Friday, May 18, 2018

Abiding > Calling

I currently have two houses listed, each of whom are being sold by friends of mine who are going through, or have recently gone through, a divorce.  They came to me because they can trust me, having confidence in our shared experience.  If I want to live a life in which I’m serving other people, these are the best moments for me, professionally speaking.  In fact, last year, I sold a house for a ministry colleague with whom I’d shared a similar ministry path.  When I met with him and his ex-wife-to-be, explaining how we could get the house sold and split the proceeds, he thanked me while blinking away tears.  He was grateful for my being able to help him what needed to be done and, most importantly, for being able to stand with him in all the hurt and shame of his divorce.

The flip side looks like the time I was leading a buyer couple into the basement of a nice home in a nice neighborhood and suddenly being hit by a wave of self-pity, “this isn’t what I signed up for, this isn’t why I went to college and seminary.”  It’s not, but it’s where I currently find myself.

As I asked in an earlier post, what happens to the “calling” I believe I had? 
Maybe that question needs to be turned inside-out.  What if I was never “called” into full-time ministry at all?  What if no one is “called” in that way?  I’ll admit, this is a new way of thinking for me, possibly a new way of sorting through the past 25 years.  The idea came from a sermon I recently heard, when I just so happened to be worshiping with my former church because the daughter of the above-mentioned friend was being baptized.  In the midst of a sermon on John 15:1-8, the “I am the vine, you are the branches.  Remain in me and you will produce much fruit” passage, Tim Keel had the following to say.

“How does God’s grace get worked out among us?  By abiding.  I read something from Oswald Chambers this week, who said the following, ‘A Christian worker is someone who perpetually looks in the face of God and then goes forth to talk to people.’  It’s not complex.  We get to know the one we love and it overflows into our lives…. Trees aren’t trying to produce fruit.  Fruit is the natural overflow, the byproduct of an organism in right relationship to its environment.  A tree’s not trying to make fruit happen, a tree can’t stop fruit from happening.  Fruit is the natural overflow of what a tree is created to do.  When we abide in Jesus, fruitfulness is the result of his life getting lived through us.

[In talking often to church leaders, I tell them] the most acceptable form of idolatry in the church is ministry.  People think you’re called to ministry.  You’re not.  You’re called to Jesus.  And to abide in Jesus.  And to help create communities of people who are abiding in Jesus.  Ministry is the overflow of a community that is learning together how to abide and remain in Jesus and to allow God to prune them, together, in their life in Jesus.”

Mind blown. 
Past and future possibly re-interpreted and re-imagined. 

It wasn’t just me, either.  Right after the benediction, I talked with several other members of the “former pastors club” who said that line also took them for a loop. 

It clearly happened.  I certainly served God in the capacity of a pastor for a season in my life.  It was good, rewarding and positive.  While there are certainly things I’d do differently, including some decisions and approaches that now make me cringe, I don’t regret having served in that capacity.

Back then, I had  a much more narrowly defined way of doing ministry.  Things are more wide-open now.  As I now, as then, stay connected to Jesus I'm making an intentional effort to be open to whatever opportunities come my way, opportunities that are almost certainly going to exist outside of any formal structure. 

For example, I was talking on the phone with the twice mentioned seller client and friend when I had the sense that I needed to pray with him.  After I’d finished, he informed me I’d made him cry (I guess I do that to people?) and that he’d needed the encouragement.  The next day, he thanked me yet again for praying for him. 

A similar thing happened just the other day, while helping with Free Hot Soup Johnson County.  After a friend of mine, who has dedicated so much of her life to serving the poor, homeless and addicted shared some struggles she was facing, I sent her a note to say I was praying for her and to remind her that her actions convey to others the love of Jesus. 

While there are some who need to do so, at this stage in my life, I don’t sense the need to hold any type of official church position.  I simply need to stay connected to Jesus and responsive to the opportunities that come my way.

Friday, April 20, 2018

I've Changed the Name of this Blog

As a follow-up to this post, I've now decided to change the title of this blog.  I simply don't think I can refer to myself as a pastor anymore.  Truth be told, I'm completely fine with that.  I try to be sensitive to God's leadership in my life and, as of this moment, I sense that I'm okay where I'm at.

As any reader of this blog would be fully aware, my life took a serious left turn a few years ago.  But even before that, I was curving away from the mainstream in regards to how I lived out my (then) life purpose of pastoral ministry.  As any long-time reader of this blog would be aware, my ministry path continued to take one step after another away from traditional approaches to ministry and toward bolder and less secure approaches.  As I kept reaching for more innovative and risky ways to serve, the ability to actually early a living at ministry gradually faded away.  Eventually, in regards to pastoral ministry as a career, I found myself on the outside-looking-in.  Again, I'm totally cool with that.  In fact, I'd likely make the same choices again, were I given a second chance.  In the spring of 2016, when I realized my connection to the inner-city church by our home wasn't going to work out and that I wasn't willing to drive out of the city to be a part of a healthy church within my denomination, I turned in my ordination credentials due to inactivity.  Of course, I was also pretty sure a divorce was approaching over the horizon, so I preferred to face that life change without the pressures of denominational expectations.

