Pete…

We lost a friend a little over one week ago…

Pete Chenhall was walking on Blind Pass Road on Friday night to see a friend, and was struck and killed by a drunk driver that drove her car onto the side walk. We all lost a great guy.
Pete was only 40-years-old, but he was kind of old-school. He was in a bowling league and loved to play pool. He loved sports, but was particularly passionate about the Indiana Hoosiers. Actually, Pete was a pretty good athlete, too. He played basketball in high school…obviously…because he was raised in Indiana, and made the Indiana University golf team while in college. Pete and I shared frequent conversations about sports, but also about life. He loved life, and people. People loved him back, too! What I especially loved and respected about Pete though, was his relationship with his father. “Pops”, as he is affectionately known along the beach, would hang out with Pete all the time. Pops was Pete’s best friend, too. Pete was the first to tell you so! What I especially loved, though, was how much Pete enjoyed Pops finding love later in life. When the love first began to blossom, I remember telling Pete how much fun I had watching the new love affair. Pete responded in an explosion of joy! Immediately, he began to describe how much he liked her, and how happy she made Pops, and…on…and…on…and…on…..
His response brought tears to my eyes.
I have always loved watching fathers spending quality time with their children, no matter where I see them together. I think it says something about the dad. He seems to understand his responsibility, but is also learning the joy that can be shared between child and parent. A man that is a Dad…or Pops…is invaluable in the life of a child. Obviously, being a dad isn’t just about trips to the amusement park, or buying the newest “toy”. Sometimes being a dad means confrontation. However, these difficult times can be more effective in helping a child learn to make decisions when they have been prefaced by time spent doing mundane, normal things together. When the child comes to know their father’s love for them by watching him choose to include the child in the activities he must do, the child learns they are valuable. Many times, it is easier for a man to do the errands or tasks he needs to do by himself, but inviting your child with you is both a teaching opportunity and a show of respect towards the child. I think its a good idea to ask your child questions, that spur individual thought and problem analysis. Especially when they are young.
This isn’t only affirming when the children are young, however. One of the most important moments in my life, was when I was older and my father asked me a question about a book we both read. To me, the question wasn’t as important as the fact that he asked me my opinion. It felt like I was invited into the adult world of ideas. I could tell he wasn’t just asking me the question in order to prove a point, or begin an oratory about his own viewpoint. He was really interested on my take on the issue. He was being vulnerable, and showing respect to me. It was especially interesting to me that he was asking about a point of theology. He was a preacher, and he was asking me about how I viewed God, and my perspective of God’s interaction with people that held differing theological viewpoints and lived in different theological traditions than the one we both were raised in. What was especially surprising to me was that, after I shared my perspective, which was different than our common faith tradition’s doctrinal perspective, he agreed with me! I wasn’t expecting that.
Unfortunately, that conversation was both a beginning and an ending, because it wasn’t long afterwards that he was killed in an accident. In the years since his passing, during my adulthood, I have looked back at the conversation with a wistful disappointment. His acknowledgement of respect for me by simply asking the question whetted my appetite for an adult relationship with my dad, which could never be. I have always wondered if his presence in my life would have changed some of the decisions I made through the years. When I was younger, Dad was never one to butt in, and I was never one to ask. But as I grew older, I became less cocky and more cognizant of my need for a mentor. Life has a way of washing away your sand castles leaving a man feeling both vulnerable and defensive. It is in that gap, between vulnerability and defensiveness, that a trusted mentor can fit. I never was able to find one, or courageous enough to seek one out. However, I learned about life! It was the crucible in which was shaped my own style of fathering. While that style hasn’t been perfect, my children seem to love and respect me.
I have come to believe that the love of a child back to the father, not only shows respect for the father, but also the strength of character of the child. Every father that takes being a dad seriously knows when he has blown it. Quite honestly, many fathers carry these moments with them like a load of bricks. I have and do. It is this load that fuels the anger of many men, I think. We often feel like we have to be perfect. So many messages in the culture, at least men’s culture, tell us that. Too often, since we don’t know what to do with that anger, we either pour it outward, or turn it inward, becoming silent and distant. Handling anger with either method is quite destructive both to our self, and our relationships. If a man is to grow, he must acknowledge this anger, and try to make amends in some way to those he loves. That is what I tried to do. 
Not long after our divorce, I went to both my children separately and apologized for my own mistakes as a father. Especially for the times my anger came out in emotionally disruptive ways. The times when my discipline was too strong. I told them that I was wrong, and that I regretted my actions. What surprised me was that each of them responded almost identically:
“What are you talking about? I don’t remember that!”
They both then shared positive things about me as a father, and I was blown away by their grace and love.
As I watch them being adults, I am proud of their character and tenacity to love and care for their friends. They have great relationships with people. To me, this is most important! They are good people worthy of respect, and I do respect them.
The relationship a father has with their children changes through the years, and a wise father adapts. A strong father allows their adult child to see their own vulnerability. He remembers his child is a person, capable of making their own choices, and yet is willing to come alongside during times of struggle or confusion, to help the adult child with the pain, or process of making tough decisions. Much as he would a friend. And that is what I saw in Pete’s relationship with Pops…friendship. 
It is what I experience with Baird, Ryann, and Hannah. I am sure Pops is both distraught over the tragic death of Pete, yet thankful for the man he was…
…the son he is…
And so am I.
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Christmas, 2016…

The idea occurred to me on a hot Florida day in July as I sweated my way through a long line of appointments doing pest control. Finally, after wiping my face for what seemed like the thousandth time, I said to no one in particular:

“I want to be somewhere cold…not cool…COLD!”

That thought began to stir within me a longing to return home, at least for a little while.

