gratitude

Moody

D.L. Moody, an evangelist in the 1800’s, said, “If I wanted to find out whether a man was a Christian, I wouldn’t go to his minister. I would go and ask his wife. We need more Christian life at home. If a man doesn’t treat his wife right, I don’t want to hear him talk about Christianity.”

I don’t really want to talk about the content of the quote right here & now. (Maybe I do… but I’m not going to.) I do want to talk about our reaction to that quote. And seeds. That quote is a great beginning, because it, in all likelihood, elicits some sort of feeling, and probably a pretty strong feeling, right? And then what? What do we do when faced with an idea that pulls on the threads that hold us together? Whether we agree or not, some words require a response, one way or another. What is that response, and have we ever considered our own?

There’s a parable in the books of Matthew, Mark, and Luke about seeds. A sower lets some seeds fall in 4 different spaces. The first it can’t ever take root. The second is received but is quickly forgotten, never taking root; third is also received but is crowded out and wilts. The last is considered good soil, where the seed grows and grows, yields “thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” It’s obviously not about seeds, it’s about us and how we receive information, specifically the Gospel. What kind of seed are we?

D.L. Moody, for example, plants a seed. Now what? Would we initially nod along? Or bristle? Would we mourn because we’d think about the marriages or relationships we know where one (or both) is treated poorly, abused, neglected? Would we think about our own marriage? Would we be courageous enough to ask our spouse what they thought of this quote? Would we be convicted and evaluate our behavior in each of our relationships?

If we nod along in assent, would we, as second seeds, forget as if it were the next internet challenge. Or squeeze it out as the hours pile up at the office, or the demands of the schedule subdue anything else, like third seeds?

Would we search for any reason to ignore it? He’s from the 1800’s, his perspective is skewed, he’s old-fashioned, outdated, patriarchal, whatever. Maybe we wouldn’t like his beard, or that he goes by D.L. instead of Dwight. Maybe we’d dig for evidence of his own marriage, read his other quotes for any shred of hypocrisy.

Or would we argue, reject it immediately like we do on social media? Maybe it struck a nerve and it’s easier to quickly throw it out than consider the possibility that it could have something to say about our homes, facing our Insecurity and Inadequacy as bouncers at the door. Would our instincts rebel, close our ears and eyes and hope it goes away?

Or would we sit with it like a million-pound gorilla in the corners of our lives and let it actually affect us? Would we reflect on it, meditate on the implications? Would we make a different decision? Would we allow that gorilla to destroy the steel door that keeps us on the throne and Jesus out, from being #1 in our hearts, homes, marriages, jobs, lives?

The thing is, we get to choose. If we were 2nd seeds today, we can be 4th tomorrow. Or vice versa. The choices are ones we get to make every day, every moment, with every new idea or person or experience. But I’m wondering now if there’s another question that we have to answer before we can even begin any seed work: Are we really prepared to give that kind of attention and intention, prepared to show up in such an active fashion to our own lives? And that beautifully significant question might be the scariest of all.

To-Do

Every Sunday afternoon I write all of my responsibilities, meetings and appointments in a journal with the word peace on the cover. That’s my idea of a hilarious joke because to-do lists are good for a lot of things, but peace isn’t usually one of them. Anyway, this week is a full page. A full page is unusual, and leaves me very little of the unscheduled time that is so precious, leaving little time for rest of work (unless you happen to see ALL of life as work: mission;)

There are seasons in our lives, right? And speaking of precious, Samuel’s high school baseball season opens this week with his first game, and these are the times we will all remember forever. So the full page of items to-do is jammed with these sorts of wonderful things, but as I look at this week, my breath begins to shorten and my muscles tense. You understand feeling overwhelmed. Like you are a coffee mug and life is trying to pour a gallon jug into you.

Yesterday (yesterday!!!) the message in church was about worry or judgment or, what it really is, control. It’s amazing how the teachings on Sunday mornings are often given for me as well as given by me. 1 day later, the pouring starts.

I am more and more convinced that this is no coincidence, that it is totally intentional and the enemy’s primary tactic. Worry, control, anxiety, fear, a looong to-do list. Lots of ripples, like a stone into a serene summer lake, but the cause of all of them is our absence in this moment. We get lost in yesterday or tomorrow, sacrifice today, and wake up lamenting, “Surely God was in this place and I, I was unaware,” and the now God was in is gone and tomorrow is spent thinking about the today we’re ignoring/missing (depending on how much responsibility we’re willing to shoulder.)

