Nostalgia

Yesterday nostalgia led me to lament a haven long gone. For a moment I could feel the place – its warmth, its colour, its calm. Clad in varied hues, in stained wood and shadows. Bookshelves littered with paperbacks, knick knacks and bric-a-brac. I suppose to me it seemed more a personal study than store. Any evening I could escape for a beer and pulling up a stool at the bar, sit and sip in quiet repose.

The bookstore no longer exists as it once did. Closed and reopened, it has become more modern. The personal warmth is gone, giving way to the cool, disinterest of plain shelves and stark white walls, one of which lights up with an alternating projection of up and coming events. The restaurant too has changed. To my mind, it has an aire of self importance. A pretentious posturing that rejects those like me. Those who would sit for a gourmet burger (and I do mean gourmet) and a beer. Not only have I lost my one and only place to enjoy a Honker’s Ale, but they will not stoop so low as to carry beer at all. It saddens me. I mourn the loss of a home away from home.

And time marches ever onward.

I cannot return to the past, but I hope that one day in the future I might find something akin to it once again. I know it will not be the same. It cannot be. This place is forever lost to me. I only hope to find a place that evokes the same feelings. A place of safety, of comfort, of peace, and of home.

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.

Dissonant

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Today is my day off. I wanted to go Downtown, but discomfort lingered in the background – a someone looking over my shoulder with disapproval kind of discomfort. So I made excuses. I gathered my defense. I prepared my escape. I threw my distractions and despite the flimsy justifications I had cobbled together, the other me went for it. I slipped out the door and was in my car before he doubled back waving his arms and demanding to be heard. I was caught.

But to my surprise, he wasn’t against me going Downtown. He just wanted me to be honest about why I wanted to go Downtown. No excuses. No justifications. No lies. So I faced up to it and felt not shame or guilt, but relief and freedom.

This time my battle was an internal one. I felt tension between recent changes in who I am and what I wanted. I assumed first that my desire must be the guilty party, but I wanted it anyway. I tried the artful dodge and failed. I’m glad it failed. As a result, I had to sit with the other me and talk it out. In doing so, I realized that while a little messy, this perceived tension came from a lack of awareness and understanding. My identity and my desire were not mutually exclusive. At least not this time.

So I sit here staring out the coffee shop window on Downtown Memphis. Had I won my little gambit I would probably still be here, but I’d be trading my present sense of peace for that nagging discomfort. This way, I get to enjoy it.

 

Voices from the Past

Our past holds power over us. The subconscious remembers what consciousness has buried or forgotten, and those triggers remain with us. Most of the time, our past lingers in the shadows, just noticed on the periphery but quickly ignored. It’s the monster we don’t want to see.

There are moments though, when it strikes us with clarity. I had one such moment this weekend. I began playing and singing for my mom and sister. It was a chance to share a little of the joy that’s filled the past couple weeks, and the songs that continue to take shape. My hands shook a little. It took a couple starts to get rolling and settle in, and then I began singing. Two lines in I hear my dad on his way out, “You’re running your words together.” My gut clenched. The monster leaned out of the shadows and I froze. I watched everything from the outside as one instant stretched into timelessness. I felt the pain of never being good enough. Just beyond it I felt a spark of anger and a healthier me cried out it isn’t true! I took a deep breath, and as time returned to normal I kept playing and singing.

That moment remains crystallized in my memory today. I know I won a significant battle in that moment. I won a battle for my future. It’s one more step in a process that began a little over two years ago. A process of self discovery, awareness and growth. I am thrilled and excited to see where it goes from here.

I don’t know where you’re past is looming in the shadows, but I hope my own story can be an encouragement to anyone reading this with me. It’s worth the time and effort to lean in, to fight for yourself, and to grow. One day you’ll find your monster, and you’ll be ready. On that day you’ll battle, and victorious, you’ll step into a new future.

On a side note, riding high on what felt like a pivotal battle for my being, I took myself shopping. Four hours, two guitar shops and five sore fingers later I bought a new guitar. It’s an investment in my future.

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“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

 

Challenging the Sun

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“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.

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.

Seeing Past the Grail

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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

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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

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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.