Wednesday, August 31, 2011

God, Faith and Invisible Eyewear by Rich Chaffins

This month started with a story about friendship and we wrap it up with an offering from my best friend. In addition to being an adoring husband, devoted father, talented guitarist, skilled luthier, on-call editor, and bottomless blog post suggester, Rich is also a fantastic writer. I love my virtual village, but I get by because of my real life friends and I could not be happier to share Rich's words with you today. Thanks bestie.

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Growing up in a Christian home can be a great thing, and in my experience, it was. I was raised by my paternal grandparents, two of the best people I’ve ever known,  from around 3rd grade til I graduated high school. As I went away to college, I left their home with many things in tow:  a love of small-town life; lessons learned from years of going to church, as well as the kindness and love I saw my grandparents demonstrate every day; a total lack of knowledge about housecleaning, budgeting, and generally living life on my own; a kickin’ stereo with which to blast Metallica, Nirvana and Pearl Jam; a couple of guitars, also to blast Metallica, Nirvana and Pearl Jam; and lastly, some glasses - one pair for my face and a pair of glasses I didn’t know I had.

'dark glasses' photo (c) 2007, David Bleasdale - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
These glasses were pretty unobtrusive… fashioned by my experience, with lens prescriptions called in by my family, the pastors in our church, and the televangelists that we watched every week. They only showed up when I was reading the Bible, or praying, or talking spiritual matters with other people. Didn’t even notice them, quite honestly.

Looking through them, I saw things as I was supposed to see them:
  • God was love, unless you didn’t have a “personal relationship” with Him through Jesus. If you weren’t one of us, hope you like it hot.
  • In the Old Testament, God liked the Israelites; everyone else could take a running jump.
  • 6 days of creation meant 6 24-hour periods, and the earth was 6,000 years old.
  • Heaven is somewhere else, and the purpose of the Christian’s life was to secure a ticket there someday. Once you did, relax. Mission accomplished.
  • Oh, yeah, and God? He’s a white, American flag-waving Republican.
I carried these specs with me, unknowingly, well into adulthood. Through marriage, then children, then turning the ripe old age of 30. Even a few years past that. It was easy. When I met people that had different spiritual views than I had, I felt sorry for them, because they didn’t know The Truth ™. I dismissed their worldview out of hand. Did it matter if they were raised in a different Christian tradition than me? Nope. That was the wrong one. Poor them. How about if they were, God forbid, raised in a different religion than me? Shun them, the whole heathen lot.

You may have noticed I’m writing in the past tense. So. When did I notice I had them on, you ask? On a trip back from a gig. Just riding in the passenger seat, talking, and there they were.

I had known Alise for a while. She and her husband Jason had started attending the church I work at, and Alise got involved in our music ministry. Being the guy that’s in charge of the musicians/bands, I really appreciated both her talent and her very generous availability. She unnerved me when she wasn’t at the piano, however. She had an Obama bumper sticker on her van (there was talk that he might be the Antichrist, after all). She was quite liberal in her worldview, and not shy about talking about it. Ever. Like, not even a little bit.
   
Wait…if you do feel like that, shouldn’t you hide it? It’s not how Christians™ look at things!

Fast forward a few months, and she’s playing keyboards in my cover band, as well. We usually ride to gigs together, because she’s the new person, and nervous, and I want to make her feel welcome. Over the course of a few gigs, we get to be really good friends. Then one day, we’re besties. This is a person I’ve decided is a closer friend than anyone besides my wife, someone who I respect and love to hang out with.

There’s just this thing about her view of God.

I decided that I just couldn’t let this be a block to our friendship, one of those locked-off rooms that we don’t talk about. I knew I couldn’t dismiss her ideas, just because they were different. This was a friend, a GREAT friend, and as such, she wasn’t one of the nameless, faceless masses…you know, them.

So I asked her view on creation. And listened. It was hard. I wanted to shut it out, to cover my ears. But I listened, asked more questions…and noticed that second set of lenses I was looking through.

It’s been a process, certainly.  One thing that’s helped is learning that those lenses are pretty common. We all have them, to one degree or another. Ever notice that every group who has ever talked about there only being one way to look at God says it’s their way?  Telling, isn’t it?

Now my study of the Bible is looking at questions that have been occurring to me lately. Things like:
  • Since God puts everyone where and when He wants, what happens to the people He put in Muslim countries? Did He purposefully put them in a place where all likelihood suggests they will not, by our definition, spend eternity with Him?
  • If God picks only the people He wants, why does He create “throwaway people”, and they all burn in Hell eternally for the crime of not being chosen?
  • Why, in Revelation, is there a gate that’s always open in the New Jerusalem? Wouldn’t that suggest an invitation to outsiders?
  • Why are references to Hell in the Bible talking about trash dumps outside the city walls of Jerusalem?
So, I’m looking for answers…and trying to wear as few lenses as possible.

Have you ever removed any invisible glasses? Who or what revealed them to you? What kinds of questions are you asking today?

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Rich Chaffins is a guy with too much to do at any given nanosecond. He lives in the 304 with his lovely wife Misty, and their sons Nick, 10, and Wes, 5. Besides his family, his life is all about the fine art of guitar: playing them, teaching them, and building them. In addition to all THAT, he's also Assistant Music Director at his church. Get to know him and his lame sense of humor on Twitter.  








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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

And I'm Worth It by Cathy LaGrow

I think Cathy is one blogger who might be even more eclectic in her topics than I am! As a fellow pianist and wearer of "in front" headphones, I have felt a connection with Cathy for some time, but her post today makes me want to give her a huge hug and tell her thank you. If you've ever felt like you had no worth, please take your time and let the truths in this post sink in deep.

