What Are You Grateful For?

Have you ever just stopped to be grateful?

In the past three weeks, I have shared many things about struggle, temptation, being still, addiction, and other things that can sometimes be hard to deal with. And I believe we need to talk about them more. We need to be more vulnerable. We need to be more honest about our struggles.

But we also need to be more grateful. We need to name the things in our lives we are thankful for, even when we think we have nothing to be thankful for.

So what is it for you?

It could be anything. Some days, I am able to list item after item of things I am thankful for. Other days, about the only thing I can name is that I got out of bed that morning.

I have met people who were facing some of the most difficult struggles anyone could face in life. Yet they were grateful.

I have met people in the midst of grief and loss. Yet they were grateful.

I often hear stories of victimization of the worst kinds. Yet the victims have become grateful.

So what are you thankful for?

Today, I am thankful for my students at FaithWorks of Abilene. Today, I am thankful for the young people at the church I attend. Today, I am thankful for my family.

So even in the midst of fatigue and exhaustion and worry, today I can say I am grateful.

What about you? What are you grateful for?

I Am Sick of Being Fine

I originally shared this post 3 years ago. It is still true. But at least I use the word “fine” a lot less. I would like to inspire all of us to be more honest when we ask and answer “How are you?”

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I suffer from a chronic illness. It’s called “Being Fine.” I have been fine a lot. Many days I tell people I am fine. In fact, a common response when asked how I am is, “Fine.”

What a crock.

Now don’t get me wrong: most of the time I am feeling pretty good. Most days I am able to cope with all that life throws at me. The majority of the time I am a well-adjusted man approaching middle age.

But when I say, “I’m fine”, chances are pretty good I’m lying through my teeth.

So why do I do it? Why do I tell people I’m fine? I blame two people: me and you.

I blame myself for obvious reasons. If I am struggling I should reach out for help. If I am hurting I should ask for relief. If I am in need I should ask people who have plenty.
But I don’t. I don’t want you to know that I am struggling, or hurting, or in need. I want you to think I am completely self-sufficient all the time. So I blame myself.

But I also blame you. Because when you ask me how I feel, you don’t want to know. You want to hear that I’m doing fine. Because if I tell you that I am fine you can tell me you are fine and we can both go on our separate ways. You see, if I dare tell you I’m hurting, you may just have to open up and talk about your hurts, too.

How much of our hurting could be lessened if we would all be honest? I’m not suggesting we all turn into a bunch of whiners and complainers, but when we are truly hurting perhaps we should admit it. Maybe if we stop thinking we need to put on a mask of invincibility we could avoid the pain that comes from isolating ourselves. And telling people we are fine is indeed a form of isolation.

So how do we overcome this vicious illness?

Be honest with your question. Only ask someone how they are doing when you are ready and willing to hear the answer. Don’t let people give you some brush off answer and get away with it. Look them in the eye and say, “How are you?”

Be honest with your answer. You don’t have to go into great detail. You don’t have to give your entire life story. But you can simply say, “I’m hurting right now,” or, “I just need a little encouragement.”

It amazes and saddens me to know that when I assemble with 2000+ people at church on Sunday morning, almost all of them will say they are fine. And maybe for the majority of them, that is probably true.

But how many people are hurting and putting on a mask for everyone to see? Am I paying attention? Am I missing the signs, the words, the clues that something else is going on? Am I too busy to concern myself with someone else’s life? Are my eyes set on where I am going instead of the person right in front of me? Am I one of the ones pretending to be fine when in truth I need someone to hear me, encourage me, cry with me, pray with me?

I suffer from being fine. I would venture to guess that you do, too. How about we make a promise to ourselves, to each other, and to God to start being honest with each other—it’s the only cure I know.

Who Are You Going To Church With?

9-10 Do you need reminding that the unjust have no share in the blessings of the kingdom of God? Do not be misled. A lot of people stand to inherit nothing of God’s coming kingdom, including those whose lives are defined by sexual immorality, idolatry, adultery, sexual deviancy, theft, greed, drunkenness, slander, and swindling. 11 Some of you used to live in these ways, but you are different now; you have been washed clean, set apart, restored, and set on the right path in the name of the Lord Jesus, the Anointed, by the Spirit of our living God. (I Corinthians 6:9-11, The Voice).

I find this passage convicting. And not because of words like “unjust” and “inherit nothing.” Those are pretty scary terms, to be sure.

But for me, the most convicting part of this verse is “Some of you used to live in these ways….”

And if I can be completely honest, I think that is the part that is (or SHOULD be) the most convicting phrase for churches today.

