They Say It’s Your Birthday

Mom and Dad 2001 - Don Miller PartyNo matter how hard I try, memorable dates still keep repeating themselves year after year. Anniversaries, birthdays, and other events, whether they are noted on my Google calendar or not are still embedded in my brain.

Today would have been my father’s 73rd birthday.

Birthdays were always a fun time in my family. At some point, after my brother and I grew out of parties and presents, we still converged upon my parents’ house to have dinner and cake.

The cake was always a Carvel ice cream cake. It was kind of funny to watch the cakes shrink in size over the years. As the price went up, the size shrunk.

Along the way, we developed a tradition where all of us (¾ of whom were decent singers) would sing probably the most atrocious version of “Happy Birthday” that anyone has ever heard. Although we could sing, we would somehow find a way to disguise our voices to sound like the most tone-deaf singers you could ever find.

I remember the first time that I brought my wife (then girlfriend) to a birthday. I think that I probably spent some time during the car ride explaining what would happen so as not to shock her. Thankfully, my explanation was good enough that she didn’t run away. It probably helped that she comes from a family with a wicked sense of humor as well.

The tradition hasn’t been well carried on with my own children, so I miss it terribly every time that a birthday comes around, especially the birthdays of my parents.

Today, I remember my father. He wasn’t perfect. He wasn’t athletic. He wasn’t even always funny. But I loved him dearly!

I can’t even begin to express how grateful that I am that I was blessed with him as my father. He did the best that he could with the shoddy example of a father that he had. He gave himself to his church and to his family. He sometimes worked too much. He sometimes got uptight. He wasn’t always the most patient of people, but he loved in a way that he could only have learned to love from his heavenly Father.

I miss you and love you, Dad. I am proud to be your son and to be a living legacy to the love that you showed to me. I can’t wait to see you again! Happy birthday!

Faith of Our Fathers

When people ask me about my faith journey, I talk to them about my upbringing, growing up in the church, the son of a pastor. I talk about trusting Jesus at an early age, being baptized, and doing the things that I thought that I was supposed to do as I grew older, physically and spiritually.

But the story doesn’t end there. That early faith journey was not clear and simple, it was actually full of confusion as well as I tried to understand just what it meant to live out my faith and to hold on to something that seemed to have been inherited from my parents.

As I grew older, I realized how much that I had been relying on what had been handed down to me rather than allowing the seeds that had been planted to take root in me. I realized that a true and genuine faith is authentic, real, and personal, it can’t be simply duplicated by copying what someone else does but it needs to be something that shapes and forms you, changing and transforming you to be who God has called you to be.

While my prodigal journey away from the church was not long-lived or extreme, it was there. I came to the stark realization in college that my faith seemed to be a sham, simply a carbon copy of what I had received.

My journey away ended after about a year when I began to see my faith as my own rather than that of my parents.

Faith is much more than religion, it’s much more than rules and regulations. If it is to be genuine and personal, it needs to be experienced firsthand. Secondhand faith is no good, it is not genuine.

As I was reading in my daily Bible reading the other day, I came upon the end of Judges 8. If you aren’t familiar with the book of Judges, it’s one of the books in the Bible that would ensure any movie made from the Bible would receive at least a PG-13 rating, if not an R rating. It’s encouraging, frustrating, violent, and gracious, all at the same time.

At the end of Judges 8, Gideon has died. This same Gideon is the one who had led the Israelites to victory and then was ensnared by pride and the love of the people to create an idol that the people eventually worshipped.

Gideon dies and this is how the passage reads:

Judges 8:33-35

33 No sooner had Gideon died than the Israelites again prostituted themselves to the Baals. They set up Baal-Berith as their god 34 and did not remember the Lord their God, who had rescued them from the hands of all their enemies on every side. 35 They also failed to show any loyalty to the family of Jerub-Baal (that is, Gideon) in spite of all the good things he had done for them.

As I read these verses, my heart sank.

