Tag: #bettertogether

Let me build a bridge, for I cannot fill the chasm…


The poet of my youth was one Gordon Sumner, aka Sting. The first concert I ever went to was Dream of the Blue Turtles, his debut solo album. A bit odd for a kid my age as all my other friends went to the Journey, AC/DC and KISS concerts, and I loved all that music too, but my  teen and young adult heart was drawn to the Billy Joels, the Elton Johns, the James Taylors and the Stings of the music world.

When we are young, suffering through unrequited love and longing and trying to figure out who we are, the songs of our youth have a different meaning. They apply in different ways. What I now feel is the true test of a great song is if that song can grow along with you, gaining alternate meaning as you (hopefully) gain wisdom and understanding.

When I first heard Fortress Around Your Heart, my thoughts were fixed on unrequited teenage love and angst. I wanted to build a bridge to some girl’s heart that I had a crush on and well let’s just say I am thankful that bridge was never built, but you couldn’t have told me that at the time! (hormones are an amazing elixir!) At the time, Sumner’s lyrics acted on my young wounded heart as both salt and salve.

It was only later that I realized I didn’t really get the intended meaning of the song at all. 

Here is what Sting himself says about it and let me share the lyrics, before I resume: 

“Fortress’ is about appeasement, about trying to bridge the gaps between individuals. The central image is a minefield that you’ve laid around this other person to try and protect them. Then you realise that you have to walk back through it. I think it’s one of the best choruses I’ve ever written.” Sting

Under the ruins of a walled city
Crumbling towers in beams of yellow light.
No flags of truce, no cries of pity;
The siege guns had been pounding through the night.
It took a day to build the city.
We walked through its streets in the afternoon.
As I returned across the fields I’d known,
I recognized the walls that I once made.
Had to stop in my tracks for fear of walking on the mines I’d laid.

And if I’ve built this fortress around your heart,
Encircled you in trenches and barbed wire,
Then let me build a bridge, for I cannot fill the chasm,
And let me set the battlements on fire.

Then I went off the fight some battle that I’d invented inside my head.
Away so long for years and years,
You probably thought or even wished that I was dead.
While the armies are all sleeping beneath the tattered flag we’d made.
I had to stop in my tracks for fear of walking on the mines I’d laid.

And if I’ve built this fortress around your heart,
Encircled you in trenches and barbed wire,
Then let me build a bridge, for I cannot fill the chasm,
And let me set the battlements on fire.

This prison has now become your home,
A sentence you seem prepared to pay.
It took a day to build the city.
We walked through its streets in the afternoon.
As I returned across the fields I’d known,
I recognized the walls that I once made.
Had to stop in my tracks for fear of walking on the mines I’d laid.

And if I’ve built this fortress around your heart,
Encircled you in trenches and barbed wire,
Then let me build a bridge, for I cannot fill the chasm,
And let me set the battlements on fire.

Songwriter: Gordon Sumner
Fortress Around Your Heart lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

Have you ever sought to reconcile with someone, someone who you encircled in trenches and barbed wire, setting them aside, building in distance and letting time and / or physical and / or emotional distance create a chasm between you? 

We probably all do this every day to some degree with various people? Often, this is only a natural outgrowth of the changing seasons of life or bandwidth, but sometimes it is deeper than that. Sometimes, we are a full-on intentional construction crew separating ourselves from one another on purpose.

Inevitably, just as the poet shares with us, right after we build up the battlements around ourselves and the other, we go off and fight some battle we invent inside our heads. We fill our thoughts with all of these things that may or may not be true about the other person in the gap of time since we were last close to them.

“They probably (think) or even wish that I was dead”…

…is a poignant representation of those kinds of thoughts. In the end, this only makes the chasm deeper, the battlements sturdier and the barbed wire sharper.

This fear of what the other is thinking, this damage that we do by cutting the ties that bind us, however tenuous, creates a condition where, over time, there are no flags of truce, there are no cries of pity, the armies all just lay there sleeping and we know we have a mind field to walk through to get back to that person.

This dynamic keeps people away, sometimes forever. If they do reconcile, it is painful and treacherous as they navigate the mines they laid down with sparse, misconstrued or a vaccum of communication in the intervening timeframe.

What does this mean for us? What can and should we do about it? Is reconciliation always right? I am not sure full reconciliation is always right and I am not sure you have to build a bridge with every person you ever built battlements around? Sometimes, the risk is real, but the key is to make sure we haven’t simply convinced ourselves the risk is authentic. The trick is to make sure we are not inventing battles inside our heads to avoid the discomfort of walking on the mines we’ve laid.

