imagination

Word Offering

After a desperately needed week off – though it wasn’t a week free of drama and chaos, it was a week off from this space. I do love this space (the imaginary blog space and the psychological space of work, as well as this actual physical space of chair and computer) but stepping away gave me the opportunity to respond quickly and without reservation. It gave me the opportunity to answer the phone and quickly say yes, and that is something we (at least that I) don’t get the freedom to do nearly enough.

I’ll touch on last week soon enough, but I do want to dive into the Visio Divina poem from 2 weeks ago. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, please take a second to read my last post, ‘This Branch.’)

So. This branch – “This branch is blowing, sometimes gently, sometimes violently, moved, led, a dance of differing tempos. This branch, before the cool gray shy and behind the jarring, out-of-place power lines, connected to the tree, (the Vine), healthy, crisp, bright, refined, bending, swaying, it is beautiful, an extension of the tree, it’s very nature is, here, now, lovely. As it is.” – is me. You. Him. Her. Us. We are beautiful, lovely, at our deepest essence. Exactly as we are. (Despite the lies we believe distance us and make us something less, we remain made in the image of God, after all, made in, by, and for, love. As Rise Against sings, “We are far from perfect, but perfect as we are. We are bruised, we are broken, but we are ** works of art.”) Exactly as we have been created, joined, connected to the Tree that gives us life and vitality. We are acted upon by our environments, consisting of the world around us. This takes many forms, none intrinsically good or bad, like neighbors, work, viruses, winter, pizza, sex, money, the ocean, etc. The environment that blows us, weathers us, and threatens to sever us from the Tree that sustains us as it reminds us again and again that we are these amazing works of art.

Now, the condensation: “But a stripe from the window, a separation, condensation (cold meeting warm leaving unwelcome evidence of the battle on the glass) cuts through the branch, blurs, dulls, smears, makes the concrete abstract, changes perception, confuses, redefines the branch, the branch loses it’s essence, unrecognizable.” As the environment simply exists, it can engage with itself or other environments in many ways, some of them in conflict, which can change the perception we have of ourselves. We become unrecognizable (I mis-typed and was corrected to “unrecognized” but that is no correction at all, it’s 100% wrong. The Tree recognizes us, no matter where we are, how far we go, or how much condensation separates us.) and confused. We own the notion that we are re-defined by this blur, so we re-define ourselves, which encourages us to re-define others, as “sinners,” or some other broad-sweeping generalizations that reduce the beauty of the branches and the Tree for one unfortunate aspect or behavior.

I don’t have any idea how coherent this explanation of this Visio is…probably not very. Maybe it’s so difficult to convey because any revelation, any truly soul-altering experience, is ultimately a personal exchange between you and the Divine. An intimate moment beyond words… that we try to use words to catch and maybe in the attempt to capture, loses its nature or its heart.

Maybe I should delete this whole thing, maybe sharing it profanes it’s purity. But you already know I won’t. I won’t delete it because maybe its purity is instead magnified in the overwhelming goodness of a God who would meet us in a branch and smudge on a window. So, on that chance, I will post it gladly, in all of its jumbled inadequacy, His goodness displayed in my weakness, as a Word Offering (like a drink offering of the Old Testament) to the God that so thoroughly provides.

This Branch

At our contemplative retreat last Saturday, we engaged in a practice called Visio Divina (Latin for “Divine seeing,” or a phrase I loooove, “praying with your eyes.”) We find a picture or an object or, maybe, anything at all and we focus on that object and ask the Spirit to guide our thoughts. We have spent quite a bit of time in a sister practice called Lectio Divina, where we spend time with a Scripture passage and ask for the same sort of guidance of the Spirit. This was our first time with the Visio part.

(I wasn’t sure I would be ready today, that I had lived with and processed enough, to share this, but maybe that’s the point. Maybe it should feel immediate and unfinished. Maybe that is part of the journey, and a valuable part.)

My object was a branch seen through a window of the Bridge, and here is a poem that I wrote about that branch:

This branch

is blowing,

sometimes gently, sometimes violently,

moved, led,

a dance of differing tempos.

