Friday, September 29, 2017

Belonging

At age 22, my supervisor asked me what I hoped to become.  I said that I just wanted to get married, buy a house with a yard, have a few sons, and coach them in Little League.  I've achieved my dreams.  I am so grateful.

There are many goals I have yet to accomplish, influence to yield, and work to be done.  However, my aspirations have now moved toward the second half of my life.  My vision for the future remains simple.  I want to be one of those guys who gather at a local coffee shop, breakfast diner, or gas station and meet together.  They drink coffee, talk High School football, forecast the weather, bark about the next generation, and reminisce.  Or, at least I think they do.  I'm not yet included, so I am not certain.  But, I hope to be a part of this someday.  Another 15 years or so, I suppose.

Most of my dreams are rooted in being a part of something.  To belong.  Throughout most of my life I've been partially committed to many things, rarely "all-in" with any particular group or movement or circle.  During my most selfish and isolated years, I lived by the mantra spouted in the classic move Heat where Al Pacino says something like, "don't ever have anything in your life you can't walk away from in less than 15 minutes if the heat rolls in."  I thought that was cool, independent, free.  It's desperately sad.  As I matured, I broke down some walls and let those closest to me in... sometimes.  There was always a longing to belong to this group or that and, at the same time, a fear of the risk involved when you really love those who belong with you, for you.  The belonging not guaranteed.

I know many adults still carrying baggage from decisions in the rear view.  At times, I share their story.  Almost always those decisions were made in a misguided effort to belong.  To a person.  In a family.  Alongside a group.  As part of a movement.  To be wanted.  To be valued.  To be known.

It's a search for identity, really.  This arduous trekking toward our true identity is generationally ingrained, parentally instilled, environmentally influenced, and socially contextualized.  But mostly, it's spiritual.  What are we searching for?  Comfort?  Purpose?  Peace?  Simply to be known?

Author and Counselor John Eldridge writes, “The problem of self-identity is not just a problem for the young. It is a problem all the time. Perhaps the problem. It should haunt old age, and when it no longer does it should tell you that you are dead.”  Fathered by God: Learning What Your Dad Could Never Teach You    

I believe that we only ultimately find our true identity listening to the small, still voice of our Creator, whispering through the Fall leaves for us to be still.  To know.  Calling us from the passing clouds to look up.  To see.  Through the noise of the forest, rustling us awake to His presence.  To become. 

I also believe God calls us, as fathers, to instill in our children, as imperfectly as we might, a sense of belonging.  That they might know we're proud, our love unconditioned by sports performance or academic prowess.  That they might sense, in the depths of their soul, that their is nothing they could ever do that we might love them less.  I pray my boys know this.  I pray that I know this.

Eldridge continues, “Without this bedrock of affirmation, this core of assurance, a man will move unsteadily through the rest of his life, trying to prove his worth and earn belovedness through performance or achievement, through sex, or in a thousand other ways. Quite often he doesn’t know this is his search. He simply finds himself uncertain in some core place inside, ruled by fears and the opinions of others, yearning for someone to notice him. He longs for comfort, and it makes him uneasy because at thirty-seven or fifty-one shouldn’t he be beyond that now? A young place in his heart is yearning for something never received.”  

May you find your place this week.  In true community with others.  In deep relationship God.  And may we be a springboard for that deep assurance of having a place, of being known, to others - looking them in the eye, letting them know they matter.  Every.  Single.  One.

      

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Significance

With all the smart talk of the importance of being present, I still find it difficult to be in the moment.  As I've aged, I'm certainly more aware, more thankful for the moments passing.  Yet, I still fight anxiety because I know the moments are fleeting.  Like I am not getting the most, or, worse, wasting.  It's the end of a delicious steak dinner and I'm wondering if I rushed it, not savoring its essence.  Or, worse, not fully appreciating the time and attention given to the recipe, not appreciating the imagination of the Creator chef, me all-consuming and insatiable. 

I've noticed the passing of many great people over the past year.  Their remembrances are grand, like parades or simple short blurbs in the local journal.  In either case, it seems their faces fade too quickly.  The world turns.  All of that work, striving, trying to please - honored by signature remarks.  And gone.