If I’m completely honest, one of the biggest fears that I have is that my children’s journey of faith will cease or diverge from my own. I fear that I will fail in my example of what true faith is for them. I fear that they might reject the very thing that has been such a pillar and cornerstone of my life.

These verses are heartbreaking to me because the faith of the Israelites was based solely on who was leading them rather than on what was actually going on in their own hearts. They had sacrificed the real thing for secondhand faith.

I don’t ever want my children to believe simply to make me happy. I don’t want to feel that their faith is just a carbon copy of what I have handed them, a cheap substitute for the real thing. I want it to be real and authentic.

Part of my faith needs to be that God will hold my children in his hand, that he will grow the seeds of faith that have been planted in them. I can only pray that my wife and I can fan the flame of faith that has been started in them, to pray that their faith will be firsthand faith.

No one ever said that it was easy, if it was, wouldn’t everyone have faith?

I am grateful that it all doesn’t lie in my hands, but at the same time, this is why I pray the words of the father of the possessed boy in Mark 9 who said, “I believe, help my unbelief.” I am grateful for the grace of God who meets me where I am, increasing my faith daily, but walking beside me and putting up with my unbelief.

No Fear In Love – A Book Review

no fear in loveAndy Braner grew up in a conservative, fundamentalist church and it seems that his adult journey has been spent trying to overcome its effect on him. He realized that he had spent a lot of time getting to know about God rather than actually trying to know God and let him influence the way that he lived. As he unpacked his own experiences and why he was taught to respond to certain things in certain ways, he realized that much of the response that he had been taught was governed and fueled by fear.

Braner writes, “We are far too concerned with the outward appearances of daily life without really addressing the core fears brewing deep inside ourselves.” Instead of questioning and spending time in relationship with those with whom we disagree, he says, we attack. We don’t build relationships but build walls instead. He asks his reader to ponder what might happen if Christians began to look at people as people and relationships rather than battles to be won or arguments in which to triumph.

Somewhere along the way, Braner claims, Christians excelled in becoming defenders of the Gospel and of God rather than becoming examples of Christ to the world. In these efforts to protect God and the Gospel, we have actually created places where sin is prohibited and managed to such an extent that people can’t be open and honest with their struggle and where they can’t confess to one another because of the fear that’s driving them. God is not a sales pitch, Braner adds.

In embracing a culture of protection, we have feared the “other,” anyone who is different than us. We have failed to engage them and find common places of thought as starting points. Instead, we have created walls, building them up instead of building the relationships that are so important in which God could work. Braner suggests that we enter into relationships free of agendas and with a simple desire to know the other person and where they are coming from, regardless of the differences in opinions, beliefs, and ideologies.

Throughout this book, Braner shares personal stories about how he has found success in confronting his own fears and found ways to engage the “other” in his life. He shares of praying in a mosque, of engaging a whole group of Jehovah’s Witnesses and inviting them to dinner, of boldly mixing Christian and Muslim teenagers for a week of summer camp, and other stories. He says that, “The most compelling adventures are those that happen when we recognize fear, address it, and move to a place of reliance on what God is doing in the hearts and minds of others.”

Braner questions where Christians are known more by what they are against or by what they are for. In our media-saturated culture, he sees that we have lost the art of healthy dialogue, instead tending to trade it for brief shouting matches between experts in which the winner is the one who yelled the loudest. He adds that, “This practice has done nothing to help us reach out and discuss things in a civilized disagreement. It promotes anger, yelling, and extremism.”

Overall, I didn’t walk away from this book feeling as if Braner had shared anything groundbreaking with the reader. In some ways, he dwelt heavily in generalizations to the point that he made it seem as if there are no Christians out there who are making in-roads in building relationships with those with whom they don’t see eye to eye. In fact, there were times that I felt his stories were shared more for their shock value than because the readers could actually benefit from them. If the average Christian falls into most of the generalizations which Braner lays out, chances are that they wouldn’t be impressed with his stories as much as they might be shocked and turned away.

