Mr. Rogers Cat Stevens and Bosco the Bear

“Well I left my happy home to see what I could find out
I left my folk and friends with the aim to clear my mind out
Well, I hit the rowdy road and many kinds I met there
Many stories told me of the way to get there”

Saw that Tom Hanks Mr. Rogers film yesterday. It was odd in good ways, nostalgic and started with forgiveness moving to generosity, then to kindness.

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I’m not a movie critic but the films pacing was patient. It was the first time in a long time or perhaps ever, when I thought throughout the movie, “that’s who I want to be.”

There was a particular scene where Mr. Rogers is on the phone with this guy Lloyd (who the movie is really about) and says, “This conversation is the most important thing in the world to me right now.”

And I was reminded of Jesus and how the practice of patience and presence is what perfects us. Letting patience have its perfect work in the midst of testing and trial leads us to love. Jesus found opportunity in the pain while putting up boundaries towards evil ideologies and that which would try to cast doubt on His identity.

A major problem, perhaps not new to humanity is: the world would have us tolerate attacks and lies about individual identity by allowing people to self-identify, while they stumble through trial and pain until they forget themselves rather than find the Creator. Mr. Rogers teaches us, collective identity (the neighborhood) always informs, even may heal individual identity.

The difficulty with identifying on our own or in reaction to our pain rather than to truth is the distortion of self and a further movement into the depths of brokenness, even darkness. That’s why any attempts to gender reassign or maintaining a loose sexual ethic does not breed liberty. People become less recognizable, self-doubt increases, as does anxiety, and it always effects more than the self.

This, I believe, is why Mr. Rogers places the focus on the feeling. He says the feeling is real and he refuses to demonize sadness or anger, even fear. while celebrating joy with the sober knowledge that the other core emotions desperately need expression in order to remain tender in solidarity with creation.

How those feelings/emotions are expressed is our opportunity to become generous with our time,  recognizing time is a currency that none of us can buy more of. We can’t work harder or become more efficient to procure more time than someone else. All we can do is be more mindful how we spend it, how we express emotion in relation to the other.

“Yes the answer lies within, so why not take a look now?
Kick out the devil’s sin, pick up, pick up a good book now.”

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Cat Stevens’ song “On the Road to Find Out,” is featured in the film and I loved Cat Stevens as a teenager. So much so that we had a stray runt of the litter cat that lived outside our house who I named Cat Stevens. He was 1 of 3 siblings but was the only one that would let us pet him and he had this tick where once you’d pet him, if you grabbed his tail as you pet him, he would immediately turn around and want to be pet again.

Cat Stevens, likely burnt by the music industry, perhaps burnt by the 60’s and 70’s and a bout with tuberculosis went on wild journey of self-discovery, landing in Islam. He is not American which seems important and might be the reason that his searching led him to obscurity rather than at a grasp for more popularity. That could likewise just be a socio-religious facet that also would separate Islam from Christian evangelicalism. Cat Stevens reminds me of the Sufi mystic poet Rumi in his lyrics that are usually spiritually searching, mixed with romantic hope, and familial reconciliation, all of which were within him, seemingly prior to his conversion.

Familial reconciliation with shimmers of romantic hope encompass the film as well, but spiritual searching is left on the outs, likely to keep it palatable for the masses. 

Trying to make a non-controversial film where kindness and forgiveness is celebrated while still being of substance and quality and touching on little to no religious themes seems almost impossible in the current climate, but I think it managed well enough.

Lastly, sticking with the cat theme, there is Daniel Tiger, the disheveled puppet turned kids cartoon that bore an essence or life of his own through Mr. Rogers hands. Habakkuk suggests the hands is where the power of God is, and I would suggest the things we hold and handle are the things we animate. It’s how we get babies and toddlers to eat vegetables, by fooling them into thinking they are swallowing an airplane as if they are Godzilla.

There is a scene where Mr. Rogers puts Daniel Tiger on his hand and talks to Lloyd in Fred’s apartment. It seems silly until you realize why. Sometimes facing your pain in the imaginary realm makes it feel safer to face in present. It might just give you the courage to face the real place or person that has hurt us. 

