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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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.

I am not Good, and neither are you

There are hard lessons that we cannot avoid and there are hard lessons that persist under the surface waiting to be taken hold of, to be understood and then relearned the next day.

And the next day.

And the day after that.

There are a few things I know, that are at the center of my “web of knowledge” (theory of knowledge buzz term).

In the top five category comes the knowledge that God is good.

Now this is difficult to say, to stand on because many people have trouble with this. In fact for many people tis is the main reason they cannot believe in God because they look at the world and wonder how a good entity could create something so “flawed”.

In fact, though this is a core belief, a core knowledge of mine, I wonder at it a lot of times. When I look at big things like poverty, war, abuse, etc. I wonder how do I reconcile this information with this truth that I know? When I look at my mom, her suffering, my dad’s journey through that, I wonder.

But I know God is good.

How do I know? (I apologize if Whitney Houston’s voice is now coursing through your brain)

How do I know God is good?

Honestly, I know when I see people get excited about something. When someone’s eyes light up because of something deep stirring inside of them. Passion.

Let me explain.

Recently I was discussing with one of my roommates the fatal flaw of socialism: people. Now regardless of your political standing, socialism always sounds great. Different peoples have been attempting Utopia for centuries, where everyone is equal, everyone does their part and we all love in peace and harmony. No poverty. No hunger. People can access opportunities for good health no matter their station. The lesson in History is this: Utopia doesn’t work. People don’t all pull their weight, some people want more, people mess up the system, and before long people begin to try to determine who can stay or who cannot and suddenly we enter dystopia, because suddenly it’s up to one or a few to decide what’s required of everyone. How did they get this power? Who’s standard are we supposed to follow?

People are flawed. That has been agreed upon.

“I’m only human”

So how can a bunch of people make a perfect system?
It’s not possible.

Now, before you think I’m sinking my own case, let me attempt to show the beauty of God.

In the beginning of things (well our beginning) God creates this being that has higher level thinking, they can think beyond urges and instincts. He gives them creativity and the ability to choose their path. Then He tells them the standard. That God made them to work in conjunction with Him. It’s all about this teamwork. So we were designed to run a certain way, this is declared as good. But because He is so intelligent and amazing He gave us the choice, because what kind of relationship would it be without choice.

Let be more clear, working as we are designed to work (namely with Him) anything else is not good. In other terms, bad.

So like day 27 of life (this is not theologically determined, rather given in the metaphorical sense for the purpose of narrative), the early beings working life with God made their first decision that was bad (read: not in their intended design). They thought they could try life on their own, which ended badly for everyone involved (and yet to be involved).

Humans are beings designed to work one way, but incapable of doing so, since this moment.

We are not good.

Our language and culture has watered down the word good to either mean well intentioned or beneficial to someone and it becomes this messy word that has lost its original meaning.

God is good, all that He embodies or characterized by is good, anything else is not.

Growing up my mom used to use a metaphor for truth, “You’re either pregnant or you’re not, there’s no kind of pregnant”. Similarly, as much as we would like, there is no kind of Good, there is or there isn’t.

“Woah, that’s kind of extreme, what about…?”

We could discuss this at nauseum, but at the end of the day that is where the word comes from, what it means. And when you look at people that are “kind of Good”, they’re kind of bad, too. Every well intentioned thought or action that does not stem from direct relationship to God, has selfish motives to it, self serving.

“But isn’t it good to take care of yourself?”

When we aren’t serving the needs of another we are drawing away from each other.
And when you’re honest with yourself, you will see the uncomfortable truth of this concept.

The story of God, written in the Bible, is Him in His goodness trying to get people to be good, restore the! To factory settings. Even those contentious moments are part of the narrative to motivate people to seek Him out, to be in relationship with Him, because that is the greatest Good. From that people can begin to love Him and in conjunction, love those He created.

So, all these terrible things in the world that we have brought upon ourselves by trying to go our own way, can be turned Good by God when we stop trying to fix it on our own, seek Him and move forward in that. Then people will understand Him, the way He meant life to be lived, and then the world begins to heal. It won’t ever be complete by our attempts.

Everyday, I must relearn this hard lesson, either from reflection or repeating mistakes, so that I can give up this false control I think I have over life and trust His control.

