How Changing My Mind about Changing Everything Changed My Life

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I wish I would’ve learned this in my 30’s, it would’ve saved so much grief, frustration, relational entropy – emotional energy.

I’ve spent most of my life believing that situation determines happiness – the right job, a good boss, money, etc., and I’ve had multiple careers as a result – nothing salves a crappy life better than a drastic change.  There have been some fun moments, tons of things to be learned, not many of which have helped in my latest career – Stay At Home Dad (SAHD).  Regardless of where I’ve landed vocationally, there’s always been a nagging compulsion to change everything as soon as life becomes stale, boring, unjust, or downright bad.

Feeling like I can’t be happy until things change has always made me downright bitter, especially in those times where I was powerless to change things. There’s nothing worse than being stuck, feeling like you’re supposed to be somewhere else.

Everything changed in my late 40’s when I was assaulted in a men’s airport restroom.

I left my wife at the gate with 3 crazy kids, hoping to be back in time to board.  This particular facility was attended by a soon-to-be elderly gentleman of Middle Eastern descent. I’ve got some pictures in my head of what retirement will look like.  At worst I’ll be handing out carts at WalMart by day, smoking cigars and watching Lostreruns by night.  Bathroom attendant?  Not on the table.

This guy said nothing, and everything.  He had an air of dignity and self respect as he looked me in the eye and nodded. I felt like I mattered – a break from the desert of meaninglessness through which I usually trod.  I turned around and put some money in his tip jar, then felt like I should patronize one of the items neatly arranged on his counter. I dabbed some cologne on my neck, tried to give a similar nod, and headed back to the gate.

I couldn’t shake it. He seemed happy – working in an airport restroom all. day. long.  Funny how we can sense when someone’s happy.  Like hungry dogs can smell a bologna sandwich ten miles away, people smell peace.  This guy had it in spades; you couldn’t get past him without getting it all over you.

I’ve been a pastor, pilot, restaurant manager, banker, and now I have 5 hours five days a week to kick back while my kids are at school and my wife goes off to support us all.  This guy’s happy and I’m not? He’s at peace and I’m so typically torqued?  What’s missing?

In that moment I decided to at least try to look around at the things that are going well, the things I should be thankful for. I began to realize that expecting things to change before I can be happy is a truly miserable way to live.  The more I flex the “be happy now” muscle the more I’m able to be at peace, even when things aren’t going well.  The more I’m able to be at peace when things aren’t going well, the more I’m able to interface with the good/beautiful/powerful things of my life.

When the kids are crazy, when my wife and I are fighting, when I screw up and everyone’s talking about it, when I walk out of the doctor’s office with a diagnosis for Rheumatoid Arthritis – when my life seems like an endless day in a restroom – I can still be thankful, at peace. I might even be able to infect someone. I’m new to this and sometimes not very good at it, but slowly learning that, somehow, every day, I have what I need.

So, thank you nameless guy who’s cheap cologne I’ll never forget.  Our 20 second encounter, and the way you’re living your life has incited me to change mine – to get rid of some caustic attitudes, to open my eyes about what’s truly good and beautiful.  You slapped me in the face with your peace, your self-dignity, and your respect, and got some on me.

Didn’t see that one coming

A Good Day to Die

Imagine that you have one week to live.  I know – sorry – that’s such a cheesy way to start a post.  If you were really dying though, you’d feel anything but cheese.  In our culture we like to pretend that death’s not real.  We invent all manner of fantasy to insulate us from the idea that our time here is so desperately short.

Close your computer, take 15 minutes of silence and imagine that this is your last week – give it enough time.  Make it real.

If you do a good job, you’ll look at everything differently – friendship, marriage, kids, possessions, career, worries, fears, goals, broken relationships, values. You’ll find that death brings a quality to life that “immortality” can’t.

Living with death is a quick remedy for the bullshit that we allow to move into our minds, our tendency to feel like the very cosmos has set it’s will against us, that life’s not fair, that we need more.

So many times I feel like I’m living in a giant, shiny, silver tube, where all I can see is a glimmer of what’s ahead, completely blind to the beauty and the weight that surrounds me.  The not-so-distant reality of my death makes me sad, but brings with it the reminder that I have a great life.

 

The Most Misunderstood Thing About Jesus

Jesus’ first miracle was one that would have made alot of religious folk angry.

He was at a party, a 1st century Jewish wedding to be exact, an event where people party – for many days.  The wine had run out and Jesus’ mother pressed him to “do his thing” and fix this most heinous faux pas.  There are a million ways He could have done it, but He chose to make about 180 gallons of wine in 6 large containers used for a sacred Jewish cleansing ritual.

A modern day version of this would be to walk into a Baptist church, fill the baptistry (a small swimming pool where folks are baptised) with wine and say, “Party on dudes.”

Jesus’ first miracle was to keep a party going.  Why is He almost always portrayed as such as buzz kill?

