Sunday, June 30, 2013

Relationships Part 3: Change

So here we are at the finale of some of my musings on relationships. This one hits home for me in a lot of ways because of who I have been and continue to be, and also because of the unique individuals that God has placed in my life. I want to change the lives of those around me but I know that I cannot simply wish them changed and it happen without some action on my part.

We need relationships to become whole beings, without them we live only half a life. In removing relationships we severely hinder our ability to experience and we give up the power to become more than ourselves. Within relationships we find meaning and purpose beyond what we could give ourselves. It means facing our greatest fears, discovering our deepest desires, and giving up ourselves for the sake of someone else. They are so difficult simply because people are difficult. We are moody, confusing, irrational and messy. Getting in close with someone means being willing to get messy, both in your own swirl and theirs. But getting messy should be the end goal because wonderful things happen when we live in relationship with others.

In college I was told a very simple yet incredibly profound truth about living in community; you can only impact someone from up close. There is so much in this simple phrase that we often forget to apply to our daily lives. One of our primary inclinations as a living being is to protect ourselves from any and all threats including threats that are not physical in nature. I am speaking about the threat of someone getting in and knowing who we really are. In allowing another person in to our hearts we are allowing ourselves to become incredibly vulnerable. The knowledge they obtain could very easily be used to utterly destroy us. This is a terrifying prospect for anyone but some are able to overcome it more readily than others. This fear drives us to build barriers to keep everyone, and sometimes even ourselves, from the very core of our being. In doing this we learn skills to keep anyone from ever really having an impact in our life.

We cannot change or be changed at an arms-length.

To have truly meaningful, beneficial relationships we have to overcome this fear. If we ever want to be loved, a desire that is within each of us, someone will have to get in close to us. This can be a heart-wrenching process that requires us to destroy walls that had been thought indestructible. The process is often slow and arduous the whole way through, but the end result can be a beautiful thing. Love is the most precious thing we can give and accept as humans. It is something we need as much as sustenance and without it our lives become mere shadows of humanity. Once we have overcome these fears and accept love the true living begins. This is applicable to ourselves yes but it is also a principle we have to keep in mind in our dealings with others.

There are many arenas in life where we let our differences define us, sometimes this is shown in uncomfortable silence while other times it will appear as all-out war. In these moments we have a crucial choice to make; we must decide whether to keep ourselves separate and alien or to get close and do our best to understand the other individual. It would appear that the most common reaction is the former of these two which results in many of the confrontations we see in the media. This reaction is the one that leads to hate, anger, emotional abuse, and in certain terrible cases physical attacks. This is the reaction that often communicates the opposite of love regardless of the intent. The latter approach is one that is not used enough. The second one is much harder in many ways, mainly because it forces us to humble ourselves and be willing to listen without always having an agenda. However the second one can have the most meaningful impact with the most beneficial results. The second one more readily communicates love.

I think it very important that we learn to stop being afraid of being close to one another and be more willing to engage in the meaningful discussions and hopefully, someday, relationships. This is the only way we can ever hope to effect real change in the lives of others. This is the only way we can hope to be more than stereotypes and caricatures that define our understandings of one another. This is the only way we can truly love one another; not from across a debate floor but through a caring embrace. Going out for coffee and engaging with someone on a personal level will do more in an hour than days of arguing across a street will ever accomplish. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013


