Impending Disaster

Have you ever felt like you knew something was going to happen before it actually did? I don’t mean having “second sight” or something like that. I’m talking about when you see the pieces of something coming together in such a way that you can almost predict the outcome before it actually happens.

Before the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004, I felt like this every time they played a game that counted, especially against the Yankees. It was as if the script had been written, that it had been maximized for heartbreak, and that there was simply nothing that could be done to stop it before the train finally went off the tracks.

Through the years, I’ve seen the same sort of things play out within my family, among my friends, and even among people in my church or community. It’s as if there is an imaginary script that’s being written behind the scenes, and although you aren’t the one writing the script, you might as well have because you know all of the plot twists and significant happenings before they take place.

It’s kind of painful if you have any emotional investment in the situation whatsoever. In fact, the more emotionally vested you are in the situation, the people, and the outcome, the more painful it seems to be. And regardless of the emotional investment, there just doesn’t seem to be a thing that can be done to change the outcome.

It’s hard to describe the heartbreak that I’ve felt as I have watched these situations play out. It’s heartbreaking to see scenarios on a path of disaster and destruction that’s inevitable. It’s even more heartbreaking, at least to me, when you feel like you might have been able to stop it if you had had more information along the way, if the person had opened up about their struggles, or there were more people engaged in the situation earlier.

The thing is, it seems to happen more and more and the heartbreak just doesn’t stop. When you’ve watched multiple people walk down the same path of destruction, it gets tiresome and it gets to a point where you just want to grab them, shake them, point to the wreckage of others who you’ve seen and say, “Can you open your eyes? Can you see what you’re doing?”

But what can be done? How can it be stopped? Is it possible to keep the train on the tracks, to keep the impending and imminent disaster from happening? Is there a way to intervene, to step in and direct people towards a solution?

I think that it’s possible. I think that, given the right circumstances, these situations can be halted before they go too far. There are five observations that I have made that seem to contribute to contribute to the inevitability of the situations and make it that much harder to actually find a healthy and helpful resolution. If we look for the signs and are aware of the potential for disaster, we may be able to stop it before it goes too far.

So, here are my five observations:

1. We don’t ask for help until it’s too late

We are proud people who hate to admit weakness. When we are in the midst of struggles, one of the last things that we want to do is to admit that we don’t have the answers and can’t resolve our issues on our own. I’ve seen this in people who I have worked for and with, people within my family or among my friends. When we think that we can resolve situations on our own, we usually try and fail and then brush everything under the rug in hopes that it will go away. When it doesn’t (and it most certainly doesn’t), we may finally come to the place where we ask for help.

By the time that we finally muster enough courage and swallow enough pride to admit that we can’t solve the issue, things have escalated to such a frenzied state that it’s seemingly impossible to bring resolution to the situation. I’m not saying that it is impossible, after all, everything is possible with God, but if we haven’t felt like we could involve other people in the situation, will we really involve God?

When we become aware of an unsolvable situation, we need to admit it much sooner than we do. We need to come to that place of humility far sooner than we do if we really want resolution, otherwise, the disaster will look more imminent the further along we progress.

2. We don’t build deep relationships

We live in a society where we feign connectedness. Social media gives us the illusion that we are connected to many people, but that illusion can easily lead us astray into thinking that the depth of those relationships is greater than it really is. Staying connected in a deep and meaningful way takes more than simply writing some comments on a social media thread and thinking that everyone is being honest, including yourself.

Deep relationships are like anything else that grows, they take time and nourishment to thrive. We can’t expect to build deep relationships if we aren’t willing to spend the time and commit the energy. We can’t throw our relationships into a microwave and have them fully formed in 30 seconds or less.

We also can’t expect depth in our relationships unless we’re really willing to be open and honest. If we are always holding back and never really revealing ourselves to those with whom we are in relationship, how do we expect them to open up to us and how do we expect that some of the deeper issues with which we struggle can be resolved?

We need to do our best to avoid the social media trap that “everything is awesome” when it’s really not.

3. We don’t go to the right place for help

As a pastor, I can point a big finger to pastors in this area. Hear this from me very clearly, if you don’t hold a counseling, psychology, or mental health degree, know your own limitations, pastors. You can only get so far with people and with certain issues before you’re way above your pay grade and need to make referrals.

