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.

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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.

The Value of Relationships

Today is the last day of my trip. The end of a journey. For the last three and a half weeks, my family and I have been traveling across the United States. Richmond to Los Angeles and back again. Today, we finally arrive back home.

We’ve squeezed an awful lot into those 24 days. National parks. Baseball games. Reunions with friends. While we’ve been able to do an awful lot, there have been plenty of things that we just haven’t been able to do. There’s only a certain amount of time in a day and as much as you can try to stretch it, you just can’t do everything.

As we’ve been making our way back east towards home, we’ve had the privilege of staying with three of my closest friends from my time in seminary. On the way out, we connected with some family members and some dear friends of my wife’s from her college days.

In the midst of this valuable time, two things have stood out to me.

First of all, the structure of our trip, seeing all the sights that we could see and ending at a much more manageable pace with relationships at the heart of the final days, has been perfect. I can’t think of a better way to spend these last days as we inch our way towards home than to engage in meaningful conversations with some of the people that I love and respect the most.

All of these friends of mine are spread out across the Midwest. South Dakota. Iowa. Ohio. One friend, who we were not able to see, lives in Singapore. Needless to say, we don’t get to see each other very often. While two of the three that I saw were at our seminary graduation a few years ago and one of the three was officially ordained into ministry two years ago, we all have not really spent time together in years.

The second thing that stood out to me was the importance of these relationships. The nature of life is that it just doesn’t slow down. I’ve spent a lot of time during my three month sabbatical considering that truth and its implications. In the midst of schedules, families, crises, and all the things that life throws at us, we make time for the things that are important to us, but even the things that are important to us can have a tendency to fall by the wayside as the things that are directly present before us invade and overtake us like kudzu on trees in the southland.

As I ramp up to dive back into the fray of ministry after three months away, I can’t think of a more fitting preparation for my reentry than to spend time with these friends and their families. One of the things that I valued most about my time in seminary was time spent with these friends outside of the classroom. Sure, we learned a lot within the classroom, but the nature of the program that we went through was that all of us were in ministry and doing ministry while we were getting our degrees. The ability to share about what was happening and the things that we were learning along the way was invaluable.

I am grateful for all of the people that God has placed along my path. I’m especially grateful to these guys that I’ve had the privilege of spending time with over the last few days. I’m not sure when we will have the chance to connect again, but I sure hope it’s soon. Relationships are a much more precious commodity than we can often treat them, I’ve got to make sure that they become a priority. Spending quality time with trusted and respected friends is worth the effort and sacrifice that we make in order for it to happen. The benefits that we will reap from time spent are incalculable, especially when we consider the alternative and just what we might miss out on.

Rules for Sabbatical

Being a pastor is a different kind of job. It’s not just a 9 to 5 job where you do your work and then go home. Oftentimes, it’s a job that last far beyond the bounds of what some might see as the typical daily grind. It’s a job that isn’t easily “left at the office” either. If you are truly called to it, there are deep ties and connections with those to whom you minister. While one might develop some deep relationships with co-workers in normal jobs, working as a pastor may result in deeper relationships with more people.

As I have been preparing to go on my three month sabbatical starting next week, it’s been mildly amusing to hear firsthand or secondhand about what people think are the appropriate levels of engagement that they can have with me along the way. Can we talk to you if we see you in public? What if we’re having a party? Can you come? How about golf? Can you play?

I was at a meeting the other night and made jokes with the others at the meeting as I imagined people seeing me in the grocery store and running the other way for fear of disrupting my sabbatical. If someone did that, I’d be really disappointed (although it might result in a good, hearty laugh). Everyone laughed at the thought of that but I told them that I was legitimately planning to write a post about the rules for my sabbatical. So, here it is.

My lead pastor gave me a piece of advice that I think can frame up a lot of my sabbatical. He said, “If it causes you anxiety or it raises your blood pressure, you probably shouldn’t be doing it.” While life will still go on throughout the thirteen weeks of my sabbatical, this is good wisdom to know the kinds of conversations in which to engage and which should be avoided.

