decisions

More On The Path To Release

I might call this The Tension of Trying to Know What To Release.

What I have been being taught for the last 44 years and that I am beginning to actually learn is that I (or you or Barack Obama or Donald Trump or Tony Robbins or anybody) has practically zero real influence on anyone else. You might think you see something that is not, um, let’s use the parlance of the day and say: “living my best life,” and want something different, better for me.

Now, let’s for a minute say that you’re right. Let’s put aside all of the ways we try to fix or fit each other into the boxes that make us comfortable without a clue as to what might be good or healthy or desirable for the other, ok? You’re right, the thing you see IS in fact causing me to not live my best life. Now what? In all likelihood, I don’t care. Not even a little.

Nearly without exception, we gravitate to the people and ideas with which we agree. This is why Fox News, MSNBC, Rush Limbaugh and Bill Maher exist and have such wide audiences. Not a soul on the right watches Maher and no leftist would be caught dead listening to Limbaugh. The things that make the deepest impressions are those that we already believe shared in a fresh manner, with clever words and phrases.

People will do what people will do. I will change only if and when I am good and ready to change, or when God stops me on the road to Damascus and transforms me. We don’t change each other. Then why we do this dance of buying the delusion that we can “speak into” another’s life? Of course it’s pride, like everything else, but whose?

Is it yours, for thinking it is your place to point me down the right path? For thinking you know the right path? Isn’t that arrogant and more than a little self-righteous?

Or is it mine, for not listening to what may be wisdom? For not being open to new (often opposing and wildly uncomfortable) ideas and concepts? For protecting my current paradigm against all foreign attack?

Both. So now what?

First and foremost, I guess we focus on becoming the kind of people who listen to the externals, sifting the wisdom from the agenda-driven narcissism, and evaluating it honestly. And we release the rest. We don’t just throw Sgt. Pepper’s in the garbage because it doesn’t sound like Help! We look for the truth and adopt it. We aren’t really supposed to dig deep ruts to plant our feet and stay the same forever. We shed the constricting old skins, instead wearing coverings of perpetual growth.

But as far as getting our observations, advice or best intentions all over anyone else? As far as asking them to focus on that same growth? We probably release that.

But isn’t it natural and, yes, loving to want lives of peace and joy for others? What if your experience might be valuable? What if you have a heart that beats for others and you are well aware that the biggest blind spot is our own mirror? What if you simply want to help?

I don’t know. This is the “tension” of the title. On a cynical day, I’d say nobody cares what you think. On an optimistic day – which I believe is accurate – that mantra changes to almost nobody cares what you think. If we are becoming the people who listen and grow, how else would we be exposed to fresh new perspectives that change our own? Maybe we have to try, at some point. But what about all of the relationship wreckage that will surely litter our lives?

What about that??? Is it worth it?

See? Tension. We are asked to hold most things with 2 hands, rarely is anything purely black and white, no matter how much we want them to be. No matter how much we want a guidebook that will enter data and receive the correct answer.

Sometimes sure, it is worth it. Others, no way. And sometimes the yes and no are for precisely the same reason: because the relationship is that important.

Maybe this is why my lesson on Release is taking soooooooo long.

Plant-based

My sister is a vegan now. She has been a vegetarian for a looong time, as long as I can remember. I mean, I know she used to eat cheeseburgers and hot dogs, but that was years and years ago. I bet it’s been 20 years or so. I admit I thought it was a fad, a chasing after a trend, but if it was, 20-ish years of anything is not fashion or fancy, is it? It’s simply life.

But this vegan business… Well, we all know vegans are more evangelical than Evangelicals. It’s not enough just to be vegan, everyone needs to know. It’s a bit like CrossFit that way.

I tell you all this because she has sent me many texts gently encouraging me to plant-base my diet, 3 separate texts on a podcast called “The Exam Room,” with someone called the “Weight Loss Champion,” she thinks I’ll like that can give me some more information, “if I’m interested.”

The other problem with my sister is that I give a shocking amount of attention to everything she says or thinks. (Don’t worry, this post doesn’t end with me proclaiming I am now a plant-based weirdo. I can’t promise about the next one, though;)

So, I listened to 3 of these podcasts and now I’m thinking about plants in my sleep and studying all foods like my life depends on it (which, perhaps, it does.)

My weight is down a little and I feel like a million bucks.

Maybe it’s because I’m stepping a bit more carefully in the kitchen OR maybe it’s because I’m thinking a lot about this Divine gift of my body, such an amazing blessing that is so often taken completely for granted. Even more than usual, I am considering what I put into me and what it does once it’s there. And that focus is leading to a number of positive outcomes.

Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.”