This branch,

before the cool gray shy and behind the jarring, out-of-place power lines,

connected to the tree, (the Vine),

healthy, crisp, bright, refined, bending, swaying,

It is beautiful, an extension of the tree,

it’s very nature is, here, now, lovely.

As it is.

But a stripe from the window,

a separation,

condensation (cold meeting warm leaving unwelcome evidence of the battle on the glass) cuts through the branch, blurs, dulls, smears, makes the concrete abstract, changes perception, confuses, redefines the branch,

This branch

loses it’s essence, unrecognizable.

It could be a million other things, none as wonderful as the branch itself…

It feels good to simply leave this here and return to it next time.

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.

The Art of Subtraction

Happy New Year, it’s 2 thousand twenty. It hardly seems possible, right. I was born in 1975, so that means I’ve now seen 6 decades. I suppose this is my favorite, if I had to choose – you see, all things considered, life gets better every single day. I imagine my 7th decade (if I get that far) will be even better yet.

Though if I were totally honest, this year has so far been a little bit of a bummer. I was a little sick at the end of last year for Christmas, and then I was seemingly better, then yesterday woke up with a cough! Nursing this tiny cold hasn’t been too much of a nuisance, with the giant exception of the 2 twin babies I’m dying to spend tons of time and smooches on that I can’t yet. I’m not one of those psychos that visit regardless of symptoms and hack all over their sweet soft round faces. The hugs and kisses are coming the second I am tip top, that I promise you.

We’ve been spending some time at the Bridge reflecting on what has passed and imagining new beginnings. A few years ago, the mother of the 2 babies walked me through her practice of a focus word for the coming year. Her practice that would immediately become mine, too. That first year, my word was Release. I’ve always struggled with expectations, trying to control how I was perceived or how you responded to me. Obviously, this had the potential to be (and often became) a crushing weight on my shoulders and soul. That year, I began a nice journey of finding freedom and peace and joy in the process itself, simply offering up whatever I am or have as the act of worship, releasing you to behave exactly as you would, and releasing me of the chains of manipulating your behavior/response.

This year, I am also choosing Release, but I’m calling it Release, v. 2, because it’s a different kind of Release.

Still expectations, still control, but as I am a different man, my perspective has changed.

Here’s an old example of the sort of journey I am taking this year: For the first 4 or so years of the Bridge, I virtually ignored the orange offering box. (In fact, it’s still entirely possible for you to be there and have no idea if we have such a thing.) This was a conscious decision on my part because I had seen and experienced such abuse at the hands of the church in regard to money, or rather, the idolatry of money. So, I was content to throw the metaphorical baby out with the bathwater. And I was wrong. Thankfully, I surround myself with people with far more wisdom that I and they were finally able to open my eyes to the beauty (and necessity) of living a generous life, a life free of grasping and grabbing, a life free of the mastery of money. I still don’t focus on what comes in every week, but the over-reaction has lost much of it’s irrational power over me.

As we know, a life lived in negative posture never changed anyone’s life. Saying No to financial abuse ignores saying Yes to financial transparency and responsible stewardship.

I lived so so much of my life wanting to be not-my-dad. But what did it mean to be Chad?? I would later find out, and be very happy with the answer. And as it turns out, my dad wasn’t so bad, after all, not a monster, just a man who had plenty of wonderful qualities, too, to go along with the parts I hated.

Negative postures never change lives, just continue reinforcing limiting beliefs that keep us stuck.

This year’s Release is sort of complicated. It’s a release of negative postures based on experiences and baggage that I have not left behind, for whatever reason.

There are many examples I could detail, but here is one (since this is the Bridge page, after all): I will often leave unsaid what I do at the Bridge or that I even belong to a faith community at all. As you can figure, I have reasons – reasons that are not awful. Sometimes, in very high-profile ways, local churches have done such damage to where the word “church” is viewed as a dirty word. Instead of peace and love, the first words associated are judgmental and hypocritical. Reacting to this, I ran as fast as I could from the word church. And maybe that’s ok, in service of our mission to reclaim the initial splendor of the Bride of Christ. But running from the word is different from running from the idea of The Church – and the church. The Church is a lovely expression of kindness, encouragement, mutual respect and personal/communal growth. Or it should be. And how can we take it back if I am too scared to confront the truth of what it is (and has been) while still affirming what it could be, what it was intended to be?

