Tonight is Senior Night for the basketball team. There are 3 games left, and this is the last home game. Maybe there will be playoffs, but I don’t have anywhere close to the intellectual capacity to figure that out – the districts, sections, and classes have never made any sense to me. I imagine someone will tell me if we have more games.
This team is much much better than previous years. There was a toxic class to pass through the school and their influence will take time to dissipate, so this year was the first in rebuilding an entire culture and, playoffs or not, has been an almost total success. “Learning to win” is a tired sports cliche and the reason it’s tired is because it’s so often true. These boys are beginning to learn to win. Tonight, that isn’t an issue, they will probably not have to worry about winning. But the great thing about sports is that you never know. In the 1988 World Series, the Los Angeles Dodgers beat an unbeatable Oakland A’s team in 5 games. It was impossible, yet it happened. So maybe…but the result hardly matters.
Tonight is the first senior night for my oldest son (there will be another one for baseball in the spring.) We’ll walk him out to the middle of the court and smile and barely keep it together. Or we won’t and the Angel and I will cry like babies. Either way, we will be there, fully present, with each other and with all of the emotions surging in our hearts and souls.
I’m remembering the night I learned he was no longer an idea. The Angel took a test on the phone with me, of course I couldn’t wait to get home, and she gave me the news. I was on 422 coming through Lebanon and pulled over in front of the community college and wept, equal parts terror and elation. Well, not exactly equal parts. We had prayed for him and now he actually existed, it was more celebration and gratitude. But there was certainly terror, swirled in like the cream cheese filling in a pumpkin roll. What kind of daddy would I be? Was I ready? What kind of boy would he be? And the hundred million more questions that flood in once the doors have been opened.
If you’ve met him, you know how amazing he is. If you haven’t, I’m sorry, you really should.
We often refer to a 2 hands theology, and a 2 hands life. Nothing is usually just 1 thing, it’s a combination, more like a hurricane, of different, sometimes wildly conflicting, emotions. Tonight, I’ll be proud of my boy, happy for the boy he’s been, the guy he is, and the man he’s becoming and grateful that I got to watch him so closely and know him so well. I’ll also be heartbroken, crushed that he’ll not nap on my chest again, and frustrated that each day couldn’t have been forever. What a 2 hand anything requires is honesty. We show up as we are, feel what we feel, no hiding, no images. We don’t miss a thing. We don’t wake up and say “God was in this place and I was unaware.” We show up.
I think back to all of the moments that brought us here. I didn’t want to go to Lebanon Valley College, but somehow I found myself there, a business major in 2 classes with the Angel, who had a boyfriend for nearly all 4 years. She happened to drop him right on time. I happened to be in the computer lab one evening, and she happened to be there, too. I happened to talk to her, even though she was ridiculously far out of my league. I happened to be on a plan that took more than 4 years – the last semester, which I shouldn’t have had, was when we met and went on our first date. We happened to go on that date, happened to get married, and happened to make this person who will have his senior night tonight.
I say “happened to” and “make” with the same posture. It all seems so orchestrated, almost as if there was a wonderfully loving God making paths, moving feet and softening so many hearts, which of course, He was. We didn’t make Samuel alone, couldn’t have ever made Samuel without the Creator of the Universe making him first.
So now, I want to tell you my answer, with 18 years of hindsight, to the question if I was a good daddy. Maybe. What I do know is that I was intentional. Everything I did (even the mistakes I made) I did on purpose. When he sits down with a therapist to complain about me, what he’ll say is that I hugged, kissed, and told him I loved him too much and too often. And I can live with that.
There are other places where I’ve written to him (beginning with that positive test on his first night), much more detail I could, and will, dive into, but those are only for him and I. Here, tonight is senior night and I will do the 2 things I have done every day of his life; I will be there, authentically, embarrassingly me, present and engaged, and more than that, more than anything else, I will love him.