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I had/have a bear. I’ve written about him before, Bosco, married with a child, who I shared a bed with until high school. When I was 16 or so he lived in my closet because I needed to mature away from him, until I went to college and brought him with me there as well. My junior year he married and my senior year he had a child. I talked to Bosco, Bosco had a voice and he was the expression of my lost innocence. He was the stuffed animal given to me my first Christmas by my great aunt. He was given permission by my kindergarten teacher to be brought to class whenever I wanted after my parents were going through a divorce. He is who I talked to about my confusion and who I sought for rescue when I could not hear God answer my prayers.

I wept on him, wrestled with him; he was the safe place for my anger and sadness. He was who I clutched when I was afraid. Perhaps, the Old Testament would label him an idol, but I did not worship him though I was desperate to keep him, and couldn’t bring myself to get rid of him. I created his family, which was large. He was the oldest which meant he could keep all the others safe. 

If you did a case study of my relationship to this bear and my attachment to it, you could from our interactions trace pain and problems and could  likely rewrite a story that would have been much more picturesque if you just removed every occasion that would have led me back to this safety object.

Powerless, that bear, yet sometimes has felt safer than God. That bear is where I last left him and there have been times I have left him and had to rely on others to get me back to him. After college he came with me to my grandmother’s and then probably through the 10 moves season and even traveled to Charleston. Now he is at my brother’s in Chester. He hasn’t seen his family but once in probably 7 years.

Powerful that God, yet there is no better place than with Him, God has never left and there have been times I tried to leave Him and had to rely on others to get me back to Him. I hope to find more beautiful days to come with Him.

The God and the Ghost of Present Christmas

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I read an Instagram post by Craig Groeschel about Christmas being a magnifier today.  (For those of you who don’t know who Craig Groeschel is, he’s one of those muscular pastors that talks about how he doesn’t have time to dress himself in the morning)  The intent of his post was to state how the holiday can take positive and negative emotions and circumstances and enlarge them. This is why it is so important to fix our attention and affection on Jesus as the center of our celebration especially when we bent toward the negative.

I enjoyed the encouragement and I agree. I actually was weirdly looking forward to working in the hospital on Christmas today. I’m not entirely sure why, maybe the escape, maybe to feel important, maybe to feel more or less alone?

It is lonely you know, being a ghost.

My friends came up with this little joke that I am everyone’s imaginary friend, but I myself am unaware of it. I like the concept, but that is not me. I am no ghost, although I try to be as transparent as one, when I can be, when the risk isn’t too much, when I’m not afraid of rejection or losing someone, when I’m safe, when I’m surrendered.

A patient’s husband said to me today, “You must feel good being able to help people as a chaplain and on Christmas.” I thought this statement curious because I wanted to say, “It feels okay, but that’s not why I do it.” I didn’t try this ministry out so I could merely feel good, although if you constructed a well enough argument I’d probably believe it.

I think I chose it to hopefully find God in it, desperate to find God in myself (the Spirit dwelling within). I think I chose it or rather God called and chose me, so I would live in the fear of the Lord and in the love of God. I think I chose it to be transparent about all my evident weaknesses and hoped I would find warm love in it. And yeah, maybe warm loyal love feels really good, but I often don’t feel that, which is why I wish I was a ghost sometimes.

I wish I was floating in and out of people’s lives unaffected by their pain, yet present to it and to them whenever I wished or they wished. I would be a source of comfort without the feeling. I would be present, without the awareness of when I’m not feeling a comforting touch or hug when I want to be hugged or close to someone.

To be a ghost seems to me to be without a need, to be a gift without holding onto one back. I felt like a ghost sometimes today. I felt like a guilt-ridden sinner sometimes today. I felt like one in need of love and redemption sometimes today.

I am one in need of Immanuel, God with us, and God in us by the Holy Ghost always today.

I need the God and the Ghost

Darkness Falls: Layers in Mental Illness

Most of you probably don’t see in the dark. Some do and to varying degrees.

