Thursday, August 10, 2017

Arthritic Shoulders

“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Isaac Newton

I’ve always loved this quote. It pays tributes to those who have come before – something that has always been really important to me. But it also backhandedly alludes to the fact that I can see really really far. That’s important to me too.

I was thinking about this quote the other day and something, a popcorn kernel of discontentment, stuck between my mental teeth. After having chewed it over for a while I think I know what it is.
It makes everything seem too neat and clean. It makes it sound like everything, all of my well laid plans, have worked out just fine.

Let me tell you something – if I happened to find myself standing on some shoulders it wasn’t because I planned on it. Just the opposite. Most of the time I just sort of wander into good situations.
Can we just all admit that this is the truth for most of us?

I’m tired of trying to make you think I’m something I’m not. I’m really bad at some things. I’m not good at a lot of other things. I’m pretty good at other things (sleeping is my #1 skill). I’m not beating myself up. I’m just tired of trying to hide who I really am behind a mask of competence.

What if Christianity’s culture changed enough that we could all walk around with our masks of near-perfection off?

Here’s another thought – a thought that I really love.

If we were all able to allow our real selves to be visible we could all just rest in our imperfections and rest in God’s love/grace.

Beautiful.

I consider myself one of the luckiest people in the world. I have had so many people come beside me in my life. I can’t even begin to count.

If I can see anything in life I can honestly say that it’s not because of my wisdom or insight, it’s because I have had the incredible privilege to stand on a lot of shoulders.

Those shoulders that I’ve stood on? They’ve been arthritic. Knotted, broken, weak, and in pain. And to me – I wouldn’t have it any other way. Because those shoulders, shoulders riddled with arthritis, are so much broader and so much kinder than any other type of shoulders.

That seems a lot better to me. Admittedly it sounds better to me because if anyone ever was to stand on my shoulders I know that they would be standing on shoulders plagued with arthritis from day 1.


Saturday, July 29, 2017

30 days. Yeah. I'm counting.

30 days until I leave for Thailand. I have so many thoughts going through my head and feelings pounding through my heart.

It was early 2014 and I found myself in Dimapur, India, sitting on the porch of a new missionary acquaintance. We were talking about missions, life, and everything else. My life had kinda stalled. I was in the middle of my master’s program trying to decide if the piece of paper and the financial burden associated with it was really worth it. It was that conversation that convinced me to finish this degree.

Since 2008 I have been working in the technology field. What a blessing that has been. Inside of that blessing though has always been a seed (sometimes a lot more than a seed!) of discontentment. Computers have never been a passion. But, I did my best to work faithfully and diligently in what God had provided. Moving to Thailand signifies what is hopefully the laying down of the career in technology, and a moving towards a career in counseling. A career – a job – that I believe God has gifted me for.

More so, moving to Thailand is giving me the incredible opportunity to explore the option of being a counselor to missionaries. I’ve been counseling now, during my practicum (mini internship), for 11 whole weeks. Not very long, but long enough to know that I find a deep fulfillment in this work. As I talked about in an earlier blog, I believe that God has given me a heart to work with missionaries. Going to Thailand will give me the experience, over the 9 months, to see if counseling missionaries is where I want to take my practice.

As I look back over the last year I am blown away with all of the ways that doors have been opened. I called or emailed over 35 missions organizations and overseas counseling centers with the question, “Do you all take counseling interns?” I didn’t hear back from a lot of those places. I got “No” from the rest. Except for SIM. SIM said, “maybe.” And so I applied. 4 months later, SIM accepted me as a short-term missionary. And then, they started to help me look for a counseling center where I could intern. Cornerstone, in Thailand, said “let’s give it a shot.” And so, I applied. 4 months later I was accepted. For brevity’s sake, I’m leaving out a lot of really neat things and stories of doors being opened. Either way, the journey, up to this point, has been incredible. God is faithful.

And to finish. So many of you have blown me away with your generosity. You’ve been generous with your encouragement of me pursuing this dream. You’ve been generous in your prayers. And you’ve been generous financially. It’s been incredible to see. So, thank you so much! I do still need to raise a bit more money, so if you are interested you can donate here: https://www.simusa.org/give/ But, really. All of you who have already given, thank you.


I’m feeling really humbled, full of anticipation, and most of all grateful for all of this. 

Monday, June 26, 2017

Whittling

A long time ago I used to play music. In fact, sometimes I even wrote my own. As I’ve been going through my stuff, preparing for time out of the country, I found a couple copies of my CD. Good times – decent music.


Most people who have heard the CD all have the same favorite song. But my favorite song is different than theirs. And my favorite song from that CD isn’t even the whole song. Rather, it is the bridge.

“Whittle my life down, to the shape of a crown, that I can lay down at your feet.”

That line, that melody, has stayed with me over all of these years.

There is this idea that all of the good things that we do in our lives will be turned into crowns. Or maybe our life is a crown and every good deed is a jewel or ornament added to that crown. And then, when we finally come face to face with Jesus, we take that crown off of our head and lay it at his feet.
 
I love that idea.

Here is my life – a block of wood. And over the years I take, or whittle, a little piece here and a little piece there. And now, 35 years later, that block of wood is starting to resemble something.

But, it’s not quite right.

I get all these ideas for how I want my life to look. And so I start trying to whittle my life to look that way. Then I get distracted. And I change my focus, and so I start on a new design.

Now that block of wood is starting to look like an indecisive mess.

I’m not a great wood-worker.

But, I know someone who is. Jesus – take the knife from my hand please.

And if I let him have my life – that block of wood – he starts to form it into a plain looking crown.
I don’t think he’s making me a crown because he wants another crown thrown at his feet. I think he might be trying to remind me of who I am…

And so I give my chunk of wood to the carpenter. I don’t want to have all my own ideas for how my life should look.

And you know what? I’m starting to think that if my life ends up looking like a piece of wood shaped like a crown – that will be just fine with me.


Thursday, May 4, 2017

Big News!

One of the things that I love about stories is that each story’s beginning isn’t a true beginning. Likewise, most story’s endings aren’t really endings. For example, I’m going to tell you a little bit of my story, but my story, if I’m being thorough, doesn’t start with me. I would have to tell you about my Mom’s and Dad’s lives and maybe even their parents lives. Because my story didn’t start with me. Who I am, is, in a large part, because of how I was raised and how my parents were raised.

And we aren’t even talking about geography or cultural events that shaped me. You get the point. Stories, no matter how detailed, leave a lot to the imagination.

And hopefully my story doesn’t end with me. Hopefully my story trickles down into a lot of other people’s stories.

So, with that introduction out of the way – that flimsy excuse for a story that starts in the middle and ends in the middle – would you mind if I tell you some news by way of a story?

The most honest place to start is by telling you that I grew up as the son of a pastor. I was the nephew of pastors and missionaries. Basically, in my family, going into ministry was normal and for me at least, it seemed expected.

So, in high school, when I started doing leadership stuff, when I took an internship at my church after high school, and when I became a youth pastor for a couple of years, it wasn’t a huge surprise. I was almost continuing on in the family business.

I realized shortly after taking the job at the church that being a youth pastor, and probably being a pastor in general, wasn’t for me. I did however really enjoy the inherent counseling that is part of being a pastor. And so, after several long years of detours, I went back to school. I finished my undergrad in psychology. And then I jumped right into the master’s program in counseling.  I started my master’s in 2012. Now, as we are closing in on mid-2017, the end of school is in sight.

Even though it might seem like I love being in school – seeing how long it’s taken me to complete a three-year master’s degree – I am thrilled to be wrapping it up.

 Here is something that life has taught me both through firsthand and through secondhand experience: life is tough. I have had my share of setbacks and trials. And for those around me, my friends and family, life has thrown a lot of curveballs at them too.

So, I go into counseling with my eyes wide open. I know that life is tough. I know that we are all broken in some way.

That’s where I want to be. Right in the middle of that brokenness.


Throughout my life I have had the privilege of knowing a lot of people in ministry. A lot of these people, like my dad, some friends, and mentors, have been pastors. A lot of these people, like my Uncles and Aunts, and friends, have been missionaries. And a lot of these people have been people who work in “regular” 9-5 jobs, but give of their time to lead Bible studies and youth groups, or volunteer with homeless people.

And here is something else I can tell you: ministry has its own special way of being tough. Really tough.

Everywhere I look I see people who have been chewed up and spit out by being in ministry. I don’t totally know why that is. But, it’s the truth.

Let’s jump back into story.

When I was growing up my family would read books together. I don’t know the final count, but I know that at one count we had read over 100 books together. Sometimes, sitting at the dinner table, listening to my dad read whatever book we were plodding through was torture. I was off in my own world, thinking about anything but the book.

But sometimes I would be completely intrigued by what we were reading. For certain reasons, the books that we read about Jim Elliot always kept my attention. I also specifically remembered a book called, “Bruchko.” That book told the story of a man who was a missionary and went through a ton of hardships to tell a savage tribe in Colombia about Jesus.

From an early age I connected with the stories of missionaries. People, like my aunts and uncles, who gave up their American lives to serve people in other countries. And I wanted to be like them.

And so I’ve gotten out of the country at any chance I’ve had.

Fast forward to the summer of 2014. I was Mexico for a couple of months and talking to a girl that I had met online. For all of the usual reasons (and some unusual ones as well) we stopped talking. But, in the time that we spent together, we talked about one of the dreams for her life.

She wanted to move to the English countryside, buy a house, and use it as a retreat center for missionaries. Missionaries could come and stay for a couple of weeks to recharge their batteries, and then return to wherever they were working.

It was a neat idea. One I liked. But, like I said, we stopped talking and I forgot about her idea for a while.


Jump forward another summer. A missionary couple I know were close to burning out. They came back to the states and went to a retreat center for missionaries. They left the retreat center, three weeks later, ready to reengage.

I have more stories like this. Stories of missionaries having a difficult time while overseas. I have too many stories like this, and, my guess is, you could add one or two of your own.

Then I returned to Mexico last year. A lot of stuff happened while I was there. Too much to tell in this format. While a bit grotesque, I can’t help but think of the term, “trail of dead.” My heart broke for the difficulties of the people who I worked beside while in Mexico.

I hope I’ve painted the picture well enough.

When I returned to the states it was time to finally take the last steps to complete school. I found a neat counseling center in Columbus to complete my practicum. The only remaining piece was to also find a place to complete my internship. And I started thinking outside of the box.

I should back up a little bit.

I love kids. I love hanging out with them and getting down on their level. When I was working through school I told people, and I actually thought, that I would use my counseling degree to work with children. I imagined working with kids in another country. Kids in orphanages or kids in tough spots. And I hope in some manner that I will still be the case.

However, while in Mexico, God replaced my heart for children with a burning burden to work with missionaries. I saw the pain. I saw the need. I saw how God had put me, all throughout my life, in contact with people in ministry. And, I knew I had to at least try.

So, while I was in California I started calling and I started emailing. I googled and then I contacted. I think I either called or emailed 35 different missions organizations.

After all was said and done, I received one, “maybe.” I applied and four months later that “maybe” became a “Yes” and a “let’s see if we can find you a place to counsel.”

Again, one possibility came through. One chance for this longshot idea to become a reality. And that longshot became a reality.

So, that was a longwinded way of telling you this really big news: In August I’ll be moving to Chiang Mai, Thailand, as a short-term missionary with SIM, to work at Cornerstone Counseling Foundation!


SIM is the missions organization that said “yes” to me. They have missionaries all over the world – including my very own Aunt and Uncle!

Cornerstone is a counseling center primarily designed to work with missionaries in Southeast Asia. Missionaries come from all over the region for a week or longer to receive a time of respite, retreat, and counseling.

While there, I will be counseling missionaries who are having a hard time and need a little help. I’ll be living in Thailand for eight months and I’ll be working with, and underneath, about ten other counselors who are there for the exact same reason.

I am so excited I could burst! This is a direction that I have been moving towards for quite a long time, and it feels really great to know that things are starting to come together.

I wanted to take the time to tell you all of those stories to try and answer the question “WHY?”

And now, if you’ll read for just a little while longer, I want to try and answer the “HOW?”

I will be going to Thailand as a missionary. Even though it is a part of my schooling, I will be there as a missionary as well as a student.

I will be paying for a portion of the time in Thailand out of my own pocket, but I won’t be able to do it by myself. I will be spending these next several months, until I leave for Thailand, fundraising so that I can work beside these missionaries.

If you read this far (a true feat!), would you consider supporting me in this time?

I need your help, your support, on two fronts.

Financially. I have to raise a bit of money to do this internship. And as the saying goes, “no gift is too small…” If what I am going to Thailand to do, to work alongside missionaries, is compelling to you, would you consider supporting me financially? Or, if you aren’t completely sold on what I am going to be doing, but you believe in my heart, would you consider supporting me in this fashion?

Prayer. I know how money works, and I know that sometimes giving money isn’t always an option. But, I want to be very diligent in building up a group of friends and family who will support the work I am doing in prayer. Would you consider praying for me while I am Thailand? I will try to send out weekly prayer/update emails that you could receive.

So, that’s it. I sort of feel like all of my experiences have been leading up to these coming months and I’m excited to see what God is going to do!

If you are interested, I would love to tell you more – to fill in some of those blanks that storytelling doesn’t always answer. If you are local, I’d love to have dinner and tell you more. If you aren’t local, I’d love to make a phone call or skype with you.

I’ll finish this longest blog post in history with a couple of links.

http://www.simusa.org/ - This is the missions organization that I am going through
http://ccfthailand.org/ - This is the counseling center that I’ll be working at in Thailand
https://www.simusa.org/get-involved/give/ - This is the website where you can support me financially.

Thanks for reading!
















Thursday, April 13, 2017

The One Same Thing

This week is the culmination of Lent. Tonight we “celebrate” together at the Maundy Thursday service.

A question: During this Lenten season, how have you changed?

The Inward/Outward journey (or the Outward/Inward journey for all you extroverts) has been difficult for me. My brain, like most brains, likes to categorize. Things internal remain internal and things external remain external.

Like the chemical attack in Syria. My tendency is to blame politicians and thus keep things external. To internalize those attacks – to dwell on and to feel, the impact of how those attacks might make our brothers and sisters lose hope – that seems like too much for me. Instead, I want to raise my fist at corrupt government. But this attack, for some reason, this attack was different. I let if fill up my heart instead of just my twitter feed. And that changed me.

Or like the fasting I’ve done this Lenten season. Shhh… Don’t brag; don’t tell people you’ve fasted. Or, besides losing those two pounds, it’s all for naught. But this “addition through subtraction,” this physical denial for hoped spiritual abundance, was hard work. And that changed me.

And I hope that change for me has occurred by both the Inward and the Outward moving a little bit closer together.


This week, as we prepare our hearts and build each other up, as we mourn, and as we celebrate – I hope that all of these things become the one same thing.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Spirituality through Subtraction

We’re over halfway through Lent. And to be honest, I’m ready for it to be over. I talked a little bit about it in my last post, but I’ve given some things up, I’m reading a book, and I’m fasting from food during daylight hours one day a week.

Some conversation around fasting has occurred in my circles, I have processed through some of these thoughts a bit, and I wanted to share them with you.

The conversation has centered around the basic question of “why is fasting not commonplace?”

Fasting is difficult – Let’s just be really shallow and honest – fasting from food is hard. Physically it is difficult. But, for me, it is more of a psychological thing. I enjoy eating food. I run a lot and so I burn a lot of calories and have to support an active metabolism, so to go from eating 3500 or so calories a day, to eating a little bit before the sun rises and then a little bit after it sets, is difficult.

Fasting is supposed to be secret – Right there in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, if you go around bragging about how awesome you are for fasting then you won’t receive anything besides some hollow praise – no real reward. And so we have made our fasting (or lack-thereof) secret and we aren’t encouraging others with our example or being encouraged by other’s examples. And since we aren’t supposed to talk about it and stuff, we are secreting it out of our lives. Who is gonna know anyways?

Fasting is physical – When we think of spirituality we think of our Spirit. When we think of sin we often think of our flesh – our bodies – our physicality. It makes sense. After all, holiness is ethereal and other-worldly. And my physicality? Well, that just seems to get me into trouble.  Because fasting – depriving the body of what it needs and craves – is primarily physical there seems to be a disconnect. Fasting, from a purely physical standpoint, can be a spiritual act without trying to spiritualize it. Offering/sacrificing our body and its callings – growing stronger while growing weaker – is spiritual.

Fasting is subtraction – We often associate spirituality with addition. Pray more, give more, etc… But, fasting is spirituality through subtraction, which feels different and difficult. There are a lot of loose-end thoughts I have along this line of thinking. But I think I’ll leave this where it is. It just doesn’t seem natural to subtract to be more spiritual. But, to quote Meister Eckhart, “God is not found in the soul by adding anything but by a process of subtraction.”


So, these are some of the reasons why I think that fasting has fallen out of fashion. Like I said earlier, I am ready for Lent to be over. But, I do want to try and continue fasting(after a little bit of recovery time – of course!). 

I would love to hear your thoughts about fasting as well.