A woman I’ve recently met lost her husband last year. I didn’t know her then, I never met him. She began coming to a small group after her tragedy, as a broken-hearted widow trying to hold on to God, to other people, to meaning, to today, to life. She sometimes looked tired, sometimes like she had just finished weeping (which she probably had), yet she always shows up.
I stay quiet, muted in my Zoom box, watching and listening, fully present to her suffering. You know, in the book of Lamentations, the author wails “Look! See!”, simply seeking a witness to this searing pain. The crushing hurt of loss and abandonment has overtaken her, “Look at this affliction!” In Lamentations, the God she knows has “broken my teeth with gravel; He has trampled me in the dust.”
This woman I know understands Lamentations, I bet, only too well. She said last week, “I don’t trust God so much right now.” I don’t know how she felt about saying it. Sometimes, we can get so wrapped up in what we are “supposed to” say, “supposed to” do, who we “should” be, that we ignore who we are. And from behind that facade, we ignore who God is.
When I was in seminary, studying the Bible and writing research paper after research paper, more than any particular story or verse, I was surprised at what I was finding over and over. The overwhelming theme was God’s desire for honesty. Even as He was commanding rites and rituals, He was reminding us that the rites and rituals meant nothing at all without heart. If they were just sacrifices, just songs sung and hands raised in church, just plastered smiles and rote prayers, they were nothing more than hypocritical performance. The Scripture tells of a God who wants us, who we are, how we are, right here, right now, instead of our hollow dog and pony shows.
This woman I know sees the value in showing up in her weary brokenness. Which looks exactly like grace, His grace as well as her own. I think when she says, “I don’t trust God so much right now,” He probably smiles, because in her courageous authenticity, she is displaying that she does. She trusts Him enough to tell Him the truth, confident He won’t leave her, that He’ll keep His arms around her. And if she doesn’t feel it this second, she will.
And she has chosen to trust us. We have been this woman’s witnesses. We almost never get the answers we think we want, but we do get hands to hold. We get people to love us and hold us up when we just can’t do it ourselves anymore.
This is an online Bridge post, but it’s also a love letter to her (that she may never read). I want to thank her. I want to tell her how much she’s meant to me, how she’s inspired me, how she’s given me courage and strength by simply being a warrior everyday and letting me watch. I guess that’s why we were given The Church. Showing up and taking one more step is nothing to do alone, our gift is that we get to take those steps and live these lives as a community. And if we keep showing up, keep opening our eyes, hearts and hands to each other, we get to experience these moments of immeasurable beauty and love up close.
Sunday we discussed marriage, single-ness (if that is even a word…it doesn’t feel like it is), and sex. The Apostle Paul writes about these subjects often, they’re found in many other spaces in the Bible, yet every time a sermon in church is based around sex, it’s met with a certain level of surprise and/or uncomfortability. This unease increases even more when the topic becomes sex between married couples. I suppose I know why, but it’s points to an early breakdown that has led us all down many different, unhealthy paths having little to do with sex at all.
The cracks begin with a bizarre learned aversion to conversation, especially about the most important topics. This aversion leads to a pathetic lack of communication that gives rise to the lie that sex is dirty and obscene and should be kept out of view. Obviously, this secrecy (like all secrecy) is the doorway into any number of dark rooms that are steal our dignity and are dishonoring to our hearts, souls, bodies & spirits.
When we build entire structures around the notion that some things need to be hidden in the darkest places, guilt and shame grow like mushrooms. Shame isolates us, and we stay sick with imaginary diseases. Sex isn’t shameful, isn’t dirty or obscene. It can be, but just because something can be misused doesn’t mean the thing is defective.
I can’t say the first talk I gave on sex didn’t give me deep pangs of anxiety, but I can absolutely tell you that it doesn’t now (any more than anything else. I still get butterflies of excitement every single Sunday, and I hope they never stop.)
