Archive for July, 2016


The Good Tired

As I sit in bed working on this post that I’ll probably put up in a few days, I’m tired.  I’m worn out.  I’m exhausted.  And it feels great.  It’s a good tired.

One of the things that gets emphasized a lot for pastors is the importance of self-care.  Take your days off.  Take your vacation.  Being in ministry is one of those jobs that people expect you to be available 24/7.  Because a family crisis, a medical emergency, an untimely death – these things don’t tend to happen in the 9 to 5.  Because pastors work with people who often have full time jobs during the week, evening activities are a regular part of the schedule.  So, it’s important to relax, unplug, get away.  And, I’ll be the first to admit, I don’t always do a good job of it.

The last few days that we spent in St. Louis were the first time that I’ve been able to get away for more than a day in nearly two years.  I had a vacation scheduled last April, but, unfortunately, two people connected to my congregation passed away and the trip was cancelled.  Turns out it was a good thing.  A week later, Katie was put on hospitalized bed rest.  Who knows what would have happened while she was attending this conference in Atlanta, which was the reason for us going out of town in the first place.

Last summer was rough.  After Hannah was born, we spent the next 117 days going up to the NICU (60 miles each day) before we got to bring her home.  The stress of the NICU was described as a type of PTSD by the counselor that worked the floor, and Hannah actually did very well during her time there.  Adjusting to life with a newborn was an adventure, but after a few months of averaging about 5.5 hours of interrupted sleep, it became about survival more than anything else.

When the new year hit, and Hannah was more consistently sleeping through the night, I finally felt like I was starting to catch up on sleep.  I was still tired… a lot… but I felt like a fog was being lifted.  I was starting to get some energy back, but I still didn’t really take any time off.  We were blessed to be able to go down to Brown County for a couple of days at the beginning of June, but two of the four days were my regular days off anyway.  So, as nice as it was (not to mention the renewal for my enjoyment of fishing!), it wasn’t as refreshing as I hoped it would be.

But, finally, last week, I took some real time off.  We went to St. Louis on Wednesday, including Star Wars Night at Busch Stadium.  Hannah got to see her first live MLB game in the stadium.  She did great, but it was hot and humid!  The Cardinals came away with a victory in Game 2 of a doubleheader.  We crammed ourselves into a tram and went up the Arch.  But, mostly, we just spent time together as a family with no pressures, no work, no need to rush any where.

We got home on Friday, and I was able to play softball (going 3-3 in a 13-3 victory, I think I finally snapped out of my slump!)  Afterwards, we were invited to pizza with some great people.  When we finally got home I realized something.  I was tired.  But I felt good.  I was tired, but rested.  I was tired, but it was a good tired.

Rocky Road

One of the things I enjoy doing, but don’t do nearly enough, is hiking.  There’s just something about going for a walk in the woods.  It’s peaceful.  It can be quite a workout.  It’s just fun to do.  Twenty years and 100 pounds ago, I would look for the trails on the map that were marked “very rugged” and challenge myself to take them.  It was exhausting, but it was always a good time.

I remember one time I went to Turkey Run State Park with some friends.  We went after the “very rugged” trail that goes through a place called “Boulder Canyon”.  It is not misnamed.  That section of the park is basically a collection of big rocks.  Coming out of the canyon can be pretty tricky.  As you can imagine – because it’s a canyon – you basically have to climb out of the canyon.  And this particular canyon is made up of – you guessed it – large rocks.  There is no clearly defined trail on the way up and out – at least there wasn’t back then, things may have changed since.  At one point, on our way out, we began to wonder if we were even on the trail at all.

Life as a disciple of Jesus Christ is a lot like that at times.  There are times when the trail is difficult.  You are trying your best to follow Jesus, but you aren’t even sure if you are going the right way.  It can be exhausting, physically demanding, draining.  There may be times when you consider that it might just be easier to go back the way you came.  It may not be much better terrain, but at least you know you could do it.

And that’s the choice you have – go forward or go back.