For me, Home is in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. My family moved there when I was 16, between my sophomore and junior years of high school. I have come to believe, that there is perfection in this life. Perfect in terms of time and place and how they combine in life to provide experiences filled with joy, fun, challenge, and growth. Longmont, Colorado was just that for a span of two years. The opportunities I had in Longmont High School through music and football were foundations upon which I built a life filled with love for both. Although I had previous experiences in music and football, my two years at LHS were filled with positive relationships that welcomed me as a new student as if I had been with them our whole lives. The students, choral director, teachers, and coaches recognized talents of which I was somewhat insecure, and then nourished and challenged me to develop them. The school introduced me to a level of community that was open, positive, and affirming with each other. I have yet to find another community like it.

Similarly, the mountains were always a haven for me. I would often take our Irish Setter, Sammy, into the mountains when I went fishing. Rather than fishing in one of the mountain lakes close by, I preferred to fish in the streams that cut their way from the high country through the rocky foothills that then spread out across the flat landscape at the base of the mountains. Longmont is about 10 miles from the beginning of the foothills, and is surrounded by farms and ranches which take advantage of the rich soil deposited by these same streams, and also by ancient glaciers as they eventually melted. At some point following WWII, Japanese farmers came to the St. Vrain valley (named for the river in which I fished), and began to raise vegetables which they trucked to farmers’ markets either in Longmont, or just outside of town. These farms were incrementally sold through the years prior to my family moving there, and yet there remained a couple farms still raising and trucking vegetables when I lived there.

The presence of these farms also felt like home to me when I first moved there. We previously lived in the Hi Plains region of Southwestern Kansas, and I had worked on a ranch. I especially enjoyed working with horses and cattle on the ranch, so the ranches and farms surrounding Longmont were pleasantly familiar to me.

I left Longmont, Colorado and my beloved Rocky Mountains immediately following high school graduation ceremonies and moved to Indiana, where my parents had moved early in my senior year, allowing me to live with family friends and finish high school at LHS. Sadly, I seldom returned after leaving. But I never lost the feeling that, in some way, my identity had been both shaped and discovered in this place. However, I don’t think I was able to articulate that feeling until later in life, after I had lived in other communities and geographical regions.

I now realize that this place will always be Home for me!

It is with this historical context that I decided in the heat of July, that I would rent a place in Estes Park, Colorado and invite my adult children to join me in celebration and pilgrimage to the Rockies at Christmas.

The cabin I settled on is cozy and part of a cluster of similar cabins a few miles outside of Estes Park on the edge of Rocky Mountain National Park. Estes Park is an old-school tourist community surrounded by peaks of the Continental Divide. Since it is further north of the myriad of skiing resorts that are busy during winter, Estes Park is less crowded and less expensive during Christmas time. That makes it perfect for an intimate retreat for my kids and I. I have always wanted to do this, but never realized it: un-rushed time together.

Time to just Be Family…

Fully in the present…

Open to serendipity…

Surrounded by the beauty of the Natural World…

Our reservation began on Saturday, Christmas Eve, and we couldn’t check in until 4 P.M. Baird and Ryann drove in from Kansas City a couple days early to spend a day skiing and stay one night in Boulder, Colorado. I flew in from Florida late Friday night and spent the night at the airport before getting my rental car early Saturday morning. Hannah flew in from Huntington Beach, California on Saturday morning, and I picked her up. Hannah and I met Baird and Ryann in downtown Denver for lunch and to wander around talking and taking pictures…OK…it was mainly me taking pictures.

Since we had decided earlier on to exchange gifts with each other, we decided…OK…they asked me to decide…when we would open our gifts. When I was older, my family traditionally opened gifts on Christmas Eve. I always liked that, because…well… we didn’t have to wait until Christmas Day! Decision made…

We left Denver and began the drive to Estes Park via a drive through downtown Longmont and a stop at Longmont High School. Once again, I took pictures at LHS, and we walked partly around the school, while I told them stories about my time there. We then took a quick detour past the house in which I lived at that time, and the church of which my father was pastor.

Finally…

The drive through the farmland and into the mountains!

After a quick stop at the grocery store (where they didn’t have Egg Nog!), we drove through town to our cabin. Upon arriving and unloading our luggage, I started a fire while Ryann put up the small Christmas tree, and Hannah began cutting cheese and Summer sausage to go on Ritz crackers, which is one of the family traditions we do. The gifts came next, and then…

White Christmas… a movie we all love, and traditionally watch together…

…and a beautiful epiphany for  me in the midst of the movie…

…in a cozy cabin in the middle of the mountains…

…with my daughter’s head resting on my leg…

…my son and daughter-in-law lying on the floor…

…a fire burning, lights off, candles lit, and lights on the tree twinkling…

…as Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney sing the following words:

“When I’m worried, and I can’t sleep

I count my blessings instead of sheep

And I fall asleep, counting my blessings

When my bank roll is gettin’ small

I think of when I had none at all

And I fall asleep, counting my blessings!”

Blessings…

A lump grew in my throat, and my eyes became moist.

I am Home…

…and it’s Christmas…

Later, I went outside into the quietness of the night where millions of stars met me with a symphony of silent light…

Somewhere in the distance, an owl called into the night…

I realized just how connected I am to this place and these people…

It seems to me, that the point of Christmas is just that! A child is born into the world surrounded by people, and animals, and stars, and shepherds, and searchers…

The birth is an affirmation of humanity’s connection to time and place and each other and the larger world and universe. A celebration, really, and in that moment, my heart was full of joy. It felt…

Perfect.

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

 

It is now February 17, 2018. I wrote most of the above in the days following my Perfect Christmas. The world feels very different than it did in that cabin in the mountains, whipped by a cold wind bearing show, surrounded by my children. I don’t really need to explain the state of the world currently to you, Reader. You know.