The more we talk openly & respectfully about anything, the less power it has over us, the less fear-inducing it is. The more we can drag into the light, the less mold can spread. The 30th difficult boundary conversation is much less threatening than the first, and as it loses power, we can much more treat ourselves and each other with kindness instead of control. That need for control is rooted in fear. And control and love simply cannot coexist, so the more we can remove that fear, the more love we can display, the more love we can freely give.
If I don’t need you to see everything my way, vote for my candidate, behave the way I want you to, I can then allow you to be you, listen, actually listen, and maybe exercise some empathy (in some cases long dormant) and find the common ground that is always there. Common ground and understanding are nearly impossible to discover from behind thick walls of fear.
If we can talk honestly about marital sex and it’s many gifts (intimacy, connection, affection, I could go on and on), then maybe it won’t be a monster in the corners of the church. The Church has long been afraid of human sexuality, maybe she should be more concerned with secrecy and isolation. But again, just because the Church & religion have been misused, doesn’t mean they’re worthless. Quite the opposite. They are perhaps more valuable, more important, now than ever. But we can’t ever get to reclaiming the actual divine picture of The Church if we’re too proud or too frightened to mention Her and/or address the ways She’s been defaced. Think about the violence done in the name of Jesus, and imagine the horror and hopelessness if we threw Him away because of the offenses done in His lovely Name.
So we’ll keep talking about the beautiful purity of sex and the way it’s been dragged through muddy alleys. We’ll keep screaming about the immeasurable joy of marriage and mourning the damage too often done in the context of a lesser view. We’ll keep having these discussions with hands open in love, reclaiming these life-giving words and concepts, and we’ll do this all together.
We’re nearly 2 weeks into the new year and the vast majority of New Years resolutions have fallen by the wayside. The new faces at the gym have disappeared, new diets have crashed, we are hopelessly behind on our devotional plans. That’s not unusual, resolutions historically aren’t so resolute.
However, the interesting thing to me is the question behind them. We are responding to a prompt or a call, a desire to address a problem area, or a pull forward into needed growth. The catalyst that leads to the resolution remains long after the resolution is forgotten. It’s vital that we not forget the catalyst, too.
The focus word we discussed is different from a resolution because there’s no failure, perceived or otherwise, involved. If we’ve not decided on a word, we can do it now. If we have one, and haven’t moved towards it, towards making it a part of our lives, we don’t have to wait for next January, we can pay attention tonight, right now. We’ve been prompted, called, given a desire, whether we act on it doesn’t change the fact that the Spirit moved in us.
I’ll often begin long discussions with myself to talk myself out of this reality. Maybe it was just me, a delusion, vanity, maybe I was following a trend, heard somebody say something on a podcast, or a Sunday sermon, maybe it was indigestion. But it probably wasn’t God, right?
Why do I do that? Maybe you do, too, and maybe our answers are very very different, as different as we are, but I’m thinking that instinct is, and has always been, misguided, grounded in a misunderstanding of our value.
The prophet Samuel had to be called several times before he could acknowledge that it was actually the God of the Universe saying his name. I wonder how many fishermen and tax collectors Jesus had to ask to “follow me,” before the 12 came to grips that He wanted them, was asking them on purpose.
Sometimes we don’t continue on this path because we don’t think we’re worth the time and energy and care to give to our own growth. We are what we are, and we’ll always be. I used to think that way, but it’s strange, the more time I spend in the Scriptures, the more I’m convinced of His love for me. And for you, no matter who I am or who you are. The seeming conflict in that – that we are all loved so extravagantly, like we are His very favorite – makes us big and small. It fills us with confidence and humility. We understand that the refrigerator is His and our picture is on it. Mine, yours, everyone’s, picture is on it. He’d die for us, why is it so hard to believe He’d want to spend time or call us into the life He promises, the life He created us to live?
So, maybe your devotional calendar says January 3, skip ahead to the today, 13, and start again. Then start again when you get behind. Go back to the gym, make dinner a good one, reach out, connect, go to bed early, turn your phone off, whatever is sticking in your heart. Listen to that, listen to Him. You are loved beyond reason or limit. And maybe you did make it up, maybe it was dehydration, and that’s ok, too. Start anyway. As Paul writes in Romans, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” And remember, we’re worth it, and I know because He says we are.