The Bridge is a beautiful home, just what you might need in your life – but how will you know if I am governed by what someone did somewhere else?

Just because Britney Spears albums are horrible doesn’t mean we have to throw out our record players.

I’m not going to become a crazy sidewalk preacher wearing sandwich boards. At least I don’t think so. But I need to release the idea that I should not be a crazy sidewalk preacher wearing sandwich boards, and embrace just being me.

Genesis 1 says we’re made in the image of God, and it has been my experience that when we just strip away all of the fears, expectations, should’s, should not’s, and negative postures (I called it the Art of Subtraction in a message 2 years ago), we’ll find us – who we really are, in our deepest Genesis 1 Truths – and when we do, we’ll really like what we see.

Basketball Season, v. 2: ELCO

We had a basketball game Tuesday evening. Well, we didn’t, my son did – I tried to play basketball in the fall and have very little business playing basketball. And they won again! They were down big early, and fought back to finally take the lead with a minute left in the game – it was an epic comeback (as epic as junior varsity gets, but everything is relative) in a hostile environment (well, ELCO) that exposed the heart and resilience of the boys.

There are just a two observations I’d like to make about this game…

Last year, the team Samuel was on was just terrible. They won 1 game and were mauled all the rest. And this house had near-daily conversations about character and how we get up after we are knocked down. When they got behind early, a comeback was impossible. Instead, as shoulders began to slump, finger pointing and pouting would bury them and early deficits would grow into embarrassing final scores. What changed? Who knows? What I do know is that, way too often we make decisions based on wild guesses stained by the past. Since last year went this way, this year will, too.

I remember an argument my sister and I had on the boardwalk at Ocean City. Neither of us had actually done anything, we were both operating out of our expectations of what the other would do, or think, or say. I totally ruined an evening because of who my sister was 10 years earlier. She was a different person, but the boundaries I forced onto her wouldn’t allow me to see it. (Unless she wasn’t, of course. Maybe she hadn’t changed, but we would never know as long as I was seeing her through these restrictive lenses.)

I say, “she’s always going to be like this,” or “that’s just who he is,” or the worst phrase ever uttered, “it is what it is,” much too often. (I understand it can be wise to appropriately discern and not allow toxic people to continue to be toxic all over us, but if we were all honest, it’s usually not wisdom, just despair and hopelessness.)

Sometimes, it isn’t what it is. It’s a new day. I heard a terrific quote: “A person never reads the same book twice.” We change, teams change. Just because it happened yesterday doesn’t mean it will happen today.

Everyone who was ever crucified died and stayed that way…until One didn’t.

**

For the varsity game, the ELCO gymnasium was loud and charged with energy. The students in the specially designated section under the basket were obnoxious and boisterous, jeering our boys and cheering for theirs in rehearsed chants.

You might think I would spend this time shaking my head in disappointment, like a dad would, talking about class and respect. Nope.

I LOVED IT! I laughed when a girl in the front row offered a longer-haired player her scrunchie, admired their black shirts and wished we all had red ones of our own.

(In college, one of my favorite memories was a doubleheader at Messiah college where I was ruthlessly mocked for long hair of my own. They called me ‘She’ and asked over and over when LVC started allowing girls on the baseball team. I smiled, shook my head, threatened to steal their girlfriends and had two of the best games and one of the best days of my life. When the games ended, an LVC sweep, I took my hat off and bowed to them, showing them every strand on my sweaty head of hair, and they laughed with me and applauded louder than they had all day.)

These ELCO kids loved their team, maybe loved their school, and at least for that hour, loved each other. Sports are fun, a fact we mostly forget, turning the heated competition into THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN THE WORLD. It’s not. These kids are just like our kids, just like us, having a great time, an exhilarating escape from a world that usually only takes from them, only giving anxiety over endless stressors.