However, I would challenge you to be careful about how many people you keep in the fortress. I would ask that you scan the horizon and look for all the keeps, moats, fortresses and chasms that are in the landscape of your life. I would share that when I did this I found several bridges that needed rebuilding and it was hard work. I had to walk through those #$@!% mines I’d laid with several people…and it was some of the scariest stuff I have ever done. Yet, in hindsight, just like our invented battles, I realized the fear and my prediction of the number of mines I found waiting for me, was nothing like what I actually encountered. In each case, I found walking back to be much easier than I ever allowed myself to believe.

If it was so scary, you might ask, why do it? Isn’t life easier when we keep our distance? I have found that that is a deception. It can feel easier in the short run, and I think that is what gave birth to Sting’s epic song and many of our wall building endeavors.

I did it because of these reasons and because of what I learned about this Jesus guy, Who taught me to love one another not as I would love myself but as He loved me. That told me that I didn’t get to keep the battlements up where they were no longer necessary. That taught me to build bridges and I did, and I learned that I not only freed the people I sought to reconcile with from the barbed wire, but I freed myself.

I saw this video meme the other day of these two bucks who had locked horns over barbed wire, you can probably guess the result, neither one was spared the barbs and the harder they fought to separate from each other the tighter the wire became, until some brave farmers with wire cutters came and cut them free. I believe that Jesus has the wire cutters if you let him approach.

You may not believe what I do and that is okay, but I ask you to consider, whether it is Jesus with the wire cutters or you, shouldn’t you start clearing out the barbed wire? Are there people in your life that you have let grow far from you, who may have hurt you or you- them, that you should reconcile with? Forgiveness doesn’t mean you put yourself in harm’s way and it doesn’t have to be accomplished all in one day. Sometimes we have to start removing the battlements one brick at a time. Sometimes we have to approach gingerly at first, like the farmers trying to free the bucks.

What does that look like? Well, I’ve used several techniques. Sometimes it is a simple text or sharing a funny meme. Sometimes it is a paper letter or card, delivered through the mail, to keep the back and forth of the bucks’ thrashing horns at bay until God can get close enough with the clippers. Sometimes it is calling the person on the phone.

Whatever it is take a step. Do your scan and pick one fortress and take down one brick. I want you to soar and I know that you can’t do it any more than those bucks can, while you are tangled in the barbed wire of your grievances with one another.

Do one small thing today to build the bridge, light the match that sets the battlements you have built between you and others on fire, and soar!

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Happy birthday in heaven Dad !

Old School : family film with Dad

My Dad would have been 75 today if my “goesintas” are correct?

I wish he would have had a chance to see my, my sisters and my step brother and step sister’s families grow and soar!

I’m thankful my dad captured these moments of my earliest childhood on film back in the days before everyone had a video camera in their pocket.

My Dad’s been gone almost two decades now but I still miss him.

Miss you Dad, my prayer is that you are doing the heavenly equivalent of riding your Harley right now and forever.

Cherish the moments soarers!

Tell people how you feel about them while they are around.

Don’t wait to reconcile or get over grievances, as you may not have all the time you think you have.

Keep soaring !

Pepop: A Decorated Veteran of the Game of Life | Four For Soaring

Pepop: A Decorated Veteran of the Game of Life | Four For Soaring
— Read on fatpappy4ls.blog/2018/11/10/pepop-a-decorated-veteran-of-the-game-of-life/

Pushing people into the chasm of tension as an act of service.

Tension. This is a word I used to view very differently.

Once, I thought all tension was “bad” or “negative.” I was under the assumption that making others uncomfortable (or my making a mistake) was always a “mark against me on the scoreboard of life.” This could be because I am innately, at least according to many of the personality inventories I’ve taken the last 40 years, a so-called “Helper.” What the Ennegram folks term a type 2:

The Helper

The Caring, Interpersonal Type
Generous, Demonstrative, People-Pleasing, and Possessive

Type Two in Brief

Twos are empathetic, sincere, and warm-hearted. They are friendly, generous, and self-sacrificing, but can also be sentimental, flattering, and people-pleasing. They are well-meaning and driven to be close to others, but can slip into doing things for others in order to be needed. They typically have problems with possessiveness and with acknowledging their own needs. At their Best: unselfish and altruistic, they have unconditional love for others.

Basic Fear: Of being unwanted, unworthy of being loved

Basic Desire: To feel loved

Enneagram Two with a One-Wing: “Servant”

That’s the “pretty part” – here’s the not so pretty part:

However, Twos’ inner development may be limited by their “shadow side”—pride, self-deception, the tendency to become over-involved in the lives of others, and the tendency to manipulate others to get their own emotional needs met. Transformational work entails going into dark places in ourselves, and this very much goes against the grain of the Two’s personality structure, which prefers to see itself in only the most positive, glowing terms.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle facing Twos, Threes, and Fours in their inner work is having to face their underlying Center fear of worthlessness. Beneath the surface, all three types of fear that they are without value in themselves, and so they must be or do something extraordinary in order to win love and acceptance from others. In the average to unhealthy Levels, Twos present a false image of being completely generous and unselfish and of not wanting any kind of pay-off for themselves, when in fact, they can have enormous expectations and unacknowledged emotional needs.

