20 Months

20 months.

That’s how long it has been since I last wrote and published here. It’s been a long time. And it hasn’t been pretty.

We have moved. I’ve started a new career. We have grown to a family of five, though seven if you include the fact that we are living with my parents. My wife nearly died this year. My faith is shattered in shards, and I’m not sure what it will look like should it come back together one day.

I thought 2013 was bad. But it had nothing on 2014.

That said, 2015 is here. I’d rather not dwell on what amounted to a pretty horrid year. (Though we got a really cute baby out of it!)

A lot has gone on with me. I am not the person I was 20 months ago. I have a secular career, and I do not expect to return to a life of ministry. I have struggled off and on (mostly off) with being an active layperson at the church we now attend. That has not gone well, as I reel from the events of the last two years. I am still trying to find if there is a place for me. If so, what is it?

My theme has been Psalm 42. That has long been my favorite psalm. In year past, it was the steely assurance that I would cling to God no matter what. Lately, though, it has been much more of being the outcast, far from the places of worship where I once led and thrived.

I want a new theme.

If there is anything that I have learned, it is that life – and faith – is about choices. What do we choose to do? I was speaking with a friend not that long ago, mentioning how I had lost the “awe” of God. This was particularly frustrating heading into the holiday season (at the time). Further reflection has led me to the conclusion that awe of God is a choice, like choosing to love my spouse. It’s easy to be married for a while and then get a divorce when things get difficult. It’s much harder to stick to the commitment and see the relationship through the hard times on to the other side. To choose love. The same is true with faith, I believe. If I am to believe in God, if I am to be in awe of him again, then i must choose to be.

I do not know what the future holds. Nor can i say with the confidence I once had that I know who holds the future. But I know I want to be out of the fog I have been in since 2013. I want to move forward. I want to make choices that will determine who I will be tomorrow.

2015 is here. 20 months have past. I choose to live again now. No more waiting. This is my life. It’s the only one I get.

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Unpredictable

For most of my growing up years, I planned on being a meteorologist when I grew up. Living on the Gulf Coast, many of our summer days were spent plotting the courses of whatever storms were out at sea on the free hurricane map that came out every year in the local newspaper. A few came close, and I remember that we “hunkered down” for one that passed nearby. Still, these didn’t scare me away from the study of weather, but stirred my interest in it. Even today, I enjoy keeping tabs on what’s going on in the world and understanding what I can about the science and art of weather planning and forecasting.

Because there is one thing about the weather: it’s always changing. And it rarely changes exactly the way we are told by meteorologists to expect. Now, they’ve gotten pretty good at forecasting sunny or rainy days. And they are really good at knowing pretty much what tomorrow will look like. Some of the major weather events of recent memory have been predicted nearly a week in advance. But just as often as these successes are the things that they get wrong: like the rainy day that was forecasted that turned into a late season snow and sleet storm.

This season of joblessness has been just as unpredictable for me. Now, I’m not longer actually jobless: I’m holding down a part time job that will keep my resume active but won’t pay many bills. What has surprised me has been the changes in my attitude from day to day.

One day, the world is mine to be conquered, full of hope and possibility. It is ready for all of my dreams, which seem tantalizingly attainable. Fatherhood is wonderful. I enjoy the pleasant conversations with my wife. Gardens are planted, with expectations of the bounty they will bring. God is close and working and fully reliable and trustworthy.

Fast forward five minutes, give or take four.

Then, the world is terrible and horrible. There are no rooms for dreams. All seems lost. There are no ways out of our situation. God is distant, too busy with all of my happy friends who are successful in their careers and life goals. Every one I see – 99.9999% of them total strangers – have purpose and plans and intentions that they are accomplishing. Me? Life has no joy. Bitterness, anger, and fear are my constant companions.

Then something happens, and I’m back in the happy-world-is-mine-to-conquer phase. And so the oscillation continues with intensity and speed. And with it goes my faith, and one time fully relying on God, at another knowing at the deepest part of me that it is all up to me.

And so I scream with the helpless father of Mark 9, “I believe, help my unbelief!”

