Monday, October 25, 2010

Deep will I dig, I...

I see a shovel in the hand of a wild-eyed man with a mission and a goal below...  
Adam Again. "Deep." Dig. 1992.


This is just so rife with analogies, I’m not going to insult anyone by pointing them out; I’m just going to let them speak for themselves.

About four months ago, we moved into a home here in Columbia, SC. This past Friday (21 October), while Kai and I were playing outside, I decided to finally take care of something that had been annoying me for several weeks. On the side of out house, where the yard has a somewhat steep incline, there were a number of roots sticking up in the dirt. Old roots, from where a tree had apparently once stood. The tree itself was long gone, but these roots were still there, embedded in the soil. Since Kai loves to run in the yard (I don’t think my kid was born with a “walk” setting), and especially since he has recently found out “Hey – I can walk – nay; RUN up and down this hill all on my own,” these roots which were once just annoying soon became dangerous. I mean, I didn’t want him to trip on one of them, fall down, and potentially hurt himself because they weren’t removed. These things served no purpose, save to remind me of where a tree once stood; so, it was time to get rid of them.

This is the first time I’ve not lived in an apartment or residence hall in…well, let’s just say years, and leave it at that. As such, since I had no need for any yard equipment, I had nothing with which to do any outside work when we got here. This has since been rectified after more than a few trips to Ye Old Home Improvement Store. One of the reasons I had not attempted to get rid of these roots was because they looked kind of imposing. I mean, we’re talking about roots that were a good 1-2 inches in diameter that were jutting out from the ground. Partially covered by the ground surrounding them, I had no clue how deep they ran, how many there were, or what the length of the things were  below the surface.

So, after going to the basement to grab a shovel, a spade, and a pair of hedge clippers (look, I never said I was GOOD at yardwork; and anyway, I wanted all the tools I had with me in case I needed them), I decided to just tackle one of the roots while Kai was distracted with a pile of rocks or something. I reached down, grabbed one of the roots, gave it a good, hard pull…

…and I almost fell backwards down the incline.

Once I began to pull these roots out, I was amazed at how…brittle…they were. How non-threatening they were. I mean, yes, I’m smart enough to realize that once they were cut off from the source of where they got nourishment, they would bound to die. But like I stated: these were sizeable roots. They’d been there a while, and I thought that it was going to take a lot of effort to get rid of them. Granted, it WAS taking effort, but not nearly as much as I thought it might. 

It wasn’t nearly as impossible as I had led myself to believe that it would be.

Yes, it would have been easier to leave the roots there. I’m sure that I could have found something else to do with my time that afternoon.  I mean, I saw them every time I came and went from the house, but were they really bothering anyone?  Dry, dead roots on a dry, barren ground might not be the most appealing visual, but were they really HURTING anyone by their presence?

No. Just sitting there, they weren’t hurting anyone, but that’s not why I got rid of them. I did this as much for Kai as I did for me: I didn’t want my laziness in getting rid of something potentially dangerous to cause him to stumble and trip, and I needed to clear some space for something alive and not dead to be there.

To be honest: it was a dirty, sweaty, time-consuming effort, but I knew that I needed to get these things up and out. Not only for the safety of Kai, but also so that they could stop choking out the space that was needed for something new to grow. Even someone like me who has a limited amount of gardening knowledge knows that for new life to grow and take root, you have to get rid of the old – including the undergrowth.

What really messed with my mind and made me hyper-think of this as a spiritual allegory was when I went out the next morning to see the yard. Astonishingly, it looked nothing like what I thought it might: the landscape was not irreparably scarred by the removal of these roots. The trenches in the ground where I had pulled all these roots up had been filled and tramped down by my footprints while I had worked on them. You couldn’t tell what had been there just a few hours beforehand. You couldn’t see the dead any longer. And here I thought it would have just been less messy to leave them where they were...

To be fair, I could still see them in my mind. I knew the exact placement of each of them, and I knew what was under that footprint in the ground. I knew approximately how deep that hole in the ground that had been filled up was. I know that in time I won’t remember the details. I won’t remember the work it took to get them up, or how messy it was.

