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.

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Broken Gifts

I had a dream the other night.

(Well, it wasn’t really a dream, but that sounds more poetic than “I had a thought that turned into an extended metaphor the other day”)

I had a dream the other night. It was my birthday. It was my first birthday, I felt that I was the same me as I am now, but somehow I knew it was my first birthday. There is a way you just know things to be true in dreams.

I was in a place. I can’t really describe the place as it keeps changing in my memory, but the place itself is not the thing, but rather the moment is. My father was there. Not my dad, not the one who gave me half my chromosomes, the one who raised me, but my father, my true father.

He came to me and wished me a Happy Birthday, gave me a hug, told me he was so glad to see me, and he gave me a gift. It was beautiful, wonderful beyond description. Honestly, I can’t recall what it looks like, but that’s not important anyway.

He gave me this wonderful gift and told me it was all mine. He made it for me. He handed it to me gently. and told me to be careful, the gift was fragile. I could handle it. I am responsible. I carry so many things, not literally, figuratively. I could handle holding onto his gift. Besides, it was beautiful, couldn’t keep my eyes off it really. He told me I should show it to others, to tell them who gave it to me. Why wouldn’t I?

Well, it seemed that almost immediately I got distracted. I get distracted sometimes, you know because I am responsible for so many things.

Greg!

I turned around and I knocked the gift over. It cracked. It was still beautiful, but it cracked. I picked it up and hid it away in my jacket. I couldn’t let my father see. I was too ashamed, he had just given me this gift and I dropped it and broke it. I had to find who called my name, it was their fault I dropped it anyway.

I pulled it out of my pocket and noticed the crack had grown. Like a spiderweb growing and expanding. If I could only find some superglue or something to hold it together. Now it was beginning to really lose its luster and I couldn’t let others see it let alone father.

Why did he make it so fragile anyway? He should’ve known not to give it to me.

He called my name.

He must’ve heard. How else could he know? Maybe he didn’t.

He called my name again. When I saw him again he asked me to show him the gift. I told him it was fine and I was keeping it safe. It was a lie, but I had to protect his feelings. I didn’t want him to be mad at me for dropping his gift.

He asked again. This time he said it more forcefully, like it wasn’t an option. I pulled it out of my pocket and by this time pieces were falling off the gift. When I tried to put the pieces back together one of the shards cut me and I began to bleed.

He asked me to give the gift back. I couldn’t give him back pieces, so I tried harder to force the pieces together only cutting myself worse. It hurt so much. No matter how hard I tried the pieces wouldn’t go back into place. In fact, with every attempt to put this gift together it would break further and cut me deeper.

“Trust me”

I handed the gift to him, almost all of it. I kept a few pieces. I wasn’t trying to hold onto these pieces, it’s just that these were the shards that had gotten in my skin. It would hurt to much to pull them out.

He sat there staring at me with such sadness in his eyes.

I’m sorry!  I didn’t mean to break your gift. I tried to put it back together. I couldn’t. It cut me. Why would you give me this to cut me?

He kept looking at me. It wasn’t just sadness, there was something else there.

Please, what more do you want? I’ve given everything you gave me.

Not everything.

Oh.

I looked to the broken shards deep within my palms. I tried pulling them out. I managed to get a few, but with the blood my fingers kept slipping. I couldn’t quite get the right grasp on it either. The pain was unbearable.

I can’t, do it. I can’t get them out. They’re too deep. They’re never coming out.

There were tears in his eyes. I didn’t know what else I could do. I felt like such a failure.

Give me your hands.

I raised my hands and placed them inside his. Then the real pain began.

He started digging deep to get these shards out. For most of them he had to cut a little bit to release them from my skin. I kept closing my eyes in pain. It was a blinding, searing pain. It felt as though my hands were on fire. I wanted to pull away, and sometimes I did, but I always put them back. He kept asking me to trust him, telling me everything was going to be okay.

My hands were covered in blood. Too much blood. It didn’t make sense, I should be dead. There’s no way I could bleed that much and live. Then I noticed something. Every time he dug at my hands, every time he pulled a piece of the gift out, it cut him. He was bleeding with me. He was bleeding for me. I broke his gift and here he was bleeding, hurting to get the pieces out.

Again I tried to pull back, explaining to him, as if he didn’t understand, how unfair it was. He shouldn’t have to do this.

But you’re my son and I love you.

After some more excruciating pain that felt like a lifetime, but was probably no longer than a few minutes he stopped. The broken pieces had been removed from my hands. And as if by some miracle, the blood was gone and so were my cuts. I didn’t understand. When I went to ask my father about it I noticed his scars were still there.

These scars will remind you of my love and what lengths I am willing to go to make you whole again.

Then he handed me a new gift, somehow more opulent and precious than the one before. I asked him to hold this one for me.