Situations may seem dire and I may doubt, but regardless of how I feel, He is good.

I am terrified. I feel sick. I want to vomit. Can I continue to believe the fantasy? Can I pretend just a little bit longer?

If there’s one thing about me that I really hate, it’s that I’m not perfect. I wish I was without any flaw, a paragon of humankind. I yearn from my innermost that I might be the most, the best, be what everyone wants of me, be what I think everyone needs of me. Perhaps I am too hard on myself. Perhaps my personal standards are too farfetched, that I could be perfect. Perhaps what scares me the most is when I know other people know of my brokenness.

You know I’ve gotten extremely good at wearing a mask, so much so that sometimes I believe it  when I look at my “reflection”, but I know deep down how marred I am.

But God. You see, I am broken, but God is perfect. I make mistakes and God has none and yet, He still loves me. He has died for me, so that I can live life with Him forever, so my brokenness is of no consequence because He is so good.

Here’s the rub. I’m still not perfect. I need someone to save me and while I eternally grateful, I still don’t like it. I don’t like that I need someone to save me. I don’t like that I cannot manage it on my own, that I cannot somehow do so much or be so good as to warrant good things. I don’t deserve good (not the good as we have watered it down to in our language, like nice things or stuff I want, but true good). I don’t deserve to be loved by the one who gave me life and gave me more, the one who is goodness and love personified because I am a mess. I am not perfect.

Have you ever seen that couple that you know one of the people is dating way up, way out of their league. That’s what it’s like with me and the creator. You see, the God of the Universe, loved His creation so much that He wanted to give Him the greatest good imaginable, Him (it’s hard to comprehend when we have for muddied the definition to mean anything that is beneficial to our happiness, but true good is going for your best in spite of desires). But because He is so good and His creation chose to leave Him, He made a promise with a group of people that as long as they trusted Him, believed in Him and His character, thereby knowing His love for them, and living in community with Him, then He would go above and beyond in blessing.

The story doesn’t end there. He chose these people because they were small and weak, not because they were the best, in order to display the greatness and vastness of His love as well as His limitless power. If these weak people followed Him and where thereby blessed how much would the rest of humanity envy them and wish the same for them? However, in the choosing of weak people and flawed people they did not do the best in sharing His love and character. Furthering His mission of sharing His love and goodness to the world, He came Himself in part and in whole (honestly this bit is a little confusing, but nevertheless the important aspect is how he came to live like one of His creation) and then died furthering His showing of love by providing the ultimate good, a way for our souls to be made perfect so that they could spend eternity with the perfect father.

There’s this slight thing though, God wants a lot of His creation to know Him, so in the same model of how He used the people group He chose, He wants those who believe in Him to share His story, to share their story with Him, how broken they are without Him. That’s the thing of it, too. Because those who believe in Him still live here on Earth, they are not completely rid of that which is bad, the imperfect. God allows imperfect people in His presence to be molded and changed into what He originally had us designed as, without fault. This process is not easy as it requires letting go of control, because as I mentioned I cannot be perfect. To attain perfection I need someone perfect coaching me, guiding me and thereby changing me.

Here’s where it’s about me again for a second, for you see I am one of those imperfect ones who believes God is who He says He is but cannot seem to do well enough to show it on His own. I’m so fractured, I need the creator to slowly break parts away to reform me to who I am meant to be, my true self, the one before the breaks. I don’t know where the fractures began exactly but I know where they lead if I don’t let go.

When you try to hold shattered glass together you’re going to end up bleeding.

Here’s where it’s not about me. To show the process of me being reworked into perfection, I need to be honest with myself and others as to wear some of my fracture points are. I need to expose my wounds to oxygen or else they will fester. I need to allow the doctor to tear away the shrapnel to fix me. How will others know who to trust with their fractures if they don’t see who fixes mine? I can tell people “I’m broken” but unless I really show them how, they won’t understand or even believe how I’ve been healed.

It’s hard to open up because it hurts, but if you’re not willing to be in pain a little there will be no growth.

Much like many people I have identity issues, I forget who I was designed by and what He intended for me because I begin listening to other people and their opinions about who I am. So in an effort to really begin healing I am taking off the self-made bandage before it gets any more toxic.

I am gay. I am straight. I am neither. I am both.