When we went hiking, we had a map with us.  It helped instill at least a little bit of confidence that we were moving in the right direction, even though we couldn’t necessarily see the trail that we were on.  But, we trusted in the map, and kept moving forward.  You know what?  We eventually made it out of Boulder Canyon, and back to our car, and back home.  We didn’t give up.  We didn’t sit still.  We kept moving.

So, let me encourage you today.  When it comes to your spiritual life, keep moving.  Even when the road ahead looks scary.  Even when you aren’t really sure.  Keeping following Jesus.  Trust your guide to take you where you need to be.

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Well, that’s an awful title…

Maybe I should entitle this: Why Your Wedding Doesn’t Matter As Much, or Why Your Wedding Doesn’t Matter As Much As You Think.  Meh, too late, I’ll just stick with that title.  It got you this far, didn’t it?

One of the great joys that I have as a pastor is being able to walk with a couple for one of the most important events in their lives.  To date, I have had the privilege and honor of officiating 11 weddings, with three more on the calendar over the next year and a half or so.

Weddings have become big business in today’s American society.  The wedding industry generates an estimated $40 BILLION in revenues every year, and some believe that number will only go up with the legalization of gay marriage in the United States.  The average wedding costs around $28,000.  That’s insane, right?

At the same time we live in a society where it is not uncommon to hear about a divorce rate hovering around 50%.  There seems to be some indication that the 50% is a gross over-generalization, and that the divorce rate is actually on it’s way down over previous decades.  This is good news.

I think some of what we have seen in a society with a booming wedding industry, and the proliferation of Pinterest-inspired insanity, is that for some, the focus is so much on the wedding that the marriage is put on the back burner.  And here’s where I come back to the title of this post, and this is something that I want to emphasis to the couples that I walk with during this time in their lives, your wedding is a great occasion.  It is a beautiful day.  It will be memorable, and it will be a ton of fun.  But… it’s only one day.  It’s an important day.  But it’s only the start to your marriage.  The wedding is not the endgame; it’s the beginning of something more.  In the grand scheme of life, your wedding doesn’t matter… nearly as much as your marriage.

As I work with couples and we plan the ceremony, one thing I tell them is that something will probably go wrong.  You may stutter when you speak.  You may feel like you are shaking from the nerves.  You may say the wrong words, or forget what you were supposed to say.  The reception hall may burn down (or, as happened last summer, a giant tree may fall down on the outside of the reception hall).  But…

At the end of the day, no matter what goes wrong, when everybody goes home, or stumbles to their hotel room, when all the decorations are down, when all the food and drink are consumed, no matter what went wrong, at the end of the day, the couple will still be married.  Husband and wife, embarking together on one of life’s greatest adventures.  And that’s what is really important.

When I meet with couples about their wedding, we only spend a couple of hours planning the ceremony itself.  We spend a lot of time talking about their history, handling conflicts, managing finances, hopes and dreams for the future because those are the important things.  Those are the details that make or break a marriage.

When it comes time for the dress rehearsal, I have three rules for the wedding party:

  1. Anybody that is under the influence of anything – drugs or alcohol – may not take part in the ceremony.  They do, however, get to tell the bride why they thought the drugs or alcohol were more important than her on her wedding day.  If somebody can’t hold off on drinking for a few hours before the wedding, then they have a problem that needs to be addressed.  Also, if it’s the bride or groom, there’s no wedding.  I can’t legally marry a couple when one or both are under the influence.
  2. If anybody besides the bride or groom have an idea of how the ceremony can be better, they should write it down and come talk to me about it on the following Monday in my office.  You may be surprised to hear that I haven’t had a lot of well-meaning, meddling people disrupt the flow of a ceremony that has already been planned with the bride and groom.
  3. From this point forward, what the bride and groom need more than anything is support from their family and friends.  Marriage is hard enough as it is.  There need not be any outside forces making the relationship more difficult.  If you have a problem with their relationship, keep it to yourself.  Nobody cares what you think.

That third rule is really the most important one.  The wedding is one day.  The marriage is for the rest of their life.

