Condemnation or Kindness? You Get a Choice You Know.

One day St. Epiphanius sent someone to Abba Hilarion with this request, ‘Come, and let us see one another before we depart from the body.’ When he came, they rejoiced together. During the meal, they were brought a fowl; Epiphanius took it and gave it to Hilarion. The old man said to him, ‘Forgive me, but since I received the habit I have not eaten meat that has been killed.’ Then the bishop answered, ‘Since I took the habit I have not allowed anyone to go to sleep with a complaint against me and I have not gone to rest with a complaint against anyone.’ The old man replied, ‘Forgive me, your way of life is better than mine.’ (p 57, ‘The Sayings of the Desert Fathers’)

Do you see the difference?

On the surface, I know that as much as I’d like to live as St. Epiphanius, there are those with whom I cannot reconcile. The reasons may be many, a few or just one, but it remains there is not going to peace. Do you have similar situations that have played out in your life? Are there those who you are odds with by your doing or theirs? Do you find your sleep unsettled? Do you find hatred at the heart of the matter? Pain? Grief? Loss of control?

Truly, the life of desert fathers and mothers limited their interaction with other people. They escaped to the desert to wrestle with the passions, with their sinfulness. It was the formation of the monastery life and the convents we are familiar with today. It is an admirable life and one which is more complicated than it may appear. Still, there are times when the complaint against us is beyond anything you can control.

But there is a lesson here, even deeper. Besides the truth that we are not able to control the behaviors of others, there is a deep difference in how people perceive the devout, religious life. For some, it is about maintaining rules, of manufacturing points of judgment where we might compare and complain and present ourselves as mightier and greater than others. You might even tear down those who threaten you. In the recent upheaval of the evangelical church, John MacArthur’s deriding comments to author and teacher, Beth Moore, is a great example.  Why make it a spectacle?  Where was the personal conversation?  Why the naming? And why the shaming? Let's be real here: how on earth is Beth Moore going stop any man from watching her videos?  Is she to hire bouncers so men don't "sneak into" her seminars?

What is the greater life? To be merely about rules or about being in a relationship? Is it about loving the “law” or is it the law of loving God first and loving others as you love yourself? In the story of Hilarion and the Epiphanius, we see a ‘law’ of personal preference and the law of God, which in truth, is the Law of Love. We see two gracious people, seeking after holiness and righteousness before God. We see gracious words spoken, not in condemnation but in kindness.
Centuries later, the lessons are still there for us to learn.  What will you now do?

Do or Do Not - Say It or Don't - Words Matter

The Lion had been hurt by the horns of a goat which he had brought down. He was very angry to think that any animal that he chose for a meal, should be so brazen as to wear such dangerous things as horns to scratch him while he ate. So he commanded that all animals with horns should leave his domains within twenty-four hours.

The command struck terror among the animals. All those who were so unfortunate as to have horns began to pack up and move out. The funny thing is, even impacted the Rabbit. As you know, rabbits have no horns and so had nothing to fear, passed a very restless night, dreaming awful dreams about the fearful Lion.

When Rabbit came out of the warren in the early morning sunshine and saw the shadow cast by his long and pointed ears, a terrible fright seized him. He turned to the branch where his friend, Cricket, lived. "Goodbye, Cricket," he called. "I will miss you, but I'm off. Lion will certainly make out that my ears are horns, no matter what I say."

This fall, our Bible Study at church has been delving into the Book of Proverbs. These past few weeks, we have been looking at what this book of wisdom has to offer about the tongue (how we talk) and then we’ve looked at how we are encouraged to choose a good name over riches (22:1). 

Do or Do Not - Say It or Don't - Words Matter. 

There is so very much that is out of control in our lives, so many things we can do nothing to change, it strikes me as interesting how we have not been more attentive to these two very important aspects of our world and lives we do have the power to influence. We are told the tongue can be incredibly destructive to others. This we see regularly spewed throughout our radios, social media, and TV. Even the calls for people to “say something” are more often attempts to shame others.

When I read the words of the Desert Fathers and Mothers of the early church, we find they wrote very little but their disciples are the ones who recorded the words of wisdom we read today. They saw many evils and witnessed as much corruption as we do in our day. They rarely spoke unless spoken to by others and even then, at times, they said nothing at all leaving people to their own conclusions. Proverbs 10:19 states: “Where words are many, sin is not wanting; but those who restrain their lips do well.” Actions and words both form a reputation for sometimes our words ARE actions.

And here I come back to Rabbit. He understood clearly there was nothing more to be said or that could be said to change the heart of the Lion. There are times that the pen is mightier than the sword and there are times to realize no matter what you might say or do, nothing will impact others.

So what are we left with? We are left with Proverbs 21:21: “Whoever pursues justice and love will find life and honor.” You do what you can and take to heart John Wesley’s encouragement: Do no harm. Do good. Stay in love with God. When you fail: admit and repent. Follow then what the Apostle Paul taught: “If possible, on your part, live at peace with all.” (Romans 12:18)

As noble as lions can be, they have bad days and bad moments. As peaceful as a rabbit might be, they can be prideful, too, just ask the tortoise. The choice we have is in ourselves - how we respond. Know yourself and when it is right, do right. If you must, use words.

Image: Pixabay

Walking Out of Church with Abba Bessarion

Once, when the desert father, Abba Bessarion, was attending church, a brother was turned out of the church by a priest. Abba Bessarion got up and went with him, saying, “I, too, am a sinner.”

The stories and sayings of the desert fathers and mothers often are seen for simple stories. Like the parables of Jesus, however, there are often far deeper truths present. These truths “explode” upon our reasoning when we are often unaware. Sometimes those truths change us for the better and at other times, we are forced to deal with blind spots.

One understanding of human beings is the Johari Window. 
If you look at the idea of the Johari Window, you find four “window panes.” One is the OPEN AREA where you are completely transparent and all around you know about these parts of your life. Then comes the BLIND SPOT, the places where other people know things about you but you don’t see these parts. Thirdly comes the FACADE, what you know about yourself that you don’t let anyone else know. And finally comes the UNKNOWN, the part of you still don’t know and neither does anyone else.

Each one of us has these four parts in our lives and our beliefs. The more I journey the life of faith, I find it more and more valuable to own my blind spots that I most especially share with others. Abba Bessarion’s words are a good reminder: “I, too, am a sinner.”

