Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Vagabonds With Sticky Feet

“So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt,” so writes God when giving the law to Israel.  Peter changes it up a little in the new testament, addressing his letter to ‘aliens and strangers.’  The word vagabond carries the same idea. Webster defines vagabond as one that goes from place to place without a fixed home.  The funny part is that Christians have a fixed home—but not here.  The Christian has a home in heaven.  In our body and skin we get stuck here and lose sight of our ‘fixed’ residence.  The alien gets stuck to the earth; call it vaga-bonding if you will.

We have sticky feet with toes like Gollum that cling to this earthly soil.  That’s the curse of our flesh.  Peter tells his readers to ‘abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul.”  “Unstick your feet,” is what he’s saying.  Which is incredibly hard.

We live in this solid, visual, tactile world and it certainly feels like home.  Most of the time.  It’s like Turkish Delight in Narnia, 

“Probably the Queen knew quite well what he was thinking; for she knew, though Edmund did not, that this was enchanted Turkish Delight and that anyone who had once tasted it would want more and more of it, and would even, if they were allowed, go on eating it till they killed themselves. But she did not offer him any more.”
 We go on and on trying to sate our stomachs with what we see with our eyes.  We’re supposed to focus on what we don’t see though---to walk by faith and not by sight.  So hard though to taste Heaven.  So difficult to be satisfied in Christ.  It’s a struggle, it’s a war to choose to walk in those things that are true but unseen and turn from what we can strike with our hands.

To make the tension all the worse there are those connections we have with humanity.  These are good, solid, God created relationships.  It is good to love one’s wife, to find joy in one’s child, to smile when you connect with another human being.  Who hasn’t felt the security and affirming love in a real hug?  It’s like you could stay in that embrace forever—like going home.

One gets the idea that this life is all about the tasting but not about being full and satisfied.  We are told to ‘taste and see that God is good.’  We are fed on tales of a Promised Land which is far off.  Then Peter tells us about “an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven.”  Until then we wander as aliens walking in the tactile and  looking forward to that which will truly feed both senses

Sunday, December 21, 2014

NaNoWriMo- 3 Things I Learned

“Like a body rising to the surface from great watery depths so Kendall began to wake up,” is one of my favorite lines I wrote for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) this year.  The challenge is to write a small novel, 50,000 words or greater.  I wrote 25,000 words; my first attempt at a lengthy story.  My novella is called, “The Making of Clay,” and it follows Clay and his wife Kendall through a character arc involving fracking, kidnapping, OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), guns, drugging, and a small deli.  In the process of writing for NaNoWriMo I learned (at least) 3 things.
Writing is hard work.  It’s a cliché for a reason.  On the one hand the process is engaging, engrossing, challenging and soul-stirring.  The meat of the process involves hammering out a story with plot, characters and setting---all that stuff we learned about in elementary school.  For myself that part of the process was the most difficult.  For example at one point I had all the characters established along with how they were connected to each other.  The problem was that the storyline necessitated them coming together.  I wrestled for days before I came up with a device that would motivate them to be in the same place at the same time.

My appreciation for professional writers greatly increased in this process.  As did my questions about how they write.  In a tome of say six-hundred pages; such as a Ken Follett novel,  do the writers keep a chart of characters physical traits: eye color, type of lips, body shape?  Do they map out intersections that characters will go through?  I can’t comprehend that they would keep all that info in their head. 
Anything can be found on the internet.  I investigated wheat farming and found that much of the world’s wheat is produced in China.  I researched rape drugs (ala Bill Cosby) and even found sites that described the best way to kick open a door.  A believable story involves some aspect of research whether it be via interview or internet. 

“The most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying. (Steven Pressfield, The War of Art).”  My daughter said to me, “Dad, I feel like you and Glenn (a close friend) always choose these high goals and then you don’t finish them!”  The point I told her is to have the goal and go for it.  The sad thing would be to never dream the dream or set the lofty goal.  This process reaffirmed for me that anybody can write the novel, travel the world or paint the painting.  The problem is that most people don’t do the work.

I will participate in  NaNoWriMo again next year.  I’m shooting for 50,000 words.  I’ll dig in on November 1st and push hard til the 30th.  It was a disciplined challenge.  The process and fruit of the process were well worth it.  I’m already wrestling with story ideas.  The process continues---the work goes on.

            “This is the other secret that real artists know and wannabe writers don’t. When we sit down each day and do our work, power concentrates around us. The Muse takes note of our dedication. She approves. We have earned favor in her sight. When we sit down and work, we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings. Ideas come. Insights accrete.” ---Steven Pressfield, The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles


Saturday, September 27, 2014

Like An Asbestos Blanket Covers Flame

I’m swimming in a pool of dark
People who've lost their way,
Or never knew how to find it.
We bump into each other,
You say I bumped into you,
You throw words and fist my direction.

Jesus said we shine,
Lights in a perverse generation,
I feel your darkness, my darkness,
Quenching light,
Like an asbestos blanket covers flame.

Can’t count the ways we've parted with principle,
Walked away from preserving life,
Choosing self-preservation,
Not realizing it’s not a stand at all,
It’s a fall,
At least that’s what theologians call it.

Saving self seems worthwhile,
A busted life preserver,
Principles not fleshed out
Preserver without air,
Whitewashed sepulcher like a zombie with make-up on.

We come full circle,
We find our life by losing it,
Strength to stand because we’re already dead.
Riches in broken clay,
He shines and sets souls on fire,
Saving bodies from drowning,
As in the days of Noah,
This time we get on board.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Maintaining Joy: The Tools In My Toolbox

“Maintaining the joy of faith in the face of horrific evil does not hap­pen by coasting. It happens by conquering.” —John Piper, Spectacular Sins and Their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!”—Philippians

Joy is not consistently found upon waking up.  Most think that joy is a natural occurrence in the same way that ‘being in love’ on your first date should feel the same as ‘being in love’ after ten years of marriage.  Neither occurs without a determined decision. 

The way feelings work is counter-intuitive.  Larry Crabb delineates a process by which we arrive at our feelings: fact, faith, feelings.  We believe a fact.  We take that fact by faith.  Our feelings follow.  The process involves disciplined thinking wherein we choose to believe the truly right thing. 

Feelings are simply framed by perception.  I’ve found it helpful to define problems in terms of first world or third world problems (h/t GB).  Some weeks ago our washing machine stopped its agitating only to agitate us.  For many throughout the rest of the world the amount of clean water we use to wash clothes would provide basic healthy sustenance.  Framing the problem correctly keeps me from becoming anxious over my first world problems.

Work’s been a wearying battle lately.  The current trend in retail is to demand more from the employees while providing less for customers.  This frustrates me.  Learning to lead others stretches me outside my comfort zone.  I try leading with gentleness and patience.  Some days I lead well.  On others I let people down.  The wrong perspective would easily lead me into destructive behaviour.

I remind myself that God is in control.  He has the view from eternity.  I quote Spurgeon to myself,

 "The man who has got Christ has got everything. There are all things in one in Christ Jesus, and if you once get him you are rich to all the intents of bliss. What, have Jesus Christ, and be discontented? Have Christ and murmur? Beloved, let me chide you gently, and pray you to lay aside that evil habit. If you have Christ, then you have God the Father to be your protector, and God the Spirit to be your comforter. You have present things working together for your good, and future things to unravel your happier portion; you have angels to be your servitors both on earth and in heaven. You have all the wheels of Providence revolving for your benefit; you have the stones of the field in league with you; you have your daily trials sanctified to your benefit; and you have your earthly joys hinged from their doors and hallowed with a blessing; your gains and your losses are alike profitable to you; your additions and your diminutions shall alike swell the tide of your soul's satisfaction…”
In understanding that God has a greater purpose I realign myself with joy.

