Your Story

I was born in 1975 into a family that was very far from God. My dad was an alcoholic at the time and my oldest sister was strung out on drugs and in and out of a treatment center. That was my situation, but then there is the story.* We all have a situation – a set of details we are living within, a context, a time, a place, a setting. Then there is the story. The story is much harder to see at first, it is the journey of your heart, it is the story of desire, it is the fulfilling of your souls deepest longings.

I was born in 1975 into a family that was very far from God – that is the situation. I was born with a longing to be known, to be loved, to belong, to be one with something bigger than myself – that is the story. My life, your life, and everyone who’s ever lived have a situation and a story. Usually, our focus, our time, our conversations, our energy is spent on the situation. That is right and good for a time because our situations are important. We wonder if we’re in the right place, should we live in this place or that? Do I take this job or the other? Marry this person or wait?

However, at some point in life, we realize that all of the attention of our lives has gone to the externals – to the situation. Out of habit we continue frantically re-arranging the furniture on the deck of the Titanic as our inner lives begin to sink into despair. This moment of desperation, of existential questioning – these mid-life moments – are an invitation to an inward journey. This new journey will be focused more on the story than the situation. It requires a shift of focus that makes no sense to anyone watching, requires more courage than we imagined, and is often riddled with self-doubt and a wandering progress that looks more like two steps forward and three steps back. Everything within me wants to remain focused on the situation, because historically when I have “solved” the externals, then everything was good. This journey isn’t about that though, this is an inward journey, focused on the story of desire rather than the situation of our lives.

Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” — John 12:24

May you have eyes to see beyond your situation and into the story God is inviting you to live within.

*For more on the idea of situation and story, check out Vivian Gomick’s book here.

When you’re full of fear

I never considered myself a fearful person, and then I had children. I used to feel my posture towards life was one of risk, adventure, and confidence, and then I had children. After giving birth to my first child, I found myself unable to leave the hospital without passing a 15-point safety check on the baby’s car seat. I started buying all manner of outlet covers, and drawer locks and childproof this and that. Apparently we all have different fears though because as I was busy safety proofing my life, I noticed that Tim was in the garage with our newborn showing him how to use an axe.

How does an apprentice of Jesus deal with fear? Fear is real and there is no value in ignoring it, excusing it or minimizing it. Let’s be gentle with ourselves and notice the fear by saying, “oh hello fear, I see you there” and then ask Jesus, what do you want to say to this fear?

One time Jesus was teaching and he said…

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”

— Matthew 6:25-27

We all have a choice when we are faced with fear. The truth is, whenever I am afraid there is a lack of love somewhere. It may be overstated, but it is still true, “perfect love casts out all fear.” Will you decide that your love outweighs your fear? Our world is full of things to fear. Life is full of danger but we also know that we are never alone and that love will make a path even if love makes us terrified at times. We cannot be courageous unless we are afraid. May our fears lead us deeper into the unshakable kingdom of God.

Great In-reach is Our Strategy for Outreach

Milton Hershey had a simple idea. He wanted to make the world’s best-tasting chocolate. Something interesting about his story is that Milton Hershey didn’t believe in “advertising.” In fact, until the early 1970s, the Hershey Corporation did not put a dime into advertising. The philosophy of the founder was simply this: if you make the world’s best chocolate, word will get out. No need to advertise if you really are producing something that everyone craves. 

Author Dallas Willard makes a compelling case that authentic transformation (Christian spiritual formation) should be the primary mission of every local church. The best way to do outreach is to do an outstanding job of inreach. After all, who isn’t craving a little more peace, joy, love, and freedom from shame these days?

But following Jesus has often been reduced to what some call easy believism. Being a Christian is often understood to be the minimum requirement for salvation: just say that you believe these few things, check a box, pray this prayer, bada bing bada boom, #saved. This has produced a “nominal” form of Christianity—where we settle for an “experience” of God instead of learning to live our lives with God, we settle for an “experience” of Jesus, rather than being apprenticed by Jesus.

Jesus never said, “pray this prayer so that you can go to heaven when you die.” Jesus did talk an awful lot about the kingdom of God. A kingdom is where the will of the king and the will of the subject are one. The kingdom of God is different than the kingdom of Susie. The kingdom of Susie is where my will is done. The kingdom of God is wherever God is king – and this is the good news that Jesus taught – that there is a kingdom, and you can live in it now. It is not an add on to your life, it is not an “experience” you seek, it is a completely new platform – a total exchanged life – an interactive apprenticeship – where you die and are raised to new life. Being apprenticed by Jesus is learning how to live in light of the fact that we will never stop living. Apprenticeship to Christ is not learning “facts about” or reciting a magic phrase or even the forgiveness of sins. It is a total transfusion, it is the process of allowing Jesus’ thoughts, emotions, will, behavior, and relationship skills to become our own. 

