Beyond the realm of coincidence

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“Oh Lord, all my longing is before you; my sighing is not hidden from you.” -Psalm 38:9

Wednesdays of late have been an irritation. To put it in context you have to understand I work open to close on Wednesdays. It makes for a long day, but that alone isn’t the source of frustration. Opportunity is. I find myself busier than I’ve ever been and loving every minute of it. So my mid week is an interruption, and I hate interruptions.

Yesterday, however, was an exception. I arrived at work without any other thing on my mind to do for the day. I was at peace. If I understood all the reasons why, I’d try harder to plan so I could live there. Since I don’t, I chose to enjoy it.

But as the day went on my peace faded. Expectations I’d held for the day didn’t come to pass and the knot of anxiety began building in my gut. Magnificent stories began crafting themselves in my mind. Great myths and legends to fill the void created by my lack of knowledge. By the way, I’m a great story teller. Sadly, that also means I’m an exceptional liar when it comes to the unknown and I couple that with expecting the worst. It’s uncomfortable to say the least.

In this state, I wasn’t prepared for the last minute rush of customers. About ten minutes to close, a family of ten and a couple others walked in the door. I cursed myself. I cursed God. Then I put on my customer service face and started helping them. In the midst of this I received a single message that turned everything around. The customers who would keep me well past close became a blessing instead of a curse. And the very thing I’d longed for might yet come to pass even at this late hour.

I was chastened. God showed me in a single moment that everything sits in the palm of His hand. He went out of his way to stack the odds beyond the realm of coincidence so I wouldn’t miss it, and I heard him loud and clear.

I see you.

I love you.

I know your longings.

Trust me.

Praying with an open hand

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“Be careful what you pray for. You just might get it.”

Anyone in church circles has probably heard this admonition before. I came face to face with it last week as I struggled with my longings. I wanted to pray. I wanted to ask God to fulfill my desires. I wanted to entrust my hopes to Him with anticipation. And then I heard these words from the recesses of my mind. I began to worry over the rightness of my desire and felt a deep sorrow.

Thankfully, I dared to question this so called wisdom that I’ve taken at face value for so long. I won’t completely throw it out. After all, I do believe there is wisdom in these words. However, that wisdom can only be found in a right understanding of who God is. When I addressed my fears, I realized my expectation saw God’s “you might get it” answer as bordering malicious, as a punishment.

But that’s not the God I serve!

The truth is found in the reminder that God is love. At any point He chooses to give us our desire where it causes pain or hurt, His purpose behind doing so is one of Love. It is a gift to make us into better men and women, better children.

Armed with such a hope, I returned to my desires and began to pray freely. It reminded me of Christ in the Garden. His prayer in the Garden is raw and honest. He prayed freely before God and shared His desires without reserve. And when all was said, He submitted himself to the Father in complete trust – “not my will, but yours be done.”

For me, it can be summed up in these words. Pray with an open hand.

Ultimately, desire is desire. I want what I want. What I’ve come to believe is that I can bring all of me to God, and that includes all of what I want. Ultimately, he may say no. He may also say yes in order to teach me. Note here, not to punish me! And He may also say a simple and gracious yes. In all of this, I’ll never know if I don’t ask. And if I am truly in a relationship with Him, I will want to entrust it all to Him. He loves me and has my best at heart.

So, knowing all that I will pray what is raw and honest while trusting Him to answer as is best.

And I will pray with an open hand.

To the End of Self

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Yesterday was a bad day. I struggled from start to finish. I doubt those looking on from the outside could tell, but my insides roiled in storms of doubt and fear. I ended my night as I always do, in prayer and an exercise of gratitude. I am grateful to have learned the importance of such things, especially when I feel like running away.

As I prayed, I uttered these words. “Thank you for bringing me to the end of myself.” The dam broke and for one brilliant moment all the weight of the days worries lifted. I saw, with clarity, the light of possibility again. You may wonder why. Simply put, it allowed me to let go of all the things I wanted to control and cannot. I came face to face with my limitations, and had to acknowledge them.

Today has been much better. I’ve entrusted my mystery, the unknown, into the hand of another and let yesterday’s lesson guide my actions. Today I chose to take on only this day’s tasks. And I believe I am a little closer to my goals than I was yesterday. That is a gift!

As to the things I cannot control, I feel fortunate to believe in a God who loves me. A God who does have control and is far more adept than I ever could be. That knowledge gives me hope that even if the future doesn’t turn out the way I expect, it will turn out for my good. Right now I can rest in knowing that when I come to the end of myself, He picks up where I leave off.

Some days are like this

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I’ve been up for just over four hours as I write this post. I feel as if I’ve accomplished little despite knowing the opposite is true. Thus far in my day I’ve completed my morning pages while enjoying breakfast at Brother Juniper’s, written two haiku, made headway in the song I’m working on, spent some time studying the Psalms, and found a pair of pants that fit. The last alone stands as a feat worthy of mention. So why is it that I feel an empty desperation?

