Speaking of Now

Having eulogized both of my parents at their respective funerals, I know a little bit of something about speaking words of someone when they’re gone. I consider myself fairly fortunate to have had an open and honest relationship with my parents, enough that not many things were left unsaid between us when they finally died. There were no major regrets felt by me, nothing that I felt I should or shouldn’t have said. Sure, there are always things you wish you could have said more, but I don’t feel like I missed saying anything important to them.

The thing is, while I know they aren’t wasted words, speaking kind memories after someone has gone, they sometimes feel as if they could have been even more significant if the person of whom they are about had been present at the time of their speaking. Like I said, I said all the things that I really needed to say to my parents, but I never stood in front of them and gave them one big tribute the way that I did at their funerals.

It kind of makes you think about the value of words said while people are still alive. Do we reserve the strongest and most powerful words for people once they’ve passed or are we honest with them while they sit across the table, room, computer, or phone line from us? Do we tell them the things that they need to hear or just what they want to hear? Do we encourage them and tell them how much they mean to us?

I’ve had two fairly distinct situations in the last week where encouraging words were spoken over someone who is still here. I shared about one of those experiences the other day, celebrating the 85th birthday of my wife’s grandmother. It was neat to hear the legacy tributes that were shared, the encouragement to her of her faithfulness, devotion, faith, and selflessness. It was probably also great for her to hear those things. While she exudes confidence, I am sure that in her 85 years of life, she’s had some doubts here and there, wondering whether or not all the sacrifices that she was making were really worth the efforts and, well, the sacrifice.

But those words were spoken over her, not over her lifeless body, over her life-filled body with ears that can hear, eyes that can cry, and a brain that can process. Those words will mean the same and still hold their power and strength either way, but they are so much more satisfying to the giver when the receiver can actually hear them.

The other distinct situation was the small birthday gathering of a friend who turned 40. A bunch of guys gathered around a firepit to just talk and hang out. While I had had grand plans of having everyone share stories, I realized in the midst of the time that co-opting it from what it had organically become would have turned it into something that it was not and most likely would have devalued it in some way.

As the time wound down as these men stood around a fire celebrating this brother and friend who is moving into a new decade of his life, the one who was being celebrated looked around the circle and spoke encouraging words over each and every person there. I had to chuckle to myself as I thought, “Wait a minute, this is supposed to be about him, not all of us.” That’s just him though, always wanting to spur others along.

I couldn’t resist co-opting the moment after he had finished his journey of encouragement around that circle. I spoke words over him and we all circled up around him, laid hands on him, and prayed over him. It was a holy and sacred moment, a moment of which you don’t experience many in life. Heaven touched earth and I had a sense that the Father was pleased by what he was seeing.

Not only was the Father pleased, but I am pretty sure that the one who was being celebrated was pleased as well. I think he was glad to have been the recipient of this time and celebration. I think he enjoyed it far more than he would have had he not been there, right?

Words are important. It was a stark reminder to me throughout all of these events, a reminder that I sadly need more than I’d like to admit. We can be quick with words or we can be slow with words. Sometime we wait too long to share them, sometimes we share before we’ve really had the chance to think through just what it is that we plan to say. Either way, words can hurt. In the words of INXS, “Words are weapons, sharper than knives.”

But words can lift up, they can lift us out of the pit, the ash heap on which we currently reside, and carry us up to the mountain, or at least out of the muck and mire in which we find ourselves. It’s important that we share them, especially those encouraging ones, now rather than waiting until tomorrow. After all, none of us knows what today or tomorrow holds.

If you’ve got something to say, say it, don’t wait until it’s too late. The words will be much sweeter for you when they’re shared with someone who can be physically and emotionally present to hear them and appreciate them. Everyone likes to hear an encouraging word, so why not share one today!

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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!

Love and Death and Memories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Soli Deo Gloria!

Further Thoughts on Place

This past Sunday, a young woman shared her story of faith and doubt in our community of faith’s corporate time together. I had heard bits and piece of it before she had stood that morning, but I hadn’t heard all of the gory details that she shared. A story of rejection, of hurt, of pain, of doubt, of abandonment, and finally, redemption and restoration.