You don’t have to go far to find someone who’ll tell you that Jesus wants nothing more than for you to control yourself, avoid sinning, and get your sh!t together.  I’ve been a pastor for many moons now and can tell you that most American Evangelicals live under this very misguided piece of theology.

When I first got into this whole Jesus thing I had recently witnessed the shooting death of a good friend (long long story, I’ll post it here in the near future).  I was torn up with PTSD, etc and didn’t see a way forward.  My uber religious, very frisky girlfriend, who had just dumped me, had previously dragged me to church enough for me to think that maybe there was something behind the Jesus door.  I had tried everything else, what the hell.  I had a very powerful experience and began attending church on a regular basis.  It was weird growing up Catholic then finding myself in the midst of this Evangelical wonderland.  My early experiences were especially interesting.

A girl took me to church one time, a very large Dallas church.  As we passed by the bookstore I asked if Jesus would be by to turn over the tables?  She didn’t laugh.  After the crackers and the tiny plastic cups of grape-juice were passed out, the offering plate came my way.  “What’s this, the bill for lunch?”  “Get it?  The bill for lunch?”  I thought it was hilarious, but obviously had a few things to learn about the culture.

At this new place, and within this new culture, the message was clear – we are all charged with spending our lives trying to get our sh!t together.  The Bible studies, the sermons, the small groups, all were focused primarily on rule following. So, I spent the majority of my adult years believing that God wanted obedience first and foremost.  He’s only happy when we’re doing what we’re supposed to.  When we’re not, he’s shinin’ up the lightening bolts.

A few years later I was accepted to grad school where I would spend the next 4 years working on my Master’s degree (it was a 120+ hour program – not bragging, just didn’t want anyone thinking I’m a slacker.  There’s other evidence for that).  A big chunk of my curriculum was focused on ancient Greek and Hebrew so that I could study the scriptures more in-depth.  Our professors encouraged us, over and again, to not let our biases, our emotions, or our culture do the translating/interpreting.  We were to try our best to let the texts speak for themselves.  I was once instructed that if I didn’t agree with widely held beliefs that was ok.  If I didn’t defend them well however, I’d get an F.  Not bad for a conservative Christian Seminary that many would consider to be the mecca of all close-mindedness.

A couple of years after I graduated I read a passage in the New Testament that I had read a thousand times.  This time it hit me differently.  In our Greek manuscripts it reads:

ἐγὼ ἦλθον ἵνα ζωὴν ἔχωσιν καὶ περισσὸν ἔχωσιν
I came so that they might have life, and have (it) overflowing.

Note that He didn’t say

  • I came so that they would all get their sh!t together
  • I came so that they would think right things about me
  • I came so that they might learn to defend themselves from the evils of this world
  • I came so that they might find some people to harass, belittle, and marginalize
  • vote a certain way
  • hate the gays
  • avoid alcohol

By “life,” He wasn’t referring to the next life.  There are plenty of scriptures where Jesus clearly refers to Heaven.  This particular statement gives no evidence that he’s referring to anything other than life in the here and now.  This is something that He wants for you and I – today.  Right now.

For me, in this moment, I decided to let this passage govern my thinking about God, Jesus, the Bible, and my life till the day I die.  Whenever I run into confusion, fear, apathy, or general stupidity, this passage gets me back on track.

What’s even more interesting is the fact that everyone on the planet is desperately looking for life.  Some of us are killing ourselves (and sometimes others) because we want LIFE.  What Jesus claimed to be devoted to giving to us, we’re all trying like hell to get.  More intimacy, more significance, more fun, more laughter, more pleasure, more more more more more.  The entire world – dead, alive, and yet-to-be-born will always have at the core of it’s life the quest for life.

And here’s this not-so-attractive, unassuming, friend-to-whores-and-sinners, so-called Rabbi, claiming that the purpose for His very existence is the very thing we’re all clamoring for.  He’s not going to give us a jet, or a mansion, or a hot wife.  It’s not that these things are bad, they’re simply not what we’re looking for – they’re merely symptoms of deeper wants.

It’s a hell of alot easier to be a rule-follower than it is to trust that Jesus has my best interest at heart, that He actually wants what I want (not the corrupted, selfish version of what I want, the good stuff that hangs out underneath all that).  Sadly, for most religious folk, everything revolves around the rules, which drives so much “death.”  It’s a truly miserable way to view God, yourself, other people, and the world you live in.

I dare you, place at the center of your understanding of God the fact that He wants you to suck the marrow out of your life (His way, not your way by the way) and read one of the Gospels (the book of John is my favorite).  It’ll change your life.

60 Years was not Enough: What my Grandparent’s bad Marriage Taught Me about Life

I learned so much from watching my father’s parents grow old together, then say goodbye.

