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There Are Always Blue Skies

There Are Always Blue Skies

My view was obscured, but that didn’t change what I knew was on the other side.

I stood on the deck looking across the lake, cup of coffee in hand, as the birds sang in the crisp morning air. Typically the other side of the lake was dotted with little houses, mostly summer homes and getaways from some other life that the owners were escaping. This particular morning, though, the fog obscured my view. I could make out some faint shapes, but no colors, and only my memory could fill the gap of what was over there.  

It was a different story just a couple days earlier. I had been standing in the same spot, a different cup of coffee in hand, looking across the lake and awestruck by the beauty of the water, blue skies, and cute little cottages across the way. What a difference a day or two, along with an overnight storm, had made on my ability to see clearly.

My view was obscured, but that didn’t change what I knew was on the other side.

I knew the lovely little cottages were still over there. In spite of not being able to see them well, I could know with certainty that they stood solidly in their place. The little A-frame cottage, my favorite of the houses across the way, assuredly remained in its place in all of its cute little glory. I could trust my memory in spite of not being able to see it.

My view was obscured, but that didn’t change what I knew was on the other side.

That’s similar to flying in an airplane when a storm is brewing. The skies look ominous, but the captain says over the speaker, “We’re going to quickly get up to cruising altitude above the storm.” It’s a bit bumpy getting there. It can feel touch and go, and your stomach flips and flops as you eye the airsick bag just in case. But as you clear the storm clouds and turbulence you find that the sky is still blue above it all.

It didn’t seem possible in the midst of the storm, but the blue skies were always present in spite of not seeing them. There are always blue skies.

Life can throw a lot at us, and sometimes it feels awfully dim, but the God who is with us in the times of blue skies is also present when it seems that God can’t be found. Sometimes our view can be obscured, but that doesn’t change what’s on the other side. 

Storms, turbulence, or silence are real, but so are the blue skies. Lean into the uncomfortable faith that the same God IS present.

 

Lament on a Trampoline

The interesting thing about lament in the Psalms is that nearly all of them move through the emotions of grief and pain yet ultimately conclude with a sort of doxology; a way of offering praise to God.

Recently I spent time at a weekend training where we were given an “exercise on lament.” That’s kind of a strange activity isn’t it—to practice the process of lament? I don’t know about you, but it seems that in our culture we don’t always have the opportunity, or permission even, to properly process grief through the act of lament. We are told to guard our emotions, stifle tears, and in some ways not process our feelings. That’s the opposite of what we see in the scriptures.

If you’ve ever spent any length of time reading the Psalms, they are filled with lament, both individual and communal songs of grief or pain. Most times we tend toward Psalms which are upbeat and full of praise or thanks, but there are just as many (or more) that focus on lament, grief, and crying out to God. If you’ve ever wanted to know how to lament just turn to the Psalms.

Anyway, I was given an opportunity to spend about 45 minutes contemplating something in my life which I might not have fully lamented to that point. Something sprang to mind immediately so I grabbed my journal and headed outside the house to the lovely backyard on a warm summer day. There, in the corner of the yard, I saw a trampoline.

Why not lament on a trampoline? 

I crawled up onto the warm, black trampoline surface and sprawled out on my stomach, journal before me, and began to contemplate a life situation which I had processed only partially and needed some good lament. I journaled and thought and journaled some more. I wrote my confession of grief and pain, lamented an area of brokenness in my life, and read through several Psalms of lament to better express myself when words seemed to be missing.

The interesting thing about lament in the Psalms is that nearly all of them move through the emotions of grief and pain yet ultimately conclude with a sort of doxology; a way of offering praise to God. Even in the dark moments of the Psalm writers’ life, and when enemies were closing in or chaos surrounded them, those songs of lament inevitably turned to the goodness of God in the midst of the bad. Even in lament there can be found a glimmer of hope and an opportunity to praise.

As my time with this lament exercise came toward a close, my words seemed to be used up. I had journaled and thought and journaled some more. I had written my confession of grief and pain, and in many ways I had given over that area of brokenness to God. It was still broken, but I had fully lamented. 

Still lying on my stomach in the middle of the trampoline, I looked at the many springs surrounding the outside. It occurred to me that even if a couple of those springs were broken the rest of the springs would still provide the support and “bounce” needed to enjoy the trampoline. Even if one area of my life included some brokenness, the rest of my circle was still healthy and supportive. In the midst of lament there was still space for doxology. 

