All Things New – A Picture of Hope

All Things NewI began to grow frustrated with the typical Christian explanation of Heaven and the life hereafter when I was young. It all seemed so ethereal and foreign, less like paradise and more like a fluffy, cloud-filled wonderland full of harps, flying, naked baby angels, and bad pictures of stereotypical Jesus. At the time, I never took the time to really search out through the Bible to hear what it had to say about what would happen and what it would look like after Jesus returned.

A few years ago, someone introduced me to N.T. Wright and I dove into his book, “Surprised By Hope.” It gave the picture of a new heaven and new earth that I had always been suspicious was out there but had never heard anyone describe and support the way that Wright did. Wright, a theologian and pastor, eloquently and thoughtfully laid out and explained, not based on personal preference or feeling, but by pulling straight from the Bible’s own descriptions of what was to come.

What N.T. Wright did with his eloquent and theological approach, John Eldredge has done with his provocative, artistic, edgy, and creative linguistic paintbrush in his new book, “All Things New.” Eldredge even makes reference to Wright’s book among other works by well-known Christian writers such as C.S. Lewis, Dallas Willard, and G.K. Chesterton. He paints a picture of what is to come that aligns better with what we read in the prophetic images of the Bible as well as the words of Jesus.

John Eldredge has always been an honest writer. There have been times, as I’ve read his books, that I wondered whether he wrote some of the things that he did more out of provocation and instigation. Eldredge’s honesty and edginess comes through in “All Things New,” but it doesn’t feel forced or contrived. He shares from his own experiences of loss and grief. He is honest, real, and authentic.

From his experiences of grief and loss, Eldredge points to the fact that our hope needs to find itself firmly in the grips of Jesus Christ and the hope of the resurrection and the life to come. When we put our hope in other things, we find false hope rather than real hope. As he describes our hope in Jesus and in the kingdom come, he writes, “That is the only hope strong enough, brilliant enough, glorious enough to overcome the heartache of this world.”

Eldredge reminds the reader that the coming renewal is a renewal of ALL things, not just some things. He describes just what that means, in that our creator God is not about the annihilation and destruction of what he has created but the restoration and renewal of things. Eldredge says, “If God were wiping away reality as we know it and ushering in a new reality, the phrase would have been “I am making all new things!” He refers here to Revelation 21:5, where God says, “I am making everything new.” The Bible speaks of a new heaven and a new earth and Eldredge gives the reader images of just what that might mean. Contrary to traditional pictures and descriptions of heaven (the fluffy, naked baby ones), Eldredge describes just what that might look like.

“All Things New” is full of descriptions of what is to come straight from Scripture. Edredge also uses the fantasy tales of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien and how they have allegorically imagined what is to come. But I never get a sense throughout the book that Eldredge is trying to paint an extra-biblical picture of what is to come, he is just using pictures from others whose imagination or description enhances the pictures already set forth within the Bible.

Having gone through my own grief in losing both of my parents within a 21 month period, hope has been elusive at times. God has constantly pointed me back to Paul’s words in Romans 8. Eldredge’s book has been another step in reminding me that what is to come is something to look forward to with great hope and expectation. Although his own experience has been full of grief and loss as well, I never get a sense that his projections of what is to come are contrived out of a fabricated emotionalism. I appreciate his pointing the reader back to a more biblically grounded picture of what is to come.

If you have struggled with traditional pictures of heaven and the life hereafter, I would encourage you to pick up “All Things New” and hear not what Eldredge has to say, but the hope that he found in the words of the Bible. This book is a book of hope, pointing us to the only hope that is unchanging, steady, constant, and eternal.

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

Advertisements

Just Watching

watchingOn my way to work this morning, I ran into a back-up on the highway. I could see the flashing lights ahead and realized that there were no lane closures and the accident that was causing the delay seemed to have been fairly minor. But everyone needed to stop and slow down. They needed to see what all the delay was about. It was almost as if they needed to be a part of it without really being a part of it.

I met someone for lunch yesterday at a fast food restaurant. As we walked in, the TV hanging on the wall was displaying the news of the tragedy in Las Vegas. As the latest statistics scrolled across the screen, the man with whom I was meeting said, “I think we’ve become calloused. I see stuff like this and it hardly phases me.” I couldn’t help but agree. If there is a normal, this may very well have become a part of ours. That’s not to say that I like it, but it seems that the frequency of these kinds of occurrences is too high.

