Buy the Umbrella, Pack the Bag

Discipline. Sometimes it feels like this ten letter word should only have four letters. At least to me. A swear word. I have for a long time operated under the delusion that I am intrinsically good. Talented. Capable. Call it millennialism or naivete, whatever you will, I had it and unfortunately I’m still trying to let go of the dream.

I believe everyone has a few natural talents, things they just do well at, but for everything else there’s elbow grease and gumption. For a long time I would stay in my lane, stick to that which came readily to me. The problem I came to encounter were those things that I enjoyed that I was only moderately good at, or those things, those behaviors I ought to do, which I had to work at developing.

I could belabor all the habits, behaviors, skills, etc that I need to improve, but that’s not what this post endeavors to relay.

I haven’t written on this blog for a while now (four months) for two reasons. For the past couple of months I have been in a slump, feeling down and out. I wasn’t disciplined enough to sit down and write.

I have often thought that I can write passably well when I want to, that I can communicate my thoughts coherently and even to an extent with flourish. The problem with this presupposition arises when you examine the need for a want. You see, even the things I want to do, that I believe I can do well, I have to want to do in order to do them. Follow that?

I have to want to act. I have to want to write. I have to want to go to the gym. But I don’t always want what I want.

This is where discipline comes in to the picture. You see, discipline fills in the gaps. Discipline means committing what you said you would regardless of how you feel. You see why I might have an issue with this concept? If you’ve read my blog previously, or if you know me in person I can surmise that you know I am an emotive person, much like anyone. I am fickle in my feelings, flighty in my fancies, you get the idea. Just this morning I woke up, slept in an hour past the time I had planned on getting up just because I didn’t “feel” like getting up.

This isn’t a post about mental illness, I am wildly under educated in this field.

This is a post about discipline, routines. I don’t know where or when the change took place, and it probably was slow and gradual. I read a book. I heard a sermon. I read a quote. I had a good conversation. All of these moments led to a realization in two parts: I needed discipline, to do these things without the necessity of feeling “up to it”, and I needed to recommit myself to what God’s calling to me was on. The book “Chase the Lion: If Your Dream Doesn’t Scare You, It’s Too Small” by Mark Batterson brought these ideas to a head. It gave me a realization that I wasn’t living like a man with faith, I wasn’t acting on the promise that God had given me, trusting Him with what He promised. He told me He was going to make it rain and I stopped building my boat.

You see that’s the thing with faith and discipline. They go hand in hand. “The Cost of Discipleship” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer puts it in different words, you cannot have faith without obedience and obedience stems from faith, we obey because we have faith. I can develop disciplines because I have faith that God will come through. I can work hard, not to accomplish my own dreams, not to accomplish what God has in store for my life, but rather to be prepared when it does come, to prepare my heart, to show how I trust Him that He is doing what He said He will do.

This past Sunday we heard a recorded message of Jentezen Franklin’s preaching from Hillsong Conference in Australia. His message revolved around the ancient near east tradition of measurement. He said they used Cubits, which is the measurement from the end of your middle finger to the nape of your elbow, or six hand-breadths. A hand breadth is pinky to index finger, basically the width of your palm. Franklin tells of how when God gives the measurements for the new temple he extends the original single cubits to a cubit and one handbreadth, seven handbreadths. He explains the cultural significance of six referring to the number of man and seven being God’s number. Simply put, Franklin indicated that God was telling the Israelites He was adding to what they could accomplish on their own. Six handbreadths was nice, but the seventh meant completion, what God could accomplish.

Pastor Franklin passionately iterated that God wants us to do our “six handbreadths” our “cubit’s worth”. He said that the cubit length seemed to draw on the part of the human that creates, that builds, that manufactures. A cubit is our contribution, but it takes the seventh to fulfill. The sermon then moved to the story of Elijah and his prayer for rain in the drought. 1 Kings 18 records Elijah as praying seven times before the glimmer of a cloud, but after each prayer he sent the attendant to look to the skies for rain. That means that six times the attendant saw clear skies. In verse 44, it describes the attendant running out a seventh time and seeing a cloud “no bigger than a man’s hand”; the promise fulfilled in God’s “seventh hand”.

This message solidified a lot of the fresh perspectives I had been feeling and seeing. A few weeks ago I began to plan for new disciplines. In order to plan, I sat down and thought through (and prayed through) all the promises God has placed on my life and then I began to plan my days and weeks around the idea, “If I was living in the fulfillment of God’s promises, how would my days and weeks look?” I’ve been reading more plays, I memorized a few new monologues. I’ve been waking up earlier to accommodate. One of my dreams is to travel to Ireland and Scotland on an extended trip, so I even sat down and planned my dream Celtic Road trip. Obviously it’s a process and not all days are a “success” but I think I am not a better trajectory.

Last week a potentially derailing thought wormed it’s way into my head. I prayed it out to God, “If I am doing all these disciplines to be ready, won’t it end up appearing to me and to others that I just got busy and made it happen.” I whined and asked Him to show up miraculously because otherwise I might think I accomplished it all. It seems petty in hindsight, and slightly manipulating, but I think at the core there was a genuine concern. God promptly reprimanded me and then a few days later boasted to me in the form of miraculous provision.

Last Friday evening I hung out with two friends with whom I used to lead a team at church. They gave me one of the best and most unexpected presents for my Birthday, a shadowbox decorated with pictures of Ireland and Scotland. I thought the gift an inspirational motivator, that the dream would happen, a holder for the end of the trip to fill with souvenirs. They said it could be that, but they intended it to hold the cash that would pay for the trip, a dream piggy bank. Not only did they create this wonderful gift but they planted the seed and told my friends about it. Others who saw their gift (who don’t know them) also felt inclined to give. I am nearly 20% raised on this dream trip. I did nothing, well I planned it and created a budget, I did a cubit’s worth. God showed up to reveal to me that when I step out in faith He’ll make me walk on waves.

