Posts Tagged ‘blessings

06
Nov
18

The Real Problem

Dreamer image“Your situation…” a wise person once said to me, “… is never the problem.”

Pregnant pause.

“The problem… “ they continued, “… is your RELATIONSHIP to your situation.”

And for the most part, I agreed with and appreciated this pearl of wisdom when I first heard it.

I mean, how often are we prone to believe that if we can just change something about our situation… by getting a new job, a new spouse, a new haircut, a new hometown, a new car, a new political leader, a new wardrobe, or a new pet… that life will finally be whole, complete and perfect?

I confess I have fallen for that faulty line of reasoning more than once.

And yet, this wise saying – like many wise sayings – has its flaws.

If your situation, for example, involves you being in poverty, being abused, being otherwise exploited, being denied justice, or being trapped in a cycle of addiction, then yes… your situation IS the problem.

You need advocates and empowerment to change that situation.

But for the most part, I am firmly on board with the “change your attitude instead of your situation” wisdom.

True… I may just be trying to steel myself against a potentially MASSIVE disappointment as I watch today’s election results trickle in. I may be preparing to (somehow) take a hopeful, positive relationship to a thoroughly sucky future political situation.

But still… I thought it might be a good time to remind all of us of the amazing power we each hold. Even when things don’t turn out the way we would prefer we each have the power to shape our own outlook on the world.

As it turns out, today is a good day to read and re-read this election day wisdom from that famous first-century political pundit, the Apostle Paul where he reminds us where to keep our focus: “…  because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.”(2 Corinthians 4:18, NRSV, emphasis mine).

Happy voting!

Abundant blessings;

20
Oct
18

Our unwelcome, uninvited visitor

uninvited visitorWe received the official word on the morning of September 21.

That was the day we found out that most of our attention and energy, for now, will focus on dealing with my wife’s cancer diagnosis.

It was the last thing either of us was prepared – or wanted – to hear from her doctor.

But there it was; unavoidably real… clinically stark… terrifying.

At first, it was like an explosion that knocked us both off of our feet.

It left us dazed, reeling, and with an intense ringing in our ears. For several minutes we just stumbled around the house blindly, saying, “Wait… what?” to each other.

Many of you have been on the receiving end of this exact hammer blow and know all too well what a game-changer this news really is.

Somewhere in your brain, you know that very soon there will be a mad flurry of activity. Phone calls will be made, research will be done, appointments will be set, references will be checked, schedules will be changed, tests will be run, and prayers will be said.

But right now, it is just the two of you and this 800-pound gorilla that appeared out of nowhere and took a crap in the middle of your living room.

It is all a little too much to process, and so you choose not to do what you really can’t.

But there, in the middle of all of the smoke and wreckage and feces, you look around and notice a few things.

And you start to wonder;

  • Was it purely coincidence that years earlier I had served alongside a pastor whose spouse just happens to be one of the pre-eminent gynecological oncologists in this area… someone whose name came up repeatedly when discussing specialists to see?

  • Was it purely by chance that three weeks earlier I made an appointment to meet with my counselor that very morning at 11:00 a.m.?

  • Was it total happenstance that we had tickets to go with our friends to the Billy Joel concert the exact same night as this diagnosis?

In another stage of my faith life, I might have said that the only acceptable evidence that God had actually intervened in a frightening, life-threatening situation was when people saw an unexpected and miraculous reversal of that situation.

For example,

  • The sea instantly becoming dry land…
  • The blind person suddenly regaining her sight…
  • The wheelchair-bound paraplegic jumping up and dancing for joy…
  • Cancerous tumors miraculously vanishing.

But age and experience have taught me that there are a whole host of other ways God intervenes in our lives… actively sending a continuous stream of little alerts to us, each designed to say, “I’m here. I’ve got you. You will never be alone for one second as you go through this… even during those times when you feel like you are.”

I know that lots of you have faced news like this in your lives and somehow found the means to cope with it. I take great strength from your examples… even the times when you just had to, “Fake it ‘til you make it.”

I think I’ll be doing that a lot.

