Where are you God?

Psalm 34:18 The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

“Where are you God?” Am I the only one asking that question these days? I’m guessing surely I’m not alone in questioning God and wondering why He doesn’t jump into this mess that is America in 2020. If there was ever a time, certainly in my lifetime, that we need to see God it seems to be now…and yet He’s never seemed further away. The atheist mocks such a thought I know. Some Christians would chasten me for being weak of faith. Regardless the truth is my faith is as weak as it has ever been. As a result I confess to asking this question/praying this prayer from a position of utter weakness, not strength. The circumstances of our world point today to a godless creation, one full of hate, despair, injustice and pain. Each day seems to bring a revelation worse than the day before. There are problems large and complex that my brain wants to solve, and people of every race and culture my heart wants to engage. I think like many today I am emotionally and mentally exhausted. So while my faith is weak, deep in my soul I know it is also my hope.

I’m reminded this morning I’ve been here before. As I think back on the times in my 51 years I’ve cried this prayer; it’s easy to recall they were times of great disappointment, hurt, and loss. I cried it out for months hoping for a miracle when my first nephew was to be born, but not expected to live. Early in my marriage, when I was first separated from my wife and my one-year old son, in a moment of pure desperation I again pleaded with God to be near. Somewhere in the middle of a church crisis full of broken dreams and plans I asked God repeatedly to show Himself. There have been other times of course of less significance, but it’s those particular moments in time I remember today. They stand out not because everything turned out the way I hoped it would; it didn’t. They stand out because in each case those valleys of life were followed by times of healing. Where was God then? He was with me. I couldn’t see it in the moment, or always feel it in the crisis, but I know God was there – sustaining, providing, carrying, and waiting. Waiting for me to let Him do what He ultimately wanted to do in my life – draw me close to Him.

Where is God today? As a Christian I believe He lives in the hearts of His people. That means the primary way His message of grace, love, hope, and peace impacts this world is through us. Man at times that seems like a terrible plan. Goodness knows we get it as wrong as anyone and too often seem to do more harm than good. That’s a thought for another day. For now, for this moment, if you took the time to read this and find yourself asking a similar question, be encouraged, God is with the broken-hearted and crushed in spirit. God is with:

  • those mourning the loss of loved ones
  • the exhausted health-care workers
  • families fleeing from where they live trying to find better life somewhere else
  • those who have been persecuted because of the color of their skin or where they are from
  • public servants who are trying to do the right thing while facing attacks from every angle
  • those who’ve lost jobs and businesses
  • the homeless living in tents and under bridges
  • those suffering from addictions
  • the abused, neglected, and those seemingly forgotten
  • those walking the streets protesting, and those trying to keep the peace
  • you. God is with even you. Like me you may not feel it, but He’s there wanting you to know the peace, hope, grace, mercy, joy, and love that He provides.

Awake my Soul (again)

You cannot give what you do not have. (Erwin McManus and likely many before him)

Words man, there’s power in them. Power to lift up and power to tear down. Power to bring together and power to divide. Power to heal and power to hurt. We are told to choose them wisely. We were taught not to say them if they weren’t nice. Ancient words tell us that “what comes out of the mouth comes from the heart – that’s what defiles you.” Matthew 15:18. Words, man, words.

Words put to music become lyrics and when done well their power is amplified so that they resonate with people who otherwise wouldn’t listen to whom was speaking, or to what was being said. It crosses through prejudices and bridges generation gaps. Music somehow extends beyond our ears and reaches straight into our souls. At least it does mine.

Awake my soul, awake my soul…where you invest your love, there you invest your life.” I heard those lyrics this past week for the first time in a long time. I didn’t just sing along, I belted out the words and all but jumped up and down in front of the bathroom mirror, which was a little scary because I was shaving. Awake my soul is the current cry of my heart, and well, I guess my soul.

