10 Years at TheGathering Fort Mill

By my approximation, I’ve led worship at my church somewhere around 500 times in the last 10 years. It’s not complicated math. There are at least 52 Sundays per year (although in some instances there can be 53), and barring a few cancellations for weather or the random “spend Sunday with your family” thing, we’ve been on Centre Circle for each of those. And for a vast majority of those years, I was the sole worship leader, which meant that barring major sickness–and even through such things in many cases–I was there on Sunday. During my time as a student at Ashland University, there were two Sundays a summer where I was gone, and there were other events, like the morning after my wedding and during my honeymoon, that kept me away, along with some visits from friends who offered me reprieves from time to time, but mostly, I was there. To me, it has been an honor and a privilege to be there each of those weeks, and while I appreciated the weeks away, there was always a tinge of something missing when I was gone. In all honesty, the number probably comes to something less than 500, but it’s close, and I’m proud to have been a part of each of those, through all the highs and lows that have come throughout the last 10 years.

This is beginning to sound like I’m working up to an announcement, so let me stop the train before it hits the station: I’m not going anywhere, and barring any unexpected occurrences, I fully expect to be part of TheGathering for as long as the church continues to exist. But this Sunday we are celebrating our 10th Anniversary (although Facebook tells me that tomorrow is the actual day we launched 10 years ago), and I thought it was a good opportunity to take time to reflect on those years.

In some ways I have no idea how to really do that. I don’t remember much about that first Sunday, and photos of the day and our first years look foreign to me. The space itself looks different, all the people have gotten older or moved on to something else, and it’s crazy to me to think how little of our launch team remains 10+ years later. We’ve gone through lots of musicians over that time–although my good friend and multitalented instrumentalist David has been with me for about 9 out of the 10–and this has impacted our abilities to be flexible or multifaceted in our musical choices at various points in our history, often making it difficult to provide our ever-faithful group of players chances to just attend the gathering without having something to do. I can’t really express how vital their faithfulness has been to making my life a little bit easier, even though I often feel guilty for using them up as much as I can. I’ll miss someone if I start naming names, outside of our current crew of Lisa, Tony, Dale and Aaron, but I am thankful for all of you, no matter how long you were part of our little band.

TheGathering has never been a large church, and I’ll admit that sometimes that’s been hard to look around and see all these churches around us growing at astronomical rates, being financially stable and beyond and really appealing to large swaths of people. Sometimes I wonder why God chose them and not us; sometimes I’ve blamed myself, as if there is something inefficient in me that has somehow reflected negatively on the church as a whole. Then I look back and I see how far we’ve come. Most church plants flame out within the first couple of years, but for some reason God has seen fit to keep providing for us and enabling us to stay around. It’s not because we’re reaching masses or because we have eight locations meeting twenty-five times on Sunday morning, but I choose to believe it’s because we’re still doing good and faithful work for those who we have reached and impacted. People go to large churches, in part, because it’s easier to disappear there, but also because they tend to have resources to do more outside ministries or because those types of churches appeal to them for myriad other reasons–I’m not here to cast any judgement on anyone for that choice. But I can say that God must be enabling us to do something right, otherwise He would have removed us from the landscape long ago.

I have no idea what’s next for TheGathering Fort Mill. The church we planted out of has been gone for several years now, and while we maintain a small but faithful core group, we’ve not seen major growth in many years. That’s not to say it won’t happen, but it is to realize that I don’t know. My prayer is that we’ve done what we’re meant to do, and that if we’re looking back 10 years from now on 20 years as a church we can see what God has done to guide us there; or if we’re looking back on a church that ran its course, we’ll know that we’ve run it well. In the end, I think that’s all we can judge our church on.

Join us for our 10th Anniversary service on Sunday February 3 at 3545 Centre Circle, Suite B in Fort Mill. We’d be happy to have you.

The Wait is Over

Over the course of the last month or so, I’ve been keeping you, lovely readers, up to date on the happenings at our house. If you haven’t kept up with the saga, I encourage you to do so now. I’ll wait.

 

Okay, so now that we’re all up to speed, I can finally announce some good news: we are all moved in! It took many weeks of exasperation, true moments where I was thinking nothing was ever going to get done, and some help from various places (namely both mine and E’s parents), but all of our stuff is moved in and mostly in place. This is truly something I never hope to have to experience again.

There are certainly some upsides to what went down. We have great new flooring in the downstairs and fresh, soft carpet on the stairs and in our bedroom. It gives the whole place a new feeling that seems vital given the circumstances. This place is ours, and we’ve already gotten the chance to make our own mark on it. It also increased the rate of  unpacking, as after all this time with our stuff in boxes piled up in the otherwise empty house, I was rearing to get everything out of boxes and into place. Still, if all that could have happened without the lengthy delay, I would have appreciated it more.

And that leaves me with a sense of disappointment.

I know, what a strange thing to say given the fire we just walked through, especially since we came out pretty much unscathed. The disappointment stems from how worked up and worried I often found myself during the ordeal. I didn’t really allow myself to remember that I wasn’t in control of any of this, and that freaking out because we didn’t know what was going on all the time didn’t help matters. And the main reason I’m disappointed about that is because I feel like I keep having to rehash that lesson, and that I appear to be unable to actually retain the learning.

