"Bring me the books, especially the parchments . . ."

Glad Sad Lonely

If I died today, I’m not sure where my body would be buried. 

When I bought a house on Studer Rd. in Little Rock, I said to my friends, “You can bury me in the front yard because I don’t plan to go anywhere.”  When I moved to Nashville fifteen years ago and bought a house in Hidden Valley I said to my friends, “You can bury me in the back yard (I liked the back yard of this house better than the front) because I don’t plan to go anywhere!”   I live in Alaska now and I have NOT and will NOT make that statement again. 

Six years ago, Chip Dodd said to me, “Jeff, you’ve been looking for home your whole life.”  When I told Al Henson I felt “homeless” he said, “You’ve tried your best to make something here on Earth feel like home, but Jesus is your home.”

There is much I’d like to blog about this topic. In fact, my heart and mind are boiling with thoughts as I write this.  But today, I want to introduce you to my new favorite author:  M. Craig Barnes.

Before our big move to Alaska, I gave away 1/3 of my pastoral library – hundreds of books piled to the ceiling of the entire back of my 1994 red Toyota 4Runner.  If I had to cull my books again (and I likely will), there are only a few I’d not want to part with.  Included in that number would be my collection of Craig Barnes.

The following is the first couple paragraphs from Searching for Home: Spirituality for Restless Souls.  

"The sun was shining hard on my father’s coffin as it lay perched above the hole in the ground where he would finally stay put.

We were standing in one of those stark cemeteries that don’t have any trees.  The grave markers were tarnished little plaques that lie low on their backs just below the grass line, so it wouldn’t be hard for the guys who mow the brown lawn. Dad had spent most of his life in the shadows, so I knew he would hate this place and be eager to join those hiding under the ground, protected from the revealing light.

He spent the first part of his life trying to be at home in the respectable places.  Not only was he the head of our home, but he was the head of our home church, serving as the pastor.  But failing at all of that, he left when I was a teenager. For almost thirty years I never knew where he was as he abandoned all who loved him.  He abandoned every notion of home to roam about as a tourist through life.  He died alone on Thanksgiving 2000.  At the time he was living in a raggedy Airstream camping trailer parked at the “Mobile Home Village” somewhere in the middle of Florida.  We buried him a few miles down the road.

If it were up to him, and for the first time it wasn’t, he wouldn’t have shown up for his funeral. But there he was. So dead, and yet finally so present.  It was the one last pathetic irony in the life of a father known mostly through absence. 

I was never sure about where home was for my dad, but I knew this wasn’t it.  Burying him 'a few miles down the road' may have been the perfect symbol of his meandering life, but it was still a lonely one. We imagine that our loved ones will one day be placed under a large oak tree on a grassy knoll not far from the family homestead.  That way even their graves will tether us to the home where our souls are always nurtured and our identities renewed.  But my father is now resting near the highway somewhere in the middle of nowhere.

Standing beside that barren grave, watching the dry wind toy with a piece of litter along the road, I wondered if this was the identity to which I was tethered.  I had never thought about home much before that afternoon, but since then it’s been my great passion.  What is home?  Where is mine? And how do we conduct lives that amount to something more than getting a few miles down the road to nowhere special?"



Glad Angry (passion) Lonely

A year ago Interlinc called and asked if they could interview my oldest son Jay for a ConGRADulations DVD they were creating to give High School students across the country as a graduation gift.

When Jay did this short interview (a cheap camera sitting on a table with one take for each question) none of us had any idea what the next twelve months of his life would look like. 

I remember thinking as I watched him answer these questions, "Where did this kid come from?  How did my boy become such a man?  When did that happen?" 

They say in Alaska that there are four seasons:  winter, winter, winter, and winter.  

That's really not true.  There are two seasons.  Summer -- about 3 months.  And winter -- nine months.  Fall lasts about a week and Spring lasts about a week.  They happen so fast you can't even call them a season.  

In one week the trees can be full of leaves and a week later they are bare.  In the Spring when the trees start budding, they go from bare to fully leafed out in a week as well. 

When I lived in Tennessee, Fall lasted from September till November (3 months) and the Spring lasted from late February until May (3 months). 

Life is like that I think.  Sometimes growth is so slow we barely notice it's happening. Sometimes it happens so fast, we can't catch our breath.  

Here is the interview with my then Senior in High School giving himself good advice he'd need to hear a year later . . . now a freshman in college.  

God doing for Jay what Jay could not do for himself. 




