Archive

Tag Archives: choices

When was the last time you took the time to just sit and do nothing? Waiting in line, at a traffic light, or for a medical appointment doesn’t count. Seriously, when was the last time you walked into a room, sat down, and did nothing – for awhile? Scheduled, or unscheduled? Or, when was the last time you went for a walk on the beach, a stroll through the woods, or sat on an isolated hilltop? If an example doesn’t leap out at you, stop, think about it for a minute, and try to remember the last time.

The last time I allowed myself to just be, was quite awhile ago. When I think back to the event, I remember feeling free, peaceful, and relaxed. In fact, coming out of that time away, better prepared me to face the challenges of life. Family, finances, and career pressures seemed to just slip away with the breeze. My guess is, it was the same for you.

It’s been said that just 10-15 minutes of meditation will allow us to be better prepared for the day and more productive overall. But I have to admit, usually, I’m so sleep deprived that I’d rather hit the snooze button and get an extra nine minutes of sleep. Often I’ll hit the snooze button two or three times. Not only do I miss out on some quality quiet time in the morning, but then I am rushed to get out of the house on time, I eat breakfast in the car, and I miss out on some quality time with my family. From there, the day just gets worse.

The Bible tells us that in the last days of Earth’s history, “many will rush here and there, and knowledge will increase.” ~Daniel 12:4 Too many times, I’ve found myself rushing from one event to the next. Driving too fast, with a burger in one hand, the cell phone in the other, and guzzling caffeinated beverages to fuel the fire.

Several years ago I found myself unable to sit still – even if I had the time. I didn’t know how to sit still. I didn’t want to sit still. If I was in a meeting, listening to a lecture, or working on a project that required me to sit still, I would chew gum, trim my fingernails, or doodle. At the very least, my foot would be tapping and I’d constantly watch the clock.

I finally realized that I was trying to do too much in too little time. Not only was I sleep deprived, but I was stressed, physically unhealthy, and often ill. It seemed as if I would get some form of a cold or flu about once a month. Plus I was cranky and unpleasant. I had to ask myself, is this really the way I want to live?

One day, I sat down and took stock of my time. I found that out of a 168 hour week, I was busy doing something at least 130 of those hours. This left me with 38 hours to sleep, eat, exercise, read, watch TV, and chill. In other words, I was left with 5½ hours a day to be a human being, instead of a human doing. Obviously this was unworkable.

It was at this point I discovered the concept of a sabbath day’s rest. To take one day out of seven to do nothing that will further my position in the rat race. Nothing job related, nothing that I have to do, and nothing that would cause me to feel rushed, busy, or stressed. Indeed, I reserved this day for things that would restore my soul – emotionally, physically, spiritually, and socially.

Of course one cannot simply decide to do this, it takes preparation and planning. There are many changes necessary to free up a 24 hour block of time that enables me to rest, recharge, regenerate, and recreate. For me, it is about priorities and values. I make constant choices during the week, that allow me to enjoy a weekly sabbatical. It takes discipline and is always a challenge, but the benefits are tremendous.

Now, almost 30 years later, since I made this choice, I am healthier, calmer, and I can sit still once in awhile. Where it used to be common for me to eat all of my meals in the car, now that is a rare event. I no longer need stimulants or depressants to manage my sleep and wakefulness. I also have the time to read, go for walks, and chill with my family. It is a great place to be.

Once a week, I put away my cares and relax. And about once a month, I take the time to go for a walk on the beach, a stroll through a forest, or to sit on a hilltop watching creation pass me by. Life is good.

“Remember what happened to Lot’s wife!” ~Luke 17:32

Thirteen years ago, as a part of my seminary experience, I was asked to preach a sermon on the above text. I really had no idea what it meant, or where to start. Over the next few weeks, as I studied the story of Sodom, Gomorrah, Lot, and his family, my eyes were opened.

