Monday, October 15, 2012

Rain

After 81 days without rain, the boys celebrate.


video

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Brennan Manning--Furious Longing of God


Brennan Manning is one of my favorite writers. The Ragamuffin Gospel had a profound impact on me. If you haven't read it, go get a copy NOW and start reading. It will change your life.

One of his recent books is called The Furious Longing of God. My father-in-law gave it to me a few years ago, but I never got around to reading it. I'm reading it now; I'll share some thoughts as I go through it.

The seldom-stated truth is that many of us have a longing for God and an aversion to God. Some of us seek Him and flee Him at the same time.

I'm doing some thinking about that. My first response is, "no; I don't run from God."

But what I think I do is run from the fullness of God. I keep God at a distance. I seek him occasionally, talk, vent, ask, listen...but more often I wave, glance, have a quick, passing conversation.

I don't slow down and just spend time with God the way I did, when I was young and single and didn't have any responsibility.

Now with work and kids and home and sports and a full calendar, it takes major effort to seek God and spend quality time.

But it is worth the effort. When I do put the energy into it, and listen, and share, and just be with God, I become more grounded, more centered, more peaceful.

And I know that God can handle me when I seek Him, and when I flee. And He's still there, either way.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

I must read. I must write.

I have been far too absent here. Why? I sometimes struggle with what to write about.

I feel like I need to be careful. Why? Probably fear. Fear that I will say something that will get me into trouble.

Several years ago I was talking with a church about serving as their interim pastor. I preached there several times, met with the deacons, and answered all their questions.

I was scheduled to preach again one Sunday, and worship would be followed by a Q & A with the congregation. The church would then vote on calling me as their interim pastor.

On Thursday evening I got an email from the chairman of the deacons that they had changed their minds about hiring an interim pastor, and that I didn't need to come preach Sunday.

I called him to find out what was going on, and after some gentle pushing, got him to tell me that someone had found some past writings on my blog that concerned them, and that some folks had convinced the deacons not to consider me.

I never got details on what specifically I had written that bothered them, but I imagine it had something to do with posts I wrote before the 2008 election. I was pretty open about my views going into the election, and quoted writings from pastors and authors about the election.

I got into some good discussions/debates with friends over religion and politics. I probably said something that made some folks at that church think I was too liberal. And I lost the job. It was pretty bad timing--a time when I really needed the job.

Anyway, I realized that I needed to be careful about what I write. Guys like Brian McLaren and Mark Driscoll (see me being neutral here?) can get away with say what they think. They are secure enough in their roles as writers and pastors and have enough followers that they don't have to worry about offending anyone. (I mean, they both offend people, but it doesn't come back to bite them.)

I'm now working for a Bible software company. Not in ministry, but kind of close. I did once have a potential customer tell me they googled me before our phone meeting. And I do still think about going back into church ministry, so I feel I need to be careful.

But I have to write. I don't feel like myself if I'm not. And I'm so tired of all the fighting, I don't want to write about politics or religion in ways that invite debate.

So I'm going to write about what I'm thinking and reading, but try to do it in ways that are productive for both me and anyone who reads.

I'm starting Brennan Manning's The Furious Longing of God. More tomorrow...




Monday, September 24, 2012

Instinct

Brady is a great soccer player--way above his years--and gets most of the sports attention between the boys these days. But tonight, Cash had a great moment to shine.

We were at Brady's soccer practice; I was playing with Cash while Brady was with his teammates.

We had a goal set up and we were taking turns shooting--one would shoot while the other played goalie.

Cash was in the goal, and I was taking some pretty hard shots at him. He missed a few, but stopped most of them.

At one point I shot toward his left, he ran to block it and kicked it back to me. I immediately took another shot, to the same side. He was moving back to his right when the ball came flying to his left. In an instant, he twisted his body and his left hand shot up and knocked the ball away.

It was amazing; I couldn't believe how quickly he moved.

I cheered him, then walked over and sat down with him.

"I want to talk about that Cash; that was a great save! Sometimes when we do something, we think about it first, right?"

I don't know if he got it, but he nodded.

"Just then, when I kicked the ball, you didn't think about what to do; you didn't have time to think. You just reached out and hit the ball.

"That's called instinct, Cash. That's when your mind and your body work together, and you do what you need to do without even thinking about it.

"That's what great athletes do, Cash. They act on instinct. They make a great play like that (I snapped my fingers) without even thinking. And that's what you do, Cash. You are a great athlete!"

He smiled ear-to-ear and gave me the biggest hug. 

It was a great moment. I am truly amazed at his talent, whatever sport we are playing. And I love cheering him on.

Friday, July 20, 2012

A Book You Should Read




I have mentioned my friend Kenny Budd and the book he recently published. I was honored to read through an early draft as he wrote, and just finished reading the final product. It was a wonderful experience reading it all the way through; I enjoyed reading the sections as he wrote it, but really love seeing how it all came together.

