Love With A Capital L

A journey towards living an inspired life of love in the modern world

The Spectacular Us — October 15, 2020

The Spectacular Us

Last week in this space, I mentioned the “just” fallacy. There is no “just” anywhere, no “just” anything, certainly no “just” anyone. Everywhere is sacred, charged with meaning and potential, if we only have eyes to see and ears to hear.

Every other Wednesday, we are studying a terrific book called Inspired by Rachel Held Evans.

(I love that her name is Held. There is a song called “Held,” too, that is gorgeous. I have no idea if her middle name is Held or if it was her maiden name or if it was her name at all. Or maybe she took the name as a constant reminder of her place in the arms of God. It’s easy enough to find out, but I don’t think I want to. Like a song, I think I’ll live with the story it is to me.)

The last 2 meetings we have been in chapter 7: Fish Stories. It’s an exploration of the many miracles throughout the Bible and belief/faith. Initially reading it, I couldn’t really find much for discussion, which was ok, because I wasn’t this chapter’s facilitator. I didn’t need to find much for discussion. It was somebody else’s problem. I simply needed to show up.

As it turned out, our time was lively and full of the fantastic in each of our lives, those occurrences that can’t be explained in words or reason, like car, train, and tree accidents, amazing coincidences, forgiveness, and love.

This book is wonderful, but the real draw of the group are the people in it. I suspect it’s that way with most groups and communities. Where it might be an activity, event or shared interest that brings us together, it’s the relationships that keep us there.

It’s a trendy idea that I can follow Jesus on my own, in my bed or living room, by myself, privately, just me and God. I really don’t know how that started. I do know how and why it’s trendy – the independence and arrogant self-reliance is very modern. The more I think about it, it’s not really modern, it’s human. But the point is, this notion didn’t start in the Bible. In fact, it’s just the opposite. In Genesis 1 & 2, before the fall, it’s only the man and God, and God specifically deems it “NOT good.” It’s the only thing that isn’t good. So He takes a rib and makes another person.

We’re made to be together. (Not all the time, of course. We all need a break from each other from time to time;) This group makes me remember, and sometimes the learning comes outside of the explicit lesson. We were talking about miracles, trying to explain our way into loaves & fishes or walking on water. But as I looked at the Zoom pictures of each of our faces, brought into the space by a mutual love of our Creator and nothing else, sharing the extraordinary stories of our lives, I understood. This was the miracle, this safety, this connection, this love. We were God’s miracle. And it isn’t confined to this particular book study group or any particular group, not confined to the religious or spiritual, not confined by anything at all. I guess we miss it, or are looking for a parting of the sea, when it’s right here in front of us all along. It isn’t “just” a small group, not “just” a local church, community, football game, gym, class, office, grocery store, not “just” you or “just” me. It’s the breathtaking, spectacular us.

To Show Up — October 12, 2020

To Show Up

I suppose, like so much else, this story begins with my dad. When I was a child, I wanted nothing more than to be the opposite of everything he was…but that was when I was a child. Now that I am a man, it’s easy to see him clearly, as he was, as a complete human being with talents, passions, dreams. Sure he had his share of flaws, but also many strengths. I love him, have always loved him.

That is all true, I have made peace, but that doesn’t change the damage that has been done. For instance, our house was built on an ever-shifting foundation. He was wildly inconsistent. This comes pretty standard with alcoholism, but the unreliability created an environment of tremendous uncertainty and anxiety.

If you ask me, (and I understand no one has), the reason our culture is so riddled with anxiety and stress is for the same reasons. We are all so unpredictable, our values and beliefs sway in the breeze, commitment and stability are relics of the past. How can we find peace if every time we close our eyes, the furniture is moved, and when we wake, the room is unrecognizable? It’s a world of “who knows?” where truth is public opinion and public opinion is fluid.

Anyway. Though my father was home every night, it was impossible to know which version of him would show up (in mind & spirit, as well as physically) at any moment. I saw this and the devastation it causes. For exactly this reason, a primary value of mine is to be a safe, consistent presence to those around me. That when I walk into any room, nobody holds their breath in apprehension like we did.

