To Live Brilliantly

20191018_090210-e1571425607297.jpg

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.

 

Seeing Through the Veil of Expectation

casual-close-up-eyes-1698938

But Naaman was angry and went away, saying, ‘Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper.‘”

2 Kings 5:11, English Standard Version

It’s been many years since I encountered the story of Naaman. As a celebrated commander of the Syrian army, he enjoyed riches, fame and the favor of his king. However these things could not protect him from leprosy. A diagnosis that would be akin to being told you have a terminal disease.

I don’t know how many options he had, or how many he’d exhausted before an Israelite servant girl offered a ray of hope. There is a prophet in Samaria. “He would cure him of  his leprosy.” So Naaman approached his king, and with the king’s blessing made his way to Israel. To shorten the story a bit, he ended up standing outside the prophet Elisha’s home where he received a message telling him to dip himself seven times in the River Jordan.

It’s here that we pick up. Until yesterday, I’ve always noted Naaman’s pride in this passage. He is a man offended by the blatant disregard for his greatness. The prophet sends a messenger to him instead of meeting him directly. He then directs him to wash in a dirty river. All things Naaman thinks himself too good for. However, I now see something more.

Elisha had violated Naaman’s expectations.

Expectations can be dangerous. Unmet expectations are downright destructive. We fail to live up to our expectations, and it wounds our soul. We fail to meet other’s expectations, and we hurt relationships. We sit under the weight of expectation and anxiety threatens to overwhelm us. And when reality doesn’t match our expectations we get angry and walk away, just as Naaman did.

Naaman walked away from healing because it did not match his expectations.

Let that sink in.

Has it hit you in the gut yet? Does this ring with familiarity? I know it does for me. I wonder how many times I’ve missed out because I could not let go of my expectations to embrace good counsel, training or what might seem a little crazy in the moment. Sadly, even knowing this truth, I am often blinded. Knowing doesn’t make me immune.

It takes humility. We have to accept our limitations. It takes courage. We have to dive into new waters, and they might be different than the ones we’re used to. It takes a community of care. We need people with us who will, like Naaman’s servants, challenge us and help us take the blinders off.

And when humility, courage and community uncover our eyes, I wonder what healing awaits us beyond the veil of our expectations.

Under pressure

There is a longstanding conspiracy of silence in the medical profession – doctors are not allowed to admit their mistakes or speak about their personal struggles in public.

@nightdawnday

I read these words yesterday and encourage anyone joining me here to take a few minutes to read the post of origin. Night*Dawn*Day tailored the article to the medical community, but I believe it speaks to us all.

That in mind, reread the quote above. Now remove “medical profession” and “doctors” and fit it to your life. Where do you feel bound? Where is your “conspiracy of silence“? Where are you not safe to admit your mistakes and speak about your personal struggles? I see an environment of silence, where it is unsafe to be anything less than perfect, as a pressure cooker without a release valve. It will inevitably explode. We need a release. When we are given permission to share our mistakes, we can learn from them as we grow together. Vulnerability also fosters healthy expectations toward ourselves, toward our colleagues, and from those we serve.

I suppose it begins and ends with a simple fact.

We’re all human.

When we remain in touch with our humanity and make room for other’s humanity, I believe we’ll find ourselves in a much healthier place. And that healthy place will ultimately make for a better world.

“All you have is all you need.”

daylight-dress-facial-expression-2738099.jpg

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

 

Challenging the Sun

back-view-backlit-clouds-847484.jpg

“I had looked straight at the sun and demanded answers, and I was still standing. And I was not blind.”    – Jedidiah Jenkins, To Shake the Sleeping Self

I spent about four years outside of the local church. For me, such a thing is a direct violation of the rules I’d been raised with. “Do not forsake the assembling” rings in my ears. Interestingly enough, as I return to that passage it is not an imperative. At first I hid behind my job, using my schedule as a convenient excuse for someone tired and worn out by Western culture Christianity. Following that, I had relationships I could point to as my ongoing Christian community. In the end, I despaired of finding what I sought though I had not yet given up. Barring the doubt I’ve come to appreciate as normal for a healthy Christian life, I didn’t doubt my faith. Time spent in my own dark night of the soul years ago assured me of who God is and then who I am to Him.

Regardless, this was my looking straight into the sun to demand answers. I had been told that departing from the church was a sure path to apostasy, but the church as I knew it was falling short. That church, no matter how it struggled with the deeps of theology, couldn’t get out of the shallows. So, tired, I took a break. I rested and focused on my health. That choice changed my life. It marked an awakening and provided the healing I needed to return to the local church transformed. And “I was not blind.” My faith held firm. My God was still with me.