Yesterday, we continued a discussion on the Story we find ourselves in, as well as our role in it. I can’t think of any better day than New Years Day to look back, reflecting on what has past, and look forward, considering the future. Where have we been, where are we going? What have we learned, where have we grown, where have we fallen, where have we soared?
Where Christmas was a discussion of THE GIFT, New Years is one of response. As we move through Advent and Christmas, we enter a new season: Epiphany. The significance of Epiphany, The Christ child is here, what does that mean? He has come, so what now? Our lives are our answer to the question of Epiphany, our answer to His coming, our rescue, our salvation.
A great, meaningful life (which we can also call a faithful response) doesn’t happen by accident. We don’t get where we’re going without an idea where we want to go, or a knowledge of where we’re called to go. Again, this conversation is about the call, what Story, Whose Story, we’re in and what our part is.
Each person’s individual calling can be different, but one thing is always certain: It’s God’s Story, and He gave us all a call in common.
This common call is found in the words of Jesus in Matthew 28:18-20 “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
GO and MAKE DISCIPLES. We talk a lot about the first part (“As we’re going”), not as much specifically about the 2nd (“make disciples.”) How exactly do we do that? How do we make disciples? With our words (1 Peter 3:15 “Worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to give an account”), song, beliefs, doctrine, time, $, energy, and I’d suggest, most importantly, with our lives.
So, what kinds of lives are they? New Years is a great time to ask these questions and set path forward. Years ago, a woman opened my eyes to the value of a ‘word for the year’ to set my focus upon, to set this path upon.
What’s important with any path is that we’re on it. We need to start, take a step, move, join, jump in. Where is yours? Where are you being called to take steps? What do you think?
Here are our questions to ask: What kind of life am I living? What needs attention? What needs to change? What needs to be fed?
The cool thing about living a life WITH Jesus is that no one has to give us much direction here. You are probably feeling something very specific to you and your circumstances, listen to that. God is speaking, we simply aren’t listening too much. Or we’re ignoring what we hear, for whatever reason, usually fear. We just might need to stop and be quiet long enough to listen to the Spirit moving within our souls.
We are the artists of our lives, what sorts of lives will we create???Where do we start?
Zechariah 10 contains the idea of a plumb line. A plumb line is a string with a weight designed to set a straight line to build walls. We’re not building walls, we’re building something much more important. He is our plumb line. He is (according to the scholar Creasy:) “the straight line by which we measure our crookedness.”
The idea of a plumb line is to have a YES – something to look & move towards.
What makes your heart sing? What excites you? What stirs your heart? What are you being called into? As you answer, let your community help, encourage, spur you on, and love you as you go out from this awesome Dinner Table.
There is one more idea in Zechariah 4:10, “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin…”It is NEVER too small, God loves when we start, when we take a step towards Him and His Story. The greatest achievements all have 1 thing in common: somebody started. How do you build a temple? A brick at a time. How do you build a life? A brick, a step, a bite at a time, on purpose.
1 last (not always obvious) thing before we get to some more questions; To use a plum line requires we have one. To line ourselves up to Him, we need to know Him and what He says. We need to walk with Him, read His Word, pray, spend time, let His Spirit guide us and speak to our hearts.
The word of the year for the Bridge is “Love.” What does it mean in our lives to love Him? To love each other? What does it mean in & for this community?
So what’s yours? (And no reasons why not!! Who knows what’s possible when nothing is impossible?) What kind of life are you building? Where will you give your attention? (And tell someone – tell me;)
What I do know is that we’ll keep our eyes on the plumb line, dreaming, praying, listening, building this Bridge, and getting our love all over everybody. That’s the thing that set apart the early church and it’s same thing that sets us apart today.
