Own Your Pain…

Late night TV has been a recent guilty pleasure of mine. I mean, when they lead off with old episodes of HIMYM (you know, the better episodes), and follow up with Friends, how can you turn away? A few nights ago, they followed Friends with a few episodes of Monk. In one of those episodes, I learned something about pain.

Honestly, I’ve always known this about pain, but always struggled to see it in a positive light. This episode of Monk started out in typical fashion: crime scene that demands Monk’s detective powers, something weird triggers Monk’s OCD tendencies (a double rainbow and they weren’t equal in size), and some teasing or jokes from Monk’s fellow detectives. This time, however, his assistant, Natalie, told him that she was sorry for him and everything he misses out on (such as the beauty of a double rainbow).

It stuck with Monk and when he ran into someone else who used to see the same psychiatrist as he did and once Monk saw how happy this other guy was, he felt jealous. He later told Natalie that he wanted to be better – that he wanted to see the beauty in a double rainbow and be as happy as the other guy. And so, when Natalie couldn’t stop him, he went to see the hypnotist that the other guy had recommended.

This hypnotist “treated” Monk by having him relax and think back to a time before things started going traumatically wrong – losing his wife Trudy and getting made fun of for being unable to climb a rope in a middle school gym class. Monk had gone back in his memory to a stage in his life when he was happy. Or at least, that’s what the hypnotist wanted him to think. What it actually was, as Monk’s regular psychiatrist pointed out, was a wishful happiness – a happiness he wanted to be true, but wasn’t. Not when he was seven years old, nor in his current day. He was trying to live a false reality.

By avoiding his own traumatic experiences, Monk felt happy. But, as the other detectives and Natalie quickly realized, he wasn’t able to help them solve the crime. He still paid attention to the fine details and could sense when some things weren’t lining up, but because he was so focused on living his false reality, he couldn’t bring all the pieces together. In other words, without the painful reality of losing his wife, Monk wasn’t himself. Parts of his personality and abilities were still there, but only in brief glimpses. Without that trauma, Monk wasn’t whole. Monk was a pretend version of his seven-year-old self in a middle-aged body.

No, this isn’t my way of explaining why bad things happen to good people. Instead, I’m saying if/when that bad stuff happens, it becomes a part of who we are. We can run from it and play in whatever imaginary world we want to, but until we embrace that pain and thereby acknowledge reality, we will never be whole. We will never be able to do what we were meant to.

Our pain, as terrible and unjust as it is or was, is a part of who we are. It isn’t the whole of us or even the most important, but without it – without dealing with it and accepting the scars – we aren’t complete. Whatever we might do from that point forward depends on what we do with what’s happened to us – even if it’s something we may have caused.

Monk eventually came back to reality. Oddly enough, he did so when the murderer pointed out to him that he had been chewing a piece of gum that had been on someone’s shoe. But, nevertheless, he abandoned the false, “happy” reality and accepted the painful one. When that happened, he was able to piece things together and solve the case.

“And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, ‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.’ And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” – Luke 22:41-44

Jesus was so petrified of what he would eventually experience that he begged God to remove it from him. Yet, by deferring his will to God’s, he enabled himself to achieve that which he was meant to: lay down his life for the sake his friends so God could raise him up. Had he pursued the route everyone else wanted him to take, he would have pursued an imaginary one – one that would allow neither him, nor God to do what they were meant to: rescue creation.

Whether we’re solving crimes or telling our kids a nine-year story of how we met their mother, we will never be complete without addressing our own trauma. Some experience more traumatic things than others, but we all experience something that hurts – be it physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual. Until we acknowledge that pain, we will be chasing after false realities.

May we all face our hurt and let God help us through it.

God bless.

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Sound of Sheer Silence…

“He said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’ Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’” – 1 Kings 19:11-13

In my Indigenous Spirituality class we’re reading a book by Kent Nerburn titled Neither Wolf Nor Dog. It’s a wonderful read, especially if you’re ever curious about Native American sentiment toward our Western culture – and, if you’re living in the United States, you really should be curious. After all, we are all living on stolen property.

As the subtitle describes, On Forgotten Roads With an Indian Elder, this is a story of a white man encountering an elderly native (“old man Dan”) and learning what it means to be a part of native people and earth as a whole. As Dan recounts all the things that were handed down to him from his ancestors, Nerburn begins to realize just how devastated native culture has become and just how much he – and by extension, his readers – could learn.

