A few thoughts coming off a quick coffee chat with dad…
No question, it’s been a crazy month – probably the most intense, unpredictable 2-3 week stretch I’ve ever endured. But somehow, someway, I’ve unlocked a few secrets on how to overcome anxiety while operating in stillness. While a second post will debut later this month, I figured I share a few breakthrough breadcrumbs for now:
1) Slow It Down – When we sense the target on our back, human nature is to panic and accelerate to resolution. Unfortunately, this is where many of us trip up. While prayerful proaction is ideal, when we’re striving for answers to stay ahead of the arrows, we tend to create more stress for ourselves. We beg God to know ‘why’ to justify the cry as if there’s no silver linings in persevering; however, when we surrender amidst the chaos and still ourselves in the face of uncertainty, only then can we truly embrace that James 1:2-4 joy.
In my case, there have been many problems of late. Yet, I’m grateful for them as they’ve helped me learn how living in slow motion can be a bridge to calmness. Granted, it’s a paradox to any cultural definition of pace. Then again, we’re called to run the race, not race the run. Given the latter doesn’t even make sense, I’d say all the more reason to stay cool when…
2) Defer Worry – When we feel stuck in a rut, like the cosmos is out to get us, the temptation to worry (and the emotions involved) is completely valid. I know for me when the break I crave seems far out of reach, I often cater to self-preservation as a means to sanity. Yet, as the Juby journey has taught me, when we acknowledge our weakness as an extension of worship, we find God’s perspective scaling our issues to the point deferring worry makes more sense than yielding to it.
To use a football analogy, the next time you feel sacked by negativity, invite God into the fear, press into His promises, and punt the worry away*. As Psalm 57:2 says, “[We] cry out to God who fulfills his purpose for [us]”. We may not understand the timing of them or the reasons for them; however, when we silence our ego, we enhance that still small voice reminding us how God’s faithfulness is far greater than our ability to see how it applies in any given situation. Put another way, our contentment and dependence does not have to be rooted in knowing how God works but rather knowing God, especially through the ups and downs of life.
Going back to Psalm 57:2, this makes perfect sense. Check out this context:
“Be good to me, God—and now! I’ve run to you for dear life. I’m hiding out under your wings until the hurricane blows over. I call out to High God, the God who holds me together. He sends orders from heaven and saves me, he humiliates those who kick me around. God delivers generous love, He makes good on his word.” ~Psalm 57:1-3 (MSG)
This tells me even though I don’t know what the future holds with Juby’s health, even though I don’t know if my car’s radiator will bust again, even though I don’t know how work and home life will balance out for the foreseeable future, I can count it all joy as I ride out the storm.
‘Cause frankly, I’m so weak right now, I have no margin to do otherwise.
*More specifically, as you rely on God, punt worry to the point it becomes obsolete the next time it makes sense
Have you ever had a really, really, really bad day?
You know…the kind of day where absolutely nothing goes right…where the only musterable reaction is a masquerading laughter to hide behind?
Well, let’s just say I had one of those infamous episodes a few days ago…
…one that was not only terrible, horrible, no good, and very bad, but one that gave a new and literal meaning of what it’s like to have a ‘crappy day’…
It all started last Wednesday, when I returned home from a decent day at work ironically enough. I was on the phone with my wife, Lyssah, discussing our next day travels to Atlanta and prepping to take our new puppy, Selah, on a walk when I suddenly slammed into a brick wall disguised as a sinister stench.
The smell was downright unbearable…like fermented dung reeking from the decaying innards of an infested beast.
Okay, okay…maybe it wasn’t that bad, but clearly something was wrong.
After all, we had just finished decking the halls with cinnamon branches and autumn-wreath scented candles a few days prior. One would think the fragrance in the aftermath would be seasonal, not hinted with nuclear bowel explosions.
At any rate, while I could only pray the stench belonged to a deceased rodent, as I crept towards Selah’s crate, the writing on the wall became clear…and brown with streaks of splattered excrement. Like a chaotic scene from an abstract Jackson Pollock painting, my mission was now set:
I had to free Selah from her sharty prison…and the demonic oppression possessing her stool.
