gratitude

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.

Now.

Acts 5 tells a pretty terrifying story. There is a married couple, Ananias and Sapphira, who sold a piece of property.

Well, first, we probably need some context. In Acts 4:32-37: “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.

Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.”

We could talk about “one in heart and mind” forever, (doesn’t it sound amazing???), but not today. So, they shared everything and no one needed anything. Joseph the Levite from Cyprus sold a field and brought the money to the apostles to be distributed, this example (probably one of many) stands in stark contrast to what comes next from Ananias and Sapphira.

In Acts 5:2-5a “With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.

Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.”

When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died.”

Of course this punishment sounds a bit excessive, but there are some other things here that can be overlooked because of what we might call an overreaction.

He didn’t have to share it at all. It sounds like there was no mandate, no collectors, no stranger-armed enforcers scouring the property transaction section of the newspaper for transgressions. Usually when we lie or hide our behavior, it’s because we feel some sort of way about it. We bring the guilt and shame, it’s an internal consequence of our own conscience. Generosity was something these early believers got to do, a privilege, an honor, an answer to an invitation into a new way of being. It wasn’t a have-to, which is probably why so many did. Giving was the natural outpouring of a grateful heart, instead of an obligation to be fulfilled.

Ananias’ heart wasn’t as much grateful as it was transactional. He “had” to give, the others would see, so he would, but only after he skimmed a little (or a lot) off the top for himself, just in case. That’s all we’ll say about that today. It’s a big ocean to swim in, but a new thing stood out to me this morning.

“When Ananias heard this,” immediately “he fell down and died.” Again, of course it seems pretty shocking that he, and later Sapphira after repeating the same lie, would have their lives taken for what could be seen as a relatively minor offense. But it’s the “immediate” part that is devastating to me, here and now.

You see, sometimes we don’t get tomorrow. Sometimes we don’t get this evening. And in the case of Ananias, sometimes we don’t get one more moment. How much do we put off until another time? How many nights have we gone to bed angry? How many times have we slammed the door to effectively end a screaming match?

I was in a hospital 2 days ago praying with a woman who was/is fighting for her life. She is currently sedated and totally unresponsive. Maybe she won’t wake up. I don’t know her entire story, my friend, her daughter, appears to have a beautiful relationship without too many unresolved issues. That’s a gift that maybe every one in her life shares. And maybe her marriage was terrific, but I do know that the last interaction she and her husband had was less than awesome, marked with sharp comments and harsh tones. They went to bed and maybe she’ll wake up in the hospital. And the truth is that maybe she won’t – it’s the truth for all of us.

I spend a lot of time talking about this moment, today, here, now, fully present, not missing a second of this wonderful gift of our lives that we have been given. And lately I’ve been spending a lot of time talking about the many, many ways we are awful to each other, creating thick divisions where none exist and turning each other into monsters in our own minds. How many relationships have been fractured during the last year? How many violent words have been spoken or typed into a keyboard that have wounded loved ones? How much forgiveness and reconciliation has been delayed because of our bitterness and resentment, because of our pride?

Ananias didn’t get a second chance to apologize, repent, or make this right. Maybe we won’t, either.

But we do have right now and maybe right now is a really great time to make a different choice.

…And It Was Spectacular

So. I want to share the last 2 posts I wrote for my Love With A Capital L blog (lovewithacapitall.com) with you. They’re about an all-star state baseball tournament, coaching, and Cars 3. They’re also, of course, about Jesus, because everything is.

I wrote them for that blog because, in my head, everybody rolls their eyes when I tell yet another story about youth sports, and most of the people that read those posts don’t know me in real life at all. They’re from China or New Mexico or somewhere else that makes coming to the Bridge on Sunday mornings mostly impossible. But maybe you do care. Maybe you don’t know that I write in 2 places. And maybe you really want to know what I thought of Cars 3.

*Here’s the 1st one (called This Is Not A Lament):

This Saturday, the county all star baseball team my son plays on will compete for a state championship.

