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I’ve Been Away

I think I’ve mentioned this before, but my wife, Debbie, and I are part of a wonderful organization, Open Door Libraries, with libraries in 4 strategic locations in Central & Eastern Europe, and the Middle East.  Our role is to provide care to the staff at these 4 libraries.  We focus on helping them stay emotionally, spiritually and physically healthy and fit.  It’s in our sweet spot.  After 45 years of ministry life, both Debbie and I have a passion to bring life in any way we can to people in ministry, and specifically to these men and women who are devoting their lives to building relationships and providing resources in places that have been dramatically under-resourced for decades.  It’s a wonderful ministry that is changing lives, and we’re honored to be part of it.  If you’d like to know more about it, click on this website: http://www.opendoorlibraries.org.

We generally get to each of these four libraries 3 times a year to give care.  The trip takes about 4 weeks because we spend about a week in each location.  And when we’re out on these trips, I don’t always have time to stay current with my HomeworK blog.  This was true on this most recent trip.  We were gone from June 3 through July 3.

When we get back, we’re recovering from crossing 8 time zones and the jet lag that comes with that.  It usually takes about a day per time zone.  If we were younger, we could maybe do it more quickly.  We’ll never know…  So there’s a little more than a week when we get back that’s just a wash, no matter how smart I try to structure the re-entry.

This time, our return and re-entry is more complicated than before.  On July 26, we’ll be loading a Penske truck (with the help of wonderful friends here in Iowa), and moving to Edmond, OK, where I will begin working with a private Christian counseling practice, New Path 12:2 (newpathok.com).  I’m looking forward with anticipation to developing a Pastoral Counseling practice with New Path 12:2.  It’s a challenging next chapter for Debbie and me, but it seems like God has been drawing me into it.  We’ll be able to continue our commitment and work with Open Door Libraries in this new position, so although many aspects of our lives will change, that will not.

For the last two weeks, we’ve been purging (and wondering why in the world we kept so much useless and out-dated junk…) and packing boxes so we’ll be ready to load the truck when the fast-approaching day arrives.

Actually, it’s been a lot more of Debbie doing this than me.  I’m finding it hard to adult.  I realize that there is a mountain of details to nail down, and work that has to be done before I go get the truck.  I know that putting off until tomorrow what I should be doing today will come back to bite me on the behind.  I know these things, but I still find it really hard to adult my way though them.  Even if you’re not moving, I think you know what I’m talking a bout.

There are hard things in life.  It’s been this way ever since Eve and Adam took the forbidden fruit.  This will not change.  Technology will change the look and feel of things, but it won’t change the fact that life is hard.  To date, nobody’s been able to come up with an app to change this.  I do not believe AI (artificial intelligence) will do this, either.  Moving will always be hard.  Even if you pay somebody else to do it for you.  There are apps that claim to make it easy, but all they can do is make it easier.  Not easy.  For me, anyway.  And we’re moving ourselves, with the help of friends and family.  So.

Thank you for permitting me to have a cathartic moment here.  Confession is good for the soul.  Unfortunately, confession quickly turns to whining, an activity I’ve become quite good at.

If you’re facing a difficult challenge (and I’m guessing most of us are), I have no wonderful advice.  I have no jewels of deep wisdom that will make it easy.  I don’t think I even have anything that will make it very much easier.  Sorry.

But there is a line from My Utmost For His Highest that helps me, so I’ll pass it on.   One simple sentence.  “Trust God and do what’s next.”

Easy for me to write.  Hard for me to pull off.  And very often hard for me to pull off with a song in my heart (unless it’s the Eagles’ Get Over It).  But this is the advice I’m telling myself over and over and over.  Just thought you might be in a tight enough spot you’d want to advise yourself this way, too.

Tests

A young friend who is going to a Bible college shared an interesting story with me that I think is worth retelling.

In one of her classes, the professor announced at the beginning of the first class session that they would be observing the greatest theological construct as the motive in his class.  Even in the grading.  “Everyone has an A,” he announced.  “Out of gratitude for this and love for me because I have set this as the structure, there’s only one reason to do the work I assign in this class, and really only one reason for me to give you an A.  It’s love.”

