A day with photographers

For once my hands weren’t cold. Snow lay everywhere I looked: on the ground, on the trees, on the rocks, even on the edges of the river which carried it swiftly downstream. The mountains and foothills all around proudly displayed their gleaming white peaks and jagged rock faces, shining in the cold but clear sunlight.

For once my hands weren’t cold. Usually they were the first to freeze. But for once they weren’t; my feet were. Snow had found its way to my soles, falling into my boots a little at a time with each step I took onto the powdered ground.

In spite of the cold, I was enjoying myself. Indeed, I was enjoying myself in spite of many things, one of which was what my friends were doing.

When I’m honest with myself, I have to confess I am a jealous person. It doesn’t take much for the I-wish-I-could-do-that-too spark in my head to ignite into a bonfire. I hate this, but I can’t deny it exists: it is always burning, sometimes an imperceptible ember, other times a forest fire consuming all my conscious thoughts.

Yet that day something seemed to have weakened it to a smolder: I could hardly feel it burning at all. Whether it was the cold or a gift to my soul, I don’t know. I had joined two friends in a venture to the mountain pass to capture photos of the glory of Washington’s winter. They are photographers, and have a passion and eyes to see the visible wonder and beauty all around them.

I enjoy learning about photography, but I do not consider myself a photographer. I know very little about cameras, exposures and “getting the right light.” As such, I was along for the ride, but my ignorance felt almost tangible next to my friends’ knowledge and experience.

And for once I didn’t mind.

When they first invited me to join them, I hesitated to accept, thinking I’d feel out of place without a camera. As soon as I got into the car with them, however, I knew I had nothing to fear. Simply being with them made it a good day. After driving to a valley nestled in the mountains, I spent all of a few seconds wondering what to do. Though I didn’t have a camera, I did have my love of adventuring, so I let this side of me take over. While my friends were watching every step they took to ensure their cameras weren’t damaged, I ran, hopped and leapt like a mountain goat (albeit a clumsy one) over snow-covered rocks and frozen edges of the river. I allowed myself to act like myself and didn’t worry about doing what my friends were doing. Each of us had our passions and let ourselves enjoy them. Indeed, I found out after not a little time passed that one of them had been taking photos of me as I stood in various precarious areas and gazed at the magnificence of the mountains all around. We all had fun letting loose our passions.

One of my friend Andrew Mainville’s breathtaking photos

As we were returning to the car to go back to the city, I was struck by a thought: maybe this was a taste of humility. In years past I have tried to pick up my friends’ hobbies in order to gain their acceptance, but it never worked: the feeling of being an outsider remained. This time, however, I didn’t try so hard to belong, and this time I felt truly welcome and accepted.

This time I didn’t try to be someone I wasn’t; I didn’t try to be, as I have so long thought, better than the real me. I simply let show my true self, the man God has made me to be. This time I was honest, and this time I was free.

As C.S. Lewis famously wrote, “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” And on that day, I gave scarcely any thought to whom I should be and let show who I am. That left pride (in who I want to be) and fear (of who I wish I wasn’t) no thought to attack. I simply enjoyed the time with my friends in the mountains, and I’m sure that brought a smile to God’s face. He made us to live fully present in each moment, and that takes humility.

For years I have lived in fear, not letting my true character show. But that day changed my life. On that day, I befriended humility.

And when truly embraced, how wonderful and liberating this humility is.

Sabbath rest in post-grad life

This summer, my schedule drowned.

Having lived by a lake for most of my life and being a competent swimmer, I rarely use the verb “drowned” in any sense. Yet it seems an appropriate word for the past few months.

My schedule this summer was packed. Most days I didn’t know what I was going to do outside of work, eat and sleep. I wasn’t procrastinating on making a schedule: I made two spreadsheets for how I would spend each day, half-hour by half-hour, and tried to follow both. No joke. Yet I couldn’t accomplish everything I desired to do. Not even most of the things. For a while I was stuck in the whirlwind of living day-by-day, following the whims of a busy life.

Early last month I realized what was most likely causing the storm: I was trying to do too much. Yes, I had a plan, but that plan was packed, even overflowing with things to do. There was a limit to the time I had while my to-do list seemed endless.

In the midst of my two-spreadsheet life I realized something:

We’re better at hustling than we think and worse at resting than we realize.

This is a problem for me. Throughout my life I have been given goals: get good grades; win on sports teams; go to college; excel in college; don’t get fat in college; take classes that are important to my future career in college. (Now that I write them down, I can see most of my past goals included the word “college”.) And when I wasn’t given goals, I made my own: keep a strict, healthy diet; run a marathon before I turn twenty-five; move as far away as I can while staying in-state for college (there it is again).

These goals have been a large part of my motivation to move forward in life, to have accomplished so much. Yet they are only part of a balance which I only recently realize exists, which is this: goals set in motion while rest is crucial to maintaining that motion. In other words, the desire to accomplish something long-term is begun by setting a goal, yet that accomplishment will require regular rest in order to reach it in good shape and able to continue toward new goals.

While I was on the high school cross country team I began learning this lesson. For all my life until my freshman year, I had avoided running like I had avoided wearing striped pants: I didn’t do it except when I had to as part of a baseball team. A friend convinced me to join the track team in my first year of high school, however, and that turned into joining the cross country team that fall. Having despised running even after being on the track team, I had never cared to learn how to run well; but my interest in the subject necessarily changed, as did my attitude about running, once the cross country season began.

Nowadays I can’t recall most of what my coaches taught me then, but I can recall the simplest lesson: Run. Run every day during practice. Run when you don’t want to run. And then run some more.

That lesson became a goal: I would run every day of the week. After school every day I would run. And it didn’t take long for me to run before school as well.

Yet “run all the time” was not what my coaches taught. In the midst of setting the goal of running every day, I ignored another lesson which had also been taught: rest. Run six days every week and rest on the seventh. Don’t run on the seventh day. This lesson greatly improved my ability to run the following year once I paid attention to it. My muscles weren’t always stressed and tired. I wasn’t always stressed and tired. And largely because of this I was able to achieve race times I had only dreamed of in my sophomore year.

Last month, after having found my schedule washed ashore and lifeless, I realized this lesson applies to more than running. Rest is important to all parts of life. To work toward an end in a sustainable manner, a person must make time to not work.

This is hard for me to accept because I am an overachiever. For most of my life I believed this trait was a superpower, but now I know it has a negative side. I used to think I had to solve all of my life’s problems each day. The problem was that time didn’t allow me to accomplish such a feat. So I hated time. I would mourn the passing of each week, seeing in my to-do lists so many items left unchecked. Yet now I no longer despise time, but cherish it: I see it as a way to be free from my self-imposed shackles of accomplishment and productivity. Instead of needing to solve all of my life’s problems, I am free to pick the ones I care the most about and do what I can–and no more–to work toward solutions for them.

What do I do about the remainder of the problems? I trust my loving Father in heaven to take care of them as He will.

Trusting God is not easy for me to do. Yet it is imperative to living the life of freedom, forgiveness and faith to which God has called me.

I take comfort in remembering Jesus’ life: He didn’t solve every problem of every person He met, yet He accomplished salvation for the entire world.

This helps me come to terms with the mess that is my life. Life is messy, and we don’t have to clean it all up; indeed, we never will. Within this messy life, though, we have the opportunity to nurture our faith in the God who loves us endlessly as well as the ability to help other people deal with their messes.

Photo Credit: Bill Dickinson via Compfight cc

My schedule will never look the same as it did in the golden years of college. It has drowned; now I must replace it with a different schedule, one which includes times of rest. I am still struggling with living a life of working forty hours every week (often more). Yet I know I don’t have to accomplish everything I dreamed of as a teen to feel satisfied with my life. The creation account in Genesis 1 says God created the entire world in six days, and then decided to stop creating more. On the seventh day He rested. He said, “That’s enough.” Since God rests, I suppose I can too.

Will I have to give up some dreams? Yes. Will I have a copious amount of time to do everything I wish? No. But can I live a meaningful and fulfilling life while I work hard full-time and make time to rest? You better believe it.

I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!
Wait for the Lord;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord!

|| Psalm 27:13-14

The antidote to loneliness

Moving into my apartment in February brought me onto a roller coaster ride like I have never before felt. As a recent graduate from a large university, I had lived on my own for the past four years, but never completely alone. Everywhere I lived, I joined someone there—I had always lived with family or roommates. But now, for the first time, I was living alone.

On the surface, my full schedule seemed to satisfy my longing to stay busy: I spent the majority of each day in the office of the architecture firm where I worked, then went on a run after I clocked out, and retired by driving home, eating a home-cooked dinner and going to bed. My hours were full, and I thought that was what I wanted.

It wasn’t. I had filled my calendar but left my soul empty. And one of the main causes for that emptiness was loneliness. I had a busy life but no one with whom I could regularly share it.

Loneliness hurts. We have all felt it, whether in a weak way or intensely, whether for a day or for years, whether intermittently or consistently. And the pain is different than anything else.  It has no medical diagnosis, so it might not even fit in the definition of pain, but it is definitely painful.

Loneliness also feels like a void. As if something vital is missing from our lives. Yet we cannot produce the solution which we seek on our own. It must come from someone else. That is a bleak thought when no one will choose to be that solution.

Nothing is strong enough to distract us from that pain, that void, except the antidote: spending time with others. And not just any others; those who can cure it must be people we love. Anyone to whom we feel indifferent is only a quick splash of water on an open wound, washing away the mess for a moment but unable to stop the blood flow. When we can’t have that antidote, the pain often leads us to despair.

We weren’t meant to live alone. We loathe loneliness.

So how can we find comfort amidst our loneliness?

I’ll give you my strategy. When I feel lonely, I first look in the Bible. God has given us this book to show how He is bringing restoration to the world from brokenness. The Bible contains countless stories of people who have felt lonely (sometimes we are told outright, sometimes we must imagine what we would feel in their circumstances). Some who come to my mind are Adam, Job, Moses, David, Elijah, Jesus, the twelve disciples, and the apostle Paul. Indeed, I am certain every person mentioned in the Bible felt lonely at some point. Even though they are characters in the Bible, they are human, just like us, and felt the languishing pang of loneliness. Yet God still loved for them and accomplished great things through them, and He loves us and can do the same with us.

My second action is to find people and spend time with them. During my time in my apartment, my close friends were rarely available when I felt the most acute sting of loneliness. In lieu of this, I tried to make new friends. Making new friends was difficult for me, and I’m sure it is for most other people as well, especially when we are longing for the people who already know us well. However, instead of living in the past, we can respond to our current situation. When we want to ease the pain of loneliness by making new friends, we must be honest with them. If we lock up our pain, we won’t lose it. But if we trust the new friend and tell them how we feel, they can give the friendship we want, the solution for which we have searched all along. (And it’s even more wonderful to realize that we can ease their loneliness at the same time.)

While we take these actions, we must remember that seasons of loneliness are seasons of growth. For one thing, they reveal how much we need a savior, someone to care for us and always provide for us, because we cannot provide our needs for ourselves. Indeed, in these times we can find that our God has been inviting us to turn to Him and see that we are never truly alone. For another, these times can help us mature in many ways: in discipline, patience, commitment, persistence and empathy. In short, seasons of loneliness can help improve our character (see Romans 5:1-5).

God knows when we feel lonely, and He loves us so much that He offers us comfort us in these times with his words. All we must do to access it is to listen to what He has said and trust Him. Above all, Jesus teaches us, we have two commands to remember in all seasons, including when we feel lonely: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might,” (Matthew 22:37; Deuteronomy 6:5) and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39; Leviticus 19:18). These can help us remember that God still has a purpose for us while we feel lonely. In the seemingly-menial things that we do to show God’s love and our care for other people, we bring glory to God and bring light to the darkness in the world. Over time, daily faithfulness produces an abundance of spiritual fruit.

Perspective is also important when we feel alone. My usual outlook on life when I feel lonely is that my life will never matter: since I am not doing anything meaningful now, I never will. This is a lie. As I said above, when built on the foundation of Christ Jesus, small, consistent acts of faith and love build into a house that will not crumble in any stormy season. Instead of despairing that your life is useless, take one day at a time. Focus on what you will do today and today only. If you are like me and enjoy making plans far in advance, this makes you cringe; but this helps me calm down and not despair, and I am confident it can help anyone else as well . Don’t throw out your long-term perspective; keep it, but change it to focus on the good God is accomplishing in your life and other people’s lives. This is another guard against despair and a reminder that we have hope in our God.

Loneliness is not good. We weren’t meant to be alone. But we can respond to our loneliness in ways that will both bring us out of the lonely situation and help us trust and love God and love the people around us. Then we are not only helping ourselves feel better, we are helping other people feel better as well. In this way, little by little we will bring God’s shalom (peace, wholeness and love) to the world.

Evil titles

Words are copious in every person’s life. In their simplest use they convey the thoughts and ideas of one person to another. They are typically the first, though not the only, method people think of when we hear the word “communication.” And we see, hear and use them every day. We depend on them and are affected by them, sometimes deeply and for the rest of our lives.

Why, then, do we add to our words so many insults?

Countless times in my life I have found myself condemning people with injurious words. Many of these people I call my friends, yet I often run a knife over the rope of our friendship with insults. “You idiot, don’t you understand?” is a phrase that I say commonly, and I regret every time I say it. Continue reading

“Don’t be hasty”

Memorial Day weekend will start in a few days. First, I wish to thank all of our troops and veterans who have served and their families for enduring many sacrifices which I have not had to endure. Your service means a great deal to me. Thank you.

This also means that I will not go to work on Memorial Day, next Monday. While I do not wish to minimize the point of the holiday, I plan to enjoy this day-off from my job. Long weekends are sweet and succulent when they come, somewhat due to their rarity.

This weekend will be a time to slow down. Times to slow down come infrequently, yet this is not necessary of them.

Photo Credit: Giant Ginkgo via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Giant Ginkgo via Compfight cc

Continue reading

What I learned from a Sabbath synagogue service

A couple weeks ago I went to a Sabbath service at a Messianic Jewish synagogue. This was my first time in a synagogue, and I expected to feel out of place. When I stepped out of my car I heard many voices of excited people greeting each other. The people were of all ages, from small children to the grandparents who surely spoiled them and every age between. As I walked into the synagogue, I noticed that what most people wore was similar to what I have seen at most church services, except that about one-third of the people in the main gathering room wore some form of Jewish clothing. Some kept a prayer shawl draped over their shoulders, lifting it over their heads as they prayed and removing it afterward. Others had tassels, or tzitzit, hanging from four corners around their waistlines, with all white cords except one, which was blue. Some of the men wore kippa, or a small round cap. Yet most of the men were outfitted in button-up shirts and dress pants while the majority of the women wore dresses.

The service began with Continue reading