Category Archives: Life

You Don’t Know

1So I started working all overnight shifts in the grocery store last week, and I have to say that I’ve learned a lot in a very short period of time. For example, I’ve learned that if you want your life to include anything other than the cycle of eat, sleep, work, repeat while working nights then you’re pretty much always tired all of the time. (Like right now, for example, I should really be sleeping.) I’ve also learned that when the store is open 24 hours you get a lot of interesting people who only show up after midnight. I’ve seen Jpeople of all ages shopping in the wee hours of the morning, from young people to the elderly and even parents with young kids.

I’ve also learned how easy it is to assume that I know someone’s story. Take the parents with young kids. These people coming in that late on a school night gets me wondering, you know? “What the hell are you thinking?” is usually what comes to mind, which is then followed with, “Don’t you know better?” At that point I usually assume the moral high ground thinking that they should know better and are therefore probably bad parents.

The truth of the matter is that I don’t know why they brought their kids that late at night. There are any number of reasons for parents and kids to be in the store that late. When I worked childcare I learned that there are a lot of parents out there working what can charitably be called shitty hours. Maybe that late at night is the only time they can get to the grocery store. Maybe they can’t afford a sitter. Ultimately, I don’t know the story of anyone who shows up in my store.

Here’s the thing. How often do you make assumptions like this? And not just with complete strangers but maybe with people you know and love? It’s so easy to assume that we know someone, or that we know why they did what they did or said what they said. We just make an assumption, and then we write them off.

In Matthew 7:1-3, Jesus tells us, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgement you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” There’s a lot we could discuss from this passage, but the point I want to make is this. How close to someone do you have to be to even notice a speck in their eye? How much else do you see that you look past just to notice whatever the speck may be? In assuming, in judging, we overlook so much else to focus in one insignificant thing. 

If you don’t know, it means you don’t know. If it bugs you enough, ask them about it. If it really is insignificant, just let it go. The people in your life, and in mine, too, will be better off for it.

On Turning 30

download-birthday-clip-art-free-clipart-of-birthday-cake-parties-9H4hL8-clipartSo today is my 30th birthday (yay me!) and this being the milestone that it is I marked it with Castle Season 8 and Chinese food this past weekend, along with getting my hair done and cake tonight. Being the introspective type that I am, it’s also had me thinking. It hit me last week, as today got closer and closer, just how much I’ve changed in the last 10 years.

Back in 2007, I was two years out of high school and on my second post-secondary institution (chosen mainly because I wanted to get back out to Western Canada and I had to choose something). People who knew me back then will tell you that I wanted more than anything else to matter. I wanted to make a difference, to have a fulfilling career. I was also, by my own admission, damned impatient. Every decision, whether it was regarding career paths or fields to study, felt like the be all and end all that would determine the rest of my life. And I had to get it right. I also had to get it right now. As I watched those I grew up with get married, start a family and progress in their careers, in my own mind at least I had to be right there with them. Every perceived misstep felt like the end of the world.

Fast forward 10 years and the job that I currently have is actually very similar to one I held just out of high school (it just pays better). Is it fulfilling? Does what I do matter to those around me? Not really. I mean, yes, it’s important and it keeps the store running, but is it what I thought I’d be doing when I thought of making a difference a decade ago? No. And you know what? The funny thing is I’m OK with that.

I’ve learned over the last few years that there is more to life than just the job you do. To be sure I still want to enjoy what I do, but that’s really the only requirement for me right now. There is something to be said for a job that pays the bills, that isn’t that stressful, and that allows me to do what needs done as best I can and then come home. A job that provides the freedom to enjoy life and to make a difference in other ways. A job that pays for a roof over our heads and food on the table and Internet to publish my writings. That’s the kind of job I have right now, and I couldn’t ask for more.

The other part of today is that in many ways I have even less of life figured out than I did just a year or two ago. The ironic side of it is that this doesn’t bother me anywhere near as much as it probably should. Life will sort itself out, and while I’m not saying I’ve given up dreaming and hoping and wondering, I am saying that I do myself and those around me a disservice by trying to rush things.

So if you’re in your 20’s and you’re reading this, let the pressure off. You don’t have to get it right. You’ll probably get it wrong many times and that’s OK. It’s not the end of the world. Life doesn’t end when you turn 30.

Biology and Gender

I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately, and I came across one particular article last week that for the life of me I can’t remember where I found it online but which raised the point that contemporary definitions of gender and sex might be a little too rigid. The main argument that I see conservatives making regarding the possibility of people being transgender is that, biologically speaking, you’re either male or female and while you may feel like your gender doesn’t line up with that you can’t change that fundamental reality. As the article pointed out, there are two problems with this position. The first is that the very characteristics we use to determine who is male and who is female, such as the presence or absence of facial hair, show considerable variation even between two individuals who are presumably of the same gender. For example, I rocked a goatee in high school at age 17, and I can still remember talking to one guy I worked with one summer who was shocked that I wasn’t 23 like he was because I had this awesome facial hair and all he’d ever managed to grow was stubble.