Dozens of times through the semester he would ask, “Do you love me?”  He gave assignments and would ask, “Do you love me?”  Love was the motivation – the only legitimate motivation – for doing the work associated with the assignment.  All the reading, all the writing, all the showing up for class was to be motivated by love.  Every student already had been given an “A.”  Earning grade, then, didn’t need to motivate the work.  That wasn’t needed.  The outcome was already set.

Many young people who go to Bible college are performance-oriented.  Some are performance-driven, but don’t see this in themselves.  And, frankly, many Bible colleges are built (in some cases, unintentionally) to promote this.  The message many young students have picked up from their upbringing and church experience is, “Try harder.  Work harder.  God will love you more if you do.”  It’s a very broken message, but one that lots of us heard.  In Bible college, sometimes making good grades and by this proving that you’re a serious student can be equated with being serious about your faith and devotion to Christ.

Let me be clear that this is not the case with every Bible college student or Bible college.  It happens, though.  And sometimes people go to Bible college because they want to be really serious about God, and going there proves how serious they about this.

It turns out my young friend was one of these people, but didn’t know it.  Her moment of self-discovery came when it was time for the final exam in this class.  The night before, she had dutifully spent 3 hours studying and pouring over her class notes to prepare for the exam.  When she sat down in her classroom the next morning, she was ready to speed through the final and make a stunningly good grade.

The professor passed out the exam, face-down.  “Please don’t turn your papers over until I tell you to,” he instructed.  This is nothing too out of the ordinary in the world of test-taking.  Nobody thought much about it.

“Now, turn your exams over,” he said.  The papers rippled.  And then there was a nearly unison gasp.  Every answer to every question on the examination was answered.

“Now wait just a minute!” my friend thought.  “I burned up three hours of my life studying this last night!  I said no to a ton of more fun things so I could sit at my desk and do all this studying!  I did all the homework all semester long.  I took notes – lots of notes! – and paid attention in class.  How dare you fill in the blanks!”  She actually went through the exam marking all the answers.  There was just something in her that just couldn’t accept that she didn’t have to take the test.

And then it hit her.  It was the most profound lesson from the entire class, and maybe the most profound one of her life.  She would get an A that she didn’t work for.  She had been diligent to do all the work in the class, but if she hadn’t have, she would still have been given an A.  That did not compute.  Because the rest of her life had taught her that she had to perform to be acceptable.  And, boy, did she want to be acceptable.  She had learned that the best insurance for being accepted was to over-perform.  And so she did in every area she could.

But this class (a required one) had broken with her long-ingrained paradigm for how life worked.  And when it did that, it broke her.  “It ruined me,” she told me.  She left the class and made a bee-line for the farthest stall in the bathroom and cried for 25 minutes.  Cleansing tears.  Tears of brokenness.

I wonder if God would have said to her in the bathroom, “You’re good with me, girl.  I’ve wanted you to find this out since before you were born.  This is why I arranged for you to be in this class this semester.”  Then He would have drawn her into the strongest of embraces and showered her with kisses.  Pardon me for anthropomorphizing God.

To bend C.S. Lewis’ words in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe a little, this is the “deep magic.”  The power and work of God’s grace is mysterious.  It makes so little sense.  It goes against the grain of almost everything most of us have been taught and have experienced in our lives.  It seems too good to be true.  But it is true.

What if your family ran on grace instead of performance?  What if everybody in your family knew that they’ve already got an A?  What if everybody knew that they were accepted and acceptable?

Are you kidding?!  How will I get anybody to do stuff around here?!  If I didn’t crack the whip, nobody’d do anything around here.

OK, I get that.  I’m not talking about raising slugs and sloths – irresponsible and inconsiderate little tyrants.  I’m talking about teaching our kids (and maybe our spouses…) to do things because of love.  Duty doesn’t go away.  It gets re-framed in grace.

Books have been written about this.  There’s obviously a LOT more that could be written or said about how families can live in grace.  All I want to do with this little blog is to tickle your brain to begin thinking about what you could do to re-frame your family life around grace instead of performance.  What that looks like, exactly, is different from family to family, because every family is different.  The principle remains firm, though: grace is the way and love is the motive.  What you do with that principle has to be fluid.  So don’t get locked down trying to do all the right things so that you’ll measure up and be a grace family.  That will backfire on you, and you’ll get pretty much the opposite of what you want.  If you don’t treat yourself with grace you’ll never be able to treat your family with grace.  This re-framing thing will become another (even more toxic) way to try to perform so God and everybody else will like you.  That won’t work.

You’ve already got an A.  Live out of that, not in order to get it.

 

Show Up

There are many wonderful things about being part of a ministry that takes us to Europe and the Middle East two or three times a year.  We don’t go as tourists anymore.  We do work which we love, work that’s in both Debbie’s and my sweet spot.  It’s still work, though.  If you’re one of our prayer and/or financial partners, thank you so much for making this work possible for us.

Spending the last two weeks in Central Europe has reminded me of how much I’ve been in a hurry lately.  It’s not that people in Central Europe don’t hurry.  They do.  They hurry to get to the train or bus.  They sometimes hurry up or down the escalators.  Taxis are always in a hurry. But when they’re just walking from point A to point B, they generally don’t hurry.  When they eat a meal, they never hurry.    And that’s what got my attention.

I don’t think of myself as a hurry-up-and-get-er-done kind of guy anymore.  I used to be, but I’ve slowed down considerably.  A heart attack has a way of doing that to a guy.  To this guy, anyway.  My calendar gets far less jammed with back-to-back meetings and appointments.  I don’t jam my evenings full.  I actually schedule in travel time.  I still walk faster than my wife, Debbie, but I don’t walk as fast as I used to.  Unless I’m trying to catch a bus, or train, or get to a gate for a flight.  Which isn’t as often as you might think.

When I was recovering from my heart attack, I couldn’t hurry.  I mean, I physically couldn’t.  If the house had caught fire, I probably wouldn’t have survived.  I just didn’t have the physical steam to hurry.  It worked out pretty well since I didn’t have anywhere to go.

I couldn’t drive for most of 2 months after my “critical incident.”  The first time I drove, I was like a little old man jamming traffic in the left lane.  Going 40 felt like going 75.  It was weird.  A sensation I don’t think I’ve ever felt.

My driving style changed a lot.  I used to exceed the speed limit, consistently.  Maybe not every time I was on the freeway, but I was usually 5 mph or more over the speed limit.  I was always running behind, and it always felt like I had to hurry to try and make up the time.

My 6 months of not hurrying stuck with me, though.  When I started driving again, I decided I would drive the speed limit.  This means I almost always have to drive in the right-hand lane.  You know, the SLOW LANE.  I did some math and realized that if I’ve got 10 or so miles to drive, I would have to go “faster than a speeding bullet” to make up more than a few seconds by driving over the speed limit.  Lots of times the car I shot past on the freeway would show up right behind me at a traffic light.  Funny how that works.

So why am I writing about speeding?  Because I think many people (maybe most people) try to live their lives at too fast a pace.  They cram more into their schedule than anybody other than the Flash could accomplish, and they scramble from one place to the next at warp speed, always behind, often frazzled.  They live in the deficit.  They hack away at their to-do list all day long at the speed of sound, and still end the day with more left to do on their list.  Some days it feels like the list just spontaneously multiplies.

I could go on and on about this, but I’m guessing you don’t need me to.  I probably just read your mail.

Years ago I read one of the most pivotal books I’ve ever read, entitled, Margin, by Richard Swenson.  He makes a case for the fact that when you hurry, you hurt yourself (physically, emotionally, spiritually) and everyone in your life.  We hurry because we leave ourselves with no margin.  It’s a reason, but not an excuse.  If you’re looking for a good book, this is one worth your time.  It doesn’t just spank you.  It gives some great tips for how to create and maintain margin in your life.

There are many implications connected to hurry.  Most of them are negative.  The one I want to poke you with today is that when you’re in a hurry, you don’t have time to slow down and actually be present.  You’re always late for your next thing, and thinking about it, not the moment you’re in or the person you’re with.  You know, the person you’re supposed to be there for.

Not all people struggle with this.  My personal, anecdotal estimate is that 10% of the population doesn’t suffer from hurry.  They suffer from it’s opposite.  They slow the rest of the world down, but not in the positive way I would like.  They don’t need to slow down.  They’d be standing dead still if they did.  The rest of us – the 90% – need to take a page from their book, though.  The rest of us suffer from the hurry disease.  And some of have a terminal case of it.

As a spouse, you’ve got to slow down so you can show up for your husband or wife.  As a parent, you’ve got to slow down so you can show up for your kids.  As a human being, you’ve got to slow down for life.  If you don’t slow down, you’ll sprint right past the things in life that really matter.  You’ll miss the gifts your spouse, your kids, your friends, your associates would otherwise give you.

To paraphrase what I once heard from Dr. Howard Hendricks, “I’ve never been with a dyeing man and heard him say, ‘I just wish I had been in more of a hurry…'”  I have known lots of people who leave this world full of regret for the things they didn’t get to do because they just didn’t have time for them.

News flash: in your life, you will only have time for the things you make time for.  You have to say no to some things so you can say yes to the other things.  Time is like money.  You only get to spend it once.  If you don’t plan how you’ll spend your money, you’ll end up bankrupt.  The same thing will happen to your soul if you don’t plan how you’ll spend your time.

So slow down.  Make time.  Say no to things that matter less so you can say yes to the things that matter most.  Slow down so you can show up.

Papa

Fourteen years or so ago, I heard “Papa” addressed to me for the first time by a little guy who couldn’t even walk yet.  Ginger hair.  Winsome smile.  Strong will.  He had my heart before that, but he melted it when he called me by that name.

Now, he’s a strappin’ teenager who works along side his dad, farming, and can hit a golf ball almost as far as me.  (I may only have another year or two to be able to beat him in stroke play…)  He loves God, loves farming, loves his moma and dad and sister, and really loves his Nana.  And he still calls me Papa.  I love it.

I’ve had this same melted-heart experience with all three of my other grandkids.  Every time they call me Papa, I love it like the first time I heard it.

Before I was a Papa, I was a dad.  Duah…  Our three daughters are all grown with their own independent lives and families now.  They give me a terminal case of dad-pride.  I only half-jokingly say, “It’s such a blessing that they were raised by their mom, and that I married that far over my head.”  A friend of mine says I “out-kicked my coverage.”  Indeed, I did.  And our three daughters prove this.  They’re my heroes.  They’re rock stars in their respective worlds.

I didn’t know what I was doing as a dad for the first 15 years of our family life.  I made it up every day as I went along.  And often poorly.  I’ve already confessed to you that I was absent far too often, trying to be the surrogate dad for every kid in the county, trying to build a reputation as a world-class youth minister and meet everybody’s expectations, while Debbie was left to be both mom and dad for our girls.  I carry remorse and regret for this, but my girls have given me a get-out-of-jail card for it, and have forgiven me.  I’m very grateful for this.  And glad they turned out so much like their mom.

When I closed out a 17-year youth ministry career and started working in family ministry, I realized I had to make some changes.  The two most significant changes were 1) be a much-improved husband, and 2) be a much-improved dad.  If I was going to have the audacity to tell other men how to do this, I’d better get these things in better shape in my own life.  So I did.  I went to work on these two things with my full intention.  I read dozens and dozens of books.  I went to seminars and workshops.  I went to enough Promise Keepers events that I could almost have been given a perfect attendance pin.  I carefully watched men who seemed to know what they were doing in these two areas and took notes (sometimes literally).  I decided that learning to be a great husband and dad was my full-time job and everything else in my ministry life would be an outflow of that.

At that point in time, I didn’t know much about God’s grace.  I just knew that I wanted to be a better husband and dad, and that I was willing to make the payments on this, as best I could.  God honored this.  He gave me so much more than I could ever have deserved.  In retrospect, the most important lesson I have drawn from those years in my life is simply it’s all about grace.  You’ve got to partner with God and go to work, because there’s work involved, and lots of it.  But the outcomes are the result of His grace before your effort.

I’ve known other guys who seemed to be as serious about being good dads and husbands as I was, whose marriages didn’t flourish, and whose kids crashed and burned.  I’ve known of guys who’ve written good books about this stuff, whose own personal lives, marriages and families didn’t turn out happily-ever-after.  Sometimes they were a bloody mess.  Sometimes people who work all the right formulas don’t get the outcomes they had hoped for.  I’m not throwing stones here.  Just making an observation.  I can’t (and won’t) judge these people.  I know better than to do that.  But for God’s amazing grace, I’d be among them.

