falling grace-fully

After a full Easter weekend, our family took a much needed 36 hour respite and traveled up to central Pennsylvania to spend a day with my side of the family.  And as always, my parents had planned a number of exciting activities to do with the grandkids.  Egg hunts, wiffle ball, hot tubbing. These were great fun…. well, most of them.

The last thing that we did before leaving was breakout the old Twister game.  Remember that one?  People sprawling all over each other, falling down, laughing.  In particular, teenage boys LOVE the coed version of this game.  Nuff said there.

So back to yesterday.  The little cousins (3, 4, and 4) had never played twister before, so it was a fun idea. Bright colors, eye hand coordination, acrobatic stances.  Let me reiterate…. the idea, itself, was a good one.  Image

But the reality?  Not so much.  In fact, it was kind of a disaster.  My boys, learning about the classic Twister rules for the first time, got a pretty good grasp of how to play.  “Put your hand on a red dot.  Then, without moving your hand, put your foot on a blue dot.  Now, put your other hand on a yellow dot without falling over!”

They got that part.  But there was a problem.  From the beginning, there seemed to be an unnatural tension, an angst, in my little Millers.  The moments came pretty quickly when the color positions were too tough for them to match. That hand just couldn’t reach behind that foot.  And the body, though frantically attempting to stay put, asserted it’s autonomy from the mind and toppled over.   When that happened, I watched the boys and laughed at them as they yelled and crashed to the ground (note to self: develop empathy).  Turns out I was most definitely laughing at them, and not with them.  Because they were sobbing.

You see, my wonderful, sweet, perfectionist children couldn’t understand that the game always ends by falling down.  And since they couldn’t accept this reality, they were never able to enjoy the game, or play it fully.  What was supposed to be great fun became terrifying. They were so afraid of falling, so upset by the possibility of tumbling over, that they were paralyzed.  But that didn’t change the fact: for almost everyone, the game ends with falling.

Actually, it’s kind of the whole point.  That’s the fun of it- you know it’s going to happen, and you embrace it, and when you fall, you laugh, you roll over, you get back up, and you hop on the dots again.

But we forgot to explain that crucial bit of information to our kids at the beginning.  And since we didn’t explain that falling and laughing and getting up was a part of the game, we had unknowingly conveyed that you weren’t supposed to fall… like that was losing.  And no one likes to lose.

Some of you might be thinking, “well, Keith….. that is losing.”
Touche! But really?  The point of Twister, really, is to not fall?  Because, as I recall, the most fun moments of twister are when you fall, or when you nearly fall, because it’s impossible to hold your balance forever in that game.  Think of how awfully boring the game would be if it just went on and on for an hour just keeping an easy balance and never stretching for those hard to reach dots that are out of your grasp. As I pulled my boys into another room, held them while they cried (because they “just kept falling” and “couldn’t stay up”), I had to explain to them that falling was a part of the game.  In fact, that was what made the game so fun… it was an adventure, because you could fall at anytime. And then you’d laugh, roll around, get up, and jump back in.  They looked at me like I was speaking about a whole new world.

You mean that’s ok?

I’m allowed to fall over?

That’s what makes it fun?

We headed back to the vinyl Twister pad ready to play again… and most certainly, ready to fall. It still brought a few tears, overcoming their already imprinted 4 year old worldview, but I saw some growth.

And then it hit me. Wow. We are so the same.

Isn’t it hard embrace a reality where falling down is part of the game? Where we expect that as we stretch out, as we reach for new dots, and as we go through our lives, toppling is inevitable?

We need to learn how to embrace falling, and stop letting it paralyze us.
We need to embrace the nature of this game, and stop letting the risk of failure steal our joy, or stop our movement.

I’m guessing I’m not alone in feeling like there are moments where my fear of falling down has stopped me from living fully.  My need to never mess up, to never fail, to impress everyone, to be successful in all that I do… actually stops me from reaching for new dots. Because I hate falling.

Nearly 8 years ago when Bethany and I recited our vows to each other, one of the most meaningful phrases we included in there was, “I give you the freedom to fail.” Boy have I relied on that one regularly!  But seriously, the knowledge that our value is not based on our performance is something that revolutionizes our lives.  It’s something that was central to the message of Jesus.

