Jesus

The Spider-Verse

We watched Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse for the 10th or 20th time last night. It is an animated film. Technically speaking, that’s all it is. As my wife would say, it’s a cartoon. She’s wrong, though, it’s much more than that. It is an hour and 57 minutes that rearranges the notion of what is possible in film, story, technology. Historically, there have been movies that mark a clear before and after. An easy example was Pulp Fiction. Before its release, cinema followed certain accepted structures. After, those walls had been bulldozed and filmmakers, writers, actors were all free to run and chase their imaginations into spaces previously thought nonexistent.

This creative explosion happens in every area of humanity; athletics, architecture, music, education, even religion. I remember many instances that blew my rational mind, profoundly changing my tiny idea of what God could and would do in any circumstance. I’ve seen people transform seemingly in front of my eyes, organizations metamorphose into the butterflies we all needed but whose creators couldn’t have conceived.

These seismic shifts invite us to dream, to exorcise the despair that says what was will always be, that believes “it is what it is,” that lost the childlike hope of faith.

Then there are other moments that confirm that our wildest dreams of what is possible were not misplaced. Against all evidence to the contrary, our fantastical visions are validated and that gives us the strength to take one more step into the darkness. 

Yesterday was one of those for me. 2 young women, aged 19 and 20 (!!!), organized a protest to respond to this abhorrent racism that we all see and feel all around us right now. It’s a divisive topic and I can’t even begin to figure out why. Life is the most sacred gift we have, why would we not want to protect that for all of God’s children? Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere. And it’s painfully obvious our silence hasn’t fixed anything, as if it ever could. Why would we not gather to express our collective pain?

Because it won’t work, or it’ll turn violent, or whatever. There are so many ‘because’s, so many ‘why not’s. When I asked my boys if they wanted to go, they were afraid of the riots on tv, the burned out stores and city street chaos. I guess it’s fear that mostly keeps any of us from challenging what has always been. We’re often scared to leave unfulfilling jobs, abusive relationships, unhealthy pattern because the unknown can be more terrifying than the now that is dismantling us. 

We went anyway, because we follow Jesus and that requires us to believe we’re all brothers and sisters , and that tomorrow can be different from today. That everything matters and we can…no, that we are called to bring, to make, peace. 

There were many colors and a sacred energy that what we were doing was vital to the healing of our world. It did not turn violent. Of course, there were reports of some regrettable behavior, which will happen when people get together, but no violence. There was kindness and kinship in our shared goal. Maybe it won’t work, but it certainly won’t work if we all stay home.

Now. Here’s what I have to tell you. We are not wrong. Our faith is justified, what we imagine possible, is. We can make a difference, we can change the world. It won’t be in our silence and it won’t be in violence. It will be in presence and love, and like yesterday afternoon, it will be amazing.

Panem & Pennsylvania, pt 2: Lists

Yesterday, I posted about the lines that end the final movie of the Hunger Games series,  Mockingjay, pt 2. Katniss Everdeen says, “Did you have a nightmare? I have nightmares too. Someday I’ll explain it to you. Why they came. Why they won’t ever go away. But I’ll tell you how I survive it. I make a list in my head. Of all the good things I’ve seen someone do. Every little thing I could remember. It’s like a game. I do it over and over. Gets a little tedious after all these years, but… There are much worse games to play.”

This is obviously a paraphrase of the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians (4:8), “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.”     

I should’ve continued a paragraph longer, with what is called an “action step,” but I didn’t and now it’s much longer. According to the University of Kansas website, Community Tool Box, an action step is: “An action step refers to the specific efforts that are made to reach the goals your agency has set. Action steps are the exact details of your action plan. They should be concrete and comprehensive, and each action step should explain:

  • What will occur
  • How much, or to what extent, these actions will occur
  • Who will carry out these actions
  • When these actions will take place, and for how long
  • What resources (such as money and staff) are needed to carry out the proposed actions 

And if you’re familiar with my teaching, I’m not that awesome at specific, exact details. You see, we are all so different and what is valuable and life-changing for you might not be valuable and life-changing for me. It might not be helpful to say it is vital to your spiritual growth to dead lift simply because it is to me. Maybe you’ll get much more out of quietly sitting in a chair or a treehouse or walking on a mountain trail or baking pies. However, I have done it before, I am capable. But only if I’m absolutely convinced that it is a practice/perspective/mindset that is truly for all of us – then I call it ‘homework.’ So, I have homework for us, and to please the University of Kansas, we’ll address each point of the suggested action step.

