After Failure – The next steps matter most. What to avoid and what to do.

I’m coming home next week “aware of a million failures”.  There are “church fails” in my city.  “Health Care” fails in Texas.  “Personal Failures” on the list of summits and huts I didn’t reach, chapters I’ve not yet written, spiritual habits I’ve not yet mastered.   My conversations these past weeks have largely been with people who are deeply aware of both their own failings and the failings of others, and who wonder what to do next.  That’s why I wrote this post. 

Failure isn’t really the main problem in this world.  There are remedies for failures, and often clear steps to take so that in the wake of failure our lives can be stronger, richer, more compassionate, and more honest than they every might have been without failing at all.

So failure’s not the biggest problem any of us face.   The critical moments are the steps we take immediately after though?  It’s those steps that will become the main determinants of our future.  So here’s a quick and (I hope) practical guide, offering both critical steps to avoid and critical steps to take, after failure.

Steps to Avoid

Denial -  Rock climbing is nice because a fail is always an obvious failure.  It can be valuable and transformative, but it’s always a failure.  Nobody cheers when you fall.  I wish all of life were that easy because perhaps the biggest problem with respect to many failures is that we remain blissfully and intentionally unaware.  We’ve got a temper problem, or control problem, or abuse problem, but don’t see it, or a drinking problem.  In our own minds though, we’re just social drinkers, and have the guts to tell the truth when nobody else will, or to take control of things, or to put people in their place so that things can get done.

Any failure that remains hidden will be repeated over and over again until it becomes a deep part of our character.  This is the first and primary reason we’re a world of addicts and abusers.  If we could ever move beyond the denial stage,  we’d eventually do the beautiful and hard work of transformation, but until we overcome denial, we can’t overcome anything else.  This applies, of course, to persons and institutions.  A relentless commitment to uncovering reality, or “ground truth” as Susan Scott likes to say, is not the solution to anything – but it’s surely the first step for everything.

Of course, it’s easier to see your failures than mine.  There’s no shortage of critics in this world.  That’s why I love David in the Bible.  His interest was in his own transformation when he prayed that God would search his heart and “reveal any unclean ways”  Try praying that, and the remedy for failure will begin to work immediately!

Blame – Once I’ve embraced the reality of the situation, it’s vital that I own my part.  If it’s marriage, or church, or the corporate world, I’ll be sorely tempted to deflect my responsibility for the problem by blaming “circumstances beyond my control”.    You know the suspects:  spouse, board, pastor, co-worker, boss.

Of course there are circumstances beyond our control, but our response to those circumstances is entirely ours.  We were free to leave and we stayed, or vice versa.  We were free to respond with grace, but we lashed out.  We were free to find comfort in some redemptive way, but we self medicated with drugs, or porn, or drink, or shopping instead.  It happened.  Don’t blame the others.

Shame/Cynicism – For lots of Christ followers these twins are the biggest problems.  Though they’re not exactly the same thing, they both have the effect of taking us out of God’s story.  Embrace shame and you’ll say that your nothing but rubbish, and that God has nothing for you, and can’t/won’t use the likes of you.  Don’t believe it for two seconds.  A quick overview of the Bible shows us that some of the people most deeply involved in God’s story had also:  sold family members as slaves, slept with their daughter-in-law, committed adultery and murdered the husband, had a quick temper and rush to judgement, doubted, had arrogance problems until their catastrophic failure forced confession etc. etc.  O yes.  God can use you.  Whether you stay in the game on go to the bench for a break is God’s prerogative, not yours.  But don’t pre-emptively bench yourself – you may never get back in.

Steps to Take

Embrace – This is really the positive flip side of denial.  “Yes” we say, to ourselves if our failure is private, or to one or ones we’ve hurt if public, “I failed – I own it without excuses.”   You drank too much, or ate too much, or look back at your week and see that you didn’t pursue Christ, or exercise, or engage your neighbors in conversation, or whatever it was that you said you’d do and didn’t.

Own it.  In the Bible this is called confession, and we’re told it’s the key to moving forward, both with relationships, and in our own internal freedom.  I needed to do this again this morning – and pray it will remain a lifestyle for the rest of my days.

Learn – This principle requires more space a sub-point in a blog post, but it’s vital.  If you failed to a reach a goal, maybe it’s too big a goal and you need to adjust, or maybe it was just a bad week and you need to start fresh tomorrow.  If it’s some besetting sin like anger, drinking,  cynicism, or unhealthy sex, you need to discover why you go there; what are the triggers that move you, and how can you avoid them?

How can you build your life differently to favor transformation?  Do you need accountability?  Counseling?  A chat with a friend who’ll walk with you in pursuit of your transformation?  Someone to exercise with?  Find your next step and take it.

Receive – Receive forgiveness from Christ, and hopefully from others, if others are involved.   It’s vital to believe we’re forgiven because there’ll be little shadow creature perched on your shoulder telling you that you are your failure, that you’ll never get over it, that your worthless rubbish and “why bother” – all in an attempt to keep you stuck in your patterns failure.  Give that voice the finger please – any finger you want, as long as the result is that you stand in the truth that there’s no condemnation for those who are in Christ.

Continue – I watched a little kid take an epic fall skiing a couple years ago.  I was heading up on the lift and I saw him lose control, fall, slide 150′ down the hill, scraping his face on ice the whole way, and then screaming as he lay there in pain.  I quickly got off the lift and skied down to see if I could help or call ski patrol.  By the time I got there, he was putting his skis on again and within seconds was off again, bombing down the mountain.

I thought to myself, “Learn from this R.  This is how you fall and fail well.  Whatever else you do, you need to get up and carry on.” 

Please don’t misunderstand this critical last step.  I’m not suggesting that we simply proceed as if nothing’s happened.  Do that and we’ll just fall harder the next time.  There’s a time to leave your job; or your church; or your leadership position, or your abusive relationship.  The steps we’ll need to take in order to be free and really grow often require dramatic changes.

But, and here’s the key, they are changes towards transformation.   Wisdom will be able to identify the steps God has for us.  Leave your position.  Change your church.  File for separation and insist that your spouse get help precisely because you want a loving marriage rather than a shell.  Join a gym.  Find a program that limits your time on social media.  Whatever it is… do it.

“Boots on the Ground – Or Heads in the Clouds” – The biggest challenge Christ followers face

In two weeks I’ll be home, preparing to meet people in the church I lead who I haven’t seen in nearly three months.  Their priceless gift of a sabbatical has blessed me with a rare opportunity for extended time away from church life, American culture, and the day to day responsibilities of my job.  As I result, I’ll return restored spiritually and emotionally, refreshed and stronger physically (up to around 500k in hiking, running mileage now), and challenged.

