Monday, February 28, 2011

One Word 2011.2


Shalam:
To be in a covenant of peace.
To be at peace.

Right.

As many of the people who follow me on Twitter already know, I have been having some sleep-related issues as of late. In many ways, I feel like Kenneth Branagh’s character in How to Kill Your Neighbor’s Dog: the insomnia leads to agitation, the agitation leads to emotional trauma, the emotional trauma leads to questions of worth, doubt, and the like…

So, of course, “peace” would be the keyword that has been hanging around my heart and head during my waking hours. God just loves irony.

My biggest problem is that for the most part, I simply can not get my mind to shut down or shut off at night. My thoughts stay at this constant frenzied pace that makes it all but impossible to fall asleep some nights. No matter what I try – stretching, meditation, relaxation music, not ingesting caffeine after noon – my body and my mind simply will not sync up and agree that since the lights are out and the moon is up, it’s time for Sonny to go nite-nite. 

During the day, my mind is occupied with Kai. I have to stay one step ahead of him both physically and in plotting my next move, since I have to think about what in the room or on the floor looks tasty, what furniture looks worthy of climbing on to dive off of, what color of permanent marker might go best on the flatscreen TV, and so on. Even when we’re outside playing, sitting down for a snack, or simply playing with blocks or his train set, I have to be there with him. I can’t just sit with him and not engage with him. So for roughly eight to nine hours a day, I constantly have to be “on.”

Parenthetically, I defy anyone who has a full-time job to tell me that there aren’t moments during the day – or even full days during the week – when you’re not completely there, when you can just kind of “check out,” even if you do it accidentally. Even doctors and teachers get breaks during the day. And yes, I get his naptime to have some “me” time, but that time is mostly taken up with writing. …you’re welcome.

Once Ashley gets home, and after we bathe, taser, and wrestle Kai into bed, we try to be there for each other, since those few hours we have before we pass out from sheer exhaustion are pretty much all we have during the week to talk, reflect, and eat cold pizza. Sometimes, we do go into separate corners like boxers, just to have some veg time to ourselves, but those times and nights are few and far between.

Being there requires action. Intentional, focused action.

Being sometimes does not.

To be at peace is an action that requires both.

The biggest problem stems from the fact that we oftentimes don’t seek actual, true peace. Oh, sure – we pray for peace over a decision, peace over a struggle we have, or peace for whatever may be on our mind, but if we were honest…are we actually looking for peace, or for a resolution?

For me and my restless heart & mind at nights, I'm too busy trying to find a resolution to laying in bed and staring at the ceiling fan to accept the peace that comes from the quiet. If I try to simply be in the moment of the quiet, I find that I can relax eventually, but I want sleep to come faster than it does. I want the resolution to my problem.

A resolution is an answer. Something concrete. Not necessarily tangible, but a definite closing. I know that nine times out of ten, I unintentionally look for a resolution instead of peace to whatever is running through my mind and heart. It’s almost comically mathematic: if the answer to X is Y, and Y is the variable, then I need Y.

But sometimes, to God, the answer to the equation I’m asking for help with might read “if the answer to X is Y, and Y is the variable, then I need yogurt covered shoestrings.”

In simpler words, it sometimes don’t make no sense.

In John 14:27, Jesus states “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” In this verse, the term “peace” translates to grace, which affects the character of the person involved. This peace is obtained through reconciliation, not necessarily resolution. “Peace,” as the world would define it, is concrete. An answer. A resolution. The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, and will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus according to Phillipians 4:7? That doesn’t really sound, to me, like a peace that some might “get.”
It’s a peace that is okay living with the unanswered. It accepts the unknown. It accepts the unresolved.
It has the ability to wait.

Unlike me.

This is perhaps why during this past month, God has been helping me to better understand peace as He might define it. Whether it be over my past, my present, or my future, I am trying – TRYING – to be better at being. To be better at letting reconciliation happen. To be better in living with the fact that I might not get a resolution, but that I can have grace in, through, and over the situation or struggle.

Because I already have the covenant promised to me through my redemption.

I simply have to be to accept the shalam offered. 


Monday, February 21, 2011

"Heel, boy. Heal!"


Patience may be a virtue, but it’s also a pain in the rear.

A friend of mine recently remarked that she was feeling slightly overwhelmed and a little downtrodden because she was seeing a number of people whose dreams and passions they were chasing attain said dreams (or at least come within striking distance of them) while she was stuck…waiting. Not really in a holding pattern or a rut per se, but more along the lines of wondering when the Golden Ticket might come her way, and realizing the cost and weight of patience, and the questioning – sometimes of self worth – that comes with the waiting (“Are my dreams good enough? Am I good enough to be dreaming them?”).