I’ll just see my kid running and playing on fresh, new grass, and that’s all I’ll need to see.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Aborting God


So, the way I figure it, that title’s either going to get some people to inhale sharply because they’re shocked or offended I would pair those words together, it’s going to generate some emails to me, or it will just sit out here in Internetland, unread and twiddling its symbolic thumbs.

Either way, this post is going to be about me holding up a mirror to myself while trying not to blink or turn my head away in shame. If you can relate, pull up a chair. I’ll put a pot of coffee on, there’s some beer in the fridge, and a bottle of wine in the cupboard. We can stay and chat for a while.

Let’s get one thing out of the way first and foremost: I am NOT using the term “aborting” with the, sadly, all-too-commonplace connotation that it has today. The use of the phrase “aborting” here comes from the more (for lack of a better term) classical description: Noun: the act of terminating a project or procedure before it is completed; or Verb: terminate before completion; cease development; die.

You could just as easily call this “leaving God,” but let’s be honest: we leave God all the time. We leave Him when we choose to undertake an activity that we know we shouldn’t be involved in.  We leave Him when we decide to get all prodigally in our attitude and actions. Leaving God is something that many of us are all-too familiar with doing, sometimes on a regular basis, and with little remorse.

Aborting God? That’s a different action altogether.

Think about the military movies that you may have seen where, after days, weeks, or months of training and preparation, something goes unexpectedly wrong in the mission, and the call is made to abort. Nine times out of ten, there’s some tense dialogue about how this is the one and only chance to do whatever it is that they’ve set out to do, just before the hero makes the tough choice to either pull out  (complete with dramatic music playing in the background) or s/he decides to just blaze on ahead, regardless of the orders or advice they’ve been given to let it go.

I was thinking about this in my own life after I made a comment to a friend about how the church he is working for was looking for a way to pull out of a long-term commitment they have made, thereby aborting God (based on the description under “noun” listed above) and what He might have in store long-term. 

How many times have spent days, weeks, or even months of preparation (usually, but not always, this involves prayer of some sort) for an event or decision, and then…boom. Something happens. Something I didn’t prepare for occurs. Something doesn’t go according to plan. In my marriage. In my job. In praying that I be healed of something. In praying that my dad doesn’t die. In praying that some cup set before me can just be taken from me. The tension rises, the dramatic music cues up in the back of my mind, and I utter a full-strength Jack Bauer “DAMMIT!” before…I abort the mission. I abort the long run.

I abort God, and what He might want to show me about the mission, the life, I am to walk through. I terminate my heart before completion. I cease development.

I die. And not to myself, which – spoiler alert – is what we are called to do. I die in my arrogance, I die in my willingness to be flexible.

I die in my ability to be the brave hero, wiling to keep on keeping on, when all the world around me says to abort the mission. I die in my ability to see and have faith in the unseen, and to trust.

I need to be stronger, no matter the cost, no matter the “inconvenience” to me, to have the faith see whatever I am called to do to full term.

The situation itself may be beyond my control, but mow much I am willing to allow my faith in God to dictate my actions is God is well within my ability to control.

Now.

In the interest of at least trying to see IF anyone reads this stinking blog of mine (and I know you do, you silent little stalkers you), feel free to (a) leave a comment below, or (b) send me an email. Maybe what you have to say is similar to a struggle that some other anonymous reader might be going through. 

And you can learn that you are not alone.  

