True Poverty

Jesus, my Brother and Lord, I pray as I write these words for the grace to be truly poor before you, to recognize and accept my weakness and humanness, to forgo the indecent luxury of self-hatred, to celebrate your mercy and trust in your power when I’m at my weakest, to rely on your love no matter what I may do, to seek no escapes from my innate poverty, to accept loneliness when it comes instead of seeking substitutes, to live peacefully without clarity or assurance, to stop grandstanding and trying to get attention, to do the truth quietly without display, to let the dishonesties in my life fade away, to belong no more to myself, to not desert my post when I give the appearance of staying at it, to cling to my humanity, to accept the limitations and full responsibility of being a human being – really human and really poor in Christ our Lord. – (Brennan Manning: Reflections for Ragamuffins)

The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;
it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.
Lamentations 3:25-26

Waiting on the Lord is something I’m learning a little more about than I ever cared to know, quite honestly. It is one thing to say that I belong to Jesus and that I have a certain hope as a Christian. It is quite another to say that I am willing to let go of my excuses, facades, strip myself of all my favorite substitutes, and lay myself bare – poor before Him (as Brennan Manning’s prayer so vulnerably articulates) and simply wait.

About six months before Tricia passed away I was having a session with my counselor. I was tired, frustrated, and numb. I began to share about all the ways that my life seemed to be dictated to me. My reality felt very decided for me by my circumstances as a caregiver and while I complained about it on one hand, there was a certain safety in it on the other.

After listening to my “I feel so stuck” speech for the bazillion-and-seventh time my counselor became unusually quiet and began to speak in a very cautionary tone as if she was treading into the conversational equivalent of a walk across a frozen pond.

“David, when Tricia dies I believe you will experience some very anxious days. There is likely to be a level of anxiety that you haven’t encountered even in her illness.”

“No,” I snapped back, “I may be a lot of things – sad, regretful, heartbroken, and even relieved, but anxious is NOT going to be one of the things I feel. I can promise you that.”

She smiled and continued her verbal trek across the icy Lake David.

“Well, time will tell,” she said. “But I believe Tricia has represented a barrier between you and several things that you haven’t had to confront yet. Suddenly it will be open season on things like vocational changes, new relationships, professional opportunities, personal risks, – all things that you haven’t even considered, let alone pursued simply because of your situation. You will be free and fearful at the same time and you will have to honestly ask yourself what you are going to do with these new options. You need to be prepared for that. As much as you’ve been shackled by her illness, you’ve also been protected by it and losing that safety net can produce anxiety.”

Sure enough, in the days and weeks that passed after losing Tricia I began a journey of restlessness like I’ve never experienced. I felt as if I didn’t belong anywhere. Nothing in my life was the same. I was no longer married. I lived alone in the house we built together. I had too many choices. No one necessarily needed me. Life was moving on and I felt as if I was left standing at the station waving at it.

When the subject of a season of fasting here at CCC first came to my attention I initially felt that it was just one more time I was being asked to give something up. Upon more prayerful reflection it occurred to me that I needed to treat this as a season of investment instead of a season of doing without. I realized as I approached praying for our church, prayer for change, and prayer for direction for us as a body I am demonstrating that I need that prayer for me. Life without excuses and substitutes is not for the faint hearted.

I’m finding that peace can reside in the fear as well as the freedom. And waiting on the Lord is simply waiting – quietly, patiently, and purposefully as we acknowledge all of our human limitations. For me, embracing the poverty of Christ is less about what I sacrifice and more about embracing His.

Skydiving Buddies

I am calling this my year of jumping out of airplanes. That’s my way of saying I’m finally tackling some opportunities I’ve avoided for a number of personal reasons.

One of these is a Christmas CD, which I finally decided to make this summer. The follow up to that was a concert to premiere it. That happened last Sunday evening, Dec 2. It was truly one of the musical and personal high points of my life!

As I look back on this year I realize that I’ve said “yes” to more things than “no”.

