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.