In Matthew 6:21 we are reminded that "where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." I think the Essential Me can best be understood through a list of some things I most treasure and am most grateful for (in no particular order)--not that I even begin to deserve all these blessings:
1. A just, but caring and infinitely merciful, God.
2. Life after life. Without it, life is meaningless; with it, life is priceless. My firmest and happiest conviction is summed up in this stanza from the beautiful hymn Be Still My Soul:
Be still, my soul: the hour is hastening on3. My parents and siblings, and their spouses and families. All I've ever been or ever hope to be, I owe to Mom and Dad. They provided us such good lessons and examples, and gave us such a happy, memorable childhood, all of which helped us be better parents and have strong families of our own. The experiences we had growing up, and all the things we did, we did together as a family--and we're still sharing and enjoying them! I deeply love my brothers and sister, and their spouses and children, and give thanks daily that we still support and share with each other, while so many other families we know seem to be disintegrating.
When we shall be forever with the Lord.
When disappointment, grief and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past
All safe and blessèd we shall meet at last.
4. My sweet wife! Wise, patient, generous, cheerful, clever--she's made a comfortable, happy home for me and the children, and is a matchless friend to so many people!
5. Our children. Wonderfully unique and infinitely precious, each one! And we can only guess at what they'll accomplish in their lives. They've made my life full and meaningful, and are the most important contribution I'll ever make to humanity. And let's not forget our children's spouses (yours will come along, Colin!) and their families; how much delight they add to our lives!
6. America. We'll never fully comprehend the blessing it's been to be born and grow up here, as we've never known tyranny, abject poverty, or the other things that so much of humanity endures every day. May we always strive to be worthy of that blessing. The men and women who've served our country in uniform know all about that, as do police officers, firefighters, EMTs, and others who keep us safe day in and day out.
7. History! Nothing could be more compelling than the grand story of our forbears' dreams, accomplishments, errors, struggles, sufferings, triumphs, and tragedies over the centuries. Have we learned anything, or will we continue to make the same mistakes? I'm privileged to experience (and hopefully, teach) a small part of that great story as a Civil War reenactor, and to trace our own ancestors' part in it through genealogy--which brings history down to the most personal, and therefore the most real, level. What a thrill!
8. Books! Actually, all kinds of literature, poetry, and above all, the Bible. They're my ticket to every age and place, every quest, every truth, and every dream ever dreamt by man. How can one feel small when he or she has a treasure like that? Unless I can figure out a way to take my books with me across the River Jordan, I plan on leaving my children and theirs a great library!
9. Music! Nothing has more power to move the soul. I love almost all of it (well, except for Billy Joel and a few others, very little popular music composed/recorded after 1966): classical (Bach! Mozart! Brahms! on and on), jazz (Benny Goodman! Wynton Marsalis! Chuck Mangione! on and on) and standards (Ella! Sinatra! Tony Bennett! on and on), even Celtic and other folk music. If I ever had to choose one of my senses to lose, it would NOT be hearing--I can't imagine life without music! I just wish I could play it.
10. Movies! I love good movies, especially the big historical epics (Lawrence of Arabia, Ben-Hur, El Cid, A Man for All Seasons, etc.) and war movies (Glory, Tora Tora Tora, Battleground), but also lushly-photographed "romance" films (Sense and Sensibility, Gigi, Pride and Prejudice), westerns (She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Silverado), movies about pioneers (Jeremiah Johnson, Last of the Mohicans) and seafaring (Master and Commander, Moby Dick), really good comedies (Moonstruck, American Graffiti, Sleepless in Seattle, The Russians Are Coming) or sports (Chariots of Fire, Remember the Titans) movies, and even the occasional bit of science fiction (I, Robot). Now that we have a good-sized, modern TV set at home, it's even more enjoyable to watch them! I guess the 21st century has its advantages.
11. Food! A blessing that I could probably do with a little less of. But I do love to eat good food, hopefully in moderation. I especially like ethnic and regional foods (Asian, Mexican, Central European, Mediterranean, Southern/Soul) and anything barbecue or associated with it. I also love soups and pies. And seafood (though I don't get that very often). I've been spoiled to have had a mother and a wife who are such terrific cooks; eating out is sometimes a disappointing experience because the place has to be VERY good indeed to match what I can get at home!
12. This beautiful place called Earth. God gave us such a beautiful (OK, sometimes challenging and scary) world to live in! Mountains, forests, meadows, marshes, rivers, oceans, even deserts--all teeming with an incredible array of life, all illuminated by the sun, the moon and stars, and sometimes even by the creatures themselves! I guess we'll have to expand this category to Creation. If our world/universe is so magnificent, how wonderful must Paradise be! I want to explore it all.
13. Work. I'm thankful to have decent employment; I'm not one of those lucky enough to "love my job," but it finances the richer parts of my life (home, family, books, etc.), and so many others today don't have this blessing. I should be spending more of my pay helping others.
14. Sleep. A blessing that I could probably do with a little more of. The older I get, the more I appreciate it. I'm fortunate to ride the bus to and from work, as I can sit back, close my eyes, and just rest for most of an hour if I want to (or read if I have the energy). I can do short "power naps" at home, too, which are really refreshing.
How about a couple of goals to close with?
15. To retire early enough, and with enough health and money left, to enjoy the rest of my life with my family, travel, read all these books I haven't gotten to yet, and enjoy a hobby or two, like fishing, photography, or painting.
16. To leave something worthwhile to my children, grandchildren, or other younger people. I'm not talking tangible things (except maybe books--expect a LOT of those!), but hopefully some insights, some wisdom that will enrich their lives. I'd like to satisfy myself and the Lord that I've made good use of the life He's given me.
So that's me, in a nutshell. OK, a rather LARGE nutshell!