The Swing of the Pendulum

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Saturday I felt invincible. Everything existed for my good. I lived in the present, carried on the current of one magical moment after another. Saturday filled me with the hope of promise.

Yesterday broke me. Everything reminded me how far I am from realizing my hopes and dreams. I couldn’t escape the cycle of what if’s that keep me from the present, and the day ended in despair.

In the wake of such pain, I struggle to rise. I worry what today might bring.

But this is a new day. I breathe in and out. I will strive once again to quiet the mind and accept who I am today and where I am today. I will strive once again to let tomorrow be and to do only what I am capable of today. I will strive for patience. I will entrust my dreams to the Heavens. I will strive to forget the past, to let go my regrets, and forgive my mistakes. I will strive to be better. I will strive to be the person I want to be. I will be present. I will live today.

So I pray, God help me.

In the flow

Wednesday night I received an unexpected gift. It began with what I believe to be an act that flowed from who I am. Nothing I would consider profound or special, just thoughts from a lingering conversation given voice. For once, normal doubts had no weight and I spoke these words of encouragement. I never guessed I would get an immediate response, let alone what would follow. What had been set in motion, even before I said a word, left me in awe.

I tried to engage more deeply, to put into words my excitement for what another person would set in motion. And I couldn’t. Try as I might, I had no words. Nothing seemed big enough to encompass what had happened. I had but one thing to share. My heart was full! Even now, I am filled with gratitude and a sense of awe. Thankful to have stepped into God’s stream and excited to see where it flows.

In the end, though I may not ever understand fully, I found these words in my last journal entry that helped me see the power of identity and being to lead us into the dance.

“The truest me seems to erupt most readily from thoughtlessness, from a point of emptiness beyond the doubts of conscious thought. I often only recognize him in hindsight, as an observer who sees the past. A statement, a text, a conversation, a moment recognizable as true self as seen from afar. I long to live in this state of being, this state of ‘me’. Something to think more on and strive for. It is fearless. Courageous. It is bigger than doubts. Because it just is. … This may just be me waxing philosophical for the sake of ego, but I do believe living in my identity brings assurance and strength of character. Enough so to overcome the doubt inherent in my broken humanity and give me hope. Hope for a future, for opportunity, and, probably more importantly, honesty and authenticity when opportunity arises.”

I wonder if these true self moments are the times I am closest to God. They are certainly the times I am closest to who He created me to be. And for just a moment, he let me see the results of His handiwork.

And you know the best part of it all?

Knowing that it has very little to do with me. The most amazing things He set in motion are His glory in another and I can’t wait to see what comes of it!

Come As You Are

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Sunday morning service began in its usual way, a prayer led by one of the elders. She offered thanks as one “bursting with love for” God. It was a sentiment I did not feel in the moment. She continued, and asked God to meet us here. All of us. Those beaming with joy and those lost in deep sorrow. Those who were full to bursting and those who were desolate and empty. The whole. The scarred. The broken. Those at war and those at peace.

All of us.

I remember a time when I would have felt wrong to be empty in the presence of God. I would feel judged. I realize now this is a residue of the works based Christianity I grew up with. A Christianity that told me I needed to clean up before I approached God. My dad wore a suit every Sunday. I still remember him telling me as things became more casual that he struggled with it, because it was bringing less than your best before God. After all, we were coming before a King. I actually agree with the reasoning. We should bring our best before God. He is our King. But sometimes our best is dirty and worn; sometimes our best is threadbare and full of holes. What then?

We’re still welcome! God still looks upon us with love!

So why is it so hard to remember this truth of grace? For me, it’s often the faces we see around us. We, as the church, are meant to be the face of God to the world. So when those faces look out on the world and into their own pews with judgment and disapproval we see a false god, one made in the image of man. It becomes a culture of comparison. A culture that separates and isolates where it should embrace. When I think back, I don’t remember any teaching as clearly as what I saw lived out. It told me I needed to fake it if I didn’t feel it. It demanded I not show myself empty, hurting or broken. If Christ was real in my life I shouldn’t feel those things. Good Christians didn’t feel those things, and I wanted to be a good Christian.

But what does it mean to be a good or a bad Christian? Personally, I’ve come to believe there is no such thing. At least, if there is, I have no way to judge. It’s beyond me. That’s a God sized task.

All of this leaves me with two important takeaways. One, we’re all welcome just as we are. Yes, we are to bring our best. But it’s okay when our best is our worst. If I don’t come to God and my family when I’m hurting, how am I to be healed? And two, as a Christian, I need to work hard to reflect His same attitude of hospitality, tenderness and love. None of us have it all together. None of us will have it all together. Life isn’t so pretty that we have it all together all the time. And that’s okay. We need one another to get through this mess.