What will occur: We make a list of what’s noble, pure, lovely, of all the good things we’ve seen people do, every little thing we can remember, whatever is excellent or praiseworthy. We could think them, say them out loud, or write them down…Actually let’s say them out loud or write them, give them a little space to breathe. You can email them to me, too. 

How much, or to what extent, these actions will occur: As much as we need it. When it gets hard or heavy, when we feel anxious, overwhelmed, depressed, etc. When we feel the first familiar rumblings of fear. At least every day.

Who will carry out these actions: Each of us.

When these actions will take place, and for how long: at least every day, forever.

What resources (such as money and staff) are needed to carry out the proposed actions: It’s FREE!!! No money, no staff. All you need is a willing heart and the Spirit of God to guide you while holding your hand. (If you need staff, ask someone, ask me. And if you need to spend your money, I’ll help you with that, too.)  

I think the real pandemic that isn’t addressed with a quarantine is fear and brokenness – these are the nightmares that take us apart in so many ways every day. The Bible over and over counsels us to remember. Nearly every time a command is given, it is preceded with “I am the LORD your GOD, who rescued you from Egypt.” These nightmares (whatever they are, specifically, for each of us) are now our Egypt’s. And if God rescued us then, He’ll rescue us now. We so often only see and feel the oppression of Egypt instead of the liberation of the LORD our God. He hasn’t left, is still very much here, if we only have eyes to see. But vision takes practice, so we think about the gifts He has given: what is noble, pure, lovely, the good things people do, the beauty we experience everyday…and we make a list. I wonder how much that could impact mornings and middle-of-the-night’s and the way we see our noisy neighbors and our shady politicians. I wonder how much that could impact our lives, and in that, how much that would impact our world.

Patricia’s Blog – Living Water

[This post has been written by Patricia Snyder – Enjoy!! Love & Peace. Chad.]

John 4: 4-41. Living Water

When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” 8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.[a]) 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

At the well, Jesus meets the Samaritan woman and offers her living water. It was a place He shouldn’t have been, according to the culture of the day. It was a place where she went alone, away from the morning crowds. She went alone, maybe because in her culture she was considered immoral. Jesus doesn’t mince words when He points out her past. He speaks only the truth. It is this particular person that Jesus chose to approach. This is possibly the longest interaction, between Jesus and another person, that we read about in the Scripture. He asked her for water. He spoke truth to her about her life, a painful truth. He brought the truth from the places of her heart and from the voices of public gossip into Divine light and grace.

In the time of Jesus, living water also referred to water that flowed and moved as opposed to water that was still and stagnant. It was considered the most pure of waters and also used to cleanse oneself before entering the Temple. Living water cleansed and purified. This is what he offered her and offers us. With this water, not only will we never thirst, we will be cleansed and purified.

13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”17 “I have no husband,” she replied. Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

No matter what she did in her past or present, He chose to meet this person on that day. The water he offered could not be earned by any action or non action in her life. It could only be given.

This story has always struck a chord for me. It is one of the most powerful stories in the life of Christ. Christ met this woman, exactly where she was in her life. The truth of her life comes out of the mouth of the Savior, and in the very same encounter, He offers her everything her soul needs, truth and living water. He chose this woman to meet and carry a testimony of grace and love to others. 

Christ also meets us exactly where we are. Right now, many of us remain physically distant from those outside of our homes. Some folks are the helpers, going out, and with their servant hearts, they face the frontlines in a war zone. Some are the helpers behind the lines, doing what can be done to support others. Some of us are at home with others; some of us are alone. Some are ill. For some of us, this will be the most painful time of our lives. For some of us, this will be a revealing time. For some of us, this will be a growing and healing time. For some of us, this will be a time of great thirst and for some, a time of cleansing. For most of us, it will be a bit of everything.  