The second point raised in the article is that all of these various characteristics, from facial hair to breasts to the presence of one particular type of plumbing, can all now be changed. Hormone therapy and surgery can change everything but your genes. Yes, genetics determines what you start out with, but if every characteristic that indicates gender can be changed, can we really use biology as the ultimate indicator of one’s gender? I don’t think we can, and for me that raises further questions. What then do we use as an indicator of gender? And given that conclusion, is it wrong for someone to say I’m transgender, I’m a woman in a man’s body?

As Christians, even if biology is out as a fixed point in determining gender we would still say that the Bible is pretty specific. You’re either male or female, as God created you, and that’s that. To see if the biblical picture really is that fixed, I had a look at some of the evidence. In Genesis 1 and 2 we get the story of Creation, and what I found here is enough even by itself to make we question our commitment to our position on gender. In Gen. 1:27 we’re told, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” This verse would seem to end the argument, right? 

Take a closer look at the wording of this passage, though. The structure of the sentence connects “male and female” with the “image of God.” In other words, we’re created in the image of God as male and female. Now there is a lot of debate out there as to just what the “image” of God actually entails, but that’s not what I want you to see here. What I want you to see is that if we are created in the image of God, then there should be a connection between our sex/gender (however you want to word it) and God. Depending on how you define “image” you can define that connection in different ways, but notice this. God at this point in the story does not have a physical body. Jesus and the Incarnation is all the way off in the New Testament. Whatever the connection may be, it therefore can’t be solely physical. Whatever makes us male or female can’t be solely our plumbing, so to speak, because at this very point, when we’re told we’re created male or female in God’s image, God doesn’t have plumbing that we know of. What makes us who we are in terms of gender or sex (again using those words interchangeably) must therefore be something deeper than simply our physical bodies. 

I am not for a moment suggesting we throw out every passage of Scripture that speaks to us as male and female. I am suggesting that our understanding of what it is that makes us male or female or transgender or agender or whatever else needs to change. If we can’t use physical characteristics as a fixed determination of gender, and if Scripture isn’t as black and white as it would at first appear, then what we are left with to determine the gender of a particular body is the person living inside that body. If they decide on something we don’t agree with, who are we to argue with that?

It’s Not Over Yet

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One of my all-time favorite TV shows is The Last Ship (I’ve quoted from it before in case you missed it). I’ve been slowly working through it as I find the seasons for sale at my local 2nd & Charles. Anyways, early on in the second season there’s an episode where the crew finally make it home to look for their families. If you’ve never seen the series, the USS Nathan James has spent the first season looking for a cure to this global pandemic and now that they’ve found it and fought off those who want it for themselves they get to go home to check on their own families. Many, obviously, don’t have families to go back to, but for Captain Chandler it’s different. His family, minus his wife who died before he could rescue them, is on the ship with him.

For Captain Chandler the questions are different than they are for his crew. Going home is only supposed to be temporary while they refuel and resupply. His wife died because he wasn’t there to save her and he blames himself, meaning he wrestles with the guilt he feels and whether or not he should go back to sea with his crew. What happens to his kids if he doesn’t come back this time? Given how badly his crew has been hurt so far, he isn’t just playing the what-if game. How can he justify that risk?

Chandler is not the only one in the episode who struggles, either. His Executive Officer, Commander Slattery, hasn’t had much word from his family since the show started. In short, he has no idea where they are and no one would really blame him if he left to look for them. He’s torn between leaving to look for them or staying with the ship.

Life can get that way for us sometimes, too, can’t it? You finally get to where you want to be in life, whether it’s in your career or with your family, and you start thinking your job is done. Or maybe you start to think that you’ll never get to where you want to be in life, so why bother, right? Maybe you’re one who follows Jesus and you get to where you want to be and so you say to him, “You do what you want. I followed you this far but I like where I’m at right now so I’m just going to stay here.”

For the characters of The Last Ship, the job isn’t done yet. Their mission, that of putting the world back together, is in many ways just getting started, and both the Captain and the XO belong with their ship. It’s a good thing, too, because greater threats await them when they do go back out.

I know how that feels because I’m there myself. My position right now is a curious mix of both. For one thing, I’ve been job hunting for so long that I’m starting to wonder if I’ll ever find something that affords us greater financial freedom. On the other, we’ve spent years longing for a place of our own and now that we have it I’m really not sure what I’m supposed to do next. There are many days where I just want to take it easy. The battle’s over, right? I mean, we got what we wanted. And as one who follows Jesus, there are indeed days when I do just want to tell him that I’m good where I’m at so can we please just pause life here for a while? Let the world get on without me for a while.

