Eyes In Front

I’ve written on here before about my running. I’m not a big fan of running, but I’ve been trying to make it a discipline that I follow in order to keep some cardio activity in my life. I usually tell people that I don’t like running but I like how I feel when I am running. That doesn’t mean I actually feel good when I run (I usually feel terrible) but that in my life, when I consistently run, I feel pretty good.

Since the Spring, I’ve been struggling with running. I’ve felt tired and lethargic, but I’ve kept it up. Then we went on our cross country trip and while I started out strong, I fell off the wagon and went a month (pretty much the length of our trip) without running. My last run took place at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina.

As I start to get back into it again, I’ve realized that it may be the worst time of the year to start it up again. The humidity is high and hangs on you like a soaking wet sweatshirt. Every step feels as if my legs weigh tons. Since my pace has slowed considerably, I’m trying to find the right balance and have yet to get there.

After running consistently for a few months, I began to realize just what a mental game running can be. At first, I was running with music, but I decided to take advantage of the stillness and quiet of the pre-dawn hours and simply breathe in the moments. My allergies aren’t too happy about those breaths, but I persist.

But the mental game of telling myself what I can or can’t do is a much bigger battle than I ever thought or imagined. “You can’t do this.” “You’re too slow.” “Look how much further you have to go.” “Can you really get there?” All these statements and questions plus so many more run through my head.

As I was running this morning, I was in the home stretch and a thought occurred to me. I was looking too far ahead. I was missing the ground right in front of me because I wanted to see how much further I had to go, how much longer that I had to endure. But looking too far ahead was making me miss what was right before me and it was distracting me.

I couldn’t help but see the parallels in life. I have a tendency to want to see the road much further ahead. I play out in my mind all of the next steps to make sure I’m prepared, but in my preparation (or so-called preparation), I am distracted and unfocused on what’s right before me.

So, I’m learning to focus on what’s right before me. It’s easier said than done, at least for me. I want desperately to see and know what’s coming, but I need to focus on just a few steps. One foot in front of the other, one step at a time. Or in the words of that great philosopher Dory, “Just keep swimming!”

Trusting

detourLast week, I was traveling to Minnesota to take part in some training. When I made my travel plans, I had strategically booked a later flight so that I would have the bulk of the day to spend with my family. The training did not start until the next day, so there was no urgency for me to be there the night before. How late I got there was more dependent on me than on anyone else.

My family dropped me off at the airport and I made my way through check-in and security. As I boarded the plane, I thought about the next few days and all that would transpire. I love to travel but as my kids have gotten older, I’ve not always been keen on leaving them behind while I go off on a journey here or there.

I settled into my seat on the plane and before I knew it, there was an announcement over the communication system that we would all need to deplane as there was a technical issue with the plane. You could hear the collective groans from people as they gathered their belongings and made their way back to the gate area from which they had just come.

As we waited for some update of the plane’s status, I played out all of the scenarios in my head of possible arrivals into the Minneapolis airport. As the time ticked by, I went to the gate agent to see about the possibilities that I had before me. If I didn’t at least make it Chicago that night, my prospects were bleak at getting to Minneapolis in time for my training. In fact, if I didn’t make it to Chicago, it looked as if I might miss the whole first day of a two day training.

The next 30 minutes were spent on the phone canceling my car reservation and seeing if there were any other possibilities for travel that the gate agent had overlooked. I never imagined how difficult it would be to cancel a car reservation, nor did I imagine how rude a customer service representative could be to someone who was doing their best to make a fairly important training session.

Needless to say, it was an eventful twenty four hours. I made it to Chicago, managed to get to a hotel paid for by the airline for two hours of sleep, made my way back to the airport, and arrived into Minneapolis about the time that my training was starting downtown. I downloaded the Uber app and quickly familiarized myself with a system that would prove to be incredibly useful over the next two days. I arrived at my training only an hour late having only missed the introductions of the others who were embarking on this training with me.

I like adventure, but I also like control. I guess that you might say that I like the adventures that I can control. Kind of ironic, as I think about it, controlled adventure seems to make as much sense as so many other oxymorons in life like jumbo shrimp, army intelligence, and government aid. The best adventures seem to come when there is a release or abandonment of control, not when one finds themselves hanging onto control for dear life.