I know what you may be thinking, “thanks” for pasting all that stuff in this blog about you, but what does that have to do with creating tension in others?

It is this simple, when you are built like this, especially when you have not forced yourself into all those dark places and come out on the other side, you can avoid creating tension in a desire to be loved by everyone.

However, that is not real love. That is not “The Helper” at their best. The Helper at their best is about unconditional love. Luckily for me, as a Jesus Follower, breaking these natural tendencies, is one great way to live out my faith. In fact, as I learned more and more about following this Jesus dude, it became clear to me that he was continually creating tension everywhere he went.

However, He didn’t do it to create tension for tension’s sake. He did it to do exactly what so many of my mentors remind me of all the time, push situations and people out of a state of idle, downward spiral, rest, or complacency and into movement toward something Greater than themselves. You don’t have to share my faith to believe that we are all better off when we are moving in a more productive, healthy or loving direction.

I don’t think thought leader Seth Godin shares my faith, but he says it this way:

Seth Godin: This is Marketing

He is not alone of course. I first learned the lesson of being “ok with” and leveraging tension from both my pastor Jenn Williams and another pastor named Andy Stanley who talks about leveraging and managing through tension this way:

On a swing-set, you must do two things simultaneously in order for you to swing: kick-forward while leaning back. On the upswing, you then must reverse, kick-back while leaning forward. It is this tension between those two opposites that allow you to swing. The same is true for (our) ideas and practices. We must be able to do both well, and never really resolve them. In addition, perhaps it is wise for us to reverse our opinions once in while (or more frequent than that), so we can continue to move the conversation forward.

I’ve had too many conversations with people who only want one side, who only see the truth through their interpretive lens, and you can just feel in the conversation, we’re not getting anywhere.

Excerpted from Vialogue

In my “Helper” mode I had been guilty of letting the swing lay idle too often. When you want to be loved by everyone, you will avoid conflict, not out of maturity, but out of fear.

As Exhibit B, here is what another personality inventory I took several years ago said about me:

Even-tempered and tolerant, John constantly tries to be the diplomat. He excels in promoting
harmony around him. John is very co-operative and articulate, communicating sympathy, concern and a willingness to become involved. Usually verbal and persuasive, he will seek or wish to withdraw quickly from confrontation unless provoked to the extreme, when he may go “off the deep end” verbally.

(yet another pretty picture with an “ugly side”-right? Chillingly accurate-especially in my younger years)

Don’t get me wrong, there is no need to create conflict for conflict’s sake. There is no need to build or evoke tension in others or in a team, simply to “watch the fallout” or “light a fire in people.” No, the kind of tension I am talking about is the kind of healthy tension that helps people move toward the chasm of change and then take a leap. I am not simply hoping they’ll leap, ultimately I am hoping they will soar! (see what I did there? …Oops, am I seeking love and acceptance again? Dang it! 🙂 )

These days, I get to use the ‘verbal and persuasive” aspect to leverage and create opportunities to prompt people “over the other side of the chasm.” I have leadership roles in every aspect of my life. Most of them are pretty informal and “unofficial” just like the one I have as the “CEO” and “COO” of this blog. (I try to extend the “verbal” to written in this case 🙂 ) At work, I coach over a hundred people who have opportunities every day to create tension to move projects forward. In my church roles, I run into the very literal tension Andy is talking about above, with the challenge of balancing tensions like Grace and Truth, building relationships and organizing people, loving unconditionally and loving some people who are “hard to love.” Nonetheless, each arena provides openings, they provide playgrounds full of idle swings that are begging to be ridden, or people on swing sets asking me to swing alongside them, or in some cases, a swing rider, sitting idle, waiting to be pushed.

The communities we find ourselves in, the workplaces, the social spaces are filled with this opportunity for each of us. I know we are not all “Helpers” according to the Enneagram folks or “Motivating Inspirers” as my Insights profile calls me (I’m sure ultra positive labels like that sell a lot of profiles to many companies). The reality is we are each a messy mixture of personality aspects. Some of us are achievement-oriented, others are creatives, still others may be interested only in facts and data. Regardless of your type, we all have one thing in common, we are in this thing called life together. We have to interact with one another. If you believe as I do, we are called to (as my (unofficial) mentor Andy says) One Another, One Another.

That means not only loving one another, it also means unconditionally loving someone enough to get in the middle of some tension with them. It means creating or leveraging tension to help them grow. Not all the time. It is not a steamroller of tension for a reason, we are not mean to barrel in, pushing our viewpoint on others, no matter how well-intentioned we are. It is a swing… kick forward, lean back, lean forward, kick back, repeat.