My memory returns there every so often. I am reminded of the joy we shared that Christmas. Honestly, the world was pretty chaotic then, too. We were just able to pull in tight, together, and keep warm in the cold mountain winter nights. We were present fully with and to each other in that place. We were able to take in the beauty surrounding us, because we were open to it. It’s called “being present in the present.”

I have to admit, I spent most of my life preoccupied with what MIGHT happen in the future, or what DID happen in the past. Both practices robbed me of the beauty I could have experienced in the present, and were mostly tied in some way to fear and self-criticism. Pretty self absorbed, actually. To be fair to myself, I need to explain what I’m NOT talking about:

I’m not talking about planning for the future…

I’m not talking about learning from the past…

Both of those activities take place in the present…

And they mean I am in the process of living fully, and honestly in the present…

I guess what I DO mean is living daily with a mindset to choose gratitude rather than fear, anger, and suspicion. I am still learning how to do that. I believe it is important to feel what I feel, and examine the feelings, yet remain optimistic that “the arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice,” as Martin Luther King Jr. put it so eloquently. Mourning is part of gratitude. Activism towards change through confronting injustice, is also part of gratitude. Living with gratitude does not mean living in denial, nor does it mean being unaware of the needs of other people. In fact living with an attitude of gratitude in the present means that I am more aware of both my own pain, and that of those I come across daily.

The birth and life of Jesus, the Christmas Child, calls me to live that way. He gives me hope that I can be that person with each new day.

 

 

God Continues to Speak…

God speaks…

…in the heat of the day when my shirt, hat,  and top half of my trousers are soaked with sweat, and I am wondering why 94 in Florida is so much different than 94 in Kansas City, as the sweat pours into my eyes behind sunglasses so fast that my shirt sleeves are eventually useless to dry them, and my vision is blurry and eyes stinging from the salt.

God speaks…

…as I roll down the window while I drive to my next appointment so I can smoke a cigarette, and realize simultaneously how good the hot wind feels against my wet skin and how thankful I am to feel God’s…

…patient…

…persistent…

…nudge towards the day that I will quit smoking…

…not because God is angry that I smoke…

…but because God’s love is…

…patiently…

…persistently…

…convincing me that I am both worth loving, and worth having around on earth for a few more years.

God speaks…

…as the workday ends, and I drive home listening to Bill Withers knowing full well that when I get home, and after I organize my schedule for tomorrow, that I will argue with myself about whether I will go to the gym to sweat some more.

God speaks…

…while my mind composes beautifully articulated, well chosen words and phrases that communicate perfectly what I would like to write, except I am driving, so cannot record them, and the only ones to hear them are God and me…

God stops speaking…

God listens…

…and I realize…

I am praying…

God Speaks…

God speaks…

…in the early morning, during the final dream state of the night, as my Unconsciousness magically expresses my deepest longings or greatest fears in a symphony of emotions, free from the…

commanding…

demanding…

structuring…

influence of Consciousness.

God speaks…

…as my mind slowly climbs out of the clinging, inviting arms of slumber, and the enticing gaze of the snooze button, then regretfully instructs my arm to wrestle the covers off my body, and swing my legs over the side of the bed.

God speaks…

…while my muddled steps wind their way to the waiting coffee maker, and my fingers fumble with the filter after partially spilling water poured into the reservoir, followed by coffee spilled both in the filter and into the water on the counter.

God speaks…

…as I grumble about needing to clean the spill, but lose the argument, push the “Start Brewing” button, then wander to the bathroom to brush my teeth.

God speaks…

…when the aroma of brewing coffee  brightens my optimism for the day, all the while trying to desperately grasp, or shake loose the retreating emotions of my final dream.

God speaks…

…when I remember that the dream wildly leapt from one unfinished storyline to the next in a disconnected ramble which elicits a response of, “What was THAT all about?”, while the toothbrush rumbles away in my mouth.

God speaks…

…in my first taste of coffee…

…which energizes me to clean the mess surrounding the coffee maker, and order my thoughts about the day before me.

God speaks…

…when my thoughtfully constructed plans for the day work perfectly, and I begin to progressively feel like I have a handle on this thing called Adulthood.

God speaks…

…as the events of the day conspire to crush my thoughtfully constructed plans for the day, and I am left hearing Life laugh at my audacious attempts to control the future.

God speaks…

…graciously, on the days I have NO plan, and events work perfectly in SPITE of my incomplete preparations.

God speaks…

…when I am listening…

God speaks…

…when I am NOT listening…

God speaks…

…when my response to Parker Palmer’s wise counsel to “Let Your Life Speak” is, “But my life speaks a language I don’t understand, and I could use either an interpreter, or a ‘Life-to-English’ dictionary! Is there a Gibberish interpreter in the house?”

God continues to speak…

…and I will too…

Later!

 

 

Peace in the Present…

One morning this past week, as I was beginning my morning routine before heading off to work; I was sitting outside on the back patio drinking a first cup of coffee. I woke up a little early, so my mind was active for some reason. In recent years, my mind is slower to get running in the morning, and slower to shut down at night. On this particular morning, however, my thoughts seemed to be reaching out for….something.

There is a cat that usually meets me on the back patio. My neighbors told me the cat was part of a herd of cats fed by the woman who lived in my house previously. Some of them were feral cats that she fed in a little workshop which borders the patio on the left. She cut a hole in the door to install a cat door, and left food inside for them to eat. Although this seems nice at first glance, once she moved, she left them without the food source they had come to depend on. The last time I saw the woman, she asked if I wanted to continue the practice. I responded, “No. Although I love animals, my life style doesn’t allow me to be a good pet owner.” So she put a piece of plastic in the door, to obstruct entrance to the space.

