Category Archives: Faith

Why Live in Community? . . . to offset the lies

community

Life in community is no less than a neccessity for us – it is an inescapable ‘must’ that determines everything we do and think.  Yet it is not our good intentions or efforts that have been decisive in our choosing this way of life.  Rather, we have been overwhelmed by a certainty – a certainty that has its origin and power in the Source of everything that exists.  We acknowledge God as this Source. . . . We must live in community because all life created by God exists in a communal order and works toward community.” -Eberhard Arnold

Those of us who were born into the American story have been told a lie since the day we were born in verbal and then mostly non-verbal cues from our cultural narrative.  We are a ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’ kind of people, we highly value the rugged individual. The lone ranger is an American icon.  We want to believe that we can do it all on our own.  We want to be self-sufficient islands of comfort, security, confidence, freedom and power.  But in reality we are not.  We are vulnerable, at times insecure, second-guessing and not self-sufficient at all, rather we have a tendency to look for love in all the wrong places.  We put on the mask that we have it all together so that other’s can’t see our weakness and vulnerabilities.

Our cities and suburbs are growing in population yet many are feeling more and more alone.  We’ve never in our history had more proximity to people and at the same time, we lead the world in anxiety meds and anti-depressants.  We have the opportunity to live in community but we choose to build up the walls and live lives of isolation in and near the other humans.  Community only works when you opt in.  Like an AA meeting, it’s voluntary and you come because you admit you have need.  You don’t want to be alone anymore.  You’ve tried the rugged individual American story and found yourself wanting.

One of my assumptions about humanity is that we were designed for community because the Source of all Creation designed it that way.  He by his nature and image is community:  Father, Son & Holy Spirit.  We were created in His image and therefore bear the mark of community.  We weren’t meant to live alone physically, emotionally or spiritually.  We were designed to be known, to be loved by others, to be safe even in our vulnerabilities.  We’ve been lied to, we weren’t meant to be individual American heroes, we were meant to find our meaning and purpose within the context of one another.

I’ve given up my life for the building of this kind of community.  I feel the brokenness of the world all around me, I long for my neighbors (not just the ones I live next to) to find the satisfaction of their soul’s desire.  I long for people to be delivered out of patterns of self-destruction, negativity, isolation, loneliness and mindsets of personal poverty.  Community is a powerful healer but it’s also really, really hard and messy and you have to opt in.

Love is the anti-dote to all the lies you are listening to.  In Community we speak the truth to one another.  I’ve learned I need it like I need air to breathe.  You were designed for it, jump in the deep end.

Good Wine Jesus

goodwine

“9 When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.’” -John 2:9-10

I have 3 theological degrees that I’ve worked hard on, Bachelors, Masters and Doctorate.  I’ve put in a lot of time reading, studying, writing and thinking theologically over the years.  I’ve studied both the Old and New Testaments, the Ancient Scriptures in their original languages.  I’ve done a deep dive into ancient cultures, contexts and nuances that the narratives of the Bible come from for clear understanding.  After all of this, I’ve come to this very eloquent and pastoral conclusion:   Religion Sucks.

Often we take the deep mysteries and secrets to the life that Jesus came to reveal to us and turned them into petty religious systems of control, a fear of intimacy, a taming down of the recklessness of the Kingdom of God and a staunchly cold ordering of things shrouded in holy mystery.  Man-made fearful religions suck the life out of all things good.  There is an intelligent claim that God created all things but then we return the favor and create Him in our image.  A dumbing down of wonders far beyond us.

I just don’t want to lose the wonder of it all.  I don’t want to lose ‘Good Wine Jesus’.  The one who knows how to party. The one who is rooted in truth, walks around unaffected by the storms of life and anchors deep, I want to hold onto him.  The one who treats all the party-goers with grace, love, mercy and cares for the beauty of ‘the other’.  Doesn’t draw up borders, doesn’t stick to the cliques, doesn’t associate with the socially high in status, but makes a neighbor of everyone at the party.  He doesn’t draw attention to himself, he isn’t haughty, even his miracle is done in secret.  He listens, he connects, he celebrates, he loves, he has compassion, he spreads joy.  He is ‘Good Wine Jesus’.

I don’t know where you are today in your faith journey, or the questions your soul is asking of you in your world.  I just want to say as one who represents the Church at large, I’m sorry that Religion Sucks.  I’m experiencing a Good Wine Jesus today and I’d love to invite all to the party to enjoy and find satisfaction.  Cheers!

The American Dream . . . with a side of Jesus

xmas“We buy things we don’t need, with money we don’t have, to impress people we don’t like.”  (Fight Club)

I had a chance this past week to hang out with folk from the Brethren Church  and in particular their church planting crew known as MissioChurch.   I like hanging around church planters because in general they aren’t normal, they typically are all a little ‘off’ in the head you know?  They have dreams buried in them that don’t allow them to accept status quo.  They are used to an identity in which they don’t always fit in with establishment.  It’s not rebellion, they aren’t against establishment, rather they believe that they exist to support and extend the reach of all things good about the Church and its’ service to the world.  It’s a holy kind of discontentment.  Church planters ask a lot of questions and aren’t afraid to live in the land of tension and discomfort.  They’ve worked hard to develop the skills in fact that allow them to thrive in such lands of in-between.

One of the speakers at this gathering transparently shared her story of downward progression from an idyllic life of “the American dream with a side of Jesus”.  Her and her husband had it all:  the stable high income jobs, a dream house on acreage, Pinterest quality decor, retirement investment strategies, social status, upward mobility . . . all that the American Dream is designed to be that comes with the white picket fence.  Her name is Shannan Martin and her book is entitled ‘Falling Free: Rescued from the Life I Always Wanted’.  What followed in their story was selling everything, moving into a low-income and broken neighborhood, taking a new job in the local jail, noticing their neighbors, getting involved in the justice causes of their community and adopting kids with little hope.  A life of beauty and hardship, a life that Jesus can’t exist on the side, he wants to be the main course of sustenance.

Here’s what I’m learning, the American Dream with a side of Jesus doesn’t work.  It’s completely unsatisfying.  The American Dream is not a big enough idea for me to give my blood, sweat and tears to. It’s a fool’s gold.  It’s slavery to a system of wants, false securities and anxiety-driven ambitions.  I know that I’m going to die, and none of the purchased commodities are coming with me, so what are the things that last I can invest into?  If I know I’m going to die, the only relevant question then is what do I want to live for?

Do you ask the big questions about your life?  Where does your satisfaction come from?  Whose opinion about you matters?  Who do you want to please?  What makes you come alive?  Does fear about the future dominate your brain-space more than living fully today?  Are the things you’re striving for going to live beyond your last breath?

The answers to our big questions reveal the things we worship, what we worship we become.  What I’m learning is God isn’t interested in being our side-piece.  He’s not insecure in the truth, power and freedom he offers so he’s not shy about what he wants:  he wants all of it.  He is the King and he wants singular allegiance.  We get to choose if we believe he is a good King and worthy of that place in our heart, mind, soul and life.  If we let him, he’ll do just about anything to break us down until we realize that he is all we need.  In him we can find our being and our moving.   Before there was ever a myth called the American Dream . . . He was.  If he brought all things into being then my created life finds purposed and wholeness in him.  To choose him is not foolishness, it’s deep abiding wisdom.  It’s what I’m choosing today, a singular allegiance to the One who made me.

“Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” -Exodus 34:14

Suffering as a Great Teacher

suffering

“Many of us are tempted to think that if we suffer, the only important thing is to be relieved of our pain.  We want to flee it at all costs.  But when we learn to move through suffering, rather than avoid it, then we greet it differently.  We become willing to to let it teach us.   We even begin to see how God can use it for some larger end. Suffering becomes something other than a nuisance or a curse to be evaded at all costs, but a way into deeper fulfillment.  Ultimately mourning means facing what wounds us in the presence of the One who can heal.”  –Henri Nouwen Turn My Mourning into Dancing

Pain?  Well, it sucks.  Physical/Emotional/Mental/Spiritual?  The whole family of unwanted visitors kinda sucks to have to greet at the doorstep of your heart and soul.  Once they show up, our instinct is to bid our time until they leave.  They are an obstacle to be avoided, a distraction to be waited out . . . rid ourselves of pain as soon as humanly possible.

