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When it doesn’t make sense

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When it doesn’t make sense

Ever prayed for something REALLY HARD (whatever that actually means) and it didn’t happen? Ever think you heard a crystal clear message from God, then turn around and walk right into a brick wall? I found myself in that place a couple weeks ago. And I wasn’t alone. My family had joined my sister Danielle and many of her close friends in prayer for a man we didn’t know. Jim. He had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. But our Savior defeated death. He healed the sick. And He told us that we would do greater things than He had done while He was here. So Danielle and I, along with so many others began to pray. Personally, I prayed with more faith and confidence than I ever have before. And so many amazing things happened. Miracles happened. God gave amazing messages of power and faith to Jim and his family and to Danielle. And to me. But Jim kept getting worse. It’s ok. We know the darkest night comes right before the dawn. God won’t share His glory—maybe He’s waiting until ONLY He can get the credit. I’d be ok with that. At that point, I actually stopped praying. Not because I didn’t believe anymore. Just the opposite. I stopped because I believed it was already done. I had a pretty strong assurance of that. I actually couldn’t pray in the Spirit anymore. To continue felt faithless. Like I didn’t believe Him. That was weird for me, but I trusted God with that. Two days later, Danielle let me know that Jim had died. What??? Yeah, but… (sigh) I have to be honest. That confused the crap outta me. And I didn’t  accept it because I felt like God had given me a different script. No improv, God! It helps to have trustworthy brothers and sisters in Christ to be able to lean on when your legs wobble. Big props to Clemmy, Frank, Nikki, Melinda, Christopher, Lisa, Rick, Eric and Bellami. You guys listened to me and let me vomit all of that doubt and confusion in a safe place. You were the body of Christ to me. Thank you. Conversations like those helped. I was encouraged to know others had wrestled with similar circumstances. And I felt like I was getting at least closer to where God wanted me on this, but I knew I was still totally missing it. Something was really off. I knew I was on the wrong track, but I had no idea how to get off or how to get on the right one. And of course, I wasn’t the only one. Danielle took a few weeks to process Jim’s death, and the other she sent this email out to those of us who had prayed. It didn’t answer all of my questions, but it helped me. She gave me permission to include it in this post. I’m not sure if you’ve ever been in a place like the one I’ve been in lately, but if you have, I hope Danielle’s wisdom and faith and perspective will help you too. Praise the One who has saved Jim from death Hi friends, Yesterday I was watching the weekend I had held my breath and waited for, fall apart, hour by hour, as plans were canceled...

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Gossip Girls

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Gossip Girls

As I walk the last of our dinner guests out to his car and wave goodbye, my attention is stolen  by my giant stirring neighbors. It’s both unseasonably warm and unseasonably windy on this mid-October eve. The Oaks and Maples are passing not-so-hushed messages to one another in the melancholy moonlight. There seems to be a story in the wind. Apparently everyone knows it but me. Even the wind chime at 317 knows—there’s no denying that wistful airy tune. Instead of going back in the house, I decide to indulge my curiosity and eavesdrop a bit with an innocent walk around the block. I overhear dozens of conversations, but they’re all talking over each other. Blustering. Gesturing. Their looks are as muddled as their words. Like a hairdresser who’s ready for bed, all the bold colors these girls flashed during the day are gone. The reds and golds, and even the greens and browns are completely imperceptible at this time of night. Their entire mass ripples and vacillates between nearly identical shades of gray and silver. Every one of them is in an uproar. Stress will age you prematurely. The proof is right here in front of me. Thousands of green leaves that had no business falling for another week or two pepper every yard and car in our neighborhood. The fuss continues, but as I round the corner toward home, I’m no more informed than I was when I began. My stroll isn’t entirely fruitless however. I’ve discovered something even more valuable than their secret. Inspiration. And that’s definitely worth the walk. photo...