There’s this spinning storm inside of me as I try to sort out my thoughts. But I can’t seem to land on one thing because I want a simple answer to a complicated question. I’m trying to label myself by someone else’s standard, but I cannot. I don’t know how to articulate the confusion, the frustration, or just the anxiety with sharing because you’re thinking a million things right now. Something inside of you is telling you how to think about me and I am terrified of what it says. I couldn’t handle you slapping me on the back congratulating me for coming out, because I haven’t. I haven’t declared anything other than I am confused. And please don’t tell me I’m living in self denial, because I know what that is and I’ve left that behind.

I worry because some of you might think your suspicions were right all along. I am afraid of you being disappointed that I wasn’t more than I am. I couldn’t handle the shame you might give, I’ve been letting that go for some time and I don’t want it back. I worry that when I have this conversation with my future wife she will think less of me, or feel self conscious. I want to ease your curiosity and say I am attracted to women and I have been in love with a woman. Contrarily I have never been in love with a man, nor am I even sure if what I experience is even considered completely an attraction to men.

Writing it out makes is weird and I worry you’ll get queasy but finally putting it down is somewhat of a relief as well.

Before you get angry, telling me I’ve just been brainwashed into not being myself, I want you to consider how you, the one claiming to not want overbearing entities to define me, are trying yourself to define me. That’s not your job. It’s not your responsibility to identify me. The only one with that privilege is the one who made me. The one, who in this confusion and struggle has just whispered love and truth to me, comforted me in my anguish knowing I would let someone down one day because I was not what they hoped I would be.

I write all of this down for me and for you. For me, it means freedom, letting go of the shame and personal bonds I have placed on myself, to allow healing in my life. For you, for you it’s to see the healing process. It’s painful, but it’s good. I am exposing my wounds to you, not for your politics, not for your philosophy or psychology; I expose my wounds for your theology. I want you to know as I do, how He loves.

In church my pastor spoke about how we are to embrace grace, to fully welcome the knowledge that God loves me as I am, but wants so much more for me, the very best. That in my life embracing this grace means embracing it for others, embracing our weaknesses so that others may see the grace that envelops.

I have a problem, a serious problem. I don’t know how to ask for help. The very idea of it scares me, almost to the point of a panic attack. I don’t know where it comes from. I don’t know if it’s pride, not wanting to admit that I can’t handle life on my own. I think that is part of it at least.

But you know what really gets me?

The idea of writing this, makes me anxious, too. Because this is an indirect ask for help, part of me wants this to be an ask, but the biggest need is to be cathartic because not sharing is also hard. Whenever i get stressed out the best way for me to figure it out is to talk about it, but often as not when I talk about needing something people want to help.

Which stresses me out.

I love helping people, in fact, I don’t know if I like anything more than to be that dependable friend who helps in times of need. I don’t know how to be helped. I feel mixed up, grateful and happy, but also indebted and stressed. I keep mental notes of what I need to do, but you know what is awful, typically I cannot pay it back.

This past year has been extremely difficult and it seems to be culminating up as the year comes as a close. I have been paying all my bills, some a bit late, but they get paid in full. If you’ve been reading my posts over this year you know this. I am tired. I know I need to be faithful, I know I need to hope and that God will come through and I will wait for that, but I am tired and stressed and I don’t know how to ask for help.

Christmas is a week away and I’ve managed to get the week off, but you know what? I don’t have anything after that. I just paid last months rent three days ago. I probably won’t be able to pay next months on time. I have eaten grilled cheese about three times already this week. I have zero dollars in my bank account, well a little more, but I have to keep shifting it around so that my bank doesn’t give me any penalties or some money doesn’t get charged for something random. I have all these parties this week too, and I can’t figure out to attend and not be the party pooper who can’t bring a gift, or someone buys a gift for me to give, or I can’t afford to get anything other than water.

But how do I ask for help?

Aren’t I supposed to prove to the world that I can handle this? Isn’t God supposed to prove to everyone that this was where I was supposed to go? If I ask for help won’t people think that this wasn’t actually where I was supposed to go? Or perhaps it’s a different sort of success we are to see in our lives, that the people of the bible who were called places faced a lot of adversity? Or perhaps what’s scarier is maybe I’m deluded.

