A Blog on How to Write

August 26, 2014 — 27 Comments

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A few weeks ago I found myself in the post office, standing in line.

There were only about a dozen of us, but we were not moving. There were two clerks working the desk, but neither of them seemed concerned with us in the slightest. One of them appeared to be in his sixties, with a mustache that exploded from his nose, a shotgun blast that ended well below his top lip, curling into his mouth and covering his teeth. He was awkwardly flirting with a woman that appeared to be about his age, and who appeared to be enjoying it very much.

The other clerk was helping a couple get a passport, or something very official like that, and it wasn’t going well. They were at the desk for the better part of July.

It was hot in that post office, the kind of hot that makes you angry. The woman directly behind me was wearing a bright pink tank top that was too big, and shoes that seemed too small. She kept sighing and looking around, unable to contain her frustration. Her lanky hair framed a face that might have been pretty once, in her youthful days, before being forced to stand in that dreadful line.

I scanned the walls. Someone had designed an overly large stamp display, with Elvis’ face staring down at us. It wasn’t his young, lean face; it was his older, bloated face, the one framed by the overly large white, bedazzled collar. It was the tired face, the one that had had enough. The one with the eyes that couldn’t look you in the face anymore.

It was perfect for that post office.

As we inched forward, none of us spoke. I noticed an older woman in line who was holding a tiny dog, who couldn’t have weighed more than three pounds. She was holding him impossibly high, so that its nose was nearly touching her nose. She kept whispering to this dog, comforting it, and I kept wondering how it was that she was holding him so high. Her arms must be aching, I kept thinking. Then I wondered about this woman, this woman with the tiny dog who accompanied her through dreadfully long post office lines. Where else did he go with her? To church? To the grocery store? To the race track? To the bathroom?

The air in the post office was worn out and used up. Like us, it wasn’t going anywhere. We shared it, consumed it, and regurgitated it, only to consume it again.

We all silently celebrated our birthdays in that line, it was so long.

When I finally made it to the desk, the man with the shotgun mustache greeted me (oddly, he didn’t even attempt to flirt with me). I needed to get into the PO Box that we use for our church, but I had forgotten my key. I figured if I showed him my I.D., he could walk “back there” and get my mail.

“Can’t do it,” he barked, without any hint of solace.

“You can’t walk back there and grab my mail for me?” It seemed a small price to pay for the several years that I spent in that line.

“Federal law. We can’t hand customers their mail over the counter.” That seemed odd for a post office, I thought to myself. He looked down at me, and I’m not sure, but he seemed to be enjoying this as much as he was enjoying flirting with the woman earlier.

“So I can’t get my mail today?” I can be persistent.

“Federal law.” He then looked past me toward the next person in line. My moment was over. I would not be getting my mail that day, or any day after that, without my key.

And so I walked out of that post office, and I thought about that woman with the tiny dog. I wondered where that couple was going, and whether they’d ever get that passport. I wondered if that woman in the pink tank top ever put those tired feet up, and I wondered if there was anyone in her life that might rub them.

What a beautiful, fascinating world.

Writers: Writing is first of all about seeing. If you do not know how to see, you will not know how to write. Learn to look around. When you’re in line, when you’re driving to work, when you’re bored in a meeting, what do you see?

Write about what you see. Notice the red rimmed eyes and the aching feet. Notice the tiny dogs and the women who love them. Tell us stories of old men with shotgun mustaches and the women with whom they flirt. Remind us that ours is a beautiful story, even when we are stuck in lines and we’re not moving anywhere. Help us to meet each other, and to be less lonely.

Don’t tell us what to do. Don’t write about the used up things. Don’t regurgitate.

Write about what you see. We want to see it, too.

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I posted this last year at this time, but I thought it would be a good a reminder to all of us parents out there at this time of the year. In it together, friends.