But it is also greatly reassuring to know that the One who made me and made my wife is right here with us, holding our hand and guiding us through.

“For I, the Lord your God,
hold your right hand;
it is I who say to you, ‘Do not fear,
I will help you.’”

– Isaiah 41:13, NRSV

24
Sep
18

Adversarity

AdversariesOne of my favorite radio programs is a public radio show called The Moth.

If you have never listened to it, you should. Here is a link to the website: https://themoth.org.

The Moth is people telling stories. Nothing more. Nothing less.

The stories are recorded at public events called StorySlams and cover a wide array of the human experience. On a given week, for example, you might hear someone talk about the year she spent as a member of a sultan’s harem, an addict remembering his long, slow climb to sobriety, or a teacher discussing a group of third-graders and their military maneuvers on the playground.

The stories on The Moth are not all winners, but I always come away from listening feeling somehow enriched.

Last week as the final music of the latest Moth episode was concluding, I realized I still had forty-five more minutes of driving ahead on my hour-long trip. So I set off in search of the next option on the radio dial.

The public radio station had gone to classical music, so that was a quick, “Nope. No thanks.”

My mind having been stimulated by The Moth, I didn’t feel like just zoning out to classic rock or alt beats, or country/western music, so I began searching for talk radio options.

You know, talk radio… that place you go to find intelligent, well-reasoned opinions being expressed and then responded to by other intelligent, well-reasoned counter-opinions.

What I found instead was screaming, ranting tirades by angry radio hosts, responded to either by screaming ranting FANS or screaming ranting FOES of the original viewpoint presented.

The tone was such a jarring contrast to the tone of The Moth that it literally hurt my head to listen. I punched the next button as quickly as I could.

“I know!” I said, to no one in particular. “How about sports talk radio?”

But the result – as you have probably guessed by now – was exactly the same. Screaming, ranting radio hosts, responded to by screaming, ranting callers. I was shocked to discover that the fate of the Free World actually hung on the Cleveland Browns’ decision about who to start at quarterback this week!

And so… I hit the “Power Off” button and spent the rest of my drive in silence, contemplating Life, Love, and Laundry.

Admittedly it was a small sample size from which to draw conclusions, but my experience raised an interesting question for me. It made me ask: is there some fundamental, core reason we need adversaries in order to be fully human?

It certainly seems sometimes, doesn’t it?

I often get the feeling that we go out of our way to set up oppositional types of situations… in all realms of life. Team A doing battle against Team B to determine the winner seems to form the basis of our systems of war, sports, politics, and most business.

Lately, it seems as if “winning you over to MY point of view” is the way we talk to one another, too.

Advocates of this approach suggest that adversarity(yes, I just made that word up) is the only way anything ever improves. They point out that businesses that lack competition become lazy and lackadaisical about innovating or providing exceptional service.

And I am not sure I would really ever work to improve my jump shot if I wasn’t going to use it to try and win a pick-up basketball game.

But we also need to remember that – according to the psalmist – we are each “… fearfully and wonderfully made…” (Psalm 139), with – I presume – an unbridled capacity to continually hone and refine our God-given abilities.

But does that necessarily mean refining those abilities in the heat of battle?

As I listened to the story-telling on The Moth, delving deeper and deeper into the meat and meaning of a few simple life experiences, I felt the deep tingle of inspiration stirring inside. I loved the open and vulnerable way the storytellers peeled back the layers of their lives and invited me in to look.

I wanted to do the same… and tell the stories that have helped shape MY life.

Without having to threaten to crush or annihilate me, those storytellers coaxed me closer and closer to a willingness to explore similar places in my own life. They beckoned me to walk where wonder and surprise and humor might have swirled together to create a rich place of meaning… to look again at something I might have overlooked before.

Yes, King Solomon also told us, “…iron sharpens iron” (Proverbs 27:17).

But sometimes the best tools are made from something a lot softer than iron.

 

Abundant blessings;

19
Jul
18

Unedited You

Writing is hard.

WritingWriting well is harder. (Or should that be “Writing good…”?)

Yet, in spite of all the hurdles and pitfalls involved, I would much rather write than talk.

