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Saturday, December 19, 2015

I'm not proud of this...

"Fathers, do not exasperate your children, or they will become discouraged."

I woke early with the boys this morning, really early.  Darkness wouldn't give way to dawn for another hour or so.  I was frustrated that they wouldn't just sleep until at least daybreak...so that's how the day started...simmering anger.

I stoked the fire and told them that if they were going to play, they needed to stay in the toy room so they didn't wake up their mom or the girls.  Did they listen?  Of course not.  They kept opening and slamming the door asking me to velcro their superhero capes on and to settle "toy disputes".  Every time they screamed or fought I would just seethe with rage thinking to myself, "Why don't they just listen and obey."  I would hurriedly walk over to them and get down in their faces telling them to be quiet so they didn't wake up the rest of the house.  In my mind I thought: "Isn't waking me up enough for you?  Will you not be satisfied until you wake up every living creature in this house or for that matter our three acre wooded lot?"  It only escalated.

I thought: "I'll get them breakfast and let them watch a cartoon.  That will buy me a half an hour."  I got them situated at the table with bowls of honey nut cheerios and proceeded to switch the television to some kiddy show like Miles and Tomorrowland.  It took about 8 minutes for them to be bored.  They were playing with their food instead of eating it, poking each other with their eating utensils, and raising their voices so their squeals echoed throughout our house.

And then the straw that broke the camels back...

Caleb flung his blanket around and knocked his whole bowel of cereal all over the floor.  I came unglued.  After 45 minutes of managing the chaos and feeling tired and frustrated, I just exploded.  I grabbed Caleb and carried him to the toy room to sit on a chair.  If that was all I did, that would have been ok, but I spoke so harshly to him as if he were a fully developed adult and could understand life in all its complexities.  I spoke to him as if he purposely wanted to ruin my morning, as if he was the mastermind of a plot that morning of messing up everything he possibly could.  I spoke to him as if his every intention was evil.  It's embarrassing to write it out even now, but it's true.  In that moment I lost all sense and spoke to him with such mean words...I wanted to hurt his feelings.  I wanted him to feel what he was doing to me.  It was 15 seconds.  But in those 15 seconds I lost consciousness of all other reality.  I, the grown adult, was reduced to blatant immaturity.  He, the three year old child, was expected to be a 41 year old man.

I don't want this.  Nothing about my vision and mission as a father allows for this.  And really, Caleb did nothing to deserve this.  He deserved discipline.  Loving, civil, respectful chastening.  But a hissy fit.  No.  He did nothing to deserve what came out of my mouth that was more about me getting something off my chest that planting something in his heart.  The only consolation I feel is that he's 3.  He won't remember what I said, but his spirit will remain affected.  I'm constructing his spirit right now; not his mind, not his body.  I'm sculpting his spirit on which all else rests in the years to come.  When I crush his spirit, I'm messing around with the foundation of his future.  I have to remind myself of this when I'm caught in a moment of weak-willed emotion.

I'm not proud of what happened this morning.  I needed to spend a moment writing it down so that I could process it and renounce it.  I will do everything in my power to not ever let it happen again.  "Lord, give me the strength to be the dad you desire me to be."

Monday, December 14, 2015

"There is still is good in this world."

Before I forget...

I had a really great day this last Monday.  I didn't want it to pass by without recording it. (I'll honestly forget it ever happened if I don't write it down.  Isn't that sad?)

Every Monday, I go to the Middle School and mentor a young man (5 years ago when I started he was a little lad, but he's in 8th grade now).  When I first started mentoring him in 3rd grade he was getting in fist fights in the halls and on the bus, way behind in homework and failing classes, and dealing with a home life where his older sister had cancer and was in the hospital more than at home.  In fact, they lived in the hospital as a family for several months the first year I met with him.  His father had left them and at the time he saw him once a year in the summer, but when I asked him a couple weeks ago if he'd seen his dad this last summer, he shook his head no and changed the subject.  It's a sore subject.

Well anyway, it was Monday morning and that meant it was our weekly time to get together.  The week before he couldn't meet because of the shift of the trimester and the way his classes were restructured, so I was hoping we could meet this past week.  (Part of me wondered if he was losing interest in meeting with me just because he was getting older and it was feeling more and more weird for this older dude to come in and chill with him.  It's different when they're younger and I guess I was just feeling like he was getting ready to "break it off").  I walked in and waited for him to round the corner as the kids got out of there classes and hurried to their lockers and off to their next classes. There was no Jason.  It was as I feared.  I thought, "He just doesn't want to tell me to my face that he doesn't want to meet anymore."  I waited, then I walked into the administrators office and asked if Jason was absent.  They said no, that he was in choir and that they would page him and have him come down.  To be honest my heart felt a constriction because I felt like it would be obvious he didn't want to meet, but when he finally made it to the building entrance where I was waiting, he was all smiles.

He asked me how my Thanksgiving was and we walked toward the conference room where we do homework, talk, and play various board games.  He pulled out UNO and proceeded to shuffle up the cards and divvy them out.  We played a few games and then he said, "Let's go out into the halls and find the elves!"  He explained to me that the teachers hid 5 elves around the school and he had found 4 of them.  Lickety split we were darting around he halls looking for the 5th elf.  It was fun to see the joy in his face.  After a while, we couldn't locate it, so we returned back to the conference room and started playing UNO again.  He was up on me 3 games to 2 and being the competitor I am, I told him he was going down the next game.