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Dear Isaac,

Even though you insist you’ve been a first grader ever since the last day of Kindergarten, today is the day it officially begins. So on your first day of first grade, I want you to know a few things, straight from your dad:

You are brave. Remember the time that you accidentally locked mommy out of the house while the hot water was filling up in the sink to heat up your brother’s bottles? Remember how you got the chair, turned off the water, and opened the door all by yourself, even though you were only three? Even though you were crying the whole time? You did it. At school, there will be times when you have to do things even when you’re not sure how to do them, and you may feel like crying. You may even cry! And that’s okay. I want you to know that I have seen you be brave, over and over again. So even when you don’t feel brave, your daddy says that you are brave.

You are kind. You probably won’t believe this, Isaac, but I was shy in first grade. I stuttered really badly. That means it was hard for me to start talking, and even when I got started, my words got all jumbled up; they got stuck somewhere in between my mind and my mouth. It was hard for me to be confident when I started new things, like school or sports. It was especially hard when people made fun of me because I stuttered. Isaac, I’ve seen you be such a good friend to Emmaus, Cai, and especially your brothers. Would you look out for kids who stutter, or who look a little different, or who seem like they’re having a hard time making friends? Would you be kind to them? You don’t have to try really hard; just be you, and that will be enough.

There is no outside of inside. Isaac, you are in my heart, and there is nothing you will ever say, think, or do that will change that. I’m sure you will do fine at school all day, but when you get home, you might get a little cranky. Or maybe even a lot cranky. Let me tell you a secret: that’s what we all do. It’s hard out there. Home is where we can be ourselves after trying hard out there all day. We get cranky around the people who love us the most because home is where we feel safe. I want you to know that when you are with me, you are home. You are safe. You can show up how you actually are, cranky and all. I love you, end of story. And because there’s no outside of inside, even when you’re not with me, you’re still home, because you are in my heart.

There are lots of kinds of smart. Isaac, when I was a kid, I wasn’t that great at school. There were lots of kids who did better than me on tests. I wasn’t the first person to learn how to read. I still remember the lump in my throat when I didn’t do well, even though I tried hard. So let me be the one to tell you, Isaac: there are lots of kinds of smart. Some kids are really smart at numbers. Some are smart at words. Some are smart at solving problems. Some are smart at friendship. Some are smart at helping people. And some are smart at creating things, like paintings or pottery. You are smart, Isaac, and we’re going to help you figure out what kind of smart you are.

And the last one is a tough one. But here it is: My job is not to protect you from hard things, it’s to launch you out into this great big world, so that you can play your part in great Big Story. This means that sometimes, you’ll make mistakes. You might not make the team. You might try to make friends with people who reject you. When those things happen, I hope I’m the first person you want to talk to. I’ll cry with you. Isaac, this is so hard for me. I’d much rather do anything and everything to make sure you don’t fail or get hurt. But you need to fail, and even get hurt sometimes, because that’s how you’ll learn how to be a person who brings great things to this world. Only those of us who have suffered a little know how to really help.

So, Isaac, my beautiful, strong son: have a great first day of first grade. I’ll be waiting for you when you get home.

Love,

Your Daddy.

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Friends, we did it.

Last Sunday, we held our first worship gathering for Genesis Covenant Church, and it was pure joy for me. Normally, in these moments, I’m a strange brew of anticipation and dread, and mostly I just want it to be over. Not so on Sunday. I was present, and I enjoyed the moments, every one of them. I really did. There were so many who made it possible, so many who worked so hard. Together, I believe we created a space where people felt they could connect with God, and with each other.

When I preach, I ask non rhetorical questions, and then I wait to see who might answer. The brave ones in the community actually do. To my great delight, many of the answers last Sunday came from kids. One of the values at Genesis is conversation, and this is one of the ways we do it. We believe a fuller picture of God and of Scripture comes together when a melody of voices ring out, versus when we listen to a solo.

One of my friends told me that she was sitting in front of a younger child that was answering every question, and the child’s mom was getting nervous, and finally told the child to be quiet. I can relate to that mother on eleventy-four thousand levels. But my friend smiled, looked at the mother and said, “Oh, no, actually we want to hear his voice here. We value it!” The mother began immediately crying, stunned that what she thought was a nuisance might actually be a gift. I love that. Kids are noisy and unpredictable, and when we make space for them, beautiful things happen.

