What I’ve read the past year….

Normally, I would have a long list of books that I have read. Normally. But this 2017 was  a long, very abnormal year. Moving back to the States, finding a new job, then finding a new ministry and relocating across country….sadly, this has left my schedule and “normal” rhythm on the back burner…much like my writing the past three months.  I have noticed this has affected me in my own growth. All this to say, these books I would recommend, and I would love to see your lists for 2018! My “to read” list for this year is already quite lengthy, but I’m up for putting more on it! I desire to see God and the world from others perspectives as much as I can so that my understanding of both would become deeper, fuller and richer.

So, with that, bring on your lists!

be blessed today

Love, Henri: Letters on the Spiritual Life-Henri Nouwen

24/6-Matthew Sleeth, MD

Telling Secrets: A Memooir- Frederick Buechner

The Insanity of God- Nik Ripken

Perre Teilhard De Chardin: Selected Writings- Ursula King

 

 

 

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The Cool Down

I sweat. I mean I sweat…a lot. Ask anyone around me and they’ll tell you that it’s just something I do. Perhaps this is why I’ve always preferred to live in cold climates (Ohio, Russia, Mongolia, Alaska…). This is not to say I don’t love the heat. I do….when I’m sitting on the beach, cold drink in hand, the ocean lapping on the sand not far from my towel. But I digress…

When I run or work out, it takes me a long time to cool down. I mean a lllloonnnggg time. I often give myself an hour and a half to cool down, shower and get ready to go/do whatever is next in my day. Mainly because if I get done and then immediately shower, I’ll just sweat through my clean clothes…gross. I’ve found this to be true of me trying to still and calm my mind in order to focus on what it is God has for me in my times of solitude and silence. Not the sweating-through-my-clean-clothes aspect, but that idea that though I’m done being “active” my mind still can’t stop.

My head, my mind, is constantly going. Perhaps yours is as well. And when I create space for God in my day or my week, it usually takes me such an incredibly long time to calm my thoughts and mind, that before I know it, my time set aside is almost up. To adjust, I’ve had to start scheduling longer spans of time . Sometimes it has been setting aside an entire day or several hours. And, at times, it has been starting the evening before at dinner time, in preparation for the next day of sabbath, solitude and silence.

This past Sunday, I led our community through a reflection, albeit a short one, of the past 365 days. I divided the time into four sections, and gave anywhere from 6-15 minutes to reflect, journal, remember, write and pray. This was hardly enough time. Hardly. The first six minutes were uncomfortable, everyone not sure what to do with the small 40 page notebooks they were handed when they walked in. Lots of loud sighing and shuffling of feet, shifting in their chairs, etc. However, the second second section of 10 minutes, it got quieter quicker than the previous section. By the time we had gotten to the third group of questions, the room was almost silent immediately. At the end of the time (13 minutes), it took me a little bit to get everyone’s attention. Most of them still had their heads down, writing.

I’ve noticed for me, if I have an hour to give, the richest, most engaging time is at the 45 minute mark or later. And I found that to be true with most of the people in that room on Sunday. Making space for Him is important, and so is preparing for that space. The wind down. My hope is that you create space, make time for Him as you start off 2018.

What about you? Have you found this to be true of you?

be blessed today

Erosion

I spent a lot of time in my sandbox as a kid. I built cities, bridges, lakes, buildings and farms in that big tractor tire in the backyard. G.I. Joe figures were buried there, Matchbox cars drove miles and miles of sandy roads around and around, and my Transformers literally came to a grinding halt as all their joints filled with sand.

I still enjoy making sand castles at the beach. The beach we frequent here, we drive down, pull up the car, and build a fire for dinner and s’mores. This beautiful stretch of Pacific shoreline has several little creeks and mountain run offs that are spring fed, creating lots of little rivers on the beach. The kids will often build dams, or a series of them, to see  how big they can make there reservoirs before they leak. Their favorite part is right before we leave when they knock a hole in the dam and see the massive amount of water cut through the sand, down to the rocks and out to the ocean. It’s far more interesting and, in a way, much prettier to watch the water take the path of least resistance than their structured path of waterways.

