I Gave Up Hope for Lent

I was holding on to so little of it to begin with. With the best of intentions we try to do things we think will be good. I could give you a map of my hope and it would be a very clear map of the things I’ve hoped for and the path I intended to set out on to get there. You could give me your clear map, and together we could look at our maps and feel it all seems so plainly obvious, what we hope for and what we hope to be and to become.

What is very unclear is the path we’ve taken toward our very clear articulations of hope.

I go back and read journals from years back, because I’ve kept so many, used so much ink on something that so little of will ever be read again other than by me. The only person who finds value and disappointment in them. You’d think by how much I wrote I was preparing to be important. I read them and think huh, your goals have been largely unchanged the past 10 years, and then I think huh you’ve accomplished so many more things you never wrote down and gave up on rather than things you’ve claimed you’ve wanted.

More often than not I get the good things I have not hoped for and it leaves me asking why do I hope for things? If everything will work out so arbitrarily why hope just to have your heart feel sick at the thought of having such wildly wrong expectations of things seemingly so simple.

I actually think if we really boiled down what humans want and hope for, it is all essentially identical. I’m sure Jerry Seinfeld has a bit on this. But if its a certain car, its just a metal and motor shaped a different way. If it’s a house its just would and brick and stone shaped a different size with a different look with different decor.

Some of us want love, family and if none of that, then a way to be content until we find our way out.

So if we all want the same things, why am I giving up hope? I read something in one of those journals that in 2017 one of my goals was: “to be the most gentle man I know, to stop fighting for anything, to forsake frustrations and why me’s.” In other words to take whatever comes and be okay with it without letting it ruin me.

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I hope too much in things or people who let me down. I have too high of expectations even when some expectations for things are comparatively low, they have proven still too high.

I give up my hope, it is God’s. God can do with it what He pleases. Maybe I will get it back when this whole thing is over.

Ashes for beauty after all.

Little Hands

I had a profound moment this weekend. I paid a visit to Charleston to see the sun, hang with friends, and attend some sessions of a Missions conference. This past week has been helpful in reflecting about a sense of purpose and what brings me joy. My trip was a nice, not nearly long enough visit and break, but I fit a lot into a lovely weekend. One moment stuck out, not because it was the best moment of the weekend, but it was certainly unexpected.

Sunday morning at the end of church, the entire congregation was called forward to lay  hands in prayer on missionaries who shared throughout the weekend.  I was initially unsure if they wanted everybody to come forward but when it became apparent everyone was, I walked forward and laid my hand as a point of connection on Milton’s (and elder at the church’s) shoulder  to pray. I was standing against the stage and did not have much of a thought about anything.

I pause the story here to say that in all honesty, part of my hope for the weekend was a moment of clarity or revelation regarding next steps in ministry or locale or vocation. I’ve written previously about trying to be an augur to (predict) my future and that trap, but I think this weekend served as a reminder of the will of God (sanctification) and being faithful with what God has already given, being grateful for it, and not demanding something I would deem better. That’s a lot of wonderful things to feel and hopefully hold onto in a whirlwind weekend.

But I want to come back to this one kiss from the Lord.

We are praying. My mind is clear but not focused and suddenly, as my head is bowed eyes closed, standing with arm outstretched, a little hand grabbed my hand at my side without a hint of timidity. I don’t know if there was hesitation, but it felt like the hand grabbed mine so quickly and gently that there was none.

And in that moment, something fascinating happened, for a split second it was curiosity, then a laugh, then a flood of pictures ran through my head. I saw myself praying at a table with I presume, my children. I saw myself reading the bible with them and highlighting the promises of God. I saw eager and excited eyes and was a bit overwhelmed. So, I looked back, almost behind me and saw a boy about 7, holding my hand with his head bowed in prayer.

I smiled, thanked God, and prayed something along the lines of, “Lord thank you for this reminder, please tell me I’m not crazy for wanting to be a dad and having a family.” I mouthed that prayer, but not out loud. Immediately, the little hand gave a little squeeze. Perhaps confirmation, probably coincidence but it felt right, and I felt God’s delight.

