Every manifestation of greatness has hidden behind it a life of discipling, determination, and persistence. – Erwin McManus
Our local school district sends an email every Sunday that details upcoming events. This was one of the bullet points in Sunday’s message to parents:
“As a District, we are focusing more on Social Emotional Learning (SEL). At the Secondary School, all students will participate in bi-monthly meetings with their teacher during Advisory/Enrichment. The first meeting will be on Monday, September 16. The topic is Passion and Joy and the question all students will be asked to consider is: “What brings passion or purpose to my life?” Please feel free to ask your son/daughter about this as it will help bridge the home-to-school connection.”
I did ask my son, a 9th grade student, for his help in bridging the home-to-school connection, “First, what in the world is Social Emotional Learning? And second, what brings purpose to your life?” I don’t know if you’ve ever held a conversation with a 14 year old boy, but I still don’t know what social emotional learning is. It sounds important. After all, it has an acronym. All modern “important” things have acronyms. Truth is, I don’t much care what the administration means by SEL, I just love the 2nd question and he was able to answer that beautifully.
It’s a variation of my favorite question: what is your why? Why do you do what you do? We all answer that in so many ways in everything we do.
I began with the McManus quote because discipling, determination, and persistence can never come without passion or purpose, without a why. If I don’t have a reason, it’s just an exercise in the will alone and that power loses interest or is distracted or stays up too late or gets sick or finds a date. Something will become more valuable and that will get the focus that was on the last shiny thing. The reason the SEL class started with passion/purpose is because that’s where everything starts (or, at least, should start). Without a solid why, persistence is generally impossible.
Most of my biggest disappointments, the things that kept me up at night, could be traced to a lack of determination and persistence. I failed tests because I didn’t study, lost games and underperformed where I hadn’t practiced or prepared. But it wasn’t a lack of determination. I actually have plenty of that – just not in those spaces, for that work. I wasn’t missing resolve or self-control, I was only missing a raison d’être, or more aptly, a raison de faire. (I have no idea if that is a real saying – I know raison d’être is “reason to be,” and raison de faire might very well be “reason to do” – probably because I didn’t pay enough attention in French class. I had no reason to, then. How could I know I’d write this someday?)
I wonder how often our passions line up with our lives. If they don’t, life can feel very much like an uphill climb. We would be tired, bored, uninspired. We would continue to believe awfully destructive lies about ourselves, like that we are lazy or unintelligent or clumsy or weak or whatever, when in reality, we are simply searching for our why.
I’m sure my son’s why will change, and I hope and pray he changes with it, tightly holding onto it’s hand until it becomes a Him and he truly learns the meaning of the statement, “I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.” (Jn 10:10 MSG)
Yesterday I received a text message that said, “Is this Chad Slabach?” What a strange, interesting text – it could be anyone, about anything, and begs so many questions. Who is this? How did you get my number, and why? It’s like a big open door leading to who knows where. How exciting!
So, I couldn’t do what I always do when I don’t recognize a number and ignore it (there are soooo many telemarketing garbage calls). This person knew my name, which immediately placed them in a different, more personal, category than the callers who don’t know my name but have an urgent message from a random electric provider regarding my Wells Fargo account (which I don’t have) or my nonexistent Medicare eligibility. I replied with a quick “Who are you?”
As it turns out, it was a friend from high school.
A few things about that. I haven’t really kept in touch with anyone from high school because I hated most everything about high school and decided years ago that I would leave it behind. Now that I am a bit older and wiser, I wish a little that I hadn’t made that decision. There are a handful of people with whom I would quite like to see again, and this text message came from one of them. I later told her that she was “a very good friend to me,” and that’s 100% true. In that sea of dark isolation, far more Lord Of The Flies than Acts 2, she was always a wonderfully kind, loving ray of light.