It’s ironic, really, considering I spend my professional life trying to get people to learn and develop writing and reading skills, and I get frustrated when I repeat myself and they don’t seem to ever “get it.” I can only imagine how angry I’d get if I were God, sitting up-there watching me get this same skill wrong over and over again. Yet another reason why it’s good that God is God and I am not. How fortunate are we to have a God who loves unconditionally, and although He expects growth and our moving towards maturity, He always loves us. In the middle of situations like we just walked through, where I often found myself angry and frustrated and taking that out on other people, I’m finding myself, as I stop to reflect on what happened, thankful that God doesn’t respond to me like I would if I were Him.

I’m also quite thrilled because the house is coming along nicely and starting to feel like home. It’s strange having two floors to worry about (I woke up last night in a frenzy because it suddenly occurred to me that there were lights on downstairs, and quickly went down to remedy the situation), but I really enjoy the space of it. Unlike our apartment, our house feels roomy, especially downstairs. I am also realizing that I have ideas, albeit small ones, for upgrades and continuing to make it feel like ours. Just yesterday I replaced both shower heads and hung a curtain to divide the space between L’s room and our office (all thanks to some supervisory work from my dad), and the overwhelming feeling of it all is accomplishment.

This is much better than disappointment.

Sure, I imagine homeownership is going to have its downsides, but in general I think I’m going to like the ability to make choices and, for the first time in my adult life, making a house really feel like home.

Running the Race or Why Patience Isn’t My Bag

I’m not a runner, but I’m starting to experience something akin to what I think the euphoria of finishing a marathon might be. There’s a sort of exhausted jubilance to seeing the finish line within your sight, and even though you realize there are still many more steps to take, they pale in comparison to all the ones you took leading up to that moment. And so you dig deep into yourself and pull out every ounce of remaining energy, you know you’re almost done and it feels great.

I just got off the phone with Tom, and he’s the man who is essentially standing between me and our finally being in our new house. Tom tells me the materials have been ordered and that they hope to be able to get to work on Monday; and while there’s no real timetable for completion–I’m assuming within a week or so–something about this feels fantastic. But I also feel like I’ve been repeatedly run over by a dump truck.

See, I was ready for change when we started the house buying process; that’s sort of the part of that particular course. What I wasn’t prepared for was packing up our entire apartment, moving most of that stuff into our uninhabitable house, taking the rest to my parents’ house to stay for a few weeks and all the minutia of finally getting to the point where “we’ll start on Monday” felt like finding a million dollars in my jacket pocket.

To be clear, I’m beyond thankful to my parents for offering us space at their house. It’s made a lot of elements over the last few weeks actually a little easier, which is good because adding more complicated things to all of this would not have been a good thing. It’s also cool that we’re getting almost all new flooring/carpet in the new house, I just don’t care much for the method by which it was delivered. Really, this has just been a delay in getting where I thought we’d be a month ago, and that isn’t quite something that sits well with me.

I’ll just say it: I’m not good on waiting and I’m even worse at dealing with unforeseen forks in the road. This situation has granted me both, and I’ll just say that I haven’t always been great at dealing with either, let alone both at the same time. It also seems like things happening with this much ferocity is the way of it in my life: it’s either a storm or clear skies, and sometimes I’d prefer a little rain to mist than either extreme.

In my mind it certainly makes sense why things happen this way. This is how we grow and mature, by engaging with the pain and finding God in the middle of it. But to be honest, I sometimes worry that I’m not getting any stronger, like the muscle is being worked but I come out on the other side of each opportunity just worn down, but having learned nothing. That’s more frustrating than having to experience the trouble in the first place, like suffering through an excruciating work out and then eating half a dozen donuts immediately after. And maybe I’m just missing the improvement because it comes in small alterations over time, not massive upgrades all at once.

So while I was writing this, Bill, who works with Tom, called to tell me that they’d be in on Tuesday to get the drywall and other preliminary work done, and that once they floors came in, he’d call to set up a firm time line for completion of the job. There it is. That cool burst of fresh energy. The finish line is near. Just need to push a little harder and we’ll make it just fine.

The “adventure” continues…

Last time out, I hopefully didn’t bore anyone with the trials and tribulations of buying our first home. That was early enough in the process where it didn’t seem like anything was happening. Here we are, nearly 10 days later, and I can safely say that my emotions are starting to look more like this guy:

Image result for mind blown gif

I wish I could report good news, is what I mean, but unfortunately I’m left with not the worst possible thing, but very nearly that. I’ll summarize in bullet points because that feels appropriate.

