Glad.  Fear.  Lonely.  Shame.  

I had extensive sinus surgery last week.  Before the surgery the ear/nose/throat specialist warned me that the recovery would be pretty miserable.  She was not exaggerating but she left me with a promise, “A week from now after we are able to remove the plastic splints that will be left in your sinuses after the surgery, you will feel much better.”

I have been miserable.  It’s Sunday night and I go in tomorrow morning to have the doctor take out these stiff plastic straw-like splints that I can see poking out of my nostrils and can feel touching the back of my brain.  As I look back over the past week, I am struck by the survival techniques I instinctively reached for to endure it. 

Medication.  Sleep.  Distraction.  News.  Election politics.  More sleep.  I look at the clock and three hours have passed.  I wake up in the morning and I am another day closer to this long week being over.

I have been too weak to work.  I have felt too much pain to read.  I’ve been too uncomfortable to talk to any friends.  Last night I kept thinking, “I just need some ice-cream!”  But then realized that even a food treat would not take away my misery since I would not be able to taste it. 

Seven nights and eight days.  Then six nights.  Then five.  Then four.  If there had been a way for me to stay asleep from last Monday until tomorrow morning, I would have chosen it.

How much of my life have I lived this way?   Distracted.  Medicated.  Entertained.  Busy.  Numbed.  Asleep with my eyes open.

Life is hard.  Marriage is hard.  Parenting is harder.  Health is failing.  Friendships are elusive.  So we reflexively reach for survival tools to get through life without having to fully feel it.  We survive but we don’t live.  

Seven years ago I was thriving externally but dying on the inside.  I wasn’t enough for my wife.  I wasn’t enough for my kids.  I wasn’t enough for the church I was pastoring that was doubling in size every year.  I buried my dad and my oldest sister.  Multiple failed adoptions that felt like miscarriages.  A best friend and partner went emotionally AWOL.  And I could not work hard enough to make the hurt, loneliness, sadness, shame, guilt, and fear go away.   I wanted to go to sleep and not wake up.  

Today I am thanking God for Chip Dodd and Phil Herndon, two men who helped me begin to face life on life’s terms.  Two men who woke me up . . . not to deny the voice of my heart but instead awaken to it . . . to counter-intuitively move deeper in the direction of the pain I had been working so feverishly to avoid or deny . . . seeing more which meant feeling more which meant needing more.  

Surrendered.  Crying out.

  • Sadness offered the gift of acceptance.  
  • Fear offered the gift of faith.  
  • Loneliness offered the gift of into-me-see.   
  • Hurt offered the gift of healing.
  • Shame offered the gift of humility.  
  • Guilt offered the gift of forgiveness and freedom.  


Resisting LOVE and the power of small

Sad Lonely Afraid Angry Glad
I was leading one of my men’s small groups yesterday and several of the guys were talking about the tenderness of God’s loving pursuit in their lives.  There were some tears in the sharing and much gratitude for how God was using the men in the group to help them not just “know” but to actually experience the love of Christ.
I desire to be loved but I resist it.  I resist it because the experience of being loved requires surrender.  It’s painful.  When someone tells me they love me my first response is one of two polar extremes, both of which are forms of refusal.  I don’t believe them because the tape plays that if they really knew me they wouldn’t love me . . . so their love for me is based upon ignorance.  Or I don’t believe them because I’m confident they love me because of what I’m able to do for them to merit their expression of love . . . so their love for me is based upon my performance. 
Either way, I’m refusing the pain of surrender in exchange for the perceived security of control.  If I can decide what is and is not lovable about me, I’m in control.  If I can do enough to earn your love for me, I’m in control.
The most powerful force on the planet is love.  In its purest form (where I’m both known and loved), love is also the most resisted force even while it is the most desired.
Last night my best friend loaded up his family in a min-van to leave for a year of training in the Lower 48 with Chip Dodd and Phil Herndon at the Center for Professional Excellence.  As I stood there about to say goodbye, I felt a tidal wave of emotion from somewhere deep inside me rush up my throat and explode out of my eyes.  I didn't fight it or hold it in check.  I held my good friend and wept into his shoulder . . . shaking.  I was so sad.  It hurt.  If I didn't love this friend it would not have hurt like this and it would not have been so sad.  On my drive home, I realized there was a ton of gratefulness in my tears.  This was a friend who God has been using to wear down my resistance to being loved.
Prior to the  group meeting earlier in the day yesterday, some of the guys were discussing some of what is happening here in Alaska and around the world through Sage Hill.  One of the guys said, “This is so BIG.”  As I heard these words, I looked out of the corner of my eye to the whiteboard in my office that listed the names of the 50 men currently being discipled here in Anchorage through Sage Hill and I said, “Yes, it’s big. But it happens one man at a time! And that’s how Jesus did it.  It’s BIG, but at the same time, it’s really SMALL.”
A small army of men and women partner financially with Sage Hill to allow us to take the LOVE of Jesus Christ to men, women, and children here in the United States and around the world.  While our influence together stays SMALL (one person at a time), the scope of where this is taking us is BIG – even mind-boggling.  And while our work together here in Alaska, the Lower 48, or in far off countries happens one man and one woman at a time (SMALL), to that particular man or that particular woman, that’s BIG!
The men in my small groups and the friend I said goodbye to last night are being used by God to change me (SMALL).  From my perspective this morning, that's BIG.