How did she get my number? Because she read my book and I put it in there!!!! So many exclamation points, because everything about that sentence is astonishing. She read my book! How did she even know about it to seek it out and order it? As fate would have it, Facebook told her about the Bridge and Chronicles, Nehemiah and Other Books Nobody Reads. How it knew to tell her – I don’t have my own account, I use my wife’s – I have no idea. Facebook, with their fancy algorithm, probably knows more about me than I do.
So, she read it, and I put my phone number in so I could continue a conversation with whoever was reading it on just how much Jesus loves us. She didn’t know if it was really my number, and if wouldn’t have been if I had taken the smart advice I was given, but Bob Goff included his number in his book Love Does, and if it’s good enough for him, it would be for me, too. I didn’t exactly anticipate my book going all over the world, either, to where I would be getting calls at all hours of the night, asking about this Jesus and His amazing love.
And here she was, texting, asking if it was me.
I coached a legion baseball team in the neighborhood of 20 years ago and while I was doing it, I met the kind of young man who makes you stop questioning, for a second, why you’re coaching in the first place. He was cool, quirky, and had a trouble-making reputation. That year wasn’t too awesome, but he was, and when I think of him, I hope he has a great life. I hope he is happy and full of peace.
I tell you this because last night at the high school football game – my sweet boy Samuel plays the trombone in the marching band – I saw this not-so-young-anymore man with his wife. I met his lovely wife and we all spoke for a few minutes about his 4 daughters, how he coaches their sports and the problem with travel sports. He does have a great life and is happy, peaceful.
I think most of our prayers are mostly our hearts aching for connection. We’re made for each other, made for relationship, and the reason our desires for money or things or position can’t ever satisfy our holy longings is because they don’t breathe and smile and hold our hands.
I’ll sometimes pray for circumstances to change, illnesses or pain to stop, but when I see my wife or you and we sit together and you say “me too” or nothing at all, I can breathe again. I can see the light through the cracks. I realize that I was praying for you all along. Maybe God’s “plans to prosper [us]…plans to give [us] a hope and a future” are not big bank accounts and comfy chairs at all. Maybe they’re each other.
Maybe these Kelly’s and Nate’s are answers to prayers we haven’t the vision to ask. They are the perfect miracles, gifts from a God Who hasn’t forgotten, Who knows exactly what we need.
This morning I played competitive basketball, which means my ankles, knees, calves, well…every single part of me is asking me why? Why would we do that?? Saturday mornings in the winter of either 1983, 84, or 85 (I don’t exactly remember which) was the last time I played sort-of competitive basketball, so I can forgive my muscles for forgetting. My brain forgot, too.
Last week was my first, and it was a very pleasant surprise. I was able to endure the hour and a half without blacking out or calling an ambulance. Whether board games or foot races, I’ve always been awfully serious about competition, but winning and losing hold far less significance when survival is your primary goal. That was the big win for me. As far as the actual sport, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t terrible. I didn’t embarrass my boys too much.
On that note, to compete alongside your own children is one of the most rewarding experiences a man like me can have. All of those hours I spend in the gym were validated on the court, as we gave all we had, standing side by side, encouraging each other to persevere, winning and losing together.
But we won a bunch and I made a few jump shots. In fact, some looked so good I considered that maybe it wasn’t too late to make a run at a semi-pro league. I played hard, sweaty defense and hustled.
Elisha informed me afterwards that I was what the kids at school call a “Try Hard,” which is a playground slur for those who aren’t cool enough to pretend to not care. Like the kids that actually dance at school dances or study for exams. It’s pretty jarring to find out that one of the virtues you’ve spent years trying to instill is one of the things that will get them mocked and ridiculed at recess. Go figure.
This week, this Try Hard couldn’t make much of anything, so I’m putting the semi-pro idea on the shelf for now, but even if your shots don’t fall, you can play hard, sweaty defense and hustle. My team lost all of the games this week, too.
I started this post in a white rocking chair on my porch, feeling every day of my nearly 44 years, not knowing what I would write for this Bridge blog, just knowing that I would. Then, “basketball” came out of my fingers and what does that have to do with God or church or spirituality? I always like to have some kind of bigger point that ties everything up nicely.