On this Father’s Day Eve, I want to throw out two challenges.  First a challenge to dads.  Suck it up, buttercup.  Get with it.  Lay your pride and your comfort aside and do the WORK of being a dad.  Do things for your wife and kids that take you out of your LazyBoy and out of your comfort zone.  Give up some of your stuff (literally and figuratively) so there will be more of you present with your wife and kids.  Admit to yourself that it’s not all about you being happy, and then act like that’s true.  Step back from all the things you do for them and yourself long enough to ask yourself this strong question: What’s it like to be on the other side of me?  If you don’t like what you get as an answer, quit whining about it and start working on it in partnership with God.  If this seems harsh, get over it.  Life’s hard.  And if you want to be a great dad, you’ve got to be deadly intentional and make some serious sacrifices.  That’s it.  Mike drop.

And then a challenge for wives and kids.  Be your husband’s/dad’s biggest cheerleader.  Focus on the positives you see in him.  Celebrate him.  If there’s still time, go get him a Father’s Day gift he would like, not the one you want to give him.  Get him pro-quality golf balls or fishing equipment, or power tools, not socks and cargo shorts from the sale table.  Remind him you’re glad you married him, Mom.  Remind him you’re glad God made him your dad, kids.  Remind him of this by saying it out loud in his presence, to his face.  He might not know exactly what to do with it when you do it, but believe me, hearing it matters to him.  More than you can imagine.

Write Your Eulogy

Walking through cemeteries isn’t my hobby, but Debbie and had a couple of free hours while we’re working with the Prague Christian Library as part of our ministry with Open Door Libraries, and took a long, slow stroll through a huge (and ancient) cemetery a few blocks from the flat where we’re staying.  It was shaded by ancient trees, and quiet and peaceful as we walked to the center, away from the noise of the street.

I’m pretty sure “perpetual care cemeteries” don’t exist here in the Czech Republic.  As beautiful as it is, this one isn’t in that category, anyway.  Most of the grave sites have been cared for, but many of them were overgrown with ivy, covered with dead leaves.  Some had broken headstones or monument markers.  Some had aged more gracefully than others.  There were no simple, modest ones, though.  Some were more grandiose than others, but they were all large and imposing by American standards.  Many dated back to the 19th century, a few before that.  Others had this year marking the passing of a family member.

Our couple of hours on the walkways of the cemetery was worth the time for me, in at leas this way: it made me reflect, again, on the nature of life and death.  The old saying is true, nobody’s going to get out of this alive.  Well, unless Jesus returns before you die.  But, please, let’s not argue about eschatological viewpoints…

One of the advantages/disadvantages of ministry life is that in the last 45 years (yes, I’m an old guy) I have conducted and participated in many funerals.  There is perhaps no other time when the ministry of being present is more powerful and  important than then.  I have been confronted with the uncertainty of life many times.  I’ve been reminded often that it is fragile and much more temporary than I want it to be most of the time.

I learned this for myself on January 10, 2011, when I died a few times of an LAD heart attack in Scottsdale, AZ.  I wasn’t present for the event.  I have no memories of it after I thought, “I’ll just lean my head back here and rest.”  When the lights went out  there on Shea Boulevard, they would have stayed out permanently had it not been for the quick action of my friend, Danny Hinkle.  He saved my life.  I’m happy to report that I’ve been given a clean bill of health from my cardiologist since then.  After a 6-month convalescence and recovery, I was able to go back to work, and have been showing up most every day since then.

Funny how the knowledge (first-hand knowledge) of the fact that life is temporary fades.  Actually, not funny.  Unfortunate.  For many months after my medical crisis I was keenly aware of the brevity and insecurity of life.  Every day was a gift.  Every kiss from my wife, every hug from a friend, every phone conversation with my daughters was a gift to be savored.

It’s been 8.5 years since that fateful day.  This morning, I didn’t wake up thinking, “Thank You, God, for this precious gift of another day.”  I woke up complaining to myself, to Debbie, to God about my jet lag and achy back.  The impact of 1/10/11 seems to have faded.  This is unfortunate, indeed.

A walk through a Czech cemetery rattled my cage enough to remind me of what I knew, but had lost track of.  My next project, my next day, my next breath isn’t guaranteed.  They’re not a given.  Each is a gift from God for me to seize and steward.

In his profound book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey writes that we’re writing our own eulogy.  How we live, what we say, what we do, who we are in other people’s lives are writing it.  It’s easy to forget this in the fury of phone bills, dirty diapers, dirty dishes, noisy neighbors, too-long pay periods and too-short paychecks.  In other words, normal life.  But it’s a fact that each of us has to put before ourselves and keep reminding ourselves of often.

I’m assuming that pretty much everybody who reads this is a parent or a spouse.  (If you’re not in either category, I’m honored that you’re reading this!)  With all the things pushing against you and pulling at you in those roles, it’s easy to lose sight of the long range, the end-game, your eulogy.  All I want to do today is challenge you with the idea that even with the demands of the day, today is a good day to re-calibrate against this fact of life.  You’re writing your eulogy, whether you think you are or not.  It’s a good idea to remind yourself of this, and to be intentional about building the content of it by what you say, how you say it, and how you are with the people in your life.

You don’t have to take a walk through a cemetery to do this, but you might want to.  Just sayin.

Three of the Most Powerful Forces in Life

Long ago, I was told the three most powerful forces in nature are Wind, Water and Fire.  Growing up in Tornado Alley, I can tell you first-hand of the power of wind.  In fact, as I write this, people in my home state of Oklahoma are trying to dig themselves out of the debris of a series of deadly tornadoes.

I also know some about the power of water.  Right now, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the Arkansas River, usually a shallow and muddy, slow-running river, is farther over its banks than old-timers can remember it ever being.  The dam at Lake Keystone, from which the Arkansas flows downstream to Tulsa, is now releasing water at a rate faster than the water coming over Niagara Falls.  Everything downstream is now in jeopardy.

Fire?  Well, you don’t need much background to figure that one out.  It seems like every summer wildfires rage in California, devastating hundreds of thousands of acres of land and destroying everything in their path.

I think the most powerful force in life (the spiritual and emotional kind of force) is love.  I’ll write about this later.  If a guy in my line of work can’t write a pretty extensive blog about love, he needs to turn in his keyboard and find another line of work.

The three next most powerful forces after love, in my opinion, are Fear, Anger and Control.  I see these three things at work virtually every day in my own life.  I’ve never counseled or advised anyone who doesn’t have these things at play in their lives, as well.  If you’re human, you’re going to deal with fear, anger and control.  I suspect there is no good way to totally eliminate them.  In fact, I don’t think I really want to eliminate them.  But when they dominate my life, they create incredible destruction, much like wind, water and fire.  Any one of the three is a power of almost immeasurable scope.  When they show up in any combination, they’re like a tornado of fire in a tsunami.

But as destructive as they can be, all three of these things are actually a gift from God to us.  Without fear, we wouldn’t have made it past Adam and Eve.  Something they should have been afraid of would have taken out one or both of them, and that would have been the end of humankind.

Anger can move us to action.  If it moves us to the right action, amazing things happen.  William Wilberforce was made so angry by slave trade in England that he spent his entire adult life fighting to eliminate it.  When Candy Lightner’s 13 year old daughter was killed by a drunk driver, her heartbroken anger was the catalyst for starting M.A.D.D. (Mothers Against Drunk Driving).  Sometimes, until a person’s good and mad, they put up with things that should be changed.  But once they’re good and mad, they act.  If their anger is truly good, good things come of it.

Control can organize chaos and bring order and security.  It doesn’t always, but it can.  A cool head in a tight spot can mean the difference between life and death.

The problem with these three gifts from God is that ever since the Fall we’ve had this proclivity to misuse them in our brokenness.  Every strength becomes a weakness when it is pushed out of balance.  This often happens with these three powerful things.

We fear what we don’t understand – often things we shouldn’t be afraid of – and we don’t fear things that are actual serious threats.  You don’t need to be afraid of the stick on the path, but you’d be pretty stupid to not be afraid of it if it was a rattle snake.  You should be afraid of getting Montezuma’s Revenge by drinking tap water in Juarez, but you shouldn’t be afraid of drinking it out of your tap at home (unless you’re in Flint, Michigan…).  You get what I’m saying.

Sometimes, we let fear hold us back from doing things that will bring us the greatest satisfaction and development in all of the important areas of our lives – physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual.  There are lots of reasons we’re afraid of stepping out into new territory.  Some of them are even legitimate.  I’ve got a sack full of my own.  We’ve all got a line that we’re fearful to cross.  Even that friend of yours who’s an adrenaline  junkie.  The one who bungee jumps and parachutes.  Even they have a line.

One fear that I most often see getting in the way of healthy relationships is the fear of disappointing expectations.  Many people suffer from the fear that they will disappoint the people that matter to them.  This is a form of fear of failure.

