Monday, December 31, 2007

The geography of grace.

The geography of grace.

I think there are only two types of people in this world, those that can sit in someone else’s seat at an event and those that can’t. I’m talking about people who have horrible seats and decide to sit in nicer seats until they’re kicked out.

I can’t do this. I can’t enjoy the event knowing that at any moment I am going to be exposed as an imposter, ousted by an usher and another attendee that is frustrated at me for daring to dream of having such a nice seat. I was reminded of this the other night when I went to see the North Carolina Tarheels play in Chapel Hill.

A group of guys told us we were in the wrong section when we tried to move them from what we thought were our seats. So I grabbed the usher and gave him my ticket. He walked down the stairs a few rows and then basically eviscerated the guys. The sentence he said won’t seem like much, it’s not that boisterous or neon with sarcasm, but I promise, when he said it I cringed inside.

He bent low, held my ticket about a foot in front of the guy in my seat and calmly said, “Do you have this ticket?”

There is only one answer to that question. The gentleman in my seat could not have that ticket because as the world could see it was clearly in the usher’s hand. The guy fumbled for a few seconds and then cleared out in a general air of embarrassment.

I’ve thought about that simple sentence for a few days. It stuck inside, left a thumbprint on me and I’ve figured out why. I’ve heard it before.

Maybe not exactly those words. Maybe not in the middle of a college basketball game, but I’ve heard that question a thousand times. It is the question I ask myself when I get drunk on doubt. “Do you belong here?” It is the question the world asks me too often. “Are you sure you should be a writer?” It is the question the enemy asks when the night is dark and long and I’ve messed up somehow. “Are you sure you should be where the Lord is, look how dirty and broken you are?”

What a crippling thought that is. That you’re in the wrong place. That the ticket in your pocket isn’t really yours. You are an imposter. You are in the wrong seat, the wrong job, the wrong marriage, the wrong college. You are not where you are supposed to be.

The question of where do I belong is one of the central ideas dissected in the story of the Prodigal Son. There are three viewpoints expressed, three different looks at location and the sense of belonging.

The first is from the Prodigal Son himself. He thinks he belongs on the farm, but not as a son. He believes he should be a servant. His sense of belonging comes with conditions, a performance he must accomplish in order to be where he wants to be. Have you ever done that? Tried to get closer to God by performing the right way? Tried to belong through activity?

The second point of view is from the older brother and his comes with consequences. He rejects the idea that the Prodigal Son should be on the farm at all. In his mind, where you belong can be irrevocably lost. In his mind, there is no putting back together the pieces once they have broken. Once you’re out, you’re out for good. This kind of thought is one of the reasons that when pastors make big gross mistakes and are kicked out without any sort of support people often say, “the church is the only army that shoots it’s wounded.”

The third point of view, the one that matters, is completely different from both of the first two. The father dismisses the idea of letting the son be a servant, in fact he won’t even let him say that. He also rejects the idea of bringing the consequences to the Prodigal Son when the older brother lays out his case. No, instead of conditions or consequences, the father throws a celebration. The only condition he sees is dead or alive. The consequence he believes in is that something lost that is found must be honored. In his world, it’s not just that you belong, you are the guest of honor. The day is yours. It’s the equivalent of having an usher tap you on the shoulder and instead of kicking you out he brings you to better seats. Instead of being rows up from the action, he walks you courtside and makes sure you get all the free food and drinks you want. He gives you the best seat in the entire building.

Conditions. Consequences. Celebrations. I don’t know which word best describes how you’ll spend the last day of the year. But know this, you belong, despite what you feel, despite what you’ve heard or been told. You belong.

This is the geography of grace.

Monday, December 24, 2007

50% off Prodigal Jon Book - A Christmas Miracle!

My friend works for Lulu, the company that printed my book. I saw him last night and punched him in the mouth because it is so expensive. He told me I should try paperback.

So I did, and the result is that the book now costs $9.71.

The hardback was $20.11.

That is crazy.

Here is where to get it:

You can also visit and type in Jon Acuff in the search bar.

So for all those people that wanted to buy a bunch, this is your chance.

And if you bought the hardback edition let me know. I'll email you a special post called "It's not me, it's you" as a thank you for the early support.

Merry Christmas


Sunday, December 23, 2007

The book, dozen of copies sold.

The book, dozen of copies sold.

I really wish I could use the letter "s" at the end of the word "dozen." But the singular form of the word is closer to the truth. Recently a reader asked how to buy the book. I hadn't reposted the blog about the book on the new site because I am trying not to be slimy in the amount of times I mention it. But here is how to get it.
If the link doesn't work, simply go to and type Jon Acuff in the search bar.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, December 21, 2007

How to know if God wants you to wait or run.

How to know if God wants you to wait or run.

A few days ago I wrote a post about the need for us to wait. To slow down for a minute and accept that sometimes it’s not the word “no” we’re hearing, it’s the word “wait.”

A friend of mine named Blake wrote a comment and said the following:

I can identify, but sometimes I think I am the opposite. Sometimes I think God is telling me, "Now! GO! Do it now, Blake!"...but I end up saying, "Hold on, I need to go pray about this first." I tend to over analyze things and look for way too long before leaping.

That comment stuck with me because in some ways I’m wondering the same thing about my book. I initially planned to completely just pimp myself during 2008. Write query letters to literary agents, finish my book proposal, sleep on the doorstep of Thomas Nelson publishing and so on. I thought that was the best way for me to do something for God.

But now I’m not so sure. Now I don’t know if he’s saying wait or go. Be still or be bold and it’s a little confusing. In the midst of this confusion, God dropped a verse into my head that I had never noticed.

The verse is Mark 15:43 and the reason it hid from me all these years is that it occurs in the midst of the crucifixion of Christ. The verse is fairly small and not that crazy. It would be hard to compare it to something from Braveheart or put on a bumper sticker. But in some ways it changed the way I think of waiting and action.

Here is what it says:

43Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus' body.

What makes that verse special to me? It’s simple really. This verse perfectly captures the two different sides of faith. On the one hand Joseph is noted as someone who was “waiting for the kingdom of God.” But then, within the confines of the same exact sentence, he is described as someone that “went boldly.”

He didn’t do one or the other, he did both and I think that’s where I’ve been wrong most of my life. You see, I usually think it’s a one or the other type of world we’re living in. I either wait on God or I run with God. But Joseph did both. He waited and he sprinted. He was calm and bold. Peaceful and busy. (Insert your own two words that feel weird together.)

I know how Blake feels. I feel the same way and maybe I need to do both this year. Maybe I need to chill on pushing the book. And at the same time I need to crush this blog with daily posts and requests that you tell all your friends to check it out.

I’m not entirely sure yet, but one thing I do know. The answer to the question, “Should I wait on God or hustle as hard as I can?” is “Yes.”


That post started with an idea from Blake. I would love to write about your questions and ideas. If you have a question or an idea, let me know. You can always email me at

For those days when I don't believe a single word of this.

For those days when I don't believe a single word of this.

I had coffee with my mentor last night or life coach if you will. He asked me if I was done with the blog, if it was a project that had run its course. The words all said, the ideas all dried up, the clock finally striking midnight turning the carriage back into a pumpkin.

I told him no. I think there are still things to write, people to write to. So I’m going to launch some new things in 2008. I’m going to set some ridiculous goals for the site and then try to reach them day by day.

But some days, if I’m being honest, I just don’t believe in God.