Aren’t we Americans?  Aren’t we entitled to lives of life, liberty and the pursuit of all things happy?  We are consumers in this great mythology of the American Dream.  We consume attention, affection, influence and power . . . we in no way want to be denied.   We desire a life where we have needs and the world exists to meet them.  We are the fuzzy center of the world’s great resources, our satisfaction depends on it.  Mourning makes us poor, nothing American about that I don’t think.  Through pain-avoidance, we seek the easy victories, “growth without crisis, healing without pain” (Nouwen).  In pain avoidance, we may be ignoring one of life’s greatest teachers.  Suffering may have the marrow of life your bones need.

The big-boy lesson is not whether unkind things happen to us, but rather what does our ‘adulting’ look like for how we respond.  How do we relate to life’s circumstances?  If we can’t negotiate the terms of our suffering, then how do we choose to walk in them?  Do we rebel against the process, seek to avoid the pain, hole up and bid our time til the storm passes or look for the easy button?  Or do we submit to the process for the learning that it may bring?  Can we find the humility to recognize our limitations and our smallness in a cosmos that is vast and yet personal?

The questions in my suffering often are:  What did I do wrong?  What’s the matter with me?  I become uberly self-critical, unkind towards myself and I lose the space of gratitude for the things I do have.  I could ask the question:  What can I learn in this?  How can this circumstance be a great teacher in my life?   Functionally I can greet the guest of Suffering differently and from a different place.  Not as a victim or an accuser of myself, but as a constant learner of wisdom and as one who is forever on a quest for a deeper experience of humanity.

Living graciously, gratefully and open to the learnings of life’s circumstances, I become free in my suffering and not a slave of it’s all encompassing powers.  The freedom of resurrection doesn’t come by avoiding the cross, it comes from the courage to embrace the cross differently.  The humility makes us small, but as we yield to the Great Teacher of Suffering, she makes us into something more beautiful and more free.  Don’t run from it, embrace it.

If Mortals Die, will they Live Again?

mortal2

“If mortals die, will they live again?  All the days of my hard service, I will wait for my release to come.  You will call and I will answer you; you will long for the creature your hands have made.” -Job 14:14-15

I was first introduced to this set of verses from the ancient Scriptures from my good friend, Mark Palmer, who had verse 14 tattooed in Hebrew around his wrist like a bracelet.  “If mortals die, will they live again?”   For him, it reminded him of his place in life when he woke in the morning.  That he was mortal and God was God.  This gave context to his life.  Humility and Reverence gave his life structure.  When his wife died at the age of 26 with stomach cancer, this piece of Hebrew poetry from Job drove him deeper in understanding of his place in this dramatic cosmos we call life and then death.  He contemplated if mortals die, will they live again?

Not more than 2 years later, he himself contracted colon cancer.  As his body emaciated from the tumors and the results of poisonous chemotherapy, the hebrew tattoo morphed in it’s shape but it still cried out in full depth, “If mortals die, will they live again?”  Still grieving his young bride, he faced his own oncoming death at the age of 30.  Our last time together, about a week before he passed, he stared at that tattoo and said something like, ‘Marshall, this has real meaning.’  If mortals die, will they live again?  March 27, 2006, Palmer as a mortal died, challenging all of us left, does he live again?

You can go through all of your life and never ask this question.  You can graduate with degrees, you can work jobs, earn paychecks, pay bills, attend parties, seek happiness, raise families, complain, value temporary things, spend your life earning $ to ‘comfortably’ retire so you can collect shells on the beach, never experience contentment, lust for more etc. etc.   Dear mortal, in the end, is this a big enough idea?

If mortals die, will they live again?  The answer to this question gives your life context and meaning.  To this day, it still haunts me.  God is God, I am mortal.  We are not equals.  Though I don’t understand Him completely, I know my place. He alone holds all wisdom and blessing, I yield myself to it today.

May this question haunt you, too.  If mortals die, will they live again?

peace, Chris

 

Capable of Loving the ‘Other’

“To love another person is to see the face of God.” Les Miserables

Our world is amuck with physical and verbal violence towards the ‘others’.  The news cycles and headlines are intended to keep the drama going of one group vs. another.  They profit off of our dissent.  Anti-democrat, Anti-republican, Anti-muslim, Anti-christian, Anti-western world, Anti-left, Anti-right, Anti-immigrant, Anti-nationalist, Anti-globalist, Anti-police, Anti-minority, Anti-gun, Anti-gun control . . . you name the explosive issue, the media exploits the divisions as a kind of control over their profits.  What is lost is the best of humanity.

As a follower of Jesus, I’m for peace and I live under a command and a calling to love my neighbor as myself. All of my neighbors.  All of my ‘others’.  Those who love me and those who hate me, I cannot get out from under the command to love my neighbor.  All of them.  I have a calling to love my enemies, to bless and not to curse.  I don’t have a choice.  If I claim to follow Him, but hate another, I am a liar.  The ancient Scriptures don’t leave any wiggle room there.  It breaks my heart to live amongst the violence of our actions and our words, this is not the way it was intended to be.  We can be more than this, but it requires living out of a different center.

The reality is I nor we are capable of this kind of love.  It is God initiated.  I John 4:7-10 outlines the possibilities of our capabilities:

“My beloved friends, let us continue to love each other since love comes from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and experiences a relationship with God. The person who refuses to love doesn’t know the first thing about God, because God is love—so you can’t know him if you don’t love. This is how God showed his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so we might live through him. This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God.” 

 So I am getting more intentional with my time, attention and influences.  I am outlining the sources that I am giving time and attention to that give input to my heart, mind and soul which lead to my behavior.  I want peace so I need to be filled with peace.  I want love for all so I need to be receiving the kind of love that is capable of loving all, including my enemies.  If I want to see the ‘other’ and love them, I need to see them as the face of God.

This life is short, it won’t last long.  Peace and love is a worthy cause in a world of violence, it’s the best intention of humanity.  Let’s be good neighbors to one another today.

peace, Chris

‘Faith’ is not a pretty package, it’s a raw heartache for home

“If we only had eyes to see and ears to hear and wits to understand, we would know that the Kingdom of God in the sense of holiness, goodness, beauty is as close as breathing and is crying out to be born both within ourselves and within the world; we would know that the Kingdom of God is what all of us hunger for above all other things even when we don’t know its name or realize that it’s what we’re starving to death for. The Kingdom of God is where our best dreams come from and our truest prayers. We glimpse it at those moments when we find ourselves being better than we are and wiser than we know. We catch sight of it when at some moment of crisis a strength seems to come to us that is greater than our own strength. The Kingdom of God is where we belong. It is home, and whether we realize it or not, I think we are all homesick for it.

Frederick Buechner

Faith is not a slogan, it’s not a marketing campaign, it’s not a clever acrostic, it’s not fundraising, it’s not comfortable seating, it’s not smoke machines, it’s not theater lighting, it’s not my favorite song in my favorite key, it’s not strategies catered to my consumer appetite.  In modern America, we’ve thanked God for creating us in His image and decided to return the favor; we created Him in our image.  We’ve turned the bounty of His banquet table into another conference of trinkets.  We re-branded Jesus from the ‘friend of sinners’ to the self-righteous protector of the chosen flock.  We got in bed with the political powers of the empire of our day and no longer question the harlot we lie with.  The grotesque scandal of the Cross has become a pretty package.  This is not a faith I understand.

Faith is heartache.  Faith is painful longing for home.  Faith is a recognition that all that is presently is not what it will be.  Faith is an understanding that the pain, suffering, violence, death and destruction we are living in was not intended that way.  Faith is an admittance that we (humanity) have gone our own way and we are not better off for it.  Faith is a longing to come home, to come home to the heart of the Father who is ripping through the walls of dimensions to reach us with His tsunami of love.  Faith is stopping to realize that the One we long for has been on a frantic pursuit of us all along.  Faith is understanding that He loves ALL His missing children the same.  Faith is a recognition that the treasures and trusts of this world will never satisfy, that only the morsels from His table are the kind of food that doesn’t make us hungry anymore.  Faith is a raw heartache to be home again with Him, a longing for all things to be as they were intended.  No compromise, not one single inch of compromise.

We’ve forgotten our ‘story’.  We’ve forgotten where we’ve come from.  We’ve forgotten what He is like.  We’ve forgotten who He is for us.  Our very existence as the Church is not for our comfort, it’s for us to remind each other of our ‘story’.  It’s for us to announce the reality of the coming of the Kingdom of God in all power and goodness.   We are not here to judge the world, we are here to love it, serve it, sacrifice for it and participate in its redemption as our marching orders.   Our language is love, joy, peace, grace, mercy, hope, justice, forgiveness and kindness towards all our neighbors.  Faith is not pretty, it is raw and it is life.

We exist to create authentic Kingdom community and then give it away.  We exist to carry this heartache for home with one another.  Kingdom community is the life we all long for, it is what we were designed for.  Don’t settle for counterfeits.  If you don’t know of such Kingdom communities, go start one.  I’ll help you.  We swear singular allegiance to the King,  all else is idol worship.

Amos 5:21-24 “I can’t stand your religious meetings.
    I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions.
I want nothing to do with your religion projects,
    your pretentious slogans and goals.
I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes,
    your public relations and image making.
I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music.
    When was the last time you sang to me?
Do you know what I want?
    I want justice—oceans of it.
I want fairness—rivers of it.
    That’s what I want. That’s all I want.” (The Message)

Do not ‘speak’ into the darkness, ‘Scream’ that Anthem

“Yahweh, Yahweh
Always pain before a child is born
Yahweh, Yahweh
Still, I’m waiting for the dawn”

If you live the human experience long enough, you are going to find struggle.  You are going to find disappointment and you are going to experience loss, heartbreak, heartache and perceived failures.  And while you sit with these realities in the darkness and silence, then the voices start.  You know, the really accusing condemning ones.  They sound like this:

  • You’re not good enough
  • You’ll never make it
  • Everyone else is better
  • It works out for other people
  • This has no meaning
  • You’re not worthy of goodness
  • No one cares
  • You screwed up
  • You’ll never figure it out
  • blah blah blah insert negative judgmental piece of crap lies from the pit of hell here

These dark nights of the soul are like a bully on the playground, the lies want to suck the life out of you and put you in your place of insignificance.  It is there where the fight for truth is held, it is there in the middle of the battlefield of your life where you sit and make choices.  With the enemy creeping in on all sides, in the words of Mary Oliver; “tell me, what it is you want to do with your one wild and precious life?”

I’m just a guy going through my own journeys and battles, waking up to voices that seek to keep me in my own place of darkness.  Here’s my advice:  Do not ‘speak’ into that darkness . . . ‘SCREAM’ that #$%^ing Anthem!  The stakes are too high for quiet whispers, this is YOUR life, this is your one, wild and precious life!  This is you, there is no one else like you, there never has been and there never will be. By definition you are a bad @$$.  Jeremiah 1:5 – “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart . . . ”  Before all of Creation, before God placed you in a human family to have a human and earthly experience, He knew you.  He has plans.  You are not an accident, you matter, you have a name, you are significant.  You are worth screaming for.  Do not whisper, do not speak, Scream your Anthem!  Call your dawn into existence.  

11 years ago this month, I lost 2 of my best friends within 17 days of each other.  This U2 album was really significant to me then, it helped bring context to the pain and loss I was feeling.  That the darkness was okay, it has it’s place.  The night is temporary, next comes the dawn.  The sun will rise, survive the night.  Confront the lies, obliterate them with truth.  Grab your soul friend, sit them down, and them let tell you who you are if you don’t remember.  Strangle the lies, don’t let them breathe.  Choke the poison and spill it out.  Do not whisper, do not speak, Scream your Anthem!

What is your Anthem?  It is hope,  You were destined to count in ways no one else can.  Dallas Willard said: “As water is meant to run downhill, so you were destined to count.”  Rage your hope, scream your hope, call your dawn into existence.  Hope is a primal scream in a world of darkness, let it rip!  You matter, you are here for a reason, survive the night . . . dawn will come.  And when dawn comes, walk into the light of the justice of your cause, the warm embrace of the sun, the arms of the One who made you and let him bring healing and freedom to your heart and life.  When healing comes, when you become a prisoner set free . . . seek vengeance.  Go find someone else in their dark night of the soul, and lead them to the light.  This is your payback.  You are dangerous.

Do not whisper, do not speak, SCREAM your Anthem!

Peace to you.

Ruthless Trust

“The way of trust is a movement into obscurity, into the undefined, into ambiguity, not into some predetermined, clearly delineated plan for the future. The next step discloses itself only out of a discernment of God acting in the desert of the present moment. The reality of naked trust is the life of the pilgrim who leaves what is nailed down, obvious, and secure, and walks into the unknown without any rational explanation to justify the decision or guarantee the future. Why? Because God has signaled the movement and offered it his presence and his promise.”
Brennan Manning, Ruthless Trust: The Ragamuffin’s Path to God

I shared in my last post about the gift of being in this unemployed place of uncertainty and vulnerability.  There is certainly a lot to learn and enjoy in it.  But I’m not going to sugar-coat that it’s always what my perspective or attitude is.  Other times it can just be really hard and unsettling.  I’m not unlike you, I want to be in control of my surroundings, my future and my options.  But I am in a season presently in life where all of what I used to rely upon as security is no longer secure.  My wife and I are holding tight to simple and core truths about who we are, who our God is and that the future is secure in him and his provision over us.  We are challenged and cross-pressured to believe in things we can’t see and not lose hope. We are not the first people to find ourselves here, it’s just our story today.

I lost some faith this week, I got discouraged.  Met with our accountant last week to do our 2016 taxes for us personally and the businesses we are trying to get off the ground.  I had the figures stare back at me on paper like a bully on the playground.  How little income I had in 2016 and how much of our personal investment I put in the coffee business that is 100% loss at the moment (of course most businesses lose $ in their first couple years).  All my identity of being a provider for my family for 23 years was being challenged.  The accusing voices started of what a failure I must be, how much I’ve let everyone down and the helplessness of not being able to correct the ship immediately.   Defeated, discouraged, disappointed . . . what do we with these emotions?  Where do we take these lies that bounce around in our head and seek to intimidate us into total surrender?

Today I went for a walk in the woods to listen.  I spent several hours walking and sitting.  I listened, I listened to the babbling brook, I listened to the waving branches of the trees over me, I listened to the cracking of broken sticks under my boots, I listened to the hawks overhead and I listened for the voice of the One who made me and marks my days.  I started out somewhat lost, feeling disconnected and anxious.  And then He spoke and it was hard to compose myself.  He said:  “stop trusting in bank statements and financial tables, learn to ruthlessly trust me.”  The voice went on, told me to look around, look at the eco-systems of life and complexities all around me.  They don’t worry, they don’t fret, they are taken care of.  How much more will I be taken care of.

I was reminded that we are at the dawn of the Lenten season of the Church, where we are to be stripped away of all our preoccupations and distractions to find ourselves in Him.  We can locate ourselves in his suffering and thus share with him our deepest longings and shortcomings.  We don’t have to wear our fears like a cloak, we can put it on him and hide ourselves in him.  In his creation, in his ever presence, in the Spirit that broods over the earth and bubbles up in the brooks and streams.  If we ruthlessly trust him, we can find our confidence in him.  This is a place of surrender, vulnerability and exposed nakedness.  But we came into this life naked, and naked sometimes we still find ourselves.  We ruthlessly trust not because we are masochists, but because we believe foundational aspects of his nature:  goodness, faithfulness, sustenance, mercy and eternal love.

We are being asked to ruthlessly trust . . . we are ALL being asked to ruthlessly trust.  What’s on the other side of that door?  Let’s open it and find out, but it starts with trust. #Gulp

The Gift of Unemployment

The dawn of March 1 will mark the beginning of technically my 9th month of unemployment.  I haven’t had regular work/paycheck etc. in that timeframe.  I’ve been freelancing in some management projects, teaching projects, writing projects and hustling our Resurgam Coffee side business, but none of that has equaled anything close to a full-time income.  What have I learned?  I’ve learned this journey has been an incredible gift on so many levels.  Let me explain . . .