But in order to abandon one’s self to adventure, there needs to be some kind of trust in something. At least that’s the way it’s been for me. If I trust something or know something that’s waiting on the other side of the adventure, I will have a much easier time giving myself over to it.

Life rarely provides such a neat and complete package served up to us, does it?

This week, I find myself away from home again for a longer period of time. One short month after purchasing a used vehicle, said vehicle doesn’t start and needs a jump. The scenario played out multiple times over the course of a day and I finally had to bring it into the dealer. Not the kind of thing that you expect out of a car that was certified when purchased, and certainly not the thing that you want to be dealing with when you’re far from home.

As I get older, I am realizing more and more that these are the things of life. Plan A rarely happens as was it was originally thought out. Smooth sailing seems to be reserved for storybook fare, not for real life. In fact, if there’s not some kind of disruption on the way to the final goal, I think I might begin to wonder if something was wrong.

In the midst of the detours, the Plan Bs (and Cs, Ds, and Es for that matter), and the hiccups and bumps along the way, there are some things that I can easily move past while others seem to bog me down. I’d love to say that I easily move in and out of detours and delays without missing a beat, but that would be me lying. Some detours set me off worse than others.

Working through these delays, I have to constantly remind myself that getting frustrated over the situation won’t improve it at all. Getting frustrated with the people with whom I deal with during these detours is an even greater misstep, not only will that not do any good, but that will multiply the number of people who are frustrated due to unforeseen circumstances, circumstances out of my control.

I’m learning to embrace the detour. As I sat in the waiting room of the car dealer the other day, the customer service agent came in to tell me that the battery replacement was not covered under my warranty. Not sure why, but that seems to be one of the items that is exempt from the extended warranty. But I couldn’t help but think to myself, at least I’ve got the money somewhere, at least I can afford this right now. Wanting to afford it and being able to afford it are two different things, and while I would rather have spent the money elsewhere, the fact that I don’t have to scrape the bottom of the barrel for it made me thankful in the moment.

I also couldn’t help but be thankful at the timing of it. I have no major plans that couldn’t be shifted in the moment. There was nothing imminent that I would miss in dealing with this detour. If the detour had taken place in a few weeks, it would have potentially set off an avalanche that would have rippled through plans that have been set for months.

I have heard it said that you can’t control your circumstances but you can control your response to those circumstances. I think I’m beginning to get it, it’s beginning to sink into the deeper parts of my brain. It doesn’t mean that I like it when I am delayed or when something unexpected and expensive comes along, but it does mean that I can look at it as an opportunity to grow and be stretched rather than just one more thing that could set me off.

I’m certainly not there yet, but the beautiful thing about a new day is that you get another chance to try it all over again.

Sabbatical – Week 1

Here I am, finally at the sabbatical for which I have been waiting. The hours leading up to it seemed harried, stressful, and somewhat surreal. It’s very hard to step away from something in which you’ve immersed your life, all the while knowing that rest and reinvigoration need to be a part of our lives if we think we’re going to stick around for any length of time.

I continue to be grateful for an opportunity that my father never had before me. Although he was a pastor for over 40 years, he never had a sabbatical. While there are some who think he would have gone stir crazy during a sabbatical, I think that’s one of the main reasons why he should have had one, to learn to be still.

Despite popular belief, a sabbatical is not a long vacation. In order to get to this point, I had to put together a plan with goals. Just like stay at home moms don’t sit around and eat bon bons all day, I won’t be sitting at home during these 13 weeks or sipping umbrella drinks by the pool all day long. Rest is an important part of this time, but so is reflection and learning.

I’m excited to spend some time at other local churches that I’ve wanted to visit for years. Having been in this area for nearly nine years, my visits to other houses of worship have been limited…very limited. We’ve had some invites to some other churches where our friends attend and are looking forward to taking advantage of this time to do this. There are also other places where we have been wanting to visit where we don’t really know anyone, so it will be an exciting time to take that all in.

I’ll be heading to a sister church for a few days to spend time with their staff and pastors. We have gotten to know them a little over these past few years through our denominational meetings. They’ve been incredibly gracious in setting up a fairly full schedule for me while I am there. I am looking forward to hearing them share their insights and wisdom that they have gained since they were planted fifteen or so years ago.