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'Worth 1' photo (c) 2011, Jim Champion - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/
I remember so vividly the moment I first realized that my worth as a human being had nothing to do with my performance as one. It was a moment that changed everything.

Growing up in a volatile religious household, I’d been taught that a person was only as good as their next “A,” their next blue ribbon, their next superb performance. Achievement and behavior were given the highest priority in our world. So I excelled at school, and in sports (as much as my non-Olympic body let me), and in music, and I was the most obedient child you’ve ever seen.

But it was still never good enough, as I heard repeatedly, relentlessly. Not by a country mile. So at 18 I got married, and moved across the country, and promptly went to pieces.

After spending a couple of years in a suffocating black depression, during which I cried nearly every day (sometimes for hours), I emerged into a kind of spiritual no-man’s-land.

I’d believed in God all my life but had never felt connected to Him. My concept of God was (as Anne Lamott perfectly put it): “God as high school principal in a gray suit who never remembered your name but is always leafing unhappily through your files."

Even prayer had become a chore for me, a mental battering of fists against a solid barricade. Finally, I couldn’t take it any more. You’ve given me no choice, God.  I thought. I’m going to run in the opposite direction.

By 1997, at just 26 years old, I’d reached the tattered end of my rope. I’d become so dead inside I never cried anymore, not even when I had reason to. My marriage was virtually over. “Running in the opposite direction” had worked – I’d screwed up so badly, I’d been asked to step down from my position as church pianist, the only activity for which I still felt any passion at all.

No longer caring what happened to me, I stopped wearing my seatbelt, a small act of listless defiance. Speeding along the Atlanta freeways at 90 miles an hour, I played a cosmic game of chicken with God. Take me, don’t take me, I thought. It doesn’t matter.

One evening at home, I walked into our spare bedroom looking for some papers I needed. Rifling through boxes, I came across a book I’d been given years earlier during counseling sessions – a book I’d never bothered to read. It was titled The Search for Significance, by Robert McGee.

Sitting on the beige carpet in that cluttered room, I opened the book up and started to read. And when I got to Chapter 6, all Heaven broke loose.

“I have great worth” (I read) “apart from my performance, because Christ gave his life for me, and imparted great value to me.”

Say what? I read it again. I have great worth apart from my performance…

Completely stunned, I read that sentence at least a dozen times. Tears started to pool in my eyes, then spill down my cheeks. Eventually, I moved on to the next sentence.

“I am deeply loved, fully pleasing, totally forgiven, accepted and complete in Christ.”

Deeply loved? Fully pleasing? I had never heard such a thing. I read the words over and over – I would have scraped them off the page and eaten them, if I could have. They shook me to my core.

Before long I was curled up on the floor, sobbing. I lay there for a long time, holding the book sideways on the carpet, next to my face, so I could re-read those mind-bending, heart-mending words whenever the tears eased up. This wasn’t Grace soft and demure – this was Grace as a tidal wave, Grace that bellowed, Grace that smashed through the ugly lies that had paralyzed me, the lies that said that I was worthless. Not good enough. Unloved.

Over the next few months, I repeated those two sentences to myself hundreds of times, until the message was chiseled into my heart: My fundamental worth had absolutely nothing to do with my behavior, and everything to do with a beautiful God nailed to a rugged beam over two thousand years ago.

With his death, Christ had absorbed every worthless thing about me, and from his ruin, I’d gathered the only descriptions of myself I had ever needed, would ever need.

Worthy. Accepted. Loved.

I do not just believe this to be true – I know it. I would die for it. It is the revelation that has let me finally, truly live.

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Cathy is a reader/writer/mother/wife/runner/pianist who adores learning new things. You can find her at (http://windowsandpaperwalls.wordpress.com/), where she usually writes about great books, or geeky science stuff, or church stuff, or old buildings, or pop culture. As it turns out, she has a little trouble focusing. Follow her on Twitter.

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Monday, August 29, 2011

The Pink Stick by Jen Luitwieler

I adore Jen Luitwieler (even though I misspell her name all the freakin' time). She is the best encourager when it comes to running. For reals. Every time I post something about running, she comments, even though I'm a total n00b and she's this running rockstar. Her book publishes on September 1 and I'm telling you now, you absolutely must purchase it. I adore this post because it's exactly the way I felt on a couple of occasions. Now, read, then go preorder her book.

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“I can’t.” I glared again at the slender pink stick in my hand. I used my other hand to prop up my head, rubbing my worry lines between my eyes into worry caverns. I kept thinking if I waited another 3 to 5 minutes, giving the pink stick more time to do its calculus, it could change its mind and reverse the future I held in my hands, rather unwillingly and in speechless disbelief. Speechlessness is not one of my spiritual gifts; finding myself in this state feels unpleasant.

Our daughters, 5 and 3, slept unawares in their rooms, which, as I stared at the stick of doom, seemed to shrink under every new implication my mind hit upon as it skittered from thought to thought, a dropped penny spinning with a clang on a dirty floor. My husband sat in a chair next to me, a vague smile on his beautiful face, shaking his head. He met his disbelief head on, acknowledged its presence and came to a sudden reckoning.

Sudden reckonings; another spiritual gift I don’t possess. I’m beginning to wonder if I have any at all. I had it all mapped out; two daughters, the perfect number of children for this already overwhelmed mama. Just days before this, I had sat at dinner with my girlfriends, telling them in no uncertain terms we would not be having any more children. I had sat there, eating my chicken salad, smugly unaware of the tiny seed growing in me right then.