My life looks so pretty and perfect in my head. My plans, dreams, hopes…they all look so clean and orderly in my thoughts as I plan and strategize how to move forward in my life. It’s anything from saving money for that motorcycle, what my kids will aspire to or what our lives will look like when we’re empty nesters. It looks clear cut. But 20 years ago, I never planned on going to university in Georgia. Nineteen years ago I never planned on marrying a girl from a different state, let alone from a “big” city. Fifteen years ago I never planned on living in Russia, let alone Mongolia. Ten years ago I never planned on drinking coffee, let alone having a specialty coffee roasterie in a foreign country, nor becoming a coffee consultant. I never planned on being a spiritual director, nor did I have any idea what that even was. Five years ago I never planned on returning back to the States as soon as we have. It was all very unexpected.

I am learning more, every day, about releasing control of my life to the power and flow of God. We are told that we don’t know where the Spirit is coming or going…that the Spirit is like the wind.

I continue to learn this. My plans and dreams, even my aspirations may have great intentions. And I do believe that some of those things will come to pass. But, I continue to learn that they may come about in a much different way than I had expected. They may look slightly different (dare I say even more vibrant) than my best imagined ideas. Looking at the landscape out my window, or around this state, I could plan a very pretty scene with creeks and rivers, lakes, plains and mountains. But it would fall short in comparison to the gouging out of a gorge by a river over the course of millennia. Looking down from a satellite, I can see the beauty of ridges, gorges, peaks, and ravines. My best laid plans would have paled greatly if stacked up next to what God has created.

The past two weeks have been weeks of expectations being capsized to the wave and gravity of the “un-nail-down-able” flow of the Spirit and the work of the Spirit in my life. It should come as no surprise because this is the way it has always been… unexpected. And, it blows me away again. I can say this- when I “let myself go” and literally throw caution to the wind in submission to that wind of the Spirit, the adventure never seems to end, and new horizons are constantly coming into view. Without people in my life helping me see them, I might just miss them. This is what happens when we give in. This is what happens when we allow the Spirit of God to erode away the plans we may have, and create something far greater than we had ever dreamed.

And I ponder now, where is the Spirit blowing from and to in your life? It may be worthy of reflection this week, as it is for me. I’d love to hear your stories, and I know others would be encouraged by them as well…

be blessed today

Alone

Feeling alone, feeling lonely, and being by yourself. It isn’t a pleasant feeling, and one that leaves us feeling hopeless.

I’ve mentioned before that I have the privilege of working with a bunch of students in a one year residential recovery program. It is hard, very hard, working with guys who are in the midst of becoming more self aware, making amends, and trying to life live better. Last week, one of those students left the program. I’m used to that. It happens. It happens a lot- guys thinking they can do life on their own, feeling like they “got enough recovery” (which you can never have enough of) and leave after two weeks, a month, even after a year and a half in the internship program.

He left. It was sad, and a lot of the other students were sad, because he loved the Word, the scripture…Jesus. But he left. We mourned that, hoping he would come back after his mandatory 30 day out since he left.

Then yesterday, he was found dead……overdose…..in a trashy hotel room……

…….alone

I am sad that he died when he had so much potential, head was on straight and loved Jesus. I’m sad that he overdosed falling back into his old addictions, instead of leaning on Jesus. And I am mostly sad that he died alone. That he had walked away from community that he was leaning into for support. A community that was being the body of Christ to him, walking the road of recovery together.

Alone

He is not the only one who has walked away from community. He is not the only one who has walked away from the Body of Jesus that was there to lean on in times of struggle. He is not the only one that has broken relationship because of his addiction. He is not the only one who has chosen addiction in hopes of finding something to satisfy their desires, only to end up alone. All alone.

I’ve done it. I’ve done that several times. It’s why I choose, now, to lean into community, as much as I can. It doesn’t mean that I don’t walk away at times. But it does mean that I often choose to not be alone. And when I am feeling lonely, I’ve learned to reach out to a recovery friend, my sponsor, my spiritual director, my leadership coach and others. Because when I am alone, when I’m feeling lonely, that’s when I go to my addictions for escape.