I’ll be spending some time with a dear friend and mentor who has extended invitations to me to come visit him in Lynchburg, Virginia. I look  forward to spending time with him as I always do. We usually meet up for lunch in Charlottesville, so this will be a nice change and opportunity.

I’m heading to Minneapolis, Minnesota for four days total to be trained in StrengthsFinders. As that time grows closer, I will be updating this blog about my takeaways and insights. StrengthsFinders has been a valuable resource for me and my wife in our nearly fifteen years of marriage. I’m looking forward to digging deeper and helping others to see the potentials when they can better understand their strengths.

Our sabbatical will end with a cross country trip. Two adults, three kids, one mini-van……it’s will be an adventure, if nothing else. We’ll get the chance to see some good friends along the way. Friends from many different chapters of life spread out across the United States. Texas. California. South Dakota. Ohio. We’ll throw some family in here and there in New Orleans, North Carolina, and it will make for a full trip.

In the time leading up to my sabbatical, God was already beginning to show me some neat things. I’m still processing those out, but I plan to share them as they take shape in my head.

Looking forward to this journey!

Without A Rudder

For the past few years, my lead pastor and I have gotten away for a few days in the Fall to do long-term planning. We’ve been blessed to have families within our church who have second homes at the beach that have afforded us the opportunity to disconnect from life for a few days to plan out the sermon series for the entire year.

Two years ago, we were able to get away to the Outer Banks and this past Fall we went to Norfolk on the coast of Virginia. It’s amazing how well you can think and how clear your head can be when you intentionally set aside time. We had a productive few days and although it was work, we felt recharged when the time away was over. Sure, there was some emotional and mental exhaustion from what we accomplished, but the sense of accomplishment and the relief of knowing that things were planned out was fantastic.

While most of the time was spent around a table with Bibles and a whiteboard, we tried to find some intentional time to do something fun. Being as we were on the Chesapeake Bay, we decided that if we finished at a certain time, we would go out in the two person kayak. We had been told by the owner of the place where we stayed that a few miles down the coast was a neat little restaurant where we could stop in for lunch. With our destination in mind, we set out, a little later in the morning than we had intended.

We had also been told that the best time for kayaking on the Bay was earlier when the water was smooth and calm, resembling a pane of glass rather than a body of water. I don’t think either of us had been out on a kayak before, at least not a two person kayak. While we get along well together, the true test of any friendship or relationship is a new situation experienced together for the first time.

After dragging the bulky kayak to the beach, we readied ourselves for the journey. While the waters couldn’t be accurately described as “rough,” they weren’t exactly calm and smooth either. We both got into our seats and settled in for the long journey.

I really can’t imagine what we looked like to any innocent bystanders observing us from the shoreline. I wonder if someone thought there was something wrong with us as we just weren’t moving well. We tried to get into a rhythm of rowing but it didn’t seem to matter. We worked harder and harder, rowing with all of our might, but the shoreline just didn’t pass as fast as we had thought that it would.

Now, we had observed some dolphins in the mornings that we had been there but we didn’t think that we would see them again, especially while we were actually out in the Bay. While we were struggling to move forward and after a time or two of capsizing, we seemed to find some kind of rhythm, although no one would have been recruiting us for a rowing or kayaking team.

As we made our way through the water, we heard a sound behind us and as we turned to look, we saw a school of dolphin coming up alongside us. As we inched forward through the water, they move ever closer to us until they were seemingly right on top of us and around us. To be honest, it was a bit unnerving. I’m not the greatest swimmer in the world and while dolphins are playful and not harmful animals, it still made my heart beat faster and faster.

Behind me, my lead pastor was giggling like a schoolgirl. The excitement within him was palpable and I couldn’t help but laugh as well at hearing his excitement. It was all a little surreal, paddling a kayak through the Chesapeake Bay with a school of dolphin swimming all around you. It took our mind off the fact that we were going nowhere fast.

After what felt like forever trying to get to our destination, we finally decided that this was going to take way too long and the end result may just have been exhaustion rather than something more rewarding. We turned the kayak around and started making our way back towards the place where we were staying. There was disappointment in us both as we weren’t able to accomplish what we had set out to accomplish, but the reality of the situation had settled upon the both of us like a storm on the mountains, and like that storm, the reality wasn’t subsiding.