Yes, I Am A Fake

In my life serving as a pastor, I have faced my fair share of situations that tried me and hurt me. Recently, another hit me. It has been like other times for sure but there was something different and something I think needs to be brought to light. It may help some and for others, they may cringe but here goes…

I was addressed as a “fakea**” pastor. I even have it in writing.

And you know what? This is true.

“The early church fathers and mothers believed that just about the greatest sin a person could express is pride.” Those words of Roberta Bondi struck a chord with me years ago and have never left. My journey with those early followers of Jesus and the others I have been on the journey with these short years on this planet have taught me it does not do anyone any good to pretend to be someone they are not.

So let me be clear: I am a fake. I am not perfect. I am flawed.

Besides the fact I know this when I examine my own life daily, our church just completed my clergy review. I have always faced it with a bit of fear and trembling. You know what? It says very much the same thing. I have flaws So let me ask you my friends, how many of you are also beating down the door to not only have your professional life but spiritual life examined as part of your yearly review for your vocation? I am a tri-vocational pastor these days in order to make ends meet. No matter how hard I try to cover all the bases, I know I can’t do it all. More and more clergy are facing the same struggle. I’ve read the articles and I’ve seen their faces. Most of the clergy in our community and beyond are trying to carry it all. Sometimes we fail.  Maybe not you but it happens.

But in this day of the court of public opinion, people can now say and do whatever they want to attack the character and integrity of good, decent, and imperfect people. 

You read that right.  I don’t speak just for me on this, this person has chosen to slander others: people who give of their time, energy, hearts and efforts to care for others.

You see, we tend to judge others by their behaviors but only judge ourselves by our intentions. There are too many good people, NOT perfect people mind you, GOOD PEOPLE doing their gosh darn best to feed, clothe, visit, and care for others being spoken ill of because they were NOT perfect people. For this, they get deemed to be fake. Really? So you wonder why good people stay out of politics? Soon, you may begin to wonder why good people have disappeared from your community altogether.

If your expectation of a pastor, of a community volunteer or a church, is to be perfect, to be without flaw, to be like Jesus, then remember, the government, the religious leaders, and the crowd, all came together to crucify him.

None of us ever claimed to be perfect. Of course, we are flawed. And I reckon that I know that better than you do. It is why I ask for forgiveness when I learn I’ve offended someone.

I am a sinner. Maybe labeling sinners as “fakes” helps you feel better. It doesn’t matter much. I don’t say it proudly. It isn’t a badge of honor. It is the truth.

In our church, we own it too. Nearly every Sunday of the year, I stand and make the public confession and lead our church in the same. We admit it. And I point to what God makes clear: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:8-9

If you buy into such venom in small-town USA or large city USA, good people doing good things get “punished” by opinions which know nothing of the truth of the struggle or the journey that anyone else is on.  Be very careful who you chose to listen to.

So go ahead, tell the world. I know very well who I am and if you’ve understood what the Bible says, you aren’t telling me anything I don’t already know. You aren’t telling anyone something they don’t know. We are all a bunch of fakes. By God's grace, some of us know the truth already.

A Fake Pastor

You Are Not Broken

I was reminded recently of a fable that I have loved for many years.  It is as close to a parable as I have come across.  This time, however, it spoke to my soul and resonated deeply.  Maybe you need to hear it, too.

A water bearer had two large pots, each hung on each end of a pole which he carried across his neck. One of the pots had a crack in it, and while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water at the end of the long walk from the stream to the master’s house, the cracked pot arrived only half full.

For a full two years, this went on daily, with the bearer delivering only one and a half pots full of water in his master’s house. Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments, perfect to the end for which it was made. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been made to do.

After two years of what it perceived to be a bitter failure, it spoke to the water bearer one day by the stream. “I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologize to you”. The bearer asked, “Why? What are you ashamed of?” The Pot replied, “For these past two years I am able to deliver only half of my load because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your master’s house. Because of my flaws, you don’t get full value for your efforts”.

The water bearer felt sorry for the old cracked pot, and in his compassion, he said, “As we return to the master’s house, I want you to notice the beautiful
flowers along the path.” As they went up the hill, the old cracked pot took notice of the sun warming the beautiful wildflowers on the side of the path, and this cheered it somewhat. But at the end of the trail, it still felt bad because it had leaked out half its load, and so again it apologized to the bearer for its failure.

The bearer said to the pot, “Did you notice that there were flowers only on your side of your path, but not on the other pot’s side? That’s because I have always known about your flaw, and I took advantage of it. I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back from the stream, you’ve watered them. For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate my master’s table. Without you being just the way you are, he would not have this beauty to grace his house.”

In a recent lecture, the speaker said, "People are not broken.  People are imperfect, but they are not broken."  It occurred to me how we get intellectually lazy and allow others to put frames around you and title you as "broken" or "useless" or "wounded" or whatever.  This is not truth.

Because of poor word choices, some consider the Church and the Bible hold such a view.  And while we are sinners, while we are imperfect, there is a truth you need to hear not expressed enough about how God views you:

"I praise you [God] because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well."  Psalm 139:14

Whatever voices have spoken words that tell you differently, you and whatever the flaws you may have, are only flaws in the eyes of others who do not see you as God does.  You are wonderfully made.  You will find your purpose. 

May God Be With You.

How to Help Move Through Grief: 5 Simple Life Changes That Help
Grief and suffering are hard work. I know, I’ve written about it a lot and it has kept me from writing too. It takes a lot out of you and takes its toll physically as well as mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. It can truly be debilitating. Some folks don’t want to talk about it or face it because they are afraid of “catching” it.

Just “getting over it” is not an option. Grief doesn’t work that way. Even so, there are simple things you can do when mired down. They are small steps. Miniscule even to some people BUT can be gargantuan when you are mired in emotions! These five mini habits may not seem like much and you’d be right, that is the point. You need some small steps.

1. Get moving.

Funny that it took me so long to see this one, especially since I love exercising. It really did help to find a local hiking trail and just start putting one foot in front of the other. That was the most consistent thing I needed to do: start my body moving. Getting adrenaline and endorphins flowing is a natural antidepressant.

2. Consider a pet.

A dog would be good. Maybe a cat, but really, anything that you feel you can care for might be good for you. It renews your connection to life. And, if what you need is some attention back? Well, dogs and cats don’t seem to ever pass judgment when a treat or lap is available! And be sure to go visit your local shelter first. The one you save may well return the favor.