Every single one of us, Jesus will meet exactly where we are. He will meet us alone, and He knows every bit of our story.  He brings truth to Light. Our stories never stop Him. Nothing from our past or present stops Jesus. He offers us this living water, that purifies, cleanses and takes away every  thirst. 

Jesus will meet us in the fear, the aloneness, the togetherness, the loneliness, the growth, the despair, the grieving, the pain, and the joy. He will meet us in the desolation and the recovery. He will meet us with consolation and grace.

The other day I felt the warmth of tears come down my cheek.  They come more easily during this time. I remember the woman at the well and how Jesus asked her for water. She felt so inadequate. The weight of her culture and her life was upon her.  She asked Him, “How can you ask me for water?”  It occurred to me that sometimes all we have to give Jesus is the water of our tears. All we have is the water that carries part of our souls. The tears are so sacred in their journey from our heart and souls to the flowing of tears. There are times our soul overflows. It is sacred and holy water. I believe that Jesus asks us for that. He comes to our well, when we are alone, meets us where we are and asks us for water and sometimes tears are all that we can give. He takes our offering and reminds us that He has the water that quenches our souls for eternity and lifts us into the grace of God.  

21 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” 26 Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”

Imagine that. The Messiah revealed Himself to this particular woman and chose her to give testimony to her community. She is any one of us.

39 Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. 41 And because of his words many more became believers

This encounter with the Samaritan woman is the same encounter that we are offered. He meets us where we are, and reveals Himself to us.  He is the Messiah! On Good Friday, we will be reminded again of the gift that our Savior gives us. From the cross, water from His side poured out; the gift of living water that “wells up to eternal life.”

We have more alone moments now. Maybe more than we did before. We may have more tears than we did before. The invitation remains. Christ will meet us exactly where we are with living water and grace. The only question remains is what we do with the gift that is offered.

Isaiah 12:2 God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. For the LORD GOD is my strength and my song, and He also has become my salvation.” 3With joy you will draw water from the springs of salvation.

Some News For You

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

First, Jesus gave this “Great Commission” (in Matthew 28:18-20): “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Maybe today we need to know that He is “surely” with us always; interesting how comforting and safe a commission, a command is with this lovely Jesus. But it’s that word “go” that we’ll talk about now. I’ve heard it translated more accurately as “As you are going,” and that makes a difference. It’s not an addition, not something else, not a demand to try and find room to scribble something “spiritual” on an overflowing calendar. It is an invitation to transform what we are already doing, where we are already going. It is an invitation to acknowledge that this space and interaction is sacred, and treat it accordingly…as we are going.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Year End

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wish you all the love and peace.

C.

One Big Lump

I have no idea what I’m going to talk about on December 22nd or December 24th. Now, this is sort of a big problem because December 24th is Christmas Eve, our faith community extended will be at the church, everyone will look so sharp and happy, an overwhelming amount of hugs will be given, and when the first set of worship music ends, I’ll stand up, whether or not I discover what will come out of my mouth.

This is only mildly disturbing, rather than panic inducing, for a few reasons. One, because it’s December 6th and I have a little time. (It’s unusual to not have at least a tiny seed to tend, but there is time.) Two, because God is faithful and I have no doubt He will provide.

Three… Well, it’s Three I want to talk about this morning.

Yesterday morning (while I should’ve been working), I had breakfast (pumpkin pancakes and 4 slices of the best bacon ever) with a very good friend. We talked about things that matter a lot, things that matter a little and things that don’t matter at all. And, to make it even better, in addition to the gift of his time, He paid.

Last night (while I should’ve been working), the 4 people who live in my house crowded onto the sofa around Samuel’s school computer for hours. For some reason, his phone couldn’t/wouldn’t connect to the big tv or the computer which could’ve projected onto the big tv, forcing us to climb on and over each other to see the photos and hear the stories of his band trip to Disney World.

This morning (while I should’ve been working), I woke up too early and worked out, breathing deeply in gratitude for the physical gifts I have been given.