Home Alone

Lonely Sad Glad Fear

In addition to my normal work and life schedule, in the past two months I have:
  • Sent my oldest son off to college in New Hampshire.
  • Put my oldest daughter on a plane for a semester in England.
  • Flown to the Philippines for 12 days to train, equip, and encourage the Compassion International Filipino staff and 700 Palawan pastors.
  • Recovered from a 4 week illness (a parting gift from the Philippines) that shed almost 20 pounds from a frame that can’t afford to lose that much weight.
  • Preached messages in 9 church services in the USA.
  • Spoken at a men’s outreach based upon the movie Courageous and facilitated the four week follow-up.
  • Undergone an endoscopy (camera down my throat into as far as the camera would go) for a still undiagnosed illness.
  • Planned and hosted a dinner/auction to raise funding for what I do with Sage Hill (a 501c3 non-profit).
  • Video taped 4 ½ hours of Sage Hill content for a Men’s Fraternity (men’s curriculum) remix.
  • Led a weekend retreat for a “who’s who” of young leaders in a L48 city.
  • Attended two board meetings (Sage Hill and Compassionate Hope) in the L48.
  • Met with influential leaders from a country where living out your faith in Christ can be a life and death proposition to plan my next trip to their country in January.

As I write this I am about to board a flight home (at least headed that direction) after two days of airline mechanical failure and weather delays.  (It’s gonna take three different airlines to get me home and I haven’t seen my luggage in 48 hrs).

When I see this on paper it looks crazy. 

Rather than write about the insanity that was behind this, I'm contemplating the impact of it.

I’m lonely for me.

These past eight weeks have been about survival . . . in my mind pushing into and out of each opportunity or challenge (mostly good stuff) knowing that I’d have a couple days coming at Thanksgiving to get my breath and recharge my batteries.

That’s how I used to live when my life was out of control. Pushing and pressing through life like a camel surviving the desert until the next oasis.  But it’s not how I’ve lived, or learned to live, for the past six years. 

I’ll always work hard, but this isn’t about working hard.  It’s about having myself and being myself in the work vs. riding myself like a beast of burden to get the work done . . . not being human . . . not acknowledging the neediness of my humanity and my hunger for relationships that feed my soul.  My relationship with me.  My relationship with God. My relationship with my family.  My relationship with a few friends.

My 17 and 14 year old daughters saw it.  They attributed it to me being sick for a month.  “Daddy, you’ve not been yourself.”  But it wasn’t my digestive system that was sick, it was my heart.

As I think about going home today, I’m mostly thinking about “going home.”  Brenda misses me.  My kids miss me.  I’ve got a few friends who miss me.  Again, not because I’ve been traveling some, but because I’ve not been “home” in my own heart for awhile.  Going home today means going home to me first.

And if I’m not at home (pre-occupied, distracted, motor running, surviving, getting it done, checking the box, mentally in the future and emotionally not present), it doesn’t matter if I’m sleeping in my own bed in my own house in physical proximity to my family and friends, I’m still not home.  

If I’m running so fast and so far ahead of myself . . . if I’m not paying attention to my life and the living of my life . . . if my life is in the doing more than in the being . . . if I’m not answering God’s question, “Jeff where are you?”  I’m not here. 

No wonder my wife is lonely for me. My kids are lonely for me.  My friends have told me they are lonely for me.  If I don’t have me, they don’t get me because I can’t give what I don’t have.

Get you.  Have you. Give you.

I’m going home today.  Then I’ll go home.


Mirrors from Jay Schulte

Glad Sad Lonely

When I dropped Jay off at the airport a couple weeks ago I held him, cried, prayed for him, and sang a blessing over him.  I saw the sadness in his eyes.  Even some fear as he held Brenda for what seemed like forever (not long enough for Brenda I'm sure) and prepared to leave.  

But then as he turned to walk away, I saw something else.  I saw a smile break over his face and a light come on in his eyes that seemed to say that even in the sadness of leaving family, he knew he was walking into the adventure that is "his" life.  Always our son -- but now more than ever -- his own man.  

He checked three carefully packed suitcases and a box, yet MOST of what he needed he took INSIDE of him.  When he got to Dartmouth 16 hours later, I got a text from him:  "I'm home."  

I've been tempted to share Jay's blog several times this summer but didn't want everything I blog about to be what's going on with sending Jay off to school -- even though that's taken up a huge part of my thoughts in the past couple of months.  I just read his most recent post and want to share it with you.

I'm 49 years old and still learning what he writes about here.  Glad I'm learning this.  Sad I'm still having to learn this.  Fear I'll spend the rest of my life learning it.


I am sitting in my dorm room with the window open, listening to the sound of the wind rustling the trees and the occasional door shutting or brief conversation from my classmates outside. It has been two weeks. A lot can happen in two weeks.

I have met hundreds of DIVERSE people from around the world, spent hours with some of the coolest people I've ever met. It is to the point that i know people better than I know their names. My mind has been flooded and I have been back peddling to catch up, spinning out of control. But in the midst of this, my resolve on one thing has become concrete, no, granite. 

