perspective

Disruption!

My focus seems to be pulled in many directions. It’s hard to stay on one path of thought or on one task. Lately, I don’t always listen, and certainly don’t remember all I hear. These months are very full with responsibilities – and that is a factor – but they are also full with MAJOR life markers/events. Our people are changing. Our home is transforming. Yes, it’s transforming into something wonderful, but it is transformation and that sort of stretching and metamorphosis is painful. Distraction is a danger every day, but especially in times of overwhelm. How do we focus and find peace in that?

I have found distraction to be a wholly negative state, but a word that sounds similar – disruption – is usually positive, even as it is uncomfortable. Disruption shakes us out of our ruts, out of our mindless routines. This season is one big disruption of the status quo. We are faced with new, unpaved roads to travel.

What I’ve learned is to hold myself gently (as I would hold others) in my own disruption. My heart is overflowing, with everything. So I’m not writing a new Bridge post, other than this introduction. But what I have done is included the post I wrote about songs and albums earlier this week for my other website, for 2 reasons. A, because maybe you want to read something. And 2, because it includes an answer to the earlier question (How do we focus and find peace in times of overwhelm?), which is, of course, jigsaw puzzles. You already know jigsaw puzzles are simply a tactic I use to remember to get, and stay, present and engaged, right? Whatever our “jigsaw puzzles” are, we just can’t miss the invitations, the disruptions, or the attention. We do what we must to turn our hearts to thankfulness – the pain and grief of the loss is simply gratitude that we had those people or relationships or journeys or moments or years for a time, and the glorious celebration we now get to share as new people or relationships or journeys or moments or years begin.

It’s called Round Here, and I hope you like it. I’ll see you soon.

Round Here

The site prompt today is asking if I remember life before the internet. Yes, I do. For some reason, I’m often very nostalgic lately, so at those times that life B.I. seems preferable. Whether the time actually was more simple, or I was, doesn’t really matter in my head.

I love to put together jigsaw puzzles. Don’t ask me if I do that on an app – you already know the answer. I still read physical books, still turn pages. Now that I think of it, it’s mostly for the same reason. When life gets noisy and heavy, finding pieces that fit perfectly (or opening a book and turning pages) turns that volume down. These small acts reduce the complexity of everything that surrounds me. It’s a little like that aphorism: a journey of a million miles begins with a single step. We can’t finish a puzzle now, we can only give our time and focus to finding the next piece.

The puzzle on the dining room table is one called Rock ‘n’ Roll, and is made up of artists, album covers, ticket stubs, and instruments. It’s pretty good puzzle artwork, the overwhelming sadness in Kurt Cobain’s eyes is obvious and as heartbreaking on my table as it was in real life. There is Ray Charles, The Beatles & The Stones, Joan Jett, and Kiss to name only a few. There is also the album cover from the 2nd best album ever recorded: August & Everything After, by Counting Crows. (The best is, of course, The Queen Is Dead.) 

So now I’m listening to the live version of August & Everything After. It’s the whole thing, in order, and it’s unusual in that Counting Crows live versions are mostly unrecognizable from the studio album tracks. You have to know the lyrics to know Mr. Jones at a concert to realize it’s Mr. Jones, but you still can’t sing along. This particular release, though, sounds like the original, but…extra. They’re a terrific band, even as they sort of under-achieved, never building on the perfection of this debut. But how could they, honestly? I am sometimes angry at the Goo Goo Dolls. I want them to make an entire great full-length album, and they don’t, they won’t. It’s like an act of rebellion. But Counting Crows made this 100% A+ masterpiece, and they deserve a pass forever.

Round Here is the first track and makes me cry every time I hear it (with both hands, it’s so sad and so beautiful. Like the great philosopher Rob Base once said, “joy and pain.”) 

My wedding Anniversary was Saturday, and my son graduates high school on Friday. Those are the bookends to a week marked with the challenge of holding 2 life-changing events carefully and joyfully. I married the Angel 22 years ago, and the term soul mate is casually tossed around but rarely appropriate. She is easily mine and I hope I’ve risen to even 3% of what she deserves. My son is 18 and steps into an adult life that I get to watch from a front row seat, the best one in the world. He is everything I dreamed he’d be and more. 

This week will have baseball games and work and blog posts about music puzzles and phone calls and workouts, but the majority of the week in my heart will be a staggering gratitude. I began this by talking about nostalgia, and I sort of miss Swatch watches and Atari 2600’s and getting up to change between 3 TV channels, but preferable? Baby, I wouldn’t change one thing about this amazing, messy, wonderful life that I have been so graciously given, and I wouldn’t miss these people and this week for anything.

