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
Advertisements

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

I have more advantage, allowance, authority, benefit, concession, entitlement, exemption, freedom, immunity,license, opportunity, prerogative and right than you do…and why repentance is a daily need for me.

I write a lot about self awareness, understanding the wake that we leave, discerning how we are experienced by others so that we may more healthily engage with the world around us. Why? So that we can be enlivened by  who we are in Christ. This brings freedom from the world in which we live and equips us to not only continue on this course of understanding but breathe life into others. Jesus is the life. Jesus is this freedom. But, I must admit, that there are things that I am still unaware of. Let me share how….

Many of you who read my blog know me. Be it from college, working together or the town I grew up. But there are still many who have no idea anything about me except for the profile pic on WordPress, Twitter, Instagram or Facebook. A blurb here and there, but that’s it. No more. Let me give a brief description. I’m white. Born of German and English decent, white is the color of my skin. I come from a small, very small “village.” Our town has only one stop light, and in the town proper, only 3,000 people. I grew up on a farm, about four miles from that stop light. Our closest neighbors were about a half mile away…all white. I’m an American. Born and raised, one family line came over from Europe just after the Mayflower. The other line came in hopes of a better life away from what Germany was becoming in the 1920’s. I’m also male. And not just any male, a 6’6″ (198cm) male. So I tend to tower over most people, especially in the past two countries I’ve called home, let alone my passport country. To some of you, that may seem normal and hardly noteworthy. But to others, that may cause a bit of anxiety or perhaps, a small amount of fear. Believe me, I’m a little used to it. When I was growing up, if I got too close to some babies, they would begin to cry at the large tower looming over them. But that was babies, not adults. And that was simply about my height, not about anything else. Some of you may have that fear or anxiety for entirely different reasons than just my height.

As I’ve grown in both age and understanding of self, I’ve come to realize that perhaps there is something different about me. Not that my situation is unique by any means. There are several, hundreds, thousands, perhaps millions of people very similar to me and my situation. But, there is something about me that I can’t see and have only come to realize in recent years.

You see all those descriptors bring up fear, turmoil, anxiety to various people for various reasons when I walk into different situations. Why? Because I possess a certain privilege that most people in this world don’t have. I have a voice, that millions around the world don’t have because it is oppressed to some degree or another.

Let me take my incredible spouse for example. I take up a massive amount of emotional space in our relationship. So much so, that she has to “shout” in order to be heard. Does she literally have to shout? No, but she does need to become more vocal and more blunt at times. I get self focused and therefore others have to become “louder” in order for me to take notice. When I get emotionally involved, I get animated. Animated for a person who is 5’5″ is one thing. But when you’re 6″6″ tall, animation gets big…and ugly.  When I start to talk with my hands, which happens often, because I’m so large, it can look as though I am super animated, but I’m not. Relatively speaking that is. Because of my height I tend to overlook others, literally. My quiet is shouting to those around me, and that can cause people to “cower” in the corner.    I’m a man, so therefore I am the bread winner. I am the one who has the job while it is assumed her job is keeping the kids and home at bay, right? How far form the truth is that?

When I looked up “privilege” in a thesaurus, these where the strongest synonyms: advantage, allowance, authority, benefit, concession, entitlement, exemption, freedom, immunity, license, opportunity, prerogative and right. Those words, in this context, are powerful and strong…….. and oppressive.

The country in which I currently live is not used to seeing people of a different skin color, so I am stared at quite a bit. Which is uncomfortable. However, because of this color, I am allowed to enter buildings, guarded neighborhoods, off limit spaces no questions asked because it is assumed that because I’m white, I must be important…more valuable than others who are from this country. Because of my passport, there are many countries around the world that I may travel to freely, without a visa or background check simply because of where I am from. When other foreigners inquire of me of what it takes to visit America I can’t help them because we do have strict visa requirements…especially for 3rd world countries.