I’m sure I’ll post many more things about this brazen community that we’ve started, but I just wanted to let you all know that we started it. Many of you have been praying and cheering, even from all the way across the world, and I wanted to say thank you. We are in this together, and we did it!

To listen to my message from last Sunday, click here.

To check out the Genesis website, click here.

To make a fully tax deductible online donation Genesis, click here.

On Eating the Extra

July 29, 2014 — 6 Comments

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“I have to confess something,” my wife told me after church on Sunday. She had a gleam in her eye, which was odd given what she had just said.

“I let them eat the extra.”

Them being our three rascals, and it being the communion bread that was left over after church on Sunday.

I didn’t see it, but I know that our boys don’t so much eat as scarf, and they usually leave evidence in the form of crumbs all over themselves and anything within five square miles. I’m picturing them right now with crumbs of Jesus all over them, covering them, and trailing after them.

I can’t think of anything holier, or more beautiful.

It means that there’s enough Jesus left over – more than enough – even when lots and lots of people have already been nourished by him.

It means that on those occasions when you’re still mysteriously hungry even after you’ve already eaten, you can come back, and there will be more, no questions asked.

It means that Jesus is present during the formal and the informal times of our lives, in church and in traffic, and even after we’ve just horribly messed everything up, offering the same gift to all of us, everywhere.

And it means when you’ve eaten the extra, it covers you and trails after you wherever you go.

For a few weeks, I was feeling dark and stormy, and I didn’t know how to find the sun. When I’m like this, it’s hard on me, and it’s hard on my family. During one particularly cloudy conversation with Mary, she suddenly stopped, looked at me, and smiled. Then she said, “I like you.”

With those three words, the sun peeked out from behind the trees. It was just a glimmer, but there it was. In the middle of my darkness, when I actually wasn’t very likable, Mary offered me some of the extra. And I ate it. It covered me, and trailed after me.

The prophet Isaiah writes these captivating words about food and extra and eating:

If you are thirsty, come here;
come, there’s water for all.
Whoever is poor and penniless can still
come and buy the food I sell.
There’s no cost—here, have some food, hearty and delicious,
and beverages, pure and good.
2 I don’t understand why you spend your money for things that don’t nourish
or work so hard for what leaves you empty.
Attend to Me and eat what is good;
enjoy the richest, most delectable of things.
3 Listen closely, and come even closer. My words will give life,
for I will make a covenant with you that cannot be broken, a promise
Of My enduring presence and support like I gave to David.
4 See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander among the nations.
5 Now you will issue a call to nations from all over the world—
people whom you do not know and who do not know you.
They will come running, because of Me, your God
because the Eternal, the Holy One of Israel, has made you beautiful. — Isaiah 55:1-5 (The Voice)

Chances are, right now, you need some of the extra. It’s right there, it’s free, and it’s good.

There will always be extra for rascals like you and like me. Let it cover you and trail after you.

 

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His name was Duke, and he was a behemoth of a dog.

His kingdom was nestled directly east of our house, in between ours and the one two doors down. I am positive that Duke ate bunnies for breakfast, along with the occasional small child. I was terrified of him.

Thankfully, there were five-foot fences that separated us from certain death, which allowed us to play outside, if we could endure Duke’s guttural, unworldly barking. From inside our backyard, my older sister Lisa and I would play in the sandbox, on the swing set, and with our very un-Duke like dog, Daisy. When my parents bought us a red dodge ball, we made up a lame game called “31″ on our small patio (imagine 4 square without all the risk).

Sometimes, however, we would get cocky, and pull out a wiffle ball and bat. Because my I.Q. has never been very high, we would play up against the fence that separated us from Duke’s kingdom, using it as a makeshift backstop. I think you can perhaps see where this is going.

One day, I foul tipped a pitch, and it soared high into the air above us, finally landing about ten feet on the other side of the fence, squarely in Duke’s domain. We immediately knew our choice: leave the offering where it landed, or attempt to retrieve our only wiffle ball. We quaked with fear, imagining our limbs being ripped from our still growing bodies. In my mind, I had peered into Duke’s cavernous maw millions of times, and I imagined those rows of yellowish fangs razor sharp, covered with the bad decisions of boys like me.