I can see the real danger here. If I am suffocated under the perceived avalanche of ink on the page, I focus on crossing the items off, and in the process, I check out and float far from the beautiful life that is unfolding here and now. You become an item instead of a treasured friend, the game becomes an obligation rather than the joy it is. If I spend the day looking for something better, I disrespect and devalue the something better that is in front of me right now.

That is the actual cost, what Jesus (and most of the people that knew Him) would call death. This day is a priceless gift: here and now, fully present, engaged, connected. I still have these things to do, but it’s the preceding word that makes all the difference. Do I have to do, or do I get to do? It might feel like a subtle difference, but what it really is is the infinite chasm between life and death.

Now if you will please excuse me, I get to go pick my boy up from practice in 10 minutes.

Color-Fullness

Last week, there was a memorial service for a sweet lady who had lost her fight with Alzheimer’s after far too long (though any length of time is far too long to witness the horrors of this heartless disease.) I helped to carry her casket in & out of the church, spoke at this service, and stayed afterwards to share a meal with the family. I really did love her and would be happy to tell you why, but this post isn’t going to be too much about her at all. Instead, it’ll be several observations and a final thought or 2.

We almost got into an accident less than a mile from the church. My son has been driving on his own less than a month – he’s a good driver who made a mistake and it is nothing short of a miracle that we didn’t collide with the other. I cringed as the metal should have loudly twisted but didn’t. I saw every second and still can’t begin to explain how it is possible that we avoided this angry mess, so I won’t try. We’ll just leave this here. 

She was Puerto Rican, and I am not. She speaks Spanish exclusively, and as much as I like to brag that I speak fluent Spanish, it’s simply not true. I had 1 year in high school almost 30 years ago and only remember autobus, caca, hola and senorita. So, she would see me and light up, grab my face and kiss my cheeks, then she’d talk to me like we were old friends. I’d nod and smile. It didn’t really matter, we understood each other even as we didn’t understand the words the other spoke. The Spirit speaks, and that is very often enough.

We first passed by the church, called New Birth, because we couldn’t read the sign. Then when we arrived, most of the people there were family, Puerto Rican and exclusively Spanish-speaking, so I required a translator. This was my first experience with translation and my translator was a very short, lovely woman named Miranda. The passion I have for everything comes pouring out of my mouth quickly, like water. As you may or may not know, a fast talker and translation (even with as gifted a translator as Miranda) do not always make the happiest combination. It wasn’t easy for me or for her, we stepped on each other, fumbled for words through awkward pauses, but it absolutely worked out, tears and celebration and wide open hearts are universal. 

The service was 4 hours long, with singing, sermons, shouting, laughing, sobbing, and everything in between. In the culture I am familiar with, we search for excuses not to attend funerals but when we have to, we are quiet, reserved, and try to fake whatever emotions we deem “appropriate.” This was not the culture I am familiar with. 

The food was Spanish and amazing, especially this coconut rice that I’m still thinking about. 

Anyway, the reason racism is so dumb is that coconut rice. It’s not what I’m used to, it’s not apple pie and cheeseburgers. The funeral wasn’t what I’m used to, it’s not quiet, dark, and too often inauthentic. The language wasn’t what I’m used to, isn’t what I even understand, it’s not American English. They’re also a big part of the reason tolerance is pretty ridiculous, too. Here is the definition of tolerance: the capacity to endure continued subjection to something, especially a drug, transplant, antigen, or environmental conditions, without adverse reaction.

The capacity to endure something without adverse reaction? Like a cobweb or vegetables? So, the bar we’re setting is that I can endure a different sex, color, faith, culture without getting hives or committing a violent crime? Endure your language? Endure your food? Endure you?

Is it the best we can do that I simply endure another human being without adverse reaction? What are we doing when that is the expectation or, worse, the hope?

I didn’t endure this service, and they certainly didn’t endure me. We loved each other, we loved each other’s skin tones, practices, & accents. We hugged each other and cried in our multicultural shoulders, then we laughed in our diverse ethnicities.

Why would we want to be the same? And why in the world would we want to pretend we aren’t different? It’s the different flavors that make everything taste so good, the various textures that make living feel so good. Nothing was endured without adverse reaction, no one was discriminated against. The call isn’t colorblindness, it’s brilliant, vivid color-fullness. We are different and we are wonderful. We loved this woman, each other, each other’s everything, and the same God that created all of it.