The next 4-5 posts seek to share candidly about 3 generations of mood disorders and how to find hope, cope or get help. I’m not seeking a comparison about how deep the dark can go. These will be an honest look at my experience, a sub-reality of a diagnosis that I don’t often revisit or own, perhaps to my detriment. Maybe it will provide me or you with help.

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I should also be honest about how and why I am writing. An hour prior to me writing this, I had a meltdown lasting about an hour on the phone with my mom. These have been far too frequent over the last 5 1/2 years but were less frequent for a period of 8 months prior to my move.

I could describe in detail the circumstances that I believe are potential sources of my moods, but I have gradually accepted more and more that my disorderly moods are not always the result of circumstance. Perhaps correlated, likely not caused and I can usually know this by comparison. People who endure much worse react much better when they are sober-minded.

In other words, some people cope better.

I’m likely not one of those people.

Short History

                My maternal grandfather was a postman, who worked a second job because money was tight while married to my grandmother, together raising two kids. He died when my mother was 17 of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Before marrying my grandmother, he received shock treatment for manic-depressive disorder. He received the treatment because he was found wandering New York City unaware of who he was in a depressed stupor. Later in life, it manifested on the manic side in access spending. He told his family not to tell my grandmother under any circumstance when they met of his mental illness for fear that she would not marry him.

I harbor a similar fear. I was prescribed medication one time from one diagnosis after one meeting with a psychiatrist and several meetings with a psychologist for a major depressive episode I had in 2013 during an exceptionally shitty season after a break-up. If I told you this was my only struggle with depression, all you would have to do is look at my various journals from the 5 years prior to 2013 to doubt that it was a one-time deal.

The two snapshots above have a slight tinge of a fear of/potential for heartbreak. And while my heart was broken, the greater concern for me was how I coped. Plenty of people suffer heartbreak, this I must remind myself. I am not the only one to suffer this, even though I feel I level-up by enduring in this arena with more frequency than I desire.

My problem is not the circumstance of heartbreak as much as the moment or series of moments that affect the chemistry within my body particularly my mind.

I understand heartbreak.

I don’t understand what usually follows.

The spiral, the way the world gets colored, the greyness of moving on, the process of not being able to decide what to buy at the grocery store and having to leave the grocery store so people won’t see you cry, going to the gym and enduring a similar cycle, coming home from work to immediately nap, eat fast food for comfort and so you have one less decision to make, getting angry at God for why you’re wired the way you are rather than enjoying the presence of the Holy Spirit, the increased difficulty of seemingly everything, going to pro wrestling training begrudgingly because you paid to do it and owe it to your past self even though all joy is sucked out of it in the present.

The loss of self, the wandering around in New York City wishing you knew who you were or never wanting to go back to NYC for the fear of running into one person in a city of 8 million.

That was my life during my major depressive episode in 2013, it was not because of a break-up, it may have been correlated, but the disordered mood was nothing new, just a deeper layer.

If you or someone you know struggles with mental illness or would like more information regarding support or getting help click here (National Alliance for Mental Illness)

Willing But So Weak

I had one of those deathbed Jesus moments last week. I was with a patient while they died whom was reconciled to God the week before. I did not save the man, all I did was remind him that God was willing to forgive him because of the work of Jesus Christ.

All I could write, after the patient expired just prior to 3:00 AM was, “I watched a man live.” Dying and living and dying and living again. This is what we profess as Christians. We reincarnate twice as new versions of ourselves. The first time we likely look no different(spiritual new birth). The last time we are promised a glorified body to house an eternal spirit.

In between we die a thousand little deaths, with a thousand degrees of heartbreak, with a thousand more disappointments, mingled with hundreds of thousands of things to be grateful for. Our life becomes challenged by what we are willing to focus on. Do we choose to focus on that which brings us life and light or the things that remind us of our dark and weakness?

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What we focus on dictates how we live out our salvation. Will I barely make it through each day or will I function in faith and confidence in the power of the Spirit?