Words

My reading lately has been pointing in the same direction. Everything I see or hear, intentionally or otherwise, sticks to the theme, like neon arrows moving me along a certain path. It feels as if it’s a conspiracy to make absolutely sure I don’t miss it, subtle as a sledgehammer.

This obvious theme is the words we use.

This shouldn’t be a surprise, if you’ve been awake and aware. The manner in which we speak to each other is disheartening, at best. We cut, we divide, we use our mouths violently to inflict the most damage. We used to try to retain some semblance of civility, even courtesy, but now that is mostly gone. Our fear and insecurity has outweighed our humanity, so we weaponize our posts and remarks, using tones we wouldn’t have dreamed of a few short years ago. Even when they’re not directed purposefully at others, our words are hopeless and cynical. We obsess over problems and worst-case scenarios.

I’m finished doing the same thing here, pointing out the broken parts. Instead, we’ll use one of my very favorite questions: What now? Where do we go from here? Is it really as inevitable as we’ve accepted?

Starting with the 3rd question, of course it isn’t. The tomb was empty, and nothing ever again can be said “is what it is,” because it’s simply not. It can be different and it can be today.

As for What now? and Where do we go from here? I have some ideas.

Proverbs 15:4 Gentle words bring life and health, a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit. Proverbs 18:4 A person’s words can be life-giving water. Proverbs 12:6 …the words of the godly save lives, and 12:18 …the words of the wise bring healing. James 3:9-12 Sometimes [the tongue] praises Our Lord and Father, and sometimes it breaks out in curses against those who have been made in the image of God. And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth…this is not right! Does a spring of water bubble out with both fresh water and bitter water? Can you pick olives from a fig tree or figs from a grapevine? No, and you can’t draw fresh water from a salty pool.

The tongue has the power of life and death (Prov 18:21), and I’m guilty of both not acknowledging that overwhelming fact and not caring. That James passage cracks me like a giant egg with that praising God AND curing those made in His image. Right? I’m too often a salty pool. I’ve crushed spirits instead of healed, brought death instead of life.

So, here’s the idea, and there is an order. Waiting for others to change first, for us to respond got us all in this mess. Let’s just operate as if we’re the answers to our own prayers of reconciliation, and go from there. Let’s be fresh, life-giving water. Let’s be springs (instead of salty pools). We’ve tried to gauge & match the temperature of the world around us, and it has been a resounding failure. That temperature is way too cold. It’s time for us to set the environment. We can decide to forgive, to not hold grudges, to call up, build, point out beauty everywhere we see it, give grace, give the benefit of the doubt, throw away our scorecards and start new.

Yes, of course, this is sometimes going to end up hurting. Some of us are monsters and will take advantage of our kindness and love. It’ll feel like we’re alone, and we’ll second-guess, “what can we really do?” Yep, that’s all true. But it already hurts, we’re already taken advantage of, beaten up and attacked, the only difference will be why.

We can start to push against the tide of darkness. You know, the more I think about it. We only think we’re pushing against the tide. It’s probably more like this garbage of inhumanity is like a dam – that our original bend, present since our creation, to worship, to engage in authentic relationships, to love extravagantly, is actually the tide and once we can all bang hard enough to cause a few cracks, it’s only a matter of time until it all comes down. And that all starts with a word.

Dreams

I just finished reading My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry, by Fredrik Backman. This isn’t my first time reading it and I cried just like I did each of the others. It’s absolutely beautiful. It’s inspiring and hopeful, and reminds us all why we don’t just give up when the news gets so bad and the searing pain of engagement gets so intense.

I turn down corners of pages that contain words, sentences, and/or passages that move me. When I re-read books, I look forward to those pages and sometimes I read the page several times and have no idea why I turned down that particular corner. Others, I know immediately. One of those turned down corners held this peach: “Because not all monsters were monsters in the beginning. Some are monsters born of sorrow.” 

I’m thinking about the things we like and why we like the things we like. Maybe we choose the books/songs/movies, for whatever reasons (we like the cover art or it’s cheap or our friend gives us a gift). Or maybe those books/songs/films choose us (and we’d find them in our path somehow, over and over, until we finally pick it up when we’re exactly ready and explode). Do we like those things because we’re a certain way, or are we a certain way because we like them? Or a wonderful dance between the two? Maybe we are predisposed, open to the impact of a book about an 8 year-old girl, her grandmother, wurses, and monsters born of sorrow, and when we find each other, we join this dance.