No one raised a fist, or a gun, just their hands and voices. The words were harmless, not containing any true slurs or hateful spirits. We were a community of humanity, all of us, no matter what color shirts we were wearing. It was a tiny gym in Lebanon county, loud and hot and super fun, and it was perfect.

Cold & Broken

As you can surely tell, I don’t like the Mariah Carey song.

I don’t like pretense, or anything that smells of inauthenticity. Social media is a wonderful exchange of ideas and photos until it jumps the track into fictional representations of characters who only slightly resemble the flesh and blood human beings that you actually know and have listened to and walked alongside. Jesus called us “whitewashed tombs” when we participate in this sort of masquerade; clean and glistening on the outside and full of dead men’s bones inside.

But what if someone did have Mariah Carey feeling emotions? Is it fake, like I have assumed, if it sounds amazing? If it is produced and pretty, does that automatically make it another brick in a wall of manufactured image? If it is whitewashed, does that mean that it’s a tomb inside?

Mariah Carey has been gifted in ways most of us aren’t. Where do these gifts come from? Why do I immediately judge her “emotions” as inauthentic? Because she’s not screaming? What if her octaves come from the same place, deep in the seat of the soul?

I also make the same assumptions about Christians in church – if they are meticulously made up with a constant unwavering smile, impeccably dressed, are they faking something?

(And if they are, why is that always wrong? Do they have to advertise their brokenness to everyone? Can they not hold it together through the service – because they just need God right now – before melting in the arms of their trusted friends? Is there value in changing out of our ripped jeans and sweats to dress up in Sunday best, as if for a date, which maybe they are? What if the very act of preparation begins to change the struggle with inadequacy & insecurity, begins to transform the dishonor and subtle devaluation we all fight into a space of dignity, beauty and “Good enough?” Is it possible that washing the tomb can alter the story of the bones inside, perhaps giving them life?

At different points in my life, my heart, soul, psyche, and self-image have been severely damaged. And sometimes, the crack in the dark, dank shack of a hopeless existence that let the light in was a shower or a haircut or brushing my teeth. It may sound superficial (and maybe it is) but it allows the light to shine on a new perspective that the way it feels now just might not be forever, and there is certainly value in that, isn’t there?)

And besides, who am to decide what their motivations are? Who am I to judge if they are “faking” anything? They, and I, might be or we might not be, but it probably looks EXACTLY the same. What makes me an authority of authenticity? Isn’t this the height of arrogance?

SO.

Is all of this, 4 weeks of posts, to say we should each mind our business? Not exactly.

I want everyone – and I will fight with every breath for this to be – to be all of who they are, in every space and situation. I want us all to be “Hallelujah,” sometimes “cold and broken,” sometimes angelic, and sometimes both or neither, sometimes instrumental (because words just don’t work) or full of profound precise words, quiet or loud. The reason I want this is because most of what I perceive to be wrong with us, disconnecting us, burying us under such loneliness and inadequacy is held in our collective hypocrisy.

Either we are pretending to be someone/something else (because what we are is, for some reason, bad or wrong or less than) and this creates a duality that has been dis-integrating us, wearing us out and tearing us apart from the inside out.

Or we are measuring ourselves against another’s carefully crafted (and entirely fictional) public image, and this creates a self-loathing because our pasta or pet or husband isn’t as good as the ones we see on Instagram, because we can’t look as spotless and sound as spiritual as Joel Osteen.

Bullying, minimizing, walls, rudeness, disrespect, all of it comes from this posture of image-making and manicuring these made up images to cover up our fear.

This is what God speaks to when, in Hosea 6:6 says “I don’t want your sacrifices” – your idea of what is perfect, what you think is the right answer – “I want your love” – your heart, your honesty, I just want the gorgeously messy, beautiful you. Bring all of you to Me, to the world, and then, baby, we can start to heal all of these wounds.

In “Hallelujah,” and the Bible, we celebrate, joy, praise, laugh AND we weep, question, rage.