I see this, now, on a daily basis, where as before growing up, it never occurred to me. Not once did I ever question why certain things just happened for me, until recent years. David E. Fitch posted recently “The 1st thing a white person should say (or confess) concerning white privilege is “uh, I don’t see it” and then ask “Can you help me?

So, I have learned to learn. I have learned that I do not have all the answers, that I don’t know or understand why it will be harder for my daughter in this world than for my two sons. I’ve learned that I need to try, as hard as I can, to understand what life were like if I was shorter, if I was darker, if I was from a country whose currency is so valueless it’s not even traded in the world market. I have learned to learn what I am, so that I can show who I am better. I need to learn what it’s like to be the “other,” so that I may better understand myself in Christ. So that I may understand the areas I don’t understand and repent for what my life has blinded me to. Did God make me a large, white American as a mistake? NO! But it doesn’t mean that because of this I don’t have anything to repent for. I do, and learning that every day, is what God is asking of me…of all of us.

And this is where my heart sinks as I watch the lack of dialogue about what is going on from NFL players refusing to stand for a national anthems to people being banned for wearing too much clothing on the beach, to wars being raged that are hardly talked about on international media.

And again my heart sinks.

Brene Brown writes, “I’ve learned enough about privilege to know that we’re at our most dangerous when we think we’ve learned everything we need to know about it. That’s when you stop paying attention to injustice.

There are so many loud voices out there today that are shouting things back and forth, that we as the Church don’t need to shout. As the Church, we don’t need to be the loudest voice in the world today….no, we need to be the constant voice of today. We need to be the constant voice of love, compassion, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self control, hope, faithfulness, joy and peace even when chaos is running amuck. My prayer is that we will stop shouting, and starting speaking truth. That we will become the Constant Voice that spoke the world into existence. That we will live the Word that became flesh. That we will breathe life into those around us as life was breathed into some dust and earth so many years ago. And that we will be the voice of peace. Let us be the bearers of peace, dear Jesus. Amen.

be blessed today

 

 Image credit: http://www.pexels.com

Are You Allowing Your Heart To Speak?

The radio just isn’t something I listen to. I mean the actual radio, as in tuning into a certain channel for the morning show, or Oldies, Jazz, Top 40, etc. Partly because here it’s too hard to try to understand in my limited Mongolian. Even in Russia, where we lived for 11 years and were both fluent in Russian, it was a strain. Just not enjoyable. I do purchase a ton of music though. My song list of 3,067 songs (I know, not many compared to most) is pretty eclectic to say the least.  There are songs I simply enjoy as they bring back memories, or simply transport me to another place. There are other songs that are simply there as an intro, a prelude, to another song I enjoy. Some are for running, cycling and working out, and others are for relaxing and sleeping. It just depends.

And then there are the songs. Not just the songs but the songs. They move me to tears, especially as of late, but perhaps not why you may think. One song is a classical song. No words, no lyrics, no voice. Simply just instruments that for whatever reason, usher in something that is a “peace that passes all my earthly understanding” and gives me a sense of hope. I listen to it over and over again, and if a symphony or orchestra is playing it too quickly, I just won’t listen unless it is played in the correct tempo. Perhaps I’m a little too picky 🙂

The other song, sometimes played right after the one I mentioned above, is a loud electric indie song that I play over and over fairly loudly. It has lyrics, but the lyrics are not what draw me to tears. Though I sing them, yelling them at times, it’s not the words that I’m drawn to. It’s the emotion-it’s the intensity. The emotion of the song is what brings out the sometimes guttural cries from my heart. It’s the emotion and intensity of the music that brings me to tears the past two years because it’s as if my heart is crying out with just as much intensity.

Why? Why cry? Why is my heart shouting out with such intensity, such passion?

Grief.