Later (while I should’ve been working), I spoke to 2 other very good friends on the telephone (answering the modern question of “who actually talks on the telephone anymore?” with a surprising, “I guess I do”) about the Dallas Cowboys heartbreaking loss to the Chicago Bears last night, community, workers compensation, spiritual warfare, and whole life transformation.

Tomorrow (while I should be working), I’ll be at a contemplative retreat at 9 and then drive to Hamburg for 2 basketball games at 11 and 12.

And right now I’m writing this to you instead of working, sweating, chopping wood trying to unearth the main thread for this Christmas message in 2-parts (that can, of course, stand alone.) And as you can surely guess, the questions begin, whispering “What will they think?” “What if it’s not good enough?” “What if you’re not prepared?” And moving to the accusations: “You have always been lazy,” “You’re not enough for these beautiful people,” “You’ll let them all down.” To finally, “What if He doesn’t give you anything this time?”

It’s this last one that exposes the charade. This last one is so clearly, obviously a lie, and leads me to question the rest. What will they think…not good enough…not prepared…lazy…not good enough… What’s interesting is that right now, I don’t care. They are either true (which some of them probably are) or they’re not (which some of them definitely are), but it is Christmas.

You see, Christmas is about a baby, a Savior, a man, God. It’s not about my work, my trying/earning/justifying, my being good enough. It’s about the Gift. It’s about all of the gifts – and there are many.

Like, for instance, 3 friends, bacon, cell phones, and my very favorite one: The holy accident that my boy’s phone wouldn’t connect and instead of sitting all over the room, we were smushed into one big lump of family and the kind of boundless love that makes everything so wonderful.

“What if He doesn’t give me anything???” Baby, He already has, more than I could have ever asked for or dreamed of, and if I miss that, then I’ve totally missed the point – of Christmas, of grace, of Jesus, of me, of you, of life – and it doesn’t matter what I say.

Fighting

I am sitting at my dining room table. This is unusual because I usually sit in the living room in a super-soft and cozy reclining chair that was given to me. I’m here because we have a fish tank in here, so I’m facing that direction watching the colors of the light fade into one other, wanting to write this post but having NO IDEA what to write. Incidentally, there aren’t any fish in this tank. Just 2 snails.

Staring at the tank, through the water, I can see a 4×6 index card I have on my mirror. I have 2. 1 has a quote from a Mark Steele book, Half-Life/Die Already I think: “I don’t know what’s coming. But I know it will not be too much.” The one I’m interested in today has a Bible verse, Nehemiah 4:14 (I mistakenly wrote 5:14): “Remember the LORD, who is great and awesome, and fight for your friends, your family, and your homes.” On my mind this morning – and last night as I lay awake, unable to sleep – is the fight I had with my boys and it’s consequences.

I don’t care what the fight was about, to tell you the truth, except to remember that they lost their video games for 2 days (!!??!!) and to follow through on that ban.

What happened afterwards is what I care about. I live my life in such a way that, if you and I have a disagreement, no matter how heated it may get, when it’s over, it’s over. You see, when I was growing up, I had a dad who would withhold himself from me in anger and/or disappointment. There would be days and weeks where he would silently ignore me until he didn’t, and then we could go back to normal. It was crushing and never failed to thoroughly break my heart. So, in all of my other relationships, I promised that we would never so carelessly waste precious moments like that. Early in our marriage, Angel and I would argue and she would attempt to escape to…well, who knows why she would try to escape? Possibly to stop the escalating tension and gather thoughts, a count-to-10 situation. But what I do know is that those attempts would be unsuccessful. Because my dad did this kind of thing and we are waaaaay too important to miss. We are such valuable gifts. He was, too, (especially to me), but I didn’t have a say then. Now I do. So we would fight and then the fights would be over and we could hold each other’s hands and give each other smooches again.

Yesterday, the boys got in trouble and, minutes later, I wanted to show something to Samuel. Whatever it was was cool and interesting, I’m sure, but that something was also to display that we were still in love. It has recently been pointed out to me that I stand in certain places and move in certain ways as to initiate physical contact. Probably, that’s true. AND HE MOVED AWAY FROM ME, just an inch or 2, just enough so we were not touching.