My peace with where I currently find myself, however doesn't nullify the sense of bewilderment and disillusionment that comes with experiencing such a dramatic shift in purpose and identity.  I started preparing for pastoral ministry at the age of 16.  I went to college for it.  Then seminary.  I chose a wife based, partly, upon our compatibility as ministry partners.  All of that has changed, however and I'm now in the process of forging a new identity and purpose.  Hopefully, it's an identity shaped less around what I do and more around who I am, as His kid.

It's pointless to lament the past.  It's worthwhile to be faithful in the present.  To fully embrace where I am at this moment.  I'm learning the benefit of taking a long view of things; a long obedience over a lifetime.  Hence the new name of my blog, which is actually a play upon the title of a book by Eugene Peterson.

I've found an amazing church.  I'm not too involved yet, but I'll slowly wiggle myself into the community and shared mission.  The church is pastored by a friend from seminary and, even better, two families that both Dawson and I count as some of our closest friends are a part of this church.

I've recently connected with Free Hot Soup Johnson County, which serves food to homeless people on Monday nights at a park a few blocks from my place.

In just about every way other than finances, as I'm still digging out of a bit of a hole while trying to expand my client base, I've almost completely recovered from the trauma of the divorce.  I was having a beer with a close friend the other night when he came to the exact same conclusion.  If anyone would be able to recognize whether or not I've recovered, it's this friend, whom I've known for decades and with whom I went on a significant roadtrip several years ago; a trip in which my dark cloud of despair and hopelessness was the third passenger in his SUV.  He turned to me and said, "It's good to see you laugh.  You seem to be back to your old self again."

In some ways he's right.  In other ways, a new self has emerged.  I assume that's normal for anyone as they progress through life (have I mentioned I turn 40 in just over two months?) but even more so for someone who experiences a dramatic life change. 

Even as something new emerges, a constant to which I still turn is words; my ability to express myself in ways that often helps other people.  Just the other day, I was at a happy hour with a 23 year old guy who played football and performed in show choir at a rival high school, though we just missed being competitors by a mere two decades... Anyway, this single kid young man told me he'd recently read my blog and really appreciated what I'd shared, both the content and the vulnerability.  I'd assume that if my words can help him, someone in a completely different stage of life than am I, then surely they can help others facing similar struggles. 

In fact, that's why I started blogging about this post-divorce journey in the first place, so my words could bring healing to others while simultaneously bringing healing to myself.  I'm writing what I wish I could've read three years ago, while struggling to breathe from all the pain and loss and shame.  I would've loved to have heard from someone whose marriage had died but whose relationship with God and with most of his friends survived. 

So maybe this amateur blogger turns into an amateur writer, as in a book about my divorce and recovery.  To the delight of my sister, who's been encouraging me to do this, I've put together a preliminary chapter outline.  Maybe it becomes the major project of my first year in a new decade of life.  Stay tuned...

Finally, I'll admit that ministry (as in a staff position at a church or other ministry) isn't totally out of the question.  I'm positive, though that I could never again assume the role of a traditional pastor, that's simply not going to happen, for various reasons.  I also know it would be in a different denomination than in which I grew up.  A few years ago, at the prompting of the pastor, I interviewed for a position with a Methodist church.  During the interview, I thought it wise to be honest with the pastor interviewing me about my marriage existing in a rocky and unsure place.  In response to my honesty, the pastor offered some reassurance by stating that while he'd  never been involved with a Church of the Nazarene (having spent all of his post-conversion years in the Methodist Church)  he spoke from his experience with Nazarene friends in stating, "Methodists seem to be more accepting of their pastor's humanity, as a rule, than are Nazarenes." 

Imperfection.  Humanity.  Yep, that's me all right.  Here's to my spending this human life living out a long obedience in (mostly) the same direction.

Friday, March 30, 2018

So I Try to Play the Piano

I took piano lessons from first grade up till it just fizzled out sometime during my junior year of high school.  My late piano teacher was also my Bible Quizzing coach (and pastor's wife) and she said I could be forgiven for letting piano slide since I was memorizing so many Bible verses.

So I had a rather prolonged break from piano, lasting from around 1994 till the summer of 2016, when I bought Dawson a keyboard so he could start his own lessons.  The first song of which I downloaded the sheet music was "Sur le fil" from the "Amelie" soundtrack, which might be the most amazing soundtrack in the known world.  Enjoy.  As a side note, one of my favorite things to do on this planet is to wander through the Northern arrondissements of Paris where "Amelie" was filmed while listening to the soundtrack, highlighted by a walk through the energetic and colorful  Gare du nord.  Paris, tu me manque, but I digress...

In case you're wondering... sitting down at a keyboard again, after 22 years, is a bit more complicated than remembering how to ride a bike.  I had to Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge and FACE for awhile, but it did eventually come back to me.  Now, it's one of the great pleasures in my life, challenging yet rewarding, difficult yet therapeutic.  Here are a few of the songs I've managed to record, along with some explanations and apologies.  It took me a couple of months to become even partly proficient at that "you've gotta be kidding me, that's fast" section toward the end.

The videos aren't quite embedding correctly, so I'll share the actual links, too.

This next video really shows the top end, as well as the limits, of my piano playing ability.  I've never been one who can play a piece perfectly.  I guess I just lack the finger dexterity.  90% proficiency is usually the best I can manage.  While I simply can't avoid mistakes, I'm at least creative in finding new ones to make each time I play a song, the exact same song, mind you.  I also get a bit nervous playing for a camera, which is evident in this video.  I'm copying in some advice from a good friend who is both a concert pianist and a travelling ninja.  I've had moments in which I've played with the joyful abandon Denise describes below, but certainly never in front of a camera.

 "...Another thing I'd say is to just play, worry less about making mistakes :) Hard to do I know.  But sometimes if you just go with it, amazing things will happen. Remember, Robert Schumann said "When you play, never mind who listens to you." Beethoven said "to play a wrong note is insignificant. To play without passion is inexcusable." Of course, another interpretation is that "to play a wrong timidly is a mistake. To play a wrong note with authority is an interpretation." :) Don't remember who said that but I like it."


"And now for something completely different."  Pop music

It's amazing how much more difficult it is to play pop music than classical music.

I'm slightly hesitant to share this one for several reasons.  First of all, it's not great, not at all.  I was able to get a few parts down but I could never get the timing right in certain sections, particularly on the bridge.  I eventually got tired of working on it, though and wanted to get it recorded so I could move on, which I did, actually throwing the sheet music in the recycling and washing my hands of the song.
Which leads to the other reason this song isn't great to share, it was meant to be a birthday present but it never got delivered to the intended recipient.  Just as an interaction with that Intended Recipient prompted me to do some writing on this blog, another brief interaction with said Intended Recipient prompted me to work on this song.  It's as if some emotions were working themselves from my heart, through my arms, out my fingers and eventually into the previously mentioned recycling bin.
I made the video, though, so I might as well share it.


The good thing about the above video is that the little bit of singing I actually do in the video resides much more in my vocal sweet spot than the next video I'm going to share.  I'm going to share it anyway, though as it's one of my all-time favorite songs, even if it pushes (let's be honest, it exceeds) my vocal range.

The particular arrangement I'm going to play comes from the musical Moulin Rouge but the actual song predates that musical by several decades.  I don't know of any other song that captures the aching beauty one experiences while wandering Montmartre late at night.  Or maybe in a broader sense, it captures the maddening pleasure of a city that (to paraphrase another old French songwriter) is like a lover who tantalizes you while you're in her presence but forgets your face as soon as you leave.  But there I go again, missing Paris...

Maybe it's my voice cracking or the lack of an accordion but my playing of this song won't illicit anything near to the depth of feeling brought out by the original.  Nonetheless, I still greatly enjoyed learning this song as it's the first song I've been able to both play and sing. 

Also, I apologize if my introducing the song in French comes off as pretentious (is it ever possible to speak French and not come off as pretentious?), but I couldn't resist.


Finally, please allow me to be a braggy dad for a minute.  My son is quite the piano player, when I can actually get him to practice.  He has a musical ear that I simply don't have.  Not only can he play a song by ear after just a few tries, he even composes his own short songs.  Of course, that's no surprise, as his biological uncle is a recording artist and his biological grandma is herself a piano teacher.  Dawson fights me on piano but he's too talented for me to let him quit when he's this young.  As the parents of my above mentioned concert pianist friend would tell her as a child, "no adult regrets being made to learn piano as a child."



Opening Day 2018

There's a buzz in the air, the fountains are flowing blue, the Truman Sports Complex parking is full of tailgaters and hardly anyone in the city is working this afternoon because we're all celebrating the return of our Boys in Blue.
Sad, minor side note:  The season couldn't have started much worse, with a 44 degree day bringing a 14-7 loss and news of Salvy going on the 6 week DL.

There are two things to get excited about for this upcoming season:
1) I  will still get chills when I see the World Championship banner flying in the outfield
2) The team will be so bad this year that I'll be able to find $5 tickets by July

Today is the perfect day to remind everyone of Terence's line in Field of Dreams:
"The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball.  America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers.  It's been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again.  But baseball has marked the time.  This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray.  It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again.  Oh people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come."

And if you would rather hear the actual voice of James Earl Jones, rather than just hear it in your head (as I do), then you can click here.

I've heard it said that as men get older, their interest in football wanes and their interest in baseball grows.  I don't know whether that's true of all male sports fans, but that's definitely been true of me.  I didn't even follow baseball till my first summer in KC, the summer after my sophomore year, when I finally began to understand the everyday enjoyment of the sport which includes the pleasure of having the play-by-play in the background on a beautiful summer evening and how the pop of the ball hitting the catcher's glove on an AM radio is the perfect soundtrack to summer.  By the pennant race of 2003, I was being sucked in but I wasn't fully hooked, however till I began to understand the numbers of baseball.  I owe my fairly recent appreciation of the nerdy side of baseball to Rany Jazayerli and his no longer active blog, Rany on the Royals.  With the exception of the postseason, baseball is a game of consistency and patience while football is a game of short and intense bursts of emotion.

My last  year of playing baseball was the summer before the first fall in which I was old enough to play middle school tackle football.  I was never coordinated enough to be good at baseball but I was just strong enough to earn a small football scholarship to a small university.  I think that I needed to put my horrible little league career behind me before I could fully embrace the sport as an adult fan.  To put it another way, I had to make peace with being a sucky baseball player as a kid before I could become a serious baseball fan as an adult.

To reference another idea I've heard but whose source I can't recall, sports exist to create a natural and easy bonding between father and son.  Of course, the most likely reason sports exist is for gambling on the outcomes, but I digress...  I can certainly attest to that in my own life.  I've been able to bond with both my dad and my son over Hawkeye and Royals games.  Though more over Hawk games with my dad and more over Royals games with my son, who once told me, "Dad, I was born in KC,  you were born in Iowa, so I'm a Royals fan, not a Hawkeye fan."  I believe that idea could be expanded however, to include bonding between friends.  Some of my best memories and most profound conversations have occurred during game watch parties, pre-game tailgates and (most importantly) road trips to sporting venues across the country.  In fact, several years ago, a high school friend sent me a note thanking me for sharing Christ with him during our sophomore year.  That conversation happened, naturally, on the drive home from an Iowa basketball game (a miserable loss to Northwestern, if I remember correctly, which I likely do). 

Of course, that's the main theme of Field of Dreams, the relationship (or lack thereof) between a father and son.  I'm glad that my relationship with my dad and my son doesn't revolve completely around sports, but I'm glad a shared love of sports has enhanced our respective relationships. I can honestly say, though that without a shared love of sports, I'm not as close to some of my closest friends as I actually am.

With that in mind, I'm going to share some of my favorite  Opening Day memories along with my favorite baseball pictures.

2004:  Despite having standing room only tickets, the day started and ended perfectly.  A group of close friends used my portable grill for tailgating before the game and convinced me to not leave in the 8th inning, when the Royals were down 8-1 to the Sox.  A miracle rally, which was capped off by a walk-off homerun, resulted in us jumping around hysterically in the concourse behind the 1st base line.  I jumped so hysterically, in fact, that I gave myself a deep bone bruise on my knee, making it hard to bend said knee for about two months.  I'd never been so glad to be a Fed Ex driver, rather than a UPS driver, as UPS trucks are sticks and FedEx trucks are automatic.

2009:  I was offered an Opening Day ticket by a dear man in the church I was pastoring at the time, for whom I had recently preached his wife's funeral.  The day was cold and the Royals were spanked by the Yankees, but it was a wonderful time of helping a dear friend through his grief while not actually mentioning his unmentionably sudden loss.  I believe there was a lot of grace passing between us that day.

2014:  This Opening Day I decided to embrace what most Parisians could tell just by glancing at me, no matter how hard I tried to mask it by sporting a man purse and scarves, that I'm an unfashionable American who feels most comfortable wearing jeans and a sports t-shirt.  This was actually the first day of the two weeks my parents came to visit us and as I was leading them into Saint Chapelle, a fellow KC native saw my shirt and called out, "Go Royals." I'll never forget that one, how the buzz of Opening Day can extend even to another country, at least among American tourists.

The formatting on this blog site is so complicated that I'm not even gonna try to put this in chronological order.

"Celebrating" the extra inning, WS clinching win against the Mets in November, 2015

Celebrating the World Title with hundreds of thousands of other Kansas Citians

Godbrothers at The K

Kids Day at The K, May 2015

Dad and enjoying a game on Father's Day, 2016
A great night in the Southside of Chicago
Dawson's first trip to The K, June 2011.  I felt kinda guilty trying to teach him to like a team as bad as the Royals, circa 2011

Royals at White Sox, June 2016

Catching a game where the Royals had clinched the WS the previous year.  Notice Dawson has on the WS Champs shirt while I decided to stick with the much safer, Hawkeye shirt, as we'd attended a Hawkeye game at Rutgers earlier in the day.

Enjoying the divisional race, June 2017

A baseball camp with Royals HOFer, Frank White

Hanging with my childhood hero, The Wizard of Oz

Royals at Cardinals, August 2017

Quite possibly the best weekend ever, June 2012

Watching the MLB internet stream of the hearbreak that was game 7 of the 14 WS the morning after it actually happened, Busingen, Germany.  My yells when Gordon tied it up scared Dawson and I might've cried two tears when Perez fouled out to end the game.

San Francisco, May 2013 with the biggest baseball nerds and one of the best people I know

Royals at Twins, June 2015

June 2017

July 14, catching a game during our time between France and Germany

One of my all-time favorite pics

When your close friend of several decades visits from CA, you have to go to The K with him and his boys

Friday, March 23, 2018

Grief: Round II

Other than occasionally noticing the life-long scar that I assume accompanies the failing of any marriage, I've pretty much grieved my divorce.  In fact, I think I did 95% of my grieving while still married as we slowly, agonizingly and reluctantly worked our way through (per my therapist) the "five stages of divorce."  While I feel like I've finished my grieving of our 19 years together and the loss of the ideal of "till death do us part," I haven't yet grieved the side-effect of a divorce, being alone.  A divorce usually means you'll be spending some time alone, at least from a romantic perspective.

The above statement is not as obvious as you might assume because one doesn't really have to be alone after a divorce.  I mean, you could leave your wife for another woman (I didn't) or you could immediately throw yourself into a new relationship (I did that, for awhile, but backed out before it became permanent).  It would seem to me, though that a healthy process of healing after a divorce would necessitate a time of aloneness.

I didn't take that route, at least not immediately.  A different counselor supported me in that decision, believing that I'd spent the last few years of my marriage basically alone.  I can certainly understand that perspective, as I've seen a difference in recovery time between those who, like me, were staring down the barrel of divorce for years and those who had it immediately thrust upon them.  That line of reasoning was why I dove straight into the dating pool immediately after The Move Out.

I'm not sure whether to slap a "good" or "bad" label on that decision.  Truly, I don't think it's that simple. I gave and received a lot of joy, dished out and was served some heartache and created good memories which now stand alongside some regrets.

As my last dating relationship was ending, I felt an emotion I hadn't felt during the ending of the others, relief.  The relief wasn't due to something being wrong with her, but due to my heart's longing for, and my spirit's realization that I'm in need of, aloneness.

This isn't to minimize, however, the other emotion that accompanies aloneness, which is fear.  Maybe the season of dating I just came out of was partly motivated by that fear; a fear of being alone can prompt one to continue swiping through Bumble and updating your Match profile.  I guess it's time to stop kicking the can down the road and to finally embrace aloneness.

Of course, that brings grief.  Massive amounts of grief. Grief I'm no longer trying to cover up with the fun of sharing laughter and drinks with someone new or the emotional rush accompanying an evening that ends with breakfast.

A few months ago, I stumbled across one of the more heart-wrenchingly honest and vulnerably self-disclosing blog posts I've ever read.  I almost feel voyeuristic in sharing the blog post, but if it's helped me, I'm sure it's helping others, so here it is - Grief, Forgiveness and Love.

There's a paragraph in this post which I've printed out and have been reading during my evening reflection.
To experience grief in all of its awful fullness is human and healthy. To sidestep it, whether through alcohol, travel, social media, shopping, sex, or tattoos, is to cauterize our humanity. It’s best to lean straight into the pain; if we don’t, it will seep like oil through a bed of dead leaves, poisoning life from the ground up. Numbed-out grief leads to anger, anger leads to depression, depression leads to a critical spirit and a lack of peace.
But grief? We are promised that grief leads to comfortBeautyDancing. I want to be a person who looks my pain in the eye, regardless of what it costs me, and then rest in knowing that there is still goodness ahead — eventually.
I've lived the grief that comes from an unfulfilled desire wrapped in uncertainty.  As a matter of fact, it was exactly ten years ago.  As I approached my 30th birthday, having recently received a diagnosis of infertility, I was acutely aware of an unfulfilled longing that had all but overtaken my heart, the deep ache to be a dad.  I celebrated my 30th birthday in the backyard of our suburban home, surrounded by a large group of friends.  What was conspicuously absent, however was the answer to the question of whether that longing would ever be fulfilled.  I was only turning 30, but I felt the injustice that eight years of marriage, 30 years of living and a newly discovered bald spot hadn't yet been enough to produce an heir.  To put it bluntly, I felt fine physically, but emotionally, I felt too old to not yet be a dad.

My 40th birthday is exactly three months away.  If I do, in fact, have a party, I'll have to face another conspicuous absence, the absence of her.  I'm not sure what I'll be doing that evening (it will be a rare rehearsal-free evening) but I'm fairly certain I'll be feeling fine physically, but emotionally, I'll likely feel too old to be single.

As I grieved, during that 30th birthday party, the pain of infertility, the loss of failed adoptions and unsuccessful IVF treatments, while simultaneously observing my friends interacting with their kids, I had zero idea that my soon-to-be-adopted son had been conceived just a few weeks earlier.  No idea whatsoever.  I also had no idea how a heart which seemed to be missing a part of itself would, (to borrow a phrase from Dr. Seuss) grow three sizes at the sight of his newborn baby boy.

The time for grieving my way through a season of aloneness is long overdue, that I know.  I don't know, however how long this season will last.  Will it be a month or years?  I know I won't be searching for her for awhile; no swiping, profile creating or flirting (okay, maybe some flirting as my natural charm has to find an outlet somehow...).  If something happens organically, though, I'm not going to shy away from it.

Neither do I know how or when the "comfort, beauty and dancing" referenced in the above quote will become a reality in my life.  I do know, though that the grief will likely gut-punch me anytime I'm reminded of how this yet unfulfilled longing brings not a lovely forehead to kiss but rather an empty uncertainty.  That's the grief which must be faced.

To quote the same friend who signed off my last post:

It does have to be faced. Grief that is. And there is no rule that says it has to be faced perfectly, presently, or passively. There is no timeline or stopwatch. You face it over and over again until it no longer has any power over you. I’m not even sure it ever stops existing. You just learn to live with it and decide it doesn’t define you, or the decisions you make. You are spot on in what you need to do for yourself. Face it. You got this. 😊

I agree.  I got this.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

A Necessary Season

I lost my composure the other day.  At Applebees.  Embarrassed to be crying in public but never-the-less unable to stop the tears.
It was about two months ago, I was having lunch with a pastor friend and sharing some of the struggles my son was having.  The reality that my failed marriage brings pain to the most important person in my life was more than I could handle at that particular moment.

My friend went on to share some of the wounds he's had to deal with as a result of his relationship with his own father.  My friend then shared something a counselor shared with him as he and his own son were working through some struggles of their own, "Your son doesn't need a perfect father, just the opportunity to understand you."

Dawson and I have been working on some things; I've been working to build my parenting skills and Dawson has been seeing a play therapist.  Our relationship won't be perfect, but neither is it going anywhere.  He's my boy, will always be my boy and I'm committed to improving our relationship.

Yet... fear still occasionally sneaks in.  Fear that I've done irreparable damage to my son and that our relationship will eventually devolve into something much less than the love-filled ideal I have for the two of us.  Fear that he'll feel abandoned by me.  Or even worse, that he'll feel compelled to abandon me.

It happened today, while jogging along to a 90's playlist, when the song "Father of Mine" came on my ipod.  Fear stabbed me in the heart and I had to fight back a few tears.   It was in realizing that I was creating a false scenario in my head that I was able to calm down and not give into the false fear.  That's what it was, a false fear manipulating me into a false future scenario in which I don't have a relationship with my son.

Which begged the question; if I can name and overcome the false fear induced by that song, what is there preventing me from naming and overcoming the false fear induced by certain romantic or break-up songs?  The false fear that often whispers, and occasionally shouts (like when certain songs come on) that my life isn't really complete if I'm not sharing it with that romantic partner.  Or the false fear that every good moment spent without her (whomever she may turn out to be) is a partially wasted moment.  Or, in the darker moments, that she and I won't ever actually connect, if she does, in fact, actually exist.

That fear pushed me to start dating immediately, at least I think that was my underlying motivation.  Or maybe it was just a desire to feel something good after years of pain and frustration.  Probably a combination of both.  That rather frantic season of dating certainly had some positives for me, though also some heartache.  The most important benefit to come from the string of dates (and there were a lot of them, let's be honest here) was the rebuilding of a confidence nearly strangled to death during the long, painful demise of my marriage.  Turns out that voice which continually told me, while the marriage was dying,"You're doomed to be alone.  No one will want a divorced man who claims to be Christian. No one will want damaged goods" was completely false.  I've been overwhelmed by just how wrong that voice was.

Yet I am actually alone right now.  It doesn't feel great, let's be honest again, but it seems to be a necessary season.

Part of this alone time is about realizing that I'm enough as a stand-alone person, by myself, as a single guy.  I won't really be able to have a healthy, long-term relationship with a high quality person if I don't, deep down, see myself as "worthy" of being with them.  I've seen this doom dating relationships from both sides, in my relatively short dating experience.

While I did write extensively about my rebound relationship (I believe I had to name it for what it really was, in order to peacefully move on from that relationship), I eventually took that post down because it was just too vulnerable. Or maybe the post is still up - kinda depends upon how vulnerable I'm feeling at the moment.  I am still rather haunted by one line I wrote in that post, though,
I wrote that she  "helped heal my broken heart.  N helped me believe again in the possibility of love between two people, even when those people felt betrayed by their first loves."

So I think the last sentence has a lot of validity, to be able to live into an attitude of abundance, that there are various wonderful people out there with whom you could (mostly) happily share your life.  The first line, though, doesn't sit well with me six months later.  While another person, particularly a romantic partner, can help numb the pain for awhile, no single person can heal your heart.  Once the emotions fade, the un-dealt with hurt will resurface and not only will you be back where you started, you might even be in a worse place than before, upon receiving the brutal realization that the other person isn't really going to heal you.

I recently went again to see the therapist who had helped me through a lot of the divorce process, the therapist who stated that our last few difficult years would be eventually understood as "years spent, not years wasted."  During our last session, she asked me to consider that just as my pre-divorce fears of God and those I love turning away from me due to divorcing my wife, my current post-divorce fear of always being alone will likely also not be true, though I realize there's no guarantee...
She also shared the two ways someone can enter into a relationship:
1) Coming from a place of strength in which they're okay with themselves and okay with being alone yet they choose to be with the other person or 2) Coming from a place of need, in which they have no choice but to be with the other person because they can't bear the idea of being alone and they need the validation that comes from being in a relationship.  She explained that starting a relationship from the second reason is like building a house out of 2x4's that are rotten on the inside.  At first, things look fine but eventually the house will collapse in on itself because no other person can really meet that need nor fill that role.

My "unpaid life coach" as I refer to a friend who talks me through every single dating experience and is himself a divorced and remarried Nazarene pastor, actually offering life-coaching services as a second job, has been encouraging me to go with the flow of the opportunities that present themselves because, if nothing else, I'll continue to learn more about myself and what I'm looking for.  Per the usual, his advice was solid as I've learned something from every single interaction, even from some of the stand alone dates.  The different types of relationships I've had over the past year have acted as another form of counseling, a giant mirror that has reflected back to me both positive and negative aspects of my character.   As I continued dating, a switch was eventually flipped in  my mind, a breakthrough of sorts, when a new relationship I'd been excited about quickly fizzled out.  Thinking I had something, only to painfully realize I didn't have anything, actually caused me to see that I'm okay without it and that I'll be okay until when (or if?) I ever do find that next long term and healthy relationship.

That's not to say, however, that being alone isn't difficult at times.

I'm not quite sure how to balance these two following ideas: the reality that our true identity is found only in Christ (as opposed to a myriad of other ways in which we value our worth) while also coming to realize that some masculine relationship qualities that I feared were lacking in myself are actually fully present. While I'm thankful for the positive things I've discovered about myself, I also want to be able to bring into a relationship the strength that comes from the ability to be alone while still choosing to be with someone.