Two years ago, we were gong through a fog, a time of confusion, a journey through the forest with no clear picture of where the path was. God was leading us away from Russia, we knew that. But what we didn’t know was where God was leading us to. It was before we knew God was leading us to Mongolia. But since we knew God was leading us away, it was a time of grieving what we were losing. I, of course, didn’t really have a full grasp on what I was feeling. I went to our intimate church body one night, and during the time we were singing songs to God, my heart began to cry out in these deep, moans and yelling. Tears were streaming down my face, yet I couldn’t explain where this was coming from or why. Even though I am an emotional guy, it still didn’t make sense.

Processing this with Iris and my spiritual director, both people whom have experienced/experience deep grief, they both believe that’s what that expression was….a grieving heart. My grieving heart. It was grieving the goodbyes, the “what will no longer be” moments and things that we were leaving. My heart had been in mourning, and was trying to make it’s voice heard. It needed to grieve, it needed to be heard and not suppressed. In order for my heart to grieve, it had to speak up, yell, shout….groan deep from within so that I could finally notice it was even there, and then I could allow it to grieve.

Because of this, I’m learning to allow my heart to grieve more often. There have been some changes that I have been walking through recently (future posts, I’m promise) that are bringing about loses in my life that I am grieving. Life is a series of starts and endings, constants and losses. In my mind, when we left Russia, the loss was over, everything else is too small to grieve. And I’m here to tell you that this is a lie. It’s not true. All losses are losses. And all losses need to be grieved. Going from needing to be swaddled up to being able to walk; being at home most of the day with our parents to heading off to school; even from siting on our parents lap while they read us a book to us going off by ourselves to read on our own-these are all things we became accustomed to that turn into losses. And it’s ok, it’s just a part of life. Some of us are better at engaging with the losses than others. Suppression of the losses, however, is never good. That causes us to miss something, to lose something. And that “something”? That, that is celebration.

In his book, The Needs of the Heart, Chip Dodd writes, “…If we can grieve well, we will live euphorically. Euphoria means to bear life well. If we can love in the midst of knowing that we can lose this person or this passion, what a treasured experience the daily life with the beloved is. Every day we choose them, knowing that our time on the earth is limited, no matter what. Every day we can find gratitude to be with them. And then when they are gone, we know that we were fully present while life was happening. The only way to be present with the beloved is to be able to live in the midst of grief and celebration. Not only do we need to grieve, we also need to the opportunity to grieve.

But grieving isn’t just about losing someone. It could be losing that job, or moving to another town. You’re losing things that you’ve known, grew comfortable in, things that you enjoyed. Not that you won’t find things similar again, you probably will, but you wont have those things that you had before.

Michael Phelps, the world’s greatest and most decorated Olympian athlete proved how capable he was in his final Olympic appearance this past August in Rio. In an interview I watched of him he said “I knew this was the last one…the last time getting in the pool, the last time putting on a suit, the last time getting into the cool down pool.” He said “that’s why I was more emotional in these games than in London [four years prior].” Here, he was able to engage in the losses, the “lasts,” the “never more will be’s.” I  have incredible respect for him because of the gold medals, but I have even more respect for him because he is willing to go to the hard places that many don’t go-engaging in the grief. Because of this, he was able to celebrate his victories, accomplishments, prizes and he was able to show gratitude for all that he learned in the process. That is celebration as God intended.

I believe one reason why this election year has been so divisive between followers of Jesus is because many of us don’t know how to engage with grief. We all know that this country has changed from what it was when we were younger. It doesn’t matter whether this is your first election or your 18th (making you at least 90 years old), things have changed. We also know that things will be different after this November, and we are having a hard time grieving our losses. Losses aren’t bad, per se, if we engage in them. When we engage them,  we grow by learning a lot about ourselves, each other and God. But we must engage our grief.

Engaging in our grief is what allows us to celebrate. It allows us to become more gracious people, more thankful people, more honest people and more vulnerable people. Not just towards each other, but towards ourselves and towards Christ.

