Seeing With Your Heart

I am a visual person. I like to be able to see things. I have a white board in my office where I can write out the things that I have to do and even work out ideas. It gives me the opportunity to sit at my desk and stare at the thoughts and ideas written on it. I can work them out in my head but right there in front of me as well. My thoughts come to life in a visible way, allowing me to see where I am going and order my thoughts better.

When I can’t see things, I panic. My anxiety rises up. I flip and flail like a fish dropped on dry land, struggling for breath and wondering when I will get a glimpse and see what I have determined in my head is necessary for me to see in order to move forward.

It’s funny how the things that we can so often think are necessary for our survival are far more expendable than we actually think. We obsess over things that seem crucial to us, viscerally reacting or even overreacting. Then we realize that we can live without the very thing that seemed to crucial and integral to our own plan.

Do I need to see, or do I just WANT to see? When I can see all of the pieces laid out in front of me, it’s really easy for me to wallow in my own self-sufficiency, elevating myself to a plain far above where I belong. Seeing all of the pieces may seem comfortable to me, but it mostly eliminates my need for trust and faith in God. If I can figure it all out myself, if I can seem to be self-sufficient, if there is no mystery, what’s the use of faith anymore?

A friend of mine describes the Christian life as being a combination of the two simple yet difficult tasks of trusting and obeying. It’s one step after another. Left foot. Right foot. Left foot. Right foot. Onward. The mundane yet laborious task of putting one foot in front of the other, not always knowing where your footfall will be three steps or ten steps or twenty steps from now. Only knowing where the next step will be. Like the psalmist’s words, a light to our path doesn’t shine for miles in front of us, it simply lights the way for the few steps that lie immediately ahead.

I’m beginning to see that what I think I need to see may be just an extension of my need to control things. Maybe trusting is less about seeing with our eyes and more about seeing with our hearts. Maybe all I really need to see is what’s immediately before me so that I abstain from self-sufficiency and I lean more on God, who has promised to guide me and provide for every step.

I’ll continue to resist, I can be assured of that. I’ll continue to search for ways that I can see what I was never meant to see. But in my search and in my resistance, perhaps I will find that the same vision that I have prided myself in with my eyes may transfer over to my heart and I will begin to see things not as I want to see them, but as I need to see them. Perhaps I will find that as difficult of a task as it is to see with my heart, it will serve me so much better in the long run.

Advertisements

Breaking the Cycle of Fear – A Book Review

breaking the cycle of fearWhat do we do when we come face to face with our greatest fears? What do we do when those greatest fears actually come true? How do we move past the fears that grip us to a place of trust in the One who we believe holds all things together?

Maria Furlough shares her personal story in her latest book “Breaking the Cycle of Fear.” Furlough shares and gives her readers an intimate portrait of her own fear and loss when, during pregnancy, she was told that her fourth child did not have kidneys or a bladder. She was told by her doctor that her little boy would live through her entire pregnancy and once he was born would only live for a few minutes or hours.

Furlough describes her feelings, “Through my sobbing, I never felt mad at God. I never questioned his goodness or blamed him. But the fear that had gripped me for so long turned into terror, and I literally felt like I was going to die from the burden of sadness, pain, and anxiety.” Then she goes on to name her fears as she realized that if she didn’t kill them, they were going to kill her.

This book is an honest testimony of how God brought Furlough through the fears that she had experienced into a place of peace and trust. She shares so many of the Scripture verses that ministered to her. She shares prayers that she prayed. She shares the difference between pleading and praying, giving examples of both in order to distinguish the difference.

Furlough writes, “we do a vast disservice to God’s Word when we pluck out verses and have them stand alone.” Having been through my own difficulties and had people cherry pick verses to share as encouragement, I resonated with her statement. I know that she experienced the same thing in the loss of her son, which makes the comment that much more poignant to me. She points to the importance of looking at context which is such a vital part of digging into God’s Word.

The material that Furlough shares in this book has come out of her own teaching at her church. She is real. She is raw. She shares from the depths of her heart, not pulling any punches. I love the way that she ends this book, sharing the stories of those who have been impacted by her teaching to move from fear to faith, trust, and peace. She even shares her husband’s story about his own anxiety and fear.

Out of our deepest heartaches and pains can come our greatest insights and lessons if we allow God to use them. Maria Furlough has shared out of her deep heartaches and pains and has shared how God used those to change her and transform her. Every reader can benefit from those insights in order to move from fear to peace.

(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.)

Ten Years in the Same Place

Gibsons Pentagon 2008 editToday marks my ten year anniversary in Virginia. Like so many anniversaries, I can’t believe that it’s been that long because it doesn’t seem as if a full decade has gone by since we moved here.

At the same time, as I look back over the past ten years, more has happened than I could have ever imagined. If someone had told me ten years ago all that would transpire in the years to follow, I think that I may have tried to alter the future in whatever means possible.

In these 10 years, the following has occurred:

– I started and finished my Master’s of Divinity

– My wife and I had another son

– My wife and I had a daughter

– My mom died after a six month battle with cancer

– My dad died twenty-one months after my mother

– I was involved with a difficult church transition

– I transferred my ordination into the EPC (Evangelical Presbyterian Church)

Those are just the big picture highlights. If I really stopped to document everything, it would be a bit overwhelming.

I’m certainly not the person that I was when I arrived here ten years ago. I have been given the gift of a whole lot of people who have taken time and invested in me. I have been blessed with great friends, great neighbors, great co-workers, and a great church family.