On another page: “And probably a lot of people think Maud and Lennart shouldn’t do that, and that types of people like Sam shoudln’t even be allowed to live, let alone eat cookies. And those people are probably right. And they’re probably wrong too. But Maud says she’s firstly a grandmother and secondly a mother-in-law and thirdly a mother, and this is what grandmothers and mothers-in-law and mothers do. They fight for the good. And Lennart drinks coffee and agrees. And Maud bakes cookies, because when the darkness is too heavy to bear and too many things have been broken in too many ways to ever be fixed again, Maud doesn’t know what weapon to use if one can’t use dreams.”

I hope we’re all fighting for the good. In fact, I believe we’re all fighting for the good, in the way we fight for the good. (Well, mostly all – some people are selfish psychos who want to cause damage, but there are so few of them… Well, it’s like this. Bad pizza exists, but pizza is so rarely bad that it’s hardly worth ordering our lives around. Most bad pizzas aren’t psychos, they’re bad pizzas born of sorrow and loneliness and despair, and that sort of pizza doesn’t want to be awful at all.) So we’re fighting for the good, trying to find what weapons are ours to use. 

Dreams are a Swedish cookie, that’s what Backman and Maud and Lennart are referring to. But when the darkness is too heavy to bear and too many things have been frozen in too many ways, maybe the other kind of dream is necessary, as well. (Actually, Maud and Lennart are the only ones referring to the cookie. Backman is obviously referring to both.) We get our imaginations drummed out of us very early, until we believe this is simply “how it is,” that people are untrustworthy, and all pizza is inherently bad. Reclaiming the truth requires, first, a dream. A dream that things can be better than they are, that we are worth fighting for, and that holding hands is still the best way to remember that all isn’t lost, that we are alive and that we are together.

Maybe amazing art like this is what made me so naive and awesome. Or maybe these books affirm my naïveté. It’s fun to think about but, in the end, who really cares? We have dreams to bake, people to love, and fighting to do.

Answer

Former President Donald Trump pled not guilty to 34 felony counts, but as you can imagine, there’s no way that’s what we’re going to talk about here. Ha.

So, in the past few weeks, I’ve been asked several variations of the same question: “The world keeps getting worse and worse, people keep getting worse and worse, I’m feeling a crushing amount of despair and hopelessness, I’m sinking. What do you think/do about this?”

I understand the question, and I really understand the tears that usually travel with the words. We all see what’s going on, we all feel it. We’re sad, depressed, lonely, anxious, stressed, frustrated, angry, wondering how anything will ever get better, if anything will ever get better. I feel that, too. I’m not sure any of us are immune to those emotions, if we’re honest. A lot of the problem is that we’re hardly ever honest, and that ridiculous pretense (that we’re all ok, everything’s fine) is isolating us from each other, forced to face this darkness alone.

My answer to this question begins with the foundation that we’re not alone. We were never supposed to do any of this by ourselves. In Genesis, before the fall, one thing was “not good” – for the man to be alone – so He made him a companion. When the prophet Elijah was suicidal in a cave, God didn’t necessarily tell him things would be awesome, but did tell him where he could find some other people. 2 of the most powerful words ever uttered are “me too.” I’m scared. Me, too. Ok. Let’s be scared together. Things are always less scary together.

I see the same news, the same trends, the same division. I just might come to a different conclusion. We are certainly on a destructive path, I just don’t accept it’s inevitable we arrive. After all, it’s Easter and we’ll celebrate a resurrection. Death was the last word until it wasn’t, and if we actually believe that, nothing is impossible or hopeless.

So now what? A guy I follow on Instagram uses the phrase, “we do the things.” We get up and get outside, put our feet in the grass, take a walk, drink some water. We listen to our favorite playlist and lift heavy weights. Whatever the things are for us, we do them until we can breathe. Does it actually help to reverse the spiral? No, but it quiets the noise so we can remember what will: to Love God and to Love each other.

I no longer think it’s a top down solution (if there ever was a day I did). It’s you and me loving Jesus, each other, our neighbors, co-workers, enemies, and in-laws. We lean in, show up and forgive 70 x 7 times. We love our kids and all of the other kids, we relate with respect, have tough conversations, listen. We stop minding our own business and start walking together, hand in hand, carrying each other’s burdens.