There’s no shame in it and there is so much more to gain from this. There are certain situations and circumstances that a Bible verse and some prayer just aren’t enough to help. I’m not diminishing the importance of Scripture and prayer, but I am saying that there are often things that we need to do besides simply read the Bible and pray.

We need to be able to humble ourselves enough to realize that we don’t have all of the answers nor do we all have adequate training to move people towards resolution.

Speaking of humility, when we have issues, we need to not just slough them off but confront them in real and effective ways. We can’t simply will ourselves to get better or take the “just try harder” approach, it doesn’t work.

As one who has sought out good counselors, I can say that there is a lack of them, at least where I live. But it’s important to find good people who can be effective and helpful if you want to find resolution. I’m working on building up a list of people to whom I can refer or use myself, it’s a worthwhile endeavor.

4. We give up too easily

We don’t show near the loyalty that previous generations have shown. When we our dissatisfied with an experience or product, we don’t try to see what options there are for changing the situation, we simply discard it and move on to the next thing.

Unfortunately, we do this with things other than disposable brands and products. We do it with relationships all the time. You hurt me, I’m defriending you. You betrayed me, I’m leaving you. You’ve lost my trust, I’m never talking to you again.

I’m not sure what happened to the old “stick it out” mentality, but it seems that we move on too quickly to the next thing without giving sufficient time and energy to what’s right before us. Chances are, if we don’t stick around to seek resolution in what’s in front of us, we’ll eventually find ourselves in a situation where we’ll do it again, or someone will do it to us and simply walk away.

I could tell stories about the times that I have spoken with someone who was in the process of walking away because they had “tried” to work things out. When I start probing them about what that they had tried and done, they usually didn’t give me affirmative answers to the suggestions that I have made. In other words, their efforts and “trying” was not nearly as exhaustive as they might have convinced themselves that it was.

There might come a time when you have seriously exhausted your opportunities, but until that time, keep on trying.

5. We aren’t honest with ourselves and with one another

This was mentioned indirectly in some of the previous points, but redundancy is a good thing. When we fail to divulge all of the information about a situation, especially to the people who can most help us out, we will fail to find resolution. When we continue to tell people that “everything’s fine” when it’s much worse than they see, we’re heading for disaster. We need to be honest with ourselves and with one another. We need to be able to admit our faults and admit when we have made mistakes.

I have seen situations come to a head when people have not been willing to admit that the situation was far worse than it really was, and then the whole thing blows up in their face. Even though I’ve sensed things along the way and had even asked about the gravity of the situation, I always received the “everything’s fine” response.

Unless we can come to the place where we are bitterly honest about what’s going on in a situation, we won’t find resolution. It may be really difficult to lay it all out on the table, but if we are really seeking resolution, we need to.

Sometimes this means that we need to probe people more than feels comfortable to us. If we have friends that seem to be in dire straits, than we might need to ask tough questions and dig deep to get to the heart of the issue.

As trite as it might seem, we have to remember that the first step is often admitting that there’s a problem. That admission is the first step towards honesty.

 

Following these observations isn’t a foolproof guarantee of avoiding the impending disaster, but I think it can go a long way, especially if we start to change a few things here and there. If you’ve experienced it before, you know how heartbreaking it is to see it all play out exactly like you thought it would. And, no matter how much you hoped against it, it usually plays out just like you thought that it would.

We can start to see change when it starts with us, not waiting until it’s too late, building deeper relationships, going to the right places for help, not giving up too easily, and being honest with ourselves and with others. I’d hate for it to me that someone was looking at and seeing the impending disaster play out. I think you probably feel the same way.

Stuff or Experience

Not sure whether it was the Memorial Day holiday or lots of alone time or what it was, but I’ve been feeling fairly introspective lately. Maybe it’s just what happens when you get over 40, you consider that you’re on the “back 9” and you start to reflect more often about what you’ve done, what you’re doing, and what you still need to do.