As we got sight of the house in the distance, our paddling became more furious. We edged up to the shore and got off the kayak. As we did, I looked down at the back of the kayak to see the rudder there, laying sideways and clearly doing no good for us. I looked at my lead pastor and said, “Were you using the rudder at all?” He gave me a quizzical look, something that I’ve grown accustomed to, and said, “No.”

At that moment, we both looked at each other again and started to laugh in realization of what had just happened. We had been on a rudderless journey. While we were struggling and fighting to get through the water, our rudder sat there limp and useless because it wasn’t pointed in the right direction. Instead of helping us move through the water, it had been hindering our progression. Two former-engineers-turned-pastors didn’t have the sense between the two of us to have realized the importance of the rudder to help us on our journey.

It seemed like a metaphor for life. How often do we set off on our journey with sights set for the destination without checking to make sure that not only are we headed in the direction but we’ve got everything necessary to get there. Maybe we rush into the journey without a plan. Maybe we don’t have the directions and think we can do without them. Maybe we’ve failed to listen to some wisdom or advice that someone has given us.

Regardless of how we find ourselves in the situation, I think many of us can be on a journey through the water without a rudder. We’re fighting and pushing ahead but if we had just checked one thing, our journey would have been so much smoother.

We both learned a valuable lesson that day, and we won’t soon find ourselves duplicating our mistake. I can look back on the moment and laugh but it’s also a helpful reminder for me to think about what I need before I head out on a journey, even something small that’s forgotten could make way for a much more significant problem.

Ruts

snow_ruts

A snowstorm that drops fifteen or more inches of snow onto an area that doesn’t pride itself on snow removal can be crippling. My area has been experiencing this over the past week and still continues to dig out from what would be a routine storm for many areas north of us. While major roads and thoroughfares are fairly well cleared, a drive through the local neighborhoods will reveal a horrendous exercise for your vehicle’s suspension system and the driver’s and occupant’s insides.

As the snow melts in the areas where most vehicles have traversed, the ruts in the snow become more pronounced. In many areas, packed down snow has turned to clumps of ice which seem as if they will never melt.

Driving through the neighborhood, I feel a little like Lightning McQueen driving on the dirt track just outside Radiator Springs (if you don’t get this, watch the movie “Cars”). You’ve got to go right to go left. Of course, my speed isn’t even close to a car on a race track, but I hope you get the point.

It doesn’t take much to fall into the ruts that have been set by those cars that have gone ahead of mine. Even if I try to stay outside of the snow ruts, the tires on my car somehow find their way back into the ruts again. Creating an alternate route outside of those ruts is near impossible for a simple Toyota Camry. Moving the tires outside of the ruts causes the car to slip and slide, to fishtail and swerve until its tires find their way back into the ruts again.

It seems an appropriate picture of life to me. When traveling on the road of life, it’s hard to get out of the ruts of those who have gone before. You can try to break out of those ruts, but somehow, you keep finding yourself falling back into them again. The only way that you can get out of those ruts is to either have a vehicle that can handle moving outside the ruts, like a 4WD SUV or truck, or by clearing the ground that has been formed into ruts to start afresh. Either way, you need the right tools to make it happen.

As much as I hate getting stuck in ruts, they seem fairly unavoidable in life. Just like the Virginia DOT, it seems that we aren’t willing to expend the resources needed to remove the ruts to clear a path. We figure that over time, those ruts will take care of themselves, and if they don’t, maybe they’re supposed to be there. We can easily settle for what exists or what’s second best rather than trying to forge ahead creating a new path.

I’m looking forward to getting out of the snow ruts in my road, if for no other reason to prolong the life span on my car’s suspension system. But I also like to drive down the road with the ability to move around here and there. If something is in the way, I want enough margin in the roadway to avoid it. If things can be avoided that are a danger to me, my car, and my passengers, being stuck in ruts doesn’t allow for that avoidance.

Today, the temperatures will rise, the sun will shine, the snow will melt, and the ruts will be diminished, even if it’s ever so slightly. Nature will take its course and allow for that to happen, but the ruts in our lives need more intentionality to be removed. What will you do to remove those ruts? Or are you comfortable with them just the way that they are?

 

Walking On

“The hardest part of suffering is that the rest of the world keeps going like nothing has happened.”

Jenny Simmons

I was talking to a good friend the other day who recently went through a difficult time with a Christian organization for whom he worked. He was recounting the hurt that he experienced and was telling me about his new job. While he was incredibly encouraged that he found a new job, it’s not in his “wheelhouse” and it sounds like it’s going to drain him if he doesn’t find something more satisfying.

He said that one of the hardest things that he was experiencing was the fact that people just assumed that since he found another job, everything was fine.

It made me think of the grieving process and the above quote. When there is a loss or pain or hurt, it’s natural for the rest of the world to move past it once the initial shock of the situation wears off. But that same movement that happens for everyone else doesn’t happen quite as easily for those who have actually experienced the loss or pain or hurt. The world continues to turn and people’s lives go back to their own sense of normality, but loss, pain, and hurt have a way of leaving their victims to hold the fragile pieces of their lives in their hands and wonder how to piece them together again.

I’ve been through my fair share of loss, grief, and disappointment. During those times, I discovered this truth and tried my best to navigate through what have become the societal norms when it comes to coping. It seems that we don’t know how to slow down well. We don’t know how to simply sit in our pain. Worse yet, we don’t know how to sit with others in their pain either.

Be still.

 

Be still.

 

Be still.

Those are two words that seem so simple and yet our ability to not only grasp them but to put them into practice seems elusive. They’re not hard words to understand but they’re hard words to follow. How do we find time in the midst of all that we have filled our schedules with to stop and process? More practically, how do we find the balance between completely ignoring the pain and letting it overwhelm and consume us?

God is bigger than my loss. God is bigger than my pain. God is bigger than my hurt. While I believe all those things, they too are hard to actually move from simple assent to full on embrace. How do I take those statements and allow them to be more than trite and superficial advice?

We’ve got to put one foot in front of the other, one step at a time, moment by moment of each day. Like the Israelites journey through the wilderness, the path which we take seems more directed by circumstances or chaos than it is defined by order and understanding. While the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, life rarely affords us straight line paths through grief and pain and hurt.

The ones who understand this best are the ones who have experienced it the most. While there are highly empathic people on this earth, the ones who can understand this the best are the ones who have actually walked their own road, finding out for themselves that straight lines are overrated and journeys rarely go as the AAA Triptik tells us they should, especially through such unstable and unpredictable situations as grief or loss or pain.

We are created for community and we will find comfort and solace when we find others with whom we can share our experiences. We are a gift to each other and we can’t forget that we need others as much (if not more) than they need us.

We will continue to experience loss and pain and grief, that’s part of life in a broken and fallen world, but we need not experience it alone. We can help others to remind them and ourselves how important it is to let the current take you rather than fighting it. It may be a wild ride and it won’t always be fun, but when the journey is through, we will be wiser to share what we have learned with those around us.

Daddy

2015-09-21 12.20.48We’re in the thick of Fall birthday season at my house. With the exception of me, the other four immediate members of my family have birthdays within a three and a half week time span. It makes for a fairly harried Fall season when you also factor in back to school, Fall activities, and church activities.

Of course, when you have multiple children, you begin to learn some lessons the first and second time around so that by the time you get to the third time, you’ve stockpiled some tips and wisdom, enough to help you through.

My wife and I learned after the first two kids that pre-school birthday parties can easily be described as “herding cats.” If there’s ever a time for someone to spike the punch bowl, it’s probably the one that the parents are drinking from at a pre-school birthday party.

To be honest, my wife is the one who drives this train, I’m just along for the ride. That’s mostly because she knows what she’s doing, or at least gives the illusion that she does. She finds ways to make things simpler and I simply stand in awe of how she manages to pull all of these ideas together to actually make birthday parties…..dare I say…..fun?!?

We celebrated my daughter’s birthday party the other day and my wife had the brilliant idea of having it at the playground in our neighborhood right after pre-school. We ordered some pizzas, she made cupcakes, we prayed that the rain would hold off just long enough, and then we jumped in.

Early in the party, my daughter and her friends (there were only four others, because we’re just a little crazy, not stupid) decided that they wanted to play on the monkey bars.

Now, we’ve already endured one cast on a broken arm for our middle child and I wasn’t thrilled about the idea of having to endure my little princess/drama queen with a cast. So, I ran over to the monkey bars to help my daughter across.

As I grabbed her legs and let her grab onto the bars above, she said to her friends, “Look! My daddy won’t let me go, he’ll hold on to me!”