This makes relationships hard for me. I heard someone say about the Enneagram once that #1’s (‘perfectionists,’ to over-simplify things) can be hard on others, and expect much, but it is nothing compared to how hard they are on themselves, a mere fraction of what they expect of themselves. This is mostly true in my experience. When my actions don’t match my intentions, I am my own very worst critic.

Where this is going, the “story” of the first sentence, is that I am awfully sensitive of how people show up, or more importantly, if they show up at all. Philip Seymour Hoffman says to Julianne Moore in the Hunger Games, “people don’t always show up the way you want them to.” That is also mostly true, but it can be the most wonderfully breathtaking surprise, as well. Allowing others to be who they are, quirky and awesome, has been one of the greatest lessons (and now pleasures) of my life. But they have to show up, first. He could’ve stopped half way in, “people don’t always show up.”

I have trouble with deep friendships because I get “stood up” so often. This is of course, physically, but emotional and spiritual, too. How many times has someone sat across a table for a meal with their phone on the table, preoccupied and distant, distracted. They are there, but they are not at all there.

Now. I don’t have a point, this is more of a mournful exploration. Maybe my expectations are too high (I’ve been told that), but I can’t seem to agree, no matter how hard I try. Is it really such a high expectation that I am where I say I’ll be, do what I say I’ll do, and that I am simply me all the time? And that I expect the same of you? Really?

9 Years — September 9, 2020

9 Years

This week is the 9 year anniversary of tropical storm Lee. I talk about this particular storm so much because it started to rain on a Sunday and when it stopped on Thursday, my house was underwater and our lives would never be the same. We now refer to memories and personalities as Before the Flood and After the Flood. It’s 9 years later, though, and it’s fingerprint is still branded on our souls. I had a friend (a good friend, despite the story I’m about to tell;) who said to me about 5 months afterwards, “Isn’t it time to move on? It happened months ago.” I wonder what he’d say now, and I wonder if I’d still want to punch him when he did.

Sometimes you move on, but the scars are still there and sometimes they still ache.

We all were forced to closely examine our unhealthy relationships with control. Maybe that’s the biggest, most valuable loss – the delusion that we were ever in control. I thought I could be a superhero, protecting my family from all threats, keeping them safe and secure with my strength and will. As it turns out, my strength and will couldn’t stop the rain, couldn’t keep the water from swallowing my house, couldn’t make the insurance company make good on their promise, couldn’t make the family pictures reappear, couldn’t give anybody back what was lost.

This was a great big domino that started an avalanche. This horrible lesson/sledgehammer broke me open and walked me into many many more “couldn’t”s.

Now. Last week, in another space I write, we discussed control, the things that ARE actually ours to control, and taking it into settings, circumstances, situations. The flood, when it broke me open also broke my heart (a sledgehammer is NOT a particularly precise tool, that’s why we don’t use it to crack eggs) and when it healed, it formed in a different shape and pattern with grooves and texture that wasn’t there before.

I have bad skin, the consequence of years of abuse. I hated that skin for so long, was often disgusted when I would look in the mirror and see only imperfections. But now, when I see the marks on my face, I only see me. I’m not flawless. I’ve made poor decisions with food and drink and lifestyle and sunscreen. I’m getting pretty old and, where there once was a baby face stands someone’s husband and dad, wrinkled around the eyes and mouth from laughter and tears and lots and lots of smiles. I’ve been slapped, pinched, frozen in a questionable procedure by a dermatologist, scratched by cats, and on and on and on. But it’s my face and I wouldn’t change one thing.