I’m challenged because these three months have been a concentrated time away from teaching, studying, and writing, three activities I enjoy and look forward to doing again when I return.  As much I enjoy them though, I’ve come to see them as dangerous because America’s about education, and among American cities,  Seattle’s all the more about education, and among Seattle churches,  the church I lead, filled with university students and professors is even all the more about education.   We’re educated.  Highly.

All this education has upsides of course, but this trip has made me aware of the downside.   That’s because I’ve met lots people with  bikerlittle formal education who in spite of their “lack” have poured generosity, service, hospitality, and joy, from their cups to ours, over and over again.  Whether it’s been food, hospitality, the gift of sunglasses at a hut when mine had been stolen, directions offered when uncertain of the way to go, a much needed ride from strangers,  or bus drivers signalling ahead to another bus so that it would for us, so that we’d make our train connection, we’ve seen people with large hearts, who allowed themselves to be inconvenienced in order to care for us.

Remember that story in the Bible about the guy who gets robbed and beaten up?  Jesus uses it to draw a distinction between the educated religious leaders who,  in spite of their eloquent sermons and theological precision, frankly didn’t give a damn about the wounded victim, even though they knew Hebrew.  Then there was the Samaritan.  He’s the one who, for the purposes of this story, is, (are you ready for this?):  Blue Collar.  He never went to college, earns below the median wage, and is having a hard time affording the new mandated health care.  He doesn’t enjoy reading CS Lewis much and doesn’t even know who NT Wright is.  He can’t tell the difference between a Neo-Calvinist, and a Rob Bell devotee because frankly, he’s too tired at the end of the day to read all the blogs and add his own comments.  Besides, he doesn’t really care.

He works.  He comes home and cares for all the things that need to be cared for in life – shopping, cooking, maintenance, friendships.  You’re not even sure where he stands on most issues because in small group he doesn’t say much.  He prays.  He’s not perfect, God knows.  He’s got issues, but he’s working on them.  In the meantime though, until he’s perfect, his greatest joy isn’t found in talking about faith.  It’s found in living it – “boots on the ground” as the saying goes.

When there’s a need in the shelter though, he volunteers.

When there’s a homeless person outside TJ’s he often makes the time to engage in conversation.

When there’s a neighbor in the hosptial, he’s there with meals, and laughter, and maybe even an awkward prayer.

He’s as generous with his limited money as he is with his time.  He doesn’t know where he stands on the issues of homosexuality and gun control, but he’s had dinner with the newly married gay couple on his block, and the NRA guy whose Jeep has a bumper sticker with something about his “cold dead hand”.

Who is this guy? Never went to seminary.  Falls asleep in most Bible studies.  Wakes up immediately when someone needs a helping hand.

The point Jesus is making in Luke 10:36 is that this (along with loving God) is the point of the Christian life.   And in that story, the protagonist is a Samaritan for God’s sake; a compromising half-breed who “anyone with a Bible degree would know is an outsider because his belief system takes him to the wrong mountain, and my pastor, who has a PHD (or is “super funny and edgy”) says that such people are…”    blah blah blah.

Talk on if you must, o educated one.  I’m tired.

Tired of doctrine being more important than living

Tired of words being more important than actions

Tired of writing about life as a substitute for living it.

Tired of Sunday being viewed as the peak experience of faith rather than Monday, or especially, Tuesdays.

Tired of hype and zeal on the surface, and pride and greed at the core

Tired of ministry professionals like me thinking they have all the answers for “the little people”

I don’t know all the ways that I’ve changed as a result of being on sabbatical.  But I know this much:  In the days to come, my criteria for personal health and spiritual maturity will have more to do with how I know and treat my neighbors, friends, co-workers, and those in need around me, than the size of my church, the “impact” of my sermons, or the hits on my website.

I know this because I’ve been pierced by the degree to which I’ve often lived alone, inside my head these past years, as slowly, I confused right thinking, and speaking/writing about right thinking, with spiritual maturity.

I suspect I’m not alone, because look at what Phil Yancey has to say in his upcoming book:

yanceyquoteWe’re good, it seems, at talking about Jesus – who he was, what he taught and stood for, how he died, how he rose, why it matters, and what people should do about it.  I’m just suspicious (and so are lots of other people apparently) that I, maybe even we, have elevated our words as the real proving ground of maturity.  When we do that, huge blind spots will remain and we’ll think we’re fine, when we’re really far from the life Jesus has for us.

It’s a dilemma for me.  This is because words still matter.  We grow in response to revelation and my calling and gifts have to do with teaching God’s revelation so others can respond.  So we all need words in our lives, and I need to study words, teach words, write words.

And yet, I need and want to make room in my life for actually putting those words into practice with real neighbors, and co-workers, and friends, and family.   How does it all fit together?

That’s the question I bring home with me, but this much I know – if something’s gotta’ give, it won’t be the living of it any more – that’s become a higher priority.  Pray that I’ll live it.   New adventures await, as I learn to be a Samaritan… who’s in?

 

Contradictions – Embracing both the beauty and tragedy of our world

“…the sun looks down on nothing half so good as a household laughing together over a meal, or two friends talking over a pint of beer, or a man alone reading a book that interests him…” – C.S. Lewis: Weight of Glory”

IMG_6531“blessed are they that mourn” – Jesus the Christ

Jesus speaks this bit about people having eyes but not seeing, and having ears but not hearing.  At first glance, he seems to just be talking about why people have a hard time understanding his parables, but I’m convinced that there’s more to it than that.  I’m convinced that most of us want to avoid either the painful realities of living in a fallen world, or the spectacular joy if the beauty God’s created, or both.  We’re living in a grey middle, feeling neither much joy nor pain.  This is wrong.

The rhythm of our recent 40 day trek in the Alps was a sort of up and down that became both literal and metaphorical.  Literally, we’d hike up out of river valleys.  The high country above tree line often had everything that’s life giving to me:  stunning 360 degree views, challenging hiking and bouldering, peaks that speak of strength and beauty and, metaphorically, eternality.    I usually didn’t want to go back down.

On the metaphorical end, the elevation lifted our spirits as much as our bodies.   It was up there, utterly disconnected from the news, that the reality of God’s love, power, and beauty were, as Romans 1 says, “clearly seen”.   Moments up there helped me become more “rooted and grounded” in God’s love, and this had profound affects, as I would find little addictions and destructive attractions that had slowly and subtly taken root down in the midst of daily living simply falling away.  Up there, I can’t imagine fear, or greed, or lust.

