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Friday, April 07, 2017

"So I'm not crazy!"

I'm a preacher.  A mix of old fashioned and new fashioned.  The truth is I'm being fashioned in every new season of my life into the preacher God needs me to be to speak His truth to the world He loves so very much.

The fashion of speaking this past weekend was one that I was both nervous and excited about.  Nervous because I was going to rip open my chest cavity and let people see the inside-me, the guts me, the bloody mess me.  But I was also excited because it was being shard out of I Kings 19 and the confessions of one of my mentors, Elijah.

His confessions after his best day ever seemed pretty universal a few thousand years later and the permission they granted me to make my own pathetic confessions lead me to owe Elijah a debt of gratitude for "going first".

His confession under the broom bush...

1. I've had enough.
2. Take my life.
3. I'm no better than my ancestors.
4. I've been very zealous.
5. I am the only one.

I know as well as you that these confessions are just feelings.  But just because we know they weren't actually truth, it didn't make them any less true to Elijah.  That's the thing about confession, the feelings are true even if they aren't based on truth.  And you know what?  God loves to sit with us in those admissions and minister mercifully to us.

His response to Elijah's pity party under the broom bush?  "The journey has been too much for you."

About the last things you're waiting to hear come out of God's mouth after a day where he showered down blessings and bounty on Elijah the likes of which no one compares in the Scriptures.  If I were God I would have said: "What did you just say?  Don't you remember what I just did in you and through you yesterday?  Do you know how many people would die to have your life and all you can do is sit here and mope about wanting to die cause you've had enough?  Sheesh.  Maybe I will take you out, on second thought."  But I'm not God, thank God.  He is so full of compassion and patience.

After sharing a bit of Elijah's journey...I began to share my own story and the recent failures and faults in my own life.  Things that are embarrassing and ugly and downright difficult to admit out loud to anyone, really.

I shared that I was shedding some coping mechanisms that showed how I was coping with anger, disappointment, and shame.  I was overwhelmed and distracting myself from looking at my soul and getting eyeball to eyeball with God.  I knew I wasn't going to like what I saw, so I didn't want to look in the mirror.  So my life was filled with lesser lovers...

1. Alcohol - It had to go...completely.  And it was hard to let go.
2. Sleep - I'm talking about lazy sleep.  I was wanting to sleep life away to pass the heaviness of time.
3. Sports on Tv - I would come home on Sunday and watch football from 1:30pm to 12:30am...I didn't even care about the teams...I just stared in amusement at the spectacle of sports.
4. Netflicks - Don't even get me started on how much time to can waste here.
5. Politics - I was drawn into the drama almost every day checking in on the latest news and how everyone was acting and reacting.  Nuts.
6. Facebook - I had to deactivate my account.  My co-dependency was so bizarre that removing Facebook sent me into withdrawals like I was drying out from a cocaine addiction.  I still haven't recovered from the loss of connection I still feel to the world...or the perception of connection...I don't know what's even real.

As I shared with our church that God loved all of me, not just the stellar me, but the sad and pitiful me, I felt a freedom in the confession.  Oh, I also felt ashamed and exposed, but more free than anything.  As I was explaining how important confession and healing were to Elijah's power and effectiveness...I was trying to draw the conclusion that maybe, must maybe, that's the healthy life.  I told them that it was amazing to just admit my limitations and addictions instead of hide them...and to share how liberating it is to throw all that cargo overboard and trust that God is enough even if it doesn't feel like it at the time.

All the sudden, out of the back of the church in the last row, a guy yelled: "So I'm not crazy!"

At first I didn't hear him, so I asked, "What was that?"

He yelled it again: "So I'm not crazy!"  The people murmured.

I spoke directly to him, "No, brother, you're not crazy.  The fact is that the better part of this crowd here today is working through this stuff on a regular basis."  A sigh of relief came over the place as if to let out all that they'd been holding in for years.

I'll never forget that day.  It's a preacher's dream, honestly.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Beauty and the Beast...

The sun in shining through the window.  It's the first day of Spring.  The temperature is somewhere close to the 50's and you can almost feel winter relenting, which it doesn't do in the state of Michigan.   Winter is diehard in these here parts.

But today it feels like breakthrough.  I don't know why it does, but I look out the window on this late Monday afternoon and something just feels to be busting loose from the cords of death outside.  Even when I just walked out on the back deck, my nostrils were filled with the aroma of thawing earth.  I love that smell.  Nothing is budding yet.  There is little to no green, but something fresh is afoot.  It feels like breakthrough.

But I have to be honest...the feeling could be connected to something else that my family has been looking forward to for a long time.  I should say Heidi, myself, and the girls.  Tonight, we are dropping off the boys and heading to the movies to see "Beauty and the Beast".  I know, you might think that's cheesy, but when you have little girls who grew up on the classic animation, this is an epic night for the Holdridge's.  Kami is 17, Aly is 15, and Taylor is 13...a far cry from the little munchkins they once were, but they still love the Disney classics.  Aly listens to the soundtracks while she takes showers and sings along..."Tale as old as time..."  So they have been looking forward to this.

And here's the deal...I have been, too.  Beauty and the Beast is by far my favorite Disney animation with the greatest musical numbers ever I'm not going begrudgingly.  This is going to be a special night for us.  I like special nights.  As the years go on, I am more and more aware that they become further and further apart in proximity.  It's sad, but it makes you appreciate them more.

So tonight, on the first day of Spring, I feel so blessed to be alive and to spend time with my precious girls.  The boys just wouldn't get it, so we're farming them out to Ronnie and Judy this evening, which is cool, cause every now and then, I love to be with just the girls.  It's nostalgic.  It's romantic.

