Friday, November 13, 2015

Do Miracles Still Happen?

CS Lewis said, "Miracles do not, in fact, break the laws of nature."  Turning water into wine seems to break the laws of what's possible, or certainly the realities of what I've ever experienced at a wedding.  There were plenty of people in need when Jesus attended the wedding feast.  There were the least and the lame waiting for a miracle.  Yet, this is where He started, reshaping the natural laws He created, providing happiness and hope, the celebration and dancing echoing into the night.

I know of a young mother whose light had dimmed to a flame, flickering.  She swallowed the last of what she wished would snuff the flame dark, the life-pain numbed for good.  She was found before the flame extinguished.  She was miraculously offered another chance.  Her mother prayed hard. He seemingly answered.

My kids pray for anything -  mountains to move, storms to calm, the sick to be healed.  My prayers have either matured or regressed into carefully only asking for us to be aware of God's presence in the pain.  It's like I'm expecting the worse to be worst and asking God to simply not abandon His promise to not abandon us.  Do my prayers reflect a deeper theological understanding of why bad things happen?  Or, am I hedging my prayers to allow God an exit strategy, for Him not to deliver?  Perhaps my prayers should be more child-like, full of unbridled hope, expecting the supernatural power of the Spirit in every situation.  Jesus prayed for the most.  His closest friends confidently prayed the same.  Why do I pray for anything less?

I know of a young family who has experienced a roller-coaster of emotions as their to-be-born child was declared no more, but then he was still there, and life continued.  I prayed alongside them.  And when the news of new life arrived, I simply breathed relief.  Why hadn't I fallen on my face with praise for the miraculous?  Maybe I don't always believe it will truly end well, that a miracle might really occur absolute.  Author Brene Brown calls it foreboding joy - the abstinence of experiencing joy in anticipation of something bad that's sure to come. 

Christian leader Edwin Louse Cole said that expectancy is the atmosphere for miracles.  Maybe I forebode miracles.  I find it in the trivial as I watch with angst when my favorite sports teams approach an important victory and all that I can envision is the impending heartbreaking last-second loss.  And I find it in the significant as I simply pray for contentment rather than asking God to use me in a "let's-go-ahead-and-part-that-sea" kind of way.  What if I asked and led and the sea didn't part?  Sometimes I settle and just ask to be content seaside watching the enemy approach, foreboding.

I know of a father estranged from his daughter who was in an accident.  He drove the long drive to her bedside, not knowing if he'd find her on this side of life when he arrived.  We prayed.  She lived.  I haven't asked him much about it since.  Tragedy thwarted, I gave God an affirming nod and slumbered back into the busyness of what matters less.

Pastor and author Andy Stanley cautions us to not miss the undeniable for the unexplainable.  These miracles, my everyday, are undeniable, beyond the explainable.  I should be running the rooftops of the city, shouting praise to a God I know for the miracles I've seen.  It's not that I fail to see, it's that I fail to name them and give praise to the One who lavishes us with countless miracles each day.  Too often, I take God for granted.  I want to live in expectancy, soaking in the wind of miracles blowing across the landscape of my life, constant and God-breathed.  It's true that miracles do not break the laws of nature, they are inherent in our nature, intertwined living, moving, and being.  

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Because I'm Happy...

My youngest son is on the verge of moving from the wonderful, magical, whimsical place of early childhood into the next season of youth where the murky layers of the world begin to appear.  Sometimes, I want to freeze time and keep him in this special place where the world is a playground and happiness is around every corner.  He teaches me to be lite and free; to be happy.

New data from the World Happiness Report confirms that we, as a country, aren't faring well in understanding how to be happy.  As reported by Jo Craven McGinty in the Wall Street Journal, these reports affirm the old adage that money isn't everything.  John Helliwll, co-author of the report, notes that "Even if you have a very good measure of the economy, it still wouldn't capture all of life."  While the United States ranks first in the world in GDP and eighth in GDP per capita, we rank 15th in happiness.  According to the report, Switzerland, Iceland, and Denmark round out the top three happiest countries in the world.  As a society, we measure, analyze, and create a process for everything.  What are we missing?  McGinty writes," The problem is that while incomes in the U.S. have risen, the country's sense of social cohesion has declined, said Jeffrey D. Sachs, a professor of healthy policy and management at Columbia University and co-author of the report." 

