value

Where It Leads

On the mini earlier today, we began to tie the clouds of our lives together. It’s like that scene in The Karate Kid. After Daniel-san has been painting fences & houses, sanding the floor, and waxing on and off for who knows how long (it’s about 15 or 20 minutes of the movie), he begins to pout. Well, he doesn’t just begin to pout here, he begins to pout about this here. He pouts often in the movie. Probably, Daniel Larusso is the most unlikeable hero we’ve ever seen. Anyway. Mr Miyagi miracles the soreness out of his shoulders and unleashes a barrage of punches and kicks that Daniel-san expertly blocks with his surprising new ability. Given connection, context and application, the isolated moves have become skill and talent and will eventually win him the All Valley Karate Tournament and Elizabeth Shue.

We’ve been talking about weight, values, showing up, effort, energy, time, choice, quality, quantity, intention – and when Jen spoke this weekend, saying “Garbage In Garbage Out,” (she was talking about input to our hearts, but later the words themselves met me in a space where I was receiving so much stimulation from all directions) everything coalesced into a nice fiery ball of awareness for me.

What we give (the quantity and, even more so, the quality) can directly inform what we get and how we experience our surroundings and circumstances. If I pour in the very best of me to my relationship with God, my marriage, community, children, career, fitness, friendships, on and on (wherever I choose to spend my time & energy) the chances go up exponentially that whatever it is will be positive and fulfilling. If I don’t, it won’t.

(Now of course, it’s not 100%. If we’ve learned anything at all, it’s that we are not the ones who are in control, right? This is not our story.)

I have a very good friend with whom I used to spend an awful lot of time, we were tight and deeply connected. Then we stopped attending the same church community, didn’t see each other as much, the tight, deep connection loosened and now, though we still care for each other, the friendship is largely superficial. You get what you put in.

If I stay up late Friday night, eat a bunch of junk food, and wake up late Saturday morning, when I log in to the retreat I am tired and uncomfortable, and where I usually find the retreats very meaningful, this time it happens and leaves me unaffected. Garbage in garbage out.

Now, the million dollar question is, how do I know where to choose to give my time & energy? How do I decide what to give?

This is where the hard work we’ve been doing on weight comes back to reward us. We’ve been praying, relying on the guidance of the Holy Spirit to discover our values. We explore what we think is important to us and examine if it actually is. This revelation of our hearts is painstaking but vital, and now we know why. We give our time & energy to what weighs more, we give the best of us to the most valuable.

If we don’t know where to focus, we’ll just give more and more pieces of us to everything. We respond to all of the personal emails, forwards, ads, and spam in our inboxes, unable to tell the difference. We’ll feel drained and used and confused as to why our relationships suffer, why our work suffers, why we don’t feel inspired, why we’re tired all the time, distracted, bored.

If we do, and don’t act on it, we can become angry and/or resentful because we aren’t doing the things that give us life, that we are made to do, that mean something to us. We’ll feel drained and used, our relationships will suffer, our work will suffer, we’ll feel tired, uninspired, distracted, bored, but this time, we know why and that makes us disappointed in ourselves.

The idea is that we listen and follow the Spirit into the depths of our souls, start to find out who we are and for what we’ve been created and called, then step (however lightly at first) onto that path, show up and give everything we have, and see where it leads. I bet it leads somewhere awesome, miles from where we thought we would be.

If & How

I have been thinking of taking a break from writing these posts. There are lots of reasons for this, the most compelling is that I am working on a new book and it’s call is getting louder and louder. I started working on it (the title is “Be Very Careful Who You Marry,” after a fantastic pearl of wisdom from my dad) months and months ago, and I sometimes let weeks go by without adding even a word. Life also gets quite busy and trying to do everything usually means the quality of that everything you’re trying to do decreases drastically, and that is something I can not abide. So, if something has to go, I’ve been thinking it would be this.

Then today, as I was cleaning up my emails, I saw one I wrote to myself late at night. It simply said, “I get to choose every day how I show up.” I don’t remember the context, if I saw it on Instagram or heard it in my own head, but today as I was scribbling it into my small leather bound notebook (a gift from my sister) to remember, it reminded me of this space.

It’s certainly true. First, we get to choose IF we show up. This is always, obviously, step 1. How can it be any other way?

But then, we choose HOW. Are we there physically, but not emotionally? Are we distracted, prisoners to the past or the future? Are we resentful and bitter about having to show up, as if we were forced to attend, victims?

OR are we engaged, interested, enthusiastic, connected?

This requires a great deal of work to decide what we will show up for, but once we do, we decide our own level of fulfillment. We decide what’s important, THEN what we will bring to the table, and finally, what we will receive from that same table.

I think this space is important. Whether anyone reads what I post here is a question for another day. Or maybe it’s not. Whether anyone reads what I post here has absolutely no bearing on my decision to do it or not. Our individual offerings are a sacred gift, this is one of mine, and sure, it is a gift to you, but more than that, it is a gift (a response) to the One who has given so generously to me. I can only give; how it is received is completely out of my control.

So, I decided a long time ago that this space is important. Maybe that will change, but until it does, I will show up and give you my heart, body, soul and mind, and how I will do it is fully present and aware that this is a gift, an offering.

Now that I think about it, that’s how I want to show up to every single thing I am blessed enough to experience.

I’ll write my book, too, and the first page will say “to my dad. thanks.’

15 Seconds

My good friend (and extraordinarily talented author) Cyn Morgan writes in her book, Misericorde (which you can and should get on Amazon): “May we show our thankfulness through kindness and appreciate our blessings through generosity.”

I love that line, think it’s the perfect answer to the question we are always exploring: “Now what?” God created us, rescued/rescues us, accepts us, loves us without & beyond reason…now what? Well, Morgan is saying, now this. So, it’s awesome and I reference it often.