Before I was even born, it was His plan that I end up here. 

Dartmouth was my fourth choice. I felt a deep loss when I finally committed, a deep seated failure...I looked out at my future and saw only fog. I could not see beyond the next thing, nor was I capable of understanding what exactly God had for me. Since the day I got here, he has done nothing but confirm that this is where I was born to be, that it was divine intervention that landed me here instead of somewhere else. 

Like most freshmen on any school campus, loneliness is my most present companion. I am reminded of treasured friends from home often on my daily routine. In the distance that separates me from those I love, my life has become my own, not my parents, and in that, it has become fully His. I know what I want out of college, and I know what I want out of life. I have become resolute. Firm. Resolved. 

"For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known." 1 Cor. 13:12



Sad  Glad  Fear

Two days ago my oldest son Jay was walking out the door heading to work.  This summer he started a business here in Anchorage called "The Grass Guys."  He was standing in the laundry room heading out the door dressed in his lawn cutting gear (everything with a tint of green from all the grass he's mowed this summer).  I looked back at Brenda who was standing in the kitchen.  She was crying so I asked, "What's wrong?"  

She answered, "I'm gong to miss him so much."

It hit me.  I can spend the next two weeks keeping busy at work and filling my schedule with the million details that are screaming for my attention.  Or I can slow down and "see" Jay . . .  and in the seeing, grieve the goodbye that is right around the corner.

When I asked Brenda what was "wrong," her answer reminded me of so much that is "right."

In the past I would have stayed busy and allowed the urgency, even "importance" of my work to crowd my heart and my mind allowing me to skirt above the the deeper currents rushing inside me.  Today I am not refusing my sadness -- a sadness whose depth honors the rich relationship I share with him and the unbelievable joy he is to me.

Last night Jay and I sat up until very late.  I reminded him that he would not be alone on the Dartmouth campus.  I shared with him about the time when I was 28 years old and realized that there wasn't anyone "thinking about me" and there never had been . . . at least not like a father thinks about a son.

"Jay, in that way, you will never be alone.  There won't be a day that you are walking across that campus that I'm not thinking about you.  There won't be a day where you get in or out of the pool (he's swimming for Dartmouth) that I won't be thinking about you.  You won't be alone!"

We both cried.  I saw him.  And he saw me.



Anger Sad Glad

It's been over a week now since my taste buds went on strike.  They won't work. They don't work.  The only time I even get a feint glimmer of what it used to be like to taste my food is the millisecond after I blow my nose.  And even then, all I get is a fleeting moment of aftertaste.  I don't have a cold so I'm not blowing my nose so I can breath.  I'm blowing my nose every couple of minutes while I'm eating just so I can have this short moment of taste.  I'm a pathetic sight sitting at the dinner table with my box of kleenex, wishing for more.

I can't taste anything.  NOTHING. 

I've found myself working the food over in my mouth trying to get some sense of satisfaction from the texture.  A couple times I thought I was actually tasting what I was eating but quickly realized I was "tasting" a memory of what I knew it tasted like from having eaten it before.

At first I ate normally.  I even had a few deserts.  There is a half eaten ice cream bar in the freezer.  I've taken a few bites out of it, but I'm saving the rest for when I can taste it.  Otherwise, what's the point?

Each time I sit down to eat or grab something out of the fridge, I am hoping my taste buds will kick back into gear.   I'm pretty discouraged by it all.  I don't look forward to meals.  Utilitarian.  I eat because I have to, not because I want to.   

One refrain has repeated itself over and over again in my mind:  "WE WERE MADE TO TASTE."

We were made not just to eat our food, but taste our food . . . not just nourish our body to keep it alive, but feed our hearts so  we'll actually live.  And feel the living.  God did not create us for "have to."  He created us for "want to."

There was a time in my life when I could not taste anything spiritual.  I put plenty of food in my mouth -- even good food.  But I was not able to taste any of what I was eating.  Some who walked closely with me during this season in my life recognized the desperation in me.  I was so hungry.  Not because my stomach was empty, but because my taste buds were so dead.  Desperate to taste, to live, and to feel.  Reaching for anything that would remind me I was alive.

Psalm 34:8 says, "Taste and see that the Lord is good."

I've heard this verse a million times.  But it makes more sense to me when I read it in the context of the rest of the Psalm. 

How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him . . .

Who is the man who desires life . . .

The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous, and His ears are open to their cry . . .

The righteous cry and the Lord hears . . .

The Lord is near the brokenhearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit . . .

The Lord redeems the soul of His servants; and none of those who take refuge in Him will be condemned . . .