And so for the next hour-and-a-half, I devoted all energy to conquering Selah’s anal glands and my chemoreceptor triggers. After a thorough scrubdown, I then called Lys to discuss our Wednesday night gameplan in light of the situation. Initially, I was to meet her at church following my Selah break to pick her up from a Sunday service video shoot. From there, we’d return home, eat dinner, and head back out to church for our youth discipleship gathering; however now, due to changes in Selah’s health, Lys would forgo youth service and hitch a ride home to tend Selah leaving me to lead youth service alone.
An understandable predicament all things considered; unfortunately, since I’d lost 90 minutes cleaning fecal material and had to be at church one hour before service, I had no choice but to leave Selah unattended outside her crate. Granted, hindsight is 20/20, but at the time, I figured the risk was worth taking given what I had just cleaned on top of Lys having started her drive home. I mean, c’mon! What damage could Selah possibly accomplish in 10-15 minutes or less? Or so I thought…
Well, as it turned out, quite a bit actually.
Although I can’t vouch for every canine conundrum, at some point during that 10-15 minute window, Selah apparently snuck into the bedroom, located the sparkling spectacle that was my wife’s engagement ring, and devoured it.
Now, thankfully, I wasn’t aware of this prior to youth service; however, after returning home to a wife and dog pawing around the bedroom floor on all fours, it didn’t take long for the light bulb to ignite. A quick glance at my wife’s eyes told me everything.
Something valuable had gone missing…
…and something as valuable had contributed to it.
Needless to say, once I realized our furry companion had consumed Lys’s engagement ring, I couldn’t help but wonder what the crap was going on (pun intended). First, the fecal fiasco; now this!?! Sure, the day could have been a lot worse, but this was getting ridiculous. Something needed to give and fast.
Well, as it turned, I didn’t have to wait long or look far for motivation. For as I watched my wife morph into a modern day version of the woman looking for her lost coin (Luke 15:8-10), it hit me how our joy was being deliberately pursued.
Realizing the target on our backs, Lyssah and I stopped our ring hunt, prayed, packed our suitcases, watched a new episode of 30 Rock, then prayed some more. During the time, we were discouraged but hopeful God would shed light on the missing ring and cure Selah’s rectal dysfunction.
The next day, as we started our Georgia journey, we both sensed the same conviction: Although we did well in praying into the stress, we hadn’t taken every negative thought captive (2 Corinthians 10:5) to the obedience of Christ. Having recently preached on this with LEGACYouth, we knew full well what we needed to do.
First, given the small and big-picture anxieties, we recognized we’d been under assault from the enemy. So we acknowledged our authority in Christ and rebuked his schemes.
Secondly, we confessed we hadn’t been as immediate in our obedience to overcome. So we repented and asked God to forgive us and redeem any unsurrendered part of our hearts.
Thirdly, we renounced our fear and replaced it with godly belief and truth. And lastly, we expressed thanksgiving unto the Lord for all He had done for us.
Once we took these steps and laid our troubles at the feet of Jesus, I kid you not…the atmosphere in the car completely changed.
Suddenly, we felt secure in our circumstances knowing we’d been given everything we needed to be content in the Lord.
Suddenly we felt excited knowing there was nothing Satan could do to break our confidence in Christ.
Suddenly, we felt hopeful that God would meet our needs…and then some.
I mean…you talk about a weary car-ride transformed into a triumphant road-trip; no question, we had entered into a new peace as we crossed over into a new place both internally and locationally.
So why do I share all this?
Well, for starters, you may feel the emoji of your life right now is nothing more than a steamy pile of crap. You may feel burdened by adversity and think there’s nothing you can do when the devil comes after you. For others, you may feel indifferent or incapable of persevering through the obstacles in your midst.
Wherever you’re at, remember when your joy is being pursued, you can pursue joy in the Lord right back. Even when the bottom line feels like a loss, you can still choose to see endurance as victory and strength when you feel Satan is after your weakness. And if you feel powerless to do this, when in doubt, just pray…even if you don’t have the words or the energy. For it’s in these moments God wants to reveal His grace, power, and understanding to you…to encourage and remind you He’s not only present in the dark times…but all the times!