A few years back there was a difficult time in my family and when I finally broke through my own insecurities about asking for help I was accosted and told to “grow up” from someone I trusted. It hurt. I know it’s not correct, but it’s still in my head that I need to prove myself a capable adult, but I don’t know if I can. I can’t do this on my own.

I can’t even complain because there are so many people that have worse off and I have so many people that I have in my life that care for me and even people working to get me home, it’s still uncertain, but there are those who are really trying to get me even now, and perhaps this is going to be an eleventh hour miracle, or even 11:59 miracle.

And here’s the takeaway, I suppose, sometimes life isn’t full of roses and rainbows, but you’ve gotta just keep going. I think it’s alright to ask for help though, and I think it’s alright to be stressed and anxious, but I think you can’t let it ruin your life.

One time I had a conversation with a good friend and we were mentioning the cliche (which is Biblical and true) that God’s mercies are new every morning when it dawned on me (pun completely intended) that it’s always morning somewhere.

Well, who knows I may write a “amazing God came through, everything worked out” post, or it may be one of those “well I was surrounded by friends and sometimes life is difficult but it’s okay” post. Life is weird that way. Anyway, this was kind of a ramble but that’s where  my brain is at currently, so sorry.

Merry Christmas!

Cake Pop

“Please, mommy! Look it’s my favorite”

I hear as I wait in the back while on my break.

“It’s my favorite cake pop, can’t I please have it.”

She’s impassioned. You could here it in her voice. What she wanted more than anything in the world at this moment was that cake pop. I waited to hear how the mom would respond. I was invested in this now. Probably a little cynical in my eavesdropping expecting what normally occurs where the parent feebly responds no until giving in after the child begins  throwing a tantrum.

“Honey, no we are already getting a treat and we’re going to go and have dinner when we get home, we’ll get it some other time. Remember I said not to ask for it”

Here comes the tantrum.

“I’m sorry, I know.” Her voice begins to get choked up, “It’s just my favorite. I’m sorry, I just really want it.”

“I know honey, but I said not now-”

By now the little girl is sobbing, not hysterics, just completely broken up about this cake pop.

“Haven’t I been good, though mommy? I’ve been really good and I really think I deserve the cake pop” She can barely get her words out. She is weeping at this point.

I think her mom became really concerned at this juncture, “What’s the matter? You have been really good. I know you want this cake pop and we’ll get it some other time but not tonight.”

“Alright”

“How about I let you pick out dinner? What would you like?”

More quiet sniffling, “I donno”

Now I was impressed at first at how well behaved this girl acted. She was not throwing a tantrum, hoping to sway her mom, she was just sad. She didn’t understand why in the world she couldn’t have this good thing. She had acted good, validated by her mother, and her mom showed concern and love for her, which leads me to believe her mother has given her good things before, basically meaning the mother was not known to promise good and withhold it.

The little girl just didn’t understand. She knew her mother loved her and gave her good things and she had a grasp of the concept that typically when you do good things you get rewarded with good, but here she was learning a new lesson.

Reward not always following good behavior, but more than that good being held for a greater good that lies just around the corner.

In that moment, God spoke to me. He said it is the same with me right now and for a lot of how he operates. He has this greatest good for us and we see the good in front of us. We perform well, we behave well, and we expect the good that we see and desire. God knows better and He holds off, and has us be patient.

He doesn’t love us less, in fact He loves us more. He loves us too much to give us the first thing we see.

How do we respond to this? Well I know how I have responded:

God I gave up everything for you, for this, to be here, can’t I please have this. I’ve done what you’ve asked, I’ve been faithful, can’t I have this? Please, I need this. Lord, I need this right now, I am about to sink, this may be the last straw, what if this is the point of no return with my faith remaining? All these people are looking at me, expecting success in your name, where is it? I don’t want to let them down. They’ll think I was a fool, that they were right for not believing you could do this or that you even want to do this. Lord please.

Meanwhile, God has this great plan, this great gift waiting for us, but if we could stop focusing on ourselves we might see it.

I don’t want to settle for a cake pop if there’s cheesecake waiting, if there’s an entire meal at my disposal.

And since when did I actually do anything warranting more blessing than I can even think or imagine.

Honestly, I like to think I deserve the world, when I don’t even deserve that cake pop.