For example, I’ve taken on the role of worship leader for LifeWay Men. These will be nationwide events where I will not only lead worship but will also have the opportunity to share my story. The first of which will be in July at the Curb Center in Nashville. LifeWay has been very generous to me with their audience and even promoted my Christmas project on their LifeWayworship.com site for download as a way of introducing me.

I was also invited to post weekly worship service outlines built around a feature song of the week for Essentialworship.com. It is a great opportunity to share some of my worship perspectives while highlighting songs that the publisher wants to make their audience aware of.

I attribute a lot of this newfound initiative to having a skydiving buddy of sorts – a best friend with whom I bounce off my ideas and goals and with whom I dream aloud. He shares his with me as well and as we begin to push and pull one another along there is a synergy that develops.

The best thing about a skydiving buddy is that they are happier for your success than you are. They help you critically assess something while at the same time throwing you a parade for accomplishing it.

My best friend, Jonathan is my case in point. He brainstormed and helped me flesh out a concert that would highlight the material and weave a theme of anticipation throughout it. Jonathan did everything from wrapping huge gift boxes for props on stage to thinking through the entire look, writing a great poem for the night, singing, and sharing his entire family with me for the weekend as we pulled it together.

Jonathan decided that my CD project deserved to be celebrated as well so he and his wife Jenny pulled off the best retro-Christmas CD release party afterward complete with homemade cookies she and other volunteers made. She brought vintage Christmas decorations she found around town and it looked like I was back in my childhood. It represented literally hours and hours of thoughtful preparation and loving attention to details.

That is more than a skydiving buddy. That is the best friend that you only get one of in your life.

I tell everyone that they need to jump out of airplanes if they want to experience what God has placed in their hearts to accomplish. Just don’t do it alone. You need that person that you strap yourself to who tells you to remember to breathe and makes sure your parachute opens.

Thanks, Johnny Boy! Well done!

What Is Your “IT”?

Some months ago my literary agent arranged a dinner for me with an editor from Boston to pitch my book. Normally agents keep authors and publishers apart until the process looks promising. Then, they bring us out into the light praying we don’t stick a fork in our heads once the editing powers begin to press us with observations regarding our work.

As we began to discuss the specifics of my story she began asking a lot of very specific and direct questions, which I found a bit puzzling since she had read my proposal and synopsis prior to our meeting.

Her questions ranged from what it is about my story that is going to make someone want to read it, to what I want the reader to come away thinking differently about, and about a hundred other questions in between.

As I began answering her questions she listened intently. She would pause, put down her fork, and then ask yet another insightful and difficult question. I began to fear that I wasn’t making myself clear so I would repeat myself or try to find another way to say the same thing. This line of probing went on from the salad through most of the main course.

Finally, she leaned in and said, “I get the whole ironic nature of your life and everything that felt like one big contradiction about you. I need to know what the ‘IT’ is! What are you really about?”

After my futile attempts at satisfying her pressing inquiries I was finally able to let down my guard and process aloud what she was really asking.

“I’m not writing this hoping that people put down my book and say what a sucky life I’ve had,” I said. “I’m not writing so that I can shock them with my drunk-a-logues or my sad sick wife sagas. I’m not even writing to confuse anyone with my conflicted spiritual perspectives that came from all of this. I’m writing about the silence between the instant the conductor raises his baton and the time that the most beautiful music is unleashed upon us. I’m writing about the tension in the silence. That’s where I live, and that’s where everyone lives. I’m not writing to change people. I’m writing to change the way we think about it. My story is just a conduit.”

In that moment she smiled more broadly than she had all night. She slapped the table and leaned in and said, “That’s your ‘IT’! That’s your book and that is what you are really writing about. Now that you know your ‘IT’ you will tell your same story from a completely different perspective and that is the one that the reader needs to read.”

How many of us go through our lives and never find the “IT” – that thing that we are really about? “IT” changes the way we tell the story.