So big news was announced today, news that is bound to upset quite a few folks and bring elation in another group. I am speaking of the SCOTUS decision concerning DOMA in which they struck down the act as unconstitutional. For those that do not know the Defense of Marriage Act included two particular sections that were surrounded in controversy. The first of these major provisions was that it did not require states to recognize same sex unions that were performed in another jurisdiction. In other words obtaining a marriage license in another state would not guarantee that your home state would give you the same recognition as heterosexual couples would receive regardless of their state of residence. The second provision declared that for any legal matters (taxes, benefits, legal proceedings, etc) that the term marriage would only apply to a union between one man and one woman. So while same sex couples could receive marriage licenses in the eyes of the government the two were not truly married and as such did not qualify for the same benefits that heterosexual unions received. The Supreme Court deemed this act to be unconstitutional which can be seen as an open door but at the same time can be seen an infinitesimally  small step on a long journey. However it is viewed there are those two sides I spoke of earlier; the ones who celebrated this as a victory and those that view it as a defeat. In the coming days and weeks these sides will be scrambling to argue the finer points of what it truly means to have this ruling. Since this issue has long been a touchy one it doesn't take a prophet to know the pattern of hurt and bitterness will most likely continue to some degree. Both sides will lob complaints against each other and at times there will exist a certain absence of decency and politeness. This is something that desperately needs to be avoided at all costs if this topic is ever to be discussed like civilized humans. We have all been given a wonderful gift in the ability to perceive how our words affect one another and this is a skill that will be invaluable in the coming months. We have to be able to present a front of disagreeing politely, discussing rather than arguing, and listening instead of trying to get the last word in.

I would not write this to give the impression that one side is more worthy of protection than another. Those that are for same-sex marriage should be held to the same standards here as those opposed. Yes those opposed to same sex marriage have a way of using language that hurts and comes off as rather inflammatory, a trend that hopefully will cease, but they are not alone in this. The other side of the fence can hurl demeaning comments just as deftly as anyone. I would advise caution though as those seeking “equality” can quickly forget what it was like and begin seeking that which is not truly equal. Let us not think that the pursuit of freedom is furthered by taking freedom from our fellow countrymen. Sure same-sex marriage might be legal soon but this does not mean the church should be forced to participate. After all the church isn't forced to change it's teachings on sex before marriage which is not against any laws that are enforced in the US.  If a church chooses to stand out against it, and they do so respectfully, then by all means speak your mind. There is that caveat of responsibility to the church however, the church needs to learn to use words of love and do its best to communicate in peaceful terms. There is some weight to the fact that being counter culture is always met with resistance but this can make lose sight that it isn't always as simple as “us vs. culture”. We are not on a battlefield of democracy; we should not be trying to win platforms of public policy or opinion. No, we should first be winning hearts with love and compassion.

 Perhaps instead of trying to boil down the differences to “right and wrong”, we should reach out and remember that we both fall to the same level and as such are both “wrong”.  “Nobody needs Jesus more than me” should be a daily chant of all believers, because remembering this simple truth helps us stay humble and face the world not in our pride but in Christ. I hear and read so many proclaiming that “no matter what the government decides Christ is still King!” now let’s remember what that really means. It does not mean that we should hate our brothers and sisters nor does it give us permission to judge them more harshly than we judge ourselves. Yes it is true that believers are called to stand for truth and in doing so we might step on a few toes, but the greatest commandments of all tell us to love. They obligate us to love first and everything else should flow from that love. So no matter where you stand; love each other. If you hope to stand for truth keep it passing through the filter of love and if you hope to become equally respected in the world remember that respect has to go both ways. 

Monday, June 24, 2013

Relationships Part 2: Longing

In the last post I discussed a selfish side that each of us has. A part of our desire is to remain unknown out of fear of what cruel punishments being known would bring. If you didn't catch it you can read it here

Today I want to focus on the hope that we each have within for vanquishing the demon of fear. We do contain the antidote to the disease of shame, but it is not always an easy pill to swallow.

We have the counterpoint to the previous post, as humans we have this inborn desire to be connected to those around us. Whether you believe in a creator or not makes little difference because it is felt by just about everyone and is even accepted by just about every worldview. Humans are social creatures, a cliché line that has been the subject of many studies; we need others even if we don’t like to admit it. I no exception to this rule, I desire to know and be known. The process of learning another life is exhilarating in ways that solitude can never match. There is something so very special in being able to love someone well and knowing them deeply is an integral part of that. I am constantly learning things about my wife that I am able to use to love her better; this is a process I hope to never see the end of. Sure I could probably continue to love her if I never learned another new thing about her but it would never be the kind of love she needs and desires. However, in learning about her I am given new insight into her mind which allows me to be what she needs. This is also true of any relationship whether it be romantic or platonic. Then of course being known is a wonderful feeling that knows no equal. Having someone who can peer beyond the outer layers of flesh and bone, seeing who you really are is refreshing. My wife does this wonderfully and knows who I am no matter how many barriers I try to hide behind. Sure it might be uncomfortable but in the end it is wonderful having someone like that in my life.

