Reflecting On A Life Once Lived

I have this really old looking journal. It’s new, well, at least it was new when I bought it a few years ago, but it looks really old. Like antique old, which gives it character. Not sure what I’ll buy to replace it when it gets full…maybe I can find something that is actually old. One thing I’ve never been good at is going back through what I’ve written before. I’ve never gone back and read to see what has changed since I penned those words weeks, months are years before. It’s the same with books, sadly. I am always looking for books I haven’t read before, trying to find out what new things I can glean. And often times, it’s nothing earth shatteringly new…it’s just stated in a way that speaks to me at the moment. I never take time to go back and read books or articles that were meeting me at moments where I most needed them. Just like my journal.

A friend of mine told me the other day that though he also loves to read new books, this year might be a year of going back and rereading books he already had before. And, I thought this was also a good idea. When I read the Bible now a days, it’s nothing earth shattering, but there are things, truths, that I either don’t remember from before, or that are hitting me in a way that speaks to me more than any other time….perhaps when I  need the most.

So I decided to flip through the pages. This one starts on September 5th, 2014. The months that would follow would be the worst 9 months of my adult life. I’ve written about being formed in the fire and cauldron before. I’ve shared about living in complete fog and uncertainty and feeling like the world was against me. And though not all of what I shared has come from this period of time, a lot has.

As I flipped through the pages, the words leaped from lament to praise, to lament again. It could have been similar to reading in the Psalms like David going from a wonderful song of praise to God, to the doleful and dispiriting lyrics of feeling as if death would be better than what he was experiencing. “May you bring me to a point of humility and brokenness,” I wrote. “I desire to live righteously,” a paragraph later. “I feel as though there is a war rising against me, give me victory.” And a moment later, “My desire is to lead my family in ways that are true, wise, gracious, empathetic, merciful.” “I’m feeling alone and wandering again…Afraid….Lord, calm my heart, calm my mind, let me be an agent of Peace….I don’t like what I’m feeling and I don’t like the situation we’re in, but I accept it for now as this is where you are leading us.”

And then there was a point in time when the praises became louder. They were penned more and more. The laments have never ceased, but the praises became more so, many times more than the laments and woes. It also didn’t happen overnight. There was a gradual increase of praise, adoration and thankfulness among the cries for help.

So, why share all of this? I’ll admit, there is some fear in writing this as it is a pretty vulnerable thing to do. Journaling is writing the real autobiography. The one where you write your deepest thoughts that not even a ghost writer would have the privilege of knowing. So ya, it’s a little scary. But I share it because it is a story of a life once lived. A life that was lived and survived. One that I learned from and I hope others can as well.

Chances are this same scenario will happen again. The place, situation, even people may be different, but a complete loss of navigation will happen again. A dense fog will settle and my dependence on God will be challenged again. Why? Because we are human and because this is life. Growth comes when standing in the sunshine but growth also needs the rain and darkness of night.  And, my hopes are that in this small bit of vulnerability others will be empowered to share their stories as well. I also share it as a word of encouragement to journal and then go back and reflect on what you wrote…a life once lived and survived. Sharing our stories helps us each grow.

So, what is your story? What storms have you lived through? As you reflect, what surprises you?

be blessed today

Photo Credit: Ryan Couldrey-here
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What’s More Lasting Than a Resolution?

My family and I celebrated New Year’s Eve in the States for the first time in a couple years. It was a fun night surrounded by friends, playing games, talking, and more importantly, laughing together. It’s been a long time since I laughed like that. I’m not a huge celebrator on New Year’s Eve as I hate staying up that late to watch a ball drop, or to go light fireworks….the years of youth ministry full of all nighters have kind of killed it for me. But being up with friends is well worth the cost the next day of being tired. We were headed back home at 12:10 a.m. and we were all in bed by 12:25 🙂

You hear it as soon as Christmas is over…. the talk of resolutions, the plans for the new year and the list of things people hope to get accomplished. Setting goals is important. I a big proponent of setting goals. For me, if I don’t have goals to reach, I squander my time, run around aimlessly and become a slave to the things of the “urgent” instead of engaging in things of the meaningful. But part of the meaningful things is calling on our lives as followers of Jesus to simply be. Being doesn’t require any doing. And God often times asks us to stop the doing ….and just be.

