Thursday, December 31, 2015

Another Chapter Finished

Today is the last day of 2015 and I have been pondering this past year and my expectations for 2016 for a while now. My wife tells me I tend to be too hard on myself, but I will admit I haven't accomplished all I hoped in the past 365 days. I don't know that many people are ever 100% satisfied with the results of a year, but I feel it's important to carefully evaluate all we've experienced before moving ahead.

It's been a year of positive growth, times of disappointment, a sometimes frustrating pace of change, stretching past boundaries of comfort, and rethinking priorities. There have been many "close to perfect" moments: our annual vacation, other special events through the year with my family, personal breakthroughs (physically, spiritually, mentally, and emotionally), witnessing the transformation of people's lives, and seeing the impact of our lives on others. It wouldn't be an accurate assessment without taking note of the "not so perfect" moments as well. These have hit me personally as well as through the lives of people around me. They serve as reminders that there is always room for improvement, growth, and better decision making. This blending of positive and negative results challenges me to find satisfaction while not settling for less in the process.

This past year wasn't everything I hoped it might be, but it was also better in ways I didn't anticipate. I hope 2016 provides some of the same in fresh, life-giving ways.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

A Worthy Name

I think our society has forgotten about the power and significance in a name. In times past we would give people names that reflected their character and the great deeds they had done. People would be called “Richard the Lionhearted” or “Claudia the Courageous.” Just because we no longer think in those terms doesn’t mean people don’t live with the same purpose and intensity. My wife is one of those women who lives in such a legendary fashion. As our 21st anniversary is celebrated today, I thought it would be appropriate to give her a fitting name: “Dana the Strong."

Our life’s journey has not been what we expected, but then again I don’t know many people who would profess otherwise. Through all of these life changes her internal strength has increased as she conquered each trial. My wife is a woman who:

Conquered cancer
Is willing to fight her fears
Breaks her faith down to the foundation and slowly rebuilds it
Asks tough questions others don’t have the courage to ask
Home schools three girls
Is a pastor’s wife—nuff said
Finished a 1/2 marathon
Climbed a mountain
Survived the rituals of religion to develop a lasting relationship
Takes risks and helps when others would walk away
Shares compassion even when it hurts
Speaks what’s right even if it’s unpopular
Helps others walk through the valleys of life even when it costs her deeply
Supports me fully in my calling even when it’s not easy for either of us
Sees the potential in me and encourages me to become the man I should be

I have been fortunate to have many strong women in my life and even more so to be allowed to partner with this incredible woman. I am grateful for her strength, her loving attitude, her passionate intelligence, and her contagious compassion. She is my life partner who makes me a better man. Happy anniversary, Dana the strong. You are the better part of me.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Just Relax

In some seasons life is just harder than others. The schedule is demanding, obstacles to progress keep coming up, and events occur that knock you off your feet. Even when you try to maintain a proper balance and keep moving forward, it becomes too difficult to achieve. As you reel from the impact of tough life circumstances it even becomes difficult to express what you think and feel. Putting the words together to describe what's happening internally just doesn't seem possible. Not being able to articulate your emotions and thoughts becomes frustrating.

I don't have an astounding answer for how to cope in these seasons. I only know that rest and peace are possible in God. He doesn't always choose to explain everything in grand detail to us, but He does promise we can find comfort in His presence. When events seem to stack up to the point of tipping over, the idea of safety and rest can be enough to carry us through.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Leveraging Each Step

Even though my wife and I finished our half marathon in early November, I only waited a week before signing up for another one. I didn’t want to lose any momentum from my previous months of training and wanted something on the horizon to prepare for. It helps that I have already established a base of mileage and can now build on the fitness level I’ve already achieved. As a result of meeting my previous goal I’ve been able to see greater gains while continuing to train by adding to what I’ve already done.

Achieving a desired goal is an accomplishment worth celebrating—and we’ve certainly celebrated it. I don’t want it to just be an item on a checklist however, but want to use it as a springboard to continued improvement. Using completed goals as a springboard to new challenges will push personal limits and help achieve new levels that might not be possible otherwise. It helps to make our current goals a more valuable part of our future while recognizing how what we’ve already done is helping to propel us forward.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Banding Together

I meet good friends for coffee on Tuesday & Thursday mornings as our local Starbucks opens. We talk about our shared passion for running, our families, common difficulties, and our hopes of being better men. There isn’t usually an agenda, but just time set aside to enjoy coffee and good company.

I need this friendship and the safety of easy communication and complete transparency. My wife is my best friend, but the closeness of a like-minded brother is incredibly important to me as well. It’s not something I’ve always fully appreciated, but I now recognize how valuable this community is to me. As a man I didn't always create space for that to happen, but would try to get by on my own strength and wisdom. The benefit of age (and a touch of maturity) is that I can see how this closeness helps me to develop strength and be encouraged to keep growing.

I can make the journey through life without strong male friends, but it’s much more rewarding and fulfilling to have a few close friends to be part of it along the way.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Next Phase

Our oldest daughter, Lindsay, turned 18 today. This is obviously a monumental mile marker in her life (and ours.) She’s been preparing for this day for a long time and has especially taken leaps forward this past year. Her thoughts and our talks have been turning more towards her future and what she wants to do next. Her job has been a big part of her growth as she is a key part of the team there and has learned how to earn and save her own money. To me this is merely a reflection of the level of responsibility she has always shown.

She is the first-born child of two first-born children and carries the traits of being the oldest deeply in her genes. I feel she has handled it well and has blended her leadership gift with a warm personality that always looks to include those on the fringe. I don’t know that she has ever met a stranger—at least they aren’t one for long. She is very funny and quick-witted with a great laugh. I love how genuinely she cares for other people especially when they are in unfortunate circumstances. Lindsay isn’t fooled very often either though and is able to see the reality of most situations. I love how open minded she is and willing to see your perspective as she thinks things through. She stands firmly on her principles however and is okay with other people disagreeing with them. As much as an 18 year old can be, she is confident in who she is and strives to stay within those boundaries she has set for herself. Most importantly, she loves God and is moving forward trying to figure out what His plan for her life is as she chases her passions.