My encouragement to you, friends, is to be unwavering in your reliance especially when Satan seeks to rob you of the good you carry. Rather than feel helpless or assume you’ve done something wrong, dare to let Jesus answer the call. As Billy Graham once said, “He’s the best home security system there is“; therefore, we have nothing to fear and no grounds to worry. Whatever you’re walking through, the next time happy and crappy collide, consider the intersection a sweet spot where you can lean into Jesus and receive His love anew and afresh.
The anticipation of steeped goodness igniting the day’s doldrums…
When you think about it, it’s pretty amazing how a demitasse of brewed bliss with its steamed satisfaction can affect a day’s course. Unfortunately, as this story will prove, not every pitstop can be so rewarding.
Let’s set the scene: It’s a chilly November afternoon when some colleagues and I decide to mosey down to a local Starbucks to take advantage of a ‘Buy One, Get One Free’ holiday drink special. As we approach the main entrance, we notice the coffeeshop is highly congested with a line extending outside into the brutal cold. Having experienced this location’s awkward floor plan, I guide my group to the store’s second entrance¹ and recalibrate the line as a courtesy for our fellow coffee connoisseurs.
That’s when our move is misinterpreted by an older, alternative version of “mean girls”.
“Psh…We were here first,” cried the alpha. “Yeah, we were definitely here before you guys,” said another. “Oh, yeah. I know. It’s just the line usually starts back here in the mornings,” I replied. “I wasn’t…” “Well, it starts right here today! So…move aside.”
These cranks are going to brew the day, I think to myself. Whoever these catty Katie’s are, they’re gonna regret bating this bulldog. A few snarky pelts later and I’m internal inches from summoning Seal Team Six, which on this day, is inspired by this modified scene from Disney’s Brink:
After all, it’s not like I’m the one spewing assumptions accusing a complete stranger as if his character could be so easily appraised. *Sigh*
But it’s at this point when something surreal begins to happen. While my flesh desperately wants to bless these women with a brick, somehow, someway I begin to cool off. Call it the frigid air offsetting my red-hot interior. Call it the still, stunned silence working its charm. Whatever the case, I realize the best foot forward is to…
Suddenly, my inner Taylor Swift starts jiving with the Spirit in the moment…
… knowing though these haters gonna hate, hate, hate and berate, berate, berate, I don’t have to deflate, deflate, deflate. Rather Christ in me, I can shake, shake, shake it off! Shake it off! And from there, perceive the situation for what it’s worth and the people around me for what they’re worth.
Consider the following verses and how they relate to this song:
“…as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” ~ 2 Corinthians 4:18 (ESV)
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” ~ Romans 8:18 (ESV)
“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” ~ Romans 8:37 (ESV)
“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” ~ 1 Peter 5:10 (ESV)
While we can’t control the cheats of the world or the biases of our accusers, we can turn the other cheek in faith knowing our dignity, security, and identity are in Christ. Accordingly, we don’t need to prove our intentions through self-seeking agenda when we can rest in the Father’s arms (holiday expresso in hand) knowing He’s our solution and resolution in times of distress.
Think of it this way: If our dependence is aligned, not only can we trust God in confronting our humanity but also in subduing our thirst for revenge. Even when others spit in the mud in our direction, God can still use it to open our eyes to His purposes and perspectives.
Hence, why this post exists: To remind us how the slights of man can lead to sights of God we never thought possible (more on this in a future post).
As for the moral of this story, regardless if Taylor Swift had Matthew 5:39 in mind when she wrote her acclaimed hit,don’t underestimate the value of the left cheek. Especially when you feel your values are violated, keep your heart pure, ears attuned, and hands free. In this way, you can hold onto your coffee and pour out a cup of the life you have inside you simultaneously.
Really all fantasy sports: Football, baseball, basketball, even hockey. With all major sports currently coinciding due to COVID-19, no question it’s been a busy month on the hobby-front. Yet, of all the ups and downs (mostly ups), perhaps my favorite moment came last week for one of my baseball teams.
