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

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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/

The Hard

It’s been hot here. It was forecast to hit 110 Fahrenheit a few weeks ago (not normal), but smoke from wildfires across the state as well as up into Canada, helped keep the sun’s heat down to a mere 108. We escaped to the coast. Down to the southern corner in a little cove of, well, serenity. We went camping. Iris and I where avid backpackers in college, but that wasn’t possible in Russia. And in Mongolia, we did a fair bit of camping in yurts. All of our backpacking gear we left here, and we have been slowly upgrading it to newer items. We’ve also been exploring this whole world of car camping. It’s been a lot of fun, and hopefully, I’ll get to take the kids backpacking soon, maybe next Spring.

I digress.

This little cove of serenity I was talking about… The tide went in and out over 8 and  half feet at some points. We found “hidden” coves where we had to use a rope to climb down to the momentarily exposed beaches (perhaps a kayak or two are needed in the future). One morning, early, when the fog hadn’t fully left the inlet, and the kids and Iris were asleep, I took my coffee and went for a walk to the beach. The water was out a good 100 meters or so as it was the point of lowest tide. I explored. I explored tree trunks that had been there for years, slowly succumbing to the sea. I saw mollusks, crabs and other creatures that were exposed for such a brief time.

And then  I saw veins of hard rock that ran straight up the cliffs and the whole width of the bay. These veins of hard rock were anywhere from a few inches to 2-3 feet high, creating ridges, like you would see in driftwood. The softer, porous rock had eroded away much sooner, and mollusks had attached themselves to these hardened veins. It was…incredible. I so enjoy the early morning thoughts and reflections that come…just like Jesus was standing next to me, drinking a cup of coffee and just waiting there, patiently with me.

This bay was scarred. Scarred and marked from centuries, maybe millennia, of continual thrashing by the waves. The pic above is my oldest walking in one of those scars.And yet, those scars are one of the most beautiful things about that cove. In some of these pocks and holes made by erosion, are where the hermit crabs hid, the anemones, starfish and sea urchins had attached themselves. It’s where the cove really came to life to be honest.

This season that Iris and I have been walking through, we have posed the question “why does it always have to be the hard things?” I’m not sure if you have ever felt that way, but it seems as though we are constantly doing the hard. I know that’s not true. One thing I’ve learned is that when I start using extreme terms (like always, never, every time, constantly, etc.), that is a sign I’m not seeing things objectively. I am caught in a rut and can’t see out to see the bigger picture of it all.

And, another thing I have learned, is that in the hard, that is when we are formed and molded the most. That’s where I learn, that’s where I give pause, reflect, lean into community, lean into Christ….pray…the most. Yes, those things also happen in times of great rejoicing and in times of great calm. But, they most often happen when I’m being tossed and turned by the waves and situations of life. It sucks. I won’t sugar coat it. And for those of you who have gone through it, I think you would agree. And each time, it takes me a while, to finally come to a point of allowing it to happen and allowing God to show me why, as opposed to me trying to figure it out like it was some trigonometry math problem.

I’m not sure where you are in that process, but perhaps this brings you hope. Perhaps it lets you know that you are not alone and you’re not the only person to walk this road. Or, maybe it brought a bit of perspective. Either way, one take away for me…..the beauty is in the scars.

be blessed today

The Pit

There’s a lot of volcanic activity that happened here years and years ago. The most recent being Mount St. Helens erupting a couple decades back. The Cascade Range includes such massive mountains as Mt. Hood and volcanic wonders as Crater Lake. On the Eastern side of the Cascades, near Bend, Oregon, there are a few lava tubes. Over the years, they have collapsed creating caves you can walk in. They don’t go too far in, maybe a hundred or so feet, but enough where you need a flashlight to get to the back.

I’ve been caving before in Kentucky and Arkansas. They’re similar to the lava tubes, but on a much bigger scale. Going deep far in, you can’t see except for what is immediately around you. Or, the entrance to the cave was lost hours before as you wondered through the rocky structure. When your eyes adjust, all you can see is immediately around you, if even that.

I imagine falling into a pit is similar. Except panic starts to creep in. You can’t escape, you can’t get out, and you have no idea what is above you except for the hole, mocking you, way out of your reach. Like the tailspin of a plane I mentioned last time, I have never fallen into a pit before, especially not one I couldn’t escape from. But, I can imagine what it might feel like based on my limited caving experience. And, like the tailspin, I have felt those feelings before, emotionally, spiritually and mentally. And even sometimes physically. The feeling of no escape. And then the feeling of hopelessness.

Almost the entire first half of the book of Ecclesiastes is one depressing poem and narrative of meaninglessness. I think I could count on one hand the amount of times I have heard a sermon preached on this book. I used to wonder why the early church even allowed this book in. Song of Solomon, I get that one, but why Ecclesiastes? And then I hit a loss of control. Then came fear.