Somehow, in the midst of these introspective moments, I somehow manage to find my way to Mark Batterson. Might be a question of the chicken and the egg, you know, am I introspective because I’m reading Batterson or I’m reading Batterson and that makes me introspective. Regardless of cause and effect, here I am, in the middle of introspection.

As I read through Batterson’s latest book, the focus is mainly on what you collect. Do you collect stuff or do you collect experiences? Do you approach life living from adventure to adventure or do you avoid risks at all costs?

Growing up the son of a pastor, I felt like there were a lot of moments that my father missed. It may account for why I felt a closeness to my mom that I didn’t share to the same extent with my dad. She braved miles, bad weather, and a whole lot of inconveniences to show me how much she cared and loved me. There was never any question in my mind that she cared for and loved me, she showed it with every action that she took.

My dad was fairly risk averse as well, a character trait that did not serve him well in his later years. I see that same character trait rising to the surface when faced with uncertainty in my own life. Trying to embrace the need to take care of what is necessary while also leaving things free and open enough to keep it interesting is a challenge.

As my kids grow more comfortable in their own skin, their personalities are all being cultivated and formed. It’s great to watch and observe, to see how they become individuals and how their personalities shine through in every circumstance. I am doing my best to remember to find time for each of them individually and Batterson’s reminder to collect experiences rather than stuff has been resonating a lot lately.

I’ve already determined that when my boys turn 13, we will do some kind of trip to usher them into their teen years. My wife will take care of the same trip with my daughter. I certainly don’t want those days to get here more quickly than they need to, but I don’t want to be caught off guard when they finally do arrive.

My middle child has taken to asking my wife and I to tell him childhood stories as we lie in bed with him at night. It’s really forced me to excavate the recesses of my mind to remember the most significant stories of my childhood. Of course, those stories all revolve around people and places rather than things. I’m not recounting stories of what I got for Christmas or my birthday, but moments that burned their existence on my memory, moments that significantly impacted me in some way, shape, or form.

My kids are going to remember the moments of throwing around the baseball or playing hide and seek well before they remember what I gave them for their birthdays. With that being said, I am trying to train myself into thinking about moments and experiences, creating the memorable from the ordinary.

The funny thing is, as intentional as I try to be with this, it ends up being way more spontaneous and spur of the moment. It’s closing my laptop and heading to the pool for an hour with my youngest. It’s putting down that book and grabbing my baseball glove to throw with my middle child. It’s trading my guitar for a Wii controller to join my oldest in vanquishing some fantastic opponent.

I’m learning to take myself less seriously. I’m learning to embrace the chaos as it comes at me and try not to let structure suffocate spontaneity.

I’ve heard it a thousand times from everyone who’s older and whose children have grown, these moments are fleeting. One day, I will wake up and be walking my daughter down the aisle and I will wonder how I got there.

In the meantime, I’m going to do my best to suck out all the marrow of life, to soak in every moment and make it count, not because of what I have, but because of what I’m doing.

Everybody Loves You Now?

When I became a pastor more than 11 years ago, the first position that I had was a difficult one. To say that it was a volatile situation is probably an understatement. I’ve likened it to having a target painted on my chest as I would weekly receive emails and letters from people who expressed their disgust with me and what I was doing.

Now, I had grown up in the home of a pastor, so I knew what it entailed, I wasn’t naïve at all. But no matter how you might prepare for it, no matter how you might not be surprised by the audacity of some people, it doesn’t change the fact that criticism stings.

I don’t remember who it was or when they told me, but someone had instructed me early on in my ministry career to keep a folder of good notes that came in. Being the rebel that I am, I had to include some of those not so good notes as well.

Call me a glutton for punishment or maybe just plain stupid, but I kind of thought that it was important for me to keep some of these notes. A kind of “Best of” collection of the notes which were full of such vitriol, spite, anger, and hatred of me that they would be worth my while later on.

Frankly, I don’t think that this is what the person who urged me to keep a file of notes was thinking when they recommended it to me. Their explanation of the file was that it could be opened up on difficult and hard days so that I could remember the ways that God had used me and the appreciation that some people had expressed for me and what I had done.

But the opposite was true as well. Those other notes could serve a purpose. While it was nice to remember that people appreciated me, I thought it was important to remember that not everyone loves me. In fact, based on some of these notes, I think there are some people who wished that I had never taken a breath before.

