How do you write about yourself?

For a vocation that is supposed to require me to minister to hurting people, I am also required to do an enormous amount of self-reflection. And as a result I am now writing about myself, writing about myself.

I was asked to write a personal mythology. Because the word mythology is used, I’m writing about myself in the third person for the assignment.

The assignment did not specify for me to write in third person, but I am choosing to because I write too much about myself outside of my job. So I thought as a creative exercise I would try to step back and summarize my life in less than three pages by stepping outside of myself.

I wouldn’t say it is challenging , but I will say its tiring. It’s tiring because I spend so much time visiting my past trying to work through it and workshop it, only to keep realizing I can’t change it. I wonder what God thinks when we keep revisiting old things. I wonder what people are like who never have time to revisit the past and are solely fixed on their future.

I want to be that way, but I don’t think the process I have signed up for will let me.

For me, life is not laid out in stages of boxes that I can check, only to never look at again. Even if the seasons have past, the experiences and lack of answers seem to keep looking for closure. Which, I think is what death is about.depositphotos_2189599-stock-photo-dying-sunflower

Scripture says in John 12:24: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

One of  my goals for the first 3 months of this residency is to be comfortable with things that die, specifically become comfortable being in the room with death.

Why?

Well in part simply because I have to. I don’t think I can work day in and day out and once a week overnight at a hospital as a chaplain and avoid encountering this. But my goal is more than encountering it which is inevitable; my goal is to become okay with it while maintaining the confidence in Christ that it is not the end.

I want to become okay with it because notice what the Scripture says, “unless the gran falls in to the earth and dies; it remains alone.” Doesn’t that portion of statement fascinate you? I don’t want to be alone. I don’t even want to be alone in my apartment (Just get a cat already).

Jesus is announcing that there is so much in my life, in my desire, even in my “innocence”, in this world that must be subjected to a dying, in order to bear much fruit. In order for me to find life and love and genuine friendship and fullness of life, I like Jesus, must enter that fullness of life through death.

Well that’s nice, but what in heaven does it mean when a Christian says some whacked out jargon, “die to yourself,” “be dead to sin.” Because in theory I get it, but if something dies, isn’t their finality? Isn’t their loss? Isn’t their ending? If I have died to something how in the world does the pain, the sin, the stubborn refusal keep coming back? Butterfly-Life-Cycle_Christina-Whitefull

Does the apostle Paul really mean it when he says he dies daily and exhorts us to do the same? Unfortunately, yes, it means I have to suffer loss and ending, and taking the life out of the things that would otherwise kill my love for God and others.

You and I must do this daily with our greatest temptations and fears because the life available on the other side is far more abundant. I know this in part from experience, but I also know because of this internal hope that has gripped me. There must be something better than the fading false promises of the temporal.

The temporal just can’t be it because Scripture also declares that God has set eternity within our hearts. That is why the closer we get to death, the more aware we should become of the eternal but also the present.

How does any of this help you or I write about ourselves?

I think it simply helps us to write or tell our stories with hope. When you have surrendered the false myth that death leaves a permanent sting, I think we are free to embrace with confidence the promise of life through Christ to give us and others something worth reading and remembering.

Then once you write about yourself have the courage to let others read you. You might give them courage to find fullness of life and the courage to let something die that needs to so it doesn’t remain alone.

When the Game Slows Down

My orientation into chaplaincy has begun. Who knew orientation could feel so disorienting? While inundated with information, it is amazing how many golden nuggets of truth and wisdom I have received in a weeks time. One statement I am fixated on, even though I have not  yet visited a single patient is this: “The game will slow down.”

It was an analogy for perceiving and understanding the dynamics of a room whether it be just a patient or an entire family is present when ministering in the hospital.

I felt this analogy helpful even though I am not particularly excellent at any one particular sport. I do feel like I have the mental capacity to comprehend what the chaplain who shared this meant as it relates to me in the sports of soccer, wrestling, and racquetball.

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The gist of the statement: “the game will slow down” pertains to our mastery of craft or vocation or even hobby. It has relatively nothing to do with ease as much as it has to do with familiarity with yourself in a given situation.