My youngest son lives in the moment.  He doesn't worry about what's next nor does he ruminate on what's past.  He dances randomly.  He laughs, a lot.  He lives life the same as he eats a meal, slowly, savoring each tasteful moment.  At times, I'm almost done with my meal before he's had his first bite.  I'm rushed.  He's intentional.  I pray that I'm not living life the same; rushed and unintentionally absent, chasing happiness when it's sitting on the bench behind me, quiet.

The Atlantic recently asked the question, "What Can we do to be Happy?" at the 2015 Aspen Film Festival.  The answers were profound. 

  • "Slow down... [it's about] carving out spaces in your day to do nothing."  Suleik Jaouad, journalist.
  • "When you ask people [this question] they always talk about relationships..."  Robert Putman, Professor, Kennedy School of Government
  • "Assume the best of about others."  Eli Finkel, Professor, Northwestern University
  • "Stop worrying about being happy... [happiness] is not something you chase in and of itself, it's something you welcome when it shows up on  your doorstep for no reason..." Jennifer Senior, journalist
  • "There are more important things than being happy... [America] is too obsessed with being happy..." Paul Bloom, Professor, Yale University
  • Pete Mcbride, documentary filmmaker said that he's worked for National Geographic and has traveled to over 70 countries noted that oddly the happiest people he's seen in the world are those who have very little.  He says that they have the important things, like family, friends, community, food, and shelter, but they are not drowning in material items.
Sometimes, when my youngest is unhappy, I want to buy him something to make him happy.  I know this is thin and temporary, but I still take this shortcut.  This makes neither him or I happy.  It pacifies. As a society, do we just pacify our days with stuff while chopping the roots of happiness at their relational core?  We are hard-wired by our Creator for relationship.  When I'm unhappy I need to remember just that - I'm designed for relationship and given an identity by my Creator, all rooted in trust.  My youngest trusts me as I trust God, all relationship woven in this innate faithfulness.

Dr. Sachs contends that our country's seeming decline of happiness begins with distrust.  "If you ask can you trust other people, the American answer has been in significant decline... Even though the U.S. is very rich, we're somehow not getting the benefits of all this affluence." 

I am the primary earner in our family.  However, my youngest son is rich with life.  Thankfully, joy spills and our family is better for it.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

A Country Morning Run

I am reading a book that won a Pulitzer Prize.  I am more comfortable with lazy reads, something about a boxer's brutal battles or a slugger's heroic home runs.  The Pulitzer Prize winning book is lofty and heady and amazing.  I enjoy the read.  I'm not certain that I should enjoy it, as if people who read Bleacher Report are not permitted to gaze at such grand literature.  The words from the Pulitzer Prize winner's pen are elegant and provocative.  She writes of a season in the woods and nature shaping everything spiritual.  I read it slowly.  I'm stalled by some words that I don't recognize.  I don't know whether to stop and find the definition of the unknown word or whether I should just continue reading.  Most of the time, I just continue reading, as if stopping will reveal my ignorance to someone unseen.  When I visit the library, I don't ask for help either.  It's as though asking for help will uncover my sparse library attendance and the library folk will peer over the tops of their Pulitzer Prize winning books and stare me out of the building.  Sometimes, I pretend.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported  that Roger Federer sustains greatness, in part, because he is such a good loser.  He reflects on defeat only for a moment to draw out any valuable lesson and then he simply moves forward.  Tom Perrotta writes, "It isn’t uncommon for a tennis champion to master the art of losing. A player who dwells on defeats puts both confidence and ambition at risk."  Federer, he argues, is uniquely different.  The wins and losses do not define him.  He plays his game and carries on.  There is no need to pretend or to dwell on regret.  He just shows up and does the work, playing the game before him.