3. Try a new hobby.

I wrote a book. Then I co-authored one. Now I am writing another one. I always wanted to do it, but never had. Now, they aren’t bestsellers, but that was never my goal. It was to write my way to help those in my circle and maybe beyond. It was new and different. And the book I co-authored? That was with my late wife actually and it helped bring grief full circle.

4. Leave things behind.

This is very personal. Whether it is a bracelet, a car, a house, or even a town, sometimes you need to cut bait. So you know, I did three of those four. Things do often tie us down or anchor us in unhealthy ways. Giving yourself permission to let go can be tough, but it may be just the thing you need. Start small.

5. Listen to positive messages

The internet is full of awful stuff, but the great thing is you can do an internet search at any time and find positive things just by typing: “Positive Messages” or “Encouragement.” You can find articles, videos, or podcasts. Start each day with someone speaking something positive into your life. Go to sleep listening to another person saying encouraging things to you as well.

Grief is part of life and part of living. You are going to experience along with nearly everyone born on this planet. You don’t get over it, but you do move through it and can learn to live with it. You are not alone on the journey.

If you’d like to read more about my journey and how my faith helped me, check out my book on Amazon: Life Sucks Seek God. Feel free to reach out to me by commenting or sending an email.

Simply Pray: Reflection on Pleasing God

"Loving God, May All I Do Be Pleasing to You."

“For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not Teased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” (Colossians 1:9-10, NASB) 

When an infant cries, they are communicating to a parent or caregiver or whoever is nearby to come help! When two people begin a dating relationship, they are very aware of every aspect of body language and facial expression as part of communication. In my vocation as a therapist and spiritual director, what takes place is more than just me telling someone what to do. It is often a time of profound active listening and talking. When I have stood in public holding a “Free Listening” sign and the conversation is appropriately imbalanced, it still requires mutual interaction.

The nature of relationships is they are a two-way street.

So is it with you and God. Are you unsure? Consider the stories throughout the Bible starting in Genesis all the way through to Revelations. There is a constant dialogue between God and people. In the Old Testament, it is often through the angel of the Lord God speaks and people respond but there are many occasions where God is on the scene and speaking more directly to people like Noah and Moses. In the New Testament, we see God in human form in Jesus Christ - now that is speaking to God! The letters of the New Testament then tell us God speaks through the Holy Spirit in our day.

God is interested in you! So contrary to opinions, the idea of a faith merely about rules and regulations is far from what God desires. God's acts of love don't require us to do good but inspire us and empower us to a new life. The late bishop, Reuben Job, wrote it is an inspired life where you, “do no harm, do good and stay in love with God!” I like the simplicity of that, don’t you?

As you pray this prayer without ceasing, invite God to be part of all you do. Reflect on your day or each day of the week. Really think about how you lived and how your life has been pleasing to God.

This 1 Thing Has Changed Everything In My Day

How many times do you hit the snooze bar on your alarm or tell Alexa to shut up when the alarm sounds in the morning? Do you fight everyday to catch a little bit more of the dream you were in the middle of when that awful sound jarred you from peaceful slumber? Is your first though, “Oh no, not again?”

I totally get it! I’ve been there (and sometimes on the weekend, I’m right there with you). I can tell you a couple of things that have really helped with making it easier to get moving in the morning:

1. Turn in at a reasonable BEFORE midnight!
2. Don’t eat any heavy snacks after dinner.
3. Definitely don't eat after midnight! (80's joke)

Eating the right breakfast has been a great help too. Getting into a workout plan I like has been good for me as well but when it comes to what really has changed everything, it comes down to something I never expected.

Here is what has made the difference to change everything...prayer. Not just any prayer mind you but one prayer in particular. It is a prayer I use to model all the breath prayers I pray each week and a prayer I’ve been praying for many years and a prayer given to us first by Jesus. It is called the Jesus Prayer.

That’s it! “Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”

I have prayed it so much through the years I realized it has been the words that come through my mind the moment the alarm goes off and I start waking up! AND THAT HAS CHANGED EVERYTHING IN MY DAY!!!

I’m praying it all through the day too, which is awesome for sure but it set the tone for how I’m viewing life, things like:

1. I’m giving God credit for being God.

2. I’m placing Jesus in charge of my life and my day.

3. It reminds me, Jesus has what I need.

4. It keeps me humble and thankful.

I didn’t even do this on purpose! Sure, I prayed the Jesus Prayer on purpose during the day, but because I made the Jesus Prayer a part of my spiritual habits, it became part of me and part of my life.

So how do you do it?

Start by praying the prayer over and over again: “Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” Prayer beads or a prayer rope is a help (check out That’s it!

From that starting point, I have been able to face the tragedies, the joys, the changes and the unexpected throughout my life. When I began to pray it at the start of the morning, I realized it had been doing transforming work and made me so much more aware of God. Truly it has been the 1 thing that has changed everything in my day and my life.

From the Valley of Suck to the Plains of Hope

I started hiking again. That may not sound like much but for me, it put me in touch with my soul in such a way that it brought a lot of things together, namely, hope.

These days I am a bi-vocational pastor, working part-time at my church and part-time is a therapist. Because of that second job, the young people I work with got me out on a trail for the first time in a long time. I discovered trails just a ten minute drive from my house and so it got me back up in the mornings, exercising and in touch with nature and it tapped my soul. It touched hope.

I am a huge believer in our lives being holistic: mental, emotional, physical and spiritual. I know some folks discount the spiritual but for me, well, I can’t get passed what Jesus did for me, does for me and that transfers to my faith in Jesus’ words of what He will do in the future. Since the journey through the valley of suck began, the spiritual is one thing that has been most consistent even as the other three wavered and collapsed.

With each day, week, month, and year that has passed, I’ve been up and down. Hitting rock bottom mentally, I got on medication and through some therapy, we determined I have a general anxiety disorder that if left unattended, can lead to depression and panic attacks. What I learned was how my emotional, physical and spiritual practices had kept this in check for all these years.

The emotional, is really all tied together. Still, learning to be independent, releasing my young adult children to live their own lives, and reforming my support network was big. I can’t say enough how falling in love again has made a HUGE impact BUT I had to be emotionally ready for that, and I couldn’t expect Lauren to take on my emotional health. I had to own it.

And so then came the physical, an on again, off again struggle, it finally came together three weeks ago on the trail and with it, came hope. The valley of suck began in the fall of 2014, so coming on 5 years, it seems that the journey has led me to something I’d like to call the plains of hope. No analogy is perfect but it seems here, with hope, I am able to have some freedom in the choices I make where the valley of suck is mired in survival. I also say “plains” because I can still the valley of suck around me. It is always possible to step in it and stumble and fall.