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Lion in Winter

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Lion in Winter

There’s something about a breezy summer night. The barometric pressure pushes all of that air around with the promise that something is coming. The atmosphere is thick with it. I can’t stay inside on a night like this. I don’t care how late it is. There’s too much energy all around. The lights are still on, food is still cooking, music is playing, and women are laughing. None of my friends are feeling it though. To my surprise (and if I’m honest, my contempt), everyone seems content to hang in their rooms and in the parking lot of the little motel we’re calling home for the week Bah. I can’t take it here. There’s too much going on out there. So even though our trip leader would freak if he caught me leaving, I wiggle my feet into my chucks and trot casually down the concrete stairwell and out into the Mexican night. Maybe they thought I was going to get ice or going down to the desk. I don’t care. This night and this town are calling my name. Above the hot glow of the city, and deep in the cool southern sky, I spy the tail end of a shooting star and take it as a sign to point my cons that way. I can’t believe how alive this place is…even at 11:30. There are probably 35 people packed into this little storefront cafe. Men, women, kids, and babies. All chattering and laughing and gesturing. As I glance in (probably a little too obviously), a shiny man in his mid fifties pops through the kitchen door holding a flaming something or other, and the entire place breaks into song. Kids on bikes are whizzing around everywhere. The urchin to bike ratio has to be like 2 or 3 to 1, but you’d never tell by the way they drive. Smooth, confident, and fast, they sweep through the sparse traffic and over the sidewalks like a flock of birds. I’m strolling at a pace relaxed enough to keep me from sweating too much, despite the warm night. The capricious flow of cooler air that pinballs down the street with me helps too. I was born for weather like this. Was it really just 3 days ago I was brushing snow off my Focus? Seems like another lifetime already. I can’t see how I’ll spend one more midnight scrolling through facebook and netflix after experiencing a midnight like this one. There’s a huge lit area up ahead, and after a few more blocks, I start to hear what sounds like the hum and cheers of a crowd. Even before I round the corner to the park, the rhythmic bounce of the ball and the rattle of the metal net clues me in. That star must know how much I love basketball. I worm my way close to the court for a closer look. I’m kinda surprised I didn’t stumble on a futbol game or even a midnight rodeo in this carnival of a town. There’s gotta be like 300 people here. Looks like about 20 came to play. They’re easy to pick out—shirts slung over their shoulders, clumped hair shiny with sweat. The game looks pretty close. My Spanish isn’t what you’d call stellar, but I heard the guy...

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Small grouping it up!

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Small grouping it up!

This fall is going to be great season in our family’s life for a lot of reasons. Yes, we’re out of our minds excited to welcome a new little life into our home. I cannot wait to meet this kid!!! The girls are happy and excited too. We don’t have long to go now, and it’s getting REAL!! We have all the baby stuff ready. We have names picked out. Let’s hold that baby!! 🙂 On top of that, Clemmy and I are going to be leading two amazing small groups come September. We’ll be stepping into a leadership role in the group we’re in currently, and in addition, we just met with a handful of great brothers and sisters in Christ that will compose the core of a new group we’ll be launching when summer ends. The more time I spend with my small groups, the more I love being part of them. I know not all groups are sunshine and roses, and ours isn’t always either, but I can honestly say I’ve never been more excited about my faith journey than I am right now, and the wonderful people in these two groups are a big part of that. Because I’m so excited about these groups, I’ve been devouring information about what makes a healthy group, how to lead well, how to deal with common issues, etc. One of the books I’m reading right now that has done more than anything to shape my mindset regarding small groups isn’t even a book about small groups (per se). It’s called “Reimagining Church” by Frank Viola, and it’s all about analyzing and defining what the body of Christ looked like in the early church, and how we can translate that into our lives today. It’s really blowing my mind, and it’s shaping so much of my philosophy when it comes to group life. For those of you who love small groups and  may be considering leadership, I wanted to post the text of a handout I gave my new group this past week. This group will probably look quite a bit different than other groups I’ve joined and led, but these are the ideas and the format that has yielded the best results in my experience. So take a look, leave a comment, ask a question, and let me know what you think 🙂 photo...