Then we’d go down to the river valleys, where we’d have either TV, or internet, or both, in our rooms.  I remember early in the trip turning the TV on and watching a bit of news in German, seeing some sort of riot scene with smoke, a rock throwing standoff with the military, and the presence of some sort of tank.  Crimea?  Ukraine?  Syria?  Nope:  Ferguson, Missouri.

It started there, but didn’t stop.  All summer.  Beheadings.  Political posturing in DC.  Israel and Hamas.  Human trafficking.  Environmental destruction, and our ongoing refusal to even find consensus that humans might be to blame, a constant eroding of civil rights, corruption in halls of government power, which fuels corruption in industry, and the rise of Isis, with it’s unconscionable acts of violence.

The juxtaposition is nearly unbearable, and so, many choose not to bear it all choosing one of two routes:

Embrace the beauty and deny the suffering.  We can turn off all  the media, and shrink our world, so that our concerns don’t extend beyond our personal boundaries of making a living, finding a little intimacy, hanging out with a few friends, and seeking out beauty to enjoy.  It’s an appealing path at a level, but reminds me of the last scene before intermission in the musical “Cabaret” where people are singing and dancing on stage, living in utter denial of what’s going on outside their walls.  Just when they appear to be having the time of their lives, a giant swastika flag unfurls, covering the entire back wall of the stage, while the sound of goose stepping solidiers and the voice of mad man increase in volume, inevitably drowning out the good times.

Hiding doesn’t make evil go away.  What’s more, whether we like it or not, we have been given much (time, health, clean water, access to news about the world’s woes, a savings account) are the one’s of whom much is required.  In other words, stepping into the muck and mire of injustice, poverty, human trafficking, war, and escalating violence, isn’t an option, it’s a mandate.

The fact that evil’s a deluge, an ocean, an avalanche, simply means that each of us, and our churches, must find our own particular ways to respond.  None of us can do everything, but all of us must do something, and those who want to live in isolation will miss the mark, because sitting in our nice houses watching TV while the world goes up in flames is hardly the life to which we’re called.

The other option though, comes from those who only embrace the suffering and deny the beauty.  They’re fixated on the NY Times and rail against Republicans being pawns in the hands of corporations; or they’re watching Fox News and railing against Obama because he’s slow to pull the trigger.  They have causes.  They have plans.  They’re mobilizing, protesting, and angry.

In their anger though, they don’t look very much like Jesus, and most people don’t want to be like those protestors who go down in flames with their fists raised in the air, because the reality is that there’s more to life than just human suffering – there’s a universe of beauty too.

Sophie Scholl and Dietrich Bonhoeffer both showed us a way forward:

1. Open your eyes to oceans of suffering around you and take steps to address it.   Stand in solidarity with some who are suffering.  Raise your voice for the cause of the day.  If you remain silent regarding the issue that’s rising up and becoming a fire in your soul, for fear of the relational cost, or political cost, or business cost, you become part of the problem.  You’re silence makes you complicit.

2. Recognize that you can’t address everything.  You won’t be trying to get more organic foods to market, and address 21st century slavery issues, and address environmental destruction, and work on peace initiatives in the middle east, and fix the isolation of senior citizens, and the mental health crisis, and the reality that kids are living with a nature deficit because they no longer play outside in parks, and go to Africa to help contain the Ebola virus.

Don’t trow up your hands then, and say it’s hopeless.  For God’s sake, and the sake of your own calling – take your step.  Do something.

3. Enjoy the gifts God has given you and rejoice in them.  Give thanks for them, and worship.  More than once I’ve enjoyed tears of joy because of the beauty of particular space time moments when I find myself in a place of perfect peace and shalom on our trip.  Healthy, enjoying my wife’s companionship, the recipient of a rare of gift of time to restore, and all of it in the midst of mountains I love, whose beauty never ever ceases to diminish.  These places seem to ravish me, over and over again.  All I can do is give thanks to God, recognizing that the gifts are but a foretaste of the world God wants all humanity to enjoy.

4.  Stay rooted and grounded in Christ.  The balance between IMG_6668mourning and rejoicing, between enjoying beauty and standing in solidarity with ugliness, between the pursuit of justice and the creation of a fine meal or a day of powder can be a tough balancing act.  In fact, I’d say, it’s impossible.

One of the things I love about the promise of union with Christ, though, is that with Christ’s spirit as a source of conviction and an animating force, there’ll be balance.  Bonhoeffer and Sophie were able to marvel out the clouds and the sunrise, even as the stood fast against the tyranny of oppression.

Here’s Sophie Scholl on the day of her execution:

”How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause,” Sophie said. ”Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go,” she continued, ”but what does my death matter, if through us thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?”

I pray I’ll live with that same enjoyment of beauty, creation, and fellowship, while being bold to stand in solidarity with the injustices of our world.  May God empower each of us to go there.

 

Rethinking the Body, Aging, and Movement – 4 Vital Ideas

"we started when we were kids and just never stopped"
“we started when we were kids and just never stopped”
IMG_5291
when are you too old to ride your bike to church?

They’re brothers, these two guys in their late sixties/early seventies.  They’re on the deck of the first Alpine hut we stayed in, and it’s morning, about 7:15 actually.  I’m out there to enjoy the view and take a few pictures, while these two are about to hoist their packs and head out for a long day of hiking to the next hut.  They’re strong.  They’re vibrant.  They’re optimistic.  They’re healthy.  And they’re “old”.

They are the first of an endless stream of encounters my wife and I will have with people older than us who are also stronger than us, or at least as strong – well able to carry 20 pounds on their backs for 10-15k day after day, at elevations ranging from 3-7000 feet.  Their presence on the trail has shaken me in the best of ways.  By example they’ve said:  “Yes Richard… it’s possible to stay healthy for many years to come” 

It won’t happen accidentally though, so asked some of the “wise and wonderful” seniors I met on the trail what kept them in gore-tex and polar-fleece, what kept them moving into their late years.  Their answers, coupled with a careful reading of this book prior to my departure, have revealed four ideas that will give us a good shot at remaining healthy and active for a long time.

1.  A good theology of the body – You know this already, but it’s important to be reminded that we’re not disembodied spirits, that the bodies we’ve been given are marvelous wonders, and that it’s our calling and privilege to take care of our bodies, because they’re the visible expression of who we are.