Grief remains.  It just doesn't go away.  It is right there in my pack when I hit the trail.  It turns ugly sometimes and the dust and mud from the valley of suck remain.  You've got to do you.  You've got to find the road forward and address the mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual aspects that feed you.

Grief has become a new industry now.  I can tell.  My social media has blown up with new books and new coaches.  My readership on my blog has dropped off tremendously since Heather's death.  Granted I haven't written so much and that is precisely because the journey has been hard as "H -E - double hockey sticks."  We don't get over the grief - we walk through it - we walk with it - and we grow with it as part of who we are.  I never wanted my blog or writing to be solely about grief and being widow.  Life is more than that.  It sucks BUT it can be so much worth living!

For me, Paul’s words of tribulation and suffering have come to have much broader understanding than my younger years could have comprehended…

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (Romans 5:1-5)

Judging Just Ain't Your Thing So Give Grace

You ever have one of those moments with your best friend or significant other and say, “I just need some space?” It isn’t always that you have a disagreement or a fight, you just find in yourself that you need some time to “figure stuff out” even if you don’t know what that STUFF is??? When you become an adult, we get the weekend or some vacation to do it, and hopefully we don’t wait and do something stupid.

How do you respond when someone says it to you, though? It might be easy to take offense right? You wonder if you did something wrong if they didn’t give you more information. You might be tempted to say, “What’s your problem?” or worse yet, just blow them off and walk away. Maybe even judge them? (gasp!)

Of course we would. We’re human. It is our nature to be self centered. It isn’t good, its just who we are sometimes. Okay, maybe it is just how I am (when I am at my worst, of course).

I couldn’t help think about it today though, how we look at other people on their spiritual journey, when they are not at a place where we are, spiritually speaking. Our ideas of discipleship seem to prove the idea that we are more gracious for the flaws of those like us and far more quick to demand more from those who are not.

Jesus was always quick with stories and images and one of those favorite images is that of planting. He talked of seeds and shrubs. He condemned a fig tree and talked about harvesting wheat, the struggles with weeds. When it comes to planting, growing, and harvesting, Jesus makes clear, we don’t have as much control as we think. In one of those stories, here is what Jesus said...

“And He was saying, “The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil;27and he goes to bed at night and gets up by day, and the seed sprouts and grows—how, he himself does not know.28“The soil produces crops by itself; first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain in the head.29“But when the crop permits, he immediately puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” (Mark 4:26-29)

I’ve also often heard the adage too, “bloom where you are planted,” directed at pastors. I’ve done enough gardening to know that sometimes, plants don’t grow in one place but take off in another. It could be a combination of soil acidity, sunlight, rain, temperature, or even a neighborhood dog coming by and peeing on our plants in the early morning when we don’t know. I’ve observed enough and pastored long enough to have seen pastors who didn’t “grow” the church they served in one place and in another, the church they were serving took off. I’ve seen it to be the case in my own calling as well. Growing an orchard is going to take longer than growing a field of wildflowers. Be gracious others on the journey.

"Don’t judge" seems to be one of the best reminders we can remember when we speak of the spiritual journey and how people are growing in their faith.  I just don't know WHY some people do what they do.  You don't know why I do what I do.

Moving into judgement is also a movement into shaming another person. There is no life giving justification for shaming others, the journey of life will present enough struggles and pitfalls of its own without offering condemnation or shame on another. Jesus is so quick to encourage us OFF that path: “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned. (Luke 6:37)

Notice that Jesus gives us the best possible scenario: If you are going to do something then forgive others! Pardon others! Be merciful! Let God handle the judgement part when God determines the right time for it (Isaiah 33:22). See all the people as God does, as you were, and as you are, a person of worth in need of God’s abundant grace.  Judging just ain't your thing.

Hey United Methodist Church, Can We Talk About Jesus Now?

#UMC folks, if you are still under the guise and believe that only the "other side" has a "political machine" that is at work, you are becoming part of the problem. As one who has been in the "conservative" tribe all my ministry, I have been approached by this machine for years. Of course, the "progressives" have a "machine" too.

As the great Clay Ride video of years gone by notes, we chose a more democratic form of church governance in the formation of the Methodist Church. It should be no wonder then that our system mirrors the secular world's struggles and corruption that infiltrates our church.

No one is going to be a victor when we come to the conclusion of the journey. Sadly, the world looks on and sees the church behaving no differently than they do and wonders what need is there for the church? Even as I post this, I struggle with typing these words as an Elder and life long member in the UMC.  If one side "won" or "lost" in the votes at Annual Conference, guess what?  We all lost.

I am no fan of using Jesus as the "tea strainer" of our theology (only listening to what Jesus said, check out more about it here), but ya know what? I can't help but thinking and believing, right now we all need to make more time for Jesus and Jesus' words - not about politics, not about sexuality, not about authority of Scripture, but about...

-where do I see pain?
-who do I see hurting?
-how do I best help one person today?
-when can I make time to pray? worship?
-what need can I give to?
-what is the idol I worship?
-who is the stranger in my midst?
-why am I do nothing for my neighbor in need?
-when will I love my enemy?
-can I turn the other cheek?  When?

Jesus said, we have to "die" in order to live.  I think Jesus was getting at our need to admit our powerlessness to do the work really needed in our souls.  To that end, if we claim to be followers of Jesus, humility, not "rightness" should be far more prominent in our way of life.  Folks, it ain't everyone can see our "emperor," our denomination, has no clothes nor can we be saved through it.

That has always been Jesus.  So yeah, maybe Jesus is the tea strainer we need after all.

Here is that Clay Ride video too, just for fun...

Letters from the Valley of Suck Three Years In

Three years.

It has been three years today that cancer did its finally work in Heather’s body and took her from the physical world. Three years since that day that our family was rearranged. Three years since I came up against the wall of mortality in the most personal way and profound way I could have imagined. Three years since I lost the life we had been building.

I am learning that the tighter I try to hold onto things, the more anxious and fearful I grow. The more I try to control outcomes, the more fearful of tomorrow I become. The more I try to figure things out, the less I really feel like I understand.