Here’s the thing. We have the freedom to make that choice. We can duck out of life if we so choose. That being said, if you’re reading this you’re still breathing, and that means your life isn’t over yet. That, in turn, means you’re not done yet. There is more to do, and I don’t mean that in terms of religious obligations of some kind. I mean there’s more to see, more to learn, more times to be there for those closest to you, and more opportunities to choose intimacy with Jesus. And if you don’t know him, there’s more time to listen to his tug on your heart.

Will it cost us? Yes. Not everyone who goes back out with Captain Chandler is still around come the end of the season. The very thought of what that might mean in my own story makes me hesitate. Do I really want to go back out there again? Problem is, what we have to do in this life matters. It really does. And if not me, then who? If not you, then who? It’s your story, and it’s not over yet.

No Place Like Home

In Luke 9:58, when a man tells Jesus, “I’ll follow you anywhere,” Jesus responds by stating that “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Now I’ve read that passage dozens of times, and heard it preached on once or twice, usually in the context of trying to explain the cost of following Christ. The entire end of this chapter actually explores the concept and it’s really quite fascinating, especially from a literary point of view. We get these 3 little snippets of conversation, without being told anything about who it is that’s talking to Jesus or how they respond to what he tells them or even why they say what they do in the first place. All we get, really, is the interaction. But I digress.

I’ve usually taken this particular verse in the sense of if I was ever a missionary in some foreign place then I might not necessarily have a pillow or a bed or whatnot. I’d have to make do with whatever I could find. What got my attention here, and what I want to point out, is in the first part of the verse. To a fox and a bird, a hole in the ground and a nest aren’t just a place to sleep at night. They’re home. They’re a place of relative safety, a place to raise your young. The human equivalent might be a place to be yourself. A place where you can relax, let your guard down, and check your worries at the door. As you might imagine, this isn’t just a physical place but an emotional one, as well. Home is where the heart is, right?

Here’s the thing. We’re not promised any of that. That’s what Jesus’s statement is meant to convey to this eager young man. If Jesus himself never had that, how can we expect to? And I don’t say that to burst your bubble or point you to some “super spiritual” wisdom. It’s meant to be a comfort in addition to a challenge. If you find yourself in a place where you’re not understood or not welcome, or where you’re alone, you’re in good company. And it’s probably not your fault, either. We are, after all, always going to be outcasts in this world. Only when we finally reach heaven’s shores will we truly be home. Until that day, don’t lose heart. You are not misunderstood or unwanted, and you are never truly alone. You are known fully and loved deeply by the one who died just to be with you and who, if you are willing to trust him, will be waiting for you there with open arms.

Mobile Strike, Childhood Dreams, and the Grind of My Life

maxresdefaultI guess it shouldn’t surprise me, what with my being a member of several gaming related groups on Facebook (mainly related to Star Trek Online, my all-time favourite MMORPG), but most of the ads on my Facebook feed right now are for different games.  The one that keeps popping up more than most is Mobile Strike, which if the hype is to be believed is the #1 downloadable game right now (or something to that effect; it must be a big deal if Arnold Schwarzenegger is associated with it). What gets me most about the different ads for this game is how blatantly they try to sell the experience. The ads take you from playing a game on your phone to actually being a hero in combat, leading your forces and fighting for domination. What gets me about that approach, in particular, is that it’s just not true.

I will readily admit I love computer games. Whether I’m trying to outsmart the computer players in Civilization V, or boldly going where no man has gone before on the bridge of my ship in Star Trek Online, playing through computer games is a very diverting hobby for me. Part of the appeal, to be sure, is simple stress relief (blowing shit up is a hell of a lot of fun), but part of it is also the chance to vicariously live out a story that is dramatically different from my own. Take Star Trek Online, for example. The way the game works, you can create multiple characters (if you so choose), but each one progresses through what is more or less the same storyline. In my case, having created 5 different characters, this means that I’ve played through most episodes of the story at least 5 times. There’s actually one particular episode I’ve played through a grand total of 15 different times (playing multiple times with each character means that you get better gear for each character). By that point, however, there really isn’t much of a story left anymore, meaning that I’ve spent countless hours creating a story to go along with the story that’s already present in the game. I can tell you who each of my characters are, what their personalities are like, what their life stories are, and even why they chose the name for their ships that they did.

