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Purpose of life musings, our “legacy”

13 Mar

Last week Carol and I were on vacation, a much needed break from the routine!  Our main purpose was to visit Carol’s brother and wife in Lake Wales, Florida south of Orlando.  That was very relaxing and enjoyable and we it was great being with them.  On the way there we stopped at the Biltmore Estate and spent two days at Savannah, Georgia (more on that in another post).

The Biltmore Estate was built by “George Washington Vanderbilt II between 1889 and 1895. It is the largest privately owned home in the United States, at 135,000 square feet (12,500 m2) and featuring 250 rooms (and 43 bathrooms!). Still owned by one of Vanderbilt’s descendants, it stands today as one of the most prominent remaining examples of the Gilded Age, and of significant gardens in the Garden à la française and English Landscape garden styles in the United States. In 2007, it was ranked eighth on the List of America’s Favorite Architecture by the American Institute of Architects.”  (From Wikipedia)

The mansion has enormous spaces and perspectives!  They don’t allow photographs of the inside of the mansion and it was pouring rain and alternately snowing (in North Carolina!) outside so I only have one picture.  It was too early for any gardens to be in bloom.  From the one picture I was able to take, you can get a feeling for the perspective by looking at the “ant sized” people going into the mansion.  (Double click on the picture to enlarge)

As we were taking the “ear phone” tour of the mansion, I began to think about the world view of George Vanderbilt.  He was part of a family which had amassed a huge fortune through steamboats, railroads, and various business enterprises. George “inherited $1 million from his grandfather and received another million on his 21st birthday from his father. Upon his father’s death, he inherited $5 million more, as well as the income from a $5 million trust fund. He ran the family farm at New Dorp and Woodland Beach, now the neighborhood of Midland Beach on Staten Island, New York where he had been born, then lived with his mother in Manhattan until his own townhouse at 9 West 53rd Street was completed in 1887. The Vanderbilt family business was operated by his older brothers. This left George to spend his time in intellectual pursuits.  An art connoisseur and collector, George filled his mansion with Oriental carpets, tapestries, antiques, and artwork, including Pierre-Auguste Renoir and James Whistler, as well as a chess set that had belonged to Napoleon Bonaparte.” (From Wikipedia)

I wonder what George Vanderbilt’s world view was.  Did he ever ponder the eternal perspective in relation to his activities?  He knew eight languages and was obviously intelligent.  George and his wife, Edith, were very generous, supporting the local church and I’m sure funded many other charities.  But to what end was the house built?  To spend so much of your time and treasure to construct the largest privately built home in the country is a very worldly pursuit!  What was his motivation?  Was it a monument to himself?   Wikipedia says at Biltmore George lead the life of a “country gentlemen and spent his time in intellectual pursuits”.  He certainly couldn’t take it all with him when he “died of a heart attack after an appendectomy” at age 52.  The estate stands as a monument to his dreams and life’s work, something which is his legacy and it lives beyond his life.  Is that were our significance comes from?   Libraries, government buildings and highways are named after people who donate money.  Is that were we get our significance?  What of the millions of ordinary people in Haiti or India or Kenya who live life for a while and die in obscurity?  Are they any less significant than George Vanderbilt?  He inherited most of what he had and I guess you can say he put it into building a lasting legacy for his family.   But to what end?  Today the estate is privately owned by George’s grandson, William Cecil, who has preserved the estate and opened it to the public.  So, the masses can still view and be amazed at what he built.

From my musings about this I see two levels of thinking about the “legacy” we leave after our life is over.  On one level George Vanderbilt left a monument of the years he spent building and caring for the “largest privately owned home.”  Is that a worthy pursuit in life?  What does a leaving a legacy really involve?  Presidents of the United States are always aware of the legacy they will leave from their time in office.  The world’s recognition of a job well done, or some substantial building or road named in our honor, or the recognition a famous author or actor receives are all fading.  As the Bible states, they will all “burn” in the end.  1 Corinthians 3:11-15 says:  “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one we already have—Jesus Christ. Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials—gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw.  But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward.  But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames.”  The Biltmore Estate will not last into eternity.  It consists of earthly stuff.   The fact of my Parkinson’s disease is also temporary, earthly, a “thorn” I need to deal with in this life, but not for eternity.

On the other level, God and people are eternal, nothing else is.   The purpose I pursue with my photography is to show the beauty of God’s creation and a few of my pictures may last beyond my years on this earth.  But in the end they are meaningless.  That is the main theme of Ecclesiastes where Solomon says “work…all of it is meaningless.”  But he concludes with the conviction:  “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.  For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.” The real legacy I leave is my love for God and the impact I can have on our children and people around me.  In a very real way my earthly reward is the legacy Carol and I are leaving through our adult children.  And my urgent and heart felt desire is for all of us to spend eternity together in Heaven!

