A Scar on the Calendar

irene and jon - carrie and jon weddingThree years ago today, my life changed dramatically.  It was the day that my mom was given the fateful diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.  It’s not an anniversary so much as it is a scar that appears on my calendar every January 31st.  Three years away from the actual day, I can feel the dread closing in well in advance of the actual day.  It seems to envelop and overwhelm me like ocean waves at the beach, like fog overcoming everything that stands in its way.

It was a Monday morning and I knew that my mom was in the hospital only because my aunt had alerted me to this fact the night before.  She hadn’t been feeling well and after bearing with her discomfort and pain all weekend long, she finally succumbed and went to the hospital.  Everyone was expecting something, but I don’t think any of us expected what would actually be spoken.

Cancer.  It’s the one word that instills fear and horror in me.  I’ve tasted the results of it too many times over the past years.  I’ve witnessed to fathers and mothers who lose children, sons and daughters who lose moms and dads, brothers and sisters who lose siblings, and friends who lose friends.  It knows no prejudice, it knows no demographic which it doesn’t embrace, it simply invades and takes away.

When I heard the words, “It’s not good” from my father, I expected the worst.  I assured him that I would be there soon and held it together while he was still on the other end of the phone.  Once we hung up, I let out the loudest wail that I have ever uttered and crumbled like a pile of ashes onto the floor.  All I could scream was the word “no” over and over again.  In that moment, I could see no hope, I could see no sunshine, all I could see were the dreams that we had of what could be being dashed to the ground like fragile pieces of glass, shattering into pieces that were barely recognizable from what they once were.

That began a long road that we would take for the next nearly six months.  Appointments.  Consultations.  Family meetings.  Phone calls.  Silent prayers.  Tears.  I did my best to hold myself together for everyone else.  My mom was doing the same thing.  I so vividly remembering my brother, father, mother, and me in the back of my aunt and uncle’s minivan driving from one appointment or another.  I sat silently next to my mom, simply holding her hand, hoping that some ounce of courage or hope might travel through me to her.  As she began to weep, I looked at her and said, “what?”  As if I needed an answer, she softly replied, “I don’t want to be a wimp.”

My mom and “wimp” could hardly have been used in the same sentence.  I had seen so many displays of strength over the years and heard the stories of strength that had come before me.  She would never own that strength herself, she rested in the hands of her Father and she was never one to shy away from the explanation for that.  She never failed to have an answer when asked of the hope that she possessed, even as the darkness of cancer began to close in, even when she knew that the future was as bleak on this earth as she had anticipated, even when she knew that she would not hold her first and only granddaughter…..at least not on this side of eternity.

Brutal.  That’s a word that a friend, brother, and fellow pastor uses over and over again.  It’s the best word that I can use to describe the events of that day and many days following.  As I come face to face with this day yet again, the pain cuts me afresh, as if it never left me.  My mind drifts off to what could have been and I remember that those are just dreams and visions, not to be realized.

Sure, I know where she is.  Her pain and trouble are gone, but you never tell that to someone in an effort to bring them cheer and hope.  Chances are, the person who is grieving knows so many of the things that you want to say to them….and they don’t necessarily need to hear them.  In fact, that was one of my mom’s greatest gifts, the gift of presence, and the gift of listening.

I miss that.  I miss her smile.  I miss her wisdom.  I miss all that she was, and still is, to me.  I can’t wait to see that face again in a place without time, without pain, without death.  In the meantime, I will simply wait.  I will ache.  I will hurt.  But I will hold on to hope, a hope that lies in the One who conquered death, who conquered pain, who redeems and restores.  That is the only hope that I can find.

So, every January 31st I will see a mark like a scar on the calendar.  I will do my best to face it with my head held high.  Cancer can conquer life….at least for now, but it cannot conquer hope.

Beautiful

[In light of recent acts of indiscretion and exhibitions of “if you’ve got it, flaunt it” coming out from female recording artists, I’ve sat and thought long and hard about my own daughter.  When she is old enough to understand, these are the things that I will share with her.]

