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Archive for August, 2008

Second Chances

I’m back from Colorado and started teaching today. My life is beginning to regain a sense of normality after almost 10 weeks of insanity. I painted, cleaned, and rented my townhouse, found an apartment and moved, and spent more than a month in Colorado taking pictures. I’ve been back four days and life no longer looks so chaotic. I’m glad.

One week ago today the surgeon stood in my uncle’s hospital room with the results of his tumor’s pathology report. The surgeon, who had diagnosed him with bile duct cancer a few short weeks before, told him that the tumor is benign. My aunt wasn’t there to share in the good news, so the surgeon took out his cell phone and called her. They cried. I don’t imagine surgeons have many opportunities like this, to tell a family that what appeared to be cancer is not. This chief of surgery only had one other opportunity like this in his career. The tumor is benign. My uncle doesn’t have cancer.

The next day, my aunt and I drove up to Longmont, Colorado to shoot a wedding. She was completely different, back to her hilarious self, as if the unbearable burden she had carried was now gone. The rest of the weekend I kept thinking about second chances and what this must feel like for the both of them. One month to the day prior, my uncle had been diagnosed with cancer and on this day he no longer had it. Sure, he didn’t actually have cancer the entire time but believing that he did changed everything.

My uncle and aunt must feel like they have a second chance at life. When they thought his cancer would prematurely take him from us, they talked about taking a year to travel, talking about the things they wish they could do. The thought of his life ending changed how they thought about living, wanting to live without the thought of what they should have done. They just wanted to live and now they’ve been given a second chance.

I think that a second chance like this would produce severe gratitude, the kind of gratitude that can only come with regaining, well, your life. I’m beginning to think that a second chance like this would change me. But I’m not sure how.

Most of us aren’t given a second chance, the opportunity to reevaluate our lives in a way that requires us to ask how we want to be remembered, how we want to live in the here and now. In my head I keep going back to my post on time travel, wondering if second chances focus us on the present. More importantly, why would it take something so life altering to compel me to to look at my present? Why am I continually looking to a future I can’t change when I’m living today?

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Immediate Permanence

I stood on a hill overlooking Jerusalem. The sun was setting behind the city and I had a revelation about what I should do with my life. I saw what my life would be like in five, ten, twenty, and thirty years. I could see who my partner would be and our 2.5 kids, I even knew their names. I could see my job and the steps I needed to take to get there. I could see everything as clear as that sunset. Then I woke up only to remember that I have never been to Jerusalem and I certainly haven’t experienced that kind of clarity about my life. In fact, I don’t know anyone who has.

I think we all want to know what we’ll be doing the rest of our lives. We want to know what our future holds and what we need to do to get there. For most of us, our problem isn’t that we aren’t willing to take the necessary steps to achieve our goal. Instead, we have a problem trying to figure out what that goal is. We are so sick of trying to figure things out that we just want a little permanence in our lives. At least that’s how I feel. It’s not that we don’t have passions or things we’re good at. We just don’t know which one to do, fearful that we’ll make the wrong choice. But this blog isn’t about choices. Scott has already written about it far better than I ever could. Maybe Scott will write more about it … I hope so (hint hint).

I’ve been thinking a lot about this idea of immediate permanence. As I said, we all want permanence in our lives, the security that comes with knowing exactly what we should do. But we want it immediately. Sometimes I get frustrated with not knowing everything or being able to predict what will happen. Those of you who know me are probably laughing right now. Then there are other times where I get really frustrated with God because He’s not in the habit of writing on my wall. The nerve! For me this frustration comes from a very spiritual source, my assumption that if I am faithful to God, I should get answers! After all, if I am seeking God with all my heart, soul, and mind why doesn’t God answer me? If I’m seeking to follow God, shouldn’t He just give me an answer? Ok, I’d even be satisfied with a hint. A little one. But I think this frustration comes from my own attitude toward God and Life … and it results in my desire for immediate permanence.

These two words don’t go together. Immediate permanence points to my desire for a kind of lasting security about my life, right here, right now. This desire isn’t bad necessarily, but it can be if we base all of our decisions on it. It’s hard to learn how to wait. Hmmm. That’s not the right word. It’s hard to learn how to actively pursue my passions without being taken in by my desire to know, right now, what those passions are. I can’t begin to tell you how many people I know who got sucked in to a job they didn’t like because they felt like it was time for them to “grow up.” They settled into a career because they wanted immediate permanence, not because they are so passionate about it they can imagine few things they’d rather be doing.

Immediate permanence takes over our attitude toward life. How we make decisions, how we spend our time and money, and even how we understand God. It’s hard not to get resentful when you think you’ve been faithful to God yet he hasn’t been faithful to you. At least that’s how it feels sometimes. We want so desperately to know, from God, what we will do for the rest of our lives and who will be our partner through it all that we forget how God delights in us. Period. Martin Luther has this great section in one of his books (I can’t believe I don’t remember which one!) where he talks about how the peasant in the field brings as much glory to God as a monk who has devoted himself to a life of poverty. God doesn’t care what you do; he cares that you do. He just wants us to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with Him. Period. Can I get an awesome?

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At different times in my life I’ve heard people talk about the importance of guarding their heart, regardless of the type of relationship. A guarded heart protects us against those who, intentionally or innocently, cause us pain because we have decided to share our passions, hopes, regrets, and dreams. In order to protect ourselves from the possibility of pain, our heart remains guarded.

While this piece of advice, to guard our heart, will certainly help us to feel less pain, it isolates us from those around us. To guard our heart we must close the possibility of being rejected by those we know and don’t know very well. We become closed to the possibility of living a life of openness and honesty, a life in which our pain can be transparently viewed and vulnerably prodded. We close ourselves off to the possibility of releasing life through our own. And we do this for what?