I appreciate Braner’s heart shining throughout this book. The reader can tell that he is passionate about which he writes. He is passionate about building relationships with those with whom he doesn’t see eye to eye. If you have sought a third way, a way to engage the “other” without offending, turning off, or defeating, Braner offers his own stories as possible suggestions. If you fit into the generalizations of Christians that Braner shares, you might be better served looking elsewhere for a safer and more comfortable read. Braner doesn’t pull any punches and he does so with a purpose. While this book didn’t “wow” me, I don’t feel that it was a waste of time either.

(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.)

Slowing Down

2015-07-24 09.39.48I am in constant need of reminders, be they subtle or not, to slow down and enjoy life and its little moments. I have heard the phrase on many occasions that we are human “beings” rather than human “doings” and every time that I hear it, it jolts me awake to the point of realizing that things are passing me by and I’m missing them. I need to be reminded that there is only one day like today, it will never happen again, I will never be able to relive it or recapture it, I will never be able to come back and pretend that I’m Bill Murray in “Groundhog Day,” replaying a day endlessly until I finally get the desired outcome.

Recently, I was on vacation with my family. We didn’t go anywhere exotic, unless you consider Connecticut exotic. We took nearly two weeks to spend time with our family. Over the course of those nearly two weeks, my wife and I attended both a wedding and a funeral, two life events that are almost certain to jolt you awake from any slumber of complacency that you might have been enjoying.

As we spent time at my in-law’s house, I realized that the daily routine that my kids had adopted at our house in Virginia had easily been adopted in Connecticut. They woke up and ran downstairs to sit in front of the television, ingesting all that Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, and the Disney Channel had to offer them. If there was no intervention, they could have easily stayed put like that for the entire day, allowing their brains to be numbed and melted by whatever meaningless drivel and fare that was being spewed out from the flat screen television.

At one point, I can’t remember which of us, my wife or I, had gotten fed up and turned the television off. The kids who are smart, creative, and funny, somehow forgot that there was a world outside of television. They had forgotten to use their imagination to find a world outside of one that was created for them. They had forgotten what it was to discover, to learn new things, to try new things, and it was most likely a result of me forgetting the very same thing.

The TV went dark and they began to complain about there being nothing to do.

It’s a dilemma that every parent who loves and cares for their children eventually faces. This parenting thing isn’t for the weak of heart, but for the courageous, the brave, and, sometimes, the stupid. In those moments as parents face those dilemmas, they need to think fast on their feet, generating new ideas and plans at the drop of a hat as they do their best to fend off the impending boredom that is sure to face their children (tongue planted firmly in cheek).

The sun was shining outside and there was a whole stack of paper in the printer, so, I thought, it seemed the perfect time to build paper airplanes. After all, their father was a paper airplane champion, to the point that I had been banned from the last day of my 7th grade Spanish class in our third floor classroom after having been involved with what my 7th grade math teacher had deemed “the beginning of World War III.” On the second to last day of school, I joined a few of my friends to fire paper airplanes out the third floor window of the classroom when the teacher’s back was turned.

I imagine that as my math teacher, as he stood three stories below, may just have heard Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” in his head as he watched the onslaught of paper airplanes descending upon the courtyard in which he stood. Needless to say, my friends and I, although expert airplane builders and flyers, were not welcomed back to our Spanish class for that last day but instead were forced to walk the school grounds picking up trash to pay for our transgressions.

But I digress….

As I recounted this story in my own mind, I grabbed some paper and began to fold and fold and fold some more. I helped my older two children as they followed suit, showing them the intricate folds that were required to construct our very own flying machine. The excitement was palpable as the folding came to completion and we ran into the driveway to test out these flying machines that we had made.

For the next hour or more, we stood in the driveway watching these airplanes zoom and swirl, spin and plummet. We laughed, we ooohhhh-ed and aahhhh-ed at the flight paths of these airplanes that had been created by our own hands.