This will be the last post of the year, and I’m thinking back on the year, while looking forward. I totally recognize that everything I write at this time of year shares a common thread. This is no surprise, here or anywhere (I am by no means unique in this – every post anywhere shares this common thread.) It’s a natural transition.
Often times, circumstances coerce us to move, our situations force us to turn. Something has to, we only change when that pain becomes larger and hurts more than the pain of staying the same. Though it doesn’t always feel like it, it’s mostly a necessary, positive step and will usually leave us better than we were before. The big problem with this sort of transformation is that it’s an individual, lonely journey. Yes, if we’ve been blessed and intentional with that blessing, we have a community to hold us up, but they cannot know where we are in the deepest parts of us. That’s why the first step is so frightening and intimidating, it is one that feels as if we take it alone. (We aren’t, of course, but it certainly seems like it’s totally in the dark.)
This time of year is abnormal because we all stand in the same dark space with the same invitation in our hands. Who were we, who are we, and who will we become?
It’s an invitation that confronts our beliefs about what is possible.
Even the characters in the Big Story we tell around Christmastime were given the same invitation. I wonder if there were others that said “no” or “I can’t,” or “what if You’re wrong,” before Zechariah and Elizabeth received their angelic visit. We know Abram’s father, Terah, had the opportunity to “GO,” which he refused, before Abram was given his call. They were all faced with the same choice we are, will this be a space where we say “Yes?” The five we read about (Zechariah, Elizabeth, Joseph, Mary, and Jesus Himself) all answered; this was the life they said yes to.
Can we say the same? Is this the life we said yes to? Is it the one we will continue to say yes to? Or is it simply the one we have?
As Patricia beautifully phrased in Saturday’s retreat, “We are invited to giving birth to all that can be.” We spend so much time at the Bridge (because the Bible spends so much time) discussing the vital role imagination plays in faith, hope and love (“but the greatest of these is love”;) Will we have the courage to be so vulnerable to dream of something different, something new? Faith is the assurance of things we can’t see – that takes God-breathed imagination. So, will we? Or is it just what it is, what it has always been? Is this just the way I am, and will always be? What keeps us from answering that invitation to give birth to all that can be?
Yes, we’re scared to fail, to fall, but you understand by now, we’re also terrified to shine & fly. I don’t know what the Bridge can be, I don’t know what I can be, but I do know I’m beginning to get more and more comfortable to the idea of finding out. I’m absolutely convinced we all have a divine call that is our own (in addition to the command to Love God & each other, and The Great Commission.) Maybe this year we would hear it. Maybe we already have, we’re just been full of reasons why we might have been mistaken in what we heard. Who knows? I just know we’re in this together, “let’s take this one step at a time, I’ll hold your hand if you hold mine,” so this year, let’s agree to be open to the possibility. After all, this Christmas story begins with a baby (!!!) and ends with an empty tomb (!!!!!!!!!!!), so maybe our wildest dreams aren’t big and amazing enough for this kind of God.
So, my brothers & sisters, have a truly joyful New Year.
Christmas Day is this Sunday. Everyone you see asks, “are you ready?” and the answer is nearly always, “I guess we’ll have to be.” If Christmas was in February, or June, we wouldn’t be ready then, either. There’s so much to do, so much to buy, so many extended family members we don’t see throughout the year to schedule, avalanches of year end duties we work a little later to complete.
We’re finished, but finished or not, every year, on the morning of Christmas Eve, I go out shopping by myself for 1 more thing for my boys. I sort of like the energy of the deadline. The message for Saturday evening is done, as well, but I continue to work on it in the same fashion, with that bass note of nervous energy in the background. It’s very exciting, and as far as my work, it’s reserved for 3 weeks during the year; Christmas Eve, Easter Sunday, and Father’s Day. Those 3 are the days that so clearly illustrate Who God is, who I am, and they remind me from where I’ve come, where I was when He rescued me and loved me back to life.
Yesterday, I prayed, thought, meditated, wrestled and wrote for hours for Saturday night, many of those words typed through tears on this iPad that has seen and been through so much with me.