At the end of the day there is one other significant weapon in the arsenal.  Find friend or family to make you laugh.  On most days my close friends (and I include my wife among these) help restore perspective.  One person I know is fond of saying, “Tell me what I would tell you if the roles were reversed.”  Positive relationships keep us from being overwhelmed by closed thinking and thoughts only of self.

Maintaining joy is work.  It’s not always as easy as singing “The Sun will come up tomorrow.”  It’s a daily decision to hunker down and keep fighting.  The song in the night will be worth it when it comes---but it won’t come if you’re not engaged mentally.

Monday, September 08, 2014

A Wash In Trouble

I’m thinking I should stay far from flowing water.  Today should have been an easy drive into work.  There were no signs indicating otherwise.  That’s the problem actually.  There were no signs.  There were none of the usual signs indicating a road closure. There was no blockade telling drivers to “Stop.”  So I kept driving. 

I had a hunch that the pelting rain on top of the pass would create some flooding on the plain.  So I wasn’t surprised to hit some wet sand and immediately a patch of water.  No problem navigating those.  My brain lit up in the same millisecond the headlights fixed on water coursing across the highway.  It was too late to do anything but continue driving straight---through water, mud, rocks and sticks all swept down the wash as water sought a place to rest.  I breathed a sigh of relief as I came out the other side.  The indicator light began to flash on and off-a tire was losing air pressure. 

The wife and I were visiting her brother-in-law for vacation.  Her brother is an avid outdoorsman, kayaker, rafter and water-guy who encouraged me to take a rafting trip on a section of easy water.  I’d spent some hours kayaking and canoeing in the past (in novice situations) and had never had any trouble.  In Boy Scouting we’d canoed down a portion of the Colorado River with no issues.  “Piece of cake,” I thought.  As anybody knows, rafting is completely different than kayaking.  It’s awkward, there’s no great place to rest your feet and little security to keep one in the vessel. 

The bro-in-law gave me a quick (all you’ll ever need to know about rafting in two minutes) course in rafting.  Three of us took the boat to the water and began paddling downstream.  Somewhere between the shouting of a direction and the practice of my stroke I moved my foot again—seeking comfort and foothold.  That second the raft went up and so did I.  I flew out of the raft and began floating over rock and wood while trying to get my head about me.  Finally I was pulled into the raft; flesh slightly damaged, ego suffering significantly.

The bruises my flesh sustained on that rafting trip are almost gone.  I’m certain I suffered an ingrown toenail as a result of the pounding; and the blood-blister under my fingernail is almost gone.  As for today’s adventure, the tire lost air due to a damaged rim.  The rim was easily repaired and the tire remained intact.  Still all these things are causing me to think about water anew.  I’m thinking about water in a new light-the light of photographing it from afar.  I’m running from running water and sticking to lakes and swimming pools—with lifeguards on duty.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

The Danger of Hero Worship

We Christians easily engage in hero worship.  We enjoy a rock singer, a disc jockey or a preacher and we put them on a pedestal.  I suspect that’s one reason Brant Hansen gave up his gig.  I suspect he felt he was becoming the focus of worship and not the Christ he served.  That too is the reason God didn’t plop Moses into a cemetery grave---He did not want the Lawgiver worshipped.  That too is why Calvin chose an unmarked tomb.  If you want to read his works you can, but if you want to pay respects to his body you’re out of luck.  Fortunately I don’t have to worry about being anybody’s’ hero.

To quote Mercy Me, “I’m not saying follow me; I’m not the one who leads…”  I just share life hoping we can walk alongside each other and be encouraged.  Take today for example.  Management changed the schedule I wrote and shorted me a person.  It’s a more complex situation than that but today that was the case.  It frustrates the heck out of me to work in a customer service position and not be able to provide good service.  I spent a chunk of my day wrestling with anger and flip flopping from thought to thought.  I prayed for a good attitude, I prayed to walk in the Holy Spirit and I prayed for those who are persecuted for righteousness in other countries.  Then I’d flip into anger and quote Psalm 58:10 which speaks of God’s vengeance.  So hero I’m not.

The thing about hero worship is that it’s usually make believe.  We place perfect people in little alcoves for worship and there are no perfect people.  Our real worship needs to be God directed.  That means being real with who we are.  We wrestle to be better.  Certainly we can emulate, after all Paul said, “Follow me for I follow Christ.”  God has never been satisfied with the worship of clay idols in place of Himself.  “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves…”

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Family, Dinner and the Dissolution of Americana

A yellow Formica table is the focus of numerous frames in the movie, The Bridges of Madison County.  The table, a slice of Americana, says to the viewer, “In a normal family, normal people, in normal times; there’d be talk and laughing around me.”  Today in our homes the kitchen table is no longer the center of meal times. Life isn't shared there; bread isn't broken.

Is there magic in a couple or a family sitting around the table at meal times?  For children and teenagers the statistics are solid, according to a number of reports issued by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA), children who eat at least five times a week with their family are at lower risk of developing poor eating habits, weight problems or alcohol and substance dependencies, and tend to perform better academically than their peers who frequently eat alone or away from home. Beyond that the blessing comes in connecting.

Growing up I ate dinner around a round white Formica table in a kitchen with walls painted orange (hey, it was the 60’s).  Mom fixed dinner then served my sister and me.  I don’t remember my dad joining us—ever.  When I got older the home routine ended so I began showing up for dinner regularly at my best friends’ house.  He was one of four children and his mom prepared terrific dinners.  Their dad was always home for dinner.  These were rich times of sharing, laughter (lots of laughter) and significant connection.  That family has stayed strongly connected through all these years.  Mine---not so much.

A quick aside here regarding technology.  Part of the rich ritual of gathering for dinner is that of talking.  So it doesn’t count if everybody is at the table with their own devices, downloading their apps and updating their own Twitter feed.  It’s about relating while eating.

The Formica table holds its rightful place in the belly of the home, in the center of the kitchen.  Strong relationship and deep bonds are formed here over food.  Granted it’s not a magic formula.  I’m certain families that eat together crash and burn.  Still, the families I know that eat dinner together are the ones strongest together.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Church and the WASP (Walled, Anglo, Separated and Protected)

“Vanilla,” is the one word descriptor we chose for the town of Fort Collins, Colorado.  During our one week stay we saw maybe four people that couldn't be described as White-Anglo.  The U.S. Census affirms this observation, indicating that 89% of the population is white.  Interestingly Portland, Oregon is roughly identical whereas Redlands, California is 73% white.  The violent crime percentage in Fort Collins is 2.69%, compared to 5.17% for Portland and 4.24% in my neighborhood.  I've been discussing these statistics with the average Christian.  To my dismay most are eager to go live in a safe, protected place like Colorado

In his book Radical, David Platt says, “We do have to give up everything we have to follow Jesus.  We do have to love him in a way that makes our closest relationships in this world look like hate.  And it is entirely possible that he will tell us to sell everything we have and give it to the poor.” He goes on saying, “…we don’t want to believe it.  We are afraid of what it might mean for our lives.  So we rationalize these passages away…..A nice middle-class, American Jesus.  A Jesus who doesn’t mind materialism…A Jesus who wants us to avoid dangerous extremes, and who, for that matter, wants us to avoid danger altogether.”  The church would largely have a Jesus that would want us to flee to the safety of a city with a very low crime rate rather than moving into a place where you will have impact.  We are to be salt and light; not hidden and hiding. 