And, you know what? Despite all of my biblical studies training, seminary, worship leading, and preaching? Something I didn’t predict: even in my doubts and lack of faith, God remains faithful. And for that, I am grateful. He continues to guide me, even when I feel that He is absent. He continues to work for my good (Jeremiah 29:11), even when it seems that my life has nothing going for it. And on the darkest, bleakest days, when everything seems lost, you’ll turn a corner. And there God will be, doing something astoundingly amazing.

Go ahead. Try to abandon God. You will find that, unpredictably, God has no interest in abandoning you.

Potter and clay

There was a time in my life when, like many in my generation, I felt strongly that I deserved things.

That was no more clearly evident than in the job market. I spent nine months at one job beating my head against the wall because it wasn’t “in my field” doing what I thought I “should” be doing. I challenged a company policy about how quickly someone could be hired from within for another position because I was certain that I deserved to be in a different position from where I would be much better positioned to serve the company. It was all in the company’s best interest.

Of course it was.

When the company was named “Me. Myself. And I.”

I had thought I had escaped that mindset, but this recent life change I have encountered has challenged me once again. I still have debt from the degrees I earned for what I considered “my” field. That debt has been insisting that because I have it, I must be what I expected I’d be when I took it on.

But is that true?

At the beginning of Jeremiah 18 (you know you want to click that link and go read it – go ahead, I’ll wait), Jeremiah encounters a message from God at the house of a potter, working at his wheel. The potter ruined the vessel he was working on, so he smashed the clay down and started again. God’s message through Jeremiah was simply: why should I not do this to Judah? Why should I not do this to you?

If God is the potter and I am the clay, why can God not remake me, remold me, rework me according to his desires? Why should He not completely change the direction I believed I was going and become a bowl instead of the vase I thought I was going to be (or vice versa)?

Now, I don’t consider myself “ruined.” But if God has better or just different plans for me, well, He’s the potter and I’m the clay. Maybe I’ll still be a preacher. Maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll work in a church again. Maybe I’ll be a layperson. Maybe I won’t be able to attend church at all while I pursue other work.

You know what won’t change? He’s God. I’m not. He’s savior. I’m redeemed. Tomorrow remains in His hands. It will never be in mine.

Psalm 42:5-6a says:

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.

I want everything to work out just the way I want it to. I liked what I was seeing in the reflection of the mirror on the potter’s wall. But if God has other uses for me (or if He does not), then that’s okay. I choose to praise Him anyway.

He is God. In Him I hope. He is my salvation. He is my God. He is the Potter. I am the clay.

Packages so Neat

My first job after college was for one of those large mall anchor stores. I worked in one of the clothing departments, eventually making my way to one of the specialty shops that focus on a certain brand. Part of working that section of the department involved being able to fold the shirts a particular way, every time. I learned.

A few years later I was working for a different retailer in another state. This retailer offered their customers gift wrapping. It turns out that in addition to folding shirts the right way, I can wrap a gift well, from small boxes to awkward large framed prints. Using minimal tape, I could make sharp and even lines with the paper. I came to be the go to wrapper when I was on shift.

Ten years later, I was still folding my shirts the way I did for those two months in that specialty shop. And I am the gift wrapper in my house. My wife can’t figure out how I can start with a new roll of tape and not have to ask for a new roll halfway through the first gift.

The thing is, we like to have our stuff neat and presentable. Well-wrapped gifts give the aura of luxury. We like that. And it doesn’t just go for gifts. We want our books, magazine articles, television shows, and life events to all wrap up nicely. I have never watched Lost or The Sopranos, but I know plenty of people who were less than satisfied by their finales. They didn’t wrap neatly.

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Good News

It is Easter. The highest and holiest day of the Christian year (though Christmas seems to steal the attention of everyone).

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

This is the Good News! This is why we believe. This is our hope. This is our story. This is the Gospel. Without today, Christmas wouldn’t matter. Without today, Pentecost would not have happened. Without today, well, I wouldn’t be writing about Easter.

But it happened. The tomb is empty! He is risen!

Tell everyone.