As she shared her story, she looked around and started by saying that she didn’t fully realize until that moment that part of the story that she shared, part of her rejection, took place in that very room. As she talked about a gang of middle school girls who bullied her and said some heartbreaking things to her right there in that room.

She shared her story for a few minutes and when she was done, she received applause that continued…..and continued…..and continued, until the whole place was standing. There in that room, in that moment, redemption had happened.

It wasn’t until later that I fully appreciated what had just happened. The very place where this young woman had been rejected, the very place where she felt that her faith had died was the very same place where new life was given. There in that middle school cafeteria, the place that had probably haunted her memory for years, new memories were made. As she courageously shared her story, the story from life to death back to life again, she saw a room full of people who saw her as she is, a forgiven child of God. She was affirmed in her honesty. She was affirmed in her bravery. She was given a new start.

Isn’t it just like God to take the very source of our hurt and turn it around? How hard it is for some of us to face certain things because of the memories that those things conjure up for us, yet he sees fit to use some of those very things to remind us that we are not in control, nor are those things or those circumstances. He is the one who is in control. He is the one who can turn things around.

I’ve seen it happen in my own life, and I am reminded that God cares about the little things. Sparrows don’t fly or die without him knowing about it. While we shouldn’t be so consumed with some of the trivial things in our lives, we also shouldn’t be surprised when God shows up in some of those places where we least expect it. God is in the redemption business and there’s nothing like seeing it played out right before your eyes.

Fans, Feedback, and Freedom

This blog has not exactly gone viral, which is fine for me. I didn’t start writing out of a need to be needed or a deep desire to become famous. While I would love to write a book at some point, writing is therapeutic for me, it helps me process and, for the last few years, grieve. Along the way, I’ve picked up some fans, or at least followers, who are fairly regular at reading my blog. I appreciate them greatly.

Feedback is an important part of writing as well, and I do my best to hear and listen to the feedback that I’ve gotten. More often than not, my blog gives me a place to process feedback that I have received in a more expansive format. I have had so many conversations which have turned into thoughts which have turned into blog posts. I appreciate feedback, especially from those who I know are looking at for my best interests. I’ve learned a ton from all of that feedback that I’ve received.

I’ve always tried to stay current and deal with current issues while also dealing with my own issues (of which there are probably a lot). There are some days that I write and I think that what I’ve written is brilliant, only to see that no one else agrees. Other days, when I write out of obligation rather than deep desire and emotion, it seems that I strike a chord and lots of people read. I’ll say this for blogging, it certainly keeps you humble. Anytime that you think that you’ve got it figured out, you better think again.

Part of the joy of this blog is the freedom that I have to share what I feel led to share. I have been so grateful for that freedom and grateful for all of those readers who have benefited from what I have shared. While I write book reviews on occasion and post them on this blog, I enjoy reading and love the fact that I can read and write about what I’ve just read. The freedom to share has been a great benefit of this blog for me.

Last year, a fellow blogger and friend of mine from seminary asked for those who were regular readers of his blog to offer up their favorite posts of his in order to revisit some reader’s favorites. I was one of the contributors as I have always watched and read his work with admiration for his level of brilliance and intellectuality. His pursuit sparked the idea in me and I have asked two faithful readers to contribute some of their thoughts and share their favorite blogs for me to share.

So, I will be reposting those blogs with their comments every Friday for the next few months. I hope that these posts and their insights will speak to you as they did to me. It’s always good to write, it’s even better to know that your writing is being read and used to speak to others. I am blessed to have had the opportunity that I have had and look forward to hearing more comments from those who read.

As always, thank you for taking the time to read. What I write comes from my heart and I am glad to share it, especially when what is shared connects to someplace deeper inside of you, the reader.

Cheers!

The Trigger

Nope, this post isn’t about guns. Not even close. Sorry to disappoint you if that’s what you came here looking for, but I would love for you to stay and read.