We live in a very self-centered and selfish world. We are constantly told how important and special we are. While I understand the importance of an adequate self-esteem, I really think that there are times when we need to be reminded that we aren’t necessarily God’s gift to the world. There will be times when we will encounter people who just don’t like us (and have even stronger feelings than that).

The other day, I went to my file and pulled out an anonymous letter. As I read the letter about all of the ways that I had ruined this person’s church and how I had single-handedly caused a mass exodus of people, I smiled to myself at this reminder. Sometimes people just don’t like me.

Here are some of the things that I read:

“Everyone I have talked to tells me you have run everybody off.”

“I was going to send a $100.00 for the church fund, but what you said about evangelistics (sic) I changed my mind.”

“God is angry over the way you have destroyed his house of prayer and have made it a den of thieves (sic)…”

“Billy Graham is 87 years old and still preaches the Word of God, all over the world for the past 60 years, I don’t believe you will last that long.”

“…until you came along and wrecked everything.”

“I’ll never come back to [church name] as long as you are there.”

Ministry isn’t for the faint of heart or the thin skinned.

I handed the letter to my wife and let her get a good laugh from it as well.

But honestly, as much as I can laugh at it, the person who wrote it meant every word that they said, and that’s what saddens me. They never took the time to get to know me. They never met with me to express their concerns face to face. They simply wrote me a letter.

Words are important. It’s a lesson that I learn more and more every day. Using them flippantly can be a dangerous pastime. As Hawk Nelson sings, “Words can build you up, words can break you down.” But equally important to me is the lesson in humility that I can gain as these letters serve as a reminder to me that not everyone loves me.

After having been sufficiently humbled by the reading of this letter, I pulled out some others to remember that we don’t dwell on the negative. As I read the phrase, “We were so blessed by you coming to attend to our needs….we love you,” how could I do anything other than smile.

I put the file away. I’ll pull it out again another day. For now, I’m smiling as I remember that God has used me to be a blessing to some and a thorn to others. It’s a tough job, but I guess someone’s got to do it!

Sex Matters – A Book Review

sex mattersEverywhere we look, we are bombarded by sex. It seems that our culture may be obsessed by sex considering the way that it comes at us from every angle. Television shows. Movies. Music. Media. There is no escaping the issue, for us or our children. The things that might once have been forbidden to speak of have become common place.

Children are maturing faster, physically and emotionally. The landscape of sexuality is not for the faint of heart and addressing the subject with your children will happen one way or another. Either you can be up front and frank with them or they’ll find the answers on their own through the things they watch and listen to or from the people around them.

Jonathan McKee takes on the subject of sex with his hard hitting and brief book “Sex Matters.” It’s just long enough that a kid can sit down and read through it in an evening or two. But don’t let the length fool you, it’s packed with challenging and helpful information. McKee shares helpful insights from reputable resources to emphasize his point that many (or most) young people are engaging in sexual activities.

McKee’s companion book for parents is called “More Than Just the Talk” (check out my review here). “Sex Matters” is a synopsis of the material that he covers in that book but specifically geared towards youth. Within the book, McKee isn’t afraid to tackle head on some of the difficult questions that Christian teens may be asking. He addresses the questions “Why wait” and “How far is too far” and other questions as well.

McKee doesn’t sidestep issues here, he uses language that makes sense for young people, even to the point of discomfort. He doesn’t try to dance around issues with cute language, instead choosing to call things what they are and being fairly explicit and clear in addressing the issue of sex. In fact, he shares with humor about some of the uncomfortable language that was used when he was a youth and just how awkward some of that language was.

McKee isn’t afraid to address subjects like pornography, masturbation, and even same sex attraction. He shares his own experiences in a very personal and humorous way. He admits to his own shortcomings while calling youth to do things differently. He is honest and frank, funny and challenging. An honest reader will come away having felt challenged to, at the very least, ask the tough questions that McKee poses within the book.

This book is meant to be read by youth. There may be some parents who don’t want to be quite as frank as McKee in how he addresses the subject of sex, but softening the message and the importance of the language will not make more safe a subject that can be dangerous if not addressed properly. This is an important read, for both youth and their parents. It’s a quick read and packs a punch, especially for the amount of investment necessary.