My Sweet Little Princess:Beyonce-Katy-Perry-Miley-Cyrus

You are one of the most beautiful things that I have ever known.  As each day passes me by and I get to peer into your soul, I see the beauty shining through.  Your beauty outside is only accentuated by the beauty that comes from within.  I love to hear you laugh.  I love to see you smile.  I love it that you’re just big enough right now that I can envelop you when you curl up on my lap.  I love that I can make you feel safe.  Oh, that I could keep you this size forever and hold you in that protective embrace.

One day, you won’t fit on my lap, at least not so easily or in a way that doesn’t make everyone think that I’m pretty creepy.  One day, you will experience the world differently than I have.  One day, I will have to let you go to make decisions and choices on your own.  When that day comes, don’t forget that I will always be here.  Although you might not see me as often or talk to me as regularly, I will still be here when you reach out for me.

There will be people who will question your beauty.  They will try to convince you that things that you do or things that you wear tell much more about your beauty than who you really are deep down inside.  They will feed you lies about what you need to do to gain attention.  They will try to convince you that people who are drawn to your body are really drawn to your soul.  Or, worse yet, they will try to convince you that your body is more important than your soul.

You’ve already shown from a young age that you know what you want and you aren’t afraid to let the world know what that is.  I have always been a man of strong conviction.  Your mother has always been a woman of strong conviction.  We both come from families of strong conviction.  In due time, you will have strong convictions of your own.  If those convictions aren’t attractive or appealing to other people, then you probably would be better served seeking the company of others who appreciate them.  Always hold to your convictions.  Never let anyone tell you that they are unimportant, and never believe the lie that loosening those convictions will make you more appealing.  Those convictions will actually help to make you more appealing…..to the right people.

Don’t be afraid to dance, but don’t let someone try to tell you that dancing a certain way is the only way that you can be noticed.  Don’t be afraid to sing, but don’t let anyone try to tell you that singing a certain song is the only way that you can be noticed.  Don’t be afraid to invent a style all your own, and don’t let anyone convince you that a certain style is the only thing you need in order to be noticed, loved, or accepted.

Anyone who asks you to be anything other than who God made you to be is not worth your time.  You are a smart, beautiful, and gifted little girl who is growing into a smart, beautiful, and gifted young woman.  No one can take that away from you.  Don’t ever let anyone convince you that the gifts that you have been given in your mind and in your heart are not enough.  Don’t ever let anyone convince you that what you have on the outside trumps what lies on the inside.  Never forget the words of Proverbs 31:30, “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”  Outward appearance is like a vapor, but your mind will long outlast any girlish charm.

Never, ever forget that your mom and I love you.  Remember that we love you for who you are.  Find someone who appreciates that about you, not someone who tries to make you something else.  Your mom and I have prayed every day for that person, don’t let your timing cloud your acceptance of God’s timing.

I know that it hasn’t always been easy to be my daughter.  I know that I haven’t always been the dad that I need to be.  I am grateful for grace that flows towards me, I pray that it just as easily flows away from me.  I hope that I have modeled the convictions of which I speak, not in word only, but more so in deed.  I hope that you will grow to be confident and self-assured, not in your own strength, but in the strength that God alone can give you.

Remember that I am always here for you.  When you fall, I will help you up.  When you run, I will be watching and waiting for you off in the distance.  When you rise above, I will cheer for you.  When you need an ear, I will do my best to simply listen with no strings attached.

I love you, and no matter how much smarter or older you get, you will always be my little girl.

With all of my heart,

Daddy

Drawing Attention

Katy-PerryDid you hear the one about the former Christian recording artist and daughter of a pastor who sold her soul to the devil?  Well, at least, that’s what the rumors are.  Katy Perry’s recent performance on the Grammys has some people talking about whether or not she is one of those who has made a deal with the devil.  Some are claiming that the rituals that she took part in during the performance were satanic.

The whole notion of one “selling their soul to the devil” goes back to the story of blues legend, Robert Johnson.  It was down at the crossroads that the whole thing went down, and since then, there have always been rumors of one artist or another who, in desperation, has made a deal with the devil.