That is what we are up to when we follow God in the way of Jesus.

Hey there, Sadness

Hey there, Sadness,
I see you and I’m making space for you.
You are not my identity
But you are a part of my reality.
I am choosing what is real over image and appearances.
I know I’ve not been kind or gentle with you in the past by ignoring, minimizing, pushing you aside, and I’m so sorry about that.
I can’t promise I’ll always be gentle and kind with you now, but I’d like to try.
Truth is, I’m scared if I let you in, you’ll move in forever and take over.
But someone told me if I walk with you long enough, I just might find I’m walking with Jesus and that sounds really good.
I want to walk with Jesus so I will walk with you.
Hey there, Sadness. I see you.

The goal of transformation

Sometimes we sing a song that says,

Help me to love with open arms like you do,

a love that erases all the lines and sees the truth,

so that when they look in my eyes they would see you,

even in just a smile, they would feel the father’s love.

This is the goal of transformation, to become Christ-like, and to love as God loves.

It reminds me of a story I read in Sue Monk Kidd’s book, When the Heart Waits. She says:

There’s a story about a young man who sought out a wise old man and asked, “What great blunder have you made?” The old man replied, “They called me a Christian, but I did not become Christ.” The seeker was perplexed. “You did not become Christ? Is one supposed to become Christ?” The old man answered, “I kept putting distance between myself and him—by seeking, by praying, by reading. I kept deploring the distance, but I never realized that I was creating it.” “But,” the seeker insisted, “is one supposed to become Christ?” His answer: “No distance.”

When there’s no distance between us and Christ within us, we’re most human, most ourselves. When there’s no distance between us and Christ within us, we’re able to love as God loves. This is why the apostle Paul could say, “I have been crucified with Christ, I no longer live, Christ lives in me.” -Gal. 2:20

The Bible speaks of the great mystery of our faith as, “Christ in you, the Hope of glory.” -Col. 1:27.

No distance.

What does it mean to wait well?

Did you know that 96% of Americans will knowingly consume extremely hot food or drink that burns their mouth? 96%!!! That means only 4% of us can wait so we don’t harm ourselves. Strangely, this feels pretty accurate.

Most of us hate waiting because we feel like we are not in control. We can choose either to do things our way by escaping waiting on our own terms or we can surrender our will to God and trust Him to give us hope. We can wait poorly or we can wait well.

What does it mean to wait well?

In the Gospels, when important times of transition came for Jesus, he entered spaces of waiting—the wilderness, a garden, the tomb.

Sometimes when followers of Christ enter seasons of waiting, it feels lonely, dark and immensely long. Sometimes it feels like you are losing your faith, but actually this is all a part of the journey of faith. Waiting in the dark is an important part of giving birth to something new. Just think of all the things that incubate in the darkness – caterpillars in the chrysalis, a seed in the dark soil of the earth, or a baby in the dark womb. In the spiritual life, our truest selves incubate in the dark periods of life where we are required to wait. When we wait well – growth and new life are born. Waiting always seems to feel forever long, and often lonely, but it is an important part of the journey of our souls’ formation.

Wait for the LORD; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the LORD. -Psalm 27:14

Two ways of waiting

Waiting is a reality of life. Not even the wealthy and powerful are immune to waiting. We wait in the checkout lines. We wait at the DMV. We wait in the doctor’s office. We wait for time to pass. In all, we spend a very significant part of our lives waiting for something or someone. We all live between the two time periods of yesterday and tomorrow. Yet, we can make our waiting worthwhile or worthless. We can wait well or we can wait poorly.

Often we wait poorly and take matters in our own hands. We act on limited knowledge but think our ways are better than God’s who has unlimited knowledge. Because we do not like waiting, we act before we should. Or if we see that the situation is beyond our ability to act, we simply give up and lose hope. We believe that yesterday is better than tomorrow. In this sense, Holy Saturday becomes one of depression and sorrow rather than of somber expectancy.

The gospel makes the reality of waiting worthwhile. There is a difference between passive waiting and expectant waiting. As God sent the Son “in the fullness of time” (Galatians 4:4), He has also picked an appropriate time of His second return (Matthew 24:36). In the midst of Holy Saturday, while we are watching and waiting, God reminds us that waiting on Him is worth it. We can wait on Him knowing that how we live matters in the long run.