Today marks the end of her “childhood” as she steps into adulthood and the next phase of her life. While part of that causes me some trepidation, my feelings are a result of our little girl growing up more than any fear I have about her life choices. We are proud of her and the woman she is becoming. This next part of the journey is going to be fun for all of us.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Because He Is

Our reactions reveal how we feel about someone. Once we start to understand their character we will react accordingly. This is true in our human relationships and even with God.

Dr. Bill Bright wrote the following and I think it accurately describes how we should view God once we gain an understanding of who He is.

Because God is a personal Spirit...I will seek intimate fellowship with Him.
Because God is all-powerful...He can help me with anything.
Because God is ever present...He is always with me.
Because God knows everything...I will go to Him with all my questions and concerns.
Because God is sovereign...I will joyfully submit to His will.
Because God is holy...I will devote myself to Him in purity, worship, and service.
Because God is absolute truth...I will believe what He says and live accordingly.
Because God is righteous...I will live by His standards.
Because God is just...He will always treat me fairly.
Because God is love...He is unconditionally committed to my well-being.
Because God is merciful...He forgives me of my sins when I sincerely confess them.
Because God is faithful...I will trust Him to always keep His promises.
Because God never future is secure and eternal.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

A Lifelong Commitment

I love weddings and especially love to officiate them which gives me a front row seat for the ceremony. Fortunately, I have been part of dozens of different weddings during my years in ministry. I have been able to stand with couples I have known for years and also with couples I have recently met. As part of my preparation, I try to spend time with each bride and groom to hear their story. If we are going to share in this great day together I want to know how they met, the tale of their proposal, and their hopes for the future. I even share the story of the beginning of my own marriage and feel this gives us a common bond and greater insight into each other. 

This is a key part of the preparation process for me because of how uniquely special the wedding day is. I know these couples are in love and now we are unified in the vision for their ceremony and the power of the vows they will share. This is the beginning of an entirely new phase of life for this man and woman. It is their time to declare that even though they may not know the exact path for their lives, they know who they want their traveling companion to be. It will be a journey of transformation, great suffering, and great joy and they will make their way through it together. This adventure begins in front of their family, friends, and God as they declare their intent to commit to each other for life. 

A wedding is the gateway to the rest of their lives. While I cannot guarantee happy, healthy marriages as a result of this ceremony (that would certainly impact my fee structure if so!) I pray they see this as a launching pad of potential for the long and unknown future. It's the promise of what can be and the foundation of love which causes me to look forward to each wedding with such anticipation.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Just Because

When I got married, I wasn't given a list of things I had to do to make my marriage work. There was not a descriptive account of my responsibilities now that I had a wife. In fact, I would have been reluctant to enter into marriage if there was an accompanying book telling me all the things I now had to do. My wife and I have a healthy relationship because we understand each other and choose to do those things that reflect our love. Neither of us feel obligated to perform or engage with each other, but respond out of our honest affection together.

I think there's often a misconception about what it means to have a relationship with God. Most often there is the belief that there is a long list of acceptable vs. unacceptable behaviors and we have to tow the line or get smacked. While there are consequences for decisions we make, I like to think my relationship flows out of an understanding and appreciation for who God is instead. When I am able to see Him for who He truly is, then I choose to do things differently because of that relationship.

Instead of living in a dynamic where I "have to" do certain things, it now is about how I "get to" do those things. This is a response based in love instead of fear and in honor instead of obligation. Now we can live in a thriving, healthy dynamic instead of constantly being afraid of coming up short.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

In the Middle

Today our middle daughter, Bailey, celebrates her 17th birthday. My beautiful, soft-hearted girl is blossoming into a delightful young woman even as I struggle somewhat with how grown she is. While I wouldn't change anything about this phase of life, I look back over her early childhood with great fondness too. Our conversations have changed and the depth of what we discuss is greater, but many parts of her personality remain the same. 

Bailey has always been wonderfully sweet, greatly compassionate, and sensitive to others. Her emotions have always been transparent and she cares deeply for the people in her life. Bailey is a great comforter and also hates to disappoint you. She is my most "huggy" child and will greet me lovingly when I come home after being gone a week or even ten minutes. She is a deep thinker and will contentedly spend hours by herself. Bailey is tougher than her soft demeanor might cause you to believe and sees things others may not. She is incredibly goofy and loves to laugh and have us laugh with her. Most importantly, she is pursuing Christ and is passionate about what He is doing in her life.

Like all of my girls she is uniquely herself and I wouldn't have it any other way. She fits perfectly in the middle of our family. 

Monday, November 30, 2015

No Clue

I like to have the right answer. This is partially because I want to help people understand, but it's also fueled by a selfish desire to be needed (and correct!) There were times when I used to try to come up with something that sounded right and would quickly backtrack if I felt I wasn't providing the correct response. I'll also admit I didn't want to appear to be stupid by not knowing the correct response. I felt as if I should know the answers to my field of specialty even though no one could possibly know everything.

Through some hard personal lessons and hopefully some maturity, I have learned to relax this tension of needing to have an answer. I've actually found great freedom in three simple words: "I don't know." This confession of my lack of knowledge puts me on equal footing with the questioner. It means that I haven't necessarily committed all potential responses to memory nor have I figured out the secrets to all of life's mysteries. It's an answer that reveals my humanness and allows the opportunity for a collaborative effort to learn the truth. Confessing my lack of confidence in a particular response creates room for growth and a common potential of discovery.

Isn't it funny how admitting my lack of knowledge can actually be one of the smartest things I could ever do?

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Protective Tools

When I was in high school, I was out with a couple of friends driving one night after work at Taco Bell. We were just cruising and listening to music until my friend (the driver) took a curve too quickly and slammed into the guardrail. We were completely fine except for the now-caved-in front bumper. Even though he ended up in a great deal of trouble for the damage to the car, hitting the guardrail saved us from sliding off the road into a canal. We didn't think so at the time, but the guardrail had done its job of keeping us safe.

We all need guardrails in our life to protect us. I wrote earlier this week about my role as a protector and I truly believe this is part of who I am supposed to be for my family and people close to me. I can't effectively do that by simply thinking about it or making it a desire. To provide protection I have to put things in place to make us safe. This might be someone I trust for accountability, restrictions I put on my choices, strict boundaries for relationships, a rigid budget, or even Internet filters. These physical tools become the guardrails to keep me on the right path and protect those I care about. Slamming into one of these won't necessarily be comfortable, but I would rather run up against a safety device than to make a choice that sends me spiraling off the right path.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Tending To It

The idea of being consistently thankful has great merit. We tend to focus more on it during the holidays than others although I honestly don't know many people that are only thankful on Thanksgiving either. I do know I have a better perspective on my life when I maintain an attitude of gratitude through positive and negative circumstances.