I had one card left in my hand and was sure I was going to win when I heard him say, "When you see the three cards I have in my hand you're going to chase me around the table."  He laid down a Draw Two, a Reverse, said UNO, and then laid down the last card.  He bolted out of his chair and in moments I found myself chasing him around the table like we used to do in 3rd and 4th grade.  I love how he tipped me off as to what he wanted me to do by just making a statement of what I was going to do when I saw what he had in his hand.

When I finally caught him and I put him in a headlock and gave him a noogie.  He was giggling like a little school girl. We got back to the table and the very next hand he pulled out an impossible victory and immediately shot up from his chair and started to dart around the table.  I shot under the table and reach out and grabbed his ankle and took him down and started to wrestle with him for a second.  In a sense, I couldn't believe this was happening when about 45 minutes before I thought we might never meet together again.  It was a great time together and I felt God was just shining down on me.

Later that afternoon after lunch at Flat River Grill, I was getting ready to leave and there were five elderly ladies leaving the restaurant together.  I was behind them when all the sudden one of them turned around quickly and bumped into me.  I put my arms out and kinda hugged her trying to buffer the collision.  I think she had forgotten something at her table.  I apologized for running into her and she said, "No, that's ok, I like hugs."  I immediately said, "Well, I'm a hugger, you want a hug?"  She nodded and I just gave her a big hug and she held on for dear life.  I told her I didn't have a grandma anymore so I missed grandma hugs.

Her friend was right there and immediately said, "What about me, do I get a hug?"  I turned toward her and said, "You better believe it!"  After giving her a hug, their 3 friends were outside on the sidewalk waiting for them and one of them said, "Hey, do we get a hug from a handsome young man like yourself?"  I smiled and headed out the door and said, "I don't mind if I do!"  I made my way to each one of them giving them a hug and saying Merry Christmas.  It was a great moment and as I said goodbye and turned to leave I heard one of them say, "There is still good in this world."  That phrase has been ringing in my ears every since I heard it.

It's amazing what can happen when we put ourselves in places to bring joy to others and open our eyes to the basic needs people have for connection and love and encouragement all around us.

It was a day I won't every forget.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

Living for a Reason, or a Result?

There are weeks in life where you have to go back to "creeds" in your life..."vows" almost.

Paul said in his letter to the Corinthians, "conflicts on the outside, fears within."  It feels like it's been on of those weeks and when I'm staring down double barrel of "conflict and fear", it can really vacuum out the frills and chills forcing you to the anchor of your soul.  The core reason.  The deep beliefs that drive you when feelings falter or fade.

I haven't been getting good sleep, my mind has been filled with the barbed wire of worry, fear is on my mind like stink on a monkey, and people seem to be dropping like blowflies lately due to everything from rebellion to emotional collapse.  Last night I woke at 4 in the morning with my chest tight and my mind racing, what some people call a panic attack that I've come to call "the fight".

So like I said, I have to return to my roots.  And God reminded me this week of verses that I memorized in college in my Junior year that I knew I would need to center me in seasons in the future when that fight was on.

There were several that came to mind, but the one that really stuck out to me was in 2 Timothy 4 where Paul said: "I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure.  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  And there is now stored up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will aware me on that day, and not for me only--but also all those who long for His appearing."  It may not be word for word, but that's pretty close.

It all came back to me like a core memory that I'd almost forgotten.  I felt a few things rise up in me afresh as I engaged the battle this morning:

1. I want to be one of the Fighters.  Not fighting just any fight, but the good fight...the Right Fight.  Sometimes someone will say, "You got any fight left in ya?"  I want to say on that day, I fought to the end.

2. I want to be one of the Finishers.  It doesn't take anything to start something, that's easy.  You can start a child, but can you raise a child?  Can I finish as a Father?  I can start a relationship, but can I complete the marathon of marriage to the very finish line?  I don't want to start strong, I want to finish well.

3. I want to be one of the Faithful.  There are days when I know I am driven by Fruitfulness instead of Faithfulness.  The result instead of the reason.  And though I want to get results, I want to be faithful even when I don't see immediate gratification.  Even if I never see the fruits of my labor, I want to do what's right even when feelings aren't there.  Faithfulness is rare.

It's Saturday morning and I'm getting prepped for the weekend.  My heart is pounding with passion and tension.  But somehow reminding myself of these verses that have buoyed me for so long gives me hope that they will buoy me the remainder of my fleeting days on this earth before I stand before the One with eyes of fire and give an account for me life.  I want him to say, "Well done thou good and faithful servant."

The is my reason, not matter the results.

Friday, December 04, 2015

Questions to ask on Date Nights...

Some questions Heidi and I try to ask each other on our date nights.  We don't always do a great job of this, but it's good to have a goal nonetheless...