Why I Like Craig Barnes

Glad Lonely Anger 

This is some of why I'm reading everything I can get my hands on by Craig Barnes:

"To live with absence in the midst of our gardens means that the deep yearnings of the spirit are part of what makes us human.  Most important, our need always provides the opportunity to renew our dependency on the grace of God. What we call need or 'defect' can become our greatest altar of worship."

"Of course, to be in the hands of the Creator is rather frightening.  Who knows what He will do?  To be dependent upon Him for the creation of our life is never a passive process. To receive His grace means we will spend most of our days struggling with God and agonizing over His intentions as well as rejoicing over the good creation as it takes shape.  Thus, the confession what we are unable to get the life of our dreams is the first step toward authentic spirituality. As it places us in the position of dependency upon the grace of God, it guides the rest of our steps into spirituality as well."

"There is no one for whom God's refusal to be captured by His creation is more intolerable than those who think of themselves as religious."

"We cannot be dependent upon God yet capture Him through spiritual disciplines. What we can do is look to the thirst of life as a humbling opportunity to worship God, who alone has the waters of eternal life both for us and for the anxious world around us."

"Undertaking Christian discipleship is not a way of getting life right. It is a way of confessing our inability to ever get it right, and that without the grace of God in Jesus Christ we would have no hope of leading meaningful lives."

"Doubt is not the enemy of faith, but its constant companion.  The great biblical models of faith all had doubts about God's goodness. These doubts never betrayed a lack of faith. Actually, these men and women's faith in God's goodness was so strong that it had to take seriously the questions that seriously challenged God's character.  If there had been no faith there would have been no struggle, only the nihilistic resignation of 'so it goes.' Faith is the prize of those who pass through deep waters and strain for a deeper understanding of their God."

You can find "Yearning: Living Between How It Is And How It Ought To Be" here on Amazon.com for almost the price of shipping.  


50th Birthday. Best Gift I've Ever Received.

Glad Sad Lonely

When my dad died I don’t remember shedding many deep tears.  By deep tears, I mean those tears that feel like they start in your toes and seem to gather with them every part of your gut and your chest before eventually pouring themselves out like buckets of water falling from your eyes -- those kinds of tears.

When my dad died, I was sad.  But mostly sad for what never was and what I would never have. I only knew the absence of my dad, so in his death, I could only grieve the loss of a presence I never knew (and could only imagine).  I remember an odd feeling of relief when he died that there was a finality to the decades of pretending, excusing, hoping, imagining, longing, denying, and wishing. 

I’ve been to my share of funerals, and what I know is that you can’t stand there staring at a dead body forever, wishing life would once again animate what is now a lifeless shell that once carried around who they were.  You close the casket, lower it in the ground, cover it with six feet of dirt, and keep living.

That’s what happened when my dad died.  Except for me, his physical death merely marked the end of four decades of standing over a dead corpse wanting in vain for it to live.  My dad passed away when I was in my 40’s, but he mostly died when I was only three years old. 

I got letter from one of my kids for my 50th birthday (he shares about the writing of it in his blog:  http://jayschulte.blogspot.com/).  I wept uncontrollably when I read the letter he wrote to me.  Deep tears of gratefulness . . . as deep as I think I’ve ever cried.  

“My son will grieve when I'm gone,” I thought.  “Not the grief of what he never had . . . but a deep sadness that honors the loss of something very valuable that he HAD and from that day forward will miss . . . even as the gift that is our relationship stays with him long after I’m gone.”  

Nothing I've done in this life will be as eternally significant as the giving and sharing of my heart with my kids.  NOTHING.  I've known this in my head since becoming a dad 21 years ago.  But I knew it deep in my heart on the occasion of my 50th.