There are basically three ways we deal with this fear.  The one I see most is to over-try.  We break our necks trying to be good enough that we won’t disappoint these other people.  It’s blood, sweat and tears (not the 70’s group…) and lots of hours of life burned up on what is often a futile attempt to not disappoint lease someone else.  Been there.  Done that.

A second way I see is to plan to fail.  If I’m convinced I won’t be able to pull this thing off, I’ll just fail early and quickly and get it over with.  In its worst form, I’ll fail and blame you for it.  In families, this sometimes shows up as rebellion.

Or the third way is to pretend I didn’t know what you wanted.  What?  You wanted that?  Well, I’ll be.  But before we have this embarrassed conversation, I’ll run and hide from you for as long as I can.

There’s a fourth way people act on their fear in a broken way.  They power up to duke it out.  They get angry.  Often not good and angry, just angry.  They accuse and counter-accuse.  They do and say things they’d give last year’s tax refund to take back.  But you can’t take it back.  There are no “kicks overs.”  It’s like toothpaste.  Once you’ve squeezed it out, you’re not getting it back in the tube.  When anger gets behind the wheel of your life, it almost always ends up driving you into a ditch or over a cliff.  I’ll write about this next time.

Kids do this to parents.  Parents do it to kids.  Husbands and wives do it to each other.  Bosses do it to employees.  Employees to bosses.  It happens on teams, in churches, in government.  It happens everywhere.

I once read that only about 20% of what we fear actually comes to pass.  I don’t know how you’d calculate that statistic, but it seems about right in my experience.  The actuality of a threat or the likelihood that it will happen isn’t the thing that makes fear powerful.  It’s my unfiltered belief in the presence of the threat that makes it powerful.

I’m already at 1151 words, so I’ll just leave that there for now and try to wrap it up.  Many books have been written about the psychology (and physiology) of fear, so I have no illusion that I’ll be able to nail it in a blog post.

But here’s where I want to land the plane: How much of your life is being hijacked by fear?  In your home, how big is the fear thing?  How much of your and your family’s behavior is motivated or even dictated by fear?  If you’re married, how big a place does fear have in your marriage?

There’s no switch to flip to turn fear off.  Looking into your life and relationships to objectively see it where it exists is the first essential step in dealing with it.  Some fears just go away when they get brought out into the light of day.  But not all of them.  Some fears are tenacious and cantankerous, and they won’t give up and turn lose without a fight.

Once you’ve identified your fears, then you have to objectively decide the level of threat that’s actually involved.  Is it likely that the thing you fear will come to pass?  And if it does, will it be as life altering as your limbic  system says it will be?  If it’s that big, what could you do to mitigate the damage or loss?  Ask God to help you see it for what it really is, not just what you fear it is.  If it’s fear of a person in your life, answering these questions will be difficult.  But ask and answer the questions.

The Apostle John wrote, “Perfect love casts out fear.”  For many years of my life, this verse was a brick bat banging away at my forehead.  I have struggled with fear for a very long time.  The message I always heard in my head was, “If I had more perfect love, I wouldn’t be afraid.  I’m such a loser.”  I had the “flip the switch” mentality.  I thought perfect love casting out fear was an event.  It’s not.  It’s a process.  It’s not a switch flip, it’s a dial turn – one that may take a very long time and have to be done many times.  God is more than OK with this.  He’s your Partner in it.  So lean into the partnership, and trust Him to love you with His perfect love.  Engage in the process.

Regrets

Even if you’re not an old person, you may have heard the old Frank Sinatra hit, “My Way.”  It made him a ton of money, and in many ways defined his career.  From the 1970’s on, I don’t think he ever did a concert without it as the big finish.  But some people say he didn’t much like singing the song.  He’s said to have said that if you had sung it every night for 15 years, you’d hate it too.  If you haven’t heard it, the theme is, “Nobody tells me to do what I do.  I do my life my way.  It’s the only way to live, and I’m standing proud because I did it my way.”

There are a few problems with this concept.  Not the least of which is that when one lives their life their way, they set their course for hell.  I think everybody there will be there because they lived their life their way.  They’ll all be able to say, “I did it my way.”  C.S. Lewis said there are two types of people in the world.  Those who say to God, “Not my will, but yours,” and people to whom God says, “Not my will, but yours.”  The second group of people will populate hell.  They will have been the ones who did it their way.