The problem with talking is that it is so… INSTANT. A situation arises… words are called for… they spill out of your mouth in some kind of order… and then all sorts of conclusions and assumptions begin congealing around them.

There was that time – for example – when I decided to break the ice with a complete stranger over the cold cut tray at a friend’s Christmas party. “So…” my chatty banter began, “Are you one of Fred’s neighbors who are part of the effort to fight that nasty development the ABC Real Estate Company is planning for the neighborhood?”

“Well, no,” the stranger replied… very deliberately. “I am actually on the board of directors of the ABC Real Estate Company.”

Or then there was that other time when a 50ish couple was leaving the worship service with an uber-cute six-or-seven-year-old boy in tow. I had not recalled seeing them before, so to make a little friendly conversation as hands were being shaken I smiled and said, “Oh! Is this your grandson you’ve brought with you to church today!”

Their smiles suddenly faded, replaced by a now frosty façade as the man replied, “No. This is our SON.”

Strangely I don’t think we saw them too many times in church after that.

But when I am here at my keyboard, I enjoy an INFINITE number of chances to start… stop… correct… erase… edit… and perfect my words before they ever cross your radar screen. If something looks even the slightest bit askew, POOF! Away it goes into the electronic ether.

When I write, I can look back and notice that I have used the word AMAZING five times in a row. Then I can simply mouse over at least two “amazings”, right click to pull up the thesaurus function and replace them with “startling” and “remarkable” and end up sounding a little less dull and unimaginative than I really am.

Writing takes a lot more work than talking, to be sure. But I really prefer presenting the world with EDITED Russell vs. UNEDITED, raw Russell.

EDITED Russell is smooth and articulate. He uses the right word at the right time. His conversation is sprinkled with texture, nuance, and wit. Heck, he can even be called borderline witty and wise now and then.

UNEDITED Russell can be downright clumsy. He hesitates… uses the wrong word at the wrong time… offends people – always unintentionally, of course. He often lets emotions rather than cool, thorough thoughtfulness shape his words. In the right situation, he has even been known to let a profanity escape his lips.

People find edited Russell likable… but they admit unedited Russell can often be more than a little annoying.

All of which makes God and God’s assessment system a marvel that most of us will never even come close to wrapping our minds around.

That’s because – as I read the words of scripture – God not only LOVES unedited Russell, and (insert your name here…) – God actually PREFERS the unedited version of each of us. God’s emissary, Paul of Tarsus, tells his church in Rome, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.”(Romans 5:6, NRSV).

King David was a big advocate of coming to God with one’s complete, unvarnished, unedited self and just laying it out there in its most raw form. At the time of one of his deepest funks, he wrote, “The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”(Psalm 51:17, NRSV).

And apparently, God doesn’t want us to edit ourselves OR our prayers. That’s why there is such a thing as the Holy Spirit. Romans 8:26 reminds us, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.”

So I’m sure I will probably continue to edit my writing. I will make every attempt to edit my speaking, thinking, and acting… especially when you and I are together.

But let’s just all take this moment to rejoice at the reminder that God’s nature is to open his arms wide and give a big ol’ godly bear hug to the real, unedited YOU.

18
Jun
18

In or out?

Apologies in advance to the comedian who said this originally, because I thought it was really funny.

But as much as I would like to give credit where credit is due, I can’t remember your name.

Commenting on the popularity of the cross as an item of jewelry, your line was something like: “I am pretty sure that when he does come back again, the absolute LAST thing Jesus is going to want to see is a CROSS! He’ll be like, ‘Is this somebody’s idea of a cruel joke! That thing gives me NIGHTMARES!’”

It’s a funny line. And he (the comedian) is probably right.

But that doesn’t keep me from getting up every morning, reaching into the miscellaneous whatnot keeper on my closet shelf, and grabbing for the cross necklace lying there.

As you can see from the photo here, it’s a pretty nice one.My cross

It was a seminary graduation present from my loving wife.

No, it is not raw, roughhewn wood, stained with blood and pockmarked with nail holes. And yet, attractive as it is, I am sure it would still give Jesus the heebie-jeebies.