(Eventually, I found another reason not to keep feeding those cats. I bargained with the property manager to allow me to clean, and re-paint the interior of the house as long as I could choose the colors. I had help with both the cleaning and painting. My sister and brother worked with me to get the house ready for me to move. One task that I accomplished on my own was removing the carpet… It was a heavy Berber carpet, and it STUNK from cat urine! The lower parts of the walls bore the stains of male cats spraying their territory. By the time we were finished cleaning, I was CERTAIN I made the correct decision about feral cats outside!)

The cat that meets me when I go out on the patio, is interesting. Reportedly, it was born in my house. That is easy for me to believe, because the manner in which it first approached me was as an offended owner of the house. All the other feral cats eventually left the yard (someone else in the neighborhood started feeding them), but THIS cat walked into the yard, and immediately began to yell at me! I had to respect that, so…..I eventually began putting cat food on the patio in the morning.

Yeah…

I know…

I’m a sucker for anything showing pluck!

Now, part of my morning routine encompasses putting food out for the cat…which also becomes food for birds….and the occasional opossum and raccoon at night. On this particular morning, as I was drinking my coffee, a dove flew down and lighted on the roof of the house no more than ten feet away from me.

Four years ago, shortly after I moved into the house, I noticed the yard seemed to be a haven for doves. At the time, I was attending an online master’s degree program in Spiritual Formation from George Fox Evangelical Seminary, and my vision for using the degree, was to become a Spiritual Director and develop a program for Spiritual Formation specifically for the pastoral staffs of churches. The presence of the doves in my yard spoke to me about the house being a place of peace for others as we learned together how to experience and pursue Shalom. One day, when my brother was there the doves returned. I said to my brother,

“I want this house to be a place of peace for other people.”

My brother responded simply, “I am hoping it will be a place of peace for YOU!”

In the succeeding years, I have found this statement to be both insightful, and prophetic.

Prophetic, not in the sense of telling the future, but in the biblical sense of confronting people with Truth which is dissonant with their current perceptions, actions, and life.

Ok…

Back to the dove on the roof…

I began to talk to the dove, telling it that it was safe, and that I wouldn’t hurt it…

…and eventually, a second dove lit on the roof next to the first. The two moved impatiently upon the roof while looking at the patio and the grass next to it, as if seeing all the insects in it…..food. Finally, the late-comer lept softly down onto the patio, and began feeding on the grass seed, or insects, on the concrete. At this point, the dove was within five feet of me, and about six feet from the cat which was facing away from the bird and feeding on what I had put out.

Quietly, I spoke to the dove…

“You better be careful… you’re awfully close to this cat!”

When the cat moved, the dove on the patio softly flew upward to a limb of a tree beside the patio and patiently watched me, the cat, and probably the cat food.

At this point, my attention was distracted by a bird sitting on an electric line about 30 feet away.

I thought, “That looks like a dove, but it looks different, too.”

While I fixated on the bird in the distance with features like a dove but also not like a dove…

…the doves closest to me flew away…

Disappointed, I realized how the experience felt like a metaphor for my life to this point.

I have often become so…

distracted…

fixated…

obsessed…

by a shadowy future, that I miss out on the beauty closest to me.

I often ignore and neglect the gifts of the moment in my pursuit of a fantasy built by an unhelpful definition of perfection, and the comfort I believe will be…

…in the future…

I don’t like this habit…

I am robbed of the present by this habit…

Now…to be fair…

Dreams and visions are not bad.

They help us imagine how the world could be.

That can be a VERY good, and generative, perspective…

But…

Dreams occur when we are asleep…

and visions occur when we are transported out of the present…

So, in some ways, dreams and visions are a criticism of the reality of the present, and when we are transfixed by them, our mindfulness of the present can be distracted so that we are blind and deaf to the ways God comes to us in THIS moment!

So…

What can I do differently?

What can WE do differently?

We can:

Observe our peace…

It would be easy to say that violence is the opposite of peace, but that’s too easy. As I have thought about it, I have come to believe that being numb is the opposite of peacefulness. Peace does NOT mean the absence of conflict. Peacefulness is a process which involves a recognition of conflict, and a determination to look for generative and sustainable resolutions to conflict. Living peacefully is a way of seeing and living life in a way that acknowledges all the tragedy in the world surrounding us, chooses to embrace the uncomfortable emotions we feel in response, and learns to find God in the midst of it all. Often, our best way through conflict, or tragedy, is to wait…

Stop…

A good practice is to allow the emotions and thoughts to wash over us without trying to deny, numb, or ignore them. I realize that some people during crisis events must act immediately in order to protect others or themselves, but eventually there needs to be a time we acknowledge how these events have affected us personally. We need to carve out space to “feel what you feel.” I’m not saying that life will stop to wait on us, but we must realize that what we feel is a biological part of being human, and denying them will NOT stop them from being expressed in a physiological way. Acknowledging our own emotions is a step of trust, in ourselves, and in God.

When I am conscious about my life, I notice how often I try to run from my feelings by numbing them rather than acknowledging them, feeling them, and soothing, resolving, or expressing them. If I numb them, they don’t go away. Often, they sneak out when I least expect them, which can be embarrassing, given the circumstances. Peace invites me to let down my guard, become honest about and identify what I feel, and in vulnerability, express them.

Look… 

Its amazing how often I miss seeing things that are right in front of me. I have always used the metaphor of a bulletin board when I talk about becoming more observant of our life. A bulletin board is a tool used to communicate something visually to people. However, it is my experience that a bulletin board, because it is so “normal” becomes part of the wall. Often, I view it as part of the visual blah, blah, blah of an external space, such as in a break room at a jobsite. So, that which is meant to communicate important information is ignored, because I am pre-occupied with something else. If I am not careful, I can become so pre-occupied with the visual cues in the world…

the media…

an angry driver…

the sameness of my physical surroundings…

that I miss entirely the beauty and significance of the gifts I have been given:

health…

a job…

a home…

family…

friends…

the world around me…

To guard against this, I have to find ways to slow down my constantly shifting gaze. Photography is one way I do this. When I have a camera in my hands, I slow down and take in the world around me, not just to absorb and enjoy it personally, but also to capture an image of what I see in order to share it with others, as well as with myself at a later time. When I view one of the images I have captured with my camera, I am reminded of the experience of that moment, and I am thankful…again. This tool has helped me recognize the beauty when my hands are empty, too. I see everything with new eyes and in greater depth, so that I feel part of the world around me. I realize that I am in the picture.