This doesn't happen automatically however. I can't just write a blog post about being thankful and hope it carries over. Much like planting a garden the key to maintaining a positive attitude is in my willingness to cultivate it. I have to break up the hard soil of negativity, entitlement, and complacency to prepare to be thankful. I have to establish the daily discipline of removing the weeds of dissatisfaction and cynicism to give it room to grow. Then there is the careful nourishing of grateful thoughts and prayers which gives that habit encouragement to grow.

I won't live a more grateful life just because I think it's a good idea. This is something I must work to maintain if it is going to become a healthy part of my lifestyle.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

My Thankfulness List

Thanksgiving is an annual opportunity for all of us to focus on the things in our lives we are thankful for. We take a break from our normal routines to spend time with people we care about and be grateful for what we have. I always enjoy this brief respite from the hectic day-to-day pace and find myself thinking on those things I am most appreciative of:

  • A heavenly Father who has seen me at my best & my worst and still loves me
  • My wife who completes me in so many ways. She is my best friend, lover, and confidant. 
  • Three uniquely wonderful daughters who constantly challenge me in new ways.
  • New perspectives on life revealed by wise people around me and a gracious God.
  • Being able to live out my calling in life as part of a thriving church and church staff. I don't take this for granted as I know of other pastors who aren't this blessed.
  • Mentors throughout the years who have taken the risk of investing in me. They were willing to persevere even when I didn't receive their counsel well.
  • Good long-time friends who are important in my life even if we don't talk that often. I know they are always there and hope they know that about me as well.
  • Newer friends who encourage me, listen to me, drink coffee with me, help me in times of need, and laugh with me.
  • A vision and passion for the future. I don't have all of the steps lined up for what is coming, but God continues to give me glimpses of where He is leading us.

Even a small list of gratitude reminds me of the gifts I have in this life. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Security Detail

I feel one of my roles in our family is to serve as a protector.  I’m not solely responsible for this, but it is something I think about often. I recognize objectives we all have to commit to keeping and try to make decisions with them in mind (as much as possible.) I don’t have a comprehensive list I read over, but there are certain things which are important:

- Our integrity—doing things to be consistent in our individual and family character
- Values—strengthening the important things which define who we are
- Vision—maintaining a big picture of who we want our family to be
- Heart—keeping our family safe emotionally
- Future—making sure we are setting ourselves up for the best possible future
- Legacy—setting up a foundation of family faith for our future generations
- Purity—helping each other make the best decisions
- Family dynamic—watching out for each other & keeping a safe home dynamic
- Time—making sure our time together is protected above all other time

How are you doing this? What boundaries are you setting up to keep your family safe?

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Pushing Through

I watched my favorite college team (go Gators) play their football game today against a supposedly over-matched opponent. It was supposed to be an easy contest to keep them sharp before the big game against our in-state rival next weekend. In fact, the experts had projected Florida as 31 point favorites which means this game should have been over shortly after halftime. 

Regardless of what the football gurus predict however, the game isn't played out in discussion and opinions but on the field. The opposing team wasn't going to forfeit the game because someone decided they were supposed to lose by a wide margin. They were going to compete with a fierce desire to win combined with growing confidence as they realized the opportunity in front of them. Even though they came up short in the end (thank goodness) they still showed what can happen with a little bit of tenacity and discipline. 

What seemingly insurmountable odds can be overcome in our personal lives with some confidence and discipline? What mindset do we need to be able to endure when everything seems to be working against us? Will we persevere when things don't go as easily as we hoped or will we cave under pressure? Some days we will have to work harder to be successful than others. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Wide Open

The idea of running “wide open” is when we are running full speed through life, operating at 100% capacity. It’s not necessarily a negative phrase, but carries the idea of moving at a high efficiency without being completely overwhelmed.

Are we living a wide open life? What does that look like?

-Stepping into new areas of faith
-Using our gifts in ways that fulfill us and stretch us
-Engaged in authentic community
-Investing deeply in the lives of our family
-Open to creative ways of worship
-Looking for God in all parts of our life
-Pursuing our passion and contributing to the growth of our community

I want to live a life that is fully and passionately engaged. My desire is run wide open in the grace God has given me. This style of life brings contentment as we thrive becoming who God has created us to be.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Stop and Go

When I was a kid we would play a game called, "red light, green light." The objective was to reach the target before anybody else by dashing forward when "green light" was called out and coming to a screeching halt when "red light" was declared. It was a game of speed and maneuverability that could be played without props or preparation. The only thing stopping you from reaching the target was the quick voice calling for a red light moment.

I feel as if I am still playing that game every time I drive. In fact, my wife likes to (gently) harass me when I mutter under my breath whenever I am stopped at a red light. It is certainly a matter of inconvenience that shining green light giving me the right of way had to change to red and stop my momentum. These unplanned traffic stops are disrupting the rhythm of my travel and slowing down my arrival. They truly feel like an affront to my personal schedule. How dare these lights interfere with my plans? It's not as if other people pull up to a light and need to move forward before I do.

Perhaps this frustration focused on stop-and-go action reveals more about my obsession with my own schedule than anything else. My agenda isn't necessarily more important than other people's schedule. It might be more important for me to take a deep breath and simply wait my turn. This shift in attitude won't get me to my destination more quickly, but it will make the journey a little less stressful.

Monday, November 16, 2015

More Than Apparel

The hat pictured here has been my favorite Mets hat for close to 15 years. I bought it at a spring training game because it was unlike any I had seen before. In the years I have owned it I have looked for similar hats and haven’t been able to find one that was just right. Sadly, the time has arrived to say goodbye to this weathered piece of Mets headgear. There are holes in the top of it and the years of travel, sweat, and weather elements have taken its toll.