'Dos rayas' photo (c) 2009, Daniel Lobo - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
I happened to glance at the calendar a week later. I furrowed my brow. I thought, “That can’t be right.” An immediate and unstoppable sweat coursed over me. I yanked the calendar off the wall. I repeated myself. “No. Way. That just cannot be right.” On a good day, I can wreak all kinds of havoc with numbers, math being another spiritual gift not gifted unto me. Today, I could not perform my own calculus to arrive at the answer I wanted, rather than the answer that was digging a hole inside my chest, taking root in my womb.

“I can’t.” I bellowed it this time, a beached and heaving mammal, unsure of anything. I tried to make sense of it; we were careful. We knew how to avoid this. I had two kids already. I couldn’t possibly be expected to mother another one when I was barely managing to keep our heads on straight as it was. And God? What in Sam Hill did He think He was doing? Throwing this curve ball at me so hard I felt bruised and dazed. I railed at him. “How can you, of all people, think I’m capable of this nonsense?”

When I ask God that kind of question, I swear I can almost hear him laugh. Not a derisive laugh; a confident, tender, loving laugh. A laugh that suggests he might, quite possibly, know more than I do. As if.

(To be clear, I do know that He knows more than I do. I am, however, stubborn when it comes to accepting this, or to acknowledging it. When will I learn? I don’t know.)

Nine months later, the first two of which I cried, we welcomed with joy, real and true and root-deep joy, our son, Elliot, who is now seven years old. He was born at home, surrounded by some of the most special women we’ve ever been blessed to know. Our entire family was swaddled in the love of a community that told me I could, when I knew for sure I could not.

Of course, it wasn’t just the community, though they were a tangible and breathing extension of the Father who calls and equips. It wasn’t just that God worked a softening in my heart and mind that alone I’d have never reached. It wasn’t just that my husband was delighted by our exceptional baby making abilities. It wasn’t just any of that. It was all of it.

And it was this boy.

You date, you marry, you have as many children as you plan for. When you’re young, there’s this assumption of the future, as if getting married and having children is an inalienable right, while totally overlooking the blessing part of it. Totally overlooking that conception, or even marriage, might happen later for us, if at all. Completely ignoring the fact that even the best birth control isn’t always fail-proof.

When I met Elliot, who wants to be a ninja when he grows up and alternates inviting girls and boys over for playdates and dances everywhere he goes, I suddenly understood that you can’t plan blessings. You can’t expect gifts. You can’t prescribe a life the way you might prescribe a course of action. This child. He says, every night, “Mama. Will you snuggle me?” I always agree, saying, “Of course I’ll snuggle you. For as long as you let me.” And he says, “Mama. I’ll always let you snuggle me. I’ll never stop.” That’s the kind of blessing you can’t expect, don’t deserve and grasp with your whole being. 

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Jennifer Luitwieler writes about crafts and athletics. Her first book “Run With Me: An Accidental Runner and the Power of Poo,” will be released on September 1 with Civitas Press. She’s got a long simmering relationship with running, does not like her dog, and can be found on Facebook and Twitter








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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Stuff YOU'VE Been Reading

I'm not really here.

Let me know what you've been reading and writing and watching and listening to this week.


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Saturday, August 27, 2011

Comfort by Jennifer Harris Dault

Another of my Twitter compadres, Jennifer is a wonderful woman. Even though she apparently doesn't like coffee, which probably calls into question her whole salvation, I'm glad to have her guest posting here today. I've had some of these conversations over the years and her words are a great reminder. (Update: Jennifer assures me that she loves coffee. Spiritual crisis averted.)


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“I don’t like these new songs,” she said.

I accidentally swallowed a cherry seed. Was she talking to me? I was only the summer intern, but I had just filled in for the pastor during the morning worship service. Since the chancel area doesn’t have good air flow, I needed water, liquid, something. Something OTHER than coffee, which was all that seemed to be available during the church fellowship time. So I settled on a handful of fresh cherries. That was beginning to seem like a bad idea.

Right as I put the first one into my mouth, she found me. “I don’t like this new songbook. It doesn’t have any of the songs I know and love. They are all… contemporary.” The word takes on new meaning in a liturgical UCC congregation where the organ is still the instrument of choice. Her venom didn’t seem to notice the discrepancy, but latched on as if voice alone could kill the contemporary beast.

“We still use the hymnal, too,” I reminded her. “The pastor tries to get a good mix of familiar and new songs.”

She told me stories about how she enjoys singing opera at home. “My family tells me I sing flat, but when I’m alone, I don’t know it. When I’m alone, I get to be the star of the opera.”

She then said something that troubled me. “I’m in my 70s, I hope not to be around 10 years from now. It’s the danger of growing old,” she continued. “The songs and art that comforted you all your life are gone, replaced by something new you can’t relate to. There is no comfort.”

No comfort? Wishing to be dead in 10 years? All over music and art? Really??

I had nothing to say. So I listened. And promised somewhere deep in my soul to remember this conversation the next time someone wants to sing one of the old hymns that make my theological teeth ache. Maybe it will help comfort. Maybe, just maybe, it will be life-giving.

What is something that brings you comfort? How can you bring comfort to someone else today?


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Jennifer Harris Dault is a 3rd year M.Div. student at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. She lives in St. Louis, MO, with her husband, Allyn, and two cats, Sassy and Cleo. You can find her at jenniferharrisdault.wordpress.com or twitter.com/jennintheattic.


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Friday, August 26, 2011

Six Short Months Later...

