N is for New

My uncle Ron once told me of one of his favorite hobbies: going into a book store, cracking open a new book, holding it up to his nose, and inhaling in a long and deep breath. New ink printed on new paper inside a new book. He said that scent was one of his favorite smells in the world.

It sounds crazy, but it is logical. I've heard others describe a similar satisfaction with the odor of a new car, new shoes, and new electronics.

We love the word new. It instilled with a sense of excitement and endless possibilities. We celebrate the birth of a new baby and party to welcome a new year. New is the anthem of optimism. Cloaks of hope and desire hang from the coat rack of new.

Unfortunately, not all new is good new. Sometimes the jubilation of newness is counterbalanced by the fear of the unknown. Sometimes the new is forced upon us through change or tragedy that is unwelcome and we find ourselves inadequately prepared for new.

When the nervous energy of a new job is replaced with the discouragement of a termination, a lay off, or corporate restructuring.
When young lovers and the honeymoon phase turns to infidelity, falling out of love, or divorce.
When vibrant health gives way to devastating terminal diagnosis or chronic illness.
When the joy of a new home is interrupted by foreclosure.
When a parent passes away.
When the kids grow up and leave behind a quite empty nest.
When you find yourself in a new city facing the overwhelming task of finding new employment, new friends, new housing, and ways to navigate the strange and unfamiliar streets.

New often means change. For many people, change is scary. Facing the unknown of new can be frightening. It causes discomfort and uncertainty. This kind of new strips away our identity and our security. It causes emotional and financial strain.

How do you cope? How do you get through the big scary new so that you can enjoy the fun and alluring new?

To be honest, I really don't know. I don't have any formulaic answers that can point your way through the difficulties of change. The past few months have been a difficult season of loss for me and because of that, I'm facing a season of new. While I'm no wise sage dispensing years of philosophical knowledge, I have learned a few things along the way.

1. Change is inevitable.
2. Sometimes, change sucks.
3. It's OK to feel like it sucks.
4. The pain of new is temporary.
5. This kind of stress is a lot like growing pains.
6. Change gives you the opportunity to truly connect with your identity.

Finally, my last observation is perhaps the most important: You are not alone.

You are not the first person to redefine themselves after the loss of a spouse. You're not the first to find yourself suddenly unemployed. You are not the first to to find yourself abandoned or alone. There are others who have gone before you and weathered your pain. There are others that are going through it right now just like you. And sooner or later, there will be coming behind you with the same stress of change. This is the kind of community that makes the bad new easier to experience.

Do yourself a favor, find that community and embrace it.


M is for Misfits in the Margins

A couple of weeks ago, I met a guy at church that I'd never seen before. We chatted for a while. He was there for the first time, visiting and looking around to see what we were about. He was built like a pro-wrestler, someone who obviously spent a considerable amount of time in the gym. The short-sleeve t-shirt he was wearing fit snugly to show off his prodigious muscles. The visible parts of his arms were covered with tattoos - artwork of which, frankly, was quite impressive.

He was just there. Just visiting. Just checking us out. Wanting to know who we were. What we were about. What we had to offer. I tried my best to be helpful until a friend he was visiting emerged from the bathrooms. He hung out with her for a little while longer and endured greeting a few strange faces that she introduced. Later, while walking though the parking lot, I saw the guy strap on a leather jacket and climb onto a motorcycle. And gone.

His questions. The lingering hesitation in his voice. The reservation when introduced to more new people. It all communicated something that he never committed to words. He wanted to know what most anyone wants to know when visiting a church for the first time.

Will they accept me?

It's the fundamental question of our existence. Our desire to fit in and be loved is part of what makes us human. For misfits, that quest for deep connection with other members of our species is much more complicated.

Sadly, the modern church tends to marginalize these people. We should know this, the stories are pervasive. People that have left the church for one reason or another. Because they lack that sense of belonging or community. Because they were ostracized. Because they felt like their political or social beliefs didn't fit in with the larger church culture. Many of these people carry wounds with them. Refusing to give a different church a try because the pain inflicted from the last one is too great.

The working poor barely scraping by and ashamed of their reliance on welfare. The young teen questioning his sexuality. The single parent coming out of the tail end of an ugly divorce. The clinically depressed attempting to navigate the stigma of mental health. Recovering addicts. The homeless. People with dirty lives and dirty pasts.

It could be something purely superficial. Like the man I met. Could it be possible for predominantly middle class church welcome a biker covered with tattoos? I know the answer would be yes, but he doesn't. Or maybe his trepidation was grounded in a bigger issue. Past religious traumas. Family issues. Voices of friends telling him that he doesn't belong there. Regardless, he is one of many. A representative of those who walk through the front doors of a new church and wonder, 'Is there a place for me here?'