The burning bush, the small still voice, being in a garden praying, retreating away from the crowd, getting up early before the sun, being away and fed by ravens, not having to prepare meals but simply collect manna from heaven……all of these stories and verses encourage us to stop the doing and simply focus on being. Accepting that we are in the presence of God, begin the inward journey of accepting who we are in Christ, start to understand how God has made us, see the world that is actually around us not just what we want to see.

With the sometimes lengthy lists of resolutions I’ve had, my experience has been that I get focused on accomplishing that list and less about sitting in God’s presence. If things on that list start to control me, I am no longer being a being-I am pushing my being aside to do. And sometimes I’m doing things just to do them. I am a get-things-done kind of guy. And I also know that me being is far more important than me doing. If I have little understanding of who I am in Christ or God’s presence, how can I help others dive into the deeper life?

Moses takes time to stop and just be in God’s presence in the form of a burning bush…but empowers him to lead all the Hebrew out of Egypt and crushing Pharaoh; David, getting up before sunrise, was a warrior king-the greatest in Israel’s history; collecting manna allowed the Hebrews to see God will always provide for them….though there were times when we are asked to quite ourselves and just be, this often times leads to God using us in deeper ways than we had ever hoped.

As we are now three days into 2017, I want to encourage all of us to hold our great list of resolutions and goals very loosely. To not get so caught up in doing that we lose sight of the One who created us. To spend time just being in His presence and starting down an inward journey of  you are in Christ. In that, I believe you will be able to connect with people on a much deeper level and become leaders of others on a similar journey.

Happy New Year

be blessed

My Reading list since December 2015, What’s Yours?

I know you’re probably looking for some deep insight and great spiritual wisdom (snickers silently to himself), but not today. Today, I want to share the books that I read over the last 12 months. Perhaps you have a book worm in your life or you’re looking for something that is going to challenge you. Take a look at this list and perhaps you’ll find something. As you look through this list, you’ll notice that some of these books are not about spiritual formation, per say. I do believe that learning is still learning, and we can always learn more, so I would encourage you to look at all of them on the list (I should get credit from Amazon or something for recommending books…hhmmmm).

Anyhow, what I would also like is suggestions from you. We all learn from each other, after all. I don’t usually read fiction (except the Shusaku Endo one at the bottom), but if it’s intriguing, I might be up for it!  I hope if you do read one of these books, that God uses it to speak to you.

be blessed today

Discernment: Reading the signs of daily life-Henri Nouwen

Coming Clean: A Story of Faith- Seth Haines

Rising Strong- Brene Brown

Seasons of the Soul: Stages of Spiritual Development- Bruce Demarest

Contemplation And Midlife Crisis: Examples from Classical and Contemporary Spirituality- OSU Rosmarie Carfagna

Seeking God’s Face: Praying with the Bible through the year- Philip Reinders and Eugene Peterson

Life Together- Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Let Your Life Speak: Listening For The Voice of Vocation-Parker Palmer

The Dusty Ones: Why Wandering Deepens Your Faith-A.J. Swoboda

On Loving God-Bernard of Clairvaux

The Making of a Leader-Robert Clinton

The Search For God and Guinness: A biography of the beer that changed the world-Stephen Mansfield

Crossing the Chasm, 3rd edition- Geoffery A. Moore

Nudge: Awakening Each Other to the God Who’s Already There-Leonard Sweet

Branding is for Cows. Belonging is for People- CJ Casciotta

Run With The Horses: The Quest for Life at its Best –Eugene Peterson

The Road to Daybreak: A Spiritual Journey-Henri Nouwen

The Needs of the Heart-Chip Dodd

Water To Wine: Some Of My Story-Brian Zahnd

Silence- Shusaku Endo

 

 

Is The Storm Coming To Harm or Teach?

