[oak.]

changes are like winter

they test the deepest roots

they pause our growth, they cause us pain 

they bear a cold, harsh bite 

the days are long, the nights are dark 

the winds are ever strong 

they make our branches brittle, which bend and, at times, break 

they make us beg for mercy, ‘make it end, for Heaven’s sake!’ 

when it does, we always find – that hope is like the spring 

our branches have vigor, they regain their youth 

their strength returns to swing 

they sway with subtle, gentle breezes 

moving, yes, but firm 

the roots get deeper, have more reach 

as they rediscover life 

they feed into their habitat 

and ease their neighbor’s strife 

and when we hope, we’re stronger than we were the time before 

the winter took its vicious toll; took all the strength we had, and more. 

 

I’d like to think we’re not unlike a tall and healthy oak 

tested, yes, but broken? no

steadfast in our time 

facing every season with a mighty, willing spirit 

and never swept away 

in touch with our environments – and never left alone 

giving life to those around us 

and supported when we need it 

standing tall, and standing always 

never to be defeated

soil.

Jesus talked about what happens when seed – the Word – is sown.

you know, if you think about it a little bit, He’s saying that about 25% of the soil on which the Seed is sown allows the seed to take root and grow. the other 75% is trampled underfoot, eaten by birds, withers because of a lack of moisture, and is choked by thorns – or cares of the world.

Jesus paints an uphill battle for us.

but He still calls us to it – and i think it’s because it is a challenge. because there’s no guarantee that it’ll work. and He modeled this: He came and did everything He did – perfect life, unjust death, resurrection, etc – knowing that He’d get a small percentage of us.

 

but He did it.

and so should we, i reckon. after all, Jesus said that all of heaven rejoices over one sinner who comes home. so the tone of Jesus seems to be: it’s worth it.

every soul that comes home – even if it’s one in four, one in a hundred – is worth every bit of effort. if you serve in a church, then bless you. bless you for every door you open, every hand you shake, every knob you turn on a sound board, every string you strum, every note you sing, every square inch of carpet that you vacuum or tile that you sweep and mop, every roll of toilet paper that you change, every second of video you help produce, every bit of payroll you enter for church staff, every phone call you field, etc. and even if your service isn’t within the context of a church, but the capital-C Church, then you are also blessed – every kid you hang out with, every conversation you have over coffee to let someone tell their story, every inch of soil you displace to build a well to create access to water, every person you help access health care, every prayer you raise and any and every job i missed over this –

 

blessed are you.

 

i think it’s the church’s job to till the soil and water it. Paul actually talked about how one person plants, another waters, and God gives growth. this tells me that there’s something we can do to help that 25% of seed take root and bear fruit and help the kingdom grow exponentially. so, i think Jesus is – and this isn’t even the right way of articulating it – grateful for the work you do to prepare soil. because it brings joy to His heart to see sons brought to glory. it’s good work. keep on doing it.

vessels.

setting: a baptist church in Ouanaminthe, Haiti.

Date: June 18, 2017.

i knew i wouldn’t really be able to understand what the preacher would be saying – it was in Creole (as it should be) and while i could parse out little bits and pieces, he was speaking at a pace and a volume at which i couldn’t follow. i knew very soon that the next forty-five to sixty minutes would be time for me and God to chat.

i’ve not often had times exactly like that. it’s different from quiet time on my front porch in Kentucky, and it’s different from reading my bible and having worship music in my ears. there’s nothing like this: i’m in another place, a place that isn’t home, with people i don’t necessarily know well, with a preacher, ebbing and flowing in his tone, who sets the mood of the passage he’s preaching.

it is 2 Corinthians 4:7-9. it says:

but we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed…

a piece of paper is handed to me from our translator before the sermon even begins. he isn’t going to translate the whole sermon for us – he’ll give us bullet points. so i start chewing on this passage in my head, mulling it over. i start formulating my own little sermon.