It seems that we spend a good deal of our lives watching. We watch the cars go by and crane our necks to see why we had to slow down. We turn on the news on the TV or computer or device and we watch everything that’s happening. We might even attend a church on a Sunday morning and we take our seats and watch as everything plays out before us.

We’re really good at watching, but I wonder how good we are at doing. Does our watching ever result in us actually doing something? We can watch the world pass by and even feel the stirrings in our hearts that we should do something, but then life gets in the way and we forgot that feeling, the deep ache within us that was calling us to step out and make a difference. We can be lulled into a stupor and trance by the busyness that surrounds us and before we know it, the opportunities have passed us by.

That’s where I am right now. I’ve been watching, trying to put some skin in the game. I’ve been on a fact finding mission, trying to see where I need to be and what I need to be doing. The fact is, it seems like there are a billion places to start and a trillion things to do, if we take it at face value, it’s all a bit overwhelming. But if we look around to right where we are, do we see the possibilities to affect change right there?

I am tired. I am tired of death and tragedy. I am tired of the constant politicization of tragedies for our own preferences. I am tired of people thinking that change can happen just by being more restrictive. If change doesn’t happen deep within, then the change will only be temporary at best, fake and superficial at worst.

When tragedy strikes, we always want to find who is to blame. Many people would dare to blame gun lobbyists, the president, the NRA, and others. I don’t think that all of these are without blame, but the problem is, some of us just aren’t self-aware enough to realize that while there may be blaming lying outside of us, there may actually be blame deep within us as well. We are not without blame, yet we have no problem casting the first stones.

Could it be that our problem isn’t a law or legal thing and that it’s really a heart thing? Could it be that maybe there is more to morality and ethics than a secular humanistic view would admit? Could it be that the heart of the problem may actually lie closer to home and within me than I am willing to admit?

My heart is broken that there are lives which have been senselessly snuffed out and for the families of those whose lives are over. My heart is broken that tragedy continues to divide us rather than unite us. My heart is broken that we are too busy casting blame to take any responsibility or ownership ourselves.

I’m not sure what the next steps are, but I’m pretty sure politicization, blaming, and lobbying are not among them. I can make a difference, but the question is whether or not I’ll just sit back and keep watching or if I’ll get some skin in the game and actually do something.

To Whom Much Has Been Given…

A Disruptive GenerosityIn the introduction of “A Disruptive Generosity,” Mac Pier writes, “Every risk we have taken for God has been transcended by his provision.” His challenge to the reader is to read this book devotionally over the course of one month. One chapter a day to reflect on the various stories that he shares here.

Mac Pier ties these stories to the biblical story of Isaiah. Each chapter begins with a verse or passage from Isaiah. Pier shares, “We cannot underestimate the importance of being placed in a strategic vocation and location.” Throughout this book, this point is well-proven. We hear stories of people with great financial means and influence who use their means and influence to make a difference sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the cities where their influence can be found.

It’s possible that the reader may read these stories and never be on the same tier as those of whom these stories speak. I don’t think that’s Pier’s point in writing this book though. These stories should bring encouragement about how God can use people in whatever place he has them. They should also encourage those of us who are followers of Jesus Christ to know that we serve an incredible God who can impact this world through those who are following him.

Pier shares these stories to encourage people in their generosity. As he writes, “When we are generous, we affirm the nobility of God and grow in our own nobility.” The generous spirit of those in the stories of “A Disruptive Generosity” is seen in the stories and hearing just how God has used that generosity.

While I don’t know that I will ever be on the same financial level as the people in these stories, I still found encouragement here. I think that the intended target for this book is those who have the means to make a financial impact throughout this world. That’s not to say others won’t benefit from it, but if you know of some followers of Christ who have significant financial means that can be shared, this may be just the book to share with them to encourage them to allow God to work through what he has given them that they may experience the blessing of generosity, even when it’s disruptive.

(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.)

Monumentally Important

gettysburgLast week, my family and I spent the day of the eclipse at Gettysburg National Battlefield in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. After looking at the eclipse (through our glasses), we bought a tour CD, hopped in our car, and rode through the battlefield, listening to a dramatization of the events that took place three days in July of 1863.

