Category Archives: reflection

Stories

Recently, I asked myself the question that guys my age ask themselves so often. What am I here for? What is my calling? What bothers me so much that I could give the rest of my life to making it better? And you know what? I had an answer. It was so clear. It wasn’t a new idea, which made it feel even more real. But it was the first time that this was the answer that came to me when I asked the question:

Stories

Hearing peoples stories, Helping people tell their stories, telling my story.

Continue reading Stories

Noise

Noise everywhere! I’m sitting in the library waiting for Jeanie who is in a meeting at work. I have an hour to read and write… Kids are running around making noise and their mom is letting them. Interestingly, she fusses at the older girl for making noise when it is the younger one who is making more noise. (What’s up with that? ) I thought the library was supposed to be the “quiet zone”.

Continue reading Noise

The Jar

 Have you ever felt like your emotions were out of control? Like the way you are feeling is incongruous with the situation. Something small happens and you get all bent out of shape about it. That happened to me in a huge way a few months ago. Something insignificant had happened, but I was really upset about it. I was feeling embarrassed about something I had done and I was beating myself up about it. At the same time that my emotional mind was out of control, my rational mind was engaged and asking why in the world, I was overreacting to the situation. The emotions I felt didn’t add up to the situation.

I know that when I am feeling something deeply, there’s more to it than just emotion. When I am feeling something irrational, I know there’s some real gold to be found in mining that. It is worth figuring out what is at the root of it all. The problem is that it is uncomfortable to even admit that I’m irrational. How can I be introspective when I feel stupid?

Russian Dolls

russian-dolls.gifAt a retreat I attended a few years ago, Gordon McDonald compared us to Russian dolls (you know the little dolls that you open up and there’s another one inside that looks just like the one you opened only smaller. He said that the outside doll is the one we show to people. So, when I meet you, the Jim that you see is my outside doll (Jim-1). If I get to know you better, I will show you (Jim-2), but I’m going to have to feel pretty darned safe in order to share Jim-3 with you. Jim-4 might have secrets about me that only my best friends will ever know. I expect to spend the rest of my life learning more about Jims-5, 6, 7… The key is that I don’t know everything there is to know about me. The reasons I behave irrationally is that on some level it isn’t irrational. Jim-13 may be crying out for attention. Maybe something happened to me when I was little that I don’t even remember… but it affects me. It is part of me. I want to find out and give Jim-13 what he needs.

Three Questions

I have begun asking myself a series of questions to find out what’s going on inside when I feel. The intensity of the feeling is more important than the feeling itself… at least at first. A feeling may be huge and debilitating, or it may be just a little flip in my gut. It can be a flush of embarrassment or a sudden defensiveness. When I recognize it, I am learning to ask these questions:

  1. What am I feeling?
  2. What do I believe that is causing this feeling?
  3. Is the belief true?

Feelings are caused by beliefs. I don’t mean something spiritual (necessarily). My beliefs are the way I truly see the world (like a map). For instance, I am feeling confident and comfortable sitting in my chair typing on this computer because I believe that the chair will hold me up and that the computer will work long enough to help me publish this blog. (I just felt a sense of mistrust in the computer which caused me to save my work.)

Once I know what the belief is, I need to know if it is true or not. Sometimes I believe things that just are not true. When that’s the case, the first step is to know the truth and allow it to replace the lie. Sometimes, my belief is true, and the feeling is valid. That is a good thing to know, when I feel confused.

Many times the belief that causes the feeling is unrelated to the situation at hand, which makes the puzzle that much harder to solve. That’s not fair though. If it wasn’t related, the situation would not have triggered it. Rather than say it is not related, it would be more accurate to say that the belief is related to the situation only in my heart. No one else would connect this belief from my past to this situation in the present, but I did. I know I did because I recognize the feeling and I recognize the belief. Just because it is only related in my heart does not make it false. Something is going on inside of me and it is worth the effort to get to the root.

An example of when I did it right… When I was a kid, I was a complete klutz when it came to sports. I didn’t like sports and sports didn’t like me. In PE class, when the team captains picked their team players I was always the one at the end that they both wanted to give to the other team. The one time I tryed out for little league I got taken out on the first cut (and I was glad). A few years ago, I started exercising regularly. One thing led to another and I began running. I started running with my friend, John fairly regularly about a year ago, but John was a much better runner than I. I apologized for slowing him down. John is the one who started my thinking around the three questions, and he asked what I was feeling and believing in the moment. I was feeling like the athletic failure from school because I thought I was impeding his goals. He assured me that the reason he was running with me was because he wanted just wanted to be with me. So the answer to question #3 was no. The belief was not true. After that, I felt better about running with him… and we are still running together… and I don’t slow him down (as much as I used to).

