Category: Life in General


36 and 25

We went to a birthday party on Saturday for one of Hannah’s NICU friends, Theo. At one point, Theo’s dad (Kyle) asked me how different 36 was from 25. Having just turned 36 at the end of last month, I said something along the lines of feeling sore and tired all the time, but it’s not that much different. A couple hours later – as we were headed home – his question came back into my mind, and I realized something. He wasn’t asking about me being 36, he was asking about the difference between a 36-weeker (Henry) and a 25-weeker (Hannah).
 
So, first off, sorry, Kyle, I’m an idiot.
 
Secondly, maybe my response was a decent answer after all. With everything that we went through for Hannah, it was constant stress and worry for the first several weeks. There came a point when the alarms weren’t alarming because we knew what they meant. But for a while, we didn’t know if we would be bring our little girl home. That’s a difficult thing to live with day in, day out. But we did. We managed. We coped. And, eventually, we were able to bring our amazing girl home.
 
Once Henry started breathing (which, admittedly, took longer than it should have), I was never really worried about him. Something inside me knew that he was going to be just fine. Even when he went back to the hospital with RSV, I felt like he was going to get through it. The level of worry that I had with Henry doesn’t even show up on the radar compared to what we had with Hannah.
 
Yes, Henry was early and spent some time in the NICU, but for some reason, it was different. Maybe it’s because we knew the staff at Community North. Maybe it’s because he was in a lot better shape from the beginning. Maybe we just learned a lot more than we thought the first time around.
 
The difference between 36 and 25? It’s massive. Those 11 weeks are so important. To be honest, I don’t think of Henry as a preemie. He’s just a little guy that had a bit of a rough start, but who is thriving now. Both of them are, in fact. If you didn’t know that Hannah was a 25-weeker, you wouldn’t know. She is a spitfire whose going to cause us some headaches, but she is also the most amazing little girl we’ve ever met. I have a feeling that she’s going to have a lot of influence on her little brother as well, so we better get prepared for it!

Just Five More Minutes

There is a species of the mayfly, the Dolania americana, that has the shortest lifespan of any creature.  The female will deposit her eggs and die within five minutes of emergence.  It is believed to be the shortest adult lifespan of any insect.  Five minutes is not a lot of time.  It has taken me longer than five minutes just to write this paragraph.  (In fairness, my daughter is in the office today, so… anything is going to take longer than five minutes this morning.)

We think of five minutes as almost a throw-away time.  You need to waste five minutes? No problem.  Just check Twitter or Facebook, and that will eat up five minutes in a heartbeat.  Yet, for the Dolania americana, five minutes is a lifetime.  It’s all about perspective, isn’t it?

The life expectancy for a person in the United States is 78.74 (at least, that’s what Google told me).  How many different five minute segments do we have in life?  Well, according to… math… that over 8 million five minute segments that one person can expect.  Again, for us, five minutes isn’t that big of a deal… or is it?  Ask anybody that has lost a loved one – five more minutes would make a difference.  For some, five more minutes is all they would ask for.

Five minutes seems like a small, insignificant period of time… until it’s not.

What are you doing with your five minutes?

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What are you afraid of?  People are afraid of many different things; some seem to be afraid of nothing, others… of everything.  In no particular order, some of the more common fears that people have: public speaking, crowds, spiders/snakes, clowns, heights.

For me in particular, I have a few years as well.  I know, I know, that may come as a shock to most people who think I’m completely fearless.  In a rare moment of self-revelation, what I want to do right now is share a couple of my fears with you, how they have affected me as a pastor, and what I’m doing about it.

I used to be a major perfectionist.  I would work and work and work to make sure that everything was perfect.  I was unhappy with myself for missing a few questions on a quiz or test.  I once pulled an all-nighter in college to finish a rough draft, and then, when I got a copy back from the professor, I saw that he would give me an A- if that was the final draft of the paper.  I went to his office and argued with him that it was a terribly incomplete paper and there was a lot more left to do on it.  He said, “So do it.”

Now, being a perfectionist is not always a bad thing.  It can cause me to be more intentional about thinking through the details of projects.  I can be very thorough, or, surprisingly, it can cause the complete opposite to happen.  I can become so overwhelmed by trying to get all the details in place that I never get around to actually doing the thing that needs to be done.  It’s called paralysis by analysis, and it’s a very real thing.