In a conversation early on in their journey, Dan tells Nerburn:

“You’re getting better with silence,” he said.

“I am?”

“I watch you.”

“I know.”

“You’re learning. I can tell because of your silence.”

I sensed that he had something to say. Dan did not make small talk when he was on his hill.

“We Indians know about silence,” he said. “We aren’t afraid of it. In fact, to us it is more powerful than words.”

I nodded in agreement.

“Our elders were schooled in the ways of silence, and they passed that along to us. Watch, listen, and then act, they told us. This is the way to live.

“Watch the animals to see how they care for their young. Watch the elders to see how they behave. Watch the white man to see what he wants. Always watch first, with a still heart and mind, then you will learn. When you have watched enough, then you can act.”

There was a silence.                                                                                                                                                                 – Nerburn, Pg. 65

Even for someone as introverted as me oftentimes becomes bugged by silence. I need some background noise or something to watch or something to entertain me. But why? Why do we have a difficult time in silence with no music, TV, cell phone, computer, or anything else to distract us?

Another professor of mine, for my “Knowing Self, Knowing God” class, gave an entire lecture on solitude last Thursday. He pointed out how we have a tendency to move from one distracting thing to another and said that it was because, “We don’t want to deal with who we are.”

Is it shame? Sure. Is it loneliness or depression? That, too. What about guilt? Definitely. Or it could even be something that happened to us. Whatever it might be, it oftentimes comes to the forefront of our hearts and minds when we’re in solitude. When the silence comes, that’s oftentimes when God shows up and, like Adam and Eve, we don’t want to be seen naked – we don’t want to be seen with our pain, depression, shame, or whatever exposed.

Elijah recognized that the “sheer sound of silence” meant that God had arrived. What’s critical about this passage is what Elijah was going through right before going out on the mountain.

In chapter 18, he challenges the prophets of Baal to display which God is the true god to be worshipped. And after the fire burns up the altar that Elijah had constructed and everyone had bowed to God, rains came, which ended a long drought. Almost immediately after, Elijah had received a death threat from Jezebel, King Ahab’s wife. Terrified, Elijah fled.

“[H]e got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there. But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: ‘It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.’” – 1 Kings 19:3-4

Elijah was suicidal.

And then he meets God on the mountain.

Oftentimes we cast these biblical characters as super-humans; capable of scaling tall buildings in a single bound, flying faster than a speeding bullet, or whatever other feat of Superman we want to use, but they were just as human as we are. Including Jesus.

Especially Jesus.

They were sad. They were lonely. They were scared. They were depressed. And yes, they were suicidal. But what also happened? They found solitude with God and, over time, were healed.

Jesus repeatedly found time to get away and simply be with God. He didn’t have a journal, a “devo” – not even a Bible. He simply got up, got away for a while, and then came back and got to work. He repeatedly got away from the many voices pulling Him whichever direction they wanted Him to go and listened to the One Voice that mattered: God’s.

Being silent in mind and heart, like Old Man Dan talked about in Nerburn’s book, is the most essential element to healing and growth. It is where we encounter God, which means it’s where we encounter the truth about ourselves – the very truth we do not want to hear. As Henri Nouwen says, when we commune with God, we have to face our demons, too (paraphrased). When we’re silent, alone, undistracted, and focused on the moment with God, we can deal with who we are and move forward.

I share these thoughts because my life is getting busier with school and work. Football season is upon us, which means there are games nearly every night of the week. If not, then there are the baseball playoffs that are right around the corner. And when those are over, hockey and basketball are waiting – and those are just the sports that are demanding our attention; I haven’t even gotten to all the TV shows and movies that are coming up.

It simply means that it is a critical time to be centered in God. The only way for that to happen is to follow Jesus’ example. Shortly after hearing of John the Baptist’s death, Jesus “withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself,” (Matt. 14:13a). Jesus dealt with His pain by going to God alone, which then enabled Him to carry out His work, for in the very next few verses, Jesus feeds roughly ten thousand people (if you count the women and children who were with them – Matt. 14:21).

Whatever our mission may be, it won’t be carried out if we don’t consistently return to God for healing, guidance, and peace. Jesus didn’t do it just to be an example; He did so out of necessity for His own well-being.

May we follow His lead and listen for the sound of silence.

God bless.