Back in February, I announced that the Not Alone series was going to be made into a book and I asked you to consider either contributing to the book or looking for others who might want to share their stories.

The response was absolutely amazing.

As I've spent this month editing stories, I cannot tell you how many tissues I've gone through and how many times I've had to stop and walk away because of how affected I am. People have been extremely vulnerable with their essays and I can never thank them enough for the way they have poured out their souls into these words. It is a huge privilege to be a part of this project.

And so it is with great excitement that I am totally breaking my sabbatical (just for a second) to let you know that you can now pre-order the Not Alone book!


Really, if I've had any doubts about this project (and I imagine in the course of every project, those doubts creep up), they were put soundly to rest yesterday as I read through the comments to Tony's post. Stories about depression strike at something deep. The isolation that Tony talked about (and that all of the other contributors have mentioned) is very real and the sense of relief that you feel when you see someone else verbalize it can be almost tangible. Those comments reminded me that this project will have a profound impact and I am deeply grateful to be a part of it.

So click this link and order your copy of the book. Buy it for a friend who suffers depression. Buy it for someone who doesn't understand what it's like to go through depression. These stories are powerful and I believe they will speak to you, regardless of your association with depression.

Thank you so much for your support so far. I'm so happy that you've walked this path with me!

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Family by Birth, Friends by Choice by Leigh Kramer

Leigh is another one of the contributors to the Not Alone book and for that I am profoundly thankful. But aside from that, Leigh is following her dreams all the way to Nashville and I admire her bravery so much. She is a lovely writer and I'm so glad to have a chance to share her writing with you today!

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It wasn't easy being the only girl amongst the boys on my mom's side of the family. Granted, I was not the sole granddaughter but with Clara and Emily missing most of our celebrations, it was up to me to represent.

For the most part, the boys overlooked the girl in their midst.

There are good memories, like the time we all danced the Super Bowl Shuffle in my grandparent's basement. But if you'd told me two decades ago that I'd someday enjoy spending time with my boy cousins and willingly hang out with them, I would have offered my patented death glare and promptly returned to my book.

Leigh and her cousins
I'm not sure when or how it happened. Maybe college did a number on me. As it turned out, I actually liked my boy cousins. And they liked me back!

It's amazing what happens when we grow up.

For instance, my cousin Adam and I have always had a love-hate relationship. He brought out my competitive juices more than any other person. I delighted in skewering him with the perfect put-down, taking familial teasing to a new level.

And now, it's less hate and more love. I regularly declare him to be one of my favorite cousins. (I tell all my cousins they're my favorite.) We couldn't be more opposite. He's younger, married, a “Chreaster,” and a Slayer fan. Despite those differences, we'd do anything for each other.

There's depth as well. We talk through the ups and downs of life and discuss our doubts and dreams.

Without these young men, I'm not sure how I would have processed the death of our cousin Scottie at age 22. To be able to reflect on our losses together has been healing. We are a family that tends to laugh and joke but our response during difficult times serves to strengthen our bond. I'll never forget sitting at Grandma's wake when Jon turned to me and thanked me for all I'd done during her final days, the way my support had helped him and the rest of the family.

We relate to each other as adults. Some married, some with children, some still in college. Now that I live out of state, I cherish our time together even more.

I don't tolerate my cousins; I love them. I never doubt they love me back and want only the best for me.

Not every family is as blessed as ours. I rarely hear of people excited to return for the annual family reunion. Ours reached 200 people this July. While I love catching up with my second and third cousins, I made sure to have quality time with my favorite boys first and foremost.

My 10 year old self might not have believed that one day Jon would let me pull him on the dance floor at a wedding or that I would be one of the first people Patrick called after the birth of his daughter or that Zach would stand taller than me.

I'm glad our pre-pubescent selves don't decide who to keep in the family. Otherwise, we'd all be missing out.

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In May 2010, Leigh Kramer intentionally uprooted her life in the Chicago suburbs by moving to Nashville in an effort to live more dependently on God.  She writes about life in the South, what God has been teaching her, and her ongoing quest for the perfect fried pickle. You can follow her adventures on Twitter (www.twitter.com/hopefulleigh) and her blog HopefulLeigh (http://www.leighkramer.com).









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Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Allure of Depression by Tony Alicea

Every now and then, you get to meet someone who is just plain nice in every way. Tony is one of those people. And I know some people will be mad that I called a dude nice, but he just IS. He's kind and encouraging and funny and honest and nice. Anyway. This is a bit of a different side of Tony today. Still totally his voice, but this isn't something that I've seen him write about on his blog, and I'm glad that he was willing to share it here. 
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I don’t struggle with depression but I have gotten a glimpse of it.
Three years after my divorce, I hit a wall. This was different than anything I had ever experienced before. I wasn’t feeling the typical loneliness or sadness that I was used to. Those feelings came and went in spurts. This was deep, dark and in retrospect…absolutely terrifying.
I’ve seen depression in others in various forms. Visible changes in countenance and demeanor, a desire for isolation and a general sense of hopelessness are characteristics that I’ve witnessed first-hand. I never struggled with any of these individual symptoms for more than a very brief period. I always bounced back after a day or so. I could never fully relate to true feelings of depression I heard others talk about.
Then it happened to me.
I’m not exactly sure when it started but it wasn’t a scary, ominous feeling. On the contrary, depression began to wrap itself around me like a comfortable blanket.
'' photo (c) 2011, Rachel Elaine - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/I enjoyed isolating myself. I wasn’t seeking the attention of others. I didn’t want pity. I just wanted to be alone. I was disconsolate and I didn’t want to share that with anyone else. I was numb and withdrawn and it happened before I realized it.
I felt broken. I felt alone. I felt numb. I felt relief.
The inconceivable part was that I didn’t want it to go away. I was simply resigned to these new feelings. I didn’t have to fight to keep everything together anymore. I didn’t have to put on a happy face for those that may have been worried about me. The numbness felt like relief from the heaviness that I didn’t want to carry anymore.
I realized that I was depressed and I liked how it felt.
Almost instantly after this realization, I got a fast forwarded vision of where my life was headed. God began to show me clearly, the lies that I was believing. I saw that I was being deceived and that this false peace was going to kill me.
I consider it a miracle. I can’t say that I have ever contemplated suicide but I believe if I didn’t have this vision, I would have headed down that path.
As quickly as I sunk into this depression, I was pulled out. I felt like there was a hand that reached down into my self-made pit and pulled me out. And just like that, it was gone.
I learned that the true power of depression isn’t how low it takes you, but how completely deceived you can be to the truth. Depression didn’t cause me to fight against it, it caused me to resign with a false sense of relief.
The true power of depression over me wasn’t how bad it felt but how alluring it was.
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Tony is passionate about helping others discover their identity and destiny in life. He blogs about it at Expect The Exceptional. You can also find him regularly chatting on Twittter. He lives in south Florida and is engaged to the woman of his dreams.