At all.

That’s not the greatest thing to admit, but it’s true. There are some mornings when the size and shape of God kind of overwhelms me. The idea that I have a personal relationship with the ruler of the universe kind of catches up with me. The concept that the person that created the milky way is invested in seeing that my day goes well makes no sense.

And in the midst of that, I find myself surrounded with doubt and frustration. I try to hide it all. To pretend that the questions aren’t there, that what felt so true yesterday doesn’t feel fake today. But I’m starting to feel that doubt is OK. More than that, I’m starting to feel that moments of unbelief are OK.

My favorite example of this is in Mark 9. In a small story, a father with a son who was suffering from convulsions came and asked Christ to heal him. Christ replied:

“Everything is possible for him who believes.”

“Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

I don’t think I ever heard that story growing up but it should be included in every new believer class on the planet. Seriously, if you ever ask questions about God and the bible and faith, one of the first things they should say is, “Welcome to church, let me tell you about this guy that didn’t believe.”

That is such an unexpectedly beautiful story. The thing I really like about it is that it says the father responded “immediately.” He wasn’t ashamed of his unbelief. He exclaimed it instantly. And when he did, Christ struck him down with lightning for not trusting in the Lord. No, that’s not what happened. He healed his son.

I also like that the father did not think it was his job to fix his unbelief. He asked for help. He put the burden of overcoming it on Christ. And more than that, he knew that it was possible to believe and not believe all at once. In the same sentence he claimed both.

I don’t believe some days.

I’m not going to be ashamed of that. I’m just going to ask for a little help.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Something I wrote for North Point.

Something I wrote for North Point

I recently had the chance to write three videos for Andy Stanley's church, North Point Community Church, in Atlanta.

Basically they emailed me three testimonies and I edited them and shaped the flow of the words. The testimonies were strong to begin with so my part was pretty easy.

My friend Carlos of Ragamuffin Soul fame has one of them on his site. Check it out if you get a chance:

Be sick.

Be sick.

Today at 2:00 I have my annual performance review. Underneath the standard issue fluorescent lights, my boss will detail my successes and my failures for the year 2007. I’d like to say I feel cool and confident, but that would be a lie. Most of the times, in the days leading up to meetings like this, I am convinced I will be fired. I dream up little scenarios about how it will happen. Whether or not they’ll escort me out with a security guard or if they’ll trust me to exit on my own. If my stuff will be boxed up for me in the lobby or if I’ll have to do the walk of shame back to the office to clean it.

It’s not that I’ve been a horrible employee, but the truth is that I could have been better. I could have done more. I could have made less mistakes. Or put my foot in my mouth fewer times. And this sense of performance, this action of taking out the last year and sorting through it on a big table is how I often imagine God to be.

That’s part of the reason yesterday’s post about chronicling my entire life was so difficult. Almost every aspect of my life is performance driven. Everything is a competition. Nothing is fast enough. There’s always a new way to get an edge. I was reminded of this yesterday when I volunteered at the Salvation Army. The motto they had written on our aprons was, “Salvation Army, doing the most good.” Even in our charity there is a system of most and least, first and last.

Taken collectively, there’s really not a whole lot of motivation for me to deal with my junk. But the more I read the Bible, the more I realize that is what God is calling me to do.

One of my favorite examples of this happens in Luke 7. In a series of verses from 36-50, we see a woman “who had lived a sinful life” washing Jesus’ feet with her tears and perfume. The Pharisees quickly point out that she is a sinner, but Christ has a lesson for Simon in all of this.

"Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?"

Simon replied, "I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled."

"You have judged correctly," Jesus said.

The story could have ended there, but Jesus went on to summarize it in impossibly simple language.

“Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little."

I honestly don’t know the best way to unpack those passages. They feel like little sticks of dynamite that will go off in my hands if I proceed the wrong way. But what I can do is repeat this, “he who has been forgiven little loves little.”

Maybe your faith is small and anemic because you haven’t really dealt with the things God wants you to deal with. Maybe your love is small because your junk is still big and hidden deep down inside. Maybe as you bring your stuff into the light, you won’t find a performance review. Instead you’ll find your love and your forgiveness growing exponentially.

The other thing I think you find when you deal with your past, is what God has planned for your future. Mark Batterson really said it best in a book he wrote called “In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day.” I’m paraphrasing, but what he believes is that “you can only heal people in the places you’ve been wounded.”

That concept, the idea of turning your hurt into someone else’s healing kind of blew my mind a little. And the more I thought about it, the more I felt like it was true. Not even just in a biblical, kind of God-flavored way, but just as a universal truth.

Think about it, don’t you hate when a friend without experience gives you advice on something you’re going through? They’ve never been engaged but are quite content in telling you how to go about that. They’ve never lost a child but know exactly what you should do. They’ve never been divorced but are pretty sure you need to be reading these three books.

There is such a deep sense of fakeness in that, but when the person has actually walked your road, there is such a sense of beauty.

My friend Victoria is that way. She has experienced a few of the worst things that can ever, ever, ever happen to girls. She has walked through the kinds of situations that cripple people emotionally and spiritually. And yet, she shines.

And the cool thing is that she knows why. Deep down she knows that her pain came with a purpose, and that purpose is to ease the pain of others. She can’t really grasp how big her potential is but I got a glimpse one day in our small group.

We were all supposed to share our stories and the unspoken expectation was that we’d stay fairly surface. “Hi, I grew up in the church. I made some mistakes. I love God. Good to meet you.”

But Victoria didn’t go that route. Victoria used words that hurt people’s stomachs. Victoria turned herself inside out in that room. And as she did, you could see the walls and veneers of everyone crumbling.

Ultimately, she knew something that I only recently learned. It’s not complicated and with only two words, it’s pretty easy. But rarely are you encouraged to do this at church and that is simply this: Be Sick.

Stop pretending. Stop running from whatever it is in your past or your present or your future that you don’t want to deal with. Stop hiding. Stop covering up. Stop laughing at jokes you don’t think are funny or quoting verses you don’t really believe. Stop trying to be so healthy.

Be sick.

This might be the first post that gets me hate mail, but I’m just asking you to do what Christ talks about in Mark 2:17. Here’s what he says:

"It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."

I think we waste so much time trying to act like we’re healthy, when Christ is really looking for the sick.

Do you know what my sin is? Do you know what the lies I’ve told my wife and my work, the gossip I’ve spread, the hurt I’ve caused? Do you know what all of that is?

It is a lighthouse for Christ.

It is a magnet that draws him close.

It is a siren that screams through the clutter of this world saying that I am the one he came for. I am the sick. I am the unrighteous. I am the patient in desperate need of a doctor.

Thanks Victoria. Thanks Mallory for reminding her that the first people we might need to be sick with are family. Thanks everyone for reading.

I hope you have a sick day.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Shoplifting, turning 32 and the hardest thing I've ever done.

Shoplifting, turning 32 and the hardest thing I've ever done.

Today I turned 32 and I am sorry to say that I did not awake awash in new found maturity. No new gray hairs of wisdom lie upon my head, the truth gained from experience is but a fleeting thought ushered away with the morning’s coffee. But what I do have in the midst of this long December is a story about shoplifting, the egg and the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

It starts back in Central Massachusetts when I was in 9th grade. My friend Kris and I were riding our bikes to a meeting for youth group leaders. We were going to discuss ways to help other teens as we were clearly role models of virtue and grace. Instead we ended up taking a ride in a police car.