In other words a sport might become exceedingly more difficult based on who your opponent is, but the confidence you have in your ability or in the case of chaplaincy, the confidence of God at work through my availability should not be shook by the difficulty of the task in front of me.

And because I am not shook I can perceive. Or to say it another way, I can evaluate the circumstances of those I will minister to without becoming so introspective about whether or not I am capable.

And while I entirely understand this, I am reminded of something that happens to me whether it be in soccer, racquetball, and when I was training as a wrestler (never when I performed). Inevitably, these moments would come, often expected, in which my resolve would gas out completely in the middle of competition mode.

It is not through reaching a limit of physical exertion as much as I hit the wall of mental distraction. I become so preoccupied with something other than that in which I am competing only to get bogged down by this other area of life that makes me feel incapable.

I can talk about it because it has happened often enough in the past that it feels so real as I write. Sometimes I could be fully engaged in a game and then an idle thought about failed interpersonal relationships or fear of performance in another area of life has now  interrupted my current activity.

And the game in which moments before I felt extremely capable and in control has now become secondary to the internal mental crisis that chose to interrupt me.

And now for the why I am writing about this.

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I am writing to point to God, perhaps as to how he might view this program we’ve got going on down here. Not that God or we should equate life to a game by any means, but God is watching this thing unfold in slow-mo. In His infinite patience, God gives us time and space to learn to relate through the reconciliation purchased by Jesus Christ.

And some of us are so obstinate to the greatest offer we could ever receive while breathing: unrestricted access to the throne of God.

But if the games end is standing before that throne, which sadly I think many professing Christians often forget or maybe some have entirely abandoned, then I’m endeavoring to stand before that throne faithful.

And however slow it may take to attain it, in Christ’s mercy, may I attain.

Tying the Knot

I took a massive step yesterday. It actually turned out that taking the step wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be and will benefit me greatly into the future.

I tied the knot, specifically I perfected the Windsor knot with a tie. I tied every tie I own with the Windsor knot so it is one less thing I will have to do in the morning before work. I hope this doesn’t ruin the ties.

I know next to nothing about ties or dressing up or when a shirt crosses over into too wrinkled to be presentable. I normally wouldn’t wear a tie at all, but I’m just not sure wearing a full suit everyday as a chaplain is really helpful.

It’s actually quite fascinating how important aesthetic is when presenting yourself as a minister in a hospital. I only have theories because I have not started yet, but it makes total sense to me. I’m walking into someone’s hospital room at a vulnerable and sometimes scary time. It’s only natural that the person they want coming in to talk to them and pray for them looks like they made a natural effort to look “good” when they got up in the morning.

It reminds me of Jesus’ teaching were he tells his followers when you fast, wash your face. Don’t look miserable when ministering to God or people. Even if you are miserable at least try not to look like it. I think Jesus does this, because even though Jesus wasn’t gorgeous in a GQ sense he knew how to cast a good look.

Not to lessen the crucifixion but as Jesus is dying, mostly naked, bloody, dehydrated, he calls out to John another apostle and says, “take care of my mom.” What a good look on Jesus, admitting that in his present and future condition that responsibility would be better left to John.tying_the_knot_banner

I’m well aware that the title of this blog is typically indicative of marriage which is why I also will write about that as well. I’m halfway through the best marriage book I’ve read, “The Meaning of Marriage,” by Tim Keller. It’s been a great read honestly. I took about a 3 year hiatus from marriage books unless you count the Five Love Languages which I count as a love book and a learning about myself book.

I love the book for its vision of spiritual friendship and the goal of marriage to help make us ourselves and our spouse look more like Jesus. It’s simple in one way because that is really the Christian’s goal in everything, so Tim Keller: “I like your book but you’re not saying anything revolutionary or new. But I’ll give you credit, your reminder is revolutionary for me.”

I think the book has diagnosed and articulated what I’m looking for and what I’m aiming to be. It has been a nice reminder that there is no rush (I say that and have not even read the chapter on singleness).  Despite there being no rush, I think an urgency of desire can be healthy. It can make me the type of person that prays and makes pure and whole choices during my singleness.