This is nothing new to the world of pop music.  I remember growing up and hearing about the evils of rock and roll music.  Back in the 80’s there was a phenomenon that was under the microscope called “backmasking.”  People claimed that if you listened to certain records backwards, you could hear secret messages that had been placed there, either intentionally or unintentionally.  Of course, the possibility of unintentional messages lying within music only confirmed some people’s suspicions that these groups were evil.

I think that sometimes people forget that music is a business just like so many other things.  The primary driver behind business is making money.  Some might actually say that finding new and different ways to make money and being willing to do whatever it takes to do so is equivalent to selling one’s soul.  But the old adage is true, no publicity is bad publicity.  Whenever you can somehow get your name in the news, you are always going to draw attention to yourself, and when you’re an actor or a musician or someone who is in the public limelight, you’re going to seize every opportunity that might come your way.

So, is Katy Perry a devil worshipper who sold her soul to the devil?  Or is it that she simply wants to shock and draw more attention to herself?  Attention and exposure sells records, and that seems to be the bottom line.  Controversy sells, it gets your name in the papers with big headlines, so why not do things that will make that happen if that’s your bottom line?

There has always been and most likely always will be a fine line in the arts community, be it music or painting or writing, between doing things for yourself and your art versus doing things to make a living and actually sell product.  Depending on where you look, it’s fairly evident that the arts community as a whole has struggled with this, embracing the controversial in the name of “art” while knowing full well that the controversy draws attention.

Over and over again, I need to remind myself when I write that it’s not so much about the quantity of people reading it but about the quality of what I write.  It’s a constant struggle that I don’t always get right, but at least I am aware of the struggle.

There are many more things that can be said about Katy Perry, especially regarding the influence that she is to so many thousands of young girls.  She can claim that she is not a role model, like so many other before her have claimed, but that claim just doesn’t stick.  She’s just trying to sell records and in many ways is the proverbial prodigal child, trying to shock her parents in swinging the pendulum to the extreme of how she was raised.  Pastor’s kids are different animals though, but that’s a post for another day.

I’m Getting Married

wedding ringsCommitment…do we run towards it or run away from it?  Do we jump at the chance to commit to something or do we quickly move on to the next thing for fear of being bound?

When I got married, I had very little anxiety over the idea of commitment.  I had met an incredible woman and there was not a doubt that she was supposed to be my wife.  We enjoyed one another’s company, we held similar worldviews, we appreciated and loved each other’s family, so it was not an incredibly complicated decision.  I was not too concerned about what the commitment meant.

This past Saturday, I was received into ordained ministry by the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.  As my friend and fellow pastor and I drove to the church, I commented that I felt like I was getting married again.  I think there were more jitters this Saturday than there were that Saturday years ago when I really got married.  I looked at him and said, “I guess you’re my best man, so are you going to try to convince me of all of the reasons that I should or shouldn’t do this?”  He just looked at me and laughed.  I was serious though…

I really felt like I was driving to my own wedding, with a fair amount of anxiety that wasn’t there when I first got married.  What was I getting into?  In some ways, I was marrying a denomination.  I was making a lifelong commitment to submit to their authority, to serve God through them and their processes, and to be faithful to those processes.

I grew up in the Baptist tradition and when I first went into full-time vocational ministry, I was ordained in the Baptist tradition.  But growing up, my father (who was a Baptist minister) was always willing to push towards unity across denominations with which he could agree on the essentials.  He taught me a lot about the importance of working together despite some variances in process and sometimes theology (within reason).  As I continued my journey from childhood to adulthood, I attended many churches of many different denominations.  I never felt an incredible allegiance towards any one denomination.  It just didn’t feel absolutely necessary.

When I went to seminary, there were a few questions that I wanted to answer for myself.  I wanted some clarity and I thought that seminary would be a good place for me to find some of that clarity.  I was serving in a Presbyterian church and I needed to ask myself whether or not I should make the jump and embrace a tradition different than the one in which I had been raised and ordained.  I really wanted to know whether or not denominations were a big deal or not.