Maybe it’s the salads or that my pants fit, but I know for sure that thinking about the overwhelming gifts of God is right, pure, lovely and this alone fills me with gratitude. Instead of dwelling on whatever is wrong, or worrying about what might be or could be, I can peacefully rest in what is so gloriously right and that has no choice but to change the way I see everyday, every moment, turning each onto worship.

This can probably happen with anything, like playing the guitar or lifting weights or going to church or singing or running or vacuuming or plant-based eating. Anything that leads us into the lovely, true, pure space of mindfulness, of thankfulness, which in turn lead us to Him.

In my previous life, before I fell in love with Jesus, there was an album that gave me headaches and led me down a path in my mind that was super dark. The arrangements were heavy and the lyrics even more so, and as I listened to it over and over, I would notice an angry hopeless pall that would settle over my soul. Several days of Tom & Jerry and we would notice a new violence in the interactions between my boys.

What we put into us matters. Why would we think that our bathroom trash can would somehow grow flowers? Right, we wouldn’t. Using the same principle, why would I think my body would feel terrific after feeding it nothing but garbage? Or even more importantly, my soul?

That’s what Paul is saying. It’s also what my sister is saying.

Anything that is excellent or praiseworthy. Anything. Maybe like a vegan diet, but certainly like my wise plant-based sister.

Temple of the Deadlift

Every year I create a plan for the coming year. I know, I know, plans… But at the same time, like the Cheshire Cat sort-of asks, If you don’t know where you would like to go, how will you get there? And how will you know if you do? You get in your car and either left or right, north or south, who cares? What’s the difference? I have lived most of my life aimless and unfocused, chasing what was right in front of me, and it all seems pretty silly now.

Anyway. My plans are always to increase the number of people in my circle, to allow others to walk with me, help to carry burdens, that type of thing. The Bible says “iron sharpens iron,” and my life is often dull.

My very good friend asked me once: “Who is running with you? (Obviously, this is not literally running…I do not run. Although I should probably start, I will run in my first foot race this summer.) Who feels some of the weight you do? Who do you connect with?” My silence was deafening and I wrote those questions down on a piece of paper that I still keep next to me when I do any kind of work, and is in fact next to me now.

To be fair, I have a wonderful tribe surrounding me who would love to run with me, carry weight, connect. The obstacle is me, only me.

When the wheels shake and threaten to fall, when the walls press in around and on me, when the darkness comes (and it always does), I retreat into a self-imposed isolation. A prison cell where I hold the keys of my own liberation. I’ve struggled with so many crushing headaches and stomach issues that are surely to some extent caused by my actions, or rather, inaction.

This is odd and wildly hypocritical because every wedding I officiate includes the Bible verse, “it is not good for man to be alone.” Then I implore the couple to reach out, that they were never meant to do it themselves. If you’ve been to the Bridge more than once, I’m sure you’ve heard it, too. But what is easy to see in theory, in truth, and in others, is sometimes impossible to see in ourselves. And the chasm between what we know and what we actually believe and do can be wide indeed. When I say those thing, I’m right.

I could, though. That’s why it’s in every New Year plan. It really isn’t good for me to be alone. Yet it’s exactly what I have done. I check out, don’t return emails, texts or calls (who calls anymore??) and mourn that I am unbearably lonely.

There’s a GIGANTIC difference between “I just went through…” and “I am going through…” “I just went through” is most likely an exaggerated story of victory, of overcoming, of strength and independence. Of pride. I am very good at those stories. The ones that detail the bouts of depression and heartbreak and weakness, the ones that start with “help,” I am not.

I suppose this post is a story of both. Yes, it’s written from the perspective of hope, as I am beginning to learn what it means to reach out. I have started to crack this ridiculous shell of pseudo-protection and allow the presence of safe brothers and sisters, allow you to hold me up. And it feels amazing, like I am stepping through a threshold. But to begin, I had to acknowledge the fear I felt and reach out to 2, then 3, then another, and tell them I am hurting. And that “-ing” is the key.

Here’s a story of old me and what is hopefully new me: I never knew how to do deadlifts, so I didn’t ever do deadlifts. I lived in a deadlift-free universe. But 2 months ago, I decided that universe was not what it could be, not what it should be. That a deadlift-free universe was no place for me to live. SOOOOO…I walked right up and asked a guy named Rick at the gym to show me how. And now I see what I was missing. Deadlifts are just the absolute best. Why did I stand outside of the Temple of The Deadlift that was built for me, cold and shivering, for so long? Same reason I carried the chains of the church of me and the lie of independence for so long: My pride. My need to be good enough, to know everything, to be strong enough.

There’s another verse in 2nd Corinthians that says “But [the Lord] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”

I’m not strong enough, I’ve spent 44+ years proving it. But now that I am deadlifting, everything is possible and I can’t even begin to imagine what that looks like.

