Sacred Disruptions

Sunday morning, in the middle of what I imagined to be a particularly inspiring message;) I noticed a man walk in the door. In our building, the main aisle of the sanctuary leads through double doors through the narthex and through the front doors. If all of the doors are open, from where I teach, I can see into the parking lot. Or, in this case, I can see a man walk in 45 minutes late for the service.

The older, grey-haired man moved hesitantly inside the building, stopping for a moment at the pews. His presence distracted all of us, as it was designed to do. I welcomed him to “take a seat, brother.” His answer was to continue wordlessly down the aisle, towards me. I suppose I should’ve had a twinge of fear, I watch the news, after all. I didn’t, though. I felt nothing but curiosity. What was happening? How would this play out?

I asked him again to take a seat and, when he didn’t acknowledge my request, I drew back my fist and sunk it deep into his face, immediately erupting in a rush of blood… no, that’s not true at all. I did ask, he ignored, walked straight to me and turned around to begin his 2-minute sermon. He asked for 2 minutes (and took 4) to tell us about Jesus (perhaps figuring I had been neglecting my duty) in a Russian accent as thick as a Bond villain.

When he finished, he wouldn’t stay, as he was visiting all of the churches in town to give his message.

So, that happened.

Then, yesterday, I had the unbelievable honor of officiating a funeral service for a 90 year-old woman I had never met. The service was in a breathtaking stone monument at Fort Indiantown Gap National Cemetery on a cloudless day.

There is a sad dynamic that can occur on days like this, a judgment springing from the misguided notion that it is somehow selfish to mourn, that it is less spiritually faithful to acknowledge that your heart is broken. This is theology that has no basis in the Scriptures, so what I do in sacred spaces like this is give permission. I invite them to hold each other’s hands and walk into the most authentic spaces. We mourn and celebrate, weep and laugh. These tensions at hyper-significant moments are charged with the Divine, we must enter with our hearts fully exposed.

Feel this. And feel that. Miss her with every ounce of your being. And at the same time, dance in gratitude for having her at all. Everything matters. We are called to bring our honest, full selves to our relationships, especially the one with Our Creator. Do you think He doesn’t know??? Who told you to try to pretend? To try to hide? No, no, no, we bring it all, and give it to Him, and there (only there) find comfort, peace, life.

I love these things, where the lines between us are so blurry, sometimes they’re even invisible. We are truly present, here, now, together – it’s wonderful.

Now. The message I was giving when the mad Russian interrupted was on faith. The faith that believes the promises of God so deeply AND acts on them. The faith that allows us to say Yes to people, places, opportunities we otherwise wouldn’t, that we think are impossible. Maybe they are – certainly they are if we never try. I told a super-cool story about Elisha climbing onto a balance beam and reaching for my hand, taking for granted that it would be there – then I asked, “If you knew you had a hand that would be there, what would you be willing to try?”/What are your balance beams?

Would it be walking straight to the front of a church you’ve never been in, being seen as a complete weirdo?

Or would it be, despite the deafening voices in your head that tell you you’re nowhere close to good enough, agreeing to speak at a funeral for someone you’ve never met, where you feel hopelessly out of your league?

Who knows? Our beams are as different as we are, but we all have them, and sometimes it takes these sacred disruptions to notice.

 

 

Ice Trays and Litter Boxes

Last Sunday, in the message, I spoke a little about romance. Now, I recognize, this is a little like me speaking about the Russian Blue Cat (which is a thing, I just looked it up) or the history of basket weaving in the Philippines, but nevertheless, I had a microphone and a room full of wonderfully kind friends who would listen, so…

I work awfully hard on these messages, and use pretty careful notes for my messages. I use these notes not because I’m unfamiliar with the material and need to know what to say next, otherwise, I’d be stuck in front without a thing to say. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. I spend an overwhelming amount of time praying, studying, and crafting these weekly pieces – time I would more accurately define as worship, so I can enjoy sharing on Sunday, free of the stress of remembering my next line, open to any timely prompts that may come. These notes serve as boundaries, as a carefully manicured path confining me to a topic and time frame. If I stand with no notes, I fear we would have a Paul-in-Acts situation, where people would be falling (jumping?) out of windows after hours/days of discussion. 

Anyway. I had intended to mention a perceived lack of romance in a scheduled word, task, or rendezvous. Just a quick mention transmogrified into a momentary diatribe, where I suggested that to schedule was THE most romantic thing we can do for each other.

Sunday afternoon and Monday mornings are usually reserved for focusing on others, what they may have shared with me, prayer concerns, and every now and again, diving deeper into the ideas we explored.

Did I really talk about romance?

Its mention came in a section of what to do when we don’t want to do anything (THIS is a subject I can speak about – I KNOW not wanting to.) 

As I was thinking, I often don’t want to, often don’t feel like it, whatever ‘it’ is. I don’t want to take the trash out, do the dishes, work out, respond, fold the laundry, change the rabbit’s litter box, eat the vegetables, not eat the ice cream, fill the ice trays. And sometimes I don’t. But when I do them anyway, it’s for no other reason than love and service to the others in this house, and in my life.

Now that I think about it, I spend the time on my messages for the same reason – love and service to God, and those who offer the most costly thing we all possess, their time. To just ‘wing it,’ or ‘see where the Spirit leads’ (assuming the Spirit does no leading while alone in preparation) is unbelievably disrespectful.

Anyone can do the dishes when they’re in the mood, or if they love to do the dishes. Anyone can eat peas and Brussels sprouts if they like them. Anyone can hold your hand if they get something out of holding hands. 

It’s when you don’t feel like it that is the wonder.

It’s when you love someone when you don’t feel it that is the real beauty.