I had never really struggled with commitment before, but this commitment seemed different.  I’m not quite sure why, but it felt restrictive and, to be honest, I was a little concerned about making the jump.  I didn’t know what it would mean, which is why I began asking questions about denominations and their necessity.

The more I studied and observed, the more I kept questioning the idea of a commitment.  Denominations have been vilified and criticized for their stances on certain things.  They’ve done good in certain humanitarian efforts and they’ve turned blind eyes towards others.  They felt similar to many organizations and products that herald their advantages but hide their disadvantages, similar to the way drug commercials tack on their side effects at the end read by a guy who speaks faster than you can hear.

So, I really needed to weigh out the advantages and disadvantages.  As I wrestled through it all, I watched my father’s experience with a church that he had served for nearly 40 years.  I watched how he was treated and shut out.  I watched him enter a state of depression as the processes that were in place were not strong enough to protect him from the hands of people who wanted control.  I watched my mom’s anger over how her lifelong husband, friend, and partner was being treated.  I knew after seeing that all go down that there had to be a better way.

The structure and processes of Presbyterianism are far from perfect.  In fact, I had to come to the conclusion that there are no perfect denominations.  There will always be flaws and imperfections, even if in your effort to avoid denominations you align yourself as a non-denominationalist.  It had to be a matter of advantages outweighing disadvantages…..and that’s exactly how I felt.  There were processes that were put in place for the protection of everyone involved.  After seeing what my father had experienced, protection was pretty high on my list.

The other element that finally convinced me that “this is the one,” just like a marriage, was the idea of accountability.  It’s not a word that we like in the 21st century, but it’s a word that we need to embrace more often than we would like to admit.  To know that you are accountable to someone and something beyond your own little world is important, at least it is to me.  I realized that there were some benefits to having structures and processes in place that not only protected me but held me accountable.  Despite a culture that endlessly tries to convince me that my decisions only impact me, accountability helps me to realize that I am part of something greater, I am not an island unto myself.

And so, we drove into that church parking lot on Saturday morning, we walked into the church, and I “got married.”  I made a commitment and there was a commitment made to me.  I know there will be disagreements, I won’t always see eye to eye with the powers that be.  I know that there will be difficulties and times when that commitment is called into question.  But I also know the benefits that come from this kind of a commitment.  It’s exciting, exhilarating, and nerve-wracking all at once, but it’s a journey and an adventure that I choose to be on, and although it might be a bumpy ride at times, I think it’s all gonna turn out great in the end.

Finally

ordinationHave you ever been journeying towards something that takes a long time?  Maybe it was a degree or some kind of certification.  Maybe you were working towards saving enough money for a trip or a special purchase, like a house or a car.  Whatever it is, when you finally get to the end of the journey, when you finally reach your goal, when you finally make that purchase, there is a mixture of emotion that can go from jubilation and excitement to disappointment, depression, and just a general feeling that things were a little anti-climactic.

After about a year of trying to transfer my Baptist ordination to the Presbyterian tradition, I am finally done.  I’ve been approved, and although I will be celebrating a decade of ordained ministry within the church, I am finally being recognized by my own denomination as a pastor.  It’s been a long journey, during which I lost my dad and went through a church split and rebirth.  One of my friends called the process “Presbyterian Hazing.”  Having gone to a college with a large Greek population, the analogy isn’t lost on me, except this process didn’t involve things that could get me arrested or cause physical harm.

When you have to work hard towards something, it can certainly be a beneficial time of reflection and contemplation.  When I was in seminary over the past years, there were a number of things that I wanted to wrestle through on my own, trying to figure out how I felt about them.  Designating time to wrestle through difficult issues can be incredibly formative and I felt like that’s what happened.

I think that I can say the same about this process.  It’s rare that someone goes through a process like this with as many observers as I have had.  The majority of my church was watching as were my friends on social media.  I have been blessed with some very good friends who have helped push me along in my own growth as well.  I have had the support of my fellow pastors, my church family, my wife and kids, and many friends all over.  That kind of support network is invaluable and it’s hard to express my gratitude at how much that network has meant to me.