We are living in a time when we desperately need to speak and hear words of truth, hope, grace, mercy, justice, and love. Sadly those words if they are being offered they are being drowned out by hate, anger and derision. I’m as guilty as anyone of railing against the world I see, but (and this is a big but) I recognize that at the very core of my being it is not who I am. I’ve always felt called to try to lift up those around me with words of encouragement and affirmation. I don’t have many talents but in some special seasons of life I’ve had some success doing just that. Today, well today, I can’t give what I don’t have

I can’t give what I don’t have. Anger has taken up a stronghold in my heart and it has choked out most everything else. I was angry before COVID and the last few months have just thrown coal on the angry fire. It’s an inferno. It’s not me, at least it is not the me I want to be. I know I am not alone, many of us are angry right now. Social media feeds and news reports are chocked full of one angry reaction after another. It’s exhausting and its a constant source of kindling. I of course know that it is also true that there is such a thing as righteous anger. At times we should be angry and it should motivate us to act, speak out against injustice, and to try to right wrongs.. Anger though, like words, has power of it’s own and it’s a poison to those of us carrying it around. Anger steals joy and can fill our hearts with darkness. What is in our hearts will eventually influence our words and indeed determine where we invest our love, or worst-case keep us from investing it at all.

I’m done being angry. It is past time to let it go. It’s time to seek what is good. It’s time to remember who I am and whose I am. It’s time to become the person I was created to be – for this time and this place. If you fill led sing with me. If you fill led pray with me – “Oh Lord Awake my Soul.”

P.S. 2021 Goal – see a concert at Red Rocks

Committing to Better Part I

“You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it.” – Margaret Thatcher

I saw a picture this morning on Facebook of my daughter’s life-long best friend. Seeing her smiling face remined me of an experience I had in August of 2015 while driving Sarah from our Kentucky home to her new home in Illinois. Somewhere on a quiet stretch of road lined mile after mile with corn fields, I had one of those moments. A moment of clarity, understanding, and purpose. For me I’ve always considered those “God moments”. The source of revelation seemed especially obvious in that space as my whole plan for the weekend was to spend time quietly reflecting and seeking some spiritual peace. It certainly wasn’t 17 year-old Sarah, who before I could back out of the driveway had popped in ear buds with the hopes of avoiding any “dad talk” she could.

The whole story is too much for a blog. At the time I was convinced it was most likely a sermon, or perhaps even the inspiration for my dream’s work, to write a book. Neither of those things materialized, but it did guide my focus for a time. To make it fit this space I’ll simply share that it all focused on commitment. I needed to fully commit my life to what mattered most to me, because where I found myself at the time was not exactly where I had planned to be. It looked great from the outside but I wasn’t living life fully, and there were massive cracks in the foundation.

So…there I was in late summer 2015 deciding what mattered most to me and to what I would give my energy, passion, mind, heart and soul. I chose:

My God – to be lived out through serving my church. My marriage, to be lived out by being the best husband I could be. My job, to be lived out by trying to do the best work of my life.

fast forward to early May of 2020, having just fought through a month of…I don’t even know what to call it…It was challenging for all of us in unprecedented ways. It has brought out the best and absolute worst of people, myself included, especially the latter. With April behind us I’m once again thinking about commitment and who I want to be coming out of “this”. I’m formulating a list of commitments which was my planned post, but the hauntings of a failed marriage, church without joy, and a job that ceased to exist are challenging my perceived sense of credibility. Who am I to talk to anyone about commitment?

I’ll tell you who I am. I am someone who has tried and failed. I’ve taken steps forward only to fall and occasionally fall hard. Every time I’ve let myself or someone else down I’ve felt that pain. It’s deeper and sharper when it’s someone else I’ve hurt. Those failings and that pain shape me, but they don’t define me. I’ve gotten back up. Every time. That also shapes me. I’m going to keep getting back up as many times as it takes to become the man God has created me to be. I’m going to learn from the past, absolutely, but I’ll live for today as I build for the future. There’s risk in life. There’s even more risk in “living.” The risk of failure, of falling short, of disappointment; that risk pales in comparison to the reward of living a life with purpose and passion. We are not here today in this time and place for no reason. I’m ready to commit to doing my part to make this world a better place. I hope you are with me.