As diverting and entertaining as all this may be, I have to remind myself that these characters are not actually real. I’m not actually exploring the galaxy on the bridge of my ship. What I am doing is playing a game, which at its most basic level means I am sitting in front of a computer and manipulating pixels on the screen. Mobile Strike is the same thing; the only difference is the screen tends to be smaller. So why, then, do we want to believe so badly, even just for a second, that we’re actually doing what our alter-egos in these games are doing? We must want to, otherwise they wouldn’t use that desire to get us to download these games. Do we hate our lives that much that we’re looking for an escape from them? Or is it something else, something deeper? I mean, what is it about these games that draws us to an opportunity to be someone stronger, someone greater, than who we are at present?

Most of us, I think, would admit that our lives aren’t what they could be. I don’t mean that in the “go out and get a real job” sense, or in the “win the lottery and have everything perfect” sense. When you were a kid, what did you dream of being when you grew up? I work with kids for a living. We did this exercise this past week where I asked them to draw a picture of who they want to be when they grow up, and every single one of them, without fail, drew themselves as a super-hero. I don’t know about you, but I remember having similar dreams. I’d grow up to be someone great, having noble adventures doing something that mattered, and I’d save the day when no one else could. That is the kind of disconnect I’m pointing to when I say our lives aren’t what they could be. I work long hours with kids who more often than not fight me every step of the way, come home at night to eat dinner and watch a little TV, and then go to sleep to get up and do it all over again. In between I work a little on our house, make sure the dishes get done, and try to find a little time to relax with my wife. Doesn’t exactly compare with my boyhood dreams, does it? Think for a minute about your own dreams growing up, and then compare them with your current situation. Most of us are longing for more and we don’t know why, which is exactly why games like Mobile Strike are so popular. Here is a way to be that person you’ve always longed to be, and even better, it doesn’t cost you anything. There’s no chance of getting hurt while you’re out saving the day. It’s all of the glory with none of the risk.

Gaming isn’t the only way we try to fill the void created by this disconnect. We think that if we work longer hours, find something we’re really satisfied in doing, then it will go away. Or maybe, if we have the perfect house with the manicured lawn, then we’ll be past it. Some of us are a little more direct in our approach, and try to drown the disconnect in alcohol or other substances. The more spiritual of us will try to make it go away through church involvement, or something else respectable. Thing is, we can never kill it without killing ourselves, and I don’t know about you but that’s too high a price to pay.

Go back to your childhood dreams for a moment. I don’t know you, so I don’t know what they were, but you do. Is it possible that we have those dreams, and those aspirations, for a reason? What if they’re giving us a glimpse into the reality we actually live in? I know it may sound crazy, but what if, just what if, the reason that we can’t kill the disconnect they help to create is because they serve a very real purpose? Think about that.

Most of us think of Christianity as moral obligations and rules, outdated beliefs about how we’re supposed to live our lives. If you repent of all the right things before you die, you get to go heaven, and in the meantime you get to look down on all those poor souls who don’t believe as you do. It may surprise you to know that, while the Bible does contain rules for living, most of it is story. There’s a beginning, middle, and end, a plot, and a hero and a villain (along with a whole host of other characters). The short version is that God created angels first, only Lucifer rebelled and with a third of all the angels tried to take the throne of heaven by force. They lost and were thrown out of heaven, but they cast doubt on the goodness of God and so he created us, gave us a paradise in Eden and romanced us. Only we rejected him, trusting Lucifer (now called Satan) instead, and so God has done everything he can to win our hearts once more. Jesus is the fullest expression of that love and determination, and the cross is where he actually made it possible. We now live in the middle of the great struggle as God works to win back us and our world from the control of Satan. That is the story of the Bible in a nutshell, and I don’t know about you, but it bears a hell of a lot of resemblance to my boyhood dreams. Could it be that this is the reality which those dreams pointed to?

Maybe we feel like we’re meant to be more because we are meant to be more. We long to matter because we actually do matter. We long for purpose and adventure and romance because that’s what this story is all about, and we’re meant to take our place in that story. I have to also say that I’m not telling you this to enlist support for some cause or another. The idea of “spiritual warfare” has been used by Christians to justify some really dumb things over the years, but that’s not what I’m getting at here. If you’ve identified with any of what I’ve said here, if you feel that disconnect, too, then don’t ignore it or try to kill it. It’s pointing you to something more, to the story that God is telling and to your place in it. Don’t ignore that.

You Didn’t Break Me

774ec30a76104ab441466a794653c586There are times in my life, as I’ve written about before, where even as a minister I have absolutely no idea what’s going on in my life or what to do about it or even how to process it. There are also, as I’ve found out these last weeks, times in my life where I know exactly how things are going to turn out and exactly what I need to do, only to find out that things have gone the exact opposite of how I thought they would go, I can’t respond the way I’d planned, and I am, yet again, back to the whole “I have no idea what I’m supposed to do” thing.