People keep asking me what my next endeavor will be.  While a doctorate is something that I would love to pursue, I’m absolutely assured that my family needs a rest.  I won’t be venturing into that in the near future, but I hope to eventually.  Over the weekend I had a conversation with someone that sparked many thoughts in my head, but we all need a rest, including me.  I’m looking forward to this new phase of the journey, the adventure.  Let’s see what happens!

The Influence of a Life

influenceAs I sit here and write this, the world around me is sleeping.  It’s been a week here where I live.  Kind of hard to believe how much can take place in one week.

It was just a week ago when a young mother from my community was out running with her husband and was hit by a drunk driver, forever changing the lives of two families.  I watched as two communities, my community and the running community, rallied together to show why there is still some hope left in humanity.

On Saturday, people around the world ran in honor of this woman and her family.  Facebook lit up with posts from as far away as Australia, people posting their distances run and giving tribute.  My family and I took part in a run/jog/walk in our community, seeing people all come around dressed in blue, the woman’s favorite color.  To see strangers come together to honor a stranger whom they never knew was powerful.  To be led in prayer at the beginning of the event was even more so.

After the walk with my family, we drove to join my brother and sister-in-law to take a final “deep clean” of my parents’ townhouse.  The rest of the day was spent journeying over the course of 70+ years of life, experiencing memories, seeing pictures, smelling smells, remembering holidays and special occasions of years gone by.

It’s hard to combine a lifetime in a few boxes.  It’s hard to figure out what it is that’s most important, what it is that you want to hang on to.  My parents were far more organized than I am, and maybe ever will be.  For instance, there are 6 boxes containing every sermon my father ever preached from 1968 until he retired as a pastor in 2010.  The majority of them were typed with some handwritten notes here and there.

You encounter memories and wonder what’s worth saving and what needs to be tossed and in the midst of it, you wonder whether you’re going to regret your decision in the future.  What if that thing that ends up in the trash or at Goodwill proved to be more valuable?  Am I going to be looking for something years from now only to discover that it was purged years prior?

Every time that I step foot into this place, time seems to be sucked up in some sort of vacuum.  It’s almost like a casino, but there you can’t see the light of day.  Hours pass and you wonder whether you’ve actually accomplished anything of importance.  You get lost in thoughts and memories, you get captivated by the sights and the smells.  You find yourself turning into that 3 year old or 5 year old or 10 year old child that you see in the pictures surrounding you.

Yet the innocence of youth has faded away.  It’s been replaced with a life that has experienced far more.  There is pain, there is hurt, there is loss.  In some ways, you long for those days so long ago when life was simpler, when it didn’t seem so complicated.  You long for those endless summer days that seemed as if they could go on forever, running, playing, soaking in life.

But life doesn’t stay as simple and innocent as it once was.  Cars crash.  Cancer strikes.  Bodies fail.  Hearts stop beating.  Life changes.

How do you measure a life?

1200 people gathered to celebrate the short life of a woman whose life was snuffed out much sooner than it should have been.  Tens of thousands of people ran to honor her.  Many of those people heard that this woman’s passion extended far beyond running, it extended to her husband, to her children, to her family, and most of all, to her God.  She was a woman who knew Jesus and celebrated life through him.

It’s hard to tell just how far the influence of a life extends.  We probably won’t ever fully know how far it extends, at least not in this life.  But what is it that makes one life stand out over another?  What makes one seem more influential than another?  It’s all a lot to think about, but it does seem that influence can have just as much to do with the person being influenced as it does with the one influencing.

In the end, a life makes a difference to the people that it touches.  What lives are you touching?  Who are you influencing?  If you were gone tomorrow, who would say that they were changed because of something that they had learned from you?

Where Do We Go?

2014-01-20 15.38.38Everybody goes somewhere, it’s just a question of where it is.  I mean, we all go somewhere, but how about in those times that we just need to get away?  Where do we go?