Some News For You

I have a few stories to tell, then some news for you.

First, Jesus gave this “Great Commission” (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.” Maybe today we need to know that He is “surely” with us always; interesting how comforting and safe a commission, a command is with this lovely Jesus. But it’s that word “go” that we’ll talk about now. I’ve heard it translated more accurately as “As you are going,” and that makes a difference. It’s not an addition, not something else, not a demand to try and find room to scribble something “spiritual” on an overflowing calendar. It is an invitation to transform what we are already doing, where we are already going. It is an invitation to acknowledge that this space and interaction is sacred, and treat it accordingly…as we are going.

2. In high school, the head football coach, Phil Kauffman, reached out to me (a soft, round, insecure, sad young man who was struggling to stay alive, blind to any gifts or talents I might possess). Mr Kauffman offered to open the weight room and show some important, compound movements and proper form. I was not a football player, he had no reason to do this. I wasn’t even a student of his any longer. He had absolutely no reason to do this.

And C. In November, my wife the Angel opened my eyes to a new weight room position at the local high school in the district where she works. I filled out the application and was given an interview. Honestly, the hours were pretty inconvenient, the pay was not exactly going to push me into the next tax bracket. As far as jobs go, it wasn’t ideal. And as long as we’re being honest, there wasn’t any sensible reason to do this.

So. I accepted that position, I’ll start in February (given that the Superintendent and School board approves me.) That’s the news, brothers and sisters.

There are certain times in your life where you are given the opportunity to discover if the faith you say you have is the same as the one you actually have, in real life. It’s easy to say any number of things, right? But every so often, you get to find out if you truly believe the words that fall out of your mouth, if they are theory or practice. This is a little bit like Christmas morning, unwrapping the paper, hoping for the best inside.

I believe we change the world “as we are going.” I believe Mr. Kauffman changed my life forever – through lifting weights, sure, but more importantly by showing me that I held some value that I couldn’t see, that I was worth his time simply for no earthly reason other than that I was. I believe the words and actions of beautiful people at certain times can create entire worlds that were impossible before. I believe that Jesus saved us, and saves us, and with every breath we get to respond to that overwhelming love.

A living faith with feet and hands that spots your bench press is far more valuable than a bloated paycheck and convenient hours.

Maybe I’ll have this position until the end of the school year, or until I’m 105. Maybe the board will say “No, thank you.” Maybe I can be Phil Kauffman to someone, too. I don’t have any control over any of those things. What I do have some control over is the bricks that I’m using to intentionally build my life, bricks that are held and stacked with tremendous gratitude.

Year End

I genuinely want to wish you all a Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

I suspect this will be my last post for the year – everyone is home from work/school next week and I don’t think I’ll sit down to write until they go back. I have some thoughts today, with the end of the year in mind, and there’s the chance it could get lengthy. (Since it’s the end of the year, I also want to thank you from the deepest parts of my soul for reading any of the things I write – and extra special thanks if you’ve liked, commented on, or shared any of this. There are an awful lot of choices of the things that compete for our attention, it is always humbling, appreciated and never taken for granted that you might spend a minute or 2 here.)

In the Bible (2nd Samuel to be exact), King David sees a woman named Bathsheba, spends time with her, she gets pregnant, and he (indirectly) kills her husband, Uriah. Now, this is the same King David that is called “a man after God’s own heart,” and we could explore the implications of God’s forgiveness and grace and what it might mean for us forever. But not today. Today we’ll only talk about the mess David got himself into. Usually, when we make a mess like this, it’s an ‘accident,’ a ‘moment of weakness,’ a ‘slip,’ like falling into a hole. This is very nearly never the case. It’s a long series of small, seemingly insignificant decisions that create a new road – a guy named Michael Fletcher called them “neuropathways” – somewhere we don’t think we’d like to go, but the long distance from “I’d NEVER do something like that” to the pregnant Bathsheba is shortened in increments until it’s no longer a giant chasm and instead becomes a very natural step. That story of David begins with “In the spring, when kings go off to war…” David didn’t, even though he was a king, even though he had always gone before. So many places to turn back and change the story. He could’ve gone to war. He could’ve seen her and averted his eyes, could’ve gone inside and watched Netflix documentaries, played his harp, had a nice meal, took a bath of his own, spent time with one of his 9 million concubines, anything. But he didn’t. He looked, kept looking, and the action that would have been so appalling earlier was right in front of him, leaving Bathsheba pregnant and Uriah dead. It’s never just 1 misstep, it’s 100 exit ramps along the way that we pass on the way to the big “Oops” that we pretend was an accident.