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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Living Room Confession by Kyla Cofer

I met Kyla through the Not Alone book. She submitted a wonderful piece for that, and we extended our relationship beyond. I am so thankful for her courage in sharing her story about depression and I'm glad to have her posting about intentional living today on the blog.


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I once went to Confession - in my friend's living room.

I sat with my four closest friends, watching an old episode of Parks and Rec, while we waited for 9 o’clock to arrive so we could make our way to a goodbye party. The episode ended; that Amy Pohler - she’s a funny one. Netflix began to load the next episode and we commenced our chatting over our outfits and the men in our lives. 

Amanda asked me a personal question, and I took a deep breath before allowing the conversation return to something less important. I didn’t really want to say the words I planned and needed to say since 7am that morning. Now loaded and ready for laughter, Parks and Rec starts playing and I hope that I’ll get out of my confession. 

'Empty Couch' photo (c) 2011, Anne Hornyak - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/There’s a reason Amanda and I get along well. She pauses the sitcom before the first word is spoken, sets down the remote, looks at me and waits. 

Fudge. Now I have to do it. Thank you, girl, I really wanted to get this out. 

Two years of intentional community building pays off in moments like these. This was confession time, and confessions carry a load of fear with them; the possibility of rejection, of judgment, of shame. In the past, my confessions to friends wreaked so much havoc in my internal self that I steered clear of those relationships after, sure that the friendship wasn’t meant to be, anyway.

I’m almost confused as I write this, because all of those feelings of guilt and shame that normally accompany my confessions, never even entered the room that night. Not once. Not before I walked into the house knowing what I wanted to say, not during the conversation, not after. It was almost as if fear never existed and the word itself held no meaning. My friends stopped their primping and looked at me with only eyes of grace and compassion. The need for forgiveness disappeared. Stories were shared, stories of empathy and truth. 

Instead of wanting to run away, I only wanted to run towards. Towards the building of more community, depth of friendship, and years of stories.

And then we packed up, drove to a bar, and sang our hearts out in karaoke.   

Do you have friends who will not only hear your confessions, but encourage them? Do you fear speaking the truth about the ugly, imperfect parts of you? What can you do to be a person who both gives and receives compassion?


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Kyla blogs about social justice and growing deep relationships. She loves to engage in philosophical conversations while eating ice cream from around the world, and lives as a rebellious Mennonite who ballroom dances when everyone is watching. Check out her blog at www.kylajoyful.com and follow her on Twitter.















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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Judgment Day: Judge Judy or Mythbusters? Dan McMonagle

Dan is one of my music friends over on Twitter. Any time I tweet something about playing, I can pretty much count on a response from him, which is great, because I totally geek out about stuff like that. It's always a little scary to post about hell on your site, but Dan has managed to somehow make this a light-hearted post. Don't be fooled though, this will get you thinking as well!


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Part I: the “Dream”

I had a dream a few nights ago that scared the crud out of me! It was judgment day, but we weren’t standing before God: we were on the set of “Judge Judy” with a studio audience and a wacked out cast of characters. {Not a real dream… just roll with it…. ;-}

Thankfully, I wasn’t on trial -- I was the court reporter, hammering at the steno machine, trying to record the events & discussion going on around me. Two things annoyed me: a) I don’t know shorthand (stenotype?), and b) I couldn’t ruminate on the dialogue, I barely had time to record it.

Before we were called to order, I noticed various authors, pastors and bloggers mulling around the room, as well as some historical figures:

Rob Bell was chatting with Mahatma Ghandi;

John Piper and Mark Driscoll were each addressing a small crowd of their faithful followers;

Rachel Held Evans was sitting with Anne Frank, listening to her story;

Francis Chan and Greg Boyd were locked in a deep discussion, not arguing but listening and trying to understand each other;

Hemant Mehta was glancing around the room, shaking his head and wondering aloud “Why are we here? Nothing exists after death.”

There was also some guy wearing a white robe, listening and watching, but not speaking up…. I think maybe that was Jesus.

Judge Judy finally came in, court was called to order, and the following is the transcript as best as I remember it:

JJ: “Well, what do we have on the docket today? Is this one case… 20 separate cases… how far does that line go out the door?”