It’s really a fascinating story – especially the personal issues of Lot and his family. Although there are many layers to the story, I came away with a new understanding in light of Jesus’ words in Luke 17. Indeed, while Lot’s wife may get a lot of criticism for the act that led her to be turned into a pillar of salt, my study helped me realize Lot’s role in all of this.

In fact, one author says that it was Lot’s hesitation and fear that caused his whole family to hesitate and be afraid. Lot was “stupefied by sorrow” and unable to leave his home. This fear, this sorrow, and this hesitation almost cost him his life – and certainly led to the loss of his wife.

This story has haunted me for the past thirteen years. I never want to be a man who hesitates and drags my family back. And yet, I never believed there was a risk of this happening. I love adventure, I pursue risk, and I welcome change. And yet, the story still haunted me.

A week ago Friday, I was a mess of tears, confession, and understanding. I realized – with naked humility, how fearful I have been over the last several years. Now, in a climax of pain, we were selling most of our belongings, giving our house back to the bank, and leaving friends and family for destinations unknown. I was paralyzed, exhausted, and numb. I was stupefied by fear.

The Backstory:

In 2007, as we approached the end of our church planting contract, I grew anxious that our funding would not be renewed and our blessed community of faith would die. My fear caused me to stop leading and start pushing. My passion for my friends, my team leaders, and those who were finding a new way to relate to God caused me to lose sight of our original vision. Instead of trust and courage, I became a driven and burned out tool.

This attitude created a self-fulfilling prophecy of doom and we soon found ourselves living in Oregon, pastoring two traditional rural churches. My Smiling Son was just six-weeks old, and my Wonderful Wife did not adjust well to the dreary Oregon gray. It was a perfect storm of postpartum depressionseasonal affective disorder, and leadership burnout. I really tried to rise above the storm and be the professional I was called to be, but my concern for my family far outweighed my concern for my career. Unfortunately, I expected our new church family to understand. They did not.

In the Fall of 2009, we suddenly found ourselves without an income. My fear spiked. Now, with another gray Oregon Winter approaching, house payments looming, and no work to be found – I sunk into my own deep depression. I was angry, but with no way to express it. I was terrified, but with nowhere to run. I was discouraged, but seemingly, without understanding. I, like Lot, was stupefied by sorrow.

It seemed like a good idea to reacquire my paramedic license, and that proved to be fairly simple. Ten months later, I was employed as a working paramedic in Portland. The pieces seemed to fit together just in time. Our mortgage adjustment was dependent on employment and we were able to stave off foreclosure. For a few months, things seemed to be moving forward again.

Unfortunately, this paramedic gig required a three hour round trip commute to Portland, four days a week. At first I was working day shifts, but I soon found myself working nights. The hours were killing me – and hence my family. They never saw me, I was grouchy and sleep deprived, and the job is considered one of the 10 most stressful today. In addition, I was making 30% less than I was as a pastor and we were unable to stay out of debt. (Although we had no financial debt, we avoided putting new tires on our vehicles, the kids hadn’t seen the dentist in a couple of years, and we put off many high cost living expenses.)

Finally, in a desperate attempt to stay afloat, we quit making mortgage payments in order to take care of some necessary expenses. The house was now worth about $100k less than we originally paid for it, and we were hoping the bank would renegotiate the loan. We didn’t cause the housing bubble, nor did we do anything to make it burst. We didn’t buy too much home, but over the last five years, we’ve lost over $100,000 in real estate capital.

The bank denied our loan modification and moved us into the foreclosure process. At this point, we were on a fast track to losing our house – and our pending short-sale fell through. With foreclosure pending, we began to pack.

Unemployment – Again:

During my recent two years as a paramedic, I tracked my sleep. I was averaging six hours sleep per day. This wasn’t working. If you’re familiar with sleep deprivation, you know it will kill you. I was gaining weight, getting depressed, and slowly losing my ability to cope with my life, family, and job. I seemed to be getting sick all the time and I had no PTO (vacation or sick-leave) left. I was trapped – again. There appeared to be no way out. This job was killing me and killing my family.