Running is my therapy.  During a recent morning jog, I turned the corner of a country road and arrived at the simply miraculous.  The landscape framed a tractor sitting in a freshly cut field to one side and the overgrowth yet to be cut on the other, work completed and work to be done.  The sun had risen just above the hillside, igniting the morning dew into works of fire, the tops of the blades of grass glimmering and flickering as if it had been timed for my viewing with a cosmic countdown to launch.  It was a God moment, to be sure.  Him, not audibly speaking to me in a James Earl Jone's tone, but awakening my heart with a thought.  God reminded me that the field is His, these endless seasons of planting, growing, and harvesting all orchestrated by a Grand Design.  The farmer, different with each generation, shows up daily for the task.  The farmer tills, the Creator produces.  As I ran further, I smelled a country breakfast wafting from the farmhouse.  The farmer would be getting back to the work in the field only after beginning the day with his family gathered.  God reminded me, there is a time to till the fields, there is a time to gather with those beloved, and all time is for sharing.  I couldn't create that moment.  God gave me a scene beyond the most extravagant artists rendering and a message that resonated deep.  It's as if He said, "All of this is mine.  These fields.  This life.  I am authoring a story greater than you can dream.  You are not the writer.  Yon only need to awake, gather, and tend to the field that's put in front of you today.   There is no need to pretend.  Don't let the wins and losses, the bountiful harvests, nor the lean seasons define you.  Life is not a race or an emergency.  You are a part of My Story, not the other way around.  This moment is for you.  Stop running and smile.  You are mine, completely defined, loved, and known.  Be with me in this extraordinary supernatural country morning setting, my son.  Breathe deeply.  When you are ready, let's continue this run together, not missing any of these moments along the way."

Sunday, June 21, 2015


"Politicians hate to speak about their vision of America's immediate place and role in the world for several reasons," writes Peggy Noonan (Wall St. Journal, June 6-7, 2015).  "They have risen in the ad hoc, provisional, moment-to-moment world of daily politics.  That life teaches you long-term plans don't have to be part of your long-term plan.  In foreign policy especially, declaring a clear stand wins you committed enemies and tentative friends.  Best to dummy up and speak in generalities."  Noonan writes reviewing Time columnist Ian Bremmer's new book on America's foreign policy.  They contend that Presidential candidates are hesitant to answer the question of which approach America should take toward the rest of the world in our new global realities.

I am a recreational runner.  I am not gracefully gliding to victory like local star athlete Josh Beck.  Unlike Josh, I get slower with age, not faster.  I plod along trying to run off the cheese steak I shouldn't have eaten the night before.  My knees and ankles creek, crack, and cry for me to elevate them on a recliner instead of going another mile.  Like Josh, I get to experience the runner's high.  It's the time during your run where you feel empowered and energized in every facet of the human experience.  Physically, you're strong.  Emotionally, you're content.  Spiritually, you are connected.  All is well with your soul.  And still, I hit snooze too often, choosing to delay the short-term investment that will result in long-term gain.  I only flirt with commitment. 

Noonan argues that leaders on America's political landscape are failing to choose a path.  She writes, "President Obama himself has never chosen or declared a foreign-policy vision, which made nothing better and some things worse.  The worst choice now... is to refuse to choose.  We can't just continue improvising - that has become dangerously confusing to our allies, our rivals, and ourselves."

My wife carries a lot of self-imposed guilt.  She works part-time, mothers full-time, and feels like she isn't doing enough in either role all the time.  Author and speaker Margie Warrell penned an open letter to working moms in Forbes, telling them to stop "shoulding" on themselves and stand confidently in their decision to work outside the home.  She argues that while there are trade offs to any decision, women must clearly understand why they've made the decision and then accept and celebrate the journey along the path they've chosen.  My wife misses some Saturday activities because she is working, however my kids learn a great deal about work ethic, entrepreneurial spirit, serving others, service, creativity, and leadership because of this trade off.  They learn about commitment. 

Jesus' antics would have been a nightmare for a PR firm. He went too far in his statements, calling himself the Son of God and such.  He was too far left (love others) and too far right (love God) and was unconcerned with the polls.  He was committed only to his God-given mission and called others to the same (surrender all that you hold important and follow me).  What Jesus did bring was a clarity of vision.  He understood his identify, embraced his purpose, and stepped obediently into a risky future.  It wasn't easy.  It his last hours, Jesus prayed for another way.  In the book of Matthew, Jesus told his friends that he was "overwhelmed with sorrow" and prays "My father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me."  Later, he continued, "if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done."   Jesus chose a path and was undeterred in his commitment.

Whether it's a commitment to exercise, aspirations of a Presidential hopeful, our personal identity and purpose, or our faith journey, may we confidently choose a path.  The world calls us to be uncommitted as to not be boxed into a position.  Let's get out of bed even when it's hard and we feel like sleeping in with the masses.  Lace up our shoes.  Walk out into the new day.  Commit to something. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

At 40

I turn 40 today.  It doesn't seem very old.  At least not as old as it seemed when I was 20.  I'm eager to have my family wake and welcome the homemade cards from my sons and homemade treats from my wife.  Although, it feels like 40 is supposed to mean something more. It feels like I should be enlightened or I should be coming to some new understanding of life.  I'm not finding anything profound.  It feels the same.  Alarm.  Journal.  Coffee.  Sunrise.  A day filled with tasks to complete.  It feels routine.  Yet, I know that I've changed much of late.  God's been doing soul-dredging work, releasing anchors, and freeing me up to consider life differently. A few of those considerations...

At 40, it's fairly safe to assume I won't make the NBA as I'd dreamed as a child.  However, I never imagined I'd realize a dream much better - watching and attending games of all sorts with my sons, us high-fiving, cheering, and soaking in the moments.  There isn't much better than this.

At 40, I realize how idealisitic I was at 30 and how selfish I was at 20.  In the decades prior, I'd often thought that I had it all figured out.  Now I realize how much I did not know and how much I still do not know.  I now look ahead, eager to learn, grow, and lean into the person God created me to become.  Then, I'd arrived.  Now, I'm becoming. 

At 40, I realize the miracle of my marriage.  In our youth, my wife and I made decisions we would now undo, if one could undo the already done.  Some of those decisions turned into baggage that we unknowingly carried into our wedding day.  We didn't unpack those bags for the many of the early years of our marriage, the neglect creating more baggage.  With God's amazing grace, we've been unpacking in recent years or, at times, just dumping suitcases of messiness and then dealing with the clutter.  As the song goes, we've been "broken together."  The baggage strewn about has been a difficult, beautiful mess.  We once sat with a couple much older and wiser than us and the husband said that he loved his wife so much differently than he did in their early years - more than he knew possible.  It was a deeper, soul-melding love, he said.  I didn't know what he meant at the time.  I do today.

At 40, I'm rejuvenated with the therapeutic joy of running.  Over the past four years, I had stopped running distance races as I told myself that I was no longer able.  In the past 5 months I completed two half-marathons because I told myself I will.  The stories we tell ourselves, particularly those about ourselves, guide and govern our reality. 

At 40, I hear politicians promise of a new tomorrow.  I heard the same at 30 and at 20, only then I believed them.  I realize that our political leaders can help create frameworks for civility, but that our lust for power and position always gets in the way.  Well beyond my political affiliation, I'm more committed today to a greater call humbly stated centuries ago when Jesus challenged us to love God and love people.  Do that, he said, and everything else falls into place.  It does.

A friend sent me a text last night that read, "We are the same little kids we were at 12, but much, much wiser and blessed beyond what we are worthy!"  I think back to those days as a 12-year-old.  We were running go-karts in the rural fields of Newville.  We were waging basketball wars on driveway courts.   We were young and alive and innocent and strong.  At 40, I realize the it's the moments that count.  Each day is a gift, not to be stored or shelved or held tightly, but rather each magnificent day is to be opened with anticipation and savored with gratitude and held lightly, as if it weren't ours to own.  It's to live openhanded.  My kids feet bounce down the wooden stairs now.  Another day, never routine, begins anew.  I am 40 and I still have much to learn.  God is still working.  I am still learning.  Life isn't what I demanded at 20, dreamed at 30, or expected at 40.  It's more.  And I'm blessed.      

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Diner Talks

Sometimes my friend Vern looks like he's been to hell and back.  And he has been.  He has enjoyed the spoils of the good life and he's scrounged for his daily bread when the good life stopped giving.  Through all of the peaks and valleys, Vern has kept his family in tact.  He is known to his family.  They know God.  They persevere.  So, when Vern told me about "diner talks" with his kids, I listened.  A "diner talk" is a time that may be called for by the kid or the parent.  It's simple.  You go to a diner.  Preferably on the back of a Harley Davidson motorcycle.  You order greasy food and coffee.  And you talk.  This may occur at any time of the day or night.  And any topic is on the table.  Emotions can run free.  Doubts and fears are welcome at the table among the drops of turkey gravy and spilled coffee creamer.  A diner talk is a way to make it safe to talk about anything.  It's a time of being together, to mentor one another, to listen and be heard.  It a time of being vulnerable and real.

My friend Ryan has been to Africa and back.  He says that in Zimbabwe 75% of families care for at least one orphan.  Compare this to the US where less than 1% of families care for at least one orphan.  Ryan says that the local church in Africa is exploding and that they are best equipped to address the orphan crisis.  Ryan is Harvard educated and has tremendous potential to do, well, anything.  He started a non-profit called Forgotten Voices International and they partner with the local church to create custom plans through quiet investments that produce sustainable income for orphans in Africa.  Ryan started his organization after soaking in the depths of the orphan crisis and then spending significant time asking questions of the local church.  He knew that the answers were to be found in the listening.   Ryan says  that one African pastor told him that for 20 years he had watched mission initiatives come through to help fix the needs of orphans and that no one had ever asked him what he thought about the issue or how to best address it.  Ryan asked and listened.  Since that time, thousands of kids have been helped by Forgotten Voices, via the local church.

There are these two guys, trained as pastors, who've gone all-in with their careers and started a non profit called Someone To Tell It To.  They sensed that there are too many  wounded and broken people who have no one with whom they can share their struggles.  They have this radical idea that everyone should have a place to go to be heard and valued.  They have an even more radical idea that when people go to this place of safety to talk and to be counseled, that they shouldn't have to pay.  So, they started an organization to listen and to teach others to listen.  They go around speaking to groups and tell us that it's important that we humanize the workplace, the neighborhood, and the home.  They say it's important that we listen to one another.

I had a diner talk with my oldest son some time ago.  It was special and significant.  We haven't made it a routine. I need to do that.  He's years older now.   My youngest son heard of this diner talk of which we spoke. He felt he was ready.  He marked it on the calendar and asked if we could go for our own diner talk.  We went to the Waffle House.  He had chocolate chip waffles and Mr. Pibb.  We played Florida Georgia Line on the juke box.  We listened to each other.  It was special and significant. 

Harvard-educated Ryan recently gave a talk where he challenged the audience to stop looking at those in need as people we needed to fix, but rather as brothers and sisters who have the answers.  What if we spent less time aiming to fix and more time asking questions?  What if we spent less time writing checks void of emotion and more time sitting with people and listening?  What if we spent less time judging our neighbor and more time knowing our neighbor?  What if there were less waiting lists of kids who need mentors and more waiting lists of mentors ready to serve kids?  What if there were no need for orphanages because every child had a home?  What if we made time for more diner talks? 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Finding Peace in War

You could hear a pin drop in the theatre as American Sniper concluded.  The audience worked it's way out into the snowy night.  We scraped our vehicles of ice and ventured onto the slippery roads, likely the most dangerous trek most of us would take in some time.  Soon we'd be home, safely in the suburbs, tucking our kids into bed, over-indulging on a late-night snack, and praying to God for more safety and more blessing and more goodness and more indulgence tomorrow. 

War is horrible.  It shaves off layers of humanity and exposes the darkest, most harrowing, and desperate side of our souls.   And as our selves are laid open raw, feats of courage and heroism beyond our human capacity emerge.  Sometimes things must be broken before they are restored.  We are the same.

It's sad, all this fighting on Facebook with everyone taking up their arms to name the cowards, this side or that.  Bombs are dropped from planes and missiles are launched from keyboards and the casualties are many. 

I went to see the movie with a former Marine.  I'll never know his experience. I am thankful that he served.  I am thankful that he's now home raising a wonderful family.  I work alongside a military veteran everyday. Today was the first day I thanked him for his service.

Years ago, I heard a pacifist pastor teach that he believes God values life in every circumstance.  He closed by raising the question, "If someone stood by the water supply for your community, prepared to poison your friends and family, what would you do?"  Most agreed that we value life and that we'd be prepared to protect life.

The talking heads in the media work to sell advertising.  One of the best ways to do this is to draw a hard line in the sand and ask us to choose a side.  They want a fight, and we oblige battling each on social media.  Hiding behind screens, calling out cowards, the hate masked in righteousness. 

I pray often for peace as I live in the brutal reality that is our world and the hatred that is ingrained and rooted generations deep.    Yet, I believe that there is a future hope that involves His Kingdom coming and His will done on earth as it is in heaven.  I believe there is a future hope absent of world wars, free of Facebook fighting, and where every tear is wiped away. 

After seeing the movie, I won't set my sights and focus my scope on those with whom I might disagree.  Rather, as I better understand the tough, ambiguous decisions that must be made on the battlefield, I will pray for their service and their safe return.  As I better understand the families at home who sacrifice at levels most of us will never understand as their loved ones serve, I will look for ways that I might love and support them.  As I better understand the mind-jarring difficulties of PTSD and the hope of recovery, I will empathize with their pain.  As I enjoy the benefits of freedom, I will consider the cost.  And as I better understand the depths of depravity that is our world, I will further long for the Prince of Peace who has overcome death and will restore all things new.