Listen…

I have found that in order for me to hear another person, I need to attend to them…I need to give them my attention. In fact, I have instructed my sister…who I also works with…to wait until she can look me in the eyes before she tells me something.

…and then text it to me…

There is noise all around me. And much of it becomes “white noise” that I tune out. There is also noise in my head…my thoughts…which can compete with what I hear from other people. Peace invites me to listen both to my life, and to the natural world, because in so doing I often find the presence of God. One practice which can help me develop the skill of listening is engaging music, either in the hearing, or in the doing of it. I often put on headphones and lose myself in music. I become part of it, and it becomes part of me. My emotions eventually find a resonance with the style to which I am listening.  It is similar when I venture into the natural world, and listen…really listen. It is in those moments that I hear the music of God, which speaks to me on the level of my soul, and it is renewed with peace.

Protect our peace…

Boundaries…Honestly, I haven’t been very good throughout my life at either identifying what boundaries are or what I need them to be in my life. In the past 5 years or so, I have begun to understand the concept of boundaries in relationships. I now realize that boundaries are different than obstacles. When we construct obstacles in our relationships, we are essentially running away from intimacy and trust while running to isolation and distrust. Constructive boundaries in our lives actually allow us to be more available in the present to people, tasks, and activities we care about. A personal boundary is something we set and acknowledge which communicates how we choose to live. They are choices that communicate self-respect, and ways we want to be treated by others. For me, setting boundaries is difficult not because I am unwilling to defend them, but because it is hard for me to identify the need for one, and where it needs to be placed.

I am a preacher’s kid, and in my family, other people always came first. ALWAYS! The theological perspective within which I was raised pretty much sanctified the concept, even though Jesus set clear boundaries in his own life and ministry. As an adult, I often said “yes” to something that I really didn’t want to do, then felt aggravated at the person to whom I said “yes”! This was true in my personal life, as well as career. Eventually, I learned how to say “no” in my career, as well as to stand up for myself when I felt something was unfair. In my personal life…especially my marriage…I never really did. This could have been one of the reasons it was so unsatisfying to both of us, and ended in divorce.

Protecting our Peace means not choosing to place ourselves into circumstances in which we are treated with disrespect, nor to associate with people who treat us with disrespect. Although we may have to be associated with those types of circumstances or people for short periods of time or in events which occur outside of our control, the choices we make on a regular basis protect our peace when we live treating others and ourselves with respect.

Embrace peace in the present…

Sometimes I fight myself, and my expectations of myself. For instance, it is Saturday as I write this. This morning, I wanted to do several things:

Go to the gym– I have a sore shoulder, and I need to do some strength training with it.

Clean the house-I have found that I feel calmer in an orderly personal space, so when I have put off cleaning the house for awhile, I realize I am running from something, so am punishing myself by letting my space become disorderly.

Do yard work– I enjoy this, for the most part, but especially enjoy the way it looks afterward and the feel of my body with dirt under my fingernails.

Budget– I hate money…..

So…what did I do this morning? I came to Starbucks and began writing. It’s now 4:40 in the afternoon, and my day is almost over. I am feeling a mixture of emotions, and not much peace! What I am trying to do right now, is embrace the process of writing with the hope that, once I publish it, other people might find something in my experience they recognize, or that it stirs their thinking in ways that promote growth and living in healthier ways.

And…

Quite honestly….

I mostly hope someone likes it….

I also realize that once I am through with a piece of written work, I feel very peaceful about having written. Right now…that peace is what I will embrace as a gift from God. I also will embrace it because I will remind myself that it takes courage to tell pieces of your story, as well as your thoughts about it. Embracing one’s own voice is a way of embracing peace, and when I neglect to write, I am instead embracing the fear that the value of my life experience and what I am learning has no value. Because embracing peace also means embracing growth and sharing that growth with other people.

Release our peace into the world…

Peace isn’t a commodity we buy and then horde. Peace is shared. When we embrace a life of peace, we release it in the process of embracing it. Whether we realize it or not, the people around us know if we are at peace or not. Sometimes even better than do we! As I wrote previously, peace doesn’t mean the absence of conflict, and it also doesn’t mean there will be no struggle. Peace and struggle co-exist…personally and collectively. Peace means that we will fight. Personally, my most common combatant is myself. I often fight with fear, and shame, and isolation, and pride, and ignorance, and anger, and impatience, and body image, and addiction, and….numbing…

Yet what I keep coming back to, are the words of Jesus:

“In this world you will have many problems, but take heart! I have overcome the world!”

Perhaps that is why he has been called the Prince of Peace!

Making Up Ground…

The following is taken from my journal…

 

May 25, 2015…

 

When someone leaves you…

Someone who actually stuck around long enough to know the best of you and the worst of you…

It feels like they are saying by their leaving: “I know the best and I know the worst of you, and the best isn’t good enough to make up for the worst.”

While I know intellectually…

What their rejection tells you…

Or should tell you…

Is more about them…

THEIR issues…

THEIR insecurities…

THEIR immaturity…

THEIR capability to love…

Deeply…

 

What you hear instead…

In the deepest recesses of your emotional brain…

Is:

“You are not Enough.”

“The Promise of You is a 0 sum compared to the Reality of you.”