Thank you, God, for my wonderful life.

Friday, March 17, 2017

I like grace...

I got a cute text from Heidi a few days ago.  Our dialogues with the boys offer a goldmine of things to write about these days.

This text came from my wife on Tuesday morning...

"Caleb woke up and came down with the spatula in his hand.
Me: Why do you have the spatula in you hand?
Caleb: It was in my room.
Me: Oh, did you get a spanking last night?
Caleb: No, but I was supposed to get one and you want to know why I didn't get one?"
Me: Why?
Caleb: Dad showed me Grace. I like Grace.😂"

I wasn't sure he comprehended the concept the night before when I was explaining it to him.  We had left someone else's house and he was throwing a hissy fit like usual and I told him when we got home he was getting a spanking.  Like any parent with a brain full of things to think about, I totally forgot that I said that and by the time we got home and I was putting the boys to bed, I was surprised to see the spatula in his hand as he sat on his bed.  I actually had completely forgotten that I was going to discipline him.

"Me: Dude, you can't take that to bed with you.
Caleb: I'm not, I got it from the kitchen so that you could spank me.
Me: Oh, that's right.  You deserve to get spanked after tonight, don't you?
Caleb: Yeah.
Me: What did you do tonight that was wrong?
Caleb: Threw a fit.
Me: Yep.  But guess what I'm going to do tonight?
Caleb: What?
Me: I'm going to show you grace?
Caleb: What's grace?
Me: Well, it's basically you deserving to get a spanking but me deciding to offer you mercy by not giving you one.
Caleb: What's mercy?
Me: It's a lot like grace.
Caleb: I know a girl named Grace.
Me: Yeah, but that's not what we're talking about here.  I'm going to not spank you even though you deserve it....that's grace.
Caleb: (Big Smile)...Hey, Josh!  I'm getting Grace and not getting spanked!
Me: Now go to bed and don't climb the walls or I'll kiss grace goodbye and use the spatula."

I wasn't positive he got a blessed thing out of that exchange until Heidi text me the next morning.  But he's a sharp kid and gets more than I give him credit for.

There's something about Grace.

I find as I get older that I need more of it and that I have a harder time receiving it.  I don't mind giving it, but for some reason I recoil when God or anyone else gives me grace.  I have developed of habit along the way of wanting to pay penance for my transgressions.  I want to be punished for my failure.  I want to be yelled at and penalized for my mistakes.  I'm not sure why this is my preference...though I believe in the power and need for grace theoretically.

Mostly where I hear and experience the most merciless and graceless treatment is in my own mind.  If you didn't know it was my own brain assaulting me and I told you that someone else was saying these words, you would say it was abusive.  You would call it a hate crime.  You would say it was pure evil.  My mind turns against me and pummels me like a bandit.

"You're such a fake...a fraud."
"Nobody likes you."
"Everyone is going to leave you."
"Everything is going to fall apart and then you are."
"You're not going to make it."
"You're in over your head."
"Your motives are always wrong."
"You're a liar."
"You're a horrible father.  You're kids are going to hate you someday."
"You're wife deserves someone better than you."
"People are bored of your preaching.  You've got nothing to say."
"Blah, blah, blah..."

Listen, I could go on and on.  I really could.  Words of disgrace flow freely; words of grace are hard to come by.

I can give love.  I struggle to receive love.
I can give help.  I wrestle to receive it.
I can give mercy.  I resist receiving it.

I want to get the spanking.  I want to feel the pain and receive the just punishment for my actions.  I don't want anyone letting me off the hook or taking it easy on me.  I don't want a free pass or an easy out.  I want to pay the price for my peccadillo.  It feels so responsible, but it's actually pride.

There are times when I can feel the power of grace and let it in.  Those are moments of beauty and life and peace and freedom.

There are times that a big smile fills my face and I say with Caleb, "But guess what?  Dad showed me grace.  I like grace."

Friday, March 10, 2017

I went to counseling...

I guess in some ways it sneaks up on you and in other ways it's been nagging you for God knows how long.  My soul talks to me every day and most of the time I talk back.  But my soul never yells or screams at me, so sometimes I don't pay attention to it since the other voices are so much louder and seem so much more urgent.

But a couple Saturday Nights ago after I spoke in church, I cracked.  It was honestly the most scaring moment I've had speaking in front of people because I felt so far away from myself and every one else in the room.  So far from God and the words he wanted me to share.  So distant and detached.  It was torture to plow through the message while feeling so bereft of life myself.  I didn't try to fake it, I actually told the people that I wasn't in a good place and that I felt the words I would be sharing were far from what and where I was living, but that I would, like them, have to set myself aside and just let His Word speak it's peace.  So I let my mouth be the conduit.  But it was weird.  Really, really not good.

I came home and Heidi could tell I was imploding.  She was talking but I couldn't even form words to express what was happening inside me.  All I knew to say was that I was cracking, that life had finally gotten to me and I couldn't overcome and bounce back.  I tried to conquer the thoughts and feelings days prior in hopes of climbing out of it by the time the weekend rolled around, but it actually was getting worse by the hour.  This isn't normal.  I was truly unable to pull myself out of it and yet the prospect of speaking 4 times that weekend in this feeble state was staring my right in the face and I couldn't escape the responsibility I had to preach even though I was totally obliterated within.  I guess this is bound to happen over the course of a pastor's ministry, but in my 20 years of ministry, it's the first time it happened with this torrential force.  