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Cata-list

BECAUSE NO ONE DEMANDED IT...the Top Ten items that made Catalyst 2010 so incredibly cool. Here they are, in no particular order:

  • Having Scott Williams take my photo because he thought I looked like someone he worked with. It was my first paparazzi moment.
  • All the free swag: books, CDs, DVDs, downloadable content...
  • Being mistaken for Damon Lindeloff (and my friends who KNOW me understand that this just totally made me float on air)
  • The Bloggers Meetup, where I was able to make connections and new friends.
  • Driving back and forth from Athens' doorstep to the convention center every day, proving that even at my "old age"...yep. I still got it. Sleep be hanged. 
  • Meeting people in real life whose work I have read online and have come to be inspired by. People like Alece, whose life and words challenge and move me to not only be a better writer, but a better person. 
  • Discovering Project 7 coffee. Go. Buy. Some. Today.
  • Seeing friends who I have not seen in years. Twice I came close to tears because of who I was hugging. It's been way, way, way too long since some of these people and I shared the same space. And I promise that three more years will not pass before we see each other again.
  • Finding myself. 'Natch. 
  • Coming home to my wife and kid. As great as it was to get away and get refreshed, there's just something about coming home to the ones who love you.


Monday, October 11, 2010

Reverse Identity Theft


A number of my fellow bloggers are currently and furiously typing up their notes about what they learned at Catalyst, what speakers rocked their socks off, who they (and you) should be flowing on Twitter now, and how Francis Chan is clearly a perpetual motion machine disguised in human form. Me? My observations are a tad more introspective. I’m more concerned with what was being said TO me than what could and should be said THROUGH me.

While I lived in Athens, I attended Catalyst as a volunteer. This meant that, yes, while I was able to attend the conference for free, it also meant about a billion hours of labor going into, during, and after the event. It meant that I was unable to actually walk outside of the arena during the daylight hours (people TAILGATE here? Genius!), I was unable to see what went on between sessions, and I was just kind of this nameless face in the background, serving but not being served. Yes, I got to hear the speakers (most of them, at any rate), but I missed a great deal of the conference.

I totally missed out on the community aspect.

This, to me, is far more important than the number of free T-shirts, CDs, or books I walked away with. Cool tchotchkes they may be, but they can’t share a cup of coffee (from Project 7) with me.

This year was the first year I was able to commune with my fellow attendees. And the difference between being poured into and pouring out at Catalyst is almost indescribable. Granted, I fell asleep Saturday night around 8:30 pm because I was so remarkably tired from the drive, from getting way too little sleep, and from being on an emotional high all day Friday; however, for the first time, I truly understood why people wanted to come to Atlanta and destroy parts of the ozone layer by sitting in traffic on Sugarloaf Parkway.

Also, I was in a bit of a different place emotionally at Catalyst compared to years past. Yes, yes, yes – the life changes of getting married and having a kid have clearly made me more mature n’ junk. But there was something more this year that made ME a little different at the event.

I’ve written before about my strive to find my identity, so I won’t bore you with the details (but, if you’re interested, feel free to click on the links to the right to read a bit more). However, I learned something new about myself fairly quickly this year that made my head and heart spin a little bit:

I have my own definition and identity. And it is good.

While for many people, this might not be an amazing revelation. This might be a no-brainer. Therefore, I invite you into my mindset circa 2004-2007:

I was attending Catalyst as a volunteer from my church, surrounded by leaders from other churches. They all shared a common bond: they were what I wanted to be when I grew up. Teaching pastor? Youth pastor? College ministry? The variations and possibilities were endless. All I knew – in fact, all I ever saw – was Path A. And Path A was heavy with people who could get me to where I wanted to be. I was, as a friend has continually referred to me as, an uber-volunteer in my church, and I thought that if I prayed, hoped and believed, that if I stuck at it long enough (because this was a true, heart-deep passion of mine, and not just me using an opportunity to advance myself) that I’d get hired by someone. Soon. Because, let’s face it, if I was willing to do all sorts of work for free, imagine what I would do with a paycheck supporting me. That coming to Catalyst, by aligning and defining myself with the people around me, that some connection somewhere would come to fruition.

Fast-forward to 2010. While walking around the convention with some of these same people who I looked up to as heroes, mentors, and friends, I noticed something that had shifted oh-so-subtly. As I was being introduced to people, as I was making new connections, I was introduced as a writer. A stay at home dad who is a writer.

Thus did the playground shift a little.

I was no longer “just” a volunteer on the outside looking in, hoping to BREAK in to this close-knit circle of professionals. I was something new.

I was me.

I was my own person.

I was unique.