We could talk about the ways that our culture prods us to become the best which, often, means doing whatever we need to do to get to the top of the proverbial ladder. We could talk about how we have been trained to resist intimacy with people we hardly know, keeping them at a distance until we are able to trust them with the things that define us. Self-preservation seems to be our goal, trying to keep others far enough away to ensure that when, not if, they hurt us and leave, we won’t feel betrayed or abandoned. Our desire to avoid betrayal or abandonment keeps us at a distance and we think this is the only way to get through life unscathed, at least this is the story we tell ourselves.

When others hurt us, it’s easy to slip into a pattern of self-preservation. It’s easier to avoid the pain than to take the path of intimacy once again. Self-presevation is a form of self-focus that we often rationalize as good for our emotional health. But, to release life in others, we need to share the part of ourselves that matters most. The part so personal, so intense, so beautifully complicated, that we take a risk.

I’ve never heard anyone talk about guarding their heart as a self-centered action used to keep others at a distance for the selfish purpose of avoiding personal pain. But I think that’s precisely what it is. We don’t allow ourselves to be open to the reality that my passions, my fears, my story could release life in others. To tell others what I care most about opens me up to the possibility of rejection and, as we all know, rejection hurts. Yet, the damage that’s caused is the kind of damage that focuses me inward and paralyzes my actions. If I don’t want to be rejected or abandoned, I keep others at a distance until it becomes obvious that they won’t reject me. Maybe they have similar intersts, passions, or hurts, or maybe you feel like they can understand where you are coming from. Regardless of your reasons, you feel comfortable sharing the part of you that defines who you hope to become. We live our lives in fear and that fear paralyzes us from releasing life in those around us to become the best possible version of themselves.

I’ve often heard people talk about rejection and abandonment in terms of “giving pieces of my heart” to someone else. As if to say that I only have a limited number of pieces to give and, with each fleeting piece, my heart has less life and less hope than I had before. But the beauty of the body of Christ and the work of the Spirit in each of us is that the pieces of our heart are continually replenished. Our heart is renewed and filled with the love of our community and our Father. We are replenished, allowing us not to focus on our desire for self-preservation but on our desire to release life in others. To encourage the person in front of our face with the things we care most about.

You’ve read about my life on this blog. And if you’ve been hurt by the actions of others or your own stupid choices there’s one thing I would encourage you to do: pour your life into others. You don’t need to wait until you’re fixed. You don’t need to wait until you can trust again. Just leap. Pour your life into others because when you leave self-preseravation behind, you’ll find a different, better world full of hope, possibility, and healing.

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Shakespearian Comedy

I just spent about three hours talking on the phone with someone. To call her an “ex” would make our relationship seem too insignificant. To call her a friend wouldn’t give you the full picture of our comedic past. We’ve known each other since high school, were friends, toyed with the idea of dating, dated other people, toyed with the idea of dating, dated other people, “dated”, etc. You get the picture.

Well, in the summer of 2000 we decided to give it a much more serious try. We were both frightened because we knew what this meant. Our previous decisions about dating never had anything to do with how we felt, only about distance, timing, and a simultaneous belief that we weren’t good enough for the other person (which I didn’t know until tonight!). Things happened and we didn’t talk for several months. Of course, I’m leaving out many details here. haha. Well, she’s been married since 2002. We’ve talked sporadically since then and tonight, for the first time, we laughed and talked about why it didn’t work out. Tonight we had one of those beautiful conversations, so hilarious, so tragic, so wonderfully human. And we wouldn’t want it any other way.

I could have chosen bitterness, hatred, or distrust. I guess this gets me to the issue of openness, the kind of person I want to become. After a relationship fails, and obviously all of mine have, it’s easier to take the road of self-preservation. To take the road that could ensure that we never get hurt again. To distance ourselves so much from others that failure (in our next relationship) becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. We become so closed-off that we become blind to our shriveled state, believing that it’s others who’ve changed, not ourselves. In order to maintain the illusion of normalcy, we convince ourselves of personal consistency. But we all change, we grow, we heal, we become. The question is, what is it that we become?

I guess many of the thoughts along my way focus on the past as it relates to my present and the possibility of my future. While I haven’t written about relationships, and oh do I have things to write, I constantly think about the perpetual disappointment yet my constant hope. Between disappointment and hope I stand, yet am I standing with an attitude of openness or self-preservation? This is the choice with which I find myself continually confronted.

We, and by “we” I mean “me”, convince ourselves that we don’t want to hurt this much again and, obviously, the next person will be merely a continuation of the last. Our present self is unrecognizable and we repeat the mantra that we’re better off this way. Self-preservation is a powerful motivation to never allow anyone to know us. Self-preservation doesn’t allow us to take risks (relationships, hopes & dreams, etc.), to become the person we want to be, rather than the person that we are. We convince ourselves that we’ve taken the smart road, the safe road, the obvious road.

But I just don’t care. I don’t care if I get hurt again. I don’t care if I change direction. I just want to live. I want to figure out what it means to live in a world so comedic that tragedy is always lurking around the corner, so beautifully human. Because that’s life. We muddle through and do our best with what is in front of us. We make decisions, then other decisions, with the hope that our lives can have some resemblance to the reconciling work of Christ. Without risk, without uncertainty, all we have left is the kind of predicable life that leads to the apathetic attitude of eventual regret. This gets me to something I’ve been thinking about for a few years: our desire for immediate permanence.

With my uncle’s recent diagnosis, you could say that I’m in a rather reflective mood. And tonight I was reminded about yet another part of my life that has shaped me into the person that I am today, comedic and tragic, beautifully broken, mercifully redeemed.

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