Next week is New Years and that’s only slightly less charged for me. I love to look forward, dreaming of who I will become, who we will become, what we will experience, how we will grow, listening for the guidance of the Spirit in me.
But yesterday, as the emotions swirled and swelled, it was as I thought of who I was and who I am now. It was in pictures of those who walk with me. It was of the God Who was the same last year and will be the same this year and the next, the same 2,000 years ago and 2,000 years from now – faithful, loving and awesome.
Next week is for what will be, this week is for what is. It is a week, a season to, as written in 1 Sam 12:24, “…consider what great things He has done for you.”
So, my question in this relatively unusual post is: What great things has He done for you?
And as you probably already know, the real ask behind that question is: Are our eyes open to the great things He has done for us? Are we awake to the sacred in our midst? Are the blessings acknowledged as divine blessings or simply ‘things that happen?’
It is a week for reflecting on great things.
I know full well that this year has included more than it’s fair share (as every year does) of not-so-great things. There are newly empty chairs. Brand new fears and anxieties. Illnesses, wounds, scars. Suffering floating in floods of tears. Heartbreak. Disappointment. Unanswered questions and prayers. Sadness. Depression. Isolation. I know. We all know, more intimately than we’d expected or probably would admit.
I think the verse asks us to “consider” the great things because the not-so-great sometimes sit so closely to the surface. It takes intention and effort to consider the great things.
That’s the invite here. Take a moment out of the mad scramble of the days before Christmas morning to consider. Consider the people who held your hand while you wept, the people who asked how you were and listened, actually listened, when you told them. Consider the once empty chairs that aren’t empty anymore, filled with new family members.
Maybe the great things will be stuff or promotions or pay raises, but for me, as I consider, almost every one of the great things in my life are people. You are The Great Things. The ones who showed up and stayed. The ones who prayed for me and held me up when I couldn’t get up on my own, who celebrated with me when I could.
I now truly understand why God didn’t answer Elijah’s questions in that cave, but instead, told him that there were people nearby who would love him, even as he broke down.
We will worship The Baby That Changed Everything, we will praise Him with all we have. And we will do that together, because That Baby became a Man Who gave us The Church when He left. You are not ‘things that happen,’ you are divine gifts sent from a spectacularly loving God. And when I sit down to thank Him, I will thank Him for you.
As we race towards the end of the year and the beginning of a new one, it is my practice to reflect on where I’ve come from and look to where I’m going. I pick a focus word or 2 and make a plan to move forward (in pencil). There have been times when what is in front of me is intimidating in its scope, like staring at a smooth, slick wall stretching up into the clouds. Where do I even start?
If you’ve ever watched the show Hoarders, as the houses fall into such a state of disrepair, the people fall into a state of apathy. The work is so vast, it’s hard to see any way out. They have no idea how to clean what used to be their home but is now just a storage space for dirty dishes, trash, and junk. There is no end in sight, no light at the end of a massive tunnel.
A life can feel exactly the same. I remember many times, for seasons or years, where my soul was one of those houses. There were behaviors that didn’t serve me well, destructive habits, the worst tape loops playing in my head, self-sabotage, all buried under an avalanche of unhealthy perspectives. The task, cleaning me up, creating new pathways, was so enormous, I ended the next year with, at best, the same work ahead as the previous.
What I so clearly see now is that the answer is the same, put a few dishes in the sink today. Then a few more tomorrow. In the Bible, the exiled Jewish people return home and work begins to rebuild the temple. The old temple that had been razed was so grand, fantastically ornate and glorious, how could they ever possibly rebuild that one? The prophet Zechariah wrote, “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin, to see the plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hand.” (Zech. 4:10)
There is a Japanese concept called kaisen, where continuous small, almost imperceptible changes compound, leaving the company, or process, drastically transformed.