And the words create a flavor explosion in my mouth when I read it in the context of the past six years of my life.  

The following are some journal entries I penned in the summer of 2005 . . . the last time I remember not being able to "taste."  I can still feel the darkness of my words scrawled in a notebook.  I can still remember crying out to a God who hears and who comes near to those desperate to live.

"Father, my heart is cold. . . and its been a long time since I've really tasted the joy of my salvation.  Is it possible for what feels dead (my heart) to come back to life again?  Spirit of God, breath life into these dead bones.  Not by anything I can do to earn it, but because of your GREAT mercy."

"I cant stand the pain and disappointment.  I just want to be numb.  But where do I go?  There is nowhere to hide because the pain and disappointment and fatigue and expectations come storming back.  My head hurts.  My heart is numb."

"I can't handle being told more of what to do . . . what I should be doing.  What I'm not doing.  I don't need more how to's.  I'm dealing with issues of my heart."

"Lord, by faith I would rather lose all I have than to miss YOU in this life.  DO WHAT YOU MUST."

Last week (six years ago to the very day) I wrote this:

"I remember highlights from my old life that are now just OK compared to the life You (God) have given me.  You have loved me and been gracious to me.  You have sat me at a banquet table!"

"Taste and see that the Lord is good."  Yes, taste.


Size Matters!

Structure is meant to serve life.
Organization is meant to serve the organism.

When I was planting a church in Nashville TN, and we were growing at a rapid pace (doubling almost every year), I would often quote Peter Drucker who when questioned about the whether a particular organization had gotten too large replied, “The skeletal structure of an elephant is sufficient!”

Size was never the issue to me.  Whether we were 40 people or 4000, what mattered was whether there was sufficient infrastructure (or organization) to support the life.  Too little structure and the organism would become a lifeless blob.  Too much organization and the structure would crush the life of the organism it was created to support.

I’m no longer convinced.  Size does matter.   Organizations are by nature inefficient and the structure created to support most organisms seems to inevitably feed upon the very LIFE it was created to support.

People become a means to an end to serve and support the organization.  The good of the organization becomes a higher value than the good of the individual (not necessarily a mutually exclusive proposition).  An inordinate percentage of resources are allocated to sustain the organization justified by reasoning that the perpetuation of the organization ultimately serves the individual (also not a mutually exclusive proposition).

Size does matter.  Small is not necessarily good. Bigger is rarely better.

Case in point:

Last week some of my good friends helped me repair the aging deck on the back of my house.  Since it was not a new deck, I didn’t think I needed a permit from the municipality.  Upon finishing the project, I was informed I DID need a permit.

Over the next three days:
  • I made three trips to the Anchorage Municipality. 
  • I met with twelve different people from four different departments.
  • I signed my name seven times.
  • I drew building plans for a deck that was already built so I could get approval to build it. 
  • Three different people from the city made visits to my house. 
  • The first person who came to my house came to inform me that I indeed needed a permit.
  • The second person came to make sure the picture I showed them of my completed deck was in fact my deck on my house (30 second visit and $105). 
  • The third person came to make sure the plan I showed them and the pictures I presented to them were not photo-shopped (two minute visit and $295).  The only question he asked me, “So how come there aren’t any dandelions in your neighborhood?”

At one point when I was at the Municipality offices being informed about who needed to come to my house and how much all of this was going to cost me,  I asked, “Can’t the same person who comes out to make sure these pictures are really my deck be the same person who verifies that this plan you asked me to draw up here in your office of the deck that is already built is the same deck?” 

Answer:  “No.  That’s zoning.  We’re codes.”  

If I had not seen the mother of one of my kids classmates working in the zoning department, the whole process could have taken up to ten days.

I kept thinking to myself, “THIS IS JUST A DECK REPAIR!  How does anyone get anything significant done in this city?”

Grand total paid to the city of Anchorage (not counting the cost of my time, gas, or the three trees cut down to create all the papers signed, copied, stamped, and filed):  $400 U.S. Dollars!

The skeletal structure of an elephant is sufficient only if you are an elephant.  

The New Testament describes a significant but limited role for government.  As it relates to the local church, it's no surprise to me that the New Testament says so little about the organization of the church but says much about relationships and the life of the church.


Being w/ my boys . . .

Glad Sad

I did a men's retreat last weekend at Kenai Lake talking about "Intimate Male Relationships" and later that week was able to go back to spend the night with my two youngest boys at the cabin where we did the retreat.

Carving walking sticks.  Skipping rocks.  Talking about what it means to be a man.  Having tender conversations about how their bodies are changing, marriage, adoption, sex, life, manhood, their stories, God's love for them, my love for them, why their legs burn when hiking a steep incline and how that makes their muscles grow.  (I'm talking about the time with my boys --  not the men's retreat!).