Our life over the past two years has been a series of dot-reaches.  Listening for which color, and which foot, and then trying to step there.  We’ve faced decision after decision that put us out there, precariously teetering.  And I’ve fallen, already, a whole bunch of times.  I’m getting to the point where I can go ahead and call them “failings” without a problem.  But I’m learning, as a pastor, a church planter, a leader, a husband, a dad, and a friend….. that if I’m paralyzed by fear, I’ll rarely reach out to step into the risky new opportunities that make up this adventurous, faith-filled life.

Helen Keller noticed, “Security is mostly a superstition…. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure.  Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”

So much of the good life involves risk.  Faith involves risk.  Love involves TONS of risk.  And we simply won’t ever risk anything if we’re afraid that things won’t work.
In our church, I want to help us develop a healthy Twister theology.  I want people taking risks, stepping out into exciting new adventures, re-imagining what the church can be.  And some ideas will flop.  Some initiatives will fail.  Some of us will be frustrated.  But we’ll hop up, smile, and know that hey, it’s all a part of the game.

I’m going to fall.  So are you. And if you think failing is failure, then you’ll never have a shot at enjoying the life God designed for us.  Laughter will be rare, and fear will rule the day.

Hopefully through Twister (and maybe a bit of healthy parenting), my kids will continue to learn the beauty and adventure of risky love, and risky faith.  And the inevitability of falling.  And the joy and laughter of living life drenched in grace and new opportunities.  And while I’m teaching them that, I hope I learn it too.

love is learned

This is another guest post from my insightful wife and parenting partner, Bethany… 

You know those days?…

images

Those days when every question is a whine, every sibling encounter leads to sobs and snot and tears, and everyone is screaming but no one is listening?

Yesterday was one of those days.
As a stay at home mom of three kids under the age of 5, these moments happen more often than I’d like to admit. But, when we have several consecutive days of sickness and bad weather it seems to create a perfect storm of stuck-in-the-house misery.

It was day three. Day three is never a good day. So much time with the same people in the same place usually leads to complaining, anger, tears, screaming, pushing, hitting, scratching and biting.

Yesterday started out no different than any other miserable third day at home. Judah was fighting with Kylan who was angry at Judah for something that Judah was doing that was making him want to hurt Judah who wanted to take something that Kylan wouldn’t give him…or something like that. All I heard was screaming and crying for the 100th time that morning and then Sariya decided to join in for no apparent reason.

I felt anger bubbling inside of me like a pot about to boil over. This was ridiculous! Why couldn’t they just find something do do other than fight?! I had had enough! But, before the pot boiled over, I felt a sudden catch in my spirit.

Wait. Breathe. Teach.

And it was like the boiling pot was removed from the stove and the waters of my soul suddenly went still. In that beautiful moment, God gave me eyes to see beneath the surface.

I saw that my children were as caught up in their own misery as I was. All the screaming was making us scream. We weren’t listening because we were trying so hard to make everyone else listen. We were so angry about the cruelty of others that it was making us cruel. Selfishness and self-focus had won.

Love.

So, I got down on the floor, eye level with my children, and asked them to make some agreements with me. My sudden gentleness and change in attitude made Sariya stop crying and stare. Both boys got quiet and Kylan tuned in.

Judah, who apparently studies Stanislavski in his free time, dramatically turned his back and rolled his eyes. I gently (this gentleness was a deliberate, counterintuitive choice) held his arm to prevent him from walking away and started talking as if all three children were listening to me, because I knew that even my little rebel knew something important was about to go down.

I had asked them to make agreements with me, but I had no idea where I was going with all of this, so I trusted that the Spirit would lead me and started with the first thing that came to mind. Patience. Love is patient. I knew that my kids were not being patient with each other. No one was listening or understanding the needs of others. But more than that, patience came to mind because I was not being patient with them. So I asked if we could agree to be patient for the rest of the day, and then we shook on it. Even one year old Sariya and grumpy Judah shook my hand. It was a small miracle.

After a few more suggestions and a lot of hand shaking, everyone was smiling. Another small miracle. We made a list of our agreements to post on the refrigerator and read over it a few times. When it was all said and done, we had agreed to be-

patient,
kind,
to speak nicely,
and to forgive.

Not an exhaustive list, but a pretty good start for one day. I’ll admit to a bit of plagiarism from 1 Corinthians 13.

I recently realized that one of my biggest failures as a parent is in patiently teaching my children how to love. Don’t misunderstand me here…love is very important in this family. We are constantly reminding our kids to love others. We tell them how important it is. We try to model what love looks like. We punish them when they are unloving. We even express how disappointed we are when they make hurtful choices. But I rarely acknowledge the fact that I have two 4 year old boys and a 1 year old girl who need a lot of patient, grace-filled coaching in order to learn how to truly love their neighbor/family/friend as themselves.

Kids need to be taught the details of love…all the little elements and choices that go into it. It doesn’t come naturally. Love must be learned.

They need to be taught how to notice the needs and feelings of others. I have met a few special children who are naturally sensitive to the feelings of others, who are drawn to help the hurting kid, who cry softly when Frosty melts. But these intuitive, naturally caring children are one in a million. It does not come naturally for most kids. Most kids will happily join the pack, giggling hysterically, oblivious to the fact that the child they are chasing is not screaming with joy, but with fear. Empathy has to be taught.

And if the only thing my children experience is punishment when they fail to succeed at something they don’t yet understand, they will never ever learn it. And I want them to learn it. I need them to learn it. The world needs them to learn it.

“Now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is LOVE.”
-1 Cor. 13:13

no margin for error

When I was a young lad, all those years ago (wink), I had to write some long papers in college.  The longest I could recall was about 47 pages.  Not the type of document that you could pull off at the last second.  Unless, of course…
……you adjusted the margins on your document.
Wooohooo!  Did you know that you can adjust margins???  It’s fabulous.

just a little wider….

You see, there’s the standard setting, and then there’s the custom setting.  And wouldn’t you know, that if you made the margins wide enough, you could turn a 3 page paper into a 6 page masterpiece.  Well, at least a 6 page paper. The smartest professors would always include a “maximum margin of 1 inch” comment in the syllabus, but that didn’t stop some of us from adding an extra eighth in there.  Not me, of course.  My roommates (cough).

Personally, I’ve always enjoyed reading books with large margins.  I’m a pen reader, so that means that when I read something I like, I have to circle it, star it, or underline it.  I usually circle, because my underlines are squiggly and they sometimes look like I’m crossing out a giant section of the book.  Specifically, the margins give me room to write my own thoughts… to jot down something new.

Without a margin, there’s no space to write anything new.

Hmmmm.

Christmastime is around the corner.  Advent (the season of preparation for Christmas) starts this coming week.  Our faith community is currently reflecting on what it means to actually create space to slow down enough and wait.  Wait expectantly.  Wait on what God might be up to in us and in our communities.  And that takes margin.  I’m thinking that my life could use some larger margins.  Maybe all of our lives could use some larger margins.

Margin is that extra space, in between work and absolute responsibilities, that allows us to have an iota of perspective as we go through life.

Margin is what gives us the space to hear, to see, to think something new. Margin allows something to have time to grow in us. Margins keep us sane.  Margins allow us to rest.  To laugh.  To remind ourselves that we’re human beings, not human doings.

Our culture is crazy.  Our lives are crazy.  Our schedules are crazy.  And often we end up with no margin at all.  Or at least, the margin that once existed has been written in, and there’s no space left.

Running out of space should require us to change.  An example: I use my bible often. And I write in the margins a lot (but before you build a shrine honoring me because of my holiness, most of that time is because I’m getting ready to teach, lead a discussion, or find something I’ve forgotten.  Impressive, huh.). But here’s the deal: I’ve found that when a lot of my margins start to get full, it’s time to buy a new bible. I simply have no space for new stuff.  New thoughts, new inspiration. And that’s a problem.

Without a margin, there’s no space to write anything new.

Maybe we need to carefully consider reclaiming some new margins over this next month.  I know I do.   And it’s not about just having less time working for me, or even more free evenings.  In fact, margin for me often means that evenings are full of dinners with friends, parties, and time for relationships.  But it’s also about understanding that God does some of his best work in the margins.

After all, Jesus speaks more about God’s love for people who “live in the margins” than anyone else. Now this is a different kind of margin. The poor, the broken, the forgotten, the unaccepted, the hurting.  Those people are not in the body paragraphs of popular culture.  They’re in the margins.  And if I have no margin, I have no time to meet Jesus in the margins.  And well, sometimes in my life, I find myself in those kinds of margins too…. so I’m glad it’s where God shows up.

It’s when I understand the incredible value of margin, of sacred space, that’s when life starts to spring out of me.  You know…. real life…. the moments when you say, “Wow, this is where it’s at. This is where I find meaning, purpose and value.”

Because when I have space to hear God, and space to serve other people, life springs out of me. Without margin, there’s no room for anything of that.  Because we’re in a hurry.  On to the next thing!

Maybe my professors should have changed their syllabi to say “minimum 1 inch margin, but the bigger the better!”  I’m looking at you, Jay.

I’m hoping this season that I can develop enough margin to keep giving God space to write something new.  Enough margin that I won’t overlook celebrating beautiful moments because I’m rushing to the next thing on my schedule or to do list.  Enough margin that I’ll actually be able to participate in the “season of giving” by serving and loving other people well, and being truly generous instead of just trading nice stuff with other people who have nice stuff (ever thought about how that’s not really a season of giving?  We’re getting at least as much as we give!!! Different post, sorry.)  Enough margin that I can share this season with the many people in my life that I love.  I really don’t want to hurry through this.

And hopefully, as I create a margin of space in my own life, I’ll be moved to deeper compassion for others who have found themselves in a different kind of margin…. one not of their own choosing.  But only in my margin can I help them in theirs.  And when all of this starts to happen? True community is the brilliant byproduct.  Because we can finally be fully present with one another.

Want to adjust your margins with me?
I really can’t wait to see what new things get written on the blank space this season.

holy truffula trees, Lorax!

Have you seen the film adaptation of Dr. Suess’ The Lorax movie?  We’ve seen it several times. My kids love it, and they’ve become obsessed with the songs.  Nothing like hearing your 3 year old twins walking around the house singing “How bad can I possibly be?”

I can answer that, guys.  Pretty bad.

But I have to admit that I loved the movie as well. As I watched it, though, something unsettling hit me as a pastor.  Thneedville kind of reminded me of some churches today.  And I realized that there’s a confession I need to make.  That’s awkward though, so let’s get back to that furry little tree hugger.

At the end of the film, while all the residents of Thneedville are still in their oblivious, but unhealthy and tree-less lives, a young boy attempts to connect them with what once was.  That’s when Ted, this kid who has been captured by the idea of getting live trees back in Thneedville, takes charge.  The only way that he can get them to see the reality of the world around them is if he takes a bulldozer and busts down the stadium-type walls of the Thneedville city limits.  When he does, the people are able to see that outside of their shiny city lies a wasteland of stumps, polluted water, and smoggy air.  Ted has to show them that at one time, before the walls had been built, the whole region was teeming with life. Birds in the sky, truffula trees all over the place, and no one making a profit from basic necessities (air). It was almost impossible for the city-dwellers to imagine what could be, but finally they agree to plant the last remaining truffula seed in the city, in the hopes that it would be a new beginning…..and it is.  It’s an opportunity to reclaim the beauty and life that once was.

The church as many know it today was not how it always was.  The earliest generations of Christians, at incredible social, religious, and political cost to themselves, chose to completely lay down their lives to care for each other and bless all those around them. They created a radical community centered around the ethos of love that Jesus showed. Because they shared resources with tons of generosity and were so committed to relationships, they had a great reputation even among people who didn’t share the same beliefs. Whoa. That’s possible? (read sarcasm).
This was a group of people who sold all they had so that others had enough.  A group of people who met secretly in houses, risking their lives because they had experienced a love so great and life altering that it was worth everything.
That was then.
And these days, we go to church.
These days, those of us who call ourselves Christians often alienate and remove people from our lives who don’t share our same beliefs or convictions, rather than learning how to love one another, and bless our larger community.

We kind of live in Thneedville, within it’s small religious city limits, missing out on the beauty and fullness that once was. What used to be our story.  What still can be our story.  What needs to be reclaimed.  But it doesn’t look good.
Unless.
That’s the word that the Lorax said… unless something changes.

There is a movement out there right now, a movement of faith communities that are desperately trying to relearn what it means to take Jesus seriously- to love our neighbors, to live generously, to be committed to one another in true friendship and community.  To be people who seek to love the hurting, the broken, the oppressed.  To trust God for our hope and direction more than a political party.   My faith family is trying to be a part of that.  We’re trying to plant some truffula seeds again.