Here is a review I posted on Amazon. I highly recommend it!



The Voluntourist is a touching tale of honest self-examination. Memoir can be difficult, because while our lives are important to us, it is challenging to write about our lives in a way that will connect with others. Will readers be able to relate to the experiences I’ve had? Will they care?

In this case, the answer is yes. Ken shares very openly about his life, his struggles, his weaknesses, doubts and questions…he tells beautiful stories of his attempts to make a difference in the world. While he experiences things that most others never do, he shares those experiences in a way that draws the reader in.

His imagery is simple—in a good way. No excessive descriptions, just enough to help the reader get a good feel for the places and people he encounters. The focus is on the people with who Ken works, and how they touch his life.

We feel Ken's joy in the relationships he builds as he travels the world, doing volunteer work in Costa Rica, New Orleans, China, Ecuador, Palestine, and Kenya. We also feel his heartbreak over losing his father, and over his growing understanding and acceptance that he will likely never be a father.

The power of the book is Ken’s journey to see life through the lens of his father, who died too young. Examining his father’s life, and his own, leads him on a spiritual journey that is uniquely his, yet one that almost anyone can relate to.

There are many beautiful scenes involving Ken and the children he works with and comes to love. Especially powerful is an awkward yet beautifully touching story of how Ken, who does not typically pray, goes into a church and prays for the people in his life.

Ken doesn’t try too hard to teach any lessons. By sharing simply about what he has learned, Ken leads the reader to do his/her own self-examination.

The Voluntourist is a very honest book. Ken shares openly about his life and relationships. Like life, there are times when Ken’s story is deeply profound, emotional, gut wrenching… other times when it is clever and very funny.

By sharing stories of adventures in several countries and continents, Ken shows how our world is both big and small; big because of the size and diversity; small because the truth is people are people, and wherever they are, they all strive to find purpose in life.

Ken learns, and then shares with the reader, that life is really about the people in our lives, how they touch us, and how we touch them.

And in the end, The Voluntourist is really a love story—about the love Ken had with his father, the love he has family and friends, the love he has with the children he encounters all over the world, and most of all, the love between Ken and his wife, Julie, a love that grows and matures and overcomes challenges, and grows stronger through Ken’s journey around the world and into himself. 

Friday, June 29, 2012

Thoughts on Supreme Court Ruling today

Some random thoughts about today's news and reactions to it...

I've read from a couple people who are against the Affordable Care Act that "God is still in control, not Obama."

I think they believe today's decision is NOT what God wants. Yet their statements about who is in control would imply that the decision IS what God wants...He is in control, right?

I'm not stating that God is on one side or the other; just think it's interesting that some people are so certain that God is against this, and that those who follow God should also be against it.


I've seen something else interesting in many of the comments I'm reading.

Those who are against the ruling today, and the Affordable Care Act, are mostly talking about how it will affect them:
"how this will affect my taxes..."
"what the government is going to make me do..."


Those on the other side, who are for it, are talking about how it will help other people--the poor, those already sick, etc.

Interesting to see who is more concerned with self, and who is more concerned with others.


Finally, I don't have a problem if you are against the Affordable Care Act. But do you really believe President Obama is evil? That this is a plan to destroy our country?


Even if you think this plan is not a good way to do it, couldn't you consider that the motivation behind it is to help more people?

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Getting Older

Yesterday I was playing baseball in the backyard with my boys, and a memory came to me from 35 years ago.

My friend C and I would go out in the back yard, set up a makeshift home plate and pitcher's rubber, and pitch to each other.

One of us would pitch, the other catch; back and forth, for hours. There was no batter, and no hits. Only strikeouts and walks. The catcher made the calls, there was no arguing.

We had fun like that for hours on end, day after day. It was just one of many memories I have of that friendship. C and I have stayed close over the years, we still talk frequently.

As I looked back at those days, I thought about the kids we were--young, innocent, our whole lives ahead.

I remember at C's wedding, 21 years ago, his mother saying she never would have imagined C and I would end up being a doctor and a pastor.

And no one would have imagined that we would now be facing the challenges we are--one of us going through a painful divorce, the other struggling to hold it together while supporting a wife with cancer.

As I stood in the backyard and remembered those days of pitching and catching, I was gripped by a powerful feeling of nostalgia, a feeling that started in my chest and spread through my whole body, like a wave--strong yet warm.

I missed those boys, and the freedom of life at that stage. I thought of where my friend is now, and hurt for the pain he is going through. At the same time, I thought that those days seemed both forever ago, and just a little more than yesterday.

 I've never thought much about mid-life crises, at least for myself. I never felt my age, so wasn't as concerned with getting older.

20 years ago, 50 seemed ancient. Not so much now. It still sounds old, but doesn't feel as old (except on the mornings when I run). But the truth is, I'm sort of in denial; not really grasping the idea that in three years I'll be 50.

Each year we are closer to the end of life, and further from the beginning, but I never really thought about that until I was 40. I know I've lived more than half my life, and that's an unsettling thought.

