Category Archives: life

Thank God for Answering the Prayer I Wasn’t Praying

It’s Thanksgiving! And this year, I’m especially thankful for an answer to prayer that I wasn’t expecting because, frankly, I quit praying for it a long time ago. It began last week with a painful confrontation that felt like anything but an answer to prayer. It was something that completely blindsided me.

I didn’t think that anything was wrong.

Well, that’s not exactly true. I thought that a lot was wrong… with other people. With systems and cultures and practices and traditions that I didn’t really care for. But me, I was fine! There was nothing in me that I couldn’t excuse or ignore as insignificant.

It’s not that I had never been confronted before. But my default response was a bristling defensiveness: The accusations were  unfair. It wasn’t my fault. I was the injured party. Why were people talking about me instead of talking to me? What about so-and-so? They’re not perfect either. And THEY hurt ME…

A good illustration of that comes from this post, which I wrote a little more than two years ago. I was frustrated and trying to explain what it was like for me. But when I read it now, I can see that I was paralyzed by fear. I resented those who didn’t understand. I was making excuses. And I was really bitter.

I had become “nose blind” to my own stinky attitudes. Looking back now, I can understand why people were afraid to have difficult conversations with me. It’s no wonder I’d wind up burning people out without even realizing it.

But last week, I was still in defensive mode. And I still didn’t see anything wrong with that. Until in one excruciatingly painful conversation, I learned that I had burnt through someone’s final reserve of grace towards me. I was stunned.

My first instinct was still to lash out, to deflect the blame. But this time… I knew it was my fault. It cut deep and it absolutely tore me up inside. It exposed things in my heart that needed to change… things that I felt helpless to change on my own… and it drove me back to God in a raw, desperate, genuine way.

I didn’t care about saving face anymore. I didn’t care about protecting myself from the pain anymore. All I wanted was for God to fix what I had so selfishly broken.

And thank God, He is answering that prayer!

I’m not saying that things are “fixed.” But when I cried out to God to fix what I had selfishly broken… He started by breaking something I had selfishly “fixed.”

I had built walls to hide behind, to protect myself, to make myself appear stronger. And the more I felt threatened, the more I re-enforced them from within. I built it with fear and distrust and negativity. The walls thickened until there was almost no room left and my fortress became prison… or a trap. I was stuck.

I justified the walls in a lot of ways. And I called them lot of different things. An introverted personality. Privacy or protection. Being task-oriented. Cultural differences. Panic attacks. Over-committing. Exhaustion. Social anxiety.

But you know what I call them now? Gone!

God hasn’t just given me a much-needed attitude adjustment, He’s torn down the walls and given the kind of fresh start I never imagined possible. It used to be a tremendous struggle, trying to “fake it until I make it.” Now it’s not a struggle. And I’m in awe of what God has done.

I’m now free in a way that I haven’t been for a very long time. And I don’t say that lightly or to boast. I understand now perhaps more than ever why Paul had to remind the Galatians to stay free. “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Gal 5:1, NASB). I have to stand firm. I can’t go back. The walls of my prison were built from cheap and abundant materials, but I know can’t afford to lay a single brick again.

So as I sit here on Thanksgiving night, I can’t help but thank God for answering the prayer I wasn’t praying and using the situation I never wanted to be in to bring me to the place where He needed me to be.

Happy New Year

It’s January 1st, and I could’t let the day pass without posting something.

My track record with New Year’s Resolutions is not stellar… and I cringe to review the seemingly reasonable goals that I dutifully set — then unceremoniously failed to achieve — last year at this time. So no resolutions for me this year.

But one thing I am doing that I will share is this: I’ve joined with many others at my church to read a simple daily devotional this year.

I don’t know if I’ll share my responses here on the blog every day, but thought I’d start out by sharing some thoughts from the first day’s reading: Genesis 1:1. It’s just one verse, and a very familiar short one at that, but it’s loaded!

On the one hand, it is encouraging to me to start the year with that reminder that God is the originator of it all. There is comfort in that, in knowing that there is a plan and a purpose to all things.