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Why Artists are Melancholy

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Why Artists are Melancholy

It took me 6 months and about that many renewals at the library, but I finally got to the end of a novel I picked up in November called In Sunlight and In Shadow by Mark Helprin. It’s a story about love and loss, war and wonder. Set in post-WWII New York, the story seems to meander in some places, but the themes, plot, and gorgeous prose more than makes up for the slow spots. It was beautiful in so many ways. I can honestly say that this was the most enjoyable reading experience I’ve ever had. I loved this book. I loved it so much, that for days after I finished, I’d be driving in silence mulling over the characters and conclusions. The era and the people the author brought to life were so real and so relatable. I was genuinely frustrated at the end because there was no where else to go. Clemmy might have been the only one that was really able to tell, but for a long time—like more than a week—I definitely felt disconnected and discontent with reality. It actually took a while for me to identify that book as the source of my melancholy, but when I did, it made me think of my favorite poem, “Music” by Anne Porter. I don’t know the legality of posting the whole thing here on my blog, so please click on the link and read the poem (You can even listen to Garrison Keillor read it if you click “Listen” and skip to 2:22 on the timeline). It’s beautiful. I’ll be 2 minutes well spent. Trust me. Pastor Rex quoted C.S. Lewis this Sunday at church in his message on Heaven. “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” – C.S. Lewis It made me feel better when I understood that I’m not the only one who gets this way when I encounter a great piece of art. Whether it’s music, a movie, a photo, a painting, writing, or even (more commonly) a beautiful sunset, I believe that longing and those feelings are just what Anne said, a wound in us An ache a desolation Deep as a homesickness For some far-off And half-forgotten country Remembering that and understanding it was great, but it really didn’t help with my own version of Avatar Blues. But then I remembered some times when I get to be on the upside of that swing—when I feel the exhilaration of creating something beautiful. I’m no renaissance man, but I love singing in harmony with my siblings, drawing an impromptu pencil portrait, catching the timing and focus just right in a photo, and even writing a poetic blog post 😉 Those expressions (and so many more) are the perfect antidote for that homesickness. It’s a little taste of the other side, and because we’re all eventually meant for another place, I believe that spark and that potential rumbles like thunder in each of us. For some, it’s a low rumble, far in the distance. Many people are content to let that be as close as they get to lightning and rain. Others of us are storm chasers—we listen and watch for those rumblings and race...

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Conscious Uncoupling

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Conscious Uncoupling

My heart hurts every time I hear about another marriage failing—even when it’s people as removed from my personal world as Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin. Within the last week, I’ve talked to no less than 4 friends who are each going through a recent separation or divorce. All with kids involved. All impossibly painful and frustrating. Even though I’m divorced, I still believe that God hates divorce. But if it’s going to happen, I like the idea that Gwyneth and Chris are trying — essentially taking the beam from their own eye first. Honestly, that sounds like a very Biblical principle. I imagine that requires a lot of support and a lot of space from one another. I wish we knew more about that method 6 years ago. Having been through something far more bloody (as most separtions/divorces are) than a “conscious uncoupling,” I understand the very real rending of hearts that often happens during a split. When we first started going to court, my lawyer warned me that if I thought I had seen the worst of my ex and the worst of myself, I was in for a surprise. In a way, he was right. Court ups the stakes. It makes us more desperate because huge decisions with major future impact are on the line. You consider choices you never imagined, and sometimes even do things you never thought you’d do. I remember New York sanctioned no-fault divorces right at the tail end of our case. Several of my conservative friends made the honest mistake of attempting to enlighten me to the folly of such a ruling because it made the divorce process so much faster and easier. I gently enlightened them on some of the downsides of a prolonged scenario where you must assign and prove blame for a judge. That’s ugly stuff, man. Talking and grieving with my friends these past few months has unearthed some terrible memories for me. Stuff I had nearly completely forgotten. But the reality is, those things are part of my life. Part of my history. I bear those scars and so does my ex. We gave them to each other. Though I’ve apologized and been forgiven, those were ugly days, and I still have regret when I revisit them. But out of those ashes, God can still grow a garden. I’m thankful to say that my relationship with my ex is better right now than it’s been in years. I wish I could tell you what made that happen, but it’s not a simple story. I do know there was one very delicate moment when we were both frustrated beyond words, and we stood staring at each other wondering why this still has to be so hard. We both agreed that despite our reservations, we were never going to be able to co-parent with any type of success without some degree of trust. That day we had zero. Since then, we’ve both worked on trusting one another—in small ways, and in bigger ones too. We talked about not assuming the worst. About communicating with respect. Those difficult and sometimes scary choices have made a huge difference, and I’m glad we decided to go out on those limbs. In addition, I’m also very thankful that today I can show those faded scars to my friends who...