I decided to peer over the fence to get a sense of what Duke was thinking of this turn of events. To my great surprise, he was sleeping on other side of the yard. I didn’t imagine that he ever slept.

Without thinking, I silently dropped into his yard and began creeping towards our one and only wiffle ball. I traveled the distance between the Shire and Mordor in those ten feet, my throat constricting, my lips dry. When I finally reached the ball, I hadn’t realized I had been holding my breath. I slowly reached down for it, but just before closing my tiny hand around it, I took one final look at Duke, who was about twenty feet away.

At that precise moment, Duke’s ears shot up and his eyes popped open, wide awake and alert. Before my hand had finished closing around that wiffle ball, Duke was bounding towards me. He had been toying with me; of course he never slept. I threw the ball over the fence as I began racing towards it, every corpuscle of my body filling with adrenaline. As I approached the fence, Duke was bearing down on me, and I began reflecting on who might eulogize my short life.

And then, something magical happened. It was all instinct, and I swear to you that it happened exactly this way, unlikely as it may seem. As I got close to the fence, I jumped. The next thing I knew, my belly was parallel with the fence top, and I was staring down at it, the snarling face of fear on one side, and the safety of our backyard on the other. I don’t remember landing, but I do remember that I never touched that fence. As I sat in that short grass, smiling, Duke looked through the fence in stunned disbelief.

I am convinced that fear is the enemy of the expansive kingdom of God, and it keeps us from the life that God intends for us.

I am also convinced that fear needs to be faced, even if it snarls and snaps at you, even if it threatens to eat you alive. But in order for it to be faced, it first has to be named.

What are you afraid of, really?

And what would it look like to stop playing silly games next door to your fear? What would it look like to climb right into its presence, to see it for what it is, and come out of it alive? What would it look like to imagine that there is something greater than that fear that will help you to face it?

In it together, friends.

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It has been a strange and at times confusing summer for me.

At the end of May, I got terribly sick with pneumonia (when people got pneumonia on Little House on the Prairie, Doc Baker only furrowed his brow and silently shook his head). I was quarantined in the basement for almost ten days, running a fever higher than 102 most of the time. I cried and was scared. My sleep was sweaty and spotty, laced with incoherent dreams. I coughed up blood (in movies, that is the single, irrefutable sign that things are really, really not going well for you). When you’re that sick, you can’t remember ever feeling normal, and you are certain you’ll never feel normal again. I felt that way forever.

And then, somehow, I slowly got better.

People have stories about spiritual awakenings when they get that sick. Sometimes they’ll talk about how close they felt to God because they felt so desperate. That did not happen with me. I did pray, but it was more like a babble than a prayer. “Lord Jesus, have mercy on me. Have mercy. Have mercy.” I prayed that over and over and over again.

I am better, but not totally. Before I got pneumonia, I could run 8-10 miles pretty easily. After being well for about a week, I went out for my first walk/jog. I ran a very slow mile, interspersed with two or three walking breaks. Now, almost 8 weeks later, I am back up to 6 miles. I do not like these kinds of set backs. But sometimes God’s mercy looks like helping a person who doesn’t really know how to slow down, to slow down.

And there is this beautiful community that I’m leading, called Genesis Covenant Church. We are passionately committed to joining God’s work of cultivating new beginnings in all of us, everywhere. It’s a vulnerable thing to begin anything, because you can’t flip to the last page and see how it turns out. This beginning is a little like the click-click-clicking of a roller coaster on its way up. It is thrilling, terrifying, and we don’t really know what is coming next. We just know that we’re buckled in for this ride, no matter what.

We have a team of people that are committed to praying for us. I love that. They are from all over the country, so I send out updates so they can “know how to pray.” The only problem is, I’m not sure how to pray.

Should I tell them to pray for me because I feel insecure?

Should I tell them to pray that “everything goes smoothly” at our first worship gathering?

Should I tell them to pray that “the right people” show up on Sunday?

Should I tell them to pray that I will slow down?

Should I tell them to simply pray, “Lord have mercy on us?”