I’m not minding my business, even for a second, and why? Because we need all of you. The world needs you – I need you – (the real you) to step into all that you have been created to be. That’s how the world gets put back together; when we love us and each other enough to be honest & open, and when we love God enough to step into all that He created us to be, which is all we’ve been looking for all along.

Sports?

I write so many posts on sports because I grew up on a steady diet of sports, and often the things we eat when we are young remain integral to our lives. Teams, players, won-loss records, ERA, batting average, and second-guessing were often the only way my dad and I could relate and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t absolutely LOVE it. One year in the NFL playoffs, after I was out of the house and married to my Angel, Peyton Manning had a first half that was unbelievable, something like 5 straight TD drives, where he looked like a space alien brought here to play football. I was alone in my living room and called my dad. Just a father and son loving Peyton Manning together…

So, I love sports. Maybe I really just love my dad and the 2 have gotten mixed up over a lifetime into where I can’t tell the difference, and now he’s gone but sports are here and that’s going to have to be good enough.

Anyway. I can also see now that sports are primarily windows and illustrations – instead of ERA and batting average, I care far more about character, drive, and the human condition, perfectly displayed and refined on the practice field, bench, and weight room.

Both of my boys play basketball, and some days come home very frustrated and very angry. I understand this. There are some other boys on the team that, well…

Adolescence is marked by fear and insecurity, right? We are awkward and riddled with anxiety and acne, growing into the people we will become – but we’re scared to death that those people we’re becoming are somehow not enough. Of what? Whatever, we just live our lives wondering if we measure up. This leads kids to fight and claw and try to annihilate the ones standing nearby in a fruitless quest to appear better in proximity. 

The most arrogant, condescending and nasty of us, it’s easy to see, are the ones who are most viciously ruled by this inadequacy. In schools, playgrounds, fields and courts – then later workplaces, offices, and conference rooms – this behavior is totally predictable.

I understand this, too.

I know what it is to wake up in fear, wondering if today will be the day I am exposed, that they ‘find out’ (whoever ‘they’ are and whatever they ‘find out.’) Faced with fear, we fight. We rip and claw at others to prove our dominance.

We sit and talk about these other boys, they vent and I listen. 

I know these boys they talk about and the weight under which they are struggling that threatens every second to squish them. I want to hug these kids, hold them and tell them they are ok, that they are enough. I also know they won’t listen, will probably alienate everyone around them until they are alone and hollow, exhausted from the constant image-creating. I know how hard it is to see through the too-small eyeholes in the masks we wear.

When I was young, I wanted them to get what they deserve. I wanted to give them what they deserve. Now, I still do, but the thing they deserve has changed. I don’t want them fed knuckle sandwiches anymore (though I always fear that’s where this is headed), I want them loved, unconditionally and beyond reason, for no other reason than that they too are children of the King.

I think this is what Jesus meant when He said to love our enemies, the ones that are hardest to love, the ones that make it their business to make others feel sall and embarrassed and worthless, the ones who pretend, the ones who bully our kids at school.

This impossible-sounding command is only possible if we can see them as they actually are, without their carefully curated disguises, as frightened children. 

I want my boys to have these eyes that can see. I want to have these eyes that can see, too. 

Now that we’re here, I also want those boys to have the eyes to see themselves as they are, as He does. We are walking this path together, and if Jesus is to be believed (and I truly believe He is), this kind of overwhelming love will drive out the fear and we can all begin the healing. Let’s imagine that, just for a second, for a day, forever…        

    

The Best Chicken I’ve Ever Had

After the riverboat docked and we were safely aground, we shared a meal, inviting everyone who was on the boat and whoever happened to be walking close enough to accost. I always make the joke (which is actually only half a joke) that one of the things we do best is eat. So, all of us ate the food we offered together at heavy stone tables across from our friends and, until recently, strangers. It is and has always been so valuable to me because, in addition to how deeply I love to eat, it is where all of the walls and barriers we concoct to separate us fall away and we can simply be ourselves, enjoying the blessings of God. (Now, I understand school lunches and dinner parties and business lunches and… well, I understand not ALL meals are about unity and blessing and instead focus on power, prestige, image, popularity and who is sitting where, with whom, but that’s gross and a perversion of the very idea of the table. We’ll talk about those distortions another day. Today, we will talk about when food and the table are right.)