Pick up a copy and share it with the young people that mean the most to you.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Bethany House. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Open Your Eyes

I sat on my couch, hearing the ticking of the clock behind me and trying to focus. Even in the quiet of the morning with nothing but that ticking clock to distract me, I can still somehow find ways to lose my focus.

As my eyes opened and closed, I wondered to myself, who said that the proper stance for prayer was head bowed and eyes closed? I get it, but it’s a hard thing for me to do. So, after assuming the position multiple times, I finally gave in and left my eyes open.

I turned my body to face the back of my house and the windows that looked out onto the screened porch. Beyond the porch was the horizon and I could see the sun rising in the distance. As its warm glow slowly made its way into the morning sky, I wondered how many times I had actually seen it there.

Of course, I know that every day the sun rises and the sun sets whether or not I notice it, but I wondered whether or not I had actually realized that I had the view that I had. How had I missed it? What was I doing that kept me so distracted from seeing this event unfold before my eyes?

It seems a constant theme in our world, the need to slow down and smell the roses. We can easily fall into the trap of stepping into time with the rest of our culture and becoming overwhelmed with busyness. We find ourselves running in the rat race that we didn’t even realize we had entered. We wonder how we got there when we had told ourselves that we wouldn’t fall victim to the trap, we wouldn’t get suckered in.

How many times have I said that I wouldn’t only to find that I really would?

Slow down.

Take a breath.

Breathe easy.

As I watched through the trees to see that glowing orb light up the morning sky, it was a gentle reminder to me that my eyes need to constantly be opened. If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there, it still falls. If a sun rises with beauty and grace and no one notices, it still happens.

Chances are, when I wake up tomorrow morning that I will miss this sunrise again. I will go through my day and pass by a thousand little things that will astound me should I notice them. But what things will I notice? What things will call my attention and steal my focus?

I’m watching. I’m listening. Lord, let me be attentive.

Life Lessons From Running

Proper-Running-FormThis week I passed the 200 mile mark in my running. For those who run marathons, it’s not much of an accomplishment, they do 1/8 of that every time that they go out and run a marathon, but for me, who has never been much of a runner, it was a big accomplishment.

After pushing myself to my limit and beyond for a number of years and after enduring a season of strife and difficulty in my life, I had finally pulled myself to the doctor last Fall. I knew that things were not good, I could feel it. My body was not doing what it used to do and I could sense that something was off, I just didn’t know what it was.

After some tests and visits to a few doctors, I came to find out that my heart was pumping weakly. Having a history of heart disease in my family, it was a wake-up call. It scared me as I considered my wife and three kids. I didn’t want to leave them behind because I was too stupid and selfish to take care of myself. So, I started running.

I’m not fast and I don’t even particularly like to run, but it provides me time alone to think and aerobic exercise which seems to be a winning combination. I get up at the crack of dawn and run while it’s still dark.

As I pass this milestone for me, I realized that there are a lot of life lessons that I’ve learned through my running in this brief time. Here are a few of the takeaways that I have had in my brief time running.

1) Running is way more mental than I ever realized – So many different sports are mental, but you don’t always think about it until you are actually doing it. As I run 3 or 4 times a week, I realize just how much my mind can either propel me forward or keep me back. The moment that my tired bones and muscles communicate their state to my brain is the minute that I can feel myself starting to slip into an even slower jog. If I don’t get control over my mental state, I can easily find myself turning into a slacker. Waking up early. Running faster. There are so many factors that are dictated and driven by my mental state and coming to grip with that, realizing it, is an important part of moving forward.