And that heart that turned out to be wildly mistaken about my imaginary strength, will, superpowers, and control – it’s mine, I wouldn’t change one thing, and I’ll be taking this new broken/repaired heart everywhere I go, into every landscape and environment.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to speak to some college students who were volunteering to clean “flood buckets” (buckets filled with supplies and sent to flood victims about). I jump at those chances now. You see, I don’t exactly want to talk about or even think about our flood anymore, but now it’s a different sort of story. It’s about what I couldn’t do. It’s about kindness & peace & opening up my hands to the things to which I was desperately grasping. It’s about value and “enough.” It’s about losing all of my stuff and discovering that I didn’t really care about that stuff at all. It’s about my face. It’s about the redemption of my heart.

It’s a Gospel story, now, and it’s a very good one.

Unplanned — August 17, 2020

Unplanned

Last night was the reception for a wedding that I officiated in April. The couple were gorgeous and totally present. That’s not always the case. Sometimes, they are distant and preoccupied, hoping the families don’t fight and the food is hot. Wedding planning usually garners more time than marriage planning, so with that much of a commitment, it’s no surprise that who sits where gets the biggest piece of the pie and leaves only table scraps for the actual vows.

Not with these two, though. They are very well aware how extraordinary it is to have found each other, lovers, partners, friends. I dearly hope they don’t take each other for granted when the excitement of the day gets exchanged for the routine of the everyday like most of us do.

Anyway, I gave the prayer before the meal. In it, I said, “Today and on that day in April, nothing was how it was supposed to be, how it was planned, but it was just THE BEST,” or something like that. And then I paused. Maybe my silence was perceived as dramatic, but I was just thinking about how that’s absolutely true. Not just for their wedding, but probably for their marriage. Almost nothing will go how it’s supposed to, how it’s planned.

Maybe that’s the key to marriage. Maybe that’s the key to life. To ease our grip on the wheel a little. To not be more married to our calendars than we are to each other. To let things be what they are.

We plan, we prepare, then we allow the thing to breathe instead of choking it to death with our white knuckles. How many times have we completely missed the most significant moments of our lives by trying to shoehorn them into our expectations? Too many, right?

We had their wedding in her parents backyard, only immediate family (maybe 15 of us) and me, and to tell you the truth, I probably had the virus. I had been sick with a fever for days and days only getting out of bed to put on my suit and tie. But that horrible disruption may have been the greatest blessing of their lives. We were mercifully freed from ALL of the distractions (except for my mask;), and had no reason at all to be there (no food, no guests, no favors or centerpieces) other than for a man and woman to say “I do” to each other.

I really love weddings, except for the ones I don’t, but if I’m honest, this was one of my very favorites. I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the lovely gift we were given. These 2 reminded me, reminded all of us, that things don’t have to be perfect to be perfect. I hope I don’t forget.

RAIN!!!! — August 4, 2020

RAIN!!!!

It’s raining. Actually, that’s an understatement. Tropical storm Isaias (pronounced, I think, E – sah – E – yas, I heard it’s Portuguese and that sounds like it might be true) is pounding the east coast of the United States, which is where I live. We need the rain, the grass has been brown-ish and dry and it has been unbearably humid for weeks and weeks.

On this damned humidity: I have asthma, but I don’t usually suffer anymore. When I was a child, I did, but not much anymore. Only if I exercise outside in the winter (so I don’t) or if the humidity is so high it strangles me. This is that kind of humidity. It’s like having a serial killer just outside my front door, lying in wait to choke me the second I leave.

So, we need the rain.

But in September 2011, another tropical storm (Lee) barreled into town, loaded like a freight train and flying like an aero plane. (That is a reference to a perfect Guns N’ Roses song as well as a story about a G N’ R cover band written by Chuck Klosterman that I just loooove. The song is Nightrain, by the way.) Lee came in and set up in the sky over my town, unmoving, and 3 days later, my house and everything I owned was underwater. This event was so significant to my family and I that we often speak of our lives in before- and after- flood terms. Each of us were forever changed. People were terrific and people (mostly people in utterly broken systems, like insurance companies and government agencies) were horrible. To quote a famous novel, “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

Now we watch the weather and consume forecast models like addicts. A hard prolonged rain sets us on edge until the sun comes out. We check the basements and gutters over and over, every puddle is a sign that we should at least start to consider packing up our photo albums and overnight bags.