As with the first side there are pros and cons that hide within the desire to love and be loved. It can bring our hearts to leap on every opportunity that comes our way. If this desire is left undiluted it can cause us to let untrustworthy people into our lives that do not bring health but rather destruction. There are plenty of people who do not deserve to be trusted with our inmost selves and if we let the pendulum swing completely to the side of trying to find love they can take things that should never have been theirs. This isn't to say that nothing but bad comes from loving indiscriminately. There can be some positives in that relationships can seem better, friends will be much easier to come by, and companionship is a very powerful medicine.

While there is an element of desire for safety and freedom apart from one another there is a necessity to have both in balance. We cannot live to one extreme without damage being done. I tried living to the defensive extreme and it left me in more pain and broken in ways I haven’t fully discovered yet. Like so many things in life we have to live a life of moderation. There are certain times where defending our hearts is necessary, there are relationships that should be kept distanced to some degree. It takes a keen eye to notice these and it occasionally takes an uncomfortable conversation to address them. On the other hand we need others in our life. Personally I need my wife desperately because I am incredibly stubborn in taking care of myself. She is close in and so has the ability to discern these moments from the rest, then she is able to care for me in the ways I need. We always love to say that we are stubborn enough for each other, and she is perfectly stubborn for me.

So we have the two sides of our desires for relationships but what do we do with these relationships once we have them? What is their power? In the last post of this short series I’ll give you my thoughts and experiences on just that.


Friday, June 21, 2013

Relationships Part 1: Fear

So my world has been flooded over the past months and years with people; people who have loved me well and deserve love in return. There have been plenty of times I have been selfish in these areas but acted under many disguises. I have lived a lie in many ways and hope that by delving into this part of my story I can find some healing for the wounds I caused others and to myself. I have always had a uniquely faulted view of relationships, but that has been rapidly changing these past few years and so I wanted to let others into my musings on said topic.

Living in relationship with another human is hard; in fact it might be the hardest thing we are called to do. Humans can be self-centered, moody, irrational, and in every definition of the word, messy. It can be awkward and uncomfortable to be close to another soul. See one of our natural reactions to closeness is that of defense. Our very nature leads us to desire the ability to hide our darkest shame away from the world. This of course is threatened by the thought that someone might make their way past the guards, walls, and vault doors we so deftly built to protect ourselves.

 I speak from personal knowledge of the resilience of the ramparts that can exist surrounding the heart. My life has been full of messages and events that slowly trained me as a figurative stonemason. My apprenticeship took place under the watchful eyes of shame, the powerful hands of abandonment, and the years of experience that fear has on its resume. It was easy to put up the defenses once I learned how. Slowly but surely the barricades rose leaving me in a tactically advantageous point for any battle that could come my way. This often showed in outward reactions such as humor and sarcasm, both are wonderful tools in keeping the conversation away from the serious. I became a master at weaving responses of non-committal and aloofness that never let anyone truly figure me out.

 Now there are certain positives that come with being in such a place. It makes it easier to lose friends and family as they never really got close. Sure they may have been a meaningful part of my life but since they never got to the inner sanctum of my soul it wasn't as destructive when they were removed. It allowed me to be strong for others in their times of distress. When a friends life seemed to be crashing down I could lend a shoulder that was not itself falling apart. It gave me an ability to focus in the hard times of life and be collected in the face of disaster. It also gave me a refuge of sorts, a refuge from myself. It was wonderful to be able to never confront my darkest secrets because no one ever had the whole story, no one held all the keys and so there was not an individual who could call me out on my guilt.