So in response to my pastor's challenge to consider our Lenten fast; the giving up of one activity so as to better focus upon our relationship with God, I made some commitments for the Lenten season.

Who else found it slightly humorous and almost uncomfortable that Ash Wednesday and Valentine's Day fell on the same day this year?

1) I deleted the two dating apps I'd been using so as to avoid creating any future romantic possibilities, nor even the escapist fantasy of doing so.  As with any activity that creates a dopamine hit, it took a while to detox, but some peace eventually filled the space vacated by the constant questions of "what about this person" or "who else might be out there, just waiting for the two of us to connect?"

2) I ordered this book to read.

I will say, though that I find it slightly ironic that this book was recommended by someone I met on a dating app...  Again, every relationship or interaction is a chance for more growth.

Update:  The dress-replacing-the-letter-A gimmick should've tipped me off to the fact that this book was written for single women... oh well, it's still been worth the read so far.

Whenever dating does happen again, (I have no idea how long this current season will last) I'm thinking I need to take less of an Ed Sheeran approach and more of a Florid-Georgia Line attitude, at least in the beginning.  There needs to be some time before we progress toward some Taylor Swift.

Finally, here are some wonderful thoughts on dating that a close female friend of mine, whom herself has experience the ups and downs of post-divorce/mid life dating, recently shared with me.

10 Years Ago

March, 2008.  I'd been praying for a way to get involved in the community and for direction regarding the fertility struggles we were having.  Both prayers were eventually answered by an audition flyer I found crumpled up on on the pavement of the entrance to the Gardner Walmart. I believe that fateful half-sheet of paper said something like, "Tryouts for Gardner Community Theatre's summer production of 'The Music Man', this Saturday from 12-4 at Gardner-Edgerton High School.  Come with a prepared selection or simply sing 'Happy Birthday.'"

Growing up in a river city in Iowa, I'd always liked "The Music Man."
Fun Fact: In addition to "The Music Man," Meredith Wilson also wrote my all-time favorite song.
I thought to myself, "I might have a shot at making the chorus, maybe even an outside shot at being in the quartet."  But I wasn't convinced I wanted to do it, so I decided that if I got the lawn mowed in time the next day, I'd drive over to the High School and sing "Happy Birthday" to the directors.  Which I ended up doing.  Which lead to me being cast as the lead, Harold Hill.  Which was a huge surprise to me and likely even to the director.

It's really amazing how your life can be dramatically altered due to simple decisions or seemingly random events.  My life, as well as the lives of many other people, were changed for the better thanks to that crumpled-up audition flyer in the Walmart parking lot.  Here are a few of the things that came out of that summer of helping Gardner Community Theatre put on a pretty dang good rendition of "The Music Man."

1) Life Long Friends
You can't spend several summers together putting on shows and not become close friends with fellow cast members.

2) The answer to the question that would run through my mind anytime I'd watch a musical, "what would it be like to be the last person out for the curtain call?"
I'll likely never be cast as the lead again, but man was it a thrill to experience it at least once in my life.

3) A marriage and three children
Kinda a long story, but we met two nice young ladies and decided to set them up with two nice young men from our church.  All four are married now and two are actually married to each other.  I had the privilege of performing their wedding ceremony, complete with tears and a serious foot-in-mouth incident.

4) A Godson
I became (and still am) close friends with the lady who directed "The Music Man."  In fact, we just auditioned together for a show this summer.  After knowing her for about a year, she asked me to be the Godfather for her son, which included baptizing him.

5) The adoption of my son
The first time I announced the adoption was here, but I've told many other stories about his adoption as well.  It was a cast member who called us up in October to announce her niece was pregnant and looking to place the baby in a Christian home.  It was the director who convinced us to at least talk with the birth mom.  It was a member of the quartet (now a professional singer) who's role as Horton in Spring Hill High School's production of "Seussical the Musical" convinced us that "a person's a person, no matter how small"; which we interpreted as a directive to adopt that yet-to-be-born little boy.  Finally, it was another connection through Gardner Community Theatre that linked us to the charity that helped us pay for the adoption.

"All Because of a Flyer in a Walmart Parking Lot"
I believe that might make a great wooden wall plaque like the ones sold in those crafty stores.

I've done a few shows since that magical summer of 2008, some minor roles in larger productions and larger roles in smaller productions.  I've never, however been cast in (or even auditioned for) a role in a production as large as Theatre in the Park.  To quote my friend Franci (also the mother of my godson, pictured above), "there's something magical about the stage at TITP; something special about performing in the outdoor amphitheater, in front of thousands of people, while the sun is setting behind the hill."

I've experienced that magic many times while sitting on the hill.  I can't wait to experience it onstage. Which leads to the pronouncement that I'll be doing exactly that the last two weekends of June, as a cast member of "South Pacific."  The role is perfect for me; minimal acting, no dancing and a lot of singing.  In fact, I won't even have to change my hairstyle to play the role of a sailor (though I'll have to shave off my very short beard).