Jesus talks so well about our need to die, comparing that need to a grain of wheat that must die for it yield a rich harvest (John 12:23-27). And it is so well interpreted that this is related to the “born-again” experience, we never think to ask if it is repeatable and what it may mean to us if and when it is repeated in our lives?

When I gave my life to Jesus at 17, I died. In many other experiences, parts of me “died” but at no point did my life die the way it did three years ago on the night of June 12th.

The valley of suck has provided fertile ground because it is littered with death, the death of lives, dreams, hopes, visions, failures, joys, struggle, and so much more. The valley of suck is all about change - the change forced on the unsuspecting because of morality and grief. And as one author puts it, “what the ego hates more than anything else in the world is to change. Letting go is not in anybody’s program for happiness, and yet all mature spirituality, in one sense or another, is about letting go and unlearning.” (“Breathing Under Water,” Richard Rohr)

I call it the valley of suck and it has been my road to changing. My hope and prayer is that the narrow road has me more like Jesus than when it began. In the end, if I find myself where he says I should be, I should look more like he did...and I suspect that means crucified, too.

Losing Control To Let Grace Win

It was nearly a year ago and it was the end of summer in Louisiana. The humidity and heat hung onto me like the spanish moss surrounding Manressa Retreat Center. During the silent retreat, I found myself listening intently in the “great silence” to the teachings of our retreat leader and movements of God’s Spirit.

As I have combed through the notes of that retreat, a number of nuggets were revealed. None more appropriate lately to me than these words…

“Rather than try to control, we should live in a state of grace.” -Fr. Mike French, SJ

From the perspective of armchair theology, the idea of a Roman Catholic priest speaking of grace may seem out of place. But a deeper study finds it is not so out of place. Ignatian Spirituality and practice was methodical and offered means of grace long before John Wesley and the Oxford Holy Club received the moniker of “Methodists.”

And John Wesley would later state, “However much any man has attained, or in however high a degree he is perfect, he still needs to ‘grow in grace,’ and daily to advance in the knowledge and love of God his Savior.” And while we are all very adapt at advancing in knowledge of God, where is the passion and zeal for advancing in our love of God? We have created whole institutions in schools, colleges, seminaries, and our churches in the former...but just where are the places for the latter now?

It seems to me, we can control knowledge. We can shape it and categorize and teach it and test on it but grace is something out of our control. Jesus teaching on the matter seems best found to me in the parable of the workers of the vineyard…
1“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.2“When he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius for the day, he sent them into his vineyard.3“And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the market place;4and to those he said, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.’ And so they went.5“Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did the same thing.6“And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing around; and he *said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here idle all day long?’7“They *said to him, ‘Because no one hired us.’ He *said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ 8“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard *said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last group to the first.’9“When those hired about the eleventh hour came, each one received a denarius.10“When those hired first came, they thought that they would receive more; but each of them also received a denarius.11“When they received it, they grumbled at the landowner,12saying, ‘These last men have worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the scorching heat of the day.’13“But he answered and said to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius?14‘Take what is yours and go, but I wish to give to this last man the same as to you.15‘Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?’16“So the last shall be first, and the first last.” (Matthew 20:1-16,NASB)

What kind of nonsense is this? This is completely foreign to our ears just as surely as it was to the workers in the story and those disciples who heard it. In our day, the unions would be called in as well as the labor department! But the point is, this is grace, this is how God operates.

And, we are to grow in it and live in it for we are called to people of grace just as Jesus has shown us. While we may control knowledge of God (though this is questionable), we are not going to be able to control grace. As much as we try, it will “slip through our fingers,” as Princess Leia said to Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars, A New Hope. And personally, I’m not fond of the idea of being on the side of any Empire building plans.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is intended to release us from sin, and certainly, the sin of pridefulness. We are released to love God and love our neighbors, to live fully in grace BOTH as recipients and partakers but also as givers of grace - caregivers of the souls of others help fast by our sinful natures.

Living in a state of grace, I think, means we must stop and look intently at what we are receiving from God (not just what we have received but what we constantly are being given). And while we are in the midst of such blessing, consider, not why others aren’t receiving the same but why is the grace not overflowing from us? If sinners don’t experience the grace, are we actually living in the grace?

We aren’t called to determine the worthiness of others to receive God’s grace but the vessels that carry God’s grace to a thirst and dying people...just like we once were.  It isn't a cheap grace, it is costly because it costs us our control...something we really never had anyway.

Facing My Own Disillusionment: A Clergy Confession

It is a shame how quickly we lose sight of authors through the years. So many books, so little time I suppose. Used book stores a wonderful source of stories and forgotten wisdom. On my shelf, is one of those books picked up, one until recently I’d not yet read. As I often quote the old saying, “When the pupil is ready, the teacher appears.” I suppose the time was right for me to read Eugenia Price then…

“Some disillusioning experiences come gradually, but more often than not the element of shock is involved when an idol crumbles, a dream disintegrates, a hope vanishes...the illusion of children are no silly; they are natural. But it is another matter when we reach the twenties, thirties, forties, and, like me, the fifties, still clinging to unrealistic illusions, still insisting upon putting our faith in people” (from No Pat Answers, 37).”


I have to own up to the reality this is a road I have been on for some time now, and one, I am coming to face through all the disillusioning experiences I’ve had in life, in family, in ministry. It is so easy to build ourselves castles and towers and kingdoms in our childhood but in the reality of things, I should have seen it sooner. It should have been in my first full-time position as a youth pastor and in the closed door conversations but I wouldn’t see it. I was young and I cherished my illusions.

For years after, I still, stubbornly clung to those illusions and had enough good and gracious people around me who also held to similar convictions. Little by little, life, experience, failure, suffering, caring, loving, dying, the facade has come down.

I suspect this is why more and more people are not beholden to denominations. I hate that. Our denominations offer us a chance to see the great diversity of God’s creation and how we understand God. It is unfortunate to say they have become institutions rather than communities, places where the hungry, the sick, the worn out, the hopeful, can find healing. On a number of items, I have had a “love/hate” relationship with Richard Rohr but I think he gets it right here:

“We clergy have gotten ourselves into the job of ‘sin management’ instead of sin transformation. ‘If you are not perfect, the YOU are doing something wrong,’ we have taught people. We have blamed the victim, or have had little pity for victims, while daring to worship a victim image of God. I do not think you should get rid of your sin until you have learned what it has to teach you. Otherwise, it will only return in new forms, as Jesus says of the ‘unclean spirit’ that returns to the house all ‘swept and tidied’ (Luke 11:24-26)...(from Falling Upward, 61-62)”

God’s mercy is wider and broader and God’s grace is deeper and more filling than what we humans are passing off as gospel, it seems. Now, I will say, there are many who don’t care for anything beyond a ‘happy meal’ to call their religion. It will fill your belly but not the soul. It takes a great deal of work to get into the kitchen and craft a meal. We’re not all there. And you cannot force anyone there. You have to get there by your own journey. The community that is the church, should be providing shelter along the journey though, a place where Jesus is lifted up when we grow disillusioned...