The only way to describe the feeling is that I was far, far away inside from the goings on of my surroundings.  My words felt like someone else was saying them and my presence felt like a ghost I was watching from across the room.  I was emotionally and spiritually fractured, and I couldn't hide it, nor was I trying to at this point.

As Heidi probed into my heart that Saturday Night, she could tell this was different than being down or having a rough night, this was altogether different.  She called our counselor that we hadn't seen for a few years and left a message on his voice mail: "Hey, this is long overdue probably, but we really need to get into see you as soon as we can.  Jason is not in a good place and we'd really love to get in to see you if you could make some time."  As I listened to her do what I feel on the other side of most of the time with people, I felt even more naked and ashamed.  Not only was I cracking inside, but we were those desperate people needing help in the late hours of the night.  I didn't want to burden anyone with my life.  I wanted to be alone and stay out of the limelight in hopes of finding my way back to the path.  But I knew this time was different.  It wasn't a matter of getting off track, I had lost my sense of orientation.  Meaning, I didn't know where the track was to even begin walking toward it.  Life had so gutted me and the weight of the world so crippled me that I was unable to imagine a way out, a way forward.

My will power was depleted.  My desires deadened.  My own soul's voice muted.  I was terrified and trapped.  My mind was being assaulted with thoughts of doom and dread at every turn.  I couldn't stop myself from seeing every aspect of my life through the lens of inevitable destruction.  When I say the phrase - "a mind of it's own" - I actually felt like apart from me, my mind was taking on a life all it's own and I was being drug through ditches of despair mentally which were torturing me so violently that my energy was being extracted from my body/being faster than I could replenish.  For every positive thought I forced myself to consider, 100's of paralyzing thoughts rushed in like bandits and swallowed up the good thought and ate it for dinner.  I felt my body go limp and my mind check out in surrender to the swarming killer bees that kept stinging me over and over and over again.  The only thing I could say to Heidi was, "I can't do this."  I wasn't talking about marriage, family, ministry, or anything specific really..."this" was a generic term for the way life was ravaging me from within.

I'll spare you the details for now, but after a few days we finally got into the counselor's office and began to walk through the quagmire of my inner world.  The counselor cried before I did.  I wondered if he had seen my face before plastered on some else's body, but he took a good look at me and his eyes filled with tears as he tried to begin to put into words what he was sensing was tormenting me.  Most of what he said was spot on.  It felt so good to see him justify my feelings by saying with his tears, "You live in a war zone in your job.  It's bound to eat you alive at some point.  This makes sense.  You're not alone."  At one point he mentioned the term PTSD and his description of it felt on point even though I've always associated that with wounded warriors or vets who come home from distant places having seen and experienced such inhumane things that their souls are torn asunder and fragmented into so many pieces that they just can't put themselves back together after what they have been through.  I would never put myself in that league of PTSD, but I do know that I experience things that do something violent to my mind...I try to fight off the memories that now serve to constantly remind me of imminent death and disaster, even though the war is over and I'm far from the mind is still there with adrenaline coursing through my veins like I'm on the precipice of life and death.

The last few months I've felt as if I'm being chased by an ax murderer almost all day long.  But on the outside, I'm not...things are relatively peaceful.  I imagine it's like a soldier who returns from war and hears a sound while he's getting cereal in aisle 6 and instinctively and instantly is transported back to a moment of sheer terror.  Aisle 6 is what everyone else is in as they grab their oatmeal and grits, but this guy is fighting unspeakable, untold wars in his head as people are moving about him checking things off their grocery list.  He is hyperventilating, heart racing with fight or flight emotions, mind constructing every possible worst-case scenario and trying to construct an escape plan...a survival plan.  This is just me trying to explain what seems ineffable.  It's so stupid, I know.  But I have to fight for what I know to be my experience though I lack an explanation still for this madness within.  

The counselor seemed to have been battle tested himself.  He wasn't giving me answers, but he was giving me words to explain my plight.  He wasn't unlocking secrets to help me escape, but he was decoding some of the hieroglyphics that were covering the walls of my heart.  I felt heard...and that helped.  We will meet again and keep trying to unpack this overwhelming stuff that suffocates me on a good many days.

I look forward to a more long term approach to being counseled.  I'm not just going to rush recovery this go around.  As a pastor, I feel as though I've lifted myself out of these deep places too many times before stopping short of discovering the deep sources of my turmoil.  I know God wants to meet me in the mess and speak softly to my soul about what's really going on and where it comes from and what He feels about me.  I don't need self-help books or easy answers...I need to stay in this long enough to give God a chance to speak and my soul a chance to speak.  I don't want to talk over them this time because I have too much to do/be to be "down".  I don't know how long this will go on, but I'm ok with staying in it for as long as it takes to finding deep and true healing.  So I will wait on the Lord...

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

12 Step Recovery from James 4...

James’ 12 Step Recovery Program:

1.   Willingly admit that I have avoided the root-causes and have blamed the side-effects which have led to my present disorientation and desperation.

James 4:1a - What causes fights and quarrels among you?

2.   Come to realize that there is--and always has been--a fierce battle inside of me between my flesh and my spirit for the control of my life.

James 4:1b - Don’t they come from your own desires that battle within you?

3.   Recognize that most of my inner turmoil is born out of disappointment due to unmet needs and unfulfilled expectations—right or wrong.

James 4:2a - You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight.        

4.   Begin to acknowledge that my anger at God for not helping me out stems from wanting many good things for bad reasons—wrong motives.

James 4:2b-3a - You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives.