All of this has nothing to do with making anyone feel guilty- in fact, it’s laying the groundwork for my own personal confession. I know how many people think of “church” as an irrelevant, hour long guilt tripping “thing” that happens each week, and people go to it to feel better about themselves, or to fulfill some unspoken religious duty to get good with God.  I’m embarrassed that that’s the perception. But I understand where it comes from.  I’ve seen it too.

Here’s my confession:
Because I know the common perception of “church”, I think that in our first year of planting a new church, I’ve been almost embarrassed to admit or talk about what we’re doing.  Not because of what we’re actually doing, but because of what people assume “church” means.

But that’s not what we’re doing.  And I really don’t want to be ashamed of it anymore.  We’re starting a church- yes!  And it’s centered around Jesus- Yes!

But what will make this thing a success?
Tons of people coming together for a service? No.
A big building with an electronic LifePath sign? Negative.
Great music? No.
Kicking sermons by some weird guy who loves craft brews and disc golf? Yes!  Actually, no.

Here’s what will mean LifePath is doing what God’s called us to do.  These are the truffula trees we’re planting, and I’m not ashamed of them in the least:
-Families in Delaware will get stronger- guys will learn how to love and romance their wives, and wives will learn how to love and trust their husbands.
-Parents…single, divorced, married…will somehow be able to survive the toddler to teenage years because there’s a bunch of other knuckleheads who have no clue what they’re doing… doing it alongside them.
-Our friends, neighbors, and coworkers will be loved and accepted, and welcomed into meaningful relationships.                                                                                               -The poor and homeless in our region will be served and loved well.
-Lonely people will find deep community.
-People without family nearby will find that they actually have a family, in every way.
-Broken people (we all are) will find a place of healing.
-People will start to explore together what God might actually be like.
-People with vastly different beliefs, ideologies, and backgrounds, will learn and grow from each other.
-People will eat together.  A lot.
-The way of Jesus: forgiveness, loving our enemies, releasing worry, acting selflessly- those things will not be so strange to people in a few years… in fact, they’ll want to hop on and start doing them too.
-People will have a community in which they can be free. Free to sing to God, free to cry, free to express deep fears, free to doubt, free to ask questions about faith and the bible, free to admit faults and needs- and they will be met with all the love and grace of Jesus.
-People will become apprentices of Jesus, and want to go out and help others do the same.

That’s the stuff we’re into…imperfectly, of course.  Jesus calls it the “kingdom of God.”

So yeah, we’re starting a church.  But it might not be like you think.

And with these seeds, like they say in Thneedville: Let it grow, baby.

locked out

is this thing ready for vacation or what???

I own a minivan.  BOOM.  And I am a male under thirty, with long(ish) hair.  Now that I’ve blown your mind with that scandalous set of facts, let me to tell you more.  It was not an easy journey to this current reality. I fought hard against it, but eventually, 3 small kids and the ability to move my twins much farther away from my ears on a long drive made the decision well worth it.  But the van itself was really what sealed the deal.  It may be a used 2002 Town and Country, but it’s loaded.

Bells, yep.  Whistles, you bet.  It has heated seats.  Need I say more?  I will.  The tailgate goes up and down with the push of a button.  As far as my vehicular experience is concerned, this is like space technology.  I stand in awe of automatic anything.

But lately all is not well in our future soccer mom transportation station.  It has to do with the power locks.  The van is supposed to have this smart system that knows when to engage the locks to keep everyone safe, like when the van is flying down the highway.  The problem is, somewhere along the way, something went wrong in control panel.

And now, our van is lock-happy.

It locks when we close all the doors.
It locks when I open a door.
It locks 2 seconds after I unlock it.
It locks again, right after it locks. chk. chk. chk, chk, chk.  It makes me want to punch myself.
But worst of all….

It locks when I walk past it.
Seriously.  I don’t even touch the stupid thing.

Somehow it has this sense that whenever someone is near, within about 2 feet, it needs to lock itself up.  I’m not lying.  Come on over and just try to get inside that thing.  Even with the key, I’ve got to act like a ninja to get in the driver’s side door.

Something is not right with my van.  I knew we should have bought a Sienna.  We’d be so cool.
But something is not right with me, either.  Actually, lots of things.

At our last LifePath gathering on Sunday night, we spent the evening reflecting on the importance of authenticity, the importance of being willing to admit our brokenness. That when we can finally own up to the crap in our lives, when we allow others to see and hear that we’re messed up (not like anyone was fooling anyone anyways…), that’s when God can finally bring change and transformation, in us, and in others.