I realize it is just a hat and the memories gained while wearing it are most important. It has still been a part of my life adventures for a long time. It has been doused in ocean water on beach vacations, pulled over my eyes for sleeping on airplanes, thrown on for daddy & daughter canoe rides in Michigan, and adorned my head when I began running earlier this year. This hat fosters more nostalgia than I could begin to list here or anyone would care to read. While I am somewhat saddened to let it go, I am grateful for the memories brought back by reflecting on it. It’s definitely just a piece of apparel, but the experiences shared while wearing it make it just a little bit more.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

I Should Be

Sometimes it feels as if the “should's” are eating me alive.

- I should be farther along in my spiritual walk.
- I should be spending more time with my wife.
- I should have more in-depth, intentional conversations with my daughters.
- I should be reading more.
- I should be investing in other leaders more.
- I should be praying more.
- I should be reading more Scripture.
- I should be reading at a faster pace.
- I should have finished those projects on my project list.
- I should have more money in savings.
- I should have purchased some Christmas presents already.
- I should call my mom more.
- I should be more mature in the way I think.
- I should be more confident in who I am and my calling.
- I should be impacting more people than I am.
- I should be able to let my past go and not let it have power over me.

I can lament where I should be (and do so far too often.) While some of that may spur me to make changes, it can also paralyze me into doing nothing at all as the list of “should’s” can be overwhelming as a whole. The truth is I’m not where I want to be. I can choose to write a list of grievances against myself or accept my present condition and start to move forward. As a man committed to personal growth I’ll never be satisfied with where I am, but I can choose to keep progressing in pursuit of what I can be.

A healthy attitude and a willingness to persevere through my own mistakes is the difference in “should be” and “could be."

Friday, November 13, 2015

Finding My Rhythm

There are several lessons I am still unpacking from our half-marathon last weekend. One of the biggest is the difficulty I had in finding and maintaining a good running pace. I have never run in such a big crowd and it took me 6-7 miles before I was able to find a comfortable rhythm. I kept having to adjust my stride by slowing down and speeding up to get into a running lane. The course was also new to me so I had to pay more attention to race markers. I also remember being very cognizant of the need to run at a moderate pace so I would be able to finish the race. It wasn’t easy to find the right rhythm, but when I did the end of the race was much smoother.

What rhythms of normal life do I struggle in? How do I keep a mental pace which allows me to concentrate intently at the right time without losing focus? Am I able to keep a good rhythm of productivity by recognizing when I need to push ahead and when I need to pull back? Do I have a good tempo in my personal relationships, knowing when extra attention is needed? What regularity do I have in my spiritual journey through prayer, reading, and meditation?

When I can’t find a regular rhythm I feel disjointed and struggle to maintain momentum. I’m learning to recognize when my pace is off and how to make the necessary adjustments to get me back on track. If I don’t do this life becomes more of a struggle than it should be.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

That's Inspiring!

I was having coffee with a good friend this morning and we were talking about people who influence our lives. He called someone an "inspiration" to him even though it hadn't moved him to do something different in his life. I suggested he was probably needed motivation more than inspiration if he wanted to change to take place.

There are countless stories of inspiring people and moments for us to witness. The explosion of accessibility through social media allows us to be uplifted by bravery, compassion, and perseverance from other people. A story of inspiration is only powerful for a brief period of time however. If we aren't motivated to do something with what has emotionally moved us it is merely a feeling which passes quickly. Without an action component, it's only a nice idea which temporarily impacts us before we move on to the next story.

True transformation takes place when things that inspire us also motivate us to do something about it.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

A Personal Path

I don't want to shortchange the end of 2015, but the new year is drawing closer. There are still many experiences waiting to be had, relationships to deepen, and opportunities to seize in the current calendar year, but I am still starting to look ahead. I'm beginning to think about what I want this next year to look like and the things I want to accomplish. I'm processing goals in light of the lessons of this year (both positive and negative) and trying to determine where I want to be at the end of next year. 

I've read several things lately geared towards refining the goal-setting process and making it more effective. Most of them don't focus on well written objectives with assigned task lists. These other thoughts aren't centered on marking off the most items either. To be truly effective, I have to answer a basic (albeit not always simple) question: "Who do I want to become?"

Answering that question will fuel everything else I do. I don't necessarily have to have every detail laid out, but there has to be a general direction shaped by my passions and God's calling on my life. If I am unable to answer the question about my desired destination, then my pursuit of goals is less difficult. Without a target to hit, it doesn't matter which direction you aim. Developing clear thoughts on the man I want to become fuels the rest of the decisions I will make. This picture of a preferred future becomes the framework for everything I do. 

Monday, November 9, 2015

Crossing the Tape

My wife and I completed our first half marathon this weekend in Savannah. We've had this on our calendar for several months and worked hard in our training program together to make it happen. We were a slightly apprehensive heading into it especially with higher than normal temperatures and humidity and the unknown details of a big race. There were big adjustments to make as neither of us had ever run in something with so many people or that lengthy.

It's hard to fully capture the feeling we both had when crossing the finish line. There was a deep, gratifying sense of accomplishment and relief at the same time. Our training and perseverance had paid off and we are both proud of what we were able to do. While we celebrated with our girls and enjoyed time together we are also now left with a slight sense of loss with it being over. We had aimed at this goal for so long and now that it's over, we are looking for something else to replace it. This doesn't devalue our pursuit of family experiences and spiritual growth, but speaks to our need to have other physical goals to pursue. My wife and I both agree we need another objective to aim at and are planning together to figure out what it should be.

I feel that is a healthy approach to life together. We set a goal which was difficult to attain, supported each other in achieving it, and now look for the next adventure as a couple. I'll take that as a pattern of life even if it's a relatively new way of thinking for us both.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Off and Running

My wife and I will run in our first 1/2 marathon this Saturday. We've been looking forward to this race for months and have been training intently. There have been a few setbacks along the way and some unplanned, extended rest to cope with injuries and soreness. I've actually made a conscious effort recently to eat a little more (especially this week) to make sure I have enough energy reserves to push through. We can make some predictions on our expected pace, but I can't do a whole lot to change what's going to happen at this point. I can eat good meals tomorrow and try to get a good night's rest, but the bulk of the preparation is already done.