I think this is what Zechariah is talking about, kaisen, or small beginnings. Set a plumb line – in this case, set our eyes on God and His vision for the temple, or our lives, families, communities, nations. This plumb line stays static, not swaying to meet the popular, convenient, or comfortable, and we begin to build with that as our guide. One block at a time. One dish. One moment. One lie in the tape loops that screamed in my ears. Just one. One step. We don’t need to know when the tunnel ends, or even where it will lead. We have a plumb line, and that plumb line is trustworthy and certain.
I know one step seems insignificant. We want to lose 100lbs by working out for 7 hours a day every day, but the next time that works will be the first, and we end up doing nothing. If we eat a bag of Oreos every day, maybe instead of eating none, we eat a bag minus one today. Or we do 1 pushup. Or read 1 verse.
We set the plumb line, don’t despise the small beginnings, and know that Our God, Our Creator rejoices to see the work begin. Then, the next year, we look back and barely recognize the person who began the work. We are increasingly new. We can see our bed and sleep in it without risk of suffocating under all of the ways we harm ourselves.
There is an old adage, an answer to the question, “How do you eat an elephant?” One bite at a time. Maybe this year, we start taking bites.
I just received a new book as a Christmas gift from a very good friend who buys me books I always love. Not this Christmas. This was a gift from last Christmas, but we couldn’t find the time to get entire families together to exchange presents and, more importantly, presence.
I’m embarrassed to say we couldn’t find the time, but all I can say now is that I won’t say it again.
The book is called Daily Prayer, and there’s a passage I want to share with you: “Most of us are in dialogue when we read a book. I know I am. That’s the point, I think; to listen to the writer, to listen to yourself and to listen to the space between where things said by neither are nonetheless said. The things we take away are the things that we were already looking for. What you seek is seeking you, said Rumi, and while this is a frightening concept, it can be a consoling one if we listen to the desires that will feed us, not destroy us. Rumi asks us to trust that wisdom waits, and might be found in unlikely corners.”
We talk a lot about these conversations with the Bible. We find what we find, sometimes it’s in the text and sometimes it’s not. But it is absolutely vital that we acknowledge this dialogue and listen to what is being said to us in this personal space. Every now and again, someone hears a talk of mine and comments on what they heard and it’s impact on them here, now, and I wonder where they heard that because it sure wasn’t in my message. It hardly matters, it’s awesome either way.
[An unrelated observation: “the desires that feed us, not destroy us” – can you think of any 1 piece of advice more important than learning to tell the difference between the 2?]
This passage is in the How To Use This Book chapter, then on the page called 30 (for the day of the month): “May we listen to our hearts when they burn with life knowing that You are speaking with us. Because You are with us along the way in the faces of many strangers.” That is what’s called a Benediction, which is a sending off with a blessing, and often it’s just words. But today, as I read it and talk back and listen, I’m thinking of the times when I don’t listen to my heart, don’t know it is God who is speaking. In my distraction, leaving those words unnoticed, I take this beautifully sacred divine moment and treat it like it was no more than hollow noise. And I’m thinking of the stranger’s faces that I ignore, walking past the very face of Jesus. Maybe there aren’t ordinary moments, just spectacular holy moments that we miss.
I don’t know if that’s true. Maybe there is ordinary time, but as that time is truly lived, fully present, it becomes holy. And spectacular.
I’m having dinner with close friends tonight and it’s “just” dinner on a Wednesday evening in November. No event, no real reason to get together, nothing special. Hold on, “nothing special?” We are brothers and sisters sharing a meal, what could be more special? That’s the event. That’s the reason. Lives lived together. If only that would be the ordinary.
I will remember this passage, will notice my heart burn, at dinner. Then, afterwards, at a high school basketball scrimmage. Then, at 1am, as the Angel and my boy Samuel arrive home from a school trip to DisneyWorld. I’ll hug and kiss them both (and then I’ll do it again.) The more I think about it, how could I miss anything? This morning I sat with a brother and listened to his soul cry out. Tomorrow I’ll go to the gym, eat a salad and tapioca pudding, and work in the weight room before the 4 of us (together again!!!) sit down to dinner. Can any of this really be called ordinary?