Where are the idle swings in the playgrounds you frequent? Who needs you to swing beside them? Who needs a push? Who can you help leap the chasm and soar?

The “Colonel” Of Truth and our bias in the war against him.

Why do I write this blog? What is this whole #four4soaring thing about anyway? As I ponder this question I am assaulted by what Steven Furtick calls the Chatterbox in my own head:

You are writing this blog out of ego.

You want to be liked.

You crave attention.

You don’t really care about anyone but yourself.

The only one you want to see soar-is you.

I’m not very fond of that Chatterbox guy.

He is the one that I have fought with my whole life.

He has been my adversary since I was a young man. He has been the primary rival working against me all these years as I desperately sought to free the “Colonel Of Truth” from the prison of my insecurities.

In the action-packed screenplay of my life, the good Colonel was captured many decades ago by Comrade Chatterbox. I can’t even recall when Colonel O. Truth was initially caught behind enemy lines and tied up? My loose reckoning is that his capture occurred some time in my early childhood when I knew the unbridled joy of just being loved and cared for, playing in the woods near my house or with my toys, a time when Comrade Chatterbox had not yet begun broadcasting yet?

In those heady days, all was right with the world, I didn’t compare myself to others, I thought I could do anything and be anything, I felt that the love I received from my family was pure, unadulterated, and unconditional. I didn’t know abandonment or hurt. I didn’t know envy for what others had materially or otherwise. I was, in my Faith’s vernacular, a child of God- innocent, accepted, watched over by a heavenly guardian.

One day, who knows what day or what year that was, the broadcasts started. They were intermittent at first, but they were relentless and over time they drowned out a good deal of the unbridled joy and freedom I felt. Year after year, the broadcast of Comrade Chatterbox told me I was not loved by anyone, let alone this Heavenly Father person. Through the years, Colonel O.Truth was brought to lower and lower levels of the dungeon where the light had a difficult time getting in. Before I knew it Comrade Chatterbox had filled my head with things like:

You’ll never get married.

You’ll never have a girlfriend, let alone a wife.

You’ll never get a good job.

You’ll always be poor.

You are ugly.

You don’t deserve to be loved by anyone.

You should give up any creative or artistic feelings that stir in you to write or speak or lead, you are kidding yourself.

At some point, I went to war with Comrade Chatterbox. It was a bit of a Cold War. It was a war of umbrage and one-upsmanship. I started to prove Comrade Chatterbox wrong, or so I thought, because I fought and won so many of the things he said I would never get. I took the hills of work, the plains of romantic love and the battlements of (a modest) austerity. (I never did get very good looking but I got rid of my warts and outgrew some of my pre-teen gangliness 🙂 .)

There I stood having won all those battles, but I was stuck on the ground. I wasn’t flying or soaring overhead, surveying any of the “good work” I (almost spitefully) did to get where I was. I was tricked into thinking all those hills were on my side of the combat zone!

Instead, one day, I woke up to find I was stuck behind enemy lines, behaving just like Comrade Chatterbox- cynical, pessimistic, tribal and petulant. To make matters worst, the Colonel was still locked in the dungeon and the Comrade was broadcasting louder than ever!

Until I found these friends and they had a map. A map that led to connections and those connections led to others who soon started to light the path to freeing the Colonel. Along the way the good Comrade got quieter as I made my treacherous trek toward the Colonel. One day, after a momentous struggle with the Comrade, I found Truth and he was set free (with quite a bit of help from Above.)

The initial price I paid was to shut down my Sherman tank-sized ego and realize I could not fight this battle all by myself. The later price I paid was letting people in, beyond the close circle I held tight. Even later, I started believing in something greater than myself. In many ways the old me died saving Colonel Truth from that dungeon, but, I was brought back to a whole different life.

I locked away my guns and stopped warring with the Comrade. Today, when I hear the broadcast seeping in, I have learned to turn up the volume on another broadcast. I hang out with the Colonel now. I learned that Colonel O. Truth, or Kernel O. Truth as he is known by his civilian moniker, is all about mentoring me and telling me that I do have something to share and I shouldn’t hide that. When I meet up with him, he encourages me to let others see what I have stored inside of me. He says some people need to hear what I have to say, some people just need me to listen and yet others need me to show up for them.

That said, this story is not about me…

…it is about you.

It is not even about asking you to find the Faith I’ve found, although I will always pray you would. This is a story about the Colonel locked away in your dungeon. You see Colonel O. Truth is the kernel of truth that you spend a great deal of time denying and locking away. The kernel of truth is who you really are. I refer to it as a kernel, not because it is only part of the truth, it is the whole truth about you, it is a kernel because you have made it so small.