Lord, it’d been a while since i’d done that.

three years, actually – or just under.

i used to preach.

most of my readers know this. i’ve told the story before but i’ll tell the story again: i attended a church in Berea, KY for about eight years, and spent a good four of those heavily immersed in ministry: children’s ministry, worship ministry, church council, life groups, preaching. i loved it. i was good at it (at least, that’s what everyone told me) and i enjoyed it. i was entertaining ministry as a career path of sorts. we talked about me planting a church.

in 2014, i moved to Lexington and kept commuting for a while but at the end of the year and after lots of prayer, left my home church to find church in Lexington.

in the beginning of 2015, instead of going to a new church, i started enjoying my Sundays off – after all, they’d been work days for a long time and i already worked my regular job a lot, so Sunday was a day to really be off. i was less sharp spiritually. i was lonely. i dated a girl, and it didn’t go well – but there’s plenty chronicling that in older blogs.

by the end of 2015, i was a pretty broken vessel. some days, i couldn’t or wouldn’t look myself in the mirror – that guy i saw couldn’t have been the guy who held a microphone on a stage telling people about how much God loved them and how much He forgave and spurring them on to live a godly life. i kept telling myself (or hearing) that i’d blown it, that it’s one thing if you screw up and then you start following Jesus but if you know better – as in, you’d been a Christian for eight years and preached the gospel and stuff – then it’s worse.

i thought about all of this on that Sunday morning in Haiti. i thought about the people God uses. i thought about us all as vessels. rather, the Holy Spirit talked to me about how people are vessels. how we’re jars. jars of clay.

verse seven says we have this treasure in jars of clay. what treasure?

the Gospel, i swear it.

it must be.

[after all, 4:1-6 is talking about the light of the Gospel.]

but even if i didn’t know that, it’s the only thing that makes sense. we have the treasure of the message in a jar of clay. in other words, we are the jars.

and jars, well – jars get scratched, and jars occasionally crack. sometimes they get smashed to bits. sometimes they have a little puncture and they can’t hold what’s poured into them.

but we know God, and God is a Potter.

The Potter.

so God takes us – in all of our weakness, our mistakes, our failures, our inconsistencies – and He keeps putting the treasure in us, and He knows how to melt us back down and re-form us into a vessel that can carry the treasure.

see, the treasure – the Gospel – needs to be carried one way or another. and God isn’t in the business of throwing away His jars once they get a crack or a scratch or once they fall and hit the ground and break. even if He already remade it once or twice or three times or a hundred. nope – the treasure is in jars so that we know that the surpassing power belongs to God, not to us.

i realized in this morning with God that i always fancied myself a jar with a big ole crack, and that God had starting putting the treasure in this cracked jar and it kept leaking out – i’m gonna stop with the jar metaphor for now – the way this looked for me was me constantly protecting myself, constantly looking for a way to cover up or fix that crack. it looked like spending a lot of time by myself, protecting my time lest anyone come in the way of the healing process i felt i needed to undergo. it looked like not sharing my thoughts and not leading and not speaking up and not having any confidence in the Gospel because i knew it was just going to seep back out and i wouldn’t ever be able to confidently carry it. it looked like always calling myself broken. it looked like – instead of acknowledging the reality of a spiritual fight – just assuming that any mood i was in, any negative thought i had must have been a result of still being broken.

then God said,

you’re not broken anymore, son.

hold up.

that’s a name and a status there, Lord.

yeah, I know. because you’re My son and you are who I say you are and what I say you are – and you aren’t broken anymore. you’re My vessel.

i never really played sports or had a bad injury so i don’t know if this analogy would hold, but imagine you’re passionate about something – maybe you’re a pitcher on a baseball team – and you blew out your elbow and the doctor told you you’d never play again, but then you go get a second opinion a few months (or years) later and they say, “oh, that other doctor is crazy. you’re good to go. you can go throw today, even.”

that was me.

i never thought i’d lead a song of worship again. i never thought i’d be able to be seen as a leader in a small group again, or preach a sermon. but here was God, in a church, to His hot, sweaty son, saying: “yeah, I think you need to pick all of that back up and keep doing what I made you for.”

and friends, if you’ll allow me to share – and i hope to only share to the glory of God – the types and numbers of doors that have been opened since that day in Haiti.

i’ve been asked to officiate a wedding.

i got to baptize my friend.

i get to sorta help co-lead a small group.

i was asked to lead worship at a retreat in the fall.

i have a job interview on Monday to get paid to lead worship. really.

ok, so maybe it’s not that many, but it feels like a lot. i’m overwhelmed in the best way, because God is incredibly faithful.