I also look back at what I've accomplished, and wonder what I still have left to accomplish. I haven't done as much as I wish. I won't go there--I'm a pretty positive person, and not one to sit and lament or complain.

I am very self-aware, I know my strengths and weaknesses, and I am relatively OK with who I am. There is still a lot I want to do, and I guess the pressure now is time. Is there enough time to do what I still want to do?

One thing I have learned to do is slow down, look back, and find joy in the memories. I remember when I was younger, I didn't really enjoy looking back. It made me sad to remember a good time that was over, a season of life that had passed.

But now I find that the memories can actually bring me joy. I can close my eyes and go back to times and places that are gone, but that were good, and meaningful. Rather than regret that they are gone, I find that the memories can lift me up, warm my heart, make me feel good about all that has happened in my life.

I'm going to spend some time writing about some of those memories. Memoir is the type of writing I have most enjoyed. It helps me realize that I have been very blessed in the people and places that have made up my life.

I also find I can look back with a healthy attitude when I am satisfied in the present, and this weekend, I really am.

Jamie is in the midst of cancer treatment, so there is a lot of uncertainty there. We are going through a restructuring at work, and facing a lot of change there. Ten months after moving across the country, I still miss my family and friends in Virginia.

Yet in the midst of it, I have spent a lot of time lately thinking how great my life is. Jamie and I are getting along really well. I love spending time with my kids--we make the most of every minute, especially on the weekends.

And I am reminded that no matter where I am, it all comes down to relationships. My wife and kids. My in-laws. My new friends at work and church. And the joy of the memories of all the people and relationships that have touched my life and made me who I am. I have a good life.




Sunday, May 13, 2012

Three hospital trips

On Friday Jamie had her weekly chemo treatment. She was tired from not having slept well the night before, and from the pre-chemo medication; and went to sleep pretty quickly once the treatment started.

I ducked out of the Cancer Center to pick Ashley up from school and run to the pharmacy to pick up some prescriptions.

While I was driving, I got a call from my friend Andy back in Virginia. Last summer he and his wife Erin got some surprising news. Years after thinking they were finished having children (they have two great ones--a boy and a girl), they found out Erin was pregnant.

As I was driving Friday, Andy called to tell me they were on the way to the hospital. I was thrilled that Andy called me at that moment--I miss my friends back home, and getting that call brought a lot of joy.

Andy sounded happy but pretty calm. It sounds like things went smoothly; a few hours later I read about the baby's birth (and saw pictures) on Facebook.

After I got off the phone with Andy, my mind went to hospitals. I pictured Andy and Erin pulling up to the hospital. I remembered my experience in the hospital when my boys were born, the unbelievable joy watching a new life come into this world.

I imagined the excitement Andy and Erin must be feeling, to experience "new parenthood" again after many years.

As often happens, my thoughts wandered, stream-of-consciousness style, to some other friends in a hospital.

Rose and Rich pastor a church in Shoreline. I met Rose at an Emergent Conference years ago. I loved her approach to God and people and ministry, and got to know her and Rich over the years, worshiping and visiting with them every time we came to visit Washington.

Rich and Rose have a son, Ben, who has terminal cancer. Barring a miracle, it looks like Ben's life here is almost over. I cannot imagine the pain of losing one's child (actually, I can, but refuse to let myself--I fear the pain would be too great).

I have followed their journey on Facebook--Ben and his wife recently had their second child. It has been heartbreaking to watch what their family is going through.

The one nugget that does not leave me feeling hopeless about their situation is the faith and strength that Rich and Rose and all their family and friends have shown.

I thought about these people that I love as I drove back to the hospital where my wife was being pumped full of toxic drugs that are hard on her body, but necessary to kill the cancer in her.

I thought of my friends in other hospitals, one experiencing new life, one preparing for death. We are in the middle I guess; anytime you hear the word "cancer" you think of the terrible possibility, but we are very hopeful that the treatment will kill the cancer invading Jamie's body and give her many more years of life.

Going through something like this usually causes one to be more aware of and grateful for life. I know it does for me. In the midst of the craziness and busyness of life these days, I often try to slow down, look around, and smile at the beauty and joy.

I don't know what tomorrow will bring, but I want to enjoy and appreciate and soak up every good and positive moment as it happens. I remember a picture of Ben holding his new baby, and think about how profound that moment was.

We will all experience (or have experienced) the three different situations I thought about in those three hospital trips--birth, healing, and death. And in between them are thousands of amazing moments that make up life.



Saturday, May 12, 2012

47

On Monday I turned 47.  Really?  Just doesn't seem possible. I tend to be pretty nostalgic; birthdays can bring that out even more for me. I spent some time looking back...

37. Ten years ago I was in Fort Worth, single and loving life. I was finishing up my sixth year teaching at Heritage Christian Academy, umpiring baseball, and hanging out at the Ballpark in Arlington, Six Flags, and Hope Church. Life was easy, fun, and free.