I just wrote a post for the Bridge site about the aggressive passivity that is running rampant, crushing everything (including our spirits) in it’s path. The post is a lament. Marianne Williamson says, “Our playing small does not serve the world,” yet that’s what we have decided to do. We’ve chosen to lower the bar, setting it on the ground so that we never try, never fail, and consequently, never succeed and never grow.

This post, however, is not a lament.

Last week, I watched as a group of 15 & 16 year-olds offered their substantial gifts to pursue excellence. (The day before, I had the privilege of sitting with a player who had been given news that he would not play, that he was an alternate, a victim of roster limits, as he wept in disappointment. That kind of holy disappointment only happens after we’ve given everything.) 15 & 16 year-olds have a reputation, perhaps deserved, of apathy and indifference. But not on this team.

This team was full of boys who had trouble sleeping the night before, whose bellies were full of giant butterflies. This team was full of “try hards.” (“Try hard” is, inexplicably, a term of derision in schools nowadays among insecure, inadequate kids overwhelmed by their own fear.) This team was full of passion and energy, driven by, and full of, life and love.

It goes without saying that I’m proud of them. What might not be so obvious is how deeply I am inspired by them. Do you remember that movie, As Good As It Gets? Jack Nicholson says to Helen Hunt, “you make me want to be a better man.”

I am an assistant coach for these young men on this team. I throw batting practice and hit balls infield/outfield. I give high-fives. Every now and then, I try to give helpful suggestions learned from years and years of being a ball player.

A coach is in an interesting, enviable position. I am more thankful than I can tell you that I am allowed to watch from the inside. They remind me how I want to show up to my own life, every day, for ‘practice’ and for games. They don’t take days (or even plays) off, they pour into themselves and each other. They are committed. They are deeply respectful – of absolutely everything. They are gifted and grateful. They give without reservation. They bring all of them and they show up. I used a million words, but the only one that truly describes what they do is worship.This is not a lament. This is a celebration. If they are the future, we can all breathe easily and with tremendous hope.

Man, I want them to win this championship, they really deserve it. But I guess it doesn’t really matter, they’ve already won. And so have we.

*And now here’s the 2nd, after those amazing young men did actually win the state championship (called I Was There):

Yesterday we watched Cars 3. Everyone loved the first and nobody loved the 2nd. That’s interesting, right? How can the same creative team make a beautifully beloved movie AND an overstuffed misguided mess (albeit with some very nice moments)? They must’ve asked themselves the same question, and as an answer/apology, produced the 3rd installment to give a proper end to this story & these characters. It was really great. Lightning McQueen passes the mantle to newcomer Cruz Ramirez and becomes her coach in much the same way Doc Hudson became his 2 movies earlier.

Baseball season is over, and here’s how it went. Saturday, the all star team I help to coach won the state championship. During the regular season, the team I head coach didn’t win any sort of championship. I have played many years of baseball, 8 years old through college, and coached for many more, and if I was forced to choose, this year (championship and not) was my favorite.

These 2 things are related in presence and presence alone. So many times, we live sometime other than now, somewhere other than here. I remember my dad, who had so much trouble making the transition into new here’s and now’s, always remembering & mourning what had been, when he was, what he should’ve been. He’s certainly not alone, right?

It’s the unholy mosh pit of regret (past) and worry (future) stomping violently on today. These cartoons – or I guess we should call them animated features, that sounds fancy and pretentious – use colors and fantasy (cherry red cars that talk and have more expressive eyes than most people) to illustrate and invite us into authentic emotions we might otherwise be too distracted to notice. They ask us questions we might otherwise avoid. McQueen is angry and grasping to the good old days and doesn’t know how to move forward gracefully until he does, and then he learns, as Doc did, that there was shockingly more joy, purpose and fulfillment involved in leading another to victory (in life and on the racetrack… and the field;). He learned to leave his past glory where it is and allow tomorrow to breathe up ahead while he pulled his parking brake on now, an anchor to the significance of this moment.