This sounds all well and good.  And, I honestly believe that’s how we are designed to live.  With complete honesty and openness, not trying to give a false appearance of perfection to impress people or protect ourselves.  And it sounds kind of exciting…. until there’s actually an opportunity to let someone in.  That’s when the locks come on.  That’s when we close up, trying to protect ourselves from other people’s judgement or the appearance of weakness.  Even when we’re dying inside or our families are falling apart or our marriage is one step short of disintegrating or we have no idea how to raise our kids or deal with that loss or move forward in life or find HOPE at all……. but we don’t want to appear weak, because everyone else has it together.  So down go the locks.  It’s motivated by fear.  Bethany says we have a very fearful van.

Don’t let anyone in and you won’t get hurt.

That’s true, you know.

But it sucks as a life motto.

Because if it’s impossible to get hurt, to feel pain, it becomes impossible to feel anything.  Including love.

Love is vulnerability.  Love is brokenness.  Love is trust.

And if fear is the motivator for all of this auto-locking, there is no love. Because love casts out fear.

So, with the people we lead and in our lives with those around us, we’re seeking to create places of openness, where we can share tough moments in our lives, where we are in community with people who we are learning to love and trust.  We want to allow them to share in our burdens and struggles, to encourage us in our failures, and to celebrate with us in the victories.  And we want to to share in theirs.  Because that’s what love does.

Personally, as a pastor and spiritual leader, it would feel awesome to have people think the world of me all the time.  It would feed my ego greatly.  Most of the time I want to be the wise one, the one with the life worth modeling.  I’d rather not talk about my own faults, or openly admit how often I screw up in so many areas of my life.   But I need to.
Because it’s true.

And it breaks down the walls for other people to do the same.  We’re working hard at LifePath to reprogram the stupid auto locks in our hearts and souls.  And all of a sudden without even realizing it, we can finally experience real community.

Please, my plea to you (and to myself), is to stop saying, “I’m fine” all the time if you’re not!  Because nobody’s fine all the time.

Nobody.

And we can’t experience love until we let other people into our inner lives.  We can’t experience love unless we’re vulnerable enough to experience pain.  It’s scary though.

But there’s another reason why coming to grips with my own inabilities and struggles is important. Honestly, it’s the biggest reason that I want to be a person who openly acknowledges my need for help:

It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.

Jesus said that.

He was referring to himself as the doctor.  Mentioning that it wasn’t the people who “have it all together” that he came to bring hope to, but the ones who were aware that they were in need (he went on to specifically state that he wasn’t interested in self-righteous people).

Really, those who offer the appearance of perfection have absolutely no need for a God of redemption.  After all, there’s nothing to redeem in someone who’s got it all together.  And there were people who thought they had it all together.  Mostly religious people.  Jesus wasn’t impressed.  Because in working to have it all together, they had lost their ability to love.  They had convinced themselves that had this life figured out (and the next).  I don’t.  I try, but I need lots of help.  I fail at loving people as well as I want to.  I fail at being as patient with others as God is with me.  I fail a lot, but I want to finish up this blog and so I’ll stop there.  And Jesus invites me to simply admit my own brokenness, my own needs, and allow him to lead me in a path of full life.   I’m down with that.

I’m convinced I’ve fixed this auto lock problem on the minivan at least 3 times.  Until I walk past it.  Crap. Locked again.  And I’m reminded, that this might be an ongoing journey of learning to unlock….

I’ve forgotten if I’m talking about myself or the van.

You’ve got a little something in your eye

So my wife Bethany typed this out earlier this morning.  I think it’s worth sharing on this blog, since I often try to write about life, faith, and the messiness of it all… this is a killer reminder about the power of being present… or maybe better, the loss of not being present. My wife has quite an uncanny ability to speak into my life, even when that’s not her point…. and this little story is no exception.  Take a look:

If I had a blog, today I would write.

I would write about judging others. I would write about seeing beauty in our children. I would write about cherishing the here and now.

My son Kylan taught me all of these things with one simple, sweet comment.

It all started when my husband found an abandoned iPod Touch in the park near our house. It was password protected so he couldn’t find out who the owner was. He posted signs in the park and no one contacted us for weeks. He tried to track it with no luck. So, finally, he swept it clean and gave it to me (if it’s yours, we’ll give it back, we promise).