people used to call me pastor Jeff. i never knew how to take it – i embraced it at times (my twitter handle used to be @pjpoling, the p being for pastor) and at other times i (although humbly) didn’t embrace it – but i think they meant it prophetically. i don’t know how to humbly say that there’s a call i’ve always had to fill and have been (and will be) unsatisfied if i don’t – to carry the gospel, to preach, to worship, to study Scripture, and to share with others. my only career ambition in life has been “work in a church” – in whatever capacity.

i share this story publicly for two reasons:

-to glorify God in my life

-to glorify God in yours. i think the reason i’m so excited about this story isn’t because all these great things happening for me – but because God is faithful, faithful, faithful to give His kids good things, He’s faithful to restore us, and faithful to give us a name. i don’t know who all reads what i write. but someone out there may be like me, whether in the same context of ministry or otherwise. afraid God won’t use you, afraid you blew it. i’d encourage you – He doesn’t call you broken. He accepts you in your brokenness, and then He makes you whole. that’s Who God is. that’s what He does. Max Lucado once said, “God loves you just the way you are – but He refuses to leave you that way.” i love that – because it’s true when we’re broken and it’s true when we’re whole. He keeps taking us on, from glory to glory and grace to grace.

 

you are His vessel. your name isn’t broken. your name is

 

 

SON.

exercise.

i don’t have quiet time every day.

i said it.

i realize it’s a common thing, actually – probably more common than not – nevertheless, in our age of sharing where you’re having your quiet time on instagram or posting scripture on facebook every day, there’s this underlying pressure (at least, i feel it) that every day, you should have a passage of scripture you’re thinking about.

and don’t get me wrong – none of what i’m going to say here is trying to insinuate that we should read the bible less or that it’s somehow not a good thing to read the bible – that would be utter nonsense.

that said, i don’t always have a passage of scripture that i’m thinking about every day. i don’t read the bible every day, not because i set out to not read, but often because i don’t set out to read. (there’s a difference.) i was talking with some friends in the car the other day about why this is the case – and i’m sure this isn’t ground-breaking, but – it can be so difficult to approach the bible when the setting just isn’t right.

and/or, when the setting seems to vary.

and/or, when the receptacle seems to vary from day to day.

that is, the word of God is unchanged and unchanging…

…but i ain’t.

i reckon i alluded to this a little bit in my last post – the idea that one day, i can be in a good mood and have gotten a good night’s sleep and i don’t have anywhere to be for a few hours and this is usually a great time for me to have quiet time. i usually have more time to chew on things and process it, to work through what it actually means and what it says about God and the truth may sink deep (and on a really good day i may actually memorize something!) and it’s good quiet time.

of course, not every day is like that.

some days i wake up after five hours of sleep sore from working outside the day before, and i walk into the kitchen and i’m out of coffee. and it’s raining or windy or cold outside so i can’t read the bible on the porch but my living room is messy and i’m thinking about how i need to clean it, and how i should text that guy about the thing i told him i was gonna do, and oh, i have to be somewhere in 45 minutes. then i can’t remember what i read yesterday (or last week) and fumble around for something to read and its something in some minor prophet but it doesn’t seem terribly relevant and although i know that the whole bible is about Jesus, i’m moody and tired and can’t think straight, so i say a quick prayer and say “thanks, God, for giving us Your word,” and i’ve had quiet time but i don’t feel any different.

and if i keep waiting for every day to be ideal, then i’ll never do it.

and if i keep waiting for every session of ‘quiet time’ to be revelatory or groundbreaking, then some days i’d have to carve out two or three hours.

some days, our receptors are off. sometimes, the lid is still on the jar when we try to pour water into it. sometimes, we try and water the plants without first turning the valve…

and this post isn’t about some secret to having great bible-reading. i DON’T HAVE ONE. do you?

no, i’m only writing (however inconclusively) to say that i reckon we should get to it anyway. that we should read anyway. and keep reading and keep praying and keep seeking the Lord, even when He seems silent or quietly whispering or talking conversationally or thunderingly. Paul tells Timothy that godliness is of value in every way. but he says that while comparing it to bodily exercise, and if i have the liberty, i have projected a couple of my own thoughts into this subject, given what i think about bodily exercise.

i run sometimes.

sometimes when i run, i feel great. i haven’t eaten in a bit so i don’t feel heavy, it feels nice outside, my shoes are good, the grass feels good, the music is just right. it’s a great run.

other times, i feel horrible. i feel heavy, sore, tired, winded, out of shape, out of practice. but for the most part, the run still works my (physical) heart in a positive way, and therefore its beneficial, even if i don’t like it that day. or even if i’m just indifferent.

