Welcome back.

AlienMy name is Mike and I used to write on this blog pretty regularly.

I was recently abducted by alien space travelers and forced into a floating compression chamber.  Against my will.  Really.

Something happened in that chamber that affected my creative mojo.  It was like it was sucked out of me.  Drained.  Emptied.

But I have decided to fight back.  I have risen from the ashes.  I have had a resurrection, of sorts.  I am going to write again.  Yup.  Actually, I was planning to start writing on New Year’s Day, as sort of a symbolic starting over.  It seemed like a great thing to do.

I decided to make fish tacos instead.

Deal with it.

Anyway, I’m back with a random insight that came to me while I was reading today. There have been a variety of recent studies that all point to the same thing:  Americans are not taking vacations like they used to.  There are a number of contributing factors and even more effects…to our economy, to our productivity, to our family relationships and to our physical health.

According to the studies, 41% of Americans didn’t take a single vacation day last year.  25% receive no paid time off at all.  Overall, Americans are taking off less time than at any point in the past forty years.  Why?  Economic insecurity.

People are afraid that taking time away from their jobs will make them look less dedicated than their coworkers…and they might be more likely to be let go in the case of layoffs. They work extra hours and skip holidays, so they might be eligible for promotions or bonuses (which are happening less and less, btw).  Workers pass on vacation days, hoping to prove their devotion to their employers.   Some avoid taking time off because there will be too much work to do when they return.  Those on the other end of the pay scale simply can’t afford to forfeit paychecks, not to mention the difficulty of paying for some kind of trip.

Here’s my takeaway.  Forty years ago, people gave huge amounts of hours serving in the life of their church family.  Probably more than they should have.   People would give four or five nights a week in prayer meetings, choir practice, Bible studies, calling on visitors, service projects, and the lost-but-not-forgotten Sunday evening service.

Over the course of my life, I’ve seen a slow fade.  The majority of church folks just don’t give as much time to church things as they used to.  And those that do are often functioning at near-exhaustion.  I think I see a correlation.

Normal work hours (40-50 per week), consistent time off for relaxation, regular vacations that actually rejuvenate hurried souls lay the foundation and make room for giving our time away sacrificially.

When people overwork and don’t prioritize refreshment for the heart, soul, mind and body (either by choice or out of necessity), there just isn’t much room for sacrificial living.

This is the new normal.

Can anything be done about it?

Welcome to earth

earthtxi’ve lived in texas for nearly eighteen years.  wow.

some days, it feels like yesterday when we loaded up our little boys in the 1982 dodge short-bed 4×4 (the greatest vehicle i ever owned) and headed to the new frontier.  other days, it feels as if we have lived here forever.

no matter how long we live, i don’t think i will ever lose my fascination with texas.  people…culture…history…food…personality …weather…values…all of it!  it is an amazing place with an amazing history.

it was a good trip to the coast.  it was even better to get home.  go figure.

we took a little different route home this time.  we travelled through the high desert of california to lake mojave (where california, nevada and arizona all converge at the colorado river).  next, we drove through the mountains of northern arizona.  flagstaff is one beautiful place!  then along I-40, through the native american indian country of eastern arizona and western new mexico to albuquerque.

when we hit santa rosa, NM, we took a detour down to clovis…to lubbock…to abilene…and then back to lewisville.  it was a great drive through west texas.  lots of country music, farmland, and little towns.    i now have some new “names” to add to my list of favorite texas town names .

here is my new top 11:

  • earth
  • utopia
  • wink
  • whiteface
  • muleshoe
  • happy
  • cut and shoot
  • buda
  • krum
  • poteet
  • pflugerville

even though there are some sweet new ones, nothing has yet to top pflugerville!  i love the sound of it.  i love to say it.  it makes me smile every time the word comes out of my mouth.  i love how it’s spelled.  it makes me wonder who the pflugers were and what they were like before somebody decided their home was worthy of becoming a “ville”.

i bet there are some pretty good town names in california.  i just never paid much attention to those details back then.  i’m sure oklahoma has it’s fair share of goofy names.  arkansas and alabama, too.

anybody want to pass on some good ones?