27. Twenty years ago I was youth pastor at FBC Alexandria, VA. For two years I got paid to play with teenagers, build relationships, teach, preach and learn from some really great people. Life was a blast.

17. Thirty years ago I was getting ready for my senior year in high school. Running track, enjoying great friends, trying to figure out girls. Young, free, pretty ignorant. Sometimes life was great, sometimes not so much.

7. Forty years ago we had just moved to our new home in Dale City, VA. I had a big back yard to play in, great friends, lots of places to explore. Life was fun.

Of course there have been challenges, losses, disappointments and failures, but my life has been pretty darn good. I've had a lot of great friends, been to some neat places and had a variety of experiences.

And although every other 7 year was pretty good, and 47 feels weird, I wouldn't trade it for any of the others.

We recently moved to an incredibly beautiful part of the country. I enjoy my job and the people I work with. We have a nice house in a good neighborhood. Thanks to my parents, we have a trampoline and basketball goal in the backyard.

We have great schools for our kids, and the blessing of Jamie's family and friends nearby. Every day I drive through a beautiful mountain pass, past gorgeous views of a lake and a bay.

And most of all, I have a beautiful wife who I'm still learning about and growing with. I have the three most amazing children in the world who bring me more joy than I've ever known.

Last night the boys had a T-ball game. I love cheering them on. Today we did some shopping, then tonight, Ashley and I put together the basketball goal that my parents got for Brady's birthday.

We had dinner, got everyone in bed, now I'm relaxing, thinking about how great life is.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

still choosing joy, or trying to

I recently got a Vizio tablet. Not quite an ipad, but it is somewhat similar, and does a lot of cool stuff, so I like it. I'm typing this post on my tablet, still trying to get used to the touch keyboard. It amazes me how kids today type so fast with just their thumbs.

Anyway, not what I wanted to write about. A couple weeks ago I wrote about choosing joy. Someone asked how I was doing with that; the answer is--not too bad.

I have been trying to keep the phrase "I choose joy" in the forefront. It often slips to the back of my mind, but it's never too far away.

I've had a few days when I've been tired and grumpy, and don't act very joyful, but I think I've been able to come back around better than I usually do.

I do feel like I'm more aware of the good and the positive. Of course the biggest thing in our lives right now is Jamie's cancer. She has had a rough week--very tired, nauseated, dealing with a lot of pain and discomfort. It's got her pretty down.

She has bounced back--went to Ashley's soccer games Friday and Saturday and out to dinner on Saturday. I am proud of how she fights to keep going.

Back to me (not to be self-centered, but it is my blog). It's strange being in this position--walking beside someone with cancer.

I think it's forced us to get along better. I try to be more patient, less reactive.

I think I have been looking for and noticing the things in our lives that do bring joy. When I simply stop and live in those moments, I do rejoice...

  • Jamie's treatment has made her more dependent on me. I think I've done a better job than usual of serving her, and she has been very grateful and patient with me.
  • The boys had their first T-Ball game last week. It was fantastic watching them get dressed in their uniforms, go out to the park, warm up, and play the game.  
  •  4 and 5 year-olds playing T-ball is an organizational mess, but it was beautiful. Both boys hit the ball well. One inning, Brady was on the pitching rubber and Cash played first. They made several good plays together. I was so proud and full of joy watching and cheering them.
  • On Sunday we went to the kids' cousin Ira's birthday party. It was a beautiful spring day, sunny, warm. Jamie was worn out but sat on the patio, ate, and watched the kids play. It was a great day. 
  • I had a blast watching Ashley play soccer. A few years ago I asked her coach to work with her on being more assertive/aggressive. Boy, did he. Now in high school, she is usually one the smaller players on the field, but is usually the toughest and most aggressive (in a good way).
  • Every night we read before bed. It used to be me reading stories to them; but now all three of us read--Brady reads incredibly, and Cash is learning more every day--I am so glad they both love to read
  •  One day I picked up the kids and we all went to dinner at Wendy's. It was so much fun just sitting there, laughing and talking while we ate. I got a frosty for the boys and me (Ashley had her own); we sat there taking turns with it; so much fun!

I have a friend (as we all do, or have) going through a divorce. My heart breaks when I talk to him. I cannot imagine going through that--not being able to read with and tuck in the boys each night. Not having those rare, precious moments with my daughter when she is no longer a crazy a teenager, but for a bit becomes my little girl again.

It has made me a little more aware lately of how special those little experiences are--each hug, each kiss, each conversation. Each opportunity to praise them and watch their joy and pride, knowing they have done well and Daddy is pleased.

I pray that I would better see and cherish those moments, and at the same time recognize that those moments are not just between my kids and me, they are also shared with our God, who loves us in a similar way, but bigger, stronger, perfectly.

There are still some situations (and people) that are frustrating in my life. Some things I'd like to change. But I'm trying to not let them bother me too much. Trying to not dwell on them, but turn my thoughts to the good, and beautiful, and encouraging.