I’ve not always done things well or right, but I am grateful for the grace shown to me by God and by so many others. I’m glad that people did not let their first impression of me drive them completely away. I’m grateful for second chances.

I need to be honest and say that I’ve felt a rumbling within me lately. I’m not sure for what though. The only thing that I can say is that it’s for whatever is next. Something is waiting right around the corner, and I have a lot of ideas and thoughts about what it could be. I don’t want to move from where I am, physically at least. I feel like I have invested much and I’m just beginning to see some of the fruit of the investments and labor.

I’m not sure how much more patience I’ve gained in the last ten years. If anything, my patience has grown a little as my understanding has grown a lot. That’s kind of humbling because my understanding is still not nearly what I think it should be. But it’s in the journey that we are changed and transformed. Change and transformation takes longer in some of us than in others.

In the words of Psalm 118:24, “This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

I’m grateful for all the people who have come across my path over these last ten years especially,. I’m expectant to see what happens over the next ten years.

 

Shaped and Worn

20171114_130452.jpgMy head is spinning today with a million different things.

I received news of a dear friend’s passing as I walked into my office this morning.

I spent the last two days away with my fellow ministry partners preparing for what God has in store for us and our church in 2018.

I discovered some of my father’s old devotional journals and have been reading his thoughts.

While I was away on our planning retreat, I took a walk along the beach. There’s something about the ocean….

As I fought the wind trying to push me over and pummel me with its force, the sound of the surf pounding to my side was soothing. At the same time, the magnitude and power of those waves was slightly terrifying as they reminded me of just what they are capable of and how much damage they could inflict should they move beyond the boundaries of the sandy beach.

As I walked, I came upon a piece of driftwood. I spotted it while I was still far off. As I grew closer and it began to take shape within my vision, I began to anticipate the exploration of it. I felt like a kid again, the explorer, everything that I encountered feeling as if it were being encountered for the very first time.

Looking down upon that piece of driftwood, it was smooth yet jagged. I could tell that although there were still rough edges and points sticking out, the ocean had done a number on it. The wind and the waves had softened some of the edges, smoothing them out. Had I encountered the wood at the beginning of its journey into the ocean, I wonder whether I would have been as struck by its beauty.

Beauty. From ashes. From the ragged edges and jagged points. It seemed as if I were looking at a metaphor for myself. If you had encountered me years ago, I wonder if you would have been able to imagine the work that God would do in me over that period of time. Even now, I know that there are some who encounter me and still see those ragged edges and points and wonder when those jagged parts of who I am will begin to be softened.

We are all works in progress, it sometimes feels that we are like this driftwood, at the mercy of the sea. We are tossed and turned by the ocean, thrown back and forth, cut down, thrust underneath the current and undertow. There are times that we wonder whether our heads will rise above the fray long enough to catch a breath before we submerge once again below the surface.

But in our journey, through the storms and the waves, we are shaped and we are worn. The journey leaves us different than how we began it. Hopefully, better. None of us are left untouched or untainted by that journey. The question is, what will we be at the end of the journey and at the points all along the way?

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.

Jesus Journey – A 40 day journey

Jesus journeyThroughout the history of Christianity, there have been two ways that people have looked at Jesus. Jesus was God in flesh, incarnate, revealing who the Father is by the things that he said and did. He was seen as more superhuman than human and much more divine than just a man. This is a view of God from above.

The other way people have looked at Jesus was simply as a man, someone that we could relate to who happened also to be God in the flesh. His pain was experienced so that we could know we were not alone. The oppression he faced was faced so that those who are oppressed can relate to him and find comfort in who he is and what he has to offer. This is a view of God from below.

No one has ever existed before or since Jesus who was fully human and fully divine. Trying to find the balance between Jesus’ humanity and divinity can be problematic. Trent Sheppard sees the emphasis having been much more on Jesus’ divinity, which is why he wrote “Jesus Journey.”

In “Jesus Journey,” Trent Sheppard looks more at the humanity of Jesus. He doesn’t deny or diminish his divinity, but he draws from the stories of the gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, to paint a picture of Jesus that helps the reader to see him more human than maybe they have in the past.

Jesus was hungry, Jesus got angry. Jesus was stressed. Jesus needed sleep and rest. It might be easy to gloss over the humanity of Jesus in a reading of the gospels, but Sheppard tries to accentuate the accounts that help the reader see Jesus more realistically. He also does a good job of reminding the reader that the way that we see Jesus, two thousand years later, is not necessarily the way that the disciples and others of his time saw Jesus. It was a stretch for them, a process of belief that they entered into, to come to the place where they saw him as the Messiah.

Sheppard also breaks up the book in sections to look at the relationships that Jesus had with his parents, his Father, his friends, his death and suffering, and his resurrection. Through personal stories and anecdotes as well as the accounts found in the gospel, Sheppard weaves his way through the life of Jesus helping the reader to see the humanity of Jesus.

While I didn’t find anything outstanding here, I appreciated what Sheppard wrote. Having grown up in the church, it’s too easy to look at Jesus as the superhero and forget about his humanity. Sheppard does a good job of not deemphasizing Jesus’ divinity while reminding his reader that Jesus went through all of the things that ordinary humans have to go through as well.

“Jesus Journey” was a worthwhile read and could be useful as a devotion. Sheppard lays out his book in such a way that the reader can go through it in 40 days. The chapters aren’t too long and this could easily be a book that someone could read through during the 40 days of Lent in preparation for Easter.

(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.)

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.