I have come to value the power inherent in asking questions. I’ve said it over and over again at this point. If your god isn’t big enough to handle your questions, then that god isn’t big enough to be God. The pursuit of truth can lead to nothing other than truth. Fear keeps us from truth. Fear that to look at the sun will inevitably blind us. Fear that questioning God will bring judgment. If you haven’t heard this before, then please listen now.

God welcomes your doubt. God welcomes your questions. God loves you and He’s bigger than all of it. God loves you and He’s patient beyond our expectations. Try Him and see. Do you wonder about what scripture says? Go ahead and ask your questions! Torn up by the sorrow and darkness in our world? Challenge Him. Give Him the chance to speak. God is not afraid. God is not vindictive. He is loving. He is kind. He is gentle. He is with us, and He’s certainly big enough for the journey.

Seeing Past the Grail

goblet-3652113_1280

I left off last post with a quote from The Wisdom of the Enneagram on fulfillment. I would like to begin today’s thought with the words that prefaced that quote. It reads, “The key thing for Sevens to understand about themselves is that as long as they are directly pursuing happiness and satisfaction, they will never attain them.

It seems almost proverbial. An idea befitting a quote from Eastern mysticism, or some story out of myth where the hero finds his desire only when he abandons his quest. Sometimes it is a matter of timing. Other times, he discovers that his goal pales in comparison to the treasure found along the way. No matter the reason, it requires something more than blind adherence to the quest. I wonder how many treasures I’ve walked past with blinders on.

This truth for sevens is deeper than my current understanding, and I have no desire to try unpacking it here. What I would like to do is share experience I feel has gifted me a glimpse into its secrets.

In short, I set out on my own quest. I knew my Holy Grail of the moment. In anxious turmoil I plotted and schemed to acquire the object of my desire. My frustration only grew as I was thwarted at every turn. For me, most of this futile exercise happens in the arena of my mind. Sometimes I get to put my plans into practice. Most times I do not. Either way, the trials on my journey left me tired, flustered and empty handed.

Until I let go. In a sudden insight, I chose to focus on the one thing I could control. Me. I could seek to become the best me that I can be and leave the rest to God or chance.

You know what comes next, right? A miracle. Those things I had struggled so painstakingly for appeared unbidden and unexpected. And, most awe inspiring and terrifying of all, appeared effortlessly. Such that I had no idea what to make of it. The only thing I could do was say thank you to the only One I believe could orchestrate such a thing.

Later, as I sat writing these words, I thought back to the previous post’s quote. “Fulfillment is not the result of “getting”…” Yet here I am, equating happiness and satisfaction with “getting”. And to be honest, there was great satisfaction and happiness in receiving my grail. So, I wondered, how does it work? A thought came to me. What if my grail, these gifts, were destined? What if they waited in the same place along the road no matter how I came to it? If that were true, then the only difference to be found was in the quality of the getting there. Had my mind been free from trying to manipulate forces outside of my control, what would I have seen and experienced along the way? It is a significant question, especially if my grail was indeed a divine appointment of sorts.

Now, I don’t mean to say we shouldn’t have desires and goals. They set the path we travel along. But I think that we are free to enjoy the fullness of the journey, to experience satisfaction, happiness and fulfillment, only when we let go of the need to control. I’d love to control the narrative. I’d love to control the tempo and the rhythm so that everything falls into place just as I foresee it. But I can’t. And if, in realizing that, I relinquish control I can be freed from the internal battles with frustrated plans and unmet expectations. The battles that rob me of the joy of the journey. And let’s be honest, there is far more journey than there is getting.

Finding the Present

action-athletes-bicycle-733748

I didn’t want temptation. I wanted the road. My questions about life and God diminished when i was biking into new territory. My purpose became where to camp, where to find food, how to avoid angry dogs, on the collapsing distance between myself and Patagonia. There was no time for other confusions.

– Jedidiah Jenkins, To Wake the Sleeping Self

I’ve had this bookmarked for a week. Several times returning to it and another quote a few chapters earlier. Jed watches his spinning tire and wonders if it is going flat, but it’s moving so fast he cannot see the changes. “Too much movement,” he says, “and you can’t see minor changes. Until it’s too late.

I feel like the two go hand in hand.

I don’t like pain. Heck, I don’t think any of us like pain. We just handle it differently. I do my best to avoid it. Frustrated with lack of progress on one project? Start another. Worried I’ll never make it where I want to be in life? Set goals. Make plans. Focus on the future. Get to the daily routine of camping, finding food and avoiding angry dogs to make it through the day without touching the place it hurts. And it works. Sort of. Sometimes, it even gets me somewhere.