1. How have you been feeling about life lately? 2. What have you been enjoying recently? 3. What areas of our marriage do you feel are going well? 4. What areas of our marriage do you feel need a shot of life? 5. What have you noticed about me lately for the good or not so good? 6. How do you feel I'm missing your heart lately? 7. What is stealing your joy right now? 8. What are some things that you dream of doing? 9. Who are your good friends? How are your friendships going? 10. What areas of temptation are you wrestling with lately? 11. What is your favorite recreation right now? 12. How is your relationship with going? Where do you feel like you're growing? Where do you feel like you're hitting a wall? 13. What has been your greatest disappointment lately? 14. How do you feel our sex life has been? Is there something that is keeping it from being more free and alive? 15. What is a goal you have the next month that I can join you in accomplishing? 16. How can I be of encouragement to you right now? In what way can I lighten your load and fuel your passion? 17. When do you feel loved well by me? What do I do that makes you feel cared for and valued? 18. How do you feel like things are balanced with work, family, and marriage lately? 19. How do you feel you're doing as a parent? How do you feel I'm doing as a parent? How do you feel we are doing as parents? 20. Anything making you feel angry or irritated recently in our relationship or in life? Are you harboring any resentment or burying any rage? 21. How can I pray for you right now throughout the day? Anything I need to be tuned into? 22. How do you think we can go to another level in our relationship in the coming month?

There are few things I care more about than marriage. I see so few marriages functioning with freedom and true oneness that it strikes me as something I must always keep before me...intentionally.

I want to be wedded to my wife all the days of our marriage...mind, body and spirit.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

When Heidi gets to speak at our church with me...

Heidi and I are speaking at Impact this weekend together, which is something we haven't done for a few years.  I love these times to do ministry together.  We used to lead worship together every week and when I became the lead pastor and handed off the worship ministry we lost that weekly team-ministry-feel.  We are still "in it" together, but not the same way as leading together in the same place for the same purpose.

I love listening to her share her thoughts and ideas and concerns and passions with others.  Since she doesn't share that often, people are even more interested in what she has to say that what I have to say.  People have developed ear fatigue in regards to my speaking, but her voice has weight simply because she isn't spouting off about what she thinks all the time.  I've heard so many people say to me already that they are looking forward to "hearing from Heidi".  They see her bustling around the church, hauling the kids around, faithfully attending a couple services each weekend, and talking with people, but they want to know "how she does it".

What is it like to be her?  What is it like to raise our children?  What is it like to be a pastor's spouse?  What does she feel about how life is going?  What does she feel is the temperature of our relationship?  How is it going with the adoption?  What led her to want to adopt in the first place and how does that affect our daughters.  What takes her to her breaking point?  What are her dreams and desires?  What does she feel about our church?  What is really going on behind closed doors?

So when she talks, people tend to lean forward in anticipation.  She is a great thinker and communicator, she just doesn't get to use those gifts as much right now because the lion-share of her life is devoted to raising our children at their various ages and stages of life.  She devotes herself to laying down her life for our home and our marriage, so it's awesome when she can share her perspective so others can learn from and draw on her wisdom.

We got together this last week on our date night and wrote down some of the things that have kept our marriage fresh and held it together over the years.  We came up with some of the most crucial things we've learned...

1. Having a regular date night...our time.
2. Humbling ourselves and going to counseling.
3. Giving each other breaks without guilt or resentment.
4. Having good Christian friends to share the ups and downs with.
5. Giving each other grace in failures and true forgiveness--no keeping score with pluses and minuses.
6. Writing each other notes/texts/emails of encouragement.
7. Asking each other often, "Are you alright?" and then listening closely.
8. Frequent talks regarding romance and finance.
9. God first--Marriage second--Kids third--Everything else fourth.
__________________________________________

We broke it down to key words that make all the difference...

Communicate
Apologize
Initiate
Compromise
Appreciate
Sympathize

We put it into a makeshift Marriage Covenant...

A Simple Marriage Covenant:
We Communicate. (talk through tension)
We Apologize. (say sorry and change)
We Initiate. (surrender and go first)
We Compromise. (meet in the middle)
We Appreciate. (notice and say thank you)
We Sympathize. (bear each other’s burdens)

All I know is that we haven't been married 19 years with everything happening automatically or accidentally.  It has taken work on both of our parts to pursue God's desire for our relationship.  I'm so grateful to be able to share pieces of this with our church this weekend.  I hope it helps some others who are wanting to glorify God with their marriage relationship.

I love my wife.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Hauling wood with Tay...

Taylor and I took to the woods to claim the last stack of split wood, hauling it up to the house and stacking it in preparation for the long, cold winter ahead.  She is my outdoorsy sidekick and doesn’t mind some honest toil even if it leads to a crushed pinky—they are battle scars that she takes pride in.

There’s something special about working together with your family to survive the winter.  So many things are done for us these days.  Food is grown for us that we purchase at grocery stores, heat is purchased from energy companies, running water is available at the turn of a nozzle…we just don’t think about where things come from and working the land or with our hands to provide for ourselves or simply survive certain seasons.  So when you have to band together as a family to work for something that you need to live, it does something in you.

As I high-fived Tay when she put the last piece of split wood on the stack, I felt such a sense of accomplishment and contribution.  She smiled and we hugged.  Another year of watching the cycles of life in the season of life.  

The tree grows, gets cut down, undergoes the violence of the chainsaw, gets thrown into a stack, meets the splitter, finds itself thrown into another pile to dry out, gets chucked into a wagon, takes a journey of being hauled to shelter, gets stacked for the winter, is taken piece by piece inside the house, gets thrown in the wood stove, burns to provide heat for the house, turns into fine ash, gets carried outside in a bucket, is thrown into the woods to turn back into dirt, and begins the journey of nourishing other trees to take root and grow to be cut down for future generations.  That is awesome!


