Such is life

brainWell, it’s been almost a month.  In terms of time, energy, focus, priorities, accomplishing tasks, and keeping perspective…let’s just say the holidays won.

Honestly, I tried to write a few times, but it just wasn’t there.  Tonight, it is.

When I get to the end of the day, I want the people I love to believe what I believe. I want people I love to have what I have.  Not everything.  Just the important stuff.

This isn’t an arrogance or some kind of superiority complex.  It’s not me thinking I know better than everyone else.  It’s not me thinking I’m right and others are wrong.  It’s something much deeper…and much simpler than that.

Most every parent knows when the kids are young, you have huge influence over the way your kids think and believe and act.  They trust you.  You can speak truth into their lives.  You pass on your values.  You give them a vision for faith.  You can shape their reality.  You play the single most significant role in helping them build the foundation the rest of their lives will be built on.  Your beliefs are breathed into their little hearts and they lovingly welcome all of it.

And then they grow up.  Everybody grows up.

Those little, trusting, moldable, sponges become their own people.  They begin to make their own decisions and carve out their own belief system.  They decide for themselves what is important, what is true, what is worth investing in.  And they become what you had always hoped they would be:  independent thinkers.

It’s true for all of us.  But I don’t have to like it.

I see people all around me (some who are close…others who I simply try to walk with) who are struggling.  Certainly not all, but many:

  • They are angry.
  • They are afraid.
  • They are sad.
  • They feel trapped.
  • They are worried.
  • They never have enough.
  • Their marriages are on shaky ground.
  • They ignore the spiritual.
  • They run from intimacy.
  • They struggle for control.
  • They have massive blind spots.
  • They are self-centered.
  • Their love is conditional.
  • They are depressed, addicted, abused, or forgotten.
  • They don’t respect those who have walked the path before them.
  • They don’t pursue wisdom.
  • They don’t give sacrificially.
  • They always think they know best.
  • There is no true humility.
  • There is no real joy.
  • They don’t experience prolonged peace.
  • They live for the moment.
  • Their self esteem is built on performance.
  • Their security is in the tangible.
  • They follow their hearts.
  • They seek validation from friends.
  • They exist for happiness.
  • Their faith is personally defined.
  • Their authority is their own conscience.
  • Their motivation is their own feelings.

I know a better way.  I really do.  I wish I could make them follow it.  I wish I could make them believe it.  I wish I could make them want it.

But I can’t.

 

 

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Letters to Holden and Nolan

Letters piclittle men,

i got up this morning thinking about you and the world you are growing up in.  it is a wonderfully scary place.

last night, mimi and i spent the evening with eleven friends.  all of us are very different, but we had a great time telling stories and eating and enjoying all the things that made us different…as well as the things that make it easy for us to be friends.

that’s the way it should be, but it doesn’t always turn out that way.

as you grow up, you’re going to find out how cruel kids (and people, in general) can be to people who are different.  especially to kids who don’t “fit” into their little groups.

kids love to call other kids names like “loser” or “jerk”.  they make fun of kids for being too fat or too skinny or too smart or too dumb.  sometimes kids will act like they are better than other kids, just because they have more money or better clothes or a bigger house.  

there will also be some who call kids names or treat them poorly because of their skin color or where they go to church or because they are from another culture.

i’m not real sure about girls, but i know boys can be super cruel to other boys who are not “tuff” or athletic or strong.  they will call them names and accuse them of being more like little girls.  some boys will even try to push and shove and even hit other boys who are weak or small.   and speaking of girls…

one of the favorite things for boys to do is to act like they are better than girls.  they love to tell jokes about girls and make fun of girls and see them cry.  

and many little boys grow up to be big kids who grow up to be men who never stop acting that way…and that’s one of the things that make this world such a scary place sometimes.

but you guys don’t have to be that way.  you can be different.

the greatest man who ever lived was jesus.   he loved everybody.  especially people who were different…the ones who other people rejected.  he loved the people who had no friends.  he loved the people who got bullied and pushed around.  he loved the people who were forgotten and judged and abused.

he treated people with respect.  he served them and met their needs.  he was friends with everybody.  

i hope he will always be your example.

my prayer for you guys is that you will be friends with everybody…especially the kids who nobody else wants to be friends with.  i pray that you will see lonely kids and hurting kids and kids who are pushed away and rejected…and come along side them.  i pray that you will have the strength to face the rejection and ridicule of the “cool” kids, when you show love and respect to the kids who are different.

i pray that all kids…big and strong and weak and small…will know they can count on the farra boys to be their friends.  i pray the world will be a better place because you two are part of it.

grow wise, grasshoppers.

papi

Welcome to Texas…a postscript

Texas FlagOn behalf of my friend Blair, I want to say thanks for all the friendly help you offered to make his adjustment to a new land a little easier.  I’m pretty sure his load is a little lighter today.