I am a social person and to become anti-social during this time would be uncharacteristic of me. So, I don’t plan to do that. At the same time, engaging in banter on Facebook or other social media outlets may result in that anxiety and raised blood pressure of which I wrote. It also may invigorate me. I plan to continue to blog and hope to actually become a little more consistent and disciplined in my writing through this time. I am going to do my best to allow people to track with me through my blog in a way that they might normally do via more personal contact.

While I will most likely be taking advantage of attending other houses of worship when I am in town during this time, I certainly don’t want people to avoid me, especially when they see me in public. I don’t want people to feel that they can’t talk with me. I don’t want people to feel that they can’t drop me a note here and there, shoot me a text, or even leave me a message, especially if it’s to let me know that they are thinking about me and praying for me. I have a hard time thinking that kind of encouragement would raise my anxiety or my blood pressure.

When it comes to whether or not something is acceptable during this time, I think others can probably abide by the same rule about raising anxiety and blood pressure. Like I said, the thought that people are praying me through this time and the idea of me getting encouraging notes, texts, or emails (to my non-work email) along the way is a pretty neat thought.

This is all new territory for me. My father was a pastor for over forty years and he never had the pleasure of privilege of having a sabbatical. While his church was incredibly accommodating with him for different seasons of his life, especially when he got his doctorate, to the best of my knowledge, he never received an actual sabbatical. So, I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have this opportunity.

I’m excited for what lies ahead during this time. It will be a learning and growing experience. When I get back, I will see just how well I’ve done at raising up others to serve in my areas of ministry. I’m excited to share just where I am along the way and what I’m being taught through the bumps, the curves, and the quiet moments on the road.

3/3/00

Every year on this day, I can’t help but thinking what happened in the year 2000. On March 3, 2000 (3/3/00), I asked my wife (then girlfriend) to marry me. I’ve blogged about it before (see here), but every year, I am astounded at just what happened that day.

Now, my marriage is far from perfect. If I’m honest, I can see my own deficiencies and inadequacies come through. I see my faults and foibles, my sins and missed marks, but there is something about marriage that shows me a picture of God.

We were made for relationship. God did not create us in order that he would have something or someone to play with, robots to heed his every command, or groveling servants who simply obey his every whim. God created us to experience the relationship that had existed between the persons of the Trinity from eternity past. Marriage gives us a picture of that when two people come together to make one.

All too often, we can look at our marriages and think that they are there to fulfill our every wish and desire. We want what we want and when we don’t get it, we think something is wrong. But the longer that I am married, the more I see my own selfishness, the more I see just how deep it runs, and the more I realize that marriage is about being changed and transformed. I’m not who I need to be, but I’m moving in that direction……I hope.

I got married a little later than my peers. It’s not that I hadn’t had relationships that had been serious before, but I just don’t think I was ready or in a place where marriage would have been viable had I not waited as long as I did. I fear that my marriage would have ended in divorce had I got married earlier than I did.

But on March 3, 2000, I was given a gift. She said, “yes.” She said, “yes” to an engineer who eventually became a pastor. She said, “yes” to a home that was only a few minutes away from family but eventually was a half a day’s drive to family. She said, “yes” to not one, or two, but three kids. She said, “yes” to walking alongside me when I buried not one, but two parents. She said, “yes” to an adventure that would lead us to North Carolina and Virginia. She said, “yes” to watching her husband be beaten, battered, and bruised by those who claimed that they were striving to be like Jesus.

In front of a small group of friends and family, I asked her to marry me and she said, “yes.” We celebrated the next day with our family, a few months later at a party with a larger crew, and fifteen months later, we were married.

There are many days when I look back and I wonder what I did to deserve her, and then I realize that I didn’t do anything, that’s grace. Many days I wonder how much more she can put up with, and then I realize that’s grace too. As I wrote in the song with which I proposed to her, “Your love makes me more than I dreamed of, more than I wished for or ever thought I could be.” Every day I get a picture of God’s grace through the gift that he has given me in my wife.

Like I said, we’re far from perfect. We both have issues, I haven’t found anyone who doesn’t have issues, but we’re moving through them. It’s not been an easy road, but the journey has been rewarding and the changes that have taken place in us are not of this world.