Back to the original story… I was embarrassed over what I had done, but it didn’t make sense. Why was my stomach all in knots when nothing was wrong? What was I feeling? What was I believing? Were my beliefs true?

Did I say that the questions were easy to answer? They are not. It is hard to work through the feelings in the moment when we are feeling such intense emotions. However, in the midst of it all, I had a vision of a jar…

The Vision of the Jar

I saw a large clear glass jar, like the ones you might see in a restaurant kitchen. The jar was full of clear water. You could see straight through the jar and the water. At a glance, I thought that the water was clean, but on second look I noticed that there was a layer of sediment on the bottom of the jar. The sediment was all settled so it didn’t cloud the water at all. Then the jar got bumped ever so slightly. The silt and mud in the bottom stirred up a little and caused the water to become cloudy. After a while, the cloudiness settled and the water was clear again. Another time, the jar got shaken a bit and the stuff was all stirred up in the water causing it to be so murky I could not see through it at all. As the jar remained still, the sediment began to settle once again to the bottom of the jar until it was clear again.

The jar of water is me. When the water is clear, things are going well. Nothing is bothering me and I am not bothering anyone else (as far as I know or care). To look at me, you might think I have it all together. You might say that Jim-1 is polished up for showing off. I am feeling good and looking good. The world is right because I feel right.

The problem is the sediment. The sediment is the junk in my life; the hurts I have received, the names I have been called, the times I have been disappointed the embarrassing moments, the times I tried and failed, the times I didn’t even try, the broken promises… It is also the hurts I have given, the names I have called others, the disappointments I caused, the promises I have broken. The sediment lays there just under the surface where neither of us can see it. Then something happens to stir it up. Maybe it is a small bump of the jar like a glaring look or being the butt of a joke. Rather than address it, I hold my chin up and try to be very still emotionally until eventually, the as the feeling goes away, the water becomes clear. Ahhh now I can continue with life. Everything is fine. Except it isn’t.

Life is full of bumps to mess up my jar by stirring things up. The key seems to be in understanding that the sediment is there and not ignoring it. The sediment is part of who I am. When I stop ignoring it, I can better understand who I am; where my feelings, thoughts and behaviors come from. When I understand me better, I can handle life much better. Not by ignoring the junk in my life, but by understanding it.

Here’s the rub… I can truly only examine my sediment while it is stirred up. Once it is settled, I cannot see it. I can talk about it abstractly, but it is on real in the moment. In the moment, I can feel it. It is ugly. Only when I believe that there is great value in understanding the sediment, will I welcome the shaking and stirring of the jar. Even then, it is a love-hate relationship. I don’t want to see the sediment. I don’t want to feel it, but I truly want to understand who I am, so I am learning to be comfortable with the discomfort.

Each time I have gone through the process of examining the sediment, I feel like I have grown more. The things that I do not know about me block me from being the person God wants me to be. Who does God want me to be? Me! The hurts, habits and hang-ups in my life prevent me from being me.

I was so glad to learn that I don’t have to go through the examination process alone. As I learn more about my sediment, I have discovered that God meets me there. In fact Psalm 139:23-24 addresses it this way:

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.

See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

I want to be searched and known. I want to be led in the way everlasting. Shake me, God. Stir my heart.

We’re ok and thankful for fire fighters

At the risk of sounding like Lucy when she returned from Narnia, we are ok. You can stop worrying.

We had our first fire of the season in the fireplace tonight. Unfortunately, the fire got up inside the chimney and flames and sparks were coming out of the chimney. It made me very nervous so I called 911 and told Jeanie and Melody to grab a few valuables and get out. By the time the 4 fire trucks arrived (a few minutes), the flames had died down and it appeared all was well. They checked things out and said everything was ok. Before they left, the gave me a commendation for calling them, thanks for giving them somthing to do and a brief lecture on servicing the fireplace once a year.

Whew! Thanks to God and the fire department.