My first learning goal in chaplaincy formation was to become comfortable with death/loss. I’m changing it to become more acquainted with resurrection life after death and loss. Little joy is to be found in the losing and the dying, perhaps none. The hope of the resurrection is what our lives need when we are consumed by our own weakness. The alternative is to fixate on our dying disappointments that intrude on our endeavor to live and love.

I Am So Weak

Admittedly, amid this endeavor, I am so weak. I am increasingly more aware of my sin-f-illness, accruing the debt of its deadly wages.

When will I stop paying what I cannot afford to give?

Are there any riches I have saved in an eternal account toward the wealth of knowing Christ?

If I have any wealth from heaven, I would like to invest it in service to the Bridegroom Christ who is both my Creditor and Debt Payer, in the prospect of marriage and family, in service to the Bride, the Church. Treading on bankruptcy in Spirit does not seem to offer the generous hand I hope to give.

Yet here I am, a chaplain, who prays daily with people teetering between their first life and final breath, some trying to make restitution for their next inhale, hoping to love better or love more or love longer. I try to assist them in their desire as I forget my own failure to also love better, love more and love longer. Only to become more self-aware of ineptitude in the torment of my own ego.

I am willing to experience more freedom and wholeness at any cost. But does it ever cease to feel like I grasp at ethereal concepts? I want reality, but I am weak. I want love and to give it, but I am weak. I want to let go, but I am weak. I need help because I am weak. But I am willing for the Spirit of Christ to intervene. Maranatha

Quit Nice

I’m continuing with a theme of pulling back a curtain of pretension. Perhaps my recent posts have provided some insight into an unintentional social experiment that is now becoming more intentional. I’ve chosen to cut back significantly on being nice.web_logo_large

In part, this might be a reaction to the smiley, often pretentious culture that the south gets billed for. But also because niceness defined as agreeable, pleasant and satisfactory is not enough. If you swim in this territory, I find you relinquish identity, vulnerability and the ability to tell people “no” or let them go.

Kindness however which Scripture admonishes us towards is to be generous and considerate of the other but also for ourselves.

When was the last time you were generous or considerate to yourself in order to better serve another?

Sometimes being generous and mindful of your own being requires confronting or outright rejecting the behavior of someone else. I’m confident that Jesus did this and continues to do this with relationships. Reject destructive behavior in order to restore relationship. I bold-faced the important part in case you don’t like the rejection of the destructive behaviors piece.

I did not come up with this advice. I had to be told this by my friend Hannah. Hannah is awesome. She’s a straight-forward woman who has her Masters in Theology, watches pro-wrestling, likes the Yankees, Super-Heroes, Harry Potter, Disney, cats and dogs and doesn’t tolerate BS and will let you know if you are trying to feed it to her. She’s engaged and if I don’t go to her wedding she would murder me mentally.

I don’t want Hannah to do that, in part because I am mildly fearful of her but also because Hannah is both honest and cares. I wouldn’t call her nice honestly, she also  wouldn’t want to be called nice. But she does take ownership of what’s hers and recognizes misuse and selfishness.

She isn’t afraid to tell you to cut people out, which I have now had to do twice in the last month. She isn’t afraid to tell you to stop doing something and don’t do that again because when you do it you suck. Those things don’t feel nice but they might be right.

It’s something we are empowered to do without changing our internal identity. You can still be an extremely loving and loyal Jesus follower without being overly nice. In fact you do this better when you refuse to subject yourself to the unchecked mistreatment from another human, especially a Christian.

So quit, try honesty and raw kindness instead.

On Loneliness, Loss, and Lasting Love

This is it folks, the blog post that will break the internet. If  you couldn’t tell by the title I’m ambitiously going to person-splain the meaning of life.

But before I get into it and switch gears, allow me to set the stage of the state I am in while I’m writing. I’m eating candy heart grapes and gluten-free pretzels while drinking Arizona Iced Green Tea from a protein shake bottle. I also took the day off today because the hospital offered it to me after working a 24-hour shift on Friday, and I highly considered not taking it, but I did. I took it not because I was tired or needed it, rather I took it because I read a few pages from a book titled Images of Pastoral Care, from a chapter written by Henry Nouwen regarding personal loneliness and the minister.