I celebrate the gift of grace that came to me through a woman saying, “yes” sixteen years ago. She’s said, “yes” every day since and in that “yes” is a gift that I experience every single day.

I love you, Carebear!

Confess

confessI got a phone call from a friend the other day. He had been struggling and I guess he just needed someone to talk to. As I listened to him talk through his struggles and recounting the past weeks, I realized that he was confessing to me.

For a moment, I stopped and thought of the confessional booth in the Catholic church. The priest goes in one side while the confessor goes into the other side. The confessional booth seems shrouded in darkness and secrecy. It’s a secret place where sins can be confessed without fear or worry of listening ears or prying eyes.

My friend needed to tell someone else what had happened over the past few weeks. He needed to get it off his chest, to feel like he wasn’t the only one bearing the burden. He needed to know that despite his shortcomings and faults, he was still okay.

1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Despite our trust and faith in God, it can be difficult to simply read words on a page to understand and know that there is forgiveness and absolution for our sins. We want more, we want something tangible.

I think that’s why it’s so difficult for many of us to embrace the idea of grace. We feel like we should do something, that there needs to be an action, a punishment, a penalty, a payment that WE should be making. Instead, we can fail to see that the action, punishment, penalty, and payment have been made once for all. There is no need for additional payment, but there is a need for additional confession and repentance.

Confession is a mysterious thing to me. It’s something that we are called to do and when we do it, most of the time, we find ourselves feeling that burden lifted once we’ve confessed it. While 1 John 1 tells us about the need to confess to God, there is another aspect of confession that I think my friend subconsciously realized that James makes reference to in James 5:16, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” We are called to confess to one another.

In a perfect world and a perfect church, this would most likely not be a problem. Frankly, I think our social media culture has made this more ominous and challenging. Why should we confess our sins to one another when everyone else seems to have it all together? Why should we give someone the ammunition that they might need to exploit us, to abuse us, to question us, and to judge us?

Our hesitation to confess to one another has more to do with fear than anything else. We are afraid of what those confessions might turn in to when in the wrong hands. We are afraid that in our confessing, others won’t feel led to confess in kind.

What would it look like if we all followed the urging of James and confessed to one another? I’m not talking about the, “I kicked the dog on the way to work this morning” confessions, I’m talking about REAL confessions:

“I thought lustfully about someone today.”

“I saw my neighbor’s new car and I wanted it more than anything.”

“I found my fingers and my eyes wandering when I was on the computer last night and I ended up somewhere no one should go.”

“I found a way to make a little extra money at work but I know it’s not legal.”

The list could go on and on, but I wonder how often we utter those confessions to one another. How different would our lives look if we were to have the freedom to confess to one another? How intimately would we need to know someone for us to confess these things to them?

I don’t have the answers, but I was struck by the fact that a friend was willing to make himself vulnerable and lay his burdens down. I wonder when I’ll feel like it’s okay for me to do the same thing.

 

Chipping Paint and Oncoming Complacency

chipping paintI heard a quote this past week that has been bouncing around my cranium since I heard it. I’ve made reference to it no less than half a dozen times since I heard it because the truth of the statement resonates so deeply with me.

“Time in erodes awareness of.”

That’s it! Might not seem too profound to the average reader or hearer, but to me, who has seen it played out a lot, it makes sense and there is a profoundness in its simplicity. The basic premise being that the longer you look at something, the longer that you are exposed to something, the less impact it has on you without a change of perspective.

Let me illustrate.

In your house, you have a section of wall going up the stairs where the paint is chipping. Every time that you walk past it, you scold yourself inside your head, telling yourself that you need to take time on a Saturday to repaint that section. But the more times that you walk past that chipping paint and don’t do anything about it, the more likely you are to just start to ignore it. The longer amount of time passes, the less your awareness of it will be.

This is why it’s absolutely ESSENTIAL to always be introducing new perspectives and viewpoints into an organization that is truly seeking to change and get better. If organizations or churches continue to have the people who have been within those organizations and churches take “fresh” looks at things, it won’t matter. The amount of time that a person is in an organization can be directly proportionate to their own awareness of that environment.