21 years ago

Last weekend, while Danae was visiting, we listened to an audio tape of her and Melody from 21 years ago. Imagine our surprise when we heard the clip below. Enjoy![youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r27f6B17jEw]

Life really is about the little things, isn’t it? Do something you’ll be glad to find in 21 years.

Darkness and Light

“Understanding death and life is not really so difficult. It is like darkness and light. Darkness is not the opposite of light; it is the absence of light. The way to be in the light is not by trying hard not to be in the dark. It is by coming into or turning on a light. Death is not the opposite of life; it is the absence of life. The way to have life is not by trying hard not to be dead. It is by coming to what can give life.” (Good News for the Chemically Dependent and Those Who Love Them by Jeff VanVonderen).

This quote got me thinking about how I often try to be less spiritually dark by trying harder to be good. When I don’t measure up, I feel like a total screwball and think that there is no way God could love me the way I am. So, I try harder to clean up my life and do my best to hide how messed up I am from my friends and family. I think that they would never accept me if they really knew me.

The truth is that the way to light is by turning on the light, not by trying harder to be less dark. So when I screw up… in fear and trembling… I tell my godly brothers about my screwed-up-ness. Inevitably, they say, “Hey me too!” We are all in this together. The truth is, that is why we need God.

It is only by taking off our masks and admitting that we are screwballs that we can come to the realization that we are in need of a savior. Yes, I am a screwball who is “filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Eph 3:14-21). I already have the light… in me. As I peel back the layers of Jim-ness that get in the way of God’s light, He shines through brightly. And in an ironic way, as I get out of the way, he uses me in my own Jimazing way to shine His light.

Go figure.

A mess

I was looking at a photo of my paternal grandparents this morning and wondering who they really were. Oh, I knew them (My grandmother just died last hear), but I didn’t really know them. I don’t think they even knew themselves.

I am full of feelings; joys, fears, doubts, questions. Sometimes I feel like I’m right where God wants me to be and doing just what he has for me… other times, I am paralyzed with fear for no apparent reason.

What

did

they

fear?

After going through the Great Depression, I am sure that having shelter and enough food was a driving fear. Frugal would be a great understatement. What else was there? Did they talk about their feelings to one another? They showed me that they had it all together. Being a child, I believed that. I believed that one day, I too would have it all together. I would know who I am, what I believe and where I am going.

It was a lie.

I don’t have it together and don’t believe they did either. They reduced life to a few simple rules. Follow those rules and you get a get-out-of-hell-free card at the end of your life. I think there is more to life than that. More to following God than that.

Do I sound disrespectful? I don’t mean to. They were who they were.

Now that sounds like a copout. I don’t mean it to. I guess I am resigned to the fact that I will never know what happened to them. What were their joys, their sorrows, their hurts and fears? What made them feel on top of the world? It would help me to know who I am. There’s something comforting in the thought that I’m not the first one to feel the things I feel, to struggle with the tendencies I struggle with, to fear the things I fear and to wrestle with the questions I do.

Dear Family and Friends,

I am a mess. I do not have all the answers and it seems like every time I wrestle with a big question and get an answer, it comes bundled with more questions I hadn’t even considered before. I am afraid. I fear failure. I fear success (does that sound weird?). I want more than anything to follow God… not some impersonal god idea… I want to follow the God of the Bible.

First and foremost I want to be identified as a follower of Christ, but I don’t like the baggage that comes with that label.

I am a mess. But Jesus loves me anyway. That is the good news. Although I cannot earn his love, I want to serve him because I do love him. I want to love in a revolutionary, radical way.

I want you to come along. Let’s explore this life together and help one another. I love you.

Accountability (on purpose)

Kids are totally accountable to their parents or guardian for everything they do. When they are really young, they do not get to decide anything for themselves. As they grow older, good parents allow them to make some decisions on their own or with limited input from the parents. These parents know that the goal is to work themselves out of a job.

The kids see adults as the decision-makers. In their childish view, adults don’t answer to anyone! “You get to do anything you want.” Of course that is not entirely true for anyone, but it is an easy jump for kids to make.

We were once kids. As kids, I’d guess that most of us made that leap. We were sure that when we grew up, we wouldn’t be have to answer to anyone.

We grew up.