  • Our realtor–who is insanely awesome–spent a few days trying to make contact with the realtor of the unit next to ours. His response after a day or two of that was that she was proving to be less than helpful.
  • To sum up: she wouldn’t give us the name of the owner’s insurance company, so we can’t move forward. That was last Thursday, with a hurricane slowly moving in our direction.
  • Schools are closed Thursday and Friday, and then Monday, eventually.
  • On Saturday, we go by to show my parents what’s up and find a note from a local restoration company. They already came by and “as a courtesy” were letting us know what happened in the unit next door. Which means they were not told that while the water had originated next door, it had leaked into our house. This smells fishy to me, I report to our realtor and a contact for our insurance company.
  • Finally on Tuesday, me back at work, I get the reason for the shadiness: the other owner’s realtor was told she was being dropped, and so decided the water damage “wasn’t her problem.” My understand is she’s being reported to the state board.
  • Later that day, we FINALLY get the insurance company’s name and a contact there. Our insurance contact kindly explains the situation to him. On Wednesday, we’re informed they are denying the claim, but they’re reminded that liability is a thing. I’m told to set up an appointment for someone to go by and assess the damage in our house and get an estimate, just for safety.
  • I do so. There’s someone there within two hours. I have an estimate in about 12 hours (goodness, it’s a lot of money). I’ve got another company coming in the morning to check it out and get a second opinion. These seem like the only two things that have happened, and I have a sneaking suspicion that money is going to exchange hands and that it might be mine.
  • The insurance guy comes back and is still denying the claim, during which our insurance contact reminds him of a thing called vacancy negligence, since that unit has been empty for a long time now. As of this writing, still no response there.

And that, my friends, is where we stand. Nine days ago I was looking forward to a blog celebrating our new house, complete with a picture of E and I standing excitedly in the threshold of our new front door. I’ve been to our new house a few times in those nine days, and each time I feel more and more dejected, because increasingly it’s starting to look like either a) nothing is ever going to get done, ever or b) if something does get done,  we’re going to have to get it done ourselves. I’m not sure legally what our options are, but I do know that legality aside, this entire ordeal has proved a reminder of how unethical people can be when it benefits them. It’s been suggested to me several times that since the unit next door has been empty for so long, the insurance policy may have lapsed or it needed to be changed and never was, meaning the main reason for the hardball is directly related to the fact that the owner of that house would have to pay, not his/her (maybe) non-existent insurance.

I’ll allow Mr. Neil Patrick Harris to express the emotion for me:

Image result for disappointed gif

I’ve been disappointed in my life, many times, but this–and maybe it’s just recency bias–feels like the worst time of all. And that’s with all the other disappointing things that have already fallen upon me this year. This one is different, I suspect, because it’s not as if I can shrug it off and tell myself “there’s always next time;” this house is ours now, and this damage has to be undone no matter what. It just sucks that I might literally have to pay for something I didn’t do. All I’m asking for is a little human decency, for understanding; while I recognize that the owner of this other house didn’t do anything wrong on purpose to cause the leak, she/he is now exacerbating the issue and purposefully skirting responsibility. The stacking of a conscious decision on top of an accidental occurrence makes everything worse.

And yet we’re forced to press on. We’re out of our apartment at the end of the month, which still needs to be cleaned out and scrubbed down before then, meaning we have to clear out according to our pre-water damage plan. And so we’re taking our stuff over to the new house and putting what we can upstairs, hoping we’ll start to see a slither of light leading to resolution in the coming days. It likely means, barring a miracle and the fastest insurance claim/restoration work in recorded history, that we’ll be crashing somewhere else for a while until the house is move-in ready.

Still there’s a strange sense of calm amidst the storm. Maybe it’s because I don’t have a person at which to direct my rage, or maybe I’m actually learning to trust that everything is going to be okay even when it seems like it’s not; either way, I feel okay. The move on Saturday might be good, allow me to flex muscles and wear myself down physically to match the mental exhaustion that has been this nine-day stretch. We’re going to get where we intended to be, I have to keep reminding myself. Even if the path is proving to be a lot more complicated than expected.

Casting is for fishing or actors (and ironwork)

Confession time. I’ve been getting emails from John Piper’s ministry with daily devotionals for a number of years, and while my intentions are generally good, those emails have often gone unread. For whatever reason, the last few days I’ve been feeling an even greater pull to actually carve out a few moments in the morning to read the words of wisdom. They aren’t long, usually just a few verses and a paragraph or two of analysis/considerations, and it’s foolish of me to not do so. The last three days have been nothing short of miracles in terms of their timeliness:

On Monday, the verse came from 2 Corinthians 5:7 where Paul reminds the people of Corinth (and us today) that “we walk by faith, not by sight.” Piper then goes on to compare the concept of salvation to buying a house, and that instead of a mortgage, we actually get the house for free. Yet for some reason we as Christians still spend much of our lives looking to make payments on a debt that we can a) never repay and b) don’t have to repay. The metaphor is a might clunky, but hit home for me because E and I had the closing for our house set for the following morning. Hard for that to be coincidence. I should have paid better attention that morning.

Tuesday started with a familiar verse from Piper’s devotional:

Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you. (1 Peter 5:7)

While I appreciated the sentiment of the verse at the moment, I was actually feeling like we’d reached the end of a season that was loaded with anxiety. The house buying experience was filled with questions that drove me to worry. Will we find a place we like in our price range? Can we actually afford to pay for it? Have we saved up enough for our down payment? Will we give ourselves enough time to move? Can we come up with all the money that we need to start-up utilities, move and all that entails? Will the loan go through? Will the house be in good shape? Will there be repairs we can’t afford? And yet, there I was on Tuesday morning getting ready to head to attorney’s office and feeling, for the first time in weeks, pretty relaxed about the whole situation. Piper’s email, while welcome, didn’t apply to me at that moment.

I really hate being wrong.