 I’ve always been a history hack. History intrigues me and can even excite me, but I’ve never really invested as much time in the learning of it to be any good at remembering it all. That isn’t to say that I am a sloppy student of history, I just haven’t really had the kind of margin or bandwidth in my life to fully dive into the pursuit of history the way that I would like. I’m fascinated by it but like so much in my life, it becomes just one of many things I can spend time pursuing.

 Living just outside Richmond, Virginia, the Confederate Capital, just a little over seventy miles from Charlottesville, my mind was whirring as we drove onto the battlefield. With all the talk of removing Confederate monuments in places like Charlottesville and Richmond, and also having read countless articles of everyone and their brother expressing their views of where monuments belong, I was curious to see just how I reacted to what I would experience at Gettysburg.

 As we listened to the narration of this historical battle on our CD as we drove through the battlefield, we stopped at monument after monument. Each state involved in the battle had its own monument to the men whose lives had been lost there and the brave ones who had fought there.

 My mind quickly thought about the events of those three days more than one hundred and fifty years ago and the war that split the nation. While many may claim that the Civil War was about so much more than slavery, slavery continues to be what gets the headlines with that war. While other issues may have been involved and while I understand that wars are far more complicated than to be diluted down to a single issue, it’s hard to say that slavery, at the very least, played a significant role in the war.

 But my mind also thought about Charlottesville and St. Louis and Charleston and so many other cities that have shown that the ideals for which a war was fought have not died with the men on that battlefield but still rear their ugly heads in the twenty first century.

 We came upon a monument, the Eternal Light Peace Memorial, in the midst of the battlefields that had been dedicated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg on July 3, 1938. The quotes on the monument were haunting to me.

 “An enduring light to guide us in unity and fellowship.”

 “Peace eternal in a nation united.”

 Were these really true? Cold I honestly say that this was the case?

 Driving through the battlefield and encountering monument after monument, there was one thing that we didn’t encounter: protesters. There was no one shouting hate speech. There were no banners being waved. There was just the silence and solemnity of a former battlefield.

Looking at each of the monuments though, I think they were right where they belonged. They hadn’t been placed in an urban setting with no connection to the war. They were placed in locations that were significant to their meaning and in that context they could be useful and helpful. They could help to educate and teach in that context, pointing future generations not to elevate them or the men they represented, but to remember.

 Funny, when you go to the dictionary to find the definition of “monument,” one of the first definitions you come across is, “something erected in memory of a person, event, etc., as a building, pillar, or statue.” Does that mean that monuments cease to become monuments when they cease to help us remember? Do they still count as monuments when they are erected to give homage and reverence?

 Not far from my home outside Richmond, Virginia, just up I-95 in Woodford, is a shrine to Stonewall Jackson. Now a shrine is a completely different thing than a monument. According to the dictionary, a shrine is, “any place or object hallowed by its history or associations.” Shrines are not monuments and monuments are not shrines.

 So how is it that some of our monuments have become shrines? How have we come to a place where we have somehow separated the meaning and the history  and the context from monuments whose sole purpose was to point us towards those very things?

 I’m not sure, but I don’t think it’s as black and white (no pun intended) as some have tried to make it. I don’t think that we can make large sweeping and blanket statements that say, “All monuments are bad and racist.” Nor do I think that we can say, “All monuments are sacred and speak to history regardless of where they are located.

Like so many things, discernment, conversation, and relationship may be required to move past our generalizations and quick fix remedies. When we dwell in generalizations and quick fix remedies, we forgo the efforts required to engage in difficult discussions and conversations. It’s much easier to say, “Tear all the monuments down” than it is to say, “Can we talk about this? Why are they important?”

 There are reasons why I think this has happened, but that’s for another post on another day. In the meantime, I’m going to go back and look at those pictures I took on the battlefields of Gettysburg. I’m going to remember the conversations that I had with my children. I’m going to relish hearing them say that all of us are created equal. And I’m going to do my best to help them understand that monuments aren’t shrines. That seems to be monumentally important to me.

Before You Hit Send – A Book Review

Before You Hit SendIn our fast-paced, media-driven, information saturated society, communication is an important part of who we are. Considering how important communication is, one might think that we would work harder at getting better at it, but that’s not the case. When we consider social media, email, and other digital means of communication, we have to work harder at communication considering that there are so many possible opportunities for misunderstanding and misconstrual.

