Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Card

I was recently walking through a mall and passed by a card shop. Since I needed to get some cards, I went in and picked out the three that I needed. I walked up to the register to pay and the cashier said “Sir, all of our cards are buy three, get one free, you should go ahead and get one more.” That sounded like a good idea, so I looked around wondering, what kind of card should I get?

There were birthday cards, wedding cards, sympathy cards, get well soon cards, thank you cards, and so on. The problem was, I had already picked out the three that I wanted. As I looked at the choices, I tried to think about the recipient, looking for the perfect card. The problem was, I didn’t have a particular recipient in mind. I looked at the cards and tried to match them to the recipient rather than thinking of someone and finding a card for them. It just wasn’t working. So, I decided I would just get one of those blank cards that you can use for any occasion. But none of them were quite right, none of them were masculine enough for me to use “just because.”

Then I saw it. Splashed across the front it said “Leap and the net will appear.” It was blank inside, so that I could write whatever I wanted. It was perfect. I knew it was the card that I should buy. It was the perfect card for – well, for who? It was as clear as day to me that it was the right card, but I didn’t know who it was for. So I bought it anyway.

It was only as I paid for the cards that I realized who the last card was for. It was absolutely perfect – for me. I was buying the card for myself.

Perhaps the biggest weakness in my faith, and one that I struggle with all the time, is my desire to remain in control. Sure, I trust you Lord, and I know you will take care of me, but I really want to know HOW? As it is said in “Somewhere in the Middle” by Casting Crowns, I have “deep water faith in the shallow end.” I’m afraid to leap before I know that the net is firmly in place. When I pray for guidance, I ask that the Lord make the path clear for me, rather than that the Lord direct me or make the decision clear to me. Even when the decision seems clear, I struggle with hesitation unless I know that the path is going to be clear.

What I need to work on accepting is that God has never promised me a clear path. God has never promised me that I will always feel safe. What God has promised me is that He has plans for me, plans to prosper me and not to harm me, plans to give me hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11. I just need to learn to trust in those plans, even when I don’t see the net.

Leap and the net will appear.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A (Not So Subtle) Reminder

As I begin to write this post, I think it is important to say that I recognize that there is a risk that if I do not do a good job, this could come across as self-aggrandizement or, on the other extreme, complaining. It is not intended to be either. It is just me sharing the reminder that I was given.

As I suspect most of you know, I live outside of Washington, DC. Since most readers also live in or around the area, you also know that we have been slammed with snow for the last week. The Federal Government has been closed all week. Because things are so bad on our road, I have not been able to get to work - so I have been "working" from home.

This afternoon one of my neighbors and I decided to get the snow off the driveway that we both share with one other person. Both of us have snow blowers, so we clean the whole thing, along with the drive of our neighbor. Since we had a perfectly clear driveway before the new snow started yesterday, it did not take all that long. When we were done, we decided to try to clear a path up the street. We haven't seen much in terms of snow removal efforts on our road, so we decided to take matters into our own hands. We made a strip up the middle wide enough for a car to pass until we got to an area where some snow removal was going on with folks on bobcats. From there, we made sure that driveways were cut out and we cleared some driveways that the owners had not yet gotten to. All in all, we worked for probably half of the day, decided we had done all we could do (we had to hope that the bobcats would continue down the road and pick up what we could not get done) and went home.

I came back inside to continue working on trying to finalize a settlement agreement. There is some time pressure to get it done and an argument can be made that disappearing for half of the day was not the way to accomplish that goal. But, as it turns out, I had only heard back from my client about 20 minutes before I got back in the house. Besides, I do not completely share the urgency of my adversaries and - after all - I had been out doing good. It is a seven-figure deal and I was thinking a little about the dichotomy in my life that I love so much - working on major litigation involving millions of dollars and spending half a day acting like a good-old-boy (I recognize that would be more accurate if I had been working a tractor with a front end loader instead of a snow blower, but it is the best I can do in this example).