I don’t have any, though. Hmm. Do I really need a fancy big idea? I guess not.
Now that we’re here, though, I think probably basketball and writing and being someone’s daddy and prayer and living a good life are pretty much the same things. We show up not knowing if we can do it, (and before too long, there we are, doing it!!!), and sometimes we’re AWESOME and the next second we’re THE ABSOLUTE WORST, no one has ever been worse, we’ve ruined it. But we haven’t – not even close – because we keep showing up with what we have been given – which is always enough – and we Try Hard.
Basketball was super fun, hurts and leaves me exhausted and weak. And there, in that exhaustion, weakness, and pain, I learned more and more about me and my boys, the virtues of trying hard, gratitude and the overflowing gifts of the Divine, lessons I might not have learned elsewhere.
So, ankles, knees and poor tired feet, that is why we would do that.
Last Monday, before the deluge of riverboat posts, I shared a post written by Cristian Mihai (his blog is pretty great and it’s located at cristianmihai.net if you want to read his work) and a comment written by Mr Wapojif (I have no idea if he has a blog, I’m not sure I’m his target audience.) (My post is called Salvador Dalí if you wanted to catch up.) (SO MANY PARENTHESES!!!!) At the end, I promised some thoughts on “success and if it actually takes a ‘great deal of luck.’” These are those thoughts.
I attended a church for years that abruptly closed its doors one Sunday. Abruptly isn’t exactly the best choice of words, it was a surprise to me, but all of the signs were there to be noticed. I just didn’t want to see them, didn’t want to believe my home church would ever end. Instead, I wanted it to go forever and ever. Now, that church had a pretty standard curve – we opened, grew, had a pretty significant dramatic split, and then slowly diminished until New Song Community Church was in the past tense and we were without a church.
Now, in hindsight, we can ask the compelling question, was it a failure?
I love competitive sports. I played, lived and breathed sports. If a team lost, they had failed. It seemed so simple, but now I see that may have been an oversimplification, at best, and a colossal misconception, at worst.
If you take the shot and miss, you fail, right? If the church doesn’t become mega- and meet in an arena, if the church closes because it can’t pay the rent, hasn’t it failed?
Now, in the realm of the spiritual, there is a theory that if God is in something, it will succeed. But what does that mean? Will it grow? Will it be profitable? Will it provide private jets and luxury cars?
Was God no longer behind New Song because numbers shrank? Was God no longer behind the disciples who were martyred in various horrible ways? Is success illustrated by financial prosperity and status? Is success measured by wins and made shots and attendance and account balances?
I coached 2 teams this year. One was regularly thumped, and the other had its share of wins. But it can be no doubt at all that the one who had all the talent and wins was far less successful than our team of lovable losers. That’s strange. Unless God’s idea of success has always been unrelated to ours.
Maybe God doesn’t care if we make the shot, as long as we take it. Maybe God doesn’t care about the shot at all, just about the one who takes it.
Success might be about courage and risk and obedience – better yet, subjection – and following Him, no matter where that leads. Success might not be about how long New Song lasted, but that it’s impact be felt for generations through the people profoundly transformed there. As Vision says in Age Of Ultron, “A thing isn’t beautiful because it lasts.” And a thing isn’t successful because it lasts or because it wears the nicest jeans and has the most followers or likes.
I wrote a book and it broke even and that’s about it. (That’s good news for you because I still have some, if you want one;) Maybe the people who bought it read it, maybe some of those even like it. But that it isn’t Harry Potter or I’m not the Next Big Thing on Amazon yet doesn’t make it worthless or unimportant. I followed a dream that was inside me and in following that dream and the God that put it there, I changed. I became something different than I was before. Maybe it’s a missed shot…
…But I shot. New Song was awesome. My bad 14u team was the greatest.
Maybe God doesn’t want me to sell a bajillion copies, but wants me to continue to be transformed.