So come. Come as you are. You’re still welcome!

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.

 

My Artist’s Prayer

A few days ago I mentioned one of my early influences towards contemplation. Not only did she give me the gift of morning pages, Julia Cameron also challenged me to write a prayer. A dreaming aloud for the future life I hoped to live as an artist. Having recently found it, I began to pray it once again. At times, it feels far beyond me, but I pray it anyway. Today, I share it with you. Maybe it will lead you to create one of your own.

Creator God,

Thank you for making me creative.

Give me COURAGE to embrace Your gift. Give me COURAGE to live out your calling on my life to create.

May I walk in the wake of Your creative Spirit.

May I follow the example You set each day.

I am amazed by the stories You tell.

May I do my part to join You as a storyteller. May our stories change the lives of those who read them, and thereby change the world.

Remember me in my weakness and remind me of Your delight in me.

For I am Your creation.

Cast out all fear so that I may embrace You and thereby embrace life.

Guide my pen and my song.

For Your glory and my good in order to transform the world.

Amen.

From the Pulpit… or not?

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Not long ago, I gave a brief recounting of my own personal church history. Today, as I read the next chapter in Phileena Heuertz’s Mindful Silence, two statements resonated with me deeply. The first reads as follows:

“Many people find church services wanting, the worship music and teaching to be shallow, not relating to our complex human condition and our soul’s voyage.”

And the second is like it, but it is in the second that I believe we find an answer to the need expressed in the first. It begins with the same frustration and disillusionment brought on by an emphasis on orthodoxy that “fails to address their most impeding obstacles to developing personhood.”

And what is personhood?

She defines personhood as “a person who is united with all reality- an eye within the body (1 Cor. 12)”. To further clarify, it is a person who has died to the old self, the false self, and in whom his or her self identity is united with God and others. To put it yet another way, it is a self awareness that allows us to freely enter into real relationship with God and others. A place she would say we’ve been connected to God all along. It happens when we have been stripped of the lies we tell the world, layer by layer until the core of who we are remains. A core identity that has been set free.

And? So what?

“Ascribing to ‘right belief’ isn’t helping with the everyday challenges of discerning purpose, being faithful in vocation, accessing patience, mercy and long-suffering in relationship, and loving and forgiving those who hurt us.”

It’s great to tell me what I should and should not do. But how?

For me, I began to find the lessons I would need outside my local church. It was Julia Cameron who took me down the first paths of contemplation with The Artist’s Way. In exposing myself to Christian contemplation I soon discovered that my daily journal, my morning pages, are for me a contemplative prayer. The Spirit always meets me there and in that place, I am vulnerable and exposed. I began learning freedom there, and it taught me to listen. In listening, I began to see my lies and face them. In those pages were the seeds of self awareness.

Discerning purpose, developing routine and the power of habit to strengthen discipline came from Darren Hardy and Mike Matthews. One a success mentor who gave me the tools I needed to bring some order to my chaos. A man who taught me the importance of saying no. The second is a man who gave me the tools to take control of my health and make my way into the best shape of my life. The personal and life lessons learned in these processes are still helping me grow. Those lessons forced me to make decisions that provided greater clarity of vision, helped me better serve those around me, better keep my word, and remain truer to the man I claim that I want to be.

It was in living alongside friends in an unexpected community of believers that I began to better understand patience, mercy and long-suffering in relationships. During that year, that community of friends, of family, taught me more about what the church is than a hundred thousand sermons. We were sold. We were also seen as a little dangerous, vocal outliers upsetting the status quo.

In the end, I still sit here with as many questions as I do answers. I am not sure of the local church’s part in all of this. I do believe we can do more to address the orthopraxy that accompanies our orthodoxy in areas beyond bible study and prayer. I also believe that the key lies in our community. I’ll speak more on this later, but community is, in my opinion, the greatest struggle of modern day congregations. Probably because it is also a great struggle of our Western culture. That said, it’s people who lead us to connections like the ones above. And maybe, as I discovered for myself, we’re expecting too much of the local congregation and thinking too little of the church universal.

Ultimately the lessons lie in living this life alongside God. We learn as we go. We learn on the hard packed roads and hidden paths of our adventures!

What do you think? How do you think the local church can better meet the needs for deeper truth and better understanding in living a fulfilled life? Is that even something we should expect of our local churches?

 

Note: I linked quite a few books in this post. Books that have greatly influenced me and helped me to grow along the way. In case you’re interested, here are a few more.

The One Thing – Gary Keller & Jay Papasan

Bigger Leaner stronger – Mike Matthews

Walking on Water: Reflections on Life and Art – Madeline L’Engle