With an amazing wife who is full of strength, and the three most beautiful, wonderful children in the world, it's not that hard to do.

Friday, April 06, 2012

The Voluntourist -- A Must Read

Ken Budd is my friend, brother, college roommate, frequent Springsteen concert date, GMU season ticket partner--one of my dearest friends over the last 26 years (wow).

He has been writing for years, but is about to publish a fantastic book; The Voluntourist: A Six-Country Tale of Love, Loss, Fatherhood, Fate, and Singing Bon Jovi in Bethlehem.

I was privileged to read much of it as Ken wrote it, and was blown away by his honesty, insight and humor.

Ken's writing is usually very funny, but it is amazing how his story quickly turns and touches you deeply. I'll do a formal review soon, but want to just share a little about Ken today.

He tells the story of how we first met in his book; but I'll share my version here...

I was in my second semester of college at George Mason University, and was placed in an apartment with Ken. We had never met, and he was already living there when I moved in.

I first showed up about 8 in the morning; Ken was still asleep. One of the first things I noticed were the liquor bottles on the kitchen table. I was a new Christian, recently out of the Army. I went from being  someone who drank A LOT to complete alcohol abstinence (it didn't last long).

I unloaded a few of my belongings and went to class. When I came back, Ken was gone, off to class himself.

I continued to move in and unpack.

When Ken and I finally connected, we talked a little bit. Both of us seemed unsure of the other.

A couple nights after I moved in, Ken got up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. He had drunk quite a bit, and fell asleep on the bathroom floor.

I needed to use the bathroom, and wondered what the hell was taking him so long. I finally knocked on the door. I heard him sort of grunt, then he got up and opened the door.

"Sorry about that," he said, and went back to bed.

We have often joked in the years since how we first perceived one another.

When I finally got all moved in, he looked around at my side of the room--shoes all lined up under my bed, bed perfectly made, Jesus posters all over the room--and thought, "My God, my roommate is an anal-retentive, militaristic Jesus Freak."

I looked at the alcohol bottles, bathroom passing-out, and nocturnal schedule and thought, "My God, my roommate is a lazy, late-night party animal well down the road to alcoholism."

We were both wrong. We quickly became close friends and had a great time together in college--late night 7-11 runs for big gulps and cookies...hours watching Letterman when we should have been studying...getting a glimpse of being a minority when we were the only white people in a Literature of Black America class...lots of concerts including Springsteen, U2, Hank Williams Jr., Randy Travis, The Monkees, and many more...late night tennis games and field-goal kicking contests...

We stayed close even when I left for Texas for ten years, and picked right back up when I moved back, going to GMU games and conference tournaments for the past ten years.

We were in each other's weddings, and were there for each other when we both lost our fathers a year apart.

Ken is strong but soft-spoken, very bright, witty, and has a huge heart. Ken and I lived together for a couple years, and have been friends for decades, yet have never had an argument--because Ken is by far the most easy-going guy I've ever known.

I am a better man because he is my friend and has always supported and encouraged me.

But I also love him enough to be honest. If his book stunk, I'd tell him (gently, of course). But it doesn't. Ken is a great writer, and The Voluntourist is a great book.

Read it, I promise you'll be glad you did.


Monday, April 02, 2012

I Choose Joy

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,whenever you face trials of many kinds,  because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

--James 1:2-4

I had one of those great moments with God in church yesterday. It doesn't happen often for me these days. I'm struggling with cynicism--not about God, but about church and people. More on that another time.

But yesterday in church I had a great connection with God. I'm not a "God told me" type of person. But three words came to me as we took communion, and I believe they came from God.

"I choose joy."

The past few months (actually the last few years) have been the most stressful time in my life. We moved, left family and friends, home and comfort, to start a new life on the other side of the country.

I started a new job that is fun and challenging, but brings a lot of pressure.

I am getting used to a new church, trying to make new friends, and learning a new town.

I am trying to help my kids get through the challenges of change and transition.

And in the midst of all this, my wife gets cancer. I have always been very self-aware, but I'm struggling to identify my feelings about all this. I feel for Jamie. Compassion. Sadness. Empathy. I wish this weren't happening to her. I'd rather it were happening to me. I hate being powerless.

I've never been one to worry much about the future (I can worry well enough about the right now.) I don't have anxiety about the future of Jamie's health; I hope and pray that the current course of treatment will take care of everything and that cancer will be only in our past.

Stress has sneaked up on me in recent years. I dealt with very little stress in my 20s and 30s. I was single, very little responsibility; working jobs that I really enjoyed. I had great churches, great friends, and the freedom to do what I wanted.

Life was good, easy, light, simple.

In the last ten years I moved from Texas to Virginia, got married, worked in several fun but challenging jobs, had three children, lost my father, lost a job I loved under difficult circumstances and moved into a season where we struggled financially for several years.

Then we moved and started much of life all over again.