I’ve been on a few good hikes in my day. A few good places that I wanted to simply stay and basque in the moment a little longer. Hiking up Mt. Washington, in New Hampshire, USA…climbing out of my tent at sunrise in Denali National Park in Alaska, the view from the highest pass on the Annapurna Circuit on that cloudy day in Nepal, and several more. Moments I wish I could linger and soak in where I was, what I saw, what I was smelling, tasting, feeling. And that’s just hikes. Not to mention my children being born, Iris and my first date, the places we’ve visited, etc., etc.

Then there are those other times. Those times that I could not wait to end. Dealing with a car accident, being sick with the flu, waiting for the doctor to confirm if Iris had miscarried, our oldest having an asthma attack not knowing what was going on, feeling as if I were in a fog for months, unclear of where God was leading me. Ya, those times. Those times which felt like an eternity, and I just wanted them to be over. And to be honest, who wouldn’t? They’re painful, they’re uncertain, they’re times of instability and, because we’re humans, we usually become afraid. Well, at least I know I do.

I’ve had a lot of these moments, the ones that I wanted to end so I could have some answers, so I knew what to do next or where we were headed as a family. It seems that these moments (or months) have grown in intensity and rate the past few years. Part of that could be that they simply have grown in both intensity and rate. Or, it could be that I am in a different place nowadays and am more quick to acknowledge them and engage with them. Me in my pride would like to pick the second…but I’m still not sure.

Nevertheless, I’ve had a few more of these times in my life than I would have preferred. But I am becoming more welcoming of these times. Which for me, is really odd. I was speaking with my spiritual director the other day and he had this to say, “Every time I go through a crisis of some sort, I think ‘this is going to end…’ Meaning, this opportunity for growth is going to end. Therefore, I need to glean as much from this experience as I possibly can before the opportunity passes.” He has seen great pain and great joy. But for someone, who when they realize they are in a crisis, is able to step back and say these words, more importantly, live them out-this speaks of great wisdom.

In every crisis, fog or hardship I’ve gone through, God has used it to teach me something, grow me or lead me to a new place. Maybe not a physical place (though that has happened is happening now), but a place of better understanding of self, of others…of God himself. From past experiences, I have learned patience-a lesson I continue to learn, forgiveness, grace, peace-another one I continue to learn, humility-yet another one, rest, hope and deep, great joy. When the crisis is coming, I see it on the horizon, or I am in the middle of it, I panic. I try to figure out what to do, how to escape from it, how I can get it over with as fast as possible. But, if it’s there for a long time, I begin to settle into it. Not that I want to be in it, but if I am, I need to stop trying to escape and just be present. I don’t always have this attitude. I have people in my life that help give me perspective, help me see where I am and help me to hear what God might be saying to me. I am incredibly thankful for them.

Maybe this all sounds cliche. It might. I would not argue. It might also so pretty simple in word, but in action, it’s incredibly difficult to stop and be present-actively engaged in what God is saying. And, honestly, it is incredibly difficult. Stopping and being present seems hard to do because it is counter-cultural. We, at least we in America, don’t like to sit there and let things happen…we like to make things happen. When we make things happen, we are in control, we’re in the lead, we call the shots. But to sit and engage in the present, to listen, to just be…that is allowing something else to control, someone else to lead, and that’s hard for us. Usually when we allow others, we have victim mentality, blaming others for “doing” things to us. And in those cases, we need to use our voices and speak up. When it comes to God, however, this requires trust of him, because what is going on is him taking us to a deeper place of understanding. Understanding love, compassion, grace, mercy, trust, faith, and the list could go on. In these moments, if he really does have our best interest at heart and will never forsake us, then this can only be a time of learning. Still use your voice and speak how you’re feeling to him, question what is going on and question why. He’ll answer, this much is true. But we have to be at a point of engaging with him in order to hear it.

