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Monday, October 29, 2007

pay it forward?

I conversed with a person from my past. I person I invested much time into, much heart into. It was trip down memory lane as I listened to his voice move through the phone line into my ear. It brought a flood of memories back to me as I listened to him share various thoughts on various pieces of subject matter. It's funny how just a voice can transport you to a former life.

As we talked, it stirred many disappointments for me. So many of the students from my former youth ministry are not "paying it forward" so to speak. They are indulging in hardcore sin. I did something the other day I never want to do again. I surfed through "MySpaceLand" and caught a glimpse of who was doing what out there. I was horrified at what I found. One girl is a "midget prostitute" using MySpace to get more customers, many of them posted pictures of themselves "plastered" at parties, so many of the comments from friends were crude and seedy, speckled with provacative sexual content explicit enough to make me feel like I was viewing porn, others were unreserved in declaring their hatred toward God and their desire to live hedonistically, while some where just simply drifting out there with sad commentary on how bored they were and how aimless life was. I must have looked at over 20 of those profiles. It made my stomach sick. Many of these were kids who were "on fire" in High School, plugged in, attended regularly, and seeking to live according to God's desires.

There are few things that wreck me more than sheep going astray. Even though I'm in a different ministry, it still stings. I've even seen that in my current ministry lately. A few that were so of fire only months ago are sliding back to old habits and removing themselves from community. It's hard to not take it personally when you've invested time and even gone so far as to "count on" these people as comrades in the battle for life. When people become casualties of war or even worse yet, missing in action, it stabs you something fierce...sometimes in the back. It's hard to keep your head up when people let you down.

But keep my head up I must. There are still many more who are fighting the good fight. So many who are aiming for the Kingdom and pressing through the depravity to find the glory embedded in our world. I mustn't forget their zealous pursuit allowing it to get shrouded by clouds of disappointment and apparent failure.

It's just sad to feel like so much of what you've done is for naught.

Friday, October 26, 2007

the time has come...

My 8 year old daughter came home from school and asked a very unnerving question. "Is it wrong to say the "F" word?" We have discovered that she may not always be thinking of the same word that starts with the letter "F" that we are, so we asked her what word she was talking about. "Frick", she said. We told her that we didn't want her saying that word. She then said, "Because it sounds like the other one?" We responded, "What other one?" She just looked at me and I could tell she knew, she just didn't want to say it out loud. So I spelled it out for her. She nodded her head. Heidi piped in and said, "That is the worst of all curse words." Kami just looked at us wondering how we were going to react.

Three nights ago, I was talking to Kami before bed. We were talking about our Family values. I gave her a few that came to my mind and then asked her if she would share some that came to mind. These were her top three...

1. Not lying.
2. Being a leader.
3. Not sticking up your middle finger.

Number three sort of caught me with my pants down. I wasn't expecting that to be in the top three. I didn't even think she knew what that gesture stood for. I, again, asked her what she thought that meant. Here was her response. (it was filled with dramatic pauses and voice inflections that sounded like a dramatic monologue for a speech competition.)

"Sticking up you middle finger is like saying all the curse words at the same time to someone."

Hmmm. Interesting.

I moved over to Aly's room and knelt by her bad. I began to tell her that I was just talking to Kami about Family values when she interupted and said, "I know dad, I was under her bed listening to you." (She has started to sneak to Kami's room on her knees crawling under her bed apparently to make sure I'm not sharing a closeness with Kami that she is not experiencing herself.) Since she was involved in that conversation already, I asked her what she thought our family values were. This was her immediate response...

1. Not lying.
2. Being a leader.
3. Not sticking up your middle finger.

I asked her what sticking up your middle finger signified...she couldn't remember. Wheww! Still a little shred of innocence left. I told her that she didn't need to know quite yet, but that she shouldn't do that because it isn't appropriate.

She then went on to tell me that one of her friends said a bad word and pointed to her collar bone and neck. I asked what that word was and she pointed to her chest. I said, "Sternum". She shook her head and lifted her shirt and pointed to both sides of her chest. I swallowed hard and said, "Boobies". She said, "NOOOO!" My heart sunk, I swallowed hard again and said in monotone, "Breasts". She nodded her head and said that she told the girl to not say that word ever again. My nostrils were flaring with inner laughter, and yet there was another part of my heart that was caving in with sadness. Lost innocence is one of the saddest realities of raising children.

Wow...middle fingers, F-words, Breasts...what's next?

I need to go purchase some hip waders today...we're going to be walking in some deep dodo in the days ahead I'm afraid.

God, protect my girl's hearts.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The voice of the father...