I'm not complaining--I wouldn't change much of what happen. I have lived 46 fun, adventurous, exciting, enjoyable years. I've been able to experience more than most.

I love my wife and my children. I've received a great education, both in the classroom, and in life. I have enjoyed trying different things and working in different jobs and ministries.

I love being a dad more than anything--It brings greater joy than anything I've done, even though it is often challenging and exhausting.

But in the normal flow and change of life, I never realized that my stress level was growing until I hit a point where it was really affecting me--trouble sleeping, worrying like I never had before, making it difficult to stay positive and encouraging.

A recent event has caused my stress to increase again--a situation that has been eating at me, causing me to struggle with anger, envy, disappointment, feeling I've been wronged.

Those feelings had been taking over my thoughts and emotions, until yesterday in church, when those words filled my mind and my heart. "I choose joy."

I choose joy, even when life doesn't seem fair, or just, or make sense. I choose joy, even when there is loss and sadness in my life, or the lives of those around me.

I look back at those years of being single and mostly responsibility-free, and I think part of the reason I was happy and at peace was because I was very much in control of my life. My decisions only affected me for the most part, so I could do what I wanted.

I could choose to do what brought me joy.

Now that I have a wife and three children and house and car and credit card payments and a challenging job, I don't have the freedom to choose everything. I can't control the way my wife or my kids or my co-workers act. I can't control the choices and decisions others make, even when those choices and decisions affect me.

I can't control people's health. I can't control how I feel sometimes.

But I can control how I react to life and to people and to situations. I can choose joy. I can choose to turn my eyes to God. I can choose to be grateful for the good in my life. I can choose to think of my children and the blessing they are.

I can choose to love my family, encourage my co-workers, and do the best I can to help others succeed.

I can choose to ignore the ways others treat me wrongly or disappoint me. 

I can choose to hope. Hope that what feels like injustice will be made right. Hope that God uses everything--even decisions that don't make sense now.

I choose joy. Not because I feel happy. Not because my problems are solved. I choose joy because I have seen God work over and over again, and I trust that He still has more to do in and through me. And I believe that as I choose joy, God strengthens my faith, and calms my heart, and uses me to bless others.


Sunday, March 04, 2012

What a weekend

This was supposed to be my best weekend of the year. Every year at the beginning of March, Kenny, Andy, Johnny (and sometimes Jerry and Mark) and I go to Richmond for the Colonial Athletic Association Men's Basketball Tournament.

For the past ten years, I've had a season ticket with these guys for George Mason, our alma mater.

When we started having kids, and life got busier, GMU basketball was really my only "recreation," or thing that I had just for myself.

I love basketball season. I love the energy at the Patriot Center. I love seeing friends that I've been close to for twenty years, and making new friends each season. I love seeing the family that sits behind us each year--I think they had one or two kids when we started; now I think they have five.

And the highlight each year is the trip to Richmond, when we act like we're kids again--eating all the foods we normally avoid, drinking, acting silly, just enjoying being together and responsibility-free for a weekend.

Leaving GMU basketball and my friends was one of the hardest things about leaving Virginia, and I vowed I would still come back each March for the tournament, and the weekend with the guys.

Mom and Jerry gave me a plane ticket for Christmas, and I was all set to fly home for the tournament. Then the whole thing seemed to lose its importance when we found out Jamie had cancer.

So instead of flying to VA, I spent tournament weekend helping take care of my wife after her first chemotherapy treatment. (Although I did get to watch GMU play on the internet.)

There are times I feel pretty selfish--when I get down about missing the weekend. I know Jamie felt bad about me having to miss it--she even told me I could still go.

But as much as I wanted to be there, I also don't want to be anywhere but here; with Jamie and our kids, going through this together.

I still can't quite get my head around the fact that Jamie has cancer. It feels very surreal.

My emotions this weekend were all over the place--sympathy and concern for what Jamie is going through, determination to help her and stay on top of things around the house, longing to be with my friends in Richmond, anger at the randomness and evil methods of cancer, thankfulness in watching Jamie improve over the last few days, and as always, incredible joy playing with my boys, and having wonderful conversations with my daughter.

And a part of me did get to go to Richmond. You've heard of "Flat Stanley"? If not, he's a character made of paper that young students create and send out or take places--helping them learn about different places.

Kenny, who is so creative, made a "Flat Terry." (Terry is my nickname with the guys).

Flat Terry has my face on Will Thomas's (GMU, 2004-2008) body. The guys took him around to the typical Richmond places--Penny Lane, the Capitol Ale House, and the Richmond Coliseum.

They took pictures of Flat Terry and kept me updated on the weekend.

This is the busiest and most stressful life has ever been. Navigating the waters of Jamie's cancer, trying to be a better father and husband, staying on top of a job that I love but that pushes me every day--I've never felt so busy or so much pressure.