I only speak of personal experience. And, as I’ve said before, I wish I did this even half of the time. My prayer is for you…for me, that when that next crisis comes, or in the midst of the one we’re in right now, that we would have the courage to stop and listen. That we would ask for the smallest of peace to pause and see where God is in all of this and what he has for us. Because when this moment is over, we may not have an opportunity to linger with God in such a way that could be something utterly divine.

be blessed today

Photo Credit: https:the_tahoe_guy

 

One Way to Work Through Your Fear…Especially Today

So, today is election day in America. I debated back and forth as to whether or not to even post today. My assumption was that no one will read this, eyes will be glued to the tv screen or scouring the interwebs for the latest updates and numbers as to who will be in the position to lead my passport country for the foreseeable future. Why? Because Wednesday will be a different place, a different world, a different day for many. A day untraveled nor experienced, of course, but one that may be much different than we would have expected a year ago. That can cause fear, concern and worry. None of which will add an hour to our lives…at least that’s what’s written in scripture.

I have learned these past few years that when I am in a place of worry and concern, there is something I can do that helps to take that fear away. More or less, the answer is Jesus. Ya, I know, that’s the answer for almost everything in this life. It sounds cliche. But, he’s not a cliche, but many use him as one. “Jesus”-not on ly does it sound cliche, it can also seem a distant, disconnected answer. Yes, also true, he is the God that we can interact with, engage with, and speak to in a personal way, but when we speak of him in these cliche ways, he becomes disconnected and “powerless.” Meaning, we view him not really able to do anything. But, I’m rabbit trailing.

Part of making him personal or perhaps acknowledging his presence and the fact that he is real, is showing gratitude. There are a lot of the things that go on in our lives on a daily basis. No matter whether we are living in our normal routine that we’ve done a thousand times or a new adventure, there are still several things a day to be grateful for. As we begin as a family to transition from Mongolia back to our passport country after 12 years of living overseas, we have had many things to be thankful for these recent days.

I was chatting with a friend of mine last week. When I began sharing about all the things and in all the ways we’ve seen God’s provision the past few weeks, he suggested that I start keeping a gratitude journal-simply writing down the things that have happened and why I’m grateful for it. I did this while in my 12 step groups, but haven’t kept up the practice.

I decided to give it a try, and guess what….this simple act of worship released a lot of stress, fear and worry. Being thankful for what we have amidst the fear and concern about the unknown future, releases a lot of our desire for control. Seeing on paper, or just vocalizing what God has done and is doing, helps us to see that God really will bring about his goodness no matter what. And come hell or high water, he is there. He has been there. And, he will be there right alongside us. Which is another thing we can write down in our gratitude journal.

As we Americans head into today’s voting booths and spend time praying about the future of our country (or as any of us head into today), we need to hold our “freedoms”  loosely knowing that if every one of them is gone and taken away, we still have much to be grateful for. This simple-in-theory-act holds no power, but acknowledges the power that God already possesses and releases to him any power we may think we have. In that, we have more to be thankful for-we don’t have to keep the world spinning, that’s his job, and we don’t have to worry about tomorrow, he’s got it.  May we all be blessed in acknowledging the fear that we sometimes live in, who we are and who he is. Acknowledging reality…living in true freedom.

be blessed today

 

Photo credit: discoveringfatherhood.com

 

Why Are You The Problem?

Life has a rhythm to it. There’s a cycle, a general flow that continues on with our with out us. God set these things in motion and they will continue so until He desires them to stop. The seasons, jet streams, the ocean currents, day and night, the orbit around the sun….they all have a consistent, faithful, periodicity about them. And so, we’ve adapted our lives to work in these intervals and time frames as well. We go about our normal routines and habits, continuing to move in some direction. We created systems to operate in, as fallen as they may be. We continue in this system. That is, until something disrupts the system.