And to explain a little more, I took it because I believe the greater challenge for me today is not ministering to patients in a hospital, some of whom could be dying. Rather, my greater challenge is how Nouwen puts it “finding the wound of loneliness to be an inexhaustible source of beauty and self-understanding.”

But that’s enough from the guy who has given pastoral ministers one of the clearest images of caring for others spiritual health in the last 40 years. If you want to hear from him I’ll loan you the book.

So let me ask you one question, then I’ll write a little, then I’ll go pay my parking ticket, visit the library, and write an assignment, and then maybe make some time for self-understanding.

Have you ever found the awareness of loneliness or loss to be a source of beauty?

If yes, well don’t read the rest and just write me immediately or better yet call me or better yet come to Charleston and agree to sit and talk with me for at least several hours about this topic and nothing else. I’ll buy you a moderately priced meal.

How can loneliness be beautiful? 

To start, loneliness can only begin to be beautiful with the assurance that it is temporary. If we feel our isolation will never end, all we will see is despair and be paralyzed by fear. Reminding the feeling that it is fleeting even if it seems final, is essential.

What also helps but is not a solution is the reminder that there are worse things than feeling lonely. Feeling incessantly annoyed or tortured is probably worse. But what’s actually worse than being lonely is self-loathing. There is  perhaps nothing worse than not liking yourself, which is why if you combine this with loneliness, its combustible.

I have a theory that people who genuinely like most things about themselves have little problem being alone.

Why is that?

Because they know what they like and feel absolutely no shame embracing that which they enjoy. Sure this could turn into complete selfishness, but there is something admirable about someone is completely secure in their delights.

Combine liking your self with self-awareness, you combine to make a refreshing human being. You’re like a classic Coke or Sprite, your like a refreshing Iced Tea, your like a warm (insert favorite latte), you’re the type of person that its okay to walk around in your underwear in front of. You won’t be creeped out or do anything creepy; you’re content to breastfeed in public without judging the people who might be judging you. You’re (this stopped being helpful 2 sentences ago) contented.

In other words, your happiness is not dependent on others but you allow it to be heightened and appropriately saddened given the person and circumstance. You’re soul is malleable rather than easily broken.

So you can use loneliness as a method of further self-discovery. This is the type of person I must become, and I must become it quickly and joyously and love God and others all the more for the opportunity.

But, what of loss?

How can loss be beautiful? 

Get your friggin’ softest tissues ready.

Anything you lose sucks to varying degrees. (Except excess weight, I guess). Especially when you lose something you think you need, keys, phone, family, kids. Like it sucks to misplace those things for five minutes but the loss I’m talking about is the kind of loss that implies permanence.

Loss sucks so much, I got to this part of the blog, and I don’t even want to write about it and part of the reason for me writing is to write about it. That’s how much I try to avoid it; I even am trying to avoid writing about it. (Snyder’s of Hanover gluten-free pretzels are great by the way; I wish they would pay me to say that).

Yet loss is inevitable. And worst of all, it usually if not always comes despite our intent. I won’t go so far to say that all loss is unintended because that is not the nature of what I’m trying to convince you and myself of.

If loss is inevitable and loss is painful and it’s something we, I included, try to avoid how exactly do we beautify it? Well, like loneliness, the effects of loss are temporal (what I mean is you can’t permanently lose the same thing twice) yet the love of that which was lost is enduring.

Love has this enduring quality and while you cannot change or really replace that which was lost, whether it be a parent, a sibling, a child, a spouse, a potential spouse, a friend, a pet, a vocation that gave you purpose, love need not die because of loss.

The loss of any one of those things may yield unbearable weight or heartbreak and most likely will. That heartbreak is real and it stings. We may yearn that we were lost in the stead of whom we lost. And the temptation becomes losing ourselves, to lose our identity in that which we lost. To become the person that our broken heart makes us vulnerable in believing: that we are irreparable, irreconcilable, impossible or unworthy to reconstruct. And the lie of loss is not the same as the loss itself or the love of the loss.

