Monday, April 15, 2013
I was recently involved with a team of folks who planned an event called, Curing the Epidemic: Rewriting the Story of the Fatherless Generation. We were bringing in a dynamic keynote speaker and had a full weekend of events planned. The goal was to raise awareness of the fatherless epidemic, resource people with mentoring tools, and to inspire people to action. The events were held during the first weekend of April and all went swimmingly. The following week, a gentleman whom I met at the event contacted me for more information about our local mentoring efforts. He asked me what my metrics for success were for the recent weekend of events. Upon reflection, I realized that my metrics for success had changed. I'm a planner, a detail guy. Originally, I had outcome goals for the events that included attendance, number of new mentors, and financial support raised. However, I realized that as the event approached, my metrics for success had changed. They transitioned from quantifiable outcomes that we had some direct control over (increased attendance through increased marketing) to simply moving forward. This event, and this mentoring initiative, was so much bigger than our planning team. We sensed momentum behind efforts to address the fatherless crisis and stepped into planning an event that we believed might be a catalyst for community action. We had zero dollars to do this. We had insufficient manpower to pull this off. And, we were skeptical of how many men would come out on a Saturday evening to hear the keynote speaker (our skepticism reached new heights when we realized that we planned the event to parallel the tip-off of the Final Four). Our metrics for success moved from controllable outcomes to a commitment to the cause. We didn't know what might happen, but we felt a calling to step forward in faith.
At one point in the event planning, we envisioned hundreds of men and women showing up for the keynote event. We reigned in our expectations to more conservative 100-150. We were close, but we didn't reach the conservative goal. During the planning phase we also talked of the exposure we'd gain when thousands attended the Senators game on Friday night where we were the featured charity of the night. Instead, attendance at the game was unseasonably low due to a cold front. Yet, we gained so much more than sheer numbers. There is the guy who shared that after years of wrestling with his views on faith, the events of the weekend gave him new clarity on God's love for him and affirmation of his place in the world. There are the two gentleman who have requested follow-up conversations about fostering the same kind of community momentum in their large, urban, Pennsylvania communities. There is the business guy who had always supported our mentoring efforts financially, but gained renewed vision for his call to invest intentionally and relationally in mentoring, both with a fatherless child and with his own children. There is the single mom from Alabama who emailed us saying that she sees the devastation of fatherlessness in her own family and in her own community and that she wants to have further conversation about how she, too, can step into doing something about the crisis. There is the wife that emailed us to say that her husband is considering mentoring and that she is excited about what this will mean for their family. There is the pastor who has consistently cast vision for his community to consider mentoring that was inspired to directly step into a mentoring relationship himself. Our metrics for success changed to simply being a part of the stories that were unfolding. We don't know the rest of the story for each of these individuals, but we know that we were present in a chapter. And that's enough. The bigger story is for another Author and our role for that particular weekend may have only been to show up. And I'm glad that we did.
My wife and I enjoy the TV show, Shark Tank. If you haven't seen it, a number of investors ("sharks") hear entrepreneurs pitch their business ideas seeking investment capital. One of the regular "sharks" is Mark Cuban, entrepreneur and owner of the Dallas Mavericks. On a recent show, Cuban declined to invest in a business opportunity that he initially really liked because the business owner had a hobby of doing marathons. The marathons were a part of who the owner was as a person and it even tied into his passion for the venture that he was proposing. Cuban said that the marathon hobby would potentially pull the business owner away from unhindered dedication to growing the business and he wasn't interested in investing in anyone that wasn't willing to put absolutely everything behind the goal of business growth and success. Cuban and the business owner shared a very different metric of success. In a recent article in Bloomsburg Businessweek, Cuban said, "My self-motivation is a) fear of failure and b) a desire to win." He continues, "Every one of my companies, whether something I started or something I invested in, is a scoreboard. How am I doing?" Cuban has a very clear metric for success. While I have great respect for Cuban, I'd argue that when our metric for success is only a relentless focus on winning and the scoreboard for our lives is reflected in financial statements, it's life itself that's lost.
We have friends who are considering selling their home and moving to another house. I've known many, including myself, who have moved to another house for a better location, more square footage, updated furnishings, or a more elegant home design. They are moving for none of those reasons in and of themselves. They are considering moving, in spite of significant financial constraints, because they feel called to use their gifts of hospitality and relationship to connect with others. And, with four young children at home, their current house simply doesn't allow for inviting others in. So, they're going out. They are extending themselves because they think that having the opportunity to walk both with their friends as well as their neighbors they've yet to meet is important. They believe that a metric for success in their family is presence and they are creating an environment for that to occur.