What if we paid as much attention to detail in our marriages as we did on the wedding plans?  What would the landscape of marriage in the United States look like?  What if we emphasized the relationship more than the event?  Because at the end of the day, one is far more important than the other.

It could be, when we focus on the relationship and not the event, some people would discover they only wanted the big party, and not the work that comes with the relationship.  That’s fine.  Throw a big, expensive party.  Don’t get married.

It could be, when they really think about it, that marriage isn’t the right next step in the relationship.  And that’s okay as well.  Don’t marry somebody because you feel stuck in a relationship, or because you are too scared to go out on your own once again, or because you think that’s what you should do.  Some relationships go as far as they can, and it becomes clear that marriage isn’t necessarily the next right thing to do.  If that’s the case, don’t get married.

In order to make a wedding work, people will pour hours and hours into the details of the wedding over a certain period of time.  In order to make a marriage work, people need to put that same kind of focus and attention to detail into everyday life with their spouse.

Your wedding doesn’t matter as much as your marriage.  So put the time, effort and resources into what really matters.

 

Waste Not, Want Not

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So, I have a confession to make.

Before the Indiana Primary in the spring, I had never voted.  I’ve been eligible to vote since 1999, and have not done it.  Worse than that, I had never even registered to vote.  The simple truth is that I just didn’t care enough to do so.  I have been one who believes that my vote didn’t really matter all that much in a sea of votes, so why bother taking the time to do it in the first place.  I never really paid much attention to politics, so, in some sense, I felt like it was probably better for me to not vote than to vote ignorantly… not that it has stopped other people.  Well, that changed this year.

I don’t know if it was must disgust at the leading candidates for each party or something else that prompted me.  I remember talking with a couple of friends a few months ago, and I said, “Guys, it’s really bad this year.  So bad that I actually registered to vote.”  And I was serious.

Now, the attention is being turned to November, with it shaping up to be a Trump v. Clinton circus, with one pandering to the lowest common denominator and the other recently being called by the FBI “reckless” when it comes to sensitive information on national security.  But, as people will tell you, those are your choices – a rock and a hard place.  Vote for one or against the other, it doesn’t matter.

However, the simple truth is that they will not be the only ones on the ballot when November rolls around.  There will be other candidates who will not be running under the banners of the Democrat or Republican parties.  Most people won’t think twice about these candidates because they stand outside the established system, and it is rare that a third party candidate even makes a dent in the headlines.  And, usually, when they do, the political commentators are simply saying that the candidate is going to pull votes away from one party or another.

More likely than not, it will be one of the major party candidates that wins on election day.  Unfortunately, that’s just the way our political system is set up.  If you aren’t backed by one of the heavy hitters, you are going to have a much more difficult time getting elected to any office for the most part.  But one of the things that I have heard regarding third party candidates is that we shouldn’t “waste our vote” on them because it just pulls support away from one of the big fish.

I have to tell you, it bothers me that somebody would say that.  For years, I have chosen to abstain from voting because I have felt like it would make a difference.  I finally decide to do it, only to hear people say, “Don’t waste your vote on somebody that isn’t part of the establishment.”  We’ve been voting for establishment candidates for quite some time.  How’s that been working out?

The very reason I registered to vote is because I wanted to be involved and make my voice heard over my extreme displeasure for the frontrunners of each party.  Don’t tell me that it is a waste to use my vote on somebody that isn’t part of our bipolar party system. (And, yes, I used bipolar on purpose there.)  It is not a waste.  Will that person win?  Probably not.  I realize how our system is set up.  That doesn’t matter.  That does not influence my vote.  If my convictions push me towards a particular candidate, then that is the person that will get my vote.  I see no other reason to vote.

I’m not a fan of Clinton or Trump.  One of them will probably win.  And it will be historic.  Our next president will most likely either be the first female to hold the office, or the first Oompa Loompa overlord person with absolutely no political experience or social filter to hold the office.  I’m not voting for either one, and it’s not a waste.  It’s an expression of my right as an American citizen.