I don’t know why we thought about stealing that day at the Rich’s store, an early version of Wal-Mart. But we did, and our plan was the kind of master crime that only oily skinned high school students can launch.

Kris had on a thin red windbreaker. I think the 90s must have been particularly windy because we seemed to be combating a lot more of it then with our clothing. Everyone owned some sort of plastic feeling coat best suited to gusts aboard a boat. It had a hood and the front had a big pocket with a zipper. The plan was to empty out a packet of Big League Chew gum, which is designed like a pouch of chewing tobacco, and hide some packs of basketball cards in there.

I would stand in line and buy something while Kris made his great escape. I don’t remember being particularly sweaty waiting in line, but the moment I saw some adult leading Kris back to me, I burst out like I was in the rain.

They led us into a small room upstairs and made Kris slowly empty out the pocket. A man wrote down everything we had stolen. When he wrote the gum down I protested since we had bought that earlier at a convenience store. But because I didn’t remember the name of the store he charged us with that too and refused to hear my side of the story.

The police were called and my sad little ten speed bike was lifted into the cavernous trunk of a squad car. When they called my dad, the town minister, he thought they were calling to sell him tickets to some sort of police ball. He was not the happiest I’ve ever seen him.

What I realized last night about that memory is that I’ve spent most of my life trying to hide things in my big pocket. Good things, bad things, just things I’ve collected over the years. My zipper is busting with each new item I put in there. Maybe that’s what people call baggage, those emotional experiences from the past that shape the way we behave in the future. And it’s heavy, bigger than me, bulging and thick. Regret is never light.

And in the summer of 2005 it almost killed me. I was not suicidal, it is not my intent to fan a small flame into what seems like a blaze in the hope that you will believe I am some kind of tortured artist. No not that. But that summer I remember journaling that I was in a place where I understood suicide. I did not want it, but I was beginning to see how for some it could be a viable option. The logic of it as a solution began to gel for me and that was a little terrifying because suicide is not logical. It is never a solution and as I wrote those words down in my five star notebook, I began to worry about how big and deep my pocket of stuff really was.

What was inside? What had I run from? What was I too afraid to deal with? What would happen when it came out and make no mistake, whether it breaks like a damn and you cry in the frozen food section at the grocery store or it just seeps out slowly and quietly ruining every relationship, it will come out.

I’d get my answer to all those questions and more in the form of a hand-drawn egg.

As I’ve mentioned before, I took a 16 week course for men that have broken things. The core of the course was an exercise called the “Trauma Egg.” That sounds so silly and dumb. I agree and this would actually be a great time to exit the post, but the truth is the trauma egg is the hardest thing I have ever done.

It’s simple really. On a big sheet of manila paper you write in one corner the unwritten rules your family lived by. In another corner, the roles different members of your family played. In the bottom corners you describe your mom and then your dad. In the center of the paper you draw a huge egg. Inside it, in little bubbles, you draw every traumatic experience you’ve ever had from birth to present day, from bottom to top. You draw the events because this artistic approach forces your brain to think in a different, more honest way.

What was so hard about this little art project was that it was the opposite of how I had lived my life. Instead of shoving the bad deep down into the dark and forgetting it, I asked my heart to google pain. I asked my head to search out hurt and pull it up to the surface. For two weeks I would walk around and suddenly be jolted by something I had forgotten. Inside I would hear, “Hey, I just found something. Remember that thing that happened in high school. That was big and gross and you’re still making decisions based on it. Draw that.”

And so I would scribble down a stick figure of me in high school. Skinny, nervous, wearing a coat and tie because it was a Catholic boy’s school. When your egg was finished you had to present it, to take an hour and walk through every experience with the other 7 guys in the room and the two counselors. Then they would point out patterns and discuss everything that was there on the drawing.

Ultimately, what walking through this experience did for me was force me to name the stuff I had hidden. See, for me, regret used to just be this shapeless black ball. At any given point in my life it could take any form it wanted to hurt me the most. I had never dragged it into the light, so I never knew which part was a lie and which part was the truth. In some ways, it was like those fireworks stores you see on the side of the highway. In order to look big and exciting, they often build 50 foot tall walls on the building. But if you look carefully you can see that it’s just a wall, behind it is nothing. It’s not a three story fireworks emporium. It’s a trailer home with a puffed out chest trying to get you off the highway.

That is what regret was for me. Whenever I was moving along at 70mph, driving toward happiness, it was there. Big, bold, reminding me I didn’t deserve to be on any highway. I didn’t deserve to be headed anywhere.

But naming my stuff, looking at it with people I trusted, made it smaller. The tiger became a housecat, the gun a water pistol, the open wound a scar. One by one, memory by memory I started to own those experiences. And I gave them to God.

He didn’t react the way I thought he would. I thought he would be like that security guard, as Kris emptied his pocket. Writing down everything we had stolen, blaming us for things we hadn’t done. Making a list of my sins and my failures that would go into a permanent file inside I drawer I didn’t have the key to.

But instead, that night was really liberating. I felt freedom there in that room. I wasn’t afraid of my past anymore. I didn’t have to run. I could be still. I could see that my junk was a trailer home not a skyscraper and that felt true.

I’m not saying you need to do trauma egg. I’d never suggest you dig in the past alone. I think that’s a really dangerous thing to do by yourself. But I do think you have a pocket. Maybe yours holds your divorce inside. The way you became a different person and “lost” 15 years of your life when you lost access to that other person who lived those experiences with you. Maybe you’re missing some of the beauty of your children because if you look too closely at their lives you’ll see the ways they duct taped themselves together in elementary school when your divorce pulled them apart at the seams.

Maybe your stuff is completely different. Maybe something happened when you were in high school that made you into two different people. I’ve done that. Distanced myself from the person that did those things, fractured my life into multiple me’s just to not be associated with those mistakes.

I’m not sure what you’re carrying around, but I promise, if it’s anything, it’s too heavy. It’s exhausting and it might be time for you to let it go.

Tomorrow I’ll tell you what will happen if you do.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Italian knife on the couch.

The Italian knife on the couch.

I got groped one night while getting a ride home from a stranger in Italy.

That was probably the hardest sentence of the entire post. I knew if I tried to sneak up on it I would never make it all the way there. I’d chicken out somewhere along the way, focusing on the bloody bar fight that preceded that moment or the hooker conversation that followed it. Either way, that is the worst sentence, so if that one wasn’t too bad you should be able to make it through the rest of the post.

I was in Italy with a friend that will have to go nameless because he’s a minister and ministers shouldn’t really be in stories like this. It was months after college graduation and the plan was to kick around Europe for a few days. We started in Switzerland and slowly made our way to Rome.

While in the city, we played a game loosely called “Biggest Man in All of Italy.” You see, my friend is big and burly, like a fire hydrant on feet, and most of the people we ran into in Italy were a lot smaller. So whenever we were bored we would just see if we could find anyone in the immediate area that was bigger than him. For days we passed the time walking through the streets doing this. Finally on one of our last nights we found someone that was substantially bigger.

We were in an Irish pub in Rome that I think was called “Trinity College.” When you are young and dumb you do things like visit the birthplace of Italian culture and spend your time in faux Irish pubs. I remember pointing him out. He was the bouncer and he was massive, with meat hooks for hands and the kind of shoulders that seem to swallow necks in piles of sinew and muscle. We laughed that finally there was someone bigger than my friend and then we began to drink.