We grabbed more paper and made more, altering the design here and there to see the difference that it made in the flight of our planes.

In those moments, those simple and innocent moments, we were all experiencing pure joy. It didn’t require electricity, it didn’t require a controller or joystick, it just took some paper, some time, and a little patience and imagination.

I was reminded once again that I can prepare and plan all I want to create an experience for my children that I consider to be awesome, but some of the best and most memorable moments and experiences are the ones that just happen, the ones that spontaneously emerge from “boredom” or from a fast from television.

I wondered to myself how I could rediscover this same joy and simplicity in all of the things that I do. In disconnecting, I found myself more connected. In being “bored,” we all found ourselves completely swept away in the excitement of the moment.

I think I’m going to have to find a copy of Wagner’s “Flight of the Valkyries” and try this again. Maybe a little background music will add to the excitement of the moment. Either way, I know that I’ll be capturing a moment, a moment that I’ll never be able to find again.

A Tale of Two Brothers

Shake Hands[In the wake of my uncle’s death, and a few years removed from the deaths of both of my parents, I continue to try to put the pieces together of the whole story. I’ve experienced too many moments over the last few years of wishing and wanting to know more. I’ve experienced moments where I ask myself, “Why didn’t I know these things?” As much as I talked with my parents, I feel like so much of their story remains a mystery to me.

Over the past few days, I was able to find some more of the pieces as I spent time with my aunt and my cousins remembering my uncle, my father’s brother. While the pieces are still coming together and the results remain cloudy, I’ve learned so much.]

Once upon a time, there were two brothers, born about four years apart. These brothers came into the world at the tail end of the Great Depression, raised in Brooklyn to the daughter of immigrant parents and the son of Virginia farmers.

Their father was a truck driver and, somewhere along the way, he found solace in a bottle. He wasn’t a sleepy drunk, a playful drunk, or a harmless drunk. He was a violent drunk who used his fists to fight back against a world that had dealt him a hand with which he wasn’t happy. He used his fists to lash out against those who loved him the most, those who were closest to him.

The older brother, seeing the violence of the father, was all about protecting his mother and brother. Sometimes he would stand in the way and take the beatings for the others. Sometimes he would turn his little brother away when he reached the door of the apartment in hopes that his father wouldn’t discover that his little brother had returned home. He would stand in the way, he would take the licks.

There was an occasion or two when the little brother found out for himself just how angry his father could become when he’d spent time in the bottle. On one occasion, he questioned his father, not in a rebellious way, just in a curious way, the way that most children do. On that occasion, his father hit him and a tooth was knocked out. That younger brother never questioned his father again.

As those boys hit their formative years, their father was in and out. He tried to exorcise his demons, he tried to find freedom, but it never happened, at least not that they would ever witness. Although he had gone to a place where he could get help, where he could find healing, where he could dry out, his wife had seen it too many times before and she had nothing more in her to believe that this time would be different from the rest. He was released but she refused to let him back. And that was the end of the father of those boys. They never heard from him again. She worked and the four became three.

In the midst of the 1950’s, these two brothers found themselves labeled and judged because of who their father was and because of his absence from their lives. They were expected to become juvenile delinquents. They were expected to amount to nothing. They were expected to live up to every stereotype that those around them had watched before, that those around them heaped upon them. In the midst of an environment that seemed to stack the odds against them, all of the expectations pointed towards them becoming just like their father.

But they didn’t.

The older brother worked and worked and worked. He worked to live, he worked to survive, he worked to care for his mother and his brother. He worked to put his brother through school. He worked and worked and worked and he didn’t look back.

That older brother continued to rise and rise. He found success. He found love. He passed that love on to the family with whom God had blessed him. He followed his gifting and rose out of the ashes, out of the judgment, out of the expectations to become something that no one may have dreamed of……no one but him, and maybe his mother and brother.

That younger brother followed a different path. He found love. He passed that love on to the family with whom God had blessed him. He didn’t have a father around, but he had a brother who cared for him, who provided for him, who protected him. He became who he became because of sacrifices that had been made for him.