When we had to evacuate our home in 2011, we took only 1 tub of toys (Rescue Hero figures) because whose house really goes underwater in Pennsylvania? A few years later, we lent those Rescue Heroes to another family for their boys and they were returned 2 weeks ago, so as it pours against this window, that exact tub of toys is within arms reach.

My wife texted me an hour ago with a sad face and I know, baby, I know.

It’s interesting. If you ask me about it, I would tell you it’s one of the best things to ever happen to me. I am different and I wouldn’t be without that time of growth, of tremendous stretching. That’s true of most pain, though, isn’t it? While we don’t wish it to happen to anyone else, and likely wouldn’t choose to travel those roads again, we are thankful for who we are now. (At least I am;)

Except when it rains.

This Morning At The Gym — July 13, 2020

This Morning At The Gym

Once we received our “Green” designation, the gym I belong to was free to open. There would of course be the changes we notice everywhere – space, masks, distance, etc. One big change was the hours of operation. Instead of 24 hours, my Planet Fitness now opens in the morning and closes at night. This was the one that caused me an unhealthy level of concern.

You see, I transferred to PF because the old gym had a morning employee problem. None of them could be counted upon to open on time. There were 4am’s (too many to count) where we would sit in our cars or on the sidewalks and wait…and wait…and wait, until we could wait no longer, and abandon our workouts.

The great thing about a 24 hour gym is no one ever opens so on one ever doesn’t.

(Before I get too far, I am still aware that we are in a global pandemic and the problems of hours of operation and irresponsible employees at a local fitness center are not what any of us would call too important. But we have been in an intense time of anxiety and upheaval – maybe a sense of normalcy is exactly what we need. In a time where things are wildly coming undone, maybe a sense that there is something at all that we can affect holds some allure. Maybe in that sense is the key to regaining our mental as well as physical health. Maybe not – just know I know how trivial this 1st part is.)

So, a week into our re-opening, the gym doesn’t open. While I’m sitting in the parking lot, with nothing to do, I post on the Planet Fitness members page on Facebook. Not because I’m particularly angry or looking for retribution (after all, these things do happen), but because I understand the power of a “Me too.” Someone else saying, “yeah, I understand” and that being the truth is undeniably healing. Especially now, I just want to feel like someone else is there, like someone understands.

My post was taken down in minutes by the Admin, but not before I would receive 5 surprisingly nasty comments. Instead of presence and understanding, I was mocked and berated.

I don’t know why they were so mean. Of course, everybody can be mean online in ways they would never to my face, but where does that impulse come from? In the Fight Club film, after mercilessly pounding another, the narrator says, “I just wanted to destroy something beautiful.” Is that it? When we feel stripped of all power (whether ecologically, biologically, or politically), is any exercise of force enough to regain the illusion of control?

Is that why the discourse online has devolved into a battle royale, where the best insult shouted the loudest with the harshest 4-letter words “wins?” Where our most devastating hurts must be passed along to another immediately, safely behind a screen of anonymity?

I know this gym nonsense is trivial, but this condition sure as hell isn’t and if we intend to move forward, as a nation, as human beings, I think we’re probably going to have to acknowledge all of this powerlessness and isolation that is causing so much suffering. We’re going to have to acknowledge that we’re not just names and avatars and the sum of our emojis. We’re going to have to acknowledge that we’re all just people who are in this mess together.

The Barkley — May 26, 2020

The Barkley

You know I love to watch documentaries… I may need forgiveness in a minute, my neighbor just flooded the street with the sweet smell of burning tires and my headache is beginning and stomach turning and maybe the fumes will cause all kinds of nonsense. No, I don’t know why they do the things they do, I just know they do. I don’t have to know why. If you come by any night between 9-11pm, they’re outside revving various engines and you can ask them yourself.