That being said there where and still are the terrible side-effects. In the moments when I needed someone to lean on I didn’t know how to ask. Even I was unable to access certain parts of my inmost being and thus was not able to share them with others. I had kept everyone out so long that the core of my being became unfamiliar to me. In relationships it made me unable to show my emotions in ways that would be beneficial. There are moments even today where I cannot cry no matter how much I want to, this has shown up in many of the close relationships and it makes me feel alien.

This is just part of the dark side of who we are, the side that seeks to hide from light and searches for a way out when cornered. This side is driven by fear, the fear of feeling shamed by the rest of the world in the same way we shame ourselves. I know all too well that this fear can be crippling, it has a special ability to suffocate us in its iron fist. There is hope though; there is another side of the heart. This other side is one of hope and longing, but I’ll discuss more of that in the next post.


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

My Own Worst Enemy

I never get to be alone, and not in the way you’re probably thinking. See where most people refer to an inner monologue, I am always forced to call it my inner dialogue as there are two distinct characters involved.  See there are two men contained within this singular mortal coil, two identities with very different goals in mind. A constant power struggle exists for control over my thoughts and deeds. It’s exhausting, some days it feels like it is killing me.

The first man is proud and noble, a paragon of whom I want to be. He is capable and optimistic; always seeing the best of the world. He seeks out adventure bravely, looks upon defeat with disgust, and is always ready to face the next challenge of life. His fears are muted by trust in his own abilities. Change is his ally against stagnation, newness brings him life. He doesn't fear failure but looks upon it as a chance to learn and become stronger. He embodies who a perfect student of Ms. Frizzle would have been, ever ready to “Take Chances, Make Mistakes, and Get Messy!!” This man urges me forward in life. He takes me by the hand and pulls me onward towards a higher purpose. His words of affirmation give breath to my weary soul. He sees what is best in me and tries to remind me of it as often as I will listen.  Yes he is hasty and reckless, some of his endeavors do lead to upset and pain. He often leaps without looking, which isn’t always the smartest option.

The second man seems to be in control a little too often. He is the antithesis of the first. His doubts and worries pervade my mind, bogging it down within the inescapable mud of defeat. He whispers caution into my ears in ways that make me second guess everything from my actions to my motives. This man takes my every failure and relates it to the current situation in ways that leave me devastated. He wears the skin of an advisor leading me into safety but underneath the mask he is a leech which drains everything I have. His darkness knows no bounds and finds a way into every corner of my being, taking his destruction with him. He knows me well allowing each insult to strike with surgical accuracy at my weak points.

I remember laughing at the childishness of cartoons with their shoulder angels and demons, toying with a character to do this or that. I could never have dreamed how terrifying such an event could be in reality. These two men pulling their respective ropes lashed around me is painful to say the least. Their constant barking of counter arguments can leave my mind pulsing. I want one to be right, I want one to win, and sometimes I get so tired of the fight that I don’t really care who prevails.

I wish this as confined to life altering decisions but I find myself between these two forces on a regular basis. If it isn't concerning some immediate struggle, my mind will play the lovely trick of vividly remembering decisions from the past and replaying them through the eyes of both men. I find myself in the strength of confidence and the hopelessness of failure all in the same instance. The battle raging all around me I search frantically for an answer; some way to escape this turmoil.

I know many would want to tell me to trust Jesus, and I do. However there isn’t always an answer from Him. Again, I can already hear the responses of “maybe you aren’t listening hard enough”, which may be true at times. Trust me when I say that I have spent years listening, asking, crying out for an answer on some things with no answer. I will continue to pray and listen for God’s wisdom but at the same time I know full well that there are times when God allows us to figure stuff out on our own. I don’t want to start a theological debate on any of this; I can save that for another time.

What I truly wish is that these two could join hands and lead as one. That they could somehow become one man, me. I want confidence, ability, pride, and success. I want that all so badly it hurts. I want to be a leader that people can look to as courageous, taking risks and finding rewards within them.  I want this all to be tempered by a healthy dose of the second man. I need humility, I need to know how to suffer rejection without being ignorant, and I want to be healthily cautious. It would appear that there is a third man involved after all, the man I am desperately trying to become. I fight daily to merge these two paragons of their respective features. I want to use the best of both men to become a great man. I know that I need to be confident in who I am but I also must be humble in my abilities. I need belief (in myself and God) that has been refined by doubt, made stronger for having been tested.   