With my last five minutes of the exercise, I got up and jumped on the trampoline. Why not lament on a trampoline? In that time I offered a doxology of praise to God who was, is, and will continue to be with me in the midst of the brokenness and darkness and lament.

(If you have been unable to lament, consider the Psalms as a tool for moving forward through grief toward doxology. Psalm 3, 4, 5, 7, 9-10, 13, 14, 17, 22, 25-28 are just some of the many many Psalms to read. Sitting with a Spiritual Director can also help you work through the process of lament. I’d be honored to walk with you in that process.)

 

Lament on a Trampoline
Putting up fences

Putting up fences

Fences for the many parts of your life can keep those details in their proper circle while ensuring that they don’t allow outside circles to cross over and cause issues.

When I was about five, my favorite toys were Matchbox cars, Lincoln Logs, and the Red River Gang western set which consisted of cowboys on horses, cattle, and lots of fences. I would spend hours making log cabins, setting up corrals for the cattle, and driving a small red Jeep Wrangler matchbox car around the homestead. I remember the fence sections would interlock with one another and I could make circles and squares of corrals to keep the cattle in, but making one long fencerow wasn’t really an option. Sometimes they fell over in that configuration, there weren’t enough pieces, and logically only one long row wouldn’t keep the cows from wandering off. I had to stick with smaller closed corrals.

This came to mind awhile back when talking with a friend. We were lamenting about the busyness of life, the intrusion of work into home life, and the general difficulty of maintaining balance when there is little margin in our lives. I’m sure we aren’t the only two who experience this.

The day I got my first smartphone was an exciting one—the Blackberry Storm. As exciting as it was, it was also another step toward blurring the lines between work, home, and entertainment. I remember thinking about how effective I would be once I was able to access calendars and emails while away from the office. I would be able to balance all of the areas of life in the palm of my hand and it would be glorious. What I didn’t realize at the time was that it would become all-consuming for me.

Years later I still struggle some with how to disengage in my off hours. People have access to me all the time. I rarely turn off my phone and work stuff constantly comes right to me. I know that I’m not alone in this. Some people have phones for convenience and keep a rein on the intrusion. Others have a more difficult time with that, including myself. 

Back to the fences. My friend and I began to talk about putting up fences in life—not a long fence row to divide work and family—but instead smaller corrals to create separation in the pockets of life and identity. Work can be all-consuming, but that doesn’t mean that it belongs at the dinner table. Sabbath days help the body, and sabbath from technology helps the mind and the heart. Constant blurring of lines increases stress, prevents rest, and certainly impacts our relationships when we don’t strike a balance with the many facets of life and schedules.

Putting up fences can corral some of those unruly aspects of life. Those squares or circles of fencing for the Red River Gang kept the cattle IN and the pests OUT. Fences for the many parts of your life can keep those details in their proper circle while ensuring that they don’t allow outside circles to cross over and cause issues.

What do you need to put a fence around to keep it in the proper place? 

What systems do you need to put in place to ensure that your many circles remain separate? 

How can the use of fences give more honor and space to your relationships? 

 

“You’ve got to want it!”

When we do the work and put in the intentional focus, results will follow. But you’ve got to want it first.

Human tendency is often to take the path of least resistance and that’s precisely what landed me at the gym as an overweight-out-of-shape pastor. I coasted with my physical health, ate poorly and often, and generally let myself go while reconciling that I was doing “God’s work” and that was more important than taking care of myself. If I just drank more Mountain Dew and some “roller dogs” from Speedway I could make it to the next meeting. A brief physical, blood test, and a shocked look from a nurse when my results came back led me to some drastic changes in diet and joining a gym.

I’ve now been working out at the same gym for about 6 years. It’s a class-style format similar to crossfit. We work out in smaller groups, usually rotating around the room through various exercises, while the trainer gives instruction and encouragement via microphone through the sound system with music thumping in the background. There are several phrases that the Owner/Trainer will say in the midst of the class. 

“You’ve got to want it!”

“This is where you dig deep, push through the pain, and that’s when you get results!”

