Redline

redline
I didn’t make a resolution at the new year, but my impromptu January commitment is holding strong. Sure, it’s just the end of February but isn’t life more the myriad of small wins than a few championships?

What I’m staking victorious claim to is two months (so far) of regular exercise. Granted, putting club membership money on the line has been good motivation. Even so, I’m beginning to reap the first fruit from a disciplined care of my aging flesh and bone.

As part of my workouts, I’ve assimilated to the exercising hoard by stuffing ear buds into my auditory canal. It seems relational isolation is required for physical fitness. I’ve capitalized on this fascinating dynamic by listening to podcasts of all types. While listening last week, I nearly stumbled in full rotation on the elliptical (if that’s even possible) when I heard this statement: “It’s not what you do that burns you out; it’s what you don’t do.” (Christine Caine, founder of the A21 campaign and Propel Women)

What? Do more to not feel like I’m doing too much? How contrary. How surprising. How paradoxical. How…true?

My thoughts plunged deep with introspection. I hardly heard another pod-casted word.

I’m typically a steady worker with decent energy. A fast-paced plodder, you might say. But for a while now, I’ve wondered if I was beginning to redline.

My passion lacked sparkle. Desire was AWOL. Energy was down to the dregs. It seemed burnout was nipping at my heels.

My self-help response was to apply new techniques. Re-structure my work and home life with a fresh system of time management. Same stuff in a better way — surely that will fix things. And for good measure, I’ll add more personal pep talks, reduce carbs in the diet, and exercise. After all, I was doing good things and being productive. Surely my “possible” burnout was because I’m not doing things the right way. Just tighten the belt and suck it up. You can do this!

Yet, I can’t escape that statement from Ms. Caine.

Might she be right? Could my feeling of frantic tiredness stem not from doing too much in wrong ways but from not doing the right things? It’s hard to imagine adding anything, but maybe what’s missing will enliven my living? What must I do so I can do all that I should be doing?

Thomas Merton said, “Your life is shaped by the end you live for. You are made in the image of what you desire.” (Thoughts in Solitude, p.49) Hmmm. What is the shape of my life? In this moment, where am I headed? For what purpose did I rise this morning? My thoughts, words, attitudes, and actions are shaping me into…what? My answers craft the curbs which bound my do’s, and don’t do’s, and must do’s.

I can’t self-manage to stay below the redline. None of us can. There’s no prescription for “doing life.” But, as a Christ follower what I must do is center my desire on being conformed to His image. That purpose will shape my affections and wisely guide me with deciding what stays, what goes, and what get’s added in the day-to-day. In that, there is freedom — and rest.

How about you? What’s the end toward which you’re living? What are your shaping influences? Does joy string your activities together, or do you go from here to there thinking, “glad that’s over.”

Our lives should be full, but not frantic. Spend this day pondering the privilege of life and the Person who gives it. Then get busy enjoying Him in every purposeful moment.

Food Fight

I was so brave. So confident. So altruistic.

So naive.

Thirty days? I can do anything for a month. Determination is my middle name. I’m the poster child for the strong willed.

Out of deep affection for my wife I agreed to a 30-day restriction in our diet. We forewent all dairy, sugar, grains, and certain cooking oils. I bid adieu to my familiar fare and boldly embraced a new menu. Good bye, bread and pasta. So long cream in my coffee. See ya in a month, Mr. Big Bowl of buttery popcorn. With eager anticipation I began a month-long tune-up of my digestive engine. Vroom-vroom!

Cough…sputter….stall.

Riding the smells of ‘normal people food,’ the first whisper of resignation wafted temptingly into my thoughts day three. I squashed those thoughts with some…squash. (gag)

The onslaught of new, fiber-laden offerings made my colon angry. Our relationship is still unstable.

I began counting days like a child counts-down to Christmas. I obsessed over my all-too-far-away reentry into food freedom: sharp cheddar cheese, bacon, Greek yogurt, and a big slab of heavily frosted cake. Such indulgent fantasies accentuated the unsatisfied yearning within my bloated gastronomy. In a frustrated moment I blurted to my wife, “I’m so hungry I could eat dandruff!”

I didn’t. Instead, I sidled-up to plate after plate of earth-grown offerings, salt and hot sauce at the ready.

Well, my 30-days are over. I’ve left my mealtime time-out chair and am again on speaking terms with my tastebuds. Yet the effects of my journey into dietary barrenness linger. Effects more broad than the physical.

