Prone to climb: Making sense of the in between

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I was talking with three friends that I’ve known for years. We were in a building I had been in less than four times, surrounded by people I don’t know for the launch of a church that didn’t exist a year ago. The juxtaposition of the old and the new mirrored much of our conversation.

One of my friends shared how this season of life–moving across the country, working in a church start-up, looking for new jobs, establishing new community–has been…interesting. Lots of really high highs, and lots of really low lows. Lots of tiring days but lots of incredibly fulfilling work. Lots of finding our way in a strange and unfamiliar land, but lots of discovery and exploration and delight in doing so.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this weird space–this in between, though that hardly captures the sentiment entirely. It’s the place where life is both really great and really challenging. Where you’re enamored by completely new surroundings and longing for the familiarity of the old. Where life’s a ball and life’s a drag at the same time.

What do we do in this space? What do we make of it?

As I look back, I can see several points in life where I’ve walked through this in between space before, though my less enlightened brain hardly caught the irony at the time. The excitement of finishing high school and the unknown land of college. The pain of death and the peace of wholeness on the other side of Glory.

And then I look to Scripture. Abraham had the promise from God, but he had to wait 25 years to see it fulfilled. Noah had the clear direction to build the ark, but he also had the detractors. Jesus had the crowd, but he also had the critics.

Maybe that’s life, and maybe it’s not as black and white as we would like it to be. It’s a mix of both: the good and the bad, the challenging and the rewarding, the easy and the hard, the joyous and the painful. And maybe we can’t compartmentalize those things as much as we would like (or as much as I would like). Perhaps it’s less peaks-and-valleys and more hikes along the slope, casually drifting between climb and descent, knowing that you can’t have one without the other.

It’s hard to process both simultaneously. Most of us want the black or the white–not both. Not together.

But here we sit. In the in between.

Prone to wait: With eager anticipation

waitingCan I be 100% honest for a minute? Waiting stinks. Like for real. It really, really stinks.

I find myself in a season of waiting on some pretty big things–things I thought would have worked out by now in one way or the other. But they haven’t, at least not according to how I thought they would. And clearly, working out according to my plan would be the best route for all involved.

To me, waiting has a direct correlation with frustration. I heard a great definition of frustration once: it’s the distance between reality and our expectations. Waiting, then, is when our expectations don’t meet reality in the time that we think they should.

We’re currently in the season of Advent–the celebration of and anticipation for the birth of Christ, according to the traditional church calendar. I’m reminded of people waiting on the promised Messiah–people who had faced persecution, displacement, suffering. He was the answer to their prayers, their longing, and I can’t imagine what that waiting must have been like.

But if you’re in your own season of waiting, I can understand that Advent and the recognition of waiting hardly feels like a celebration. Maybe you’re in a season you didn’t necessarily plan or a place you didn’t anticipate. Maybe you’re waiting on something big, or longing for something you know is a long way off.

I’m not going to give you empty platitudes, since those often seem to do more harm than good. I’m not going to tell you “It will get better” because maybe it won’t, at least not right away, or maybe it will and you already cognitively know that. I’m not going to tell you to “be patient, God has it all under control” because you’re already being patient–you likely have few options otherwise. Sometimes we just need to wallow in our own discontentment for a minute. (I find that stints on the couch watching Netflix is a good way to accomplish this wallowing, but perhaps you’ve got your own method.)

Here’s what I can say: press into this season and search for the ways that God is working in you–not in the thing you’re waiting on. Don’t be stagnant in the waiting season. Don’t let the wallowing last longer than a minute or two, because there are things to be done and learned and experienced in this season, as hard as that may seem. Don’t be blind to the things closest to you by being focused on the things far distant on the horizon.

And take stock of your expectations and your reality, and work to change those accordingly, should you have the ability to do so. Waiting often feels out of our control, but what we do in that season certainly is not.

Prone to give: Rethinking generosity

As I mentioned in my last post, there are countless things I’ve learned and observed and thought about connected to this move to Denver. One that I keep reflecting on is kindness and generosity.

I don’t relish the position of being in need. My fiercely independent, self-reliant, obsessive achiever personality would much rather carry my own burdens with time and effort to spare and share with others. But my meager abilities were no match for the mental, physical, and emotional work of making this move happen.

Thankfully, I have family and friends who helped.

Admittedly, their expressions of generosity might seem trivial to some. But in this stressful season (which I SEVERELY underestimated), they are monumental acts that I am grateful for: a thoroughly thoughtful going away party; carving out time for more good-bye dinners than I can count; coming over to help pack my kitchen or load the trailer; pursuing time with me after literally stepping off of a plane; multiple trips by my parents to help; prayers and words of encouragement throughout the journey; letting me crash in the guest room; notes and cards and gifts and emails and many, many other measures large and small that floor me if I think on them too long.

I’m grateful for friends and family who put love into practice, even by sharing nothing but their time over a meal. For many of them, their kindness wasn’t convenient. We’re all busy people with a mile-long to-do list. Being the only non-family member loading up the trailer isn’t exactly what someone gets excited about doing on a Monday night, particularly when they aren’t all that jazzed about me leaving in the first place. (Thanks again, Jeff!)

All of this has me thinking about generosity and the ways in which I show it to others. I wonder whether I demonstrate acts of generosity that are most convenient for me–not necessarily most beneficial to the one in need. I think true generosity comes at a cost to the giver. It takes a toll. There’s a price to be paid even if it’s small. We pay the price because we want to and because we can and because it’s needed. And I want to be willing to pay that price, because I know what it’s like to be a beneficiary.