Or maybe it all is ordinary, unexceptional, until we turn our eyes and hearts and jump in with our whole selves. We participate in this Story happening all around us, and in the engagement (in the dialogue) it becomes…actually, it crackles and hums with meaning, significance, with life. The Spirit sings and in the listening, we finally hear it.
It’s a pretty good book so far.
Yesterday was Thanksgiving. It has become everybody’s favorite holiday because the day includes all of the best parts of Christmas without the commerciality and gift drama. In my case, my immediate family gathers in New Jersey at my sister’s home and we eat too much and laugh the perfect amount.
Sadly, we were missing my aunt and cousins, which feels a little like going outside without a coat – incomplete and a little chillier. They weren’t there because my cousin’s boyfriend had recently lost his father, this was the first Thanksgiving without him, and they all chose to stay in and celebrate (and mourn) with his mother. This was the right decision, of course, but I can’t help missing them.
That’s the thing about holidays, right? They can serve as a sort of magnifying glass, bringing the sadness we can carry all year into focus. We picked up my mom early, and I purposefully drove the neighborhood streets my dad used to drive – the streets that are ancillary, totally unnecessary, only adding time and distance to the trip. I did that because there is an empty chair at Thanksgiving forever. He loved to eat as much as I do, though he was much messier leaving corn, crumbs, and anything else in his mustache. (I have no hard evidence for this, but I believe he had that mustache because Magnum P.I. had the greatest mustache and my mom, like everyone else, loved the way Magnum P.I. looked.) I miss him and I feel his absence on holidays the most.
This isn’t a terrible thing, by the way. It only feels like it is for the first few years, then that searing pain become an ache, which dulls over time, never fully disappearing.
So, I love my sister’s dog, Ty. He loves me, too. You might think you’ve met the best dog, but you’re wrong. He is. He’s a pit bull mix that looks a lot like the living gargoyles in the first Ghostbusters movie. He’s a gentle giant, who could shred bad guys but who probably wouldn’t. The odds are very high that he wouldn’t, but not zero, which only makes him more and more awesome. Every time I get there, I hug the humans, then settle in with my dog and pet him for as long as we do.
He is aging, he’s a big old guy now, and when we left, I stayed after everyone went outside and kissed him on his nose and told him through tears how much I love him and how thankful I was that he was there, just in case. One of these holidays, he won’t be there.
Ty isn’t my dad, or my cousin’s boyfriend’s mom, or the many empty chairs in our homes and lives, but let me tell you why I said earlier that it ‘wasn’t a terrible thing,’ which I intentionally understated. Not only isn’t it terrible, but it is one of the absolute greatest gifts we can ever receive.
You don’t remember everyone, people pass away every minute of every day. We remember, we mourn for, and our hearts break out loud for those who made space (and who we made space for) to live in our lives. We shed those tears, our stomach’s hurt, our chest tightens, because they mattered to us in ways very few do. Their impact was heavy and left/leaves us forever different, forever transformed. My dad’s passing broke me and when I healed, broken pieces still visible just not sharp anymore, I was very very different. Most of the parts of me you like best were forged in that season, where, like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, Jesus was in the fire with me, holding me, comforting me, whispering in my ear that this suffering was a gift, too. I didn’t exactly believe him then, but I sure do now.
When Ty isn’t on his bed for a future Thanksgiving, I’ll miss him, and as I do, I’ll thank the God of Everything that I do. I will have loved this dog, this beautiful blessing, and what could be better than to have loved? Nothing, that’s what.
And this is why I hug so well, why I tell you how much you matter so much (and sometimes so uncomfortably), why I hold hands too long, why I cry often, why I ask so many questions, listen, overshare and allow my emotions to rest on the outside of my skin. Because I am finally awake, and being alive and awake means that I am grateful for all of it.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone.