I think one of the things that always comes to light in the most challenging of times - like 9/11 and this current Covid-19 crisis in my lifetime - is how powerful and world changing the voices of the humble really are.
In stable times - times of peace and comfort - it's easy to turn our attention to the megaphones. We can kick back and turn the world over to politicians and to sports icons and to talk show hosts and to all of those people who seem to have a monopoly on power and influence in the world.
But in a single day, in one unforeseen moment, even the loudest and most influential voices can be collectively and simultaneously muted by the invisible.
What is left, then, is the collective love and whispers of the humble.
What is left is our doctors and our retail workers and our pastors and our teachers and our moms and our neighbors. And it is not that these people scramble and urgently step up to fill in the gaps of this sudden silence, no, quite the opposite, it's that in this silence we suddenly get to see the beauty they've been contributing to the world all along.
In these moments, we come to discover just who it is that's been quietly holding the world together for us while the loudest and most viral voices of the world blind us to that reality. In these moments, we come to realize the voices we've come to worship are not the voices we need to be truly grateful for.
It's true. God amplifies true and kind voices. When I reflect on the people who have had the most impact on my life, it's the people who I don't believe are conciously trying to impact my life at all. It's the people who simply want to love. And love for no other reason than that's just what they want to contribute to the world.
The past couple of weeks, much like during 9/11, I've pictured God scooping some of the loudest voices from the stage and replacing them with the quiet and the humble. Only, these folks don't have time for the attention or any desire to make a speech when the stage is theirs. They just simply want to get back to doing what they've been doing all along.
They want to get back to loving. They want to get back to quietly holding the world together the way they've been holding us all together all along.
In this silence, maybe we all have an opportunity to take a break from applauding the stars of this world, and instead, offer a quiet thank you to the humble.
I think I've always believed in God. To be sure, over the years I've doubted His existence and challenged him to prove himself a time or two. But from the earliest days of my childhood, when "going to church" was one of my weekly chores, I think I've always believed something named God was out there. He was out there somewhere exercising some sort of control over me. I couldn't see him or even feel him, really, but I was always led to believe he was all up in my business.
My parents led me to believe He was in my business. So did the priests. Other people who had God all up in their business, they led me to believe that as well.
I carried that with me. Everywhere I went, every day, I was at least a little bit concerned about what this God who was all up in my business was thinking about the business this me was up to in life.
To be honest, for me, that came with a lot of fear. Because to be really open, the business I was up to for a big chunk of my life was business not many people were proud of. I don't blame them for that, because no one could have been less proud of me than me. I spent a lot of those days wondering, if a God I was told created me to be someone he could be proud of, and I was not someone worthy of that, just what was this God I believed in planning to do about that?
Was this the day he'd get my attention? Would today be the day I'd pay the price for being a creature created to be lovable but never managed to live up to that possibility? When these become the questions that shape your belief in God, belief quickly becomes paranoia. Belief becomes something that upends your life, not something that sustains it or brings meaning to it.
A few years into this paranoia, when everyone around me knew I had hit rock bottom, but I was still bouncing around trying to make a trampoline out of it, I went to work for a carpenter. He built large houses; I hauled large loads of lumber and shingles around on my back all day to make building houses a little easier. That carpenter, he was always smiling. He was possibly the biggest smiler I had ever met. I assumed it was because I was carrying dry wall and he wasn't. Turns out there was more to it than that.
You see, I wasn't fond of how happy he was. Most days I showed up to work hung over and broke, which made grunt work miserable work. I'm not sure misery loves company, but it despises being within a thousand miles of joy. One day there were a few of us sitting against the two by fours of an unfinished wall inside the frame of a house we were working on, eating lunch. I was devouring a bag of chips and a 3 day old sandwich I'd bought at a carryout as I raced to make it to work on time that morning. I don't remember what the carpenter was eating, only that it must have been fresher than my lunch, because he joked and laughed while he ate.
That was the day I couldn't take it any more.
So I asked him a question that would change my life. I know today I had family and friends who had been praying I would ask this question, or that I would one day cross paths with its answer. There's no question the God I'd grown paranoid of was now gladly driving me right up to the door of this answer. I could almost feel him physically dragging the question from my mouth, much like my parents used to drag me to church. I suppose it was his way of saying you're not done hearing what I have to say.
So I asked the carpenter, not really intending that he bear the brunt of my frustration with God, but he was after all the ever present happy one in the midst of my ever present misery. I asked him - why are you always so happy?
For a question so presented from the overflowing complications and confusion in my own life, his answer flowed from a mysterious place of simplicity and calm. He said, "My happiness comes from my relationship with God."
That reply itself, right then and there, seemed like a joke. I respected the carpenter enough to hold my laughter in, but my insides couldn't have been more boisterous if they were sitting in the audience of a comedy club. I knew people who were pretty caught up in their bibles. They loved quoting verses to me like that would somehow help me absorb some meaning. But I'd never heard anyone talk about a relationship with God. Believe me, that sounded crazier than anything I'd ever heard out of the thumpiest of bible thumpers. Relationships were between husbands and wives, significant others and family and friends. Not between real live people and an invisible creator of lovable people gone wrong.
In the days ahead, try as I might, I had a hard time shaking his claim. It wouldn't disappear as fast as some of the scriptures I'd heard and since forgotten. I became obsessed with finding a more logical reason for his persistent joy. I thought it was a possible result of his sobriety, but I'd met a lot of grumpy sober people. Over the weeks and months ahead, I began to ask him a little more about this relationship he had. Interrogate might be more appropriate. As he described it to me, I came to realize that relationship was as real to him as any other in his life, and I had witnessed firsthand how much he loved his wife and kids. To him, his relationship with God was more powerful than all others combined.
Today I know it was no accident I crossed paths with the carpenter at the most desperate time of my life, because suddenly I wanted some of what he had.
And today I have it.
You know, in the darkest of my times, even though I believed God was out to get me, I always believed everything would somehow work out in the end. That was at the heart of my belief in God. But that came with a problem - likely my biggest problem - my life was always about hoping my misery would one day have meaning, that it was leading to some sort of ending that made sense to me, even if it wasn't scripted to be a happy ending. My life was about hoping for a miracle in the end, and not about experiencing meaning in the here and now.
I drove 11 hours yesterday. I thought a lot about my belief in God. And I realized I no longer believe in God. I realized I have faith in him. I realized, like that carpenter, I have a relationship with God.
I know for some that sounds as humorous and maybe uncomfortable to you as it sounded to me the first time I heard that carpenter reference it. I get it. Totally. But driving home yesterday, I began to understand the magnitude of that shift from belief to faith.
Listening to hours of news conversations yesterday about our current Coronavirus pandemic, it would have been easy to grow fearful again. To grow paranoid about a God out to get me. To ask out loud, "so finally, is this the day you've come to make me pay for it all? Oh, I knew you hadn't forgotten, God - I knew by gones weren't as by gones as you'd led me to believe."
It would have been easy to go there. But I didn't.
Yesterday, in the midst of a temptation to be fearful and anxious, I felt peace. I found myself saying, unexpectedly really, my happiness comes from my relationship with God.
Yesterday, driving home, I realized believing in God meant I believed when all else failed in my life, God would be there. Today, I know faith is something completely different than belief. Upside down even. Today, I know everything will fail in my life if it doesn't start with God, and knowing he created me to lovingly walk beside me in times when no one else really knows how to walk that walk.
I used to believe that if my whole world crumbled, at least there would still be God somewhere out there. Today, because of my relationship with God, because I have felt him pull me from the most challenging of times and into his arms - today - I know that if my whole world crumbles and all I have left is God - I am in the safest and most loved place I could ever dream of being.
My favorite scripture is 1 Peter 3:15.
I heard a pastor say yesterday that "unprecedented times provide unprecedented opportunities." For anyone who shares a story like mine, this is our unprecedented opportunity. Many people feel helpless and hopeless. Maybe they believe there's a God or something out there, and they are simply hoping in the end he'll salvage something of us that looks and feels familiar when this crisis ends. But if you believe like me, then you and me, we have an obligation to offer the hope and comfort and compassion we have within us, all fueled by a faith that says we don't have to wait until it's all over to show the world what God has been up to. Because believe me, believers and non-believers alike are wondering what someone is up to.
We have an opportunity to show the world our God isn't about a future reward or punishment, but about taking hands and carrying burdens through the here and now. And especially when a here and now looks more daunting than most of us have ever experienced.
I'm grateful. I used to believe in something that always felt like it was trying to upend my life.
Today, in a time when life could feel more upended than ever, I have a relationship with a God insistent on sustaining life, adding meaning to it, not upending it. I once lacked a peace in my life because I couldn't understand what this God was up to - why he was out to get me. Today, in the most challenging of times, I have a peace I can't begin to understand. I don't know why a God who should be out to get me is right beside me, saying we've got this.
I have no idea how I know if the whole world crumbles tomorrow, that peace will still be there. I can't explain it. It's a peace that passes all understanding. But I do know it. Maybe that's the difference between believing in God and having a relationship with him.
I'm grateful for all the people who instilled a belief in me. And for all the people who shaped that belief into faith. I'm grateful for an inexplicable peace in an inexplicably hard time. I pray that the God of hope holds you and and keeps you all in the days ahead.
Last year, while attempting to complete the 35-mile Georgia Jewel, I found myself out of sorts. The heat had taken it's toll on me. The world was spinning and blurry. I felt lost in a desert.
I sat on a rock while my friend Nicole ran ahead to get me water. While sitting there, at least a dozen runners stopped in the middle of their races to check on me.
Are you OK?
Do you want some of my water?
Do you need some of my food?
Do you need me to send someone to help you?
Every single person who ran by - stopped - before they ran on.
In many ways life is a race like that. We are all running toward some picture we've painted in our minds of a finish line. The question is, does that finish line motivate us to run as fast as we can to get there, or does it serve as a reminder to make sure others get there with us.
I always think of Christ. The race he was running. And how he always chose to run through the towns where people were hurting the most. He didn't run with the pacers shouting we can win this thing. He was stopping and asking - are you OK? Do you need some of my water?
The thing Christ had going for him (other than being the only son of God) - was he could look eye to eye with the suffering. He could feel it. It reminds me of the runners who passed by me. They could see and feel my suffering. Most of them had run in my uneasy and stumbling running shoes before. And they hadn't forgotten it.
That's the problem with running ahead in life. We lose sight of those left behind. We lose the capacity to see them and look into their eyes and feel their suffering. We run into this illusion that says all the world is running strong.
The pursuit of our own finish line can render us detached and disconnected from those just wanting someone to pause - just one simple minute - and give them a chance to catch up.
We will all run out the door today. Run into the world of our own race. The question is, will it be with a mindset of run ahead - win at all costs, or will it be with wonder?
I wonder who needs me to help them catch up today?
Yesterday, in Rock Hall, Maryland, I took part in my first triathlon. My friend Rachel has been after me for a long time to try a tri. I think I finally convinced her I don't do swimming or biking - pretty central to the triathlon - so she introduced the idea of joining her on a tri relay team - where I could simply do what I do do: run.
Yesterday, as our team was standing in the bike transition area, a fairly busy place to be on triathlon morning I discovered, a dragonfly buzzed by us and then settled on the wheel of a nearby bike. And it just sat there, calm, in the midst of chaos.
This morning I read this about the dragonfly:
In almost every part of the world, the Dragonfly symbolizes change, transformation, adaptability, and self-realization.
I didn't realize how prohpetic that dragonfly sighting would end up being. I've decided the dragonfly should be the official mascot of the entire triathlete nation.
I watched in awe yesterday as athletes who were indeed running this triathlon event solo - who were, in addition to running, doing the swimming and biking I so firmly stand against, showed just how dragonfly-ish they are.
I watched these athletes emerge from the open body of water where they'd just swam nearly a mile, "change" into their biking gear, "transform" themselves into 26-mile bikers and then eventually into runners who kicked out a final 10K sprint to the finish. I watched them "adapt" to each new element that came with each new environment. And I watched as many crossed the finish line with all new realizations - or maybe just much needed reminders - about their own personal strength.
I didn't walk away from my first tri experience drawn any closer to wanting to experience my own solo tri - but I did walk away energized by how far we can push these minds and bodies of ours when we commit to it. Sometimes stepping into someone else's world can fuel passion and desire to excel in our own.
The dragonfly has such a short life - anywhere from 1 to 6 months. A very small portion of that life is spent flying around landing on bike wheels. I think that dragonfly sat there yesterday making the most of the time it had - soaking in the beauty of the moment. Stepping into someone else's world taking everything away from it possibly could.
I've been researching an idea lately. Yesterday, I stumbled upon a man on the internet who'd developed a program very much in line with what I'd been imagining. I sent him an email. He sent one back that said call me. So I did.
I spent an hour on the phone with a man from California that became an instant friend. I was captivated by him. He was smart - he has years of schooling and experience related to the idea I had. But when I read this quote this morning, it struck me - that is what really drew me to this man.
This man was wise.
As he shared what he knew with me, I could hear and feel his love for people pour out with every word. I guess you know someone is wise when after you talk with them for an hour, and you know you've talked with someone who's intellectual, you're left struck by their capacity to love more than you are everything they know.
This morning I reflected on that call and on this quote. In a race to get smarter, in the quest to always learn and know more, I wonder what use any of it is if it isn't filtered through a spirit of compassion.
Elliott heaved, the ball fell aimlessly short of the basket, and the chance to play superhero passed. But wait, he was fouled. With no time on the clock, Elliott was going to the freethrow line to try to sink three consecutive freethrows and send the game into overtime.
The gym was quiet. Some of his buddies from other teams were now standing around the gym waiting to play the game after his. I stared at Elliott, trying to gauge how much pressure he was putting on himself. I've been a part of sports all my life. I know how meaningless a middle school rec league basketball game is. I also know none of that matters when you're a 12 year old kid standing on that line. Hero on one side. What could have been on the other.
Part of me wished I could go take those shots for him. The other - and more wise part - had to concede that the best free throw shooter in our family was standing on that line. I trusted Elliott knew the chances were next to impossible to stand there and make three consecutive free throws. Still, I began practicing my dad talks.
The game is more than 3 seconds long pal. That missed free throw didn't lose the game.
Hey, just use that miss to fire you up to practice those free throws more.
Or, hey, this is a chance for you to show how to miss shots with as much class as you make them.
I had all my talking points tucked away and ready.
Elliott stood at the line, took a couple of dribbles, looked up at the basket and shot: nothing but net. He looked like he was standing in the driveway shooting by himself, calm, just killing time on a Saturday afternoon.
I sat a nervous wreck. To be honest, I thought it would have been easier if Elliott would have missed that first one. There's no way he can make three in a row. But making that first one leads his teammates to believe yes he can. Making that first one makes the fall from potential superhero to just another one of the young and little guys on the team all the steeper.
Elliott stood at the line, took a couple of dribbles, looked up at the basket and shot: nothing but net. My heart began racing. The line between superhero and what could have been was now big and bold and bright. Where at once it was a line only a worried dad could see, it was now a line everyone in the building was staring at.
I wondered how clearly Elliott could see that line. Could he feel it grabbing at his feet, trying to trip him in the middle of his next shot. Did he know all my dad talking points were now useless, that by making those first two free throws the only talking point I had left was consolation. I knew all I'd be able to tell him now if he missed that next shot was I know it feels like you lost the game with one missed shot, but someday you'll realize that isn't the case. Only I knew all too well a 12 year old never comes to realize that. Dropped passes and missed shots live with 12 year olds forever.
Or - at the very least - until they're 54.
Elliott stood at the line, took a couple of dribbles, looked up at the basket and shot: nothing but net. Elliott's teammates swarmed him. Shoot - I wanted to jump up from my spot in the bleachers and swarm him. But I sat there, taking it all in, feeling happy for a little guy enjoying his moment in the big guy spotlight. I sat there thankful for the moment my 12 year old got to play the role of superhero.
His team ultimately took advantage of those free throws and won the game in overtime. For at least a few days, Elliott had secured the rights to smack talk.
After the game, I asked Elliott, "how nervous were you?"
"I wasn't really nervous," he said. "I practice those shots all the time."
We have that conversation a lot, mostly around sports, But for me, sports is the best metaphor for life I've found. Because in sports, and in life, there's this idea that when no one is looking, if we'll practice and prepare for our turn at the line, if we live life like we're always headed toward a superhero moment - filled with spotlights and nerve twisting and bending silence - when we get to that moment, we'll be ready for it.
I haven't heard Elliott mention that game since. (Even though I have no doubt his buddies have). But I know it's a memory that will live with him forever, which is cool. What's coolest to me, though, is Elliott seems to get it. At least as much as a 12 year old can. He seems to get that practicing the right things doesn't guarantee a superhero moment, but the only possible path to those moments - is practicing the right things.
And for this dad, that's a superhero moment I'm thankful for.
So I forgot to mention another thing I have in this office. I have a window. As I was searching for the words to plug into the next sentence for an article I was writing, I turned and gazed out that window. I wasn't hoping to find anything as much as I was looking to escape the words refusing to show up on my keyboard. Windows just happen to make great escape routes.
They can also be filled with beautiful surprises.
My eyes were drawn across our backyard into the distance to a sparkling playground in the sky. The ice from the day before was now soaking up the sun. Like our dog likes to lay in even the slightest beam of light blazing through our front door, creating a sunny bed on the entrance way floor in our house, ice seeks the sun. And when it finds it, one of the most beautiful pairings in nature springs to life.
Like much of nature - the scene is fleeting. The opportunities to catch it can be small. The saddest part of that is many of those opportunities are lost because I don't take the time to seek them. I spend time racing ahead in life, taking note of all I don't have, instead of giving thanks for the windows in life I do have.
Maybe the greatest luxury we all share in life is the window. In windows, we all have something uniquely ours. Our window. Our view. Our beauty. Through our windows we all get to see a moment in time that will soon be extinct. How we remember them, and maybe write about them, is all that carries them forward.
How many moments are missed because we're frantically searching for the next open door and not gazing out windows? How many moments in time face the darkest of extinctions because no one stops to create a memory; no one stops to absorb a light that can shine on others forever.
As I write this I'm suddenly grateful. This is a tiny closet, but at least it has a window.
I've always accepted fairly well that our boys will grow up. I make few efforts to freeze time, even less trying to dictate what the future holds for them. I've tried to stay grounded in a belief that my best opportunity to honor the days I've had with them, and shape the days that await them, is to pour myself in their heres and nows.
But I'm human. There are days I get distracted by father past and want to run from father future.
early mornings reading and writing. He was still climbing up on my lap for a morning hug and a debriefing of the previous night's sports scores.
Talk about fake news. This whole middle school thing was a hoax.
We've both always treasured these morning hugs. In fact, many mornings Elliott sleeps a little past when I leave for work, but he hears me on my way out. There have been mornings I'm pulling out of the driveway and see Elliott standing at the opened front door, wrapped in a blanket, looking at me as I prepare to pull away. I stop the car, get out, run up and collect my hug, then go on my way. Grateful for a hug not lost.
Oh middle school, you can take a lot, but you're not getting my hugs.
One morning last week I got to work and I had a message on my phone from Elliott. It said, dad, I was at the door and you pulled away and you didn't see me. Talk about instant heartbreak. I messaged him and told him I was sorry and that I loved him. But as I walked up the hill to the office, I celebrated a bit. He might be in middle school, but he's still my baby.
That same afternoon I got off work early and had the chance to go pick Elliott up from school. I thought it might be good redemption for missing him that morning. He hopped in the car. He seemed to be long over our missed opportunity from that morning. I asked him the robotic question - how was your day - fully expecting the robotic answer - good - without any supporting evidence ever to support what exactly was so good.
But he didn't say good. He told me one of his friends broke up with a girlfriend that day. He rattled off some details about the tragic event: hearts were broken - lives altered - futures forever thrown off course.
I didn't hear many of those details though. I was stuck on girlfriend. How did a boy who sits on my lap each morning, a boy who laments missing hugs, how did a mere baby of mine even KNOW what a girlfriend was, let alone befriend someone who would have one?
He kept chatting all the way home. I wasn't with him, though. I was lost in those parents' warnings. What fell out of my pinata was a boy discovering girls and breakups. What was going to be next, cars and heavy metal bands? This whole sitting on my lap tradition, he was carrying it on to hide a young man in the shadow of a baby I'd grown to love and in many ways count on.
Oh, middle school. You've humbled me haven't you. I spent 12 years raising a baby. In 3 short months you've flexed your muscles and showed my how easy it is to just pick him up and walk off with him. Well, middle school, you evil monster, be thankful I didn't make him eat more meat along the way. He would have been a whole lot heavier for you to carry!
As I reflected on that conversation later, though, I was thankful. One of my dad goals is that our boys will be able to talk to me when life is good, and when life gets inevitably challenging. When they grow to discover life treats young men and then grown men differently than it treats babies, I want them to know I'm here to hear them out on the thrills and complications of that discovery.
I know I'm the biggest hurdle to that goal. There are conversations I'd rather tell than hear when it comes to growing up. It's hard for me to accept our boys need me to listen as much, and probably more, than they need to hear me talk. But I listened.
Sure, it was easier because it was a buddy's breakup, not my baby's. Still, I listened. And I practiced. Because middle school seems evil and formidable. And the day is coming I'll lose hold of that baby I cling to, and a young man will catch me. When he does, he'll want me to hear him out. Oh help me, I pray that's exactly what I'll do.
Reading the first creation account in light of the second, we see that the creation is not called “very good” until we have the human male and female. For the goodness of creation requires the logic of otherness, which becomes articulate only among those who, being in the image and likeness of God, can speak and hear a word from one another. Therefore they can also hear a word from God and speak to this divine other words of praise and thanksgiving, which give a voice to the goodness of creation. They are creation’s own voice giving thanks for its own goodness, which happens when the one sees the goodness in the other: “This one—at last!” So creation is perfected, fully good, when there is the human male and female, the man and the woman, Adam and the helper fit for him.
"The goodness of creation requires the logic of otherness" - that struck me. To me it says, sure, we all know if no one hears the tree fall in the woods the tree still fell. But what goodness and beauty is born out of it if logical people can't watch it tumble over, hear it, stumble over it months and years later on a hike or a run, and stop and look at it in wonder, and say to someone who is with them, or someone they'll share a picture of it with later on their iPhone - isn't that beautiful?
And in that moment of shared wonder, these logical creations can look to their creator with awe in their bursting hearts and voices lost in wonder and proclaim you are so right, that is very good.
To me this article implies the true beauty of creation is in the capacity we have to see it and talk about it and share in it with one another. The true beauty of creation is being able to celebrate it with an other and look to the heavens and say, you are right, this is all so very good.
The true beauty of creation is found in the thank you.
Yet, it also begs the question, how beautiful is creation, really, if we don't acknowledge it with our words to one another. How beautiful is creation when we don't thank the one who created it? It begs the question: if creation is there but no one sees it and celebrates it...... well, you know how the rest of the question goes.
When I look back on my life, I see just how much time I spent trying to discover who I am. To be honest, much of that discovery was filled with destruction and dead ends. Dead ends when I'd get to a point of knowing who I am and not much caring for that person. Destruction when I tried to drink away how disturbing life can get living in the reality of that kind of dead end.
Then one day I realized I'd spent a lot of time searching for the wrong answer. Life was disturbing because I was spending my time trying to discover who I was instead of first coming to grips with who I belonged to.
Genesis 1:27 says:
So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
If you believe that, and I do, then you can logically begin to understand that discovering who God is will always lead you to a better understanding of who you are than the dead ends we often chase outside of Him. Dead ends I sure spent a lot of time chasing.
The most beautiful understanding I've come to about God is this:
Every day we get to make a choice. Do I focus on how I see myself - and continue down the non existent road in search of a place where I see myself as someone I love. Or do I go down the road of knowing in a deeper way the God I belong to, a road where I am always good enough, a road where I'm loved more than any other road can love me.
Today I'm thankful that although there are times I'm still prone to going down the wrong road, I know the road I belong on. I'm thankful that today when I'm tempted to deal destructively with being at a dead end in life, I quickly realize I'm not at a dead end at all. I'm simply on the wrong road.