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.

Something good

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“If you smash into something good, you should hold on until it’s time to let go.”

-Marcello, Under the Tuscan Sun

These words are one of several ideas to remain with me after watching Under the Tuscan Sun. To me, they represent the acceptance of a gift and the willingness to live in the present. So I felt sadness to find they were uttered as a precursor to an affair. Heavy with the weight of inevitability. All affairs must end.

At another point our lead declares her fears aloud. With tears she lays out her hopes for a home, a wedding and full rooms. Hopes she doubts she’ll ever see. And the man who is quite possibly my favorite character in the film tells her the story of a train from Vienna to the Alps, a train whose tracks were built before they had a train that could make the trip.

Finally, from the lips of a care free and enigmatic actress comes a story from her childhood. She spent the entire day searching for ladybugs. She found none. In the end, she fell asleep on the grass only to awaken covered in ladybugs.

Each of these moments is a lesson in itself. But I think each of these moments is a part of the picture that it took an entire story to paint. Juxtaposed they gain a greater meaning.

It is a gift to live in the present, to take hold of good things and hold on until it is time to let them go. But a life lived in the present without care for the future is dangerous, both to ourselves and others. It is in looking to the future that we build the foundation capable of holding and manifesting our dreams. And if we are willing to commit to the tracks, trusting in the train to come, it sets our present on a set of tracks that will lead us toward our dreams. But this too is something to be wary of. In looking too closely for one particular future – one job, one relationship, one mission, we may find that we miss it entirely. Maybe by returning to the present, even at times having fallen asleep, we will awaken to find we have found the very thing we’ve been seeking.

To be honest, this is a path I am learning to walk. It is messy, and full of as much pain and hurt as it is comfort and joy. And as much as I feared it in the past, I think it’s supposed to be that way. I’ve come to realize that I don’t regret mistakes nearly as much as I regret chances not taken. I suppose we’ll see how that turns out.

 

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!

 

Just keep moving

StockSnap_U9Y7E1QPAS(1)Saturday morning I woke to a wonderful fantasy. I indulged myself and lingered in those daydreams. Fantasy, however, is fantasy. Dreams are dreams. And my morning indulgence promised only a fast lane adventure to nowhere. I had a decision to make. Stay under the covers with my hoped for future, or get out of bed and start making it a reality.

Motivation is at times in short supply. A deep sense of purpose fuels activity, but with Tuesday complete my well of purpose had been drained. I couldn’t rely on an emotional boost or the drive of a deadline. So I sat up and recalled my goals. I picked something to do and I went to work.

In the end, I had a very productive day. I made a lot of headway in purging unnecessary items and cleaning, so that, when it comes time to pack up and move, I’ll be ready. I spent a little time in practice, despite having no clear direction for the music. And while I felt no great sense of accomplishment, I ended the day satisfied that I had done what I could do.

I suppose some days you just have to keep moving. In the end, it’s the only way to get there.

Old and New

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Tuesday’s show marked an important first step. The whole experience has left me encouraged and hopeful for the future. That I expected. The whole experience also left me completely exhausted. I had nothing to give yesterday and no amount of coffee could get me over the hump. That I should have expected. The whole experience left me feeling empty. That, I didn’t expect.

The past three weeks I lived laser focused. My purpose to make the night something special. I prayed every night for the artists, the inspiration, the message and those who would hear it. I kept in contact with everyone involved. Worked out details for the coffee shop and people to run it. Talked it up at every opportunity to friends, family and fellow coffee drinkers. For a glorious three weeks, I pretty much knew exactly what I needed to do each day and I did it.

And it’s gone. It’s complete. It’s over.

I suppose I’m going to have to get used to this. Nothing lasts forever. I don’t like the vacuum, but that feeling led me to an important question.

“What’s next?”

Playing for the condo’s Christmas party provides an immediate answer, but an unsatisfying one. I’ve resolved to lean in so that I can grow from that commitment, but I find it lacking. Until a moment ago, I couldn’t articulate why. I feel it’s a desire for more of what Tuesday’s show gave me – collaboration and a greater purpose.

Thankfully, my goals for 2020 seem pointed in that direction. One, I am accepting a challenge to live this journey publicly. It will require me to engage with social media, something I’ve avoided in the past, but it continues in the spirit of Tuesday night’s show. I will share the process as I chase my dream in hopes of inspiring others to do the same. I’ll share more as it takes shape. Two, I will be writing songs. This is the one thing that by doing it, everything else I want to do will either become easier or unnecessary. While it’s not quite the laser focused sense of purpose that has guided me over the past few weeks, I feel confident I have a good start and today I feel a little less empty.

Here’s to new beginnings!