I’m not talking about vacation.  I’m not nor will I ever be in a place where I can be whisked away to some tropical location at the drop of a hat, just don’t have that kind of money.  While it would be nice, I don’t want to fool myself.  I’m talking about when we need to unwind and detach, to clear our heads, to find shalom that we can’t find anywhere else.  Where do we go?

I grew up with train tracks right behind my house.  It wasn’t as noisy as you might think, but we did get used to the minor irritation.  The train that ran behind the house was the New York – New Haven line as well as an Amtrak line that ran from New York further up the New England coast.  On the other side of those tracks lay the place where I spent a good deal of my time alone, especially in my high school and college years.

It was a park with a lake and a pond.  There were walking trails all around and although it was wedged between the train tracks and I-95, it provided an incredible amount of solace for me.  Whenever I needed to get away and think or talk or cry, that’s the place where I would go.  It seemed to be the best kept secret for my town, I very rarely ran into anyone else while I was there.  That’s probably a good thing since my conversations with myself or with God were usually out loud.

Years have a way of clouding your memory when you leave certain experiences behind.  It’s been a dozen years since I lived at the house where I could walk to that park.  It’s been nearly four years since my parents moved from that same house.  But it always stayed there, in the back of my mind, regardless of how many clouds surrounded it back there.

Life has not always afforded me the luxury of exploration, especially over the last few years.  When it has, my exploration is generally limited to places that I hear of from others.  So, it was with the place that I discovered which took me back to that other sacred space from so many years ago.  Honestly, I think that my wife heard of it first from some other mothers of pre-schoolers.  They were all keen on the playground there.  It’s one of those “green” playgrounds made of recycled material and the ground around the play structures is rubberized, so it doesn’t hurt as much when you fall…..or when your kids fall.

Just a few yards from those playgrounds are the lakes for which the park is named.  Now, if you’re from the Midwest, these lakes aren’t really lakes, they’re ponds.  But it still holds the name Three Lakes Park and it’s around those “lakes” that I rediscovered that sacred space, the space that I connected with all those years ago, the space where I could talk things out.

I went there the other day.  I needed it.  I needed to talk, to myself and to God.  I needed to drink in the surroundings.  I needed to breathe in air that was somehow fresher or freer than the air of the enclosed spaces that I find myself frequenting all too often.  I needed to find that shalom.  And it was there that I found it.

Well, I guess it wasn’t technically there that I found it, but it helped me to remember where I find it.  David, the king and shepherd and songwriter, wrote, “Truly my soul finds rest in God.”  It was there that I remembered that I need to detach and find solace in God alone.  It was there that I remembered that places like that help me to do just that.  That’s where I go, and I need to keep going there.  Chaos won’t stop, I will continue to encounter it, but I know where I can go to get away from it, albeit temporarily, it’s long enough that I can feel the restoration and rejuvenation take place.

So, where do you go?

The Underdog

david and goliathUnderdog stories evoke all kinds of emotion in people.  Everyone loves a good underdog story, seeing an unlikely hero rise up and defeat a formidable foe.  Stories like these are inspiring, they give us hope that it’s not always the “Big Guy” that wins, but that sometimes, the little guy can win.  Many of these underdog stories have been called “David and Goliath” stories after the biblical account of the same name.

Malcolm Gladwell’s writing was a draw for me the first time that I opened “The Tipping Point.”  I had heard so much about him and his writing and was intrigued to finally dive into one of his books.  I had ordered “The Tipping Point” and, like so many other books, it had sat unread on my shelf for quite some time.  Then, surprisingly and maybe even providentially, I received one of the syllabi for a seminary class that I was taking and found that it was required reading for the class.

Gladwell’s latest book, “David and Goliath” was on my 2014 reading list and I put it on the priority list since Gladwell has been on the radar a lot lately.  During the writing of this book, Gladwell rediscovered the faith of his upbringing (check this out).  I was anxious to get into the book and see for myself what I thought of his latest work.