Here’s the stage: After starting the season 7-12-1, my team goes on a heater finishing up the regular season with a league-best 30-16-4 to finish at 37-28-5. Heading into the last week of the regular season, my team’s playoff probability was <5% as I needed two teams ahead of me to go 3-6-1 or worse while I had to go 8-1-1 or better just to qualify for a tiebreaker. Well wouldn’t you know it, that’s exactly what I happened: My team goes 8-1-1, the other teams go 3-6-1, and against all odds, all three teams finish tied at 37-28-5.
Now, for most leagues, tiebreakers are decided by head-to-head matchups during the regular season; to me, this makes sense given the practice considers past performance and is adopted by most major league sports. However, for this league, the Commissioner had set it up in a unique way: Rather than award head-to-head record, the team who finished the final week with the best record would win the tiebreaker and the seeding advantage. A moot point in most circumstances, but a critical one in this case since the tiebreaker decided the last playoff berth.
All things considered, you can image my elation to have clinched a playoff berth having been left for dead at 7.5 games back with two weeks ago.
There was only one problem: I forgot to pay my league entry fee.
This probably deserves an unwind. For custom leagues, a payment deadline is generally enforced by the fantasy network provider. If even one of the managers forgets to pay on time, the league is stripped of its cash status and becomes a free league with no payout.
Initially, I had paid on time; however, that was before another manager missed the deadline costing our league its cash league status. After receiving a refund, I carried about my business assuming this league would be re-classified with no cash prizes. But as I learned following my playoff berth, the managers had decided to handle payments ‘off-grid’ six weeks prior, a memo I missed based on my fantasy app’s messaging settings. Why no one contacted me is beyond me. Perhaps they thought my team was weak and wasn’t a threat. Whatever the reason, my team overachieving into the playoffs was suddenly a legit problem for the managers who had paid and lost the tiebreaker.
As I continued discerning the dilemma, the choice became clear: I needed to own my mistake (even though I knew it wasn’t the only mistake in this situation) and inquire next steps in our next live chat. So that’s what I did. At soonest convenience, I logged in, acknowledged the error, and told the managers I’d happily pay the fee after-the-fact. Unfortunately, this pitch (pun intended) was not unanimously received given the cheap convenience involved. As one manager said, of course I would pay now; after all, I had new skin in the game.
But that’s when I made an easy call: Instead of defending my position, I surrendered my playoff spot to the runner-up manager.
Upon announcing this, the live chat blew up. Apparently, the other managers were prepping for a vote on whether or not I should remain qualified as a playoff team. For some managers, they understood the loop holes involved; for others, they were more concerned about league rules being followed to the bitter end. Yet, once I laid down my team, the other managers were floored. They couldn’t believe after all my hard work, I’d just casually offer my playoff bid to another manager. In response, I explained how it didn’t make sense for me to win a cash prize in a league I didn’t pay an entry fee for. Granted, it would have been nice if someone said something so I could have paid a second time…on time. Alas, that’s not what happened.
What did happen is while I lost a chance to earn $120, I won souls in how I handled the disappointment. For as the chat session continued, the encouraging comments poured in – most applauding my integrity, some even asking me if I would return to the league again. At first, I was like, ‘Calm down. It’s not that big a deal’, but upon second thought, I saw where they were coming from.
‘Cause truth is: Integrity isn’t only realized when a decision is hard, but also when a decision is obvious. Applying Proverbs 11:30 (ESV), while a challenging circumstance can impact integrity, or lack thereof, ultimately how it’s handled is what wins soul. For instance, a basic ethical response can diffuse conflict when it advances corporate virtue ahead of an individual goal. Additionally, it can inspire others to do likewise when selflessly expressed in sincerity. Put another way…
Sometimes, we undermine the value of humility when its exercise is plain. Even when there’s a cost, when the path to goodness is clear-cut, we can shrug it off as we walk it in fear of being self-centered.