There is a flip side to this, one that is wholly positive and encouraging. This principle works in reverse, as well. We just as rarely become the people we want to become overnight, like we’re struck by lightning or possessed by an angel of light. It’s the result of a series of small, seemingly insignificant decisions that create a new road, shortening the distance from “I could never be like that” to “maybe…” to “I am almost like that.”

We don’t change behaviors (quit drinking, lose 30 pounds, stop telling lies, make good friends, build a beautiful marriage, get in shape, whatever) overnight, we change them a moment at a time. We didn’t gain the 30 pounds overnight, why would we lose it by tomorrow? The small things we do today are the foundation to who we will be in 6 months or 10 years, and should be taken very seriously. So, what neuropathways are we forming?

Interestingly, there is a baffling pattern I am finding more and more (in myself, as well as around me). We begin to erect these structures intentionally, to become something new and awesome. And we are, in fact, becoming just that. We eat more vegetables, we follow a workout program at the gym, we regularly read our Bibles, and we feel great, like superheroes who are breaking generational curses and are capable of ANYTHING at all. The best versions of ourselves, growing every day in every way. Then, something happens that hurts, circumstances change, the wheels get wobbly, the tides rise and water gets choppy…and we stop! Why?!!? Why would we stop the things that make us strong and courageous, build confidence and self-esteem, make us the good kind of proud of ourselves???

I eat more vegetables and less processed ‘food’ made in factories, feel great, sleep better, buy new pants (while keeping the old, because you never know, right? 😉 have more energy than I had since high school…then she breaks up with me and I reach for the donuts, ice cream and soda, which makes me feel even more like garbage, so I eat some more candy and chips and on and on and on.

I go to church because I decide it’s important – for any number of reasons – and IT IS!! I make new friends, connect on a deeper level, grow in relationship with God, discovering that the Bible isn’t at all the hateful book of a crazy religious cult but is instead a gorgeous letter of Love, Grace and Peace, begin to fall in love with Jesus…then my wife and I fall into a pattern where we are fighting more and I stay out Saturday night and sleep in later and don’t really feel like going where I might have to talk to someone who would ask me how I am (THE HORROR!!) and really should do the yard work and catch up on the latest season of Fleabag and the fights continue and I avoid the phone calls from those new friends and feel more and more desperate and like we are spinning our wheels and maybe our problems can’t be fixed and and and.

I have been writing a new book and when I make time, schedule time to write a lot, it comes easy and I feel inspired and fresh and engaged with my life, but when there are more basketball games and appointments, it’s often the first thing to go. Why is that?

When we, in ordinary times with clear heads, make commitments and create practices to evolve and grow in ways we desire, maybe we should not abandon them the second the terrain gets shaky. Maybe that’s actually the best time to hold them a little tighter. Maybe that’s the reason we have them in the first place. Small decisions made over and over lead to BIG wonderful changes.

Now. The truth is that sometimes it’s hard to notice, and that can be discouraging and lead to this abandonment. What about that? Well…I have an idea about that.

Last night was the Christmas (or Holiday, whatever. Obviously I don’t mean to offend you when I say Christmas – if you are, maybe you could get a hobby or a book to read or something to think about – I don’t get offended if you wish me Happy Hanukkah or Kwanzaa blessings. In fact it’s the opposite, I totally welcome your open kindness to welcome me into the warmth and beauty of your traditions) concert for the high school chorus and band. (My boy Samuel is in the band.) I have seen these students since Kindergarten and see them a few times a year in spaces like last night. It’s the most amazing thing, they are no longer children and are becoming young men and women, with striking talents and distinct personalities. A girl named Grace Coleman, who I have sort of known for years, sang the solo and knocked everyone down and into pieces with her UNBELIEVABLE voice. When did that happen? Maybe she doesn’t even know the extent of her (what I now know is) boundless, overwhelming talent, and do you know why she might not? Because she sees her, hears her, every day.

We grow in small baby steps. I used the words “seemingly insignificant” earlier on purpose, because these kids make seemingly insignificant decisions to practice and commit to their dreams and interests, but they’re not insignificant at all. They are monumental. They stack upon each other, brick by brick, until they perform and we are all in awe that the 4th grade concert we suffered through produced this. Grace sings and sings and sings and this instrument of hers just becomes normal for her – but it’s not normal. It’s extraordinary.

So, my idea is to have a great big concert/talent show for all of us. Haha, that’s not true. My idea is to notice. I think we’re so busy, distracted, that we ignore ourselves and our development, however small we might think that development is.

My mom has decided to quit or cut down on her smoking. She now smokes a quarter of what she used to – Hallelujah! She might wave that away as small, but it’s not small. It’s extraordinary.