It did not disappoint.  Gladwell gave example after example of unlikely situations, which, at first glance, seemed impossible with the odds stacked largely against.  But at closer examination, it seemed that what could easily be perceived as weaknesses were actually strengths.  From learning disabilities like dyslexia to difficult upbringings to losing parents at a young age to facing the figurative “Goliaths” of the real world such as sexual predators and racists, Gladwell gives a broad swath of examples from every walk of life and from many areas of interest.  The circumstances that he portrays would seem to knock people down, rendering them helpless and hopeless, but instead, they actually accomplished the opposite impact, they caused people to rise up, invoking courage and fearlessness in them.

On the opposite side of things, what had been perceived as strengths by many people actually became weaknesses.  Upon closer examination, there was a heavy reliance on perceived strengths which actually left people unprepared for facing circumstances that had been called “impossible” in the surficial analaysis.  “Goliaths” toppled in the presence of “Davids” and left many people scratching their heads wondering how the impossible had become possible.

Gladwell says, “We all assume that being bigger and stronger and richer is always in our best interest.”  Turns out, these things can easily become weaknesses, and in fact, they do become just that more often than not.  By eliminating obstacles, the perceived giants can get lazy, or “fat and happy.”  We’ve all seen it played out before, but I’ve experienced it in sports more than any other place.

I remember the NCAA National Championship game in 1999 between Duke and UConn (the University of Connecticut).  My wife is a UConn graduate and the majority of her family roots for the Huskies (their mascot).  As a UNC (University of North Carolina) fan, there are few teams as hated to me as Duke, so I easily found myself rooting along with my wife and her family for UConn.  Not only was it good for our marriage, but it served my own purpose to root for anyone but Duke.

It was amusing to watch the Duke players as UConn pushed them hard all game long.  It seemed that this “Goliath” (Duke) was astounded that they would come in and have anyone do less than cower at their greatness.  But UConn did just that, they trampled on Duke and left them bewildered at how they could lose to a team like UConn.  When the final buzzer went off, the score was 77-74 in favor of UConn.  Duke was stunned.  Goliath had fallen.  The underdog was triumphant.  David had won.

Gladwell, brings up some very interesting points throughout the book, points which should make any of us reconsider our own preconceived notions about what is an advantage and what is a disadvantage.  It certainly gave me question to pause and reconsider.  Over and over, I found myself relating to many of these things because I had actually experienced them in my own life but had failed to really see.

If you are interested in sociology and the study of trends and patterns, Gladwell does his research well and tells a fascinating story as he shares what he discovered.  This book will certainly make you think twice about siding with “Goliath” once you realize that his perceived strengths might be actual weaknesses instead.

Forgive Us Our Sins……

forgive us our sinsOur Father….

Who art in Heaven….

Hallowed be Thy name…..

Thy Kingdom come…..

Thy will be done…..

On earth as it is in Heaven…..

Give us this day our daily bread….

And forgive us our sins…..

As we forgive those who sin against us……

Those who sin……

against……

US……

When’s the last time that you prayed that prayer?  When’s the last time that you actually thought about it?  I mean, really thought about it….

Forgiveness.  It’s a strange thing.  We like to be forgiven when we do something wrong.  What happens when someone does something wrong to us?  How willing are we to forgive them?

Some sins are more easily forgiven than others.  We can forgive a lie, depending on how big it is.  We can forgive a false word, as long as it’s not said against us.  We can forgive a little anger, as long as we weren’t embarrassed by it.  But what happens when the sin that we’re called to forgive is more significant.  What if someone steals from us?  Breaks into our house?  Hits our car?  What happens if someone takes the life of someone we love?  How do we forgive them?

I’ve had my fair share of harboring resentment and bitterness.  I’ve struggled to forgive people who hurt me, and most of those hurts were insignificant in the grand scheme of things.  Eventually, I came to the point where I realized that anger and withholding forgiveness weren’t doing harm to anyone else other than me.  It’s funny how that works.

But, like I said, the hurts that were caused were fairly insignificant.  The only one who ever took someone from me was cancer and heart disease, and it’s kind of hard to be so angry at diseases.  They’re just not people.  I don’t know what I would do if I lost someone because of another person.  I don’t know how I would forgive if someone else took someone that I loved away from me…..