2. A new vision for normal – Prior to the start of the trip, we envisioned ourselves sitting around in this huts with people between twenty and fifty.  They were there, but there were scores on either end of that, both the very young and the very old. Their presence served to create a different vision of what normal is, or can be.  It can be normal, at nearly any age, to walk or jog several miles a day – often with a pack on that effectively adds exponential work to your exercise.   It can be normal to eat fresh, well prepared food, rather than chemicals mixed together and microwaved.   It can be normal to respond to stress by getting adequate rest, some outdoor exercise, and by spending time with good friends.

I know that this new normal isn’t always possible.  There’s cancer ad other unwanted intrusions, and some people are living in refugee camps, while others are working three jobs just to be able to afford health insurance.  But for many of us, these exceptions don’t apply.   For most us, we have the capacity to stay healthy and active, and I’m increasingly convinced that such lifestyle commitments will make us more effective in everything else we do in our roles as teachers, health care professionals, spouses, parents, students, pastors, neighbors, friends.

I challenge us to rethink our view of normal, because our culture faces an obesity crisis that stems from a slow decay of health habits

Klaus is 70.  He's hiked 30+ days in a row in the high country.  His favorite word:  "fantastisch!"
Klaus is 70. He’s hiked 30+ days in a row in the high country. His favorite word: “fantastisch!”

with respect to food and exercise.  What’s worse, we’re teaching the rest of the world to follow us.   It’s time for a fresh vision.  One fellow traveler on our Alps journey was a 70 year old named Klaus.  He’d been out hiking for 30 days and was nearing the end of his trek when we meet him in a hut and shared a meal.  It was cold outside.  I was tired, in spite of the fact that I’d done 1/3 the distance as him today.  We’d just had supper together and he was absolutely effervescent with joy over his hike that day on dicey ridge, conquering seven summits, all over 6000′ elevation in 15k of distance and eight hours of hiking.  He was wild eyed as he spoke of the challenges and beauty.  When he finished supper he went outside, and came back, knowing that I too enjoyed photography, and he said, “you must photo the sunset!  Fantastisch!!”   I didn’t want to go out, but I did because of his enthusiasm, his lust for life.  Klaus became my new inspiration for a new normal that night.

 

3. A good aerobic base -  The book I referenced earlier taught me about “building an aerobic base”  I thought I knew about this base, but no.  It turns out that I, like most of America, was actually not doing aerobic exercise when I was out jogging, because I was going to fast.  The whole thing’s rather complex, so I’ll spare the details because you can read them starting here. 

The bottom line is that if we’re going to be active for the rest of our lives, we’ll need to start moving, at the right speed, most days of the week, for at least an hour.  Most “walkers” need to speed up a bit.  Most “joggers” need to slow down.   On our recent hikes, we’ve encountered cross country ski teams from Russia, Italy, Sweden, and Norway.  All of them are doing the same thing.  They’re building their aerobic base through lots of long, slow, distance.

When I started exercising this way, just before leaving for Europe, I was appalled at how slow I was running around Greenlake, as I tried to keep my pulse rate in the treasured “aerobic zone”.  Not any more.  These days I’m cherishing the good vibes that come from a long slow jog, or a hike uphill, because at the end I feel great, and I know I’m building an even stronger base for the future, know that I’ll come home energized for the day, rather than drained.

4.  Consistency. 

IMG_6029“We’ve been doing this together since we were kids, and we just never stopped” is what the two brothers said.

“We hike together every year for a week, and because of this, most of walk nearly every day to stay in shape for this one week adventure together” is what I heard from a group of 70 year olds.

IMG_6515‘Use it our lose it’ is, I believe, how you say it in America, no?” said another woman, part of a group on a trail that included climbing a half dozen ladders and crossing a couple high suspension bridges.

All these testimonials from the wise and wonderful seniors we encountered elevate consistency as a high priority.   Our bodies produces everything needed for an active lifestyle as long as we stay active.  Stop moving though, and everything changes fast.

The “Body. Soul. Spirit.” logo you see on clothes I wear comes from the school where I’m presently teaching in Austria.  They take all this stuff seriously, and yesterday the students were out playing soccer or volleyball or ultimate, or jogging or hiking or climbing.  The goal though isn’t twelve weeks of this – it’s a lifestyle change we hope will last.  Same with Bible reading.  Same with prayer.  Same with fellowship:  Consistency, or as Eugene Peterson puts it, “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction” is the goal for every area of our lives – body, soul, and spirit.

How are yours?

 

 

 

 

Five Values for Sustainable Leadership (pt 2).

just to be loved... can it be enough?
just to be loved… can it be enough?

My previous post offered the first two of five essential values for leaders to nurture and develop if they hope to still be living into their calling and sustaining important relationships, “for the long haul”.   Giftedness will get you in the door as a leader, and romance will get you started in a relationship, but it’s these five critical qualities that will allow you stay in the game for decades.    In addition to teachability/humility and a rhythm of work and rest, you’ll also need:

#3 To be Rooted and Grounded (A Firm Identity)   Jesus does things that are utterly exasperating to contemporary leaders, like walking away from his ministry in Capernaum when word about him had spread and “the whole city” was looking for him.  Who walks away from an opportunity to “expand their platform” or “build their brand” or “capture more market share?”  Apparently Jesus does, and this makes no sense to we who are bred in the capitalist mindset that bigger and more is always the highest and best way to go.

The thing about Jesus though was that he had only one foundational source from which he drew his sense of significance, and that source wasn’t the size or success of his ministry.  It wasn’t the response of the crowds either, because in John 6, Jesus is utterly undisturbed, even when the crowds shrink exponentially because of the harsh reality of his message.   It wasn’t the faithfulness of his disciples, all of whom fled the scene when things got tough.

What keeps Jesus so grounded, so solid, in spite of the ups and downs of popularity in the polls, and in spite of the reality that his closest friends didn’t have a clue what he was about ’til the very end of his post resurrection life?

The answer’s found in John 13:3, where we’re told that Jesus knew that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from the Father and was returning to the Father….  Because of this rootedness, Jesus is able to bend down and wash the feet of those who will betray and abandon him within a few short hours.  It’s this identity with the Father that is the foundation of his life because Jesus knows his place in the universe, knows his relationship with God is secure, knows his destiny.    And…

THAT.

IS.

ENOUGH.

Yes, enough for Jesus, but not us, because we have a gaping hole in our lives that longs to be filled with significance, and so we set off to plant 1000 churches, or to have a perfect marriage that’s the envy of the world, or raise children who are scholars, athletes, saints, who always eat their organic vegetables and never get cavities.  Or we knock ourselves out to get whatever is, in our own world, the equivalent of a bestseller.    Armed with these goals, we’re convinced that when we reach them, it will be enough.