Last night I met with my "Wild at Heart" small group. Those are bittersweet times. We explored the wounds given to us by our fathers...something I have done several times in the last 7 years since discovering the power of the father in bestowing masculinity to the son. In many ways my father was a faithful and consistent voice of love in my life. In other ways, he was silent and passive when it came to validating me in areas of risk, adventure, strength and pursuing dreams. It has a direct effect on my life even today.

Yesterday I was feeling overwhelmed. I couldn't shake the voices I was hearing in my head. One of the predominent phrases I heard over over again was, "You're in over your head." It was like a record skipping over and over again in my mind. Other phrases accompanied it...

"You can't finish what you started."
"You have no business cracking open people's hearts."
"You're not equipped to handle what you're evoking."
"You're not who everyone thinks you are."

Another phrase that pounded in my head was "You're small town." I was transported to my upbringing and the humble beginnings of my childhood. I graduated in a class of three. I don't come from a long line of "power players". My past is simple and quaint, slow-moving and tempered, obscure and predictable. My present is opposite in almost every way. I'm engaged in things that surpass anything I've ever witnessed in the formidable years of my life. I don't have a great point of reference. I'm not sure that I believe in myself on some days.

The outside may appear poised and prepared, but on the inside, I would be lying if I didn't admit paralyzing fear. I feel like a house of cards waiting for the brush of a finger to cause an utter collapse. These voices that tell me I'm in over my head and that I'm a small town boy living in a big time world are believable.

The voice of a father is irreplaceable. Jesus even needed to hear from his dad when he was embarking on the great challenge of his earthly ministry. "This is my beloved son in whom I'm well pleased." He walked from that moment into the crucible of the 40 days of temptation. I wonder how much he leaned into those words when he was hanging by a thread. Don't you notice how many times he said things like "I do only what my father is doing" and "my food is to do the will of my father who sent me" HIS FOOD. His very sustanance to live. His supply of energy and nourishment to meet the insurmountable tasks before him. "My father who sent me." We are all dying to feel "sent" by our dads...

Sent out to conquer impossible feats.
Sent out to defy the odds.
Sent out to stand in the face of defeat.
Sent out to overcome obstacles and opposition.
Sent out to discharge the duties of our calling.
Sent out to reverse the curse of Satan.
Sent out to affect change in our sphere of influence.
Sent out to make our fathers proud.

Some days I feel sent out by my father. Other days I feel like I'm on my own...feeling around in the dark for any shred of confidence and support. I think alot of men feel like they are left to themselves to piece together their lives.

I sometimes wonder if my own dad needs me to father him. I'm not sure his dad knew how to speak into his heart like Jesus' dad did. I'm not sure whether my father ever felt "sent" by his father. I don't know if my dad felt the nourishment and sustanance of his father's will giving him the will to press through difficulty. The will power of our fathers isn't always a very pleasant thing to lean into. It feels like we're a part of a generation of young men that are called to father our dads. Validating their strength. Pursuing their dreams. Asking questions of their hearts. Seeking to apply salve to their disabling wounds. I wonder if modern day sons are being called to father their dads. I just wonder.

I just know that when I hear the voices in my head telling me to back away and play it safe, I'm starving for my dad's voice to speak deeply into the abyss of my soul.

Proverbs 20:5 -- The purposes of a man's heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out.

A man of understanding.

A man who goes--under--and--stands--there with their son.

I might be in over my head. I might be small town. I may not have what it takes to finish what I've started. But maybe there's something deeper inside me that I have yet to discover...a strength yet to be revealed. Maybe I'm more than what I think I am.

This is the question that John Eldredge says haunts every man...

DO I HAVE WHAT IT TAKES?

Saturday, October 20, 2007

eye/hand coordination...

It's a been a little while. Writing seems laborious lately. Even now I'm not feeling compelled from a place of passion. It's like there's a lot of life happening, but nothing really noteworthy...nothing to write home about as they say.

I'm scratching my head to know what to say from here, but I feel I need to say something, anything. I don't want to get used to a sort of linguistic lethargy. It's so easy to get sleepy seeds in the eyes of my heart and forget to cherish the moments I'm experiencing. Writing helps me to not take anything for granted, whether it be a spider web, a fallen twig or a subtle shift in the temperature. These nuasical subtlties are what make life shimmer and shine to me. I can even tell that I've fallen asleep just a little lately because of my palsy pen and my lazy eye. Writing what I see...it's the beautiful eye/hand coordination that can get lost in the living.