I tease him that we have the same job, he’s just way more muscular than me. Just as with our need for physical training, our spirits also need training work to grow and develop. Our tendency in spiritual formation is sometimes to take the easiest route, shift into autopilot, and generally let ourselves get out of spiritual shape. On occasion there is a crisis that leads to a new path of formation, and other times we may just look up and realize how far we’ve wandered. Regardless of the cause, that phrase of “You’ve got to want it” rings in my ears. “This is where you dig deep…that’s when you get results!” 

When we do the work and put in the intentional focus, results will follow. But you’ve got to want it first. Take some time to do a little assessment. 

  • Are you where you want to be in your spiritual health? 
  • What will it take to make the necessary changes to move in that direction?
  • What is your first step, and when will you take it? 

If you’d like to explore Spiritual Direction as an option, send me a message and we’ll talk about what that could look like.

 

“You’ve got to want it!”
Even Hummingbirds Stop

Even Hummingbirds Stop

Our culture has an addiction to busyness which isn’t good for our souls. We have an obsession with movement and activity which doesn’t allow for our spirits to rest.

I stood outside sipping my morning coffee. It was one of those mornings where the air was cool, but my slippers and the mug of coffee offered the warmth I needed to enjoy the moment of pause. I sipped mindfully. I breathed deeply the smell of coffee and fresh air. I drank in the quiet moments that made everything else melt away.

I heard birds of all sorts singing their morning tunes as they flitted from branch to branch. A bluejay, oriole, redwing blackbird, goldfinch, and plenty of robins filled the morning quiet. Suddenly I heard a buzz nearby me, moving fast. My first thought was that it seemed too early in the day, and season, for a bee of significant size to be buzzing by in that way.

Before that thought finished, I stood in amazement as I saw a hummingbird land on a branch not 10 feet away from me. That was the source of the buzz I had heard—the rapid movement and busyness of the morning. And yet in this moment it had stopped all the winged activity and sat on a branch to rest.

This happened three times, in fact. Each time I stood still, motionless, taking in the rare sight of a hummingbird at rest. It was a small holy moment for me. And then it occurred to me in that moment:

Even hummingbirds stop.

I think for most of us there is a lot of activity and movement in life. With busy schedules, and long “to do” lists, so often we go from one thing to the next, and the next, barely pausing to eat or grab more coffee. As a pastor, there is somehow even a badge of honor that comes with constant activity and full calendars. Twisted, I know.

Our culture has an addiction to busyness which isn’t good for our souls. We have an obsession with movement and activity which doesn’t allow for our spirits to rest.

Even hummingbirds stop. We should too.

Find time today, maybe even right now, to stop and rest. Savor that cup of coffee instead of slugging it down. Really taste and smell it. Get up from your desk and take a 10 minute walk. Go outside, close your eyes, and take a few minutes to simply listen to what’s happening around you. Then open your eyes and look for a few things you haven’t noticed before.

How will you make_space today?

 

God Is In the Fizzle, Too

For 239 days I made space in my daily routine for this spiritual practice that tens of thousands of people have journeyed over the centuries. And this weekend it came to a less-than-exciting-fizzling end.

This morning was a big day for me. This morning I concluded something called The Ignatian Exercises. The Exercises were developed by St. Ignatius in the 1500’s as a practice for those considering entering the priesthood though his order, the Jesuits. No, I’m not looking to become a priest, but the Exercises continue on as a spiritual practice in the journey of faith.

There are numerous versions of the Exercises from a week-long retreat, 40 day journey, and more, and all versions are a rigorous walk through the birth, life and ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

This morning I concluded with day 239 of this daily practice. For 8 months I have been walking in this practice.

For 239 days I spent time in Ignatius’ guide for reading scripture, prayer, and journaling. For 239 days I made space in my daily routine for this spiritual practice that tens of thousands of people have journeyed over the centuries. And this weekend it came to a less-than-exciting-fizzling end.

My time with the Ignatian Exercises fizzled rather than finishing with a bang. In the midst of a chaotic weekend of activity, house guests, concerts for my daughter and irregular schedule, my time with the Exercises whimpered to a close. Instead of feeling a mountaintop ending of victory and celebration, instead I closed my journal entry with a tired moment of pause.

I think that’s a metaphor of our faith journey to be honest. 