Seriously, can you imagine how every single thing would change if, instead of entering every room from a place of inadequacy and fear, we stood on abundance and value? Instead of having to prove ourselves worthy, we just know we already are and there is nothing left to prove. If there was nothing to ‘win,’ we could listen with kindness and respect. Instead of operating out of the things we are not, we would rest in alllllll of the things we are. When we are no longer imprisoned inside a cell of the images we construct to ‘protect’ ourselves, we are free to run and fly.

We have been called to point to this reality, to live out of this beauty and joy and get it all over those we are blessed enough to meet. Can you believe there are some of us who don’t know and haven’t heard that we are loved? That we have been made on purpose, in/by/for love? Some of us don’t know the tomb is empty. I know! This is wholly unacceptable.

Here are some lyrics to a song by Andy Grammer, Naive:

*So call me naive. But I believe you’re gonna be okay. And call me naive. But tomorrow will be better than today. And if it’s stupid to see the good in everything. Lord, help me please, help me to be naive. See, I believe This life is something beautiful and sweet. I believe That love pulls me to you like gravity. And you could say I’m gullible. And I’m blind to all the lies and tragedies. I just think we focus all our time On poison and not the remedy. So call me naive. Say I’m living in a world of make-believe. And call me naive. But I don’t know another way to be.*

We get to choose, and as for me, I’ll choose to see a new Kingdom bursting through right in the middle of this one.

Maybe that’s naive, or maybe that’s the deepest level of realism. Either way, this is what we’re here for, individually and as the Bridge – to be naive. So, we’ll focus on the Remedy, whose name is Jesus, and the remedy, which is love. We’ll pray, we’ll do the things, we’ll love like crazy.

What could be a better time to take a sledgehammer to the cultural despair than Easter? (Actually, now that I think about it, I guess there is a better time: now;)

Lord, I hope I stay this kind of naive.

Eyes To See

I wrote this for my other blog, lovewithacapitall.com, and I think you might like it, too. Incidentally, the site that publishes our sites (now called Jetpack) gives a writing prompt every day. Today it’s, “What word best describes you?” and in light of the following, it’s clear I’d like to say grateful. And not so incidentally, today is my dad’s birthday. He would have been 79 today. I miss him more some days than others, and today is one of those. Maybe that is why I feel this post so deeply. Or maybe I would feel this post so deeply everyday, because I’m the man he raised everyday. Yes, very very grateful.

I go to a local store for something called creamed pearl tapioca pudding on Tuesdays. Every Tuesday. And then I drop it off with the Angel at her office, along with a fountain soda as thanks. What I tell her is that it needs to be refrigerated and I’m unable to access our fridge. I don’t need to take it to her. I take it all through the winter, when my car is colder than any available appliance, mostly so I can see her for those 30 seconds.

Yesterday was Tuesday, and while I was there, I was overwhelmed, speechless and in awe of this woman. I sent her a text from the parking lot that read, “No kidding, I can not believe I get to be married to you. You are a KNOCKOUT,” and then I added 2 emoji faces with hearts for eyes. We’ll only talk about how she looks today, but as you probably already know, the beauty on the outside isn’t close to how lovely she is on the inside. She’s pretty far out of my league, but that’s her problem, not mine.

The point is that sometimes we can be so familiar with something that we take it for granted, easily and often. I live with this Angel, see her everyday, in pajamas and in heels, I know she’s gorgeous. I know her smile in my sleep, the way her eyes shine, how her laugh sounds, her skin feels. I know all of this, but there are surely lots of moments where I don’t truly appreciate all of this.

And there are so many things just like her (well, not just like her), but equally overlooked, or dismissed as common when they are anything but.

Pizza, Lord of the Rings, vinyl, this blanket, Catfish, creamed pearl tapioca. There are things we couldn’t wait to get, absolutely had to have, and changed our lives, that we don’t even give a second thought today. I’m not sure we need a change of scenery nearly as much as we need to open our eyes to the current scenery, because at some point that new scenery is going to be the current scenery we are looking to change.

I haven’t listened to The Queen Is Dead in months, and the last time I did, I skipped some tracks. It’s a perfect album, and I treat it so cavalierly that I skip tracks. We eat in front of the tv or in the car, concentrating and appreciating nothing. We see sunrises and sunsets everyday more perfect than the finest art. The Angel is so stunning she could stop clocks. 