Should I tell them just to babble whatever incoherent feeling is on their hearts?

I really don’t know how we should pray. But, according to the Bible, not knowing how to pray is actually a thing! In Romans 8:26-28, we read these comforting, reassuring words:

“Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good (The Message).”

What does it mean that God does our praying in and for us, because we don’t know how to pray?

It means we can rest. It means when we are present with God, we don’t have to scramble for the right words. It means God knows us and keeps us and holds us and sees us. It means God is present with us, whether we ask God to be present or not. It means the Spirit is praying for us even when we are not praying at all.

I am not sure what kind of summer you’ve been having, but if you have been hearing the click-click-clicking of change, please take some comfort in the reality that God is at work in you, right now, not because you’re getting it all right, but because God is always turning our chaotic and sometimes terribly sick lives into something beautiful and good.

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Thoughts on Sleep

June 25, 2014 — 3 Comments

by Claire Wyatt

Claire is one of the most hilarious people I know, and she writes a great blog. I love her thoughts on this post. Enjoy! You can follow her on twitter here and Facebook here

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PastedGraphic-4A few weekends ago it was gloomy, rainy and cold in Minnesota. While there were grumblings upon grumblings from my fellow citizens of “the land of 10,000 lakes,” I woke up to the gloom and doom of Saturday morning with only one thought, “Praise Jesus. I get to spend the day alternating between watching Netflix and napping.”

And I did. And it was glorious.

The past few months have been busy.

I’m not trying to glorify it; it just is what it is.

I operated with almost zero margin. Things that I usually think are important got sidelined. Relationships, exercise, and healthy eating to name a few.

I also tried to push sleep to the wayside.

Because, successful people don’t sleep right?

There was an article a while back in what I think was the Wall Street Journal. It was profiling this very successful business woman in New York who worked all day, got to bed around midnight and then woke up to do it all over again at 5 am.

So I followed her example, because I wanted to be like her. I worked, studied late, woke up early and subsisted on copious amounts of coffee.

That lasted for like a week.

I was tired all the time. I was moody, irritable and my performance at work was disastrous. So what if I was working longer hours?  What I was doing in 10 hours probably could have only taken me 4 if I would have been well rested. And the number of times I had to apologize for saying something insensitive?

It’s more than one and less than 100, but probably closer to the later.

I called my Mom one day from work, because I’m 26 years old, but sometimes I still need my Mom, and was sobbing uncontrollably, most likely about nothing.

Her words, “Claire, did you sleep well last night?”

What can I say, the woman knows me well.

So for the benefit of humanity, and my desire to not turn into Mr. Hyde by 10 am on a weekday, I decided to focus on getting 8 hours of sleep.

Since I wasn’t working as hard as I was before I wondered if I would fail. Then, I stumbled across this verse:

“It is vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep” (Psalm 127:2).

The paraphrase of my study bible notes are, “go to sleep, stupid.”

Just kidding. That’s not what it says.

It basically says that sleep and rest are ways to give up control of your well being to God.

So, giving up control.

I hate it when God asks me to do that.

But God is good, God loves me, and God wants me to experience rest and sleep.

It turns out that science is behind this whole sleep thing too. Another one of my favorite blogs (besides Steve’s, of course) is Farnam Street, written by Shane Parrish. Named after the street where the headquarters of Berkshire Hathaway is located, as well as the street where it’s CEO, Warren Buffet resides, it is the ultimate blog of capitalism, seeking knowledge for knowledge’s sake, logic, reason, enlightenment, and I’m sure there is some atheist undertone. I’m a champion for different perspectives, what can I say.

In one of his blogs, Shane Parrish wrote on the science of sleep. Biggest takeaway? Nothing, literally nothing, not even food, improves your performance as much as getting a solid 8 hours of sleep within every 24. In fact, the human body innately knows that it needs about 1 hour of sleep for every 2 that it’s awake. It INNATELY knows this! It’s almost like someone created us this way …

So, with the dramatic weight of scientific evidence, as well as God on my side, I’m committed to getting my 8 hours. I revel in the joy of naps and get overly excited about rainy Saturdays with nothing to do but watch “Meet Me in Saint Louis,” and “Jumanji,” dozing in between.