I haven't been sleeping well lately. My mind is restless and disturbed...it reminds me of when I would get in trouble at school and return home only to be sent to my room to wait for my dad to get home and spank me. The knots in the stomach, the slow passing of time, the inner conversations, the confusion, and illusions, the daydreaming, the heartscreaming...it's somewhat the same sickness of the soul. But during the day, I'm doing well...it's weird. I'll go to sleep and be harrassed like a skinny boy in a locker room full of bullies. It's like Nightmere on Elm Street or something...going to bed at night is like knowing your about to enter the Twilight Zone of partial-consciousness.

Last night I felt a good bit of old-fashioned Fundamentalist guilt. The same feelings I would get when I was a child and I was scared the Jesus was going to come back and I wouldn't be ready. The same emotions I would lay in bed and fret over...fearing judgement and damnation, like it or not. I just laid there and felt flogged by self-doubt and impending doom. I felt like God was telling me that he was going to curse my kids because of my naughty life. Sometimes I feel this sort of conviction is good, but this bordered on condemnation and accusation, which I've come to realize has very little to do with God and a whole lot to do with Lucifer. Just the same, it's hard to fight off at 3:24am when you're not in your right mind. I prayed for deliverance and strength. I prayed for forgiveness and patience. I prayed for protection and safety for my children and wife. I just prayed.

Today I feel quite lonely. My Saturdays can sometimes be long and lonely as I anticipate the services for the weekend. I start feeling like I have nothing to say and wander back to boyhood insecurities. Just a few minutes ago I was changing guitar strings in the Worship Space and I was struck with how absurd it is that I'm a pastor and that this weekend I will be leading adults of all ages into an experience of worship and learning...that just didn't make sense as I sat there alone in that big room. I rewound my life back to when I was in high school and tried to imagine what a responsibility like that would have done to me back then. I was suspended between who I was and who I am...stretched apart by the reality of both of those worlds. There is never a time when it's more believable to think I'm a poser than when I'm alone in a worship space before the people get there. I get nagged and pestered by either my very own alter-ego or servants of hell itself. I become, for a moment, a helpless abyss of affection. Slowly, I climb out of that paralysis and onto a firm foundation of truth. God starts to whisper--never loud enough--that he is with me and that he believes in me. I struggle to believe him initially, but His voice is quite convincing. "For I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I'm committed to him against that day." Timothy. That is a verse that I learned in my Christian school growing up that just came to me right now. It's in the KJV vernacular, but I think you can still discern the gist of it.

Well, I've gone on long enough. For having nothing to say I'm quite verbose.

I hope my hand/eye coordination comes back to me this week...I can't lose my heart for jotting down the musings of this mind and the findings of these eyes. That would be, to my heart, a grave injustice.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Other men...

I sat with a group of men as I shouldered the weight of their lives and shared the weight of my own. We were perched on a deck high above a large waterfall processing our heart's responses to the "Wild at Heart" dvd we had just watched inside. The explosive sound of rushing water crashed down against jagged rocks mixed with the sight of colorful leaves falling into the fast moving, foamy river. The old railroad bridge with dark beams sat still down the bending riverbed contributing a rustic energy to the moment. The sun was setting in the West casting shadows across the Milling Plant. Birds darted to and fro trying to take care of last minute details before retiring into the black of night. The air was crisp and cool smelling of leaves, agitated fresh water and old wood. My eyes struggled to adjust to the dimmy light of dusk...my regulating depth pereception was almost making me dizzy.

As we sat on this old deck, the company of men I have been blessed to share life with recently just split open like an over-ripe pear, dripping with the sweet fluid of the soul. Some things shared were held inside since childhood...if these thoughts and feelings were old clothes, they would have smelled like mothballs. The dust had settled over most of what was being stirred kicking up emotions and anger and questions and desires that had for too long lay dormat in untampered regions of their masculine underworld. With ever minute that wisked by, deeper thoughts and more loaded words and worlds were being shared and discovered. I haven't ever been with a group of guys that have gelled so quickly and gone so deep in such a short duration of time. It's like they are all so hungry from freedom they have bypassed trust to dive directly into honesty. Desperation has a way of dismissing the luxery of the "perfect time" to open up. There isn't a perfect time. And I think they are starting to understand that they will spend their whole lives waiting for this so-called "perfect time" in vain. Their motto seems to be, "There's no time like the present." I like that one much better.

Old wounds were lanced again. Bones that had healed crooked were rebroken. The assembly line was called into question and the process of "disassembly" with the hope of "reassembly" began. One of the hardest things to accept is that we don't have "it together" like we think we do. It's only when we allow things to unravel that we find the freedom that comes from redemption. And things were unraveling in the best way possible last night...and if they are going to come undone, what better place than the presence of other men who are piecing themselves back together with you. It was beautiful in a manly way.