5.   Admit the cyclical pattern of how I have taken God’s blessings and abused them on my own personal pleasure to temporarily medicate my emptiness.

James 4:3b - You spend what you get on your own pleasures.

6.   Own up to the fact that I have rejected God’s desire for a monogamous relationship and have kept cheating on Him with other gods to cope with my crap.

James 4:4 - You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God?

7.   Quit interpreting God’s jealousy for me as an unrealistic demand meant to trap me and begin seeing it as a reasonable desire of relationally healthy love.

James 4:5 - Do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? 

8.   Come to understand that God is thwarting my proud attempt to create my own reality apart from truth--and this is for my ultimate good.

James 4:6b - God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.

9.   Humbly choose to submit to God’s desires and to break soul ties with the devil who I have allowed to rule and rob me.

James 4:7 - Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

10. Accept Jesus’ invitation to draw near to him by washing my hands of my Rebel-self and my heart of my False-self.

James 4:8 - Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

11. Rid myself of the fake feelings I’ve hidden behind for so long and finally let myself lament over the injury I’ve endured and caused…to leave behind the poser and begin to change.

James 4:9 - Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.

12. Finally, trust that a life of humble submission to God’s Love will lift me from now on and that I don’t need to lift myself, hate myself, or medicate myself anymore.

James 4:10 - Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. 

The Rebar of Recovery
James 4:6a – But He gives more grace…

Grace says, “I’ll never quit on you while I’m fighting against you for you.  And just in case you wondered, you can’t exhaust me.  There’s plenty more where that came from. Relax, I’m not going anywhere.”
Man is born broken. He lives by mending.
The grace of God is the glue. - Eugene O'Neill

Friday, March 03, 2017

Prayed over by my dad...

Last weekend something cracked inside me.

I would say the pressure on the faulty dam was months in the making, years really, but I finally fractured internally on Saturday Night.

I'm 42 and have been "making up" my mind and constructing my life ever since I hit the age of accountability...and formatively even before that in the nurturing years when I was being formed and forged without my conscious knowing.  As I've thought about what I've made of myself over the years, I see my mother's family tree in me more than my father's.  If the Lavin heritage was grafted into the Holdridge heritage when my dad was wedded to my mom, I was spawned with a spirit that took on the nature of the Lavin is stronger in my nature so to speak.

I see more of my Grandpa in myself than I see my dad.  My dad is so solid and simple and steady.  He is content with life and very much ok with the basics.  He trusts and obeys without a second thought.  He doesn't over-think things and spends little time fretting the past or fearing the future.  He is consistent and constant.  Those virtues are laudable and things I lean on and have learned from over the years, but I struggle to emulate them.

My Grandpa was born in 1915 and moved here from Spain with his parents.  He learned to survive the streets of New York City before he knew any better or worse.  It was what it was.  He made a way for himself with his own will power and work ethic.  He was driven and clawed his way to success with the fibers of his own taut muscles.  If he was deficient, he would learn what he was missing and actively pursue mastery of that very thing.  If he would hit an impasse, he would find a way to overcome.  He was going to win.  He was going to make something of himself.  He wasn't into pity.  He wasn't into regrets.  He wasn't into charity.  He was into self-made conquest.  He was more than a conqueror.

He worked the streets selling papers as a newsy.  He worked the docks lying about his age to make a wage.  He would get into fights with kids and take his licks, but he would learn from them so that the next time them they messed with him he would know their weaknesses and exploit them.  If they were strong, he would be fast.  If they were fast, he would be smart.  If they were smart, he would me strong.  He adapted, figured stuff out, and overcame. He scraped in the streets to survive the elements and was always looking for ways to find a crack in the wall to slip through.  If he couldn't find one...he would scale the wall and get over it.  If he wanted to get into Madison Square Garden to watch a boxing match, he would weasel his way in between towering adults and slip through the ticket takers.  He was a dreamer.  He was a schemer.  He was going to win.  Eventually or inevitably.  He would find a way to get to the top and be the king of the mountain.  Others might have been better, but he was grittier...he would outwit the better and become the best.  He fought his way from the bottom and hustled his way to the top.

By the time he was 42, he was angry and an alcoholic.  Functional enough to keep up appearances with everyone and everything outside the home (charming, really), but behind closed doors, he was cracking and looking for relief for his manic manhood.  He had a wife and three children.  One of those children was my mom and she watched his pursuit of perfection turn on him.  The let down of reality compared to his alternate reality left a gap...a gapping hole, really.  That gap is something that grates on the soul.  It makes you hate makes you hate other people, the variables that they are...I makes you hate the violent machine that is life. (But now I'm imposing myself on the story).

Suffice it to say, I'm like Al Lavin, the Spaniard.  The driven accelerant that makes things happen.  But as my false self and my real self war within, I grew up in a home very unlike my grandfather.  I grew up knowing that we "trust God", we "obey God", we "please God", we "love God", we "worship God", we "submit to God"...when any other vice seeks to replace finding our solace and serenity and security in Him, we shout them down and run to Him.  He is our all in all.  He is our peace.  He is our portion, our deliverer, our strong tower, our shield, our buckler...all of our fountains are found in Him as the Psalmist posited.  Yet these things are spiritual...and by that I mean, spirit.  Unseen, Unsensed on some days, unheard, and unfelt.  We know them and receive them "by faith" to use Bible-speak.  We walk by faith, not by sight. - 2 Cor. 5:7  So yeah, same anger, same let downs, same hurts, same poser, same gap between expectations and experience, same disappointments, same crippling unknowns, same fears closing in, same uncertainties that used to seem so certain, same core emotions as any atheist born onto this cruel and corrupt planet who didn't ask to be here, but can't do anything about it.  So you make your way forward until "it hits you".

