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.

“All you have is all you need.”

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A couple weeks ago, an artist friend told me of her plans for October. As she changes the pieces she has on display, she wants to use that space for “an encouraging word to the people who feel stuck or stagnant in life”.

The idea got me excited. I asked if she had works already picked out, or if she was feeling inspired herself. In point of fact, it was both. And one point of inspiration was a saying.

All you have is all you need.”

I’ll say again now what I said then. Those words state a truth I wish I lived more readily. For the rest of the day, and off and on over the past two weeks they have returned to me. At first, my thoughts fixated on the idea of contentment. There is something to be said for trusting that what is in my hands right now really is all I need for right now. I believe that. At least I believe it some of the time. And sometimes I don’t believe it. There are plenty of times I wished I had more money, or more talent, or more time. Times when all of it seems insufficient. I’ve come to recognize this stems from trying to live ahead of myself. I’m living physically in the present, but mentally in the future. As I should expect by now, it goes back to learning how to be present in the right now. And for those who, like me, sometimes feel stuck or stagnant that sense of presence is life giving freedom. Dare to dream. Dare to do what you can with what you have, right now.

All you have is all you need.”

But there has been another facet to these words I’ve held close since the first day. In fact, as I wrestled with how true these words were in the sense of contentment, I found a sudden refuge in two words. “But God”. Suddenly, face to face with God’s promise to call us, keep us and sanctify us, I felt assurance that “All you have is all you need.” How many of us are feeling stuck or stagnant in our relationship with God? There is a life giving freedom available in a different presence, God’s presence. I may be hurt and broken. I may feel lost or overwhelmed by insurmountable odds. I may be caught in a struggle I don’t know how to win. In my faith, I might feel stuck or stagnant.

But God.

God is big enough.

God’s love and power is limitless.

To borrow the words echoing in my ears right now.

There is no chain this love can’t break.”*

To borrow more words from the conversation that started all of this.

Every chain is broken.”

There is freedom to be found right now. There is hope. There is joy. There is life. Remember, “All you have is all you need.”

*Housefires, lyrics from This Love

 

Coffee with Jesus

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Sunday morning our pastor shared a new development in his daughter’s understanding of Jesus. For those of us who were new to the story, he brought us up to date. At first, she wanted to kill Jesus. She had a nightmare. She faced a figure clad in grey robe with a long white beard and a sword. Our pastor was thinking Gandalf, but she said he was Jesus. It scared her and she proclaimed before going to sleep that she would kill him in her dreams. Recently, she saw a cartoon in which it took her to the cross and the death of Christ. The resurrection, however, wasn’t included. So, as far as she’s concerned, he is now dead and nothing her dad says will persuade her to the contrary. It’s an ongoing journey of discovery in their household.

But there was something more. As she was getting ready to go to bed, she told her dad something like this. “I love Jesus. I wish he could be here. I wish I could spend time with him.”

For her, he is as real a person as me, or you, or her mom and dad. He truly is someone who lived and breathed that she could interact with if he weren’t dead. I wish he were that to me. To be honest, I’m not sure if he ever has been. Maybe it is simply something I’ve lost with the innocence of childhood. It’s been on my mind of late. How different would I feel about God and Jesus if I saw them, heard them, talked to them and felt them in the flesh?

I found these feelings manifest in worship moments before he shared this story. I felt disconnected and disengaged. The lyrics were uninteresting and resolved themselves to noise in the background as my mind began to wander. I tried to find something to interest me in the music by drumming the beat along the back of the pew or finding an interesting harmony. I drifted into thoughts about worship, or what it will be like when I take my place on the stage with them. Somewhere in all the distraction, these thoughts of God in the flesh returned and I saw myself sitting across from Jesus for coffee. I sat distracted, listening in on another conversation or drifting into my inner thoughts. Point is, I wasn’t present. Just as in that moment, I wasn’t present.

I believe this awareness is part of the answer to a prayer I began a few years ago. I prayed to know God. Not know about Him, but to truly know Him as one person knows another. If I want to know him in that way, it means I need to be present with Him as surely as I strive to when I meet a friend for coffee. It’s refreshing. And as I delve deeper, I am excited. I’m also hopeful for that little girl. She’s already taught me a little more about the presence of Jesus. I can’t wait until she finds out He’s not dead.

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.

Facing the Monster under the Bed

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Over the past few weeks I’ve been delving deeper into the Enneagram and what it means to be a 7. The process has been challenging, but also life affirming.

When it comes to 7s, we don’t like pain. We don’t like unpleasant emotions, and we do whatever we can to avoid them. Most of the time by distracting ourselves. As Ian Morgan Cron puts it, “a compulsive need to devour positive experiences, stimulating ideas and fine material things in order to fend off suffering , hurtful memories and a feeling of chronic deprivation.”

So, uh, yeah… that’s me.

The trouble being a life of pain avoidance is a life of perpetual, self-inflicted darkness. I’d rather move on to something else or think about the future than deal with the pain that’s right here, right now.

Retreat. Deal with it later. Maybe.

In a way, it’s my own little monster under the bed. Do you remember yours? The idea that something waited just over the side terrified me as a child. I still remember a day I dared to look and found a red, tribal mask staring back at me. I don’t know if something was really there or if I stared at a monster of my own making, but it’s the only time I remember truly being frozen in fear.

But in order to live, I believe we must learn to look. While it scared me terribly, I had found the face of my monster. And considering the present discourse, I find the face of my monster fitting. A mask, just like the ones I’ve created to protect myself. The masks that make up my false self. I created them to protect me, but maybe they are the true monster. So I steel myself, and look over the edge of the bed.