The lie of loss tries to tell you all is lost, but all is not lost. Even if in the moment, or in the season, or in the seeming lifetime it feels like all is lost, all is not lost. You are not lost if you are reading this. I mean in the metaphorical cosmic, what is the purpose of my existence, schema you might be lost, but that too is temporal. Our potential for being found is far greater than our propensity to wander away.

The love of the loss is our potential for gain.

How is love allowed to last?

See the divine nature of love is recognizable by its endurance. It’s recognizable by the lengths it pushes us to, and by the length and depth it propels others into. Love has this amazing potential to infuse tangible, powerful hope into the darkest of situations. The demonstration and resource of love provided to us by Jesus gives new strength, new life, and it need not end. Love doesn’t have a salary cap.

But it also has the attribute of self-forgetfulness that gives us additional strength to recognize our losses and loneliness as unique, yet equitable when met with love. It acts as currency to others in the midst of loss and the feeling of loneliness.

38710813_440696929773474_7108082828050432000_nBut the only way we can even begin to be a dispensary of this kind of love is to lean into the divine love of God, as the well we drink from. We drink as much as, even more than we might think we need throughout the day so our loss and loneliness won’t dehydrate us, leaving us so poor and empty that we lose sight of beauty and self-understanding.

The goal of lasting love in spite of loss and loneliness is not to erase existence; it is to thrive in spite of the suffering that comes with existing. It is so that if we lose a parent and yearn for that intimacy, we adopt a widow or widower; it’s if we have lost a sibling, we befriend a lonely stranger who yearns for loyalty; it’s if we lose a child, we find strength to be able to lavish love on one’s not lost, providing hospitality and family to the orphan. It’s if we lose a spouse and suffer heartbreak, we don’t crumble so far inwards that we close ourselves off or run from the viable love of others around us.

Sometimes allowing ourselves to be loved is the only salve that will heal us in time. I don’t think this blog will change the internet, but I hope it provides us with hope to give and receive divine love as our defense against loss and loneliness in a lasting way.

Atypical and the Typical

I’m watching this Netflix show Atypical. It’s on its 2nd season and it’s about a teenage boy with autism trying to figure out love and life while navigating his parents failing marriage. Every episode is sad but good. I imagine there are a dozen of shows like it but my friend Victor who is clinical therapist, college professor and an awesome person got me hooked on it.

IMG-0286I like it because it feels raw which isn’t the most helpful thing for me because life itself is as raw as can be right now. I’m around people who are dying, getting terrible news, and asking me questions about why they are suffering and why the world is the way it is. I twiddle my thumbs, listen, pray, basically do anything to avoid giving an answer that they likely wouldn’t remember 15 minutes after I leave the room.

But I do find that people do want me, more specifically a person, to hear them while they are in the hospital. They want a person who will petition God for them in calm sincerity.

Wouldn’t any of us want that? Don’t we though? I wanted that this morning in church because I hurt, and God sent a young man to pray for me, gently, calmly, letting me know he heard me. It made things better.

Made things better than what? I’ve been here only a month, how bad could it be? It’s not bad.

I’ve found this place to be familiar and difficult to adjust to. It’s hard to have the energy to connect when I spend most of my weekdays literally sitting and talking to people at their most vulnerable. I need to join a sports league. I need routine. I also need to relearn myself.

That is why they train you to be a chaplain. After spending two weeks talking to people and hearing their fears and desire for reconciliation and questions for God, you, unless you’re very numb or rather, I who is very not, find that I have a responsibility in the time I am not at work to be very careful to make sure I am well.atypical

I have found that: You become more self-aware and your feelings are heightened. You find that “alone-ness” is more palpable when your house is empty and quiet and lacks touch. You find when your sick even if its only for a day  that you are anxious about what you would do if it was more. You find that rejection from the opposite sex feels the same in a new place as it does in an old place.  But you also find out what you like. You find out you like being in the ocean on a body board for a little bit as often as possible. You find that you actually like movie theatres a lot. You find that any communication from friends is worth gold to you. You find reading and writing are so intricately apart of you that if feels like you’re dying if you’re not doing it.

So that was a long paragraph.