The signing of the documents went great. The sellers were nice people and their real estate agent was a funny guy who made the proceedings feel less stuffy and formal. Our agent brought donuts and while there were lots of papers to sign and a last-minute confusion left me going to bank right after the closing to wire our down payment, I walked out of the bank branch feeling accomplished and, finally, excited about our new house.

Then I texted E, who had gone ahead to the house to meet our agent for a celebratory photo and a deep breath of sweet release, only to get this in response:

“Huge problem here.”

Not exactly the words you want to see on the day you close on a new house. The key doesn’t work, I’m thinking, or the lights don’t turn on because the electric bill hasn’t been turned over to our name. Something small, please let it be something small.

“Carpet is soaked and water in the kitchen near pantry. Can’t find source,” is her reply to my query for more information. Then, a few minutes later: “Leak in other townhouse, the other one for sale, water house leak. The carpet is flooded over there and leaked to our side.”

Crap.

On the remainder of my drive to the house, I’m starting to roll over all the possible outcomes here. We didn’t plan to move for another 10 days or so, but we had talked about getting the living room painted, about cleaning the carpets, giving ourselves a fresh start and then moving in everything the weekend after next, giving us ample time to clear out our current apartment and get it ready for inspection. This was going to throw off the timeline, maybe not for the move, but for everything else, and I didn’t want to deal with it fully until I saw the extent of the damage.

I arrived a few minutes later, and saw that while a section of the carpet in the living room and inside the coat closet was pretty soaked, that part of it was still fine. There were little puddles of water in the kitchen and pantry, but nothing terribly problematic. The beginnings of a mold-like odor was starting to settle into the air, however, which our agent, who showed up soon after I did, noted would be the biggest issue. Fortunately, our seller’s agent had gone by to get the other set of keys from his lockbox on the door and had already headed out to Lowe’s to buy some shop vacs to help clean up the mess in both our unit and the empty one next door. While I protested against going into work, our agent assured me there wasn’t anything I could do, and in the 35 minutes it took me to drive to work they were able to get most of the water up, contact the seller of the empty unit, who was subsequently able to call someone to get out and assess the damage. I’m assured they’ll get started on fixing what needs to be.

Needless to say–but I’ll say it anyway–this is all pretty demoralizing. It puts things that I thought were finally settling back in unsure territory; and while it’s okay for us to start moving in some of our stuff that goes upstairs as soon as we want, there’s still the question of when we’ll actually be living in the house we just bought. If you know me well enough, you know that barrages like this are something I fight to avoid, making it all the more difficult for me to adjust to them when they happen. These days it feels like the assault is endless.

Seeing reminders of what the Bible tells me about anxiety and worry sometimes does little but exacerbate the situation. I know this, I want to scream, so please quit reminding me of what I’m not doing! Casting is for fishing and acting, I retort, as if that lets me off the hook. And then I remember another definition of the word: the casting of something into a mold to make it what the creator wants it to be. This, to me, wells up in me an alternate reading of what we’re commanded to do with our anxieties. Yes, we are supposed to give them up to God to allow the burden of worry to be removed from our souls; but I also feel like it has something to do with the continued casting and recasting of our character into something closer to what we’re meant to be. It’s a remarkable re-consideration of the text, and one I’d never thought about before; it might even be misinterpretation, but to my mind, both are intended results of our needing to cast our cares on our Father.

And then this morning, Piper’s email reminded me of this:

“For this reason I say to you, do not be anxious for your life, as to what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; nor for your body, as to what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?” (Matthew 6:25-26)

This was the reminder I needed today. Better yet, the email marked this as part 1 of the unpacking of this verse, meaning there’s more to come.

If this house thing is yet another fire that melts me down and renders me a better version of myself, then I suppose my only response is to allow myself to be poured out into the mold, and remember that I’ll be fed according to my needs in the end.

Unpacking the 6

This is me, according to the Enneagram Institute’s website:

Type Six in Brief

The committed, security-oriented type. Sixes are reliable, hard-working, responsible, and trustworthy. Excellent “troubleshooters,” they foresee problems and foster cooperation, but can also become defensive, evasive, and anxious—running on stress while complaining about it. They can be cautious and indecisive, but also reactive, defiant and rebellious. They typically have problems with self-doubt and suspicion. At their Best: internally stable and self-reliant, courageously championing themselves and others.

  • Basic Fear: Of being without support and guidance
  • Basic Desire: To have security and support
  • Enneagram Six with a Five-Wing: “The Defender”
  • Enneagram Six with a Seven-Wing: “The Buddy”

Key Motivations: Want to have security, to feel supported by others, to have certitude and reassurance, to test the attitudes of others toward them, to fight against anxiety and insecurity.

The Meaning of the Arrows (in brief)

When moving in their Direction of Disintegration (stress), dutiful Sixes suddenly become competitive and arrogant at Three. However, when moving in their Direction of Integration (growth), fearful, pessimistic Sixes become more relaxed and optimistic, like healthy Nine.

I discovered this whole Enneagram thing through a few friends of mine (namely Aaron B) and my wife has really gotten into it lately, looking at it as a way to try to understand herself better and, by some extension, me.

