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!