2) Motivation is a powerful thing – All it took for me to get my butt in gear was one visit to the doctor and being told that things weren’t what they were supposed to be. I knew it in my heart before I had even shown up at the doctor, but being told this by a professional was enough motivation for me. I never would have thought that I would have done everything that I have done up to this point, but alas, here I am. I don’t want to overspiritualize the situation, but Paul’s words in Philippians 4:12-13 seem to ring true to me, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

3) I still don’t fully know what I am capable of doing – I’m still stepping gingerly and tentatively into this endeavor. I’m being cautious and careful, and maybe even safe. Some might even say “too safe.” There is still fear in my and I just don’t know what my body is capable of doing, but I still keep doing. Every once in a while, I get a push and I move forward. There is still enough newness in this whole thing to keep it fresh and exciting for me. Since I don’t know what I can do, there are always surprises, and for me, that’s a good thing. The minute that it stops having some surprises is the minute that it stops being fun and I stop really caring about it anymore.

4) There is a fine line between being comfortable and knowing your limits – I’ve been running on this line. Since I run in the morning, I know that I still have the whole day in front of me when I finish a run. There is a fear in me that I will expend all of my energy and then have nothing left for the day. It’s not likely to happen, but it’s still a fear that I have to overcome. There is that fine line between staying in a comfortable place and knowing how much you can push yourself. To be honest, this is probably one reserved for a full blog post some day, so I won’t say much about it here, other than to say that #1 very much plays into this as well and my mental state can convince me whether or not I am pushing myself, staying comfortable, or knowing my own limitations.

5) Better together – When my wife and I celebrated 10 years of marriage together, it was a month before I lost my mom. My wife was also pregnant with our daughter, so there were factors that kept us from focusing a lot on ourselves. But one thing that I was able to do was pull together a video of our first 10 years together. One predominant theme throughout those years was that we were better together. We sometimes tried to do things on our own, projects, cleaning, whatever, but we found that we had more fun and got way more accomplished when we pooled our resources and did it together.

The same can be said for running. The times that I have run faster and harder are the times that I have had someone with me, pushing me, inspiring me, encouraging me. We weren’t created to be alone, we were created for intimacy, to be together in community. I am better when I have others around me to inspire, encourage, and provoke me (in the best way possible).

Like I said, I’m not really a big fan of running, but I am a fan of what it has afforded me. I’m a fan of the fact that I have time to clear my head, to get exercise, and to push myself to see what I can accomplish. I don’t know what kind of races I will run in the future, I don’t imagine that a half marathon or full marathon are in the cards for me, but who knows.

For now, I’ll just keep running and learning the life lessons that come across as I run. I’ll embrace Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, “24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”

Because running is really about more than just running, it’s about life and all the lessons you can learn along the way.

Missed Opportunities

I sat in Starbucks, typing away on my computer and waiting for a meeting that would eventually come. While I sat there, I did what I do so often in public places, I watched people. It’s a fascinating endeavor. As I soaked it all in, I suddenly realized that the two baristas were flying solo, they were the only ones there.

I guess it had occurred to me while I was standing in line upon coming through the door, but the point was hammered home to me as I sat at my table and watched the steady stream of customers walk through the door and wait.

The two baristas went about their work, trying their best to move the line along and fill every order that walked in. I didn’t notice any frustration or anger on their faces. I noticed them working diligently to accomplish what needed to be accomplished.

During moments when the line had tapered down, they caught their breath. I heard them talk about how they couldn’t believe what time it was already. They bantered back and forth with a general sense to the outsider that they got along fairly well with each, even enjoyed working together.

My meeting occurred and I even pointed out the somewhat impossible task that these two baristas had inherited through no fault of their own. Not long after, I left, not thinking about it again until this morning.

As my body woke me up way earlier than any human should have to get up, I made my way downstairs to go about my routine, and in the middle of that routine, my mind went to those two baristas and I realized that I had missed an opportunity. I had missed an opportunity to let them know that I had noticed what they did.

Sure, I pointed out their feat to my friend and I applauded them in my mind, but I didn’t acknowledge them to their faces. I didn’t take the time to tell them that I had noticed how they worked together, how they hadn’t complained, how they pushed through a situation that could easily have brought them both down.

I felt like I should have said something to them. I felt like I should have affirmed them to let them know that someone had noticed. I felt like I missed out on this opportunity.

It seems that life could easily be made up of missed opportunities, whether intentional or not. IF we are rushing around, we can easily miss things that are going on right in front of our nose. We may be preoccupied with something in our own life, we may be selfishly focused on whatever it is that we need to get done right at that moment. And in those moments, we might fail to seize an opportunity.