I think we have forgotten how we used to live and have grown to look down at the very people we should be bringing in and lifting up.

I do realize there is another issue. Some of us have lived our lives in the church. Some people were church members nine months before they were born. So there may truly be a sense in which they can say, “I never lived like that!” Good for you. I am glad you never had to experience the hurt and pain that comes with immorality, greed, drunkenness and all those other things.

But we still need Jesus. We are still incomplete without Him.

So we come back to what we have forgotten. When Paul wrote these words, he was not writing to people who were all those negative things. He was writing to the people who used to be all those negative things.

“Some of you used to live in these ways.”

That is Paul’s audience. The people who used to be like that. But are not any longer. Because they found a relationship with God. Because they found a community of believers who would walk alongside them. Because they found people who could hold them accountable. Because they connected with others who came in contact with God’s grace.

But then something happened.

Somewhere along the way, those of us who have received grace and been restored forgot where we came from. We forgot what we needed. We forgot how much help we received.

And we started turning our backs; looking down our noses; tsk-ing.

We said to the people who needed church the most, “You are not welcome here until you can look more like church people ought to look.”

And maybe that’s too harsh. Maybe that’s unfair. Maybe that is too much of an over-generalization.

But let me ask you this: how many people have told you they are afraid to go to church? They are afraid they will be judged? They are afraid people will look down on them? They are afraid that they won’t look good enough? They are afraid they won’t fit in?

There are reasons people think that. There is too much evidence to support their fear.

Too many churches are filled with too many people who have forgotten “you used to live that way.” Too many churches are filled with too many people who have forgotten that they once needed grace.

And if we are going to become the churches, the communities, the places of refuge that God wants us to be, we need to remember.

We need to remember where we came from. We need to remember the grace we have received. We need to remember what it feels like to be lost, broken, and hurting.

And we need to say, “Please let us walk alongside you. You are welcome here.”

Breathe!

Breathe.

Just wherever you are, whatever you are doing…breathe.

Take a deep breath in. Hold in. Now slowly exhale.

Do it again.

Re-read those four lines as often as you need to.

Really. I mean it.

Breathe.

When you have followed these instructions as much as you need to (and you probably need to more than you care to admit) come back and read the rest of the post. I’ll wait. The words will still be here.

 

 

Okay. I am going to trust that you did it. Breathing is something we take for granted. We figure since we are still alive, we must actually be breathing. And I guess to some extent, that is true. Biologically speaking, we must breathe in order to survive. So since we are surviving there is some level we are all breathing.

But breathing can do so much more than help us barely maintain our lives. Breathing is healing. Breathing slows us down. Breathing can slow our physical bodies which can slow our minds and vice versa. Breathing can hopefully help us slow down enough to be able to go sleep.

But we don’t take time to do it enough. So I want to challenge you to breathe. Slow down. Take a deep breath in. Hold it. Slowly exhale. Repeat. Give yourself the time you need to slow down.

Now go back to the top of this post and do it all over again.

You need it.

Courage Is…

I am afraid of the dark. I may be 40, married with three kids, and working a professional career. I may have degrees and licenses. I may be well-educated enough to know that the bogeyman does not exist.

But I am afraid of the bogeyman who hides in the dark.

I quickly learn where the light switches in any given room are. Because when I walk in, I want to turn the lights on as quickly as possible. I hate having to wake up and use the bathroom in the middle of the night because I am then torn: wanting to turn all the lights on along the way versus not wanting to fully wake up so I can go back to sleep easily. I get spooked in dark places pretty easily.

And I used to think it was “courage” to walk through a dark room without turning any lights on. I used to think it was “courage” to go and look under my kids’ beds at night to convince them there were no monsters under the bed, while all along being scared that I would indeed find monsters under the bed.

But I don’t think that’s courage. (Maybe a little bit, but not really.)

I witnessed courage tonight. A group of people who have been overlooked, taken for granted, underappreciated, and silenced gathered together to say, “This is enough.” They did so passionately, lovingly, caringly, and with a spirit of reconciliation. They made themselves vulnerable. They shared their tears as much as they shared their concerns. They wanted to be heard.

And I believe they were.

THAT is courage.

Courage is many things.

Courage is standing up and saying, “I have been hurt.”

Courage is opening up to a trusted person and saying, “I need help.”

Courage is standing with someone who does not have the same privilege you do.

Courage is looking cancer in the eye and saying, “This disease will not beat me.”

Courage is acknowledging that something you have believed your entire life may be wrong.

Courage is looking at something insurmountable, and trudging ahead anyway.

I saw courage tonight. And it was a lot more than turning on a light switch.

It was a bold declaration.