Once upon a time, there were two brothers who lived separate lives, but they had some things in common: family, faith, and love. Now those two brothers are together again, united together, seeing things more clearly than they have ever seen things before. Now they both understand in a way that they never did before.

As they see each other face to face once again, I think they’ve got a lot to talk about.

Love and Death and Memories

Our family road tripping continued with more adventure this summer. We started out our adventures a few weeks ago when, on our way down to Orlando in our family van, the transmission blew out on us. It was fortunately under warranty and a friend graciously loaned us an extra vehicle that fit our entire family. While it was a bit smaller of a vehicle, we were so grateful for the generosity of this friend.

We came home to find that the initial transmission replacement was not adequate, so we waited a second time, knowing that we had another road trip coming up. Once the transmission was replaced, other stuff started happening to the van. Sensors quit functioning and were replaced but lights continued to go off and we continued to scratch our heads. You know that it’s not good when the mechanic gives the car back to you and says that you would be better off going to the dealer.

After going to a dealer close to home, we thought that we were in the clear for our trip to Connecticut. After getting the car back from the dealer, I test drove it on the highway, on the back roads, and all around town, putting a decent amount of miles on it to ensure that we would be okay for our trip.

We left at our usual 4AM time slot and got about an hour and a half from home before the car started acting up again. There’s nothing like the tension one feels in one’s shoulders and back while driving another five and a half hours wondering whether or not your car is going to make it to its intended destination while packed with belongings, family, and all.

We made it to our destination and dropped it off once again at a car dealer to see if our problem could be remedied. We quickly realized the difference between the pace of life and busyness back at home in Virginia versus in Connecticut where much of our family resides. In Virginia, we dropped the car off and got it back fairly quickly. In Connecticut, we waited a few days just to have it seen.

Amidst all of this, we attended a family wedding and had a chance to catch up with family that we only see a few times a year. The wedding was simple and fun and we enjoyed our time together. That night, our adventure would continue.

I woke up the next morning to texts from my brother alerting me that my uncle, my father’s brother, had passed away during the night. My wife and I had hoped to have a chance to see him before this happened. His health had begun to decline more rapidly over the last few months and we missed an opportunity to gather with family a few months back when they knew that the time would be short until his passing. Life doesn’t always afford us the breaks and getaways that we desire, and that was one time when it didn’t. Weekends are always tough for pastors to get away.

I spent the better part of that day processing through the news of my uncle’s death. I could spend a whole lot of posts expounding on the life lessons that I have learned in the last few days, and I expect that I probably will. There is much to be shared about redemption, about reconciliation, about love, about grace, and about forgiveness. There is much to be shared about family, about brotherly love, about protection, and about stories that sometimes come to us much later than we would have hoped.

I’m looking forward to sharing in the days ahead. As I said to a friend when she privately offered condolences to me over the loss of my uncle, I have seen the fingerprints of God throughout this situation. I haven’t tried to look for God in the midst of every circumstance, he made himself abundantly known in the midst of every. single. One!

Soli Deo Gloria!

Papa Bear

When I was a little boy, I was the youngest kid in the neighborhood. Most of the kids were at least a year older than me, if not more. Even my brother is four years older than me. While I wasn’t a small child, I was still the youngest.

There was a kid down the street who might have been labeled the neighborhood bully. He was the one wearing the heavy metal T-shirts. He lived with his mom, and to the best of my knowledge had no siblings. He had a reputation, at least with my family.

One day, I was being a four or five year old kid, riding my little plastic, orange push motorcycle and the next minute, I had gotten clocked in the head with it by this kid. Naturally, I cried and ran home.

As the youngest child, I was always the one to get sympathy. I was the baby and there were plenty of times that my mom would coddle me as the baby. On this day, I don’t know if I ever saw my mom so mad in my life. While all of the details remain blurry, I do remember being dragged down the street to this kid’s house. I remember his mom answering the door and my mom showing her the welt on my head from my plastic motorcycle. It seems to me that my mom’s concern was met with indifference from the mom, but don’t quote me on it.