I stopped in my tracks for a second as I thought about that for a moment…..

What incredible trust!

She had full confidence that I wouldn’t let her go, that I wouldn’t drop her.

At that moment, I kind of panicked and thought to myself, “That’s an awful lot of pressure to endure.” But I kept holding on and avoided any disaster. One of her friends even trusted me enough to let me do the same for him.

I couldn’t help but think of Jesus’ words in Matthew 18 when he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

I stopped in my tracks because I wondered how recklessly I trusted my Father. I wondered how often I had put myself so fully and wholly into his hands and trusted that he had me. I wondered how childlike I was and had been in my faith and trust.

What a lesson for me, to be trusted and to learn to trust. I don’t think I’ll ever look at monkey bars the same way again!

Insights

We’ve been using an app during our Sunday morning gatherings at my church. The app allows you to do a live event during the message and to ask questions of those who enter the app. On the Monday mornings after I preach (and on some when I don’t) I check in online to read through some of the answers to the questions I’ve asked that I’ve gotten from people. It’s been insightful.

People can remain anonymous and share their honest answers to questions that we pose to them through this app. While there are times when we get the cookie cutter answers to questions that we ask, there are other times when the level of honesty can be downright brutal.

As I get older, I am learning more and more the level of brokenness in this world, in myself and in others. The deeper you dig, the more you see it and, sometimes, you don’t really have to dig very deep at all because we all want to be know and we all want to belong. It’s a valuable lesson for me to learn when in regards to listening to others. As someone who talks…..A LOT….I’ve been learning more and more to be a better listener, to ask good questions, to offer advice only when asked.

I appreciate the fact that I can be part of a community that is seeking to journey together. The life of faith is not always easy. Jesus never promised us that it would be easy, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to us when it takes effort. Community is such a huge part of the equation when it comes to life and faith that I just don’t know what people do without it.

I appreciate the level of honesty and the bravery that comes from sharing one’s thoughts, feelings, and pain. I’ve found that when we step into that level of honesty and bravery, we find that although we thought we were all alone on the journey, there are more people walking in step with the same struggles, fears, and anxieties.

I don’t have it all together and I am so grateful to be in community with others who don’t claim to have it all together either. Life is a journey and the best journeys always leave space for adventure along the way!

Family Road Trip

griwsold familySome of my fondest memories from my childhood were of road trips that I took with my family. I grew up in Connecticut and both of my parents were from Brooklyn. Neither of them traveled extensively when they were young. Most of my dad’s traveling was to his grandparents’ farm just outside of Charlottesville, Virginia.

My dad went to school in Columbia, South Carolina and established a deep relationship with an older couple in Lancaster, South Carolina while he was in school. The relationship that was formed was so strong that my brother and I eventually called this couple our grandparents.

Our road trips down south would consist of trips to South Carolina to visit these grandparents, trips to Georgia to visit my mom’s aunt and uncle, and trips to Florida to visit my mom’s parents. We never had the money to fly, so it was always a multi-day “adventure” to get there in the car.

My father had a knack for finding hotels. In fact, it became a family joke whenever we walked into a hotel that seemed a little suspect to us that we would say, “But it’s AAA approved.” That was Dad’s line all the time when my mom would get on his case about whatever sort of hotel he had found. There are some stories that I can recall of us staying in places where I feared I might be carried away by some kind of bug in the middle of the night.

It was just my brother and me in the back seat, but we still managed to find ways to argue.

“He’s touching me.”

“He crossed onto my side.”

“He farted.”

“He’s making noises on purpose.”

Any parent knows of what I speak. Kids have a way of getting under one another’s skin and pushing each other’s buttons. My brother and I knew just the right things to do and to say to get the other one frustrated.

Occasionally, my dad would have to utter his famous line, “Don’t make me pull this car over.” Even less frequently would he actually have to do it, but it happened. I wonder what the passengers and drivers in the other cars on the road were thinking when they saw my dad spanking his sons on the side of the road in the middle of the summer.

Somehow, we all survived those trips. Years later, when my brother and I had become adults, many of the stories that we shared when we would come together as a family revolved around those trips. They were filled with laughter, especially the further removed they were from us.

Recently, I took a trip with my family to Orlando. Flying was not really an option, so we made it into a road trip.