As I engage with grief of losses more these coming days, will you join me in engaging with yours as well? Perhaps in a month or so, I’ll be able to write about those things I have been able to celebrate. It would be wonderful if you could also write about your celebrations also. I’ll be asking for those things at some point on here, but for now, let’s walk the hard road of engaging our grief and letting our hearts speak out, maybe for the first time. Let’s take that first step together……

be blessed today…..and in those hard days to come

 

Photo Credit Here

Why Fear Doesn’t Motivate Me (as much) Anymore

I grew up on a farm. We owned 150 acres or so, but farmed almost 1,000 spread out amongst the county we lived in. Those acres had a few hills, a pond or two, forest and fields. I would go out most days as a kid and make a new adventure. Some of those got me in trouble like leaving the pen open so the cows got out, riding my bike through a soybean field to grandma’s house and falling into a pile of  manure the size of several swimming pools. It was adventurous and fun.

I remember being at college several years later. Iris and I had only been dating for about a year, but I was madly in love with her and knew she was the one I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. As she was getting ready to head back home for winter break, I was struck with this intense fear. Y2K, the infamous over-the-top hype filled, doom-and-fear-motivated craze was sweeping the country as it was only two weeks away until the world would end as we knew it. It seems like Christians I knew were the most crazed about it.

Though I couldn’t have cared less about it, there was suddenly this mass panic that set in my heart and mind. “What if this is real? If it is, how in the world will I get back to Iris??” She lived only three hours away, but if the apocalypse was really going to happen, where would I get gas to drive? How would we be together in the end? What would happen to the wonderful plan I thought God had for me?

That Christmas was the worst Christmas I had ever had. I was, and still am, not a big New Year’s party kind of guy. Sometimes I stay up to watch the fireworks (in Russia) out my window, but often as soon as they are done, I go to bed, quietly. The year f Y2K, I was on the edge of my seat, waiting to see what was happening to New Zealand, Australia and Japan first to see if things would be ok. And now here we are 15 years later with a new swarm of things to be afraid of…who cares about a computer glitch.

As time went on, this fear and panic would kick in from time to time. I look back on my childhood now and wonder where it came from, and still I have no idea. But I do know one thing, it’s not of God. It’s not of a loving Father, it’s not from the Prince of Peace. I knew that then, but fear still controlled me. In most cases, even in major decisions, it didn’t win out, but it would cause me to second, triple, quadruple guess myself. It would cause me to come up with backup plans. D, E and F plans in case the first three failed. Both major decisions and small would be well thought out and have many contingencies. You can imagine the amount of energy it took to keep it altogether, separated, cataloged.

The past few years have been an incredible journey of growth for me. Part of that was starting down the road of recovery and doing a fear inventory. Getting to the root of why I have fear, where it comes from and the truth that it is because I cannot control every aspect of every place and situation in my life. I can make decisions for myself. However, I cannot control what my child does, what Iris says, what the person in the car in front of me does, nor the strength of the cable holding up the elevator I’m in. I have no way of controlling most things in my life. I am not God.

And I guess, that is where the painful rub comes.

I am not God.

I am an addict of control. That took me a long time to admit. When I lose control, I become fearful of what might be. As an addict to alcohol loses that “safe” drink, the fear of facing the pain they have been trying to drown begins to start. Recovery is a road worth walking. But it is a road. Some days my fear is subsided and I don’t have any. I am at peace (my breath prayer for years now). But other days, my fear starts to gain foot holds in my life. I need to pause and recognize the truth that it is ok. All is well.

I so enjoy the Christian Mystics. Julian of Norwich was one who spoke to me much as I read of her life and what God had done in her. She said this, “ It was necessary that there should be sin; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”

The truth is all is well. All shall be well. I am His and He is mine. Fear has no place, no life giving sustenance for my soul. Only peace. My prayer for us all in these very uncertain times, is that we all claim the truth that all is well, shall be well and all manner of things shall be well. Amen.

What fears drive you? Have you ever done an fear inventory? What has become of allowing your fears reign and what has become  of allowing peace to reign? I would love to hear your stories, please feel free to dialogue!