Your bench press went up 5 pounds and it’s just 5 pounds. Just 5 pounds??? There’s no such thing as ‘just’ when you’re on the journey to who you want to be, who you’ve been created to be. Instead of 7 reps, you did 8!!! Your weight went from 206.2 to 205.8!!! You read your Bible twice this week!!! You took your wife out for a lunch date!! You said “Thank you” this morning to the God that gave you this lovely day, this magnificent gift that is your life!!

Maybe our lives aren’t that magnificent? Maybe not now, but maybe they could be. Maybe it just takes a bit of attention/intention and the time to notice how blessed we have been and how far we’ve come

Start something, stop something, move. And notice the baby steps. We really don’t need concerts, we just need more present’s, more now’s, to pay attention to the new creation we are becoming.

I wish you all the love and peace.

C.

Basketball Season, v. 1

Last night, basketball season began with a scrimmage at Northeastern middle school in York county. I spent an awful lot of time in York when I was delivering medical equipment…and I really hated it. I have a colorful expression to describe the area that I wouldn’t use here, because we’re a family friendly space;)

The game was not awesome, the Northeastern boys whipped our Annville-Cleona middle schoolers without mercy or apology. They dominated every facet of the game and left us downcast and discouraged. Anyone who has every competed in anything (from monopoly to Fortnite to the Super Bowl) knows that you sometimes have to weather a vicious thrashing from time to time. It builds character, coaches say, and they’re usually right.

But where they were wrong is that the loss itself doesn’t build the character; sometimes the loss is just a loss and nothing more. Nothing is built. Instead, you use the loss to build the character.

My son Elisha is on the team and I don’t mind at all if he loses a game or 2 or all of them. In fact, I find myself getting excited to see what he’ll do now, how he’ll choose to react. Will he cower in fear for the next game? Will he become resigned to the notion that they will lose again and again? Or will he pick himself up and fight? Will be use this loss to “build character” and become something new, something strong, stable and unstoppable (win or lose)?

It’s also the thing I get excited for in my life and the lives of the people I know and love. How will we face and deal with that attack, setback, disaster, pain? Will we get up (and get up again and again and again) and with what kind of mindset?

Now, the truth is that team was much better than our team was, at least it was last night.

In basketball or life or faith, growth (what we could call “becoming all of what we were created to be”) doesn’t just happen. It we go half speed and give about half of what we have to give, we get eaten up and stand around wondering how in the world this happened. I’ll often say we need to “show up” to our lives, but what I mean is an awful lot more than simply riding a bus, putting on a uniform, and making it to the court. I mean show up, commit, risk, take a shot, work hard, give all we are and all we have to whatever it is we are doing.

Our boys knew they were beaten the day the schedule was released, and that’s exactly how it looked from the stands through the eyes of a man who knows next to nothing about the X’s and O’s of this beautiful game. I don’t know what plays were called in what type of offense, but I’ve done enough giving up to clearly recognize that.

So what if they lost last night? Or if they lose them all? These boys are hopefully becoming men and last night’s lesson on the basketball court will give them the bricks to build the sort of character we all need in our homes, lives, and society. Or not. It can also just be the first of many pointless losses. The team gets to decide.

There’s a cool book called Choke, by Chuck Palahniuk, that ends like this:

“Paige and I just look at each other, at who each other is for real. For the first time. We can spend our lives letting the world tell us who we are. Sane or insane. Saints or sex addicts. Heroes or victims. Letting history tell us how good or bad we are. Letting our past decide our future. Or we can decide for ourselves. And maybe it’s our job to invent something better.

In the trees, a mourning dove calls. It must be midnight.

And Denny says, “Hey, we could use some help here.”

Paige goes, and I go. The four of us dig with our hands under the edge of the rock. In the dark, the feeling is rough and cold and takes forever, and all of us together, we struggle to just put one rock on top of another.

It’s creepy, but here we are, the Pilgrims, the crackpots of our time, trying to establish our own alternate reality. To build a world out of rocks and chaos.

What it’s going to be, I don’t know.

Even after all that rushing around, where we’ve ended up is the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night.

And maybe knowing isn’t the point.

Where we’re standing right now, in the ruins in the dark, what we build could be anything.

-end-”

I can’t wait to see what they will build.

My Speedo

This is going to be a very personal, difficult post to write…but I’m going to write it anyway. Maybe I’m just like ‘the kids’ today, where all of life is meant to be online, where it didn’t happen if it’s not on social media. It’s a logical extension of a movement that truly began in Madonna’s illuminating (and completely insufferable) documentary Truth or Dare, where Warren Beatty says, after Madonna refuses to talk to her doctor off-camera: “She doesn’t want to live off-camera, much less talk. There’s nothing to say off-camera. Why would you say something if it’s off-camera? What point is there existing?” Or maybe I just want to be honest with my life. If I’m going to write a blog where we relate authentically, why would I hold such a meaningful piece of me back? (I want it to be that 2nd one. I don’t want to be Madonna or a Kardashian, so let’s all just agree and say it’s the 2nd and go from there, ok?)  