Back in December, when we had moved out of where we were living with my wife’s family and I was finally free to be myself again especially with regard to my hair, I got it coloured dark brown with blonde bangs. Being as I’m a natural redhead, and when I’d got it done in the past it was usually some combination of red with blonde highlights, this change was a bit of shock for everybody (myself included). Why did I go out and make such a drastic change? Part of it, I think, was simply wanting to put the past behind me, but a larger part of it was wanting to say, “I’m still here, and I’m still me, and I’m still going to do what I’ve been doing to express who I am.” In short, “You didn’t break me.”

Even as I’ve grown to love my new look (and it does look great!) I’ve found that the anger and the hurt didn’t go away from when I was accused of being gay last August and run out of the house until I got a “man’s haircut” (whatever the hell that was supposed to be). Maybe it was naïve of me to think that it would go away in an instant, but I guess I’d hoped that by moving on outwardly I’d be able to move on inwardly, too.

I’ve always had perfectly straight hair, and I’d had it permed back before that whole blow up and I loved having it curly. One of the things I’d been looking forward to over the last couple of months was finally having my hair long enough again to make it worth getting it permed. Funny as it may seem, I missed my curly hair (and I’ve also found out the hard way that I lack a certain skillset required to curl it myself). Anyways, yesterday I got it permed again, and you know what? I am finally starting to feel like myself again.

Thing is, the shadow of August still seems to linger. I guess I’d thought that by returning to my normal that things would start to normalize inside, too, and I don’t know, maybe it’s too soon, but… Yeah. It lingers. And you know what? I don’t want it to. I don’t want to be the eternally resentful guy, that bitter person that nobody wants to be around. And I’m tired of being wary around others, like I’m expecting another attack. And I don’t want to be so wary of being different and standing out that I just give up and give in to the demands of society that I conform to what everybody else expects. That’s the last thing I want to happen. So what am I supposed to do?

One of the things that kept me going through the months after the blow up where we still lived with my wife’s family was the knowledge that once the trump card was gone, once they could no longer hold over my head the “you’re living with us so you’ll do what we want or we’ll kick you out” card, I’d be able to finally, actually defend myself. I would stand up to them, on an even playing field, and confront them in such a way that they would understand this would never happen again. Those who know me well know that I can be a force to be reckoned with in an argument when I want to be, and I was going to bring all of that to bear on those who were behind what happened in August. Except, we moved out, and… none of that happened. I didn’t do what I’d dreamed of doing for so long. Truth be told, I couldn’t. Part of it is that we’ve needed their help to get established here. The main part, though, was that 2016 was, for both me and my wife, a year full of family drama and strife and accusations. If I’d kept that going through what I wanted to do, there’s no telling when that cycle would have ended.

So now I’m back to where I was before, and not having any idea what to do with all of this. Have I forgiven those involved? I think so. I mean, I don’t hold it against them, now that I’m free again and looking like I want to, so that has to count for something. That may not seem like much coming from a Christian like myself (we’re supposed to forgive everybody, right?) but I’m human, too, and as I’m finding out the healing process can take a very long time and take you somewhere that looks nothing like where you started out from. I don’t want to miss any step in that process, no matter how painful it might be.

Life is still just… different. Will it ever be the same again? I’m not sure. There’s some value in all this, too. I wasn’t kidding when I said this didn’t break me. I’m still doing what I do, reaching out to people from groups that most Christians have just written off. I don’t want anybody to feel the way I did, and to go through that kind of abuse, simply because of who they are and how they choose to express that. In that process, I’ve met some wonderfully open people, people I wouldn’t have met otherwise, and I’m grateful for that. Other than that, it’s just one day at a time. In my most open moments I have to admit that life will probably never be the same again, but as I’m learning that doesn’t mean it can’t be good. That’s what I hold on to, and if you’re dealing with loss, or hurt, or anything at all that really sucks, I hope you can find a way to hold on to it, too.  We’ll get there, one day at a time.

Life is Messy. Enjoy it!

55482167-angry-father-scolding-finger-pointing-silhouette-vector-stock-vector I’ll be the first to admit that I loathe the idea of standards for how we should live. Anytime someone says to me here’s something I ought to be doing as a good Christian man, I immediately tune them right out. Give me something I ought to be doing, and a week or so, and the odds are good I’ll have a healthy list of times when I didn’t measure up. Now the concept of measuring up is in reality totally alien to what it means to follow Jesus (we can’t ever measure up; that’s kinda the point of the Gospel), but that doesn’t keep us from trying, nor does it keep us from telling others that, as good Christian men and women, here’s what we ought to be doing in life. The saddest part is that most of us will spend a lifetime killing ourselves inside in a desperate effort to measure up to that ought, as we are all aware, on some level anyways, that we are not who we want to be.