But it’s also a reminder to me that from the very first verse of the very first chapter, we are living at odds with the world. To stand upon that statement is to stand at odds with much of the scientific community – to embrace something that a significant portion of the modern world considers mythology.

And finally, this verse affirms that God is the original “creative.” And He’s the only perfect creative. I can’t be the creative person I’m called to be apart from Him.

To be honest… I’m not feeling especially creative right now. I want to be excited and full of anticipation for the year ahead… but right now, I’m just tired. I’m coming off of a busy year with a lot of great successes and amazing projects. More than anything else right now, I just want to have some down time… but then I wind up feeling guilty for wanting a rest when there’s so much to be done. So even though it isn’t included in the reading today, Gen 1:1 also reminds me of the rest of the creation story… and the REST that is IN the creation story.

In graphic design, we talk about “negative space.” Negative space is the “white space” in and around a design. The idea is that the “emptiness” can convey just as much as the content. In a world that is go-go-go all the time, “rest” can feel like empty space. But we need it. I need it. And I need to make it a more regular part of my new year. And that’s about as close as I’ll get to making a resolution this year!

So Happy 2015 everyone!

The Night After Runoffs

Twas the night after runoffs
And all through the town
Not a single campaign ad
On TV was found

No more calls from pollsters
No pleas for my vote
No ads on my facebook
Or emails they wrote

My mailbox now spared
From political flyers
Sent out by faux “PACs”
Created by liars

It will not last long tho
I realize with dread
A major election
Is looming ahead

So enjoy while you can
This time in between
It will surely be worse
Come 2016!


I’ve been fighting what folks around here unaffectionately call “the crud” — a cough / congestion thing that’s making the rounds — for over a week now. Today it didn’t seem quite so bad, so I decided to run to the store to pick up a few things (mistake #1). And instead of going to the huge Walmart that I’m very familiar with, I decided to try a smaller grocery store that I hardly knew (mistake #2).

I hadn’t even been in the store for 5 minutes when it hit without warning: a coughing fit. Not a polite cough. Not even a short burst of typical “sick person” coughing. This was a feel-like-I-just-inhaled-an-entire-bottle-of-cinnamon-with-a-fire-ant-chaser out-of-control register-on-the-Richter-scale coughing. My eyes watered. I could hardly catch my breath. My chest hurt and I was afraid I might pass out or throw up because I was coughing so hard. I couldn’t stop. I tried to find an empty aisle to hide in but it was nearly lunch time and the store was busy. I tried to calm down and stifle the coughs but that only made it worse.

I just wanted to disappear. But a woman coughing up a lung in the middle of an otherwise tranquil grocery store will inevitably attract some attention. Which makes me try even harder (and with even less success) to control the coughing. I could feel my face burning, a result of both the coughing fit and the panic that rising in me from finding myself in a public place involuntarily “making a scene.”

I wound up hastily getting into the checkout line with my last tattered kleenex clamped over my mouth and less than half of my list in the cart. At least I didn’t have to worry about anyone hovering too close to me in the line this time! And I was relieved to finally get through the line and back to my car.

This is the closest I’ve come to having a panic attack in public in a couple of years now. Once I got back in my car the panic subsided, but the coughing fit continued even after I made it back home. So. Not. Fun.

And one of the items I didn’t manage to pick up on this trip? Yeah. Cough drops.

And No, I’m not going back out there.

UPDATE: Not long after I first posted this, there was an unexpected knock at my door. Thank God for local friends who read my blog & have pity on me!


RSVP – Regrets Only

I wanted the event to be a success.

I even helped promote it.

The event in question was a “Meet and Greet” for friend who is running for local office. It was an opportunity to meet some people, have a wonderful meal, show my support, and maybe do a little networking. It’s the kind of thing most people wouldn’t think twice about.

But I thought about it… more than twice. Maybe 100s of times. And my heart raced. And my palms got sweaty. And by the time the event was due to begin, I had talked myself out of attending.