Anyway, I love documentaries, right? I saw one Friday that was my very favorite. It’s called The Barkley Marathons and details a roughly 130 mile ultra marathon through the mountains of Tennessee. Most years, people don’t finish. Since its inception, 13 people have finished. It’s called a race, but that implies competition and the only competition is against the course and against the voices in your own head that tell you to stop, you can’t do it.

I have 3 quotes I wrote down to talk about with you.

The Barkley was created to “Give people the opportunity to really find out something about themselves.” What would I find out about myself in 130 miles that I wouldn’t otherwise? Everything. We do planks in this house and they always end with my face inches from Samuel’s, saying, “you can do this, your body can do this, it’s only your mind telling you you can’t, and that isn’t true, it’s lying to you. I KNOW you can.” And then he does, goes longer than he thought was possible for his screaming muscles, and he finds out that the limits he thought he had minutes ago aren’t actually his limits at all.

“You never know how much you can do until you try to do more.” I think we’re conditioned to seek comfort, so when that desire is threatened, we stop. It’s called our Comfort Zone, and it’s so much more dangerous than bears and mountain lions and my neighbors. Our soft cozy couches encourage complacency, and complacent isn’t where we were called to be. (Contentment is. They are different, and we should maybe talk about that some time.) We are called to grow and growth requires discomfort. Growth requires us to try something new, something we hadn’t done, something at which we might fail (gasp!).

What is that old cliche? The only way you can not fail is to never try anything new. The only way you can never miss the last shot is to never take it.

Growth requires us to risk. Because maybe we can. This Barkley Marathon is like everything else – nobody could do it until somebody did. It was impossible until it wasn’t. No one could run a sub-4 minute mile, but then when Bannister did, many others followed.

I don’t know if we’re afraid to fail or afraid to succeed (probably both), I just know we’re afraid.

So these people start the race and it’s hot or it rains. They have no idea where to go, there’s no map and the route changes every year. The creator, Lazarus, says, “So many things aren’t going to be the way you planned it,” and that sounds EXACTLY like this year, 2020. Well, it sounds like every year, to be honest.

And when we face these uncertainties, these disruptions, then what do we do? Do we hold tighter to our plans? Grasp even angrier for some form of control? Do we quit? Do we hide?

Or will we take another step?

I married a couple Saturday and, every wedding I officiate, I reflect on the tremendous risk they’re taking. Saying “I do” to another and saying “I do” to this ridiculous marathon is so similar. We don’t know where it’s going, and when it goes there, will I be enough, can I do it??? It’s the same as saying “I do” to Jesus and “I do” to our lives. Maybe we can’t do it today, maybe not tomorrow, but we have to ask, we have to try. It’s the greatest moment of a wedding, that space between my question and their answer. I saw the significance of the choice in their eyes, and I knew they understood what it meant to look straight up a mountain face they did not know for sure they could climb. And we all celebrated like crazy when they said they would find out

Both Hands — March 18, 2020

Both Hands

We are all quarantined (except for those on the beaches in Florida, I suppose.) The schools are closed, most businesses are affected, and it is causing a great deal of tension. We are not a society of people who take very kindly being told we can not. It seems like an infringement, an act of violence, even if the thing being taken away is undesirable or harmful.

This virus could kill us, or those close to us. But I wanna go to the mall or the movies or ANYWHERE!!! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said or heard that we’d want nothing more than to check out for a minute, stay home, lower the volume on the world and take a nap. Now we have to, and we are losing our collective mind about it.

But that’s people, it’s who we are.

I don’t really want to write about that, what I do want to write about is the truth of feeling, talking, living, fully engaged, able to see and hold wide ranges of emotions. A philosophy of “Both Hands.”

The virus is horrible. People are in pain, suffering and, in some cases, dying. The wide reaching state of emergency is heaping stress and anxiety upon countless more. How will we make it? How will we pay the rent, the bills, the groceries? What will we do??? Some of us are alone and lonely, the quarantine emphasizing our heartbreaking isolation.

