Follow by Email

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.