“When you pray for rain, make sure you buy an umbrella” – Jentezen Franklin

I’m packing my bags.

Not as Alone as I Think

I want to say something,  something illogical and foolish, but please bear with me. It’s been a while since I have written anything. There’s good reason for this, well no, actually it makes sense but it’s not a good reason, in fact it’s rather counter intuitive.

In the past month(s) I’ve come to realize something about me. I enjoy being around people, not ground breaking, but I need to be around people. I need to be with people I trust and I can be completely vulnerable with. The difficulty I’ve found is that though I have people around me I close myself off, in part because I worry about people’s thoughts about me, what I’m sharing, but in large part due to this feeling that I will overwhelm the people I care about with the extensive overthinking I do.

I feel as though, because I want to care for people around me who carry so much as it is, I cannot load more on their shoulders.

So the problem persists, grows, and compounds, creating an unhealthy Greg, withdrawn from the people that care for me and stewing in negative thoughts or just too many thoughts.

Foolish right?

Now, in the past to sort of “sidetrack” this issue, or for an eloquent “put together” way of expressing my internal turmoil, I blog, I write about it. (This is beyond the daily journaling I do). This way I can share a struggle, a frustration, a confusion, without true intimacy because I give it themes and metaphorical meaning, externally processing with the enigmatic wide web which includes whomever “chooses to read/hear” my stresses. Typically written blogs give an air of finality to personal struggles, like “writing about it means it’s solved, or mostly solved” which is much more manageable than unresolved conflict, which is messy.

Since I have been trying to work on friendships (or rather this is what I told myself) I didn’t want to share my struggles via blog without cluing in at least some people because then I’d get the typical former response of, “Hey I had no idea, please come to me if you ever need to talk”. I want people to know me, I need people. This is why I haven’t been blogging.

While this has been “good” I haven’t been doing my part. I haven’t been sharing.

I recently reread “Scary Close” by Donald Miller, this is now the third time reading it (I think this will become a habit). The book outlines how Don struggles with intimacy, how he’s been “performing” his whole life. He walks through his journey of discovery through his relationship patterns up until his wife. The book explores how life is meant to be shared and though it’s scary, to be known by people.

Rereading this book and a moment of clarity on a Sunday at church woke me up. My ideas culminated to a realization, I’ve been emotionally unhealthy. I realized it fully when my friend asked me why I was sitting on my own reading my Bible rather than be at lunch with my team/friends.

Reading the Bible is not the issue, in fact it’s a great thing, an essential aspect to life. It was the timing and the scenario. I timed my day in such a way that I missed lunch with my friends, in fact I didn’t miss eating, I had grabbed food on my own and then sat down to read. I told my friend as I was realizing it for myself. Because I need people to process my own thoughts with, I isolate myself when I am feeling anxious because I don’t want to overwhelm my friends with my anxieties.

I’ve been making things worse.

Last night as I was sharing with my friend an encounter I had with God this week, a moment where God was again asking me to trust Him which I was struggling to do. It was interesting though because after I shared, after I included him in my struggling and the process God was walking me through he thanked me. Not just for sharing “myself”, my process, with him, but also he was reminded of something God had spoken to him. My friend basically told me that not only should I share with people for my health but for others to learn.

Life is meant to be lived with others, to share the burdens we are not strong enough to carry on our own. To get perspective from those not within a situation, not themselves crushed by a specific anxiety. We can learn from hearing what people are processing and realize that we are not as alone as we may perceive.

Heads in the Sand

Can I speak?

No, I mean I can, but I really meant

Should I speak?

I have some conflicting ideas. On one hand, I was always told to speak your mind, express yourself, that I live in a free country and can have an opinion. In school I was rewarded for speaking up, for asking questions, for processing aloud. On the other hand, I was told that sometimes it’s better to have peace than to have my perspective shared. In this climate lately, I’ve been told explicitly and implicitly my perspective doesn’t matter, well unless my opinion reflects those who speak the loudest and most passionately now.

I also happen to carry certain identifiers that also render my opinion invalid because of the crimes of my predecessors. I’m not here to make another whiny no-one-will-listen-to-a-white-christian-male post, I’m just clarifying that lately I’ve felt less inclined to express my opinion for the fear that it will be completely disregarded, not that some (most) of the criticisms are valid. I mean it has been colonialism that have led to many of our worldly woes.

I digress.

I honestly haven’t written in a long time for a myriad of reasons. Most of them are internal. I hated repeating the whiny broken record of “Why God? It doesn’t make sense! I’m living in one of the greatest places on earth and don’t know what I’m doing. I have a dependable job with benefits that is flexible for life. I have to pay off dental bills for the fixing of my teeth. Wah”

It’s exhausting to go through the motions in and of them self to then rehash it out for others.

So my throat tightened.

My thoughts and emotions suppressed.

Left to sit.

But..

When God designed me, when he set the parameters for how I was raised, He made me to express and share. In fact I don’t function well at all if I don’t talk things out, to formulate my thoughts out loud, and hopefully with someone as a sounding board. The last few months I’ve been sick, not visibly but internally, heart sick. All the thoughts and feelings have been stewing inside and creating poison. Every now and then I release a little bit, I allow some to seep out or some of the poison lashed out, but up until about two weeks ago when I began to work on healing, I allowed poison to grow. I knew it was there but I tried to distract myself with a million little things to avoid the truth.

The thing about truth, whether personal or objective, it is good when let out, but it’s not always pretty. Towards the end of last year when I was exhausted from asking God to heal me, or bring focus, He challenged me to begin to pull away from my self medications, my distractions. I slowly began pulling them out by the root and had serious withdrawals. Most of my distractions were simple but effective (social media being king). I wouldn’t allow for a moment to go by without occupying my mind, so I began to allow myself to be bored, to not be distracted. It was awful. I was in a scary place.

I was alone, alone with my thoughts.

All those things I had not dealt with, that had lingered, now stared me down. I couldn’t face them alone, so I prayed.