It won’t.  You’ll need to sustain it if you succeed, and then eventually you’ll need to let go of it because someday you’ll be old and tired.   Then what will be enough?  Or maybe sustaining it won’t be enough at all, because success can be addicting, like eating potato chips.  You won’t be able to stop.  If that’s you, then you’ll be on the tread mill in full swing, and it’s all for God, of course, because we’ve been told how vital it is that we use our gifts, and be a blessing, and make a difference.  The whole message, at its worst, baptizes ambitions born of insecurities and leaves us desperate to succeed.

When success is our goal (marriage success, family success, ministry success, job success, publishing success) then the people in our lives become tools to help us get there.  When that happens, I have a feeling we’ll no longer be washing the feet of our family members, or co-workers, or spouses, or church members  when they fail to agree with us or appreciate us, because we’ll see them as barriers to our success, and our since our success is our identity, “what will we do” if our children rebel, or our church doesn’t grow, or our book doesn’t get published?

Can you see how a wrong definition of success and our desire to “impact the world” is fraught with the potential for burn-out, and even the possibility of becoming a user of people rather than a servant/lover of people?  I hope so, because I can tell you from the driver’s seat that these temptations are real, and the world is filled with stories of power abuse at the hands of those who, with the very highest and noble goals articulated, came to insist that those goals be met at any cost, including the cost of servanthood, humility, and love.

The way of Jesus is different than this on two fronts:

A)  Jesus invites us to union with himself and makes the audacious claim that this will make us profoundly content, regardless of the scope and nature of “impact” we have, or “fruit” we display in our lives.  This is why leaders who are in it for the long haul have an identity rooted in what Christ has done for them and is doing for them, rather than in their own accomplishments.   People like this don’t need outward success as much because what sustains them is fellowship with Christ and enjoying the gifts of Christ revealed in creation, beauty, good food, meaningful conversation and laughter.  These gifts are received with gratitude by those whose life in Christ is their most precious gift.

Paul calls this being “rooted in grounded in love” so that coming to explore and experience the heights and depths of Christ’s love became the greatest joy, even greater than capturing market share!

Ministry, family, marriage, work; all these things are great gifts from God.  But none of them are foundational, and to be blunt, none will last.  The joy I have in knowing Christ, however, is a different story.  He’s with me know in the midst of this oh so busy season in life.  He’ll be with me later, when I’m sitting on a bench, too tired to run, or run a ministry.  And he’ll be with me at my last breath.  Why would I want to build on any other foundation?

God is in the mist
yes… just to be loved is enough.

B)  Jesus invites us to leave the scope and nature of the fruit he produces in our lives with him.   I’ll confess that it’s easy to get excited when I get published, easy to get discouraged when sales don’t match my hopes.  Church life?  Parenting?  Marriage?  Health?  Money?  In every area, we can get overly high or low based on whether reality matches our expectations.

How about, instead, we let go of our expectations, and simply rest in the confidence that Christ will express life through us in his way, his time, in the places of his choosing?  That would lead to security.  And rest.  And peace.

Next up…

#4 Patience but Relentless Pursuit

#5 Adaptation

 

 

 

 

“Five Values for Sustainable Leadership”, vital for churches, families, calling (part 1)

Will you still be using your gifts at 83 like Fred Beckey is here?  I hope so.
Will you still be using your gifts at 83 like Fred Beckey is here? I hope so.

My predecessor at the church I lead in Seattle served that community for 38 years.  The farmers in these high Alps have held the same land, stewarding the soil and shepherding the flocks entrusted to them, for generations.   Fred Beckey is still climbing in his 90′s, in the mountains he’s been exploring since 1936.   And yes, there are healthy marriages where spouses are still in love, having been faithful to each other in every way for over half a century.

In a world where leaders often burn out, melt down, get bored, or create some sort of credibility gap that forfeits them from leadership, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it takes to be the kind of person whose life is characterized by longevity and sustainability rather than crisis and frequent change.

As I return to Seattle, soon to begin my 19th year in ministry at the same church, and begin my 25th year of teaching with Torchbearers this week, its become clear to me that there are some (at least five) non-negotiable values anyone interested in “being in it for the long haul” should assess, develop, and fan into flame.  I don’t offer these from some high point of arrival, but I do offer them as priorities that I’m trying to continually build into my life so that I’ll be able to use the gifts God’s given me for many more years.   The values?

1. Teachability/Humility -  This is the most important thing of all, because pride seems to be, as CS Lewis says, “the greatest sin” due to the reality that it shuts us off from receiving much needed truth so that we might continue to grow.   When we refuse to let other people speak hard truth into our lives, we’ve essentially sealed ourselves off from the food we need to keep our spirits alive.  After all, revelation doesn’t come from merely locking ourselves in a room and praying.  It comes from other people, whom God uses to challenge us, encourage us, and expose us so that we can grow.

If my spouse says I have an anger problem, the next ten seconds are the clearest revelation of my truest character.    If my friends or co-workers try and show me an issue and I refuse to see it; if my boss confronts me repeatedly on a performance issue and I become repeatedly defensive, then my days are numbered, no matter how many other well developed skills I have in my tool kit.   Teachability is the one ingredient I, you, everyone, must have, if we’ll keep growing our whole lives.

David was undone by the prophet’s exposure of the lust, deception, and abuse of power he thought he’d hidden so well.  There was no self-justification, no mitigating circumstances, nothing but pure confession as you can read in Psalm 51.  Saul on the other hand self-justifies, denies, blames others and circumstances for his issues.

All of us are either becoming more like Saul or more like David every single day, and we’d be wise to ask ourselves which way we’re moving because history is littered with highly gifted people whose gifts ended up on the sidelines precisely because they built walls around themselves and became “untouchable” “unconfrontable” “unteachable”.   Great gifts without humility and teachability can create a dangerous cocktail.

2. Rhythm of Work and Rest – I hope to write more about this soon, but for now I’ll note that we’d arrive “bone weary” at the various huts during our days of trekking.   Just this past Friday, I felt spent after our 3000′ ascent to the hut.  My legs ached, and the muscles around my shoulders were nearly yelling at me for carrying a heavy load on my back yet again, as I’d been doing so often the previous 40 days.  I took my pack off even before arriving, leaving it on a bench outside the hut.  I couldn’t imagine hiking another step.

Some soup.  A nap.  We wake, and I can’t even believe I’m saying, “let’s go for a hike before dinner” to my wife, who’s as ready to go as I am.  We ascend a summit, and enjoy some holy moments on our last night in the high Alps.  Without the rest, we’d not have made it, or enjoyed it.  With it, the miracle of restoration happened, physically and emotionally.