I also came home to a number of emails from neighbors thanking the two of us for our work and helping out. Although neither of us had really spent much time thinking about what we were doing - only once when we were about to call it quits did we talk to each other and decide to work our way to one more house - I was starting to feel like a pretty good neighbor and was feeling pretty good about myself.

Then a neighbor called and said that they didn't exactly know how to raise the issue, but they had heard from another neighbor that felt snubbed because we had not cleared their driveway or asked them if they wanted help. I was dumbfounded. We did everyone's driveway at our end of the street. I couldn't imagine that we skipped someone. It is true that we did not go up or down a driveway if it was already done (then we only did the apron), but that was the only way we skipped a house. I honestly cannot fathom how we both could have missed a house, and if we did, it certainly was not intentional. Suddenly, that good feeling was gone. Instead of doing good, I somehow, unintentionally, had done bad.

I worked for a little bit on my settlement and some other work problems and then walked over to the neighbor's house. I apologized and explained that we certainly did not intentionally skip their house. When I walked over, their driveway was done and I think it must have been done when we were out, but that is not really important. What is important is that they certainly felt that we had intentionally skipped them. I apologized over and over. They just said that they appreciated what we had done in the road, but they felt left out.

I walked back to the house not particularly satisfied that I had done anything to repair the snub that I certainly never intended to deliver. After dinner, at the suggestion of Tracy, I poured a large glass of wine and took a hot bath (aren't you glad that this blog does not have pictures?!?) and read some of "Three Cups of Tea." Without making this even longer than it already is by talking about the book, the portion of the book that I read was about Mortenson's time in Pakistan during 9/11. Rather than immediately leaving the country, he continued his work of building schools and other humanitarian efforts for another month. When given the opportunity, he told as many people as possible that not everyone that practiced Islam is a terrorist and he preached the need for education.

When Mortenson returned home and worked through his mail, for the first time, he noticed that he was receiving hate mail. Letters from people that thought he was supporting terrorism and was indirectly responsible for the death of American soldiers and civilians.

I'm not going to claim that we were in remotely similar situations, but I could identify at least a little with what I was reading.

Still upset and not sure what to do, I spent time in prayer. I can't tell you that I came up with an answer, but I was reminded of something significant. I was reminded that my pride and good feelings at having worked in the neighborhood were misdirected. When I was doing the work, I certainly did not think about what people would think - I was just working. Getting other people's driveways just seemed like the thing to do while we were out there. But when I got back and started seeing emails of thanks, I started letting them glorify me.

I have gotten into a habit of ending my prayers most mornings by asking that whatever I do during the day that I be a good example of a Christian man in the world. Although I do not say it this way, what I want people to do is to see my actions and recognize that they are driven by my beliefs and, as a result, to give to glory to God. I want people to recognize my relationship with God. In thinking about how far I strayed from this today and in some quick research, I was drawn to the Sermon on the Mount. In particular, Mathew 5:16 - "In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." (NIV) Or, in another translation - "In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father." (NLT)

I am still concerned that I have created a perception in a neighbor that I snubbed them - or intentionally did not help them. But, since I have done what I can for now to try to share with them that I certainly did not mean anything like that, I am at least equally concerned about the misdirection of my feelings. In some ways, I owe them thanks for the reminder and making me think through this.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Relationship Built on Love

I've struggled with how to start his post, and I've struggled with whether it even is a post. Whether there is enough "there" there, or whether these half-formed thoughts that have been going through my head lately should just remain there. But, I've made the decision to just start boldly ahead.

Recently, I have been thinking a lot about how comforting I find my relationship with God. I don't mean that in a "God is always with me" or a "Yes, Jesus Loves Me" way. I've been more focusing on the nature of the relationship. The fact that I feel comfortable going to God to share my anger, my confusion, my fear and my doubt. That I am comfortable saying (probably more honest to say shouting) "How could you?" and "Why didn't you?"and "Why won't you?" and "Where are you?"

How could you let something happen like we are seeing in Haiti?

Why didn't you heal her the first time?

Why won't you take this problem away from me?

Where are you?