I learned an incredible lesson that day: most parents love and care deeply for their children. In fact, they will do just about anything for them and when you mess with those kids, the hackles will come out and you’ll find yourself facing a very angry animal.

As a parent myself now, I can understand better my mom’s reaction. If you want to see the bear claws come out, mess with my kids.

I’m not naïve enough to think that my kids are perfect. Heck, I’ve spent fourteen hours in the car with them, if there’s anyone who knows better than me (other than my wife) that they are fallible and imperfect, it’s me.

But I know my kids. I know how they usually act. I know how they usually talk. I know when things just aren’t right. When I see something done to them that was not justified, when I see them being treated unfairly, when I see them hurting, I will respond.

At the end of this past little league baseball season, I wrote an email to the coaches for my older son’s team. I wanted to thank them for taking a kid who isn’t the most athletically gifted kid in the world and doing their best to make sure that he was encouraged, that he was educated and taught the game, and that he had a good time and enjoyed himself. I was grateful for their time and efforts and the investment that they had made in my son.

Recently, something happened with one of my children and I responded. As I reflected on my reaction, I think that I was a little surprised at just how much love that I have for my children. I’m not surprised that I love them, I was just surprised just how much I felt the burning within me at the thought of anything bad happening to them.

Continuing to reflect upon it, I thought about that love that I have for my children multiplied. How much does God love us? If I respond so passionately when someone messes with my kids, how much more will God respond because of his great love for us?

As a friend of mine said the other day, “Parenting is the most rewarding thing in the world.” He followed that statement by admitting how incredibly difficult it is as well. Your kids will challenge you, they will love you, they will test you, they will show you just what’s inside of you.

I’m grateful for my children, but I’m equally grateful for my parents, the ones who stood up for me, who loved me, who went to the mat for me. I’m also grateful for a Father who still does the same day after day!

Everything Is Broken

There are only a few things in this world that can get me as frustrated as cars. When they run well and I’m putting very little money into them, I probably take them for granted. They get me from Point A to Point B with little to no trouble and I simply fill them with gas, have the oil changed every 3000 miles, and do other routine maintenance to keep things running. The problem becomes when something goes wrong.

Over the course of my more than twenty-five years of driving, I have had about ten different cars, all of them used, all of them varied in their age, all of them varied in the amount of money that they required to keep running. Some of the cars were American made while others were Japanese made. Some of them were automatic transmission while others were manual transmission. They were all different in color and ride. The only thing that they all had in common was that, other than the two that I currently have, I had to get rid of them because they had finally broken to the point of not being worth repair.

By the time that I was old enough to care and understand, I remember how aggravated that my father would get when something would happen to one of his cars. I remember a car breaking down on a family road trip that we were taking to South Carolina. I could always tell whether or not my father was frustrated by how heavy his sighs were. He wouldn’t say anything, he never swore, but his whole demeanor and person gave off the vibe that he wasn’t happy with the current state of affairs and that current state of affairs had been severely impacted by an automobile.

I have inherited my father’s frustration for cars. I don’t know a whole lot about cars other than that they become a “black box” to me, they do a lot for me that I don’t understand and yet I continue to rely on them and trust that they will continue to operate the way that they need to. When they fail to operate in the way that they’re supposed to, I can speculate what’s wrong based on how the car is acting, but with a limited knowledge base in that area, I can only speculate so much before I’ve got to take it to an expert. When it come to that point, my sighing grows louder and louder (just ask my wife).

As I write this post, the family minivan for which I have waited for nearly two weeks to be fixed is back in the shop again, this time at the Honda dealer. Can you hear me sighing? Unfortunately, unlike my father, I have a tendency to mutter under my breath.