How and when did we get so distracted and jaded that we miss all of this splendor? Somewhere we were sold the lie that there was anything in this fantastic world that is “ordinary.” Ordinary is for the blind and imagination-less. In the Bible, scales fall from the apostle Paul’s eyes and he can finally see things as they are, see reality as it is. Maybe our scales need to fall, as well. I don’t really want to take anything for granted anymore, and I certainly don’t want to take people for granted ever again. I don’t want to become so familiar with laying like spoons with the Angel that it loses it’s tender warmth and simply becomes something we do. It IS something we do, but it’s not simple at all, it’s also significant and perfect.

I wonder how many other things in our everyday lives are significant and perfect, if we only had eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to feel them.

The Grass-Eating Ox We’ve Chosen

Psalm 106:20 says, “They traded their glorious God for a statue of a grass-eating ox!” I totally recognize we discussed this verse yesterday, but it’s so good, I wanted to share it again.

The Israelites, the chosen people of the Living God, who had just been rescued from slavery, at the first opportunity, coerce (really, it didn’t take too much coercion, they mostly just asked) Aaron to make them a statue of a golden calf to worship, which he does. They are the people He’s chosen. This is the lump of melted bling they’ve chosen.

I don’t imagine we have many golden calves in our homes, not too many statues we kneel in front of. This story is factual history, the golden calf was a real thing, but it’s also a metaphor. We are Israelites. We are afraid. We are asking where God is, will He come back, are we safe, what are we supposed to do now??? We still have golden calves, even if they’re not golden calves. So, the questions yesterday were, “What is our grass-eating ox? Where have we traded our glorious God for something much much less? Where have we set our hearts?”

Today, the question is, where has our fear deteriorated our faith, broken our state of love & trust, and led us to replace the True God with junk, just as the Israelites did in the wilderness thousands of years ago?

Maybe not junk, but certainly junk in comparison. Our work isn’t junk. Our children aren’t junk. Our spouses aren’t junk. But they don’t provide salvation, they don’t save. They don’t instill us with worth, they don’t give us the answer for the vital question we’re all asking, “Who am I?” They fade. They let us down. Statues break.

In the fish tank in front of me as I write, my son has a statue of a mechanical panther that is as awesome as any fish tank decoration you’ll ever see. I always had a No Fishing sign in my aquariums (aquaria? aquarii?) as a boy, and that was pretty awesome. This is even better. The fish swim through it, some lay along the base, the plecostomus (plecostomi?) suck on the legs, they really enjoy it. It gives texture, detail, pleasure. If it was gone, we’d all miss it a lot. When it wasn’t in there, I thought I could see longing in the gourami’s eyes. But if I reached into the water, took it out right now, and dropped on the kitchen floor, it would break. Our No Fishing signs broke from time to time. And that dumb golden calf at the foot of Mount Sinai broke, too. So I ask those questions only to say, it doesn’t matter. Abraham destroyed his dad’s idols and Moses ground the calf into powder. That’s the other thing about statues (idols), they can be removed. We can throw them out with the trash – symbolically, of course. We don’t need to actually throw our kids away, leave our spouses, or quit our jobs. They make the tanks we swim in so much cooler. We simply have to throw away their position at the top of our lives. We have to strip their ability to push the buttons or dictate our value.

(I make that sound easier than it is. It’s simple, but certainly not easy.)

We can decide today, each moment, over and over or for the first time, to set them on SomeOne Who doesn’t fade, change, break, or fail. SomeOne Who can tell us who we are, and why. We can let Him love us into a new reality, where statues can be relieved of the pressure of completing us. A new reality, where our missing pieces are found and we can stop looking for them in empty holes and hollow spaces. A new reality, where we will be free.

Yes’s & Nos

I officiated a wedding Saturday morning in a county a few hours north of the one in which I live. The wedding was for a co-worker and friend, she chose to have it up there where she and her now husband have a cabin. There was no “venue,” they instead chose to have it on a public road in front of a covered bridge. I had never been in this county, so of course this sounded strange and a little dangerous. It was neither, almost no one lives in that county. The snow on the roads was untouched until our vehicles made tracks, and we were uninterrupted.

The last hour of my trip there was on snow covered roads as more snow fell. This is not ideal. I was raised with an unhealthy fear of inclement weather. For years and years and years, I’d obsessively study forecasts and storm patterns and if they were tracking into my area, my life would be upended. I couldn’t sleep, would get headaches (or more accurately, just 1 headache that lasted until the roads were cleared afterwards), miss work or school, and become more and more irritable. I am considerably better now, but I wouldn’t say I like snow.