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Fire Hydrants, Magicians, Toppers, and Wikipedias

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Fire Hydrants, Magicians, Toppers, and Wikipedias

We had simply said yes to a friendly dinner invitation—I had no idea SHE was going to be there. We walked through the door and immediately into the line of fire. From the moment we entered the kitchen, this friend of our hostess bombarded us with unbelievable stories, unsolicited advice, unremarkable trivia, and unyielding domination of the “conversation.” At one point, Clemmy decided not to give a verbal response for 10 whole minutes to see if it would have any effect on the torrent of gab gushing our way. It didn’t. For real. Zero. I like to call people like that “Fire Hydrants.” They’re a constant stream of verbosity. But they’re just one colorful member of the motley crew I’ll profile in this post. Whether they’re Fire Hydrants, Toppers, Wikipedias, or Magicians, we all know people like the lady at dinner that night—people who talk way too much. They have NO conscience about verbally vomiting all over anyone in a 3-6 foot radius. Right now, Pastor Rex is preaching a series about dealing with difficult people. I wish he included major league talkers in his list, but since he didn’t, I’m going to open the conversation here 🙂 So even if you don’t have a Fire Hydrant in your life, I’m guessing that between your job, your family, your small group, or your circles of friends, you can put a face to one of these delightful caricatures: The Magician The Magician is first and foremost an entertainer. He enlists the help of ordinary volunteers, and they help him put on a performance. Sure, he’ll ask you a question or two, and you may feel like you’re part of the conversation, but the idea is to get you to say something that he can build a show around. It doesn’t have to be a story for him to top…any old noun will be enough fodder for him to put on a fabulous feat of verbal prestidigitation. “You have a house? That reminds me of the time I was in a house that was collapsing. Come to think of it, it wasn’t a house actually, it was mountain. It was during the summer I spent in Saipan…” And this is actually pretty cool for the first story or two. After that, you kind of get the same feeling as when you’re at your niece’s middle school play. You know you’re supposed to think it’s awesome, and it was cute for like 10 minutes, but now you just want to go home. Aha—but there’s always another trick up the Magician’s sleeve! The Wikipedia It’s as if this person swallowed Wikipedia. Or the Bible. Or maybe even both. If you have ANY question, problem, concern, or suggestion, I have good news for you—The Wikipedia has already been down that road, and has an answer for you. Having a good deal of contact with Wikipedias, I can tell you most of the answers involve WD-40 or the local Christian bookstore. When you think about it, it’s pretty amazing actually—the mental database that a Wikipedia must have. Problem with your spouse? Yes, I have 4 Bible verses for you and 3 books that should fix your problem by Friday. Can’t get that stain out of your favorite shirt? I can’t believe you haven’t tried that mixture of...

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You’re killing me

Posted by on 2:29 am in featured, Uncategorized | 3 comments

You’re killing me

Once my friend Tony told me about a time when he almost drowned in the Pacific ocean. He was out swimming near a stretch of natural shoreline with a friend, and the two of them got caught in a riptide and began to be pulled out to sea. Tony realized what was happening and tried to keep his cool, but the girl who was with him panicked. There were no lifeguards nearby and no one within earshot who could save them. No matter how Tony tried to calm her, her panic level seemed to multiply by the second. She began screaming and crying and flailing against the water. It got so bad that at one point she grabbed onto Tony and literally began to climb onto him for security. In her hysteria she began to cause Tony to go under. Tony said he actually thought she was going to kill him. In his own terror and primal drive for survival, Tony turned in the water and with every ounce of energy his adrenaline-infused frame could muster, he punched her square in the face as hard as he could—nearly knocking her out cold. As a matter of fact, he dazed her enough that he was able to get free of her grasp and begin to pull her in toward shore. With every stroke, his muscles burned deeper and his strength faded a little more. Tony prayed for strength and finally for an impossible rescue. Despite his very best efforts, Tony couldn’t save himself or his friend that day. He blacked out while they were still far from land. When he woke up, they were both on the beach—alive. To this day, he can’t recall what happened between the time he blacked out and the time he woke up. I thought about that story tonight because lately it seems like I’m hearing so many stories like this one. But they’re not happening in the ocean. They’re happening at home. Sometimes in life we find ourselves way too far out to sea. We thought we were having fun, but somehow we got caught in a riptide, and just like that, s*** got real. We’re not smiling anymore, and suddenly we genuinely begin to doubt if we’re actually going to make it back alive. We go into panic mode. Survival mode. No one close to us is safe because we’ll do whatever we need to do to survive. It may mean drowning the person who is closest to us—dragging them down so we can lift ourselves up. It may mean hitting them back with everything we have—not because we hate them or want to kill them, but because they’re going to kill us if we don’t. Does that sound familiar? Have you ever been in that position with your partner? A sibling? A parent? A child? A close friend? So what do you do? What do you do when he hits you? When she doesn’t come home at night? When your daughter tells you she’s pregnant with a married man’s child? When all the money’s gone because he’s using again? When you can’t keep your kids safe from their dad? I wish there was a “Worst Case Scenario” guide that covered this kind of stuff instead of ridiculous situations like escaping quicksand. It...