I won’t know 99% of the people there. What if I’m the only one there by myself? What if someone talks to me and I freeze up and don’t know how to respond? Or I say something stupid? What if they stare at me? What if the seating is too close together? What if it’s crowded? What if I can’t get out without drawing attention to myself? What will people think of me?

It’s just so much easier to stay home, or stay at the office. And it sounds so much better to say that something came up, that I had to take care of it, that things are just crazy, and I’m really sorry that I can’t make it. I’ve been around long enough and seen it happen often enough to realize that like it or not, I live in a culture that judges the book by its cover. If you’re not comfortable enough in a social setting to smile and participate in small-talk, you’re defective. Unworthy.

And alone.

And the fear you already felt (irrational as it may be) is multiplied each time you try to face it and fail again. And it’s magnified even more because you’re going through this horrible thing that you certainly can’t explain to anyone while it’s happening, but what the people around you see is that you’re awkward, not smiling at them, not talking to them, not friendly.

A few years ago I learned that what I was feeling wasn’t unique. I wasn’t alone. There were many others who shared the same silent struggle, and it was called “social anxiety” or “social phobia.” I found out about it from a college professor. Like me, he didn’t struggle with events that had a definite structure to them (like classes or conferences or church services) but he did have a hard time with informal social events like parties, or certain aspects of other gatherings… like the times before and after a formal meeting began.

It was encouraging to meet someone else who could function fine in more scripted settings, but struggle in the unscripted ones. It’s hard for someone who hasn’t experienced it to understand that it really IS possible to have the ability to get up and teach or perform in front of a group, but then freeze up during otherwise normal social interactions. But that’s where I am. Whether it’s a political “Meet and Greet” or a greeting time during a church service… I dread those situations. Actually, dread isn’t even strong enough… they terrify me.

And it’s hard to smile when you’re terrified.

But I’ve checked it in the Bible, and I’ve discovered that failure to smile in public is NOT the unpardonable sin. So I guess I’ll be OK.

I could try to be someone I’m not… but even if I could pull that off,  it’s exhausting, not to mention dishonest. I’m never going to be the social butterfly, and I’m OK with that. I just wish other people could be OK with that too.

So I’ll smile when I have something to smile about. And I’ll work on finding more things to smile about, instead of worrying about the opinions of folks who really don’t care if there’s a reason why I’m smiling or not.

Walking through pain

A little over five weeks ago, I hurt my heel. The pain seemed much worse first thing in the morning and after sitting down for long periods of time. I was afraid I might have broken something, but it’s actually a common condition called Plantar Fasciitis (PF). It’s not serious, but it is seriously annoying… and it will take months to fully heal (or longer, if I ignore the pain and don’t take care of it).

Actuallyheelwrap, it’s kinda hard to ignore the pain. I never really spent any time thinking about my left heel before PF. Now, it’s difficult to NOT think about it. Finding appropriate shoes has become an issue. Sandals (the mainstay of my existence before) are out for now. Sneakers are in. Stairs and steep inclines make me cringe. Most of the time, the pain in my heel is bearable and intermittent, but there have been at least two or three occasions so far where it’s been bad enough to bring me to tears.

It’s been five weeks now. But if the anecdotal stories of other sufferers are any indication, I’m not even close to halfway through this yet. And it’s getting old… fast. Sometimes when I’m sitting down working at my computer, I can almost forget that there’s a problem. Then I stand up again.

It’s just my heel. But as 1 Cor 12:26 says, “If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad.” I definitely have a new appreciation for that verse. It’s only my foot that hurts, but all of me is miserable. And at the end of the day when I get to put on these socks with the frozen gel packs in them… all of me is relieved!


It’s been a few months since I’ve written posted anything. (I actually have at least half a dozen unpublished drafts in various stages of incompletion, but every time I get “stuck” or distracted and never quite finish.) So tonight, I’m determined to finish something and hit that elusive “Publish” button. It won’t be pretty, but here it is.

Right now, I’m exhausted. I’m struggling with creative projects that should be exciting. I’m in physical pain (from a heel injury – which is another story entirely). And I’m hurting (more than I should) over some things that have been said about me. I feel beat down – crushed. And try as I might, I lack the ability to just snap out of it and be instantly un-crushed.