Relief. Sweet relief.

I began to realize my problem, I was never able to receive healing because I was ignoring my problem, my sickness. Ignoring a knife wound and willing it away doesn’t fix it. Dressing it up in fancy wraps doesn’t mend it. Making self-deprecating jokes doesn’t heal. You’ve go to take the knife out (not immediately, in the presence of a great surgeon) and allow yourself to be patched up.

Lately, things have been getting chaotic. And ignoring it won’t help. So now I look at it and now I will process out loud. If you’ve read this far, hopefully that means you won’t readily discount my thoughts. I know my personal struggle lends nothing to my education or my perspective, but I hope it allows you to see that I am human, that I struggle and that I have some personal character.

Breathe.

The world is a messy place. You know that, I know that. It’s also a beautiful place.

It’s sick. For a long time people have liked to think otherwise, that the problem is “those people”, but the problem is those people are just like you, part of humanity, flawed, messy, and beautiful. You who argue that morality is gray, how can you say I am wrong that all humans are simultaneously capable of wonder and atrocity.

There’s healing available. Good healing. The caveat requires that we give up something of ourselves, our pride mostly. We have to all recognize how we contribute to the problem before we can figure out how to be part of the healing.

That’s the rub isn’t it though, it’s so much easier to see someone else’s problems, “Can you believe that person would say or do this thing that I abhor”, you say. They retort, “At least I don’t do that thing or think the way you do!”

Right now we have a President in the USA who is making a lot of bold moves that are scary to a lot of people. If you are not concerned with how concerned the country is, I wan’t you to ask someone why they are scared. If you are in a fever pitch with how disgusted you are, can you ask someone what fear they had that led them to their perspective? If you who scream tolerance are intolerant of another how do expect progress? If you claim to love your neighbor but won’t stop to hear their story how can you expect love to grow? Are you able to confidently accuse someone else of bias without recognizing your own limited bias?

Can I march with you if I don’t agree with everything you say or support?

Can I not march and still feel passionately?

Will you listen to what I have to say before disregarding what I have to say, without a retort ready on your lips?

What if I told you I am Pro-life and think defunding Planned Parenthood is terrible?

That I believe in the right to bear arms but I think war is deplorable.

What if I told you some of the most brilliant, open minded individuals have an accent different than yours?

I believe in empathy and understanding, but I don’t think safe spaces are a healthy solution.

Can you imagine a world, a country, a room even where people are not afraid to share their perspective for fear of being shamed or disregarded? Isn’t that what has this been about? Or has all of history just been a repeating cycle of the bullied becoming the bullies?

 

Now, this is where I become more divisive. I believe the healing we need is love. The love I refer to is not the one that is permissive, that allows children (who are still developing and need direction) to do whatever they want. (sidebar, why do we spend so much money on training and disciplining pets if we don’t care enough for our children to guide them) Not the love that is unhealthy and codependent allowing for abuses because one day someone might turn around. I mean the active, healthy good love we all need. The love that comes to us and tells us when we’re messing up but makes sure to walk alongside us when we need it. The love that gets into the ditch to help up out when we’ve slipped. The love that celebrates our victories with the most relish. The love that protects but urges us to be brave. The love that makes us our best and the most we could be.

I believe that love comes from one source. You have every freedom to disagree with my “limited” view but in my life when everything is crashing, when I am what I described above that love is God, made apparent in Jesus Christ. My attempts at good are a farce in comparison to what I have done through Him. (not ignoring all those who misuse his name and character, that is evident in their character) Jesus is my healer and the one to heal the seeping wound of this world.

 

Now you know what I think. Now I’ve just got to get better at representing Him. Although the great thing is, all I have to do is let down my guard with Him. (Which is scary). Recognize that part of me is the cause of hurt and as long as I continually go to Him I will become part of the solution.

That’s all I meant to say, I’ve gotta take my head out of the sand. I’ve gotta speak and be a part of the solution.

 

 

A Post Script for those who follow Christ as I have aforementioned. I don’t understand how we can ignore the pain and the cries of so many, even if you disagree with policy. How is the red, white, and blue greater than the Kingdom of Heaven? I thought we were not of this world? I thought we pay taxes to Caesar, honor and pray for him (or her), but we are not nationalists. We are not supposed to be Greek, Jew, Gentile but citizens of heaven? With all that how can you offer me a “but…”? I will listen, I do think the system is messed up, but never has our hope or salvation been in a political leader or policy? We cannot become pharisees, we cannot wish so badly to adopt the customs of our neighbors that we get Saul at the end of his reign, or an Absalom (at least he was of the line of David?). Why do we want a king so badly? Let’s learn from Israel’s history, not repeat it (this is not a political stance on current nation of Israel a critical view at Biblical Israel).

 

Terrible American

First off, I want to apologize. I am sorry. I don’t know if I have the right to share my opinion. I am not a good American. I didn’t exercise my right as a citizen today.

I didn’t vote.

I didn’t vote and so I probably have no right to share my opinion. I mean I have a vaguish reasonable reason I didn’t vote. Though I am from California, my last residence was Virginia and I live in New York. I should have done an absentee ballot, but I assumed I would go and change my formal residency and voter’s status. I procrastinated. On the last day I could register to vote in New York (which I was reminded of that day by a stranger on a train) I did not have my correct paperwork with me to send in. I was not allowed to vote by my high hopes and poor follow through.

If I can be honest though, I didn’t want to either.

I don’t like our candidates. The crazy thing, as far as I can tell, I am in the majority. Most of the people I speak to don’t like either candidate and while in the past the elections have been a voting for the “lesser of two evils”, I don’t think it has been seen so strongly by so many. On one hand, we have a candidate who “tells it like it is” but what “it is” is gross, racist, misogynistic, and all around frightening. On the other hand, we have “the first woman to be president, who also happens to not be Trump” but there are a lot of people who are not Trump, and this not Trump has a history is deception, inconsistency, and pandering to what people want to get into a place of power.