I sit with a group of esteemed professionals talking through a book about living intentionally.  We all want significance.  It's not as much about the story we're writing, it's about why we're writing in the first place.  These lives, all matter.

For years, my wife and I would take our kids to the pool and look longingly at the parents sitting in reclining chairs reading leisurely, their children off.  This year was the first year that when we made our first visit to the pool our kids were gone and we were left sitting quietly.  We could read, talk, or do whatever we wanted.  I wondered where the time had gone. 

I've spent too much time, I reckon, thinking about what's ahead and what's behind.  Forging along without regarding or holding too tightly to the tide going low.   Not enough time simply being.   Here.  Now.  

I sat in a backyard concert tonight listening to a future-star Jeff Campbell.  A lyric struck me.  "I'm me because of you."  I am me because of God's saving grace.  He's whisked me from the mire, standing me straight again and again for something I don't yet see clearly.  Purpose.  I am me because of my wife.  She's summer and sun and light in my darkness.  I am me because of family.  Friends.  Paths crossed that seemed without regard, but significant. 

It's all we can do, I suppose.  Appreciate the now.  Figure out our why.  Understand why we're who we are, becoming.  Our legacies are there, in the story, ripples of eternity in each conversation, in the moments.  I pray we see them and know that He is doing more than we could know or imagine.  Hope.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Throwing Too Hard

We were up early on a Saturday morning to run a family 5K.  My wife had to work in the afternoon, but we had four unscheduled midday hours.  We put off chores and were just home.  It felt calm but unproductive.  Rest.  Is this what our life has become?  A sliver of peace found in inadvertently unplanned hours in between literal and figurative races and work.  We wanted more.

Author Shauna Niequist tells about a time when she was with friends discussing the future.  "One friend said that a way to get at your desire or dream is to answer this question:  if someone gave you a completely blank calendar and a bank account as full as you wanted, what would you do?  The first thing that leapt into my mind:  stop.  I would stop.  I would rest.  I would do nothing at all." (Present Over Perfect, 2017).  Is this what our culture has become?  A longing for quiet, simple rest - a desperate search for peace.

Noah Syndergaard is a starting pitcher for the Mets.  He's young, strong, and strikes people out.  He's an energy booster to the already rushed hours of the Big Apple.  During the off season he added 17 pounds of muscle and stated that he wanted to top the coveted 100 MPH mark on more pitches this season.  Baseball loves flamethrowers, speed, velocity.  Even at the risk of shortened major league careers because human arms aren't made to throw 120 pitches every few nights at speeds approaching triple digits.  Still we want more.  And youth baseball rewards it.  And most young pitchers that throw that hard for that long in their early years are working in sales before they ever see a baseball scout.  In a recent outing Syndergaard felt a pull, a tightening.  The team recommended an MRI.  He refused.  Instead he went out to pitch again.  He's a hero - playing through the pain, ignoring the warning signs of fatigue.  Synergaard's next start was shortened as the pain pulled him from the game and further testing revealed a lateral muscle tear, his season over.

Niequist vulnerably defines her addictions to performance even when it was detrimental to her well being.  "I thought I needed to be fast and efficient, sparkly and shiny, battle-ready and inexhaustible.  There was, I will be honest with you, a lot of pressure from all sorts of places.  I could be those things and so I was, and then lots of people told me I had a responsibility to do more and more and more.  For a long time, I listened to them."  She continues,   "But what I've learned the hard way is you don't answer to a wide swath of people and their opinions, even if they're good people, with good opinions.  You were made by hand with great love by the God of the universe, and he planted deep inside of you a set of loves and dreams and idiosyncrasies, and you can ignore them as long as you want, but they will at some point start yelling.  Worse that than, if you ignore them long enough, they will go silent, and that's the real tragedy." 