These conversations with those safety-seeking Christians leave me disheartened.  Though it motivates me to continue to be a catalyst for change.  It’s a change that should be obvious and easy to see with an open Bible.  William Carey, the father of missions said, “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.”  But if we live a protected, safe life there is no need for God to do great things.  Dying and daring for God allow us the richness of joy and depth of delight when He proves Himself---over and over.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Hunger Stays

“Through the blessing, through the bleeding, the hunger stays.”---Charlie Peacock

“All a man’s labor is for his mouth and yet the appetite is not satisfied.”---Ecclesiastes

Who is more content; the man who has millions of dollars or the man with twelve children?  The man with twelve children is more content---he wants no more.

On the surface we are all after the same thing.  We want more because we believe it will satisfy us.  The wise man knows that this striving for more is just chasing shadows.  I write this on the eve of moving into a bigger house with a bigger kitchen and a nicer view.  The house will add rich texture and elbow-room to my already comfortable life.  Underneath it all though I know it’s only shelter from the wind.

There is this constant tug-of-war between contentment and wanting more; really more balancing act than battle though.  Wanting more isn’t necessarily bad or evil it’s the heart behind the hunger that decides if motive is pure or self-seeking.  Yet I know that throughout I always have this deeper hunger for something that satisfies soul and delights my heart at a far greater depth than this world ever touches.

C.S. Lewis says that art, music and literature led him to realize a “…common quality to the three experiences; it is that of an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction.  I call it Joy….I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world.”  It is in the seeking of God that the joy is found; the fulfillment that caused Lewis to pen Surprised By Joy many years after discovering his own hunger for it.

The seeker looks to an answer for the stirring he feels when he hears great music or reads a classic novel.  The Christian looks to Him in whom we are satisfied and realizes that this side of Heaven---the hunger stays.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Fear Is One Of The Greatest Barriers To Coming Alive

Fear is one of the greatest barriers to coming alive.  It’s not fear of evil or being scared of big bugs that show up in your bathroom uninvited.  Fear of the mundane is a great obstacle that we must overcome.  It’s an aggregate of little things like not telling your boss what you think of an idea because of the imagined consequences.  It’s the not blogging about an issue because of backlash or not preaching a message because people may leave your church-in droves.  Every one of those decisions keeps us stuck in the grayness of not living.

There’s a call to wisdom involved in the process.  It’s going to take some inner fortitude to choose truth and life over status-quo.  There are people that have enough spine to do it and they do it Type A style.  They leave a trail of dead bodies in their wake as they live a life of coming alive.  I’m not so sure that is worth the trade-off.  I prefer living bodies and encouraged people. I’ve got to have somebody in my corner.  I start with God saying, “Perfect love casts out fear.”  I don’t know all that means but I know He’s in my corner.  My wife’s in my corner too.  She gives me encouragement to be alive, and, she let’s me know if I’m going Type A rather than walking in grace and truth.

Have you ever thought about that Thoreau quote, “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away?”  The man’s companions are keeping up a routine pace; same, same, over-and-over, same, same, over and over….That’s what we’re up against.  There are few that will come alongside us when we choose life.  Few will salute, many will slander and insult.  Naïveté is sometime a good thing but on some end you must know that fear is the companion of most mankind.  Choosing fullness over fear will not make you popular but it will make you come alive. 

Monday, June 09, 2014

Barren Exposure and Deep Healing

I felt cold in a place that is usually protected from air, from cold and from exposure.  I thought, “Oh, no.”  My pants had ripped.  It is unnerving to be exposed.  A hole in one’s crotch may go unnoticed by others but I felt unsafe, undressed and unprotected.  I wasn’t naked yet I felt that way.  We prefer protected and private lives.  Being open and exposed opens one up to benefits and downfalls.

James tells the church to “confess your sins to one another.”  To which we respond, “What?”  The movie’s hardly begun and James has the main man handicapped with imperfection.  I know that’s not the self I choose to project; the fallen, imperfect, not-at-all-together self.  No!  I want you to see the perfect self.  Heck, I want to be the perfect person.  Instead my mistakes and dark-hearted failures flicker against my movie screen mind in an ever running film.  James is adamant though; we are a sinful people and we must confess them.  To God, right?  Yes but also to one another.

If you do this, says James, healing will come.  That’s the hook, the hope for a happy ending.  The process calls me to be vulnerable.  I scream out—that’s not me.  I want safe.  I want protected.  I feel the cold air and it frightens me.  I sense that the hero must suffer.  The treasure’s stored in a vessel that must be cracked to get at the gold. 

I located some duct tape and made a weak patch for my pants.  I spent the day guarded.  I made small moves and didn’t bend.  Yet God tells us that it’s in our laying open that healing begins.  Now we make small moves toward openness.  We seek solid safe relationships and we share life; grainy, stop-and-start lives on a messy screen.  We put it out there trusting that this isn’t going to be a one act, one-fix thing.  We’re in it for the long haul.  We’re shooting for healing, trust and openness not some temporary fix that keeps us cowering in the dark. 

Monday, May 26, 2014

Proper Perspective and Plate Spinning

If you’ve seen The Princess Bride you know this truth; when life gets overwhelming: go back to the beginning.  The Apostle Peter said it differently; “I will always be ready to remind of these things, even though you already know them…”  As noted in my last post this is a full season for me.  It’s not been a brutal time as some I’ve lived through.  Still it is to easy to keep spinning the plates and throwing on more platters until the whole thing feels it’s going to topple.  For me it’s both physical and mental; I’ve lost perspective.  When that happens I go back to doing the things that center me.

You have to be willing to set the plates down for a moment.  It means you’ve got to be a student of yourself.  Close friends who know what grounds you are important too.   I read.  Reading reminds me why I’m spinning the plates.  I process as I write.  I ride and I hike to remind my muscles what my brain says about spinning plates.  Today I (figuratively) dusted off my Bible---to be “reminded,” though I already know.  Play is good too.  The daughter wants to go on a hike and take pictures.  Perfect.

At times I’m so focused on the plate spinning that even penciling in play becomes another plate.  So I have to step away.  Time to take a deep breath, relax and get perspective.  I’ve got good things going.  Without sane, rested and restored perspective all I do feels like juggling plates.  My life’s more than that.  Better than that.  I’ve got to leave the stage and get quiet.  Then I find center.  Now I’m back in the game better than ever.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Normal Vs. Radical Lifestyle: Battles of A Normal Guy

They have cradled you in custom, they have primed you with their preaching,
They have soaked you in convention through and through;
They have put you in a showcase; you’re a credit to their teaching---
But can’t you hear the Wild---it’s calling you.

---Robert Service

I live in tension.  On one end I spend my days as the normal guy.  I go to work, enjoy my wife, delight in my daughter; pay bills, workout, go to church and try to accomplish my short list of goals.  Pushing against this everyday life is the challenge to live a radically good story.  I am not alone in this.  Sometimes I feel I go it alone.

Partly it’s the voices I struggle against.  I say these things to myself and accept them as truth.  What if they are lies?  I look at writers like Donald Miller and Stephen Pressfield and the voice says, “They are brilliant.  They are geniuses.  You are ‘a bear of little brain’ just like Winnie the Pooh.  Those writers are crazy and committed---or should be.  Myself, I am just a normal guy.  And what normal guys do is work hard, be good, play on weekends, make it to retirement then die.