maybe spiritual exercise is like that. we don’t always get some big revelation, we don’t always cry when we’re in the presence of God. the songs we sing don’t always feel right. maybe it doesn’t sink in. or it does – you are spurred on to something good, you are endowed with a fresh sense of peace, or kindness, or joy, etc. i’m beginning to think that it’s a both/and – its still good for us to read the Word, pray, worship, etc even when we don’t feel great afterwards. in the same way that not every day with a spouse is like your honeymoon, perhaps it is the case that not every day with God is going to be especially supernatural.

betrayal.

i have a grandiose vision of myself at times. this fantastic version of jeff wakes up every morning in a fine mood, and his initial inclinations are something like this: take a run; eat a healthy breakfast; read the Bible, comprehend it, take notes, and let it sink in; pray end remember the number of things for which people have asked prayer; and jovially go off to work. he eats a healthy lunch (and craves healthy food,) he works hard and doesn’t have a bad thought. he never says an ill or discouraging or otherwise cynical word about anyone, ever. he happily goes home and starts doing his reading or writing, undistracted by craving, by the telephone, or the desire to watch TV. he always looks forward to whatever he’s reading or writing. oh, and if someone calls him and decides to go grab a coffee or a drink or get dinner, he’s available and willing to drop everything at the drop of a hat. his gas tank is always full (or, at least, he always has the money to comfortably fill the gas tank when needed) and his schedule is always accommodating to whatever happens. he is learned, kind, wise, social, in shape, flexible, always in the mood for whatever needs to happen.

 

yeah, well, like i said – that’s a fantastic version of myself. my guess is that you might envision yourself in a similar way, only to be disappointed. here’s a more realistic portrayal of how my average day goes…

 

jeff wakes up, sore from sleeping in a funny position. he questions whether or not he has the drive, desire, or beans to make a pot of coffee. he might stand on the front porch for a second if it’s a nice morning. he might open the bible if he thinks of it. he fumbles around, trying to decide what to read – do i go the route of flipping open to something random? do i think of something i know i like and go read it? i guess i should have some sort of plan for what i’m reading right now… he reads whatever he decides upon, prays for a second, trying to remember what he told his friend he’s pray for them about the other day. then a number of things could happen. he might start playing FIFA. he might take a walk. he might go to the coffee shop. might read a book. lately he’s not going to work, but he might – MIGHT – fill out a job application. play a little more FIFA. he gets a phone call from an unknown number (or sometimes not unknown) but decides not to take it because for some reason, talking on the phone gets under his skin. since he hasn’t left the house, he contemplates leaving, but is there gas in the car? should i risk the wear and tear on the car? after all, it’s on its last legs, and there’s no way he can buy a new one until he gets a job. eventually the day passes by (perhaps our hero took a nap at some point,) and someone may extend a social invitation on the evening which requires calculus involving: do i feel like going out? do i want to see this person/these people? do i have money to go out? what else could i be doing? and the night ends up passing, too – unspectacularly.

 

you (or i) may think that this is a cynical view of myself birthed out of not having a job. or, as is currently the case, not loving the place where i live. parts of that are true. but, a lot of the latter description are true, too. the part about not having a bible reading plan – that’s true. the part about hating answering my phone – that’s true. the part about not being sure if i can/should spend money on gas – that’s true.

 

all of this falls under something i’ve been calling betrayal. betrayal of the things we really want, of the things that we actually care about. that’s not to say that we don’t have agency – we do and i’ll get to that in a second – but it’s to say that, as the Bible says, the desires of the flesh are against the spirit, and the desires of the spirit are against the flesh, so that you don’t do the things that you want. (see: Galatians 5:17.) we can all agree on that, right? i mean, unless you’re Jesus, i’m pretty sure that you do something you don’t want to do. that makes a ton of sense to me.

the reason i consider it betrayal is that there’s a way i know God designed me to be, which is also the way that i want to be, and there’s the way that i am. and the way that i am is in progress to become the way that God designed me to be and by Jove, that’s a frustrating process sometimes. like i said – and like Paul seemed to say multiple times in the Bible (see also: Romans 7) and it’s so good to know that the apostles dealt with it before – i want to be the former description of myself: sharp, smart, available, wise, advice-giving, life-giving, etc. and this body – this stubborn, out-of-shape body with this slow, unreactive brain serve as a great foil to all of the wonderful dreams i have for myself (and, i’m not unconvinced, God has for me, and you.)