This whole struggle hits me hardest in light of passages like Philippians 1:6, where the Apostle Paul tells his readers, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring to completion at the day of Christ Jesus.” If you’ve been around the church much you’ll probably know that we Christians take this passage to explain that we’re not perfect, but God’s working on us, and he’s not finished with us yet! (Insert overly cheerful Christian here.) What hits me with this passage is that I tend to see this whole “good work” thing as a sort of building project with specific steps. If you’ve ever put together one of those shelving units from Walmart you’ll know what I’m getting at. Do it right and at each step the project looks noticeably different than it did at the last step. If it doesn’t look different, something’s wrong. Translated to my life, this means that I assume that at this point next year I’ll be farther along in my struggles, so to speak, than I am right now. And right now I should be farther along than I was last year. If I’m not, I’ve obviously got work to do. For example, I’ll be the first to admit that I get way too defensive sometimes. There are moments when I feel like being defensive is the only thing I have left that I have control over, and so I’ll lash out instead of taking criticism. I’d like to be able to say I do this less than this time last year but that’s not really the case.

Part of what I’m trying to get at here in this post is that a relationship with Jesus is so much more than simply believing the right things and then behaving accordingly. Christianity is about more than just getting with the program, or behaviour management, or even sin management. That being said, the reality is that none of us is perfect and the struggle remains.

I guess that’s why living in a brand new single wide, on a newly cleared lot, has been so eye-opening for me. As I’ve said in other posts, we’re right in the middle of a building process ourselves, and it hasn’t gone anything like I thought it would. Get the trailer installed on the property and your set, right? Turns out that drywall has a tendency to separate a little when taken on the highway. We’ve been in here over a month now and I think (maybe) we’ve finally found the last little defect that needs repaired. And that’s not due to neglect, either. That’s just the nature of this process.

Take our yard as another example. Back in the summer, before the trailer was set up, we spent every Saturday for months out here working on the yard. We built our rock garden. We dug up roots. We leveled it out. We even had my in-laws up here with their tractor and 6-foot rake, going back and forth over the lot to make sure we didn’t miss anything. And you know what? I thought we got it all. When all was said and done, we had a very smooth, very beautiful, acre and a half of dust. It hadn’t rained in months at that point, but not long after we moved in we got all of the rain that we missed and then some. And our yard is a disaster. The runoff has cut these nice little gullies throughout which means that just pulling in the driveway feels like going off-road. And we’ve lost just enough soil to show every single root and stump that we had no idea was there but now shows plain as day. Most of what we did in the summer will probably have to be redone.

Here’s the thing. It’s not our fault. I mean sure we could have put sod down (maybe), but that wasn’t in the budget so it wasn’t an option. What we have in our yard now is the natural result of dirt on a slope mixed with too much water. It’s messy, sure, but it’s ultimately just another step in the process.

Life is messy, too, and I think we can allow ourselves to forget that sometimes. The road to being able to deal with whatever issue you struggle with isn’t always necessarily a straight one, and that’s OK. Sure sometimes we make dumb choices that screw the whole thing up for a while, but more often than not it may not be the result of anything we did or didn’t do. Things may just take longer than we thought they would, or be a hell of lot messier than we were expecting.

The reality of our yard is that it won’t always look like this. Come spring, we’ll get the tractor and 6-foot rake back out and level it out again so we can get grass seed down. That same reality is true for your life, too. If you know Jesus, then the person you are right now and the struggles you currently face won’t always be your reality. (And if you don’t know him, then getting into that relationship can give you that hope, and so much more.) I used to think that even though God has promised to be faithful in this process of living, I’d always get in the way and screw it up. What I’m learning, slowly, is that I can’t screw it up. He’s way too big for that. So go easy on yourself, and enjoy the mess.

The Start of a New Year

happy-new-year2017-55           We don’t yet have internet service at our new place (props to Comcast for continuing to assert that our address doesn’t exist), which means that by the time I get to McDonald’s to use their Wi-Fi it’ll be after the New Year, but for now it’s still 2016. This week between Christmas and New Year’s always gets me in more of an introspective mood than other times of the year. It’s the great pause, you know? The excitement and buildup to Christmas have come and gone and the excitement of the New Year hasn’t come quite yet. For me it’s the time to reflect back on the year that was and to look ahead to the new one.

This past year sure was a fun one (and I mean that in the most sarcastic sense possible). My wife and I both took attacks and accusations in ways that I never dreamed we would ever have had to deal with and from people I never would have imagined capable of dishing out such hurt. I’ve found myself in these last weeks, now that we have some distance from all of that, tempted to shut down a little inside, to back off and hide a little from all that heartache. I mean, it’s one thing to be open and vulnerable when you know that getting hurt is a possibility, but it’s quite another to try to be open and vulnerable knowing full well what the reality of hurt feels like.