I’m so freakin tired.  No wonder we live for our days off?  We drive to work and drive home; fight the traffic, schlep the children, catch a sit-com, kiss the wife and hit the pillow.  I want to find the energy to keep swimming upstream.  The vision stays alive but its ember and needs oxygen. 

Oxygen is difficult to find.  Yet we are wired to breathe it, wired not to settle for the air down here.  We are wired for more.  Settle into the Barcalounger and we die.  There’s that tension.  We are not content with status quo.  What’s the answer?

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Every 15 Minutes And The Death Of My Daughter

Today the high school called to inform me my daughter had passed away; they were sorry for my loss.  This is part of an exercise for Every 15 Minutes.   The program’s name was derived from the fact that in the early 1990’s, every fifteen minutes someone in the United States died in an alcohol-related traffic collision.  Per the website, 
“During the first day events the "Grim Reaper" calls students who have been selected from a cross-section of the entire student body out of class. One student is removed from class every 15 minutes….the student will return to class as the "living dead," complete with white face make-up, a coroner's tag, and a black Every 15 Minutes T-shirt. From that point on "victims" will not speak or interact with other students for the remainder of the school day.” 
As part of the exercise both parents and students are to write letters to each other along the lines of, “Today I died in a car crash.  Before I died I wish I’d told you…”  The question then is this: What would my thoughts be on the death of my daughter?

Here are some random thoughts bulleted:

  • I would be angry.  I would blame whomever was driving that got her killed.  I suspect there may be some self-directed anger as well; the normative “If only I’d…”
  • I have no regrets about things I should have done.  I was a great dad.  She made being a great dad easy.
  • My regrets would be for the future.  I’d miss seeing her grow up; the choices she would make, the friends she would choose, the boy she would marry.
  • It got me thinking about my current investment in “H.”  I need to pray for her more.  I really need to make certain to go through the list of things I want her to know before she’s on her own (changing oil, knowing parts of a car, balancing checkbook, sewing on a button—all the things I don’t do well).  I should make certain to affirm her as a person, daughter and female. 
 In the end this is a worthwhile exercise for any of us to go through.  We should evaluate before death our relationships with those in our inner circle.  I think it’ll only be worth it if you do it with guts and gusto.  A surface look will produce shallow results.  My hope is that the feedback we hear from ourselves will echo that which we desire to hear upon entrance into death, “Well done my good and faithful servant.  Enter into your rest.”

Friday, April 25, 2014

The Writer As Recluse

Anne Lamott says that, “Being a writer guarantees that you will spend too much time alone, and that as a result, your mind will begin to warp.”  I suspect that the writer is wired to be alone.  For instance Annie Dillard took up residence on an island and wrote, “Holy The Firm”.  For two weeks Philip Yancey “holed up in a Colorado cabin” to ponder the questions raised in “Disappointment With God.”  Do we get alone to fuel our writing or does being a writer make us comfortable being alone?

In his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize in Literature, Hemingway wrote, “Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. Organizations for writers palliate the writer’s loneliness but I doubt if they improve his writing. He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day.”  This is the struggle we as writers face.  Most obvious is the fact that we sit at the computer alone.  Sure my wife sits in the same room reading but I lose sight of everything but the flow of ideas in my head and the letters on the page.  Ideally we write uninterrupted and each idea is immediately set to ink.  The thoughts themselves spring best as they bubble up in quiet; at least that’s how it is with me. 

We aren't all a Steven Pressfield, leaving behind our families to live from our car with a typewriter so as to spend our days writing.  A healthy life is spent in community after all.  I’ve a wife and child I love and friends whose fellowship I enjoy.  Still one has to admit; though it took Pressfield seventeen years he’s cranked out twenty-one books including The Legend of Bagger Vance, Tides of War, The Virtues of War; A Novel of Alexander the Great and Gates of Fire.  There may be something to the ‘lonely life of the writer.’

For those like me that aren't as talented or as driven as a Pressfield or a Dillard there will be this ongoing struggle to live our lives out in fullness and develop depth to our art.  The battle for us will be to balance the beauties of normal life alongside the voice that ever calls us to write.  The skirmish for those that love and live with us will be to have more of us vs. loosing us to write.  For we write best alone but we live best in community.  I trust that somehow in that tension God will allow me to create my best pieces and share them with the world.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Honest and Transparent

“Be honest and transparent.”  That quote changed my trajectory.  I have it scrawled in a notebook; notes from my earliest days in church.  It’s from a talk by Wally Norling, a wise man that led the Western division of the Evangelical Free church for a season.  This is such simple advice but so antithetical to natural impulses.  Simple steps but so crucial to effective ministry and a healthy life.

A transformative message coupled with a life that’s lived out the message speaks loudly.  You will note this in your own life---your heroes in print or media have a strong message because they've lived it.  That’s one way transparency looks from the outside.

From the inside transparency is a decision to be vulnerable.  Being transparent is a decision to share the deep things.  We share struggles and victories in hopes that others will be motivated and comforted through them.  Our hope is to comfort others “with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” This doesn't mean we vomit out our troubles all over you.  It’s not license to focus on self it’s a mindset to minister to others.

In this blog I share questions I have about how God works or give glimpses into my own insecurity and brokenness.  I do it in hopes that some reader will say, “Wow, he’s a knucklehead just like me,” and realize that they don’t walk the path alone.  I’ve heard leaders say they want to keep safe boundaries because they've been hurt before.  Certainly there’s place for wisdom but there’s no place for self-protection---not for the one who desires to come alongside others with encouragement.

One way to impact the lives of others is to walk alongside them.  “a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory.”  Being transparent is a frightening thing; we open ourselves up not knowing if we will be broken by others or our spirit crushed beyond repair.  Instead we rely on the promise, we will not break nor will we be quenched.  Along the way we will stir up and ignite others that they too may model that same transparent, vulnerable walking alongside.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Free Will a Stacked Deck and the Hand of God

For light dinner conversation my daughter asked, “Dad do we have free will?”  Her English class is reading through Benjamin Franklin, “A Dissertation On Liberty and Necessity, Pleasure and Pain.”  According to Wikipedia it ‘argues that an omnipotent, benevolent God is incompatible with notions of human free will and morality.’  A thought provoking discussion followed which is still percolating through my brain.  Certainly we have free will in some spheres of life but God is able to move his hand to cause us to move a certain direction.

The obvious biblical example is that of Jonah.  He runs from God, gets cast out of a boat and eaten by a non-baleen mammal then thrown up onto the beach at Nineveh.  Certainly he was still able to exercise free will at that juncture but he was compelled by events which God ordained.  There too is the story of Samson wherein God uses Samson’s desire for Delilah to get him to the barbershop thus guaranteeing the slaughter of his enemies.  In the same way that Samson was “pressed daily with her words and…his soul was annoyed to death,” so God moved me to the high desert.

The ex-wife put a down payment on a property in the high desert without my knowledge. She nagged and “pressed daily with her words” to move to the desert.  In the end I relented in hopes that life and the marriage would change if we moved.  Though I had free will in the situation I felt that the cards were stacked one direction only.  The same God that knit me together stacked the cards.

So it is that though we have free will we deal with the same God that brought Israel out of Egypt “with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; with great terror and with signs and wonders…”  One can see how Franklin arrived at his dissertation.  Though God certainly moves His hand to force our hand he does so that He may freely get our praise; as a result of thanksgiving to a benevolent God not coercion by a dictator.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

A Call To Make The Days Count

In most cases death comes slowly so there is time to prepare; weakness, sickness, diagnosis, downhill slide and death.  In most cases there is time to prepare; but not in all. 