I'm not talking about the answers to these questions tonight. I'm just talking about how much comfort I take from the fact that I believe that God is ok with me unloading these questions/accusations. That yes, I worship Him and praise Him, but that like a good friend, He is there to take those burdens from me. That He doesn't turn from me in my anger and hurt and doubt, but that he opens His arms and meets me where I am.

As I have seen both friends and strangers going through horrible situations recently, I have wanted to tell them that it is ok to yell at God. That even just seeing what they are going through has me yelling at God. For some reason, and maybe I am wrong, I think that people are afraid to admit that they have those kind of emotions when it comes to God. I certainly know I used to be. Oh, I might have admitted to you that I had them, but admit that to God, that was a whole different matter.

Now, on the other hand, I take comfort from knowing that I can. From knowing that I can share my honest feelings with God and that He answers not with condemnation or frustration, but with His love. Really. From where I stand, it doesn't get much better than that.

Rereading this before posting, I don't think I did the topic justice and I apologize for that. I probably should have let it bounce around for a few more days and take on more substance - perhaps I should have waited until I succeeded in finding the appropriate references. But I guess the bottom line God, is that I draw comfort from knowing that our relationship is built on love and is not damaged by my questions and challenges. There is so, so much that I do not and cannot understand. You know that and still love me. And I don't only worship you as my creator, but I love you, too.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


While we were on vacation last summer, Alex and I took surfing lessons together. It was one of the "perks" offered by the rental company that we used - a free hour of lessons. When we signed up for it, I spoke with the instructor and he convinced me that we also should sign up for an extra hour for $20 each. So we did.

But, to explain this story, I have to back up a little bit.

On our way down to the beach, we decided to stop at an amusement park - King's Dominion - for the day. We had a lot of fun playing with the kids and riding lots of different rides. Unfortunately, though, I got hurt on one of the little roller coasters (no, it was not The Scooby Doo Roller Coaster, thank you). The ride was pretty much over and I was talking with two guys in the car in front of us, when the car slammed to a stop. I'm sure that it was supposed to be part of the fun, but I was driven right into the bar that holds you in the car. It actually knocked the breath out of me and my ribs hurt like - well, let's just say that they hurt a lot. Of course, I was too proud to admit that I was really hurt, but it did limit my activity for the next few weeks (it even hurt to lay down to go to sleep).

So there we are, getting ready to take a surfing lesson and I can't lay down on my chest on the board. I told the instructor that I would hang out in the water, but I likely would not try to surf because it just hurt too much. As it turned out though, a lot of people that were signed up for the free course decided not to come. There were only three people in the class and Alex and I were two of them. Ultimately, I decided that I should at least give this a try.

The problem was, it hurt. A lot. (Ok, in fairness, that probably was not the only problem, but it was the first problem) Nonetheless, I did try. After an hour, I had tried to catch maybe five waves (the three of us alternated one at a time - and by catch a wave I mean the instructor had shoved us on our boards onto the wave so all we had to do was try to stand up).

The third person got it right away. I think he stood up on the first wave and rode pretty much every wave he tried. Alex got better and better with each attempt and was getting pretty close.

The second hour was just me and Alex. I spent a lot of it just hanging out in the water, not actually on the board and watched Alex get better and better until he stood up once or twice. Eventually, I decided to try it again and on the very last wave I actually succeeded in standing up and getting a little bit of a ride. We left pretty tired, and with one of us taking more pills for the pain.

I've been thinking about our surfing lessons a fair amount lately, and not just because we have had lots of snow and it is freezing outside. I can't claim that I am surfer, or even that I know how to surf. But, I do know that it takes balance to stand up on the board. I know it takes trust in the unseen force of the moving water that holds you up. And I know that in my case, it took being able and willing to put up with some pain.

If I had been trying to surf through life for the past several months, I would not have been doing very well. My balance has been horrible - I would have fallen left, then right, then flat on my face. My trust has been weak - I've been trying to hold myself up and fighting against letting myself go (suddenly the lyrics "Please don't fight these hands that are holding you, My hands are holding you" from the Tenth Avenue North song By Your Side are going through my head). And I have been unwilling to make changes or do things that cause some discomfort (nothing that would truly cause pain).