Piper: “Your honor, we’ve got a real mess here…. The Bible clearly states how we determine who goes to heaven and who goes to hell, but half the people here can’t agree…..” (a snort came from the direction of Hemant, momentarily distracting Piper.)

Bell: “Actually, there’s been disagreement regarding the scriptures for as long as there have been ‘Christians’. Are we really supposed to believe that God intends most people to be tortured for eternity? Ghandi lived an exemplary life of love and sacrifice… who are we to assume that he wasn’t answering God’s call?”

Driscoll: “UNIVERSALIST!”

Chan: “Actually, Mark, that would make Rob an ‘Inclusivist’, not necessarily a universalist. Now, I understand that many of us don’t WANT to believe in hell – but we can’t just ignore what the scriptures say about eternity….”

Boyd: “Eternity? When I read the scriptures, I read that the wages of sin is death and that people perish. Have you ever considered that maybe that means…. “

JJ: “Timeout! Jesus – you seem to be a central figure in this debate, yet you’re keeping strangely silent right now. What do you have to say?”

JC: “I know my sheep and my sheep know me. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen…. They too will listen to my voice and there shall be one flock and one
shepherd.”

A chorus of voices chimed in, “Lord, I know your voice!” Ghandi and Anne Frank both smiled and took deep breaths; Hemant rolled his eyes.

JC:”Of course, many will say ‘Lord, didn’t we do great things in your name?’, and I’ll say ‘Sorry, I never knew you.’”

JJ:”What? You’re no help at all! How am I supposed to sort this out?”

Then, I woke up…… What a nightmare!

I doubt that many believe “judgment day” will be like this chaotic illustration. But, I suspect most believers anticipate that our “judgment” before God will be handled like a court case, where evidence will be viewed and weighed.

Part II: the “Experiment"

What if “judgment” doesn’t come in the form of a “trial” or court case? I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that it’s going to be more like a physics experiment. What if judgment day is akin to something you might see on Mythbusters?

Jamie: “Today, we’re going to put Dan’s soul to the test. Just how are we going to do that, Adam?”

Adam: “Well, Jamie, this hot tub-sized vat contains a toxic mix of sulfuric acid and molten lava with a twist of lime. Dan’s soul will be plunged in the mix for 60 seconds – how do you think he’ll do, Kari?”

Kari: “Hmm. Dan seems like a good guy, but does he do nice things as an act so
people will like him, or has God really been working through him, building up a
spiritual body that can survive this incredible heat?”

Jamie: “I don’t know, Kari, but we’re about to find out. Hit the button, Adam!”

Yikes!

I think “judgment” may boil down to (no pun intended) discovering what we are made of. Not the words we speak, the books we read, or even our “works, so that no man can boast.” We will find out what we are made of.

If GOD IS the infinite source of light and love, what happens to us when we enter into His presence? What happens when we encounter the all-consuming fire of the love of God? That depends….

Have we been storing up “Treasures in Heaven” or “Fuel for the Fire”?

That which is pure and holy within us – treasures made for Heaven and forged by acts of love – will be refined by the fire and become even more beautiful.

The fluff? The facades? The “wood, hay and stubble”? Like tossing kindling into a roaring fire, it may be gone faster than we can say “but wai………”

Where does Jesus fit in this picture? He redeems us and makes us new: he is the
source of all that is pure and precious within us.

I don’t know about you, but on my own, I’m basically a selfish, stinky turd. If I have any “treasures in heaven” within me, they have been forged in those moments when I’ve surrendered to God, laid down my selfish desires and done “the right thing” in spite of myself.

That which has been refined and purified (i.e., the works of “following Jesus” and answering God’s call) will survive. That which is built on our own merit… not so much. (1 Cor. 3:11-15).

What about the Ghandi’s and Anne Frank’s of the world? In Romans 1:14-15, Paul writes that “when Gentiles… who don’t have the law… do by nature things required by the law… they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts.” Does that sound like “treasures in heaven” or “fuel for the fire”?

Hmm…. If it swims like a fish….

How about those that flat-out lived for evil? (Hitler? Stalin?) Maybe there’s a hellish alternative to heavenly treasures? Creosote soaked lumber? Firelogs soaked in kerosene? I imagine that sort of “fuel for the fire” could burn a very long time!

Honestly, we cannot know with any certainty how God will handle judgment, as the methods of “Judgment Day” are impossible for even the Mythbusters to verify.

So, how do we live with the "I don't know"?

Love God… and TRUST that He knows what He’s doing!

Love our neighbors as ourselves.

Study the Word and seek the truth, but be patient and understanding when others don’t see things as we do. After all, they might not be the one that’s wrong!

What do you think about Judgment Day? Will it be similar
to a court case, a physics experiment, or something altogether different?



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Dan McMonagle lives in the Pacific Northwest with his wife and three boys. A mathematician, a musician, and now a fledgling blogger, Dan often keeps "too many irons in the fire".  When he's not busy with his day job as an actuary, Dan likes to spend his time involved with kid's sports (baseball, football), church (musician, worship leader, works with kids) and family life.







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Monday, August 22, 2011

Broken Feet by Preston Yancey

I haven't known Preston very long, but I've got to tell you, I'm glad to have met him. He writes a tremendously thoughtful blog and it's always a joy to run across those. I hope that you'll enjoy his contribution to the Extravaganza as much as I did!


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I prayed a dangerous thing once. I asked God to break my feet because it had become too easy to come to Him.