What hits you?  I don't know yet.  I can't only refer to it as "it".  I suppose it's a keen realization of your limitations, your waning energy, your insufficiencies and the realization that though everyone thinks you're indomitable and know some secret they don't, you are going with your best intuitions and "making it up".  Your choice could be wrong.  Your take could be flawed.  And here's where I'll refer back to the aforementioned "it"...I am often wrong and I'm certainly flawed.  To think otherwise is insanity, but a certain insanity ensues the minute you realize your construct is simply your construct.  I have framed my life a certain way to survive and thrive.  But it is just my fragile's not gospel truth and much of it is--at best--my version of truth whether that is good or bad on this day or that.  Then you look around you and realize, everyone is doing this.  I often wondered what I loved about the movie called The Truman Show, and it's becoming more evident by the hour.  I would say by the day, but I'm being undone in hour intervals.  Undone in the sense of deconstruction, not destruction.  Life (or God) is dismantling my self-constructions.  My versions.  My frameworks.  My paradigms.  He is patiently peeling me apart layer by layer, hour by hour.

But let me climb out of the wormhole for a moment and address the reason I titled this blog "Prayed over by my dad".  Last night, I stumbled and stammered as I explained to my dad over the phone what was occurring inside my psyche, the undoing as I called it.  At first I was trying to convince him that just because I have gifts and success, that I am also a fragile and fractured man in need of assurance and a basic remembrance of the simple truths that have become platitudinal over the years.  He began to talk to me about trusting God and resting in Him and I let him talk.  When I sensed a pause, I tried to share my personal distance from these Christian virtues....they are currently dead to me, not because I don't desire them with all my being, but because I can't seem to be moved by them when I evoke them.  They are close to me, and so far away.

I then attempted to utter words to explain my inner confusion and collisions of thought.  What a fractured interior life feels like and looks like.  I did my best to invite him into my struggle trying to pry him away from my blessings and my achievements and my current success...even his pride in me and what I've done with my life.  As time when on I could hear him breathing as I poured out my heart.  I was conscious to not overwhelm him in this season of his life with my disorientation, but part of my orientation is found in his voice.  Somehow I still believe in the power of the father's voice.  If Jesus needed it, how could I need be fearfully desperate to hear him speak over me.

And without my asking, he asked if he could pray for me.  I wanted it more than my next breath.  I heaved as I knelt by my bed and he spoke to God on my behalf.  There is a "prayer voice" that my dad usually has that is different than his human voice.  It is learned from pulpiteers and is put on.  For one of the first times in my life, he didn't employ that voice.  It was the voice of my human dad praying for his human son about my human condition with his human emotions given expression by his human words.  And yet, it was more than human, because we were talking by faith, in spirit, to the Unseen God.  Dad wasn't asking for anything pie-in-the-sky, he was entering my world and pleading for my relief.

As I knelt by my bed in Lowell, MI and he prayed from his apartment in Pontiac, MI...I cried as I listened.  His voice said to God, "Jason is my boy, and he is a good boy."  As he finished his prayer he said, "Jason, you probably don't feel like anything you do is ever done, but you need to hear 'well done' and know that you're doing well and being faithful."  I drank in his words as he shared that he and my mom love me very much, unconditionally.

As I hung up, wiped the tears off my face, and stood up to blow my nose in the bathroom, I moved back into the business of living life.  I feel like a little boy starting over again.  Maybe that isn't all that bad.

Friday, February 17, 2017

I went to Celebrate Recovery...

Last night I was invited to share my testimony at the Celebrate Recovery group that meets at our church.  It's very similar to AA in its format, but instead of a higher power and the Big Book, it it is an atmosphere that speaks of Jesus as God and the Bible as the book we lean into ultimately.  (Just so you know, I think AA is powerful and has a place in society that is so important.  The majority won't go to church and if Jesus and the Bible came into the picture directly, they would run for the hills.  So just know, I'm an AA fan.)

It's sorta strange on the one hand going to CR to share my hurts, hangups, habits that are in need of recovery since I'm the lead pastor.  It's not weird for me, but I think it's often weird for others to imagine that I have dark thoughts and deep wounds and depressed feelings and demented perspectives that are toxic.  Not just once in a while, but on a regular basis.  I require repentance and recovery and restoration like anyone else.  I have my junk.  I have my embarrassing moments.  I have my skanky skeletons.

The meeting started and a man stood up to read through the "steps" of recovery and we read them aloud.  There is a solidarity even with strangers as you admit your life is unmanageable apart from the realization that you need God.  There is a peace in confessing your fragility and brokenness in unison with men and women that are there precisely because they are needy.  Many of them have nowhere to go but up they are so low.  I stood there finding solace in an atmosphere created to give everyone permission to take off the mask and tell it like it is not as we wished it was.

After we worked through the steps and prayed, I was introduced.  I wasn't introduced as Pastor Jason or the Lead Pastor of the church we were sitting in...I was just introduced as Jason who had a story to tell all his own about his journey toward recovery.  I was a person there, not a pastor.  I wasn't there to preach; I was there to come clean.  My identity was my name and the story it represented.  Without further ado I was standing in front of maybe 20 people or so sharing my struggles and stressors.  I shared my escapes and my numbing agents.  I shared my deep need for redemption and how desperate my situation was, is, and will always be but for God's patient and passionate love for me rescuing me from me every moment of every day.  I told them things that I haven't even told some of my closest friends or extended family.  The environment almost pulled stuff out of me that I hadn't considered myself until that very moment.  It's funny how humans can assess very quickly their habitat and what that surrounding will allow either grants permission to "go there" or to "stay there".  My spirit lurched forward as fellow strugglers nodded their head in agreement and affirmation almost as if to say, "Been there...done that."