I maybe didn’t do much to lead those 15&16 year-olds to the crown (I’ll leave that for them to decide), but what I do know is that I was allowed to watch these young men from the dugout, as close as you can get to excellence. I was allowed to coach with a brother, who continually surprised me with his smooth, easy, absolute greatness. And I was there. Not thinking about how I wish it was me playing and winning, nostalgic for my own ‘glory days,’ or if we’ll go back next year. I can’t imagine a place I would have rather been. I love those boys, am so grateful I was allowed to tag along to their march to 1st place.

I get so many things wrong, make so many mistakes, see the overwhelming gifts and blessings in the rear view mirror rather than as they are holding me in life and love. I say too many things like, “next year” or “when I was…”

But not this year, sister. You know what I can say about this year, the most important thing I can say about this year? That I was there and it was spectacular.

The Ocean

Last month, my family and I spent a few days at the beach. This mini-vacation turned out to be exactly what my tired, bruised spirit desperately needed. The previous days and weeks had felt as if each moment, each day was a tiny sharp chisel chipping away lightly, almost imperceptibly, until the very integrity of my self was compromised. 

The first thing to go is gratitude. I imagine it’s that way for most of us. It’s much harder to see a silver lining when we’re tired, distracted, resentful, in pain. Everything is just cloud. Of course, it’s also the prescription to ease the circumstance, but the darkness is blinding inside.

[Do you know how long, how many stops and starts, it’s taken me to get this far? It’s not that I’m wrestling with what to share – I’ll share everything with you. It’s simply that I can’t find the words.]

When we got in the packed van to leave, I was an angry, broken man. Those are 2 of the words that are just perfect, no trouble finding them. I was angry and broken. The chisel found a nerve and continued to tap tap tap an irritating beat. I felt different, like I was a completely new person…but not ‘new’ new, more like an older, outdated version of me that had reclaimed my soul.

Sometimes you can lose things and not know they’ve gone. A hoarder doesn’t have a house like the ones you see on tv in 1 night. It takes years and years of small invisible steps. The ground is taken an inch at a time. I guess I had been asleep for too many of the inches?

David made the poor decision with Bathsheba that started a snowball not in an instant, but in a series of small, unfortunate, seemingly insignificant, seemingly harmless choices. It’s a slide; a long slow slide, like the one from the top row of Chutes and Ladders. 

On Sundays, I teach about presence and gratitude nearly every week. How could I forget to be thankful and present? How could I be sleepwalking through sermons about the importance of living wide awake? How could I blindly read verses about “eyes that see?”

Of course, it’s easy, right? Things get uncomfortable, noisy, the volume and speed gets turned up, we’re tired, maybe bored, distracted, our focus shifts to the temporal. It’s easy.

Last Sunday we talked about how blessed the pure at heart are, and towards the end, I said, “being focused and connected doesn’t just happen,” and that’s really true. I study all week to teach the Bible, but like that trite horse & water, I can be at the well dying of thirst without intention. Life can become simply a mindless series of responsibilities and obligations without the thread that makes them strands of beautiful fabrics tied together into a rich tapestry of worship and thanksgiving.

So I got in the ocean and the waves folded around me in a (freezing cold) embrace that quickly, pasionately shook me into here, now. Not who I was. Not even really who I am. But who He sees. 

The scales (along with the anger and brokenness) fell – life sometimes seems like a great big long series of scales falling away – loudly to the ocean floor. I know it’s not the last time I’ll be there, on the slide, BUT I also know that He’ll wrap me up time and time again with that overwhelming love of His that just never quits.

Good Grief

Today is Good Friday, everybody’s home from school and work, and except for the water in the many fish tanks, it is quiet. I’m reading a book by a Lutheran pastor whose first book is called Pastrix (probably the best title I have ever seen) and watching episodes of Wandavision on Disney+.

Today is Good Friday. What does that mean, in 2021, in the United States of America, in my heart, here, now?