Personally, one of my mantras has always been, “Never send your first email.” I’ve realized the need to check and edit myself before sending things out. My first reaction and response email is usually not fit to be sent out, so I have to step back and think and assess before I send something out to ensure that I am communicating as clearly as possible.

The title alone of Emerson Eggerichs’ latest book “Before You Hit Send” drew me in. I was curious what the “Love and Respect” author would have to say about communication. Having experienced my own mishaps in communication, the subtitle, “Preventing Headache & Heartache,” was even more appealing to me.

While the book title alludes to digital communication, Eggerichs speaks more broadly to communication in various forms, writing and speaking predominantly. Eggerichs tells his reader that there are four questions that need to be asked prior to communicating: Is it true? Is it Kind? Is it necessary? And Is it clear? The book contains only four chapters, one for each of these questions.

Breaking a 200+ page book into four chapters presents one major problem: very long chapters. While I understand Eggerichs rationale in breaking the book up this way, there were enough sub-sections within the chapters that he could have broken them into individual chapters. Since he did not break up the chapters as such, the chapters end up about fifty or sixty pages long each, making it difficult to find good stopping points along the way for those who like to read chapter by chapter.

Each chapter begins with a lengthy Scriptural Meditation on the topic at hand. Eggerichs uses examples, both personal and otherwise, to speak about true speech, kind speech, necessary speech, and clear speech. He takes the reader through some of the typical culprits against each of these topics, listing them out with brief descriptions of each one. Then Eggerichs addresses each of these offenses with possible responses when we encounter those who communicate in the ways that he laid out.

As mentioned earlier, this book is not specifically about email and written communication, but all communication. The information shared by Eggerichs is valuable information for everyone who communicates, which is pretty much all of us. Despite the lengthy chapters, the information in “Before You Hit Send” is organized in such a way that this book can easily act as a resource and handbook on communication. The reader can flip to a section that may be specific to a situation with which they are dealing.

“Before You Hit Send” is a good resource for anyone who wants to be intentional in how they communicate. If we are honest with ourselves, we will probably find ourselves as culprits on some of the lists that Eggerichs shares. Whether we struggle in communicating truthfully, kindly, necessarily, or clearly, this book can help us on the road towards better communication.

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

Responding to the Tension

welcome to charlottesvilleThe events in Charlottesville last weekend and the continuing turmoil that we are feeling in our country at the state of disarray and disunity may have us a little on edge. Some of us will look at the situation and say that things are not as bad as they appear, while others will look and say that things are far worse than they appear. One thing that we know for sure is that there is a problem and anyone who would deny that is denying reality.

 As human beings, we can do a really good job of pressing down the tensions and conflicts that are trying to rise, we can make it seem as if the problem is not as big of a deal as we might think it is, denying out of fear, out of pride, or out of something else deep within us, sometimes denying it outright altogether. But the problem remains and, in fact, grows more severe the longer we push it down and deny it.

 Some say we have a problem with racism in our country, and I agree. The racial tensions that we have been experiencing in recent days are not new, they have been lying underneath the surface for a lot longer. I choose not to assign blame to a political figure for their sins of commission or sins of omission, because I think that the problem is much deeper, it extends far beyond just one person. While actions and words (or a lack thereof) may have perpetuated and even instigated other actions, the problem lies much deeper than just outward demonstrations. It’s a heart issue.

 The problem is racism, yes, and the problem is a heart problem, yes, but I would actually go a step further to boldly say that it is actually a sin problem. It’s one that extends far beyond our country to our world, for anytime that we deny that God created us as anything less than equal, we are being disobedient and denying that ALL of us have been created in the image of God.

 Many may disagree with me. Those who don’t espouse to any religious beliefs may think that’s a bit strong, but I think that we could all still agree that it is a moral and ethical issue. There is a cancer that runs deeper than signs and protests, deeper than freedom of speech or expressing opinions, and far deeper than the foundations of the monuments that are in question at this time.

 God’s people, the Israelites, would set up stones at the place where God had done something significant in their lives. They stood as monuments to all that God had brought them through. I am sure that the sight of those stones would bring back a flood of memories, some good, some bad. The words of Joshua to the Israelites in Joshua 4 resound to me, “In the future when your descendants ask their fathers, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.'”