This was BG, before God, so drinking was kind of what we did when given the opportunity. For hours we sat there talking with other Americans until I looked up and noticed my friend was gone. It had been maybe an hour since I had seen him but then alcohol seems to melt watches like wax, so it’s hard to be sure.

I went downstairs to the bathroom, looked in the booths and finally poked my head out the front door. There, hidden behind a bush was my friend, his face bloody, his left eye swelling quickly. He jumped up behind the bush and said, “Jon, Jon, Jon.”

I walked outside and his story unfolded in a tangled mess of words and spit. While in line for the bathroom, someone had cut my friend. Since he was at that point the second largest man in all of Italy, he just picked them up with a gesture that kind of said “hey there cute little Italian person” and moved them out of the way.

They got the bouncer. My friend got booted and when he tried to sneak back in they threw him off the front stoop into a bush. The bouncer then punched him in the face a few times. My friend said he also pinched him in the face, which he theorized was kind of that bouncer’s calling card since it left a small mark on his cheek. I personally suspect a ring but I digress.

Together we stumbled home drunk through streets that were cobbled and confusing. The train station, our landmark of choice, had shrunk with the alcohol and was virtually impossible to find. After a while we were completely lost until a car pulled up next to us.

Some nice Italian man wanted to help us find our hotel. This is stupid, but we got in. I was in the front seat and my friend was in the back. I don’t remember much from the ride except that at one point, as we got closer to our destination, things started escalating. It wasn’t that the car got faster or the lights brighter or the words crisper. It was just that things changed.

It was then that I realized the guy had his hand on me. A friend in Atlanta once told me someone had grabbed his leg in an inappropriate way. I would have loved it had just been my leg. But it wasn’t and I felt underwater. Trying to stop him was like trying to wrestle against the weight of the ocean. My limbs were slow to respond, my reflexes so deadened from the beer and the cigarettes.

Eventually he dropped us off and I started shoving that night or at least that segment of the night deep down into the recesses of my memory.

Have you ever done that? Like a master photographer in a dark room, you hold up a particular memory to the light and then trim out a frame or two with a razor blade. Then you tape back together the two pieces and move on is if you had not just edited out part of the truth.

I forgot about that moment until a group counseling session and then it weighed more than I remembered. By then the residue of life and time had gathered thick upon it. And I felt cut by it. Cut in a way that surprised me.

And that, ultimately is what I want to talk about in a post that has admittedly gotten longer than I intended. I realized in that moment that painful memories that we don’t deal with our knives hidden in our homes. They are sharp, bitter moments that we place in drawers and on counters and in piles of white towels under the sink. We pretend they are not there but they are. We pretend they are dulled by time by they are not. And what happens is that we get an unexpected reminder of that event. Someone in a movie experiences what we did and suddenly we find ourselves bleeding a little.

Someone wears cologne we have not smelled for years but he wore it and suddenly we are right back there. Or we hear a song that holds the memory of her and the mistake you made and a knife slides out of the glove compartment box to stab.

It was my fault. I was drunk. I was stupid enough to get in the car. I was defenseless because I had destroyed my own defenses. I was to blame. I was a bad kid in a bad way and that is what happens to you on that side of the street.

But that is a lie. That is what I believed when I left my knives lying around in my house. That was what I accepted as the truth until I dragged that moment into the light and looked at it a little.

This is all starting to feel a little like a Cure song, but hopefully you’ll hear the one thing I’m trying to say. Don’t hide your knives. Don’t live in a life, a relationship, a job, a whatever, where you just keep getting stabbed over and over again. Get rid of your knives.

Tomorrow, I’ll tell you how I did.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Falling out of love with love actually.

Falling out of love with love actually.

Hopefully by now, I’ve made it perfectly clear that I am not cool. The things I do, the things I’m into, the things I write don’t sum up to someone that is particularly hip. But there is a freedom in that, an ability to say things I might not have in the past. Today is one of those times, because I’m about to admit that I love the movie “Love Actually.”

Released in 2003, Love Actually is a series of romantic vignettes centered around Christmas time in England. Some are beautiful, like the author falling in love with his Portuguese maid. Some are more painful, like the love lost between a husband and wife, but all together they combine to make a pleasant movie.

The plotline I like the most is about a guy that is in love with his best friend’s new bride. He has always loved her and has hidden that by being standoffish to her. As the movie unravels however, so do his feelings, culminating in a scene at the very end.

You can find it on Youtube in about 3.7 seconds, but here is my quick description. On Christmas Eve he knocks on her door and holds up a series of cue cards. One by one he shows her his message:

“Say it’s Carol Singers” he intones to the girl
“With any luck, by next year I will be going out with one of these girls.” He then holds up a sign with photos of models on it.
“But for now, let me say, without hope or agenda, just because it’s Christmas (and at Christmas you tell the truth). To me you are perfect and my wasted heart will love you, until you look like this.” He then holds up a photo of a mummy.
“Merry Christmas.”

He walks away but in a few seconds she runs after him. She kisses him quickly on the mouth and then run backs inside.

He leaves and quietly murmurs to himself, “Enough. Enough now.”

I’ve watched that scene online about a million times. I think the awkward, lonely college student inside me somewhere imagines having a moment like that. Thinking the cue cards were perfect, the words were honest and at the end a little bit of punctuation was put on the whole experience.
But when my wife saw that movie she hated that scene.

This was a bit surprising but when she shared her thoughts I realized how wrong my ideas were.

“She kissed her husband’s best friend. And telling her all those things was about him, not about her. A real gentleman would never have told her his feelings.”

Ugh. I think she is right and hearing her say that exposed something that I guess I have always secretly thought—True love conquers all.

I thought he loved her and the expression of that love mattered more than any of the consequences of his actions. Was he lying when he told her his message was “without hope or agenda?” Probably, but who cares, love conquers all. Was he kissing a married woman in the street? Yes, but who cares, love conquers all. Was he mortgaging a lifelong friendship to express feelings that should have stayed buried? Yes, but who cares, love conquers all.

I realized though, that sometimes, love is like a weapon. And I don’t mean Godly love or the perfect love or the love we are called to give our enemy. I mean the world’s definition of love. Sometimes we use the excuse of love to do some incredibly unloving things. The reality is that for him to ever be with her, she would have to go through the intense pain of a divorce. She would have to destroy her new husband in the process and experience a wide range of difficult emotions.

In order to satisfy his love, he would have to create a tremendous amount of unlove.

I think we mess love up a lot. I think we believe things like you can’t choose who you love, true love conquers all and time heals all wounds. The challenge is that love is the most important thing we are called to do. Above all other things, we are called to love the Lord, love ourselves and love others. And if we bring misconceptions to the very basic understanding of what it means to be in love, I think things get crazy, quick.

So that’s my question today. What do you believe about love? What are those old adages you secretly believe? What does love mean to you?

Saturday, December 15, 2007

You can't marry my daughter.

You can't marry my daughter.

The first time I asked my future father in law if I could marry his daughter, he said no.

It was the worst experience I’ve ever had at a Waffle House.

It ended up being OK though because the second time I asked, I was able to get him to say no again.

Although my wife and in-laws have added those conversations to the list of things we can all safely joke about, they’re not my favorite collection of memories.