Life is chaotic and busy no matter what you may try to do to make it something different. These Ignatian Exercises were designed originally for those entering the priesthood who had dedicated their entire daily lives to prayer and scripture. Not many find themselves at that place today. And yet we can still make the space to pause and be present to God.

Regardless of the highs and lows of faith, and independent of any emotion (or lack of it), it’s important to consistently present ourselves to God; to be present to God in prayer, silence, listening, or rest. It’s important to do that daily, moment by moment. There may be days of that which are mountaintop sorts of moments, and there may be days that are far more valley lows. Top, bottom, or somewhere in the middle of our journey doesn’t matter as long as we have made the space for the moments.

God is in the fizzle, too.

My 239 days of the Exercises fizzled to an end, but every day of that chaos included space for God, and I offered my time as a gift to God. Even if it was fizzle and not a bang, I think that gift was received by God. I think that’s important to remember each day of our journey.

 

God Is In the Fizzle, Too
KonMari of the Soul

KonMari of the Soul

We so often carry with us things which weigh us down, hold us back, or even become a sense of our identity. We sit with our woundedness, turning it over and around in our spirits, day after day with no intention of getting rid of it.

I had been hearing a lot about this Netflix show, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, and a number of my friends have jumped into this KonMari craze. Are you familiar with this? The basic premise is to reduce your home to only those things which spark joy. Too often we have collected “stuff” in our homes, it gets out of control, and eventually we are controlled and overwhelmed by that “stuff” which gathers dust rather than sparking joy. Organizing and tidying according to Marie’s 6 rules, and focusing on the joy in life, is the KonMari method.

I recently watched a few shows and I’m all about it. As I watched, I was surprised at some of the things that people struggled to keep or get rid of, but full disclaimer: my personality is such that I don’t want a lot of things, and the handful of things that I like truly spark joy. Disclaimer 2: I may or may not have more bottles of bourbon than I really need, but again, they spark joy. Am I allowed to say that?

It would be easy enough to stop there and think that I’m doing pretty well.

I ought not stop. Neither should you.

In a conversation the other day, this KonMari concept came up on a spiritual level. We so often carry with us things which weigh us down, hold us back, or even become a sense of our identity. We sit with our woundedness, turning it over and around in our spirits, day after day with no intention of getting rid of it. We have a sort of attachment to some emotional, mental, and spiritual things even if it doesn’t make complete sense.

In keeping with the spirit of KonMari though: do those aspects of your life spark joy? As you sit with burdens, woundedness, hurts, and various baggage, I would assume it doesn’t spark joy.

If not, then why are you holding on to it? Why are you keeping it?

In just the few episodes that I watched, Marie Kondo asked these perceptive questions, which I would argue make her just as much a Spiritual Director as it does a tidying expert. Consider these questions in relation to those things that you are still holding on to in your spirit:

Does this spark joy in your life?

Is this something you would like to keep as a part of your life going forward?

Do you really need this?

Is it necessary for your life?

My guess is, while scary and uncharted, there are a lot of things that we all have been carrying around or holding on to that cause the opposite of joy, and we just don’t know what to do about them. Marie says to get rid of them. As you do, take a moment to say “thank you” for the role they played in who you are, but then let them go. Box them up and get them out of “your house.”

I know that my own physical clutter is minimal, but I’m sure that I need some KonMari principles in my spirit. I’m guessing I’m not the only one.

What do you need let go of? What have you been holding on to that doesn’t spark joy in any way? Say “thank you” and let it go.

 

Wellness Isn’t Measured on a Scale

…our wellness is not measured on a scale and it certainly isn’t measured by comparing our own wellness against someone else’s.

A while back we got a new bathroom scale. Our old one wasn’t great, and apparently it was much more friendly toward me. When I stepped on the new scale it revealed that the measurement I had been using was off by 11 pounds. Eleven. Pounds.

I wanted to take the scale back immediately and return to my old beloved (and lying) scale. The news of 11 additional pounds kind of rocked me if I’m honest. I had previously been operating with the idea that I still needed to lose about 15 pounds to reach my goal weight, but this new reality was telling me that I needed to lose 26 pounds. I’m not gonna lie—I pouted.