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This one is a repost from last year, but I think I need it now even more than when I first wrote it. Enjoy.

So let’s sit down and talk. Knee-to-knee, eye-to-eye. I’m a pastor, that’s what I do. Let’s ask a lot of questions. Questions take us on journeys, ones that help us find what we’re looking for.

Let’s be honest. Let’s pretend we’re in a confessional booth (even though I don’t do that in my tradition). We can tell the truth and no one else has to hear our answers. We’re safe. Let’s talk.

Let’s talk about how bored you are right now in your current, actual life, even though on paper, you shouldn’t be. Let’s talk about how you got what you wanted and it isn’t what you thought it would be. Let’s talk about how you’ve given up desiring anything that would be really satisfying because you just can’t take one more disappointment.

Let’s talk about your marriage, the one that actually is, not the one that should be. Or let’s talk about your lack of marriage. Let’s talk about what is bubbling and brewing beneath those two glasses of wine every night, or the pornography, or the office romance that excites you more than you’d like to admit, since you’re married and so is he.

Let’s talk about finding a way towards honesty. Not the kind of black and white, declarative, ping-pong honesty that is all sound and fury, but the kind of honesty that knocks you down first, and then sets you free.

What makes you angry? What are the news stories that you can’t even watch, because it would cause a forest fire inside of you that would blaze out of control, engulfing you?

What makes you giddy with joy, just thinking about it?

Or let’s talk about how numb you feel, because you can’t find any answers to either of the last two questions.

Let’s talk about how finding your purpose in life is how our culture is currently trying to answer all of those questions.

What’s your purpose in life?

Let’s talk about the question that lurks behind that question.

I think the question behind that question is some form of: How can I be ridiculously happy all the time, avoiding all the boredom and conflict and addiction that I currently have, while saving the planet and looking heroic while doing so?

Isn’t that the paycheck we’re hoping to land once we get the answer to that question?

Let’s talk about how “You can be whatever you want to be” is lazy and dishonest, because there are certain things you can’t be and shouldn’t even try to be.

The problem is that most of us look outside of our actual life to find our purpose in life, as if it’s just sitting in someone else’s house, on their cracked leather couch, waiting for us to ring the doorbell, if only someone would give us the address.

Oh, I hope you find where your deep joy meets the world’s great need, as someone once said. But I don’t think that happens by reading lots of books on finding your purpose in life. And I don’t think you’ll find your purpose in life by looking outside of your actual life.

The dirty little secret behind finding your purpose in life is that it’s right there, right in front of you, it’s just buried under the expectation that finding it will solve all of your problems and make you ridiculously happy.

I was standing in the doorway of my four year old’s bedroom this morning. As I was watching Elijah pull out clothes that he would wear that day, he said, “Dad, I love that you’re standing there. I love you.” 

He smiled at me and gave me a gift, and I grabbed it.

Standing at the threshold of his room and the rest of the world, that is my purpose in life. It’s one of them, anyway. Watching him get ready for the world, and sending him out into it, that’s what I will do as a father. Being there when he wakes up, being there when he goes to bed. Being there when he doesn’t want to come home, when he wanders. Sending him out into it when he doesn’t want to go.

Let me be the one to say it out loud, parents: This standing at the threshold stuff will not make you deliriously happy. It’s scary and won’t seem heroic. It will require things that you don’t think you have, day after day, and nobody will stand up and cheer when you do it. But that’s your purpose in life. It’s one of them, anyway.

You don’t have to be a parent, or a spouse, or an employee, to find your purpose(s) in life.

You do have to be awake, and honest, and you have to slow down long enough to see what thresholds you are standing in, right now, and you have to decide what you will say, or be, so that you and others can safely walk through them. This is brave work, standing in thresholds, calling people towards something they maybe can’t see. But when you find yourself in those thresholds, and you can see something that maybe other’s can’t see, you’ve found your purpose, at least in that moment.