I love seeing men cry over their desire to get free. I love seeing them shed the shell to unveil their fears and failures. I love hearing them speak into each other's lives with words of truth and grace. I love feeling them get it for the first time in their lives. The lights are going on, the sirens are sounding...they are just starting to understand what it really means to be alive. It is a meaning that changes everything.

Monday, October 08, 2007

God in my throat...

prophets yell
because their hearts are on fire.

they scream at the world
trying to wake us up.

they can't help it.

After all, God is in their throats.

-stephen james


I sometimes feel like a prophet. There are pastors, teachers, evangelists...but the one I resonate with the most is the life a prophet. The burning heart, the sleepless nights, the carnage after speaking truth, the fear that is sometimes disabling, the passion that is like a "fire shut up in my bones", the feelings of futility and failure. Prophets were in many ways lonely even though there were tons of people around them. They were largely misunderstood. They were sharing things with people that the people didn't want to hear and, on many occasions, the prophet didn't even want to share knowing the inevitable outcome of saying such disagreeable things. It is gain with great pain. It is rest with constant wrestle.

Some days I don't like being one of these guys. But I'm not sure it's something you choose...I'm beginning to wonder if it chose me even before I knew these sorts of things were at work in my life. All I know is that God is in my throat, and I don't know what to do about that.

What do you do when you have a sore throat?

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

my worst nightmere...

Last night was one of the longest nights of my life.

I prayed with Kami before bed and spoke of my love for her and her beauty within the prayer.

When I said, "Amen", she looked at me with eyes of longing and innocence and said something that has made me cry several times throughout the night and twice this morning--and it's only 9:51am.

"Dad, I don't think any boys are going to want to marry me."

uuugh. I felt my spirit twist inside my body.

I calmly responded, "What makes you say that?"

She looked at me and pointed to her left hand, "This hand."

I asked her, "what about your hand makes you feel that boys won't want to marry you?"

She said, "They stare at it and say it's wierd."

I don't have time to engage the whole conversation with you. I have a meeting in a couple minutes. All I can say is that it has debilitated me. I feel paralyzed in almost all other areas of my life. Just thinking about it now is making my eyes well up with tears.

"Dad, I don't think any boys are going to want to marry me."

11 words that are tearing my heart apart.

I can't even keep going with this blog...

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

The Fall...

The beautiful death of fall is upon us. As leaves lose their life and loosen their grip on twigs so fragile, this "fall" funeral is garnished with colors so brilliant and vibrant that words fall short of describing their glory. My ash trees are the first to announce their imminent departure. Yellow in a more shades than I could describe subtly surface and spread around the green globe of rustling life known quite simply as the tree. The soft maple trees are the only other species to rival the arrival of changing colors found in my one acre lawn.

The cherry trees are stoically resisting the change...the are die hards. It's like they band together with the Oaks to fight against the death of autumn. The cool nights and the cold days with soon break them down and they will give in to the inevitable winter of Michigan. But it is the fight of some species that make fall last so long, spacing out the colorful mirth of this season for months. How horrible it would be to have every tree respond simultaneously to the crowding cool of winter. How tragic to only enjoy the resplendent colors of fall for only two weeks and then be left with naked limbs shivering in the cold. It is the rebellion of certain trees that elongates the beautiful death of autumn. Dying hard isn't all bad.

I love that this season is called "the fall". Theologically speaking "the fall" would be associated with darkness and death and destruction, but seasonally speaking, it represents something quite paradoxical. It is a falling that is welcomed and warm. As leaves fall, we rake them into piles and jump into them. Falling becomes playing. Death brings life. Ending heralds a beginning. A funeral leads to a birth. Like Jesus said, unless a seed falls to the ground and dies, it will not produce life. The tree doesn't die, just the leaves. The tree is more alive than ever. The sap is flowing, the roots are deepening...though appearance could fool you into believing the tree itself is dead. Like most things, appearance couldn't be further from reality.

I feel similarly about humanity. It is our humaness, our falleness that carries such a paradoxical power. As we let ourselves die and fall, we change colors and become such a beautiful picture of life. We fall to the gound and life springs from the very place we fell. The tree from which we fall is always alive and growing even as it pushes us away from it to spread the life to barren places. It's such a beautiful picture of the kingdom. The kingdom is always alive even when it looks dead, because the kingdom isn't about appearance, it's about substance. "The kingdom is in your hearts." It makes a showing every now and again on the outside, but it is primarily an unseen reality, and inner thing. And like every growing organism, it forces us to split and die in order to reproduce life. Cells split, Leaves fall...this is ongoing life, this is eternal life, this is everlasting life. And make no mistake, it's beautiful falling, it's a glorious death.

Fall. Color. Death. Life. This is my story. And I like this story.