But then again I think this entire move has an urgency of desire. I feel like during this week of no urgent responsibility has marked boldly, characteristics that I should not deny.  Here are some of the knots in my personality that I think cannot be untied:

  • I like and need people way too much to spend too much time alone. I get no energy from being alone for long periods of time.
  • I thrive in structure. I did not want to admit this about myself. Part of me feels like I want to be a writer who dictates their own schedule and keep his own deadlines, but it’s just not so. I’ve known I’m not a self-starter and I’m too artistic to really discipline myself. (This is why I seem to have multiple friends now checking in on my diet and fitness although my Mom says I’m doing just fine)
  • I like the water, I think I would like to go to the pool or ocean, everyday  if I have time.
  • I can spend a lot of money on entertainment and food, but I also am capable of spending no money on any of it. Hopefully, starting on Monday I make a few necessary cut backs (For example I spent money to get a bike fixed. I haven’t ridden a bike in at least 4 years, maybe 7, will I this year? Who knows?)
  • I love listening and talking one on one with people. I really can’t help myself. Sometimes I can do a group of 3 or 4 and still be engaged and love it but beyond that I lose focus.

That’s all for now. I will have too much to write about and think about next week when I start work.

Mommy and Dad (as you are in my phone) I Hope I get this Right

I’m so naïve. It didn’t take long. I wept for the first time today, and it wasn’t because I visited a church during an emotional service where they were saying goodbye to some people they really love, to send them to Burundi perhaps indefinitely. I didn’t weep because I was confronted with my own darkness, sin, and fears although that would not have surprised me.

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I broke because I am naïve and spent $26.00 on a signed copy of comedian Louie Anderson’s book “Hey Mom: Stories for My Mother but You Can Read Them Too.” Louie Anderson plays a mom, as a man, on the TV show Baskets, a show I have developed a strange affinity for the past few years. I bought the book hoping to laugh. Instead, I read the intro and bawled my eyes out (won’t say for how long).

Yet this shouldn’t surprise me or you because, it is commonly stated that often comedy is birthed from a place of pain. Being able to laugh at the tragic or the familiarly uncomfortable is what allows us to cope. In this book, Louie writes to his mother who is 25 years deceased to recount to her his successes and his regrets as expresses his desires to speak to his mother face to face.

This utterly broke me because it touched on a very raw and vulnerable area of my heart that I have battled with over the last 2 weeks: the leaving behind of those who have known me longest and the fear of losing time that could have been spent with them, spent searching their soul.

It became suddenly real during one of my recent visits to my grandma. After all she is 92 and while healthy, I feared moving now would leave me with less time with her or worse the last time with her. And it became suddenly more real a week out when my dad was quickly and suddenly diagnosed with leukemia and started chemo 2 days before my move.

This news and uncertainty kind of cast this fog or shadow over the move or more so just me. Rather than being able to adequately process it all, I tried to drown it all out or at least find relief because nothing seemed to make sense even if it all made sense. I felt absent in my mind. When decisions become uncertain for me, it’s easy to forget yourself, forget who God has called you to be and sadly forget the intimacy that comes from a relationship with God. I feel like I was underwater slowly forgetting all of it.

It’s easy to turn my back on God when I feel like He has become the author of my distress. And that lie and the forgetfulness that the Devil also exists and is a liar contributed to the fog I lingered in too long.

And while I’m exiting the fog or the darkness of my descent, I now, weep. I weep despite hearing from my parents and brother that they are proud, despite consistently trying to sink back into this place of trust that God will care for the things that I seemingly cannot. I weep because I know how time works and I know it can feel unforgiving or like something slipped through my fingers. And I weep because of my lack of access.

My love language is Quality Time, occupying space with the people I love is important to me, and the new distance is scary.  And the distance becomes scarier without guarantees. I can’t cut this deal with God where I promise I’ll do a good job so long as nothing changes at home. I mostly can’t promise that because I can’t promise to do a good job.