The pavilion that covered us was full of laughter, noisy conversation, and full bellies. Everything was just as it should be.

Clean up was easy, the food was nearly gone. 

As we turned out of City Island and back onto Market Street, I realized just how exhausted I was. Big weeks take a toll in much the same way that sledgehammers take a toll, so I was ready, counting the seconds until I could collapse onto my very soft, very comfy couch and put a movie on that I wouldn’t see. And that’s just what I did, the lone exception being that the movie was replaced by the HGTV program Good Bones – I am married to a woman who strangely feels that there is more to entertainment than superheroes. Go figure. 

We were satisfied, peaceful, soaking in God’s lovely grace, half-awake.

Angel’s phone interrupted our lethargy with a dinner invitation that we would obviously decline.

Yes Man is a pretty good book, written by Danny Wallace, that was adapted into a completely average movie starring Jim Carrey. I only mention it because I have been taking steps (sometimes small and imperceptible) to say Yes to things I would regularly refuse. The thing is, my ‘natural’ bend is towards a hermit-like isolation, which has cost me many friends and experiences. I’d like to change that, don’t think it’s ‘natural’ at all to crawl into a hole where I am the only resident. I think my ‘nature’ is more like laziness and apathy and doesn’t deserve to survive the next metamorphosis of my evolution.

So, we said yes to dinner with some new friends (so new that it would be the first social interaction I would have with this beautiful family). They had a gorgeous home, great dogs, an easy openness, and far more food than I was prepared for. I count calories for everything I put in my mouth (you can judge me if you like, I certainly do), and when I saw the amount of pure deliciousness that would be served, there was a decision to make. I haven’t eaten a cheeseburger in a looong time, my friends. Where does a caloric threshold fit into saying Yes?

I’ll tell you, at least last Sunday, it doesn’t. 

I ate a huge juicy cheeseburger and chips and something called dump cake (exactly as awesome as it sounds) and then there was the chicken. As I was wrist deep in burger and macaroni salad, a plate of chicken was set before me, as if it were delivered by angels. Now, chicken is not something I would usually comment on, it is mostly fuel: bland, dry and laced with protein. But this chicken was marinated in God’s love and herbs harvested from the garden of Eden. I ate until I was sick in gratitude, deciding that these people were amazing and chicken was now my favorite food.  

The calories would have to wait to be tracked.

****

So, Now what?

This is the last post on this riverboat/chicken adventure and now I can see that they (including the message I shared, though I couldn’t have guessed at the time) are all tied in the willingness to show up, to open ourselves to possibility, to imagine that this hurting world can be (in fact, IS) beautiful if only we have eyes to see and ears to hear and hands to hold and hearts to love and be loved, if only we have the courage to say Yes. A tapestry of chicken and new friends and swimming pools and Shukran and riverboats and Gisy’s voice and Mephibosheth all sewn together by a God who has not left us, not even for a second, who is just waiting with wide-open arms for us to sit down at His table

What If

I just finished a book called The Way Of The Warrior by Erwin McManus and here are 2 questions that have settled in my head:

What if we are more than we know and in our disconnection with God have become less than we were ever meant to be?

What if miracles look like aberrations because we have accepted the world as it is and not as it should be?

Sometimes ideas, concepts, and observations stand out because they are so counter to what we’ve ever considered to be true, ever imagined could be possible. Other times they give language to what we’ve always known but didn’t have the words to express. These questions, to me, paradoxically reside squarely in both.