Are you finding a rhythm to your day that provides enough sleep and food and fresh air and exercise?  If not, don’t speak of “burn out” until you address the imbalance because you might just need a nap and a cup of soup.

How about your week?  Is there a day with less adrenaline, or are your weekends as packed as your week?  You can live that way for a while; just know it’s not sustainable.  You’re wired for rest.

Sabbatical years, and years of Jubilee were intended by God because the entire universe runs on principles that God will bring restoration when space is provided for rest; when people rest, when the land rests, good things happen.

Sure, there are seasons of intensity and periods on our trek when  we did a few consecutive long days.  But it’s unsustainable.  If we’re going to to go the distance, we’ll need to take sleep, sabbath, and extended periods of real rest seriously.

There are three more principles, equally important, and I’ll share them later this week:

3. Rooted and Grounded:  A Firm Identity

4. Patience, but Relentless Pursuit

5. Adaptation

so….

History’s filled with gifted people who refused to deal with the glaring dysfunction because they thought their giftedness would see them through.  It won’t.   Others neglected vital rest, thinking  their devotion to the work required the sacrifice of their emotional, physical, spiritual health.  It doesn’t.

Marriages, churches, athletes, students, leaders, farmers, all need more than mere gifts, exciting plans, and adrenaline induced zeal.  They need values that will lead to sustained fruitfulness.  Here’s hoping each of us take these values seriously.

I welcome your thoughts.

Last Journey’s the Best

It’s our last hike, the end of our forty days trekking through the Alps together.  I’ll begin teaching next week and thinking about re-entry to life in Seattle, while my wife will spend the weekend with friends, retrieving sheep from the high Alps in anticipation of upcoming snows.

Our final trek will take us to Guttenberghaus, significant for it’s beauty, and its proximity to the Torchbearer Bible school where I teach because I can see this hut, perched high in the Dachstein Alps, from the deck of my room at the school down in the valley.

The ascent requires no skill other than endurance of lungs, legs, and back, as we rise over 3000 feet in approximately three miles.  We encounter members of the Russian and Norwegian cross country ski teams doing speed ascent workouts on this trail in anticipation of their upcoming season, and 70 year old ladies too, all getting out into the midst of God’s creation on this, the final curtain call of summer.

IMG_6804It’s glorious, as these mountains, shrouded in clouds for us so much of this summer, are on this day, our last one in the high country, naked in their glory, lit up by the warmth of the sun.   We ascend, mostly quietly, with images running through our minds about all that we’ve seen and learned these past six weeks, and all the people we’ve met.  Most of all, I think about the powerful ways we’ve been transformed when our desires and visions move from maps to our actual feet, as step builds on step until soon we find ourselves stronger, more attune to the rhythms of life, more grateful, more patient – not because we tried to be, but because we’re transformed by the journey – step by step.

IMG_6787I think about the various terrains we’ve encountered, from grassy paths in high Alpine Alms (grazing land) to challenging knife edge ridges where a mis-step means loss of life.  I think about how much this mirrors real life, how its so often the case that the terrain you anticipated for your day is harder, more dangerous, or easier, more beautiful, than you’d expected.  I think about how, at my best, I’ll let my days come to me, both rising to the challenge of ridges, and cherishing the beauty of flat green paths, receiving everything as what God allows.  I pray for friends who are on ridges just now, one having lost a spouse after a heroic battle with cancer, another still fighting, another at the cusp of vocational change; may they find the next steps on the ridge and strength for each step.

IMG_6622We arrive at the beautiful hut, settle in, and after a bit to eat, opt for a quick sunset ascent of Sinabell, which is a quick trail via a north facing ridge.  The Alps are a riot of changing colors as we ascend quietly, wishing the beauty of the moment would never end because we can’t think of any place, or state of body, soul, or spirit, that could be more perfect than this, our last sabbatical sunset together in the high Alps.

IMG_6638As we reach the top we see a cross, and this one is somehow perfect for our evening.  It’s small, wooden, and as unassuming as the small peak it graces.  Donna’s there first, and she signs the book.  The moments there, with the sun going down, defy description, but “holy” is the closest adjective I can find.   When she’s finished, I make an entry too and then, together, we pray at the cross.

IMG_6651We’ve stood under many these past weeks.  Sometimes we were exhilarated by being on the heights.  Other moments, bone weary and sore.  This day though, as light gives way to dusk, we’re simply grateful:  for the beauty, for the gift of the time granted us here in the mountains we love, for the gift of each other, for the privileges of health and the opportunity to serve others.   We can barely pray – mostly it’s tears of joy.

IMG_6700We descend through the wildflowers as the sun shines uniquely through clouds on a single ridge, offering the last light of the evening just as we arrive at the hut.   Soon we’re sitting with other Austrians talking about world cup skiing, climbing routes nearby, Vienna coffee, and more, over spaghetti, or some other standard mountain fare.  There’s laughter, IMG_6728stories, some Austrian music, and an ache in my heart because these moments have happened so very often over the past weeks, and now, for the time at least, it’s over.

I’ll bring some of Austria home with me (a new hat, etc) because these mountains, these people, have been the context where I’ve learned lessons about hospitality, courage, risk, rhythms of work and rest, generosity, hope, joy, service, and what it means to draw on the resources of Christ day by day, not in some theoretical doctrinal way but in real ways, every step of the way.   The journey’s been a gift, and my wife and I couldn’t be more grateful for the generosity of Bethany Community Church in refreshing us this way.

I’ll soon begin working on some other projects related both to our travels and other big issues, for this blog, and work on a book about the experiences we’ve had, where I hope to share more of the beautiful gifts God has given us as we’ve walked step by step through the Alps.

For now though, I write a poem in my summit journal, next to the stamp from this hut:

IMG_6816IMG_6743

The War of Fog – 3 truths for Living with Clarity in Zero Visibility

We’re waiting for the cable car that will haul us up to the Douglass Hut, the base from which we’ll be hiking over a couple of passes to another hut.  We’re waiting at the base of the lift, gazing skyward.  All we can see are two cables disappearing into the clouds.  Eventually one of them begins dancing, then the other, and finally, 150′ above us, we see something mysteriously appearing out of the grey, taking form as the cable car.  A horn sounds, and soon the car is “parked” and we step in for a ride upward.  Everything quickly disappears as we ascend, and then, moments later, we look down, seeing snow on the brush that rushes by 100 plus feet below us.  The snow gets thicker as we go higher until, finally, we’re there:  The Lunarsee and Douglas Hut, our home for the night.

