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.