So, while I don't really make New Year's resolutions, I do want to become a better surfer this year.

Happy 2010! As we go through this year may the waves be big, the rides long and the sharks small!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Elevator Speech

During a meeting in my office yesterday, the phone rang. Usually I would ignore it in favor of the people that were sitting in my office, but I was surprised by the name of a colleague on the caller id, so I picked it up.

As it turns out, it was a group of people using another person's phone. One of them told me that they were all chatting about me and "the different personas that [I] have gone through since I have been with the firm." It was a light-hearted conversation about the fact that I wore a black cowboy hat every day for about a year (I really liked that hat, but eventually Tracy gave me an honest assessment of it), that I used to ride a motorcycle (though I never rode it to the office and, unfortunately, did not ride it very often), that I recently have shaved off my facial hair, etc.

At the end of the conversation, one person asked, "What persona are you going for now?"

I didn't know what to say. I attribute it partially to the fact that there were still people in my office listening to half of the conversation and I felt like I needed to get off of the phone. But I also attribute it to the fact that I did not have a ready answer to that question. That second point bothers me. The question is a perfect invitation to talk about what is important to me. To persuade. To direct.

In business, this is similar to the elevator speech. The idea is that you get on an elevator with someone and they ask you something like "What do you do?" You then have thirty seconds, or less, to clearly articulate who you are and how your services or products may help the other person. It is not exactly a sales pitch - that will take you more than thirty seconds. It is just enough to convey the primary points and, hopefully, get you into a situation where the person asks for more information.

I'm not saying that I have the best business elevator speech in the world, but I had never even thought of a personal elevator speech before. What is the thirty second answer to the question? In my prayers almost every day I include a request that God help me to be a living example of a Christian man. To show people, through my words and my actions, what a relationship with Christ means and has done for me. To honor that relationship in the way that I live, and to let that be obvious to others. Yet, when asked "What persona are you going for now?" I didn't know how to answer the question.

I know that I quoted this passage here only a month ago (a different translation), but the whole idea of shifting personas has really drawn me back to this passage:

"So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you."

Romans 12:1-2 (Message).

So what is my personal elevator speech? I honestly don't have it all figured out. I am going to be working on it. But after spending some time thinking about it, I know that shifting personas is about culture - fitting in (or consciously not fitting in, particularly in the case of the cowboy hat). My real persona is about being fixed on God and letting Him change me and direct my life. So, like I said, I'm working on my personal elevator speech. The next time that the opportunity presents itself like that, I want to be prepared with an honest answer so that I don't miss that ministry moment.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Better Vision

I want to be clear about this from the start - this topic deserves a much better post than I am probably capable of writing right now. Still, though, I find myself sitting in front of my computer now, so here I am.

Last night I had the privilege of attending the release party for the cd Better Vision ( It is a two disc set of Christian music. The first disc is original music by members of Christ Church, my church home. The second disc is original music by other area Christian musicians. The whole event was fantastic - dancing, singing and praising.

The concert involved at least 20 different musicians (I am sure it was more than that, but I cannot really picture them all in my mind right now) who played for two hours. There also was all of the tech crew and support - photographers, videographers, set-up, etc. There were people who were taking care of the technology needed to allow the whole thing to be broadcast on the internet.

In short, it was a major production. People were running and and off stage; in and out; moving instruments; and performing. I can't really estimate crowd size, but it seemed like the worship center was pretty full.

As I mentioned above, this was all to celebrate the release of the Better Vision cd. I read today that they sold over 200 copies of the cd in the first day.

While I may have enjoyed myself, I probably would not be writing about it here except that there is something else that is extraordinary about it. The musicians are not making one cent off of the sales of the cd. Instead, 100% of the proceeds are going to support an organization that is very near and dear to my heart - Hope Africa Ministries, Inc. ( All of the production costs were covered by the musicians themselves and donations.

