Friday, September 6, 2019

Loved

I started a new Christmas tradition a couple of years ago.  I decided I don’t want any more socks or shirts from my kids for Christmas.  No more robes, books, knives or desk decor.  What I want now, for the rest of my life from my kids for Christmas, is a song.

So I chose one.  One that meant something to me.  One that I hope they will play at my funeral.  I entrusted it to them, asking them to perform it for me, and then let it go.  Weeks and months went by and I had no clue if they were preparing.  I would drop an occasional hint, but I tried to let it take shape on its own.  As fall moved into winter, I began to hear notes and sounds and a smile would cross my lips.  Anticipation.

Last Christmas our whole family gathered at my parents’ cabin in the woods.  One night that week I organized an impromptu talent show and began gathering a list of acts from brothers and nephews and nieces.  The kids were going to perform my gift as the centerpiece of the show.

We laughed and listened, clapped and cheered as different family members shared.  Then it was my kids’ turn.  They gathered before the fireplace: Jacob on the cajon, Harrison on the keyboard, Jenova on xylophone and Haven on guitar.  Haven took the lead vocal and they began.

My song.  A gift for me.  Yet, what I received was not what I expected.  What happened as I soaked in the experience was altogether different.  I found myself watching each of them as they concentrated on notes and words and I noticed that each would look up every few beats to catch my eyes.  In each of those eye contacts I was surprised.  There was depth, there were questions.

“Do you like it?”

“Are you pleased?”

“Do we have your favor?”

I leaned forward in my chair and began trying to catch their eyes, transmitting love and delight as I met each of them and as the final note played and everyone began clapping, we hugged and laughed and I told them how much I loved them, how much I loved their song.

Reflecting on it now, having just requested my next Christmas song, it makes me wonder.  God invites us and calls us to live the way he designed, the way he showed us through his son.  The only way to do that is to trust that what he did really changes things and that what he said is true.  That trust leads to a life lived freely, truly, to a life that is full.


Does he give you glimpses of his pleasure with you?  Are you looking up to him for validation, for affirmation?  Do you know that he longs to catch your eye and transmit to your spirit how delighted he is with you?  Look up and know that you are loved.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Finding Grace on the Slopes

I was ten years old the first time I went skiing.  And it should have been fun.  It should have been an adventure.  It should have been memorable.  It was none of those things.  I hated it and have blocked most of the memories from my mind save for the feeling of cold, wet frustration.  In those formative years, the identity I was forging was wrapped around appearing successful, about looking good.  Skiing definitely didn't fit the category so I decided to never do it again.

Until 2019.

Danny and Chrissy Tovar have become some of our closest friends over the past couple of years and they talked us into it.  I fought and resisted, made excuses and procrastinated, but they were persuasive and in the end, I caved.  We put dates on the calendar and set money aside, we were going.  Destination: Pagosa Springs, Colorado.

We took our youngest two and they were excited.  It wasn't until the first morning on the slopes that they realized what all is involved in skiing.  If you've never been, it's quite an experience.  It was snowing and blowing hard that day, which made all of this more difficult.  After buying our tickets we waited to be fitted with boots and skis and shown how the equipment works.  Then we trudged through the snow carrying everything to the bunny slope where our instructor (who turned out to be really lousy) began our four hour lesson.

Throughout the lesson, Danny and Chrissy would come and check on us before heading off to enjoy the blue and black runs.  At the end of that first day, the instructor convinced me I was ready for the easiest of the blues.  I was scared and felt pressured, but went along.  Danny came with us.  Heather and the kids had had enough and headed to the lodge.

We rode the lift to the top of the peak and started our way down.  I fell.  A lot.  Over and over, I would get up, adjust my equipment, run through all the lessons in my head and then wipe out.  Hard.  Each time I was afraid I would twist a knee or hurt my back.  I was nauseous and the storm made it hard to see very far ahead.  We came upon a narrow section where the left side of the slope was a steep drop into deep powder and I clung to the right bank, slowly waddling down as little kids zipped by me.

By the time I got to the bottom, I was done.  We packed it up and headed back to our condo.  My whole family had had enough.  No interest in going back.  Everyone had counseled us to get back up and try a second day, but we had no desire.  I felt like a failure again, embarrassed all over gain.

The next day we stayed at the condo.  We played an eight hour game of Rail Baron and nursed our sore bodies.  We ate good food and processed our first day with the Tovars.  That afternoon, the question of whether or not we would try a second day again came up.  I did not want to, but felt that competitive spirit rising in me.  Danny and Chrissy, both, gently encouraged us to try it again, to give it a fresh start.   So we did.