“I, if I be lifted up...will draw all [people] unto me,” Jesus said (John 12:32). We’re drawn to other people, to a sunset, to a clear, black shadow across grass, to a passage of music, but only God can draw us to real worship. Any other form of worship is false and will end in disillusionment. Only Jesus Christ cannot disillusion us. (from No Pat Answers, 38).”

We are needing grace. Not just the grace of God but the giving of grace to one another, not one best on illusions but one based in fact - in reality - we humans are sinners and we don’t play well with others! Jesus, “takes away the sin of the world’ by absorbing it himself and exhibits no need to punish anybody else. He transforms the pain instead of transmitting it, and doing that is largely misunderstood to this day. We prefer tit-for-tat morality, passing on the problem, instead of taking away the problem. It fits our small idea of justice, but Paul comes up with a whole new idea of ‘justification’ based enitrely on this Jesus pattern of gracious existence. Jesus lives and teaches redemptive love instead of the common lie of “redemptive violence.” (from Wild Man to Wise Man, Rohr, 55.)”

This is not theology of justifying sinful behavior, it is recognizing God, in Jesus Christ, has done something with sin that we could not and cannot, and nor should we continue in the mode of gate keepers to the Kingdom. But in the zeal for change, may we be wary of changing one gate keeper for another.

Don't worry about cheering me up or offering platitudes of encouragement, I'm finding my way on this journey of faith with guides I have found around me.  I have plenty of reason to hope for my hope is in Jesus and I have not lost my faith in Jesus at all!  Let us not lose sight ever, that the Church, and churches, are not our kingdoms to rule, whether you are laity or clergy. These are people longing for the Kingdom of God to be real. Only Jesus is sufficient so let us live and give grace.

What I Wish On My Worst Enemy

Just what EXACTLY are you considering for the people you disagree with most vehemently? Those you place labels upon and speak openly derogatory at the water cooler or on your Facebook post? What do you want to have happen to those you call out online in the comments section behind your avatar?

Of course you have your first amendment right of freedom of speech here in the United States, but to what end? We can “fire warning shots across the bow” by just placing labels in a general sense: right wingers, lib-tards, neo cons, bigots, homophobes, femi-nazis, and others just to name a few and there are TONS more created every day. And it doesn’t take long, once a label is placed, that we begin to make the case our enemies are less than human. We begin to make caricatures and propaganda in keeping up with the war posters of World War II

In doing so, we are making out that our “enemies” are less than a magnificent, miraculous, work of art crafted by God (Psalm 139:14).

So just what would you wish on these, your worst enemy?

I don’t think Jesus gave us an option of being mean spirited or give anyone the ok to demean those whom we disagree with, let alone those who are outright truly and enemy. Jesus clearly says, “You have heard people say, “Love your neighbors and hate your enemies.” But I tell you to love your enemies and pray for anyone who mistreats you. (MATTHEW 5:43-44, CEV)” And Paul makes the point, “we are not fighting against humans. We are fighting against forces and authorities and against rulers of darkness and powers in the spiritual world. (EPHESIANS 6:12, CEV).”

What exactly are you praying for regarding your worst enemy?

Its no wonder the “Nones” want no part of churches today. Its no wonder pastors are burning out and walking away from pulpits. Followers of Jesus aren’t following Jesus at all - NOT so long as we continue to act just like the world.

What do I wish on my worst enemy?  The same thing I wish for myself...
Our other option: be like Jesus.

See Jesus.
See Jesus pray for his enemies.
See Jesus turn the other cheek.
See Jesus forgive others.
See Jesus change hearts.
Be like Jesus.


You Want a Catholic Spirit UMC? Be Excellent to One Another.

It is often quoted among United Methodists, an excerpt from his sermon, “On a Catholic Spirit.” and it goes like this:

“Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without doubt, we may.”

But, as we are so prone to do, we pull it out of the fuller context, one which begs us to reflect upon further. Here is the whole of the paragraph:

“But even though a difference in opinions or modes of worship may prevent an entire external union, yet need it prevent our union in affection? Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without doubt, we may. In this all the children of God may unite, even though they retain these smaller differences. These remaining as they are, they may help one another increase in love and in good works.”

Sometimes, those opinions and modes DO prevent an entire external union. Finding our way forward as Christians means we own up to truths we hide from ourselves.

One thing I think telling for those of us from a Wesleyan-Methodist tradition is a couple of classes I took in seminary. I took two classes, one required for graduation and the other required for ordination. The first was Wesleyan Theology. It delved into the thought and understanding of Wesley’s view of God. The second was United Methodist Theology. This class dug into what the denomination had come to think and understand about God. Are they similar? Yes, because the second came from the first. But are they also different? Yes, subtle at points and more telling in others.

I will only consider one point because it seems most telling. It is what is often called the “Wesleyan Quadrilateral” but it is more correctly called “Outler’s Quadrilateral” after the theologian who described the four tenets. Albert Outler observed in Wesley’s theology four important elements: Scripture, tradition, reason and experience. In United Methodist theology, these four elements were given equal weight in how United Methodists should understand God.

But in John Wesley’s mind and theology, these were far from being equal. Scripture was primary and the other three, while important, were to always submit to Scripture. I’ll admit this maybe over simplifying but it is important. This simple difference in understanding has, I think, more than any other single point of contention, led the UMC to the place it finds itself.

I have read enough and listened to enough to see we are different and though descendents of Wesley’s great renewal, we are on differing tracks. But why should it mean, though we differ and need to seperate from an “external union,” that we not seek to find ways to love alike and to love one another?

I liken it to what I told my children, now adults, “I’m not going to agree with every decision you make nor do am I obligated to bail you out of the results, but I will love you and I do want you as part of my life.” Is there still a way forward? Yes, there always has been if only we’d live more gracious than we seem to be right now.