Even if I can’t snap out of it, I know I need to pull myself out of it. There’s something heroic and noble about rising above the circumstances, triumphing over external forces that want to hold you back: The Phoenix rising from the ashes… David winning over Goliath.

But it’s not that easy… because some of the forces aren’t external. It’s in me. It is me.

I think our childhood stories have done us a great disservice. We grow up on fairy tales and cartoons where the hero is good looking, pure, and obviously undeniably 100% good… and the villain is ugly, malicious, and obviously undeniably 100% bad. Even more, the villain embraces his role as bad guy – he revels in it. He’s not suffering from any illusion that he’s actually the good guy.

It’s rarely that cut-and-dry in real life. But most of the time, that’s really how we cast each other. We can’t imagine our heroes doing bad, and we can’t imagine our perceived villains as doing any good. If you don’t believe me, just watch the news. Any time there’s a polarizing issue, a nasty political campaign, or a painful church split, the passionate support folks feel towards their hero will lead them to deify him (or her) while demonizing the opposition.

I know I’m not the blameless hero. I know my faults. I’m aware of the baggage I carry and the places that are still tender from past hurts. And I live with the irony that I’m often more generous in forgiving or excusing my flaws than others will be towards me… while at the same time I can be harder on myself than anyone else could ever be. I’m not the hero, but I’d like to think most folks see me as being one of the good guys. And it hurts when they don’t.

And on the flipside, I know that those who hurt me are not storybook villains. They’re coming with their own set of hurts and baggage that I know nothing about. They’re acting and reacting for the most part in the ways that seem right to them. If they’re lashing out, it’s usually more about them than it is about me… just like it is when I lash out.

I know all this. I mean, I know it in my head somewhere. It makes sense. And in the quiet of my living room at the end of the day, I can see it.

But I still hurt. Not as a wounded hero. Not as a vanquished villain. Just as a traveler with a injured heel.

It doesn’t feel like Easter

I’m in a bit of a “funk” this year. Here I am, late Saturday night on the day before Easter, and it doesn’t *feel* like Easter to me. It isn’t the weather: the flowers are blooming and we’ve had some gorgeous spring days. It isn’t that the holiday snuck up on me: we’ve had plenty of time to plan for the service tomorrow. It’s not that I haven’t had time to appreciate the signs of the season: I’ve had plenty of jelly beans, marshmallow peeps, and Cadbury eggs. It’s just that Easter is supposed to be joyful and I’m… well… not.

Everything just seems… off. Last week, Palm Sunday, we sang a song that included the words,  “Break my heart for what breaks Yours.” Maybe that’s part of the problem. My heart gets broken, but not over the right things. It’s like my emotions and attentions are hijacked, over invested in something that, in the end, is worthless. And while I’m busy getting sucked into that blackhole, I can’t escape the feeling that I’m neglecting something else, something more significant. It’s discouraging.

Tomorrow we celebrate the Resurrection, and I can’t help feeling like I need a bit of a resurrection too. A reboot. Great things are happening. I’m even a part of some of these great things! Yet, as I spend this evening reviewing the music that we’ve selected for tomorrow, I’m tempted to feel like I’m not qualified to sing them. When I feel so dry, how can I sing about seeing “a near revival?” Fortunately, the answer comes from another song in the set:

And when I can’t see You still I know You’re here
And when I can’t feel You Your promise is clear
Nothing I face can keep me from Your love
My savior my healer my life and my hope
My treasure forever with You I belong
And even in death we won’t be torn apart
Nothing ever could separate us…

Maybe I can’t see it right now. But that doesn’t change the reality. Some ~2000 years ago Jesus’ followers went to bed on a Saturday night in mourning. They were confused and discouraged. And they woke up that way Sunday morning.

But while they were busy being discouraged that morning on their way to the graveyard… the tomb was already empty.

I pray that we can all rediscover the empty tomb… and celebrate.