Clearly these are ideas and themes that don’t resonate with me in the slightest. Nope.

As I type this, I am currently suffering under some bizarre sinus/cold malady, more than likely brought on by the fact that the weather here in Columbia, SC keeps flip-flopping from “hey, snow is predicted” to “hey, it’s 71 degrees” within a matter of just a few days. Besides being darn annoying because I never know what to wear one day to the next, my body chemistry is totally thrown off by this coo-coo weather. And seeing as how I’m a stay-at-home dad, I’m not really afforded the luxury of being able to take time off from work for sick days.

Although, yes, if needed to or if I asked her to do so, my wife would gladly and willingly take the day off of work, since the “babysitter” would be sick and unable to work. I wanted to make that perfectly clear. Regardless, I historically have never – NEVER – taken the needed time for my body to catch up on the rest it needs, even when I just need to simply let the medicine that I ingest run its course through me. Part of the reasoning (or justification) behind this is that my toddler doesn’t really “get” the fact that daddy wants to or needs to lay down when all he wants to do is for me to jump with him like a “bunny hop-hop” for the umpteenth time today. But, to be perfectly honest, the larger reason is my own bleeping stubbornness.

Or, rather, my lack of patience.

I’m one of those people who is just too thick (skulled or skinned, take your pick) to admit when I need to rest. Almost without exception, every time that I fall sick, I will just keep going and going without giving myself time to heal. Nine times out of ten, this results in me either prolonging the sickness I have or me making myself worse. I expect the OJ, vitamins and over-the-counter meds I take to just heal me lickety-split so that I can get on with my life and not have to bother with giving myself the time I need to recuperate.

To be a patient requires patience.

This makes me think that there might be a little bit more to the idea of Jesus being referred to as the “Great Physician.”

Although I’d like to say otherwise, the reality is that in many ways, I still have a microwave faith: what I want, I want now. Hey, God – that deliverance from that problem that I prayed for? Now, please. Hey, God – that thing I asked for that wasn’t really all that selfish? Now, please. Hey, God – that dream I asked to be fulfilled? Now, please.

There have been too many times when I have tried to rush something along that needed more time than I was willing to give it. If I’m smart enough to know that if I open the oven while the cake is baking it will let all the heat that it needs out, why am I not smart enough to understand that whatever it is that I am trying to rush – a relationship, a dream, or a hope – also needs whatever required time to bake and come into whatever it is supposed to be. God knows I have wrecked far too many cakes…and relationships…along my journey due to my lack of patience. 

I need to be honest enough with myself to admit that even if I had been physically present there at the time and had heard Jesus say He would be raised from the dead in three days, I’d have been tempted to rush into the tomb after two days. Not necessarily because I didn’t trust Him, but because I intrinsically lack the patience to have waited that third day for the ultimate Christmas morning. 

What I have had to accept – begrudgingly – is that although my mind might be telling me that NOW, NOW, NOW is the season for when I should have “X,” and my spirit might be saying “Look at everyone else getting their own ‘X’s,’ so yours is just around the corner,” God has a different calendar than I do. 

Because whether we’re talking about physical, emotional, or spiritual healing, time is needed for the healing to take place.

And the metaphorical, relationship and/or literal cake really does taste better if it’s cooked all the way. 


Sunday, February 13, 2011

"With this ring, I thee pierce."

“Nothing to confess, but I’ve got scars deeper than your mind.” – Chagall Guevara, “I Need Somebody.”

I was recently cleaning out my junk drawer (for once, I mean that literally and not metaphorically), and I began to make note of – and laugh at – the bizarre assortment of trinkets that I keep in there: the odd battery which may or may not work any more; a random nail or screw; old ticket stubs; buttons; and the like. Eventually, my eye caught glimpse of a small metallic box nestled in one corner of the drawer. Once I picked it up and rattled it, I remembered that the box actually holds a few assorted pieces of jewelry that I own, such as my high school class ring, a couple of cufflinks, and my earrings.

Yes. Earrings.

The year was 1989. I was a freshman in college. It was the proto-grunge era. Don’t hate.

Anyway, once I opened the box and saw the hoops and studs in there, I decided to be brave and say what the heck – let’s see if the hole in my ear has closed or not. Now, keep in mind that earlier in my former professional life, when I worked as a hall director or admissions counselor, it was much easier to swing the ring as a fashion accessory – partially because I was younger and had hair. When I began working as a college administrator, I gave up the notion of wearing an earring, as it was difficult to find ones that went with the ties I would wear.

The last time I wore an earring on a day-to-day basis? Somewhere around 2002 or 2003. In fact, the last time I even put an earring in my ear for any measurable amount of time was the first year that the youth group I worked with back in Athens, GA had their annual Halloween event. That would have been October of 2005.