During funerals I talk mostly about grief. Sometimes followers of Jesus can run away from grief, choosing instead to focus on bumper sticker theological cliches and shiny Bible verses. This is not usually helpful. Usually it makes us feel like bad Christians because we just feel sad or angry or lost or resentful or bitter, or probably more likely, make those ‘or’s ‘and’s and that’s closer to the truth.

Wandavision is a remarkably deep tv series about soul-crushing grief and superheroes. The title character Wanda is squashed under the weight of immeasurable pain. The expectations, hopes, dreams she had, what her life would look like, what it was supposed to be, died with Vision. Now what? Good Friday asks us the same question. The One we waited for, what He would look like, what He would do, what this was supposed to be, was dead on a cross. Now what? What do we do with this question, with all of the questions? We still have questions in a life of faith, but what do we do with them? Can I feel this pain AND still hope? Can we celebrate in this flood of tears? How much can a heart break?

Vision asks Wanda, “Well, it can’t all be sorrow, can it?” he says. “I’ve always been alone, so I don’t feel the lack. It’s all I’ve ever known. I’ve never experienced loss because I have never had a loved one to lose. But what is grief, if not love persevering?”

And Nadia Bolz-Weber, the Pastrix, writes, “What I know for sure is that God is always present in love and in suffering.”

I don’t think the question is can we feel pain and hope, or can love and suffering coexist, or can loss and peace hold hands and dance in harmony?

Maybe a better one is, how can they not?

You see, in an authentic full life, we feel all of those things swirling and taking turns with the lead (well, sometimes they don’t take turns and all gush out in a mad dash for the door). This is totally natural. What isn’t natural is the impulse towards shame because we shouldn’t feel some of those things.

The bottomless well of loss in Good Friday hurts like crazy. But loss isn’t the only thing in that well. It’s overflowing with all sorts of company that we are blessed enough to see from here, from Easter Sunday. Loss, confusion, frustration, resurrection, redemption, forgiveness, salvation, ache, separation, reconciliation, all bound together by nothing less than the greatest of all, the amazing undeniable love of Jesus. So, what’s today? It’s a wonderful sadness, a holy sacrifice, a broken hallelujah. It’s a really good grief.

SAD

I don’t know if you know this about me, but March is a very difficult month. There is a disorder called seasonal affective disorder (with a fitting acronym, SAD) and that is a real thing. I don’t necessarily think all officially named disorders are but SAD sure is. By the time February and March roll around, it’s been cold and dark and lonely and by this particular March, we’ve been in a pandemic for over a year so we’re even more isolated than usual.

Anyway, I think it always has been. When I say that I don’t know if you know this about me, I didn’t know this about me for years. Probably, if I had been paying close attention, it would’ve been easy to spot, but we don’t always pay close attention. We’re busy and distracted and if the truth can be told, don’t want to pay close attention. There are wounds and unresolved issues that would be too painful to even begin to resolve, so they stay in the corner or under the bed and we keep running hoping we can ignore them forever. Of course they won’t be ignored and seep out of us in all sorts of ugly ways that get all over everybody and make a giant mess. Sometimes, those ugly ways change.

For a few weeks, I have had headaches and haven’t been sleeping. My mood has been great, not as irritable as you’d guess, but the seep has looked like this, this year, so I am a little like a zombie until 9 or 10 and then again by 5 or 6. I was wondering why I felt like such garbage when Angel reminded me that it is indeed March and obviously I feel like garbage because I always feel like garbage in March. There are a few anniversaries of super sad days in March and even though this year I missed the actual day and barely acknowledged them, the emotions and scars apparently sat pouting in the middle of the floor of my soul screaming for attention. Maybe what they were screaming for was just a little respect. You see, those days changed me. I am a different man now than I was before those days and even though we have made peace and they have been integrated into the massive library of relationships, people, places, experiences, lessons, feelings, knowledge, (and on and on) that is me, they do exist.