She’s a 9, which if you’re paying attention, is apparently the healthy version of me (and, ironically, my 6-ness is the unhealthy her), and that means there’s a lot to unpack just in the context of our relationship. But for my purposes here, I’m a little more interested not just in my interactions with her, although those matter a great deal, but how they impact my dealings with people everywhere else.

So that’s the modus operandi to be taken on in this space. I’ll take a look at who I see myself in my various contexts, and see how my 6-ness (a term I picked up from the Road Back to You podcast, which E and I soaked in on our drive to and back from Chicago) impacts those areas. Obviously this remains a curious exercise, and an on-going one at that, but maybe writing it down will allow things to kick into gear a little better.

Home: I fudged a bit. I do want to explore how my 6-ness plays out at home, but less so in terms of my relationship with E, and more so in terms of how it plays out with little L. She just turned 4 in June, and so her personality is coming out more and more the older she gets, even if it does sometimes manifest in manners I’d prefer it not to (such as whining or crying about things that, to my mind, should no longer be handled in that way since she’s fully capable of expressing herself through words). Obviously she’s too young for me to pinpoint her on the Enneagram (although at her age, I’d say she’s got a little 4 in her, but I also see from 5 and 8, and, on rare occasions, her mother’s 9), but I definitely would count a certain amount of our interactions together as stress inducing. She’s a toddler, she’s pressing issues and pushing buttons, trying to test her limits to see what she can and cannot get away with. On top of that, she’s got multiple living situations she finds herself in and out of, so there’s a lot of transitioning going on. She probably feels the stress as much as I do; but she’s 4 and isn’t good at expressing it in a way that makes sense.

Which brings me to my own situation as it plays out with her. Her pushing on me definitely brings out the 3 in me. It becomes a competition, and there is no way I’m letting a 4-year-old beat me at anything, especially when the game is Listen to the Adult. This impacts my effectiveness as an authority figure and a parent, because it becomes less about explaining what I need her to do and why and more–nay, completely–about my winning the battle. The more she pushes, the more I press into the you are not going to win this parenting style. In other words, no good for anyone. But there is something enlightening about seeing it written down–when I get stressed it taps into all my insecurities of being incapable, and so I’m fighting against those feelings as hard as I can. Unfortunately other people have to deal with me, and I am left, usually within a few minutes, ashamed that I’m not better at realizing my flaws and working them out in the moment.

Work: My professional situation is a lot different from almost anywhere else. While my years as a 7th grade teacher often left me beaten down and exhausted, for the most part my time has a college instructor has allowed me to separate the home and work situations pretty effectively. Sure, there’s some overlap, but my work time is work time, and home time is home time. That said, my 6-ness often comes out in its best light when I’m at work. I’m fiercely loyal to my job when I’m there, and work hard at doing my best job. Pretty much all of the characteristics listed on the “In Brief” section above come out when I’m at my best at work. That said, there’s still often an impending sense of “am I good enough” that can bleed into things, which can lead to a fear of venturing outside of comfort zone and taking on new challenges.

That has made the circumstances of the past semester all the more difficult. It’s hard for me to put myself out there and to reach out for something that might change my daily interactions with my job, and yet I did it over the past two years, only to have the message returned to me and sound like this: “Don’t bother. It won’t be worth it. You’ll just get used up and then sent back to where you came from.” It that isn’t the fearful, pessimistic side of my 6-ness coming out, I’m not sure how it manifests itself better. I’m still grappling with the repercussions of that, and it’ll probably linger over me throughout the semester as I reintroduce myself to life without additional, non-teaching duties. My hope is that I’ll lean into the opportunities it presents, seeking the optimism and relaxation promised in my move towards healthier version of me, rather than the competitiveness I can feel stirring up in me from time to time.

Other relationships: Obviously this is a wide open context, as it depends on the nature of the relationship, but I’ll settle into the area of my close friendships, especially with those few friends I see on a regular basis. I think all elements of me come out at various times with my best friends. On one hand, I’m intensely loyal to them, and have always been to most of my closest friends throughout my life, which explains why one of my groomsmen in my wedding was my friend way back when I was 12 (and remains so). My friends are idiots sometimes (as am I), but it would take a lot for me to just jettison them from my life, because that’s the type of person I pride myself on being. The element of needing security and support really plays out here, as do both the 5 and 7 wings. I will defend the honor of my friends when they need it most, and feel like I’m generally a good buddy because of my ability to settle into my 7-wingness. My move to more healthy 9-ness is vital here, too, as I often feel much more relaxed with those people who know me best and with whom I can fully allow myself to just be with, regardless of how I actually feel in the moment. It sometimes manifest by my negative side coming out, by my allowing the fear and indecisiveness to come out, but that’s only because I feel comfortable enough with these people to let that come out.

And yet the unhealthy 3 stuff comes out with my friends a lot, too. I sometimes feel a need to be better at them at things, and this nagging sense of discord often accompanies seeing a friend accomplish something. This is an awful way to be, and it makes me sick to my stomach when it happens; I’m also working hard at pushing away those sentiments, trying to find the 9 (or even a healthier 6) in me during those times. This, I understand, will be better for everyone, as it will allow my friends to get what they need from me, free from my own hang-ups and lack of contentedness.