Perhaps it takes being in the humble position of needing grace to know what it means to share it.

Photo by Stewardship/CC BY

Prone to swerve: Avoiding the curves

My parents are a few weeks into a seven-week RV trip across the country. Talking with them before they left, it was clear that my dad was more excited about this excursion than my mom. Though there were several reasons for my moms reluctance, with varying levels of legitimacy, one concern she shared before departing was driving (or more accurately, being driven) through mountains in a 33′ recreational vehicle.

This was our brief text exchange after they made it over the continental divide on their way through Wyoming.

This got me thinking: on some level, aren’t we all a little nervous about the curves that life throws us? Sure, it’s much easier to stay on the known, familiar, straight routes that we’ve constructed. But how often does that result in any measurable growth? Adventure? Or even fulfillment? In the case of my parents, the straight, FLAT Florida roads of familiarity certainly don’t lead to beautiful vistas of mountains and lakes they’re getting to enjoy.

Admittedly, not all of life’s curves or changes to plans are enjoyable or sought out. I’m guessing that few people initially see a cancer diagnosis as their next great adventure. Rarely do we relish the curves and detours, and I’m certainly not implying that we should in those moments. But if we have the luxury of looking back, of seeing where the road has taken us, may we always be people who see and learn and grow from those experiences.

On a spiritual level, the curves are where our faith is tested and, hopefully, strengthened, though that process is rarely a bucket-o-fun while you’re navigating it. Jonah was swallowed by a whale when he wouldn’t first go where God told him. Zacchaeus had an unannounced dinner guest. And the disciples were happily enjoying their lives as fishermen before Christ met them. In each of these cases, I have to think that the outcome after the shift in plans was better than what it would have been otherwise. But that path wasn’t always easy.

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As I’m working through my own “curve in the road” ahead, I’m wondering what lies on the other side of it. What adventure awaits? What growth will come of this? I didn’t see this one coming a year ago, but now that I know it’s here, I’m bracing myself for the good–and the bad–that may await.

I may not be one to seek out curves in the course all the time, but I want to be a person willing to take them when they come. What about you? How do you handle them? Are you a thrill seeker willing to make your own curves and plow ahead? Or somewhere on the other extreme, avoiding the curves at all costs?

Stay safe, friends, but take the curves when you can.

Prone to learn: 5 lessons from a weekend with 7th grade boys

I’ve written before about my current stint as a 7th grade boys Sunday school teacher at my church. Today, I present to you the second installment in this ongoing series.

While most of my involvement with the student ministry is confined to Sunday mornings, I signed up to work our Surge Weekend this past Friday through Sunday. It’s been a while since I’ve done a weekend church retreat event with my youth group, and that was from the perspective of an attendee–not student ministry staff. I told friends that these students were the tool that God was using for my sanctification, but I really had no idea what I was getting myself into.

Surge Weekend 2014

The low point over the three days was having to ask a student to move and sit by me during one of the sessions because the "chatting" was just a wee bit distracting for the students around him. I officially became THAT chaperone, and I secretly wondered what they would write about me in the bathroom stalls. Do kids still do that?

But lest you think that this whole blog post is a rant, please know that the weekend was actually rather enjoyable and successful. I call it successful because no one was hurt, no one cried, and we returned the same number of students that we left with. But as one of three chaperones against 11 strong-willed 7th grade boys, that’s about as much success as I can claim.

As I look back over the weekend, there are a few highlights that come to mind…

“Please put your phone away.”
“Gentlemen, if you don’t wake up and get up, you don’t eat.”
“Where’s Travis*?”
“Yes, you have to wear shoes.”
“Please put your phone away.”
“Have you brushed your teeth?”
“Where’s Travis?”
“Please stop pinning him to the pew.”
“You want to go to the bathroom now? What exactly were you doing during the 15 minute break that ended 2 minutes ago?”
“Seriously…where’s Travis?”

*–Names have been changed to protect the absent-minded.

For the uninitiated, I thought I would pass along some tips I learned in the trenches. If you ever find yourself responsible for the lives of 11 middle school boys over the course of a weekend, please refer to this cheat sheet as much as possible. It’s my gift to you…

1. If something can be a distraction, it WILL be a distraction. I’ve never seen people so eager to explore the wonders of the pew rack in front of them. Pens, pencils, and tithing envelopes have never seemed so enticing. I saw one of them reading a hymnal voluntarily, and I’m fairly confident one of them may have chewed on his name tag, though I can’t be too sure.

2. The latest app du jour seems to be some iPhone game called Flappy Birds. Even after a full weekend with the younguns, I still have no idea what this is.

3. Some of these students could negotiate themselves out of a hostage situation. Seriously, I’ve never encountered a group so quick to bargain at the first sign of a request.

4. NEVER bring out chicken nuggets in the middle of a devotion time. That discussion will be off the rails faster than Amtrak. You want a heartfelt discussion about grace? Good luck, because the only things they have on their mind are the baked and breaded “chicken” chunks.

5. Despite the less-than-stellar sleep schedule, policing bathroom breaks, and a disproportionate amount of carbs over the course of the weekend, it’s possible to endure a fair bit of discomfort when students from your group are making decisions to commit their lives to Christ. It’s great to be a part of a ministry like that.

If you’re the parent of one of our students from this past weekend, thanks for entrusting your students with us. I pray that it was as much of a weekend of growth for them as it was for me.