I’m realizing that sometimes, it’s not always preoccupation that takes me away from these opportunities, but it’s a general cowardice and fear. A fear that people will look at me strangely and wonder why I did what I did, why I noticed, why I took the time to notice.

But isn’t that what I would want? Wouldn’t I want them to wonder why I was doing this, why I had noticed what I noticed?

I’m praying for boldness. That was my honest prayer this morning as I thought through what I didn’t take the time to do. While I noticed my own missed opportunity, I gave myself a break and realized that while this may have been a missed opportunity, I have been seizing many other opportunities that I may have once not taken the time to seize. It’s all about the growth and forward motion, right?

The other thing about missed opportunity is that it’s not wasted if I notice and I make a change. Like I said, my observation of what I had missed pushed me towards action. You know, there is a difference between a missed opportunity and a wasted opportunity. Wasted opportunities don’t do any good while the missed opportunities might end up shaking us awake to the point of realization.

I’m praying for boldness and waiting for the next opportunity to come my way. We’ll see what happens when it comes!

We Need To Talk – A Book Review

we need to talkWhen we hear the words, “We need to talk” it usually conjures up negative feelings within us. It’s usually a phrase preceding some kind of confrontation. When we are confronted, particularly with our own shortfalls or inadequacies, we have a tendency to get defensive and even feel hurt. We might lose sight of the fact that the confrontation is for our own good and, if we respond well to it, will result in our growth.

Conflict is a way of life. No matter what, if we are in relationships (which is how God created us) then we will experience conflict. Conflict in marriage, conflict in our families, conflict at work, conflict is all around us. How do we respond well? How do we use that conflict to our advantage and let it contribute to our growth?

Dr. Linda Mintle, in her book “We Need To Talk” writes, “Successful relationships are like successful stories. Both need conflict to grow. Since conflict is a natural part of any relationships, we do need to get comfortable with it and manage our differences in ways that value the other person.” She then spends the rest of the book talking through the potential conflicts that we will experience. You might even say that this book is a primer on conflict and relational issues. It could easily be used as a textbook and a handbook, thumbing to specific chapters when you experience a specific kind of conflict.

Mintle lays out 3 assumptions that she has when it comes to conflict: 1) conflict is a part of all close relationships 2) conflict, under the right conditions, can grow intimacy and bring satisfaction to relationships 3) in unhappy relationships, conflict escalates problems and distress and needs to be addressed. She talks through conflict in yourself and even how to respond when others won’t deal with conflict themselves.

Conflict is caused when sinful creatures try to get the upper hand in a relationship. Conflict is often caused by a difference of opinion, approach, upbringing, or any one of many factors. When those differences collide and we are unbending in our own ways, conflict is inevitable. Mintle talks through the importance of compromise and resolution when it comes to conflict as well.

There are chapters dedicated to some of the most common conflicts such as marital conflicts, both leading to divorce and the impacts on the divided families as well as sexual conflict and tension within a marriage. She talks through the contributing factors to these conflicts and how deadly they can be, things such as pornography and infidelity and how to work through those issues as well.

Mintle talks through how to deal with difficult people to lower the anxiety in a situation to move more successfully towards a resolution of conflict. She also talks about the fact that there are times when conflict can’t be resolved because of the personalities of different people.

Overall, “We Need To Talk” is a worthwhile resource. It can be wordy at times and there were moments when I wondered whether she could have said what had been said with half of the explanation. But for a handbook for those who aren’t experts or educated in the area of counseling, this book is worthwhile to keep handy on your bookshelf, especially if you are someone who has to deal with conflict on a regular basis. It’s a good mix of both theoretical and practical advice on dealing with the inevitable conflict that you will face throughout all of your relationships.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Where’s My Heart?

Sunset adds a warm glow to the mountains surrounding Asheville, North CarolinaAs I drove down the interstate and crested the hill, I saw a sight that I had seen for nearly four years. Just behind the skyline of this small mountain city lies the backdrop of the Great Smoky Mountains. Even though I had seen this sight for nearly four years, I was amazed how it just never seems to grow old.