When we are looking forward to big events, we've got to do the best we can to prepare while understanding we won't always be ready for everything that will happen. We commit ourselves to being ready while staying focused on the big goal and then give it our best shot. I believe firmly in the process of preparation and stepping into action when the moment calls. At that point you can't change any past planning, but you can commit yourself to doing the best you can with what is in front of you.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

All The Way

It's amazing how important the last few steps can be. Our reluctance to follow things all the way through to completion can often negate what we've done to get to that point. We can expend a great deal of energy and still fall short of where we want to be if we don't follow all the way through. My desire to be a good husband and father won't be realized if I don't take the actions to be that man for my family. I can write down a lot of good ideas and even talk about how to make them happen, but fall short by not doing what needs to be done. I can't be partially obedient to a vision by ignoring the last few steps and hoping it all works out.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Roll It Over

I was talking with a good friend over coffee this morning about some of my aspirations for 2015. I admitted I had fallen short of achieving some of my goals even though I was able to mark several things off my list. While I try to have a realistic view of what is possible, I realize I may have set my expectations too high for what is truly feasible.

I can also confess to losing focus in some areas and neglecting to follow through on the tough decisions and hard work which makes some goals possible. My friend counseled me this morning to roll some of those unfulfilled desires into next year’s plan. While I think he is right in encouraging me to keep shooting for those things I feel are important, I also realize I have to take a different approach if I want to see them become reality.

Just writing them down and talking about them won’t make it happen. I’ve got to develop a better game plan and break it down into manageable steps so I can be successful. Having a plan for growth and new experiences is good, but unless I can match that up with action steps they are merely concepts and not reality.

Monday, November 2, 2015

No Shortcuts

There are two variations on the most popular question asked on road trips. At some point in the journey you can expect to hear, "Are we there yet?" and/or "How much longer?" I recognize part of this is an excitement about arriving at our destination, but there is also an element of bored impatience behind these questions. Instead of enjoying the act of traveling we become consumed with the end of the trip.

I don't suppose this attitude is any different for the rest of our life's journey either. We are zoned in on arriving at big milestones and forget to enjoy what happens along the way. Sometimes we are rushing towards these positive moments (graduation, wedding, birth, promotions) and neglect the joy of the process of getting there. Even when we deal with painful situations we eagerly anticipate the solution and want things to be resolved quickly. While our desire to be relieved of pain is understandable, this ignores what we can learn by persevering through the process of healing.

While all of life may not seem joyful, there is much to be learned in the process of living. When we rush to get to celebrations or strain ahead to move past pain we are neglecting some of the sweetest and most memorable parts of life. No matter what our intent is we can't shortcut the process of growth. We are all required to travel the full path of life and sometimes it takes longer than we think it should. Take pleasure in the entire journey because this moment has something unique to offer.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Somewhere New

My wife and I ended up at a local professional wrestling event this past Friday night. We were there to support a friend from our life group and his return to pro wrestling. There was a long line into the building and a unique vibe once we entered and saw the ring in the middle of the room. We finally made our way to our seats through a full crowd and were ready for the night's entertainment. I leaned over to my wife as we waited for the opening bell and said to her, "I never thought I would be at pro wrestling on a Friday night." We had a great time even though we were somewhere we didn't think we'd ever be.

I've ended up in many different places in my life I wouldn't have predicted. I look back at my early life decisions and wonder how I survived my own choices to end up in a healthy marriage. I never imagined leaving my athletic training career for anything else and yet ended up in ministry. I had no plans to leave my hometown and yet now live in Milledgeville. My life history is full of those unanticipated surprises as I have been blessed to end up in places and situations I never planned. The fact they have been better than I expected speaks more to God's blessing and direction in my life than my own preparation.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Rear View

I remember riding in old station wagons with a rear facing back seat. There were no seat belts and we would often run to the be the ones who got to sit back there. We enjoyed the adventure of riding in the back because it gave us a different viewpoint than a normal car ride. It’s very different going on a trip when you can’t see where you are going, but only where you’ve been.

This may have made for a more fun car ride, but it’s not the best way to travel through life. Focusing all of our attention backwards might bring up memories of the “good old days”, but it doesn’t help us navigate the future. The best way to travel is to face forwards and take glimpses in the rear view mirror. This way we can use our experiences (good & bad) to shape our future decisions. Our past has led us here, but we can’t move forward at a good pace when we’re only looking backwards.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Pumped Up

Tonight is the beginning of the World Series with my beloved New York Mets coming back to the grand stage for the first time in 15 years. We cranked into this round with a pretty thorough beat down of the Chicago Cubs. Our young pitching staff did a great job of shutting down a great lineup and were able to channel their excitement into quality production. Pitching coach Dan Warthen talked about the management skills of the pitchers and said, “Adrenaline is like fire. It’s a valuable servant, but a dangerous master."

Excitement and adrenaline can be very helpful tools. The thrill of a new challenge or the tension of a stressful moment can increase our focus and even cause us to perform above our normal capabilities. If we are unable execute with precision however, this adrenaline can become a hindrance. This can be applied to our physical workouts, fulfilling personal vision, engaging stressful work situations, or deftly maneuvering through relationship difficulties. The difference in precise success and sloppy mediocrity is in whether we control our adrenaline or it controls us.

Monday, October 26, 2015

In the Dark

Most of us can comfortably find our way around our homes when the lights are out. We know where the furniture is located, where the open doorways are, and how to get from one room to another. If you rearrange the furniture it changes our comfortability level until we can get adjusted to where things are again. There's something to be said about becoming familiar with the layout of things in the dark.

The principles of light and darkness carry strong spiritual implications. Light represents what is good and pure while darkness represents sin and impurity. Admitting an understanding of the power of light doesn't negate what is done in the dark if we continue to stay hidden. In fact, it's easier to hide what we are doing when we wait for the cover of darkness. While we might be unsure of our footing at first, we quickly adjust and become more comfortable even though we should seek out light.

Shining a bright light into dark areas illuminates unhealthy, sinful behavior. We are the ones who have to decide to not become too comfortable in the dark. If we aren't careful we'll begin to know our way around far too well and find ourselves at home where we shouldn't. Light will overpower darkness, but we have to choose to let the light in.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Shaky Ground

I've always enjoyed watching cartoons and am a huge fan of the Bugs Bunny franchise. I've passed that on to my girls as we still periodically enjoy watching those old adventures. When I was a kid I was particularly amazed at the climbing skills of Sylvester the Cat. When his nemesis (and desired dinner) Tweety Bird was in his cage near the ceiling, Sylvester would use whatever was handy to reach him. He would stack furniture, books, mannequins, lamps, and any other household object to get high enough to reach his prey. Predictably, something would happen which would cause Sylvester to come crashing down. While perfect for comedic effect I often wondered why he didn't just find a ladder so he could stand on something stable.