At the same time, the quiet is lovely. The time at home, with my wife, my boys, is like water healing every broken or cracked part of me. The house is full of laughter and smooches, and this is a season where we would never have found this unhurried time to spend together. We play games, watch movies, music is always playing and we’re eating healthy around the dinner table. I called my mom yesterday, a gift I’ve neglected due to the demands of every day.

I am more thankful than I can express for the time. And I pray for it to end. This is the paradox of a life in between.

I sometimes get the blessing and honor of officiating funerals and nowhere is this more pronounced than in that thick space. We are sad and our hearts are aching…and we are hopeful for the promises of Jesus and grateful for the time we spent with the person we mourn. It’s a “both, and” situation, not “either, or.”

The problem is, we hide, we pretend, we try to fit an image we’ve decided is fitting, important, or spiritual. This masquerade requires us to eliminate one of our hands in the service of the great lie. We decide it is not Christian to weep, to ask why, to allow our sadness room to breathe, so instead we plaster on a smile and recite our practiced platitudes. And we suppress our pain and encourage others to do the same, which only results in super secret wounds that never heal. The only way is through.

Yes, this is the worst. It’s also the best. Sometimes in the very same moment. I have a good friend who says, “How can hell be any worse?” And I answer, “How can Heaven be any better?” We’re both right. And we’re both wrong. This is our prayer, it can only be offered from our open, honest hearts.

Depeche Mode and Dave Matthews — January 16, 2020

Depeche Mode and Dave Matthews

We’ll start with Depeche Mode being inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame and my first instinct is to say: It’s about time. How did this oversight happen? Def Leppard, Pearl Jam, Bob Seger, The Crickets, Comets, Green Day, and on and on – we are not now debating whether or not these bands deserve to be in the HOF, but how could Radiohead possibly gain entry before Depeche Mode???

My first instinct is to say ‘it’s about time,’ but I’m trying not to focus so much on incompetence and, instead, only feel gratitude, overjoyed that a band that has meant a great deal to me has gotten the appreciation and acknowledgment they have very well earned. Listen to “Lie To Me” and “Everything Counts” and tell me I’m wrong.

I really loved Nine Inch Nails for a little in high school so I’m happy about that, too.

Whoever this super-special club of voters is (of which I would love to somehow be a part), they get my approval for these 2, Whitney Houston, T. Rex, AND refusing acceptance to horrible college jam-band Dave Matthews Band. Exclusivity is paramount in the perception of a Hall of Fame, and if DMB is allowed inside, then what’s next? Rusted Root? Spin Doctors? Or worse, Blues Traveler!!!

You know, it’s a strange thing, this blog posting. It’s awfully arrogant to assume that my opinions (facts) on bands and movies or anything else might be a little bit interesting to anyone but me, isn’t it? Why would you care what I think of Dave Matthews? I know I like to read others thoughts on art and culture, but I’m just some man in Pennsylvania who has an iPad and a WordPress account. Who knows about that, but I do know about the value of telling our stories. The exchange of thoughts, ideas, and honesty does exactly the same thing listening to “Blasphemous Rumours” on vinyl does; makes us feel less alone, like we’re not lost in a world that doesn’t see, know, or care. That there might be someone, somewhere who is feeling the same things we are is unbelievably comforting and a step or 1,000 on the road to knocking down the walls we’ve decided separate us and seeing each other as, simply, human.

Here’s something else I want to tell you: Yesterday is my usual day off, right? (I say usual, but it’s not at all the norm yet. The relationship with unproductive time is complicated, but rest is vital to being a healthy person, so I’m walking that way.) I didn’t take it. I decided to end my commitment to The Witcher after episode 4, and this week has drifted without any replacement. I wrote a lot, visited some good friends, baked a cake, worked out, started reading 2 new books, listened to a ton of new songs, watched youth sports, and served as taxi driver for the neighborhood. Great week. But I did not take my “day off.”