If you’d like to hear part of my recent journey, I had the opportunity to share on the Giving Voice to Depression podcast.

I cannot recommend the online community created by Terry McGuire enough. Find it at https://givingvoicetodepression.com

Life in Quarantine (part 2)

“It’s easy to be courageous until real courage is required” – Erwin McManus

Nobody speaks to my soul like Erwin does.   If you’ve never heard him speak or read any of his books, he is a phenomenal communicator and I highly recommend you check him out.  Last week, however, he had me too fired up for my own good as I was determined to do what I could to save my share of the world.  I wanted to embrace this idea of living courageously and making a difference for good in the lives of those around me.  Courage as I pictured it, would require me to do more, and to be more. 

Splat.  That’s the sound of bug hitting windshield.  (See part 1).  After peeling myself back up off the glass I’ve been giving this courage idea a lot of thought.  I’ve got an image of my childhood hangout, the swimming pool at East Frankfort Park in my mind.  Picture this scene:

It’s a hot, sunny July day.  The stifling air at the East Frankfort pool is filled with the smells of coconut suntan oil, hotdogs, and teenage angst.  There’s a 12-year-old guy standing on the diving board, nervously looking down at the water hoping none of his buddies recognize just how anxious he is.  He can swim.  Well, in truth he can swim if he has to, but he avoids the water at all costs.  For whatever reason he’s terrified of water, but he gave in for the first time all summer to his friends urging him to come hang out with them.  He gave in again to their urging him to the diving board.  Now there he is.  Alone.  A line behind him.  The water below him.  Every eye on him.  What’s a 12-year-old kid to do?  He jumps.

Next in line is a girl around 15.  She’s fine with the water.  Her fear lied in climbing up the steps to begin with.  She’s there now.  Its almost her time to walk to the edge of the board and she knows she will have to let go of the rails and she knows she will feel like she is a mile above the water.  Her heart is pounding in her chest. She just hopes not to barf.  What’s a girl to do to do?  She walks out.  She lets go.  She jumps.

Watching all this is an 18-year-old girl/young woman who has battled body image issues her whole life.  She’s always been “the fat girl” and she knows this because if kids can be anything it’s cruel.  She’s heard it her whole life.  She’s avoided the pool all these years, but this is the start of her senior year and she’s done worrying about what other people think.  At least she wants to be.  She’s beautiful just as she is and she’s really starting to believe it.  What’s a girl to do?  She takes off her wrap, lays back in her chair, smiles and enjoys the sun.

Did I mention the 15-year-old boy who has a huge crush on the girl with the fear of heights?  He’s been waiting for any opportunity to talk to her but just hasn’t found the right one.  In truth he’s had multiple chances.  They sat next to each other in homeroom.  They both were in band and he knew they liked the same music.  Lunch period, after school, moment after moment where he could have said something, anything.  What’s a guy to do?   He grabs a towel and anything but confidently (you can literally see his knees knocking) walks over to the steps of the diving pool.  As she ascends out of the water, he hands her a towel.  “Hi”, he says.

Finally, there’s the mom in the station wagon pulling out of the parking lot.  She’s just dropped her twins off for the day for their first-ever solo day at the pool.  She knows they are old enough.  She knows they are responsible.  She just can’t help thinking “but they’re my babies.”   She pauses, makes sure they get in the gate.  She sees them high-fiving and running off after their friends.  Lifeguard blows the whistle at them, there’s no running at the pool after all.  What’s a mom to do?  She pulls her sunglasses down, takes a deep breath, and drives off.

My question to you reader is this:

Who among those characters was the most courageous?

Can we really judge courage?

If you think swimming pool and courage you probably think of a lifeguard diving in to save someone from drowning.  As someone who grew up at a public pool, I can assure you there was all kinds of courage on display day in and day out, and I never once saw a rescue.