There is never a question about whether I will wear my cross on a given day. But there is ALWAYS the question – IN? or OUT? As in, “Will I wear the cross on the inside of my shirt or on the outside?

For me, each of these alternatives has both an upside and a downside.

The upside of the choice to wear the cross inside my shirt is that it becomes a gently thumping form of personal reminder. As I walk, I can feel it lightly tapping my chest as if to say, “Hey, buddy… don’t forget. You decided to give your life to Christ and to speak words and do deeds that are consistent with who He is! Represent well, homie!”

The downside, of course, is that wearing the cross inside the shirt sometimes feels as if I am HIDING my faith… you know, chickening out and keeping it under wraps.

Wearing my cross on the outside of the shirt, of course, solves that problem. It puts it right out there for all passers-by to see. It becomes a walking proclamation that declares, “Hey! Check it out! Jesus follower here! Anybody want to hear a little Good News? I’m your guy!”

The downside of outside is that very visibility. It can feel a little “holier-than-thou” at one end of the spectrum and “intolerant-of-thou” at the other… neither of which – I believe – is helpful to the cause of Christianity.

Most of the time my default is “inside.” This is mainly because I feel as if need to be reminded of my faith decision MUCH MORE OFTEN than others do.

And also because I do not believe Bible scholars have yet discovered a heretofore unseen coda to Matthew 28:20 that says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit… being sure to wear all the cross jewelry and Christian fish symbols you can in the process.”

And finally, I guess I default to “inside the shirt” because, even though I was only six years old the first time I sang it, I still hold fast to the wisdom of that camp song that reminds us that, “They will know we are Christians BY OUR LOVE…”

… and not by the crosses we wear, or by the ecstatic hands we raise in worship, or by the fish symbols on our bumpers, or by the way we vote, or by the number of times we say, “Father God…” when we pray out loud.

Please understand; I am not judging you harshly if you are a person who has decided to wear the cross visibly as part of your daily wardrobe. In fact, I actually admire the boldness of your witness.

I am just saying that the challenge I seek to rise to is the challenge of allowing my life to demonstrate my faith… and not to be bad advertising for it when it doesn’t.

 

So… what will it be today?

In? Or out?

05
Jun
18

Be Like Rosie

Rosie mopingMeet Rosie.

Rosie is our nearly eight-month-old Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier.

And yes, it is perfectly OK for you to say what you’re thinking right now: she IS, in fact, the cutest dog in the world.

Rosie is very high-spirited and energetic… which is exactly why we chose the name, Rosie. Think of it for a minute: every human named Rosie I have ever known has been spunky, high-spirited, and energetic… for example,

  • Rosie the Riveter
  • Rosie O’Donnell
  • Rosie Perez, just to name a few.

Rosie under chairRosie came to us in early December and is the first dog my wife and I have raised from the puppy stage. I will admit to being more than a bit nervous whether I was up to the task, or how badly we might scar her. But I have to give her credit; Rosie has responded remarkably well to our admittedly erratic efforts at training during this past six months.

And so it was with no small degree of surprise when I was struck earlier today with this sudden realization: as much effort as Joan and I have spent training Rosie, it seems that all this time Rosie has also been working on training US.

I am not sure how many of her lessons we have mastered yet, but here are some of the things I believe she has been trying to teach us since December:

  • THE VALUE OF SPONTANEOUS PLAY. For Rosie, there seems to be no time and no place that is not PERFECT for breaking into a rousing game of “fetch the tennis ball,” or “tug the squeaky toy,” or “chase me around the living room with your shoe in my mouth.” I believe she wants us to know that play can happen ANYWHERE, under any circumstance. She has probably observed that Joan and I seem to spend a lot of time with our heads burrowed into our laptops, or the morning paper, or engaged in somber-toned conversations with one another and wants to shake things up a bit. Even now as I write these words she is eagerly baiting me with a bit of knotted rope she likes to tug.
  • NAPS ARE GOOD… OH SO GOOD. The only thing Rosie does better than eating or playing is napping. She can nap anytime, anywhere, in fair weather or foul, at home or on the road. Her favorite places to nap are tile or marble floors where it is nice and cool. But when push comes to shove, she will nap on any available surface.
  • AN UNABASHED LOVE OF NATURE. It does not matter how long or short the walk is, whether it is raining, snowing or bright and sunny if Rosie wants to stop and sniff a flower, she stops. And sniffs. And sniffs some more. She is also now strong enough to resist my tugging at the leash when I decide she has taken enough time with THAT flower and it is now time to move on. Rosie appears to believe that each flower was carefully crafted by its Creator and deserves her reverent attention.
  • LIMITED SOCIAL MEDIA ENGAGEMENT. It may be that – as a dog – Rosie lacks the necessary opposable thumbs, or intellectual bandwidth to know how social media forums like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or SnapChat work. Or it may be that by eschewing them she is trying to help us see the potential of these applications for the stunting of rich, authentic, and complex relationships with others.

    But I trust Rosie and know she is a lot brighter than she seems. So I am going to go with the latter explanation.

There are certainly others, but I believe this one is Rosie’s most important lesson:

  • UNCONDITIONAL LOVE. Of course, Rosie loves Joan and me, her human caretakers, without pretense or condition. But every time we have guests over, or just happen to pass another person on the walking trail, she is absolutely DELIGHTED to see them! Even if she has never met them! She bounces up and down on her hind legs as if to say, “Hi! How are you? It is SO GREAT to see you! Come pet me and play with me!” She shows no willingness to grasp the concept that some people are cranky or odd or even devious. She seems to want to teach us that every person God created (which is all of them) is each an AMAZING, WONDERFUL, UNIQUE creation, worthy of love and respect.

    In that sense, Rosie comes much closer to being an actual Jesus-follower than I am. And I’ve had many more years to work on it!

Needless to say, Rosie has done a LOT better job of learning the lessons we are teaching her than we have done at learning what she is trying to teach us.

Thankfully she is patient and understanding and willing to forgive our shortcomings. I just hope she understands when we gently – but firmly – refuse to learn about the fine art of sniffing other people’s butts.

Abundant blessings;

07
Apr
18

James? or David?

James TaylorWhat do you do when your world is out of whack?

This morning I woke up with a nasty head cold. It feels like someone snuck in during the night and stuffed my head full of cotton while I was sleeping. My thinking was so hazy I struggled to tie my shoes correctly.

PLUS… while the calendar says it is April, the weather outside clearly reads “January.” A 19-degree air temperature and frozen puddles outside greet the eye.

To add to the overall disorientation, my wife (a.k.a. confidante, companion, sounding board, lover, friend, anchor, muse, support, reality check) is 1,200 miles away enjoying some sun and sand with her daughter.

My energy is utterly sapped… and it is only 10:00 a.m.

HELP! All of my touchstones have deserted me.

I need a toehold! I need a solid piece of ground to hold onto and get my bearings.

I am sure you remember a time in your life that felt like this. Or worse.

I’m sure each of us has felt ourselves spinning a little out of control now and then.

Where do you turn when your altimeter is whirling like a top and your compass is in the middle of an epileptic seizure?

James Taylor is one option. “When you’re down… and troubled… and you need a helping hand. And nothing, whoa nothing is going right. Just close your eyes and think of me, and soon I will be there… to brighten up even your darkest nights.”

So I tried it! I closed my eyes… thought about and visualized sweet baby James… and waited.

And waited.

And waited some more.

I’m still waiting for James to make good on his promise.

Today I thank God for the mentors in my life that introduced me to ANOTHER resource… that taught me how to connect with the reliable, unchanging, solid Word of God in all circumstances.

King DavidSomehow the 18thpsalm of David seems like the right place to turn. After a long, long period of being harassed by King Saul, David finally defeated his adversary. And in the moments following his victory, David knew instantly where to turn and give the credit: “The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” (Psalm 18:2, NRSV).

No doubt if God can deliver David from an entire army of enemies, he can surely deliver me from a head cold, freezing weather, and from missing my sweetheart.

Ahh! That’s better.

Sorry, James.




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