Who should I vote for?

“How can you even ask that?”

Should I go third party?

“and throw away your vote to them?”

Why do we even have a system where this is becoming the norm?

A part of me thinks: I could not live with myself if I voted for someone who’s behavior is so erratic, who has said so many terrible things, and makes obscure promises, and of those promises some of them just seem to fly in the face of the grace and love I am supposed to exude as a follower of Christ? How could I support someone who instills so much deep seeded fear into my friends?

but

If someone so obviously terrible to so many comes into power, perhaps people will then be stirred into action. Perhaps large scale (hopefully peaceful) rebellion will start up where people begin to lobby to get policies to change, our party system may be examined. People will be impassioned to bring change. I think my fear with a corrupt politician (though more appealing emotionally and for the sake of “peace”) is that we will fall into the fugue of status quo. We as the masses will forget about politics again (except to gripe) for the next four years. We need change…but at what cost?

That’s the other thing. I, a white cis male, carry with me a set of lenses that are narrow. I know for a lot of people even the potential of these awful promises is terrifying. I have never experienced that anxiety. My citizenship has never been in question, my faith and appearance puts me in a “randomly unscreened” category when I go through security or when I pass by a police officer. Will this possible political upset, be too upsetting? Individuals are at stake.

But you know what really makes me glad I am not “allowed” to vote?

Because this election has been stirring up deep seeded feelings, it has stirred up deep seeded hatred and contention. People are either abrasive with their opinions, everyone else be damned, or you’re afraid to share what you’re wrestling with because you’re a villain or a fool if you even consider the other terrible candidate. This election is dividing people in the worst way, no longer do we just disagree on opinions, but now we demonize one another for our decisions, worse our potential thoughts and concerns. Heavy moral implications are placed on both candidates. So how can a person decide, well reasonably, when they feel like they are being tossed between two echoing walls of people perpetuating the same arguments.

I am uncertain. People are stressed and worried. I don’t know how to help.

But you know what gives me peace? In general, bad things have happened and people still thrive, but more than that I believe people are more than citizens of a nation with a ruler higher than kings and emperors. Here it comes.

Jesus. King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

I believe, aside from all this politics I know who leads my life, I know who is in control of the world. God has been constant and because all people are flawed He has still made good regardless of the appearance of hopelessness. He still moves and His creation is still beautiful, as are His people, even when we act ugly. So, while the waves thrash, I know the one who calms storms.

Admonishment (the following is to professed Christians, if you do not share this, feel free to end above):

We are not meant to worry about these things (Mt. 6:25-34; Col. 3:1-3; and the stories of the seeds planted along the road, don’t create unneeded weeds). Please. Please. I implore you, do not get caught up in the frenzy. I think it’s fine to share your concerns, to be nervous, to feel, if I didn’t I’d be pretty hypocritical to add this to the previous post. What I mean is please don’t demonize people, don’t ostracize people, we’re all mixed up and some people have different views than you. Sometimes their views can be hurtful, but at the end of the day we’re all sinners in need of grace and love. Please let’s trust that God has control still no matter the outcome. If it turns out as bad as people fear, God is still in control, in either case and remember, we’re more than citizens of this country, of this earth…remember that. Please, let’s not add more fear to the already tense times and lets bring instead the fruits of the spirits and try to be an ambassador of Heaven to all people. End admonishment…I will try to do my best.

Insufficient Funds

*Insufficient Funds*

Again. MetroCard. Add time. Unlimited 7 Day, thirty-one dollars. Debit Card.

*Insufficient Funds*

It was enough to make me want to quit. I had spent the weekend wonderfully with friends from college celebrating the marriage of two of our friends. It was a nice break from the city life routine and visit where I used to live, making a small trip down memory lane. We explored parts of LA, we spent the day Saturday running around getting last minute details ready, and all of Sunday was for wedding events. I had forgotten how much I loved having my close friends around.

Living in college, especially where I went to school, you end up spending a lot of time with the people you go to school with. When you leave the safe folds of college, you go out into the wild world and no longer have the tight community you’re used to and if you’re like me and “escape” Bible college without a serious significant other and you don’t return home, you go out into the world alone. As it is, I didn’t realize how connected I felt with these people until I saw them again when I visited the school again, after that I saw them less frequently, typically at weddings, but after every time I would get a little sad that I would be leaving again.

It’s all part of this dream, the calling i have on my life, and it’s probably the cost I feel the most.

I think I’m addicted to the feeling of having close friends around, friends that have watched you grown and have helped push you to be better, friends that genuinely care for you. Outside of school I haven’t felt that depth of connection and it feels as if when I leave them I go through slight withdrawal. As these are the things that I have been feeling, returning home to New York was daunting.

All weekend people keep asking me, “You’re living in New York! Are you loving every minute of it?!” You see I’m living my dream, so why wouldn’t I love it? That’s the thing about dreams though, they take work, they take time, and they take character development. Yes, I love it, but I don’t always like it. I’ve lamented enough on the internet for people to know how much of a struggle this life is and how money has been tight. Coming home meant coming back from the dream, the memory, to the present reality of struggle and process.

I have trouble living in the present, because I over glorify the past and pine for the promises of the potential possibility, but that is to be discussed another time.

This time, coming home I was determined to be more vigilant, to be proactive in my faith, and to carry on fighting well. I wanted to talk about how I will persist in my calling, regardless of what it looked like to the outside world and regardless of the circumstance. It seems as if the city was ready to test my resolve, pushing back on me. This city will do that, it pushes you to your limit.

On the plane ride over I spent half the time praying. I have been reading Hebrews these past few weeks for my devotional time. The whole book is about how Jesus is the perfect sacrifice and the perfect priest, sacrificing himself and setting himself up to bear the cost of our sins so we could interact with the Father. So we could be free of sin. Hebrews says that a life of those who are saved, of those who walk with Christ and know Him is characterized by faith.