I don’t have any brick and mortar statues or houses dedicated in my honor which will outlast my life on this insignificant planet hanging in the vast universe.  My legacy, our legacy, is our love for the God of the universe and the people we interact with daily.  Those interpersonal relationships and our dependence on Jesus’ sacrifice for each of us will be our eternal legacy!


The Roles We Play, The Masks We Wear

2 Mar

We all have roles we play, such as:  husband or wife or single person, mother or father, brother or sister, employee or employer, manager or subordinate, being a friend or befriending someone, caring for sick family members.  These roles are important for our personal survival and to the community as a whole.  We need to play these roles for our free society to function.  We need to be responsible for our roles in life or the community around us breaks down.

But we all wear masks also.  Are masks always bad?  Possibly, but sometimes they allow us to function within our various roles, though not perfectly.  There is the victim mask – I am weak, help me and don’t hurt me, I can’t do it myself.  There is the “macho” mask – I don’t need “nobody”, I can do this myself, I am an island.  There is the Romeo (arrogant) mask – I’m hot and I know it, you are privileged to know me, I can and will take advantage of you.  There is the brave front mask – I am hurting inside either mentally, emotionally, or physically but nobody will see my hurts.  But are these masks helpful in our roles as people who don’t operate in a vacuum but operate in families and various communities?  If we remain on the surface in our lives and relationships, the masks help us get through life though but only in a shallow, non-effective way.

Gary in an “old man” mask

There is a better way forward, though.  It is the way of transparency, of dealing honestly with our emotions, our desires, our hopes and dreams.  2 Corinthians 10: 12: “We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves.  When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.”  In verse 18 Paul says:  “For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.”  And Romans 12:3 says:  “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you:  Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.”

Maybe the key to a proper view of roles and masks is to “think of yourself with sober judgment” according to your faith.  If we compare ourselves with ourselves our perspective will probably be very cloudy out of focus and wrong.  We will be puffed up with pride or ashamed because of past darkness’s.  I believe a proper view of ourselves is found by looking at Christ’s actions and words when he was here on Earth and His view of us now.  As a believer, saved by His sacrifice for me on the cross, I am forgiven.  Clean.  Pure.  Jesus has a place for me in heaven not because of what I have done, but what He did.

So, a proper view of myself involves seeing me through Jesus’s eyes, taking stock of the gifts He has given and also the limitations He has allowed and push forward in life, depending on God for strength.  I may be looking at an out of focus future because of Parkinson’s Disease, but with God there is hope.  Am I am being as transparent as possible with those around me in the various communities where I live out my life; whether my family, work, friends or church groups?  Transparency will yield satisfying and eternal results in all my roles.  Masks aren’t necessary with the this prescription enriching our lives.

Thanks for cleaning up my mess!

15 Feb

Well, wake up at 2:00 AM to go the the bathroom and find the bathroom trash turned over.  Cleaned  it up. Prime suspect – Alfie, the Cocker Spaniel.  We had been putting her in the cage each night, but gave her a try at roaming the house.

She blew it big time!

I peaked in the kitchen and the kitchen trash (which had been full) was emptied all over the kitchen floor – peels, orange rinds and all!  After picking that up and placing the full trash bag outside the door for disposal later that morning, I glanced in my office on the way to the bedroom, the trash in there was emptied all over the room.  The offending party came to see what the fun was and I showed her the mess, told her in no uncertain terms what I thought of her actions, let her outside to do her thing then stuck her in her cage!  She is losing her privilege of roaming free around the house when we are away and at night.  I still love her and she is still the cute, curly Cocker she was, but for her own good she has to be disciplined.  Who knows what she might eat from the trash that could kill her?  Besides the mess we have to pick up!

I started to think about Alfie’s offenses in light of my own mistakes and sins.  I can picture God bending down and patiently cleaning up my messes, then instructing me through His word and consequences what the right actions would be the next time.  He cares for me and doesn’t want me to harm myself by my own thoughtless actions and poor decisions.  I, and we as people, make small decisions daily which lead us in the wrong direction.  I find that I “tip over the trash” and endanger myself without realizing it.  Lack of exercise – I’m trying, but I can do better.  That extra milkshake.   Having one today won’t hurt.  Or that one the next day.  That extra brownie – one (or two) won’t hurt, much.  Skipping time alone with God – I’ll be there tomorrow, Lord!

These small decisions in our everyday lives add up to obesity in the future, or a heart attack, or cancer…or having major regrets when  we are 85 in poor health and realize it didn’t have to end that way, we could have taken control of our thoughts, attitudes, habits and done better.

I’m convinced that our attitudes as we grow older carry into our senior years.  A mean younger person will be a mean senior, someone people don’t want to be around.  Lord, may I have a servant’s heart, honoring You and serving those around me, staying positive despite my Parkinson’s, working diligently to serve you no matter the limitations I have in the future.

Thanks, Lord, for cleaning up my mess!