Winter had become spring several weeks ago, last week was 70 degrees on Wednesday!!! Except for Saturday morning. The forecast was dry, warm (very warm for the season), and sunny, except Saturday morning, when it would be cold and snowing. We all make big jokes about how weather people are always wrong, but that’s simply not true. They are significantly wrong maybe a half a dozen times a year, but I was beyond hopeful that one of those six would be Saturday morning.

I prayed for the snow to miss my path. Yes, I recognize this is probably a very selfish prayer, but I give everything to God (I know He values honesty and wants the authentic me) and let Him sort it all out, “if it’s His will.” This prayer was either left unanswered or met with a No. They both look exactly the same, right? And on this drive and since, my mind began to wander down a path where I was thinking about unanswered prayers and how many times this kind of thing becomes a real obstacle for us in our walks of faith: God doesn’t listen, doesn’t care, and on and on down these same roads.

In that particular county, at the same time, there was a woman who was getting married Saturday morning outside in front of a covered bridge. This woman had been praying to the same God, asking for a snowy wedding ceremony. The last 2 weeks, she continued to update me on the forecast, saying with overflowing excitement, “it’s still supposed to snow!” I pretended to agree and feel the same hope for a fluffy white blanket under our feet.

My No was her Yes.

And now I wonder what that means. The second I arrived, I was thrilled she got her Yes, the day was gorgeous, as was she, the pictures perfect. She deserved the day that existed in her dreams, and if I wasn’t quite so selfish, I would’ve prayed with her and also gotten a resounding Yes.

Very often, our scope of vision begins and ends with our own experience. In tragedy, we say things like, “why me/them/us???” I suppose wishing the tragedy to fall upon someone else. We pray for our team, against others, for our side and against theirs, for sunny skies and against the snow, thinking we know everything there is to know, see everything there is to see.

And they are honest – we absolutely should be praying these prayers, we should give God the truth, as it is, and as we are, right now. But maybe the real answers are the ones that expand our perspective, that blow up our limited view, and expand our hearts to include more and more interests besides our own. Maybe we shouldn’t be quite so quick to conclude what Yes’s, No’s and Wait’s are, or to assume we could tell the difference at all.

I wouldn’t pray the same prayer again. I would be the person I pretended to be, petitioning God for a slow sketchy drive AND a lovely ceremony that would last forever. I’m different today, in many ways. I’m grateful. And as it turns out, for me it wasn’t a No at all. Not even close.

Tapioca Pudding

Sunday morning, as I was giving the message, I had a thought: “You have got to pull yourself together.” This sort of inner dialogue is not unusual. In fact, it’s not even that unusual to have them during the service. I prepare the way I do so that I can be sensitive to any promptings, instead of hyper-focusing on what I’ve said and what I have to say next. But this week, the “dialogue” was more like a scolding. And the voice in my head was absolutely right. I was apart, my heart felt muddy, confused, a little restless, distracted, and needed to be pulled back together.

Now, my history is one where I get moving down a path like this that inevitably leads to a deep freezing pool of self-loathing, telling myself I’m a mess, totally undisciplined, and I’ll never become anything other than who and what I am right now. So I overreact wildly. To address a perceived lack of time in the Scriptures, I’ll commit to an hour every morning, than an hour every afternoon, followed by a hour or 2 of meditation on what I’ve read. Or if I feel rotten, puffy, lethargic, and the number on the scale keeps climbing (which is, incidentally, what is happening the last few weeks), then I’ll decide to completely cut out all sugar, desserts, eliminate all snacks and maybe a meal, then increase my workout times from an hour to 3. And on and on.

For a few weeks, there has been one emergency after another dictating my schedule and attention. Instead of sheep, I’m counting phone calls and to-do items, and not surprisingly wake with a headache. Then, when people do and say the things that people say and do – we are the best, and we are the worst, right? – I feel a certain type of way, and all of that easily spills over into Sunday mornings until the Spirit chastises me and tells me to get it together, man. So naturally, I have the automatic reactive overdrive and decide all of the things I need to do to “get it together.”

I really love the creamed pearl tapioca pudding at Laudermilch’s, and this insanity got so bad that part of all the new me silliness was a life without creamed pearl tapioca. Insanity.