I have never had such technology at my fingertips. For the past 7 years I have happily survived with a pay-as-you-go Tracfone that I use for texting and emergencies.  I obviously can’t do much on it, so I don’t carry it around often or look at it much.

And for years, these limitations have allowed me to sit at the playground and haughtily judge mothers who bring their kids and spend the entire time with their eyes and ears focused on their phones.  I watch my kids. I talk to my kids. I push my kids on the swings. I play with my kids (sometimes).

Today I was in the living room enjoying some time online via the iPod Touch, pretending to pay attention to what my boys were saying as I Facebooked away.  It was nice to be able to multi-task. All of a sudden, I could be pseudo-present with my kids while I actually did what I wanted to do. This. Was. Awesome.

But kids are not stupid.

Apparently I had been doing this more and more over the past few days. Apparently I was conveying that my iPod Touch was very important to me.  Apparently my kids were aware of my split focus, because when they invited me to go downstairs with them to see the pretend monster they were trying to slay, I hesitated. And they noticed.

Kylan suggested in the sweetest, most genuine voice possible–

“You can bring your phone with you, if you want.”

wow.

I can bring my phone with me?  So, my three year old thinks, after only 3 days, that the only way I would want to play, pretend, imagine, or explore with them is if I can bring my “phone” with me?  They aren’t interesting enough? They aren’t special enough?

wow.

I dropped the “phone” and went with them. And because I did, I learned all about blueberry monsters and how big they are and where they like to sleep. We jumped as far as we could together and chased monsters out from behind the couch.

And because of the simple choice drop the distractions and focus on my children, I experienced first hand my boys’ creativity, vivid imagination, enthusiasm for life, perceptiveness, and sweet hearts.

Amazing how a simple comment and a simple choice could make me fall in love with my kids all over again.

How easy it was to judge others for this. Turns out all I needed was a plank of my own–

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”  (Matthew 7: 1-5)

Preach it, Jesus, preach it.

peace from the chaos…. or peace in the chaos?

Some things I can handle being a mess.  Not my coffee maker, and not my disc golf bag and discs.  Those things I clean on a regular basis. I’m weirdly anal about them. But the rest of the stuff in my life, I’m pretty chill about.  The jeans are worn for days on end, and there are almost always piles of papers with my scribbling all over them on my office.  In many ways, trying to stay clean and tidy all the time is too much work.

from Bethany’s facebook album entitled “Real life exposed.”

Bethany and I made a decision about 3 years ago that we would no longer keep the social norm of only allowing people into our house if it was perfectly clean, tidy, and well-ordered.  So if you knocked on our door and Sariya had just puked on the carpet, the laundry pile was in the living room, and bread-baking flour was covering the kitchen counter (and floor, thank you boys)…. that would not be a valid excuse for us to not let you in.

 

 

We realized that if we wanted to offer a picture perfect atmosphere in our house all the time, one of three things would have to happen:

  1. We’d have to stop playing, making things, cooking, and letting the kids out of their room.
  2. We simply wouldn’t open our home to people very often.
  3. We’d have to get rid of our kids.  I’ll admit, this option was probably the most attractive.

So we resigned ourselves to the fact that if we wanted to do life with other people, there was going to be an inevitable mess involved. But the house is just the tip of the iceberg.

We have a set of values that we adhere to as a part of the LifePath Church community.  Things like Love, Presence, Teachability.  Those kinds of things.
As we get further into the journey, we may add some new ones here and there.  But we’re contemplating a weird one.  We’re thinking about adding Chaos as one of our values.  Yeah.
Chew on that.  I still am.
Let me explain this a bit.  Our family is not in the best position to start a new enterprise like a church community.  We have recently relocated.  Bethany just birthed a kid.  Number 3.  Under 4 yrs.  Yikes.  We have to work our tails off to be anywhere on time, and our plans change so regularly.  Life right now is unpredictable, crazy, messy, frustrating, chaotic.  So is our faith community.   No building, no big budget.  Sometimes I don’t communicate everything as clearly as I should.  Sometimes our gatherings are tempered with tantrums… but I usually calm down once I get a snack (that was a joke).  We’re frequently changing and adjusting things based on dozens of different factors.  Many of us have kids, which just adds to the craziness.  It’s chaos.