In the midst of life's challenges, I pause, and pray, and look ahead; and I believe that next year, we will have weathered this storm. Jamie will be healed and cancer free, we will be loving life in Washington, and I'll be in Richmond with the guys, cheering on the Patriots.



Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Grieving and Hoping

After some lighter, or less personal blog posts, tonight I am going to open up.

I am grieving tonight. Six months ago we moved from VA to Washington; and for some reason, tonight, sitting in a hotel in Kansas City, the grief finally came, pouring out in tears and sobs.

Grief over leaving my parents, my brother, my best friends, my favorite people and places and activities.

Most days I'm doing pretty well, and I do like life out in Washington, but I think it's finally hitting me that after the past nine years of being close to my parents, and my friends, and driving home to our house in the woods, and swimming in our neighborhood lake, and going to GMU basketball games, and meeting my college buddies for drinks at Fats, and going to the CAA tournament in Richmond every March--all that is gone, and I'm grieving for that.

I love my family, and my wife's family who is all nearby now. I really enjoy my job, and my new friends. I love the mountains around us. I like our small town, and the people who help care for our kids.

But I miss my life if Virginia. Just as with the other big moves in my life--going from VA to Texas, then Texas back to VA--I have said goodbye to a part of my life, a part of me. So I grieve.

Yet as I think and write and cry through my grief, my focus shifts forward, and toward those around me. 

All this is enhanced because my wife has cancer, and in these early days of diagnosis and exams and consultations, we are uncertain of the future, knowing only that our lives are about to change radically.

I also realize that my life is not be about me, but about Jamie and our kids. 

I am concerned for her, and hopeful for God's healing and blessing. I long to be the man God wants me to be for her. I pray that God will help me love and support her, and provide peace and strength for her and our children.

I pray and work to be able to lay down my life, to live more and more for God and my family. I look for hope of what God will do through this dark time, hope that he will bring us all through this, stronger, gentler, closer, more faithful.

I close with a prayer borrowed from my friend Mike Stavlund, whose writing often encourages and blesses me and captures the parts of my heart that I struggle to express (thank you, Mike):

God of grace and disappointments, God of kindness and pain, God of suffering and healing, God of absence and presence, God of weakness and strength, we worship you. We wrestle with you, and we honor you in all of your ways. 



 

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Meeting BJ Thomas



One of my favorite songs is a cover--B.J. Thomas's version of the Hank Williams classic "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry."

I love Thomas's voice, and have been a fan for many years.

I think the first of his songs that I knew was his biggest--"Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head," from the film Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid.

As a teen, I was always into oldies, and remember listening to "Hooked on a Feeling," "I Just Can't Help Believing" and "Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song."

In 1985 I read Thomas' first book, Home Where I Belong, which chronicles his early career, battle with drugs, and his spiritual journey, as he became a Christian and sought to overcome his addiction. 

While I wasn't an addict or acoholic, I read the book at a time when I was trying to move away from a life filled with drinking and partying, focusing more on God and trying to live a life that reflected Christ.

Thomas' book really spoke to me. I connected with his struggle to do the right thing in the midst of temptation and his personal demons. His faith and humility inspired me.

In my 20's and early 30's I went through a lot of ups and downs, especially in relationships. "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" was a song I turned to from time to time. It does such a great job of capturing the loneliness that we all feel at some time.

In the nineties, I lived in Ft. Worth, Texas, and spent a lot of time at the Ballpark in the Arlington, where the Texas Rangers played. I even worked at the Ballpark for a couple years, so I went to a lot of games.

Thomas lived in Arlington, and was a frequent guest at the Ballpark, singing the National Anthem before games several times each season. I loved to hear him sing "The Star-Spangled Banner."

In the late 90s I flew home to Virginia once or twice a year. One time I got on the plane in DC to fly back to Texas, and as I walked through first class, saw a face that looked familiar sitting in the back row of the first section.

It took me a minute to recognize the thin, almost gaunt face, deep blue eyes, and long, curly black hair; and it wasnt until I was walking past him into coach that I realized it was BJ Thomas.

I sat down thinking, "how cool was that." I wasn't shocked; I traveled a lot and was used to seeing famous people.

I used to fly in and out of Nashville a lot, and over the years have seen a lot of celebrities in airports or on airplanes--including John Voight, Charles Durning, Faye Dunaway, Amy Grant, Tom T. Hall.

But it was different with Thomas. Having grown up listening to his music, and reading his book, I felt like I knew him. As I sat in my seat, I remembered his story, and the struggles he had overcome. I looked back at my own life and thought about the path my life had taken in the years since reading Thomas' book.

A couple hours later we landed in DFW and I got off the plane, having forgotten about the famous voice in first class.

I walked to the baggage claim area and waited for my bag.

It's easy to get mesmerized watching that belt go around and around, looking for your luggage. After about ten minutes I looked up and saw that everyone had retrieved their bags and left, except for me. And BJ Thomas.

I walked over to him and said hello. I told him that I was a big fan of his music, and that I had read his book and appreciated him telling his story, sharing his struggles and faith journey.