Back from vacation

last monday i took a vacation.

i stopped reading my twitter feeds.  i stopped reading facebook.  i limited my blog reading to sports and humor sites. i’m sure i missed a lot.  i heard it was pretty chippy out there in the interspace.  i think i’m just about ready to start poking around again.  this was not a permanent vacation.

i also took a break from writing.  i wonder if anybody noticed?  my guess is not a lot of sleep was missed worrying about whether my thoughts were ever going to reappear again…

but here they are anyway:

i’m struggling with concentrating this morning.  i’m listening to two (maybe more) squirrels trying to chew an entrance into my attic on the back side of my house.  again.  my liberal, left-coast, tree-hugging, whale-saving leanings have gone by the wayside when it comes to squirrels.  if i had a gun, i would blast their cute little noggins into the texas sky.

sunday at north point was definitely a “full house hangover” day.   maybe people were afraid to come back.

i taught on baptism yesterday.  i’m pretty sure baptism is one of the most divisive and opinion-expressing topics in church history.  having been raised  in a “water regenerationist” heritage, it has been even more volatile for me.  i’m not sure if my theological forefathers would have been completely happy with my exegesis of scripture yesterday.  but it’s where i’m at now.

it’s a command.  do it.  i’ll teach you why i think it’s important.  we’ll continue to try to do it the way they appeared to do it in the book of acts (dunking, right after a person expressed their faith and loyalty to jesus, no infant sprinkling).

what if a person believes, but hasn’t been baptized?  will they go to hell?  gosh.  i hope not.  i’m pretty sure there are more than a handful of things i’m probably wrong about…and i’ve just gotta believe that god’s grace is deep and wide enough to cover my interpretive shortcomings.  i hope that would be true of others, also.

what if a person’s motivation for baptism…or understanding of the purpose of baptism…is faulty or incomplete?  will it make the baptism ineffective?  i seriously doubt it.  i’m sure there have been a lot of baptisms that were done to please parents…or to purchase fire insurance…or to impress a fiance…or to secure membership in a church…or to get to eat the sunday morning snacks.  i’m sure a lot of those baptisms have missed the point altogether.  is god big enough to see through our limitations and adopt us into the family anyway?  i sure hope so.

it was pretty cool to baptize my friend jackson yesterday.  even more cool to be friends with his whole family and to know that his baptism wasn’t just a sappy little church ritual.  there is no doubt in my mind that jackson pledged his allegiance to jesus.  no doubt he understands his old life was buried and his new life was handed over.

lots to do this week.  lots of people to contact.  lots of studying to do.

our country is violently divided right now.   my sadness is great.  i wish i could say the church will be part of the cure and not continue to be part of the problem, but i can’t yet.  time to read the sermon on the mount again.

looking forward to advent conspiracy picking up momentum.  lots of needs in our community and around the world to respond to.  it’s time to focus on others.

congrats to cowboy fans.  you staved off death for another week.  can’t say the same about the chargers.

i’m definitely an A&M bandwagon fan.  i think it’s the maroon.  but i hate the SEC.  oh the conflict.

bowling season is almost over.  i think we’ve avoided last place with our team effort last night.

while i’ve been writing, the squirrels made it into the attic.  i hear their happy little feet doing a dance above my ceiling.  their partying will be short-lived.  let the bloodlusting begin.  or the fox urine.  (more to come.)

time to get busy.  have a great week.

Marriage Tuesday

the thing about marriage is it’s so…well, real life.

infatuation?  not so much.

dating?  no way.  it’s all about impressing the other person.

engagement?  meh.  planning the epic wedding ceremony becomes larger than life.

the honeymoon?  really?  you think it’s going to be that good forever?

the first year?  nothing more than playing house in the lu-lu-lu-luuuuv shack, baby.

year two…and beyond?  now we’re talking real life.

i read a quote by the marketing guru, seth godin, the other day.  it was about how we go about living our lives.  i don’t think he intended it to be about marriage, but i took it that way.