The second day was much better.  It was sunny and clear.  Heather did better, but was ready to call it a day.  Harrison was feeling better and by lunchtime was off with Danny to ski down the blues.  Jenova overcame her fear when she found a new and better instructor.   She had mastered the bunny slope and I finally convinced her to try the intermediate one.

Three hours later, she was jumping off the lift and soaring down the slope in front of me.  I was able to make it down consecutive times without falling.  The truth is, though, I still wiped out from time to time.  Hard.  My kids did better than I did.  I was a 43 year-old beginner.  Toward the end of that second day, I lay on my back in deep powder after wiping out.  High above me, people passed overhead on a lift and shouted down encouragement, "Get back up!  You got this!"

That evening we sat, exhausted, around a table at a pizza pub and ate delicious food and drank cold brews and I found myself getting choked up.  Why?  We had experienced grace on the slopes of Pagosa Springs.  Danny and Chrissy had pushed us gently, provided everything we needed and walked with us when they could have easily run on ahead or judged us or mocked us, or even just put up with us.

We will go again.  We all want to, even though Heather may stay in the lodge.  Grace has left a good taste in our mouths.  My shame, my failing have been redeemed because someone was willing to extend me undeserved favor.

Photo by Veronica Kei on Unsplash

Monday, April 29, 2019

Thanks, Amy.

There is a photo of me at the age of two or three, asleep on a cushion with big, black retro headphones over my ears connected to a record player by a rubbery, coiled audio cable.  Supposedly, it was the tunes of J.S. Bach that had put me to sleep.  According to research, that experience was likely very formative on my toddler brain and psyche, melding left and right brain functions, creating pathways and pegs in the squishy material of my mind.

Yesterday I was coming home from a long day installing draperies in Austin, riding shotgun with John, our company's most experienced employee.  I consider John a friend, a spiritual mentor and a brother in Christ and our occasional trips together usually include theological conversations (usually light debate between Calvin & Campbell) and old songs and hymns.  In passing, he mentioned an Amy Grant song I hadn't heard or thought about in years.  It led me to a series of long buried memories...

I can't remember if it was for Christmas or a Birthday, but my parents gave me this at the age of 10 or 11: a brand new, shiny, red Sony Walkman cassette player.


Shortly after, a young couple on my parents' team gave me this: Amy Grant's "scandalous" Unguarded on cassette.


I was mesmerized and hooked.  The ability to walk around with music that no one else could hear felt like Amy was singing directly to me.  A one-man concert.  Listening to that album again this week and sharing it with Heather, I was amazed at how many of the lyrics we still remembered, words that were written somewhere deep in us.  Memories and emotions returned with them and as I look back I can see how those songs, those words, that music shaped me, formed me.

I can look back now and see how this one album challenged my pre-teen self, how it strengthened my faith and made me think, made me imagine.

All of that makes me wonder how the music we listen to disciples us, one way or another.  I watch my kids learn to choose the music they listen to and I watch their friends.  Engaging my teenagers in conversation about the artists they follow, the lyrics they listen to, I'm trying to help them see how those lyrics form them and inform them.  They pass on values and a worldview.  They embed themselves in their minds and their spirits.

The more we become an ear bud culture where we walk around to the tune of our own one-person concerts, the more we put music on loops and have messages repeatedly blasted into the delicate combination of mind, body, soul and spirit.

How is the music you listen to discipling you?

Monday, February 18, 2019

Praying with Authority

A couple of years ago, a friend and coach shared a daily prayer ritual with me that I’ve adopted and morphed into my own practice and I love how it focuses my attention, sharpens my perspective as I pray.  One of the elements in the prayer has to do with authority.

There seems to be this back and forth in Scripture, two extremes that we bounce off of.  On one extreme, we have Jesus praising the tax collector who beats his chest, eyes downcast, ‘Have mercy on me, a sinner.’  We read the Psalmist write that God won’t despise a broken spirit and contrite heart.  Mary sings about how the LORD has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.  James and Peter both admonish the church to humble themselves and to let God be the one to lift them up.

OK, but we bear his Image.  We are baptized into his Name.  He is IN us.  His Spirit abides in us.  We are co-heirs, sons and daughters, friends of Jesus.  We are commissioned by and with the authority given to Jesus.  It harks back to the beginning of the story when Adam was given authority to care, to tend, to name, a calling to subdue, to have dominion.  It paints a picture that we get a glimpse of in the Parable of the Talents - we are called upon to steward well what He gives us.