Side note: Louis C.K., a very famous and hilarious comedian, shared some eerily similar thoughts on Conan the other night. Silence has an incredible power on the human psyche, which is all the more reason why God meets us there. We just have to listen.

Conquering First-Tee Jitters…

Back in the glory days of high school, I was a golfer. I still get out to the driving range from time to time, but nothing near what I used to do. In those days, I would be at the golf course nearly every day after school and on most weekends. If I couldn’t make it there, I would go out to my grandpa’s back yard and chip around until dark. It was all in the effort to prepare for tournaments and to get lower scores. Yet no matter how much practice I had had, nothing could take away the first tee jitters.

It’s how we golfers describe that feeling when everyone’s eyes are on you as you start the tournament round. Dreams of birdies, sand saves, and close approaches flash through your mind as you line up your first shot. So much potential energy ready to be unleashed in that little white ball. What raises the hair on your back, though, is the realization that that potential energy could equally be used for bad shots as well as those good shots you imagined.

Two days away from my first ever seminary class, I am beginning to feel those first tee jitters. It’s been two whole years since my last class, so I imagine I might not hit the ground running. I had hopes and dreams of sticking to a rigorous reading regiment as the summer closed so that I would not miss a beat once September 5th arrived. Yet none of the books I intended to read have been touched since then. I realized this two weeks ago and felt a rising panic shiver through my spine.

Have I remembered all that Dr. Falk taught me at U of O? Have I still the extreme discipline to read hundreds and hundreds of pages day after day after day? And do I still possess the cognitive functions to compose arguments rooted deeply in research? Such questions have sometimes left me feeling it’d be better if I walked away.

Such feelings are not unfounded, either; I’m working full time hours, I have a wonderful church family, and in some ways I feel more myself now than in any year prior. Life certainly is good. Yet Captain Jack Sparrow’s words echo in my mind, “Bring me that horizon.”

Unlike his adventures, my move to Portland is less of a physical journey and more of a spiritual journey (and involves significantly less rum). I’m plunging forward in the effort to test a four year-old feeling: Whether or not I should lead in ministry. Much of this journey is inward, searching out the unearthed parts of my heart – areas long scarred over, yet in need of God’s healing. And that is the part I fear; what God will do to me.

Yet I must never forget that when God does something to somebody, it’s always in the effort of doing something far greater for them. Take Abram, for example. When God called him away from his area of comfort, He took much away from him. But what he did for Abraham (notice the spelling change) was far greater than what he had left behind. And no, I’m not referring to people, places, and things. I’m talking about Abraham himself.

No, I don’t expect God to build a huge nation after me (but that’d be cool; yes, they’d be called the “Cushites”), but whatever He is intending to do will only cause me to grow with Him. Just as I feel more myself now than I ever have before, so I will feel in a year from now after having begun this journey. Yet it cannot happen if I don’t tee it up this Thursday night.

First tee jitters are never easy to deal with. But the only solace, the only comfort I could find that helped me swing that first swing was a target. It was something to aim at and let the ball fly. In most cases, I didn’t quite hit my target. But I also didn’t blow it (completely).

After the first tee has been dealt with, the rest of the round is usually much easier. No, the shots don’t get easier, but the feeling leading into each shot gets easier. One golfer I played with always rushed through the first tee. He hated the suspense of waiting around for the round to start, so when it was his turn, he’d tee up and fire away. He just wanted to get things going. It may not have been the best strategy, but the pressure never broke him. It was always the opposite.

What I guess I’m trying to say is that it when comes to major changes in our lives, the best thing we can do for ourselves is focus on something small and just go for it. Even if we don’t hit that small target, we at least got the ball rolling. After that point, it’s all about the next shot.

I will only find out if I’m capable of handling seminary by showing up two days from now. It means focusing on that first class just to get things going. Whatever happens after that can only be dealt with after that.

So tee it up and let it fly.

God bless.

Answer the Toy Phone…

Ever since I started working with the Ems, I’ve often thought of what my walk-out song would be. Walk-out songs are small snippets of songs for when players go out to bat, so basically you have to pick a cool part of the song – not a boring part of the intro. You see on one hand I’d want my song to be something intimidating to the other team, something that would let them know they should back up a couple steps, something that’d make them say, “He’s a hitter,” something from Eminem. But on the other hand – the hand that is more in tune with what my heart’s telling me – I want John Mark McMillan’s “I Dreamed There Was a Fountain.”