Even though it’s been nearly eight years that I have been gone from Asheville, North Carolina, there is still a connection there that’s kind of hard to explain. I have been back to Asheville a few times in those eight years, but this time, for some reason, felt different. Maybe it was that I was traveling alone. Maybe it was that a lot had happened in those eight years that I had been gone, both in me and in my life, and I hadn’t really processed it all. It just felt different this time around.

As I thought about it, I formulated a theory in my head about it. I am a passionate and emotional person and I have a hard time hiding my body language when I feel strongly about something. I think that there is a tendency for people like me to throw themselves into things deeply. When passionate and emotional people get involved in projects, build relationships with people, and spend time in places, they can have a tendency to connect themselves to those things emotionally. But there will come a time when that person moves on; maybe the project ends, maybe the relationship ends by death or some other means, maybe they move from that place, however it happens, there will be an end to projects, to people, and to places.

When that end comes, it will feel like a loss, a death of sorts. Projects end and there is a bit of a letdown. I feel this every Sunday that I preach a sermon. I’ve worked for hours on a sermon and when I go home at the end of that Sunday, there is a bit of a letdown because it’s been preached and now that time, that moment, is over. Relationships end, we lose people, that is part of life. We move, our world continues to grow smaller and smaller as we have become so transient. That transience can, however, still create a bond with places for us, maybe even more so because of the tendency to move on to other places as frequently as we see.

When those transitions happen, those people can leave a piece of themselves behind with the projects, the people, and the places. It’s not a matter of the duration of the connection between them and the project, the people, or the places, it’s more a matter of how much heart, effort, energy, and passion was put into it. No matter the duration when this happens, be it 6 years, 6 months, or even 6 days, there will still be a connection there, a connection that will always evoke some kind of strong emotion every time they think about those things or are reminded of those things.

That’s what I felt as I crested the hill and I saw the Asheville skyline. I felt as if there was something in me that would burst, and to tell you the truth, I was a little surprised at just how strong of an emotional response that I had to that sight and to being back in this place where I had spent nearly four years of my life.

Now, it would be prudent to tell you that there were a lot of things that probably made my connection to Asheville stronger. When we moved there, my wife and I had not even celebrated our three year anniversary yet. I had left a career in which I had been working for nearly a decade and had gone into full-time vocational ministry as a pastor. We were living a twelve hour car ride from our families, which for us felt like we were clear on the other side of the world at times, especially when struggles came. All of those things contributed to my connection with Asheville and ultimately set me up for the very response that I experienced when I drove into town.

When my wife and I moved to Asheville in the Spring of 2004, the only family that we had there was the family that we inherited through our church. That family and the bonds between us and them grew stronger as we experienced difficulties during our time there. That’s kind of a natural process in relationships, when relationships are put under pressure and stress they respond in one of two ways: they either break or they grow stronger. We felt like many of the relationships that were forged during this time grew stronger. Were there some that broke? Absolutely, regardless of the strength of the people involved in a relationship, that relationship just might not be able to sustain the pressure caused and created my difficulties.

So, there I was, overcome by emotion as I drove through the city and over the next 24-30 hours I would see some of those very people who had made this city such an important place to me. Each in their own way had made an impact on me. Each in their own way had made me feel like I had a connection to this place. Spending time with them all was something old and new all at the same time, reliving the moments that we had with one another and yet forging ahead and making something new, something different.

I ran a decent length trail run with a friend and spent a lot of time with him talking through what had happened all those years ago. It was incredibly therapeutic, I think for both of us. I had coffee with another friend and caught up with his life, stopped by another friend’s office to catch up with him, had dinner with some other friends, and stopped by the church that I called home for nearly four years, seeing some very special people there as well.

At the end of my brief time there, I began to realize that a piece of my heart was still there. It was left behind when I left and I don’t think that I fully understood that until that moment.

Life passes us by quickly and is full of moments that we will either shirk and waste or embrace and remember. As much pain might be involved in embracing places, people, and projects, I can’t think of any other way for me to do it. As Tennyson wrote, “Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”

Out there in the mountains of western North Carolina, there is a piece of my heart which I gladly left there. After all, knowing it’s there always gives me a reason to go back and see it again.