I’m reflecting upon the collision of desire and denial. I’m thinking about submission, choice, abundance, and pleasure. I’m considering how I react to being thwarted, hindered, restrained, or delayed. I’m contemplating how my strong will and disciplined life might find expression in virtuous ways. How love should be more often my motive instead of compulsion or duty. And could there be other areas (beside food) that need restriction to bring forth a greater good?

Am I making too much of my dietary experiment? I don’t think so. Everything we do is inherently spiritual because we are spiritual beings. Each moment is an opportunity to worship something or Someone. So while snacking on dried dates instead of Moose Tracks, the expression of my soul can be either gratitude or resentment. Peace or anxiety. Joy or bitterness.

Consider this thought from Thomas Watson: “If Jesus Christ should have said to us, ‘I love you well, you are dear to me, but I cannot suffer, I cannot lay down my life for you’ we should have questioned His love very much; and may not Christ suspect us, when we pretend to love Him, and yet will endure nothing for Him?” (All Things for Good, p.85-86)

I willingly (and imperfectly) endured a time of restriction to encourage and support my wife. And now that I’ve backed-up my pre-diet bragging, she knows an expanded sense of my commitment and care for her. Those thirty days were as much about wrestling and redirecting my desires as they were the resetting of my internal food processor.

My thoughts, words, actions, and attitudes are in continual need of tuning and re-tuning toward a fuller expression of my commitment to Jesus. I need to grow in wisdom with using my “yes” as well as my “no.” Love requires that I give-up, to gain.

Just like He did.


“Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ” (Philippians 3:8, The Message)

Move it!

We moved.

Three weeks ago we wrestled eight-year-old roots from country soil and replanted ourselves in the midst of suburbia. It was an arduous process. We’re still herding the last boxes into their rooms and daily attacking ubiquitous clutter. With rejuvenated clarity I’m remembering why I told my wife eight years ago we’d never move again.

In the turmoil of this transition brews a smorgasbord of emotion. The excitement of change brings energy through the anticipation newness – neighbors, bedrooms, noises, and experiences. Yet there’s the pull of the old – familiar, comfortable, trusted, and expected.

Memories – both pleasant and painful.

Written into our family story during the years at the former home are washboard roads. Power outages. Apple Wars. A snake in the basement, a mouse in the attic, bees in the floor joist and not a single bat in our homemade bat house. Star-filled skies and open spaces. The Wildcat Fortress. Air soft bunkers. Bee stings. Rubber boots and naked romps through giant mud puddles (he was only a toddler, so it was ok). A smashed-up, man-making John Deere lawn tractor. Pheasants, coyotes, otters, foxes, hawks, and chickens. A puppy. Walks through the orchard and fun on the quad. The Man Wall. The zip line. Adoption. Death.

Chapters well written – and treasured.
 
As we turned a new page on a new(er) home, the story was written with themes of work, heat, and humidity. Piles and messes and surprises and disappointments. A truck, a trailer, and tired backs. Firm, welcoming handshakes. Deep-fried chicken wings and warm corn bread. Conversation. Bike rides and bread-eating fish. French-pressed coffee. Ice cream pie. Ice cream sandwiches. Half-gallon containers of ice cream (yes, moving requires copious amount of ice cream refreshment) Hole digging. Chainsaws. Dangling wires and pockmarked drywall. Lasagna from scratch, blueberry pastry, fast food lunches and donuts. Kickball. Football. Voices. Laughter. Street Lights. Convenience. Friends.

Community.

A satisfying – and disruptive – opening to our next chapter.

The monumental task of moving can dredge emotion layered deep within our souls. Thoughts and feelings that betray strongholds of affection and inclination and fear. This disruptive force has invited me into self reflection. I’ve discovered that despite my natural propensity for introversion, there’s joy to be harvested from frequent neighborly interactions. And even though I prefer to be stubbornly independent, a humble reception of help secures long-term relational dividends. In fact, I’ve been so disturbed that I’m finding it less difficult to lay down my idol of accomplishment in exchange for the enjoyment of time with drop-in visitors. I’m even paying others to do work I could do myself. I’m loosening my finger-nailed grip on the desire for control.

I’m aware the relocation pendulum will sway from euphoria to second-guessing for some time. There’s beautiful and ugly with such transitions. But losses and gains and tears and smiles and hope and love are the threads of life that create a sacred tapestry.

Our recent move wasn’t due to boredom or lack of contentment. It wasn’t because we couldn’t think of something better to do this summer. I don’t seek-out such massive disruption. But where we live is important. Some say location is everything. I’m sure it’s not everything, but as we settle-in I’m asking God to use this new place to encourage my clan of seven toward a larger vision for community. For family and friends and relationships that are redemptive. My desire is that we each perpetuate a story that shouts “Glory!” to the One who saw each box we packed. Who envisioned the flat tire on the truck and broken trailer lift. Who smiled over hands that hung a “Welcome” sign and left cookies that anchored those first moments in our home into the bedrock of friendship. Who shows Himself a Strong Tower in every moment.