Last night after the Em’s game was the Fellowship Night. I’ve been to one of these before, but that was way back when I had just finished my freshman year at UO and games were still being played at Civic Stadium – an old ballpark here in Eugene. My ticket was like six bucks or something. Last night, however, I was working while Fellowship Night was happening. And as I swept away the old clay around home plate and packed in some new dirt, I couldn’t help but listen in to Eric, Maddie, Michael, and Casey all share tidbits about their faith and journey with the Lord.

Eric Dungy, Maddie Magee, Michael Miller, and Casey Martin have all been in unique opportunities to play a sport at the collegiate level or higher. Eric, son of Tony Dungy, plays football for Oregon; Maddie plays volleyball for Oregon; Michael plays for the Emeralds; and Casey is the men’s golf coach for Oregon. While each one had something encouraging, thought-provoking, or wise to say, Casey said something toward the very end that has really stuck with me.

When asked about what he does now since he’s no longer competing professionally, he replied saying that he still plays a lot. He said that he often teases his players, which means he has to back up his words by playing better than them. Why he does this, though, is to have fun. He said he likes to have fun with the opportunities and gifts that God has given him. All I could think of was 1 Corinthians 10:31, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

When we think of doing things to the glory of God, we often think of working harder, being more responsible, and finding ways to avoid sinning. Yet how often do we think of having fun? Jesus says that if we don’t “become like children,” we’ll be missing out on His kingdom (Matt. 18:3). And what do children do? They have fun.

On Saturday, I gathered with a couple dozen other people to send off two good friends; Jesse and Candice Coffee. They’re leaving Eugene (and the US) to teach English over in South Korea. They were a part of Calvary Fellowship all the way to the end and they were there at the beginning of Emmaus Life – so I’ve had the privilege of getting to enjoy life with them. But it is precisely that – joy – which I learned a lot more about from them. What I mean is, I learned how to have fun.

Sure, I’ve known how to have fun – anyone who has ever been a kid knows how to have fun. But what adulthood oftentimes does is dull down the fun with mortgages and car payments and jobs and this overarching thing called “responsibility.” It’s not long before you come across a five year-old imagining himself an airplane pilot calling out to you, his wingman, and you don’t know what to do because, as we often hear, “life happens.” We justify our lack of fun-having by hiding behind our responsibilities. Jesus never says responsibilities aren’t important; but He certainly doesn’t say they’re the only thing, either.

Life is starting to get crazy for me; I just bought a new car, I’m packing up to move to Portland, and I’m about to begin a Master’s program at George Fox Evangelical Seminary. Along with all of these things are a ton of responsibilities – usually dealing with finances – and I imagine they’ll feel overwhelming. Yet what I am guarding myself against is being so caught up with all these things I need to take care of that I’m not actually enjoying any of them. As Candice Coffee has often said, God wants to give us the desires of our hearts and then enjoy those things. But how can you enjoy something that you’ve simply made into another item on the to-do list?

Today is Monday – a day full of unforeseen contingencies usually in the work place, involving coffee spills, and “fun” is usually not the common F word of the day. But how much easier would it be to focus on enjoying the job, class, sport, or whatever that you’ve been given instead of the to-do list with all its responsibilities? No, they’re still important. But are they so important that you’d rather spend your time stressing over every little responsibility that doesn’t get done or isn’t done the right way instead of having fun with what you do?

There’s a Facebook meme with the caption: “It doesn’t matter how old you are, when a kid hands you a toy phone, you answer it.” Having fun with what we do – making ourselves like children – is enabling ourselves to answer that phone and enjoy our adult lives as little kids who just escaped with their parents’ secret stash of Oreos.

Get done what you need to get done, but have fun with it. After all, you only get to do it on this day, in this season, in this life. Our next life with Jesus is going to have all sorts of new things to enjoy, which we’ll only be able to do if we figure out how to enjoy what we’re doing now.

Believe it or not, having fun is glorifying God. So be ready to answer that toy phone.

God bless.

Meeting People at Their Well…

I’m relatively new to John Green. I think I knew of him for a while, but never actually listened to any of his vlogs or read any of his books. But when I moved in with my current roommate, I was practically forced to watch Green’s “Crash Course History” videos, which are pretty phenomenal and in no way do I regret watching any of them.