I started in the sand at Rehoboth beach: As I lay here in my Speedo, I remember all of the time I spent fully dressed – self-conscious and embarrassed. I’d wear t-shirts in community pools, lakes, oceans…if I’d even go at all. Usually, I would lie about some made-up excuse and decline invitations. My body wasn’t perfect, lumpy where it should be flat and flat where it should have curves. [Who was it that decided what my body “should” look like? Who knows?]

How many times? How much did I miss?

I wouldn’t dig holes and make castles with my boys – something they absolutely LOVE to do (again, who knows why? The point is, they do) – because of how I would fold and my skin would roll. So they dug alone, and I watched from under layers of clothes and the chair extended enough to not scrunch my belly too much, sweaty and uncomfortable.

And for what? Why why why why why?????

Because THEY might think…um, what might they think?

That I wasn’t a professional athlete, bodybuilder or Abercrombie & Fitch model? That they might think I was just a person who is a child of the Living God, who leads a full life, loves his wife and children, works, writes, reads, eats great meals, likes jeans with a little stretch, and has no idea what his body fat percentage is or what his biceps measure?  

That’s ok, because that’s precisely what I am. (Except for the biceps measurement – I know that.)

How much time and energy have I spent distracted, wishing I were someone else, with someone else’s waistline or skin or paycheck or wit or whatever, while another beautiful moment of my life passed right on by. The number on a scale or letter(s) on a shirt taking precedence to the people and the places around me. What a crushing tragedy!

How much of my life have I not been present?

I’m finishing on my sofa in Cleona: So. I’ve been coming along with this, finding some deliverance from the stern body image monster whispering in my ear, until Angel decides to post a few pictures on Facebook. She shows me first, because she’s kind and respectful and the sweetest  woman this planet has ever known, and there it is…In the middle of a handful of perfectly lovely photos, there I am in, kind of sideways, more than kind of unflattering. You know how you sometimes see a picture of you and you ask, “do I really look like that?” The answer is always yes, and unflattering or not, this one is me, too. I wanted to un-check the box, but instead I handed her phone back and smiled, “They’re great!” Because they really, really are.

And I guess it’s small insignificant acts like those that are the things that really change us. We step out one tiny step further than we’ve ever gone, then there’s a brand new line waaaaay up there that’s scary and intimidating and we think, ok, we did this, but could never do THAT. Then we do, except it’s now just a small step because we’ve taken 100 microscopic tiptoes before this. Then another. And another.

And before we know it, this is our life and there we are, living it. 

Parties

The parable of the Prodigal Son is both wildly popular and wildly disturbing, which is a strange phenomenon. Usually ideas or art or people that challenge our accepted worldviews, that make us uncomfortable, are quickly discarded, because we defend nothing as tirelessly or viciously as our own ‘right-ness.’

Even One as beautifully, monumentally disruptive as Jesus (or the Bible), we reduce to bullet points, scouring stories and verses to find only those that confirm our already held beliefs and trashing the rest.

Yet we keep the Prodigal Son. 

(My guess is that it is most often used to describe others – always others, of course – who have walked away from our beliefs, comforting us with the hope that they will return, just like this son. I could be wrong, though. And I am more than fine with this comfort and hope. Mostly, I’m more than fine with all comfort and hope, especially the hope that comes from a God who runs to us, no matter what we’ve done or who we’ve been or if we’ve been eating the pigs food, and brings us into the feast. This story has given me rest as well – I have been the son who walked away and was welcomed back with hugs and acceptance and love. It’s a really great story. But there is so much more to it.)

The parable ends with a brother – a “good” boy, doing all the right things, following the rules, never leaving home – standing outside, in what he would surely describe as righteous anger. He honestly details his frustrations to the Father, and the Father listens and patiently answers – “My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.” One of the most gorgeous verses in the Scriptures: “Everything I have is yours.” 

And the story ends with the brother outside, with a decision to make.

How many times have I decided that this party is not, should not be, for them (whoever ‘them’ is)? 

It’s called judgment, and it’s not awesome. We decide where the walls are, who is on the guest list (of course, OF COURSE, we are always on the inside), what the admission requirements are, who has been good enough and who has not.

I used this parable Sunday in a message about forgiveness, because we are all the brother. We have a choice to make. Do we want a world of Fairness – because to tell the truth, it’s not fair that the brother gets in. He severely disrespected the Father and everything He stood for – or do we want Forgiveness? Do we want entrance requirements? Do we want walls?

He is with us, and everything He has is ours, now do we actually want His kind of party?

Can we really live a life free of comparison, free of being “better than” someone else? 