But in addition to an eloquent image of hope and beauty in practice, I suppose it also speaks to and defines the problem, doesn’t it? Kindness and generosity are in such short supply because thankfulness and appreciation are in such short supply.

I once read that a negative comment leaves an imprint on our psyche immediately, while a positive one requires 15 seconds. I don’t actually know if it is a scientific fact that you would find in journals and textbooks, but to be completely honest with you, I don’t care. I believe it, because it is absolutely true. We all believe it. It’s why 30 of “I like your new haircut” are forgotten after 1 thoughtless jab. Of course, we know the rude words of trolls only serve to display their wounded heart and insecurities, but that knowledge is utterly useless as we play and replay, feeling the hurt over and over. The haircut isn’t the point anymore, our worth and value are.

We don’t take the 15 seconds and let the lovely, the pure, the excellent and praiseworthy crowd out the trash. And there’s a lot of trash right now. Who could appreciate or be thankful for trash? Where are the blessings in that?

Another problem is that we live in a transactional economy. Nothing is for free, right? “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” Receiving gifts, blessings, compliments with nothing in return is nearly impossible for us. It’s why I say, “you’ll have to come to my house next time,” or “I’ll pick up the check next time.” It’s why you get that knot in your stomach if someone gives you a Christmas gift and you don’t have one for them.

Now, what does this mean when it comes to God, grace, or salvation? I’ll tell you, it means entire systems of Jesus-plus religions that are wholly focused on sin management. Whole life games of chutes & ladders. Altars dedicated to the Should. Our spirituality becomes office buildings with door-keepers evaluating our work, grading our adherence to the great checklist in the sky. What we get isn’t a blessing, it’s compensation for a job well done or punishment for a job not so well done.

So, Tuesday, my revolution was to be thankful. (1 day – or small moments inside of 1 day – was more than enough of a beginning. That step was like going from 0 to a million.) My rebellion was to ignore the chains I usually carry on my shoulders around my neck that keep nagging me to prove my worth, and just bathe in the blessings of grace & love that have been poured on my life. For 15 seconds. Each. And it was wonderful. Like everything else, it was so much better than I could’ve imagined.

Let’s start with a paraphrase of only half of Morgan’s quote: “May we [be] thankful and appreciate our blessings [for 15 seconds at a time],” and then from there, who knows what’s possible????

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.

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.

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)

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

Red Canvas Shoes

The Pride Of The Susquehanna, the riverboat on City Island in Harrisburg, usually charges a fee to cruise, but the cool thing they do on Sunday mornings is allow different local churches to use it to hold their services and open to the public to ride for free. Some people use it as their home church and attend every Sunday and hear & experience different denominations, speakers, andcommunities. Last Sunday, those folks had the distinct and surely unexpected pleasure of the best singer they’ve ever heard and the rest of us at the Bridge Faith Community. 

Now. When we arrived, just after 9am on a Sunday morning, the island was flooded with cars and people, nearly impossible to find a parking spot.

The reason for the congestion was a truly wonderful surprise. I say surprise, but I sort of knew…I didn’t know the extent of the event, all I was told was that there would be a Muslim prayer service on the island from 7:30-8:30, so we may want to give yourself some extra time. Whatever is in your head is inadequate to describe the scene. Thousands of people in the most breathtaking dress gathered for the holiday of Eid al-Adha, the Islamic Feast of Sacrifice. This four day Feast of Sacrifice commemorates when God appeared to Abraham  and asked him to sacrifice his son as an act of obedience.

(I teach in shorts and red canvas shoes with my shirt untucked, so what I’m about to say is going to sound awfully hypocritical…and I suppose it’ll sound that way because it is. Oh well.)

We so desperately value the nonjudgmental freedom to attend church in our pajamas, if we so desire, coming “as we are,” that something has been lost. Perhaps what is gained outweighs what is lost, but as I soaked in the colors and beauty of the dress, I imagined their morning and felt every ounce of the loss. I imagined each of them waking hours early to prepare, as if for a special date or a wedding, wearing their finest clothes, souls peaceful and focused, mindfully approaching. This is a sacred occasion and must be entered into with the utmost respect and love for their God.       

In my house, we calculated the night before the latest we could sleep so we could rush through our many duties for the service and lunch. The contrast in my heart as I acknowledged the weight of their worship was striking and convicting, as if the Spirit was whispering into my ear that it would sure be nice if I would give that kind of attention to our time together.

I recognize this is what’s called projection, that probably some hurried, rushed and sped through Walmart, getting on each other’s nerves on their way, but certainly not all of them. Well, I probably shouldn’t even say certainly…maybe all of them did. Maybe the rude woman working at the Walmart that yelled at me when I asked about mustard packets had been asked about mustard packets since 5am for the Muslim prayer service. Who knows??? 

The point is, it doesn’t really matter – it felt far more sacred than my polo shirt and slip on shoes. I think that God doesn’t much care what we wear to the party as long as we come, but at the same time, giving our attention and intention to how we come is valuable to our own hearts and us becoming the kind of people we are created to be. We don’t have to…we get to.

And maybe the Spirit was whispering in my ear, after all, using an unexpected example to get my attention.

It’s interesting, at different times in our lives, different things are vital to our spiritual journey. In some seasons, maybe the pinnacle of faithful worship is setting aside the suits and ties of religion and enjoying the freedom to wear pajamas and flip-flops. At others, maybe a suit is exactly what we need. What we look like as we sit in church illustrates almost nothing about our relationship with Jesus. That we are prepared to hear those whispers and prompts, on the other hand, sure does.

(I haven’t even gotten to the riverboat or the chicken. This may be a longer series than I was expecting;)

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.