 

Coming back from that assessment to some sense of self-affirmation takes a miracle of personal tenacity. It doesn’t matter what other people say, whether…

Affirming…

Encouraging…

Caring…

The original voice is internalized and shouts down the most optimistic of valuations…

Even God’s…

And we are tempted to withhold our vulnerability from others for fear that they, too, will eventually come to the same estimation.

 

So…

 

We must grieve…

Patiently…

Thoughtfully…

Fearlessly…

Relentlessly…

Angrily…

Graciously…

 

And…

Grief takes as long as it takes…

 

“Going forward” is a phantom wish that carries with it the weight of our perceptions of the expectation of other people…

“Making up ground” is a more doable goal, and it takes more time than we want and imagine it to take.

Making up ground isn’t a linear trajectory.

It is filled with…

Zig zags…

Falling backward…

Leaps forward…

Stagnant waiting…

And…

Courage to embrace it all, with constant personal reminders of…

Where you have been…

Where you are…

And the process of asking yourself where and who you want to be.

 

Making up ground means…

Pursuing your Indigenous Self through exploration and risk, by asking questions about your personal stories and history. It is learning how to be and choose to be content with…

What was and what is…

With a conscious decision not to allow another person’s flawed evaluation of you to define you…

It is learning how the stories you tell yourself about your experience skews your perception of…

God…

Others…

And your Self…

THEN…

Telling yourself new stories…

And seeking new experiences…

That over-write the old programs.

 

Making up ground is:

 

Acting when you would rather be still…

Being still when you feel like you SHOULD act…

Speaking when you are afraid to speak…

Being silent when your mind won’t SHUT UP…

Listening patiently…

Touching tenderly…

Refusing demands, no matter how sweetly spoken…

Listening to your Self and acting in Self-respect…

Considering and granting requests modified and heard through the sound board of self-respecting boundaries…

Allowing and accepting Other’s refusals without trying to manipulate or coerce…

 

Making up ground entails:

 

Not assuming another person’s perceptions…

Allowing…

Expecting…

Respecting…

Requesting…

…others to take responsibility for their lives…

 

Making up ground means learning to:

 

Take responsibility for your feelings, and…

Realize…

Allow…

Expect…

Respect…

Request…

…others are responsible for their feelings…

 

Making up ground invites us to:

Embrace emotional discomfort rather than Self-medicate.

Allow your Self to express…

Sadness and…

Disappointment and…

Anger and…

Regret and…

 

Realize that pain is part of grieving, and an acknowledgement of the loss of unrecognized dreams and expectations.

 

Making up ground develops strengths to help us:

 

Allow guilt to lead to reconciliation…

Challenge personal shame, and work to replace it with personal validation, respect, and acceptance…

Redefine “Perfection” in terms of Being rather than Doing. Our efforts are best used to learn who God created us to be:

Perfect Being…

Rather than trying to DO in response to what we perceive outer valuations demand:

Perfect Doing…

 

Making up ground presents us with the gift of:

 

Being open to…

And learning to be amazed by…

God’s gift to the world and to you…

Of You…

This gift is:

Loving your Self for the sake of God…

The highest form of Love…

For it is upon this foundation, that…

Loving others…

Loving Creation…

 

Eden itself…

 

Is built.

 

THEN we are “going forward”!

The Parable of the Road to Grandfather’s and Grandmother’s House….

One morning a young man sprung from the comfort of his bed to begin a new day. Entering the shower, he turned the faucet to cold, and allowed the water to pelt his scalp and trickle down his body in icy rivulets of adrenaline. He stood beneath the water and inwardly traced the fragments of an idea as they twirled in his mind, slowly drawn, as if by a magnet, towards the center of his consciousness. Once they clicked into place, forming a clear thought, he gave warbled voice to the thought; speaking through the torrent of icy water plunging down his face:

“Today I will go to Grandfather’s and Grandmother’s house!”

As the words tumbled from his mouth, he felt a surge of energy, fueled by youthful confidence and idealism. Stepping back from the water, he finished the shower and turned off the flow, and then quickly reached for the towel laying on the nearby sink. As he dried his body, he began to allow his mind to consider the task to which he had committed himself. Slowly, in the back of his mind, a question began to calmly creep forward:

“How will I know the way?”

Shrugging his shoulders, he finished his morning bathroom routine, strode purposefully into his bedroom and rummaged through his closet until he found his backpack. After putting a change of clothes in, he shouldered the pack, and walked into the kitchen for breakfast. The table was set, and his mother was just turning from the stove with a bowl full of hot biscuits, when the young man shrugged out of his backpack, hung it on the back of his chair, and sat down.

“Where are you headed today?” His mother asked with slight suspicion in her voice.

“I have decided to go to Grandfather’s and Grandmother’s house.” He said confidently.

His mother stopped so suddenly that a biscuit tumbled off the stack in the bowl onto the floor. “Why do you need to do that?” She asked, her voice quivering.

“What do you mean ‘why?'” he responded with irritation, “I want to know what they have to teach me. It is something I must do.”

“But the road is dangerous, and there are bad people along the way. They will hurt you, and you won’t be able to make it all the way there.” She was becoming quite animated at this point. “Besides, I know what Grandfather and Grandmother have to say. Men much smarter than me or you have told me their words, and I can tell you. There is no need for you to go.”

The young man felt anger rise within, and his words became short and loud. “This is my journey to make, and I am going to make it!”

Her shoulders slumped, and she stooped down to pick up the biscuit from where it fell on the floor. “Well….I guess this is my fault. If I hadn’t been so stubborn and sinful, you wouldn’t be leaving me alone….”