One video that I recently watched was Green’s commencement speech to the graduating class of 2013 at Butler University. If you have twenty minutes to spare, I highly recommend watching it. It is well worth the time. What I love about this particular speech, though, was how he described the college graduate life – or as he said, “the hero’s journey.”

“We are taught the hero’s journey is a journey from weakness to strength. [From having no money to having a lot of it, etc….] The real hero’s journey is a journey from strength to weakness.[…] You are about to be a rookie.”

The idea here is that the college graduates he was addressing are about to go from being the most informed at one of the best colleges in the country to being a nobody (to paraphrase his words) – someone who gets coffee for other people “if you’re lucky.” And even though he was talking to the 2013 Butler graduates, I couldn’t help but listen as a two-year graduate from Oregon. Much of what he said throughout that speech is still true to this day despite being out of school for two full years. But where he turns next, the advice that he bestowed upon the Butler grads, was where I listened as a follower of Christ.

“The gift and challenge of your … education is to see others as they see themselves.”

This morning at Emmaus Life we read from John 4:11-18, which is in the middle of the story of Jesus and the woman at the well. I’ve written about this story before, but it is worth re-visiting. As Scott told us, it wasn’t common for someone to be drawing water from the well in the middle of the day. Because of the heat, people typically drew their water either in the morning or at night when it was cooler. So it was particularly strange that she was there at midday.

As Jesus converses with her, talking about living water and becoming a spring of water that wells up to eternal life, we come to find out this woman had been with five husbands and was then seeing someone who was not her husband. The text isn’t explicit; we don’t know exactly why she had all these men in her life, but we do know that she had them in her life. And it isn’t going too far to suggest that perhaps her “well” that constantly made her thirsty was relationships; perhaps she thought that if she just found the right husband, she’d be okay. She’d be happy. As it turned out, though, her pursuit of the right husband led her into a life of avoiding public ridicule – hence why she arrived to the well when she thought no one else was there.

How do we find out about this, though? How do we come to know that she had had five husbands? Jesus tells it to her. Because he saw her as she saw herself, Jesus was enabled to tell her what she needed to hear – that the well she kept drawing from was never going to satisfy. But she was also enabled to listen to what he had to say.

Of course there are several lessons within this passage of Scripture (e.g. What well are you drinking from?), but what has stood out to me today was how Jesus shared Himself with others; how there was no contract to sign, no belief statement to make, no ritual or sacrament to conduct, no strings attached. All she had to do was ask for the water which Jesus freely and richly supplies.

“Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water,” 4:15

Scott pointed this out; that Jesus doesn’t require this woman to prove her faith in Him like we might in our modern day with baptism, communion, belief statement, tithe offering or whatever. He gives it out freely. “Isn’t it interesting that Jesus is more liberal with salvation than we are?” as Scott asked.

Why is that? Why is it that Jesus, who we say we’re following, often ends up being more freely loving of others than we are? Why do we demand that people come to our church to be saved rather than us going out to them? Jesus met this woman on her level, in her weakness, where she sought escape from the realities of this world. And that’s where He turned her around. If He hadn’t done that, then it’s quite possible that none of the people with whom she shared the gospel would have ever heard of Jesus. Instead of being the strong man and seeing people from the outside, He took the weak approach and saw them how they saw themselves.

“The weakness of God is stronger than men,” – 1 Corinthians 1:25

As John Green described the hero’s journey, Jesus exemplifies as the Christian’s journey; that we’re supposed to empathize more than everyone else, to utilize our revelation in Christ to see others as they see themselves, and to make that journey from strength to weakness. In so doing, as Paul says, we become strong in the Lord.

John Green describes this whole process of becoming weaker as the college graduate’s journey (through a metaphorical use of “the hero,” of course). But Jesus shows us that if we wish to follow Him, this is the sort of thing we must do. We must cast aside our poster boards and signs telling others they’re going to hell and instead pick up our cross – willfully carrying that which makes us weak in the eyes of society – and share the living water, the abundant life of Jesus.

Maybe we’re not the judgmental type of follower. Maybe instead, we’re the ones continuing to come back to our particular well, despite never being satisfied by it. In that case, perhaps it’s time to step back, look around, and engage the people there with you – just like Jesus.

Meet people like Jesus did: At their well.

God bless.