For the last several years I have been on a quest for wellness in my life. Three or four years ago I began a monthly practice of meeting with a spiritual director. I took a month long sabbatical from ministry. I began making more intentional time for my family. I have continued to exercise several times a week in a community setting. I participated in a 6-week Mindfulness class on meditation. I take self-care days monthly to be outside, enjoy nature, and clear my head. 

Sometimes in life we fall into the trap of measuring with the wrong metrics. When we measure the satisfaction or wellness in our life in comparison to others, we will typically find out that we’re off by quite a bit just like my old scale. Wellness isn’t measured on a scale, though. None of the above steps that I’ve added to my life can be measured in a quantifiable way, and it certainly doesn’t show up on my new bathroom scale. Wellness is more about the quality of the moments in your life—it’s qualitative. It’s about experiences and moments and peace and satisfaction.

Often we feel a sense of guilt when we measure ourselves by others, but our wellness is not measured on a scale and it certainly isn’t measured by comparing our own wellness against someone else’s. Find your own measurement. Take care of your self. Work with a friend or significant other who can help in monitoring your progress and will hold you accountable to that personal measurement. 

What wellness metrics do you use?

What steps have you recently taken (no matter big or small) to improve your wellness?

 

Wellness Isn’t Measured on a Scale
Help Me Be Present

Help Me Be Present

God doesn’t need to be summoned, as though God is off somewhere lounging until called upon.  God is already present, at work, and aware of our situations and needs, and it’s us who need to be present and aware of that.

I’ve been thinking about how we pray, or more accurately how I pray I guess I should say. Sometimes I mindlessly pray something like, “God, be with me while I…” whatever the activity or event might be. Sometimes I ask God to be with someone else during a tough time, a sickness, or some other situation. It occurs to me that that’s kind of a ridiculous prayer.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s not ridiculous to pray, and it’s not ridiculous to ask God to help me, or others, in a time of need.

It’s kind of a ridiculous prayer, because we don’t ever have to ask God to be present. That’s what God does—or more accurately that’s who God is. God is omnipresent we say. Always present, always aware, always caring and looking upon us with love. God is fully vested in our lives, aware of what we are going through, and God is already with us and seeking connection with us. So why on earth would I pray that God would suddenly be present when that is already who God is in the first place?

The real prayer ought to be, “God, help me be present to You. Help me to be aware of your presence. Help me to consciously be with you.”

It’s easy to become self-absorbed in my own stuff and forget that there is a life and world outside of mine. It’s easy to become so consumed in my own stuff that I am unaware of God’s presence with me in all situations. God doesn’t need to be summoned, as though God is off somewhere lounging until called upon.  God is already present, at work, and aware of our situations and needs. It’s actually ME who needs to be present to, and with, God.

So my prayer has changed recently, and perhaps that’s a helpful shift for you.

“God, help me be present to You.”

How does this change of perspective affect the way you envision God, and perhaps the way you might pray?

 

Just Settle

It took me a while to accept that this too is prayer: to settle, rest, and be still in God’s loving attention upon me.

I was sitting on the couch with my dog in my arms. She was trying to get comfy for a nap while I was spending some time praying in the early morning. She kept shifting and moving and getting distracted by every little sound in the house. She kept looking up at me as though I had said something, or maybe it was somehow to be reassured that I was still right there. Her nap wasn’t happening and neither was my praying.

“Just settle,” I said to her with a calming whisper. “I’m right here, just settle. Rest.”

While trying to pray, I was struck by the irony. I was convicted by the metaphor. 

I so easily get distracted in prayer, sidetracked by the noises of my busy mind racing and trying to figure out what’s next and where I need to be. I circle and circle the latest agitation in my life as I feel like I can’t dare let go. I pause in the midst of broken prayers wondering if God is still there and if God is actually listening.

Sometimes it’s just noise.

Sometimes I can just barely hear God whisper, “Just settle, Trevor. Rest. I’m right here.”

It took me a while to accept that this too is prayer: to settle, rest, and be still in God’s loving attention upon me. I don’t have to perform, say flowery and fancy words to impress God, or come with any agenda whatsoever. I don’t need to talk and talk and talk as though the length of my prayer will carry more weight. 

It can be as easy as just settling into God’s loving presence.

My dog’s favorite place to be is on my lap as she rests in our presence to each other. That’s prayer. I need to learn from my dog I guess.

Just settle. Rest. God is right here.

 

Just Settle