The United Methodist Church is a denomination, it is a sect of the Holy Universal Church of Jesus Christ. As such, it ought always be in submission to the realization it may become a dead sect, just as Wesley feared. However, from ashes also rise new hopes.

I leave this post with one simple rhetorical question and one quote:

First, how many of those churches Paul wrote to in the New Testament still exist today?

Second, “be excellent to one another.” Bill and Ted

It Is Time to Look at Your Faith Failures

When there are long days and dry spells, coming home to face reality can sometimes be too much. I miss many of the greatest truths because the lesson is right in front of my face. They are in the mirror looking right back at me or found in words I'd just rather ignore than own up to.

It has been panned now by many, but I am one who finds “The Last Jedi” to rank up as one of my favorite Star Wars movies. It carries with it the wisdom of Empire Strikes Back, the surprises of Return of the Jedi and at least one scene reminiscent of Phantom Menace (and it makes me cringe). It wasn’t perfect but neither are any of us and it has great moments too.

When Yoda’s force ghost appears, he does what Luke cannot, burn down the tree with the ancient Jedi texts. When Luke returns to pouting as he did when he was younger, Yoda challenges him, “Heeded my words not did you? ‘Pass on what you have learned’...strength, mastery...hmm...but weakness, folly, failure, also. Yes, failure most of all.”

Damn, I hate the way our society has managed to destroy or white wash important truths and how popular Christianity practices are complicit in the same for the Church! I cannot go into “Christian Bookstores” anymore because of the way marketing has put “Jesus” on everything from silverware to drawer pulls to make a profit. Is toilet paper next?

In the end, slick marketing becomes of more value than relationships. The idea is perpetrated that only churches that make one “feel good” (the band was awesome playing that current worship song!) or “meet a need” (thank goodness there is a children’s program and paid people so I don’t have volunteer and so drink my latte in peace), are the ones where the Holy Spirit is “moving.”

Where is the mess of the New Testament??? Come on! Where is Jesus saying, “Oh ye of little faith!” Where is Paul calling out Peter? Where is Barnabas calling out Paul? Where are there churches like the one at Colossae or Ephesus? It happens all the time. We struggle to believe. Disciples and church leaders disagree. Churches close their doors. It happened in the beginning and it still keeps happening.

We are a Church of failures. We are people of weakness and folly, too. We are a Church needing to own up to what we have failed at doing and being...and MOVE FORWARD. Not “move on” and forget but move forward, seeking to follow Jesus as best we can. We need to move forward and burn some of our “sacred writings” that don’t serve us well any longer (I am NOT speaking of the Bible but other authors and teachers and teachings and yes, United Methodists especially, we need to look at this).

“Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm,” says the writer of Proverbs 13:20. How do you gain wisdom? As the country song goes, “How can I be old and wise, if I ain’t ever young and crazy?” Wisdom is often gained from our errors. When I look back at what I have done in ministry and in life, the failures pile up. The follies usually occur when I repeat the mistakes failures should have taught me. As my wife reminds me, “if you know better, you can do better.”

It is time for the Church, for Christians, to not be so uptight about our failures and follies. It is past time for some of you to GET OUT OF THE BOAT and learn the lesson Peter did for yourself. It is past time for some of you to GO INTO ALL THE WORLD and leave your annual conference and pastor somewhere else OR go visit a bar and meet some heathens OR try visiting some churches with a different view of God than yours.

Some days I get tired of failing. But then I have to admit, I am not tired of learning. I am not tired of growing. I am not tired of loving. I am also not done following Jesus. So for what it is worth, I am going to try and pass on what I’ve learned...all of it.

Will the United Methodist Church Be A One Wing Phoenix?

There is an ancient teaching that suggests, “there are two wings by which we rise, one being personal piety and the other community charity. No one can fly by flapping only one wing. It is impossible to be sincere in our worship of God without expecting to do the will of God. It is equally impossible to do the full will of God without the guidance and empowerment of a vital personal relationship with God.” (Harvey and Lois Seifert).

What really strikes me about this observation of the Christian faith, is the varying understandings and interpretations of the meaning and experiences of people of faith leading up to the formulation of those meanings. Think about it this way, my sister and I grew up in a nuclear family. We grew up with the same two parents who have now been married for over 50 years. But we each experienced that home in two very different ways and look back on it differently. My two young children have expressed the very same things about our home too.

The same is true for faith and church.

As much as there are similarities, there is not one wholly and normative experience anyone has regarding their journey to faith in Jesus Christ. Looking at Scriptures, would we say a person isn’t “real” Christian because they didn’t encounter Jesus like Saul did (Acts 9)? Or what about the Ethiopian (Acts 8:26-40)? And what about the 3,000 in Acts 3:40-41? Would we just shutter all the churches that don’t have that happen in their community?

One of the many things I have found helpful in my faith and United Methodist Church, is the tension created by having a “big tent” denomination. Because of our Open Table, all are welcome to come and receive communion without there being a litmus test other than repentance. We do not prevent children from coming to Jesus anymore than the worst sinner or the most prestigious clergy. This has meant we have had to also face issues of justice within a culture and world that is always changing and our foundations shifting.

Having made the move from the southern U.S. to the pacific-northwest has allowed me to look beyond my own understanding of the differences we U.S. Americans have, both in our culture but also our faith. Like many of the biases we create, we do so when we don’t actually take the time to get to know our neighbor. It still remains easier to craft a “strawman” over sexual issues and gender identity than to get to know someone just as it is easier to do so with Republicans and Democrats or Cowboys fans and Redskins fans.

We UMC folks need to walk carefully and humbly in these days. History is always more complicated than we often learn at first. But we UM folks need to be wary as we take steps forward. Coming as we do as a renewal from the Church of England, our “mother church” was formed when Henry VIII didn’t get his way regarding divorcing Catherine of Aragon. Not having male heirs and wanting a divorce is pretty poor reason to start a new church. And lets just name it...the Pope was right to challenge the king. No one was fighting for justice for Catherine (or any of the wives/concubines of Henry VIII either).

We can’t fly as long as our faith is more about pie than piety. Nor can we fly when our focus is just caring for society and not really caring about justice. Whatever phoenix rises from the ashes, may all be found having both wings and not floundering, one-wing birds.

Forward Toward Grace

You can move forward in your life. It may come at a price, in fact, it will, it always does. But, you can move forward. I think I’ve been learning just a little bit more about how grace works in that way.