He was mad or sulking or whatever and wanted to wound me, and he did. But at what cost? I’ve been teaching one thing their whole lives; that we do not withhold ourselves from others to manipulate or control. Well, 2 things; that we can argue and that’s ok – our love is unconditional.

Now, I’m mad and sulking and whatever. Mostly sad. I’ve failed as a parent blah blah blah. That my dad is gone and I miss him like crazy, and now my boys and I are going to miss each other forever. You know how these thoughts pile up, like a terrible avalanche of sadness and loss.

And here’s Nehemiah. What does it mean to fight for my friends, my family, and my home? Sigh. I guess it means to take my tears and wounded-ness and plow through his rebellion. Because he’s 14 and I’m right – this is not always the case, but in this one, it FOR SURE is. We are waaaaay too important, and some things are worth fighting for. I may have to chase him around like I did (and sometimes do) with my wife, but this story is going to end with big bear hugs and a tidal wave of smooches on his cheeks that he only pretends to hate.

I didn’t know what it meant to fight for my dad and those sweet moments that were gone too soon, but maybe in fighting for these, now, we are all fighting to reclaim those, too.

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…        

    

My Speedo

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

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

How many times? How much did I miss?

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

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

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

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

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

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

How much of my life have I not been present?

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

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

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

Social Emotional Learning (SEL)

Every manifestation of greatness has hidden behind it a life of discipling, determination, and persistence. – Erwin McManus

Our local school district sends an email every Sunday that details upcoming events. This was one of the bullet points in Sunday’s message to parents:   

“As a District, we are focusing more on Social Emotional Learning (SEL).  At the Secondary School, all students will participate in bi-monthly meetings with their teacher during Advisory/Enrichment.  The first meeting will be on Monday, September 16.  The topic is Passion and Joy and the question all students will be asked to consider is:  “What brings passion or purpose to my life?”  Please feel free to ask your son/daughter about this as it will help bridge the home-to-school connection.”

I did ask my son, a 9th grade student, for his help in bridging the home-to-school connection, “First, what in the world is Social Emotional Learning? And second, what brings purpose to your life?” I don’t know if you’ve ever held a conversation with a 14 year old boy, but I still don’t know what social emotional learning is. It sounds important. After all, it has an acronym. All modern “important” things have acronyms. Truth is, I don’t much care what the administration means by SEL, I just love the 2nd question and he was able to answer that beautifully.

It’s a variation of my favorite question: what is your why? Why do you do what you do? We all answer that in so many ways in everything we do. 

I began with the McManus quote because discipling, determination, and persistence can never come without passion or purpose, without a why. If I don’t have a reason, it’s just an exercise in the will alone and that power loses interest or is distracted or stays up too late or gets sick or finds a date. Something will become more valuable and that will get the focus that was on the last shiny thing. The reason the SEL class started with passion/purpose is because that’s where everything starts (or, at least, should start). Without a solid why, persistence is generally impossible.

Most of my biggest disappointments, the things that kept me up at night, could be traced to a lack of determination and persistence. I failed tests because I didn’t study, lost games and underperformed where I hadn’t practiced or prepared. But it wasn’t a lack of determination. I actually have plenty of that – just not in those spaces, for that work. I wasn’t missing resolve or self-control, I was only missing a raison d’être, or more aptly, a raison de faire. (I have no idea if that is a real saying – I know raison d’être is “reason to be,” and raison de faire might very well be “reason to do” – probably because I didn’t pay enough attention in French class. I had no reason to, then. How could I know I’d write this someday?)

I wonder how often our passions line up with our lives. If they don’t, life can feel very much like an uphill climb. We would be tired, bored, uninspired. We would continue to believe awfully destructive lies about ourselves, like that we are lazy or unintelligent or clumsy or weak or whatever, when in reality, we are simply searching for our why.

I’m sure my son’s why will change, and I hope and pray he changes with it, tightly holding onto it’s hand until it becomes a Him and he truly learns the meaning of the statement, “I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.” (Jn 10:10 MSG)