I gave God a knowing nod and appreciated the moment as the time of prayer was wrapping up. But then another gift, 20 seconds or so before the prayer was about to end, another even smaller hand slipped between our hands. The little boys presumably 4-year old brother, wearing a backpack, wanted to be connected in prayer as well.

There really isn’t too big of a lesson or metaphor here. After the Amen I looked at a man who I assume was the boys dad and smiled and returned without much of a thought. Thoughts and doubts, you don’t need them when you know you’re known.

Holy Family Fullness

I’m running on 3 hours of sleep, I’m writing at the end of my work week, I’m recognizing  I am weak. I’m remembering the Body is strong. I’m resting in the hope that my eternity is secure. I’m relying on a great cloud of witnesses cheering us on and the intercession of Jesus to keep us faithful to the end.

I had a wonderful night worshiping Jesus yesterday  with the family of God. I was reminded of the following passage in Mark 10:28-31

Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!” (I weep here)

“Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one (<—- you’re not alone) who has left home (“safe” places) or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children (family) or fields (possessions and provisions) for me and the gospel (Jesus and the good news of His kingdom) will fail to receive a hundred times as much (more than we can imagine) in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions (I don’t need to put that part in parentheses because it should stand out)—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.

I emphasize, perhaps my greatest joy is worshiping, singing, dancing before the Lord along with His people, people on mission together. I experienced so much  joy seeing them worship.

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I’ve had this experience several times this week: my mom shared a testimony with me about feeling led to encourage and pray for her coworker at the library; I’ve heard news from both my communities here and in Charleston on Thursday night and I have been offered an opportunity to teach a class in January on theology. It was a great week for me in that realm.

Yet, I’m losing track of the days and time: when I had certain conversations, losing track of promises, of how to obey the leading of the Spirit. I find my desires to be tired and malaise as I try to wait and hear for the now.

I read verse 28, Peter saying “We have left everything to follow you!”

There have been seasons of my life I’ve read Peter’s words and have shared his

earnestness. However, what I have missed and still will likely miss in the future is Jesus’ actual response. Jesus doesn’t so much affirms Peter’s earnestness which is heartfelt and sincere, as much as Jesus simply states, “Peter this is the lot of everyone who follows.” You twelve are no different than any sincere follower of Jesus. You all will be called to leave something.

And I here the Spirit ask me, “what aren’t you leaving  behind? Have you chosen “safety” again? What are you going back to that’s empty”

I’ve definitely run back to some familiar things, some are not helpful, even sinful and others are stagnant. None of them are filling. I hope to find mercy in the familiar but mercy is something that is new every morning. It’s like mana; mercy and grace comes fresh for the moment for the thing God telling us to do. And it must be fresh.

And the only way to maintain fullness is to eat and drink a new every day. And this is where I wander and stumble.

I cling so hard to the past, expecting the past to change or trying to pretend like it doesn’t exist, relying on my history with Jesus rather than fighting for friendship in the present.

If I pretend like all of my past does not exist or when I try to remove the past from me, I stifle the opportunity for God to come through on His promise to make all things work together for good.

And stifling that promise for newness and fullness of life feels like death when you’ve put all your faith and hope in it.

When we, like Peter have left all to follow, we’ve agreed to surrender control, and I find myself often trying to refinance the terms.

I return to construction. I run from the Church when she wounds me. I wound the Church in my running. I lose myself in job security as I find the insecurity within myself alive and well. I am confronted with my selfish motives and rather than persevere for something worthwhile, I merely persist in my waking non-working hours questioning most everything. And in writing this I fear I victimize my reader. I’ve grown weary from writing about painful things. It’s a contradiction because the Kingdom I profess is coming is one in which pain passes away.

Once I’ve chosen the Kingdom and the family of God, I’ve made a choice to dine forever with God. The choice of dining or dying has been made and that means there is no longer room for fellowship with darkness.

I now must dine in the light and having  the Spirit of Christ in me means dark things, behaviors, and spirits have to make an exit. Yet, tares mingle among the wheat.

I’m still being sifted, as a child in my faith. And in it I am reminded how little if anything I contribute to this process. But one thing is certain I must habitually continually say yes to the process.

