The Waiting Room

The waiting roomI visit hospital waiting rooms more than most people.

(Somewhere along the line, visiting people in the hospital got rolled into the job description of the minister.  There are probably some good reasons for this.  There is also some really faulty thinking, both theological and practical, associated with this practice.  I’ll leave that discussion for another time.)

I’m camped out in a hospital waiting room again this morning.  It’s packed with people waiting to hear news about their loved ones.  I’m sitting next to a man about my age.  His wife is having some pretty serious surgery and he’s scared.  I can see it in his body language and I can hear it in his voice.  He’s been on the phone to another family member most of the time we’ve been here.  Maybe we’ll talk later.

There’s another familywife, kids, both sets of grandparentswaiting on news about their husband/dad/son.  They are masking their concern with lots of “family” conversation.  The kids are buried in their computers with headphones on.  I wonder what’s really going on in their hearts.

There’s lots of hugging and soft words.  Nervous laughter and stretching and yawning and pacing back and forth to the coffee machine.  Waiting room hosts try to make it feel like home.  Nice try.

All who are here share one thing in common:

We are all completely out of control.  Sitting in hospital waiting rooms, family can do nothing.  And they know it.  Their loved ones are in God’s handsor doctor’s hands…depending on how you look at it.  Some are praying.  Some are trying to think positive thoughts.  Some are avoiding thinking at all.

Hospital waiting rooms are where people are forced to face what they believe.  About God.  About death.  About hope.  About fear.  About the future.  For some, the waiting room is embraced.  The wait is good and the unknown is not the enemy.  For others, the wait is dark and lonelyeven if they are surrounded by friends and family.

The hospital waiting room exposes people.  Maybe not to those who are sharing the space with you, but you are exposed none-the-less.  Your fears are laid bare.  Your powerlessness is magnified.  There is nothing you can do butwait.  Oh, you can pray and read or write, but more than anything else, you are left to be reminded about what you believe and where you place your trustwhile you wait.

That’s why it’s called a waiting room.

Letters to Holden and Nolan

H&N FBHolden and Nolan,

I’m pretty excited this morning.  I’m going to get to see you guys tomorrow.  You have no idea what it’s like for me and Mimi when we know we are going to get to spend some time with you.  We’re kind of like little kids getting to spend the day with our best friends…

When I was your age, I only had one grandparent…and she lived in another state.  I only got to see her a few times in my life.  My other grandparents didn’t even live long enough for me to meet them.   I’ve always wondered what their lives were like and what was important to them.

Your daddy didn’t really get to know his grandparents very well, either.  Mimi’s mommy and daddy died long before he was old enough to know them at all.  My mommy and daddy lived a little longer, but he didn’t get to spend very much time with them at all.

I wish my mommy and daddy would have lived longer.  They would have been so proud of your daddy.  I wish they could have watched him grow up…and seen him play ball…and heard him play the guitar…and cheered for him as he got his diploma and walked down the aisle when he married your mommy.

I wish they could have seen what kind of man he’s become and what he has done with his life…what a great teacher and father he has become.  I wish they could have seen the two beautiful little boys he is raising.  They would both be crying with joy.

I also wish he could have known them.  I wish he could have heard their stories and asked them questions about what life was like as they grew up.  It wouldn’t have bothered even if they would have have told him stories about me, when I was growing up…no matter how embarrassing it would have been for me.

This is one of the reasons I write to you guys.

None of us has a guarantee how long we will live.  Our days on earth are numbered.  You can’t understand that now, but it won’t be long until you have to face some of the difficult things in life.   As weird as this sounds, I hope I’m around to hold your hand and pray with you when you face your first broken heart.

I hope I get to see you score your first goals and get your first base hits and hear your first music performances.   I hope I live long enough to see you walk down aisles on the most important days of your lives.  And I hope I get to be around you when you are old enough to let me tell you what are the most important things in life to me.