When you lock the truth of who you are created to be away, it shrinks to the size of a kernel, a morsel that is ever-present, calling from its captivity, for you to be who you were always meant to be.

The kernel of truth was probably well known to that kid you used to be when you believed anything was possible before Comrade Chatterbox and the traps of comparison and ego got in your own way.

Just like when you were young and it was more like a Bountiful Bushel Of Truth, the kernel of truth, once he is set free, will help you realize you are loved and forgiven. When that happens, and you accept it, the kernel will begin to grow back toward its original size.

We avoid letting the kernel have his say and that is where bias comes in. We all have a strong tendency toward confirmation bias. That is when you tend to migrate toward information that confirms what you “already know.” The trouble is, much of the time, what we already think we know about ourselves, is wrong. In fact, most of it is derived from Comrade Chatterbox’ version of the truth.

The Comrade’s propaganda gets overwhelming and a snowball effect occurs where we push the good Colonel deeper and deeper down into the dungeon until we can’t find him anymore. We get lost behind enemy lines, with no map, few connections and no ability to free him (or ourselves) on our own.

When I am listening to my Colonel, he tells me the reason I write this blog is that I have been you. He reminds me that, despite any human failings or need for validation, the overriding kernel of truth is that I want something FOR you, not from you. I believe you can defeat Comrade Chatterbox and you can soar on the wings of Light, Love, Leadership, and Laughter.

This blog and the quotes and jokes I share are offered to help you find your way to free your Colonel. They are intended to be clues and a map to set him free.

You may find you need help getting there and turning the key as I did. My help came from above. Maybe you won’t want to make that choice? I would never try to compel you to do that. In any case, I can advise you to start with connections. Start with the community. Surround yourself with people who are FOR you.

I’m not advocating you join up in some sort of tribal fallacy with people who share the same anti-xyz cause or who follow the same hockey team. (although those can be fun.) I’m talking about taking a step and spending time with people in settings where you can talk to them about what’s really going on in your life, knowing they want nothing from you and everything FOR you. I’m talking about finding the places you can go where people will see you for who you really are and help you see it too.

I’m talking about serving alongside others and working on things bigger than yourself. I’m talking about a place you can soar!

I’m glad you are reading this because I want you to know this is one of those places. Thank you for reading and let me know anything I can do to help you. For the record, in my movie version of your life, Comrade Chatterbox always goes down in flames.

You, my friend, will always Soar.

images are from Rambo and Unsplash

Is blind faith what it’s all about?

Faith is not blind. It sees. Where we falter, it renews.

I have always been fascinated by dogma. Fundamentalism is something of a preoccupation of mine. So much so that I used to equate those two things with Faith and in particular following Jesus.

I used to think that there was a requirement to believe “all the things” (and believe all the things -literally.) I thought there was a requirement to be a blind, thoughtless follower, a perfect follower in order to be a faithful follower.

By proxy, this really turned me off to “following.” I avoided it wherever I could.

I was not going to be a slave to any dogma, nor ritual, nor commit to blind obedience to anyone or anything.

I took pride in this rebellion. An arrogant and condescending pride. I immediately boxed myself in with the “free thinkers” of this world. The truly noble breed of mavericks who had their own philosophy of life, ever-changing and ever maturing. I did not need a compass point, I was the only true north that mattered.

Only the closer I got to what I thought would be freedom, the more shackled I was? I was locked in by my own limitations. I was lost at my lowest points with nowhere to turn but my would be “almighty” self.

Was I loved by others? Yes. Was I happy with myself and confident in my own skin, for the most part, yes? However, just like some worn out cliche or poignant song lyric, I had reached “the end of myself.”

You might call it luck that I was already two or three steps into a community of believers when this day came, but I call it divine intervention. You might say I was searching for answers and in some self-fulfilling prophecy, I had simply found them. Maybe you’re right? Although, if I recall, in those days I was feeling semi-coerced to be in community when my preference was to hang with my wife, dogs, and kids, and/or sit at home on my couch and watch TV or movies instead?

Then the collision happened. I felt a pull and a tug to stop blazing a trail of my own and let a broader community in. What was even more frightening to me was that this community was made up of the very people I had scorned for the better part of my life!

Crash! There I was with the airbag in my face. Not only attending a small group of similarly conflicted people but being asked to lead one. Bang! There I was starting to call out to a God who only weeks prior was a non-entity to me. Screech! The sound of tires and brakes squealing and the metal of my mind being twisted like paper was a cacophony of contradictions.

How could I let go of myself and my loved ones as the center of my universe and give all that over to a figment of these other peoples’ imagination? What was I thinking!? How hypocritical would I feel after years of questioning other people’s faith to suddenly reveal I had become one of these blind believers?

The answer was not anywhere as dramatic as I thought it would be. The answer wasn’t a life where I stopped being me in order to be a follower of Jesus. Ultimately, the answer was not even about blind faith. The answer was all about simply following.