Great stress relievers for me include running and writing.  Sadly, I often turn both into performance metrics, never content with the process, always frown-faced over more miles that could have been logged, more pieces that could have been published.  Never enough.  There is more to do at work and at home and when you're running crazy and keeping busy there isn't enough time to run and write and breathe.  I know it's too much, not healthy and whole.  Yet, things need done.  The fields need harvested and the workers are few.  And the busyness numbs.  Like the food and the drink can, it soothes.   The busyness feels a bit stressful, but eventually it makes you feel less of anything at all.  It masks real relationship for plastic productivity.  And there are seasons in my life when I've grown accustomed to not feeling anything.  Pitching through the pain.  Refusing the MRI.  Losing a season on the bench because I was bull-headed and prideful.  The crowds always applauding me for pitching a few extra innings beyond the allotted pitch count (capacity), until I couldn't.

This isn't about the number of events on the calendar, committee meetings attended, chores marked off the list, or hours logged at the you-name-it.  It's about presence and the peace that's found in just being.  The best times cannot be manufactured, they're organic.  The memorable moments kindle, flame, and bright embers fade into the starry night like a campfire.  Unique, mysterious, magical, beautiful, peaceful, and fleeting.  They're not reproducible. They're God-given and plentiful, yet easy to miss.  I've missed many moments, enjoyed many others.  This season I plan to pitch to my capacity and to ask for help from the bullpen when I need it. I'm going to try and not miss the perfectly green grass of a freshly cut infield, the smell of popcorn and peanuts at the ballpark, and the sweet crack of a wooden bat on a baseball.  I won't miss these things trying to throw 100 MPH.  I will be just where I am, imperfect and present.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Belief

"Not everyone’s gonna believe, but that’s OK. They’ll get there when they get there."  10-year-old Anna Beam, when facing skepticism about her miraculous cure (Miracles from Heaven, 2016).






There is much time and money spent on positioning for our belief.  This is politics.  And some types of marketing. And almost all cable news.  At worst, it's propaganda.  At best, just groups of people drawing very tight circles around their perceptions.  We all believe something even beyond that of public policy or personal consumption, we believe something about life's biggest questions, about meaning.  As Tim Keller notes about faith, even non-belief is belief in something.  We commit our lives somewhere, to a certain set of beliefs.






"I want to believe." The poster hangs in Fox Mulder's office in the TV Show the X-Files, depicting his insatiable quest for truth.






I recently co-taught a Sunday school class with my wife.  We read an except from Heaven is for Real, the account of one child's sneak peek into the afterlife.  We asked the kids what they thought about account.  One young man raised his hand and said, "Here is a fun fact, that book is totally made up.  His Dad made him say it."  Not the start to class we were expecting.    We redirected the conversation from the authority of the book to what they thought heaven might be like.  They excitedly talked over each other for the next 15 minutes.  The kids painted a fantastic image of what heaven might be, a glimpse:




- angels
- gardens and grass
- raindbows and trees
- people from history
- throne for Jesus
- extinct animals
- waterfalls and wildlife
- big churches and the disciples
- colors
- music and flowers
- acceptance
- light all the time
- no fear or sickness
- large temple insidea  golden kingdom






One young man schrunched his forehead, widened his eyes, and responded as if he'd given deep thought to the question many times before.  "There would be a long table. There is food and drink.  The table just keeps getting bigger as more people come.  Anyone can come.  The food never runs out.  No one feels like they shouldn't be there."  And we're left speechless, kids teaching us extraordinary faith.






In this age of internet paranoia and fear-based revoluations, the innocent hope of children is refreshing, like waterfalls and wildlife.  In Matthew 18, it's recorded that Jesus said unless we embrace the humility and faith of children, we'd never see the kingdom of heaven.  I think pure belief  children bring was refreshing for him too, like rainbows and trees.






"Ya gotta believe."  The rallying cry of the '73 Mets prompting a late summer tear back into contention. 






When I'm approach the tee box, I'm hoping the ball doesn't careen off a tree or another player, imagining that it might.  I don't believe that I'll hit it 300 yards down the middle of the fairway.  And most times, I don't.  The worst part of my golf game and, at times my life, is my unbelief.






A child's imagination constantly reshapes what is into what could be, like having a table that only grows with provision in a world of hungry people.   Jesus often made a point to recognize the faith of others.  Notable faith almost always preceeded miracles.  I wonder if that's why Anna Beam was healed.  Or the Mets climbed back into contention. 