While he was hanging on the cross being ridiculed, laughed at, mocked, and spit on, Jesus asked the Father to forgive those who had put him there.  He actually WANTED and PRAYED for them to be forgiven…..while he was in the thick of what they had caused.  No anger.  No contempt.  No withholding of forgiveness.

As we forgive those who sin against us……

It’s not a good idea to pray things that you don’t mean.  I’ve really got to stop and think about this one, am I really willing to forgive?  I mean REALLY willing to forgive?

My forgiveness has been tested and left wanting.  It’s been tested, but not as much as other’s forgiveness has.  I’ve still got a long way to go to really come to that point where that prayer will roll off of my tongue easily without a stutter or a struggle.  Thank God that I’m forgiven and a work in progress, now if I could just come to that place where forgiveness was as easily given as it is accepted.

Facing Tragedy

candleMy community has been hit hard by the tragic death of a young wife and mother who was killed by a drunk driver while out for a morning run.  While I did not know the young woman, it’s hard not to feel the pain in my heart knowing the hole that is left by her loss.  She had three young children and was seemingly in the prime of her life.

It almost seems inevitable that when tragedy strikes, everyone becomes interested in God, in some form.  Usually, at least in my experience, the interest is more in disproving him or at least chastising him for allowing such a tragedy to happen.  If God is loving and good, how does he allow for such a tragedy to take place?  Why didn’t he step in and intervene?  Couldn’t he have protected her?

Trust me, I’ve been there before.  While I’ve not had something this dramatic happen in my life, I’ve experienced loss and my family has experienced its share of loss.  I’ve been at that place where I’ve looked to the sky and asked, “why?”  I’ve felt angry and frustrated, wondering how a loving God could allow such tragedy to strike so deep.  When something tragic happens we can come up with lots of reasons why it’s even more tragic.

It was just over a year ago that one of my best friends lost his 6 month old son to a rare form of pediatric cancer.  It was devastating and the wound cut so deep that on the first anniversary of his death, it still seemed so fresh.  Those who have experienced loss know that anniversaries, birthdays, holidays, and other special occasions can cause an overwhelming flood of emotion to sweep over them.  The old adage is that it never gets any easier.  You just learn to cope better.

I spoke at the funeral of my friend’s baby.  It was among the most humbling and difficult things that I have ever experienced in my life.  Answers seemed to fall short, but I leaned on God for comfort.

When we experience loss, what do we lean on?  Each other?  Our jobs?  Our communities?  Our God?  We can turn to so many different places to find hope, but most of them fall short of providing us hope that is lasting, hope that doesn’t fail us.  While I wonder why tragedies happen, I also wonder how people who don’t believe in God survive such tragedies.  I genuinely don’t know.

Some might say that it’s inner strength and self-assurance, but there has to be more to it than just that, doesn’t there?  Why do some people respond so differently to tragedy?  How is it that two people can experience similar tragedies with vastly different results?  One rises above the fray and chaos of loss while the other gets stuck down in the midst of it.

When we experience tragedy, or are a witness to it, it has a way of being the great equalizer for us.  It lends us perspective.  We hug our loved ones a little tighter, kiss them a little bit longer, stare at them for a few seconds more.  Life is a vapor and when it’s swirling around us, we have a tendency to forget that.

The older I get, the more tragedy seems to strike around me.  Maybe I wasn’t quite as aware of it when I was younger, maybe I thought that I was immune to it because it seemed such a long way off in the distance.  Regardless, I am learning more and more each day to capture moments when I meet them rather than putting them off for a more convenient time.  Why put off until tomorrow what you can do today, especially as it relates to your friends and your family?

God knows all of the intricacies of his creation, I don’t.  I will never understand why tragedy hits some people and avoids others.  I won’t understand how bad things happen to good people, at least not on this side of eternity.  I still rest in Christ alone.  I still lean on the solid rock for my footing and foundation.  I still believe and trust that his plan is good and his ways are sovereign.  Call me what you will, this is where I find my hope.