I recently told our Physical Director at the Y that, after a gluttonous vacation, I needed to lose 5 pounds. He explained to me that while weight loss may occur, I might reconsider my metric for success in different terms. He explained to me that I might instead focus on my percentage of body fat instead of straight weight. He tested my body fat composition and unfortunately I still had some work to do, however my metrics for success changed.
What would our lives look like if we reconsidered our metrics for success? Too often, our metrics are only tied to quantifiable, controllable outcomes. I am planning an event and need to have 250 people attend. I will invest in this company or initiative only if there are significant financial rewards. I will work hard so that I can purchase the next big home, car, or life for myself. I have to lose 20 pounds before beach season. While these all might be admirable goals, I believe that it's important to consider our over-arching metrics for a successful life. British author, G.K. Chesterton said, "The modern world has had far too little understanding of the art of keeping young. Its notion of progress has been to pile one thing on top of another without caring if each thing was crushed in turn. People forgot that the human soul can enjoy a thing most when there is time to think about it and be thankful for it."
This isn't to say that we shouldn't work hard and have clear goals. Believe me, I'm a chart-oriented, data analyzing, S.M.A.R.T. goal guy. I look for trend lines in how well my wife and I are communicating (although when we aren't communicating well, my trending analysis seems to make the disconnection worse). However, I am saying that our driving metrics might not always be performance based after all. Instead, our metrics may be more guardrails that keep us present in the game of life and allow us to show up, lean in, and be a part of a Bigger Story. Victor Hugo, French author, said, "Have courage for the sorrows of life and patience for the small ones, and when you have laboriously accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace. God is awake."
Friday, February 22, 2013
I recently had the privilege of being on a conference call with Dr. John Sowers. As an author, president of a national mentoring organization, committee member for the White House Task Force for Fatherhood and Healthy Families, and someone who has been named a White House Champion of Change, Dr. Sowers words carry immediate credibility. The call was a preparatory talk in advance of our conference on the fatherless epidemic in April. We talked of the national epidemic of fatherlessness and its impact on society. Dr. Sowers noted that the city of Chicago has instituted stringent gun control and other policies to curb violence. Yet, Chicago continues to be a national leader in youth violence. Only recently have city leaders started to unpack the idea that those involved in the violence are often fatherless youth joining fatherless gangs shooting other fatherless youth. Sowers says, "The root cause of this rage is often relational brokenness." Countless men and women in our society carry the oppressive weight of guilt, shame, regret, confusion, and isolation that is mainly rooted in relational brokenness. Often this brokenness is birthed from a dysfunctional or complete absent relationship with a parent. It's only when another steps into this mentor role and reestablishes identities lost that the resiliency to find a deeper, more meaningful life emerges.
The Y links arms with other community partners to administer the Mentoring Project. It's in this work that I've found a common thread among fractured hearts - Just this week I sat with a wise older man who shared this: "I grew up with a Dad, but I didn't have a strong relationship with him. I don't think that I ever heard him say, 'I love you,' to me or my mom. That's just the way he was. He worked hard and provided for us, but we never connected. To this day, when I see a commercial about a deep father-son relationship, I'm in tears. Here I am a man in my 70s still longing for that connection with my Dad." This story is written in countless ways throughout our culture. It's tragic. And, it's crushing our communities. .
Resilience is a powerful word. It's the ability to recover readily after a negative experience. It's buoyancy. Whether we innately possess it, find it along our journey or are taught it by another, resiliency is a critical component to our health and well-being. Resiliency as the antidote to many of the maladies of life has strong support in contemporary academia. Daniel Goleman talks significantly about emotional resiliency in his work on emotional and social intelligence. Brene Brown speaks openly about shame resiliency in her latest work, Daring Greatly. And, of course, Rocky Balboa talked about resiliency throughout his quest to find himself.
In Rocky I, the underdog fighter Balboa took on a great challenge and fought valiantly without ultimate success. Throughout Rocky II, his mentor continues to convince him that he has the capacity for more. As Rocky III begins, Balboa surfs the crests of success and embraces the confidence that his mentor has instilled in him. He's a unstoppable champion. However, once his mentor suddenly passes away his confidence is lost and he is a badly beaten former champion. Fear and self doubt wash away courage and hope and Balboa's identity is lost. The turning point of the film is when Balboa, with the help of his wife, stops running from his lost identity and the fear that now defines him and instead turns to face the demons. Roosevelt said, "The credit belongs to the man... who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; ...who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly." Balboa found the triumph of high achievement as well as the resiliency to get back in the arena after failure. His mentor taught him this.