That’s not to say that a person’s awareness is completely eroded if they have been within an organization or a church for a long time, but the longer they are there, the more effort will have to be taken to gain new perspectives, inviting feedback not from those whose awareness has been eroded over their time and longevity within that place, but from those whose fresh look allows them to see more clearly, without the blinders and lenses of time that have eroded that awareness.

When we stay in the same place for a long period of time, there is a tendency towards complacency if we fail to do something to combat it. Unless we are intentional about changing our perspective and getting a glimpse of things with fresh eyes, we will grow complacent to the very things, ideas, and issues that need to be addressed.

So, what can we do within an organization or a church to change things up in order to avoid the erosion of awareness and the onset of complacency?

1) Be aware – Awareness is the first key ingredient to combating this. If we fail to be aware of our own inadequacies in seeing things clearly, we will continue to do the same thing over and over again, all the while expecting different results. We know where that leads, regardless of whether or not we are willing to admit it. We need to be aware of our own propensity towards complacency and a lack of awareness.

2) Be intentional – Once we are aware of this, we can’t just leave it there. We need to be intentional in addressing the issue. We have to create a structure and environment that looks for opportunities to see the possible erosion of awareness and move towards greater awareness. Intentionality means finding ways to raise awareness and perspective.

3) Invite feedback – This is a dangerous one, I will fully admit it, so I’m following it up with #4, so be sure not to stop here. We need to invite feedback. If we fail to invite feedback, how else are we to measure things? In order to raise awareness, we need to realize our own limited perspective and invite the perspectives of others who see things differently than we do. It doesn’t mean that we take everything that we receive as feedback and implement it. That’s why we need this next one.

4) Measure feedback – This has become one of the hardest things for churches to do, at least the churches of which I have been a part. Measuring feedback is essential, yet the methods for measurement will vary based upon the individual unless there is a uniform process or procedure implemented and put into play that will allow for a more consistent measurement. In the case of awareness, time in erodes awareness of, so it’s important to measure feedback in terms of time in. Like I said, this doesn’t meant that you throw the baby out with the bathwater and you automatically dismiss feedback from someone who has been around a long time, but it also means that you carefully consider how much that person’s awareness of a situation has been eroded by their time within the organization or church.

We were never meant to be alone. In the second chapter of the book of Genesis, everything has been created and God has set Adam over these things, but he realizes that Adam does not have a suitable helpmate. His solution is to create Eve, and we see the beginning of community and partnership. We need each other, that’s how we can avoid complacency, that’s how we can avoid an eroded awareness of our current environment and situation.

As we build deeper relationships with one another, we build up trust and allow for feedback from each other. If our relationships remain shallow, the chances of us drifting down into complacency and erosion of awareness will become greater. Our lives will easily become environments of chipping paint, in need of restoration but lacking the awareness to realize that our perspectives have diminished and eroded our ability to see things as clearly as they really are.

We Need To Talk – A Book Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where’s My Heart?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Among the Best

2015-02-27 10.22.3315 years ago today, I made one of the best decisions of my life. Well, technically, the decision was made before that day, but the culmination of that decision happened on that day. On March 3, 2000, I asked my wife to marry me. My life has never been the same since, and for that, I am grateful.

Now, granted, I’ve made a whole lot of bad decisions in my life, but I’d like to think that some of my better decisions might counteract those bad decisions, and this is certainly one of those decisions that I’d like to think that about.

She was still in school at the University of Connecticut at the time, so I had conspired with her roommates. Although there were a number of people present, it was only her roommates and me who were in on the plan. It was not uncommon for us to have game nights with our friends. She wasn’t into the party scene by the time that she got to college, so hanging out with friends was a perfectly acceptable way to spend a Friday night. So, we planned it out that her sister, who was at the same school, and her brother, and a few other close friends would come over to the apartment on that Friday night.

I wasn’t exactly sure how I was going to do it all so I was talking to one of her roommates who informed me that she was expecting that music would be involved, in other words, she thought that I might sing her a song.

No pressure, right?

Forcing creativity is a bit intimidating, but I concocted the whole plan assuming that it would come at some point. We would be playing a game where I would make up a question and then sing a song that I had written. No problem at all, as long as I could actually get the song written.