We moved. It was disruptive. And I am grateful.

Finger-Painted Turkeys

“If I love the Lover, I love what the Lover has made. Perhaps this is the reason why so many Christians feel an unreality in their Christian lives. If I don’t love what the Lover has made – in the area of man, in the area of nature – and really love it because He made it, do I really love the Lover?” 
~ Francis Schaeffer, Pollution and the Death of Man, p.93

It’s on my desk. And the bookshelves – both at home and the office. Some hangs in my workshop. I’ve stuffed pieces in my wallet and tucked remnants in my journal.

What is ‘it’?

Drawings. Paintings. Clay sculptures and handmade cards. Paper-Mache masks and glue-soaked construction paper collages. A thoughtful note. A lumpy figurine. Gestures of grace from my children, my wife, and my friends. Items imbued with the personality and affection of their creator.

A critic’s eye might judge some of it weird. Unbalanced. Random. Kitschy. Disproportionate. Novice. Not good. Who can argue that a multi-colored handprint transformed into a Thanksgiving turkey lacks the technical mastery of Van Gogh or Rembrandt? And that sacred sandwich bag of rug wool I have on display? Even Picasso would raise an eyebrow at such quirkiness.

But I treasure every bit. Such things – artistically right or wrong or strange – are born from love. They are the out-worked expressions of joy and pleasure whose value is granted by their maker.

I have a box full of such expressions. Years of crayon-colored papers, pipe cleaner people, and stationery with handwritten notes that have enhanced relationships and deepened friendships. Simple items that have sealed my heart to a child and fortified my marriage covenant. Tokens that celebrate rich legacies and challenge toward a noble future. Friendship ebenezers. No matter the quality or shape, I love those who have created on my behalf. Their love for me flows through their handmade expressions.

Just like God.

Granite outcroppings and cumulus clouds. Canyon cutting rivers and hot springs. Dandelion seeds. A rolling fog. Frolicking Gold Finches and Sequoia trees. A water strider. A kernel of wheat. The buzzing fly. All joyful expressions of God’s creative pleasure. Gifts to be savored and experienced and enjoyed.

And so are we.

We have worth because our Maker formed us in love. Crafted and shaped with grace and truth, He infused us with identity. His verdict? Good – no, very good!

The lead-in quote to this post challenges me to be a better lover. To seek deep satisfaction in God’s creative mastery. To handle with care and discernment all of His creative progeny. To love Him by loving what He’s made. 

Like my children’s penciled stickmen and water colored rainbows, I treasure the fruit of God’s creativity. I celebrate his animate and inanimate and human handiwork. I honor His work, and love Him better when I celebrate how He’s made me – even with my shortcomings and defects and disproportions and failures. Whether I feel like a messy finger painting or Michelangelo’s David, my value can never be blemished.

 “Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights! Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his hosts! Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars! Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens! Let them praise the name of the Lord! For he commanded and they were created. And he established them forever and ever; he gave a decree, and it shall not pass away. Praise the Lord from the earth, you great sea creatures and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and mist, stormy wind fulfilling his word! Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars! Beasts and all livestock, creeping things and flying birds! Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth! Young men and maidens together, old men and children! Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his majesty is above earth and heaven. He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his saints, for the people of Israel who are near to him. Praise the Lord!”
~ Psalm 148 ~

Are You Listening?

Strong coffee. The smell of a campfire. A well-tensioned film. Belly laughs. Cutting with a sharp chainsaw. Crickets at dusk. Old books with cloth covers. Wrestling with my boys. Fresh-cut grass. A clever sentence. Candle-lit rooms. Shade trees in hot breezes. Neck nuzzling with my girls. The rhythmic roll of breaking waves. The flip-flap of Cottonwood leaves. My wife sneaking her hand into mine. The fragrance of springtime Lilacs. The dark quiet of morning. Weathered barns. Bacon.

All delightful to me. Satisfying. Pleasurable. Comforting. Restful. The tightness of life unwinds when I receive even staccatoed moments with such things.

Delights are divine gifts. Blessings for our human experience. In our image bearing of God, we delight because He delights. For certainly, God has much to delight in.

I wonder at the vastness of His created universe. We grapple for the edge of the expanse and close our fingers around more of the same void. Our place in it all seems miniscule, yet inspiring and wonderful. Unfathomable and delightful.