After I shared my story in front of the whole group we split up into a men's group and the women went their way.  We started by introducing ourselves and some of the guys started their introduction by saying, "My name is so and so and I'm a grateful child of God who struggles with such and such."  Guy after guy started with that same line. "A grateful child of God".  There is honesty and then there is HONESTY.  There is sharing and then there's SHARING.  This went deep quick.  Nothing to hide. Nothing to lose.  Nothing to fear.  Here I am warts and all.

I found such safety in the presence of brokenness.  Some shared about addictions to sex, alcohol, or drugs.  Some confessed battles with depression, anxiety and paranoia.  Others talked about wrestling with being controlling, angered, and resentful.  No stuttering or just poured out almost unpremeditated and unmediated.  I'm not used to that.  It makes you want more of that in life.  There is such freedom in the presence of freedom.  Maybe that's why Paul says in Galatians 5:1 - "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free."  The reason is also the destination.  The hope is also the help.

I've been toying with the idea that I may need that group in my life.  They don't need me as much as I need them.  I need a place of unadulterated truth where the shell is shed and the soul escapes the trappings of pleasant presentation.

I'm a broken man in constant need of recovery.

Friday, January 20, 2017

A Vulnerable Leader and a conversation with Aly...

A couple days ago, Aly got home from school and I was in my bedroom writing an email and just finishing up the last couple hours of the day, closing loops and ironing out details.  I looked at her and waved her into the bedroom to lay next to me and tell me about her day.

This isn't unusual.  Usually we'll ask how their day was, but today was going to be different.

She said that she was scheduling classes for next year and began to cry when she was in the hall at school.  She was making light of it as she told me, but as she laid next to me, I asked her why she was crying.  To make a long story short, we began to talk about the gift of ambition and the curse of perfectionism.  I was trying to let her know that performance and people-pleasing would kill her if she didn't make room for failure in her life.  As I was talking to her, I had a flashback to my past and the formation of my soul, my story.

I decided to share how seeds sown in my early years don't actually grow and show their beautiful or ugly fruit until later on in life, but make no mistake, they will bear their fruit in time.

As I shared about the seed of pornography and the times of exposure throughout my childhood into my teens, I began going to a new place with her sharing details and textures of the story that I had left out until she was "of age".  There was a point where I began to cry revisiting the wounds and the ways the Enemy was seeking to take me out even before I got started.  I was trying to share with her how Satan isn't interested in causing a collapse this week, or next year, he is very patient.  It's actually his most scary quality in my opinion.  He is in no rush.  I told her that he might be hatching a plan to take her out when she was 36 and she finally cracked and had a mental breakdown.  Perfectionism seems to get you good grades and great grants and amazing it's easy to see it as a positive trait that affords you great rewards and awards.  But the underbelly of the matter is that it seeks to ultimately destroy you.

Anyway...I digress.

I just wanted to say that sharing stories with my girls and listening closely to their stories is where truth is best transferred and transmitted.  It can bring transformation where there is the threat of deformation.

After I shared my story, Aly shared a story she had never told me...a very private and embarrassing area of sin she battles with.  She cried with a mix of shame and freedom.  I was as precious a moment as we've every experienced together.  It's amazing how story softens the conscience and creates pockets of possibility, possibility because of a permission that is granted in the telling of one's story.  Story begets story.

She said something to me about summer camp last year that I will never forget.  She said that she told her counselor that she wanted to be a "Vulnerable Leader" and that she felt that she wasn't being that in her life because she wanted to appear more together than she really was.  I loved her is my desire.  To be a vulnerable leader.

It's a moment I'll never forget.  Thank you God for these precious gifts of life in it's purest form.  Edenic.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Preparation that leads to Presence...

It happened in a meeting.  That's a miracle in and of itself.

I was sitting there and we were working through/talking through how to plan well and to sync up teams for maximum efficiency. You know, organizational structure and team dynamics.  All that mojo and mumbo jumbo that you need to be a successful leader running a successful enterprise.

Then our Worship Pastor said something that seemed, at first, counter-intuitive.

"I find the more prepared I am the more present I am."

Preparation has often been associated with anything but presence in my experience.  I sometimes get frustrated in conversations when we're spending all this time thinking about the future and how to make sure we're prepared for it when it becomes the present.  While I'm in the meeting thinking about the possible variables of the future I don't feel present...I feel like I'm living elsewhere, transporting myself to a place and time "not yet" but "soon to be".  As we prepare, I feel like I'm living ahead of myself.  But maybe this isn't so bad.

Maybe an ounce of preparation leads to a pound of presence.

If I can spare a minute of planning, is it possible that I will experience an hour of being comfortable in my skin when the 'time comes'?  The more I've thought about it, I've seen that preparation and presence weren't in conflict with each other....quite the contrary.

As I evaluated the source of most of my stress that causes me to zone out in the present, it's questions about who's at their post and whether we've talked through certain details enough.  It's the unnerving feeling that we are shooting from the hip on 34% of the service and though I'm all for spontaneous combustion, I've learned that productive spontaneity comes out of freedom.  And freedom is birthed from presence...and presence is birthed from--you guessed it--a relaxation that things have been thought through and talked through and worked through in advance so I don't have to experience a pinched nerve in the moment.  Good preparation leads to non-anxious presence.