You see, I believe the premise of both of these questions – that our brokenness and “disconnect” have led us to settle for far less of our world and of ourselves. I think we struggle so much with acceptance of injustice and suffering, and so often say, “it’s not supposed to be like this,” because it isn’t. Maybe the fantastic stories of the Bible – where Elijah asks it not to rain for 3 years and it doesn’t, where the same Elijah asks God to send fire to the altar and He does, where a few fish and loaves feed thousands, where Ezekiel breathes life into dry bones, where Jesus and Peter walk on water, where manna is provided, where seas and rivers part, and on and on and on – what if these fantastic stories aren’t the exceptions? What if we are? What if, when Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you,” he meant it? What if it wasn’t a metaphor or hyperbole, what if he actually meant that nothing will be impossible for you and me?

***That’s a big “what if” and the implications are staggering…***

Of course, the other side of this is that it leads to a perfectionism that is unreasonable. Our expectations – of ourselves, others, and the world around us – can become chains, holding us in a prison of self-loathing and judgment. 

Maybe there’s a happy medium. Or maybe there’s not. Maybe it’s just a case of mistaken identity. If I think it’s my duty to be perfect or better or enough or amazing, I will try and try and push until I am. And fail, like I always do. Because even when I am awesome (we all are, you know) I open the door to the hammers that start pounding in my head, saying I’m not awesome enough or I should be more awesome. It’s never enough. 

This is where I too often go – so when McManus asks those questions, I see impossibility and yellow caution tape. Turn around! Be careful! 

But since I’ve ignored the warnings and have, instead, been feeding and caring for them, I see something new. What if the phrase “in our disconnection with God” is and has always been the key? Maybe my impossibility and less-than thoughts of not enough is simply more disconnect. Maybe as long as I’m trying to find enlightenment in my own achievement, it will just be further disconnect. Maybe I can’t make a mountain move because I’m trying to move it in my own strength, on my own shoulders. The mistaken identity is that I think I need to create me – that I decide what I was “meant to be.” That I manufacture my own miracles. 

(My great friend and new daddy Jay uses that life-changing phrase, and I’m henceforth stealing it from him and calling it my own.)

I was already created, in love, with a purpose, for an overflowing life of joy and blessing and love. I don’t have to create anything, it’s already been created. I just have to step into it. Then my expectations of the world can be a holy revolution, full of love and invitation (instead of bitterness and judgment) and my expectations of myself can be a realization, dripping with kindness and openness and awakening.         

Yet Another Post About Youth Baseball

I am finished coaching baseball for the year, and I am equal parts disappointed and thrilled.

This weekend we will not be playing in the state tournament for 13 and 14 year old all-stars. Baseball is strange (and that is, of course, what makes it so great.) Samuel’s team played a best-of-3 series with a Harrisburg area all-star team and, in the first, Saturday morning, pounded them 14-2 in a 5 inning mercy rule game. The second, after 4 innings, we were ahead 5-0 and planning our trip and hotel accommodations. In the next 2 1/2 innings, we were handed a 9-5 loss. This forced us to come back for Sunday afternoon and the wrong end of a 17-6 whipping. What looked like an easy coasting to the next step turned to mush in our hands. Baseball, right?

Samuel, for his part, played very well, but baseball is a game where everything you hit can be solid and hard and you can come away empty. That’s just what he did, with great frustration. I keep reminding him that you can also hit everything softly off the end of the bat and find every hole and go 4-4. He didn’t care about my wisdom. Not even a little.

I thought the team was pretty good, pleasantly surprising me in other ways off the field. The kids were kind and encouraging, the best players were leaders and, at least for 2 days, displayed the sort of character that made me feel like the future was sunny and everything was possible (if not winning a 3 game series.) I told a few of the boys and wanted to call each of their parents. 