I told him that his recording of "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" was beautiful; one of my all-time favorites.

Thomas was really friendly; he listened and asked a little about me. Our conversation lasted less than five minutes; his bag appeared before mine and he thanked me for my kind words and said goodbye.

I look back at that conversation every time I hear one of his songs--one of those little moments in life that isn't really a big deal, but leaves an impression, and makes those songs a little more meaningful.


Thursday, January 05, 2012

Belief--from Rob Bell's last sermon at Mars Hill



i write this to you because of how many of you have been
challenged about your participation in the life of this
church, often with the accusation: but what do they believe
over there at mars hill?

as if belief, getting the words right, is the highest form of
faith. Jesus came to give us life. a living, breathing, throbbing,
pulsating blow your hair back tingle your spine roll the
windows down and drive fast experience of God right
here, right now.

word taking on flesh and blood.

and so you've found yourself defending and explaining
and trying to find the words for your experience that is
fundamentally about a reality that is beyond and more than
words.

so when you find yourselves tied up in knots, having
long discussions about who believes what, a bit like
dogs doing that sniff circle when they meet on the sidewalk,
do this:

take out a cup
and some bread
and put it in the middle of the table,
and say a prayer and examine yourselves

and then make sure everybody's rent is paid and there's
food in their fridge and clothes on their backs

and then invite everybody to say
'yes' to the resurrected Christ with whatever 'yes' they
can muster in the moment and then you take that bread
and you dip it in that cup in the ancient/future hope and
trust that there is a new creation bursting forth right here
right now and

then together taste that new life and liberation and
forgiveness and as you look those people in the eyes gathered around that table from all walks of life and you see the new
humanity, sinners saved by grace, beggars who have
found bread showing the others beggars where they found it
remind yourselves that
this
is
what
you
believe.

remember, the movement is word to flesh.
beware of those who will take the flesh and want to turn it
back into words


I recently had a conversation with a pastor who would not do business with my company because we do business with another pastor, whose theology and methods he does not approve.

I deal with people all over the landscape of the Church. I have conversations with extreme fundamentalists and liberals; people who use only the King James Bible, and others who write their own translations; people in churches of thousands, people in churches of ten.

I work with Baptists, Methodists, non-denominationalists, Episcopals, Catholics, Bereans, Mennonites, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, Lutherans, Anglicans, Korean churches, Chinese churches, African-American churches, Latino churches, Emerging Churches, Reformed churches, traditional churches, contemporary churches...and dozens of others.

I see an incredible diversity in what churches put on their "statement of beliefs" pages, and think how amazing it is that all these people are reading the same bible and come up with such different interpretations, perspectives, doctrines and emphases.

I grow weary of the debates among writers and speakers and theologians, the accusations of heresy, the warnings to avoid certain writers and churches and theologies.

So I love Rob's answer to the question of belief. It's about the bread, and the cup, and the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. It's about loving God and loving people.


I am convicted that I do a poor job of this. I need to spend less time reading and thinking and debating, and more time just loving God and loving people.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Rob Bell--Jesus' Humanity



More from Rob Bell's goodbye sermon at Mars Hill:


many Christians are eager to point out that
Jesus said he was the son of God and that's the wedge issue,
the crux of the faith, the divisive point you have to take a stand
on. 

i believe he is. and in the same breath, i remind you that
he also referred to himself a shocking number of times as the
'son of man.' you know what 'son of man' means?

human.
now that's shocking.
take a stand on that.

what he stressed, what he thought was a big deal, what
he called himself time and time again, was son of man.

it is a big deal for a human to be divine, but if
you're looking to provoke, and if you want to focus in on
astounding claims he made about himself,
how about the mind-bendingly revolutionary claim of the
divine being human?

weeping,
spitting in mud,
eating,
drinking so much he's accused of being a drunk,
letting people clean his feet with oils,
inviting people to touch his wounded sides.

humanity, now that's interesting.
Jesus invites us into the full spectrum of human experience,
from lament to exhilaration and everything in between.

from basking in the presence of God,
to cursing at the top of your lunges from the rooftops
because God is nowhere to be found,

shrieking till you're hoarse 'my God, my God, why have
you screwed me'
now that's life.
that's real.
that's divine.

These are the kinds of thoughts that really help me connect with Jesus. Imagining his humanity--that he lived and breathed and hurt and felt and experienced all that I experience. That he, too, experienced God's presence, and the lack of God's presence--just as I do.


There are times I sense God being so close--holding me, comforting me, loving me, encouraging me, guiding me, protecting me...yet there are also times when I feel that I could shout as loud as I can, and still wonder if he hears me.


Times when life just doesn't make sense, and I wonder, "What the heck is God thinking/doing?"


Remembering that Jesus went through all of that helps tremendously. I am not alone. God doesn't just invite me to seek him, he seeks me. He became human and came to me. He took the initiative to know me and love me and be with me. wow.