Before I begin, I must first emphasize the word “feel”. Feelings don’t always match up with reality. And today, my feelings have waged war against me. I won’t deny them. I’m done playing that kind of game. Instead I hold them up and try to learn from them. Today they tell me that I hold something so dearly I am unwilling to let it go. Should it come to pass, even for mere seconds, my entire day will be filled with a sense of fulfillment. By contrast, fear of losing it projects me into an imagined future and borrowed pain.

I know enough to recognize my enemy. I know enough to engage him. But I don’t know if I’ll win this battle where anxiety seethes just below the surface. I find myself with the Psalmist crying out, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” And with the Psalmist I remind myself to “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” It is a declaration. It also, I note, makes no promise on time of delivery.

How then, do I fight this battle in the meantime?

First, I borrow another lesson from Psalm 43. I pray, “Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me.” Lead me into the presence of God – to his ‘holy hill’, his ‘dwelling’, to ‘the altar of God’. There I will strive to lay my desire for control on the altar of sacrifice and take up my song of praise.

Next, I align my actions with my goals and my purpose. I am on a journey, and I am deeply thankful to know where I am going. No matter how I feel right now about what the future might hold, I have agency to invest in what I hope the future will hold. So I will continue to write, to play and to invest in shaping myself right now to become the man my future will require.

My goal is to end my night with the assurance that I courageously moved further into the unknown future. So long as I can see the slightest step forward my day is a victory, even if I lose the emotional battle. While I hope for deliverance or the sweet mercy of God choosing to answer my desire, I know that even if it does not come I am the better for it, having been forged in the fire and having forged my way ahead.

Take courage

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“Real courage is moving forward when the outcome is uncertain.”

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Yesterday’s wisdom is the crystallization of weeks of thoughts, ideas and actions. To dare great things is to court risk, and to court risk is to walk alongside the unknown. Monsters still hide in the darkness. Great workings of the imagination still turn cast off clothes into scaly hides, or a dull reflection into menacing eyes. We still fear a moment’s inattention will bring us to ruin. Our monsters have merely changed form.

Failure, Loss, Hurt… these are some of the monsters we face when we dare big dreams. They hide in the unknown waiting for us to let down our guard. And just as they did before, our monsters paralyze us with fear. And fear turns our imaginations against us.

The answer is courage. But what is courage? I believe courage is what we choose to do even when we are terrified. It is a step forward into the unknown future when we aren’t sure what awaits us there.

But how?

Here’s a few ways I’m learning to be courageous.

  • Turn your imagination against your fears instead of using it to serve them. I was reminded that I conquered my nightmares as a child by turning myself into the hero and destroying them. It’s the same idea. Imagine the future that strengthens you to carry out your goals in the present.
  • Set goals and lay out a path to get there. This helps in imagining a future that spurs you on. It also gives you day to day tasks to carry out that bring you closer to your goal. Every night I sit down with my guitar in the silence before bed. It’s one of my little steps into the unknown. Every night I’m rewarded with something new in the song I’m working on right now.
  • Trust little steps. When we were kids, that first great act of courage may have simple been to free our voice so that we could cry out for help. The same is true now.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help or join hands with like minded dreamers. We’re stronger together.
  • Make time to recount all the things you have to be thankful for each and every day. Gratitude is an extremely powerful tool! It makes it hard to give in to despair when you see what God is doing in your life as you chase your dreams.
  • And sometimes… just take a step.

Take courage! The future is unwritten, and that is in your favor!

God’s Little Never Angels

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It was a little over a year ago that I first heard of Never Angels. I don’t recall the details clearly, but the man who told me about them gave clear advice.

Be careful what you say you’ll never do!

He recalled his own past and the fate changing words, “I’ll never live in (insert state name here).” It was then, he said, that God sent out his Never Angels, and he soon found himself pastor of a church is that very state.

While I don’t necessarily believe in the existence of a covert branch of the angelic realm bending fate against our will, I have come to appreciate a healthy challenge to my own “Never”s. Looking back I’ve started many sentences with “I never”. I don’t have to look far. Take last weeks declaration as an example.

“I’ll never again own an Apple product!”

But today I ate my never pie as I read reviews of the new iPhone 11. Put bluntly, for the path I intend to take in the near future it may be the best tool for the job. And it may not be, but if it is… Well, I’ll own another Apple product. Worse yet, I’ll be the better for it.

You see, Never is a dangerous word. Never is a biased word. Never is a closed word. Never refuses to look any deeper than its expectations, and I am learning to be wary of Never. I think Never might be one of my greatest enemies. He draws close and pretends to protect me while holding me back. He provides the well intentioned platitude that gets in the way of the new, of growth and of adventure. He blinds and distracts me from the tools I most need. Worst of all, he feels safe.

But I think maybe I don’t need him. I need a whole cadre of Never Angels helping me go places I never thought I would!

 

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.