It all started out so simply. During one of my visits to Atlanta to see Jenny, I asked her father if he and I could have breakfast together. We were not in the habit of breakfasting and I’m sure he was aware of my intent. He chose Waffle House. We sat in a booth. Desperado by the Eagles was playing on the jukebox, a random stranger’s song selection that would unfortunately prove to be rather fitting.

I said the things I thought boys in their early 20s say when they talk to hulking fathers of daughters they want to marry. I love her. God loves that I love her. I will take care of her. She can work or not work, depending on her preference. Either way doesn’t matter to me, because I love her.

He paused and then gave me a fairly succinct response. I’m paraphrasing, but it went something like:

“No, no no no no and no. No no, although no, and more no. In conclusion no.”

We paid our bill, got in his car and then proceeded to take the most awkward car ride I’ve ever been a part of. A week later, after much prayer and fear, I came back down to Atlanta from Massachusetts where I was living at the time, to ask him again.

This time we stayed in his kitchen. While carving up a piece of fruit that was oddly enough about the size of my heart, he laid out his thoughts:

“No, no no no. Her mother and I no no, then no, or no no, why, no no no.”

I walked upstairs crestfallen and spent the rest of the night trying to figure out if the toilet held enough water to adequately drown myself.

It’s been seven years since those conversations but I’ll still occasionally bring up that story for some sympathy. A few months ago I told a friend of mine and his reaction was so remarkable I kind of bragged about it to my wife.

Me: “You know what Jack told me? The guy whose dad used to break his nose by punching him in the face? The guy whose mom died of cancer when he was 11? The one who is a recovering crack addict? He said he couldn’t imagine living with the pain of having a father tell him no twice when he asked for his daughter’s hand in marriage.”

I was clearly hoping her response would be some variation of “Oh Jon, you’ve been through so much trauma, my wounded writer. How do you carry on my tragic poet of a husband?”

Wife: “My dad didn’t tell you no. He told you wait.”

Wait and no used to be the very same word to me. My lack of patience denied me the ability to have a sense of the future. If I didn’t get what I wanted, in the exact moment I wanted it, I thought I’d never get it. Now was the only time that existed in my mind, so waiting for something to happen later didn’t make sense. There was no later.

So when my father in law tried to warn me about some foundational truths that needed to be built over time in my relationship with his daughter I didn’t hear him. He was asking me to get married in the future. To propose marriage later. To go slow and wait. But “no” is all I heard. So I refused, and rushed into some of the very same mistakes he was desperate to prevent.

This was a foolish thing for me to do, but it’s not really unique. In Exodus 13:17-18 we see God preventing the Israelites from making the same bad decisions. Here is what it says:

17 When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” 18 So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of Egypt armed for battle.

I love that last sentence about the Israelites being armed for battle. The story wouldn’t really be extraordinary if the Israelites didn’t have any weapons. You could read those verses and say, “All they had was pots and pans, of course they had to take the long way. It’s only logical.” But they were armed which means the shorter route makes more sense. They were ready for battle. They had swords and shields and all the trappings of men at war. I had an engagement ring and a proposal plan and all the trappings of a man of marriage.

But neither of us were ready for what lay ahead. And you might not be either right now. Whatever mistakes you’ve left behind or challenges you’ve left ahead, doesn’t really matter, you have some big things ahead of you.

New relationships. New wisdom. New decisions and maybe even consequences of the old. Expect the temptation to rush through things, to hear no when all God might be really saying to you is “wait, wait. I don’t want you to get discouraged.”

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Welcome to the two most dangerous weeks.

Welcome to the two most dangerous weeks.

Have you ever quit?

Has their ever been some action or attitude or behavior you wanted to eliminate from your life? Or maybe it was a good habit you wanted to start doing. Some beneficial thing you wanted to tightly bind to your daily activities.

It doesn’t have to be monumental, like kicking heroin. It can be small, seemingly insignificant. Maybe you want to eat one cream cheese on your bagel in the morning instead of two. Maybe you’re going to join the gym and take off those pounds that an age-slowed metabolism has put on. Maybe you’ll quit smoking or start reading your bible every morning.

The action isn’t what matters, there are a million things it can be. What matters is if you ever actually do it. And if you’re at all like me, the one thing that really stands between you and achieving a goal is the start date.

When I decide to do something different, I almost never make the start date “Right Now.” For some reason right now just isn’t the right time. Take today for instance. Friday isn’t a great day to start something new. Monday is your best chance at a fresh start. And if at all possible, don’t begin on the second or third Monday in a month. For best results you need to start on the first of a month. And the truth is, there’s only one date that’s perfect for a new beginning –January 1st.

We’re a mere two weeks away from the greatest start date in the entire calendar year. And it’s exciting. When I go to the gym I can almost see the dozens of new people that will be there for a few weeks following the New Year. When I go to bookstores, rows and rows of magazines promise me better abs, whiter teeth and more fulfilling sex in 2008. There is a sense of momentum, as if the only thing holding us back is the date. And when it changes, so will we.

But when I set a start date, I traditionally tend to enter “last meal” mode. Like a prisoner right before execution eating a last meal, I start doing whatever activity I will be stopping before my official start date. If I’m trying to eat better starting on January 1, then December becomes a month full of Taco Bell. I eat horrible food knowing that soon I won’t be able to. Like a bear planning for a long winter of hibernation, I overdose on what I’m going to quit before I actually quit.

Ever done that? Maybe you’re doing that right now? This is the time of year to do it. Especially with the pressure of the holidays and end of year job reviews and parties and ex-boyfriends that don’t really care how your Christmas is. These are the two most dangerous weeks of the year, because the rules don’t apply. A clean slate has been penciled in for January 1. The new you is already on the docket, it’s time to let the old you eat a big meal, and maybe smoke one last cigarette before you put him up there on the firing range and say goodbye.

I’m not doing that this year. I’m not letting the calendar dictate who I am. I’m not waiting for January to set me free of me. I’m not putting my hope in 2008.

Today is the day I’ll be different. Today is the day I’ll give God the freedom to change me. Today is the day it changes.

Today is January 1.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The druglord approach to faith.

The druglord approach to faith.

Pablo Escobar killed countless people. As a drug lord that practically invented the Colombian drug industry he is known for barbaric acts of violence and cruelty. At one point the CIA thought Colombia was smuggling something like 30,000 pounds of cocaine to the US every year. Then they caught a 747 that Pablo had emptied out and filled with more than 30,000 pounds for a single run.

The guy was huge. The guy was horrible. But even in that grossness, I swear there is a hidden lesson. And it starts with something I read in a recent issue of Rolling Stone magazine about when they killed Escobar and raided his house:

“Agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration, arriving after the kingpin had fled, found neat shelves lined with loose-leaf binders, carefully organized by content. They were, says John Coleman, then the DEA’s assistant administrator for operations, ‘filled with DEA reports’ – internal documents that laid out, in extraordinary detail, the agency’s repeated attempts to capture Escobar.

‘He had shelves and shelves and shelves of these things,’ Coleman tells me. ‘It was stunning. A lot of the informants we had, he’d figured out who they were. All the agents we had chasing him – who we trusted in the Colombian police – it was right there. He knew so much more about what we were doing than we knew about what he was doing.’

Coleman and other agents began to work deductively, backward. ‘We had always wondered why his guys, when we caught them, would always go to trial and risks lots of jail time, even when they would have saved themselves a lot of time if they’d just plead guilty,” he says. ‘What we realized when we saw those binders was that they were doing a job. Their job was to stay on trial and have their lawyers use discovery to get all the information on DEA operations they could. They they’d send copies back to Medallin, and Escobar would put it all together and figure out who we had tracking him.’