SO many questions… 

Can we enter a party where the guest of honor is our “enemy,” who has not followed any of the rules, who looks and acts differently that we think guests at this party should look and act?     

And if I start to look at that brother honestly (which in itself takes a humongous amount of courage) and see that I share more in common with him than I’d ever care to acknowledge, then I’ll start asking all new questions and opening the door to a whole new life and I’m pretty sure that kind of whole new life is what Jesus had in mind all along.

Graduation 2

My youngest nephew graduated from high school last night. The plan was for this gigantic school to hold this ceremony at 6pm outside, but the rain appeared to have other plans. The forecast was for 90% chance of rain, and as of 4 o’clock, it was still pouring down. At 5, as we drove in, the sun began to peek from behind dark clouds and the drops slowed, then stopped. They began at 5:30, just in case, and ended just before 7, when we hurried to our cars as the rain began again. There was a 2 hour window or calm, clear skies for our celebration. A gift from God to my nephew and his classmates.

Now, last week I wrote a post on graduations, sadness and celebration, presence and attention, so I won’t do that again. What I will talk about is bleachers and space.

We sat in the metal bleachers, crammed in like sardines, and when we should’ve been thinking about the moments we’ve spent with Nathan and the man he’s becoming and how significant this moment is, we were instead thinking about the heat and sweaty forearms and being careful not to shove our knees into the backs of the grandparents in front of us.

It’s easy to underestimate how important those small details are, like the music in the background or the temperature.

When the Bridge moved into our current building, we were buried under an avalanche of sound problems. Then, once they were fixed, we enjoyed about a year of quiet before the heating system attacked. It is impossible to underestimate how disruptive a deafening shriek of feedback can be, or how distracting a 90 degree sanctuary is.

Last year, during this same weekend when my other nephew graduated, I wrote a post about hot HIIT yoga. This year, my torturous sister treated me to another class of hers; this time, plain old boiling hot yoga. It was hotter this time, like the surface of the sun, but the movements and workout just as uncomfortable. The music was loud and perfectly mixed, the instructor’s voice constant and encouraging – 2 huge details that allowed us to endure.

[2 things about the instructor, Mona (who looks exactly like you think she would.) Before the class, she said to me, “If you can’t do the movements or go on, just stay in the room,” which is terrific advice for a life of growth and becoming. Then, during the class, we were twisted like pretzels and my muscles were threatening to be torn from my bones, and I felt her hands on my hips, gently, firmly, nudging me even further in the direction I could not go. Except that I could go further. I may have whimpered or cried a little, but sometimes it takes someone to ‘help’ us stretch.]       

My sister’s house is comfortable and her dog is amazing, The Best Dog On Earth, and she had lots of food on the counter. 

It’s these small details of our lives that make our lives. These ‘small’ details make obstacles and trials manageable or unconquerable monsters. That make relationships new and fresh or misery. That make workouts challenging and fun or boring boxes on our “things I have to do” lists. They’re the difference between existing and living. 

It’s the reason the Bible spends so much time and so many words on what we can mistake as irrelevant minutiae. These details are the bricks upon which we build our world. 

Chuck Palahniuk writes, in Choke: 

“Paige and I just look at each other, at who each other is for real. For the first time.

We can spend our lives letting the world tell us who we are. Sane or insane. Saints or sex addicts. Heroes or victims. Letting history tell us how good or bad we are.

Letting our past decide our future.

Or we can decide for ourselves.

And maybe it’s our job to invent something better.

In the trees, a mourning dove calls. It must be midnight.

And Denny says, “Hey, we could use some help here.”

Paige goes, and I go. The four of us dig with our hands under the edge of the rock. In the dark, the feeling is rough and cold and takes forever, and all of us together, we struggle to just put one rock on top of another.

….

It’s creepy, but here we are, the Pilgrims, the crackpots of our time, trying to establish our own alternate reality. To build a world out of rocks and chaos.

What it’s going to be, I don’t know.

Even after all that rushing around, where we’ve ended up is the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night.

And maybe knowing isn’t the point.

Where we’re standing right now, in the ruins in the dark, what we build could be anything.”

What we build could be anything. We should probably pay attention to these little rocks.

Every Detail.

After more than 2 months, today is the last week of this series, the week where we take all we’ve been discussing and reflecting on and tie it all together. Mostly, it’ll be an entire post of questions, because remember, no one can tell you what is actually important to you.

(Of course, everyone can, and usually does, tell you what should be important to you. Even you know “the right answer” and will happily state what should be important to you. But we are not in high school, we are not in the business of “right answers” and should be’s. We all ‘should’ like Radiohead albums but if we were all totally honest and not pretentious music-snob pretenders, they’re all unlistenable since The Bends.)