Maybe God just wants all of us. Maybe He wants us to show up and shoot and trust Him to take our missed shots and make exactly what He always intended. So Mr Wapojif, I think you’re wrong, there isn’t any luck at all involved in that.
After the riverboat docked and we were safely aground, we shared a meal, inviting everyone who was on the boat and whoever happened to be walking close enough to accost. I always make the joke (which is actually only half a joke) that one of the things we do best is eat. So, all of us ate the food we offered together at heavy stone tables across from our friends and, until recently, strangers. It is and has always been so valuable to me because, in addition to how deeply I love to eat, it is where all of the walls and barriers we concoct to separate us fall away and we can simply be ourselves, enjoying the blessings of God. (Now, I understand school lunches and dinner parties and business lunches and… well, I understand not ALL meals are about unity and blessing and instead focus on power, prestige, image, popularity and who is sitting where, with whom, but that’s gross and a perversion of the very idea of the table. We’ll talk about those distortions another day. Today, we will talk about when food and the table are right.)
The pavilion that covered us was full of laughter, noisy conversation, and full bellies. Everything was just as it should be.
Clean up was easy, the food was nearly gone.
As we turned out of City Island and back onto Market Street, I realized just how exhausted I was. Big weeks take a toll in much the same way that sledgehammers take a toll, so I was ready, counting the seconds until I could collapse onto my very soft, very comfy couch and put a movie on that I wouldn’t see. And that’s just what I did, the lone exception being that the movie was replaced by the HGTV program Good Bones – I am married to a woman who strangely feels that there is more to entertainment than superheroes. Go figure.
We were satisfied, peaceful, soaking in God’s lovely grace, half-awake.
Angel’s phone interrupted our lethargy with a dinner invitation that we would obviously decline.
Yes Man is a pretty good book, written by Danny Wallace, that was adapted into a completely average movie starring Jim Carrey. I only mention it because I have been taking steps (sometimes small and imperceptible) to say Yes to things I would regularly refuse. The thing is, my ‘natural’ bend is towards a hermit-like isolation, which has cost me many friends and experiences. I’d like to change that, don’t think it’s ‘natural’ at all to crawl into a hole where I am the only resident. I think my ‘nature’ is more like laziness and apathy and doesn’t deserve to survive the next metamorphosis of my evolution.
So, we said yes to dinner with some new friends (so new that it would be the first social interaction I would have with this beautiful family). They had a gorgeous home, great dogs, an easy openness, and far more food than I was prepared for. I count calories for everything I put in my mouth (you can judge me if you like, I certainly do), and when I saw the amount of pure deliciousness that would be served, there was a decision to make. I haven’t eaten a cheeseburger in a looong time, my friends. Where does a caloric threshold fit into saying Yes?
I’ll tell you, at least last Sunday, it doesn’t.
I ate a huge juicy cheeseburger and chips and something called dump cake (exactly as awesome as it sounds) and then there was the chicken. As I was wrist deep in burger and macaroni salad, a plate of chicken was set before me, as if it were delivered by angels. Now, chicken is not something I would usually comment on, it is mostly fuel: bland, dry and laced with protein. But this chicken was marinated in God’s love and herbs harvested from the garden of Eden. I ate until I was sick in gratitude, deciding that these people were amazing and chicken was now my favorite food.
The calories would have to wait to be tracked.
So, Now what?
This is the last post on this riverboat/chicken adventure and now I can see that they (including the message I shared, though I couldn’t have guessed at the time) are all tied in the willingness to show up, to open ourselves to possibility, to imagine that this hurting world can be (in fact, IS) beautiful if only we have eyes to see and ears to hear and hands to hold and hearts to love and be loved, if only we have the courage to say Yes. A tapestry of chicken and new friends and swimming pools and Shukran and riverboats and Gisy’s voice and Mephibosheth all sewn together by a God who has not left us, not even for a second, who is just waiting with wide-open arms for us to sit down at His table