And that is ok. I had a terrific week, inspired and engaged. The point of the rest day is to break from all of the expectations and voices telling (screaming at) me what I SHOULD be doing. What if I begin a new practice to escape that cage and it becomes just another expectation, another should, another example where I have failed, more guilt and shame?

It’s still a cage.

My resolution (not a New Years resolution – more like a whole life resolution) is to be a little kinder to me, give me a break from time to time. So yes, I did not have my “day off” this week…and that’s fine.

Year End — December 20, 2019

Year End

I genuinely want to wish you all a Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

I suspect this will be my last post for the year – everyone is home from work/school next week and I don’t think I’ll sit down to write until they go back. I have some thoughts today, with the end of the year in mind, and there’s the chance it could get lengthy. (Since it’s the end of the year, I also want to thank you from the deepest parts of my soul for reading any of the things I write – and extra special thanks if you’ve liked, commented on, or shared any of this. There are an awful lot of choices of the things that compete for our attention, it is always humbling, appreciated and never taken for granted that you might spend a minute or 2 here.)

In the Bible (2nd Samuel to be exact), King David sees a woman named Bathsheba, spends time with her, she gets pregnant, and he (indirectly) kills her husband, Uriah. Now, this is the same King David that is called “a man after God’s own heart,” and we could explore the implications of God’s forgiveness and grace and what it might mean for us forever. But not today. Today we’ll only talk about the mess David got himself into. Usually, when we make a mess like this, it’s an ‘accident,’ a ‘moment of weakness,’ a ‘slip,’ like falling into a hole. This is very nearly never the case. It’s a long series of small, seemingly insignificant decisions that create a new road – a guy named Michael Fletcher called them “neuropathways” – somewhere we don’t think we’d like to go, but the long distance from “I’d NEVER do something like that” to the pregnant Bathsheba is shortened in increments until it’s no longer a giant chasm and instead becomes a very natural step. That story of David begins with “In the spring, when kings go off to war…” David didn’t, even though he was a king, even though he had always gone before. So many places to turn back and change the story. He could’ve gone to war. He could’ve seen her and averted his eyes, could’ve gone inside and watched Netflix documentaries, played his harp, had a nice meal, took a bath of his own, spent time with one of his 9 million concubines, anything. But he didn’t. He looked, kept looking, and the action that would have been so appalling earlier was right in front of him, leaving Bathsheba pregnant and Uriah dead. It’s never just 1 misstep, it’s 100 exit ramps along the way that we pass on the way to the big “Oops” that we pretend was an accident.

There is a flip side to this, one that is wholly positive and encouraging. This principle works in reverse, as well. We just as rarely become the people we want to become overnight, like we’re struck by lightning or possessed by an angel of light. It’s the result of a series of small, seemingly insignificant decisions that create a new road, shortening the distance from “I could never be like that” to “maybe…” to “I am almost like that.”

We don’t change behaviors (quit drinking, lose 30 pounds, stop telling lies, make good friends, build a beautiful marriage, get in shape, whatever) overnight, we change them a moment at a time. We didn’t gain the 30 pounds overnight, why would we lose it by tomorrow? The small things we do today are the foundation to who we will be in 6 months or 10 years, and should be taken very seriously. So, what neuropathways are we forming?

Interestingly, there is a baffling pattern I am finding more and more (in myself, as well as around me). We begin to erect these structures intentionally, to become something new and awesome. And we are, in fact, becoming just that. We eat more vegetables, we follow a workout program at the gym, we regularly read our Bibles, and we feel great, like superheroes who are breaking generational curses and are capable of ANYTHING at all. The best versions of ourselves, growing every day in every way. Then, something happens that hurts, circumstances change, the wheels get wobbly, the tides rise and water gets choppy…and we stop! Why?!!? Why would we stop the things that make us strong and courageous, build confidence and self-esteem, make us the good kind of proud of ourselves???

I eat more vegetables and less processed ‘food’ made in factories, feel great, sleep better, buy new pants (while keeping the old, because you never know, right? 😉 have more energy than I had since high school…then she breaks up with me and I reach for the donuts, ice cream and soda, which makes me feel even more like garbage, so I eat some more candy and chips and on and on and on.