So, first and most important, who do you want to be? This question is made up of many factors. Who are you? Whose are you? What gives you peace? What is the deepest desire of your heart? What gets you out of bed in the morning? What do you do that makes you lose time and have that feeling that (fill in the blank) is what you are made for? What gives you joy? What do you want? 

*Maybe this isn’t very difficult. I suspect it will not be, because these things are hard-wired in our souls, they’ve just been buried under many, many years of unconscious routine, too many moments asleep. We’ve been made a certain way, it just takes some time and quiet and honest contemplation for your heart to re-engage.  

Once you start down this path, these answers will inform your concept of weight. We all have internal value rankings of people, actions, possessions, everything. If we don’t give any attention to these rankings, it doesn’t mean we don’t have them, it just means we don’t give them any thought. Instead of, say, Jesus, we give the throne to comfort or laziness or the People’s Court or whatever is popular or pressing or discomfort or fear or what they think. It means we are building our lives on a foundation that shifts and will collapse under stress.    

*In contrast to the first step, this is super hard in practice, because our initial answers are hardly ever what we truly live.

If you decide that honesty weighs heavily to you, but you call in “sick” from work, um… 

If you say creating a safe, healthy home for your children is your priority, but haven’t seen them in days because the demands of work have you working late hours… 

If it’s your friendships, but the second your life goes off the rails, you drop out and isolate yourself…    

If living a healthy lifestyle is your deal, but you spend each evening with cocktails…

If your wife and marriage is what you’ve decided, yet haven’t sat down to dinner with her or told her you loved her or held her hand or laid like spoons in months… 

(See, this is really uncomfortable. I’ve been struggling with questions, here, because I want to build a home of grace and service, but I also want that home to be one where consequences and discipline live together. But sometimes, they come into conflict. If I ask Elisha to put his clothes away (because for some reason HE DOESN”T MIND RANDOM PILES OF CLOTHES AROUND HIS ROOM?!!!???????) and he doesn’t (BUT WHY WOULDN’T HE?!!!???!???) then maybe I would do that for him or I would ground his filthy buns for 6 months so he can learn the values of cleanliness, order, respect for authority, and obedience. Or maybe I wouldn’t ask him at all and put them away because I want to show him what it means to do things to help someone else, for no reason other than you want to do something for someone else. Which weighs more?)

And when we rank these qualities, we must clearly define what they mean to us. Sometimes, words don’t mean what we think they do. For instance, provision can mean a lot of different things to different people. It’s possible two men both rank providing for their families in the top 3, but those ideas of provision bear little resemblance. One believes that being a strong provider carries largely financial implications. The bills are paid, the house is warm and cozy, and the kids have clothes that fit. To do this they might have to work long hours away from the family that is the focus, away from the people who are the motivation. The other man believes that he is called to provide financially, but also spiritually, emotionally, and psychologically in equal measures. He might carry the stress of late fees, but doesn’t miss a game, devotions or date night.  

It’s these small, ‘insignificant’ details that are the bricks of our character and are, ultimately, who we actually are. 

For instance, whether or not to allow space in our lives for pornography appears relatively inconsequential, yet its radius of affect is wide. As a man, such ‘entertainment’ completely transforms the way you perceive sex, women, yourself, and on and on. The word pornography itself has roots in commerce, or the buying and selling of goods and services. Except, in this case, the goods are people. Porn is the buying and selling – the using – of people. Now, how you see the performers – if they are to be consumed, if they are to be regarded only in terms of whatever pleasure they can provide to you, if they can be segmented into only one aspect of their physical makeup instead of as complete, fully integrated human beings – holds to the same rules as everything else. 

How you perceive, or value, one is how you value all. To dehumanize one woman is to dehumanize them all.

How you do anything is how you do everything.  

Do you really want to outsource such important matters?

The point of these past 3 months is really mindfulness; active participation in the creation of your own character and the pillars of our lives. It’s not alcoholism or overtime or socks or baseball or messy living rooms or porn or the People’s Court or cake or watch batteries. It’s about all of them. And what you think about each of those is what you think about each of those, the point is that you think about each of those. The enemy of full-on presence is disengagement, distraction and routine. 

The first question in the first entry in this series (after “what is Todd Syndrome?”) was “Sooooo, how do we change it?” This is the answer, and it’s also why there’s so many rules and shall’s and shall not’s in the Bible. Details. Marie Kondo’s method isn’t to clean the whole house now as fast as you can, it’s to look at that one blouse in your hands with thankfulness and decide if it brings you joy, if you’re the kind of person who wears a blouse like that…and if you can do that with them all, with each item getting respect and care, then the house will be the sort of house you want to live in, one you’ve built with attention, intention, gratitude, and most of all, love.