Family, to stay full at this table, we must dine daily even in the presence of enemies, as the psalm says. In the glory of the presence of God, a holy fullness will drive out the emptiness of darkness, hopelessness, and uncertainty. Faith is certain for the hopeful. May we stay full.

Last Call: On Grief and Time

              When someone my age dies, grief comes from all angles: from parents, from siblings, from friends, from children. The older ones carried the deceased as far as they could in the ways they knew how. The ones younger expected to be carried, guided, molded.

                But when someone dies of complications related to an overdose at 3 am, grief has this way of hypothesizing while moving like a wave. The family members who are awake are confronted with a reality that those asleep have no idea about. The woke ones grieve perhaps for the ones that don’t yet know (thus the hypothesis), while the wave of grief both victimizes and carries us.

                Grief is held until it overflows out of us enough times that it will hold us.

                Grief when allowed becomes our teacher. It is the writing on the wall and the writing in our hand and that which we grieve, becomes the etching on our heart. 

                Enough, metaphor speak, and on to the feeling.  Grief when held is first anticipated in our gut. It sits in our gut until we know what we are grieving. As it sits and perhaps stews in that stomach arena, we might be provoked to anger or ache or sickness. But once we know, once we are certain or convinced enough that we have lost what we loved, grief moves upward and sometimes becomes tense in our chest as a way of clutching the figment of what remains. What remains is memory, but what makes loss, as it pertains to grief, is the anticipation or assurance that we aren’t getting what’s lost back in this life.

                Sure, the memory will comingle with the grief in our minds while our hearts are about to burst. It’s as if the brain is trying to comfort or confuse the heart so as not to feel the entire weight of loss all at once. But the brain is no monster. We don’t get to just forget the one we’ve lost. The brain insists on reminding the heart, the whole body, all the senses that this now gone person has taken with them their scent, their smile, their warm touch, their laughter, even their personality and that sense of loss will pervade every person the lost one has sojourned with.

                Once the heart has dealt with this tension, it opens. With that opening comes emotions flowing with such fervor and uncertain frequency that we often weren’t aware of how much we were able to feel once we allowed ourselves to. Usually feelings don’t consume us when we allow them to be felt. They only consume us when we numb them. But even for the particularly hardened or wounded, it is an act of mercy for God to nudge those feelings out. Once the sadness or anger or pain has expressed itself, we await the comfort.

                And God do we hope the comfort comes. This is where we can often get lost. The lack of comfort or the well meaning attempts of others to try to comfort in their un-comfortability can feel neglectful or destructive. Avoidance in our grieving is not desired, but just as unhelpful is the one who unwittingly rushes us through our process rather than handling our pain with patience and gentleness. lastcall-1030x576

                Grief is as fragile as the initial loss and when mishandled it can break us for an extended period often without us realizing. If grief is not permitted its proper course of expression, if not allowed to be held then poured out to its last dreg,  not let go of, we miss out on grief actually holding us.

                And what does that mean “to be held by grief”?  

                When we are held by grief, we become generous with our emotions. We become more free to give our mourning to others who need us to mourn with them. We recognize that quick consolation is cheap. Instead, we are willing to sit in our own and others pain knowing first that this is a valuable way to spend our time, and second, as we sit, the real strengthening work is being done. It is being done because we are giving opportunity to attend to the most urgent thing in front of us, our loss. Laundry is no longer important, that task can be put on hold or perhaps delegated to someone else who cares.

What takes precedence is honoring the time necessary spent grieving, to function and move forward in spite of the loss. A return to normalcy should not necessarily be the goal. Numbly stepping back into the grind as a way of escape will stifle your compassion for others and self. But giving grief it’s due time and course and withholding judgment from yourself for it, will not only help you navigate future loss, but it will adequately enable you to hold another’s loss when they call.

The pain of loss always calls somewhere. It will always eventually show up. The unfortunate aspect is it can show up and be septic because it has sit too long. It can be unleashed rather than free to feel in safety. It can manifest violence or self harm reacting as an attempt to protect or it can be given space to overflow, to animate, to be beautiful in its brokenness. Then, at the last, given time we find that grief held us and healed us. a

Jesus wept for Lazarus, at the thought of death then raised him from the dead.