What does any of that have to do with God? A lot I think.

You see, when I am confronted with my mistakes. When I must face my sin, my first reaction is not to study it and learn from it. My first reaction is to put it in a heavy chest and cast it into the ocean. To jettison it into the deep abyss never to be seen again. And I don’t think that’s right.

Escobar didn’t do that. He made an art out of studying his failures, which is what a man getting arrested really represented to his organization. Instead of running from his mistakes, he pulled them into the light, he examined them and dissected them and vowed never to make that same mistake again.

I’ve read dozens of books that recommend some form of the “write your sins down and then throw away the paper” method to confession. Some even suggest lighting it on fire in a ceremony meant to close the door between you and the past.

The inherent problem is that when we ignore our past, we allow it to be part of our present and our future. We give it the freedom to come trip us up again. We leave ourselves open to making the same mistakes again and again and again.

I am not saying you need to dwell on the past. This is not an invitation to live there. It is an invitation to learn from it. When we are called in Colossians 3:5 to “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you” I don’t think this is a moment of God giving us a shotgun and a blindfold. He doesn’t call us to just go into our massive warehouse of mistakes and start blasting randomly with the hope that perhaps we will hit something.

On the contrary, I think he gives us a sniper rifle with a laser scope. I think he gives us something precise and deliberate that requires us to thoughtfully and intentionally remove things from our past. I think that the reason we are shown specific things we are to eliminate is that God expects us to be specific.

The reality is that more than likely, the things you struggle with haven’t really changed since you were a teenager. They’ve grown, maybe even evolved, but our core hurt is usually pretty consistent. You might have an affair as an adult, but the seeds for lust were planted when you started looking at porn as a child. You might steal money for work, but the seeds for thievery were planted when you took things out of lockers that weren’t yours in high school. You might lie to your wife, but the seeds for dishonesty were planted when you lied to your mom.

The things we struggle with are usually not new. And one of the reasons we continue to struggle with them is that we refuse to do the difficult work of dealing with them. And it’s difficult because often, it goes a lot slower than we would like it to.

I like the speed God seems to encourage us to use when approaching mistakes. In Psalm 23:5 we see how God calls us to deal our enemies:

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.”

Do you get the sense that God wants us to eat quickly or remain standing so that we can run at any moment? Why dinner? Why a meal that is traditionally the slowest of the three we eat during a given day?

I think it’s dinner because it’s not fast. I think it’s prepared for us because it’s going to be a multi-course experience. And I think above all, God wants to walk us through the entire thing.

My only word of caution in this idea is not to go it alone. Putting to death your sin or learning from your mistakes can be an incredibly dangerous thing to do if you don’t have a close friend to help. What tends to happen is that when we lay out our temptations to eliminate them, we tend to indulge in them. We transform from executioner to explorer. A friend of mine illustrated this when he recently told me, “I found an old DVD when I was cleaning out my garage and had to check it because I wanted to make sure it was an adult DVD.” Had he invited a friend into the clean out process he would have certainly received counsel such as, “Why do you need to check it? Just throw it away.”

Pablo Escobar was a horrible human being. But hopefully in the midst of all this rambling you’ll find a scrap of an idea and start to think about how it might be time to start to think about a new approach to the mistakes you and I make.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Words you need to retire.

Words you need to retire.

I had planned to write a post entitled, “The 5 people I murdered this year” but I got a comment yesterday that’s more important. Someone mentioned on my site about a struggle they’ve had for almost a decade with prostitutes. They went on to say, “I am so broken hearted about it, and feel like God won’t forgive me because I am a Christian and should know better.”

Hidden in that sentence is one of the three most dangerous words I think we face in our brief time on this planet. It doesn’t look that way, on the outside it’s really quite vanilla, but what it implies is pretty destructive.

I am of course talking about the word “should.”

What’s so deadly about this word is that it subtly makes God’s unconditional love conditional. When you add “should” to a sentence, there is an implied sense of evolution. That you have grown or learned something and thus changed what is expected of us. My friend used that word because as a Christian he felt he should know better than to pay for sex.

And when he felt the word should, he felt even further from God. Have you ever felt like that? I have. I used to think that when I got the Welcome Home Party from the father, I was also given a new set of expectations. That now things were different. I had tasted the good life and there was an added sense of failure if I left now. I had already returned. I should know not to leave again. I should be good.

Should is a separator. It builds a wall between us and God. But it’s not the only one:


As someone that struggles with addictions, this is one that has crossed my lips a thousand times. Still is like should, but it focuses our progress on a time frame. It’s a word used to imply that at some point in time we should have stopped doing something. We should have given up something or repented and never returned to a certain activity or person or behavior. Here are a few real examples from my own life:

Why do I still doubt that God exists some days? Isn’t that a fundamental belief that good Christians never struggle with?

How can I still try to win the approval of other people when my wife and I have a fight and I don’t feel of value?

By Now

This is a powerful little phrase because it indicates again that something should be different. You’ve had more than enough chances to get things right but you haven’t. You’re blowing it and you shouldn’t be. On some fake timeline you should be in a better place, making better decisions, with better outcomes. But you’re not. Here’s where I see it in my life:

By now, after 6 years of marriage, I should not think other women are physically attractive.

By now I ought to be more interested in reading the Bible.

You have your own words that hurt like these do. I bet we could make a long list that stretched for pages and pages. But the thing I think is important, is that God knew we were going to do this. He knew we’d struggle with ideas like this and he addressed them in the form of the cross.

By now

In Peter’s denial of knowing Christ, we see God’s willingness to forgive things we ought to know by now. By now, Peter knew who Christ was. He traveled with him. He ate and drank and walked long, dusty roads with him. He was called the rock, but he denied him three times in his darkest hour. And God forgave Peter even though by now he knew better.


In Christ’s desperate plea to “forgive them for they know not what they do,” we see the concept of “should” addressed. The people that crucified him should have known who he was. They had been waiting and planning for him for years and years. They knew the bible inside and out. They should have welcomed him, but instead they killed him. And all the should in the world was not held against them.


In the forgiveness of the thief on the cross we see how little God cares about timeframes. The thief never lived a long life of faith. He never learned or grew or changed. He didn’t collect good years to off balance his bad years. He was a Christian for hours, maybe minutes. But the time didn’t matter to God. The length of his faith was not equated with the strength of his faith. And the concept of “still” was put to rest in that moment.

This might only reach the guy that posted his “should” comment, but I think it’s something we can all agree on. I hope today you’ll retire the words “should, by now and still” from your vocabulary. More than that, I hope you’ll think for a minute about your own words that are subtly choking the joy from your faith. I promise you have some too.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Sorry about that whole Mario Lopez porn thing.

Sorry about that whole Mario Lopez porn thing.

One of my favorite things about having a blog is the site traffic tool. With little or no effort I can instantly tell what kind of keywords or phrases people are using to find my site. Some of them are obvious: Prodigal, Jon,, etc. But some of them are less obvious, such as “Mario Lopez Porn.”

Apparently, a few weeks ago I used the word porn in a post I did about Mario Lopez. Now, if you type that phrase into google, my site is one of the ones that come up. Granted, I’m listed as the 30th option or so, but I’m still there. And a few days ago, someone searched for that phrase and came to my site. How disappointing is that? You google expecting to find some hot Latin Saved By the Bell nudity and get a mildly interesting site about God instead.