Here are some closing thoughts…

I really appreciated the humor and the good-natured poking that went on, but there’s always a risk when the door is opened for people to be comedians at the expense of others.  There’s a proverb that speaks to the fine line we walk when we try to be funny:

Like a maniac shooting flaming arrows of death is one who deceives their neighbor and says, “I was only joking!”  Proverbs 26:18-19

Unfortunately, that’s a verse I ignore pretty often.  I like to joke and play and poke fun and be sarcastic in a friendly way.  But, at times, my humor (or at least my attempt at it) has gone too far and  hurt people.  I know it’s true because they have told me.  The lesson here?  Just because you have thick skin, doesn’t mean others do.  Innocent intentions can still do damage.

The past few days, we have poked fun at Texas driving, food, vernacular, dress, sports and a whole lot more and I only walked down this road because I trusted you guys as friends.

The very first and most important rule of mission work is to deeply and honestly respect and honor the people, customs, values, and practices of any foreign land you find yourself in.  I am…and forever will be…an outsider, a transplant, a pilgrim who wandered into Texas eighteen years ago, from my homeland of California.  So many things were new…different from what I was accustomed to.

But just because something is different, it doesn’t make it better…or worse.

Texas is my new home…but I will always be from California.  That will never change.  Nor do I want it to.  I have heard many people be horribly judgmental about the people and customs of Texas.  This is always wrong. My hope is that my joking or teasing will never be perceived as underhanded statements of superiority or condescension.  People here…my friends here…don’t deserve that.  Nobody does.

I have had some really rude things said about me and my homeland.  I’ve been told to take my customs and values and ethics back to California…always with a smile…but always with a smug seriousness just underneath the chuckle.  But those people are a hurtful minority that I totally discount.  I’m sure my Texas friends have had to make the same kinds of decisions about those whose joking crosses the line.  I’m sorry it has to be that way.

My life is better and fuller and richer because I have moved to Texas.  I have met some of the finest and most genuinely good people to ever walk through my life.  The differences we share have only served to broaden my perspectives and give me a deeper appreciation of the diversity that can and does exist in the world today…especially in the body of Christ.

And I would hope that people would have the same attitude and appreciation for the uniqueness and diversity found in my home state of California…if they had the privilege of sharing life with the good people there.

I don’t agree with everybody here in the Great State.  I have different values and ideologies.  I have different taste buds and driving habits and vocabulary and musical tastes.  But agreement is not necessary for respect and trust.  Only love is.   So get busy loving each other!

One final instruction for Blair that I heard today at our Memorial Day picnic:  Texans don’t use their turn signals when they drive.  Especially when they change lanes or merge on to the highway.  To me, it always feels like it’s an open invitation for the person behind you to speed up and win the race.  Gary had a different take… “For Texans, using a turn signal is sign of weakness.”

Nice.

Have a great week.

A Facebook thought…

i spent some time on facebook this afternoon.

i never write on my wall…and seldom on anybody else’s.   my twitter , instagram,  and blog are all linked to FB and just show up there automatically when i post something on those other accounts.

most of the time,  whenever i go to FB, i am usually just checking group pages that i am connected to.

if you’re a facebooker,  you know i don’t comment very much,  either…and that’s because i don’t read my news feed very often,  at all.   sorry.   but i did today.   and here are a few things i’m thinking…

my FB friends span 47 years.  

i have a lot of really funny friends.   i mean a bunch of ROTFLOL kinds of friends.

there’s a reason why i choose twitter and blogging over facebook as my social medias of choice.   i tweet because i can only use 140 characters and it keeps me from saying too much.   i blog because i can take the time to explain myself,  when necessary.

suspect i have a number of FB friends who are not particularly interested in what i think…about anything.   i’m cool with that.  wanda’s always interested.

on the other hand, people who read my blog are,  more than likely,  interested in my take on things.  i hope.  that’s why i work really hard to say something worth reading.   the way i look at it,  people really need to be educated on the greatness of the padres and the chargers.

finally,  i’m pretty overwhelmed by the friends i see represented on facebook.

so many people who have helped shape me and mold me.   people who challenge my thinking and force me out of my comfort zones.   people who represent the very best of who god has brought into my life.

