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 Are You Expecting For Christmas?

Transition is hard. For me, this transition from Mongolia back to America for an unforeseen amount of time,  has been the hardest transition thus far. YET, it’s been the most joy filled transition that I’ve ever had. Grief and joy…they seem to go hand in hand. Sometimes immediately, other times it may be days, weeks, years before the joy becomes present or is noticed. For me, they’ve been simultaneous…but I’ve mentioned that before.

The other night, I was praying with our youngest son before bed. He’s the one that likes to snuggle. As we were laying there in his bed, huddled up together, he began crying. Crying about his loss of friends here as we move back to the States. Crying about how hard it will be to make new friends. Crying about saying goodbye to our cat here, most of his toys, his room, his bed….and the loss of not traveling anymore like we do. He is in the midst, like we all are in our family, of grieving loss. And it’s sad. It’s hard. It’s painful. And, it’s so needed. We have had several nights like this the past few weeks. For him, this is his 11th move in 9 years of age. For our daughter, the youngest, this is her 10th move. Our oldest son, this is his 14th in 11 years of being born. And for Iris and I, it is our 16th move in 15 years of marriage. That’s a lot-A lot. And almost half of those moves have been international. Putting it down on paper makes it quite sobering.

I was reading through a daily guide through the Advent season the other morning. The scripture that day was Psalm 126….

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
    we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
    and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then they said among the nations,
    “The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us;
    we are glad.

Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
    like streams in the Negeb!
Those who sow in tears
    shall reap with shouts of joy!
He who goes out weeping,
    bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
    bringing his sheaves with him. (ESV)

 

It’s no secret that Christmas time is a time of expectation, right? Whether it be the excitement of what present you’ll receive, or the reaction on someone’s face when they open their present. Or maybe it’s a little deeper, and there’s the anticipation of Christmas morning, the snow, the tree, Christmas dinner or perhaps the reaction from the kids. sigh….I love Christmas. I really do.

Looking back through the Bible, the Jews were expectant as well, looking for a Messiah. They were looking at someone to come and restore the kingdom, God’s chosen people. To regain control, establish the kingdom, perhaps to make them again, the great nation they were instead of the mockery they had become. They had expected a warrior king, not the Prince of Peace, and especially not a king that was born in a stable. How utterly ludicrous….and yet so paradoxically divine. Their Messiah, our Messiah has come, but in a way so very differently than expected. He did do what was promised. He is continuing to do what was promised. And he will do what is promised…bring restoration.

Reading through the book of Job, his story is also one of pain and hurt. The whole book, the whole story is of great loss and pain. From his property, to his children to eventually his friends and his own health. He suffered massive loss.

But then came restoration.

Job’s story, the story of the Jews and of us today, is one of restoration. A fallen world, us a fallen people, a place of hurt, pain, loss and grief that so desperately desires restoration, even when we may not know it. In the last chapter, we read that everything Job lost was restored….not replaced, but restored…and then some.  Jesus came to restore relationship and in Revelation we read how the world will be restored to what the Eden that was.

And that’s one of my prayers for my family, for my children. What great losses they are suffering, we’re all suffering, will be restored someday. We can never replace friends, loved ones who have passed away, even family pets. But we can be restored whole again. Joy does that. Better yet, God does that and joy is a part of that. It makes “Joy to the world” have new meaning to me. I wonder where, or what, needs to be restored in your life. Restoration isn’t fixing a problem. Restoration making it like it was before. And with Christ, his restoration is something far greater than what was before, more fuller than the loss suffered, though unexpected.

After writing last week and reflecting on this today, I believe God has given me these few words for Advent this year-realignment, restoration, renewal, re-establish. These are the words that I need to focus on during this time, this holy time.

What about you? What in your life needs to be restored? What does God desire to do during this holy time of Advent, in your life? Are you willing to take time and reflect on what it is?

be blessed today

 

Photo Credit Here

Sleeping Apps, Time and Expectation

I have this great little sleep app. I never thought I’d be the kind of person to ever own such gadgets (I laughed at those growing up who had “ocean machines” to help them sleep), but I am really thankful for it. It has nature sounds and light music that start off somewhat up beat and then gradually they become mellower and slower. All night it plays, gently. When it’s time to wake up, or about five minutes before, the music becomes a little louder, a little faster. Chirping birds begin to make their appearance as the music gradually becomes more upbeat. Usually it takes about 10 seconds or so for me to wake up once the app makes this transition, but it is so much nicer to wake up to chirping birds than the “EEH, EEH, EEH, EEH, EEH, EEH, EEH,” blaring in my ear like a normal alarm. I guess I’ve turned into one of those people I used to mock. At least sort of.

The app, or more like sleeping and the night,  resets my internal clock, realigns me with the stillness of night and the on coming day and reinstates my daily routine. It puts everything back in sync which I’m thankful for. It also gives our hearts and minds a break from whatever chaos may have been the day before. We may still be angry with whatever happened a day prior, but we’ve been able to step back from the midst of it and gain some perspective (which is simply a way of saying that we are able to more clearly see our perspective and hopefully begin to see the situation from the “others” perspective). In a way, that’s what the seasons do. Calendars are simply a way of marking specific days, but the seasons and change of them, do the same thing a night does.

Spring is the dawn of a new day. Summer is the heat of the afternoon. Autumn is the coolness of the evening sunset, and Winter is the dark, sleeping of night. God seemed to have thought of everything (I say with a smirk), but it’s true. The Hebrews recognized these seasons and the Early Church also recognized them bringing in the Messiah’s arrival, life and sacrifice and resurrection.

Now, we are at the beginning of Advent. There are really only five major sections of time in a year-Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter and Ordinary Time. These seasons, blocks of time, are meant to do for our soul, just what a good night’s sleep does for our physical bodies. Renews our understanding of Christ, refreshes our weary minds and hearts from life, resets our routines, realigns ourselves with Him and reestablishes God’s leading in our lives. Of course, I could go on and on with “re-” words, but let’s just stick with those for now.

I’m not saying that we need some major overhaul of our traditions and daily rhythms for this season (unless of course you do need to). But simply taking time to acknowledge this season we’re coming upon, Who it is that was born and why He was born, and the earth moving impact His birth had/has. It really is not just holy ground, but holy time. Moses took off his sandals when he was in the presence of God in the burning bush because he realized he was not worthy of even the ground he was standing on. Yet God chose him. And here we are, immersed in a time that is set apart for recognizing Him as the chosen one to come in the form of a baby.

As much as I desire to do nothing but listen to Christmas music, bake all kinds of Christmas goodies and watch Christmas movies, it seems that this time of year is insanely busy. Christmas programs, parties, get-togethers, special services, gift shopping, traveling…whew, the list is endless. But I’m fairly confident that God did not intend for life to be a life of busyness…especially during those special set aside times of Advent/Christmas and Lent/Easter.

As Moses removed his sandals, I wonder what God is inviting me to remove during this holy time. What might He be inviting you to remove during this holy time? Not that we have to. But what might be waiting for us if we did? What special gifts are awaiting us if we pause and recognize this time as a holy time? Perhaps, it’s a question worth pondering as we head into Advent this year. I’d love to hear your answers…..

be blessed today

 

Photo Credit: The BBC

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

 

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

 

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