A Different Kind of Success

As I write, my eleven and a half hour double is drawing to a close. I sit here thankful for such freedom. One of the privileges of coffee shop life is time. At least it is here. It’s not difficult to weave creative play into the dance of cleaning and customers. And on occasion, as happened today, I am reminded just how precious and rare this gift of time is.

This year marks year two of what I hope will be a longstanding tradition at Qahwa. We, and a few of our customers, decorate the shop with milk jug jack o’ lanterns, jug o’ lanterns for short. What begins earlier in the month always ends in a mad dash to finish before Halloween. So between each and every customer, I took up sharpie and brush pen and went to work. Somewhere in the play we fell into quoting Monty Python. With that first slip, several amused eyes looked our way. I can’t help but think they wanted nothing more than to drop what they were doing, leave their work, and join us.

That small moment reminded me just how lucky I am to work in a field, and in a place, that gives me such freedom. Time to create. Time to draw. Time to play guitar. Time to study. Time to write. Time to grow in the fields that bring me the most joy, and people to share it with. I hope the money will follow in time, but, as I think on my past, as I think on cubicle world, I am reminded that having more never gave me this much satisfaction.

I think it a worthwhile endeavor to seek success. I just hope that I never forget what I experienced today is also a mark of success.

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Today’s Monty Python Holy Grail inspired jug ‘o lanterns.

The Hunt

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“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”

Jack London

I love this quote. Having committed myself to a schedule, my writing life is on a deadline. So, every day I am on the hunt for my elusive prey – inspiration. Some days, some weeks even, she is everywhere. At other times, she is scarce. She remains unseen in the brush and shadows of a busy life.

So, as you can guess, there are times I am facing hunger. The stores are gone and she is nowhere to be found. I sit at my keyboard and stare at a blank page with little but jumbled thoughts and emotions. What then? What do I do? The answer is simple.

I take a deep breath. I grab my club, and I go hunting.

To Live Brilliantly

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A customer brought these brilliant flowers to us this morning. Their beauty shone but, as she pointed out, was destined “to wilt in four hours”. A sudden darkness descended as I considered their brief existence, and soon after, my own.

Such is the nature of life. All things wilt and die.

Yet I marveled at their beauty. They brought me joy, and I soon gave in to my desire and gave them a home behind my ear. A perch from which to declare themselves to the world and by doing so to give something to all those who looked upon them.

As of now, their beauty has faded. Their leaves have fallen away. Their sharp-edged colors have blurred. Yet the pleasure of beholding them remains.

I hope that we might live our lives as brilliantly as these small flowers. Though we are destined to wilt and one day die, may the beauty of our lives linger on in the memories and regard of all we’ve touched.

Free to be me

I could choose what felt right for me without needing to be like everyone, or needing everyone to be like me.

Austin Channing Brown, I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whitness

I’m not coming from the same place as Austin Channing Brown, but I still feel the weight of these words. It is a freedom we all hope to discover. To know, even if I’m not like you, I’m alright. In fact I am more than alright. I am incredible.

I think we all start with a desire to belong. We want to fit in. I’ve never really felt like I fit in. Looking back, it is probably because I tried to fit in everywhere. The best I could do was skim the surface as a Christian, as a nerd, as a musician, as a jock… as whatever mask I wore at the moment. Some of it was authentic. There were lines I would not cross. But outside of those, I did my best to be who I thought they wanted me to be. Trust me, it’s no way to live.

I am reminded that often directly pursuing happiness and satisfaction, in this case belonging, prevents us from attaining them. I tried to be everyone but the person I was made to be – me. I won’t lie and say it’s not still a struggle. I’m not done yet. But I’m amazed by the friends I have found since beginning to walk in my own identity. We’re each unique, and it’s made for a diverse mess of a community. One I’m proud to be a part of.

I don’t know who or what opened or will open the door for you, but as I write these words I both pray and hope that each of you will be able to find a place where you choose what feels right without needing to be like everyone, or needing everyone to be like you. And I pray and hope that in doing so, you come a little closer to the unique gift to the world you were created to be.

 

Writing in dark places

Today my mind took me on a road trip to some dark places. A daydream took an unexpected turn and set my wheels to turning. That in itself didn’t bother me. The idea fascinated me. It stroked my speculative “what if?”. And the storyteller in me lifted up that idea and examined it, played with it, and expanded it.

Who would do this? Why? How?

And suddenly I had the makings of a serial killer. I began to see the shadow of the person behind the art that set my mind in motion, and I began to understand what might make them tick.

And that, though I chose not to take it too deep, didn’t bother me.

A nagging doubt only set in as I considered writing the story. God forbid someone take those ideas and act on them. And as I wondered if anyone else had conjured up this particular horror I’d just engineered in my head, I questioned myself. Why didn’t it bother me more?

Of all the words to come to mind, I remembered Seinfeld talking about comedy. In particular, how to a comedian what mattered most is that it’s funny. Doesn’t matter if it’s true. Is it funny? It’s a particular view of the world.

I suppose storytellers are the same way. I look at things and wonder if their interesting. I want to tell a great story, and a great story is both dark and light. My mind needs to be able to make it’s way around in the shadows as readily as the light. Darkness is a truth of our present existence. That is honest. And I believe the best stories are honest ones.

That said, I think I plan to keep this monster to myself. At least right now, I don’t tell the kind of stories they’d be most comfortable in.

 

Nostalgia

Yesterday nostalgia led me to lament a haven long gone. For a moment I could feel the place – its warmth, its colour, its calm. Clad in varied hues, in stained wood and shadows. Bookshelves littered with paperbacks, knick knacks and bric-a-brac. I suppose to me it seemed more a personal study than store. Any evening I could escape for a beer and pulling up a stool at the bar, sit and sip in quiet repose.