We in the West especially, do not do well with disruptions to our “normal.” Sickness, a pipe bursting, a quick run to drop off the lunch at school that our child forgot, these disruptions can sometimes be small or massive, depending on who you are. Disruptions are things I’ve written before.  But this post is about something different. It’s not about something causing a disruption in your life. No, this post is far different. It’s about being the thing, being the person, who disrupts the system. Not for the sake of saying “screw you all, I’m gonna do what I want,” or for some sort of pride or selfish gain. No, disrupting the system because you have chosen health over dysfunction.

There’s a psychological term that became very impactful to me several years ago while taking a psychology class in grad school from an awesome professor. He was talking about dysfunctional families, for example. Often times, there is one child who will be acting out, acting oddly different than the rest of the family. In some cases, sadly, these behaviors are detrimental to the well being of the child. In other cases, the behavior is actually good, but because it is sssoooooo different than how the family operates, it looks as though the child is the one with the dysfunction. This child is called the “Identified Patient.” Psychologists began to notice this type of situation happening time and time again and realized it had nothing to do with the child, really. It had everything to do with the dysfunction of the family.

Today, we can see this same type of situation in families. But it doesn’t just stop there. Churches, businesses, organizations, schools…anything with a group of people, we can see this very same scenario played out. And it is sad, because often times those in the middle of their dysfunction, cannot see that they are the ones being dysfunctional. I have seen people, Identified Patients,  torn apart from the raw sinful dysfunction around them. Iris and I have walked through that very same type of situation as well. For those of us that follow Christ, really for anyone, we always have a choice whether or not to engage with the dysfunction or not. The alternative option may not be a good option either, but we always have a choice. We also have a choice to continue on in playing the game, enabling the dysfunction and communicating to those involved that this type of behavior is ok. Or, we can chose where God is leading us, which is never to play the game of enabling dysfunction.

This road that God leads us down is not easy. Remember the 12 Steps and what we see in scripture? Often times hardship is the pathway to peace. One of the clearest times Iris and I walked through this, we had several people tell us that we should abandon ship, jump out before it continues to get worse. And, yes, I believe there is a time for that. But we continued to follow God’s leading into it because He hadn’t yet released us from that. Was it hard? Yes. Did it feel shitty, hurtful and at times, hopeless? Yep. It did. But we also had people, deep people, people who understood pain, who understood the suffering of Christ, people who have walked continue to walk that road of hardship, who patiently sat and listen. They are there even now,  to encourage us to keep Christ center, no matter what, to trust in Him and to not care what others think or what rumors they may say, but to simply (how hard “simply” can be) stay the course. These are the voices we listen to and staye a tune because those are the voices of the Spirit speaking.

Yes, in some cases the identified patient needs to examine themselves and see why they are acting in a way that is detrimental or harmful to themselves. But if you are living a life of Christ, trying to do the right thing, making amends when need be and owning your own stuff, please be encouraged by this-God is there amidst the cloud and fog. He is there. I have been there, and I’m sure I’ll be in the midst of that again.

When we begin to life a live of health, spiritual health, in a system that is dysfunctional all twisted and warped by the fallen world we live in, it disrupts the way things have always been. People who have grown quite accustomed to the dysfunction, learned how to play the game, moved in and set up shop there, do not like to be disrupted. And sometimes the uncomfortability of the disruption comes at you full force.

Christ was a disruption. He was living a life of true spiritual health in every way. When those attacked him out of their own dysfunction and hurt, he simply showed grace, love and Truth. Eventually, this got him killed. Yes. But not even the gates of hell could stand against him…not even in death. If He truly cares for the flowers in the meadow, or the birds each day, how much more will he be there in the fog? How much more will he rescue us? Reach out and find people who speak, breathe Truth into you, and lean onto them. Trust in Him, and I know how hard that is.  May you not lose heart, may you be a person of peace who God uses to bring Christ to a broken system and a broken world, and may we all accept what God has laid before us as the pathway to peace.  That’s my prayer for you…and myself today.

be blessed today

Photo Credit: http://www.borongaja.com

Can You Change Your Daily Narrative?