I also can’t just have access to friendships quickly like I had at home. There are so few people in my life, like the Lane’s or the Victor’s or the Andrew Millins that I can call and expect to hear back from or see quickly. There are so rare friends like the ADK squad or the Daniel’s that I rest in assurance that they have me in their prayers and thoughts.

And while my first fear is based on what I could miss at home, my second fear is based on what I could miss here. I’m so afraid to fail at this. I’m so afraid to find out that the first ministry position I was let go from now 7 years ago got it right, and I’m not cut out for vocational ministry. I’m afraid to lay behind things that I was good at and comfortable with only to find out I sabotage the things I feel called to.

I’m afraid of it because I feel like that success and failure is in my hands. And my hands are soft, except for callouses on my upper palms where I hold weights. I have soft hands for someone who worked on a farm and in construction yet doesn’t give a dime about how firm a handshake I have.

And while I very strongly believe my hands were called and created to minister to the hurting and the growing, I weep over the sense of my self-constructed inhibition. I weep over my doubts about God’s plan and that the only measurement of success  that matters in eternity is faithfulness to love and live as Christ.

And I’m also afraid to screw up my new relationships/friendships. I’m so concerned about giving an honest rendition of James/Jimmy Passaro that I often don’t know where to begin. Do I share too much? Did they see me lick my fingers while eating(thanks Dad)? Did I accidentally say something that offended someone? Am I too needy, too worried? Did I listen enough? Did I listen so much that I forgot to share? Am I still in a fog/ in a “wonder where I am” place?

I think what I realize as I read this book and as I look at me in the mirror is:  I am my parents. I learned my disposition and ticks and qualities from them, yet I still have this unique essence that hasn’t changed since childhood.

On Sunday I probably met 40 new people. I even went back to church at night at 4:30 to attend a going away pizza and ice cream party for people from the Church who I never met, only invited through a generic come one out from the pastor from the stage that morning.

Then I played soccer afterwards with more new people from 7-8:45. That is exactly what 4-6-year old Jimmy would have done. He would have just gone anywhere and I tried to meet as many people as possible until he found someone he just clicked with. He would have done this to try to forget the loudness sometime scariness of home.

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Back then it was the loudness and scariness of disunity, now it is the quietness and scariness of the potential loneliness. And that can be scarier unless our okay with yourself. If you have healthy self-worth and a perspective of your purpose, being alone is not so daunting. But if you question that and are alone that isolation can be destructive.

So for the next week until I start work, I have some good practice ahead of me. Learn to live alone while maintaining contact at home while trying to meet new friends without scaring people away and becoming too self-reflective about whether or not I am presentable or worth love from other new people.

God I hope I get this right.

 

 

Settling the Stages

IMG_0013I’ve been in Charleston for 3 full days settling in, meeting neighbors, sending my brother off back to New Jersey and tonight will be my first night sleeping in my new apartment alone (with Jesus).

It hasn’t occurred to me yet that I’ve moved. It partially feels like I’m staying at a hotel with all my stuff on a short vacation. I’m sure it will feel like it soon, maybe next week, maybe when I start my new job, maybe when its fall and doesn’t feel like a typical Northeast fall, which in the past few years I have grown to love.

I feel like this process will continue in stages. I’m anticipating the break down and crying while asking myself what have I done stage to come soon. We are all waiting for that one with bated breath, hoping it will produce some strong writing and insight. Maybe that’s just me.

I don’t know when that stage comes either, but I can tell you about the stage I’m at. It’s the writing late at night after eating fast food (Cookout) and wondering what I bought at Kohls that managed to cost $60.00 and why I bought it (candles, spatula, chocolate, tootbrush holder). I’m embarrassed for typing that.

I’m embarrassed for not bringing dining room chairs with me or a DVD player or a video game system. I’m embarrassed for leaving behind or misplacing fashionable articles of clothing. I’m embarrassed for being the only single dude, almost only dude walking around Kohl’s at 9 pm not having a clue what to buy.IMG_0220

Maybe scratch all the times I wrote embarrassed above and replace it with inadequate. It’s a reality God wants me in. I must be completely reliant on God, on the Holy Spirit as the source of my breath and my strength, as the one who settles me in.