It turns out, much to my delight, that I didn’t have to give up every independent thought or action or desire to be a faithful follower of Jesus. It turns out that it was never about the dogma I thought it was. It turns out that, instead of becoming “less me,” I somehow got to become “more me” than I ever dreamed of?

Where I thought I would be shackled – I was freed.

Where I thought I would be constrained – I was unbridled. (yet somehow also accountable?)

Where I thought I had to dumb down – I became smarter and wiser.

Where I thought I was called to be perfect – I found I was forgiven with Grace so bottomless and everlasting I could not fathom it!

… and yes, where I was lost, at the end of myself, I was indeed found. Well… I was found from my perspective only, because, my friends, the thing I finally had to realize was that I was never truly lost. I was never brazenly doing anything on my own. I was never at the end of anything. I was simply a dead thing waiting to be brought to life by a God who was always by my side waiting patiently for me to ask for a new life.

You may not buy any of this. I can’t ask you to do what I wasn’t willing to do myself. All I can ask is that if you feel that tug. If you feel like you’re reaching the end of yourself. Please follow where it leads you. Start by letting other people in. Let them love you. Let them show you the face of God in their actions, not their dogmatic words and maybe, one day, decide to follow.

I can’t promise you it will be a perfect journey where one day you will be in pain and the next day you will have none. I can’t promise you-you won’t meet up with contradictions that man has put in the way. I can’t even promise you that your faith will be everlasting (although I wish and pray that for you and for me alike.)

What I can promise is a new life.

A life of dull gray dead ends that turn technicolor with Promise and Hope. A life of Love that far exceeds the kinds of love you’ve been experiencing to date. A world changing kind of love. The love of a flawless Father and a forever friend.

I can promise you what I promised at the start. A new lens on life. A new way to see the world. A tireless fountain of renewal.

Love you guys, J

The Payoff and Price of Flourishing

My brother in law and I were joking about my relationship with my kids over the holiday break. He is the cool uncle, the fun one, the world traveler that takes them out and shows them how to have fun in the world and how to live in the moment. I am very thankful for him.  We were joking about how these now grown men, my so-called “boys,” might feel about their dad in contrast. At least I thought we were joking because (and don’t be shocked) the joking was more me being self-deprecating around being a less than stellar parent in the fun department.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just as I was slamming myself, my brother in law got serious for a second and looked me in the eye. This was a bit of surprise as it was one of those “hanging around in the kitchen,” amidst a bustle of activity, in the scurry and flurry of the holiday, moments. In that split second, for me, everything got still. He said something like (and we never really recall exactly what people say- so I don’t fool myself): “John, your sons respect you, they value your opinion, and that is huge.”

That has not left my mind in the weeks since he said it. I am definitely someone who overanalyzes things anyway, but that one statement, in that moment and since, has both filled me with pride and (immediately) set me on my heels with abject humility.

When someone says things like that, our human tendency is to feel supremely validated. Yes! I did something right! I think there is some merit to that, but I also can’t help but be aware of how powerful of an influence I’ve been on my kids for good and probably some detriment over the years. We can’t help being both because we are only human. Hence, the acute need for humility. 

Recently, a similar dynamic has happened at work. A few times a week, I will receive some feedback about how well thought of me and my work partner are in the work world. We’ve done some pretty cool stuff, but neither of us did it alone. Nonetheless, this dynamic of kudos persists. It struck me this morning that the same thing also happens in my church community a good bit. It also happens on social media occasionally. My friends and family will say similar things…. you get the picture (sorry if this makes you nauseous, there is a point, I promise 🙂 ).

Although these worlds are varied, I try my best to be the same person in each and I find the theme is prevalent throughout. I think what all this means is – I am flourishing? Wow! That sounds so pompous to say in my head let alone write it in a blog, and I know that is the last thing someone who isn’t flourishing wants to hear from someone like me because I wasn’t born flourishing. (At least I didn’t know I was born flourishing, because I didn’t understand who God was back then nor even as recently as ten years ago when, by all accounts, I had begun flourishing in many of the ways the outside world views flourishing. )

This all came together about 4 am one morning as the term flourishing or the feeling of flourishing was really on my mind along with this pervasive pinging on my heart around humility. I couldn’t sleep, so I was listening to a podcast with Ed Stetzer and Carey Nieuwhof and Ed quoted a guy named Andy Crouch- and what he said acted as a crucible for all these thoughts and emotions in that instant:

Why is power a gift? Because power is for flourishing. When power is used well, people and the whole cosmos come more alive to what they were meant to be. And flourishing is the test of power. Andy Crouch

Just like that moment in the kitchen, I was humbled and taken to my knees by the fact that it is exactly and precisely when we are flourishing that we have to be the most careful and the most grateful! To be more precise, it is ok to be thankful and grateful in the flourishing as long as we have the right posture about it. Yet, we don’t get to bask in the hot tub of gratitude or take a “well earned” victory lap for very long. Unfortunately, to quote a less austere, but equally awesome dude: Stan Lee:

With great power comes great responsibility.