Like I said, this has been my history. And Jesus has already began the New Me transformation and will see it through (it says that in Philippians, and I believe it), so the first thing I do now is to turn my phone off and sit down to pray with my Bible. Where to start to get a word that would make sense of any of this, my fuzzy spinning head and heart, and bring the world outside into some semblance of focus? Just continue, is what we did. I’m working through the Psalms, so my reading began with Psalm 70 and, in verse 4, “But may all who search for You be filled with love and gladness.” I’m searching and would really appreciate being filled, that’s a good beginning.

Then I got to 74 and will spare you the pages and pages of journaling, but 74 is about getting off track, wrapped up in other circumstances, other people, unimportant questions, distracted wonderings, and self-pity. In other words, apparently I wrote it. It says somebody named Asaph did, but I’m not too sure. (Incidentally, there aren’t enough Asaph’s in the world anymore.)

(V.21-23) “Then I realized how bitter I had become..I was so foolish and ignorant…I must have seemed like a senseless animal…” Can we relate to those words or what?

But then, “Yet I still belong to You, You are holding my right hand. You will keep on guiding me, leading me…

See, we create our lives, holding His hand, intentionally. Sometimes the decisions we make are bad ones, but other times, they’re not, and we simply need to be patient, take a breath and chill out for a minute. Getting it together doesn’t have to mean a wrecking ball – maybe it does – but it might just mean counting to 10. A knee-jerk reaction is rarely helpful or wise.

But this all hinges on the intentionality of creation. If we choose to be blown about by home repairs, unexpected bills and interpersonal friction, then we are prisoners of The Here and Now and The Here and Now gets the keys to who we are and will be.

It’s entirely possible that this post is messy and hard to follow, and that’s ok. I am messy and so are you, probably. And this beautiful process is messy and often hard to follow, with lots of stops and starts. The point is that we engage with us (our hearts, relationships, everything that matters) and figure out the weight of things, before we get stressed by the inevitable tension of living great, authentic lives. Then we don’t have to overreact, set unrealistic demands on ourselves, or even consider giving up that fantastic tapioca ever again

Senior Night

Tonight is Senior Night for the basketball team. There are 3 games left, and this is the last home game. Maybe there will be playoffs, but I don’t have anywhere close to the intellectual capacity to figure that out – the districts, sections, and classes have never made any sense to me. I imagine someone will tell me if we have more games.

This team is much much better than previous years. There was a toxic class to pass through the school and their influence will take time to dissipate, so this year was the first in rebuilding an entire culture and, playoffs or not, has been an almost total success. “Learning to win” is a tired sports cliche and the reason it’s tired is because it’s so often true. These boys are beginning to learn to win. Tonight, that isn’t an issue, they will probably not have to worry about winning. But the great thing about sports is that you never know. In the 1988 World Series, the Los Angeles Dodgers beat an unbeatable Oakland A’s team in 5 games. It was impossible, yet it happened. So maybe…but the result hardly matters.

Tonight is the first senior night for my oldest son (there will be another one for baseball in the spring.) We’ll walk him out to the middle of the court and smile and barely keep it together. Or we won’t and the Angel and I will cry like babies. Either way, we will be there, fully present, with each other and with all of the emotions surging in our hearts and souls.

I’m remembering the night I learned he was no longer an idea. The Angel took a test on the phone with me, of course I couldn’t wait to get home, and she gave me the news. I was on 422 coming through Lebanon and pulled over in front of the community college and wept, equal parts terror and elation. Well, not exactly equal parts. We had prayed for him and now he actually existed, it was more celebration and gratitude. But there was certainly terror, swirled in like the cream cheese filling in a pumpkin roll. What kind of daddy would I be? Was I ready? What kind of boy would he be? And the hundred million more questions that flood in once the doors have been opened.

If you’ve met him, you know how amazing he is. If you haven’t, I’m sorry, you really should.

We often refer to a 2 hands theology, and a 2 hands life. Nothing is usually just 1 thing, it’s a combination, more like a hurricane, of different, sometimes wildly conflicting, emotions. Tonight, I’ll be proud of my boy, happy for the boy he’s been, the guy he is, and the man he’s becoming and grateful that I got to watch him so closely and know him so well. I’ll also be heartbroken, crushed that he’ll not nap on my chest again, and frustrated that each day couldn’t have been forever. What a 2 hand anything requires is honesty. We show up as we are, feel what we feel, no hiding, no images. We don’t miss a thing. We don’t wake up and say “God was in this place and I was unaware.” We show up.