i started reading a book this morning called Garden City, and in the first couple of chapters, he’s been talking about how we were made to rule and subdue. how mankind was given a garden and told – fill the earth, rule it, and subdue it. i’m convinced that extends to our own body. if it were easy to be great, then we’d be great. we’re good at easy. really good at easy. the struggle is, to again quote Paul, to “discipline my body and keep it under control…” which also translates to “pummel my body and make it a slave.”

and that’s kind of it, isn’t it? i think that the word “slave” really makes this idea real, how often i – and i think we – feel like a slave to my/our bodies and minds. how one of us is the master and the other the slave, and every day is a choice as to which one is which. when i’m the master, then i can move past not feeling like something – not feeling like eating well or exercising or making a plan or answering the phone or reading a book or talking to someone or exercising my faith (as it can be to fill the gas tank) – but when i choose the chains, when i choose to be the slave, then those things have power over me.

as scripture says (Paul is my friend, especially today) – in all these things (our weakness, our suffering, our mortality) we are more than conquerors through Him who loves us (see: Romans 8:37.)

 

[note to self:]

your humanity is up to you.

Haiti.

nine days ago we hopped on a plane. a few hours and a few planes later, we ended up in Cap Haitien, and then an hour-ish and a bus ride later we arrived in Ouanaminthe, Haiti, a stone’s throw (well, if you have a good arm, anyway) away from the Dominican Republic.

our mission wasn’t like a lot of mission trips you hear about – we weren’t offering medical care or installing a clean water well or building a house or anything like that, we weren’t even doing any explicit preaching – our mission was to celebrate. to celebrate the graduating class of 59 (i believe that was the final count, anyway) at Institution Univers. eighteen-to-nineteen year olds whose families have given a lot to ensure one of the better educations in all of Haiti (i believe i read somewhere that IU is a top-ten private school in Haiti, which you may think doesn’t say much but it’s pretty dang good.) seriously – some of these families put education ahead of food in their family budget, to give their kids a springboard to better opportunities. the work isn’t over for the students after graduation – they still have a government exam they have to take which, if my understanding is right, will determine whether or not they can get into certain universities in Haiti (getting in anywhere else is another issue entirely.) anyway, we could keep going on about the adversity of the education system in Haiti, but that’s not (exactly) the point.

the point is, the students we spent every day with are bright, brilliant, and unbelievably mature for their ages. they showed us around town, translated at every turn, knew things about their country that i sure as heck didn’t know about the USA when i was 18, and made us feel welcome in Haiti, on their streets, and in their school. our job was to celebrate them, and celebrate them well. that was our mission. love was our mission, cliche as that may sound.

so, we showed up and met Marie-Claire, whose job title i’m not entirely sure of, but she’s basically the boss. around the school, a lot of people wear a lot of hats, so instead of trying to tick all of the boxes accurately, i’ll just say she’s the boss. or one of the bosses. Marie-Claire let us know everything we needed to do – walls we needed to paint, places we needed to sweep, trash we needed to pick up, cobwebs we needed to clear out, and sometimes she just gave us a project and let us decide how to do it. major objective #1 was to be as helpful as Marie-Claire as possible, take things off her plate, stay out of her hair, make her life easy.

Marie-Claire had orchestrated some extra volunteer help in the form of some of the 12th graders (IU has 13 grades, so these are their juniors) and they were fantastic, and actually did a TON of work. they took the stage apart, cleaned the floors, took the reins on a lot of the painting, and ended up helping with a big part of decorating, too. we got to see Haitian industry on display, and/or, as Marie-Claire would tell you, the Haitian desire to set a high bar for next year’s graduation on display (as in, if the 12th graders worked their butts off this year, then next years 12th graders would have to work hard for their graduation.)

we attended the graduate’s dinner on Thursday night (i think it was Thursday night, anyway) which was, in a way, a talent show – they had a variety of dances, songs, etc that they performed for their classmates which was, again, an incredible display of maturity, solidarity, and support. i don’t think i would have danced or sung for my classmates here because students here are looking for someone or something to make fun of, but they openly showed off how talented they were and everybody supported each other. oh, and we got to serve them food. that was cool.

on Friday morning (again, i think it was Friday) we wrote notes to put on each of the graduates’ chairs – notes about how brilliant their accomplishments were, how proud we were and how proud they should be, and wishing God’s greatest blessings upon their future endeavors. we also made other decorations for the gym – frames with each graduate’s name and photo in it; flowers made out of tissue paper; etc.