I don’t know exactly what my life will look like as time passes, but I hope we will get to walk some of the same paths together.  I love where God leads me and it would be pretty awesome to tell you what it’s been like.

I hope you will never fear the future.  I don’t.

Grow wise, grasshoppers.

Papi

Marriage Tuesday

marriage 2this is not pretty.

i know of a handful of marriages that are really struggling right now.  a couple of them could make it through the battle.  a couple of them probably won’t.  it’s just the way it is.

the fact that i’m sad about those marriages…or that i seem to have more hope than they do…doesn’t matter at all.  it’s their deal.  it’s their lives.  i wish i could lay in front of the bus, but i can’t.

as i think about marriage tonight, the issues become pretty black and white to me.  i hope this doesn’t come across too calloused.

marriages don’t fail because people are ignorant.  marriages don’t fail overnight.  marriages fail because bad decisions begin to outnumber good decisions.

it starts slowly.  most of the time, it goes unnoticed.  thoughtless responses.  careless acts of self-centeredness.  inconsiderate scheduling.  insensitive reactions.  a lack of sympathy here.  a rash word there.  alone, they mean nothing, really.  but when they start to add up, they begin to chip away.

trust erodes.  kindness is forgotten.  thoughtlessness becomes the norm.

for a time, both are equally to blame.  after a while, one wants the marriage more than the other…and the other has stopped caring.

the damage is done.  the relationship has been redefined by months and years of bad decisions that seemed so innocent and harmless at the time.  and once the foundation has been eroded,  simple thoughtlessness is replaced a hardening of the heart… and barring a transplant, death is imminent.

i’ve seen it many times before.  sadly, i will see it again.

so here’s my advice to you who are young and married:  make right decisions.  you’re not stupid.  you know when you are doing things that hurt or frustrate your partner.  so stop it.  if you’ve already made a bad decision, talk about it and apologize.

rinse and repeat.  everyday.

if you are deep into years of bad decisions and calloused behavior, there’s still hope.   as long as you’re still together, change in your marriage can happen.  if you have already developed a pattern of “going through the motions”, it won’t be easy.  it definitely won’t be pretty.  but there is help around the corner.

you just need to throw up the white flag.

somebody will see it.

i promise.

Doing the dance with doubt

doubti’ve never experienced a sunday morning quite like yesterday.   at least not during a sermon i preached.

look, it’s no secret that i’m at odds with the role of the modern-day, preacher, prophet, let’s-sit-at-the-feet-of-our-spiritual-authority-figure, pastor, boss thing that goes on in most churches these days.  even so, i still believe preaching and teaching play an important role in our church family.

normally, preaching at north point is pretty predictable.  i talk, people text.  i talk, people get up and go to the bathroom.  i talk, people talk to each other.  i talk, people talk back to me.  i talk, people laugh.  i talk, people watch what other people are doing.

i’m not saying people don’t listen to me.  i think they do on most sundays.  i’m just saying our group usually does some serious multi-tasking during that thirty minutes…and i always have the best seat in the house.

but yesterday was different.

from the moment i started, people were quiet.  attentive.  there was no texting (that i could see)…nobody got up and left.  there was no talking and none of the usual banter i get.  eyes were straight forward.  heads were motionless… almost like people were afraid to be the first ones to break the silence.

even my  few funny statements or attempts to lighten the moment were greeted with nothing more than smiles and subdued chuckles.

it’s not like i don’t understand why.  i actually anticipated the moment to be serious.  i hoped people would be attentive and introspective.  i knew my sermon was going to be out-of-the-ordinary.  but the response still caught me a little off guard.

i’m pretty sure most people were not expecting me to stand up in front and confess to my own doubts.  i’m definitely  sure nobody was particularly ready to hear me say there are times i don’t believe everything i say at a funeral or at somebody’s hospital bedside.