Liking What Someone Else Likes…

Michael, my best friend and neighbor growing up, and I spent quite a few summers hanging out. Whether with our Legos on the stairs at his house or with our baseball bats and tennis balls having a home run derby in my grandpa’s backyard, we had a lot of fun times. Yet there was something Michael did early on in our friendship, something I was reminded of while reading Sheldon Vanauken’s A Severe Mercy. I know it was something he did because I was way too selfish to even think of it: he implemented a rule that we would always trade off in our activities. We took turns in doing what the other wanted to do.

Andrea and I taking a seat with the Valentes in Florida.
Andrea and I taking a seat with the Valentes in Florida (From left to right: Margrit, Andrea, Francesca, Amy, Michael, and me).

Once Michael and his family moved away, this rule had soon been forgotten. I did try to keep it going, but be it different friends or the teenage inclination to be independent (or at least attempt to be), it simply died away. I still did things that others wanted to do, but not nearly as often and without the conscious realization that it was someone else’s idea and not my own.

What Sheldon Vanauken points out in his description of his love for his wife (or as they described their love, “The Shining Barrier”) is something behind the rule Michael had implemented: the art and discipline of liking what someone else likes. Sheldon says, “Our thesis that if one of us liked something there must be something to like about it which the other could find was proved again and again,” by their constant practice of doing things together (38).

In very few words, Sheldon describes the remedy to the selfish nature: discerning precisely why the other likes something different – maybe even contrary – to what one likes. An example might be me liking the Oregon State Beavers – or at least trying to. Honestly, it wouldn’t be so difficult… until they played the Ducks. Then I’d be really hard-pressed to see what Beaver fans see when going against the Ducks. And yet, if I somehow manage to marry a Beaver believer, this is something I know I will want to do; I know that I’ll want to see what she sees so that I may know her better.

It changes the way I see things I do like, but also the things I do not like. Instead of demonizing it or mentally writing it out as irrelevant or beneath me, I’m now compelled to attempt to see the other side – to see what’s likable about it. Even after sifting over it and trying to see what someone else sees, I still might not like it. But at the very least, I’ll have a deeper understanding of what might be likable about it.

Thinking in this way makes it much easier to hang out with other people. It makes it much easier to, as Jesus says we should, love my neighbor as myself and treat them they way I want to be treated. Spending time to invest in the things others like to do is investing in them as people. For example, if a friend really loves going to concerts, it’d be investing in them to join them in going to a concert; not only would I be spending time hanging out with them, but I’d be learning what they like on a more experiential level. I’d see first hand what it is about concerts that gets them excited. And heck, maybe I’d start to enjoy it, too?

Learning to like what someone else likes isn’t reserved for married couples or couples in general; it’s a practical means of growing closer to a friend. One of the things Michael liked to do that I didn’t was go fishing – particularly with his dad. But there was at least one day where we all went fishing together. I recall spending most of the time on the playground nearby, but what I remember most clearly is seeing Michael sitting next to his dad, Eddie, as he taught Michael how to fish. For a kid without a father, getting to see those awesome moments of another’s life is an experience you can’t buy. I wouldn’t have seen that, though, if I did what I wanted to do and stayed home.

Me, Eddie, and Michael posing for a pic in Florida.
Me, Eddie, and Michael posing for a pic in Florida (yes, I still have that hat).

Honestly, much is risked in doing something that you’ve never done before. You’re vulnerable, out of your comfort zone, and at a bit of a loss on how to do whatever it is you’re about to do (like me and fishing). It requires humility and admitting that you don’t know something. But consider the alternative: if you stick to your guns and do your own thing, you’ll wind up entirely and completely alone and not in a good way. When God looked upon Adam in Genesis 2, He said it wasn’t good that he was alone. Sure, He then created a wife for Adam, but the ultimate truth is that it isn’t good for any of us to live our lives alone. We’ll have moments to ourselves and oftentimes find ourselves alone (I’m alone in my apartment as I write this), but we’ll still have people we care about and people who care about us. We’ll have close friends and family that will make us feel as though we weren’t alone even when we actually are.

Finally, I don’t think one ought to the things that someone else likes just to receive wisdom, knowledge, and experience. One ought to do what others like because one likes them and wants to show it. I went fishing with Michael and his dad not only because of the rule, but also because I liked hanging out with Michael. Despite all that was going on in my life at the time, hanging out with Michael and his family was one of the best parts of my childhood.

