40

40Today I turn 40. Things I’ve learned over my four decades:

  • Prostate exams aren’t comfortable in the slightest, but they’re a cotton-candy-coated breeze compared to what it must feel like to give birth.
  • Hell is outliving a child.
  • You can’t run away from who you are, or who you’re meant to be.
  • Christmas isn’t fun until you have kids.
  • A lot of what they teach you in high school is less than useless.
  • Sadly, some little boys don’t have their growth spurts until college.
  • You do only live once — that’s why it’s imperative you not do stupid shit.
  • Much of adulthood is extended improv.
  • You have to choose to outgrow your fears.
  • A leap of faith doesn’t always bring immediate resolution.
  • People who don’t believe the same things you do make good friends but lousy spouses.
  • Just because someone is older it doesn’t mean they’re smarter.
  • Accountants, doctors, and repairmen are more important than anyone ever admits.
  • Your gums bleed because the hygienist keeps poking it with a sharp metal stick. All the flossing in the world ain’t gonna fix that.
  • For a great many of us, the world proved much larger than we were led to believe.
  • The highest level of human fear is felt by the parent of a sick child.
  • The second highest level is felt by a parent attempting to potty train a child.
  • Live together all you want beforehand, it still won’t prepare you for marriage.
  • Every parent does it differently than their parents did.
  • Pure love is a toddler’s unprompted hug. Second place is how a baby smells after a bath.
  • If you stop feeding the online jerks, they eventually go away. Works well with pets, too.
  • The most amazing club in the coolest city with the most beautiful people is not one tenth as awesome as a warm bed on a cold day while snuggling with your family.
  • The path of least resistance is often the path of largest regrets.
  • It is never – and I mean never – too late to chase a dream or your God-given purpose.
  • Fashion changes. Style morphs. Elegance and class are timeless.
  • It’s possible to say “Yes sir” and still be a jerk.
  • You will disappoint people. Make sure to pick the right ones.
  • Watching someone die is hard.
  • If you live with integrity, you will have to face difficult decisions. You will also come out better for having made them.
  • God did not have pastoring as part of my long-term plan.
  • It is possible to write a letter so strongly worded that a Fortune 500 company executive has his assistant call you to apologize.
  • It’s also possible to write a strongly worded letter without sounding like a reality-show refugee, and more impressive.
  • Seasons of life apply to people as well as circumstances.
  • You will never regret learning to cook well.
  • Some of the sharpest, most interesting people are the ones your younger self thought unworthy of your time.
  • If you pray to marry an intelligent, wise, caring, gorgeous, SEC grad who was once a cheerleader, you may just get more than you bargained for. In all the best ways possible.
  • If you worry that you’ll struggle to be a good dad, have nothing in common with a daughter, or fail miserably as a father to a son, you will be so happy to be proven wrong.
  • For all the hype, 40 isn’t so bad.

The Trouble With Growing Up

Yesterday was one of those days when you know you’re a grown up. My collegiate alma mater hired a head football coach who is the same age as me. A young woman from my high school graduating class died from cancer. My daughter got off the bus and told me a boy asked her to go to a school dance with him.

Each of those things gave me pause for reflection. And after careful consideration, I came away with only one single thought:

When did I become an adult?

How to Be Thankful

I struggle with being thankful, which sucks because, as a Christian, thankfulness is supposed to be a crucial piece of my life. I am grateful for the good things in my life — Rachel, Ella, Jon, an awesome job, great friends, a fantastic church — but thankfulness extends beyond just what we enjoy. It also extends to those things we’d prefer to avoid.

Tough times. Sadness. Personal demons. An unjust world.

The easy answer is to simply not be thankful for the stuff that hurts; to just chalk it up to cosmic injustice, or the cold heart of a distant deity, or the blind pitiless indifference of a mechanistic universe. In fact, rather than being thankful, it’s easier to take the position of anger and indignation that such things exist.

Problem is, that kind of anger overwhelms you. It consumes your soul. Before long, it consumes your world.