Keith and Anne rent a house from me.  Anne has been feeling sick as of late but wasn’t sure if it was diet, a cold or just a phase she was passing through.  She even saw a doctor without diagnosis some weeks ago.  This past weekend she was in bed and asked Keith to bring her Tablet to her so that she had something to do.  He climbed the stairs to her room bringing her the computer.  Within minutes her eyes rolled back into her head and she was gone. 

I remembered Tricia Lott Williford and the story she’s lived;

“I can't... I can't... I can't.... slow down. I can't slow down.... my... breathing.... I can't..."  
"Oh, God. Oh, God. I'll call 9-1-1. I'm calling 9-1-1, baby. It's okay. It's okay."
I speed dialed my mom: "Mom. I'm calling 9-1-1. Come for the boys. Hurry."
I dialed 9-1-1.  
"9-1-1. What is your emergency?" 
I scrambled through my dresser drawers, throwing on clothes as I spoke. "My husband. My husband. He has Influenza A, and he cannot breathe. Please send help. Please send help. Please help me."
 "Of course, Ma'am. What is your address?" 
As I told her, I saw him fall off the bed into a heap on the floor. I screamed to him. I screamed to her. I screamed. "Please! Please help me! He's not conscious! Please help me now!!"
Once in a while, a rare great while, comes the sickness and the diagnosis—and the praise, “The chemo is doing what it’s supposed to do, praise God.”  These are the words of my friend Forrest whose battle with cancer is proceeding positively. 

We live our lives trusting the actuaries and banking on a good gene pool that’ll give us 77 or 82 years.  My wife made me promise I’d give her thirty years of marriage before I hit the actuarial timetable.  One doesn’t want to be a downer but it’s good to think on these things.  Solomon said, “It’s good to enter a house of mourning for that is the end of every man and it causes the living to take notice.”  News of Keith and Anne feels like that kind of call.  A call to make the days count and to ‘live life loud.’  For it’s not so much about preparing for death as it is about living for life.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Manhattan Journey

Pizza is not known to cause flashbacks.  Last night’s pizza was delicious and fresh and I flashed back to a pizza I ate in Manhattan on a trip I took during college in the eighties. 

I made the trip alone and on a shoe-string budget.  I flew into New Jersey and took a tram into the city along with suitcase, overnight bag and camera.  As usual I’d over packed and could have fit everything into a duffle bag.  In an age before suitcases had wheels I schlepped everything to my residence for the week.  Reeking of sweat and paranoia I checked into my digs at the downtown YMCA.

The Vanderbilt YMCA website states that it is within walking distance of all major tourist locations including the United Nations, Grand Central Station and Fifth Avenue, the Rockefeller Center, St. Patrick's Cathedral and the NY Public Library.  This was home for a week.  It’s not a place I’d choose to stay now though you still can’t beat the price for a downtown stay.

Every morning I’d eat breakfast at the “Y”, grab my camera and walk.  The city is a blur of walkers; businesswoman in their light summer slacks or dresses; exceedingly professional looking---except for the shoes.  Sharp, stylish and sexy in expensive outfits all fitted with tennis shoes, flourished with color and carrying their work shoes in pack, purse or bag.  Contrast this to the businessmen whom---okay, I didn’t really notice the businessmen.  I was a twenty-year old male college student.  Contrast this to the Hasidim that populated the Diamond-district, their long black coats and dark curls falling out from their hats and coverings. 

Who can forget the smells of a big city?  My senses have never forgotten the sweet smell of food stands, moisture, diesel and rubbish mingling together.  There is a smell to a city that is universally the same; Mexico City, Guatemala, Manhattan and Los Angeles; the hubbub has a tang. 

I walked all day everyday.  Somewhere in the late morning I’d realize I was thirsty and hungry.  The delightful thing about wandering Manhattan is that there aren’t the normal fast food places.  There are food shops of every kind; but for a shy-young teenager it was daunting.  A boy can only go hungry so long when he is walking the entire city of Manhattan.  So it was that I came to the pizzeria; pizza by the slice.  I was famished and wasn't sure about all the choices.  The vendor and I settled on an onion and bell-pepper topping. 

For every traveler there is that one meal.  Mood, weather, company and chemistry combine to create an experience remembered forever.  I've never had a bell-pepper/onion pizza that tasted so good.  The pizza last night though was sweet and fresh and hit the spot and I remembered Manhattan.

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Sweet Taste of Vindication And Burgers and Butter

I want to scream, “Boom!  In your face!”  I’m a freak when it comes to movies where the bad guys lose and the good guys are vindicated.  In games and in life I get a perverse pleasure in being vindicated.  That is how I feel about the new study released this week that states that, “a large and exhaustive new analysis by a team of internationalscientists found no evidence that eating saturated fat increased heart attacksand other cardiac events.”  For all you that told me I couldn’t enjoy my BBQ or that chicken on a bun was a better choice than a hamburger I say, “Please pass the catsup!”

Remember in the eighties when they told us not to eat eggs?  Than around 2011 they backpedaled saying eggs were a healthy part of your diet.  My mother lived to eighty years old smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol and eating everything with butter.  All those Europeans that live to be over a hundred years old; they still eat their sausage and butter their toast.  There is some chance that Schnapps was a key ingredient to the mix as well though the proof is strongly anecdotal at this point.

I’ve heard it said, “All things in moderation,” but if I’ve made you a grilled cheese sandwich you know this isn’t the case.  First you butter the bread than layer the cheese, next you melt butter into a pan and toast the sandwich.  It’s delectable and slides down the gullet like pancakes slathered in syrup.

This study is the freedom cry for those of us who love our burgers and fries!  It’s the Magna Carta and the remedy for foodie legalism!  Studies show coffee is good for you, as are saturated fats.  I await proof that Oreo’s are nature’s energy food.  The perfect trifecta of taste.  Oh vindication how I love the taste of thee!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Joy In The Stages Of Trial

What if our trials were categorized like stages of cancer?  The initial premise seems to make sense; Stage One if the trial is of the ankle-biter variety, Stage Two if it’s fixed with money or time, at Stage Three things look grievous and Stage 4: see Job.  Upon delving deeper one realizes we are too complex for this type of simple definition. For instance some simple childhood trauma like being called names or having the friend next door move away; these things could scar you well into adulthood.  The tendrils of early trials, coupled with our own brokenness, will touch down over and over again compared to a trial that is harsh, quick and free of scarring.

As complex as the trial is the heart that hopes.  Hope too isn’t weighted equally to each trial; at times we feel overwhelmed at the slightest thing—say a flat tire on the way to work.  In the face of severe hardship we may find that we have grown deep roots after all and that hope is there to sustain us and it’s richer and more tangible than ever imagined. 

I heard Dennis Prager say that he wouldn’t know how to offer hope to those in the direst of circumstances; a Jew in a concentration camp, a nun in a gulag or a saint being tortured for their faith.  I understand the sentiment but still deep in my gut a shout went up: there is always hope!

“I know that my Redeemer lives, and that as the last he will stand upon the earth.  And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God…,” So Job states that God will vindicate him and Job will see Him in glory.  Though we go through the worst of trials the splinter of hope we have will be enjoying God in Heaven.  Habakkuk sees a “day of distress” when his people are invaded by a foreign army leaving them nothing and his final song is “still I will exult in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.  The Lord God is my strength, And He has made my feet like hinds’ feet, and makes me walk on high places.” 