We start rehearsals mid-May and it's gonna be an intense five weeks.  I'm pumped, though.  Who knows what life-changing relationship could form among this particular cast.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Disciplines for 2018

This post first began writing itself in the far corners of my mind back on Friday, Dec 29th. A pastoral couple, clients of mine, got me into a smaller group meeting with Francis Chan.  If you're familiar with Francis Chan's speaking and writing, what I'm about to share won't be surprising, but in the middle of his talk, something lit up inside of me.  I became fully aware of just how long I'd been coasting, how atrophied I'd become in allowing our present relationship to be based upon a trust in God's unconditional love (not to downplay that realization, mind you) and a somewhat distant memory of intimacy.  It was like a pilot light being lit again in a cold and dark basement; the subtle rush of that woosh and the flicker of the small flame betraying the intensity of the heat about to start emanating from a newly renewed source of power.

Although, to be chronologically accurate, it might be better to describe that afternoon as the final adrenaline kick to a season of renewal that had gotten off to a half-hearted start a few months earlier.  Sometime back in November, I started spending about 30 minutes each morning practicing a version of the disciplines laid out in the book, Miracle Morning.   Here's a brief overview of that morning routine:
1) 5-15 minutes in silent prayer and meditation.  Sitting in meditative pose while repeating breathe prayers; "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner" or "I breath in Your love, I breath out Your peace."  A focus on God's living presence, a release of tension and worries or as the author described the practice of mediation, "a vacation from your problems."
2) Five minutes of journaling what I'm thankful for and how God has recently used me to serve the Kingdom.  In one of those "coincidences" that seem to happen when I'm actively pursuing God, I heard this sermon on how thankfulness rewires your brain just as I started this new discipline.
3) Five minutes of positive visualization.  I have to say, I still struggle with this.  Again, maybe a coincidence, but it helped me work through some really tough and volatile sales transactions.  Did the visualization bring the positive outcomes into reality?  Likely not.  I'm certain, though that the visualization allowed me to stay positive during some highly stressful situations.
4) Affirmations.  This is the rather cliche-ish, sales-man-y discipline but, again, the positivity is helping rewire the often-prone-to-negativity brain of mine.  I've found myself, when wanting to do the opposite of my affirmations, unconsciously reciting them in my mind, which allowed me to do the kind or difficult thing, despite not feeling like doing so, i.e. turning in that final French paper or apologizing to the mother of my son for a snide remark.

The "I'm-no-longer-coasting" and "turn-your-face-toward-the-Father" discipline that was catalyzed by the talk from Francis Chan is the discipline I've been practicing in the evening, about an hour or so before going to bed.  Again -  stop me if you've heard this before - while feeling that renewed passion inside of me but not yet sure how to direct that passion, I heard another sermon from Greg Boyd about the discipline of the daily review.
I spend 15 minutes each evening reviewing my day, listing out the major events of the day and then writing out my own reaction to those events and my perception of how the Spirit was active in each of them.  I'll finish by reading a lectionary passage or two for the upcoming Sunday.
As I write this, it's dawning on me that I'm simply describing a practice of prayer, journaling and Bible reading.  Real innovative and profound, I know.  Maybe I can make it sound a bit more high-minded by describing it as a version of a daily St. Ignatius Examen.  Maybe.
What has me most excited about this, though is how Greg Boyd stated in that sermon that the journaling will provide a historical record of how God's presence has been with me through this current journey.  As  I wrote about in the shame post, it's been awhile since I've been aware of, or even wanted to be aware of, that Presence.

There's another discipline I've added at the start of the year, too and it's not really something I enjoy - swimming.  A buddy in the office, another agent, convinced me to do the sprint portion of the KC Triathlon in May.  Running a 5K after 12 miles on a bike shouldn't be too bad and will likely only take about a month's worth of training (or that's what I'm telling myself right now, as I haven't yet started training for that portion of the race) but the swimming might damn near kill me.  I've heard drowning is one of the most painful ways to die.  While I haven't yet drowned, I have swallowed about half the water in the YMCA lap pool.  Thankfully, a lifeguard took pity on me and taught me how to float on my side for a bit, with one arm extended forward, while regaining my breath.  I don't care if I finish last but I will make that swim.  It's only 500 freakin' meters.  In my current state of swimming capacity, however it might as well be 10 miles.

While waiting to find out whether or not I drown, you can get motivated by reading the daily affirmations I tell myself each morning.  Or just roll your eyes at the over-the-top positivity, as I'd do were the roles reversed...

- I enjoy spending time with God each day, through scripture reading and mediation/prayer
- I enjoy being present, patient and emotionally available for Dawson; parenting through choices and not control
- I enjoy being in a stable, healthy, long-term relationship but for now, I’m okay with being single
- I enjoy being kind to and getting along with my ex-wife

- I enjoy spending time each week serving others by helping at church and spending time with and helping feed the hungry and homeless

- I enjoy playing the piano consistently
- I enjoy reading consistently
- I enjoy improving my French/working on a degree
- I enjoy writing consistently

- I enjoy lifting weights twice a week
- I enjoy weighing 193lbs
- I enjoy making good food choices
- I will swim 500 meters

- I enjoy earning enough money for a comfortable living
- I will sell six listings this year
- I will sell 4 million in 2018
- I will develop a rental property base as a source of income
- I enjoy making my daily contacts