Monday and Tuesday morning, we spent time at the school doing something a little different – some of the ‘undergraduates’ at IU were training to be translators for summer camp, and we were helping a great friend named Abby do that. basically, our job was…talk to them. read stories in English and have them translate it to their classmates in Creole. Converse. talk about Haitian culture and American culture and what our lives are like. talk about Haitian politics. get-to-know-you kind of stuff: would you rather live in a place that’s hot, or cold? know every language, or play every instrument? what’s your favorite movie? favorite song? this ended up being loads of fun, because again, the students were happy we were there and we were happy to be there and they loved hearing about America and we loved hearing about Haiti.

that was the bulk of our work, or at least all that felt like work. the rest was honestly loads of fun, and it involved just being around. meeting graduates, eating mangoes with them, walking with them around town and having them show us what Haitian life was like, singing songs, eating dinner, playing games like zip-zap-zop, and all around making merry.

to everyone who made this trip happen, by prayer or by financial support, thank you, thank you, thank you. we had a great time, we did work that matters, and we built relationships that are sure to last throughout our life on earth and ultimately into eternity.

transition.

well – i actually have quite a bit to say here soon. some of it i’ll express now, some of it i’ll have to wait on.

 

the last eight weeks have been among the craziest i’ve experienced in my entire life, and the last 36-48 hours among the craziest hours thereof. on Sunday i worked my final shift at A Cup of Common Wealth, where i worked for three and a half years. i was flooded with love and support immediately after the shift, we had a big party and i saw a ton of people i know and love. i got home and was overwhelmed and exhausted – but more exhausted because i napped instead of processing everything. then i woke up, went to bible study, had to cut that short because i had a commitment to watch a hockey game with a friend, and promptly went to bed.

 

today, i woke up knowing that this is Haiti Prep Day. we get on a plane tomorrow morning at 7:15 and fly down to spend about a week in Quaniminthe, helping school administrators with a big ole graduation ceremony at the weekend, and with everything they need leading up to it. i’m excited for Haiti for a multitude of reasons, not least of which is the eminent possibility of going back time and time again (Southland Christian Church, where i attend, makes a number of trips every year.) it’s been a real experience – the first time i ever had to do fundraising and i learned a lot about how God shows up in a number of ways to pay for what He orders. people who aren’t Christians have contributed to the effort. one person even said it sounded like i was going on vacation. nevertheless, God pays the bills.

 

so, one of the skills i’ve been hoping to learn – to juggle a number of things/problems/tasks/responsibilities at once – is slowly starting to sink in, and i’ve got a list of other things i hope to learn and improve upon when i get home, in a period of transition and change. it’s a good season. it’s a good season.

 

it’s a good season.

rules.

i can’t remember why – i think i had probably had some disagreement with our GM at work about something (this happens a lot, we disagree a lot, we fight a lot, and she’s one of my best friends) and i, when i’m opinionated about something (at least related to work) seem to have trouble compromising and giving up my opinion – i have five words hand-written on the back of a Chase receipt and pinned to my prayer board:

 

STOP TRYING TO BE RIGHT.

it occurred to me one day that the cause of some of my greatest anxieties is the need to be right, correct.

it’s also occurred to me that we regularly pick on the Pharisees in the Bible for being too detail-oriented, for focusing on the wrong things, and not seeing the forest for the trees. when we’re not careful (and in my opinion, when we’re not humble) we laugh at them or berate them for thinking the things they do, wondering how they could possibly pick up on the things they do when right in front of them is Jesus, the fulfillment of the law and the prophets. how are they still concerned about when you can eat or what you can eat or how much you can do on the Sabbath or what you can do on the Sabbath?

but i realize i think like a Pharisee a lot of the time. not in the same way, maybe – i’m not necessarily focused on details of the law (Lord knows how much trouble i’d be in if i did, as in i regularly break it) but i do get to thinking about the “Christian” way of going about things: how Christians manage their finances, how Christians go about dating, how Christians handle friendships and families, how Christians deal with political issues, how Christians deal with social issues, how Christians deal with work, how Christians deal with pleasure/leisure/community, etc.