I watched a movie the other night that caused me to write a post yesterday. The movie had to do with a father-son relationship. It triggered something in me that was bound to come. Two weeks from today will mark the one year anniversary of my father’s death. And so, as I began to pour my heart out onto a screen, as I watched the white space be filled with black letters, I should have realized that the trigger had been pulled and that from here on out, at least for the next few weeks, EVERYTHING will be a trigger to make me think of my dad.

The other night, I was at a choir rehearsal and we were going through a hymn book for an upcoming hymn sing that we are having. As I called out the numbers of the hymns we were singing, I came to hymn number 444…..and I began to laugh.

You see, I grew up going to two worship services on Sunday, one in the morning and one in the evening. The evening service was much more relaxed and casual. The order was more freeform and flexible with much less of a liturgy than its morning counterpart. My father, the pastor, would lead the singing in the beginning and would ask for requests. He had a very quirky sense of humor, so he would oftentimes go off on a silly tangent that most people didn’t think was very funny……at least I didn’t, but that might not count since most kids think their dads are dorks anyway.

But as I called out the number……444……it made me laugh, because it made me think of him, of my dad. It made me think of how he would have said it. He would have rolled the number over in his mouth a few times, letting it fall out in a silly and awkward way. 444….spoken with his Brooklyn, New York accent, a big smile on his face, beaming from ear to ear with pride that he had found humor in a simple number.

And there in front of nearly 30 people, I felt myself nervously laughing if for no other reason than to keep myself from crying. I could hear his voice, not audibly and out loud, but in my head. I could see his face. I could just sense the warmth of his personality. And it succeeded at equally causing a smile and breaking my heart simultaneously.

As April 17th approaches, there will be more triggers, more reminders, things that bring me back to my dad. I need to write about them, I need to share them, because, in a way, when I share them, I share him. Far from perfect yet perfect enough for me, I miss him every day, and I look forward to seeing him again.

So, I hope you’ll forgive my tangents down Memory Lane as I recall the man who helped to shape me, who helped to instill in me the faith that has kept me going over these last few years. I hope that I can share a glimpse enough that you can see him, that you can hear him, that you can sense the warmth of his presence as much as I do.

Thanks for reading!

Why I Blog

I’ve been getting together with a friend every Tuesday morning for the past half a year or so. We’re going through our second book together. Having started with “The Ragamuffin Gospel” by Brennan Manning, we’re finishing up “To Be Told” by Dan Allender. Allender is the president of Mars Hill Graduate School near Seattle, Washington. He is a professional counselor, therapist, speaker, and author and speaks/writes/counsels not only out of his education but out of his own story and experience.

As I come to the end of Allender’s book, I come to realize more of why I choose to blog. Allender shares that we all have a story to tell. While many of those stories have their fair share of victories, joys, and celebrations, many of those stories are also marked with hurt and pain. Part of our responsibility as followers of Christ is to share our stories, to allow others to enter into those stories. In doing so, we allow them to know us more but we also allow them to know that the hurt and pain that they have experienced or will experience was not specific to them. In other words, they aren’t alone in that pain and hurt.

Writing is therapy and I have had to write a lot over the past few years. Out of the brokenness that I have experienced and the pain that I have been through, it felt like an essential part of who I am to write, to do my best to put into words what I have experienced, what I have felt, in order that others might know that their stories are not simply floating out there in space, solitary and alone. Allender even takes a step towards saying that sharing our stories is required of us as Children of God. Our stories are what God has given us and they can be used for the benefit and healing of others. If we fail to share out stories, we fail to be stewards of the gift that we have been given.

I’ll be honest, my story doesn’t often feel like a gift to be shared. The hurt, the pain, it isn’t something that I would have chosen for myself, but at the same time, I can’t let it be wasted, especially when there is a chance that it might connect with someone. In my blogging, I have encountered others whose stories have far outdone my own as far as tragedy is concerned. But it’s not about outdoing one another in pain and suffering, it’s about entering into one another’s story, learning to listen, learning to practice the gift of presence with those who simply need to be heard.

