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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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.

Training

Yesterday, I realized again how my life is extremely blessed. The day started off innocuous enough. I woke up earlier than I intended, had a spoon of peanut butter for breakfast and read my Bible. I learned in a quick moment of how Jesus was such a catalyst in the lives of the disciples. They had jobs and lives before Jesus walked by them. At first, they followed for his natural charisma, then they were hooked when they believed he was the Messiah, the one to restore the throne of David in Israel, to overthrow the oppressors. At some point in this, they realized that he was not the military leader they thought, and yet they continued to follow him. Why? He was changing them, and they couldn’t get enough of it.

I left my apartment. The door was locked on the office building at the school I work at, because I don’t possess a key, I wandered into the common recreation area. I opened my computer with the full intention of getting started on whatever I needed to accomplish for the day. But, as is the norm, Facebook beckoned with all of it’s promise of social interaction. I was surprised when I heard the conversation window *pop* open. A friend, and fellow blogger, was commending me on the blogging I had begun to do. “It’s great to see you in your journey with God”. Blessed. We began to talk about life and ministry, the call of God on our lives and where that had taken us in our respective journeys. I began to lament a little that I was still not yet in New York and how that desire caused a restlessness in my heart and spirit.

She said that the burning desire was so that I would never settle anywhere that wasn’t where I am supposed to be, that I wouldn’t settle for anything less than the place God is taking me. It rang true. I have been realizing more recently these patterns in my life. God will move me somewhere out of my comfort zone but then I begin to sink into a pattern of living, I adjust and become comfortable. When God first laid New York on my heart I was ablaze, I had so many ideas and plans. I visited the city for the first time and I became overwhelmed, but I knew it was wonderful still, I felt at home in a city I had never been. Then I arrived in Virginia at what seemed to be one of the more awkward and challenging periods of my life. And yet, I adjusted.

When I returned to New York that winter God spoke to me and told me that he was giving the city into my hands. (This is a pretty audacious claim, but I felt it more than anything else). I was determined to live there that summer. I did. And in that summer I learned something. I was scared of the calling. I loved being in the city, but I let it get to me. I allowed myself to fall into a self-defeating attitude. This reached it’s zenith at the end of the summer. As I was preparing to go home for a bit before returning to school, God began to challenge me. He asked me what my response would be if He asked me to stay. I told Him I could not, because I wasn’t ready. I hadn’t learned enough, matured enough yet. I wasn’t ready for the city. He told me I was, but that he would let me go back. It was here when I realized how much I had adjusted to my training ground.

As if to make me so ready and raring to get back, almost immediately upon returning to school was I ready to go back to New York. I kept telling myself, “One more year and then I’ll go”. I got more than one year. I am now nearly at two years from my summer in New York. I thought I was moving, I readied myself to go, but then I was to stay longer. Looking back now at last semester I am beginning to wonder if the sole purpose of that itch, that feeling, that it was time to go was just to get me unsettled enough for me to realize: “This is my training ground, not my battlefield”

Now, I sit and work anxiously waiting for the door to open, for my deployment letter to come and I realize how wonderful it is to know where I am going. To top it off, my final training, I am getting paid to do what I love. To finish out my day from yesterday, after talking with a friend and co-leader at this school he commissioned me to write a skit. That afternoon I sat down and wrote one out. It didn’t take long and it wasn’t extremely deep or significant, but I got to sit and write as a part of what I do here at this school. Who can say that as a college senior they helped develop and helm a fine arts department at a burgeoning private college? I can, but get this: this is my training.