It’s interesting, because Joshua didn’t tell them to tell future generations what the stones meant to them, but what had happened there. There was no interpretation necessary. But the stones were not there because the stones were important, the stones were there because what had happened was important and they never wanted to forget.

I think we’ve forgotten. I think we’ve forgotten what happened here and I think that some of us have forgotten to tell our stories. We’ve elevated a movement or a person or even a bunch of stones, and we’ve forgotten what was behind them and we’ve forgotten to tell our stories.

There will always be extremists, and extremists always get the press. But the rest of us who live in the tension between extremes have a choice. We can either ignore those extremes in hopes that they go away, or we can make our voices louder, choosing to tell the stories of why we’re here. We may not always agree, we may have differing opinions, but if our end goal is to tell truthful stories, I honestly think that some of those differences and disagreements will begin to fall away.

I sat in my office this morning sad. I was sad and even scared that I had three children who had been brought into the world to face these kinds of things. But beyond my sadness and my fear, I could see hope. I could see hope in knowing that I had the opportunity to lift up a different monument for my children, not one forged in stone and steel, but one that was written on their hearts. I have the opportunity to tell them the stories, not to promote a movement or an agenda, but to promote us living according to how we were created, in the image of the One who created us.

Dispelling the Rumors

real artists don't starveIt seems that there has been a myth that has been perpetuated in our culture and many cultures. That myth is that real artists starve. In order to truly be successful as an artist, you need to have suffered for your art and struggled. Jeff Goins would disagree.

In his latest book, “Real Artists Don’t Starve,” Jeff Goins begins to tackle this myth one false claim after another. He begins to deconstruct the myth by offering the alternative to the myths that have been falsely embraced. Each chapter in the book tackles these twelve myths one at a time. Starving artists believe they are born, thriving artists know you become one. Starving artists work alone, thriving artists collaborate. Starving artists strive for originality, thriving artists steal from their influences. The starving artists work in private, the thriving artists practice in public.

Goin’s use of story is one of the most compelling things about this book. Using stories from George Lucas to Steve Jobs, Dr. Dre to Michelangelo, and John Lasseter to Sam Phillips, Goins tells stories of people who emphasize his points about real artists in this book. These people took risks, owned their work, fought hard, and eventually came out on top. The examples that Goins uses are stories of grit, hard work, blood, sweat, and tears that begin unraveling and busting this myth.

“Real Artists Don’t Starve” calls for a New Renaissance to take place. Goins urges his reader to build a life that allows them to keep creating. Find ways to get your art out there. Take time to enhance it, grow it, refine it. Find communities in which you can share your art and have others share with you. Look to those who have influenced you and incorporate those influences into what you do.

All of Goins’ advice is sound. He not only uses the stories of other people, but he uses his own as well. He shares about his experience of gaining confidence in his abilities and his skills to achieve the status that he has today as a writer, speaker, and entrepreneur. Part of that rise included failures but it also included influences and patrons, those who believed in his abilities so that he could believe in them himself.

If you have struggled with your career and have avoided your passion because you were afraid you would starve, give “Real Artists Don’t Starve” a chance. It may just give you the encouragement you need and propel you to make some choices in your life that will bust the myth that real artists starve.

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

Of Mess and Moxie – A Book Review

of mess and moxieIt’s always slightly awkward reading a book for which you are not the intended audience. Jen Hatmaker can make one feel even more awkward about this. At times, it can feel almost like eavesdropping or voyeurism, peaking behind the curtain and getting a glimpse into the secret lives of women. The nice thing is that Hatmaker generally doesn’t play into those feelings and allows her readers, regardless of whether or not they fall into her target audience, to feel as if they were meant to be there all along.

In her latest book “Of Mess and Moxie” author and speaker Jen Hatmaker vamps on the things that have made her so successful. She speaks of motherhood, of getting old, of the church, of family, of fame, of her passions, and so many other topics that resonate with her readers. In some ways, her books seem to be the equivalent of a “Seinfeld” episode, they’re about nothing and everything all at once. I mean that in the most complimentary way.

Jen Hatmaker is raw and honest. Some people don’t like that. When she says “bless your heart” you know exactly what she means. She’s always been that way but she’s being refined. In her rawness and honesty, she can admit that she hasn’t always taken the best approaches. She admits that she doesn’t do anything half way, she jumps in head-first, giving her whole self to whatever it is that she’s embracing at the moment. She’s not afraid to stand for what she believes in and also not afraid to admit that there have been times when she’s not always gotten it right.

Through the words of the introduction and first chapter of “Of Mess and Moxie” the reader can hear her angst and frustration but also her tenderness and compassion. She’s experienced a lot in the past few years. Her public declaration in support of same-sex marriage didn’t win fans in evangelical circles. I am sure that she’s still facing the repercussions of her evolving stance and there seems to be some lingering sting within her words.

There are moments when her sass seems to be getting the better of her. There’s a fine line between being sassy, being funny, and being a winsome communicator. Most of the times Hatmaker holds that tension well but she seems to cross the lines a few times. While her honesty and candidness are admirable, there are times when she seems to be trying too hard to gain the affection of the edgy crowd by her choice of words. Words are powerful and once they’re out there, you can’t take them back.

In all her sass and sarcasm, Hatmaker has a way of connecting with women (and the occasional male reviewer like myself or curious male sojourner) in such a way that reading her books feels more like a conversation on a couch, covered with your favorite blanket, snuggled up in front of the fireplace with a hot cup of tea, coffee, hot chocolate, or whatever your hot beverage of choice. Hatmaker makes her readers feel less alone, verbally hugging them and letting them know that there are others out there whose experiences may mirror their own. She never really toots her own horn and her self-deprecating humor deflects the fame that many try to pin on her.

Most of the time, I feel as if I could hang out with Jen Hatmaker and have a decent conversation. We might become fast friends. Occasionally, when we hit points of disagreement, I wonder how those disagreements would play out in conversation. Hatmaker is pretty clear that she values the Bible and loves Jesus. Her relational personality can make it somewhat difficult to separate out her emotions and feelings from some of the hot-button issues that she’s chosen to engage.

She has experienced for herself the “me too” factor that most of her readers most likely experience when they read her books. That place at which they arrive when they realize they are not alone but are joined by a whole tribe of women who have shared the same experiences and emotions that they have. She does a masterful job of communicating that and doing her best to recruit others to that tribe.

Jen Hatmaker makes her readers want to come back for more, over and over again. She’s easy to read, she’s funny, and it’s abundantly clear why she’s been labeled “the sound bite queen” as she’s quotable and Tweetable! Hatmaker spreads out four chapters of “How To’s” throughout the book. They are hysterically funny, enough to have had me laughing out loud in the middle of a crowded Starbucks. Whether you agree with her or not, there’s no denying that Hatmaker can keep her readers engaged.

I enjoyed “Of Mess and Moxie.” Hatmaker seems to be a modern day Erma Bombeck. There is nothing theologically astounding in here. Her simple observations of faith and family and all of the things you encounter on this journey called “Life” are insight enough. She has the gift of encouragement and I would be hard-pressed to believe that any woman feeling a little beat up in the midst of her situation or circumstances could easily find comfort here in Hatmaker’s words.

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

Overwhelmed

I’ve been thinking about the word “overwhelmed” a lot lately. It’s probably because I’ve been feeling it…..a lot. Overwhelmed with emotion. Overwhelmed with activity. Overwhelmed with thoughts. Overwhelmed with worry. Overwhelmed with anxiety.

The word “overwhelmed” means “to turn upside down, to overthrow.” But like so many other words, it can mean something so different based upon its context. While we (or I) may use it more often as a negative word, it can easily be used in a more positive way.

Lately, my use of overwhelmed has felt much more negative. Tomorrow is the six year anniversary of my mom’s death and no matter how far I get from that day, it seems that it still has as severe of an impact as it did when it first happened. I can feel the anxiety and sadness rising up within me. I can feel myself getting overwhelmed.

I’ve had some additional responsibilities on me over the last two months. I’ve found myself growing in many ways, learning how better to manage my time and be more efficient. At the same time, there are moments when I feel incredibly overwhelmed, overcome and overthrown.

Even Jesus, as he prayed in the hours leading up to his death in Matthew 26, was overwhelmed. At least that’s how the New International Version translation of the Bible renders it. “My heart is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.”

But I think we can be overwhelmed with good. I think we can be overwhelmed when people do things for us that leave us speechless. I think we can be overwhelmed as we look at the blessings that we have in our lives rather than looking at what we don’t have.