Hebrews 11:1 says that, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” This is the basis of being a Christian. A personal assurance the the Bible is true, that what is says about God, His character, and what Jesus did is true. A conviction that God is working things together for the good, not necessarily for what I just want, but what is good for me. The difficulty with faith is that it is difficult. It’s using what you’ve read and what you’ve experienced to believe in what will be that is not tangible, it’s seeing a guarantee.

That’s the thing though, God always comes through with exactly what I need, when I need it, but it just doesn’t always look the way I want it to.

So, I come back from this trip, determined to look at the “great cloud of witnesses” (Heb.12:1) and walk in faith. Circumstances may not be ideal, bills may not be paid, opportunities may not be evident, the raucous waves may be rising higher, but I will not be found without faith. God provided amazingly for this weekend, that’s evidence enough, with the plane tickets, the tux rental and all the transportation and housing.

I get off the plane, tote my luggage to the AirTrain, transfer to the NJ transit (which the train just arrives perfectly) and when I stroll up to the Metrocard fare kiosk, follow the directions prompted,

*Insufficient Funds*

I felt all my resolve crashing.

I can’t do this, why did I even move to this city? Why did I even think this was my calling? I can’t make it in this city. All my friends are gone, spread to the corners.

All my fears, all the lies, came bubbling up, threatening to unhinge me.

“Where is your faith?”

I know I have friends (perhaps different than before) but I still have friends. Money is tight, but God will provide. I am in process. I will continue to trust Him, I will continue to believe He will take care of me. I will fight. I will carry on.

I managed to finagle my bank accounts (you see I have a checking and a savings and I had to transfer) and I stopped by work to get my tips from last week to buy enough peanut butter to last the week. I’ll make it, God will provide, God will meet my needs. I can trust Him, I will continue to trust His plan no matter how crazy it looks. Watch, one day you’ll look at me and say, “If God took Greg from that to this, perhaps I can trust Him, too” and that’s what this is all about, isn’t it?

Giving Up: Coming to Terms with No Longer Trying

Trying too hard not to try.

No.

Working too much at not working?

What I’m endeavoring [how many words in the Thesaurus can I find for attempt] to accomplish is to not work like I can accomplish what I want to accomplish.

Nope, that sounds wrong, too.

Here’s the problem. I have this desire at the very core of who I am, to matter, to do something worthwhile in the world. It’s the manifestation of wanting to be well liked, I think. You see, if I do something so amazing, people will have to stop and look to say, “Wow! What a guy, he has done something. I wish I could’ve done that”.

The problem is Jesus.

Jesus, for those of you not familiar with Him, was this great guy who did the biggest thing possible. Not only did He live a perfect life, loving all sorts of people along the way, but He also died for a crime He didn’t commit to break down a barrier between God and man. He accomplished something by dying, that men everywhere had been attempting for centuries, for millennia. Then He came back to life, as the piece de resistance. 

This is why I can’t be great, because what could top that?

Now, I’m sure you’re saying that I’m setting myself up to an achievable standard. I’d agree, but to me how can you say anything else is great when  such eminence (fancy word for greatness) exists?

Nothing I do can compare.

But I can try, and try I do, but you know what? When you stand next to perfection, everything looks shoddy.

What’s worse, He wants me to be great too, that’s the whole purpose behind the amazing life He lived, so that I could live similarly. But, as I have said, I cannot do it. He must do it for me, He must set me up and I have to in turn trust Him for this to happen. If I get my ruddy fists on it and try my might, it will only amount to dust.

I have a desire to be worthwhile to the world, to make some difference. I have to stop trying and start trusting.

This little rant came about from a recent rerevelation. I made up this word to signify that I have had this revelation multiple times and try as I might, I always forget it, if I don’t consistently remind myself. I believe I am a pretty skilled individual and I know I have certain talents. One of my biggest strengths is my aptitude for learning. I absorb information very quickly and I am able to typically understand it well, just as fast (apparently not in this life lesson, though; I digress). I also believe I am charismatic or charming. Having these skill sets it may be a wonder that I have never gotten a job that I was interviewed in.

Looking at my work record, none of my work opportunities came from a traditional: application, call/check to show interest, interview and follow up call. I find this odd knowing my mother worked so long in Human Resources and knew well what companies looked for and how to be hired. The only jobs I have worked have had miraculous circumstances, whether it be knowing well a senior level boss, being hired off an application, being hired living a state away, being chosen for a more desired role over the one I applied for, etc. All of my work life has been miraculous at the start. In fact, many of the opportunities I have had I did nothing to warrant receiving them. The places, the roles that I have pursued and did deserve, I did not get.

It would be a wonder why, after looking at these patterns, I’d try at all.

The voices in my head. The voices telling me that nothing is owed to me and that I must work to achieve or earn anything. The same voice that tallies gifts from friends, money from strangers, and favors from loved ones, tallies to pay back eventually. I haven’t had a difficult life, but one of the lessons I have known a long time is you need to work to achieve a goal.

While I am learning that the world is not always so black and white in that way I am still trying to reconcile this idea. I am trying to do enough good to outweigh the good, or even just meet the weight of the good done that I don’t deserve. To even try and earn the grace given to me. But Paul is very clear that you cannot earn a gift, and grace is a gift.(Ephesians 2)

I think God is expanding that viewpoint for me, but I’m scared, and this is where it gets ridiculous; I am worried that if I finally come to terms with the free grace of God, how much He wants to give to His children, then people would think I am not doing as much as I ought to. I am worried about what people think. I am worried that I will live my life with so much freedom, expecting my God to do so many amazing things in my life, that people will call me crazy and delusional. That I will be seen as lazy and living off the gifts, the bleeding hearts of others, that I can’t manage life on my own.

Here’s the rub, it’s true. I can’t. I wasn’t meant to. Neither are you!