Love others as you want to be loved. If you like something, chances are they like something. Find out what it is and why it is they love it. In so doing not only will you love them as you want to be loved, but as God has already loved you.

God bless.

God’s Newsfeed…

A strange thought came to me earlier today. I was sitting at Subway eating my usual foot-long Black Forest ham on Italian herbs and cheese when I happened to notice a lady sitting across the restaurant from me staring out the window. She had finished her sandwich and was munching on a cookie while sipping her soda. Every thing about her suggested that she wasn’t in a hurry; she chewed slowly, sipped sparingly, and sighed heavily, almost as if she was bored. By all appearances, she was lonely. I wondered, if God had a Facebook account, would she be in His newsfeed?

Obviously she would be – more so because God doesn’t need Facebook to see what’s going on in everyone’s lives, but even if He did need Facebook, she’d show up in His newsfeed. Heck, He might even have it set up to be notified every time she posted something (a feature I found kind of pointless due to the fact that everyone I received notifications about popped up in my newsfeed). But God sees the good and the bad; popular and unpopular; and the befriended and lonely. And careless of popularity points or approval ratings, He loves each and every one of them.

Loving others like God has loved us, to put it mildly, is exceedingly difficult. Not only is it within our nature to be around people who make us feel good or accepted or validated, but our selfish, “independent,” American culture has trained us to instinctively care for ourselves before we care for others. It has taught us “out with the bad and in with the good” so that we just might attain that level of happiness we desperately pursue. And as evidenced with Facebook’s newsfeed settings (as confusing as they are), we’re able to pick and choose the people we care about and the lives we affect.

I really wish I had acted against my selfish tendencies at lunch today. I really wish I had sat down next to her to eat my sandwich and make some empty comment about the weather or allergies or whatever just so that she’d know I at least saw her. Jesus says in Matthew 25 that He’ll welcome God’s people for having visited people who were sick, estranged, or in prison, something kind of like sitting with someone who looked lonely and commenting about the weather. No, I’m not beating myself up for a missed opportunity; I’m saying it was missed opportunity because I want to get it right next time and every time after. I want be effective at loving others as God has loved me.

Sometimes I feel like a third-grader reading a book together with the rest of the class when the teacher asks for a volunteer and I’m simply avoiding eye-contact so I won’t have to read. But instead of the teacher asking for a volunteer, I am asking for a volunteer. And instead of reading a book, we’re helping people. And instead of avoiding the teacher’s eyes, I’m avoiding God’s eyes because I am asking who’ll feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the lonely, heal the sick, and so on and I can feel Him looking right at me. I don’t want to turn around because I’m afraid it will be me having to help.

In Mark 6:30-44, Jesus’ disciples seem a little upset that their rest was being disrupted by the thousands of people eager to hear Jesus teach. They told Him to send the crowds away so they could eat, but Jesus flips it around on His disciples: You give them something to eat,” (6:37). His disciples are dumbfounded and tell him no one could afford that much bread. All the while they forgot the Apostles were empowered to cast out demons and heal sick people – literally the same chapter. But I guess feeding people is more challenging than casting out demons…

My point is that we have a tendency to sit around and wait for someone else to reach out to the socially unfavorable while God is looking us in the eye saying, You go and do it.” And then we have the audacity to say, “But God, there’s no way I could reach them; I’d have to hang out with them and learn what they like and maybe even root for a sports team I hate. Clearly, you got the wrong guy.” All the while we, just like the disciples, ignore the power God has given us – a power that compelled Paul to say, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me,” (Phil. 4:13).

If it sounds like I’m a little frustrated with myself, I kind of am. I’ve been at this Christian thing for eleven years and I’m still making rookie mistakes. But like I said above, I’m not writing about my failures to beat myself up; I’m trying to get them right. Of all the things in the world that I could be good at, loving as God has loved me is the most important. As Paul says:

If I speak in tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing,” – 1 Cor. 13:1-3

It’s all for nothing if you don’t love. And I don’t mean loving those who love you back or the popular, rich, and powerful. I’m talking about the ones no one else sees. We – those among us who proclaim Jesus as their everything – are the light of the world; therefore, we see everyone, not just the people we want to see.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it,” – John 1:5

May we take a lesson from Mark 6; that our lives are not about ourselves, but rather the people around us. And it need not be more complicated than asking someone how things are going or talking about the weather. Love ’em, for the love of God.

God bless.