in other words, in my own mind, Christianity becomes a lifestyle or a schema or more of an opinion system than a belief system. instead of letting (the) love (of God) take root in people’s hearts (or my own) and seeing how it plays out, it becomes easy for me to make my own prognosis based on how i think that should look.

so my own response to things becomes something i try to control or fit into a box of expectations. i try to create blanket rules about how things should happen. i extend neither myself nor anyone else much grace when those “rules” are broken.

and (for lack of a better segue) those rules make for a pretty miserable way of living. they distract me, honestly. having those kinds of rules are, in my experience, exactly the type of things that keep me from having communion with God, from reading and gleaning from the Word, and from enjoying healthy, free relationships. they take my eye off the ball. they make me approach the Bible looking for a right answer instead of a revelation. they make me approach God looking for justification, not joy.

they make me think that Galatians 5:6 isn’t true – that there’s more that matters than faith expressing itself through love.

but that’s all that matters – that’s what the actual word of God says matters.

Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your mind, soul, and strength. He never said we have to love Him perfectly, just as much as we can.

Actually, Galatians 5:1-6 lays out the relevant parts of Christianity: freedom and love. Jesus set us free so we can be free, not so that we can become enslaved to another form of thinking (though Romans would say something about being a slave to righteousness) and it says that the only thing that counts is faith working through love.

maybe being right isn’t as important as being free, as being loved, and as loving other people.

traffic.

thoughtlife has been something i’ve become really concerned with lately – (see last post) – and it is all the more important to be vigilant, i believe, due to the fickle nature of the mind.

in myers-briggs terms, i’m an ENFJ. i’ve always fought the diagnosis of being an “F,” but it’s true – i largely make decisions or behave based on my emotions, even though i usually know better. now, that’s not exactly a bad thing – it kinda gets a bad rap – but it does require vigilance when the bad news comes in.

story time.

my extroversion predisposes me to wanting to spend time with other people. and, the fact that what i was missing for two years (before this one) was good, solid, positive community makes me even more predisposed to spend time with the friends i’ve made in the last five months. simply put, i feel great when i’m around them, i feel encouraged and built up and my soul feels full, even if i had a frustrating day or if tomorrow’s going to be a long one – having good friends around helps me focus on what’s happening right now and enjoy being alive right now.

last night over dinner, a group of my friends began to solidify plans that had, until then, been ideas – a trip to a football match, a day spent at an amusement park, and other fun happenings – and every date that was thrown out was a date i knew i’d be unable to attend. this has been happening lately, and has happened for a few years in having a job that requires weekends: your friends who have set schedules are able to make plans you’re not able to join up with. it happens.

well, instead of letting the reality of missing the fun stuff bounce off, i soaked it up. for the first time in a while, i embraced the FOMO (how the kids say fear of missing out) and let it affect me. i sank. i didn’t talk, and internalized the feeling. here’s what i hate about fear – you try to cope with it in some way, whether that’s a behaviour or a thought. for example, when i’m watching a scary movie and get nervous, i cuss. i don’t think anything of it (it doesn’t break my rule of intentional cussing) – just something i do to help me deal with an awkward situation.

well, in this case, i tried to remedy fear (or sadness, or whatever you want to call it) with bitterness. i started – in my mind – blaming work. started cursing it a little bit for taking up my weekends. then i tried self-depreciation and self-pity, such as saying, “i NEVER get to do anything fun and i’m always missing the good stuff” (the psychological mechanism, of course, being the normalization of missing out on good things and failing to obtain/take opportunities.)

this morning, i did with this petulance the only thing i’ve learned actually works: i took to my journal and a little bit of prayer to figure out what to do with it from there.

i started with this premise: if i am missing out on good opportunities, it must be because there is another thing i am doing, not by choice or by merit. that is, i’m not missing because i wasn’t invited (which would fuel self-pity) or because i don’t want to go (which would fuel hermitism, and is incongruent with extroversion.) it must be because there’s something else i’m doing. so, what is it?

in some cases, it’s work. and that can’t be helped, but it shouldn’t be lamented. the opportunity to work is a blessing, and my job isn’t harsh or overbearing, so it is not worthy of lament.