Some say that kids have a great ability to be resilient so that when dad checks out, they can simply pull themselves up by their bootstraps and be This rarely happens without someone sacrificially investing themselves into the child's life. Consider this recent interview with former Heavyweight Champion Mike Tyson: .
Katie Couric: Why were you violent toward everybody?
Mike Tyson: I don’t know. I hated myself and I just wanted someone else to feel that pain…. I was just trying to bridge the gap between who I was and who I wanted to be… Cus [Tyson's mentor] was the only father figure I ever had [Cus passed away when Tyson was a teenager]...
When fathers are absent, the soul suffers. When relationships are broken and people are isolated the heart withers. As others step into our lives and affirm our God-given identities, souls are resurrected, hearts come alive, and lives are transformed. Mentoring matters. The challenges of life can quickly submerse us and we're left longing to breathe. Our buoyancy is found when another offers an outstretched hand and pulls us to the surface. Bob Goff says, "God never looked in your mirror and wished He saw someone else." As we discover that truth, our capacity for resiliency grows, born in relationships with others.
I hope that you'll join us as we welcome Dr. Sowers on April 6 for a keynote address entitled "Curing the Epidemic: Rewriting the Story of the Fatherless Generation." For more information or to register, go to www.justshowingup.org.
Friday, January 25, 2013
Author Daniel Pink tweeted today that 50% of individuals under the age of 27 in this country don’t have a job. I suppose that’s why we received over 50 qualified resumes for a recent job posting at the Y. It’s a difficult time. It’s even more difficult for those growing up without a Dad in the home, almost 1/3 of the youth in our country living in that suffocating space. According to research, “Young men who grow up in homes without fathers are twice as likely to end up in jail as those who come from traditional two-parent families… (“Father Absence and Youth Incarceration.” Journal of Research on Adolescence 14 (September 2004). The dark clouds can loom for all of us. Just this week at work, I learned of difficult marriages, dying grandparents, aging in-laws, and the loneliness of families separated. These are the things that are tossed around in my mind, like damp clothes in a dark dryer, when I’m focusing on the troubles abounding. When I wake at 3:00 a.m., my mind racing and my heart picking up the pace, I wonder why I’m not resting well and I realize it’s the persistent anxiety rooted in these messy stories of life that surface in the cold, dark hours before dawn.
My friend and colleague stood before Kiwanis and preceded stories of mentoring relationships that are blossoming with stories of those youth who fell through the cracks. They need to know that this work of youth development and life transformation story isn’t mathematical, the formulas don’t always compute. Rather, it’s a journey, a standing in the ditch with another and pointing to something Greater, something hopeful. It’s a choice to be present, to show up.
Esquire.com recently reported on a high-calorie dish to be avoided at all costs. Or, at least consumed sparingly and on the rarest of occasions. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s annual “food porn” list, the Cheesecake Factory offers a 3,020 Bistro Shrimp Pasta. The accompanying 89 grams of saturated fat apparently can stay in a person’s arteries for up to five days. Just reading the description makes my heart constrict, although I remain not-so-secretly tempted to try the dish. Our choice to regularly consume any unhealthy, fat-laden foods is to our detriment. Life context mixed with daily choices is always writing our story, or we can choose differently; new choices writing a new ending.
As I watch throngs of people join the Y in the New Year with intentions of resolution, I realize that life is all about our choices. People join the Y choosing to pursue healthier lives; many make the ongoing choices to remain, even when it’s difficult. Some choose to leave as life-waves of business drown out their desire. It’s all a choice. Sometimes it’s a choice over which we have some control or action, often it’s a choice in how we view the circumstance or respond. Either way, it’s a choice.
Author Ann Voskamp says, “You don’t get to make up most of your story. You get to make peace with it. You don’t get to demand your life, like a given. You get to accept your life, like a gift. Beginnings and middles, they are only yours to embrace, to unwrap like a gift. But you get the endings. You always get the endings. You get the endings and you get to make them a gift back to the Giver.”