But let me tell you one thing… where there’s no life, there’s no chaos.
Nothing moves.
It’s just dead.
There’s nothing chaotic about a rock.

So Bethany and I are having this conversation the other day, talking about some new ideas, what’s going well and what’s not, and she says,

Maybe chaos should be one of our values.

And I start thinking about it.  Chaos is not typically a good word.  It represents a lack of control, a swirling about, a confusion of sorts.  But interestingly, in the scriptures, it’s those places where we actually see God’s power show up.  It’s the chaos of the storm that Jesus speaks to.  It’s the chaos of a guy’s dying daughter, when he can’t understand why or what’s happening, that Jesus heals. It’s the chaos of confusion, when Jesus dies and the movement that he began is completely rattled and everyone is scattering and crying and questioning and wanting to give up… that new life happens.  Hope springs from chaos.

The way I look at it, chaos means:

  1.  We don’t have control.
  2.  Somewhere, there’s probably a mess involved.
  3. There’s movement happening.

Whatever you think about chaos, it’s certainly not lifeless.

We’ve talked before about what is better at the end of a day- a home cluttered with dirty dishes from a party with our friends, toys that have been strewn about by dozens of tiny fingers, dirt on the carpet that’s been trudged in by our kids and our neighbors and our friends…. or nothing.  A pristinely beautiful, perfectly ordered, lifeless…. house.

One shows that life has been happening.  The other…..is prettier.

I want life.

And honestly, I can’t avoid life right now even if I tried.  So the journey of embracing chaos as a value is less about creating chaos, and more about finally choosing that we’re not going to spend our time, energy, and lives trying to avoid it.  

Because chaos is unavoidable.  So what you choose to do with it makes all the difference.

Interesting, in that story of Jesus calming the storm in Luke 8:22 (and I’ve heard sooo many sermons about Jesus “calming the storms in our lives”), one of the significant things about it is not that he calms the storm.  It’s that, as he’s in the boat, sleeping, during the storm, he’s surprised that his disciples are freaking out.

“WE’RE GONNA DROWN!!!!”

They scream.  And Jesus says, “Where is your faith?” And he tells the storm to shut up.  Now, honestly, I’m thinking that when Jesus asked that question, he didn’t mean “Don’t you believe I can calm this storm?”
I feel like his question was more like:

“Don’t you have any faith? I was here the whole time, why were you freaking out?”

The point is not that Jesus calms every storm in our life.  The point is presence, the promise that he will never leave us.  He offers peace in the storm, not always from the storm.  That’s a hard one to swallow sometimes, I’ll admit.

But when we can find peace in the chaos, embracing it as an incredibly important part of our journey, then we become free.  We stop complaining about everything in our lives that isn’t in perfect order.  We can even stop seeing it as hindering our ability to connect with God.  Because our joy is not dependent on our circumstances, and God loves me just as much when my son is screaming as he does when all of our children are quietly eating their breakfast and telling each other how much they love and value their relationships.  Oh wait.  That doesn’t happen.

And when we find peace in the chaos, or at least trust that God is in the midst of the chaos, then people notice something different.  And it’s attractive.  Because it’s the Jesus life coming through in our own lives.  And it’s an incredible way to live.

As stated earlier, Bethany and I live in a decent amount of chaos.  We don’t have a great deal of control in our lives.  Changing schedules, sicknesses, sleepless nights, etc have nailed us lately.  And some of the others in our faith family are in the same boat.  But, if we can seek God and find peace in the moments when we’re aware of our lack of control, maybe there’s a deeper reality that we’re not supposed to be in control of everything.  Maybe, in our desire to control every outcome of every situation, we actually miss hearing the whisper of God in our ears, and we miss feeling the gentle nudges that God offers us to show us a better way- a way where we can live in trust.

The most countercultural thing about life with Jesus is that it’s possible to have peace IN the chaos of life, not just when the storm calms down.  And, in fact, it’s when we are able to rest, lying on the boat, with wind and waves swirling, that we might actually find ourselves the closest to Jesus.

It’s nice when the storms calm down, when all is at peace.  And I’m thankful for those moments.  But in my life, and likely yours, those spots are few and far between.  I’m thinking the next lull in my chaotic storm will be about 15 years from now or so.  So we better learn how to have a little faith, as Jesus asks us to, so that we can joyfully and patiently see God up close in the chaos.

Peace.