And then I hit panic.

And then, then I hit hopelessness.

A few times I have hit hopelessness in my life. Perhaps the first time I can remember only lasted an hour or so and I cried a fair amount. But with each instance, they have been much longer periods of time, each one having much greater magnitude than the last. Going from an hour to months and months and months. And going from a few tears, to uncontrollable sobs and complete disorientation. Like going from a lava tube a few feet long, to the depths of the Earth inside a cavernous maze.

I was in such a panic, that I lost all objectivity. I mentioned this in the last post, and I think it is worth mentioning again because I know I am not the only follower of Jesus who has hit this place before. I lost objectivity. There was nothing that could help me. No one that could save me. Nothing I could do, and in the end, what was the point? Everything. EVERYTHING was meaningless. EVERYTHING was hopeless. And I would never recover, so why even bother. I lost objectivity. I was lost to the subjectivity of my immediate circumstances, or in my case, the potentially-perhaps-maybe-might-cloud-be “ifs” of the future that I could not even begin to control.

I know that I am not the only follower of Jesus who has hit this place before. I am thankful I know that. And, I only know that because I have had courageous people in my life who have been so brave as to share their experiences publicly, allowing their vulnerability to bring hope to others struggling. Others like me. That is why I believe that Ecclesiastes is in the Bible we read today-because it’s reality. It’s real life struggles, real life problems and real life questions I know I’ve asked.

Those others that have been so brave, they are the ones who helped point me back to objectivity. They are the ones who helped point out where Jesus was in all of this (and it turns out He has always been there in the midst of the pit). They help bring me back to a place of objectivity each time I fall into the pit. And, I also do the same for them. It happened to Solomon in the second half of Ecclesiastes. He found objectivity again. That place of objectivity is always there, it’s where Jesus lives. It’s just sometimes we get so caught up, we can’t see it.

I know I will fall into that pit again, hopefully not as severe as before. But nonetheless, I have people who love me and are willing to sit in the pit with me. Me, them and Jesus. I hope this brings you a bit of objectivity today, if you’re in the pit getting muddy and desperate. You are not alone.

be blessed today

Settling- The Killer of Intimacy

I miss Mongolia. I really do. There are the people, friends and co-workers that we miss. There is the true sense of adventure and being completely and literally in the middle of nowhere. The darkness and seeing so many stars. Being off the beaten path that can happen within a few miles of leaving the capital. The culture, deep and rich, that we miss. Lots of things, which brings me sadness and also joy.

Chinggis Khaan (yes, correctly pronounced “chen-gis” not the Ghengis we all learned in school) was a brutal warrior. He was the one that through his brutality, was the first one to unify all the tribes of Mongolia. But, as much as he was brutal, he was also just as much a genius. Traditionally, the Mongolian people are nomadic. There homes known as Gers (like “Bears” but a “G” instead of a “B”), otherwise known as yurts, are meant to be taken down and set up, relatively quickly. Part of Chinggis’ genius came into play when they would attack other tribes or nations. Instead of simply attacking, defeating and leaving, the entire Mongolian nation would attack, and then set up camp and live for a short bit before moving and attacking another place. They were used to living off the land and being nomadic, so if he attacked a nation that had settled, a nation that was used to their crops, growing seasons, etc., they didn’t know what to do when Chinggis would attack.

His philosophy was that if the Mongol empire ever settled, that would be the end of their nation. Meaning, if they ever settled in, built cities to be defended, became more dependent on single water sources, crops that needed to be tended to instead of the virtually all meat diet they were accustomed to with their nomadic herds, they would then suddenly and constantly be on the defensive, not the offensive. And this would be the downfall. Though this is true, their weakness of being spread too thin is what ultimately led to their defeat.

The last few posts have been about intimacy, living out our own desires apart from what God’s desires are for us, and in this we ended up building temples and church buildings that God never intended. In the history of Chinggis Khaan, we see some truth of what God was intending for us-that we would never settle. That we would never settle on intimacy with Him being shaped and confined to a building. That we would never settle on worshiping in a simple man made place, to a set of rote actions or to man’s language. And yet, as I look at the church as a whole, specifically the American Church, it has become very much that. Settling. So much so that we have taken on more a far more defensive mentality than God had intended. We have become comfortable in our isolation from the rest of the world. We have become quite happy in our superiority complex that we tend to view the rest of the world through. We’ve grown too accustomed to the world as it is, instead of the imaginative Eden we were created in.