That’s what Martin Luther King, Jr., did on that day when he decided to write those words that would become that speech about that dream. He saw how the world was, and what it could be, and he had the courage to stand in that threshold and invite us all into a different way of seeing each other.

It’s what Rosa Parks did when she decided to get up and do something different on that bus that day. She saw how the world was, and what it could be, and she had the courage to sit in that threshold and invite us all into a different way of standing up into who we actually are.

And it’s what you and I can do every day in tiny little ways if we simply notice the thresholds where we find ourselves.

So wake up and notice where you actually are, and see the gifts that are laid out in front of you, and grab them, and be you.

My suggestion is that you maybe do that, instead of asking what your purpose is in life.

And I will do that, too. Then after living that way for awhile, let’s climb back into that little confessional booth, and we’ll talk about it some more.

Sound good?

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leadership_1303_v2I am in a season where new leadership and relational skills are being required of me, and it feels like a steep learning curve. On my journey of trying to find the resources I need, I ran into a book that Warren Bennis & Burt Nanus wrote, called Leaders. After studying ninety of the world’s most effective CEOs, they found that the most important facet in a leader’s effectiveness is what they called emotional wisdom, which reflects itself in the way that these leaders related to others. Leaders with emotional wisdom consistently used five key relational skills:

1. They had the ability to accept people as they are, not as they would like them to be.

Embarrassing Confession: Most of the time, I hope people will change so that it will be easier to be around them, or so that they will do what I want them to do. Ouch. Please tell me I’m not the only one on planet earth who does this. Have you ever stopped to consider how much energy this takes? Accepting people as they are doesn’t mean all behavior is OK, or that there are no boundaries. It simply means you stop trying to incessantly change them so that they become what you want them to be. It means you create a safe place for them to be who they actually are. We wish people would do this for us. Let’s start by doing it for them.

2. They had the capacity to approach relationships and problems in terms of the present rather than the past.

I had a conversation recently with a good friend, and he said something that triggered something from my past, and it threw the whole conversation into a tailspin. We went down an unhelpful road and it was really hard to find our way back. It takes intentionality to remain in the possibility of the present moment, believing that new realities can emerge which are not carbon copies of the past. But this is the only way hidden solutions make themselves known.

3. They had the ability to treat those who were close to them with the same courteous attention that they would extend to strangers and casual acquaintances.

Ouch. Why do we treat the ones we love the most, the worst? We can say it’s because we feel safe around our loved ones, but if we’re constantly bitter and irritated, I think the safe thing is a cop out. It’s not okay to treat those closest to us poorly simply because they’re safe. What if we had kindness foremost on our minds with those we love the most, even when we have hard conflicts? This seems like it would be a game changer.

4. They had the ability to trust others, even if the risk seemed great.

Trusting someone means that you’re willing to give them a chance with something that is valuable to you. Trusting is always risky. What if we gave up our need to control things, so that others could have a chance to show up and do something significant? Or fail spectacularly? We don’t have to be miserly with our trust.

5. They had the ability to do without constant approval and recognition from others.

This is one of the hardest ones for me. I’m embarrassed to admit how much I crave approval from those around me. But similarly to #1, when you stop to realize how much energy this takes, constantly wondering where you are in the polls, or what people think about your project, your sermon, your blog post, it’s staggering.

Which one of the five relational skills is most compelling to you? In it together, friends.

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Looking for Good

June 18, 2014 — 4 Comments

by Heidi Haines

Heidi is a photographer, writer, mom, wife, and a good friend of mine. I love this post – it makes me want to live differently. Please check out Heidi’s website, follow her on Facebook, and make sure to look at all her amazing photographs on Instagram. Enjoy!

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Photographs are my favorite. There is something special about capturing beauty and being able to share it with others. This world is fabulous and I never get tired of seeing its beauty. I also love to be able to see via social media that my friend Amy was at the hospital with her baby girl. A beautiful photograph of the father of her child and Person of her life, holding the sweet baby girl as she woke up from surgery, it speaks so much more than words. Amy captioned the photo, “Can I just take a moment to say how very much I love this man and his tender heart toward our girls? We are blessed.”

And I wanted to say, yes.

Please do.