  1. The Gift of Self-Reflection – How often in your life do you get the opportunity for a complete do-over?  To go back to the drawing board and ask foundational questions like Who am I?  Why am I here?  What would I love to do?  What brings me joy?  Now this is also deeply frightening, the more questions you ask, the deeper the rabbit hole gets.  I began to realize how much of my ‘accepted’ and unquestioned life both internally and externally did not line up with my deepest values.  The gift does not then become self-condemnation, but an invitation to new life.  Know thyself and then act accordingly.
  2. The Gift of a Simple Life – My wife and I are more connected right now around our daily, weekly and monthly finances than ever before.  Not fear, not panic . . .  connectedness.  We talk about it, daily.  Our grocery list is no longer whatever looks like ‘we have to have’ at Costco, it’s planned out and intentional.  You know what?  It’s fun!  I’m cooking more creatively and intentionally.  Our meals are actually far more fresh and healthy.  We are counting the green beans and the last eggs, but we are also finding creative ways to deliciously season the throw-away and discounted cuts of meat from the grocery.  We are grocery shopping with cash, whatever cash has come in, that’s our budget.  We’ve learned how we don’t need very much income to live a connected, satisfied and full life with some creativity and teamwork.  It’s a gift to be able to have such connection between God’s most recent provision and the food that will be on our family table this week.  We have daily bread, gratitude fills our table.
  3. The Gift of Intimate Marriage – Naturally, this has been a time of great challenge, pressure and vulnerability.  These kinds of storms in life have a way of exposing great breaches in the foundations of even the best of marriage partnerships.  But, there is always a choice.  You can live in fear, isolation, destructive habits to cope and blame etc.  Or you can choose as a couple to look at the storm in the face and hand in hand walk into it and through it together.  Wedding vows take just a moment in a ceremony to say but it takes a lifetime to fulfill them.  We chose to come together in this, communicate and over-communicate, look to the needs of one another and create a new beginning together.  We have no idea how it will all turn out, but we do know one thing, we are gonna be there together.  It’s our eternal vows to one another and I wouldn’t want it any other way.  I am so in love with this woman.  She vowed to believe in me on our wedding day, and on my worst and most discouraging days, she believes in me and the gifts God has given me.  I am able to anchor my identity not in the rejection email of another job I won’t get, but in the love and commitment of my wife for me.  Folks, with that kind of love, I’ll run through a wall.  True intimacy in marriage is an unbelievable gift and it’s the result of a lot of choices ‘towards’ one another, not ‘away’.
  4. The Gift of the Myth of the American Dream – In my dissertation I wrote a chapter on this ‘myth’ and how consumerism has robbed much of what we used to experience of so-called community in America.  The assumptions of certain standards of living for happiness, the crazed rat-race of the US corporate life, the dehumanizing experiences of bottom-line company strategies, the false dream of a leisured retirement, the entitlements of the marketing seas we swim in, the oughts and shoulds of a life it seems almost no-one is enjoying.  We are supremely busy, but not busy being happy.  Meaning, connection, community and the things that feed contentment and happiness are not bought, and not even offered in consumer lifestyles to keep up.  Consumerism by definition keeps you wanting more so you buy more, all with the hope that it will finally satisfy.  It doesn’t.  That degree won’t magically satisfy you, that job, that car, that membership, that house, that team etc etc.  All will leave you wanting and never having ‘arrived’.  I’m learning to look at my life of a different ‘arrival’, my own death.  I’m mortal, I will die, this human life will end.  So how do I want to live it?  I get one chance and it’s a result of my free choices.  Should I organize it around chasing things ‘out there’, or can I organize it around the amazing gifts God has already given me right here?  Faith, family, friends, creative work, sustenance etc.  These things can be lived and enjoyed for a whole lot less $$ than the American rat race.  Why live a myth, why not live in ruthless and satisfying truth?
  5. The Gift of Anything is Possible – One of my largest personal values is freedom.  I love the freedom to create, to learn, to dream, to act, to inspire, to encourage, to lead etc.  Feeling confined in close-ended jobs in my history has contributed to a lot of self-imposed depression.  After I grieved my vocational past and choices, I now have come to a place of a free and open future.  Anything is possible, that is a gift to me.  I’m in this place of what Romans 8 says, ‘what’s next, Papa?’    God and I can create together a connected, partnered, grounded and freely sustained life.  I don’t know yet what it looks like, but I trust Him.  His goodness and faithfulness have become so resounding in my life during this journey it’s almost deafening.  I have nothing concrete in my hands but I have supreme confidence in my heart and mind.  Anything is possible, that is hopeful and good enough.

This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us—an unbelievable inheritance! We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then we’re certainly going to go through the good times with him!” -Romans 8:15-17 (The Message)

My journey is my journey.  I know many of you out there are experiencing far more painful stories and realities than me and you aren’t seeing the same conclusions I am.  My intent is for encouragement and help, I can’t change your reality, but I can offer you my human compassion and story.  All of life is a gift, the learning is the fun part.  Let’s live out loud!