We have settled. This is not the intimacy God desires to have with us. This is not the intimacy He created us for. This is not intimacy. This is settling for second…or third best. Let’s move beyond the walls of our churches and engage the world. Let’s tear down the confines of what we think God is like. Let’s rid ourselves of the defensive mentality and become willing to go where and how God leads us. Let’s get back to our wandering ways like in Egypt, ….I think in that we will find the promised land we’ve forgotten and left to dreams.

be blessed today

Independently Dependent

Oh the frustrating and rewarding times of being the parent of a tweener. It doesn’t help that our oldest is six feet tall at only 11 years of age. But he has the desire to be his own person. Well, he has the desire to be an adult part of the time-NOT when it comes to hygiene, cooking his own food, doing his own laundry, etc. I get it. You probably do as well. We were all there once, trying to figure out our way through this world. Trying to figure out which group of friends to spend more time with;  what activities, if any, are we going to be a part of; what are our interests; wanting to tackle things on our own without mom and dad’s help; but still wanting to be in the family, taken care of and catered to. And it’s just awkward.

For me as a day, it to is a struggle. I want to continue to parent how I always have because I don’t want to see him hurt, disappointed, made fun of or friendless. And yet, I also know that I need for him to grow his own wings, fall down and figure out how to get back up, make friends on his own terms and figure out who he is. It’s all part of life. But, he has a desire to become independent, just like I was starting to at his age.

Last week I started a several post series. I wrote about how we have the freedom to chose what we want to do. And, at times, God gives us over to those desires. But at a cost. The cost of relationship. And here, we can see that break happen in our relationship.

Independence helps build our self confidence, self esteem, helps us to grow thicker skin and mature. But we have a very mixed definition of independence, especially here in America. It seems to me that we have equated independence with isolation. We’ve built walls around us (metaphorically) that keep people from getting too close so that we won’t get hurt again. And we call that independence. But it’s not. It’s isolationism. And it’s not what God had ever intended.

God desires dependence. Sure, He has created us each uniquely, yet in His image. He empowers us with His Spirit to use the gifts He’s given us for His glory. But He doesn’t want us to go it alone, and definitely doesn’t want us to isolate ourselves. He is the God of Adam and Eve, woman and man, the Body of Christ, the Church. He desires us to be dependent on each other. And at the center of that dependence, is God. He desires that we are dependent on Him.

Being confident in ourselves is not the opposite of dependence on Christ. Being confident in ourselves is having confidence in how God made us, how God has wired us and that God can work through us. We can be self confident and God dependent in the same moment. And we can also be independent of the way of the world and the way the world works. None of these equal isolation, yet we so quickly go there.  My hope and prayer is that we become more dependent on Him each day, more confident in who we are in Him, more independent of the things that hold us to this world and less isolated from everyone.

be blessed today

 

That Numb Feeling

I like the cold. I like to play in the snow, hike in the snow, be in the snow. And I do like it when my hands get so cold, I can barely feel them. You know what I hate? Pins and needles. I hate that feeling. Like constantly hitting your funny bone and it’s this awkward hurting yet annoying pain all at the same time. At my desk, sitting in a seminar or lecture, my leg will go to sleep and then I have to go through the annoying process of waking it up. Then there is the weird feeling of trying to walk when my foot is asleep…so weird. Like this rubber attached thing to my body that i know is there, I just can’t feel it.

And so it is with our feelings. Yes, feelings, I am talking about feelings again. I to, have had my ups and downs, days that I wish I was number to not feel the pain and hurt. And, days I was numb unable to feel, or at least unable to feel anything nice and enjoyable. Yet, there are times where I think feeling numb would feel better than what it feels like at that moment.

Thankfully, I have enough people around me to help me not go numb; to not let my heart or my head go to sleep, but to feel what is actually going on around me. Even if that means I feel the “negative” or “bad” emotions that much more intensely. To go completely numb is to not feel even the “good” and “positive.”

Jesus felt. He felt sad, shame, anger, lonely and glad. To push back the hard ones causes a dulling so that the welcomed feelings can’t be felt either. And sometimes they came together at the same moment. So,  he embraced them. He felt every one.

Many of these feelings, these emotions come from grief and loss. Loss of stability, reputation, identity, loss of the way things once were, loss of a loved one, loss of expectations, etc. Grief and loss are powerful. And they are feelings we need to feel. Jeremiah was feeling loss and grief so much that he wrote an entire book in the Bible about it. Yet, I cannot, for the life of me, remember ever hearing a sermon straight from Lamentations. Never. Why? Because we hate feeling this way and feeling has been shamed in our culture.

Feeling our feelings and allowing ourselves to feel, allows us to connect with our inner most beings in a deeper way, allows us to connect with others in a deeper way,  and allows us to connect with the Creator in a far deeper way than we had ever imagined. This is part of being human, the good part of being human, the part of being a human that God created-relationship. This allows connection with God on a level so deep, many don’t dare to travel. This is real relationship. I pray we all connect with him on that level ever deeper today.

be blessed today

Photo Credit: writerscafe.org