How do we live with and within these extremes?  How do we hold in one hand humility without it becoming pride and how do we hold in the other authority without it becoming self-centered or manipulative.  Maybe, it’s not a problem to be solved, but a tension to manage.

Daily.


  • So we start in a kneeling posture and we pray: Father, apart from you, I am nothing.  I don’t deserve your love or grace.  Every inclination of my flesh is toward sin and power and criticism, hypocrisy and violence.
  • Then we place one foot down and lean on one knee and we pray: thank you Father for Jesus, for the sacrifice that is enough, that pays the price for my freedom.  Thank you that because of Him, I am worthy, I am enough, that there is no condemnation.  Thank you for designing me, for breathing Life into me.
  • Then we stand on two feet and straighten our backs and we acknowledge with arms open: Father, as you gave all authority to your Son, as his emissary, I operate under and within that authority.  His name and banner are over me.  All that I have comes from him and belongs to him, but is placed in my hands and in my care for me to tend, care for, shepherd and grow.  I bring my story, my pain, my loss, my gain, my possessions, my territory, my relationships, my reputation, my skills, my abilities, my legacy under your canopy, under your authority and operate today with freedom, joy and power.
  • Finally, we begin walking, moving and as we go, we pray: To the ends of the earth and to the end of the age, you are with me.  We are co-operators, co-heirs, co-laborers.  We are members of a Beautiful Bride.  We are banner wavers and witness bearers.  In humility, we bring authority to every interaction, every conversation, every decision, every relationship, every opportunity, every day, every night, every meal, every embrace, every conflict.  The Kingdom expands and arrives as we move, because the Kingdom of Heaven is in us.

Friday, August 17, 2018

The Mystical Mundane

Twenty-two years ago today, we awoke in separate beds, in separate houses.  It was a bright, Texas summer day, a high of almost 99 degrees.  We were young, barely adults, giddy, stressed, but oblivious.  Neither of us really knew what we were getting into, other than each other’s arms and hearts.  We didn’t dwell much on the fact that much more would be blended and formed in the days and years to come.  Surrounded by friends and family, we vowed, exchanged, laughed, cried and danced.  We came together in ways both mystical and mundane that day.

And we still do.

Dirty dishes and diapers.
Building bonds and breaking barriers.
Late night tears and early morning prayers.
Homework and housework, yard work and heart work.
Raised voices and hushed whispers.
Bills, pills, spills and thrills.

All of it, my love,

every drop,
every stop,
every hug,
every shrug,
every rout,
every doubt,
every trip,
every flip,
every no,
every blow,
every yes,
every mess.

In the mystical mundane, I love your heart, your soul, your mind.

I am yours for all time.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Humility

One of our company's values is being a positive, transformative presence.  This has applications both here, internally and as we interact with vendors and clients, outwardly.  If this value is present, then every time I interact with you, you will feel honored, listened to, cared for and you will leave better off than when we interacted.  One of the pillars of being a positive, transformative presence is humility.

A good definition for humility is: not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.  (I believe this comes from Rick Warren.)  Many, many people get this wrong or backwards.  Humility can be seen in lots of ways in our day to day interaction: who jumps on the phone, who offers to wash the dishes, who hops up to install the job no one wants to or meet on a Saturday or after hours.  Humility is thinking about the people around you more than yourself and positioning yourself in such a way that you can help, serve and encourage them.  It’s easy to see, but takes discipline to develop into a habit.  At its core, it’s rooted in a healthy understanding  that you, are NOT, at the center of the universe.

Understanding this and practicing this allows us to be be confident and clear when people ask us about Hodell.  Humility doesn't mean we are groveling people with eyes cast to the ground.  We aren’t, however, bragging or showing off either.  Humility means being confident in knowing who we are and choosing to put ourselves and our needs second to those we interact with.  "Hodell is Here" means that interacting with us won’t be about us, our needs, tooting our own horn.  "Hodell is Here" means they will be interacting with a group of people committed to putting them and their needs above our own.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The Story

What has become the backbone of our time as a family on Sunday mornings is the Story.  There’s something about saying, together, as a family: this is the story we believe.  This is the story that we are a part of.  This is how we got here.  This is why we are here.

Each time it is the same story and yet each time the telling is different.  Each time the emphasis is the same but different parts are highlighted.  Each time I stop and ask what comes next at different points.