Before the young man could respond, his father walked into the room and quietly took his seat at the table. His mother set the biscuits on the table, retrieved the bacon, eggs, and gravy from the stove, started to sit down, then said, “Oh…I forgot the jelly….”, looking at the young man she asked a question for which she already knew the answer, “You like jelly don’t you?” Before he could answer, she turned in her chair, got up, and went to the refrigerator to get the jelly. While hidden behind the refrigerator door, she said, “Tell your father what you are doing.” She then took her place at the table with the jelly jar in hand.

Before he could say anything, his mother and father silently bowed their heads in prayer. After awkwardly waiting for his parents to finish praying, the young man said, “I am going to Grandmother’s and Grandfather’s house, Dad. Can you tell me how to get there?”

His father reached for the plate of eggs, served himself, and passed them to the young man. As he did so, he said, “It’s great that you want to go to their house. Everybody should travel to their house. It takes courage to go there, and I am not surprised you want to go.” As the young man served himself eggs, and his mother passed the bacon to his father, the young man said, “Ok….so….what road do I take?”

“Well…” his dad said, while taking some bacon and a couple of biscuits. “I can’t really tell you which road to take.”

“But you’ve been there, right?” The young man said between bites of bacon.

“Yes, I’ve been there… but you must find your own road to Grandfather’s and Grandmother’s house…”

The family then settled in to eat their food, and the young man didn’t say anything more. In fact, he decided as he ate, that he would just begin the trip, and figure out which way to go while he traveled.

After the meal was over, the young man removed his backpack from the chair upon which he’d been sitting, and shrugged it onto his back. After doing so, he stood awkwardly next to the table as his mother cleared away the dishes and his father stepped outside to do….something….he was never sure what his dad did during the day, he just knew he was away a lot. The young man stood waiting for his mother to take notice of his leaving, but she seemed in a rush to clean her kitchen. Finally, the young man said, “Well…I will see you later…” and began to walk slowly from the room and towards the front door. His mother turned, dropped the rag she was holding onto the counter, and said in a tired voice, “Ok…give me a hug before you leave.” The two of them continued walking to the front door, and upon reaching it, he turned and gave her a hug. She held him tightly for a long time…quite too long for him…and said, “Please be careful…and call us along the way.”

As the young man stepped out of the door and into open world, he found his father sitting in the driver’s seat of a small school bus he had recently purchased. His father was intently reading the owner’s manual, and only realized his son’s presence when the young man stepped onto the first step. The young man sensed that his father seemed faintly sad. The young man couldn’t determine whether the melancholy was connected to his own leaving, or the issues surrounding the bus which lead his dad to retrieve the owner’s manual. Life had often been this way between the father and son, with each hiding behind a wall of quietness, built for reasons which were misunderstood and unexplored by them both. They loved one another, but weren’t quite sure how to show it, and each were too absorbed with their respective lives to learn how to communicate that love in a way the other would understand. So they lived in the quietness, content in the fact of the other’s love, but seldom fully cognizant of the depth.

“I am heading out….” The young man quietly said.

After realizing his presence, his father looked up from the manual, got up from the driver’s seat, and laid the manual down. Before his father could say anything, the young man said, “I will be praying for you, Dad. I will pray that Grandfather and Grandmother will be with you in such a way that you visualize them walking beside you. I love you, Dad. Be at peace….”

The young man then turned, stepped down from the step out of the bus, and began to walk away.

“Give me a call if you……need anything…” his father said to his retreating back.

As the young man walked, tears welled up in his eyes, and began to run down his cheeks. He would have replied, but his voice was choked off due to his deep emotion. So…he just kept walking.

 

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

As he walked through the streets of the small town, he began to study the possible directions he could travel. He started asking questions of himself, but the only answers he could determine, were ones from his past experience, and something deep inside himself questioned the veracity of those answers. Somewhere along the way, he heard within himself a soft voice,

“Follow Wilderness Road…”

The young man frowned in response….

“Wilderness Road…” He thought inwardly, “Why would I travel Wilderness Road in order to reach Grandmother’s and Grandfather’s house? Grandfather and Grandmother live with people. I don’t want to go into the wilderness. It sounds lonely and hard.”

Continuing to walk, the young man was passed by numerous vehicles. Cars, and pickups pulling campers, large RV’s with ornately painted designs on the sides and shiny chrome in front and back, motorcycles and scooters… Eventually, he noticed that many of the vehicles seemed to travel in no particular direction, with no apparent rhyme or reason to their motion. They just seemed to move. With a little more study, however, he did notice some of the vehicles moving in the same general direction, but in varying speeds and with differing forays side-to-side along the way. A few of the cars seemed to be in really good mechanical condition, and looking through the windows, he noticed that the countenances of the occupants seemed to exude peace and caring for one another. He noticed how often the riders laughed with each other, and even when they seemed to be crying, it seemed they were doing it together, holding each other close in tender hugs. There were times when the faces of the front seat passengers appeared to be grim, as if in disagreement. The young man noticed that these same cars would stop from time to time, and the two companions sitting in the front seats would exit the car, pop the hood and begin to work on the engine, or open the trunk to lift out a new tire and replace one of the tires on the car with it. Often, these cars seemed to make better headway along the road, and didn’t take nearly as many detours as some of the other cars, he observed. “That is something I probably need to remember,” the young man told himself. He was also surprised that you couldn’t tell by how stylish the car appeared on the outside, what the condition of the motor, and mechanical stability of the vehicle was. Several times, he noticed a beautiful car putting along, with the engine cutting out and moving progressively slower and slower until it stopped altogether, and the occupants got out, slammed the doors yelling at each other, or simply walking away in opposite directions in stony silence. What was especially sad to the young man, though, was the younger passengers in the back seat. While the front seat occupants climbed out of the car and walked away, the back seat passengers stayed in the car, with no way out; their world limited by no fault of their own, destined to deal with the consequences of a dead car. As he watched these events unfold, the young man would stare at the front seat passengers with judgment and disgust clearly written on his face. He would also shake his head sadly as he watched the back seat passengers stare through the windows at the other cars which passed them by. Cars that looked to be old, and in need of a paint job, but rolling away the miles with engines running faithfully, and the occupants in sync with one another due to ongoing maintenance both in and on the vehicle.