in other cases (such as this one) it’s a different opportunity – i’m missing the soccer game because i’ll be down in Haiti helping put on a graduation ceremony and partying with/celebrating the graduates and their families who’ve done and sacrificed so much to take up the opportunity to get an education. to lament this would be to lament not seeing Yellowstone National Park because i’m in the Grand Canyon (to you traveling types, i’m not confident in the integrity of that analogy, but please grant me grace.)

on that note, i was forced to remind myself of the other opportunities i’m able to take in the radius of the next/last few weeks, such as:

-Haiti (already mentioned)

-spending part of the day at the Arboretum with a dear friend

-managing the indoor soccer team

-exploring new food/coffee places with a friend tomorrow

-getting to take a few weeks off of work

-with that, having more time to read and write, activities i’ve lost in the last month or two

-spending time with my new buddy Don, who swears i look like Justin Timberlake and has been a good pal to me so far

 

the other day in conversation, without thinking too much of it, i referred to my thoughts as “traffic.” in the aftermath of that, i’ve been thinking about how good of an analogy that actually is (and that’s not meant as a pat on my own back) – if your mind is a highway, your thoughts are the cars going down it. you can control how fast or how slow they’re going and you can control how they drive. if you have aggressive thoughts and fearful thoughts, well – these are the types of drivers that don’t get along too well. the fearful ones drive too slow and the aggressive ones drive too fast and they’re honking at each other and because they have such conflicting goals, they’re more apt to create an accident.

but a peaceful driver, a joyful driver, a patient driver, a safe driver – they’re gonna get where they’re going and get there on time and enjoy the drive along the way, probably with some Taylor Swift blaring and the windows down. and they’re gonna love every second of it.

highlights.

well, a little determination seems to be paying off.

i guess my life’s pretty fortunate, so maybe it’s easier for me than some others, but still, i can’t help but think that a little bit of what i’ve reaped is from what i’ve sown.

it came to my attention a few months ago that if you start intentionally inclining your mind towards good things, then good things will be more easily recalled. If you look for highlights, you will find highlights.

with the inspiration of a dear friend (who makes a weekly post on Fridays about celebration) i decided to take a chance every Tuesday – i was going to ask people to share good news about their life. this could be old news or new news – something they’re glad for that’s happened a while ago (or that exists in general) or for something that’s new and exciting.

part of the thinking in this is to give people an avenue to share, but also to give me (and others) a chance to rejoice with people who are rejoicing.

 

i think it’s helping.

 

i think it’s helping me think of “little things” as big highlights – i’m happier as a consequence. i don’t feel the necessity to have something big and monumental happen  when i’m happy about the fact that i had a good conversation with a friend on tuesday night and got to watch jeopardy! on wednesday.

 

i like the things people share, and i notice they’re usually one of a few things: spending time with people they love, reaching a goal, making a yummy meal, doing something they enjoy. i get a lot more of those “little” things than i do of those “big” things, and i love it.

it helps me in weeks like this one, when i’m getting 3 to 3.5 hours of sleep a night, feeling tired and a little disconnected from God, to find the small things that have happened that make me realize it’s not been a bad week, it’s not even been an “ehh” week – it’s been a good week.

a preview of this week’s highlights:

Monday and Tuesday night, my indoor soccer team won their games. on Tuesday, we went to Denny’s after to eat (at 10:30pm, mind you) and I had us do something that my friend Hayley introduced me to: you go around the table and everyone says something they like about each person. So, we started with one person and everyone went around and said what they like about them – INCLUDING THEM. Then we moved on to the next person and the next person and it took us TWO HOURS to say everything we liked about each other. a few of them were relative strangers, but they found things.

Thursday night, i went to training for Amachi – an organization that pairs up kids whose families are affected by incarceration – and they told me they’ve found my kid. they say he’s a sweetheart named Don, and i can’t wait to take him to the coffee shop to meet our Don, an 81-year-old sweetheart who has adopted all of the staff as his “grand-brats.” We call him gramps. can’t wait for them to meet, and can’t wait to have so much fun with this kid.

Friday afternoon i went hiking with a couple of friends and we didn’t even talk too much but that’s so okay because we were SPENT after a good six hours of hiking and then pizza-eating and singing along to great songs in the car on the way home. I got the best night of sleep I had all week.

 

it’s easier now – easier to see the good. easier to be thankful. easier to rejoice and easier to rejoice with others.

 

try it. remember the small things. take notes. write it in your journal or document it on your social media. joy is a habit.