This was a stark contrast to our summer team (ages 13-16). I thought this team was pretty good, too, and also surprising off the field. This just wasn’t a good surprise. I expected the older kids, fresh from high school ball to encourage the younger, wide-eyed newbies, to show them what it meant to be ballplayers, where to go on a steal, who the cut-off man is, how to spot a pitcher’s tendencies, and most importantly, what a team looked like, felt like, and what winning required inside each of them. Sadly, the mood crashed the day they came, 2 weeks after practice had began for those not yet playing for the school. With one very notable exception, the boys were clique-ish and sarcastic, choosing to mock and tear down rather than build. Of course, they didn’t take coaching well, usually disrespectful, rarely listening and often saying “No” to instruction on the field (ON THE FIELD!!!!) – after all, they are early teenagers and we all understand that all we’ll ever learn we’ve already learned by our thirteenth birthday, right? They were nasty and mean to each other as well as the requisite muttering behind backs (even to their ‘buddies’ in their own clique.) They clearly didn’t like each other, and to me, the most heartbreaking part of that truth is what it tries to hide: they don’t like themselves. Their insecurity (not only theirs, theirs is just more obvious because of the outward nastiness) worn on their sleeves like a sponsors logo directed every word and move. 

It was an environment that caused my soul to ache every day. What could I do to affect some change? What could I do to speak fresh words into such negative self-regard? What could I do??? I tried many approaches, to varying degrees of failure. The questions still haunt, and the nagging new question: did I let these broken boys down? I guess I probably did. Sigh.

I also coached a team of younger boys (under 14) from 3 different areas. We were, by all accounts and measures, terrible. I believe they have far more ability than even they would guess that needs to be coaxed into the light, and we made strides. We were always able to find encouraging details to build on, even in the middle of mounting losses.

I will say this, though, about those boys. I loved every moment of our short time together. I told all of those boys that I liked them so much “they could come and live with me” (HA!) and I actually did contact most of the parents (I will end up contacting all of the parents) to appreciate their children. 

I guess the point is that hardly anything is ever just one thing. Sometimes you play well and lose, sometimes you lose and have a great time, sometimes the worst thing is the best, sometimes you’re depressed and thrilled, sometimes you’re full of gratitude and regret.

I spoke at a funeral yesterday (an experience that deserves its own space, which I will give another day, but…) and my funeral messages usually concern this duality, and I offer my own humble permission to feel everything. The Scriptures have an underlying honesty that God, at the very least, allows. Allows? I would say the truth is much closer to ‘demands’ or ‘requires.’

So. 

It’s now around a week later and I am still looking at this, still on this screen, yet to be made public, and I’m only this morning seeing the irony in my hesitance. You see, I’ve been waiting because of the paragraph on the older team. I lost a good friend once because similar feelings, observations, and words about kids (1 in particular) I had coached proved me, to her, harshly judgmental in my assessment. I understand her perspective, I probably did look like a man who had written off these kids and closed the book, rigidly deciding who they were and who they would be. If there was a misunderstanding, it was only in the finality of my opinion. I hold all of this loosely, only an observation, hopefully wishing to open my hands and pick up a new one. The 1 that cost me a friendship did indeed have some of the qualities I perceived. But that was then. One year later, he had grown and matured – as most people do – and I would no longer say those things. Not only would I not say them, I no longer think those things. He is different. And (hopefully) so am I. So are you. 

Every day, I drove to the teener practice crossing my fingers that this would be the day that a big red switch would be flipped and they would step into the next phase of their development. Each evening, I mourned that another day passed in the old patterns, and each morning, I saw them with new eyes. Maybe today. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe next Tuesday.

The irony is that this post is about honesty – and here I am hesitating to communicate in an authentic fashion, wondering if I should… 

I should. We are in the business of offering all of who we are, even the ugly parts, and allowing them to move and change and transform into who we will be. Ignoring, or hiding, them leaves them unseen and unchanged. Swept out of sight, unacknowledged, we stay who we are, and that is the only unacceptable outcome. 

This post also concerns things not being just one thing. You’re not just a nurse or a lawyer or a pastor or a teacher or a wife, and neither am I and neither are they and neither is any moment of our lives. I held off on posting this because I didn’t want to be misunderstood again, but maybe I will be. And that’ll be ok. These kids are not one thing, now or ever, and they are certainly not today who they will be in 1 or 2 or 15 years. I don’t ever close any books. Nothing is final.

No, that’s not true. Some things are final. But we aren’t. We’re works in progress. 

Today is not just an extension of yesterday. It isn’t just what it is. 

Except this post. It is exactly what it is. And I’m posting it before it gets any longer.