I have not experienced a Stage 4 trial.  Still I believe that as complex, bruised and broken as we are God will allow a ray of joy to fall into whatever darkness we face.   

Monday, March 17, 2014

Bullying Is Not The Problem

Telling people to “Quit bullying” is like giving cough medicine to a woman with pulmonary edema.  It treats the symptom and not the problem.  Two problems that exacerbate bullying are a decline in morals and a societal move away from community.

David Stuck and Deborah Greenbaugh were fellow students in my elementary school class.  Both were bullied.  David stuttered and had a last name that fit too well with his trademark handicap.  Deborah was lanky, nerdy and Jewish and just-didn't-fit-in.  I knew that this bullying was a bad thing.  My parents wouldn't have approved and a voice in my soul said it wasn't appropriate.  See how I remember their names even today.  Still I said nothing though David and I had sort of a fellowship.  He called me every Monday night for the weekly spelling words (he missed class for speech therapy); always interrupting an episode of Davy Crockett.  I'd get mad for the interruption but I felt bad about the bullying. Contrast that with the soul of today’s culture in which Snark is the status-quo and points are given for satire and innuendo.

“Since time immemorial, etiquette has been used to establish the principles of social virtue, as well as the rules, symbols, and rituals of civilized life,” but this etiquette Judith Martin speaks of is a lost ideology.  “…such virtues as compassion, respect, and toleration are shared by morals and manners, and hence form the basis of imperatives of ethics, as well as of etiquette.”  Generation X-ers have tossed out these virtues with the bathwater as have their parents before them.  If virtues such as respect and compassion are not bedrock values then there is no reason bullying is wrong.

As a teen I belonged to a Boy Scout troop.  In our troop there was a pecking order.  The highest ranked and the older boys were expected to pick on the younger and lower ranking.  Whoa to you if you were outside the troop and picked on any of us.  We were a solid unit, part gang, part family.  The same guys that would pick on the young and weak would carry their packs a mile for them if necessary.  It was a safe place to belong.

Service organizations, churches and synagogues were previously safe places to belong.  Yet in current years, “the number of Americans who do not identify with any religion continues to grow at a rapid pace.” “In his book, "Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community," Robert D. Putnam said that attending club meetings, such as those held by Rotary and Kiwanis groups, has declined by 58 percent in the past 25 years; and that we have 43 percent fewer family dinners and fewer friends that drop by our homes to say hello. We are much more likely to sit in front of our X-Box or I-thing than we are to be integrated into a safe community such as Girl Scouts or the local Rotary club.

Bullying is only wrong if there is a moral imperative.  If we no longer hold to a Golden Rule (Do unto others as you would have them do unto you) or simple etiquette than picking on another is simply showing off one’s wit and society rewards that behaviour.  Too it is easier to do in the privacy of ones’ home as opposed to a group or club that has some values for the group and the individual members. 

We can make Public Service Announcements all we want about the wrongs of bullying.  We can enact laws that bully people into not bullying.  We can even create huge advertising schemes that focus on beauty not bullying.  Telling people it is wrong when there is no standard or benchmark to measure it against guarantees failure.  You can keep giving the coughing woman Codeine but it doesn't get to the heart of the issue.

Friday, March 14, 2014

I Remember It As A Safe Place

I remember it as a safe place.  Now there are probably high barbed wire fences and bright yellow signs screaming “Danger keep out, Peligroso!”  A trip to Chatsworth Park meant hours of adventure when I was a child.  Minutes from our house it was an escape to a different world. 

Everything slants upward from the parking lot.  To the left there is a baseball field.  Above the parking lot is a large expanse of green grass with a picnic area; we cared for none of that.  With friends or family we ran to the rock hills beyond the grass and climbed upward.

We scramble up and up and never take the same path twice.  Though eager to scramble as everybody else, I rarely leap over large chasms but prefer to find alternatives.  It’s a chance to face internal monsters but still be brave.  External monsters may be out there too!  It is one of my early encounters with adventure.  I am usually last in line.  Being last gives opportunity to linger.  I am thrilled to discover various pools of water where earlier rains have filled earth and rock.  Scuttling quickly I would have missed it.  Don’t know if being last means slowness or reluctance to follow. 

I’m a kid which makes it feel like we go up and up for hours.  The rocks must be miles high!  A railroad track leads through a tunnel atop the rocks.  A coin souvenir is obtained by placing penny or nickel on the rail and waiting for the train to flatten it.  I know other kids that go inside the tunnel.  We never do.  This is why I suspect fences.  In those days there wasn’t the need for fences.

There was a time when life was a safer place with fewer fences.  Now I’m old and grown up.  I’m certain now that I like being last or alone out of a reluctance to follow.  Last night I looked up at the night sky; the world is still a big place full of wonder.  The adventure awaits.  It’s still about facing down the monster within and the smaller beasts outside.  Some things never change.

Friday, March 07, 2014

A Barista Gets To Hear Peoples' Stories

One blessing of being a barista is the relationships you develop.  A barista gets to hear peoples’ stories though usually in thirty second snippets.  Tom shows up for coffee every morning.  Straight up when we open he orders a large black decaf.  Then we spend two to three minutes talking.  We’ve talked about everything from Putin to sciatica.  This morning he shared about his mother’s last years and how he fed her through a tube.  He shared that his mother never complained about her plight but was always more interested in what was going on with him.  Just as I was going to ask another question the next customer got in line.

The money-spenders are a number of individuals that have the same trait.  They’ve made a lot of money-or like to have people believe they have.  They are always telling me how they are spending it, “We’re going to Australia and New Zealand next week on a cruise.  I’m meeting with some guys to discuss the new development we’re building.  I gave the toast at a big Italian dinner in New York.  We are remodeling the house and putting in solar.  If you go to Temecula you’ve got to visit my friends’ winery.”  I’d Google these guys but people don’t give you their last names when ordering their “half-caf one scoop of vanilla.”

Often the stories are poignant.  An older wonderful woman customer’s body shakes and twitches twisting her head in a pronounced movement.  It doesn’t seem to bother her.  It must take some courage and back-bone to spend one’s days fighting that kind of battle.  James has only a hole where his ear used to be.  He had some form of cancer so they cut off his ear and side of his face.  He orders his large Iced Latte and tells me that the whole milk is one of many things that he hopes will help him get his weight back.  He shares about the chemo and being forced to take daily trips down to Loma Linda hospital---more than an hour away.

Working with the public has its difficulties.  There are days I think I would like to just sit at a desk and write.  But I’d miss the stories; the ones that I know and the ones that I wonder about.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Being Reminded: Daily Bread and Proper Perspective

If my life was a cartoon a huge ACME weekly planner would drop out of the sky, hit me on the head and smash me, bump-by-bump, into the ground.  That’s what life does when I think all my ducks are in a row. 

My work goes well as does that of the wife.  So we take a deep breath and start making plans.  Then one of my employees goes out on disability.  Next we learn that what we thought was a secure position for the wife isn’t secure.  It’s open to someone transferring into her position and bumping her to a different location or no job at all.  Add to that looming rumors of strikes and downsizing and the row of ducks no longer seems solid.  We begin to fret.

Fretting causes me to realize that I’m off course.  I went from trusting in God for security to believing that the Dillo household was making it happen.  “Hey God, thanks for the help but we’ve got it from here!”  Somewhere in the mix I remember the prayer that every church member knows, “Give us this day our daily bread.”  I forget that there’s a Wile E. Coyote out to do me in, a lion seeking someone to devour.