I've been observing this truth weekly.  From both sides.  When things are marked out and planned out, I have experienced the joy and liberation of being fully alive in the moment.  When things are unprepared and last-minute, I've experienced the twisted intestines and uptightness that accompanies the risk of life-mismanagement.  There are times it works out just fine, but you won't know that, because the whole time you're tighter than a snare drum.  There isn't a coordination and cooperation that you trust, so you're a ball of nerves.  It's sad, too.

Cause the most presence gift you could give someone is your presence, your full attention and affection.  No distraction, no disturbance.  Simple, pure presence.  When I'm not just in the room with people, but I'm in my skin while I'm in the room, there is a difference to that kind of experience.  In fact, being present trumps a good presentation every single time.  I've listened to stellar presentations and walked away unmoved because I didn't feel a connection in my spirit to the presenter.  Connection occurs when the person presenting doesn't appear to be lost in a liminal space, but is locked into life, pregnant with possibility pulsating about him/her.  I find myself in a "suspense of disbelief", as it's called in the movies, when you literallyforget you're in a movie or a lecture or a conference or a conversation.  You are so caught up in the moment that you forget the one you just came from and the one you're about to go into.  This happens when you've already worked through as many best-case and worst-case scenarios 'ahead of time'...this gives oneself the best opportunity to be one's best self in any given moment.

Things can go off the rails.  Unplanned things can occur leaving you scrambling to improvise calling audibles like Peyton Manning.  But by and large, things go according to plan when you plan and you're left to have the space to be present.  The alternative is that you're always absent even when you're there.  Absent presence repulses anything alive or seeking life.  But present presence, well, this is the glory of God experienced through the image of God.

That is what I long for.  Preparation that unleashes presence.

Friday, January 06, 2017

Questions at Bedtime with Taylor...

I was lying in Tay’s bed as we talked a bit before she hit the hay.  The older she gets it’s easier for our conversation to get predictable with an anticipated litany of questions and answers.

“How was your day?”… “Good.”
“You doing good?”… “Yeah.”
“What did you do today?”… “Nothing much.”
“Anything happen at school?”… “Nope.”
“Well, it’s Friday tomorrow!”… “I know.”

Cue a few seconds of silence followed by me asking, “Did your mom pray for you yet or do you want me to pray for you?”  (She can’t go to sleep unless one of us prays for her.  It doesn’t matter what the prayer is, mind you, so long as we say ‘Dear Heavenly Father’ in the beginning and ‘In Jesus Name, Amen’ at the end.  It’s part of her little bedtime ritual that eases her mind as she works through the formula of emotional calculus that relaxes her spirit so she can fall asleep.)

Alright, this is ok.  All these interactions are fine—for a time. 

But you can begin to tell when human interaction has turned into robotic transaction as if you’re doing automated banking.  No need for a teller…it’s all about punching in key codes and passwords…no need for spirited spontaneity.  I hate when anything human moves from meaningful to mechanical.

But something happened a couple nights ago that surprised me.  I happened upon it by accident, but I think there something I stumbled upon that might be helpful to others.  It happened in the middle of our little bedtime ritual and didn’t really start as a big deal.

One thing that Taylor does as we lay in bed talking is play with my hand that I hold up in the air.  She has always done this since she was little.  She will find whichever hand is closer to her, usually my left hand since my right arm is under her neck as she is laying on her back, and she will grab my fingers, turning my wedding ring, placing her palm up against my palm, draping her fingers in between mine, etc.  I’m not sure what it is, but she is very tactile at bedtime and feels more comfortable carrying on with conversation when she is dilly-dallying with my hand.  I love it…it’s one of those things that makes her unique.

While we were mindlessly flying through our Question and Answer marathon, something occurred to me while I looked at my hand as she was doing something that appeared like she was counting the tips of my fingers back and forth from my thumb to my pinky and vice versa.  Remember, she’s talking to me while she’s doing this, but as I peered at her playing with my hand, I distinctly saw my 5 fingers.

Then a nothing/something hit me.  I say nothing/something because when you have a harebrained idea, it might turn out to be a conversational cul-de-sac like many of my creative attempts to gin up something meaningful with my kids. (they make fun of me and I have many wounds I nurse regularly from them poking fun at my failed experiments with emotional/conversational connection…hahaha!)

Anyway…back to my hand.

For some reason I looked at my 5 fingers and decided to ask her 5 questions pointing to each of my digits for her to see so that she knew where we were at in the “question progression”. Tay is very linear.  She wants to know where we’re at and where we’re going.  It relaxes her to have that knowledge.  So I pointed at my fingers and let the extemporaneous experiment begin…

“Tay, I want to ask you five questions about five words, OK?”

She looked at me stunned that I would veer off the automated autobahn we were cruisin’ down at breakneck speed.  She knew we were heading into uncharted, unchartered territory, but responded with a hesitant, “Sure.”

“I’m going to point at my finger and ask you how things are going in regard to that one word I choose?”  My mind was thinking about negative emotions or attributes that she may or may not be affected by.  She stared at my thumb as I pursed my lips thinking about my first question. Here goes nothing…

“Have you been feeling fearful about anything lately?”

She thought for a second and swiftly responded, “uhhh…nope.”

“No fear?”

“Not that I can think of….that’s been good.”

There were two things that went through my brain in a nanosecond. (I didn’t want to pause too long and create fear through the power of suggestion.  I’m serious.  This kid is sharp as a tack.)  I acted like it didn’t phase me and proceeded to ask what I would call a “Thesaurus Follow Up Question” switching the key words with less alarming words that culturally lead to less alarming reactions.