Still, with all that we see and have yet to uncover, the epicenter of God’s delight is not supernovas or Saturn’s rings. Jupiter’s spot or a shooting star. It’s not constellations or continents or crustaceans. It’s not anemones, butterflies or Redwood trees.

It is us.

We are His delight. We are the objects of His affectionate gaze. We dwell under the friendly sky of the Father’s love for His Son, Jesus. A love so strong and pure and holy that the Father and Son wanted to share it – with you, and me. And by grace, through faith, we can. It’s a wonderful, delightful envelopment. It’s also mysterious. Perplexing. Illogical. Incomprehensible.

Why, with all in which He could find joy, does God delight in me?

Didn’t He hear how I spoke to my daughter last night? Or observe how I was stingy with my time? Didn’t He notice how I received those compliments too proudly? How about the thoughts that exploded in my mind as ‘she’ walked by? Or the running list of selfish excuses? My retreats into silence? Those times I avoided conversation? Walked the other way? Looked away? Pretended not to hear?

God – how can I be delightful to you?

Even before the echo of this question wisps away, my doubts are chased by melodious tones. Soft, pleasant, peaceful sounds. Unearthly sounds. Divine sounds. Sounds that swell to a rapturous song. A song of delight. A song for, and about me.

“The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” (Zephaniah 3:17, NIV)

My head can’t piece it together. Delight and love and joy and singing.

For me.

Me?

My life seems quite uninspiring. At times, undelightful. Still, the Mighty Warrior sings and saves. He releases heavenly strains that cascade upon my soul. My task is to listen. And believe. And rest. And feast on joy so graciously offered.

Despite my fledgling faith, I must do the hard work of seizing the truth and power of God’s delight in me. To be true to His joy-filled crafting of who I am. To acknowledge my worth through His Son. To respond in love, gratitude, and whole-hearted giving.
  
Our souls respire on our delights. We seek them. Work for them. Treasure them. Replay them. I yearn to accept and understand more of God’s love and enjoyment of me. His delighting not just in what I do, but who I am in Jesus. Delight that traverses moments when I’m a passive husband. An absent father. A neglectful friend. I’m a man who makes mistakes and messes and missteps. But Someone is always singing my song.

He sings yours too.

Are you listening?

Please Pass the Chips

They say records are meant to be broken. So this week, I did.

To be fair, it isn’t technically a record. Just a bit of self-imposed criteria. The ‘record’ I broke is length of time between posts on this blog. There’s a good chance you hadn’t noticed. There’s an equally good chance you welcomed the reprieve from more bloggish noise. Whatever your perspective, my recent trek in the blogging desert sparked some reflection.

But while I was musing, life surged on. In some ways, it ran me over. Seems every waking moment these days is spoken for. Silence, solitude and rest are conspicuously absent. And what’s strange is that even with life’s tire tracks on my back, I crave more of what’s crushing me. I want to know. I want to experience. I must respond—now. I’m hypnotically drawn to the false energy of busyness.

It can be easy to get wrapped in culture’s paradigm of 140 character bursts. To feast on bits of disjointed conversation like a whale eating krill. There’s a non-stop banquet out there that leaves consumers curiously hungry. It’s an addictive paradox—one that’s nipping at my heels. One that shows, along with my record breaking, that I am a victim of my own lusts. Frederick Buechner was right: “Lust is the craving for salt of a person who is dying of thirst.”
I sure have been thirsty lately. But I keep eating the potato chips.
And the more I eat, the less satisfied I feel. I munch and crunch as I battle the urgent. The ‘tyranny of now’ cleverly confuses my needs and desires. Life slips into maintenance mode as I settle for easy, comfortable and quick. Priorities are dictated by energy level and meeting reminders. The cycle of days blurs. And before I know it, I’m breaking records.
My record breaking didn’t bring a moment of celebration. There were no cameras or interviews. What it brought was an eye-opening collision with reality. The reality of potato chip crumbs on the front of my shirt and the burn of salt on my lips.
I can’t deny the disappointment I feel in not meeting my own expectations – with timely blogging or anything else. But my disappointments are opportunities to expose my lusts. To admit unhealthy cravings. My recent reflections exposed some ugly things. But sometimes I need ugly to recognize beautiful.
I’d like to put the chip clip on the bag more often. To rest in my God who’s ‘steady as He goes.’ A God who wants me to be just, merciful and humble (Micah 6:8). The lusts of life will beckon. And if I’m not careful, I might find myself eating chips all day then wondering why I’m so doggone thirsty.