“owning” my doubts in such a public fashion has a way stripping you.  as i stood and talked, i felt naked and defenseless.  but i was still convinced i needed to do this.  i certainly didn’t feel authoritative.  i didn’t feel like a shining example of spiritual strength and determination.  truth is, i felt pretty weak.

when i retold the story of confessing my doubts and spiritual struggles to my closest friends nearly 25 years ago…only to be told not to go down that road again as their leader…i started to feel some of the same insecurities.  i began to question my decision to be that honest.

did people understand?  would the risk of admitting my intellectual frailty make connections with people who were having similar thoughts and struggles?  or would my honesty just undermine my credibility and push people even farther into darkness or despair?

ultimately, i’m at peace with what i said.  it is my prayer that people were encouraged, not discouraged in their spiritual journeys.  my hope is that people will not see doubt as an enemy…but rather a close ally in the pursuit of truth.  doubt and questioning are the fuel of intellectual integrity, because without them, we will never own the answers we find.  they will always belong to someone else’s pursuit and wholly inadequate for our battle.

finally, if my doubting and my questioning and my struggle to make everything line up perfectly in a world that requires faith is a stumbling block to you, i would say i’m probably the least of your problems!

my faith will not make you right with god.  my faith will not be sufficient in the storms that you have to face.  my faith will not answer the skeptics where you walk.  only you can own your faith.

…and the same is true for your doubts.

Today

today-i-willi’ve looked forward to the space created after moving on from the events of earlier in the week.

monday, i insulated myself from the passions of people’s hearts and the openness of the public forum.  (tuesday was just another run-of-mill-out-of-control normal day in my week).  anyway, i love that we live in a country that gives people the freedom to speak their minds.  i love that technology now provides multiple pulpits for folks to express what moves them and what lights a fire in their belly.

i will exercise that freedom today.

today i am full of hope.  while others feel the darkness closing in, i see light everywhere.  i see a world full of possibilities.  even for the marginalized and oppressed among us.  because i believe that death was defeated that day two thousand years ago…because i hold to the preposterous certainty that the laws of nature were suspended that black weekend on the outskirts of jerusalem…because my rational sensibilities have not been flushed down the toilet… the empty tomb keeps me from every being overwhelmed by my circumstances.

today, anger and frustration will not control me.  frankly, it will never control me.  my thoughts and attitudes will be surrendered to the one who has taken up residence inside me.  today i will live for his pleasure, not my own satisfaction.

today, i will not obsess about losing what i call my own.  i will not con myself into believing that what i possess is mine because of my hard work  or my ingenuity or my privileged status.  i will remember that i am but a steward of what belongs to god and that i am a caretaker of what he owns.  if i squander it by my own foolishness or self-centeredness, shame on me.  if it is taken from me, i will trust that god knows best.

today i will pursue joy.  it is no secret to anyone who reads what i write that i have battles with a darker side of my emotions.  depression is a cousin of mine who never moves completely out of the neighborhood.  so i must “choose” joy.  i must willfully climb back in the cage everyday and fight for what i prize the most.  some days, when i look around at those things i have little or no control over,  joy seems untouchable.  because i know that joy is promised to me, today i will grasp it for all i’m worth.

today, i will not even be tempted to believe that i am smarter than others.  i will listen carefully to what people say.  i will look for common ground.  i will try to see and feel what motivates people to believe what they believe and act the way they act.  i will give grace to all i come in contact with.  i will speak kind words.  i will be patient with those who would ordinarily push my buttons.  i will obey the command of my master to be a peacemaker in everything i do.

today, to the best of my ability, i will be to others as christ has been to me.

it seems only reasonable.

and i’ll worry about tomorrow if i make it.