I don't know many people who would be foolish enough to stand on something so poorly physically constructed. I do feel certain I am in a large company of people who have tried to stand firmly on our own shaky emotional and mental ground. We've all taken a strong stance on a poorly formed idea, placed too much emphasis on our own incomplete observations, or treated people differently based on weak assumptions. The problem with these ill-designed foundations is that they quickly fall apart under pressure and injure anyone close by. This type of instability isn't healthy for creating positive relationships and will cause extensive damage.

The solution isn't to create more solid arguments to tear people apart, but to search for the truth with a desire of building unity. Building a firm foundation of genuine care for others means we disregard incomplete, foolish thoughts and take the time to forge real relationships that last.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Doing Hard Work

One of the most profound statements shared at yesterday's Suicide Awareness Symposium was by a survivor--the wife of a man killed by suicide. She was talking about the difficult task of working through your emotions after this tragic event. She said, "You can do your work now or you can do your work later, but there's no avoiding the work." Her point was that while you might try to avoid dealing with the grief and deep loss of suicide, it will have to be addressed eventually.

Her assessment is absolutely true and not just about suicide. We have all had difficult (and sometimes traumatic) events affect us in life. Many times we avoid handling them in a way which could help lead us to healing because we are afraid of what might happen in the process. I think sometimes we are just too overwhelmed with the thought of confronting our own emotions. As I've discovered in my own life however, at some point we will be forced to face these head on. While taking a moment to catch our breath before doing this work might be helpful in the short term, we can't avoid these steps forever. We each have to decide when we are willing to tackle these events and then commit to the work to get us through it.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Just Listen

We hosted a Suicide Awareness Symposium at Northridge today as a service to our community. I have had my own life deeply impacted by suicide and was grateful for the wisdom and encouragement offered by all. This is can be an area of great unease, but one it is necessary to talk about if we want to help people in crisis.

I believe there are more people in that type of crisis around us than we know. I feel certain a great number of people in our community are struggling with feelings of hopelessness. If we want to be able to help, we've got to learn to listen.

Part of this involves hearing what people have to say, but it also means we are paying attention to nonverbal communication. Engaging all of our senses in compassionately caring for our community gives us the ability to see what is actually going on. This won't happen if we don't slow down our personal pace of life enough to notice. Our desire to listen means we will focus our attention (without any other distractions) on being present for those in need. Intently listening lets someone know we are there and we care what happens to them. Sometimes that focused compassion may be enough to save someone from making a choice they won't live to regret.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

That's Encouraging

I drove to Atlanta today for a post-camp meeting and arrived a little earlier than I had anticipated. Fortunately, there was a coffee shop next to our meeting spot and I went inside to grab a bite while I waited. I wasn't quite sure of the normal procedures, but figured out I was supposed to be seated and they would bring my order over to me when it was ready. The delightful woman who delivered my meal was obviously happy to be there and dropped my food off with a big smile and friendly greeting. The unexpected part of her customer service was a big hug and a simple comment of "Have a very blessed day!" I wasn't having a bad day, but that small bit of encouragement was a positive enhancement to my morning.

There is great power in an act of encouragement. It doesn't always have to be a grand gesture, but can often be something very simple. By speaking a positive word, highlighting a job well done, or sharing a genuinely kind act of affection we can lift up others. If we recognize how valuable it is to us, why wouldn't we want to do the same for other people?

Monday, October 19, 2015

At Last

This past weekend a good friend of ours was married. I was honored to be part of their ceremony and share in their commitment to each other. Their story is a beautiful one of patience, trusting in God, and believing in the best for themselves. While there have been many moments where they were unsure of God's plan and timing, I feel confident they would say it was worth the wait.

It's not always easy to trust in God's timing for our lives. I know I am impatient for vision to become reality and struggle with waiting for it to happen. Fortunately, God has a sense of perfect timing and knows when it is best to deliver the answer to our prayers. While we often resist accepting this overall plan, our consistent faith will eventually reveal it's worth the wait.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Enjoy the Ride

It’s been a good year to be a New York Mets fan. We won our division and made the playoffs for the first time in nine years and have been fun to watch. We’ve got some good young talent and our front office made some smart moves to help us get better too. I’ve had a lot of people ask me about my expectations for the team now that we’re in the postseason as they wonder how the team will perform. I’ve been able to tell anyone who asks that everything that happens from here out is extra pleasure. Even if we were to lose right away (which we didn’t) it’s been a good ride and I’ve enjoyed the season no matter what happens.

Can we take that same attitude in the rest of our life? I’m not saying we should enter into things without planning for success, but I do think we need to find more joy in the journey. So often we create mental expectations and end up causing ourselves more stress than we should. We get caught up in the details of making life happen and forget to discover enjoyment. I am one who can be guilty of neglecting joyful moments simply because I’m focused on solving the next problem or trying to get things done. I believe we would all be more content if we could learn to enjoy the journey even as we keep pushing forward to make things happen.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

An Act of Courage

Last week CC Sabathia, a pitcher for the New York Yankees, went into a treatment center for alcoholism. He came in the day before his team’s playoff game and asked to be checked in. Some people may not understand his timing, but it was apparent he recognized his powerlessness to conquer his habit. I actually admire him for his willingness to seek rehabilitation and hopefully move forward in changing his life. He showed great courage by being able to honestly say three simple words: I need help.

Some might perceive those words as a sign of weakness, but I protest that kind of thinking. It’s actually a person with great courage who knows they are not capable of doing something on their own. It takes great strength to admit your weaknesses and realize you must have the help of other people to stand strong. This is where authentic humility can bring us together in unified community. When we admit our individual need for help we become stronger because we stand together.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Trust But Verify

Our old, reliable minivan had to be taken in for repairs this week. This particular repair has been coming for about a month and finally reached a point of needing immediate action. After an initial assessment at a friend’s shop we believed it was going to be close to a $500 repair. I dropped it off at another mechanic and mentioned to him the suspected issue which he noted, but also said he would do his own investigation before doing any work.