You see, being a recovering perfectionist has given me a fear of failure.  I don’t like failing.  I went 0-4 in softball last night and was really mad at myself.  It a rec league softball game.  It’s sole purpose is for me to have fun, get to know some people better and get some exercise.  At the end of the year, whatever happens in this league will not affect my life whatsoever, and yet, I focus on the “failure” of going 0-4.

As a pastor, failure is a very real and ever-present reality… depending on what you define as a failure.  I think part of the struggles that I have had in ministry is that I think not being able to implement something or having something not work would be a failure in my own eyes.  And I don’t want to fail.  So, I get caught up in the details and experience the dreaded analysis paralysis.

But, lately, I’ve been thinking about an even bigger fear – irrelevance.  Here’s what I mean by that – not that I need to the be the cool, hip pastor in town (let’s face it, that’s not going to happen), but that, when I look back at the end of my days, I don’t want to think that I have just wasted my life, pursuing meaningless things.  It’s really easy to get caught up in the weekly tasks and lose sight of the bigger picture.  It’s also easy to get so caught up in the big picture that you never notice the little things that you’ve accomplished along the way.  I don’t want to look back with regret, saying, “I wish I had…”  I want to make a difference in people’s lives for the glory of God.

In the last month, I’ve started being more intentional about my development as a leader.  I’ve always been interested in reading and listening on leadership, but putting it into action has been a whole different enchilada.  So, I’m seeing a counselor to remove some of the mental roadblocks that I’ve put up through the years.  I’m meeting with a coach to help me with specific things relating to ministry.  And I’m trying to be more intentional about getting together with ministry peers to talk about ministry on a level that you just can’t with anybody else.

And I’m reminded of the words in Joshua 1.  Joshua was selected to lead the Israelites after the death of Moses.  How do you follow Moses?!?  I imagine it was a daunting task.  And then he hears these words:

[5] No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. [6] Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. [7] Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. [8] This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. [9] Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:5-9 ESV)

Be strong and courageous.  Three times, God says this to Joshua.  And there is a promise, that as long as they stay focused on God, they will be successful.  God is with them wherever they go, just stay focused on the Word of the Lord.  And the Israelites prove God’s word to be true.  As long as they rely on Him, things go well.  It’s when they don’t that things start going down the drain.

And so, let those words encourage you today as well.  Be strong and courageous for God is with us.

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One of the great joys of having a little one is spending time at the sink washing bottles.  Has anybody come up with a sarcasm font yet?  I feel like it should be comic sans.  Yes, comic sans for sarcasm!  Anyhoo…

I still wash Hannah’s bottles by hand.  We put them in the dishwasher once, but didn’t really like how they came out, and so, we’ve been washing them by hand ever since.  Maybe that says more about my psyche than I should let on, but it is what it is.

As I was washing them the other night, something struck me – call it inspiration, boredom because I was standing at the sink washing bottles, whatever.  The bottles that were rinsed after they were used were a LOT easier to clean than those that weren’t.  I know, no-brainer, right?  Anybody that has “found” a bottle or sippy cup of milk after a couple of days could tell you the same thing.  But, then, I made the logical leap –

PREPARATION IS MORE BENEFICIAL THAN PERSPIRATION

Sure, I can work extra hard in the moment to wash the bottles OR I can do a little work ahead of time and ease the stress (and smell) of the need for a deeper cleaning.  It’s like that with so many things, isn’t it?

  • We can avoid cleaning the house until people are coming over OR we can spend 20 minutes doing a little every day.
  • We can wait until the last day to start working on our annual reports OR we can keep good records over the course of the year.
  • We can write a 20,000 word paper by pulling an all-nighter OR we can write 1,000 words each day for three weeks.

You see where I’m going with this, right?  Preparation is so important, but it is often at the bottom of our list.  So, how can we prepare better?