What kind of grown-ups did that kind of thinking produce? Most adults (at least in my experience) live their lives in such a way as to avoid voluntary accountability. By that, I mean that we are accountable only where we have to be. I hate that phrase “have to”, but it really is the “have to” mindset that drives what I am talking about. I “have to” be accountable to someone at work, but that accountability is not a voluntary thing. It is the way work works. My boss tells me what to do and I do it. It is actually quite codependent.

If we voluntarily made ourselves accountable to some others, what might that look like?

What if I had a friend I could go to and say, “I totally screwed up. I did something I am not proud of and I wanted you to know.” What if that friend offered to help me stay accountable about that thing? What if he asked me first? Totally voluntary! On purpose! Radical! Accountability! James 5:16

What if I had a friend, who I trusted to take me aside and say to me, “Jim, I see potential in you, but I see you behaving as if you were clueless. As your friend, I think you can do better.” Proverbs 27:6

What if it cut both way? If my friends and I were accountable to one another? What if I was sometimes on the receiving end and sometimes on the giving end?

I have those kinds of friendships and these are three observations I would like to make about it tonight…

  1. I don’t have to be accountable. It is a choice I freely make.
  2. It is uncomfortable. It is never fun to confess my sins to a brother. It is never fun to be challenged that I’m not living up to my potential. It is never fun to confront a brother when I feel like he is not living up to his potential. It is never fun to listen to a brother tell me how he has “screwed up.”
  3. It is rich. It is only through the vulnerability that results from a life of voluntary accountability that any of us stands a chance at reaching anywhere close to our potential. It is only through the pain of confession that we come to realize that we are not the only ones who are a mess.

Thank you, God, for good friends.

A Day with God

One of the things I have learned about me is that I need time alone regularly. Another that is closely related is that I need time alone with God for an extended period. Occasionally, I have taken a day off from work just to go hiking and commune with my Creator. Every time I have done it, I knew that I need to do that more often. A couple of weeks ago, I was reviewing my goals for 2006. One of them was to get away with God four times during the year. It occurred to me that the best way to make that happen was to get it on the calendar. So I requested four days vacation from work spaced about 3 months apart. The first of those four days was today.

First thing this morning, Jeanie and I made the effort to start fulfilling another goal for this year. That goal was to get our financial house in better order. So, we met with a financial advisor.

I hate dealing with money. I hate budgeting. I hate paying bills. I don’t even keep track of pay days. To prove it, when I was sharing this with Tim (the counselor), I told him that I don’t even know when I get paid. Jeanie said, “You got paid today.” It is certainly not because I am rich. I have just figured out that if I work at my job, they will pay me and Jeanie will make sure the bills get paid. Then I don’t have to think about it. As much as I love to do everything for myself, money tasks are not high on my list of things to do.

Even though I hate dealing with money (myself), I recognize that we need an objective person (who likes dealing with money) to let us know how we are doing. He will use sophisticated tools (that I don’t care to learn about) to project how we will do in the future if we keep doing what we are doing. He will make suggestions based on our goals to help us get where we want to be. Sounds like a great idea to me.

…Back to my day. After taking Jeanie home, I headed to the Ribbon Walk for the afternoon. If you live near Charlotte, NC and you haven’t gone to the Ribbon Walk, you should check it out. It is a small forest with trails and lakes right in the town of Derita. They have a special place called the Treasure Tree Grove, where several huge 150-200 years old beech trees grow. What a lovely place. I sat on the benches there for a long time; journaling and praying and reading and journaling and praying some more. God met me there and it was sweet.

I took my journal out there and the first thing I wrote was an “agenda”. I have a very short memory and I tend to go off on tangents with my thoughts. I used this list to help keep me on track. One huge prayer was heavy on my heart, but there were a lot of other pressing issues. Each time I thought of something, I added it to the list. One by one, I went through each item on the list in prayer.

I believe that God is real and that a relationship to Him is much more than a religious ritual. After walking with him for most of my life, I forget that others might not understand that. When I pray, I am spending time with the Creator of the Universe! That is unbelievably awesome! How could I be so presumptuous that He would have time for me? And yet, somehow He does. He hears my cries and today He even reminded me of some things I had left off of my list! Go figure.

I feel refreshed and renewed. I feel like He heard me and that He cares enough to answer my prayers. Not because I am anyone special. Anything special about me is from Him. It is only because He chooses to let me talk to Him and be real with Him.

I take my hard questions to Him. Did I get all the answers? No, but I got some of them. Will I do it again? I can hardly wait for May 30th!