Our stories, these daily opportunities for choice - they’re all gifts. Life is messy and it’s not easy. Voskamp notes, “Isn’t everything that is good always hard?” Kiwanis and many other community social clubs can choose to fade slowly into American nostalgia; instead they choose to continue to do the hard work of coming together and giving back for the greater good. We can choose to ruminate on the rashes of bad news spreading through our screens, instead let’s choose to see the bright glimmers of hope and grace and good that permeate the dark. We can choose to over-indulge on American excess, instead let’s choose simplicity, presence, and selflessness. We can choose to numb and medicate our discontent with unhealthy pursuits, instead let’s choose wellness from the physical surface down to the depths of the heart. Let’s spread these life-giving choices to one another, standing together in the messy middles with hope and welcoming these endings (always begetting a new beginning) with gratitude.
Wednesday, January 23, 2013
I recently had the opportunity to attend a meeting at the Kiwanis Club of Carlisle. This is a cheerful bunch, beginning the meeting by collecting “happy dollars” and ending it with the “jester” reciting a humorous thought for the day. Like many service clubs, it’s a gathering of folks keeping alive some of the constructs of what made our country great – social clubs, volunteerism, and a linking of arms for the greater good. The club members meet weekly, making a choice to sacrifice time and energy that might be spent inward and pouring it out, into the lives of community youth programs for the betterment of others. I had the opportunity to humbly and graciously accept a donation of support on behalf of the Carlisle Family YMCA for the Mentoring Project. I thanked the group and said that their choice to support the Y helps rewrite countless stories unfolding at the Y every day. I said that the Y isn’t about a building or a structure, but it’s about creating a space where people can come together and pursue healthier lifestyles, where they can choose to come in the hope of something more, and where they can choose to embrace the life story they’ve been gifted; sharing, celebrating, and encouraging each other along the way. All of this blending and collaboration creates a stronger community, these relationships are the underpinning of our moral fabric.
READ THE REST OF THIS POST AT Y TALK...
Monday, January 7, 2013
24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! 25 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? 26 Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?
27 “Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 28 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. 30 For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.
32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor.
I used to be a goal guy. I'd type a list of quantified goals, sometimes laminate the sheet, and keep it in a desk drawer or handy place where it could be referenced. This is what the business books taught. This goal orientation was the yellow brick road to success, all paved with 7 habits. I can't say this wasn't helpful. It was. The road to success books offered practical tips that taught me things about efficiency and effectiveness. The goal driven life increased my organizational health, just as time on a treadmill increases my cardiovascular endurance. The problem became when I failed to step off of the treadmill. The speed always increases in small, almost unnoticeable increments. The incline always ratcheting up a notch. I was running faster and was certainly in better shape. Yet, life was increasingly faster, steeper, and I was out of breath.
We used to have about eight large pines that lined our back fence. They provided privacy and a bit of shade. However, they had been planted too close together and were choking each other out. They were out of breath. They were growing taller, reaching skyward, but becoming unhealthy and frail from the overcrowding. Last year, we cut them down to the stumps. We haven't been able to get the roots out as I now realize how difficult it is to remove a base of roots that run deep. You need a powerful force to pull them out. My small tools weren't going to do the job. However, the first step was simply cutting down the trees, the next will be to remove the roots, and ultimately we'll plant a garden there. Removing the trees changed everything. The view from our deck is now an amazing picture of God's artistry, open fields lined by mountains, the sun setting nightly in marvelous multi-colors.
God's been doing some deep tilling of my heart over the past two years, digging out deep roots that were choking out life and new growth. My striving and reaching tall cut down, providing a new perspective, a better view. I'm glad that God's doing the heavy lifting of removing the roots. My tools don't suffice. He has a garden of new growth planned for my rock-strewn heart, I'm certain. Yet, for now, He stands with me and points to the fantastic view, much clearer now with the fallen trees. The roots will go, soil tilled, seeds planted, and new life will come forth, all in perfect seasonal timing. For now, there is this view.
My goals this year are more dependant I suppose. That word, dependant, all tarnished by our culture as a label for the weak and the lazy. I've thought and prayed about these goals, should we even call them that. They're more focus areas, I guess. They include to leave nothing unsaid, to listen to my wife beyond her words and in tune with her heart, and to look my children in the eyes more often - so that they know and so that I hear. Finally, to work with God in the heart-tilling, I'll look to apply Andy Stanley's heart cleansing initiatives of forgiving, giving, celebrating, and confessing. All of this coated in the Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness.
I read Luke 12 today and saw it. I've read these "do not worry" verses many times and always focused on the anti-anxiety directive. I knew of the reminders that God cares for the birds of the air and the flower of the field. What I had previously missed was what creation does to find God's favor. Well, they do nothing. Jesus says, " Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them." The birds, they're not achieving goals, yet God provides for them. Jesus continues, "Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these." The wild flowers dont' work, they simply live sun-seeking. Jesus even plays the Solomon card to separate the beauty of and care for the flowers from our culture chase of piling possessions for position. They do not, yet... God does.