Faith: This is a complicated one. It worries me, too, because my 6-ness screams something about me that I don’t like: there’s a chance I’ve stuck to my faith out of a sense of loyalty. Now, I don’t believe this is true all the time, and I don’t believe it’s true at this point, but I do think there were times when I was in college where I had a chance to turn a different direction, but didn’t out of a loyalty to what I’d always believed. Over time, I’ve made it my own, and the loyalty stems from a sense of knowing who God is, rather than one that is bent upon not wanting to disappoint my family or something more along those lines. But there’s still that creeping sense, and it’s something I need to work to develop as a I continue to get older. In other words, the more I feel connected to God, the less it feels like I’m part of this family of faith because I feel like I should and more like it’s because it’s what I know is right. Most of the time, it’s the latter, but I’d be lying if I didn’t acknowledge that the former rears its head from time to time. Sometimes more often than I’d like.

And so I seek to find a place where I realize where my ultimate security comes from, and I think that’s the whole point of this Enneagram thing anyway. I’m supposed to remember that, above all else, I am who I am because that’s the way I was made, and that the Creator, not only of me but of all things, loves me just as I am.

Back to School! Or Changes and how they impact me

It’s a funny thing about summertime. As an educator, people talk all the time about how nice it must be to have summers off and how much I must accomplish during that time period where I have no responsibilities. To be fair, yes, it is cool to have an extended time where getting up and going to work isn’t something I’m required to do; however, it’s also true that all the extra time means that you have to be more clever in terms of how that time is filled, especially when you’re working with the same income you are during the year (nothing helps to curb spending money quite like being at work all day, it turns out). And to be honest, these last two summers have been far from filled with days of sleeping in and doing nothing, seeing as having a 3 (now 4) year old around really adds to the need for entertainment.

All that to say this: I usually go into the summer (it’s been something like 7 or 8 summers now since I started teaching) with great plans for things I’m going to do–projects to complete, places to visit, etc–and usually get to the Sunday night before I go back to work with very few of those things having been done. Don’t get me wrong, these past two summers have been fantastic–I got married and went on a honeymoon to Punta Cana last year and celebrated our first anniversary with a trip to Chicago this year–and there have certainly been things I’ve gotten done, but as I ready myself to launch into yet another school year, I can’t help but carry a little trepidation on my shoulders.

For one, my job has changed a little bit, and I’ll be moving from a hybrid classroom/administrative role back into a role that essentially puts me back into the classroom full-time. I did this for my first two years at my college, but it’s been a while, so I’m not sure I remember how to handle the six class load nor do I fully look forward to teaching all those classes. I loved the duality of my previous position, loved knowing that my days were generally going to be different throughout the week, and I just don’t get the impression that I can do that without adding on to my load by taking on further responsibilities. It’s as conflicted as I’ve felt since starting here, and it makes the return to work a little bit bittersweet in a way it hasn’t in five years.

The second bit–and this is an announcement of sorts–is that E and I are in the process of buying our first house, and we close in the early part of September, which means we’ll be knee-deep in school and all that entails, all the while trying to finalize paperwork and getting our apartment ready to be vacated AND then actually moving and setting up the new place. Add to all that the general sense of “I don’t know what I don’t know” feeling that I get regarding the house buying process, and you’ll maybe understand why I’ve been of two minds since I got back to work on Monday. E is doing a great job sorting everything out while she’s still at home, but she’s had other things to contend with too–namely a precocious 4-year-old–and it isn’t fair to ask her to do everything. On top of all that, moving is a very expensive proposition, and I’m not a fan of things as they pertain to money, so that adds another level of stress to the proceedings.

As you can tell, I spend a too much time worrying about things I don’t know about or can’t possibly control. I am excellent at this, actually, and I’m not one to count myself exceptionally skilled at anything. Thankfully I have two great things at my disposal when I find myself wrapped up in the throes of concern. For starters, my wife is wildly optimistic about most things and is generally quite excellent at reminding me not to lose my mind over things (sometimes she is not successful, but that’s on me). I am certainly blessed to have her, as she balances out my crazy. The second element is those rare moments where my mind clears, life seems to slow down and I remember that I am loved beyond words by a God who presents me with grace beyond measure. Even typing those words released something in my mind like air out of a ball.

I’m not always tremendous at doing this. I’m constantly battling my own neuroses and hang-ups, a war that I seemed destined to engage in for the rest of my life. Knowing for me isn’t half the battle; in fact, it barely factors into the equation at all. I know a lot of things, can easily tell you what I believe is truth, but incorporating them into my psyche so they absorb into me and become me is another thing altogether. It’s a fight between my heard and mind, as Aaron Marsh of Copeland once wrote, something I feel down to the very core of who I am.

And all this meandering just because I started work again. But that’s how the mechanisms of my body work, and the more I realize what I need in order to survive in that, the easier it’s going to be to handle situations like changes at work, buying houses and other curveballs–whether self-inflicted or otherwise–life tosses me.

One Year Down

Well, we survived year one. Survived. That’s a strange way of putting it, and I’ve been saying it over the last week or so in a jocular manner, laughing that neither E nor myself has killed the other. We’ve gotten the old “the first year is the hardest” response, although a friend also said that year two was actually more difficult, but I tend to consider it the way I do most things: it all depends.