For some reason, when things break, I get frustrated. Things on the car. Things in the house. Things around the house. No matter what, when something breaks, my sighs grow louder and louder. My anxiety level goes up, I sigh louder, and I get frustrated. Even though there’s nothing I can do to change the fact that things break, it still frustrates me. I don’t know whether it’s the fact that I see dollar signs in my head or the fact that it’s a reminder to me that everything breaks. Not sure if it’s that when something breaks it serves as a reminder to me that I am not as in control of things as I think that I am or if it serves as a stark reminder to me that, on a different level, life is fragile and brief. Regardless, broken stuff gets on my nerves.

Things break at the most inconvenient times. Of course, is there really a convenient time for things to break? Broken things result in an inconvenience of some sort, whether it’s temporally or financially or something else, there’s always a price that needs to be paid when something is broken.

Yes, all this brokenness does remind me of the deeper spiritual truth of our own brokenness and need to be fixed. It reminds me that frailty isn’t limited to my stuff but it extends to me as well. The difference is that when I encounter frail stuff and broken pieces, sometimes I have a warranty or guarantee. Sometimes I can get my broken stuff fixed for free (is it ever really free if I paid for the extended warranty?), but often I have to just pay the price of finding a replacement.

I hate broken stuff and I hate the fact that I’ve always got to deal with it. I am grateful that I know someone who can fix things. I’m grateful that there will one day be an end to this brokenness. I’m grateful that there will be a day when all that is broken will be fixed and that it will never be broken again. Until that day, I guess I’ll just continue to sigh and look forward to it with every broken thing that I have to deal with!

I couldn’t help but post this video of one of my favorite artists, Bob Dylan, singing about this very thing. Everything is broken!

Under Construction

under constructionAbout six months ago (if not longer), a project began by my house to add a turning lane and widen the road to remedy the traffic issues that were plaguing the area due to a FedEx distribution center being constructed. The project began and it was clear that something was going on, it just wasn’t clear exactly what was happening, when it was happening, and when it would be finished.

About a half mile down the street, a new WalMart Neighborhood Market was being constructed. The road was impacted, a new signal was installed, and there were signs of the major construction. Driving past this every day, it was interesting to watch the progress. The site was cleared, the site was graded, the building was constructed, and it all happened fairly quickly. Before I knew it, the building was up and ready to open.

Meanwhile, just down the road, it would seem that the road expansion had halted or even gone backwards. There was no evidence of what had caused the holdup. I drove by the same project on many a sunny day and wondered what on earth had caused this kind of delay. I would see workers out there on site but at the end of the day, I couldn’t tell what kind of progress had been made.

Never being one to shy away from complaining, I took to social media to vent and complain. I was hoping that some of my local friends might have had more insight than I as to what was actually going on with the project. No dice. The project continued…….at a snail’s pace.

The other day, a friend of mine sent me a text as a wonderful reminder to me. She wrote, “We’re all “under construction” by God and sometimes we can’t see why it’s taking so long to get thru the construction project. It may involve detours & delays & a big mess we didn’t see coming, but in the end, the road project is done & looks all pretty & all the mess was worth it. Consider the road construction pure joy!”

I read her text over and over again and sat there with a mix of awe and shame. I was amazed at the insight (not who had given it, you’re a wise woman, Mary) and ashamed that I hadn’t taken more of a step back to really think through what I could learn from it. The shame didn’t last long, I’ve moved past the place in my life where I beat myself up over and over again.

I began to think about just how right my friend was and how true it is. In fact, the Apostle Paul even wrote encouragement to this very end to the church in Philippi when he said, “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

We’re all under construction. The only plans that we have are that we need to look more like Christ. There are delays and detours, just as my friend said. Oftentimes, we can’t see the progress, maybe because it’s subtle, maybe because it’s beneath the surface, but when we don’t see progress, noticeable progress, we get frustrated and wonder what’s going on.

