Surrender 2

Black Panther is a brilliant superhero movie, exciting and sort of fresh, introducing new characters, new places, new conflicts. Honestly, I didn’t lose my mind over the movie itself, like so many did. I did, however, lose my mind over the social/cultural implications. 

But these implications are not what I want to talk about, right now. I’d be happy to do that another time. But in Open magazine (where she expanded on an idea I read in the entertainment magazine I faithfully read), Lupita Nyong’o, who played Nakia in the movie, said, “I feel very encouraged with where we are, the fact that a movie like this exists. There’s a lot of shifting going on in culture that is very encouraging. But I think that change is not an event, it’s a process. And so that is what I’m focused on, and that is what I want to participate in, the actual process of change, and not just an event where somehow we think that we are all fixed.”

Yesterday, I wrote a post called Surrender. Last night, I read this quote: “Change is not an event, it’s a process.” The post and this quote share the same perspective. (I may have mentioned that I was being pursued by this teaching – EVERYWHERE I look and listen, almost as if by accident, it’s there, with a new facet to be held.)

So. We do not change overnight – we learn to surrender, forgive, release, or anything else that truly matters. This learning is full of stops and starts, chutes and ladders, and the ground we’ve covered can really only be seen in hindsight, when we look back and notice that who we are now bears small resemblance with who we were then. The view is exhilarating and getting there/noticing it requires great intention and attention, and should be appreciated, not overlooked.

Currently, we’re discussing work/rest rhythm on Sundays, and this is of course intimately related. We rest, we stop and breathe, look around, notice where we are, where we are going, where we have been, engage in the journey of our lives, 

and enjoy it.

Ecclesiastes says, “People should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God.”     

Obviously, sometimes, the structures around us are broken and need to be confronted and corrected – and this confronting and correcting we must do. And in the words of Nyong’o, “that is what I’m focused on, and that is what I want to participate in, the actual process of change, and not just an event where somehow we think that we are all fixed.”

We are not all fixed, everything is in transition. The Bible is an account of movement, of participation. The story is going somewhere, we are going somewhere – and in the midst of all of this transition, where we often get and stay so busy and blind to the process, we have to pause to take in all of this beauty and wonder.

(This is an exciting time for me. I wonder what I’ll come across today…Maybe I’ll write again tomorrow.)  

Surrender

At our Advent retreat on Saturday… First, these retreats never fail to affect me deeply. I leave a changed man every time. Anyway, at our Advent retreat on Saturday, we held hands with the concept of surrender. This is fascinating, because it’s sort of a continuation of a conversation I’ve been having in my soul for months. This must be my season to finally make some new steps in understanding what it means. 

It usually turns out that I don’t really want to surrender. I want to grip the wheel of whatever, white-knuckled and breathless, and control what happens, carefully place where it goes. I just want some input in the outcome. But the truth is that I don’t really have any. I can only offer what I have to offer, I don’t get to decide where it lands, if the soil is soft and rich or hard and full of clay. 

I know this (but I don’t have to like it, right?), so I sat in silent contemplation with this truth, wrestling with it.

***

Yesterday, during the message, I made what I thought was a hilarious joke about 2 VERY similar Hebrew words (one meant ‘holy’ and the other was ‘prostitute.’) The words were similar because they meant ‘set apart for a particular purpose,’ and could describe both. Well, it wasn’t as funny as I thought it was, it fell flat and I moved on quickly. In my life, I have a long and embarrassing history of telling mis-placed jokes and saying the wrong thing, so it wasn’t too out of character.

But let me tell you, the time between when I say the wrong thing and when I know it is the wrong thing is getting shorter and shorter all the time. Now, it’s almost immediate that the words are out that I wish I could catch them and shove them back into my mouth.      