For our anniversary, we mostly drove in the car–at least on the day of–as we set out for Chicago for a few days of city life and to celebrate the start of Year 2. We did a lot of things, including a second trip to Wrigley to see the Cubs beat the Tigers in comeback fashion, toured several of Chicago’s finest breweries and even saw the most random play I’ve ever witnessed called Bat-Hamlet, which is exactly what it sounds like. All in all we had a good time, although Chicago is far away from where we live, which meant we essentially traveled for 4 days of the trip. Man, teleportation would be incredible.

Still, I think it was important to make the trip, even if this doesn’t start a tradition of longer-term vacations for each anniversary. It was important because Year 1, while it was edifying and mostly excellent, was actually quite difficult. I’ve discussed the idea of transitions before and how neither E nor I is very good at them, and how our lives seem to be filled with them, probably because we are no good at them and need to learn to cope. The constant movement between families, with little L (who is now 4 and getting smarter and sassier by the day), between each other has kept the boat rocking pretty much from day one; but none of this is wildly surprising.

What is surprising is that I actually might have learned a thing or two about how to get through the chaos. I’m seeing now how vital it is to protect our little family above all other relationships, even if that means telling other people “no” from time to time, as well as realizing that pretty much everyone else in our lives knows how important this is, too. For some reason I came into things believing that most everyone else in my life would hold some sort of grudge against me for choosing my wife first, but the more I recognize that this isn’t the case, the better I feel about making that choice.

And this is the best option, it seems to me, and not just in the long run. Moment to moment remembering this helps me to know that this is what matters the most of all my human relationships. It’s not as simple as happy wife, happy life or some other cheesy sentiment like that; instead it comes down to priorities and doing what’s right for my family, which is me and these two girls.

And somehow I’ll keep making mistakes, but I’d like to think, one year in, that I’m a little better at standing up and doing what is best more than I allow the feelings and worries of those outside of us push me in one direction or another.

And now, for fun, here are some photos from the trip.

Eulogy

This past Monday evening, I was doing what I often do after the day has come to a stalling point: I was scrolling through my Facebook feed. My wife was at a women’s Bible study, the little one was in bed, there was little else to do, or at least I wasn’t interested in looking for something else. Then I saw a post by a friend of mine from high school that shook me a little.

Nabeel Qureshi was a year ahead of me at Princess Anne High School, and he was a person who was impossible to dislike. He was warm and charming, intelligent and thoughtful, with a wit that was both disarming and hilarious. In short, he was known by everyone and liked by most. One of my most vivid early memories of him is at one of our school’s football games, where he was part of the Bleacher Creatures, who ran around half-naked and painted in red, white and blue, cheering on the Princess Anne Cavaliers. As my time at PAHS went on, our social circles began to intersect more, and I found that I liked him as much from up close as many did from afar. Again, he was a hard guy not to like.

I tell you all this because my high school prom date posted a status that read like a quick eulogy to Nabeel, and I was shook by the suddenness of the news. I took to Google to see if I could discovered what had happened; surely a sudden death might have some internet presence, even if it was small. I was stunned to find out how wrong I was in that regard.

It turns out that after leaving PA, Nabeel had quite the life. He grew up in a Muslim home, but during his time as a medical student at Old Dominion University, he began to dig into the Bible, inspired by a friend of his. Before he knew it, he found himself giving his life to Christ and becoming a full convert to Christianity. In the years since then, he wrote a book about his experience (Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity, which came out in February 2014), completed not only his medical degree but also a MA in Religion from Duke and began work on a MPhil and PhD in the New Testament from Oxford, along with joining the ministry of renowned speaker and pastor Ravi Zacharias in 2013. To hear my friend tell it, the last time she saw him was when he was getting ready to speak at a church near her in North Carolina; she says she was amazed by the number of people to hear him speak.

To be fair, if you knew Nabeel at all, none of this–minus the conversion–is surprising in the least. That he grew to have an impact on people around the world, that he was capable of great things, of influencing people and speaking in front of scores of listeners, this is all what you would have expected. He was always one of those smart guys that never let you know how smart he was. He never made you feel inferior (even though most of us were) or unwanted; in fact, more often than not, you always felt like the most important person to him in that moment. Exactly what turned out to be his life’s work is a little surprising, simply because there was no way to see those steps working out just as they did.

All of this was sudden and unexpected, to be sure, but honestly I hadn’t talked to Nabeel since my senior year of high school, when he’d return occasionally to say hello to old teachers and members of my class. After he left Princess Anne, he became, as many people do for me, out of sight and out of mind. This feels cruel to write, especially under the circumstances, but I think it’s clear that was “connected” as our culture is these days, it’s still easy to lose track of a person. It’s not terribly shocking; he and I were never close independently of other people (we weren’t even friends on Facebook, and I’m friends with more random high school friends than I can say, even people I knew less about than him). Still, I felt a lump in my throat the moment I found out about his death. Nothing, I’d dare to say, compared to the loss felt by those closest to him, but I found the death of an old friend impacted me in a way I wouldn’t have expected.

They say that in situations like these, death becomes more about the people left behind than it does the person who died. From my vantage point, I’m embarrassed to admit this might be true. While I feel sad for his family and close friends, I’m sitting here thinking about how this alters my life; and I fully believe it should. From my perspective, Nabeel did the best he could with the time he had, and that truth is challenging to me. I can’t help but wonder if I’m doing the same (and come to the conclusion that I’m likely not).