Don’t shoot the messanger

ac_treeif you’ve followed my writing much over the past seven years, you know there is seldom much of a flow to what i write.  it’s almost always what i’m thinking (or feeling) at the moment.  kind of a what-you-read-is-what-you-get deal.

more often than not, writing is therapy for me…especially when i find myself in a dark place.  writing becomes prayer for me.  writing (and the inner dialogue that comes with it) becomes the light to see my way out.  most of the time, it’s where i reconnect with the leading of the good shepherd.

hey…it works for me.  and i need to go there right now.

over the past decade, my struggles with melancholy and even depression seem to surface more during december than they do during the rest of the year.  some of this makes sense to me…

preaching every sunday, every year during the christmas season has made me super aware of the extreme sadness that many people feel at this time of year.  frankly, the christmas season is an emotional killer for many, many folks.  the loss of loved ones…painful memories of broken family units at their worst…the crushing disappointment of not having enough money to make christmas merry for little ones… and so much more.

i preach about the savior of the world born to bring peace on earth and goodness to all.  we sing of wonderful promises and wholesome traditions.  christmas television shows and movies conjure up “joy to the world” and festive cheer.  and all the while, i live with the deep awareness that all is not well for so many.

the dichotomy wrecks me inside.

the sadness i feel for those who live in fear and hopelessness and grief is something that i have just had to learn to deal with during the holidays.  it wasn’t that way when i was young.  it wasn’t that way when our kids were growing up.  but it surely is now.

i think i’ve changed some over the years.  i’m more aware of the needs of people around me.  i feel deeper.  i act more, but it is never enough.  i try my best to balance the guilt i often feel for having so so much, while so many people i rub elbows with every day have but a fraction of my bounty…or for having such an amazing life, while others seem to live under layers of problems that beat against their foundations relentlessly.

depression is such an enemy.  it’s confusing.  it’s deceptive.  i feel like most everyday is a full-on collision of joy and sadness…hope and despair… fear and optimism…faith and doubt.  these december days i am  always duking it out…my emotions sparring with my intellect or my fears clashing with revealed truth.

it leaves me weary.

but it will not beat me.  faith, hope and love will win out.  seasons of depression are just that…moments that pass.  i am grateful for the awareness that there are real problems in the world…in my community…in the lives of my friends and acquaintances.  it keeps me from ever blowing the pettiness of my self-imposed crises out of proportion.

the pain of the temporary world around me cannot rob me of those things that are eternal.  it can mess with my emotions, for sure.  but it cannot steal what i love.

or hinder the One who was born to die for me.

Wow. Just wow.

my friend luke told me about noah gundersen this week.  you probably don’t know him.  he’s an indie folk-rocker from the seattle area.  i’d heard his music before, but i didn’t really know much.  his music is amazing.  he tours with his younger sister and together, they are genius.

but that’s not why i’m writing this.  i’m writing about a song he wrote, called “jesus, jesus”.

there’s nothing that leads me to believe he’s a follower of jesus.  luke told me the guy grew up in a christian home and walked away from it all.  it wouldn’t surprise me.  this song reflects his spiritual journey.  it’s raw.  it’s brutally honest.  it’s incredibly sad.

listen to the song when you have a few minutes to absorb the pain of his seeking.  my final thoughts are after the video (studio version with the lyrics) and a link to a “live” version, if you want to see he and his sister singing in front of people.  both are good.

* warning.  he drops an in-your-face f-bomb in the middle of the song…and a g-d shortly after.  this kind of honesty is not for the faint of heart.  proceed at your own risk.

live version

as unfiltered and visceral as his words from the heart are…and as painful the attack is on my faith…i was moved.  the song leaves me hopeful and motivated.  the questions he asks and the hopelessness he sings about affirm my reason to get up in the morning.

chances are, i will never walk with young noah.  but i walk with many others like him.  nearly every day.  people who don’t see what i see.  the “light” that i live in is nothing more than darkness and desperation to those who carry the scars of pain and hollow answers.

please don’t let the brutishness of a couple of his words rob you of the joy of hearing a common cry of those who are trying to touch the hope you possess.

may your sunday rekindle a passion for those who live without hope.