  1. Monthly, weekly, daily planning – Do you have a calendar?  Of course you do.  Everybody has a calendar.  Whether it is paper and small enough to carry with you or the one that came on your smartphone, we all have access to a calendar.  Having a calendar is not the issue.  Using it is.  So, do you want to prepare better? USE YOUR CALENDAR!  Calendars are awesome because they can give you a quick glance at your schedule, whether it is for the day, week, month, or even year.  Using the calendar helps get things off our minds (ever had the nagging feeling that you forgot what you forgot, but know that you did forget something?), helps us block out our time (it’s hard to double book when you already know that you have something going on – not impossible, but more difficult) and helps, you guessed it, prepare us for upcoming events.
  2. Write it down – On thing that has helped me immensely is having a To Do list.  It helps me get things done because it keeps the things that need getting done right in front of me.  Right now, I am using Wunderlist.  It took a little bit of time, but I have set up a recurring weekly To Do list.  Some weeks, I don’t need to do something on the list – that’s fine, I just check it off like it is already done.  There are many sounds much sweeter than the *ding* that comes alongside checking off an item in Wunderlist, but it’s a pretty sweet sound itself; the sound of victory!
  3. Set big goals, as well as small ones – Here is where I struggle the most.  But, by setting big goals, and then backing it into segments of little goals, we can better prepare ourselves to succeeding in the bigger things.

Here’s the thing: all of these suggestions (and I’m sure there are more you could add to the list) take some time.  Preparation always takes time on the front end.  There’s no way around it.  Actually, the way around it is to not prepare, and constantly be dealing with the stress of being unprepared – that doesn’t seem like a viable alternative to me.

Several coaches are credited with saying something along these lines (Bear Bryant and Vince Lombardi among them), but in Indiana, you have to go with Bobby Knight:

The key is not the will to win… everybody has that.  It is the will to prepare to win that is important.

Games are not won on the floor, in the field, on the diamond.  Games are won in the meeting room, in the gym, on the practice field.  You practice how you play.  Some athletes may disagree with me here.  Great ones, even the good ones, and their coaches, will not.  Ultimately, they do have to go out on the floor, field or diamond to win the game, but if they go out there with the confidence that comes from solid preparation, they already have the upper hand.

Washing bottles may be a chore, but rinsing them beforehand makes it less so.

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.

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.

 

I was working on my sermon this week, and I am going to share a story from my life that I haven’t really shared with a lot of people.  I thought it would be a good story to share here as well.  (So, if you read this before the sermon on Sunday… no spoilers…)

A couple years ago, a friend told me about the Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program that is offered through Wabash College.  It sounded like a great program.  Pastors from across the state were selected to take part, and many of the sessions tackled practical issues that clergy have to deal with on a regular basis.  They brought in top-notch presenters and speakers, leaders in their field.  It also included a couple of trips – one national, one international.  She encouraged me to apply for it, and I decided to go for it.

I’m always looking for ways to improve myself as a pastor and leader, because I feel like I still have a long way to go.  I applied for the program.  A couple months later, I received a letter saying that they received a lot of great applications for the program, and unfortunately, I was not selected.  I read it: we got a lot of great applications, and we got yours as well.  I still struggle with self-esteem issues from time to time.

I was disappointed to say the least.  I wasn’t hinging all my hopes for the future on this program, but it would have been nice to be a part of it.  A couple of my friends are in it now, and I’ve heard more good things about it.  At the time, I just couldn’t understand why this particular opportunity was not going to be available to me.  I got over it quick though.  I’m happy for my friends who are taking part in it.

Then something unimaginable happened in my life: my wife was pregnant.  Now, those that know my story know that the pregnancy wasn’t the unimaginable part – we’ve already had four of those that ended in miscarriage.  The unimaginable part was that she continued to be pregnant.  To be honest, neither one of us was too excited when we first heard the news.  We were in the adoption process.  We hadn’t been selected by a birth mother yet, but we were on the list, and had been for several months at this point.  We decided to put the adoption on hold and focus on the pregnancy – which we were sure wasn’t going to last.  However, it did… for the most part.  Our little girl came along at 25 weeks and 4 days.  Just, you know, 14 weeks and 3 days early.  And that was after 12 days of hospitalized bed rest for my wife.

We spent 117 days in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), watching our baby girl grow strong and healthy, and finally brought her home on August 29, 2015 – just a couple weeks after her due date.  We went up to Castleton (a 45 minute drive) every single day during her 117-day stay.  And you know what never crossed my mind – the Wabash program.