Seven days in, I've had two opportunities to hear my wife's heart. Both times I drew her into the courtroom of debate, telling her that her words weren't logical saying, "let me explain this to you rationally." Fail. I do not have to get it all right, yet God does. I've hollered discipline to my kids, telling them of their failings to clean their rooms led to a ridiculously messy house. All the time missing eye contact and meaning. Fail. I am imperfect, yet God is perfectly gracoius. I've spoken passive aggressively instead of directly and have thought little about the four heart remedies after I finished the book and replaced it on the shelf. Fail, fail. I do not, yet God does. Yet, I'm not out of breath. In all these failings, I'm not resigned to throw in the towel on these goals. Because I cannot apply them on my own. He will. And, for now, there is this view that's amazing.
Wednesday, December 26, 2012
My in-laws were in town over Christmas. Being from Florida, they dressed in layers to stave off the cold, but they enjoyed the blankets of white covering our time together. Having in-house babysitters allowed my wife and I to go for a run on Christmas afternoon. It was a good time to connect, talk, and spend some time together sans children. As we ran back toward our house, we traveled by the picturesque Boiling Springs lake. I barely noticed. I was busy rehashing the moments of the day, both good and bad. I was analyzing the interactions of the family, assessing the mood of the kids, and sharing my observations on our joys and struggles. My wife stopped running, turned me toward the lake, and simply said, "look." The scene was beyond words: with dusk as the backdrop, the lake sat silently on Christmas Day framed by luminaries and dusted in snow. It was peaceful. I almost missed it.
I have this pastor friend who has a thankful heart overflowing, always spilling all around. I wonder, at times, if he isn't just telling himself that the days are great and that the things of life are good. The saying it out loud convincing himself that this could really be true. My skepticism tries to uncover something beneath, parts of life built on sand and not Rock. I don't find it. Instead, I find genuine struggles always immersed in thanksgiving with a constant turning to what's true, holy, and praiseworthy. This friend recently traveled to see extended family over the holiday. As his family stopped for an overnight stay in a hotel, they were surprised by a room upgrade and some gifts of hospitality. This is what he posted on Facebook, "Thank you Father for showing us such grace, love and sweet compassion. Gifts that come from your hand, ones that we don't purchase or orchestrate are the best! Thank you for Jesus the best one of those ever!" I must say that I, too, would have appreciated the unexpected hotel room upgrade. Unfortunately, I'm not sure I would have immediately attributed this to a gift from Jesus, given to his child to enjoy and appreciate. Yet, it was. And he saw that. And he was thankful. I may have missed it.
There is this guy that I work with whose heart isn't two sizes too small, it's more likely two sizes too large if that's possible. He's a big, burly guy with an even bigger heart. Sadly, this Christmas season has been filled with worry and angst over caring for a family member in the hospital. Over the past few weeks, the prognosis has turned from hopeful recovery to preparing for the worst and back again. Splitting time between the hospital and work hasn't allowed ample time for him or his family to prepare to receive the season. In fact, his family spent their Christmas eve attending a small service at the hospital chapel with 7 people in attendance. After the service, I received this text from him: "Just came back from the chapel at Hershey Medical Center for their Christmas service. I hate to admit that this Christmas has not been one that I have had time to prepare for and my Christmas spirit has been lacking. The Pastor's message emphasized that the shepherds night was nothing special until an angel appeared and told them that Jesus our savior was to be born tonight. It as just what we needed to hear as we have been focusing on [our family member's] health and feeling guilty for not exercising our regular duties as parents, grandparents, and children to be ready for Christmas. It is a very special night and I would like to wish all of you and your families a Merry Christmas! With the love provided by Jesus, " Yes, that's a really long text. He's relatively new to texting and can't get enough I suppose. Beyond texting, what he found here was the true meaning of that special night. Years ago, the world found Meaning in a stable. My friend found the same in an empty hospital chapel. In that situation, one might have been overwhelmed with worry and grief over the health of my family member. He was overwhelmed by the gift of a Baby. He saw the Light in the midst. I hope that, given the circumstances, I would see the same.