“Instead of wondering where your next vacation is, maybe you should set up a life you don’t need to escape from.” – Seth Godin

wow.

it sure seems like people live their lives anticipating a reprieve or diversion from the routine.  they hold on…imagining how good it’s going to be when they can finally get away from the daily grind.  living for 5:00.  gearing up for the weekend.  planning the family vacation.  moving to the new house.  getting a new ride.  whatever.

now, understand.  vacations and new cars are not bad.  they are neutral.  it depends on why you need them and what’s fueling your desire.  that’s why i like his quote.

do you really need something else to make your life better?  is there something about how your life is going that is driving you to escape from it?  if that’s true, there is no trip you can take or no destination you can arrive at or no thing you can buy that will divert you from the poverty of your own existence.

the same is true for marriage.  the reality is most of married life is simply walking through messy existence with your partner.  the thrill of late-night phone conversations and shoving wedding cake into each other’s faces and the newness of playing house gives way to the reality that the honeymoon is, indeed, over.

…and there is no escaping the absolute joy…or the unending drudgery of living real life together with the one you made the promise to.  it simply depends on how you view it.

are you running or staying?

are you digging in and working at it…or are you detaching and shopping for satisfaction somewhere else?

are you trusting that god’s way is better than your way?

marriage is awesome.  but it’s not perfect.  and we aren’t either.

(and if you took this post as some kind of modern day, king solomon kind of “ecclesiastes” depressivie rant about marriage…boy, did you miss the point!)

Some thoughts on getting away….

everybody should have the opportunity to take time off.

everybody should be able to have a break from their regular routines…to get away from their day-to-day…to rest and reflect and gather perspective and breathe the fresh air that comes from a break from responsibilities.  even if it is only for a little while.

i am so grateful to have had this time away.  to say i deserve it is baloney.  none of us deserve any of the good receive.  i know people who work hard every day of their lives and never get breaks.  they need to work to simply live.  i know people who work jobs that don’t let them take time off.  i know people who would gladly change jobs so they could work more, in order to have food on their table.

in my first 18 years,  i can only remember one family vacation.  one.

my father didn’t have the luxury of taking time off.  we didn’t make enough money to go on trips and stay in hotels.  as a carpenter, he had to work all the time and if he would have turned down a job so we could go on a family trip,  someone else who step right in and take his job.  it was that cutthroat.

so trust me.  i am thankful for the life i have and the times i can get away and come back refreshed.  or at least try to.  here are a few things i’m thinking from the “vacation” part of my trip tonight:

first,  besides being over-the-top grateful for the opportunity to get away…and also recognizing that i don’t particularly deserve it…i am really mindful of the need for it.   there is to be a certain rhythm to the way we live our lives.  the balance between work and rest was established by god himself.   it was present at creation.   it was woven into the commandments.   it was modeled by jesus.  there is always to be a time to step back.

second, i have had the greatest friendships anybody could ever have.  relationships that span decades.  and the opportunities i get to reconnect with my past serve as bold reminders that if we invest deeply and profoundly in each other’s lives,  time and distance and separation will never become the enemy.

third,  whenever we come back to southern california, after moving away seventeen years ago,  we are always asked things like “do you miss living here?”  or  “do you think you’ll ever move back?”   the answers are yes and no.   of course we miss living near the beach!  it might not be true for everyone,  but the pacific ocean is still one of the most spectacularly beautiful and majestic landscapes on earth to me…and i can’t believe i had the opportunity to live here (and near here) for the first half of my life.  talk about getting something i don’t deserve!

but i don’t ever see us moving back here.   and get this…i don’t want to.   lewisville, texas is my home.  it’s where we have dug in and taken root for as long as we can see.  and beyond.   do i wish we had some socal beach weather back on the grand prairie?   who wouldn’t?   do i wish all my southern california friends…and their children…would pack up and join us to do church together in the land of smoked brisket,  chicken fried steak and friday night lights?   i can only dream.

that leads me to my last thought…

i love living in texas.   both of our boys call it home.   they are married to beautiful texas girls who call it home.   we have two grandkids who love us and i think they would probably be pretty sad if we ever moved away.   i get to spend life with some of the most awesome people in the world.  i wish my old friends could meet my new friends.   you would like each other.

and after years of never quite fitting in the churches we served,  i am finally no longer a square peg in a round hole.   i am where i need…and want…to be.

this has been a good time away.   but i can’t wait to get home.