I will never be great, I was never meant to. It’s hard to let that die, that image of being worthwhile. Jesus will always outshadow me, and the more I live in the freedom He provides the more attention He’ll get for it. People will see how little I am doing and as a result see how much He is. That’s what life is all about.

I can’t handle life. God can. If I admit this, allow Him to run the course, life is easy. I no longer have to try. I’ll just take each day in and walk it out.

So…I guess that’s it. I’m giving up. I am done trying.

You’re Wrong, I think

I have a problem with the concept of safe spaces.

I’ve been toying around with this idea for a while. Letting these ideas ruminate. I didn’t want to share my thoughts if I was feeling particularly incensed about something. I tend to neglect someone’s perspective or feelings. when I’m upset or angry. My next move was to share following the conference I served at last week, I’ll share more on that later. The turning point was yesterday when my anxiety spiked again for no reason, well a reason I can’t quite pin down.

Safe Spaces. From what I’ve seen, heard, and read. Safe spaces are places where people can feel free to express themselves without disagreement. Now, as long as I am not vastly misunderstanding the premise, I have a problem with this in practicality and conception.

We live in a world of many different people each with their own identity and thought processes. That’s honestly one of the most beautiful aspects of humanity, or so I believe and have been told. When we are all different that means we will not all agree. One could argue that the existence of difference does not necessitate conflict. How can you tell me you have conviction in your beliefs and thoughts if it once does not ever cause you to come into some conflict?

You only need to look at the current political climate here in the USA to see how contentious disagreement can be, how differences can cause dividing lines. While it is nice to say that everyone should live in disagreement and not contention, I think it is a pipe dream, unrealistic and like I mentioned it means that people show little or no conviction. A personal observation on the polarization of the country: as long as we keep vilifying people based on information provided by those who are paid according to sensationalism, we will never see eye to eye.

Safe Spaces. While it would make life easier to have a “safe space” where only my opinions are shared, where everyone acquiesces to my particular frame of mind, it would severely limit me, my life, and in turn my world around me. More than just unrealistic, safe spaces lead to lives stunted, growth in egoism and as a result partisan factions. In fact, I’ll say that “safe spaces” are mini fascist communities.

Before you grab the pitchfork, think about it. All those novels and movies about dystopian societies feature similar narratives: sameness. No one like’s the sameness that is imposes on them, but if all conflict is stymied, then those with differing opinions to the popular thought are silenced.

Conflict on the other hand provides opportunities to learn, to see a situation in a perspective distinct from your own. Conflict brings a challenge that either helps you fortify the way you see a situation or amends it. There are so many metaphorical examples in nature that reveal this to be true. When a smith forges he (or she) uses intense heat and force to bend metal to the shape that is desired. Diamonds require heat and pressure to form. Purity in gold comes through heat and time. People are refined by conflict, if they allow it.

A bird will never learn to fly if it never leaves the nest. A caterpillar will never become a butterfly if it does not endure metamorphosis. I will never become stronger if I do not push my limits. I could never learn to swim if I left the shallow end.

We are refined in fire if we allow it.

No, conflict doesn’t feel good and oftentimes it requires time, but the things in life that are “worth it” need both. Our active participation allows the difficulty to change us for the better, whether that means our perspective is changed or strengthened. We have to be willing to face the difficulty and walk through it.

Well, I suppose this is unfair to just say “I walk through difficulty and grow every time” when in fact every time I face conflict on my own I buckle under the pressure. You see, I cheat. I depend on someone that is capable of so much more than I am able and He does the heavy lifting making sure I know I’m not alone in the conflict.

Last week I served at a rather large Church conference in Brooklyn New York at the Barclays Center. I was put in a role in which I was not prepared. My experience going in was on a much smaller scale, so this was beyond my skill or ability. And you know what, I soared. I felt, in an indescribable way, that I did well, despite the circumstances. I could regale you of the pressures of trying to seat about 5,000 (one night nearly 8,000) people in a venue within 30 minutes with very specific instructions, leading others who lead others, listing out every struggle from lack of sleep and food to rude and inconsiderate guests, but it would pale in comparison to the experience of it.

I was out of my depth, but I came out with stronger skills and intuition. While I believe anyone and everyone can grow in their lives, in character, in whatever way by being open to risk and trying, I believe I was able to make great strides because I had someone bigger than me helping me along.

But this is why safe spaces are harmful, we are not allowed to be tempered by fire.

Yesterday was a difficult day. It would have been nice to shut myself up and demand that no one require anything of me, but that is not realistic. We live in a world of people and responsibilities and we cannot run from them to shelter our precious psyches and personal comforts. I was forced to face life, to face my difficult situation and I’m still breathing. The circumstances haven’t changed but I have to allow myself to be tempered.

Now, to those who have serious psychological maladies (self-proscribed or clinically diagnosed) I believe the same is true for those. In my own experience, when I give into the anxieties, when I shelter myself from the world, there is no improvement, perhaps a slight abatement, but now growth or progress. (Now is when I would get told I don’t understand, or my struggle obviously couldn’t have been awful enough or else I wouldn’t say such. My challenge is twofold: 1. Using your logic, you cannot tell me what I have experienced is not significant 2. Before you get defensive take a moment and process my thought before disagreeing. I don’t have a problem if you disagree, I may be wrong, but please listen to what I have to say before you shout).

A safe space.

Now, I’ve hinted at how I cheat, now I will give you the full breakdown. If you immediately disagree, you have understood nothing, and there is nothing that I can say to change that. I hope one day, you will be able to digest someone’s words without immediately disregarding them.

My safe place. Jesus. It may sound cliche, but it’s real. I am not always so good at going to Him, but I am getting better. You see, in the Bible, He promises that His burden is light (Mt. 11:28-10). Now that doesn’t mean we get to disregard the conflict, that we ignore it. Contrarily, there are many times when Jesus says life will be difficult, but if we walk with Him, if we seek Him, if we talk to Him, cry out to Him, trust Him, argue with Him, find rest in Him, then we can face the furnace and come out stronger. I cannot face most conflict alone. I need God there with me every step reminding me who He is, who I am and that these situations just mean I am being refined, becoming better.