A typical baby is born with the same anatomy and feature of a full grown adult. However, the typical human baby has a long way to go in terms of physical, emotional, and moral development in order to become that full grown adult human. Even if all things progress as we hope they would and a baby reaches roughly age 25 and the frontal cortex is finished “baking,” a human being can still develop and learn and grow.

What is also part of our growing and maturing is our spiritual development. This is much more individualistic. One may even consider it optional as some people do.

One thing I think we need to name though is that our understandings of spiritual formation are all imperfect. Even for those of us who identify as Christian, we need to step back and own up to the reality our faith understandings are imperfect in their own ways. The glut of denominations and sects within the Christian tradition are testimony to this. As a United Methodist clergy, whose denomination is on the verge of breaking apart, I have watched as the journey to schisms has inched closer over the last few decades. And why? In part, I think we have failed again to acknowledge the true nature of our imperfect spirituality.

A few weeks ago I got an anonymous note after our worship from someone who was offended by our prayer of repentance at Communion. They were turned off by it and said other people would be too. It goes like this:

Merciful God,
we confess that we have not loved you with our whole heart.
We have failed to be an obedient church.
We have not done your will,
we have broken your law,
we have rebelled against your love,
we have not loved our neighbors,
and we have not heard the cry of the needy.
Forgive us, we pray.
Free us for joyful obedience,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

I found it interesting this person would share their feelings in the way they did. You see, I once had someone profess faith in Jesus Christ who had left church years ago precisely BECAUSE of this prayer. For him, it was because ALL the people, including the pastor, were willing to own our imperfections and confess them.

Simon Tugwell writes, “The first work of grace is simply to enable us to begin to understand what is wrong. It is only when God, in his mercy, gives us knowledge of the truth by means of the scriptures that we can even begin to struggle against evil. Grace does not immediately drive out sin, as we have seen, neither do our sins drive out grace, at least as long as we are in this life.” (50. “Ways of Imperfection”).

We human beings have struggled with power grace has allotted to us. Why do I say that? Because we seem to so selectively apply it. We give plenty of it to ourselves and those of like mind but fail to offer near so much to those who we deem to be our enemies even when the Scriptures make plain our fight is in the spiritual realm (Ephesians 6).

While I grew up in the UMC, what kept me here was a deep and rich theology of grace, that God was - is - and will always be - on our side in the war for our souls. As John says, “The light keeps shining in the dark, and darkness has never put it out. (JOHN 1:5,CEV)” We must not be confused by the appearance of outward virtuous words and actions in some who may be inwardly corrupt than those who struggle with outward sinfulness but who are inwardly repentant, humble, and trusting. Beware those whose cup is clean on the outside only, warned Jesus (Matthew 23:25-26).

Each of us walk with wounds and weaknesses. I’m convinced we all belong in some 12 step program because we all need to admit we are helpless and in need of a higher power. The church of Jesus Christ needs to get back to that - back to grace. We need ,a spirituality in Christianity that gets back to greatest commandment, to love Jesus first and love others always. And the world needs the message of grace that the Wesley’s so ardently preached because it is that grace that believes we actually can love Jesus and others, even if we do it imperfectly.

Getting back to grace is our way forward.

Does the New Year Need a New You? 3 Things To Focus On in 2019

One of the things long associated with each new year is the traditional resolutions. I hate them. Always have. My feeling and experience has always been that needed changes need to be made when you need them...NOT waiting for a new year.

However, it seems that this year, changes in my own life have brought me to a place of needing to make changes at the start of a new year. That leaves me in a conundrum of sorts. But as these changes have come about around the first of the year, I suppose, if I am going to be consistent, I have to make those changes now. Besides, what am I waiting for? Next week?

1. Starting My Day.
 I’ve grown slack on this one and I mean it, too slack. It has been the little things too. I can (and have) written and talked about the journey of grief for me and “the valley of suck,” as I have called it. Each of us that is forced on this journey handles it differently and for some of it takes longer. Author and blogger, Megan Devine, notes how important the simple things like even taking a shower help a person survive.

Now, I’m not saying I don’t take showers (I do!) but some days the motivation is hard. I’ve taken to listening to at least one motivational video on YouTube each day. If you think that is hokey, well, get over it. It helps. But so does taking time do the 5 simple soul-healing habits I talk about in my book, Life Sucks Seek God. I still need these and at the start of my day, they make a world of difference.

2. Prioritizing and Organizing. 
 With that comes making things a priority. Taking time to look at the day makes a difference. Putting together a simple list is key and whether that is the night before, or at the start of a day, calendaring and prioritizing has help me keep the main things the main things. I tried my hand a digital planners and calendars for a time but I’m back to paper again and started a new one with the new year. I still find FranklinCovey Planners to be the best and their courses to be the most helpful for prioritizing. However, I really do like Kenneth Zeigler’s book, “Organizing for Success” to be the best book to get your head straight on the practical aspects of organizing.

3. Me
 Maybe that should be first (because the first two items are really about me too) but “me” has to do with my own soul and spirit. There are some things that I simply HAVE to do (WE have to do) to get by in the world. Our physical bodies demand we DO certain things. Stephen Covey even states we must “sharpen the saw.” But there are seasons in our lives we simply have to get by doing what HAS to be done. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs reminds us that we have needs that outweigh other needs.

The valley of suck has taught me new things and with that has come the results of both bad and good choices. There has been painful internal anxiety and stress. I have had to go deeper into spiritual matters of suffering that I didn’t expect to find and have had to look into a “new mirror” to see areas of myself and my soul that need to be rearranged and righted. I need to take care of me. AND I need to not take responsibility for actions I cannot control of others.

I have found a great reminder in St Teresa of Avila’s words, “The water is for the flowers.” Thomas Green explores this more intently and notes that what Teresa is describing is that our prayer life, our devotional practices, are not an end in themselves. Our prayers/devotions are the water and the flowers are what takes root in our lives, namely, the fruits of the Spirit: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)

Sometimes that water is seen and overflows like when the rains come or we water the flowers of our gardens. Other times, the water comes underground and we don’t recognize it, yet, the flowers still grow. We think it isn’t there, we think God isn’t doing God’s part (or our pastor or our church), but are we looking at the results of what is blooming or what is not? Have we removed the flowers from the true source? It is far easier to do than we sometimes realize.

So does the new year need a new you? I know I need to be made new, I see it now in many, many ways. But more importantly, I see it in ways I can do something about it to enact change. I can see the things I can truly change and, finally, some of what I cannot.

What about you?

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