But I only have one more thing to write. Things aren’t bad at all actually. Things just are and sometimes we get bad news or news we didn’t want. We might find out time is running out on us, but God holds us in the time we have.

And while I hope I have a lot more of time, and I hope it still holds hope and love and family, I am called to remain faithful to Christ in today. This call to faithfulness I am finding is both typical and atypical.

 

 

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.

 

 

When You Get Long Notice

In August of 2013 my boss Jeff, gave me less than 2 weeks to decide if I wanted to move from our job in New Jersey to work on a natural gas pipeline project in Pennsylvania. After talking to everyone I knew, I moved. I lived in Jeff’s trailer on a pull out couch for 2 weeks, then found an apartment.

I made the transition because of the trust I had in my boss. I valued our relationship and enjoyed working for him more than the company we worked for. I also knew he would help me succeed in a position that was way over my head.

It was a quick transition. I only owned clothes and a car so there wasn’t much in a material sense to figure out. Despite this, I still found ways to make things in my life complex. (Stories for another time)

When I went to college I was accepted to JMU off the wait list in June, visited the school for the first time in July, and started in August. That was a relatively quick transition because I assumed I was going to Towson, in Maryland.

When I moved back to Jersey, that was also a quick transition which allowed me to work and live on a farm in Pennington.

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I have chosen to live most of my life in such a way that long-term planning is either unnecessary or inconvenient. However, that does not correlate in my mind to not knowing what I want.

I normally am confident about what I want but often do not have a clue how to get to it, or I naively assume the way to get to it, will allow me to carve my own path.

And in that approach, I’ve found a lot of detours and unexpected stops while giving the appearance of wandering.

But I’ve also collected stories, which is what I value second only, to relationships.

I’ll give you a fact that will give you some insight: I will do just about anything that would not compromise my relationship with Jesus, if it means that I will acquire an intriguingly unique story.

When you understand this about me, I think, I become more relatable and easier to understand.

But what do I mean by an intriguingly unique story?

Here’s what I don’t mean: I don’t mean skydiving, I don’t mean adrenaline rushes, I don’t necessarily mean achievements although sometimes they coincide.

What I do mean is: I want this experience to shape me, I want who I’m with to tangibly make a positive difference in my character, in my heart. I want this experience to be something I carry internally and when I tell it, others feel it. I want them to feel like that story mattered even if it was ridiculous or seemed unnecessary.

And I mean: Jesus.

Jesus’ story is the opposite of most of my stories. He always had the long-game in mind. If there were stoppage time in His game, He would offer as much stoppage time as possible so as to extend an offer of salvation to as many as possible. Jesus’ story doesn’t end but is marked by specific moments that have humongous implications for the ones He loves.

Jesus’ story is simultaneously linear, yet not bound by time, it is interconnected while bringing people in, whom we would not expect. This is especially true in the Gospels. Jesus stops for people simply because they are people. And this is why I love Him.

This is why I want to be like Him. He is so generous in love, so secure in the love of his Father, God, that he can take an extended pause from his journey and goals to make the person in front of Him a part of the journey.

Jesus leaves a mark and makes every person better. So if you’ve ever met a Christian and thought, “Wow that person says they’re a Christian and is a miserable human being.” I would suggest imagining how much more destructive and  miserable that person would be without Jesus.

But Jesus’ mission and work while in part is instantaneous also has eternity in mind. The work being done is a long notice kind of work. It is also a work that he thoroughly enjoys.

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On the Long Notice

This long notice kind of work has only recently started to make sense for me. Perhaps it’s due to my 7 months of anticipating a move in location and vocation is now 12 days away, and it feels more real.

It is only recently that I’m making sense of my journey, that I’m leaning in to what it looks like to engage in tangible ministry in the day-to-day. I am also recently learning to be okay with the length. Or rather I’m learning to be okay with time and process and flexibility. I’m reminded of why Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 starts with “Love is patient,” when he sets out to describe love.

Because love whether for yourself, for someone else, even for God requires adjusting over time to a process of choosing.