I think back to all of the moments that brought us here. I didn’t want to go to Lebanon Valley College, but somehow I found myself there, a business major in 2 classes with the Angel, who had a boyfriend for nearly all 4 years. She happened to drop him right on time. I happened to be in the computer lab one evening, and she happened to be there, too. I happened to talk to her, even though she was ridiculously far out of my league. I happened to be on a plan that took more than 4 years – the last semester, which I shouldn’t have had, was when we met and went on our first date. We happened to go on that date, happened to get married, and happened to make this person who will have his senior night tonight.

I say “happened to” and “make” with the same posture. It all seems so orchestrated, almost as if there was a wonderfully loving God making paths, moving feet and softening so many hearts, which of course, He was. We didn’t make Samuel alone, couldn’t have ever made Samuel without the Creator of the Universe making him first.

So now, I want to tell you my answer, with 18 years of hindsight, to the question if I was a good daddy. Maybe. What I do know is that I was intentional. Everything I did (even the mistakes I made) I did on purpose. When he sits down with a therapist to complain about me, what he’ll say is that I hugged, kissed, and told him I loved him too much and too often. And I can live with that.

There are other places where I’ve written to him (beginning with that positive test on his first night), much more detail I could, and will, dive into, but those are only for him and I. Here, tonight is senior night and I will do the 2 things I have done every day of his life; I will be there, authentically, embarrassingly me, present and engaged, and more than that, more than anything else, I will love him.

Into The Light

Sunday we discussed marriage, single-ness (if that is even a word…it doesn’t feel like it is), and sex. The Apostle Paul writes about these subjects often, they’re found in many other spaces in the Bible, yet every time a sermon in church is based around sex, it’s met with a certain level of surprise and/or uncomfortability. This unease increases even more when the topic becomes sex between married couples. I suppose I know why, but it’s points to an early breakdown that has led us all down many different, unhealthy paths having little to do with sex at all.

The cracks begin with a bizarre learned aversion to conversation, especially about the most important topics. This aversion leads to a pathetic lack of communication that gives rise to the lie that sex is dirty and obscene and should be kept out of view. Obviously, this secrecy (like all secrecy) is the doorway into any number of dark rooms that are steal our dignity and are dishonoring to our hearts, souls, bodies & spirits.

When we build entire structures around the notion that some things need to be hidden in the darkest places, guilt and shame grow like mushrooms. Shame isolates us, and we stay sick with imaginary diseases. Sex isn’t shameful, isn’t dirty or obscene. It can be, but just because something can be misused doesn’t mean the thing is defective.

I can’t say the first talk I gave on sex didn’t give me deep pangs of anxiety, but I can absolutely tell you that it doesn’t now (any more than anything else. I still get butterflies of excitement every single Sunday, and I hope they never stop.)

The more we talk openly & respectfully about anything, the less power it has over us, the less fear-inducing it is. The more we can drag into the light, the less mold can spread. The 30th difficult boundary conversation is much less threatening than the first, and as it loses power, we can much more treat ourselves and each other with kindness instead of control. That need for control is rooted in fear. And control and love simply cannot coexist, so the more we can remove that fear, the more love we can display, the more love we can freely give.

If I don’t need you to see everything my way, vote for my candidate, behave the way I want you to, I can then allow you to be you, listen, actually listen, and maybe exercise some empathy (in some cases long dormant) and find the common ground that is always there. Common ground and understanding are nearly impossible to discover from behind thick walls of fear.

If we can talk honestly about marital sex and it’s many gifts (intimacy, connection, affection, I could go on and on), then maybe it won’t be a monster in the corners of the church. The Church has long been afraid of human sexuality, maybe she should be more concerned with secrecy and isolation. But again, just because the Church & religion have been misused, doesn’t mean they’re worthless. Quite the opposite. They are perhaps more valuable, more important, now than ever. But we can’t ever get to reclaiming the actual divine picture of The Church if we’re too proud or too frightened to mention Her and/or address the ways She’s been defaced. Think about the violence done in the name of Jesus, and imagine the horror and hopelessness if we threw Him away because of the offenses done in His lovely Name.

So we’ll keep talking about the beautiful purity of sex and the way it’s been dragged through muddy alleys. We’ll keep screaming about the immeasurable joy of marriage and mourning the damage too often done in the context of a lesser view. We’ll keep having these discussions with hands open in love, reclaiming these life-giving words and concepts, and we’ll do this all together.