I believe Jesus is the best and final solution to life’s troubles and I will tell you that, but I will also listen. How else can I grow?

Intimacy Scares Me

and let me tell you why.

The concept is fine. The practical is terrifying.

That you would willingly yield up a part of yourself for others to know, and for some individuals you’d gradually share more of you.

Is there a point to intimacy, a point where you’re known so much and so deeply that there is nothing else? Is there a bottom to this well?

I’ve been mulling on this idea for a while now. I believe that if there is a bottom, it’s so deep it’s not quantifiable. I think on these things because I am coming up into to familiar territory in the patterns of my life. I am coming to the point where an edge is coming and I don’t know what comes next.

Perhaps another ponder: Is there a depth to myself that I am not aware of consciously? Could there be parts of me that I don’t know but perhaps others know?

Back to the edge.

I am feeling a certain kind of way, a way that I feel every so often. I am living life, doing well, facing difficulties, sometimes feeling victorious and sometimes not. I am living life walking with God, doing my thing (well trying to do His thing as best as I can) and I come to this place where it feels like I am standing in front of a door. Now, I know I am meant to walk through the door, but I am uncertain of what I will find on the other side, and I feel slightly anxious, or rather slightly apprehensive. What could be next?

I recognize these feelings when I have been praying a lot for something, but then it’s like something in me refuses to hear a response, or I find myself distracting myself with either trivial or negative habits. It’s like a weird comfort habit. I read my Bible, but I try not to pause and reflect too long on any passage. I worship, or rather I sing songs. It’s as if I take a moment to tell God that He’s already gotten rather intimate in my life and I’m not sure if we should go further, perhaps just be good acquaintances.

I feel as though I am beginning to sound like a terrible Christian. Please bear with my candid ramblings (if you are even reading this, perhaps this is just a method of processing).

Today, as I was lifting my hands in worship, I felt this overwhelming feeling as if the Holy Spirit came up and embraced me. I realized it felt slightly uncomfortable, but it was so nice.

God created me, and you for that matter, to be in relationship with you, to get to know me (you) in a proverbial sense. I mean, He knows everything about us, as He made us, but He wants to go through the process of getting to know us, of living the ups and downs of life with us. In that process, He wishes for us to get to know Him. His character. His love.

This scares me. This makes me uncomfortable.

I believe I have some unsavory quirks, some annoyances, limitations, asinine hangups. I am uncomfortable with Him wanting to know me because of this. I am uncomfortable with this because I’ve gotten used to my hang ups, the things that comfort me, but are harmful to me and others.

Because that’s the thing of it. When we grow closer and more intimate with God, when we allow Him in the spaces He’s already aware of (and doesn’t love any less because of) we allow His character to be present in front of us. And when we are exposed to Him, to His character, His love, we cannot remain unchanged. We begin to look like Him.

There’s this part in “The Chronicles of Narnia” book, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, where after a character, Eustace, has become a dragon due to his greed and he sits in front of Aslan ashamed at what he’s become, remorseful for how he has acted. In one of my favorite passages in a book, Aslan tells Eustace to pull off his scales, to which Eustace attempts, dismally. After no success, Aslan says it must be Him to do it, that only Aslan had the power. When Aslan does begin to pull off the scales he tears them out with His claws, Eustace reels from the pain while exulting in his transformation. In this moment, C.S. Lewis paints a picture of what God does with us, tearing away our brokenness, which while hurting leads to healing.

I tell people all the time that sometimes we need to be in places of discomfort to grow and become better. Perhaps I should take my own advice, plus I’m pretty sure it’s going to be better than anything I could think of or imagine.

It’s time for the next thing,

Hope Hurts

Let me tell you how.

Hope, according to Dictionary.com means, “the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best: to give up hope.” [emphasis mine]

It means that something good will happen. Will, meaning not yet, not right now. Hope is an investment. A belief in some later payoff. Hope hurts because it requires you to wait, to believe that though it may not appear so, things will come out right.

It’s easy to give up hope, to turn to cynicism,  even Dictionary.com likes to point that out in it’s example use of the word. It’s much more common to give up on hope than to to hold onto to it. It’s elusive and intangible, and it makes you discontent with the status quo, believing in something better.

Lately I’ve been wanting to go the easy route, to let my circumstances tell me what will be, to ignore the possibilities in the promises that I believe that God has given me. It’s much easier to resign myself to this existence than to live in the current situation of trial knowing at some point it may not be so…does this even make sense?

How could it be that the knowledge that things will be better make it hard to live through difficult circumstance?

Well, to know that there is possible life outside this circumstance and it’s just not accessible yet. That for now I must be in the difficulty waiting and believing for better. How foolish this seems written out. Obviously this is only for a short time, but perhaps the frustration lies that it could not be this difficult now, that the hope is just being held out longer. For you don’t need hope for something that has already been fulfilled, only that which has not been fulfilled requires the hope that it will happen.

Proverbs says something on the matter, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick…” (Prov. 13:12a). You see, the heart becomes sick. It becomes an effort, a chore to carry on believing that the good will happen. That verse continues on to say, 
“…But desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” (Prov. 13:12b). 

Lately God has been building up my hope muscle, stretching it beyond my ability. How long can I hope for what seems impossible?

This past week something terrible happened and through it God stretched my Hope muscle in a different and difficult way. My friend died. She was riding her bike to work early in the morning and she was hit by a truck. It felt like I had been hit by a truck when I got the news. I was floored. I was having a weird day and then I heard this news, I tried to continue to carry on as usual but I couldn’t get out the door onto the floor without sobbing. I left early and went to a friends apartment.

Grief is uncomfortable for a lot of people, because it looks different for everyone and there’s not really an exact science with how to approach it. A lot of times a favorite phrase is, “they’re in a better place”, especially for Christians. Oftentimes that particular phrase is paired with, “we shouldn’t be sad, we should rejoice because they are with Jesus now.”