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Father's Day

I don’t have a dad, at least not in the traditional sense. See my biological father has never been a part of my life. He left the picture before I was even born. The truth is take head of the power someone may have given you; it is a precious gift and needs the utmost protection.  that this spoke volumes to me as a child and young adult in ways that I am still learning to unpack. One of the most important things a parent can do for their child is to simply love them unconditionally, however one of the many messages I received was the exact opposite of this. In many ways the message I received was one of an unconditional lack of love. Instead of hearing “I will love you no matter what” it came off as “I don’t love you, no matter what”. Now the situation was an incredibly tricky one and in a lot of ways I have come to forgive my father, I know that in the same situation I probably would have acted in the same way. I am not a better person than he is by any means; his sin is not somehow greater than mine. I am not writing to pass judgment upon him nor do I wish others to do so. Instead I am writing because I believe this event has given me some knowledge that not everyone gets a chance to have. Sure it is knowledge that comes with a price; years of mourning and sorrow are a steep fee for insight.

 The truth that I have learned out of this is that a missing father means so much more than many people realize.

Considering that it is Father’s Day I’m sure everyone has seen at least one of the lovely commercials about man and his child playing catch, or working on a car, or simply just being together. All of these are wonderful images that I cannot wait to have with my child someday. These commercials strike us to the core because they are exactly what we picture when we think of “dad”; we always think of dad being the one to teach his son about how to throw a perfect spiraling pass, he should be there to show his kid how to go camping, and it’s that father’s job to pass on his handyman skills to his progeny. There is nothing wrong with this picture of who “dad” is to many kids, these can be wonderful life lessons and moments of great joy for a kid. In all honesty I hate that I missed some of these, I wish I would have had them.

However, there is something about these stereotypical pictures of the value of a dad; it is woefully incomplete.

Whether anyone realizes it or not their father affected them in a multitude of ways that were neither intentional nor direct. Kids see so much more than we give them credit for; the young brain is growing so fast and making connections at such a rapid rate during those first few years that the increase is beyond exponential. All this time their brains are a constant vacuum of information from the surrounding. It constantly is seeing new things and locking them away as patterns and memories, connecting them to thoughts, actions, and feelings. It is because of this continual gleaning that often the most important lessons from “dad’ are ones no one realizes until much later.
Dads you have to be careful in everything you do, even when you don’t think anyone is paying attention. Your child will pick up on things and apply them to their life in ways you will never truly know. Below is just a minute fraction of the questions that your actions will answer for your kids. These are ones that I am terrified to answer for myself, but they are ones that in some ways I was never given answers.

 How do you treat your significant other during a disagreement in front of the kids?
What is your attitude in defeat or victory?
How do you handle criticism?
What do you do when things are stressful?
Do you respect those around you, even when they may not have earned your respect?
What do your vices look like, and how much do they control your life?
How do you handle your own pride?

The list could go on and on, because there are so many things that kids learn from their dads that are never even told to them directly. Sometimes even telling directly is worth nothing if your behavior does not follow suit. If you tell your son to respect his mother and then follow that up by disrespecting her either verbally or physically then you have just taught your son a terrible lesson. If you tell your daughter that lying is wrong and yet continue to lie at every turn you have taught her a lesson you never meant to. The old saying of “do as I say and not as I do” doesn’t always stick. Fathers, be careful in word and action because you never know what you might be saying to someone you never knew was paying attention.

There is another piece to this topic, one that is especially meaningful to me. You don’t have to be someone’s father for them to learn from you. In my years I have gleaned much from so many men in my life, placing them in that father-figure role often without asking. I would watch and learn even when they didn’t think I was. These men shaped me in ways that I cannot begin to understand until I have lived my life to its end. I am so incredibly thankful for these men and what they have done for me. While life circumstances have displaced them from my life I must admit that there are times that I still miss them. All this to say that anyone can be a “dad” even if you don’t realize it. So I urge you take head of the power someone may have given you, it is a precious gift and need take head of the power someone may have given you, it is a precious gift and needs the utmost protection.  