We feel this on a regular basis. Our collective position these days is outrage followed by self-preservation followed by blame someone else followed by people deciding to move to Idaho and live out the end times in a shack with a nifty beard.

My Facebook feed alternates between “Praise Jesus and pass the turkey!” and “The world is going TO HELL IN AN F-16 LOADED WITH NU-CU-LAR WEAPONS!!!”

But in the middle of this is Jesus. He’s been kicking my butt lately. You know, in a kind way. I’m reading through the Gospels again because I want to understand how he lived above the fray. And the truth is, he didn’t live above it. He lived in the thick of it, right in the middle where the ugly stuff happens. And his anger, while real and impressive, was reserved for only those things he found offensive to his deepest sensibilities.

Otherwise, Jesus took life as it came and kept things cool.

I read this the other day, and it gave me pause:

“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.”

Contentedness, I think, is the heart of thanksgiving. You have to appreciate what you have in order to be thankful for it. I’m not a content person; I have dreams I want to chase, things I want to do, and so I spend a lot of time looking ahead at what could be while being disappointed that it isn’t realized right now. I also have things that I want out of my life — character flaws, insecurities, fears and the like. I spend as much time focusing on those (if not more).

Yet here’s Jesus, telling me to be content with who I am.

That’s hard.

I would wager that nothing Jesus taught is as hard for the modern American Christian than being content with who he or she is. In fact, I’m not even going to generalize this; I’m going to just be straight up honest: as an American Christian, this is one of my greatest struggles. I’ve grown up believing I had a manifest destiny to be more, to be better. I find it difficult to simply be me, whether I’m at home alone or in a room full of strangers. Who I am has always been less of the focus than what I do or how I perform.

And therein lies the restlessness, the discontent.

To be thankful, I must be content. To be content, I must trust in the intrinsic value I have, not because of what I do, but because of who I am. And, as a Christian, to whom I belong.

To be thankful, I must find rest in the truth that God loves me and walks with me, both towards my dreams and away from the things I need to leave behind. I must be content that God is at work in my life and, in his mercy, finds that to be enough.

For that, I am honestly, truly thankful.

The Christian Ombudsman

An ombudsman is usually someone hired to be an impartial observer of an organization’s practices and to bring to light certain situations that require special attention, either positive or negative. In other words, an ombudsman is someone who watches an organization and says, “This is good, keep doing it” or “This wasn’t so good, here’s a correction.”

We live in a world of factions; forget the mainstream media’s portrayal of things and look to the news feeds of your own friends and family–you’ll see that many people run to one extreme or the other in order to find security. As a result, people share distorted (at best) or untrue (at worst) portraits of those who disagree with their positions.

As a Christian, I find that most of the people I know struggle with sharing who Jesus really is. In fact, most of the people I know don’t actually share Jesus–they share political opinions disguised in religious rhetoric. I’ve wasted plenty of time in the past trying to attack people on both sides of the aisle for their statements and ended up with nothing but heartache (and in many cases, heartburn). So the goal of this blog isn’t to hatchet either Christian polemic.

Instead, this blog will look at things through the lens of Jesus and the rest of Scripture. I won’t pretend that some posts will seem to lean toward one political direction or another; it’s practically a given since we’ve made that language an intractable part of our daily discourse. But my focus will be on what Jesus said and did, or what his followers said and did, in contrast with what many believers are saying and doing today. And my goal isn’t to convince Christians to change their positions–though, if that happens, all the groovier–but instead to help those who find themselves weary of the religious rigmarole altogether. I will share thoughts on faith and Jesus as a safe zone for those who don’t have a faith of their own.

As a result, I’m open to questions from the curious. I’d love to speak to those issues you find mystifying, troubling, or flat-out disturbing. Sometimes I’ll share my thoughts, other times I’ll share the thoughts of others. The goal will always be to stir your thinking and answer your questions with gentleness and respect.

What I’m not open to are attacks from the dissenting, or bullying from those who find their security stems from having everyone agree. You have the rest of the Internet for that.