I’ve been debating whether or not to post this… it seems rather un-grace-ful. But I believe it is truth-ful. So here goes:

Imagine that someone you care about has been diagnosed with gangrene.

It’s in their foot. Several toes have already turned black and the infection is spreading. Radical surgical intervention will be needed. The patient finally agrees to the surgery… but only allows a single toe to be removed.

After the surgery, the patient is excited and acts as if the treatment is complete. After all, the toe was in bad shape, and now it had been dealt with. There would be no question in anybody’s mind that the amputated toe was infected and needed to go. Pathology reports would back this up. But unless ALL of the dead, diseased tissue is removed, the patient is no better for having undergone the procedure.

If this seems like a ridiculous scenario… I agree. It is ridiculous. No sane human being would do that to himself. The decision would be difficult, there would be a time of mourning for the lost limb, but the sacrifice would be made for the preservation of the rest of the body. Denying the existence of the disease or failing to take adequate measures to stop it would be a death sentence.

Yet organizations do this all the time: when an issue becomes so obvious that it requires drastic action, someone will be sacrificed. But if the amputated toe is not the source of the infection or the only location of the infection, the underlying condition will remain the same. And if the ultimate source of the infection also happens to be the one making the decisions… well… good luck with that.

So don’t ask me if I’m glad the infected toe is gone. I’m not. And I’m not optimistic that the patient will ever return to full health.

Spring Cleaning

I’ve been doing a lot of Spring Cleaning lately.

It started last weekend with an opportunity to get some new-to-me furniture. It was definitely time for a new couch: the one I had was on its last leg: the frame was broken, the fabric was worn through and ripping… it was well past time for something new.

Before the new one arrived, I decided to move the old couch so I could clean behind it. I expected a few cobwebs and maybe some other bits of trash… but I certainly wasn’t expecting the filth that I found there! It was terrible! I realized that in the nearly six years I had lived in this house, I had never once moved the couch. Over half a decade’s worth of dead insects, dust, dried spills, bits of ripped food wrappers, cobwebs, bottle caps, and uneaten dog treats greeted me.

All that time, I had been cleaning around the couch — but neglecting the part I couldn’t see. It wasn’t that I enjoyed having the filth there… or even that I was OK with it being there. When I got the old couch, the floor was clean when I positioned it. I didn’t put the bottle caps and food wrapper remnants underneath it on purpose. I certainly didn’t set out to create a sizeable collection of dead bugs. It was neglect. Neglect has consequences.

Fast forward one week and I found myself in another Spring Cleaning situation. This time, I had helpers. Our goal was simply to re-organize a storage room, tossing a few broken or stained items as needed. But the more we removed from the storage area, the more it became clear that we had a problem. Evidence of bugs, lizards, and mice multiplied as the day went on.

I knew that every item in that storage room had been placed there in good condition with good intentions. No one intended for their used wedding centerpieces to become housing units for mice. It was neglect. Neglect has consequences.

Some things bounce back rather quickly from neglect when they are rediscovered. The hard floor beneath my couch was easy to clean. Glass and metal, many washable fabrics, hard plastics: items like this are relatively easy to clean. Evidence of years of neglect disappeared from these in just minutes. But others didn’t fare so well, like organic materials (dried flowers or wreaths made of dried branches or vines often became a food source for the uninvited guests).

Yet even for the organic materials, destruction wasn’t inevitable. It wasn’t the centerpiece’s fault that it was exposed to mice. It wasn’t even the mice’s fault that the centerpieces were available! It wasn’t the couch’s fault that it concealed filth. The couch couldn’t move itself. The centerpieces could have been stored in a plastic bin that would have kept the mice and water away. The couch could have been moved more frequently for cleaning. The quick and easy moral of this story? If you care about something, take care of it.

The deeper moral? You can’t expect to find things in the same condition you left them in if you’re unwilling to do the maintenance. It’s like playing an instrument: just because I know how to find the notes on my guitar, that doesn’t mean I can play competently without practice, and certainly doesn’t mean I can flow with a team without putting in the time to rehearse with them. Neglect has consequences.