when i scroll down through my friends,  i see unbelievable diversity…theological…geographical…political…and cultural.   i have friends of radically different socio-economic status…education…life experience.   i have friends who will probably never see eye-to-eye on really important issues.

but they are all my friends.  and today,  i am really grateful for all of them (you).

i love having a huge table of fellowship.   it’s not always easy.   but i am better for it.   i am deeper,  wiser,  more compassionate,  more understanding,  more patient…and significantly better equipped to live in a world of immense diversity…because all of my friends are not like me.   and i am not totally like them,  either.

the apostle paul would have never commanded us “…to live at peace with everybody, as far as it depends on us…”,  if it was something that we would naturally be inclined to do (romans 12:14-21).

hey.  if it was easy,  we wouldn’t need jesus.

Thinking back…

i go through a full season of melancholy every week.

it usually starts late on saturday evening and is almost always gone by about 9:45 on sunday morning.  occasionally it turns into kind of a low-grade depression that might last a day or two, but it’s never acute.  it’s not debilitating.  nobody ever knows.   but it’s there every week like clock-work.

my normal saturday night routine is to spend the last couple of hours before i go to sleep going over my sermon for sunday morning.  i put what i have spent the week preparing into it’s final form and go over it a few times as the last thing i do.   it works for me.   i’ve done it this way for years.

as the words of words of what i have written scroll through my mind,  i always think of people…those who will be hearing what i say…and those who won’t.

not those who will be gone on vacation or working overtime or grabbing some much-needed family time or recuperating from a demanding saturday.  those people usually generate a smile and make me grateful i’m part of a church family that doesn’t beat people up for missing a sunday.

no.  it’s the people who are gone.   not the ones who have moved to another location,  but the people who are still around, but never come anymore at all.   their absence just makes me sad and is at the core of my regular saturday night melancholy.   i wish i could just forget about them,  but i don’t.

for me,  there are two groups of people who are gone but not forgotten.   the first are people who simply see no value in being part of a church family.   maybe they’ve been hurt by people.   maybe they no longer believe in god.   maybe the way we teach the bible conflicts with their belief system.   maybe they see the values of church life conflicting with the way they want to prioritize their week.

whatever the reason,  there is no longer room in their lives.   i don’t buy the “i’m just too busy” reason.   we’re all busy.   and we all make time for what we believe is most important.   and for these folks,  church life is no longer important enough to invest in.   and i remember them every saturday night.

i pray.  i hope they will find their way back to a desire to walk with people of faith.  i reminisce about the life we used to share together.   i always wonder if it was something i did…or didn’t do.   (i know i think too highly of myself, but i still wander back to my messiah complex that was supposed to have been put to death years ago. )   it’s almost always the content of the sermon that triggers my memory.   and then my relationship takes over.   even if i see these people occasionally…or no longer see them at all…the feelings are still the same.

the second group is different.   you would think after all these years of walking with people,  i would figure out how to deal with this better…but the melancholy still floats around like an unwanted intruder.

one of the things i suppose i will never get used to is how,  in the church,  people will just walk out of your life.  they get hurt or frustrated or angry or feel neglected or misunderstood or embarrassed or a myriad of other possibilities,  but then they just walk away.  most of the time it’s to another church family just down the street or over in another neighboring community.  sometimes, as a leader,  you are actually the source of their frustrations…and other times you are a supporting actor in their life drama…or maybe you’re just “collateral damage” in something you have nothing to do with.

sometimes it’s abrupt and other times it’s a slow walk…either way, they walk.   sometimes you get to know why.   other times you don’t.

people who used to be close friends are no longer.  you may have occasion to see them…and there is no conflict, but it’s different.  they are no longer part of the family where you shared life together.   i suppose it’s just part of life’s cycle.  maybe we are designed to grow apart after a period of time.

maybe their time was only for a season.  maybe it’s for the good of the kingdom.

but things change and we are not the same as before.   i’ll never get comfortable with this.   i’ll always take it personal.   i’m glad my marriage doesn’t work this way.

maybe it really is better for everybody.

but i don’t have to like it.