IMG_5962We exit the car for one of our shorter hikes, going maybe 100 feet to the adjacent entryway of the Douglass Hut, in howling wind, wet snow, and the capacity to see nothing other than what’s exactly in front of us, moment by moment.  This is called “white out” and if you’ve been in the mountains during white out, you know it’s never, ever pleasant.  You look at the map, and know that there’s a large lake and mountains somewhere near here, but you don’t really know it in the fullest sense yet, because you only know it from the map.  We duck inside out of the cold, check in to our rooms, and are quickly in our room in this “summer only” hut, which means that the dorm’s unheated, which means that on this snowy, windy day, every blanket is cherished while we rest, along with our snow hats.

Later in the afternoon we’ll rise and go spend some time in the dining area, enjoying some good foot, hot tea, wine, and reading time.  The hours pass quickly actually.  In spite of the cabin feverish feel of the place, it’s far from empty.  There are guests sitting around IMG_5968talking, drawing, reading, playing games.  None of them speak English though, so the two of us are a bit in our own world when, as afternoon turns to evening, I hear a stirring and look up.

The fogs lifted!  Not a lot, but enough to give reality to the lake we’ve seen on the map and at least the bottoms of the surrounding mountains.  People are rushing for their boots so that can get outside with their cameras because God only knows how long the fog will keep her skirt lifted for us like this.   All attention has turned outside of ourselves the beauty show offered us.

“So it’s true” I say to myself, as reality comes into view.  There’s a sense of delight and relief to the whole situation, and above all else a sense of “We’re glad we came… in spite of the fog!”  By the day after IMG_6093tomorrow, we’ll return here to largely blue skies, and celebrate the full beauty of that which was drawn on a map and described, but unknown to us even as we were in it, because our sight was clouded by fog.  “This” I say to myself, “is an important moment”

IMG_4897 It’s important because large swaths of our lives, especially our lives of faith, are lived in the midst of a thick fog of suffering, doubt, failure, war, abuse, hunger, loneliness, cancer, addiction.  It’s all swirling around, in our own souls or the experiences of those we love, and we can’t see a blessed thing, because only the cursed things are apparent in the moment.  “Where’s God?” we ask ourselves, or we ask where hope is, or joy, or meaning.  They’re fair questions in the fog because we were promised a lake and we’re really looking hard, but all we can see is  fog.

Yes.  This is why they call it faith.  We have a map that paints glowing descriptions of both the present (in the midst of challenges and trials) and the future (when all tears are gone), and we’re invited to live, not “as if” it’s all true, but to live fully “because” it’s true, and to live into the true-ness of it in spite of the fog.   What does this mean?

1.  It’s means I’m deeply loved and fully forgiven, in spite of the fog of failure.

2. It means that I’m complete in Christ and filled with his strength, in spite of the fog of  brokenness and weakness

3. It means that all enemies have been reconciled, in spite of the fact that we also see the horrors of war and terror, custom delivered to our inboxes every day

4. It means that a day is coming when weapons will be melted down and used as farm tools, and cancer, loneliness, fear, human trafficking, abuse, and oppression will all be done away with forever.  It’s down the road a bit, but it’s coming.

Here’s the mystery of the map and fog in a nutshell: (Hebrews 2:8,9)

“God has put all things in subjection under his feet.”  For in subjecting all things to him, He left nothing that is not subject to him.  But now we do not yet see all things subjected to him.  But we see him….!!

I need to believe the map, and live according to the reality of the map while I wait for the fog to clear.  This means living in a posture of thanksgiving for what is true, even when the fog is swirling so thickly that I can neither see or feel it.   The result of this posture of heart has led people to joy and peace, even in the midst of the storm.

Two quotes speak to this powerfully: 

IMG_4927“Don’t struggle and strive so, my child
There is no race to complete, no point to prove, no obstacle to conquer for you to win my love.
I have already given it to you.
I loved you before creation drew its first breath.
I dreamed you as I molded Adam from the mud.
I saw you wet from the womb.
And I loved you then.” Desmond Tutu

All shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.  Julian of Norwich

Now it’s our turn… to walk into the fog as people of hope because of what we know is true.

 

Strength and Beauty are Vital – and Vital to Redefine

IMG_5627 IMG_5826I’ve been overwhelmed by beauty these past 35 days or so in the Alps.  Sunrises and sunsets, thunderstorms and lightning, wildflowers and waterfalls, ruggedly terrifying mountain peaks and lush river valleys.  It’s been beautiful; but expected.  I came here looking for this kind of revelation and, other than the predominance of clouds that have hidden the night sky stars, I’ve not been disappointed.

Less anticipated, though, was the extent to which the aesthetics of Alpine hospitality would so bless us.  Little things, like a welcome sign IMG_5770on the door of our room in a hut, or Alpine wildflowers on the table at supper, matchless care given to clean windows and floors; even the flower boxes gracing the sides of chalet balconies, all these things have said, in their own way, “we care about those who are with us – even if they’re just passing through.”  This commitment to spatial beauty become such a norm because of the culture, that wherever it was lacking things felt sterile, as if we, the guests, were a bother, not worth the time.

Finally though, and most important, I’ve discovered a different kind of beauty that’s robust and life giving.  It came as a surprise though, sneaking up on me on Sunday afternoon.  Donna and I had come out of the high country and were staying in a wonderful hotel in a small village that we’d accidentally stumbled upon.  We’d stashed our stuff, arriving mid-afternoon, and made our way to a little food festival in the plaza, where a stage was set up and a band was singing a mix of German folk tunes and old American songs from the 60′s.

It was here on this plaza on a Sunday afternoon that I heard the famous song:  “What a Wonderful World”  Donna and I had just been pondering what it would have been like to be in this plaza 70 years earlier, in 1944, how different than the joviality of this Sunday afternoon.  Just then, I heard “What a Wonderful World”, that song made famous by Louie Armstrong.   The lyrics matched the day, as I heard:

I see friends shaking hands.
Saying, “How do you do?”
They’re really saying,
“I love you”.

I hear babies cry,
I watch them grow,
They’ll learn much more,
Than I’ll ever know.

And I think to myself….”what a wonderful world”

The sight of elderly folk walking hand in hand, small children playing, an older man in a wheel chair, and a developmentally disabled child, all making their way through this plaza with joy, all the beloved of someone, was beautiful enough that I was undone by it.   These are the people who were declared “a burden to the state” in a previous era.  In the end, though, the beauty of compassion won.  Thanks be to God.

