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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Kami's 18th birthday letter...

Kami,

I know today doesn't seem like the ideal birthday for you, but I think it says a lot about you.

Usually a birthday is a day cleared out for friends and family to dote on you, planning parties, coffee dates, after school pedicures, cake, and piles of gifts.  This day is a bit different.  The minute you get out of school you were mentioning last night how you have to rush home and lock yourself in your room to go over your message notes for tonight.  Leave it to you to agree to speak in youth group on your 18th birthday on Selflessness.

Instead of relaxing at home before going to ISM, you have to go early to speak to the Middle Schoolers first and then the High Schoolers later on in the evening.  I'm sure by the time 9:00pm rolls around and youth group wraps up, you'll be more than a little tuckered out.  That's kinda what happens when you pour out your heart and share all the things that you've studied.  What an awesome way to spend your special day...preaching your little heart out to your peers and hoping to have an impact on their lives.  I'm praying for you even now.

I hope the message you're sharing on 'selflessness' becomes the anthem of your life.  In a world consumed with self and selfies, what a rare jewel you would be if you would but let God make you humble and kind, patient and flexible.  With every day that goes by leading to your departure for college in August, I'm watching you catch a vision for the selfless life.  Even last week when you were down in the living room talking to your mother and I, it was evident that you are hungry to be openhearted and kindhearted.  I know it's not easy for you...it's not easy for me or anyone.  That's why it takes a daily discipline of "dying to yourself" and "coming alive" to the interests, desires, needs, and dreams of others.  It is my prayer that this kind of life would envelope you in the years to come so that when people talk about Kami they can't help but say, "She is such a giving and gracious person."  Can you think of anything more satisfying than that...to be known for your selfless love?  I can't.

More than anything today, I want you to know that I'm proud of you.  I'm proud that you have volunteered for Campus Life that last two years faithfully pouring your heart into some pretty difficult kids...it shows your perseverance.  I'm proud that you have found a couple places of employment and have worked hard even on some nights when you're tired and wishing you could just veg at home...it shows your responsibility.  I'm proud of the friends you have surrounded yourself with especially when you went through many years of struggling to find good friends...it shows your discernment.  I'm proud of your eye for photography and your passion for capturing beauty...it shows your artistry.  I'm proud of how clean, organized, and planned out you like to be...it shows your orderliness.  I'm proud of your love of all things social and relational...it shows your love of life.  I'm proud of your passion to confront conflict...it shows your courage.  I'm proud that you're leaving the nest and heading off to college out of state...it shows your strength and appetite for risk.  I'm proud of how affectionate you are...it shows your tenderheartedness.  I'm proud of how so many people talk to you about their struggles and problems...is shows that you're a sympathetic listener.

I love so many things about you. I love how you tell people the truth even if it means putting the friendship at risk...it shows that you have unbreakable values.  I love how you have little verses and sayings plastered up around your room...it shows that you care about God's heart and your own.  I love that you love coffee...it shows that you have a brain...hehehe.  I love that you love meaningful late-night conversations with your friends...it shows that you're deep.  I love that you love movies that make you cry...it shows that you care about good stories.  I love that you enjoy getting together with our extended families...it show that you have an appreciation for our heritage.  I love that we've been able to go on hundreds of little dates since you were born...it shows that you're not embarrassed of being with me...hehehe. (I'll always cherish those from the time we shared a milkshake at McDonalds when you were one and a half to sitting across from each other at Blue Water Grill and trying new food...you foodie!)  I love to watch you worship as you lead people in worship...it shows your passion for the heart of God.  I love to see you laugh hard with your sisters in the back seat coming home from long trips...it shows your value of sisterhood.  I love watching you snuggle the boys and kissing them on the cheek over and over again...it shows how you've welcomed them into our family.  I love your sense of fashion...it shows your eye for colors & designs and the ability you have to coordinate them.  (I don't have that.)  More than anything...I love that you love your mom and I.  There is nothing that would hurt me more than being shut out of on of my children's lives and you continue to let us into your heart and to care about our hearts.  I hope it's always like that.

So, I'm proud of you.  And I love you deeply.

I always will even when you're gone.  I will always carry you close to my heart and I'll be a text or phone call away.

I look forward to watching you fly in the months to come.

You got this.

Happy 18th birthday, Rose.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Doing wood with my dad today...

Wood and my Dad

There are some special pastimes
that wake the boy in me,
but few can touch the unique thrill
of cutting down a tree.

It starts with mixing up the fuel
and sharpening the saw,
oiling up the bar and chain
just like I did with pa.

"Get the tractor filled with fuel
then go and get the wagon,
Don't forget our leather gloves
and water when we're draggin'."

I still can hear by father's voice
giving these reminders,
for I was just a little boy
with adolescent blinders.

In time I didn't need his words,
the prep was second nature,
the woods became my habitat
almost my second culture.

With that we'd promptly hit the trail
that led into the wild,
Evoking almost everything
that stimulates a child.

My dad would spot the perfect tree
that needed to be felled,
he'd notch it out and cut with care
and all our plans just gelled.

The tree would crash onto the ground
falling in the clearing,
And every time dad cried, "Timber",
I'd find myself just cheering.

Smiling from ear to ear
and backing up the tractor,
I'd hook the chain around the log
Becoming the extractor.

I'd lift the drawbar nice and high
to keep it off the ground,
and just like that I'd pull it out,
the power was profound.

Some logs were probably a ton
a yet our little Ford
would make light work of most of 'em
acting almost bored.

The smell of earth mixed with exhaust
was etched into my mind
and to this day when I catch that whiff
my soul becomes aligned.

It isn't long before it's time
to cut the wood to pieces,
filling up the wagon high,
here's where my soul releases.

I can't tell you how it feels
to see your labor's fruit,
As piles of wood accumulate
the joy is absolute.

The more we get the more I want
addiction setting in,
I'll gladly beat my body up
to feel this kind of 'win'.

And then comes time to split it up
and stack it in the shed,
to get it dried before the cold
bears down with winter's dread.

And this is where my dad comes in,
at least in my mind's eye,
remembering the joy I brought
him as his little guy.

It was the woods where I felt closest
to my father's heart,
the place where everything made sense
and nothing was apart.

Connection that I can't explain,
a synergy bone-deep
was felt, i think, by both of us
some nights it makes me weep.

And that's what brings me to today,
and to this reverie,
my father's coming to my house
to relive this memory.

We're splitting wood out on my lot,
of this I'm truly glad,
returning to my roots again
and working with my dad.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Spiritual Warfare...this is life or death.

My sabbatical coach shared a story with me from the Bible that I had apparently blown by before.  It is found in the Minor Prophets in the obscure book of Zechariah in the 3rd Chapter.  I just want to share a short part of the story focused on a guy named Joshua, the high priest at the time who seemed to be under some sort of spiritual attack.

When I talk of spiritual warfare, I am often speechless when it comes time to definitively describe what's occurring.  I feel like most of my rationale is conjecture at best.  I'm swinging in the dark hoping to land a punch, but I'm not sure if I'm making it up or telling the truth.

But I know this, I undoubtedly face spiritual attack and it's brutal.

That's where this passage comes along to give us a picture of what is often only a hunch...
____________

Zechariah 3:1-5

Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him.  The LORD said to Satan, "The LORD rebuke you, Satan!  The LORD, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you!  Is not this man a burning stick snatched from a fire?"

Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel.  The angel said to those who were standing before him, "Take off his filthy clothes."  Then he said to Joshua, "See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you."

Then I said, "Put a clean turban on his head."  So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him, while the angel of the LORD stood by.
_____________

There are days where I can't explain it, but it feels every bit as if Satan is standing right next to me whispering dark speech into my ear and bringing accusations against me so fast and furious that I can hardly stand the barrage of bullcrap.  I know that I have all authority to rebuke Satan in the name of Jesus, but I stand there paralyzed with the nagging feeling that part of what he's saying is true. I'm dead in the water.

I can't deny that I'm standing there covered in the filthy garments of my own sin.  I can't pretend that I haven't wavered or faltered or wandered.  I'm not perfect and I know that, but there's something about him piling on the condemnation that neutralizes me on a good many days.  I feel no right to lead.  No authority to represent God.  No confidence whatsoever that I deserve to be anything more than a withering wallflower...simply existing to stay out of people's way and not screw anything up.

I stand there in the presence of God and Satan fearing that the prosecution against me is air tight and that the verdict will come back, "I find Jason guilt on all counts."  I slog through the day leading with the fumes of what used to be fuel.  I sputter and get by, but there is no torque, no power.  And I think that is the point of accusation, not so much to find you guilty, but to make you feel guilty even if there's nothing there.  If Satan can accomplish that, he nullifies your contribution taking minutes, hours, days and weeks away from your very short life.  Could this all really be about simply stealing precious and fleeting time from us?  The great Pilferer seeks to rob us blind.

But the LORD doesn't wait for Joshua to get "his priest on" in this passage.  He steps in to defend and vouch for him.  He gets aggressive which shows God's depth of feeling for people who are being maligned.  He is not an unfeeling bystander, he is an active participant running interference on our behalf.  He chases Satan away like a Shepherd chases away a predator.  He rebukes him which is to say he shouts him down.  He puts him in his place.  He silences him and then humiliates him.  He sends him away cowering by turning his words against him.  And then he does the unimaginable...

He speaks up for us and into us at the same time.

"Is not this man a burning stick snatched from a fire?"

He asked the Accuser a question about the identity of the Accused.  He uses a metaphor to let Joshua know how he feels about him.  He calls him a burning stick snatched from the fire.  On the one hand he validates that this guy is burning up, soon to be ash if things don't change and fast.  He acknowledges the trajectory of Joshua's life apart from his "snatching power".

This is important for me to understand: I don't save myself apart from the saving hand of God snatching me from the jaws of death.  And I'm not just talking about burning in hell, I'm talking about burning out in life.  I know what it's like to be a burning stick and to see the hand writing on the wall of a premature expiration date.  And here's the deal...I need God to save me from myself and my sin.  It doesn't take long for a burning stick to turn into a heap of ash.  I know all to well.

But God is a 'snatcher'.  Alway has been.  He sees us burning out and reaches in his hand and grabs us right out of the inferno.  As his hands blister, he holds us in his arms scorched, yet saved.  Nothing can separate us from his love.  His love runs back into the burning house to get us out.  This is his character.  I can't tell you how many times throughout my life he's snatched me from the fire and salvaged what was on the brink of death in me.  I couldn't get out on my own...I couldn't snatch myself from my own fiery fate...he was the Fireman who put his life on the line for mine.

If that wasn't enough, he goes even further.  Grace always does.  He speaks again...

"Take off his filthy clothes...put fine garments on him."

He doesn't just save us from our sin, he takes off our shame.  He knows that Satan loves to pester us about the filthy clothes we're standing there wearing.  It's better than being naked, but not much better.  Our clothes serve as a reminder that we are scum and need never forget it.  I think some religions actually want us to get saved but stay shamed.  This is not our God.  Joshua didn't ask for it, didn't even deserve it, but God said, "Take off the sin and shame and replace it all with purity and righteousness."  This is the love of our God...extravagant and and expansive.  Not stingy in the least.  His desire is for forgiveness and freedom.  Not just forgiveness...freedom!  He wants us to walk away healed, clean, pure, and alive.  Oh, how desperately the church needs the freedom beyond forgiveness!  I do!

But the vision shared in this passage is sort of interesting in that while Zechariah is downloading this revelation from God, he actually speaks into the vision and adds his own two cents...

Then I said"Put a clean turban on his head." So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him, while the angel of the LORD stood by.

What?  The audacity of this prophet to want even more for Joshua.  The gull to ask God for even more mercy and bounty.  He saw that his head covering was still charred smelling of smoke and soot. He was standing up for Joshua in that moment and asking for everything God had to offer, going to the mat for him.  Man, do I love having friends that truly want all that God has to offer and are willing to fight for my heart.  It is rarified air this thing called friendship, true fellowship.  It is uncommon to have people standing in the gap for you wanting things for your life that you don't even know to want in the moment.

How astonishing that Zechariah gets so personally attached to the vision that he wants to make a suggestion...a revision to the vision.  He noticed that Joshua was mostly free, but not entirely.  He boldly approached God for more and God responded.  He didn't respond as a threatened deity or a territorial king, he granted him his humble request as the angel stood by.

And we have have angels on stand by.  All of us.  They are dispatched to guard and guide us.  To accompany us when we feel alone.  The strengthen us when we feel assailed.  They fight demons for us and stand as watchmen on the walls looking for the ever-circling lion who seeks to devour us.

The characters in the larger story are:

God
Angels
Satan
Demons
Me
Others

And we see in this story how they all interact in the unseen world to bring seen changes to our lives.

I hope this story encouraged you today as much it encouraged me.  Take heart, my friends.

(if my daughters and sons every read this in the future...I hope you are coming to realize the reality of spiritual warfare and how it effects us.  Know that I'm praying for you today, but also praying for your future that you will let God snatch you out of whatever is seeking to scorch you letting Him reclothe you in the garments of his salvation and love.  So much hangs in the balance of understanding this transaction with God.  If you don't know what's happening to you when you're being accused and abused by Satan, you will suffer in sin and shame all the while God is seeking to forgive and free you with his love.  I love you, my children.)

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

An ordained conversation with a gay man...

There are times when I know that I know that I know I am having an ordained encounter.  Some would call it a divine appointment.  This morning happened to be one of those holy moments.

I had just doctored up my Starbucks coffee and was getting settled into a plush leather arm chair in the corner when I saw a guy sit down next to me in the other matching chair to my left.  Sometimes I will lift my head from my book and say hi, other times I will keep my head down and mind my own business.  For some reason I lifted my head, smiled, and nodded with a nonverbal 'hello'.  One reason, come to think of it, was the salmon jeans he was wearing that almost glowed in my peripheral.  I'm a color guy and happen to have salmon pants myself, so I had to greet this guy.

To say that I initiated this conversation would be giving myself too much credit.  He was the one who opened his mouth and asked me if I had come from the gym.  He saw my running shoes and shorts and put two and two together.  I told him that I was going to the YMCA after spending some time reading and writing desperately trying to steer clear of a 'health and fitness" conversation...to no avail.  I didn't let the exercise conversation go very far before I let him know that I only started working out a couple weeks ago and don't know diddly squat about it, really.  He probably already new that since my shorts are actually swimming trunks.  That's a dead give away that I'm a hack...an ignorant wanna be.

I think he sensed my honesty and vulnerability and reached out his hand introducing himself and asking me my name.  His face was aglow and his interest in my life was palpable.  He had the coolest glasses and when I shook his hand I couldn't help but notice this massive ring he was wearing.  I inquired about it and asked if it had any particular significance.  He pulled it off and handed it to me sharing the story of the group of bikers he rides with and the jewelry and accessories that this particular biker gang wears.  He didn't strike me as a biker guy, but then again, I've learned you can't judge a book by it's cover after all these years.

I gave him back his ring and that's when he asked me what I did.

I don't know why, but I'm always reticent to just blurt out, "I'm a pastor".  For every conversation it creates, it shuts down thrice as many.  There is something stifling about playing that card...it seems to trump every other interesting thing that was naturally occurring up to that point in the conversation.  I think a lot of it has to do with people's previous experience with church or a fallacious idea they have about pastors that they may have learned from The Simpsons.  Whatever may be the case, it often is associated with previous hurt, usually by someone close to them that they trusted an felt betrayed by or used by.  Whether it's real or perceived, it becomes their truth and that makes it true to them, so it's not for me to always know who the antagonist or protagonist was in their backstory...I just listen and try to understand giving them the benefit of the doubt.  A cursory conversation in a coffee shop doesn't afford me much more than that.  It's my best shot at meaningful interaction I guess is what I'm trying to say.

When I shared that I was a pastor and I was taking a sabbatical, I watched his countenance change.  It wasn't that he was shutting down, he was just reorienting himself...at least that's what it looked like from the outside looking in.  I told him that I had been in ministry for 20 years and my church felt it was important for me to take some time away to care for my own soul and the heart of my family so that I could be healthy for the long haul.  He nodded his head in agreement and then went on to share with me that he used to be in ministry himself.  This caught me a little off guard simply because the conversation up to that point hadn't a hint of that reality.  Usually I can feel that sort of thing.

"I've sort of had to reinvent myself since then.  I got a divorce and left the church."

Rather than bending the conversation toward pain, I decided to ask about what led him to ministry back in the day.  He shared about his gift of music and how he led worship in the church.  He said those 7 years were the best years of his life.  He loved the staff he worked with and the church he served.  We spent some time talking about the senior pastor of the church and how genuine and good he was.  He truly felt so much gratitude for his time at that church.

In my mind my brain was telling me to circle back to the "reinventing himself" description he shared earlier.  Some thing told me that would be a natural segue into what brought him to the present, the place where I was meeting him.

"What did you mean when you said you had to reinvent yourself?"

I thought he was going to talk about a career change...in fact, I knew that's where we were going next in the conversation.  I couldn't have been more dead wrong or more shocked by the next thing that came out of his mouth.

"I'm a gay man and so my whole life changed in a moment."

He went on to describe how he had suppressed his desires since he was a little boy growing up in a Baptist home with awesome parents.  I grew up in a Baptist home with great parents, for the record. As I asked him about what it was like for him to exist with a duality of identity for all those years, he teared up just a little bit.  He said the thing he felt the worst about was all the people who he hurt in the process.  I told him that usually when I talk to people who 'come out' there is an ache, but it's about how people have hurt them in the process.  He acknowledged that with the nodding of his head, but reiterated that he felt bad about how much pain he had caused the people he loved.  I wish I could have dug a bit deep into that, but he took the conversation in a different direction at that point.

He began to talk about how free he felt and how it took him a while to feel that freedom.  But even as he talked about this freedom, he stopped and paused looking around the coffee shop.

"I just don't feel like I fit anywhere."

He waved his hand and pointed around the coffee shop.

"You mean, even here today you don't feel like you fit?"

"No.  I mean, nobody is making me feel that way, but anywhere I go I feel some sense of not fitting in."

"Do you feel lonely a lot?"

"Oh, yeah.  Very lonely.  Don't get me wrong, I have a great relationship with my x-wife and my two girls.  They are my greatest accomplishment in life.  I was just with my daughter last weekend.  I'm really blessed with some great family and friends."

We went on to talk about that feeling of being on the outside looking in and despite all his blessings how he feels displaced.

"There is no place for me in evangelical Christianity and I get that."

As I began to form a response to that statement, he turned and saw his client walk in.  He got out of his seat and greeted him grabbing his stuff and taking it to a nearby table.  As his client was getting settled in, he turned to me and reached out his hand.

"So great to meet you today, Jason.  God bless you and your sabbatical."

"Thanks brother.  So good to meet you, too."

And with that, I watched him climb into business mode and integrate back into the rhythms of the work week.  Since I'm not working right now, it's interesting to watch people all around me grinding and hustling.  When I'm in the rat race with them, I don't notice how all-consuming work can be.  I saw him functioning in his reinvented life and wondered if he was ok.  I just didn't have enough time or conversation to get at whether he was truly ok.  I don't care who it is...I care about finding out if that person is really ok.  For some reason I feel compelled to know that when I'm around people.  It's a passion of mine.  If they are, I want to know why.  If they aren't, I want to know why not.

I never really got to find that out...we were just getting past skin deep and were slicing through the red meat when we got interrupted just short of bone deep.  I had so many questions and I could tell he did, too.  But life happened and he had to get moving on.  I wish I got his name and number now, but I've got no contact info and since I'm 25 minutes from my home town there's a slim chance of ever seeing him again. Dang.

It was definitely the most intriguing conversation I've had since starting my sabbatical.  He was a gracious and inquisitive man.  He was so friendly and concerned for me.  His words were so full of life and his storytelling was so interesting.  His questions were so thoughtful and the way he listened so genuine.  He carried himself with such poise and passion.  In our 25 minute conversation, I found him to be truly remarkable.  I feel like I could have learned a great deal from this man had I a bit more time to spend in his presence.  He seemed like a wellspring of wisdom.  I spend a lot of time with a lot of people, and he was a unique soul.

I will be praying for him today and I hope for the rest of my life as God brings him to mind.  May God continue to pursue him with His relentless love.

God, keep bringing people into my life to grow my heart so that it's as big and beautiful as Yours.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

"I've put a lot of pressure on the Scripture"...

I've noticed something as I've been reading the Bible on my Sabbatical.  I don't think I would have discovered it had I not stepped away from preaching for a while.  The thought came to mind as I talked with my wife today.

I think I put a lot of pressure on the Scripture when I read it.

Have you ever been talking to someone and you feel so much pressure you can't even be yourself?  Have you ever needed something to be certain way so bad that you believe it into being?  Have you ever felt so under the gun that you are forced to find a way...no matter what...at all costs?

Pressure does some crazy stuff to us.  It does some weird stuff to the things we interact with as well.  It's hard to tell what is actually real when pressure's part of the equation.

When I say I put pressure on the Scriptures, I mean that I need them to perform for me.  I need them to be something for me in order for me to succeed.  I need them to be fresh and new and novel and inspirational.  When you need something bad enough, your demand can be so urgent that you twist truth and read between the lines or even color outside the lines.  The Scriptures become an ingredient for your own Sculptures.  It's amazing the sculptures you can form out of the scriptures.  Beautiful works of art.  Attractive to eye and ear.  Crafty craftsmanship.

But the Scriptures are not to be tampered or trifled with as a means to my preferred end.  I don't have the right to create revisionist history or theology.  I can't let my pressure as a preacher to cause me to come at the text with an agenda or angle.  The Word is not paint and I am not a painter...The Word is the masterpiece and I am the tour guide.  This is important to distinguish these days where artistry is preferred over theology.

Let me make it a little more personal.  I can't put pressure on Jacob (I was reading him and about him last week) in our relationship.  When I am purusing his life, I can't make him something he's not...I have to let him be who he is.  Just because I might need him to be something different than I see him being, I can't embellish his story to make up my own about him.  I can't pressure the text into conforming to my sermon series.  I can't pick Jacob apart so barbarically that he's hardly noticeable after I get done with him.  He needs to resemble the person that the Scriptures describe him to be.  He needs me to treat him fairly and let him speak for himself.  He certainly would take the same offense I would if someone grabbed one thing I did or said and made a big "to do" out of it that didn't represent me in the slightest.  I'd be ticked.

He deserves fair treatment just like anybody else.  I don't get to underestimate or overreach.  I don't get to carve out a word and make a mountain out of molehill, not do I get to dismiss a section and make a molehill out of mountain.  It's either a molehill or a mountain and all I'm commissioned to do is display the masterpiece of his life that's already curated.

This isn't to say that I'm not allowed to look deeply at what the Scriptures say or dig deeply into Jacob's heart to discover something that might be hiding right there in plain sight.  The best communicators are the ones who are magnifying what was there all along.  They aren't the ones who have an interpretation of something no one has every thought of before. (unless they are a rare luminary)  I'm not trying to rain on anybody's theological parade, but I think I've spent too much time trying to find something original that I end up making something unnatural.  But this is only a part of the story.

When you're a preacher preparing a new sermon every week, there is this intrinsic and extrinsic pressure to share something no one has heard before or at least to present it in a way that no one has every thought of before.  This is a dangerous premise with which to approach/attack the text.  The pressure I can put on myself and then on the Scripture is unfair which can lead to content that is unfounded.  I can make a silk purse out of sow's ear and no one would be the wiser.  I could use my 'sanctified imagination' and create some fascinating fiction.  More terrifying, I could believe that what I'm sharing is truth just because it's "based on a true story".  That is the most palatable heresy to be digested by the masses...the stuff that mixes fact and fiction into a cocktail of contemporary, relevant preaching, well-meaning as it might be.

I say this because as I've read the Bible during my sabbatical without the expectation of needing to come up with something to say about it, I've become aware of how I've gotten used to reading the Scripture with pressure and presumptions.  I've felt rushed and so I rush to conclusions.  I've felt expectations that have led to projections.  My ulterior motives force conclusions instead of letting things develop naturally, normally.  In the same way a relationship cannot be healthy with this approach, my relationship with the Word of God and the God of the Word cannot be healthy under these strained conditions.  Just as a prisoner of war will say anything under duress and forceful interrogations, a preacher can begin to say (and see) anything under the stress of forcible expectations.

As I've relaxed with the Scriptures without the need to produce a Sculpture, it's been refreshing to interact with the characters of the Bible. Take Jacob for example...what a guy...what a story.  Or Elisha whom I've struck up a pretty good friendship with in the last couple weeks...didn't know that dude very well until last week.  Or David...the narrative of his life is like a Six Flags rollercoaster that makes you nauseous when you finally finish and stagger away from his story.  He's nothing like I've always thought, and just like I've sometimes wondered...which is to say, He's himself.

I'm just me reading about just him...no pretenses.  I don't need him to give me anything.  I don't use him for my purposes.  I don't require his story to fit my series.  I don't want him to be anything other than who he is...and that, my friends, is something you don't realize you're missing until you're sitting there reading your Bible without prepping for any message.

I've heard that you know you're good friends with someone when you're with them and nobody feels awkward with long stretches of silence.  No one needs to entertain.  No one needs to be the conversationalist.  No one needs to say anything because you're friends and there's no pressure to be anything in particular.

I want to be that way with the Word.  I want to be that way with God.  I don't want pressure to ruin our relationship cause I think we got a good thing goin'.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Aly's 16th Birthday...a perfect night.

When it comes to a 16th birthday for your kid, you almost are forced to have the surprise party planned days or weeks in advance of the actual birthday to keep your kid off the scent.  Even then, they have a 6th sense that something's coming, and with every child that hits the milestone, they are more aware then ever that there is a collective conspiracy.

So even though Aly's birthday is today, the celebration of it happened in earnest last Thursday.  It had been planned before the foundation of the world, which is to say that Heidi has been stewing on it for months on end, scheming and dreaming about how it could all come together like a fairytale.  I don't know if you've ever tried to create a fairytale in real life, but it's no cakewalk.  That being said, Heidi is a master of creating fairytale-like days for our children.  

The first prerequisite to pulling off a great surprise party is to manufacture a believable lie.  In this case Heidi had told Aly that she was watching the boys so that her mom and dad could have a long overdue date night.  It had been some time since she'd done that, so she was down with it.  She knew she had soccer practice and then was going to be coming home to hold down the fort with the "little lions".  Her brain was thoroughly washed.

What she didn't know is that it was all an elaborate fib.  When Heidi went to pick her up from practice, she gave her a little envelope with a card in it that said, "Be our guest".  Aly loves "all things Disney", but her favorite animation by far is "Beauty and the Beast".  She has memorized all the songs and she simply is bewitched with the storyline.  Heidi knew that all she had was her grubby practice gear, so she brought two changes of clothes for her to choose from and then took her to have a pedicure. While that was happening, she was going to straighten her hair and get her all dolled up to take her out to eat.  What she didn't know is that Heidi had arranged for all her friends to be at Mangiamos, an old mansion in Grand Rapids that has been converted into a magnificent Italian restaurant.  Each friend would be one of the Disney princesses when she turned the corner into the special dinner area held in the old library. (Aly loves the library scene in Beauty and the Beast)

When she and her mom arrived at the restaurant, they walked into the dining room and Aly burst into tears when she saw everyone.  She cries just like her mom, half smiling, half wincing in apparent pain trying to wipe the tears from her eyes so that her makeup doesn't run and smear.  It's a precious thing to behold.  

Heidi had purchased a glass globe that was covering a single red rose just like the movie.  There were decorations and the "Be our guest" theme was woven throughout the night.  There were lots of happy tears but there was also hearty laughter that filled that old library with mirth and merriment.  The fairytale was unfolding.

Sometimes when you plan something like this, there are other surprises that you couldn't anticipate or even afford that put the cherry on top!  One of those serendipitous delicacies was live music right there in the room.  These two guys were actually playing one of Aly's favorite love songs when she finally got settled into the bustling atmosphere.  She looked over at her mom and said, "Did you hire a live band?"  Heidi is more holy than I, cause I would have owned it, winked, and nodded my head.  But she shook her head and admitted that was even a surprise to her.  That was one of Aly's favorite aspects of the night.  The two guys kept playing all her favorite songs...and if there is one thing that defines Aly it is music.  She loves good music from all eras and what's crazy is that she has all the lyrics memorized.  She said that every song they played were her favorites...not surprising since these guys were playing popular cover songs.  (but we don't need to tell her that and ruin the fairytale)  They even stopped when they found out it was Aly's 16th birthday and got the whole room full of friends and strangers to sing her happy birthday together.  The night just kept getting better.

Where was I while this was happening?  Glad you asked.  The crucial part I played was being with the boys so this all could happen without a hitch.  Cause nothing says hitch like throwing two little boys into the dream of creating a fairytale.  They tear fairytales apart and eat them like turkey legs at the state fair.  So we hung out at home climbing trees, cutting wood, taking tractor rides, and staying active.  I put them to bed around 8:15pm knowing that Aly and her friends would be coming to our house around 9pm.  I stopped hearing noise around 8:50pm and moved onto the next part of the evening.

It was my responsibility to tidy up the house and then get a fire started down in the fire pit.  It's hard to believe, but it's the first fire we've had this year.  I collected a bunch of wood in a wagon and hauled it over to the campfire.  I wanted to get it raging just in time for them to step out of their cars and see it blazing in the backyard.  The sunset was unreal.  It had rained momentarily and then the clouds lifted and the sun broke through with brilliance.  The backyard was verdant and pungent.  The word that comes to mind is idyllic. 

I heard the cars crowding into our driveway and the girls hopped out and made their way into the house.  I got to hug Aly and hear firsthand her reactions to all the surprises...she was talking a mile and minute.  

Her friends brought her presents and she took time to read the cards and open them around our kitchen table.  I love seeing our kitchen table being used for community...the sound of cross-conversation, shotgun-giggles, and story-telling is intoxicating to me.  One time I just backed away over near the kitchen sink and took it all in trying to capture it searing the memory in my mind forever.  Some of the cards brought tears to Aly's eyes....one made her ball like a baby.  Her friends took time to share their deep heart for her.  Many days she doesn't know if she is making any difference in their lives and today she was picking the fruit of her faithfulness.  Nights like this are to die for.

While they were finishing their brownies and ice cream, I stoked the fire again to get it good and hot, and invited them to go down and get warmed up.  After they all got down to the fire pit, I slipped away under the cover of the night and left them to enjoy the freedom of girly campfire conversation.  Again, I stood on the deck overlooking them down by the fire and soaked in the moment.  These nights come and go so quickly and I didn't want to miss a second of the sacredness I feel when time seems to stand still so you can take it in with large gulps.  I drank deep of the sights, sounds, and smells of that Thursday night.

It wasn't long before the girls headed home and we were left with the after party mess.  But the mess is so worth it on nights like this.  We didn't care about the mess so much as talking to Aly about what she loved and remembered...retelling stories is my favorite part of story telling. Aly gushed with joy.  We smiled with satisfaction.

What a night.

I love my second born girl with all my heart.  My hope is that she will never forget this night because I know I won't.

I love you, Gracie Grace.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Mother's Day and my wife...

This weekend is Mother's Day and my wife is speaking at church.  I love when she gets to stand in front of our body and bear her soul and share her story.  She has so much to say and so much wisdom to offer.  She's a good woman...an amazing wife...but she's a great mom.

Here's what makes her great...

She lets the kids affect her.  She gets a pit in her stomach for them and with them.  When they are feeling something, she is feeling it with sympathy pains as well.

She does whatever she can to support each our children's ambitions.  If it is soccer, she paves the way.  If it is cello, she gets the rental.  If it is superheroes, she buys the cape (on consignment).  If it is some hobby, she gets the ingredients.  She literally lives to make their dreams come true if at all possible.

She cleans up after every. single. one. of. our. children. & ME.  It's daily.  I watch her slave away in the shadows as the kids carry on thanklessly creating a perpetual mess.  She will tell them what she's doing for them...about 10% of the time.  The other 90% is done because it needs to be...no credit, no thanks, no second-thought.

She continually follows behind them and makes sure the things that they forget are taken care of.  If they forget their lunch...she brings it to school.  If they forget a piece of homework, she takes it to the office.  If they forget they had a project due tomorrow, she gets what they need and basically does it with (for) them.  If they forget their uniform, she makes the extra run to the field to bring it to them, if they forget their tampons, water bottles, money for whatever, breath mints, change of clothes, putting gas in the car, candy for the movies....she is there to fill the gap with grace.  It's not that she doesn't admonish them and challenge their memory lapses...but she is always the safety net...the security blanket.

She makes sure we have food in the cupboards and clothes in our closets.  She even thinks ahead of time when she's washing clothes making sure she washes the ones needed first...it's like "clothes triage".  It's crazy.  Before we think about what we need, she already knows and has 'taken care of it'.

She constantly is asking the girls about their day, their conversations, their friendships, their feelings, their reactions, their hurt, their joys, their plans, their disappointments.  She always follows up on things that they are doing or people they are hanging out with.  She is the hound of their heart.  They tell her everything and will sit up on their beds and share the most recent drama that's occurring at school and with their peers.  They share their crushes and she doesn't crush the conversation (like me).  She sits in their stories entering into their perceptions and perspectives with compassion.  She relates to them.

She makes a big deal of big days in our kids lives.  I struggle to care about holidays and birthdays in the sense that I try to create an opportunity to celebrate or commemorate what the day represents.  She makes much of these moments...and our kids love it.  If the boys have a "crazy sock day" or a "dress like your favorite superhero day"...she's on it like stink on a monkey.  She is sowing outfits the night before or browsing Pinterest for ideas of how to make something cheap that feels meaningful.  It's nuts!  She goes out of her way to make our children feel special.  That's what she lives for.

She is always keeping the girls accountable.  She is asking them tough questions and disciplining them when they are caught in a compromise of morals.  She demands honesty above all and says over and over again, "you can admit any mistake, but don't lie to me.  That is the worst thing you could ever do in our relationship."  I think the girls get it...now we'll see if the boys come along in time.  It's powerful to watch how consistently demanding responsibility and accountability demonstrates that you actually really care about the other person.  If you didn't care, you would let things go...but she cares and our kids feel it. She doesn't take the easy route...she is always putting herself in harm's way to protect their hearts.

She is human.  She doesn't pretend to have it all together.  She makes mistakes, admits them, and apologizes.  She is constantly asking, "Should I have reacted like that?"  "Am I making a bigger deal out of that than it is?"  "Was I wrong for saying that?"  She is wanting feedback and will admit failure if it's justified.  I'll say it like this...she's not afraid to be wrong.  She doesn't like to be, but she's not afraid to be.  She snaps sometimes and yells and melts down like we all do, but she is quick to realize how her actions might have hurt someone and makes amends by asking forgiveness.  This honesty is a foundation and fortress for our kids...they don't think they have to be perfect because their mom doesn't pretend to be or expect them to be.  She keeps it real.  I love her for this.

She has a tender heart.  She cries in front of the kids when something affects her.  She will cry about her extended family and something they are going through, she will cry about how she's feeling about something she is facing, she will cry about something that touches her heart in the world.  She is moved by life and that is a great example to our kids that it's ok to let life matter enough to you and people to matter enough to you that you let them get to you in the deep places.  You shed the shell of composure and risk the exposure of your vulnerable heart.  I love that she lets our kids see her soft side and will cry for our kids and with them when it hits her.  What a gift to them...she's a gift to them.

I could go on and on...

More than anything...she stays committed to Jesus in every season, good or bad.  She is always reading books that are laying out on the bed or the sofa that are challenging her faith.  Our home is filled with spiritual reminders that there is a presence in our house beyond the 7 of us that physically live there.  There is an 8th party that we call the Holy Spirit that resides and presides in our house.  He is the one we are trying to honor, please, and glorify.  He is the one we are trying to follow and emulate.  He is the one who we default to when we have lost our way and He is the one we go with when our feelings are all over the map.  She lives with creeds that form the core of our home and our kids notice this and know this about her.  She is a woman of honor above all.

So today I thought I'd take a moment to honor her on this Mother's Day.  She is as special as she makes everyone else feel.  I love you, Babe.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Seed, Sow, Soil...

My lawn has struggled for the last couple years.

There are patches where it's just dirt. There aren't even weeds.  It's just a 20 by 20 natural sand box.  The soil isn't great.  It gets washed out with even a weak rain.  It's trampled upon whenever I have to saw and split wood.  There are probably other ecological reasons that I'm unaware of, but all I know is that I've tried to plant grass there each year for three years and nothin'.

As I was watering it yesterday I got to thinking.  You can't reap what you don't sow, right?  But that's not the issue here.  I purchase the seed and I'm smart enough to sow it liberally where it's barren.  So it must be something with the soil.  I'm not blaming the soil, quite the contrary.  I wonder if I'm missing a pretty important step as it relates to the dirt I'm futility propagating seed on year after year.

One thing that I'm taking shortcuts on is the cultivation part.  I rake it out to the best of my ability plunging the teeth as deep as I can, but in the end I think I'm just scratching some marks on the surface and hoping the seed will find a grove and throw down some roots.  Pretty please?

I need to get out a rototiller and turn over the ground, but I don't have one and I didn't want to try to find one.  Long story short, I wanted to make the longer story shorter.  I didn't want to take the time to do it right.  I wanted to do the most I could in the shortest duration of time. (there is often a correlation between duration and curation) I don't know when I'm going to realize that it's not working, and if I add all the years of shortsighted labor I'll discover that I've actually spent more time over the long haul.  "Measure twice, cut once" type a thing...just a different metaphor.

Another thing I've realized as I've watered the lawn twice a day for the last 7 days is that it's very clearly sand.  I probably need to bring in top soil or mix in some peat moss, but again, I don't want to take the time or spend the money.  But there's something funny about the money aspect of this cyclical nightmare.  I keep buying a big bag of expensive seed each year and this year I even invested in a few bails of straw and a little thingy to broadcast the seed evenly on the surface of my yard (rather, lack of yard).  All for nothing.

The seed and the sowing aren't the problem.

It's the doggone soil.  It's not prepared.  It's not been cultivated.  It's not been fertilized.  It's not been mixed properly.  It's not even soil in the deepest sense of the word...it's sand.  You've heard that you can't build your house on the sand, well, it just so happens you can't plant your grass on it either.  Unless you get that special quack grass that grows in deserts.  Ain't nobody got time for that!  So it's the soil, idiot!

It's almost always the soil.

I've learned over my life that I've had seed sown into me beyond what I deserve.  Gobs of it.  I swallow up seed like it's my job.  I can't get enough.  Whenever I'm struggling, I think it's a seed issue...I need more seed!  I need someone to sow it into me...where are the people who are sowing into my life?  But it's all a ruse to confuse the real problem.  It's the soil of my soul that I should be looking at and addressing.  It's often not cultivated to absorb what's sown day in and day out.  When the seeds of truth and wisdom and blessing are broadcast over my heart, it's not the lack of water or sun or shade that's to blame.  It's not that the sower is skimpy on the spread.  It's that I'm not ready to receive it.  I've not prepared my soul for the seed.  It's too hard or too sandy.  It's too dry sometimes for lack of water, or worse, it's too wet because I'm waterlogged with so much faith that I'm already not exercising.  There's no room for more seed cause I'm not doing what I need to do by way of discipline to give yesterday's seed a chance at growth.  What makes me think more seed will solve the problem?

I need to do the hard thing in my yard and I need to do the hard thing in my heart.

I have to take stock of the soil that God is working with and ask myself, "What do I need to do to make this soil ready for seed?"  And when God tells me, I gotta put in the work.  I can't just hope next year will be different than this year.  It may take some time, some money, and some sweat, but in the end I'll stop wasting all those things every year and start enjoying growth instead ignorantly expecting it.  The expectation of growth without the perspiration of gardening is ludicrous.

I hate when it takes years to realize that all of my framing of the story and then blaming in the story is a complete bucket of hogwash.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Attraction and Attrition...the Jesus-life.

Jesus' life is a mystery to me.

If you read one story, you would see people amassing around him with an insatiable thirst for His words of life.  They starved on hillsides to listen to him talk.  They franticly and fanatically ran around lakes stalking him as he tried to retreat to the other side of the lake.  They gathered by the thousands to watch him perform miracles and back up his claims to be the Messiah with "signs and wonders".  They said of him, "He speaks as one having authority."  He was mesmerizing.  People couldn't get enough of him. He was an attractive personality.  The face of a growing movement.  The engine of a revolution people wanted in on.

And yet there were times when he would clear the crowds.  The people would be frothing at the mouth for more and he would say something like, "Eat my flesh and drink my blood in order to participate in the kingdom." and they would run for the hills.  One time the crowd when from 4,000 to 12 in about a minute.  He went from Hero to Zero in the span of a sentence.  The teeming throng would scatter and he would be left with the original 12 disciples...and even their response of "where else could we go?  You have the words of eternal life."  Almost as if to say..."if there was another way, we would take it, but you're it, so we'll have to eat the flesh and drink the blood, I guess."  Let's just say that Jesus' 3 years of ministry were mixed with both attraction and attrition.

One verse that I saw a while back has stuck with me in some sort of strange way.  I feel exactly what was being expressed about Jesus at times.

"How long will you keep us in suspense?  If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly." - John 10:34

Suspense vs. Clarity.

There was an intentional way that Jesus lived and spoke to keep people in suspense.  People don't like this.  I don't like this.  I want God to show me plainly and speak to me plainly so that I can get about the business of living with confidence and comfort.  Who wants suspense unless you're wanting to see a good movie.  Suspense makes for good flicks but difficult stories.  Suspense forces you to follow when you don't know everything.  You have to follow the person instead of the plan.  You have to trust the heart of Jesus even when he confuses your sensibilities.  You have to abandon certitude and to lean into a life of faith.  This is why I believe Jesus was enigmatic to many.  He was appealing and repulsive.

He was the center of attraction and the cause of attrition.  He was both plain and simple and paradoxical and suspenseful.  One person would find him irresistible precisely because he wasn't the typical 1+1=2 formulaic predictable religious leader.  Another would find this attribute to be the very argument for his illegitimacy and blasphemy.  If he was the one, he wouldn't be so confusing.  He wouldn't be so cryptic.

Jesus even admitted that he was purposefully keeping people a little perplexed when he said, "Though I have been speaking figuratively, a time is coming when I will no longer use this kind of language but will tell you plainly about my Father."  There is that word again, plainly.  Who wants figurative, metaphorical, hypothetical stories when you could just cut to the chase and speak with clarity and certainty?  But this was a tactic to test the authenticity of people's motives in following Him.

It still is.

So many will leave Jesus if there's a fleck of confusion.  One close call.  One difficult word.  One decision that goes against their better judgement.  One statement that is confusing.  One tenuous trial.  One unanswered prayer.  One call of sacrifice.  One move into the unknown.  One call to faith into suspense.  One disagreement over direction.  One statement that calls into question their future plans.  One painful consequence of obedience.  One defining moment to leave something that feels good.  One disconcerting sermon that offends them.  One call to die to themselves, take up their cross, and follow him.  One clarification of who is really in charge, who is the real Lord.  It doesn't take much.

There is a fine line between attraction and attrition and it often correlates with the suspense of following Christ when every bone of your body is looking for clarity...something plain and simple.  Ain't gonna happen.

So whenever I find people dropping like flies or feel within myself a distaste for the "flesh and blood" call of Jesus into suspense that causes me to withdrawn myself, I must remind myself that Jesus has always caused this internal consternation...on purpose. He was the epitome of attraction and the provocation of attrition.  He seemed ok with it.  Furthermore, he seemed to expect it.

In an age of growth at all costs in the church, I think we need to remember the ways of Christ.  "No servant is greater than his master." - John 15  What Jesus was saying? "You aren't going to find a clever way to avoid the paradox of attraction and attrition...if my life provokes both reactions...being like me will make you a provocateur as well."  Christians that are not willing to follow Christ to this place of suspense and surrender are more interested in promotion than devotion.

Jesus, help me to be ok with the conflicting reality of following a person like You.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Hauling Heat...

I remember getting my first chainsaw.  It was a 12" Homelite made for a 12 year old who's main mission was to trim back the branches into brush piles so that his dad could stay busy sawing through the bigger stuff that heated our house every winter.

Cutting wood wasn't just a hobby for me and my dad, it was Plan A for heating our house with no Plan B.  You cut wood with more passion when it's the thing that gets you through 6 months of winter in Central New York.  The temperatures would hover around 5 to 15 degrees for a good three of those 6 months.  We needed good hard wood and lots off it---every year.

I don't know why, but I loved being out in the woods with my dad doing hard work.  Manuel labor was a rush for me.  I loved seeing things get accomplished.  I loved feeling like I was contributing to something important.  And I especially loved being with my dad on a shared mission.  We worked like a pair of good oxen.  He needed my insatiable need for speed, and I needed his measured wisdom so that we didn't kill ourselves.  It was a perfect combination.

My dad was the Principal of a small Christian School...the one I attended all the way from K-12.  He would finish work around 3:45pm and be home roughly around 4pm each day.  During the Fall, it would get dark around 6pm to 6:30 with a few minutes trimmed off each day until it finally got dark around 5pm.  So when he got home, time was of the essence.  We had to be ready to hit the woods and move some lumber, so I would get the tractor hooked to the trailer, make sure all the bar and chain oil and the mixed fuel was the perfect consistency, sharpen the chains we needed to saw quickly, and park everything pointed toward the woods so that all dad had to do was put his overalls over his button down shirt and pleated pants and hop in the driver's seat.  He would pull into the driveway and we were rolling into the woods within 5 minutes.  I loved to hear him say, "You got everything ready?  Good job, Jay."

He would fell a tree and immediately cut it into 12 to 16 ft sections for me to drag out into the open field.  I would back up the 8N Ford tractor, drop the draw bar, secure the chain around the log, lift the log in the air with the hydraulics, and slice through the woods to get that thing in the field as fast as I could.  My objective was to be back to haul out another log just about the same time my dad had trimmed off all the branches...I was driven to not waste a second.  My dad will tell you now that I kept him moving faster than he liked.

So fast forward to this week.  I now possess my dad's tractor that he inherited from his dad and I've also got the same wagon (former manure spreader) that we hauled wood with all those years.  I'm out in the woods while it's still cooler trying to "haul heat" so that I'm ready for winter.  You see, I have a wood burning stove now, too.  The only difference is that I have a Plan B in the event that wood is scarce or I don't feel like getting my hands dirty.  It's kinda pansy, but it's true.  I don't have the same pressure I felt with my dad to get the only source of heat available, but I treat the experience similar and put some pressure on myself to get as much of my heat from wood as is possible each winter.  I'm burning wood today since we've had some cool May nights this year.  I can't say as I'm complaining.  Wood heat is the best heat.

So today I plan on getting out into the forest to keep "haulin' heat" throughout this month of May so that come late October it's split, dried, stacked, and ready to burn, baby.  There are few things so cathartic, nostalgic, and therapeutic for me as getting into the wild woods and carrying on this Holdridge tradition.  The unique smell of the exhaust of mixed fuel exhaust and thawing earth, the towering trees surrounding me like a canopy, the sun rays slicing through the open spaces casting long shadows in the early morning hours, the feeling of antiquity as I look at the old rusty 8N Ford tractor packed with another load of wood...all these things breath life into my soul.  And the honest toil that makes my muscles ache is the best feeling in the world.  It's the only kind of exercise I actually enjoy.

I feel close to my father out in the woods.  I feel close to the boy inside me.  I feel close to my God.  And feeling close to these three things centers me.

Monday, May 08, 2017

"I'm glad you're a dad like you are."

Last night I was watching a Yankees game going into extra innings when I felt a hug from behind and Aly giving me a kiss on the cheek before she bounded upstairs to bed down for the night.

We had just gone to Kami's ISM Senior Banquet which was full of tears and laughter and memories.  Probably the most emotional part of the evening was when parents where able to come forward and share something about their Senior.

Some shared funnies memories, others wrote out what they wanted to say and read it aloud, some didn't know where to start and when to stop, still others struggled to gather their thoughts in front of people and made it short and sweet.  All of the things that each parent said were as powerful as they were different.  It's like you could get a peek at the kind of relationship each dad or mom had with their Senior in just that little exchange.

All of our daughters were able to be there for the evening, so they shed their fair share of tears as they understood the gravity of the moment.  They were very conscious that each student was making a huge step into the future and a big step out of the past.  You can't move to the former until you let go of the latter.  That tearing is felt...your heart literally feels torn between joy and pain at the selfsame thought of graduation.  I was sitting next to Aly and she was an emotional mess the better part of the night.  She cried when Jon spoke.  She cried when we sang, "Never Once", led by Ryder and Jess.  She cried listening to parents share their hearts about their student.  She is very sentimental and I love it.

At one point she noticed something that caused her to lean toward me to whisper into my ear.  "Dad, I wish more of the dads would share and not just the moms."  I told her that it's harder a lot of times for the fathers to talk in those emotional situations for a variety of reasons, but probably mostly cause they don't want to cry in front of people.  It's not that most of them don't feel anything or have anything to say, it's just uncomfortable for a good many of them to speak in public about such intimate things.  (At least this is what I'm making up.)  She nodded and proceeded to continue weeping.

As the night continued to go on, I noticed the observation she was making more and more.  In several cases it was just the mom who had come to the banquet because they had raised their child on their own.  In other cases the couple was divorced and the mom would speak for both parties about their pride for their child's accomplishment.  I would say 2 out of 4 times both the father and mother would come up with their Senior and the mother would grab the mic and ball like a baby while sharing for the both of them their deep heart for their boy or girl reminiscing about his or her childhood and sharing their collective support for them.  Occasionally a dad would speak and when he did, it was palpable.  The whole atmosphere would change.  I loved hearing the father's open their mouths and hearts to their child...for some, you could tell it was a rare thing to hear their father's voice speak aloud their affections.

In one case, the dad was standing off to the side and the mom just handed him the mic and said, "Do you have anything you'd like to say?"  He hesitated to grab the mic, but I think felt more awkward if he didn't.  He started by saying, "I don't really have anything to say.  I'm a man of few words because my house is filled with women."  People laughed as he gathered himself and his thoughts.  What he shared wasn't profound because it was packed with hearty and weighty words, but you could tell with every word that came out of his mouth that his daughter listening intently.  It was evident that he wasn't comfortable sharing his feelings, but even his feeble attempt had a power to it that brought the house down.  I remember at the end of him sharing his heart he said, "I'm very proud of you and I love you."  He said it almost bashfully, not able to look in his daughter's eyes.  But this is where she melted and her eyes welled with tears.  It was powerful.

I was especially moved by hearing the mothers voice their visions for their children, their sons and daughters.  Like I said, many of these moms stood alone having to be be the singular voice for both parents.  Their courage was displayed and you could see the valiant hearts that had carried them the better part of the last 18 years.  They were the all in all.  The children soaked in the words silently knowing the sacred moment they inhabited.  Some of them hadn't heard any of these words before and some may never have an opportunity to ever hear them again.  So much was at stake for each family.  So much was at stake for each child.

Heidi and I were blessed--as many parents were--to each have an opportunity to speak into our dear Kamryn's heart.  Heidi shared her unique mother's heart for her and I shared my unique father's heart. I will never forget this opportunity to declare our blessing over our firstborn in the presence of many witnesses.  It's bittersweet.  So much of our lives have been spent pouring ourselves in her life and it's not an easy thing to let her go, but it is also very exciting to see where she will go when we release her.

So last night when Aly leaned in from behind me and gave me a hug and kiss and said, I'm glad you're a dad like you are, I hugged her a little longer.  She didn't have to say that and most of the time doesn't.  But something about the night tugged her heart so strongly that she wanted to let me know that.  I don't always know what gives them the bravery to share little affirmations like this, but they are gusts of wind that fill the sails of any parent.  So much of the time you give without even a remote expectation that it's noticed or that there will be a return of thanks for your investment.  But occasionally, God will let a little love leak out in the form of a phrase that will remind you that they are watching and feeling and connecting the dots.

If anyone is reading this and you're a dad, this isn't an inditement on fathers who don't share at their kid's Senior Banquets.  I'm sure there are a host of reasons and I have no right to judge.  But I do want you to know that if you can muster the courage to overcome any of those reasons that seem justified in the moment to stay silent, and if you can grab the mic and say something, really anything to your children in those moments of truth, it doesn't have to be perfect or profound for it to be deeply personal.  I don't think I can overstate how desperate many of them to hear our hearts.

So thank you to the dads who spoke up even if it was uncomfortable.
Thank you to the dads who came and stood there in solidarity to support their child they love, even if they couldn't speak.
Thank you to the moms who strung together words with tears to give expression to emotions.
Thank you to the moms who stood alone when there was no dad in the picture...you're my heroes.
And than you to the dads and moms that both spoke with freedom and pride of their Senior.

I hope we all will keep talking to our kids.  That we won't wait for the next formal event to squeeze our words out of us.  That we will freely share whenever our hearts tell us to do so.  There are too few formal events for the need most of our children have to hear from our deep souls.  So we must fight for words even when we struggle to know what to say and how to say it.  The fate of our children's futures often hang in the balance.  Will we stay silent, or will we speak?

I know the battle that wars within to stay passive and silent...I pray that I will fight it until the very end.  In part, this is why I write this blog in hopes of taking a stab at expressing my heart, as feeble and incomplete as my words my be.  I have to at least try.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Tithing has never been the same...

It was two years ago almost exactly.

Our church was having a 2-week tithing series called "The Blessed Life" where we talked a bit about our vision and the provision needed to accomplish our audacious dreams.  Along with casting a culture of generative generosity, we showed two videos by Robert Morris that pierced me to the core. The 1st week was called "The Principle of the First" and the 2nd week was called "The Principle of Multiplication".  After years of hearing about tithing, I wasn't expecting to learn anything new.

And I didn't need to.

Heidi and I tithe faithfully so we needed no convincing.  But what I didn't know that I needed was conviction.  I needed to move beyond the duty of it.  I needed to feel the worship of it and the exchange of affection in it.  I needed to feel its sacred place in my life, something more than an empty ritual.  I needed to remember the "why", the white hot why as some people refer to it.

I remember feeling moved deeply as Robert Morris simply laid out the Biblical idea of tithing that started back in Genesis with Cain and Abel.  How I could have missed it in that story I'll never know. The text clearly says that Cain brought "what he wanted when he wanted" and Abel brought God his firstfruits.  The concept of bringing God my firstfruits was infused with fresh life.  It made so much sense as it symbolized the way I wanted my life ordered in every other arena.  I wanted God to get the first of my day, the first of my energy, the first of my love, the first of my resources, the first of my requests, the first of my reliance.  This idea of tithing transcended money and exposed how often God slips to a distant place in the pack way behind whatever surfaces as first.

Tithing has always hurt a bit for me.  I can say it is my pleasure and privilege to give, but honestly, there is a dull ache setting aside that sum of money each paycheck.  My flesh fights the transaction with every excuse in the book.  But I've noticed that as I press through the pushback, something is established that sets a precedent in every other area of my life.  God will be #1.  Matthew 6 says that "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."  It's true.  My treasure doesn't follow my heart, my heart follows my treasure.  And when my treasure honors God first, my heart begins to honor him first as well.  My worship follows my wallet.  My meaning follows my money.

For the first time in my life, I didn't just give our 10% to God mindlessly, I thought about it deeply and it became very special to me.  Every paycheck became a opportunity to renew my vows afresh to God that he was my First Love and that he would always be First Place in my life.  My finances would showcase my faith.  I would not give out of emotion, but devotion.  I would not give out of convenience, but obedience.  This was a game-changer.

This weekend our church is sharing the cornerstone concept once again with our body.  There are many who will see it as redundant, but to me it's a stone of remembrance to remind me of my creeds and the place God holds in my heart.  It causes me to revisit a place and time in my life when God showed himself powerful and personal to me...and I'm able to reflect on what he's done in my life and what he longs to do.

In our culture, we just move on.  But in Hebrew culture they saw the value of rehearsing the same prayers and revisiting the same places to keep the story alive.  Passover wasn't new or different or fresh every time...it wasn't meant to be.  It was meant to cause everyone to remember the the meaning behind the symbols and to reorient everyone's life to orbit once again around the familiar story of the Exodus where God showed himself powerful.  It never got old because people need opportunities for remembrance.  Communion is like this.  We don't spice it up...we just let the bread and wine do what it's meant to do, to make us stop what we're doing and to remember the death of our Lord so that we don't forget his sacrifice.  That's sacred.  As creatures prone to wander and forget, we need symbolic rituals to keep the main thing the main thing.

I tithe to remind myself that God is first.  I tithe to bow in worship to his preeminence.  I tithe to align my life and bring things into their proper order.  I tithe to orient my heart and to show it what it's to follow.  I tithe to resource the kingdom before I resource my lifestyle.  I don't want to rob God of what is rightfully His, but I also don't want to rob myself of the blessing he promises when I put him first and foremost on the throne of my heart.

I will never forget this day two years ago.  It did not change what I gave, but it drastically changed how I gave...and it's made all the difference.

"God, I want to bless you so that you can bess me so that I can bless others."

Friday, May 05, 2017

"You're my boy...and you're a good boy."

S'abba"tical.

I remember where I was when I first saw that the name Abba was in the word Sabbatical.  It was a season where I was uniquely hungry to hear from my Father.  The word means daddy or papa, a name of deep intimacy...it is the "first fresh flash" of an innocent child when they speak of their father in unadulterated emotion and unedited words.  Abba.