I don’t know all who read this, and I don’t know all who share this to others. But my prayer for you, for every single one of you….for me…is that we reach out, be vulnerable, find community and lean into it whenever we are struggling. As I’ve said before, we ALL have addictions. Please know you don’t have to walk this road alone. That is not the life Jesus desires for you. Reach out….and discover the family of Christ. Even if you feel you are good and don’t need anyone else, that’s a lie. Please don’t believe it…and please reach out, no matter your addiction.

be blessed today

When Reality Bites…Belief

Oh, the arrogance. Just nothing but pure pride. This may surprise you (wink wink) but I do get that way at times. Since I was the only paid pastor working with teenage students in our town, I was asked to be on a small ecumenical team trying to reach the youth of the city. The team was made up of a handful of people who were volunteer youth leaders from a variety of churches that would meet once a month to plan a big event to reach out to the students once a year. By at least a decade, I was the youngest member on the team. And, by at least a decade, I had the least amount of experience in ministry. I attended my first meeting with them, listened to their ideas, and then went home thinking, “It’s obvious they need me. So, I’ll make their event better and teach them how to do youth ministry in the process.” Me and my humble twenty-something wisdom shining brightly in that thought…

The event did go off more successfully than even I had thought, and each of the youth ministries represented at the event, saw an influx of new students immediately after. It was a huge success. In all of this, what I believed was that I was a fabulous youth pastor who simply just had a gift. And why not? The youth ministry at our church had grown tremendously over the last two years I had been there, which in turn, caused the church to grow. I realize now, in my late-thrity-something wisdom, that very little did that growth have to do with me and very little of that event going well have to do with anything “fabulous” I did. I believed I was humble. I believed I was this great teacher. But reality showed what I really was-arrogant, prideful and not very humble.

This summer, I watched Hidden Figures, a movie I believe every person in America should watch. It didn’t show the extreme racism that tends to make the news, or like we saw in Charlottesville. Nope. It showed the everyday, common, subtle (to me, a white male) racism that went on and continues to go on to this day. There is an exchange between Octavia Spencer’s character-Dorothy Vaughan, and Kirsten Dunst’s character-Vivian Michael. Michael, who is Vaughan’s boss, should prejudice toward Vaughan throughout the whole movie. Again, not in a riot-down-the-street kind of way, but in a subtle, everyday common way. Michael makes this remark “I have nothin’ against y’all.” Vaughan replies, “I know. I know you probably believe that.”

This exchange epitomizes what I believe a lot of us struggle with-the difference between what we believe and reality. Those words were incredibly convicting for me, and I’m thankful for the writers for that fact. I need to be convicted, pointed out, made aware.

I know for me, I need to constantly examine myself if what I believe I am is living up to the reality that is actually going on around me, the reality that I’m living out. I need people in my life to help me by giving me a dose of reality if what I believe about myself, how I act, my tone, my vernacular, my attitude, isn’t really the reality that I am living out to those around me. Just a simple thought, with a deep self examination that I need. Perhaps you need it to.

be blessed today

 

Picture credit: ‘The Architect’ © Erik Johansson-Source: https://www.yellowtrace.com.au/surreal-distorted-reality-by-erik-johansson/

Eyes Blinded

It was pretty easy to ignore. I mean, why not, right? I could simply just not pay attention. I could simply just not read, watch, listen….But then, what would be the point? I lived overseas, and really, could have completely turned a blind eye to the happenings in my passport country (the country I was born in). And, with everything that has happened in the last 12 years, some say that would have been wise. But would it?

I didn’t want to forget about my family and friends who were still there. I didn’t want to forget that that was the country that I was from. And, I didn’t want to get rid of that part of my identity. It was part of who I was and am today. Just like being a son, husband and father. It’s a part of my story. So, I made my homepage a news feed that collected stories from all over the world, making the world headlines the top of the page, the States-my passport country- second and then onto other headlines, science, sports, entertainment, etc. It continues to be my homepage. I stay on top of not only the news internationally, but cultural changes and shifts here in the States. Even though we have moved back, I desire to stay abreast as to what’s going on.

My desire is for my world to get bigger, as I mentioned in the last post.  It’s no secret that racism is alive and growing here in the States. Since Charlottesville, I have read social media posts as they flurried about, watched reactions, listened to interviews, etc. Though there were several of the people I interacted with that were willing to take what has been  happening head on and engage with it, there have been as many people that wanted to stop reading, hearing and watching about all the “bad news” and “negativity” that was going on.