And so I’m here to send my condolences to those who were closest to Nabeel. I’m certain none of them will read this, but it should be said anyway. My hope is that he inspires those of us who knew him to continue to pursue our paths in life. For me, that means to continue to seek God as Nabeel did; to love my family and friends; and to be thankful for all that I’ve been given. Each day is a gift and I don’t want to lose sight of that.

Trouble With “Worship” As Genre

Here’s a complicated issue, because I find myself straddling a line that clearly exists. First, a little background. I listen to a podcast called The Bad Christian Podcast, starring Toby Morrell and Matt Carter of the band Emery and their pastor friend Joey Svendsen, who focus on what they believe to be the realities of the world around them with the slant of Christianity. A lot of the podcast is the three hosts discussing various issues of the day, often with guests, as a means of understanding and opening up dialogue. The goal, I’d say, is to avoid people looking at them as “typical” Christian people, instead hoping that listeners see them as more open-minded and thoughtful than the stereotypes.

I find myself agreeing with them more often than not, especially in their views on the church–although maybe not as far-reaching as they are willing to go in the physical church disappearing completely–but I do recognize that the church should be doing more, especially when the world around it is calamitous and needy. The complicated issue at hand is that of the idea of worship music. Toby and Matt both have history as worship leaders, so they would know a little bit, but the essence of their argument is this: the church was once at the cutting edge of arts, and now is simply following what the secular world is doing, something they see as backwards, since the main goal of church-created art should be as a form of worship. What does it say about God, Toby often wonders, if Christian artists are willing to phone in their work more often than not? The bar seems to be low. Recreate secular sounds and add words that sound vaguely Christian, throwing in a few “God” and “Jesus” references (or, in the case of an especially appropriate example of what Toby is talking about, Danny Gokey’s “The Comeback,” which features ZERO references to either), and you’ve got yourself a Christian hit.

Toby, an excellent songwriter in his own right, took this as a challenge on an episode of the podcast, and a few weeks later, brought a few “church” songs he’d written, trying to follow the “rules” he noticed in most Christian radio songs. Weeks later, Toby recorded one of the songs–cheekily titled “Forever Rain”– and released it on iTunes in the Christian & Gospel genre; and before too long, the song was climbing up the iTunes sales charts, likely boosted mostly by podcast listeners who were in on the joke of it and were willing to spend $0.99 to push Toby’s song as high as it would go (it peaked in the top 20).

The song itself is noticeably hokey. It sounds a little like Toby stopped listening to Christian music in the ’90’s, because the sonic space it occupies resembles church music in the latter part of that decade more than most of the current hits. And yet the lyrics match the often vague nature of many of CCM’s most-loved songs (although it should be clear that there does exist many a songwriter that better understands how to connect the truth of the Bible with lyrical content), and the dynamics of the song feel accurate in relation to typical Sunday morning worship songs. The trouble is, because Toby’s listeners–both to the podcast and of his bands Emery and Matt & Toby–it is difficult to tell if “typical” consumers of Christian music are buying the song, and as of yet, Christian radio doesn’t seem to have paid attention to it at all. So maybe the joke is noted from the outside more than the creators of the song believe.

Like I said, I find myself straddling the line here. I lead worship at my church every Sunday, and so part of what I have to do is pay attention to the worship landscape in order to not continually play the same songs every week year after year. That said, I do agree with Matt and Toby (and David Crowder, who was once a guest on the podcast and said essentially the same things) that music, and all other art, made for and about God should be the best art available. Indeed, most of the best Christian art is on the fringe, and therefore isn’t generally accepted within Christianity as a whole; I, for one, believe this is pretty messed up, and this is the point that Toby, Matt and Crowder (and others like them) are making. If something is good but not easy to understand at first listen or interaction but still serves a form of worship, shouldn’t this be the type of art we want as Christians?

Part of the problem is that most art–mainstream or otherwise–is pretty lowest common denominator anyway. Crappy mainstream movies are often the biggest hits at the box office, derivative music tops the Billboard charts all the time and poorly written, but page-turner books are the best sellers in every avenue books are sold. Most of the greatest artistic expressions are independent, underground or completely unseen or unheard, and so this muddies the argument in the first place. It is pretty clear, though, that almost more than any other niche of art, Christians settle for mediocrity. To me, this is the issue, and the point at which I can fully get on board with the argument at hand.

Do I think that Christians need their own art in the first place? Absolutely. Music, movies, books and all that for Christians are necessary in the same way that these arts probably exist for other sections of society, because those people who belong to these groups deal with the world in their own way and see it through a varied lens. So to box everyone’s experiences into a single form of art would be wrong, that much is clear. The problem is that we’ve made “worship” a genre for all these things, and that forces the music, movies and books to become a copy of a copy of a copy, and so on.

Obviously as a worship leader, I see that there are certain songs that work better for corporate singing, and that we want to use songs in that setting that are Biblically truthful. But I don’t think that the rest of Christian music needs to succumb to falling into the trap of mediocrity. I should be able to worship my God in whatever musical genre I want to or in whatever form I feel is best. As an artist, and as a man of faith, this feels like the right thing to do and the most honest expression of my faith.