With the impending foreclosure, we began to make plans to move closer to my employer. Our thinking was that I could get more sleep if I didn’t have that three-hour round trip commute – plus, we wouldn’t be spending $600 a month (this includes maintenance, insurance, and all operating costs – more than just fuel) on commuting costs – another big drain.

But as we prayed about this, we felt impressed that the Lord had something else in mind. As far back as last January, we heard Him saying, “get ready.” We didn’t know for what, but we knew we would be moving.

In May, I reached a point where the stress of the job and the sleep deprivation were too much to bare. I could no longer sit, cooped up in that ambulance, for 12 hours straight – four long nights a week. At first I went out on a stress leave, but eventually I resigned (see this great article). My Wonderful Wife said she’d rather live in a tent than to continue living the way we’d been living.

Liquidating and Packing:

We sold our furniture and other things through Craigslist and garage sales. We threw out several pick-up loads of junk and we donated equal amounts to charity. Then came the tough task of packing. This whole process involved giving up valuable possessions. Some had real financial value, that we sold for pennies on the dollar. Other items had some real emotional and nostalgic value. And still others, had very real and practical value, but would cost too much to store, move, or keep.

We spent hours procession our stuff (affectionately referred to as crap!). Should I keep this box of electrical supplies I spent $45 on, or sell it all for a dollar in the garage sale? Should I keep this cherished item, lovingly painted by my late Mom, or give it to a charity? What about this toaster? What about these books (we got rid of about 15 boxes of books)? The emotional and physical toll, of combing through our stuff was huge.

But it’s when the time came to load everything in the truck that my energy began to fail. As I sized up the remaining boxes, and estimated what would fit into the 800 cubic foot truck, I knew we still had to eliminate about 50% of our remaining stuff. This is where the really tough choices happened. Going through one’s closet and throwing out perfectly good shirts, pants, and socks. Throwing away shelves, tables, and chairs. Giving away cherished artwork, favorite books, and food. It was exhausting.

This was the day my friend Terre came over and gave us a boost – but we are still only barely packed.

Originally we planned on leaving our house Sunday, September 30th. But as the weekend approached, we knew this was unreasonable and we moved our targeted date to October first. That day came and went, but we hopefully expected to be out the door by Tuesday afternoon. As Tuesday crept by, it seemed as if we were making very little progress. On Wednesday, my Wonderful Wife proclaimed we were living the movie Groundhog Day. Everyday, we got up, faced our discouragement, moved boxes of crap around, and then went fell into our makeshift bed (blankets on the floor).

It was daunting.

My fear and discouragement mounted to the point where I realized I was truly living out my worst fear – to be stupefied by pain, sorrow, and fear.

Broken:

On Thursday morning, October 4th, with no end in sight, I was ready to give up. Of course I couldn’t – but we felt so alone. Several people had helped us, but there was still so much to do. We felt alone, discouraged, and devastated  Emotionally  physically, and spiritually – we were done. But we plodded forward, to once again pull out the blankets and collapse into our makeshift bed.

On Friday morning, I could barely bring myself to crawl from between the blankets. I prayed for strength, prayed for relief, and prayed for a miracle. After breakfast, we sat on the floor and for the first time I admitted my fear. It began to pour out. I realized, for the first time, my failure in trusting God – for the past several years I had been trying to make it happen on my own strength.

“Then he said to me, ‘This is what the LORD says to Zerubbabel: It is not by force nor by strength, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies'” ~Zechariah

This had been a text we have frequently referred to for the past several years. This has been our goal in ministry, and every other aspect of life. But on this particular Friday morning, I came to realize I failed to fully rely on God. I failed myself, I failed my family, I was hopeless. I wept, I confessed, I prayed, and I sought God and reconciliation to His ways. My Wonderful Wife listened, and we prayed together. I was broken, and healed.

That afternoon, we hit the road – but it was late. So we spent the next 36 hours at my brother’s house before finally getting on the road on Sunday – fully, a week later than we planned.