When some of us talked about forming a non-profit here in the states to partner with our friends in Kenya to help them with their God-given vision for work in Sakwa, we dreamed of partnering with churches and businesses and individuals to raise the necessary funds to move towards the goal. But, this project kind of came out of nowhere. We were contacted by Brian Greene, one of the musicians and the executive producer for the project, and told that the musicians working on the cd really felt called to do something even more then just spreading the Word through their music. They wanted to do that, but they also wanted to use their gifts to directly support Hope Africa. Other than asking for some photos, the logo, and some basic information, they did it all. The incredible music, the inspired copy and the powerful design and layout.

So, while I sat (and stood) and enjoyed myself last night, I was humbled. I was humbled by the work of this group of people. I was humbled by their selfless use of their gifts. I was humbled by the presence of God in the project and in the room. I have never doubted the call that I feel to be a servant of God in and for Sakwa. But last night was a reminder that God can pull people and talents and gifts and energy and excitement from different areas and use them together to serve His purpose.

Sometimes I think I have a good idea of how this whole project in Kenya should turn out. Sometimes I really feel like I have the long range vision. But last night I was reminded, once again, that my vision is not important. I was reminded that it is God's vision that matters. A much, much, much Better Vision.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Don't Forget the Purpose

There are a lot of things going around in my head this evening. Probably several that I could, and perhaps should, write about. But, I'm not there. So, an easier post. [As I re-read the post before actually putting it up, this did not end up being the easy post that I thought it was going to be when I started. I think it drew more out of me than I expected.]

I've written before about worship. What I think it is; the rules that I think apply (or don't); etc. Recently I was reading from the book of Isaiah, and found what it said about the topic to be interesting.

Isaiah was a prophet, and I have read that the New Testament quotes Isaiah more than all of the other prophets combined. Although Isaiah was close to a number of kings, it seems pretty clear that he did not pull any punches. In fact, my brief research indicates that although Isaiah outlasted four kings, the fifth had him killed.

The portion of Isaiah that I am focused on now is 1:10-20. It is too long to quote the entire passage here (I just tried it). If you are reading this, I suggest that you take a second to look it up. In fact, I will go beyond that, go to (or a similar site) and look for the New Living Translation version of the passage. It's ok, I don't mind waiting for you to find it and read it.

Ok, now that we are all on the same page, because I know you looked it up - Wow! Sick of your burnt offerings? Stop bringing me your meaningless gifts? Your celebrations are sinful and false? Remember, this is the Old Testament that we are reading. There are pages and pages and pages of the Old Testament that address nothing but the burnt offerings, the incense and the various celebrations. In fact, I think you could read most of the Old Testament and come to conclusion that offerings and gifts and celebrations and rituals is what worship is all about. After all, they are described in very fine detail.

But, I have always thought (ok, I've thought it for as long as I have thought about such things, which honestly isn't that long) that reading the Old Testament in that way is wrong. Sure, there are a lot of rules about the worship practices, but you can't separate them from the point of worship. The best analogy that I can come up with right now is music. Music can certainly be seen and studied as a series of notes, tempos and sound levels to be played by various instruments. But music, of course, is more than that. Its essence is more about expression and emotion and feeling - things that don't really translate well to the sheet music. If you tried to strip all of that away, you would end up with nothing but a complicated set of rules and directions - like you get when you strip the essence of worship from the Old Testament.

This passage from Isaiah really hits me on the head with that and not losing sight of the real point of worship. It screams to me, "Stop focusing on the rules and rituals, focus on the worship! I'm sick of you coming to me out of habit and blindly following a bunch of rules. I'm sick of you acting like you are worshiping, but really just going through the motions! Come to me and mean it. 'Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed.' [1:17a]"

Then, amazingly, despite the frustration, "Just listen and obey and I will take care of you. 'Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow.' [1:18b] But if you don't, there is nothing to be done for you - 'you will be devoured by the sword of your enemies.' [1:20]"

I try hard not to worship for worship's sake. I try not to let myself just go through the motions. I try not to take Communion without thinking about what it means and why I am doing it. I try not to lift up hands in prayer that are covered in the blood of sin. But, sometimes I admit that I probably fall into a routine. This rather pointed reminder about focusing on the purpose of my worship is helpful to me.