Now, I should probably write a separate post of the “Top 5 Things To Remember Before Going On a Road Trip With Your Children.” Some kind of anxiety medication might have been a prerequisite for this trip. But nobody told me that.

I’m not sure how children know, it’s like a sixth sense within them, but they know what the most frustrating phrases, songs, and sounds are, the ones that will be like fingernails on a chalkboard to their parents. Somehow they manage to find those and then say them them, sing them, and make them for 12 straight hours.

As my wife and I sat in the front seat of the car we were driving, I looked at her and said, “I think my parents were saints.” Somewhere, my mom and dad were laughing hysterically. It was just my brother and me, so my parents played man-on-man defense in their parenting. Maybe that was the issue, my wife and I had moved to zone defense three years ago when my daughter was born.

I wondered what parents did before the advent of the car DVD player. I wondered who decided that these car seats were a good idea considering that generations of children had somehow miraculously escaped injury being wide open and free in the back seat. I wondered when the last time that I had prayed for patience had been because it seemed that my prayer was being answered in giving me opportunity to exercise it. I wondered exactly when I had become Clark Griswold.

Now, don’t get me wrong, while there were moments that felt as if I were on the threshold of hell (in the spirit of Clark Griswold), but most of the time, it was pure joy. We laughed, we sang, we told stories, we played games. We weren’t signing up to be on any Hallmark commercials, but we enjoyed ourselves. My extraverted daughter would commandeer the attention of everyone and have us all sing songs that she made up, much to the chagrin of her brothers.

After spending more than 24 hours in the car together over the course of the week, we all somehow managed to survive. That’s how I know that God exists. Not only did we survive the trip, but I think we all had a good time. There were tears and shouts, there was frustration and anger, but in the end, I think it all turned out okay.

I would have loved to have seen the faces of my parents as we recounted our trip to them. I would have loved to see my children’s eyes light up as they described all of the things that they did and all that they saw. I would have loved to have seen my kids laugh when my parents told them of some of our road trips and all the misadventures that we had along the way.

We’re not being nominated for any “Family of the Month” awards, but you know what? I think we did just fine.

Now, to gear up for the next road trip!

Searching For Sunday – A Book Review

searching for sundayI’ve never met Rachel Held Evans in person. I’ve never even had a digital conversation with her. My guess is that if we ever met face to face that we would hate each other, love each other, or love to hate each other. She’s spunky, witty, snarky, and smart. She shares with a verbal eloquence and a truth-telling ability that will make the open reader ask helpful and valuable questions of themselves.

I picked up “Searching For Sunday” because I had committed to reading books by those with whom I knew I would not necessarily agree. I had read enough of Evans’ blog posts and articles and had heard enough about her to know that we were most likely at odds with each other in the areas of our theology and ecclesiology. But I didn’t pick up the book to refute everything that she said, I picked it up to learn, to hear, and to hopefully understand just what I might be missing.

“Searching For Sunday” is the story of her journey away from the church and back again. In fact, it may be aptly subtitled “There and Back Again” if she were honest about it, and just like Bilbo the hobbit’s tale, it involves twists and turns that might never have been planned for yet which rarely left her the same. Evans tells her story and shares her experience with raw boldness and honesty. Anyone who has had experiences with the church in America will most likely relate to much of what she writes and shares.

Along the way, Evans makes many generalizations, often looping everyone into the same bowl without taking into account that all evangelicals are not created equal. The evangelicalism to which Evans reacts is the same one that I have reacted towards, the one that emphasizes a “closing the deal” approach towards evangelism, the one that seems to be more about sin management and less about showing love to one’s neighbors regardless of their political views or sexuality. She criticizes the church for, “taking spiritual Instagrams and putting on our best performances.” This is her experience, an experience that she realizes has shaped her and formed her, that has caused her to be cynical and that colors every other experience that she has, an experience by which every other experience will be measured.

In the midst of her sharing her experience though, I find myself asking the question about what we ground our stories to. Do we connect our stories with God’s story and do we call others to do the same? Are we seeking to be grounded to God’s truth as we connect those stories? Is it enough for us to just find common ground on our experiences, or do we need to find something unmoving and unchanging in the midst of culture’s constant shift?