When I clear my schedule, or choose to get off the couch and fold underwear, it is ONLY an expression of value and worth. An intentional act of selfless grace. Roses and candles is sometimes love, but for me, changing the litter box always is.            

How Much I Like Her

Nearly 20 years ago, in September of 1998, I took a super foxy lady on our very first date. Sunday, we celebrated our 17th wedding anniversary.

So much has happened since those kids shared that meal.

In the vows I read to her, I warned her that there were lots of things I couldn’t promise, but one thing I could is that I would love her forever. That was a good promise, because it sounded good and romantic, as well as being one I’ve been able to keep.

Sunday, in church before the message, I had planned to say some nice things about her, play a love song, and wish her a Happy Anniversary. But things didn’t go the way I planned, which is just about a perfect metaphor for our whole relationship.

One of the most important things I have learned (and it’s something that I re-learn over and over, as if it were brand new) is that my plans, even my ‘best-case scenario’s’ pale in comparison to reality.

What I usually do is sit and dream about what is possible, if the planets all align and everything goes just right. What would that look like?? What would it feel like? How would I respond? 

I figure if it all falls apart, I’ll be heartbroken anyway. Even if I set my expectations so low I would trip over them, even if I ‘didn’t get my hopes up,’ I would still feel that suffering. My heart would still crack out loud. My tears would still flow. So, I’ve always gotten my hopes way up, and been a ‘wouldn’t it be awesome if…’ kind of person.

Sure, of course, sometimes my heart gets ripped from my chest, my disappointment is crushing, my dreams mock me as they become nightmares.

More often, for the things that really matter, the pie-in-the-sky dreams get exposed as laughably tiny. Reality is deeper, wider, thicker, more peaceful, more fulfilling than my imagination can fly.

As it is with my wife, our relationship. We planned, we scheduled the things that would make us happy, that would provide the structure for a happy life – and those plans and schedules turned to rubble, the structure crumbled, sometimes in the most painful of ways.  

And what was left, or rebuilt, was so much more beautiful.

I told her I’d love her forever, and I do, more now than I did, more now than I ever thought was possible. That was the unbelievable dream.

But, as I was going to tell her Sunday, that dream has been far exceeded, and the thing I’m most thankful for, the biggest gift, is how much I like her.

Here’s the song: https://youtu.be/b0y0A5j599Q

 

 

Showing Up

Last night, there was a giant midget baseball game. I understand that sounds like an oxymoron, like jumbo shrimp or just war or business ethics, but when you’re on a team of 11 & 12 years old (or their coaches), it’s absolutely true. Both teams were easily undefeated, mostly untested AND had bad feelings towards each other, setting up a Monday night clash they had anticipated for almost a year.

They had a monster pitching, who threw harder than most adults – yet in a puzzling twist for a youth league, was bent on changing speeds and showing every batter 2 or 3 curve balls. I couldn’t help but to think of the rampant arm problems at every level – and imagine a ‘Tommy John’ surgeon sitting behind the catcher whispering, “another curve ball,” and laughing maniacally. 

Anyway, we had one on the mound, as well. It was a great game, made better by the wonderful surprise that we won, scoring 2 in the last inning to win 4-3. There was heart, fundamentals, and tense excitement, the kind of game that reminds you why you love sports and, if you don’t, think maybe you could.   

At different times during the game, some of the boys buckled under self-imposed pressure, thinking they had to carry the entire team, the parents, and the fate of the universe on their shoulders to victory. Some wilted under their own perceived deficiency, believing the lie that they were unable to compete against such fierce competition. Some fought…until a blown strike or out call went against them, the circumstances of the moment poisoning their resolve. And all of them came to the field, just as they had every day, in terrible weather and brilliant sun, on bad days and good, and stood strong, through the ups and downs of the contest.

As it is with us, right? 

There have been seasons of my life where I felt the tremendous weight of perfection. The world/my friends/my parents/anything was broken and I would fix it, I would be Superman, hold it all together. But I wasn’t, couldn’t. Which isn’t the worst thing in the world. I can certainly help – I happen to be one of those fools who think that we are able to partner with God to reclaim what was lost, to repair what is broken, to bring light into the dark. But the pressure of being Superman actually contributed to a confusing apathy, freezing me into a position of inaction.

Also, I’ve known seasons (so so many) where I believed that I wasn’t enough – of what? Of everything. These disgusting, destructive lies paralyzed me for so long. If I’m honest, they still do (you know, if I’m honest, I still wrestle with the perfectionism, the Superman syndrome – well, probably still wrestle with all of them at different times.) What do you have to offer? Who do you think you are? You can’t hit that guy, he’s so big/throws so hard, and you’re just…you.

The situations, obstacles have pulled me under, so deep that I thought I would never come back up for air.

But the last one – that’s the one, baby, where we just show up and keep showing up. Maybe (probably) feeling the fear of insecurity, inadequacy. Maybe (probably) trying to hold things together. Maybe (probably) crushed in the undertow of, simply, living in a world that seems to conspire against us. And showing up anyway. Taking the field and giving everything we have to give – a great friend of mine says, leave it all on the field.

I’m sure I talk too much to the boys and, Friday night at practice, I told them the best advice I have. In baseball, in your marriage, at work, at school, give all you have, and hold nothing back. Then, even if you lose (and, there will be times we lose), you’ll sleep well.

How many marriages could be rescued if both of us ran as fast as we could, if we didn’t take any third strikes, if we dove at fly balls because we just might be able to catch them?

Last night, those boys created a beautiful work of art. But now, I wonder how many of our lives would become masterpieces if we gave our complete attention to this at-bat, this pitch, this ground ball – and not the next (or the last) game? If we just showed up, every day in every way?