Laying there on a big bed in the cabin with one boy on each side of me, heads nestled under each arm, each trying to get as close to me as they could . . . I had to walk into my own sadness and loneliness as I observed them drinking so deeply from an emotional, spiritual, and physical closeness with me I never experienced with my own absent dad.  It was rich and wonderful.  Sad and lonely.  Glad.  

We hiked . . .

We talked about what it means to persevere as a man when you want to quit . . .

We rested . . .

We explored . . .

We ate the food of being together . . .

And we celebrated!


Voice of the Heart

Glad Fear Shame

Great blog from Adam Legg, re: a class I taught here in Anchorage in the Fall.  The statement I most appreciated:

"I have been through several classes and courses at church, but this one was different. I normally finish a class feeling like it was “worth it.” I am a little better husband, a little smarter with my money, a little more knowledgeable about the Bible, etc…etc…etc….

But at the end of this course I didn’t feel that way. I didn’t think that it was “worth it.” I felt like it was 100% necessary, completely crucial and totally critical that I was there. There is not a day that has gone by in the 6 months that have passed since the end of the class that I have not gone back to what I discovered there."




Glad Anger Fear

The size of many New England states, 
(6 million acres) Denali National Park (http://www.denaliparkresorts.com/) can swallow you up.  Last week it wanted to swallow me.

We asked several rangers what hikes they recommended but no one would offer an opinion.  My guess was that they didn't want to be responsible if we took their advice and got lost or mauled by a bear or a pack of wolves.

We headed out but didn't know were we were going.  We just started walking.  Nothing real challenging.  There were no significant elevations and the views were not necessarily inspiring.  We were walking into no man's land with no idea where it would take us.  It felt pointless.  At one point, we were walking through willows that a week later would be impassable.  The hair stood up on my arms -- it felt too "gamey."  My instincts were correct, we were in a den area for 16 wolves!  We were never lost but we might as well have been.

My legs were dead tired and my feet were killing me.   I got tired quickly and was ready to find a ride and head for a hot shower. 

Later that same day, and still in the national park, we started another hike up a different mountain.  I'm not sure what the elevation was or how far we hiked.  But this time we got up past the tree line and started moving across a ridge-line from peak to peak . . . each new threshold paying off with massive breathtaking views too extraordinary for my senses to absorb.  

This was a challenging hike and 10x more difficult than the one we'd started earlier in the day that threatened to do me in.  This time, it was as if I was being pulled up the mountain, ignoring blisters the size of quarters and almost fifty year old legs that don't spring like a mountain goat the way they once did.  

I've thought much about the difference between the journey we took in the morning and the one we took later that day.  Both were in the same national park.  Both were taking me places I had never been.  Both were with the same friend.  One beat me down and the other built me up.  The only difference?


god with a little "g"

Fear Anger Sad

To the extent that darkness represents the unknown (and what I am not aware of that can harm me), I am afraid of the dark. 

To NOT admit my fear is to deny my humanity (denial, arrogance, or both).

To admit my fear is to awaken to my need for God and others (true neediness) which precipitates the "reach" that leads to faith, and ultimately wisdom.

I also believe in Heaven and am thankful today that I can live my life with hope, comforted that I don't have to be “God” to make sense of my life or create my own versions of what I want or can confidently expect in the afterlife.  Rather, I can trust a God who comforts me when my life doesn't make sense and who has made promises and assurances about what lies beyond the grave.

Stephen Hawking is a man of great faith . . . in himself.  

When he’s foretold his own death and resurrection and then actually comes out of the grave to prove he can speak with authority about what lies beyond the grave, I will put stock in his musings about the afterlife.  Until then, I'll stake my future on Jesus.



Fear  Sad  Lonely  Glad

When I was a kid, summer break seemed like a lifetime.  Three months of no school!!  A year was even longer.  And five years?  An eternity.  For a ten year old, five years represents half of your life, which is why I think it seemed like such a long time. For a 50 year old, five years is only 10% of your life, which is  why the older I get, the faster time seems to fly by.  It's not my imagination.  In the scope of my entire life here on earth, time is moving faster.

When my kids were young, everyone I knew in their 40's and 50's with high school and college kids warmed me how fast the time would go.  I didn't believe them.  Not only could I not imagine myself being "old" like they were, but I couldn't imagine my kids graduating from high school and leaving for college.

Jay, (#2 of 6) graduates from high school this Tuesday night.  I don't think it's possible for a dad to delight in his son anymore than I delight in Jay.  I marvel at the young man he has become and I so enjoy the tender full hearted relationship we share.  I'm more excited about his next four years in college then he is (I know what he's about to experience).  But I am also profoundly sad watching him begin the process of leaving.