I’ve spent a lot of my life fighting for fulfillment. It’s always been just outside of reach. To be found in that special someone to join me on this crazy adventure. Looking for that unknown combination of amazing, and whatever kind of man I need to be to find and keep her. To be found in finally publishing that first book that sets me on my way to a career in writing. Doesn’t matter if it’s a novel, a short story or a children’s book so long as one idea gets through. It will get the ball rolling. To be found in finally singing my own songs on stage before a crowd of fans. It’s my closest and longest held dream. One I’ve never felt good enough for. But get an instrument to the level of my voice and go. Surely I’ll find success and satisfaction then. The whole while I’ve been keeping my wheels spinning. Sometimes, it’s even gotten me somewhere. But the pain is always there, waiting for me to slow down while my goals stay just out of reach.

Fulfillment, however, is not found this way. I’ve been slowly learning this lesson over the past couple years. I believe as a result of divine providence. Recently, the Enneagram and my introduction to contemplative practice have given my transformation clarity and focus. More than anything, it’s slowed me down and inspired me to discover the present. That also means I’ve had to get more cozy with my pain and be honest with my emotions. Not rationalize them. Not explain them away. Not fight with them. Just acknowledge them, sit with them and try to understand where they’re coming from. It’s uncomfortable at times. Very uncomfortable at times. And at others it is amazing because I am beginning to see a world I never knew existed. I’m more aware. I’m no longer flying by at sixty miles an hour wondering if my tire’s going to blow before I get where I am going.

In Riso and Hudson’s Wisdom of the Enneagram, they write:

Fulfillment is not the result of “getting” anything: it is a state of being that arises when we allow the richness of the present moment to touch us.

I can only say in response that for me this has proven true, and I am exceedingly grateful. And there is so much to be grateful for.

 

 

 

A Gift of Grief

anxiety-black-and-white-casual-1487956

I love those moments when someone gifts me a thought I would never have thought.

In yesterday’s sermon, a friend of mine shared a source of conflict early in his marriage. The root of their fight is easy to summarize. If it weren’t for you, I’d be doing (fill in the blank). Each still held dreams for overseas missions or inner city ministry, and I have no doubt that as singles they would be active and engaged in those pursuits. But they were no longer single. Two had become One, and that flips the script.

Relief came in a single piece of advice. Grieve.

Grieve the life you desire, but can no longer live. Grieve the closed doors. Face your emotions. The pain, the frustration, the anger, the sorrow – feel it all.

In the end, grieving opened the door to healing, and, as my friend put it, opened up space for something new. It opened up room for new dreams. Dreams founded in their identity as a couple.

While I love this concept for marriage, (it’s the ‘thought I would never have thought’) I see its value in life as a whole. Ignored feelings bind us in place. By facing them, by grieving, we open up space for a re-imagined future. It readies us for a new adventure.

Changing

athlete-black-and-white-boxer-290416

“The first step towards change is awareness. The second step is acceptance.”

– Nathaniel Branden

The first punch connected with the bag. “Weak”, I thought to myself. I struck again, a quick left jab followed by a right straight. Still unsatisfied I struck again and rolled back feeling my weight shift to my heels. I teetered on the edge of balance. So I took a step back and reset. Something wasn’t right. I thought about it a moment, and rather than settle back into normal, I adjusted. Widen the stance. Don’t get lazy, balance on the balls of the feet. Lean in a little more. It felt far more aggressive than my usual approach, but I threw a punch testing it out. The mount slid back toward the wall with the bag. Don’t be too impressed, it needs more weight. But I quickly followed up with another jab and another, feeling far more control over my body. Balanced, empowered by a strong connection with the floor, and able to quickly move and adjust, I danced around the bag. I felt alive. This was far better.

To bring it to bear on the above quote, I became aware of my balance. In a fighting stance, you never want to roll back on your heels. It puts you in a place of vulnerability. On the edge of balance, if not off balance, and unable to respond to your opponent. I could have missed it, or ignored it, left it as a momentary lapse and gone back to business as usual. Instead, I chose to delve a little deeper and ask why. That why led me to greater awareness. I accepted what I found, responded and powered up as a result.

Awareness is indispensable to growth. Without it, we don’t know we need what we need. Sometimes we see things on our own. Contemplative practice and meditation are tools to help us along the way. Other times we need help. I’m sure a coach would uncover myriad other things to improve my stance and striking. Just as counselors open doors to delve deeper into the mind.

Acceptance is the second necessary step. It requires courage. I don’t like being confronted with my flaws, and knowing them is uncomfortable. It necessitates change, and change will often make us uncomfortable. The more aggressive stance felt unnatural to me, and still does. It will until it doesn’t. But I can’t argue with the results. It gives me greater mobility, power and control over my body.

So, in all areas, I hope that we will strive to be aware. “The first step towards change is awareness.” And then, I pray we will have the courage to accept it, because without acceptance we’ll never be able to move beyond awareness into actual growth.