I’m also self-aware enough (I hope) to know that while isolation and solitude in the short-term may be healthy, in the long-term it can be dangerous. The question is what the hell to do with what I feel. This may sound rather pro-forma coming from a Christian, but I’ve been wondering recently how Jesus dealt with all the heartache he faced. Theologians tell us that Jesus was both fully God and fully man (although no one has yet figured out how that works; I for one believe a pretty good case can be made for the truth of that statement, but that isn’t the point here). According to the Bible, Jesus dealt with the same range of emotions and heartache and temptation that you or I or anyone else who’s ever lived has dealt with. He wept at the death of his friend Lazarus (John 11:35), for example, and he continually sought solitude as a means to recharge from ministering to those around him (Mark 1:35). The Book of Hebrews also tells us that he can empathize with what we go through because he was tempted in every way that we are (Hebrews 4:15). Furthermore, as John 18:15-18 shows, in his hour of greatest need Jesus was abandoned by those closest to him (and who among us hasn’t felt that particular pain at one point or another?) If you want more examples, you can look at the whole story of God reaching out to us. How many times have we rejected him? Grieved him through our actions? If, as Scripture indicates, he feels what we feel, then that rejection has to hurt. And yet he offers himself again and again and again, opening himself up, being vulnerable, reaching out to us in spite of the pain.

Here’s my thing, though. Nowhere in the Gospels do we see Jesus hiding from this heartache. Never does he shrink back from it. The same can be said of God elsewhere in Scripture. And that leads me to the question I’ve been pondering the last little while. How exactly does he pull that one off? I mean, I deal with the rejection of people not understanding what I’m about with this site, for example. This is the South, after all, where unless you fit into a very particular box as a pastor, something must be seriously wrong with you. Jesus deals with a level of rejection that’s infinitely beyond that, and yet it never seems to faze him.

One possible answer to this is that being God somehow gives him a pass on the whole thing, yet that is problematic in view of the biblical evidence that he felt as we feel and was tempted as we are tempted. There must, therefore, be a different explanation.

There is one example from Scripture, in John 8 specifically, that may shed some light on this. Eight times in this chapter (verses 16, 18, 19, 26, 28, 29, 38, and 55) we get a glimpse into just how intimate Jesus’ relationship with God the Father really was. The gist of this chapter seems to be that Jesus and God the Father are one, and this comes out through a back and forth discussion of sorts between Jesus and different groups. Looking at it from a literary perspective, why not just use one example, or maybe two or three, to prove the point? Why have this lengthy discussion that brings out what is essentially the same response from Jesus seven different times? (Granted, this isn’t the sole focal point of this passage; I’m just trying to isolate one element of it.)  One thing that my seminary experience drilled into me is that the biblical writers, working under the influence of God the Holy Spirit, had the choice not just of what information to include in the biblical record but also of how to organize that information. When you come across repetition in Scripture, like the kind we have here, it’s in there for a reason.

So why, then, was it important to highlight the intimacy of Jesus’ relationship with God the Father to this extent? Personally, I think it shows how he was able to live as he did. As we looked at above, he didn’t shrink back from anything, nor did he try to hide his emotions. Jesus’ relationship with God the Father was such that he knew who he was and he knew that he was loved. As a result of that foundation, nothing could shake him.

Like I said, this time of year is one that I tend to not just reflect on the previous year but also look ahead to the coming year. I know I’ve said it before in other posts, but what this revelation keeps bringing me back to is that we’re not meant to live life alone. We need that same level of intimacy with God that we see in John 8. Thanks to Jesus’ death and resurrection, the door is open for us to have it. And I’m not talking about being more faithful in reading your Bible or making sure you’re in church every Sunday morning. If you read through the Gospels, you’ll see that Jesus’ intimacy with the Father ran so much deeper than surface level stuff like that. (I’m not saying those things are bad in and of themselves; I’m just saying we can’t stop there.) As Ecclesiastes 3:11 tells us, God has set eternity in our hearts. There’s a longing there, a longing for our real home and intimacy with the one we were made for, and if we’ll follow that we’ll find him. It may be in the beauty of a sunset, or the peacefulness of the stars on a clear night, or the touch of the one you love. He speaks to us all in ways befitting our own stories. All we have to do is listen. In Jeremiah 29:13, he says, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” Maybe that’s not a bad place to be at the start of a new year.

Do What You Do

shutterstock_250176199                It’s been a little over three weeks now since we finally moved into our new place, and I have to say that it still feels surreal. Moved in is, of course, a bit of a misnomer. As I’m finding out, this is very much a process. There’s always more to do, more to set up, more to unpack… At this point I think it’s safe to say we’ve gone through maybe 2/3 of our stuff. Maybe. At times it’s been overwhelming. The first couple of nights coming home from work, finding nothing but boxes in pretty much every room… How were we ever going to go through so much stuff? Where would we put all of it? When would this ever end? If you’ve ever moved before, I’m betting you’ve been there, too.