More than once over the past few years, I’ve heard from others who have experienced loss. They have shared with me that the words that I have shared have had the power to capture feelings and emotions that they’ve felt but were never able to fully articulate in words. Those messages have made it all worthwhile to me, even if there are only a handful of them.

It gets very tempting for me to write in order to get more hits on my blog, and I will admit to pandering towards certain topics which I know will generate more interest. But I can also admit that some of the pieces that I have put the most effort into are the very pieces that go seemingly unnoticed, and I have to be okay with that. Quality is important. Quantity? Not so much.

I will keep writing. Writing is as helpful for me as it is for those few that have somehow connected with what I have written. I hope and pray that I am being a good steward of my story and in being a good steward, I hope and pray that my story can be used to help others in the midst of whatever story in which they find themselves.

Managing Time

pie pieces1When I was young and in high school, I think that I put the “extra” in extracurricular activities.  Anything that I could be part of and involved with, I embraced.  I played sports, I did theater, I sang and played in musical groups, and I still managed to do well in all of my classes.  I loved being involved in everything, it gave me the chance to get to know more people.  I loved keeping busy and it wasn’t unusual for me to leave the house early in the morning and come home late at night.  My parents were happy that I was occupying my time with healthy and productive things.

Through college, I realized that the schedule that I had once kept was not as feasible as it once had been.  The academics grew harder and free time decreased.  Still, I found a way to keep other activities outside of the classroom.  After college, I got a job and worked on my first master’s degree in the evenings.  The same busy schedule that I had kept during high school seemed to fill my plate again even while working.

Then something happened.  I met a girl.  We dated.  We got married.  The schedule needed to slow down a little bit, to go on Slim Fast, so to speak, and lose a little weight.  I could not expect to stay married and stay busy, something would have to give.

Life became further complicated years later when we had a child.  Then I started seminary.  Then we had another child.  Then we had another child.  And just like that, it seemed that there were a lot of things that were vying for my time.

As I thought about this recently, I likened it to a pie.  Once upon a time, I had that whole pie to myself.  I didn’t share it with anyone.  I could cut it up however I wanted to, there were little demands on how big the pieces needed to be, and there was a general freedom.

When I got married, I now had to share this pie with another person.  I wasn’t the only one determining the size of the pieces that were cut.  If I wanted to have a successful marriage, we both needed to weigh in on the size of the pieces in this pie.  Demands went up, responsibilities increased, but the size of the pie remained the same.

When my kids came along, the number of people determining the size of the pie pieces increased, until one day, there were five of us who were determining how big the pieces, how much went where, and there were now five opinions as to whether or not the division of pieces was satisfactory or not.  All this, and the size of the pie remained the same.

Time management.  People make their living telling others how to successfully split up their “pies.”  Books are written.  Lectures are given.  Still, people struggle to figure out just how to make it all fit together, to split things up in a way that makes everyone happy.

I guess that I wish someone had told me that the pie really never gets bigger, it just stays the same.  It would have saved me a lot of frustration, not only my own, but my family’s as well.  As much as we wish we could make the pie bigger, it just doesn’t happen.  We try our best to pretend that it’s bigger than it is, we cut the pieces up the same way that we’ve always cut them and expect different results.  Yet, it just doesn’t get any bigger.

This is a lesson that I am still in the process of learning.  Funny thing is, by the time I begin to get a handle on it, my kids will probably be in college and I’ll be trying to figure out how to fill all that time that I had before so that I don’t start acting like a Lifetime movie or begin bawling at every Hallmark commercial that I see.  By the time I begin to figure it out, it will change again.

Yup, this is the adventure that I’m on.  So, I guess the best thing to do is stop pretending that it’s not an issue and just call it out for what it is, call out the elephant in the room.  Maybe if we look at it together, realizing that the pie’s not getting any bigger, we’ll begin to appreciate it more, no matter what size it is.  If nothing else, we’ll have fun trying to figure it out as we go.  That, or we’ll go crazy trying.