I think it may be the same thing with most areas of spiritual growth. Surrender, release, forgiveness, saying the perfect thing, or any number of others are not natural to me. Maybe they’re not natural to any of us. Maybe control or resentment or vengeance are so common and so powerful, they have become our default settings. That when we choose to forgive someone, it is in such conflict with our instincts that it is a complete re-programming that must be done. And that takes time. The more we do it, the more comfortable we are with the uncomfortability of it all, and the time between when we grasp and when we let go shrinks.     

I don’t know if I’ll ever feel a stressor and say, “hmm, I’ll just let that go,” and actually let that go before it rearranges the furniture in my head. When people say ‘Let Go and Let God,’ that’s probably why it’s not helpful at all. A. We know we should, and B. It sounds like it’s just easy to do, like we hang on because we want to, like we somehow enjoy the pain of anxiety or worry. We don’t want to, it just takes time to re-learn an entire cultural system that’s been fed to us since birth. It’s a process and it takes a lot of attention. 

But we’re getting there. I think it’s probably a lot like food or fitness. Today, if we have a bad day and eat a bunch of bad food or skip a workout, we feel like we are worthless and that the progress wasn’t really progress at all. Like, the numbers on the scale are up or we still tell bad jokes or go to bed angry or struggle to surrender and it’s so maddeningly frustrating and depressing. But, if we look back, with a wide lens, we’ve come so far and have changed so much, it’s cause for celebration (that we’ve sadly never acknowledged.)

***

In that retreat, I realized that I was wrong; I do want to surrender – the guy I used to be didn’t. I’m not that guy anymore. The truth is, I often don’t release the weight of control very quickly, if at all, but I want to, now, and that ‘want to’ makes all the difference. 

 

Basketball Season

Over the long Thanksgiving break from school, Samuel made the decision that he would like to play basketball for the Annville-Cleona 8th grade team. As he is naturally a very good athlete, this was not too surprising for me

Before we move on to the reason for this post, let me tell you these 2 things.

His first practice is at 2:30 today. How exciting! 

He was late to sign up, basketball practices have already started (his first practice is today, the team has been practicing for a week). So, I walked alongside him, but he had to communicate with the coach to ask if an exception would be made for him. Yesterday, as the girls began their practice, he strode across the gym with his head up and shook the coach’s hand, introduced himself and asked if he could, please, be added to the team. Yesterday, I was changing his diapers and bringing him home from the hospital and today he shakes hands, looks a man in the eye, and speaks clearly like a beautiful young man. And this morning, as I walked through the living room, he tackled me and knocked me clean off my feet. 

Anyway. It’s not surprising he changed his mind and wants to play basketball, but that means I have 2 boys on 2 different basketball teams, and THAT means I suddenly have a full calendar.

In April, I left a job to work full-time from home, so I’m flexible enough to have 2 boys on 2 different basketball teams. 

And I am overwhelmingly grateful.

I have no idea how long the work from home experiment will last, and sometimes I drift into an unhealthy train of thought wondering what I’ll do if/when it ends. And this causes me to close my eyes to what is in front of me right now. That’s what worry or regret or anxiety or even nostalgia does, blinds us to here and now.

These days are just such a wonderful gift. If the day comes when I can no longer work from home, what a shame it will be to look back on this season and wonder why I didn’t pay closer attention or notice more or linger longer. 

I finished my book this morning – written, edited, everything, all done and the shipment is on its way!! (By the way, this work is why these posts have been fairly irregular…) After I placed the order I crawled onto the floor and laughed, trying to wrap my arms around the fact that this blessed life is mine. 

One of the main themes that comes up again and again in the talks I give is presence – that we are fully present to our lives, that we not miss the bushes that are burning, that we not wake up and say, “God was in this place and I was not aware.” It feels like the refrain to a pop song, on repeat, but I suppose it needs to be, because the pull to somewhen else is so strong, always seeking to yank us out of our now. Maybe that’s the gift of the lesson, so that the time between when we start to fade out of this moment and we catch and realign ourselves gets shorter and shorter. Maybe that’s maturity, growth. Maybe we’ll always instinctually worry but we’ll reach the point where we immediately remember the verses in Matthew about birds and flowers and grasses of the field, and that tomorrow will worry about itself. And that’ll be enough to breathe again. 