I wasn’t intending to run (that is no longer what I do) but I was unaware, sort of a waking sleep (that is sometimes what I do). Somebody said, “The unexamined life isn’t worth living,” and I don’t know if that’s true, it seems like all life is worth living. But it becomes true for me if you omit just 1 word, worth. The unexamined life isn’t living. It’s a monotonous loop of repeating the same mistakes, stuck in the same patterns that damage us, settling for the same unfulfilling jobs and relationships, uninspired and exhausted, giving our moments (all of these sacred moments) to simply getting through the day.

The super sad anniversaries don’t break my heart into pieces anymore, but they are still significant and should be treated as such. Everything significant should be treated as such. When did we stop treating these things as gifts and start taking them so for granted, like they were anything less than everyday miracles? We’re alive. That breath we just took, it’s not now and has never been guaranteed. Sometimes we don’t get another. Sometimes the hug, kiss, touch we just hurried through will be the last. The BIG problem is that we hardly ever know they’re the last as they’re happening. We just look back with regret that we missed something beautiful.

You know, now that I think about it, I misspoke earlier. I added an extra word that I’d like to take back. I wrote: Everything significant should be treated as such. Maybe it should have read: Everything should be treated as significant. Not just super sad anniversaries, but everyday conversations, steps, meals.

It likely won’t make March feel like September for me, won’t eliminate the seasonal affect, but it will certainly help make every day, every month more alive, more colorful, more connected full of presence and wonder and love. Then we won’t want to just get through, we’ll want to savor and enjoy this amazing life we’ve been given.

Us Against You

I’ve been telling everyone who will listen how much I love the author Fredrik Backman. Last month I read and wrote about Beartown, a devastating novel about a community and a horrible thing that happens that threatens to tear it to shreds. Reading it was a rough experience. So you can imagine how surprised I was to be reading its sequel, Us Against You. The story continues to detail the fallout from this horrible thing in this community. We often think the horrible things are like band aids; we tear them off and then throw it in the garbage and we don’t have a band aid anymore. It’s really more like a tattoo; it might fade but that’s about the best case scenario. It will probably leave traces behind so we can always see where it was, how and when we got it and how much it hurt. We are different afterwards, changed.

This horrible thing leads to a vastly transformed landscape. Relationships deteriorate between spouses, parents & children, neighbors, teammates. Maybe the most damaged is the relationship they have with themselves and the people they thought they were.

I learned a lot about me through these 800 pages across 2 books, about who I am and who I want to be and how far apart those people still are, sometimes.

These characters are faced with decisions to respond, to stand…or not.

The choice to speak or not. To move forward or not. To build or destroy.

Some make great decisions that cause them such unbelievable pain and loss.

Some act in shameful ways and their careers advance, their teams win.

Sometimes relationships fall apart for no more complex reason than we don’t hold them together.

We don’t know how to come home, so we stand on the porch unable to turn the handle while those inside ache at our absence as if we were worlds apart instead of on the other side of the door.

The whole narrative could’ve changed, reconciliation was still possible, if only we could turn the knob. If only we could take 1 step, tell the truth, say something, stop. If only.

This horrible thing happened between 2 people and ravaged an entire town for generations. There are no victimless crimes. But it would also be a mistake to suppose that the horrible thing was the only ravager. The entire town, over generations, carelessly set the scene for this horrible thing between 2 people. Everything is connected. By the end, it was so hard to tell who were the victims and who were the perpetrators, but this writer didn’t seem to mind leaving it to me to figure that out. And (with the exception of 1 15 year-old girl) I couldn’t. What I discovered is that it’s a lot like real life, that the brainless simplicity of us/them is never adequate. Maybe its authenticity is what made it so uncomfortable.

This is a very difficult post to write, not because I can’t think of anything to say, but because there’s just too much. My head and heart are overflowing with ideas that I delete, false starts and a screen that is blurry through new tears.