I go to church because I decide it’s important – for any number of reasons – and IT IS!! I make new friends, connect on a deeper level, grow in relationship with God, discovering that the Bible isn’t at all the hateful book of a crazy religious cult but is instead a gorgeous letter of Love, Grace and Peace, begin to fall in love with Jesus…then my wife and I fall into a pattern where we are fighting more and I stay out Saturday night and sleep in later and don’t really feel like going where I might have to talk to someone who would ask me how I am (THE HORROR!!) and really should do the yard work and catch up on the latest season of Fleabag and the fights continue and I avoid the phone calls from those new friends and feel more and more desperate and like we are spinning our wheels and maybe our problems can’t be fixed and and and.

I have been writing a new book and when I make time, schedule time to write a lot, it comes easy and I feel inspired and fresh and engaged with my life, but when there are more basketball games and appointments, it’s often the first thing to go. Why is that?

When we, in ordinary times with clear heads, make commitments and create practices to evolve and grow in ways we desire, maybe we should not abandon them the second the terrain gets shaky. Maybe that’s actually the best time to hold them a little tighter. Maybe that’s the reason we have them in the first place. Small decisions made over and over lead to BIG wonderful changes.

Now. The truth is that sometimes it’s hard to notice, and that can be discouraging and lead to this abandonment. What about that? Well…I have an idea about that.

Last night was the Christmas (or Holiday, whatever. Obviously I don’t mean to offend you when I say Christmas – if you are, maybe you could get a hobby or a book to read or something to think about – I don’t get offended if you wish me Happy Hanukkah or Kwanzaa blessings. In fact it’s the opposite, I totally welcome your open kindness to welcome me into the warmth and beauty of your traditions) concert for the high school chorus and band. (My boy Samuel is in the band.) I have seen these students since Kindergarten and see them a few times a year in spaces like last night. It’s the most amazing thing, they are no longer children and are becoming young men and women, with striking talents and distinct personalities. A girl named Grace Coleman, who I have sort of known for years, sang the solo and knocked everyone down and into pieces with her UNBELIEVABLE voice. When did that happen? Maybe she doesn’t even know the extent of her (what I now know is) boundless, overwhelming talent, and do you know why she might not? Because she sees her, hears her, every day.

We grow in small baby steps. I used the words “seemingly insignificant” earlier on purpose, because these kids make seemingly insignificant decisions to practice and commit to their dreams and interests, but they’re not insignificant at all. They are monumental. They stack upon each other, brick by brick, until they perform and we are all in awe that the 4th grade concert we suffered through produced this. Grace sings and sings and sings and this instrument of hers just becomes normal for her – but it’s not normal. It’s extraordinary.

So, my idea is to have a great big concert/talent show for all of us. Haha, that’s not true. My idea is to notice. I think we’re so busy, distracted, that we ignore ourselves and our development, however small we might think that development is.

My mom has decided to quit or cut down on her smoking. She now smokes a quarter of what she used to – Hallelujah! She might wave that away as small, but it’s not small. It’s extraordinary.

Your bench press went up 5 pounds and it’s just 5 pounds. Just 5 pounds??? There’s no such thing as ‘just’ when you’re on the journey to who you want to be, who you’ve been created to be. Instead of 7 reps, you did 8!!! Your weight went from 206.2 to 205.8!!! You read your Bible twice this week!!! You took your wife out for a lunch date!! You said “Thank you” this morning to the God that gave you this lovely day, this magnificent gift that is your life!!

Maybe our lives aren’t that magnificent? Maybe not now, but maybe they could be. Maybe it just takes a bit of attention/intention and the time to notice how blessed we have been and how far we’ve come

Start something, stop something, move. And notice the baby steps. We really don’t need concerts, we just need more present’s, more now’s, to pay attention to the new creation we are becoming.

I wish you all the love and peace.

C.