The truth is I don’t want to be contented, I don’t want to be at rest within myself, or pleased with myself unless I am experience that sense truly from God the Father. I want to be right with the Father reconciled to the Father by the Son as a son.

I don’t want to feel like an idiot or foolish for spending $60.00 at Kohl’s but am willing to if he speaks to me in the process.

This moving process makes Moses’s life make so much more sense to me. God doesn’t give a hoot about my inadequacies. God does give a hoot about my sin versus spotlessness which is why God is willing to wipe those sins away through the blood of Christ. But God does care about our willingness to obey without excuse, without hindrance, without weight.

God cares deeply about my freedom through Jesus Christ to live a life of trust and love. I want both without measure and at any cost. I want it even if it leaves me utterly poor and destitute. I want it more than riches and praise. I want to be faithful, sacrificial, and marked by contentedness in Christ.

And I think part of that process is enduring the stages and meeting God in every moment along the way.

It’s settled. Let’s meet God in our moments before after and during  and even on this stage.

The Chasm Depth: A Metaphor Before I Move

I had this unction this year that God was doing something deep inside me, that we were digging into a depth we had yet to venture. And in that place I would find something I was not prepared to face until we got there.

I remember assuming that when we arrived at what God was digging at, I would find water. I expected a geyser to come out or at least a trickling of some sort.

But what I think I’ve found instead, is a chasm.

This bothers me. We had been digging and preparing a work, just to find a dark void. I was hoping that I would immediately see what I was getting when we reached the depth. I expected immediate overflowing, not darkness and new challenge.

I have felt that I am both experiencing and entering a season of abundance, which I warily declare, because outwardly it could look like I’m starting at a deficit.

But God is patient and generous and knew what I was getting myself into and has prepared me for this moment. He has prepared me for an accelerated depth. But why downward, why now-ward?

As quickly as I ask why, I remember that the past 3 years has taught me the why matters so little. More importantly than the why is the will. Will I follow if I know hardly anything?  I have repeatedly tried to say yes while struggling with all my own sin and burdens.

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We dug and we prepared and I’m looking down and I feel with everything within me that God, the good Father would not ask me to jump to my death or to be deserted.

And then I felt this question pop into my head: “Do you want to jump or fall in?”

The undercurrent of that question that I heard was this: “Either way this is where you are going because this is what we have prepared for.”

Up until the past 2 weeks I have been eager for a lot of things. I have looked forward to moving, to starting a new work, to leave behind some things, to celebrate victories and growth, to conquer some sin and weakness; then I became very acquainted with something all too familiar.

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With fear, more specifically the fear of not being able to guarantee the outcome of my choices. Without that guarantee I become tempted to resort back to familiar choices.

When you or I choose fear or sin, there is a part of us that knows even if that choice is bad or terrible, at least it is familiar and we can predict the outcome. Sin feels like death or disappointment which gives me some deceived solace that my failure is my own and in my control rather than left to chance. It feels better than failing while obeying, which might tempt me to blame God in anger.

This is a real temptation in the face of getting bad news about your father’s health or having to leave behind the potential for romance or missing your favorite friendships or job security.

For now though, I know that if I must go, I might as well jump.

And I might as well jump because I believe in a God who does miracles and wonders all the while clinging to the hope that what God has for me is better than me trying to hold tightly to my desire in these moments.

So I want to prophesy over myself and perhaps over you, a word. And the word is one word in Hebrew: The word is Tehom. It is a word that describes a large depth of water, specifically waters existing at a depth that is hard to reach. And from this depth, one of my favorite verses in the psalms exists.

Psalm 42:7:

“Deep calls to deep
    at the roar of your waterfalls;
all your breakers and your waves
    have gone over me.”

It conjures up an image of an inverted waterfall pouring out of the earth to create a wave sweeping over us, but it is not wave of harm or destruction. It is a wave of love and song and joy.

This is the chasm depth I’m believing I’m jumping into.