I find the joy of flourishing and the heart of gratitude to be a positive and overwhelming set of emotions, but the brain and the devil will constantly try to deceive you into thinking you did all this without any help when the reality is the exact opposite.

Flourishing is a test of power and we must never forget that. In fact, I would edit this to say flourishing is a relentless test of power. The test is how you use that power. The test is ongoing. The test is how you show up in the world. In the flourishing, I catch myself growing a bit bolder, which can be a good thing until I let my arrogance creep in – I have to go back to a place of humility.

This is most evident when I catch myself wielding influence in new and varied ways to help other people flourish or give them some relief from stress or pain, but then (often unaware) neglect to give them my time or get too busy for them or give them the wrong advice and counsel. One of the hardest parts of this realization is that the more I flourish,  the stronger the influence, the sting of hurt to those looking to me is that much greater.

So what can you do with this information? I didn’t write this post to brag about my flourishing, I have probably done that enough in so many subtle and not so subtle ways on my social media feeds I have sickened people (Insert nervous laughter here.)

What can you do? If you are not flourishing, let me first say I am sorry if this hurts to read about someone else doing so. First, please know that blog posts are like a lot of other media and artistic license always paints a rosier, Instagram version of reality and my flourishing is probably not all it is cracked up to be in many ways. Second, I submit to you that comparison is a joy killer and a trap. If you are a believer, one of the most beautiful things about God is that he will heal you if you let him and free you from that trap.

What can you do if you are flourishing to avoid all the pitfalls and truly use the power you have been given? That is my question to you. I fully realize your answer may not be my answer.

Here is my answer:

  • wear your curiosity and humility about you at all times like a seat belt.
  • Serve others abundantly.
  • Talk to God about the not so shining moments you have while flourishing.
  • Have a strong person or set of persons in your life that will bring you back to reality in a moments notice.
  • Lastly, wield your power with gentle grace and loving intent to help as many people flourish as you can.

Flourishing is not a solo sport, it is best done as a team, and the bigger the team the better.

Donald Miller says this much better than I do, so I point you to this quote as you (and I) consider the best way to flourish. 

Those who realize the epic story of life is not about them but actually about the people around them somehow win in the end. Its counterintuitive, but its true. In fact leaders who think the story of life is all about them may achieve temporary successes but are usually remembered in history’s narrative as a villian. 

#Abundance

I follow this guy on Instagram who posts quotes the way I often do. He issued a challenge the other day to sum up my 2018 in one word. The first word that came to mind was blessed. I thought about sharing that word because it fits so perfectly and then I challenged myself to come up with another word. This all happened in a matter of seconds of course, but the next word that came to mind, was the one I used :

Abundance


From the moment I hit “done” on the keyboard of my phone, I’ve been dissecting why I chose that word. Again, blessed was the first word that came to mind and that was the more appropriate word, because I believe everything I am and everything in my life is thanks to a Heavenly Father that loves me and put things in motion billions of years ago that allows us to play a part in a story beyond the size and scope of our imaginations, for this one infinitesimal blip in time. I believe that the same Father uses all these blips in time we call “lifetimes” to bring light to the world. I believe He sent one very special Light into the world a couple of thousand years ago to better show us how that ought to be done, because, frankly, without a more explicit roadmap, we were really bungling the whole thing up.

I know not everyone reading this believes the way I do. I didn’t use to believe it either. It wasn’t so very long ago, probably less than a decade ago, that I thought that people, like me, who believed what I just wrote about were….well not very bright. I thought and said they were naive. I thought and said they were simple and malleable, sheeplike in their wonder and submission. I now believe I was wrong. However, if you are reading this, and you still feel that way, I’m not going to try and convince you are wrong. That’s not my job. My job is to live my life in such a way that you have another blip of evidence that it might be true, and I try my best to do that. I screw it up on a minute to minute basis, but I try my best.

I can’t convince or convict you, but I can share with the hope of sparking your curiousity, so that is the intent of the rest of this posting, just a bit of sharing. When I first started trying this whole “faith” thing out, I thought it was going to be hard. If I’m honest, sometimes it is, but not really in the way I thought? You see the trick that this God guy pulls on you is a pretty clever one and that brings us back to the word I chose- Abundance. What I’ve learned since trying this whole thing on around attempting to live my life (imperfectly) in the way Jesus taught us to live, is that no matter how much I give, how much I serve and how much I do, I can’t out-give, out-serve and out-do God. The more I pour into my community, my family, my job; the more I lean into being who He created me to be- the more abundance I get?! It is the most remarkable thing I have ever seen! There are other people I know who feel the way I do and we, literally, sit around and talk about this sometimes, remarking to one another about just how strange it is?