Isn’t that how it goes though?  Trust for daily sustenance isn’t so important when the fridge is full and there’s money in the bank account.  The forgiver is forgotten.  It is just the gifts that are celebrated.  Saying ‘grace’ at every meal becomes ritual not heartfelt.  The silos are full; God wouldn’t say to me “tonight thy soul is required of thee.” 

These little bumps and ankle biters are reminders that our sweat and scheming didn’t open the doors for job security and providential care.  We are reminded that anvils and large rocks fall from the sky and threaten our well being.  Difficult tests will come.  Grace will sustain and God will bless. Give us this day our daily bread for we know not what tomorrow brings. 

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Relationship Building In Business

There are benefits in ones’ business and personal life to establishing trusting and respectful relationships.  The vendor that delivers the cups and coffee to my shop delivers to many other shops.  There have been numerous times when he only had enough product for one store.  He chose to deliver them to my store.  The reason is because I respect him as a person.  I respect him and try to work with him in whatever capacity I can.  I give him thanks.  I wish him many a “good weekend” and “happy holiday.”  Valuing and respecting him has had its rewards.

Keying a car is a serious act of vandalism.  Working at 7-11 in my twenties my associates’ cars were keyed and subjected to all forms of violence.  My AMC Hornet never was.  The gang that keyed the cars frequented our store.  My coworkers had only adversarial relationships with the gang members.  I respected them as people but they knew that I also was responsible for protecting and operating the store.  This positive relationship provided me with benefits---which included the safety of my vehicle.

Businesses to business relationships ebb and flow according to trust and valued relationships as well.  The franchise I work for is little respected by the organization where it is located.  It is not promoted nor treated as a significant profit making enterprise.  Therefore the relationship has broken down.  As a result vendors care little about keeping us supplied with their products which affects the customer that can’t get that same desired product.  Neither side profits in such an adversarial relationship.

I can look back over forty years of employment and see numerous times this focus has paid off.  When working in insurance companies would trust my word over the phone before obtaining signed contracts because they trusted me—and I valued them.  Vendors made certain I had product.  Customers kept coming back.  Simply because I made a commitment to valuing another human being.  Perhaps that’s why “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” is called ‘the Golden Rule.’

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Not Enough Hours In The Day

I spent this afternoon looking at my work schedule and my calendar and my to-do list wondering how I am going to fit it all in.  I suspect that part of the problem is I enjoy my child, my wife, food and my six-hours-of-sleep-a-night too much.  I’m typing this while the wife is already curled up in bed.  After posting I've still two things that have to get done and more that, by necessity I've put off til tomorrow.

My plans get slammed often.  Slammed like a forty pound weight falling on your toe—which is exactly what happened to my employee last weekend at the gym.  Writing and cycling training will have to get squeezed in after the now required six-day-work-week!

I’m glad for the change of Daylight Savings coming in March.  It will make it mentally easier to pursue those goals and duties required day by day.  The rest will require some discipline and saying “No.”  Which is what I've been saying to sleep but she won’t take it for an answer.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Holes That God Is Slow To Fill But Security Is In Christ

I can’t pinpoint the day the brokenness began.  Even back to my childhood I remember seeking the Golden Haired Woman.  In reference to Bly, Eldredge sees the Golden Haired Woman as mythological---our lost masculinity.  Growing up my brokenness manifested itself through pride, arrogance, rebellion and a million other little sins.  As a teenager I recognized this battle within me and sought spiritual solace in music.  This wasn’t my best choice.  Christ got a hold of me in my late teens.

The Bible speaks of a battle that we are engaged in once we end up on Christ’s side.  Paul indicates that we have weapons of warfare specifically for the destruction of fortresses.  These fortresses are primarily in our mind; wrong beliefs and belief-systems built up over the years.  My fortresses were occupied by braided, long-haired women---again the mythology. 

As I mature I find great joy in Christ’s presence.  I enjoy music that celebrates Biblical truth especially if it is Christ centered.  Still there are always times, some far worse than others, when this battle rages and the enemy’s fiery darts seem impossible to flee.  I have bad days and good days but few days are battle free.  I recognize this huge hole in me that I used to always fill with dreams of the girl next door.  I wish this stuff didn’t bubble up so easily.  I wish Christ would fill that hole completely, that I would learn to lean 100% on truth that destroys fortresses.  I’m not there.  I hate this. 

Instead I trust in a risen Christ that secured my righteousness for me through dying on a cross.  When my fortresses overwhelm I trust Him as Rock, Fortress and Deliverer.  There I find the peace to rise and fight again the next day, and I presume the day after that til I see His face and am finally complete and free. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Mind-Feelings Connection

There was tightness in his chest, adrenaline pouring into his bloodstream and his mind recognized only that his body was revving up with no place for it to go.  He leaned up against a wall and forced himself—first to breathe then to breathe deeply.  He felt rivulets of sweat roll down his sides.  Fear and anxiety can do that to you. 

I realized this week that I have some irrational fears.  One of my fears when charted would look like this: Trials happen to everybody, we grow through difficulty, life is going along to well now so the shoe is about to drop and a big horrible event is coming.  Stupid, right?  This thinking, at a very low frequency, robs me of my joy. My feelings intermesh with my thinking. 

In her book, Finding Your Own North Star, Martha Beck writes, “The unconscious portion of the human mind communicates through symbolism when it creates dreams, language, and every form of art.  It can also express itself symbolically by acting its messages out with the body.” Donald Miller in his blog post, “Why IDon’t Go To Church Very Often,” says of the mind-feelings connection, “Before we get too irate and have a trigger reaction against the idea feelings are actually valid if verified and tested, we should consider new revelations in brain science, learning-style revelations and basic psychology. What about intuition, what about the whole brain? What about Daniel Goleman’s work on emotional intelligence? What about Sir Ken Robinson’s work on education reform? What about Jung’s early work on personality theory and motives? And even Malcolm Gladwell’s work on thinking without thinking? “ 

Two times I remember having massive anxiety; one entailed quitting my job and switching to a new employer and the second was before my first marriage.  Both instances ended badly.  I suspect there may have been an interaction between my feelings and my mind which I should have explored further. 

In the ancient book of Esther God uses the insomnia of a king (Esther 6:1) to change the course of a nation.  Perhaps our feelings when awakened are in place to awaken and arouse us as well.  If only we do the hard work of introspection and prayer to discern what’s going on in our hearts.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A Rulebook On Ordering Starbucks At A Different Coffee Establishment

Starbucks is back in the news again today thanks to comedienne Nathan Fielder. I work for a Starbucks competitor (if there is such a thing) and we have a kiosk in stores just like they do. I am consistently surprised that most of the coffee-buying population has been successfully brainwashed and converted to the Starbucks flock. Customers come in and order as if they are in a Starbucks: Tall, Grande or Venti. They also order items off the Starbucks menu despite the reality that they are not at a Starbucks. Many even try to use their Starbucks gift cards. Thus I think there should be a rulebook for people who want Starbucks coffee but end up in a coffee joint run by a different denomination.

1) If you are going to order Tall or Grande know what size it is at Starbucks first. A Tall anyplace isn’t the largest cup of coffee you can get nor is a Grande. If you order Grande from me I may well give you a large for the extra profit.

2) Don’t assume that you can say, “I’m from the Pacific Northwest,” and use it as a legitimate reason for only speaking Starbuck.

3) Learn what you drink. Is it a latte, a cappuccino, macchiato or what? If I ask you, “What kind of Mocha?” don’t jump up and down shouting, “I don’t know! That’s what I always get!”

4) Ordering a tea without water is illogical. Do you order coffee without water?