This has largely been the way of it during these past five weeks:  In the high country we see the fit, the strong, the capable (that they’re made up of all ages, including the elderly, is an observation for another post).  They’re up where the air is thin, often pouring over maps, and considering how they’ll use their strength to reach the next hut, or a summit or two.  They are the beauty of health and vigor.

In the valleys, though, we encounter those unable to go higher, limited in their pursuits by illness, weakness, disability.  However, and I can’t stress this enough, the beauty present in the midst of this weakness has been a greater revelation to me than the beauty found in strength.  This is because the weakness and vulnerability that I’ve seen has been met with kindness, service, and the dignifying power of profound love.  All of this is the more powerful if, while seeing it unfold before my eyes, I’m reading of the days when these very people were gathered up and “put away”.

Thank God for those who say “No!” to such thinking, for the Mother Teresa’s of the world, and Pope Francis, and those who volunteer in shelters and medical clinics, and those committed to being the presence of Christ precisely by loving and serving those most in need of love.

These are important things to ponder, because we live in a world that, increasingly, worships at the altar of a narrowly defined view of beauty, a view having to do with strength, youth,  and “capacity”, whether intellectual, financial, social, or physical.   I can’t stress how dangerous, and ultimately ugly, this path is.   How do we avoid it?

1.  Recognize the beauty of vulnerability.  It’s a soil in which powerful love will grow

2.  Recognize the beauty of brokenness and confession.  

3. Recognize the beauty of service and hospitality, and begin making both a priority – especially towards those who can’t repay.  

4. Quit walking to the other side of the road when you encounter need, weakness, brokenness.  Jump in and love instead.

IMG_6161All of this requires, not just a new set of eyes, but an openness to disruption, and that requires space in our lives, and that requires trimming the excess obligations, and that requires… alignment with God’s priorities.

Our world increasingly views those who can’t pay their way as a bother.   Imagine the power of light in the midst of such darkness when compassion, love, and service take root again.  Whatever it looks like, I know this much:  it will be beautiful

I’ve loved talking to folks in their twenties about the peaks they’re going after, but never did I imagine that the greater joy would come from chatting with elderly folks sitting on a bench, and yet that’s been the way of it, because it’s beauty I’m finding there that contains within itself the essence of the gospel.

 

 

 

35 thoughts on marriage, after 35 years:

Today I’ll get on a bus with my wife and travel from Freiberg Germany to Munich and then a train from there to Schladming, Austria, on this, our 35th wedding anniversary.  Now that we’ve reached this milestone, I think we’re most grateful, not that we’re still married, but that we still love each other, likely more than ever before (and this after hiking together for the past 35 days).  This has me thinking about how this has happened, and so I offer these marriage observations.  It’s less advice, than observations about our marriage, but if these 35 thoughts help anyone else, we’ll both be thrilled.

1. I had a short list of qualities I was looking for in a spouse:

2.  Sense of humor – someone who would make me laugh

3. Someone who would give me the freedom to fail

4. Someone who would be willing to live anywhere in the world

5.  All three qualities have been vitalizing, sustaining, and life giving in our marriage

6.  For much of our marriage we sought approval from each other for purchases over $20, and this served us well.

7.  We’ve paid off our credit cards completely each month, and this too has served us well.

8.  The shared values of thrift, coupled with the discipline of generosity which has included giving to church have helped limit financial tensions.

9.  We’ve needed to learn about our own family of origin issues, because we brought those into the marriage, and they created problems at times.  But marriage has been a lab to expose those issues and that’s been good, though hard.

10.  We’ve made major decisions about the future by praying for guidance and then deciding together what God was saying to us.  None of this, “I’m the man and so you’ll do what I say” kind of thinking.

11.  Both of us have felt a profound sense of responsibility for the family unit, though we each contribute(d) to it in profoundly different ways.  It’s a bit like climbing – belayer, climber, both matter to the success of the mission, and both know that if either fails to pay attention, it’ll be costly to everyone.

12.  We light a candle at meals as often as possible.  This seems help create an atmosphere for conversation.

13.  Our shared love of the outdoors has served us well as a common passion.

14.  We don’t do devotions well together.  We never have.  This is because we like very different reading material.

15.  There were years when I tried to make my wife like the same reading material as I liked.

16. This lead to the sad revelation that I was trying to turn her into a version of me.

17.  I’ve since learned that we’re happier, and it’s better, if she’s  becoming the best version of her, not me.

18.  Our tastes in movies are largely different.

19.  Sex has gotten better over the years, as we’ve learned how to serve each other and communicate our desires.

20.  Grace and forgiveness are two of the most vital ingredients that have sustained our relationship.  I’ve failed, told her, and she’s forgiven.  And she’s done the same.  I can’t stress this enough

21.  We didn’t date very long before I proposed.  I wouldn’t recommend that for everyone, but I think many people today wait too long to make a commitment because they’re “shopping for a spouse” as a sort of commodity that will help them with their own goals.  This is bad at so many levels that I’ll need to write about it in a different post.

22.  My wife has gifts of serving others, and I have gifts of teaching and leading.   Knowing this has helped us accept and liberate each other to focus on what we do best, while still seeking to grow in areas where we’re not as strong.

23. I traveled extensively while our children were young, and this would have been impossible if my wife didn’t believe in my calling.

24. I went through seminary while my wife worked full time – again impossible without her belief in my calling.

25.  Her vast investment in me is just one of a hundred things that makes the notion of my ever being unfaithful impossible to imagine without getting sick to my stomach.

26.  Because she doesn’t thrive in the morning, I find the time I need for intimacy with God by rising early.

27.  We’ve prayed together often, but the most memorable prayers have come after hours of hard conversations, late at night.  These prayers were cries from the heart.

28.  We’re good enough cooks that we’d usually rather stay home and cook a great meal than eat out.

29.  When we’ve argued, 99.6% of the time we’ve ended with both of us feeling heard by the other and valued by the other.  This has been priceless.

30.  Donna let’s me invest in skiing because “it’s cheaper than therapy”

31.  We started, and ran, a non profit together.  This was hard work, that we loved, and was very good for our marriage.

32.  When we had children, we mostly brought them into our lives of faith, outdoor activities, and the non profit we ran.

33.  I’ve decided that “staying married” is setting the bar too low; that nurturing love and intimacy are worthier goals.

34.  As we’ve grown older, we’ve grown more comfortable with ourselves as individuals, and this has, ironically, strengthened our life as a couple.

35.  Donna’s personality is one of the greatest assets to my ministry and calling, but long after I’m done with my profession, I hope and pray she’s still around to make me laugh and give me the freedom to fail – anywhere in the world.

Moving towards wholeness and hope – step by step