I knew that as I moved into a season of sabbatical there was a very clear purpose for it.  If I would pause for but a moment, the purpose would surface like a bubble.  I felt an immediate sense that I longed to be close to and hear from my Father.  Over 20 years of serving Him I had lost the joy of knowing Him and feeling loved by Him.  I know that seems strange, but somehow my connection to God was felt when I would do something good--better yet, great--for him.  I would feel loved by him when I would hit a home run in ministry.  But when I was in a rut or when I laid an egg so to speak, I would almost feel like He would shake his head in disappointment.  Unknowingly it led to this cycle: I would prove and then he will approve.  This works for a while...it actually produces some stellar outcomes.  But in time, it is tiresome and your heart is threadbare, thinned by the trial and error, the combine of performance-based approval.

I remember a couple months ago in a particularly poignant time of self-examination that I had an encounter with God that came out of nowhere.  It was a Sunday night and the first of two days of a conference our denomination put on to care for the pastor's soul.  Honestly, I had just come off a long weekend of speaking 4 times and pouring myself out, so I wasn't thrilled to sing more songs and listen to a message...I just wanted to go to bed.  As the first session started I remember just letting others sing around me and soaking it in.  We were standing after a song and someone just encouraged us to spend a couple minutes listening for God to speak to our hearts after spending most of the weekend ministering for him.  I remember him talking about how often we are talking about God but have very little time to listen for his still, small voice.

To be honest, I was tired.  I had tried doing this several times in the weeks prior, so I was a little jaded as well.  Listening prayer is something that has been hit or miss for me.  But I stood there and closed my eyes hoping I wouldn't fall asleep standing up.  I thought at the very least it would be a peaceful moment to be still and center my soul.  Frankly, that would have been miraculous enough given the breakneck speed of life at the time.  As I clenched my jaw and forced myself to both concentrate and relax (what?), the craziest thing shot into my head.  I know I couldn't have made it up because I was in what I call "conference mode".  It could be defined as "checked out mixed with dialed in".  Checked out because I wasn't 'on' at church, but Dialed in because I was 'on' in the sense that I was seeing pastor friends, pressing through fatigue, creating team dynamic with my staff who was sitting in my row, and reuniting with my wife who decided to join me for the first night.  I was all kinds of split-personalitied at the time.  This does not bode well for listening prayer.

But in that moment I heard a phrase that pierced the firewalls of formality with a simplicity and tenderness that hit like a hurricane.

"You're my boy...and you're a good boy."

Really, really?!!

I heard it again, only the second time, the pause between the first statement and second was even longer.  I felt my heart bend toward it like a plant bends toward sunlight.  Tears welled up in my eyes clenched shut fighting them back...but nonetheless, the made their way out, down my cheeks gathering in the corners of my mouth and eventually joining from both sides in the cleft of my chin.  Who knew that a 2-minute time for God to speak would be plenty enough time for him to do so.

The reason his words meant so much to me is that often I feel so far from being a beloved boy.  I feel like those days are over and I have to be a mature man.  A boy gets to run free and take risks.  A boy laughs and makes mistakes and speaks without thinking.  A boy doesn't live under stifling demands or fear that the world might collapse if he has a lapse of judgment.  A boy isn't worried about tomorrow or fretting yesterday...he is consumed with the pregnant present.  He is developing and given grace in that developmental process.  Grace.  So much latitude for error.  So much room from improvement.  So much slack for lack.

But the man...the man must perform.  The man needs to learn from mistakes cause you don't get the grace you once enjoyed.  The pleasure is replaced with pressure, and everything seems like life or death.  There are people counting on you to succeed and with every success there is more to lose.  The man is thought to need less love and affirmation, so he chases after approval through impressing people with his exploits.  But each exploit demands an encore.  It is wearisome as the author of Ecclesiastes admits, burdensome beyond belief.  If I could sum up this life in two words I would pick empty and tired.

So for God to claim me as His boy was huge.  It summoned out the son in me, not the father, husband, pastor, or leader...the son.  The young man within.  I felt him calling for me: "Where is the joy in my boy?"  He cared.  He got it.  My Abba was onto me.  He was into me.  Like a good dad would be, he was tuned into my heart.  I was His boy.

But that wasn't all He wanted to say and, Lord knows, it wasn't the part I needed to hear the most.

"...and you're a good boy."

This was the kicker.  This was the question of my heart.  After all that I had said and done for year after year, was it good enough, was I good enough.  I know that many of my motives along the way were fleshly, but it is easy to just beat myself up and conclude: "I am depraved and all I do is the fruit of depravity even when I think I'm pure-hearted."  You begin to question if there is a good bone in your body and whether every act is the result premeditated pride.  The paralysis of never being enough and never doing enough is a hamster wheel of horror.

I so long to be good.  I don't even want to be great anymore, I want to be known for my goodness.  The pure and simple altruism of a life of honor.  I want to be free of guile and agendas and angles.  I want to be genuine and honest.  But the attack on my mind is fierce.  "You are false.  You are a liar.  You are a poser.  Everything you do and are is fake."  I don't feel good and often wonder if I am good.

So to hear God say, "You're my boy...and you're a good boy" was like salve on a wounded son's soul.  I instantly felt relief and restoration.  Instantly.  The words were so clean and clear.  I needed them that day.  I need them every day.

There hasn't been a day since that I don't wake up in the morning and remind myself of God's words to me that night...

"Jason, you're my boy...and you're a good boy."

Thursday, May 04, 2017

A boy likes my daughter...

I was sitting by a boy at my daughter's soccer game last night.  He isn't just any boy, he is a boy that is interested in my daughter, you know, the one out there on the soccer field kicking a ball around.  So that changes things a little bit.

He was dropped off by his sister to the game and came early enough that Heidi hadn't met me there yet...so it was just me.  I saw him walking in front of the stands looking around and I wondered if he had the 'brass' to come sit next to me.  I turned away to make like I didn't notice he was even there, but out of my peripheral, I could see him making his way up the step to the row I was sitting in.

I turned to greet him and he said, "Hi, Mr. Holdridge."

Nobody calles me Mr. Holdridge, and when I say nobody I mean no body.  My dad is the only Mr. Holdridge I know.  I'm Jason.  But this boy's parents taught him the same thing my parents taught me: "You don't address adults by their first name even when they say you can."  Aly has told him before to just call me Jason, but he can't bring himself to do it.  I don't mind none.  Part of me feels the professional distance that I desire in this budding relationship demands this sort of posture.  I don't want to be friends with this boy just yet.  I want to be friendly, but not friends.

They aren't dating formally, but they do like each other.  I was born, but it wasn't yesterday, so I get what's going on.  I remember the semantics.  If our parents won't let us "go out" then we will just be "good friends". ;)  She has been to one of his lacrosse games and now he's coming to one of her soccer games.  He doesn't know a lick about soccer...that was clear after hearing a couple of his questions about what was going on out on the pitch.  He wasn't there for soccer.  He was there to see my daughter.

He's a nice boy.  A quiet boy, but nice.  Measured in his words, so measured he doesn't speak many.  I am the one who asks the questions and he merely answers my inquiries with short answers.  Let's just say the conversation doesn't flow.  I'm ok with that.  Like I said, I'm not looking for a buddy-buddy relationship with this guy.  He is, of coarse, interested in one of 'my girls".  I'm a little possessive, so I've got to protect my pride of lionesses.  I understand there will be a day when another man will come along and take one of my daughters away from me, but it's not going to be without a fight.  And when I say fight, I'm not talking about the "I-have-a-shotgun-under-my-bed" macho nonsense.  I'm talking about the fight for my daughter's heart.  I want to make sure that boy with fight to protect and pursue my daughters heart as I have for all these years.  I want to make sure he will fight for his own purity and honor to be deserving of what has been preserved in her all these years.  We have done our best to shield her and to guard her innocence, will he fight to do the same?  Will this young man fight for believed creeds instead of felt needs?  Will he love Jesus more than her?  I could go on, but this is the fight I have to see in any boy that wants the hand and heart of my daughter.

I realize she's a Sophomore.  I'm not expecting her or any boy who has the hots for her to have knowledge of things that only come with more age, but that is part of why I don't just release my daughters to their pursuers.  Until they understand the power of what they are messing with, they shouldn't be playing around with it.  I don't mind crushes...they are old enough to experience the superficial laws of attraction at a base level, but this is far different than understanding the deeper laws of love.  Love that transcends fluttery feelings and chooses hard things over expedience or convenience.  Love that has beliefs and boundaries that's aren't for sale, the non-negotiables.  Love that bows to truth instead of feelings.  Which begs the question, when does a young boy or girl understand and respect the preeminence of Truth?  There isn't a chronological age where one simply crosses over, but you can sense and see when a soul is bound to something deeper than feelings.  Something more than skin deep--something bone deep.

I could say more...but sitting next to this boy at my daughter's soccer game I found my mind contemplating all the layers of love.  I think it's ok and natural to "like" someone at that age.  I did.  I think it's ok to meet in the halls and text on the phone and attend each other's games.  It's natural...it's human nature.

But as a dad, I'm looking for a young man who has a growing love for the Heavenly Father of my daughter.  Not me.  Her Maker.  Her First Love.  The One who dances over her with singing.  The One who formed her in her mother's womb and fearfully and wonderfully fashioned her for a perfect purpose.

She will meet many boys that find her attractive; I'm looking for the young man who finds God exceedingly more attractive.  I pray for him today--whoever he is--that he will guard his heart and follow God's.

This is what goes on in my mind while I sit on the bleachers next to a kid who likes my girl.


Wednesday, May 03, 2017

10 false selves that can eclipse the pastor...