Life if awesome.

Friday, November 13, 2015

A day with my boys...

Day with boys.
"We're a team, but I'm the leader." - Caleb "Here goes nothing." - Joshua "Sharing is not as fun." - Caleb "Watch me, Dad! This is going to be good!" - Joshua "Dad, if I'm naughty are you gonna throw me in the woods?" - Caleb "I love you and and mom. You're my best friends." - Caleb "I found a great idea." - Joshua "Someday I'm gonna stand when I pee like you." - Caleb "Sorry, my bad!" - Joshua "Dad, pull up my butt...it's showing." - Caleb "Dad, I'm tired, Caleb needs a nap." - Joshua "When will I be big enough to be like you, Dad?" - Caleb "I'll try to obey if I can." - Caleb "When's mom getting home?" - Joshua "Just the boys is fun." - Caleb "Superman was adopted." - Joshua
These cats crack me up! #DaddyDay

"Dad, what am I like when I'm with you?"

"Dad, what am I like when I'm with you?"

I was on a date night with Aly and in the course of our conversation she fired off this question.  It caught me off guard, to be honest.  What 14 year old musters up the competency, moreover, the courage to ask that kind of question?

I think we were in the middle of talking about she and her sister's friendship groups and how they interact differently.  She was talking about Tay and how her friends relate and interact.  I contributed my two cents on what I'd observed.  We talked about Kami and the nature of her friendships as the oldest sibling in our family. (she casually mentioned that sometimes she wishes she was the older sister so that she could feel more comfortable leading...that's a whole other wormhole in our conversation).  But eventually we landed on her friendships and what she feels about them.

She was in an observational mode of communication stating things she noticed in others and how they showed up in life when she looked me in the eye and said: "Dad, what am I like when I'm with you?  What do I act like?"  I gathered my thoughts, swallowed, and took my best shot at giving an off-the-cuff response to a pretty deep question.  It was one of the most unforgettable conversations I've every had with her.

How many people live the entirety of their lives and never get the nerve to ask someone else that question: "How do you experience me?"  It's a pretty vulnerable invitation.  But the wisdom you can gain as people share what it's like to be with you can be life-altering and game-changing.  I know that I probably have no idea what it's like for people to experience me, to live with me, to listen to me, to follow me, to trust me, to talk to me, to be patient with me, etc.

I heard someone say one time that 90% of life is just "showing up".

But I think it goes beyond that.  Once you show up, do you know what that looks like for other people?  Do you care to know?  If you do, you must care enough to ask.  It starts with asking someone you trust to share with you what "doing life with you" feels like.

"What is it like to spend time with me?  What does it feel like to be with me?"

She went on to talk about what she was feeling the night before after learning of a pastor's wife that was shot in the head and killed by an intruder during a house invasion.  It was a sister church in our denomination and she said it just made her feel afraid.  She slept with Kami that night and was describing how she prays every night out loud in her bed before she drifts off.  As she was laying next to Kami in the dark as the second born, she tried to pray in her head and she couldn't do it.  She told me that she can only concentrate when she prays out loud, so she turned to Kami and said: "Can I pray out loud before we do to bed?  I have to pray and I can't pray very well in my head."  Kami was like, "Uhh, ok."  And Aly proceeded to pray to set her heart at ease in the presence of God.  She ended her prayer and paused to let Kami pray.  Kami didn't offer up a prayer and Aly was fine with that but described feeling a little awkward in that moment.  Like she wasn't the eldest and yet was leading...making her feel like it might seem like she was trying to look better than Kami (which she said wasn't her intention).  It was a fascinating conversation...simply stunning.

All in all, it was a date night of deep discussion and conclusions.  I hope to always share a relationship with my daughters that is full of joy, peace and freedom...for those are the three things I pray that they will maintain with a high degree of potency throughout their entire lives.  The world will seek to kill those three core characteristics, but I'm praying they never lose them though life's storms will violently batter their woman-hearts.

God, what is it like to be with me?

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Making decisions...

Making big decisions really stinks sometimes.  This is what I've experienced that goes into a big decision before it's made that no one ever gets credit for.

1. Multiple conversations to look and relook at the same thing from different angles.
2. Daydreaming about the decision for incalculable hours while you're doing other things.
3. Waking up early and mulling over your motivations to make sure they're tethered to truth.
4. Thinking about the aftermath of the decision to weigh out the pros and cons.
5. Thinking about good protocol going into the decision to make sure you've vetted all the facts.
6. Second guessing your gut, your discernment, your intuitions.  Is my head screwed on straight?
7. Considering the people that will be hurt and/or helped by the decision.
8. Seeking God so that it's not just the best ideas of the human spirit, but also the Holy Spirit.
9. Losing precious time with your family as your mind is preoccupied with possible outcomes.
10. Struggling for concentration in simple duties of your job that require creativity.
11. Surveying the lay of the land to see how the current culture is being affected negatively.
12. Gathering good data and cataloguing the ongoing drama surrounding the decision.
13. Knowing that doing nothing is not an option which forces you to make tough calls.
14. Fighting off the fear of making a big mistake that costs you dearly for months and years following the decision.
15. Confronting the situation and weathering the resistance without losing heart.
16. Getting great counsel from people who have been there before.
17. Having a funeral in your head for what will be lost...going through sadness and sorrow in my mind.
18. Talking to your spouse to see how this decision will affect your marriage and family, positively or negatively.
19. Taking the full range of emotions to God...whether it's sighing, yelling, questioning, whispering, or listening.
20. Finally getting the nerve up to pull the trigger and asking God to give you wisdom with whatever unfolds.

I love being in leadership and in ministry, but there are always decisions that cost someone something.  Some decisions are minimal, others are critical.  But as Jesus said, "Consider the cost before building the tower."  He was talking about not making decisions without weighing out the situation and what it will require.  The time, however long it may be, coming into making a big decision is filled with a consideration of costs and risks.

I just wanted to jot down some of my raw thoughts about making these sorts of decisions over the years.  Sometimes I forget the gauntlet it can be.


Friday, November 06, 2015

Aly held my hand...

She reached over and grabbed my hand.

Every day I take my girls to school.  A different one sits in the front seat every morning (they have some kind of rotation of fairness nailed down just like any siblings would).  This morning is was Aly Grace's turn in the passenger's seat.

As I pulled out of the driveway I felt Aly's hand pull my right hand off the steering wheel and pull it over to her lap.  She then proceeded to hold my wrist with her right hand while she wedged the fingers of her left hand in between each of mine so that we could hold hands in an interdigitated fashion.  My arm was extended over the console and draped on her lap the whole 7 minute ride to school.  Those are some of my favorite 7 minute intervals in life.

Usually I'm the one initiating hugs, kisses, snuggling, and hand-holding.  I'm perfectly fine with that as I think it's my place to continue to pursue their hearts even when they give appearances that they aren't as interested.  But like a root out of dry ground, sometimes something extraordinary prompts them to pursue me.  I wish I could get in their minds to see what they're reaching for--needing in that moment that they might not ever be aware of.

As I held her hand this morning her 14 year life passed before my mind's eye.  I recalled events and moments that have formed Aly into the beautiful young woman she is.  As if some nameless energy was flowing back and forth between our connected limbs, I was transported in warp speed through her story, leafing through chapters gone by and imagining chapter yet to be written.  Those 7 minutes rendered and re-rendered and I remembered and re-rerembered.  It's amazing how much the human mind can do with 7 minutes.  Some studies say that the average time of a dream ranges somewhere around 7-10 minutes and just think about how extensive and expansive those dreams can be?  I felt something akin to that this morning, except I was awake, which is even better.

She reached over to connect with me this morning.  I don't know what was released in her mind, but I know what was unleashed in mine.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

The voice of my father...

Yesterday I did something I don't think I've ever done.

I called my dad just to hear his voice.  I didn't have anything to talk about, I just wanted to hear the sound of his voice.

It was one of those days where I felt surrounded and hounded by the pressures of the present.  It was like I couldn't see anything beyond what was right in front of my face...I couldn't hear anything but noise in my head picking up reverb with every minute that passed.  I just felt a need to connect with my father.  His voice instead of my noise.  His familiar and familial sound instead of the ground and pound in the octagon of my office.  So I called.

The minute I heard him answer the phone, I knew why my heart needed to hear him speak.  I didn't need to hear him saying anything in particular, I just needed to listen to him talk.  I needed to be reminded of my beginnings.  I needed to connect with the place and person I came from, the foundations of my identity, the DNA I often forget that flows in my veins and in my brain.  I talked a bit, but mostly I listened.  I let him talk about anything he wanted to share.  I didn't care what it was, it didn't matter--all I needed was his voice.

I got up the nerve to tell him, too.  As we finished our conversation I said: "Dad, I called today just to hear your voice.  I felt like I needed to hear it for some reason."  I could tell he was taken aback a little, but he responded with affirmation and how good it is for him to hear my voice as well.  I wish I could have seen his face, but he lives 9 hours away, so his voice is all I can access.  But it's enough.

As we said our goodbyes he said, "I love you very much, Jay."

I think that's what I need to hear...someone that knows to call me "Jay".  The boy connected with the dad.  The son connected to the father.  This voice that echoes through my life today.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

The tortures of preparing a weekly message as a Pastor...

Some might wonder what it's like to be a pastor coming into the weekend services.  Most people, probably don't care.  But for those of you who wonder, I thought I'd let you know what it's like for me.  It's Saturday Morning which is the time I go over my message again after my day off on Friday and it still surprises me all the emotions I feel as I embark on another weekend of ministry.  This is my 19th year of ministry and the feelings are the same, if anything, they've intensified because the stakes seem higher.

Here are my honest thoughts about getting my message ready for the weekend...

1. I never feel like I've prepared enough no matter how much time I've put in.  I always feel like I should have researched more, or found a better analogy, or dug a little deeper to find a better way of saying something.

2. I feel pressure to connect to people who are used to amazing communication and presentation.  People in our culture don't know how spoiled they are all the time with seamless transitions and awesome visual and audible genius via television and the internet.  So to keep up with the dynamic nature of life in the 21st century can feel nigh to impossible.

3. I feel a tension in my brisket for days leading into the weekend wondering if I really have anything to say that is worth listening to.  I wonder if it will be boring and leave people disappointed.  My fear is that I'll think it's good and that people will leave thinking, "Did he think that was helpful?"  That I could be so close to my craft that I don't have a good sense of whether it's good or not.

4. As the weekend gets closer, I have to fight off dark thoughts...every week.  Thoughts like, "People aren't coming this weekend...they have better things to do."  "You are getting kinda repetitive and people aren't as interested in what you have to say."  "You're going to bomb tonight.  Your content is so commonplace."  "People are talking about church lately and they think things are getting boring."  "You're in over your head...you can't keep this up."  It goes on an on...and these are some of the grey thoughts...I don't want to share the black ones.

5. I sometimes feel like my relationship with God isn't where it needs to be to speak for Him.  I feel unqualified to stand in His stead and share His Word with people when I feel like I have so far to go.  It is worse when I come off a week when I feel like I've struggled with sin or selfishness.  A week where I'm burnt out on people's problems and the world's ills.  I don't feel like a beacon of hope...instead, I feel like I want to stand up in front and say, "We're losing...sin is winning."  I've never done that, but coming into a weekend and living in this world, I feel so overwhelmed with the power of evil.

6. This is crazy, but sometimes I want to get in my car and drive away.  I want to just run.  I feel so petrified at the paranoia in my mind that I want to get as far away as possible.  I feel so scared that there doesn't seem like a better option than running away.  I've never done this, but that's a feeling that fills my mind on some Saturdays coming into the weekend.  I know...crazy.

7. I feel like my mind is so full of what I've studied, that having conversations or interacting with random things other than my message can be difficult.  I feels like I can't do anything or talk about anything until after that last message on Sunday and my brain has been opened up to entertain other thoughts or ideas.  The worst is when someone unloads a problem or critique or bit of bad news with me while I'm preparing my mind to share God's Word.  I can hardly take it in without it feeling like they've jabbed a needle in the balloon of my heart and deflated my growing energy.  It also clouds my thoughts and makes me feel like what I'm going to say isn't where people are actually living.  I'll want to change my message.

8.  I'll end with this thought...I always feel a desire to change my message about 40 times a week.  I'll get done and what felt good on Wed. night will sound stupid and silly on Thursday Morning...I'll tweak it a bit and feel better going into my day off, but on my day off I'll think about the topic and some of the points I'm going to make and they seem detached and distant...like they don't make any sense to me anymore.  I stay away from my message on Friday, but on Saturday morning (like this morning), I review my notes and often feel like I want to scrap everything and start over.  Whatever I was feeling early in the week seems like a lifetime ago and what I'm feeling today couldn't be further from the content in my message.  I have to wrestle with regret and the desire to rework everything.  But I can't now, because I've sent it to our tech team and the programming is already being aligned with what I sent them earlier in the week.  And so I pray that God reminds me of what he put in my heart early in the week and seek to reconnect with why he put the message on my heart like he did.  I ask for His heart to fill me while mine is so undependable and capricious.  He is usually good with covering me with his Love...though I don't always feel it.

There are more things...but these are some of the tortures of weekly preparation for weekend messages as a pastor.  I love my calling...but I'd be lying to you if I didn't say there are parts of it that I hate with a passion...this weekly gauntlet is one of them.

Friday, October 30, 2015

It's not the gift...it's the card...

This month is Pastor Appreciation Month.  I'm not sure who came up with it, but if you're a pastor like I am, it seems like a pretty good idea.  Although yesterday was "Cat Day", so it's important to keep in perspective that every living and non-living thing is getting celebrated with it's own holiday these days.  We live in a culture that doesn't want anyone to be offended, so everyone gets a blue ribbon in our culture.  But I digress...

I get a few cards during the month with some kind words and usually a gift card to some restaurant or another.  It's really kinda cool.

I appreciate the gifts, but the older I get the more interested I am in the card.  This is good and bad.  Good, in that I realize that the consumer part of me is giving way to what is of greater worth, community.  Bad, in the sense that most cards don't say anything at all...they are just vehicles to encase a gift...the thought that counts, without the words of affection that really account for the strength a soul needs to make it to the end with honor.  Cards can be very disappointing when they are hollow instead of hallowed.

I want to see someone's handwriting. I want to hear people's feelings put into words.  I love the plastic gift card that pops out...but my heart is eager to hear who it's from and what led them to go out of their way to write it.

Sometimes it's just the generic limerick inside that says, "You are appreciated" or "You're a great pastor", etc. and the person just signs their name under the kind expression or pre-fab poem.  But sometimes you get lucky and the person actually articulates their heart...this is gold to me.  This is the currency that sustains me.  Person to person edification.  Human contact and connection.  Relational exchanges of affection.  Encouragement and empowerment from someone who takes the time to speak out their heart into my heart.  The card is more important that the gift.

This leads me to last week...

We got a long letter written with tender loving care.  It was so deeply connected to my family, my marriage and my life.  Every phrase and sentence and paragraph was thoughtful and non-general.  It was very specific and as such, special.  My wife read it to me in the car and as she was reading it, I remember thinking: "This must be what it feels like to be pursued, fought for, and rescued."  When someone is coming for you and disallowing you to write it off or blow it off, it's powerful.  When the things they are saying represent everything you're living for that you wonder if anyone knows or sees, that's nourishing.  Sometimes I wonder if anyone really knows or cares....beyond the surface.  And this letter just kept going, which meant it just kept coming.

I'm used to being the one to try and help others and it almost made me blush as this letter went on and on regarding my heart, my family, my life's work, my leadership, my love, my dreams, my pain, my pressure, my gifts, my glory, my friendship...my friendship.

It is a letter I won't soon forget.  The card was packed with pathos.  I felt known and loved.  I truly felt like they appreciated me deeply...not just because their was a holiday forcing them to conjure up something to say.  It was meaningful.

The gift in the card was unforgettable as well.  It followed the unique path of the letter in that it was unexpected and almost unbelievable.  How could someone care so much?  How could someone lavish such love upon us?  You almost don't believe this sort of love exists anymore, getting used to it's absence as normal.  So when it appears, it's almost too resplendent to behold.  You want to turn away feeling unworthy.  Run away for fear that you are pitiful.  I say pitiful, because love doesn't feel like charity in a world were it is so rare, it feels like pity.  And that makes you wonder if you're needy or did something to get attention.  I never want to be "that" person.  But when someone comes after you with such fierce love, it's so rare that it can feel like you did something wrong to trigger the benevolence.  Does that make sense to anyone?

All I know is that it went way beyond a goofy man-made holiday called "Pastor Appreciation" to an appreciation that was rooted in "knowing".  Deeply being known carries a majesty that borders on magic.

It's less and less about the gift and more and more about the card.

Friday, October 23, 2015

The homestretch that doesn't feel like home...

I may be an anomaly as a dad, but I hate when my daughters move into seasons where they are preoccupied, distracted, non-affectionate, and busy with life.  It's not like I can't relate, but still.

I've noticed lately when I reach out to give a hug, they are on the way to doing something, so they roll their eyes and give an obligatory--stiff--hug (but I can tell it's not 'all in') and move on.  Or it's something like, "Dad, I will in a bit, I have homework."  They are rushed in their minds and don't seem to have the free time to just sit and chill.

We haven't had Daddy-Daughter dates for several months because of practices, games, homework, not to mention tight finances.  This is something we've enjoyed their whole life and for some reason this season is just squeezing it out of the schedule.  A lot of it is in my head, but it affects me to not feel close to them.  I hate feeling like the gap is widening between us...I don't know if I'm doing something to cause it or doing near enough to stop it.  I don't want to overreact and push them away and I don't want to underreact and let them drift away.  I've worked so hard all these years to keep close to their hearts, it feels like such a waste to let it all play out as it will from here on.  I don't know.

I know the teen years are tough, and despite a parent's best efforts of setting up life to be filled with cherished times of closeness, often times our adolescent children want to be with friends, by themselves, or watching television instead of connecting with their parents.  I get it, I was there...but something about it is so hard to accept.  Again, I wonder if just accepting it is the problem...do you fight it?  Do you say, "over my dead body"...or is that very posture that pushes them away.  They can sense codependency and it's my belief they run for the hills if they pick up on it.  They don't want our mood to be connected to their good or bad day.  Enough stuff in their life is ungrounded, the last thing they need is waffling and wavering parents who base their quality of life on the basis of their child's performance.

Our bed times haven't been all that meaningful lately either.  I'll climb in bed with them (some nights not even that if they did homework till the wee hours of the night) and I feel like everything is rushed and routine.  Like they don't want to talk, laugh, chill, let alone snuggle.  Again, this is a new trend.  I don't think it's because they don't want to, I just think life is so busy and their minds are so busy that they just don't know how calculated they've become.  Life has little to no room for spontaneous conversation and connection....or so it seems.  I will ask questions and they give one word answers as if to say, "Dad, I'm tired.  I don't want to talk.  Just give me a kiss and get it over with."  I leave the room after saying, "Good night.  Love you." and I just feel less than ok with this exchange night after night.

Last night it felt like they all wanted to talk a little more and reached out and initiated hugs and connection...(I think Heidi might have talked to them about my feelings that they were brushing me off...I don't know...but even if she did, that feels codependent and weird).  Either way, it felt good to feel that they wanted to linger in a moment longer then 25 seconds.

I feel for their schedules and the demands on their lives these days.  There's a lot of pressure to being a kid in this age.  They are doing a great job handling it all, but I long for the simpler days...the olden days of free nights and free time.  Every moment seems to be filled with carting one here and another one there.  It's part of the teen years....but I don't like it one bit.  I just gotta say that.  It doesn't sit with me well.

It's not all on them...I feel like my life is full of pressure and performance reviews as well.  It seizes my mind and makes being present a real discipline.  They probably can sense that as well.  So we'll both have to work on this trend of life crowding out connection.  That's not an option for me.

I've invested too many hours into my girls to let the homestretch feel homeless.

Prayerss for the Day...