(to be continued…. I read listened to a book on the road and I can’t wait to tell you what I learned – you will find the continuation here)

 

 

“Necessity is the mother of invention”

or so they say – my modification is: “Laziness is the mother of invention.

The other day, on the way home from the beach, we were talking about this. Somehow we got on the topic of lawn mowing and I was explaining to my Wonderful Wife why I enjoy mowing the lawn. First, there is the sensory deprivation and the alone time. Like running a backhoe or other piece of heavy equipment, it leaves me with time to think and process. Of course I’d rather be on some secluded mountain top or lonely forest, but given the drawbacks of living as a hermit, I’ll take the noise of an internal combustion engine and the isolation it affords.

The other reason I enjoy this experience is the mental challenge of being efficient and creative. I am constantly seeking ways to move the mower around the yard without overlapping previous passes, finding ways to avoid obstacles as I incorporate them into the flow, and remembering the paths that worked and those that didn’t. Every time I mow the lawn, it is like working a puzzle and trying to find a more efficient way of doing it.

I’m constantly seeking to make it energy efficient.” I said.

That’s when my Wonderful Wife had an aha moment. The book she is reading, Marriage Shock, mentioned that men are always calculating energy – primarily their own. It clicked – it’s not just me.

Could this be why my Dad and my Father-in-law are always sharing their MPG scores and the price they just paid for gas? Is this why men are obsessed with sports scores, or always want the biggest, baddest vehicle – which may not be, in fact, the one with the largest wheels or the highest horsepower; it might be the one with the best MPG, or hauls the most kids?

I don’t know about all that – but after she mentioned this, I can see it many aspects of life. And I know it affects much of my attitude, personality, and behavior.

When we were deciding how many kids to have, for me it wasn’t an emotional decision – it was about energy. Being an introvert, with a relatively low EQ, and a history of brokenness in my past, I knew then, and know now, that I only have so much energy to contribute to the raising of children. My joke is, “I don’t want the kids to outnumber the adults, in case there is a mutiny.” Or, “I want to stay in a man-to-man defense rather than a zone defense.

The real reason is, I know I need a certain amount of alone time, quiet time, and time to recharge. I know that if the noise level grows too intense, I get grouchy. Does this mean I couldn’t handle more kids? Absolutely not.  If the Lord chose to shower us with more kids, I would step up and continue to be the best father to all of them. However, optimally, I know my limitations.

And now, due to a recent graphic and article I discovered, I realize as an introvert, I base a lot of my choices around energy conservation. According to this article, extroverts gain energy from others, and introverts are always giving away their energy to others. So, this makes me selectively social.

When I’m asked to attend a social event, I assess how much fuel (energy) I have in my tank, and how much energy it will take to interact with those at the even, then I decide whether I can attend or not. My wife is energized by crowds and social situations, so for her, she automatically wants to attend different events; but for me, I have to assess the energy requirements and my supply.

This is why church attendance doesn’t always fit my schedule. If it’s been a hard week, I will get more spiritual support in spending quiet time alone, rather than among a crowd of strangers. This is why I wish there were more church worship services that catered to the night owls of the world. I’m just not quite ready to face the world before noon.

This is why our first couple of years in Scappoose were so hard. Our life was in disarray, and we lived a life of exhaustion, I just didn’t have enough energy to complete the marathon of a day at the church – and that was the one day everyone expected me to be on.

This whole idea of energy conservation is an amazing one to me, and a great revelation. Have you noticed this about the introverts and men in your life? Men, fathers, have you noticed how this affects your interactions with your family or others?

I realize now, than if I’m going to be a man with a positive Daddytude, I’m going to have to conserve enough mental, social, spiritual, and physical energy to be with my family – I can’t give to them the leftovers of a an empty tank. I have to serve them from a tank that can still go the distance.

I would never attempt to climb a tall mountain without being well rested, nor would I fail to get enough rest before a major job interview; but for some reason, we think we can be dads and husbands without enough energy in our tank. That’s wrong – parenting, and being a good spouse, are far more important than any job or mountain climb! Read More

%d bloggers like this: