life doesn’t come from the ability to choose anything and everything; the good life comes from the ability to choose good things by setting limits.

Limits are where freedom is found. We don’t need unlimited choices; that actually limits our ability to choose well. We need a limit on our choices, which actually empowers us to choose well.”

Justin Whitmel Earley

In Justin Whitmel Earley’s book, The Common Rule: Habits of Purpose for an Age of Distraction, he suggests we use those curator skills to stop our fascination with our devices and other things that do not allow us to be fully present in our own story unfolding each moment.

Photo by Pavel Danilyuk from Pexels

When did you last enjoy savoring moments choosing an actual book in a library or that bookshop you used to visit? You used to love browsing and looking at all the stories full of adventures that were waiting for you to open the pages and enjoy. When was the last time you took a walk to simply enjoy the beauty around you instead of to gain the number of steps you needed or get the exercise you wanted to get in that day? Those walks (if we get them done) are needed, but too often they are hurried with little notice of the colors of the sky, the cloud formations, the breeze caressing our cheek, the sounds that the birds or leaves are making, and so much more. Why do that? Because our hearts and souls are refreshed and replenished with the beauty around us. Our Creator’s handiwork is everywhere if we take time to be present and see and hear it.

Since none of us are likely to throw away our smartphones or other devices, we need to consider how we curate (select) what we take in from them and how much time we spend with them.

“An art gallery has limited space on the wall, so its curator creates shows to make the best use of that space according to a vision of good art. I suggest we have a vision for good stories, and we curate accordingly.”

Justin Whitmel Earley

How can you grow a vision for a good story and curate for it this week?

Photo by David Ecrement