I expected this to take a few days, but was called about an hour later to come pick it up. It ended up not being a major repair, but a simple cracked hose causing all of the problems. If it wasn’t for the willingness of this honest owner to check for himself, we would have ended up with a very expensive bill that still wouldn’t have fixed the problem.

The willingness to check things out for yourself is an admirable and wise quality. Sometimes we adopt what other people say and think without determining whether it’s true. We accept popular opinion or common themes of thinking and neglect to figure out if it fits our value system. I don’t think we need to actively doubt what anyone has to say, but we do need to make sure it aligns with who we are and what we believe. This isn’t a matter of not trusting other people as much as it is a need to verify what we allow to be part of our lives.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Blending the Ingredients

Today at the funeral of a special woman, one of the pastors described her as an "emulsifier." I have to admit this a unique term for a memorial service as I had never heard it used in that context before. In describing food, an emulsifier is used to bind together ingredients that wouldn't unify on their own. You might be able to shake up the ingredients (oil and vinegar salad dressing for example) but they will soon drift back into individual ingredients instead of one cohesive unit. Adding an emulsifier brings them together in a cohesive, inseparable unit. Using this as a descriptive term for someone is certainly uncommon, but it struck me as a tremendously high compliment as well. To be known as a person who is able to bring together divergent groups and maintain unity is a powerful trait.

I had to ask myself it that term could be applied to me. While I may not be the best judge of that answer, I recognize it is something I aspire to. My desire is to foster unity and be a bridge between people which leads to understanding. I want to help find solutions in difficult situations and to do so by bringing people together in a spirit of mutual accomplishment. I don't want to be known as someone who divides groups of people or a leader who is polarizing. My true passion is to be able to add value to people and circumstances and not add to chaos and misunderstanding.

The power of one word spoken about another life can help redirect your own and remind you of who you desire to be. That is a powerful life testimony and a legacy worth emulating.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

A Goal in Mind

This morning I got up to run and was about to stretch when I noticed the downpour outside. I'm not opposed to running in the rain, but the thunder and lightning influenced me to change my plans and head to the gym. If given a choice I would always choose to run outside over a treadmill, but I needed to get my miles in and this was the only way it was going to happen today.

Treadmill running is a bit monotonous (even with ESPN on the screen in front of me) and it feels like it takes longer to complete my distance. The lack of scenery change makes it boring and tends to tire me out more quickly. Today I hit a point about two miles before my intended mileage where I just didn't want to run any more. My legs had gotten a little heavy and I thought about calling it quits. The reason I kept running was that I knew I had a big race in a month and this run was an important part of my prep. Knowing what I was aiming at gave me the incentive to push forward.

There are a lot of times when we want to quit in life. We might be frustrated in our relationships, feel as if life changes we have made aren't working, or don't see that our daily efforts are making a difference. We have reached a point where our legs are heavy and it takes a great deal of energy to keep moving. If we don't have a vision of what we are striving towards it can be easy to give up when we get tired. Working for a long term goal helps us persevere through short term difficulties. Having a mental picture of where we are going gives us the strength to push through.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Manage the Clock

I remember watching an episode of a show when I was a kid about a woman who found a special watch. When she said, "Shut Up!" while holding the watch, time would freeze for everyone except for her. While it obviously freaked her out at first, she learned to use it for her own advantage. I remember being absolutely fascinated by the idea and dreamed of having that kind of power for myself. It would be the perfect way to always have the time to do the things I wanted to do.

Even as an adult the idea of having the power to stop time is attractive. I'd certainly be able to get more than enough sleep instead of eagerly anticipating a day off to catch up on lost snoozing hours. I would always have time to complete projects, keep up with my writing, and finish my constantly growing stack of books. I'd even be able to work on my (nonexistent) golf game and play more guitar. It's certainly desirable even if it's not possible.

As much as I might wish for it, there is no way for me to manipulate time. I have the exact same amount everyone else does and I have to decide how it will be used. While I don't always have full control over my schedule, I can decide how to best leverage the overall direction of my usage of time. I can structure how the pieces affect me and how they are helping me to become the man I desire to be. I've got to be intentional about setting objectives and putting in things that matter to me for both short-term and long-term gain.

I can't stop the clock, but I can figure out how to manage the resource I've been given to take me in the direction I want to go.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Look Up

I do most of my running in the early morning or later at night these days. I enjoy being out when it's dark and having a fairly quiet run from a traffic perspective. My route takes me through our down town area and around several parts of the local colleges. I run on the sidewalk quite a bit, but have to be diligently observant as they are very uneven. There aren't many completely flat stretches of concrete and when it's dark I have to be extra sure of my footing. Since I don't want to face plant on the road I keep my vision focused downward several feet in front of me for safety.

I came off the sidewalk the other morning and was on the road which is much smoother. Out of my regular habit, I glanced up was entranced by simple beauty of the sky. There was a partial moon shining down on me and without any cloud cover the stars were brilliantly clear. I had to take a longer look and smiled as I admired the picture overhead. If I hadn't bothered to glance up, I never would have noticed it even though it was there to be seen.

How often do we keep our eyes downward and miss out on things of beauty, relevance, and encouragement? Are we so intently focused on where our next step will be that we miss out on the parts of life happening around us? Do we fear taking a misstep so much we fixate on the safety of where we are going and forget that taking a risk now and then can actually enrich our lives? I don't advocate running full speed with your eyes only on the sky, but we need to change where we are looking now and then if we truly want to experience life.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Making It True

Social scientists call the effects of naming a self-fulfilling prophecy or the Pygmalion effect. When we think something negative or positive about a person, it tends to come true because we alter the context enough to make it come true, or we alter our perception enough to believe it is true.

I believe there can be positive and negative aspects of this. We can choose to speak the positive things we want to be true about ourselves and then work to make it happen. We can also convince ourselves of falsehoods that inhibit our belief in personal growth or fill us with fake confidence which leaves us lacking in moments of true testing.