Talk about liberation theology.

To be fair: I wouldn’t trade that time trying to go down Path A for anything in the world. If nothing else, it was God’s way of showing me that I was defining myself and my potential in too narrow of a manner. Path A might be the best path for others to walk on, but like Robert Frost penned, I have another destiny. I needed to stop defining myself by the shadows of those I stood in. I was more than welcome to stand on the shoulders of the giants who had come before me; however, I needed to broaden my horizon by not just looking where they had walked and trying to replicate their steps.

For the first time at Catalyst, I didn’t feel intimidated. I didn’t feel slightly unworthy of being there. I didn’t feel like the junior high kid trying to fit in and seem cool too to all the high schoolers.

I found myself comfortable in my own skin.

Finally.

And it was good.

And what better phrase to use when celebrating and recognizing something new that has been created?


Monday, October 04, 2010

Strange Interlude 2.0


Okay – this is TOTALLY not what I was going to write about originally, but…

I’m in the process of trying to “legitimize” my writing career. What this means is that I am updating and/or changing several aspects of my online identity to make my dream seem more of a reality: hence, the URL change; introducing myself as a “writer” when I meet someone; submitting articles for publication; editing the bejeezus out of some other writings I’ve done; meeting up with fellow bloggers, both in person and online; getting a fancy new header and/or background for the site (coming soon); and looking at a couple of “grownup” things like business cards and maybe even a photo that’s not done on my Mac.

It was this last item that made all the sound just sort of drop out around me earlier today. Lately, my 18-month-old has been reinventing the concept of sleep deprivation for me by getting up every day around 5:30 or so. Because I refuse to sit and just stare at the same cartoons over and over again on a certain cable channel, we have taken to watching animals mooing, quacking, and baaa-ing on YouTube while waiting on the sun to come up. To mix things up this morning, we played with the camera mounted on my laptop, snapping pictures of him over and over again so he could laugh at the baby on the computer screen.

Somehow, I managed to get my unshaven mug in one of the pictures.

Wow.

Just wow.

I’m willing to grant my appearance a little grace and write off the dark circles under my eyes as a by-product of continually getting less than six hours of sleep a night. But when I saw my eyes…

…and I saw the wrinkles…

…and then I thought about what Ashley had said about seeing grey in my facial hair (good luck trying to locate one on my head)…

…and then I finally stopped denying the fact that I have a Landmark Birthday™ coming up in a little over a month…

My age hit me. My biological age.

And suddenly, my coffee wasn’t the thing slapping me awake this morning. 

I started thinking back on the past decade of my life, and I was amazed at seeing what all had transpired in the space of just ten years. It was like an entire lifetime of tragedy and rebirth had been crammed into a space the size of a dime. The losses. The victories. The painful, soul-wrenching nights spent in tears on my floor, demanding God give me answers. The quiet mornings spent on my patio, accepting the mercy offered me and discovering that I am ultimately okay with unanswered questions. The lies. The Truth. Being Judas. And Peter. And Paul.

I began reading through one of my journals, and I was shocked to see how much I have written on grief, on pain, on loss…and I was just as shocked to see that these words eventually – and that’s key: EVENTUALLY – transform and blossom into words of promise. Of hope.

I find myself continually and constantly being renewed (although, to be honest, not as often as I should) with the grace, mercy and forgiveness offered me. I have to remember to accept it. I have to remember to believe it. I have to remember that there is a Comforter who is with me, not a Condemner.

Through love, Joel 2:25 is made manifest in my life. Years spent in wilderness, years spent in darkness are replaced with promise. They are being replaced. Now, I don’t believe that my lifetime has been extended by the better part of a decade. What I do believe is that today, I am receiving blessings and love that was…deferred, for lack of a better word. 

Maybe this explains why my spiritual age and my biological age are not really compatible. One is old and dying, while the other stays young and fresh. One focuses on the years behind me, while the other lives for today and the adventures that tomorrow can bring. One feels the weight of the past and gets wrinkles.

The other calls them laugh lines.

And all I have to do is choose which age I want to live in each day.