“Ok, no fear…that’s awesome.  What about worry…have you been worrying about anything?”

Bam…she burst with several things that were causing feelings of worry.

I was in the vault.  You don’t get in the vault that often the older they get.

Who would have known that Fear and Worry could lead to two different responses? As she talked about areas of worry, she wasn’t aware that she was talking about areas of fear, but for some reason it felt less threatening to her to use that word instead of the other.  She spoke of anxiety and worry and nervousness, but not fear.  That’s fine for me, so long as we’re talking about the same core emotion using different synonyms.  Words don’t matter to me as much as the emotions they are seeking to express.  I knew we were talking about fear, but she didn’t, and it was all about a word choice.  Semantics.

I pointed to my index finger for question #2 and she grabbed it like a newborn baby waiting for number 2 out of 5.

“Have you felt any bitterness towards anyone lately?”

Again, her response was almost instantaneous. “No, I don’t think so. No.”

I thought to myself, Either I have a saint for a child or she is scared of that word and what it would imply of her.  I dug through my mental thesaurus and tried to think of a word that a 13 year old would wrestle with as it relates to bitterness.  I asked a second question to follow up on the bitterness concept.

“Have you felt like anyone has annoyed you lately?”

It was like I pricked a water balloon.  Emotional liquid burst all over the place as she described certain times, places, and people that were ‘getting on her nerves’.  It was clear that she was storing up some ‘puss’ in these infected places, but would have never called it bitterness in her mind for fear that she would be “that person”.  Or maybe, she just doesn’t comprehend what bitterness is at a core level.  We talked about forgiveness and letting things go when you are even just let down, let alone intentionally hurt by something or someone.  This was getting interesting.

I pointed at my middle finger and we laughed. (I maybe be a pastor, but I’m not a cultural clod!).  She grabbed my finger calculating with her little brain that we were close to 3/5 of the way through this word problem.  Her brain works like an old watch with every widget and gadget underneath perfectly synchronizing to make sure what you see on the outside keeps perfect time.  She and anticipate my next question at this point probably predicting the word I’m going to pick for all I know…

“Do you feel like anything has made you feel angry lately?”

I’m not sure I completed my thought before she blurted out, “No, nothing.”

I was starting to figure this out at this point.  It was like a game of Balderdash testing my vocabulary of synonyms to crack the code of my youngest daughter’s heart.

“You don’t feel frustrated by anything…who are you, Mother Teresa?”

She chuckled and said, “Well, yeah I feel frustrated by stuff.  I didn’t know that’s what you meant.” 

She went on to share the things that frustrate her in life and in our home and about herself that if you would just switch out the word frustrated and put in the word angry, you wouldn’t be embellishing the emotion whatsoever.  It’s funny how frustration is often the safe word for anger and how at ease we are talking about our daily frustrations not identifying them as either teetering on anger or disguises for anger under the cloak of chronic irritation.   It was clear that certain areas of anger were present, but the word anger couldn’t be used.

I won’t bore you with the rest of the conversation, but I wanted to tell you the other two words I asked about and the words I chose to substitute once I was stonewalled.

“Do you ever feel lonely?” ---  “Nope.”
“Do you ever feel left out?” --- “Well sometimes I wonder about that.  I see other people…”

“Do you ever feel jealous?” --- “I don’t think so.”
“Do you ever look at someone and wish you had their humor, personality, looks, vacation, shoes, test score, etc.” --- “Oh, I didn’t know that’s what you were asking…yeah, sometimes.  It’s hard not to…”

I decided to stop with the fleshly fruits and to go through the fruits of the Spirit.  Same thing.  I would use words like Love, Joy, or Peace, and the response was short and sweet.   I would use a synonym that mirrored the “Power Word” and the conversation warmed and softened into stories and feelings and thoughts. 

I know this is dragging on, but I hope you’re aware that language is powerful.  This doesn’t stop when you become an adult.  We are allergic to certain words and their connotation and if someone point blank asked us about those words and how they manifest themselves in our life, we often just write it off as irrelevant.

We’re not full of rage, we just get ticked off at stuff.
We’re not full of lust, we just appreciate beauty as long as we’re not sleeping around.
We’re not full of bitterness, we just don’t ever want to see that person again.
We’re not full of hate, we just love to glory in that certain people’s failure.
We’re not full of fear, we just struggle with being controlling.
We’re not full of insecurity, we just constantly think about what people think.
We’re not full of jealousy, we just scroll and troll Facebook with simmering envy.
We’re not full of pride, we just are glad that we aren’t like other people who are clueless.

We are scared of certain “key words”.  But if you grab a different synonym or think of a better metaphor to explain an emotion, most people are neck deep in the very thing that don’t think they are wrestling with.  I’m not saying everything, but I will put my neck out there and say ‘most things’. 

That night with Tay, my time of praying with and for her was so much deeper.  I was praying for the condition of her heart based on what she shared.  The atmosphere didn’t feel judgmental and she didn’t feel threatened like she was standing in front of the firing squad and being interrogated by Jack Bauer.  In fact, she probably still doesn’t know she bore her soul to me because we didn’t talk about anger, bitterness, jealousy, or fear.  Little does she know.

All I’m asking for you to do is ‘think twice’ when you’re talking to people.  Move beyond the scary word or the goody-two-shoes word and look for another expression to describe the same thing.  You can do this.  We can do this.

And this matters.  It saves lives.