Here are some prayers that come to mind to pray throughout the day that I thought I'd throw down in print:
At I start of the day:
- "God, I'm yours, use me today."
- "Show me the blessings around me."
- "Let me be a blessing to people today."
- "Give me a forgiving spirit today, Lord."
- "Let me be constantly aware of your presence, Lord."
- "Lead me today, and help me to follow your lead."
During the day:
- "Help me, Lord."
- "Give me your eyesight and heartbeat right now, God."
- "Let others see you in my actions."
- "Give me courage to face that conflict, Jesus."
- "Fill my mouth with words of wisdom."
- "Help me to resist temptation, God."
- "Give me strength to do the hard thing."
- "Sustain me with your peace."
- "Let the joy of the Your heart be my strength.
- "I cannot do this without you, Lord."
- "I need you desperately right now, Lord."
- "Help me to overcome this struggle, God."
- "Convict me of my own sin in every situation."
- "Don't let me run away from pain, join me in it, Lord."
- "Give me an attitude of encouragement to share with others."
- "Give me your perspective in this moment, Jesus."
- "Don't let me react selfishly today, God."
- "Give me pure motives and flush out my flesh."
- "Make me a vessel of love."
- "Fill me right now as I make this hard decision."
- "Don't leave me alone...I'm a goner without you."
- "Bring me great success as I bring you glory."
As I head home:
- "Help me to shed the stress, Lord."
- "I cast my cares on you, Jesus."
- "Fill me with your energy and ambition...I've none of my own."
- "Surprise me with unusual joy tonight, God."
- "Give me a spirit that fills my home with hope."
- "Help me to listen to my family attentively."
- "Allow a relaxation to come over me right now, Lord."
- "I want to leave work behind me, I need you to help me do that."
- "Help me to be present, body and spirit tonight, God."
- "Restore my injured soul this evening as I lean into You."
- "Give me the energy to speak into and listen to my spouse's heart tonight."
- "Give me a gracious and forgiving spirit when expectations aren't met."
- "Speak 'Peace, be still' into the tempest of my mind."
- "You are in control, Lord, I am not."
- "Let your presence hover over me and my home tonight."
- "Receive glory right to the last second of this day."
- "I'm yours, Lord, I'm yours."
Hope these help you today. Maybe it will give someone a jump start on "practicing the presence of Christ". It is these sorts of short phrases that buoy me in the storms of each day and make my life one of consequence. I pray the same for you.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Running in the Rain...

Yesterday I did something I haven't done in a coon's age. (whatever that is)  Once in a blue moon.  (whatever that is).

I put on my running shoes and I ran.

For the last couple of weeks I've felt nudged to run and for very selfish reasons.  I need the drugs.  I need the endorphins it releases into my system.  I need the natural high that God wired us to have when we do what he created us to do.  All these chemicals like dopamine, serotonin, epinephrine, etc are laying latent inside of me until I actually do what it takes for them to be released.  When I don't, my life begins to lack pleasure and take on pressure.

I feel the battle of pressure and pleasure is the best way of describing the war going on in my soul.  The interesting thing is that when I feel pressure, the last thing I want to do is something like run.  I want to work to relieve the pressure.  But the more I work, the more I spiral into a splintering of that pressure into hundreds of micro-pressures.  It's sick and sad, really.

So I've almost heard my soul screaming through the gag I've shoved down it's throat: "Put on your running shoes and run."  That's it.  Doesn't sound spiritual, but every day I've heard this line in my head rolling around like a marble.  And yesterday, after feeling layer upon layer of not-so-great-news pile upon my heart, I obeyed the voice.  I put on shorts, dusted off my black running shoes, and started jogging down my driveway toward the dirt road that was awaiting my pounding feet.

The crazy thing was the minute I jumped off my front porch, it started to rain.  I thought in my head, "I should go back inside and wait for the rain to stop."  But something deeper and louder said, "This will make it even better...when was the last time you ran in the rain?"  So I soldiered on.

I hate running for the sake of running.  I loved running as long as it was after a ball or for a victory, but competitive sports are in my rearview mirror to the tune of almost 20 years.  This business of running for the sheer joy of running is something I just can't relate to for the life of me.  But I studied some of the natural drugs in my body a couple weeks ago and exercise releases several chemicals that supposedly keep me from getting depressed and positively alter my perspective on things.  It was touted as ultimately making me feel a sense of pleasure afterwards.  So I ran.  And ran.  And ran.

Mind you, it wasn't a marathon.  It was only 2 miles that felt like 20.  But I didn't stop running...I ran through ever ache and cramp.  I ran through every thought that said, "Just take a moment to walk".  I ran through every mental barrier that said, "Don't run all the way to Bailey, turn around at that driveway just ahead."  You can't believe how many thoughts I had to overcome in those two miles.

And you can't imagine how the pain worked it's way around my body screaming at me to stop.  It started in my lower back of all places.  It felt like my back was going to give out.  But that either subsided or was trumped by the pain in my knees.  I began to feel like my knees were crippled with arthritis...it felt like cartilage was crushed and tendons were torn (they weren't).  But my knees felt better after a mile when my hips began to feel as though they were coming right out of their sockets.  Seriously.  Every time my heel hit the gravel, my hip felt like it crumbled into pieces.  But that's just the thing, all these devastating things were "feelings".  Every bone and muscle in my body was saying to me, "You're hurting me" and yet my soul was saying, "You're helping me."  Weird stuff.

I plan on doing it again today.  I don't know if it's a placebo effect or a legitimate download of drugs into my system, but it brought catharsis and relief.  It, at the very least, transferred my pain and pressure to my body from my mind.  Whatever happened, it did something.

And the rain only made it better.  I felt cleansed.  And that's a good feeling.