So, holding my breath and mentally preparing for the inevitable mantra of “ow ow ow ow ow ow” to begin, I began to insert the earring into my ear.

But much to my shock – it went through. Completely. In one try. With no effort required to try and push it through the back of my ear, which I had supposed was closed up.

The hole was still there. And open.

Unbelievable.

This of course got me to thinking about the how and why of this decades-old physical demarcation of a youthful indiscretion might still be there. I hadn’t worn an earring for ages, so how could my ear still have a working piercing?

After I took the earring out, my ear began to itch like crazy. I remembered that I probably needed to clean the darn thing out before it got infected, so I headed into the bathroom to grab some rubbing alcohol and peroxide. Once I was in the small space that passes for our bathroom, this…smell…hit me. An amazingly putrid, but not overpowering, horrible stench was coming from my ear.

…because I had apparently reopened an old wound.

And then it hit me: my body remembers its scars.

With some effort, if I wanted to, I could probably remember the curses I muttered under my breath as the stud was first shot into my earlobe. With some effort, if I wanted to, I could probably remember the sensation of the metallic cabinet drawer as it sliced through my left elbow, leaving a permanent sign of its passing behind. With some effort, if I wanted to, I could probably remember what it felt like when – at age 25 – I contracted chicken pox for the first time, and felt my entire face become covered with scabs, which mercifully only left behind three obvious scars after they fell off.

I could choose to remember the pain, if I wanted to.

But every time that I wear a short-sleeved shirt and see my elbow, every time that I look in a mirror and see those small pock marks on my head, and every time I rub my forefinger and thumb against my earlobe where the earring used to sit – my body shows me. It shows me that it remembers what I went through.

My body – my flesh – does not want me to forget.

My soul – strengthened by the Spirit – does not want me to remember.

This may not exactly be what Paul meant when he said that our body and mind are at war with one another in Galatians 5:17 (The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions.), but it seems to me that there is an interesting parallel there.

This may not exactly by what the writer of Hebrews had in mind when he wrote in Hebrews 8:12 “…and I (Christ) will never again remember their sins,” but there is an air of similarity to it.

My body – my flesh – does not want me to forget.

My soul – strengthened by the Spirit – does not want me to remember.

Maybe it’s time to purge yet some more of both the literal and the metaphorical junk in my drawers, heart, and mind.

Monday, February 07, 2011

"Remember the Sabbath? AND keep it? Holy..."


One of the books that a friend recommended to me to read which has since gone on to knock me sideways is Basic Christianity by John R.W. Stott. I first read this book about two years ago, and it has thus far managed to inspire more than a few pages of journal notes and ideas. One of the reasons for that is not only does the book come across – to me – as an outstanding primer/”101” text for the Christian faith, but parts of the text manage to reframe my understanding of the Ten Commandments.

Yeah. Those ten. The ones which are hotly debated and contested about if they should be on public display, when the real argument is if those who argue so voraciously for them actually hold to the principles of them in their private lives.

Now, if you were to ask anyone who is a Christian what the Ten Commandments actually state, chances are they’d get most of them right. We’ve learned to say them by rote, boiling their essences down to one sentence each: “Thou shalt not kill;” “Thou shalt not have no other gods before me;” “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s whatever.” However, if you really stop to look at and read them in their entirety, they say (and infer) a lot more than “Thou shalt not.” They express more in each verse about WHY thou shalt not or shalt doest whatever rather than the actual “what” thou shalt or shalt not do. 

Especially the Sabbath.

Looking at Exodus 20:8-11, there are four – count ‘em; FOUR – verses explaining about the Sabbath, why it is holy, why we should keep it, and how we should keep it. Four. Verses. This is such an important concept that God felt it necessary to go into more depth and explanation about the rest that we need more than anything else He felt we should or should not do.

Don’t kill? Simple enough commandment.

Don’t lie? Simple enough commandment.

Take a day and reflect? Whoa hey now.

Makes you wonder exactly what it must have been like out in the wilderness, and what the heck they were up to all the time.

It makes you wonder what was going on in a period that we would call simpler, less complicated, and less demanding that God would take so much time to explain why we need to take so much time away from letting time take up so much of our time.

If we think we’re busy now, then it must have been equally as comparatively simple to let time slip away from doing what matters – resting – while the Israelites were wandering out in the desert.

Without modern conveniences.

Or distractions.

So the next time you convince yourself that you’ll rest “tomorrow,” or that you’ll do something for yourself “later,” or you’ll get around to reading the Bible or spending time with other people “sometime soon,” ask yourself what exactly is distracting you in your own wilderness.

And if you need me, I’ll be over here, holding a mirror up to my own face about this.