Eventually, the young man came upon a sign along the roadside, raised above the traffic. He read it with much curiosity:

Middle Earth University: Your First Step Towards Grandfather’s House.

Smiling, the young man turned in the direction given by the sign, and walked until he found several buildings nestled together on the top of a small hill, which seemed to be carved out of the numerous cornfields which surrounded it. Walking to the first building, he strode purposefully through the door and found an information desk. After a short conversation, the person at the desk directed him to the Admissions department. The young man walked down a short hallway to a door with a simple sign on the wall next to it declaring the space behind to be “Admissions”. He opened the door and walked in. The “Admissions Department” consisted of an open area of about 15 feet square with 3 doors along one wall which opened to the space, and a desk situated in the center of the space, behind which sat a middle-aged woman who was currently absorbed with the task of putting stamps on a large stack of letters. Upon hearing the door open and the young man enter, her head raised from the task, and she asked pleasantly, “Hi. How can we help you?”

The young man smiled and said, “I would like some information about the school, and about how to get to the road to Grandfather’s and Grandmother’s house.”

Upon hearing the request, the woman’s smile stiffened just a bit, and she said, “Certainly…let me see if one of the Admissions’ counselors has time to meet with you.” She then picked up her phone, dialed three numbers, and once the phone was picked up in one of the offices, said, “Would you have time to meet with a perspective student?”

The answer must have been “yes”, because the woman hung up the phone and said, “Nathan will be with you in just a moment.”

The young man removed his backpack, and sat down in a straight-back chair set against a wall alongside a small row of other similar chairs. Since the other chairs were empty, he sat his backpack in the chair next to him, and looked around the room searching for something to read. Before he could find something, Nathan opened the door of his office and walked forward with an extended hand.

“Hi. I am Nathan, and you are….?”

The young man rose while stating his name and grasped Nathan’s hand. The young man was a little surprised by Nathan’s appearance. Nathan was dressed in crisply pressed khaki pants, a light blue, button-down oxford shirt which over-laid a  pink polo shirt with popped collar. The hand shake was also a surprise. It was weak!

The young man followed Nathan into his office where information was swapped and all necessary arrangements for the young man to become a student at Middle-Earth were completed. As he arose to leave the office, the young man reached for his backpack, and Nathan said, “Now…about the backpack…. Why don’t you let me take that for you? We have everything you need here at Middle-Earth. You won’t need the pack. I will save it for you, until you finish your studies here, and if you decide you need it when you leave, I will return it.”

“Thank you, but I will keep it with me.” The young man responded.

“I suspect you will find that many of our students and faculty will find it strange that you are still carrying it. You might feel awkward.” Nathan countered.

The young man responded with a frown strangely combined with a slight smile, and said, “I have been called strange before…I will hold on to it. Thank you for your consideration.”

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

The young man spent several years at Middle-Earth. During that time, he noticed that although Grandfather was mentioned frequently, Grandmother was seldom acknowledged, and when she was, it seemed to be as an afterthought which was given space, but not seriously respected. Further, he noticed that although the faculty seemed to speak about the search for the Road to Grandfather’s and Grandmother’s house, few students seemed to actually be occupied by the search. The ones that did search, seemed to walk lock-step in one particular Way. Intermittently in his classes, he heard professors whisper of The Wilderness Road, but more in an historical sense rather than an ongoing option. What he noticed predominantly was how often the students would pair up to purchase cars together, and then begin to drive along the Way most of their contemporaries  were driving. The young man was deeply affected by this final observation.

“That must be the way to Grandfather’s and Grandmother’s house. You must do it with another person.” He thought.

So he searched for another person with which to travel. Eventually, he found a woman who seemed to be interested in the same journey. Although their former paths, and understanding of the Way forward were very different, he eventually asked if she would like to purchase a car together. She said “yes” and they signed the purchase agreement together. The young man removed his backpack, and placed it in the trunk for storage.

From the beginning, it was apparent that they both wanted to drive, and had different perspectives about which road they should travel. Since neither had an overbearing perspective about how they should proceed, and in which direction they should drive; they basically followed the flow of traffic. Fairly quickly, they added a boy passenger and later, a girl.

They followed traffic with a few deviations from time to time, and seldom stopped to do maintenance on their car. Surprisingly, the car continued to run, although the fuel economy got progressively worse as the years progressed, so the fuel they added from time to time didn’t go as far. The engine eventually began to run rough, especially when they each began to individually pursue directions when behind the wheel that the other reluctantly agreed to.

Finally, the motor of their car gave out. However, rather than immediately getting out of the car, they stayed in it for quite awhile, until the woman opened her door and stepped out. Eventually, the man…not young anymore…also opened his door and stepped out. Looking around, he realized just how lost he was. The landscape was barren, and unrecognizable to him. As he looked around, he heard another door of the car open. Turning, he noticed the boy, now a young man, get out of the car and begin to walk away from both the man, and woman for a time. A short time later, the girl, also now a young woman; opened a car door and in some way positioned herself between the man and woman.

Eventually…

the older man walked to the trunk of the car, unlocked it, removed his backpack,  and shrugged it onto his back. With a great sense of personal failure, a fair bit of hidden, growing anger towards the woman, and feelings of confusion for the young man and young woman; the man reluctantly turned away from the car and began to walk through a strange land in search for the road…

…to understanding…

…to healing…

…to wisdom…

…to his children…

…to his parents…

…to others…

…to Grandfather’s and Grandmother’s House…

…but, first….

…to himself…

…along the Wilderness Road…..