The rejects, the outcasts, the losers, the last ones picked, the misunderstood. We're in the margins of the modern church.

The church should know better, right? If we look at Jesus' example, it's plain that he loved the misfits. He dined with the most despised members of society. Con artists and prostitutes. One could argue that those were occasions, not a constant, but they'd be wrong. He surrounded himself with outcasts. Almost all of His disciples flunked out of traditional Jewish education. At some point in their lives, they were told that they weren't smart enough to study with a rabbi. They were told that the only thing they were good for was to return to their family profession. Fishermen and tax collectors.

Jesus gathered 12 outcasts. 12 losers. He lived with them, traveled with them, and ate with them. They sat around campfires and He taught them. He told them stories and He laughed with them. And, along the way, He showed them how to love other outcasts. Adulterers, lepers, Samaritans, people with shady reputations - all people who were marginalized by the religious institutions of the day.

If we are to be Christ-like, we need to love those in the margins. The misfits are everywhere. They walk through our church doors every week. We see them at work, at school, at the park, at the grocery store. They need love. They need to know there's hope, that there's a place for them.

As one who has spent most of my life as a misfit, I know how hard it can be. I'm thankful that I've found a place that accepts my flaws and encourages my growth and healing. For those who feel like they're in the margins, I stand with you.

As a side note, you should know that music has played a big role in my life. It's my coping mechanism. And over the past few months, this has been my anthem. It seems to fit with this post.


L is for Live Your List

If my previous post looked like the beginnings of a bucket list, there's a reason for that. It is. It's not the first time that I've posted such a list and probably won't be the last. Part of my path to healing is to start dreaming about the future again.

So, why the bucket list? It's because of these guys.

I have been listening to these guys a lot. It's one of the few pod casts that I faithfully keep on my iPhone. In the show, Jerrod Murr and Ryan Eller have fun and joke around but they also give practical tips for self improvement and how to work toward your dreams.

The Live Your List show is one of the best leadership podcasts available. I don't often promote other people's work and should probably do it more often. Listening to Murr and Eller has been a great source of encouragement and motivation for me over the past couple of months so if I'm going to promote anyone, I'll promote them without shame. Click on the picture above and it will take you to a list of episodes to listen to online. You can also find them on iTunes.

I seriously recommend you check them out. It's worth it. And don't be surprised if you see more of my bucket list in the future.


K is for Kilimanjaro

Encouraged by some friends I've connected with online, I have begun to put together the workings of what some might call a bucket list. Part of my journey back to being healthy and happy is figuring out those things I want to do with my life. Who I want to be. Where I want to go. In looking forward, I have also had to look back.

How far back? To the place where I grew up. To where I first truly found myself. The mountains.

It started with Pilchuck. Me, standing on top of the peak that rose above my hometown, seeing where suburbia of the south met the rural lands to the north and where the Puget Sound stretched around islands out toward the Pacific. The sudden perspective of how small my problems were when compared the larger world around me. That sensation of accomplishment and the realization that there were many more places to go.

Through out my teen years, I went back into the hills. Summer after summer. From Sauk Moutain to Mt Si. Along Ptarmigan Ridge Mt Baker and Ptarmigan Ridge on Mt Rainier. Snow covered ridges and alpine lakes. The Cascades made me a man.

Sadly, I stopped hiking when I moved to Boise. New environments and new passions overtook my longing for higher altitudes. But in recent years, that yearning has returned. Memories of places that I've always wanted to visit coupled with a new-found wanderlust. That whimsical voice in my head, whispering Oh the Places You'll Go.

Looking back, the earliest I can remember wishing for an exotic trek was when I first heard of Kilimanjaro. It sounded so majestic. It sounded like the kind of place that everyone should visit at least once in their life time. In the years since those early dreams, I've compiled a list of ten mountains that have appealed to those early desires. I hope to one day stand on top of each of these mountains.

1. Mount Kilimanjaro - Tanzania. The first of my childhood dreams.
2. Mount Fuji - Japan. Beautiful and one of the most recognizable in the world. And after seeing Karl Pilkington climb it on An Idiot Abroad, I've wanted to make that journey.
3. Mount Kenya - Kenya. I saw some pictures of climbers on Kenya in a mountaineering magazine when I was 15. I've wanted to go there ever since.
4. Mount Whitney - California. Higher than Rainier. Higher than Pikes Peak. Highest in the lower 48. This is another mountain I've wanted to climb since my younger days.
5. Masada - Judea. There is so much history on that plateau. The scholar in me wants to visit as much as my inner adventurer.
6. Table Mountain - South Africa. I've always wanted to visit Cape Town and Table Mountain provides one of the best ways to view the city - from above.
7. Uluru - Australia. Uluru is also known as Ayers Rock. A geological oddity. Isolated. And utterly unique.
8. Mount Roraima - South America. Some know this as the border between Brazil, Guyana, and Venezuela. Some recognize it as the backdrop for the movie Up. If members of the Pixar production team can climb it, so can I.
9. Mount Sinai - Egypt. This site is holy for Jews, Muslims, and Christians. Although, I think I'd prefer to ride a camel to the top of that one considering how hot it is there.
10. Psiloritis - Crete. This is the highest point on the island of Crete. Also known as Mount Ida, it's an impartent site in Greek mythology. Also, there's a Holy Cross open stone chapel at the top that is the destination for a pilgrimage every September.

Who wants to go with me? Better yet ... Who wants to fund my adventures? Anyone?


J is for Judgy McJudgerpants

This is a post I've been delaying. I knew I needed to write it yet didn't really want to do it. Have you ever had those words in your head that you just had to get out but kept them bottled up instead? That's what this blog post feels like for me.

Why have I been so avoidant? Because ... Well ...

Disclaimer: I am a judgmental jerk. Not that I try to be, just happens. So when I write about being judgmental, I might as well be scribbling with a sharpie marker on a mirrored surface; that every time I look at my reflection I see these words superimposed over my face. Do not judge. Do not judge. Do not judge. Shame.

In a strange character reversal where my creativity plays the parental role to my will, my will like petulant child standing in the corner pouting and shouting, "No. I don't want to. You can't make me."

"Write," says creativity.
"Do I have to?" says will.
"You must," says creativity.
"What if I don't?" asks will.
"You will suffer," says creativity.
My mind is a scary place.

I have avoided writing about judgments so that I wouldn't have to take that long hard look at myself. Procrastinating what was only inevitable. J is the next letter in the alphabet, so I couldn't move forward until I finished this step. Now is the time.

If we're being honest, this season of my life is one where it's really easy to be judgmental. One could argue that my disposition would be fully justified, however I know it's not. The words that follow are me preaching to myself as much as they are anything else. When I said that I needed to write this post, I wasn't kidding.

This isn't the first time that I've written about being judgmental. And it's probably will not be the last. It is a perpetual problem among people. As long as humans walk the earth we will be in a constant state of judging and being judged.

One of the most recognizable passages from the Gospel of Matthew warns us to be careful about judging others. It opens with the verses that say "Don't judge others, or you will be judged. You will be judged in the same way that you judge others, and the amount you give to others will be given to you."

This isn't an order, it's a promise. If we judge, we will be judged. But, like I mentioned the last time I wrote about this subject, it isn't a matter of if but when.

Call it karma, call it the golden rule, call it whatever you want. When my church covered this passage a few weeks ago, my pastor described it with the explanation that whatever you put out there, you will get back. The manner in which you judge others is the same as what is going to be used against you.

Or for you.

Realistically it could go either way. Not all judgment is bad. When you complement a stranger, you're providing them a positive judgment. When you choose to keep your kids away from hurtful situations, you're making judgments to protect them. When you're faced with a decision between two good options, it is a matter of judgment that leads you to the choice you ultimately make.

If we know that the matter of judgment is not a question of if we do it, but when, then we need to make extra effort to ensure we are judging others as positively as possible. To give others the benefit of the doubt. Set boundaries where appropriate. Protect when necessary. But always judge in the best light possible.

This process isn't easy for me. In fact, I probably get it wrong more often than I get right. Yet, it is something that I am making a conscious effort to do.

A few months ago,a friend spoke some wise words into my life. He said the things that annoy us most about others are generally something that we hate about ourselves. That before I complain how someone is manipulative, I must consider how I might also be manipulating others. Before I complain of those around me being selfish, I must examine my own self-centered ways.

The lesson is that we see our own faults in others. We expect more of them than we do ourselves. It's a wicked double standard. It echoes the parable from Matthew 18 where a servant begged forgiveness of an enormous debt but refused to show leniency in a minuscule loan that was owed to him.

This revamped perspective has revolutionized my understanding of what it means to be judgmental. That it is just me criticizing others for the worst parts of myself. It is me getting back what I put out there. It is me being judged in the way I judge others.

It is in that spirit that I am attempting to break away from my natural tendencies. Easy? Not at all. Worth it? Absolutely.