All the while, God is at work, striving and moving ahead to complete a work that has been started in us that will one day be complete. When we get to completion, it will all be worth it, but in the meantime, we do our best to wait…..patiently……hoping that it is worth it in the end and hoping that we begin to see the kind of progress that we’ve been hoping and waiting for!philippians 1.6

How To Love Your Neighbor Without Being Weird – A Book Review

how to love your neighbor without being weirdI’m not really the target audience that Amy Lively had in mind when she wrote “How To Love Your Neighbor Without Being Weird.” This book was really written to and for women who are seeking to (or struggling with) reaching out to their neighbors. Just because I’m not the target audience doesn’t mean that I can’t learn anything from it, and learn I did from Amy’s insights, stories, and helpful tips.

In “How To Love Your Neighbor Without Being Weird,” Amy Lively shares her own story, how her parents had become Christians before she was born and how she had grown up in the church. She shares about her journey away from the church, her rebellion from God, and her journey back again. She reveals a lot about herself, warts and all, in hopes that it would be an encouragement to her readers. Just like the observation of the leaders of the Sanhedrin in Acts 4 that Peter and John were “ordinary men,” I get the feeling that Amy Lively wants everyone to know that she’s ordinary…..and that’s not a bad thing.

Lively shares about her motivation to reach out to her neighbors in an effort to get to know them better. She shares about how it’s too easy to go from our living room, to our cars in our attached garage, to our parking garage at work, to our cubicles, and then we come home. It’s possible to completely eliminate any interaction with our neighbors if we aren’t intentional about making that interaction happen. When those interactions don’t happen, we are much more likely to speculate and imagine what our neighbors are like, possibly imagining the worst rather than seeking out the best. She shared that one fifth of Americans admit they judge their neighbors on what they see, what their properties and houses look like. Lively shares about some of the thoughts that she had about her neighbors before she had met them face to face.

Jesus’ command is to love the Lord with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves. It’s not a recommendation, it’s a command. As lively says, “it’s pretty hard to love someone when you don’t even know their name.” We need to know their names, know what they like, know their needs, know their concerns, and as we begin to learn all of these things about our neighbors, we find ourselves caring more for them and loving them in the process.

While the traditional approach towards introducing people to Jesus has become inviting them to church, Lively suggests that is the equivalent to inviting a vegetarian to a pork barbecue, it just doesn’t work well. Instead, we need to build relationships of trust and love. Inviting your neighbors to church is a good thing, but it’s not the first thing. The first thing is getting to know them. In fact, insisting that everyone you become friends with enter through the door of religion first is just weird.

Throughout the book, Lively shares her own excuses, the excuses that she used to NOT reach out to her neighbors. She is honest about her fears, the ones that she has overcome as well as the ones that she is still overcoming. She shares about her tendency towards procrastination, for avoidance when things are hard, and she’s honest about the struggles. This kind of honesty is what makes this book such a draw, at least to me, and she shares that people don’t trust people who act perfect but instead relate to vulnerability, transparency, and honesty. People don’t want to hear stories about success that seems unachievable, they want to know that that success can be achieved even by ordinary and average people, and that’s what Lively does, she shares in such a way as to let the reader know that success is not a pipe dream, but it’s easier than they might have imagined.

Amy Lively also has a chapter on spiritual gifts and unpacks the various spiritual gifts that are shared in the Bible. She gives a helpful description of all of them and even shares how other gifts can be used, gifts that might not have been mentioned in the Bible passages that she shared.

Throughout the book, Lively has a set of questions at the end of each chapter to help to encourage the reader to think through these concepts and ideas. She has suggestions of non-weird ways to reach out and engage your neighbors. She offers encouragement, insight, wisdom, and even warning. The best part about this book is that when the reader is done, they’re really not left with any excuses as to why they can’t try at least one of the suggestions Lively has given.

While Lively has written this book for women seeking to reach out and befriend their neighbors, there are insights in here that are helpful for anyone who has the same desire. It’s a worthwhile read whether you’re just starting out or need an extra boost and if you’re doing you best to love the people around you without being weird.

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