So it goes something like this:

We don’t know where he comes from or why.  We don’t know anything about him before this story, we just know how this part starts.  It starts in darkness.  And he speaks and it is good.  Light is formed, and sky.  Land and seas.  Planets and stars, moons and patterns.  Ravens and whales.  Ants and plants. And then something different.  The hands of this lead character from out of dust, the body of man, and he breathes life into his lungs.  He is male.  First man.  He bears the very image of the lead and it is very good.  And then the lead, the main character rests.

The first man is tasked with caring for and cultivating a garden, with naming animals.  The lead character, labeled God, wants good for the man and creates for him a perfect companion, someone who comes from him, is like him and yet unlike him, who also bears the image of God.  She is woman and they fit together like one flesh and they work and live and play without shame in this great garden, walking with God.

They have everything they need and along slinks a new character.  We don’t know where he comes from or why.  We don’t know anything about him before this story, we just know how this part starts.  He takes the form of a serpent and he whispers to the woman.

The essence of the whisper goes something like this: this God guy is no good guy.  He can’t be trusted.  Look at the power he has over you.  Can you believe he would keep you from enjoying everything that is in this garden?

And she takes the bait, bites into it.  They both do, woman and man, choose to not trust this lead character, they choose to take things into their own hands and they, together with the serpent, bring on themselves a curse.

They are cloaked in shame, clothed in the skins of the first sacrifice, and evicted from the garden.  The serpent is banished to his belly and the lead character, God, says that one of the offspring of this woman will someday crush him, would make things right.

From there we pick up the pace and jump from Noah to Abram and the Promise, again, that from his offspring all nations would be blessed.  He is called to sacrifice his one and only son and he does not hesitate, though it doesn’t make sense.  At the last moment his hand is stayed and a ram is provided, foreshadowing a future event that doesn’t make sense, an event so potent that the very fibers of reality will fray and dance in its wake.

Isaac has twins and the ornery one marries sisters and together with their concubines he has twelve children.  The youngest is sold into slavery by his brothers and goes from prisoner and slave to ruler and savior.  He is later reconciled to his family and moves them all to Egypt.

The story continues on with Moses, the prince of Egypt turned shepherd who trusts God and frees his people from the Pharaoh after ten signs that counter the gods of the Egyptians, the final one, again, showing the need for the sacrifice of a lamb.

Israel is freed and wanders in the desert, receiving the Law, whom God himself knows they won’t be able to keep.  While they wander he lives among them, in the Tabernacle.  They enter the land promised to Abram and we talk about the judges, the kings, the prophets, and the exile.  And the people are called back and are under Roman rule, longing for a king to come along and restore them as a nation.

And along comes another character, the one promised long ago, born to a young woman; announced by angels and searched out by shepherds and astrologers and kings.  His name is ‘God with us.’  He lives a fairly nondescript, simple life until he is baptized by his cousin at which time the same voice that called light into existence places his stamp of approval and calling on him.

This Yeshua travels around for three years with a ragtag band of unlikelies and not-hardlys, doing wonders, giving signs, and talking about a new kind of kingdom that was about to be formed.  He also tells them that he will be betrayed and killed and that he would come back, showing his love and giving proof that what he is talking about is real and true.

And that’s what happens.  Betrayed.  Crucified.  Buried.  He is resurrected to new life and spends forty days appearing to lots of people, reminding them of what he had said, promising that the one he refers to as Father would be sending his very presence to live in them.  They would become tabernacles and temples, living vessels.  The Law would be written on new hearts.

He does not institute religion or rules.  He says, live this life that I’ve been showing you.  Trust me.  Tell the world this headline story that all is forgiven.  You can be renewed and made right and live like man did in the garden.

He has gone and is preparing a new reality, a new heaven and earth and our life will go on into that one, where we will live with him, in his new economy, caring for and cultivating a new land, enjoying a life free of shame and pain like it was designed to be.

I know some of you that read this don’t agree.  Some of you think, “Dang Jason, if you’re going to pick a fiction to believe, why not Asimov or Jordan or something a little more fanciful and fun?!”  Others of you think, “Whoa, whoa, you skipped lots of details and proof and a whole lot of theology.”

That’s OK.  This is the story that I believe.  This is what makes sense to me.  This is what I choose to believe and it is life-giving, fulfilling.  It brings health to my bones and allows my soul to rest deeply.  It empowers me to be a loving, gracious father and a caring, empowering husband.  It leads me to be a good neighbor and a generous boss.  It frees me to forgive quickly and to be ready to respond when a prompting leads me to do or say something that I wouldn’t otherwise do.


What story do you believe?  What kind of life does it produce in you?  Hope this helps.  I wish I had been this consistent and thorough when my kids were younger.  Hope this challenges you to think through what narrative you have adopted.