Jesus wept in the garden for himself and the cup he would drink. He drank it and raised from the dead.

Jesus weeps for you, with you… the pattern will continue. 

Mary

It’s hard to imagine the heart failing of someone who loved me so well. 

Maybe she was finally convinced we’d be okay without her. Maybe her body was just finished; certainly not her mind. Maybe it was just time. 59775954_646730895794525_4785438645509160960_n

I think I’ve learned you can prepare to make an end of living, but not death, for the moment or moments between life and life. The middle space that grief takes up. You can plan logistics of funerals and finances and forgiveness, but you can’t take a pulse of grief and parcel out emotional energy or therapy sessions to navigate the middle piece of what loss will leave in its wake. Because of this we ritualize. We have ceremonies, and sift through possessions and pictures, some of us hoping the deceased will visit us.

And after the rituals we return to life and vocation hoping the deceased will visit us. And then we form more community, hopefully enlarge our families and churches, hoping the deceased will visit us. But Jesus doesn’t want the deceased to visit us because Jesus doesn’t want death. He wants living and living abundantly, and Jesus wants the living to gather and in time the formerly dead to be seen in light of the resurrection with a glorious newness. It’s my only real consolation.

Any other emotional appeasement is not a hope I’m interested in. Merely being at rest or ending suffering is not enough. Life gained in full in the glory of Christ as a Christian has become the bare minimum of my desire, but it is also the ultimate.  It’s what I wait for and allows me to mourn as one not without hope. Because that hope also has the power to end or comfort me in my mourning.

Now I turn to Mary, my grandmother:

You didn’t leave me, you stayed with me for a season.

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It’s hard to accept your gone when you remembered our visits and held me to my words. You kept track of the time like you knew it was short but looked forward in time like you’d live forever. It wasn’t a lie; it was you weaving the story I think you knew I wanted.

I was as proud as you were while wrapping your bingo nickels

I’ll cherish the smirk you gave me the last time I “stole” your cookie.

And even though your hand won’t hold back I’ll try to hold your heart. Lord Have mercy

You were too busy living, enjoying simplicity to worry about dying. Christ have mercy

You were showing me, I believe, that death is not something to worry about. Like Jesus, it is something we can be angry about and mourn, but it mustn’t be something that hinders living or the hope of resurrection. Death might be inevitable, but death is defeated, and I’m currently becoming okay with the fact that it was your turn to pass through it, into glory. Lord have mercy.

When I spoke with Gabe in February or March, of my visit to you in January, he felt I spoke of you like one should speak of their spouse. I wanted to you to meet her (I mean, I’d like to meet her, but I wanted you to meet her), not that I needed your approval, just so I could share you with her and her with you. I mourn that. I own that. I’m sorry for that. I’m not sure anything changes because of this, but my imagination placed you there at the celebration. If you have time, please come with the Lord. Invite friends. Christ have mercy

Thanks for all you’ve given me, it would be impossible to repay you or even out the scale of love. I think you would want it that way. You win gram, but we are probably close to even in Pokeno. Lord have mercy.

I thought you might live forever, and now you will. To Christ be the glory.

To Be A Dad One Day

If I had kids, I see them now.

                My little girl is sensitive and playful, not sensitive as in easily hurt, sensitive as in curious and attentive to the emotions around her and her own. She approaches the world with an intuitive regard for good without suspicion. She likes people and giving compliments. She also likes getting compliments. She’s a little competitive and has these moments when too much newness at once makes her shy. Because of her mom she prefers the familiar. Because of me she is willing to go on adventure, but she asks a lot of questions first and during. Afterward she assumes everyone wants to hear about her adventures and sometimes forgets that the person she tells wasn’t there with her. She carries you with her everywhere. When she meets someone new, it’s as if she is reminding herself in the days that follow that this person will always somehow be a part of her life. As she gets older, she asks more questions about why I lover her mom so much; she would often echo, “that’s why I love momma to.”