All this is relevant (I hope) because what I said last post is true, we need courageous people in this world.  What I learned or maybe knew but had forgotten was that courage comes in all kinds of forms.  Courage is incredibly personal.  What I struggle with and must find the courage to face, you may not think a thing about.  Likewise, what strikes fear into your soul, or at least butterflies into your stomach, may be a piece of cake for me.  We are all unique creations, and our journeys through this life including what we respond to and how we respond to it are as unique as well. Courage is not always recognizable. It’s surely most often lived out in moments around us all the time and we never see it for what it is.

Front-line essential workers are unquestionably the embodiment of courage in our world today. Don’t sell yourself short though on what you are doing in the midst of this anxious and troubling time. Courage today for many means sacrificing personal wants and staying home.  For someone it may mean asking for help, admitting your struggling in isolation.  For many of us it may mean reaching out and checking on someone even if it doesn’t come easy for us. for all of us it means trusting that this will pass and life will be better on the other side.

I guess this is the ultimate takeaway for me: Love always requires courage. Let’s be loving of others, and of ourselves. While you’re at it…

Be kind to yourself.  Be patient with who you are.  Know this temporary. You can do this as you need to.

As always, remember you are blessed, loved and forgiven – and I’ll add valuable beyond measure.

Life in Quarantine

Sometimes you’re the windshield

Sometimes you’re the bug

…Sometimes you’re the Louisville slugger

Sometimes you’re the ball

          – The highly underrated Mary Chapin Carpenter

There may never have been more appropriate song lyrics to describe two weeks of my life than those above and the past 14 days.  I’ve given up being able to tell anyone “how I’m doing today” because my mental state changes as often as Andy says “social distancing” during his afternoon briefing.  At best I can tell you how I am doing right now.  Like in this moment.  That said, what you say to me next, how you say it even, could send me in a totally different direction.  Simply put, This ain’t easy my friends! 

This isn’t easy for anyone.  Fear.  Uncertainty.  Change.  More uncertainty.  More change.  Loss of life for some.  Loss of life as we know it for all.  It’s in this setting, this season of fear and uncertainty that just a few days ago I was determined to be better…like rise above and conquer the world better all the while inspiring someone else to do the same.  I had started this very blog post in a moment of inspiration, a “windshield moment” if you will, but I never shared it because it didn’t feel genuine even though it’s what was running through my mind at the time.  These were my thoughts on April 4th, next I’ll share a very different perspective I have just five short days later.

 I heard this said the other day: “It’s easy to be courageous until real courage is required.  It’s easy to be a leader until real leadership is required.” 

I was inspired this week to reach out to people most every day just to check in with and on them.  I’ve made a point of going around (from a socially safe distance) of course to each person at work multiple times a day with the hope of bringing just a little life.  I’ve started writing again with the thought if I could add even just a little light into one person’s day it would be such a win.  Those were the highlights of my week, my windshield moments.  God gave me this unquenchable desire to encourage and build-up.  I’m convinced I am closest to becoming the man He wants me to be when I’m daring to live that way.

There were definite bug moments as well where I was splatted against the grill.  A ball hit so hard the cover was knocked off.  All that positivity and extroverted behavior does not come natural to me.  Two days this week I came home and crashed.  Slept, woke up to eat, then went back to bed.  (Emotionally exhausted or not I don’t miss a meal).  My anxiety was fed rocket fuel by putting myself out there and not everyone really wanted to hear from me.  Let me tell you, nothing feels like bug on a windshield more than rejection!  I got mad at my dog, got mad at a person, and complained about them both to other people.  Bad Hobbs, bad Hobbs.

Why do I share all this?  The world right now needs courageous men and women willing to lead, and we all are in positions of leadership whether we know it or not.  Even if you look around and see no one following you; you should, make that you must, take ownership of leading yourself.  The decisions we make today, from staying at home so that others stay well; to taking care of ourselves mentally, emotionally and physically; to being a source a hope and life to those around us; those decisions will shape not just how we get though this crisis, but what we walk out into on the other side of this.

Your world needs you to be courageous.  Your world needs you.  