The more I dug around in the site tool, the more I was surprised to see the kinds of phrases google was associating with my site. Here is a list of a few phrases that google believes reflect what I am all about, that is if you type these, they will return a link to my site:

healing wives of sex addicts

time to heal from an affair

i had sex with a stranger

massage parlor sin

how to throw up and get it over with

i think my mailman in stealing my mail

crack addict lies

throwing a party while parents out of town

i just want to punch people in the face

and my personal favorite:

deer underwear

I think it’s funny when TiVo recommends some shows based on other shows you’ve watched. For instance, if you watch “Heroes,” it will automatically tape “Lost” for you as a recommendation. It’s a subtle way to get an admittedly superficial reflection of how the world sees you. But what does my list of keywords say about my site or more importantly me?

I think it says I deal with some gross topics. I think it says brokenness is expressed with openness. I think it says I’m trying to be transparent, even when the cost of that transparency is a little ugly. I actually kind of like that list. I would be much more concerned if google thought my site was “judgmental,” or “holier than thou,” or “legalistic.” Those aren’t words that I want people to read in my posts or hear when I speak.

It also makes me wonder though, if people were going to google you, what words would they use? Would they type in: “loves the Lord,” or maybe “heart of a servant” or “honest?” Or would they type in “self promoting,” or maybe “always trying to convert me without getting to know me?” or “fake, hypocrite, gossiper?”

It’s a weird exercise, but it’s one I encourage you to try. Take 60 seconds today and write down five words or phrases people could google to find you. Post them in a comment or email them to me at

I promise, if nothing else, it will cause you to pause and think about who you are in a way you might not have before.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Hooking up. (or two things you need to know about temptation.)

Hooking up. (or two things you need to know about temptation.)

I had dinner last night with my friend Roscoe. He recently broke up with his fiancé and was telling me about a fancy meal he had at a restaurant. During the course of our conversation he mentioned that he had been chatting up a young lady. I asked him, was she pretty? This was his response:

“It doesn’t matter. If I’m going to mess up there is no girl too ugly. If I’m going to stay true, there is no girl too pretty.”

For about six months I have been trying to explain temptation and life and God and a whole slew of other topics. But here, in three simple sentences, Leroy laid it all out so perfectly. There were two particular things I took away from this dinner dialogue.

1. Temptation defies logic.
I was asking Roscoe a logic question. “Was she pretty?” This was definitely a superficial question but given Roscoe’s present and my past, it was a good question. We’ve both done some fairly stupid things to impress/manipulate/woo pretty girls. I thought that her hotness and Roscoe’s chance of messing up were correlated. But temptation doesn’t work that way.

Temptation defies all logic, rules, common sense and any other box we try to put it into. When we are faced with it though, it’s often easy to try to defeat it through the use of our head. We see some decision and think, “I should analyze this and decide what lies at stake.” But that’s exactly what temptation wants you to do, because in a battle fought on the playing field of logic, temptation always wins. Take for instance the whole Ted Haggard ordeal out in Colorado.

There is nothing logical about mortgaging your family, your career, your name and everything else you hold dear for a night’s vacation with a male prostitute. Ted Haggard isn’t dumb. He knew exactly what was at stake, but probably tried to fight temptation with logic. He probably thought, just like I think, “I’m smarter than temptation. I’ll analyze the situation. Weigh my options and make an informed decision.” But again, temptation throws that all out the window.

It was the same with Roscoe, only he knew it. He knew that the issue at hand was not how the girl in question looked. He knew it was the condition of his heart that mattered. Roscoe is an attractive, intelligent, down to earth guy that girls seem to like. And yet, a few months ago he went to a prostitute. He could have had a thousand different girls, but decided to pick one up and pay her. That is so illogical, but then, that’s temptation and that’s why he was able to so quickly rebuff my comment. He was speaking from experience, not theory.

2. Temptation is less about the situation than we think.
One of the issues that was exposed in the book I mentioned yesterday about the wildfire disaster was that the government was only half training firefighters. They were great at teaching firefighters about the conditions, the weather, the terrain, the erratic movements of fire, but they did not give them any training on how to make decisions. They in essence focused all their attention on the situation and none of their efforts on equipping the person that would be making the decision.

As author, Michael Useem, wrote: “To understand everything about fire behavior but little about human behavior is to have only half the decision equipment an incident commander requires, yet prior to 1994, that is precisely what government training practices had produced.”

I did the same thing with Roscoe. I asked him about the girl. I asked him to describe how big the fire was. What I should have done, is asked him about his heart. Instead of “was she pretty?” I should have said, “how do you feel about the whole thing?” I should have asked him where he was mentally, emotionally and spiritually in the middle of the conversation given that he just got out of an engagement.

But I didn’t and it makes me wonder where else in life do we do the same thing? A friend the other night said that it was refreshing when another guy said to him, “I am frustrated that even though I am married I still have the desire to sleep with other women.”

That statement struck me a little because you never really hear that. Or at least I didn’t in most of my men’s groups growing up. We heard about temptation and different situations to avoid, but on some level I feel like I was only getting half of the decision equipment I needed.

I’m still processing what to do with this idea, but I think it’s going to be one more thing I add to my plan to start a new men’s ministry. But that’s another post for another day.

The question I leave you with today is this:

Is the only thing standing between you and temptation, logic?

Monday, December 3, 2007

The uphill escape route.

The uphill escape route.

I have a book problem. At any given moment I have three or four that I am reading in addition to the handful of different magazines I subscribe to. It’s a bit much, but every now and then I come across something interesting that feels applicable.

While reading “The Go Point” by Michael Useem, I found a story about the 1994 South Canyon fire in Colorado that was surprisingly convicting. In the fire, through a series of poor decisions, 12 highly trained firefighters died. The chapter I read chronicles the impact of each decision and I’ll probably write a few posts about the incident. But the one I want to mention today is the escape route decision.

The leader of the brigade decided that the safe spot, that area of land the firefighters would retreat to if overtaken by the blaze, was going to be on top of a ridge. It was not a long way away and at the time seemed fairly easy. But as the fire mounted a charge, with a wall of flame reaching estimates of 300 feet, it is difficult not to call the escape route into question.

The mistake that the leader made was that the escape route was difficult. After battling fire for hours, with pounds of wet, hot gear on, the firefighters were not prepared for a desperate uphill scramble through the Colorado forest. When the call came, and all hope was lost, all 12 began to sprint up the small hill.

It was too steep though, and as the firefighters ran at 3 feet per second, the fire climbed at 9 feet per second. At 4:16 it caught them, killing all 12, less than 100 yards away from safety.

I think we all need escape routes. I think we need plans on how to handle and flee from the things that tempt us or push us off course. They may not be as obvious as a wall of solid flame, but the burn they carry can be just as real. A husband that gets too emotionally connected to his young secretary. A cash strapped business that makes some grey decisions about which money to report to the IRS. A student that doesn’t want to be the only one in the car that isn’t high.

Every day we face our own forest fires.

The question becomes, are your escape routes uphill or downhill?

That is, in the midst of disaster, will they be easy to use or difficult?

If your accountability partner never answers their phone or returns messages, that’s an uphill escape route.

If your accountability partner is always available via his cell phone and regularly returns messages, that’s a downhill escape route.

If you don’t have a filter on your computer and your plan for keeping your heart pure is to just “not click on questionable material,” that’s an uphill escape route.