Last week the rain held off long enough for us to plant some new trees and doing so drove home to me that this isn’t home, at least not quite yet. Don’t get me wrong, I mean it has been wonderful having our own place. The freedom and the peacefulness out here have been worth all the headache and then some. Still, it isn’t quite home. We cleared most of the trees off the property before we moved the trailer out here, and as we don’t yet have grass, the trailer sits in what was a big ol’ piece of dirt. With all the rain, it’s now a muddy, swampy piece of land that feels like the edge of the known universe sometimes (at least the edge of our known universe).

Oh, and did I mention that we now have a mortgage? Which at about $50 000 is more money than either of us have ever had? Keep in mind that my day job in the child care field isn’t exactly one that you get into for the money. And speaking of money, why is it that there are all these tiny details that no one tells you about when you move in and you don’t realize you even need until you clue in that there’s not one of whatever it is in the house? Like I said, it’s been a little overwhelming.

The other day as I waited to pick up kids on my bus, I was flipping through my Bible and I came across a story in the Old Testament, in 1 Chronicles 19, to be exact. By this point in the biblical narrative, King David has been on the throne of Israel for a while and things have kinda, sorta settled down for the nation politically speaking. As the story opens, David has heard that Nahash, king of the Ammonites, one of the neighboring kingdoms, has died. Nahash is one who actually dealt kindly with David earlier in his life. (Different translations have “kindly” or “loyally,” which will give you the idea of how this particular king acted.) David returns the favor by sending a delegation to Hanun, Nahash’s son, to express his condolences. The Ammonite advisors take the gesture totally the wrong way, assuming that the delegation has come to spy out the land in preparation for an attack, and so they send the delegation home in disgrace. Realizing that doing so has royally pissed off Israel, the Ammonites then hire reinforcements from the smaller Syrian kingdoms and move to attack Israel (instead of apologizing, which as things turn out probably would have been the smart thing to do).

Through no fault of their own, the Israelites have just stepped in it. David sends Joab with all of the “mighty men” to deal with the threat, and as the battle unfolds, the Israelite army finds itself under attack on two fronts. What really caught my attention here, especially given my own circumstances, was Joab’s speech to Abishai, his brother. Joab has split his force in two to deal with both threats and given Abishai command of one element. After laying out his battle plan, Joab says in 1 Chronicles 19:13, “Be of good courage, and let us behave valiantly for our people, and for the cities of our God, and let the Lord do that which is good in his sight.” We get the same story again in 2 Samuel 10, where it’s worded, “Let us play the men for our people….”

Here’s what I love about Joab in this. His force is under attack from two directions, which for a military commander is not a good place to be, but he’s not panicking. Instead, he’s extremely level-headed. What he’s telling Abishai is, in essence, “We do what we do best. We use our strength, and we use it on behalf of those who are depending on us. We do that, and we leave the end result up to God.” So much in this battle depends on Joab and his army, yet the end result is not in his control. At the risk of repeating it too much, Joab focuses on what he can do and leaves the rest up to God.

This particular story does have actually a happy ending. By the time the battle’s done, Joab’s army is victorious over the Ammonites and their Syrian allies. The Syrian kings who’ve been defeated send word to Hadadezer, king of the Syrians “beyond the river,” who calls out basically the entire Syrian nation to attack Israel. When David hears of this, he gathers “all Israel” (which is biblical speak for “play time is over and I’m done messing around), and moves to meet the threat. When this battle is over, the Syrians have lost some 47 000 men and they are no longer much of a danger to Israel during David’s reign.

I take comfort in the fact that it’s OK to feel overwhelmed sometimes. There are days (or weeks, or months), where like Joab we end dealing with a lot more than we bargained for. I am painfully aware that paying off our mortgage requires having a steady income. That means getting up and going to work every day, which I do, and taking better opportunities if and when they come along. That being said, there is no way, short of winning the lottery, that I can guarantee a steady income for the next 20 years without any bumps in the road. I have no idea what will happen tomorrow, or next month, or next year. We could get pregnant, or I could end up in a car wreck, or I could lose my job. I have no control over that, which is something I’m learning to accept. I am oh so slowly learning to do what I do best at work, and then come home, relax, and go to sleep. Kind of like Joab’s attitude, you know?

Whether or not you call yourself a Christian, I’d encourage you to approach whatever it is you’re dealing with from a similar angle. God is there, even if you’ve never approached Him before, and He will handle what you can’t. So do your best, do what you do, and call it a day. Leave the rest up to Him.