What if God was one of us?

remember the song?   i’ve got a new take on it.

i had a conversation with a new friend recently.   because of a lifetime of struggles and demons,  he has incredible difficulty interacting with people.   he prefers to live alone…closed off from people.   maybe to avoid being hurt.   maybe to avoid hurting them.

he chooses to build walls to protect himself…and keep others at a distance.   knowing what little of his story i know,  i can’t say that i blame him.

at some point,  our conversation turned to god.   he’s finding it difficult,  if not impossible,  to connect with god anymore.   his doubts and questions have turned to full-blown unbelief.   it’s complicated.   it’s dark.   it’s incredibly painful.   for him,  it seems nearly hopeless.

here’s some truth… for all of us:

we cannot touch god.   we cannot see god.   we cannot smell god.   we cannot taste god.   and with apologies to all my subjective,  mystical,  touchy-feely friends…we cannot feel god.

that’s why we need people.

we need touch.   we need hugs and handshakes and shoulder taps and fist bumps and head-locks and nose tweaks.   we need to be able to stand arm in arm when we are serving.   we need a hand on a knee or a shoulder to cry on when we are grieving.   we need hands to help us up and forearm shivers to stop us in our tracks.

we need presence.   we need to see we are not alone.   there is strength in numbers.   we need face-to-face connection.   we need to see differences…and physically experience our uniqueness.   we need to see and know that our backs are covered.   we need looks of approval and sympathy and confidence and belief…so we can move forward.   we need to see integrity and grace and faith.

we need experience.   we need the sweet aroma of forgiveness and compassion.   we need to be told we are loved and accepted.   we need to taste what it means to belong and be part of something larger.   we need the sensation of relationship and teamwork and loyalty and shared vision.

we find this in people.   if we get close enough and we are willing to risk getting hurt.   people are fallible and imperfect.   people are self-centered and weak.   people fall short.

but people are the stuff that god chooses to express his nature and character through.   that’s his plan.   it always has been.

you can read the bible and come face to face with truth.

you can submit your will and receive the presence of god’s spirit in your life.

you can enter the inner sanctuary of personal communion with god.

you can go into your private prayer closet and speak personally with the creator.

you can sit alone on a mountain top and drink in the greatness of god’s power and purpose.

but you cannot experience the fullness of relationship with the father and the son and the holy spirit without others close by your side.

without others,  your growth will be stunted…your trust will be siphoned away…and your personal “experience” with the almighty will be suffocated.

get some friends and do this journey together.

Marriage Tuesday…back to the real world

home.

  • “home sweet home”
  • “home is where the heart is”
  • “the lights are on but nobody’s home”
  • “there’s no place like home”
  • “a man’s home is his castle”
  • “you can never go home again”
  • “a house is not a home”
  • “i’ll be home for christmas”
  • “sweet home alabama”

wanda and i are both from california.   we were born there…went to school there…got married there…bought our first (and second) houses there…had both of our children there.

there is nothing better than southern california beach weather.   the sun,  the breeze,  the salt air.   it’s not perfect,  but it’s close.   the mountains are always just a couple of hours away…the smell of pine trees at 6500 feet is exhilarating.

we are die hard, bad-to-the-bone charger,  padre,  and aztec fans.   fanatical loyalty runs thick in our veins.

after 40 years of living in california,  my taste buds will always scream for the chile flavors of the northern baja.   they are different from everywhere else in the world…and will always be the best to me.   the “red” sauce on rolled tacos with guacamole is a taste permanently etched in my inner eating psyche.

california is where we learned to do ministry as life.   doing youth ministry in the wilderness of the high sierras still leaves me speechless sometimes.

we have amazing friends in california.   some of the best people on earth.   we share memories that can never be duplicated.   i would never want to try.

but southern california is not my home.   lewisville texas is.   and i’m so excited about getting back i can hardly contain.   socal is where i’m from, but texas is my home. i realize that may sound odd after i’ve extolled the greatness of our personal motherland,  but that’s ok.   i live in the dichotomy just fine.   you can too.

we had people ask us,  “do you really like living in texas?” or “are you really going to stay there?”. uh…yeah.

i’m not going to sing the praises of our texas life right now.   maybe tomorrow.   let’s just say that i not only like texas,  but i love it!   the landscape,  the history,  the weather (yeah,  the weather),  our friends,  the church we do life with,  our kids,  the culture,  the food,  the sports,  the unique expression of the grace of god we see in our neck of the woods…all of it.   and it’s our home.

so here’s the message for couples today:   stop living in the past.   stop trying to recapture the way things used to be in your relationship…in your lives.   those things were there for a season.   they made you who you are today.   the good,  the bad,  and the ugly.

live in the “now”.

embrace who you are in this moment.   both of you.   your health may be struggling.   your finances may suck.   you may not be in a place you want to be.   but you have each other…and that,  coupled with the mercy of god…is more than enough.

discontent is the destroyer of marriage.   secretly longing for the memories of the old days…or exerting precious emotional energy focused on the future…robs us of the joy of the moment.   and when we fail to live in the moment,  with all that it brings,  we will never be home.