Earlier, I typed “the whole narrative could’ve changed,” and I think that’s what is so heartbreaking to me. It takes work and attention, food and water, but often we don’t have those to give, for whatever reason. So the distance between us grows and we stop seeing, stop listening, stop saying.

The books were amazing. I’m sad but, like always, hopeful. This story in Beartown is our story and like that one, we can change it. We don’t have to stop listening, seeing, saying. We don’t have to stay on the porch, we can come in and fall in love again. One Sunday there was an empty tomb, a moment where everything changed forever, and there can be one today, too.

Funeral

There was a funeral last Friday for a lovely woman.

I’ll sometimes force my sons to attend funerals or memorial services with me, to which they usually respond, “I don’t want to,” because they’re teenagers and human. I usually ask, “why?” because I am their dad and horrible, to which they say, “I don’t like them.” Here, I lie and say, “nobody likes them.”

I tell them that lie because sometimes you have to do things you don’t like and it’s mostly better if everyone else is doing things they don’t like, too. Like eating vegetables or running.

The truth is that I love them. I know how that sounds, but it’s not to be confused with loving death, dying or anything weird like that. I’m not a psycho. They’re thin spaces, and I find thin spaces – where, according to Eric Weiner in The NY Times, the “distance between heaven and earth collapses and we’re able to catch glimpses of the divine” – absolutely inspiring and beautiful.

When you stare out of the car window, flowers, grass, guardrails, and other cars blur into one undefined smudge. Nothing is clear. You can’t even tell where the flowers start and the Honda ends. This is like my life. I have a full schedule, see a lot of people, go a lot of places, drop off and pick up from practices, grocery stores, and on and on. Too often, I hurry, don’t stop to listen, don’t pay attention.

Last March when the world stopped turning, I dreamed of a new normal where we would find that we quite liked the slower pace. Instead, almost a year later, the new normal is just the old normal with more Zoom meetings and Amazon deliveries. It’s still a blurry smudge if we’re not careful.

Funerals operate like isolated March 2020’s. They stop us where we are, open our eyes, heaven and earth collapse, and we are invited to see these divine glimpses. Now, maybe we don’t accept the invitation. Maybe we stuff our emotions and check the boxes on what “has to be done,” work like crazy until we can finally get back to work (because who knows if the company will actually be standing if we’re not there to hold it together.) Maybe we numb and check out. Maybe we pretend we’re SuperSpiritual and read from the list of cliches while we convince ourselves that it’s somehow selfish to acknowledge the honesty of the loss and stifle anything that looks like tears and feels like grief.

But, baby, if we do accept the invitation… The clean lines of the Honda, blades of grass and bright colors of the flowers come into focus and we can actually see the beauty all around us that we’re too busy to notice any other time. We cry our eyes out when we need to and often find those tears surprisingly becoming laughter and smiles at the wonder of our tremendous gratitude.

[There is a pink elephant in this room. What if the tears are of sadness but also anger or rage or bitterness or resentment? Then, there is no laughter and gratitude is in short supply. This sort of situation is even more important that we accept the invitation into presence. There’s a character in the movie Magnolia who says, “we may be done with the past, but the past isn’t done with us.” The longer we run from the fact that there are chains around our necks, the longer those chains stay around our necks, strangling us slowly, perhaps imperceptibly, just taking our lives a breath at a time. I know it’s horrible, but we face what comes, dump it on the ground, look at it, and then we maybe pick it up and do it all again next week, but at some point, we leave a little on the ground, we pick up a little less, until the tears feel less like acid and more like peace. It’s not quick and it’s not easy, but we have to believe it’s possible. If the tomb was empty once, nothing is impossible ever again.]

So, all of this mourning, grief, celebration, gratitude, looking at an empty place at the table or in the chair… well, it hurts like crazy when our hearts break. But we are awake. Our eyes are wide open to the blessings of today, and open to the blessings of yesterday, when they were here (It was awesome when they were here) and what a gift it was that, of all the people in the world, they were here with us and it was great.