Welcome back to Texas

remember how i said i “loved” texas the other day?   well,  here’s how the great state treated me once i landed on frontier soil:

  • 7:55pm – land at love field and taxi for an extra 35 minutes while we wait for some other southwest jet to get out of the way.
  • 8:30 – begin standing and staring at the carousel in baggage claim.
  • 8:50 – realize that my luggage didn’t make it.   i go to the baggage claim desk and they inform me that there was a huge mistake and a bunch of bags flew to houston instead.   this is bad for three reasons:   first,  melissa and holden have come to pick us up and there’s no way i’m asking them to stick around for another hour and a half to see if my bag arrives.   two,  the bag includes my sunday morning wardrobe.   what would i do without it?   third…and most important…we had packed a few slices of pizza from our favorite pizza joint, so we could have a little taste of socal for dinner right here in lewisville.   bummer.
  • 9:30 – arrive home…grab keys…and start to turn right around and drive back to dallas to see if my bag came in.
  • 9:32 – wanda feels bad for being gone from our dogs for a week,  so she decides they can ride with us down to the airport.   can you say dumb idea?   blasted little yappers…
  • 10:05 – arrive back at the airport to be told by the baggage claim lady that my bag didn’t come from houston and they had no idea where it was.   no idea?   come on,  is some baggage handler in texarkana eating my pizza?
  • 10:20 – hop back in the car to make the long,  sad trek back home.   start thinking about what fast food joint we have to drive through with the dogs,  so we can finally get dinner…that we don’t want.   we haven’t eaten since 10:00am…
  • 10:35 – receive a phone call from the airport.   my bag arrived!   turn around.   back to the airport.
  • 11:15 – eating microwaved pizza from munchies.   this is a great moment.   short-lived.   but great.
  • 11:30 – corey calls me on the way home from his baseball game.   we realize that the keys to our other cars  (the cars i need to drive in the morning)  are back at his house in roanoke.   no men’s breakfast for me…
  • 11:40 – wanda realizes that we left one of her bags in the trunk of melissa’s car.   the one with her meds and brush and toothbrush.   she’ll live,  but my next day just got more complicated.
  • 11:50 – i plug in my laptop…only to face the reality that the a/c jack is completely shot.   dead.   gone.   history.   the timing is amazing.   i’m ready to rock and jump right back into north point life,  and i’m facing the probability of losing the hub of my sermon writing and communication for a week…or more!   not to mention having to pay for the dumb thing!  argh…
  • 12:30 – laying in bed thinking “this is messed up”.
  • 8:15am – text melissa to ask her to leave wanda’s bag on her porch,  so i only have to drive to denton to pick it up.   she’s already at work…in frisco.   great.   we’re off to an awesome start.
  • 9:oo – text bill to get my other jeep key that i borrowed while we were gone.   i find out he’s in memphis.
  • 9:30 – i have to ask melanie to drop the key off at the house.
  • 9:35 – i turn on my laptop…hoping there’s enough battery for me to put password protection on it (which i’ve never felt a particular need to install) ,  since i’m going to take it in to a repair shop and pretty much give them access to my whole life.   the battery runs out before i can get it done. can you say identity theft?
  • 10:15 – i put the spare key that melanie brought back in the jeep ignition.   it doesn’t work.   it goes in,  but it doesn’t turn.   gee.   what a surprise.
  • 10:30 – i start walking to the north point officehoping the set of keys i have are the right ones to the NP church van.   hoping.
  • 10:50 – yesssss.   the keys work.   the tables finally turned!

picked up wanda’s purse and then dropped off my laptop.   not only did the guy tell me he might be able to get it done by the end of the workday,  but that it would cost about half as much as i thought.   and he backed it up.   i picked it up at 7:00 this evening.   all is well.   and i’m back and ready to rock.

tomorrow.

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.