I just went to the market. I got vegetables, eggs, yogurt, milk, butter, ham and fruit. Oh, and canned tomatoes. Nothing big. Traffic was horrible, but not unusual for this time of day. It was the afternoon and I was coming home from work, after all. I had to pay the guard at the parking lot to park there. I came home, parked the car and unloaded the groceries along with grabbing my messenger bag which had my computer and a few mock ups of a new cafe space we’re moving into. The kids have extracurricular activities today so they will be home later than usual, and as soon as they are, it will be a fury of homework, lunch making for tomorrow, changing out of school clothes and then eventually playing outside. After that, dinner, showers and then off to bed. Yes, this is literally what I just did.

That little narrative probably sounds fairly similar to most of you. Change up a few of the details, but I’m confident most of you can relate to this fairly orchestrated rhythmed day. If I give you more detail, it may sound a little strange. Let’s see…..It was an open air market; some of the food I purchased may come from some shady countries that could be illegal to purchase from in my passport country (the fact that I just said passport country); traffic is bad because the police don’t really understand how to direct traffic; I paid the guard 500 tugrik (that’s the currency here and is worth about $0.22); I parked the car in the underground parking lot of our 16 story apartment building that we live in; I had to carry the groceries from one end of the five building complex’s parking lot to the other, through the underground network of hallways to our elevator; the kids ride in a seven passenger soviet era bus across the city to their international school made up of only 15% non-Mongolians. Does it sound a little odd and off to you?

It probably does. But if you look at the larger picture with the finer detailed pulled out, i”m sure it’s similar to what we go through every single day. It may be in a different city or country than you, but there is a rhythm we each have to our lives. As with anything, that rhythm is really nice…but it can also become mundane, boring, bland, colorless, mute, dull, humdrum and banal. We tend to look around from time to time and think “is this it? I guess so, I’ll just keep trotting along” and we miss the opportunity to thrive. Sure living this way is good, there are times we need to persevere and be persistent even though it may seem boring. And yes, there are times in our lives where there won’t be the excitement of starting something new. Instead there will be maintaining what we have. And, that’s ok. It’s part of life. There are seasons in our lives. We have times that ebb and times that flow.

But just because we are persisting and maintaining doesn’t mean it has to be a mindless task or brainless job. Some of the most intelligent and well read people I have ever met had “ordinary” jobs. They were elementary school teachers, farmers, construction workers, factory line employees, tv repair people, delivery drivers, secretaries, home makers, and others similar to these. The difference is what they did with each day. From what I have seen and can understand, they didn’t allow their rhythmic life to become mundane. They found new ways to be creative, to allow their creativity to come into each and every new day. Well, perhaps not every new day, but a majority of them.

It’s not all unicorns and rainbows in my life either. I get into my ruts and blandness of towing the line. But, thankfully, I have people, books and Jesus to remind me to bring creativity, my creativity, into each day. Jeremiah writes in Lamentations that Gods mercies are new every morning, just like each sunrise and sunset. I am thankfully reminded from time to time that just because I need to maintain whatever task I’m doing, or persist through whatever difficulty I’m going through, it doesn’t mean that it has to be boring. If it’s anything that I’ve learned these past few years is that our God is anything but boring and mundane. We are given the chance, each day, to write our story, change our story, or build upon our story. Perhaps today you can join me in choosing to be creative, choosing to bring your own creativity into the mix of the day and see what washes out. What do you think?

I’d love to hear, and think it would be an encouragement to us all walking this journey, to share on here what creativity you brought to your days this coming week. It spurs us on to living this life more to the fullest!

be blessed today

 

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