But that seemed like a weird response, so I didn’t post it.

What I really want to say is: Please take a moment to notice your Person. Please take a moment to see the good in that Person and to acknowledge it, to yourself, to others, but mostly to that one you chose. Taking a moment to see to the good in your Person and believing it is part of what I think becoming One is meant to be.

My husband Steve and I have been married for eleven years. Out of those eleven years we have been happily married for four of them (the past four).The first six or seven years of our marriage we couldn’t figure out how to love each other well (Steve would agree with me on this). It’s not that we didn’t love each other. But marriage is really hard. We even got to a point where we could not figure out how to live happily together. We talked about divorce. Ultimately we wanted things to work out, but we were both so unhappy that we wanted to quit too.

We decided to give marriage counseling a try, to be able to say that we really had tried everything and it really wasn’t going to work out after all. However, after a few months of counseling and lots of intentional hard work, we started feeling hopeful. We also started to study Jesus more and what his life was like while he was here. We learned that loving like Jesus meant ascribing worth to yourself and others, believing that you are loved and valued and then offering that to those around you. Loving like Jesus means trying to see everyone through his eyes, through love.

It also turns out that loving like Jesus looks a lot like believing the best in someone. This led Steve to actively try to believe the best of me, as much and as often as he could. Which, one, meant that he would see the good things in me and then acknowledge them out loud, and two, he would chose to believe them. Even when we argue, which, of course, we never do…except when we do. But even as we would slip into arguments Steve would stop and purposefully think, “I love Heidi, and she loves me. Heidi is a good person, and she believes good things about me. I am going to believe good things about her too.” But even when things were fine and it was just a normal day Steve would still think about these things.

Here is an example: I love my children. I would do anything for them. Steve knows this to be true, but he also sees the times that I struggle, that I don’t always have enough patience, that my love for them is not perfect. Yet, I would hear him say to me, “I saw the way you were today…good job. I noticed that you said [that] instead of reacting because you were mad…I’m proud of you. I see you making good decisions, the choices that you want to make.” He purposefully looked for the good in me, the good that I wish were true all the time yet often is not, and started speaking it to life.

He loved me this way relentlessly. Instead of judging me based on my failures, he loved me in spite of them and believed that my heart was good. Often times I would tell him, “I don’t believe you,” because I did not love myself enough. But he didn’t stop, seeing the good and saying it out loud, until one day I started to believe him. This made me feel so loved and valued; I wanted Steve to feel the same.

However, giving my thoughts a voice was honestly very hard for me. I grew up in a stoic German family that did not show much emotion besides stubbornness, much less say the words, “I like you.” But I saw good in Steve, the same good that made me say “I do” all those years ago. I wanted him to know that I knew it was still there, so I practiced saying it out loud, even when it was difficult.

Now we are living love as a practice instead of a feeling, and this is one of the ways we practice loving each other. As we try to live more like Christ we are trying to see if we can be more gracious, have more mercy, speak more softly, listen more clearly, forgive more easily, and give more freely to each other. We fail sometimes and succeed other times. Marriage is not a destination, but a work in progress.

God intended for there to be a special relationship between Adam and Eve, but since then adding one sinful person to another sinful person in marriage does not result in beautiful, unified Oneness. We have to work at becoming One. Just as we are born as sons and daughters of God we also become children of God. Become, as in actively doing so right now. I have found that all meaningful relationships take work, and just because I got to choose Steve doesn’t mean he is always the easiest person to love. But when I am actively and purposefully choosing to love Steve every day I am seeing him less selfishly. It becomes less what he can do for me and more about what can I do for him.

I think part of becoming One is searching for the good in your Person, because good exist because of God. And dare I say that since we each are created in the image of God that each time you see good in your Person you get glimpse of God? And wouldn’t it be beautiful if that is what part of marriage got to be about, just to search out and find the glimpses of God in each other?

So, anytime you want to tell me about the good you see in your Person, or anyone else for that matter, I will gladly listen. I want to know, I want to hear how you get to see the image of God, up close and personal, shining out of one of his creations. That’s the beauty in the world that I really love to see.