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What I couldn’t forgive

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What I couldn’t forgive

This past December, we had a heck of a time getting our car to pass inspection. As a matter of fact, it didn’t. Like 6 times. We actually went almost 2 weeks into January before we finally got to trade in our sad blue sticker for a happy yellow one. December has to be THE WORST month to skate on inspection. Because the old year’s inspection stickers are bold and bright and a different color than the new ones EVERYBODY else has, I felt like we stood out like a sore thumb. For once I was glad it gets dark at 4pm in January. Even though we got a special paper from the garage that was supposed to get us off the hook if we got pulled over, I’ll have to admit it was a little stressful driving around like that for a couple weeks. Every time we pulled up near a cop at a stop light, I just shook my head and said “here it comes.” Or I tried to act super casual—probably looking ridiculously guilty in the process. Good thing I’m a communications director, and not a bank robber or drug smuggler. I wouldn’t last a day. I was relieved when we’d make it all the way home, ticketless, with our outlaw blue sticker (I don’t have stellar luck with stuff like that). I hate that feeling. The feeling of being marked. Of trouble around the corner. But if I had to be honest, I’d have to admit that I’ve actually been living with that feeling for years now. Pastor Rex said in a sermon recently that the three people you’ll have the most trouble forgiving in life are 1) God, 2) your parents, and 3) yourself. As he delivered that thought, I tried to get ahead of him and guess the three people. Frankly, the last one was a surprise to me. I confess, I thought about “those poor people” who can’t get over the stuff in their past. Whoops. Little did I know I was one of them. A friend of mine was doing an interview with the media a while back, and he was asked “If you could relive one moment of your life and do things differently, what moment would you choose?” Try answering that one on camera with decorum. I don’t know about you, but for me, more than one scene replays in my mind. Whether it was from my teen years, college, or the period during and immediately after my divorce, I can think of a few times that I wish I could have taken a mulligan. You can identify with that, right? We’ve all done things in our past that we’re not proud of. Which is really just a nice way of saying “things we’re ashamed of.” And sometimes “ashamed” may only be the top layer of the revulsion we feel when we relive and replay those dark moments and terrible choices. Are you following me all the way down there? We can’t unring those bells. There’s no getting that toothpaste back in the tube. Maybe it was an accident. We didn’t know any better at the time. Maybe it was simply a really bad choice. A selfish choice. I have an ugly mental list of those moments, myself. I think...

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Never Saw it Coming

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Never Saw it Coming

Do you know where you were 8 years ago today? We took turns asking each other than question at home the other night as we did family devotions and put the girls to bed. The reason it came up was that it was the eve of Bella’s birthday, and I was waxing a little nostalgic. I always loved to hear old stories about the day I was born and all of the feelings and memories my parents have of that day, and it seems my girls are the same way 🙂 But the coolest part was that our walk down memory lane coincided so perfectly with our family devotions that night. We read from a book called “Devotions for the Blended Family” and while not every selection is applicable to our family, the book overall is great. On that night, we read 1 Corinthians 2:9, which says “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” When I thought of that verse in the context of remembering Bella’s birthday, it really blew my mind. Especially when I put myself in Clemmy’s shoes. Eight years ago on that night, she was bussing tables at a steakhouse in MA, taking classes at a community college. Can you imagine if someone stood in front of her there in the restaurant, took her by the shoulders, looked her in the face and said “Your daughter is being born right now.” That picture really brought the meaning of that verse home for us. The four of us have been on an unbelievable journey individually and together these past few years. God knows where our family will be and what we’ll be doing 8 years from now. We can’t even imagine it 🙂 BONUS: Just for fun, take a look at some sites and stories from 8 years ago… Sports Illustrated New York  Times People Apple     photo by: Will...

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