God’s love compels us to “be alert and of sober mind” as we wait between the Cross and the Resurrection. Let us not waste our waiting but allow it to redeem us and use it purposefully for God’s glory.

Healthy Ways to Deal with Sadness

The 13th-century poet and mystic Rumi said, “The wailing of broken hearts is the doorway to
God.” Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted" -Matthew 5:4
Sadness can feel overwhelming at times, like a monster that is knocking on the door of our
lives. We fear that if we let the monster in, he might never leave and we will be sad forever. How
can we embrace healthy ways of dealing with sadness? Here are a few reminders we all need
from time to time:

  1. Allow yourself to be sad. Denying such feelings may force them underground, where
    they can do more damage with time. Cry if you feel like it. Notice if you feel relief after
    the tears stop.
  2. Write in a journal, listen to music, spend time with friends or family, and/or draw to
    express the emotion of sadness.
  3. Think about the context of the sad feelings. Are they related to a loss or an unhappy
    event? Think about the feelings in a non-judging way and ride the wave of the
  4. Sadness can result from a change that you didn't expect, or it can signal that you might
    need to make changes in your life. Emotions are changing and will come and go.
  5. Know when sadness turns into depression. Get help if this happens rather than getting
    stuck in it.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. -Psalm 34:18

Anxiety is in the air

Have you noticed that anxiety is in the air? It exists on a spectrum from nervousness to panic attacks. It will rob your life from you. If we define it, anxiety is the overwhelming feelings of fear, worry & restlessness. The opposite of anxiety is that calm, centered, connected place inside you.

What overwhelms you?

What makes you anxious?

Where do you experience worry, fear and restlessness?

How do you deal with your anxiety?

1 Peter 5:7, is one of the most oft-quoted passages about anxiety: “cast all your anxieties upon the Lord, because he cares for you.” But, this is only half of the whole idea that Peter is trying to communicate. Peter’s command actually comes in the preceding verse – “Humble yourselves” – and verse 7 modifies how we are to humble ourselves, which is by “casting all your anxieties upon the Lord.”

In his book “The Secret to Dealing with Fear and Anxiety,” author Ed Welch says, “This passage has been a secret because we have typically entered it at verse 7, ‘cast all your anxieties on him because he cares for you.’ But to understand its meaning, you need to start with the preceding verse, ‘Humble yourselves.’ [It’s] the only exhortation in the passage. This is what Peter wants us to hear (and obey). If we jump in at the middle—it makes no sense. We can’t cast our cares on him until we have recognized that he is God and we are his servants who have also been elevated to become his children.”

The verb for “casting” your anxieties is the same one used in Luke 19:35 to describe the disciples “throwing” their cloaks on the donkey that Jesus would ride into Jerusalem. Visualize that image. Casting your anxieties upon the Lord can feel about as silly as throwing your coat on a donkey. And yet, God wants us to do this so that Jesus can carry them into Jerusalem – the city where he would die to free us from their destructive grip.

Nothing Beautiful Comes Without Some Suffering

Suffering is inevitable but how we respond to that suffering is our choice. Pain is a part of life. We cannot escape it. How we face the things in our lives, especially the difficult things, determines the kind of person we become.

When we experience pain and turn to addictions to take away the pain (a drink, smoke, pill, etc) we keep scratching the wound and it is never allowed to heal. It is so easy to judge our feelings and condemn ourselves, but self-condemnation is of no help.

Be kind to yourself. Be gentle with yourself, dear one. Jesus said, “in this world you will have trouble, but take heart I have overcome the world.” Take heart, take courage, do not beat up on yourself for feeling all the things you feel. Christ himself cried out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Bring your pain to God, He is familiar with suffering, and God is the source of your healing. Both joy and sorrow are inseparable realities on this side of the resurrection. We often want the mountain peaks without the valleys but as Oscar Romero said, “Some things can only be seen through eyes that have cried.”

One of the most beautiful things in life is birth. There is no birth without great pain. Nothing beautiful comes without some suffering. Joy and Sorrow are like two train tracks, often running side by side throughout our lives. When we numb the pain, we numb the joy. The way of life that Jesus invites us to follow him in is the Eucharist way. On the night that the Lord Jesus was betrayed, he gathered with friends at a table and he took the bread, blessed the bread, broke the bread, and gave the bread. Christ himself was taken, blessed, broken and given for the healing of the world. We too are taken, blessed, broken and given. This is the Eucharist way. This is the way of Jesus. May you and I walk this Jesus way together.