As mother-in-laws go, mine is a gem. Upon visiting, she brought six tins of freshly baked cookies, all delicious. She only really enjoys watching sports on TV. And, even though suffering from vertigo, she proceeded to do two, 360 degree slam dunks on the basketball hoops in our kid's room. She's a bright spot. Brighter, I hear, since she found a relationship with Jesus that she discovered a bit before I knew her. My in-laws traveled by car from Florida. During the long drive, they had much to consider. The tragedy in Connecticut had just occurred. The same day their neighbor, dear friends, lost their son in a car accident. Her sister-in-law struggled with news of an illness. Sickness and death loomed, darkness knocked. Yet, she arrived, as she does, with good cheer, her joy contagious. Her mood isn't pollyanna. It's Christ-deep. Amid the dark, she just couldn't hold back her smiles of spending time with grandchildren and of the great God-gift of a white Christmas given graciously to a Floridian. She's constantly stepping out from under the dark clouds as she knows that Sun is always above the clouds, passing. I want to always move the same way, walking toward the Light.
As this Christmas fades to memory, I'm so thankful for these grace-lessons from God. I'm thankful for these people, and so many others, who bring the Gospel message to life for me. God is always filling the gaps in my hardened heart with love and peace as witnessed through others. Moving from one year to the next, I pray that I don't miss it, these opportunities to reflect Light, moments to let the Gifts saturate, the times to see beyond. God, may I always turn from my running toward the lake, from my self-focus toward the still waters, peaceful and unchanging.
Tuesday, December 18, 2012
Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. Psalm 42:5-6
We so easily go inward, making it about us. My son wakes with worry this morning about a task that he has to do at school. The task is one of celebration, but the worry insulates the gift of giving and exposes raw our downcast souls only to how they might be affected. I looked at the clock last night at 3:40 a.m. with an anxious heart. With so much around me to both celebrate and simply engage in, the digital red numbers on the clock flash only warnings of my discontent. My son and I agreed to pray for one another throughout this day, reminding ourselves before our Creator that our hope is in Him and that we will choose joy-giving and praise-giving both when He does and when He doesn't.
It's the looking out that changes everything. My pastor friend says that our spiritual formation is shaped in the triangle of up (praise), out (service), and in (discipleship). Today, my day began with my coffee, a Bible, and Psalm 42:5-6 illuminated on my phone as the "verse of the day." I found the verse in the tattered Bible and sipped the precious gift of fresh, hot coffee. A note was scratched by the text that read, "turn fear to praise... verse of the day on July 7, after restless night." I wrote another note beside the one from July. It read, "again, fear to praise 12/18/12." Fear, worry, doubt - all elements of an anxious heart are served daily for our consumption. They are served hot and ready by a world that's searching for Hope, looking inward, fumbling around in the dark only to realize that the furniture has been moved. A quiet voice asks us to turn on the lights so that we can see.
And if fear is our consuming, then praise is our giving. Praise is the giving of ourselves with humility to be loved unconditionally, awed by grace. Service is the giving of what's been given to us, turning the Light on for others to see. Discipleship is the giving of what we've learned, the sharing of our stories, and the hearing of the Quiet, Still voice through the stories of others. It's all about the giving.
We sat by the breakfast table on a recent Saturday morning. We ate by the fire and talked of preparations for family arriving, Christmas plays at school, and holiday parties. To quiet the Christmas noise, we talked to our children about giving. Trying to teach them in the midst of what can easily become Christmas chaos, that it's really only about the giving - His to us, ours to them. We weren't sure how well our young sons would grasp the concept of giving to others in lieu of a present to share with a friend. We sorted through the Compassion Gift Catalog and explained to our boys three gift options that our family would consider: one a gift for a single mother and her young baby, another for emergency meals, and a third for the creation of safe places for children to play. Our boys asked questions of why and where children couldn't just play safely outside. We talked as the fire flickered and the coffee grew cold. Our boys chose a gift to help create safe playgrounds for those without. We'd count the change in our family loose-change-jar and offer these gifts of safety and nature to children we'll likely never meet. Our boys disappeared, returning later with dollar bills they'd tucked away in their rooms for a special occasion. This was such an occasion, this was a time to give. Aren't they all, really? As He gives, so shall we. They understood.
The anxiety of our souls dissipates in the giving. My pastor friend recently told me during a run that it's really difficult to be anxious when you're deeply thankful. Yes. Jesus said as much. May we drink deeply from the same cup of thanksgiving.
This season, consider looking up in praise, stepping out in service, and diving deeper in(to) relationship with a God whose love is unwavering. We can do all three when we give. The children orphaned by Aids are blessed when we do. Those served in Haiti by this life-giving minstiry are thankful when we do. And, the fatherless youth in our own backyard are mentored when we do.
It is all about this, the giving.