No.

I mean yeah, but no.

Yes, it’s true she is in heaven with Jesus. It’s true I should celebrate her life, all that she did and that I should rejoice that she is with Jesus, but I miss my friend. I miss the wonderful woman that she was  and brought into my life. I miss her laughter, how she was always was covered in paint from her job. Her obnoxiously loud voice and the way she handled awkward silences (decidedly not well). I miss her love of coffee, the precise amount of cream she needed. I miss how she would share so wonderfully what Jesus was telling her, what she was walking through life with Him in that moment.

I am happy knowing she is with Jesus, and I will see her one day, but I miss her now. I have hope that one day I will see her, but right now I am dealing with the present of her no longer being around, of going to church tomorrow and knowing I won’t see her.

As a source of comfort, I recently read C.S. Lewis’s  “The Last Battle”, the final book in the Chronicles of Narnia. Spoilers: in the end they die and enter Aslan’s Country (a.k.a. Heaven). Upon reaching heaven the characters have a wonderful reunion with all the friends of theirs that have passed. It’s amazing. Aslan says to Lucy Pevensie, “The term is over: the holidays begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.”

Do you see what I see? The greatest part of heaven is the final hope is fulfilled. We have reached what we were designed for, complete community with the Father and His creation. My friend has reached the hope fulfilled, and I (among many) am waiting on hope.

You know what else, I realized this week? Whatever I am hoping for, I don’t have to wait alone. One of the best ointments to ease the longing that hope creates, the grief that you face when you lose someone, is people who are experiencing it with you, or people who just care and help carry that burden. That first night, we all gathered to tell stories and eat food, to laugh and to weep. The next day, I spent with two amazing men and together we helped carry each other in our grief.

I don’t know if there was a specific point I was trying to get to in this, other than hoping and longing for wholeness is hard and it can be crippling, but when you have a God who cares for you and people who can help, the load is a lot more easy to bear.

Grilled Cheese, PB& J, Starbucks Leftovers, and other assorted Miracles

“Give us this day our daily bread”

Growing up I thought this meant going to the pantry everyday to get a slice of bread for a Peanut Butter & Jelly or for that one year, Bologna. I eventually understood it to mean being content with what you have, asking for no more than what I needed, and you know what I didn’t yet realize how much I don’t need.

I haven’t written in a while and to be honest I was tired of writing about being strong in struggle, of having faith when circumstances didn’t look bright. I imagined the ones who read what I wrote began to grow as weary as me, tired of listening to me whine and follow up with some nugget that would keep me going.

I also didn’t feel as I had room to complain or be upset publicly. For one, God is good. Two He has brought me to New York, something I’ve wanted for a while. Three, He recently transferred me to the store I had wanted to be at for months.

I think I became further upset at how I couldn’t seem to rally my emotions to reflect all the good that was happening. I would have joy for fleeting moments, then something would remind me that struggle was looming. I’d here a message at church about being consistent until breakthrough and then I would see another bill. I’d hear about reminding yourself of what God is doing, and that would keep me content until Tuesday when tips didn’t get distributed so I’d shuffle my bank accounts to buy bread and eggs.

I changed my situation, I shaved with the hope of getting something. After three weeks of silence from my agents I messaged them and found out they never received the initial email with my new headshots. I immediately got an audition, that would’ve paid for my classes and my bills, but I got nervous and messed it up.

Needless to say, I’ve grown frustrated and bitter. Getting up was toil, going to bed a chore. I would inundate my time with distraction, books, movies, Netflix, internet, etc. I was avoiding God. I didn’t want Hid words of comfort, I wanted to hold onto my bitterness, my frustration, as if it were some sort of earned badge.

I think most of all I didn’t want his hope, it hurt to much to think of promised good when all I saw was disappointment. I felt as though because it hadn’t been answered in my time table He had somehow backed out of His promises. This is not a new feeling for me, and this is not a new thing God has worked on me. Trusting Him when it seems the light is going out.

I used to judge the Israelites so much when I read the story, I think I didn’t appreciate how decades passed for them in a matter of sentences. They walked for 40years waiting on promise because initially they thought God would require them to attain the land He promised to them with out Him giving them victory. These people who had just walked through the Red Sea, having been led there by a pillar of cloud (and fire), were so quick to whine that God abandoned them. They were so quick to doubt His ability to complete His promise, after witnessing miracle upon miracle in their Exodus.

Greg was so quick to lose faith after seeing God move him across the country, build up his ministry, provide job and opportunity after opportunity. Greg was so quick to miss the daily miracles before his eyes, because he was too busy looking at what he lacked.

For the past few weeks when God has been checking my heart and drawing me closer to Him (painful as it can feel, unwrapping hurt and tearing down barriers built up) He keeps telling me I need to write about the manna.

My daily bread.

The people who continually give to me. The random moments when a bill is taken care of, when a meal is covered. Those times when there’s just enough to make it until tomorrow. The job that allows for bread (figuratively and literally). The friends that care and motivate me. Daily bread is the sandwich bread for grilled cheese, it’s the tip money just in time for a meal with friends, it’s a roommates leftovers, the food at work that would get thrown out otherwise.

Daily bread goes stale so you can’t hold onto it afraid for what comes tomorrow. You have to trust that God will promise, even for the random extras that come. Meanwhile waiting for and appreciating your daily bread you look to the promise, proclaiming how good your God is for promising such good things.

A random side note God checked me with, If I neglect to tell people of the good that will come, the promised Good, it would be so easy to claim that I had something to do with it. If I tell everyone of what I cannot yet see how it will happen, if I look like a fool spewing the hope that God has given me, how great that day will be for those watching my life because then they can truly recognize and appreciate how Good God is. Then they will think perhaps that He is good and He is who He says He is, and seek to know Him.

And that is what it is all about in the end, right?