The 10 false selves that dismantle my identity and steal my joy:

Performer
From an early age, we are taught how to turn heads.  When we have a good performance we are affirmed and the drugs are released into our bodies like snorting cocaine.  We get addicted to affirmation that is directly traced back to the good performance.  The problem comes when you believe your performance translates into who you are and your worth.  When you succeed, you are liked and even loved, when you fail, you feel as though all that you’ve worked for is at risk.  Performance-based living is exhausting because you have to keep out-performing your last showing.  There’s always an encore, and eventually you’re just tired of putting on another performance for applause.  You want love apart from behavior and actions.

Pleaser
This trait is applauded early on in your childhood and rewarded with candy, hugs, and words of affirmation.  When you obey, adults are happy, and when they are happy, you are happy.  It crashes down like a house of cards when no matter what you do, you can’t make “that person” happy.  You try everything you know to do, and still there is that one disapproving shaking head or the silence that tells you that you didn’t cut it.  It can become so dominating that you can’t go on with life until that one person likes you again and you will do whatever it takes to fulfil their wishes.  It is a difficult balance because we were created to care about what people feel without always caring about what people think…see the thin line of insanity in that?  The desire to be liked is powerful and the pleaser just wants to make everyone happy and to know that no one has a negative view of them.  Coming to grips with the fact that you can’t please everyone is the only way to dig out of this dark ditch.  If everyone likes you, you probably have ceased being you along the way.

Perfectionist
The problem with this obsession is that it impresses people.  It gets you the grades, it gets you the grants, it gets you the resume, it gets you the job.  You don’t miss anything…you excel while others are left in the dust in a pack of mediocrity and ordinary.  Here’s where it starts eating your mind at night…you can’t stop thinking about how everything could be better if you had a little more time or a little different approach or a little better execution.  When you don’t hit your internal expectation, you beat the tar out of your soul and pay a penance that many don’t see.  The self-inflicted torture for missing the mark (perfect) starts will stealing sleep, then friends, then recreation, then joy.  It eventually creates a successful person that can’t relax and is controlling.  They know that non-anxious presence is what people are drawn to be around, but they are caught up in a way things need to be in order to relax…what they don’t know is things will never be the exact way they want them to be.  So they never truly relax.

Producer
Cranking out product.  This is the continual thirst of the soul bent on production.  What did we do that created something to speak for at the end of it all.  Did we accomplish anything?  Did we make something happen?  Is anything different than it was before we started?  After all is said and done, did I actually produce results.  Results are the primary gauge of value and worth.  It’s devastating to put all this time and energy into a project only to find that it didn’t lead to progress.  This kills the producer.  They live for outcome.  They want to see things going up and to the right.  They want to lay their head on the pillow knowing that all the fighting and sweating and moving actually meant something substantial and quantifiable.  They don’t want to simply feel better, they want to see things come to fruition…nothing else will satisfy.

Promoter
There is no end to marketing.  And at the end of the day, we are all selling something.  Selling ourselves, selling our business, selling our idea, selling our parenting style, selling Jesus (if I could be so bold to admit).  We are in a mode of building a brand that people find appealing and trustworthy.  We are putting out clickbait and trying to catch their attention from the vying voices and crying competition that dominates people’s lives.  It’s a war for people’s undivided attention and we are up against formidable foes that won’t be replaced without a fight.  So we double down and think of new ways to stimulate the soul and catch the eye.  Convincing people that you have a product that works is one thing, but if no one knows about it and tries it out, then the whole thing is a sinking ship.  So you have to hustle.  You have to let people know what’s coming, how great it is, how it will change their life, how they can’t miss it…you know, trigger phrases that yell from the rooftops, “Have I gotta deal for you!”  And when people come to your deal, you better deliverer on the deal.  If you don’t deliver, you lie and then die.  The promoter is fighting for market share and clicks and engagement.  It’s a cut-throat business. 

Planner
You can’t go anywhere if you don’t plan ahead.  Some people would call this person a futurist or a visionary, but whatever you call them, they are always trying to figure out how things need to be arranged and organized.  They live for order and for things to be prepared ahead of time.  They aren’t very present because they are always forecasting the future and envisioning what must take place in order for maximum coordination and cooperation.  It’s such a good trait and you can’t succeed without a good planner, but it’s annoying to always be thinking “what’s next” when you’re trying to engage “right now”.  You can’t be a planner without struggling a little bit with dwelling in the now.  It’s hard to not let your mind fast forward into what “could be” and “should be” if only…(blah, blah, blah).  It’s not uncommon for this person to be preoccupied and to wake up in the morning dreaming about how things are going to unfold in the third quarter of the Fall season or post-Easter or mid-summer.  They are constantly preparing for what doesn’t yet exist, yet will soon, and so much of their identity is wrapped up in hearing this phrase when their plans are eventually tested… “Man, you thought through this so well.  Way to pull this together and pull this off.”  They feed off this affirmation like a drug.

Pretender
You can’t be “on” all the time.  There are many days when what you’re doing is so far from what you’re feeling that you would wonder if you’re nursing a split personality.  You begin to project confidence without feeling any.  You posture yourself as one who is present, but you couldn’t be further from where you are in the moment.  You emit joy, you transmit optimism…yet in your heart you’re battling uncertainty and sadness.  It’s hard as a leader to be seen as the “beacon of help, hope, and happiness” when you’re experiencing precious little of it yourself, so you begin to pretend, often for the greater good.  But this takes a toll on the soul.  No doubt there are times for a person to rise up and dutifully forge forward regardless of feelings, but at some point you have to reconcile the disparity of the outside you and the inside you.  There will be a day of reckoning where you come to the crisis of who you really are.  Pretenders can keep up a charade for quite some time, so when they fess up to their true state of heart, others have a hard time believing the pretender isn’t the real them.  They share how that person changed their life or brought hope to the office or made them feel special or ushered in a new paradigm that saved everything.  It’s truly difficult to “let people down” and you can wonder if it’s worth it to shed the shell or to just manage the mirage.  The fact is that you can’t masquerade your whole life without serious fallout occurring at some point.

Presenter
When you represent the organization there is a rush in knowing that you are the face and voice of the cause.  You work hard in preparation for the shining moments of presentation.  It’s amazing how those few moments of standing in front of people and giving the charge really affects people and effects the credibility of the whole.  Perceived quality leads to consumer confidence…at least this is what they say in the business world.  I think, in part, it’s true. That is the world we live in.  So much stock is given to the quality and vulnerability and personability of what people experience when you step up to the mic and start sharing your heart.  People are watching and listening for strength or weakness.  And you know it…you can see them peering at you and there are times when it hits you: “They are actually listening to me.”  It’s kinda scary when you feel that you’re human and making up stuff from your own intuitions and instincts.  But you know what you need to feed the flock in order for them to feel secure and safe and satisfied.  If you’re not careful you can let 95% of what happens in obscurity that is all-important to slide while you dedicate all your time on ‘presentations’ that get more response and seemingly more respect.  But like anything else, if you’re not living the life, the presentation starts to be just that, a false impression that is no longer tethered to reality.  You trade being ‘present’ for being a ‘presenter’.

Programmer
Once you plan and know how you want to present yourself and your ideas, then you begin the hard work of programming the elements so that they land effectively in the heads and hearts of people.  This is where you start breaking down time frames and transitions for each component of a service so that it can begin feeling every bit as choreographed as a spring musical or play.  The last thing you want to be is a play-actor, but the demand of programming can make things feel premeditated and predetermined so much so that you feel like a cog in a wheel if you’re not careful.  This component is critical so that you don’t come to the moment and everything is awkward because no one thought through the details of how it was all supposed to work together.  So I’m not busting the chops of programming.  But there is something so soulless sometimes about charting everything out in advance and implementing the prescribed program.  Sometimes people can feel it, too.  They feel like they’ve been herded into a building and that everything is canned and overproduced.  They want it to breath and have room for spontaneous combustion to break out just so that it feels human instead of engineered.  Programming takes a massive amount of time and synchronicity, and often you wonder if it’s all worth the brain space and meeting space it takes up.  You can get lost in it.

Personality
We are in a personality culture.  Some call it a celebrity culture.  We are hero-worshippers and I’d love to say that spirit hasn’t crept into the church, but it has.  So many of the leadership books you read are less about strategy and more about personality modification to make you into a leader people want to follow.  People follow out-of-this-world, down-to-earth personalities.  Because of podcasts and online videos, we are constantly bombarded with the best and brightest thinkers, creators, and communicators.  We don’t want to compare ourselves, but it’s hard not to.  People are conditioned to demand high-performance, high-octane personalities.  They want you to be funny, yet thoughtful.  Creative, yet linear.  Progressive, yet traditional.  Relevant, yet reverent.  Strong, yet caring.  The elasticity of most people’s personalities are so stretched that in time you wonder who you really are.  “Who am I?” gets overshadowed by the question, “Who do you want me to be?”  It’s hard to throttle the constant pull to be more attractive, impressive and effective.  It’s hard to be ordinary and normal when it seems that everyone is used to a steady diet of awesome and phenomenal.  This is where you can lose heart.  And when you’ve lost heart, you’ve lost everything.
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These are my schizophrenic alter-egos that battle within me, jockeying for position day in and day out.  I hate them, I love them.  I owe my success to them; I owe my stress to them.  I want them to stay, I want them to go away.  I have a very conflicted and complicated relationship with each of these individuals.  Some speak of duplicity; I like the refer to it as multiplicity.  I could only dream of having a duality to my disposition.  I know this is something that will never go away, but somehow naming these dominant “persons” that live inside of me and whisper to me each day creates a first step in seeing my way clear of the claustrophobia that paralyzes me on a good many days.

I hope this helps me.  I hope this helps you.


Thank you, God, for the ability to think deeply about oneself.  This is the unique gift bestowed to humans.  May I never take for granted this wonderful attribute of self-inventory and self-discovering.