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Nobody Likes You When You're 23...

Another year has passed. Am I any nearer to my goal? No it doesn’t seem I am. I haven’t found that golden egg I keep trying to reach. It sits on a pedestal just out of reach, rises an inch for every one I stretch. I want success, I want glory, I want fame… I want to leave a sign so that someone would know I was here. I want to matter to the world that could pass just as easily without ever realizing I was there. The days came and went, turning into weeks that slipped by just as quietly, becoming months disappearing with a whisper.
Was the year a waste? Did it wither and die having never truly lived?

Depends on how the question is asked...

In one way yes it did. Was the year truly beneficial towards some higher goal? Not really. At least that is the way it feels. It felt like I was stuck; still treading water in a vast ocean with land beyond the horizon.  This year saw the continuation and leaving behind of a job that gave me a new library of knowledge that has potential to bring success. However in the grand scheme it would appear to have been just another dead end retail position, one where I felt unappreciated and unfulfilled in the day to day. It was a job that I dreaded returning to only moments after closing the door behind me. Sure it paid the bills and came with some decent perks but it didn’t seem truly worth it. I fought myself tooth and nail over quitting that job. I hated to leave it because I was terrified of not providing for my family. I hated to leave because I worried that it was me simply running away again; running away from another obstacle instead of facing it head on. It made me feel weak to walk away from the challenge of facing something undesirable. I know God wants me to be happy, but that is always hard to rectify with the knowledge that He gave me the ability to work for my needs.

Does God want me to persevere through a terrible job because He knows I can take it?
Does He challenge me because there is some lesson to be learned?
Is God providing for me in a way that I am blind to see as His provision?
Is this Gods plan for me?

Leaving that place was hard, because it meant facing these questions and forcing myself to hear an answer I wasn't ready to believe. So here I sit without a job, without a paycheck, and without a feeling of being productive. It has left me time to think about myself and my life. A hard road to go down, especially when I have way too much time in which to do it, but that is a topic for another day.

If the question is asked in another light, and answered from a different frame of mind then the answer is completely the opposite. This year has been filled with memories and moments that will never happen again. Days and nights of laughter, joy, and wonder filled those months and weeks giving life to year otherwise devoid of it. Time with friends was cherished; those hours had real value that can never be calculated. Those minutes and seconds where lost to in a mind focused on the present rather than what lay ahead. Being, feeling, experiencing; these words would be the best descriptors of those moments. It allowed my mind to wander away from the worries that seemed to fill my consciousness.  Change came as it often does bringing with it new challenges. These changes would be world shattering to some but seemed to fit just so in the chaos that has been my past few years. They were revelations of great privacy and trust, and I am eternally grateful for those that shared them with me. Family included the familiar highs and lows, pain and happiness. New life has graced my family, and I cannot wait to meet my nephews when they get here. Family can always bring great amounts of stress for those closest to us often can bring the worst pain. I love my family, no matter what. They love me extremely well and I am beyond thankful for who they are in my life. I will never forget everything they have done for me and hope I can one day repay even a fraction of what I owe. My wife has continued to love me in ways that I scarcely deserve.  She has been wonderfully kind, loving, forgiving, healing, and caring in ways that always astound me. I know I am not the easiest person to love, I come with an assortment of baggage that could smother the most resilient bell-hop, but she has found a way through it to my heart. She sees through my armor and never lets me hide from my own emotions. She is stubborn for me in just the ways I need someone to be. I don’t thank God nearly enough for her and don’t think I will ever be able to express my gratitude for her.

So there it is. This year has been a wonderful one and a terrible one, but isn't that what life is; a summation of the highs and lows with the real value being not only in the moments of bliss but also the times of greatest despair.  When I really take a step back and examine it all I realize that even when I wasn't paying attention value was being given in even the most insignificant of moments.  In ways I can say this year was good but I can also say it could have been better, and that is what makes me want to carry on and see what the next year has to offer.