During this time in the hospital, I would have had to leave home three or four times, including a week-long trip across the country.  I don’t know if I could have done it with my baby girl in the hospital.  In fact, it was a relief that I didn’t have to figure it out.  Turns out, not being accepted into the program was the best thing for me at that time in my life.

I guess that’s the benefit of hindsight.

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In Plato’s Republic there is a story referred to by Glaucon, the brother of Plato.  It’s a myth about a man who finds a golden ring, which gave him the ability to become invisible.  In the myth, the character uses the ring to seduce the queen, kill the king and name himself king.  The question that Glaucon raises is if a person could have enough virtue to resist the temptation to commit immoral actions if there was absolutely no chance of it being discovered.  Is morality merely a social construct?  Do we do the right thing simply because we are afraid of what would happen if others would find out?

It’s a question that people have wrestled with for centuries.  Some have taken to film to explore the question, like in 2000’s Hollow Man starring Kevin Bacon.  Others have had the discussion in terms of what superpower would they like to have.  Still others have pondered it on their own, or in philosophy class, or sitting around the bar.  I’m not much of a philosopher – I’ve taken a few classes, read a few books and spent some time thinking… maybe that does make me a philosopher, I don’t know.  Regardless, is it possible for a person to maintain morality in a situation in which there are no consequences?

The question was posed to Socrates in Republic, and, ultimately, he concludes that it is not social constructs that should help us maintain our morality, but whether or not we remain in control of ourselves on a rational level.

What role does guilt have in the church?  There are some who would argue that the church plays on our guilt as a way to pacify us.  In fact, there’s even a term “Catholic Guilt” to described the supposed excess of guilt felt by Catholics and lapsed Catholics.  But is guilt a worthwhile enterprise for the church?  I don’t think so.

Clearly, there are times in our lives when we do something wrong.  Guilt is a way of bringing us back on track – whether we see it as a social construct or as a result of our religious background.  However, there are some who would play on guilt as a way of getting what they want – that’s called manipulation.  You know what I’m talking about – the commercials that show the sad, shaking dogs at the shelter, the ones who try to raise money for their organization with sad pictures and sob stories.

Unfortunately, we do see some of that in the church, but there’s something that the church has to offer that goes beyond guilt; it’s called grace.

Grace is not a free pass.  Grace is not the ring of invisibility that helps us get away with things.  We can’t go about our lives doing whatever we want and then run back to grace when we get caught.  Grace goes beyond that.  Yes, grace is there when we fall short.  Not as a safety net, but as a reminder of God’s love for us.  Guilt should not compel us to do what is right; grace should.

So, if you could be invisible and get away with whatever you want, what kind of life would you lead?  Would you be reckless and do the things that you couldn’t get away with otherwise, or would you live a life full of grace?

 

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.        Psalm 139:13-14a

Have you ever stopped to think about how God designed you?  Each one of us, billions of people all over the world, have been designed and wired in a unique way by the God who created each of us.  It’s amazing how no two people are exactly alike – even identical twins have their differences in personality, temperament, gifts, passions, etc.

Certainly we recognize some characteristics or traits in one another, but that doesn’t mean we are exactly alike, just that we are similar.  At our core, we are all the same: flesh, blood, bones.  Well… we are mostly the same…

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Seriously though, the things that make us different and unique are not going to show up on a CT scan or MRI.  What I’m talking about here are different personality traits and behaviors that we all exhibit.  Have you ever taken the time to explore it for yourself?

A while back I decided that it was going to be important for me to gain a better understanding of who I am so that I can be a better pastor and leader.  If I know who I am, then I can better fill in the gaps of my ministry with those who are called and designed differently than myself.

In the process of this self-exploration, I can’t say that I’ve really discovered anything new about myself, but it certainly explains some things.

Here are the different tools/assessments that I’ve used so far: Myers-Briggs, StrengthsFinder, The Birkman Method, and a spiritual gifts inventory (actually several through the years, with my top 2-3 always constant).

All of these tools give useful information, but synthesizing and applying that information is the real task that awaits.

So, what about you?  Have you thought about the way that God has wired you?  Spend some time digging into it, and you may be surprised in what you find.  But, know this, no matter what, you are fearfully and wonderfully made by the God that created the whole universe.