The bookstore no longer exists as it once did. Closed and reopened, it has become more modern. The personal warmth is gone, giving way to the cool, disinterest of plain shelves and stark white walls, one of which lights up with an alternating projection of up and coming events. The restaurant too has changed. To my mind, it has an aire of self importance. A pretentious posturing that rejects those like me. Those who would sit for a gourmet burger (and I do mean gourmet) and a beer. Not only have I lost my one and only place to enjoy a Honker’s Ale, but they will not stoop so low as to carry beer at all. It saddens me. I mourn the loss of a home away from home.

And time marches ever onward.

I cannot return to the past, but I hope that one day in the future I might find something akin to it once again. I know it will not be the same. It cannot be. This place is forever lost to me. I only hope to find a place that evokes the same feelings. A place of safety, of comfort, of peace, and of home.

Just show up

I’m tired. It’s been a long, taxing week and I’ve been wracking my brain all day for words to share. The well is empty.

But I’m here.

Why?

Because sometimes you just have to show up. You don’t feel like it. You don’t know what you’ll be able to do. You know it’s not going to be your best. But you do it anyway.

I’m here as much for me as I am for those who join me here, and I’ve learned that the discipline of showing up preserves and protects me. It keeps me on the right road. It maintains my flow. And sometimes it surprises me. Even when it doesn’t, I still feel better. I feel accomplished. I feel like I’m still on the path, and that feels good.

So I’m here.

And as I close this post, I know there is more waiting out there for next time. So I’ll rest. I’ll rejuvenate. I’ll let the well fill again so that when the next time comes I’m ready. And even if I’m not.

I’ll show up.

Nothing Wasted

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A few days ago, struck by a sudden boldness, I picked up the guitar again. I’ve been thinking about learning a song for weeks, but taken no action. Finally, guitar in hand, I pulled up the tab and started picking at the strings. In far less time than I anticipated, the song began to come together. Now, after a few hours of practice I have already exceeded my expectations and am playing and singing. Not performance worthy as of yet, but campfire worthy? Yes.

The last few days have been a joy as everything came together. In part because it happened far faster than I ever believed it would. More so, I think, because I realized all the effort I’ve put into the guitar over the years has not been wasted.

It’s difficult at times to look back on my life in a world that promotes the mindset that we are what we do and find I am nowhere near where I hoped I would be. As I mentioned before, I’ve picked up and put down my stories and my songs off and on for years. Never abandoning them. Never fully embracing them. Also not seeing the fruit of labor won only in finishing the work.

But I realize I am seeing fruit. The work of years has not not been wasted. The talent and skill is accumulating, if slowly. That realization is a healing balm and an encouragement to press on.

May that also encourage you. Whatever it is you’re chasing. Keep going. It may take a little while to see, but all labor eventually bears fruit. Nothing is wasted.

A Brief Exchange

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The Lady in Black
peers out at me
as I peer in at her.
But does one see the other?

Is she watching me
as I watch her?
A mirror of herself
hanging in a silent world?

Two framed captives held
by space and time.
We meet between our worlds.
A silent moment exchanged.

Invited to tea
‘midst frozen chords.
Piano’s serenade –
sounds imagined but unheard.

Time has stopped.

Eternal moment,
a brief exchange
beyond the reach of time?
But future to present must turn.
I rise.

Freed to Lead

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Last Sunday I had the chance to visit with an old friend at the church I’ve been attending. He asked me about my former church, not realizing at least four years have passed since I served there. I confessed I had been mostly out of church for the past few years. I don’t know if a question prompted me or he asked, but I answered.

Why?

I mentioned frustration had been growing even before work made it difficult to attend, and as my mouth began moving on its own I recounted struggles I’d forgotten. Maybe I’d deliberately set them aside once that door was closed. I don’t know. But I think they hold important lessons for leaders, and quite possibly for me as well. Things I was blinded to at the time.

At the time, I sang on the worship team. We had two recurring discussions that often left us commiserating after a weekly rehearsal. Our anger was not with our leaders, but on their behalf. You see, both issues stemmed from a pastoral leadership that left them no room to do what they were hired and gifted to do.

The first, and possibly easiest to deal with, was a lack of flexibility in time allotted to worship in music. At that time, we simply felt there was little room for leaders to sense and respond to leading of the Spirit. A dark look or, in worst case, a deliberate interruption awaited any deviation from the schedule. When I consider logistics of two services, I get the need to adhere to a tighter schedule. My thought on the matter remains the same – schedule flexibility. If you need forty five minutes to transition between services, why not schedule an hour so there is room for a little extra? We talk about leaving room in our personal schedules and our finances. Are we doing the same thing with our services?

The second I consider to be far more significant. The creative reins were tight. Song choices had to be approved, and no music written by the worship leaders could be used. The lack of trust chafed those who’d been tasked with leading musically. We, who worked with them, could see it wearing them down. And as often happens with suppressed or unappreciated talent some began to consider leaving. All the while, the church became poorer for the continued distrust.

There is plenty of material out there for leaders in this situation. I hope that today I might entreat any leaders who read this to have a care in how they handle those who serve with them. If you feel you need to exercise this kind of control, then one of two things is true. Either you’re operating out of fear and/or arrogance, or the person you’ve hired is not suited for the position. In both cases the appropriate response is uncomfortable. Self reflection is painful, and so is firing someone. That said, letting it continue is always more destructive in the end.

That said, trust is transforming. You’re support will free you’re leaders to lead in the fullness of their gifts. Gifts God has given them to serve the body. More than anything, I ask that you invite them to the table as equals. Let them challenge you. They are brothers, sisters, and fellow servants with a unique perspective that God endowed them with and that the church needs.