I feel compelled to remind you that before I took a step on this path, I never would have believed any of this. I would have looked to some biobehavioral and/or anthropological self-fulfilling prophecy borne explanation of this. I’m sorry folks, I am still a skeptic, with a strong grasp of both psychology and selfish gene-driven motivations, but those explanations barely scratch the surface of what I’m talking about here. I wish I could describe it better, but I do finally understand how frustrating it is for people of faith to describe the mystery of their faith to others who don’t yet possess it. So, again, it is not my job to convince you, but it is my job to try and share. It is my job to be a blip that makes some noise about this in the hopes that the cumulative effect of my blip with other blips, over time, brings about a change. One might say I can try to be the change we want to see and be in the world to steal ironically and shamelessly from the secular positive affirmation universe (who may have stolen it themselves from the “be salt an light” crowd I hang with these days.)

As I write this it is Christmas Eve 2018 and we are about to celebrate the arrival of the Ultimate Example Blip that was sent into the world, for just one lifetime, to show us what Abundance and Blessing really means. If you follow Him, you get that it isn’t about things, you get that it isn’t about a zero-sum game of who can achieve more, give more, get more, do more. You get that it isn’t about feeling spiritual or magical or believing that the supernatural makes science and the natural world mute.

If you follow Him, you understand that it is about magnification and multiplication and clarity. It is about taking what is good and making it better, it is about taking all the “feels,” tastes, sights, sounds and smells in your life and making them more. It is about finding bounty everywhere you look and everywhere you go. It is about being confronted with wonder and awe, relishing that there are some things we can’t know. It is about people learning that they are not meant to live alone, or hurt or impoverished materially or spiritually. It is about the abundance found in living our respective blips of a lifetime as if these three things were as essential to living as the very breath in our lungs:

We Need God

We Need Each Other

The World Needs Us

I was blessed to find some people who taught me about this. They didn’t talk me into it. I didn’t read a book or pamphlet and then have an a-ha moment. I saw them living this life of abundance and I found myself oddly drawn to it. I took one step, then another, reluctantly making my way to the edge of the faith until I was over the other side and realized I believed. If I could give every one of you reading this (and those that aren’t reading this-as there are oh so many more of them 🙂 ) a Christmas gift it would be to spend one moment feeling the awe and wonder some of us feel when we are discussing this “abundance conundrum.” It would be the second best gift I could give you because only you can ask for the First Best Gift.

Only God can give you that First Best Gift, but all He wants is for you to ask. So I can’t give it to you but I can promise you this, if you ask, you’ll receive:

Abundance

An open hand

Read the full Story on Medium

“John, when your hand is open you can give things away and at the same time make room for more.”

Thankful ain’t what YOU think

I used to dream of the ability to shower people with gifts that I thought would thank them properly and adequately.

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The original, first and only draft of the lyrics to ‘Your Song,’ the crown jewel of the Elton John and Bernie Taupin songbook.

I used to pine tirelessly to imagine a way of thanking my bride for all she did to lift me up with “a big house” to quote Elton’s poet, Taupin: “where we both could live.”

There was a time when I wanted to thank my teachers and early adulthood leaders for inspiring me by obtaining occupational status.

I use to think my kids would love me to thank them by buying them a really cool set of toys, The kind I never had at Christmas time.

I used to relish taking my grandfather out for a meal to repay all the meals he provided for me.

I used to think that God was looking for a thank you by reading His book or sitting in a row with other people.

Then I learned thankful is not what I think it is.

You see I did all of those things and I learned something critical along the way.

Thankful ain’t what I think it is, nor what YOU think it is.

Thankful is what we all Get To Be because of the love and sacrifice that God and others have made for us. 

That is why we don’t get to define what thankful is or what it means to God or others.

I learned that is why I have to stop thinking for myself what God and others might see as an act of appreciation and start listening for what

thanks means to THEM.  

To my wife it was never the house, it was my time.

To my kids, it was never the presents it was my presence.

To my grandfather it was never the meal it was the conversation.

To my teachers and leaders, it was never the work it was the (as Godin calls it the) “art” and bringing my whole self to each job or endeavor.

To God it was never about just reading the book, never about checking the box and taking up a seat in a hallowed hall, it was eternally about the circles, perpetually about doing for one another, it was about coming to the end of myself so He could transform me into what I was always supposed to be when I was too busy being in my own way, it was about agape and ekklesia and an ever-present vs. in the moment gratitude. 

So what are you thankful for this season?

How are you planning to show thanks?

Is it about what YOU think thankful looks like? or is it really about what they and He think thankful looks like?

Love you and thankful for you guys, J

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