“Searching For Sunday is broken into seven parts, each named after a sacrament, the sacraments practiced by the Roman Catholic, Episcopal, and Orthodox churches. As she shares her own story and experience with the church, she shares what she sees as the church’s work and responsibility. She emphasizes the church’s work on us through these sacraments, claiming that the church tells us we are beloved (baptism), we are broken (confession), we are commissioned (holy orders), feeds us (communion), welcomes us (confirmation), anoints us (anointing of the sick), and unites us (marriage).

There is much that Evans says that I can support, so much that is so eloquently put that it’s hard to argue or disagree. It seems that we can find common ground on our influences such as Bonhoeffer and McKnight, but somewhere, our paths diverge and we separate. There are times when it seems that she cops out on the call of the Gospel, the call to come and die, the call to lose one’s self in a pursuit of holiness. In her pointed indictment of those who would put themselves in Jesus’ role in the story of the woman caught in adultery, I fear that she plays the role of the defeatist, not explicitly saying it, but implying that because the pursuit of holiness is difficult it should just be abandoned, asking, “So how’s that working out for you? The sinning no more thing? Because it’s not going so well for me.” Are we to abandon a pursuit of holiness because it’s hard?

Like much of our culture, Evans talks of love but it seems that her definition of love is based too much on her surroundings and experience rather than the sacrificial and holy love that we know from God. She claims that evil and death are powerless against love but what of God’s other characteristics of holiness and immutability? She seeks an “adapt or die” approach towards the church rather than calling us to do the same. When we ask the church to “adapt or die” are we still taking God at his word? Do we still believe that the Bible is God’s self-revelation or do we view it as a “Choose Your Own Adventure” from which we pick and choose the things that feel good or are least likely to offend?

Evans wrestles with good questions, she wrestles with the need to stay connected to her beliefs with both her head and her heart. I agree with her that the church has in recent decades been a place where it is unsafe to wrestle with doubt, where we can’t come to the table without assurance. The church needs to be open to those who are questioning and searching, knowing that the journey is often messy and will result in more than a few bumps along the way. We need to reconcile that connection between heart and mind without feeling the need to have everyone check both at the door.

Evans writes, “Imagine if every church became a place where everyone is safe, but no one is comfortable. Imagine if every church became a place where we told one another the truth. We might just create sanctuary.” Does this all mean that we simply continue “to be” without accountability and reform? Is truth-telling enough or should we allow the truth to mold us and shape us; does truth remain the same or does it bend and break with the culture and the times?

In the midst of creating safe and comfortable environments within the church, do we forget that there is an offensiveness to the Gospel? It’s easy to point out the offensiveness of grace that makes us scratch our heads and wonder as to the worthiness of the recipients, but we need to keep a balanced approach and remember that there is still the need for accountability, there is still a call to holiness. No, we will never “arrive” at that holiness on this side of eternity, but the process of sanctification should not be abandoned because it’s hard or because it won’t reach its completion on this side of eternity. Evans understands God’s tendency to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary and holy, but what sacrifices are made by us as we allow God to perform that transformation in us?

One of Evans’ many criticisms of evangelicalism is the “alliances and coalitions formed around shared theological distinctive elevate secondary issues to primary ones and declare anyone who fails to conform to their strict set of beliefs and behaviors unfit for Christian fellowship.” Does she recall Paul’s urging to expel the unrepentant brother from the church in Corinthians? We let everyone in but is there a call to repentance, is there a call to holiness? Do we simply let people come in and enter into the Gospel journey with no accountability with no call to repentance and a pursuit of a Christ-like life?

Evans comes to a great conclusion and makes the statement that, “following Jesus is a group activity, something we’re supposed to do together.” I agree with that. When we enter into the journey to follow Christ, that journey is not just relegated to Jesus and us as individuals, but us as a community, as a body. We can’t “do” Christianity alone, and that’s where I think Evans gets it right. It’s an arduous journey on which we find ourselves, a journey that hardly goes the way that we would expect or even wish it to go, but a journey in which we will find reward in the end.

I appreciate the way that Evans challenges and questions. I appreciate her brutal honesty and her authentic sharing. What she shares, she shares well and I think that she knows how different she looks at this point along her journey. Anyone wishing to hear the experience of another would appreciate her story, anyone seeking to prove her wrong will have missed the point of her book. No, Rachel Held Evans and I might not agree on everything, but there is enough here from which I can learn.

(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.)