Yet when negative and bad and hard are the reality, what do we do? We could turn a blind eye toward it, never talk about it, stopping our conversations with the weather and never engage passed that. We could. We could say “it isn’t that bad” or “it’s just the media going crazy” and pretend like it is no big deal. And, our world and perspective of Christ can remain small. But why?

Admitting that it is hard, that what is happening is chaotic, that the racial tension and divide is bad, is not allowing that reality to govern us or even have power over us. It is admitting that there is massive brokenness in this world, dark sin, incredible hurt, and pain. Lots of pain. We are allowing ourselves to not only see, but to also feel. We are allowing the realities of the brokenness of this world effect us. And yes, in many cases it won’t feel good, nice, pleasant or even comfortable. Pain isn’t comfortable. And yet, neither is love. With love comes pain. Letting our guard down, opening our eyes and seeing, isn’t just about seeing all the pain, it’s also allowing others to feel for us, love us,  Jesus to love us. It’s allowing  Jesus to care for our deepest wounds, and for us to show love by caring for someone else’s deepest wounds as well.

There are mammoth wounds and hurt in this world, and we cannot become part of the solution unless we are willing to face those realities.  We cannot entertain others love without also entertaining their pain. Henri Nouwen once wrote that our hearts need to have the room to show hospitality to others. That our hearts should be living rooms, welcoming other people with their stories of joy and loss, happiness and woundedness. This is, after all, what Jesus has done and continues to do for us. He didn’t ignore me, and I am so very thankful. Perhaps when we open our blinded eyes to the world and allow ourselves to see the pain, only then can we truly love. Perhaps when we see and address the anguish God sees with race against race or rich against poor, can we then show the love Jesus had for us as well. Perhaps the first step, is removing the blinders.

be blessed today

 

Heads Buried

When I was a youth pastor, I cast the vision and mission of the youth ministry as “Developing students into mature disciples who are passionately pursuing their world for Christ.” I thought it was pretty savvy for a twenty something youth pastor who thought he knew it all. I think I saw then, in that Millennial group, that they were a force to be reckoned with and desired to see them be world changers. And they are.

“Their world” was defined as their school, group of friends, family, community, etc. It was theirs. If at some point their world was broadened on a mission trip to another state or another country, then the mission still stood. It’s just that their world grew on those trips. Or, if it was diving into their broken homes, families and relationships and realizing that there was a hope outside of that dysfunction, then their world grew. It was about growing their world and empowering them with the courage to change it for the better.

Skip ahead a few years, a few cities, countries and continents, and here I am in Oregon. My commute is 45 minutes to Portland every morning. At my exit, there are homeless communities on either side of the exit ramp. They have tents, tarps, carts and what not to survive. They hold up signs as I wait for the light to turn left and head towards my street. Once there, the amount of homeless, pushers, dealers, prostitutes and what not continue, up and down the street where I work. I often find a few homeless sleeping under the awning of my building. I am more aware now of what goes on in the shadows, in the sunlight and in the back alleys of this world than I was 15 years ago. And so are my children.

And yet, though I can see those things, there are others who I have spoken with, others who live in Portland, have traveled those roads and streets, and yet have never seen those tents. They’ve never seen the tarps, carts, barefooted prostitutes walking with her pimp and dealer down the street to get a coke at McDonald’s. They have never seen those people and situations, though they’ve lived in Portland most of their lives. And I ask, “How? How can others not see?” And, before I put myself on too high a pedestal, Jesus puts me in my place and clearly asks me,  “How is it you can’t see more?

I write a lot about awareness, self awareness, awareness of God around us, awareness of others, and just being aware. The reason is because when we allow ourselves to become more aware of the hurt and pain in our own souls, the hurt and pain and suffering of others around us, aware that we are different than others and others have different perspectives than we do, aware of our own actions and their affects both positive and negative….this is when we grow. This is when our worlds become bigger. This is when we can begin to see Jesus in others and the need for Jesus in our world. Our worlds become…bigger, richer, fuller, more painful, more beautiful and larger than our imaginations. With that comes great reward. With that comes great responsibility. But it all starts with humility in allowing our eyes to see what is right in front of us. Allowing, in humility, to let our guard down, tear down our walls to see what is on the other side. The answer may be more death and decay. It may be. And, simultaneously,  the answer will always be more Jesus.

more to come

be blessed today