If your web activity gets automatically emailed to your accountability partner, that’s a downhill escape route.

We could play this game all day, but it’s a pretty simple idea.

What do your escape routes look like? Are they downhill or uphill?

Sunday, December 2, 2007

I meet Matchbox 20 and solve the bad things happening to good people riddle

I meet Matchbox 20 and solve the bad things happening to good people riddle.

Believe it or not, in the mid to late 90s, Birmingham Alabama was an epicenter of new music. It’s not that new styles were coming out of the small southern city like say Seattle, but for some reason Birmingham had a knack for launching new bands months before other portions of the country caught on.

This was due in large part to the local alternative radio station, the X. Shows such as “Reg’s Coffee House” made a point to showcase up and coming, often acoustically focused, artists that most people had never heard of. One band in particular was Matchbox 20.

Back in 1997, Matchbox 20 was not a juggernaut like today. There were no collaborations with Carlos Santana, no dating models, no releasing album after album. It was just a couple of guys trying to make some music and maybe some money. When I met them one night when they were opening up for Evan Dando (of the Lemonheads) they told me as much.

In a twenty minute conversation, one of the members of the band told me that they were not sure if they would even make money on this whole band experiment. He thought they might actually lose money since they were already in debt to the record label. He also got a little starry eyed when he mentioned how cool it would be to play on the Conan O’Brian show.

During that same time period I also met a band named “My Friend Steve.” Hailing from Florida, My Friend Steve was your basic singer/songwriter with backing musicians kind of bands. The lead singer, a guy named Steve, was a good writer and seemed pretty comfortable in the position of emerging rock star. I spoke with him briefly at a recording studio and he was a nice enough guy.

Ten years later, Matchbox 20 has sold millions of records and is an international phenomenon. Steve is teaching art at a high school in Florida. Rob Thomas married a model and won a Grammy. I have to assume Steve did neither.

How does that happen? How do two different bands, of apparently similar talent and skill, take such different life paths? How does Rob Thomas become famous and Steve become normal? How is that fair?

I don’t think it is, and when I was listening to the greatest breakup song ever written, My Friend Steve’s “All in All,” I thought about that. Life is not fair. The world is not fair. God is not fair.

My friend, Kenyan Sam, has a story he likes to share about how unfair God is and because he has a foreign accent it sounds really smart when he says it. The story goes as follows:

Two little boys were playing with marbles in Kenya. They had 22 marbles but were having a difficult time sharing them. A man walked up and told them that he would help them divide the marbles. He asked them, “Do you want me to divide them like God would or like man would?”

Thinking that God would do a much better job of being fair, the boys chose that option. Without blinking, the man gave one boy 20 marbles and another 2. When the boy with 2 complained, the man replied, “I have acted as God would. How else can you explain that man down the street being born into wealth with a mansion and that other man down the street being born into poverty and a shack?”

It’s true. God isn’t fair. He’s not going to be. And that’s a good thing, because if we got what we deserved life would be very different and very difficult. But I think I have a one sentence explanation for why bad things happen to good people. Here it is:

Bad things happen to good people because fair is a formula and God would never give us that.

Think about it, what if everything was fair? Would you need God? I wouldn’t. I would instantly know that if A and B happened, then C was soon to follow. I could plan and prepare without ever facing the mystery of uncertainty. And with that sureness would come an independence that encouraged me to leave the Lord behind.

For instance, when you own a high tech navigation system do you ever stop to ask people directions? No, you have the tool that can help you get to your destination. If life were fair and I got stressed out, I wouldn’t turn to my father, I would turn to my formula. I would turn to that in my moments of doubt and question. That piece of paper would become my God, my safety blanket, my savior.

And that’s not going to happen. God will never create a life for me that guarantees I won’t need him. I’ll never get a formula to navigate the day.

Some bands get famous, some bands get forgotten and this unfair world continues to spin. Some of us get 20 marbles or some only 2, but that’s not really the point. We won’t get a formula because formula followers isn’t what God wants. He wants fellowship, not fairness. Grace, not formulas. Gifts, not wages.

And that’s the kind of unfairness I can live with.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

UNC rejects me (or the more emo-sounding "A year of sunsets.")

UNC rejects me (or the more emo-sounding “A year of sunsets.”)

I do not remember the day that I got my rejection letter from the University of North Carolina. That moment did not crystallize, me standing at a cold Massachusetts mailbox with a much too thin envelope clutched in my teenage fist as I cursed the clouds above. That would have been dramatic, but I am not sure that’s how it happened.

My father went to UNC. My mother went to UNC. My uncle went to UNC. I was supposed to go to UNC. I grew up loving tarheel basketball and hating Duke. (By the way, good to see that Duke was able to fill their quota of “awkward looking white guy that is surprisingly good” this year.)

I grew up throwing Frisbee on the Carolina campus and dreaming about wearing that shade of blue for four perfect years. But then I got rejected.

I thought about that moment last night, because for some reason it hit me—there are some things I want that I will simply never have. Experiences or possessions or friendships that will for a host of reasons never really be mine. And I have a hard time rectifying that reality with my limitless God.

Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever realized that a dream you have is sunsetting instead of sunrising? Ending instead of beginning? Maybe it’s a job promotion you killed yourself for that slipped through your fingers. It was yours. It was meant to be. You had sacrificed so much and then it just disappeared.

More than likely though, it was a moment of love unreturned. Have you ever loved someone that would not love you back? Maybe it was that guy you were supposed to be with. When you were around him you felt this strange mixture of being stirred up inside but at the same time feeling as if you were home. He laughed like you laughed. He shined in the same way you shined.

He was the one in a world full of not the ones. But it didn’t happen.

He fell in love with someone else. Someone not named you. And despite your best hopes that particular dream ended.

What then? Where does that leave God? What if that desire wasn’t something you hid from him? What if it were something you prayed about fervently and patiently? What then?

I wrestle with this sometimes and the next few sentences are just my thoughts, not some deep biblical exploration. I didn’t go to seminary. The only Hebrew I know is “Oy Vey” and the only Greek I know is that I didn’t get into a fraternity.

But what I am starting to think is that disappointment, sunset moments, only point to how bright my sunrise really is. Throughout the bible, we are told that God knows our true desires, those things we really need above all else. And in his midst we find our satisfaction. So when I experience something that hurts, an expectation that was unmet, maybe what I should think is, “If that felt good at first and that’s not the thing that God has planned for me, how amazing is that thing going to be?”

There’s a verse in Psalm 103 that kind of makes me think about that. It describes God as he “who satisfies your desires with good things.” So when I get rejected from UNC, a place I thought was a good thing, I can’t help but think, “If that wasn’t the good thing, just imagine what is.” In that particular case it was Samford University. And my wife. And my eventual children.

The challenge in all that though is being honest about the things that burn. The good things that turned out to not be the good things after all. I think God wants to dialogue about the desires we have that didn’t get met. I think he wants to hear you say, “God, I want to die when I see Bill and his fiancĂ©. That should be me.” I think he wants us to be honest about those things so that he can reveal our true good things to us.

Most of the time I don’t know if anything I write makes sense. It feels like when I put things down on paper they tangle even more than when they are in my head. Maybe that is the case here.

But if I could clarify this whole idea in one sentence, I think that sentence would read: “When we give our desires and our disappointments to God, he uses both to amplify the good things he has for us.”