Why?

Because the first step is awareness. By awareness I don’t mean just knowing something is out there. We all have that sense of danger that tells us something lingers in the shadows. I mean finding the face of our monsters. Until I know the face of my monster, I can’t recognize it. Until I know the mask it wears, I can’t engage it.

It’s here that the battle begins. Firstly, a battle with self. When the monster shows its face, I have a choice to make. Retreat or engage. The greater battle begins on those occasions when I choose to engage. I choose to face my monster, look it in the eyes and try to see what lies beyond it. To see the source of my pain and fears. One may again ask the question, why?

By getting to the source of my pain and fears, I can hold it, handle it, look at it from different angles and come to understand it. And maybe in knowing it, it becomes a little less scary. I can then examine my responses. I don’t always freeze in the face of my monsters. Sometimes I run. Sometimes I fight. Often at the expense of people around me. Until I see, I strike out blindly. Once I begin learning to see, I can make better choices. Not saying I always will, but I can. And that’s not only better for me, but also for the people I care about.

In all, I think the gift of facing down my monsters can be summed up in a single word.

Freedom.

Freedom from fear. Freedom from the protective habits that hurt myself and others. And freedom to become more of me, the real me.

Different but Good

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Prior to taking this seat before my computer, I spent some time with my parents. It began with my usual role as the family’s IT guru. On the way out, I stopped to let them know I would be busy with a church event Saturday morning. Saturday is a time we generally spend together as family.

To shorten the tale, it led to my father asking about the church I have been going to. A place I know will not meet his approval as a place “rightly dividing the word of truth”. The whole idea of getting deeper into that conversation made me uncomfortable. I love my dad dearly. I also find that when he holds to something he holds to it completely and without deviation. It makes it difficult to converse sometimes, and with my personality I try to find paths to harmony rather than pushing back.

It is this trait that pinned me in. He asked a question, one he said would tell you if the pastor of a church “rightly divided” the Scripture. Before answering it, he changed his mind and turned the question on me. I turned inward and sought the answer I thought best fit what I knew of his beliefs and what I’ve studied myself. Needless to say, though a reasonable answer, my best guess missed the mark and he quickly jumped in to educate me.

So I listened.

Recently, I’ve listened a lot more. As I said, it can be difficult with my dad. He can come on very strong, but for a reason I respect. He truly believes everything he is telling you, and he’s spent a considerable amount of time studying to come to those close held beliefs. I would love it if he were a little more open, but I don’t worry about it much these days. I learn a lot from him, and he loves his family, his friends and his God. I trust him, even if I don’t always agree. He’s very different than me, but his life still points me to God.

“God did not make this person as I would have made him. He did not give him to me as a brother for me to dominate and control, but in order that I might find above him the Creator.

Now the other person, in the freedom with which he was created, becomes the occasion of joy, whereas before he was only a nuisance and an affliction….

I can never know beforehand how God’s image should appear in others. That image always manifests a completely new and unique form that comes solely from God’s free and sovereign creation.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

To Stay Together

If someone said when I was young how much it cost to be in love, I would’ve run.

– Johnnyswim, Back to You

Honest lyrics can be a glimpse of truth. Life lived gives them depth. Love is hard. A few days ago, I learned of another divorce. I’d known them for years. It took me completely by surprise. Sadly, it’s not the first time, and I know it won’t be the last.

I usually ask the same questions. What happened? Why? When did it start? All useful questions, but only if they can be answered. That said, this happened in the midst of a week surrounded by little drops of wisdom. So I’d like to share those in hopes that they may touch you and encourage you as they have me.

Earlier this week I listened to a podcast featuring Drew and Ellie Holcomb. As they talked openly about counseling, they said something powerful. Drew’s parents, from the get go, encouraged not only premarital counseling, but ongoing counseling. So, for them, counseling was not stigmatized. Put these two together, and maybe we have something to ebb the flow of broken homes.

It’s hard. It’s going to be hard. Find people to help you work your way through it!

On that same podcast, this time featuring Johnnyswim, Abner said something that struck me. He started by saying he felt we didn’t emphasize “til death to us part” enough. He’d just been in a couple weddings. He’d ended one with, “to toe tags and body bags”. Maybe a little morbid, but a strong statement. It’s the commitment he and his wife made to one another. A commitment they fight for. They’ll be together until one is sitting beside the other and they breathe their last.

I believe in the value of commitment. Ultimately, we do some of our best work when we don’t give ourselves an out. It’s a cheesy example, but it’s a pretty strong statement in the movie How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. Their relationship went deep enough to matter because they couldn’t easily back out.

The last instance came following a lecture at Christ City on the heart of contemplation. In sharing her history, the speaker expressed thankfulness that her awakening had not ended her marriage. Though she didn’t go into detail, the process of her becoming, her changing, her growing put a serious strain on their relationship. It reminded me of another story. One I shared with the pastor afterward and he confirmed as possibly being the most important part of getting through. It came from an old man who, when asked how his marriage had lasted so long said, “I never tried to control her. I was married to eight different women.” She changed. Pretty significantly. He didn’t stop her. He didn’t fight her. He didn’t fear who she would become. Instead, he accepted her and continued to love her.

In light of that, I’ll close with these lyrics from Penny and Sparrow’s “Duet” which I believe capture much of what I’ve expressed here.

Because I’ve seen you and I know you, and I’m not going anywhere.