So that’s the goal. Honest answers from a practitioner of the faith, which is what the Bible says we’re supposed to do anyway (1 Peter 3:15-16). I’ll figure out a way to create a form that allows questions to be submitted, and if I get one, I’ll answer it the best I can. If I get none, then I’ll just start with what’s top of mind.

I’m looking forward to blogging on a regular basis again, and for having a purpose that keeps me inspired. Hope you’ll come along for the ride.

Living a Better Story

Every day is its own story; with the rising of the sun comes conflict, twists, turns, and, if we’re paying attention, character development. The ultimate author of each day is God, but within our individual spheres, we are the ones at the keyboard. It is our will that shapes our days, filling them with something meaningful and interesting or with whatever happens to happen to us.

In college, one of my least favorite writing exercises was writing about whatever happened to be closest to me. This was assigned by one of my professors as a week-long project in a writing for publication class; the theory being writers should be able to take the boring and infuse it with meaning. Now that I’m almost 40, I can understand the exercise and even practice it on a regular basis (as anyone who’s read my blogs can attest). But in college, all the exercise produced were pained descriptions of Coke cans, beer bottles, empty Chinese cartons and the ennui of people who weren’t old enough to navel gaze but didn’t let lack of experience get in their way.

Sadly, the stories many people tell with their lives are similar to those college writing exercises. There’s a lot of detail, a lot of observation, but very little in the way of meaning. So many people just drift from day to day.

*****

I walk with my kids to the bus stop almost every morning. We talk about a lot of things, mostly stuff that I consider inane but means everything to them in the moment. Whether it’s the recreational habits of squirrels, the strangely friendly cat that roams around our house, or the odd pink thing with veins lying in the middle of the road, my kids are intentional about asking questions that help them understand the world they inhabit.

As an adult, I occasionally (okay, frequently) find this incessant questioning of the world to be uncomfortable. Not because I don’t want my kids asking questions, but rather because I don’t want them asking questions of me at 7:15 in the morning before the coffee kicks in.

But in my more lucid moments (or when I’ve gotten enough coffee) I appreciate and marvel at their curiosity. In those times, I enjoy hearing how their brains work, enjoy hearing their made up hypotheses and fairy tales, enjoy the fact that they choose not to live in a world of drudgery but rather a world of magic and wonder. My morning is made better by the visits of their fairies and robots and heroes and horses, but it only lasts until they get on the bus.

Then, all too often, my world turns back into mindless detail: bills, work, chores, worries. The magic disappears with my children.

It’s my own fault, naturally, because I too often choose to see the world as drudgery. I’m just as capable as my children of seeing magic in the world but I don’t give myself permission to do so. I resign myself to living a boring story instead of a better story, because that’s the grown up thing to do. Grown up people don’t daydream, don’t have imaginary conversations in their heads, don’t invent different worlds where things are not as they seem.

But we do. Ashley Madison. Fantasty Football. Facebook. TMZ.

To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, it’s not that we shouldn’t have stories; it’s that we settle for crappy ones.

*****

I read a quote this morning that struck me, and I want to share it as a way of encouraging you to live a better story, to choose something beyond the dull sheen of a standard life.

“The story of our past cannot be rewritten.”

That’s from J. Oswald Sanders’ book, Spiritual Leadership. And while Sanders’ context was different than my own application, the idea remains true–we cannot rewrite our stories. We may go back into our yesterdays and try to infuse them with meaning posthumously, but we cannot change the events, cannot change the outcomes, cannot change the words on the eternal page (depending on your view of time travel, that is).

Instead, we have only one option if we want better stories. We must live them today. We must live our lives with eyes open, ears attuned, hearts prepared for the magic that comes even from something as simple as a trip to the bus stop in the morning. If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a writer, it’s to keep writing, to stay at the keyboard with discipline and persistence. Not everything will be gold, mind you, but if you don’t write junk you’ll never get to something worthwhile. Inaction doesn’t prevent bad work; it prevents good work from developing.

So today, make a choice to do things differently. To have a better attitude. To see a different perspective. To imagine another outcome. The power is in your hands to make magic happen anywhere.

Live a better story.

It’s possible, today.