Life after quarantine

Life is a spell so exquisite that everything conspires to break it. Emily Dickinson

“I just can’t wait for life to get back to normal.”

“I just want life to be the way it was.

“Wonder what my 401K would like today if I could have invested a dime for every time someone has said something like those last two statements the past three weeks? A friend on Facebook yesterday asked the question “what are you looking forward to doing as soon as the quarantine is lifted?” My first thought and response was to eat in a crowded, noisy restaurant surrounded by people. Just being out and about among humanity sounds so good right now.

That said, as I’ve thought more about the question and living life outside these four walls, I think there has to be for me a deeper answer. Someone else told me they are looking forward more than anything to a hug. Makes sense. That simple gesture conveys so much. Another friend was lamenting the loss of a beloved coworker to the virus. Worse, she feared the coworker may have passed without him knowing how much he was appreciated, loved. The last two nights I’ve entered the Zoom world and found it crazy uplifting to connect with people visually and not just by text or call.

I guess what I’m saying is I don’t want life to just go back to the way it was. I believe this time alone can be more a gift than a curse. What if we look at this stretch as a chance to hit the reset button? What if we take the time we have (can’t say we don’t have any) to reflect upon what really matters, what is really important to us? What if once we are on the other side of this isolation and back among the world we simply give hugs more freely? Maybe squeeze a little tighter. What if we become intentional about always speaking words of life so that those in our lives know without doubt just how we feel about them? What if we break free from our devices and screens and really see people?

What if we can be better? (I believe we can)

What if the best days of life lay ahead of us? (Spoiler alert, they do!!)

What if we don’t need to go back to the frantic pace, endless striving, and never-ending quest for more? What if we are all we really need? ( I know my answer, but it takes two to make a “we“)

Connections

Lean on me, when you’re not strong, I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you carry on.  Bill Withers

What a few weeks.  Whew.  I mean really, what a couple of weeks!!  The world as we know it has all but stopped by none of our choosing.  I keep thinking about the Lloyd Bridges character in the movie Airplane.  “Looks like I picked the wrong day to quit smoking….Looks like the I picked the wrong day to quit drinking…Looks like I picked the wrong day to quit sniffing glue”  😊

Seriously, as you well know, the way we live, from what we do, to where go, to how we interact, has been totally altered.  Our large made small connected world has become a danger because of its’ connectedness.  Strangely the best way to be a friend to those closest to us right now is to put as much physical distance as we can from one another.   “Social distancing” and “shelter at home” are phrases that are now part of our daily lives when just days ago I would have said “social distancing” was from the Seinfeld episode with the close talker.

What’s especially ironic for me sitting here in my new Louisville home, is that as February rolled into March, winter into spring, I had crafted a grand plan to “get out there”. I had decided that it was time to get out and about, have some fun, including getting out and exploring my new city to try to meet new people.  I even took the step of getting off social media altogether because I was determined to make real human to human connections and not settle for likes on a post.  Plans on my calendar (some paid in advance mind you), included a trip to Nashville for the SEC tournament, a comedy show, The Lumineers concert at Yum, hiking dates around town through an app I discovered called Meetup, church on Sunday through at a friend’s invitation, Yoga sessions in the Highlands, and an open house/party at my condo for all my new work friends on my birthday weekend.  I WAS GOING TO GET OUT THERE PEOPLE, I REALLY WAS!!!

As you can imagine, while I still got to experience a couple of those adventures, most never happened.  My cancelled plans while disappointing I know are nothing compared to what other people are going through.  I’m blessed if for no other reason that I was apparently the only person in the world who was stocked up on toilet paper prior to all this happening. 

Here’s the thing.  The real thing.  What I’ve learned from my disappointment and from the forced isolation of the past couple weeks is simply this: my instincts are spot on.  My desire to make real connections, to find people with whom to do life with outside a device is absolutely what I need to do.  I’m blessed with a family that would do anything for one another.  My new co-workers are working their way into my heart as family as well.  There is love in my life for sure, but I have more to give.   I think we all do…and that may the real thing #2. 