He swam his last high school swim meet this past weekend.  I cried.  He sang in his last high school choir recital tonight.  I cried.  He'll give a speech at his graduation ceremony.  I'll cry.  He'll board a plane in September.  I'll sob.

The days are long . . .

    . . . but the years are short.



Eight weeks ago I started experiencing a significant measure of pain in my left chest/shoulder area.  It turns out after seeing the doctor, that the broken collar bone and separated AC joint (football injuries from back in the day when we wore leather helmets) had severely compromised my sterno-clavicular joint.  Bottom line: the joint where my collarbone joins my sternum is messed up and I’m now pretty limited as to what I can do without irritating it.

I typically do some kind of intense “crossfit” type of workout at least four times a week – mostly to help slow down the aging process on my almost 50 year old body so I can keep up with my 9 and 11 year old boys.  Additionally, it helps me keep from dieing when I hike with my buddies in the Chugach.

What’s surprised me these past two months is how the more I get out of shape, the worse I’m eating.  As much I like to work out and stay in shape, I’m also normally a very healthy eater.  I don’t eat fast food or junk food and I eat in moderation.

This past weekend I realized I was out of control . . . eating myself into oblivion.  Compulsive.  Beyond full.  Sugar. Salt. Carbs.  Any time of day.

At first the correlation didn’t make sense to me.  What would cause me to eat healthier when I’m feeling good and getting lots of exercise and eat worse when I'm feeling so lousy?

I was using food to medicate myself . . . to feel better.  But like any addictive behavior, the crash always left me in greater need of “medicine.”  So today I’m at the end of day two of a fast, exposing how I can use food and how I can use ANYTHING (my phone, TV, exercise, food, sex, computer) to keep me from facing life on life’s terms.

If I see my life I will feel my life.  If I feel my life, I will find myself in need.  And if I find myself in need, I'll end up in surrender.  Otherwise, I am an addict looking for an addiction, an idolator looking for idols.

This was a new one for me . . . or at least the realization of it is new.

Sad.  Lonely.  Hurt.  Fear.  Angry.  Shame.  Guilt.  Glad.


A Pre-Easter Prayer

Shame. Guilt.  Glad. Lonely. Sad.

I tend to want resurrection without death.
I want growth without pain.
I want to live without dying.

Dear Lord Jesus,

You, "the image of the image of the unseen God, the first-born of all creation, for whom all things are created, everything visible and everything invisible," You, Christ Jesus, hung upon a cross and died for us.

Today we look squarely at the cross. The soldiers, who have broken the legs of the two men crucified with you, do not break your legs. But we see your heart is broken; the heart that did not know any hatred, revenge, resentment, pride, greed, bitterness, or envy but only love.  Your broken heart is the source of our salvation, the foundation of our hope, the cause of our love.

There on that cross all suffering has been suffered,
     all our anguish lived,
     all our loneliness endured,
     all our abandonment felt,
     and all our agony cried out.

There, human and divine love embraced.

There, God and all humanity reconciled.

There, all the tears of the human race have been cried.

There, all pain understood and all despair touched.

There, your body was broken and your blood shed, so that we might be forgiven and made whole.

As we look upon the cross, let our eyes recognize the anguish and agony of all the people for whom you gave yourself.  Save us from hardness of heart. We confess our sin, our own pride, our own disobedience to you, and we pray to receive your overflowing love.  May we never forget that you were pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities.  And only by your wounds we are healed.

We pray in the compassionate name of Jesus.



My friend Brandon Thomas (dude has been a huge encouragement to me since our lives providentially intersected) asked me to blog about "calling."  I shared this with him for his blog last week.

Glad Sad Fear Anger

I’d sensed for several months I was in some kind of “transition.”  I prayed.  I wrote in my journal.  I listened for the voice of God.  I sought the prayers and counsel of godly men and women who have known me for a long time.  I waited.

The following is from a letter I wrote to a handful of close friends:

“I need your help.  As I consider what the Lord has done in my life and I try to be objective as to where he might be leading me to invest the next years of my life, I keep coming back to this track record with “men” and the fruit that God seems to bring forth when I step into these arenas of ministry.  And while doors are open to me to serve in the church through broader leadership roles like I have in the past, I’m asking God to confirm in me that this narrowing of focus is what He is calling me to -- and if it is, what this needs to look like in the short term with an eye towards the longer term.

Will you take some time over the next couple of weeks to pray for me? Ask God to affirm or confirm some of this in my life? I don’t know what to expect and don’t have anything specific in my mind.  I’m just open and I am asking.

God has been clear to me in the past and I am expecting to hear from him now.  I also know that He can speak to me through the support and counsel of friends like you who have known me for a long time and watched God at work in me and through me not in spite of my limp but even through it.

Will you pray for me?  Will you ask God for insight you could give me?  Will you respond back to me with any promptings He might give you in the days ahead?”

When I wrote to these friends I really was “open” and their feedback affirmed what God was showing me privately.

The last time I was in a transition like this, I prayed and waited for God to show me what He wanted me to do.  Once I knew the PLAN, my PURPOSE (or mission) became accomplishing that plan and I became PASSIONATE about the purpose of accomplishing it. 

The problem with this backwards approach of. . .


. . . was that over time, so much became about accomplishing the plan.  My worth was tied up in the plan.  Other people became a subtle means of accomplishing the plan.  And the virtue of the plan blinded me to how my drivenness was hurting me and hurting others (even those I loved).  Regretfully, my passion was as much about the plan as it was the God who had led me to give my life to it.

Exhausting and misguided. 

This time I wanted to do it differently.


I started with PASSION.  What did I really care about?  Where did I gain energy?  Where did I see the most significant fruit? As I looked into the rear view mirror of the previous twenty-five years of my life and ministry, regardless of the setting (whether on staff with Athletes in Action, FamilyLife, as a student in seminary, a church planter and church leader in Tennessee and more recently Alaska), engaging with men had been the common theme – and the place where I’d experienced God producing the most significant and lasting fruit in others and the greatest satisfaction internally for me. 

The past is not always an indicator of the future, but like points on a map that trend a particular direction, sometimes looking over your shoulder can give you insight into your future.  Additionally, it’s often the wounds from our past that open the door to our deepest passions (another blog for another time).

Clear in heart regarding my PASSION, I would look for my PURPOSE in a willing surrender to that passion.  And move forward trusting God with what that PLAN would or could become.

Lots of fear.  I didn’t know what I was going to do.  Lots of trust.  God, you have a plan.  Little control.  I didn’t know what tomorrow was going to look like . . . including how I would support my family through it all.

I’ve taken steps of faith like this before, but this time it felt and still feels different.  I have little need to prove myself and lots of freedom to be who God made me to be and share what God is showing me and allowing me to experience with Him.  I’m more passionate than I’ve ever been but more passionate about people and living with an open hand re: the plan.

Two years ago, even before I knew this transition was coming, I penned the following personal mission statement:  To motivate, encourage, and equip leaders . . . specifically focused on unleashing men who see the greatness of their need and the greater sufficiency of the Gospel. 

For the past two years, that’s what I’ve been doing with the Sage Hill Institute:  helping leaders become who they were made to be so they can do what they were made to do.


Love is Love

Sad Lonely Glad

My 16 year old daughter Jessica came home with a school assignment for her parents to write about a memory of her when she was younger. Brenda wrote the following and I cried when I read it.  Sad and lonely about years we cannot have back.  Glad about the woman my daughter Jessica is becoming.   Brenda gave me permission to share it here.  

When Jessica was real young, I found a cute little stuffed animal at a garage sale.  It was a little white kitty with a pink nose, a pink ribbon, and some pink thread that formed a little mouth. I had never seen anything like it before. She was not new, but still had plenty of life in her.  The most special thing about her was that when you moved her slightly or hugged her close, you could hear a little purr.  I bought it for a dime and gave it to Jessica. 

Jessica LOVED this little kitty and they were never far apart.  Some 2 year olds suck their thumbs or drag around a blankie, but Jessica had her little white kitty that she affectionately named, Tickles.  You always knew when Jessica was coming, because you could hear the little purring that was coming with her.

My early mornings were met not with the sounds of a pitter-patter of small feet, for Jessica would approach so very quietly, but the sound of a soft purring as together, Jessica and Tickles, would climb up into bed to cuddle before the day began.

It was not long before Tickles began to show the ware of being loved well, similar to the Velveteen Rabbit.  So I was elated when, while I was shopping at Target, I spotted a "new Tickles".  I couldn't believe my eyes . . . it was her, but with a full, clean body of fur and a loud, strong purr when she was tousled.  Jessica's 3rd birthday was fast approaching so I bought the brand new kitty.

Her birthday arrived and I gave my gift last.  Jessica was very surprised with the gift and in her sensitive and sweet way thanked me with a hug.  As a few days passed, it became very clear that Jessica was not enamored or impressed with the full, clean body of fur and the loud, strong purr of the new white kitty.  She loved Tickles and no new kitty was going to replace her.  

Love is love.

Many years have passed since that time.  Tickles is so fragile now, looking so thin and frail and spends her time in a safe place. Jessica enters a room alone now, but really not alone.  Her heart is tender and has great capacity for loving and being loved.  She is still not enamored or impressed by the outside trappings of others, but accepts and loves people the way they are.

Love is love. 


Death on a Mountain

Sad.  Lonely.

Dr. Mills was quiet but friendly.  On Thursday nights he was always the one who brought his 11 year old son Isaiah to flag football practice.  Most parents drop off their kids and come back an hour later to pick them up when practice is over.  Standing over in the corner of the gym wearing a baseball cap, Dr. Mills would always stay to watch the whole practice.

Isaiah is the best player on our team.  He's also the most fun to coach; not even so much because he's such a gifted athlete, but because he has such a great attitude.  Honestly, I love this kid and I've loved coaching him.  I love encouraging him.  I love teaching him.  I love looking him in the eye and seeing him smile.

Last night we got crushed.  I was physically at the game but I was not there.  Isaiah was not there either.  

Last week Isaiah and his father were skiing when Dr. Mills flew off the backside of an icy slope, suffered severe multiple injuries, and bled to death on the mountain.  The ski patrol resuscitated him but brain function was gone.  On Tuesday, Dr. Mills (Isaiah's dad) passed away.


Isaiah's life is forever changed.  His dad is gone and won't be coming back.  Isaiah will come to practice next week and there won't be a man standing in the corner of the gym delighting in him, driving home with him, sitting next to him in the car, and later tucking him into bed.

Isaiah is about to walk into the most life defining yet emotionally and physically turbulent years of his young life without his dad to walk the journey with him.  

The sadness and loneliness of this truth is overwhelming to me today as I write this. There will be teachers who take an interest in Isaiah. There will be coaches like me who take the initiative in his life.  There will be relatives who will seek to fill the vacuum that was created on that mountainside last week.  But no one will fill it.  Not like a dad can.

I'm sad today. And lonely . . . remembering back to what it was like growing up without my dad.  Praying for Isaiah and wondering how his life will be different now.


Called to Nashville

Sad Lonely Hurt Shame Glad

Lots of reflecting today.  Fourteen years ago I loaded up my wife (who had just given birth ten days earlier to our fourth child) and  drove a U-Haul truck  to a community where I knew one other couple . . . to start a church.

I was deathly afraid, but I knew God had called me to this. A year prior, God had spoken as clearly to me about this as He had anything else in my life.  I asked my best friend at the time if he would come with me to do it.  It took him a month to decide, but he said yes.

Over the next couple of years, I mostly remember long drives by myself in my 1986 Jeep Cherokee.  Sometimes I would drive for hours through Brentwood, Franklin, and surrounding areas praying, dreaming, and seeing.  “God show me what you want to do here and how and where You want to do it.”  I remember being so alone with so many of my thoughts and dreams about this church God had called me to plant.  I knew I was writing blank checks only God Himself could cash.

It was a WILD adventure with some unbelievable highs and unbelievable gut wrenching lows.  Some of my greatest joys in life and some of my deepest hurts. 

I look back now with much gratefulness for what God showed me through that season in my life. I am grateful for what He did in me and what I saw Him do in the lives of others.  But I am mostly grateful for friendships tested by fire that survived, deepened, flowered, and still enrich me today.

Fourteen years was a lifetime ago.  But I remember the beginning of the journey in that U-Haul truck like it was yesterday.


Sitting the Bench

Fear Sad Lonely Shame

I don’t know what made that so hard?

Last week I had to institute the death penalty equivalent for one of my boys.  He could attend his flag football practice but could not practice.  He could attend his game on Friday night but could not play.

Getting through the practice was not as big a deal to me although it was to him.  The game on Friday was a different story.  I was surprised by the battle that waged inside of me as I had to remind myself at least 100 times, “Follow through Dad.”  “Follow through!”

My little guy is good. Fun to watch.  A natural athlete.  I’ve been around athletics all my life at all levels and I know I’m seeing.  Some kids are good because they play hard.  Some kids are good because they’ve mastered some skills.  Some kids are good because God made them that way. 

God made him this way.

My son also loves to play . . . almost to a cellular level it seems . . . which is part of what makes him such a delight to watch.  I get a smile on my face just watching him run.  Watching him be who he was made to be.

It wasn’t easy for me to see him standing on the sidelines last night.  I wanted to see him enjoying himself. I wanted to see him smile that smile that makes the rest of his face disappear.  But I kept him on the sidelines for a game because I love him. 

I’ve got a Father who loves me too.  I imagine to Him, I must be fun to watch.  I’m good at some things because I work hard and some things because I’ve mastered some skills.  I’m good at some things because He made me that way.

I “get” what my Father is likely feeling when He sees me play.  Last night, I was thinking more about how He might be feeling when He has to sit me on the sidelines because He loves me.