This is a personal battle zone for me as I have struggled in the past with incorrect self-talk. I’ve discovered the best way to succeed is to remind myself of an unwavering truth and see myself as a son of God. Even though I may continue to battle my own self-fulfilling prophecies, I can be certain of my position as a citizen of the Kingdom of heaven. This truth gives me strength and courage to push through my own boundaries and speak the right words that will help me.

If we do not see ourselves as beloved children of God we will never act like it in moments of temptation, crisis, or growth.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Still Not There

I am not the man I want to be. In fact, there are times when I find myself disappointed with where I am in my development. It's a mentality where I find myself saying, "I thought I would be farther along than this by now." This can be discouraging if I focus too intently on the man I want to be without remembering the man I used to be.

There is a fine balance in personal growth of understanding the room for improvement yet recognizing how we've already grown. Focusing too intently on our past changes can cause us to celebrate transformation without seeing how we need to keep growing. Becoming frustrated with the amount of growth in front of us without recognizing what we've already accomplished can be discouraging.

To keep us hopeful and focused we need to remember we are on a lifelong journey of transformation. The markers of past growth remind us of what we've overcome while the potential of future growth is a challenge to keep moving ahead. I'm still here so I'm obviously not done growing yet.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Peaceful Place

I have a deep passion for the beach and the comfort I find by being near the water. It's an affinity refined from growing up there and spending most of my adult life around the ocean. It's a powerful place of peace for me and I'm always longing for the next time I can return to the shore. The feel of the sun and sand with the sound of waves crashing is a powerful remedy for the frantic pace of life and stress of daily living.

While location matters in some respects to my sense of peace, I also can't relegate it to certain spots only. I would spend most of my life in chaotic anxiety if I could only find peace at the beach especially since my hometown is five hours away. Instead, I'm learning to focus more on my state of mind and heart and less on my physical location.

Sometimes this takes some convincing, but as I seek peaceful moments in my life I've got to learn to create them regardless of my physical surroundings. A quiet sense of spirit can find rest on a back porch, in a recliner in the living room, on a morning run, or at a coffee shop surrounded by other people. This doesn't negate the value of special places, but speaks more to the internal changes I need to continue to make to regularly find peace.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

I Care

We all want to be loved and cared for. When we are shown compassion and genuine personal warmth, it reinforces the simple beauty of being human together. We need frequent reminders of caring to keep us healthy and need to freely share it to help others.


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Individual Battles

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. Plato

We have no idea the battles people are facing. Some are engaged in internal struggles, some are fighting with the pain of their past, while others are combating physical ailments that can’t always be seen externally. Many of these fights are are on a mental level yet sap spiritual and emotional strength as well. The outward signs of these struggles may not always be noticed, but the effect is real nonetheless.

How do we respond to the people we encounter on our life’s journey? It’s not as if we aren’t dealing with our own individual battles. I would suggest we treat people as we would like to be treated. Don’t diminish the battle they are facing and try to “one-up” them. Show compassion for their journey. Stand strongly with them without demeaning or ridiculing their fight.

There is great love and respect shown when we can acknowledge the journey someone is on without having to compare it to our own. It’s enough to know we are fighting together.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

I Don't Know

Our staff meets daily to have a brief devotional thought and pray together as we get the day started. I shared something this morning that has been rolling around in my mind for a while. I had to admit it wasn't a complete and neatly summed up thought however. It really centered around a couple of questions and concepts I had been pondering, but didn't have complete answers to. Even though I didn't supply any valid solutions, it led to a great discussion as we each contributed without ever landing on one perfect answer.

Not everything can be answered quickly and easily and I'm learning to be okay with that. I tend to think by asking questions, but I'm also learning the value of meditating on those questions without coming to an immediate resolution. It requires patience and a willingness to wrestle with thoughts even if the pace is slower and more difficult than I might hope. For someone who likes to accomplish things this isn't an easy process, but I'm discovering great growth in the journey even if it takes me longer to get to my destination than I might desire.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Open for Business

This past summer I was at camp getting ready for a week with 160 middle school friends and adults and wanted to get dinner with our set up crew. I asked one of the camp staffers what he recommended and he sent me to a local restaurant with good healthy options and a decent cost. We were looking forward to trying a new place, but were quickly disappointed. When we arrived the sign on the window said they were open for business and their posted hours indicated they should be ready for us. Sadly, it was clear no one was there and we weren't going to be able to try this place after all. Even though their outward signs might have indicated they were available for our business, they obviously weren't.

I wonder how often I portray that some conflicting message to people around me. Am I really making myself available to others or is that an inaccurate representation? Am I "too busy" to be available to my wife and my children? Am I taking the steps to clear my mind and be in that moment when someone says they need to talk? Am I actually open to people who are seeking guidance or mentoring? Am I am available to my neighbors for more than just a casual wave as I drive down the street? Am I even available to God or am I too busy filling my conversations with Him with my own requests for what I think is important? 

I can't just give lip service to the idea of being there for people, but need to show a willingness to participate in life with them. That means I've got to set down my agenda and schedule and focus individually on the person in front of me. This takes extra effort, but genuine relationships are only built when we actively engage in each other and are available for developing community that lasts.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

At the Edge

When we lived next door to good friends on the lake I was able to use their zero turn mower for our yard. It’s an impressive piece of machinery and it made yard work quicker and much more fun. I remember the first time I used it and how cautious I was as I learned how to maneuver. This was especially true along the outer edge of our yard next to the lake. I was afraid of moving too far and sliding off the wall and into the lake on a very expensive mower. It didn’t take long before I stopped worrying about that and got more comfortable being close to the edge. After all, I had been this close a number of times by then and had already proven I wouldn’t fall in.

If we take the same approach with our morality we can find ourselves in more trouble than just a waterlogged mower. Getting as close to the edge of danger reflects a mindset of trying to see what we can get away with before experiencing damage. We might initially be fearfully cautious of the boundary between safety and harm, but lose that fear as we spend more time near the edge of smart behavior. It reflects an attitude of “how close to the line can I get?” before doing something that harms our relationships and diminishes our character.

Perhaps the smarter alternative is to decide to stay away from that “line” and stay close to the center of what is good and safe. This is less about testing the limits of Christian behavior as it is about doing everything we can to maintain close contact with God. Ultimately we’ve got to decide which edge we want to be close to—one that can cause us great damage or one which keeps us closer to God’s best for our life.