 If we don’t come out of this as a more compassionate society, a more empathetic group of world-dwellers, a more “love others as you love yourselves” people, then all this pain is just pain.  It’s not a vaccine or bail out that’s going to make the future bright again.  It’s love expressed through basic human connection.   Love given and received person to person, heart to heart.  Generous, sacrificial, nothing else like it love.  Only love can take the worst pain and mold into something beautiful.  Only love can mend what’s broken inside us.  We can’t way for anyone else to do it.  It’s up to us to live and love in ways that make this world a better place.  It’s a lot to risk. There’s no guarantee it will ever be returned, but I think it’s worth it. How ’bout you?     

#BLF

PNW lessons – Do the work

Crisis: A time of intense difficulty, trouble, or danger.

Hope: To cherish a desire with anticipation.

I’m stuck trying to find just the right words to best describe the relationship between the joy of seeing one breath-taking view after another and being out of breath from hiking miles through a forest and/or up a mountain to experience those views.

I want to express somehow, someway,

that I know, deep down inside,

beyond what we may feel moment to moment,

beyond what may seem like undeniable reality,

that the crises you and I have faced, are currently facing, or will someday face,

that there is hope.

Hope.

Not just hope for tomorrow, but hope for today. Hope for the moment. Hope for now, wherever and whatever your now is.

I heard the words that follow unexpectedly yesterday. I’m listening to “The Giver of Stars” by Jojo Mays and I had to hit pause after these verses filled the otherwise quiet space in my house and my mind. The truths are undeniably related to what I’m supposed to learn if not share. Be patient with me while I figure the rest out.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-4 For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

Lessons learned in the PNW – Do the work

Jeremiah 18:6 …You are like the clay in the potter’s hands, and I am the potter.” …

Reminder to self: I am the clay, not the potter.

It was about this time last year when I started thinking hard about where I was and who I was in this life. Wait, that’s not entirely accurate. I’ve been a professional “thinker” about life for as long as I can remember. I’m great at analyzing, contemplating, theorizing, philosophizing, and just plain wishing. Where I’ve fallen short far too often is implementing, working, grinding, and ultimately living.

So let me start again. It was about this time last year when I started crafting a plan to move from where I was in life to where I wanted to be.

Time. My time. Your time. Our time together this side of eternity is…well…it’s not eternal, it’s limited. I realized I wanted to make the absolute most out of the time I have and to do that I needed to get better physically, mentally, and spiritually. Mind, body, and soul became a mantra that would be the foundation for this 50th year of life plan.

Fast forward to a a beautiful day in the PNW. As I stood on top of a volcano in Oregon, amazed at the blessing of the moment I was in, I couldn’t help but think how I got there. Spoiler alert: it took more than thinking and planning. Spoiler alert #2 – While we do the work, we must keep in mind we are the work.

Next time – Do the work part 2

I saw God today (part 4)

What do three Elderly Asian women, an au pair from Poland, a waitress from Tennessee, and a Muslim family enjoying life in a park have in common? They were all answers to my prayer of course.

I fully expected to see God in the mountains and streams. After all there are some prayers I’ve learned from experience that He answers 100% of the time, such as:

Draw me closer to you. Open my eyes to see you working. Let me see you today. All are prayers I’ve prayed that He’s never failed to answer affirmitavely.

To my great surprise on this day I saw God in the people I encountered and the connections I made. That’s a huge deal for me because for awhile now I’ve struggled with people. It’s too long a story for this space but for some time I’ve carried around a lot of hurt, some bitterness, loads of frustration, and a smidge of anger. That’s not a recipe for living a life full of seeing the good in people.

What’s in us will eventually come out of us. How we see the world, how we see people in particular, is shaped by our personal life experiences. In other words the health of our soul relates directly to how we connect and care about the people around us.

If I’m going to live life the way I want to live, the way God intends, I’ve got to do the soul work. That’s a lesson for another day. Today may we all look for God in the people that cross our paths. What a difference it made on a Sunday in Seattle. What a difference it could make today.