After being in that depth, I could be carried out in a wave.

The word Tehom also is a symbol for creation in and of the world. This is the deep that darkness hovers over in Genesis  And from the deep creation begins to fill the void, as God speaks.

That is what I believe God is speaking over you: God and your creativity is filling the empty and dark spaces. It is part of God perfecting you through the sacrifice and work of Jesus. Darkness has no place to hover when the void is filled with God’s work.

Thank you reader/friend for stepping into this work with me.

*Note: Forgive me if the metaphor is too convoluted. I lean into unnecessary complexity too much on occasion.

Buckets of Lists

Normally, I would not say I am a list person. I have a few lists don’t get me wrong, but my lists don’t serve as motivators. I make lists passively. I put things down and feel if those things happen then great, but I will not grind to accomplish the list.

If I make a list that I feel like I am not even close to checking off, I will usually rationalize a way to feel satisfactory about my list, or I will just laugh at the list thinking it was a bit ambitious and beyond my threshold.

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I am simply a put things on paper person. I make Idea-Lists because I am an idealist. Practicalities hinder some people, but not me. I don’t make lists to achieve, I make lists to remember.

All this to say I’ve recently made a list of things I wanted to do before I left New Jersey. And the exercise has been exciting, even more exciting when you have a few people devoted to helping you check those things off. Even more exciting when they are people you love spending time with.

My blogs/reflections over the past several weeks are running a similar theme, sounding like a lot of the same. Maybe this blog always feels that way, who knows?

It’s about to again.

What I’ve found about the way I write lists is: they provide me with settings or activities for writing a story with people I adore (not worship, just to clarify).

And some of those stories I will tell and remember and cherish and others that don’t happen will fade.

I remember living with Brian and Nate and made a list of my daily schedule. It was when I was unemployed and ghost writing/writing my fiction story/interviewing church people. I made it as a joke to put on the fridge, basically to say, “I’m free and would love to spend time with you guys whenever.” Also, “I probably need motivation to be a productive human being.”

I kept that list until 2 months ago. I finally threw it away because as funny as it was, my life feels so full of purpose  with God that the list itself felt like a different person wrote it. The list became a reminder I no longer wanted to remember because I never want to return to that season of life. But also it was part of a story I cannot forget.

When the list became a motivator (which is why many people keep lists), I threw it away. Because for me motivation has always took residence in a deep within part. And when it starts to burn there, it takes a lot to quench that motivation.

On Bible Lists

In Scripture, people, places and things are often listed.  But infrequently if ever are someones future goals listed. The Apostle Paul had one goal. Preach the gospel everywhere but especially Rome. Jesus had a few goals but all pointed to the one of reconciling humanity to God through His death and resurrection.

Scripture reserved lists for the concrete, and on rare occasions, past accomplishments. Usually references to the past exclusively serve to direct our attention to a better future with God.

And that my friends is my dream, my goal, my ambition for myself and my hope for everyone I know and meet whether I can contribute or not. A better future with God is far superior than a future without him or a future trying to replace him with (warning a list):

  • political ideology
  • idolatrous relationships/romances/fantasies
  • celebrity aspiration
  • becoming a servant to opulence
  • hating yourself (not sure why I or we ever choose this)

The Final Item

Now I can only imagine what it is like because I’ve never actually checked every item off a list. At least a meaningful list. I make lists and check them off at work to make myself feel like I accomplish things.

I imagine what its like to have a list you really devote your time and attention to and the anticipation one feels when they are about to check off the last thing on it. I imagine that sense of accomplishment feels good but I would guess it can’t possibly last long.

And here in lies my problem and suggestion. Never end your list. Use a sense of creativity and discovery and decide to anticipate the what else rather than the end.

I think why I don’t use lists as goals or motivation is because I don’t actually want to reach a point of lethargy where I actually think I’m close to finishing. If there is a list of things I want to do with people I love, I discover I want more.

It’s why I love Heaven so much. The Final Item in Heaven is eternal adventure with the God I love and the saints that love God and one another well.

Why would anyone want that to end?