I’m generally a planner, so this was all in place about a month or more before the date actually came. I would set aside time every week to work on the song in hopes that it would be finally ready by the time the date came.

But time ticked on. 4 weeks……..3 weeks………2 weeks………1 week…….

It came down to days before this whole thing was to take place and the well continued to be dry…..I mean, BONE DRY! Nothing would come. I couldn’t get anything written, I mean, nothing. It seemed that the harder I tried, the harder it became. At that point, I knew that I needed some diving intervention.

I wasn’t going to settle for using somebody else’s song, it just wasn’t “me” to do something like that. It seems fitting, in retrospect, that the place where I would generally do most of my writing was in the sanctuary of the little Baptist church where my dad served as pastor for nearly 40 years. I would spend many a late night in there, playing the piano or guitar, hoping that the “muse” would find me. I had a key and would come and go as I needed to and I wasn’t afraid of disturbing anyone but the church mice.

So, I prayed and prayed for something that would be acceptable….

And it finally came, on February 29, 2000, just three days before the planned date. Talk about cutting it close. At some point, in the wee hours of the morning, ideas began to flow and they kept coming until I was finally finished.

Over the next few days, I did what I could to polish things up. I practiced until my fingers ached to get it just right. Everything was in place.

At the last minute, things always get even more hectic. This was no exception. M I practiced until my fingers ached to get it just right. Everything was in place.2015-03-02 08.14.43

At the last minute, things always get even more hectic. This was no exception. My wife’s sister decided she wasn’t so certain that she would be coming at the last minute. I told her that she really needed to be there, it was important, but I still never revealed the truth of what would be happening.

The day finally came, after coaxing and convincing, everyone was there, a few showed up a little late, but we were all there. We finally got around to the game and as we were going around playing, my brother-in-law nearly won the game right before my turn. Hadn’t thought of that possibility. My turn came and in the form of a question in the game, I asked my wife to marry me and told her that she needed to listen to a song that I had written.

When all was said and done, she said, “Yes.” We celebrated with our families the next day. And the rest, as they say, is history.

The other day, I found the notebook in which I had written the song. It’s always fascinating to watch the genesis of a song, especially one like this that meant so much to me. Good memories and I am grateful that I have a record of it all.

All along the way during the evening of the engagement, I had her roommates taking pictures to document the moment. I was so glad that we did that. Not long after we were engaged, my mom put together a collage of the pictures surrounding the words of the song that I had written for my wife. This is a picture of it. And in case you can’t read the words, here they are:

 

Your Love Makes Me by Jon Gibson

Chorus

Your love makes me more than I dreamed of

More than I wished for or ever thought I could be.

Your love makes me more than I could ever imagine

Your love is setting me free.

I always knew that God’s promise was true

When He said He’d provide all that I need.

But I never dreamed I could find such a love

That come straight from a story you’d read.

There was a day when I looked at you

And I saw a girl, no more than a friend.

Then something changed, how I looked, how I felt,

And I knew I’d found a love with no end.

Repeat Chorus

In your eyes lie the answers to questions

I ask of myself about who I should be.

You’re always there with the words

That can show me all of the things I can’t see.

A gentle touch or a warm embrace

Can change stormy skies from gray to bright blue.

Nothing could replace or compare to the love

That I am sharing with you.

Repeat Chorus

Bridge

When the seasons grow cold

And the storms cloud our way

When we can’t find the words

Or the right things to say

I will be there for you

I’ll show you my love by the things that I do

‘Cause your love is making me into all I can be.

When I open my eyes to the sunset

And see all the beauty of God’s mighty hand

I realize that the gift I’ve been giv’n

Is a woman intended to complete this man.

I see in you the true reflection of the One

Who once died to make us His own.

I stop and think what the world might be like

If I had to face it alone.

Repeat Chorus

 

Funny to look back at those words 15 years later. Some of them make me cringe at the “cheesy” factor while others seem as appropriate today as they were back then.

Today I am grateful for that day and the outcome of it. I’m glad that it turned out the way that it did and I’m looking forward to celebrating this day again and again, along with all of the other days that we can share together.

I love you, Carrie!