I was in a space of deep dissatisfaction with my self, with my faith. Things were accepted to readily, I didn’t have enough questions, and the more I evaluated this lack of curiosity the more I realized it had come from a place of pride in certainty. And this was alarming. Alarming because I have never had the kind of faith that wavered much. I have a terrible gift of faithfulness, an almost painful trust in the provision of God. But somehow over the years that convicting, firm belief that saw through storm after storm had evolved and mutated into a pride of will. It had made me better than others, not spiritually different. What had been a gift became disease, slowly atrophying my heart.

It had become too easy to answer, to demand answers from others. God was too easy to fathom.

So I prayed that He would break my feet. I prayed that He would help me understand the beauty of the Infinite, the Unknown.
'Reeve 048693' photo (c) 2007, Otis Historical Archives National Museum of Health and Medicine - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

A few weeks later, I sat on my bed early staring down at the duvet as if the shards of my life were spread across it. Much had broken in those weeks. Pieces of me lay strewn across the fabric. But I could only pick up a few at a time. Trying to grasp too much of those shards only made the fragments cut deep and pierce to the bone. Life had fallen apart. Life had changed in an instant. I cried out to God demanding to know if this is what it meant to pray for my feet to be broken.

During Morning Prayer I came across this from the Psalm: “The Lord is nigh unto all them that call upon him; yea, all such as call upon him faithfully. He will fulfill the desire of them that fear him; he also will hear their cry, and will help them.”

I wonder if any of us truly know the desire of our hearts. Perhaps they too are mystery, mystery like those things hidden since the foundation of the world. Because upon my bed, the shards of my being, the pieces of a shattered vision, all scattered about, proved that what had been my desire was more what I thought had been my desire than anything real.

Maybe that was what it meant to have my feet broken, to learn that my expectations were not necessarily the deep desires of my own heart. I may bear my soul within me, but I did not author it. Only the Author knows the intricacy in full.

So I prayed a different prayer then. I prayed that God would keep me safe, safe as I stepped out into the world in search for answers. Or perhaps not answers. Questions.

Yes. Keep me safe while I learn to ask questions. Journey on.

Have you ever prayed a dangerous prayer? Where did that lead you?


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Preston Yancey is a senior at Baylor University earning his degree in Great Texts of the Western Tradition with a focus in medieval literature and theology. He also ended up with a minor in Political Science specialized in East Asian foreign and domestic relations, which he contends happened by accident. He makes his home where he can, being found often enough either in an airport or in a car on the way to the next destination, from Waco to Chicago to London to Beijing and beyond. He runs on a diet of caffeine and God's grace. Someone once called him a hipster, which he tweeted. He is a contributing writer to the Good Women Project and keeps his own blog at SeePrestonBlog.



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Sunday, August 21, 2011

Stuff YOU'VE Been Reading

I'm not really here.

Let me know what you've been reading and writing and watching and listening to this week!

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Saturday, August 20, 2011

In Gratitude for a Small Harvest by Alyssa Santos

Alyssa is another new member to my virtual village, but I'm so glad that she asked to be a part of this month's guest post extravaganza! She is a lovely writer and I am so glad that she contacted me about writing here. And while I'm a blueberry person myself, I thoroughly enjoyed her story about her pitiful strawberry patch and I think you will as well.

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I like to fancy myself a gardener. I like to fancy myself a true blonde, too, but I’m dependent on the bottle now and this isn’t a confessional. This piece is about my strawberry patch.

I have been married almost twenty years and I have always kept my hands in the dirt and my garden dreams well fertilized with a sort of Martha Stewart field of dreams mentality. My usually logical and evenly measured mentality takes hiatus when I get to gardening every spring.

We were married just two months when we moved from bustling San Jose, California to my adopted hometown in northeast Washington State. My first plowed plot in 1992 was actually larger than our first house. Our rental home was just a speck measuring roughly ten by twenty feet and my garden bed was 15x25. That first rectangle of earth taught me about growing things and growing up. I learned that growing food was harder than it looked – actually everything about being a grown-up was sort of disappointing and difficult much like my row of spinach.

Since then I have discovered that like that first garden, life has been so much work and I’m not always up to the task. I’m not good at balancing the checkbook, I’m not good at scheduling play-dates when I can just shout, “Go outside and play with your brother”. And I’m not good at talking about sex with my teenage son. On the flip-side I have discovered that despite my mother’s predictions, I am a decent cook and I possess a talent to repeatedly surprise my family with four-course meals when I haven’t shopped for groceries for three-weeks.

I still struggle with the idea of becoming a grown-up but I have become a gardener. I get a kick out of searching still-frozen earth for spiked signs of life in stubborn winter. I sow freely alyssum seeds around my roses, I prune and weed and mow the grass. Yep, I actually love getting dirty by myself in the garden.
Aside from carrots and tomatoes, however, I have yet to get really adept at growing food. I am not capable of sustenance farming; on a better year, my skills might land us in the middle of the subsistence category.
My strawberry patch this year was pitiful and this sad reality is emphasized by the fact that strawberries are infamously easy to grow. I admit I’ve never had a bumper crop, but we have had enough to eat and enjoy with some to freeze for later use. Usually by the Fourth of July we’re picking and grinning, in a good, berry sort of way.

This year the harvest was pathetic, I thought as I watched my one daughter eat her one bowl of berries on the patio.

Later that night I walked down my garden pathway to the strawberry patch which I found camouflaged by leafy branches of other plants: raspberries (bullies really, but the fruit is so worth the work), garlic, phlox and aster (which had no business being that close to the berries) and a daylily that looked like it could hide a family of raccoons under it’s strapping leaves. I made a discovery.

My berries are squished.