Author Donald Miller said "One of the things that gives me hope is that even with all the tragedy that happens in the world, the Bible says that when we get to heaven there will be a wedding and there will be [celebration] and there will be dancing."  This, I believe.


 



Sunday, December 25, 2016

I Believe That We Will Win

This Christmas morning is peacefully surreal alongside a strong sense that something's about to burst.  Like a sunrise, Light about to consume all the shadowy dim.  I'm Christmas-morning excited to watch my family wake with wonder.  I'm filled with life-worry.   I'm wide awake, teeming with anticipation about what's just-around-the-corner in the next season of this gift of a life.  I'm tired and can't sleep.  I'm deeply present in our home, comfortable.  I'm distracted, pushing back the could-haves and should-dos, shushing them quiet.

Everything accelerates just before it slows.  Like Christmas and the New Year.  It's frantic, giddy, full with lists and lights and then it's quickly quiet.  Like January mugs the magic of December.  And we box up the glittery happy, for another season.

Can we hold onto this just a bit longer?  The friends for dinner even when it's inconvenient, the small significant talks with the kids before bed even when it's past time, the waiting hopefully expectant?  We intend to keep it - the happy - the candles and the Silent Nights.  Yet the blistering ice rain still blows in, winter feels like forever, we can't believe summer is almost gone, and where has the time gone?  They'll be setting up for Christmas soon, we say.

My kids make fun of me for my ignorance of their music.  I didn't know about Ju-Ju or his Beat.  However, they do listen to some lyrics with deep truth.  This, from the artist, KB,

Hold the torch up high in the thick dark
The dream works no matter how bad the pics are
Cause I see how bad the globe is
But they don't know how bad our hope is
They don't know how bad we want this
It ain't where we at boy it's where we're going!

Tell the paraplegic that he gon' dance
Tell breast cancer that she won't win
Tell racism that he gon' end
What he doesn't heal now... he gon' then
Let's go!

I believe that we will win...

I do believe that we will win because I've found a Hope deeper than my troubles, like grace waves that wash away the trampled sandscape of life - a smooth canvas for another year, unwritten.

Author Ann Voskamp writes, "The world will be still tonight.  There will be lingering.  Longing.  We will long for this wonder to all go on.  One Christmas candle will flame in the quiet.  This cannot fade - none of this can ever fade.  'For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given (Isaiah 9:6).  God is with us.  God stays with us.  The Christmas candle burns hot, give its Light, gives its Light - and the world lights up, and Christmas goes on forever now." 

And this is how it's kept, how we're kept, all believing that we will win.  Our Hope greater than our fears. 

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Hope in the Policitcal Storm

This piece will run immediately following the election.  I wonder what everyone will do with their revolt, their angst when there is no opposing candidate to target?  What hate will be left to tweet, what positions left to loudly defend?  A pastor friend says the disease of the American middle class is this anger churning just below the surface, eating our souls, and inviting us to numb it away.  This election peeled away the layers exposing that anger, letting the seething discontentment with our comfortable lives ooze. In turn, we blame the open wounds on our neighbor, placing fault anywhere but at our own feet.

Recently, there was a panel discussion on the epidemic of opiate abuse in our county.  Dauphin County Coroner Graham Hetrick asked a question beyond the symptoms, getting to the heart of the matter.  "Why in the history of mankind, the freest and richest society in the world has a large part of its population trying to anesthetize itself to the point they can no longer breathe?"  Perhaps it's this rage against all that's wrong, once provoking us to stand for something that's right.  Now all but snuffed out, there is only a dull trance of disillusionment that remains.  And we try to buy or drink or busy our way from remembering.  We rally and hope a political superhero will lead us to enlightenment.  We conform to the comfortable.

Muhammed Ali rebuked conformity.  The boxing elite stripped him of his titles, the world spewed hate at his values, and he spoke unwaveringly, "I don't have to be what you want me to be.  I'm free to be what I want."  When our hope is built on foundations stronger than political platforms, we are indeed free to be what we want.  Or better, free to whom we've been created to become.

Vin Scully, iconic baseball broadcaster, gave a commencement address that was profoundly simple.  "The world will try very hard to clutter your lives and minds,' Scully told [the students], but the way forward was to simplify and clarify.  'Leave some pauses and some gaps so that you can do something spontaneously rather than just being led by the arm.  Don't let the winds blow your dreams away... or steal your faith in God."  (Sports Illustrated, May, 2016).  Our political season is indeed very noisy.  I pray the winds of rhetoric don't blow away our remnants of hope, faith, and trust. 

I'm disappointed when I have to filter the political ads my children watch on TV because of the content.  I'm saddened that my wife and I have to explain to them the complexities of having to cast a vote for something bigger than just a single candidate, because we find it difficult to support either person given their childish antics.  Yet, we don't want our kids to rage against the machine.

We recently named a new pastor at our church.  His acceptance speech was modest.  He said he was humbled.  He said he was excited to serve alongside this church family.  He said we'd disagree at times, but that we'd learn to navigate through our differences in a loving way.  He said he'd try, imperfectly, to be as faithful to us and to God as God has been to him.   

Perhaps this is our way forward, post-election.  May we be humble.  May we be excited to serve alongside one another.  May we approach disagreements with grace.  And may we try, imperfectly, to be faithful to ourselves, to God, and to our country - as He has been to us.  



 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Waterpark Vocations

I recently went to a waterpark with my family.  It was a great time of laughs, "Dad-watch-this" moments, overpriced hot dogs, and lines that were long but allowed conversation with the kids, so I don't lament.  Throughout the day I notice the music played throughout the park consisted of a 90's playlist.  My kids never heard of many of the songs and told me to stop singing along; I was embarrassing them in front of these strangers they'd never see again.  The music sent me back to my twenties.  I felt relaxed.  I was selfishly free during that season of my life and didn't think much about vocation.  I also didn't carry around the anxiety produced from over-analyzing meaning and purpose that I can drag with me as an adult either.



Philosopher Soren Kierkegaard said "What I really lack is to be clear in my mind what I am to do, not what I am to know... The thing is to understand myself, to see what God really wishes me to do... to find the idea for which I can live and die."  The tension between what we are and what we could be has existed for centuries. Although today we seem to place the ultimate priority on calling.  Identifying and fulfilling one's purpose is a good thing.  Although I wonder if the more we elevate this, the more angst-producing pressure we put on ourselves and others.  I recently heard on the radio that a hyper-focus on calling creates an ideal for the next generation that's quickly disillusioned upon their entry into the real world.  The radio host said that while he believes he's doing what God's equipped him to do, he still only really loves his job some days, is neutral about it most days, and sometimes simply tolerates the work.  His point was that work is often less idealized calling and more mundane, the latter of where God often shows up and we miss Him while frantically looking for the former. 



I wanted to bottle up and keep the feeling at the waterpark.  Everyone had smiles.  I thought that must be a great place to work, everyone all happy and helpful.  I worked at places like this before.  It still seemed like work.



I am constantly looking for meaning in my days.  Am I doing what God's called me to do?  Have I overlooked a God-inspired vision for the sake of comfort?  Am I making the most of my minutes?  I know that I've always wanted to be a Dad and God's blessed me with this.  Andy Stanley said that sometimes our legacy isn't the careers or organizations we build, but in the children we raise.  This gives me hope.  (Semi-spoiler alert for When Breath Becomes Air)... Neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi faced death and wrote this to his newly born daughter, "When you come to one of the many moments in life where you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man's days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more but rests, satisfied.  In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing." 



Paul's words resonate with me.  I love being a Dad and it feels like I'm fulfilling some kind of Divine purpose.  Perhaps the lesson is that our universal calling is to find God's purpose in all of the relationships He's placed before us.  Maybe we need to look at our interactions with our spouse, children, in-laws, colleagues, rivals, and friends with an eternal lens - to stop searching for grand meaning for our lives and invest in the now, to be deeply interested in the face across the table.  That may just be an enormous thing.