As I’ve pondered it, I’ve thought more and more about how I want to be positively overwhelmed. I know that I will not stop being overwhelmed by other things, but how will I choose to respond?

I had a rough night last night. Didn’t sleep well. Tossed and turned. Dreamed restless dreams. Other than the overwhelming emotion of what tomorrow represents to me, a few other things were thrown at me in the past few days that completely threw me off. I’ve felt vulnerable, detached, disconnected, and aloof. While it was nothing compared to what Jesus talks about in Matthew 26, I woke up in the middle of the night feeling overwhelmed.

I really felt like I had no choice but to do my best to allow myself to be overwhelmed by God. My go-to place for that is the Psalms. I have always appreciated the raw and honest nature of the Psalms. So, I put on my head phones, laid on the couch, and let the Psalms be read into my ears.

And you know what? It worked. I was overwhelmed.

I was overwhelmed with the goodness of my God. I was overwhelmed with his presence with his people. I was overwhelmed with his faithfulness. I was overwhelmed with the salvation that he brings and offers to us.

I think the key to finding the positive aspect of being overwhelmed is to know where we need to go to find it. I will oftentimes go to the wrong place, some place that doesn’t fulfill, that doesn’t really meet the need. When that happens, it does the reverse of positively overwhelming me and I feel even more overthrown. We can all find places that will give us a temporary reprieve from the overwhelming feelings we face.

But in the Psalms, we find the God who is there. We find the God who walks with us through the valley of the shadow of death. We are not alone. We may be overwhelmed, but if we really stop to think about it, we can be overwhelmed by all that God is and all that he has done for us.

This past Sunday, we sang this song in our worship service. It’s a song that I’ve loved from the first moment that I heard it. I had forgotten about it until Sunday and as the music washed over me, I was truly overwhelmed.

This Looked Worse In My Head

chicken-littleI am the king of creating crises in my head. I like to blame my experience and education as an engineer, always looking for the worst case scenario and trying to protect and design for what’s feasible to expect. As much as I’d like to blame it on that, I’ve come to understand that it’s more of a character flaw than anything else.

While it’s good to always be prepared (can I get an “Amen” Boy Scouts?!), I think I’ve moved from preparing for the unexpected to bracing myself for the worst.

If I really sat and thought about it, I could probably come up with at least a page of examples of this very thing from just the past six months. How many times I’ve anticipated that things were going to be so much worse than they were only to find out that the dramatic portrayal in my head was significantly distorted from reality?! Over and over again, I go in expecting that a situation is going to result in something awful and I come out shaking my head, asking myself, “Why do I keep doing this?”

If I’m honest, I think it’s about self-defense and self-protection. It always feels so much better when I’ve planned for the worst, at least I won’t be disappointed or surprised. But more often than not, things don’t even come close to looking like what I had pictured in my mind.

I had this experience happen multiple times in the last week. As soon as I stepped up to deal with a situation, my mind began racing. The moment that I woke up in the morning, my brain immediately jumped to the situation. How would I deal with it? What would be the outcome? How would I survive? My heart began beating faster and faster, I could feel the beads of sweat begin to form on my brow, that sick-to-my-stomach feeling overtook me, and I could feel the butterflies or moths or whatever they were dancing in my stomach.

Then the moment came……

And all of my undue fears proved to be just that: undue. My worries were for naught, in vain, unfounded. What was even more astounding (or embarrassing, if I’m honest) is that reality and the picture in my head weren’t even close. It was like asking a kid to draw a dragon and he ends up with a cute little mouse. What I feared and what actually happened weren’t even in the same ballpark.

But I’m learning. I think some of my anticipation really does have to do with preparation and self-preservation. One of my biggest struggles in dealing with people is my own emotion, my own self-management, from an emotional intelligence standpoint. If I prepare myself for the worst, I can also prepare myself with the specific mechanisms and checkpoints that I need to put in place to ensure that I hold it together, that I don’t fly off the handle, and that I keep myself from saying something or doing something I’ll regret.

 I don’t know if I’ll ever stop anticipating the worst. I sure hope I do. In the meantime, I hope I learn from every situation that comes across my path, that I learn how to self-manage, that I learn to keep my emotions in check, and that I learn that thinking that the sky is falling and preparing for just such a scenario really does get old after a while!