                She likes to clap a lot during worship and likes rhythm, neither me nor her mom really have rhythm, but we are thinking about getting her drum lessons. She has a responsibility to people which she probably could not help but learn because that’s the way we are wired. She likes dogs more than cats no matter how much I try to convince her little mind that cats are great. She says dogs are more huggable. She likes to show affection through hugs, it makes her giggle. She agrees with her mom more than with me and she waivers in who she thinks is funnier. She looks forward to bed time because she believes Jesus gives her good dreams. Whenever she has a bad dream, she lays claim to our bed. For a while she would let us know, “Just for tonight.” And she means it.

                As a teenager, she grew with confidence, thank God, still curious, a little more adventurous, a little sterner and more determined. Her mom taught her that. We tried to teach her resilience and have. She holds fast to the stories of our family’s faith and even as a teenager she likes spending time with her grandparents. We are grateful for that. She likes being an older sister, both in looking out for her brother and giving advice. She also holds him accountable to showing up to her events.

                Her brother is smarter than me, so is she, but he enjoys being smart. He’s athletic or at least capable but he says its cooler to be a “nerd.” As a child he trusted us and still does but he didn’t ask for much. He was much more of a content child than me. He dresses nicer than me because of his mom. He’s polite with a dry sense of humor. As a child he was eager to do the activities I was involved in but had more affection for mom. Her balanced was more beneficial to his personality. As he got older, he liked to weigh options and was less feelings driven, but mom taught him to understand and be attentive to how I am wired. She’s a great mom. As a result, my son is very aware. He regularly would ask how I feel about his decisions as a teenager more often than he would ask permission. To which he would always be surprised at the times I would say, “no you’re not doing that.” I learned to give him other options, especially when my no would disappoint him. I admire his independence even being a second child.  66454-fathers-sons-karan-johar-in-conversation-with-sadhguru

                He’s a connector. He calls his grandfather’s for advice, or to be entertained by my dad. He learns fast but also forgets fast. He’s not big into risks and as a kid liked to know how long things would take. He thinks about time too much in my opinion. We weren’t sure how being a middle child would change him. It didn’t really because he felt his younger sibling quite peculiar.

But I think we all did. Such a wonderful surprise in every possible way, making our family a lot less predictable. It’s kind of fun having a child who is unfiltered. I think with the third, we thought we were good parents only to find out again we had much to learn. Our third teaches us wisdom or rather very specific wisdom, that there is not a science, that some days there is total contentment to be left alone and then the next there is a mission from God level of urgency to love our neighbors, while some days refuge from the world is the most important thing on earth. Discerning yet disarming and so joyful. Not the favorite (because there can’t be) but insists on fascinating.

If I saw them now, or saw them more, I’d hold them here.

Breakers of the Fall

Between faith in God and family and friends I hope you have found that those combined are more than enough to break your fall if you find yourself falling. I’m so thankful for family during the holiday, the embrace of my friends and a church that feels like home. They all offer me such a strong love.

I’m sad to be at an airport getting ready to go to a place I’ve called home twice this weekend. I found it strange slipping up by calling Charleston home, especially since it at times it feels a place I associate with discomfort.

But it is my mind.

It’s all in my head. It’s the combination of feeling unable to be self-forgetful while simultaneously forgetting who I am becoming.

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I confuse grieving the loss of the familiar by losing the one tangible living being I brought with me… me. And when you begin to grieve for yourself, you’re falling.

I fall out of touch with a realty that, yes, I am responsible for myself, but I also have entrusted ownership of myself to God.

And God most assuredly is here now with me in the airport as well as waiting to encounter me at my apartment in Charleston.

God becomes the breaker of my fall during feelings of loneliness.

For now I am thankful, thankful for a Thanksgiving that I enjoyed with my family, thankful I saw my Dad doing better, saw my grandma consistent in her awareness, so many fun moments with friends packed into 3 days, free milkshakes with burgers, laughing while playing Loaded Questions, riding on the back of a motorcycles before eating Mexican, hearing the testimonies of God’s activity in the Church community, and the heart connections of feeling heard and assured of God’s plan in the process.

I’m thankful Jesus broke all our falls, I’m thankful for the access of his love that can meet us anymore in a variety of forms including discipline, refining and gifts. But Jesus also came to break us off from the things that make us fall, to catch us but also to stop us in our stumbling and guide us in our wandering.

Hebrews 12:1-“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely and let us run with endurance that race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”