Even Jesus who gave us long notice that he would return for his bride the Church understood the value of our waiting. There is something in the process that increases our love. There is something in the anticipation that strengthens our resolve to press on.

Which is why I hopefully am becoming the type of person that trust God’s love in his seemingly long notice. I am in good hands; I don’t need to rush.

On Giving Long Notice

I gave my job 2 months notice which was more than enough time for my title and position. I gave that much notice as an exercise in trust, plus if they fired me I would have last-minute went to Italy with a few of my best friends. I also tried to give ample time to the people I would be leaving because this transition has always felt too real.

Although this week, after visiting my grandma, it became all too apparent. Time does not stop for me. I can request all the more time I want, but even with long notice as the moment approached to go, it continues to feel like there isn’t time enough.

In the same breadth, I have so much time. I have had time every night this week to go to a 2-hour worship service after work.

There is a lesson in giving long notice. When you give notice you extend an offer of your time, and you learn a lot about who you want to spend your time with.

And I think what happens when you begin to spend that time with those you give it to, you find out how much people value you and how much you value them.

For me… in this season… I have found riches.

Saint Listener and Hearing Different

If you are looking for a good cry, I would suggest seeing “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” the new Mr. Rogers documentary.

If you’ve been wanting to feel like you’re endeavor to love and to be a compassionate human being falls far short of perfection, I’d also suggest watching the movie.

What I found most amazing about the film itself, was how the director managed to make the movie feel like it was listening to me, as I watched. The movie feels like it wants to draw real identity out of the viewer while withholding judgment.

And through viewing the film, I felt both extremely inadequate yet aware of the essentials of feeling known in any given relationship.

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The essential component is listening, it’s always been that. Waiting or giving pause before you give an answer or assuming I know better has consistently been more effective than rushing to a conclusion.

This also is my dilemma as of late. I’m afraid to listen to God because I’m afraid it will require much time only to lead to a painful answer. And as I am prone, I’d rather just take the pain than hear the answer. Because the answer or direction of God is  unchangeable whereas I have this enduring sense that I can get used to the pain.

But it is not the way of God to keep us in pain. It is not the way of God to extend our suffering unnecessarily. He would rather us joyful in loving obedience than wallow in unwarranted suffering.

Yet this is what humanity, as well as myself, frequently chooses. And more frequently, we choose this by assuming the worst in others without understanding them. We also assume the worst in ourselves without hearing God’s perspective on reconciliation and comfort. We are prone to ignore desperation and are hesitant to relieve another’s burden. We want people to get what they deserve before we actually know if they really deserve it.

Whereas Jesus wants to give what we don’t deserve even when we don’t realize how much we don’t deserve it. This is the whole point of the cross and the offer of resurrection life.

Live in light of the goodness and generosity of God.

But this burns us.

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It’s unfamiliar to be in that bright. It’s both freeing yet scary to live that vulnerably. To live completely unshackled or unhindered is easy until we remember our own wounds. Then we succumb to  moments where we hear the wrong voices, the lies and perhaps even our own self-destructive opinions of ourselves.

And then this leads to our “lacking in confidence” choices or simply our indecision. We paralyze ourselves or harm ourselves or harm others and we spread the wounds rather than relieving them. Healing hands rush to the side but are cautious yet gentle to the touch.

Urgency can lead us to the who or what but patience must check us before we assume we know what the problem is. And this is my problem, slow to the who or what and then hasty to assume the problem.

I think the season and vocation I am entering into is both intentional and essential. I will be with people everyday who I will have no idea how to minister to, while trusting that Jesus has gone before me to minister to them already. I will just step into what He has already been doing.

Now to embrace that work in myself. Step into and agree to what God is already doing. I have known that God is at work in a place of depth I am unfamiliar with and because I am unfamiliar, I encounter more fear of the unknown and I’m tempted to fall back on the familiar. I hope God continues to be relentless in breaking through me because I know it is for my good.

Whether it is the difference in someone else or difference in yourself, in order to demonstrate love both to self and other, discovery is required. We must risk our time and presence in intimacy (not romantic, but sometimes necessary depending on the relationship) in order to have compassion and to enjoy the other.