They need their own bit of earth to stretch out roots and reach for sunshine. They need space to make sweet fruit. As their caretaker, it’s up to me to do something about that. We’ll move them into a raised bed of fragrant cedar so they can do what they’re supposed to do – produce delicious berries.

That’s another thing I’ve learned these past twenty years. Sometimes I need my patch cleared. I need to look around and pay attention to why my relationships aren’t yielding sweet returns. It doesn’t have to be a demolition or a total relocation, just some intentional attention to the friends and activities that populate my life. And, I can give myself permission to take the time to take care of myself. I can even take an extra season to recover and get used to my new surroundings so that producing fruit becomes a natural response to the conditions of my environment.

So I’ll wait another summer for my own strawberries. Come next June when I pop a freshly plucked berry in my mouth, I’ll give thanks not only for the fruit but also for a sweet lesson slowly learned.

Have you discovered that your life sometimes gets cluttered with things of the past, busyness and commitments or toxic relationships? Sometimes they just don’t produce any worthwhile thing. Have you had to clear your patch, take care of yourself and lend yourself permission to relocate or recover?


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Alyssa does not like speaking about herself in third person, she finds it a thoroughly irritating practice. She loves birds, gardening, eating, cooking, telling people funny stories that make them laugh while eating, art-making, wordsmithing and studying. She is married to this guy who kissed her at a fraternity party and ended up being the perfect man for the job of loving her. He's Filipino and she’s not and their kids are a beautiful mix of all that they are, genetically speaking. They have four kids ranging in age from six to sixteen and they don't look like her at all. She is head-over-heels in love with them. She began blogging just over a month ago but she has been writing for years. She has been published locally and is looking forward to a couple of her pieces to appear in the Love is A Verb Devotional book due out in 2011.


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Friday, August 19, 2011

Sisters, Different as Night and Day by Janet Oberholtzer

Janet is, without a doubt, my biggest running inspiration. That she is a gifted writer is just icing on the cake. I am so glad to have met her and I absolutely cannot wait to read her book this fall. She is an amazing woman and I encourage you to head over to her blog and check it out. But not until you've finished reading this wonderful post.

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I have four sisters ... three older and one younger.* As kids and as adults, we’ve had some great times together. Other times, I’ve wondered if there’s a big secret I’ll uncover someday about who my family truly is because I have so little in common with my sisters. (Obviously they are each individuals and have unique personalities, but for the sake of this post, I’m treating them as a unit.)
I grew up in a strict Mennonite home, where a popular pastime for most little girls is playing with dolls. My sisters enjoyed that ... I did not. I wanted to be out riding bike or doing cart wheels in the yard. (Having to wear a dress did not stop me) 

We each had a doll or two dressed in Mennonite clothes made by our mom. My sisters still talk fondly of their dolls (I think one or two still has theirs) but I don’t even remember what mine looked like. I’d help my sisters build ‘houses’ with chairs and blankets, but then I had no interest in cooking pretend meals or playing mommy. My sister would get annoyed and chant “we’ll never make a lady out of Janey.” 

As we grew up, learning how to cook and clean was a top priority. I failed miserably at both ... mostly because I knew when to disappear or I bribed one of my sisters into doing my jobs. Plus, the cooking disasters that happened when I was around rendered me useless in the kitchen. How was I to know that if I stood too close to the mixer one of my braided pigtails would get caught in the beaters as it whipped mashed potatoes? (After a little cleanup, both my hair and the potatoes survived. Yes, the potatoes were served, because it was mealtime and the menfolk were hungry — what they didn’t know, didn’t hurt them)

During my teen years, I rebelled against the boxes of my family’s religion while my sisters embraced it. I snuck ‘forbidden’ music and books into my room, which were confiscated by a sister more than once. In my 20’s, I chose a non-Mennonite path in life, doing things that disappointed them, like cutting my hair, wearing pants and buying a TV ... all strictly forbidden in their world. 

Traditional Mennonites look almost like Amish in their dress, but they don’t follow all the same teachings. Mennonites don’t have a policy of shunning, so even though my sisters have stayed in that world, I’m still invited to family events and dinners. We’ve talked about are religious differences at times, but for the most part, we’ve settled on a “live and let live” policy with each other. I don’t try to change them and they don’t (often) try to change me.

Religious isn’t the only area we’re different, there’s numerous other areas. 

 - They sit and quilt, I prefer to go for a run.
 - They sew almost all their own clothes, I don’t own a sewing machine.
 - They are excited about new pastry or cake recipes, I’m excited about new salad recipes.
 - They spend days growing/canning/freezing produce every summer, I spend days at the beach.
 - They have the entire family (about 50 people) over for a family style dinner at least twice a year. I’ve done that twice in the past ten years. 


Over the years, we’ve spent a few weekends together at a cabin with our families, but most times, we connect via a family meal followed by a few hours of visiting. Occasionally, we spend a day at our mom’s house just hanging out, playing games, laughing over old pictures or they work on a quilt, while I take pictures. 

Inspite of our differences, we make an effort to stay connected ... because sisters are sisters and always will be. 





*My younger sister Rosene was born with Cerebral Palsy and in October 2008 at age 39, she died from complications related to Cerebral Palsy and a surgery. I miss her, but I’m happy that she’s not suffering anymore. 



Some portions of this post are taken from my memoir Because I Can which will be released this fall


How do you interact with your family? Are you similar to most of your family or different?


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Janet has been asking why since she was born and continues to do so today as she learns to fully live life again after almost losing her leg and her life in an accident. She is a speaker and a writer with her first book Because I Can being released this fall. She blogs at JanetOber.com. And you can connect with her on Twitter and on Facebook.








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