As Ourselves

Today I am catching up on a few emails that have sat unread in my inbox. (Probably the proper plural form is ‘email,’ not ‘emails,’ but even if it is proper, it sounds ridiculous to me and I won’t use it, today or ever.) In one of them, I read this from a fitness/nutrition coach named Aadam Ali: “Most people only love the idea of change. But they don’t really want to change and do what needs to be done to become the person they want. I can give you all the tools you need to succeed and offer advice. But all the guidance in the world means nothing if you aren’t willing to commit and do the work that needs to be done.”

In another one, this time on motivation from Mark Manson, “When I’m feeling unmotivated or just outright lazy, I use what I like to call “The ‘Do Something’ Principle.” It’s based on the observation that action is not just the effect of motivation, it’s also the cause of it. That is, not only do we take action when we feel motivated to do so, but taking action creates motivation to take even more action. And so if we can just manage to do something—anything really—this almost always sets off a chain reaction where action begets motivation which begets more action which begets more motivation… and so on.”

First, I agree wholeheartedly with both of these perspectives. And second, you’d think this fits nicely with the New Year and the train of thought in the talks I’ve given over the last few weeks (new bowls, possibility, etc). Right now, though, it makes me a little uncomfortable.

You see, there is a general restlessness communicated in these messages. It’s unstated and subtle (and at least in my case, unintentional), but the implication is that who we are right now isn’t good enough, that what we’re doing right now isn’t enough.

Maybe we do need to change, maybe we do need to do ‘something,’ but the question is why. What drives us to desire this change, this transformation? Is it from a positive platform, a yes that invites us to step into a new way of living? Or is does it stem from a negativity that whispers discontent and disappointment into our ears, an ultimate no?

It’s very different to say, “I am going to (eat healthy or read my Bible or meditate or exercise or organize my closet or whatever) because this is all a gift, because I am loved and worth this attention, because I want to become more of who I have been made to be,” instead of, “I’m going to (eat healthy or read my Bible or meditate…) because I’m pathetic, I’ve ruined it, I have to flee from this that I am now.”

I think that the reason so many resolutions or diets or new leaves fail is because they’re taken from that second space, and where we might start fast, the thread that convinces us we are not good enough remains the foundation and is only a matter of time until it whispers again, but this time that we are not good enough to continue on this new path because we ‘always quit,’ or we are unworthy or whatever our particular negative narrative is.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that contentment is not the same a complacency, and rest is not the same as laziness. Maybe our entire perspective has to shift. Instead of hating ourselves into a new reality that may look different but feels eerily similar to the old one, perhaps love is a much better motivator. Instead of running from, we might try moving to. The verse is loving our neighbor as ourselves (we often forget that second part, right?) And I’m just not sure our impatient dissatisfaction with this messy, sweet, broken, wonderful, deeply flawed yet even more deeply beautiful person we are right now is very loving at all.

The End Of The Year

This will be my last post of the year. Tomorrow is a half day at school and that means this house will be, more or less, full and I’d like to be totally present for every second of it.

If you’ll miss this space, and these posts and my thoughts on the new Spider-Man film, you can read what I wrote throughout the year on my other site, lovewithacapitall.com. And I did write a book 2 years ago about the Bible, the Bridge and me. The truth is, I talk and write a lot, so if you miss me for the next 2 weeks, there is a humongous pile of work you can find. Or you can call, text, or email anytime.

This last year was so full, right? Our hearts were stretched, damaged, broken & bruised, healed, always deeply moved. We were disappointed, discouraged, overwhelmingly sad AND fulfilled, elated, overwhelmingly joyful. Would you say it was a good year?

I get the giant honor of performing marriage ceremonies, and there was this one. Many in the immediate families weren’t coming because there was fractured relationships and misused religion. (Until 1, a dad, did.) And in the middle of these 2 lives with very scary, winding paths, obstacles, challenges, dark nights…And also in the middle of a field right next to the Susquehanna river at dusk on the most beautiful night of the year, we got married. Would you say that was a good day?

This other one. I happened to be there because of a not so happy pastoral decision – but one’s not so happy is my wonderful gift. There was a huge family and one largely absent, and next to a pond on another lovely day, we got married. During the ceremony, all of the guests gathered around us, holding hands and each other and prayed. How about that one?

And one other. This one had very few of us under a tent in the rain on the side of a mountain in Harrisburg. Again, winding paths, not even close to the way we dreamed when we were kids, obstacles, challenges, tears, but right there in the rain, we got married. Was that day good?

Ok, 1 more. This one was at the neighbor’s house with lots of questions and stress and second-guessing and fear over if they were or were not ready, whatever that means. Are any of us? There was also love and respect and potential and hope. High school sweethearts and me, there in the hot sun, we got married.

I’ve been asking if these weddings were good, because these weddings are pretty perfect metaphors for 2021. Which of us would’ve chosen last year, chosen illness, chosen loss, fear, (oh man, the fear, the FEAR), sadness, chosen broken relationships, busted marriages, chosen division, anger, hate, disrespect, chosen extra police presence in our schools, chosen isolation, loneliness, hopes dashed on rocks, chosen to hurt? Do I need to go on?

But you know what? What else about 2021? New hopes, new creation, new jobs, careers, relationships, marriages, amazing discoveries, fresh words, renewed commitments, communities, the Dallas Cowboys, Shang-Chi & Spider-Man, presence, rhythm, blessing, the gift of you & me here now, peace. I could go on here, too, right? We got to love each other.

Each of these weddings I mentioned (Jesse & Heidi, Brad & Becca, Sonia & Jeff, Mark & Muriah) happened in the same month and (where I only knew Mark & Muriah last year) they are now my friends. Can you imagine how awesome that is to say? We are friends. FRIENDS.

In front of God and all of us, they gave themselves to each other in the wild risk of loving another person. Their paths might not have been perfect, but those messed up paths brought them here, before God, to each other, to us. We can watch them navigate the choppy (sometimes calm, serene, sometimes dark, treacherous) waters of marriage with grace, forgiveness, celebration, and gratitude that we get to watch from up close while we walk alongside of them.

2021. Maybe things are judged as great in their depth and significance. Everything happened this year and we were here, feeling all of it, wide awake, with authenticity, honesty and the courage to continue to show up with faith, hope and love. And as we know Paul says, the greatest of these is love.

So, now. Was it a great year?

It was the greatest.

A Season Of With

I’ve been reading the book of Hebrews lately, and really loving every moment. There is a distinct possibility there is more in my Bible in my own handwriting than from the author of this letter, whoever that is. It doesn’t start like a letter, but it ends like one – there’s even a celebration that Timothy is now out of prison and greeting from the Christians in Italy.

Hebrews has everything anybody would ever want from a book in this vast beautiful library of books we call the Holy Bible; doctrine, instruction, history, even very personal touches. What I could do is pluck a verse from anywhere and talk about it for a few paragraphs here, but the one I am choosing is in chapter 10, verses 24 and 25, with Christmas on my mind.

This has been a long year of variants and political warfare, loss, disconnect, and division. Last year, we hoped the mood would pass with the year, full of hope that the new 2021 calendar would be new, fresh, peaceful. Now we know the only thing that changed was the calendar.

So now what? You know that is my favorite question, said with wide eyes and anticipation. I don’t throw my hands up and sigh, “now what?” I lean in and feel the energy crack and hum. The answer can and will set our course. The posture we take can and will decide our future. Do we think 2022 is, again, just a digit of difference, or is it a whole new world? Can it, can we, be transformed? Is January 1 just an extension of December 31, 2022 just 2021 part 2, 2020 part 3, or can it actually be the beginning of an original story?

Hebrews 10:24-25: “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.”

Maybe instead of spending our time alone, thinking of ways to tear each other apart, we could give our time to coming together and brainstorming as many ideas as we can manage to encourage each other. And if we could fan the flames of culture and humanity with love & good works instead of paranoia & pain. Maybe our flags could have less demeaning slogans and more of, literally, anything else. And instead of standing on the sidewalks shouting at each other, we could take our conflicting views to the yellow line in the middle of the street and engage in actual conversations. (I did not say our opinions have to be in the center. We can hold opposing perspectives, but only with the acknowledgement that, though our ideas may be far apart, we are not.)

I can love you. I can, with the help of the Holy Spirit (the SAME Spirit that raised Jesus from the grave), learn to start to try to start to try to love my enemies. I can listen, reach out, feel, hope.

I have always thought that the only way this great divide could happen is to stop sitting next to each other, causing us to forget that it’s NOT us vs. them, that it IS just us. When we don’t sit next to each other, our 3rd, 4th, 5th, 100th dimensions fade away, leaving cardboard cutouts, caricatures drawn on the boardwalk.

And the only way it can end is when we “not neglect our meeting together.”

This season, a season of love and presence, a season of “with,” is one that is crying out for us to heal these wounds. To build bridges across these imaginary divides. To sit side by side in worship of this Savior who came to show us what it meant to be human and gave us the Church to live it out.

A Million Bucks

Earlier this week I was standing on a chair (long story), got too close to the edge and fell. After sitting for a second to do a quick “is anything broken?” conversation with myself, I walked around for a minute reflecting on how old I am and just how much that fall from a kitchen chair hurt. Then, in the middle of the night, I got up to walk to the bathroom and discovered that the room was spinning with the earth. That’s nothing cool to discover anytime, much less the middle of the night. In the morning it became apparent that the world was not spinning, I was.

You know that natural lack of awareness that we have where we can see clearly in others what we are completely blind to in ourselves? Well, I’ve been through some training and am a reasonably bright person, so I know the symptoms of concussion. However, I am made of steel so I simply can’t be concussed. 

Anyway. I shouldn’t have been driving a car so much and ended up on the couch, Netflix and chilling alone. Generation Wealth was the doc, not onNetflix, but on Amazon video. This Generation Wealth is the feel good hit of the summer, displaying our drive for excess, love of money, and rampant consumerism at any & all costs. 

The filmmaker made an interesting observation I hadn’t previously considered. In the old days we coveted our neighbor’s things (cars, donkeys, picket fences, wives, etc) but now we look to celebrities, athletes and CEOs with whom to compare ourselves. 

Most everybody has an addiction in the modern world, whether it’s money, fame, plastic surgery, work, OxyContin, or sex. If a little is good, more and more and MORE is better. Maybe that’s true, but it really depends on what it is we’re getting more of. If it’s peace or love or peanut butter cups, that’s true. If it’s sports cars or infidelities, probably not as much.

When the world shut down because of COVID, I had dreams that there would actually be a “new normal.” I dreamt that we’d find the time at home is awesome, that we like our families, that our priorities would be rearranged. I dreamt we’d miss each other more than our cars and wheels & ladders to success. 

Of course I was wrong. There’s no new normal, just more of the same. But the people in the documentary (and I suppose all of the people ever, even us, now) all learned something. I’ll tell you what it is in about 3 paragraphs.

Today I went to the funeral of a man whom I never met. By all accounts, he was a beautiful, caring, loving man. Many of his family spoke, telling stories and reminiscing. They had the blessing of feeling only loss. What I mean is that we often get more than 1. We get loss, but we also get regret, anger, fear, right? It is a fortunate person who can only grieve, and the only regret in that packed room was that they didn’t get to spend more time with him. 

So, the chorus of the voices speaking at the memorial was how much and how well he loved them. I saw this quote from Mother Teresa the other day: “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.” Too many times we get this all mixed up, and we leave home to change the world, leaving our families as casualties of our ambition, no matter how well intentioned it might be. 

This man, Paul, loved his family, and as in most people like him, family was far more than blood relation. It was anyone and everyone in his sphere, anyone and everyone the universe brought into his path. And they were all better for it. But here’s the thing, he loved that family, stuffed them to the gills with significance and worth, and now I get to know them and I’m all the better for that. 

That’s how it works with beautiful people and the pyramid scheme of love. We love those in our orbits, then because they have been loved, they love those in theirs, then they do the same. 

I cried at the service. I listened to this shining tribute – of course, there were flaws, but just like all of us, the flaws lose power in the light of connection, presence, and love. Maya Angelou said people will never forget how you made them feel, and he made everyone feel like a million bucks. I would love to be just like him when I grow up. 

In the film, a guy in Iceland who had lost everything, said, “That’s the good thing about collapse.” What a strange thing to say. But what everyone had in common was they got all they wanted and it wasn’t anywhere close to filling the hole. It was just more. More more more. 

Sometimes it takes catastrophe, or collapse, to figure out what is truly meaningful. And as it turns out, what matters in our lives isn’t money or stuff at all, it’s the people we share them with. It’s the broken-hearted families, full of tears and overwhelming gratitude. It’s the people who run when you fall off a chair. It’s the hands to hold and the arms that squeeze so tightly, they keep us from losing any pieces when we fall apart.

Drones

I’m reading a book by Frederick Buechner called Secrets In The Dark, A Life In Sermons and it’s amazing. His talent is pretty shocking, to be honest with you, and last night it made me think of the spiritual gift conversation we’ve been having lately.

There used to be a time when someone else’s talent made me stop from expressing mine. When I saw a movie like Pulp Fiction or read a book like American Pastoral or heard a song like There Is A Light That Never Goes Out and the sheer overwhelming beauty of the work would effectively put a cork solidly in my own. I could never do that, so what is the point? If I can’t do it at that level, then why do it at all? I tried and, because I didn’t write like them, I figured it was a failure.

Talent is interesting. Sometimes we take this all or nothing approach. If we’re not a 100, we’re a zero. But who decides? Maybe you don’t think Pulp Fiction is perfect. (If I was 20, I’d probably tell you you’re wrong. Now, at 46, I still think that, but I’d NEVER tell you;) Anyway. Talent, giftedness can be intimidating, right? It can cause us to second-guess and end up at home on the couch, dreaming unrealized dreams, asking what if and wondering why we are so bored.

Any and all conversations on giftedness have to start here, with inadequacy, insecurity, humility (the actual humility v. the upside down perversion of humility we might have bought) and self-consciousness.

A few thoughts on all of this, before we get started:

Comparison is a nasty emotion. As the Jedi master Qui-Gon Jin says in The Phantom Menace, “There’s always a bigger fish.” Comparison can lull us into a false arrogance because,”we’re not as bad as _____” or lead us to a self-sentenced whipping post because “we’re not as good as______” I am Chad and Chad alone. God created me on purpose for purpose, so to use your measuring stick is woefully misguided and will never lead to any path I am called to walk.

I’m reading Buechner now, but I often listen to and read Erwin McManus and Rob Bell, 2 of the finest communicators you will ever find. Comparison will ALWAYS leave me coming up short, listening to the “not good enough” lies and following the promptings of fear. And the truth is, probably they have read and listened to people that made them feel small in comparison. Another’s talent didn’t dampen Bell’s impact on my life. No song is as perfect as “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out,” but that doesn’t change how much others mean to me.

One of the most wonderful things about faith, Jesus, and spiritual gifts in particular is, strangely, this smallness. We are all tiny in the light of such an amazing God. But at the same time, we are also enormous in our significance in this light. With this God, anything, everything is possible. If He sees me, knew me before I was a thought in his world, what does that really mean? If He’s that big and sees and cares for little me, then what?

So many things. But right now it makes me think that if this God gifted them so much so well, what did He give to you? The law of scarcity tells us that there’s a finite amount, that if they have more, we have less. This God is not a God of scarcity. This God is One of abundance, which means that He gives out of His never ending, boundless love, and if you have more, then you have more. It’s not pie.

This Jesus of abundance frees us from those cultural constraints of comparison, allows us to read Buechner and be inspired. He allows us to see the gift He has given and ask, now what? Do you remember what you thought when you first saw Pulp Fiction? The old ceilings and walls we believed were set in stone didn’t apply. That’s what spiritual gifts do, reset expectations and possibility. All gifts. Buechner’s. Tarantino’s. And yours and mine. But we do have to take them out of the box and play with them.

At a junior high football game yesterday, a group of my favorite 9th graders and I played with a drone that belonged to one of them and also made me think of spiritual gifts. The drone was awesome, but only once it was out of the case and in the air. There are bigger, more expensive drones, but this one was absolutely perfect.

Now what?

Accidents

I’m now 46, passing last Wednesday without incident. I still haven’t reached the mid-life crisis I hear so much about. Maybe next year. But for now, I want to talk about this Instagram post I saw a few days ago that made such an impression that I emailed it to myself so that I could spend some time thinking about it.

This is it: “Pay attention, none of this is happening by accident.”

It’s from a new age-y account that is sometimes strange and sometimes profound and mostly both. So, about this one.

“Pay attention.” If you’ve ever been around me and heard even a tiny moment of the Sunday morning talks at the Bridge, you know why this stands out so brightly to me. In Genesis 28:16, Jacob wakes up in the wilderness and says, “Surely God was in this place and I was unaware.” And in Exodus 3, Moses notices a bush burning and not being consumed.

I think probably the biggest obstacle we have in creating and living the full, beautiful lives we dream of is the simple fact that we’re distracted. We’re really distracted, right? We’re busy, too busy, trying (and failing) to always multi-task, glued to smartphones, wishing we were somewhere/somewhen else, missing the best moments of connection and significance. So if we could pay attention to each other, here, now, we would see immense kindness, compassion, love – we would be in absolute awe at how wonderful this divine gift of life can be and often is.

That’s why that stood out in this post, easy peasy.

Now, the rest. “None of this is happening by accident.” I don’t even know if I believe that, I literally don’t give it a second of thought. Did I see her, meet him, hear that song, see that ad, get caught in traffic, stub my toe, eat that sandwich, as part of some grand plan? Or on a larger scale, is that war, that genocide, that abuse, those atrocities happening on purpose? Was it pre-ordained? Do I have choice in my life, do any of us, or are we simply pawns in a game?

Maybe I don’t give those questions any thought because there just aren’t answers for us, so it truly doesn’t much matter, outside of an interesting intellectual exercise.

But there is something there that can be awfully important.

If we viewed our lives as accidents, random happenstance, or absent any free will of our own, we can easily take them for granted and check out. We can sleepwalk though these days, these interactions, these moments. But maybe if we held Now as something that is meaningful, we would have a much easier time of showing up and engaging with it. We would notice. We would have our eyes, our hands, our hearts, open to the possibility that always lives inside Now.

When we’re at the store, at work, at the dinner table, holding our spouse’s hand, playing with our children, everything, everywhere, every time – if it is all of grand importance, great significance, then we won’t have to wake up and say, “sheesh, God WAS here, I was alive, we were together, this all mattered…and I missed it,” ever again.

The Keys To Me

Today is my 46th birthday.

As birthdays so often do, that new number brings with it a certain amount of conflicting emotions. I am no longer 20, can no longer be considered a young man. In fact, even with what has always been a bit of a baby face, I am no longer mistaken for being significantly younger than I am. That’s not too awesome. I have so many lines on my face and gray hairs in the growth on my face (but not on my head…I have been shaving that since before I started to lose it).

I’ve learned quite a lot and have become a very different person than I was yesterday, much less 20 years ago. That is pretty awesome.

I get the opportunity to officiate weddings, and before every one I tell 2 Bible stories. In Genesis, Jacob wakes up from a dream in the wilderness and says, “Surely God was in this place and I was unaware.” And in Exodus 3, Moses sees a bush burning and not being consumed. Bushes burn all the time and they are always consumed except for this one time. But to notice that it was not being consumed takes a great deal of attention, takes eyes that are wide open and fully awake.

Over these 46 years – and I get awfully reflective on days like this – I think about where I am, from where I’ve come, where I’m going, the people who are here or gone, the bushes that are burning, and the spaces where I have been unaware.

Maybe I’m not perfect (maybe;), but I am not who I was yesterday, and what I’ll do today (whatever day today is) is pay attention. I’ll surely open my heart more than is wise or prudent, I’ll laugh, I’ll eat ice cream cake, kiss my wife as many times as she’ll let me, and hold my boys tightly once we’re out of view of their friends at school.

The biggest difference between 16 year old Chad and 46 year old Chad is how deeply thankful I am to be here, now, and me. I couldn’t always say any of those things, especially, especially, the 3rd. That allows me to be fully present much more often, and it seems to me like that’s most of what makes life meaningful, that I walk past less burning bushes and the times I am unaware is smaller.

(I wrote a post earlier this week on the Love site, and it ends exactly the same as this one will:)

At 46, I have many trusted people in my life who love me and exercise an unreasonable concern for my heart. Maybe that’s why every year is better and better, my circle is expanding. The Angel, these boys, this family, this faith community, these neighbors, you. You know, if you asked me when I was 18 to dream of a wonderful life, I could not have come anywhere close to the beauty of this one and the absolutely overwhelming blessing of it all. Of course, it hasn’t been easy or without heartbreak, floods of tears, or tragedy. I haven’t erased the depression or the issues in my head. But it has been real and it has been full. I have loved and I have been loved. 

I’ve learned to release my grip on how you see me, what you think of me, what I should do, who I should be, and instead jump from the top of that hell into the wildly loving arms of a Savior and an endless sea of others who will not only catch me, but walk with me every step. I’ve learned to believe what is true about me rather than the nasty destructive lying voices that have always been in my head (more or less;). I can give the keys to me back where they belong.

46 is a lot of years full of days, moments, and all I can really say is that I’m grateful. So if today is my last day or if I get 46 more years, it will have been, as it is right now, a very, very good life.