So why am I bringing up a song I really have problems with?  Just to bash it?  I have to admit, I enjoyed bashing it (and could have gone on for a while longer), but that’s not the reason I brought it up.  It’s the first line of the song that prompted me: Regrets, I’ve had a few…  And then the rest of the song goes on to describe how the one thing this person doesn’t regret is doing it their way.

Everybody I know (and everybody I’ve ever known) has regrets.  I sure do.  Books full of them, if I had time to write them all down.  Thankfully, I don’t have time to write them, and you way don’t have time to read them.

When I was in my 30’s, I heard a guy give a talk in which he said he wanted to live his life in such a way that he’d have no regrets, and challenged all of us in the audience to choose this for ourselves.  That’s what I wanted.  Give me the goodies on that.  My notebook was open and my pen was ready (this was back before iPads and laptops and electronic tools…).  Just tell me how to do that.

After many years of life and ministry, though, I’ve come to the conclusion that only One Person ever lived without regret: Jesus.  I’m not Him.  I’m deeply loved by Him, saved by Him, indwelled by His Spirit, have grace breathed into my heart and mind by Him.  But I’m not Him.  You’re not either.

We’re going to have regrets.  We’re going to make mistakes.  Humans make mistakes and will likely have regrets.  There’s a host of things that happen to you and me, over which we have no control.  There’s a strong likelihood that regrets will also come from other people’s mistakes, bad judgment, and just plane meanness.  It’ll happen.  So regrets will be in your story.  There’s just no getting around it.

It’s what you do about your regrets that’s important, though.  The saying is true, what happens to you is 10%; what you do about what happens to you is 90%.

All three of our grown daughters came home for a weekend, recently, to help us start sorting and packing for our move.  Well, not their home.  That was in Tulsa.  But they all came, and it was a delight.  I did my best to stay out of the way of the cyclone of sorting and packing activity.  It was the best way I could help.

Staying out of the way gave me a great vantage point to enjoy all the chatter and interaction.  A million words, lots of times being spoken simultaneously.  Chatter and laughter.  It was renewing to my soul.  I was a happy observer not a front line participant, except for a few times.  I reminded myself that a whole lot of what I was observing was “girl time.”  Good “girl time.”  Renewing for all four of my ladies.  They didn’t exclude me.  I knew to insert myself without good cause would be bad form, though.  So I didn’t.

But it also stirred up some regret.  Regret that too much of my dad-life was just observing, not participating.  This particular regret-ghost shows up to trouble me fairly often.  But only when I’m with our girls, or looking at old pictures, or remembering the good old days.  In other words, pretty often.  The only antidote for it is what I’ll suggest you use on your own regrets.

Years ago at a holiday meal where we were all at the table together, I told them that I had this regret, that I hate that I was so often unavailable for so much of their growing up years.  They looked at me like I’d said it in Czech.  “What are you talking about?” they asked.  “We have great memories of going to camp with you, and we had the best vacations ever.”  They went on with a bunch of other things that were encouraging and affirming.  I was blessed and humbled.  God’s grace had done for my girls what I hadn’t (and in some cases couldn’t have) done.

The antidote – the cure – is grace.  My theory is that grace is the antidote for everything.  Eventually.  When I feel regret and remorse for the times I wasn’t there as a dad, I turn my heart and mind toward God’s grace and thank Him that He didn’t back away from my kids, my wife or me when I chose unwisely and didn’t show up.  His grace never steps away.  Its stream never dries up.  It never gives up.

When my remorse shows up and begins to smack me around, as it did amid the packing boxes and girl-talk, only grace can bring me peace of mind.  Only reflecting on God’s grace, revisiting it in my memory, and thanking Him for it can release me from the grip of a very powerful ghost of regret and remorse.  There’s no instant delivery, though.  I often have to apply and reapply grace many times for the peace of Christ to rule in my heart and mind.  But I can tell you that grace always eventually wins.

So today if you have parent-regret (and I know you do), I have this advice: drink deeply of God’s grace.  Thank Him for pouring it out on you and your kids.  And then apply that same grace to yourself.

Then do the best you can to choose wisely with your time and life, so as to minimize your regrets.  Because you can do that.  You can’t live a life with no regret, but in partnership with Christ, you can make fewer regrettable choices.  This isn’t a pipe dream.  It’s a function of grace.