Mary and Lloyd (Frenchie) seemed to live as distant roommates – married strangers.  Looking back on their life, I don’t remember them displaying any physical signs that they loved each other – i’m not saying they didn’t, it was just hard to tell from my perspective.   By the time I was a teenager, they had separate rooms in their tiny Biloxi, Mississippi home.

When I was in grad school we got the news that my grandmother had contracted a type of cancer that would take her life in short order.   She was in her late 70’s at the time and very quickly began to show physical signs that things weren’t going well.

This had a strange affect on my Grandfather. All of a sudden he began to care for her, to attend to her, to pay attention in a way that I had never seen. He was now her caretaker, her caregiver, her best friend.  We all took notice – it was a different dance for him, something we weren’t expecting.

In what seemed like such a short time, Grandma was admitted into the hospital and quickly slipped into a coma.  The doctors told us she wouldn’t be waking up.  I wasn’t there for this closing scene – my parents related it to me – but we were all dumb-struck.

Grandpa shuffled into her room, stood at the foot of her bed, grabbed her feet and said, looked at her sleeping eyes and said, “60 years was not enough.”  I always imagined that he saw her as she was when they first met, only more beautiful.  I was reminded of their seemingly un-physical relationship – I had never seen them touch each other.  But Grandpa became a different man in the last days of his marriage.  He was falling in love with her and mourning the “empty” spaces of their life together.

I’m not sure what drove my grandparents apart.  I heard there was quite a bit of unresolved “stuff” in their marriage – things that they just couldn’t seem to shake – pretty common in a marriage.  But however impossible those things might have been to overcome, they were quickly and thoroughly annihilated when Grandma got sick.  Her impending death would be the end of the distance between them.

While I was deeply touched by the reconciliation that my grandparents were able to experience, I was also floored at how deeply bitterness had affected their life – so deeply that the only thing able to shake it off of them was the loss they suffered.  I thought about the bitterness I’ve held to in my life – all the relationships I’ve abandoned – the life that I’ve missed.

Years later, I’ve done some unpacking about my failed relationships and the bitterness that destroyed them.  Bitterness doesn’t kill love, it only covers it, so deeply sometimes that we become convinced that the love is gone, the friendship dead. I have a friend who recently kicked her husband out of the house, then divorced him, then moved on to find something better.  Her husband had grown distant and despondent towards her, something that broke her heart over and over again.  The bitterness between them, unchecked for 15 years or so, grew like a thick blanket, leaving her disconnected from the love she still has for him – completely convinced that she’s “over” him.

It would be great if it worked like that – if we could just wash our hands of the love that we’ve built (discovered?) and “move on.”  But it doesn’t work that way, and if we ever run into something painful, heartbreaking, or difficult, for some reason we’ll be able to see through the bitterness we’ve so foolishly allowed to build up – then wail silently as we mourn what could have been.  We’ll see the love that’s still somehow burning and feel like complete idiots that we were so deeply duped.

I’m now at a place where I take greater care with my relationships (I’m at least better than I was 10 years ago).  When conflict comes, especially when I get my feelings hurt (something I hate admitting but also something that happens so much), I try real hard to silence the pride and voice what’s going on.  On a good day I’m willing to take the risk that I’ll get laughed at, further hurt, or worse sit and listen to the other person offer an heartfelt apology then talk about me behind my back.  There have been times when my friend and I have come to a deeper place through the conflict.  Those times, and the resulting depth of relationship, are truly worth the risk.

My efforts in relationships are less contingent on the other person’s behavior than they used to be.  They’re more contingent on the fact that I love and value these people, and that I love and value myself.

My wife is masterful at allowing me to voice my hurt and air my grievances.  I’m careful to qualify that the hurt I feel in my marriage is more based on hurts that I suffered long ago before we met.  But, thanx mainly to her mature understanding of things, we’ve been able to keep our blanket of bitterness ever so thin – at least thin enough to offer some evidence that there’s something under there – never so thick that we become ignorant of how we really feel about each other.

Relationships are designed to get better, not worse.  I can always blame the other person when things are going bad, but relationships that you have to fight for are the best ones, the most valuable ones.  I have a responsibility to do my part – to take risks, confront, apologize, pursue, pray, suffer on some occasions, maybe even get in a fist fight if that’s what it takes – so that I might enjoy the one thing in life that has no boundaries.

There are tight restrictions in this universe on how famous you can be, how much money you can have, material possessions, influence, etc.  There are no boundaries whatsoever on how many friends you can have (if you’re not picky about what they look like, who they are, etc.).  It’s as if something set the cosmos in a way that all but forces us to understand that great friendships are truly the greatest things.

The most wonderful times of my life have all revolved around great friends.  When I’m on my death-bed I won’t be comforted by my accomplishments, my wealth, my influence, definitely not my fast fleeting looks.  I’ll remember Chris and Brad and Paul and Josh.  Elaine, my kids, my Brother, my Parents – all people who I went deep with, and all people who gave life to my world like nothing else.