5) Most likely I won't shake, stir or sweeten the tea I serve you.

6) No, I don’t know if Starbucks carries Hemp milk.

7) Baristas are by and large a patient lot there to serve you. Work with them during the translation process.

8) Do you order a Jumbo Jack when you go to McDonalds (I suspect some of you do). Make an effort to order off the menu of the establishment you are in.

9) It’s okay to say, “At Starbucks I get…” and ask me what I suggest. At least then I know you realize you are in a different establishment.

10) Don’t freak out because the barista makes your drink differently than they do. Do you tell your mechanic how to fix….oh, never mind.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Divorce Is Hard On Dads

Divorce is hard on dads as well as moms. Moms get all the publicity and dads get lots of bad press. I suspect it’s not hard on the bad dads; the ones that leave town, the ones that left long ago but now make it official by moving geographically away. For those dads--- the illicit affair dads, the fisticuff beating dads and dead beat dads of all sorts divorce maybe isn’t so bad. It’s really tough on the good dads though.

I don’t have any statistics. I’ve heard some stories. I know some good dads whose marriages crashed and burned. Not perfect dads or wonderful husbands but dads that tried to stay in the trenches and be dad. I have my story too.

Not getting the kiss goodnight—every night. That was the most difficult part initially. Not hearing the day to day stories and missing out on the soft, quiet, big tuck-in and kisses was a killer. Sometimes the tuck-ins weren’t soft and quiet but came with wrestles and laughter, maybe even body noises and goofy eyed joking around. The good dads lose out on that because moms generally end up getting most the kid time.

Societal norms imply that mom is always the good guy. That’s not always true. This too is hard for the trying-to-be-good dad. Sometimes the mom wields her state given power against the good dad. It cuts both ways. The mom or the dad can use words and time to stack the deck against the other parent. That’s especially difficult for the good dad.

Truth is the dad may have made some serious mistakes while in the marriage. He may have abused alcohol. There may have been some sex outside the marriage bed. None of us is immune to our own unique brand of brokenness. Standing for your kids after such failure is tough. It’s hard for the good dads.

For those marriages where there is joint custody it hurts to see your children live like transients as they move from one home to another. Tough too to see them coming to grips with the brokenness of parents, tougher too if mom manifests bad behaviour that bruises your kids heart and feelings.

Still the good dads hang in there and keep at it. We keep affirming and proclaiming our love. We demonstrate commitment by being in the game, by midnight trips to Walmart for school supplies and dropping by after-school assemblies after an eight hour work day and two hour commute. The good dads invest in their kids. The good dads do all they can to let their kids know they are there for them. We don’t get all the press and publicity but divorce is hard on dads too.

Friday, February 07, 2014

For That Is Dissipation

“And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit…” Ephesians 5:18 NAS

How often do I waste energy and time on things that don’t fit with my personal goals? How many ways do I water down life and cause it to be less impactful, purposeful or powerful?

If you were to ask a Christian what that verse is about they would tell you it’s about drinking alcohol. Duh; don’t get drunk with wine. Today I was thinking about my own behavior and it occurred to me that the crux of the verse is right after the piece about getting drunk---“for that is dissipation.”

Webster’s dictionary defines it thusly: the process of slowly disappearing or becoming less: the act of using all or a lot of money, time, etc., in a foolish way: behavior that shows you are interested only in pleasure, money, etc. They also define it as wasteful expenditure.

Being “baked” and wasted with wine is visible and obvious. Daily dissipation isn’t quite so obvious. I have days when I don’t talk to God. It’s an easy slide; easy to get going and forget (not “Let go and let God,” but letting go of God completely.) I can get angry and fed up with people so as not to give a rip! Dissipation is so subtle.

So yes getting drunk is dissipation. So is endless pursuit of exercise or to much television. The point isn’t to get us thinking about those horrible obvious sins. The point is that we easily miss the mark. That’s why the rest of the chapter calls us to rely on the Spirit and in fellowship with one another. Sometimes it takes a fellow traveler to say, “Dillo you’re dissipated!” It’s a thousand course corrections and employing all the help we can muster to keep us focused. Waste happens. We just can’t stay there when it does.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

I'm Forgetting The Rains of Summer

I’m forgetting the rains of summer. Water filled the wash; top soil loosed its hold on earth and was carried by flash flood through dry river bed to fill empty barren spaces, once too low now filled with ripe top soil.

A season later and I’m dry as a bone; dried and cracked, wind bent I bow to the ground. Oh that a Spirit would blow; that cold wind would invigorate, that rain would come with refreshing, with greening. Oh for renewal.

The clouds mock and tease; they say they bring rain but it’s a lie. They bring cold. Breaking up the blue sky the sun reaches around them; not hidden, nor fully displayed. Oh how beautiful the blue sky against the black and grey illusion of coming rain clouds.

I bow to the ground. I long for water; for revival for this lush garden brought low by this season of drought.

Green fronds spring up; finding water they spring up, sparse but their bright green shines fluorescent against the dry cracking blacks, beige and browns. They shoot straight up; are they trusting for water or believing the lie of the clouds? In their innocence they shout; they spring, they sing of a hope that is coming.

I’m forgetting the rains of summer. Torrent that brought fresh, nitrite and oxygen filled soil to fill in empty places. I am lost in the winter. The fierce wind cracks that which is dry and devoid of sap. I forget that spring is coming with warmth, color and new surpises.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Importance of a Personal Mission Statement

“Years ago I wrote a mission statement for my life, and the mission statement is simply “I want to be God’s best audio-visual aid of how His power shows up best in weakness. ….God seems to delight in taking the ill-equipped, untrained, unskilled, and unprofessional and placing them to do a job so that the whole world would know that God is God.”---joni_eareckson_tada_oscar_nod_is_incredible">Joni Eareckson Tada in an interview with World magazine.

I was powerfully struck in two ways by Joni’s mission statement. The idea that individuals should have a mission statement rattled my brain a bit. Joni is living out her statement. It is evident in her life and her ministry (a false dichotomy really). She was a leading voice for the Americans with Disabilities Act and leads a ministry that for 35 years has provided a hundred, thousand wheelchairs to people worldwide and touched disabled and hurting humans everywhere---including myself.

In reflecting I see specific benefits to a mission statement. Primarily it sets a parameter for purpose. Let’s say your mission statement was to be an expert on movies. You are not going to spend your weekends reading---unless you are reading film reviews. You are going to watch one or more movies. You might subscribe to IMDB. Your time and your energy is shaped and motivated via your mission statement. It directs you in what you do and helps inform what you need not do.

Mission statement allows you freedom to flesh out options. Joni is invested in a myriad of ways to fulfilling her mission. Her ministry provides wheelchairs to many, she has a radio show, she writes books and she teaches on God’s purpose in suffering. These are not mutually exclusive areas but all fit in with her personal statement to be used as an audio-visual aid.

One can hone in on one’s own statement by thinking about those things that set you afire. What topic makes you hot under the collar? What stirs your heart? Focus there and you will be on the path to your own statement.

Fine and good but what’s my personal mission statement? Christian legalism gets me fired up. Hearing and reading about people who are oppressed by others or other governments breaks my heart. I write a blog with an emphasis on “coming alive.” It’s a work in progress but my own mission statement is, “To encourage and exemplify freedom and grace in Christ and in the fullness of life.”

I hope that you are provoked to ponder your own life and create your own mission statement. In it you’ll find freedom to run down the path your heart desires and peace in saying “no” to those trails that beckon but lead to bad investments and bad ends.