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.

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!