But that’s why I’m sharing this story – to remind us to embrace the power of practical integrity and cherish the simple ways character can influence. Who knows? By buying that meal, being transparent, or extending grace, you may just win an opportunity to lead someone to Jesus because you were willing to be like him in the first place.
“There is not one piece of cosmic dust that is outside the scope of God’s sovereign providence.” ~ R.C. Sproul
Written 4/5/17; revised 6/30/20
So yesterday I’m walking in the rain to work when suddenly I notice a five-dollar bill lying in a puddle. Seizing the serendipity, I approach the curb, check both ways, and cross the street before grabbing the Lincoln. Not a bad start to a soggy Monday, I think to myself.
Hours later, I’m working on a spreadsheet when this damp, dreary bill begins to beg.
Spend me! Use me! Exchange me for coins!
At first, I consider. After all, a brewed boost on an overcast Monday makes as much sense as the cents it costs. Yet, after weighing my Starbucks balance and an empty lunch box, I decide to pass. Who needs a bland blonde when you have cash in your wallet anyway?
Fast-forward to today and the temptation is real. Like yesterday, I have no lunch as my weekly tradition of forgetting it is now an epidemic. Granted, when you’re spending the night at your in-laws and have to switch cars with your wife so you can pick up your son and dog after work, it makes sense lunch would be an afterthought. Whatever the case, I give into my Jimmy John’s craving and order a sub online.
Problem solved. Appetite quenched. My little Lincoln still snug in its billfold.
Hours later, I’m on course to pick up Caeden from daycare when suddenly a sinister light appears out of the corner of my eye.
Alas, the gaslight is not only illuminating but flashing to the tune of 12 miles to spare. Consequently, like any rational person on his last half-gallon, I channel my inner Kim Walker:
And wouldn’t you know it? The traffic cooperates, an exit opens up, and the situation makes like Desperation Band finding me at Shell with six miles left. For the second time today, crisis averted.
Admiring the relief, I park at a stall and head to the cashier – the tune of Taylor Swift‘s “Out of the Woods” ringing in my head. Unfortunately, it’s at this moment when I make another startling revelation. Reaching into my coat pocket, I sense a painful lack of presence, a void that could only mean one thing:
My wallet was in my car which wasn’t my car because my wife had my car since her car is the van and the van has Caeden’s seat and it was my day to pick him up.
So now I’m stranded, inches from fuel and salt & vinegar potato chips but hours away from the nearest family member. Seriously, it’s almost as if someone had graffitied a target on my back. What next, I wonder. This day is clearly out to get me.
But then it hits me. Before I left for the day, I had switched the $5 into my pant pocket which meant though my wallet was missing, I had just enough cash to buy enough gas to get to Kingston Springs. Once there, I could then rendezvous with Lyssah’s mom, pick up a check, and convert into the $20 I needed for the 45-minute trek home to Spring Hill. For the third time in one day, sovereignty had smiled down. After a long and weary day, I was finally headed home.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: Of everything going on in the world today, this minor tale of fortunate happenings is hardly worth mentioning. And to that, I would completely understand…
…but ultimately disagree.
You see, as in any story, there are morals – themes of truth woven into the fabric of what it stands for. And while my case may have been a matter of convenience, the way I see it, when God does a good, great, or epic thing, who I am to stay silent?
Even if the good “pales” in comparison to what we deem a supernatural wonder, the truth is God is always looking out for us in the big and small, from destiny to daily bread. Hence, why I keep coming back to this phrase:
God knows exactly what we need exactly when we need it.
To accept this reality is not to over-spiritualize, but to realize God’s compassion as versatile and not entitled to a master plan. Sometimes, God just wants to help because that’s who He is and for some of you, He’s wanting you to be okay with that. Given He’s given you everything for goodness and godliness (2 Peter 1:3), why not affirm the faithfulness and providence of God? Why not rest in the One who not only helps in the grander schemes unfolding but the meager stresses of life as well?
Perhaps some of you reading this have encountered similar situations. If so, the stage is yours to share your story. If not, I bid you farewell and pray God’s richest be your highest.