I pray that Samuel is right where he is, about to throw up in the steel trash can next to the rack of basketballs from running so much, hating the running but having the time of his life, because someday, he’ll look back on this day and smile. I know he will, I do. Good times. 

I just hope he doesn’t say, “I wish I would’ve…” I hope I don’t, either.

Operation Christmas Child

This morning, in place of teaching, we served kids all over the world by putting together 100 shoeboxes for Samaritan’s Purse.  Our focus this year was for older boys, adding a dodgeball and ball pump to their boxes.  However we didn’t forget the girls, who were given purses filled with lots of girly things.  So many hands being used to send the love of Jesus out, so that others may hear the wonderful message of how much they are loved, not only by Jesus, but by us as well.

We pray over the boxes and all the hands that will touch them along the way.  That doors and countries will be opened, to allow the boxes to come in and be shared with the kids.  We pray over the teachers who will be teaching these kids about Jesus as they go through their 12 week program to hear who Jesus is.  This is a year long journey and we are happy to be apart of it.

Thank you to everyone who helped today, and in the planning process!  It works so much better when we all work together to make a big impact.  We also want to give a big thanks to Blue Mountain Thrift Shop for being apart of our ministry.

 

 

A Spot

I recognize it’s been quite a while since I wrote. I’m trying to breathe and take a bit of time to quietly work through some things. You know, for months, I’ve been working towards a sermon (but, you know, before you can communicate something, it has to settle into your soul) that I was thinking would be helpful for others… Then, a few weeks ago, I was assaulted by this same message (everything I heard & saw, every conversation, soundbite, dream, EVERY THING) and I realize now that it is not only for others;) I’m going to start what has transmogrified from a single message into a series this Sunday, and we’ll see what we can see.  

Anyway.

I have this thought, for today. 

I like to lift weights, for a lot of reasons, but the most important has nothing to do with how much weight is on a bar or if my belt is smaller or my back is bigger or if I can win at arm-wrestling. They’re all sort of cool, but I go to they gym because life can be hard, and has a lot of walls built-in. We all, to some extent, fight these automatic, involuntary negative thoughts that attack any time we begin anything new, or are pushed farther than is comfortable. Who do you think you are? You can’t do whatever, you are just a whatever, you’ll never be more than whatever. Any time we try to choose a different path, and change course towards becoming a healthier person (in any area – relationships, work, destructive habits, etc. You understand), the lies start, the chains tighten, we lose focus and figure that, probably, today is just an extension of yesterday and what’s the use anyway? 

And I used to not be able to do 1 pull-up. I used to not be able to bench press the bar.

But now I can. And now, when I get scared of change, of becoming (I was going to write, ‘of failure,’ but Marianne Williamson writes, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our Light, not our Darkness, that most frightens us,” and I think that’s pretty true. I’m not that afraid of failing, I’m more afraid of success. I’m not too afraid of being not enough, I’m much more afraid that what God says about me is true and what that would mean.) So, now, when I get scared, I think about the time I thought the weight would crush me. Only, it didn’t then, and it won’t now, and neither will this. Today wasn’t yesterday, who I was is not who I am. And I keep moving forward. 

One more thing about growth and the gym. Those times when I thought the bar would flatten me, I asked somebody for ‘a spot.’ This just means they would stand behind you and help you if you couldn’t do 1 (or 1 more.) They would encourage you when you didn’t want to, or didn’t think it was possible. When you couldn’t see the end, when all you could see was yesterday or the heavy weight in front of you. 

I know the cool, modern thing to say is that the local church is outdated and unnecessary, but I’m not so sure that’s true. Sometimes, I am overwhelmed with sadness, or rage, or loneliness, and I think it’s all hopeless, that the world is falling apart, my imagination is disappearing, and what’s the use anyway? It’s these times when I need a fresh word, a different perspective, another’s hands on the bar so I don’t get smushed. It’s those times when I need a spot.